Saturday, February 29, 2020
I was doing some dishes after a long day of doing, well, not much, and I was thinking about how I could reach more people with this blog, clerkmanifesto. The fact of the matter is that I have an increasingly tiny readership that somehow defies the odds to ever grow smaller. I write mercurial takes on issues that have captured the imagination of sometimes nobody, and sometimes millions of people, but either way most people are really not the least bit interested.
This never ceases to amaze me.
I will consider absolutely anything that will explain this state of affairs with one minuscule, insignificant exception:
That what I write isn't all that good or compelling.
And yet, mysteriously, with that taken off the table I can't quite get anything else to stick, if you know what I mean, which, if you're reading this, you probably do, but if you're not reading this, you probably don't.
There are a lot of people not reading this.
So I was standing there, using way too much soap, and water was just plummeting uselessly down the sink drain, and I was considering how I could bridge the gap from me, and what I write here, to an extremely uninterested world. And I got a great idea.
The problem, I decided, with what I write is that even though it's short, usually, and sassy and clever, it's also kind of complicated and odd. It comes at a person in a grand stack of dense layers. "Aha!" The reader exclaims "Underneath what he says here is this fascinating meaning!" Which is followed by them saying "And this fascinating meaning is actually a joke, which is not funny, on purpose, to mock this meaning." The reader puzzles out. "And the mocked meaning points to this real meaning, which suggests, YES, the original meaning was the right one all along, but at a much deeper level!"
They take a breath. "Brilliant!" They conclude. "I look forward to never reading this writer ever again!"
That's one of the best case scenarios.
The normal scenario is probably something closer to "Ew. A bunch of words."
So my brilliant, amazing idea was that along with my regular blogpost, that just you and a few other people read, I could write a version just for the Internet, a popular version. The popular version would reduce the seven paragraphs down to a single sentence. The sentence would abridge the meaning of my content to an accessible "yelled anonymously from the back of the classroom" level. The humor quotient would be punched up, but also simplified. And anything too confrontational and not confrontational enough would be removed.
I was pretty excited right up to the point that I realized I'd invented twitter 14 years after the fact.
Friday, February 28, 2020
As the arrival of the coronavirus at my library begins to look more and more inevitable I try to keep my cool. This disease is not an implacable killer. At worst it looks like it might have a mortality rate five or ten times as bad as when the flu sweeps through. My wife and I pretty regularly live through the flu and I suppose with a little luck we could manage the coronavirus if we have to. My colleagues here at the library all seem pretty hearty as well. They're maybe not total paragons of health, but they're generally doing all right. It's not really an elderly and sickly crowd that I work alongside.
And that's what they say, isn't it? It's mainly the people with existing medical conditions who are in real danger. It's the unhealthy, the sick, the aged, and the decrepit who will fall to this pandemic.
In short, alas, our patrons.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
When the cry goes up that some storied vacation destination is being ruined by its visitors I have some sympathy, but I am also skeptical. My sympathy for the residents of said places, Florence, Bruges, Venice, Barcelona, is tempered by the fact that those people do get to live there. Those are beautiful, interesting places! I am also wary of this impulse to blame the visitors to begin with. While visitors have a huge impact on these cultural wonderlands, they don't actually have very much power as to how they are run. That power lies more with the local government, which, hopefully, in democracies such as these, are chosen by the people who live there. The tourists don't get a vote. The impact of visitors is, I believe, almost entirely controllable by the cities themselves.
Now the elephant in the room is that there are some people making an awful lot of money in places like Venice or Florence. And if there are dire problems with the disappearance of Venice as a real city it probably comes down to them far more than to their largely goodhearted and well-heeled tourists. But for the sake of brevity and simplicity I am all for setting that aside here. Perhaps we'll revisit it some other time. But today we are simply taking a practical look and are making our first steps towards fixing problems.
And as our test city we will use Venice, as it is the most impacted, decultured, and Disneyfied city in all of Europe. Also the fact that it's an island works easily with our plans.
Before I go any further I want to say that this is probably going to horrify you. So brace yourself.
1. Admit that Venice is a Disneyland of sorts, and start treating it more like one.
Venice has long since been subsumed in its tourism. Instead of trying to manage all the greedy cash grabbing of businesses and the tourists seeking cheap and easy thrills all while trying to pretend Venice is a real Italian city, Venice needs to lean into what it actually is and leverage that to make it more what it wants to be.
