This is the new normal

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Some of you are people who I love who voted for him.

I still love you, though you shrugged off mountains of bigotry and sexual assault and insanity to support him. I still love you because I know you're capable of better than that.

But you put him in charge. Now it's time for you to remember those "principles" you cited when you sad you just couldn't vote for the most qualified (and adult) woman in the world. It's time for you to get off your ass.

Because everything that's happened this year, up to and including the poor and sick having to beg for their lives every month, that's on you already. If you stand idly by, what comes next will be on you too. You don't want it.

There's Nothing to Fear

Oh, I read somewhere
That in twenty years
More or less
This human experiment will reach its violent end
But I look at you
As our second drinks arrive
The piano player's playing "This Must Be the Place"
And it's a miracle to be alive

—Father John Misty, In Twenty Years or So

Look what we did, you and me.

Rest in Peace, Bub

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Len Wein is a name you don't know if you aren't a comics nerd. He died today.

You may not know Len's name, but he probably touched your life. He co-created the modern era of the X-Men, including Wolverine and Storm. All those X-movies people paid billions to see came from his work. He co-created Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson, who also died during this evil shitheap of a year. That's just the start of what Len did.

The horrible thing about working in comics is that you can have an era-defining impact on Western culture, then sit back and watch everyone else but you get rich off your work. And you labor on, for love of the game, until you die in relative obscurity. That was Len, that was Bernie. And scores more before and yet to come.

It is cruel to behold, crueler still that he should die in an era with robber barons and granny-starvers and literal Nazis taking the wheel. Len wrought heroism and optimism for a living. He deserved to die at least in sight of that promised land.

May he return to the Green.

Good boy

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We found out today that Mugsy has heartworms. It was supposed to be a quick run for immunizations before we leave town to go visit my parents for Labor Day weekend. A sentence from the vet rather changed the tone of my day and the next couple hundred days to come.

I am restraining the urge to get sloppy here. I have written about what he means to us before, so I won't retread that here. Suffice it to say that my mind is currently churning on the topics of fragility and emotional need.

This goddamn dog that I almost didn't want to adopt because I would have preferred a rescue who was house trained, yet here I am prepared to burn your house down to save his life.

We'll soldier through. But today is for spoiling him (more).

Only you

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If you want to delight the hell out of some park rangers, and why wouldn't you, wear your Wokey the Bear shirt to a national landmark. One of them grilled me for the right site for "the one Neil deGrasse Tyson wears".

Bonding

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While his little sister gets pound-for-pound stronger than both of us combined.

When Hate Is Your Life's Work

And those marchers were not alone, either. It has been sickening to live here for the past eight months and witness the staggering amount of work that many newly emboldened white Americans have put into destroying people unlike them. I’ll happily write a 1,000-word hater’s guide to a retail catalog, but my hateful efforts are nothing compared to the work these men put in. Think of Mitch McConnell, working feverishly day and night to secure votes and secretly drafting bills and calling late night Congressional sessions, all so that he could take health care away from poor people. Think of how FRENZIED he was to do this. Obsessed. Think of the sense of urgency that led him to disregard all other work just to pass a bill that could potentially harm so many, and you know that urgency hasn't faded....

Think of the utter indefatigability of these men and their champions. It’s not simply that they hate, but that they have made hatred their life’s work.

And then think of all the effort needed simply to keep these men at bay, or to undo the evil works they’ve already secured. Trump is a miserable, awful man. And even though I have heard a million times that he secretly loathes being president, the man still endeavored to get the job and shows no sign of relinquishing it, not when he can take time every day to satisfy whatever hateful itch he needs to scratch. It is exhausting to deal with him, and what’s scary is that he’s not even close to being the hardest-working white supremacist in his own government. These are men who are counting on your fatigue. These are men who are hoping that their insatiable hunger for repression wears you down eventually, and that you resign yourself to the idea that inequality is both inevitable and irreversible. It will take GENERATIONS to undo the damage they’ve inflicted upon modern America, if it can be undone at all. It’s like cleaning up after a flood.

