The Nation Magazine: July 1/8 2019

Killer Kitch, by James McAuley: I’ll admit I didn’t read all of this issue’s cover story on Renaud Camus. I’m not familiar with his work, but after a couple of pages about this man I had read enough. I guess I’ve heard enough about le grand replacement, and given that I had been reading this around the second anniversary of Unite The Right’s Charlottesville rally, I don’t think I really wanted to read more about it.

The Florida GOP’s Assault on Democracy, by Sasha Abramsky: This seems par the course these days: citizens overwhelmingly approve ballot measure that will increase voting power by demographics likely to favor Democratic party candidates; Republican legislators move the goalposts and otherwise try to undermine the voice of the people in order to preserve their power. In this case it was a measure to reinstate voting rights for persons convicted of a felony after they had served their time. We’ve seen a similar response play out here in Virginia after gubernatorial executive orders granting blanket restorations to tens of thousands of citizens. The Virginia GOP about had the vapors.

The situation is a bit more dire for Republicans in Florida, given the state’s role in the 2000 presidential race. According to Abramsky, about 1.4 million people were expected to be reinstated by Florida’s Amendment 4, but state Republicans have managed to lower that number to around 800,000 changing the criteria and qualifications that individuals have to have to fall under the rule. And since it seems to be par the course for these reviews, here’s the obligatory Last Week Tonight segment that covered the absolute shitshow that was Florida disenfranchisement before the 2018 vote.

The Statue Aimed at Julian Assange, by Miriam Schnier: Now I could normally give a rat’s ass about Assange. I dislike him for a variety of reasons, but as I’ve said here before, how we treat the worst of us reflects on us. And the real importance about this article is because of the information it gives about the 1917 Espionage Act. And this is really where my subscription to The Nation really pays for itself. The magazine has been around long enough that it was there a hundred years ago, when noted the passage of the act with the headline “Civil Liberty Dead”.

“Based on language in the act that criminalized efforts to obstruct military recruitment, the government rounded up thousands of anti-war protesters, union activists, and political radicals, many of whom were held without trial in hastily organized internment camps.

Miriam Schneir

Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs, and anarchist activist Emma Goldman were both imprisoned under the Act, and Daniel Ellsburg likely would have been convicted for his release of the Pentagon Papers of not for the incompetence of Nixon’s ‘plumbers’. Both Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner have been charged under the Act.

While I’ll not defend Ethel and Julius Rosenburg’s spying for the Soviet Union, Schnier notes “the government has been able to use it to restrict freedom of speech; imprison anti-war activists, socialists, anarchists, communists, and ideological whistle-blowers; and help to destroy numerous progressive organizations and publications.”

Lost Bearings, by David A. Bell: Review of A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik. Ah, liberalism. A word that has been demonized both by the right and the left. I’ve given much thought to its meaning, mostly in relation to the term progressive. My theory is that the two differ mainly on economic issues. Over the years, there’s been so much demonization of ‘liberal’ by right wing media like Limbaugh and Fox News, that actual liberals have fled from it, preferring the term ‘progressive’ when describing themselves. As far as social issues like race and LGBT equality goes, there isn’t much air between the two sides, and liberal politicians have been using the term to signal to the Democratic base that they are on board with these issues.

But my qualm with these politicians is that they share none of the economic values that are inherent in progressivism: welfare, economic equality, regulation, and progressive taxation. Virginia’s current Governor, Ralph Northam, is probably the most egregious example that I can think of, who was running around the state during his 2017 campaign, calling himself a progressive while simultaneously taking tens of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies.

I’ve long referenced the three party system in explaining these differences during my political activities. The ability of the neoliberal corporate wing of the Democratic party to play lip service to the progressive wing of the party continues to sicken me. Unfortunately, so long as the party of Trump continues to be dumpster fire, moderate, right leaning citizens who would normally vote social and fiscal conservative, will migrate to these moderate Democrats. Given the current demographics of the electorate, and the paltry participation by more progressive-leaning Millennials, I can see no solution to this problem until the current generation of boomers ages out of the population.

Bad habits

I’ve been bad lately. I’ve been sticking to my habits: meditating for an hour, no alcohol, writing a few hundred words every day, sticking to an intermittent fasting schedule. But I’ve been cheating a lot, and consuming a lot of sugar. I’ve been drinking sugary drinks and eating a lot of ice cream. My weight is still stable, but I can only imagine what I’m doing to my blood sugar. I’ve been consuming a lot of caffeine as well. I think part of the reason that I’ve been doing it has to do with work.

