The White Whale

This was a Christmas present. It’s kit for making a clone of a tweed Fender Deluxe guitar amp — a design from the late 1950s that remains popular to this day. I already own a clone of this amp, but it’s been giving me trouble and this kit is a time-proven method of learning amp building.

The emphasis there is on ‘learning.’ I’ve fooled on and off with it for the past month, and it sort of works, but I’m still hitting on it. I burned up a transformer in the process but pretty much know this design backward and forward now. I’ll keep plugging.

The new dawn

I kept my shit together today until this poet broke me.

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry.
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:
A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

The coldest winter

One of the happiest times in Washington is Inauguration Day. People in a great mood fill the Metro trains, the National Mall draws a truly mass audience, the new-or-re-elected president gives an inspiring address, and then there’s a big parade and parties. You can’t help but feel the optimism, and it’s one of the occasions that remind me I live in a world capital.

But Washington is an armed camp now. There are National Guardsmen sleeping on the floors in the Capitol. High-security fencing and barbed wire surround the People’s House. Soon, there will be only one open bridge into town from Virginia.

It would be easy and satisfying to say that Donald Trump and COVID-19 did this to us. But I’m afraid this is closer to the truth: We did this to us. We can undo it, too, but that is going to take a lot of work. Trump exposed and empowered a creeping evil. The hard part — bringing us back to a more perfect union, starting with the ‘union’ — is ahead.

Fear itself

I’m old now. I’m not old old — I’ll be 61 before the month’s out — but I’m old enough to remember a lot of things that have faded into history. I remember 1968, when MLK and RFK went down to assassins, and protesters in Chicago got beat down by the city’s finest. I remember Uncle Walter reciting the latest Vietnam death numbers on the evening news that year. I also remember the Cards blowing the Series to the Tigers — but that’s another story for a different time.

What I mostly remember from ’68, though, is the fear. I was only 8 years old but I could still feel it. I was afraid of the rioting I saw on TV. I was afraid of what I saw from Chicago, back in the days when every station carried the political party conventions wall-to-wall. I was afraid of everything still going on in the South, where it appeared old times would most certainly not be forgotten. And mostly, as a child, I was afraid that everything was coming apart.

But I grew older and things grew calmer and that kind of fear receded. I felt that America had legitimately matured and improved, with a lot of the old stupid prejudices at least fading, even if they hadn’t been put down. I was a young adult, and young adults are allowed to be naive.

It was then that I first heard of Donald Trump. He was this cartoon character/real estate developer type who emerged amid 1980s excess, and I mostly knew of him through my Spy magazine subscription. They hated him with the heat of a thousand suns, but he still became a man of the era. He was a swaggering playboy with bad taste in suits and architecture, his marriages always were blowing up and he was forever fighting with bankers. Still, he was weirdly entertaining. You had to be completely unplugged from pop culture to be unaware of him.

But that era ended and he faded in importance and visibility. I thought it was hilarious when “The Apprentice” picked him up years later — I hadn’t thought about the guy at all for years, and he seemed the very definition of a Z-list celebrity — and I didn’t put any focus on him until he came up with the birther nonsense. That got him a regular gig on Fox News, and suddenly his pop culture star started rising. Then he comically announced a presidential bid in 2016 (an effort considered so un-serious that Saturday Night Live gave him a hosting gig after his announcement).

You all know what happened from there. He started talking about the Magic Wall to Keep the Brown People Out, and a giant field of little-known-to-the-public GOP candidates started consuming each other while he focused on those very special fears I felt when I was a child. The reactionary media-entertainment complex knew a good earner when they saw one, and they latched on. His talk got bolder and meaner and more detached from anything resembling reality. The weirder it got, the more he was rewarded. Next thing we knew, he was getting sworn in as president.

I already wrote about his bleak, depressing inauguration speech — easily the most uninspiring and frightening address of its kind in my lifetime. And then things got even weirder right away.

There’s no need to recap the subsequent four years, which lurched between comical incompetence and genuine menace. What frightened me the most, though, was the cult-ish political rallies, with Trump nudging on crowds who sure seemed like mobs-in-training to me. When I thought these couldn’t get worse, they became superspreader events in a pandemic — one of many times I would fail to measure rock bottom in this presidency.

Still, enough people wised up and Trump got his ass well and truly kicked in the general election. Incumbent presidents just don’t lose by this much any more. Only Jimmy Carter has caught a beating like this in my lifetime, and that was 40 years ago. This happened even as the down-ballot Republicans had a truly great election, and that should have told some of his folks something.

It didn’t. Post-election, we got Trump’s finest tinhorn dictator imitation, with ridiculous doomed election challenges and various opportunists (and worse) on Capitol Hill raising untold millions of dollars. Every moment I thought that he’d finally back off, he’d actually double down. You could feel the spring winding ever more tightly.

That brought us to Wednesday. I absurdly assumed the whole rally thing would be an opportunity for a release valve to be triggered. Trump could be adored one more time, his most ardent supporters could vent and promise not to go away, maybe a few scuffles would break out and we could all try to move back to what passes for normalcy now. But he lit the match instead.

Now five people — including a police officer — are dead. The symbolic center of modern democracy has been sacked. People who thought they were surrounded with a magical Trumpian shield are being arrested, and some will do time.

I’m waiting for the person who started this bonfire to be held responsible. Meanwhile, that old creeping fear has returned.


The site was attacked recently and the url was redirected to a malware provider. This is my fault — I didn’t want to put this site behind a https secure socket because my internet provider wanted a bunch of money to do that, and someone apparently sniffed my password. I have reinstalled the site and added a secure socket from a free provider, plus some additional security.

If none of this means anything to you, you are normal and healthy and you can continue to go about your day. But if anyone got hit by this (which I doubt unless you’re not using any antivirus software for some reason), again: My apologies.