You’re Next

I believe life is hard. The Buddha said all existence is suffering and any Bengals fan can attest to that. I don’t know if everyone is basically good or basically bad, but I do know everyone is just trying to get through the day. Get up and try to make it to night. Try to be better off if you can, but try like hell to keep from slipping backwards. Rinse and repeat. You’re just trying to get through the day. Just like everyone else. It’s never easy. For anyone.

To me the greatest sin I can commit is to make someone else’s life harder. I can’t always make it easier, though I should if I can, but I should never make it harder. What other people do to me is up to them. My actions are not contingent on theirs. I have no obligation to allow someone to make my life harder, by the way, just as I can’t try to make my life better by making yours worse. Make someone else’s life better if you can, but never, ever make it worse.

I do not write the name of the short-fingered vulgarian in the White House. He values it more than anything, so it’s the thing I’ll always deny him. It’s symbolic, petty, and utterly ineffective. That’s my wheelhouse. If clear writing demands the use of a name, I use Don Palmturd (anagram!). Comic Colin Mocherie is a strong proponent of Lord Dampnut and it’s hard to beat. The juxtaposition of mocking nobility with incontinence and impotence is hard to pass up. Mine starts off with a double entendre. It’s a casual nickname sure to annoy someone who uses his full name and middle initial to refer to himself, but also a title of respect — among criminals. The surname juxtaposes shit in the tropics. Like Mar-a-Lago.

They aren’t mutually exclusive names, of course. I like the image of a shabbily-dressed Englishman doorman announcing “The Lord Dampnut, Don Palmturd” and the two-bit Il Douche strutting into the room, jaw-jutting with the smirk on his face. He thinks everyone is applauding him, but they’re really applauding the doorman behind him air-wanking and rolling his eyes.

Don Palmturd doesn’t believe what I believe. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can’t look into the hearts of others and all that, but come on. This guy enjoys making people’s lives harder. He gets off on it. Many of his supporters do too. You ask them how they’re buying any of this crap and they tell you “Ha, ha, ha libtard, we won and you lost.” (Even though they’re speaking aloud they’ll still manage to misspell three words, but that’s beside the point.) It’s an entire political philosophy built around “neener, neener, neener.” They didn’t win. You lost. That makes them happy. That’s all that matters. They believe their lives are better if someone else’s is worse. That’s winning. That’s making America great again.

Nope. It’s not politics, it’s potty training. I can’t fix it. I won’t accept it. I don’t have to.

I actually don’t care who they hate. I don’t care who you hate. Your hatred doesn’t give you the right to make other folks have a harder time getting through the day than they would have had otherwise. Remember, you don’t have to make anyone’s life easier, you just don’t have a right to make it harder. If I consent to let someone else make your life harder, then it’s as if I did it myself. No one gets a free pass. Making someone’s life harder is always a choice. You make that choice and you’re giving everyone permission to do the same to you.

Make no mistake. They will get to you eventually. There are people who currently reside outside the top 1% of wealth-horders who think they’re safe from all this stuff. They tsk, tsk, tsk about everyone freaking out about losing their health insurance, for example, because they get theirs through their employer. As if somehow providing health insurance is something employers will always be required to do no matter what, forever and ever, Amen.

Let’s try a thought experiment. If you have employer-provided healthcare, what would happen if your company decided they didn’t want to offer it anymore? How easily could you change jobs? Remember, you’ll likely be competing with every single other person at your company who does what you do. You that good? What if you’re wrong? And it’s only going to be an “issue” if your company is the first. All someone has to do is be the first. By the second or third it will be the new normal. If you complain you’ll be an entitled whiner-loser-millennial. There will be Wall Street Journal features on the titans of business who disrupted human decency and made the stock market soar. And after all, isn’t that all that really matters?

Of course, it can’t happen. It’s ridiculous. It’d be like an airline started charging you for carry-on luggage! No one would stand for it! Until the FAA becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Airlines and standing-room-only flights are approved, of course. Then flight attendants crews will have to be issued cattle prods, if only for appearances sake.

Yesterday the Senate of the United States of America voted to make a few people more wealthy without having the slightest idea how many people’s lives they’ll make worse. Much effort has gone into not knowing because it doesn’t matter. If you think anyone will hesitate to make your life worse if they think there’s even a chance they can gain from it, you’re delusional. You represent nothing they can’t find in a million other places. You are a commodity. Raw material from which wealth can be extracted. Then you’re slag. To be discarded.

So go ahead and say nothing when you see other people’s lives being made worse. They’ll get to you eventually. And you’ve already given the folks who could say something about it permission to say nothing. Good job!

Your time is coming. Get your hating in now. You’ll be too busy later.

Or dead.

