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Water Dreams [Oct. 14th, 2018|02:40 pm]
Josh Fredman

I haven’t recorded one of my dreams in forever—I usually don’t remember them anymore, and don’t make the effort to remember—but this one I do remember the tail end of, and it’s pretty wacky, so I figured I ought to write it down.

The farthest back I remember is that I was flying a jetliner—something that isn’t uncommon in my dreams, usually with mixed success. (I tend to either have problems getting into the air or problems staying in the air.) This time I had the opposite problem: I was up the air and wanted to come in for a landing, and couldn’t nail it. There was water everywhere—the big blue! Water would turn out to be the most unifying thread of an otherwise pretty wild dream.

Finally some land showed up, and with it was a runway pointing inland. Problem was, I was coming at it off-center and from the wrong angle. So I tried to do the necessary descending turn, and I did get right over the runway, but I couldn’t land in time and overshot it. The runway gave way to grassy fields. (The color scheme here was interesting: ‘90s era computer colors, so the land, even though it had all the right topographical features, was pure green, and the water pure blue.)

So I pulled up again, intending to turn and make another approach. I called for the ailerons and ended up accidentally rolling us all the way upside down—which felt rad—so I kept going and completed the barrel roll. Then I turned like a normal person, rightward out to the south.

I crossed over the shoreline out over the water again, but suddenly I realized that Time Doctor was on and it would be recording these “screenshots.” (Time Doctor is software that my company uses to take screenshots of my computer and physical images of me—and thankfully it’s a problem I’ve never faced in real life, as, if I’m on the clock, I only use my work computer for work.) Feeling like I’d been caught with my hand in the cookie jar, my brain decided “fuck this whole trying to land thing,” so I kept turning right and just dove straight down, landing perfectly on one of those grassy fields right next to the water.

Now I had to deal with my new problem. I’d been flying for a while, which means I’d definitely been caught, so I needed to go delete my Time Doctor screenshots. (The nuclear option! If you ever do that, you don’t get paid for that ten-minute stretch of time.)

I knew the Time Doctor controls were in another dimension, so I used my cockpit controls to transport me to another dimension. All this succeeded in doing was getting me wet, however, so I realized I’d need to get there on foot. (Ah, dream logic.)

I had this beautiful white towel, and I climbed out of the plane with it and proceeded to explore a dark, eerily quiet house with unreasonably long hallways. It was daytime, but all the lights were muted: There were no internal lights, and the windows all had curtains over them that blocked most of the light from getting through.

Concerns about Time Doctor faded into the past as I realized my mother was in one of the rooms off the hallway, and she was going to get angry at me for getting the towel wet. (One of the only fully realistic moments in the whole dream; it’s exactly the kind of thing she’d do.) So I just ignored that room and kept walking.

I turned the corner—right again; up to this point I’d been doing almost nothing but right turns in the whole dream, sort of like a spiral. (And with a few exceptions, like initially coming up on the runway from the left.) This particular right turn led me to a new dimension where suddenly I was in an incredibly tall and sunny tower—a glittering metal skyscraper and some kind of prestigious academy.

It was an inviting place, but I knew I was still not in the correct dimension, and I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I clenched my whole body and tried to brute force it.

Dozens of different dimensions flashed in and out. I don’t remember most of them. There were some where it was downpouring, and I got wet again. Some were dark, some were bright, and all of them were interesting.

Finally, the “correct” dimension started gradually flashing into view, interspersed less and less frequently by incorrect ones. The defining feature here was Mount Rushmore, but with each subsequent flash of this image it got closer and closer, and then it was just one face instead of four, and the faces kept changing, including to figures like Donald Trump and God.

The one it ultimately settled on was Abraham Lincoln.

This was a glowering, terrifying Lincoln. I stood at a villa in a desert on the sea, with Lincoln’s massive stone face just a few hundred yards out to sea, staring straight down at specifically me. It was the size of an island and the height of a mountain. Behind that giant head were the orange and deep blue skies of a sunset just beginning, and more islands—actual islands—of bare stone rising randomly out of the water, eroded over the ages into beautiful, irregular curves.

On my landmass, on the left and right, the pleasant New Mexican stonework of the villa blended gorgeously with the colors of the desert, the still sea, and the sunset—the sun itself eclipsed by Lincoln’s head, meaning no sun glares to get in my way.

