Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Things.  §


© Aron Hsiao / 2004
  • The monotheists have it right. I am not talking about the theology; I don’t have any opinion on the theology. But on the sociology, they have it right. A functioning human society, such as we prefer it to be, requires bonds.
  • Classical liberalism dislikes bonds. As a general rule, it rejects them as tyrannical and illiberal. Of course, classical liberals will argue that they argue merely for bonds that are chosen, rather than imposed.
  • This is, of course, something of a shell game. There is a word for “bonds” that are chosen: “preferences.” In classical liberalism, all ontology becomes preference. Or: Unsolid bonds are not, after all, bonds.
  • Game theory can only come to exist and be validated in a world such as the one prescribed by classical liberalism, in which all ontology is preference. It is at that point that parties must begin to guess at and calculate the preferences of others—because the very solidity of the world—the very solidity of solidity itself, in fact—now depends on the mere preferences of others.
  • Freedom is, in other words, no way to live. At least not as we currently conceive of it.
  • My life and personal philosophy have long been spaces in which freedom and authoritarianism are in tension. This is proper. Each must be made to temper the other; both are evil on their own.
  • The pendulum has swung too far at this point. Trump is a correction to the campus madness and the activist madness and the full-on social-structural assault. Those who still have to live in reality are intuitively protecting it, because basic ontological predictability is all that you have left once you are at the bottom fo the ladder. If that goes, too, you are in free-fal into the metaphysical void.
  • I used to doubt saws about “the wisdom of the crowd” and so on. Now I don’t.
  • The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So it is with ours. And at some point, once a critical surplus of good intentions is achieved, there is no path back from hell along the road; the road isn’t static, after all—it is emergent. Collect enough good intentions and it folds back on itself. At that point, all roads lead to hell, and all intentions are good intentions. We’re there now.
  • This is another way of saying that at some point beyond the bounds of moderation, good and evil become identical. This is why moderation was invented. It is also why people these days don’t believe in good and evil as distinct quantities that are different from one another—because they no longer are. There have been too many good intentions.
  • The admonitions against utopianism are sound, but also doomed to forever be ineffective. This is the human condition—in a search for ontological, metaphysical, and material security that can never, in fact, be achieved, humans invariably and unwittingly collaborate—by pursing, always, more of these—to destroy their own collective ontological, metaphysical, and material security.
  • It is a circle. It is not linear. These were right; those were wrong.

Good-bye 2016.  §

I’m actually starting this in August, because I feel the need. But the headline already feels right to me. “Good bye, 2016.” Because if ever there was a year that I want to say good-bye to, it’s 2016.

So. Here’s the recap. In 2016, I:

  • Turned 40 years old.
  • Had the special red wagon I built with my kids stolen out of my back yard.
  • Recovered the wagon under sad and suspicious circumstances.
  • Had the custom bike I built with my own hands and carefully selected parts in NYC stolen off of my driveway.
  • Did not recover my bike.
  • Installed a video security system.
  • Got divorced. It was a long time in coming, and results from the grave mistake that was the marriage. Now I understand better when people say that “there was just no way to work it out.”
  • Took my daughter to her first day of kindergarten.
  • Lost a hundred pounds. Literally. (Everyone says that they don’t see it, at least not at that quantity; they forget that I’m six feet tall and a hundred wears very differently on me than it does on someone six or twelve inches shorter.) I’ve always said that when I’m under stress or unhappy, I put on weight, then when the negativity and stress start to fade, so does the weight. See the item above.
  • For the first time twenty years, did not do any of: write a book, teach a class, pursue academic work, freelance as a writer.
  • Consolidated 17 years of blog entries across about eight separate CMS systems into this one, single, 17-year blog CMS.
  • Pulled decades of old data off of DVD-RAM to save in newer formats.
  • Rediscovered spirituality.
  • Was often sad. Was also often happy. It was a year of ups and downs.
  • Watched all of Inspector Morse, all of Inspector Lewis, all of Prime Suspect, and all of Poirot.
  • Resumed yardwork.
  • Painted parts of the house, began a slow remodel.
  • Abandoned American “progressivism” entirely, as it’s become nonsense.
  • Began reading again.
  • Fell in love with horology. Okay, that’s a lie. Fell in love with wristwatches.
  • Had my mid-life “crisis.” Or at least started it. Time will tell when it ends.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2016

The hardest thing to do this year has been to look back and admit to myself things that were mistakes. Everyone loves to admit their mistakes in a shallow way, but no one wants to admit deep mistakes. I don’t mean that people don’t want to admit them to others, I mean that people don’t want to admit them to themselves.

