Posted in Rants on September 28th, 2016 by Ed

It is not a secret that I've never cared much for Hillary Clinton. Personally, I find it difficult to get very enthusiastic about anyone in the "New Democrat / New Labour" (Bill) Clinton / Blair mode of the 1990s. It's obvious that they're willing to embrace neoliberalism if doing so helps them maintain a grip on power and some other part of their agenda deemed more important and worthy of sacrificing another part. The constant unwillingness to state a firm position until there is certainty that a sufficient majority of the public will express support for it irritates me to no end.

As for Hillary herself, she always struck me as highly driven, intelligent, and competent. She strikes me equally as someone for whom the aspect of politics that involves projecting personality and warmth do not come naturally. She does it, but she does it in a way that makes it easy to imagine highly priced consultants instructing her on how to do it while practicing before a triptych of mirrors. It's the difference between someone who smiles a lot and John McCain in 2008 after his advisers told him he needs to smile a lot. If you force it, it's gonna look worse than not doing it at all.

That said, I also consider "personality" a wildly overrated measure of candidates. We're not electing a mommy, a drinking buddy, or someone to sit shotgun on a coast-to-coast drive in a cramped car. I want intelligence and judgment in a candidate. It matters very little that Al Gore seems like he would be boring as hell to be around, and it matters a great deal that he probably wouldn't have started a war with Iraq just for shits and giggles on the deluded premise that it would only take a couple of weeks.

But for many, possibly most, voters personality is important. They will not learn enough about the candidates or issues in most cases to make a fully informed judgment, so being able to radiate that "You can trust me, you'd like me if you knew me" vibe is important – for Hillary Clinton and for everyone else. And for her 25 years on the national stage, Hillary Clinton has struggled mightily to generate that kind of feeling. We could talk endlessly about reasons why, particularly the impossible position women are in when trying to tread the line between Too Nice (which makes her ditzy and a lightweight) or Too Serious (which makes her a Bitch). For the present purposes it's sufficient to say that for whatever reason, Hillary Clinton has and always has had very high negatives and one of her most commonly cited vulnerabilities is the difficulty people have warming up to her. More charitable commentators describe her as "robotic" or "seemingly insincere." Less charitable ones print her name on t-shirts prominently featuring the word "bitch" or worse.

On Monday night, Donald Trump did what 25 years of effort on her part, on the part of her numerous advisers and paid staffers, and nine figures worth of advertising over the course of multiple campaigns could never do: he made Hillary Clinton look really human. A sympathetic figure, even if only for a few moments. He solved her most persistent weakness for her, and he did so because he is stupid and he doesn't think about anything he does before, while, or after he does it.

With even the smallest amount of pre-debate planning or forethought Trump would have realized that his "bully" routine was likely to play very poorly in this format to anyone who is not already a die-hard supporter. While Trump Nation would slap its diabetic hands together in glee at the spectacle – "Haw haw! You tell that stupid bitch! Me like big man!" – to everyone else it would look like a half-drunk CEO who calls all the female employees "sweetheart" berating, belittling, and talking over a woman vastly superior to him in experience (even if "bad experience"), intellect, and dignity. Would he have talked to a man the same way? Absolutely. We've seen him do it. But it wouldn't have looked nearly as bad. Her strategic choice to decline to respond to his behavior in kind required either the patience of sainthood or a Xanax scrip.

While most viewers tapped out of that shitshow within the first 45 minutes, I watched it start to finish. And in the last half hour, when Trump really went off the rails even by his standards, I felt something I had never imagined in a million years I would feel: I felt bad for Hillary Clinton. I felt tremendous sympathy for this successful, intelligent woman for whom I have refused to vote in two different elections as she had to stand there and put up with This Shit. I, and I suspect many viewers, felt empathy too – who among us, even men, has not been in the position of having to stand there while some asshole authority figure has talked over us, interrupted us, and generally treated us as something he finds stuck to his shoe after a stroll through the yard. Women probably felt that empathy even more keenly, having been talked over and disregarded by Big Men far more regularly than men experience it. I've never "liked" Hillary Clinton in that way before, and frankly making that happen is a feat of political wizardry on par with convincing America that former Andover and Yale cheerleader George W. Bush was a cowboy with a southern drawl. Trump did what consultants have spent careers trying to do without success; he made Hillary Clinton human and likable.