I walked up to the tip of the villa on my left side, where there was a seaside restaurant. I reserved a table, with instructions left on the table itself, and with the wait staff, for some friends to find me there. Then I continued on to the beach. I knew Lincoln’s head was God, and I cried out something to the effect of “Command me, O God!”

Off to my left, right at the water’s edge, was a flock of hippies, led by a balding, fat fellow with long hair (the parts of it that remained) and a huge moustache. This was the real Abraham Lincoln, and he laughed at me, half incredulous, half amused, and half annoyed at my stupidity. “I’m not God!” he called out, and proceeded to solemnly march himself and his hippy acolytes into the water, farther and farther out until they submerged beneath it fully.

Humbled and awestruck, I knew I needed to go for a swim myself. Now it was nighttime, and the sea was a Louisiana bayou / lake. What had been a desert was now dense bayou foliage. Everything was pitch black, occasionally silhouetted in white by the light of an unseen moon; the water was even blacker than the sky. I was eager to swim, though, and walked in, then began propelling myself forward. The water was so warm! Hotter than a hot pool; only slightly cooler than a hot tub. It was extremely pleasant, though I knew I would overheat quickly if I wasn’t careful.

I swam easily—much more easily than in real life—before realizing that I’d better not go too far from the shore, in case my heart acted up on me. (A nod to all my real-life heart problems.) So I tried to curve rightward, hugging the shore. The general shape of the landmass, back when it had been the villa, was still in effect, except the gap between the two forks of the villa had gotten huge, and the other lakeshore was quite a ways off. My shore kept curving away from me, and I found myself getting farther and farther out from it, despite my continued rightward turn.

Finally, my heart did start acting up, so I just turned straight inward for the land, and the brightly-lit restaurant just past the shore. (That part of the villa was still there.) My heart was giving out fast, though, and I wasn’t able to make it, so I let my feet down and, thankfully, the water was only about four-and-a-half feet deep. So I walked the rest of the way through the warm, comforting water.

The beach was replaced by a few feet of rocky bluffs, and I remember grabbing my wet hands onto the brown, sedimentary stone and gripping the rock so hard my knuckles turned white, pulling my waterlogged body heavily out of the water. It took quite a bit of exertion, which left me absolutely famished.

So I walked up to the restaurant, which was now this beautiful bayou fine dining place with wood decking, gaslamps, the works, and sat down at the table I had reserved. (Probably the first time in Josh Dream History that I made a table reservation at a restaurant and actually got to keep it.)

There were three people at my table: two little girls of about 8 or 9, and a female in her 40s. The girls were playing happily together over a rather gruesome sight: They were playing with dead corpses of small animals, like turkeys, and drawing pictures of their “surgeries” on paper in crayon. There were guts and entrails all over the table, but the kids were absolutely having a blast, and the adult didn’t seem to be paying attention.

As I walked up, one of the girls had to go, so she was scribbling down her mailing address for her friend to keep in touch. I saw that she was writing down a PO Box in Colorado. And then she was gone.

I sat down across from the adult, facing the building rather than the bayou (most unrealistic part of the whole dream). I was starving so I didn’t stand on ceremony. The breadbasket was filled with edible, sweet candlesticks, so I grabbed a handful and started gorging on them rapidly.

The person across from me seemed completely uninterested in me as both a person and a date, and vaguely disgusted by the way I was shoveling down the candlesticks, so she politely excused herself and left.

And I woke up with a mighty craving for red velvet brownies.
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Five Years Later [Oct. 13th, 2018|02:49 pm]
Josh Fredman

Yesterday I got off a particularly brutal day, week, and fortnight of work, and found my way almost immediately to YouTube, where I discovered that LRR had done a playthrough of Analogue: A Hate Story. As you may recall, that’s one of my top games of my whole adult life, and I was more than ready to say good riddance to the workday and usher in the weekend with a few hours of Kathleen and Cameron playing this spectacular game.

The game is even better than I remember it, and so well designed. Cam and Kathleen got into it immediately, and enjoyed it all the way through. Due to the branching, nonlinear nature of the game, they found some logs I had never seen, and they missed others that I keenly remember.

It was a real pleasure. It ended up lasting two sessions for them—three, technically; but they beat the game at the end of the second one and the third session hasn’t happened yet—which for me translated to six solid hours of Friday night relaxation and rediscovery of this magnificent game.

Afterwards I was trying to remember when I had originally played it. My first guess was 2013, because Amy and I played it together but 2012 felt too early, while by 2014 she had mostly stopped doing activities with me. So I went to my Live Journal archive and, sure enough, I had played it in September of 2013.

