Friday, September 20, 2019

The Sum of Our Parts

If you ever want to understand the concept behind gestalt psychology (that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) get an OKCupid account, answer a bunch of questions, and then spend a few days checking out your high matches. I guarantee you will feel instantly both seen and understood but also strangely atomized into useless piles of meaningless homogeneous components.

Perhaps I should back up just a tad....

I'm dating.

Okay that's not true. I'm TRYING to date.

One day, many years after a terrible break up, I woke to the realization that all of my relationships were long distance or involved people who were married and had very full lives already. Meanwhile, I spend most Friday nights watching old Star Trek shows and cooking for one. I decided to try to find if there was someone polyamorous, close, and available ENOUGH that they might want to join forces to take down The Legion of Doom.

So far, this involves poking at OKCupid and scowling a lot.

One of the weirdest things about OKCupid is how it both knows and doesn't know me. It quickly gained a sense of the important component parts that make me up from these questions I answered. It successfully knows what I like, what I don't like and (for the most part) what would be deal breakers*. However, what OKCupid doesn't seem to understand how those things work together. It pulls these aspects of apart when it's showing me matches.

*Of course, I'm talking about the algorithmic searches. The recommendations they send me are comically bad––like that well meaning family member who just DOESN'T GET IT. "No Aunt Martha, I'm pretty sure a 64% match monogamous lesbian and me aren't going to hit it off. I just have that feeling."

See I have many things that make me who I am (values and interests and passions), but I am not just those things. I am more than the sum of those parts. What is also important is the way those things COMBINE AND INTERACT and exist in a rich, nuanced, and vital air/fuel mixture. When they are pulled apart, I find myself intensely uncomfortable. Any one ingredient in my "special blend" taking over creates something that I am actually actively uninterested in. The way their algorithm works, unless someone is OPPOSED to another part of my persona, they show up as a high match because we "get along" so well in the one aspect. I'm talking mid-to upper 90s.

There are artists, but they are so artsy, they don't DO mainstream media. They are apathetic to politics. They have dinner parties, drink wine, argue about dadaism and seek out artsy experiences.

There are contrarian activists who are unwilling to see anything that isn't independent film, who never watch Netflix, never play video games, and never spend money that they think would help a capitalist.

There are spiritual existential thinkers who are so love-is-all-you-need that they're about to float off the Earth and evolve to rejoin the solar wind or something. They don't want to hear about how angry social issues make you (especially not if it's about their cultural appropriation of "exotic" religious iconography), because they're just too full of love and harmony for that negativity.

There are these entrepreneur go-getters who are going their own way and carving their life out in a world that loves people to punch a clock, but they have exactly zero time for politics, movies, mainstream media. If it's not improving their outreach or landing them a client, what is even the point?

There are geeks and nerds who love the MCU and video games but who hate how "everything is political these days" and think feminism has "gone too far."

There are those wary of government wary that they have become libertarians, and think that everything they have was earned. That no advantages exist because they are white, have intergenerational wealth, or benefit from roads or an educated citizenry.

I am all these things.

But I am none of THESE things.

There isn't a thing on here, I don't consider a part of me.  Every single of these is something I'd consider important to who I am––vital even––but pulled apart, I find these people horrifying. Disengaged, uninteresting, vapid, and often extreme to the point of caricature.  Without the other aspects in that perfect mixture that blends, combines, synergizes, and limits any ONE part of me from being too much, I find the singular aspects....well the opposite of romantically tempting.

Maybe I should take up line dancing....

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

They Don't Value Honesty

Trump is a liar. Even his most ardent supporters (using euphemisms like "alt-facts" or "loose relationship with the truth” or the even worse “oh it’s just his way”) will admit that. He lies about shit that is not even important and easily verifiable––like what he said on record or that there are clips of. His supporters knew it. They liked it about him (along with the bigotry). They don't value honesty. Perhaps even more accurately, they value dishonesty. Or at least they value dishonesty if it works better than honesty does to achieve what they want.

Trump’s "the lurkers secretly agree with me" lies are not easy to confirm or deny and he's always talking about the "many people" who agree with what he says, but sometimes (like a couple of weeks ago regarding tariffs on China or this thing with the sharpies and Alabama), he just starts making up conversations that he never had with other foreign leaders. Like, you can maybe get away with claiming to have had a conversation if you know the person you're lying to isn't going to immediately go check with that person. We are all guilty of talking up what a hard ass we were or how reasonable we were (when the other person would characterize things very differently), but with Trump we're talking whole cloth fabrication here. Entire conversations with people––easily verifiable––that NEVER HAPPENED. But his supporters don’t care because they don’t value honesty.

