Missing the Point(s)

Yesterday, millions of women and men in the United States and around the world came out to march against the Trump presidency. The reaction among the Trumpists was predictable. I am shocked, however, to see the extent to which otherwise reasonable people — mostly not even Trump supporters — have piled onto the bandwagon of “where were these people on voting day?”

That bandwagon and the thinking behind is so wrong, so unbelievably wrong, that I am almost rendered speechless. Fortunately I can still type, so here is why that sentiment is wrong and completely misses the various points behind yesterday’s Women’s March.

(1) Your math is wrong

You seem to think that if all those protesters had simply voted against Trump on election day, that Trump wouldn’t have won and they’d have nothing to complain about. First off, who says that the people in the marches are the ones who didn’t vote?

The low voter turnout is irrelevant. The people who marched are most likely the people who did vote. After all, if you’re too lazy to vote you’re probably too lazy to go to a march. While we will never be sure about the actual percentage of marchers who did or didn’t vote, assuming that even half of them were vote-skippers is naïve in the extreme (see above point about laziness).

Even with the most pessimistic of voter turnout numbers, that still leaves tens of millions of U.S. citizens that voted against Trump, many of whom we saw yesterday.

(2) Your assumption about sour grapes is wrong

Your gripe implies you think the point of the march was to complain about the outcome of the vote. No, that’s over and done with. Although many questions remain unanswered about the role of Russia, and the “popular vote vs. electoral college” question remains forever in purgatory, the objective of the Women’s March was not to complain about losing.

The objective was to state loudly and clearly that although the election is a fait accompli, there is much about Trump, the Trump cabinet nominees, and other aspects of the Trump Machine that is already worthy of protest. The lies are as thick as ever, the inauguration speech was downright frightening, the ethical problems with Trump, his family, and his nominees are eye-popping, and his presidency is only a day old.

People against Trump could see this coming. It is absolutely known among clear- and objective-thinking people (both democrats and republicans, as well as people from around the world) that the Trump presidency is a disaster in the making on multiple levels. The Women’s March was protesting the on-coming train wreck, not the vote count.

(3) You don’t understand democracy

You seem to think that democracy involves going out to vote every four years and then just rolling over and letting your elected dictator do whatever he or she wants. No. This is not the Soviet Union. This isn’t the Vatican. Democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box; that’s where it begins.

In a properly functioning democracy, those who are elected are not granted short-term dictatorships. They are accountable to the people from the day they enter office until the day they leave. The people speak through the media, through the various committees and organizations that actually run the country, and through direct action (read: protests).

That’s how it works. It doesn’t stop. Yesterday we saw millions of people come out and say “No.” These people are holding Trump accountable for what he says and what he does, and yesterday’s march sets the tone for the next four years.

If you are against Trump and against the Women’s March, then I don’t know how you can even see straight given the cognitive dissonance that must be ravaging your brain right now. Unless, that is, there is something in your view of democracy that makes you think it’s just a once-every-four-years inconvenience and in the interim you’re happy to be lorded over and dictated.

In Trump’s inauguration speech he said “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Boom. That, right there, is the reason for the Women’s March on Washington (and its avatars around the world). The people standing up to the government, demanding to be heard.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

On Pat Metheny, Kool-Aid, and Bullshit

Every June, as the Montreal International Jazz Festival approaches, I find myself thinking about Pat Metheny. I’m not a fan. It has nothing to do with Metheny’s immeasurable talent and skills; I just don’t care very much about his medium: jazz guitar.

Back in 1989 I had not even heard of Pat Metheny until it was announced that he’d be headlining that year’s big open-air free megashow. Oh, the city lit up and was abuzz with Pat Metheny! Posters everywhere, articles in all the cultural tabloids and so on. Not a beer was raised in any bar before someone said “are you going to see Pat Metheny?” Not for weeks did friends and acquaintances meet on the street without beginning their salutations with “are you going to see Pat Metheny?”