Five years and a month ago!

And I got to thinking about that. It was just one year and a month ago that I played Life Is Strange—an anniversary I meant to do a journal entry on, but which I’ve been too busy to get to. One year feels about right. It computes that I played Life Is Strange one year ago.

But five years for Analogue? That doesn’t compute, not really. As I was thinking about it, it struck me how that number feels simultaneously too short, too long, and just about right.

It feels just about right because that is actually the amount of time that has passed, and if I connect it in my mind to its context—played on the Mountain together with Amy—2013 is indeed the first year that I thought of. But it doesn’t actually feel like “five years ago.” It feels both vastly far away and comfortably recent.

It feels fairly recent because that period in my life was a stable, timeless period I’ve had, while most everything since then has gone by super fast, often with much trauma, and has felt mostly hollow, like a great, boring nadir. Five years is a long time indeed, and it’s hard to imagine that the Josh who played that game lived five whole years ago.

Yet it also feels vastly far away. Only five years? That was another lifetime! How dare we quantify it as a mere five years.

This morning I was thinking about it again, and it occurred to me that I don’t know what five years is. A second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week I can wrap my ahead. A month, sure. A season, even! And an entire year if I stretch a bit.

But much longer than that? I don’t actually know what that is. And I don’t know if I ever realized this until today, because for my whole life I’ve used the calendar and dating systems, as well as numerous cultural parlance, which easily quantify such spans of time.

It is generally agreed that the human mind cannot truly absorb the concept of, say, a billion years. But in my case—maybe some of yours, too—even five years isn’t something I don’t truly understand, except in terms of numbers. I can’t feel it. It just blurs out into eras and epochs.

One of my earliest journal entries, dated August 3, 2003, tells a story of a caper I’d pulled back in 11th grade—“ages ago,” as I put it at the time. (No doubt I was cribbing from one of my favorite lines in Chrono Trigger, which I had recently played.) And, well, “ages ago” in that context of that journal entry also happened to equal roughly five years.

Similarly, ever since leaving Texas, I speak of living on the Mountain “for five years.” But that period feels to me like an entire era of my life. It is timeless. Not five years.

I can count the numbers just fine: Five years ago today was close to the middle of my time on the Mountain. Five years before that I was living newly alone at my Castle in the Sky in Seattle and we were about to elect Barack Obama and bring the disastrous Bush years to a close. Five years before that—just a couple months after writing that journal entry I mentioned—I had just moved into my Hidey Hole on Capitol Hill, having lost my residency in the U District (for good, as it would turn out), and was in the slow-motion process of losing my ties to the UW. And five years before that I was a junior in high school, taking on my most academically intensive year of schooling ever, and was soon to pull that aforementioned caper.

But five years is a concept I’ll never really understand. I don’t think I’m set up for it.

One of the subtler messages in Analogue—but also one of the most important—is that a technologically advanced society depends inextricably upon the layers of economic complexity holding it up. It’s not conceptually hard to, say, open a factory that builds computer RAM: Just gather your capital, acquire facilities, purchase or build the equipment, hire a workforce, and so on. But if you took all those same people needed to make it happen, and gave them all the same materials, and plopped them into a feudal society, they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would be, indeed, impossible. Societies, like people, have certain limits that they, by reasons of structure, cannot exceed.

I really enjoyed Analogue last night, and it fanned a fire that had gotten going earlier in the day when I’d listened to the title theme from Braid. Despite the workday being supremely frustrating, my creative energies were sizzling yesterday. As Analogue rolled through, I remembered for the first time—in I don’t even know how long—just how keenly I had wanted to push ahead with developing my own video games after I first played Analogue the first time. I had totally forgotten about that. I hadn’t thought about it for months, at least.

Week after week, month after month, my mind continues to heal. That is intensely strange to me, because work is so oppressive, and the fact that I can’t simply quit without once again triggering a 2017-style oblivion countdown is even more oppressive.

But that’s where I stand. I’m getting better, at least psychologically—I can’t say the same for my falling-apart body this year—and continue to do so. And my creative energies are just pulsing. I really want to act on them.

