Blood Money

The overdose crisis is very real and very sad.  Even so I couldn’t help being stopped and shocked by how economics was brought into it in a recent New York Times article.  Lab-made drugs are cheaper, so dealers pass on the savings to users.  Does anyone else see the problem here?  Isn’t the real drug capitalism?  Or take the Republican acceptance of violence as a legitimate political tool, also highlighted in a recent Times article.  Their blind followers think it’s about saving unborn babies but anyone who’s studied politics knows it’s about the money.  If you can distract the electorate with an emotional issue you can pick their pocket at the same time.  Capitalism smiles on the wealthy.  And only on the wealthy.

I’m not naive enough to suppose we can do without the dismal science, but the more I learn of economics, the more dismal the dismal science becomes.  I was recently reading about the ranching industry in early American expansion and the amount of power concentrated in those who raise animals for slaughter would make the most bloodthirsty of gods smile.  Indeed, Europeans coming to a new country wanted to make it in the image of their lives back home (they were largely successful).  Especially those who raised specially bred varieties of sheep, goats, and cattle.  Since grazers and browsers require a lot of land, the American west appealed to them.  Although big beef and big dairy produce more environmental problems than most big industry does, we let economics make the decisions.  And in economics the big and the selfish always win.

Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

A bit of wisdom comes from the musical 1776 where John Dickinson explains in “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” that the common person will always vote for those who preserve the (near impossibility) of becoming rich, the myth of capitalism.  The average person lives each day not worrying that they will be struck by lightning.  Those who are often believe it isn’t likely and remain out in a storm.  What are the chances of a poor person actually becoming rich?  In this economic system?  Don’t go outside in a lightning storm.  Americans have been taught to retch at the word socialism despite the fact that it works extremely well in most of Europe.  Instead we proliferate guns and drugs on the free market model and wonder what could possibly go wrong.  Yes, there really is an elephant in the room.  And we’re burying far too many people because of it.


Horror Deprivation

Is there such a thing as horror deprivation?  Life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to carve out the time to watch any horror movies for several weeks now.  That steady diet has given me blog topics and a strange kind of personal comfort in this all-too-scary world.  More than that, it is often a coping mechanism.  I sometimes think more people might read this blog if I “rebranded” it as horror-themed, but perhaps there’s a different way to go about it.  Some writers, with enough shares and likes, have their daily observations become part of the national wisdom.  The rest of us, it seems, are simply background noise.  I’ve also been told blogs are passè and that may be the case.  I have trouble keeping up.  I don’t even have time to watch horror!

As with most things in life, I keep a list of movies I need to see.  Like claws such a list continues to grow unless it’s trimmed once in a while.  A movie is a couple-hour commitment and when even weekends are programmed to the last minute it’s difficult to squeeze them in.  I always welcome the more pleasant weather of spring, but so does the yard.  I’ve always thought, like good haunted house owners, that I would let the yard go.  Here in town there are ordinances, though.  It doesn’t look tidy—right now dandelions exceed the tolerated grass length a mere day after mowing.  Like triffids they pop up and won’t go away.  I could be in, watching a movie.  My credibility’s on the line here!

The pandemic, from which horror movies will arise, led many people to having too much time.  Netflix soared.  For whatever reason, it had the opposite effect on me—is this a special effect?—I had even less time than before.  I had to cancel my Netflix account because I had no time to use it.  Horror is a coping technique.  Real horrors spill from the headlines daily.  Sometimes the antidote is in the poison itself.  The way to be less scared is to watch more horror.  We’re still in the pandemic and Putin decides to start a war.  Republicans confess that Trump tried to take over by force and then backtrack.  Global warming continues apace.  There comes a point when the only therapy is to watch something worse unfold, as long as it’s fiction.  It’s Saturday.  It’s raining.  What can one possibly do?


Tweets from Heaven

What do the ultra-rich know about morals?  I read recently that now that Elon Musk has purchased Twitter for billions and billions of dollars, that he’s going to allow Trump back on because it’s “morally wrong” to prevent him.  Heaven help us when the plutocrats start dictating morals.  One of the odd things about my strange career is that I was an undecided major in college.  I settled eventually on religion, but my transcript shows a restless mind.  One subject that I came back to time and again was ethics.  I want to know what is right.  Shutting up a deranged narcissist who wants to run the country only to enhance his image of himself seems a moral no-brainer.  The case was different before he was elected the first time.  Now we know.  Now we have a responsibility.

