Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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See With Your Eyes

I am a third of the way through the second Game Of Thrones book, A Clash Of Kings. Arya’s sword fighting teacher says to her, “See with your eyes.” This phrase returns to her on several occasions when there are conclusions her mind would rather jump to than see what is in reality before her.

That we see what we want to rather than what is has been on my mind. But I only just connected this thought to something that’s been troubling me for months. It’s been hard for me to reconcile people I know to be honest and hardworking and their support of 45. And it’s been hard to understand why if you value hard work you might value someone who regularly shafts his business partners. It’s hard to understand why if you value hard work you might value a person who has profited off obvious scams. Trump University was quite clearly a scam, even if you refuse to acknowledge that his real estate business most closely resembles a Ponzi scheme.

My working theory to explain this has been that they just aren’t looking at inconvenient facts. Or that their media preferences ensure they never see these facts at all. But another theory altogether has arisen in its place. What if the American myth around hard work is the con? What if this has been the lie deeply embedded in the American myth deployed at anyone without hope to distract them into endless toil?

And perhaps 45’s people believe themselves in on the con. And they will say the words to further the myth. But that’s all they are, words, not deeds. Ironically, I think his people are at once in on the con and the marks, but that’s really beside the point.

If the founding father’s really believed in hard work what exactly did they need slaves for? Why wasn’t Thomas Jefferson out there tilling his own fields? If hard work really purifies the soul, I don’t know why they enslaved others to do all the heavy lifting.

One of the aspects of 45’s presidency that I personally find fatiguing, is that I keep stumbling over American ideals and finding them facades papering over the enshrined right of the powerful to exploit the weak. In some ways it reminds me of losing my faith. I never lost faith in The Beatitudes. I never lost faith in the golden rule. I just saw with my eyes that some of the very people espousing these things to me do not practice them. I shed the na├»ve belief that people using these words would in fact keep them in good faith.


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Facebook Vacation

I’ve been feeling dissatisfied with Facebook for the last several months. Partially, I don’t think it enriches my life, and that I could do with more boredom rather than filling every space with scrolling. That I’ve become more thoughtful about Facebook’s impact on me emotionally and intellectually is probably a consequence of reading this book.

Capture

It’s challenged me to be more intentional with how I engage with technology. I am curious to see what my life with less Facebook and more blogging might feel like. I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing, and I have a vague sense that I miss it even while I feel no buring desire to write about anything in particular.

This alone would be sufficient to compel me to minimize my use, but Mark Zuckerberg keeps giving me more reasons. In his recent testimony to Congress he rewrote history saying that the primary purpose of Facebook was to protest the Iraq War. This is a bald face lie. He was having a sad as his ex girlfriend and created Harvard hot or not. There wasn’t any functionality to editorialize, so this lie is so egregious he might have said Facebook was created to cure cancer and been wrong in the same order of magnitude.

Years ago, I became convinced that Facebook as a news aggregator did a piss-poor job. I cultivated a Feedly account in the meantime, and am now perfectly happy with what it shows me. And for unknown reasons, my Feedly feed doesn’t make me angry or anxious to the degree that news on Facebook does. My assumption is that when I am not seeing my friends’ editorial take on links to articles, I approach the same content with a more neutral emotional affect. So, I get less self-righteous anger with those whom I agree and less conflict with those whom I don’t agree.

Armed with my Feedly account, I am ready to remain informed without Facebook. Today I am testing out whether my blog auto-posts to Facebook. Once I get that working, I am going Facebook dark for the month of December. If you want to reach me, comment here on wordpress, text, or email. Let’s see how I feel after a month of blogging and no social media.

(Note: I have Twitter, but I don’t ever log in. I don’t have Instagram. Hence, Facebook is the only social media site I regularly connect to.)


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The Hawks

I went to my dad’s sister’s one hundredth birthday party. I haven’t seen my dad’s side of the family since his funeral in the late summer of 2016, and that day was such a blur that I don’t fully recall everyone I saw.

My favorite two memories of Aunt Edna Belle are quite different but taken together express much about her. She taught me how to do doughnuts with front wheel and rear wheel drive cars. And I helped her make popcorn balls at Christmas, which like many good culinary treats of the 60s and earlier involve masochist elements both in the eating and the making. Popcorn balls are made by using searing hot liquified sugar to bind popped corn together in a spherical shape, sometimes with a bit of food coloring to make the popcorn have an unnatural color to go with its unusual shape. Eating them would require immediate access to tooth picks or floss. When eating the balls like apples every square inch of your gums were vulnerable to popcorn detritus that is usually limited to the molars when tossing back individual kernels.

I say this with no sense of irony. I adored them. And as I am remembering what the exact experience is of eating and making them was, I have no explanation for my childhood feelings about those treats.