Hillary is someone who has, to my standards, led a very successful life. I don't pity her, even when people tear her to shreds. I'd give an arm and a leg to have any of the things she has and has had in her career. And somehow on that stage Monday evening, I looked at this multimillionaire, "one percenter" power broker, a member of the American oligarchy if ever there was one, and I felt as bad for her as I would for a nerdy kid getting picked on at the playground. Real, genuine sympathy and empathy. I cannot believe this woman has to put up with this shit, I thought, over and over. This is not fair, I said aloud in an empty apartment. She does not deserve this, because nobody deserves this, to stand there and have this adenoidal ass-clown con man, this ape in a suit, fling feces at her while she has to stand there and take it.

The unusual circumstances of this election – namely the specter of that same ape being the president, led me to conclude months ago that I would vote for Hillary Clinton despite the laundry list of doubts I have about her political positions and track record. There is good, there is bad, and there is unacceptable. When one candidate is unacceptable, you recognize the limited choices made available by the rules of our system, you recognize that life is rarely about getting what we want, and you vote for Not Unacceptable. For at least a few minutes on Monday night, though, I felt like I wanted to vote for her, not because of anything she says or believes but for the sheer disgust I felt at watching the way she was spoken to and treated. That, more than anything else, makes Donald Trump a virtual political miracle worker. He did for her what all the commercials and appearances on talk shows in the world never did. Good work, genius.


Posted in Rants on September 26th, 2016 by Ed

One of my favorite passages from The Man in the High Castle – in the previous scene, Tagomi has picked up an antique pistol and shot two German intelligence agents with lethal results to protect the life of another man. As a strict Buddhist, that Tagomi is struggling with what happened is obvious to all:

Mr. Baynes, seeing Mr. Tagomi distractedly manipulating the handful of vegetable stalks, recognized how deep the man's distress was. For him, Mr. Baynes thought, this event, his having had to kill and mutilate these two men, is not only dreadful; it is inexplicable. What can I say that might console him? He fired on my behalf; the moral responsibility for these two lives is therefore mine, and I accept it. I view it that way.

Coming over beside Mr. Baynes, General Tedeki said in a soft voice, 'You witness the man's despair. He, you see, was no doubt raised as a Buddhist. Even if not formally, the influence was there. A culture in which no life is to be taken; all lives holy.' Mr. Baynes nodded.

'He will recover his equilibrium,' General Tedeki continued. 'In time. Right now he has no standpoint by which he can view and comprehend his act. That book will help him, for it provides an external frame of reference.'

'I see,' Mr. Baynes said. He thought, Another frame of reference which might help him would be the Doctrine of Original Sin. I wonder if he has ever heard of it. We are all doomed to commit acts of cruelty or violence or evil; that is our destiny, due to ancient factors. Our karma. To save one life, Mr. Tagomi had to take two. The logical, balanced mind cannot make sense of that. A kindly man like Mr. Tagomi could be driven insane by the implications of such reality.

Monday evening's debate, about which there is little I can say that has not already been said or made obvious, was so hard for me to watch that I have a hard time putting words to my reaction. It probably is not apparent in a day and age in which patriotism is conflated with blind jingoism and outward, compensatory displays of masculinity involving guns, trucks, and military might, but…I really love this country. And since I was old enough to talk I've loved government and politics.

In kindergarten and first grade, my best friend and I took turns during recess playing Reagan and Gorbachev having a summit (I was weird). We alternated roles but still fought over being Reagan even when we knew it was not our turn. Before I grew into the eight cylinder bastard engine of cynicism I am today, I looked at elections the same way Catholics look at the Vatican. It was something good, something we could feel proud of. The older I get the more I see the inside of the sausage factory (and choosing to study elections for a living certainly accelerated that process) and the easier it is to be dubious about the motives of the parties involved and the fundamental fairness of the endeavor as a whole. But I haven't given up completely on them yet. Not quite.

