Quick Questions: Washington DC

This might sound a bit silly with the standard discourse being about DC statehood, but haven’t we gotten past the reason for needing DC in the first place? In 2022, why do our government officials need to gather in a certain location? Wouldn’t it be better if they actually lived among their constituents? If they sent their kids to the same schools? Used the same infrastructure?

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What If We Completely Stopped Using Plastic?

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I almost wrote this as part of my Quick Questions series but realized there is nothing quick about this question. I’ll say at the beginning, I’m wondering about what the title asks. I’m not interested in the odds of us going plastic-free. I’m not interested in the politics involved. I’m not interested in whether or not it would be a good thing. I’m not even interested in how it might happen. Imagine there’s a really sad and lonely Kelpian living on a plastic planet and move on. (That’s actually a really funny joke for anyone who reads this blog and also watched all of season three of Star Trek Discovery.) All I’m interested in is what the world would look like if everybody stopped using plastic completely. For me, this is the first step in deciding the answers to any of those other questions.

Some things seem pretty easy. Plastic isn’t all that old and a lot of what we use plastic for used to be done by things like glass, metal, rubber, cloth, and paper. Bags, at least in some areas, are already going back to the non-plastic alternatives. Straws too. Jars and bottles can go back to glass. Paper and cardboard can replace most packaging. Even plumbing can go back to metal. But what about all the things that were originally created as plastic? What would a video game controller with no plastic parts look like? Would it be as easy to use? Would we even have fake Christmas trees?

And what about all the things that use plastic because of plastic’s unique properties? It’s lightweight and durable. If we replaced every plastic piece in a car or plane with things less lightweight and durable, how would it affect the performance of the car or plane? There are pieces of medical equipment that need to be flexible and small. Can rubber handle that? Can we make transparent rubber? That’s another thing that makes plastic useful.

Another thing about plastic is that it’s cheap. Really, really cheap. I know it’s debated whether its price accurately reflects its cost (I don’t think it does), but the actual price of plastic is very low. What would the economic knock-on effects of no more plastic be? It seems like it would be a cause of inflation. What other disruptions would it have?

Finally, what would be impossible without plastic?

My instincts are that plastic is bad. Really, really bad. Whenever I read about microplastics, the “plastic cycle”, the great pacific garbage patch, and even just walking around and seeing plastic in my own environment, I am disturbed. I really believe we should be actively working towards a plastic-free future. But I don’t exactly know what that means, and I want to. Can anyone help?

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I Dreamed a Dream Last Night

I almost never remember my dreams. It’s so rare that I wrote about it the last time I remembered a dream. That was December 30, 2019 (a pre-pandemic dream!). Well, it happened again last night. And this one was truly bizarre. It’s a bit jumbled and confused as dreams tend to be, but I’ll recreate it the best I can.

I was at my parents’ house when my band showed up. We were crashing there for a few nights. My brother and friend were there as the guitarist and singer (they actually play guitar and sing in the band I play with). But there were two other guys, the drummer and keyboard player, but I have no idea who they were. Even in the dream they were strangers. I don’t know how you can be in band with strangers, but it was a dream. There was also this woman in the band, but I have no idea what she did. She was also a stranger.

We all split up to go on some band mission. No idea what the mission was, but we each had assignments. As I was out doing my part, I pulled out my phone. Only it wasn’t my phone. I had accidentally grabbed one of my bandmates’ phones. So, I went back to my parents’, and no one was there. I found my phone, but still didn’t know whose phone I had. I started really stressing out about how to get the phone back to its rightful owner.

Then, there was a little interlude (Is that a thing in dreams?). As I was panicking about the phone, my sister-in-law came in (my other brother’s wife). She had something important to tell me. She told me that Roy Halladay wasn’t really dead. He and RA Dickey faked the whole thing as an insurance scam. (This is really, really bizarre if you know my sister-in-law. I’m completely positive she has no idea who Roy Hallady and RA Dickey are. And, even if she did, she wouldn’t think it’s a big enough deal to track me down at my parents’ house to tell me.)

