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.

I Want the Truth!

"Our Black president isn't a U.S. citizen."

"I just want the truth!"

"He's a Muslim from Kenya."

"I just want to know the TRUTH!"

"Obama wanted people to die in Benghazi! Clinton basically murdered people.”

"I have questions I want answered!"

"It was actually Obama's fault there was a shutdown. He secretly wanted it."

"Let's get to the bottom of this!"

"There's a 22nd hearing on Benghazi targeting Clinton.


"Her e-mail server was sending state secrets to Anthony Weiner."

"I have legitimate intellectual inquiry that I won’t be satisfied about until I know all the facts."

"Hillary Clinton is running a human trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor and advertising it in code."


"Russian propaganda psyops attacks affected our democratic election, and half the major players in the new administration met with Russian agents and at least two were Russian assets. Collusion can’t be proven, but Trump acted in obstructionist ways at every turn. Basically every federal prosecutor says that the only reason he didn’t get charged with obstruction is because he’s the president. We’d like congress to see the full report and interview a couple of witnesses”

“This is just a goddamned partisan witch-hunt. Let’s focus on running the country, m'kay?"

Nurturing Your Persecution Complex 101

How to pretend your free speech is being infringed upon when it is not:

Step 1. Say some outright bigotry bullshit under the cover of your constitutionally protected right to do so. It doesn't even matter if you use a bunch of supremacy symbols that people are "wink wink/nudge nudge" about. Be sure to be privileged and say it about groups that are already marginalized. (Otherwise this could backfire.) But if you do it right, folks–even on the left–will insist on the need to hear you out and provide you with microphones and podiums and sites for your hate speech as part of their deep value of free expression.

Step 2. Once you are known for exactly the sort of message you will deliver every time you open your mouth, schedule a venue in a super liberal area. You might even consider nudging that hate speech needle over toward inciting violence JUUUUUST a little. I mean you still want plausible deniability of course. Bring a gang that likes to provoke people (but of course you can't possibly control them DIRECTLY). Don't worry, this won't be held against you in the final analysis. Hopefully you can provoke someone into taking a punch. No nuance will be examined about high running emotions or the level of provocation you and your people used. No matter what happens (including often if your folks throw the first punch and your opposition had the temerity to fight back), people will think you just came there to talk and be reasonable and the evil leftists showed up just spoiling for an anti-first amendment fight.

Step 3. Some progressive protestors will then exercise their OWN freedom of expression to protest your event. Don't worry that their speech is as free as yours–you have this wired. You live in a land where the perception is that anger isn't free speech, but urbanely espousing bigotry is. They may do so by trying to appeal to the venue or arrange a concurrent event. At this point, you've already won, no matter what happens.

Step 4. The venue will then decide whether it is worth it and/or if they have the security necessary to host your event. If you are lucky, you will lose your venue, but the beauty of this is that it will work even if you are allowed to speak but someone dares criticize you. You're already in the clear.=

Step 5. At NO time will the government send agents to intervene in your free expression. No one will arrest you for speaking. Your published materials will not be seized by agents of the state and destroyed. If there is a policing presence at all, they will let you say anything you want short of outright imminent threats, and may not even intervene then. This doesn't matter.

Step 6. If you had your venue cancelled, or even if you didn't, you can whinge about how unfair the left is and how they stood in the way of your free speech with their overbearing opinions, and so much for their vaunted values of tolerance and free expression. Even their own people will wonder if they're "hurting their own cause."

Milk it like you're a men's soccer player who actually got kicked.

Rinse. Repeat.

Freeze Peach

"These SJWs are infringing on my free speech. I should be able to say whatever I want!"

Look around, Chippy. Nazis on the march burning literal swastikas. Every social media crawling with naked bigots. Open white supremacists running for office as Republicans....and sometimes winning. Men's Rights Activists and Men Going Their Own Way who think the 1950's were a little too progressive misogyny-wise. Breitbart. Savage Nation. Sean Hannity.