Those who can afford to buy the moon shouldn’t make declarations on what is moral.  The church, however, has largely become irrelevant.  “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” a famous moralist, whose name is unfortunately forgotten, once said.  The moral compass of the uberwealthy is irrevocably squewed by a massive loadstone known as personal wealth.  Indeed, our very laws are made by the wealthy to protect the interests of the wealthy.  They do this by courting biblicists who seem to have forgotten—what is his name again?  You know, the one who seemed to have a problem with the rich?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Morality has somehow become confused with concerns about other people’s genitalia.  We don’t ask what the wealthy do with theirs—it’s pretty clear what one tweeting resident of Mar-a-Lago has done with his.  Ironically Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church largely because of the sale of indulgences.  The idea that the rich could buy their way out of sins rankled sixteenth-century moralists into saying sola scriptura.  But now they have lost even their solaScriptura, for its part, is unequivocal about one thing—the problem of the rich.  The poor aren’t the problem.  In this new gospel, however, victims are blamed while the powerful rightly rule all.  The divine right of riches.  The wealthy, so misunderstood; the poor are the way they are because they’re lazy.  There’s no systemic cause for anyone not to have as much money as he wants (and it seems they’re generally he’s).  And they have a right to say whatever they want because their word comes down from heaven, echoing out from their private space rockets to the stars.


Shopping Screed

Capitalism is insidious.  Those of us with modest incomes—and I’m quite aware that many, many people are poor—are constantly being bombarded with new schemes to get us to pay a little each time for something that used to be free.  Look, I realize the economy was hit by the pandemic.  We’re all paying for it.  Still, even basic stores you’ve used your whole life now want you to sign up for schemes that will only cost you a dollar each time and which never really pay anything back.  The one that’s got me thinking about this is a drug store.  Like it’s a surprise that you’ve decided to buy something at a drug store.  They get you to sign something you vaguely understand as you’re trying to rush out the door with your prescription and then they send you daily emails telling you how great it’s going to be.

And surveys—the endless surveys!  They sound more neurotic than I actually am.  Did we do this right, and could we have done it better?  It’ll only take a quarter hour of your time.  Each time you stop in.  And please do that daily.  The last time I did one of these surveys for the promise of a prize worth $90, I ordered their version of a fit-bit as my prize.  I’m curious how many steps I take in a day and no, I don’t carry my phone with me everywhere.  The “prize” arrived late and when I charged it up and turned it on (it came with no instructions readable in my native language) it worked for a total of literally 3 seconds before the screen died a pixelated death.  Now that same company wants me to answer surveys weekly and pay an extra dollar each time I come in.  It’s enough to make me want to use the other drug store, but they’ll probably do the same.

The thing is it’s not just pharmacies.  All the stores are doing it.  You shopped here once?  Look what else we’ve got!  Some of us shop for what we need.  We live on a budget.  If you’re going to start charging me for the privilege of shopping at your establishment I’ll have to start going somewhere else.  The items on offer for promotional plans are things I just don’t buy. If you want me to spend more, then reframe your economics and pay me more.   And I don’t have money to just give away.  Have you even taken a look at your last heating bill (thanks Mr. Putin)?  I’ll come to the store again as long as it’s free to shop there and it has something that I actually need.

Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash

Words and Belief

Why do we care so little for the poor?   Part of the answer is surely the misguided idea of meritocracy—if you merit good you will be successful.  This kind of thinking emerges from the wrong end of a bull.  There may be poor people who are lazy but the vast majority of the poor are those for whom our systems make it impossible to thrive.  It’s very easy to put them out of mind as long as we can keep them out of sight and just let our prejudices do the thinking for us.  The poor are the victims of capitalism.  Loud voices proclaim them to be a drain on the system, despite the fact that many of them work—some multiple jobs—and remain unable to keep up.  Capitalism is kind only to the wealthy.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber is one of the organizers of the Poor People’s Campaign.  The full name is the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.  The initial part is taken from an initiative that Martin Luther King, Jr. started before his assassination.  He was shifting towards a movement meant to address the entrenched unfairness deep in American society.  These nearly six decades on, we are just as deeply entrenched.  Barber is doing amazing work, organizing, speaking, and advocating.  He’s trying to give a voice to the people.  I do wonder, however, if using the word “Revival” doesn’t work against the goals of the movement.

