Worst story ideas ever, part 2

I have to read headline pitches. It’s boring. I mock the worst ones.

Seeking health professionals to discuss the negative health effects of wearing an ill fitting bra

because apparently “it hurts like hell” isn’t a good enough reason

How To Overcome Writer’s Block

get a phone call from your agent, “you have to finish or give the money back” (hypothetically, so I hear)

Seeking Christian (Women Who Rock with Success)

seeking writers who (understand punctuation)

The Health Benefits Of Waking Up Before Sunrise

wait so paleo diet is good because it’s paleo but “be awake when it’s light out” is somehow bad now

How to Talk to Your Partner About Your Sexual Frequency

there are four different ways to interpret this and I’m going with electromagnetic wavelengths

Coconut Oil for Horses (Anonymous)

you should at least tell us what country you’re in so we can leave it

How to reheat a baked potato

ask the guy who didn’t know how to microwave a sweet potato yesterday

Budgeting as Part of the Sandwich Generation

set up a gofundme to raise money from the pepsi generation

Do women like beards?

if your editor wants a story longer than one word, you may want to rethink

Seeking dancers and scientist on why some people truly have no rhythm?

the profession you want is “anthropologist” because rhythm is culturally defined

Bilingual AI Expert/Programmer Needed

and must love dogs

Global Hotspots 2030: Where The Smart Money Will Go Next

obviously, anywhere but the places you print in the story

Redeem United Miles

fly somewhere

Still looking for bingeable Netflix Original Series!

still don’t understand how this could possibly require an expert to interview!

Ways for retirees to enjoy Labor Day for free

no, it’s every other day they enjoy, sitting on their lawns pointing and laughing at people going to work

How to turn a bedroom into a flex room

drive rifts in your family such that they can’t stand to be around you half the time

The Best Apps for Small Business of All Time

try something more specific, like “best apps for people with opposable thumbs”

If you’re a perfectionist, use these ways to keep your cool with a boss who is not

or perhaps tell your readers that their boss is right and they may need therapy

Things That Make You Look Old

being old

Worst story ideas ever, part 1

I recently signed up with a news service in order to promote my book. They send me headlines of stories that journalists want to write, I reply if someone is writing a story I’m expert on.

This is very boring as I have to read 100 headlines for every one I reply to. And some of these are ridiculous. Therefore, I will mock them.

Signs The Universe Is Trying To Hook You Up With “The One”

you become spaghettified as you pass the event horizon of a black hole

tips to make sure you and your employees aren’t breaking the law

discard the business model of robbing banks

Strategies to Increase Your Organization’s Market Share

sell more things

How sleep can help your skin look better

avoids needing to use meth to stay awake

The Health Benefits Of Sleeping With Your Dog

people with germs tend to avoid people who practice bestiality

Looking for sources for a story about pet sharks

the longer you wait, the harder they are to find

How to microwave sweet potatoes

if this is unclear, a kitchen contains sharp objects and you should not be near them

Ways to Use Canned Sardines in Cooking

getting your in-laws to leave early

Bonding with horses

you should talk to that guy with the dog


It is infuriating that liberal America is focusing on Merrick Garland and Roe v. Wade. It’s a failure of political imagination, and shows just how far our heads are up our asses regarding the massive losses we sustained in 2016.

It’s not Roe, and it’s not Obamacare, that’s on the chopping block. It’s everything from the New Deal onward, and quite possibly every progressive reform since the Gilded Age, which is clearly the model of America that conservative SCOTUS has in mind. At a guess, the only thing not at risk, as it might be a bridge too far, is women’s suffrage in the 1920s—but considering how thrilled conservative SCOTUS is regarding restricting voting rights and allowing corporate money in politics, perhaps I’m also failing to imagine sufficiently.

It simply doesn’t matter for shit whether we retake the White House, or get 60 votes in the Senate, or have a Democratic lock on two branches of government between now and 2050. That’s roughly the beginning of the next window when we might have a chance of reversing our SCOTUS losses, and in the meantime, any Democratic initiative anywhere to the left of center-right is likely to get blown away in court. No government accountability, no restraint of corporate power, no gun control, no rebalancing of the American political map in favor of democracy.

This requires an act of political will similar to that undertaken by Republicans when they blocked Merrick Garland, and it’s a simple one: the magical number nine isn’t in the Constitution. It’s set by Congress. And when we hold Congress (as I expect we will in 2021—working from the theory that the GOP will be back in 2008 regard after Trump’s disastrous policies harm their best voters), we need to replace it with thirteen.

That’s because two1 will be the number of SCOTUS justices nominated by a president without a popular majority, and confirmed by a Senate with an even bigger skew in terms of how undemocratically votes result in apportionment of political power. Arguably, the American people want political balance on the Court—either a balance of left and right, or the nomination of centrist and centrist-left Justices going forward. (I could make an argument that 3 million in favor of Hillary argues for Justices as far to the left as Alito is to the right; instead, I’ll make the less radical suggestion that we should aim for centrism rather than liberalism.)

1I’d set this number at three due to W’s appointment of Alito, as while he was nominated in the second term, it was the power of incumbency that allowed W to get there, and that incumbency was also based on an undemocratic outcome. Again, I’ll go for the <ahem> conservative argument.

Two more Justices cancels out the undemocratic power of Trump’s nominees (so far), but that’s not balanced yet. Had these appointments been made by Hillary (or before that, Al Gore), that would have been a 22% swing to the left, not a neutralization. So we need two more votes to counter. Technically, we need four more votes to counter, bringing us to fifteen, as 2/13ths is less than 2/9ths.

Please note that while this may sound shocking, it’s perfectly allowable if Dems hold the White House and 50 seats in the Senate. Mitch McConnell’s own rules say so. These is merely a break from political norms—which the other side is quite happy to break any time they wish. I’m still not quite clear why we’re required to bring Marquess of Queensbury boxing gloves to a machete fight.

Of course, the Washington Post, New York Times, and most current Senate Democrats can be expected to gather their petticoats to their corsets and exclaim how this could never happen. That’s what happened last time: FDR’s attempt to expand the Court was shut down by Senate Democrats. What we need to do is convince our elected representatives that we are out of sufficient fucks to give such that we’re willing to sacrifice decades of political power on the altar of playing nice.2

2Meanwhile, that’s also the obvious spin that puts this into the Overton window. By rejecting Merrick Garland, the GOP is to blame for a period of political instability and breaking of norms, and the Democrats are simply responding in kind. By doing so, we’ll encourage future Congresses to take an approach short of salting the earth for partisan purposes, so Democrats can perfectly well state that they are in favor of a return to norms after past norm-breaking has been addressed.

This is all perfectly kosher under the rules. All it takes is political will. And if we don’t have sufficient will to do so, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference how hard you work for anything else on your agenda, as it can all be shut down in an instant. Your choice.

1,300 words about the North Korean diplomatic crisis, with jokes

Call me utterly amazed by some of the discussion the last few days about what’s going on re negotiations with North Korea, and who should get credit for it. NPR in particular has been engaged in the kind of rhetorical schizophrenia that led me to dump them from my news mix for a year starting in December, 2016. They’ve had correspondents on who can report a fact, and then commentate as if they had reported its exact opposite, within the space of half a breath.

Best as I can tell from my extensive radar of “random friend comments that Facebook deigns to show me,” quite a few people are getting dizzy from fumes, so let’s talk.

In the past year, North Korea has taken their nukes, and put them on missiles that can hit anywhere west of Bangor, Maine. There’s a decent chance the bomb would fizzle, and there’s solid evidence that they’ll aim for New York and hit Kansas, but as even a missed fizzle would glass an inconveniently large area with people in it, people got rightly concerned.

This led to Trump’s infamous fire-and-fury response, and as with Nixon, how you responded to it was entirely based on how you heard it. Folks who only heard the audio had the shit scared out of them at such high velocity that it became a $500 procedure in Los Angeles. But if you saw the video, and how Trump immediately crossed his arms and put on the facial expression of a toddler demanding a cookie, your takeaway was that we’re totally fucked not because of the belligerence of the statement, but because he clearly has no idea what he’s doing.

Fast forward to the present. Big things are happening: Trump is meeting with Kim, John Bolton and his mustache are running the show, the president of South Korea says Trump deserves the Nobel. If big things are happening, our cognitive dissonance tells us, good things might result. If good things might result from a previously insoluble shitstorm, the dissonance continues, clearly the people in charge must know what they’re doing through some application of 12th-dimensional diplomacy.