Drew Magary, writing for GQ.

I discovered Magary through his novels. My wife got me The Hike awhile back, and I loved it so much I snatched up The Postmortal. Just finished it this week.

After reading both of those books, I can attest that Magary can imagine a whole lot of terrible shit. When a guy who writes dystopian science fiction and fantasy allegories full of dog-headed child killers is horrified by the stuff you've dreamed up, you've done something really special.

The Way and the Light

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A late 19th century window salvaged from a now-demolished Baptist church in the midwestern town where I was born. A little amateur electrician work in the attic, a little LED tape, and a whole lot of finger crossing later.

This window is a holy relic with real power. If my kids touch it, they will be guaranteed to see Jesus Christ.

Not with a bang

I have a friend who's dying. I can't save him. He may not see fifty and he's probably going to die alone because he won't reach out. Probably thinks he can't.

I know what this friend needs to do, and what he needs to do will be painful and difficult. It will require a faith on the level of abdicating his sovereign right to make his own decisions, at least for a while. It will require him to tell uncomfortable truths. The odds of that are...well.

I watched another man I love wither into a frail husk in front of me when his wife passed. He got lonely. He rattled around his house with little to do but mow the lawn. He stooped. He met his golfing buddies once a week and talked sports and weather and lawn care, until that ended. He stopped putting sheets on his bed. His mind started to go until he'd moved from forgetting the date to not comprehending how a day could have a number.

Then he met a woman. He dated again. And he has returned to us, to life.

These men are like most men. They've each only got one really close friend: the women they love. They have no one else to burn for. Without those women, or with the wrong one, they start to die. Slowly.

My wife tagged me on this essay that's making the rounds. I've been chewing on it for a while now. And I hesitate to speak up at all, because "what about [white] men" is a disproportional analysis. But then again this is a pretty solid episode of the hit series Patriarchy Hurts Everyone, so here I go.

I'll tell one on me too.

I had a job half my life ago selling jewelry. We had a fairly tightly-knit staff. Someone, not sure who, got in the habit of ending conversations with a little musical "love yoooouuuuu..."

It caught on. Should this ring shank be replaced? Yes, and add an unset/reset charge for the emerald. Okay, love yoooouuuuu. Love yooouuuuuuu.

Months went by and those love-yous got a little less drawn out and musical. One day someone pre-pended the earnest pronoun "I".

Can I have Saturday off? No, sorry, Josh is off. Okay, I love you. I love you too.

This was my twenties. Three other salesmen on that staff with me, and another man I connected with by chance. All stood with me on my wedding day. We're now scattered across four states and two time zones. We still stay in touch. We still proclaim our love. One day I kissed one of them on the cheek when we hugged hello. I surprised myself; I don't kiss anyone who isn't family. But it felt like breathing, so I kept it up.

Didn't always have that, though. I've had years of mere existence, staring every evening at a screen in my living room, reaching out to strangers there in the aether and wishing everyone in my physical proximity would leave me to live in my own idiot head. I was starving myself.

One day I stood before my wife, nearly in tears, saying "I miss my friend." A week later she was pressing a plane ticket into my hand. I did not deserve that or her. I'm trying to make up for that now.

Now I have another, local group of friends. We have a regular dinner thing. We talk. About sports, about lawn care. About our terror and shame and hope and love. I recently told one of them that I love him. The others are on deck.

Let me tell you about my boy.

My boy burns hot. My boy feels every drop of his feelings. You are his friend, even if you haven't yet met.

My boy loves. Profoundly. So much that it's hard to get him to tell me his darker thoughts. I can see the wall of embarrassment: what if Dad loves me less if I tell him? And I will own that sometimes the messiness of his feelings inconveniences me, that I reach to contain it and keep us on schedule, rather than guide him through.

I know that the world is going to do its damndest to beat his love and affection out of him. I know that I have to be vigilant, or I will help it. I have to protect him from me.

