Charlottesville

The Charlottesville unrest happened: The Unite The Right Rally including prominent displays of white supremacist and neo-nazi symbols assembled to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee sculpture. The gathering was met by anti-bigotry and anti-fascist groups. There were clashes of violence which culminated in a vehicle ramming attack. The vehicle attack killed one person (Heather D. Heyer, a veteran activist against discrimination and hate crime) and injured nineteen others. As of this essay, suspect James Fields has been arrested. The incident has been declared a deliberate attack by the police. Numerous others, including the mayor of Charlottesville have declared it an act of terror.

At least nineteen others have been injured in other clashes during the incident. More may have gone unreported as of this posting.

President Trump responded true to character, first suggesting the violence was being instigated evenly by both sides (or many sides). On Monday August 16th, he made a prepared announcement denouncing the KKK, neo-nazis and white supremacists. But then on Tuesday he walked back his prior remarks and instead suggested an alt-left group was involved and incited the violence.

Many news correspondents and comedians are suggesting that Trump’s words, and his inability to say something appropriate without being triggered to speak his opinions, have verified what we feared was revealed from his campaign: Donald J. Trump is a racist, a white nationalist and a white supremacist. (Though some have suggested that Trump may just like neo-nazis because they are one of the few remaining factions that still say nice things about him.)

We Totally Saw It Coming

We saw this coming before the election. Only Trump suprised us then by actually getting elected. Things are happening pretty much right on the schedule as we anticipated it based on German history circa 1933-1939.

I am curious abut the ranks who are acting surprised about Trump’s compulsive alignment with his white supremacist and neo-nazi bases. Perhaps a small number just couldn’t believe a President could be that openly racist. Most, I think, saw it before and just ignored it. I’m not sure which is giving them the benefit of doubt: were they were blind by sheer hatred of the Democrats? Or are they apathetic to the horror-movie-grade plights of minority communities in the United States? And then I suspect there’s a chunk who are acting surprised, but really want their communities scoured of all the darkies. Except, maybe, Will Smith.

This Doesn’t End Well

Racism — and its supersets, bigotry and xenophobia — are terrifying to me.

I should clarify: Crowds and groupthink are pretty scary. The human animal behaves differently in a crowd than it does as an individual. Our language for it (groupthink, sheeple, cult) carries a bit of shade to it, that suggests that we generally think crowds are pretty darned creepy.

Unless we’re part of it.

Crowds entrance those who are part of the collective. On the outside, this is a super freaky phenomenon, but for those on the inside it’s the happiest, most fabulous thing ever. As a society, we facilitate safe enjoyment of this effect by hosting sports games and music concerts. This in-the-crowd effect is dangerous in politics, since audiences are super-easy to convince that all the world’s troubles would obviously be solved if we can globally unify under Jesus / Anarcho-communism / Market Globalization / the Islamic State. The Nazis (the real Nazis) were so confident in their reign, they imagined and implemented plans for a thousand-year reich because it just felt so right during Hitler’s speech at the rally.

But then, racial supremacists are the worst kinds of crowds. I don’t agree with them. And they want to kill everyone that’s not them. First they’ll come for those who look different or who act different. And they they’ll come for those who think different. Either I’m too thinky, too crazy or too dissident. Whichever way, I’m on the Niemöller list even if I’m not at the top.

Even if I wasn’t, the end-game for xenophobes is a return to primitivism. (Even if they think they’ll do better once they cull the alleged kruft…well, they won’t, and they’ll keep culling.) To create advanced civilizations (that, say, go into space and invent sexbots and turbo-beer), we need diversity. We need a society that tolerates and includes and compels the people to govern themselves despite themselves and can manage populations of billions. And this is not possible while maintaining a homogeneous culture, or one that gives some groups dominance over others.

I Don’t Have the Answers

The problem is I got nothing. I understand the mechanisms of xenophobia on the individual level and the means by which it can be mastered, but my paths involved experience, perspective and self-awareness. And the general public is not going to willingly take mindfulness lessons.

And it’s worse than I ever thought, even after Ferguson revealed that, well, that it is worse than I ever thought. The magnitude of Trump’s popularity, and the influence of his demagogic messaging (resulting in his successful election to President) was a crushing blow to my hope for humanity. Only the incompetence of Trump’s administration and the strength of the resistance has suggested we have time to address this.

But address it we must, because the people of the US are still angry. They’re still disenfranchised. They’re still susceptible to messages of fear, and hate and rage and easy, wrong answers. They’ll continue to resonate with messages of scapegoating and inequality and the building of silly, silly walls. Only eventually we’ll elect someone who isn’t incompetent, someone who will utilize our extensive police state and intelligence community to route out dissenters and eliminate all political opposition.

In future posts, I’ll try to outline some pieces that might usefully fit into the puzzle of how to get past xenophobic hatred. But, yeah, solving white supremacy and social cleansing is way beyond my pay grade.

Global Thermonuclear Teatime

North Korea is doing its routine shakedown, and Our Dear President acted with the predicted level of aplomb. There have been comparisons between Trump’s Fire and Fury rhetoric to Shakespeare’s Macbeth (A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing).

Trumps actual comments were this:

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury, like the world has never seen.

He [Kim Jong-un, Supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement and as I said they [Kim Jong’s threats] will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

North Korea didn’t back off, as per its usual The Mouse That Roared strategy, and instead threatened to attack Guam. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to walk back Trump’s threats. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said to North Korea via official channels (I paraphrase), Guys, we totally outgun you. Don’t attack us.

Trump then (predictably) felt it necessary to affirm how badly he wants to end North Korea.

The whole world is, at this point aghast and outraged at Trump’s aggressive and inciteful attitude regarding nuclear fucking war, yet more observant minds are looking to Mattis for cues to the United States’ actual stance.

In the meantime, it’s one of those times we all should sit down for tea and shortbread, and make sure we’re all on the same page regarding this nuclear war thing. Despite the updating of the nuclear clock by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2017 to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight (the second closest it’s been to midnight, and to existential crisis — doomsday — for all humanity), we’re actually many steps away from nuclear confrontation. It is unlikely this posturing is going to result in military action.