It’s not going to be OK

Well, it’s finally here. I said I was staying off social media (and anything resembling live media) today, so if you’re seeing this on Facebook or Twitter it’s only because I have my blog set to squirt my posts over there.1 You can leave a comment there, but I won’t see it for a few days. Or you can leave one here. Or you can be like me and roil in a pit of despair.  After brunch. And doing some prep for my classes. I’m reasonably certain Monday will still happen. Everything after that is a crapshoot.

Both of my parents died of cancer. I remember what it was like knowing that it was just a matter of time before something awful happened and feeling utterly powerless to do anything about it. Then, when they died, saying to myself over and over “now it’s real” and being unprepared for it.  And I’ll never forget getting to the J-School the morning we started bombing Baghdad in 1991 and meeting Doug Barthlow outside the library. “Things are going to be different for the rest of our lives,” he said “We’re going to be living with this forever. It’s never going to be the same again.” That’s what today feels like. It’s a little before 10AM EST as I write this, so technically the world is still sane, but it’s over. I’m assuming the choreography has begun and the orange-skinned homunculus is strutting and thrusting out his jaw like the two-bit Mussolini wannabe he is. He wanted military units and tanks and missiles in his parade, people.  That’s fucked up.

Gallons of ink have been spilled and gazillions of electrons have been rearranged so people like me can scream. Today we become that dystopian novel we read. Today we lose all the wars we’ve fought in the past. Today Moscow becomes the most important capital in the world, and they didn’t really have to work that hard to do it. All they had to do was give us the fuel and we were perfectly content to burn ourselves down.

We’re really good at that, the burning ourselves down thing, I mean. I remember that tape that came out from Osama bin Laden where him and a couple of the other planners were talking about the 9/11 attacks. They were as surprised as we were that the buildings actually fell down . They knew they were going to kill a lot of people and we’d overreact and weaken ourselves as a result, but they never let themselves hope it would work out that well (from their perspective). We completely lost our shit. A few thousand guys running around in the mountains of Afghanistan managed to make a country of 350 million people with the most powerful military on earth completely lose its shit. 9/11 sucked, but it was alike giving a gorilla a little paper cut. The reaction should have been “Hey, do that another — oh — 200 or 300 times and you might start drawing some blood. Meanwhile we’re going to piss you off by not changing a bit.  Sure, we’ll hunt you down and turn you into a stain that’ll take more than Tide to get out, but we’re going to do it by being exactly the same as we were before. We can make you a footnote and not even break a sweat.” But, of course, we didn’t do that. We chose to become a completely different country.  One where the thing we fear the most is fear itself. That’s why the subtitle to this blog is what it is. The people who wanted to destroy the US in the past went about it the wrong way. We were always the best people for the job.

I don’t think there’s some hotline from Moscow to Washington with Putin issuing orders to his poodle.  Put a complete fucking moron in the top job and suddenly the United States is way down on Vlad’s “Things-I-have-to-worry-about-today” list. The things my parents and grandparents believed in and sacrificed for become irrelevant today. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. Mitch McConnell’s general appearance aside, the zombies aren’t undead people looking for brains to eat. They’re dead-eyed authoritarians looking for money to take. The country is about to be sold for parts. You will not be receiving payment. But the beatings will continue until morale improves.  Or not. It’s pretty much the same to the folks in charge. No one’s asking you to like it. You’re just supposed to comply.

I am, of course, over-reacting. “It’s all going to be fine,” you say,  “it can’t happen here.” Hands start waving around and a blanket of vague descends if I ask you, “Really?  Why not?” A lot of people are going to be in the streets today and tomorrow saying “This is not OK” and that’s the most hopeful thing I’m seeing right now. As bad as things are — and experience has taught me you tend to dread the wrong things too much and the things that really wind up sucking you don’t dread nearly enough — I find hope in that I know I’m not alone in this. I have found there are a lot of people out there who’ve been feeling like Cassandra. We’ve been on the wrong path for a very long time. You see, the deal with the idea of the USA isn’t that we’re especially good or exceptional people.  We’re just regular, flawed,  people who aspire to good and exceptional things for everybody. We’re not unique in that. Wanting good and exceptional things doesn’t make us good and exceptional. It just described how hard we needed to work. We mistook the ends for means. The payments for that mistake is coming due. And it’s going to suck.

It’s not going to be OK. That suggests that things are going to be how things are going to be without intervention and all we have to do is sit back a take the ride. If things wind up working out OK it’s because people will have made it OK and probably hurt some feelings along the way. Euphemisms and platitudes aren’t going to cut it. Civility is a great thing when you agree on ends but not on means. It makes it much more likely you’ll get there. It’s important to not jump to conclusions, though. Really, really important. Be sure you’re not really working for the same ends before you abandon civility. It’s hard to roll that back. If you get that wrong you are, indeed, the asshole. Political party labels are useless now. I know many, many, many self-identified Republicans who are horrified at what’s starting. There are things (guns, abortion, LGBTQ equality) we (stridently) disagree on, but we all fundamentally believe in the underlying framework for how that stuff gets worked out (and that it’s always a temporary solution). This isn’t liberal/conservative. Edmund Burke and Barry Goldwater would look at the current GOP and say “what the fuck is wrong with you people?” They’re not exactly relying on time-tested traditions. They’re about to throw a lot of them out.  There’s nothing conservative about what’s going on.

