a mild defense of facebook

Facebook, I’m told, isn’t cool anymore. I’m not sure it ever was — but now, at this point in time, I’ve been assured by folks who have a more confident hand at the ‘this is cool’ wheel, Facebook is decidedly not cool.

Cool or not, Facebook is an integral part of my morning routine. Since I haven’t held a straight job since 2000 and since I have little native self-discipline, I rely on routines to make sure I get stuff done. Without routines I’d spend my entire day with a cat on my lap, researching stuff I don’t really need to know (seriously, how does a turtle pull its head into its shell–do the vertebrae collapse somehow, does its neck just curve a lot, what the hell is going on in there?), or entranced by the way the morning sunlight refracts off the sugar crystals on the top of the blueberry muffins, or indulging in the shame of politics (indictments of Jerome Corsi, yes please), or pointlessly unpacking all the elements of the most recent Doctor Who episode (what other sci-fi show would do such an intimate exploration of the Partition of India?).

Initiating my morning routine.

So routines (which are also not cool) are important to me, and Facebook is part of my morning routine, which is as follows:

  1. Check the perimeter (though c’mon, I’m living in an incredibly safe and boring suburb now, and the only thing I’m likely to discover when checking the perimeter is the weather) with the aid of the cat.
  2. Feed the cat her stink food.
  3. Make coffee.
  4. Read the news — general Google news headlines first, dipping into stories that interest me; Washington Post for fundamental news reporting; Daily Kos for the lefty take on events.
  5. Tell myself to read my email, look at my email subject headings, then usually ignore my email (unless it’s clearly hate mail, which I’ll generally read for some reason; today’s hate mail: “Are all you cunts ready for cw2? We are!” Which I probably shouldn’t have read, because now I feel I have to get ready for the Second American Civil War, and who has time for that?).
  6. Scroll through Facebook.

I should note that I don’t do Family Facebook. I keep my personal life separate from my online life, so I don’t ‘friend’ loved ones or family members (and I might as well confess that I’m really not at all interested to hear that somebody’s grandchild scored a goal at a soccer match over the weekend). Instead Facebook for me is about friends and art and politics, which may sound like three separate categories but in reality are generally all smooshed together.

Friends, art, and politics smooshed together through Panel Pulp.

What that means in practical terms is this: Facebook inserts serendipity and random weirdness into my morning. I like that. I like that I’ve become friendly and familiar with folks and I have no recollection at all how I came into contact with them. These are people who’ve come bouncing into my line of sight from some odd social angle and caught my attention in some pleasing or interesting way (and now that I say that, it occurs to me that the process is a lot like seeing the morning sunlight refracting off the sugar crystals on the blueberry muffin). It just happens and I’m lucky enough to notice.

The serendipity and random weirdness isn’t just how I’ve made friends on Facebook, it’s also an intrinsic and essential part of reason I keep this as part of my routine. People post the most unexpected and wonderful stuff on Facebook. I’m not talking about videos of amusing cats or goats playing balloons, though I often enjoy that stuff too. I’m talking about stuff for audiences that I didn’t even know existed. Like Panel Pulp (which is actually a Twitter account, but is often reposted on Facebook).

Another example: international marble racing. If not for my friend Young Jo, I’d have never encountered Jelle’s Marble Runs or seen these exciting qualifying races for the 2018 Sand Marble Race (I prefer the organic nature of sand marble racing over the more sophisticated manufactured marble racing tracks…but that’s just me; also, I’m inclined to be suspicious of Marbly McMarbleface).

Another bit of weird and random I love about Facebook is that I encounter folks who are open and unapologetic about their weirdness. So open, in fact, that they’re not even aware of how weird their weirdness is, and I find that completely endearing. I mean, who creates marble race tracks, records the races, keeps track of the stats of the individual marbles, and narrates the videos? Even weirder is the fact that these videos have an audience. I love that.

