Aug 19, 2018

birthdays and such

I'm going to be an aunt (soon!) and I've been getting high a lot more lately and somehow these two things converged on birthdays and family and I realized that birthdays are a celebration of a new person joining the family and

I think to fully appreciate how novel this is you have to understand how much I've always (always!) struggled with what my birthday meant, exactly. I have a weird relationship with birthdays, my own especially. It's never felt entirely healthy. The weirdness isn't necessarily related to aging (though truthfully I do try to hide my age from co-workers and professional people now because other people's ageism isn't something I want to have to deal with).  I am nebulous number of years old!

I mean, you can celebrate a birthday without a number. The number has never been that important to me. I usually tell myself that I'm older than I actually am.  I've done this since I was 8 or 9, at least, if not earlier. This is mostly because I was the second child and there's always your older sibling there, doing the things that you're 'not old enough' for yet. It's so easy to lie to yourself, to say that you're older. When I was 25, I told myself I was 27. At 28 I was already 30.  Now I'm 30 for real, in clock time, and I don't even know what age is any more. I know I'm young, but not as young as I used to be.

No, my problem with birthdays was always with what it meant, exactly. Why it was special. Was I special? Did it make me a special person that day? But why? I knew what time I was born, and one year, in 3rd grade, waited with anticipation for the clock to hit the time (13:13). When the moment arrived, I stood up on my chair and announced it's my birthday!

My teacher told me to sit down.

Some people wear crowns on their birthdays and have whole weeks where they treat themselves to cake and self-indulgence. As I've gotten older, I hide my birthday now. Jealously guarding the actual date and time like a well-kept secret that I secretly wish someone else would also remember.

One year, in college, I opened up a bar tab for a bunch of friends and paid for everyone to get drunk at my expense at a fancy cocktail place in downtown Austin.  Being small-time wealthy for a college student was fun because I could do things like that but in terms of meaning, it didn't mean anything. I haven't done it again.

What is a birthday? Why do we celebrate them? In America, the land of the individual, they seem, at least in the communities I grew up on, focused on the individual. A celebration of their existence. But now, that my sister is pregnant and I'm about to see a birthday happen, in almost real-time, I've realized that birthdays aren't about the individual. They don't make sense as an individual's celebration, because it isn't something for you, personally, to celebrate. It's a celebration of the day that you became family. That you gained a family, that a family welcomed a new member.

Honestly, I'd never really understood wedding celebrations before now either. But it makes sense. There's only a few times that a family gains a new member. Families, for better or worse, really are secret societies with very strict member requirements. Birthdays are your initiation into the clan, so are weddings.  I see people talk a lot about how family is the friends that you make and the community that you build, and I do believe that's true but how do you celebrate 'births' in that family? Do you? You probably do, but just not in a way that any one explicitly recognizes. Do you change your birthdate, when you create a new family?

So why celebrate your birthday with friends, when the real celebration should be with your family? Maybe that's how we bridge the gap between birth family and made family -- we celebrate our birthdate with the people that we see as our present family. And that is special, you know.

Aug 11, 2018

dream log

strangest of strange.

at one point i wrote a note in my dream about how the police had forced me to sign a document giving up some right to a trial when and if they decided to deport me, yet i knew it was a lie and i worried what you would think if you found it, the lies, all.

we had been on a field trip. we went to a dance class, and sang an old song. on the way back, in a 7-person van, we passed carnage. cars were down below us, the river was full of them, chock full of hundreds, if not thousands. i was worried about us, about where they had come from, how they had ended up there, so many but our driver just kept going. we were fine. we came around a bend just in time to see a the last of a fleet of expensive, last minute buggies disappearing into the tail of some large boat. a joyride amidst the destruction. it was impossible to tell if the boat had, in some way, caused the wreckage of all the other cars. impossible to tell.

the next thing i knew i was alone at the strangest subway I've ever been to. it had these tracks that were more like moving in walkways. it was a long but narrow station. everyone spoke Finnish and I couldn't understand a thing. it was late. i took the wrong train, by accident, and ended up at this part of town where the trains only ran one direction. even getting back to the train platform felt impossible -- all the walkways were running in the wrong direction. every time someone new arrived, a crowd would cheer. it was here that i wrote the letter, the fake. as i was writing it i knew it was dramatic storytelling, expressing how trapped I felt, but also wondered what anyone would think if they found it.

so bad.

i eventually went outside and it was quiet except for the roaring of a freeway in the distance. there were no cabs in sight and i couldn't communicate with the lone woman, standing there, not even with a paper map.

i resolved to sleep in the bushes.

