Brexit

The news around the world today is Brexit. The headlines are about Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to delay a scheduled parliament vote on her proposal for the UK’s departure from the EU. Without the delay, the deal would have ended in defeat. It still probably will.

The whole thing is a catastrophe, to put it mildly. And by “whole thing” I don’t mean the vote itself. I mean the politics that have erupted ever since, beginning with former Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to call the vote and then resign immediately after the votes came in. By shirking responsibility for an outcome that he invited, Cameron set the tone for what was to come.

In the two years since, Theresa May, another conservative politician — and one who personally voted against Brexit — has had the impossible task of negotiating an exit with the EU that would fulfill the grandiose promises of the politicians who campaigned to Leave. A vote to Leave, they said, would result in instant British sovereignty, increased social services, and on and on.

The deal that May struck will create UK independence, but it will take time. It’s a gradual transition, with certain agreements staying in place for a bit to prevent total disruption. From my understanding, in about three years the UK would be close to fully on its own again.

The conservative politicians who made this happen have vociferously argued against this deal because of this delay. “Unacceptable!” they charge. But really they’re hammering the deal because the politics of opposing it are good — nobody is happy with where this has ended up — and the politics of supporting it require more courage than any of these people have. So rather than do what they can to practically implement the events that they set into motion, they’re accusing May of betrayal. It’s mostly about a delay in implementation. But how important are three years, really?

The short-sightedness is beyond me. These are massive, fundamental changes and the people in charge are mucking around with the politics of the moment, with winning the day’s headlines, and pwning each other on social media rather than taking responsibility for what’s happening. To call it childish would be an insult to actual children.

Through all of this Theresa May has steadfastly tried to get the job done. She’s taken on repeated, challenging negotiations with the EU. She’s endured multiple of her cabinet ministers making dramatic resignations at critical moments to damage her. Today members of her party suddenly launched a no confidence vote to try to remove her form power. And yet she keeps on, the one adult in the room. My respect for her grows.

As I watch her ordeal I keep thinking about a study that found that women and minorities tend to be made CEOs when companies are failing. Men don’t want to be the captain when the ship goes down, so they choose to give “diversity” a try and watch as that person takes the fall. That’s exactly what’s happening here.

To my eyes, the failure of Brexit is not the original vote. The failure is in what has come after. The inability of the political class to look beyond their own immediate self-interest even for one second. In a moment that’s about the future of Britain, these men can only think of their little egos and the politics of now. It is small and it is shameful.

The Brexit longview

As for Brexit itself, the whole thing is a distraction from much more important challenges. But still, I'm of the opinion that in the long run it's not a bad idea. Detaching from and decentralizing the global economy is something more countries may have to do in the future.

To be clear, there is no universe where that divorce will be a smooth, orderly thing where nothing is lost. There’s too much that has to change and too many unknowns for that to be the case. Yet this is what the conservatives who oppose May are demanding. A pony would be nice, too.

If Brexit happens, we should assume that the next five to ten years will be quite rough for Britain. Many unknowns to sort through and many opportunities to make even worse decisions. But some of these decisions are things we may all have to face.

Think about where we are now, with the terrifying climate change reports, mass migration due to war and famine (which will only get worse thanks to climate change), and the increasing dependency on large corporations and their proprietary products and opaque algorithms. These challenges — not the next three years of local British politics —  are the real stakes.

Does it still makes sense, I wonder, for us to keep sending carbon-emitting planes, trucks, and ships around the world every second of every day to deliver avocados to Dubai and uni to London and iPhones to Tennessee? How sustainable is that, really?

What’s wrong, I wonder, with a country producing all of its own goods? I think about Japan, a country where essentially everything is produced in-house, where everyone has a job supporting the furthering of Japanese society, where self-sufficiency is the goal. In a world that needs to change its behavior to limit the devastation of climate change, is that not what we’ll all ultimately need to do?

Economists might say well, Japan is a low growth economy. To which I say: exactly. That might need to be what we all become if we want our societies and life itself to survive.

The story of the past three decades is that globalized growth is the cure to all our ills. But that story does not appear to be sustainable. Both for reasons of climate and resources and because of the local politics it flares up (see: Brexit, Trump, Italy, and now France).

The seeming naturalness of the path we’ve been on in recent history is beginning to diverge into a new path. Which is normal. Our current path hasn’t been here forever. The EU is only a generation old. It’s not the basis on which all life rests.

The question we need to be asking is: ten years from now where do we need to be? Scientists say that by 2030, we will cross critical thresholds where climate change will get much more severe. What does it mean to be ready for that? What needs to change?

For starters, we need to be self-sustaining. We need to learn to be more resourceful. We need to learn to fix and repair things, not buy new things. We need to learn that we can’t outsource everything — that every job is up to us to do. We’re not on the doorstep of a post-work world. We’re on the doorstep of needing to do real work for the first time in a couple of generations.

I applaud this. It’s time we face up to what has to change. We can’t keep hiding from it. Brexit is a dramatic way to get there. This whole fracas and the mess it will continue to create in the next decade will be discouraging. But ten years from now? I suspect we may see benefits, though for different reasons than what inspired people to vote for it in the first place.

Checking in on Trump

A lot has happened since we last spoke about the President. His lawyer, his campaign manager, his national security advisor, and other members of his campaign have plead guilty for lying to the FBI and/or Congress about their contacts with members of the Russian government and intelligence agencies. The Washington Post points out that we already know about 14 different Trump campaign officials who had contact with the Russians during the campaign. This after Trump repeatedly denied any connection or communication whatsoever.