Perhaps what this says is that I had a correct read on the 2017 low point: 2017 was as bad as it was not just because I couldn’t get a job, but because I was coming off of two years of intense, life-altering trauma that I was by no means healed from, and the new existential pressure of not being able to earn a basic survival not only reopened the wound but widened it to a hemorrhage. In contrast, this year, each month has been one more month of stability, one more month of nothing on fire worse than some (admittedly stressful) health problems. I get paid every two weeks. I can pay all my bills. I can afford to buy groceries. I’ve gotten all my dental work done. My crazy mother and crazy landlord are both in the past. Etc., etc.

Three years of massive misfortunes wore down my ability to cope. This year the misfortunes, at least those of such a crippling caliber, are not present. And that, I think, is why I am recovering so steadily psychologically. Despite all the pressures of the job, it’s only nine hours a day, and I’m good at leaving my stress “at work” when I clock out (except on the worst days, like yesterday), and I get paid a bill a day for the trouble. I tell myself that most days: “Today wasn’t so bad that it wasn’t worth the hundred dollars I just earned.” Sometimes, when the days are really tough, I’ll tell myself at lunch that I’ve already earned $50. It helps.

So that’s my biggest source of stress in my life right now: an untenable job, and the fact that my lack of time from that job, together with my still-lingering background depression, mean that I don’t have enough time to tackle my creative projects. And when I do have stress dreams, those are not the things I dream about.

All of which is not to say that I’m not extremely close to quitting. I’m being held back because I keep getting hit with expenses I didn’t anticipate, like the extra $1000 of dental work, some money to help out several different friends in crisis situations (I feel really strongly about that, for obvious reasons and unobvious ones), and this means I’ve never been able to get my emergency savings past $5000 despite the fact that I’ve been close ever since the Solstice. That’s a dangerous amount of money to quit on, and I’ve got almost three weeks of days off coming in November and December, six or seven of them paid, and so I feel financially obligated to stick through till the end of the year. Also, after way too much drama, I did finally get a small raise last Friday, and of course that adds weight of its own to the “stick it out through the end of the year” option.

But it is stressful indeed, because the job keeps getting harder and harder—the CEO does not understand the meaning of “we are overworked”—despite the fact that we lost another copy team member earlier this month in large part because of it, and are losing our team lead later this month—possibly the best supervisor I’ve ever had—because he is burned out. Just as terribly, sticking through till the end of the year means giving up my favorite season of the year, the festive season, to a busy work schedule. Each day I look at the leaves turning a little farther along outside, and I sigh and get back to work. So the urge to quit is strong, incredibly strong—especially with my mind steadily recovering and me feeling more and more confident by the week that I’ll be able to get enough work to be able to stabilize on the bills before my savings run out. Nevertheless, I have persisted at work up till this point. I’m giving myself the breathing room of considering quitting on Monday, but I will probably show up and carry on, instead.

Yet I would sorely love to turn away from all that, and, in this wonderful season of clouds, cool air, and a healing psyche, dive into my creative work in earnest—including a renewed push to improve my career status, and get more work on my own terms. Watching Analogue underscored how intact my creative drive still is—one of the few non-mangled systems aboard the ol’ Model J. Truly I have the soul of a creator. I have heard many others say, and I know it to be true for my self, that the art I create, I create because I have to. That part of me is still there…though for a while I wasn’t sure.

This job, for all I gripe about it, is really cool, and it helped me out of a very difficult financial situation and life crisis. In the long run—assuming this health stuff doesn’t preclude “the long run”—that’s how I’ll remember it: an incredibly fortuitous stepping stone upon the roughest of waters.

And it’s close, really close to what I envision a sustainable job looking like for me. I get to work from home. I can look out the window and take in the day. The café is right next door—gonna go in a few minutes, actually. If I weren’t being comically overworked, I would definitely be continuing this job into 2019 so as to improve my finances.

So…maybe it is time to quit, to say no to that extra $3500 or so that working till Jan. 2 would bring me. I have a place to live, and a psyche that is close to the restoration of its remaining willpowers. I have a lot of entrepreneurial ideas I want to try. I have a teeming tank of creative energy begging to be unleashed. It’s my favorite time of the year, and it’s the Year of 36. And even if I did quit now I would be able to pay the rent through the end of my lease in April. Breaking even wouldn’t be hard: With ancillary income like blood plasma and Patreon, I only need about $700 a month to break even. That isn’t that hard, right? And even if I don’t get all the way there, even partial progress would draw out the timer until my reserves are gone. In 2017 I was not equipped, psychologically, to take on this task. Today? Maybe I am. Not as equipped as I’d like to be, but enough that I think it’s a legitimate option on the table.

