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Well, that was expected

Yesterday was a month long. As this guy said, maybe it’s just December 37, 2020. Of course everything would just get worse in 2021.

I’d call this a comedy of errors if it wasn’t so bone-achingly depressing. I’m recording some questions and thoughts here because I don’t want to forget what actually happened. There’s so much gaslighting already.

Here’s a timeline of what I feel are the more salient events from yesterday. This is pulled together mainly from news sources and tweets from journalists, times are linked to sources.

Read more (or don’t, it’s exhausting)

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What it was like being a poll worker

Circular enamel pin for the November 3, 2020 General Election in San Francisco

Being a poll worker was great. I think a lot of that had to do with the people I was working with all day (very nice), the precinct I was in (comfortable), and how busy it was (super quiet). It was a good way to be introduced to it, all in all. And I got a shiny new pin. 🙂

We really didn’t have that many people come in to vote, likely due to the big push for Vote By Mail. The vast majority of people were coming by to drop off their ballot. The longest the line ever got was about 5 people deep in the morning, then by about 11am or so there was almost no line at all. It was pretty chilly, unusually windy out and we had to have the windows and doors open all day for ventilation, but that wasn’t too bad.

There were only two frustrating points.

Read more

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More books for the never ending list

More books for the never ending list.

  • What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub, 2020 (read introduction)
  • The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, 2006 (read excerpt)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, 2020 (read excerpt)

And a few excerpts / quotes from current reading that I’m finding extremely useful and relevant.

The cover of the book “The Modern Temper” by Joseph Wood Krutch, designed by Paul Rand with four zig-zag shapes in beige, white, black, and blue

If the gloomy vision of a dehumanized world which has just been evoked is not to become a reality, some complete readjustment must be made, and at least two generations have found themselves unequal to the task. The generation of Thomas Henry Huxley, so busy with destruction as never adequately to realize how much it was destroying, fought with such zeal against frightened conservatives that it never took time to do more than assert with some vehemence that all would be well, and the generation that followed either danced amid the ruins or sought by various compromises to save the remains of a few tottering structures. But neither patches nor evasions will serve. It is not a changed world but a new one in which man must henceforth live if he lives at all, for all his premises have been destroyed and he must proceed to new conclusions. The values which he thought established have been swept away along with the rules by which he thought they might be attained.

To this fact many are not yet awake, but our novels, our poems, and our pictures are enough to reveal that a generation aware of its predicament is at hand. It has awakened to the fact that both the ends which its fathers proposed to themselves and the emotions from which they drew their strength seem irrelevant and remote. With a smile, sad or mocking, according to individual temperament, it regards those works of the past in which were summed up the values of life. The romantic ideal of a world well lost for love and the classic ideal of austere dignity seem equally ridiculous, equally meaningless when referred, not to the temper of the past, but to the temper of the present. The passions which swept through the once major poets no longer awaken any profound response, and only in the bleak, tortuous complexities of a T. S. Eliot does it find its moods given adequate expression. Here disgust speaks with a robust voice and denunciation is confident, but ecstasy, flickering and uncertain, leaps fitfully up only to sink back among the cinders. And if the poet, with his gift of keen perceptions and his power of organization, can achieve only the most momentary and unstable adjustments, what hope an there be for those whose spirit is a less powerful instrument?

And yet it is with such as he, baffled, but content with nothing which plays only upon the surface, that the hope for a still humanized future must rest. No one can tell how many of the old values must go or how new the new will be. Thus, while under the influence of the old mythology the sexual instinct was transformed into romantic love and tribal solidarity into the religion of patriotism, there is nothing in the modern consciousness capable of effecting these transmutations. Neither the one nor the other is capable of being, as it once was, the raison d’être of a life or the motif of a poem which is not, strictly speaking, derivative and anachronistic. Each is fading, each becoming as much a shadow as devotion to the cult of purification through self-torture. Either the instincts upon which they are founded will achieve new transformations or they will remain merely instincts, regarded as having no particular emotional significance in a spiritual world which, if it exists at all, will be as different from the spiritual world of, let us say, Robert Browning as that world is different from the world of Cato the Censor.