You already fucking CAN say whatever you want.

What you're complaining about, Cupcake, is consequences. You don't want freedom of speech; you want freedom FROM consequences. You want to be able to say any level of dehumanizing thing you want and not have a soul so much as call you out. You want the right to march down the street calling for an ethnic cleansing but not have your boss on Monday tell you that you that the Youtube video you were in doesn't seem to represent the values of the company. You want to skirt the margins (barely) of inciting violence but never be deplatformed from the fancy colleges that give you honorariums to speak or the medium that will be boycotted by their advertisers if they bring you on. You want to spew whatever level of misogynist or transantagonist or racist vitriol you want but never be asked to leave the online community, group, or page. You want to protest with white nationalists who want an ethno state that has no meaningful definition besides "white," but never see a counter protest shouting down your repugnant beliefs. You want your public social media behavior or your weekend warrior behavior to exist in some alternate dimension where there are never real world consequences––like a video game that just goes away when you turn it off. You want to be a terrible person, but never have to deal with the consequences of being a terrible person.

That, I'm afraid, is not how any of this works.  You can legally speak in a public space, but you are not entitled to a medium or an amplifier nor are you free from the consequences of what you say.

Free speech isn't a fire-and-forget missile you can lob off with nary a care. Other people around you get theirs too.

When West Wing Waxed Weakly

I love The West Wing.

It’s got super problematic moments, didactic moralizing, and Sorkin falls into the pitfalls of a lot of his generation that all the radicalism that came before about 1975 was super good shit, but now the DNC needs to chill out and be really luke-warm moderates. But the show is total liberal competency porn, and that’s hard not to love, especially in our current political climate of right wing populism, cruelty, rising fascism, and incompetence. I put it on during the Trump administration and imagine a president who does things that help people, struggles for progressive gains, and uses complete sentences.

But I always had trouble past Season 4 when Sorkin left the show. The writing took a nosedive and the plots became much more embroiled in personal drama (which is easier to write about) than the politics (which requires more finesse). A couple of years back, I finally decided once and for all to finish the whole show’s run, even if it was only the one time. (It was.)

In particular, I remember watching the episode that is basically a staged debate. The entire episode is the debate, and my understanding is that the actors had to actually learn that shit cold because they filmed it like a debate in basically one take in front of a real audience.

That’s pretty cool, but here’s what I remember: in the end they had the "two different theories of government" speech that distills the difference between the left and the right to free markets vs. regulation and lower taxes vs. a bigger safety net.

I've heard this speech before. You've probably heard it too. I've heard it from Mitt Romney and John McCain as well as Obama.

I certainly don't think we were young and innocent back when The West Wing was wrapping up its final season, and the DNC absolutely hasn't expunged its own form of leftist bigotry–even if it more typically is followed by "How is that racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic?" rather than "I'm sorry, but that's just what I think."

But that whole “different theories” thing is the civility politics version of “our differences.” It is the "gentleman's perspective" of politics. It is the idea that just a few small differences in the role of government separate us, and it’s certainly nothing worth losing a friend across the aisle over. It’s this idea that when you leave the purview of those whose taxes might only go up or down by a few percent or who may have to install a new piece of safe or environmental equipment that they wouldn't have bothered with UNLESS there was a law…we’re really mostly the same.

But it’s not true. Once you get past the brandy snifter and monocle argument among white men of "different ideas about the role of government..." it's hard to ignore that conservatives are (and have been for some time) aggressively pursuing legislation that causes direct, measurable harm to folks that have been pushed to the margins of society. And every once in a while, someone forgets the obfuscating party line and just comes out and says it.

I really wish Matt Santos had made THAT point.

In Any Other Context

Here’s the thing, and there’s no getting around it.

