NPF: FULL CIRCLE

I've been meaning for quite a while to write about a strange experience I had in August of 2018. It will be kind of hard to explain, which is one of the reasons my heels have dragged.

I was raised by a Boomer dad whose father fought extensively in the European theater of WWII. Like most males of that generation, his childhood was a steady stream of WWII-related pop culture output and history. Accordingly, when I was very young in the early 1980s our house had among its bookshelves an ample supply of those kinds of "Jane's Fighting Aircraft of the World" and "Atlas of WWII Battlefields in Germany" type books that one always found lying on the Discount table at Crown Books / Waldenbooks / B. Dalton Bookseller / a bunch of other book retailers I've forgotten that used to be everywhere but since went bankrupt.

As a devoted enthusiast of G.I. Joe action figures (and of course the cartoon) by about age six, I spent many evenings thumbing the pages of those books. One thing that is hard to communicate is the sense of ~*~mystery~*~ that surrounded everything about the Eastern Bloc before 1989. Photos of Russian aircraft were always grainy and highly surreptitious in tone. Information was always qualified as "allegedly" or "reportedly." It was all very cloak-and-dagger and I fucking loved it. What, after all, was G.I. Joe vs COBRA but the Cold War in animated form for kids.

Of all the things that captured my attention, nothing amazed me quite as much as a little-known airfield in Yugoslavia (now in Bosnia) called Zeljava. One of these encyclopedia-style books wrote a short piece on it, in hushed tones of danger, including a single photo:

Zeljava Air Base was – imagine being six in 1985 and learning this fact – cut into the side of a mountain. The planes would wait safely under the bulk of an enormous mountain while the nuclear warheads fell and then emerge (from a PLANE-SHAPED HOLE IN THE MOUNTAIN) to do air battle with Tom Cruise in an F-16. That was the most James Bond, COBRA, Secret Agent Man thing I had ever heard. I asked my dad repeatedly to confirm that it was real, and not just a story. The picture looked real. It was real. Whenever I saw a book from this genre in a bookstore, the first thing I did was flip to the index to see if it contained any information about this mysterious spot. Many did, and included this, its most widely-circulated photo. Look at how grainy it is! Like it was taken IN SECRET by a real SPY.

I just could not get enough of it. It was, at that point in my life, the coolest thing in the world.

Fast forward several decades. Last summer, at age 39, Question Cathy and I were on vacation in the Czech Republic. After a few days of castles and beer and museums, I tentatively brought up the prospect of using our rental car to take a drive down unpaved, remote Bosnian roads to an unmarked and now abandoned Yugoslav Air Force Base. Since she is always indulgent of this type of thing on my part, she agreed. A few hours later, thanks in no small part to the miracle of Google Maps, I took this picture:

That's me, standing in front of the airplane-shaped hole in the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in Bosnia.

Also present that day were a cop ("Remember the Dumb American routine I taught you, tell them we thought this was a mall and we got lost!") who was chatting with a friend, obviously looking for an out of the way place to stash himself so as to avoid working, and a pair of young men using the 2500m runway to do quarter-mile tests with their very obviously prized Skoda Fabia. Nobody appeared to care in the least that we were all at what, as of 1980, must have been one of the most secretive and restricted places on the continent.

It was, and is, difficult for me to explain what it felt like to close that loop. Think of the changes that have taken place to the world we live in between the time this was built (at an enormous cost its society probably could ill afford) until today, when the investment has been declared superfluous, abandoned by the MiG-21s of a country called Yugoslavia and left to young men racing their hatchbacks in a place called Bosnia.

It goes without saying that plenty changed for me between the ages of 5-7 and 39. I can't say I thought about the air base in the side of a mountain every day, obviously, but it was a thing I never quite forgot due to how completely it fascinated me when I was very young. There's no way 1985 Ed would have believed, looking at the grainy picture, that he'd be able to visit it someday, nor can Present (now 40) Ed fully appreciate that, for all the things he has failed badly at in life, he has also done some pretty cool shit that a vast majority of people will never get an opportunity to do.

Anyway. It was a good trip.

SOLIDARITY

On this date in 1981, 12 million Polish adults were at home rather than at their workplace at 8 AM. They stayed at home until the noon, when they returned to work. The 12 million represented nearly the entire Polish workforce outside of the military or the state party apparatus. It was, in essence, every adult in the country who was not directly part of the ruling clique.

