December 31st, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man 2005 Year in Review

Out of all of the things I wrote in 2005, one of them stands out above all others in my estimation. I think it is both one of the more well-written things I've done, and one of the most insightful, and dare I say it perhaps the single most important thing I have ever written. If I got to pick only one journal entry from 2005 to be the one I was remembered for, if I were to hope that everybody in America read one thing that I've written, it would be "The New Capitalist Man."

I'm also especially proud of the only simple, coherent, obvious, easily implementable political policy position I took all year, and haven't given up hope that the idea will take wings and spread, universal single-payer basic dental care, not as a "thin entering wedge" towards single payer health care in general, but on its own merits and because of its built-in affordability. Because, as science fiction author John scalzi wrote in one of the most widely linked LiveJournal entries of 2005, the one article I read all year that hit me in the gut the hardest, "Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away," and this is one problem we could easily afford to solve.

However, those entries are almost unique for their brevity, for being self-contained. Looking back over a year's worth of my journal entries, for me 2005 seems to have been the Year of the Series. Aside from a couple of sparse months where my health issues were keeping me from concentrating on my writing, my problem hasn't been trying to come up with 5 to 8 paragraphs of something to say. My problem has mostly been trying to stop there.

The longest of these happened when I gave up on turning it into a book (not enough page count, by a long shot) and simply mind-dumped all of my thoughts and notes for the book I've been trying to write for probably five or six years, my "bible" of Hellenic reconstructionism. In the first four entries, "What Kind of Gods," "Other Historical Gods," "Old Gods When?," and "Blessed Gods and Feral Humans," I explained how I think about the gods in general, namely, as an unexplained and only poorly documented but nonetheless real historical phenomenon. I argued that times when the gods, whatever they are/were, walked among us are something that has actually happened to the human race, and something important, because whatever or whoever they are or were, they've repeatedly lifted us up out of feral barbarism. In "Why These Particular Historical Gods," I explained that the Greek gods are especially worthy of worship because it was they, uniquely among all the gods to visit mankind, who first taught, rewarded, and blessed everything that has made America great: democracy, the rule of law, trial by jury, entrepreneurial capitalism, and the importance of a thriving and politically empowered middle class. I then answered the usual objections to emulating the ancient Athenians: animal sacrifice, sexism, slavery, and homosexual pedophilia. I thought I was done, but found more to talk about on the subject, giving my take on the Mysteries, on life after death, and how the Athenian religion (and with it the Athenian democracy) died. And by popular request, I followed that up with a bibliography. Since this is my religion, it's hardly surprising that it came up in conversation twice more later in the year: in a defense of bacchanalia called "The Person of a Bead Ho is Sacred to the God" and in a half humorous, half serious article that I'm somewhat proud of how well I think it turned out, "Thoughts Towards a Hellenic Reconstructionist 10 Commandments."

Earlier in the year, I wrote a 3 part series (inspired by a meltdown of a local Pagan organization) on what it takes to have a thriving volunteer organization or subculture: Subculture Engineering: (1) Dream Nazis, (2) Authenticity Police, and (3) Fun Mavens, to which I had to add a few clarifications.

What I thought was going to be a single entry before I sat down to write it ended up taking me six journal entries to explain. In "Spoolpigeons," "You Knew I'd Make All that Relate to Forbidden Knowledge Somehow, Didn't You?," "Is it Even Possible to Have Social Control without Cognitive Dissonance?," "When Is Hypocrisy Not Considered Hypocrisy?," and "Nightmare Towns and Self-Fulfilling Prophesy (part 1)" and "(part 2)," I worried at mind-numbing length about my fear that the improving technology for putting fictional dramatizations of real or plausible but fake events into the news, combined with a journalistic culture of scandal, was going to so numb us to political scandal that we come to take it for granted, and then all is lost. Of the whole set, the only one I think was especially well written was "Spoolpigeons," but let's face it, it's hard to go wrong borrowing concepts from John Brunner.

NASA's ongoing problems with the space shuttle program motivated me to write a three part historical essay on how we ended up with such a screwed-up shuttle in the first place: "The Spaceship You Have (part 1)," "(part 2)," and "(conclusion)." I got a lot of recognition for that one, because at a time when everybody was beating on NASA, it seems as if of all the people who understand just how screwed up the current shuttle program is, I'm almost the only guy outside of NASA (or maybe even left inside) who remembers that this was the best compromise we could afford at the time, and who was willing to defend the choices that were made even if I disagree with them and did so at the time.

There is no doubt that Hurricane Katrina was the national and political story of the year here in America. While at first I felt I had nothing to add, pretty soon I jumped in just as hard as anybody in the blogosphere. Someone at made the point that for every journalist who was on the scene who covered this story, there was a Moment, a precise moment in time when the total emotional callousness of the Bush administration and the "business as usual" tone of most other politicians, contrasted with the immensity of the suffering in New Orleans, made them lose their cool altogether on the air and go completely off on an interview source. Mine was a viciously paranoid rant, perhaps the only thing in all the years I've written this journal that I'm actually ashamed of, called "New Orleans: What If the Real Reason is Much Worse?" Other than that one entry, I tried really hard to keep a balanced tone. If I had any axe to grind, it was to keep reminding people all along that if you hear something really amazing or incredibly bad, check the sources. In particular, as someone whose neighborhood looks remarkably like New Orlean's 9th ward, and whose neighbors look remarkably like the people I saw trying to survive down there, I kept refusing to believe the stories of rampant anarchy, gang activity, and mass armed violence.

