Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

That Was The Year That Was
December 31, 2011

Alternate title: I Beg Your Indulgence: Another Fucking End-of-the-Year Retrospective

The horrifying thing about the Internet is that it encases every single dumb mistake you’ve ever made in amber. So for example, this blog’s archives go all the way back to November 28, 2006, when I was, to put it delicately, a seventeen year old white dude with a lot of opinions on the Internet. A lot’s changed since then: I’m now a twenty-two year old white dude on the Internet, with non-trivially different opinions.

It’s not a particularly long way to go, but it took some time. And oddly enough, it feels like most of the real work took place in 2011. The beginning of this year found me gainfully employed in DC, but lodged in a pit of deep political solipsism and despair. That feeling of personal dissatisfaction didn’t make any real sense to me: I had, after all, been working my way towards DC, in ways both conscious and unconscious, since early high school. I had completely internalized the Aaron Sorkin/West Wing vision of the ideal state, but the DC I found was (surprise!) nothing like that. The politics of the city were so strangely self-contained, so seemingly disconnected from consequence. I spent my days arguing trivia and trying to convince myself that it was the issue of the hour, because I was unwilling or unable to give a name to the perverse sense of wrongness lurking in the back of my mind.

Fear made it easy, but it was fear that I managed to conceal even (especially) from myself. By adopting an attitude of reflexive cynicism I was able to convince myself that fear was actually a bold willingness to see things the way they really are. I didn’t choose the major political battles of the day, I told myself, but they’re the battles I had to wage. I wasn’t going to be one of those useless hippies who opted out of politics as currently constituted and just voted for Nader or something.

I was afraid, also, of self-marginalization and self-alienation. Never mind that I already felt sort of marginal and alien; my approach to the personal as the same as my approach to the political. Please just let me fucking hold on to what I have. I wanted to be part of the team, and I desperately wanted to be the reasonable, savvy, cynical-but-justifiably-so caricature I had created in my head. So I kept one eye on the 24-hour cycle and the other on my public brand, which I sculpted with the diligence of a compulsive gardener.

I can’t write about this process with resentment, because the truth is that it was no one’s fault but my own. The pressures I felt were wholly self-invented. Maybe it was a derangement caused by something in the Potomac water, but more likely it was the thing in me that drew me to DC in the first place, that existed many years prior to my experiences there. Either way, I instantly recognized it in Freddie DeBoer’s epic post on “the incredible naiveté of the incredibly savvy.” We were Internet acquaintances when he wrote that post, but I never had the courage to ask if I was one of the folks he had in mind when he wrote it. It didn’t really matter, anyway. I knew that passages like this applied to me, whether intended to or not:

In any event, our political class operates in an environment where their opinions are constantly conditioned by a host of various pressures, and perhaps none more so than the drive to appear savvy and unique. Due to the fact that liberal institutions are ultimately under the control of establishment power, and power establishments are antithetical to the liberal project, the fundamental dynamic of political commentary in this country is that conservatives demonstrate seriousness by showing fealty to conservatism and establishment liberals demonstrate seriousness by showing their distance from conventional liberalism. What’s more, as our social system conditions people to believe that the value of their attachments and statements is derived from their distance from the uncool throng, people attempt to find political positions that are endlessly “different.” The media liberal thus operates in an environment where he has achieved his purpose not when he has written something true, accurate, generative, or responsible, but when he has written something unconventional, contrarian, and provoking.

I got so good at shaping myself to these pressures that it wasn’t even a conscious process. I could reflexively censor a thought before it even had a name, and it was only when Freddie named that reflex that I saw it in myself. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for that.

Two other events made my flight from DC inevitable. The first was the labor uprising in Madison, Wisconsin. You couldn’t engineer a more perfect event to shatter my Beltway solipsism: here was an event that was well-covered by the DC press corps, but clearly not of DC. It didn’t even happen on one of the coasts — we were talking about the Midwest, for chrissake. But most importantly, it was a political moment that was not driven by the established mechanisms of power. Instead, sitting at my desk and watching cable news, I saw a mass assembly of ordinary people opposing the state government’s coercive power. Not supplicating, not bargaining, but outright demanding that they have some basic right to self-determination.

