Category Archives: In Which I Think Too Much

A few thoughts about the press craziness w/ Spicer and Conway:

I guess we know what it takes to get me blogging again.

Before we continue, watch this press conference if you haven’t already (warning, auto-play video – also, make note of the headline that we never thought we’d see from CNN):

Right now the Trump Administration (and the GOP in general) are appealing to the crowd that thinks Megyn Kelly is a liberal.

Read that again. Let that sink in.

One, the media market that represents is not large enough to make currying favor in exchange for access a worthwhile survival strategy in the ever-present competition for eyeballs. Sure, there will always be some who write puff pieces, but I suspect the press we’re about to see is more reminiscent of the coverage of Bill Clinton’s White House (who was seen as an outsider by the BW press) than The Shrub.

Why would I say that?

Conway said “I think we’ll have to re-think our relationship with the press” in response to Chuck Todd (OMG, this was too much bullshit for CHUCK TODD), and he completely ignored that very open threat, because he’s already in adversarial mode, and this was not the most hostile bit of commentary that day. It didn’t start with the Inauguration then, either. Trump laid the groundwork for a hostile press with two actions:

1. At the press-conference/infomercial about his hotel, he played the press by telling them it was going to be a comment about his birtherism, and only throwing them one line at the end.
2. He then denied the press pool cameras’ designated producer access to the post-conference camera walk-a-long afterward.

The media’s response? Pull the pool entirely. At the time I was stunned, because I had never even heard of that being done with coverage of that level of politics.

Seriously, Trump has worked hard to get the usually power-friendly and complacent media to this point, and I suspect this is just the beginning, IF WE HELP. Let them know we don’t want this treatment to be reserved for the Trump Administration. There is an entire Republican Congressional Caucus that needs this treatment, too. Hell, cover all of Congress that way, we won’t mind.

Fear Itself

I really want to have something comforting to say about Elliot Rodger, about the world, and about people in general. Unfortunately, I’m going to stick with what’s real, as far as I can tell. Before you tell me what to go do with myself for writing such platitudes, I’ll remind you that we are talking about visceral human emotions that are beyond words, even for some of the best writers in the world. I don’t feel like I even live on the same planet as the people who could write about this terror, so I really don’t care how much you think I suck. What I’m hoping is that someone reads this and maybe decides to step back from whatever terror they’ve embraced.

First, the bad news (I’ll keep it short): if you think he was bad, there are far, far worse out there all over the world. Men have cornered the market on that kind of evil, but to be human and to want to control others (which is almost the same thing) is to harm others. Y’all can argue back and forth over who experiences the greater fear (based on whatever sorting category you want), and who experiences the greater pain, who lives with the greater risk, and I’m almost certain you’ll have a sorting criteria that backs your answer (if you don’t, I’m pretty sure you’ll either change your answer, your sorting criteria, or just say “that’s what I believe.”).

Now the ugly (I’ll keep this shorter): most of this is because you can not experience anyone else’s fear as keenly as your own. You just can’t. You can empathize, and how much you try and take other people’s feelings into account is definitely to your credit (unless you start imagining you know what they feel, in which case you’re Scary and Bad, so go away). This means that in this world in which most people are unhappy (or worse) a large percentage of the time, you can’t even comprehend why, and when you’re given a reason, you can’t truly comprehend that either.

Now the good (a good person, that is): About a year after the 9/11 attacks, I met a New Yorker who worked two blocks from the Towers (and definitely knew fear that day). Her main regret, to her a tragedy that eclipsed the attacks themselves, was that we went into Afghanistan, rather than spending all that money and effort on rebuilding the towers, better and stronger than before, to show that we wouldn’t be changed by their image of us or their attack. I haven’t spoken with her since, but I imagine Iraq and the creeping paranoia we live under would make her even sadder. I don’t even know her name, but she’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.