Or more recently doubling down on something misinformed until he’s involved in a scandal with the NOAA and threats of firings. You know honesty is not your jam when your ego is so fragile that you have to threaten to fire members of a government body (NOAA) if they don’t back up the lie you’ve already doubled and tripled down on. You know you're okay with lying when a state spending millions for hurricane preparedness means less to you than admitting you misread the "green zone" on a map as being more significant than it is. 

And guess what? His supporters STILL like it about him. They like his fantasy. They like his grand conspiracy theories about entire science disciplines trying to make him look bad with a grand coverup and the media that just “never gives him a break.” They like his made-up conversations. They like someone who just gets up there and says something that pisses off the people they hate. They know it's a lie (they do), and they don't care because they kind of dig the lie. The lie upsets the people they don't like. It's like when the bullies all agree to say that it's Wednesday and the more someone tries to prove it's Monday, the harder they laugh. They don't value honesty.


Truth only matters when it gets them what they want or can be used as a cudgel against their opponents (or "enemies" as Trump has now taken to saying openly and often). As soon as it stops working––the INSTANT it isn’t useful––they happily abandon it for deceit and falsity. (Much like open democracy or free markets, but that’s a whole other rant.)

So the whole "Truth will merit out" brigade are bringing knives to a gunfight. Expecting the GOP to gasp when it becomes clear (well, clearER to many of us) that Kavanaugh perjured himself under oath about sexual predation to achieve a lifetime appointment to the highest court is not reasonable. And the tendency for the intelligentsia to think they're going to Snopes their way to Trump supporters one day saying, ”Holy shit. He LIED!” is predicated on values that Trump supporters simply do not have. We say it to ourselves to remind each other that This Is Not Normal, but we are not going to sway those who have chosen their moral values. That’s NOT going to happen.

Because they don’t value honesty.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

White Supremacy and the GOP

The modern GOP knows that they're sunk without white supremacists and thus white supremacy. That's why that memo that leaked about deflecting blame towards left-wing "extremism" and doing anything needed to pull focus from white nationalist terrorism was written in the first place––if they had nothing to do with white supremacy and didn't want white supremacists in their party, such a memo would be an awfully strange thing to write.

But they do and they do.

They need white supremacists. They can't live without them. Their pencil thin margins of victory (even after all the disenfranchising and gerrymandering and not stopping Russian interference and cheating they can muster) absolutely REQUIRE the white supremacists for political support. They jumped in bed with virulent racism during the Southern Strategy and now they CANNOT win without courting it.

The 2016 election defied the wisdom (of the GOP leadership, I might add) that they could no longer win while focusing exclusively white voters. Basically everyone thought the "wink wink nudge nudge" days of racism had to be dialed back so they could pull more women and non-white voters on board. They were prepared to expunge some of their dog whistling and broaden their coalition in order to survive.

But it was never JUST a strategy.

Instead Trump went all the way in. He dropped the euphemism, just said the quiet part out loud, he won the primary as "their guy" and now they HAVE no choice. If they lose the white supremacist vote, they lose. That's all there is to it. White supremacy, always more powerful than white America would admit, has hijacked the Republican party. THEY are the mainstream now.

That is who the Republicans are now. (That is who they have been for my lifetime with a tacit nod and a conspicuous silence, but now they are out and open about it.) And while some of them don't appreciate having the quiet part said out, their struggles have been superficial and tepid at best. White nationalism is the no-longer-deniable moral stain and legacy of their party all grown up and calling the shots.

Hobbs & Shaw: Reviewish

Hobbs and Shaw is pretty much exactly what it looks like it's going to be in the trailers. It's big. It's ridiculous. It's a couple of ripped dudes trying to out "lone wolf" each other and learning that the real anti-terrorism is the friends they made along the way.

Go see it if you like popcorn movies with driving stunts that make you say "Yeah, that's not really possible by the laws of physics."

Now for the (mild) spoilery part.
I've noticed a lot of movies lately have an "ends never justify the means" villain. They're basically RIGHT, but "that's NOT how one goes about getting change."

