The eye teaches skepticism; the eyelid teaches faith.”
Techbros fawning over Musk, whinging about the “woke mob” and STEMlording all over the place, oh my!
The first, violent year
I could not swim or float;
A dark and balanced fear
Hung on me like a coat
-- Kenneth Koch, “You Know All This”
Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place”
A promise is binding in the inverse ratio of the numbers to whom it is made.”
--Thomas De Quincey
In all the works on pedagogy that ever I read — and they have been many, big, and heavy — I don't remember that any one has advocated a system of teaching by practical jokes, mostly cruel. That, however, describes the method of our great teacher, Experience.”
The pragmatic method…is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other's being right.”
--Wm. James, What Pragmatism Means
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's passing.
I read everything of his in print by tenth or eleventh grade. I re-read it all still.
He's in Heaven now.
The weather is turning. The wind comes and goes, rattles the windows, whole house when it comes. The crackle of warm dust against the glass.
Seeds have started in the green-cabinet. Peppers, tomatoes, herbs. Lilac and blackberry and roses transplanted or soon to be.
The edge of spring, everybody up and down, often on edge -- maybe the wind, maybe the waiting.
More or less snowed in for a couple of days now. Lovely out, but the roads are bad. Bracing for the coldest weather of the winter so far.
Thinking about the inevitable, the irrevocable, dread. But not altogether mired in it all. Exercise and letting go are important.
Looking forward to sunny, warm days -- long, mostly pointless drives and hikes and so on. Hoping for a quick draw-down to this wave of infection. Missing the spontaneity and relative free-wheeling of pre-pandemic wandering. Happy about a favorite, very old coat -- older, even, than me -- turning up unexpectedly.
Cooler evenings creeping in. The flicker and glow emanating from the mouth of the chiminea, also the smell of piñon.
‟But if I'd known I was going to live so damn long, I'd have taken better care of myself.”
Daily, I hear ravens kaw-kawing, beating their wings atop fenceposts and telephone poles, and I watch them watching the world with a sort of bemused detachment, as if they already know where things are headed and have from some beginning. So they end up in my sketchbook with some frequency.
Their calls are not just distinctive -- they echo in one's head, simultaneously reminiscent of the sound of repeated pulls on a chainsaw's starter rope and something more mystical, musical. They are not plaintive but rather sort of imperious and maybe at times more than a little menacing (even pulpy).
In his appearance on Dick Cavett's show in 1972, Alfred Hitchcock said it was the ravens that were the smartest of the 3,200 trained birds used in his famously terrifying movie. And for all the masses of birds that create the disquieting effects of the film, it's the single raven that alights on the jungle gym behind Tippi Hedren as she sits on a bench, oblivious, that comes to mind when I see the ravens on my daily walks. Are they messengers in the background of my life, too?
Messengers or no, more and more, I tend to see the sky in my mind's eye as dotted with ravens kiting, their diamond-shaped tails distinct against cloudless blue and sun.
Saw some lovely hedgehog cactus blooms on a walk today.
I collected some peach pits at the base of a peach tree growing locally. My hope is that it might be a local landrace, and I'd like to see if I can get them to sprout. If so, I'll keep them indoors until spring.
I have no experience at all with peaches from seed. Did some reading, and it seems you have to “cold stratify” them. I'm giving it a shot and have a half-dozen in medium in baggies in my refrigerator. I'll give them until mid-to-late-September to cool off in there, then I'll see if I can get them to sprout.
Apparently, a similar approach works with roses, so maybe I'll try that, too, down the road.
After some fairly intense storm activity last night, I saw the bats I've seen the last few summers once again flying around the neighborhood. They are wonderful to watch.
it is prohibited to whisper the names of the dead,
as it encourages them to linger at the doorstep,
and she has already lingered, far too long
I’ve spent some time as a union organizer and I feel like I’ve sort of landed on some general principles that were consistently important in that work. They are:
- Moving people is often a longer-term project and requires repeated and varied contact/interaction.
- Organizers have to be organized.
- Ideology matters, and you have to talk to people about it in meaningful, accessible ways.