This is all completely understandable. It’s a known cognitive flaw. The people in charge, no matter how incompetent they obviously are, must have access to some inscrutable wisdom or arcane lore—government seeeeecrets, if you prefer—that makes what they do rational.

Let’s review recent history:

North Korea has been playing bait-and-switch for roughly 40 years, through a process of saber-rattling, and then seeing what they can get when they briefly but ostentatiously stop. This time, they have their largest saber ever, which legitimately did shock security experts by how much they accomplished in a short time. The thing is, they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted forever—a meeting with the president, the international status that entails,1 a lot of fodder for continuing to prop up the home dictatorship—without making a single concession. Their stated policy for literally their entire existence is the reunification of Korea (under their rule, natch). Shaking hands with South Korea isn’t something they gave up, it’s another win for them.

1North Korea is famously bad at understanding our motivations, and appears to be missing the obvious signs there is bipartisan consensus and widespread international support that starting in 2021 or 2025, we all whistle, gaze somewhere into middle distance, and pretend that the last several years never happened. This will infuriate both the Trumpistas, and folks like me who want to see them utterly repudiated and fed Mueller-butter sandwiches.

Meanwhile, south of the 38th parallel, we have an ally with all the political stability of the Italian parliament, the refined decorum of the Knesset, and the comfortable security of the fifth guy to pick up the revolver in a game of Russian roulette. In a move that created tidal waves of jealousy across our country, they impeached their last president and sent her to jail for 24 years. The new guy is faced with:

  • an impending negotiation of absolute existential importance to his country
  • a US president who is cajoled by flattery in much the same way that tween girls are cajoled by Taylor Swift
  • a US presidential advisor who is entirely likely to advise that we nuke everything between Beijing and Tokyo, then negotiate with the cockroaches in 20 years
  • a North Korean regime that is not merely proven batshit, but is raging at an even higher level of batshittery. Kim’s half-brother was assassinated with a nerve agent. In a squeeze bottle. At an airport. By a woman who was told it was a prank for a reality show. It’s rumored that this, and other DPRK cabinet moves with extreme prejudice, are taking place to put down an internal split that could lead to a coup.

Given all this, entirely independently, of his own volition, and without any ulterior motives whatsoever the president of South Korea says that Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.2 And people seem to have bought it. I have heard the words “diplomacy” and “Trump” in the same sentence, which appears to be the same logical thought process that leads people to look at drunk people with a Ouija board and say, “must be ghosts.”

2As for the actual people who award the Nobel Peace Prize, considering that they gave it to Obama in 2009 for, quote, “giving us the warm fuzzies after the last guy” endquote, Trump could emit flaming unicorn ass rainbows that cure death and end poverty, and still be six slots behind Taylor Swift for consideration. Corollary: Trump’s successor will have hers staple-gunned to her forehead during the inauguration ceremony.

Granted, I’ll admit a certain bias, in that Trump could literally offer me his hand to drag me out of Hell, and I’d believe that he reached for a dropped KFC drumstick and helped me only because he’s equally incompetent at chicken. It would take quite a few foreign policy experts3 lining up to say Trump is a genius before I’d think otherwise.

3All of them.5

This does have a façade of being the sort of impasse that could be hastened along with a wildcard. That appears to be the slender thread of a rational basis for breathy exclamations about Trump’s success, for getting people to the bargaining table who have been begging to be at that particular bargaining table since 1953. The thing is, if Trump agrees to cut all ties to South Korea and have every Chevy made with Pyongyang steel, in return for the promise of an 18-month pause in North Korean nuclear ambitions with no IAEA oversight, that is among our best possible outcomes. People don’t seem to understand—literally, it’s unthinkable—that this is the kind of meeting where two people with a boundless capacity for their thoughts being nontangential with reality, and the emotional temperament to go to war over a misunderstanding or personal slight, also have the ability to actually do it.4

4In all seriousness, it would go like this: Kim makes a rhetorical threat identical to every rhetorical threat North Korea has ever made, the DPRK version of asking about your family before getting down to business. Trump is scared, or worse, offended, because he genuinely believed that he would be treated with deference. He turns to Bolton for advice. Pyongyang is glowing as soon as they can get Trump outside the blast radius, as is Seoul and anyone else in the crossfire.

5I can’t remember, but apologies to Dave Barry if this joke is a direct lift.

Fucking done being polite

Republicans are sociopaths. Full stop.

We’re supposed to call it tribalism, and say that many of them are hurting, or scared, and deserving of empathy. We’re supposed to say it’s a problem on both sides.

No. We’re not sociopaths, and they are.

One party thinks the problem with gun violence is not enough people shooting back.

One party desires to deport everyone who immigrated to the United States an arbitrarily long time after their own ancestors did.

One party believes that if you don’t have enough money, you should get sick and die.

One party states that if you can’t find work, or can’t work, or your work doesn’t pay enough, or you become obsolete, or you’re bankrupted by bad luck, you deserve to lose your home and starve.

We’re supposed to say that all of this is a problem with Republican politicians, not Republican voters. The voters are just single-issue. Lashing out. Fiscally conservative. Misguided. Misinformed. Hurting, scared, deserving of understanding.

No. They’re sociopaths. Incapable of empathy. Complicit with—or supportive of—the evil, the dangerous, those working to harm. Moved only when it affects them personally, which then inspires more hatred of the outsiders whom they blame.

The Second Amendment voters, at least they’re honest sociopaths about their desire for Mad Max anarchy and rule by threat of violence.

The anti-abortion voters believe that the female meat vessels carrying a fetus—or who someday might—have no human rights, but also support the destruction of poverty and healthcare safety nets necessary to indicate they actually give a damn about babies. An unplanned pregnancy means you’re a whore; the child must be brought to term; should you not raise the child exactly as they think you should, you’re morally inferior and undeserving of help. Women are half the population; not caring about them is not merely misogynistic, it’s sociopathic. Not caring about children after demanding and enforcing their birth is monstrous.

The racists, we’re required to pretend that there’s some qualitative degree of difference between them and the white nationalists and the Nazis, even when we’re required to use a microscope to spot the distinction. Not caring about anyone nonwhite, or non-Christian, or more urbanized, or otherwise Other is sociopathic.

The fiscal conservatives, whose espoused beliefs are as hollow as the moral crusaders who supported Trump, they might be the worst of all. They take carte blanche to shut down any expression of compassion or decency if it costs money, yet they only seem to care about money spent on compassion and decency. They’re kind, they’re caring, they’re not like those social conservatives—or so they would have you believe—it’s just that the right to individual wealth is more important than any of the above, and complicity with everything else is justified. Specifically, the right to their own wealth, or the wealth they expect to acquire.

That is a dictionary definition of sociopathy.

I’m not calling out paleoconservatives, the modern Republicans of the 1960s, who thought Goldwater was dangerously radical, who came to their positions from a genuine—although in my opinion, mistaken—belief that conservative values, prior to sociopathic Moral Majority and Tea Party hijacking, improve the human condition. It’s just that few of them exist, they’re not loud, they’re not doing enough to reclaim their party—and based on election results, they mostly end up going along with the sociopaths. At which point, they are no better.

What about the rest of us? We care, supposedly. We’re outraged, clearly. Yet we keep playing the game.

We know the game is rigged. It’s rigged by money, it’s rigged by power, it’s rigged by outright disenfranchisement. Maybe we protest, politely, dear me, nothing illegal or too disruptive. Maybe we give money. Sometimes we vote. Then we lose, and the cycle continues. Or we win, we’re moderate in our use of power, we seek compromise, and of course, we’re always more concerned about being fair and idealistic than accomplishing our goals, of making a real goddamn difference. So most of what we achieve is cleaning up the worst of what happened before we got there. For a while. Until they win again and destroy the lives we tried to save.

And when we go to war, most of us are just as in favor of killing brown people for our own temporary illusory security as they are. Next time it’ll probably be Asian people. Again. We’re quicker to regret it, for what that’s worth, but we don’t learn from it.

We’re the frogs in simmering water. It keeps getting worse, it keeps getting more rigged, it keeps killing people, it keeps increasing the suffering and the misery and the deprivation, it keeps destroying any sense that we can collectively act with decency. But only a little at a time. A bill today harming the safety net, forgotten tomorrow because of some act of violence, in turn forgotten next week when some other sociopathic normalized behavior captures our attention.

We’ve forgotten it’s sociopathic, so we don’t act.

What we should have done, what truly decent people would have done, what the people who aren’t too complacent and comfortable do: shut it the fuck down.

