Thoughts on “Everything Everywhere All the Time”

March 10, 2023 at 12:33 pm (By Amba)

Crazy movie, reflective of the times. Infinite multiple universes is sort of a clever, diverting explanation for why nothing makes sense and it’s all coming at us too fast—less depressing than information overload and societal collapse. The survival skills required—fast reflexes and split-second ingenuity—are cleverly compared to superhero skills. You have to act without understanding—not only is there no time for understanding, but it’s not forthcoming. Variations on “But it doesn’t make any sense” are the most repeated line in the film.

The movie combines the popular genres of superhero special-effects action film and romantic dramedy. There’s quite a lot of family pain in it—any mother trying to save a self-destructive, alienated teen-age daughter from drugs or suicide will relate—as well as economic precarity and the struggling immigrant’s fear of Authority and women with unexpressed talents and dreams, and the more universal feeling that you’ve wasted your life and your potential. Everything everywhere packed into 2 hours. And the truism (verging on banality) that only love and kindness can make the lion (IRS agent) lie down with the lamb and bind all the shattered fragments together. I burst out laughing many times and also cried—couldn’t help it—it was sort of reliably wrung from me the way a vibrator makes you come whether you’re in the mood or not. Hollywood movies are engineered for that. The best part of the movie was the absurd humor. (An everything bagel has become a black hole. Rolly-eye stick-ons become power-conferring bindi dots.) The most interesting part was the acid-trippy strobing of one’s actual past and infinite possible selves.

So is it “good”? I’m not sure a movie can be “good” without a clear, strong storyline. But that dates me. That relic of a bygone era (the Newtonian storyline?) has been blown out of the water by . . . technology, which makes too much possible all at once and has scrambled both our world and our brains. At least the movie finds a way to represent that.

But does it deserve the Oscar?

It’s interesting that the IMDb reviews are so split. Some people really got it (especially the emotional subtext) and loved it. Others hated it. Not much in between that I could see.

My favorite image for the unraveling of it all remains Ursula K. LeGuin’s in The Lathe of Heaven, where the force undoing everything emanates from the black hole at the heart of a Bill Gates–like world-perfecting world-destroyer. And after that process is heroically stopped, what’s left is a lovable, highly imperfect jumble of all the worlds that have been tried.


Here is another take on the movie, specifically from an immigrant-family perspective. The alienation between generations is hardly exclusive to immigrant families—given rapid technological and cultural change, different American generations inhabit different worlds, period—but that tension is ratcheted up a couple of orders of magnitude when the generation gap spans space and language as well as time. (One thing I loved about this movie is the seamless mixture of Chinese and English Evelyn and Waymond speak and, for sure, think in. You overhear countless conversations lie that on the streets of New York.)

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On climate change

January 8, 2023 at 3:17 pm (Uncategorized)

I quoted (on FB) a paywalled Glenn Greenwald interview with libertarian congressman Justin Amash, who described how Congress has steadily devolved since 9/11 into a top-down, non-representative, antidemocratic rubber stamp for the corporate security state, and who saw the Raucous Caucus rebellion over Kevin McCarthy’s speakership as a perhaps deformed (from long repression) eruption of democracy. I got pushback from liberal commentators saying Amash was good when he criticized Trump but people like him want to disempower government from fighting climate change (while empowering it to fight women’s bodily autonomy).

Abortion’s a separate issue but I felt that my response regarding climate change summed up my own view of the issue as well as I ever will. So I’m saving it here.

But what [Amash] describes having evolved since 9/11 is not a functioning representative government, and it expands powers to control citizens, not corporations. It seems to me that government and business ought to be pitted against each other (as described by Greenwald’s other interview subject in this paywalled post, antitrust scholar Matt Stoller of the Substack “Big”) so that neither can get away with too much of a power grab. Presently they are in cahoots to take away rights and protections from citizens, even as they pretend otherwise.

If you are concerned about climate change, are you OK with very coercive enforcement of green norms (e.g., curbing people’s spending and travel via a central bank digital currency and UBI, and/or docking their “social credit score” and restricting their access, and/or freezing their bank accounts)? Or would you prefer people to become enlightened and persuaded (and enticed by new products) to change their own behavior? It’s a mess, because climate science is both genuinely contested and vigorously manipulated and exploited. Those who downplay anthropogenic climate change say they’re defending freedom but are funded by oil companies; those who believe strict government controls will be necessary say they’re “saving the planet” but are backed by an agenda to control the population in other ways, such as free expression of political dissent. To repeat: it is a mess.

