Monday, May 19, 2014

Another knight's tale.

Being in a service job can be difficult. In the same day, you can be screamed at, thanked profusely, cried in front of, called names, talked about as though you're not even in the room, asked questions that make no sense whatsoever, and told that you've saved someone's life.

It's an emotional roller coaster, and emotional roller coasters are exhausting. Especially so when you're essentially operating as a last resort for people dealing with difficult situations and they can't seem to get help from anywhere else. An instructor I had once referred to it as "working in the emergency rooms of society," with all the psychological hazards of a real, medical trauma ward.

Some people seem to handle this really, really well, appearing honestly grateful for the opportunity to serve. Others, less so.

When faced with the realities of a service job, and the fact that you've got to be at literally EVERYONE'S beck and call always, there's a very human tendency to grab tightly onto whatever power you can get a hold of, guard it jealously, and lash out at anyone who threatens it. Or tell people you can't/won't do things for them, simply for the satisfaction of telling someone "no."

I firmly believe that no one's immune to that tendency, the question is whether or not you indulge it. The other day I felt like maybe I just would indulge it.

Then I remembered a story I heard once.

This may come as a shock, but I used to go to church. Many things I heard there did NOT stick with me over the years, but there are a few things that did. One of them was a story, told by our minister during some sermon or other, about a knight who learns a very important lesson about service. I could remember the main points but not the details, and despite a perfunctory web search I couldn't find a written version of it. So I decided to dust off my long-dormant imagination and flesh it out a bit.

Re-writing the story gave me some good stuff to think about, so hopefully it'll serve as a sort of "chicken soup for the service-worker's soul" to anyone who might read it and see parallels to their own life/work. Or maybe just be a nice little story.

In a faraway kingdom long, long ago, the queen called one of her greatest, most loyal knights, Sir Strongbow, to the throne room. Though winter still blanketed the kingdom, the days had begun to feel longer, and the nights less cruel.

"Sir Strongbow," began the queen, "I have a task for you, which is of the utmost importance."

"Of course, my queen. I am yours to command," replied Sir Strongbow.

"Spring is coming soon, and the snow covered-road to my summer castle will soon be passable. You shall travel to the summer castle, and stand guard at the gates while the servants prepare for the royal procession's arrival. What say you to this quest?"

"Your Majesty, you do me a great honor by entrusting this task to me."

"And you honor all the kingdom with your service, Sir. You must guard your post faithfully, and I shall expect you to personally welcome me through the gates upon my arrival."

"It shall be done, Madam. I shall stand guard day and night, and shall not leave my post until I kneel before you at your arrival."

So the queen dismissed Sir Strongbow, who made his preparations, and traveled to the summer castle, four days' and nights' ride from the winter palace.


A few weeks later, Sir Strongbow stood proudly before the gates in his gleaming armor. The servants had been preparing for the court's arrival, and the castle's hushed winter slumber had given way to a buzz of activity that drowned out even the froglings chirping their spring songs at night.

As the noble knight surveyed the road, he spied a bent figure slowly making its way toward the castle. The figure moved closer and took the form of a grizzled old woman carrying a sack of potatoes. As she passed before the castle gates, the woman suddenly tripped on a stone, and fell forward, spilling her sack all across the road.

"Oh! Sir Knight," the woman called, "I have spilled my family's food all over the road. My back aches and these old bones are tired and weak. Will you kneel down and help me gather these potatoes?"

"A thousand pardons, good lady, but I must not leave my post except to kneel before the queen."

So Sir Strongbow kept his watch while the old woman slowly and painstakingly picked up her potatoes and continued down the road.


The weeks passed by, and the spring rains poured onto the castle and Sir Strongbow at its gates. Day in and day out, the noble knight never complained or abandoned his post. I must faithfully await the queen's arrival, so that I may kneel at her feet to welcome her, he thought. 

One day, the rain broke but left heavy clouds hanging over the castle. Sir Strongbow spied a man and his horse pulling a cart full of wares down the road to market. The rains had left the road muddy and full of potholes. As the man's cart passed by the castle gate, it sank into the mud and wouldn't budge.

"Sir Knight," called the man, "my cart is stuck in the mud, and I must get my wares to market! You look a strong fellow, will you kneel down help me lift my cart from the mud?"