And lastly, a question (with some context): as far as I can tell, your life can best be described as what you build it around. Given that, I don’t care what your gender, race, age, or sexuality might be. I have one question for you: do you want to build a monument to the things that terrify you, and glorify them at the center of your existence, or do you want to build something in spite of them, knowing that you might fail? I’ll tell you what, you will get no lasting reward from anyone either way, and living in fear will not keep you safe. You’ll never get to compare notes with anyone else, and on most days, someone telling you how strong they think you are will probably just puzzle you (if it doesn’t, you’re high on your own self). You will, however, be working to shape yourself rather than willingly be shaped by that which you hate and fear.

tl;dr: the only thing you get to build is you. What will you be?

Human Predation

One of the things that some people on the Right have gotten somewhat correct about Elliott Rodgers (for the wrong reason, mostly “it’s all the Left’s fault”)* is that it’s more than just hatred of women that drove him. He didn’t kill four men because he hated women, he killed them because they were in the way of his “rightful” place in life. He viewed half of his fellow human beings as objects (disobedient and disrespectful living currency, an echo of a very old and ugly view), but this had consequences in how he viewed the other half of the human race: as competitors (at best), as thugs, as thieves, or as outright threats. Even his father, who he seemed to both be in fear and awe of, earned contempt from Elliott for raising such a weak son.

Elliott did not just reveal misogyny or misandry*; he was a paradigm of misanthropy. This is what a lot of younger Social Justice people don’t necessarily get, and what most of those who mock Feminism most certainly don’t get. Sometimes calling the systemic poison that ails us Patriarchy is to grant it certain types of power it doesn’t have in our collective imagination. Further than that, it is to understate just how insidiously this hatred of the Other is combined with an Othering of (and hatred for) the self for either never quite living up to its standards, or for just what an amoral and destructive being you become while attempting to enforce them.

Beyond that, I have no words.

Updated: Echidne’s deep dive into his madness is depressing and revealing (and shows great strength of character on her part), though it is a different perspective. Also, I do have more words now. It seems that human beings assume great solidarity among the Other(s), while usually feeling very isolated amongst people we identify with, which is why division between groups has always been easier than encouraging solidarity. Seriously, once you manage to “other” a group, how hard is it to impress a single imaginary organizational framework upon that group? Answer: depressingly easy, especially as compared with the effort it takes to actually organize that group.

Add to that the division between “alphas” (those who should reproduce) and “betas” (those who don’t deserve to), and the ability to cull anyone who shows weakness from the rank of “alphas,” and you have a culture that exists only to feed on itself (which is why I consider it a smaller, more intense version of our larger social culture in the U.S., that encourages men to prey on (or at the very least control) women, and men to poach women from (and ultimately destroy and overcome) other men. There’s no camaraderie, and there’s little or no common humanity, only the shared scapegoat of the moment. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the classic Feminist description of Patriarchy (and it’s also the idea world of Ayn Rand and her acolytes, go fig). I guess I take it personally in a different way, because I have no choice.

* Roy Edroso’s roundup here.
** I shudder to think of how he viewed those outside that simple binary formulation

Honesty and Justice

So an inmate was sentenced to death for raping and killing a young woman, and the parents are thankful for justice.

Was justice really served? What is justice, anyway? Can a black defendant accused and convicted of killing a white girl receive justice? More to the point, does this manner of death serve Justice in any way?* What objective “balance of suffering” is maintained, and if there isn’t one, why should we even try to maintain it? Are the people who are just fine with this also fine with the very shady way in which the choice of method has been made? Probably, the lives of the convicted (especially if they’re convicted and brown) are cheap, and their suffering is invisible. The only way that Clayton Lockett’s death, strapped down to a gurney in the antithesis of an operating theater, convulsing in agony, does not make the universe a better place. There is an argument to be made that the death of someone who rapes and kills might make it a less crappy place, I’m not going to tackle that one right now, except perhaps tangentially. What I will say is that suffering, whether intentional or merely a by-product, does not contribute to producing that elusive and ill-defined thing we call “justice.” Lockett’s agony did not ease any of Stephanie Neiman’s suffering that we can tell. What it does do is feed the desire for vengeance and spectacle. Neiman’s parents got to see the Lockett’s horrible death, and it apparently eased their minds a little. I don’t think that’s a good thing, to consider that old exchange of agony for agony in any way just or healing. It feeds the desire to make an example of some “other,” while establishing the value of “your people” over that “other.” Never mind that the other group will not learn the lessons the authorities hope they will,** the demonstration of who has the power to do horrible things to others has played out, and the system built on that violence stands relatively unscathed. The vengeance machine has paused, but is not broken. There will be another family that calls for blood, and another (or the same) set of authorities to oblige them.