2. Charge an admission fee.
I like a couple different scenarios here. On the one hand a flat rate of 100 euros per adult to enter Venice seems reasonable and especially effective with what might be Venice's biggest problem; day visitors. I like even better a larger entrance fee, 250 euros or so, that would make all transportation and museums free to anyone in the city, which would further benefit locals. A flat fee is essential, having the effect of encouraging longer visits and taxing short ones. Making the entrance free or cheaper for young people, students, and locals should be worked in as well.
3 Tax policy
This could get complicated and be applicable to a far broader array of cities than just the heavily touristed ones. But we can start with the more businesses a person or company owns the higher their tax rate should be. If an owner does not live in Venice they should also pay higher taxes. Air bnb's and partially unoccupied second homes should further be taxed at special, higher rates. The main goal here is a capitalism that hobbles big businesses and corporations and all that is generic, lowest common denominator, cookie cutter culture, but, in the best spirit of capitalism, invites small, unique, clever, and quality, local, mom and pop businesses to get modestly rich.
4. Spend all that money!
All of this creates a lot of new money for Venice while also easing the crowds a bit. This money still needs to be spent properly. Here are a few ideas:
A. Subsidized high minimum wages and housing for people who work in Venice.
B. Lots of very good, well tended, free public bathrooms. An excellent plan for any popular city that doesn't want to smell like pee.
C. More civic employees working unexciting jobs at very good wages in an extraordinary place: garbage pickup, vaporetto drivers and mechanics, janitorial work, information kiosks, first aid, customer service, inspectors, and security. This will not only make the city safer, cleaner, and easier to navigate and enjoy, but it will help contribute to a local economy and community of people working and living in Venice.
D. Longer museum hours. Spread the joy.
E. Grants, opportunities, and tax breaks for both local craftspeople and artisans, and for more practical shops and stores.
And that's my plan for a start. What does it do? It makes Venice a little less crowded due to some people not finding the steep admission worth it just for a day or two. It creates or encourages a middle class local culture that lives, works, and is invested in the city. It encourages a more inventive tourism culture. It makes the city better kept, easier to enjoy, better spread out, and more like a natural city, even if it isn't one.
It's worth a try before it sinks.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
I guess he's about 70. He doesn't say much. His hobby is coming to the library that I work at. He doesn't check out books, or anything else for that matter. Every morning he grabs his favorite computer, tucked away near the coffee shop, and there he sits all day long, and most of the night. Every once in awhile he needs a little help.
"How do I sign up for this Reddit thing?" He asks.
I show him.
"I can't figure out this Facebook. Do I have to use my real name?"
"Can you show me how to get to my email again?"
"If I accidentally upvote how do I change that?"
"What's my password?"
The sad thing to that last question is that I actually know his password now.
Every once in awhile I see him working. It's almost like he's doing research, scrolling page after page, examining minutely, and making quick clicks. But he's only ever on generic social media pages. I can't find any theme to the content and he barely spends any time looking at any of it anyway.
Yesterday he called me over to show him how to close a window. Really, that's all it was. His computer skills aren't improving, but he plugs along regardless. We've gotten pretty familiar with each other despite his taciturnity. And my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him something I would virtually never ask a library patron.
"So what are you doing all day on the computer?"
He got a strange smile on his face, shy, proud, and like he knows I'll think he's crazy all at once. "I go to pages where there are a lot of comments. I scroll through them looking for anyone anywhere who says "OK Boomer", then I downvote them."
"That's it?" I asked.
"OK." I said. He sort of looked challengingly at me as I said "OK". But I wasn't going to say anything more.
"Let me show you "ctrl f" and what it can do." I said.
He was impressed.
Most days lately he comes by and asks me to show it to him again.
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
If one pays even a passing attention to American politics these days one will have likely heard of the Bernie Bros. These terrors of the political landscape are fervent in their support of their candidate Bernie Sanders. These "Bernie Bros" are said to haunt the Internet, exuding hostile righteousness to everyone who dares to disagree with them. Many people, like the former chief financial officer of Pfizer, or several of the VP's of JPMorgan Chase have no problem whatsoever with Bernie Sanders, but are deeply concerned about these tyrants of the Internet and what they and their behavior says about a Bernie candidacy.
But just who are these Bernie Bros? When cornered most Sanders supporters claim this rough behavior is attributable at the worst to a very few bad eggs, and even people who self identify as "Bernie Bros" insist that they are polite, though vigorous in defense of their candidate. But surely people aren't just making up these wild Bernie Bros. And if they exist, where are they? Will no one stand up and admit to being one of these dreaded, ferocious Bernie Bros so resoundingly condemned in this Presidential race?
