Bye, Felicia.

2016 guys. 20-muthafuckin’-16.

It’s been said before, but 2016 was a stone-cold serial killer. We lost so many greats this year, it doesn’t even make sense to list them out. We elected a caricature to the highest office in the land, finally ripping the band-aid off the gaping head wound that was cultural, racial, socio-economic, and gender division in this country-evidenced throughout the year by, oh, I don’t know, race riots, extra-judicial killings, the trivialization of sexual assault… take your pick. Not to mention what was happening beyond our borders in the form of geo-political upheaval, refugee crises, and assassinations.

Seriously. GTFO 2016.

But it would be a mistake to blame it on the year itself, and think tonight at midnight it will all get better. It won’t. 2016 has been building for a while, and we will not be magically transformed at 12:01am. It would be a waste of an opportunity to think so. Life doesn’t happen that way, though we like the artificial demarcation of time to tell us when we can be suddenly made new. I particularly like it, but if my illness over the last few years has taught me anything, it’s that we don’t get better all at once. Things-people, situations-get better as a process, and there are a lot of dark nights while it happens. And then one day, perhaps you don’t even realize it, things are sort of brighter. But I know that 12:01am won’t be that moment. This too will take time. This too shall pass.

In times like these my best friend Kelly employs the Zora Neale Hurston quote: “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” I can’t promise that 2017 will answer the questions posed by 2016, but I know that I’ve certainly been jolted awake, out of my comfortable elite liberal stupor in my east coast uber-educated enclave. I’d become navel-gazing and selfish, a bit, mired in my own personal issues. I’d lost sight of what brought me to this place, and law school before it: social justice.  It no longer feels ok to cleverly moan about not finding a boyfriend when so many can’t find a safe place to sleep or food to eat. Yes- I realize I have still made this election, and the other things that contributed to the clusterfuck that is 2016, about me. It’s gonna take some practice to break the habit. But in 2017 I hope you’ll find me instead searching for answers, aggressively, proactively, and thoughtfully. That’s my intention for the new year, to stay curious, and conscious. And hopefully, I’ll see you on the other side of the year with some answers, and better, some actions.

So tonight I’m gathering with some favorite humans, sitting in front of a fire, and burning away a few vestiges of 2016. It’s silly and symbolic, but we need it. We’ll drink and we’ll hug and we’ll laugh and we’ll cry and we’ll remind ourselves that we are not alone in this year of questions. That is one sure bet, in a year where nothing and no one was safe. Tomorrow the sun will rise and things will be much the same, but I hope that we’ll be able to face it with a bit of renewed energy, as we go searching.

Happy New Year, everyone.

With a Whisper, Not a Bang

Note: I feel it important to note here explicitly, though it is always the case, that my views on this page are exclusively my own personal opinions, and not endorsed in any way by my employer. Further, I am not sharing any information gained from my position, just my general thoughts from working in the field of cybersecurity. Basically, this ain’t policy, folks.

When I first arrived at the Senate they handed me a stack of papers and told me I’d be working on passing the Senator’s cybersecurity legislation. I was bummed. I didn’t know anything about cybersecurity and I didn’t want to. It intimidated me, because I thought it was highly technical, and deeply unsexy.

I was wrong. The best thing that ever happened to my career was being handed that stack of papers and told to get smart on cybersecurity. It changed the trajectory of my work and enabled me to carve out a niche for myself where I am privileged to work with some of the smartest people in the country. It allows me to learn more every day, because the field is changing and growing every day. But I love the field most because it is simply the newest arena for the discussions we have been having since the country was founded, around privacy, the free flow of information, and the appropriate locus of power in a still young nation.

When you work where I work doing what I do, people really like to ask what keeps me up at night. I think they’re expecting an answer out of 24, so I don’t want to disappoint them with the truth, which would be something along the lines of “Well Bob, you know there this existential dread about our inexorable march towards death coupled with my increasing terror over finding myself single and solidly in my mid-thirties, plus student loans.” They want to know what you’re afraid is going to go bang in the middle of the night. People understand the bang.

