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audio

My amplifier

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Dreams

Ambien Dreams Pt.3

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Ambien has the curious side effect of making your dreams incredibly vivid and lifelike. Some dreams are so vivid they form regular memories. This particular dream still haunts me. 

 

I lived in Yemen for a couple of years. It still influences my dreams from time to time. They typically start with astonishment of being back there and then morph into worry about my personal safety as the place has changed over the years. This particular dream veered into the general paranoid political vibe of the Middle East. There was always the worry that some group or other would do something and you would be swept along in whatever came next. 

 

I had been nabbed by a group of men. They were either from Hezbollah or the Mossad, my memory is hazy about it. In any case, whichever side they were on, a meeting with a representative from the other side had been set up to discuss the identity and location of several prisoners.  The informant would only meet with someone that was not affiliated with either group. I was to be that contact. I didn’t quite understand the situation. Were they a double agent? How was it that the identity wasn’t known to either side yet both knew about the meeting? My captors informed me that whatever I might think of the situation, I was now in it and there was no way out. My understanding was irrelevant, I had a job to do. 

The location had been swept to insure there was no video surveillance but it was assumed that audio was unavoidable. I took this to mean that they would certainly be monitoring the situation and assumed the other party would be too. Therefore it was imperative to do the entire meeting in complete silence in order to preserve the agent’s identity. 

I was terrified. Lives were in my hands. Stressed to the max, I found the location and went inside. My heart was pounding waiting for the agent to arrive. When the door opened I could hardly believe my eyes, I knew her! I blurted out, “Amber!”

Amber and I had been friends throughout high school and into my sophomore year of college. At the time of this dream I probably hadn’t seen or heard from her in over 20 years. She was a photo major as well but went to a Baptist school in Bristol Virginia. Needless to say I never would have expected anyone from my high school days to show up in a situation like I found myself in the dream. On top of that, of all the people I knew in high school she wouldn’t have cracked my top 25 list of people that might have gotten into spy craft.

When I blurted out her name she stopped and stared, clearly as surprised as I was. Then the color drained out of her face making her freckles stand out even more than usual. Without saying anything, she strode over to the table and pulled out some markers from her pockets. I noticed her hand shaking as she brought the marker to the paper but steadied in order to write. She made several shapes and wrote some things in Arabic.  The information was several names and cell locations. I could feel her looking at me when she stopped writing. Looking up she wordlessly asked if I understood. I nodded. 

That’s when tears welled up in her eyes. Only then did I understand that by revealing her name and that I knew her I had blown her cover. She probably wouldn’t be alive for very much longer. Grabbing the paper she turned around, pulled out a lighter, and lit a corner. With her back to me she dropped it in the wastebasket by the door and watched it burn. Once the flame died she walked out without ever turning back around. 

Then I opened my eyes and I was back in my room. 

Categories
books culture

What I’m reading: Liberties the journal

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I believe that challenging reading is good for you. If you think the same then Liberties might be up your alley. Decidedly highbrow, the quarterly is filled with essays, literary and film criticism, history, and even poetry from a Nobel Laureate. It bills itself as a new journal of Culture and Politics. Clocking in at 417 pages you might think it impossible to get through but thankfully that isn’t the case. 

As a physical object it is impressive. It looks and feels serious but approachable. It is physically smaller than I anticipated and I think that is why the length is so long. With top notch book design the journal itself gets out of your way and allows you to concentrate on the subject matter.

Because these are unrelated essays you can comfortably read it in fits and starts. I found myself reading between a half and one full essay on the nights I was in the mood for it. It really didn’t take me very long to get through the entire thing. 

So what’s it about? The last essay (and one of the few available online) outlines the point of the enterprise. I wish it was at the beginning in order to set the stage but I think it was a good editorial decision to put it last. It is dense and difficult to excerpt but I think the crux is this:

This journal begins its life in a time of breakdown and bewilderment, of arousal and expectancy. It is called Liberties because of all the splendid echoes of the word – liberty, liberal, liberate, liberality, even libertarian, even libertine. (The question of the place of pleasure in human life is one of the fundamental questions.) It is both a grave word and a joyous word. The plural is a tribute to the plurality of freedoms that we enjoy as a matter of right, and also to the plurality of freedoms that the citizens of a growing number of countries are being ruthlessly denied. Above all, it is meant to announce that, in this universe of fascists and commissars, the objective of these pages will be, by argument and by example, in politics and in culture, the rehabilitation of liberalism.

I find this refreshing, liberalism is being attacked from all sides and it is good to be reminded what it is and entails. The essays all orbit around this central concept while rarely addressing it directly. 