As for this present unhappy time, haunted by ghosts from a dead world and not yet at home in its own, its predicament is not, to return to the comparison with which we began, unlike the predicament of the adolescent who has not yet learned to orient himself without reference to the mythology amid which his childhood was passed. He still seeks in the world of his experience for the values which he had found there, and he is aware only of a vast disharmony. But boys—most of them, at least—grow up, and the world of adult consciousness has always held a relation to myth intimate enough to make readjustment possible. The finest spirits have bridged the gulf, have carried over with them something of a child’s faith, and only the coarsest have grown into something which was no more than finished animality. Today the gulf is broader, the adjustment more difficult, than ever it was before, and even the possibility of an actual human maturity is problematic. There impends for the human spirit either extinction or a readjustment more stupendous than any made before.

The final pages of the first chapter, “The Genesis of a Mood”, from The Modern Temper by Joseph Wood Krutch, first published in 1929

I picked up a copy of this and a few other great secondhand books from the Alley Cat Bookshop in the Mission.

I understand that The Modern Temper has a pretty pessimistic outlook overall which might make it tough to finish, particularly in the current circumstances… But I’d like to finish it. Even though it was published almost a century ago, the feelings and psychological maladies that Krutch describes are more relevant than ever. The painful, unending cynicism. That unchecked growth and progress have incalculable ramifications on human consciousness, that we must be more wary of the consequences.

I’d like to follow it up with his book The Measure of Man from 1954 where he supposedly considers the modern world more optimistically, and possibly with the nature books he wrote later in life while living in Arizona.

What follows is a Duchampian door, at once open and closed, logical and whimsical, focused and drifty, academic and anecdotal. Part explanation, part justification, part reification, and part provocation, it’s a memoir of sorts, an attempt to answer a question I often ask myself regarding UbuWeb: “What have I done here?” Is it a serendipitous collection of artists and works I personally happen to be interested in, or its it a resource for the avant-garde, making available obscure works to anyone in the world with access to the web? Is it an outlaw activity, or has it over time evolved into a textbook example of how fair use can ideally work? Will the weightlessness and freedom of never touching money or asking permission continue indefinitely, or at some point will the proverbial other shoe drop, when finances become a concern? The answer to these questions is both “yes” and “no”. It’s the sense of not knowing—the imbalance—that keeps this project alive for me. Once a project veers too strongly toward either one thing or the other, a deadness and predictability sets in, and it ceases to be dynamic.

From the introduction to Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb by Kenneth Goldsmith, published this year

But there is so much more that I’ve underlined and noted in this book. Very worth reading, particularly for anyone dealing with creative copyright and / or the web these days. Get it from Columbia University Press.

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Some thoughts after finishing CA poll worker training

Just finished my poll worker training for the November 3 election. I’ve been impressed with how SF has rolled their remote training out. The one disappointment was that I couldn’t pause it and then resume it another day. I had assumed I could (shouldn’t have assumed!) and ended up having to redo an hour of it.

We’re to arrive at 5:45am on election day and will likely be there until 9:30pm or later. Polls open at 7am sharp and stay open until 8pm, with anyone in line at 8pm being permitted to vote. The whole process is a bit more complex than I anticipated, but I guess it makes sense given the scale of the operation.

Most of it is about common sense, common courtesy, and following instructions, but some points surprised me a bit. When someone comes in to the polling place to vote, we’re to offer them PPE and share the health and safety protocols they need to follow, perfectly sensible. But if they refuse to wear a mask or stand six feet from other people, we’re not allowed to turn them away. The right to vote supersedes health and safety guidelines. Ultimately this makes sense, it is the way it has to be. I cannot imagine the chaos that would ensue if an anti-masker were turned away at the polls… But it felt counter-intuitive at first, and it makes me hope that elderly folks that might normally volunteer are reconsidering for this particular election.