I usually work from home. I get up between five and six AM, about an hour before the rest of the family, drink my tea and meditate. Usually I can get my hour in before the kids get up and try to sit on my lap or tattle on each other for whatever reason. I take them into day care, work at my desk for a few hours, lunch, work some more, and then have about an hour or two to work on side gigs before my wife comes home with the girls. Dinner and family time, baths and bed for the kids. Then another hour or two working on writing or whatever until ten, then I read for an hour and in bed by eleven or sooner. That’s how it’s been lately, anyways.

Usually, I may have a day I have to go into the office. That usually involves an hour and a half round trip, depending on the traffic, time, and day. This week I think I went in four days. Normally this isn’t a problem, but most of these weren’t planned trips, and instead of leaving first thing in the morning, I wound up going an hour before or right when I should be breaking my fast. Now having fasted for so long, going a few extra hours isn’t anything to worry about, but I’ve been stopping at gas stations and convenience stores for that extra bit of caffeine, and have just been compounding again and again.

It’s not all bad, though, I have been a bit more active than I usually am. I ran several miles a few days ago, and did a lot of physical work today, including a long bike ride with my eldest. But these excuses will ultimately become justifications and will be come rote. And I can’t let that happen. It starts by running in the store for a drink and getting a second one, ‘for later’. Buying a big box of ice cream cones, and then eating two at a time.

It’s time to put the hammer down and correct these mistakes before they start to compound.


Tomorrow marks the start of my last year at university, where I’ll be finishing up my bachelors degree in computer science with a computer science minor. I’m only attending half-time, and the two of the four classes I need to finish are a professional workforce development course. Obviously, this is going to take a good deal of time away from everything else that I’ve been doing, so I’ve labored to unload as many projects that I can. That said, these are writing intensive courses, and I don’t know what kind of time commitment that’s going to take. Obviously, taking thirty to sixty minutes a day is going to be hard to fit in, but I’m going to be staying on top of the assignments to be able to fit that in.

That said, there may be room for crossposting. In the past, I’ve published writing assignments from class to Facebook or Medium in the past, so I expect I’ll find ways to kill two birds with one stone. That said, one of the first tasks is to share my thoughts on what it means to be a professional. Specifically, the characteristics a true professional must have.

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

C.S. Lewis

My dad taught me his work ethic, and while I’ve been slow to get going some times, I’ve I’ve never had a problem focusing on a task once I’d made my mind up to execute. Obviously, there’s a difference between personal tasks and professional ones, but I’ve always hustled my butt off. Always. Even when I didn’t have the ability, or wasn’t the best, I could still keep going, driving toward the finish line. But beyond the drive, integrity is probably the most important trait one can have. Your reputation takes a lifetime to build, but can be destroyed in an instant. And taking shortcuts, or otherwise cheating a client or task will come back to haunt you.

There are lots of other answers that people will give as an answer to this question, but I think the question is the wrong one. When people talk about characteristics, they’re really discussing a trait, or a skill. One of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned lately is about choosing the people that I work with. Whether you’re hiring for a position, taking on a client, or choosing a new job, the most important questions that ultimately need to be asked are around values.

Values are the deep-seated beliefs that motivate behaviors; people will fight for their values, and values determine peopleโ€™s compatibility with others. Abilities are ways of thinking and behaving. Some people are great learners and fast processors; others possess common sense; still others think creatively or logically or with supreme organization, etc. Skills are learned tools, such as being able to speak a foreign language or write computer code. While values and abilities are unlikely to change much, most skills can be acquired in a limited amount of time (e.g., most masterโ€™s degrees can be acquired in two years) and often change in worth (e.g., todayโ€™s best programming language can be obsolete in a few years). It is important for you to know what mix of qualities is important to fit each role and, more broadly, with whom you can have successful relationships. In picking people for long-term relationships, values are most important, abilities come next, and skills are the least important.”