In Hobbs and Shaw, the genocidal virus-unleashing Idris Elba played bad guy was ostensibly an anticapitalist environmentalist who was terrified that humanity was on track to wipe itself out by 2090. Of course, if he had stopped riding motorcycles off of skyscrapers for a second, he probably would have realized that the power his boss had to control literally ANY story would make for a useful tool in getting some green legislation passed, but maybe that's just me bringing my brain to a movie where it clearly isn't welcome. Still, I've been hearing "calm down and MAYBE we'll listen to you*" for my entire life, so it's pretty easy to imagine a political landscape in which eventually that doesn't work.

*They won't, by the way. They want you just "calm" enough that you can be ignored.

Entertainment is often cultural anxiety turned up to eleven. (There's a reason that for fifteen years after 2001 a LOT of blockbuster movies had an antagonist-ruined cityscape and protagonists basically going to get some payback.) But boy, it's going to be a plot twist to people who consume mainstream media when they find out which ideology is actually on track to trash the planet and kill billions––no super virus required.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Gravity House Effect of U.S. Politics

You know those gravity houses? The kind that tip you one way and your mind technically knows what's going on, but you also sort of adjust to it despite yourself. So even though you know why it is working that way, your brain still tricks you and you kind of freak out when it looks like shit is falling up or rolling uphill.

Yep. I'm going to make a metaphor. About Republican cheating. Because we know it's going on, and we've been dealing with it for decades, but our mind also kind of adjusts to it. And when we lose elections by narrow margins, we kind of don't realize we probably should have won. Or when we win, we kind of don't realize that it should have been a blowout.

If you think about how long the cheating has been going on (at least here in the U.S.), you'll realize that the left has actually been winning the war of ideas for a long time––we're just up against those who feel they have a moral imperative and are perfectly willing to toss every underlying principle of democratic government to maintain a minority rule and get what they want.

About twenty years ago, they started computer-assisted gerrymandering to maintain their control. This creates "safe" districts and dilutes the power of their opponents. Then about thirteen years ago, they started voter ID laws, essentially creating a poll tax. Ostensibly this was because of fraud, but in-person fraud is extremely uncommon and the more common form of it (mail in ballots--though still rare) was left alone because the military uses them and they tend to vote conservative. In some places DMVs were even closed en masse to make getting ID far more difficult. Just a couple of years ago, they ramped up the process of purging voters from registrations. These efforts, of course, are ALWAYS in places with certain "kinds" of voters (and it's not middle-class white folks). They are proposed by, endorsed by, paid for by, campaigned for by, passed by and defended in court by conservatives, and overwhelmingly hurt liberals.

You don't need a degree in rocket science to put together what is happening. Just because they've rolled out the cheating slowly, so they win by plausible margins and loose from time to time doesn't erase what they're doing. The room is starting to tilt, and even though we can see it, our brain is also starting to adjust to it despite us.

Yesterday Mitch McConnell stood in front of the American people and openly, shamelessly said with his facehole that they won't pass a law to fix election security in order to prevent interference from a foreign geopolitical enemy we KNOW has interfered, is interfering, and will interfere again and who wants the GOP to win. They won't do this because because free and fair democratic elections would give Democrats "political benefit."

Here. Let me translate that for you just in case you didn't catch it over the sound of all the jaws hitting the floor: "Our prior levels of cheating are not cutting it anymore, so we need this outside interference or we're going to lose."

What surprises me, honestly, is not the behavior of the GOP. I became politically aware during Gingrich's "scorched earth," so I pretty much expect them to lie, cheat, and steal for power grabs at any opportunity. They lost any vestige of personal ethical high ground they may have had thirty years ago when they offered up their integrity on the alter of a Faustian deal to win at any cost––it's just taken this long for most of the country to get the memo.

What surprises me is how many liberals and moderates still act like we have a fair democracy. It's not that they don't see it. It's just that their minds have also kind of adjusted to it a little and it sort of looks like votes are "rolling uphill."

Progressive ideas should be kicking ass, but instead we've got minority rule by a party increasingly willing to hide their cheating in plain sight. And instead of treating them like exactly that, we're still hoping they can be convinced of their own moral turpitude and will have a "coming-to-Jesus" moment.

They won't.

They have no shame.

It's time for plan B.