I don’t know. I’m thinking about it, this weekend. I welcome anyone’s opinion who has one.

In the meantime, I really enjoyed Analogue yesterday, and the creative inspiration that welled up in me as I watched it. But now I have tons of work to do this weekend—though I did get laundry done last weekend, and that’s a big load off my shoulders—so I’d better get on with it, right after I step downstairs to get coffee.

Bonus Thought:

I wonder if it would lead to interesting gameplay, or, alternatively (but not necessarily exclusively), if it would be an accurate measure of skill level and playing prowess, if chess used a point system that accounted for the amount of materiel lost andor the number of tiles moved, with a reconciliation between both players. (So, for instance, victory with a small loss of materiel andor a small number of total tiles moved would score very favorably, while victory with larger values would score less favorably. Defeat, meanwhile, would score most unfavorably for losing large amounts of material andor moving large numbers of tiles.)
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Udemy [Oct. 11th, 2018|01:55 am]
Josh Fredman
Tonight I followed a YouTube ad (!) for Udemy, which I imagine you've heard about, like me, in the advertising background noise in recent years. The course materials in the ad looked really compelling (the 95% off also helped), and I ended up buying that very course plus a related one. Because I have all the time in the world to be taking courses!

Heh, actually it was my chronic lack of time that helped me rationalize doing it.

I'll talk more about it another time. For now I just wanted to mark the day. I was genuinely excited! You have to understand, there have only been a few times in my life when I've been able to look at something cool and say "Yeah, I can actually buy that." It's an alien mindset to me. So, yeah. Very cool!

And I can take the classes on my own time.

I kinda want to become an instructor myself, but that's a whole different ball of wax.
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Macros, Teeth, and Rad Fire [Oct. 9th, 2018|11:55 pm]
Josh Fredman
I was watching a YouTube video this evening about how to do macros in Excel (decompression time is a weird thing), and I found the speaker's voice was making me sleepy. It was a good video, though, full of actual information in a landscape where this kind of stuff is often pretty sketch. So afterwards I was reading the comments (as one does), and about half of them were criticizing the mate for using a macro to solve a given problem when other, "better" solutions were available, and most of the rest were talking about how relaxing and sedative his voice was. ( Oh, and there was one comment from someone asking the video creator to e-mail him to help with a project. The comment is from three months ago. The video is from six years ago.)

The Internet is a strange place.

In other news, after getting a small filling in my right upper canine this evening, I am now fully up to date on dental work for the first time in probably more than a decade (probably much more!). (See? When I have money, dental care is one of the first things I spend it on.) When the receptionist told me tonight that I was done with them till my scheduled cleaning in January, I said "Woohoo!" and she was sad. I didn't really want to explain where that had come from, so I talked about how I actually really like the dentist. (I'm one of those lucky few.)

Tangentially: One of the other receptionists there is a wide-hipped, short redhead named Chandra who is the spitting image of the not-on-fire version of Magic: The Gathering's beloved pyromancer, Chandra Nalaar. That's pretty rad!

Also: Rad is back in fashion. I was ahead of the curve on that one! And I'm still using it now.
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Google+ to Shut Down [Oct. 8th, 2018|09:18 pm]
Josh Fredman
Today I learned that Google+ is going to be shutting down. I've spent some time this evening going through old posts, looking up contacts and seeing what they're up to (or not; many of their streams fell silent long ago), and reaching out here and there.

It's a real disappointment. Google+ was a great premise. I liked it more than Facebook. But in the end it wasn't where the people went, and it was clunky to use. And now, yet again, Google is shutting down and destroying a repository of information and interaction on the Internet--even while operations that pale in comparison, like LiveJournal, remain steadfast and highly consistent after all these years: a sign that most tech companies have a lot to learn, and don't really deserve much of our trust.

On the other hand, it's not especially troubling. I myself used it less and less over the years, and virtually not at all ever since the Troubles. So, there's very little for me to miss. My fat acceptance community was cool. My philosophy project (what little of it got off the ground) was cool. And that was more or less it. Today I mostly look at G+ to see cool pictures of astronomy stuff and art, and the occasional postings from a cool person living in Australia who cares more about American politics than most Americans.