What happened on that stage was more than just depressing to me. That inflicted a wound that is unlikely to heal soon and, I'm afraid, may be fatal for the hopes of getting younger people for whom this is their first election to care about this process. Not everyone falls out of the womb humming I'm Just a Bill; most people become young adults and then have to make a choice about whether or not politics is A Thing they will do. How many people checked out last night, and how many of them will never give it another try?

I have a multitude of amusing anecdotes I could tell about the explicit politics of my upbringing, but it was always, always emphasized to me that the process itself was good and had value and that even when your team doesn't win, it's still your country and you still respect that person who holds the office. You can complain about them a lot, but you never really lose. It's just that sometimes you don't win. No matter how vigorously we support Team GOP, the victory of the Hated Democrats was not a life altering calamity. The country is going to be OK because those people also want what's good for the country, they just have a different idea of what that is.

That is not how I felt on Monday night. I saw not only a man with whom I did not agree and who I think would be an atrocious president, but a man with utter contempt for the process itself even as he takes part in it. I knew that debate would be hard to watch; I had no idea it was going to be that hard. By the 60 minute mark I was looking for relief even though I knew damn well there was none to be found. It would only get worse, and the only point at which it would ever get better is when it ended. And now that it's over, everything still feels terrible. The only consolation is that Trump will almost certainly validate my earlier prediction by refusing to do another debate due to "bias" in the moderation.

The part that hurts is not that this is happening even though the people of this country do not deserve it. The worst part is knowing that we do. There is no hated monarch or foreign army to blame for this. We did this to ourselves because we embraced the right-wing fallacy that working toward a common goal will never succeed and instead we've thrown our lot in with nihilism. This goes beyond a statement of displeasure with Politicians and Candidates. This is the first step toward admitting to ourselves that a substantial minority of us see no value in elections and could do without them. Nobody who considers them valuable could watch this and tolerate it.


Posted in Rants on September 25th, 2016 by Ed

Thirty-three years ago today, just about everyone in the United States came closer to dying than they would realize for many years.

During the Cold War the USSR had some military capabilities that were great and others that were primitive. The former were usually of the brute force variety (large missiles, sturdy tanks, rugged planes) and the latter were generally high-tech things like satellites, electronics, and computers. So at the point at which the US and USSR had rough parity in the ability to rain nuclear warheads on one another, the USSR was decidedly behind in the ability to do things like detect missile launches.

In 1982 – I swear I'm giving you the short version, so bear with me – the USSR launched a generation of spy satellites called Oko (Eye) intended to give it the ability to detect American missile launches. It wasn't very good. It scanned the horizon for the visual signs of a missile plume or a flash at the point at which the curvature of the Earth met the blackness of space (think about that for a second, how insanely far-fetched that is). Each one also carried an optical telescope that ground observers could use to look for those same flashes and streaks. To do so, the technicians who monitored the optical 'scopes had to sit in a pitch dark room for two hours (!!!) to prepare their eyes to look through the dim, grainy, distant telescopes. At this point I want to reiterate that I'm not making any of this up.

In 1983, during a period of heightened tension precipitated by the unusual degree of paranoia among the – What can you write about the Cold War without using this phrase at least once? – "Aging Kremlin Hardliners" and the dick-waving belligerence of the Reagan administration who considered it some combination of productive and hilarious (mostly the latter) to feint like we were about to launch a nuclear attack but not actually do it. Ha ha! Good one. Had they known how bad the Soviet command and control system was, they might have thought better of that. Nah, they weren't strong on thinking.

On September 26 the Oko system began registering flashes on the horizon which were auto-detected by the computer. The human controllers also noticed a glint, seemingly offering more evidence. But the engineer in charge, one Stanislav Petrov, paused before kicking this up the chain of command. First, he knew all about the penchant for false alarms and overall mediocre data produced by the Oko system, the archaic Soviet computers, and the men squinting into telescopes at barely decipherable images. Second, he asked aloud why thee United States would initiate a nuclear attack on its mortal enemy by lobbing a single missile when all of the doctrine of the era suggested that nuclear attack was murder-suicide and the only hope for coming out ahead was to strike first in an overwhelming saturation attack? If this were The Big One, Petrov concluded, American bombers, submarines, and missiles would be inbound by the thousands. Instead there was one phantom missile launch that none of the powerful Soviet ground radars could pick up.