Ray Dalio – Principles, #45

I’ve been at my current firm for almost seven years now, and I’ve sat on the side through a number of hiring interviews during that time. Ultimately we’ve been disappointed with those hires that we’ve taken on, and I couldn’t really understand why until I read Dalio’s principles a few months ago. Every time I sat at that table with someone’s resume in hand, I was always focused on the skills. We were hiring for a position, an immediate need. And while I may have touched briefly on some of those deeper abilities, we almost never discussed the values that drove a person. A lot of your standard interview trick questions may have been originally designed to get into some of those values, but I think they lost meaning the more they became rote. And it’s hard to get to know someone in that short timeframe.

So while we may have chosen hires that were capable of performing the skills that were needed at the time, we handicapped our future growth. We wound up with employees who weren’t motivated to keep learning new skills as business needs changed, that were using the workplace as a dating pool, or who were incapable of documenting their work properly. And make no mistake, I’m no angel myself. Most of the jobs I’ve had over the years have been failures. And this may be my privilege talking, but I’m not afraid to be fired any more. And I’m not afraid to fire a client if they don’t align with our values. I’m at the point now where I can say ‘no’. I’ve realized that a lot of what comes my way is going to distract me from what really matters, and what I’d rather be working on.

I’m forty years old and still trying to figure out what my personal mission statement is. I may not be able to spell it out, but it’s there. I think ultimately it’s about service, and passing on what one has learned to others and helping them along. It’s about building connections and community. Hoarding knowledge is ultimately futile. I think lately I’ve been thinking that if I have an idea and someone else can do it better, then by all means, let them. I’ve got to focus on the things that I can do better than anyone else. What’s my niche? If someone brings something to me, the first thing I ask is ‘am I the only one that can do this,’ and that usually determines my answer. There’s other factors to be considered, of course, but I try to stick to that as much as possible these days.

One last concept that I’ll leave here is the concept of life as a multi-armed bandit problem, where we’re always exploring and experimenting and figuring out ways to exploit that knowledge that we’ve gained. Having this framework in mind and knowing when it’s time to put in the work to experiment build those relationships and reputation, and when it’s time to focus on that one thing that is going to bring you success — that’s key.

But hey, I’m no expert yet. I’m still learning too.

Starting is easy…

So it looks like we are slowly moving into the business of managing websites and social media accounts. This site has been around in various forms since October 2004, and here we are, 15 years later, still trying to make something of it. Wow.

My first website was called StereoNet. It was a small little thing I put together back in the late 90’s, probably around 1998-99 or so. RealPlayer, the first audio/video streaming application, had been out for a few years, and you could actually listen to music in real time for the first time. Before then it you were limited to low-fi tracker music, based on samples, or by downloading MP3s. This was before broadband was rolled out everywhere, meaning that you would spend eight to fifteen minutes downloading a three minute song. RealAudio was a major breakthrough at the time, and it was everywhere.

The experimental music site Beta Lounge was one of the first sites to really take advantage of the technology that is still around today. They’re still kicking around with their live broadcast shows, which run for 4 hours or more at a stretch. They’ve got over 22 years of shows up on their website. There were more sites out there that have fallen into the ether over the years, and escape my memory, but I spent a lot of time on them, listening to techno and dance music.

During this time, I was under 21, and too young to go to most of the bars and dives where most of the bands in the area would play. I’d been playing guitar for a number of years by then, and had been in several ‘bands’ myself, and liked chatting and hanging out with other musicians. One day, looking at one of the free zines that covered the local scene, I got an idea to create an online calendar for the bands playing, with a page for each band and samples of their music.

I didn’t have any problems getting the bands onboard. I’d take their demo CDs, rip them to a RealAudio file, and throw them up on a page with a picture and details. Then I spent too much time toying around with pretty coding tricks to design a calendar app from scratch, and eventually lost motivation. It was a major missed opportunity.

I eventually got involved in the rave scene, and tried to replicate some of what BetaLounge was doing with the DJs and clubs that I went to. I was too undisciplined, more interested in getting drunk, doing drugs, or getting laid, and eventually began what I call my ‘time in the wilderness.’ More lost opportunities.

This name, daHIFI, is a holdover from that period: digital audio high fidelity. I hung onto the name for it’s uniqueness, but here I am at forty, looking to remake myself and rebrand, if you will. I actually let the domain lapse one year, and it quickly got bought up by a squatter. I regretted letting it go, and wound up waiting them for another year, when they let it lapse and I snagged it back up. But now, daHIFI isn’t even unique, as there’s now a Belgium dub soundsystem that goes by the name.