It would have to be all of us, that’s the only way it works, that’s the only way to support each other through the painful sacrifice. Stop going to work. Stop contributing to the economy for anything but bare necessities. Block the streets with our bodies. Shut down Congress and legislatures and courts with the sheer masses of people surrounding the buildings. Do it for gun violence, then do it again for healthcare, for immigration, for all of the outrages that make us less than who we claim to be.

Get loud and don’t stop, never stop, grind it all to a halt. Power and money need us to play by their rules, to act in the ways they can control and counter. The only way to hurt them, to subvert their power, is not to.

And finally, finally, stop coddling sociopaths and pretending that since there are so many of them, whatever they believe is normative. We’re not all in this together. Half of us are in violation of every accepted framework of common decency, including the ones they claim. They’re actively sociopathic, or they’re discreetly sociopathic, or they’re complicit with sociopaths for selfish reasons—which is just another definition of sociopathic.

It would have to be fucking all of us. A few thousand people on a Saturday afternoon is playing the game. Boycotting the inhumane corporation of the moment is playing the game. Tweeting and posting and being really concerned, but staying within the lines, is playing the game. This post is playing the game.

But I’m being a fantasist. Of course, we’re going to keep playing. We’re comfortable and complacent, and with few exceptions, the only Americans in the last century who’ve made sacrifices like these did so because they had no choice.

What would it take for us to be finally done, for the water to boil? There’s ample evidence that there’s no upper limit, that even looming nuclear or environmental Armageddon, and the potential extinction of our species, is not enough to move us. We just get by, and we hope our kids will get by, and we’re pretty sure that some generation eventually won’t, but we try not to think about it. We just get by, and we don’t really comprehend it—we don’t feel it the way we would if we had to watch it—when other people don’t.

We’re not sociopaths, but we’re not moved to action either. Not enough. We mostly just watch and hope it doesn’t get too much worse, or too soon, or for the people close to us. What do we call people like that?

I’m not sure what I’m willing to do, not without a large group, large enough to protest like Gandhi and have it matter. But I do know, I’m fucking done being polite, with being performatively inoffensive, with my few remaining shreds of belief that Americans are special, or that we have shared values. Republicans are sociopaths.

Last Jedi: best Star Wars ever

There is really only one question coming out of The Last Jedi: is it an excellent Star Wars movie, or is it the best Star Wars movie so far? I’m leaning towards the latter, and seeing as how I’m already seeing some (extremely misguided) people on Facebook being completely underwhelmed, I decided to explain why—at great length, as is my preferred style.

This post is not just filled with spoilers, it talks about things ranging from the opening seconds to the closing credits. If you haven’t seen it yet (and really, why not? you’re nuts), close your browser and delete the application before proceeding, lest some stray electrons from my web server reach you and take away one iota from the movie.

The core reason why this is the best Star Wars movie to date: just as Star Trek: Discovery is doing, it is simultaneously part of the universe it’s living in, and a deconstruction of that universe. Last Jedi introduces critiques of Star Wars, which have been swirling for decades out here in the real world, in-universe for the first time.

The Force Awakens was very much a beat-for-beat homage to the original Star Wars, and that mainly for a Doyleist reason: it had to prove that the magic from the original movies was recaptureable (which it did admirably). The Last Jedi is the handing off of the baton from what came before to whatever is coming next.

It’s not a perfect movie. There were a number of scenes and characters which I thought were a bit questionable. But as I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him, I’ll gloss over these and maybe return to them in a future post.

Opening Scene: hands down, I will never have more fun in a movie theater than the 30 seconds when the Lucasfilm logo is replaced with Long, Long Ago, the fanfare begins, and I know that never again will I get to see this movie for the first time. Keep making them until I’m a Force ghost, Disney, because I’m going to keep buying tickets.

Rey’s Knighthood: there was much grousing after Force Awakens that Rey was far too powerful on zero training, which continues here: after being spurned by Luke and not getting any more Jedi pointers, she pulls off some Yoda-level Force levitation near the end of the movie. (And I recall that canonically, the crimson guard of the Emperor have Sith fight training, so the fact that she fights them off and does slightly better than Kylo is even more impressive than lifting rocks.)

But Rey’s self-tutored transition from neophyte to mastery is little different than Luke’s. Luke got maybe a few weeks at Dagobah, but his confrontation with Vader makes it very clear he’s out of his depth. By the beginning of Return, though, he’s all Jedi ninja. I’ve seen head canon explanations of this ranging from a return to Dagobah to training with Obi-Wan’s Force ghost, but the most obvious one is, “if you’re strong with the Force, you’re a self-starter.” Considering that the only time we’ve seen official Jedi training, it was for Anakin Skywalker, perhaps that’s further evidence that the Jedi curriculum is not as good as is promised in the brochure.

Combine this with Luke’s mini-sermon on the distinction between the Force itself, and the Jedi’s jealous guardianship against anyone else understanding it, and it seems clear: the Force decides whom it likes, and if you have that, who can ask for anything more? This nicely discards some of the most troublesome canonical problems with the Jedi which everyone has been glossing over for years: a pre-Schism Catholic separation of the learned from the unwashed, and control over whom is granted access to sacred knowledge; a theory of pedagogy whereby kindergartners are too old to be considered (concomitantly implying that the “right age” is fairly close to kidnapping toddlers from their parents); and while no one comes out and says it, the near certainty that the Old Republic Jedi were awfully cozy with hierarchical, patriarchal, and oligarchical governance and leadership structures.

Kylo’s Nonredemption: what are the two things we know about the Force? First, it has a light side and a dark side; dark side Force users get more superpowers, but have a tendency to be irredeemably evil. And unlike everything we know about the real world, where good people do bad things and vice versa, in Star Wars you’re one or the other.

Second, all of the light side users are super-concerned about the “balance” of the Force, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever given that a) it’s hundreds of them versus two Sith masters, whom no one even believes exist at first; and b) it’s neither clear what the hell they’re trying to balance, or exactly what they do except talk about it endlessly. The most comprehensible Force balance we ever get to see is Luke’s Dagobah swamp yoga.

But wait! There’s a huge caveat to “irredeemable,” because even if you’re an evil space tyrant for decades and involved in the death of billions, it’s all okay so long as you get that teary final scene with your kid, and maybe throw an emperor into a deep hole. This makes about as much sense as finding out that Hitler made a Jewish friend in the bunker, so everyone decides to build a statue of him. (Presumably in South Carolina, by very fine people.)

I came out of Force Awakens saying, “I will be so pissed when they give us the inevitable Kylo redemption arc.” It’s as much part of Star Wars DNA as the hero’s journey. Before Vader, there was Han’s transition from selfish smuggler prick to deus ex falconia in Episode IV. And just so there’s no confusion: yes, of course he murdered Greedo. That’s what makes his story work.

So then they give us Kylo’s redemption. And turns out, it wasn’t half bad; I’m watching the scene thinking, “if I must have this, this is probably the best way to get it.” I’m already picturing Episode IX with plucky Kylo and Finn coming up with counterstrategies against the First Order, while marveling at a pretty damn good fight scene, ending with the moment where Rey unequivocably saves Kylo’s black-clad ass.

But then… Kylo wasn’t redeemed, he just did what Vader never did: depose the master and take over himself. Three minutes of Hux Force choking later, and he’s the undisputed Emperor. Suddenly the entire story arc of the next 1.5 movies (and maybe 4.5 movies) gets completely rewritten. Fuck that noise where he commits patricide against goddamn Han Solo and gets off scot free. Even in his own reconstruction of events, he’s still the guy who burned down a Jedi temple and killed off half of his (presumably teenage) classmates. And the redemptive quality that we’re supposedly seeing—his struggle with the light side—turns out to be Snoke’s plan to lure out Force-sensitive enemies.

Fuck him, he’s a bad guy. Even Rey’s given up on him by the end, and her unfailing optimism about the goodness of people is as fundamentally irrational in the Star Wars universe as it would be in Westeros. Chewie had the right idea: keep shooting at him with a bowcaster.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Hero’s Journey: Meanwhile, back on the island (and how amusing is it that an island features so prominently in the movie JJ isn’t helming?), Luke is not the guy we’re expecting. I probably annoyed my fellow moviegoers by how hard I laughed at the opening shot, where he tosses his lightsaber over his shoulder and off a cliff; we waited two years for the resolution of a nearly literal Force Awakens cliffhanger, and that’s what we get? Loved it.