The alarmed Soviet chain of command, already on hair trigger alert due to international tensions (see also Able Archer 83 shortly after this incident), realized it had only seconds to decide what to do. If they waited too long and it was a real nuclear attack, the Soviet forces would be clobbered before they could retaliate. If they jumped the gun, so to speak, they'd be starting a war that would result in their own destruction in return. Due to Petrov's insistence and skepticism within the military at the effectiveness of the new satellite system, the Soviets declined to respond. Sweating bullets, in ten or fifteen minutes they were relieved to find that no missiles were landing anywhere. It turned out upon later analysis that Soviet mathematicians and designers chose a highly elliptical orbit for the satellites that left them susceptible, under very rare circumstances, to seeing "flashes" from sunlight off of high altitude clouds. The system was fixed by adding geostationary satellites for cross referencing.

I'm not telling this story just because it happens to be the anniversary today. I'm telling it to emphasize that sometimes the only thing between the planet and nuclear holocaust is human rationality; for all of our advanced technology, we still rely heavily on people of rationality and intellect to make correct judgments and decisions. Something worth keeping in mind tonight, just in case there is any kind of televised event that lays bare the temperament and intelligence of the people who are jockeying for control of the American nuclear arsenal.


Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2016 by Ed

Not all consequentialist arguments – slippery slopes, where one event is predicted to lead to a chain of subsequent and presumably worse events – are logical fallacies. I can assert, for example, that an individual making a terrorist threat to O'Hare Airport would begin a chain of events that would disrupt air travel throughout the United States. It would likely cause delays, cancellations, or even closure of an airport through which thousands of flights connect for passenger transfers every day, so O'Hare is infamous for creating "butterfly effects" in air travel. The slightest hiccup there is felt everywhere. I can't predict with any certainty what specific effects will follow the initial action, but I can construct a solid, evidence based argument that there will inevitably be consequences.

I point this out to underscore that when the facts are taken into account, banning Muslim immigration into the U.S., as Trump and many of his fellow travelers advocate, will be only the first step in a chain of escalating actions against Muslims. No one can predict with anything other than pure speculation as a guide exactly what those next steps will be, but there is zero doubt that there will be "next steps." We can conclude this with confidence because it is so simple to demonstrate that the first step – selectively banning Muslim immigration – will not accomplish its goal of eliminating terrorist attacks and making Americans "feel safer."

Only the most superficial understanding of the evolution of terrorism over the past four decades is necessary to understand that the age of Terror as Spectacle or terrorism to achieve political ends is over as far as the United States is concerned. Past terrorist groups either committed acts of terror to accomplish a specific goal – i.e., hijacking a plane to secure the release of prisoners – or to create a grand, publicity-seeking spectacle – Black September, the Dawson's Field hijackings, the Japanese Embassy hijacking in Lima, and so on. Al-Qaeda took the idea of spectacle but redirected the goal toward mass killing. They were drawn to the symbolism of attacking icons while also racking up a large body count. ISIS and ISIS-inspired terror, though, is the next step in that evolution. They've done away with the big, expensive, complicated (and therefore less certain of succeeding) spectacle in favor of the low tech, high body count approach. Why concoct some intricate plot to teach people to fly planes into buildings when you can have someone rent a truck and drive it into a crowd? Why not just grab a gun or strap on an explosive vest and head down to the mall? Why recruit expert bomb makers when any yahoo in the world can buy a Walmart crock pot and download a simple bomb schematic from the internet and construct it out of supplies you can buy at any hardware store?

