Are We Having Fun Yet?

I sit here in the wee hours of Saturday morning, worrying about my wife. She is back in her home stomping grounds of New Jersey, visiting family, in particular her mother, who is recovering from a bad fall. Apparently Sharon had a toxic encounter with some crab cakes, and got sick enough to call an ambulance last night. I’m sure she’ll be okay, but I’m waiting for her to wake up, just to tell me that she is indeed okay. We’ve all been there.

Thus begins the cascade that leads to this entry in my rambling, unorganized blog. To occupy myself, one of many current projects is to resurrect her aging laptop from the pits of Windows slowdown. I doubled the memory and am working on replacing the hard drive with an SSD, which by the way is the best way to make an old computer feel new again. Judging by the ominous squeaking from the old hard drive, this is an even better idea. This process involves a lot a backing up, cleaning, and other tasks that – on this creaky old drive – take a lot of time. All of which leaves me here trying to engage my mind on something, anything, to avoid the helpless circular worry cycle of knowing that I can’t help my very favorite person.

And that’s where I made my mistake… I looked at the news. Looking at the news these days is a lot like swirling down the toilet bowl of outrage. For some people, the outrage is one sided. For me, it is more the outrage of the loss of critical thought in our culture. If you have a strong enough opinion, it turns into belief, which is not subject to easy revision. Collect a few people with the same belief and suddenly you have a religion. I suspect that there was once a time when looking at the news was clarifying for most people. Walter Cronkite had a gift for boiling it down into a single evening broadcast that managed to at least appear as if it didn’t have an agenda attached. Nowadays, and I don’t care which side of the great ideological divide you call home, every single voice leads with the agenda and distorts the story to make it fit. That’s like a boxer leading with his face.

Here’s the problem. I care about something called The Truth. In seeking that evasive rascal, I have a process of looking at multiple sides of the news. The left, the right, the subversive, anything that starts with alt, and so on. I shouldn’t need to do that. I should be able to rely on someone to stand up in front of a camera and throw the facts my way without a narrative attached. In this day and age, that is simply not possible. In the synthesis of all these sources, I should be able to approach something more akin to the truth, but that’s not really possible either. In the final analysis, there is never enough time to do more than scan through a bunch of crap, attach as much weight of objectivity as possible, and hope that I come up with something worth thinking. Unfortunately, I’m not any more capable of true objectivity than anyone else. My beliefs, my ethics, and my experiences attach automatically, just like they do for everyone else.

To illustrate my display my complete, mindless subjectivity, and thus disarming any authority I may have to write this entire post*, let me use a sports analogy. I hate the Atlanta Falcons because I hate the city of Atlanta. I hate the city of Atlanta for a variety of reasons that probably boil down to my father’s incessant complaining about traffic when I was a kid in the back-facing seat in our family station wagon. He managed to transmit all that stress to us kids in a way that survives to this day. Does it make sense? Nope. I further hate football teams from Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, and possibly Arizona, LA, and San Diego, because I associate football with the crisp Fall weather that I enjoyed as a player, and obviously these cities can’t possibly experience the right weather for football, right? Well, no. It’s completely stupid. I know it’s completely stupid, but that doesn’t stop me from hating football teams from hot, steamy, or downright tropical places. I hate the Patriots because Tom Brady. Either you get this or you don’t. Yet, I love the Gronk. Go figure. Being a Tennessean at heart , I would like to love the NC Panthers, but Cam Newton prevents me.  Despite the evidence that he is actually a decent human being, I can’t get past his style, his arrogant demeanor, and my completely unfounded belief that he will end up on the wrong end of inappropriate allegations at some point in the future. At the same time, I love teams for equally stupid reasons. The Seahawks because I live here. I miss Marshawn Lynch and actually grieve the injuries in the Legion of Boom. I rail at the offensive play calling and wish for a good enough offensive line to keep Russell Wilson from doing his best work in the realm of miracles. I love the Eagles because that’s where Sharon grew up, and this year I feel unaccountable joy that they are a great team. I loved the Broncos for Peyton and hate them for Talib. I love the Packers because they are the greater-than-the-sum result of the working class and the fact that they can inspire people to wear giant wedges of fake cheese on their heads. Yes. None of this makes any sense at all. Yet, it’s a pretty good expression of the human condition.

So throwing aside the so called professional reporters, there is another obnoxious arbiter of reality known as social media. Aka, us. I’ve seen the value of Twitter this year, not as a source of truth, but as a way of taking the pulse of reaction to whatever news story is clogging up the pipes at any given moment. In some cases, it’s also a better and faster source of breaking news than any official source. But, even a glimpse at the trending tags on Twitter is like sticking my head out the car window while going twice the national speed limit. Sure, at 30 mph, the occasional “make like a dog” act is fun and refreshing. Apparently, there are thrillseekers that are happy face-surfing the slipstream at 60 mph and can happily spend vast swathes of time on Twitter, making sure that their every idiotic, devoid-of-logic thought is recorded for posterity and the NSA. But at 120mph, in case you’ve never tried it, you’d better be wearing a helmet and googles. Otherwise it’s nothing but pain and tears.

Clearly, we need some method of vast simplification just to cope with the information and value feed. Our vast system of defining everything, including right and wrong, on other derived definitions is a huge problem. It means that I can’t espouse any kind of opinion without defining the framework that led me to that thought without being accused of some subhuman characteristic. In other words, we live in a world of swirling circular non-logic. Based on this week, we can’t even convict a man who admitted to killing someone for killing that someone. Based on the past month, there are an incredible (although not surprising) number of men who managed to redefine reality into a version that allowed them to project women into consequence-free toys for their own entertainment. Imagine their surprise when the consequences began to rain from the sky. Imagine my own regret that I can’t live in this world without being painted with the same broad brush as these complete dirtbags. Imagine the extent of our moral relativism when their ongoing apologies contain more words about their own feelings than actual expressions of apology to their victims, apologies which are entirely inadequate in the first place. Although I cannot dismiss the ongoing possibility of untrue accusations, it is pretty clear that the vast majority of allegations are well supported, and I shake my head in disgust. But I’m only talking about the symptoms of the deeper systemic disease…

At this point, I could branch off into about 50 directions to pin this idea down. I could head into things that are quantifiable and therefore measurable. For example, I’m currently putting insulation into my shop/office/garage. The hope is that I can heat it through the winter without tripling our power bill and/or tripping breakers with multiple electric heaters. This is a terrible task because it is clearly illustrating how badly I need to get a gym membership, but it’s a great task because it is entirely measurable. As long as I can work a measuring tape and a staple gun without falling off a step ladder, I’m good. I know the outcome. How can you apply that to another human being, much less any group of people? Beyond a certain point, you can’t measure reality. Ask today’s leading quantum physicist about the nature of reality and you will get something that basically amounts to opinions with supporting math. What happens to a square meter of forest if the neighboring tree grows just enough to cast 30 minutes more shade on that patch of the landscape? The answer is an informed guess. Don’t get me wrong. Human beings are very good at navigating existence through guesswork. One could argue that the fact that we all guess a little differently adds up to a self balancing system of survival.