As Marcy Wheeler, who blogs as the absolutely essential EmptyWheel, has written, 126 pages of Mueller’s report have already been made public in the form of extensive background information that’s come with each of these plea deals. It’s her belief that the anticipated “Mueller Report” is being written right in front of our eyes.

The information in these filings strongly suggests that the special counsel will prove that Donald Trump collaborated with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to swing the election in his favor. It is my belief that this will be proven with clear-cut evidence. But to go back to an earlier email on Trump and the OJ defense, will this matter?

With a Democratic House being sworn in, impeachment proceedings will begin next year. Mueller’s findings combined with a Democratic majority in the House means that Trump will be impeached. You can count on it.

But, as you may recall, this won’t actually remove him from office. All it does is officially censure him in a way that shames the President. But this President, as we know, is beyond shame.

When Trump is impeached his case will then go to the US Senate, where Trump will almost certainly not receive the needed 2/3rds votes to remove him from office. That would take more than 20 Republican Senators turning on their party leader. It’s hard to see that happening.

Which means that the likely outcome of all of this will be an impeached but still standing President Trump running for reelection against pick your choice of Democratic and potentially Republican challengers. And in that fight, despite Trump’s unpopularity and Democrats getting millions more votes than Republicans in the midterm elections last month, I would still put my money on Trump.

The electoral map will be in his favor. The Democratic presidential candidate has gotten the majority of votes in six out of the last seven Presidential elections (Bush vs Kerry in 2004 being the one exception), but Democrats have lost nearly half of those campaigns because of the electoral college system. Think about that: more Democratic votes in six out of the last seven elections, and only two presidents to show for it.

What happens if we learn Trump was in bed with Russia, rigged the election, gets impeached for it, and gets reelected anyway? God help us. I can picture the Peggy Noonan Wall Street Journal editorial about how F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote America is about second chances and Trump is getting his second chance. But if that’s where we end up, it may truly be the end of America as we know it.

There remains a universe where Republicans turn on him. This would happen if a) public opinion on the right turns against Trump (89% favorable rating among Republicans, the highest since his inauguration) and b) Fox News turns against Trump. There's a chicken and egg there.

Trump’s crimes might be so bad and blatant that this might happen. But it’s far from a given. There’s been enough dust kicked up already about the “witch hunt” investigation that all facts are ignorable. A lot of people have heavily invested their identities in the success of Trump. That’s a hard thing for anyone to let go of.

In a universe where Republicans do turn on Trump, don’t expect much vindication. The new narrative on the right will be, well, you know Trump was never a real conservative. He was a secret Democrat all along. This is exactly how Republicans turned on George W. Bush after seven years of strident support. In the conservative history of American politics, the Trump catastrophe will somehow be a failure of liberals. It’s the American way.

Music

I really enjoy the music of Kurt Vile. He’s a master of crunching, monotonous grooves. His music is sophisticated and kind of stupid. He has good taste but doesn’t do anything fancy or complicated with it. He’s chill, man.

I wasn’t crazy about his new album, Bottle It In, but I made an alternative version of the record that I think is my favorite thing he’s ever done. My goal was to make something like Can’s Future Days, just a long groove from start to finish. My version — called Let It Out — only includes the grooves. Twice in the past month I’ve gone to Joshua Tree for writing retreats and both times listened to nothing but this on repeat. Listen here on Spotify. Highly recommended.

The book

The book is nearly done! I have two more chapters to write and the road ahead is clear. By year’s end I hope to be wrapped up, then spend January and part of February revising with my editor. I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out and can’t wait for all of you to read it. More on that soon.

Peace and love and thinking of you.

Smell the Smell

In March of 2013 I flew to Los Angeles on short notice.

It was two days after the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project had launched. Kickstarter’s “Hollywood moment.” 

I was with Veronica Mars’ creator Rob Thomas in Austin. I sat in his office as the $2 million budget that had eluded him the past eight years suddenly appeared through the magic of fans and the internet. He cried, overwhelmed. 

It was an amazing moment for Rob, the fans, and Kickstarter. It was also a big moment in Hollywood. Everyone had a project like Veronica Mars. The one that didn’t get the greenlight but they couldn’t shake. Only this one raised millions of dollars and broke the internet. This was new.

That day my colleague Liz and I reached out to Hollywood people. Had they seen what was happening with Veronica Mars? Any projects they’d be interested in discussing? The responses poured in.

The email we were most excited to send was to David Lynch’s team. Would David like to chat? Yancey’s in town and leaving soon, we white-lied. 

They wrote back. David would be happy to meet. How about coming by David’s for coffee the day after tomorrow?

I canceled my flight to New York and booked a flight to LA instead.

---

Thirty-six hours later I pulled my rental car up to a pink stucco house in the Hollywood Hills. It was one of those hairpin-steep, one-lane LA side-scrawls. I had to lean over the steering wheel to see the house numbers.

I knocked on the door. A woman who worked for David answered. She was followed by a dog. 

“David’s in his studio. I’m going to walk you up there. I’m just making David coffee. Would you like one?”

“Sure,” I say. At the time I didn’t drink coffee.

“How would you like it?” she asks.

“However David likes it,” I reply, going with the flow.

The two of us, David’s dog, and two coffees walk through the kitchen, out a side door, and up a stone path behind the house. Outside is arid, natural. Not manicured or lush.

At the top of the path is an open concrete building. Glass-less windows, high ceilings, tables and chairs, and not much else. She walks me inside. “David, this is Yancey,” she says. 

Sitting at a drawing table is David Lynch. He’s wearing a white shirt buttoned to the top, khaki pants, and a blue workman’s jacket. His white hair shoots straight up. He steps forward to greet me. 

“Hi Yancey, I’m David,” he says. We shake hands.

I take a seat across from him. He asks me where I’m from.

