In case you don't follow stories that many media outlets largely ignore, here's a brief overview of what's been going on in North Dakota the past few months (this is a huge simplification, because most of us don't have the attention span for the long, technical version as an introduction to a blog post; there's plenty of information out there if you want to do some more in-depth research).
(1) A large company wants to build an oil pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL.
(2) The original route went just north of Bismarck, a city full of white people. When the Army Corps of Engineers said they couldn't go there, the route was redrawn.
(3) This new route would go under a river that serves as a drinking water source for Native Americans half a mile south of the proposed route.
(4) Pick your term — Water protectors, demonstrators or protesters — have been out in force to try to stop the pipeline. They've been subjected to violent treatment by police (more. They've camped out for months and really gone above and beyond what most permitting processes would call "public input."
(5) The Army Corps of Engineers just this past Sunday decided they would not issue permits for this route, either.
(6) On Monday, the company building DAPL said they're going to build it anyway, on the route they couldn't get permits for.
In other words, the company basically said, "Well, we asked for permits, we didn't get them, and we're just going to build without the permits."
The fine for digging without permits, then, must be worth the cost of doing business.
Go listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post. The podcast was aired, and the post written, before the events of this past weekend. But this provides some good background and resources for us ignorant folk.
Here in Savannah, we have a historic district. It's beautiful, and comes with a bunch of rules. Want to build a fence in your yard? Public hearing. Permits. Want to build a porch that isn't an exact percentage of frontage? Public hearing. Permits. Want to put up a modern-looking building? Don't bother asking. Signs? Hearings. Permits. Awnings? Hearings, permits.
This is not unusual, especially in older cities, and municipalities that are near-saturated with buildings.
Imagine if people just skipped permits and did whatever they wanted to? We'd have shoddy construction, weird-looking buildings, people hitting gas lines and sewer lines and buried electrical lines, and property values would plummet.
This is actually why we have permits.
In the case of DAPL, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has very reasonable concerns about their drinking water. Drilling and digging are potentially polluting activities. Pipelines leak all the time (way more often than I thought — I figured there were probably a few every decade, which still makes for reasonable concern on drinking water). Talk to the people of Flint, Michigan, about what it's like to have water problems.
(1) Why do we have a public input period if people have to camp out and face violence for permitting bodies to listen?
There's another whole problem here, and that's a matter of sovereignty. While the pipeline wouldn't actually go through Native land, it would pass really close, and have environmental implications on what is technically sovereign territory. If we were getting really close to Canada, we'd be talking to their government. Same with Mexico (yes, even under a Trump presidency). We should be doing the same for the Standing Rock Sioux.
I'm no legal expert, but the way I understand sovereignty is...sovereignty. Many Nations have allowed easements for interstates to go through their land, but sovereignty says they could certainly place toll booths on the road and collect whatever they want for tolls. Or they could put walls across the road and you'd just have to go somewhere else.
Sound ridiculous? So does walking a half-mile away from the border and sending a pipeline under a river that serves as a drinking source.
One more for you...this appears to be some white guys threatening some Native Americans. Hard to get some context, but it's out there.
I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I've been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I'd be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that's how I approached this.
What I'm going to do first is recommend the book. It's a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it's really interesting and it's immensely practical.
In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.
The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they'd be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I've seen many of the business examples at play in companies I've worked for.
I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.
When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn't a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.
Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don't have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.
Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you're trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you're also accomplishing without realizing it.
The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.
I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month's notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.
I'm sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I'm sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don't post news to check "post news" off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn't understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.
Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I've encountered this problem in every company I've ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.
In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there's a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.
Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you'll want to make sure you listen, even if you're a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.
In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I'm good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I'm working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they're strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.
If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. "That's the way we've always done it" is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn't mean it's a good answer.
When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you're doing the thing you're doing and why it's been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you'll really be heard up the chain of command.
And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don't want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you'll just be the boy who cried wolf.
Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don't enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it's not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.
Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don't believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.
I'm not gonna lie: A large number of Trump's supporters scare me shitless. I'm going to spend much of the next four years glancing over my shoulder.
