Home is a peculiar idea.  We all of course have our own ways of defining it.  Some people tie home to a specific geographic place, like their hometown.  Others define the concept more as a feeling— for example, when you’re financially in a stable and worry-free place.  Or when you feel socially fulfilled and secure, surrounded by close friends and family.

For me, personally, while all of those are elements are certainly true, when I reflect on my past three years living here in Wobbleville, those descriptors –if I really think hard about it– don’t capture the essence of “Home” for me.  I’ve felt very much at home these past three years but financially, they have been the most precarious of my entire life.  I have definitely never been financially poorer than I currently am right now, that’s for sure.  And as for friends and family, well– Bagel’s here with me.  So that certainly helps.  But when I spent my year abroad in Bageltopia, where we first met all those years ago, that was unequivocally not home, despite the fact that she was around a lot.  The weather was scorching hot and incredibly humid.  Us Wobbles are not built for Bageltopian weather.  It was rough.

So why have I felt so at home here in Wobbleville these past few years?  Though I have been lucky to make a couple good friends here through Meetup, we really only see each other several times a year.  And again, I’m super financially poor here.  Maybe not quite in dire straits, but definitely on my way there if things keep degenerating at their current pace.

Yet, Wobbleville feels like home to me emotionally.  First– the weather.  Omg, the weather.  You really don’t think this is a big deal until it is.  When I step outside and the air feels cool and crisp, that makes me feel good.  No bustling traffic or homeless people on every street corner.  Just quiet, idyllic countryside.  To be fair, Wobbleville is very similar to my own hometown in terms of geography, climate, and demographic composition.  Lots of white people.  Tons of churches.  No litter anywhere.  People are not rich here but we’re solid salt-of-the-earth people with our salt-of-the-earth ways.  No snobbish urban coastal elitism here.

The other thing is the general pace of life.  It’s chill and relaxed.  If I want to go anywhere, I just hop in the Bagelmobile and drive there.  No running to the metro station to try to catch a train.  No hustling and bustling down busy, crowded sidewalks which smell like urine and marijuana.  Here, the car is king. (Sorry, environment! No mass transit here!)  And that total freedom to go anywhere at any time whenever I want is a big part of why I feel like this is home. I feel like my self-centered egotism is fulfilled here. Do you taste that? That’s the taste of freedom.

For me, “home” isn’t about friends or family.  Or about financial security.  (Though, again, those are immensely important and I’d prefer to have both than to not.)  But for me, personally, home is somewhere I feel comfortable with my daily life routines.  It’s somewhere that I enjoy the weather and can easily get the food I like to eat (like Jersey Mike’s!).  And it’s a place where I can easily talk to my neighbors about whatever interests me and us.  Interestingly, back in my college days (eons ago), I found myself often offending people left and right with my conversation and thoughts.  It wasn’t even deliberate; it just happened.  But now, when I reflect on it more, I think that was a consequence of them.  Not me.  They were people who didn’t share my values.  And so conversation was incredibly tough.

(But to fair, I have certainly offended here in Wobbleville as well; the proportion of strike-outs has just been far smaller.)

Here, in Wobbleville though, I’m largely surrounded by people much less fragile who similarly share my values, especially out in the country away from the city center and younger university populations.  And honestly, that’s made all the difference.  Home is where you can be yourself without being socially ostracized and punished for it. Home is where you feel comfortable.

Fifty Laboratories of Democracy: The United States of America

Expecting a country as large and as pluralistic as the United States to adhere to a single set of laws, especially around highly controversial and divisive issues, is –IMHO– unrealistic and wrongheaded.  When it to comes to hot-button, social topics of the day such as abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, and recreational marijuana possession, I am a big proponent of strong states’ rights.  We are a country of a 330 million people that stretches a third of the entire North American continent.  Furthermore, we are a country of immigrants, composed of peoples from every region on earth, near and far.  As we often heard as schoolchildren growing up, America is more like “fifty laboratories of democracy.”  We are empiricists– what works well in Alabama may not be best for California.  And what people prefer in very cold Michigan may not work at all in very hot Florida.  This is perfectly fine– that’s the entire basis of America!

Being a strong Federalist, I believe in a small central federal government.  Obviously, in the Article of Confederation days, the federal government was too weak.  But fast forward to now, 2020, I think we’ve swung too far the other way.  Often times you hear about America being a “mixing pot” of peoples and cultures.  And this is true!  I definitely think there exists large swathes of the country where people from all walks have mixed and mingled– maybe during university, work, or just otherwise at Meetups and for fun.  Muslims and Christians have met, befriended, and married each other.  Black and white; Asian and Hispanic; etc.  That’s all great!  Mixing pots are wonderful and I personally love meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures.  And I think it’s fabulous and a genuine joy to do so.

But there are also other parts of the country that are more like a mosaic and most definitely not a mixing pot.  In just about every single one of the fifty states, you’ll find enclaves of highly-concentrated immigrant communities.  In New Jersey, there are whole neighborhoods and towns entirely Indian.  Indian grocers, Indian restaurants, Indian everything.  In California, in towns like Milpitas, you’ll wander around and see Chinese signage everywhere on cafes, clinics, churches, and laundromats.  Honestly, it gets to the point, whether in the Cuban communities of Florida, or Mexican communities in Arizona, that you could very justifiably wonder if you’re even in “America” anymore because you don’t see a single white person or any English anywhere.

But of course you are! It’s all America! That’s the beauty of it!

If you’re a rich multibillionaire and wish to live in a small, hyper-affluent neighborhood of ~3,000 people that is 92% white, you can! Or if you’re a bit poorer, a white supremacist, and want to live among your tribe, America’s got places for that too!

Like I said earlier– America is gigantic.  There is room enough in this great big, blessed country for all of us.  I am a staunch opponent against a muscular Supreme Court and big federal government because America is simply built on the fundamental bedrock of diversity and difference. We are not a one-size-fits-all-country.  If demographic trends continue, by 2050, America –a country founded by white settlers in Jamestown back in 1607– will become a “majority-minority” nation with non-white people (Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, etc) making up a majority of the country’s population.  The days of white majority are rapidly nearing an end so instead of fighting it (because you will lose), people should just accept this inevitable new reality. Be American! 😊

Supreme Court Shenanigans

Passing of the torch.

