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Friday, November 13, 2015

Distant demi-world.

What the hell, Mitch. That's just a little speck. No way that's big enough for us to play on. No way in frozen hell.
Ned Trek, the podcast

When astronomers stumble upon some new deep space option, like that dwarf planet recently detected some three times more distant than Pluto is to the Sun, they think, "eureka!" To us, it's just another potential gig. We're that proverbial hammer, always looking for a nail. Appropriate metaphor for a band that lives in an abandoned hammer mill.

I know, I know ... all the planetoid-huggers out there are going to accuse Big Green of being money-hungry, selfish twits. Not true. We are crazy motherfucker selfish twits, in point of fact, and when we see another ice world out there, we can hardly wait to pile into some poorly designed space craft and slip the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of our cold hard money god. So, yeah ... on second thought, I guess we are money hungry selfish twits as well. It's the crazy motherfucker part that kept me from seeing it. (I see now ... )

Nice place.How can we be sure there are music fans on XZ9-Marvin 14? (Note: Before I get flooded with angry messages from disgruntled astrophysicists who have never had an opportunity to name a planet, consider this a planetoid pseudonym just for the purposes of this conversation.) It's what Mitch Macaphee, our mad science adviser, calls the fourth principle of astrophysical convenience: Any planet or planetoid large enough to land on has to be home to some kind of sentient life form, preferably one that speaks English. (The third principle is about breathable air.)

Now, why on earth (or in space) would we name a planetoid after Marvin (my personal robot assistant). Well, let's just say that Marvin has been name-checked as our advance man on this endeavor. That is to say, Mitch has plans to send him up in whatever spaceship is handy and point the nosecone towards that icy little spec in deep space. Then it's drive forward until you hit pay dirt. Or pay ice. Same thing. Marvin has done this sort of work for us before, and there's not a thing for him to worry about ... except that it's EXTREMELY DANGEROUS and that none of us is willing to go in his stead.

Hey, what are personal robot assistants for? We're setting him up with a fax machine so that we can get first hand accounts, retro style. Should be interesting.

Chance, not skill.

This week saw stories about campus uprisings (some successful) relating indirectly to the Black Lives Matter movement and yet another Republican debate about practically nothing. These seemingly distinct phenomena are not entirely unconnected, particularly when you consider the economic focus of the G.O.P. debate and the very racially exclusive history of the expansion of the middle class during the second half of the 20th Century.

Living in my hermetically sealed white man's world, I am witness to a lot of head scratching about why students at, say, University of Missouri are so upset. Of course, all my white companions know of this is what they hear on the evening news or via online sources, which only brings them the events of the past few days. The long history of abuse, exclusion, marginalization, incarceration, injury, and in some cases killing is not encapsulated in these very brief reports. So naturally, it seems nonsensical.

60s suburbia: green grass, red lines.My life isn't exactly typical, but my family experience offers some insight into the depth of white privilege. My dad came back from World War II, got his high school equivalency diploma, and went to work. He was white, so it wasn't that challenging to find a job in those days. He had V.A. and F.H.A. loans, barred to black families, with which to purchase his first, second, third house and so on. By the late sixties / early seventies, we were living in a new house in the richest town in our county, with one son on the way to Oberlin College, all on one salary. Dad's financial profile more or less tracked the trajectory of the American white working class, declining somewhat through the seventies, eighties, and nineties, but he left enough to fund an IRA and, with Social Security, set my mom up for the rest of her life. Black families, by and large, didn't have any of that - not the jobs, not the equity, not the access to credit, an not the freedom to live wherever they wanted.

What's more, because my parents benefited from that brief period of somewhat broadly shared white prosperity in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, they were there to catch me and my siblings when we faltered. I had the luxury of being able to fail once, twice, many times, always having that safety net below me. Again, black people my age didn't have that, because their parents hadn't shared in the prosperity. So when people like Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, etc., tell this tale about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, they're talking out of their asses.

The truth is, the American economy is a game of chance, not of skill. Not everyone can grow up to be an entrepreneur or a famous neurosurgeon, and they shouldn't have to in order to have a decent life. And though we live under these lofty-sounding delusions about self-reliance and persistence, people no longer have the luxury of failure. Black people never had it, and now white people are reaching that threshold as well.

We need to fundamentally change the way we do things if we're ever going to achieve racial or economic justice. This is probably a good time to start.

God awful. So sorry to hear about the bloody attacks in Beirut and Paris. My condolences to the families of the fallen.

luv u,

jp