Here are some of mine.

  • Dating in New York. Getting married. I knew better, and I knew myself better, and I gave in anyway. Complete lack of discipline that has been definitive in what my life ultimately will come to be, and not in a positive way.
  • Leaving New York. Again, this was a way of building a steel trap for myself and then stepping right in it and lopping my feet off. For no good reason. Divorce was going to happen anyway. It may as well have been in a place where I was at a structural advantage, or at least breaking even, rather than being done in such a way that I will be at a structural disadvantage for decades.
  • Being too nice and failing to set healthy boundaries. I still can’t overcome this. Some of it is upbringing. “Why are you so nice?” I get asked over and over again. I don’t know. If I did, I would change it. It continues to represent a series of mistakes that rolls on and on.

— § —

Top article of 2016, unexpectedly:

Evolution Made Really Smart People Long to Be Loners

This is not, strictly speaking (or in any manner of speaking) a highbrow article. But when I read it, I cheered. Not because it called me smart (it did no such thing; it didn’t reference me at all), but because it made the case that there is nothing inherently right or inherently rational with wanting to socialize all the time, nor nothing inherently strange or mentally ill about being perfectly satisfied doing things on one’s own, as I’ve always been happiest doing them—even big things like extended travel.

And here’s what the article didn’t say. If you’re smarter and more knowledgeable than average, and especially of you’re these things and kind as well, social life is expensive. Your experience of the social world is one of being in demand—which can be nice—for a lot of unpaid work—which is not so nice. Everybody says that they’re happy to have you around, but when you are around, you spend most of your time solving problems and doing favors and improving other peoples’ lives. When you’re young, this can feel nice. As you age, it becomes exhausting, then at some point annoying.

Because they find that you are able to solve most any problem and know something (and usually many things) about most anything, you become the sharpest, most generally applicable tool in the shed, and thus, people unwittingly begin to use you that way, rather than merely appreciate your company. When they turn to others in the room, the conversation is about a variety of things, but when they turn to you, their first impulse is to go over the list of things they’ve been needing your help with and ask if you can’t please spare a moment and then pay you two dozen complements and by then—sadly—they’ve run out of equitable time to share with you so they move on to someone else in the room and that’s what you’ll get, mate.

And by the time you leave an event, you’ve got requests from half a dozen people.

Worse still is the percentage of time that you are unable to help, not because you were unwilling or because they didn’t ask, but because they were either unable to interpret the help that you provided or were convinced that you were wrong and didn’t know what you were talking about because they lacked the capacity to understand what you said or the terms, processes, etc. that you outlined. This has the frustrating effect of not only sapping your social time, as outlined above, but then—as a result—reducing your social status despite the fact that you were generous with your help and that you were, actually, right but that they’re not clear enough thinkers to understand that.

I’m not suggesting (at all) that smart folk out to receive a medal for being smart.

I am, however, suggesting that as the years go on, smart folk tend to gradually say to themselves, in response to invitations or movements toward time spent together, “Why? It’s frustrating and it takes a lot of my time that could be much more effectively used elsewhere.”

What this article does, for the first time I’ve read it in mainstream print, is hint at the idea that the highly educated, highly skilled, and/or highly intelligent person tends to feel more alone when spending time with other people (but for a few, whom they’ll usually keep in their circle of contact) than they do when spending time in isolation. Time spent with others drives home the notion that nobody in the room shares much in common with or will (ever) understand them all that much. When that’s your experience of social life, and it is—but for on the urban street, where it’s far better because there nobody knows to ask for your skills and chat is superficial and playful, where you can be appreciated for your wit and can share a good number of smiles—then you’re as likely as not to eventually wander away from it and toward other things that you find to be more fulfilling.