This sets up the obvious Star Wars trope: Luke the reluctant hero (this time in a teacher role), unwilling to be involved, but gradually won over by the plucky determination and sheer talent of his padawan. (It doesn’t hurt that Daisy Ridley has preternatural screen charisma, making it entirely believable that characters would naturally come over to her side.) It’s the arc we get with Poe, when Leia and her second discuss how much they like him because of his mutiny. Luke is just being grumpy; surely Rey’s winning attitude will bring him back. Artoo even gets in on the plan, showing Luke the Leia hologram to remind him of his old attitudes.

But as it turns out, Luke isn’t in seclusion because he’s turned his back on the Resistance, or out of self-loathing after Kylo’s dark side turn, but because he’s lost faith in the Jedi as a whole. This not only makes his actions in this movie believable, but it fills in a major plot hole from the last one: short of this—which I wouldn’t believe would ever be in Star Wars if I hadn’t seen it—there’s no good explanation for the events leading up to Episode VII. “Our” Luke would never turn his back on either his friends or the fight, and that’s exactly what he did. Turns out, he had what I think might be the only explicable reason for doing so, which is a point of view that’s never been hinted at in any other movie (and certainly never from a Jedi).

And who should come back to exemplify this, but Yoda himself? Mr. “Do, or do not; there is no try” is now “failure is the greatest teacher,” and he puts the exclamation point to it by burning down the Jedi library-tree. (Which is kind of a weird concept unless it’s a swipe at Avatar.) Put simply, Yoda’s self-assuredness in the original movies is a bit odd after the decisions we see him make in the prequels—flying in at the lead of a platoon of stormtroopers rather put me off the little green dude for a while—and it’s interesting to see that wherever Force ghosts go when they’re not enjoying a big Yub Nub party, they’re giving some thought to their past actions.

Leia’s “Death”: after the dispatch of poor Han in the last movie (sending him off a trademark Death Star balcony, so there would be no misconceptions that maybe it was just a flesh wound), I think we were all steeling ourselves for the loss of the rest of the Big Three this time around. And there goes Princess Leia, whooshed out into deep space, her body drifting around for enough scenes for us all to think, “wow, they just did that.”

Then we get the dramatic close-up, and the hand flex, and I had just enough time to think, “okay, here’s the dramatic last message to Luke,” before she proceeds to Iron Man back to safety with goddamn Force powers. Which is, at a single stroke, both badass, and redemptive of one of the worst failings of the original trilogy.

First, there’s what she does. The Force can keep you alive in space? Wow. That’s new. But it also makes sense—it’s a life force, after all. So it’s easy to say, “sure, it’s 3° Kelvin and she’s out of air, but if you’re strong enough with the Force, maybe you just don’t die until you’re ready to.” After all, dead people get to become Force ghosts (even if they were evil for most of their lifetimes), so sure, there’s some serious mojo working there.

Second, there’s that she does it. She’s the sister of Luke, the Jedi master. She’s the daughter of Vader. Without mentioning that horrible midiwhatsis concept, the Force has a serious genetic component. And all we’ve gotten to see her do so far in Episodes IV through VII is have a cosmic Force awareness of things happening light years away. That’s great, but come on; Artoo can do the same thing with his T-Mobile antenna.

This, however, is a superpower. And just to remind you, she’s a girl. Which means that the most amazing Force badassery we get to see in this movie is wielded by two women. (I’ll get back to Luke in a moment.) Maybe you had to be alive for the original trilogy in theaters, but man, this is as big a deal to Star Wars as that interracial kiss was in Star Trek. Goodbye, gold bikini.

Luke’s Twist: Meanwhile, we get to see Luke pull off some never-before-seen Force powers as well, walking out of a vaporizing First Order barrage like some goddamn Kryptonian. I halfway expected him to wave his hand and blow away every attacking AT-AT seconds later.

But it’s not him; it’s a Force ghost. Which is at once a brand new superpower (we’ve only seen that from dead guys before), and also a perfect explanation for how he pulled that off. We all got to see hundreds of Jedi mowed down in Episode II, so it’s just not credible for the Force to confer invulnerability. But if he’s not there in the first place? That’s just some damn good writing—especially since it’s completely in character for him to not attack Kylo all during their lightsaber fight, so it’s only in retrospect that I realized that the only person who ever touches him is Leia during their conversation. (The Incomparable podcast notes something else I missed: everyone else’s feet kick up the salt to show the red layer, but Luke’s don’t.)

It also nicely wraps up, “how the hell did he get in?” Poe Dameron’s one-liner sets up the first (incorrect) explanation, which we see is impossible when they get to the rockfall. You get just long enough to think, “maybe the rockfall happened after Luke arrived,” before you’re told, “nope, ghosts walk through walls.”

Considering how much handwavium we’ve all had to deploy for the classic trilogy (seriously, I’ve seen explanations that time moves slower on Dagobah because it must be orbiting a black hole), this sets up an obvious plot hole, gives us time to justify it with a hand wave, corrects it in dialogue, destroys it again on screen, and then makes it all completely sensible.

Han Fauxlo: I don’t know how much there is to say about Benicio Del Toro’s character, at least maybe not until after we see Episode IX; I won’t be all that surprised for him to complete the Han Solo arc from scoundrel to hero. But for now at least, he’s the embodiment of the discarding of the light side-dark side dichotomy. Unlike earlier scoundrels we’ve come to love, his good guy turn is a matter of convenience, and he switches right back when the tide turns. But he gets off several one-liners exactly regarding how the line between good and evil is not so much gray as irrelevant, punctuated by the hologram showing that the same arms merchants who build Death Stars build X-Wings.

I’d rather keep the remainder of the new series redemption-free; it’s clear that Finn never needed one because he was never a “bad” stormtrooper to begin with. Del Toro can just vanish without loss, or remain a bad guy; he doesn’t need to be the next Han. (And probably can’t be, after “responsible for the deaths of half the Resistance.”) But this is interesting in-universe commentary that the new Star Wars universe is just as mixed up as ours is regarding good and evil, which is all to the good.

Rey’s Parentage: Likewise, we also seem to be somewhat finished with “everyone important is related to everyone else important.” Sure, Ben Solo is strong with the Force because he’s a Skywalker, there are still some genetics about. But unless Kylo is lying about Rey’s parents (always a possibility), Rey’s Force sensitivity is sui generis. That nicely democratizes the Force in a completely non-Lucasian way, and also resolves a lingering problem left over from Awakens: there really weren’t that many viable candidates for Rey’s parentage. Couldn’t be Leia and Han, very difficult for it to be Luke, nonsensical for nearly anyone else. I had my bet riding on “Kenobi granddaughter” as of two years ago, but considering the amount of backstory that would be necessary for Ewan or Alec to have had a descendent on Jakku, I’m happy to be wrong.

Remember, this is the universe that made Leia a princess, although her “official” Dad was a senator, because her secret Mom was… uh… an elected queen? But no one knew Padme was her mother, so why… oh, forget it. Princess Leia is a princess because it’s iconic, because rescuing princesses is a trope, and because Leia calling her rescuers idiots and blasting away the wall to escape was badass in 1977. Attempts to be Watsonian are doomed to failure here, and it’s simply completely weird that Lucas became uncomfortable with perpetuating hereditary monarchies, at the same time he was cementing the view that only certain people get to use the Force, those people mostly being the children of other Force users.

Carrie’s Dedication: “For our princess?” Oh, man. I’m not crying as hard right now as I did during the closing credits, but I haven’t been able to think of those three words without getting choked up.

Somewhere, there’s an alternate timeline where Carrie isn’t dead, and there’s no cosmic irony that Leia’s the last survivor of the Star Wars trinity, but can’t have whatever sendoff was planned for Episode IX. I wish I could see that movie.

Wrapping Up: So, yeah, I get it, there are flaws. The porgs have more than a whiff of Ewok to them, and scenes with them were a bit more Tex Avery than I’d like. Laura Dern could have saved everyone a lot of trouble by not keeping so many secrets from Poe. My particular favorite: really, no one has ever tried lightspeed at an attacking fleet before? Seems like it should be an obvious trick. (Considering how often Hux screws up in this movie, Vader’s strategy of rapid general disposal starts to look a bit better in retrospect.)

But not enough flaws to take it out of the running for best Star Wars ever, and since that’s a wholly subjective opinion, I’m comfortable saying it won. Which is to say: the original Star Wars is forever going to be the most fun movie ever made, partially because it’s pretty damn good, and partially because I saw it when I was seven. That’s also why I’ve always had less regard for Empire than most people: age 10 me didn’t get a lot of it, age 13 me judged it the weakest of the three, and while adult me likes it more now (and Jedi less), Star Wars still takes the cake and leaves no crumbs behind. Sure, you can appreciate Empire on a deeper level, but once you do that, you also need to evaluate it for its flaws, of which it has many. The worst flaws of Star Wars, they fixed in Rogue One.