The tradeoff is in glamour and efficiency. Each individual attack will result in fewer deaths than a single grand terror attack, and certainly there's none of the prestige and feeling of superiority that comes from crafting a complicated plot to "defeat" the intelligence communities in western nations. Cumulatively, though, the body count evens out and the attacks make up for what they lack in efficiency with low cost, ease of planning, and quantity. Most importantly, they are virtually impossible if not literally impossible to stop. One person, perhaps having read some ideas off an internet message board, perhaps inspired by an individual who contacted him online, or perhaps just acting on his own limited but sufficient imagination, can easily concoct a plan to kill a bunch of people. Anybody who is of the mindset to do so can rent a truck and drive it into a crowd, go to a crowded public place and start shooting, or construct a crude homemade explosive device. A plot like the 9-11 attack took years to plan and execute and had enough people and moving parts involved that the opportunity for law enforcement to intercede was always there. If a guy or a small group of people decide they're going to go shoot up the mall or the soccer stadium, nobody can really stop them from doing that provided they have enough discipline not to give themselves away beforehand.

So, accepting the reality that the new terrorism is low-tech, crude, cheap, and therefore unstoppable, what is likely to happen after we ban Muslim immigration and find that it has not made us Feel Safe? When the terrorist attacks that require little to no imagination, preparation, or ability to carry out continue, are the same political forces that demanded the "No Muslims" policy likely to throw up their hands and say, Oh well, we tried? Or are they more likely to ratchet up their rhetoric and their proposed solutions as they chase the dragon of Feeling Safe in a world in which complete security is a goal that can never be achieved? We can't predict what will come next, but we can predict that something will indeed come next once we have tried an immigration ban and discovered – to the surprise only of people oblivious to the world around them and unable to understand modern terrorism for what it is – that it did not end terrorism. What happens when we're five steps down the slope – say, having rounded up and interred every vaguely Middle Eastern looking person – and we find that even that hasn't stopped this kind of terrorist attack that can't be stopped? I have no clear idea where the imaginations of people like Trump go, but I have a clear sense that I do not want to learn by experience.

The flaw in the things xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and nationalist elements in our society propose to protect us from terrorism – moral, ethical, and legal problems aside – is that they will not actually protect us from terrorism. The process of watching them increase their dosage in pursuit of a high they can never achieve is not something we can describe in any detail until it happens, but we can predict safely that it will be unpleasant.


Posted in Rants on September 19th, 2016 by Ed

On a day on which police managed to take into custody alive a suspected terrorist who fired off dozens of rounds at officers, hitting two, we have another video of a unarmed black man with his hands in the air being killed by police. On cue we have America's millions of poorly educated white cop apologists rushing to excuse it by weaving a narrative around the (idiotic on its face) assumption that the police version of events represents the truth, and the whole truth.

I don't argue with people about these incidents anymore because I've found that if "He was walking away" is all the justification an individual needs for the police to kill an unarmed person, then my time would be better spent doing something more productive like talking to walls or excavating the lint from my navel. If that is your threshold for when you think the state should feel justified in killing someone, your worldview is skewed beyond repair and there's nothing for the rest of us in society to do except wait patiently for you to die and begin rebuilding whatever you haven't managed to destroy of our national fabric.

God knows we have ample opportunity to reflect on the matter since we average about one of these incidents per week at this point. And I've simply given up on trying to make people who feel no empathy whatsoever toward people of different races – see how long it takes before terms like "animals" and "savages" make an appearance – feel what is supposed to be an innate emotion in mammals. Rats have empathy, yet somehow our modal Trump enthusiast does not.

We have to give them one thing, though: They're not smart, but they have decent intuition. They know, you see. They know intuitively that the reason they owe blind fealty to law enforcement is that they are drawn from the same lot. Your average small town cop isn't much different from your average small town white working poor / laid off / disabled or "disabled" person. Neither had the ambition to move more than 10 miles from the high school from which they struggled to graduate or the hospital in which they were born and look forward to someday dying. They share the mutual cultural understanding that white teens make Mistakes while black ones are Thugs, that a white guy walking around armed to the teeth is expressin' his freedums while even an unarmed black man is reason to fear for one's life, that white people don't work because of The Government while blacks and Hispanics are just lazy, that white people can take of social welfare to their hearts' content while minorities are scheming to live off their hard earned tax dollars, that an individual can cook meth and beat his kids and get into weekly fights at the one bar in town that will have him and still be "a good person" – i.e., a white one – at heart.

