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:
Steam: Century, Grout, Kensington, Keystone, Kidder, Leach, Liquid Air, Locomobile, Mobile (pre Stanley Steamer), Strathmore, Victor Steam, Waltham Steam; electric: American Electric, Baker, Columbia (taxi), Electric Vehicle, Quinby, Stearns, US Automobile, Van Wagoner, Woods; internal-combustion: American, Black, Bramwell-Robinson, Gasmobile, Gurley, Holyoke, International, Media, Oakman-Hertel, Packard (Ohio), Quick, Sintz
Ford wouldn’t be incorporated until 1903.
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.
I’ve always been a tinkerer, though. So here, for your summer sipping enjoyment, is the Doc Variant: Read more
I just got out of the Mark Zuckerberg Maximum Security Online Penitentiary. Here’s what I went down for:
The US celebrated its birthday recently, spawning a huge round of WE’RE THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH® on Facebook.
I decided to take a look at the data surrounding all the things that make nations great. Since we’re America, let’s start with…
Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness
“AI will probably most likely lead to the end of the world, but in the meantime, there’ll be great companies.” – Sam Altman, Chairman of OpenAI
Our dalliance with artificial intelligence hit a major milestone last week. OpenAI, a research organization “with the stated goal of promoting and developing friendly AI in a way that benefits humanity as a whole,”* announced the release of GitHub CoPilot, which… Read more
My grandmother, Helen Marshall Smith, was born in 1914. Like most women of her generation her career opportunities were limited, and like nearly all women in her socio-economic stratum – Southern working class – her educational opportunities were nearly non-existent.
One more fact to note: she had polio as a child and that, plus some sort of hip issue I never fully understood, meant she spent most of her life on crutches.
I thought about Grandmother the other day as I wandered around Denver Botanic Gardens with my Nikon. Read more
Welcome to Colorado, the Shoot-’em-Up State
We do have a bloody history, don’t we? The latest breaking news happened the other day at the Table Mesa King Soopers in Boulder. At least three or four good friends live nearby and shop there regularly. And I used to shop there two or three times a week – I lived maybe a mile up the hill toward NCAR during grad school. Read more
I posted this to Facebook yesterday.
Got some interesting comments, but came away feeling like I needed to elaborate a bit.
Chris Rock explained to us the difference between rich and wealthy. Shaq is rich. The rich white man who signs Shaq’s check is wealthy.
That’s what I’m thinking about – the wealthy, not the rich. Because you can become a millionaire a lot of ways, including by being smart and working hard. Yeah, it helps if you aren’t born into poverty, but you can be a wonderfully moral millionaire. I’m lucky to know a few myself. I sometimes wish I were one.
But there’s a point where it’s not clear a person with a soul can pass. It’s like a glass ceiling, except maybe it’s made of some kind of humanity-sucking ur-obsidian. I’ll never forget Michael Milken in the ‘80s – a hypermillionaire cheating little old ladies out of their social security checks. Pure pathology.
Fitzgerald and Hemingway used to have an argument. Hemingway believed the “very rich” were more or less regular people with a lot of money. Fitzgerald disagreed. “Let me tell you about the very rich,” he said.
They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”
William Gibson took it a step further: first with the Tessier-Ashpools in Neuromancer and then with Virek in Count Zero, his argument was that they weren’t really human at all anymore (or that they won’t be in the relatively near future).
I look around the world today and wonder just how human our billionaire overlords really are.
Maybe this is why the idea of lizard people doesn’t scare me.
Yesterday I hit the button on my iPhone and said “Hey, Alexa.”
Siri replied, “Wow. Awkward.”
I was embarrassed to have gotten her name wrong.
I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for four years.
But today the relentless assault on truth, on justice, on fundamental human decency comes to an end. At least, the portion of it originating in the Oval Office does.
I know I’m imagining it, but it’s almost like I can feel my blood pressure dropping.
Of course, I know we haven’t really won anything, and I hope you know it, too. January 6 was just an amuse bouche, and even if we make it through the day without running street battles our various fascist terrorist cells still exist. Maybe not in sufficient numbers to take down the government (fingers crossed), but there are certainly enough of them to wage a disruptive campaign of terror of the sort we tend to associate with the Middle East or Northern Ireland.
Even if that doesn’t happen – even if the Proud Boys and the Boogaloos and Lauren Boebert lay down their arms and assimilate into civil society – Joe Biden ain’t the messiah. Along with the Clintons, Obama, Chuck Shumer, Cory Booker, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Kamala Harris, and the entire Colorado Senatorial delegation, he’s the face of what’s wrong with the Democratic Party. His administration will be friendly enough to the various causes of social progressivism – up to a point. Our racist, militarized police problem, for instance, will get a sparkly Band-Aid at best.
And while he won’t fluff Wall St. in public the way any member of the GOP would, he won’t be putting them out of business, either.
In essence, President Biden will restore dignity to the oligarchy.
“Better than Trump” isn’t the same as “better.” So my expectations are tempered by my basic habit of paying attention and thinking about what I observe.
Still, while Better than Trump isn’t everything, it isn’t nothing, either. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to mark today by exhaling.
In the morning we all need to take another deep breath and get back to the barricades. Because losing less isn’t winning.
Joseph Epstein is getting dragged hard this morning. The WSJ (for reasons that shouldn’t be too hard to discern) on Friday published a smarmy, self-important, and ridiculously uninformed op-ed in which he demeans Dr. Jill Biden’s use of “Dr.” Read more