If you saw ANY other society--in a distant corner of the world, in a dystopian YA science fiction novel, or on a television show--go from having ONE demographic group be completely, utterly, unapologetically, overtly in charge of everyone else (leadership positions, economic power, property owners, and all of them openly, nakedly, saying that they were the superior demographic), to a series of “sweeping" reforms in which that demographic group lost power until they were only about 85-90% in charge of everything. Oh they still ran most things, still held most power, most political leaders were from their ranks, and still had more social standing in virtually any situation. If you saw all this, you would need absolutely NO help to realize how absurd it would be for all the other demographics pushing hard for continued and ongoing reform to be considered "just as bad" when they got frustrated or annoyed, particularly at those who were saying the loss of 10-15% of the power meant that THEY were now the subjugated ones.

That would be ridiculous, right?

Compound this absurdity with the inclusion of violence on only one side. The group struggling for continued reforms speaks out mostly of its experiences in a world that doesn’t treat them as equals. Despite constant attempts to silence them from the dominant group, they are angry, but almost never violent, and the violence it does express is usually property damage when frustrations boil over. In fact, folks within this demographic are themselves most often the ones hurt and killed on the regular, both by open proponents of the demographic that want to be completely in charge again as well as by armed agents of the state that is still run by the dominant group and maintains a criminal justice system that is demonstrably, statistically, and indisputably more brutal and cruel to others than it is to the favored demographic…at every level.

No question, right? This would be piss-easy to “decode.” Like if this were a video game, movie, or book, you would think it was actually a little ham-handed.

You would roll your eyes and know exactly what was going on when the powerful demographic complained about their loss of absolute hegemony. You would need no help to realize how feckless it was of most to value stability and peace and the status quo more than they did the continued reform. You would see right through their attempts to slow things down or to calm those dedicated to change who used harsh language and fierce rhetoric (though not ever the same violence that was used to bring them to heel). You wouldn’t be fooled when the folks in charge held up individuals or small groups from these underclass demographics who said things were great and people should stop complaining.

And most of all, you would know exactly what was up when they kept saying “Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.”

This would not be a difficult scenario for you to put together. You would have no issue seeing that those who had power were trying to maintain power, and that they were violating the social conventions of civility (that they themselves had created––and which they were more than happy to break with the stroke of a pen, wearing a suit, and sporting a smile) in order to silence those trying to achieve equality. It would be UTTERLY almost PAINFULLY obvious to you observing this foreign society that the levers and pulleys of systematic power were being exploited to KEEP that group in power (or even roll back the existing reforms).

Yet somehow when it’s our own society, the cries that struggles for equality and justice have “gone too far," are actually taken seriously.

Mythical Creatures

You know, I sure did encounter a lot more women who "just hate men," people of color who just "have a chip on their shoulder," angry lesbians, raging feminists, hateful gays, and folks who just "liked having reasons to be angry" before I made an effort to check my privilege and started to give a crap about *their* vision of equality instead of my own.

Seriously, they're almost mythical now, the sightings are so infrequent. I keep wondering what dudebros are even talking about with these stories that they're still out there.

I wonder if there's some kind of correlation.

Reviewish: Far Cry 5

I just finished my second play through of Farcry 5. And I just....

It is a fun and engaging badass game. The mechanics are good, the stealth system is good. The walking-around-with-the-biggest-gun system is good. There are multiple ways to solve most problems. Except for building permanence (which would take a whole new level of game), it feels really realistic on the harder settings. There is a character advancement mechanic that is slow enough to hold interest but powerful enough to put you to work figuring puzzles to get into hidden areas. Every external non-plot part of this game is spectacular.

Shame that it was written by 12-year-old who thought they were being "edgy." The plot was just a trash can fire inside a landfill inferno located on the planet of burning tires.

I could seriously run multiple classes (maybe even a whole semester) on what NOT TO DO as a writer, based on just this fucking game.