The TL:DR version is this: The threat of nuclear war and nuclear annihilation is still rather low, so long as Trump continues to listen to his military advisers (for whom he’s so far shown considerable respect). The situation in North Korea is, yes, delicate. Eventually, someone’s will have to create a more permanent solution so that the people of the DPRK can continue to survive without its administration escalating periodic military threats. But this can happen only when the circumstances align to let it happen. And it’s going to take someone who is willing to be delicate about it and devote a vast amount of time and effort to doing it right. Id est, probably not Trump.

So yes, this talk covers scary matters, but not under dire circumstances. Still, it is a very serious conversation requiring everyone to be grounded and measured about it. Hence: tea with biscuits (or crumpets or shortbread or whatever). I advise tea and biscuits for all very serious conversations. So please get some on hand before proceeding:

As of yesterday (August 9th, 2017), it’s been seventy-two years since a nuclear incident. , and we all really want to keep it that way. In this case all includes brinksmen like Kim Jong-un. Right now we have a standing precedent acknowledged by the international community that the use of a nuke in hostility is unconscionable, potentially even being beyond militant extremist organizations. Certainly, use of a nuke by a given organization would delegitimize the organization, and any cause they held dear by proxy. If North Korea launched a nuke, it’s regime would be forfeit.

And Kim Jong-un knows this.

This precedent weakens once the clock resets. If North Korea were to launch a nuke, then the threat of nuclear war would still be regarded as extreme, a resort of madmen. Some extremists in some radical organizations would still consider it, though and more so than if it hadn’t already been done. No one wants to be the first to drop a nuke, but plenty would be okay with being the second.

If the United States used nuclear weapons, the US would be regarded as a rogue state by the international community. A nuke from the US would also raise the specter of nukes as a legitimate means of warfare. The US would be regarded as a monster, or as led by monsters. But anyone after that would be justified in part by following the US’ lead. It’s ice that no-one wants broken, but once cracked, others will be more willing to tap away at it.

For the moment, it’s conspicuously robust ice. Nuclear weapons have been in the hands of India and Pakistan, who issue control of the weapons to mid-ranking officers (captains) who can often be fanatic in their hatred of the enemy. Still for all the belligerence between India and Pakistan over half a century, not one launch. Not even a rogue attack. The human species as shown considerable restraint with nukes.

North Korea poses itself as a threat to the peace for a living. It’s true. Stuck as a last bastion of the cold war, and trapped in the role as China’s ill-behaved toady, the DPRK is a failed state, but for the periodic aid it gets from China and the United States. Without this stipend, the people would starve. After that, its dissolution is less predictable: The North Korean military might either take control as a unified front. Or it may or faction and feud. The people might riot and revolt. The Kim Jong family would be in great peril, and while despairing, Kim Jong or a high-ranking official might try to launch its nuclear arsenal just to spite the world.

At some point the US and China will have to figure out a way to stabilize the regime for a longer term, either by military action, or guaranteeing aid to the Kim Jong dynasty for the foreseeable future. China’s and the US’ respective administrations have been kicking the can down the line for quite some time, and it’s very tempting to do so again, since alternatives would be long and tedious. But this also reinforces to the DPRK that it must pose itself as a threat in order to be taken seriously and for infusions of aid to continue. This is a pit all three countries have been digging together. And it’s a pit the UN and the larger international community have watched being dug, without a clever idea or a unified commitment to stop it.

This is to say Trump is right that North Korea is extorting the US for aid, and that this is a situation that should be tolerated only for so long. But few believe Trump is the guy to fix it.

Generally, I don’t give Trump the benefit of the doubt: His behavior so far has shown an interest only in short-term personal gain at expense of others and of commons. But if we supposed for a second he could act in enlightened long-term self-interest (and in interest the international community), then yes, restabilizing North Korea would be a rather noble endeavor, and one worthy of a US president. But he’d need a few things in his favor

Cooperation from China. Any military operation by the US in North Korea would incite a response by China to attack. This has been their stance since the Korean war, and hasn’t changed since. And they’d likely interpret any large-scale humanitarian operation as a military one, especially as we’d want to send a considerable force in to protect personnel and resources.

Cooperation from the Kim Jong administration. Typically, we’d offer them a cushy retirement where they live in luxury on the United States’ dime until their natural death. But that is likely to not fly. Part of the problem is our constant changes in administration, and our tendency to elect guys like Trump who don’t want to honor the agreements of prior administrations. We’ve broken such promises before, and US reputation has suffered for it. Even if the US word was good, there’s the matter that some people like kinging it. Political types often prefer to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. The Kim Jong dynasty might prefer keeping their little fief, even if retirement would provide them a higher standard of living than they already have.

A plan. Essentially, this would be a graduated process to transition North Korea from what it is into something else (e.g. an industrialized democracy). Part of the problem is that China doesn’t want North Korea to be reintegrated with South Korea, and South Korea doesn’t want North Korea to become a province of China. And it would be tricky making a state that would stay independent of the other two. Then there’s the problem that our own peerless President tends to underestimate the magnitude, complexity and tedium of huge projects like this. As things are, Jared Kushner would probably be tasked with creating such a plan, and his to-do list is currently impacted.

The first job of the leader of a nuclear power is to not make threats. Nuclear war is a Mexican standoff, and everyone’s job in such a situation is to not provoke anyone else. If I were to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt — If he’s not trying to start a war to improve ratings, and if he’s not trying to launch nukes for the childlike joy of instigating large ka-booms — I could argue he may have been tapping from his wrestling experience, engaging in trash talk (or smack talk), which is part of the posturing ritual in sports.

War is not a sport.

War is about killing the enemy, which includes any soldiers that the enemy positions before him. The ideal step is to avoid military action entirely. To quote Sun Tzu The best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army, and the worst is to attack a walled city. Laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available. Nuclear war is grand-scale siege. Nuclear weapons are regarded as strategic weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Even when used on military targets, nukes make a terrible mess, and make for massive casualties.