Here’s the link to the paywalled post. It is so eye-opening, I would recommend anyone pay $5 for a one-month subscription just to be able to read it.…/who-holds-power-in…

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Molecules of Dad getting tossed in the hurricane destroying SW Florida*

September 28, 2022 at 2:03 pm (Uncategorized)

What freedom, to fly with the storm rather
than fear it and futilely try
to shield structures from it — houses, bodies . . .
Smash, Dad! Fly!

(as you once wrote to me Blog! Dance!)

*we scattered half of my father’s ashes in Estero Bay, where he loved to fish

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Things too Dangerous to Say on Social Media

June 10, 2022 at 11:54 am (By Amba) (, )

I put here, on the assumption that very few people will tear themselves away from Twitter, etc., long enough to look. (Not that I have anything I can be canceled from. Obscurity confers freedom of speech.)

Woke totalitarianism:

Maybe the main thing wrong with it is that there are too many white people running it. Again!

“Wokeness” began as raised consciousness of two truths: 1) racism profoundly, multigenerationally, deliberately deprived and damaged people of color, economically and psychologically; 2) present racism persists, insidious and poorly hidden, alongside the lingering effects of past, cruder racism.

“Woke totalitarianism,” however, seems largely driven by white people wanting to get out ahead of what white people perceive as “guilt” and “blame” by bullying other white people.

Why don’t white people just stay out of it and let people “of color,” with their very diverse views and ideas, hash out among themselves what is in their best interests?

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May 12, 2022 at 1:47 am (By Amba) ()

If I could vomit up a lump of industrial slag it still wouldn’t be an adequate depiction of the chaos, the crisis, the detritus, the deformity, the goya monsters gagged up out of crude oil slime pits.

The situation is so absurd, not only mine but everyone’s. Human being has become unworkable. We’re all suffering from nonsense. We’ve created a world that doesn’t align with our own needs. It’s made from our craving, boredom and greed. Nature and its extensions into culture which used to cool and channel all that has become occluded, crippled. We’re destroying our own support system, not only physically but psychically. We don’t know how to live in this world of our own creation because it’s nonsense. Hubris has unmoored us.

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Gender in K–3

March 15, 2022 at 2:17 pm (Uncategorized)

I was reading this alarming article about Ron DeSantis and I realized that the article assumed my alarm included unquestioning support for every detail of what DeSantis opposes and means to outlaw. I get claustrophobic when I feel myself being corralled into one of these “you’re 1,000% with us or you’re against us” thought-traps.

Specifically: Does it make ANY sense to talk to K through 3–age kids IN SCHOOL about ANY kind of gender or sexuality? (This changes as kids get older and look around and ask questions, but I’ll keep it simple for now.)

I get that what we used to call “square” norms have been inculcated and enforced unthinkingly for centuries and that this can drive nonconforming kids even unto suicide. I get that school can be a refuge from cruelty at home.

I also get that kids don’t see any of this the way adults do. They are not yet alienated from their bodies. From what I remember of being a kid plus some observation, they have a vague, matter-of-fact notion of their own anatomy, and an even vaguer conception of “the facts of life,” notions that range from fanciful to indifferent. They are curious, but their curiosity is fleeting and quickly supplanted by other interests. They are not obsessed the way we become as puberty sweeps in, and remain in defiance as the tide ebbs decades later.

It seems to me that an age-appropriate and kind way to treat these issues in K–3 would be neither “Don’t Say Gay” nor “Do Say Gay (trans, etc.),” but something in the spirit of the Silver Rule, “Do not do to others as you would not have them do unto you.” The Via Negativa. Like:

  • Don’t bring the subject up or enforce explicit lessons on it—of ANY agenda, traditional OR radical.
  • Model matter-of-fact acceptance that some kids in the class have two parents of the same sex. That families vary (in all kinds of ways) is a normal fact of life. No two people are alike. This is one of the glories of nature.
  • Do not enforce or preferentially reward either conforming or nonconforming gender dress and behavior. Allow kids to do what they choose, and to experiment, if they choose, without comment, except to forbid and decry cruelty in your presence. (Some kids will be cruel outside of your presence, but at least they will have seen there’s another way to be.)
  • Some kids’ families will be ideological and enforcing on this subject, one way or the other. This is the hard part: Model acceptance that families are different in their attitudes, too. School is not a place to find out that your family is wrong (unless they are physically endangering you). School is a place to discover that your family’s attitude is not the only one.

I want to sum all this up as “Leave kids the fuck alone,” but then I remember that people say “Leave me alone” when what they really mean is “Let me be.” Let kids be, but don’t abandon them.