Rather than delve into the other 49 branches of this argument, let me throw the flag of human nature onto the field. Just like the court system of replay-driven due process that has become professional football, let me disclaim the following by saying that I am speaking in observations. As far as I’m concerned, yours are as valid as mine, and I welcome your observations to the discussion. The only real difference is that I am writing mine here and now, in my typically wordy fashion, and attaching my name to them. That out of the way, human nature is our ultimate double edged sword. It is the source of our supremacy on this planet and the biggest problem we face. What is knowable about human nature? One is that it expresses itself in individuals in a myriad of ways, but in the aggregate, it resolves into patterns that we can observe. Take any group of people across any arbitrary division and given enough people, you will see every trait that human nature has to offer. Generosity, selfishness, peace, violence, productivity, laziness, honesty, deceit, codependent neuroses, bug nuts predatory insanity. These things and all the others always appear. Two is that sex is inextricable from human nature. Despite our best efforts to neutralize gender roles of late, it is simply not possible to ignore the fact that we are here because of sexual reproduction, and that makes sex a survival trait. The minute we lose our survival traits, some other species takes over. In the here and now, that means that we can’t wish it away. Sex plays a role no matter whether we notice it or not, or whether we wish it were true or not.  Sorry. This reality has consequences. Some male dirtbag will always try to take advantage of it through situational power, some woman will always find a way to use it to her advantage, and some homosexual couple will always have to contend with the opinions of others, even if they are trying to adopt a child that will be far better off in their care than it would be in some hellhole adoption pit somewhere in the world.  Personally, I would wish those children into any caring home. Three, it is the nature of humanity that every last one of us is riddled with our failings and blind spots. Of the two, blind spots are the worst because they prevent us from seeing what we are doing to ourselves and those around us. The constant lack of ability to step back from ourselves and ask the basic questions is probably the biggest problem with human nature, and we all fail that test almost every day.

At the same time, that exact same failing can be a strength that keeps us going when there are no good options in life. Holding up the old left hand – right hand scale, is the lack of perspective a strength or weakness? I’ve just said it was both, in true gray-area fashion. In most of the world, it’s probably a huge strength. People live in conditions that would make those of us with time to blog collapse in despair at the broad picture of our lives. We could easily end up talking to a rotten head of cabbage named Wilson. But here in America, the by-and-large land of comfort and convenience, failing to see the forest for the trees is a gaping hole of weakness. We could easily end up talking to a Costco-sized cupcake that we have decided to name Cupcake. Given all these systems and conditions of plenitude, we should have time to see the big picture. Again, sorry, but what heck are we doing? By sticking my head out the car window, I can see that we have abused our power by taking the microscopic and making it into the whole of existence, and that’s why we live in a society of complete relativism that somehow manages to become utterly absolute in a heartbeat.

We live in a system, us Americans. That system is supposed to do certain things. Keep us safe, guarantee a rule by law rather than the whim of a monarch, allow us a level of freedom and independence, and perhaps most importantly, give us a choice in our own future. In order for any of that to work, we are expected to have an informed voice in a very large, impactful discussion. That voice is expected to be passed along to our representatives in government, who are supposed to represent us on the larger stage. If that representative fails to support our views, we are expected to vote that person out of office at the earliest opportunity. Yes, I know. It’s all Civics 101, but we seem to have lost track of this basic chain of accountability. Even worse, our so-called leadership appears to have lost sight of the fact that they work for us (in theory) and typically try to run up a hill under the banner of their own advantage (in power, money, favor, what have you…) and forget who put them office. Yes, our one… er, two party machine serves as the banking system for their rise to power, but you and I are the currency. Like all good banks, the party system is far more capable of enforcing allegiance that any dollar bill in a wallet. Any of our vaunted leaders who read this (I suspect the number is zero) would ruffle up in indignance. It might be true indignance because they are actually trying to represent us, or in far more dramatic faux-indignance because they don’t want to be caught out, lining their own power pockets and failing to serve the needs of their constituency. Aka, us. You and me, the ones who find out that our tax dollars are going to pay off sexual harassment suits, the ones who fill out all the forms every year to discover that our government keeps treating it as their money rather than ours.

The extreme voices say that the only peaceful recourse is to reconfigure your life to pay as few tax dollars as possible, thus controlling the government through sheer cashflow desperation. They say that your failure to cry out loud at every failure of accountability is your failure, rather than the fault of those who wake up every day with a new scheme to abuse the system you support. In other words, they say the mess is your fault. I’d say up to a point, they are right. In the same breath, I’d say those extreme voices are wrong. What are we supposed to do with a self-serving system that uses us as money batteries to finance abuse that falls right back on our shoulders? All of the logical answers will never happen. In pure logic terms, we should demand term limits at a minimum. Experience in lawmaking can quickly turn from disconnect from real existence to disdain for the problems of normal Americans. Some politicians seem so disconnected from our reality that they need a brutal punch to the face to remind them that their rhetorical reality is not the final arbiter of actual American reality. Term limits put a cap on how far their perception can stray from the concerns of the rest of us. The argument that experience counts in Congress is the same as saying that experience counts in mob style protection money. If you can break my knees, will that make it more likely that I will be able to pay the bill at the end of the week?

The most extreme voices say that we should either fall off the grid and disconnect ourselves from our government, or rise in armed conflict to the government. You may get away with the former if you are willing to experience discomfort and inconvenience, but we have a whole set of examples to remind you that you won’t get away with the latter. We’ve had governments in my lifetime that would put up with all manner of sins, but not a direct ideological conflict. The real problem with most of the ultra-extreme views is that it comes with baggage that has nothing to do with a system of America that actually works. If you are preaching white nationalism in the woods somewhere, you’re missing the point. If you are anti-any-culture or racist group, you are again missing the point. At various points of history, there has been extreme resistance to different cultural groups of immigrants. Most of them considered completely white,  I might add. Odds are that if you are preaching some form of hatred, you are talking about your own ancestors. The people to whom you owe your very existence…

On the other side, if you are screeching labels at people like the pod people in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, then your extremism is equally to blame. And by equal, I mean you could reread the previous paragraph with your own views inserted. I don’t care who you hate, sooner or later someone in that group will do something that bursts your bubble of belief. You could take note of that when it happens and adjust your reality a bit, or you can stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and say, “Lalalalalalalalalalalala!” In a system where we have no connection between our reality and the noise that pumps out of the collective Americana, this is actually a reasonable response.

Where does that leave us in world where we are subjected to pointless identity politics from all sides and talking heads telling us how much rampant racism and oppression still exists, to the point where people feel entitled to take up sniper positions and gun down police? I’m not saying that these things don’t exist, just that they are not the all-encompassing plague that drives news cycles. At any rate, I could argue that facts all day and fail to convert anyone.

Let me use the Big Rewind to explain. There was a time, a very long time, in which we didn’t have the luxury of any of these debates. We had life, and we had death. We had survival. If you lived in a tribe that spent its entire day roaming far and wide to find enough food to keep living, I don’t think I need to explain that any stranger presented a threat to survival. Even today you can find stats on how much land it takes for any animal population to survive. This tribalism became the same as racism. You were either a part of the system of the world or you were “Other.” Perhaps the stranger became more valuable to the tribe than the resources he or she consumed and became part of the tribe. Perhaps the stranger stayed separate and simply consumed food within the territory of the tribe. They stayed “Other” and thus needed to be eliminated to improve the odds of tribal survival. This was life or death after all. Part of human nature is this legacy. Within every one of us is that seed of racism in the form of “Other.” We can overcome it, but we can’t ignore it. It was handed down to us from hundreds of generations for whom it was not an intellectual debate. It was pure survival that resulted in us. Is it not illogical that human nature contains a racist component that must be overcome through conscious thought.

