It was dark in the boy’s room and, as sometimes happens with children of his age, he was afraid. In the daytime his second floor bedroom looked out across a swingset and a little pond where ducks sometimes landed and a few acres of sugarcane and beans before the briary swamp consumed the short hills and swales just past the pump house by the fence.

In the daytime he crawled through the brambles and played Nazis-and-good-guys. He made rifles from broken off branches and stormed Normandy Beach and sometimes when he was bored of war went fishing for bluegills in the little pond. His mother called for him, eventually, to come in, to wash up, to eat supper, and when the sun went down they sat together on the couch to watch movies.

His father sat in an easy chair in the corner and picked through a small cup of pistachios and almonds and licked beer from his mustache and the boy sprawled across the couch in a cocoon of old fleece blankets, his head on his mother’s lap. Wide eyed, together, they caught up on the classics. The Hitchcocks, the Lugosis, the grainy black-and-whites from when the moon was just beyond our fingertips and spacemen were maybe just real enough to scare. They watched a story from a faraway place each night and went upstairs to bed.

And in the darkness the boy’s window didn’t overlook anything at all. Across the marshes there were no streetlights. On moonless nights the blanket of mist that crept across the pond could not be seen. Through his window at night it was wholly dark except for the distant stars and planets and spacemen and monsters. Like is normal for a boy he was afraid.

His father heard him cry sometimes and sat with him in bed. What’s wrong, his father asked, and the boy told him that he was afraid of spacemen coming for him. Of taking him away from the little wooden house and the thickety woods and the pond, from his mother and his father.

The boy asked if his father was afraid, and he said that he was not. He said that as far as he has heard the spacemen never steal a person. They always ask, invite a person to go with them to space. He said that if the spacemen come it won’t be scary. The boy listened and thought for a while.

He asked his father if the spacemen came for him, would he go. The older man thought and said finally that he would. To fly through the stars and the planets? To experience the universe? To see things no human ever has or will again? Fuck yeah, he would go, he said after thinking for a moment with his words. How could he not?

At a fire by the pond the boy told us the story and we laughed. He sipped his beer and drew from a cigarette, and his face settled into the creases of an easy smile. You know of course the spacemen never came. The boy’s father came back from the shed with more wood for the fire and we saw him there and laughed again, and the boy’s smile loosened and it could have been the smoke but his eyes were a little bit wet.




News We’re Not Reading

By now the whole “memo” thing has probably got you whipped into a froth of distrust, confusion, and, if we’re honest, exasperated apathy. That’s ok, I’m in the same boat. The partisan rhetoric around the Nunes Memo is so slanted, so furious, that it’s pretty hard to know how much of what’s being said is true, if any of it. It can be even harder to reconcile how you probably feel about the memo with how you probably feel about Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, etc. while trying to maintain an iota of ideological consistency.

And heck call me a conspiracy theorist, but I can’t help but think that this melange of confusion and outrage is exactly where They want us to be: at each others’ throats for reasons we can’t quite articulate while they laugh their way to the bank to put our civil rights in a safe. It almost feels like nothing is really real anymore, and from this fish tank of absolute relativism it’s easy to forget that some things really are true.

At atmospheric pressure, freshwater will freeze at 0 degrees Celsius. An object, free falling in a vacuum, will accelerate toward the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. The relationship between a circle’s circumference and its radius is defied by pi.

Doesn’t that feel better? Great.

But it doesn’t take away from the fact that while the media circus surrounding the current administration is like a car wreck you can’t look away from, in real life things are still happening. With all of this hubbub about memos and the stock market and Tom Brady there are some big stories that we’re not seeing enough about.

Like, Cape Town is about to run out of water. This is one of those things that’s hard to wrap our heads around. It feels a bit like a street corner doomsday proclamation that in a few weeks a city the size of Los Angeles will shut down its municipal water supply. When more than a million residents there turn the faucet, nothing will come out. This is because the city is out of water. I don’t think that I can put this in more stark, terrifying terms. So on the bright side, here’s a picture of the fountains at the Bellagio:

We’ve still got water so what’s the big deal?

In Myanmar the army is murdering and raping a Muslim minority into obsolescence. The majority Buddhist government is killing tens of thousands of people, and disguising the mass graves with fire and acid so that no memorial of the Rohingya people exists. It’s almost like a community’s religion is independent from its propensity for violence, but hey that’s crazy talk. The travel ban must stand! Keep Muslim refugees out!

