One of the eternal delights of being a “full stack” developer is that you get swapped between the data, front end, and back end teams with the vigor of a pair of squirrels playing badminton under the steady eyes of a horned owl who has promised mercy for the victor.

I’ve been reassigned. The past year and a half was spent leveraging an Angular based Single Page Application into an aging .NET Web Forms and MVC application. This is very much like trying to get a pair of Bluetooth headphones to connect to a 1904 Victrola. Now I am to address the deficiencies of the .NET application in all of its mutant glory.

The nice thing about .NET is that adults are in charge. Updates happen in a progressive fashion. You can ignore the first three years of .NET CORE and a few hours with a tutorial can bring you up to speed. Older features, even really awful ones, are generally supported… but any references to them are exiled into the howling wastes of the microsoft documentation archives.

The problem is shifting back.

Javascript based platforms are run by toddlers who have been given access to Monster energy drinks. If you spend more than a week away from things, its Planet of the Apes time when you return from orbit. Spend another week away and you’ll be sharing puzzled glances with Dr. Zira when a three foot chinchilla welcomes you to Margaritaville. Do you have a reservation?

I expect the next year to look like this.

Month 3: We’re no longer using smegCannon for loading dependencies, the community has moved onto BitNostril. Anyone who hasn’t even bothered to jettison last year’s KnockerLocker is beneath our collective contempt and will not be provided with migration scripts. Please try to keep up.

Month 6: We realize that we’ve put out two new full versions of Angular in the past year but Bobby had an epiphany. Or a brain aneurysm, we’re waiting on the MRI results to figure out which. We need to release a new version which completely and abruptly changes how we handle routing.

Backwards compatible? Bitch, please. Just because you invested 3500 developer hours building an application on the previous system is no excuse to not to refactor. Talk to your project manager.

Month 9: A Cartesian monk who had blinded themselves in a religious frenzy showed up at our conference in SF and convinced us that the outcome of their intense meditations in the chill darkness of the Yahoo server room is just the thing we need. Typescript is now base 13. You’ll have to get a new keyboard to handle the extra characters.

Month 12: DUDES! Bobby (who as it turned out had an aneurysm after all) just spent the last three weeks in the hospital being treated for complications from scurvy after consuming nothing but bulletproof coffee and oat cakes for the past year and had a lot of time to think. Javascript is for losers. Typescript is for losers too. Have you ever heard of Fortran?

Attempting to find both energy and focus in this time of plague has been difficult. Time has been granted to us in abundance, but not the serenity to take advantage of that time.

Even as one who was able to keep their job and perform it with little interruption I’ve found it difficult to fight off a feeling of malaise. Its difficult to commit to a course of action, be it the making of dinner, the enjoyment of a novel, the editing of a photograph, or the writing of a short essay. Sadly, the eating of snacks has proven to be entirely too easy a pastime to commit to.

Typical advise for the creatively blocked is to do something else. Attempting to brute force yourself through only leads to a deeply bruised ego and shocking high tabs at your local dive bar. Travel is a frequent suggestion. Go somewhere new. Even if it doesn’t break your creative block at least you go out into the world. And maybe it will work.

Seed head of a grass.

In the time of plague what do you do? Shelter in place order remain and in many locations have been reimposed as an upswing in Covid cases continues in various spots around the globe. Travel is not on the agenda

I was reminded of a project from a number of years ago. One Block Radius. It was a psychogeographic project conducted by Glowlab in NYC. It was an in-depth exploration of a single block in Manhattan. Every business, resident, piece of trash, new addition of graffiti was meticulously cataloged. It provided a snapshot in time for a block in the Bowery that was about to undergo radical transformation.

Rather than expand outwards, the project gave itself strict borders and spiraled inwards, documenting a single place at a point in time.

Since the middle of March my world has undergone a similar, non-consentual compression.

Clover

For the past two years my photography has focused on flowers as it was a subject that I could work with at my leisure. My work has admittedly been heavily influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe’s own floral portfolio. I do have the advantage of working in digital which allows me to use techniques such as focus stacking to do far closer explorations of a flower’s structure.