Whatever Justice is, I’m pretty sure that integrity and honesty are integral to it, especially to ourselves. So do ask yourself the question, and answer it honestly: how do you feel about this death, would you feel differently if he had been a she, had been white, or both? Would you feel disappointment if you’d known this gruesome death was a possibility, but instead he died (relatively) peacefully? What does this death serve (or harm) inside you that isn’t Justice, and how do you feel about it? Are we even looking at the question of “how do we help the surviving family and community heal from the horror that was done to Stephanie Neiman, and stopping the (hopefully correctly) convicted suspect from raping and killing again,”*** or are we taking the easy way out and feeding our basest desires?

Be honest before you attempt to speak about whether justice was done.

* I like that they published the chosen “last meals.” Nice cherry on top of this Kafkaesque story.
** I’m pretty sure the only message received is that the suffering of people who can identify in any way with Lockett is not a major concern to anyone in the state of Oklahoma.
*** The question of the correctness of the conviction is moot to both Neiman and Lockett now, and they won’t be doing anything at all except decomposing. In that sense a sort of balance has been achieved, but to what end?

This Isn’t an Action Movie

So Byron Smith’s home had been broken into before.

So Nick Brady and Haile Kifer were probably involved in at least one other break-in, and were suspected of stealing drugs.

Listen to this man disable, then kill first Nick, then Haile and tell me whether each person in their own home should be an unaccountable judge, jury, and executioner. Warning, this audio is of two human beings being killed, plus a self-justifying rant afterward.

He was convicted of first-degree murder.

Now I don’t think it’s appropriate to answer deadly, ill-defined paranoia with not-deadly amateur psychology, but there is no doubt that there is a violent and dangerous underlying problem. This is a more sane reaction. Remove the laws that support a crazed fantasy: that actions you take with a weapon are unaccountable to anyone. Sure, let’s have a saner gun control policy. There also needs to be a re-thinking of the Cowboys & Indians legal regime that’s been built around them. Complete with racial injustice.

Yes, I’m a handgun owner. But I live in a world with people who have a reasonable expectation that I won’t shoot them. Don’t their wishes have some weight in this matter too?

May Day

It’s very interesting to compare different past perspectives. Start with “International May Day and American Labor Day a holiday expressing working class emancipation versus a holiday exalting labor’s chains,” by Boris Reinstein:

    During the present period in history that the present generation is going through[,] the struggle for supremacy between Capital and Labor is occupying a more prominent position at the front of the stage. Here in America[,] the material conditions necessary for the triumph of Labor in this struggle,—for the realization of Socialism—are by far more ripe than in any other country.

The author goes on to describe an almost Marxist view of the arc of history. Increasing concentrations of wealth and power inevitably lead to the overthrow of one or more autocrats by the dispossessed. It’s fierce, yet optimistic, and for good reason. The Haymarket Affair (which May Day is a remembrance of) are twenty years in the past, and Labor has actually made a few small gains since then (though they were huge for the day). It’s to the point that the American Federation of Labor (the AFL in the AFL-CIO) is seen in this pamphlet as what we would call a “sellout” today (to be fair, in many ways they were, especially when race was involved).

