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Where the Baby Boomers Led Us

Where the Baby Boomers Led Us

When we went to the Women’s March in Washington D.C., just after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, we took the metro into the city. The station and the train were crammed with protesters and their signs. I remember one woman on the train, older than us, who was holding a sign that read “THIS ABOMINATION WILL NOT STAND.” I believe she was from the Baby Boomer generation, the generation that came before mine and that shook American culture apart in the Sixties, in a wave of youth protest. And here she was, elderly and still protesting, fifty years later, which is as long as I have been alive.

The abomination to which her sign referred was the election to the highest office in the nation of a man who stands for everything which she had fought against her whole life. A man who epitomizes entitled, obnoxious, and abusive white male power. A self-confessed serial sexual predator who thinks women should be grabbable at a rich man’s whim. A racist whose instinct is to treat non-whites like criminals – or worse. A lying corporate crony motivated by profits over people.

And yet here he was, propelled into the Presidency by the support of millions of ordinary Americans who were duped by his demagoguery and worshipped him as their savior. It was the raging apotheosis of the backlash against the Sixties that was behind the rise of the Republican party, a backlash by people resentful of an America that was more open, diverse and tolerant. More non-white and non-Christian. The backlash had just put into power a man the same age as this protesting woman, but an ignorant and crass bully – the worst of her generation, empowered by madness.

When we arrived in the city the station was so crowded that it took an hour to get to the street. A huge mass of sign-carrying people slowly made its way through the turnstiles to exit the metro, and finally we were in the open air. We found our way to the mall and suddenly were swept up into a throng of protesters, streaming from where the speeches had been made (speeches we had missed, since it took so long for us to reach the city) towards the White House. The chanting, roaring energy was indomitable. It was the backlash against the backlash.

But would it last? As of this writing, more than nineteen months have passed. Trump has proven to be as awful a President as anyone predicted – corrupt, cruel, a threat to the republic. His supporters are entrenched in their belief in his legitimacy; they voted for him, and his faults seem invisible to them. Meanwhile, the President’s opponents have adopted the language of resistance, like freedom fighters in an occupied nation.

Trump has captured the reactionary right because he is the champion of their agenda: to keep out the Hispanics and the Asians and the Muslims, to stop free trade with China, to restore America to its pre-Sixties greatness. In their minds, this agenda is a much-needed course correction after decades of American decline. And undeniably it is motivated by fear, a fear summarized by one simple headline: Fewer Births Than Deaths Among Whites in Majority of U.S. States.

It is sad that fear has overtaken a large minority, and that they have rallied around an unworthy man. But he was the one who spoke their language. As I write, his fortune is crumbling, and his supporters will no doubt stand by him to the bitter end.  But in the long run majoritarian opinion and demographic pressures favor the resisters. The blue wave may have hit a red wall, but it can become a blue tsunami and take that wall down. We just have to stay resolved.

On the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, we marched down the mall in the nation’s capital, until the streaming throng took us to the White House. There the crowd thinned out, as some people left, while others lingered. Some tables were set up and people held signs urging or promising the impeachment of a President who had been in office for all of one day. It was like a court being held, condemning him on his own front lawn. This was the site of the Boomer generation’s last stand, and they were as riotous, and as judgmental, and as destructive as ever. And this was where they had finally led us.

What’s with all the ink?

What’s with all the ink?

A conversation with my BFF started with me Stevesplaining (a thing I do) the social history of tattoos.

You see, they were a Pacific islander custom (think Maui from Moana) which Europeans encountered in the Age of Discovery. This is why tattoos are associated with sailors. They then became a custom among Europeans of the lower orders, and were for a long time in the West associated with lack of respectability and the criminal underclass.

Then, in the aftermath of the Sixties at the end of the twentieth century, young people sought to break free of cultural norms. Getting tattooed (and/or pierced) was a rebellious act of individualism practiced by a minority of youth. By the turn of the century it was a fad. And now, it has become a conventional rite of youth passage. Which is why you see almost every young adult with at least some tattoos.

My BFF replied, “Have you even talked with anyone who has tattoos and asked them why they have them?” I had to admit that I really had not. “It’s because they feel like it’s the only way in which they can truly express themselves,” she continued.

“You mean that their personal bodies is the only space over which they have any control?” I’m thinking how the young generation must feel powerless in a world politically and culturally dominated by their elders.

“Yes.”

So that’s two different perspectives on the frequently tattooed Millennial generation. What do you think?

Two animated films for your watch list

Two animated films for your watch list

The latest Pixar offering, Coco, is a wonderful film which has instantly become one of our family’s favorites. It is technically brilliant, demonstrating how far computer animation has come in the more than 20 years since Pixar’s beginnings. The visual detail, the lighting and the color are superb, and it is all easy to take in despite being so complex, unlike much of the CGI that accompanies live action movies these days. The story is excellent as well, and I can’t write much at all about it without spoiling it, except to note that it is fancifully set in Mexico, and while it has action-adventure elements it is really a family drama.

