Monday, June 18, 2018

Y2Kray

I’m old enough to remember all the hype at the turn of the century—Y2K—when, with the flip of a switch at 11:59 on December 31, 1999, all of civilization as we knew it was supposed to instantly crumble when clocks, computers, and other date-reliant mechanisms would suddenly quit working. I was at a concert off the grid in Florida then, and I remember calling my dad from my Nokia cell phone early in the morning on January 1. 

“Is the world still turning? What happened?” I asked. Nothing, of course, was the answer.

I’ve thought of Y2K often in relation to the specter of creeping authoritarianism and disregard for constitutional norms that we're seeing with the Trump administration, and ask myself if it’s possible people are “overreacting.” But, as the writer Virginia Heffernan said recently on Twitter, she cannot identify a time in history when a population has “overreacted" to corruption and kakistocracy on this scale.

I don’t actually think America is the next “Nazi Germany,” if only because—and this is Trump’s saving grace—the man's mercurial self-absorption and lack of coherent ideology hopefully foreclose the kind of cold, calculated extermination efforts we saw there and in other genocides. Which is not to say that irreparable damage cannot be and is not currently being done to people who are not you or me.

And this is critical, I think. I’m seriously disturbed by my so-called “friends” on social media who are defending the family separation policy: 

“These people are breaking the law!” No they’re not, many are seeking legal asylum, or being intentionally prevented from doing so through legal means. And anyway, Jim Crow and slavery were once “the law” too.

“But kids and parents don’t get to stay together in America when parents go to jail!” American kids and parents aren’t separated from each other by armed agents, without a trial, with no assurance of reunification, with no idea when they will ever see each other again, and "lost" to unknown persons. 

“But it’s the law, and prior administrations did it!” No, it’s not the law, and no, prior administrations did not have a “zero tolerance” border policy that led to family separations. Also, of course, the United States has a looooooong and ignoble history of forcibly separating families of color.

I almost can’t blame my "friends" for being misinformed, though I pity their lack of compassion amid a lot of professed piety and religiosity, might I add. Part of the difficulty of living in this time is the confusing, conflicting, and endless stream of information we get 24/7 from sources ranging from downright insane to generally credible. That makes it very hard to get to the bottom of what the “truth” is, and that, of course, is one of the tools used by propagandists to confuse the public.

The point is, I know three things for a fact: (1) A lot of VERY wrong things are happening in this country right now, mostly to people of color; (2) Only but for the Grace of God do none of these very wrong things directly affect me right now; and (3) IDGAF what I have to do to make it stop.

Geoff says I should focus on local things, stuff here in Juneau. Well, I do that, I serve on the AWARE board and do pro bono cases locally, among other service and volunteer work where I can. But now I’m committed to ending this family separation policy and working on immigration issues because, to paraphrase the Martin Niemoller poem, first they come for "them", and no one says anything; then they come for you, and no one is left to help.

I’m partnering with people in Alaska who do immigration work right now to see what I can do remotely until the winter when, if help is still needed, I plan to travel to the Southwest and lend whatever elbow grease I can to this issue.

Maybe I and other fortunate people will be able to say “no big deal, this was just Y2Kray,” but for lots of human beings, this administration is already the totally un-American humanitarian disaster it’s been hyped up to be.




Friday, June 15, 2018

The End of Mystery


So I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How in 2018, we are really and truly at the end of mystery. Here’s what I mean.

When I graduated high school in 1995, if you lost touch with someone, that was it. You might be able to call 411 or look them up in the White Pages, but if a person moved away from your immediate orbit and went off the grid, that was it. They were gone. You never heard from them again, and you had no idea what happened to them. For all you knew, they could have died in a fire.

When you took pictures, you had to wait to develop the film. The best you could hope for was a one-hour photo booth, but beyond that you had no idea what was in that little envelope of prints and negatives until you’d flip through it quickly in the CVS parking lot and be like, “oh yeeeeeeah, I remember that party from three months ago, God I was so wasted.”