So I don’t know if I would call it nostalgia, or regret, but there is a part of me that is disappointed that these previous projects weren’t successful. Not that I should be hard on myself for not having the follow through and the motivation to see things through. Regrets, I’ve had a few. Ultimately I’m not looking backward though. Just digging up the past to recollect the amount of wheel-spinning and fucking off that I’ve done for most of my life. I had a roommate who told me something once that “you can either work when you’re young, and play when you’re old, or play when you’re young and work when you’re old.” I think he was using it to justify why he was working so hard, and I think I’m using it today to justify how much time I spend ‘working’ on things now.

My wife has led a sort of inverted life to this. She feels like she’s done everything she was supposed to do, went to school, got a good job that she planned to stay and retire at. We’ve got the house, the kids, but now she’s too burned out and wondering how she’s going to design a life that she doesn’t need to take a vacation from. I don’t share the same concern, cause I think that I’m pretty much doing what I want. I tell myself that at least. I don’t know if I’m kidding myself, or have just settled into this life. I want more, sure, but at the end of the day, am I content with what I have? Absolutely.

In fact, as she and I have started dipping our toes into minimalist lifestyle, we’ve realized that we have too much. Too much house, too much stuff, too much debt. We’re caught between trying to build a life where our work is meaningful, and one where we can afford the life we want. The two of us ultimately have different ideals of our rich life, and that’s something that we’ll have to reconcile as partners and parents.

So we make plans to get our business off the ground and help build networks and community. We take on additional responsibility. We learn, and we keep building.

The Most Human Human: By Brian Christian

I heard Brian Christian on a recent podcast in my feed earlier this month, talking about computer science, decision making and other subjects. His more recent book, 2016’s Algorithms to Live By wasn’t available at my local library, but this 2011 book about the Loebner prize was, so I picked it up instead. I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into it. I had other things in my reading list I was trying to work through simultaneously, but once I got through those and was able to spend some more time with it I did enjoy it.

The Most Human Human is a chronicle of Christian’s experience in the 2011 Loebner prize, a Turing Test competition where chatbot programs and their human confederates compete against each other, each trying to convince a series of judges that they are the most human. Christian tells his story of trying to prepare for the competition, trying to figure out what he can do during each five minute round of chatting to convince the judges that he is not a computer. Within this story, Christian covers the history of computer science, from Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, to the first chatbots like ELIZA, onto more advanced concepts like compression algorithms.

Christian has a dual degree in both computer science and philosophy, as well as a MFA in poetry, and he puts all of this to use in the book. There’s a lot of discussion about art, music and poetry, as one would expect, and lots of quotes to break up the various sections. He spends a good deal on chess, mainly as it relates to computer science and the Kasparov vs. Deep Blue matches. The book is informative without being jargony. I was fairly familiar with most of what he covers in the book, but I was pleased that the book was more in depth about general computing concepts that just about the details of the Loebner prize competition, which was probably one of the lesser interesting parts of the book.

The book is only eight years old, but I fear it doesn’t really age well due to the prevalence of discussion around the pick-up artist (PUA) scene, notably Neil Strauss, Mystery, and the techniques employed by them like negging and neurolinguistic programming. I was involved in the PUA scene, around the mid-aughts, and it’s notable how that subculture became aggressively toxic. It’s quite a distraction in this age of #meToo and incels and the like. It’s also apparent that Christian really liked Dave Matthews Band when he was writing this book, but who am I to judge.

One of the things I really liked from this that Christian writes is about what he terms the anti-parliamentary debate, modeled as the antithesis to the Lincoln Douglas debates which are typical of primary and secondary school debate clubs. Instead of an adversarial process, opposing sides have to come together to work on joint legislation, which they then present to the judges independently, each side explaining why the legislation supports their position. These collaborators are scored jointly, with individual scores based on joint participation scores across several rounds. It’s a shame it hasn’t taken off.

As someone interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning, this book is a good read. It’s right in the sweet spot for general audiences and people like myself that have more of a technical background. A mix or art and science, if you will. One of the takeaways that is going to stay with me from reading this is the ever-moving target that we humans present to these questions around synthetic minds. The goalposts keep moving. Each time a computer beats us at a particular task, that task is no longer seen as a creative endeavor. First checkers was solved, and we’ve been beaten by computers in chess, now Go and other games. But these defeats ultimately allow us to determine what is it that separates us from the machines, that makes us uniquely human? And ultimately, Christian’s book is about his mission to discover those things, and is what the reader is left thinking about afterward.