English-language historians call this the Warning Strike – a short blast across the bow – while in Poland it's better known as the Bydgoszcz strike. It came in response to what was euphemistically called the "Bydgoszcz events" in which numerous prominent Solidarity labor union leaders were detained and brutally beaten by secret police. The state, as was customary in the Eastern Bloc, clumsily tried to explain away the incidents by claiming that the labor leaders had been in car accidents, had fallen down stairs, or had beaten one another up while drunk.

The state-sanctioned Polish United Workers Party (PZPR) agreed to meet with Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa in response to public unrest after the "events," and apparently the government concluded that Walesa and his informal union talked a good game but lacked the will or the ability to carry out any sort of large-scale labor action. Within two days – 48 hours – of that meeting, Walesa's group organized and carried out the nationwide four-hour stoppage.

Think about that. Imagine organizing something across the entirety of Poland – not a small piece of land – in 1981 with no mass communication at your disposal. No twitter. No radio stations. Unreliable East German phone service. More remarkable, imagine getting 12 million people to go on strike together. A British journalist in Poland called it, "the most impressive democratic mass mobilization of any modern European society in peacetime, against its rulers' wishes."

Imagine having that kind of solidarity. Imagine the state brutally beating a handful of your fellow citizens and, with hardly any prompting, every adult in the country sending a message by walking out of work together. Think about what they accomplished compared to the situation the U.S. (and Poland, for that matter) finds itself in today.

Instead of telling the government, "Enough, we're not gonna sit back and accept this," half of us cheer them on. We make excuses, blame the victims, and let the police know how eager we are to see more of our neighbors beaten for speaking out. The other half of us may be more sympathetic but we're too terrified of being fired, or even just missing a couple hours of wages, to dream of doing anything as daring as…taking a morning off.

It's really sad to think of how effective it is, and has been, for a population to be united and speak with one voice given how impossible it seems to do that today. We know it's effective; we can see how well it has worked in the past. We just can't do it. Imagine all the problems in this society we could address, if only.

TURNING POINT

I've written sparingly about the Russia stuff. As I expected – and this is not a novel thought, as many other smarter people were issuing the same warning – there was no Great Big Reveal in the Mueller Report.

I know why you're disappointed: you're disappointed because you wanted to have faith in The System and believe that The System would work. But the system doesn't work; it never has and it certainly isn't going to start now.

Over time the Russiagate crowd really started to rub me the wrong way, and my sniping at them got more caustic and frequent (as many of you noticed, sometimes approvingly and sometimes not). It's not that there's any part of me that believes Donald Trump's campaign didn't do anything wrong. It was the clear drift toward conspiracy theory thinking and language. I started calling it Liberal QAnon at one point and while that's an exaggeration – nobody is as insane as QAnon people – it's uncomfortably close even if the two are not identical.

Robert Mueller was latched onto as a savior by a lot of the same people who very deeply wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton didn't lose the 2016 election, because if that belief could be maintained then there is no need for any kind of self-reflection about what might have led to Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 election. You could see this kind of mental gymnastics on MSNBC most prominently, where every show that isn't Chris Hayes sort of veered into full-time Russia speculation.

"Hey, maybe we got fucked by the Electoral College, what can we do to prevent that in 2020?" or "I dunno, maybe the campaign did some things wrong, what were they so we don't do them again?" are two lines of thought that could have been productive but, if not entirely avoided, have certainly been sidetracked in favor of Russia conspiracy theories and other ways of casting blame for what happened on anyone BUT the candidate. It was Russia, or if not Russia it was Comey, or if not Comey it was Bernie Bros, or if not Bernie Bros it was blah blah blah.

This feels like a good turning point. The Democratic candidates in 2018 barely talked about Russia – and many of them did extremely well. The idea that anyone was going to be running on The Mueller Report in 2020 is a figment of the Sunday pundit imagination. But the pedestrian ending of the Mueller investigation – yes, it resulted in a lot of indictments and uncovered a lot of evidence of crimes, but the final report doesn't seem to have added to what we learned slowly over the past two years – is an excellent opportunity for a clean break. Stop thinking about Russia. Stop talking about Russia. Russia tried to fuck with our election. They will try again in 2020. Russia wants a destabilized U.S. because that suits its foreign policy and economic ambitions. None of this is new and nothing has changed.