I will. I will stand up and make my confession.
It is time to come clean.
I am a Bernie Bro.
I didn't start out mean. I merely can't seem to help myself. I get so excited about free healthcare, legal marijuana, and a $15 minimum wage that the world starts to spin. I start out reasonable, just sharing my views, but before I know it a red haze overcomes me. I become the dreaded, reviled BERNIE BRO, terror of the Internet!
I don't plan on losing it when I go out onto twitter and reddit. I am not out to wreak havoc. Just the other day a Klobuchar supporter said that Amy had a moderate, doable plan for getting more people on healthcare while letting them have their options and the ability to keep their beloved insurance plans.
I wanted to say something civil. But somehow I simply couldn't resist. Instead of thinking I said "I believe healthcare is a human right and the amount we spend so inefficiently in America on healthcare is far more than we'd need to insure everyone in a government plan like Bernie's Medicare for All."
I still feel horrible about saying it. Sometimes I just don't think about how this will make other people feel. It was harsh and unconsidered. And I cringe now to think of some of the language I used.
But did it stop me? No! A Buttigieg supporter posted "I really feel Pete is the most electable candidate and we have to win this election!"
I really did want to say something friendly. I wanted to start a dialog, but instead, foolishly, like a madman, I blurted out "I agree that we do have to win this. But I also think that 2016 showed that we aren't as good as we think we are at predicting who actually is electable. Maybe the best idea is to vote for who we think would be the best President."
I burn with shame when I think of these cruel words. "vote for who we think would be the best President." Why why why did I have to be so antagonistic?
But then before I knew it someone said "I support Biden."
Typically I lost composure again. I'm a Bernie Bro. I'm a terror. I said "I support Bernie, but I'd be okay with Warren."
Was it too savage?
I had to admit it was.
Was it eviscerating?
Was it cruel?
I'm so sorry, yes. Yes it was cruel! I only hope that one day the civil and inclusive Democratic Party can maybe forgive me.
Anyway, I think it was around this time, reeling with shame, that I began to understand the terror people felt when dealing with Bernie Bros like myself as we rampaged across the Internet, hurling our invective. I began to understand that maybe my very over-excitement was scaring people off who would naturally love Bernie.
I was my own worst enemy. I was my candidate's worst enemy! I resolved to do better.
But sometimes that's not enough.
Very recently I was on the Internet once again. I saw something about Mike Bloomberg. It was very positive. It was all about how he could "get it done". There were American flags flying behind him. Then he shook Obama's hand!
I guess I kind of lost it.
I know it's weird, but I don't like billionaires. It's probably just jealousy or not hating black people or something. But whatever it was I kind of went crazy for a moment. In a fit of wild, ill-advised, Bernie Bro passion I clicked
"Please don't show me ads like this anymore."
I immediately thought "What have I done?"
Now I was out of control. I was stifling free speech!
That's when I knew how deeply serious my problem was, now that I had even failed my own principles.
That's when I knew I had to make my full confession to the Internet.
This is it.
Monday, February 24, 2020
Clerkmanifesto today reported on the results of its comprehensive new poll on its comprehensive new poll. With a sample size of 100,000 subjects this is by far the single most thorough poll ever conducted on itself. Seeking to establish people's feelings about the poll they are taking part in, it has an error rate of just plus/minus one percent due to its impressive sample size. It's key findings include:
22% of respondents were very excited about the poll.
61% of respondents thought it was an incredibly pointless poll but didn't want to make anyone feel bad by hanging up the phone after agreeing to take part in it.
14% of respondents could not for the life of them figure out what the poll was about no matter how many times we explained it to them.
12% of respondents really liked the second question in the poll
42% of respondents wanted to know what the second question in the poll was.
39% of respondents were pretty sure we were "pulling their leg"
88% of respondents were okay or very okay with the poll ending
12% of respondents were really quite lonely.
Sunday, February 23, 2020
When Dylan is in town we go out drinking on Thursday afternoons. On this particularly cold, sunny one we were at a pretty Art Nouveau bar in Cathedral Hill called W.A. Frost. For some reason we were drinking Green Chartreuse on the rocks. Green Chartreuse is an intensely strong, unique herbal liqueur, and we were very drunk.
"I was the first person to put a harmonica in a wire frame and play it while playing a guitar." Bob said, apropos of nothing.