The most consistent thing that draws me to Facebook (aside from the politics) is that it exposes me to some really diverse facets of the arts. Bizarre sci-fi art, stark 1950s Japanese noir photography, beautiful original pen and ink art, strange and/or practical yarn art, and lots of personal photography. For example, this morning I saw this photograph by Larry Rose:

Larry Rose — West room corner.

I have no memory of how I became friends with Larry Rose. I know little about him as a person. But I know and enjoy his work. This wonderfully subtle photo kept me from doing the work I was supposed to be doing for maybe ten minutes. At least two different light sources, each operating at a different wavelength, creating strange but predictable shadows and colors. An antenna at an almost perfect 45 degree angle that creates a bit of visual tension against all the other horizontal and vertical lines. And that beautiful Borg Cube of a lampshade that seems to be floating in the corner. Without Facebook, I’d probably never have seen this photo.

Facebook isn’t cool. But there is cool stuff to be found there. There’s a chance I’d have learned about Burning the Clocks without Facebook, but probably not. And right now there’s an excellent chance that you’re wondering if Burning the Clocks is a band, or a movie, or who the hell knows what. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll click on the link and find out.

Is that cool? I kinda think so.

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breaks your goddamn heart

— So did you hear about Thousand Oaks? The mass…
— Yeah.
— You hear about the kid who survived the mass murder at Vegas only to…
— Yeah, I heard. Tel Orfanos.
— Is that his name? You see the video of his mother talking to…
— Yeah. Saw it.
— Breaks your goddamn heart.
— Yeah.
— Guns, man. I dunno.

— Thing is, the shooter? He wasn’t mentally unstable enough to be committed. So he could legally buy and own a…
— Just stop.
— What?
— Just fucking stop.
— What?
— Stop with the ‘nobody knew he was that disturbed’ shit. I’m sick of hearing it.
— I’m just saying maybe there should be some sort of law where people who aren’t unstable enough to be committed but are still pretty fucking unstable should…
— There is.
— There is what?
— There IS a fucking law. In California. Right now. A gun violence restraining order law. It allows law enforcement to temporarily disarm somebody who’s shown dangerous behavior, even if it’s not extreme enough to commit them.
— Seriously?
— Yeah. They passed the law after the Isla Vista mass murder.
— Which one was that? I can’t keep track of all…
— Elliot Rodger.
— Why do I know that name?
— He’s the patron saint of the incel movement.
— Aw, fuck.
— Yeah.
— So they…
— Yeah. After this guy went on a killing spree because he hated women California passed a law to disarm angry dangerous people who’ve demonstrated a capacity and a propensity toward violence.
— But they haven’t enforced it?

— No, I guess not. I wonder why. Maybe the law is just unpopular?
— Let’s ask Tel Orfanos’ mother.

down to hope

So here we are. Election Day in Godawful America. Nobody knows what the fuck is actually going to happen. But I suspect we’re all pretty confident it’ll be ugly.

For Democrats, progressives, liberals — for those of us who want a nation that’s actually representative of the people who live here — it’s a day of hope tempered by trepidation. We hope to do well, but we had that same hope two years ago. We’ve seen hope turn to shit. We don’t really trust hope.

We know from experience that hope doesn’t carry much weight — not in the face of rampant voter suppression, widespread gerrymandering, unchecked lying, unbridled racism, and blatant voter intimidation. We know the game is rigged against us. We know it’s not enough to get more votes; we know it’s not enough to actually win an election; we know we have to win it by a massive margin in order to overcome the institutional and political obstacles deliberately put in place to prevent us from winning.

Hope? Hope is a mug’s game. Hope is a path strewn with caltrops. Hope is standing waist-deep in a cesspit at the bottom of a hill, looking up at those at the top, who are complaining about being ill-treated while rolling boulders down at you.

Tree of Hope — Frida Kahlo, 1946

But here’s the thing about hope. You can’t help it. No matter how steep the hill, no matter how many goddamn boulders, no matter how fucking deep the cesspit, you can’t help but hope there’s a way out. You tell yourself it’s stupid to hope, you completely understand that hope only leads to disappointment and frustration and rage, and yet you just cannot help yourself. Hope is fucking brutal.