So today it all changes. In about half an hour  from now we’re through the looking glass. God help us all.

See you on the other side.


1Paints quite a picture, eh?  You’re welcome.

Putin’s Poodle

I have long opposed the death penalty on the slippery slope principal.  Once we enshrine the idea that the State has the right to kill someone, the only thing left to argue is who gets to decide who needs killing. The list of those who decide tends to be people way too comfortable with the idea of doing it and the list that says who deserves killing only gets longer. It’s an awfully big hammer. So tempting to use. Sooner or later we’ll all qualify in someone’s eyes, and you never know who’s going to be put in charge. The usual argument I get into is someone points at some really heinous killer and says “You want to keep this guy alive?” (It’s usually a guy, and I figure in this case the sexism of that construction might get a pass). And I say “No, I really don’t. But I believe what I believe despite the fact that guys like that exist. That’s how important I think it is. Better this guy rot in a cell then say ‘Sure, I trust your judgement about who lives and dies.’ Because I don’t.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it’s becoming clearer and clearer that, domestically anyway, the focus of the incoming administration will be to dismantle as much of the social safety net as it possibly can and sell it off piece by piece. Look at the people being nominated for Cabinet positions. Each and every one has a vested interest in gutting them. People keep yelling about “conflicts of interest” when, in fact, there’s no conflict at all. They don’t believe there should be a social safety net. Their interest is to make sure there isn’t one. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. There’s no conflict.

“What do you mean you have popular prices? You’re the most expensive in town!”

“Well, we like them.”

I think idiot who got elected is only interested in having power and enriching himself and his family. I think his Veep is  interested in leading the Republican effort to strip the country down for parts and install a soft-core theocracy that allows you to believe anything you want as long as the only opinion that counts is “What Would White Jesus Do (in our opinion)?”

I’m equally convinced that Russia’s victory in the Cold War becomes final just after noon on January 20, 2017. They won this election. I don’t think that’s because they “hacked” the election. I think they hacked some computers and ran a pretty standard disinformation campaign. I don’t think they messed with voting machines because that’s not the weakest part of the system. That would be the people who do the voting. I do believe there was coordination between the Republican campaign and some Russian intelligence service if for no other reason Rudy Giuliani seemed to know what Wikileaks was going to leak before they actually did it. But that’s not why it worked. It worked because the Russians were very comfortable dealing with Americans as we actually are rather than who we’d like to think we are. Not having to pretend to care really opens up the old day planner.

And in the end we voted for the guy they wanted us to. By “we” I mean, of course,  the small number of rubes who had to vote particular ways in particular places to game the horrible system we use to elect a President. But they could have gotten more if they’d needed them. It’s not like the Democrats ran a candidate people actually liked. There were plenty of people out there plenty willing to believe all the pretty stories. Yes, in a sense, Clinton did win because she got more votes.  In the other, more accurate, sense she lost. There’s no “moral victory” column in the Electoral College.

At any point in the campaign did anyone ever float the idea that the CEO of ExxonMobil was the best person to be Secretary of State? There’s only one country that benefits from that, and Sarah Palin thinks she can see it from her house. (Hint: It’s not the United States). All the other appointments either hate the departments they’re supposed to run or they used to be a General up until very, very recently. Which is pretty much the way they run things in Moscow. There’s not a downside for Russia in this election. They don’t give a shit about our social safety net either. And they don’t have to pretend to. But we have to care about what they think because our Dear Leader loves their Dear Leader and wants to be just like him when he grows up.

So now we are confronted with the image of buyer’s remorse on a national scale. It’s kind of sort of sinking in for some people, but it’s coming for everyone who voted for him sooner or later. I’m on record (if Facebook can be considered a record) for wanting to be the one to announce to the assisted living facility that I worked on Election Day that the guy most of them voted for is going to touch their Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And it’s going to be one of those bad touches you tell your grandkids about. Except you gave them permission to do it.

It’s tempting to sit back and laugh. Hey, if you’re dumb enough to vote for a con man, you deserve what you get. You managed to vote for the evil of two lessers. I can’t sustain that, though, any more than I change my tune on the death penalty when a serial killer or mass murderer is caught. I’m not going to oppose cuts to healthcare and the rest of the social safety net because the people who will benefit from them in the short term did anything to deserve it. I’m going to oppose them because it’s the right thing to do. I believe it so much, in fact, I’m willing to fight for it even when you couldn’t be bothered to do it yourselves.