What I have seen, time and again, is that men are starving as I have starved. And we have to dress up our love and need in no-homo bullshit to justify it to each other. Iron John forest howling. Promise Keepers. White men doing hakas. Hugging that inexplicably involves hitting. Love yoooouuuuuu.

Yet I tell my son: Enough. Could you just calm down. Breathe, buddy, it's not that big of a deal. Every blow tempers him. I do not tell him enough that we feed each other with handfuls of our insides. That making a feast of our hearts makes them beat more loudly.

We are obsessed with masculinity. Masculinity is cosplay and individualism a cancer. We smother the best parts of us in the name of some facile made-up John McClane bullshit. We chase the myth of the self, as if the self exists. So now it's hard for us to turn the the person next to us and say "I'm really happy right now," much less admitting out loud that we're absolutely fuckin' terrified. And so we die.

I learned emotional labor and emotional nourishment relatively late in life. But there is my boy, and there are these men, this boy and these men for whom I burn. I look into the eyes of men who have found what I found and sometimes I see the wild and exultant desperation that I feel, the fear that this can't go away, not ever, or I'll die. It lashes my heart to the earth.

I was alone when I spilled my blood into the walls of my house. I was alone when I shook the soil of my home out of my shoes and onto an island in the Danube. I was alone when I forded a creek in search of my son, trying not to scream.

These stories, you need to hear them so that you know that we are here, you and I. If I do not tell you them, I will die, and if you do not hear them, then I never will have lived.

Listen:

Dani Bunton changed video games forever

I fell down a Wiki rabbit hole recently after a Slack conversation about Arkansas software development. I didn't know that at one time, one of the best video game companies in the world was right here in Little Rock.

David Koon did a great cover story about their star developer a few years back. It does the whole historical-gendering, he-then-she thing, but otherwise it's a damn fine tribute to an unsung hero of software.

I'm one degree removed from her, turns out. A friend of mine started chatting with her in a bar in Hillcrest in the early '90s, somehow they got on the subject of games, and he declared to her that the greatest game of all time was M.U.L.E.

"I wrote that," she said, and it took a bit for her to convince him. From then on they were friends until her death.

"I still pull out my old Commodore and play it," he told me. "I've probably played M.U.L.E. 2000 times since the 1980s. And I've literally never seen a game go the same way twice."

Hell of a thing.

This is my child, he said.

Then he wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to the fire.

The boy sat tottering. The man watched him that he not topple into the flames. He kicked holes in the sand for the boy's hips and shoulders where he would sleep and he sat holding him while he tousled his hair before the fire to dry it. All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.

The Road

SO MAYBE JOHN MCCAIN FOUND SOME COURAGE IN BETWEEN A COUCH CUSHION

Very Smart Brothas posted a follow-up after last night's vote, so I feel I should do the same in the name of fairness.

I was happy to wake up to the news that the vote had been defeated. I do not believe that McCain did it for the right reasons, any more than I believe that more than half of Republicans actually want the repeal. They've seen the numbers, those that care about and understand numbers. And especially given the grandstanding McCain pulled on this, it smells more like a theatrically-waved middle finger than anything.

I have never believed in "moderate" "maverick" John McCain. I have never believed in him as anything other than what he needed to be in the moment to get ahead. A piece of me has that in common with him, and I've had to fight it for a long time. I know it when I see it. If you don't, this Rolling Stone profile quantifies it with hard facts.

Even so, I am fond of telling people that I am an Aristotelian at my core. Aristotle didn't give a good goddamn what's inside your head or heart. He didn't care about who or what you "love". He cared about your actions. There was another fella too went on about something to do with fruits.

That's me too, though I will almost surely whine about my intentions when I am caught doing wrong, at least until I catch myself. I don't care about your intentions, and I'm trying like hell not to care about mine.

So, in a nut, McCain probably did vote against the repeal to make himself look good and stick it to people he hates. But millions of people get to keep seeing doctors, at least for now. With that much on the line, I'll take a dirty win over a principled failure.