My neighborhood is a mixture of apartments and single family homes which results in a variety of gardening environments. The backdrop of apartment building landscaping which favors the absolute minimum in maintenance costs typically features shrubs but does have the enjoyment of self-seeded plants. Foxgloves, daffodils, lavender, and bluebells find their place.

Then there are the unwelcome flora. Clover, dandelion, grasses, thistle. Then at the end of the season, there are the seed heads left when the petals fall away.

Ubiquitous, easy to find, free for the taking, and in many cases available year round.

Now I just need to scrounge up some focus and motivation.

After months of forced isolation and over a month of a close examination of police brutality and the reality of being Black in America, its time to celebrate the birth of the nation.

With varying levels of enthusiasm.

Coming to grips with your feelings about Independence Day is your own burden. If nothing else, you got the day off from work so you might as well stuff your face in a slightly elevated level of style.

Be sure to light the barbecue early while using those copies of Sunset and Martha Stewart Living magazines that have been staring at you from the coffee table for the past four months as kindling so that the coals have time to settle down a bit. Or you know, preheat the oven because you live in an apartment where the fire escape is right over the dumpster of the Pho joint and its illegal to have a grill on a balcony.

You know what, just go ahead and chunk the entire collection of lifestyle magazines in the dumpster. Set it on fire. You don’t need that cultural fascism through matching tableware in your life. Those assholes have assistants and photoshop. You have high blood pressure. Fuck them and the horse they rode on. They probably do have a horse. Fuck them double.

Sarah Eisenlohr

It doesn’t hurt to toss the salad now. Toss it right in the garbage because even the Sierra club wouldn’t blame you for not opening that three week expired bag of mixed greens in order to feed it into the compost bin.

If you’re a Pinterest kind of person, you can rip the chalkboard you used for trying to keep track of the housework but haven’t updated in nine months off the wall and write out the menu.

Appetizers: The inch of a half of Cheezits remaining in the box. Those little French pickles right out of the jar. That can of sardines in mustard that you bought two years ago when you were shopping while smashed. Any cheese product that’s still edible and more importantly, wasn’t eaten by someone at 3:00 in the morning while unable to sleep due to generalized feelings of dread.

To drink, there’s an assortment of domestic beer. Or foreign beer. Or wine in a can. Or those weird seltzer things that are the new wine spritzer with a measurable ABV.

Be sure to keep away from the hard stuff early on. You want to keep the floodgates of emotion tightly closed while you gaze longingly at the pleasant summer weather through the window wondering how many idiots are outside having a grand old time at a cookout not realizing they’re going to collide with a reality where an overworked nurse is ramming a breathing tube down their throat in about 17 days.

Served in the kitchen because fuck you, I’m not carrying it to the living room.

Main Course: Braised pork loin with warm potato salad. More beer.

Sounds fancy? Not even.

I’m not even going to wait for the toaster oven to preheat, I’m just going to pour a bottle of barbecue sauce over the dead pig, cover it with foil and slam it into the little oven. The potato salad is warm not because its trending on instagram right now, its because I decided to make it like 25 minutes ago and 20 of those were spent boiling the potatoes. I’m not waiting for them to cool off.

Spend the time waiting for the dead animal to finish reaching a temperature that won’t kill your ass by flicking through Netflix in an attempt to avoid conversation with the people you’ve been locked inside with for way too long. Has emotion bled out of them as well? Should you try to express your love for that special person in your life by letting them know they might be wearing the same coffee stained pajamas for three days but you still want to bang? Or would that be really awkward and better left after everyone’s had a few more drinks.

You’ve already binged everything you can possibly stand? Maybe if you pound the rest of that IPA and follow it with an airline bottle of Glenlivet you‘ll specifically murder the brain cells responsible for season 2 of Bake Off. At least that’s the theory. Bottoms up everyone!

When the alarm goes off and the thermometer tells you that you’re not going to be an unfortunate statistic, its time to think about presentation. Mostly, I think its for wankers. Who the hell has the time or energy to plate something when you and everyone you know has been refreshing COVID charts showing the new cases by day and wondering how long until the death rate shows a similar upswing for the past several weeks?

