Two Gandalfs

I’ve never particularly identified with Gandalf. I took some “Which Middle Earth person are you?” quiz once, and got Gandalf, and that bothered me a little, because my self image does not involve any belief that I am an ages-old demigod sent from the beyond to … do things.

The closest anyone has ever come to likening me to Gandalf is probably a friend at work who took to calling me “The Bhagwan” for a period, and I get that on the merits of my beard alone, though I was told there was also some sort of “calming and warm presence” component that would have served me well as a spiritual leader.

Anyhow, I’m going to play along with the idea that I’ve been quietly trying  to be like Gandalf all these years, because I was talking to Al about The Current State of Affairs in the World while we were out for a walk, and I realized I don’t feel very hopeful at this moment, but for reasons people might not identify with much. I haven’t felt this way since Obama was in office, and then Clinton before him, because when people from “my side” are in power, it always feels like you can see the hard limits of our society and culture; how much we’re willing to change or flex or bend or improve, and I would like more of those things than we seem to be capable of.

So, we went down the rabbit hole of “what on earth are we even supposed to do about this?” and that took us a few places, including the idea that things feel so profoundly polarized right now that it is very hard to engage with much of anybody. There are so many presumptions of bad faith and so much eighth-dimensional chess going on. There’s a huge amount of energy for change, but right now it is a very wild energy, and people believe all sorts of contradictory things that they apply to other humans in a destructive, reductionist way that will leave us poorer when this moment has swept through.

Basically, it’s a good time to ask yourself what you know about Gandalf. I have identified two Gandalfs.

There’s the one with the wizard staff that lightens the shadows a little, bringing comfort to the people right around him. We’ll call him “the little light in the dark Gandalf.” This one:

The Little Light in the Dark Gandalf provides that little light not because it will solve the biggest problems or strike down the worst evils, but because the dark itself is oppressive enough, and it is comforting to gather in some pale patch of light.

Then there’s the one with the staff and the sword who is going to fight the Balrog, even though he’s pretty sure he’s fucked. We’ll call him “the Balrog-fighting Gandalf”:

I am guessing that most people would prefer a Balrog-Fighting Gandalf action figure over a Little Light in the Dark Gandalf action figure. He’s just sort of getting down to business with the biggest problems. He’s all righteousness. If he has a tagline, it is “there is nothing wrong with punching Balrogs.”

I remember a long while back, when I took it upon myself to be a Balrog-fighting Gandalf. It felt pretty good to be the righteous one with the sword, and it felt even better when I “won” against a person who was being bad. I felt very clear about my rightness, and dead certain about their wrongness. Looking back, through a lens of whether the way I was behaving was sustainable – that is to say, behaving in a way I’d feel comfortable behaving every day – I’d say I wasn’t. Right side of history, wrong side of my moral compass, I guess you could say.

Some years I can overlook that more easily than I can others. Other years, the things that are going around me, and the way people are behaving in response to them, cause me to say, “I don’t think I’m okay ignoring the voice I’m hearing inside myself. I can see there’s something going on over there, and I’m sort of attracted to the heat and light it is generating, but most of the people I agree with on what to make of that thing are behaving in a way I’m not okay with. I can run over and join anyhow, and ignore what I’m hearing from myself, or I can figure out another way to be useful somewhere else, in some other way.”

None of this is simple, and I try to maintain a measure of humility when I do judge. I am pretty sure that the person who pushed this journalist to the ground, maced her, and called her a “slut” thinks he was being Balrog-fighting Gandalf:

I bet I agree with the person who did that on a few particulars, to the extent we probably both hate fascists, both want to live in a society that is committed to the end of domination, and want to live in a community that is free of people coming in from the outside to intimidate and antagonize us.

But I’m not okay with what he did at all. He pulled on a thread that unravels a lot of the things he would probably claim to be defending or protecting, and he’d probably cite Karl Popper while pulling on it. Maybe more importantly to me than the fact that he did that is the way in which attempts to bring it up with friends, and to ask if assaulting journalists is really good praxis, was met with uncomfortable silence. I’m relieved nobody I know very well tried to defend the assault, but I’m bothered that beating up a journalist wasn’t something worth noting and condemning beyond reliable “both-sides!” voices and right-wing goons who had already tried to bear-spray her but took advantage of the opportunity to condemn “the left.”