Keeping up with news and current affairs is honestly not high up on my list of priorities these days.  In fact, it’s not on my list at all.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I honestly didn’t learn about George Floyd’s death until weeks after it had happened.  And the shenanigans in both Seattle and Portland also only hit my radar weeks after the events had already concluded.

But, despite my best efforts to stay ignorant, the news of Amy Coney Barrett winding her way this week through Senate Confirmation Hearings to become a SCOTUS justice, which is of course a lifetime appointment, is honestly so fascinating that I’m going to dedicate today’s entry to the subject.

This story is so rich and interesting on so many levels.  Good lord, where to start.

Merrick Garland being stonewalled for a year… RBG dying with less than two months left to go… Ginsburg, for all of her many accomplishments, really messed this one up.  I know it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead (RIP RBG), but IMHO, she really screwed this one up royally.  I understand the allure of wanting to be replaced by the country’s first female president.  I really do.  But I really don’t think Ginsburg calculated the worst-case-scenario on this one.  Barrett’s going to undo Roe vs Wade and RBG’s entire legacy and life work.  Ginsburg had a chance to let Obama pick her successor.  But she wanted glory and to make history.  And now here we are.

One important takeaway from this whole sad fiasco is that we need to be cognizant of not being swept away our own imaginary narratives that we’re constantly playing through our heads.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  Somewhere in the back of your mind, you’re imagining your own life story as a Ron Howard movie, some Oscar-winning masterpiece for the ages.  And so you want to hit the predictable plot beats to provide the non-fiction events that’ll be fodder for that sweet, sweet Academy Award bait.  I know it; you know it; we all play this fantasy reel in our minds.

But don’t get caught in the trap.

Your narrative is entirely imaginary in your own head.  And as they say:  “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.”

RBG got caught in the trap; in the fiction of her own imaginary self-created narrative.  Giving the baton next to Hillary to let the first female president in American history anoint her successor.  And, well, then things didn’t break the way she thought they would.  So now we have consequences of that gross, grotesque miscalculation.

Don’t make the mistake RBG did.  Get out of your own head.  Pay attention to what’s actually going on around you.  And always account for the worst possible scenario.

Because if you don’t; it may just happen.

PS.  As a silver lining I’m actually a fan of Barrett ascending to the highest bench in the land.  Up until now, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia (and especially Harvard and Yale) have had a near monopoly on SCOTUS justices.  Sure, they’re good schools.  Nothing wrong with going to Harvard, Yale, or Columbia; I won’t hold it against you.  But they’re not exactly, uh, representative of the United States of America, right?  Our fair country of ~330 million; most of whom, to state the obvious, did not attend one of these three schools. (To give a little context, there are 237 law schools in the country.)  HYC are among the most selective schools not just in the US but on the face of planet earth.  Barrett is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School which has appointed a whopping ZERO number of SCOTUS justices.  It’s just my humble opinion but I generally think this is good.  Between HYC, those three schools account for something like A THIRD of all SCOTUS justices who have ever sat on the court in the ~244 years that America has existed.

SCOTUS needs to represent all of us, all American citizens.  And c’mon, Real Talk for a moment: Notre Dame is an elite school too.  (President Bartlet, the best president in American history (with apologies to FDR and Lincoln; you guys are a close second and third, respectively), graduated from Notre Dame!  Go Fighting Irish!)  So for this reason, I like Barrett getting the nod.

Journaling Every Single Day

Journaling publicly on this blog every day has been one of my favorite new habits that I’ve developed this year.  It’s truly become one of the joys of my day.  Undeniably, a big part of why I enjoy journaling so much is simply because it’s just so easy. Cranking out 400 words only takes 10-15 minutes and has the added benefit of being fun. I also usually learn or clarify something about myself that I hadn’t previously unpacked as thoroughly.

This day and age, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling to be able to score quick and easy wins.  Knocking out low-hanging fruit on a daily basis is a real ego-booster.  And at the end of every month, I can easily pull up a “monthly summary” and see all of the thousands of words I’ve written in the past thirty days.  (Eventually, I need to code some kinda tool that’ll aggregate all of it automatically but right now it remains a manual task, alas.)

While I journaled privately for many years (in both longhand in spiralbound notebooks and also locally on my computer), one aspect of publicly journaling that I’ve really come to appreciate is that although I blog anonymously, just by virtue of the entire endeavor being public it forces on me a personal desire to ensure that my entries actually comprehensively represent what I in fact believe.

What this means, practically, is that I’ll often finish an entry, be satisfied with it in that moment, post it, but then in the back of my brain somewhere, some cognitive threads (that I don’t consciously control) will continue processing in the background and be subconsciously reviewing whatever opinion I just expressed publicly out into the world. Sure, only a few people follow this blog but I personally feel responsible to myself. So I’ll occasionally revisit an entry, usually days later, sometimes longer, and revise the piece to more accurately reflect my mental model. This’ll mean deleting content that I might have been hyperbolic about or adding material that adds additional nuance to a subject that I feel necessary. It’s fun! I think it’s good that we revise our mental models and feel a semblance of responsibility for what thoughts and views we pour out into the public sphere. To me, that’s just part and parcel to being a good citizen of humanity.

Finally, once you generate a corpus of original material that represents you, then you can start second-order analysis and organizational activities like mind maps.  From the always-excellent Paul Ford at the Postlight Podcast, I recently learned about Whimsical, a really neat diagramming tool.  Using the tool, I’ve been building an ontology of my mental space.  While some of my daily entries categorize neatly, other entries have been more challenging to organize and I’m still working through on how best to create my own personal taxonomy and schema.  One conundrum I’ve currently encountered is that there are multiple ways to slice and dice the data.  In Excel, it’s easy to build a data cube and then pivot on whatever axes you care about because the data is all clearly columned and labeled.  But since I still don’t know how best to label my own data, I haven’t figured out a good way on how best to tag my mental space and create different “custom views” for it.  Ah, understanding thyself– truly a never-ending project!

