Hard To Stomach

A local incident in Vacaville, California exhibited signs of human trafficking, leading to investigation and (I think) the bust of a pimp. My sweetheart was able to make phone calls and work some networking magic, leading to the local high school offering to host Elle Snow of itsgameover.org (Who’s not this Elle Snow). Snow did her two-hour presentation on trafficking detection and prevention.

It was my birthday, but it was also the day the high school scheduled Elle Snow’s presentation, so we postponed ice cream until Friday. Instead, we went for a hard deep dive into the world of sexual trafficking in the United States. Tasty! I’ve talked about trafficking before and some of my data is out of date, but it’s still a big, serious, outrageous, exasperating issue.

I’m still processing the presentation, and this piece is a part of that.

I Am So Triggered

We, as a species, suck at being civilized. I knew this to some extent, but sometimes peering at our most egregious examples of interpersonal exploitation drives this home. With time I’ve been able to better shape an ambition — a fantasy, really — that we can some day reform society so that people don’t have to suffer all that much, and certainly not for the benefit of an elite few. Some day, I dream, no one will thrive by beating down the other guy.

It’s a good thing I have this fantasy. Without it, I might be tempted to go all Dr. Doom. …Or a bit more accurately, Dr. Peters. If civilization cannot advance beyond suffering and internal oppression, I wonder, what makes the continuation of our species worthwhile in contrast to others? Sentimentalism? (Heh. I’m half way there already.) Would it not be better to remove ourselves, and give rest of the planet and other species a better chance?

The Era of Alternative Facts and Fake News

In retrospect, focusing this much on the realities of sex trafficking here in the California Basin was something like looking at aborted baby pictures in high-school that were brought in from the pro-life community. I’m profoundly disgusted beyond my capacity to reason.

But that’s not a great comparison: I’d discover as an adult that the baby-shaped gore I was exposed to as a child turned out actually to be (non-induced) miscarriages. By the time a fetus is formed enough to be recognizably human, they’re typically wanted by the mother. And abortions at that stage are for medical complications that put the mother and / or child in jeopardy. Also the resulting biomatter of an abortion (that is, an induced miscarriage) tends to look nothing like a mostly-intact baby corpse, so they rely on non-aborted miscarriages for their abortion gore. The pro-life woman was not only exposing me to something wretch-inducing on the argument abortion is icky, but was being knowingly deceptive about it.*

My high-school experience with the pro-life woman and her dead-baby pics is now another brick in the wall (Hah!) of suspicion and distrust I put between myself and activists who might be willing to lie for their agenda. Elle Snow suggested some trends that were radically contrary to what I understood. And my research efforts online, later, to see what’s what confirmed that she was mistaken or (giving Snow the most benefit of doubt) informed of data not yet online.

I really don’t like when someone gives me false information, especially when that someone has a specific agenda and seek to recruit me into the ranks. From them it seems deliberate, an act of hostility. The thing is, I’d expect Elle Snow would know better, as a trafficking victim who had been lured into her captivity by deception.

But then I say this while large portions of the nation are cleaning up after a barrage of late-summer hurricanes, and the climate-change denialists are striking pre-emptively.

My hope for the species hangs by a thread today. Man, it’s a totally good thing that I haven’t developed an XDR strain of yersinia pestis. Nor have I distributed samples of the strain to dissemination teams at Boulder, Gulfport, Cleveland, St. Paul and Salem. Nor have I convinced those teams they’re on a holy mission to bless public water reservoirs with small vials of holy aphrodisiacs. (Go easy on them please: They’re misguided and mischievous, neither criminal nor nihilist.) And those guys are totally not already activated, so that if I’m captured or killed, it will only assure they fulfill their mission in the names of peace, love and Jesus. This is all fiction and that’s such a good thing right now.**

Hot Buttons For Everybody

To others, appealing to pity or outrage works. As does resorting to complete falsehoods, even when they’re obvious. And while human trafficking is a real problem that’s affecting real kids, while its a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States alone (how much exactly is hard to say, but it’s a lot) we’re already seeing the horror of kid rape being used to push through power-consolidation agendas.

This isn’t a new thing. Early in the 20th century, no one cared who was fucking kids (so long as you married them first). Child labor was cheaper than adult labor, and easier to recruit, and no one cared when orphans were abused or were ground up (literally) in the gears of industry. We put them in our factories as readily as we put them on our farms. It would be a long, slow, painful process to get them out, and in 2017, we still accept American products made abroad by children. Heck, our president and his family is notorious about using suppliers that employ (and mistreat) children, and advocacy of children’s rights and interests is notoriously quiet in contrast to advocacy of fetal rights and interests.