Certain words have been poisoned by their abuse among various religious groups.  Especially among the young.  The word “revival” may fall into that category, calling to mind, as it may, repressed people working up to an emotional fever under the banner of Hellfire and brimstone.  Believing a bit too literally a message that was contained in a book viewed magically.  Names can be important.  Many of the younger generation are put off even by the word “church” since so much hypocrisy (something the Republican party has openly embraced) has come to light over recent decades.  I fully agree that we need a moral revival, we need people to wake up and demand that our government promote the justice it claims to seek.  I do wonder if religion, as previously packaged, has the credibility to do it.  No matter how we take on the task, it’s clear that the poor have been abandoned by the system, through no fault of their own.  And some in the church have begun to find their voice in the Poor People’s Campaign.

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

Tax Season

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from the Internal Revenue Service that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Penn was governor of Pennsylvania.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Steve also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Northampton, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the county and district of Northampton:) To be taxed with Kay his beloved wife, being great with patience.  Well, not exactly biblical (with apologies to Luke), but this came to me upon having to go to Bethlehem to collect our tax documents from our accountant.  There’s something biblical about living in the Lehigh Valley.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

I don’t complain about having to pay taxes.  I only wish far less of the money went to pay congressional salaries.  And far less to the military.  Otherwise, I realize that in order for infrastructure to be up-kept, for the many services that make life possible for so many people, those of us who earn enough—even if not exactly flush—owe something to the system.  I’m saddened that the very wealthiest feel they’ve earned the privilege of not paying taxes. Modern-day Herods, I think, ready to kill babies in order to maintain personal power.  Still, those of us who pay participate in the most basic kind of charity.  So we make our annual trip to Bethlehem.

These days many people feel that if they don’t like other people they shouldn’t cooperate with them at all.  Even finding out that a certain Trump has been defrauding the very government which he purported to lead, and has been doing so for many years, doesn’t dissuade some of them.  I think our accountant, who looks gaunt and who doesn’t overcharge, could fairly claim a bit of back taxes that might be due.  Community is an endangered concept.  It’s a place where people support one another, and perhaps even care about others.  When I logon to Nextdoor.com I’m distressed to see the trolling and inappropriate emojis that show up.  The internet makes us all think we’re clever, ready with the snappy comeback.  Even to a recent story about a dead homeless man found in a park.  We need each other.  Society can’t move ahead if everyone keeps everything to themselves.  So it was we drove our rusty, four-cylinder donkey even unto Bethlehem.


1 April

Image credit: Trocche100, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The funny thing is nobody knows how it got started.  In living memory, and indeed back a century or two—even more—people have considered April 1 a day for jokes and fooling.  Perhaps it was a kind of relief after winter was finally beginning to show its tail, or perhaps it was some distortion of Hilaria, the Roman festival of the goddess Cybele.  Some have speculated that it had to do with switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar when many were confused as to what the actual date was.  No matter what its origins are, April Fools has stuck.  It has such resonance that even legislation passed on this date is sometimes questioned as to whether it is serious.  Some locations have grand pranks planned and budgeted.

Nobody, as noted, knows how this got started.  One of my personal favorites posits a biblical origin.  Things tend to go back to the Bible in western culture, don’t they?  This idea takes it all the way back to the tenth generation of the human race: Noah’s flood.  Back in the eighteenth century it was suggested that Noah sent out his first dove before the waters abated on April 1 (this, of course, is based on knowing the exact days of creation—something that was of considerable interest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries).  Since the dove was sent on a “fool’s errand”—there was no dry land visible—well, April fools!