Choice overload

I don’t seem to have issues finding flow. I guess I’m lucky like that. I don’t have any problems delving into a problem for hours on end and really disappearing into it. I seem to have a different kind of problem. Focus. It’s a situation where I find myself with too many options and I’m not sure what to do next. I guess it borders on feeling overwhelmed, but I don’t really feel that stress. The only thing that stresses me is the feeling of the immediate, the reacting. As one that works in support, I call it firefighting, those situations where something is broken, a server down, or some other critical application or service that brings me out of flow and forces me to go from what I want to do to what I have to do. Sometimes these situations are self inflicted, but other times they’re just disasters. A virus on a client server that brings them to a standstill, and requires my full undivided attention until the issue is resolved. These are the only moments in my life when I’m truly stressed.

The other problem I struggle with is deciding what to do next. It’s probably a prioritization issue, and I’m either ignoring my list of todos or otherwise procrastinating. I pulled out my copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and skimmed through the first third. I read it years ago and tried to implement some of it as a best practice, but I’ve struggled to really find something that works. I started using index cards for the wife and I to keep track of things. We’ve tried Trello in the past, but she didn’t really stick with it. I personally found Nirvana to be the most pleasant for me, but I quickly ran up against the limits of the free plan. Of course when I do pay for something, I quickly forget about it, and once I’m reminded about the bill and cancel the service, I start using it again.

The golden age of apps that we currently live in presents more and more of a choice paralysis for me. My various clients have their own stack, but it seems like every new startup has their own, and I seem to get bogged down in figuring out what works, what’s new, how to manage it, and most importantly, how to get buy in from the team. I could think of dozens of examples, the choices are everywhere. As someone who makes their professional calling as the ‘trusted advisor’, I get lost in a sea of possibilities. It’s hardest when you’re planning a new organization, or one that is using a lot of manual and paper processes.

In the past, it’s been trivial to take a few simple steps to get an organization moving along. A few examples: creating mailing lists where the organizer was using personal email; Setting up Google Apps for email and file sharing; registering a domain and setting up a basic website. But the longer I go on with this, the harder it’s proving to nail my preferences down to a few apps. And depending on the organization, it’s proving almost impossible to get buy in from everyone. I have one volunteer group I’m part of where they still insist on massive group chats. I recommend Signal, and things go nowhere. Trello, or Asana for task management, and everything falls off after a few weeks. The more involved I get with an org, the more convoluted things get. Having different apps for time tracking, billing, CRM, issue logs, and so on and on just gets cumbersome. Having these apps talk to each other is nice, but trying to design a solution over and over again is just sapping the energy out of me.

Which is how I found myself playing around with Basecamp last night. I need a system that I can use for my freelance work, that will allow me to add clients as needed and allow me to collaborate with them and their clients. I’m not saying that it’s the answer, but it does seem to do a lot of what I think is needed within a team. It doesn’t do it all, and I’m not sure that it’s best at all of these things, but I’ll settle for simplicity right now. What I need is less options, so that I can get back to work, and stay in flow. I need something with which I can track tasks, assignments, time entries, billing, documentation, source code if need be. There’s just too many solutions out there, and at some level it seems like some sort of entrepreneurial masterbation to be messing around with all of this crap.

Labor markets and pricing your time

As someone who’s been trying to take the plunge from employee to freelancer, I spend a lot of time thinking about pricing and value. The immediate comment that one might think of is what happens when someone retires from a job in the public or private sector, and goes right back into the organization, doing the same job at twice the pay. What usually doesn’t get mentioned in that conversation is the cost of doing business that salary or hourly employees don’t have to deal with: the payroll taxes, Social Security, healthcare, and all the other regulatory and accounting steps that need to happen as cost of doing business.

I’ve done some of everything in my career. Besides the hourly/salary track, I spent several years running my own small business. (I’ll cover that in another post, I promise.) I’ve worked at small firms, a Fortune 500 company, and was the first hire at the new franchisee that I’m still at almost seven years later. Besides information technology, I’ve done construction, telemarketing, day laborer, dishwasher, and busboy. I’ve been down to the point where I was living on couches for months. I’ve been on unemployment. I’ve been evicted after it turned out that the gent I was subleasing from was taking my rent money and spending it on drugs. There are other stories to tell about those down days, but this post isn’t about them. Today I’m up to the point where I have everything I need: loving wife, two beautiful children, steady paycheck, and my health.