For your sake I hope there are enough of us.  Because otherwise, you are screwed. All of us are, but we’ve had longer to get used to the idea.

 

Doing What’s Right

simple-candle-800pxIt’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that Mike Pence took the deal John Kasich was offered. The Grifter doesn’t want to be President. He just wants to be in charge. He wants to be the top of the food chain. As long as he’s El Jefé Anaranjado¹ who gets his cut from whatever money’s being made, he’s going to be happy. He’s going to reward those who helped him and punish those who hurt him. He’s not worried about the details. That’s what he has Pence for. Oh, and how Pence has taken the opportunity! Want to be in the Cabinet? Be white. Be rich. Be opposed to anything that wouldn’t fly in an Indiana town that has more churches than liquor stores. I have this picture in my head of Pence Interviews: The Musical where a chorus of interviewers sing (to the tune of The Spice Girls Wannabe): “Tell me that you’re white, that you’re really, really white…If you wannabe in my cabinet, you really gotta hate the gays…”

We’re going to start hearing a lot about rights soon, especially religious “rights.”  I have a complicated relationship with religion. My first and foremost belief is that my religion is none of your business. The second is like unto it:  I don’t want to hear about yours. I’m interested in what you do. I couldn’t care less why you think you do it. You have a justification? Yay you! Want a cookie? Regardless of what you do or don’t believe about life, the universe, and everything, the authority of your belief system ends where your skin meets the air. Your moral code has an intended population of one:  you. What you do to me matters to me. What I do to you matters to you. Everything else is rationalization.

Here’s what I’ve decided is going to be my standard going forward: No one has the right to make anyone else’s life harder. It’s a good thing to try to make people’s lives easier if you can, but it’s not always possible. It’s never OK to make someone’s life harder,

Life is hard all by its own self. You can do everything you’re supposed to do and try to be good to people and still get slapped upside the head with a metaphorical frozen fish. Make the circumstances weird enough, it becomes a real one. If something can go wrong it probably will. If there’s a bad time for someone to lose hope, that’s when it will most likely happen. If there’s a really bad time to become overconfident, someone’s going to ask you to hold their beer. If there’s any evidence it doesn’t work that way, I’ve yet to see it. Given that the essence of human nature is to screw thing up, the least we can do is not make anything worse for anyone else. When we rise above our natures we might actually make things better.  Hippocrates got it right, though.  First, do no harm.

If the news from the past couple of years is to be believed, the biggest threat to religious liberty are selling wedding cakes to people who you don’t think ought to get married and signing the legal documents necessary for the same. Forget the fact that refusing to sell the cake doesn’t stop anyone from getting married or that the state gets to tell you what forms you need to sign if you’re an elected official. What you think is going to happen to your soul is your business, not mine, but what you’re doing is making someone else’s life harder just because you want to. That’s not OK. Your life doesn’t get any worse if you sell that cake or sign that document. It goes on just like it did before.

“OK,” you say, “so I want to rob a bank. That guard at the door is making my life harder.” Yes, but you’re planning to make other people’s lives harder. The people in the bank. The people you’re stealing from. That guard is preventing you from making other people’s lives harder.

“Oh, OK, then,” you say, “so what about abortion? You’re making the fetus’s life worse, aren’t you?” Not so fast, Skippy. The fetus doesn’t exist separately from the mother. That fetus is entirely dependent on every decision the mother makes no matter what. Sounds like to me the only one qualified to make any decisions vis a vis the fetus is the mother. Someone does have to decide. It’s just not you. Unless you’re the mother. Otherwise all you’re doing is getting mixed up in something where you’re more likely to make someone’s life worse than better.

So as we enter these dark days ahead — and make no mistake, dark days are coming — hold on to simple truths. Evil isn’t complicated. “Fuck you” is a pretty simple concept. It pays to have simple truths for yourself to hold onto. The simplest truth is this: no one has the right to make someone else’s life harder.

Anyone who tells you otherwise will be happy to make yours harder.


¹The Orange Chief

Ends and Means

I’m not aware of a circumstance where loss of citizenship is the penalty for a crime. Maybe one exists, but I’m not aware of it. It’s extremely difficult to give up one’s citizenship. Not that I ever checked on it when Shrub got elected the second time…

Antonin Goddamned Scalia said this about flag burning:

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said. “But I am not king.”

That’s the lusory attitude I talked about the other day: “I have my strong feelings about this, but I have to work within the system.” Scalia was saying there that he understood and accepted his role in the system.  Bush v Gore showed  he was perfectly willing the put his thumb on the scales when it was his turn to do so, but he colored inside the lines.

For all you “wait and see” types.  He just told you his ends. He’s bigger than the game. He wants what he wants and that’s what’s important.

What do you suppose he’s going to do when he has the means?

And who’s going to stop him?

Breaking Faith

This is not normal.