The problem we face is that the real conflicts do not exist between groups like white people and black people, American citizens and illegal immigrants, Christians versus Muslims -insert your conflict here; it is the conflict among the expressions of human nature. Human nature is largely innate and subconscious and very few of us have the time or energy to examine it. I examine it continuously, like a weird hobby, through myself and others. Here’s what I have found, on top of a relatively racist upbringing in the South. If I personally meet someone of something other than my profoundly white Western European ancestry, I don’t even consider race. Do I like this person? That’s it. Some people I like instantly; some people annoy me before they even open their mouth. Regardless of race, and for reasons I may never really understand. If my simple notice of their ethnicity makes me racist, then I am racist. Perhaps I’m tribalist, but I doubt it. I tend to think more in terms of family, which I extend to include anyone important in my life. Perhaps I’m just applying an organizational tag like human metadata. If you can meet someone without the moment of noticing physical characteristics, then you are far more enlightened than I. Personally, I think everyone notices, in the exact same way that people notice someone they find attractive. In an instant, before any thought or cultural/sexual ideology even begins to kick in. It takes practice to observe this progression, even in ourselves, because it happens blindingly fast. Speed is of the essence in survival traits. We shouldn’t have time to decide.

The instantaneous is not the point. It may save us from the hubcap flying at our windshield, but it doesn’t define us. What does define us is what happens when that instant passes and we begin to apply all the rest of our thinking to the equation. That’s where the beauty and ugliness of human nature expresses itself. It can go either way because we made it to the top of the food chain with our adaptiveness. A professional baseball player can train himself to react to a pitch that goes by at speeds that may as well be a bullet for the rest of us. A marathon runner can rewrite their entire metabolic system to deliver a superhuman result. A biathlete in the winter Olympics can go from all out aerobic effort to the utter calm of high levels of marksmanship in seconds. The body control this requires is also superhuman. Presumably, every highly trained soldier on the planet can do the same thing. All of this is built on a physical foundation, but it’s control of the mental process that makes it happen. You can prove it in the storied 4-minute mile. It was impossible until it was done, and then the mental wall was destroyed and it went from impossible to expected in a historic blink of the eye. You can even see it on TV today. I present American Ninja Warrior, a cartoonish athletic competition that may as well be superhero training for the likelihood of any of us doing what those people do as routine. At some point, there is always an obstacle that takes out everyone, until a metaphorical Spiderman shows up and beats it. Then it becomes possible, and the top third beat the same obstacle shortly thereafter. It really makes you wonder; what are our actual limits?

On the other side of the coin, you may use the same sublime human capacity to take the instantaneous reaction and turn it into something grotesque. I’ve said it for years. The measure of a man is not in the reaction; it’s in what he does with it. I meet an attractive woman who was attractive before I could even notice my reaction. It’s built in. I say to myself, “She’s attractive,” and that’s it. I do not translate her attractiveness into any course of action or assumption of conferred rights to the direction of her life or my access to her body. I think this is fairly typical. On the other end of the spectrum, I may have Zeus-like control of Hollywood and decide that makes every young actress a toy that I can use as I see fit. I may be a Congressman who sees every photograph as an opportunity to grab a female posterior and then explain it away as, “I take thousands of photographs. I can’t remember every ass I’ve grabbed.” I may scheme to the point of actually installing a door locking button under my desk so that my bag of sex toys can be forcibly sold to a woman who is suddenly faced with more existential dilemmas than a cat in a dog kennel. In more mundane circumstances, I may translate friendliness into sexual intent and take up stalking as a hobby. I may use that imagined intent to create an imagined rejection and the whole situation could become obsessive and violent. But I don’t. Why?

My fifty-year collection of upbringing, training, inculturation, experience, and good old trial and error didn’t turn out that way. Lucky me. Life is a collection of experiences and relationships. Thanks to our highly adaptable brains, we can interpret all of these things in any number of ways. You may hear the same commercial three times in a row and think, sign from God. I may hear it and think somebody’s getting fired. Everything we encounter is subject to our mental game. If I meet a person, a potential relationship, with the notion that I am somehow superior in the grand scheme, I’m probably making a huge mistake. If I view another person as some kind of target that could be used to fulfill some need I have, and I’m referring to deep personal need here, not, “Will this lightbulb work?” then I am probably making a huge mistake. On the other hand, if I meet every person with the attitude that there is some value, something worthy of respect, some beauty of human nature waiting to be encountered, then all those initial reactions disappear as fast as they occurred.

It’s a great idea that plenty of people make impossible. All the best intentions disappear in the second instant when we encounter someone who is pointing those same mistakes in our direction, and we are forced to put up some kind of defense. People can be hostile, tired, judgmental in a way that may be aimed at you specifically, one of the groups you happen to inhabit, or literally everyone they meet. You have no way of knowing, but you still need to react. Then human interaction devolves into a messy interplay of actions, reactions, and overlain thoughts that usually become judgments. If we can get past that, then maybe a relationship occurs. Maybe we walk out with the appropriate lightbulb, maybe we earn a new drinking buddy, or maybe we find the love of our lives. Usually the lightbulb is good enough.

My point is that human existence is difficult. There are potentially no boundaries to what that means, which requires us to apply some meaning to it. Every day, every moment, we are forced to ask ourselves what we know. What do we actually know? What can be determined to be true with no prerequisites needed? In isolation, the answer is virtually nothing. The truth is that we only determine truth together. Without others, we can only know hunger, fear, pain, discomfort or the lack of those things. We might not even be able to determine the simple awareness of existence without someone else to serve as an example. Love? God? Creation? Law? World? Purpose? We determine truth together, and right now, we’re really bad at it.

 

 

*If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you know that I like to destroy my own credibility as a reminder to both of us that we all are all limited in ways that we may not see. Just like you, I am simultaneously a valid and invalid voice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something you probably don’t want.

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24 hours later, Sharon is feeling much better. Only 38 hours until she gets home! Her laptop is finally fixed without a complete re-installation of Windows, and it runs better than new. As a geek, I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few steps, but I can still pull it off. And yes, I got the old drive copied before it disappeared in a puff of smoke. Small victories…

Technology from Apple and Some Crazy Writing Considerations

I did a crazy thing. After years of avoiding Apple tech for very practical (and yet entirely biased) reasons, I bought an iPad Pro.

I did it for several reasons. One, the quality of the Apple Pencil, two the optimization of apps in the Apple ecosystem… In other words, Android app makers have the same problem as PC app developers. They have to optimize for a million different hardware configurations. Apple app developers have a finite number of hardware configurations to support, which means that for any given app, the iOS version will generally work better. Third is that there are apps available on the iOS landscape that don’t exist on Android. For the most part, these are “pro” apps in various disciplines that I need.

Two weeks later, the results are in. In terms of the inside the Apple box experience, Apple rocks. In terms of dealing with the larger world of technology, iOS is an utter mess. The walled garden of Apple works great if you have no idea what you are doing; it will protect you and keep you calm so that you can carry on. If you are trying to include Apple into an existing system, prepare for a fight.

For years, I have categorized user interfaces into two categories. One is self explanatory and lends itself to flow. It leads you to logical places and maps itself into your work as you proceed. The truth is that only a tiny minority of software works this way. However, a lot of people are working very hard on the concept, and the rise of mobile devices seems to be a spur to push interfaces into new modes. Some of the iPad apps have incredibly good interfaces. Unfortunately, most software still falls into a metaphor I call City Software. If you know the city you are in, you can access everything it offers and allows. If you don’t know the layout, you are lost.  In a real city, you wander the streets until you find your way. In software land, you push buttons to see what they do. In the Apple ecosystem, it’s entirely possible to push buttons that do things you don’t want to do, because Apple has built a meta game around iOS. In all honesty, if I knew nothing and had no expectations, I probably wouldn’t notice the problems until I had already developed the habits that Apple wants me to learn. I would be focused on the pretty hardware and the incredibly nice screen. Unfortunately, there are two major problems. I know entirely too much in the form of decades of tech experience. From Apple’s perspective, I have all the wrong habits. Problem number two is that the iPad Pro is being sold with the Pro moniker and with the touted expectation that it can replace a laptop. I never believed it could really replace a laptop; it’s a support device with some very good solutions to my common tasks. However, I did expect a relatively fluid capability for moving files around the way that Pros tend to do. The brand new iOS 11 was said to improve that capability, but those improvements really do nothing to open up the file system. The walls around the Apple walled garden are fully intact.