"Begging your pardon, my good man, but I must not leave my post except to kneel before the queen,"

So Sir Strongbow stayed in his place, refusing to leave in case the queen should come along at that very moment. The man struggled and struggled, and finally pulled his cart from the mud. Exhausted, man and horse continued on their way.


The weeks continued to pass, and the cool weather gave way to warm, and then hot. The sweltering sun beat down on the noble knight in his armor, but he stayed ever in place, watching for his queen. I know not what I would do, should the queen come along and find me away from my post, unable to kneel at her arrival. 

Finally, as the sun began to sink toward the horizon on the first day of summer, Sir Strongbow heard a faint noise- far down the road, but moving closer. As he watched, the knight spied a group of footmen and heralds moving down the road, with the royal carriage following close behind. The queen's procession! She's arrived, thought Sir Strongbow. After months of waiting, he would kneel before his queen and welcome her to the summer castle, which he had watched over through rain, heat, and long, lonely nights.

As the procession slowed to a halt, the carriage door opened and the queen stepped down to the road. Sir Strongbow was bursting with great pride as he began to speak a greeting:

"My queen, it is my great honor to welcome Your Majesty to your summer castle. Humbly, I kneel before you and--"

Sir Strongbow began to kneel, and found that he could not do so. The joints of his armor had rusted in place from the harsh weather.

"Is something wrong, Sir?" asked the queen.

"I-I'm terribly sorry, Your Grace," stammered the knight, "but I cannot kneel before you. My armor, it seems, has rusted in place awaiting your arrival."

"Rusted... in place?" repeated the queen, clearly confused. "Surely you must have moved in all these long weeks since you arrived. Did no poor soul pass by these gates, requesting your assistance with some troubling matter?"

"Well... well yes, Madam. An old woman dropped her potatoes, and a man's cart became stuck in the mud. But I had to refuse them assistance. I pledged not to move from my place until I knelt to welcome you."

The queen stood for a long moment, considering her loyal knight's words. Finally, she began:

"Good Sir Strongbow, do you not see? As queen, I care for all the people of this country. As a knight in my service, you must do the same- your loyalty must be not only to me, but to all. In your pride at kneeling before me and me alone, you have forgotten your responsibility to the people of this kingdom. Had you moved from your post to help my subjects, you would have served the kingdom while also serving its queen. Your refusal to kneel before the lowliest has left you unable to kneel before me."

Sir Strongbow's pride turned to shame as he thought on these wise words. The queen knew that her knight's heart had been in the right place, and that her lesson had not fallen on deaf ears. So she brought the royal blacksmith to oil and loosen the joints of Sir Strongbow's armor, and he could move once more.

For the entire summer, Sir Strongbow sought to complete the most thankless and undesirable tasks, always ready to offer a helping hand even to the humblest of servants. And, for the rest of his days, he never forgot that by serving the lowest among us, we honor and serve the greatest of us.


Thanks for reading.


Monday, May 12, 2014

I Think We Need Some Space

I am an urban cyclist.

To some, that's like totally whatever don't care. But to many, it makes me a friend, and a colleague of sorts. To others, I'm devil-may-care adrenaline junkie who must have knocked something loose that made me want to ride a bike on city streets.

To other others, I'm just a menace- a smug, entitled jerk with an "I am biker, hear me roar" attitude, who thinks himself above the law, and that people should bow down in reverence of his low carbon footprint. And to other other others, I'm simply not there at all. Which is almost worse.

But I am here. We all are. Cyclists and drivers and pedestrians and bus takers, we're all trying to get somewhere, without dying or killing anyone. And, for the moment at least, we've all got to do that using the same space.

So allow me to clear up a few things, because sometimes it feels like fellow road/path users are getting the wrong impression. Many have done this before me, and many will again, but I think this stuff bears repeating, so here goes.

1.  I don't think I'm above the law.
If I roll past a stop sign or push through a red light, it's not because I'm reckless or I don't care. I'm making a calculated decision based on the burden of complying with the law vs. the potential cost if I don't. Drivers do this all the time. Speeding, illegal u-turns, double-parking, and turning right on red when there's a sign saying "don't."

Because cars and bikes use the road in different ways, our rule-bending (or breaking) is of course going to look different. The more different it looks, the more dangerous it looks. But looks can be deceiving.

