Signs and portents

Citizenship by walking around

Since the election people have been saying that to understand what’s happening read history, not the day to day of journalism (or Tweets!). I’ve been doing some of that but I’ve been struck by the visuals of the post-election moment, both here and abroad. And like little battalions of witnesses, some paragraphs from (real or imagined) histories have been rising off the page with their own visual complements to what’s happening and may happen. I got to visit China and factories across the US in the past few weeks and saw a lot to confirm (or puzzle) our current bleak narrative.

This is the image that really hit me these past few weeks:

Trump leaves a briefing at One World Trade Center

Trump leaves a briefing at One World Trade Center










If you had told me in mid-2001 that some fifteen years hence:

–The WTC would have been destroyed by terrorists;

–My brother Aaron would be among those killed;

–That in the fullness of time a hideous, fortress-like skyscraper would rise on Ground Zero, a hackneyed 1776 feet high;

–That Donald Trump would be elected president in 2016;

–And that he would walk out of that (to me) unspeakable monument of a building, as the President-Elect, just having been briefed there on the Russian hacking that surely helped him win the election…

I’m sure I would have been in shock. But I never would have guessed that the “9-11 Truthers,” whose paranoid fantasies were so painful for me to consider, would metastasize over the years to include a huge chunk of Americans: ready to be convinced their dark conspiracies must be true, and impermeable to the signs and portents of our country as it really is. I could not have imagined the rupture in history we brought on ourselves in 2016 would so far exceed the one imposed by terrorists in 2001.


An active shooter reminder on a whiteboard at a corporate site

An active shooter reminder on a whiteboard at a corporate site

At two of the four corporate sites I visited on the factory tour, there were prominent displays of the “Run-Hide-Fight” approach to dealing with an active shooter…or in this case, “Get out, Hide out, Take out.” Kids in kindergarten now might never remember their country when they did not drill on active shooter responses (and had Trump as President). It all just becomes part of the landscape of our daily lives and routines, without questioning (as these companies do in their operations) the “root cause” of expecting someone to shoot up your school, home, workplace…


An artist pauses while painting a portrait of Donald Trump in Shenzhen, China

An artist pauses while painting a portrait of Donald Trump in Shenzhen, China

At the Dafen Oil Painting village in the city of Shenzhen, China, an artist takes a break from painting portraits of Donald Trump. He has chosen a very flattering flesh tone. Trump’s portrait sits atop one of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.


Chyron: Trump investigated for "golden shower" Russian kompromat; sub: Obama farewell address

Chyron: Trump investigated for “golden shower” Russian kompromat; sub: Obama farewell address

There is nothing like the anxious lassitude of waiting in an airport for a delayed flight, CNN blasting within 15 feet of any seat you can take, and hearing serious commentators debate allegations about our President-Elect’s rituals of sexual hatred and debasement. Welcome to the world of kompromat. As Les Moonves said, Trump isn’t good for the country, “but it’s damn good for CBS [or CNN!].”


From Mary Beard, "SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome"

From Mary Beard, “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome”

“The old Republic was finished…A radical change of practice was made to seem somehow inevitable.” Lots of discussion of Roman parallels these days. Today is Trump’s Inaugural and we’ll see how he positions himself in regards to his predecessors, and whether he follows Augustus’ lead.

A banner year

NASA's Instagram post announcing that 2016 was the warmest year on record

NASA’s Instagram post announcing that 2016 was the warmest year on record

On the day that NASA announced that 2016 was the warmest year in the modern era–the third straight year the record has been set–Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate as the nominee to lead EPA, having spent his career suing and opposing the agency as the Oklahoma Attorney General.










From the graphic novel "Trolls XX""

From the graphic novel “The Creeps: The Trolls will Feast”

My littlest one was reading this the other night and it perfectly captures the embrace of fake news that helped fuel the head troll’s election.


From William Gibson, "The Peripheral" (2014)

From William Gibson, “The Peripheral” (2014)

William Gibson’s prophetic visions of the future already being here, “just not evenly distributed,” often come to me to explain the present. In “The Peripheral” a sort of rolling disaster of climate change, war and disease that Gibson calls “the Jackpot” kills 80% of humanity over 40 years in the mid-21st century. Being at MIT I am lucky to witness many things that “make people blink and sit up” even as the macro picture looks ditchy.

Crazy, brave, dare to create

An industrial design studio in Shenzhen, China

An industrial design studio in Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen is known as the newest Chinese mega-city where giant Foxconn factories build 90% of the world’s phones and laptops. But it also has a huge ecosystem of smaller-scale factories, designers, and hustlers bent on creating new gadgets and getting them out on the market ASAP. The city is full of people from all over the world trying to leverage its unique mix of creativity and ability to produce things at scale. Amidst Trump’s belligerence towards China, seeing this world in Shenzhen gave me hope that the positive forces in both countries might exceed the power of their authoritarian leaders.

I trust my fears while struggling to ignore them

My mind and body have been telling me that the election and today’s inaugural are auguries indeed, in the Latinate sense of a foreboding omen of terrible things to come. But my body also tells me of the pleasure of the indifferent sun on my skin, or the comfort of hugging my family. Aleksandar Hemon, who grew up during the Bosnian wars, writes about the “war mind” in which one is split between the assumptions of what came before and having to anticipate what is dangerous and previously unseen (by me, in my nest of safety and privilege):

But the body knows the score, recognizes the crisis before the mind. It not only gets the steel ball rolling onto the intestines, but also activates the senses, setting them to the frequencies at which the signals of new dangers can be received…We become of two minds, which cannot agree on what is real. The world looks strange and unreliable, fragile and dangerous. It is itself and not itself. I am myself and someone else.

That’s me with the steel ball in my intestines, waking up with my family and struggling to ignore my fears while simultaneously considering new ways in which I may need to face them. If you are reading this, sending you hopes for a peaceful march tomorrow and the strength to face your fears.

The logo of the HAX hardware accelerator in Shenzhen, China

The logo of the HAX hardware accelerator in Shenzhen, China




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