(And to repeat age 10 me’s biggest objection to Empire: the whole point of movies is that there’s never a “wait until next week to see the conclusion.” Empire had one which you had to wait three years for. That should be considered child abuse.)

Coming out of Awakens, I was ready to say that it was on par with Star Wars, based on the simple fact that it made me feel like I did when I saw it the first time. That’s pretty damn rare; the only movie I can recall making me as giddy in theaters recently was Spider-Man: Homecoming. (There have been six, count them, six swings and misses at this by movies with Superman in them since Superman II, when making a feel-good Superman movie should be the biggest gimme in Hollywood.)

My joy at seeing a movie isn’t necessarily correlated with the quality of the movie as a movie; my favorite movie doesn’t have to be the best movie I’ve seen. I’m equally leaning towards saying Discovery has knocked DS9 off its perch as the best of Star Trek… but my favorite is likely to always be TNG. Likewise, Star Wars is always going to be my favorite… but for right now, I’ll call it. Last Jedi is better. It breaks the most ungainly Lucas toys and builds something better from them. Not only am I looking forward to what JJ does in IX, I can’t wait now for Rian Johnson’s run at X through XII.

Some profane advice for Nancy Pelosi

When the Democratic response to Trump’s white supremacist sympathies is empty, pretty words, and their only action is to legislate architecture, that’s so batshit incompetent, I start to believe the people who say we deserve to lose.

Pelosi should have gone on CNN Tuesday night and said exactly this: “Fuck Nazis and everyone who supports them.” And then introduce legislation about statuary and restricting Trump’s powers.

It would have emphatically set the Democratic position and removed the perception that they don’t stand for anything.

It would have explicitly told every group persecuted by Nazis and white supremacists, who happen to be the Democratic base or ripe targets, “we have your back in no uncertain terms.”

It would have been safe, because opposing Nazis is the biggest gimme position since, “Ogg, don’t stick your face in the fire.” Safe shouldn’t matter, but it seems to be the top priority for at least a plurality of pusillanimous Democrats.

The use of the word “fuck” would have dominated the media and gone viral, ensuring that it made a permanent impression that Fox News can’t spin.

It would have ended “the Pelosi problem” whereby her name is being used as a dog whistle for communist takeover. Anyone criticizing Pelosi from the right would have to explain they’re not supporting Nazis. Message buried.

Probably would have also shut up antsy Democrats who prefer an internal turf war to actually defeating Republicans.

Anyone criticizing her language would have to explain they’re not supporting Nazis or being polite to Nazis. Message buried.

CNN would make noises about her language, unbleeped because they had no warning for a 3-second delay, and would be secretly thrilled about the ratings bump thereafter.

This is how you win, Democrats. Maybe you take issue with this particular tactic, but this is how you win.

Tina Fey is a goddamn hero

The Internet is going through a minor uproar (its default state) over the Tina Fey sheetcake video. Twitter hashtag #sheetcaking is a thing, mostly by people (as of last night) who say that Fey’s “position” comes from white and wealthy privilege. Either that, or Tina Fey is a brilliant metatextual satirist.

I don’t entirely disagree with the latter point; Tina Fey is a smart cookie and I doubt that she missed the historical resonances of “let us eat cake.” But both of these points of view completely miss what she did say.

She did not mock Nazis. She did not mock Nazi sympathizers. What she said was, “It is so blindingly obvious that all of you are rightly upset about Nazis and Nazi sympathizers that I’m going to poke fun at how we’re coping with those chinless turds.” It’s a message of inclusion—but only to antifascists, which Fey rightly assumes to be damn near everyone.

“But she told people to stay home!” Yes, she did. Let’s even give you the benefit of the doubt, and not say “she’s a comedian” or “she meant that satirically.” Let’s unpack that.

As I write this, there are approximately 50–100 “free speech attendees” (it’s unclear to me whether they identify as “alt-right” or neo-Nazi or whatever, but they’re clearly sympathetic) in Boston, literally surrounded by 20,000 counter-protestors. 200–1. That’s a good turnout, a good ratio, makes for excellent news coverage of our side, makes the “alt-right” look pathetic.

There are 4.7 million people in Boston metro. Assuming the crowd is all locals (which is certainly not true of the “alt-right” people they’re protesting), that’s a turnout under 0.43%.

On January 21, when the Women’s Marches across the country got more people to show up than in pretty much ever, estimates were over 4,000,000. That’s about 1.2% of the country.

SNL Summer Edition got 6.5 million viewers the week before Fey’s broadcast, and that was before she went ridiculously viral on the Internet. As I write this, SNL’s YouTube clip has been viewed just under 4.5 million times. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other copies generating their own views. And it’s Saturday afternoon, 36 hours after broadcast; there’s still the rest of the weekend.

Are those 15–20 million viewers going to take Fey literally and be less likely to show up at a protest? I think that’s pretty damned unlikely, but let’s say yes. 98.8–99.6% of them weren’t going to show up anyway. But all of them are primed with the belief, “It is so damned obvious that Nazis are despicable that I’m laughing with people who are laughing at them.” How do you think these people will react when fascist sentiment is aired in their communities?

Protests aren’t about absolute numbers. You want enough people to be numerous for the venue; don’t put 100 people into a stadium, or underpopulate your inauguration compared to somebody else’s. If it’s a counter-protest, it’s nice to have more people than the other side. But the big thing, the key number, is “enough people so people hear what we’re saying.”

There’s no benchmark for that. 400 fascists showed up in Charlottesville, and we’re all talking about how much we hate them. (And yes, that means that some baby protofascists might be getting exposed to them that way; this is why they must also hear louder ridicule.) 250,000 antiwar activists turned out to protest the Iraq War nationwide in 2003 and didn’t get on the nightly news.

It’s not about who’s there, it’s about who hears about you. And usually, it’s not about making the other side look wrong, it’s about making the other side look ridiculous. You literally can’t be taken seriously when everyone’s laughing at you. Trump supporters can argue that they’re right forever and a day against all evidence; bring up the inauguration, though, and they have to lie about the numbers and say the pictures are fake, because we all know what an empty Mall says about Trump.

Yes, we must turn out in counter-protest against Nazis, fascists, and not to put too fine a point on it, Republicans. Which we’re doing. Tina Fey is fighting the other front in this war of ideas. We can’t win unless she does.

Correction: Boston police reported at 5:30 that the crowd was 40,000, not 20,000.

Don’t identify the Nazis

Don’t identify the Nazis. Don’t share social media pictures asking people to identify the Nazis. Don’t spread the names of people identified as Nazis. And no, you’re not doing this because some innocent people might be misidentified. You’re doing this to protect the Nazis.

Look, I get it. Nazis are so bad that it’s a grave insult to call any other reprehensible person a Nazi. Nazis are the ne plus ultra of reprehensible. We shouldn’t give a damn what happens to anyone who calls himself a Nazi. But still, don’t identify Nazis.

Picture this: it’s 2022. Everyone has really really good cameras, not just on their phones. Everyone has access to much better face recognition than we have today; maybe it’s a subscription service, maybe it’s a freebie on Facebook. Privacy protections have continued to erode, so most folks have exposed home addresses, employers, family members, and email addresses and social media accounts where they can be harassed. 4chan is still a thing, and there are thousands of people with automated tools to completely fuck with anyone whose name they type into a search bar.

Or, if you prefer, it’s 2019, and Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has the same damn tools. Take away the social media harassment, add a soupçon of prosecution.

Do you think these tools will be used against the Nazis? Hell no. Sure, they’ll get doxxed too, but they won’t be doxxed first. The first targets will be the people who piss off the alt-right white nationalists, who will be angry, disaffected, and with time to burn. Trump protestors, anti-war activists, Black Lives Matter; pretty much anyone who takes to the street with a left-wing or liberal political message is going to be targeted. (Will conservatives also be targeted? Maybe. There isn’t really a hotbed of liberal digital assholes yet.)

All of this is going to happen anyway. It’s inevitable. (Or rather, it’s inevitable because we live in a country that doesn’t give a damn about privacy if it impedes the almighty dollar or corporate power.) Outing a Nazi won’t affect the outcome one way or the other. But what it will do is provide the Fox News chuckleheads with ample opportunity to equalize what’s happening to Nazis now (using low-key, manual methods) to what will happen to us then (using firehose, automated methods). Said chuckleheads will empower their lackeys in Congress to implode or impede any legislation that might provide some relief. Said chuckleheads will also spread the word to low-information, disaffected, and underemployed idiots who might want to get in on the fun.