It was infectious. Overnight, half the city became rabid Pat Metheny fans despite the fact that many people had never heard his music. The sad truth was that – hardcore jazz geeks notwithstanding – most people knew nothing about Pat Metheny other than:

  • He played guitar.
  • He had crazy rock-star hair.
  • He looked badass.

Looks badass from here.
(Photo by Badosa.)

Thus began the drinking of Kool-Aid and the parade of bullshit. By “bullshit” I mean more than the conventional lies and stupidity that we endure daily; I mean a fog of groupthink and blind optimism resulting in a city-wide mass hallucination.

The more people talked about the upcoming show, the more the fog spread and the more people believed they were about to experience the most mind-blowing musical experience of all time. This was long before YouTube and Wikipedia, so we had nothing go by by except those badass pictures and the hype. Oh, the hype!

Then it was show-time. The venue was Ave. McGill-College, with the stage set up near rue Ste-Catherine. 100,000 people clogged the avenue, all the way up to Sherbrooke street and beyond.

It was still daylight when the show began. Having arrived a bit late, my friends and I found some space at the back and settled in for a listen. And it was a listen, since there was nothing to see. The stage was far away and there were no video screens. If I stood up and squinted, I could see a crazy-haired guy way, way over there on the stage with his back to the audience, pondering his six-string as he plucked out mild ditties that sounded like the theme music for daytime talk shows.

On and on it went. A fuzzy-haired guy plinking dork music two football fields away. This wasn’t growling and moaning blues guitar as many people probably thought it would be; it was jazz guitar. It sounded to me like something you’d listen to in your den in 1964 while wearing slippers and smoking a pipe.

Meanwhile, the audience – at least in the back where we were – barely paid attention. People were sitting on the ground, smoking, and chatting. Some were reading. At one point I noticed that the band had taken a break and the filler music didn’t sound any different. I left before it was over.

For the next few days people cautiously remarked on how the show was “awesome” and “amazing,” the way you’d describe some foreign folk dance that you don’t understand. After about a week no one I knew ever mentioned it again.

Coda: this malformed memoir should not be seen as a criticism of Pat Metheny and his music. As I said in the beginning, it’s just not to my taste. Rather, this is a commentary on the nature of megashows, the malleability of groups, and the nature of bullshit as the cement that holds many aspects of our society together. There are a few videos from the show on YouTube (this one is typical, this one gives you a sense of the venue, and this one might even wake you up), and in them you can see that the crowd — at least the ones up front — were clearly enjoying the show. But those are probably the hardcore jazz geeks. It’s my opinion that the 80,000 people behind them had no idea what was going on and were probably wondering when the Muzak was going to stop so the show could begin.

Conundrum

I have not been paying much attention to the Republican Presidential primaries happening south of the border because it’s none of my business and because I can’t bear to witness such wholesale human stupidity. On the other hand, as Pierre Trudeau told the National Press Club in Washington DC in 1969, living next to the U.S. is like sleeping with an elephant; you feel every twitch and grunt.

So it’s hard to ignore. I’m not what you’d call well informed, but I’m not completely uninformed either. What I do know has me facing a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it seems that of the entire roster, Mitt Romney is the least insane and delusional, although he’s barely less pandering. That implies that if he gets the nomination he’ll actually have a pretty good shot at the throne, as he could turn some disillusioned Obama supporters. And if he does become President, the U.S. will only be somewhat worse off, and its descent over the apocalyptic precipice will only be accelerated marginally.

My inclination is to hope that a nominee farther out on the fringes will get the ticket. Michele Bachmann would have been great, as there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell she’d get elected (although with climate change messing everything up, such expressions are becoming meaningless), but it looks like she’s bailed out of the race.

So here’s my conundrum:

Do I hope that the marginally whacky person wins, knowing that such a person has a better shot at the White House, but at least if they win they’ll do less damage than one of the other whack jobs?