I understand the reasons, namely security, revenue protection, and the Apple “stuff that just works” ethos. I also understand the massive amount of effort that any opening of the iOS file structure represents, not just for Apple but for every app developer in the ecosystem. The benefits to the current system are plentiful, especially if you intend to hand an iPad to a child, or even a parent who has heard of this world wide web thing, but is probably never going to settle in front of a full computer. And why would they? Full computers are easy to break, even for people with years of experience. There are all kinds of concepts to understand, rules to follow, maintenance to keep in mind, cables everywhere.

If, on the other hand, you intend to utilize the “Pro” aspect of the iPad Pro, then you are going to reinvent your workflows. Hold on tight. Option one is simply don’t install any apps that duplicate the functions of apps that come pre-loaded. If you don’t have multiple apps that use the same types of data, then guess what? It just works. The problem is that Pros tend to have very specific demands, which means option one is not an option. Option two is to try to do your homework, choose the apps that cover your needs, and start figuring out how to move data around. While it is technically possible to do a great deal of work from start to finish on an iPad, and it’s also possible to combine apps efficiently to handle more complex workflows, the fact is that most of the “Pro” apps need some form of data sharing. If you use your device for web surfing, social media, and media consumption, none of my grumbles will affect you. At worst you just log into things on whatever collection of machines you have and everything synchs itself automatically. If you originate work on your iPad that will need to be finished on a full computer, or if you have a pile of stuff on your computer that you need to take with you, then the fun gets ramped up to 11. By fun, I mean pain, suffering, and generalized angst.

Here’s another set of options. You can plug your iPad into a USB port on your computer, fire up the crappiest old dog of software known as iTunes, figure out how to time travel back to 2006 and transfer files to your iPad. This has a few advantages once you poke around a bit. It’s fast, good for large files and large collections of small files. It has the ability to target SOME apps, but not all of them and certainly not the default apps, as far as I can tell.* The key to the pre-loaded apps, I believe, is to add stuff to your iTunes library, tell it what to synch, and off those files go, assuming iTunes didn’t crash and was able to find your iPad. ( I’ve seen both more than once) When that’s done you can open those files on the device, also assuming you want to open them with an app that starts with a lowercase ‘i’. That other app for the same files has no clue that they are there. The exception to this rule is that the photos library seems to integrate well with third party apps, and the caveat to this whole piece is that I’m a Pro at some things, but not Apple’s Way. *Those of you who can identify my ignorance, please set me straight!

Option two is embracing the cloud. I don’t like the cloud concept any more than I like software subscription models. Both take control out of my hands. But, I understand that the cloud is part and parcel of the modern Tao of Tech, whether I like it or not. So, having been broken to the bit, I now gaze at the sky and ask, “Which cloud?” It turns out that the answer quickly becomes, “All of them.” All the big names anyway. For me, it started with Dropbox, way back when. I think I have 5.15 Gigs at my command over there. Still free. I think their minimum is just north of $8/month, which seems mighty expensive compared to the others, and way too much for something I don’t like. Somewhere in the Windows upgrade march, the Microsoft cloud became a thing, and the Office subscription (that it’s impossible to live without if you work with a single human being who happens to be named “Not You”) bumped the cloud storage up to something large enough I’ll never have to think about it again. Then the Android smartphone combined with the Chrome browser somehow dragged me into Google Drive, which I actually use almost every day. A cheap Chromebook came with 100 Gigs that I thought was supposed to expire, but still hasn’t. 100G is more than I’ll ever write plus an airport shuttle’s worth of human genomes. I’ll take free as long as possible, because the only thing worse than something you hate is something you hate that has a billing cycle. Check that… I can’t really claim to hate Google Drive anymore; I just don’t trust it. And then there’s the iCloud. It’s new to me, but my wife’s old iPad has been quietly backing itself up for years and banging up against the 5 Gig limit, largely due to our rather excessive tendency to take dog photos. I found the family sharing option for iCloud and went ahead and bumped up the storage to a level that is epic for Sharon’s iPhone and old iPad, but for two new iPad Pros, one of which is a lovely shade of Rose Gold, well… I suspect we’ll cram that old iCloud full of dog photos in no time flat. Obviously, iCloud is the default option for iOS, but there are a few iOS 11/app combos that haven’t worked out the bugs yet. My highly informal and unscientific testing makes it appear that iCloud is much slower than Google Drive and Microsoft’s cloud was much faster. That probably says very little about how well they actually work and a great deal about relative popularity of the various services, especially over Thanksgiving weekend, when all those iPhone photos were flying into the cloud like crows being chased by a flock of really angry finches. Aaaand finally… As an Adobe CC subscriber, I have access to the Creative Cloud. I have some vague notion of what it’s supposed to do, but my ingrained Adobe habits of 21 years have kept me from even touching it yet – and by yet I mean a long time. I expect those programs are using it behind my back. I really don’t want to know. All those shiny iOS apps that appear to be pale shadows of the desktop versions, yet come with the subscription, will have me using that Creative Cloud soon enough. Yay, me! All geeked out. More clouds than a Puget Sound winter.

Some unnamed “Pro” apps of the non-Adobe variety seem to have a distinct preference for Dropbox. Of course they do. It costs the most. The real issue is that I have five clouds, a collection of apps that use only one or two of them, which means that eventually I will have to know which cloud to use from my computer to make sure the files end up accessible to the app I intended. This drops right back into the closed file system problem. On any other machine, including my Android phone and probably a Raspberry Pi, I can just dump a bunch of files into my current project folder and load them into any app I want to use at any time. The only drawback is that I can potentially lose track of an entire project folder, but it has not happened, ever. I have every project folder I’ve ever done, back to 1988. That’s my OCD, right there! Every once-huge set of files tucked away in microscopic corners of modern hard drives. The only exception is good old standard definition video. It lives on DVCAM tapes in a drawer underneath some articles of clothing that are almost as unlikely to be seen ever again.

Option three involves emailing files to a convoluted email address that somehow sticks it somewhere on my iPad to be seen by who knows what apps. There are probably some good use cases for this option, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I can use email and not use a puffy white storage network. The majority of files I generate tend to make email servers complain.

I thought I was pretty clever with Option four, but Apple hammered me like a rusty old nail. I bought the SD card adapter thinking it would work like it does everywhere else, as general storage for transferring files. Nope. You plug it in and the Photos app opens up. If the stuff on the card doesn’t look like a photo or certain flavors of video, then you can forget it. The good news is that for its one and only intended purpose, it’s still very useful for me. I have multiple cameras filling up SD cards on a regular basis.

Now, it may seem like I have buyer’s remorse, but that’s not true. The iPad Pro is a fantastic piece of hardware, and the Pencil works so well that I can avoid much more expensive options for the same purpose, in a device with easier portability and longer battery life. The apps I’m using are uniformly excellent and in some cases, inspired pieces of design. I did my homework. There are also certain niche apps that only exist on iOS because of Apple’s long affinity with creative communities. I can think of dozens of people who could literally take an iPad and replace a laptop. In my particular case, I can’t go that far. I do things that require some serious heavy lifting on a desktop machine. If iOS moves in the direction of the smoother integration I’ve been blabbering about, then I would probably never buy another laptop. I’d happily use the iPad like a laptop and the desktop for heavy duty work.