But advocacy of children became a hot topic in the early 20th century and it wouldn’t be long that every political position that could fit children’s welfare into it, somehow, did. It became cliche and a point of relentless satire by the 1980s and 1990s, making it even harder for us to push issues that might really serve children.

Like sex trafficking, or child porn. It’s how our foster care system is a hotbed for trafficking victims. One might think the trafficking problem is a symptom not the cause. (Remember Russia had the same problem after the USSR broke up.) But I’m getting (way) ahead of myself.

To Be Continued…

At this point, I’m outraged again. And as human trafficking and child sexual abuse are difficult topics for me, so I’m going to have to break this up into smaller doses of rant. But there’s two examples of what’s going on happening right now that I hope to get into in future posts:

Operation Pacifier was FBI’s justification to release viral malware into the public. The sting targeted the Playpen website, a real child-porn exchange site. In doing the FBI so released malware intended to infect the site’s end users and trace their IP addresses. (They were using of TOR to anonymize themselves.) But now, this malware is now out in the public. It was poorly written, cannot be remotely deactivated and doesn’t shut off on its own or self-destruct. Instead it continues to spread, having used one of the zero-day exploits our government chose not to reveal for sake of public computer security (before the CIA hacks). The FBI doesn’t know (nor does it seem to care) how many systems are infected and how much of the public is being harmed the outbreak. Courts have decided the FBI evidence regarding the Playpen website was obtained unethically, way, way, illegally and with a lot of collateral damage. And yet it’s being admitted anyway because child porn. (EFF take on the Playpen sting)

S.1693 , the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 or SESTA is a bill to revise Section 230 of US telecommunications ordinance which holds websites immune to content posted on their sites by end-users. The revision would provide for criminal and civil litigation against classified-ad sites (such as Craigslist or Backpage) for facilitating ads for trafficked victims (id est, prostitution). This is to say, if a trafficker posts an ad, the website host can be shut down, its owners charged with facilitating human trafficking, and the victims represented in those ads could sue the site for money. This is going to kill most of the interactivity on the internet, given that any site with public forums can be used to advertise trafficked victims. Like all prior black-marketers, they’ll learn to do so surreptitiously. A profitable website cannot hire enough human moderators to monitor all user traffic (and that wouldn’t really help). And automated filter systems are really bad at determining bad guys from good guys (especially since the badguys actively seek to trick the AI). The big ones (Google, Facebook, Twitter…) will get hobbled, and small startups will be annihilated for concern of accidentally hosting traffickers, since it’s better to not go into business than end up in jail. (EFF take on SESTA)

I hope to cover these and other issues around the Human Trafficking problem (such as how, once you take the sex out, the abuse of trafficked victims compares very closely with abuse and bullying common in typical workplaces). But I’m going to have to eat this elephant one bite at a time.

* If showing the grotesquery of a topic was fair game for anything but abortion, I’d think it would be a valid approach for anti-war and anti-recruitment efforts. It would be a challenge to get the imagery. Our government is allowed to classify whatever it wants to hide (Abuse of which is a big problem in the United States) Plenty of good material trickles down through anonymous media sites: grotesque footage of torture or war atrocity or even merely soldiers shooting the shit out of each other at the receiving end with machine guns and artillery. (Exploded heads from sniper hits are super popular!) That would dissuade plenty of folk signing up to serve as the toy soldiers for rich kids. This is what you’re signing up for. Somehow, we’ve given anti-abortionists free pass with the dead fetuses, which they don’t deserve and have long abused.

** A point for fiction writers: designer plagues are probably the easiest doomsday device to design. It takes patience, and you need to use full safety measures and never get lazy about it, but you can otherwise make a supergerm in your own garage-lab. Typically viruses are the choice thanks to our vast range of antibiotics, but now that we can make XDR bacteria strains, we can go old school. Of course, I’ve already discussed the treatment for XDR bugs Curses! Foiled again!

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Fifty

Fifty years. Five-Oh. Half a century.

What does it mean that I’ve lived this long? Does it matter?

As Tedious as a Twice-told Tale

There’s a notion buried in my Midwest-American cultural roots that periodic self-reviews are a healthy thing to do. This reminds us to set goals, to track our milestones towards goals, so as to conduct our life as the construction of a bridge or the completion of a work of art. Heck, if I were a licensed engineer or a successful playwrite, my life could be measured by bridges or performances, by profits and assets. Were I rich and successful, I might take to such a model, that it might judge me favorably. It wouldn’t. But I might hope that it would.

