On “President”

This is a post about President. Not about any particular individual occupying a particular presidential office, but about President, the idea and aspiration. The thing you once thought you might be one day (at least if you were lucky enough to ever be told you should dream so big–or at least before you learned you shouldn’t).

The first presidential election I remember was Bush v Gore 2000. I got a Kids Voting ballot with pictures of all the candidates, and awarded each of my empty votes to whichever guy I thought had the better headshot. Sometimes it was hard because they kind of looked the same. For the record, I voted for Gore. (In retrospect, I stand by my decision but not my reasons.)

I asked my mom if girls were allowed to be presidents. I learned that they were, but none of them had yet. Like many ambitious little girls first hearing this news, I was less concerned with why this was the case than I was with beating out any other ambitious girls to the “first” spot. (In retrospect, I realize that being the first anything is terribly overrated if you’re the only.)

The people counting the votes needed extra time, my parents informed me, as they watched the news with anticipation. I thought that made sense, because counting that high must be really hard. I later heard that that the guy who got the most votes didn’t get to be president. I thought that might kind of be nice for him, because now he could brag about winning without having to be in charge of everyone. (In retrospect, he sure did.)

Being president sounded like a lot of pressure–people always seemed angry at presidents–so I thought I might aim for vice president instead. I checked that no girls had been vice president either, so I could still be first at something. Thinking realistically, I decided that I would start my career being vice president of small countries, then incrementally work my way up to bigger ones. (In retrospect, that plan could have used some refinement.)

At my neighbor’s birthday party that week, his know-it-all older brother offered a piece of candy to whoever could answer the question “Who was the first president?” He proceeded to inform that me and the three other people who blurted out “George Washington” that we were wrong–George was the first president of the US, but not the world. He didn’t know the name of the actual first president, but insisted that it was someone else. (In retrospect, maybe he didn’t know it all.)

(Today I Googled “first president in the world. The ambiguous definition of “president” across languages and systems of government leaves no clear answer. Possibly Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli, President of the Corsican Republic in 1755. His republic didn’t work out, but at least he was first at something.)

My mom told me that I couldn’t be president of Lebanon because I wasn’t the right religion. I wasn’t quite sure what religion I was, but “Deputy Speaker of Parliament” sounded less cool, so I immediately became a firm opponent of sectarianism. (In retrospect, I had a point, but Deputy Speakers of Parliament can also be cool.)

The next election season, I learned about write-in candidates. I asked my parents if they would vote for me, and was kind of offended that they said no. Unfortunately, they had other plans for positions like “mayor” and “senator,” but eventually agreed to write me in for soil commissioner. (In retrospect, I apologize for trivializing the soil commissioner race. Soil commissioners are as important as presidents.)

(What kind of person would want to be a president anyway?)

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More Coffee Shop Logbook Poetry

 

Let’s call this collection ‘Oat Milk and Stevia.’

The Match:

Car-towed and phone-dead
You stumbled cold inside
Searching for a place to charge
So you could call a ride.
You couldn’t reach the taxi
But somehow, by mistake you
Came across some car-owners
Offering to take you.

You came looking for power
But upon further inspection
It wasn’t power that saved you
But rather, some connection.

A Haiku About Writing Over Sharpie Marks With Dry-Erase Markers So You Can Wipe Them Off (And Other Things):

The temporary
Is so quick to overtake
What seemed permanent

This Can Be The Last Poem Entitled ‘Almond Eyes’ Written:

Her eyes were like almonds
in that they produced a watery substance
that could not accurately be described as ‘milk.’

 

Bad Ideas I Had That I Like

House of NO: an anti-nightclub where people sit on couches, drink tea, eat pretzels, watch TV, and collectively complain about being tired, after they’ve cancelled plans to go out.

Finding Wifi–The Musical: A connection-starved tourist wanders throughout NYC, searching desperately for some publicly accessible-Wifi and meeting various characters along the way. She accidentally finds love when she meets a barista at a cafe with no Wifi. Now she must choose between love and Wifi, as she decides which store to camp out in for the rest of the afternoon. (She eventually leaves and goes to Starbucks.)

Competitive Alexander Technique: Whoever drops the most unnecessary tension the fastest wins. Competitors walk into the room checking out each others’ postural tendencies and making snide comments like “She could stand to loose some neck engagement,” and “Do you even constructively rest, bro?”

Off-the-Book Club: A session where members conduct an in depth analysis of the artistic merit and sociopolitical implications of a book they haven’t read. Like college, but more honest.

Just Hear Me Out: Why I Chose A Career In Devil’s Advocacy

I want to clear up some misconceptions amongst you smug Human Decency Warriors: yes, I work as a Devil’s Advocate. But no, that doesn’t mean you can make assumptions about my personal beliefs and values.

Sure, I spend my days defending and supporting racists, rapists, corrupt politicians, and the occasional drunk driver, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am personally in favor of those causes. After all, do you think the people who sort your recycling actually like polar bears? Polar bears are ugly, but we all have to do our jobs.

Now I do understand where the stigma surrounding this field comes from–I was once quite skeptical of the profession of Evil myself, and didn’t enter it without hesitation. Upon graduation, I initially looked at work in other areas–nonprofit management, research, public education–I  even briefly considered putting my excellent argumentation skills to work in defense of Good.

But let’s be real, Good is not a financially stable field in today’s economy, and I had student loans to pay off. When the Office of the Devil offered me a $10k signing bonus for a two-year commitment and my soul, I had to accept.

Still, I tried not to think of my decision as “selling out.” I rationalized that the best way to address Evil was to reform the system from the inside: perhaps they would be open to shifting their brand from straight-up-bad to morally-ambiguous-in-a-cool-and-edgy-way.