Right around the time I took my current position purchased a business license. I’d done enough odd tech work that it seemed sensible to have one, even if it was just for a sole proprietorship. I’ve kept it up over the years, even when I wasn’t doing anything, just so I would be able to point back in a decade and say that the business is ten years old. Now that I’ve started to become more and more dissatisfied with the company (and the industry) that I’m working in, I’ve been putting more and more thought into what success is going to look like moving forward for me, and how I’m going to build those relationships moving forward.

One thing that I constantly hear from the freelance world, especially the creative side, is the non-clients who try to leverage free work for the magical exposure. As someone whose skills are a bit more technical, I don’t have to worry about that so much. I do have to deal with the near constant stream of familial support requests. I’ve become much better at saying ‘no’ to these. And I’ve become much better at putting a price on my time. There’s a freedom to it, of course, being able to adjust fees for various reasons. But software development gets a bit tricky, especially when one starts dealing with open source packages for most of one’s work.

So I’m starting small, right now. Charging a modest retainer for the clients that I think will bring me toward the career that I want. Right now I’m working with a small ‘venture’ firm — more of a small scale accelerator, if you will — where I’m managing domains and infrastructure. I feel that I’ll probably get sucked into more of the support stuff eventually, but it give me the freedom to start, again and again, on project for these brand new businesses. And while the pay isn’t enough to live off of, I can work on these small projects, solving some real business problems, and earning stake in some of these nascent small businesses.

I know that the current paradigm of managed services, managing small businesses networks, providing admin and helpdesk support, is doomed. Even here in our market, there’s too many players. Too many people who think they can do it. Race to the bottom so to speak. Specialization in cybersecurity is the hotness right now, but most small businesses are loathe to take things seriously, or just don’t care. I think the big money moving forward is in business process and automation. What Celerity and others call Robotic Process Automation. A lot of the businesses I deal with are headed by boomers. Service companies, HVAC, medical and dental providers. These independent shops are starting to age out. And I don’t see the next generation rising up to fill the gap.

There’s a lot more to unpack with today’s economy, with regard to skilled and unskilled labor. People taking on more side hustles. I know for me it’s more of a creative outlet that what I’m doing now, but I see how hard it is to maintain good help with the compensation that can be afforded by some of these companies. We just had a roof put on our house last week, and the owner and most of the crew were a bunch of old, weathered men who looked like they were going to be doing it until they dropped dead. The rest of the crew were a bunch of younger hispanic guys. We’ve got generations of American’s, (myself included,) who have traditionally been taught to look down on the manual trades.

I’m not sure how things are going to turn out in the next decade, but we are rapidly approaching a point where the only ones capable of doing the job are either too old to do it, too tired to care, or too expensive to hire.

The Nation Magazine: June 14/24, 2019

Gag Order by Aviva Stahl: The cover story of this issue is about the force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners in America’s ‘most secretive prisons.’ One of the things we must remember in a free society is the way in which we treat our worst, most despicable criminals reflects on us. The men profiled in this story are convicted terrorists, some of whom were responsible for the 1990 World Trade Center bombings. These men have been locked away in high-security prisons, isolated from others for long stretches of time under special administrative measures, or SAMs. These SAMs mean that they’re limited who they can meet with, letters to family may take six months to be reviewed and delivered, and they’re confined to the cell for 23 hours a day.

The justification for these SAMs are not disclosed to the prisoners, or their lawyers, and there is no appeals process for getting them reviewed. For these reasons many of the men under these restrictions go on hunger strikes. And many of them have been subjected to forced feedings, some as many as 200 times. And the details of these tube feedings sound abusive, if not borderline torture.

Unfortunately for these men, their plight is hidden from sight. Access to them is severely restricted, and many of these stories can only be told because the men in question have been released to lower security facilities. The author notes that when the world became aware of similar abuses taking place at Guantanamo Bay, the public outrage eventually led to reforms. Not so with these men, but perhaps this feature will change that. I remain skeptical, that given all of the issues with criminal justice going on in America at this time that we will see much happen with this under the current administration. It remains to be seen whether there recourse in the courts of justice, as I do not see the court of public opinion swaying on this one any time soon.

