Frozen in a field of Pradas

“Maximus has something in his mouth!” Janet frantically whispered to Brandon, waking him up. “He’s under the bed!”

When Brandon shined his Maglite under the bed, he saw a three-inch field mouse–scampering into their closet.

“What is it?”

“It’s a mouse, presumably drowning in your Pradas.”

“Ew!”

Brandon found the rodent poking his head out of a black pump, frozen in Brandon’s light.

“Where in the hell is that cat?” Brandon complained to no one while fetching a bag and a broom.

But Maximus was coiled on the bed, content that He did his part for his pride.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”

I ran across this article in Jacobin here on WordPress and wanted to share it. I have always enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s work but didn’t know he wrote a political essay supporting socialism. It just made the top of my Goodreads list! To some degree, it makes sense that he would be a socialist or an anarchist, his biting satire of the Victorian Age alludes it. He was also gay, which, in those times, almost ensured he would be on the outside. Read on.

Oscar Wilde is known today for his satirical wit and literary accomplishments. But he was also a socialist committed to the fight against oppression and exploitation. The great satirist Oscar Wilde believed that a better society was possible under socialism. (Pixabay) That Oscar Wilde found much to ridicule in the conventional values of late Victorian…

The Socialism of Oscar Wilde — Jacobin

ShoeShining Optimism

Looking through the Pennysaver, Jack found the shop where he used to have his shoes repaired before COVID-19 turned his city into a ghost town had reopened.

Besides shoe repairs, Ben, the owner, was back to shining shoes! Wouldn’t it be nice to step up on the shoeshine stand and have Ben shine his oxfords?

Jack usually shined his shoes. These days, working from home, slippers were the office footwear, but today, he would dress for work and visit Ben. The shop’s reopening was a sign of brighter times ahead, and Jack wasn’t going to ignore this auspicious moment.

Backing out of Social Media: An Updated Post

The post you are reading is not new, it’s a redux (if I’m using the Latin word correctly) of the original post, but I’ve changed and added content due to recent events.

Back in January of 2018, a friend stopped me in the lobby where we both work and told me a political meme that I had posted on Facebook the day before was false–or at least Snopes.com claims it was not valid. That was good enough for me. In reflection, the quote Vice President Pence supposedly said, was crazy. He has said and done some stupid things, but saying that the American people don’t need healthcare, but Jesus Care should have sent up a red flag when I first saw it.

But it didn’t.

Before I got back on Facebook to look at the quote and the comments Facebook friends had left me, I knew it was a lie. Then why in the hell did I post it? I’m over the shame of posting this falsehood, but this kind of thing has been bugging me for a long time–people posting shit for other friends to see, and a lot of the posts are either lies or exaggerations. It’s an epidemic, as shown in the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and with my meme on Mike Pence, I just added to the disease!

Ironically, I’ve been reading about this problem long before the Netflix doc, but for some reason, it never dawned on me that I was contributing to it. Maybe it is because I only have a handful of people I consider friends, and that social media acted as a boon to me, even with all its pitfalls. David Harvey, author, distinguished professor of Anthropology, Geography at the City University of New York, and leading Marxist scholar, says social media has had a radical democratizing effect on society. Still, he continues, it also is a form of social control. His solution is that people need to cultivate circles of friends to discuss issues of the day. These groups of friends works as forms of “group truthing.” He also suggests creating or joining reading groups. If only I were extraverted enough to “cultivate a circle of friends.” Truth be told, before the coronavirus put the kabash on such activities, I did enjoy attending a monthly dinner and movie group. The dinner time and the short time milling around after the film might qualify as exercising in “group truthing” though most of the subjects tossed around were about entertainment. I stopped attending a reading group put on by the Sacramento chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, but I always felt like the group dunce even though the group of young activists were very supportive.

My brother, who has cultivated and kept a circle of friends since his childhood, finds social media a colossal waste of time. My youngest son and his politically active best friend don’t have social media accounts. They value their (perceived) privacy and know whatever valuable information they can glean from Facebook, Twitter, etc., they can access directly from their sources. I would be a pompous ass if I said I left social media because of the Russian influence, QAnon, Pizzagate, the Flat Earth Conspiracy, or other things on social media. While I believe social media has become a security concern, as illustrated in the above film, the reasons I left social media are more personal. Here are the main ones.

Not Checking Sources

Too often, I don’t check my sources before posting a meme or a quote. The Mike Pence incident was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Facebook and Twitter. I posted a political meme that a friend pointed out was false. This event was very embarrassing. What’s worse, it wasn’t the first time it happened. I have probably done this half-dozen times. I have also been one to bust others on this kind of activity.