Farewell, Mr. Jingles.
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I Have a Time Problem [Oct. 7th, 2018|10:42 pm]
Josh Fredman
I just need to take a moment to vent somewhere how stressed out I am. When I am at work, I am vastly overworked and it's just a mess. When I am not at work, I am so friggin' busy with other things. I didn't have any free time all weekend. It's Sunday night 10:39 pm and I'm trying to gear down for bedtime with a bunch of things I needed to get done this weekend that still aren't done.

It's really stressing me out.

It's also making it extremely difficult to get any creative writing done.

It's particularly bad to feel like this on a Sunday night, because it reinforces the stress of knowing I have to get up in the morning and jump into the work tunnel for another five days before I get a weekend. Not being able to rest on the weekends is grueling. I can't take off next weekend either; I have so much work that is already overdue and absolutely has to be done.

The weekend after that, however: I'm taking that off. Completely off. And the weekend following that, which contains the special Oct. 27.

This is possibly my favorite month of the year, and it really sucks to be so godawful busy.
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capitalization rules For titles With prepositions [Oct. 7th, 2018|01:33 am]
Josh Fredman
This is a surprisingly non-straightforward (and interesting!) topic that depends almost entirely on style guide variations between two intersecting rules for title capitalization: the capitalization of prepositions, and the capitalization of words that are at least a certain length.

It's also a personal area of interest of mine. I'm pretty confident I know all the rules of title capitalization in English, but, because of the vagaries surrounding prepositions, I sometimes catch myself giving some words a second look.

Any preposition of three letters or less is pretty easy: You don't capitalize it unless it's being used phrasally (e.g., "Important Files to Back Up") or it's at the head of the title or a major part of the title.

But there is a really big zone of ambiguity surrounding prepositions of exactly four letters, because some major style guidelines mark the cutoff for length-based capitalization at 4 or more letters, and some mark the cutoff at 5 or more letters.

In my personal writing, I strongly prefer the latter, which is why you'll see me write titles like "An Afternoon with Josh" rather than "An Afternoon With Josh." Other non-capitalized, commonly-occurring four-letter prepositions include "than," "upon," "onto," and "from."

Yet there are some personal exceptions: In my own writing I typically do capitalize four-letter prepositions such as "down," "near," "like," and "over."

Why the discrepancy? Probably because I think of the designation of non-capitalization in a title to indicate that a word is simply structural matter in the sentence, apart from its actual contents, and some prepositions strike me as substantive rather than purely structural. Yet I concede this appraisal is highly subjective, and I'm sure there are some inconsistencies in my work--particularly with the word "over."

Meanwhile, there is a much less common area of ambiguity surrounding prepositions of five letters or more: Most style guides prescribe capitalization of prepositions beginning at either four or five letters, but there are some styles where ~all~ prepositions are left uncapitalized, including long ones like "against," "throughout," "without," and "underneath."

I don't usually do that myself (though I probably do slip on occasion with tricky ones like "until" that strike me purely as structural matter--though ironically the word "till" does not affect me the same way)--but I've definitely noticed many times over the years the unfairness of capitalizing "without" but not "with," and so on.

It's a little bit like giving a speech in my underwear to confess that I sometimes bungle title capitalizations despite specifically paying attention to that, but then again that's English for you: It's not about getting it right so much as appearing to get it right.
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A Beautiful October Rain [Oct. 2nd, 2018|12:28 am]
Josh Fredman
It was a beautiful day outside, today. Light rain all the day long. The clouds broke at the very end of the afternoon, and for a few minutes there was broad, red sunlight before calars.

Inside, it was a rough day, I don't mind confessing. But some music soothed the nerves, and now I'm slow-cooking an overnight roast, and tomorrow (which is already today, eesh) I get to go have a cavity filled, and then spend a couple hours giving plasma.
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Why Are Republicans Pushing a Supreme Court Nominee This Toxic? [Sep. 27th, 2018|08:46 pm]
Josh Fredman

Since last week, over 2,200 women in law have signed an open letter to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the first of now-several women to come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who is on the cusp of being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dr. Ford’s accusation remains the most serious so far, alleging that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were teenagers.

The letter takes a strong stand in solidarity with Dr. Ford, acknowledging both the service she has done for the country by revealing this information, and the great personal distress, harassment, and threats she and her family have endured since she was reluctantly drawn into the story.

The letter states, in part: “We thank you as attorneys. As members of the legal community, we share a keen understanding of the impact that our nation’s highest Court has on the lives of all Americans.” It goes on to add “We thank you as women, and as abuse survivors and their allies. Many of us harbor our own painful memories of sexual assault, not to mention harassment and discrimination.”