Moving People Over the Longer Term
Moving people to action, including joining a union or organizing effort, looks different in almost every case. Ultimately, the keys are awareness and relationships. A person first has to be aware of the union, its purposes and aims, its (potential) bearing on their life at work and elsewhere. And their interactions with organizers and members of the union have to give them a good impression, a sense that the union is a worthy project, and that the union will do right by them in concrete ways.
People will come to these interactions with various dispositions and experiences relative to unions, the workplace, politics, etc. For the person already ideologically sympathetic to the labor movement, you may move them to joining or other action on the spot of the first contact. With others, things can take time, even a very long time. In the cases where an on-the-spot conversion isn’t in the cards, organizers have to play a longer game, and that, in my experience, is ultimately about repeated and varied contact.
That means you’ll have to have any number of face-to-face conversations, phone talks, direct mail contacts, email messages, etc. to build the kind of awareness and relationship necessary to move a given person to act or join. The truth is, joining up with any institution is worth serious consideration, and you (the organizer and the union writ large) owe to each potential member to make your case to them, explain the union’s purposes and powers and articulate those with each person’s own motives and interests. That can take time, so the first priority is to keep the channels open with people. Don’t alienate them.
It can be hard to know how hard to push. It’s critical to have a sense of urgency and to get comfortable with asking people to act, to change their position, to join up. Even so, you have to be careful not to push so hard as to rub folks the wrong way so that you lose them for good. Meet people where they are, sure. But make your case earnestly and thoughtfully with a certain urgency, knowing that you’re going to have to do it in different ways, in different venues, across various media, over a potentially long period of time. Get used to delayed gratification and be patient. Steady wins.
Organizers Have to Be Organized
A lot of emphasis is put on one-on-ones in organizing circles, and it’s true there’s no shortcut around them. They’re at the center of organizing, no doubt. But you have to do a lot more, I think, to be effective over the long haul. Coordinating all those efforts and maintaining continuity require a lot of focus and record-keeping.
It’s not glamorous, but tracking interactions with potentials, gathering their contact details, making assessments, etc. are all essential. Chances are, you’re not going to bat a thousand on first contact with a group of potentials very often, if at all. So you’d better have a plan to reach those folks who didn’t come onboard immediately.
A great example is new employee orientations. You get in front of new hires and make your pitch. Maybe you move one or two to join. But that’s probably a minority of the group. You’d better have a plan for getting their contact details and systematically communicating with them going forward, including purposeful follow-ups in waves over the next few months. Whatever the specifics of your plan are, you’ll have to be serious about collecting data and storing it in sensible ways so as to make it actionable.
Personally, I spent a lot of time working on tools for integrating new data into my existing digital records and for reports and call lists. There’s no doubt in my mind that work paid off in big ways. It’s mostly about being methodical and consistent, staying committed to doing data-driven organizing which starts with meticulous records. Again, it’s not necessarily the part of the job that appeals the most to activists and romantics (who are just the sort of people we want doing organizing), but it’s critical.
So pick a system, get buy-in from the entire team, and stick to it. It will naturally grow and change, but it shouldn’t be allowed to wither or unravel. Keep it consistent. Keep it clean. And always work to make it more useful. You can’t win big victories in organizing with a bunch of lost sticky notes and forgotten names. So start by being organized yourself.
The labor movement is a long-running social experiment embedded in and alongside a bunch of others. There’s no getting around it. It’s not a business. Organizing isn’t sales. You’re in the business of social change, and you can’t/shouldn’t hide from that.
Lots of working people don’t really know much about unions. We don’t talk much or at all about them in school, so it’s no surprise. And decades of sustained anti-labor propaganda has had a pretty serious effect on the awareness that lots of working people do have. So you’ll encounter folks who are apathetic, ambivalent, or even hostile toward the whole project.
And given the discomfort around politics in general in many contexts and cultures, you’ll generally want to avoid overtly political talk. The central aim is to grow the union and its power. That’ll mean focusing on what unites working people, their common interests and values. More concretely, it means you can’t just try to organize liberals and progressives, and conflating unionism with those tendencies is counter-productive and potentially really destructive.
That said, the labor movement isn’t somehow neutral in ideological and political terms. It’s pretty far from it. How do you square the need to keep the tent large without pretending that the movement isn’t historically associated with particular political dispositions and aims? You talk about it honestly and openly, but you do that with care.