Jul 15, 2018


I've been writing a lot more lately, and it feels like it's completely changed my relationship with this blog.  Instead of this being the outlet for the first barage of thoughts, I've only got more distilled information for you.

I find myself wanting to report back from the fields of inquiry, rather than using this as a place for self expression.

Journaling is so wonderful because it really lets me organize my thoughts and gives me this great fodder of jumping off points for inquiry later, when I'm not in a productive or contemplative mood.

Two things have come up lately, both related to works that I'm currently reading.

The first is around investments and returns, precipitated by Benjamin Graham's Intelligent Investor book*. I'm about a quarter of the way through the book (I just finished chapter 4). There's some interesting discussion about T-Bills, municipal bonds, and preferred vs common stock. I spent some time tonight digging into how bonds are valued (what's a discount versus premium bond means, and how to approximately calculate their value to maturity).  I added a couple questions around this to Anki, which feels super good.  I figured out how to search for Houston municipal bonds in EMMA, and even ran a couple of calculations of what the YTM (yield to maturity) would be for a few of them.  It's pretty cool that EMMA will show you the tax-preferred status of bonds in the titles. Some bonds are subject to the AMT. According to the internet, these trade at a bit of a better rate, so if you're not subject to AMT it might be a good deal. (Most salaried people aren't subject to AMT).

I also went through and looked up the current dividend status for all of my current stock holdings. About a quarter of the stocks that I own currently have a dividend. The highest rate was 6.69%, the lowest was 0.23%. Of course, rate is a function of the stock price itself so this fluctuates based on the stock's valuation. A dip in stock price would mean that dividend rate would go up.

The next things I want to look into are: how to invest in bonds using my existing trading account, and what is some currently available corporate paper rates. Write up a small Excel program that can calculate the total return of a stock pick based on both it's stock price gains plus dividends, ideally connected to some data source that can just keep the damn thing updated. Graham's function for how to value a stock was price + dividend return - inflation - tax rate.  I'd love to get a calculator that can handle this for me.

Karthik and I were talking about soccer and I realized that soccer, as a game is still in this really young, malleable state. They update the rules for the game constantly, and no one seems super upset about it. They're really far ahead in terms of understanding how to cut out trolls and protect the game, too. They have this amazing policy of not replaying video of fans that rush the field, so as not to encourage copycats. It's both frustrating and also incredibly amazing. They care about the game, and making it better, and it really shows. I'm sure soccer has other problems, but as a game and community it seems really wholesome.

I want to start an ETF for soccer. It would grow marvelously over the next 30 years.

The second thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is networking. This particular train of thought was mediated by starting another book, Ingrid Burrington's Networks of New York. As a preface to reading it, I tried to write down everything that I already knew about computer networks, specifically the Internet, worked. It turns out that I get lost somewhere between "TCP is a packet formation and call/response protocol" and "RS232 is a way of sending data between two computers". What's missing is all of the routing and packet switching info.

Ingrid's book didn't really answer this for me**, so instead I've started reading RFC 791, which lays out the IP (Internet Protocol).

* It's the updated version that was annotated by Jason Zweig around 2002.
** It really reads like more of a who's who and where's what of NYC internet infrastructure.

Jul 6, 2018

Putting the Civil back in Civil Liberties

I'd really like to go back to a state of taking civil liberties for granted.

Civil - funny how that's so close to civility. But think about it means for a second. Civil, like civil discourse. And civic. Community. With liberties. Like the liberty to walk down Main Street in your underwear. That's a "civil liberty" -- one that we, as a populace, grant to other members of our community. Yeah, it's funny but also really empowering to think about, just how simple it is to let someone walk down the street in their skivvies without interfering.

Civil liberties used to be amazingly localized. It literally was whatever you could do in public and get away with.

It's worth noting that in this definition, white dudes really do have greater civil liberties than the rest of us. They can literally walk down the street naked and we'll call it "streaking". Ok, not all men, but if you're in a group you're probably golden. I could also run down the street naked, and if I'm with a bunch of people (aka dudes) you'd also call that streaking. If it's just me you might call the cops. Or ... think I'm a slut? Though, technically, slutiness really does imply a certain level of clothing, ironically enough. Actually that's hard to imagine too. It's hard to imagine what running down the street naked looks like as a woman, how people would take it. Catcalls, lots of cat calls. Also probably people trying to follow you.