That blew my fucking mind. All of a sudden, the Jed-Bartlet-as-philosopher-king approach to social change didn’t look so appealing. I knew enough history to recognize what was happening in Madison as a typically American small-d democratic phenomenon, but it was not something I had ever watched unfold in real time. I found myself unable to maintain the appropriate level of ironic detachment.

A couple months later, Washington DC plunged into an apocalyptic squabble over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling. And while I combed through all of the latest updates from Capitol Hill and tweeted the appropriate shibboleths, my heart wasn’t quite in it like before. Fear alone kept me engaged in the fight, but this time I recognized it for what it was: naked and unashamed terror at the possibility of a federal default. The fear was almost comforting, insofar as it gave me a reason to hate the Republicans and root for the Democrats with the same religious fervor I had felt during the Bush years. But somewhere near the end of the fight, something in me crested and broke. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe it was the news that Obama was just straight-up handing out chunks of the social safety net to Republicans like party favors. But I think what really did it was the realization that the whole battle’s outcome was already predetermined: the debt ceiling would get raised, but only because Democrats and Republicans together were willing to make deep contractionary cuts to the federal budget — cuts that would leave only the country’s top 1% unscathed.

The stakes of the outcome, and my fear of a worse outcome, only disguised the artifice of the whole fight. And while everyone waited with bated breathe to see what would happen, both parties in Congress quietly approved Obama’s secret version of the PATRIOT Act. As I wrote at the time:

To be sure, partisan polarization is a real phenomenon. But it is also theater, and our willingness to accept its more theatrical qualities at face value has had dire consequences for civil liberties.

The beauty of polarization theater is that it paradoxically asserts and reaffirms a holistic political consensus. You probably already know one of the ways in which it does this: oftentimes both parties will implicitly accept the same basic premises but become “polarized” over the implications. In this way they make the premises established fact, so that challenging them lies outside the parameters of acceptable debate.

But polarization theater also serves as a crucial distraction. The fights of polarization theater dominate the news to such a degree that they almost entirely crowd out those issues on which both parties agree. Which is why, as Greenwald writes, another four-year extension of the Patriot Act just managed to whisper through Congress on the wings of bipartisan sanction.

Pretty neat trick, huh? But don’t fret: we’ve still got a debt ceiling to squabble over. So me and the rest of the political junkies can continue to pretend that this is about white hats versus black hats, instead of power versus everything else.

Later I found a name for that holistic political consensus: neoliberalism. And through my post-Madison reading and reflection, I found a new cause: organized labor. So, two thirds of the way through 2011, I found myself back in New York City pursuing a graduate certificate in labor studies at CUNY. The subsequent four months have been absolutely insane (due in large part to the sudden eruption of Occupy Wall Street during that time). But this time, at least, I never lost sight of the good and true thing I felt like I had finally uncovered. I still believe in the reasons I originally gave for making the move back to New York and into labor studies, though I think now I’d articulate them differently. In another four months, my political vocabulary will probably shift even more. But here’s what I’m reasonably confident won’t change: there is joy and a certain amount of peace in advocating local democracy and freedom for the working class. I have no idea what I’m going to be doing in a month, let alone a year, but I’ve got an idea from which I withhold very little. If I’ve traded away some of the security I had in DC, I feel like I’ve won a much more important kind of security in return.

And now some acknowledgements: thank you to the friends I made (or finally met in person) in DC. I’m sure I wasn’t always easy to be around while I was figuring this shit out. But thanks for lending a sympathetic ear to my pissing and moaning, and for providing the appropriate level of push back.

Thanks also to the amazing crew of radicals, thinkers, writers and activists I’ve met through CUNY and New York’s left-wing journalism crowd. Your passion, wit and knowledge is both an ongoing education for me and an endless source of pleasure.

Thanks to my parents for being so supportive during a rather bumpy (and 95% over, I swear) transitional stage.

Thanks to those of you who recommended the books and thinkers that I found so enormously helpful in clarifying my current thinking. Regular readers of the blog perhaps know I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t read Philip Pettit’s Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government and Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. The former text is concerned wholly with the social and the latter with the personal, but I’ve come to see both as opposite ends of a larger lifelong project.