Fuck everything about that end. Fuck the conceit that any remotely kind or benevolent God would communicate with a murdering, torturing cultist in a way that they were "right all along." Fuck those weird-ass bliss-induced cut scenes and how they got used to be the deus ex machina of whatever supernatural bullshit boss fights the creators could dream up. (Hey let's have a flying demon? This is a real world game, Chuck. Screw it...make it a bliss hallucination. Sounds great! And at the end they fight all their friends. Wha-- Why would they do that? Um......I dunno....bliss?) Fuck the moralizing about the violence you are forced to commit to save people from being tortured and killed. Fuck the completely untelegraphed nuclear holocaust. (Here's a protip. If you want to have an "It's a cookbook" ending, you drop some hints that things are bad.) Fuck the reverse catharsis ending that took every accomplishment made and relationship forged by the player away for the sake of a "wasn't this shocking" ending. Fuck the attempt to be edgy. And fuck the game for not letting you choke that a-hole with his own fucking rosary.

Honestly, this is the the best ever game I've ever played that if the plot had a face, I would punch it.

There Will Be No Bridge

I know they want all this nuance and these bridges built, but all I consistently see––outside of the few people who know how to stick to those erudite talking points when a camera is in their face––is an entire wing of US politics throwing a tantrum because it's been asked to respect human dignity for someone other than them.

They are SO angry that they can't just make fun of trans folks, or just repeat the word "immigration" enough times and not have their solution of a concentration camp for brown kids on the southern border given a pass as being a tough but necessary decision, and not in the least bit dare you even insinuate such a thing. They are SO incensed that naked displays of racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia have consequences beyond a few gasps at a party and a knowing look from the guy across the table, or that the double standards they've taken for granted are so much as being DESCRIBED by the people on the shit end of them. They are SO infuriated that women have the temerity to define behavior that is unacceptable and that makes them feel unsafe and disrespected and can no longer blow off up to and including sexual assault (for reasons––always for reasons).

More than any policy or platform, this hatred unites them. They hate "social justice," "PC culture," and us "libt*rds with our identity politics" (a clever way of saying that any issue not brought up BY cishet white men FOR cishet white men is beneath them). They want their bigotry-adjacent rhetoric legitimized and exculpated as "economic anxieties" (as if no one on the left is economically anxious or left wing policies aren't trying to improve the economic situations of poor people by doing things like raising minimum wage, taking care of healthcare since it's the number one cause of bankruptcy, or passing massive infrastructure jobs packages). As if excusing someone's naked racism because that person might be doling you out some money isn't itself kind of dare you even insinuate such a thing. But then they turn around and cozy up to and/or become white nationalists, supremacists, and literal Nazis when the rubber hits the road. And they put increasingly zealous support behind a leader who will say aloud all the things they've been quietly, conspicuously, guiltily keeping to themselves at the office parties. The absolute fury they have at being called out is a more cohesive glue for their politics than the special rust belt manufacturing renaissance that was promised just for them or that tax cut that turned out to be for corporations and the 1% or even a health care reform that doesn't shoot themselves in the foot.

And so they've become cartoonish in their reactionary swing. Hateful. Cruel for cruelty's sake. Practically daring anyone to stop them. They disenfranchise voters change the democratic bylaws in one naked power grab after another. And they have embraced ever the persecuted victim when their behavior is anything but lauded (like standing in the middle of 37 indictments, convictions, guilty pleas, an emoluments nightmare, periods of "private chats" with Putin, and verified Russian interference that were cheered on by the President of the United States, and instead of intellectually grasping why that might have looked bad, they demanded apologies and started talking treason). They slash budgets because "fuck you, that's why." And their ideology is one tissue-paper-thin rationelle away from being right on the surface all the time these days. Skim off one layer of slick-ass talking heads who know to wear a suit and tie and avoid saying "those people," and their bigotry is all right there in a boiling cauldron that is powering right wing political will right now.

That is why there is no careful examination of nuance. It is just the nuance of bigotry and we've had quite enough of that. That is why no one is building those bridges. They are bridges only to the very worst of human nature.