Electioneering is another interesting topic. It was only mentioned once in the introduction when talking about protecting voters’ rights, but it’s likely to be a problem in this election I think. In the San Francisco-based training that I did, electioneering was described as visible or audible advocacy for anything on the ballot, gathering signatures for a political petition, displaying campaign literature, and wearing campaign buttons or t-shirts within a 100 foot radius of the voting place. Electioneering rules on election day are different in each state, but most are somewhat similar to this. I think a lot of people might not realize it’s not ok to wear their Biden/Harris or Trump/Pence t-shirt to go vote!

The point that probably surprised me the most relates to poll watchers. The legalities vary a lot state-to-state but in California, there aren’t any statues about it to my knowledge. The training stated that in California, poll watchers must be welcomed so long as they’re not intimidating voters, don’t interfere with or slow down the voting process, don’t interfere with voters’ rights, and aren’t compromising the safety of the voters or workers (as in, they’re not causing the polling place to exceed pandemic-related capacity restrictions).

The qualifications in other states can be very particular. You can see a decent rundown on this ncsl.org page but check with your local election official to be sure. Based on what I’ve read, the most common qualifications and requirements often include restrictions on the number of watchers allowed per polling place, being a registered voter in the precinct, wearing an identifying badge, being officially appointed by your party (with sometimes byzantine sub-requirements), and being registered in advance as a watcher with your county. The most restrictive states are probably Minnesota (watchers not allowed, only challengers, and they can only be appointed after gathering 25 signatures regarding a specific issue) and West Virginia (doesn’t permit them at all). Ohio was the only state I found that doesn’t allow poll watchers to carry firearms or deadly weapons.

The problem is that these restrictions will likely be overlooked by much of the “army” (our president’s militant wording, not mine) being urged to “watch very carefully” by President Trump during the first debate and on Twitter throughout this election cycle.

People are fearful that they can’t trust anything they read in the mainstream media, and the flames of those fears are being fanned by deliberate acts of disinformation by the Trump/Pence campaign such as spending thousands on Facebook ads promoting unfounded rumors about Biden. Based on that fear, it’s understandable that they would want to witness the veracity of an election for themselves, particularly since one of the only leaders they trust is urging them to do so.

So we have a situation where likely tens of thousands of people are ready and willing to be poll watchers. All well and good I guess, as long as they all stick to the rules. The Trump/Pence campaign is making some small effort to keep their official poll watchers on the right side of the law using training videos.

But what about the unofficial poll watchers? The people that don’t know better and take it upon themselves to make sure everything is going according to Trump’s plan? They put themselves at risk of heavy fines and even jailtime, let alone putting others at risk and debasing our electoral process depending upon their actions and intentions. Considering the aggressive vigilantism we’re currently seeing among the far right — the Michigan governor kidnapping plot and the FBI’s recently published Homeland Threat Assessment are cases in point — I would be sad but absolutely not surprised to see some explosive behavior among unofficial poll watchers in Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and elsewhere.

I think it’s unlikely that I’ll see many problems at my precinct in San Francisco. And even if something arises, the SF poll worker training made it clear that it’s not our responsibility to de-escalate, that we’re to call the Election Center who will provide guidance and get the right people involved if necessary. I’m more worried about the swing states. You’d hope that cooler heads would prevail, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of that these past four years.

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Applied to be poll worker

Just applied to be a poll worker in the upcoming US election. It involves setting up your assigned polling place, opening for voters by 7am on voting day, checking in voters using precinct rosters and issuing ballots, closing the polls, and transferring custody of voting materials. The day usually lasts from 6am to 10pm and involves training in advance.

I figured they may have fewer poll workers than normal with the pandemic. My schedule is plenty flexible and I’m not considered at high risk for COVID, so I ought to help out. If you’re interested in assisting in your city, search “become a poll worker in <your city>” online to find the relevant information.