But here’s the deal: the future isn’t going to have a lot of bangs. In some ways this is great: cyber “war” can have a much lower death toll in an immediate battle sense, leaving aside what might happen if critical infrastructure (dams, electrical grids, telecom etc.) gets attacked. But the bang is also an announcement of trouble. We all know that the bang is bad. But what about an intrusion onto our networks? What about the use of information gained through hacking to wreak havoc on our cultural and social systems?

People in my field are freaking the fuck out about this news regarding a nation state hack of the DNC (and possibly also the RNC) and the subsequent leak of private emails, with the intention of influencing the outcome of our Presidential election. But they seem to be the only ones. Perhaps the idea is too abstract, or seems like it’s not a big deal, because no one died. But the public is more incensed over hacked and leaked nude photos of starlets than they are about the intended undermining of our election*. Maybe it is because there is a visual, in those cases. So let me put it in terms that we can all understand and be enraged by: this hack grabbed the nation by the pussy and then put it on reddit.

Pundits, the few who are actually discussing this, keep trying to draw inaccurate parallels calling things  a “cyber 9/11” or a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” I wish they would stop. There’s no reason to undermine the horror of both of those days by comparing cyber attacks with kinetic ones. But it is an excellent example of how our dependence on intersecting technologies, and our reliance on an increasingly hurried news cycle makes us less discerning, thoughtful, and vigilant.  And I want to be very clear, I am not saying that this hack actually changed the outcome of the election. I leave that to others to determine. This is a not a piece about how I think the election was rigged. This is a piece about how our nation’s institutions were attacked, and perhaps, Cassandra-like, my attempt to rally us to a new way of thinking about attacks.

In my work, I often tell people they are worried about the wrong things. They are worried about someone hacking into their car and driving it off a cliff, not the smartphone with every ounce of their personal data that they’re plugging into the car each morning. But humans beings are drawn to fire, and to the bangs, not to nuanced and unseen activities that they can’t wrap their arms around. I get that. I’m sympathetic. But are going to need to change what we’re looking for, what keeps us awake at night. Turns out the future will not be televised, but it will be online.

*Of course this is also terrible and part of rape culture, I’m just saying we need to be paying attention to all of it, not just what’s sensational.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Someone offered to help me pick up my Christmas tree today, but I wasn’t ready. They admonished me that I only had two more weeks before Christmas, but to me, that feels like an eternity of time.  In my family we’ve always waited to decorate or put up the tree until later in December, sometimes waiting until Christmas Eve, because my grandmother’s birthday was the day after Epiphany, and we would leave the tree up at least that long, if not longer. I have grown up with the idea that “’twas in the bleak midwinter, when half spent was the night” refers mostly to January, which is a crappy, wet, month.

I have written before about Advent. I wasn’t really formally aware of the season or practice of Advent until a couple of years ago, when listening to a gut-wrenching, yet delicate sermon by the Reverend Gina Campbell. She spoke of Advent, the season before the birth of Jesus that is the actual beginning of Christmastide, as the “almost, but not quite yet of God” and I thought it was perhaps the most poignant phrase I’d ever heard. Advent is actually how the Christian year starts- in darkness, uncertainty, confusion, pain. Something about this information adhered me even closer to my faith, a faith I have chosen not for the certainty, but for the questions. For the Jesus who said “take this cup away from me,” not the triumphant risen Christ. Since that sermon I’ve become an Advent junky. An Advent Advocate. An Adventocate, if you will.

(You won’t. You shouldn’t.)

I think Advent resonates so hard for me because so much of life is taken up by anticipation, by expectation, and by anxiety. If we’re lucky, mixed in there is hope. Advent is a quiet, contemplative season, a darkness before the dawn, where you are asked to go inward and think of what you are willing to make space for, to invite Christ in. Unfortunately, it coincides in our culture with the brightest, and sometimes most commercial, outwardly focused time of the year. Christmas music of celebration is everywhere, lights and greenery and heavy appetizers abound, but I’m not there-yet.