So that’s why you shouldn’t out Nazis; it’s in your best interests. But there’s one more reason.

It’s wrong.

Think Nazis are reprehensible? Great. They weren’t in the 1930s. But not too much earlier, labor unions were. Martin Luther King, Jr.—sainted MLK himself? Contemporary white sentiment was sorta kinda in favor, but thought he was way too radical about how fast he wanted change; and by all means, when all those negroes turned out to hear him speak, it was a threat to the public order and they should stay home.

I’m not invoking a moral relativism to say that Nazis aren’t always evil. They are, and any society which says otherwise (including this one) should give up all aspirations to calling itself civilized. I’m saying that a lot of folks who aren’t evil and aren’t reprehensible, by our current standards, used to be, and might be again.

Are you in favor of American values? Well, here’s the thing about values: they don’t mean a goddamn thing if you only hold them when it’s painless to do so. Believe in freedom of speech? Then you’ve gotta let the Nazis march. Believe in the rule of law and the right to a fair trial? Then you’ve gotta give your captured al-Qaeda or ISIS asshole a goddamn lawyer and a jury.

The Nazi fuckers and opposition in Charlottesville who hurt people? Identify them, find them, prosecute them, and lock ’em up if they’re found guilty. (But, you know, try to find out who threw the first punch and who acted in self-defense.) The ones who committed property damage? Go ahead and do the same, but for God’s sake, let’s not treat them like they’re nearly as bad as the people who were violent.

The Nazi fuckers who “only” carried a Nazi flag, and yelled at nearby counter-protestors that they were vermin? Guess what? Not illegal. Protected speech. Of course protected speech has consequences; if a Nazi is dumbshit enough to give an interview to CNN and get seen by millions of people, fuck it, let him lose his hot dog job. Same thing goes for any organizer of the rally, or the officials of organizing groups; they’re public figures.

But your average brownshirt? He gets to go home, and that way, when you’re out there protesting him, so will you.

Rule of thumb. Someone goes out in public and says, “North Koreans are evil and all of them should die in nuclear hellfire”? Protected. Someone says, “Attack a Korean today”? Fuck him, and lock him up.

Postscript, August 15: since I’m making strong First Amendment arguments in this piece, I want to add something that I’ve written elsewhere.

The First Amendment crucially clarifies that it only extends to peaceable assembly. In my view, this means that if you show up at a protest with a weapon of any kind, you’re abrogating your First Amendment rights by doing so. No guns. No pepper spray. These are offensive weapons, and remain weapons even if they are used in self-defense. Guns and obvious weapons also carry a heavy intimidation factor which is the antithesis of free speech. Objects like torches, which are dual-use items that can also be weapons, must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Worried about your safety at a protest? By all means, bring helmets and shields (although you might look a bit silly doing so, and prepare yourself for a dual-use argument). Bring goggles and Visine if you’re concerned about being pepper-sprayed or tear-gassed. These are defensive items and allow you to maintain both your moral and legal arguments for First Amendment protection.

I think there are very interesting questions that can be raised about the prior conduct of Nazis and white nationalists; there is a long track record of showing up to protests with weaponry. Governor McAuliffe said yesterday that Virginia police have found caches of weaponry stored around Charlottesville by the Nazi marchers. This obviously means a premeditated intent to use them. I think this raises a valid question of whether Nazi organizations can be presumed to bring weapons to future protests, and if so, whether they retain First Amendment protections. (The same can be said of Antifa activists, but in the research I’ve done since Saturday, I’ve found almost no evidence of actual Antifa activity; nearly all references to Antifa are right-wingers indiscriminately calling every liberal and leftist organization Antifa.)

But what’s clear is that a violent ideology on its own cannot be construed as an intent to commit violence. Nazis are genocidal; nearly all neo-Nazi organizations attempt to distance themselves from this, but such claims cannot be taken seriously. On the other hand, similar claims are made about Black Lives Matter regarding white people. At the Sunday vigil I attended for Charlottesville, multiple speakers called government and police actions against black people genocide.

I think it’s entirely rational to call Nazis genocidal, and it’s entirely ridiculous to call Black Lives Matter, police, and the federal government genocidal. (Regarding police and government: violent, yes. Genocidal, no. For genocidal federal policy, c.f. colonial and American governments regarding Native Americans between the 17th and 19th centuries.) But the rationality of the claim can’t be taken into account, unless you want to give the power to every judge in Alabama to restrict protest for any group he deems too violent. Again, it’s protected to have a violent political ideology; it’s illegal to incite violence.

In my view, this reinforces the idea that free speech protections only extend to people who don’t prepare to be violent. But I have no idea how such a view can be pragmatically enforced.

Nazi Sympathizer Donald Trump

Yesterday, it was a violation of Godwin’s Law to say that Donald Trump is a Nazi sympathizer. Today, it’s a statement of fact.

Here’s the video where he says this, starting one minute in:

Note his lack of interest while he’s reading his prepared text, the bored tone of his language, until he gets to the words (or ad-libs) “on many sides.” Then repeats it. No, the fatal attack in Charlottesville wasn’t the fault of actual swastika-wearing Nazis. It was the fault of many sides.

He’s being pilloried today for his language from many sides, indeed, but not in terms that are nearly harsh enough. There were Nazis demonstrating. He is sympathizing with them by not calling them out. Ergo, Nazi sympathizer.

How, in any context, could this not be the most immediately salient aspect of this man? Incompetent Donald Trump. Warmonger Donald Trump. Corrupt Donald Trump. All of these are, and must be, superseded by Nazi sympathizer Donald Trump. It’s now the first line of his obituary: “the president who expressed sympathy for Nazis.”

But here’s the problem: we’re not allowed to say this. I have little doubt that some people who saw the headline of this post decided not to read it because “Nazi sympathizer Donald Trump” is too incendiary. I clearly must be a wackaloon to write it. Never mind that it’s now factual.

This is why it’s important: there are damn few people willing to wear swastikas and parade in front of cameras. But there are many people who happily call themselves alt-right. The guy who “built the platform for the alt-right” is, as of now, in the White House advising the president. (There are rumors today that Bannon’s about to be fired, not because he’s a Nazi sympathizer, but because he leaks to the press.)

We haven’t been in danger of having a measurable Nazi political movement in the United States since the 1930s. We never will be. But we’re currently experiencing a powerful alt-right political movement, and alt-right is a term invented by Nazis to deliberately rebrand themselves. Maybe there are many people who call themselves alt-right who would never have joined the Nazis; maybe they’re just that gullible and naive. That doesn’t make it unfair to call the alt-right Nazis, because it’s also not required for us to go along with their branding effort.

There are many pretty things being said by Republicans today, but so far, I haven’t heard the beginnings of a whiff of any action to impede, restrict, or remove the president from office. These statements are designed to take the heat off of his Congressional abettors. Without action or followup, they are meaningless.

And here’s why this matters: we’ve known all along that the guardrails are off on our democracy, and we’ve repeatedly questioned if there’s a red line that Trump can cross which will cost him the support of the Congress he needs to stay in office. Yesterday, he crossed a red line we didn’t even know was necessary. If there’s no action, then don’t kid yourselves: there is no action Trump can take that will cost him his power.

The corollary: there is also no longer anything hyperbolic about envisioning what Trump might do. Cancel elections? Declare martial law? Call upon his armed supporters to take to the streets? (He’s already asked the military to become activists on his behalf.) All of this was hyperbole yesterday.

But today, we know Donald Trump is a Nazi sympathizer, and there are no guardrails.

Some mostly unnoticed things in the Trump call transcripts

A few things in the unexpurgated transcripts that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere.

1) As noted by the Washington Post, Peña Nieto always calls him Mr. President or… (that other combination of title and last name that I haven’t written or uttered since January, and I’m not going to start now). Trump calls him Enrique, every time.

I could see this as a way of trying to establish bonhomie as a negotiating tactic—but Trump is famously a guy who lets almost no one call him Donald. The “first name basis” thing generally involves reciprocity, at least among us mere mortals. So is this like the W thing where he bestowed nicknames as a dominance show? Or just a dominance show in general (I get to use your first name, but you don’t use mine)? In any case, it’s more than a bit weird with heads of state, and utterly unnecessary.

2) I’m skipping the many examples where Trump appears to be grossly ignorant which I’ve seen reported elsewhere. That still leaves a few.