Out of all of that, I think two of my journal entries deserve to be kept. No matter what else it is, the discussion about what happened after the levees broke, and for that matter why the levees broke, is a discussion about race. Forgive my arrogance, but some times I feel as if I'm the only person, white or black, in America who is actually saying anything rational about the subject. I'm not, but it's sufficiently lonely sometimes that I feel that way. In "New Orleans: Why They Were Left to Die of Thirst (NOT a Rant)," I finally gave the real answer that the Bush administration was too incoherent to give as to why people were left to die: for fear that without full military convoys guarded by America's best elite fighting forces, armed and out of control gangs of black men would hijack the aid convoys. And when we finally, months later, started to get our first reliable answers to the question of just what the heck happened in New Orleans after the police retreated, I wrote what was perhaps the second most important thing I've written all year, "So Now We Know. Now What?" In that journal entry, I argued that it has now been proven, beyond any refutation, that whoever else in America is scary, it is not unsupervised, uncontrolled, angry black men, and that despite this it is our fear of unsupervised, uncontrolled, angry black men (in addition to being what perpetuates the anger) that is what caused our country to leave those people to die. Writing that entry broke my heart, because since Hurricane Katrina, I despair of seeing that fear subside and sanity come in my lifetime.

nancylebovitz sent me a link to a lament of an organic farmer who'd found out that thanks to laws written with factory farms in mind, it's now illegal where he lives to run a non-factory farm, and asked me to comment. My comment ran a little long, because I felt like I couldn't answer without first writing an entire 3-part history of farm policy and only then answering her question: "We Didn't Used to Have Farm Policy, Per Se," "Bad Seed," "Slaves of the Green Revolution," and finally my answer to her, "Why I Just Spent Three Days Going on about the History of Farm Policy." I bring this up in particular because I think it's possible that of all the things I've written this year, "Bad Seed" may actually have been the best written.

I also had a lot of fun trying to distract people from the BS "War on Christmas" by telling the stories of the three weirdest things that have ever happened to me during the Christmas seasons, "That Special Christmas Weirdness (#1)," "(#2)," and "(#3)."

The other thing I wrote this year that might be worth keeping, or might not, is the continuation of my fictional LiveJournal essays from an alternate universe where H.P. Lovecraft's 1920s and 1930s horror stories actually happened, but it turned out to be no big deal, to have had very little effect on how history turned out. I let actual events in our world influence these. A big chunk of the fun of these, for me, is to use Lovecraft's end-of-the-world-threatening, mind-wrenching, science fictional mindset to comment on current events. So I let a news article I read about rising sea levels and ongoing erosion causing them to evacuate some Pacific island atoll nations collide in my mind with a detail from "The Call of Cthulhu," and wrote "Global Warming and the Interspecies Cold War." I used the War on Terror as inspiration for a two-parter in which the me from that universe (not knowing what we know) argued that neither Islamic fundamentalism nor Christian fundamentalism would have evolved without impending Cthulhoid doom, "Forbidden Lore and the Origins of Fundamentalisms" and "Forbidden Lore, Fundamentalism, and the War on Terror." And I got three whole entries out of the god-awful ickiness of the Terry Schiavo case by pointing out how much worse that case could have been made if we'd had to wrestle with the moral and legal issues that would surround reanimation of corpses: "Recent Ghoulishness," "The Supreme Court, the Culture of Life ... and Legal Death," and "Ghouls, Reanimation, Possession, and the Question of Identity." (As I say, it was the Year of the Series for me.) That second one spawned what has to be the best series of replies and comments in the history of my journal. For those of you who weren't there, I made up a 1947 Supreme Court case, John Doe aka "Henry J. Ford" versus the Estate of Henry J. Ford, aka "Ford" v Ford, about a ghoul who'd used forbidden magic to steal the memories and bodily shape of the deceased auto magnate. In response, all the amateur Supreme Court watchers jumped in, commenting on the case or on other cases they'd made up to deal with corpse reanimation, and we all had so much fun it almost hurt to stop.

And of course, for me the highlight of the LiveJournal year was when, thanks to my Hurricane Katrina thoughts and with the help of my long-hoped for first ever appearance in metaquotes, I broke through my imagined level at which you become a minor LiveJournal celebrity, 300 subscribed readers, back on September 7th. To celebrate, I played my only round so far of "Ask Me Anything," which I think went extremely well and was nothing like I had been dreading. Here at the end of the year, my readership (not counting people who read it through other RSS aggregators or through their bookmarks) is hovering around a very respectable 350. That's well short of the 2500+ level that true LiveJournal celebrity bloggers achieve, but I'm humbled and proud that so many of you feel that these typo-infested first rough drafts that I knock out in the middle of the night are worth reading. I wish I could thank each of you personally, and I wish you all a very happy 2006 and many happy returns.