Because the truth is, it’s still fall, and I am not yet ready for Christmas right now. I am still in my fear, in my pain, in my anger, in my questions. I do not yet long for Christmas; I am not yet open to Christmas. But I will. I will need Christmas in the middle of January, when it is dark and bleak and there’s not much to look forward to. I will need Christmas then- even more so in this particular January, knowing what’s coming for our country- and luckily that is actually when Christmas is. People take down their trees on Boxing Day because they’ve had them up since the day after Thanksgiving, and they’re now a fire hazard, but I hate to tell you folks: that was an Advent Tree. And it’s fine, if that’s how you like to celebrate, if you need Christmas in December, good for you! Chronos and Kairos, ordinary time and divine time, do not track the same for every person, and you may find that you need a little Christmas, right this very minute- in the dead of summer. But I come today to defend Advent. To cherish, or perhaps even protect it a bit from it’s flashier sister of Christmastide. To remember that to everything there is a season, and this season of darkness, of longing, of deep inner exploration, is the contrasting blackness against which the light of Christmastide shines all the brighter.

And perhaps that is the greater lesson that I hope we can take away this season, which is a unique season unto itself. That there is meaning in the quiet before the storm, in the sadness, the longing, the before-ing that makes the joy of the having all the greater. I get it, 2016 was a son of a bitch of a year, and I think we’re all more than ready to shove it out the door. But I think we should try and linger over it a moment longer, to catch our breath, regroup, and take stock. To not rush headlong into the next thing without appreciating the gravity of what was, and what is to come. The waiting is the hardest part, but it is a necessary part, for Christmas is a new beginning; Advent is the sweet space in which we get to decide what it is we want to begin.

Swamp Creature

DC is a swamp. It’s true, it was built on a marshy tidal basin. The logic of the Founding Fathers focused on its placement between the agricultural South and the commerce-driven North, at the intersection of two major rivers, not unlike the Tigris and Euphrates surrounding the cradle of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. Those Founding Fathers had a flair for the dramatic, as DC’s particular rivers are somewhat slow and stagnant, cradling a lot of mosquitos and some intrepid kayakers (see, the Electoral College for other bright ideas).

And yes, it gets humid about 100% of the time, summer, winter or otherwise. It snows in one giant dump a year that renders us incapable of response. Otherwise it’s muggy, rainy, and hot as hell in the summers. It’s not that close to either mountains or ocean, and the reputation for Northern hospitality with Southern efficiency may or may not be accurate, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

But it seems to escape those screaming to “drain the swamp” that we did not choose it. The nation was given a muddy backwater and instead of getting stuck or complaining, on it we built a city of great power and beauty (well, slaves built much of it, to be clear). We took this swamp and made something remarkable out of it-made it strong enough to hold the marble tonnage of the Lincoln Memorial, and the societal change of the March on Washington in 1965. It’s easy to criticize this swamp from afar, but those who do don’t spend their time here, toiling in the hard work of the nation, up to our necks in bureaucracy (a saving grace right now) and trying each day to make something better for other people. On the streets of this swamp, men and women from every single country in the world come together to try and make a difference. In this swamp, I am always the dumbest person in a room, and being in that position causes us all to up our game, constantly.

So when I hear people talk about “draining the swamp” I want to ask them what they think that swamp is holding up. Do they understand it’s supporting the political and practical infrastructure of this entire nation? That our ideals, or meaning as a nation, is embedded in every muddy inch of this swamp? That you can’t gut something and expect it to live? But I know the answer: that’s the point. Those who see this place as only a swamp are not interested in saving our nation. They’re interested in the nation that comes after it. Instead of striving together towards a more perfect union, they’d rather watch it all go down the drain, leaving a sucking hole in its wake.

Not on my watch.

Something in me changed after the election, and my feelings toward this place solidified. It is far from perfect. I won’t argue that. I wish there were more late night dining options and that the Metro didn’t light on fire whenever it rained. But you don’t get to call it a swamp if you’re not in it, doing the work. History is made by those who show up, and I have lost every bit of patience for those who are not willing to put their necks on the line , but complain about the way the work is done. How about instead of draining the swamp, you come lend your hand to the sand bag line stemming the tide from overtaking us? But you want the tide to turn. I see that now. I understand it. It is a lesson I will not soon forget. But this swamp water is murky, and those who would seek to drain it will swiftly find out (are finding out) they are out of their depth.

 

 

 

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