A driver doesn't have as clear a view of an intersection as a cyclist does, due to both sitting slightly lower and, you know, being in a glass and metal box. But we can easily scan an intersection and detect oncoming traffic. If we mess up and there's a car coming, we can stop or correct much more quickly. If not, we clear the intersection early and escape the rush on the green, making your life easier and ours less scary. Yes, it could be dangerous. Yes, it's against the law. But think about the last time you topped out at 65mph on the highway because that's what the sign said.

2. I don't want to be Lance Armstrong.
No one does. Seriously. Maybe not even Lance Armstrong. It's time to retire "Lycra-clad Lance Armstrong wannabe" and similar derisive labels. For one thing, the guy hasn't even been a real presence in professional cycling for years. If you insist on having a name, maybe use "Bradley Wiggins" or "Marcel Kittlel" or "Cadel Evans," or someone recent. For another, a lot of cyclists don't follow professional cycling like, at all, and don't have a desire to be any of them. But most of us would probably be OK being this guy. I could listen to him giving commands to his limbs all day.

For real. Dude has a posse.
For yet another thing, many cyclists in the city don't wear that lycra kit all, or even most, of the time they spend riding. Hell, that lycra may even turn out to be wool when you look at it closely. Yeah, wool activewear is a thing. Longer, sweatier rides, and even commutes in the summertime, beg clothing that's going to deal well with moisture and not flap about in the breeze. Despite the fact that the garment looks like a uniform for the Tour de France, I'm wearing it because it's functional, not because I'm trying to do a time trial on Pennsylvania Avenue or something.

I don't call someone driving a car kinda fast a "steel-encased Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wannabe" (is that reference dated enough?) even though the outward appearance might be a little similar. So maybe I'm just a guy doing something I enjoy in clothes designed for it, OK?

3. Sometimes the bike lane isn't the best lane. 
I get it. It's there, and it keeps me out of your way, so I oughta use it. Most of the time, bike lanes are great. But would you drive exclusively in a lane that has a tendency to be blocked as often as not, by taxis, buses, paratransit vans, trucks making deliveries, and double-parked churchgoers? No, you'd use another lane.

Please understand that sometime's it's safest for all of us if I do the same, even though I'm grateful for the infrastructure. I'm not doing it for the sake of inconveniencing you.

4. "On your left!"
This one's for joggers. People walking with young kids or dogs, too, but mainly joggers.

 Ladies, gentlemen, I love you all and respect you deeply for your choice of activity- I've tried several times to be a jogger and it JUST doesn't work for me. But I'm glad it does for you. So when we're sharing a trail or road space and I call out "on your left," please understand I'm not yelling for you to get out of my way. I'll move around you when it's safe to do so without inconveniencing you. As the faster/heavier party, that's my responsibility. All I'd ask is that, if you're wearing headphones and not likely to hear me call out, look behind you before changing directions. Pulling a crazy Ivan (at 1:10) works for outrunning reavers, not so much for sharing a trail with other users.

5. I don't think I'm a better human being than you.
Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But I can't make that assessment based solely on your chosen mode of transport. Do I believe the USA relies too much on cars? Yes. Do I think our urban planners and policymakers have historically encouraged driving to the exclusion of more sustainable options? ABSOLUTELY. But driving makes the most sense for a lot of people in a lot of situations; I'm not about to condemn someone for using the system we've developed, even if I do think it's a little broken.

If I'm weirdly happy it's not because I'm smug, it's probably because I'm exercising outdoors and, you know, endorphins and stuff. And if I yell, it's usually so that you can hear me. If I yell really loud, think of it as my equivalent of using a horn, which of course I don't have.

6. Buses.
Buses, buses, buses. I'm really glad we have you. You're an indispensable part of our city's transportation infrastructure, and roughly equivalent to bicycling in person to road space ratio.
From Mikael at Copenhagenize.

Your drivers are doing a tough job under equally tough circumstances. You should really have your own lanes. Unfortunately, you don't yet, and that seems to put you and me in conflict a lot of the time. For the most part, we manage and are pleasant to one another. But when you blow by me in the lane only to screech to a stop (diagonally blocking the bike lane) to pick up a passenger half a block away, it puts me on edge.