This is why responsible statesmen do not provoke war, but only resort to military action when all other alternatives are exhausted. Armies are not toys. Armies are not sports teams. Armies do not score goals or earn points or battle over trophies or pennants.

And the world needs to know that the most massive nuclear arsenals are in the hands of cautious, deliberate persons who wouldn’t under any circumstances resort to violence based on whimsy or outrage. The first duty of the President of the United States (when war breaks out or when the US is threatened) is to assure the world this is the case.

The President’s first obligation is to reassure the international community that the US only takes military action, after circumstances have been weighed, after all options have been considered, after diplomacy fails. The President has to assure the world the force necessary to restore order from chaos will be carefully measured out and implemented with precision and restraint. And not one bullet more will be expended.

I won’t give Trump the benefit of doubt regarding his television viewing habits. Still, Trump’s threats to North Korea remind me more of an early episode of The West Wing (S01E02, Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc). The president’s own doctor is shot down in a helicopter while flying over Jordan, and intelligence traces the order to attack the chopper to the Syrian Defense Ministry. The president responds (privately, to his Chief of Staff) I’m going to blow them off the face of the earth with the fury of God’s own thunder. The very next episode (S01E03) is A Proportional Response. President Bartlett has to confront the difference between the military action that, in his outrage, he wants to take against Syria, versus the military response that is appropriate under the circumstances. It’s process that sadly seems absent regarding George W. Bush’s military decisions during his administration in the aughts. The post 9/11 era was a very angry time, and there still seems to be a prevailing belief that personal anger is an acceptable guide to determine the behaviors of a global superpower.

Dealbreaker

I’ve been trying to get back to playing The Division again. 😻 is super into it, and has been playing it with other buddies. She wants me to play it as well, only it’s been mostly frustrating.

It took me a while to pin down why I’m hating it. I like New York City as depicted in The Division. I like the weather and all the nooks and sewers and subways and abandoned apartments that are there to be explored. I like the interface, and how it aligns with the world rather than with the player’s display, and I like the tactical cover system which makes the maneuvers of the soldiers seem authentic.

There’s also stuff I dislike about The Division:

Any enemy that’s not a common low-level mook is a bullet sponge capable of soaking up more damage than a rhinoceros or a light tank. In the later game, there are no common low-level mooks.

Bad-guys side-gripping a handgun are more accurate than a player with a sniper. It’s impossible for players to get range advantage. Also I also discovered that a sniper rifle doesn’t have the range of two blocks. Bullets fired outside of a short range are just forgotten.

There’s the countless places where I should be able to jump from one place to another but can’t because jumping is all contextual, and not all the spots were contexted.

I have over a dozen such nitpicks, and they bother me a lot. But these aren’t dealbreakers. They make what could have been a great game into a just-okay game, but they wouldn’t stop me from playing it on their own. Especially, when I’m playing it with 😻.

Dealbreakers

Dealbreakers are found regarding all things involving a decision, from toothpaste to college to elected officials. But usually, the term is used in relationship parlance, often because we need to be reminded that they exist regarding relationships.

Alice is hot for Bob. Bob thinks Alice is his soul mate. But Bob is adamant women should submit to traditional gender roles (homemaker, mother) while Alice is a determined childfree career woman. That’s called a dealbreaker, a specific thing that would rule out a relationship. Carol needs personal contact every day, which precludes long-term relationships. David needs lots of alone time, which precludes someone who likes to do everything together. Ellen gets dissatisfied outside a sexually open relationship, where Francis insists on sexual exclusivity. That’s not going to work.

We all have dealbreakers. Ideally, we each get to know our own well enough to put words to them. We express them early, so that we detect incompatible matches early. Which means we spend more time finding a good match than pursuing one that’s nearly assured to run afoul.

Technical Difficulties

Dealbreakers exist with games, too. For me most of them are technical. I play first- and third-person games with the mouse-Y reversed (which is to say for me I pull back to look up and push forward to look down, like the pitch of an airplane). An FPS that doesn’t let me reverse the Y-axis is a dealbreaker. I just can’t play it the other way, or rather, I can, but I don’t find it fun. I also play left-handed, which means that any keys I can’t reassign I will try to reassign by an external key-mapping client. If that doesn’t work either, it’s probably a dealbreaker. Thus, the more flexible the keyboard mapping of a game (even if I have to edit some configuration file somewhere) the better I’ll get along with it.

A common nightmare scenario for me is when a game I adore is rendered unplayable (by me) due to some technical problem. I love the game Subnautica, but as I played the May 2017 build (it’s in early-access) its framerate got super slow. Worse than that, the game would stall (freeze, momentarily) super often, more than once every ten seconds. The cheats that used to help didn’t help this time, and eventually the game became too frustrating to play.

It was a super-sad moment, because I was afraid it might be a hardware incompatibility. Sometimes games are released that run on most computers and most graphics cards. When yours is one of the systems that doesn’t run it, that just sucks. The June build was better, but still got too stuttery when I advanced too far. July’s build of Subnautica had faster framerate overall. It stalls too, but it gets most of its stalling done early in a play session. As it is, I’m reaching the point where it’s becoming unplayable, but at least this time I can rest assured the developers are trying to fix it.

This is a known occurrence: A specific favorite game has technical problems. It’s a common problem with old games: I finally get a system fast enough to make a game fly and run glassy smooth, but then it is incompatible with the newer operating systems, and doesn’t work right. For popular games, there are online user communities that provide mods and patches to get it going with the present hardware, drivers and OS. GOG’s whole business model started by providing old well-loved games pre-tweaked to work with current systems, and I’ve repurchased several games on the GOG service to take advantage of that very aspect.

Digital Greed

The Division has technical problems too. Playing the game requires connecting to the Uplay server, but at the moment, the game is underserved. Recent updates bolstered its popularity, but the server can’t handle everyone. There’s considerable lag. When I shoot a target, it more often than not takes a moment or two (sometimes a full five seconds) before that hit registers. And if that means a rushing goon is invulnerable long enough to reach me and smack me dead, well then I’m dead, thanks to all the lag, all the time.