Some newspapers around the world went with "Oh My God" on the front page. At home, they went with "you're hired," you know, because he's a reality TV star and editors think they're clever.
Where Hillary Clinton and the Democrats went wrong
So many places.
Clinton wasn't the right person in 2008. She wouldn't have been the right person in 2012. It was only a small echo chamber who thought she was the right person this year. Nobody actually listened to the majority of actual voters.
The party elite forgot that Bernie Sanders supporters entered the primaries as Sanders-or-Trump folks. They forgot that those weren't dyed-in-the-wool Democrats — that they were independent thinkers. Having Sanders ask his primaries supporters to vote for Clinton wasn't going to work — they were going to vote for whom they thought would be the best candidate, not follow the guy who dropped out.
After the convention, Clinton ignored Wisconsin altogether. She sent surrogates to Michigan. She banked on Pennsylvania. She lost them all, to the tune of 46 electoral votes that would have swung the election.
She spent the last week posting Twitter ads asking for money, when she hadn't even shored up our votes.
Clinton spent the election season sounding entitled to the office.
Where Trump went right
Trump went for the heart. He's a smile-and-shake hands kind of guy. Some of us find that kind of slimy, but most of us go for it anyway. It's the kind of thing that sells millions of cars, houses, boats and insurance policies across the country every year. It's big business.
He didn't need facts. He got a lot of stuff wrong. Nobody cared. He knew that.
What Trump's first 100 days look like
Trump's going to have a difficult first 100 days, I think. His cabinet will sail through, he'll get someone appointed to the Supreme Court. All the Washington stuff will go easy. He has a Republican House and Senate. Expect a lot of rubber stamps for two years.
But the work is going to be intrinsically hard. He's a figure head. He runs companies, shmoozes, shakes hands and entertains. He's going to have to get his hands a little dirtier than he's used to.
He's going to earn in a year what some of his businesses earn in hours — he's going to take a pay cut to the tune of four or five zeroes. He's not going to be able to run his businesses. His assets are going to be caught up in a blind trust.
Built with Mexicans' money? They say they'd get that money by intercepting money sent back to Mexico by workers. That means they're going to be opening mail. If there's cash in an envelope, it might just go to the wall (or some other project). Do grandmothers still put $3 in Valentine's Day cards for four-year-olds? Yeah, that's all going to the wall now. Because the federal government will be opening our mail.
Trump says he's going to force Apple to build iPhones in the US? He's not. First, because he's not going to move his own manufacturing to the US (his hats, shirts, suits and ties are made overseas), but also because Apple's not going to pay the millions it would take to create the fabricating equipment, and you'll probably balk at whatever the iPhone costs after manufacturing costs go up $100, or about a third.
A lot of the campaign promises Trump made (let's make this clear — most presidents fail at most of their campaign promises) are big government promises. Dictating where companies make products. Checking mail for cash. Getting the federal government involved in local law enforcement. He's now at the top of the small-government party. The legislature is not going to go for most of that.
What you can do as a Trump supporter
Have some empathy and don't be an asshole. No, really. Your "team" won. There are people who are actually scared for their lives, their livelihoods and their liberty. These people are your neighbors, your coworkers and your customers. Some of them are people you hire for jobs you don't want to do. You don't have to agree with them. But you have to live them.
This isn't football. You don't get a good ribbing in this week and then get back together next week for pizza, beer and the game again.
The future of third parties, and other US election issues
If you were hoping for Clinton to win, don't blame her loss on third-party voters. Most Gary Johnson supporters were not going to vote for Clinton. He was a Republican governor and had a Republican governor as his running mate. Jill Stein wasn't even on the ballot in most states.
It's not up to voters to vote for people they don't want to win. It's up to candidates to rally passion in voters.
I've begrudgingly voted for people before, but never as strongly as I did when I voted for Clinton yesterday. She was never the right candidate for me, and I still didn't know when I walked into the room whether I was going to click that box for her.