“Virginia,” I tell him.

“Virginia? That’s where I’m from,” he says. “What does your father do?”

“When I was growing up he was a waterbed salesman,” I tell him. “What about yours?”

“Forestry service,” he says. “We moved a lot. Lived in Montana too.”

We sit across from each other swapping life stories and sipping identical cappuccinos. He pulls out a pack of American Spirits.

“Can I have one of those?” I ask. When was this going to happen again?

He leans forward. I pull one from the pack. He lights it for me.

We talk about his early days in LA. Moving here, making Eraserhead, living in an aging mansion with other artists. We talk Kickstarter. I pitch him on funding a Twin Peaks return — the ultimate dream project. But I can tell by his politeness that it won’t happen.

“Anything I should make sure to do while I’m in LA?” I ask. 

He thinks.

“You see those trees up there?”

He points up the hill behind me. I turn and look.

“Those are jasmine trees. At night, only at night, they open up and make this smell. Have you ever smelled the smell? It’s the most incredible thing.  

“When I first came here I would go up into the hills at night and smell that smell. And I’d think, John Wayne smelled this smell. Marilyn Monroe smelled this smell. And now I’m smelling this smell. 

"You know what that smell is? It’s the smell of Hollywood. You should go in the Hills tonight and smell the smell. That’s what you should do.”

I thank him for his graciousness. We shake hands.

“Anytime, champ,” he replies.

Foolishly I didn’t follow David’s recommendation. I didn’t smell the smell on that trip. In fact, I’d forgotten all about this exchange until Saturday night.

It was late. I was taking out the trash when a wave of soft perfume stopped me. It swam around my face. I was ready to close my eyes and rest my head on it. What was that?

Then I realized: this is the smell. The same smell that John Wayne smelled. The same smell that Marilyn Monroe smelled. The same smell that David Lynch smelled. The whole story came back.

I called my wife. She walked outside and stopped when the air touched her face. “It’s so gentle,” she said. Together we stood there, eyes closed, breathing it in. Ahhh...

---

When I last wrote I’d just finished a draft of the first half of the book. That's in the same place. But the second half has come alive in a new way.

I spent August researching and thinking about the second half. No writing. Only thinking. I lived with the ideas, let them come to me. I drew them. Made videos about them. I read five research books in a week. It was as deep as I’ve ever gone.

It worked. Last week I finished a 20-page narrative outline of the rest of the book. It felt like landing a plane that I always knew would get there but wasn’t sure how. Phew!

Midway through the month I gave a talk for 4,000 people in Chicago. I used the keynote to test some of the ideas. The feedback during and after was great. When I walked off stage I couldn't wait to get back to work. 

It’s still rough. I await feedback from my editor and others. Months of writing and revising are ahead. But laying the ideas out in a way that I can look at it and say, yes this is what I think, this is why I’m doing this, is tremendously exciting. 

---

I highly recommended two of the books I read for research.

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by EF Schumacher is an extremely insightful and gentle manifesto about the future written by a German coal industry economist in the early '70s. One of his core ideas is that urbanization and abandoning of the land are serious mistakes. His view, well-argued, is that equal distribution of people, resources, and opportunities across geographic areas is necessary for a healthy society. As he sees it, the challenges of urbanization aren't only poverty and overcrowding, but the magnetic pull those cities will have on the young as the only places of opportunity. They'll starve rural communities of their human capital. As someone who moved from Virginia to NYC and now LA, this resonated and stung.

Doubt and Certainty in Science: A Biologist's Reflections on the Brain by J.Z. Young is a series of ten brilliant lectures given on the BBC in the 1950s by a biologist explaining how the brain functions, and what that shows us about humanity as a whole. It's very accessible and alive. You can feel the wooden chair of the lecture hall seat and the buzz in the air as you read it.

Two ideas stuck with me.

First, he asks us to consider the fact that our brains are a tissue that specializes in creating memories. A physical material, a real thing that you can touch, does this. This isn't Harry Potter make-believe. This is in all of our heads. Wild.

Young uses the metaphor of a stamp to explain how a memory is formed. Images repeatedly imprint themselves on this soft tissue, making an imprint that becomes deeper with greater exposure. This is how memories are made. If you're interrupted before the stamp makes the next imprint, the image and memory will fade. A striking image.

Second, Young explains human history as the development of new frameworks through which to see the world. We teach our brains how to see. If a blind person gains sight later in life, it can take them a month to be able to identify a triangle, even though they know perfectly well what one is through other senses. They can touch it and know it's a triangle. But their eyes need time to "learn" what seeing a triangle is.

Because learning an entirely new framework is difficult, people learn through the metaphors of existing things. As new frameworks are explained through comparison, others become able to see this way. The new way of seeing is like a new shape pressed onto the brain. New ideas build on old ideas. They stretch the boundaries. They note the lines and then color outside them.

Young sees human history as a progressive narrative that evolves as much as our creativity and ability to communicate allows. What a beautiful thought.

---

The best movie I’ve seen in a long time is Good Time. Made by the Safdie Brothers from NYC, it costars one of the filmmakers and Robert Pattinson. 

It’s a bank robbery movie that keeps the tension tight. Though the caper itself goes awry in every direction, the movie never loses focus. It never lets up. 

Yet there’s a gentleness to it. A kindness in its heart that reminded me of early Jarmusch — Down By Law and Stranger Than Paradise especially. The movie is dark but it's there.

I came across Good Time when the Metrograph, a phenomenal movie theater in the Lower East Side, promoted its opening six months ahead of schedule. That must be something special, I thought. My friend Rafael saw and loved it. I got around to it only now, but it was well worth it. 