When You're a Little TOO Good With Money (Personal Update)

[This might look like an appeals post, but it's really just a personal update that happens to have a reminder at the end that I'm tacking on EVERY post these days until either taxes hit or I've reached the amount I'm trying to raise.]

One of the things I've been working at in therapy is being less awesome with money.

No, you didn't read that wrong.

I'm good with money––really good. I'm not saying I have a lot OF it, just that I'm really good with what I have. I got into some trouble with credit in my twenties, used what amounted to probably most of my inheritance to get out of it, and never looked back. These days I stretch a dollar like a taffy machine. I can make less than $20k and still save hundreds a month.

But honestly, I'm not exactly bragging. There's some bad juju magumbo here–– baggage from the before time. I'm "good" with money because I'm a little fucking weird about it. I put money into mental boxes and pretend it doesn't exist and then start chewing the walls if something reminds me. I get anxious when my spending money is gone even when I have a huge savings because the savings is not for spending. (It's for saving!) I have all these boxes in my head: retirement, savings, rainy day, travel/vacation, book publishing costs, discretionary income, bills budget. For a guy with three account types, you'd think I actually had about a dozen.

You know that video game meme about how some people save all their most powerful items since there might be a worse fight coming, but then they end the game with like 15 heal-all potions because they never used them because they were always worried about something worse coming? That's me with money. (Also with video games.)

And by the way, I know some of you overlap "friends" and "patrons," so I want everyone to know that when you see me fretting about money, I'm probably only worried about chewing through the Entirely Discretionary Budget™, and I'm nowhere near broke. 

My mom did the whole allowance thing when I was growing up so I could learn how to manage money (I remember when it went from $5/week to $50 a month and I felt like a complete baller. #moneybags), but then she kind of did a classical controller move and wouldn't allow me to fuck up. ("Isn't this MY allowance?" "Yes, and you're going to put at least half of it in the bank." "Why not just not give it to me then?" "How else will I force you to make good decisions?") To this day I can hear her voice when I want to spend money on myself. ("Oooookaaaaaaaay" in a way that makes it clear it isn't.) I learned good lessons that, as an adult, I cherish––especially since I've spent most of my life on a budget that shoestrings think is pretty....robust.

However, I often swing too far the other way––I have a hard time spending money on myself until I've matched the cost of something into savings or until I've done some other ritualistic thing to have "earned" it. I spend months talking myself into anything that costs triple digits.

Now toss this jangle of quirks and nerves into not one, but THREE jobs (nanny, pet sitting, writer) with no actual stable income (as well as things like paying taxes as a freelancer), and you can imagine how circumspect I tend to be. One of the things I'm trying to learn to do in therapy is work on tools to track trending lines, monthly minimums, and find a Goldilocks zone that isn't quite so guarded. Not that I need to be spending money like it's burning a hole in my pocket, but double checking my budget before I pick up a paperback is probably a bit too vigilant.

Like most things in therapy it's a process. Understanding it intellectually and being able to ignore mom's disembodied head making that judgy moue like I'm in a seventies movie flashback are two different things.

Note: I am still trying to cover my 2019 taxes and an expensive repair on my laptop. ($330 to go.) While I love ongoing patrons, if you've got a couple of bucks and have ever thought that you'd like to slide me something for entertaining you for so long (on my more established blogs, of course, like Writing About Writing––obviously most people here for the first time have only gotten a couple of posts), right now would be an excellent time for that one-time donation.

There Would Still Be Commerce

Whenever someone tries to describe socialism (even democratic socialism or Scandinavian socialism, or really any situation where the slider is moved at all from Absolute Predatory Corporate Advanced Capitalism), the "counterpoint" to such anticapitalist (or even maybenotsomuchcapitalist) thought seems to have to do with still wanting to go to Disneyland and buy iPods.

"But I like Disneyland!"

So let's get something straight. No system in the world is pure capitalist or pure socialist. Even in the US, which is pretty unflinchingly, unapologetically capitalist, we have roads and state militias and social security and public schools. And on the other end of the scale, even countries with an actual left wing like France and even the far left like Finland and The Netherlands have iPods.

