Dusting off the ole Soapbox

Hello friends and the two other people who read this blog.

It’s me, the most inconsistent blog post writer.

It’s been a while since we at the Soapbox published anything. That’s a mighty shame.

A lot has changed in the past years. We’ve grown a lot, bumped around the world a bit, and the world has certainly bumped back. We’ve seen a mighty few things change in the past year. For starters Donald Trump became president. What a weird sentence. Even though I worked for Marco Rubio’s senate reelection campaign in Florida (I will describe this more in future posts), I couldn’t help but sit in front of the TV for several hours the next few days as we cleaned out the campaign office, thinking to myself that I had fallen into a different reality where Thomas Wayne was really Batman and broccoli a delicious food.

I wasn’t the only one either.

Since that time I’ve had several adventures in campaign work, campaign like work, civic engagement, flying lessons, and so much more. I’ve learned a good many things along the way and I want to share all the lessons learned as best as I can. But for now I want you to know that I and the others here at the SoapBox Guild will continue our ramblings, late night discussions, observations, and silly back and forth. The world has gotten weirder and that’s why we are resurrecting this old throwback. It seems that the times have caught up with us.

Everyday presents a new political situation that people can’t wait to talk about. Everyday a new comedy. Everyday a new tragedy. This world we live throws some incredible loops our way. Friends, Americans, few faithful followers, lend us your eyes a few more minutes. Let this place be to you a haven of joyful weirdness in a world gone mad. We’ve got many new things to talk about, tales from work, life, friendship, and a list longer than Anna Karenina. So I’m blowing off the dust of this ole Soapbox. Get some popcorn, coffee, and a slice or two of avocado toast we’ve got some wild geese to chase!

Ordures du Joure

While at home last year, my mother bestowed on me the time honored tradition of clearing the trash receptacles. As I lumbered down the basement steps with three black bags, my brother rushed to the edge of the bannister. From the third floor he yelled, “Grant! You forgot one.” A muttered, “Thank you,” barely escaped my lips and I grabbed the  blue trash can awaiting me in the foyer.

After a swift game of Tetras: Waste Management Edition, I set off in the Red Baron for the Williamson County “Convenience Center.” I deposited the paper, glass, plastics, tins, and cardboard in their proper corners and went last to the miscellaneous trash section. Emptying the big 44 gallon container, I exchanged the empty 44 gallon container for the small blue trash can from my room and began to pour. As the rubbish began to fall, my eyes caught hold of a falling electrical cord, Odd I thought, isn’t that my travel clock, pencils, wait a second… My STUFF?! Apparently my dad elected to use a trash can as a storage receptacle in one of his cleaning binges and neglected to mention anything about it.

Some items’ teloi should not change. In a pinch a used soup can could turn into trash can, but a used garbage can should not turn into a soup can. A chef would need a very large dishwasher or a very large pot of boiling water. Once the cleansing concluded he’d drop to his knees and pray for a blind and gullible health inspector. The garbage can exists to escort undesirable paraphernalia out of kitchens, garages, schools, and park lawns. Only war, disaster, famine, poverty, or derangement could compel the curious to explore the recesses of a dumpster for soup. Telos seems scandalous in our time because it replaces a could with a should. Telos necessitates action. The contemporary philosophers have responded with a, “Meh. Exploring the “should’s” is stupid.” So power without limit is the line, curiosity without caution the mantra. It’s not the body, but the Zeitgeist that matters. And if one old man with a beard suggest a waste dispenser be used only as a waste dispenser, his mind must be as backwoods as his job.

Expertise: Just Add Ethernet

The recent shutdown of the U.S. Government revealed much more than partisanship. The barrage of wannabe political pundits overwhelmed my Facebook Homepage. I believe social media is useful for understanding the effects of “internet thinking.” When I say “internet thinking” I mean a type of thinking that is implicitly endorsed in the very way we use search engines, dictionaries, Wikipedia, social networks, video websites, etc. The thinking itself begins with a dissociative action of the will. If you want to find the definition of a word you only have to know a word’s rough spelling, what it sort of means, what language it comes from, and read the word’s definition. The search engine model for understanding the definition rests exclusively on popularity. The cell phone text message typing function T9, works similarly. The more frequent one uses a word the higher the probability that word pops up as a suggestion. Language becomes more colloquial and slang catches on faster because different people have quicker access to the same word and understanding. So while Google, Wikipedia, and Qoura allow me access to limitless information, the information may not be as good or helpful.

A good friend once told me that an expert in a field is the one that understands the interconnectivity of all the little points within his field (Disclaimer: his phrasing was far better). Ironically I use the internet to help me understand all the little points in the field. This means that though I know a few specifics here or there if I cannot assemble them in a reasonable manner, it means little and it does not make me an expert. Perhaps we ask the wrong question, instead of asking “what is?”, a better question would be “what does it mean?” Consider the example of politics. I know several people on the Tea Party side who can present me with bad voting records. If I view politics as activism, then I have a serious problem. I would take all the Tea Party standards and compare them to each candidate I wanted in office. If a politician falls short, he is automatically abandoned for the sake of cause. That’s not how politics works. American politics is a little more like chess. Each side designs a set of plays to end up winning the board. Often times this takes a series of sacrifices, forced moves, checks (and balances), all operating with a strong sense of deferred gratification. It’s not about winning every battle, it’s about winning the board. Just because we can see that a Republican voted for a spending increase does not mean that politician is a sell-out. He may just know the game better than we do. We are not the experts we think we are.