But worse, this persistent connection is unnecessary. The game uses the Uplay network for single-player, and for multiplayer co-op, both of which should be playable locally (by LAN) or using a listen server. In this case, Uplay tries to make The Division look like an MMO even though most players aren’t using the MMO features of the game.

This isn’t done because it’s what the game needs. It’s being done as a device to prevent piracy. By requiring the game log onto the Uplay proprietary server, only authorized accounts can play the game, but it makes the game frustrating. All the lag is a reminder that Ubisoft has little respect for the end user. It makes all my nitpicks above seem that much larger. It justifies my rage for companies that resort to DRM or access control methods that affect the play experience. By being afraid of allowing a game to be accessible to illicit users, they’ve made the game so I don’t want to play it at all.

It’s a dealbreaker.

Now I just have to tell 😻.

Rule of Law

This is a good old fashioned rant about something I read on a news site.

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board was distraught over movements in the White House to remove Attorney General Jeff Sessions from office as a means to fire Special Prosecutor. In criticism of Trump’s pressure on Sessions to resign, the Post brought up the notion of a rule-of-law state where …powers to police, prosecute and imprison are wielded impartially, with restraint and according to clearly defined rules. These rules apply equally to rich and poor, powerful and weak, ruling party and opposition….

Rule-of-law is the difference between a nation of laws versus a nation of lords (more traditionally, a nation of men). In the latter it is the power of officials to apply force on others. It’s a notion not entirely without merit: Writing laws that comprehensively cover all circumstances is hard. And where such laws are absent, sometimes the holistic consideration by a human being can create a better outcome for all persons connected to an incident of injustice, or that the minds of twelve can effectively determine guilt or innocence. Often, though, not. Judges are commonly tasked to sort out matters beyond their expertise (technology and intellectual property are common culprits leading to books of bad precedents) and sometimes judges and juries are just plain biased as humans commonly are. This is why we like our laws to get extremely specific. It’s why we like rule-of-law.

Ideally we break down the determination of guilt and redress by logical delineations based on the facts we have, and how verifiable those facts are. Ideally, we gather highly-confident solid evidence based on scientific measurements rather than witness testimony. Ideally we determine what happened and by whom to a strong measure of certainty. Ideally the law denotes what behaviors are criminal, and what the penalties are for doing them to excruciating specificity. And ideally the law accounts for most circumstances (such as necessity or coercion). Ideally, these standards are applied regardless of the race, religion, sex or social strata of the accused and of the victim, and ideally these standards disregard irrelevant personal or cultural details, such as whether the assailant was a Juggalo or a Goth, or whether the alleged bank robber is a perv, or whether the victim was dressed too suggestively or otherwise asking for it.

In the United States, despite mistreatment by our British overseers that drove us to seek independence and inspired our Constitutional framers to consider rule-of-law at length, we never got very good at it ourselves. Early on, we set a precedent that some folk (white Christian males) are more equal than others (everyone else). Later on, we got too impatient fighting organized crime, and willfully bent the rules in order to convict high-ranking mobsters. But bending rules led to the understanding that it was okay to bend the rules when circumstances became dire enough. And then that bar drifted ever lower.

Even during our most recent half-century, the trend of the United States has been to drift further away from rule of law in favor of consolidating power, and indulging comfortable prejudices. By the time President Obama left office, the era of cameras had long since revealed a trend of gross abuses of power by law enforcement, and the mainstream discovered what minorities had known for generations: even despite civil rights movements and efforts towards pluralism, we are a segregated society across several axes, and the law affects us differently based on our position along each one.

The public has only just begun in recent years independently cataloguing how often officers shoot civilians. Congress mandates the FBI track all police shootings and report to the Bureau of Justice Statistics every year. The agency just has failed / refused to follow this order for decades. Some precincts don’t even exercise due diligence in filing reports of discharged weapons and slayings of civilians. Once it came to the attention of the public that this data were being suppressed, news agencies and non-profits started to track coroner reports to involvement in police incidents for causal relationships.

In the United States, the public finally started seeing efforts to push for more oversight, advocated by police administrators to reform what has become a culture of antagonism between law enforcement and the public. We’ve started programs such as requiring in officer training, classes in conflict de-escalation and mandating body-cameras to be worn by on-duty officers. (Although the cameras are often still controlled by precincts, not independent oversight parties.) Police Captains miss the trust that’s been lost. Notably, police unions have not, and enjoy the above-the-law status of their membership. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, if we are to judge by his policies, agrees with the unions and not the chiefs.

And thus, contrary to the opinions of the Post Editorial Board, the United States is far from an exemplar to the rest of the world how rule-of-law should be applied. Though for the past centuries, it was a lot easier to pretend that was the case. Only now that technology has unmasked hidden evidence can we demand a higher order of transparency. Through oversight by the public this can change. But it does mean admitting that the United States remains, more than ever, a state of lords, where we are ruled by human preferences of a small elite of officials rather than by clear-cut law. The United States aspires to truth, justice and freedom, but it has achieved none of these to any significant degree.

And Sessions has established by his policies as Attorney General, he is no friend to the rule-of-law: Sessions discontinued reform efforts and has supported the pretense that law enforcement officers are above reproach. He’s throttled up the perpetual war on drugs, focusing again on cannabis despite the movement to decriminalize it (sometimes choosing to push the DEA to enforce federal law in decriminalized counties) He’s chosen to all but ignore the opioid addiction epidemic that is pushing Americans to heroin, except to use this to justify more incarcerations. He’s reinstated for-profit prisons despite their notoriety for inmate abuse in the name of profit. He’s ceased programs to review forensic science methods (e.g. field testing kits) that are known to provide dubious data, specifically false-positives that are then still accepted by judges as valid evidence.