— § —

Favorite books read in 2016:

Hillbilly Elegy
Exit Right
From Wild Man to Wise Man
Get Me Out of Here
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough

Yeah, not a highbrow list (sue me). But an enjoyable one. I am missing academic reading, though. I think that 2017 will likely bring it back into my life, somewhat. I’m currently working on:

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
A Secular Age

— § —

Characterizing at month-long granularity:

January: Cautious optimism.
February: Hopeful optimism, at times near euphoria.
March: Collapse.
April: Pure caution, seeing things through.
May: Introspection and resignation.
June: All business.
July: Acceptance and carrying water.
August: Reboot.
September: Starting the climb.
October: Gaining confidence.
November: Conceptualization of the new reality.
December: Looking forward.

On love.  §

So a few people have tried to talk to me about love and romance and how I ought to go out there and find it, and about how if I don’t it’s because I’m still hurting or am depressed or something and I’ve been trying to understand why I don’t feel a lot of urgency about this. Am I really—as they say—hurting or depressed, or unable to move on, or fearful or something? I’ve been thinking not, but then at the same time, lacking any other explanation.

Then, sometime this morning, it hit me.

It just isn’t important. Not to me, but in general. It just doesn’t matter right now, in this context. The world is such a mess—not just socially, but indeed physically, systemically. And there are billions of children to raise, including my own. And so many kinds of change are on the horizon or emerging. And my own life is likely half over or more.

It just feels like an indulgence. It feels narcissistic, like a luxury good—like pining away for diamonds and foie gras while living in the trenches at the Marne. In another time, in another way, in another life context of my own, it could feel noble and so on. But right now? Not really. Sure, it would be nice, I suppose. But to think about it much feels out of place and strange; it’s just not a priority and won’t be. It has nothing to do with anything of importance right now.


© Aron Hsiao / 2008

It just doesn’t matter. There are battles to be fought, personal and public, by all, around the globe. Romantic love between two people? Of the rom-com variety? It’s just not a good time to be worried about richly frosted cake with ice cream on the side, served in a pretty little decorative plate. Not just at the macro-scale, but even at the micro-scale, in my own life.

I just can’t get into it. I am not at that stage in life; it is something that bears little relationship to my remaining life goals and whose pursuit could well interfere with them. I’ve already been there, done that. Even the in the last instance, in my marriage, I was already beyond it in a lot of ways; “love” held nowhere near the resonance for me that it did when I was twenty. “Effective partnership” was a much more important part of the allure. Now, after my marriage? Even less resonance. I’ve had love in my life. It was cute, it was something I did, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t panacea, and it wasn’t even all that productive, nor did it ever result in long-term happiness, for myself or for anyone else, even during relationships and before their ends.

It’s just not what life is about. Not that kind of love. Other kinds of love? Perhaps. But romance—romance is just crushed velvet pants. Or, maybe, given how debilitating and inappropriately all-consuming it can be, romance is like a night of debauchery and overstrong drinks. So important to a twenty-something looking for adventure and identity, but not particularly tempting to someone who’s already had their decade(s) doing that—especially once they have already reproduced.

— § —

My aging parents who have been married for nearly fifty years would no doubt argue that romance is not love, that love is more than this, and that love between couples (of the not romance variety) is part and parcel of the love that “makes the world go ’round.”

I can’t answer that. Maybe if I was in their shoes, I could, but I can’t. I can’t even evaluate it. It belongs to another time, I suspect, and another aggregate manifestation of the love between couples that no longer obtains. I think that the sort of love that they’re talking about has—to quote a popular movie—gone out of the human universe. At least for now.

The 29th.  §

The suburbs are bad places for introverts.

For extroverts, the suburbs lend a measure of control to social life, enabling them to manage their image and their endless stream of contacts and interactions.