And sometimes, my only option if I ever want to get where I'm going is to scoot by you while you're stopped, since you're going to pull over in front of me in one more block anyway. Please understand I'm doing this as carefully as possible, and do not wish to scare you or your passengers, or make your day any harder. We're both more sustainable than single-occupancy cars, and provide access to transportation that wouldn't otherwise exist for the economically or geographically disadvantaged, so let's be allies whenever possible, deal?

7. Look for me, and I'll look for you. 
I'm going to specify taxi drivers here, because I receive less consideration from them than from any other road user. But really it goes for everyone. Let's watch out for each other. I'll wear light colors whenever it's practical, and use lights always. You check the bike lane before you careen through it to pick up a fare or make a u-turn, and I won't cut you off making a right turn into your lane.

These are all things I would communicate to other road users, if I could. On the mean streets, tension is often too high to have a reasoned conversation, so maybe someone will read this. Stranger things have happened.


...there's little here to miss, bring back 1996.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I'm Getting an Award!

'ey up. Welcome back. 

Maria over at A Hip Story, a great friend and a great writer, recently nominated me for a Liebster award! How kind! She's described it better than I could, so I'm ripping the description directly from her post: 

"The Liebster Award is awarded to bloggers, by other bloggers with the intention of connecting the community and bringing new visitors to blogs with fewer followers OR to a blog you love! While I'm not new to the game, new followers are always welcome, so I am so honored Tracey thought of Hip Story! It's sort of a publicity meets chain letter meets tell us about yourself.

Here's how it works: 
The rules are that I will answer the 10 questions that Maria gave us (the blogs she nominated)- then I will nominate a bunch of blogs and ask them questions!  The bloggers that I nominate have to link back here- hence spreading the love!"

Ready? Let's do this.

1. Why did you start blogging?

In April of 2012, I had been thinking for some time about starting a blog. It had been a particularly stressful spring semester, and I guess I was looking for an outlet, an opportunity to do some writing of my own, that didn't involve academic papers or peer-reviewed research. I had all these thoughts bouncing around in my head, and it seemed like a good idea to jot them down and try and make sense of all of them, and that would maybe help me concentrate on all the work that had to get done. When I got word that I had been accepted for a study-abroad program in Ecuador over the summer, I realized I could pretty easily make it a serviceable combination musings/travel blog. I think I wrote the first post, like, the day before a major paper was due. I got a good grade on it, though, so I guess it worked out? Now I just have to do some more travelling.   
2. What's your favorite vacation spot?

Ooooh, that's a tough one. Not to hammer on the Ecuador thing (but I'm gonna,) there's this little beach town called Mompiche on the northwest coast, Esmeraldas Province. Just incredibly green and tranquil, with delicious cheap seafood, the friendliest of people, and secluded, unspoiled beaches you can find just by walking around. I spent a couple of days there before coming back to the states, and it was like heaven. I had shrimp omelettes for breakfast. Shrimp. Omelettes. Sadly, I heard that a major international resort is going to be setting up shop there soon, so the town I fell in love with probably won't exist much longer.

I mean, come on. Right? Why would you build a Sandals or whatever on this? 
Photo credit

3. If you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I thought for a long time about this. I'm gonna go with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In a weird way, I'm really excited about the dire climate change report the UN released last month, and want to discuss it with him. I've been having anxiety about global warming and what it means for our future for years now, and I'm hoping that it's an issue that will stay in our consciousness this time. And I would love so, so much to talk with the Secretary about putting the climate panel's warnings for the world into practice, while enjoying some authentic Korean food on the side. I'd also ask him about whether he sees the role of the United Nations changing in the coming decades, as sub-state actors like corporations and ethnic or religious groups take a leading role in world affairs that used to be limited to national governments. 
4. Who or what inspires you?

So many things. Sunlight. I'm so much more productive when it's bright out. Humor. If I can find something funny about a given subject or activity, I can connect with it much more deeply and, oddly, take it more seriously. The outdoors. Living in the city, you're mobbed with stimuli at all times- the shower is the only place and time you can be alone with your thoughts. Getting out for a long ride or a mountain hike always lets me see things more clearly. The shower. I love feeling clean. People with genuine enthusiasm and ideas. I'm an extrovert, so I feed off of enthusiastic people's energy and can easily start a dialogue with them to parse out a cool idea or make something great happen. 

There's a lot more. But my posts already all run long, so I'll move on. 
5. If a movie was made about your life, who would you want to play you?