I was surprised. "Are you bragging?" I asked, slightly confused. I'd never heard him brag before.
He tried to make his irritated face, but he was too drunk to do it right. "It was 60 years ago." He rasped out almost like in a song. "And my neck still hurts."
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Yes, it may be a conceit. I might be mythologizing. But there is at least some truth to it. I only like to work hard under the cover of darkness. You know, like a superhero, with a mask. I want the library to be magical. I want to keep it running secretly. There are times I will knock myself out with hard work at the library, and it's not that I mind people knowing about it, I just don't like them seeing it happen. They might misunderstand. They might think I'm doing my job.
You might wonder why I would dislike being seen as doing my job. I'm not sure if I have a complete answer for you. It's even more uncomfortable to be seen as not doing my job. But there's something I don't really like about people doing their job. I don't like the trade of time for money. I don't like the sense of self-importance that can go with it. The officiousness bothers me. There can be a lot of marketing in people doing their job. I'm looking for some kind of grace. I'm looking for some kind of joy in the world. Deep down I believe in Anarchy.
I was training one of our new employees at the front desk. This person is pretty well trained in and mostly autonomous at this point. I'm a finishing school in that context. I came back from some errand in the children's room. "You walk really fast." The person said, maybe with slight surprise.
Uh-oh. No one is supposed to see that. I meander. I am at a cocktail party. I am the person who asks "Why did the chicken cross the playground?"
To get to the other slide.
I appear from out the shadows spontaneously with the book you wanted, and I disappear back into the night.
Friday, February 21, 2020
Sometimes, just when it's time for me to go to bed, I instead start reading old blog posts I have written. I meet with a mixed success when I do this. "Who will I be this time?" I wonder. Will I be the idiosyncratic genius who by some miracle has gone undiscovered despite posting 2,500 essays to the largest bulletin board in the history of human kind? Or will I be the dead cat?
It's a real Schrodinger's dilemma. It would maybe be wisest just to leave all those posts unlooked at, with both genius and failure true at the same time. But just, as I said, at the time I should go to bed, I am too curious for that approach. So I open up the box of blog posts and...
Curiosity kills the cat.
Well it did last night at least.
Did you ever notice these essays are sometimes kind of hard to follow. That's what I noticed last night. It can be a lot of work to pay so much attention! One has to sound out every word I write in one's head. I make everyone look at every word! Of course, having written them all I have a vague sort of idea how they'll turn out in the end. So when things are really bad with reading the old blog posts late at night, and dead cats are everywhere, sometimes I start skimming.
And doing that last night I finally came across a long forgotten idea of mine that I sort of liked. It was a proposal that only black people be allowed to be in and run the police department. I suppose in addition to offering a kind of mild, middle class reparations, it would mash up the perverse American bent for authoritarian indulgence and the fetishization of the police with, well, the fact that we're still insanely racist as a country. Like an acid and a base, both strong enough individually to eat through metal and corrode anything, combined they would neutralize each other.
It's a theory.
But reading it made me start thinking of all kinds of antithetical solutions to our social problems. Developmentally disabled people could be our school teachers which would distract the students into helping them. An all atheist clergy would leaven the hysteria of religion. CEO's would be drawn from people with a proven ineptness at making money, which would help prevent companies from getting too large. Politicians could be taken strictly from those people no one would ever vote for. I'm not sure how that would work in a Democracy, but it would be interesting.
And then I had a strange thought:
Who would write clerkmanifesto?
Thursday, February 20, 2020
I don't know if I've ever said that before, all plain and true. An American fact. President Trump.
We live in a dark timeline. But at some point one has to admit that it's real. Maybe that point of recognition is when one can see a sliver of light to aim for out of the darkness. As ugly as this presidency is, and as ugly as the things are that it says about us as a nation, the reality is that out here in the middle classes life functions much the same way as it ever has. Yes, we edge towards the cliff, we slide inexorably towards it, but as inevitable as it sometimes feels, we haven't actually gone over it, yet. One moment is being given to us. There is one little shrub up ahead that we can still grab to save ourselves, or maybe there are six shrubs and now is the time to choose which one to aim for. If we aim we can grab it as we slide down to the edge of that cliff. We can catch ourselves. And then maybe, maybe we can work our way back up.