It then resolves, “We urge all Senators to react with concern and attention to the revelations you have made about Judge Kavanaugh. As their constituents, we demand that they listen to your story and treat you with respect. We also urge them to allot your testimony the time, investigation, and consideration it is due.”

This is a remarkable moment in American history, as well as a serious crisis for the integrity of our democratic institutions. And to better understand what’s happening, we have to look at what this scandal represents.

Stealing a Supreme Court Seat

During President Barack Obama’s final year in office, Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell effectively stole a Supreme Court appointment for his party by refusing to consider the president’s highly-qualified, politically moderate nominee: Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the second most important court in the United States: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

To pull this off, the Republicans forced the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat to remain vacant for well over a year, provoking a constitutional crisis by effectively declaring that Supreme Court nominations will not be confirmed unless the White House and the Senate are controlled by the same party. Yet the GOP gamble paid off when they narrowly won the presidency that November, and, instead of Garland, the ultraconservative Neil Gorsuch was swiftly nominated and confirmed in 2017.

Never in the history of America had there been such a radical subversion of the nation’s highest court, and it illustrated the lengths to which contemporary Republicans are willing to go in order to advance their agenda of controlling the judicial system. It is the courts, more than any other branch of government, that have thwarted conservative policy goals and laws in the past several decades. Just in the last few years alone, the nation’s courts have struck down Republican laws attacking voter rights, women’s rights, labor rights, environmental protections, and more. This is why Republican voters often cite judicial appointments as a major motivation for them to turn out in elections.

A Race Against Time

Now, in 2018, the Kavanaugh confirmation process has been accelerated almost as radically as Garland’s was delayed. Senate Republicans have accomplished this by expediting the process itself and avoiding transparency whenever possible. Prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, documentation pertaining to his career was withheld from the public and even from Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. Most of the documents were never released at all, and most of the rest were released just hours before his hearings. The hearings themselves were limited to three days, with little time allotted to individual senators for questioning.

When the sexual misconduct accusations emerged shortly afterward, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley insisted on maintaining a rapid confirmation schedule, rather than pausing to take in the new information. He refused to grant Dr. Ford’s request for an expanded FBI background investigation—which is the standard procedure for all federal nominees in situations like these—and he refused to schedule testimony from any of the witnesses who could corroborate Dr. Ford’s story. In denying Dr. Ford’s requests, Grassley even told one of her lawyers that “there can be no further delay.” This was from the same Judiciary Committee chairman who forcibly held Justice Scalia’s seat open for more than 400 days.

And when two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, came forward with accusations against Kavanaugh, Grassley refused to invite them to give testimony at all. Instead, he demanded they turn over all their evidence to the Judiciary Committee’s Republican investigators—making no effort to hide his intentions to sweep that evidence under the rug.

Chairman Grassley knows exactly what he’s doing. As the scandal has grown, Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility has imploded and his public approval has collapsed. No nominee to the Supreme Court has ever survived their confirmation process with such low approval. The longer this process is drawn out, the less likely it is that Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

The reason behind Grassley’s brazen conduct is the same as it was in 2016: Republicans want control of the courts, and they’re willing to destabilize our democratic institutions to get it.

Why Is This Happening?

In a healthier political climate, Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court would have been long withdrawn by now. It’s clear that his accusers are credible people, and it’s quite possible that Kavanaugh is guilty of some or all of their allegations against him. He even faces the possibility of criminal charges, which could someday lead to the disgraceful spectacle of a sitting Supreme Court justice being sent to prison.

This is on top of Kavanaugh’s other dubious behavior, including the possibility that he lied under oath to secure his current judgeship, his problematic views on women’s rights, and his evasion of questioning during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this month.

Moreover, all of this is happening against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, where stories of sexual violence against women are finally getting the sunshine in our national discourse that they deserve. Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will vote on many issues pertaining to women’s rights. To see the disparaging treatment of Kavanaugh’s accusers by Senate Republicans, by the White House, and by Kavanaugh himself—to see these women be interpreted by Chairman Grassley and others as nothing more than partisan obstacles to be smashed through on the road to a conservative Supreme Court—is horrifying. It’s also a danger to our democracy, because it goes against the interests and will of the overwhelming majority of Americans.

But here’s the real head-scratcher: If it’s control of the courts that Republicans want, why are they risking everything on this toxic nominee? Republicans have a deep bench of conservative candidates to choose from, most of whom presumably have no history of sexual misconduct.

