Primitive Tech

Primitive Technology is this dude in the jungle of Northern Queensland Australia that never speaks, but builds all kinds of things using only Stone Age technology. With 8.6 million YouTube subscribers, I suspect he’s living just off his YT ad money.

The Vorrh

It’s not digital, but I just read The Vorrh by Brian Catling, and it definitely flipped my lid. Part horror (but not really) part fantasy (but not really) and all strange, this is beautiful writing like you’ll never see anywhere else.

What The Road Forward Looks Like

Capitol Hill sunset, September 14, 2014. Source: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Congressional Republicans are not going to impeach Donald Trump.

Let’s be straight up about that. Polling continually shows the GOP base still believes everything from the Mueller investigation is either a lie or irrelevant. So among Republican senators and representatives, there’s almost no appetite for an impeachment trial.

Democrats may take control of both the House and the Senate this fall, but only under the craziest circumstances will Democrats take more than a narrow majority in the Senate. A successful impeachment requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Just like with Bill Clinton in 1998, a Trump impeachment would likely fall along party lines and fail in the Senate.

The Democrats will not have enough votes to impeach Donald Trump.

But oh! Mueller will report out a devastating list of crimes committed by Trump and GOP members will get a backbone!

Yes he will, and no they won’t. Because here’s what we should expect:

The Mueller investigation will grind on, maybe even send Don Trump, Jr. and others to jail.

Democrats will take the House by a significant margin this November, and maybe a slim majority in the Senate. Immediately upon taking legislative control, Democrats will be consumed by a left vs. center party battle, where the former wants to impeach and the the latter wants to pass meaningful policy. Congress lurches from stalemate to forward motion on both policy and impeachment.

Trump, under intense legal pressure, continues to be awful. Tears apart international relationships, hurls needless insults at Democrats, holes up in the White House, basically talking to nobody that isn’t a far right toady.

Republican legislators interested in political survival (which will be most) will be forced to choose one of two positions: Rally under Trump, hurling more insults at Democrats or try to become invisible, hoping to can position themselves as moderate in the 2020 elections.

And then the 2020 elections, which will become an even more massive referendum on Donald Trump. The Republican Party will eat itself alive, while a broad field of Democratic presidential primary candidates, maybe the most racially and gender diverse in history, will compete to be the most non-Trump offering.

Finally, in the general election, Donald Trump will be, incredibly, the nominee, because the GOP base will still stick with him to the end, becoming more raucous and bile-filled than ever before. Trump rallies become outright dangerous for press to attend, and all the white nationalist crazies will come out of every crack, maybe even mounting physical attacks.

Americans of every stripe will be pulled into participating in the 2020 election, recognizing it as a fight for survival. There will be right wing violence, left wing too. American elections will begin to look like something from 1980’s Italy where polling places are raided by barely-legal or extra-legal “election monitors”. Voter suppression will be at an all time high. Latinos and black people in rural areas will be targeted and maybe killed.

And then? I don’t know.

I hope a majority of America comes to its senses and votes out Trump. But maybe not.

But even if Trump is voted out, the transition will be ugly. Trump will cast doubt on the electoral process we’ve held sacred all these years, and America will be forever scarred.

It’s only going to get worse.

Just Keep Going At It

A precocious child who devoured three newspapers a day, when I was seventeen I decided that I should get involved with politics. Although I read the papers, I didn’t have strong opinions on who should be my local alderman in Chicago’s 43rd Ward. Edwin Eisendrath was up for reelection in 1991, and I didn’t know much about him. But his challenger’s campaign office was a couple blocks from my house, so I trudged through the January snow to the Mary Baim office, and declared that I wanted to volunteer.

Too young to vote or register new voters, and a nobody nobody sent, the campaign staff sent me off to knock doors in random snow clogged precincts, with a message to encourage votes for Baim. Hoping to gain access to what I imagined “the real politics” of the campaign’s smoke filled back room, I set out in freezing Chicago winter weather, knocking on doors and meeting hundreds of people who miraculously had patience for a kid that wanted to talk ward politics.

Yes, hundreds. From the start I knocked doors like a fiend, plowing through precincts with a zeal that impressed the grizzled campaign staff. Once, earning, “Wow, kid, you just keep going at it, don’t you?” was the most exciting thing I’d heard, ever.

Even though I did the typical volunteer thing – I faded out when life got in the way – that campaign was the beginning of a life-long obsession with politics. It really didn’t matter that I had no idea what Mary Baim’s policies were, nor did I know much about Edwin Eisendrath’s. I was hooked by knocking doors, turning out votes and excitement of a democratic process empowering a clueless teenager.