But it’s what you need in order to haul your ass out of that cesspit. Hope and hard work.

So here we are. Election Day in Godawful America and nobody knows what the fuck is actually going to happen. But we’ve done what we can. We’ve knocked on doors, we’ve made phone calls, we’ve donated time and money, we’ve encouraged others to vote and we’ve voted our ownselves.

Now it’s down to hope. With hope and hard work, maybe tomorrow will be less godawful.

knuckles steps away

Back in January I began a second photo project (and seeing what I’ve just written, there’s a part of me asking ‘What sort of boneheaded idjit starts a photo project in fucking January?’) under the Knuckles Dobrovic alias. The first project was simple and stupid and rather fun: I put a thing on a table and photographed it. This second project was also simple and fairly unoriginal: when I took a walk I’d stop periodically and photograph my feet. The only original aspect of the notion was that I’d layer two or three of those photos on top of each other, making double or triple exposures.

January 29, the project began.

Why? Well, since it’s a photo project, there has to be at least one pretentious bullshit element at work, right? Dude, this project has two pretentious bullshit elements. Here they are.

Pretentious Bullshit Element One: Susan Sontag described photographs as ‘a thin slice of space and time.’ By layering different photographs shot at different times in different places on the same day, I wanted to suggest there’s a thread that ties together those discreet slices of time and place. I wanted to suggest that although I shot THIS photo HERE and THAT photo THERE, they’re basically one photograph of the same walk.

Pretentious Bullshit Element Two: The Buddhist monk Thích Nhat Hạnh, said this about walking meditation: When you walk, arrive with every step. I love that idea, though I’m not entirely sure what it actually means. But when I stopped to take the photos for this gig, I liked to tell myself that I’d arrived at that scattering of dead leaves, or at that lost mitten, or at that manhole cover.

February 19

See? Told you it was pretentious bullshit. But it helped me establish the gig in my head. It made the project purposeful. The concept appealed to me. The concept still does. But it’s been nine months, and I think I’ve learned as much as I can from the gig. I’d like to say I’ve accomplished my goal, except that there really wasn’t any goal. It was just an interesting thing to do while walking. And now it’s beginning to feel a tad stale to me.

March 12

One of the things I learned, though, is that the sort of stuff I’d originally thought might be interesting, often wasn’t. Shadow turned out to be surprisingly difficult to incorporate. Bright colors were often discordant in double exposures, or else they just turned into a muddy mucky brown. And small visually interesting stuff (like, say, a dead sparrow or a pair of sunglasses with one shattered lens) just tend to disappear in double exposures. 

April 26

I also discovered that I’m in bondage to a certain level of geometric orderliness. Initially, I deliberately photographed a lot of diagonal lines in the hope they’d add a pleasing complexity to the final photographs. Sometimes they did, but more often they just made the double exposures confusing. So I found myself relying more and more on lines that were horizontal or vertical — a sort of Mondrian neoplasticism (and boom, there’s more pretentious bullshit).

June 11

Finally, I was sort of surprised that not every walk resulted in a double exposure I found pleasing enough to publish. I’ve no idea how many total photos I shot for this project, or how many walks I took, but I generally shot at least three and up to eight photos of my feet on each walk. On some walks I simply failed to photograph two things that would work as double exposures.

August 17

So there we are. Nine months, 124 photographs. That’s enough. This gig is done. But I’m going to re-repeat something I said at the end of the first Knuckles project (and repeated at the beginning of this project):

I’ll probably come up with some other sort of project, simply because I’ve grown fond of the name Knuckles Dobrovic. I realize that’s a stupid reason. I don’t care. I’ve no objection to doing things for stupid reasons.

September 29

I don’t know yet what the project will be. I’m still intrigued by double exposures, so it may have something to do with that. And I’m intrigued by the concept of appropriation, so that may work into it somehow. Or it may be something completely unrelated to those things. Or hell, I may not come up with any idea at all, and this will be the end of Knuckles Dobrovic.