Trusted Source, Excellent Writer, Hard-Hitting Title. Meh, I’ll Read It After I Post It

I often don’t read an article all the way through before I share it, which is a big problem. Still, posting something I did not wholly read (or did not read at all) is believing in a source, but not necessarily the actual text. For example, after years of putting up with followers and sycophants, who seemed to take every word he said as the infallible truth, Noam Chomsky began to end his arguments with, “It’s all right there in the documents. Read them for yourselves.” I had the utmost confidence in the sources to my newsfeed posts or just about anything that proceedeth from Chomsky’s mouth. (Yeah, I’m one of those sycophants.) Still, it is lazy at best, arrogant at worst to tell someone they should read an article on corporate farming or climate change, assuming that whatever I posted must be the truth, whether I read it or not.

My Facebook Page is Intended for the Serious Reader (That’s why it’s on Facebook)

boxing day

I should be posting videos and pictures of cute kittens instead of damning quotes from/of politicians. Maybe I should have changed my material to better suit people like my wife. I think the only things she liked about my otherwise useless and at times harmful Facebook page were my humorous videos, family photos, and images and videos of cats (dogs too, but mostly cats). The funny thing is, I would love to share more stuff like the adjacent image, but most of my now ex-Facebook friends didn’t post that kind of stuff. That’s the Zuckerberg algorithm at work. I have friends and family members who almost exclusively use Facebook as family albums. Almost as if Facebook was created, especially for that.

Can I Get a Hallelujah, Somebody!

When it came to my political posts, I was preaching to the choir. Over the years, Facebook’s algorithm sifted out political infidels. I rarely did the sifting. The chafe separated itself–sometimes with angry adieus. The few exceptions included conservative family members who, I am confident, gaged on my political posts all the while hung on as friends for the occasional family image (not to mention a wine-drinking joke or a video of kitties sliding around on moving turntables). So this business of posting something Bernie Sanders said or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did so we can all metaphorically slap each other on the proverbial back seemed foolish when a moment like the impetus of this blog post occurs. My Facebook posts and Twitter tweets didn’t convert anybody; they only made some of my political kin feel good and, in turn, made me feel good when they click on the Thumps Up.

… and the Obvious

I spent too much time on social media. From time to time, I had looked for a time-motion tool that would tell me just how much time I burned up on social media. Between checking my feed on my phone and my PC at home and work, it had to be in the double-digit minutes each day, with a slight drop during the weekend and days off. Hanging out on Facebook and Twitter was so unproductive, but who was I kidding? When I stopped looking at my social media apps, the vacuum created was not filled with Bible study, re-thinking how I do my job, or thinking of what home improvements I could do on the weekends. I’m currently filling it with chess on my phone, reading, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, watching TV, and blogging.

The Other Time Wasters

Facebook took up the lion’s share of time I spend on social media. When I cut way back on Facebook, I initially upped my activity on Twitter, but that didn’t last long. When I finally got rid of Facebook, I did the same with Twitter. Around that time, I started amusing myself with the habitual-as- heroin social app TikTok, but I nuked that app from my phone when I realized I couldn’t stop watching it. When I wasn’t laughing my ass off I was pissed at my liberal TikTokers for bashing the MAGA crowd. Yeah, the Trump supporters are a miserable bunch, but we Democrats are, in part responsible for failing the working class of America. Hating and mocking them is not going to grown the Party of the People.

I never got into Instagram, so dropping that app was easy. I took many pictures of hamburgers back when this blog was about trying different burger joints. Other than that and the rare vacation pictures, the rest are cooking ingredients taken at a grocery stores (“Honey, is this what you want?”), photos of bike and scooter parts, and similar things that would make a boring Instagram post.

What Facebook was Not to Me

I want to say that while Facebook, and later Twitter, occupied too much of my time, I’d like to think I did not obsess over it, and it was not as addictive as I thought it would be. Nor did I, as lonely as I am, ever considered my Facebook friends real friends–except the few people I considered friends before Zuckerberg and the other Harvard guys created the app. I know people take social media too seriously, as a “news” source (Pizzagate, for example), just as some use the social tool as a vicious attack tool. I recall a young woman’s story, tired of getting harassed by an ex-boyfriend or an ex-friend on some social media platform, typed out something like “That’s it. I’m out” in response to the latest personal attack and then walked in front of a speeding subway train. I did, however, experience first hand how someone could take Facebook too seriously.