The confusion here seems to be conflating capitalism and commerce.

There would still be COMMERCE under any other system. That's something we have to have since we have a division of labor. You could still go make money by spending a day driving for Lyft and save up to take a vacation in Florida. The fact that you have trouble imagining it, is absolutely a feature not a bug. Capitalists really, REALLY don't want you to realize that you don't actually have to choose between iPods and a colorless gruel that there is never enough of.

A lot of current non-capitalistic models simply suggest that "equity" means that every human being is entitled AS a human being to having their needs taken care of even if they don't sell their labor for hours a week in order to "earn" the basics to survive, and that the means of production would not be in the hands of a class that benefits exclusively from the labor of others. The Marxist model needn't be the only model, and many suggest simply a maximum disparity between what a "grunt" worker and a CEO could make.

Capitalism is essentially a massive, society-wide pyramid scheme in which EFFECTIVELY no one will ever move up more than a couple of rungs, and the bottom rung of which requires a permanent underclass of exploitable, virtually-free labor. The top half of this pyramid is composed of eight humans––they own as much as all the rest of the world combined. The middle rungs consists of people that have been duped into participating by the promise that something other than the circumstances of their birth will have a big impact on their ability to climb this pyramid a few ranks.

And just like Mary Kay and Amway, when people start to realize how hard they have to work to keep the top of the pyramid scheme flush, it doesn't look so awesome.

Scaffolding Sexism

If I were running a lesson on sexism in literature, I wouldn't tell my students that's what I was doing. I would just quiz them to see how many examples they could think of of X (like a woman's body being violated in some way within a literary work). [Naturally I would CN this for students it might upset.]

I would turn it into a competition between them.

Try to catch em all!

Who's smart enough to come up with a few more? How about a few more?

Any others?

The board would fill with HUNDREDS of examples––thousands maybe. They would be crawling over each other to prove their superior knowledge and literary prowess. We could break them up into categories of egregiousness. They would press to have uncommon interpretations (for example of unwelcome touches) count as an example, and make their case for why it fits. They would come up with arcane examples. They would claim all authors do it a little. They would surreptitiously Google things they'd never even read on their phones and laptops to look smarter. They would show their knowledge off like peacocks.

The board would be stuffed. We would need the side board. We would need to keep going on some poster boards.

I would use their greatest weakness--the need to be RIGHT--against them.

THEN I would spring the trap.

I would explain the trope. I would explain that it is ubiquitous. And it would be far, far too late for their competitive asses to pretend that I had just "cherry picked a few examples."

Monday, August 5, 2019

Occam's Racist

In the 16th century when Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model, it explained everything. (Well okay, not everything. It took Kepler to see that the orbits were elliptical rather than perfect circles, and we've been tweaking it ever since, but MOSTLY for this story, it explained everything.)  This was generally unacceptable to the Catholic church. Christ being born on Earth, that was clearly the center of the universe.

Before Copernicus, astronomers used the Ptolemaic model, but they still had to account for the fact that the planets will go BACKWARDS against the background stars. (This is what it means when your astrologer says your shit is in "retrograde.") They did have an explanation. Epicycles.

Basically they said that as the planets were going around the Earth, they acted kind of like a spirograph.

The problem was, the more data came in, the more the Ptolemaic couldn't explain the motions, but the Copernican model could. So the church kept funding science research that would create epicycles within epicycles to try to explain what was being seen. While this technically explained what was being seen, it would become insufficient and require further explanation almost immediately. However, if one just assumed the sun was in the center of the solar system, suddenly EVERY. SINGLE. OBSERVATION. made sense and fit elegantly. But instead, trying to work backwards from a solution (the home of Jesus had to be the center of the universe), the explanations got more and more and more convoluted.

There's this idea that when you're trying to figure out big patterns, you want the most elegant and simple explanation. (Occam's razor.)