With rare exceptions this isn’t a day off work.  It’s not a holiday with any religious implications, despite speculations about Noah and his dove.  It’s really a day highlighting uncertainty.  Practical jokes can, of course, be harmful.  There can be those, such as yours truly, who might be slow to catch on.  Indeed, almost always the victim of a “practical joke” doesn’t find him or herself in an appreciative mood.  I’ve always personally thought the reference was to the weather.  Snow isn’t unusual into mid-April in parts of the northern tier.  In fact received wisdom suggests not planting annuals until May arrives.  April’s weather, in other words, fools.  Around here we’ve whiplashed through March with days in the seventies and others the coldest of the winter (or so it seemed).  Now we’re into the first full month of spring.  The early flowers are out (some of which succumbed to the cold of this week’s weather) making fools of us all.  My hope is that none of us take this day’s unknown-origin holiday too seriously.


Future Ministry

I’ve been on the Green Committee at work almost since I started the job.  Occasionally for Earth Day we’ll have a book discussion.  Usually it revolves around nonfiction books that my press publishes.  This year they selected Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future.  It’s an environmentalism tale of what global warming may well be like and the political machinations it might take (and the millions of deaths along the way) before we stop burning carbon.  It’s a long and detailed and political story.  Robinson is known as an intellectual science fiction writer and there are sci-fi elements to the book, but its style is realist and its outlook, while ultimately hopeful, is staid.  Even when humans start to move in the right direction.  It’s also a very long book.

Reading it got me to thinking again of a somewhat bewildering truth: environmentalism books tend not to sell overly well and sustained reading, even by supporters, is difficult.  Many of us know that we’re beyond the tipping point for environmental disaster.  The Trump years assured us that it is coming.  One of the elements Robinson makes clear is just how politically entrenched it is.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the despair.  The vast majority of people in the world want a more environmentally conscious government, but plutocracy tends to bring narcissists to the top and the needs of all others are less important.  In Robinson’s version of the story, targeted violence is the only thing that works.  Near the end of the story an interesting idea is raised: the Ministry of the Future (which is a government ministry, not the church kind) concludes a new religion is needed.

The masses of people, you see, are followers.  Religious leaders reinforce the idea that God told their founders—and by extension their followers—the only truth.  Their jobs (and ministries are jobs) include reinforcing those ideas to people who’ve been raised or converted to that particular brand of religion.  A number of New Religious Movements, and even a couple of prescient ancient religions, have been purposely constructed.  The trick is to get followers to accept that the religion is legitimate.  Most western religions around today have been based on the idea that humans can do whatever they want with the planet—even destroy it to force God to return.  I kind of like Robinson’s idea better.  Perhaps that’s why religions form around movies like Avatar.  Not a bad thought, when your job has you reading a sci-fi novel.  A religion saving the earth feels like a novel idea.


Thinking, Critically

A woman—I don’t know her name—photobombed a Russian newscast with a sign telling the Russian people that they’re being lied to.  Detained by police, her whereabouts are unknown.  I admire that woman.  She may pay with her life  in her effort to encourage what is dear to every teacher everywhere: critical thinking.  Many of the world’s problems are the result of the dearth of critical thinking.  There’s no other way to explain the election of Trump and his main squeeze Vlad.  Thick as thieves, the saying goes.  I recently gave a talk to a small group about publishing.  One of the points I was making is that critical thinking is essential in getting to the truth.  Compare sources, use reason, and never trust a snake-oil salesman.

People vote with their feelings rather than with their rational faculties.  Trump openly admires Hitler, as Putin does Stalin.  These should be signs of warning to those who think critically.  The Second World War wasn’t even a century ago and we’ve apparently forgotten all the lessons it should’ve taught us.  In high school we were shown examples of propaganda and told how to avoid it. Now we see it and can’t recognize it at all. Critical thinking is often frowned upon in modern society.  Being comfortable with the status quo is perhaps valued higher than social justice and the necessary work to get us to where it might happen.  It’s easier to hate than to think.  It’s easier to follow than to question what you’re following.  Education teaches us survival skills, and among them are the ability to think through a situation.  Authoritarianism is seldom—I’m tempted to say “never”—the way to a good result.