Coco actually has some things in common with another recent animated feature, Kubo and the Two Strings, which uses stop-motion instead of CGI, giving it an older and artsier look. Kubo is also more of an adventure movie, a mythological tale whose narrative is not quite as engaging as Coco’s, though it is not without its own twists. But again – no spoilers!

Each of these films appropriates a facet of world culture to tell a high-stakes story that reminds us to cherish our loved ones. If you’re looking for a satisfying family movie night, you can’t go wrong with either one.

Today’s Shut-In Album: 50 Words For Snow

Today’s Shut-In Album: 50 Words For Snow

It’s a day to stay in, sheltered from the cold and feeling sickly. The perfect album for this quiet afternoon is 50 Words for Snow, from Kate Bush, released in 2011 and to date her latest studio album. Like her previous release, Aerial, the album reflects the maturation of the artist’s style, which has become more contemplative, and deeper in meaning, even as her voice has lowered with age. It’s slow and calm, heavy on the piano, with long-playing songs that take their time to develop, building to gentle crescendos and expressing subtle emotion. You almost need the muffled stillness of a snowy day to truly appreciate the music, and I always look forward to listening to it when such a day comes along.

Here is an excerpt, but do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album.

 

A Star Above

A Star Above

I wrote this story. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

A Star Above

Not Quite a Christmas Story

Millions of years ago, in a time long forgotten, the shape of the land was not the same as it is today, and the Earth was ruled by the Saurians.

And it came to pass, one winter’s season, that a bright star shone in the sky above. It was so bright that the Saurians were certain it was a portent. So they asked the wisest among them what the star might signify.

The most wise of all the Saurians had a vision, and told it unto the others. “This star signifies that a child is hatched! A child who heralds a new age to come!”

“What will come in this new age?” cried the other wise ones.

“A new hope, and an end to the wickedness of our kind.”

“It is true that many Saurians are wicked,” agreed the others. “What shall we do now that we know of the meaning of the sign?”

“We must journey to where the child is hatched. If we follow the star it will guide us there.”

So the wisest of the Saurians, as well as two others who were fairly wise themselves, set out on a journey, walking across the great land, keeping the star ahead at all times.

“I think it is growing brighter,” said one of the three wise Saurians, one who had a large posterior and a long, sinuous neck, and came from the swampy regions.

“Yes, it must be nearing the time of the child’s hatching,” said the wisest of the three Saurians, who stood on two legs and could run very fast, and was from the grasslands.

“Is the time of the end of wickedness arriving? What should we do?” worried the last of the three, who had a shell, and a horny head, and was from the rocky places.

“Let us bring gifts to the hatchling,” said the wisest Saurian. “Do we have anything to bring?”

“I have these weeds from the swamp that I like to eat,” said the long-necked Saurian. “They smell real good.”

“I have some shiny rocks that I have collected,” said the horny-headed Saurian. “I think they are very pretty.”

“They are perfect,” said the bipedal Saurian. “We shall bring the fragrant plants and the shiny rocks as offerings to the hatchling who portends the dawn of a new age.”

So they walked on, carrying their gifts, following the star, which grew ever brighter in the sky above. At last they came to a place where a herd of Saurians grazed on the grassy hills.

The wisest Saurian spoke to one of the herd, “Have you heard of a child who is hatched, and portends a new age, as signified by the bright star above?”

“Yes,” said the other, “many of us have gone to visit the child. But it is not hatched.”

“Not hatched? It is still in its egg?”

“The child is born, but not of an egg.”

“A child born not of an egg!” cried the three wise Saurians. “Truly this is a miracle!”

So they went together to where the child was born, and saw it in a little nest, where other Saurians stood around, bowing in awe before it. It was a creature not like a Saurian, tiny and covered in fur.

“That is – different,” said the wisest of the Saurians.

“Yes,” said the other. “It is not a Saurian like us, but a Mammal. And it portends a new age.”

“We have brought gifts for the Mammal child.”

“You can just put them over there.”

And the star above grew ever brighter, and then fell to Earth, and the Saurians and their wicked ways were ended forever. And the Mammal and all of its kind came to rule the Earth in their stead, as they do to this very day.

The End?

Zero Tolerance Reaches The Workplace

Zero Tolerance Reaches The Workplace

In Turnings theory, one characteristic of the era we are currently experiencing is that the young adult generation benefits from a renewed focus on improving the workplace. This continues the pattern from their childhood of being protected and nurtured more intensively than the generation that came before them. The Millennial generation in childhood was the benefactor of “Zero Tolerance” policies to keep drugs and violence out of schools. The recent uproar over sexual harassment in the workplace can be thought of as this same spirit of zero tolerance following the Millennials, as they age, into a new sphere of life.