And Sessions has allowed the immigration enforcement agencies to ignore the rules of engagement defined by the courts of law. Specifically, they’re supposed to be prioritizing deportation of undocumenteds convicted of violent crime. Instead, they’re deporting any undocumented persons they can easily gather like bison on the plains, targeting courthouses, schools, churches, hospitals and those who contact the police to report incidents. ICE and CPB have also been targeting American Citizens who can be passed as undocumented immigrants, especially if the means to prove their citizenship can be withheld from them while they are detained. Exiles are then deported to nations that are not their native homes, which often puts them in direct risk of violence, capture and trafficking. All of this is happening under Sessions’ watch and with his knowledge (or at least his refusal to stay informed).

Sessions has been executing his office as if he prefers frontier justice over the rule-of-law. And yes, he recused himself from the Russia probe, but only after being caught omitting incidents of contact with Russian emissaries during the election campaign. Twice. Sessions self-recusal is better explained as being coincidentally proper, but it is more in his character that it was a last resort effort to retain the appearance of propriety under pressure. Now, Sessions’ long-standing loyalty to Trump is being repaid by candid public criticism and efforts to consider the easiest ways to dispose of Sessions. Trump characteristically will sacrifice even his most loyal friends if he believes doing to will save his own hide, and Sessions is likely the next victim. I won’t say this turn of events is just, per se. But considering Sessions’ policies and respect for justice-for-all. It certainly is poetic.

Still, there is a cautionary tale here in very Martinian form: if you participate in corruption, steering the system away from rule-of-law and towards jungle law, you can’t expect to rely on the safety and security that rule-of-law provides. Might becomes right where we don’t actively sustain a system to define right by a better standard of fairness and defend that standard for all.

And it surprises me that the Post Editorial Board doesn’t seem to read its own news. Recent events have shown us the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez, The slaying of Justine Damond, Sessions closure of the National Commission on Forensic Science, his dismissal of DoJ reports on police abuse. These are not symptoms of a nation of laws. Rather our aspirations to rule-of-law have been torn asunder by a rising police state that we mostly ignored during an era when our president was less monstrous.

Perhaps having a monster for a President gives us the reality check we need.

We can be thankful Trump retains an antagonistic relationship with the intelligence community. But short a major electoral reform movement, Trump’s election into office foreshadows the election of future monster-presidents, some who might embrace the intelligence community, and will persue their agenda of routing out dissidents with efficiency and ferocity.

And that will end the Land of The Free.

Women of Virtue

When A Boy Wonder And A Girl Wonder Love Each Other Very Much…

In Wonder Woman, 2017, Diana of Themyscira and Steve Trevor talk sex.

More realistically, they talk relationships. The conversation in the movie is super awkward, and I hesitate to repeat it. A TL;DR version is thus:

Diana of Themyscira: Why are you sleeping over there. It’s more comfortable over here.

Steve Trevor: Where I come from, men and women only sleep together if they’re married. It’s a matter of propriety.

Diana: You only sleep with your wife?

Steve: No. I’m single. I’m also a cynic and a rake. I’ll sleep with anyone.

Diana: This boat is too small for social delicacies. Sleep over here.

This small bit (if it were put so briefly) would have been sufficient enough make the point: Diana is no western-culture pre-modernist delicate flower. She’s inclined to suffer propriety on the field about as much as would Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil of the Navy Combined Reconnaissance Team (G.I. Jane, 1997, played by Demi Moore). But Steve Trevor couldn’t leave well enough alone, and had to bring up sex. The conversation (here, verbatim) didn’t go so well.

Diana: You refer to reproductive biology.

Steve: Yes.

Diana: Yeah, I know. I know all about that.

Steve: I refer to that and other things.

Diana: The pleasures of the flesh.

Steve: Do you know about them?

Diana: I’ve read all twelve volumes of Clio’s treatises on bodily pleasure.

Steve: All twelve, huh? Did you bring any of those with you?

Diana: You would not enjoy them.

Steve:: I don’t know. Maybe.

Diana: No, you wouldn’t.

Steve: Why not?

Diana: They came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.

Ouch.

Flirt At Your Own Risk

There may be a conspiracy in Chris Pine‘s cinematic career to assure he gets regularly drubbed for being too forward. This isn’t the first time it’s happened under circumstances inconsistent with the fiction.

In Star Trek 2009, not yet in Star Fleet, James Kirk (Pine) flirts with Cadet Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in an Iowan bar only to get pummeled by a mob of cadets on shore leave. Gene Roddenberry imagined the Star Trek future (human society, at least) as a sexually permissive one, at least much less uptight than twenty-first century United States. It was Roddenberry’s script writers and overseers who couldn’t hack it disagreed. Across several series, the Star Trek franchise would drift to become even more conservative than US society during their respective eras. Captain Kirk circa 1967 made out with (had sex with) a woman at every waypoint during the original series. Roddenberry intended Kirk to be exemplary of human conduct. But Pine’s Kirk in the 2009 reboot was made into a butt monkey who suffers harshly whenever he has a pervy moment.

In Wonder Woman 2017, Pine’s Steve Trevor approaches Diana. It not only provokes her to get defensive and deflect with academics, but then she feels the need to insult him. She not only insults Steve, but all of male-kind.*

But why would she? Why would she feel the need? Why would an Amazon of Themyscira need to deflect or retaliate because sex was mentioned?

This kind of offense and reprisal is particular to Christian-dominated western culture. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for a woman to respond any less than aghast would be to imply her own promiscuity. Slut-shaming has a long standing tradition. As has telling men to go fuck themselves when they show even a hint of sexual interest.

Regardless these are traditions we westerners are beginning to regret now we’re in the twenty-first century.

Doing It Amazon Style

Slut-shaming and punishing men for flirting are also traditions to which Diana of Themyscira would be completely unexposed, having not been connected to the rest of Europe since way before St. Augustine of Hippo campaigned to spread Christianity. When discussing Artemis, I noted that sexual openness (what is often regarded as sluttiness) was the expected norm of women in classic Greece. The 20th century stereotype we have for men in the United States, that they’d fuck any passable woman given any opportunity, was the stereotype of women through the classical age and even through the Roman Empire.

Diana has never been taught to be ashamed of her sexuality, or to be wary of men.