For introverts, the suburbs are a wasteland in which there is essentially no human contact unless one is willing to engage in such management. Nothing happens organically; everything must be a matter of conscious social connection and coordination.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2002

I think I am having a leather watchband period. For a long time I’ve been in a stainless bracelet mood, but that seems to be waning.

Actually, I fetishize leather right now. I want to wear it all the time. I want all of my furniture to be made with it. I want it everywhere in my house.

I think it has something to do with it’s symbolism of the past (“vintage,” rustic materials and so on) while avoiding inherent references to particular periods.

— § —

So we’re heading into another New Year weekend. And then—back to work, back to the regular cadence of life, which is all-encompassing and in fact quite overpowering these days, when kids, work, household management and housecare are mixed together as responsibilities.

Every year it’s the same—I have a decent amount of time off and plan to get a large number of things done. Then, the holiday arrives and I find myself using it primarily to recuperate.

Not sure how much recuperating got done this time around; life is too intense for that and I have too many tense issues circling around or lurking in the corners of my mind.

— § —

I am done liking this blue-gray thing. I think it’s finally run its course. It feels dark, and like it’s affecting what I put here. It feels too interior, if that makes any sense.

I think it’s time to open things up with something whiter, and more open.

Also, I think it may be time to switch back to Drupal from WordPress, though I’m not particularly excited about the amount of database work that will entail.

— § —

I went to Costco at 8:30 to buy Eneloops and a few other household basics, only to find that they were closed.

Who closes at 8:30 in the modern world? Apparently they don’t want my money?

— § —

I keep checking Penelope Trunk to see if she’s written anything new.


© Aron Hsiao / 2004

As much as I have come to dislike her as a person, I am completely onboard with reading anything and everything she writes, as I think she’s right about things much of the time and—more importantly—generally willing and somehow able (without destroying her life entirely) to say things that nobody else is willing to say, but that everyone is thinking (or ought to be if they’re not).

This is a rare talent—I suppose it’s a combination of rare talent and rare enabling circumstances—and a refreshing one.

— § —

Yes, for those who missed it in recent posts, I am now calling myself a conservative, though—oddly—a conservative of the sort that reads Marx and has a sociology Ph.D. and disagrees with about 90 percent of the policy positions and values of the conservative movement.

It’s just that I disagree with even more of the left right now, and even more strongly.

It’s become an “enemy-of-my-enemy” sort of thing. I have hunted, but I can’t really find a third party that represents my views. If I could, it would be somewhere between CPUSA and the American Solidarity Party.

Basically—I put myself in the socially traditionalist yet highly collectivist, somewhat authoritarian, beyond-Keyenes redistributionism camp. There are no political parties for this in the U.S. Economic leftism is tightly bound to social libertarianism and/or progressivism, and social traditionalism is tightly bound to the Davos and trickle-down crowds in our system. Both camps embrace individualism and classical liberalism—about which I increasingly have suspicions—wholeheartedly.

Do not like.

OMG.  §

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/exodus/

We live in a terribly unjust world.

Last week of December stuff.  §

What has happened to my writing?

Too many words. Not enough substance.

— § —

I have switched back to a Galaxy Tab S. Best tablet yet made.

And I get to avoid the dismal iOS and the bulky and heavy iPad Mini 2.

Love the iOS apps—Ninox, Daedalus, Ulysses, etc.—but they do nobody any good if you hate actually carrying and operating the device so much that the apps never actually get used.

— § —

I was raised by multiple generations of football fans. I went to countless football games, dating back to before I can remember. There’s a part of me that measures the passing of years, and of life, using football seasons.

I’m always sad to see another one end. It’s a wistful time of year. Christmas over. Football over. Now it’s just rain and snow until the pointless lawn mowing commences.

It’s during the last week of December that I typically begin to dreamily imagine the start of fall next year. In my head, it’s always the same picture—earth tones, a slight chill on windy afternoons, the light turning from yellow to gray, and school.