Civil liberties are a thing that we grant to one-another. It's a pact between members of a community, a locality. Every locality has these rules, they're just not talked about as much, especially on the news. Instead we concern ourselves with the greater, written laws. At least, that's the case on the Internet and in larger towns and cities. You still hear, occasionally about small town papers which devote a few columns to the local civil liberties people have tried taking (and largely failed, hence their appearance in the paper). Like a police report for someone picking all the apples off a neighbor's tree, or dumping waste in your bin.

Civil liberties feel increasingly like a thing we have to ask for from a higher power. We've moved the locus of our civil liberties from our actual, participatory communities to this small, concentrated body of about 500 people, at least in the aggregate.

Well, that was dumb.

Now it feels increasingly like we're in a position where we have to ask for our civil liberties, and defend them -- from what?  Now the cops are arbiters of our civil liberties and sometimes I feel like we don't really question what that means about our community.

When you think about it, how much actual crime do you think is seen by police? Like, how much crime do they witness for themselves, in person, and decide to intervene as it's going on? Most of my understanding of actual police work comes from either the TV or being pulled over by a traffic cop, both of which are situations where police seeing crime in action are presented as the norm.  (At least that cop had better have witnessed me committing crime otherwise what the hell is she doing pulling my ass over?). 

When was the last time that you went to a large gathering of people that had some sort of authorized law figure present? Not as a private citizen, but in their official capacity of 'keeper of the peace', the Rule of Law there to observe the people, not to be of the people. We don't have large, unpoliced celebrations anymore. Not even carnavals! Jesus, not even carnavals. What kind of barbaric society have we become?

We're incredibly repressed. And we've done it to ourselves. We've gotten to the point where we're all, all of us, waiting to see what the tyrant does to our precious freedoms next. Or trying to see what we can get away with before The Law notices. That's Trump's game, anyway. We're not acting like citizens of a common, civil liberty community, but rather as prisoners who want to see how far they can push their luck before the whole thing comes crashing down.

Trump's gotten quite far, but he's not the only one.

What happened to us, as Americans? We used to be a community of smart, self-policing, self-assured men and women. Now we're scared. We're beating each other bloody out of fear, on both sides. We're not acting like communities we all feel as if we're fighting for our civil liberties.

Fighting for our civil liberties, not as a nation, as individuals.

We're doing this to ourselves. We, to each other. And for what?

Congress isn't the one raising the cost of tuition -- members of our community are. Congress isn't issuing debt trap credit cards and housing loans. Congress isn't doubling, or tripling the price of prescription medicines. Members of our community are. We are profiting off of others' misery. We are holding ourselves back from fixing everyone's fear and hatred.

A different way is possible. We can change. It's not nearly as hard as we make ourselves believe it is, because we've all, in some ways, forgotten what civil liberties actually are, at their root. It's not that hard, we just have to do it. We have to communicate, and we have to grant liberties to our community, to live their lives. All of us, together, with or without our "government" can get broadband for all. We can grant each other civil liberties.

Us. Each and every one.

Jul 4, 2018


I spent a lot of time writing in my journal tonight. I killed one pen and one journal, two things that I've literally never done before in a single sitting. It's weird to do things that you've kind of given up hoping would happen.

You know, I don't really know what it's like to be a writer. Writing comes naturally to me, but I literally have no idea what my life would be like if I sat at home and spent hours writing every day. The scariest thing is that I know I could do it. If writing  at home were exactly like the kind of writing that I did in my journal, I could do it, no problem.

I don't, I think, because I struggle to think what the point or purpose of that writing would be. Undriven writing. Actually, all writing sort of strikes me as dangerously superfluous. Superfluous in that I'm afraid I might write too much and not ever be able to go back and read it all.

Sometimes I think that the reason that I don't write more, like actually truly write more, is because I'm afraid that if I do I won't have enough time to go back and read it all.

Twitter is like the journal that I never could bring myself to have.

Does the Twitter tweet for me? I tweet for thee.

Things I've been obsessed with, a list in no particular order:
Werner Herzog. I went so far as to read/watch a good number of the films and books he lists as required reading for his film workshop that he runs from time to time. I wonder how many people actually apply every year. Do you think it's in the hundreds? The thousands? For some reason I find it hard to believe that more than a few hundred people spend enough time and energy making film that they have the requisite raw material to submit to Herzog for a film.  That guy that did the amazing one man screen show. Do you think he even knows who Herzog is? Do you think that film would be enough to get him into the class? These are good questions to ask.