My favorite chapters include:

  • A rumination on how the nature of transgression has changed in today’s culture
  • A quick history lesson on the founding principles of Indian democracy and how Modi is eroding them
  • A first person view of the horrors of the opioid epidemic
  • A heterodox vision on the nature of addiction
  • A translated excerpt on the nature of hate from the memoirs of a man imprisioned first by the nazis and then the soviets, sadly still very relevant 
  • An appreciation of the writing and life of James Baldwin (I’m ashamed to admit I have not read any of his stuff but hope to soon)

And there’s much more. There were only a few things that didn’t interest me and only one that I thought wasn’t written very well. To be fair I don’t think they are a native English writer but it was still tough to get through. 

Highly recommended if you’re into this kind of thing and I’m looking forward to the next issue. 

Categories
music

I’m caught in a trap, and I don’t want to get out

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When I decided to take some time off of social media I had some grand plans. I was going to blog, read, and yes listen to music. It was a deliberate choice in order to recharge and take shelter from the unrelenting bad news and constant anger.

Yes, great plans… In reality all I’ve done is listen to music, a good 6 to 7 hours of it a day. This is something that I have done for all of my adult life in lieu of watching TV or movies. I haven’t done much of it in the last 3 or 4 years for a variety of reasons. Now I’m back to listening and wow did I miss it. I feel like my psyche/soul/whatever is being refilled. Maybe I was becoming a savage beast?

The choice of music has been all over the place. Punk, funk, soul, rock, hip hop, classical, jazz, you name it I’ve listened to it. A lot of it comes from random neural firings in my head but some of it is from suggestions by Apple Music.

One of those suggestions was the album From Elvis in Memphis. I’m a fan of The King but I’ll admit that I have always been a purist/snob. Give me 50s Elvis or get out! This particular album was released in 69. Think about what was going on in 69. Woodstock, moon landing, Vietnam. What about Elvis? What was his cultural contribution? In 1969 Elvis released his final films, Change of Habit and The Trouble with Girls along with this album. So um, not exactly capturing the zeitgeist of the times.

Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto are the hits off of this album. Let’s be clear, they don’t hold a candle to his early hits. They are also emblematic of the quality of the rest of the album. It’s a little schmaltzy, maybe even maudlin at times. It is irrelevant culturally and a pale imitation of Elvis in his heyday. So why am I so enamored with it?

There is a qualitative difference between live and recorded music. Plenty of music is enjoyable live and boring during playback. This album isn’t live but it is recorded incredibly well. Elvis in your room will get your attention. I’m only kind of joking when I say that regular systems let me hear what music sounds like. Good recordings on good systems are enthralling. I can not only hear the music but experience it.

So yeah, I’ve been caught in Elvis’s trap, I can’t get out cause I love it too much (baby)…

Categories
Dreams

Ambien Dreams Pt. 2

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In the last post I recounted my first memorable and disconcerting Ambien influenced dream. I cannot stress enough just how life like and vivid these dreams are. This one stars Elizabeth, a classmate of mine in high school. We were certainly friendly in high school but not close. The only family members of hers I have ever met is her sister and aside from one fairly long Facebook chat around 20008 or so we haven’t really kept up. I do see a lot of her posts on Facebook so I’m familiar with her daughter Josephine. I had this dream 6 or 7 years ago I think, it is still very clear in my mind now.

Elizabeth and I are hanging out and she is eager to introduce me to her daughter. Her various Facebook posts over the years have gushed over how proud she is of her. We see her across the yard and as we get closer a state trooper steps in front of us and says, “Sorry ma’am, but your daughter is under arrest.”

Elizabeth goes apeshit. I manage to, if not calm her down, at least convince her that assaulting a cop isn’t going to help anyone. We’re both stunned, not knowing what’s going and we start speculating. As we walk away, someone in a group of people points at us and says, “That’s her mother, GET THEM!”

We start running. Luckily we are close to my mother’s house and get in before they catch up to us. I’m able to lock the door before they try the knob. Dream logic dictates that once a door is locked it is inpenatrable so I feel safe. Even thought there’s no chance of them getting in, they attempt to shoot out the lock. Holy crap, they brought guns! I then realize there is another door at the back of the garage I have to lock before they get in.

I grab one of the portable phones (remember them?) and call 911 as I go into the garage to check the back door. I am immediately put on hold. On hold? What the hell?

As I open the inside door, I can’t believe that I forgot that the 911 dispatch office is in my mother’s garage. The dispatcher is on another call of course but he notices me. I manage to pantomime the fact that people with guns are trying to kill us. He looks suitably alarmed and makes it known that help is on its way.

The back door was locked. I wave to the dispatcher as I go back inside but something isn’t quite right… Oh wait, what was in the garage? The 911 dispatcher has never been in mom’s garage, that doesn’t even make any sense. It then hits me, I am actually dreaming. What a relief!