Laptops are great, but in my weird set of demands, they always end up dangling in the center of bad compromises. If I get one that can realistically handle the (non-writing) creative work, then the battery life is short enough that it’s not truly portable. There are exceptions out there, but I’m as likely to buy a $4000 laptop as I am to spend a million bucks on a car. Ain’t gonna happen. For writing, anything works great. For drafts, I’ll fire up Google Docs and start typing. My $180 Chromebook works for 11 hours and the screen is terrible, which is a strange advantage for old eyeballs, but that drab, low resolution viewport is comfortable for writing at on-the-couch distances. The keyboard is not bad, but most importantly, I won’t feel much remorse when I wear it out. And the Chromebook OS forces me to focus. That same crappy screen isn’t good for surfing the web. Web sites want higher resolution. I just open a file, hit the fullscreen button and start typing. And yes, the machine can do more, but really all it does well is Google Docs

My phone is a far more capable machine. If I were not the kind of person who drops right out of creative mode every time the thing makes a noise, I could hook it to a monitor, link it to a Bluetooth keyboard and type like the wind. Well, more like a gentle breeze, but still…

The laptop I have is getting older but it’s still plenty of computer, just as soon as I replace the non-user-replaceable battery. It’s okay, I have tiny screwdrivers. The problem with the laptop is that I can either plug it in, or spend time watching that infernal battery gauge. Because it falls on the performance end of the spectrum, I can’t really use it on my lap. Within minutes it’s ironing a patch of my right pant leg. If I don’t move it around, it will eventually start to burn it’s way through, and nobody wants that. If it’s plugged in, and I have it propped on something heat resistant, then two effects apply, I spend 5 minutes setting everything up, and just when I’m ready to write, a spastic Chocolate Labrador will get that power cord wrapped around her leg, freak out, and destroy half the room. In other words, my laptop is a skinny, self-contained desktop for a desk nowhere near that dog.

The iPad Pro, for writing, absolutely is a laptop replacement. It will last longer than I will, I can prop it anywhere, I can scale the type and brightness for Old Man Eye Syndrome, and as the cherry on top, there is an iOS version of my beloved Scrivener, which I consider the most complete and lovingly crafted writing app on the planet. Even the PC version, which is probably the ugliest of the three (the other is on the Mac), just makes me happy. I know that when I open it, I will not spend my time scrolling through an endless Word document.

I tested several keyboards and went with the Rugged Messenger by Zagg. I didn’t like the Apple version or the price. I’ve used a lot of Logitech stuff over the years and checked out their solution. It just looked heavy and clumsy. The Rugged Messenger has a back case for the device with a nice clip for the pencil. Trust me when I tell you I needed that clip, or that pencil would roam the house like a stray cat. The keyboard is Bluetooth and attaches magnetically – or not; typing with them separated works better than you might expect. The folding extension offers multiple angles using magnets in the case when everything is connected in laptop style. In another confession of weirdness, I have two quirks about keyboards. The first is that despite some big old hands, given the choice I actually prefer smaller keyboards for typing and full sized keyboards for controlling software. Two is that I rotate keyboards often. Multiple devices does the trick, and when I didn’t have that option, I’d just plug a different keyboard into my computer. If I don’t change things up, especially when I’m writing a lot, my hands will hurt. Eventually someone will use the word arthritis, I’m sure.

Sorry for the side trip into writer land. So, I like the iPad Pro, I hate the closed file system, and I hope that Apple devises a way to keep the functional stuff locked down while opening up the storage and the apps’ ability to access files in a flexible way that matches the workflows of most of the creative people I know. One last note. We all know that Apple has nailed the mobile device market. They invented so much of the definition of what a mobile device should be that even the best Android manufacturers are still using them as the benchmark. We also know that the focus that it takes to lead the mobile space appears to have stolen some of the thunder from the Mac side of the business. I’ve never owned a Mac, but I’ve been watching die hard Mac creatives drifting over to the PC dark side for quite some time now. My guess is that the biggest factor is some version of the value equation with an emphasis on the bonus points for having the best machine available. No matter how you feel about Mac OS, the latest and greatest Mac hardware is not the latest and greatest. And spec for spec, with very few exceptions, it costs a lot more than a PC machine with the very latest parts inside. The PC laptop makers chased the Macbook Pro for years, and in the same basic category, there are now twenty options for beautifully designed, high performance PC machines. On top of that, PC makers have been innovating with the basic rules of what a PC should be. Laptops that convert to tablets, laptops that flip backwards for different scenarios including a tablet form. Laptops with multi-touch screens, laptops with pens and pressure sensitivity, laptops in multicolored faux fur finishes. Nobody expects, or even wants, Apple to follow all these acts, but if they were to produce a laptop with Apple Pencil support, a flexible screen system with current spec parts inside, then Microsoft has left them a ton of room to set the prices high. Then they could make an ad about a true laptop replacement. Laptop, meet the new laptop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The State of Jim

Those of you who are paying attention, and after all this time I expect that’s a low number, are probably wondering what the heck I am up to these days. I thought I might lay it out for you.

In my quasi-professional life, there is an axiom that has held true for over 25 years. If I’m working in technology, the client thinks there is a magic button that handles all the details, even if they are trying to sell 500 products. If I’m working in design, the client thinks there is magic button, that I have some software that makes all the decisions and pops out a nice, shiny result with no real effort on my part. If I’m working in industrial design, which I refer to as “engineering lite,” since I am not an engineer, although I play one on the internet, and I’m pretty good at faking it… Well, you guessed it, once again there is the perception that there is a magic button and that everything should be fast, cheap, and excellent.

Of course the old production rule is that you can have fast, cheap, or good. Pick two. I can tell you from vast experience that it’s almost impossible to get a client past cheap, and if you can, that’s a client you want to keep.

The interesting part is that client concerns are only part of my equation. The other part is my own narrative. Those of you who have been waiting for the rest of the Renewal, including my infinitely patient and likely disillusioned editor, probably think the client concerns come first, and they do in terms of daily survivability, but beyond that threshold, my narrative is king. A good question is why. Why does my narrative even matter? I mean, I’ve been soaking it all in for almost 51 years, and obvious patterns have emerged. We have issues, I would say. We know nothing, I would say, but I would also say that the minute we stop using the observations to drive our decisions into the future, we have lost what it means to be the leading species on the planet.

We could ask all kinds of questions about whether anything we say or think even matters. I cannot affect the political dialog, which I have come to refer to as “the face of madness.” I cannot groan at our President’s tweets without asking whether we would be in far worse shape under the power hungry, amoral alternative. I cannot live in Liberal mecca without keeping very quiet about the logical disconnects that drive the discussion. Someone would probably burn my house down. I cannot look at politics at all without asking the obvious questions about who our politicians actually work to serve, because it sure ain’t us.

The line between fact and opinion is so blurry that no one can realistically be expected to discern the difference. We are all too busy worrying about the vast detail of survival in the most complex system ever devised. Can you do your taxes on a postcard? Nope. Can you have a significant health issue without 20 calls to the insurance company? Probably not. Can you travel within the borders of our own country without being treated like a potential terrorist? No? Is it because we don’t actually have borders? Can you rent a car without a very specific type of plastic card in your wallet? Do your children have more schedule and legal requirements than you can track, much less actually fit into your daily routine? Well, guess what? The answer is, if you follow the herd, you probably can’t keep up. If you have managed to back up a bit and have actually examined the culture we have created, the answer is: possibly. I definitely know people who can spin a lot of plates, and those people are invariably good at knowing which plates need spinning at any given moment.