That’s just a meatspace example of the mounting discomfort I feel with the way people I’d ordinarily consider ideological confrères – or at least second cousins – are behaving.

For the past couple of years, I’ve carried around my sense of growing difference with others I once considered to be like me a little guiltily, because I stopped doing things I used to do as part of my political and philosophical identity and wondered if I had finally hit some cultural tipping point and had changed without realizing it. I wondered if other people could see it in me. I felt some measure of despair, because some of that political and philosophical identify was wrapped up in being Balrog-fighting Gandalf, and if I wasn’t on some crusade, waving a sword around and punching Balrogs, what was I?

Then a few days ago, I got a Slack message from someone who told me that when they worked with me they felt included and safe. Beyond any ideology, politics, or programs, they simply felt included and safe.

They feel the things a million HR trainings, best-sellers, and tweet storms are ostensibly aiming for. Maybe they’re even hitting the mark. It’s hard to say. One idea I find very bleak is that our institutions are too corrupt to save, and that rights are best secured when corporations have deemed them beneficial to the bottom line. Any sense of “progress” you might measure that comes from a milieu where entities with a fiduciary responsibility are adjudicating matters of human dignity and freedom has to be qualified at least a little.

My takeaway from that Slack message was that someone who doesn’t always feel safe or included does so around me in part because of things I do that aren’t particularly as noteworthy or as fun as, say, Balrog-punching.

The thing I said to Al as we walked along the Springwater in the dark was, “I think we just have to know what we know for ourselves, and not because we need people to agree with us. And we need do the best we can to provide a little bit of light for the people right around us.”

I am going to leave the Balrog-punching to someone else for a while.

I would like to at least see Dune part 2 produced & would also love Villeneuve-directed Children & Messiah. God Emperor would be cool & I’m down for it, but who else would be? I remember rushing to the store to get a copy when I was 12 or 13 and being real 😶

lol omg I finally gave in and clicked:

  • piece of wood with a groove: $60
  • felt card holder “travel case” (that cannot hold the piece of wood with a groove): $34
  • note cards: $120/yr subscription

Subscription 3x5 cards at a 500% markup. Amazing.

Mood: In a state of pre-viewing hysterics, fondling all related printed matter.

Dune is not literally why I built the Coviplex, but Dune is why I built the Coviplex.

“How to Save as PDF from iPhone or iPad with a Gesture”

(Not as simple as MacOS print-to-PDF, but good enough.)

Quiet evening enjoying the new normal of a juicy IPA paired with a decades-old Trotskyist screed against postmodernism.

One Catalyst observation: Apps running under Catalyst (e.g. Podcasts) behave more like iOS apps than MacOS apps when it comes to dealing with hard resets. Where you might ⌘q a plain old MacOS app and expect it to forget its state on relaunch, Catalyst apps seem to want a force quit (⌥ right-click) to truly zero out. Needed to do that to clear four layers of blank search completion dropdowns in the Podcast app.

Which also causes me to wonder: Has Apple over the past twenty years shifted from “out early, few features, fewer bugs” to “out early, lots of features, more bugs per feature”? Feels so.

I don’t use Apple Photos for anything other than my phone’s camera roll (not much) and processed JPEGs from LightRoom (so, maybe 10 photos every few days, with all the RAWs hitting the LR quota), so it was weird to get a disk warning & see my Photos library was up to 550GB.

If I could wave a wand, there’d be universal content metadata around “news,” “features,” and “op-ed” such that I could tap on things and not get a face full of partisan noise that looked like news when I read the headline. All the content wold be tagged and filterable.

I see an eyebrow furrowing somewhere … why did Mike choose a screen shot of an anti-Trump thing to complain about?

Well, I don’t have any examples of pro-Trump things to complain about because I don’t read any of that. Not even to gawk or hate-read. If I’m going to read something awful, I go right for the straight product from committed ideologues. Not the think tank weasels, either.