Perhaps the saddest irony of all is that those who run outlets like Fox News (and its Russian equivalents) are thinking critically of ways to get followers not to.  Realizing that critical thinking will lead to a more fair and equitable world, they decide to keep their positions of privilege by discouraging their followers from engaging with the basic comparison of sources and weighing of facts.  Instead, promoting “alternative facts” and emotionally outraged rhetoric, they are able to stir up crowds to try to take over the government.  Conspiracy theories are easier to believe if you don’t know how to check facts for yourself.  And the internet has made us all experts on everything.  Russia’s narrative about the war is far from the reality on the ground.  Objective observers have seen what is really happening.  One heroic woman in Russia said enough is enough.  In all likelihood nobody in the world will ever see her again.


Saving What?

It’s soul-tormenting.  For those who always awake in the dark, February starts to offer the hope of some early morning light.  It brings cheer and optimism into late winter.  We are awaking from the long night, only to be plunged back into darkness in an act of sheer, collective insanity.  For many weeks we’ll be tired all the time.  Less productive.  Automobile accidents will increase.  Finally, around mid-April, the early light will return.  Now please don’t misunderstand me.  I like Daylight Saving Time.  I see no logical reason, however, to set our clocks back in the fall.  What good does it do?  Gradual change is much easier on the human psyche, so why do we force a sudden shock to the system twice a year?  If the apocalypse ever actually happens it will be when we set our clocks forward.

Human hubris messes with time.  Many people simply accept the time shift as something we “have to do.” We don’t.  In the technological age there is no reason to continue what was initially a war-time effort to use light to increase production.  Hey, look, it didn’t prevent wars from happening.  All it causes are wicked huge yawns and their knock-on effects.  Time is a valuable commodity and yet we waste it twice annually, with abandon.  People as a group are a lethargic bunch.  The threat of war led the world to adopt a measure to shift light into the evening time, but for only part of the year.  Why not all the year?

When I commuted into New York City I often stood waiting for the bus in the dark.  Late February would come and some cheer at standing in the cold (there was no bus shelter) was possible with the faint streaks of dawn arriving before the bus, like the earth finally opening its sleepy eye.  March would come and I was once again in the dark.  Finally, about a month later the light would return.  Is it necessary to climb the same hill twice?  Can’t we just spring forward and leave it at that?  There will be lots of yawns at work tomorrow.  People will be careless while driving.  It may even lead to deaths.  There’s no reason to do this, but we keep on, as if it were some kind of divine command.  I’ve yet to meet one person—no wait, there was one—who thinks this system works.  Empty ritual is the worst kind.


In War’s Domain

Good for absolutely nothing, to borrow the wisdom of Edwin Starr, war has again marred Europe.  We could see it coming from afar because people keep electing autocrats and strong men always want to fight one another.  There should be international laws banning their election, but instead innocent people die because one man has to prove he’s bigger than another.  The evils of the Trump years will be with us for decades.  There’s nothing Christian about waging war.  Seems that some folks have forgotten their Sunday School.  Wasn’t the selfless, self-sacrificing carpenter from Nazareth known as the “prince of peace?”  Of course, Ukraine became Christian long before Russia did.  What deep-seated insecurity such “world leaders” have!

While not wanting to be drawn into open conflict yet again, the world has pretty much all sided with Ukraine.  It has the misfortune of being nestled next to a weary nation with a dictator who despises the west.  Who pulls down his pants and shows off his missiles when anyone starts to open their mouth.  Who isolates himself and his people in the name of self-aggrandizement.  We came close to that over here.  So close that it still makes me shiver.  We feel for the people of Ukraine.  They did nothing to provoke attack, and they probably knew other world leaders would keep their distance.  Putin, like Stalin, wants a USSR.  An empire to put the evil west in check.  Hadn’t we left that kind of thinking behind?  Hadn’t we grown up after World War Two?  Strong men learn nothing from history.  They look at it and see only a mirror reflecting only themselves.