And if you were intimate with someone, what was under their clothes was a black hole (no pun intended). What color are their nipples? Do they have a 70’s bush? Is their dick weird? You weren’t going to find out the answers to these questions until show time. You were going in blind, and you’d better have your game face on at the moment of the big reveal.

No more. 

Now because of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, you have the answers to all of these questions instantly. What’s more remarkable, even, than the volume and level of information you have access to is the size of the gulf between the total void of information that once existed, and the absolute granular level of information that exists now.

Let me illustrate this with a few scenarios:

Scenario 1: The Photograph

1995: I wonder what’s on this random roll of film?
2018: OMG DELETE

Scenario 2: The Make-Out

1995: I wonder what s/he looks like naked?
2018: Send nudes.

Scenario 3: Whatever Happened To?

1995: I wonder if so-and-so is still alive?
2018: I haven’t spoken to so-and-so in 30 years, but yet somehow I'm privy to the fact that they have an 18-month old son named Nate who ate strained carrots for dinner last night.

I’m not really saying this is good or bad. I’m just saying it’s 2018 and mystery is dead.

Sun Rays Through the Tree Leaves and Mist

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Summiting Denali with Isaac is an Insurmountable #LifeGoal

I’ve lived in Alaska long enough to know that there are simply some things I’ll never do. Things that other people do here routinely like they’re NBFD.

For example: surfing in 35-degree water, kayaking across the Gulf, shooting caribou hot dogs on the North Slope, or summiting Denali—the highest peak in North America. I wouldn’t do it with a guide. I wouldn’t do it with my son. I wouldn’t do it in the spring. I wouldn’t do it with a fling. I wouldn’t do it with my mom. I wouldn’t do it all alone. Just pretend Denali is green eggs and ham, except covered in snow year-round and based in Talkeetna, and at the end I still refuse to eat that shit.

That doesn’t mean I’m not awestruck by adventurers who have the balls to do something as daring and brave as summit Denali, much less a MOM who does it with her teenage son and no guide. 

Beth Bragg’s report in the Anchorage Daily News that Canyon Tobin, 19, and his mom, Nora Miller, 50, summited Denali together in likely the first unguided mother-son duo to bag the peak got me thinking about a couple things: (a) how incredibly badass this was; and (b) how the likelihood of me summiting Denali with Isaac is about as high as me winning the lottery and using the prize money to buy new boobs. Not that I’ve considered this. I just maybe know someone who has.

Point is, this is light years away from an activity I imagine myself doing with Isaac, who granted is only 7, but who based on our current relationship seems highly unlikely to acquiesce to something like this in his teen years or any other time.

According to the article, Canyon was named after Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, where Nora and her ex-husband, Carl Tobin, went on their second date. Nora fell 110 feet and Carl saved her life.

Well see now there’s your first problem.

Isaac is named Isaac because I was originally going to name him Jude, but then decided at the last minute that Jude sounded too much like “Jew” for a Jewish kid who is growing up in Juneau. I kept muttering “Jude, Jew, Juneau” over and over until I landed on something more Gentile. 
Then I waddled home and took a sterile shower to ready myself for my scheduled C-section the next day. I think Geoff brought me a jar of jalapeno-stuffed olives at one point during that weekend, and I might have said “OMG YOU FUCKING SAVED MY LIFE WITH THESE,” but that’s where the similarities end. 

Canyon and his mom “took turns pretending to pull each other out of a crevasse” in their garage. I can’t even get Isaac to find his cleats and lunchbox in our goddamned garage. And I can’t get him to summit his bunk bed at night without both of us losing our shit within 15 seconds.

So the thought of being “roped together for nearly two weeks” and “sharing a small tent and spending very little time apart” with “never any big tension between us” seems improbable, at best.