Renters Revolt by Jimmy Tobias: As we mentioned in yesterday’s review of the Home Improvement issue of Jacobin, housing justice has been growing in importance on the Left recently, and this report details progress in organizing renters. The author list three reasons that rent has become unaffordable for so many in America: lack of wage growth; demand for rental housing following the 2008 crash, which has led to a 50-year low in home ownership; and a Wall Street buying spree which has focused on buying apartment complexes and mobile home parks from family-owned business. From there, a number of tactics are deployed, either to force renters out so that new tenants can be brought in under a higher rent, or in the case of mobile homes, which are anything but, the tenants must either abandon their property or pay the higher rent. This latter situation was detailed by Last Week Tonight:

As was detailed in the Jacobin issue, New York City remains the focus of renter organizing efforts. As New Yorks rent-controlled housing stock dwindles, the upward rent pressure increases. But the rest of New York State appears to be without these rent protections at all, and thankfully there are signs that newly elected state legislators are taking a pro-renter position in order to correct these ills. Similar progress seems to be taking place in California and in the Pacific Northwest.

Efforts to organize renters, and their willingness to fight back against slumlords and exploitative landlords should be applauded, and we look forward to seeing more of how these efforts progress.

Manifest Destinies, by Rashid Khalidi: Review of Our American Israel by Amy Kaplan. Given all of the media time that US/Israeli relations have been getting lately, it seems appropriate that one examines the history of those relations. How did the Israel and Palestinian conflict, and criticism of the Israeli state, become such a hotbed issue in American politics. When I brought the issue up with my father, a red-blooded, gun-owning (former) Trump voter, his response was wrapped in acknowledgement of the Holocaust. Like the Germans, it’s seemingly argued, the Palestinians pose an existential threat to the Jewish people. Hostilities against them are therefore justified. Similarly, so was the 1982 war with Lebanon, which was before my adulthood, and likewise seems to be either forgotten or forgiven by most of the American public.

The Zionist evangelical movement in the United States gets mentioned as well. [I know we are playing with some dangerous terms here, boys and girls, but nothing we’ve written here should be taken in any way to be anti-Semitic.] I’ve always understood it from the aspect that the state of Israel is some sort of prerequisite for the return of Jesus and the Rapture. Still, the willingness of the religious right to put up with so much horror to fuel this dream still boggles the mind. I should not be shocked, I suppose.

This past week we’ve seen Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar barred from entering Israel on a recent trip, as President Trump continues to his mission from God to protect the state of Israel. Need we remind the reader that during Obama’s last term, Bibi Netanyahu was invited to address a joint session of Congress. As support builds on the Left for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and as the centrists, liberals and the right backlash against these efforts, it’s important for people to realize how we got here.

Whether the presentation of Israel as the America of the Middle East is accurate, knowing how this relationship has been managed over the the past eighty years will help us deal with the issues in the Middle East. Not just with regard to the West Bank, but with Iran as well.

Jacobin Issue 33: Home Improvement

Housing justice issues have been getting a lot of attention from the Left lately, DSA’s Stomp Out Slumlords campaign has garnered a lot of attention. Recent studies of eviction rates listed seven Virginia localities in the top 20 for the nation. Jacobin magazine has made it the theme of their Spring 2019 issue.

Rent control seems to be the overarching proposal here, as there are several mentions of the decrease in controlled units in New York City over the past few decades, as well as Margaret Thatcher’s “right to buy” program, which saw a vast portion of public housing in Britain sold to the public market, transferring it to speculators and other private interests.

One of the main complaints from the Left is that housing has long been treated as a commodity instead of a basic right. The arguments between renting and buying aside, the crux is that the private markets incentivise property as investment, which increases rent-seeking, making housing more unaffordable for those at the bottom. There’s also the matter that private development trends toward higher income units, increasing gentrification. This leads to market failure, where lower income individuals are unable to find shelter, and higher priced units go unfilled. As many have pointed out, there are enough empty housing units in the United States to house every homeless person.

There are more articles within this issue that detail the difficulties of homebuying, Pete Buttigieg’s ‘war’ on the homeless in South Bend, what a Green New Deal for housing would like like, Soviet modernism, as well as a one about perhaps the only 70’s rock band out of Germany: Ton Steine Scherben, which fomented the squatter scene in Berlin during those years.