Write a Novel

In the course of one’s life, I believe that everyone should write an original novel.  Not fan fiction and not a novella or short story, but a wholly unique full-length novel entirely of your own imagination and creation.  If you consider a standard-issue novel to be 70,000-80,000 words, writing 400 words a day will yield a full-length, bonafide novel in 175-200 days, or basically about six months.  Six months and you could have the next Da Vinci Code on your hands!

Now, to be fair, not all of us are going to be writing Stephen King or Dan Brown bestsellers.  But that’s not the point.  I encourage everyone to write a longform work of fiction because doing so is valuable and healthy training for your mind.  Specifically, it disciplines you to keep to a daily habit that exercises your mental faculties.  In composing a long-form fiction story that runs hundreds of pages, you need to be able to stay focused and logically connect every day’s events in your story in a sensible and competent way to the events that will happen tomorrow.  This may sound trivial and banal but it’s honestly a skill.  When I first began writing, I found I had a tendency of lurching and careening all over the map.  I’d write neat standalone vignettes or scenes but they’d be entirely isolated and not connect to a greater overarching story.  It really took focus on my end to calm down and not only “write the fun parts.”  As a storyteller, you’re responsible for the whole shebang.

Additionally, you need to learn to give your characters distinct voices and personalities which is a proxy of you also developing a well-honed sense of empathy in your own mind.  After all, all of the voices in a novel ultimately originate from one source:  You.  You are responsible for writing a believable hero and villain.  You need to always stay vigilant that everyone’s perspectives and motivations stay consistent and believable.

Finally, writing long-form fiction will also train you in the way of pacing a story.  Events in a story always need to be moving; the reader needs a reason to stay engaged.  Keeping a reader hooked and on the wagon for hundreds of pages is no easy task.  I’m certainly no expert but I follow one single axiom to guide my writing:  Is this something that I would personally read and enjoy?  In every day’s installment, I try to always include a passage, sequence, or turn of phrase that I personally chuckle at.  Generally, I hope what amuses me will also amuse others.  But honestly, I have no idea.

Next month, November, is the annual National Novel Writing Month and so I strongly suggest you start writing.  The world may or may not be eagerly awaiting your Next Great American Novel but if you commit and follow through with the endeavor, you will personally get a lot out of it.  I guarantee it.

Growing Older

Growing older has an interesting effect of compressing the passage time.  When we are young, time feels like it passes more slowly because as children, we are just doing so much stuff.  We have sports like tennis and soccer practice, extracurricular clubs like Model UN, and musical endeavors like orchestra and band camp.  Every waking hour of our day is filled with some activity, whether it be school-related, hanging out with friends, or personal time expenditures like reading and videogaming.  As a kid, you’re never bored; there’s always something to do.

Once you become an adult though, that entire universe of activity reduces down to only two spheres:  Work and personal time expenditures.  Now, to be fair, I don’t currently have kids so I have no idea what raising children is like.  So I can’t speak to that.  But I know as a childless adult, my days pass far more quickly than they ever did when I was younger.  The chief reason for this is monotony.  In school, especially elementary school, every day you attend class is an adventure.  There’s something new to constantly learn.  And once you get to high school and college, the year conveniently breaks down into semesters so your days then orbit around cramming for midterms, submitting projects, and completing problem sets.  Your entire world is structured.

But then you graduate and start working and all of those natural time markers disappear.  No more midterms and final exams.  No more final group presentations to prepare for or regional competitions to strive towards.  Adult life is simply one long haul.  It just keeps going and going and going, and your days in the cubicle begin to blur together because they’re all similar.

One remedy against the inexorable march of time and inevitable decline is to create your own structure.  You may no longer have Mrs. Henderson in AP US History giving you weekly reading assignments or Professor Donovan in sophomore English Lit telling you read pages 313-350 in Moby Dick this week but the good news is that this and age, with the internet, one can easily build your own curriculum.  The world is literally your oyster and you can read and explore as much of it, on your own pace, as you wish.  There’s never been a greater time to be alive for self-directed lifelong learners than today.

Another daily habit, that I really cannot emphasize enough, is journaling every day.  Since starting this daily writing exercise back this past August, I have actually felt time slow down.  I can look back on my blog and see what I wrote about last week or last month, and I’ll distinctly remember having done that.  Writing every day is an easy way of breaking up the monotony of adult life.  Go ahead and give it whirl; you may just surprise yourself.

Exporting American Culture is the New Imperialism

Game of Thrones was the most pirated show in the world from 2012-2017.

Empire-building and its days of colonial rule are long over.  But the spirit of imperialism lives on.  Once upon a time, the British Empire stretched far and wide, across the entire globe.  Everywhere from North America to Africa to Asia, spanned the Empire.  Among its many expansionary territories were the thirteen colonies in America, India on the Asian subcontinent, and a variety of outposts like Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean and Barbados in the Caribbean.

Fast forward to our present day and the practice of colonizing foreign lands and enslaving the local people have largely fallen out of favor (unless your name is Vladimir Putin and we’re talking about the Crimean Peninsula).  But generally, aside from a few notable exceptions, the international community now mostly frowns upon colonizing and enslaving other native lands and indigenous people by force.

So how does one satiate a country’s expansionary impulses and thirst for dominion in the absence of brute physical force?  In a word:  Globalization.  I would argue that America has done it best (though the Swedes –with their Volvo, Spotify, and IKEA– are surprisingly not far behind); from Moscow to Johannesburg to Alexandria, if you visit virtually anywhere in the world, you will find a McDonalds and a Starbucks every few city blocks.  (Sometimes, even on a the same block.)  If you visit Paris or Cairo, you will find Kentucky Fried Chicken.  If you go to Luxemburg, right next to Belgium’s finest chocolatier, you will find a Burger King.

It’s not just fast food establishments either.  In Beijing, Tokyo, Milan, and Darwin, the top-grossing movies at your local cineplex have all been installments from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past ten years.  They may be dubbed over in Japanese or Russian or Italian, but there’s Captain America and Iron Man on the silver screen, fighting Thanos to the cheers of young Greek, Chinese, and Filipinos everywhere.

Imperialism, in the form of American culture, lives on to this very day.  And it’s everywhere, all around us, all the time.  There is no escape.  This is the new American World Order.