For myself I would like us to grab a sturdy little tree, with a clear path away from the cliff. A Sanders tree, maybe, with tough old roots, hanging on, fiercely pointing it's way to a dangerous, untrod, rocky path, directly away from that perilous edge into something hopeful and new. That could maybe be a Warren tree too. Though the Warren tree seems less firm and its path eases in a more meandering, uncertain way from the cliff's edge.
Of course, if we have to, we could grab that Klobuchar bush, or the Buttigieg bush. They're sort of right on our way down, and we're kind of wishing we grabbed something like them a long while ago when we passed them by. The cliff didn't look so frightening at the distance we were at back then. It didn't feel real. We maybe didn't act with urgency. The cliff seems so much scarier close up, after staring at it for a few years. And those sad little Buttigieg and Klobuchar bushes look like they'll probably hold us where we are for a little bit, if we don't get too much rain, if things stay very calm for awhile. I don't see any kind of a path up from them, but maybe we can just hang on for a spell? Maybe someone will come and rescue us?
There's that Biden creeping vine right at the cliff edge too. It might hold. We can always grab that one as we go over the edge. Then we can dangle over the abyss, hanging on with one hand, and think about what we did wrong. I suppose it's better than falling to our death right away. Where there's life there's hope?
And then of course there's that Bloomberg shrub that has started appearing right before us. I mean it is right there. Low paid laborers are putting them everywhere. Yes, it doesn't look trustworthy, but hey, this is a desperate situation. And it's right directly in front of our faces. We just keep sliding towards that cliff edge and when the moment comes maybe the Bloomberg shrub will be the only way to...
Hey! Wait a second. That's not a shrub.
It's a tumbleweed!
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
I was in an upscale mall called The Galleria. I sat on a leather chair in a pretty room with a Southwestern theme. The music was good, Putting on the Ritz, a song I am most familiar with from Young Frankenstein, but that was nice to hear straight up. There was also a quite nice song with the line "Must I always, always be playing your fool?"
Before me was a wide, heavily bronze framed, giant eight foot tall mirror. It showed most of the store and a view out into the mall and on to the front of a glasses store across the way.
And then it struck me; maybe because the mirror was so big, that, like any mirror, it showed a strangely realistic view of the world, true to what I see everyday. Only it had one peculiar and oddly unreal exception:
I appeared in it.
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Out getting coffee with my delightful wife I was telling her about all the research I did for my most recent greatest album of all time, Randy Newman's Good Old Boys, and about how I didn't get to use any of the research because all the interesting things I learned didn't really say anything about what was so great about it. And undoubtedly something came up in this conversation about how depressing the songs on that album really are, which led pretty naturally into how, well, why wouldn't they be, all the albums that I have so far called the single greatest album of all time are terribly sad.
I suppose this came up because they so indisputably are. Each one of the albums I have included is deeply, profoundly bleak, or sad, or crushing, or simply heartbreaking, or at least somewhat dark. And so a challenge was issued for me to choose as my next album a happy album. No cheating too. It really had to be the best album ever made.
I all too casually agreed.
Then we made a lot of jokes about how my next entry in the 100 greatest albums of all time would now not happen for years and years and years and years. And making the vow I kind of believed it really would be years. There was nothing in music like that. The most cheerful group I could think of, that I love, was The Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground! This glorious 100 greatest albums project was doomed. We would all die a prisoner of my quixotic promise.
And then from out of nowhere the B-52's rescued me.
One can say if they didn't rescue me some other happy band would have occurred to me. But I don't believe it. The B-52's are funny, buoyant, clever, musically delicious, and delightful. But they are also inimitable, one of the most unique bands I have ever heard and from one of the tiniest strains of popular music, the minuscule, infinitesimal genre of insouciant joy. They are like kid's music, but if it were insanely good and made for adults.
They are also, curiously, the first new music I ever loved.
My musical awakening was saturated in a catching up with everything starting at 15 years before that time. There was a lot there to work through and I was happy to do it. That sweep of music, 1964 to 1979, had everything. It kind of still does: rage, wisdom, poetry, freedom, prophecy, melody, revolution, invention, vision, grief, genius, politics, love. Well not quite everything. The only thing it didn't have was... candy. The sheer, cheeky, irreverent delight music is also capable of. I remember just as I discovered this initial B-52's album I read that John Lennon loved them too, and I felt so confirmed. The Beatles were the first band for me, and it did make perfect sense. The closest thing I can think of to the B-52's, if I have to find something, anything, at a stretch, is maybe Yellow Submarine or Come Together, just with the crucial difference of The Beatles don't sound like they're having nearly as much fun.