Even though it was freezing cold, I’ll never forget the people I met at those first doors I knocked. The woman charmed by a teenager asking for a vote, and then quizzing me for ten minutes at the door about the candidates. The guy with a hothouse jungle just inside that invited me in from the cold to warm up a bit. Did I turn their votes? I’m not sure. But I sure liked meeting them: my world got bigger and richer knowing they existed.

Of course, Mary Baim lost 58% to 42%. Eisendrath served one more term, and recently came back to Chicago politics by leading a group to purchase the Chicago Sun Times. David Axelrod was then-Alderman Eisendrath’s political consultant, and we know how things turned out for him. Funny how the world turns, isn’t it?

When I think back to that January 1991 Chicago election, things seemed so tame in comparison to the political heat of today. The Cold War was ending, Mayor Richard M. Daley was promising a peaceful and efficient city government, the drums of the first Gulf War were yet to rumble.

Bringing us to the present, it seems as if the stakes for this November’s national election get higher every day. Ignoring the Omarosa sideshow and the tension of whether or not Robert Muller will indict President Donald Trump for collusion, there’s plenty of policies to sicken your stomach: From ICE stopping and detaining a man while he drives his wife to a hospital deliver their baby, to the failing economic tariffs against China, Europe, Canada and Mexico, to a new plan to give America’s wealthiest a tax cut by presidential order.

Planning to vote is not enough. America needs you to put some skin in the game for your local election for Congress, Senate, governor, or state legislature. If you‘ve never knocked a door or made calls for a candidate before, like that teenager in 1991, I guarantee you’ll discover a kind of magic available to Americans every election cycle.

For each jerk at the door or on the phone, you’ll meet five sweethearts, genuinely interested people and charming oddballs that make up your community. You’ll marvel that you spent so much time in their proximity, but never met them before. You’ll discover a legion of like-minded citizens who want to make a positive change for a better America.

If you’ve volunteered before, you know about the magic, but also the confusion of campaigns and how silly and rudderless they can seem. But you also know the power you, as a volunteer have to change your world.

Get down to your local candidate’s campaign. America needs you to to just keep going at it.

I Was Raised By A Black Woman

One of my mothers was a black woman and I miss her more than words can convey.

I’ve tried countless times to write this essay, because I want to tell you about my relationship with Inez Fleming. I keep stopping, or have thrown away previous drafts because I’ve been so afraid to talk about this well-to-do, white man’s connection to a poor, black woman. If I’ve learned anything about race and class in America, it’s that it twists and corrupts our understanding of one another.

By telling you about my invisible, undeniable bond with Inez, now buried in Oak Lawn Cemetery, I’m opening up my pristine, loving memories of her to you. Please be careful with my memories. You may have your own ideas about what we were to one another, and maybe they are right. But I have my own memories and ideas, and I know those will always be true.

When my biological mother started her career, Inez was hired to take me during the days and nights. It was the 1970’s, and as progressive as my dad was, he was going to work too. I was just six weeks old when Inez entered my life.

She was my Inez. You may have a different, more common name for what she was, but I will never say it, because “second mother” seems like the only term that fits.

Two years later, my mother and father divorced, and Inez stepped in for more hours. I knew her better than my biological mother at times. It was not uncommon for me to call her “mom”, because that’s what she was.

My strongest memories of childhood are of Inez trundling me around in her green and white Impala. I moved with her in South Side Chicago’s world of black women caring for white children. Again, because it was the 1970’s, that often meant going to some of those caretaker’s houses, or to greasy chicken shacks for lunch. It seemed there were fewer rules those days, so I rode along into Inez’ world most days, listening to gossip about so-and-so, running errands for her friends. Nobody seemed to mind.

We were close. Everyone remarked on it. I’m not sure what I did to show it, but she hugged and held me tight. And when I was bad, she threatened to “get a switch”, but she never did.

Inez was from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, although Inez had left long before that had happened. I’d asked her about life in Mississippi, but she always deflected, saying, “I don’t like to talk about bad things, Michael. That’s why I came here.”

Sweet, full of smiles, and devoted to Christ and Roman Catholicism, she was wiser than her lack of education should have allowed. She understood people, and could detect a false motive a mile away. “I only deal with good people, Michael. There are too many bad people in this world, and I can’t make time for them.”

Round and with a weakness for food of all kinds–especially Neji pop–Inez struggled with weight her entire life and eventually with bad knees and diabetes. Going on, and staying on diets were a constant topic with her, up until the end. My mother, who became close friends with Inez, would talk recipes and bring her loads of fresh fruit, hoping her habits would change. But South Side church dinners and chicken shacks don’t usually serve diet-friendly food, and so the diets always came to an end.

