Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and I was thankful for my friends.
I have the best circle possible. Brilliant, creative, thoughtful, empathetic, generous. I’ve done little to deserve such friends, so all I can do is be grateful for the stroke of blinding good luck that brought me into their orbit.
I have failed at much in life, but the friends category I win going away.
Today is Black Friday, so let me share what I’m ungrateful for.
Most in my circle (not quite all, mercifully) live a thousand miles away or more, and I never get to see them, enjoy a dinner, have a beer, talk. I’m not there to help when they’re in crisis, nor are they here when, as now, I am. Some I’ve never even met face to face.
Our mobile society has made it possible for me to achieve so much more than I ever could have back in NC. I’m an exile, but have finally found my place, my home, here in Colorado, and am happy beyond words for it. And digital communication allows me to stay in touch across the miles. It’s not the same as being together physically, but it’s far better than nothing. There are wonderful, life changing developments.
Anytime the world’s attention diverts towards something shiny or outrageous or noisy or over-the-top entertaining, I try to step back and see who’s working the crowd. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but a lot of times circuses take attention off of something else.
Right now, Elon Musk is the greatest show on Earth. But I wonder. People like Trump are a huge threat – to democracy, to peace, to basic human decency – but longer-term the bigger threat is the oligarch class.
Peter Thiel worries me more than Trump. Billionaires are the enemy. Billionaires are dangerous. Billionaires should not exist, especially in a society with so much poverty. And the last thing billionaires need is for the rest of us to start looking at them too closely.
Along comes Elon, burning billion-dollar bills, dancing on tables like a drunk monkey, and making a general fool of hisself. All of eyes turn toward the jester, capering around under the big top at the edge of town. Look, we say. He ain’t nothing to fret about.
We laugh and clap and point and chomp our ten-cent cigars, but what are we not looking at as, for instance, Peter Thiel’s pet hillbilly wins a Senate seat in Ohio?
No, I don’t think the dark cabal sent Elon out there to take one for the team. But what does it mean when things just naturally happen the same way they would if there were a conspiracy?
This is what the voice in my head is quietly thinking about this Veterans Day morning…
I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1980. That’s a bunch of years, dozens of characters, lots of GMs, and more adventures than I can recall. (I’ve also played other RPGs, including Twilight 2000, Vampire, Shadowrun, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, there’s a TMNT game, and it’s beyond fun.)
Like any other seasoned gamer, I have war stories. I have war stories for days, and I was recently trying to decide which is my favorite. What was my greatest gaming moment ever (to date, anyway – I still play, and you never know, right)?
College athletics realignment is under way. Superconferences! TV deals! Megadollars! Academics, traditions, and any pretense at ethics be damned.
But I’ll leave the preaching for another day.
The question facing lots of schools – those without rich fanbases and lucrative media markets – is what now? Among those almost certain to be left behind is my alma mater, Wake Forest University, a small private school that’s one of the nation’s elite academic institutions. It’s also a founding member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which in recent days has moved from “endangered” to “on life support.” If the SEC and Big 10 do what I expect them to, five, six or more of the valuable properties will be gone and the league, as we have known it, will be history.
And it’s hard to imagine a scenario where schools like Wake are invited to the party. (Vanderbilt may hang on in the SEC and Northwestern in the B1G because they’re already members.)
I don’t care if Wake isn’t part of a crime cartel top-tier athletic conference. What I care about is what I said above: elite academic institution. I’ve said for years I’d be fine if the Deacons dropped to Div 3, but as I think about the coming landscape an idea emerges: what if a “Southern Ivy League” were established? There are schools to build around.
Wake Forest is obvious. If they decided The Show wasn’t for them, Vandy (the Wake Forest of Tennessee) would be a natural. Also Rice, which was pitched to the side when the Southwest Conference folded. Tulane is a top-50 national U with a solid mid-major profile.
William & Mary is a fantastic school that’s established at the FCS level. Who else might you think about? Davidson? Emory is D3 but certainly has the academic profile. And you’re not playing by big-time NCAA rules anymore.
Yeah, “Ivy” is a bit much for any kind of public talk or branding, but it’s a fine idea as an aspiration and organizing principle. I’d be honored to be part of an organization like this. I’m certain not all my fellow Deacs will agree, but being part of the NFL’s minor league system … there’s not much appeal in it.