One can argue that there are many positives about this arrangement.  With the internet and The YouTube, the world has never been smaller.  And people from all countries and cultures, even if they can’t speak the same language, can all appreciate the adventures of Shrek, the green ogre, or enjoy Tom Cruise (who’s now nearly SIXTY years old), fighting terrorists on the Seine or in the Brazilian rain forest or wherever.  That’s all good and dandy.

But on the other hand, as old geezers like me are wont to do every generation, one can bemoan the current state of the world and our apparently inexorable death march, Pol Pot style, towards evermore homogeneity.  Is a Burger King in Amsterdam really what we visit the Netherlands for?  Is having a slice at Pizza Hut in Rome really the genuine Italian experience?  Is that the sum and pinnacle accomplishment of the human species?

Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States has been written about endlessly.  Tens of thousands of trees have valiantly given their lives so masses of teeming humanity can read with bated breath the latest exploits our idiot Commander in Chief.  Much of the material that has been written about the Orange Cheeto has been overwhelmingly negative.  At this point, one doesn’t exactly need to reach very far, intellectually or otherwise, to write a hot take that’s critical of our very stable genius.

That’s why, today and today only, I’m going to work those empathic muscles of the mind and write a piece praising Donald J. Trump.  That’s right, there’s not going to be an ounce of negativity here, no Sir.  For today, and today only, we are a bastion of positivity and praise here in the Wobbleverse.  Nothing but compliments and singing of songs.

Okay, three positive things about the Donald J. Trump presidency are as follows.

First:  Donald J. Trump being coronated as the 45th President of these United States, to me, unequivocally proves that literally anyone can become President.  I could be President.  Literally, me.  There was a time when I thought being the leader of the free world and being the President of the most powerful country on earth, the United States of America, took skill and talent.  Or at least skill.  Now, I see that’s a complete and utter lie.  You apparently don’t need any qualifications to be the President of America.  Trump ascending to the throne has given legions of talentless children around the world hope that if they put their minds to it and work hard, that they do can become anything their little hearts and minds desire.  This is good. I think.

Second:  Trump brought legions of Americans who had entirely given up on American electoral politics out of the woodwork and to the voting booths.  For decades, American voters were declining every election cycle with an increasing number of citizens growing sick and disenchanted with the whole process.  People had grown so sick of the whole enterprise that they were deciding to just drop out of the democratic process entirely. Or they’d always been so jaded and unimpressed with the candidates that they’d never bothered to participate in the first place.  But the same way that the Obama candidacy inspired millions of first-time voters to exercise their sacred democratic voting rights, Trump becoming the Republican candidate in 2016 likewise inspired millions of older, uneducated white Americans who had never before in their lives voted, who couldn’t have found a voting booth if their lives had depended on it, a champion for whom to believe in for the first time in their lives.  For these people, the majority of whom uneducated and cynical, Trump represented an antiestablishment gladiator who championed “saying the quiet part aloud” and could “own the libs.”  In a democracy, we the people get the leaders we deserve.  And many hadn’t seen a candidate that that shared their values since the days of George Wallace.  But then came Trump!  Trump gave millions of previously voiceless Americans a newfound voice– finally, someone who shared their values and visions for American life moving into the 21st century!  For many Americans, Trump represented the answers to all of their prayers.  Jesus had finally delivered a champion who would fight for them and their values.

Third:  A Trump Presidency, assuming it continues for another four years, will show people that, “Huh– who you actually put in charge does matter.”  Politics has always been one of those thankless realms of American life that I’ve honestly never envied.  Sure, Presidents and elected officials get to go down in the history books and be recorded for all of posterity.  And there’s certainly an attractiveness there that I understand.  But being the leader of hundreds of millions is one of those gigs where when things go right, people just kind of assume they should.  And it’s really only when things really go sideways and hit the fan, that people sit up and notice who you are.

If we get eight years of a Trump Presidency, by the time he leaves office, a good chunk of the American populace will have needlessly died, the environment will have sustained even more irreversible damage, millions will be unemployed and tens of thousands of small businesses will have been shuttered and livelihoods lost.  Meanwhile, Trump will have named at least three Supreme Court Justices to lifetime appointments, disbanded the EPA, and God knows what else.  The Orange Cheeto will leave the Republic in such a shambolic state that all of the cynics and naysayers, people who their entire lives thought, “Nah, it doesn’t matter who’s in office; they’re all the same.” unequivically wrong.  Sure, we had to burn down half of America to convince them that government matters.  But sometimes, you’ve gotta burn the whole thing down to pave way for a more complete rebuild.  Else, you just get a zombie system that staggers on for decades that’s dying slowly but surely from a thousand cuts.

So in summary:  Thank you, Donald J. Trump– you did something I honestly thought no American President possibly ever could.  You taught us that anyone can become President, gave a voice to disenchanted millions who had given up on democracy, and showed us that whoever runs the government actually matters.   Well done, Sir, well done.   Truly, bravo.

Anonymous & Public

A few years back, the notion of “safe spaces” took the world by storm.  And while I definitely don’t support “intellectual safe spaces” at a place like the college campus (it’s literally called higher education; the young minds of tomorrow are supposed to grapple with difficult and challenging ideas at a school— that’s the entire point), I do support the idea of a kind of “safe space” that a public and anonymous blog occupies on the internet.  Ie. What you’re reading now.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the entire process of writing is a kind of “scratch space” in which I play around with different opinions and ideas that I may be entertaining on a particular subject.  These thoughts are usually inchoate or minimally at various stages of development; only through the process of writing and putting down my thinking into concrete, discrete and concrete units of meaning on paper do I slowly tease out my true feelings and positions.  This process, like any other process of discovery and formulation, will be full of dead ends, incomplete thoughts, and illogical/circular/nonsensical reasonings.   That is simply the nature of thinking.

Active thinking, on a particular subject —any subject— is a habit I wholly encourage folks to do more of.  Nowadays, I know it’s immensely easy to fall into “passive consumerist mode.”  When we have a free twenty minutes, it may be tempting to just flip on The YouTube and waste an hour entertaining ourselves with cute squirrel videos or whatever.

But instead:  I urge people to stretch their brains and form an opinion about something, anything.  Read up on a subject that interests you, think about it critically from multiple angles, weigh the pros and cons, and write about it.