Put stuff on a plate. There. Done. Steak knives? Do we have steak knives? Is that a thing people have? Maybe we were vegetarians for too long.

Dessert: Um… more beer. And liquor.

Months of prioritizing groceries to bare essentials in order to minimize the number of trips into the Outside World has not left room for sweets. There’s a forgotten half pint of Hagen Das in the freezer but its part of the potato product glacier formation and no one is feeling that desperate. Yet.

And Now Fireworks:

Save a glass of sherry and a handful of salted nuts to take outside to gaze upon the illegal fireworks being set off by errant youth in the neighborhood. Are these nuts? Are they wasabi peas? Cat food? After breaking open the sugar encrusted bottle of apricot schnapps at the back of the liquor cabinet you can’t tell anymore.

Gaze upwards at the moments of visual and acoustic violence spreading overhead and take a moment to meditate upon the American Empire. More specifically its relationship to the Roman Empire. And that fact that the Roman Empire fell. And that none of those assholes left a how-to guide for surviving the collapse.

I’ve honestly lost track of how long the shelter in place order for the state of Washington has been in place. The concept of being able to venture freely outside without concern of contracting a vile disease has been distant and nebulous for some time.

The is a certain emotion between agoraphobia and wild yearning that I grapple with as I sit on an ottoman and stare out the window. I’m a reverse voyeur. There are all the pleasures of the late Seattle springtime as its bends into summer. Just on the other side of the glass. The other side where people don’t wear masks and breathe out the possibility of the plague with every tidal breath.

I felt this keenly during the recent standoff between the Black Lives Matter protestors and the Seattle Police Department outside the Eastern Precinct. The local blog, capitolhillseattle.com, has been covering the standoff as it has progressed so there is no need to give a blow-by-blow account of that time.

The precinct isn’t very far from my apartment. It sits on the corner of Pine and 12th. Pine is familiar enough to me that I have every change in elevation along its length mapped out from past bicycle commutes. Crawling up Pine from downtown is painful. I couldn’t give you the exact grade of the hill as beyond a certain point all numbers blur into one figure, bullshit.

The hill is bullshit. Its bullshit degrees steep, there are a bullshit number of potholes along it length.

The corner of Pine and 11th where the barricades were set up holds a special place in the muscle memory of my calves. At Broadway you’re treated to a short respite from the climb, a gentle downhill which ends sharply as the block between 11th and 12th shoots up in front of you.

It was that incline that hosted the week long standoff between BLM protestors and the Seattle PD. The line of cops in riot gear were stationed just above 11th. They had the high ground on the protestors as they crowded the metal fence that marked the No Man’s Land.

We live close enough to that location that the crackle of flash bangs rebounded off the building next door. The police megaphone was a distorted snarl just far enough away to twist into incoherence. We knew the instant that things had degenerated in the standoff.

Then there were the marches that wound past our corner. Some you could hear from the drums as they approached, others from the chants. I sat in the window and watched a white SUV slowly drifting down the street amidst the marchers. A man stood on the roof of the SUV, directing the march through a megaphone.

And I stayed home, watching it through the various video streams covering the event from above and ground level.

Subconsciously we consider events we watch on the TV or laptop to be distant. Untouchable. Elsewhere. The people fleeing when jets of pepper spray followed by clouds of tear gas aren’t people you’ve stood behind in line at the nearest coffee shop on a low, slow, hungover Sunday morning.

Except the flashes of light of from the gernades are echoed milliseconds later. Its not somewhere else. These aren’t other people. They’re fighting over a hill I had stared up at enough times over the handlebars of my bicycle.

Even now that the police have withdrawn from the precinct and we’ve watched the rise of the Capitol Hill [Autonomous Zone|Occupied Protest] from our apartment, I haven’t showed up in person. A familiar space has been transformed and I can only see it through aggregated feeds on a Twitch.tv stream.

One thing I didn’t expect to discover during the plague was how it transformed all but the most immediate and necessary points on my personal geography into foreign lands. I could see, I could hear, I could read about, but I couldn’t experience directly. Through fear or caution these formerly accessible places have faded into otherness.