He has no proof this happened, of course. He can point to nothing because there’s nothing there. It’s not on me to “prove” millions of people didn’t vote illegally. It’s on him to prove they did. And he can’t do it. Because it didn’t happen. The only reason you write something like this is to delegitimize your opposition in the minds of your supporters. He won the election because of a loophole in the electoral system that was put in place to block the direct popular election of the President. As with most things having to do with the Yam-Colored One, this has been floating around for a little while.

alex-jones-trump-vote
The fever swamp from which the new national discourse emerges.

This, in turn, apparently has its roots in a series of tweets from some guy with a Twitter account named Gregg Phillips who claims to have a database of 180,000 registered voters “tagged with non-citizens.” Whatever the hell that means. Other than blustering statements about how the evidence is solid, he’s so far refused to let anyone see it. It doesn’t matter of course. It’s “out there.” It’s already been accepted as truth by the base. Like all stories having to do with the person who I’ve privately started calling The Last President of the United States, the details of this particular train wreck are mostly irrelevant. I’ll only throw out that the “story” begins emerging around the time it became clear Clinton was going to win the popular vote by a large margin. The fact that people keep harping on that and the margin keeps growing and Jill Stein decides to ask for a recounts before she returns to whatever cicada nest she sleeps in until Presidential election season rolls around again has really harshed the mellow of The Hairpiece that Roared. Forget the fact that the rules for being elected President of the United States don’t require you to win the overall popular vote.  It’s a wrinkle that’s been in the rules from the beginning. It’s happened before. The popular vote?  Sure, it’s nice to have.  It’s not required. Them’s the rules. Say what you will about Shrub back in the day. He’d just shrug and say “I won.”

So why is it such a big deal to Herr Twitler? It’s part of a pattern that makes perfect sense if you don’t mind being utterly terrified.

So a couple of the classes I’ve been teaching this semester deal with games.  In the process of the crash course I’ve had to subject myself to on game theory, I’ve had the great fortune of being introduced to a delightful book called The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits. It’s a deceptively simple book written (partly) in the style of a Socratic dialog using the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants as its basis. The Grasshopper isn’t an irresponsible slacker here. He’s actually a subtle thinker who develops a philosophy of life that sees Utopia in a life of all play and no work — even when that life leads to his inevitable death. It sounds depressing, but it’s really a book that attempts to refute Ludwig’s Wittgenstein’s assertion that games can’t be formally defined. Suits didn’t care for this position and wrote this book. The centerpiece of the book is his formal definition of a game:

“My conclusion is that to play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favour of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity.”

Later he sums it up even more succinctly:

“…playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”

Compare this to anthropologist Mary Douglas’s description of an institution in her masterpiece How Institutions Think:

“Minimally an institution is only a convention. David Lewis’ definition is helpful: a convention arises when all parties have a common interest in there being a rule to insure coordination, none have a conflicting interest, and none will deviate lest the desired coordination is lost.”

Games, conventions and institutions all require willing participation, what Suits called the “lusory attitude.” Lusory is a term that’s pretty common in Game Studies.  It more or less means “playful,” but sounds better when talking to colleagues from other departments at faculty gatherings and you don’t want to keep saying ‘playful’ all the time.  Most everyone but the physicists will let it slide and who cares about physicists anyway? Screw those guys.

Willing participation. I’ve mentioned it before in another context, but I can’t think of this without thinking about this George Carlin routine:

“‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man!”

Can anyone point out anything the Yam-Man has done that could reasonably be interpreted as wanting to hold the country together more than getting his way? The fainting-couch crowd will gleefully point out that I’m being rude to him.  That I’m not showing any respect to the duly-elected Grifter-in-Chief. And you’d be right.  I’m not.  I won’t.  I don’t have to. That’s one of those unnecessary obstacles that’s built into the game. It’s not a bug.  It’s a feature. I, as a citizen of the United States of America, have the right to believe that the man elected to be President of These Here United States is a simpering bag of pus with tastes that would make a bordello owner say “Jeez, that’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?”  The fact is, my opposition only matters if you favor the less efficient means of putting up with it over the more efficient means of lining me up against a wall and shooting me. He’s not allowed to have me shot yet.  Yet.

The most dangerous time for him is right now — before the reins of power are handed over to him. This is not a man who handles pressure well.  We have to keep it up. Don’t let the bastard breathe. We don’t have to give him hell.  All we have to do is tell the truth and he’ll think it’s hell. But also remember we’re all asked one question every single day:  is this country worth it? What are you willing to give up and set aside in order to keep the country together?

Then ask what is he willing to give up to keep the country together?

That’s really the biggest question of all.