It’s kind of a big deal if we start abrogating NAFTA and slap a bunch of import taxes on things that are currently duty-free. And here Trump says two things at the same time: on the one hand, he’s “happy” to just go ahead and tax Mexican imports (at least, until the inevitable lawsuit reminds him that NAFTA is a treaty obligation); on the other, he talks about reciprocal taxation if other countries tax us first. That’s… not the same thing at all.

3) Always a good idea to encourage goodwill in other nations by saying their military is more cowardly than ours is, but that’s what Trump does. So—we’ve already got quite a bit of DEA and other law enforcement cooperation going on with Mexico, but that’s not what Trump says. He offers to send in the military. As in, a threatened invasion? An invasion putatively at the invitation of Mexico? I mean, invading Mexico under any circumstances sounds batshit, but when you mention “military” in nearby context with “there are things you must do which you’re not doing,” it’s generally considered a message.

4) I know Trump has a tendency to exaggerate, which is a nice way of saying “lie his ass off.” Still, it’s really bizarre for him to refer to the “billions and billions and billions” that the drug lords are making, and then say, “some people say more.” Really? That would be trillions, seeing as how multiple billions are nicely covered already.

5) Once again, I am utterly boggled by Trump, this time when he says that a trade deal with Mexico will make him “almost” a father of the country. No. For that, you need a time machine.

6) “It is you and I against the world, Enrique, do not forget.” Um… you’re saying this to the guy whose nation you just threatened to slap a 35% tax on. And maybe invade. And why are you against the world, exactly? This is either very scary or very weird.

7) On to Prime Minister Turnbull, or I guess, just Malcolm is fine. I’m sure he doesn’t mind. The odd thing here is that everyone said at the time how this was really vituperative, but this call doesn’t seem much more angry than the conversation with Peña Nieto. One gets the impression that an audio leak would be a lot more damaging than the transcript.

8) Alright, so apparently the sticking point here is that we made an agreement last year to take up to 1,250 refugees that Australia is holding (one might say “concentrating”) on Nauru. Trump keeps saying 2,000, Turnbull keeps saying 1,250; 750 people really makes that much of a difference? But then Trump says he’s heard up to 5,000, presumably from the voices in his head, to the guy who actually negotiated the agreement.

Here’s the bizarre thing: it’s an own goal. Turnbull makes clear: the agreement is for the US to consider allowing the refugees to come, using whatever screening process we wish. If we decide they’re all “bad people,” Turnbull says it’s perfectly fine to turn them all down. Trump seems to think they’re bad people because they’re on Nauru, despite hearing Turnbull say 10 seconds earlier that they’re perfectly fine and just caught up in Australian immigration rules.

It’s like the Paris Agreement; since the entire thing is completely voluntary, Trump could have said, “We’re staying in, but we’re changing what we’re doing.” Sure, anyone who knows a damn thing about it would understand it was just as shredded, but idiots in the media and on Trump’s side would have given him a ton of accolades. He withdrew for no reason. And he started a rift with Australia, for no reason. Again, it’s boggling.

What to do in case of a dirty bomb

The Washington Post reports today that ISIS has potentially had the ingredients of a dirty bomb available to them; at this time, apparently they did not have the skills to retrieve them. But radioactive materials are widely available, and a dirty bomb is the scariest weaponry that may become available to terrorist organizations in the future. (Nuclear weapons are very difficult to obtain and build; biological weapons are currently difficult, although that might change in the future; chemical weapons are very difficult to deliver to a target.)

The following is a discussion about how you should feel, and what you should do, about dirty bomb attacks. I am not an expert; this may be amended after expert colleagues have read and commented on it.

What is a dirty bomb?

A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive encased in or containing radioactive material. When the bomb explodes, this radioactive material is dispersed over an area as large as, or slightly larger than, the blast radius.

A dirty bomb is not a nuclear bomb. Nuclear bombs are immensely powerful and widely devastating. The radioactive material in a dirty bomb does not contribute to its explosive power; the bomb is no more powerful than the conventional explosive would be without the radioactive materials. As a result, the area which is irradiated by a dirty bomb is likewise constrained. There is no fallout. There is very little chance that radioactive materials will be carried by wind, and if it is, there is so little of it that it poses a small risk. Nuclear bombs create fallout because they create a large amount of airborne debris which is highly radioactive; dirty bombs do not create airborne debris (or very little), hence no fallout extending the radioactive radius.

A dirty bomb can kill you with radiation if you are within the blast radius. However, if you’re inside the blast radius, the conventional explosion will already turn you into pudding. Dirty bombs are only really an additional concern for those people within an injury but not lethal zone, or perhaps for people who feel the blast but are not injured; these people may have radioactive health impacts beyond the conventional blast.

If you are outside the blast radius, you are not at risk from radiation. You will not be at risk from radiation in the future.

The Washington Post article mentions the possibility of a dirty bomb going off and irradiating a large area. To the best of my knowledge, this is only possible with particular kinds of explosives in an airburst; such weaponry is not available to terrorist organizations, so the article should have noted that this becomes a concern only if we’re at war with a nation-state.

What you should do

Summary: stay in place, as long as you can, unless you are evacuated. Tell your family to do likewise. Do not try to reunite, not yet.

Most people have no idea that there is a difference between dirty bombs and nuclear bombs, and will be terrified. They will likewise be terrified of radiation (which, to be fair, is terrifying in large doses). Expect a mass migration away from what is perceived as the affected area (much larger than the actual affected area). Expect gridlock as families try to reunite. Expect civil law enforcement and authorities to fail at first in containing panic; even if they’re well-trained, they’re going to be overwhelmed.

This may also happen in case of conventional attack, if a disinformation terrorist broadcast announces radiation where there is none, or if an irresponsible media or government report does likewise. This happened briefly after 9/11. It may happen again. Act on your best information; listen for better.

Stay where you are, as long as you can.

The greatest danger to you and your loved ones is not from the bomb, but from your panicking fellow citizens. (This is also the case with biological, chemical, and nuclear attacks if you’re outside the much larger affected area, but in those cases, panic may very well be justified. “Stay in place” is not necessarily the right thing to do in those cases.) If your fellow citizens are well-armed, there will probably be bloodshed. Even if everyone remains non-violent, there will be gridlock on local streets and highways leaving the city. Fleeing is likely futile; furthermore, it’s unnecessary.

Eventually there will be an all-clear alert from the authorities, or you may notice the traffic and panic is lessening in your area. It’s probably a good idea to wait longer until you can be certain, but that’s when you can reunite with your family and—if you wish—get the hell out of Dodge.

Cell phones will likely be unable to place calls; your phone Internet may still work, but will be very slow. Due to this, it is an excellent idea to buy a portable radio now, especially one which is hand-powered. Landline Internet and phone connections should still work. Use these to contact your family if they’re available.

If you are evacuated, it is entirely likely that the beat cop or firefighter who is doing so has no more understanding of dirty bombs than you do. But they know enough to get you away from the dangerous blast radius, which will remain radioactive. Conventional civil emergency procedures are appropriate here, and we have good training programs in place in urban areas for police and firefighters. This may be less true in exurban and rural areas.

Finally, the last thing you should do. Share this with your friends, neighbors, and coworkers. (If they are nearby during an emergency, their best interests are also your best interests; reducing panic is crucial. Sharing this information during an emergency is unlikely to do that.)

Also: contact your local and national politicians and express your concerns with them. We’ve had 16 years since 9/11 for a widespread campaign to inform the public, similar to what was done in England during the Blitz. We have not done so. Rather we have often increased fear and the likelihood of panic; I have also never seen a general media story containing the above information. This is civic negligence. Ask for better.

An open letter to Donald Trump

In the whirlwind of the last week, when you found yourself committed to a job you do not want and did not expect, perhaps you have not considered the personal cost of what you have just accomplished. Your legacy, everything you have worked for up until last Tuesday, is now guaranteed to be utterly forgotten.

Only academic historians remember the words and deeds of 19th century tycoons. But schoolchildren can name Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan. You are now playing on a stage where legacy is measured in decades and centuries. From the moment you take the oath of office, everything you have done to get to that position becomes completely irrelevant. You become a president, and that is all history will remember about you.

Already, history is watching. It will be recorded that you ran a campaign not seen by Americans in decades, and even then, always by fringe and losing candidates. History’s first draft, indicating that you had no idea what the job entailed until your meeting with the current president, is already written.