But I doubt it.

October 31, project ends.

ADDENDUM: I have been chastised for not including a link to the project on Instagram. For some reason, it never occurred to me. I suck at self-promotion. But for those interested in seeing all the photos, here you go: Knuckles Dobrovic.

dude, not my fault

Years ago, before Academia and I decided we weren’t really compatible, I taught a variety of criminology and sociology courses — including courses on criminological theory. You know — what is crime, why do folks commit crime, how do we explain what’s going on? That sort of stuff. One of the theories I taught undergrads was Matza and Sykes’ theory of neutralization.

Matza and Sykes studied juvenile delinquency back in the 1950s. People, they said, are aware of their obligation to follow the law, so in order to skirt that obligation and do stuff they know they’re not supposed to do, they concoct a series of techniques to neutralize that obligation. In other words, they find ways to escape responsibility.

I mention all this because if you paid any attention to the news over the last week, you saw Matza and Sykes’ theory in action. Here are their five techniques of neutralization:

  • Denial of responsibility — Dude, it’s not really my fault.
  • Denial of injury — Dude, nobody really got hurt.
  • Denial of the victim — Dude, really it’s their own fault.
  • Condemning of the condemners — Dude c’mon, it’s not like you’re innocent.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties — Dude, I did it for my friends (or family, or god).

We saw ALL of these techniques in play over the last week. Every single one of them. We saw them employed by Comrade Trump, by his followers, and by most Republican politicians. Denial of responsibility: “Dude, Trump didn’t mail any of those bombs.” Denial of injury: “Dude, the bombs weren’t even bombs; they didn’t detonate and nobody got hurt.” Denial of the victim: “Dude, the people who got the mail bombs wouldn’t have gotten any mail bombs if they hadn’t tried to undermine the president like that.” Condemning the condemners: “Dude c’mon, it’s not like Democrats are innocent; I mean, a Bernie supporter shot a Republican congressmen who was playing softball, right? And people were rude to Sarah Sanders in a restaurant.” And yeah, even an appeal to higher loyalties: “The people who got the mail bombs were traitors and the real enemies of the people.”

Dude, don’t look at me, it’s not MY fault.

Even this morning, Trump was obliviously tweeting out neutralization techniques with all the desperate need of a spawning salmon.

There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!

He really can’t help himself. Trump seems to be completely incapable of accepting the notion that by labeling the news media as ‘fake’ and the ‘true Enemy of the People’ he’s not only inciting the anger he’s condemning, but also emboldening his followers to act on that anger.  Dude, it’s not my fault if the Enemy of the People get hurt; I’m just talking and words can’t really hurt you; besides, it’s the Enemy of the People who are at fault for being the Enemy of the People; and it’s not like they’re innocent, just look at how mean they are to me; and if I call the Enemy of the People the enemy, it’s because I want peace and harmony. Bitches.

It’s sad and infuriating that the only way to explain the behavior of the President of These United States is to rely on theories developed to explain criminality. Jeebus in handcuffs, we used to be a semi-decent nation.

People, you have GOT to vote. If you value decency and truth and science and integrity and compassion, you have GOT to fucking vote.

keep saying it

There’s too much to say today, and it feels like there’s not much point in saying any of it. We’re dealing with yet another mass shooting, this time a hate-inspired attack on a synagogue. We’re dealing with this just a day after the arrest of a hate-inspired series of bomb attacks on prominent critics of President Trump — which took place just a couple of days after a hate-inspired double murder of African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store (after the shooter failed to gain entry into an African-American church).

In the face of all this hate, President Trump has once again proven himself incapable of performing the basic functions of his office. Instead of trying to unify the nation against this hate, he’s continued to encourage the anger and resentment of his followers. Instead of showing compassion for the victims of this shooting and offering comfort, he blamed the temple for not having an armed guard at the door. Instead of making a sincere call for unity, he continued to fuel the bitterness and the hate. He has falsely indicted Democrats and the news media for a lack of civility while absolutely refusing to acknowledge that his rhetoric plays any part in the problem.