But seizing upon Russia as the focus of what's going on in politics right now, and more importantly as a catch-all explanation for what happened in 2016, simply isn't productive. This went from an intriguing story to something of an obsession with a minority of liberals, and 2018 candidates were right to ignore them and focus on things that will help them win elections. Health care available to everyone. Increasing wages. Oversight of the Executive Branch. Weaning the country off fossil fuels in the long run.

These things are all popular. Let's rally around that instead of "Trump is a criminal." Talking about Don Jr.'s meetings with the Russians at Trump Tower is not of interest to anyone outside a narrow circle right now. If it isn't obvious yet that Trump is going to suffer no legal or political consequences at all from his wrongdoing and that neither life nor our system are fair, I don't know what it's going to take to convince you of that. If your reaction to the Mueller news is, "Well just wait til the SDNY prosecutors start going!" or "Russia must have compromised Mueller" or anything other than "OK, this fits the well established pattern of Republicans and Donald Trump doing whatever the fuck they want and getting away with it," you need to take a deep breath and reconsider.

As I've said from the beginning, the only thing short of the 2020 election that could bring down Donald Trump is the Republicans in Congress deciding that he was a threat to their survival and throwing him under the bus. They have instead decided that electorally it is to their benefit to cover for him. So be it. No amount of evidence can change that. And it's hard to imagine who in the voting public remains on the fence about this. By now you're either one of the 42% of people who love and support Trump no matter what, or you hate him. Nobody's really changing their mind three years into this.

It's disappointing to see behind the curtain and realize how goddamn unfair everything is, including and perhaps especially criminal justice. Yeah, rich white right-wing assholes can get away with pretty much anything. Nobody who supports Donald Trump gives half a shit if he committed a felony or a thousand felonies. He could behead their children and these people would cheer him for it. Nothing Robert Mueller said or could say was going to change those basic facts about our political landscape.

So my advice is to do what many of us did at some point throughout this lengthy process: stop thinking about it. Assume nothing is ever going to come of it, and be pleasantly surprised if anyone is ever held to account for their crimes. It would have been nice to have some big reveal at the end, Robert Mueller's unassailable conclusion (complete with video evidence) of Trump doing X, Y, and Z with the wrong people. But it wasn't realistic to expect that. To continue to hope for it in the future goes beyond unrealistic and tiptoes uncomfortably close to an obsession.

In short, everything sucks, nothing is fair, and rich, shady assholes get away with being rich, shady assholes. These things apply to Donald Trump because they apply broadly to our society. I don't like it, but at 40 I am used to it.

DEPLATFORMING

Beneath the layers of apologia from the tech bros in charge of these companies, not to mention the hand-wringing over a red herring version of Free Speech, remember that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms managed to get rid of ISIS and most Islamic extremist groups very easily. They can get rid of white supremacists and far-right content, too. They just don't want to. I'll let you decide whether it's because they're sympathetic or because it would cut into their revenue too deeply.

Deplatforming works. It forces these people into the dark underbelly of the internet where people have to actively seek them out. And people will. White supremacists will go find the other white supremacists even if they're banned from Facebook. The point is to prevent them from being able to spread their messages to people who aren't already white supremacists. Normal kids using Twitter or watching YouTube videos or whatever.

If it doesn't work, why are these sites so militant about keeping al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups off the sites? If we need a "free exchange of all viewpoints" then let them back on YouTube. If not, then admit that we're picking and choosing because we don't perceive white supremacy as terrorism.

THE BIG LIE

The college admissions process will never be meritocratic. There's just too many variables, too many incentives for universities to do things for the wrong reason, and too much disagreement about what even constitutes "merit" or "fairness" for anything approaching either term to exist.

What's worse is that academia will respond to this bad publicity the only way it is capable of responding to anything: with more administration. The second I saw this news story I could picture the Associate Dean of Application Decision Review being hired at five times a faculty salary, the Merit Consultants whipping together a website and business cards, and the creaking sound of yet another layer of institutional bullshit being dropped atop the basic academic mission of a university (which seems to keep receding further into the background). Faculty committees to review applications. Faculty committees to review the committee reviewing the applications. More "metrics." More paperwork. More compliance officers. All of it.