They know. They know that "justice" for them is a wink and a nudge and an understanding guy they went to high school with. So they can demand and condone the most ludicrous excesses of violence from law enforcement, a Judge Dredd dystopia in which the slightest indiscretion is punished with death and the absolute confidence that this policy will only apply to the Others. It's a very logical quid pro quo – unconditional support for law enforcement in exchange for the different treatment they conceive of as their birthright. White people must be as forgiving with one another as they must be unforgiving with the people to whom they consider themselves superior.


Posted in Rants on September 18th, 2016 by Ed

This Washington Post story about a sad, broken down white guy of middle age who won't go anywhere without open carrying got a lot of well-deserved attention this weekend. You can tell it's written well when you end up feeling pangs of sympathy for someone who clearly represents a threat to society, not to mention himself and his (apparently very patient) wife.

We hear the story of a man who grew up in a world in which guns were never seen and – somehow, improbably – this man of no discernibly useful skills achieved a decent working class existence without making guns the sole focus of his every waking moment. But then…

But then it began unraveling, starting when he was fired from a trucking job days after telling Maria, who was pregnant with their first child, to quit her job and focus on the baby, that he could support them both. Their first bankruptcy filing wasn’t far behind, then the second, and the third, and then they were moving to Florida, where Maria had family and where Jim got a job with a grocery chain. It transferred him to Winder, and he moved the family into a middle-class neighborhood struggling with crime and drugs…

(In) late 2008 he emerged from that hospital with three stents in his heart, debts worth $41,052.51 and a dawning realization he was now disabled, broke and would never work again. After the heart attack, he lost most of the circulation in his legs, received three more stents and started using an electric scooter whenever he had to walk long distances.

He told Maria he was all used up, a drag on the family. She should think about leaving him. But she wouldn’t, even after the hospital sued him for unpaid medical bills, even after he was arrested when he carried his .380 outside a school board meeting, even after he came home one day with an AR-15. He shot it at a nearby firing range and, feeling a sense of control that had gone missing in his life, told Maria he could now keep the family safe.

It doesn't take a professional psychologist to figure out what need the twin obsessions of guns and ultra-right wing politics are serving for the angry white males who are now such a prominent and dangerous part of our society.

Maria sat at a laptop in a bedroom cluttered with stacks of documents, some of which detailed foreclosure proceedings against the house, and saw the browser had 35 tabs open. One was a YouTube video of something called “Police State 101.” Another showed the dictionary definition of the word “law.” Another was a fringe website her husband classifies as “underground,” the sort he started visiting more frequently after he joined a Georgia militia in late 2014 and decided it was up to him to protect his family from foreign and government threats.

She messaged the deputy, then looked at Jim’s Facebook page. It bore pictures of her husband carrying guns and posts about a country dissolving into chaos and videos about people stopping intruders with guns, people killing burglars with guns, people shooting big guns, small guns, all kinds of guns, that he watches late into the night.

I realize how closely earning power is connected to masculinity in the United States. It must be very difficult to face life when not only can you not earn enough to get above the poverty line, but you're incapable of earning anything at all. The mental retreat into this violent fantasy world in which white males with guns are the sole remaining virtuous members of humanity does not follow quite so easily. On his own it's unlikely this man would have chosen that particular mental escape route. But he doesn't live in a vacuum. He lives in a world in which tens of thousands of other angry, minimally educated and economically marginalized white men have already created a support structure (of sorts) into which he can be welcomed.

White supremacist groups have recruited for decades by targeting the socially maladjusted, the friendless loners most likely to be filled with anger and looking for a feeling of belonging. Now there are so many disillusioned, angry, and pliable people wandering around aimlessly that the movement seeking to recruit them might as well just set up shop in strip malls next to the Armed Forces Recruiting Center and the payday loan place.

I'm not naive enough to think that a better economy would make these people disappear. I do think it's no coincidence that the obsession with guns and the militia / conspiracy worldview often follows the collapse of financial stability and earning power.