Last of all, thanks to anyone who bothered to read this whole thing. A lot of what I write on this blog is a little self-indulgent, but perhaps this post was uncommonly so. I went back and forth a lot on whether I should even write it, but some things just gnaw at you until you suck it up and do them. I hope, at the very least, that clarifying how I got where I am now will help some of you regulars interpret my less personal posts. Stay tuned next year for your regularly scheduled left-wing polemics and philosophy jokes.

Hurricane Playlist
August 27, 2011

Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Jayhawks – Save It For A Rainy Day

The Hold Steady – Hurricane J

Thom Yorke – And It Rained All Night

Black Mountain – Stormy High

Tom Waits – Goodnight Irene

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore

Eat, Pray, Spend
August 4, 2011

Travel Guides

Image by Evil Yoda via Flickr

Bookslut‘s Jessica Crispin, writing for The Smart Set, dismisses the popular narrative of travel as a guaranteed path to self-discovery:

People love to talk about how certain things rewire the brain, now that we can track these sorts of things with neuroimaging. Inevitably we must qualify which of these things are good and which are bad. (Violent pornography rewires the brain: bad. Travel rewires the brain: good.) But our brains are rewiring themselves all the time. Our brains rewire when we eat a peanut butter sandwich.

There are things that extensive travel teaches you, such as how not to be afraid, or at least how to tell the difference between times you should have fear and times there’s no need for it. It teaches you how to discard things you don’t need, whether that be a couple of shirts so you can bring back all the books you bought, or your need for security and certainty. Using that information in everyday life is the tricky part. I’m not saying it should not be done, that it’s a worthless exercise. Travel is a choice. You go or you don’t. Staying at home offers as many opportunities for growth and transformation and brain rewiring and whatever other trademarked terms you’d like to use here. If you’re the type of person who is more scared of staying home than wandering back out there, it perhaps holds more.

A girl goes out into the world to find herself. Only she finds she’s the same person in Argentina as she is back home, with all the same flaws, the same obnoxious behaviors, the same judgmental nature. Now she just happens to have some pictures of herself standing next to Eva Perón’s tomb. That’s not as good of a story. It probably won’t sell any books, or plane tickets. But it’s more honest.

Seneca actually made a related point 2,000 years prior in the 28th letter from Letters from a Stoic:

Do you think you are the only person to have had this experience? Are you really surprised, as if it were something unprecedented, that so long a tour and such diversity of scene have not enabled you to throw off this melancholy and this feeling of depression? A change of character, not a change of air, is what you need.

[...]

How can novelty of surroundings abroad and becoming acquainted with foreign scenes of cities be of any help? All that dashing about turns out to be quite futile. And if you want to know why all that running about cannot help you, the answer is simply this: you are running away in your own company. You have to lay aside the load on your spirit. Until you do that, nowhere will satisfy you.

I’ll only add that there’s something kind of ugly and narcissistic in an old-fashioned colonial sense about this notion of “finding yourself” through travel; as if all those people on the other side of the world are just sitting around waiting for another white American who they can self-actualize. As if the value of visiting another place is not in seeing another side of history and human experience in all of its richness and inconceivable variety, but in catching a reflection of yourself from a different angle.

If you go abroad that wrapped up in your own head, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any grand spiritual revelation. At best you might construct some shallow, disposable facsimile of revelation, so that it might discharge its narrative obligations and then shuffle off the stage. Maybe when business class pilgrims and couchsurfing conquistadors say they’re looking for themselves, that’s what they really mean: they want the kind of quick and easy enlightenment that they can sum up in an anecdote or a book proposal, that reminds them of why they’re great and should just keep doing what they’re doing.

That sounds more like anesthetic to me than revelation, which strikes me as being a lot harder and scarier. But the good news is it’s a lot more valuable than a week in Prague. Better yet, you don’t even need to be able to afford a plane ticket.

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Roundup
April 29, 2011

I had a couple small items in other venues this week:

For Ms.: Rep. Allen West’s Phallocentric Theory of Deficit Reduction
Allen West thinks that one of the reasons our national debt is so high is because feminists are making America’s men “subservient.” Let’s unpack that a bit!

For New Deal 2.0: Why Liberals Need to Take a Page from (Classical) Republicanism
A summary and defense of classical republicanism, and a call for the left to make it their own. This is kind of a mini-manifesto summing up where a lot of my thinking on political principles has been going lately.