As far as solutions go, the Jacobin editors acknowledge that the most effective ones, public housing and rent control, are the least politically feasible. Likewise, the most politically palatable ones are also the least effective. What was most interesting to me, though, were the examples of public or cooperative housing that were held up as examples. My favorite might be the LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) units in West Leeds. It reminds me of a similar local effort, but geared toward a more affordable, equitable model.

It’s clear that the past few decades of increasing economic inequality, not to mention the 2008 housing crisis, have made it more and more difficult for individuals to find affordable housing. Organizers will need to continue working toward reform, urging and educating legislators and officials about tenants rights issues. Thankfully, Virginia’s 2019 session was able to pass various reforms around eviction issues, but there still need to be more of a push toward public housing, organizing tenant unions, and building cooperative housing models.

Jack of all trades

I seem to oscillate between obsession and undecidedness most of the time. Either I have a hobby that I attack with full throated-ness, or I’m stuck flitting between one thing or the other in rapid succession. My wife jokes about my six-month hobbies, and whether she likes them or not: cooking, auto simulations, politics, crypto, and so on, &c… She says she like the cooking one the most. My mother is the same, going through phases of creativity in different projects: craft painting, stained glass, hiking, feltcraft, and so on, &c…

The problem was worse when I was a child in school. I never really had deep relationships with anyone, at least those with the opposite sex. Maybe in hindsight that’s not a bad thing, but growing up it felt like I was attracted to a number of girls and it felt like ‘going with’ someone closed the door on others, and I was always glad to be around any number of girls in school. Of course, there were always the ones that weren’t interested or otherwise unavailable that I always fell hard for. My wife, when we were in classes together, was always involved with some dude and I was like another one of her girlfriends, listening to her escapades and so on. It was part of pattern I seemed to be stuck in until my mid-twenties, when I got into pick-up culture. But that’s a story for another day.

The way in which I’ve been deeply committed to whatever obsession du jour has been has influenced my career in many ways. Since computers have been at the heart of many of them, I’ve been able to grow up with a set of skills that has benefited me greatly professionally. In a way, I still consider myself a jack-of-all-trades, as I can’t really say that there’s one thing that I excel at more so than anyone else around me. If I had to pick one, I might say that I possess a confluence of technical ability and business acumen, but I don’t really think that’s even my strong suit, given my failures in business and in technical projects as well.

I’m getting ready to head back to school in another week, to begin the last of two semesters I need before I finish my bachelors in computer science. I’m conflicted about this whole process. When I began going back to school after a 13 year hiatus, I saw a BS as a necessary box that I needed to check off to get past hiring algorithms, to take my salary to the next level. When I decided to take a ‘semester off’ all those years ago, it was because I didn’t know what I wanted to study, let alone what I enjoyed doing. It might actually have something to do with getting fired from my first tech job and being blinded by the quick money and glamorous life that I thought I had found during the heyday of sales and telemarketing at MCI.

What’s ironic is that now, after 5 years of part time schooling and tens of thousand of dollars in debt in pursuit of this degree, I am in no way interested in working for any company that would use it as a qualifier for hiring me. I have zero interest in going to work for a large corporation or other organization where people are interchangeable cogs in a machine.

Hopefully the groundwork I’m starting to lay will pay off, and that I’m not still scattering seeds that I’m hoping will pay off in one way or the other. Since politics has almost been completely shunted to the side, I can focus on school. But I still have a day job, and am picking up additional work still. I am handing off a project that I’ve spent dozens of hours on over the past year, as I don’t feel like I’m the one to drive if forward given my other commitments. It feels like another failure to be passing it on, uncompleted, but I have learned so much from it already, and was basically working for free on it anyways. Whether the promise of equity ever materializes or comes to amount to anything remains to be seen.

I still remain committed to crypto markets, despite all of the crazy action of the last eighteen plus months, and my stack of next actions and projects continues to fill and be sorted from next to later to someday. It will be nice to be able to close a project one day. Not one of the server implementation projects that I’ve done a million times, not something I’ve had to do to repair a car or a house out of necessity, but something that I thought of and brought completely into fruition. Until then, I’ll keep tucking unfinished projects aside, abandoning ideas, and plowing forward to the next thing.