We could think of each generation’s experience with sexual harassment when they were young adults entering the workforce as tracking the changes in the social era. For the Silent generation, sexual harassment was out in the open and normalized (think Mad Men). For Boomers, there was a push back in a new age of feminism and women’s rights. When Generation X was young, sexual harassment went underground, but was tolerated for the sake of career advancement.

Now, in the Millennial young adult era, the harassment of the past twenty or thirty years is being exposed, to the ruination of the careers of many powerful older men. There will be no more tolerance of it during the rise of the new young generation, in which our society has invested so much.

Music for All Ages

Music for All Ages

I have always loved music. It touches the soul. As the ancient Greeks theorized, the harmonic structure of music reflects the order and harmony of the Universe. And so the joy experienced when listening to or performing music is transcendent – you really are reaching out to heaven!

I wanted to be more engaged with music, to do more than just listen to endless Spotify playlists, so last year I joined a choir. I had been in a choir in junior high school, so I figured I could jump back in (“back after a 40 year hiatus,” as they say). Of course it has been a lot of work to get up to speed on how to sing again, but it has also been tremendous fun.

One thing I love about choir is that it brings all the generations together – this is a hobby that doesn’t appeal to one particular age group only. We have choir members from every generational archetype. Yes, that’s right, we have Millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers and at least one Silent. He told me himself – he was born in 1940 and even identified himself as a member for the Silent generation.

We are called The Singers for Goodness Sake, and are non-profit, performing mainly in retirement communities. Tonight is the last performance of the season, and then I will take a break for the summer, when traveling will take priority. I’ve feel like I’ve come a long way in the eight months since I started singing, and like we’ve come a long way as an ensemble. I look forward to making more music with friends of all ages.

Making the Most of Valuable Time

Making the Most of Valuable Time

I listen to audio books in the car, on the premise that I spend so much time driving (either commuting or travelling) that I should at least be into a book simultaneously, especially since I will not live long enough to read all the books I’d like to, even if I live to be a hundred and twenty. My commute is 20-30 minutes each way; that is a lot of time frittered away if I am not also doing something else!

This latest one should fill in a good deal of that valuable time:

To save valuable money, which is also time, I borrow audio books from the library. The Wake County library system has an excellent collection of books of the types I like, which is mostly history. And that’s right, this one has 26 discs!

It’s The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik, and unsurprisingly there is much to be said about this particular time period (late 18th century). I’m sure I will learn a lot, although there is one slight disadvantage to audio books – sometimes I space out and miss bits. This is not a problem with the written word, since the words are still there where I left them after I return from a reverie.

Still, it will be nice to have something to look forward to while I am slogging through traffic. Why aren’t you people all telecommuting?

My Adventures in Information Technology

My Adventures in Information Technology

Nearly ten years ago, in late 2007, after about six months of unemployment, I started a job as a software tester on a data warehouse team in a corporate IT department. I had just enough database experience to bluff my way through the interview, though I had never worked with data warehousing before. So I started reading Data Warehousing For Dummies (I did not bring it to the office) and went to work. When I joined the team it was me and three Indians. I found it hard to understand their English, but despite difficulties communicating and my lack of subject matter expertise,I became productive.

I remember posting on a now-forgotten social media site (yes, it was MySpace) how glad I was to have found work, and how I now had two tasks before me: to learn data warehousing, and to learn to understand English spoken by Indians. Fast forward to 2017, and I have become an expert at both skills. I am on my third data warehouse gig since then, and in all three companies there has been a preponderance of associates from India. Where I am now, I would say about 50% of the staff. I bring this up in consideration of the tenor of the times, with Indian engineers now feeling unwelcome, even endangered in this country.

Personally, I’m happy to work with anyone, as long as they’re not a complete jerk – I don’t care where they are from. Are companies in the U.S. abusing the visa system to depress labor costs? Honestly, I’m not involved enough in the hiring process to know. I will say that I have heard one person who was hiring for a position say that they wanted to hire American, but most applicants are from India. And an American I know has said that when he looks for work at contracting sites, he feels overwhelmed by the competition from Indian engineers. I think the truth is that India has a huge population and has focused on training an entire generation of workers in IT skills – and that’s reflected in the make-up of the IT labor pool.

Can the new administration’s “Hire American” order alter the IT labor force by fiat? I guess from where I sit I can let you know, in time. But what keeps people out of skilled labor is not having the skills or experience in the first place – not a problem which hiring restrictions will solve. Training is a better idea. I do have one piece of advice for any young person who wants to join me in IT adventuring – get your work experience as soon as you can, preferably while in school.

Meanwhile, I’m sure I can keep developing in my field and stay employable; companies will always need people to manage their data. Automation doesn’t worry me because software automation just expands the possibilities of what people + computers can do together. I expect there will be more corporate campuses in my future.