While I was away the confrontation had escalated into a full on firefight. Elizabeth and her parents are returning fire with a variety of long guns. I start waving my arms and yelling, “IT’S OK, THIS IS JUST A DREAM!”

The shooting stops and her mother turns to me and says, “We thought that might be the case.” They then start to jostle and shake Elizabeth, “Wake up! WAKE UP!”

Confused, I yell out, “No, I’m dreaming!” Her mother gives me a strange look of annoyance and pity, and goes back to wrestling with her daughter. “This is my dream!”

Uh oh.

Realization of the consequences of it being Elizabeth’s dream dawned on me. I looked around my mother’s house and my hands. “I’m dreaming!… Aren’t I?”

I then open my eyes and find myself in my room.

Yes, I think we have all seen those episodes of TV where characters realize that they are imaginary characters in dreams, holodecks, or whatever. The first one you see is interesting, the rest feel a bit hackneyed. Let me tell you, thinking that you are the imaginary character about to wink out of existence is a much different experience than watching it on TV. I have never felt anything like it before and hope to never again.

Categories
Dreams

I’m a Dreamer

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I have always had vivid dreams. Dreams that have created memories that feel as real as any other experience. That has had some long term consequences on how reliable I consider memories. I’ll talk about that later on, right now I just want to share some of the dreams that have stuck with me. This is the first one I remember after having started using Ambien to help with a wicked case of insomnia. Needless to say that kicked things up a notch.

I get an infusion at a doctor’s office every 4–6 weeks. I’m sitting in the chair waiting for my infusion nurse Mary to stick the IV in my arm. Instead, she complains about being tired, curls up in a chair next to me and falls asleep. That makes me a little upset, but then again, I’m feeling rather drowsy myself so maybe I should drift off too…

As I wake up, groggy, I notice my father and stepmother in the room with me. They’re talking excitedly but hushed, “He’s waking up! Here, take it easy…” I don’t recognize the room. I get the distinct feeling that the fact I woke up is exciting means I was in a coma or something. My stepmother takes my arm and leads me out of the room.

We walk out into an absolutely palatial building. We’re talking castle or  resort hotel level of sprawl. As we move from one enormous room to another we settle in front of a huge, floor to ceiling window. Outside I can see that we are high up on a bluff overlooking the ocean. We’re on a cove and the land sweeps along to my left and just out into the ocean. Enormous waves are crashing against the rocky coast and sheer cliffs.

All of this is disorienting, I finally ask where we are. My stepmother says, “This is our Nova Scotia house.” Huh? That only adds to my confusion. “How could possibly afford this, did you win the lottery?” She looks at me funny, cocks her head to the side and says, “Isaac, you’re sleepwalking, go back to bed.” Oh thank God!

As she escorts me back to the room I tell her I knew that Ambien can do things like this. “I’ve never sleepwalked before but now everything makes sense, wow, what a relief!” As she fiddles with the doorknob I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. I’m in my normal room.

I want to make it explicitly clear, I did not “wake up,” I just opened my eyes. What I was looking at was no more or less real feeling than that house in Nova Scotia or the infusion clinic. Sure, I was in my regular room, nowhere near my dad and stepmother’s place and that was a relief but…

I must have laid in bed for 20 minutes just getting my bearings. I have told this story before and some people have said, “That’s so cool!” No, questioning your grasp of reality is not cool. It is disquieting and eerie. My memory of this “dream” is no different than any other event that happened in my life. It was the first of many experiences like this. Having these extra, surreal experiences has on occasion given me lots to think about. I’ll post more about some of them later.

Categories
culture music politics

My Facebook Feed (My War)

My last post was a reaction to my perusal of my Twitter timeline. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have gotten any traction which is too bad. Going through my Facebook feed all that came to mind was this:

I have never understood the west coast punk music that Black Flag came out of. New York punk seemed to be about rebellion and/or having fun. It reminded me of the way rock was originally. UK punk had a much more political/cultural rebellion vibe to it. West coast punk? Just anger if not outright rage. I never understood what they were so angry about.

My war! You’re one of THEM

You say that you’re my friend

But you’re one of them

Them Them Them THEM!

I’m starting to understand where this music came from now. My entire Facebook feed can be summarized as:

Tell me that I’m wrong

Try to sing me your ego song

You’re one of them

My War!

A few posts were about specific people but most were addressing the generic them. Of course most of those will never be seen by the people they are against. Like I mentioned in my last post, there is so much general anger out there and it is now feeding on itself. Think I’ll make some non-topical posts in the near future just to make sure I’m not throwing gas on the fire.

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Categories
culture politics

It’s anger all the way down

I’m trying to get a handle on what’s going on and getting lost in the emotions. Let me see if I’ve got this straight.