Child: Nolan Gould, AKA Luke from "Modern Family." Adult: Paul Rudd. Or maybe cast Aidan Turner and give me that brooding edge and a sweet Dublin accent.  
6. What is your favorite childhood memory?

"Favorite?" Hard to say. Someone asked me once if I could remember a time when, as a child, I ever felt "so deliriously happy," that it still resonates with me to this day. The answer... was no. I was an anxious kid, so for some reason, even when things were great it was almost like I was...waiting for the other shoe to drop, or trying like hell not to mess it up. But there's one memory that comes back to me a lot:

I was probably between 2 and 3, because I think it was at our first house in Hamden, Maine. I remember it was nighttime, and my dad was getting me out of the bath. I was soaking wet, of course, and insisting that my dad give me my favorite blanket so that I could dry off with it. He was probably more pleasant about it than I deserved, he started laughed and told me that you don't dry off with a blanket, you dry off with a towel, but that I could put the blanket on once I was dry. I like that memory a lot, because it was such a weird, random exchange between a toddler and his dad, but it feels really comforting somehow.     
7.  Have you ever had a moment of divine intervention? (or fate, sheer dumb luck, whatever you want to call it)

Every day, man. I ride my bike most everywhere I go, so I'm basically getting in the Grim Reaper's face and yelling "Do it. You won't," on the daily. Weekend before last, I was riding with a group of friends, and a cop car sped out of a blind intersection ahead of us, forcing the car in the oncoming lane (who was on a downhill) to swerve and brake at the same time. If that one person's reaction time hadn't been as good, I might very well be dead. Hi, Mom! 

I've never been in a serious crash, though, so I guess the universe must think I'm important somehow. Or maybe just not worth the energy it would take to off me. 

On a more positive note, you might say that fate or the universe or whatever was determined to get Amanda and me together. There were so many reasons why we might never have become close- her dropping a grad school class we would have had together, my planned early departure from (you guessed it) Ecuador, or the fact that she almost didn't come on the study-abroad program in the first place, the director basically had to beg her, so that we'd have enough people. But somehow, we did, and we make each other really happy. Gross, huh?  
8. Which person in your life makes you laugh the most?

My brother. As kids, our mom always used to tell me that no one could make my brother laugh OR cry like I could. Older brothers- aren't we great? Anyway, Aaron never made ME cry that I can recall, but when he tells stories, he has this delivery that has me in stitches every time. 

Casey is a close second. His dryness is a great contrast to my exuberance.  
9. What's your favorite book? And because this is hard, you aren't limited to just one. Or just 5. :)

In no particular order: 
- A Song of Ice and Fire, Books I: A Game of Thrones; III: A Storm of Swords, and V: A Dance with Dragons. 
- Veins, by Drew (creator of Toothpaste for Dinner  and The Worst Things for Sale.) Weird, unique, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once.
- Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
El Mundo Alucinante by Reinaldo Arenas
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
- The Last Wish and the other "The Witcher" novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, mainly for the hilariously awkward translations from the original Polish. And they made a video game out of them, so...neat. 
- Sand by Hugh Howey, which I'm reading now, is also pretty cool. 

10. You can have three wishes granted from a magical genie. What are they?

 One: I wish for a clear, concise idea of just what the hell I want to do with my life. Something that I could pull out for the "elevator pitch" and explain to people in under 15 seconds. And something that could focus and drive I suppose figuring that out BEFORE grad school would've been a good idea, but believe me, it was worth it just to narrow things down as much as I have. 

Two: I wish for the ability to talk to animals, straight Dolittle style. Seriously. How great it would it be to actually be able to explain stuff to your pets, rather than them just thinking you're being a jerky, dumb ape? And can you even IMAGINE how crazy it would be to talk to a bird? WHAT DOES A BIRD EVEN THINK ABOUT

Three: Three more wishes. You always wish for more wishes. That's just science. End hunger, no more war, all the far-right Republicans start to see reason, become a sick guitar player, you can do anything you want.  

So I guess that about wraps it up. Thanks again for the nomination, Maria, I had a great time thinking through all those answers. Thanks also to everyone who read this, hope to see you again soon!

Here we go with my nominations:

- Laura from "Laurasia"- even though she hasn't posted in a little while, her stories about Korea were always excellent, and had a much better photos/text balance than I can ever come up with. Consider this an invitation to get some content up there, yo.