For me, a public and anonymous blog serves as an ideal medium for this process.  By being public, it allows me to share my nascent ideas with select individuals (and the world writ large); by being anonymous, it affords me a measure of security in being able to write freely and without fear of backlash or reprimand.  There are other logistical benefits of keeping a public blog too– chief of which is that I leave behind a concrete, very real body of work, which I can easily look back on and trace the trajectory of my own growth and thinking.  And finally:  For whatever reason, for me at least, a public blog on which I publish articles gives me a personal feeling of responsibility and accountability to write every day.  For many years, I journaled privately.  But since transitioning to a public writing habit this summer, I can definitively say –for me at least– this public facet matters.  It makes me take the entire enterprise more seriously.  Even if I had zero online readers, just by nature of its publicness, it feels like there’s a legitimacy to the project that makes me write (and hold to a schedule) more seriously.

The Unfulfilled Promise of the Internet – Part I

Unfulfilled promises are a dime a dozen.  Having high hopes dashed for a promising prospect that sadly never fully reifies is an all-too-common occurrence.  But when I think of all of the Freddy Adus and Amazon Fire phones of the world, there is no greater disappointment than the current state of the internet.  Honestly, some people reading this likely didn’t even exist back in the 1990s, but in today’s entry, lemme tell you whippersnapper youngbloods a story of what we had all thought the internet would become back in the day of Gateway 2000 PCs and dial-up modems.

So, the usual short caveat paragraph:  Obviously, there are many good things about the current internet.  I can order eggs and milk from Jeff Bezos’s empire and have it literally (within two hours!) delivered to my doorstep. (Now, to be fair, it happens on the backs of essentially slave labor, but that’s a diatribe for another time.)  Likewise, I can spin up The YouTube and listen to virtually any song or watch any movie clip I wish on a whim.  All these things are unequivocally good.  (Well, the slave labor part is less unequivocally good, but the convenience is good, I mean.)

Now onto the glaring and gigantic disappointment:  Originally, there had been a belief that with “the information superhighway,” humanity was going to usher in a new utopian supranational, truly global community.  There was an idea that when you signed into an AOL chatroom, the person on the other side may be half-a-world away from you and hail from a totally different culture, but that person would be, in a way, fundamentally good.  S/he would be, like yourself be a decent human being; an inquisitive sort curious about the world and its ways.  There was an entire idea (mythology?) that complete strangers would connect and learn from each other.  On the internet, no one may know you’re a dog; but there was also a belief that you could shoot up a single flare up into the great night sky and that a group of likeminded people, fundamentally kind and decent, would find you.  And that a community of love and mutual learning/understanding would ensue.

Fast forward a quarter century and all of that seems like a sick joke now.  Everywhere I turn, it’s two-second memes.  There is no getting to know complete strangers in any genuine or authentic way.  Instead, there are only walled gardens and ruthless scam artists.  I have no idea whom I can trust and on Facebook– the system purportedly built on “Real ID” in order to facilitate “trust”– God forbid if I express any thought that is “against popular opinion”– doing anything of the sort will simply get you lynched by the hate-mob.  In twenty-five years, the internet literally degenerated into the lowest common denominator.  No, even worse than that, actually, if that’s believable.  We largely make each other worse human beings online.  We really do.

But… wait! Is all hope lost? No! We are human beings! We never surrender! We never quit! It is simply not in our DNA! The human species survived the Bubonic plague; we sure as hell aren’t going to be defeated by the likes of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Thus, I think I have an idea that could help restore “The Internet” (or at least, a tiny part of it) to what it was originally meant to be! Tune in tomorrow to find out more! 😇

TikTok: The Beginning of the End of American Tech Supremacy

TikTok is one of those of those apps that was honestly barely on my radar.   Oh man, if there were ever a sign that I’m super-old and practically prehistoric, this would be it.  That some new “short video sharing” app had skyrocketed into the stratosphere, somehow succeeding where Vine had failed, that also managed to defeat long-entrenched incumbent powerhouses like YouTube and Facebook Video.  I was genuinely shocked, I tell you, shocked.

But last week, a16z ran one of their handy “news summary” episodes that happened to cover TikTok and so I got to learn all about this newfangled, shiny object.  To me, TikTok is noteworthy not because it suddenly became super-popular among teens and tweens, but because it is the first super-popular global app that’s gotten a foothold in the American market that was built in China.

How were internet super-giants such as Google and Facebook outflanked by the much-smaller, nimbler TikTok?  The always-thoughtful Eugene Wei wrote a great in-depth analysis of how TikTok was built from the ground-up to prioritize a watcher’s “interest-graph” over his/her “social-graph.”  Dinosaur-era networks like Facebook were built on the foundational theory that you’ll most probably like what your friends like.  And that may or may not be true.  But what’s incredibly more powerful is if the algorithm can simply understand you— TikTok’s super-granular tagging (done by armies and legions of humans in China) is a large part of what makes this possible.

The young blood today likely doesn’t know this, but I’m old enough to remember a time when “Made in China” was actually a sign of extraordinary cheapness and low-quality.  It was a kinda pejorative label applied to some commodity item being built by the lowest bidder in the middle kingdom.  Well, that era has certainly ended.  Software prowess, innovation, and invention –which many thought for the longest time was the sole dominion of Silicon Valley and the Americans– has been taken over by the Chinese.  I’ve written before how I believe this next century will be The Chinese Century and this whole latest TikTok saga just further reinforces my belief in that sad inevitability.

What I think is especially intriguing (if somewhat predictable, I guess?) is that America’s response, under Trump, towards this new changing of the guard is to simply threaten to ban TikTok in America, or at least force ByteDance’s divestiture.  At the moment, it’s increasingly looking like ByteDance will be selling and handing over all US operations to Oracle (which is fascinating).  Oracle, the enterprise colossus run by Larry “It’s not enough I win; everyone else most fail” Ellison.

Buckle in for the ride folks; this is probably the Fort Sumter moment of the global geopolitical tech wars.  Things are about to get interesting.

