Tabs Open #28: The Lights Of The Fleet Fading Into Morning

One of the only decent places to get a slice of pizza in Seattle also happens to be a dive bar. I’ve been going there for years and last weekend I noticed that this bit of bathroom graffiti that’s stuck with me since my first visit has mostly been scribbled over. Luckily you can still make out the words, mostly. Some years ago, someone wrote:

THIS IS MY LAST NIGHT ON EARTH AND I AM NOT AN ASTRONAUT

Beneath it, someone else had added:

THIS IS MY FIRST NIGHT ON EARTH AND I AM NOT A BABY

Take either of those as you will, but a little shiver runs down my spine every time I go into that bathroom, a quiet red-lit oasis from the din of the bar. There are the obvious conclusions to be drawn but I prefer to consider the other possibilities, too.

And honestly sometimes I read the news and something actually does break through the fog, something stands out in character and degree from the usual parade of Awful, and I do have to stop and take notice and feel as though I’m seeing the world for the first time somehow. Like it’s my first night on earth even though I’m not a baby. This week it was the story of Joshua Brown, the neighbor of Botham Jean, who was killed by police officer Amber Guyger. You’re familiar with the story by now I’m sure, but just in case: she claims she thought his apartment was hers, she pulled her gun out, she killed him in his own living room.

She got 10 years for this wanton destruction of a life and got a few viral hugs in the process. I have this revulsion toward the wow what a powerful narrative of forgiveness thing that’s been going around since the video of Jean’s brother hugging Guyger post-sentencing came out. To elevate forgiveness to such a degree at times like these is to put the onus on the victim to make things right, to keep chipping away at the idea that there ever actually needs to be justice as long as we can all just try to forgive unforgivable things. The journey of Jean’s brother is his own; I do admire him and I begrudge him nothing. But for everyone else to treat this as a useful precedent is to reify some of the worst that American society has to offer.

But I digress. Joshua Brown is dead. Shot and killed just days after providing key testimony against one of the only cops who’s ever actually gotten locked up for executing an unarmed black man. One of those great mysteries, I guess, like how six Ferguson activists have been found dead in the last few years, including two different men burned in their cars two years apart. There’s no accounting for any of it, surely; at the very least they won’t be able to say that Brown did it to himself. (What they are saying is that two men drove 4.5 hours from Louisiana to Texas to buy tons of weed from Brown and then killed him in a shootout, leaving all the weed and all the money behind. If you believe a word of that I have a bridge to sell you.)

Hey speaking of proof of crimes and non-crimes: you might have heard about what a nightmare Amazon’s Ring doorbell system is, since it turns out Ring is sharing its footage with police departments across the country without warrants. (The minutes of footage of me with a clipboard and a “Medicare for All” t-shirt alone is probably staggering.) But I was reading something recently in one of the newsletters I subscribe to, L.M. Sacasas’ “The Convivial Society,” that showed me an angle to the badness I hadn’t thought of before:

I'm coming to the conclusion that, outside of certain small circles, devices such as…Amazon's Ring doorbell are assumed to be wholly benign technologies, and their promise of heightened security is taken at more or less face value. I think this is a mistake…They presume our competence to judge, a presumption which is not warranted. These tools make us aware of phenomena that would ordinarily escape our notice, because, by and large, these phenomena are unremarkable. By extending our capacity to notice, they are thereby calling upon us to make judgments. Is this activity normal? Is it suspicious? Should I act? Should I alert the authorities? Etc. Are we competent to make such judgments? Will the need to make such judgments not, by its very nature, throw us back on some of our worst instincts in the absence of the kind of wisdom and skill needed in such cases? It seems like a case of desiring knowledge we are incapable of handling wisely or justly.

Your neighbors wanted a way to avoid uncomfortable conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses and ended up purchasing the scaffolding for the Panopticon. Maybe if you talk to them they’ll cancel their subscription so you stop getting spied on, who knows. But then again maybe they won’t answer at all since they get to see you coming now. I’d say any right-thinking person would take a brick to any of them they saw, except that would entail live-streaming your crime straight to the police station, so it’s kinda hard not to feel like we’re basically fucked here.

This has been a stone bummer so far, so I owe you something to relax you and give you some peace.

Can’t you just breathe in and imagine the smell of that place?

Twitter is a great place to learn things and an even better place for feeling miserable, but occasionally you stumble on things that actually do bring something new into your life, like this fruit fly story. I found myself thinking of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, the scene that ends Chapter 6, when we find out that one of the characters did not in fact escape the pandemic that effectively ended the world:

She was thinking about the container-ship fleet on the horizon. The crew out there wouldn’t have been exposed to the flu. Too late to get to a ship herself now, but she smiled at the thought that there were people in this reeling world who were safe.

Miranda opened her eyes in time to see the sunrise. A wash of violent color, pink and streaks of brilliant orange, the container ships on the horizon suspended between the blaze of the sky and the water aflame, the seascape bleeding into confused visions of Station Eleven, its extravagant sunsets and its indigo sea. The lights of the fleet fading into morning, the ocean burning into sky.

I mean, what a picture to paint.

One last thing. I came across a piece of advice this week that I think bears keeping in mind (I’ll certainly try to):

It’s not all bad out there so long as we’ve got each other. I’ll talk to you next week.

-Chuck