That's what will happen, because trying to quantify and enforce a quantitative approach to "fair" enrollment decisions is like trying to hold a puddle of mercury. You just can't do it. Every student's family situation is different. Some of these kids went to high schools that are better than a lot of colleges; some went to high schools where they turn the lights off two days per week because they're so broke. Standardized testing is the most consistent measure available but it's easy to boost performance by throwing money at it – tutors, prep classes, practice tests, and the like. Then add in all the various goals universities are trying to accomplish – well-rounded students who participate in the community, in sports, in non-classroom intellectual activity, and most of all a diverse student body that isn't just a bunch of white kids from the suburbs – and it's just futile to adjudge "merit" like it's some objective thing.

A better solution might be to stop telling students constantly that academia, or life in general for that matter, is a meritocracy. Yes kids, having balls-rich parents or being exceptionally well connected are big advantages. People who have those advantages get things us normals will not get. The whole idea of anything in this fundamentally unequal society is a meritocracy is so silly that students should never be taught such a thing in the first place. Life isn't fair. College admissions are not, college is not, the job market after college is not, your future workplace will not be, the economy is not, and on and on.

I'm not saying it isn't worth it to strive toward fairness and equality, but given the systems in place in this country we are so ludicrously far from either that we're flat-out lying to kids by telling them anything is either fair or equal. There is nothing wrong with telling kids, yes, some kids get into Harvard because their parents went there. Or because they donated $2.5 million. Some day you will work for a boss who has her job because the company is owned by her dad. Some day you will apply for a job and not get it because you're not buddies with the hiring manager.

Basically, why not treat this the same as the criminal justice system and just do away with the pretense that any aspect of it is blind, fair, or meritocratic? Even in the unlikely event that the problems with inequality in these processes is fixed, it certainly won't be happening anytime soon. Aren't we getting tired of pretending?

NPF: ORCHESTRAL MANEUVERS

I have a long-running theory that I need some data on.

Every institution of High Culture in the US – especially things like operas and symphonies that tend to struggle for support – seems from casual observation to have one moneymaker on its calendar every year. That is, there is one performance aimed at the consumer who doesn't actually like orchestral music, or operas, or whatever, because it turns out that it's hard to sell a ton of tickets to things like "An Evening with Haydn's Unfinished Ode to the War of Jenkins's Ear" or whatever.

The most common manifestations of this are things like John Williams or Star Wars or Boston Pops nights at the symphony, or something else transparently poppy and aimed at the casual "Let's take the kids to see this" listener. Similarly, the Lyric Opera in Chicago has taken to interspersing its calendar of obscure operas with things like West Side Story or Nutcracker-like holiday shows.

Here are my questions, in no particular order:

1. Is there a name within the industry for this phenomenon? "Pay the bills night" or something?

2. Do performers within these groups hate doing this, or do they think it's fun? I can easily picture your average symphony musician or opera singer being disappointed (or worse) at the idea of having to sing Harry Potter songs or whatever to get butts to fill seats.

3. Do performers find this stuff easy compared to the other, less public-facing material? I also picture the entire symphony getting drunk before John Williams Night because they can play the theme from Indiana Jones perfectly while half in the bag, and why not have some fun with it.

Any insight that you can offer on these points is appreciated. I have been harboring these suspicions for years and would like clarification.

HAIL MARY

The Cohen hearings would have been more upsetting were it not for the fact that we now live in a political news cycle in which they'll be forgotten in a couple of days.

Everybody keeps wondering where the bottom is for congressional Republicans, the point at which they eventually realize that they have more to gain from throwing Trump under the bus than they do by defending him with such pitiful obsequiousness. Days like Wednesday make me wonder if there is a bottom. Maybe there isn't, and this spectacle is going to be dragged out to some kind of unbearably awkward Third World dictatorship ending where the guy and his inner circle end up barricading themselves in the Oval Office and eating a bullet.

Or maybe the eventual ending will be boring and constitutional. Who knows. What is obvious is that the things Mr. Cohen says are less important than the evidence he may have provided, and if he has turned over signed checks (WHO COMMITS FELONIES WITH A CHECK?) then the investigators have hard evidence of a felony. Cohen is not, shall we say, a witness whose credibility will stand on its own, so even though he's probably telling the truth his statements are of reduced value.