In each of these greatest album essays I link to a song or two on YouTube. Sometimes it's just an album track behind a still image. Sometimes, if I'm lucky enough to find one, it's a performance or video that matches the song in spirit and soul. In this case it's the latter, and it was all too easy to find; every old performance I tracked down of the B-52's is delightful, clever, silly, and wonderful. The guitar player is some kind of low key absolute genius, the main lead singer is bursting before our eyes with personality, and the back-up singers (often lead too) are possibly the most inventive I've ever heard. Every bit of footage I could find of them, despite the deep familiarity of these songs, both amazed me and left me grinning like a maniac. This is not my usual reaction to my favorite music, and so all the more precious for it.
Monday, February 17, 2020
There may be more than 100 greatest albums of all time, with each individual album being itself the single greatest album ever. But 100 is neat as a number, and it is an irresistible organizing principle. Plus, when I conceived of this project, all the albums that made the claim in my heart of "greatest" easily nestled like marbles in a small bag in my mind. They weighed a certain amount. I sort of knew what all the marbles were, loosely, and it felt like it was about a hundred. It weighed about a hundred.
And yet, when I reach my hand in to pull one out, sometimes I am completely surprised by what I get.
But only for a minute. After a minute I say:
There should only be this one marble in this bag!
Good Old Boys is an album by Randy Newman from 1974. It was his fourth studio album, and it was originally conceived as a
blah blah blah.
I'm afraid time is too short to regurgitate Wikipedia.
Because what I wanted to tell you, before the ocean of the Internet washes over the brief second this glints in the sun, and pulls it back out to sea, is that Good Old Boys absolutely confounded me when I first heard it. No music had confounded me since I first listened to Highway 61 Revisited and had a key to the Universe handed to me. Sometimes one gets the same key over and over. The key says:
Art isn't a bunch of marbles in a bag.
It's not a butterfly collection.
It's not money or fame.
It's not answers it's
Questions are the answers!
Randy Newman is a beautiful songwriter who seems like he has an overwhelming, almost unbearably strong point of view. Too strong.
But pay attention and
it turns out he's just listening.
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Please consider my suite of 2,000 essays for publication. Before you dismiss them as not particularly interesting, or whatever fancy publishing term you like to use, allow me to explain something; I am using some very advanced literary techniques! Some of these are so advanced I had to invent them myself. And I just wanted to explain them to you so you don't walk away thinking my work isn't particularly good. It's only not particularly good to the lay reader, or the casual reader, or the reader who doesn't know about the very advanced techniques being used.
Let me ask you this: How many random readers on the street, when given a page of Finnegan's Wake to look over, would call it "good"?
Only one, but he is going to talk to you for a very long time about things having nothing to do with the page you have given him because he is very lonely.
And my point is that James Joyce was using some very advanced techniques!
"Are you," You inquire haughtily "Comparing yourself to James Joyce?"
Oh my god, this is super exciting. Usually no one understands what I'm trying to say. Thank you! Yes. Exactly.
Here are my techniques:
1. Using a thousand words to say what can be said in just a few words.
It's a beautiful, beautiful comment on art that I have now made 672 times.
2. Humble vanity.
I'm kidding about being a genius. I kid about it to be kind and understanding to you because you are too lazy to ever see the vast panoplies of my genius. But this is not your fault. Seeing things ahead of their time is insanely difficult.
Also I might be wrong.
I'll be pretty sure I'm wrong in about, oh, six hours, laying awake in bed thinking "Oh my god, what did I write?!"
But four years from now I alone will read this once again and think:
Actually, that's not that bad.
3. Just when it starts getting really, really amazing I shoot it in the head.
What I'm going to say next is too beautiful for our corrupted world. I'd like to hear it as much as you.
Saturday, February 15, 2020
On my day off I went to the library. It was not the library I work at. It was the library a long way down the street where some items were on hold for my wife who was home with the flu. It's a pretty library with a lot of glass, located in a pocket of Minneapolis full of mild street crime and homelessness. It has one of the worst parking lots in the world, always full, and all tight, inadequate, one way, and awkward. I know one of the people who works at this library because she used to substitute at my library as one of her three jobs. America, man. She always described working at our large, near urban library as like a vacation. I guess that's because we don't have patrons smuggling our dvd's out the door to sell across the street at the pawn shop to raise drug money. By all accounts she's doing pretty well professionally in the Minneapolis system now, so she doesn't have to take working vacations. Maybe she's down to two jobs even. I stopped over to say hello.