Ultimately, the underlying message of such an audit is that I’m not good enough. At first look, I could blame this on my diagnosed mental disorders: My brain wants to feel crappy, to be hyper-critical of my identity and my progress. Devices such as reviews that lead me to unfavorable comparisons are attractive to this neural process.

And yet, right now, we can look at President Donald Trump: Gazillionaire, Leader of the Free World, and yet a fool and a failure, not just in the eyes of the world (we don’t look fondly at our Presidents anyway) but even in his own eyes. Society may be responsible for his election, but he makes fools of the administration each day, unintentionally lampooning his presidential duties as he engages them. And we revel in his frustration as much as we shrink to his cruelty. It’s a good era for schadenfreude, if a bad era to be a non-white American, or an alien on US soil.

But Trump is just an example. He isn’t unique in feeling like a failure at the top. Alexander of Macedon (according to Plutarch’s On the Tranquility of Mind) also was never good enough for his own ambitions. He wept when he heard Anaxarchus discourse about an infinite number of worlds, and when his friends inquired what ailed him, Is it not worthy of tears, he said, that, when the number of worlds is infinite, we have not yet become lords of a single one?

So fuck self-assessment. A career- and success-based audit is there whenever I want to feel crappy about myself. It’s so ready, and I’m so eager for such a review, that I’ve had to take years of fuck self-assessment training just so that I can function. Looking at my life from a critical career-minded perspective is a way to assure I lose all will to do anything, including hoist my two-hundred fifty pounds off my bed to a standing position. And I’ve spent days in my bed, sometimes having to negotiate with my head just to crawl to the toilet long enough to pee as a result. I have good cause to not go there.

Nature doesn’t do plans or organization. The Trump White House may seem like it can’t get organized, but compared to the unyielding march of entropy over time, compared to the chemical cocktail that is major depression, Trump and his associates might as well be Mussolini’s (fictional) trains.

It’s not like there is a particularly right or just way to self-assess. David Foster Wallace in his famous This Is Water speech (2005 Kenyon Commencement Address, May 21, 2005) argued against such reviews, or rather the dangers of embracing the kind of values that are subject to such audits, as these ideals always imply that you are insufficiently good. If you value wealth, you always could be richer. If you value intelligence, you can always be smarter. And so on. George The Fat Man Sanger took a more comedic approach to the same idea in his notion of failing your way to the top*. Sanger discusses the path of a rock star (like, a real star who really rocks, say, a Beatle or a Jackson or a Dead or a Sabbath). Any journey (heh!) to the top is invariably a path of failures that at the moment seem to overshadow whatever successes might be going on at the time. (The story is told in a run of bullet points and has been graciously preserved online by Todd, who is officially awesome for doing so). We think of old rockstars as has-beens and no longer relevant as if being current and newly re-defined is something easy and expected. If I’m in my eighties and still rocking pitifully away, then dammit, I’ve won at life.

A Poor Player Who Struts and Frets His Hour

Life isn’t a list of accomplishments. Nor is it a strand of thread in some divine tapestry. A better metaphor would be a droplet suspended in a cloud. An asteroid orbiting a distant sun. A star in a galaxy cluster. Our universe suspended in the bulk.

One of the difficulties of adopting a naturalistic, evidence-based understanding of nature is the horse-pill-of-an-implication that there’s neither divine meaning for our lives nor any hint of an afterlife. This is it.

Really. Like totally not kidding around. There is a conspicuous dearth of evidence that we’re anything but microbes suspended in film on a speck in a vast uncaring universe.

And yes it totally is bleak. Nature does bleak a lot. Russian novelists like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky may seem pretty bleak, but compared to the cold and mud of Siberia, they’re merely reporters of the news who might do inspirational children’s books on the side.

We’ve been trying to side-channel attack the properties of the human soul since the dawn of science, only to find that it’s quieter than any scope can detect, and likely too ephemeral for quantum field theory…unless we live in a simulated universe in which soul mechanics are intentionally omitted from the simulation. Souls, God’s (proverbial) fingerprints and all things supernatural are rapidly running out of places to hide (…provided ours is a material world, which it may not be).