Posted in Rants on September 14th, 2016 by Ed

People who know me in Real Life ask me two questions about Gin and Tacos fairly regularly. I'll get to the other one when I'm feeling more introspective. First, though, let's tackle "Why do you swear so much?" It's a more interesting question, at least to me, than it appears to be on the surface.

The shortest answer is that it's the internet (which permits swearing, I believe) and this format allows one to write whatever words one chooses. That's not very satisfying.

Another totally valid but unsatisfying reason is that I swear a lot when I'm talking, so why not while writing.

The more interesting answer is that in print there are few things more idiotic and puritan than writing "f**k!" and thinking that it is somehow better, more acceptable, or different than "fuck!" If everyone who sees it knows exactly which word "f**k" refers to and says it inside their head when they read that bowdlerized version, then what constructive purpose is served by replacing letters with asterisks or their equivalent?


We see things like the title of this book more and more often. What is the point? If you've made the creative and editorial decision to put the word "fuck" in the title of the book, then put it in the title of the book. And contrary to whatever silly delicacy you think you're accomplishing by writing "F*ck" instead, I have surprising news for you: the title still has "fuck" in it.

The less obvious part of the issue, though, is why words considered profanity are necessary from a stylistic or rhetorical perspective. Strictly speaking they aren't, of course. The only words that could be called "necessary" are those with no synonyms, so there are always alternatives. I suppose I pick those words when they seem like the most appropriate means of communicating not just the idea but the tone that I want to communicate. What's wrong with that? We're adults here.

I often think back to this interview exchange:

Q: "Why all the infamous language, then?"

A: "Infamous language, are you joking? I speak nothing but the fucking English language. That’s the only thing I’ve been brought up with, and if that’s infamous, then tough shit."

Back in 1977 there was an obvious component of shock value to the choice to say Dirty Words on radio and TV. I think we can agree that there is very little shock value to be gleaned from swearing in 2016; no one but a small child or the most uptight prude bats an eye at an Infamous Four Letter Word anymore. The former will soon get used to it, and the latter have minds and worldviews so small that we really can't concern ourselves with their thought processes.

So, seeing nothing wrong with talking the way normal people talk, it all boils down to using the words that best convey what I feel. It isn't easy to convey feeling in cold text, and anything that advances that goal is worth considering. I can tell you something is ridiculous but goddamn ridiculous paints a better picture, does it not? Calling something nonsense or describing it as an empty or evasive statement is sometimes going to be the best strategy; in others the optimal choice is to call it bullshit. So be it.

Presuming there aren't many underage children reading anything I write, I don't have any problem using words that normal adults understand and use regularly. I see nothing "unprofessional" about it, and some people will disagree with that. To me, insulting the reader's intelligence with asterisks or subjecting them to bland, stilted, colorless writing is unprofessional. "Appropriate" is a nebulous and moving target, and the core of what I believe is that if the world can be full of hateful, poorly written, and / or totally illogical rhetoric considered acceptable and appropriate for mass consumption then a few salty nouns and adjectives should be the least of anyone's concern.


Posted in Quick Hits on September 13th, 2016 by Ed

The election is almost here, take the opportunity to show everyone that you are morally superior and refuse to condone the two-party system.



Posted in Quick Hits on September 12th, 2016 by Ed

Charles Pierce is usually On, although like all of us I've gotten the feeling that he's struggling to think of what to say at this point about this election. I know he's taken a look at this site at least a few times, and I'd like to think that my post from Saturday was his inspiration to use the term "fee fees" (although I'm sure it's just two stellar minds thinking alike) in his latest missive. But his description of the media treatment of Trump (and conservatives in general) cannot be improved upon.