We caught up, having a nice sarcastic conversation about how excited we were about Oligarch Bloomberg's Presidential run. We were soon interrupted by a nervous woman who wondered if they had some of the white tape instead of this scotch tape. She couldn't remember the name of the white tape. My former colleague and the guy who was also working the desk there looked vaguely around in case some white tape showed up, but no, it didn't. What was that white tape?
I took a stab at it. "Do you mean masking tape?"
I got it in one.
They didn't have any masking tape. The woman took it pretty well and had to get back to her baby which she had abandoned somewhere in the library. That's what she said, although to be fair she didn't use the specific word "abandoned".
Another person came up to urgently talk to my colleague so I went off to get my wife's holds. I checked them out on the self check out machines, experimenting with all the few features of the fancy kiosk out of professional interest. It had two font settings. I switched back and forth between them. Hmm, two font settings.
My colleague was still busy so I went up to the other guy working at their main desk there. "I'd like to complain bitterly that there are only two font options on your self check out!"
He took it pretty well. My colleague was freed up and turned her attention to us. "Tell him about your blog." She said, probably reminded of it by overhearing my mercurial sense of humor (hint for beginners: I think two font sizes are plenty). She's a pretty nice advocate for my blog even if I'm not sure if she ever reads it.
"Oh, I don't tell people about it anymore. It never goes the way I think it should go." I replied.
She said, no, she'd told him about it before and he's a fan, or something like that.
I was secretly pleased and suspicious about how true it was all at the same time.
"Great then." I said, turning my attention back to him. "You'll be reading all about this font issue any day now!"
And maybe he is.
Friday, February 14, 2020
I like to clown around dangerously with vanity. I like to dance with it. It is a recurring motif in clerkmanifesto to talk about how incredibly brilliant clerkmanifesto actually is. I say:
Clerkmanifesto is so brilliant that it is nearly impossible to see it. But one day they will invent glasses dark enough to let people see the shape of clerkmanifesto at its starlight core. And when they do people will put on those miracle glasses and they'll say:
"Hey, I can't see anything at all!"
Because they're still working on those glasses, even in my dreams.
It's a delicate balance, between the light and the dark.
There is something I have never gotten from clerkmanifesto in the world. And so I rail into the empty wind that comes back at me. I laugh and mock that wind. I rage in fury at it, and I turn my back on it. And in flashes I hate the world.
There are things I have never won and will never win. And though it's always less and less, every once in awhile I get mad about it.
But in other areas of life I have also won. And because I have won I know what it's like. It's better than but also so different than that which the other part of me can understand.
And so on February 14 I am humbled.
I am nothing special.
I have the whole world.
And I am happy.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
In a painted stencil, on a wall above a door in our favorite coffee shop in the Twin Cities, it reads "You might be wrong". As a person with a high level of feeling that I am right, this sign tends to catch my eye. I regard it. I think about it. I have a lot of different reactions. And this is what we're here for today.
Here are my ten reactions to...
You Might Be Wrong
1. So might you.
2. Other people really need to read this!
3. If only.
4. I suppose, but I still think you're wonderful.
5. Sure, but only about the big stuff.
6. Right, and I'm sure that as a wall you have a lot of perspective on the matter?
7. I guess, theoretically, but not this time.
8. Well, that would certainly be more convenient for... everybody.
9. You'll really have to be more specific.
10. And then I might be wrong about being wrong.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
I am not a big fan of sports in which success or failure is based primarily on judging. I'm not saying that gymnastics or ice skating or boxing or dressage can't be thrilling to watch, but when the bulk of the decision about who won comes down to a panel of judges I know I'm in for an exercise in frustration. The thing is, I don't generally agree with people. Even my fervent passion for football is hardly likely to outlive the miracle of Messi. The more games of it that I see the more games I find that come down to the entirely mercurial foul and penalty calls of the referees.
Nevertheless there is a brilliant element in the completely judged sport of Olympic Diving that I long to have applied everywhere, where anything is judged:
Degree of Difficulty, or difficulty modifiers.
My badly interpreted version of it is this: Any good diver can execute a fairly perfect dive and get a good base score, but as twists and somersaults are added to the dive, as it becomes more and more difficult to do, that base score needs to be multiplied by a higher and higher number, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, and so on. A perfect double twist dive must be worth considerably more than a perfect swan dive. And thus too, theoretically at least, if a diver executes a dive no one else in the world can do, but does it less than perfectly, it is still a winning dive over a dive pretty much anyone can do that is done flawlessly.