The thing is, many of us would really rather otherwise.** To paraphrase David Mitchell (not here but related), it would be nice if human beings had a (benign, e.g. not food) divine purpose. And it would be nice if it all didn’t end for us once our respective brains stopped functioning, rather our soul escaped to respawn elsewhere. But there’s no evidence to suggest either of these is the case. As much as I’d like for all of my experience and perspective to continue after my death, most likely it’s all going the way of Roy Baty’s Glittering C-Beams. As disappointing a fate as oblivion might be, it’s one that I am most likely to face as I approach my demise. (Once I’m there, I won’t have to face anything.)

If not, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But saying so presumes I’ll still have the capacity for pleasure, and for surprise. And then, would I be pleasantly surprised for being unexpectedly capable of being pleasantly surprised? Or would I not notice? I expect not noticing is the thing I’d ordinarily be doing once I was good and dead. I expect I’ll be not noticing a lot, and not noticing anything and everything there is to not notice. And having an eternity to not notice anything, I anticipate I will get really good at not noticing, as I’ll have a lot of time to practice.

To Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles

The landmarks of my life are tragedies that sting like the end note of a second act. Each of them, in their turn, define and color the years to follow. (Not necessarily defining them all negatively, though the triggering events were certainly harsh.)

(This is not a comprehensive list, incidentally.)

I’ve already catalogued the horrors of the George W. Bush era. They provide for me a tidy apocalyptic / dystopian setting, one that has continued to prevail and develop into the Obama and Trump eras. At the time of the Bush administration I still believed my nation was going through a mere rough patch. I’d hoped that it would all straighten out at some point. My friends and I figured we just needed to lie low while the nation grieved over 9/11 and went a bit crazy. The crazy just never stopped. According to some of my friends the crazy never really started (it’s always been). In this age of eyes, only now can we all see it, those who care to look.

My partner was run over by a motorcycle in 2002 (as a pedestrian. In a crosswalk). The ER surgery team was almost forced to amputate, but for a new surgery technique they tried on her. It worked. (She had quit smoking at the time. If she was actively smoking, the leg likely wouldn’t have survived.) She spent months with Frankenstein tubes coming out of her leg. (We found them so cool, because we’re gnarly that way.) She spent years in and out of a wheelchair. I remember countless ER and hospital visits. I remember heating up institution meals in the microwave for her, often receiving back meals she couldn’t stomach. I remember backing her down steep incline of a San Francisco hill to make an appointment. Half way down was the office of her cognition specialist. She was being tested to see how many IQ points she’d lost in the collision. Oh and there’s the time she spent a week in hospital with dozens of sensors glued to her head because the epilepsy and neurological doctors had never heard of dystonia and were monitoring her in case she would have an episode.

Nowadays she can walk most of the time without a cane and can point her toes (which her orthopedist swore she’d never be able to do). She is in a textbook as an exemplar of that kind of injury, surgery and treatment regimen (with a positive patient outcome). This is to say she is a real superhero who went through a real origin story and and has real super powers, just ones that don’t actually exceed normal human powers. Still, she’s in recurring chronic pain. They come as excruciating nerve storms. The doctors can provide her morphine and opioids and yet she can’t get insurance to cover cannabis, the latter of which allows her pain relief without making her dopey or requiring special security phone calls every time she gets her meds. Or, for that matter, killing her over time.

Then there’s the death of my cousin in 2011 When we were kids, he was the one I was compared to. And he was always taller than me and smarter than me. As a young adult he mentored me a bit, and was one of the first people to advise me that It’s not your fault. Really. He was the one that first helped me realize ours is far, far from an ideal society, and I’m totally not a solitary misshapen puzzle piece that doesn’t fit. Rather ours is a civilization of crappy, jury-rigged components, and the cracks that consume outliers and oddballs are actually wedged open wider to better swallow and forget them when they fail to find their place in the status quo. It’s not your fault. was something I needed to hear at the time.

But then, many years later, he got killed by an airplane.

It’s a rare way to die, getting hit by a plane. It’s pretty difficult when the plane is flying in the air and my cousin was in the grandstands. (Plenty of pilots die at air races — it’s part of the deal — but they don’t usually smack into crowded areas.) His memorial service took place in his hometown, a deeply conservative, deeply religious community. And the underlying theme that had everyone distraught is how this improbable horrible thing could happen to such a good guy. What was God’s plan this time? I kept my thoughts to myself.

It was a sequence of events. The plane was being pushed hard, and a load-securing bolt failed. The pilot lost control.

That lead to a collision between a fragile plane and the ground. The plane broke apart, and its shards and fragments blasted into the crowd of spectators.