Kelly Wearstler. When I first saw her work, featured in a Architectural Digest issue via the house of a woman she worked with, that she had helped do the interior decorating for, I was out and out horrified. It was really awful, but in a consistent way. For some reason, I found her on instagram and started following her account and I really love it. I love Kelly Wearstler's style. Her weird big, exotic material hands. Geometric forms, sharp black edges. A certain heaviness.  I love it. I love it love it love it.

I once spent an entire year trying to get a picture of the sun either rising or setting. I think I managed to get about 2/3rds of the days.

Richard Feynman. I haven't read all his books, but they're all gems. Did you know he learned Portuguese, like me? His book on light, QED, is one of my all time favorite books. I forget sometimes how much I like thinking about the universe. I told my mom about it once and I think at some level she was surprised that I was able to read it? I don't know it was weird.

The Wizard of Oz. I softcore wanted to be Dorothy for as long as I can remember. I didn't name my dog Toto because she's not a Toto, but she does really look a lot like Toto. I discovered the actual Wizard of Oz books when I was in grade school and read all of them. Like literally as many of them as I could get my hands on. Some summers we used to go and stay at my grandparent's for a few days or a week or two and one time my Grandmother took us to the central library and it was crazy good. I loved it. They had a bunch of Wizard of Oz books that I had never read. Until I had a teacher in the 6th grade who actually really truly loved the Wizard of Oz in this really outwardly obvious way and rather than bond with her over our shared love of Oz, I got really weird about it and realized that I must truly not have loved Oz and Dorothy as much as this woman did so well you know that was that. I spent a lot of time analyzing how my affinity for the Wizard of Oz as a story wasn't as deep or authentic as this woman who taught me English.

Jane Jacobs. I've read almost all of her books. I've currently got her first book, the only one she ever published as a Butzner, in my physical to read stack. It's the only one that she's authored that I haven't read.

Hannah Arendt. She's so incredibly good, her books are worth the energy it takes to get through them. I'm constantly amazed at how much writing she manages to put out that's so incredibly well tied together. I'm not sure I could ever write that much, that coherently.  So far I've read just her big works: Eichmann in Jerusalem, Origins of Totalitarianism, and The Human Condition. They're all incredibly different in terms of style and goals, and it's impressive how wide ranging and insightful they are. I have a short book of hers, On Violence, in my to read stack.

BItcoin and the Lightning network. This is an incredibly recent obsession. I read one book on Bitcoin three months ago and now I'm obsessed. It's embarrassing, how quickly and vocally I feel like I get into things.

Hardware. Like kind of low key, but it feels low key in the way that my Wizard of Oz affinity is low key. I'm incredibly obsessed with it and yet it seems entirely passive, in some weird ways.

House furnishing and decoration and trends. It started with the Kon Mari book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up. I got really into working with space. You know, a lot of things in my life feel cluttered right now. My clothing, the upstairs room that's supposed to be my workspace. Where I keep my keys and Ginger's leash. The shoes downstairs. My career. Personal relationships. How I'm doing in terms of working toward actual life goals, and not imagined ones.

Jul 3, 2018


someone once told me that my ambition would eat me and

they were right.

it feels so much like my insides have been eaten out and all that's left is

this shell.

(there's no echo)

Jun 30, 2018

dream log

we were moving. it was a group effort. we had rented one of those big 18 wheeler trucks and used it to port everyone's things around. everyone from the office needed to get their stuff but i was in charge of moving the truck. i wasn't bad at it, which was weird because i thought that i would be. we had all tossed our stuff into the back of the truck, luggage and things mostly, like hiking backpacks and pillows. i moved the truck close to the new place so everyone could unload it. luckily there was parking out front, but of course there was parking, it was a fire zone only. the building was like a north williamsburg warehouse that had been transplanted somewhere tropical, i parked and knocked but no one came. we sat out there, sweating and no one came. i rang the doorbell and pounded, small diminutive pounds, on the large wooden door and no one came. eventually i just went inside and told some people and then they all showed up but the experience of no answer left me shook. i left the van parked for a bit and waited inside. when i went back out to move it, it was empty but it was also time for us to leave. we needed to get on the road before rush hour and head downtown to visit some old teachers but there was no way to do it all, you know, before the traffic started. we left in a hurry.

birthdays and such

I'm going to be an aunt (soon!) and I've been getting high a lot more lately and somehow these two things converged on birthdays and...