---

Finally, a new mix of music. Tracklisting:

1. Yves Tumor, “Faith in nothing except salvation”
2. Gabor Szabo, “The beat goes on”
3. Ebo Taylor, “Love and death”
4. Philip Glass, “Part I”
5. Superpitcher, “Baby’s on fire”
6. Marcia Griffiths, “Don’t let me down”
7. Hailu Mergia, “Anchin kfu ayinkash”
8. Alice Coltrane, “Turaya & ramakrishna”
9. Lynn Tait, “To sir with love”
10. Cass McCombs, “Don’t vote”
11. Smog, “I was a stranger”

Listen and get lost in a haze of sweet-smelling night jasmine.

Peace and love,
Yancey

A Golden Space

The past year has felt like a lifetime. In a way it has been. I left my job and started writing a book. My family moved across the country. Life with a toddler feels like multiple lifetimes every week.

There’s a moment from exactly a year ago that I keep going back to. It was a Monday, and I had an appointment with an astrologist. 

My wife had given me the gift of a chart reading. This is where you give an astrologist your exact time and place of birth (after calling your Mom to find out what those things are) and the astrologist tells you all there is to cosmically know about you.

I met her in a borrowed jeweler’s office on 17th Street. After settling in, she started a recording of our session. Then we began.

Astrologist: “Today is the seventh of August, 2017. It’s a lunar eclipse today. This is the astrological reading for Yancey Strickler. We have about an hour and a half. I’d like to spend the first half of the time going into your natal chart, which is this map of the sky the moment you’re born. 

“Put yourself in the morning of Virginia [when and where I was born]. The sun is risen, and behind the sun are all these planets following. Uranus, Venus, rise right up on the eastern horizon after the sun. The sun rises with this whole pageant following it. The moon is about to rise too, but we won’t see the moon because the sky is so bright. Not much is below the horizon at all. That says something about you, that the planets are seeing you. It shows something about who you are, what you do. Your life is not simply for yourself.”

Me: “Okay."

Astrologist: “You’re Scorpio, so you’re born into the season of the underworld. Excavation, digging, research, getting to the truth of something. Getting to the core, figuring out the story behind. Probing to understand more, getting to the bottom of things. These are Scorpionic qualities.”

Me: “Okay.”

Astrologist: “Your sun is conjunct Uranus, the planet that turns the other way. This shows you have a sense of doing things differently than people around you. Having extremely different ideas but trusting them enough to move forward with them. Maybe even a sense of genius. Maybe there’s a sense of new ideas that come and you don’t know where they’re from. They’re ahead of the time. I don’t know if you have those ideas already. Do you? You should trust them.”

And here I was walking in with the question of whether I should write the book I kept thinking about. This was all in the first five minutes. How much are you supposed to tip your astrologist again?

The session ended with key dates for the year ahead. When I should be in nature. When creative inspiration might strike. My luckiest day of the year. 

Grading it a year later, some of it is uncanny.

The date she predicted was “BAM — your luckiest day of the year” was the day I met the editor who bought the book and who I work with today. A “pivotal” date coincided with when I signed the book deal. Another with when I met my literary agent. At the time the book was just a glimmer in my eye.

Not all the dates turned out. The day I was promised new income the check must have gotten lost in the mail. The day I was supposed to be in nature I was trapped in an airport. She said February would be a good time to move. It wasn’t. We moved in April. Still, pretty close.

The final date she gave was August 2018. Now. She said starting August 1, 2018 my project would be in “a golden space.” The cosmos would “be like Santa Claus” raining down gifts. “It’s all happening,” she said. 

*Knockonwood* but this forecast is also looking good. 

I closed part one of the book two weeks ago. That’s 100 pages in the can. Early work on Part Two is underway. The book is unfolding in front of me. It's as clearly as I’ve seen it. It really is a golden space.

I feel hesitant to say this out loud. I don't want to jinx anything. But what good is life if you spend it waiting for something bad to happen? Be thankful for the golden space when it pays you a visit.

Beautiful Boy

In the movie Boyhood there’s a scene where Ethan Hawke gives his son a mixtape called The Black Album made up of all the best solo Beatles songs. Like the Beatles never broke up. You can watch the scene here

Someone recreated The Black Album — whose concept and tracklisting Ethan Hawke actually made — on Spotify and it's a great listen. The transition from John's "How" to Paul's "Every Night" is unreal. An unexpected surprise was "No No No," a coke song by Ringo from 1974.

In our house we're hooked on solo John. We watch the “Imagine” video often with our son. “Oh Yoko” has long been one of his favorite songs. (Ringo and Yoko are his current favorite Beatles.) This weekend “Beautiful Boy” and “Watching the Wheels” were on repeat. Both songs are about the five years before John's death when he focused on raising his son with Yoko. The most beautiful time.

Sadly this led me into a deep dive on John’s 1980 murder. The same day this iconic photo of John and Yoko was taken in their house. The same day John autographed a record for the man who would murder him six hours later, asking “Is that all you want?” and his killer smiling and nodding in reply. There’s even a photograph.

Hours later John was shot in the back point blank four times in front of his apartment on 72nd Street. The police arrived two minutes later and rushed him to the hospital in the backseat of a squad car. He was gravely wounded and could not speak.

At the hospital doctors tried and failed to resuscitate him. According to the surgeon and multiple witnesses, at 11:15 when they pronounced John Lennon dead the Beatles song “All My Loving” came on over the hospital speakers.

“All My Loving” was released on November 22, 1963. The same day President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

“All My Loving” was the first song the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. The first time America saw them. Watching it now their power is still startling. They remain eternally fresh, different, new.

In the days after John’s death, mourners gathered outside his apartment. Their singing kept Yoko up at night. She released a statement thanking them for their love for John, but asked them to spend ten minutes in silent prayer in Central Park the following Sunday instead.