We're going to see more third-party candidates coming out of the woodwork if we keep seeing first-wave baby boomers running as major-party candidates. They're just out of touch with most of us.
Polling is going to change. We can't keep relying on people answering landlines or hanging up cell phones as an information collection method.
We need to get big money out of politics. We say it every election cycle, but until we have an election cycle that allows people to run without requiring many millions of dollars, we're going to keep having rich, entitled people with little actual empathy (despite what their ads show) running for president.
Finally, we need to put term limits on the House and Senate. Make it 10 or 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate — that way if you're awesome, you're serving under at least two presidents. But career politicians who get rubber-stamped into office need to get out of the way and let fresh blood help move the country forward.
The back-and-forth we have right now isn't working. We're behind in education, in manufacturing and in social issues (seriously, stop pointing at the Bible and saying being gay is wrong if you've spoken back to your parents since you were 13 or can't name a price to sell your daughter into slavery).
We need ways to get fresh brains into office, and term limits and curbing campaign spending would go a long way.
What you can do because you're scared after the election
Organize. Love. Hell, organize love.
Yes, Trump will be your president, too. If you feel like he's not going to do a good job, you can run away or you can work toward making things better. Do the latter. If you run off to Canada or Australia or wherever you have dual citizenship, consider whether your patriotism is fairweather and maybe consider staying there when someone you like better is elected.
Revolutions aren't built by majorities. They're built by a passionate 10 percent. Get a couple of revolutions together, and you have a coalition. Pretty soon you have a plurality. Good for you. That's what you need.
Build great stuff in your neighborhood, in your city and your state. Share it. It will grow.
Finally, don't bury your head and disappear. This election (and any other) isn't about you. It's about us. Americans. We were built on collaboration and peaceful transfer of power. Our system was built to survive its government. Buck. The fuck. Up. Do something great. Do it from love, not from fear.
I posted this at 2:30 a.m., right about the time AP and CNN called the election:
Here are a few things that I learned tonight:
- We are bitter winners
- We are bitter losers
- We are full of anger
- We are full of hate
- We are full of love
- We are full of fear
- We really don't understand one another as much as we thought we did
- We have a lot less empathy as a whole than we thought we did
- We have a de facto system that is broken in a lot of ways
Here are a few things things I'll be thinking about going forward:
- Revolutions aren't built on majorities, they're built on a dedicated 10%
- No one is entitled to the presidency. We need to stop treating the office as though party elites get to dictate who "should" wind up in the chair
- As a Jewish journalist, I'll spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. I don't trust a lot of people right now.
- We need to get money out of politics. Until that happens, elections are out of the hands of the majority.
I really wish we could hear from George Carlin this election season.
(1) importantly, remember it's still OUR America and no one tells US how to live
(2) there are some groups of people who might seem Truly Fucked, but there are organizations that help almost all of them. Volunteer. Donate. Don't leave your friends, neighbors and loved ones stranded.
(3) be physically and mentally strong. You may get less help than you hope for. That doesn't mean you're helpless.
While there's certainly a dividing line between those in the top percent of Americans in terms of income, there are other dividing lines as well. The "middle class," such as it is, is a large group who may never know that immense wealth. However, the middle class may also never know what it is to decide whether to pay the electric bill or the phone bill this month.
There are several layers in between, as well — not just between the bottom one percent and the middle class, but between the middle class and the top one percent.
Economically speaking, there are not just two Americas.
Katie Couric was on Marc Maron's podcast recently. She made a reference to Two Americas, but it was different: It was about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and their supporters.
If Two Americas was originally about the ultra-wealthy and everybody else, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on the same side of that divide, and it's not on the side that includes "everybody else."
Trump and Clinton are the least-liked major party candidates since we started taking polls of these things. I don't think they're the most polarizing — they're not only disliked by people in the opposing party, they are disliked by large swaths of their own parties, and by people of neither party.
In 1992, Ross Perot ran a fairly successful third-party candidacy for president. He was onstage for debates. He garnered enough votes in several states to swing the electoral votes. In Georgia, for instance, Bill Clinton beat George HW Bush by 13,000 votes. Perot got over 300,000 votes. Most likely the vast majority would have gone to Bush.