You'll Never Convince the Racists That They're Racists

About 30 percent of the country (almost all white) will never admit that Trump is racist. They never ever will. We should divest ourselves of whatever fantasies we might have that some day Trump will do something SO outrageous that they will finally realize it. It is in their interest not to see his racism, and so they will not. Not ever. These people lost the ability to control the narrative that racism is okay (about forty years ago), and so they embraced the secondary ability to smirk and say, "That's not *really* racism."  At least until they can embolden white nationalism enough to come right out and say it as they could before––something they are dying to do.

And the scripts of white supremacy (even on the left) support them. Every time a liberal white person says, "Sure I hate racism, but THIS is not an example of it" to a person of color who is pointing out racism, or a white liberal goes to the mat for a six-hundred-comment thread in the name of "intellectual integrity" to say that some act with racial impact wasn't INTENDED and could have had something (anything) other than stark, naked racism that motivated a person to do something racist, they are enacting this same script. Bigotry is "bad" so no one can ever be labeled as a bigot without some "soulbeam" mindreader bullshit proof. Instead of just acknowledging that we are all racists (even we liberal white people), we all do racist things, we all have work to do, and the people best able to explain it to us are the folks who live with our fucking bullshit every day.

So the well-meaning often provide plenty of ground cover for the smarmy insistence (now that people at the tops of social hierarchies can't just BE bigots) that marginalized people have no say in what counts AS bigotry. Men, white people, heterosexuals, cis...they will be the arbiters of what counts.

And we're NEVER going to convince them that what Trump did is racist because they know EXACTLY what will happen to their entire paradigm if they, even once, say "Maybe you're right." Like Trump himself, there will be no moment where they feel shame. They have abandoned this. Because then they might have to question a lot more than just this one moment of abject racism.

We don't call these things for them––not for those 30%. They are wrong. They are callow, obstinate, and wrong and they will probably die callow, obstinate, and wrong. Maybe some of them will change, but not from one shining moment of "Oh shit, he really IS a racist." They already know. Their moral and ethical die has been cast.

We don't scream and point at every "go back where you came from" or "shithole countries" or his casino records on racial issues or his property records on racial issues or his attacks on the Central Park 5. Or from his followers the "he says what I feel" or the "he's not hurting the right people" or most recently after his comments that four US citizens should go back where they came from: "this is why we voted for him."

We're never going to "prove" it to their satisfaction. That's because we live in a country with an ongoing legacy of white supremacy and a cultural bedrock of bigotry, and it'll take white people confronting that to undo it. Don't forget that the first thing the Mel Gibsons and Paula Deens and Tim Burtons and Hulk Hogans of the world say after they get caught being unequivocally racist is to look at the camera and say, "I'm not racist." That's all that's happening here. It's the Nigerian Finance Minister email that says in the subject line, "This is not spam!"

They have picked their moral quality. We shall never sway them. Time to work around them.

We DO it for the 1 or 2% of those who will peel off from the right. (Maybe who will abstain from voting in 2020 for moral reasons.) We do it for the outliers for whom this might be the last straw. For those who, while I adamantly disagree with them, really ARE Republicans because they want smaller tax burdens and who are not comfortable with the Faustian deal their modern party has made with white nationalists and bigots.

We do it to scream that this is not normal. Or more accurately that it kind of is, but we're not going back to a time when saying it out loud was okay, or that we won't stand up and speak out against the regressive blowback to any vestige of progress. And we're not going to give up until it really ISN'T normal.

We do it to be counted, both by those we face down and the ones we stand beside.

Dear Fellow Dudes: Shut Up About How This is No Biggie

Image Creator:Brian Snyder Credit:REUTERS

[Note: Formatting is weird on this article because I brought it over from the old site and I didn't want to redo all the links.]