Several conversations since I originally posted the spectrum have made clear that some elaboration and refinement is in order. In this update I add elements for context and present a revised spectrum graph that more accurately reflects the US political-economic spectrum with respect to the global “left-right” divide.
There exists a sort of consensus among Americans about left-wing vs right-wing (vs “moderate” or “centrist), but this narrow popular view fails to account for historical shifts and the global context. In short:
The US is significantly more conservative than the rest of the industrialized West and we have shifted dramatically to the right over the past 50 years.Read more
Let’s begin with an unhappy admission: I am not a pretty man.
There was a sort of lean, athletic okayness when I was young and had hair, I guess. I had pretty girlfriends, and they certainly couldn’t have been hanging around for my car (1967 Dodge Non-Chickmagnet GT), money (none), prospects (none), personality (“intense” was the euphemism, as I recall), and I forgot where I was going with this.
But as I’ve aged … Unhappy admission #2: I have what the kids call “resting bitch face.” Per Wikipedia, RBF:
Looking back, there were early signs (despite the hair and lean athletical thing).
Flash back to 1984. I’m bartending (Darryl’s 1913, Northpoint Blvd. in Winston-Salem). It’s earlyish in my shift when my buddy and fraternity brother Jim, who’s a waiter, picks up an order at the bar and asks “why are you being so pissy?”
“Everybody is talking about what an asshole you’re being.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I had just come in and started working like I did every other shift. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t sad. Not a cross word to anyone. I was just … neutral. And yet, my foul mood was the talk of the wait staff.
I can’t say how many times since I’ve had people ask what was wrong with me when nothing was wrong with me. Let’s go with “many.”
Fast-forward to last week. I’ve started a new job, and I am being pulled into the usual number of Zoom meetings. Obviously, the new guy wants to make a good impression, right? So, I was paying attention to the speaker and looking at the document being shared on screen, and then I happened to notice myself in the audience window to the side.
Great googley moogley.
Seriously – just being me, neutral, approachable, engaging, etc. Nobody said anything. Maybe they have low expectations. Maybe they were afraid. Regardless, I can’t go around looking like the old drunk sucking a PBR and shaking a rake at the neighborhood kids, no matter how cool and non-judgy the culture is.
So for the first time in my life I’m making an effort. This was taken on my last call.
I know, my pretty days are behind me. But if nobody calls the police we’ll call it a win.
If you were watching TV on December 30, you may have seen this:
If you checked back the next morning you could have seen this:
The Marshall fire, driven by Category 2 hurricane-force winds, burned more than 6,000 acres, destroyed 1,000+ buildings (homes + commercial), cost well over a half-billion dollars in damages, and – miraculously – only killed two people.
Yesterday, finally, I drove up to look around. Here, in no particular order, are some observations.
1: Close to home. We often use the phrase. In this case, though…
See that little blue house icon the green number one is pointing to? I lived there for a year when I moved back to Colorado in 2007 or so. It’s untouched. But the red to the right shows the burned homes between it and the Home Depot. The one next door is where my landlord Tom lived.
This was the biggest shock of the day. Based on what I had seen and heard, I thought all the houses along that road were okay.
I don’t know if Tom sold everything or if these were still his properties. He was a nice guy, and I hope he’s okay.
2: Rock Creek. I know wildfires can be capricious, and as you can tell by looking at this map, this one was no exception. The big blue area noted by the number two is a huge residential subdivision. My good friend Anders and his family used to live in there, and for a while our company offices were in the basement. When I look at how the fire was behaving, I have no idea how it avoided that section.
3: Davidson Mesa. I used to take my dog walking in the park on Davidson Mesa every morning. It’s hard to see that all those houses down the hill on the west side are gone. Likewise, everything across McCaslin to the east and along the northern side of Centennial Parkway…
I remember watching the fire coverage on TV and trying to visualize where some of this activity was taking place. But I haven’t lived there in a while, and almost none of the reporters had any clue where they were or what they were looking at. So yesterday was the first chance I had to really get the map straight in my mind.
4: By the skin of our teeth. I think one of my biggest surprises yesterday was realizing how much didn’t burn. I’m sure the people who own houses further east along Via Appia were terrified. Had the wind not died down there was a lot more waiting to be burned. And had it jumped S. Boulder Rd. to the north…
5: Old Superior. The fire was disaster for … well, just about everybody. But it was great news for the developers who have been trying to buy out the old Superior neighborhood for years. There was a core of old, run-down historic homes owned by people who liked it that way and who were. Not. Gonna. Sell. Meanwhile, progress built up around them.