Fast forward to the very end of 1958, and President Eisenhower does his very best to justify this critique from almost 50 years prior, by proclaiming May first to be “Law Day” (emphasis mine):

Whereas a free people can assure the blessings of liberty for themselves only if they recognize the necessity that the rule of law shall be supreme, and that all men shall be equal before the law; and

Whereas this Nation was conceived by our forefathers as a nation of free men enjoying ordered liberty under law, and the supremacy of the law is essential to the existence of the Nation; and

Whereas appreciation of the importance of law in the daily lives of our citizesn(sic) is a source of national strength which contributes to public understanding of the necessity for the rule of law and the protection of the rights of the individual citizen; and

Whereas by directing the attention of the world to the liberty under law which we enjoy and the accomplishments of our system of free enterprise, we emphasize the contrast between our freedom and the tyranny which enslaves the people of one-third of the world today; and

Whereas in paying tribute to the rule of law between men, we contribute to the elevation of the rule of law and its application to the solution of controversies between nations:

Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Friday, May 1, 1959, as Law Day in the United States of America.

Think about the political meanings behind attempting to co-opt the day that many peoples think of as having truly set in motion the struggle for worker’s rights. Set on top of that the attempt to make it a day for respecting the status quo. Many things have changed in the United States’ political landscape, but not all. For as long as the Republicans have existed, the rule of law has been a synonym for preserving wealth for the wealthy.

This proclamation was made during the second Red Scare, and I suspect for a reason that the modern GOP has largely forgotten: Labor unrest is not something foreign to the United States. It is part of our history, and at this rate will be again.

Thursday Morning

I’ve felt for a long time that “Being There” (and the novella that inspired it) was unintended prophecy.

More self-inflicted fresh-water poisoning.

Increasingly, to have an understanding of science is to realize how poorly the profit motive is serving us in our interactions with reality, especially when combined with the failure to remember that governments are the entities funding forward-looking research.

There are few if any replacements for carbapenems in development, says Elizabeth Jungman, director of drug safety and innovation at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington DC. Companies lack economic incentives to develop new antibiotics, she says, and researchers have found it difficult to find new ways to get Gram-negative bacteria to take up antibiotics.

This makes me feel stabby.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court takes an interesting approach to “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” An excerpt (linked from the story):

In sum, our review reveals no compelling reason to
interpret Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution as providing greater protection with regard to warrantless searches of motor vehicles than does the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, we hold that, in this Commonwealth, the law governing warrantless searches of motor vehicles is coextensive with federal law under the Fourth Amendment. The prerequisite for a warrantless search of a motor vehicle is probable cause to search; no exigency beyond the inherent mobility of a motor vehicle is required. The consistent and firm requirement for probable cause is a strong and sufficient safeguard against illegal searches of motor vehicles, whose inherent mobility and the endless factual circumstances that such mobility engenders constitute a per se exigency allowing police officers to make the determination of probable cause in the first instance in the field.

SB: Egg on my face. According to ProfMTH (link to YouTube channel):

…it is well settled that people have a diminished expectation in privacy in cars and other vehicles. While the automobile exception is new to Pennsylvania law, it is not new to federal 4th Amendment jurisprudence–it’s been around since the 1920s. The federal bench realized long ago that if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe a vehicle s/he has stopped is being used in the commission of a crime and/or contains evidence of a crime, it is unreasonable to send the officer off to obtain a warrant since the vehicle and the evidence it may contain are, to understate it, unlikely to be around when the officer returns. One of the hallmarks of the 4th Amendment is reasonableness.

Well all right then. Sometimes when I think things are getting worse, it’s just that I’ve become more aware of it as I grew older. Well that, and sometimes I’m just ignorant.

Rob Ford… just… stop, already.

Australia, what the hell are you doing?? Besides punishing the average person for putting all your chips on the commodities boom in China, of course. Note that the title syas “Wealthy to pay for own health care costs,” but the first sentence is “The middle class would be forced to cover their own health costs and Medicare would be left as a basic safety net under the commission of audit’s plan, cleaving universal healthcare in two.” Is this called “breaking it to you slowly?”

Grifters gotta grift. For the children!

TEPCO: Failing upwards in Japan.

Anybody else think the private sector could learn a few things from NASA’s unmanned flight operations team? Still going strong.

Some dark humor to start your day.