Since then, the rules for allowing third-party candidates on the debate stage have changed drastically. Now, to be considered for a debate, a candidate must be polling at least 15 percent in five national polls identified by the group that sponsors the debates. The candidates do not need to be options in those polls. If Zogby is one of those polls and Zogby is calling people to ask whether they'll vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton, if 15% of respondents don't go off-script and say Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, those candidates are eliminated from consideration.
A third-party candidate must also be on enough ballots across the country to receive 270 electoral votes, which is the number required to win the presidency. Different states have different rules for which parties are allowed on the ballot.
Apart from which parties are allowed on the ballot, different states have different rules on which party you can register for. I'm registered "unenrolled." In New York, that meant I couldn't vote in a primary unless I changed my party affiliation very early. In Georgia, it doesn't matter: we have open primaries, so I can just walk in on primary day and ask for whichever ballot I want.
When I lived in New York, I would frequently vote off the major party-line even if it was for a major party candidate. Sen. John DeFrancisco may have been a Republican, but if he had the endorsement of the Libertarian Party, I'd vote for him on the Libertarian line. If a Democrat was endorsed by the Working Families Party, I'd vote on the Working Families line.
There are not just Two Americas when it comes to political beliefs.
About 25 percent of voters are registered as Republicans. About 25 percent of voters are registered as Democrats. About 50 percent are registered as unenrolled or Green or Libertarian or Working Families or Socialist or something else.
There are dozens of Americas, and they manifest as three Americas — Republicans, Democrats and others. And in a society in which identifying as "Other" frequently makes social problems for people, we only get to see two Americas, and those two Americas are really one America: they're not Republicans and Democrats, they're the folks who put up the money to make sure the rest of America is as close to invisible as possible.
We're one week away from the U.S. presidential election. Vote for someone, not against someone. If we continue to do what we've always done — vote for the lesser of two evils — we're going to continue to get what we've always got — one of the evils. If a major party candidate is the best option for you, go ahead and vote for that person. But if a third-party candidate who certainly isn't going to win is the best option, vote for that person. We don't change with one election. It takes a wave. Why not start now?
"No, I'm just a reporter," I said, grabbing my notebook and recorder, climbing out of the front seat of the cruiser. I didn't know how to talk to a 16-year-old who'd just been placed in the back of a police car.
Several hours earlier, we had pulled over next to a double-parked SUV and told them to move. Here it was now, mid-afternoon, and we went on a high-speed chase across Holyoke, Massachusetts, because the teenagers in that car had been driving around with an air gun, telling people it was real.
When the cop pulled the SUV over, he waited a few moments for backup and then approached the car. The kids had stashed the gun under the back seat, but told the police when they saw it that it was real.
Maybe these folks were better cops, maybe the kids were just lucky. All that happened was they got arrested.
I was on a ride-along that day. I showed up at the police station around 7 a.m., signed a waiver, met the officer I'd be riding with, and climbed in his cruiser. He said that Mondays were typically slow, that we would more than likely park near the railroad tracks and ticket a couple of drivers with expired registrations, maybe get out of the car and talk to some of the merchants.
He couldn't have been more wrong about how the day went.
There was a foot chase, there was a car chase, there was a fatal accident.
It took me two whole days to go over my notes and my tapes and get a succinct (OK, maybe that's not a good word for it) 120-column inch article (about 4,000 words — the equivalent of a 16-page paper).
This was years ago, before we were putting our stories online; only some news outlets were moving their stories from the paper to the web, and they certainly weren't writing with the intent of getting their stuff out there fast.
Twitter wasn't even Odeo yet. Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. The World Trade towers were still standing.
There were no immediate public reactions unless you were physically in someone's presence. There was no YouTube.
It's not a time I'm nostalgic for. I'm just trying to paint a picture of the world we lived in. Most of you remember that time, but you might not really remember how different day-to-day life was. You might not remember what news consumption was like. You might not remember what our interactions were like.