— § —

“School” sounds like an abstraction, but it’s the biggest one in my life. Everything revoles around—begins and ends around—the school year. For me. For the kids. For football. I even imagine the holidays in school terms and remember them through shool projects and crafts.

School is the center of my universe—only I don’t study or work there any longer. Now, it’s the kids who are my connection to the center of the universe.

— § —

I keep thinking back to January 1st, 2000—where I was and what I was doing. It may be time to reprise that moment. Seventeen years, and I find myself in a place not unlike the place I was in then, with a path ahead of me that is not unlike the path ahead of me then.

Not a time of wonder, so much as a time of wondering, possibility balanced on a knife’s edge against risk—and me knowing that the balance itself, which is nothing other than stagnation and premature decline—is untenable and must be upset.

Once again, I’ll have to close my eyes and hold my breath to have the courage to do it.

I have about as much as I did then, which is to say not nearly enough but also probably just as much as I need.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2015

Parenthood changes the way that a mind works.

You fall out of practice in a lot of areas. It’s harder to read books because there are no pictures and the text is small and the lines are close together. You use tiny words and simple sentence structures all day, meaning that your vocabulary declines. You are constantly grasping for words when speaking with adults; you know that there’s a word for this or that, and that you’ve used it many times in the past, years ago, but you can’t seem to come up with it.

Everything is measured in lifetimes, years, and individual days. Intermediate measures like decades, months, or weeks lose their meaning and disappear from the mental calendar.

Critical insight, useless with kids, wanes. Instead, you begin to approach every situation as a mediator and with a certain above-the-fray detachment.

After a few years of parenthood, you are no longer who you were. You don’t know if you can go back. You literally have no idea whether or not you want to.

— § —

I am toying with the idea of getting an MBA. I think the company would pay for it if I wanted to do one online (the only way I could practically do it at this point, though that experience would diminish many of the degree’s advantages).

Thing is, I keep having business and deal ideas these days. That’s how far I’ve veered from the academic path. I’ve never had those before, but I think working inside the corporate world does that, and having kids (and thus a lot of needs and a broader focus in life) also does that.

I could jump in with both feet and try to ramp up shoestring style, or look into getting financed or granted or something, but in a way, that’s the motivation—I don’t know enough to know how to begin, or to know—if I fly by the seat of my pants—how things are going as they play out, what might be coming up next, where exposure lies, and so on.

It would help just to have some of the general wisdom and the taken-for-granteds from that world before trying, I think.

— § —

I had a very strange day. I think it’s because I didn’t get much sleep last night.

I’m just getting to the point in life where I can clearly see the connections between things like general malaise and stress during the day and the sort of night that preceded them.

In fact, the last couple of years have pushed me to make the transition to “understanding the wisdom of the conventional wisdom” in a lot of different areas.

— § —

When you’re in your twenties and even thirties, you “play house” a lot. You don’t really feel like an adult, but you go through the motions because it would be embarrassing to admit that you haven’t got the faintest idea what you’re doing and don’t particularly even care to do much of it.

You don’t notice when you cross the threshold into real adulthood; you get busier and busier maintaining the momentum and keeping up appearances and then suddenly, there you are, an actual adult and not role-playing any longer.

I guess this is a classic symbolic interactionist trope, but it still doesn’t change how fascinating it feels to live it.

— § —

Another change that happened when I wasn’t looking: I’m now more likely to read Buckley than Marx, Francis than Adorno.

The bits did, indeed, flip.

“He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.” (Anselme Batbie)

I am no longer bothered by a great many things that used to bother me in society. And I am very bothered by a great many things that used to seem irrelevant.

I am also reading Rod Dreher a lot. Funny, I’m not even religious, yet I suddenly find common cause with a lot of religious folk that I once would have imagined to be terrible people.

— § —

Still no idea what (much needed) project lies ahead. A return to academics? To teaching? A new degree? A new company? A new book? A new dedication to advancement in my current career? Meetups and community involvement to re-enter social life?

Could be any of them. Could be several of them. Could be none of them. I hate having to decide, but I suppose I will.