That’s not much, either way. Most of the stuff I actually allow into news apps is establishment media. I don’t talk much about the stuff I read to the left of that because it’s 2021 and we’re going through one of those circular firing squad/narcissism of small differences cycles, and these are conversations best had with people in the “intentional family” circle in the Venn diagram – people with whom grace is regularly extended and received, because right now we all seem to be demanding that nobody get any grace.

Anyhow, the point is not “I stumbled across an anti-trump column and it upset me.” The point is I hate most of the op-ed you’re going to find in an establishment newspaper or magazine and avoid reading it when I can. If I form parasocial relationships anywhere, it’s with people who think about stuff, and the thing I want from those people is something other than recitation of assorted party lines.

I think that’s what ultimately killed the Michelle Goldberg/Ross Douthat iteration of The Argument. You knew where it was going to go each week: Two reliable ideologues staking out positions a few inches to the left or right of center on a stale political continuum that does not serve us any longer. Good maybe for getting topped up on your talking points or maintaining your ideological licensure, but just utterly useless for understanding the world any better, or reliably feeling that sorta stomach-fluttering w o o o m of a challenging idea or shift in perspective.

The new iteration is sometimes worse, because the host just brings in think tank people – the ones making the uncut product a Ross Douthat or Michelle Goldberg pedals on the op/ed playground. And it has a libertarianoid streak that’s still firmly rooted in your basic PMC verities. But sometimes it develops a charming wobble in the rear axle and careens around.

This is on my mind because Ben wandered into the tv room last night and we had a brief scuffle over what Al and I were watching. I won’t go into what at all. Nothing you can’t find on a popular streaming service. It led to the sort of broad indictment 17-year-olds are good at delivering, and we spent a good 15 minutes unpacking all of it together.

My closing argument was, “if I don’t watch stuff like this, and let myself hear voices like this, I will not understand the world any better, and I feel like everyone right now is trying to tell me I don’t need to understand the world any better … that I just need to pick a side and embrace its particular dogma and call it a day. That sounds like death.”

Yeah, I have really talked around that content. I don’t want to be judged for what raises my curiosity. I want to be judged for what I do. That’s all I’m doing with you.

Wonder if this article exists right now because of supply chain anxiety & I wonder if it will stoke anxious rumination over the threat of an imperfect Christmas. Switching our family nomenclature to “Cozymas” & starting ~12/15 has granted us some flexibility on trappings.

That horrible Mac notification center thing where there’s a sizable transparent zone around the notifications that makes things underneath unclickable even though it looks like they’re well away from the notification.

First day back of our partial return to the office @puppetize & the big question returns, too: which mug will set the tone for the day?

Not today, Satan.

There’s a lot of time staring at a spinner to unsusb from App Store stuff, but then it’s over & you get your $3.99/mo. back. As the spinner grinds, clawing money back from some plague-inspired personal improvement tool, I try to think “you were doing the best you could.”

I ended up at the Cape Disappointment lighthouse at the same time as some kind of photography field trip group. Wow. That was stressful. They didn’t want anyone in the frame and there was a lot of glaring and heavy sighing. Sorry, angry photo people! It was noon on a Saturday!

Long Beach, WA misc

Cape Disappointment battery and light house

Cape Disappointment beach and jetty walk

Packing the gear for the weekend and these Fujifilm-specific lens identification stickers from Field Made arrived just in time. They’re lovely.

Turn off “Show color in tab bar” and turn on “Separate” tab layout, as recommended, you don’t need this anymore. Collapse titles into tabs, and you really don’t need it. How did the same people who sit around misting up about Think Different posters end up this reactionary?

Always good to get a reminder of the age old military adage: “Amateurs talk strategy, experts talk putting grenades down things more often …”

No, wait

One of my favorite parts of Conscious Leadership is the idea of zones of genius, excellence, competence, and incompetence. I like this blog post. ): good for people figuring it out, and managers helping other people figure it out.

Hoping to score a fat Substack advance for a newsletter detailing my many and complicated thoughts about the place of a dish rack in a kitchen with a dishwasher. Subscribers can opt for the “More Mike” level, w/access to a weekly video of me organizing Pyrex lids.

Wild rabbits at Webb Co. Campground in Pacific City