But nature doesn’t see them as precious human beings. Rather they’re quasistable mechanical events. Usually they decay over decades, but many of them were affected by collisions with airplane bits, and destabilized. Some got care and restabilized at a potential energy state similar to where they started. Some like my cousin, didn’t and fell to a nadir potential energy state before stabilizing.

No fucks are given by nature who dies and how. Goths and Alt-Righters may think they have honed the art of giving-no-fucks down to a precise science, but even they are warm and cuddly compared to the vast cold expanses of space between the galaxies, entirely devoid of fucks. Their apathy has nothing compared to the heartless rules of mechanics to which we human beings are merely events, fragile and gently unwinding like a clock, at least until something smashes it apart.

Nature gives absolute-zero fucks.

Nature is cold and blind and uncaring. And it can’t help it. There’s nothing there to do otherwise.

But this is not about the world being cruel. Rather is that we mere mortals, by comparison, are not. To our friends and loved ones, we are very warm and loving. But when it comes to those outside our lives, we have the opportunity to choose how we want to be. We have the capacity to be the warmth in an otherwise indifferent world. When opportunity and action combine, that power is immense. And yet we are commonly tempted, usually by fear of scarcity, to be austere and apathetic. It becomes easy to disregard and ignore the needy and desperate just as would the bitter reaches of lifeless space around us.

Either way, that which is given is that which is gotten. Nature doesn’t add its own compassion to the sum.

We are such stuff as dreams are made

Our menagerie of hurricanes in the Atlantic (Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia) highlights a running theme of my life. Mostly we watch immense titans locked in combat. We hope each day we don’t get hit by stray feet or flying debris, that our settlements aren’t flattened by a ill-placed body-slam. There is nowhere that is completely safe from storms or earthquakes or pathogen epidemics or wars on terror. And the weather’s been particularly tempestuous.

For now, we get to stand by as contestant Donald Trump plays out his part in the reality show that is the Trump White House, where his choices can shape the whole world, and many are finding themselves without a chair each time the music stops. Lately, it’s been harder for me to focus on less monumental affairs (such as game development or reveling in murder mystery tropes) while still being overwhelmed by the serious issues we’ve been facing as a society. (Hence the slowdown in my blog posts.)

Those of us who are able to make a difference are often there by luck, when means and opportunity present themselves to someone motivated in a rare astronomical alignment. And then the concordance slips away and is gone. Most of us never notice since we’re busy just lying low while brawling titans wreck the countryside and shake down our structures.

Nature isn’t judging me. I am a tiny event compared to the massive events currently rampaging across the planet’s face. And those are tiny events compared to the ones in the sun that our speck orbits. And those are tiny events compared to those in larger suns, or in nebulae in which new suns form. As far as nature goes, there is only one condition of mine that matters:

Today, I am still alive.

* From Sanger’s own Tasty Morsels of Sonic Goodness, now out of print, free on Kindle Unlimited subscription service, a deep dive into the creative process, the craptastic world of entertainment audio, the perspective one must have developing games. An odd book, profound and well loved by those who once owned or still have access to a copy.

** The oblivion of ceasing to exist is much more preferred than an eternity in Hell, a hypothesis that raises its own dilemmas and paradoxes, but as an artifact of our survival instinct, we individually get super invested in our own identity, (though disinvested in the identities of anyone we don’t know). As for me, most of my investment is in my perspective. I was an asshole as a young person, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to be much less of an asshole as an old person. I don’t want to be reborn again without that knowledge only to have to be an entirely new asshole to an entirely new set of onlookers in an entirely new set of encounters, possibly never to figure out how to be less of one.

For some reason the simulation hypothesis approach seems useful here — say, if I were writing a fictional story about afterlives, or lives continuing after death (in fact, I have, in brief) — in which when we die, we wake up to discover that our death, and the circumstances leading to it (perhaps years!) was all a dream. Our life resumes in this waking world in which we’re younger/ healthier / in much less danger. Of course, this might suggest all my recently-gained perspective gets lost in post-waking amnesia which makes waste of all that experience and perspective I hold dear.

Antifa

They aren’t the same monsters. But they’re still monsters.

The Submitted Hypothesis

Marc A. Thiessen wrote a piece on WaPo morally equating Antifa, the anti-fascist counter-protest movement to neo-nazis as they have recently appeared in the Charlottesville Unite The Right rally.