The request took on a life of its own. Days later, 250,000 people gathered in Central Park for ten minutes of silence. Millions of people around the world joined them. Every New York City radio station went off the air for the entire ten minutes, too.

Is there anything that matters that much anymore?

"If the glove doesn’t fit…"

I worry that the left’s narrative about Trump being compromised (Kompromat in italics, as journalists love to write) might backfire.

I won't be surprised if there's a pee tape and I'll be equally unsurprised if his supporters don’t care after it turns up. The same video will be declared evidence of treason and evidence of patriotism. The battle lines are drawn. 

The suggestion of blackmail seems to promise a moment of confession where Trump admits that the Russians had him all along. But I don't think it's like that. It's more like Trump and Putin/Russia are those insta-best friends who totally love all the same songs and hunt all the same endangered species. Trump’s motives are barely multi-layered. Like Putin, a shady autocrat is who he is.

The truth of this whole saga is hiding in plain sight. The sequence of events going from the Trump Tower meeting to Trump’s public statements to the timing of the hack of Hillary Clinton’s emails are laid out so cleanly it’s like a mystery novel for a five-year-old. It couldn’t be more obvious. 

The actually hard question is whether it matters. So far it doesn't seem like it. We knew much of this when people went to the voting booths. It didn't dissuade people then. Its influence did just the opposite.

When the whole truth is known, it might be checkmate. Or the familiarity of the story could feel more like "okay, and..?" 

Mueller seems likely to prove that illegal behavior has occurred and is occurring. Some of it possibly threat-to-the-Republic illegal. But to Trump's supporters, enforcement of the law will seem like cheating on a technicality. He won, albeit on an electoral college technicality. Isn't that exactly how the Deep State would execute a coup?

This is why the revelations of the relationship between leading conservative organizations and the Russians are just as troubling. Funding for the NRA and other conservative causes has been coming directly — and illegally — from Russia for at least the past five years. Trump is not an aberration. Something bigger is going on.

We don't yet know what it is. But, again, it's hiding in plain sight.

Seven Republican Senators visited Moscow literally on the 4th of July and met with sanctioned Russian officials. Rand Paul, another prominent Senator, flies to Moscow this week to meet with others. This isn't clandestine. This is brazen.

We’re in the deep end. The only thing we know to expect is that underneath the fog and noise, the truth will be right here in front of us all along.

Good music

The four-plus minutes of Courtney Barnett playing "Depreston" in a courtyard in Paris are as good as it gets. I also really liked her interview with The Creative Independent. This especially:

"My goal has always been to incorporate every experience, good and bad, and spin it around until it makes something interesting or something useful. I try to draw inspiration from anything and anywhere. You just have to open your eyes. If you’re open to people and open to situations, there’s always so much more going on around us than we realize."

A hopeful thought. Here's to opportunities in everything. 

The OJ Defense

When OJ Simpson was tried for double-murder in 1995, he hired the most expensive attorneys money could buy. He needed them. A glove with the murder victims’ blood had been found on his property, his hair was found on a victim’s shirt, and he had seemingly confessed in a suicide-ish note read live on television during the Bronco chase. 

But by the time the trial was underway months later, the certainty of events seemed to slip away. This was no accident. With the deck stacked against them, OJ’s attorneys adopted a strategy of sowing confusion in the minds of the jury and public. They attacked and questioned every fact. They threw endless mud against the wall, not caring what stuck. The goal was to create such an overwhelming amount of information that the basic facts of the case would be forgotten.

The prosecutors claim there’s DNA evidence against our client. Well, what are your credentials? Can you explain the science of DNA? Can you be more specific? How many people in California have DNA like the sample you claim matches my client? How about in the world? Where is the list of these people? Are the police even trying to solve this case?

It became hard to see through the fog.

Confusion was the first part of their strategy. The second part was to accuse the accusers. The police were the real criminals. After the defense showed that the lead detective had a racist history, the rest of the case was brushed with it. How can you trust anything they say when the investigators are biased against our client? It was all a plot to frame OJ.

By the end of the trial, everything about the case was perceived through the defense’s narrative. The questions overwhelmed the facts. 

The OJ defense is what Donald Trump is using to fight the Mueller investigation. He’s creating confusion about every fact. He’s accusing the accusers. And it’s working. Polls show that 53% of the population believes the Mueller investigation is politically driven and 61% of Republicans say the investigation is “unfair.” Both numbers are growing.

Trump is muddying the water to distract from the facts of the case. He instigated a dubious and showboating FISA warrant release, a confusing report about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton (that proved the opposite of what Trump claimed), and he makes frequent inflammatory attacks and threats against the FBI agents and officials in charge of investigating him by name. 

These are crazy things to do. But they have a purpose. They create confusion in the minds of Americans about whose investigation this is and what it’s even about. This worked for OJ. It's working for Trump too.

The Clinton Precedent

All four major US intelligence agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA, and Director of National Intelligence) and now the Senate Intelligence Committee have stated that Russia created an influence campaign to manipulate the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump and the Republicans. It wasn’t subtle either.

Russia’s hackers broke into the email accounts of Trump’s opponent and leaked their contents to the media shortly after Trump said on live television, “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He said this just weeks after the Trump Tower meeting between his staff and representatives for Putin. 

The Mueller investigation knows a lot more than we do. But even if Mueller creates an airtight case against Trump, he only has indirect influence on what happens from there. It’s up to the House of Representatives — 435 elected Congresspeople — to determine the President’s guilt or innocence of possible impeachable offenses.