We relied on storytellers to gather information and tell it to us.
Chuck Palahniuk's short story "Zombies," part of his 2015 collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread, about kids who are too smart to ever be happy, so they start a trend of self-lobotomizing using AED kits from schools and gyms and airports.
It reminded me of our hero in the film Pi, Max Cohen, played by Sean Gullette. Exhausted from trying to find a pattern in pi, overwrought by migraines and hounded by both Hasidic Jews and Wall Street firms, Max lobotomizes himself with a drill.
When asked how they made the scene look so realistic, director Darren Aranofsky is fond of saying, "We did one take then rushed Sean to the hospital."
Who are we now?
We are all journalists, inasmuch as a journalist is one who journals. We're all doing it in public, too.
We are not all reporters, however. We react, but we don't necessarily report what's happening. We let someone else do that, then we journal a link to it.
One of the things that I learned while I was a reporter was not just to tell the story, but to give it some context. Not just why did it happen, but why is it important? What are the implications for us as a community? As a species?
We're supposed to have some perspective on things, but in a world that demands everything now, now, now, it's difficult to do enough research to make it worthwhile. A lot of elder statesmen are getting out of Dodge before it becomes entirely impossible to have a reasoned, researched discussion.
So far it's difficult, but yet impossible.
We need an exit strategy.
I'm not talking about anything drastic — not death or explosions or anything.
Hopefully not lobotomies.
We need to take a step back, to slow down, to give things time. To allow ourselves the opportunity for reflection, for observation, for discussion.
In just two weeks, the US has an election. It's an important one: It's between (primarily) two candidates who are not particularly well-liked among the general populace. They are very likely the last people of their generation who will run for president.
There's a half-generation — the one President Obama belongs to — that will be prominent for a few election cycles.
The next younger half-generation, the one I belong to, is called Generation X. We're famously derided for not giving a crap about anything.
Some of that comes from the apathy toward community our parents showed. While Baby Boomers drastically changed the world we live in, they also stayed away from religious groups, recreational sports leagues and social and professional groups like Rotary and Toastmasters clubs, among others. A Harvard professor did a giant study on it.
Gen Xers may or may not get into politics, and if not, we're going to see those Obama's age in politics for about 20 more years and then Millennials will take office. That's the generation that grew up with mobile phones and ubiquitous high-speed internet; the generation coming out of college to have job titles that didn't exist a few years ago.
We have no idea what the world will look like in another couple of presidential cycles. But if it keeps speeding up the way it is, we might need to worry about exit velocity.
When Ori Brafman was asked to help the army figure out how to invite some innovation into its thinking, he thought about the plague. Bubonic plague. Black Death. That period in European history when lots of people died.
Why? Because lots of priests administered lots of last rites and caught the plague and subsequently died. A new group of people took over the Church — a group of people who unlocked the vaults and allowed people to read books on science and history and other subjects that the previous regime had banned.
With that, the Enlightenment came about, giving us art, science, math — Michelangelo and da Vinci and the printing press and all that came after it.
All because a single flea-bitten rat got onto a ship and then got off of it, spreading disease and wiping out a large population.
It's not entirely random, though. Rats sneak onto boats all the time. They sneak off boats all the time, too. Boats carry food that rats eat and rats carry fleas that sometimes bite people and some of those fleas carried plague. The ship allowed for serendipitous chaos — not always a good thing, but, especially for organizations stuck in their ways, certainly not always a bad thing.
Most organizations have a structure and/or hierarchy that won't allow for departmental intermingling or for people of vastly different ranks to share input. So, the authors write, smart leaders will set up places for "controlled chaos" to happen.
They make note of a hospital where all the nurses were complaining about there being no hot water on one of the floors — something that was news to the higher-ups when the organization implemented meetings of people of various departments and ranks regularly. The hospital was undergoing some repair work, but rescheduling everything to address that problem first would have cost lots of money. Fortunately, a janitor was in on one of the meetings, and he asked if the valve was open. Everyone just assumed it was and wouldn't have known where to look anyway. It turns out it wasn't, and through an organizational structure that allowed for some serendipitous chaos to occur, the problem was solved quickly and cheaply.
