Situation Report 2018

Warning: this is both long and political in parts. --Larry

It's with a bit of a shock that I've realized I haven't blogged since last February. Yes, the year 2017 turned out to be a shitshow of titanic proportions in the wider world, but that wouldn't ordinarily have stopped me from blathering on. Clearly, there were special circumstances at work, and a review and situation report are both in order. Let's start with the positives--in my own little world, 2017 was pretty good overall. Then we'll move on to the rest of the annus horribilis that was 2017.

I got a promotion midyear, which has finally put me in a position where I don't feel I have to make excuses for what I do. Work in general has been good to me; I like the people I work with, I seem to have their respect, and my work is varied and interesting. Although I'm finally earning a respectable income, I would of course like more money (who wouldn't?) and a greater feeling of job security (ditto), but that's life in the private sector in America. We're now owned by a private investment group, and if you've worked in the business world, you know what that means. Still, as long as my badge still opens the door to the office, I can't complain.

Although there have been ups and downs, things are good on the family front at the moment. My marriage is solid, I see my brother and my youngest nephew frequently, and my mom continues to live independently and is in basically good health overall. My mother-in-law continues to astonish everyone by continuing to plug along at the ripe old age of 98. My oldest nephew lives in New York City, but was able to come out for Christmas, and we all enjoyed time together. My brother went through the wringer this year in both his personal and professional lives, but has come out the other side in good shape. He found a new career within a couple of months of the old one ending, before the severance ran out, which is always a good thing. And even better, it's something he's going to enjoy.1 And finally, my wife and I have both of our cars paid for, and we're fortunate to have what is by California standards a very small mortgage. No complaints here either.

I'm lucky to live where I do, in a place where other people come for vacation. The weather is great, we were named one of the most livable places in America recently, and like all California beach towns, you can show up in shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt pretty much anywhere, at any time of the year, and nobody cares. Overall, it's been great.

Except for the month of December, that is. By now you will have heard of the Thomas Fire, which ended up being the largest wildfire in California history, the flames of which were visible at one point from behind my house. We went through weeks of smoke and haze, and for a time, the hottest fashion accessory in Ventura was the N95 mask. Although our house was OK in the end, we have friends who weren't so lucky, and who lost almost everything. Ventura will come back, but it's going to take a while. And in a sense, it was fitting for a year that was, for the most part, a raging dumpster fire to end with a raging wildfire.

I recently turned 52, and nobody gets much past the half-century mark without thinking about where they've been and where they're going. It is impossible for me to ignore the fact that I undoubtedly have more road behind me than I do in front of me. That's why it's so satisfying to be able to say that I'm good with where I am, in every sense of the word. My marriage is good. I love my wife. We love our house. Our cars are paid for. When I look back, I've had some fascinating experiences, and I've made some good friends. I've lost a few as well--that's part of the journey. For me, the biggest thing is that I'm not seeking anything any more. I'm not looking for anyone to explain the world to me, or to tell me how to worship a deity. The time for fairy tales is over. I've recognized that anytime you have a hierarchy, you have people whose primary interest is in perpetuating that hierarchy and controlling the people under them. It's just human nature. I'm much more interested in making the most of the time I have left, in such a way as to honor the choices that people make and helping them to live lives that they find fulfilling and true to themselves.2 In summary, if this is my personal plateau, I'm good with that, and I'm at peace with the universe or God or The Force or whatever you want to call it.

And Now, The Rest Of The Story
If you know me, or even if you just read my blog, you know how I feel about national and world events of the last 12 months. For people like me, who believe in science, who believe in equality, who believed we were making slow but steady progress towards a more just and equitable society, the last year has been a wake-up call. I did not think that so many of my fellow countrymen were so misinformed, prejudiced, fearful, uneducated, or just plain stupid as to vote for the current occupant of the Oval Office. I was wrong.3 I did not think that 80% of evangelical Protestants would vote for a man who is, by all accounts, a serial sexual predator, who brags about "grabbing (women) by the pussy," who blatantly lies about all things at all times, and who also has a habit of not paying people who work for him. I was wrong. I did not think that the members of the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, who more than anyone I would expect to be skeptical of Russia, would put party above country and turn a blind eye to collusion with Russia. I was wrong. I did not think that the Republican establishment would roll over and become Trump's lap dog. I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.

Just to be absolutely clear, I consider the current occupant of the White House to be illegitimately elected, most likely guilty of treason, almost certainly suffering from dementia, and the Republican Party to be so compromised as to be unsalvageable. It is as if we have taken a wrong turn, and ended up in an alternate timeline. Our liberties are at stake. Our place in the world is at stake. Our constitutional government is at stake. Our founders made provision for the removal of a President from office, but they did not make provision for a legislative branch that put party above country, and refused to take any action. Or that would pass bills in the middle of the night, without giving its members the time to debate and discuss them. Plainly put, our system of government has broken, and it needs to be fixed.4

So how has that affected me?