There is a small space.

Its carved out from both time and the contours of the universe. Its a small spherical volume that erected at any point in time and any point in space. The coordinates can change according to whim and chance or spiral around a specific location and time of day carved out by habit and force of will.

The space is a small, Perhaps it is clean. Perhaps it is well lit. Perhaps it is not.

In times past you could venture into the world and mark it out with a package of cigarettes on a rented table. You paid rent in the form of coffee or cake or a glass of wine. Then you smoked. You smoked to demarcate the boundaries of the ritual space. It was summoned from a cloud of ash and the geometrically increasing probability of a foul death. You smoked to push other minds away and their nasty, uncouth bodies. You smoked and drank coffee and tried to forget about your own body.

Today the cigarettes are forbidden and more of an invitation than a ward against strangers.

Still, we go out and try to find that space. In the world. Outside the place where we have a lock and a key and more control. Going out into the world and finding that place where only our own gravity exerts its pull is a challenge but one we imagine to be pleasant.

Artist’s rendering by Nicolle Fuller/National Science Foundation

For women its far more difficult. Despite every sign and signifier, despite every unsubtle demand for others to fuck off and die, others persist in violating the boundaries. I am not a woman so I can only believe what they say. Many say this and they say it often so I have no reason to doubt.

In the time of plague we are not given the option of going out into the world. The feeling of your own gravity is punctured by a microscopic entity that claws into the center of your body. I cannot find the space away from others as they exhale a probability of infection. Clouds of swirling risk. Even walking feels like moving through these unseen miasmas. Its no place to find refuge.

I’ve spent half of my adult life living alone. Its more difficult to find the space when you have possession of a key and a door and a certain square footage all to yourself. Perhaps that why we go out among others to find our own gravity. It requires an awareness of the presence of others to find your own space. You cannot define boundaries in a void. The walls and door defined the edges of the void. There was no place to be found within it. No other minds. No other gravity to exert your will against

We still need to find that space. Alone or overwhelmed by our equally entrapped family. That small sphere where you can only feel your own gravity. Find an hour where time is yours. Eat pickled herring on garlic toast. Feign demonic possession. Take a bath and glue the door shut. Do what you need to do.

I’m sitting here with my glass of tea, engaged in a battle of will with the cat. The 11 pound ball of fur, fangs, and indifferent needs for attention pushes against my sphere. Even the pale yellow eyes of the cat provides enough of an other presence to make the boundaries of my space clear.

 

Meat processing plants across the country are shutting down as employees fall victim to the plague or stop showing up due to fear of catching the plague. The close working conditions and general lack of concern shown by the owners towards the health and well being of their employees make it hardly surprising this has occurred. That a single workplace was responsible for over half of a state’s COVID infections does not bode well for the continued operations of other meat processing plants.

The scale of meat processing as an industry is horrifying when one looks into the numbers. The South Dakota plan was responsible for between 4 and 5 percent of the nation’s pork supply. Seeing that the per capital consumption of pork in the US was 51.2 pounds in 2019 makes the plant responsible for around 683 million pounds. As the factory turns out 130 million servings of pork per week (6.7 billion per year) that number seems reasonable. At an average of 285 pounds per pig, that means 2.4 million pigs per year meet their fate in South Dakota.

Pork, the wheel of destiny: Joseph Pennell 1917

With the plant shutting for an unknown period of time, this means there’s a backup of about 46,000 pigs per week due to a single plant shutting down. Other meat processing plants are facing similar outbreaks and must shut down. With limited capability to store carcasses in a frozen state this means the farmers are faced with animals they cannot move off their farms.   Animals will be in transit and will be stranded.  The smooth chain which lead from birth to death to a plastic wrapped portion is broken. Nothing in the current system allows for any disruption in the food supply chain.  A massive cull seems to be impending.  

The scale of death will go beyond even the largest of modern religious animal sacrifices. The Gadhimai festival is performed to gain favor from a goddess and the carcasses are then sold and used. It is also only held every five years.  Nothing will be offered from this killing.     