Immediately after that, I was at the vet’s, which is apparently where we were playing a gig that night. It wasn’t a typical vet’s office, but more like a compound. They let me in, and I played with a three-legged dog for a little while. Then, I tried to find my bandmates to return the phone I had accidentally picked up. I found my brother, my friend, and the woman. But not the other two. We determined that the phone belonged to one of them. Then, the vet came over and told us that we’d been bumped, but we should stay in case a spot opened up later. The rest of the dream was taken up with the vet and the strange bandmate woman obviously, openly flirting with me and it making me more and more uncomfortable.

Everything about this was weird. And none of it made any sense at all. I know that’s how dreams are, but I woke up with a really uncomfortable feeling, almost like guilt. I’m mystified as to what, in the dream, I would have to feel guilty about. I took someone’s phone by accident, but I was conscientiously trying to return it. I did indirectly accuse Roy Halladay and RA Dickey of a crime. I can’t figure that out at all. I’m a big fan of both. It still makes me sad to think about Doc’s plane crash. Then there was the two people flirting with me, in a dream. I’m currently unattached in real life, so I don’t think it’s a problem if I flirt, especially in a dream. But I don’t think I was even flirting back.

So, all of you armchair dream analysts out there, have at it. What’s up with my strange little brain?

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Did You Know People Actually Hated Martin Luther King?!

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

Sorry about the clickbait-y headline. This piece actually has almost nothing to do with the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. It’s just that the commentary surrounding MLK is illustrative of a problem that needs attention. Before getting into it, as a sort of introduction, I will answer the headline’s question. Yes, I knew that people hated Dr. King. Of course I did. How could you not? I’ve read “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The whole premise of which is that he had been arrested for protesting and a group of white pastors condemned him for his behavior. The letter was his response to being hated on. Oh, and, you know, he was murdered because people hated him so much.

You might be wondering what on Earth I’m talking about. But this is the state of discourse right now. People present information that is banal or obvious (at best) as if it’s provocative and then congratulate themselves for speaking up. Here’s a headline that ran in Smithsonian Magazine in 2018, “Even Though He Is Revered Today, MLK Was Widely Disliked by the American Public When He Was Killed“. Here’s one from The Guardian from today, “MLK is revered today but the real King would make white people uncomfortable“. I honestly don’t know that it’s possible to know who King was without knowing that he was widely disliked and made (and continues to make) white people uncomfortable. He was the face of a protest movement against the dominant social norms in America. I don’t know if I should give a trigger warning before saying this, but Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln were all hated and made people uncomfortable, too.

This is a huge problem and rather intricate. It’s much too much for me to tackle here. It affects advocacy through their reliance on intersectionality and identity politics. It affects the media through the culture wars and various media outlets’ focus on each other instead of any broader issues. It’s rampant throughout the social sciences. We’ve gotten to a point where we don’t see the difference between labelling something and doing something. You can scream, “patriarchy,” all you want without tearing down a single bit of structural iniquity. I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job of explaining it, so I will come back to it in the future, but there’s just a lot of self-satisfied complacency out there. Stop stating the obvious and start telling us what we can do to change things.

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The Best Joke in the English Language

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I love humor. I don’t mean that like in everyone’s “I love to laugh” dating profiles. Of course you like to laugh. Laughing is a physical expression of enjoyment and happiness. I mean that I love humor as a subject. I’ve studied it. I’m fascinated by it. And I’ve written about it. (Here, here, here, and here) I sometimes wonder why, given that we seem to be obsessed with rankings, no one every seems to talk about the best, or the top ten, jokes.

I’m restricting it to the English language. English is the only language I know. So much of what makes a joke great is the way it plays with language. I’m sure there are plenty of great jokes in other languages that I’m just incapable of getting. It would make almost too much sense if the funniest joke in the history of jokes is actually in Yiddish. It may be worth learning Yiddish just for the jokes, but I digress.

My nomination for the best joke in the English language is. . .

Why was six afraid of seven?

Because seven, eight, nine.