With that in mind, I’d imagine a better response (one truer to a self-secure Amazon warrior and classical-era demigod) would look something like this:

Diana: Are you propositioning me?

Steve: Um…what if I were?

Diana: I’d reject you.

Steve: You would? Why?

Diana: Because I don’t want to.

On Themyscira (or, say, in Attica, Locris or Oetaea) that would be enough. But say our turn-of-the-century Steve Trevor expects women to pretend to be pure and virginal. As such they must always reject a proposition (as per the one-sided rules of courtly romance), and so he presses on just to be sure.

Steve: Was it something I said?

Diana: No it wasn’t. I don’t want sex. I want to sleep. Also, I barely know you, Steve Trevor. At the end of this mission, we can rest. And if, by then, I have no cause to resent you, my answer may be different.

Wonder Woman is not just a superheroine with powers beyond mortals. She’s also a paragon, like Superman or Jesus (or Supergirl should be). Being a paragon, she serves to set an example of how we humans should behave in given situations. In this case, a woman should be able to say no, for any reason. And any reasonable man should be able to accept it.

Wonder Woman was created by Charles Moulton to serve as an example of how a self-secure, empowered woman could behave (often in contrast to expectations and stereotypes).** Moulton’s premise is that if women were able to exist as equals to men; if they were to participate in society alongside men (rather than under them); if they were able to openly state their will and interests rather than having to subvert them, then our society would be a better, happier place, not just for women but for men as well.

And Wonder Woman serves as an embodiment of this ideal.

* Granted, she’s noting someone else’s opinion, but it is that of a scholar, and Diana is implying she agrees with it, or at least accepts it until proven otherwise. In the defense of men, even if we developed the ultimate vibrator (or better-than-human sexbots), and a completely-touchless breeding / cloning program, we’d still want to relate to each other because we like to relate. At worst, our standards would go up regarding the company and paramours we’d keep. Pleasure and reproduction are not the only functions of sex. Furthermore, there’s the matter of orientation: Someone who (say) is attracted to bears is often going to be inclined towards a mediocre bear over a highly-skilled non-bear much the way a typical heterosexual guy is going to want an attractive, if unskilled woman over even the most sexually adept and completely charming of gay men.

Yes, I’m insecure about being replaced. Why do you ask?

** By empowered, I include the presumption that a woman doesn’t fear for her life in refusing a man. Plenty of statistics (especially regarding young adults in college-related circumstances) suggest there are numerous predators amid gentlemen. Mortal women are often at considerable risk of physical harm when they do engage / are engaged by unknown men. Furthermore, men have been assumed (in courts of law, no less) to be justified when they physically aggress. And yes, this implies men are expected to be brutes with no self-control. In these cases, it doesn’t seem to matter which tact is taken: If she firmly rejects him, she was too firm, and bruised his ego. If she was gentler, she was too obtuse, and he pressed on thinking she was just being coy.

Wonder Woman, in the meantime, is capable of tossing a man like an Olympic shot-put champion and is willing to do so when diplomacy fails. So for Diana specifically, the risk of assault is insignificant, and she can behave as if she actually lives in a society where men typically respect women’s personal space. (I do wonder if she’s still susceptible to date-rape drugs. I’d expect Wonder Woman to be immune to toxins as well, But I’m not sure.)

For the rest of womankind, matters of sexual assault are not only common, but currently politicized in the US. It may require decades of social change before women and men can freely negotiate a fling without facing a considerable risk of harm, even if it’s due to only a small number who act in bad faith.

One old study from the 90s that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed suggests one in twelve, or 8% of college-age men are willing to rape or sexually assault a women if they think they can get away with it. Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest in century, the rate-per-capita of sexual assault has plummeted (along with all violent crime) and it’s being reported more often (about 78% of sexual assaults in the 1970s were not reported according to estimations). It’s still a problem: we don’t treat our rape victims well. We don’t take them seriously. We also don’t teach our kids about consent or how romance and courtship works in the real world. Yet, our media continues to suggest the way to a girl’s heart is to stalk her like a slasher-flick madman until she submits. When it comes to sexual matters, the US is a messed up society. (But we’re getting better.)

Cat: Eight Days!

My writing routine appears to go as follows: I jot down partial essays, each based on a single rant or question or supposition; Over time, I add to them as new ideas come to me; Eventually, there’s enough to support a complete thought (A complete point or thesis statement). Then I rewrite it and polish it into something cohesive. I give it a few edit passes. (Run-on sentences and sentence fragments seem to be my worst offenses.) And then you, my avid readership, see the final result here.

Worrying about publishing every day seemed to cause more fret than good for a while, so I intentionally avoided the worry, allowing my partials to sit unfinished until they’re good and ready. As a result it seems I’m posting about once a week, but long (two-thousand-plus word) essays.

Though not this week, as eight days went my since my last post. What happened?

Part of it has been my usual Wednesday trip to San Francisco. That involves prepping on Tuesday (which is non-conducive to writing), then being gone all day Wednesday, then being exhausted on Thursday.

Still, I’ve written a bunch of partials. So I’ve been writing, just nothing that has reached critical mass. This seems to happen to me a lot.

Three such partials regard the new Wonder Woman film. I only saw the first hour of it, but that was enough to make me feel it wasn’t right. There are so many positive opinions about how great Wonder Woman 2017 is. And this tells me either a) my standards for good media are rising or a) everyone else’s standards are falling. I’d say my standards for media and for storytelling are comprehensive but forgiving. Also there’s been a few discussions on how Hollywood’s risk aversion tendencies are making movies worse.

My WW articles-in-development are about:

Hollywood just can’t seem to get women right. Wonder Woman, like Superman* is a paragon figure, there to be an exemplary model for us mortals as how to take the high road (or at least behave in a sober, adult manner) in social situations.

[Minor WW spoiler] There’s more to making an ultimate chemical warfare agent then creating a mustard gas that can corrode gas masks. Rather, an indefensible gas is worse for military operations. We’ve long developed agents that absorb through the skin for which common gas protections are useless. And we don’t use them. Taking a page from the parable of King Canute there is a modern adage applicable to such weapons: Not even the President commands the wind.