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Pregnant People

October 11, 2021 at 10:13 am (By Amba) (, , , )

I have two reactions to an article about COVID and “pregnant people.” (It was funny to see that article slip back into “pregnant women,” only to yank itself out of that lapse of attention and get the right words in the display window again. Editorial regression.)

1.) Are there really a lot of non-women “pregnant people,” or are we just scanning the horizon anxiously for offense we might give, inadvertently wounding or excluding a few? White, straight people belling themselves like cats, to walk jangling with warnings, “Here comes a predator”? Of course, probably more than there are pregnant trans men (is that common? what effect do male hormones have on a fetus?), there are people we might call “women” who would call themselves nonbinary “they”s out of “solidarity” (what a solemn, stilted language we speak with a Twitter gun to our heads) with “obligatory” nonbinary people and out of a desire to revolutionize what’s regarded by conservatives as “human nature,” but what is really a jumble of nature, habit, history, custom, prejudice, and inertia. With the latter I have some sympathy, but utopian projects always run up against . . . something. The aforementioned jumble, like the barriers of debris left by a receding flood. Don’t underestimate the power of inertia—thousands of years of it, propelled by no-longer-existent survival conditions—or confuse it with nature. It was a selective shaping of nature to begin with.

“Human nature” is code for “the way we used to do things” when we had much smaller populations under very different threats. There are differences—maybe greater between individuals than between sexes—but we don’t really know what they are, because they’re obscured by what we’ve made out of them. It’s like trying to learn about ore by studying an airplane.

So while I’m turned off by the goose-stepping enforcement and the absolute humorlessness of self-appointed victim-advocate-bullies, the gender revolution has a point—a point which as usual, we’re turning into an intolerant caricature and a new conformity, when it was supposed to increase freedom.

My other reaction is much simpler:

2) Thanks for finally admitting that women are people!

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Drugs and me

September 23, 2021 at 11:27 am (By Amba) (, , )

Comments I wrote on this Freddie de Boer post about falling out with marijuana. It’s worth reading the post and the comments, where all sorts of varied insights are shared.

Interesting. I never got into the regular or frequent marijuana smoking habit the way it seems the vast majority of my peers did (I’m an old, VERY old baby boomer). I actually never bought any (true, though it sounds even to me like Bill Clinton saying “I didn’t inhale”). I was the mooch who smoked it when it was passed around at parties or when friends or siblings had some, and I had fantastic, fascinating, strange and pleasurable experiences, which were few enough so I still remember most of them in detail. I didn’t WANT to smoke it more often precisely because these experiences were so special and different. I would ponder each one for days or weeks afterward. I’m still pondering them!Recently I’ve occasionally accepted hits (vape or smoke) without much effect, despite the fabled strength of cultivated strains. (Whereas one or two hits of a joint at a new year’s party around 1980 sent me through the roof.) I also recently had my first tiny edible, a little iridescent gel cube, and enjoyed it a lot—it was a laughing strain. I’ve never done shrooms (synthetic mesc was as far as I got into psychedelics before I met Mr. Clean, who literally made me flush the remaining caps down the toilet—but that’s another story; I found the mesc fairytale magical, and I still ponder that too, but not mystical or ego-annihilating). I fully intend to do some when my responsibilities lighten, and I look forward to it.
I still have the rare mesc flashback, 50 years later, when I’m in some altered state like from being hungry or sleep-deprived, or for reasons unknown. I’ll be riding the New York subway, and adults will begin looking to me like borderline monsters, their faces twisted from within by trauma and avidity. If there is a small child in sight, I’ll look at the child for relief. They are perfect, pure as candles, like angels in hell.
I most definitely do not need the self-critical thing. I have more than enough of that sober.

I know two people who may well have been tipped into schizophrenia by [marijuana]. Apparently it’s known that multiple genes are involved in the susceptibility. There almost should be a “don’t smoke [lots of] weed” genetic test.

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Privilege and Sacrifice

September 15, 2021 at 7:09 pm (By Amba) (, )

Much of my time in Chicago has been spent rereading the journal and letters of my uncle,* Alan Gottlieb, who died in a Naval Air Force training accident in Vero Beach, Florida, in 1943, two months to the day before his 23rd birthday. (I had read them decades ago, but remembered only highlights.) My mom wants to include his voice in an appendix to her memoir, the very purpose of which is to gather the lost—including two suicides, whose names were never spoken again per Jewish tradition—back into the ongoing family.

Alan’s death has been handed down as a tragic accident and a noble, if wasteful, sacrifice. To my surprise, as I read his thoughts and his voice danced to life in me, I came to see it, instead, as both a totally routine budget item of war and a kind of heroic, quixotic suicide. I wrote in my journal about his.