We’re All Day-to-Day

simple-candle-800pxI asked this morning on Facebook and Twitter what, exactly,  people with a “wait-and-see” attitude toward the Short-Fingered-Vulgarian-in-Chief needed to see in order to quit waiting and speak up. Most of the answers were along the lines that “He hasn’t done anything yet.”  This, of course, the morning after he appointed the former publisher of Breitbart News (hell no I’m not linking to it) — a man who brags that he’s made White Supremacy mainstream again — to be his Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel. The other thing he’s done is appoint Reince Priebus, a man who can’t even take a principled stand on “i-before-e”, to be his Chief of Staff. You’ll recall that the whole purpose of this campaign, besides throwing out brown people who are here and killing selected ones who aren’t, was to “drain the swamp.” Guess what?  He just appointed the swamp to be Chief of Staff.  You know how this works, right? The Chief of Staff decides who sees the President and when. The Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel is the person the President goes to see when he feels like talking to someone. This after picking Mike “Pray the Gay Away” as his Vice-President and surrounding himself with failed-90s-politicians-also-on-their-third-marriages Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani as probable cabinet members. Ben Carson seems to be in the mix in there somewhere, but there’s always the chance with him he’s just confused about where he’s supposed to stand.

I ask again:  what in the HELL does this man have to do in order for you to say you’re a little nervous?

You actually don’t need to answer that question because I already know the answer.  There is nothing.  You’ve already made your choice.  You’re OK with all this. Not OK, exactly, but willing to let other people do the heavy lifting. Let someone else get their hands dirty. “Such and such will NEVER let him do so-and-so!” you say with confidence based on nothing other than the pressure on your sphincter from you praying you’re right. “I don’t have to say anything NOW because SOMEONE ELSE will stop them THEN!” Really?  Why would they? I’m some faceless bureaucrat in the bowels of the government and some order comes down that is going to hurt a lot of people.  Why does it fall on me to stop this?  Who will know? Who cares? I’ve made my entire career giving my bosses what they want. Why should I stop now? It’s not like anyone cares, right? Nobody but a few cranks are talking about this, and no one takes them seriously anyway!

“Banality of evil.” Look it up. No matter who said it first, the idea that the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing is sound.Why? I think of it as the “Save the Planet” problem.  Sounds good.  Everyone has to be in favor of that , right?  (I mean, except for the person we just elected President.  Not him). Here’s the deal:  The planet is going to be fine.  It’s big.  It has an atmosphere. Its been hit by big rocks and life came back.  Not the same life, but it’s the same planet. For some reason we talk about the planet as if somehow it’s natural we’re here.  It’s not. There was a time we weren’t here.  There could easily be a time we’re not here and the planet will never even notice.  It’ll be fine.  People?  That’s our choice.

So it is with institutions. The only reason institutions have power is because people give it to them. They don’t occur naturally.  They only exist through voluntary participation. In Darkness Visible William Styron made the point that the fundamental choice someone makes every day is whether or not to live or die. So it is with institutions. We have to decide what we’re willing to accept in order for the institution to survive. The Founders made a choice. We think they made the choice for us, but they didn’t. We have to make the choice every single day. Is this thing worth maintaining the institution for? There will be people on the other side of that decision.  There will be institutions. They just don’t have to be the same institutions we have now.

What’s the deal breaker for you? When do you start letting other people know that? Whose job is it to speak for you? When that bureaucrat has to make that call, what does she have to go on?

Years ago there was an ESPN promo where Keith Olbermann says about some ballplayer “He’s day-to-day.  We’re all day-to-day.” So is our country. So are the institutions that make it what it is.

You do what you want. I don’t know what else to do.  I’m speaking out for as long as I can.

Anti-social media

If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in life it’s that you’re welcome to hold any opinion you want as long as it’s well-known that it agrees with everyone else’s. I find being around people draining, which is why it’s so odd I’ve spent so much time on social media. I’m increasingly turning into the least social person I know. And I’m OK with that.

I’ve been uneasy with Facebook for a long time. I resisted getting on it in the first place. While I’ve been able to reconnect (and, in some cases, connect) with people I genuinely like, the cost has been high. I’m not going to go into any detail here, but this morning I expressed an opinion that proved to be wildly unpopular. I’ve never been good at saying what people want to hear.

Not my writing style.
Not my writing style.

Craig Ferguson has a bit he does that I think is dead on. He says that before he says anything he asks three questions:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I’m not sure which of these I did wrong this morning. Number 3, I think.  Maybe #2, but I’m leaning towards #3. The point here is that I got up on a beautiful (if a little sticky) Friday morning and immediately managed to piss people off and, in turn, get pissed off myself. I don’t need this shit.  No one does. I’ve got work to do.

I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. For my own sanity. If I feel like I have something I want to say I have a perfectly good place to say it right here. I don’t have to worry about accidently harshing the mellow of those with delicate mellows who might be exposed to a contrary opinion through the vaguaries of Mark Zuckerberg’s latest timeline algorithm. No one’s going to accidentally stumble on something here. You come here and you get what you pay for. Don’t like it? Don’t come here. The other side of it is that it’s not as quick to write things here as on Facebook. There are many more chances to heed Craig Ferguson’s wise counsel. I can have opinions and the world can easily ignore them. Which is how it should be. Everyone seems to be happier.