It’s truly brilliant. There is almost no background knowledge needed. A basic pre-school grasp of English vocabulary is enough. The sentences sound completely natural. The grammar and syntax are beyond reproach. And it perfectly strikes a balance between subverting expectations and being completely obvious. So, so brilliant.

This is just a nomination because I’m sure I haven’t heard every joke in the English language. So, help me out. If you know a joke that you think is as good, or better, let me know. Let’s see what kind of top ten list we can put together.

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Healthcare

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Yesterday, I had to get a prescription filled. I went to the pharmacy, and they told me that I was no longer covered by my insurance. I was confused, but it wasn’t the woman at the pharmacy’s fault, so I went home to straighten things out. I called the insurance company. After navigating a long menu and being on hold for about ten minutes, I got to speak with someone. She told me that my insurance had expired on 12/31; I’d been uninsured for ten days. I was surprised and asked why I hadn’t been notified that my coverage was being terminated. She checked my account and said that nothing had come by mail because I chose paperless when I signed up. (I thought that was the socially responsible thing to do.) She then speculated that they had sent an email, but it probably got caught in my spam filter and I never opened it. I said I would like to re-enroll. She told me that she couldn’t help me with that.

I get my insurance through the Affordable Care Act. One of the quirks of the ACA is that people don’t enroll for policies with the companies that will cover them. People enroll through the exchanges. So, the customer support person was nice enough to give me the number for the exchange. After another long menu and moderate hold, I was connected to the exchange’s customer support person. I explained what had happened and that I needed coverage. She was happy to help. She needed lots of information from me, that part of the call alone took about forty-five minutes. I’m not sure why they didn’t already have all of my info considering I did this a year and a half ago, but they needed it again. I qualified for the same exact plan I had that had expired ten days before.

So, I explained to her that I had a prescription waiting for me at the pharmacy and I wanted to make sure I was all set to go get it. She said probably. She explained that the enrollment should be effective immediately, but it normally takes 7-10 days to get the insurance card with the ID numbers and everything else. I asked if she could give me the number, I could write it down, and take it to the pharmacy. Unfortunately, that is all handled by the insurance company, not the exchange. So, she couldn’t help. But she did give me the phone number to call at the insurance company.

Back at the insurance company, the menu went faster because I remembered the number I’d pressed last time. The hold time was about the same. When I got someone, I explained everything and asked if I could get my number so I could get my prescription. She said that it was no problem, and she gave me the number. She did warn me that it was still processing in her system, but if the pharmacy gave me a hard time that I could call back.

I went back to the pharmacy, went to the desk, explained what had happened, and gave them my new number. They told me that the number didn’t match my info. I told them about what the insurance company said about it still processing, but they didn’t think that was the issue. So, I called the insurance company back. I had the wrong number. I had probably copied it down wrong. She gave me the correct number. (Which, it turns out, is the same ID number as I had before my insurance expired.) I gave that to the pharmacy. Then, they said they had to change the label on the prescription, and it would be about ten minutes. Ten minutes later, I got my medication and left.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this story. What should have been a five-minute errand took a few hours, but that isn’t unusual enough to be exciting. It turns out, that’s exactly why I’m telling this story. I realized, one of the times I was on hold, that this is the American Healthcare system working exactly as it was designed to work. The metaphor “well-oiled machine” could have been invented to describe my three-hour journey to pick up a prescription. That struck me as significant.

When it comes to insurance, I’m operating from a place of privilege. I worked in the industry for over a decade. I understand it in theory and in practice. I speak the language. But that didn’t help because it is supposed to be wildly, extravagantly inefficient. In the business world (and, at the moment, everything from childcare and supply chains to higher education counts as the business world), every point of friction is a way to make money for someone. I dealt with at least four people in those three hours that wouldn’t have jobs in an efficient system. (I want to stress that every person I dealt with was kind, courteous, and competent.) It’s pretty crazy when you stop to think about it. So, I’m writing this in the hopes of getting some other people to stop and think about it. Then, we can all start talking about it. That’d be something.