To all my fellow dudes who are just calm as a cucumber that the recent rash of laws is never going to get past SCOTUS, let me put this as diplomatically as possible:
You need to shut the fuck up with that bullshit.
For starters, by and large, you've been wrong since about 2015. You've been wrong about the degree of bigotry fueling the right. Like really wrong. You've been wrong about the white nationalists not really being a thing. You've been wrong about the wall being a weird crowd-pandering thing that would never happen. You've been wrong about the concentration camps being harmless and the most sympathetic policy we plausibly could enact and that it's over because of the protests. You've been wrong about the travel ban. You've been wrong that there aren't literal fucking Nazis in the street. You've been wrong that it wouldn't be so bad and people would survive this.
So it is time to stop imagining yourselves the rational überpundits of political thought, look into the veritable avalanche of your fucking WRONGNESS, and admit that you do not POSSESS the ability to predict the perturbations of an approaching threat the way that those directly affected by it do. And that your calm, collected, rational demands that everyone around you chill the fuck out about laws that are never going to affect YOUR body autonomy are not just WRONG (but holy shit are they ever wrong), but are also gaslighting those who are affected that their spider sense isn't really tingling.
You blew off those who study dictatorships, legions of historians, political scientists, communications experts, folks who have LIVED in dictatorships, countries we're allied with, POC, LGBTQIA+ folks, immigrants, Muslims, Latinx folks, most Germans, and pretty much all Jews who lived through the Third Reich––all those folks were jumping up and down and screaming. And yet here we are...with a constitutional crisis every week, a president cosying up to dictators, and suggesting that he's owed a couple of extra years, and watchdog groups saying American democracy is more threatened than ever before.
And right now you are missing the bigger picture. Right now you're in the process of being WRONG again. Because if you were listening to any expertise beyond that which you arrogantly pulled out of your own ass (because of [I guess] your considerable experience dealing with legal abortion politics?), you would know that forced birth extremists have been putting these pieces into place for decades. If you read beyond the preview text or paid attention past where you were sure you had all the answers, you would see over and over the concerns of those groups that have been fighting this fight this since Roe v. Wade and before are not so cavileer.
1- None of these experts is even remotely as cocksure as you are that this court will not uphold one or more of these laws. Kavanah (despite the assurances of uterus-less dudes, whose bodies are not the one being legislated, that he is mostly harmless) was literally appointed, among other things, to undermine Roe. That was one of the gold stars on his resume.
2- That THESE laws may not pass, possibly even all of them, is not the point. These laws are designed to get to SCOTUS. They are a "probing of the defenses." This is the velociraptors testing the fence perimeter. A lot of very powerful forced birth extremists want to know which arguments are going to gain traction with the new SCOTUS makeup and, to mix metaphors, these laws are throwing spaghetti at the wall. They want to ARGUE it. They want to see who leans forward and who rolls their eyes when they make certain points. Once they know what'll stick, they go back to their desks and write the exact, precise laws with the legal wording that will exploit the weaknesses they discovered.
3- Between the passing of a law and its eventual SCOTUS challenge (possibly as much as a year later), real people get hurt. It's not just an intellectual exercise of armchair legal expertise. THIS WILL ACTUALLY AFFECT REAL PEOPLE.
4- There are dozens of ways proven conclusively to reduce abortion much more effectively than outlawing the safe and accessible kind. Cheap and easy access to birth control, for example. (Spoiler: they're coming for that too because of "religious freedom.") There are hundreds of ways to respect children's "sanctity of life," from free access to prenatal and postnatal care to fixing lead-contaminated water to ensuring that children from poor families always have shelter, food, electricity, and running (clean) water. But largely when these ways of being pro-life are brought up, the same group of lawmakers and a 90%+ overlap of supporters are staunchly against such things being "the role of government." There are even fertility clinics with fertilized ova given a "Meh..." shrug/pass even though the unused embryos are tossed into the trash. And these laws always target women and the doctors who treat them but never the men. This isn't about "Won't someone think of the little souls!" It's about controlling the bodies of people with uteruses. And if some group out there were working FURIOUSLY, day and night, with an army of lawyers, enacting the endgame of a plan in the works since 1974, to mandate control of YOUR body so that you had to be an incubator to another organism no matter WHAT the extenuating circumstances were, you would probably not be so goddamn fucking blasé about it.
So shut the fuck up about how none of this is a big deal because your vast constitutional scholarship and extensive political abortion law activism somehow also includes psychically knowing the minds of nine high court judges. (Not to mention your boundless expertise on fetal development, late term abortions, and prenatal care.) And listen for a fucking second to the people who are actually affected by these laws tell you that they are terrified as shit because they just heard the branch crack underneath them. Because poo-pooing their feelings like you can oracularly view the future of abortion jurisprudence, know better than battle-hardened activists, and aren't concerned about that thing that won't be directly affecting you not only makes you an insensitive, gaslighting fucknoodle, but history suggests that you're going to be WRONG.