-Casey, who has some compelling insights on politics, news, and other stuff.

- Notes from the Field, AJ's blog on working in development in Africa.

Your questions (I kept a couple of Maria's that I really liked):

1. Why did you start blogging?
2. What's one place you've never visited that you would go to tomorrow, if you could?
3. Most favorite historical figure, and why?
4. When travelling, what is/would be the one item you could NOT get by without?
5. If a movie was made about your life, who would you want to play you?
6.  Name one album or movie you could listen to or watch infinity times and never get sick of it.
7.  Have you ever had a moment of divine intervention? (or fate, sheer dumb luck, whatever you want to call it)
8. Would you rather: be able to run at 100 miles per hour, OR be able to fly at 10 miles per hour? Explain. 
9. Describe a talent or skill you've always admired, but have never tried to master. 
10. You've just returned to society after a sudden, extended disappearance. Who is the first person you call or go to see? 
Enjoy! Looking forward to hearing your answers.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Posts Occur in Real Time

So "24" is back in our lives now! Are you psyched? I am psyched. So psyched, in fact, that I watched a full 60% of last night's 2-hour premiere of "24: Live Another Day".

Jack. Is. Back. (#jackisback) 

I confess it, "24" was one of my favorite shows during the college/post-college years. Ever since some determined friends convinced me to start watching around Season 5, I had been hooked. When I signed up for Netflix in 2009, it was mainly so I could binge on the first few seasons and catch up for the final two.

Yeah, I realize that the show was sometimes kinda terrible, in several ways. In terms of quality, it was all over the place. Seasons 1 to 3 were great, season 4 got weird, and Season 6 was pretty widely considered to be an all-around disaster. And even at its best, the show was really good at making progressives squirm. Clandestine, questionably legal activities conducted by quasi-military intelligence agencies, torture of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, just a real grab bag of Constitution-flouting by the people charged with defending the American way of life (including, one assumes, the principles of the U.S. Constitution.) You'd think all those things would have gotten the way of my enjoying the show, right?

Not in the slightest.

The contradictions between Jack Bauer's values and mine never bothered me all that much- in fact, I think they actually fueled my enjoyment of his escapades.

To an extent, I've always embraced contradiction- I have a Master's degree in peace studies, but I'm hooked on violent video games, for instance. And because escapism/suspension of disbelief has always been easy for me to achieve, I could never understand how someone shooting a gun at their classmates could possibly be blamed on a video game, since one was clearly fiction and the other was clearly reality. In the same way, I felt comfortable distancing myself from some of 24's more distasteful aspects while still enjoying it as entertainment. I suspect I wasn't alone in that feeling, and no amount of "Jack Bauer is a war criminal!" declarations from friends could convince me otherwise.

And the show had a deeper significance that added to its value, beyond simple entertainment. "24" came of age at a time when the security vs. liberty debate was just beginning to come back into our national dialogue in the post- 9/11 era, and the show was a near-perfect parable of the security state. Sure, sometimes (often) the actions of Jack Bauer or his colleagues at the virtually omnipotent Counter-Terrorist Unit represented an America I wasn't sure I wanted to live in. But my doubts were always assuaged because I, the viewer, knew who Jack was. For all his flaws, he always had the country's best interest at heart. Not only that, but Jack's character arc made the costs of his actions very clear: someone who works waist deep in blood and gore while playing fast and loose with the rule of law does not get away clean. The damage to his humanity became more and more apparent with each season, and in the end, Jack lost everything he had in pursuit of an ideal that even his patron, the U.S. government, had seemingly abandoned.

In a way, Jack Bauer was both the hero we needed and the hero we deserved- he did whatever had to be done, but the toll his career exacted on him was a warning to all of us about the toll we could expect to pay for our country's dangerous slide into ethical relativism and "ends justify means" philosophy. When Chloe O'Brien wrapped up the 8th season with the simple instructions: "Shut it down," it was about as good a closer as we could have hoped for. Chloe was the closest thing Jack had to a friend, and his one remaining ally. She helped him evade capture, yes, but she also cut his final tie to his once-powerful support system.

So when I got word that Jack was back, I was honestly a bit skeptical. How were they going to revive the series without damaging the effect of the 8th season's ending? Why does this add value to the "24" story?

Because JACK is BACK, obviously. 