For complicated family reasons, my mother and step-father let Inez go when I was seven. Her services were quickly picked up by another family I knew, which made me jealous beyond belief.

I insisted on visiting her regularly to make sure she was still “my Inez” and to check in with her. I was a child, so I didn’t know exactly how to check in, but I did my childish best.

The visits were at first a few times a year, eventually winding down to twice, then once. By the time I went to college, we mostly talked on the phone and exchanged cards and letters. I still have them, in her flowey, perfect Palmer Method script.

Around when when I was thirty, my mother got very sick with cancer, I orchestrated a visit between her and Inez. The logistics were difficult, since Inez was also enfeebled now, using a walker and visiting dialysis twice a week. My mother was less feeble, although using a walker of her own, so we visited Inez’ second-floor walk up. It was terrible, and lovely.

The three of us present knew it was the last visit. Not a goodbye, just yet, so we made the best of it with a dinner cooked in the apartment and jokes and stories. My mother and Inez reminisced and told each other how much they loved one another, a conversation Inez repeated back to me verbatim, up until the last week of her life.

After that, they called each other every other day, just to check in. To complain about hospitals and nurses, things they’d both experienced in detail.

“She’s like my sister, your mother is,” Inez would say. And they both pledged their undying devotion to each other. Inez had pulled my mother through early motherhood, and then her divorce from my dad, and supported her early career. My mother and dad had steadied Inez, took her to a bank to open her first bank account, loved her and gave her security when her brutal husband left her after years of beatings and alcoholism.

But my mother’s illness frightened Inez. “Who will take care of me, now?” she asked me. She had no other family.

Then when my mother died, my father flew in for the funeral, prepared to pick up Inez for the service.

“I can’t do it, baby,” she told me on the phone. “I just can’t do it. My knees hurt too much. But you know how much I loved your mother, don’t you.”

It was an excuse, of course. But my father and I understood and visited her together the next day. It was the first time he’d seen her in fifteen years. “So gaunt,” my dad said. The once rotund, jolly woman was now ashen, with skin hanging off her bones. Dad was visibly shaken.

Quickly now, Inez began to decline. Exhausted and depressed by dialysis, my visits to her house or trips to dialysis barely perked her up. Once, I convinced a priest friend of mine, to visit her house and say a private mass. When the priest and I arrived, Inez had tidied her house, put on her wig and a bucket of rouge, and had set out snacks. Delightful, it still makes me smile to think of her excitement.

Eventually, her knees got so bad that she couldn’t walk up her own stairs. Her social worker begged her to enter a nursing home. We knew what that decision meant.

“I don’t want to go there, honey. That’s where people die,” Inez said. I remember it clearly.

But, if you don’t go, you’ll fall and probably die sooner, I told her. And so she went.

It was good at first. I visited twice a week for a long while. People in the nursing home seemed to perk up when the white man in a suit kept visiting this one old, black lady. Inez knew it too, and chuckled over the treatment she got from the nurses as a result. “They asked me, is that your lawyer? And I said, No! That’s my God son!”

And so I was.

Things went on like this for a while. But, as it goes, a sudden jolt changes things. For Inez, there was an accident on the shuttle she rode in to dialysis. The driver had forgotten to strap her wheelchair down, and when he came to a sudden stop, she violently rolled forward, and fell out of her chair, breaking her hip.

Now, the social worker asked, “Who is her next of kin? Because she needs a legal guardian.”

Then Inez pointed at me. “He is. He is my son. He’ll sign the papers.”

Even now, thinking of that moment, I’m brought to tears.

Of course, her health got worse. There were more hospital visits, doctors, social workers. We talked less, because she was weakening quickly. When she could, we talked about old days, and how she was ready to see The Lord.

The visits shook me. I’d cry on the Metra Electric as I headed north.

And then the call came: She’s crashed and is having another heart attack. Do we resuscitate?

No.

I scraped together some life insurance receipts she had in the back a of a drawer, and visited the funeral home. Her insurance wasn’t nearly enough to pay for a funeral and burial, so my dad and I paid the rest. Some cousins came, a couple old friends. But Inez was old with few relations left. She was either 71 according to her expired driver’s license, or 88 according to her welfare records. Philadelphia, Mississippi didn’t have a birth certificate.

Inez Fleming taught me compassion and love. She taught me to be suspicious of overly generous people, and she taught me that it’s a good thing to care deeply and give of your self to others that you care about.

I miss her every day, and I wish that race and class didn’t mean anything. I wish I was allowed to use the lessons Inez gave me to connect with people the way she taught me.