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                 “I say! It all sounds quite elitist if you ask me.”

We may have strong convictions, but activism and political maneuvering are two different things. Activism is a form of naivety in politics, because it seeks a solitary goal and interprets success through the accomplishment or failure of that goal. (Please note: sometimes this is necessary even if it makes a person a single issue voter). Meanwhile, a politician has to work with other people whom he disagrees with, sometimes he has to sacrifice a vote here or there to get a better position or wrangle a few votes for his next bill. He cannot focus on winning every fight. After all if you win every small battle, you are either the world’s best strategian or about to lose the king.

My generation wants to be an expert in every field. The problem is we seem to know neither what that takes, nor how impossible that reality is. In lieu of expertise we settle for intellectualism. It’s not about knowing something, it’s about others thinking we know something. This form of intellectual narcissism pervades the web especially Facebook and Twitter. I would suggest we remain intellectually honest regarding those things we do not know. Feigning expertise is exhausting.

Just because we know facts about an issue does not mean we understand an issue. Ignorance with wisdom is often better than a little knowledge with naivety. The internet can offer us facts, but it can only tell us part of the story. In other words, one wikipedia article does not a scholar make.

This post was inspired by Evgeny Morozov’s book To Save Everything Click HereI highly recommend a peruse at the least.

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Thoughts on a Blog about a Typewriter

The other day Seth asked if I could lend him the services of my station wagon to transport chairs. I agreed. A week later we headed off to Goodwill. When we arrived, we realized it should be named Goodprovidence, for we arrived on the half off everything day. We proceeded to scurry the aisles looking for deals. It’s amazing how saving a lot of money means loosing more than you were anticipating.

Goodwill keeps their furniture next to their electronics. Seth and his roommate discussed which chairs they most wanted, and I perused the assortment of key boards and old desktops. An old box of records caught my eye and I decided to take a look. I don’t quite care about records myself but a friend of mine loves them. My fingers brushing collected dust with each album I unearthed. I wiped my hands against my jeans and turned back to catch up with my friends, but a curious shape caught me first. Behind a dilapidated desktop and a stack of keyboards, there lay an older combination of both. I looked at the electronic typewriter in disbelief. How could someone leave this machine behind?

I can only speak from my limited experience, but $5.00 typewriter is a good deal. Ironically I also decided to buy a keyboard. Seth couldn’t help but point out the irony. For me the typewriter has three huge advantages over any ole keyboard.

The greatest advantage and disadvantage for using a typewriter is the lack of spell check and the irreversibility of a key stroke. Because the computer allows me to go backwards an infinite amount of times, I may carelessly go forwards. My fingers may type nonsense for hours on end, but with a few clicks of the mouse it all disappears. When you type with a typewriter you are constantly paying for the ink ribbons, so you don’t feel as inclined to write twaddle. In the first few minutes of using a typewriter, I asked a friend to spell out a word. I cannot remember the last time I asked someone to spell word in a paper. Between spell check and Google I have very little need for knowledge. Which brings me to my second point: inconvenience. This point sets me at odds with my entire generation and I know it. To be honest I care not if a project takes forever, if only it may be done well. Setting one’s own margins, aligning the paper, searching for the missing space bar button, allows me to value the typed words all the more, even if they are misspelled. I care more about my writing because I work harder to write.

Most importantly typing on a typewriter allows me distance from technology. By technology I mean of course, the internet, games, music, and photos. The typewriter is meant for a singular purpose, that is to write. It is like having a phone that merely calls people, a watch that just tells the time, or glasses that only help with vision. Our minds think in categories, a typewriter cannot be confused with an X-Box, a table discussion, or a cell phone. The typewriter helps me write, because that is all it can do. Often times weakness gives man greater potential. The greater the ordinary the greater the extraordinary

For more thoughts on how technology impacts our lives, I would highly recommend Jonah Lynch’s book The Scent of Lemons. His insights illuminate the darker side of the digital age and hold it in tension with the blessings of modern innovations.

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Intro: Grant Riley

Though I have followed the postings of my colleagues for several months, I only now toss my head into the ring (if it were merely my hat, it would be of no use at all). I am Grant Riley.

But who is Grant Riley. Maybe I should explain who I am through what I think. In my first year of college I thought I should be a English major. Of course, I love to write and well formed characters give my heart joy. Now imagine my surprise when I took my first English class in college and Bill Cosby was the best writer we read. My consternation and frustration could not be bound. I then began a quest for greener pastures. I liked the political science classes, so I kept on there. But I wanted something deeper, philosophy! Little did I know, philosophy fell away long ago from the Dialogues of Socrates into the diatribes of Sartre. The whole enterprise seems no better than a cocktail party of watchmakers. Each one tinkering with their own particular second hand set minutiae. The first one shows off his handy work, the first one shows his rustic verge escapement. The next comes up adds a pendulum. The third replaces it with a digital watch and turns the clock into an egg beater. This goes on until somebody calls the egg beater a microwave. Politics does virtually the same thing, but no one actually believes it’s a microwave. From these I decided to look into theology. In the end nothing makes my heart happier than contemplating on the inescapable presence of God. Yet mere contemplation is not enough, I have to busy my hands with some menial tasks. Thus I am highly considering going to culinary school. Cooking allows my contemplative soul to embrace my ordinary body.

All this to say, I am a lover of deep thoughts, deep conversations, good friends, well written books, typewriters, the Church, and The Lord. I am forever thankful that He gave such friends as I have had these past several years, and I am now writing to allow others a front row seat to our discourses.