And not only is he back, but he's back with a new conversation to start. Spoilers for the premiere ahead, I guess?

The opening is exactly what you'd expect (in a good way!): 4 years on, an aging Jack gets himself captured by a London-based CIA team led by Detective Rey Curtis and Sarah from "Chuck."  We soon discover that getting arrested was all part of the plan because The Legendary Jack Bauer does not make mistakes: he's there to bust out Chloe O'Brien. Chloe, who has apparently been both persecuted AND prosecuted by the US for her role in Jack's disappearance, has been reborn as a sort of punk-rock hacktivist. Chloe, despite her brilliance, was hapless enough to get bagged by the CIA and "enhanced interrogation"ed because of her association with English Julian Assange-Edward Snowden amalgam Adrian Cross.

Jack punches his way free, Bauers Chloe out of custody with the help of a guy with a rocket launcher, and then shows up to question Chloe's crew of hipster geniuses about one of their former members who is maybe/maybe not a terrorist (turns out he is.) Jack takes some time out of the ensuing battle of wits to lecture Chloe about her involvement in leaking classified DoD secrets to The Internet. Chloe counters that the only reason DoD classifies everything is because what they do is unlawful. Jack then deploys his signature "You're too smart to not see things my way" verbal judo, reminding Chloe that real people on the ground are dying because of the secrets she and her friends have exposed. 


Wow, how very relevant, I thought to myself, we've totally all been talking about this! See, the question raised by 24 is no longer "Is torture justified," because we figured out the answer a couple years ago and it was "no." The question is now "how much secrecy should we allow in the service of national security?" But something seemed...different. Gone was the feeling that meta-Jack was trying in good faith to start a conversation that needed to be had. Instead, I got the sense that Jack-as-father-figure was trying to tell Chloe, and by extension, the viewers, that the "Free Information Movement" is misguided and childish. That those of us who find ourselves ideologically aligned with the Edward Snowdens and Chelsea Mannings of the world, even a little bit, are putting the people who protect us at risk, and that's unacceptable.

I can't quite explain why the atmosphere seemed so different. Maybe it's because I have a hard time buying the idea that Jack, after all the suffering the security state has visited upon him, still wholeheartedly believes in it. Maybe it's because the scene had Kiefer Sutherland standing up and growling his lines while Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe) sat and looked sulky- the perfect parent-teenager dynamic. Maybe it's because I'm just way more skeptical of the establishment and their logic now than I was during the original series, after years spent watching our nation's leaders eschew the conversations that we needed to have in order to shore up their national security credentials. It seems like EVERYONE is a potential candidate for president these days, so no one can afford to look soft on terrorism. But it felt like the show knew the answer to the question it was asking and, like Jack, was trying to tell me I was too smart to see it any other way. Unlike Chloe, that kind of argument rarely convinces me.**

My faith shaken, I stuck around for a few more interstitial beeping clocks to see what would happen next. But around the time that Catelyn Stark was revealed as the season's mid-level villain, I decided I'd had enough for one night and would go read about post apocalyptic desert SCUBA divers before going to sleep.

Maybe I'll watch the rest of the season, maybe I won't. Reviews so far seem to be glowing, so maybe I'm wrong in my discomfort. But I'll certainly be relying on Hulu rather than carving time out of my Monday night for a show that is going to frustrate me without offering very much fodder for debate at my next happy hour. I can't imagine convincing too many of my friends that freedom of information should take a back seat to the efficacy of our security and intelligence services, and even if I could, I'm not sure it's an argument I want to make.

Michelle Fairley's great, though, huh? Nice to see her back in front of the camera after, well... you know.

**And that's another thing. Chloe's like, the poster child for how everyone Jack touches basically has their life ruined. One of the things I was most thrilled about at the end of season 8 was that she'd finally get to break free of Jack's mess and live her own life. Obviously, that was naive, because his mess followed her, but when we find her at the beginning of "LAD," she's at least fighting for something she believes in, and not because Jack told her to. If I do keep watching, it'll be at least partly out of a desire to see Chloe become Jack's equal, her philosophy serving as a refreshing counterpoint to his. Who knows, maybe that's naive too, she def-o wasn't standing up for herself too much in the first hour and 15 of the premiere.

Of course, she had just been tortured and probably didn't feel too good, so there's that. **

--AWG were always to be a dagger floating straight to their heart.