Tens of thousands of animals killed every week. The bodies left for the crows or burned. The scale of animal sacrifice will be enough to rip open a rift in the ether.  A new god will ooze out of the slit. Panting and tearing at its birth cowl in the middle of a field of dead pigs. Pigs slaughtered not for the table but because the gears of modern agriculture cannot stop spinning. It will be an offering to the complete unraveling of our own cleverness when a single thread is pulled away. 

What is this new god to make of all this?


 

One of the more curious features of the ongoing plague is the shocked response of landlords towards the assertion on the part of their tenants that they would not only be unable or unwilling to pay rent but actively want to see their property holding guts being used for bunting at the Peasantcore Spring Hoedown and Chili Cookoff.

Hans Lützelburger: Fighting Peasants (woodcut) Early 16th century

We’ve hit an event horizon in the merie land of unabridged capitalism.

The near future employment prospects for people working in service jobs are dire. Even before shelter in place orders were issued, many businesses had already been closed by the state to prevent the spread of the virus. Unemployment for lower income workers who are already burdened or severely rent burdened means they’re extremely unlikely to be able to afford their rent, if not this month, then by next month. The forthcoming $1200 stimulus payment is just not going to cut the mustard for carrying people through the next few months despite what the Treasury Secretary might think. The immediate conflict will be over rent. This puts tenants and real estate investors at each other’s throats even as larger trends in economic fuckery are at play.

We’ve been here before.

Tensions between serf and lord, landless and landed, laboring class and gentry, union and bosses, are well known and play out in various ways in our history and literature. Even as we gain a greater perspective than our medieval forebears through the availability of news, our conflict will still be with our most immediate points of contact. For the tenant, that would be their landlord who claims the lion’s share of their income each and every month. Let’s explore the idea of a landlord as our modern incarnation of the medieval miller.

Medieval marginalia of a woman setting fire to a miller

The miller and contemporary landlord hold similar positions in society. They provide an essential service (grinding of grain or providing housing) which is very difficult to obtain otherwise. For the medieval serf, the quern was both illegal to own and extremely inefficient which cemented the miller into the community. Landlords provide rental units which for many people is the only form of housing available. There are substantial financial barriers to home ownership, especially in urban areas, which provides property investors with a captive market.

Miller and landlord both are ultimately investors. Their rational self-interest lies in extracting the maximum amount of revenue from their customers. Both operate at a distinct advantage over their customers due to their monopoly on providing an essential service. This does not create a relationship where trust or affection flourishes.

Millers were generally considered to be thieves and users of false measures. This attitude continued to be expressed in song and story from some of the earliest literary sources in English up through the American colonial period. Its not difficult to find contemporary examples of similar sentiments being expressed regarding landlords. Given the diametrically opposed interests of the land owning and tenant classes friction is to be expected at the best of times. This is not the best of times.

As record numbers of people are filing for unemployment, the conflict will only grow. Already rent strike is a hashtag on twitter. A frequently shared reddit thread exposes the tensions between tenant and landlord. With the United States currently unwilling to provide sufficient income for unemployed workers this is just going to continue to blossom.

Why mention the miller?

Richmond Bread Riots 1863

They were often targets during food riots of the era. They were distrusted and most importantly, accessible. Its easy to forget that food riots were very common everywhere until relatively recently. The civil war saw bread riots across the South. There were riots in several American cities in 1917 due to rising food prices. The targets of ire were grocers who had raised prices sharply. The US has not seen food riots for quite some time but food insecurity is high and now housing will be added as a flashpoint for widespread discontent.

As seen in the linked reddit thread above, the amount of contempt between landlords and tenants is considerable. Rentable properties have been very good investments for passive income as rent has been increasing well ahead of inflation over the past 60 years. The past two decades have seen a massive increase in value for even marginal properties in urban areas as rapid population growth in urban centers has widely outstripped supply. As a result the percentage of tenants who are rent burdened or heavily rent burdened (paying over 30% and 50% of their income respectively) has exploded. The reasons for this increase are not the fault of any individual landlord, but they have become the human face for an exploitive system by participating in the front lines.