6: WTF? No, seriously. Look towards the bottom where the number six is. Look at that small line of fires along Coalton Road. Then look at all the real estate to the north that’s untouched. I’m not a fire expert or a weather expert. I know these things behave strangely.
(My first thought was that I could imagine a suspicious fire marshall looking at the map, scratching his head, and going out to the west end of that line and snooping around for signs of opportunistic arson.)
I used the phrase earlier – close to home. The reason we were watching this portion of the area so closely is the the spot indicated by 6a. That’s where my girlfriend’s best friend lives. That the fire didn’t jump Coalton was a massive relief at my house (also hers, I imagine).
She can look out the back window and see ruins. She can see just how close the inferno got. And she’s grateful for the fire crews that lined their trucks up along the road and, in a scene a little bit like Gandalf facing down the Balrog, said to the fire you shall not pass.
The Trump years brought out the worst in me. And maybe you.
A war is being waged against everything decent in life, and dealing with the daily onslaught was eating me alive. The battles still have to be fought and won, but at some point I accepted that I had to look after myself. More importantly, in a world of creeping gloom, maybe I’d be more useful as a spot of light.
What emerged was FishCountingWater, a small book about Zen. Or, more accurately, about “Zen,” since I really know nothing about the practice at all. It covers a lot of ground for something that’s under 15k words. The residents of my imaginary monastery talk about enlightenment, of course, and also the wastefulness of consumer culture, the emptiness of corporate life, art and lit, and quantum mechanics (I know, but it’s fun). There’s an old master, a biz world dropout, a former college soccer player, a retired DARPA contractor, a “crazy” old lady, and an always-on cattle dog.
And it’s funny. Don’t take my word, either. Friends and relatives assure me they’re laughing when I’m not around.
Anyway, as part of the project I started a new web site: FishCountingWater.com. It’s where I’m spending most of my online energy these days. It features ancient Zen wisdom, art, photography, and excerpts from the book. Like “Dingo & the Road to Bliss,” the last story I wrote for it. If you’ve heard the old story about “does a dog have a Buddha nature?” this is my response.
I invite you to stop over and spend a few minutes in the light…
On 2.2.22, this guy, who was born in ’61, turned 61. (I’m not sure, but this may make me the antichrist.)
That’s 22,314 days. 22,314 days before that it was New Years Eve, 1899, and people were living the final moments of the 19th century.
As my birthday approached, I got to thinking. It’s probably common enough, once you reach a certain age, to reflect on all that has happened in the world during your lifetime. Something made me ask the next question: what about the 61 years before that? Take my birthday as the center-point, and compare the span before with what’s come after.
In 1899, William McKinley was president. Joe Biden would be born 21 years later. My great-grandfather Charlie was eight.
A majority of Americans lived in rural areas. 44,628 days later, there are very real questions about whether the damage we’ve done to the environment is fixable.
Indoor plumbing, telephones, and cars were rare. Only the well-off could afford an automobile, for instance, and the manufacturer options included a variety of household names:
Top tech innovations in the last decade of the 1800s included the escalator, the zipper, the Cinematographe, and the motor-driven vacuum cleaner. The zeppelin and the air conditioner were right around the corner. The first successful radio transmission happened in 1901. Now we engineer genomes and know a staggering amount about the first seconds after the Big Bang. Don’t get me started on quantum mechanics.
The Wright Brothers also weren’t due up until 1903. Last week, a Chinese spaceship crashed into the dark side of the moon.
On Dec. 31, 1899, the US was closer to the Civil War than World War II.
I was lead writer on a “future of cybersecurity” guide recently published by my company. In it, I talk about artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cryptography, deepfakes, a trillion-IoT device world, hackable pacemakers and insulin pumps, flying taxis, autonomous killbots, an “i-condom,” and lots more fun stuff to keep you up at night. Some of it is very near-future (as in, less than a decade). Some of it is already happening.
Why is this important?
Heck if I know. It probably isn’t. We all know things have changed, are changing, and will keep changing. We know the pace is vertigo-inducing, we know the scale is epochal, and we may feel it’s all we can do to hang on.
And we all have our own frames for thinking about it. For managing it.
This is mine, and it’s been a fascinating exercise in personal perspective.
In case you’re wondering, 22,314 days from today is April 9, 2083. It will be a Friday.