Quitting the Rat Race is the American Dream

Quitting the Rat Race is the American Dream.  Over breakfast this morning, I had an interesting discussion with Bagel about entrepreneurship and working in America.  As I’ve mentioned before, Bagel is not American– she hails from Bageltopia.  And Bageltopians possess a significantly different cultural value system compared with Americans.  For Bageltopians, the prime good in respectable society –the highest one can aspire to achieve– is to work at one of the Big Three companies in the country.  I don’t know what the exact math works out to, but the Big Three in Bageltopia accounts for something like 50% of GDP, I bet.  It’d be like the Google, Facebook, Apple of Silicon Valley (or Microsoft and Amazon of Seattle; or in a previous era– the GM, Ford, Chrysler of Detroit).  Anyway, the entire corporate landscape in Bageltopia is dominated by these three companies and every year, new college graduates fall over themselves applying and trying to win prestigious admission via a very intense selection progress (a lot of standardized testing!  Scantron bubble sheets!).  While we certainly have more famous companies in America, I was telling Bagel that here in this country, in America, we much more admire and respect the small business owner or entrepreneur or artist.

Additionally, what’s really super-weird to me is that in Bageltopia, Bagel was telling me, society actually looks down on small business owners and artists. The thinking there is that the only reason one would work for themselves is only because you’re not able to find gainful employment with one of the big companies. Thus, self-employment, being an artist or small business owner, is actually a kind of scarlet letter and hot branding of failure and epic social shame of unthinkable and immeasurable magnitude. (You think I’m being hyperbolic but I’m really not! People really believe this in other parts of the world! I do not kid you!)

Obviously, this is only my opinion, but I feel in America, one of the quintessential dreams of making money is actually the opposite of joining a Big Famous Company.  Sure, there are plenty of folks who aspire for those kinda sinecures.  But even better than that is making your own company and working for yourself.  To not have to report The Man every day and punch the clock. But to be The Man.  In America, we all wish we could quit the Rat Race and escape the daily grind– not join it!  The dream is to open a small auto shop or café around the corner and be constantly raking in the moolah even if you’re not on the job!  Or write a book or Christmas song/jingle and then earn royalties on that work in perpetuity (ie. forever)You could be vacationing in Fiji or backpacking across the Andes and still have the money pouring in every month.  To Americans, I feel this is our American Dream.


Parenting is one of those topics that occasionally crosses my mind.  In recent years, I’ve known several friends who have made the leap and while everyone dresses it up in very beautiful language, I personally believe a more unpopular theory on why some couples become parents.  It’s unromantic but I also think it’s true.  Of course, certainly not true for everyone.  But I do think this is true far more often than not; even if people aren’t ready to admit it:  They get bored.

When people first get married, it’s romantic and sexy– the so-called “honeymoon period.”  Nowadays, most couples (at least in the western world) cohabitate and live together for a good stretch of time before ever tying the knot.  Thus, marriage itself, doesn’t actually change anything.  You get to jointly file your taxes and get some tax breaks that way (single people are truly punished in this country, tax-wise, IMHO) and also your insurance premiums also unfortunately go way up if you’re getting coverage under a main provider.  But other than those logistical, clerical changes, not much else happens.  Oh, I guess:  In society, for whatever reason, saying “you’re married” confers a kinda seriousness/maturity/gravity.  That’s definitely a thing.  Never mind that half of all marriages end in divorce in America; married people occupy at least a slightly different valence in societal dynamics when it comes to perceived maturity/respectability.

But my take is that after several years, after the initial heat and frisson dissipates, and then many couples kinda look at each other and realize that they’re bit bored.  If they’re both working, they’ve likely saved a good amount of money at this point and they’re not quite sure what to do next.  (I have heard –again, this is totally anecdotal– that many women feel a biological instinct/urge around the 30-year mark so that may be part of it too?  I’m honestly unsure if this can be generalized.)  But I postulate that many married couples look at each other at a certain point in their marriages and just kinda say, “Eh, why not?”  And then try to make babies.  They desire a new project to work on that’ll keep life interesting and keep them together.  It’s like starting a new RPG quest that’ll knock 18 years (or more, if you make multiple babies) off the clock.


Novelty is one of the main drivers that keeps me going.  One of the challenges of 2020 is that with a global pandemic afoot, folks have not been able to venture outside and follow their usual routines.  The sustained and prolonged inability to go to an office workplace, interact with colleagues, and just have a change of scenery and pace has been enormously unhealthy.  I consider human beings as generalized differential engines.  We understand everything only as a series of contrasts.  As Huxley wrote years ago in Brave New World:  “There is no black without white and no night without day.”  This is actually one reason I started this personal daily writing project back in August– it is a salubrious way of marking time.  Every day, I write on a new subject which forces my mind to stretch itself in new directions, toward new horizons.  The human brain like any other muscle in your body:  If unused for long periods of time, the brain will atrophy and devolve into grey mush.

Additionally, novelty is a motivation all its own when it comes to the creative arts.  During his session this past Saturday at Muskogee, Lev Grossman was asked, “What makes a good story?” His answer really stuck with me as he cited a scene from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925).  Woolf wrote about a high-society woman (Dalloway) on the bench and even after the woman went to sleep, Woolf just kept on writing the scene. Grossman said he’d never seen writing like that and it just absolutely blew his mind.

This idea, “Do what has not already been done before.” is another reason I write and code.  I enjoy thinking up projects that I’ve never seen before but feel should exist.  This ability to take a figment of one’s imagination and reify it into the material world is essentially magic.  For me at least, the act of creation is what it means to be alive. As long as we are continuously growing, always learning something new, and following our interests and curiosities wherever they may lead us, then there is always a reason to live. The world is too big and our puny human lives are too short to waste any more time than we already do.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

When Mental Models Go Stale + Levels of Certainty

Mental models are important.  But we need to always consider how fresh our models are.  I like and agree with Derek Sivers’s take that he normally never immediately responds to most questions because his answer will “be erroneously based upon old and outdated self-knowledge.” So here’s my rant for the morning:  IMHO, people really should attach a confidence interval (or “level of certainty”) with their predictions or comments.  Generally, unless I otherwise specify, I usually speak with around an 80% confidence.  Meaning, I am roughly 80% certain in whatever I’m talking about and in my position.  But sometimes, I am much less or much more certain.  In those cases, I will usually specify.