The landlords participating in reddit communities like /r/realestateinvesting and /r/landlord most likely are smaller property owners as larger landlords, corporations, and institutional investors have lawyers to answer their questions. They quite likely are as they present themselves, small investors caught between tenants who provide the entirety of their income and their own masters, the mortgage lenders.

When the torches and pitchforks start getting handed out, this is not going to make them any less of a target. They invested and participated in an industry where the cost of a human necessity was leveraged upwards so far that the majority of their customers were living month to month and were not in a position to save any significant amount of money for an emergency. In a crisis like this one where a large number of tenants are no longer able to work and have no savings, its going to very quickly come to a head.

This is not likely to be pretty. If tenants default without support, there will be a mass of evictions once cities allow the housing courts to open up again, dumping huge numbers of people into the streets. If there’s a rent strike, smaller real estate investors are likely to default on their mortgages which means the institutional investors will snap them up and continue to consolidate their holdings on the US rental market. The tenants will have the pleasure of dragging their landlords into bankruptcy with them.

A debt jubilee is as unlikely as widespread temporary income support from the federal government. Its a shitshow in the making and we’re cruising right into it.

Shall we give our attention to the performative aspects of the bunker?

The bunker promises a place of refuge when the world spirals into chaos. Descend into the earth, pull shut an iron door, and seal yourself away from the world. Sealed away in a small microcosm of your own design. There you can wait for the disaster to run its course before emerging again into the world.

Every family can be a Noah in their own ark out in the wilderness. They had listened and prepared where others had scoffed. Their faith in reading the signs of coming disaster will be rewarded by their survival. Where others will perish in the deluge, they will remain sealed away for 40 days and 40 nights.

Then those motherfuckers will rue the day.

The bunker provides the illusion of invincibility. That by rolling up to your South Dakota fully furnished bunker you will be able to weather any storm. There is the flight from The World and an entrance to a liminal space sheltered from the violence of the outside. Once the threat is over, there will be the return to normal life.

In a way it can be seen as a pilgrimage. But one that does not grant any wisdom or merit. The wisdom is in foreseeing the calamity and fleeing from it. Your reward is to survive where others suffer.

The string of military bunkers from the Cold War which are now being redeveloped for civilian use was its own set of stages.

For the military this was the promise that it could keep the “mutually” in mutually assured destruction. Send a flight of missiles at us at 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon and Moscow will be vaporized before happy hour. Enough of our command infrastructure will survive to punch back. To any outsider this looks like two scarecrows threatening each other with torches in a hayloft.

Civilians could play along. Their version of community theater promised that the family could survive in place. Go into your bunker when the sirens blare and thirty days later emerge into light. There you can smugly survey the remains of your neighborhood as rats eat the remains of your less prepared fellow citizens.

At least until the radiation leaves you vomiting blood out of every orifice.

Which is the problem. If the bunker presents the promise of a return to the womb with its safety, warmth, and nourishment, there must be a rebirth. The bunker allows the owner to stop their world by retreating from it. But the world will not be stopped. Those who flee and close the doors of their bunkers have cut ties with their community and chosen to leave them to their own devices.

We’ve decided as a culture that pulling up the drawbridge and sheltering within the your walls as others suffer outide is a dick move. How can you return from that?

Pinche pendejos muttered the former Bronx bodega cat to herself as she watched workers dragging hoses out of a mismarked van and into the townhouses under construction across the street.  What manner of substance would soon flow through those hoses was anyone’s guess but it was involving a great deal of racket.  This was not the usual jackhammer annoyance of a gasoline powered compressor, more of a sucking and spitting noise.  The van shuttered with each inhale and exhale from the engine hidden in the back.

It did not seem natural noted the cat.  But then again, so little did these days.

A sunbeam parted the curtain of clouds and sent a delicious beam of golden warmth through the window.  Adjusting the angle and inclination of her body to maximize the absorption of photons with an accuracy that would make the manager of any radio telescope array soil themselves in envy she slipped back into slumber.

 The engine within the mismarked van coughed politely then continued its rhythmic work.