Hitler annexed Poland.  Russia, which has more land than it knows what to do with, doesn’t need Ukraine to be part of it.  The good people of Russia are protesting, just like the women brave enough to march on Washington to protest the fascism America embraced for four years.  I’ve put off writing about this because it’s so difficult to do without dissolving into tears.  Beware of either bare-chested or chest-thumping politicians worldwide!  It’s time to end the era of the alpha male.  We need mothers to nurse us back to health.  They call it “Mother Russia” but what mother acts this way?  The women aren’t impressed, Vlad—they’re in the streets bravely protesting.  It’s International Women’s Day.  Let’s honor women. It’s time to let the women lead.  It’s time to put war behind us forever.

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

Wordle

Each year in late capitalism seems to begin with a new fad.  This has been pronounced with the pandemic (which I almost wrote as “academic”) keeping people indoors.  Last year sea shanties were the rage with many of us finding ourselves humming something about a wellerman during the oddest times.  This year’s initial fad seems to be Wordle.  In case you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon, Wordle is an online game that is best described as Mastermind with five-letter words.  Mastermind, in case you were born after the Republican Party turned evil, is a game where you have six colored pegs that one person sets in a board a sequence of four.  The other player can’t see them, but has to try to replicate the colors in the right sequence.  At each guess the one who selected the sequence gives the guesser the following information: which pegs are the right color and which pegs were the right color in the right place.  (It occurs to me that explaining Mastermind could have been left out and I could’ve just described Wordle.  But what’s the fun in that?)

In any case the Wordle player has six chances to guess the right word based on the same clues: the right letter in the wrong place (yellow), or the right letter in the right place (green).  The hook is that you can only get one puzzle per day (otherwise many of us would be starving to death and out of work).  As a kid, I have to say, I could play Mastermind for hours.  I even brought our daughter up on it.  There’s something beguiling about trying to figure out what’s in somebody else’s mind.  There is a dark side to it, however.

I read a lot.  Lately I find that when I’m reading I’m secretly scanning for five-letter words that might be a good initial guess for Wordle.  The ideal word has no repeated letters and at least two vowels.  You need to narrow down the vowels first because every word has to have one of those six letters, since “y” functions as a vowel.  The other day I was thinking “s” has enough lubricant to function as a vowel too, but I digress.  Isn’t that the point of Wordle, though?  To digress?  There’s so much despair in the world with autocrats in power and the planet melting down that we need a little boost.  If only I could let myself read normally again, all might be well with the world.


Reconnecting

Not using the internet for 48 hours isn’t the same as not being able to use the internet for that length of time.  Even politicians (who are notoriously slow at figuring out what people need) have started to make noises about this being an essential aspect of life.  Some (many) things you just can’t do without connectivity.  And during a pandemic taking an entire family to an enclosed space with free wifi (still a rarity) for over a full day so that they can get things done is an issue.  All of this has convinced me of the need to purchase a wifi hotspot, in addition to relying on what Astound Broadband (formerly RCN) is able to provide.  (You see, I’m in charge of a Sunday morning program at a local faith community.  I couldn’t even email anyone to let them know I wouldn’t be able to show up on Sunday without using costly data.)  Now that service has been restored, a kind of nervous normality has returned.

This has been a learning experience.  Of course we’ve got books to read.  I have papers, stories, and a next book to write.  None of those, ostensibly, uses the internet.  All of them do, however.  I’ve been conditioned to look things up on the web while I’m writing.  This is true of both fiction and non; a fact needs checking, a reference requires look-up, a thought occurs to you that has to be dealt with before you move on.  There’s an email you forgot to answer.  Etc.  Etc.  The web is our source of news (what’s happening with Ukraine?), our phonebook, our map, our encyclopedia.  Let’s face it—it’s an addiction.  But a necessary one.

Like many things, our government has the capacity to make internet access available, just like they could do our taxes for us and stop the madness of setting back clocks each year from Daylight Saving Time.  They could ensure universal health care.  They’re too busy “defending” a crumbling, pre-internet way of life and enriching themselves to actually enact any of these things.  And somebody would have to figure out what accountants would have to do if taxes weren’t an issue.  I strongly suspect people would still be willing to pay for more than basic internet connectivity.  But to have a basic signal out there that we could tap into without tapping out our data plans would be a real boon.  I found myself glancing at our neighbors’ houses all around and thinking, “They have internet.”  We pay a lot to have it too, but the only company in the Valley can’t guarantee access, especially on a weekend.  What have I learned?  The ascetics were onto something.