Assignment Desk
January 28, 2011

Image representing Formspring as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

So Formspring became sort of a thing when I was in college, and at that point it struck me as being a perfect blend of everything bad about online social networking: the unwarranted self-regard it takes to solicit the Internet to ask you about yourself, the random cruelty that comes with anonymous submissions, and the oversharing that somehow manages to be both uncomfortable and boring.

But on the other hand, one of the few things I miss about Tumblr as a blogging platform is the opportunity for pretty much anyone to ask a question. The questions I got over there were, by and large, pretty great. (This one is a favorite.) I’d like to open this blog up to interesting queries about interesting things again. Free WordPress accounts on their own don’t have that capability. But Formspring with WordPress sharing activated does.

So long story short: Yeah, I’m caving. I have a Formspring account, and you can ask me questions on it here. The ones I like will get answered on this blog. Have at it.

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The Meaning of a Bus
January 26, 2011

Maybe some of you know that I spent ten weeks in the summer of 2009 living on a veggie-oil powered school bus with a few of my friends and tooling around the American South. Well, the guy who came up with the idea, purchased the bus, drew up the plans and repaired the diesel engine/veggie oil system whenever the bus broke down — my amazing, brilliant friend John Pags — has a blog post reflecting on the meaning of the trip. I hope he won’t mind if I just excerpt his post in full:

I finished Blue Highways recently, and I’m not quite sure whether I liked it or not. It has many lovely stories about small towns all across America, which I loved to read about, but it’s also littered with little throw away facts about towns he drove through. It felt at times like the entire premise of the book was just an excuse to tell stories about small towns, but there’s a point of separation from the story when he just rattles off facts about a town without having stopped in it or talked to any residents. It feels like it would have been better as a collection of short stories, each with their own setting and characters instead of pulling them all into this larger narrative. I realize it’s all true, it’s just that I didn’t find his voyage all that interesting in and of itself.

Although I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, since the author/narrator didn’t really either. From the last page:

The circle almost complete, the truck ran the road like the old horse that knows the way. If the circle had come full turn, I hadn’t. I can’t say, over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn’t known what I wanted to know. But I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know.

I feel a similar way about the Tour, and often replied as such if anyone asked what I had learned. That’s also why I probably won’t ever write much about the trip, save a few events. There was a more revealing passage, several pages earlier, that had also echoed what I had felt about the Tour. Looking back, it really reflects what I feel was the purpose of the trip:

In a season on the blue roads, what had I accomplished? I hadn’t sailed the Atlantic in a washtub, or crossed the Gobi by goat cart, or bicycled to Cape Horn. In my own country, I had gone out, had met, had shared. I had stood as witness.

This drove me nuts for maybe a year or so after the trip had ended. I kept trying to write some sort of cohesive, definitive account of the trip, but I always came up against the fact that there seemed to be no cohesive plot. I had no idea where things had begun, I had no idea where they ended, and there was more discernible arc connecting the two. It was with a certain arrogance that I just assumed that a series of thematically and causally connected events in my life automatically formed a story.

We’re conditioned to believe that our whole lives are in the stories we tell to ourselves and each other. Any story has some sort of meaning embedded in its text, so the natural instinct is to judge that there is some sort of meaning imbued into actual events, and that making sense of those events is a sort of forensic, archeological process. But of course, we’re not archeologists. We’re sculptors working with raw, shapeless material. Telling is shaping, no matter how much we try and convince ourselves otherwise.

As far as the Juan Way Tour goes, I’ve abandoned shaping a single big document out of it for now. I treasure the raw material too much to dare chip at it with shaking hands. Maybe some day when I have the time, focus and skill, I’ll give it another shot.

The Joys of Journaling
January 10, 2011

Moleskine notebook.
Image via Wikipedia

I keep a journal. Not a daily journal — I try to update it at least twice a week or so, though sometimes more. It’s a Moleskine journal, because those are sturdy, have good quality paper, and also because in certain respects I am a pretentious piece of shit.

The first entry in this journal was written on December 13, 2008, most likely around 2 or 3 AM. The very last entry will likely be written some time this week. I started out with 240 blank pages, and now I have five to go. Once the last page is filled, I’ll move on to a fresh Moleskine.