I saw several of my cousins whom I haven’t seen in years, and I was very happy I took the time to come. We are legion. I am the youngest of 32 grandchildren on my dad’s side. So just by the numbers it’s reasonable that I struggle to remember all of them, remembering spouses and children are out of the question.

I had two unexpected delightful experiences. First, my Aunt Susie, not the birthday lady, struggled to recognize me. She’s 90 and I look like a man, so honestly, I wasn’t in any way bothered by this. I told her who I was, and she immediately recalled.

Later she approached me and told me that she was stunned when she saw me because she thought I was my dad, and she really thought she was losing her marbles as he’s dead, and further would be many decades past my age. She said just for a moment she felt the joy she would have at seeing him, and she was grateful for it. I was happy to have helped her to it.

My cousin, Richard, told me about a letter he found that my dad had sent to his father, my Uncle Bray. He said he would send it to me. In it my dad expressed gratitude for all his brothers and sisters, and Richard thought I would like having it. I said my dad was a very sensitive man who expressed his feelings to the extent the age he lived in would allow. And Richard’s eyes lit up. He said all the Hawk men were.

He said one of the nurses who worked with his dad told him a story at his dad’s funeral. His dad, Uncle Bray, was a head surgeon at one of the hospitals in St. Louis. At the end of his 14 and 16 hour days he would take extra time to prepare warm towels and cover the infants and children in the polio ward with them before leaving for the day. At the time the only thing they could do for them was keep them comforted.

And like that we shared an unexpected connection. Richard has always lived in St. Louis, and I bet all the words we’ve ever spoken are a fraction of what’s in this post. And yet we both knew something so fundamental about our fathers. For how hard their lives were, The Hawks, all of my dad’s nine siblings, were shrewd but unfailingly generous and optimistic.

They had such an easy way of welcoming people to their raucous party. I envied the breezy way my dad could get people to talk to him. So, when my Aunt Elaine, my mom’s sister, who went on several trips with my dad’s siblings, told me after dad died that I am definitely a Hawk by nature my words of thanks caught in my throat. It is such a cherished complement. I am thankful to have known them and that parts of them live in me.


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Random Thoughts: Facebook Is a Utility

I listened to Ezra Klein’s podcast in which he interviewed Mark Zuckerberg yesterday. And there were a couple of things that troubled me. First, I was concerned to hear how quickly Mark Zuckerberg dismissed Ezra’s concerns around one of Zuckerberg’s, and therefor Facebooks’s, assumptions. The assumption is that a more connected and interacting world will result in a better world. Second, he brushed aside any suggestion that his current business model is incompatible with his stated goal of improving peoples lives based on the assumption just referenced.

What I heard was unexamined assumptions. Those are incredibly dangerous. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions the map itself is set out with unexamined assumptions.

Thanksgiving. Unless you have grown into having the exact same values as your whole family, this word should tell you that closer isn’t always better. While there are many aspects of this holiday I enjoy, it’s also a mine field of choosing between living your authentic self and avoiding unnecessary conflict.

There’s always at least one person who cannot gracefully handle conflict. Maybe your aunt is the lady who decided she would rather be right than be in relationships, rarely a choice that’s made consciously, rather one that springs from insecurity. And there’s always at least one person with fringe political believes who won’t respond kindly to any criticism of them. With these folk, the distance is precisely why you can manage Thanksgiving with them.

And that distance? It’s exactly what disappeared when Uncle Bob friended you on Facebook and started sharing link from freedom.eagle.com.ru twenty times a day during the last election. Now, you’ve got him 365 days of the year. Only now, his funny toasts and football commentary that you actually enjoy at Thanksgiving is drowned out in his political rage.
Some of the reasons we compartmentalize our lives are relationship sustaining rather than inhibiting.

I haven’t even touched the fact that psychologists are starting to put out research suggesting that time spent socializing though our phones doesn’t yield the same positive physiological results as face to face interaction. Nor have I touched on the FOMO effect that makes people less happy when they spend an excessive amount of time on social media. This gets around to the second worrying thing in that interview.

Facebook’s business model has been brought under more scrutiny since the Cambridge Analytica issue. Facebook makes money by selling us its users and our mountain of information and our attention. They have clear incentives to addict us to living in their app. Zuckerberg dismissed this as a real concern based on his assertion, which is that connected is better.

I don’t necessarily think Zuckerberg has mal-intent. But I am very troubled by the gaps in his thinking. He’s holding a stunning about of global power, and that interview demonstrated to me that he’s not intellectually rigorous enough to wield it. I think it’s time to consider regulating social media as a utility. I don’t know that the government will have any good ideas on what to do next either, but I don’t feel comfortable allowing shareholders and Zuckerberg to continue to hold all of the control.