The title of the original January 25, 2018 post was “Backing out of Facebook” because I wasn’t ready to cancel my account, but I hadn’t done anything when I first wrote the post three years ago. The title and the post was a proclamation of future actions. Shortly after I posted the article here on WordPress.com, I took the first baby step: I removed all but a few followed Groups (Oakland A’s, Sacramento Burger Battle, and my church were the only ones I remember keeping. I then took a more significant step and nuked about sixty percent of my Facebook friends, keeping only family, church family, and a handful of friends I still see and childhood friends who were nice to this fat, clumsy kid.

That’s when I got the call.

I did not recognize her voice, and when she told me her name, I did not recognize her name. I struggled to communicate with her. She was angry that I unfriended her on Facebook. I had to ask twice who she was. The second time she answered, she was even more upset, but she finally explained our tenuous connection as if it should have been obvious to me from the beginning of the call. Her parents knew my parents years ago–that was it. We didn’t know each other. That was how she friended me in the first place. We never spoke on Facebook, and I believe we had only seen each other when we were children. It was this flimsy association that warranted her to friend me years ago, and I was stupid enough to accept. What would it hurt to grant Facebook friendship to a virtual stranger? What could go wrong?

Now it was the dissolution of this weak association that warranted an angry call from someone who, I’m sure, did not know the color of my eyes or that one of them was lazy. When I told the caller, I was on my way out of Facebook, and I was starting my exit by cutting out everyone except family and close friends. She wasn’t having it. To calm her down, I promised to accept her friendship if she sent another request. She said she had already sent it. Yep, there it was. I accepted it and my potential Play Misty For Me moment was averted. Okay, the Clint Eastwood film allusion is over the top. Still, I didn’t know how emotional she would get if I hung up or said no, get a life. And, yeah, I’m sure she wouldn’t come at me with a big-ass knife or throw herself in front of a moving train. Since I have canceled my Facebook account, I doubt I am in any trouble. Or am I?

What Remains

As of this post, only a couple of social media accounts have survived my purge. Being an avid reader and a nut for lists, I will always use Goodreads. Even if the few Goodreads friends I have left me, I would use it. I don’t consider it social media anyway, even though you can comment on the book someone is currenting reading or the title they have just finished. You can also leave messages. I have made suggestions to the site, like a field with each title for a short note, to remind myself why this title is in my To Read list. I add so many titles to my To Read list that I often forget why I wanted to read certain books. Anyway, they aren’t listening to me.

I can’t say how many times I have downloaded then deleted the app Nextdoor later to download it again. If you don’t know, Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. At first, I thought it was kind of handy, and I still do today (mainly because I turned off the notifications). I have now made peace with the app. I think the notification part of the tool is supposed to make the social networking app helpful. I turn on the notifications if I see something strange in my neighborhood, the power goes out, or I can hear a police helicopter flying circles around my block. When there is some activity happening in my hood, I’ll turn on the notifications, and my phone will go off every few minutes with neighbors chiming in. About 80 percent of the announcements are dumb-ass comments or announcements from the Department of Redundancy Department. Someone posted something they thought was important without checking the thread and wasted everyone’s time. A couple of years ago, there was a murder on a street adjacent to mine—an abusive piece of shit husband, tired of dispensing black eyes to his wife decided to finish the job. A fraction of the updates were helpful–information someone got from the Sacramento Police Department. The rest of the notifications were just annoying variations on a “Do you hear the helicopter circling out the neighborhood?” When the situation, whatever it was, is over I once again turn the notifications off.

I’m also on WeChat, a Chinese multi-purpose social media app. (Think Instagram with a messaging service.) Since China restricts most of the social media tools we use in the U.S., my wife and I use WeChat to keep in touch with our older son, his beautiful wife, and our grandchildren. Though the outgoing Trump Administration may not bother now, there was a concern WeChat would be blocked. If that becomes the case, my resourceful daughter-in-law has other social media accounts that we will be able to use to keep their baby pix coming!

Now that I’m done with Facebook, I’m feeling good, but I miss my real Facebook friends (family members and the few friends I have) on the app. I also used Facebook to pimp this blog whenever I posted something new. I’m also having withdrawals from Twitter. I’m a political junkie, and that was one of my pushers (along with YouTube, which I’m still mainlining). It’s funny that I don’t miss TikTok. When I had it on my phone, I put a lot of time watching the videos on the application.

Now Joe Biden is assembling his cabinet, and besides his pick for Secretary of the Interior, I’m not happy. I could bitch about it on this platform, but I’m too lazy. Anyway, I already did a sadly not so prophetic post of my favorite Democrats back in June of 2019. I prefer posting someone else’s hard work from The Intercept, The Nation, or a David Dole video.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot.