And speaking of genocide, today Poland’s president said that he would sign legislation that makes it illegal to question Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Even studying the government’s role in establishing Nazi death camps may be illegal now. This is another move by a right wing, white nationalist government to whitewash and forget the atrocities of the past century.

We are confronted with real, true problems and need to get above the noise.



Strava is for Terrorists

It’s not particularly often that I agree with the White House these days, but hell – when they’re right, they’re right. In this case, they’re right about Strava.

If you ride a bike for sport, or go for runs, or identify, generally, as interested in fitness, you’ve probably heard of Strava. It’s a fitness tracking app that allows users to compare workouts with friends, and offers a variety of data visualization tools. One of those tools is a heat map, released in November, which shows areas of highest use by Strava members.

Strava heat map. Tools for terrorists.

This is not inherently nefarious. But over the weekend an Australian student noticed that the new mapping feature clearly identified what appeared to be forward operating bases of US military personnel, active security patrols in Syria, and a number of facilities that appear to be classified. I guess the Army loves Strava.

This, of course, raised the concern that the Strava dataset can be used to identify not only the location of clandestine facilities, but also to track individual service members and track their whereabouts while deployed, as well as at home, after the tour. National security experts, and the White House, agree that “it’s really clear that that heat map is a security risk,” and that the software exposes individuals to attacks.

And while it’s getting attention now as a tool for international terrorism, those of us on the trails back home know that it’s been used for domestic, trail terrorism for years.

The premise of the software is that it times your progress on a ride, or a run, or a ski, or whatever. But in doing so, it turns every ride into a race. Under the guise of “training,” or “trying to beat Stinky up Woods Gulch,” Strava appeals to our basest competitive instincts. When the clock is running, everyone else had better get out of the way. There’s a KOM on the line.

This goes well beyond a decay of basic trail etiquette. Racing means laying it on the line sometimes, which is why races tend to have closed courses. Strava racing, on the other hand, has been involved with numerous deaths as athletes pursue winning times on busy roads.

This is not to say that we should never ride fast, or take chances, or try to beat our friends. All that stuff is great. But the place for racing bikes is in a bike race. So if you need to lean back on the national security threats of Strava to get off that thing, then great, let’s do that. The rest of us will just be out for a ride.




Illegal Immigration is a Fake Thing

You have, by now, almost certainly heard that the Federal Government of the United States of America has returned to the affairs of its daily business.


You will hopefully remember that this impasse was caused by useless political gambling not with poker chips, but with CHIP – a program that provides healthcare to children. God bless this country and the elected professionals who run it. Eat your heart out, Muhammad Ali, this right here is a picture of greatness.

It seems as though our peculiar brand of greatness (you cannot take a dog into a restaurant because someone might get sick [or something?], but for $500 you can buy a military-designed rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition with essentially zero government oversight) is at the center of our national conversation.

The balance of freedom and security ring out in contradictory value systems from coast to coast, and the underpinnings of every mainstream conversation are founded in the concept of American Greatness. American Exceptionalism. Best Goddamn Country On Earth, I tell you what.

This premise is no more clear than in our discussion of human migration. In our discussions of migration policy and so-called “illegal immigration,” we seem to be unable to frame the issue in a realistic way. We implant our world view into the ghastly specters of murdering banditos who creep through our minds to rape our children and steal our pensions.

Super, super dangerous.

For us as Americans, expatriation is a conscious decision, one that we might make after weighing the benefits of living abroad against leaving behind everything we love. We are incapable of seeing it in any other light, and it is a fundamentally distorted worldview.

Illegal immigration is not a means for the lazy or the unworthy to circumvent legal means of coming to the US. “Illegal immigration” is a thing we invented to disguise the fact that we are confronted by a large scale refugee crisis of our own design.

Consider that the overwhelming majority of these refugees come from Latin America, specifically Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This is not necessarily a surprise, given the geographic proximity to The Land of the Free. But the reality is that these same countries have suffered for decades at the hands of our military intervention and clandestine colonialism. These are nations which have been systematically and deliberately destabilized by US interests, with effects that continue today.

