Luna

Luna is twenty-eight and under federal indictment for the second time. The first time had been on account of her boyfriend, who asked her to help him sell some drugs. She made a few phone calls, never suspecting that the buyer on the other end was an informant working off his own case for the FBI. She did time in Carswell before she was “returned” to Mexico.

She is a Mexican legally, but not really. Her parents had brought her to Texas when she was young, and she’d grown up here, graduated from High School here, had kids here. But she isn’t a citizen and she’d been caught dealing drugs and that’s that.

In Mexico, she tried to make a go of it by living with family that she’d never met before. At least she spoke the language. She called her kids, who remained in Texas, daily. Every so often, they Skyped. After a while, though, she decided that she wanted to hold them again so she violated the terms of her release and tried to come back. She was caught at the checkpoint. Now, she’s in the Winkler County Jail.

“Luna, my darling!” Liz says as she walks in, “what have you done? I’m so sorry for you!”

Luna explains that there were no drugs this time, just an attempt to come back to see her girls. “But the guidelines, darling! You know the guidelines. Don’t you remember the federal sentencing guidelines?”

Liz lays a chart on the table.

“Your base offense level is here,” she says, pointing with a pen. “But you were deported for a drug crime, which means you’re catching all these extra levels. Plus, that prior case gives you criminal history points. Plus, you were on supervised release when you tried to come back: more points! It’s bad!”

“How bad?”

Liz puts down the pen. “Even if at the bottom of the range, you’re looking at about five years.”

Silence.

“I mean, you can try it if you want to, but you’re not gonna win it. You were caught at the checkpoint. You have a prior drug conviction. You can’t dispute any of that.”

“But five years …”

“The system punishes people for going to trial. The judge can make it worse than five if you lose. And he will. Trust me.”

“But what about my kids? I need to raise them.”

“How old are they?”

“Seven and nine.”

Liz folds her hands and places them on the table. “I’m sorry, honey, but you’re going to have to find somebody else to raise your kids.”


Cross-Posted from Human Rights in America.

Drink Like An Artist

Let me begin by saying that I find the concept of “drinking” whisky to be misleading. The drinking of the substance is merely one small aspect of its enjoyment. Whisky is a companion that appeals to all of the senses and sensibilities. This, then, is my process.

The first thing to do on a whisky-blessed evening is admire the silhouette of the bottle. Some bottles, like Scapa’s, are breathtakingly elegant. Others, like Jura’s, are squat and serious looking. I like to think that the shape of each particular whisky’s bottle is no accident, that someone at some time in the history of that particular distillery gave consideration to the bottle and determined that that particular shape, whatever it is, best captures the character of their particular malt.

Next, pour a glass and admire the whisky’s hue. [I know that some distilleries artificially color their whiskies. This doesn’t bother me much. Again, I like to think that thought was given to way the whisky presents in-glass.] I won’t, here, talk about whisky glasses. The buying of whisky-specific glasses seems overly-burdensome and expensive. Experts will tell you that the best glass is one that curls slightly inward at the top, to capture the scent. No doubt this is true, but don’t let the absence of the perfect glass stand between you and a good dram. Use whatever you have at hand. I use a red wine glass.

Following the pour, swirl the whisky to loosen it a little and release some of its odors. Many whisky drinkers add a touch of purified water to unspool the aromas even further, but I don’t. Although the addition of water is preferred, it’s more effort than I’m willing to bear. Whisky drinking should be the opposite of tedious. I drink my whisky neat.

Over the course of the next several minutes, sniff the whisky as it opens. Nosing the glass is the most important part of the whisky experience. The dram reveals itself to you over time. In The Glenlivet 12 year for example, initial sweet notes of apple give way to undertones of small flower earthiness. In the Lagavulin 16, an initial sharp astringency succumbs to a dark smokiness.

After some time nosing, take a sip and let the liquid roll over your tongue. When you do this, attend to how it affects your various taste buds. Initially, it will burn, but don’t swallow. As with the nosing, let it reveal itself to you. You will begin to taste new flavors under the initial sensation of alcohol. What are they? Vanilla? Smoke? Wood? Try to catalogue them. Like the carefully selected tones in one of Takemitsu’s chords, appreciate how they work together to make something unexpectedly beautiful.

After you swallow, pay attention to the finish. How long does it last? What is its flavor legacy?

This is my approach. I drink whisky not as an escape, but as a reminder that there are things in this life that we should rush toward and embrace.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

Automattic has annual “meetups” at which Automatticians are required to give a five minute “flashtalk.” This would be mine:

I want to change the world. I want to improve it by making it more fun, more beautiful, more just, more clean, more free. That’s why I took this job. Let me explain.

We expect companies to be bad. We expect them to pollute, to steal, to be heartless, etc. I say that the only profit any company, or any one, should aspire to is happiness. Profits are one component of that, sure. But they’re not the only one.

We can be a company that does good. How? By making doing good part of our corporate identity. Part of our DNA. By thinking not only how we want our lives to be, but also how we want the lives of our grandchildren to be. By asking what we want the world to look and feel like for them, and then by going for it.

Okay, you’re thinking, there are problems in the world. There are injustices. But, we’re an internet company. What can we do about it?

I say we’re not really an internet company. We’re a communications company that specializes in the internet. The value of communication is that it makes people aware of things, like the Pacific Garbage Patch, that they may not have known about. It can educate them as to how they’re part of the problem and, more importantly, how they can fix it. Through communication comes enlightenment, and enlightenment sparks beneficial change.

How do we do that? How do we use the internet to enlighten? We do what we already know how to do: we wield the web. We confront the problem through beautifully designed and developed websites. We build them around great writing. We harness all of the multimedia possibilities that the internet does so well: video, audio, computer simulations, to enhance the quality of our story, and then we publicize it. We rely on the internet’s ability to reach people to spark a movement.

There are some precedents for this. The New York Times recently did a story called Snow Fall, which employed great writing, beautiful design, and artful use of multimedia to tell the story of an avalanche in Washington. Snow Fall demonstrated how, in many respects, the internet is capable of telling a story that transcends what is possible in other media.

The Columbia Human Rights Law Review produced Los Tocayos Carlos (The Other Carlos), an internet exposé on what seems to have been the execution of an innocent man in Texas. That website uses text, interviews, crime scene photos, crime scene maps, and copies of original source documents to make its case.

A third example: I learned about how the Sioux were cheated out of their ancestral lands from an article in National Geographic. Again, the article used photos, interviews, and maps to enhance its message.

The people who made Snow Fall and those other sites approached the internet as a medium unto itself. They saw it not just as a way to convey text or photos, but as a way to combine [or, if you prefer, cobble] all of these things into something that’s not possible in other media. We here at Automattic can do what they did, but we can do it even better. The internet is what we do. We are already masters at this. All I’m proposing is that we divert some of what we already know into a project that will spark the change that we want to see in the world.

But can we afford it? We’re supposed to be making money. There’s no money in pro bono work.

Here’s a story: for a while, the Unitarian church near my house struggled both with membership and with money. Then, counterintuitively, they decided to donate 100% of the money they received in their Sunday collection plate to charity. That decision generated goodwill. Membership grew, and so did donations both to the collection plate and to the church itself.

If we make sparking positive change in the world part of what it means to be an Automattician, it will attract notice. It will attract talent. It will make a group of already happy and proud people happier and prouder.

And, even if we make these internet sparks that I’m proposing and not one of them takes hold, it still will have been worth it. We would be on the record, and that matters. It matters that our children have the ability to look back and say, the Automatticians, they were something. They aspired to the good. They were neither silent nor deaf to the problems of their time. They stood for something.