This has only happened twice before in American history. Most recently in 1998, when President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath about a woman he had sexually harassed. It was a party-line vote: 221 Congressman (almost all Republicans) voted in favor of impeachment and 212 (almost all Democrats) voted against.

Clinton’s case then went to the Senate where votes from two-thirds of members are required to remove the President from office. The votes against Clinton fell well short (45-55 and 50-50), and he was acquitted. Clinton served two more years as President after being impeached. A period during which he had the highest approval ratings of his presidency. He was seen as the victim of a political witch hunt. The public likes a survivor.

In the two instances in American history when the President was impeached, the Senate failed to remove them from office both times. The parties stuck by their man and the President kept being President.

2018 midterms

In November, America will elect the jury that will decide the fate of Donald Trump. All 435 Congressional seats are up for election.

Impeachment is meant to function as a kind of trial where facts are heard and justice is determined. But like a lot of things in America, that’s not how things work anymore. The outcome will be determined by which party gets to cast more votes in the decision.

If Mueller’s findings are damning and there are more Democrats than Republicans in the House, Trump will be impeached. If the same thing happens and there are more Republicans than Democrats, Trump might not be tried at all. If Mueller's findings aren't damning and there are more Democrats than Republicans, Trump still might get impeached. The gulf between those outcomes shows what a poisonous situation we find ourselves in.

Americans have a direct say about this in November. But I fear we’re not yet looking at the midterm elections in their full context. I don’t think we’re prepared for what’s really at stake.

Assume for a moment that the charges of Russian meddling are true. That means there are politicians now in office, from the President on down, who knowingly benefited from an illegal manipulation of the 2016 election. The same people who have used the OJ defense to distract the public from whatever happened.

Think about this election from the perspective of those politicians. If they lose, they'll get caught for what happened in 2016. Democrats will have the majority in the House, and they’ll be in charge of launching investigations and impeachment. But if these alleged Russia-supported politicians win again, they’ll keep power and be able to stop any investigations, just as they're doing now.

If you cheated to get elected before, you're 1000 times more incentivized to cheat again. These politicians didn’t face any consequences the first time because they won. The only way to make sure it stays that way is to keep winning. And the way to do that is by cheating more.

Based on these incentive structures, the coming midterms could be the most manipulated in American history. In the 60 or so races that will determine who controls the House of Representatives and the fate of Trump, there's potential for disinformation campaigns, hacked emails, voter tampering, and so on. As long as the dirty candidates win, no one will do anything about it. 

2020 and beyond

I'm probably naive, but my money is still on Democrats squeaking out a slight majority in the House and Republicans continuing to control the Senate. So what would happen in that scenario?

In 2019, the House will launch impeachment proceedings against the President. This will be a messy and lengthy process. Like the OJ case, the circus to end all circuses. Trump’s defense will depend on confusion, distraction, and destruction. Whatever the cost to the country. Ugly won’t even begin to describe it. This could even be when a war gets started.

By 2020, the Democrat-controlled House will vote to impeach Trump. But the Republican-led Senate — where it’s impossible to get a two-thirds vote on anything — will not remove him from office. Even if Trump is impeached for treasonous acts, he’s likely to stay President. And, like Bill Clinton, potentially a more popular one than before.

Which leads to the unthinkable: that in 2020, the President of the United States will be impeached and run for reelection in the same year. And in that scenario, I’m certain that Trump will win.

By the end of the OJ trial, the two murder victims were a distant memory. The case wasn’t about them anymore. It was about OJ’s legal dream team, a racist LAPD, a cast of characters, and the 24-hour media that sprang up from it. The theater to determine the truth overshadowed the truth itself: that two people had been brutally murdered and justice had not been served.

OJ got away with it. Trump very well may too.

P.S. #1

There’s an unlikely move worth playing out. 

Republicans could choose to be bigger than politics and turn on Trump. They could lead the impeachment charge against him, all the while knowing that Vice President Mike Pence — more right-wing than Trump — is waiting quietly in the wings like a Westworld host in sleep mode. Republicans save the country and they stay in power. Win-win. But getting there means giving Democrats a victory in their fight against Trump, something the tribalism of today will not allow. 

This reveals an overlooked missed opportunity from the past: that Democrats could have asked Clinton to step down because of his poor values so Al Gore could become President with a clean slate. This was unthinkable at the time, but isn’t that what our values would demand if the Clinton scandal happened today? 

P.S. #2

Thinking ahead to a (distant) post-Trump world, I try to imagine what a Democratic or oppositional platform might be. And I keep coming back to something similar to what Republicans are doing now: that emotions will lead them to treat the moment as a giant “Undo,” erasing as much of what Trump has done as possible. A mirror of the Republican strategy in the post-Obama years.

I don't think this is a good idea.

Let’s say that happens. We'll then spend the next thirty years with each side undoing what the other has done. Where does that lead? How long can a society afford to repeat that cycle? How far behind will the US fall?

As distasteful as it will feel, post-Trump leaders should look to build on and evolve what he has done rather than just take an eraser to it. Progress doesn’t only come from making something good and pure. It also comes from making things better. We’re going to need a lot of that in the future.

Overshare podcast

I'm a guest on a new episode from the podcast Overshare. You can listen here.

The interview was at an interesting moment: about to leave New York City and trying to teach myself how to be a writer again. I enjoyed this conversation.

From the West Coast

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. 

My friend had recently spoken with the CEO of a company that he wasn’t a big fan of. After talking to this person, the friend was pleasantly surprised to discover that the CEO was smart and nice. My friend was reassessing his feelings about the company as a result.

I listened to the story with interest. Then I asked a somewhat odd question. How important did he think it was to be smart and nice?

Look around. Aren’t most people you know nice? Aren’t most people you know smart? 