Like I said, I’ve got work to do.

Still supporting Bernie

I contributed to Bernie Sander’s campaign the day he announced. I’ve never regretted that, though there are no shortage of people who’d tell me I ought to. I do not care for Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she was all that great as Secretary of State. Libya?  Yeah, that worked out pretty well. And I’m not talking about Benghazi. It was an awful thing, but I never understood what she supposedly did that was so terrible. The answer is, of course  that she didn’t do anything terrible in that incident. My objection was to the whole policy of taking out Quadaffi. Removing someone from power without having a clear plan for who’s going to replace him.  When has that ever gone wrong? On a more mundane level it appears no laws were broken in the email server thing, but that appears to be more about luck than design. It was a bad idea. There were plenty of professionals who advised her that it was a bad idea, and she went and did it anyway. She wanted use her Blackberry for all her mail and her convenience trumped all. It’s not a criminal offense to do stupid things, But this is the judgement we’re all supposed to get all warm and fuzzy about? “Oh I know we’ve spent millions of dollars and had people devote their entire careers to thinking about how we ought to secure our sensitive communication systems. But I really like my Blackberry, so forget about all that.”

I think Trump will beat her. Should he?  Of course not, but close your eyes. Imagine being miles into space and and looking down on the North American continent. Now imagine the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader flying his TIE fighter saying “The stupid is strong with this one.” And sorry Canadians. Maybe you should paint a line that can be seen from space so Darth doesn’t include you in with us. Anyway, a lot of people really hate her. A lot. They will definitely be motivated to show up and vote. You remember a couple of weeks ago when the Brits decided “Boaty McBoatface” was the way to go for naming an Arctic research ship? It’s going to be a lot like that. There will be no shortage of people voting for Trump. There will also be no shortage of people who are voting against Clinton.

I know no one wants to hear that. Sorry. I believe it to be true. Wishing isn’t going to make it go away. I would be gloriously happy to be wrong. Best. Crow. Ever. But people give a shit about the Kardashians. Reality TV is mistaken for reality. Pardon me if I’m not expecting a wave of rationality to wash across the country. No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people. I think Trump beats Clinton.

I have friends who will vote for Clinton. I will not under any circumstances advise them to do otherwise. They’ve all shown me that courtesy, after all.  It’s your sacred duty to vote for the person you want to win. I’m pretty sure the women I know who are voting for her have a more nuanced view than “I have to vote for her because she’s a woman” but it wouldn’t even matter if they did. That still sounds like a better reason than the hypothetical “I’d like to have a beer with him” that people seemed to have no problem with back when it was Bush. There are no rules for how you get to “I want that person to win.” OK, bribery is illegal, but other than that …

For my part I’m planning to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Kentucky primary.  After that it doesn’t really matter.  I live in Kentucky.  Mitch “Don’t call me Yertle” McConnell is our sane Senator. Eastern KY voted en masse for the guy who’s fulfilling his promise to take their health insurance away. I have a better chance being elected Pope than a Democrat has to win the Kentucky electoral votes. There’s no money for education, but the boondoggle “Ark of the Ham” project gets an $18-million subsidy. Yeah, I could vote for Tinkerbell for all it’s going to matter around here.

So that’s where I am.

Those haikus are looking better all the time, aren’t they?

Discontinue if the Bern lasts for four or more hours.

Three reasons I dislike most video on the Internet.

lcd-test-pattern-pro-18a423-h900It’s sort of odd, but I’ve gotten to the point I really hate seeing video on the Internet. It’s funny because I love video. I’ve been shooting it since I was in middle school. I think my first gig was recording a training seminar for teachers. That would have been in either 1976 or 1977. In high school I had access to this weird-ass Akai VT-400 camera/ recorder combo that I used to record whatever I could talk anyone into letting me record. I spent a lot of time with the basketball team.  Up until five or six years ago my professional life revolved around making video in one way or the other. Back in 2008 Streaming Media Magazine named me a Streaming Media All-Star. As best I’ve been able to determine, my team at UC was the first ever to stream a high school graduation live on the Internet back in 2001. That’s a footnote-to-a-footnote kind of accomplishment, but it illustrates the point that I’ve been at this for a while. I still care about video a lot. I’m enjoying this writing thing, but I’d kill to direct a multi-camera shoot just one more time.1,2. But I do hate seeing video pop up on social media.