Photo by Nicolas Häns on Unsplash

Outernet

Once in a while (ahem), I interject a note of caution regarding technology.  This blog has been part of my daily routine for over a dozen years.  I try to post every day.  When I experience life outside I often think “that would make a good blog post.”  I make notes.  I ruminate.  One of the things I caution about is the fragility of tech.  In order for me to post these thoughts many different components have to work just right.  Not only that, but if I want to pay bills, or, more importantly, work so that I can pay bills, I have to have internet.  Everyone in my family uses it and they do so all day long.  This weekend is the long anticipated Project for Awesome (check it out at projectforawesome.com) sponsored by the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green.  If the names are familiar it’s perhaps because I’ve read and commented on their books.  Then the internet went out.

Late on Friday afternoon, of course.  Now we’ve had outages before—most recently after a power outage earlier in the week.  I called what used to be RCN, the only service provider in our area, only to be on the phone for half an hour with a tech.  She talked me through the usual rebooting and system checks.  The router was fine, but the only actual connection to the internet is via wifi mediated by a device called Eero.  There’s no ethernet cable (as if Apple laptops even have ethernet ports any more!), no phone line plug-in (ditto), nothing.  Nothing but Eero.  Apparently Eero had died.  And being a weekend a masked tech can’t be sent until Sunday afternoon.  So Friday night with no Disney Plus and Saturday without the long-anticipated Project for Awesome (you really should check it out).

Then my wife noticed her phone could act as a wifi hotspot.  It felt like we were entering a new world of magic.  (And data bills.)  The laptop could covert the G4 that her iPhone could receive into wifi.  It wasn’t ideal, because we have three people who want to use the internet.  With old tech.  All because one component of RCN’s complex system has x’s for eyes.  We had to play Wordle through her phone.  Watch Project for Awesome (it supports charities!) through her phone.  I don’t know, maybe we are even breathing through her phone.  Once in a while I interject a note of caution regarding technology.  This blog post is brought to you by my wife’s phone, acting as an internet hotspot, before anyone else awakes this Saturday morning.

Ancient history!

Routine Interruptions

Ironically, having just written about routines, we experienced a power outage with a wind storm.  Sitting home of an evening, the lights in every occupied room began to flicker.  We grabbed flashlights, suspecting what would come next.  The power outage led to a temporary loss of the internet, the god of this age.  Routine was interrupted.  This brought to mind just how fragile all this is.  As supply-chain issues have demonstrated, everything has to work just right for our society to operate at expected standards.  And an internet outage leads to an interruption of routines.  Whenever this happens, it reminds me of how complex our lives have become.  And how unfair.  There are people across the world who struggle with daily necessities such as clean water, safe homes, and reliable sources of power.  And a wind storm in eastern Pennsylvania doesn’t mean that the company’s power in another state is out.  Does this mean I take a vacation day?

As this winter winds down I again lament the loss of snow days.  They were local holidays, of course, and based on the unpredictability of nature.  Our power outage, followed by internet outage, was a personal kind of snow day.  Nobody wanted it and we all planned to work today.  Other than the outage, we’re fine.  Just like a snow day.  There’s a feeling of helplessness to it.  To fix the internet we rely on someone who knows how to do such technical wizardry.  Anyone can stuff a rag in a hole in the window, but to replace the glass it takes an expert.  How do you contact them when the internet’s out?  (Of course, everything’s back on in time for work.)

No doubt, many aspects of our lives are better.  We can pay our bills without using a stamp.  We can look up basic information online.  Even attend religious services virtually.  (Who doesn’t want to linger in their pajamas on a Sunday morning?)  Yet, for all of this to happen our power must be on and steady.  Our internet connectivity must be strong.  We have to be able to connect to work so that we can be paid so that we can keep the power on.  It seems an odd way to spend our time.  Obviously, if you’re reading this they—that mysterious they—have got things working again.  The power is on so that I can type this, and the internet is connected so that I can post it.  And yet I don’t feel any more secure.  And I know I’m one of those who has it easy.