The end result is one of two things. Either you have no time to really examine the inputs to your belief system, or you check your facts with some level of critical thought intact. In option one, you choose a narrative and go with it. This is the easy way out. It works until it stops working and then you are you recovering from the shock and you go shopping for a new worldview. In option two, you live with the fact that no one’s narrative is satisfying. No one’s narrative answers the important questions. This, of course, leads directly into the pit of despair (Dilly, Dilly!). It invites endless cynicism and self examination, examination of the facts you can obtain, lots of hair splitting and qualifying of information, and frankly it’s hard work. Most of us are too busy dealing with the minutiae to engage in a rigorous debate with reality, and we choose option one. There’s no judgement in that, in my view. Here’s why…

When things get cloudy, I hit rewind. If I say something stupid, I rewind to some point in my life when I said something smarter. If I hit a professional wall, I rewind to some method or process that worked in the past and try to adapt it to the current problem. If someone does something I purely fail to understand, I rifle through the deck of old events and look for a pattern that may fit. The deck of old cards is our lifeline and our adaptive advantage. In tech terms, the value of those memories depends on how well we have tagged them with our own value system, but all of this process is only the first push of the rewind button. The second push involves history. Just like most of you, I sat through high school history half-listening to Mr. Hawkins (shout out to those who remember) drone on about things that I thought had zero value to my all important teenage life. I went on to college and spent more time watching my Western Civ professor (because she was attractive) than listening to the story of the victors she was spinning. My course of study was not history laden. I got the Cliff Notes version. Over time, I finally found the value of history in the practical, “doomed to repeat it” sense, and these many years later, I look back to realize that I am an ardent student of the subject. It comes in very handy when trying to make sense of the world we live in. In the broad strokes, history is a fabulous guide to human nature, which guides us to the depths of depravity and the heights of nobility before we even notice the difference. Push that old rewind button one more time and you can predate history altogether. This is also informative in very practical ways. For those of you who interpret belief to our creation in the knowable past, this whole thread breaks down quickly. I personally have no trouble blending my belief in the Creator with the evidence of deep history, but that’s an argument for another day. For me, it’s very useful to remove every advantage of civilization and to think of us as lonely tribes working hard to survive in a world that treats us no differently than it does any other species. It’s also interesting to note that there are still tribes that operate on that basis. I think it’s probably too much to expect that there are human populations that have had no contact with civilization today, but there are still people who have not been overrun by our modern systems. We can blithely sit back and judge primitive people, but you can’t really dismiss their own version of accomplishment at surviving without the internet, drive-through windows, or a global just-in-time supply chain. There are valuable lessons in the big rewind.

If you walk back through your own life, you will see the patterns. Good decisions, bad decisions, decisions that had a much bigger effect than you would have predicted when you made them. A narrative of your own life develops. You can chain together your own events in a way that has meaning. How you interpret that meaning is largely dependent on your values and beliefs. When you put it all together, you have a story with meaning. Think about it. Your life has meaning. I don’t care who you are or what you have done, if you apply a set of values over the events of your life, meaning emerges. I can sit back from my perspective and apply my own values to your life, and that has meaning too. As a believer in the inherent goodness of humanity, noting of course that goodness is a value judgment, I expect to find a meaning in your life that is worthwhile, and only rarely am I disappointed. Pretty cool, huh?

Where does that leave us? First off, we like to think we all operate from provable facts and logic, and that is patently false. We operate from belief. All of us, myself included, adopt beliefs for whatever reason, and bend the facts to fit that set of beliefs. I can prove this in the negative by saying that if we all operated purely from the facts available, we would all find ourselves in agreement. Two humans in total agreement is historically impossible, so we can safely say that we do not operate from facts and logic. We all have our beliefs, and we work very hard to twist the available facts to support our beliefs. Period. If you and I are sitting across the table at Thanksgiving and discussing world issues we will get along by belief, not fact. You hand pick facts to support your beliefs, and I can hand pick facts to support mine. If I’m feeling devious, I can support a view that I don’t actually believe. For clarity, an example… If you believe that prison serves as rehabilitation and I believe that prison is intended to be so painful that it will serve as a deterrent, then you and I will disagree on almost every point of what should be part of the daily existence of a prisoner. This example can be expanded to touch every point of life in today’s America. Policy, Culture, Procedure, Tax money, Expenditure priority, and so on…

But back to the state of me… I’m writing. So much writing… In fact, I’m busy thinking up ways to stuff more writing into my life. Let me be clear. Writing is a game of mind management. I suspect there are writers out there with much more practical models for what is worth writing. My motivation is mine. What makes a person sit down and think up an entire cast of characters, inject them into a plot designed to make a point that matters enough to the writer to keep going? I can think of a metric ton of motivations that work for me. Unfortunately, making money is not one of them, with apologies to my wife who has supported my bizarre worldview in superlative fashion. Here’s the thing. I care about the outcome. I really care.

What matters? Happiness, contentment, challenge, what comes next? Who really knows? One of my pet peeves is the overuse of the word “experience.” Watch any block of commercials and you will hear the word “experience” these days. It has become one of those amorphous words that means nothing unless it motivates you to spend money in a directed fashion. Traditionally, experience was a lesson, something that happened that taught you something you didn’t know. Usually it came with a painful cost. Nowadays, it’s a cozy place in a totally safe, all-inclusive resort that teaches you that for that for the right price, life becomes idyllic. The worst that can happen is that you miss the bus to the other resort. That’s a long way from the version of experience that teaches you when to plant your crops.

What matters is, who are we? Where are we going? How do we gain the most from the benefits, and perhaps more importantly, the limits of human nature? I believe (operating from a belief model here) that human nature is not something that we can decide to ignore. It is inherent to our existence – for good or bad. I happen to encapsulate both. I am good and bad. If you happen to tip the scales into my version of bad, I will happily write you off. If you tip into my version of good, I will work my butt off to support you. It’s not for me to make the final analysis; I’m sure that at any given moment, there are people who judge me either way. My wife is much better. She begins with the assumption that you are good by her definitions and she will try to help you. I used to be that way, but I became more cynical and realized that I needed a harder filter. People are fully capable of the sublime, and people of are fully capable of the suck, usually in the same person.

One piece of human nature is sex. We cannot ignore it. It happens before thought even intervenes. It makes perfect sense. If sex were not inherent to our existence, we would not exist. As far as we know, sex is still the only way we make new humans. That serves as no excuse to the dirtbags who happily blend money and power into the sex equation in a forceful way. Those losers are bubbling up like the oil in the Beverly Hillbillies opening theme. Look it up, young’uns! In evolutionary terms, if you cannot attract sex on some merit that involves a woman choosing you, then you do not deserve to procreate. Speaking as a man here, which makes me the lowest form of observer in today’s model… A woman can choose you to fulfill any number of roles: friend, helper, supportive listener, protector, lover, person who agrees with her, her child’s father, provider, some subliminal chemical cue, whatever works for her; you do not have the right to subvert that choice through power. Men, be worthy. Women, pick your terms, but don’t be surprised if you fail to gain respect for your choices. It’s your right to say no, and men should absolutely respect that (even the dirtbags who don’t recognize the obvious fact), but it’s your burden to live with your ‘yes’.