But it's a real Hail Mary for the GOP to rally around the defense of, this man who was the close, trusted ally of the president for 10+ years and served as his fixer is a vicious lying scumbag felon. They appointed Cohen finance chair of the Republican National Committee in 2017, for christ's sake. To call that argument an insult to the intelligence of their audience is an understatement. It's beyond stupid and it relies entirely on the assumption that people will support it without thinking about it if they are told to.

Does it bring anything closer to resolution? Who the fuck knows, and frankly at this point it is probably to the Democrats' advantage for Trump to run in 2020 rather than a last-minute replacement president who would give the GOP the appearance of having rid itself of its cancer. But it's pretty clear from watching the pathetic display put on by the GOP members of Congress during those hearings that the problem runs far, far deeper than one man. Whenever the Trump show is over, I have a feeling he's going to take more than a few of these allies down with him. If you want to lose a night of sleep, try thinking about the fact that some large percentage of your fellow Americans watched that shitshow and liked what they saw. Some of them liked it a great deal.

Don't get me wrong, we're all going on a three-week bender when Trump is finished, but man, this is not a problem that gets resolved quickly or easily. The president is the symptom, not the virus.

ABUSIVE AUDIENCE

There is this segment of the center-left, personified by CNN and the New York Times and candidates like Joe Biden, that believes it can get the right to stop accusing it of being far left marxist extremists if…if it just demonstrates how fair and reasonable it really is. So candidates in this mindset keep moving to the right – How can they call me a communist if I believe most of the same things they do! – and organizations in the media keep hiring right-wing hacks and both-sidesing the hell out of whatever pretenses of journalistic integrity they may once have had.

It is sad. It is like watching someone trying repeatedly to win the affection of their awful, cold, distant, loveless parent. As an outside observer you can see the pathetic futility of it, and you want to put your hand gently on their shoulder and say, "Maybe it's time to let this go, to move on with your life and stop trying to get your asshole piece of shit dad to say he loves you for the first time in 50 years." But you know the odds of getting through to your friend are so low that you don't bother.

CNN and the NYT and "let's keep moving to the right" candidates apparently can't or won't figure out that calling them leftist commie marxist extremists is the entire game plan, full stop. It has nothing to do with what they stand for, how they report the news, or anything else with a basis in reality. They are going to call you Fake News and a dangerous leftist radical no matter what, because that is what they do and that is the worldview they have chosen to adopt. Anything short of total, obsequious Fox News style right-wing ass kissing is "Fake News" and the lying liberal media. Any political figure to the left of Reagan is a communist.

And that will never stop. Never.

So every time CNN does something like hire a Trump loyalist to oversee its 2020 election coverage – Brilliant! What could go wrong! – it gets even sadder. They will be out of business someday, and as they close up the shop for the last time they still will not have figured out what they did wrong – that trying to appease the right never works and you make the product shitty and unwatchable to everyone else in the process. You ruin it, in short. You ruin it and get nothing in return.

In their fertile imaginations I suppose they think moves like this will make Fox News viewers think, "Well maybe it's time to watch some CNN!" And that's sad. It's almost unbearably sad that CNN has yet to figure out that those viewers will never love them, will never switch over to CNN, will never think or speak of CNN as anything but fake lying liberal media trash because that belief is a core tenet of their worldview.

If they have not figured this out yet there is no hope that they ever will. CNN used to be a decent news organization, like the NYT used to have a half-decent editorial page. Now they're both shit and they won over exactly zero conservatives in the process of running their own product into the ground.

CONSPIRACY!

It's hard to be selective when considering all of the ways in which American public discourse has gotten worse on account of the 2016 election, but my vote for the worst change is the now-constant recourse to grand conspiracies to explain (across the political spectrum) failures or bad behavior.

Like many people around the world during the Cold War developed an all-encompassing worldview based on the near-omniscience of the CIA (a view that persists to this day in much of the Middle East), people now imagine dark forces on The Internet having almost limitless power. You can't fart in some parts of the world without someone blaming the CIA for it, despite the reality that the CIA couldn't even figure out that some of its own (Ames, Hanssen) were Soviet spies.