The other concept Brafman and Pollack discuss at length is "white space": making room in your brain to innovate. They hold up as an example Albert Einstein, who was the only member of his graduating class not to get a job in physics after college. Instead, he would have long discussions with friends of various backgrounds about art, music, government and whatever else came to mind. He worked at a patent office. Without having to concentrate on physics all day, he was able to develop his theory of relativity.
It turns out that downtime — the time for "white space" — has some basis in science. MRIs show that when someone is focused on a task, one part of their brain is active. When the person moves off that task, however, the "focused" part of the brain goes inactive, but the rest of the brain goes active, processing and synthesizing the information from the task.
If you're stuck creatively or on a project, or if you run an organization that seems to be stuck in its ways and not moving forward, this book is for you. It might not give you the breakthrough you need, but it'll tell you how to get to that breakthrough.
The photo at the top of this post was taken with a cell phone on a plane while I was listening to Tchaikovsky on Sirius XM through headphones.
Can we break all of this down for a minute?
First off, I'm sitting in a chair in a metal tube in the sky with 150 other people. We're going 1,000 miles in under two hours. What a giant fuck you to gravity — and pretty much everything else we thought we knew 125 years ago.
125 years. Seriously. Your grandfather's grandfather was an adult already. That's a blink ago.
While sitting on this plane, I've got headphones in. There's sound coming through these little wired pods in my ears that only I can hear. Specifically, it is an orchestral recording that has been committed to some digital medium and sent from earth to space and then bounced back to me moving 500 mph through the sky in a metal tube.
An orchestral recording? That's 100 different people sending sound through instruments we built and shaped to make sounds. All the sounds are coordinated because we came up with this language drawn in symbols we could all agree on that say, "On this instrument, play this sound for this long." And one person put all those instructions down on paper and someone else is standing up and reading it and leading a whole bunch of other people who are reading it to make sure everyone's in the same place.
At the same time, the sound is traveling into some sort of device that captures that sound and can reproduce it in a format that is readable by other devices, including the one that can send it into space for me to hear.
Now, can we look at the stuff in the photo?
I don't even know where to start. Maybe with the book? It's full of words. Printed words. We not only agreed on sounds that mean something, we drew symbols to represent those sounds. Then we figured out how to pulp wood to make paper, have some ink and a press to permanently impress the symbols onto the paper, bind them together, and reproduce that a whole bunch of times.
We then took that ink, created a container that can leak just a little bit, in a controlled manner when in contact with a solid surface, and put the ink inside.
Now look a little to the left. We got more ink to stay on that napkin, which is a different version of the reconstituted pulped wood. The cup is yet another version of reconstituted pulped wood, also with some ink, and it's full of hot coffee — a drink that is amazing in itself. We took this berry, got the seed out, roasted the seed and steeped it in hot water. And we managed to get it hot in a metal tube in the sky.
If you can look at everything around you and not be AMAZED at our ingenuity, you might need a perception adjustment.
We mark today the turning of the Jewish calendar to a new year.
The way the calendar works, actually, the new year holiday began Sunday evening at sundown and continues until this evening at sundown.
The 10 days that begin with the opening of the holiday mark a period of reflection in my faith, culminating with Yom Kippur, known for its day-long (sundown-to-sundown) fast.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, which likely dates back to the way the Bible is written: "...and there was evening, and there was morning, a first day." Maybe it's from before that. Phases of the moon and the path of rotation through the stars are much easier to detect than are phases of the sun, particularly in an equatorial environment when the seasons would have changed only subtly.
Shortly after Yom Kippur — about a week, typically — we celebrate Sukkot, a harvest feast. A week after that, we celebrate Simchat Torah, reaching the end of a cycle of reading the Torah. The Torah is the Bible laid out in a scroll. Each Sabbath we read a prescribed portion, and Simchat Torah marks the time when we finish one reading of the Torah, wind it all the way back to the beginning, and start anew.