But while my youthful ideals were admirable, I would soon discover that Evil is a complex and  deeply established institution with operations in areas ranging from lawmaking and criminal justice to entertainment and global trade. When I realized just how much I had to learn, it became clear that I should focus my energies on becoming the best team member that I could before trying to shake anything up.

And I have come to respect certain aspects of the work we do. For instance, the profession of Devil’s Advocacy carries a standard of transparency that the business of Misguided-Do-Gooders could really learn from. At least when we Devil’s Advocates announce our presence, everyone knows what’s coming. It’s not like we would advertise ourselves as saviors, only to swamp communities with a bunch of incompetent, overgrown college kids looking for a brief experiment in employment. We do have ethical limits, and we draw the line at creating false hope.

So yes, I may be a Devil’s Advocate but God, please stop judging me: there are worse things I could be doing, right?

7 Fun Alternative Facts of the Day

  1. The term “WiFi” is actually an abbreviation for “wildfire,” a nod to the original form of wireless communication, smoke signals.
  2. It is estimated that 5-10% of tomatoes are actually fruits, while the rest are merely vegetables.
  3. Technically, a doctorate in philosophy certifies you to prescribe certain psychedelic drugs.
  4. Elvis actually died of old age. He was lying about his age on his resume throughout his career, and moisturized frequently.
  5. Feminism isn’t actually about burning bras anymore. They stopped that practice in 1990 due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, and switched over to bra recycling.
  6. The Greek mathematicians Pythagoras and Isosceles, both known for their work on triangles, had a brief and tumultuous love affair in 550 BC–the little known origin of the term “love triangle.”
  7. There is no Nobel Prize for Attendance, because Alfred Nobel’s wife cheated on him with a guy who always showed up.

Unpopular Opinion: Cars Hitting Pedestrians are Bad, But so Are Pedestrians Hitting Cars

If you turn on the news these days, you’ll hear countless stories about pedestrians being severely injured or killed by cars. Now I don’t want to deny that these instances exist, nor do I want to diminish how uncomfortable it might be to be a pedestrian hit by a car.

But we need to put aside emotions and ask the obvious question: why aren’t we hearing about all the cars who have been hit by pedestrians?

I’m just saying, this kind of thing is a two-way street.

Pedestrians aren’t blameless victims here. Some of them walk too slow. Some of them walk at the wrong time. I think that some of them have annoying gaits. So when I hear that a pedestrian and a car have clashed, forgive me if I’m not immediately sympathetic to the pedestrian.

I’ve seen several pedestrians bump into each other, but for some reason, we are more easily outraged by vehicular manslaughter than pedestrian-on-pedestrian collisions.

Some would argue that not all parties in question have the same power to cause harm. Those same people might argue that death is worse than getting a dent in your Ferrari. However, those people have not experienced the deep and heartbreaking fear that comes with knowing that your own Ferrari could be damaged.

What I’m really trying to say here is that I have a Ferrari.


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Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 2)

Finally, the much awaited* follow-up to Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1):


Customer: Lately, I’ve noticed that my laptop battery has been dying really quickly. I’m not sure what the problem is.

Tech Support: Well would you really consider that a problem, given the alternative?

C: Alternative?

TS: With the inevitability of death, the only alternative to dying quickly is dying slowly.

Which is better? It’s hard to say for sure.

Would you rather have a slow decline, with enough time to plan for the end–but also enough time to dwell upon every grain of vitality that slips away, until down to just a sliver? Or would you rather have that life yanked away with hardly any warning–but hardly any dreading anticipation either?

But perhaps the question comes down to not just how quickly it dies, but how quickly it lives.

Some seek to race through their existence, leading lives which end quickly, but not before getting their share of excitement and danger and joy and conflict and achievement and loss. Others are equally content to languor along the journey, leading lives which are longer, if less densely packed. Perhaps the only real tragedy is to die faster than one lives.

So you ought focus not so much on how much time passes before your battery trickles away to zero, but on what actions it produces in that fleeting window of power.

C: Uh yeah, I guess I was running a lot of apps at the same time, if that’s what you’re getting at.


C: I’m trying to update my software on my phone, but it says that I don’t have enough space. Do I have to delete a bunch stuff from memory before I can get the new version?

TS: Ah, the dilemma of progress. At times, it seems that we must choose between holding on to our memories of the past and moving onto to future. 

There are those who remain attached to their pasts and refuse to relinquish them in order to hop on the latest bandwagon of “progress.” They ignore the nagging messages to bring themselves up-to-date, unconvinced that the newest tools have as much worth as their stockpile of moments, conversations, and personal history, weighted with nostalgia and lessons learned.

Eventually, these people will get left behind, unable to function properly in the world we live in, unable to communicate with those who have moved on, unable to accept new developments.

But these people are not the only ones who are misguided.

You may be eager to wipe away your past for the promise of something newer and better. You don’t want that weight slowing down your forward progression.

But often, you’ll find that the moment of change is not the great leap forward that you imagined would render all your previous experiences irrelevant. And as you advance in shaky half-steps, you’ll still need those same old memories to make sense of the present. 

Because you know what they say about those who forget history . . . Though you are always looking forward, you find yourself in repeating cycle: making moments to delete as you jump into the next round, never holding on, never building up.

For genuine progress, we need to find a space for our past memories to be held and referenced, without allowing them to dominate the forefronts of our lives.

C: So you’re saying that I should make a backup before I erase stuff from the phone? Got it.

the-thinker-statue-with-a-cell-phone-124371


*By whom? Maybe just me.