— § —

And, given all of the above, the big question for 2017, same as it was in 2000:

What now?

The answer is also the same:

Here it comes.

Optimism.  §


© Aron Hsiao / 2003

I’ve been trying to figure out the way forward. Part of that is the 40-something problem, part of that is the post-divorce problem, part of that is the mid-career-didn’t-go-as-planned problem, and part of that is the post-Ph.D. problem. It’s been a bit mind-bending, as the constraints look very different than they did ten years ago. Fatherhood, geography, and divorce decrees are key amongst these.

My oldest and best friend is showing the way forward.

Yesterday he tells me that he’s a bit nervous because he’s thinking on embarking on a ten-year commitment as an apprentice.

The man is a genius!

Of course, I struggle to figure things like this out, partly because my mind doesn’t tend to work that way, and partly because I’m still far too convinced of my own smarts to think that I actually have to think at times. Gotta fix that. Because he’s right. And he’s found the right thing.

What I need is another commitment. Another project.

— § —

I’ve spent my life working on projects.

  • Degrees
  • Books
  • Goals
  • etc.

I’ve even said here before that what I’m missing is my next project. But being out of practice since it’s been so long since I began my Ph.D. or my last book, I’d forgotten that the way that you get one is that you:

  1. Find something you’d like to accomplish
  2. Make a conscious decision to commit yourself to it
  3. Make an explicit commitment to get it done

Easy peasy, right?

That’s the way forward. Not to keep my options open because of constraints, but rather, to consciously narrow them and begin to work on something new.

Sure, there’s risk. There’s always risk. And then you work your way through the complications and find it to be fulfilling.

Thanks to him for lighting the way. I needed that.

— § —

The only way to feel as though you have purpose in life is to—surprise—have a purpose in life.

Galaxy Note N7000 and Android Marshmallow.  §

So this season the Galaxy Note GT-N7000 international models (the ones that cover a lot of bands and have a fast dual-core processor) have been going for peanuts on eBay—like, well under $100 new and in some cases closer to $50.

The kids have been wanting phones to play with, and a phablet is as good as a tablet for little hands, so I picked a couple of them up. They turned out to be Italian, but it’s a minor detail—box printing is in English. But of course they came with Android 2.x (the things date to the Android middle ages) so I needed a way to get a newer version of Android on them.

As usual, trying to figure it all out on XDA was a bit of a slog, but in the end I got there. Some points:

  • The CM13-based version of NightOwl is stable, fast, and works well.
  • The steps to get there include flashing a late version of the stock ROM. Turns out that for the N7000, you can install any national or carrier ROM and they should all work (they’re around the Internet and go up to 4.1.2); it’s just a matter of default language, branding, and carrier bloatware. So I went with Australian Telus. Just because. It’s temporary anyway—you’ll flash over it soon enough.
  • The new Android runtime will eat space on /data faster, so you have to repartition, which seems scary, but actually went smoothly.
  • Key combinations are: VolumeDown-Home-Power from off for ODIN mode and VolumeUp-Home-Power from off for recovery (hold the other two down first, then press power while holding them).

The path to upgrade to 6.x went something like this:

  1. Boot phone into recovery (see above) and there, choose to do a full wipe/reset. Then, power down.
  2. Boot phone into ODIN mode (again, see above) and start ODIN on Windows (or, if you’re on a Mac like me, in a Windows VM).
  3. In ODIN, select your PIT file (unzip and use the 6GB /data version) and then a stock Samsung GT-N7000 firmware .tar.md5 as the PDA file (unzip the firmware first, too, to get the .tar.md5). Run the flash.
  4. After the successful flash, exit ODIN and boot the phone. Shortly thereafter you’ll get a notification that says /data is unformatted. Confirm that you want to format it, then shut the phone down and boot back into ODIN mode.
  5. In ODIN on Windows, select this CWM version as your PDA file (again, first unzip for .tar.md5) and flash. This is to install ClockworkMod recovery. After flash, power down the phone and then boot into recovery.
  6. In recovery, select the mount options area and then choose USB storage. Plug into your computer again and the phone will be mounted as a drive. Copy the standalone kernel, NightOwl CM13.1 ROM, and gapps into the Downloads folder.
  7. Unplug the phone and use the Install .ZIP option to flash the standalone kernel from the internal SD card area and then power down.
  8. Boot back into recovery. Now, use the Install .ZIP option to flash the NightOwl ROM and then gapps (they will now be listed on the first mount, rather than the “internal SD card” area, which will no longer appear).
  9. Do a full wipe/reset again and then reboot.