There's data to support the idea that people are smarter than they used to be. The Flynn Effect observes that our IQs have increased significantly over the past century. They're still rising. According to that metric, we’re smarter than ever. 

And yet consider the world around us. The problems we’re creating. The problems we’re ignoring. This happened even while people were getting smarter by the generation. And being super nice about it, too.

There’s no easy Other that we can honestly point to as the root of all evil. It’s not like there’s some island of supervillain a-holes who are responsible for everything bad in the world. (No Manhattan jokes, please.)  There’s just us.

This means that nice and smart people have played central roles in making the world worse. That might not have been their intention, but it was the outcome. Nice, smart people have done and will continue to do bad things.

In one of Hunter S. Thompson’s books he writes about a night in the late ‘60s when he picked up a longhair hitchhiker. Not long into the ride, Hunter discovers that the guy is a jerk. Hunter can’t believe it. Long hair had always been a signal for who he could trust. Now even the jerks had grown their hair out. His compass had to change.

Could it be the same with smart and nice?

Maybe social evolution — in overdrive thanks to social media — will make everyone nice. Being nice works to our advantage, so “nice” genes become more dominant. 

Sounds chill. But then how will we know what’s going on underneath the surface? Who’s really inside? 

The media framed the 2000 election between Bush and Gore as the contest to find “the guy you’d rather have a beer with.” But this is arguably the least meaningful lens through which to make a decision. It’s just the path of least resistance. Tell someone that what they feel is also what's right and rarely will they disagree.

In the long run, “nice” and “smart” might be traits we have to recalibrate on. If someone isn’t nice or smart that’s a negative, but if someone is nice or smart maybe it’s only a neutral quality rather than a positive one.

Like long hair, once everybody’s got it the signal means less.

---

Last month my family and I left New York. As of a week ago, we’re living in Los Angeles.

Leaving NYC was a big deal. I lived there for 18 years. I love the city. I am a New Yorker.

When I think about what in life I’m most proud of, it’s moving to New York. I moved there right after college. Getting there had long been my dream.

New York was never easy but it treated me well. It’s where I started my career as a writer. It’s where Kickstarter happened. It’s where I made many great friends.

New York and I had a perfect goodbye. My last dinner was with an old friend at St. Anselm, my favorite restaurant. Afterwards we want to a DIY show in Queens. I was 26 again.

For my last meal the next morning, I went to the same deli in the Lower East Side where I went everyday for 15 years. I ordered the same egg-and-cheese sandwich on a toasted everything bagel. I said hi to the same guys who have worked there since I moved to Ludlow Street in 2002. I told them it was my last day.

After hearing the news, the two men came around from behind the counter and warmly patted me on the back and shoulders. They said they hoped this would be a good decision for my family and wished us well.

I cried. Standing there in the deli holding an aluminum foil-wrapped egg and cheese while two men showed me love, I had tears in my eyes. The only time I cried during my departure.

Shoutout to Happiness Deli, shoutout to egg and cheese sandwiches, and shoutout to New York City.

---

Our reasons for coming to LA are unoriginal. A mix of weather, wanting change, and recognizing that this is a window before our child starts school when we can take chances. LA probably isn't our last stop but we’re having fun with it. 

And while we’re here, I’m writing a book.

Late last year I signed a book deal with Viking Press. I’ve been working on it full-time since November. My deadline to finish is the end of this year.

I’m enjoying the experience very much. I’ve given myself fully to it. When we were in New York, I spent day after day isolated in an empty apartment with no internet, just writing and reading. The depth of the work is pure pleasure and unlike anything I've done before. I look forward to working on it everyday.

So what's the book about? Well, it’s not a memoir and it’s not about Kickstarter. It’s a manifesto, and still in progress. I'll leave it at that for now. The book should come out late next year. 

---

Before coming to LA, my wife and I went to the TED conference in Vancouver. Of all the talks, something that a philosopher named Will MacAskill said about the age of humankind stuck with me the most.

MacAskill said that if you compare Homo Sapiens to other species on Earth, humans are the equivalent of ten years old in our lifespan. We are very early in our lifecycle. Not even adolescent. 

There should be many tens of thousands of years of human history ahead of us. But we act like this is the last party — who cares if anybody cleans anything up? Which, now that I think about it, does sound like the behavior of a ten-year-old. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Seeing life on the right timescale is very valuable and hard to do. Jeff Bezos shared something in the most recent Amazon annual shareholder letter that puts it well. He writes:

A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be.

To do anything as well as it should be done will take all of your effort. It means giving all of yourself until it's right. It means humbling yourself before it. 

This is the thing that we — multitasking our way through life — find hardest to do. We respect our own time but disrespect the time of the things that need doing. We do too much, we do it too fast. And when it doesn’t work we wonder why. 

The alternative is to give all of yourself to a small number of things. To turn things off, to say no, even to opportunity. It's a scary prospect. But it’s only through sacrifice and dedication that someone can make something worth making.

Nine books that moved me

When I was a music critic, the end of the year was a banner time. I spent Decembers making lists of favorite albums and mixes of favorite songs. It got so deep I even made a top ten list about top ten lists.

So what’s meaningful to “list” at this moment in life? For me, ideas and books. Here are nine that impacted me this year. 

1. Sapiens by Yoval Harari
2. The KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds by John Higgs

Sapiens is a mind-expanding history of the human race. Harari is our species' Tocqueville, writing with a startling distance about the history of humans. It’s like reading Mars’ greatest historian analyze our planet. It’s no exaggeration to say it changes how you see the world. 

John Higgs’ kinda-bio of the ‘90s electronic group The KLF creates a similar eureka about ideas and art. A good friend gifted it to me, describing it conspiratorially as “the little yellow book.” He was right. Alan Moore’s concept of the Ideaspace, which I learned about here, is something I became an instant believer in.