There is an accomplished woman saying something everybody knows is true and there is a vulgar talking yam who apparently could set his own dick on fire and not pay much of a price for it on television. That is grading on the curve, but it's nothing new. Hell, we've been grading Republicans on a curve for decades. We graded Reagan on a curve when he burbled about trees and air pollution. We graded him on a curve during Iran Contra on the grounds that he was too dim to know what was going on around him. We graded W on a curve for the whole 2000 campaign when he didn't know Utah from Uzbekistan, but Al Gore knew too much stuff and what fun was he, anyway? We graded Republicans on a curve when they attached themselves to the remnants of American apartheid, when they played footsie with the militias out west and with the heirs to the White Citizens Councils in the South. We graded them on a curve every time they won a campaign behind Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or the late Terry Dolan back in the 1970s. We talked about how they were "reaching out" to disillusioned white voters who'd suffered in the changing economy, as though African-American workers didn't get slugged harder than anyone else by deindustrialization. We pretended not to notice how racial animus was the accelerant for the fire of discontent in the "Reagan Democrats." That was, and is, grading on a moral curve.

I'd be grumpy that I was working on something along these lines and now it's irrelevant, but the "grading curve" is so much better a metaphor than anything I was coming up with that I can't even be mad. Sometimes you just take a bow.


Posted in Rants on September 12th, 2016 by Ed

This election, stretching all the way back to the summer of 2015 when the invisible primary began, has been hard for me. Lord knows I haven't had to do any of the work on the campaigns and I have the manifest luxury of being able to ignore it for a day or two here and there. But it has been a profoundly depressing experience and grows more so every day. Were it possible to sleep through the next nine weeks and awaken with the whole thing over, I would do it and accept the loss of gainful employment as a steep but necessary price to pay.

Late last week, for reasons that are not worth explaining, it hit me why this has been such a singularly depressing experience. It seemed profound at the time, although in hindsight (and at first sight to many of you) it seems obvious. This election is horrible in new ways that elections have not been in the United States in living memory. It is horrible because there is no outcome that can erase how awful the election itself has been. It is doing damage that can't and won't be undone. We've seen a part of who we are as a nation and as a society that is so viscerally ugly that no amount of time, reflection, or half-hearted exhortations toward national unity will make us forget what we saw. Have you ever seen anything so gory and shocking that it's with you forever? Maybe seeing somebody get shot, or seeing a victim of a car accident. It's like that. Now that we've seen that a good portion of white America's real beliefs, noble-sounding crap about small government conservative principles aside, boil down to "Keep the Mexicans and Muslims out, and put the Darkies back in their place," well…there's no way to un-see that.

An ordinary election is two boxers alternating between attempts at strategy and the exchange of blind, wild punches. Some of those even slip and land below the belt. At the end of the bout there is, if not mutual respect, at least nothing that happened in the ring that either side will be unable to let go. This election is one boxer in the middle of the ring and the other standing in the corner screaming racial slurs and calling her a bitch. My opinion will not be shared universally, but I believe this election has exposed a divide that no platitudes or soothing language can overcome. That's the funny thing about, you know, mainstreaming and attempting to normalize white nationalism. Turns out that it leaves hard feelings all around.

I will never say that I don't care who wins. That is a statement of pure privilege, the ability to declare that as a white male of middle income I'll probably be fine either way so who cares. I care who wins inasmuch as there are plenty of other people who stand to lose a great deal in this election, and inasmuch as I am not 14 or a total narcissist, other people are important to me. But I'm convinced now that regardless of who wins, there is no outcome to this election that we will be able to define as Good, or even Okay. The best possible outcome is a mediocre, middling neoliberal president bickering unproductively with House wingnuts while Americans attempt to forget that something like a quarter of us appear to want a dictator.

How do you walk that back? How do we process all those "nice" but "misguided" or "uneducated" acquaintances and family members who openly advocate genocide in the same way that a normal person might suggest going to Ikea? How do we collectively ignore how easy it was for an uncharismatic asshole to get millions of people to follow him like slobbering dogs even while he was openly contemptuous of them?

Someone will bring up the Civil War and remind me that time heals all wounds. That's possible. Maybe this is catastrophic thinking caused by excessive exposure to what is going on right now. But a lot of our social problems now flow from the fact that we're having an increasingly difficult time ignoring problems, which has always been the preferred American technique for fostering unity. Racism? Hey just sweep it under the rug and let's hug it out over some Monday Night Football! Now, though…I dunno, man. We've seen things. I don't think there's any way to go back. And that, despite how many aspects of this election are horrible, is the worst part about all of this.