I went through Alan’s journals almost word for word, inhabiting his lively voice and immersing myself in his living presence to the extent that I began to struggle in protest as I was pulled toward the inexorable falls of his fate, No! No! Don’t extinguish this light! but it already happened almost 80 years ago! Mom grieving it again as if it was something I accompanied and comforted her in rather than something I instigated (at her behest, to get Alan’s voice into the memoir). I typed out passages into the new computer, and there were things missing that I remembered: a kinesthetic description of standing on the pedals of a dive bomber during a run; a paradox about the “constructively destructive” use of his new skills in war. I rummaged in the disorganized files (so like mine) and found both, one among letters a girl friend (not girlfriend) had given his mother, the other on file cards typed out by Dad, perhaps the best saved of faded or damaged letters. (How did he do it?)

Two things became clear. One was that if Alan hadn’t died as and when he did, there’s a high chance he would’ve died as a dive bomber pilot working off a carrier, the role he was training for. Those guys were the next thing to kamikazes. Even dying in training as he did was commonplace; he’d lost several friends in crashes before his. I told David it was as if they (the masters of war) were just throwing handfuls of flesh into a spinning fan blade. . . . The second is that Alan chose this self-sacrificial role. If his death was in part the Navy’s fault, it was also his own. He was being groomed for leadership and could have saved himself for that role. Should he have? He would have been a liberal leading light, a Jewish Kennedy, surely a senator, maybe even the first Jewish president—he was WASPy-looking enough. 😜And, in the supremest of ironies, he might well have been assassinated. His loss was anyway an early falling spark in that arc that led us to this dark place.

It’s easy to fall into fantasies of “the best and the brightest,” to flatter oneself that the loss of a sensibility so gently reared, so cultivated and self-cultivated, was a bigger loss than the closing of any anonymous consciousness that never was incubated in the Ivy League or singled out by the spotlight of Eleanor Roosevelt’s attention. But that was exactly what Alan felt obliged to escape. He had an early sense of the injustice and also of the emasculation of “privilege.” He felt he had to put himself at physical risk both to purge himself of that and to stretch himself, to break out of that coddling and self-congratulatory confinement.

I can relate.

The biggest paradox of all for me is that *he could only be my uncle dead. If he had lived for however much longer, the world would have been shifted the millimeter or more it took for a different sperm to meet a different egg at a different time and place, and someone else would exist in my place—in all our places.

It might have been better that way. But this is what we’ve got.

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You don’t have to be Jewish: Don’t miss

September 10, 2021 at 9:33 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

the ultimate Yom Kippur story.

There’s an old Hasidic story, attributed to the great master Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk.

It’s the day before Yom Kippur, and the hassidim come to Rabbi Elimelech and ask him how he prepares for the most holy of days. “Tell you the truth,” says the old rabbi, “I don’t know how to do it. But Moishele? The shoemaker? He knows how to do it. Go ask him.”

So the hassidim walk over to Moishele’s house, and they peek in through the window, and they see this simple man sitting around his simple wooden table eating dinner. And when he’s done, he calls out to his children, “The great moment is here! Bring out the books.” And the children return with two books, one very small and the other very large and bound in expensive leather.

Moishele, looking up, begins to speak. “Dear God, master of the world,” he says. “It’s me, Moishele, the shoemaker. God, I want to read you something.” And Moishele takes the small book and opens it up. “God,” he continues, “I want to read you a list of my sins.” And he reads on from the book: “I’ve yelled at my wife. I’ve been impatient with my children. I’ve charged a bit too much for shoes sometimes. I kept a scrap of material for myself instead of giving it to the customer who paid for it.

“I think you’ll agree, God, these are all pretty petty sins.” Moishele closes the small book and picks up the large one. “And now, God,” he says, “now, let me read to you a list of your sins:

“A mother of nine dies and leaves all of her small children orphans? A famine forces entire families to forage for their food like animals? A war takes thousands of innocent lives? These are major crimes, God, very major crimes.” And with that, Moishele looks solemnly to the heavens.

“But I’ll tell you what, God,” he says. “This year, if you forgive me my sins, I’ll forgive you yours.”

The hassidim are elated! They run back to Rabbi Elimelech and tell him all about Moishele’s wisdom. But hearing the story, Elimelech starts to cry.

“What’s the matter?” the hassidim ask.

The rebbe looks at them with his eyes all swollen. “Don’t you get it?” he says. “Moishele had God in the palm of his hand! He should’ve said, ‘No, God, I won’t forgive you! I won’t forgive you until you redeem the entire world.’”  

From “The Scroll,” Tablet Magazine’s newsletter:

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