Sapiens and The KLF establish that ideas are more powerful than anything. Ideas uniquely change how we relate to one another, how we craft our physical environment, pretty much everything. These books helped me better understand their power. They filled me with optimism — even in 2017.

3. Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I knew the name (which this book introduced) but until this year I never read this 1991 novel. It’s a series of conversations between three formerly status-oriented people who dropped out and moved to Palm Springs to work in jobs “beneath” them. The writing is crisp and the ideas challenge three decades later. Short, funny, and very alive.

4. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
5. The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

I’m two books into the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, a series by Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin. The story is unlike anything I’ve read. If you have interest in sci-fi, read these. So far the series has changed the way I think about contacting non-Earth life, the potential of indirect forms of communication, and the living soul at the heart of true fiction. These books visited me in my dreams and still do.

6. Beatles 1966 by Steve Turner

A monthly diary of the year the Beatles released Rubber Soul; wrote, recorded, and released Revolver; and wrote and recorded a chunk of Sgt Pepper’s. The greatest single-year artistic leap in modern times. 

How did it happen? Read this and you get a feel. The anecdotes are tremendous. John and Paul playing “Tomorrow Never Knows” for Dylan and the Stones in a hotel suite shortly after recording it. When it ends, Dylan says to them with a sneer, “Oh I get it — you don’t want to be cute anymore.” 

Paul’s first vacation as a Beatle is another. Paul changed his appearance before driving across Spain and parts of Africa to be incognito. Upon returning, he told the other Beatles they needed to change their identities before getting back into the studio. Making another Beatles record would be too hard. They needed the freedom of being someone else. This is where Sgt Pepper's came from.

It will inspire you to open your antennae up wide.

7. Age of Fracture by Daniel T. Rogers
8. Stranger Than We Can Imagine by John Higgs

Age of Fracture recounts the academic and social battles that drove the rise of feminism, individualism, racial identity, and other seismic social changes. The POV is unique: both broadly historical and a closely tracked blow-by-blow of ideas and counter-ideas. No book created a bigger or more meaningful reading list.

Stranger Than We Can Imagine is the second John Higgs entry on this list (he also wrote the KLF book). It details the emergent ideas of the 20th century that transformed the Victorian world into the industrialized, democratized, and way more confusing universe we live in now. Everything from physics to the avant-garde to sex.

Both titles come to a similar conclusion: the theme of the 20th century is relativity. A growing realization that the values and ideas many assumed were universally “true” were anything but. Some may say these are aberrations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These books counter that the universality of certain beliefs in the past was the aberration, and that we should expect more of this in the years to come. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. 

9. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Jack Reis and Al Trout

A wise and useful book from the ‘90s about putting things into the world. Each “law” is a short chapter in clipped, seasoned prose. You can smell the chainsmoke through the page.

Three laws that stayed with me: The law of line extension (when launching a new product don’t reuse your existing brand). The law of sacrifice (if you’re asking people to do something new, you must first make a sacrifice of your own). And the law of fads and trends (a trend is a fad with unsatisfied demand; when experiencing success keep them wanting more).

I’d love to hear what you read and learned this year. What books moved you?

baby you're my everything

I like to think (and
the sooner the better)
of a daily pledge
honoring the marvels
of civilization
cultivated by our ancestors
believing that all
destinations are
temporary

I like to think
(right now please!) 
of the breaking news alert
reading the corruption is total
and the only ones
with the courage to
end it are
the people
and Robert Mueller

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of millions of bodies
walking in silence
expressing shame for
our waste of
the gift of life
just to make
a little more money

What's your Uber rating?

Last weekend my wife, son, and I went to storytime at the library. Fifteen kids, twenty parents, a big mat on the floor. A perfect Saturday morning.

Then class starts. 

“After storytime today,” the teacher begins, “we would appreciate it if everyone could fill out a survey about our performance.”

My head jolts up.

“We would further appreciate you texting this number to give consent to be surveyed in the future,” she continues.  

“All of this is so we can make evidence-based decisions.”

My mouth falls open.

Trust is dying right now. It’s dying by side effect and design.

Distrust is at the heart of modern marketing. Trust our product not theirs. Trust this candidate not that one. Podcast ads preach fear of the middle man. 

This kind of marketing is nothing new. What is new is that the competition they’re advertising against is humanity itself. Talk to Siri and Watson not each other. Trust data not intuition.

These messages undermine trust in each other in order to increase trust in corporations and systems. The meta-message: Trust companies not people.

We’re so hungry for validation we go along with it. How hot did the algorithm say you are? Show me your score and I’ll you show mine.

Human trust is an aging incumbent. Commercial trust is a hot category. Last month Facebook acquired a company called tbh that lets people give each other anonymous feedback. The deal was reportedly for tens of millions of dollars.

Verification and data tracking systems create a new frontier for trust. There’s no need for clumsy interactions like the one in the library — the networks know everything. 

But who trusts those networks? After the Equifax hack, even trusting trust is an issue. We’re trending towards a climate of default distrust. 

Not to worry, thinks the technocratic product manager. We’ll whiteboard a new global verification system of truth and trust to fix it.

God help us if they succeed. Today’s solution is tomorrow’s bureaucracy.

An ideal approach trusts others enough to not demand trust in return. It acknowledges the importance of trust without trying to commoditize it. It promotes good decisions, not fear.

The blockchain is an encouraging platform for new concepts of trust. I root for a future that looks like Keybase, not a Black Mirror dystopia.

In the end we didn’t fill out the librarian’s survey. Our son took off running the second storytime ended. We didn't look back.