Thiessen’s position was that Antifa seeks to assault anyone who opposes their totalitarian worldview. Given Antifa is predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists, he argues and that communism under Stalin massacred a bunch of folk (even more than the German genocide program, even!), so if Antifa is associated with Communism they’re as bad as the neo-nazis they fight.

Um, no.

Sure, Antifa is a dark-sider response to neo-nazis and hate groups. They do willingly engage, endorse and encourage violent direct action, and for this reason they should be condemned. But that doesn’t make them totalitarian.

Agreed, Antifa are not nice guys and not the good guys except in an enemy-of-my-enemy sort of way. But their occasional associations with communism (and communism’s association with the Soviet Union and Stalin) are hardly a reason to condemn them. If you’re going to be critical of Antifa, Thiessen, at least do so for valid reasons.

Firstly, The Great Purge was not an intrinsic process of marxist communism The USSR was never a successful implementation of communism. (And some might argue the USSR serves as a historical example of why a true marxist regime might never be attainable or sustainable.) Political ideologies typically avoid including purges of undesirables or even intermittent intra-state violence as an internal policy. I’d submit in an (ideological) fascist regime, if you have to do a purge, you’re doing something wrong. Granted, plenty of statesmen have resigned to violence being inevitable within their current government (case in point, The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. — Thomas Jefferson), but only as a failure of the system to completely compensate for human nature.

Secondly Antifa, like it’s predecessor movement Anti-Racist Action is organized in independent cells, each of which functions under its own policies and bylaws. The most sweeping variance between these individual groups regards policy on what to do after fascists have been annihilated. Some sects don’t address the issue at all while others suggest one form of social organization or another. (Anarchism is common). But this is a matter incidental to Antifa’s cause, and it is irrelevant until its purpose — the confrontation, engagement and ultimate destruction of fascist uprisings whenever and wherever they manifest — is fulfilled. And the focus of Antifa is sustained by two policies that supersede its policy of what regime to support post-hoc:

• Response is mandatory. Whenever fascists (neo-nazis, white supremacists, the alt-right, etc.) manifest in public, any Antifa cell aware of the event mobilizes to meet them and confront them.

• Defend those that stand. Any other anti-fascist group (or really, any counter-protestors that have gathered to stand against the enemy) are regarded as allies and are to be defended. They define themselves as friends to any enemy of their enemy, regardless of ideologies after the fact.

This is to say, even if a cell of Antifa was associated with a terrible ideology such as Stalinist Communism, it would be irrelevant to their function. Antifa is monstrous and dangerous, but not because of who they’d support, if fascism should ever be completely stamped out.

Monsters On Our Side

Both fascist groups (neo-nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, etc.) and Antifa choose to engage in violence and encourage violent action. A curious difference is where neo-nazis do so in the cause of an ideology. Antifa is willing to escalate to murder without a clear ultimate goal, rather to prevent specific opposing ideologies to take hold. Both are driven by fear of eventual calamity. Both are driven by a sense of powerlessness, so from an academic standpoint it would be a lengthy conversation to argue which has the moral higher ground.

For most of us, the Holocaust is still fresh in our minds. For those of us who have pondered the Holocaust at length, it speaks to some dreadful, uncomfortable truths about human nature, how so many of us will willingly participate in a massive scale mechanized massacre, processing living human beings into ash.

I am terrified this could happen again.

And I am already watching the political clime of the US warm to conditions ideal for another such event. This time instead of targeting (specifically) Jews, the clime is fecund for the isolation (and eventual annihilation) of immigrants and non-white minorities. We’re already seeing the behaviors of the SS echoed in ICE and CBP and their relentless persecution of easy targets that pass minimal muster as a deportable body. Antifa’s origins are found in Antifaschistische Aktion organized by those who lived and watched the Holocaust unfold, and to them preventing another one is exigent.

So even though Antifa are monsters, for those of us terrified by angry white nationalist demonstrations, Antifa counter-protestors feel like our monsters, an intermediary line of defense for those of us who resort to non-violent activism or seek pacifist, long-term solutions to managing racism. And while I can’t entirely condone Antifa’s actions, I feel safer that they’re slowing down the neo-nazis’ unrelenting march to President Trump’s banner. Researching to cure a plague makes little difference if the pathogen spreads fast enough to overtake the laboratory.