Now there is a shadowy Other – sometimes Russia or The Kremlin, sometimes Bots, sometimes merely They – capable of engineering any imaginable outcome and a few that aren't imaginable. Your candidate lost the primaries? Rigged! Rigged by powerful conspirators! You got caught writing some embarrassing shit on your old blog? Hackers! Time-traveling hackers! And most recently, did you get caught plagiarizing (an act that, thanks to easy and ubiquitous tools like TurnItIn, is now almost ludicrously simple to detect)? The people who pointed it out are part of an "oppo campaign"! Well of course.

The fact that a phrase like "oppo campaign" or the extremely popular on social media "Kremlin op" have gone mainstream is a good sign of the extent to which reality and Tom Clancy fantasies have been conflated. A couple years ago this kind of conspiratorial thinking would have resigned any public figure to the lunatic fringe. Now nobody bats an eye. Everything is a conspiracy. Everything is a product of nefarious forces. It's like the upside-down Occam's Razor; never accept the most obvious solution when a mindlessly convoluted one wherein you become a victim will do.

That last part, I think, is key. People who spout this stuff when they are caught red-handed don't even care how plausible their stories sound. It simply is a matter of reframing the story to make themselves victims. Once they construct a victimhood narrative, then supporters innately get defensive and rally. It doesn't have to be true, just plausible. And we are living in an era in which the commonly accepted definition of "plausible" is rapidly expanding.

CALVINBALL

Donald Trump is a weak president on the path to what can only be described as a failed presidency. I won't bore you with the extended "Neustadt is still the best" dive into the political science, especially since Matt Glassman already covered that exhaustively and there's little I can add to it.

That is not to say, Donald Trump's ideas are bad (they are) or that he is a terrible person (he is). It is to say that he is really, really bad at being president. He is an almost comically bad negotiator, and the one absolutely unassailable conclusion Neustadt drew is that bargaining and negotiation are the keys to a president getting anything he wants. Since the president lacks power to simply command Congress and other actors to obey him, he has to find a way to convince them that his interests are worth pursuing.

In that way and by any other measure, he simply is awful at this. A guy the media uncritically allowed to pitch himself as some kind of master Deal Maker is, in reality, so bad at negotiating that it's getting a little hard to believe. Alternating between braying invective and transparently insincere appeals for "unity" is a sign of how weak and ineffectual he is. Neustadt is an old piece of political science and many other interpretations of presidential power have since been written, but I am one of the many who believe he fundamentally got it right (if not in every detail). Presidents who can't negotiate are failures.

That said, I've been thinking a lot lately about how – now and in the future – to incorporate Trump into the minor national pastime of evaluating and ranking presidents. That's unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But other than looking at the small data set, declaring Trump an outlier, and pretending these four years didn't happen I see his presidency as incompatible with any attempt at analysis – including Glassman's (wholly accurate) application of Neustadt.

Here's the thing: Donald Trump isn't even trying to be president in any sense that the job of the president is understood. An analogy might illustrate my point best. Imagine you wanted to rank the (53 x 2) 106 quarterback performances in the Super Bowl. But you didn't have 106 quarterbacks – you had 105, and then this one guy who showed up on game day wearing a loincloth, swinging around a baseball bat, and making no effort to play the game at all. He simply showed up, preened for the crowd, and screamed "Fuck you!" at the referees for three hours.

In one sense, you could easily look at that list and say he is 106th of 106. But in another sense you can't even rank him on the same list as the others. It's not merely that he played a bad game (as players 104 and 105 obviously did). It's that he was playing an entirely different game that nobody else during, before, or since was playing. His goals and motives were wholly his own and largely inscrutable.

It is entirely possible that aside from Trump's commitment to rapacious tax cuts for the wealthy and his puerile obsession with The Wall, there is nothing he is even trying to do. In that light it is incorrect to say he's a weak, crappy president. He simply isn't the president at all in any meaningful sense. He spends most of his day doing nothing. He is on vacation more than he is in the White House. His goal seems to be nothing more than getting attention (at which he is very good, thus he probably considers himself a success by that criterion).

In the end it's an apples / oranges problem. Forty-four presidents were attempting to drive a bus, and then you have this other guy who wanted to blow up the bus and refused to drive it. It's not clear at all that the 45th guy even belongs in the conversation. There's a difference between doing something poorly and simply not doing it at all.