Update 19 August 2020: It took took a bit longer than I’d expected for me to be contacted after submitting my application. I received a followup email today, a little over two weeks after submission. Just mentioning here in case anyone has done the same and is a little confused about when they’re supposed to hear back.

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“I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously”

America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Many passages in Between the World and Me are worth quoting, but this one really hit home. Coates also brands this “patriotism à la carte” in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations” (see below).

This blind national pride has been particularly painful to many people recently with the wildly inadequate pandemic response, the killing of George Floyd, unmarked federal officers’ violence in Portland, and so many more recent events.

I’d forgotten about how very pervasive it is until I got back to the US in early June. It’s insidious, sad and borderline delusional. And it’s not just a right / conservative thing.

It’s all well and good to be proud of your accomplishments, but if you can’t identify and work to rectify your failings then what the hell is the point?


I’ve been speaking with some friends about this book, they mentioned a few resources I’d like to follow up on.

And I’m still working through my previous list.


I just finished “The Case for Reparations” and learned so much.

Coates weaves together individual and collective experiences, history, and data to connect the dots between the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, redlining by the Federal Housing Association following the New Deal, the efforts of the Contract Buyers League, Belinda Royall’s early and successful petition for reparations in 1783, John Conyers’s HR 40 bill, the early history of slavery in the US, the failure of Reconstruction, the levelling of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and its subsequent suppression in law and the media, the myth of fatherhood as the antidote to Black poverty, the fuzziness of affirmative action, the “gulag of the Mississippi” Parchman Farm, the impact of Germany’s post-WWII reparations on Israel and the evolution of contemporary Germany, the prevalence of subprime lenders preying on Black home buyers in the run up to the 2008 crisis, and so much more.

He argues for the cooperation of every aspect of society in a real discussion and debate about reparations to “reject the intoxication of hubris” and bring about “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history”.

HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans “to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies”, has progressed since Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations” in 2014. Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is now first sponsor of HR 40 having taken over from John Conyers in 2018. There has been some progress with the bill, but a vote has not been set.

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“it is possible to imagine [a critical sensibility] in which social paranoia is not foundational”

The sore winner is a product of the hyper-surveilled and personalized world in which we all now live, one in which people feel both nebulously responsible for everything wrong while also feeling responsible for nothing at all.

From the Outline article “A decade of sore winners” by B.D. McClay. A lot of stuff in this article is spot-on. It also relates directly to the response I received from my Republican representative regarding the impeachment of President Trump.

One of my rep’s many dubious points was that Ukranian leaders publicly attacked candidate Trump in the press, and that this was evidence of Ukranian meddling in 2016 elections. Specifically, he linked to an article in The Hill by Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States from 2015 to 2019. I read the article by Amb. Chaly, and all I can see is an opinion piece that fairly criticises statements made by a candidate for one of the most powerful positions in the world.

How do you make the mental leap necessary to conflate principled criticism with personal attack? Furthermore, how could anything in that article be considered meddling in an election? The vast majority of Chaly’s article is a recent history of events in Ukraine.

This is sore winner territory. Here’s how McClay illustrates it in their article:

Worse still than the idea that things are for you is the extension into identification: that these things literally are you. If someone writes books for teen girls, to criticize her books is to criticize teen girls. Expressing something other than support for Taylor Swift guarantees you a place in that special hell for women who don’t support other women. If you like superhero movies and video games, and somebody outlines the reasons they think superhero movies and video games are a waste of time, that’s an attack on you, personally, not a disagreement over aesthetics.

How do we get past this? More critical thinking taught in schools and beyond? More restrictions on social media? Surely it has to be a personal exercise but it seems like such a fundamental and widespread problem, almost a public mental health emergency (one of many).

It is impossible to imagine a critical sensibility that does not exist socially. But it is possible to imagine one in which social paranoia is not foundational, and in which social reception — of work, of ourselves — does not have to determine our reaction to each other.

It’s possible to imagine it, but it’s pretty difficult to picture without some sort of major overhaul in day-to-day life.