For example, yesterday a friend asked me about Sam Harris.  I know of Harris and have listened to his podcast before.  But several years back I’d lost interest in him and had stopped listening.  Every single one of his episodes –at least for a stretch that I’d listened to– had devolved into an opening ten minutes of airing grievances.  Whether fairly or unfairly (most likely the latter), I’d come to think of Harris, at least as he presented himself, as “the most aggrieved man in America.”  (Also, his podcast’s old name, Waking Up, always struck me as enormously condescending.  So that was already one strike.  His podcast’s new name, Making Sense, is marginally better but still has a whiff of superiority about it that slightly irks.) As of yesterday, my mental model of Harris had understandably gone stale.  That is, I had no idea what he’s up to nowadays, what news surrounds him, etc.

Thus, when I opined on Sam Harris, I think it was responsible that I gave “my-mental-model-of-him-has-staled” qualifier.  I have data on him that I can convey to you, but my impression is an old impression.  And thus, just being cognizant of that actually makes me more amenable to receiving and processing new information on Harris.  If more people followed these guidelines I’m laying out, I think we’d live in a much saner world.  People should go about being, and sounding, much less certain.  You’re more willing to receive and process new data if your cup isn’t already flowing over. The world is rapidly changing and we’re constantly revising our internal models to approximate what on earth is going on around us. In fact, coupled to this thought: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become infinitely more weary of anyone who sounds certain about anything. In fact, if we ever converse, the more certain you sound, the less I’ll probably think of you. (Also, no offense intended, but if you’re young, this especially applies to you.)

With Great Power

Great power comes with great responsibility. Uncle Ben’s immortal, final words in his last moments on this little blue planet. This afternoon, Cal sent me this article about how the Academy was changing the criteria it uses to award the Best Picture Oscar.  Basically, the new rules dictate that starting in 2022, to be eligible to win top prize, movies will need to meet new “diversity guidelines.”  It’s worth reiterating that these new rules only apply to the “Best Picture” contenders and also that they can be satisfied not just by the actors in the movie, but also the staff crewing a movie as well.  So, for example, as Vox helpfully explains— even a movie like The Irishman that looks pretty overwhelmingly white would’ve, in 2022, qualified just fine.  Scorsese’s longtime collaborators (a producer, casting director, and editor) are all women and the film’s cinematographer also hails from Mexico.  Diversity guidelines met!

Initially, I confess, my knee-jerk reaction was predictably annoyance and umbrage.  Another liberal overreach!  Who are they to tell artists how to make movies?  But then as I calmed down and thought through it more, I slowly warmed to the idea as my more authoritarian leanings kicked in.  A few years back, the whole #OscarsSoWhite mania had hit and significantly damaged the liberal image of Hollywood.  Additionally, I actually agree— forget all of the PC stuff.  The structure of the Academy– meaning, the way it’s actually constructed— grants lifetime memberships.  So predictably, the voting membership heavily skews old, male, and white because of historical circumstances. But in 2020 America, the Academy constituency no longer demographically reflects the country and that’s problematic.

Right now, all of the old white men have all (or at least, most) of the power.  And they’re trying to encourage others to come get some of it!  Good for them.  The Oscars is just a prize.  It’s an arbitrary badge of prestige.  If you want to make movies that don’t meet the new diversity guidelines in 2022, you’re welcome to do so!  No one will be stopping you.  The Academy is a private institution and can make its rules accordingly.  If you dislike it, feel free to take your ball and go home.

My take is that the Academy is trying to do a good thing– correct hundreds of years of racism and sexism in its industry. This is a step in the right direction.  Yeah, artists may feel like they’ll need “to compromise their creative vision” moving forward, but if the new guidelines even help a tiny bit in greenlighting more minority-backed and racially diverse movies, then I think that’s good.  This whole situation makes me think of HR hiring policies at big companies like Microsoft and Facebook or college admissions at elite universities.  There are only a limited number of spots and meritocracy is only a part of the picture.  The reason the woman with a less stellar resume may get the job, or a Hispanic student with lower SAT scores may be admitted is because on the company or college-administration end, there is also an interest in maintaining a diverse workplace or campus.  It behooves other super-excellent male and white students (the future Brett Kavanaughs and George W. Bushes of the world) to meet female and non-white students and employees.  It’s a collective consideration that’s for the greater good.

So in summary:  I’m all for it!  Good job, Academy!  Flex those authoritarian biceps!  Be the change you want to see in the world! 👍👍👍

Ben Affleck

This DVD commentary is the stuff of legend, I kid you not.

Ben Affleck, I consider, one of the finer actor/directors of our generation. This is a hill I’m ready to die on. At the tender age of 25, Affleck won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for writing Good Will Hunting (with his childhood friend, Matt Damon!) and then later directed the Best Picture winner, Argo.  But forget all that.  This is the man who starred in Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and portrayed Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeThe Batfleck!

I still remember when the casting decision was announced for Snyder’s movie– the internet went positively ballistic hearing the news.  People were hysterical and completely beside themselves.  I still remember all of the memes which plentifully abounded.

Honestly, I’ve never fully understood all of the Ben Affleck hate.  Sure, he was in his fair share of Michael Bay summer blockbusters (two).  But is that such a crime?  Later in life, he did smaller, more intimate movies like The Town, Triple Frontier, and The Way Back.  Moreover, his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone was highly acclaimed and he was also the same guy in Shakespeare in Love which I remember won tons of awards!  So this morning, I explored this topic.  (Sometimes I’m curious about the grand mysteries; some other days, the more mundane.)

So it turns out, after a two-minute Google investigation, the consensus seems to be that Ben Affleck gets a lot of hate because of his off-screen tabloid life.  I don’t remember this, but apparently “Bennifer” was a thing when he dated Jennifer Lopez decades ago and that material became tabloid fodder.  Also, he eventually married and divorced Jennifer Garner and people seem upset with that.  Again, I obviously know nothing of the details.  But as David Plotz remarked on this past week’s SPG episode, “Every couple’s marriage is a foreign country.”  We honestly have no idea what is going on there.  Zero.  It bewilders me and strikes me extremely irresponsible for people to even speculate on the innerworkings of the marriages of others.  Totally ridiculous.