Or do I hope that an entirely whacky person wins, knowing that such a person has only the slimmest shot at the White House, but if they win it will basically be the end of western civilization as we know it?

It’s all too painful to think about and downright tortuous to watch. It sickens me to hear any U.S. politician speak during campaign season (which is essentially 3.9 years out of every four) because not a word of truth escapes their lips, ever. Every breath is either pandering for votes or parroting for lobbyists.

I can’t really blame U.S.ers for their electoral apathy and low voter turnouts. Just look at what they’re stuck with! (Not just the politicians; the whole system is corrupt and absurd.) I’m not sure who is to blame for that, as it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Or a snake eating it’s tail. Or maybe a snake eating a chicken egg. Whatever metaphor you choose to spoil, the end result is a so-called “democratic” political system in which the elected have nothing to do with the people who elect them, and a population that gets the government it deserves. It is unfixable.

At times like this I hope the Mayans were right.

Name Plates in the Cube Farm

I once worked in an office environment that was a vast array of cubicles, and every cubicle had a name plate to identify the cube’s inhabitant. There were two kinds of name plates available; one type was a free-standing A-frame of the type you see on executive desks that say “The Buck Stops Here” and the other type was a flat frame that clipped to the cubicle wall.

From my perspective, the free-standing ones were more useful. You could put it on top of your cubicle’s shelf unit, and anyone within 50 feet could see it and know where you were sitting. That’s very useful for helping new employees figure out who’s who and who’s where, and for locating someone in a part of the cube farm that you’re not familiar with.

The flat ones were less useful, as you could only really see them when you were within a few feet of the person’s cube. In other words, you had to begin your search with pretty tight parameters, such as “third floor, north wing, fifth row” which is a lot more complicated than just “third floor, north wing,” or “near where Bob sits,” or even “over there” if you’re already in the north wing.

Given that I’m in the business of helping people figure things out and do things, I much preferred the free-standing name plates that could be seen from afar. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of my colleagues–in some cases people in the same line of work as me–preferred the flat ones. I thought about this for a while and eventually realized that name plates perform another function that I hadn’t considered before. They are territorial markers.

Not being one to lay much territorial claim to a cubicle, this had escaped me at first. After all, I didn’t put any personal photographs or art projects or any other significant “me” markers around. (Exception: I pinned a cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 years on the wall, along with a slip of paper on which was written my verbal mantra, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”) Because really, I’m happy to show up every day and to do good work, but I don’t want to move in.

However, some of the cubicles around me were overflowing with photos, children’s doodles, plants, gizmos, knick-knacks, and other personal detritus. (There’s a good article on CNN about this phenomenon.) Whatever. It’s your cubicle dude, you can decorate it as you like. But the name plate is there to help people find you.

What really drove home that these were territorial markers was when I noticed some people had their name plates inside their cubicles, where only people in the cubicle could see them.

Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes people just don’t think things through. But I brought this up a few times with a few people–doing so casually so as not to raise defenses–and the response was always along the lines of “whatever, it’s how I like it,” as if the location of your name plate was purely a matter of personal preference, like the color of your socks. When I pressed them on the issue of people needing to find them they’d say something like “if people want to find me all they need to do is ask!” (Insert mental “GONG” sound here…)

I’ll let you ponder that. In the meantime, I’m deleting a lot of text that I had written–stuff along the lines of this being so territorial it’s like a declaration of war–because I try not to be judgemental. Let’s just say that if you don’t understand what the purpose of a cubicle name plate is, you probably don’t understand a lot of other things you need to know to do your job right, especially if you’re in the same line of work as me.

Here’s a picture in case you were reading too fast.

Update:

Due to overwhelming demand in the comments, here is the cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 or so years. OK, maybe it’s eight years. Or nine. No, at least nine. Maybe 12… It’s my “justify your existence” mantra, and in a way it relates to the name plate issue:

(For more like this, check out Ted Goff’s website: www.tedgoff.com.)