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Migraines

I’ve been lucky, healthwise. Like anyone else, I get sick from time to time. I’ve dealt with depression, as I’ve written about before. But I’ve basically been healthy my whole life. (I am knocking on wood as I write this.) Sometimes I’ve felt really, really bad. Depression will do that. As will the flu and various other ailments that have come up. But nothing has made me feel as bad, or even close to as bad, as migraines.

I was well into my forties the first time I had a migraine. I had no idea what was happening to me, especially because there was no headache involved. I was at work when out of the blue I started throwing up. It was sudden enough that I barely made it to the trash can under my desk. A couple co-workers helped me to the “privacy room” where I lay in the dark with cold compresses on my head and neck until my wife, at the time, picked me up. I threw up a few more times on the way home, crawled into bed, and slept for about a full day.

I should have gone to the doctor, but I’m terrified of all things medical, and, when I woke up, I felt fine except for the empty stomach. I chalked it up to food poisoning or something. Until about a month later. It happened again. This time, I was with my daughter at a friend’s house. And the nausea was accompanied by insane light sensitivity. Still no headache. I was still terrified of doctors, but twice in a month is too much to ignore, so, after a nice long sleep, I went to the doctor. They did all kinds of tests, everything from EKG to urinalysis. Pretty much everything came back normal. The diagnosis was an “irregular migraine.” Irregular because of the lack of a headache.

I’ve had a handful of migraines since. They are uniformly brutal. We’re unsure what causes them, but we think they’re stress related. All I know is that anyone who has to deal with migraines regularly is a lot stronger than I am. I don’t really know why I’m sharing this now. Just, if you’ve experienced migraines, you have my deepest sympathy. And if you haven’t, please try to be understanding towards anyone who has.

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Trying to Understand Spacetime

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

My favorite book as a kid was A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I found the book in the library of my elementary school, and the back cover’s mention of black holes, my favorite space object, immediately drew me to it.

I must have read that book a hundred times between the 4th and 8th grades. I went from understanding almost nothing in the book to understanding about half of it across those four years. Words like spacetime, relativity and Chandrasekhar’s limit slowly began to reveal their meaning to me. But there was so much more I still didn’t understand, and I felt like each time I read the book, the universe was being revealed to me a little more, bit by bit.

That was 25 years ago; in theoretical physics, that might as well be the same amount of time that the universe has existed. Theories about the universe have taken on all sorts of strange and maddening forms. There’s the idea of quantum foam; the suggestion that we’re all living in a simulation; and even more wild concepts are put forth seemingly every day. The idea of a multiverse, once the cutting edge of theoretical thinking, is downright tame compared to where science is heading today.

And here I am, still struggling to keep up with these ideas. I don’t have to go to the library anymore, because thanks to the real life breakthroughs that ideas like these have fostered, I can read the Wikipedia page about spacetime from anywhere with a cellular or internet signal. I wrote about what a profound experience seeing the first black hole we could image was for me. I love this stuff. Understanding is not a prerequisite for love. It certainly makes the experience more awesome when I get what I’m reading about, but I struggle through the same Wikipedia articles over and over again the same way I struggled through Hawking’s book.

The universe is such an awe-inspiring place that the opportunity to understand even a fraction of it is worth the effort I put into these articles and books. I want to go into space someday, whether it’s a tourist flight into low orbit or having my ashes shot into the great beyond when I die. Looking at the stars is like looking back millions of years to a different point in time, and even that relatively simple concept blows my mind. Much of this stuff is beyond my understanding, but the process of learning and growing with each re-read is almost as satisfying as having the answers to the universe’s great questions.

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Satisfying Snow

Photo by Eilis Garvey on Unsplash

We had a very satisfying snow today. It feels like it’s been years since we’ve had one. Given that so many people wrongly believe that they don’t like snow, I thought it may be worthwhile explaining what makes a snow satisfying.

For starters, there has to be enough snow for it to be a satisfying snow. There’s no set amount, but it has to be enough to disrupt normal life, but not so much that it causes serious damage. I didn’t measure it today, but I’d guess we had somewhere around nine inches. It was enough so that schools, government buildings, and many businesses were closed or had altered hours. A big part of what makes a snow satisfying is that it slows everything down. We get an unexpected break.