Right now the president is embroiled in yet another scandal. He tweet-attacked another person of color––this time calling the entire city of Baltimore "rat infested" to get to Representative Cummings.

It's not that Trump never attacks white people. Indeed, his best defense seems to be a good Twitter offense (the more offensive, the better) but the THINGS he says about people of color...or women, the LANGUAGE he uses is completely different. He tells them to go back where they came from, says things about infestations, talks about rats, calls people animals, and uses a kind of viscerally deplorable language. You can of course operate from the presupposition that he is not racist, and then you have to have a very convoluted system of "epicycles" to explain his birtherism, his "shithole countries" comments, his position on The Central Park Five, his multiple fair housing violations, his casino floor managers ordering black people off the floor, his quote as saying he hates black people counting his money, disparaging comments about the look of Indians, his calling Senator Warren Pocahontas, his calling Mexicans rapists, slowness condemning white supremacy, his "both side"ism after a murder by a white supremacist during a protest, his telling a judge of Latin descent that he had to recuse himself when it came to building a wall, and of course his latest Twitter outburst, telling four women of color (three of whom were born in the U.S. and the fourth who was a naturalized [the right and legal way] citizen) to "go back where they came from," which is a phrase that is LITERALLY out of the US's racial discrimination handbook.

And some people DO try to explain all of this away. They have an answer for each thing. They have a huge tangled thicket of explanations ("epicycles" within "epicycles") from conspiracies to lies to simple misunderstandings. They start with the result and craft the explanation to fit, no matter how ridiculous and convoluted it becomes.

And the GOP goes right along with him, defending him to the last.

It's not surprising to me that many conservatives are part of Team Epicycles. They dutifully steer the conversation to the race-adjacent issues like "immigration," legislate and create policy with racist impacts but plausible deniability, throw as many smoke and mirrors in front of the fact that we're operating concentration camps within the legal definition of genocide (to say nothing of their complete unethicalness), and make up excuses for one racist tweet after another. After all, they literally walked through the election season praising him for saying what was on their minds. They can't very well come out and say what they are actually thinking. Despite a recent uprising of white nationalism to the contrary, we've pretty well established in our culture that being a racist is an a-hole move.

But what makes more sense? This hodgepodge of concern over terrorism (that somehow doesn't apply to the white supremacist domestic kind) and immigration (that somehow doesn't apply to European countries) and concern for Baltimore's poverty and crime (that somehow doesn't apply to poverty or crime in white-majority cities) and the wish for Democratic representatives to "feel free to leave" (that never seems to get said to Pelosi, Clyburn or Hoyer) and of course an INTENSE DEDICATION to rationalizing the absolutely non-racist things Trump "really" meant by certain turns of phrase.

Or that they are also racists and they are protecting him?

Simple. Elegant. Explains all this disparate data perfectly and can even be predictive about future behavior.

And by the way, this works perfectly with other forms of bigotry too. Want to know why Republican lawmakers care so much about children when they're writing bathroom bills and not when they're running pedophiles on their tickets? Try seeing how elegantly transphobia explains everything. It works with sexism, homophobia...basically any bigotry you can imagine.

Like I said, their behavior doesn't surprise me. They kind of have to play faux innocent, grab plausible deniability, and claim it is something (ANYTHING) else.

What surprises me is how many moderates (and no small number of liberals) engage with their "epicycles" in good faith. Like, if you don't realize by now that you're not ACTUALLY having a conversation about lawful vs. unlawful immigration with a conservative, and that they are actually racists who don't really like brown people, I don't know what to say. It's going to be a very confusing conversation to you with a lot of unexplained double standards and exceptions.

If you haven't "cracked the cypher" that they know full well by now that seeking asylum is lawful and they just don't care. That they are a-okay with "certain" people waiting in a detention facility without basic amenities. And separating children from their parents (even after an injunction) because of minor infractions and traffic violations. That they're going along with the "pretend" discussion that it's all about budgets and laws and citizens grabbed not because they "looked" like they were undocumented (you know why), but that they really did believe all that documentation was's like having a debate about why epicycles on epicycles wouldn't explain the Ptolemaic model for more than a month or two when it got out of sync when you already know that what explains everything is that sun is at the center of the solar system.