But They’re Still Monsters

Modern political philosophy suggests those who resort to violence abandon the legitimacy of any ideological cause in favor of destroying their enemy. This is even implied and accepted in Antifa bylaws, observing they do not arrive at demonstrations to represent, or make an appearance but to put down those who would. Yes, this is an actively anti-free-speech position, albeit one that targets the speech of groups that have commonly resorted to hate speech and incitement (which are commonly illegal even in societies that endorse free speech). Antifa targets ideologies that commonly endorse genocide, and who often have to resort to code words and dog whistles to sneak their message past the hosts and moderators who enforce platform terms-of-service. Antifa argues the dangers of fascism and fascist speech are too great to risk allowing it to freely go on.

By engaging in and initiating violence, Antifa engages also in vigilantism, denying their victims the right of due process. Sometimes, Antifa counter-protestors incorrectly identify a target as a fascist when they aren’t (and then beating the crap out of them). Antifa’s recent appearances in Berkeley have demonstrated they can prove to be more violent than their fascist shadows. Furthermore, Antifa often seeks to make examples of their neo-nazi targets, to kill them horribly, or hurt them so badly so as to scare straight those who might be recruited. In this regard Antifa practice is the literal definition of terror.

Antifa is not who we want defending the United State from hate.

But the police aren’t doing it. In fact, the police engages in race-based selective enforcement, harassing, detaining and arresting blacks and Latins disproportionately in comparison to whites. Murdering them disproportionately to whites. We live in a police state that, all too often, behaves true to fascist form, already.

Our White House administration is implementing fascist policy and endorsing hate groups and increased incidents of hate crimes. Our president loves this stuff.

In such a dystopian era, when monsters are allied with and integrated into the state, when those sworn to protect the public have turned against it, it’s tempting for the resistance get monstrous too. For those of us who can’t or won’t resort to violence, it’s sometimes a comfort to have monsters on our side.

Defining Racism

Uriel takes a stab at racism

You Know You’re Getting Raped When…

One of my grievances regarding sex education, even in the more ardent states like California, is that not much is generally discussed about consent all the way through high school. In the 1990s, consent was covered in college health class (often Women’s Health, though they didn’t have a complimentary Men’s Health) and that’s it.

Alongside the notions of no and yes we were taught the definition of sexual assault: If you say no and (s)he insists, that sexual assault.*

It’s alarming to me how rarely this is conveyed, and how so many people don’t know this.

You Know You’re Going Nazi When…

We can make a similar rule that regards racism, or bigotry / xenophobia in general.

When we decide that one human is less deserving of rights, regard and access to justice than another, that’s xenophobia.

AKA Bigotry; AKA Going Nazi.

If the deciding factor is race, it’s racism. If it’s sex, its sexism. If it’s because the person is gay or trans, it’s homophobia. If it’s because he’s a goth, or because he’s cray-cray or because he’s a Cardinals fan, it’s still fucking bigotry.

Gilded Cages and Glass Ceilings

Of course, we the people of the United States have been doing it all along, so much that we’re conditioned to not see it. We took most of a century to emancipate the slaves. We took another half century or so to allow women to vote. (Even longer to allow women to own property and establish their own lines of banking and credit. My mom got her first credit card when I was a kid.) We’re still debating whether or not gays can be denied service, employment, (advancement,) tenancy or communion.

Credit card companies often have separate customer service banks depending on if you’re decided to be rich or poor in their databases. If you can’t afford your own lawyer, you don’t have access to most of the US justice system. (Yes, they’ll appoint you a public defender. An overworked, underpaid public defender who may not get to see you and won’t have access to full disclosure of the evidence to be used against you.)

Bigotry is the norm in the United States. If we’re trying to be an equal society, if we’re trying to be an example of equality in practice, that doesn’t disregard based on race, creed, color, faith, sex, sexual orientation or disability, we need to express it on all fronts, not just when a bunch of protestors assert opinions repugnant to us.

It means we will have to change our culture, significantly. And until then it means we should go on and admit that our society is pretty darned bigoted.

So Let’s Skip the News Boy

To be fair, there’s difference between refusing to bake some Jews a cake and rounding them up to be exterminated… wait… wait… No. It’s the same after all. In both cases we’ve still decided Jews are lesser than others. It’s a gently sloping passage winding down, but we know it descends far.

And there’s a difference when your religious tenants say a given group is abominable…no… that’s even worse, since you’re suggesting you believe inequality is part of some grand scheme higher than human society. And that you endorse it.** If your god’s an asshole you have a duty to community and society to recognize this. You must move beyond obedience to divine command and find your own ethical position that transcends mere faith. Or you’ll need to face the risk of being assessed by others as an asshole for your god, and be pressured to capitulate to community notions of propriety. If that’s not enough, maybe even state law.