In some senses, it hasn't. I live in California, the bluest of blue states and the beating heart of the Resistance. I'm a middle-aged straight white guy. I'm not in the demographic with the most to fear. Although the current government seems determined to screw up my retirement and my health care and my very future, it isn't trying to take away my right to vote, or my right to get married (theoretical, since I'm already taken). It isn't trying to keep my relatives out of the country, or to deport the ones who are here, or to mess with my right to practice my religion (or lack of same). But if there's one thing I know, it's that one doesn't wait until one is personally threatened to oppose infringements on personal liberty. That's one reason why I stopped attending the local Orthodox church; the priest thinks Trump is just wonderful, and Fox News is political gospel, and never missed an opportunity to take potshots at Obama, and frankly, I'm done with religion that wants to be political.5

I also know that you have to do more than just scream about it on Twitter and Facebook, which brings me to someplace where I have been affected--social media.6

I've dialed back on my use of social media. It's not that I don't care, but as I just said, screaming about things on Twitter does no good. Far better to focus your energies where they can do some good, such as writing to Senators and Congressmen, or participating in demostrations, or, ultimately, voting the bastards out. And that's what I'm prepared to do.

What I'm not prepared to do is subject myself anymore to the endless, breathless crises on the Internet. The past year has beaten it out of me. I once was a news junkie; I now keep abreast of the news, because one must, but I'm not going to wallow in it. I've even given up my subscription to the Economist. I look at Twitter, but I don't post nearly as much on an average day as I once would have. I don't show up as much on my chosen alternative networks either, such as 10Centuries or Pnut or Mastodon, because at the end of the day, it's as much about breaking the habit of always having to be logged on somewhere, talking about nothing in particular, as it is a given network.7

This is not to say I don't go online; I do, but I'm trying to be more mindful of where I am. In this sense, the last year has perhaps been a blessing in disguise, because I've learned some new things. Some months ago, I decided it would be fun to get a mechanical watch to mark my promotion (possibly a kind of reverse tech geekiness--I love that it isn't connected to anything, and doesn't rely on a battery). That led me to to the wacky and wonderful world of watch collecting, and the forums that serve that community. I've been learning about watch movements, and dials, and hands, and complications, and it's just fabulous.

And politics never rears its ugly head--it's somewhere I can go to just be with other geeks and geek out about geeky stuff that the wider world doesn't care a fig about. And now I know the difference between a Vostok 2415B movement and a 2416, and why some Shturmanskie chronographs have a flat grey dial instead of a metallic silver one, and what the lug width is on a Bulova UHF Military, and why it's actually more complicated to make a watch with a central seconds hand than one where the seconds are on a subdial. It's marvelous.8 It reminds me a great deal of when I was a kid learning about cars, and threatens to become my next lifelong obsession. I'm good with that.

That's the year and the situation as I see it. I feel like I should end with some grand summation, some pithy words of wisdom, and a rousing sendoff, but I've got nothing. 2018 is likely to be a seminal moment. It will determine whether we right the ship of government in the midterm elections, or let it continue to founder. I hope that it turns out better than 2017, but I'm not confident of it. And even if it turns out to be absolutely delightful in every way, it will take us years to undo the damage that's been done already. Votes matter, and elections have consequences.

Next time--please--let's all vote correctly.

  1. That's all I'll say about it; it's his life, and it's up to him how much he wants to reveal.

  2. If you're about to tell me that you can only be true to your true self by following INSERT RELIGION HERE, don't. It's presumptuous and it's rude, and I don't have time for that any more.

  3. Before you make any assumptions, I was no fan of Hillary Clinton either. Her campaign made a lot of mistakes, and there was an arrogance I found displeasing. But compared to Trump, she was vastly more qualified, more intelligent, and more caring, and that's enough for me.

  4. This is where I mention once again that I consider the Westminster system, however imperfect, to be superior to our own.

  5. To be fair, he never did that from the pulpit, but hearing it at coffee hour is just as bad, and it brings into question his judgment, and consequently his worthiness to hold the priesthood, in my estimation. Frankly, the crucial role played by Christians of all flavors in the ascendancy of Trump brings the faith itself, as it is practiced by the majority of its adherents, into question, about which more later, but that's outside the scope of today's little essay.

  6. Ladies and gentlemen, a moment of silence for, which went offline for the last time in 2017. If you're reading this, there's a better-than-average chance that we met on that much-missed platform.

  7. Although Twitter has been far too easy on the so-called "alt-right," who are really just neo-Nazis, and Jack Dorsey, who appears to have no moral compass and should be fired, can go to Hell.

  8. It can also be expensive. Did I mention I now own five watches, and have ideas about more? More on that later…