If Kavanaugh’s nomination isn’t withdrawn, but instead gets voted down in the Judiciary Committee or the floor of the full Senate, Republicans might not have enough time to get a replacement nominee onto the Court before the new Congress is sworn in next year. Meanwhile, there’s a small but definite chance that they’ll lose control of the Senate this November. If that happens, they will probably lose their chance to put a conservative on the Supreme Court, at least until after the 2020 elections. The Republicans opened Pandora’s box by stealing President Obama’s appointment in 2020, and they can expect that the Democrats are not likely to confirm any nominee by President Donald Trump, who is facing multiple criminal investigations and whose entire presidency is mired in scandal and serious questions of legitimacy.

So, given that, why risk control of the Supreme Court on forcing Kavanaugh through, when there are so many viable conservative candidates to take his place?

A Decline in Democracy

For several years now, the Republican Party has quietly been behaving undemocratically. Multiple states have passed laws that have the effect of taking away the voting rights or registration of Democratic-leaning groups like women and minorities. In Michigan, they bypassed democratic elections entirely by appointing unelected emergency managers to rule cities, and Republicans gave themselves the authority to decide what constitutes an emergency.

At the federal level, we’re seeing the Trump White House behave with contempt for our democratic institutions and the responsibilities of the executive branch. And in the GOP-controlled Congress, there are these bald-faced efforts to control the courts at any cost.

This isn’t to say that conservative policy positions are inherently wrong, or invalid. There will always be legitimate debates about taxation, regulation, the scope of government, foreign policy, social welfare, and the extent of our civil liberties. Rather, what’s illegitimate here is the GOP’s increasingly undemocratic methods and rhetoric.

The word here is “tyrannical.” More and more we are seeing a Republican Party that, once it makes up its mind on something, believes it is entitled to get its way, and won’t change its position for anything. Whether it’s voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times, or denying Supreme Court appointments by the other party, or trying to force a Republican Supreme Court nomination through despite the fact that the candidate is overwhelmingly toxic and possibly a felon, the Republicans are becoming tyrannical.

That’s what’s really happening here, and that’s why the Republicans are sticking with Judge Kavanaugh in spite of all reason and even in spite of their own interests: They aren’t willing to compromise, on anything, ever. That’s why President Obama couldn’t achieve any legislative accomplishments in his six years as president after the 2010 elections.

This is not politics as usual. We haven’t seen these kinds of threats to our country before. Nor is it a case of “the other side is just as bad”: The Democrats, for all their problems and corruption, still function like a political party in a democracy. Yet even they are forced into a position of adopting outrageous tactics simply to avoid being completely shut out.

In a healthy democracy, it is inconceivable that the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee would not want the FBI background investigation into Brett Kavanaugh reopened. It is inconceivable that this nomination would not have been withdrawn already. Never mind the Republicans’ obligations to the country as a whole: The Republicans owe it to themselves and their conservative voters to ensure that the next Supreme Court justice has the highest integrity and professionalism.

But in our unhealthy, rapidly eroding democracy, it makes a lot of sense: The Republicans are not behaving like extremist partisans. They are behaving like tyrants. And that’s considerably more distressing than the horrifying and sad stories of Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct against his supposed former classmates and friends.

We live in a strange and consequential moment for our country, and unfortunately there is not much that most of us can do about it. We can vote in November, and we will, but, until the conservative movement itself shakes free from its hate-filled drift away from democracy, the stability of our system of government is in real danger. The surreal landscape of Republican governance in 2018 is a warning sign that something much worse is no longer out of the question.
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Paint Bellingham Blue [Sep. 26th, 2018|09:22 pm]
Josh Fredman
A little while ago there was a random fireworks show a couple blocks away, and, by extraordinary good luck, I just so happened to be able to see it from my window. It was the real deal, too!

My favorites were big purple shooting stars with glittery orange tails, shooting straight up into the sky. I also really liked the bright single-point fireworks that would explode into four or five points.

I looked into it, and it turns out it was Paint B'ham Blue for WWU, basically a welcome ceremony for new students at one of the state's premiere institutions, with general city festivities thrown in for good measure. (There was a food truck across the street today, and that must be why.)

I had actually considered that possibility, which makes me happy. I was driving by WWU one night a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me just how beautiful the campus is and what a fine time I would have had if I'd gone there. It has nothing on the UW of course, but it's a darn fine university in its own right.
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