And there’s a difference when one person is in a position of affluence or authority… no… that’s also super awful. Power does not include with it the wisdom to justly use that power (as our current administration illustrates!). In fact, the US was founded on the notion that our framers were annoyed with shitty spoiled kids inheriting power from their parents and becoming tyrants without any recourse (other than violent defiance of the crown). They weren’t having that. And they discussed at length how the US might decay into a similar state where tactless, insular, impetuous debutantes could find themselves in power and let the nation fall apart from whimsy and neglect. And we’re proving them right.

A judge can destroy the life of a man without good cause and oversight, that’s a problem. Police can gun people down without justification and walk away. That’s a problem. It highlights the inequality of our society. And there’s the matter that when our authorities are assholes, then the laity often seek to imitate their leaders.

It’s easy to imagine we should punch Nazis (mostly because we just like punching things that piss us off) but our society already established the precedents from which neo-nazis and white supremacists have derived their ideology: black lives really do matter less than white lives (or blue lives). Women do serve the purposes of men before they serve their own interests. Gays are marginalized, oft closeted, based on religious doctrine. Weirdos (Goths, Juggalos, Nerd culture, the freaking tech industry) are ignored or antagonized for being misunderstood, sometimes with disastrous results.

That notion that our nation is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? Bullshit. It’s always was a farce. (Some folk are noting the gender-specific men in that quote.) The US took the baby-step that served white affluent Christian males who used to be under the rule of lords. The equality they established was their equality to the landlords and creditors they were scoffing. We called our new lieges something else (boss, typically), but those of us who weren’t literal slaves were still servants to property we walked on, or our debts incurred from survival. No one else was guaranteed the certain unalienable Rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. In fact, we started with the notion that some men were only worth three-fifths of other men, and they didn’t even get the right to assert that count, themselves.

So the guys with the armbands and the torches and the flags, they’re not demanding anything different than what is already established. And we still tend to want to establish something different when they get in our faces about it.

First, Admit We Have a Problem

Culture isn’t going to change overnight. My own lifetime has watched slow, gradual changes.

We may even be blessed with an acceleration now we’re in the age of eyes, when atrocity and heinous behavior can be captured with phone video and shared by internet. Maybe by visceral exposure and forced empathy, we’ll come to realize that no person should have to live with common hate-driven behavior.

The first step is to stop pretending we live in a free country. We should stop pretending that we have equality for all. We should stop pretending that everyone is enfranchised, or that when we vote, there are half-decent options to consider. Only faced with the reality of our society will we be able to choose to change it to what we want.

These confrontations make up a grand wishlist: We want what we thought we actually had. It’s something we can aspire to, especially when advancements by nations have surpassed ours considerably since our nation’s conception. Honest assessment is a necessary step towards improvement, so let us not shy away from what our nation really is, rather consider paths to making it what we want it to become.

Because right now, the United States is a lot closer to the Soviet Union, or the Italian Police State or Nationalist Spain than it is a beacon of equality and pluralism. We suck, and our next step is to recognize we suck, and how we might suck less.

Our kids watch us, even the crap we don’t want them to see. They model doing as we do, especially when it’s contrary to what we say. Kids are really good at lockstep, and they’ll get really good at goose-step if we imply to them doing so would be so lit. So are we going to show them a society actually based on equality are we going to show them same old bullshit that we were shown when we were kids?

That’s up to us.

* Rape has become a hot word and thus is more obtuse. People have sweeping opinions as to what should or should not be included in the rape subset. Typically it’s sexual assault, but with specific involvements: involving naughty bits, involving penetration, involving violence. Most statutes regarding sexual assault use terms other than rape for the exact charges, so as to reduce confusion, but these terms (and any legal definition of rape) can vary from state-to-state, if not county-to-county.

** We hear God hates gays and (misbehaved) women a lot. We hear it so often, from so many different denominations — including from the Holy See and the Southern Baptist Convention, the two largest denominations in the US — that it’s conspicuously apparent to those of us on the outside that hating gays and women is mostly what Christianity is about. More precisely, Christianity seems to be about licensing who gets to fuck and who doesn’t. (Not gays. Not women.) I personally know different, but only because I’ve researched less popular denominations and have been exposed to sufficient numbers of Christians to encounter outliers. But it is curious that most of the people suggesting God doesn’t like gays or God doesn’t like women are not gay and are not women.

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 😻.