The last time Isaac was roped to me, it was with an umbilical cord. And I think that’s exactly how he’d like to keep it. Oh he’s athletic enough. After all, he tempts fate and paralysis daily in baseball, snowboarding, and leaping from high places for no reason at all. His sense of self-preservation is non-existent, so it’s not that I can’t see him becoming a mountain climber (despite the fact that making him walk three blocks is torture). It’s just that I can’t see him becoming a mountain climber with ME. Not only because of my complete ineptitude, but because of Isaac’s desire to get as far away from me as possible, as frequently as possible.

If I so much as try to kiss Isaac on the top of his head he screams “NO KISSES!!!” and pretends he doesn’t know me when I leave him with his teenaged snowboarding instructor. He criticizes my pitching, claiming I throw inadequate “breaking balls” and “sinkers.” When I recently recounted the story behind a scar on his forehead, and the quick-thinking mothering that followed, he rolled his eyes and said “please don’t remind me of such a dark time in my life.”

In short, Isaac already thinks I’m a hopeless source of mortification. So if I told him he had to be roped to me for nearly two weeks—for any reason—and live in a tent with me and only me while we were climbing to the top of a mountain, he would probably collapse in a hysterical heap of snot and tears at the mere thought of it.

So mad respect to Canyon and Nora for what seems, to me at least, an impossible Mother/Son Life Goal.





Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Open Letter to Senators Murkowski and Sullivan on ICE Family Separations

Dear Senators Murkowski and Sullivan,

You have been shamefully silent on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ policy (i.e., not a law) of allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to forcibly separate children from their parents at the country’s southern border, with no explanation or assurance of reunification, and your constituents want to know why.

You are both parents yourselves, so surely you understand the fear and heartbreak that immigrants to our country—many of whom are legally seeking asylum from unspeakable conditions at home—are facing. Attorney General Sessions' current policy is more reminiscent of Nazi Germany's Gestapo than it is Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty that have made America a beacon of hope to asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees for decades.

We want to know if, or why, you are apparently okay with what’s happening here, and with being complicit in your party’s human rights abuses of children.

We want to know if or why you are okay with a policy that the American Academy of Pediatrics called “appalling” in its “sweeping cruelty” and warns can “cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short and long-term health.”

We want to know if or why you are okay with children crying themselves to sleep because they don’t know where their parents are.

We want to know if or why you are okay with a father committing suicide in ICE detention after his three year-old child was taken from him, in hysterics.

We want to know if or why you are okay with ICE agents lying to parents, saying their children are being taken for questioning or baths, until it dawns on them that their children are not coming back, and they have no idea how or when they will be reunited.

We want to know if or why you are okay with ICE forcibly separating children from parents, even though the parents are LEGALLY presenting themselves for asylum at U.S. ports of entry.

We want to know if or why you are okay with children being warehoused in unsanitary and dangerous conditions where they are subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of ICE agents, and later “lost” to human traffickers. 


In America.

We want to know if or why you're okay with President Trump erecting "tent cities" (i.e. concentration camps) to house unaccompanied children?

Again, in America.

We want to know if or why you're okay with this policy, even though it's more expensive than keeping families together, considering that you're "fiscal conservatives?"

We want to know if or why you are okay with a “zero-tolerance” prosecution policy—NOT A LAW—that weaponizes children in an immigration war begun long ago, but waged with a new and breathtaking heartlessness by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, and built on fear, bigotry, misinformation, and white supremacy.


We want to know how you can live with yourselves knowing these things are happening on your watch, by your party. In America. Is this America in 2018, or 1933 Berlin? Your constituents and basic principles of human rights demand that you answer these questions and that you answer them now.



John Moore/Getty Images

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dog Shit is Legit the Unofficial Mascot of Juneau

That’s a fact, and I think it’s time we just own it and pivot from trying to control it to just embracing dog shit as a scenic symbol of our lives here like the humpback whale or the glacier.