It’ll take about 5-6 minutes of nothing but the Samsung title screen upon first boot before you get to the familiar cache rebuilding progress bar, but once you see that, you know you’re home free. You do get the side effect of the angry yellow exclamation mark at first boot (custom ROM warning), but as these things are so old now as to render any warranty concerns meaningless, I don’t see why anyone would worry, since it’s purely cosmetic and appears only for a moment when cold booted.

I know this seems like a slog, but it’s a pretty damned good deal—well under $100 (perhaps much less) for a brand new, retail box, dual-core, near-Android-stock 1GHz+ Marshmallow phablet, carrier unlocked, with major-manufacturer quality, a brilliant AMOLED display, and pen capability. I mean, seriously, that is a freaking good deal.

Motherhood?  §

So I’m coming out of the local Smith’s grocery store. I’ve been doing shopping for a few basics.

And as my car comes into view, I am greeted by the following scene: A shopping cart is against my car and has made a scratch on a rear body panel. A kid of maybe three or four is sitting on my car’s hood throwing a loud tantrum, kicking my hood. Another kid of maybe 6-7 is standing absent-mindedly while he kicks my rocker panels over and over again. And a middle-aged white woman in Lululemons is silently unloading her groceries from the cart (yes, the one scratching my car) into her trunk.

She sees me approach. She does and says nothing differently, even after it’s clear to her that it’s my car. Apparently putting her precious groceries away is more important than a stranger’s property, and more important than her childrens’ manners.

I am about as irritated as a person can be. But I say nothing. I do, however, shoot her some side-eye, to drive home the point that I’d like to get in my car and leave, as opposed to sitting there like a servant watching her do her thing while she and her kids bang up my car.

She turns to me with anger. “What?”

“I’m sorry, I’d like to get in my car and go home,” I say. Not yelling, not angrily. Matter-of-factly.

And this is apparently too much for her. She lets loose. Like really lets loose. Apparently I am coming at her all high and mighty with my little bag of groceries and I no doubt have some poor wife at home who right this second is dealing with screaming kids while doing my laundry and cooking my meals, but I don’t care, I’m going to go out shopping and come and harass another woman trying to do the impossible task of womanhood/motherhood and can’t I see that she’s got a situation going on and she’s doing the best she can and I’m an entitled man so I have no idea whatsoever, I just take for granted that she’ll do what I say and make room for me, and men don’t have any idea just how hard it is nor do we care to learn and of course if we actually tried it we’d fail miserably and all be running home and crying to our mothers to have ‘grandma’ take care of the kids, but of course it doesn’t have to happen because we just don’t chip in and society is fine with that, we go to our man caves and play our video games and leave the women to the work.

What.
The actual fuck.

I didn’t tell her that actually I am a single father who works full-time from home, pays a full-time Utah salary every month in alimony and child support, and takes care of my kids at the very same time every single workday and has done for years. I didn’t tell her that my house is clean, my bills are all paid, and my kids never, ever throw wailing tantrums in public, nor do they deface other peoples’ property. I didn’t tell her that as a single father, I do my own laundry, clean my own dishes, manage my own household, and at the same time I do my job, do it well, and that I never, ever get my kids to school or their near-daily extracurricular activities late. I didn’t tell her that I don’t yell, I don’t spank, and I don’t threaten and that I never, ever “lose it” at either the kids or at other people because that is just not what mature people do. At all.