Before December 13, 2008, I had made other attempts at keeping a journal. I alway knew it was the sort of thing Very Serious Writers are supposed to do, and I’ve always wanted to be one of those. But I also am not so great at finishing big personal projects, and so I had notebooks scattered all over my room, maybe the first 15 or 20 pages or so of each filled with chicken scratch. What would happen is, I would forget why I was keeping a journal, and so I would toss it aside until, months later, it would occur to me that I should keep a journal. But not that one, the one that had already been despoiled by my past failures. I needed to start a fresh one.

When I started the current journal I didn’t worry about the why so much. I just wrote what popped into my head — I wrote to write. Some of what I put down was traditional journal fare: events in my life, personal observations, and so on. Feelings and shit. Other times I would note down story ideas, or just scratch out little doodles of people. I didn’t force myself into a regular schedule, and there are gaps in the chronology of a couple months or more. But unlike with the other journals, I always came back after those gaps.

I think part of what always drew me back is journaling’s meditative qualities. Like anyone who has lived in Manhattan at any point, and like anyone who spends any significant amount of his or her daily life online, I’m used to being perpetually bombarded with more stimuli than I can effectively process at any one time. Even as I write this I’m carrying on conversations on GChat, flipping to other tabs in Chrome, listening to music, and so on. But when I write in my journal, all of that goes away. I write in silence, without interruption, focused solely on my own thoughts and the physical sensation of writing. Writing full sentences with a good pen on decent paper is a really pleasing tactile sensation that I don’t get enough of in the age of Microsoft Word and WordPress. And Moleskines themselves are nice to look at. They’re stylish and minimalist, and they seem to give a sort of austere dignity to whatever thoughts you put inside them.

(Aside: That actually used to discourage me from keeping a journal. I would have thoughts that I would consider writing down, but then I would start wondering if they were good enough thoughts to record in a journal that nice. Eventually I decided that dropping $9 on a notebook meant I had to put something in it, and my thoughts weren’t getting any more profound from just sitting around and wondering whether they were worthy of a pretty nice paper product.)

That all makes my Moleskine sound like a Zen garden. But it’s really more like my shrink. Believe me: I’ve tried real shrinks, and the notebook provides me with nearly the same level of service at a drastically reduced price. Granted, that’s just me. If you’ve got a serious condition, it requires professional help. Hell, probably everyone could benefit from a little bit of professional help now and then anyway. But if you’re like me — not clinically depressed and not struggling with some nightmarish childhood trauma, but beset by mild paranoia, moderate-to-intense social anxiety, and spasms of congenital whininess — then the therapist is mostly there so you have someone to whom you can kvetch, in total confidentiality, about the things you can’t share with anyone else. Sometimes saying those things aloud automatically takes the air out of them, and that’s always nice. Other times, saying them aloud at least means you have a better idea what you’re dealing with. Often therapy is just venting. Like Tony Soprano said to Doctor Melfi: sometimes what goes on in here is like taking a shit.

A journal is just another impartial, confidential, professional receptacle for all of the things you need to put into words and all the shits you need to take. And whereas my shrink never let me look at her notes, I can always flip a few pages back in the journal and look at how much progress I’ve made. The results are often heartening.

And the best part? It’s all 100% private. My journal is the only thing I write intended only for my eyes. Everything else has an audience, or at least a potential or intended audience. I will always try, consciously or unconsciously, to manipulate that audience. I’ll withhold details, skew facts, and put on sort of an authorial persona that bares less of a resemblance to how I actually am than it does to how I think of myself and would like to think of myself.

That all happens when I write in the journal too, since it’s basically unavoidable. We all lie to ourselves — that’s what makes it so much easier to lie to each other. But when you write for yourself alone, you at least slough off the layers of deception a third party observer necessitates. What I write in my journal is often bullshit, but it’s honest bullshit.

There’s another advantage to a journal’s privacy as well: dignity. Now that we children of the Internet era volunteer more personal information for public consumption than any prior generation in human history, it’s more important than ever to have a space set aside for private reflection. To constantly shirk solitude, to speak and write only in front of an audience, is to assiduously avoid that space where 95% of our really serious thinking and self-examination gets done. Besides, living in public really is deeply, deeply undignified. Maybe dignity’s going the way of answering machines and the Whig Party, but goddammit, it still means something. As long as there are people out there who are willing to keep their shit to themselves and deal with it discretely, dignity is still alive.