Other than cursory searches, I really don’t know anything specific about Ben Affleck– his Wikipedia page does state that he and several family members (two grandparents) have long suffered from a history of addiction problems.  Both grandparents died by eventual suicide.

Man, I learned more about Ben Affleck this morning than I ever knew.  I simply knew him from his movies; I certainly don’t know him as a person.  But I’ve enjoyed much of his work which has brought me great joy in my own life.  Ben Affleck, wherever you are, I wish you well and hope you are happy.

Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere

Adventure is required.  In this short life we lead, we all have different requirements.  Everyone needs the minimal basics:  Food, water, love.  But beyond that, we all make it varying levels up Maslow’s Pyramid.  For some of us, finding a stable job and raising a happy family is sufficient.  For others, we need to travel the world, visit different cultures, and try different foods.  Yet others will need to start their own businesses, attempt to build an empire, or write that great book or song.  Concretely, the manifestation of what we each all individually require may differ.  But the through-line is there, plain as day:  Adventure.

Adventure is pushing forth into the unknown and coupled tightly with its younger sibling, Hope.  Those are the two aspects in life we need most because they keep things fresh and challenging.  They keep us going, curious about what the future holds but is not yet known.  There needs to always be one new challenge around the corner, one new monster to defeat.  Else, what is it all for?

Existing is not living.  Existing is trudging through every day in a small provincial town with only a single bookshop.  It’s working in the cubicle farm, day-in and day-out with soulless eyes and a thousand-yard stare, punching the clock where every minute feels like an hour.  Where your heart should be… only a void; you think, but you do not feel.  You are clever, but you are not kind.  But as the great Charlie Chaplin once reminded us, “You are not cattle!  You are men!  You have the love of humanity in your hearts!”  Humans are not meant to sit on our asses for nine hours a day in small enclosed spaces!  To stare at little glowing screens!  We are not machines!  We are men!

“Earth’s Darkest Day Will Be Man’s Finest Hour.”

Also, can we please appreciate for a moment the sheer lunacy of Michael Bay’s genius? This movie was already hitting on all cylinders for me but when Ben Affleck engages the Gatling machine guns on the Armadillo (which for some reason they lugged into outer space, onto the asteroid) and shoots his way outta the shuttle, I just completely lost it. This is unquestionably the greatest film in the history of cinema. Unquestionably.

The Armadillo at Disneyland Paris back in 2011!

The Chinese Century

Xi Jinping consolidated his power two years ago and masterfully found a way to remove China’s “presidential two-term limit” back in the March of 2018.  Lord only knows what kind of backroom wheeling/dealing, savvy political maneuvering/campaigning/horse-trading, and backstabbing/double/triple-crossing it took to accomplish the feat.  Truly, my imagination runs wild wondering what those months leading up to the 2018 National People’s Congress looked like, there in The Great Hall of the People in Beijing.   Yes, the Chinese Constitution forebode it.  But in the end, through hook or crook, carrot and stick, Xi successfully amended the Constitution and removed the term limits.  All but two of the 2,964 delegates of the National People’s Congress ratified the change.  It can be done and was done.  I sometimes wonder about those two delegates who held out.  Whatever happened to them?  Where are they now?

I am not the first to say this, and nor will I be the last, but this next century is going to be The Chinese Century.  Similar to how 1900-2000 was the American Century, 2000-2100 will belong to China.

Sure, America’s not going anywhere.  But it’s the beginning of the end, the same way the UK was never the same after World War II as its empire began to crumble.  First, India went in 1947; Cypress in 1960; and then Kenya and Malaya (now, Malaysia) followed in 1963.  A new world order had arrived with titanic shifts in global power structures as the stars realigned.  Also, for reference, China’s population currently clocks in at ~1.39 billion compared to America’s 327 million.  It’s simply inevitable.

What will The Chinese Century bring?  Time will tell but one thing’s certain:  Not since the USSR has western democracy and liberalism been significantly challenged in the way we’re about to witness.  Everyone just kind of assumed democracy and universal human rights was “the right answer.”  But is it?  Authoritarian China has neither of those and is rapidly on its way to building a new global hegemony.  But will China succeed?  Undoubtedly:  We live in interesting times.

Andre Agassi: “I hate tennis with a dark and secret passion.”

Talent can be both a gift and a curse.  What we are good at may not necessarily be what we love. When it is, then the world is beautiful and great. But when it’s not, it becomes hell on earth.  On one hand, you can say “it’s a good problem to have.” Which is true. But from another perspective, it’s a curse.  When you are have no options, you are not responsible for choosing.  The choice is simply forced upon you and you can comfort yourself, always, that the path you are on is simply your destiny.  These were the cards you were dealt and you’re just going through the motions, following the predetermined script.

But when you do have options, choosing can be both liberating and damning. Because then you are truly responsible for whatever comes next.  Thus, this choice can a burden.  If you realize your talent and potential, doing so may consume your entire life requiring thousands upon thousands of hours.  Maybe you’re good at tennis.  But maybe you’re also good at painting!  Or writing!  Or software development!  Or basketball.  Who knows?

But if you don’t pursue and realize your God-given talent, you may also later regret it for the rest of your days.  Emotionally, you might not be able to rationalize away the feeling that you could’ve possibly been a great, possibly been a contender.  Maybe one of the best to have ever played the game.

I learned on Reddit today that Andre Agassi positively despised and hated tennis.  His father, who was Armenian and immigrated to the US from Iran, was a professional boxer and exerted constant pressure of Agassi to play the game and win.  He even built a tennis court in their backyard so Agassi could practice!  To be clear, Agassi possessed tremendous talent.  But in his autobiography, Open, Agassi talks about how tennis consumed his every waking moment and was an enormous, tremendous burden.

Sure, in a way, it’s a privileged perspective.  But I honestly urge empathy if you’re able to summon it.  This gift/curse is a genuine struggle that many people legitimately face.  Andre Agassi —1996 Olympic Gold medalist, eight-time Grand Slam champion, and winner of 30 million USD in prize money— hated tennis.  As the old adage goes: “Be kind to everyone; inside, everyone fights their own war. Everyone bears their own cross.”