I didn’t tell her and that we laugh and we play games and the kids work on projects while I sit at the table and multitask with them every single day, and that we get to multiple destination outings every week. I didn’t tell her that my kids don’t throw themselves onto other peoples cars and pound them, wailing, when I say they can’t have candy or that it’s time to go to bed, or that I read them stories every night. And my kids don’t even have the advantages that hers presumably have, seeing as how she’s strongly implying having a husband at home, while we’ve all been through a very contentious divorce and the kids have to shuttle back and forth on weekends. But they don’t act like this lady’s kids. And they know full well it’s not allowed. (And yes, I cooked and cleaned and did laundry and feedings and diaper changes in my marriage, too. Yes, a real, honest-to-god fair and cooperative share—as I was, after all, the one home all day with the kids, because I worked from home.)

I didn’t tell her that my kids are both still pre-first-grade but they are brave and awesome and smart, help out around the house—often without being asked—and don’t even cry when they get shots at the doctor’s office anymore.

My kids wouldn’t dream of behaving like these kids were behaving in public and more to the point I wouldn’t dream of behaving like this sporty young blonde was behaving in public, because I am an actual grown-up and a good parent.


© Aron Hsiao / 2016

No, I didn’t say any of these things before she finally finished getting the last of her bags into the sliding side-door, half-ass-buckled her kids in, and then slammed her own door and drove off with righteous indignation.

I didn’t say them, but boy, did I think them.

No, contrary to current prevailing “wisdom,” parenthood is not actually that hard. Sorry, it just isn’t. And no it’s not a secret what it’s like. Human beings have only been doing it since, oh, I don’t know, the dawn of humanity.

Two generations ago you wouldn’t have found anyone with kids that behaved this way, nor would you have found anyone that didn’t guffaw at the idea that simply being a parent is dangerous hard work of the heroic variety. It’s neither rocket science nor firefighting. It just isn’t. It’s just plain being responsible and consistent and patient, and that’s all.

This is going to sound aggro, but… I know why your kids act like spoiled brats, lady.

Coming down in the world.  §

In 2010 I actually turned down a job offer at the U.N. in which I would have been working at the General Assembly. I felt like my life was that well-set as I buzzed in and out of my department at NYU every day and worked on my well-connected publishing projects.

Now? Now I go to a local play in one of America’s sleepier minor cities, put on by a neighborhood nonprofit with a nonprofessional cast and a cobbled together set of props and I am more jittery than the kids just talking to the cast members afterward.

It pains me to say this, but being married seriously wore away my confidence and my sense of self. It’s going on two years, yet I also know that it’s going to be a very long road to get my mojo back.

Sacred cows and unforgivable sins.  §

I did the right thing.

And it makes me angry that doing the right thing so often leads to bad individual outcomes, because so many people are bad and the social order is so bad at enforcing regularity.

— § —


© Aron Hsiao / 2002

I’m not a fan of Trump. But I also wasn’t a fan of Clinton.

As I am getting older, some would say that I am getting more “conservative.” And yet, at the same time, I was a strong Sanders supporter and embrace his message wholeheartedly.

The fact is that I’m more economically left than ever, but more socially right than ever. I think there ought to be a massive, massive safety net and massive wealth and opportunity redistribution. I also think that “rights” are a risky idea in general and that life ought to be instead regulated by way of “responsibilities” and “positions” to which people are socially assigned.

Granting individuals rights (beyond the idea of basic bodily safety and integrity) would seem to place the needs of individuals ahead of the needs of the social system that encompasses and sustains all individuals and indeed, in the human-dominated world that we live in, the planet as a whole.

I’m not a fan.

I need to read (yet more) classics in political theory. But at the end of the day, I think that predictability is more valuable than freedom when it comes to happiness that is not a short-lived mirage, that the needs (not the opinions or beliefs—a very different thing) of the majority ought to outweigh those of the minority, and that most people are indeed incapable of taking care of themselves or making their own decisions.

I have always had an authoritarian-left bias. These days that is increasing. Don’t know whether that’s good or bad.