Hollywood just can’t seem to leave Helenic myths alone. As they’ve done in other movies, Greek mythology and Wonder Woman mythology have both been shoehorned into a crushed sole resembling the Divine Comedy, featuring Zeus as Yahweh and Ares as Satan. Originally, Aphrodite gave life to Diana of Themyscira much the way she gave life to Pygmalion’s sculpture. In WW 2017, Zeus created Wonder Woman but also humans in general (Prometheus is forgotten.) Oh and Ares killed off all the rest of the Olympians before his fall from Heaven Olympus. WTF, Hollywood?

Also, unrelated to Wonder Woman, but rather to news:

The Masterpiece Cakeshop trial is going to be heard in the United States Supreme Court, which has raised questions about interaction between the first amendment (specifically freedom of religion) and public accommodation laws (which mandate that business which serve the public may not discriminate against customers on account of race, religion, color, creed, etc. etc.). I put some thought into what this interaction means if the ruling on this case serves as a consistently-applied precedent to future cases (e.g. Can Mormons discriminate against Blacks? Can religious bakers choose to only serve customers of their own specific faith? Must a Jewish baker provide a cake for a neo-Nazi rally?) The Hobby Lobby ruling set the precedent that corporations may hold sincerely-held religious beliefs and these can supersede mandated employee protections and benefits. This ruling is already is causing our protections against unequal treatment to unravel, and I don’t agree with it. Based on that, I believe SCOTUS cannot be trusted to adjudicate fairly or rationally. I don’t expect its ruling will necessarily reflect the values of equal treatment that were established by our framers, and affirmed over the twentieth century.

* Or for that matter, Supergirl. Supergirl should also serve as a living example so we could ask what would Supergirl do?, but that’s not the case, at least, based on the ongoing TV series version of her.

PS: The computer I was building last week is now in 😻’s happy hands. Gaming has resumed, which is certainly a factor why I haven’t written anything for so long.

Unexceptional

Check In: The recent in-house crises continue through this week. I’ve been building a computer for 😻 which required installing Windows fresh and a handful of favorite games (some of which then required post-facto tweaking to play right). The computer is ready and being delivered today.

Also our sofa-surfing refugee has found a place to live, so it’s now a matter moving her to the new place so she can sleep in a bed, and not on a sofa.

Meanwhile, American Independence Day came and went, and I’d like to think that I would have been able to write something appropriate to be posted on the day proper, hadn’t I been building a computer. Probably not, though. My own history has shown I’m just not that organized. Still, the computer delayed my doing pretty much anything else and serves as a solid excuse. And I did actually write a decent Independence Day article:

Running the Madhouse

Bedlam is a word for chaos or confusion, suggesting a large crowd, such as a mass panic or a riot. We get the term from Bethlem Royal Hospital, possibly the first ever madhouse.

And a madhouse it was. Founded in 1247 it was a prison for the demon-stricken or brain-damaged or spirit-possessed or just plain too-queer. They weren’t good at diagnosis then, but at the time London needed a place to put the folk who were clearly a few planks short of a barrel to function in proper society. There were too many village idiots in London, and they needed a place to go, so Bethlem Royal was founded.

As was typical of prisons and repositories of people we don’t like or understand much, Bethlem wasn’t a very nice place at all. It was really rather wretched.

For it time the hospital got enterprising and would invite tourists in for a small donation (free Tuesdays!). These guests could view the inmates as a spectacle. Bethlem even furnished their paying guests with a stick by which to agitate underresponsive patients. Look, he’s ranting again!

Bethlem eventually went under audit. It was decided that the raving madhouse was more likely to drive the orderlies to lunacy of their own than successfully treat a patient back to functionality. It took several reforms before the hospital became something other than a quality setting for Gothic horror. Certainly few stories coming out of Bethlem were anything else.

It didn’t help that the science of psychology itself wasn’t respectable until the late twentieth century. Oh, we had ideas which made sense, but society liked to assume that crazies (in this case, crazies are those who dysfunctionally suffer from mental disorders) were all psycho-killers. As a result, most mental hospitals through to the 1970s tried all sorts of treatments which mostly fried the brains of their subjects, or otherwise added history of abuse to their list of troubles.

But times did change, and we did get better at treating for mental-health, and
Bethlem Royal Hospital exists today as a state-of-the-art psychiatric foundation. Bethlem now has several facilities, and provides a full spectrum of mental-health services to the British public and does a decent job of it.

Interestingly (to me) rather than suppressing its grotesque, embarrassing history, Bethlem embraces it, recognizing that it started with a less-than-ideal mission, but through time, scientific advancement, human compassion and lots and lots of terrible mistakes, it managed to change from a horrific menagerie of lunatics into a respectable institution of medicine.

Bethlem Royal is now a high-end establishment of psychiatric care and study, not due to British competence or the power of will, but a matter of trial and error over centuries of time.

Fairy Stories

Across the pond, here in the United States, we teach a our children a hagiographic history of our nation.

Manifest Destiny is spun as a benefit to the peoples displaced, reeducated or drafted into servitude. Westernization, the process of pushing Western European culture onto aboriginal peoples is taught as a good thing.

Freedom for all is emphasized without acknowledgement of the countless sharecroppers who came to the new world who would never know liberty, themselves. Rather, such unfortunates took on an insurmountable debt to escape persecution. At the time, typically, it was religious persecution: Anglicans, Lutherans and Catholics still took their religion very seriously, and the faith of whatever royal was in power would determine which citizens were legal, and which were committing the capital crime of heresy. (Then there were those who were of other faiths, such as Puritans and Quakers. Heretics the lot of them!) When the only alternative was to perish in the fire, taking on huge debt and fleeing to become servants in the new world was the better deal.

American colonials, thus, had little choice but to submit themselves and their families to a lifetime of feudal servitude. Lower then them, Africans were captured and brought to the new world as outright slaves. They weren’t even regarded as human (Until it was time to count for the census, at which point they were given the value of three fifths of a person). Women (of any color) were still property and had no stature, and often were married (in arranged unions) as young as nine years old. (And yes, they were expected to perform their marital duties.)