It’s not the production values (or lack thereof) that bother me. I can’t tell you how many “Intro to TV Production” courses I’ve taught. When you see some of the stuff students do intentionally for a grade when you warned them not to, you’re not terribly overwrought when you see people with no training fall into the same traps. It’s definitely not vertical video. I feel the same way about people who get all holier-than-thou about that issue as I do about people who turn up their noses at a well-made lager because, well, it’s a lager. The phrase “douche canoe comes up almost immediately.

After putting milliseconds of thought into it while making a Facebook comment on this topic, I came up with three reasons I dislike most video on the Internet:

  1. Environmental Demands. Few videos are silent. Most have sound. I’m not always in a place where it’s appropriate for sounds to be playing. I keep my phone muted a lot of the time. When I was in cubicle-land I had headphones, but a lot of time I wore them just to muffle outside sounds. Sounds are intrusive. The Internet may be a dark, seething morass of overdeveloped outrage and underdeveloped potty-training skills, but at least it’s usually quiet.
  2. Cognitive Throttling. I read fast. Like everyone, I read differently depending on the circumstance. If I’m trying to immerse myself in the piece I read every word and am happy to go back and re-read a passage again. If I’m in a hurry or looking for a specific thing I’ll scan until I locate what I’m looking for. Everyone does this to one degree or another. The brain is an amazing thing. The amount of information you can take in at a glance is quite remarkable if you think about it. Of course you don’t have to think about it. That’s kind of the point. Until it’s video. Now you’re getting locked into a single speed. Whatever’s in there you’re looking for, you get to wait for it with everyone else, damnit. It’s going to drip, drip, drip and you can’t do anything about it. That five-minute video is going to take five minutes to watch. Plus anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds extra because there’s probably going to be a pre-roll ad.
  3. Cognitive Hijacking. When you watch a video, you’re outsourcing your cognition to whomever made it. You’re only going to see what the person who made it wants you to see. You’re only going to hear what you’re given. The camera is never passive. It draws attention to itself in varying degrees depending on the technique being used, but you’re not the one who’s deciding what you’re looking at. That’s been done for you. Saying “I’m going to watch TV” or “I’m going to a movie” pretty much means you’re signing up for this voluntarily. I like how Steven Spielberg manipulates my cognition. Uwe Boll?  Not so much. But that’s just me. My main objection to most video on the Internet is that I’m usually doing something else and I can’t really afford to sign over my consciousness to this other person who might or might not share my cognitive goals right then. One of the hoary chestnuts of the Internet is that videos have to be short because no one will watch long videos. Bullshit. People will hang in exactly as long as they need in order to get out of it what they want. You just can’t shove 50 unrelated things into a long video and expect people to wade through all of them to find that one nugget they really want.3

If you have a video of your cat doing something adorable and you label it as such, I have all the information I need in order to decide whether or not to watch it.  And let’s be real. I probably will. Because cats. On the other hand, I have no interest in watching a recipe. Some of the best recipes in the world have been passed down through generations on 3×5 index cards. How is making a video supposed to improve on that? Some particular technique in some step? That’s fair, but then just show me that. You can just write out the rest and I’ll be very happy.

Video is good at showing complex spatial relationships among multiple objects. That could be anything from a baseball game to a gymnastics meet to a video on how to remove a car stereo from a car. Video is good at showing parasocial cues like smiling and body language. Video is good for demonstrating complex techniques. We’ve all seen the line drawings of how to tie a tie or assemble some piece of furniture. Most of the time there’s this one key step that video is perfect for. You look at the drawing on the instructions and you wonder if Screw 2B goes into hole 3C or whether you’re supposed to invade France by way of Belgium4. There are certain things video is good for. It’s not good for everything.

I always liked to tell my students that it’s nearly as hard to make a really crappy video as it is to make a good one. The amount of effort that goes into something has absolutely nothing to do with how good or appropriate it is. The flip side to that is that just because it’s easy to shoot a video and put it up, it doesn’t mean you ought to. I could go on for at least another thousand words about the crime against humanity that is the “video user guide” for most software. Just admit it. You were too lazy to write out the text for what each menu item does. That’s all I want to know. I don’t have to see you do it.

To get my point across do I need anything more than words?  No?  Then stop. Can a picture help show a two-dimensional relationship? Yes? Add that sucker in. Is there something we absolutely have to see in motion  and hear in order to understand? Yes? Then video is a good idea. Otherwise it’s not. It’s not that complicated.


1OK, maybe not kill. I’d be willing to kick you. Call me?
2I did order one of these things way back. It was supposed to ship this month but it’s been delayed to July. Not perfect, but it could be fun.
3As an aside, I think 360-degree video is a cool and interesting technology, but I’m betting people are really going to struggle to find a good use for it in a story-telling setting. How do you direct attention when you just opened up the world by a whole lot? I’m definitely not saying it can’t be done, but I sure don’t know what it looks like. Then again, that’s the fun part, right?
4I’d like to apologize again to the governments of Belgium and France for that misunderstanding when I was assembling my Weber grill.