The word salads justifying the need for more and more secret facilities, and the rationalization for broad, virtually unchecked powers of an extrajudicial enforcement agency, and bloated budgets and a big giant wall are this absolute quagmire of mutually exclusive values (like fiscal conservatism), pretense, an incomprehensible resistance to the actual facts of immigration law or criminal justice statistics, and a curiously strong value for the "rule of law" unless it is a judge who has ordered that children stop being separated from parents, and the weird way that nothing ever counts as racism because they say so (unless the exact same happens to white people and then suddenly they have incredibly sensitive racism detectors). This includes (though isn't limited to) saying that things everyone considers racism––INCLUDING THEMSELVES WHEN IT IS ABOUT THEM––isn't really racism when they do it. And "Gosh we don't know why white nationalists and the head of the KKK are so excited about Trump."

Until you look at the data using one simple supposition.

Suddenly, everything becomes clear, crisp, understandable, totally explained, and fully predictable if you simply plug in this one assumption: WE ARE BEING GOVERNED BY WHITE NATIONALISTS WHOSE SUPPORTERS ARE VIRULENT RACISTS.

It's the simplest explanation.

Feeling the Brain Braining

Perhaps one of the oddest sensations is feeling my brain "come back online," and learning how predictable that really is.

A little over a month ago, I ended three years of therapy. Well, really it was four years by the calendar, but I took nearly a year off when I first moved out because I was pretty strapped financially. But it was a long three years of a lot of work. Boundaries, self-care, listening to myself, and digging out a few of the reasons why I had so much trouble with those things.

I'm not "cured," but I am better. Often that means I can recognize a problem and course correct, but it also means that I've probably drifted a bit into old habits before I notice. Gradually my "course corrections" get smoother, but sometimes, these days, they are still a little jerky.

Look, the long and short of it was that I picked workaholism as a socially acceptable way to self-harm, and sometimes I don't notice that I'm overdoing it until I'm waking up from anxiety dreams and my teeth hurt from clenching my jaw. But then I give myself a relaxing week or something, and not only do I start to feel better, but I start to FUNCTION and THINK better too.

Which brings me to the morning's navel gaze. It has been a comfort––a little weird, but nonetheless a comfort––to feel myself return to a functional headspace so predictably after I stop mistreating me. I take too much work on, get stressed, can't think properly about basic things like paying bills. But then I realize what I'm doing, reduce my workload, and within a couple of days I'm standing in the shower triaging what responsibilities I need to take care of next without really even thinking about it. The number of times my higher "adulting" brain function, creativity, prioritization, and general decent mood has simply "flipped" right back online after a couple of days of rest and relaxation is a steady reminder to take care of my goddamn self and stop worrying that I'm "broken." I work just fine if I will just treat me with a little care.

I know this isn't a truth for everyone, but it's nice to be reminded so consistently and pointedly that I have a marked influence on my ability to handle life.

New Blog Who Dis?

Hello everyone.

We're moving NOT Writing About Writing over here. I really like this idea of having a second blog (and....I also really like having it encompass more than JUST social issues), but I think the initial enthusiasm of the Teletype team has faded. I wish them the very best in the world, but their platform was new and had some issues and certainly couldn't do everything like the "Gadgets" on the side of the screen. It's not worth being a beta writer pro-bono. And I think the folks over at Teletype probably were hoping that a million followers on Facebook was going to translate into a lot more traffic for them. But I wasn't going to spam a link on a writing page that wasn't about writing and building up blog audiences can take years.

It's going to be a few days of fiddling with the knobs. I want this blog to look a little different so there's no confusion, and I'll probably make some place holder posts so I can move some of my better articles from there to here.