During 12 years of Salvadorian civil war in the 80s and 90s, more than 75,000 civilians were killed. The overwhelming majority of these people (85%) died at the hands of by an oppressive military government (and their death squads, child soldiers, etc.) that enjoyed the support of both Carter and Reagan administrations. El Salvador at the time was a largely agrarian economy (enjoy that cup of coffee!) where 77% of the agricultural land was owned by 0.1% of the population. The war displaced more than a million people.

In the 1950s, the CIA cut its teeth in Guatemala (the Agency’s first action was to overthrow a democratically elected government at the behest of United Fruit Company – you know it today as Chiquita) and has more or less been a consistent presence there ever since. We financed genocide. We assassinated politicians. We bombed Guatemala City. You know, for bananas.

In the 1980s and 90s the CIA worked closely with Honduran intelligence officers to kidnap, torture, and assassinate opposition voices in support of the government there. Ooh and in 1954 we bombed Honduras and blamed it on Guatemala. So there’s that.

The refugee fallout from counter-democracy operations across Central and South America are direct responsibilities of the US Government and the American People it represents. Our shared responsibility for the Mexican refugee crisis is more direct.

I bet you’ve heard of the drug war in Mexico. It’s why you’ll definitely get killed if you go there, remember? The State Department said so? Since 2006 hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced. This is, of course, a complicated problem and there are numerous contributing factors, not the least of which are domestic Mexican policies as well as external forces (like the CIA).

But at the heart of the Mexican drug war is the fact that Americans fucking love drugs. If we are not going to take meaningful steps to actually address drug use in America and the illegal drug trade it supports, then we need to take ownership of the refugee crisis that it manufactured.

This is to say nothing of the climate refugees who will increasingly be forced from ancestral homes by drought and flooding as we continue to resist action on human caused climate change. Bear in mind that this will occur within the US as well – perhaps the biggest argument for immediate action on climate change is that pretty soon all those weirdos in Florida are going to have to go someplace else.

There is a tendency in our minds to sequester humanity from the animal kingdom. We take for granted that geese and caribou will migrate in search of their basic needs, but somehow expect humankind to remain in unlivable conditions because of artificial borders imposed European colonizers. Escape from hunger, from drought, and from the only natural disaster unique to our species, war, is not only an obvious reaction to the phenomena but a fundamental human right.

The so-called “illegal immigration” problem is the predictable response to the activities of our government and our communities, whether that is the deliberate destabilization of a country’s elected government, our collective unwillingness to stop sniffing cocaine, or our demonstrated indifference to a warming climate. Welcoming and accommodating these refugees is not simply the right thing to do. It is our responsibility as the architects of their misery.




Notes From the Trip (so far)

Dollar for dollar, new wiper blades are the best investment you can make in having a better day. If poutine is on the menu, get the poutine. At least one, you know, for the table. Numbers bigger than about 10,000 are all pretty much the same.

It is possible to stop biting your finger nails by simply deciding to do so. Your flight attendant is more annoyed than you are. Maplewood smoked bacon is delicious, and maple syrup on bacon is underrated . Maple flavored bacon should be against the law. Fish don’t make great pets. You will not be remembered, eventually.

Someone needs to be in jail for this.

Fear of not having done something is not a great reason to do that thing, although it is a powerful one. There is no traditional gift-giving occasion for which bottle rockets are an inappropriate present. All pants should have a little spandex. And while we’re talking about pants you should just buy used clothes and have them tailored. If you don’t outlive at least a few dogs, you’re not doing so hot yourself.

But you still miss them.

The Coriolis effect gets more credit than it deserves. Prince > Michael (RIP). Flint, Michigan still does not have a municipal water supply. Laziness and anxiety are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and actually if we’re honest they probably almost always go hand in hand. Pig is the second best kind of fat. If it’s on the internet, and it’s free, you are not the customer. It’s ok to knock some things before you try them.

Most people are not good or bad or righteous or evil as much as they are really just incredibly bored, and the truest show of patriotism is to go abroad and be kind. Not making a decision is a decision. Happiness and contentment are easily conflated. It’s not really all that hard to build something valuable, but it’s wildly difficult to build something that remains valuable without your daily, fingers-to-the-bone, compulsive commitment to improving that valuable thing. Some people will not, cannot, tolerate even five minutes of silence.

The kids will be fine. Probably.

A handwritten letter means more today than it ever has. You could do worse; you can do better.