Another aspect of human nature we can’t ignore is the big WHY. This is a question that exists on a million levels. If you don’t believe in a higher power of any kind, then it’s an existential dilemma. Literally every choice you make is universal. You can rail and shout at the sky all you want. The problem is that the choices are sitting atop the proverbial house of cards. I can sit in a restaurant and listen to people having conversations that sound like critical decisions in life. The tone is that of people trying to make life-scale decisions; the subject is which app they use on their phone, or what someone said on Facebook. Again, I’m not judging. It’s entirely possible that someone said something on social media that changes your life, but if that’s the case, perhaps you should just call that person and have a conversation. Better yet, meet that person and have a face to face conversation so that you can take advantage of all the non-verbal cues that come with actual human interaction. It’s all too easy to forget that we live in a world that depends on a lot of technological systems working correctly to derive meaning in our lives. If the person in question makes that impossible, then it is credible that a higher order of values come into play, and that person is no longer worth your time, attention, and concern. If you do believe in a higher power, then you can offload some of the outcomes to a greater cause. Is that cause intended to work out in your favor? It’s like the two high school teams who pray before the game. They are both praying for victory in some form, but only one will win on the scoreboard. What is the preferred outcome for your higher power, and does it supersede mine? I like to run with this concept. I’m willing to listen to your beliefs as long as they don’t directly involve harming people with other beliefs. The beauty of beliefs, and the risk, is that we can’t prove them in this lifetime. If we believe in an infinite creator, yet we live finite lives, then it’s fairly logical to assume that we don’t have all the facts. We live in a box of existence that is intended to be measured within the dimensions of that box. The creator of the box makes the rules. We don’t know the rules, and we can’t say that we are winning or losing until we escape the box. In other words, everything we decide is important is a box within a box within a box, ad infinitum.

Do we then fall to an innate sense of rightness? Is that a real thing? God, I hope so. Otherwise, we are lost. Without that sense of right and wrong, it’s all too easy to imagine that we don’t deserve to survive as a species. Using the big rewind button, we know that entire species have disappeared from the Earth. They are disappearing as we sit here, looking at our high definition screens. What if 65.1 million years ago, there were dinosaurs that had decoded morality completely. They had it figured out, and they were destroyed by a wayward asteroid. Does that mean that we are not intended to understand the big picture, or does it mean that those dinosaurs had it wrong? If we have it wrong, does the logic, the hard rules of the cosmos, mean that our view gets replaced by that of dogs? I mean, dogs are far more reliable than we are. If you were a god, choosing between our moral flexibility and the stalwart dedication of a dog, would you choose the random nature of human morality over a being that expresses dedication to its master in unfailing service? The life of a god would be far better served by dog values than human ones. On the other hand, perhaps the hierarchy was intended from the beginning. We serve a higher purpose, and dogs serve us. If that were the case, perhaps we are intended to learn from dogs even as we master them. It’s entirely possible that dogs serve as training for a low order of control over our existence. Which means that we should be paying attention… Just in case.

Control, as in that of a master over a dog, god over a people, or parent over a child, is a delicate balance. In any of those cases, pushing too hard results in rebellion. Those of you with teenage children are nodding your heads vigorously. Pushing your dog too hard in training doesn’t result in rebellion, it results in confusion. That dog is entirely willing to follow your lead, it is simply unsure of what you want. What if you believed in a god named Dewey, and Dewey’s commandments included a clause that required you to do a literal song and dance every time you crossed a threshold? This performance requires 3 minutes of your time, literally every time you moved from one room to another. The rebellion against this commandment would be that we all live in giant rooms to avoid the threshold ritual. We would forsake bathroom privacy to save those 3 minutes, four times per day. Our value system would be literally warped around Dewey’s rules. This is an entirely fictional and exaggerated example of how strong our belief systems are against practical considerations. If you are a parent, you already know these things. I have been a step parent but not a parent of my own offspring (why would I propagate heart disease and diabetes,  not to mention the lessons of my father?) , which means that my entire reference comes from being the offspring of typically flawed human beings. Grain of salt factor … As a side note, being married to a very intelligent and analytical woman means that I qualify every bit of data that I share. I may be guessing, fairly confident, or totally certain. I’ll qualify it in some way. As I tell my wife, if I don’t qualify it, you should treat it as the truth. As the ultimate hedge, my truth is probably not your truth. Luckily, I know my wife well enough to define the truth in her terms. She’s good that way.

I have wandered far afield. Let’s just call it an anchor in the “face of madness” of current events. What you really need to know is that I am writing in several venues. One is the Renewal universe, which is built on a lot of what I have shared in this piece. The biggest struggle with Renewal is that the reference line keeps shifting. 2017 is not 2011. As I wrestle with the story, I keep having to shift my focus into broader realms to accomplish what I intended from the beginning. The current truth is not the broader truth. Two is the Definition universe. It accomplishes a few things in my motivational structure. One is that I have a basic optimism for the future. Two is that historically and currently, we know nothing. This could be a very pessimistic view, but I see it as an optimistic view. If we limit our future based on what we know now, then it is very limited indeed. If we assume that we know nothing, then we have an unlimited future. I prefer that we will continue to re-frame our understanding until we open the doors to the universe.

Keep that in mind the next time you encounter the idiot who doesn’t know how to work a four-way stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby and Bathwater

I played football in high school, and to a limited extent, in college. As such, I am a fan. I actually watched the Trump speech that led to today’s NFL national anthem upheaval, and as I usually do, I have tried to understand the cause and effect loop.

I have heard it said that the players who have been sitting out the national anthem are protesting, but I have yet to see a cogent explanation of what the protest is actually intended to say. The word ‘injustice’ seems to be a common highlight, but I still can’t quite grasp what they are trying to say. Is it about cops shooting black people? If someone could point me to the definition of the protest, I would appreciate it. It seems that the bulk of protests these days escape me, and I can’t help but conclude that I am missing something, or I am just getting old. Get off my lawn!

Up until today, I would have said that there are technicalities of the protest that were problematic. In other words, if you are being paid by someone and decide to protest on the clock, you are forcing the organization in question to adopt your position, and that doing so is a fire-able offense. Apparently, the coaches, owners, and perhaps the NFL itself is in support of the point of view of the players who are protesting by sitting out the national anthem, all of which adds up to throwing the technical argument out the window.

That leaves us with a number of ideological arguments, most of which I will ignore for brevity’s sake.

First up is Trump’s point of view. As the long-time boss of a large private organization, it’s not too surprising that he would have problems with the idea of employees taking advantage of the NFL platform to make an ideological or political protest. If someone forced his own business into a corner in that way, he would be forced to fire people to avoid having an individual’s opinion form the opinion of the entire business. As usual, I do think he could have said it much better. He could have avoided the SOB label on those NFL Players, and he could have avoided the general insult of talking about why the NFL is losing viewership. What is the NFL position on America?

Second is the follow-on to Colin Kaepernick’s protest. As far as I can gather his point of view from news reports, he is making an argument for which he is the worst spokesperson. He has had every advantage in life and to claim an aggrieved status is not within his experience. To take it further and extend it into the point of view of other players is baffling to me. NFL players live at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid. Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt, having been a minor part of the process, that NFL players have worked amazingly hard for their position in life. They are the best of the best, and they work at a level that most of us would never even imagine. However, no matter how good they are, NFL players are part of an entertainment industry. Case in point: I am watching Washington vs. Oakland right now. I am entertained by Marshawn Lynch.

Third is that we have culturally imbued our entertainment icons with some kind of authority that they are not qualified to deserve. As a rule, I would rather give authority to a top level athlete than say… a Kardashian, but the fact of the matter is that we live in world where the authority we give to our entertainment icons has gone to their heads. This is not to say that entertainment figures cannot think. It is more about our lending of credibility to them and the power that they apply to themselves. Does J-Law’s position on the world matter? No. Hopefully she spends her time improving her craft rather than trying to solve the world’s problems. The same applies to political figures. If political leaders do not understand that they have thrown their moral authority out the window at this point, than we are truly lost from a top down perspective, and it falls to you and I to re-inject some reality into the equation.