The United States, child Americans are taught, promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, according to our public-school itineraries. Omitted is the caveat that you had to be white, male and a property owner before you were eligible for any of them (and then, only for limited shades of white). To this day, in 2017, we teach as if women, Irish, blacks, American Indians and Latin-Americans (that is, the children of Spanish colonials who interbred with aboriginal Americans) were included in this emancipation.

Our education departments have lots of ‘splaining to do.

The American Scheme

Books have been written about the unspoken nit and grit of US history. Our real history is a tumultuous saga of peril and scandal, rife with heroes and assassins and traitors and betrayal, tyrants and cruelty and grafters and deception. You know, history.

And yet, when we teach our children, we distill out all the drama, reducing our nation’s story to steamed mush. Why is this?

Part of it is a grand conspiracy.

Not a smokey-conservatory-hatched scheme like the business plot, where a handful of well-to-dos got together and decided what the United States needs right now is a good shot of that fascism stuff that’s working so well for Italy and Germany. And their big plan would have worked too if their cover wasn’t blown by a high-ranking US Marine named Smedley. (Seriously!)

Rather, a cabal of parents and teachers and administrators got together (by cabal I mean casual tea party like with actual tea and shortbread). They started pondering what the message was of US history. What are we trying to convey to our kids?

They decided it was certainly not that the US is (and has always been) a bag of dicks: Whether the United States was massacring Indians for their land or sending American draftees to war with shoddy gear; whether it was letting US officials embezzle huge sums from the public fund unchecked or crushing the governments of democratic nations and replacing them with corrupt authoritarian regimes on the US payroll; or whether the United States going to war because some American aristocrats wanted it real bad, and then kidnapping and torturing people for their pleasure (without trial or due process, or any good purpose), the US has often not served as a good example for our small young Americans to follow.

So they started with the message they did want the kids to glean, specifically the message of American Exceptionalism. They then worked backwards to polish the American story to fit that ideology. In short time, this Exceptionalism policy became the US educational norm. Curiously, we never created a standard history curricula, leaving textbook publishers to choose how to revise the narrative. Still, when history teachers want to spice their lessons up with authentic scandal and treachery, parents still get weird about it.

The Exceptionalism message teaches:

The United States and its people are special and unique. Not just snowflake special or unique. Rather Americans are more special and unique than any other people in the whole world.

The United States and its people deserve more and better than anyone else, on account that we’re that special kind of special and unique.

The United States and its people have a duty to convey American-ness to the rest of the world, which is to say, Americans are obligated to spread Americanism and American ideology to other peoples and other nations. We pressure other peoples to behave as we do, to speak our language, to engage in customs and tasks as we would, and to believe the things that we believe.

Does this sound as creepy as fuck to anyone else?

It sounds a lot like the Great Commission, especially as it’s been used to justify wars and massacres. It sounds like the Islamic State which that Islamic state is trying to be. It sounds like Pax Impera or Manifest Destiny, like someone is trying to indoctrinate our kids. If we were looking at any other culture or country (such as the Islamic State or Communist Vietnam) we’d call it brainwashing.

Kids aren’t special because they got hatched under a given flag. They’re special for who they are in life. The Wright Brothers weren’t exceptional because they lived in North Carolina under the US banner, but because they created a powered plane that didn’t fall apart mid flight. They would still be exceptional if they were French or Chinese or Guatemalan. (We don’t even get to say ours is a nation that inspires inventors. Our actual innovators commonly wind up penniless like Charles Goodyear with their patents owned by monied interests.) Americans are only as virtuous, as innovative, as friendly or as resilient as we individually set out to be, and living in US territory doesn’t change that.

Fanfare For the Common Man

(Incidentally…)

David Mitchell observed a tendency of the people of the United Kingdom (specifically those people with whom he associates) to sustain a certain pervasive humility. The English, he imagines, are keenly aware that they — individually and as a people — aren’t anything special to speak of at all. British folk aren’t particularly super-wise, talented or sweet-smelling, Mitchell believes, and they know this. And, he surmises, this is good, even useful.

Self-awareness beats competence anytime. Mitchell observes. By knowing they are not all-that and they don’t know what’s what Englishfolk might realize that it’s not though any intrinsic talent or brilliance or awesomeness that they’re going to excel, but only through sustained perseverance: Only by effort and practice over a long time, suffering countless mistakes and embarrassments that will they ever get good at anything.

Brits, David Mitchell asserts, know their flag gives them no advantage.

Of course, as he points this out, he also expresses his annoyance at politicians of the UK referring to the Great British Public and people responding to this phrase, enjoying pretending that it means they’re the ones who are great (as in brilliant or superior), rather than just someone from Great Britain. This phenomenon, which seems relatively new, defies his notion that Brits are humble like they should be. Some Brits get that they’re ordinary, but some, it seems, don’t.

Regardless of how consistent the English are in their personal humility, it is a useful feature to those who sustain such a tact: Neither Brits nor Americans are exceptional, and even when we are desperate for our individual identities to shine, it’s by a false premise to assume that our nationality makes a difference (or, for that matter, our race or culture). This also means that we can’t be discredited because Americans and English don’t have to try as hard because we’re naturally better. We aren’t, and when we do accomplish greatness, we don’t have to subtract a factor based on nationality when assessing our credit for it.

Also, when we indulge notions of national exceptionalism or racial exceptionalism or cultural exceptionalism, we set ourselves up to be chumps for the next big cult or ideological movement looking for an army of mooks to do its dirty work. Worldwide, we humans are all imbiciles of the same cloth. When we assume we’re special intrinsically, we forget that we’re only the good guys so long as we don’t behave like bad guys.

And behaving like bad-guys is how we make school administrators embarrassed about what we contributed to US history. Behaving badly drives them feel we set a bad example for our future Americans. And it encourages them to edit us and our deeds out of classroom curricula.