Many of Trump’s supporters insist that all the hate and violence being inflicted on the public — including this mass murder — is a product of false flag operations conducted by Democrats and the Deep State, intended to hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. Instead of decrying this, Trump has fed into it, insisting that he is a victim of some sort of conspiracy. In doing so, the president has deliberately undermined public trust in many of the fundamental systems of representative democracy — law enforcement, the courts, the news media. And he’s done it purely in the interest of political expediency.

Again, there’s too much to say today. And right now  it feels like there’s not much point in saying any of it. But I still think it’s important to say it. And to keep saying it. Over and over and over. Even if it doesn’t seem to do any good, it’s important to keep saying it.

bombs, for fuck’s sake

You know, it was bad enough when our president was just ignorant. I mean, yeah, he was ignorant about the world and about how government worked, but it was just plain old ignorance. And it was bad enough that the president was an inveterate liar, who showed no compunction about making shit up on the spot and acting as though it was accepted truth. Sure, only his supporters actually believed them, but most of his lies were really obvious, so folks could ignore them. And it was bad enough that Comrade Trump was a hateful bully. But hey, he bullied everybody he thought he could get away with bullying, his friends and supporters as well as people who opposed him.

All that was bad enough. But now we have bombs. Actual bombs.

Now we have bombs sent to men and women who’ve publicly criticized Comrade Trump. We have bombs sent to people Trump considers to be enemies. Now we have bombs sent to two former presidents, a former vice president, a former Secretary of State, a former head of the CIA, a former Attorney General, a senior member of Congress, and others. Bombs, people.

Crude bombs, yeah, but fucking bombs. None of them detonated, yeah, and nobody got hurt, but the fact remains that somebody sent bombs to people who criticized Comrade Donald Trump. Somebody considered how to keep the weight of the bomb low enough to send through the mail, considered what materials could be used to make a bomb that would escape metal detectors. Somebody gathered the components to make the bombs, manufactured them, prepared the envelopes, delivered a couple by hand and sent the rest of the bombs — sent bombs, people — through the mail in order to kill or maim critics of Donald Trump.

Before, Trump or his followers would do or say something that was ridiculous or offensive or crazy, and we’d all repeat the mantra ‘This Is Not Normal and Must Not Be Seen as Normal’. But bombs? Bombs in the mail is so far outside of normal that you’d need the Hubble Space Telescope to find the galaxy where normal still exists.

Make no mistake, this is driven by Comrade Trump. No, of course, he didn’t tell anybody to make bombs and send them to people he considers to be enemies. What he did was repeatedly claim the people he considered as his enemies were enemies of The People. Enemies intent on destroying…well, whatever Trump happened to stand for at the moment.

In his recent rally speeches, Trump has taken to calling Democrats “the party of the mob.” Seriously. He stands in front of an angry, disorderly crowd (which, by the way, is pretty much the fucking definition of ‘mob’), encouraging them to become angrier, and then he accuses Democrats of being an angry, disorderly crowd. He actually said this at a recent rally:

“You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry, left-wing mob. And that’s what the Democrats have become.”

It’s no surprise that one (or more) of Trump’s followers, having been told that an enemy exists, having been told that the enemy is dangerous, having been told the enemy is intent on causing harm, and having the enemy identified by name, decided to act.

To act by sending bombs. 

Comrade Trump bears some responsibility for this, though he’ll never acknowledge it. The Republicans in Congress bear some responsibility for this as well, because their only response to a couple of years of the president lying, threatening, and making appalling personal attacks has been to occasionally issue a bland disagreement.

The primary responsibility, of course, lies with the criminal fuckwit who believed Trump to the degree that’s he (and yeah, I’m assuming we’re talking about a man here) was willing to put together a group of bombs and send them on their way to kill or maim.

Bombs, for fuck’s sake. That’s where we are now in this nation. Bombs. We’re sending bombs through the mail.