But back to the NFL… If you are an NFL player, you have a huge platform in America. You also have a disproportionate amount of financial power to make your point. If you feel that there is an overriding injustice in this country, you have the ability to speak to the press, to start a foundation in your cause, to spend a lot of well financed off-clock hours, and to make your position clear to a very large audience. You don’t need to take it to the level of sitting out the national anthem.

Why is it a problem for me? The simple fact is that as an NFL player, you are taking massive advantage of the same ideals that the national anthem symbolizes. If so many people had not sacrificed for those ideals, the framework for your multi-million-dollar lifestyle wouldn’t even exist. Your ability to convert that advantage into a political message wouldn’t exist. By protesting against the larger picture that America represents, and how the sacrifice made by countless Americans confers to you, you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you want to say something, fine. Say it within the bounds of what your employers will abide, but please don’t lose sight of the fact that your right to say it was paid for by countless people who gave undying allegiance to the flag and the anthem that you are grinding beneath your heels, in front of a paying national audience that would not be possible without the advantages bought by those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to an ideal that allows you to disrespect it.

Is America perfect? Hell, no! Anyone who would make that argument would not only lose, but would happily ignore human nature to their own detriment. The American experiment is simply the best that we as flawed humans have been able to make to this point. However, without it, none of us would even have the freedom to form an opinion, much less express it. If you have point to make, then by all means make it, but do not throw out the ability and liberty to make it. Do not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

A Documentary on the Heart of Old Dog Rescue

I’ve done a bit of writing on my heartfelt documentary project, but my wife has helpfully pointed out several mistakes, and one of those is the fact that I haven’t written an overview. What is it? Why am I doing it? What do I hope to accomplish? A documentary about anything is just another way to tell a story. In theory, it should be a true story, but if we’ve learned anything in the past year or two, it’s that truth is malleable and entirely subjective, so it’s safe to say that all I can claim is that this is my truth about our relationship with dogs. I’ve spoken to many people in the course of preparing this project, and I am fully aware that people hold a wide range of truths about the subject. However, it’s also evident that the whole range of dog owners, dog lovers, trainers, handlers, veterinarians, and experts of every stripe hold to a common body of truths about dogs. In a time of profound disagreement, it’s nice to know that we can agree on the simple fact that dogs are good.

Another aspect of story, in any form, is that the process involves taking a massive amount of information, organizing it around a theme, and artfully trimming the information into something that not only conveys the idea but also pleases the intended audience. I’ve been working on this process in many forms during my life, and just like anything else, developing expertise doesn’t necessarily make it easier. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know.

Hope in her favorite lap

In the broadest terms, my documentary is about our human relationship with dogs. It’s a remarkable thing, the domestication of dogs. After thousands of years, we have molded them into an amazing array of forms, functions, and behaviors. If you have spent any time with dogs, you probably know that they are quite good at molding us as well. Of course, I’ve done a lot of research into the more academic aspects of our ancient relationship with dogs. Their history is a close sibling to our own. They have guarded our flocks, homes, and families. They have kept us warm at night. They have fought wars with absolute courage and no question of their duty to us. On a more personal level, I’d guess I have had some lengthy, meaningful relationship with at least thirty dogs in my life, and perhaps more surprisingly, I could probably list them all. Odd that they make such an indelible impression… Currently, there are six of them on the other side of the door.

Wally catching some rays

Like any other relationships, dogs come with their challenges and their rewards. Obviously for us, the rewards far outweigh the hardships, so much so that we not only choose rescue dogs, we also volunteer significant time to rescue efforts. Our primary efforts are with Old Dog Haven, a rescue organization in Western Washington with a very specific mission, and one that they do very well. This brings a tighter focus into the story I am trying to tell. Some animal advocacy is very generic, some organizations would have trouble even explaining what they do, and some fall into territory with which I cannot agree. In the case of ODH, they simply rescue old dogs from the usual fate of such animals. They pull old, unadoptable dogs into their system, and foster them to people like us who agree to care for them for the rest of their lives. We provide the food, the love and care, and the transportation to typically numerous vet visits, and ODH pays for the medical care. This is HUGE! It is a complete redefinition of the whole problem of taking care of old dogs. Most people could simply not afford to provide this level of health care, and even fewer would be willing to take on the extra effort of accommodating the special needs of old dogs. Many are blind and/or deaf. Many have trouble getting around. Many do not last for long and come with complex decisions about end of life. They are the hard cases.

Wally wants a pretzel

While some would argue that these dogs are not worthy of adoption or even rescue, I take a more “dogs are good” philosophical stance on the issue. First, whether we like it or not, these dogs exist. It seems like a simple thing to say, but it becomes a moral argument when we consider that they exist because of us. Yes, we have bred many dogs that could survive without us, but in relative terms those dogs are few compared to the ones that we bred to be completely dependent on us. The math is simple. If there is any kind of fair exchange in life, we owe them the care and protection we can provide. It starts with general responsible dog ownership. Puppies make a mess, but they are so darn cute, we accept the trade until they can learn how to behave. Adult dogs in their prime can do a myriad of things, from entertainment and companionship to truly useful jobs. The responsibility part comes with good training, good food, good exercise, keeping them clean and healthy, and frankly giving a dog a job to do. Everyone who has lived through an entire dog’s life knows that, just like us, eventually they slow down, the health problems mount, and the dreaded day when the final painful decision must be made approaches. That’s where our real obligation kicks in.

Old Dog Haven skips all the easy parts and tackles the difficult end-of-the-life-cycle head on. Because that end is sharper, harder, and more painful, the ODH mission represents the peak of our responsibility to our canine friends. That is why they are the focus of this story.

This guy is not feeling the cone of shame.

There are three main outcomes I am seeking through this documentary. The first is nothing new. If I can raise awareness for Old Dog Haven and the work they do in the context of our partnership with dogs, if I can move a few people in the direction of a broader view of the human/canine relationship, then it’s a win for me. Obviously the hopeful follow-through is that ODH can raise more money and help more dogs to finish their lives in a loving home. In the longer perspective, I hope that ODH can continue to thrive when all of us are gone. It usually takes a few more decades, but we eventually run out of time too.

The second goal is that I can amass a high quality collection of footage so that specific messages can be created quickly by myself or others within the organization. At the end of the project, I hope to deliver a massive library of footage and mini-edits to certain members within the ODH community so that the effort can continue and others can tell their own stories about the work of old dog rescue. Mine is only one perspective, and I am anxious to see what others have to say.

The third goal has sidled up to me along the way. Dogs have become central to my life in a million ways. Sharon and I drive around pointing out our next potential vehicle purchase in terms of how many dog crates we think it can hold. I spend time writing about dogs and working out dogs as characters in stories that really have nothing to do with dogs. My idea of good time is any event that allows me to meet dogs all day. It doesn’t hurt that most dedicated dog people are pretty great human beings. Perhaps most telling is that I’m at least twice as likely to remember a dog’s name than the person on the other end of the leash. Sad but true. The point is that this particular project is very likely to be the first of many films (and books) about our beloved furry partners.

To that end, I’d like to point you to my Gofundme page, and ask that if any of my goals resonate with you, please contribute to the project. Any amount helps. The goal is large in numbers, but small in film production terms. It is an optimized budget to acquire the tools needed to acquire film quality footage of dogs doing what dogs do, to capture interviews that look and sound beautiful of the people who love those dogs, to handle the the technical requirements of compiling all this footage into a finished film, and a bit for travel and logistics as we run all over the Pacific Northwest. In return for your support, I’ll do my best to leverage the whole set of tools into an ongoing effort to tell the many remarkable stories of dogs and their people. Thank you.

Cathy and one of her beautiful Labs

Photo by Lincoln Creek Valley Labradors