It's a month-long welcoming of the new year, both somber and celebratory.
We say to each other as we turn the calendar, "A good year. May you be written." As in, may you be written in the Book of Life. Jewish belief is that God has a book, and over the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God writes in the names of the people who will live for the next year.
Don't look at me funny. These beliefs date back almost six thousand years. You think putting candles in a tree to celebrate the birth of a guy who was executed and disappeared from a tomb three days later is better? We can reserve the discussion of superstitions and wars and stuff for another time.
I know I typically do a post at the end of December every year, looking back at the year ending. That becomes more of a roundup, I think, while this late-summer or early-fall holiday really provides that period of reflection for me that a lot of people account for heading toward resolutions for January.
I also think this makes more sense for a calendar, switching the year as we gather our food for the cold season, giving the ground a rest before our spring planting.
Running water tends to be my reflection point during this season, so you'll probably find me out at Tybee, toes in the water, staring off toward the horizon, thinking.
Demonstrations last week in Charlotte in the wake of the shooting of a black man by a police officer were not unexpected. Our memories are short, but not that short. We haven't forgotten what happened in Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or Minneapolis. Or New York. Or Baton Rouge.
The details of this shooting are a little different, if I understand correctly.
The police officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott is black. That doesn't mean he isn't a racist. It doesn't mean anything. It's just different.
Scott may have been armed, too. Initial reports were that he was. That doesn't mean he was illegally armed. It doesn't mean he was threatening. It doesn't mean he wasn't. It's just different.
Different from Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Philando Castile and maybe a little more like Alton Sterling.
While the demonstrations aren't surprising, I'm starting to view them differently. In a get out your tin-foil hats sort of way.
Before we get any farther, I think we should look at #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMater, because this is important, and it's not evident to everyone.
I've seen the difference best described in this analogous situation. It's not mine. It made the rounds on Facebook and I have no idea where I saw it. If you know, please comment so I can give the originator some credit.
The short version is this: Missing from the hashtag is an implied "too". Now, the long version.
Imagine a family with eight children. You probably know one. Dinner time's a little chaotic. Mom, Dad and eight kids. Imagine you're the six-year-old. Mom's dishing out food, but skips over you, giving everyone else an equal amount.
You start to complain, obviously. Dad gets angry.
"But, Dad, I deserve my fair share," you say.
"That's selfish," he replies. "Everyone deserves their fair share."
You didn't mean other people shouldn't have their fair share, that only you should have your fair share. From where you're sitting, watching everyone eat, everyone already has their fair share, and you want yours, too.
You didn't say, "I deserve my fair share, too," you just assumed that Dad recognized everyone already had theirs, since they're eating and you're not.
That's the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The #BLM movement looks around and sees that everyone else's life appears to matter, every life except black lives. The movement doesn't believe that only black lives matter. It believes that it's apparent other lives matter, and that black lives matter, too.
Now, let's move on. At its heart, #BLM is looking for institutional change — or at least it appears that's the goal. There doesn't seem to be any unity of vision around that goal, but it's still a young movement.
Example: Early in the campaign, demonstrators broke up a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. For all the lip service everyone else paid the black community, Sanders is the only one seen in photographs marching with Martin Luther King Jr. He's the only person who was running for president this time out who has actually demonstrated for black lives, and demonstrators sent him home, too.
If you want to make waves in an oligarchic republic, you basically have two moves: Make friends in high places or burn everything down and start over. This was a guy who was demonstrably on their side and in a position to help, and demonstrators took to a bully pulpit.
That feels a lot like burning a bridge. He could have spent months backing them on the election trail; he could still do something for the movement as a Senator with an increased profile.
Now go get your tin-foil hats, because there was some weird stuff going on Wednesday night in Charlotte.
Things got a little out of hand during the evening. I watched, on CNN, as demonstrators injured a cameraman and broke windows on businesses. Someone said protesters were beating up patrons at a hotel who came to the lobby to look on, since they couldn't leave.