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Watch a chess film. Start playing the game. Suck at it. Give it up. Repeat.

Recently I watched Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit. The limited series is based on the novel of the same name by the late Walter Tevis. It’s an excellent read and a fantastic streaming series, and it inspired me to pick up my fickled and hopeless interest in chess.

This isn’t the first time I watched a chess film and became interested or re-energized about the game—it’s happened multiple times. I first time I became interested in chess was in the early 1990s after seeing the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. I couldn’t be happy with merely playing friendly games with friends and family. Nope, I had to buy high-quality chess set with a large vinyl rollup board and join the U.S. Chess Federation that gave me a provisional rating. I then begin signing up for and playing in correspondence chess tournaments. I could have played over the board (or OTB) games at the Sacramento Chess Club, but I was too intimidated by the players. As a result, I only visited these gatherings a few times.

And books, I bought plenty of books on chess, many of them I barely cracked. I liked books on strategy, but I seemed to think the act of buying the books would magically transfer the authors’ knowledge into my brain. The irony is I never was good at the game, but that didn’t stop me from playing and losing, and buying more chess shit and losing even more games, and buying more chess shit until I finally got tired of losing and quit so I could spend my money on some other flash-in-the-pan fancy.

Time went on, and I forgot about chess I was once so excited over. The books on the game became an embarrassment to view whenever I was looking for another book. In 1996/97, Grandmaster Gary Kasparov had two sets of matches with IBM’s chess computer Deep Blue, but I think I only watched a few minutes of one of the games. A few years later, though, I saw Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, the film based on those matches, and I became interested in chess again. At the time, my friend Mathieu from work told me his friend, Angus, liked playing correspondence chess via email. I knew Angus when he briefly worked with Mathieu and me in the past. We enjoyed playing chess via email, chatting while we posted our moves. We found out we had things in common besides a friend and an interest in chess: we were both Christians. If not genuinely close friends, we became more intimate friends talking about our faith while playing. Our games usually ended in my resigning being down material, or we would draw. There were very few games where I won. It was frustrating that I lost so often, but I liked playing and chatting with Angus.

Chess as a losing game started to get old–both my correspondence games with the U.S. Chess Federation tournaments and my friendlies with Angus. I still wanted to play chess, but I wanted to play better to make the games more exciting so, I decided to get a coach. I logged onto the Sacramento Chess Club website and checked out the best players. I can’t remember why I settled on James MacFarland, but my best guess is because he was the only top player who was a civil servant like myself, and so his email address was in a directory to which I had access. He must have been apprehensive receiving a cold call via email from a stranger about chess because he told me he would have to think about my offer. Ultimately, he emailed me back, and we set up a schedule. He would coach me for a certain amount of cash for one hour of coaching each weekend.

We ended up meeting at a coffee house in midtown, going over my correspondence games. We would play a few moves then he would ask me why I made a specific move. It frustrated him that I could never give him an intelligent answer. I would often have comments next to my chess notations like “I’m boxed in” or “congested” or some other adjective, and he would show me ways to open up the board. Other times he would look at a particular move, asked me why I moved my piece there and when I would shrug my shoulders or say, “I couldn’t think of any other move to make,” he would sigh, “Look, if you are not going to put thought into each move you make maybe you should take up checkers.”

Usually, a comment like that would have made me tell him to eat shit and break off the arrangement, but I knew he was right. I should have thought through the moves, but I also felt outgunned by most of my opponents. James would often tell me how much time he puts into studying games so he wouldn’t lose his edge. He once told me when he split his free time between studying chess and studying Go (the ancient Chinese abstract strategy board game). James wasn’t respecting either game by splitting his time between the two and ultimately dropped Go. I could see why he was disgusted with my chess moves and my crappy excuses for making them, even though he accepted my money: he loved the game and thought I was disrespectful toward it.

During the few months James and I replayed my failing games, he felt I needed to learn and memorize three Opening Games: one when I play white and two when I play black. (Two openings for black because black reacts to white’s first move: one when white opens with the King’s Pawn (e4) and one when white opens with the Queen’s Pawn (d4) or any other first move except e4.) He gave me three books–one for each opening he wanted me to study and consign to memory. I remembered most of the first five or so moves of each of the openings, but the books, though thin, were a bit much for me to remember. James also gave me some other books on strategy. Some were books he found on sale, and one or two were books from his collection that he was happy to provide me with.