  1. A police officer shoots a man in the back a bunch of times. Lots of people assume that happened because the victim is black and so this is an example of, at a minimum, of institutional racism if not outright deliberate racism. Racism is a kind of hatred/anger.
  2. Many people in the town of the shooting protest, some go on to do really destructive things causing lots of damage. That damage is a direct result of the anger the people feel about the shooting.
  3. Other people are angry about the destructive reaction caused by anger. They bring guns to the situation, people get killed.
  4. Professional athletes decide to cancel/sit out of games in solidarity with the protesters and anger over the original shooting.
  5. Commenters on various social platforms get angry over the injection of “politics” into the sports they like and complain about it.
  6. People on social media get angry that other people are angry about athletes being angry about an angry/hateful police officer.

So we’re dealing with what, the third or fourth derivative of anger? It feels like a never ending cycle. I’m both sick of trying to trace its origins and amazed at the sheer amount of anger floating around. I’m exhausted.

I think that noticing the anger cycle is the first step of realizing how wasteful it is. It also makes it that much easier to get out of it. Being angry about a specific thing can be used to effect change. Being angry about everything is paralyzing. It’s also dangerous. Since official leadership doesn’t seem to be interested in dissipating the anger it’s up to us as individuals to deescalate. Let’s try to stop both the literal and virtual mobs from forming so we can concentrate on making a real difference.

Categories
games sports

Another retro thing I love, a baseball board game

In addition to seriously listening to stereo music, vacuum tubes, and film cameras I also really enjoy another, even more obscure retro hobby.

That, in case you don’t recognize it, and how could you really, is a dice based baseball simulation game. What you see here is the final scoresheet of the 2016 Chicago Cubs thumping the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers 10-2. The Cubs went on to win that series four games to two.

APBA has been making dice based baseball games since 1951. The goal of the game is to have an accurate simulation of players’ performances while allowing you to be the manager. Your can get all of the complete seasons from the late 1800s through 2019 plus variety of special teams from the past.

Here’s how you play the game:

  1. Make a lineup.
  2. Roll the dice.
  3. Match the rolled number to a result number on the player’s card.
  4. Look up the result on the right table in the game.

Every base situation (man on fist, second, first and second, etc.) has its own lookup table. It is essentially the same thing as a computer program but it’s all written out and you have to look it up yourself. Obviously no one could use a computer to play baseball games back in 1951 but why do it now?

Why play board games at all? Any board game could just as easily be played on the computer. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is something about board games that make them feel completely different than a computer game. APBA has whatever that thing is in spades. Board games are just fun.

There are actually other baseball board games out there but one of the best things about APBA is that it manages to capture the feel of an actual baseball game really well in my opinion. The quality of a dice roll is constant across players. With just a little experience you get a feeling of what a good roll is and then have the anticipation of looking up the result. I think this feels very much like watching a game and knowing when they get a good swing in the ball but having to wait to see what happens. Yes, this takes more time than a computer version but the game manages to “feel” more like baseball and less like a computer game.

The biggest reason I’m playing APBA is nostalgia of course. I played this game when I was a kid. It’s where I learned all the ins and outs of the game. Lineup construction, hit and run, base stealing, holding runner at first, playing in or back with a runner on third, etc. It was also how I learned about teams and players of the past. It’s one thing to read about them, it is quite another to “see” them play and manage them.

Part of the reason I got the game was because I wanted to get to know the 1935 Chicago Cubs. They were a really good team that made it to the World Series but lost to the Tigers. The first thing I did when I got the game was to replay that World Series. Alas, as in real life, the Cubs lost 4 games to 2. I am reading a book on that 1935 Cubs team to get a feel for how they played back then. Once I feel I have enough background I’ll try to play at least a good part of the 1935 season. What can I say? I’m a big baseball/Cubs/retro geek and this is my idea of fun.

Categories
culture

Let’s keep our eye on the ball

Anti-racist arguments are Tearing People Apart by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic is a perfect summation of how we can lose our way while trying to contribute to an important movement. The situation in this article “went viral” on Twitter. The thing that got people’s attention was the assertion that a white man bouncing a black baby on their knee “hurt” POC (People of Color).

Conor, like myself, assumed there was some context missing and he was right. Unfortunately, adding that context didn’t make things any better. At the heart of the disagreement was the clash between someone who is merely non-racist versus an anti-racist.

You offered to collaborate with me on drafting resolutions. I have no interest collaborating with you on policy positions until you exhibit your commitment to anti-racism work … I am committed to anti-racism work and will not compromise to create a resolution that makes you comfortable and I must protect myself from harm caused by Non-racists.”

Keep in mind that both people involved want to work towards better integration in NYC schools. It seems like the further left you go the more infighting there is. Purity tests are the death of progress, of any movement really. If the world was full of non-racists it would be unequivocally better.

This is a great article, give it a read.