Of course this brings up all sorts of those same judging problems in all those sports that I hate. But are these problems worse than the fact that someone making a bad cross into the box in football that ends up bouncing off an opponents face into the goal is worth exactly the same number of points (one) as a backheeled pass to a teammate who brilliantly chips that ball in a soft loft over the goalie's head for a goal?
I actually don't know anymore.
The thing is though that I find this difficulty modifier more useful outside of sports, like in the arts, which are already evaluated by less objective standards, having no goals, runs, or baskets to tabulate. You may have been dazzled by Joaquin Phoenix's performance as The Joker. He even won an academy award for it. But for any real student of difficulty modifiers there are many signals that he did not deserve to win any particular awards for the role. The fact that no fewer than four other actors in 55 years have played the same role to wild, fawning, and amazed acclaim suggests that the difficulty level of playing The Joker is insanely low. There may be no role that makes an actor look more brilliant, with the possible exception of playing a developmentally disabled person. I'm not saying Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, and Joaquin Phoenix aren't excellent actors, or that they didn't do a great job in all their respective, legendary, fawned over versions of The Joker, but that should be a "great job" times one-point-zero. Put any of those actors in a romantic comedy, where virtually no actor has ever won an academy award for best actor, and where incredibly few are ever lionized, except maybe by me, and then see what they can do.
But don't forget to multiply it by 1.7 first.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
There's early voting going on at my library. It's been everyday now for many weeks. So since I am on the front lines I am in the unique position of being in place to provide vital updates to this hard fought Democratic primary contest, and to let you know how it's going.
Since I am in Minnesota it is naturally expected that our own Senator, Amy Klobuchar, is something of a favorite. And while her candidacy hasn't so far exactly caught fire, she has shown a surprising ability to keep herself above the survival line while seemingly more promising candidates have fallen away one after the other.
But if Amy is going to have any chance at all she is going to have to have a killer performance in her home state of Minnesota. And I am here to grimly report that things are not looking good.
They are not looking good at all.
It's not that she doesn't have support. She has plenty of support. In fact there have been a great many specialized groups who are passionate supporters of this Mondale protege and senior Senator from our state. Often these groups come to our library in a bold display of early voting and to show their fervent support for Senator Klobuchar. Unfortunately the voting for these groups, so far, has not gone well.
First to arrive were The Klowns for Klobuchar. They emerged from a very tiny car en masse. There were a surprising lot of them! As they did hilarious pratfalls on the icy sidewalk in front of our entrance they drew enthusiastic and appreciative crowds. Alas that one of the pratfalls went wrong and one of the "Klobuchar Klowns" hit his head pretty hard on the curb. There was blood. The whole lot of Klowns went off in an ambulance without a single one of them being able to cast a ballot.
Oddly this experience was not so different than another Klobuchar group later that same week. The Klutzes for Klobuchar managed to stumble their way into the library and looked set to put Klobuchar into the lead in the early voting. But when they got to the voting area, cordoned off from the library by a ring of stanchions, they became so entangled in the stanchion belts that the fire department ultimately had to come out and remove them from the library.
On a positive note they did vow that they would be back.
Finally, yesterday, a big Klobuchar group managed to cast ballots for their candidate. A party of what I would describe as at least 30 Kleptomaniacs for Klobuchar went swiftly through the voting process with no problems. Well, no problems until after they left, at which point no one could find any of their ballots, or any of their pens. Come to think of it a couple of the voting booths went missing around that time as well.
This all doesn't mean that Amy Klobuchar can't still win. My report is certainly anecdotal. There are still plenty of votes to go. And she's pretty popular around here... wait! Something's going on at the library entrance! This could be big! This could save her campaign! Quite a crowd is gathering!
It's The Klydesdales for Klobuchar!!!!!
Uh oh. They can't get in the door. They're too big!
Plus, horses can't vote.
Monday, February 10, 2020
It is said that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.
I'd like to take that one step farther.
When one wants to treat everything like a nail, one surrounds oneself with a lot of hammers.
I'd like to take that one step farther as well.
One can tell a lot about a person by the kinds of tools they surround themselves with. For instance my supply drawer at the library is full of pliers. I think I have seven or eight different pliers in there.
I like to pry things apart.
I suppose it could mean I like to hold things tightly together as well.
Of course sometimes none of that really works out, in which case I'm fine just whacking it all into shape.
Anyone got a hammer?