I’ve lived here for a long time now, and I can say without reservation that dog shit is 100% the unofficial mascot of Juneau. It’s everywhere, all the time, and everyone knows it. It’s on the sidewalks. It’s on the trails. It’s in little plastic baggies on the sidewalks and trails. It’s on people’s shoes. It’s on beaches. It’s melting out of snow berms. 


Dog. Shit. Is. Fucking. EVERYWHERE. Dog shit is easier to find in Juneau than mold and spruce tips in spring and a nasty comment thread on a community Facebook page.

Look, I like dogs, even though they make my face explode with hives. And without getting into the whole good dog-owner/bad dog-owner contretemps, I think it’s fair to say that dogs/fur-babies lead better, healthier lives in America than most human beings do in the developing world. 
Like I would legit and without a second thought choose to live as a Golden Retriever in downtown Juneau before I would a teenage girl in a slum in Mumbai.

I would have way more food, security, and shelter. The only similarity, of course, is that my shit would pose a public health hazard, and no one would bother to do a goddamned thing about it.

Over the years, CBJ has made various failed attempts to deal with the dog shit problem mascot, from PSAs pointing out that dog shit is not in fact a fertilizer, but actually a major pollutant full of disease, to ordinances to baggies to straight-up pleading for decency among the dog-owning public (which outnumbers the non-dog-owning public 100:1 based solely on anecdotal shit observed).

But none of it's working, so let’s just adopt an “if you can’t beat it join it” type attitude and say the dog shit has won and call it a day.

To that end, dog shit definitely needs to go on the Juneau Visitors’ and Convention Bureau website as a main attraction, i.e., part of the local flavor every visitor to our fair city is sure to encounter. Instead of dog-sledding on the glacier by helicopter, how about aerial tours of all the dog shit up there? And also down here? Extra points for diarrhea! Maybe someone should start a GoFundMe for a gigantic dog shit statue to go right next to the whale statue, and then all the naysayers can ask why the funds didn’t go to dog shit mitigation or doggie daycare and we can just say IT WAS PRIVATE DONATIONS, STOOPID, and yell at each other on the internet until we have a rage stroke and die.

Basically the only way to make lemonade out of these dog turd lemons is to somehow decide that we LIKE dog shit. We WANT dog shit. We want it on our sidewalks, trails, beaches, and shoes. WE FUCKING LOVE DOG SHIT! That’s exactly how we act. We ACT like we love it, so we MUST love it! That's the only logical conclusion. And those who adapt, excel.

So dog owners good or bad, just let your dog’s asshole rip a turd wherever and whenever you want now, because we're all set to fucking OWN dog shit as the wonderful local mascot it is and a part of the scenery that we should just be happy about. 

Long live dog shit, the unofficial mascot of Juneau!




Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Planet Earth Series Finale is Gonna Be Lit AF, Y'all!

And I don’t mean the BBC Planet Earth nature show with all the breaching dolphins and coral reefs and prancing antelopes and shit narrated by David Attenborough. I mean the *actual* planet earth. 

As in, the one we live on.

It’s gonna be lit AF, and I’m inviting all my friends over for a nuclear holocaust/apocalypse watching party, June 12 at 8:00 p.m. CST on the Trump Channel, aka the  same channel we've all been watching all day, every day since mid-2015.

Seriously the series finale is going to be SO DOPE. COME ON OVER. We'll have popcorn, beer, soft drinks (for the kids), wings, nachos, and guac. My big screen TV and all my computers and smart phone/tablet-devices will be live-tweeting and live-blogging the end of the world, at least as long as we still have a Wi-Fi signal and eyeballs that aren't irradiated into liquid courtesy of the mushroom cloud.

Everyone's gonna be glued to the action as two megalomaniacal doughy man-babies square up in Asia to determine whose country can blow whose to smithereens faster like a real-life version of Dr. Seuss's Butter Battle Book, and then demand a Nobel Peace Prize for the winner.