Of all the books I have on chess, the best one I ever had was Irving Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move: Every Move Explained. I bought this one on a hunch, and it paid off. It requires the reader to keep a chessboard out and go through the exercises. For a while, it improved my chess. I was still playing with my friend Angus when I was going through the book, and about halfway through it, I beat Angus three games in a row. It rattled my even-tempered Christian chess buddy because he told me he didn’t want to play anymore unless we played OTB. I never asked him if he thought I cheated. It didn’t affect our friendship. He’s such a nice person that I doubt he thought I was cheating but insisting that we play OTB could be construed that if I was going to beat him a fourth time, he wanted to make sure I did it without the assistance of a computer or a book to get suggested moves. After Angus and I stopped playing, I lost interest in chess and, in fact, donated most of my books on chess when my wife and I spent a weekend thinning out our bookshelves.

When Pawn Sacrifice came out, I got kind of excited about chess again. Also, Angus invited me to play him on our iPhones with the app Chess with Friends. Because it was so easy to play, we probably logged in more games than ever, but I didn’t get all crazy about chess that time around, and at some point, Angus called it quits. (This time, it wasn’t because I was winning; whatever skills I gained from the Chernev book were lost.) I was happy playing until one of us died, logging moves at our leisure seemingly forever, but he didn’t want to play that way, and when he stopped playing, I stopped, too.

Now that I’ve seen The Queen’s Gambit, I am, once again, interested in the Game of Kings. I started playing on the mobile app Chess with Friends again. I also downloaded other chess apps like Shredder Chess and Dr. Wolf. I decided to read David Shenk’s book on the history of chess, The Immortal Game, which was one of the few chess books that survived a general book purge my wife and I performed years ago to make space for newer titles, and have re-ordered the excellent Logical Chess. (Unfortunately, that title didn’t survive the purge.)

I don’t know how long chess will hold my interest this time around. Right now, I am just taking it slow and playing strangers on Chess with Friends. One of the frustrating things about limiting my chess games to this app is that singles are now using the app’s chat feature to meet prospective dates. The singles usually play horrible chess or never make the first move (a-hem). I am seriously considering signing up again with the USCF and playing in correspondence chess tournaments as I did back in the 1990s. Did I say I was “taking it slow”?

Snacking Marks a Relationship

When they started dating, they drank sodas in her Mom’s kitchen. On the sly, they would taste each other’s sugary drinks whenever they kissed—which was often.

In college, they explored each other’s tastes in movies—she would pick one on one date, he would select one the next date. They enjoyed sharing snacks as they watched videos in his apartment. They were in love, and they couldn’t find faults with each other.

Two years and a little boy later, she wonders if there is anyone on the planet who can eat chips louder than her high school sweetheart.

This is Not a Story About Mice

This isn’t a story about mice.

If you want one of those, scroll down.

This is a story about Sunny, the pound trash tabby that stalked mice when the sun went down.

This is the story of Sunny’s owners, who often got little sleep when Sunny brought in half-dead mice so his owners could try to catch the lame rodents. Or to have their morning appetites dashed when they found a mouse in the kitchen, decapitated—it’s brains eaten out of its skull.

This isn’t a story about finches or full-grown owls, either, but Sunny dispatched them as well.

This Machine Kills [Proto]Fascists

If only Woody Guthrie was around today I’m sure he would have a song or two about Donald Trump–he had one for his father. Arvind Dilawar interviews Will Kaufman author of three books on Guthrie for Jacobin

Legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie is best known for his anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” which can come off as an innocuous ode to America if you aren’t listening closely. But the singer-songwriter was a lifelong socialist. Woody Guthrie, 1970. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images) I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just…

The Radicalism of Woody Guthrie — Jacobin

Molten Lava Macchiatos

Larry liked the convenience of the corner cafe—it was an easy walk from his home. The problem was the baristas always made the coffee as hot as molten lava. Many times he asked if there was a way to make the drinks less searing, but he would receive the same icy, “No.” He was tempted to reply, “If only you had a button on that La Marzocco that reflected your attitude, that would surely cool down my macchiato,” or, “The beans are already roasted, buddy, there is no need to boil them.” Alas, he held his burnt tongue.

God’s Not a Mets Fan

“Just look at that young man in that cowboy hat,” she whispered to her husband. “He should remove that when he’s in church.” “Times change. Younger generations don’t seem to care,” her husband replied indifferently. Then, suddenly objecting, “How come it’s okay that women can wear big fancy hats? Doesn’t the Bible say a woman’s hair is her crowning glory? And why can’t I wear my New York Mets cap?” The wife, flipping through the hymnal, sighed, “Yes dear, but the Bible also says a woman is to cover her head during worship. Anyway, God’s not a Mets fan.”