Anyway, I encourage others to give journaling a shot. Or if you do keep a regular journal, to share your routine and experiences in the comments.

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Predictions For 2011
December 31, 2010

Most of these are pretty dark. Sorry.

1.) More tablets!
The iPad was the first, but there will be more. Low hanging fruit, I know, but I thought I’d warm up with an easy one.

2.) The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will peacefully fall under the wise stewardship of Kim Jong-un, who will bring about another one hundred years of peace and plentitude.
Hahahah, just kidding! As Kim Jong-il’s health deteriorates, rival factions among the military and his own family will compete for his throne, leading the state into increasingly erratic behavior. On the plus side, this might put some distance between them and China. On the downside, South Korea might soon get the whole peninsula to itself, whether it wants it or not.

3.) From its start, the Republican presidential primary will make Jersey Shore look like the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
I suspect Palin will run, if only because there’s no other way to sustain her cultural relevance past the breathtaking season finale of Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Haley Barbour’s cachet within the party has decreased by any significant degree, so he might still run as well. Mitt Romney’s been running for the 2012 nomination since somewhere near the end of the 2008 primary battle. As if the lineup weren’t already insane enough, Fox News is going to do as much as it can to heighten the crazy even further. A tight race between increasingly bellicose caricatures (many of whom are Fox News contributors or regulars) is guaranteed ratings Viagra, especially when a lot of these candidates will be reluctant to even speak to other news outlets.

4.) Things are going to get worse for American civil liberties.
Guantanamo’s going to be open for a loooooooong time, and we now have formalized indefinite detention. Plus, I’m fairly convinced that, instead of letting Julian Assange face those Swedish rape charges, the Justice Department is going to have him extradited and dust off the ol’ Espionage Act. But even if they decide to let Assange face justice in Western Europe instead of “justice” over here, thereby maintaining the First Amendment status quo, things will certainly not get better. See here for a further exploration of why.

5.) Your various public and private personas will continue to melt together in increasingly uncontrollable and disconcerting ways.
Online behemoths like Google and Facebook aren’t just becoming even more ubiquitous when it comes to how you interact with people: they’re also finding more points of contact between one another. For a while now, we haven’t so much been managing our public projections of ourselves as we’ve been negotiating with them. That trend is going to continue, and get weirder yet.

6.) Not only that, but forces like Gawker and Anonymous are going to exacerbate the problem.
Whether they have a political agenda, a personal axe to grind, or just want page views, Nick Denton, his faceless hacker enemies, and the lesser imitators of each will continue to publicly humiliate random people. On the plus side, those random people might find themselves elevated to celebrity status, at which point they can choose between a reality show, a political candidacy, or both.

7.) Online espionage and cyber warfare will become a more frequently used tool of states.
The fun part is going to start when this trend clashes with Anonymous’ growing prominence as a political actor.

8.) The economy will continue to suck.
No kidding.

9.) House committee hearings are going to be fucking nuts.
Various Republican committee chairs are going to start holding hearings on the most insane topics imaginable, partially because of wide-eyed conspiracy theorists like Michelle Bachmann and partially because of a cynical desire to drown the Obama administration in Whitewater-esque faux-scandals in advance of the 2012 election. Even John Boehner will start to get uncomfortable with all of this.

10.) The national security apparatus is going to find some new secret wars to wage.
After Pakistan and Yemen, who knows what’s next? My money’s on Somalia or Tajikistan.

11.) South Sudan will vote to secede, and violence will ensue.
As if the people of Sudan didn’t already have enough problems, Khartoum won’t let a secession occur quietly and peacefully. If they don’t reject the referendum results entirely, then they’ll pick a fight over where the border with their new neighbor gets drawn.

12.) Putin will clearly signal his intention to become President of Russia again.
Medvedev’s term as understudy-in-chief runs out in May 2012. In the meantime, Putin will make no secret of his intention to retake the crown, thereby cementing Medvedev’s irrelevance in the eyes of the world and turning Russian democracy into an even bigger joke.

13.) On the plus side, TV will still be good.
The new seasons of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Community, and others will be predictably awesome. The Walking Dead might finally find its legs. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are going to mine a lot of gold out of C-SPAN.