The blanketing effect of snow has a lot to do with it. After a good snow, the world is quieter. Some of that is due to the changes in behavior snow causes. There’s less traffic and generally fewer people out and about. But the snow itself has a muffling effect. It makes it feel like nature has taken its own break for a little bit.

The look of snow is another factor. It’s beautiful seeing everything covered in pure white. Today’s snow did a nice job of sticking to trees without taking down their branches. That’s a nice bonus. It’s worth waking up early on a snow day just to see it before the plows and snowblowers get to work. Although, it also looks nice seeing the contrast between the snow and the cleared pavement.

Of course, for a snow to be truly satisfying, it has to be good for snow activities. If the snow is too powdery, it won’t stick. If it’s too wet, it’s too heavy. Good snow should clump so we can make snowballs and snowmen. At the same time, it shouldn’t weigh down the kids or soak them through in less than five minutes.

I’m pleased with today’s snow. It checked all the boxes. Very satisfying.

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Confronting Insecurities

Photo by Marah Bashir on Unsplash

Sixteen years and half a dozen relationships doesn’t change as much as you’d think it would. You’d think that a demonstrated ability to attract women would make one feel better.

But I still feel that burning, tearing sensation whenever insecurities boil up inside of me. Like fire is going to come pouring out of my mouth. It feels like my chest is being torn open, and beneath the raging heat of “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME ENOUGH” is a sheet of ice, a layer of emotional wanting that’s never been touched by the warmth of another human being.

I hate Faruk*. I hate Jason. I hate Norris and Tom and Daryll and Dennis and everyone else who came before me. This is MY woman now, fuck you. I don’t want to imagine you making her smile. Making her cum.

I don’t know you. How can I hate you? What sense does that make? Why does my heart feel trampled on whenever Alicia mentions that she stayed in the city with Norris; when Zoey talks about how Faruk made her cry; when Shemiah describes the last time she did anal?

It has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with me. Why are you telling this to me?

It’s not one of them, one woman who has done me wrong and scarred me. It’s not all of them, the collective failures of so many relationships that have evaporated into barely-held-onto memories.

It’s me. I’m the common denominator. I’m the one that feels the jagged tug of jealousy when she goes out with her girlfriends. I’m the one that seethes when she talks to the guy she used to date but is friend’s with now. Every time. Every. Single. Time.

In my head, I’m an open, progressive, modern man. There’s no ownership in love. People need to be free to do what makes them happy. A relationship is not a prison, an excuse to lock someone into archaic standards of behavior that benefit men and constrain women. She will choose where she wants to be, and if she doesn’t choose me, there are plenty who will.

In my heart- What are you talking to him for, what can he do that I can’t? Did he make you laugh more? Did he fuck you better? Do you miss him? Am I just someone for you to talk to right now? Do you love me? Am I too boring? Is my son in the way? Am I too broke? Do I have too many toys? Do I play too many videogames? Do you love me? Am I not attractive to you? Do I not please you? Is it because I don’t drive? Do you want me to have my own place? Am I too much of a nerd? Am I not ambitious enough? Does my dick not get hard enough? Am I too short? Do I chew too loud? Is my past too sordid? Do you think I’m gay? Am I too effeminate?

Do you love me?

Do you?

Please love me.

Show me you love me by only talking to me. By only entertaining me. Those other dudes don’t exist. They never existed. Fuck those other niggas. I don’t want to hear their names or know their stories. I want you to give your all to me, all the time. That’s what would thaw the ice, someone to touch it with all of their warmth and heat and love.

I don’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to be jealous, envious and lonely. I don’t want anger that masks the fear of being unlovable. I don’t want to get upset when he texts you at 2:00 AM, even though you’re laying next to me. I don’t want to need 130% of you to fill the chasm in me that I can’t fill myself. I want to love you as the free and open person I met, not the version clipped by my neuroticism, my endless thirst for attention as validation as love.

I just wish I knew how to.

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