Look for opportunities to claim common values, to challenge assumptions, to link up folks’ ideas about their own personal virtues with the values of the movement and union. But always try to do those things without alienating anybody, so far as is possibly, anyway. There are limits, though.
Some people hate unions. Some people have embraced politics that are in marked opposition to their own immediate interests. They’re going to be resistant, even hostile. You want to appeal to them, but that can’t mean trying to empty the union vision of its broader social aims and its historical emphases.
Unions are ultimately about economic justice and democracy. You can sell those to the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their politics. But making wide-ranging appeals can’t go so far as to betray those core principles. That’s how you lose good things and get really bad ones.
There’s More than One Way…
Ultimately, you have to sort of find your own way(s) to be an effective organizer. I can’t pretend to have figured it all out. But I do think the notes above might be useful to somebody just coming to this kind of work, particularly given how little there is out there in the way of guidance for new organizers. At the end of the day, like so many practices, what is required is the willingness to be forever re-evaluating and revising your methods and tools.
Take it easy, Sadness. Settle down.
You asked for evening. Now, it’s come. It’s here.
A choking fog has blanketed the town,
infecting some with calm, the rest with fear.
— from Meditation, C. Baudelaire
Somehow, Bayesian epistemologies have leaked out from analytic philosophy seminars into the wider world such that it’s not uncommon to see writers refer to their “priors”. So far as I understand, in Bayesian probability, priors is a term given to that set of beliefs prevailing about something (more precisely a measure, but precision has been abandoned) at a moment before another given evidentiary item or perceptual report is considered. It has, on my reading, come to stand in generally for “beliefs”.
It’s an obnoxious practice, to my tastes, to deploy the word this way. First, one’s experiences are necessarily in the past such that the move to priors is less expressive than almost any other word often used in its place, particularly beliefs. It reduces the thing to just one of its properties — its retrospective character. Second, the new term carries all the same baggage, implicitly, of beliefs but reads as a lame attempt to elide all the controversy around that word.
In general, the development of the web has been disappointing to me. Early on, it seemed like the technical building blocks were cast along more or less democratic lines. Relatively simple markup languages, declarative styling, simple scripting facilities for interaction, etc.
I think I knew pretty early on that over the long-haul there would be a serious ramping up of the complexity of web sites and applications, but I really didn’t see it getting so big and so bad. That didn’t bother me so much, really. So long as the tools remained accessible and open, whatever the corporate and institutional heavyweights did wasn’t a worry. What I hoped would survive was the culture around small personal websites, handcrafted idiosyncratically to serve personal idiosyncrasies.
Of course, by now, mobile apps and “social media platforms” are where most of the people are. That’s probably as it should be. Behavior on the web probably could have been predicted to follow similar patterns to behavior off the web, or at least patterns consistent with the same general tendencies. People want crowds and ready-made structures to fit their identities into and project those identities through — into said crowds. The sort of quiet tinkering into the abyss represented by the small personal website was never going to offer the same breadth of appeal.
But it seems that admittance into the world of web-making is mostly out of reach, except for a few I-school indieweb types. Nostalgia for the nineties and a sort of sheen of retro cool around web 1.0 have led some younger folks to delve in, and that’s played no small part in the limited but pleasant growth at, for example, Neocities. “Hypertext“ is a sort of gleefully optimistic word, almost utopian in its overwroughtness. So I think its appeal is periodically renewed among new crops of the web-curious.
These turns, nice as they are, just put in relief the degree to which hand-writing HTML and personal site-building are niche and boutique. Perhaps that’s what they were always destined to become — or always were.
In any case, after some peregrinations from basic hand-written HTML through XHTML and XML+XSL, through a number of web frameworks in various languages on various platforms, across numerous server and client-side templating languages, I am resolving to return to tending a tidy HTML garden, just for myself, tinkering into the abyss, so to speak.
The domain name is taken from that of a small road that passes very near the briny River of the Arms of God, near it's beginning, where it starts its journey to the Gulf. There is an old house there that looks out on the road, and memories happy and unhappy echo through it like footfalls.