14.) But mostly things will stay the same.
For the vast majority of the world’s population, life will go on more or less as it always has. At least until global climate change causes droughts in some places, floods in others, and generally exacerbates resource scarcity. But I’ll save that for my “Predictions for 2020.”

Happy New Year! And remember: Even if I end up being mostly right (which I sincerely hope is not the case), you and most of the people you care about will probably still be doing pretty well. As for the other stuff, well, there’s always room for improvement.

Merry Christmas, Everyone
December 25, 2010

For all my Christian friends, here’s a Christmas song that’s both pretty good and hasn’t already been overplayed to death by every radio station everywhere:

Tonight: The traditional Jewish Christmas celebration with my parents of chinese food for dinner followed by a movie. Later this week I might do some of the obligatory top-10 year end lists, and some more atheism stuff.

UPDATE: There’s also this one. I had forgotten about this one.

Blogger Blogs About Blogging
December 11, 2010

One of the strange things about blogging as a medium for writing is the pressure it puts on content production. Nobody judges an author by how many books she manages to put out in a five year span, and the newspaper columnist operates on a fixed schedule of one or two pieces a week. But when it comes to blogging, the more you update, the better. The goal is to make people check your front page at least once a day, and preferably several times throughout the course of that day.

Up until this week, I observed a regimen of 5-6 posts per week, minimum, except when extenuating circumstances made that too much of a hassle. In college, that wasn’t so hard. I was a liberal arts major (a vocation that largely consists of looking rumpled and overworked but receding guiltily when an actual overworked person from the business school or biology department walks by). Plus, my interests were pretty standard precocious political junkie nonsense. Looking back, it’s amazing how entertained I could keep myself just writing dozens of permutations of the same post about what a terror Sarah Palin is. Especially when I was producing most of NYU Local‘s election 2008 coverage, I could chase after every single campaign story the mainstream media presented as politically significant and never get bored. When boredom became so much as visible on the horizon, I could just do posts kvetching about why something wasn’t really news, and that would hold me over.

The trick of maintaining that level and style of content production lies in being fairly predictable — if not predictable to others, then predictable to yourself. I could dash off three NYU Local posts in about an hour because I already had the arguments for each one laid out in my head. They were there before the news I was ostensibly reacting to even occurred, and I was just waiting for events to go with them.

Writing like that doesn’t interest me anymore. It strikes me as lazy and uninteresting. Plus, as I’ve learned a little bit more about policy, history, and political science, I’ve come to comprehend what a vanishingly small percentage of the things I used to write about were significant events. It’s hard to get all that jazzed about dueling campaign narratives when the state of the economy and name of the incumbent party trump all of that. But you can’t just write, “The economy sucks and the president is a Republican, so Obama is going to win” each and every day, so I helped manufacture white noise.

There are other ways to write about these things. If you’re an expert in a particular policy area, you can cover that. (I am not, sadly, though I’m trying to educate myself on American foreign policy and civil liberties.) Failing that, you need the time and patience to grapple with a challenging subject and let an argument unfold. Now that I’m pretending to be a grown up (which involves not just holding down a grown up job but doing other strange, alien grown up things, like exercising and occasionally cooking for myself), I have less time for that than ever. I can’t do one post a day if I’m also going to do the homework needed to form an intelligent opinion on the subject of that post. (Incidentally, this is something I wish I had realized a couple of months earlier.)

More to the point, I can’t bang out a post a day without having that entire post laid out in my head from beginning to end. Writing like that saps all the joy out of the process. There’s no discovery involved, self- or otherwise. The process of actually getting your thoughts down becomes wholly performative. I’d like to get away from the whole genre of blogging as delivery of a prepared statement.

So in that spirit, this blog is going to be updated a lot less frequently. I’ll try to keep it above once a week and hope that I don’t hemorrhage too much readership. The quality of the writing will go up, though, I think. It’s going to become a little more essayistic, like this post, though I promise that this isn’t going to become a blog solely dedicated to navel-gazing on the process of blogging. The subjects will vary, but the overall mission is to make this blog more about writing and less about evacuating.

We’ll see how that goes. But even if I still suck at this, at least I’ll only suck at it two or three times a week, tops.

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