The past two seasons have been really tumultuous and exciting. Characters getting written off the show left and right: like in season one with Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and the Hope Hicks/Rob Cohen romance. And then there was the Manafort indictment and Michael Cohen-thing as part of the Mueller investigation story arc. 

And the season two B-plot with Neo-Nazis and NFL protests, and then Melania going missing for awhile, and the C-plot about women in pink pussy hats complaining about health care for their vaginas and Kim Kardashian doing prison reform, and scientists making the usual dire warnings about global warming that no one’s heeding.

Cray.

And now here we are at the series finale, although it's hard to say for sure because America might still renew Planet Earth for another season. No one knows for sure yet. Negotiations are still ongoing at the Network, or so goes the rumor. Dennis Rodman might make a cameo--wouldn't that be INSANE? No one's seen him since he almost married Madonna in the 90s! And now--SURPRISE--he's like, supes BFF'd with Kim Jong-Un so he might actually turn out to be a critical character on the show. The writers just keep us guessing every episode.

What's gonna happen? Will our kids live to see adulthood? WHO KNOWS!?!?!? Tune in June 12 to find out.



Friday, June 8, 2018

The Lines We Draw

Sometimes, especially at work, it's hard to know what you really have to do and what you don't, or shouldn't. You have to think about where your personal sense of ethics begins and ends and what you can live with. That line is unique to each of us, for different reasons. Each of us has to make a living and has bills to pay. Each of us grew up differently with different values. This is true whether you work in retail, a corporate office or government. 

But it's even more true in government, because a job in government differs in some critical respects from private sector work.

I've spent my whole career working in government--city, state, and federal--at various times and various levels as an investigator, an intern, a judicial clerk, a lawyer. A job in government comes with a different set of concerns, gravitas and responsibility. You are working for more than a paycheck. You are part of the social compact and are executing it on behalf of your fellow citizens. Under the imprimatur of the State, you are entrusted with enormous authority and responsibility--and crucially--a presumptive legitimacy. 

And in America, your ultimate fidelity as a government employee is to the United States Constitution and the principles that it stands for. 

It's the presumptive legitimacy of government that is the most difficult to reckon with. That's because government is hierarchical and composed at the highest levels of politicians, and politicians come and go. Some understand the norms of government better than others, and some are by turns more well-meaning or more self-serving, but the thing that never changes, or hopefully never changes, is what you can live with as a human being. 

At times over the past 20 years, I've had to ask myself if I can put my name on something, or follow a particular directive, and sometimes the answer has been no for one reason or another. It's inevitable that you will confront these moments.

I think about this when I think about the men and women in uniform who are going to work every day and implementing the inhumane policies of the Trump administration and Jeff Sessions. These are just people with jobs, in a uniform. They have kids' soccer games and utility bills and stream Netflix and eat Cheerios or whatever. But they are showing up to work every day and committing human rights abuses because they have justified this conduct to themselves and because they are being told to do it and that it is right.

Do you really think every SS soldier in Nazi Germany thought what they were doing was bad? Do you think they thought they were evil? Or sociopaths? Were they evil? Were they sociopaths? By and large, surely not. They were just regular government employees "following orders." They were working for the integrity of their country and their nation's borders. Everything they did was legal. Everything they did was in response to an order. Everything they did had a reason, a justification.

But those reasons and justifications were delivered, in the end, by a sociopathic, genocidal dictator not appreciably different--at least in fundamental personality features--from the man ultimately responsible for what ICE is doing to children and families right now, in America, as I write this.

These are the questions and the reality that people who are now working under the banner of this agency need to step back and confront: Is this right or wrong? Can I live with myself? Does this conduct objectively shock the conscience? 

Those questions are more critical than any order or directive or policy. At the end of the day, you have to answer to yourself, and only yourself. And I have to hope that the human beings carrying out these orders know deep down how wrong they really are, and that they will act accordingly. 

The lives of thousands of children and our reputation and integrity as a beacon of freedom and a a constitutional democracy depend on individuals one at a time, saying one word, and acting on it.

No.