When I got back from my break, about 1:30 a.m. (Thursday morning, technically), there were five types of people left on the streets of Charlotte: (1) Police; (2) Journalists; (3) Dude-bros in shorts and hoodies taking cell phone photos and videos of the destruction; (4) Drunk people smiling and waving at the cameras as last call approached and (5) Peaceful demonstrators (seriously peaceful and organized; if you didn't know any better they would have looked like a Zumba class on the sidewalk).
I'm guessing police didn't manage to round up and arrest the entirety of the aggressive bunch, and I'm guessing they didn't all look at their watches and say, "It's almost midnight; I'd better get home."
I'm not saying the government bussed in a bunch of agitators to make everybody look bad and then bussed them back out when viewership declined on the east coast, but that's starting to sound more and more plausible every time something happens.
And what about police behavior? With people breaking windows and throwing bricks and tossing tear gas canisters at police, the only person who was shot Wednesday night appears to have been shot by a civilian, not an officer, which means that there were guns in the crowd amidst the chaos.
As a CNN commentator noted, police can handle riots without shooting anybody but they can't pull a Taser instead of a gun when confronting someone on the street? I don't know. It's high-stress all around and I've never been in the situation from either side, but it seems strange that when you turn on the cameras and show us basically a militarized zone for the night, nobody gets hurt, but put an officer in an "everyday" situation (for a police officer, I guess), and it keeps ending badly, it feels like something more conspiratorial is going on.
The US Military requires more documentation of escalation that leads to foreign combatants' deaths (including proof that the deceased was properly identified as a combatant before engagement) than many of our cities require of police. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
Now here's the hard part.
#BLM clearly wants institutional change. I have a general understanding of what the result of that looks like, but I have no understanding of the steps between demonstrating visibly on the streets instituting change where it can make a difference.
I do know that it has to be through some combination of emotion and numbers, and there doesn't appear to much overlap. Yes, the majority of people killed by police are still white. But yes, 26 percent of people killed by police are black men, while black men only make up 6 percent of the general population. But black men are also disproportionately in prisons — and are disproportionately poor, under-educated and under-employed. These things are related.
If you want to hear the problem we have mixing the two, listen to a very drunk Hannibal Burress (a black comedian who was drinking on a comedy podcast and then got roped into a political discussion by dint of still being in the room) talk about #BLM with a sober Sam Harris (a white neuroscientist and moral philosopher) in episode 52 of #WTPLive [ - Google Play]. It's sloppy and a little embarrassing at times, but it makes the point that this requires both logical thinking and empathy, and this movement may be too young to allow the two to meet.
The rabbis tell the story of a student of the seer of Lublin, a wise and religious man.
The student decided that in order to be closer to God, he would fast (no food or water) from the end of one Sabbath (Saturday at sundown) to the beginning of the next (Friday at sundown).
As the next Sabbath approached, the student was very thirsty, and, as he walked to his teacher's house to welcome the Sabbath, he passed a well. He stopped at the well, and then told himself, "If I have a drink of water now, I will have wasted the rest of the week." He walked away without a drink.
As he continued his journey, the student felt proud of himself, and recognizing the sin of pride, rushed back to the well, saying, "better I should fail in my fast than to feel pride." When he got back to the well, however, he was no longer thirsty, and continued on to his teacher's house without taking a drink.
When he arrived, the seer admonished him for his patchwork approach to getting closer to God. "You should go into your fast with unity of soul."
This translates so well into our want-to-do-everything world. Beyond #FOMO ("fear of missing out"), we have a problem wherein we want to be seen as so many different things — indeed to do so many different things.
It's fine to do a lot, but do it with unity of vision. Do it with a sense of purpose. Do everything with an eye toward being your best you. And if something is leading you away from that path, stop doing it. Now.
Want to know if you're on the right track here? Open your calendar. What did you do last week? The week before? What's there for the next week? How about the week after? Ask why about everything that's on there. Can you come up with an answer that makes sense to you? If not, maybe consider reconfiguring your calendar a little.
Start saying no to stuff that you feel like you have to do but that don't suit your purpose. Be one with you.