Perhaps you believe you will be able to control what is said about you, and maybe that is true within your lifetime. But history has a long memory. Eventually, your closest aides and confidantes will talk to the media, or to historians. Your every misstep will be dissected. Your every mistake will be magnified. And when it becomes clear what the outcome of your presidency will be for the future of the nation, your legacy will be written long after you are dead, when you have no control over what it says.

The most likely result of this does not look good for you. You have no experience at this job. The world is dangerous, complex, and vulnerable. A plurality of Americans already believe you are the worst man in history for this position. Your putative allies, the Republican party, has deep fissures and strong political traditions which run in opposition to what you hope to accomplish. Even people who voted for you have deep doubts about your ability.

The open question now is whether you will be remembered in history as a laughingstock, or whether you will actually supplant Buchanan as America’s worst president.

But the crucial point is this: regardless of what you achieve or fail, your legacy is erased. Everything you have built is ashes. You are going to be judged purely based on what you do, or fail to do, starting January 20th. All else is irrelevant.

Everything that has been written about you indicates that you are deeply concerned with what people think about you. Fill as many rallies as you like with your adoring fans; their numbers will be utterly meaningless next to the generations of Americans who will learn your name, possibly alongside the historical verdict of “worst in history.”

There is one thing you can do to avoid this, and your deadline is December 19th. Simply take the stage at Trump Tower, the place that will be forgotten, and announce that you do not want the job.

The immediate result will be a crisis; five hundred and thirty-eight nonentities from around the country will suddenly have the power to appoint the next president. It could be Mike Pence. It could be Hillary Clinton. In fact, it could be any native-born American who has lived here for the past fourteen years, is at least thirty-five years old, and who has not already served two terms.

It will be a crisis, but one that will be less severe than any number that may occur once you take responsibility for the nation. Let’s talk about what it does for you.

Instead of being history’s greatest failure, you get to continue doing exactly what gave you the most pleasure during the campaign. You will still have the support of millions. You will have a position of power and influence for the rest of your life. Most importantly, you can spend the remainder of your days saying what you would have done in office, criticizing the office holder, and have no actual events proving you wrong.

By all indications, it is the outcome you wanted: the title without the responsibility. You will still have won the election. You will still have mortified your enemies. The story of your life will still matter to history. If anything, being the first person in the history of the republic to turn down the job will ensure that you are remembered well by posterity.

You have just under five weeks to decide. This is your last chance to go out as America’s greatest winner. Take it.

Musings about “Not my president”

I’ve been giving some thought to the chants of “Not my president” at various anti-Trump rallies, and which is a hashtag I’ve seen trending on Facebook. Plenty of people are crawling out of the woodwork to say that this is destructive of a democratic norm; that we all have one president and should unite behind him. (Him, of course. Still, always “him”.)

I think this is interesting, taken in conjunction with the fact that Hillary is going to win the popular vote, possibly by a large margin once California finishes counting. (By way of comparison, her losing share could be larger than the winning shares of Kennedy and Nixon.) That’s in addition to the Senate, which is inherently undemocratic in how it apportions power to the less-populated states, and the House, which sends an outsized Republican contingent than its voter share thanks to gerrymandering. And of course, once the White House and Congress are undemocratic, the unelected judiciary has to be as well.

This is especially ironic given that the original point of the electoral college was to prevent the democratic mob from sending someone to the presidency who was manifestly unfit for office. Well, now the democratic mob has spoken, they’ve spoken for Hillary Clinton, and thanks to the rules we’ve elected the other guy, who is manifestly unfit for office.

That no one is saying shit about this is striking. In 2000, I was utterly outraged that Gore won the popular vote and it meant nothing. I honestly believed that people would be protesting in the streets for four years straight. In 2016, my reaction is, “Fuck, again? That sucks.” This is what I meant by “we can normalize anything” in a prior essay. Two unelected Democrats with the popular vote margin in 16 years? What was unthinkable is now routine.

That brings me back to the question of democracy. The razor-thin plurality of the voters voted for the loser, and lost the Senate and House as well. In nearly no time at all, this will lead to the permanent (measured in my remaining lifetime) loss of the judiciary—made possible by the antidemocratic measures taken by the Republican Senate under Obama.

At what point do we say, “no, the hell with the norms, the hell with civic polity, this undivided, unified, undemocratic government is the step too far.” More importantly, how do we say it? There are no remaining levers of power with which to express ourselves. The Internet gives everyone a voice, which ensures the impossibility of a single united one. The public sector is nowhere near strong enough to stand in the face of the awesome power of government united against it. And the next elections are two years away.

So what does this mean? Not my government? Not my America? “I want my country back?” Yes, we mocked the Republicans who said that under Obama, and they are still deserving of mockery for using that language under a president who was elected democratically in every sense of the word, with a Congress not rigged in his favor, who governed according to historical norms. But of course, it also ensures that no one else can say it, however justified they might be.

But that’s what’s driving the fear, the anguish, the mourning for the death of a loved one, among the plurality of voters in this election. We had a belief that America was special, and that she could not elect a… a what? A Berlusconi? A Mussolini? A Hitler? That everyone took seriously the idea of country first, party second. That despite the partisan divide, the manifest flaws in this man which other Republicans had pointed out would be enough to prevent this catastrophe.

So no, not my president, I guess. Because it’s not the America I believed in long before I ever became a partisan. This is an undemocratic country where the people who hold power received fewer votes. Where vote margins in many places are far smaller than the numbers of people who are blocked from voting. Where half of the eligible electorate doesn’t vote, and where those people are most likely to be the most marginalized. And where the driving force among the people who do vote, and the media that covers it, is politics as tribalism and entertainment, not governance.

How can I possibly cheer on the success of a president when I despise the man personally, and bitterly oppose most of what he proposes? When his office works for a policy that will ensure the literal death and suffering of millions? (Have you seen the Ryan budget yet? Don’t sugarcoat it. People will die.) When there is a clearly defined, large, and profitable media geared up to support him no matter how bad he is? When he is a fascist? How do you possibly define “success” in those terms?

I’ll close with a memory, I can’t remember if it was from 9/11 or 9/12. Most people remember that time as when the country united and came together. What I remember about it was W’s first speech on television that I saw, a few unplanned words. I can’t remember what he said. I can find the bullhorn speech, the Oval Office speech, the National Cathedral speech, but not this one. But I remember watching it and thinking, in the moment, “This man is terrified out of his gourd. He’s not up to this job.”

Most people, of course, looked to the Oval Office and saw there what it comforted them to see. Some of them surely changed their minds later. I suspect most people who went through that conversion don’t think about it much.

The point is, it took me from January 20th until September 11th to understand that the office was held not merely by someone who I opposed politically, but by someone who I was certain would fail. I never felt that way about Bush’s father. (And I can’t speak to my feelings about Reagan, because back then, I was a low-information Republican.) This time, I’m certain not just on Day One, but long beforehand. And I was right the last time.

What now?

Dissecting the postmortems

Responding more to some themes I’m seeing in the media and social media as they conduct their instantaneous, uninformed postmortems.

I read a lot of leftist commentary, and of course there’s been a smattering of “Bernie woulda won.” Right, the Socialist Jew would have gone down gangbusters in this cycle. There’s very little doubt that the Wikileaks ratfucking depressed some turnout, but that’s not saying Bernie would have won; that’s saying that beating Bernie hurt Hillary. Bring up Joe Biden, and maybe you’re talking about someone who might have carried it.

Likewise the people who think of Hillary as a “tragically flawed” candidate; give me a fucking break. I have zero doubt that Trump is going to make good on his pledge to try to put Hillary in jail, but that’s because if he doesn’t, no one is going to fucking remember any of Hillary’s so-called “scandals” unless there’s a constant barrage of biased media hatred banging the drum. Also, he’s a motherfucking tyrant, and that’s how tyrants do. History is going to forget about 95% of the bullshit that seemed oh so fucking important on Tuesday, and 2016 voters will look even more astonishingly ignorant than they do today.

Meanwhile, the endless cries of “What should the Democrats dooooooo?” are ridiculous, especially when it’s from non-Democrats offering “advice.” We just lost a razor-thin election folks, and no one would be saying shit if the percentage point had gone the other way in a few key states. Sure, we could analyze our navels endlessly and re-examine the beating heart of the Democratic party; much more accurate to say that the margin was pretty much up to the antics of James Fucking Comey. The GOP is facing serious, endemic, and critical divisions in their coalition of Neanderthals. We have a much more minor conflict between our resurgent progressive wing and our more moderate mainstream; our “divisions” shouldn’t eclipse the fact that everyone agrees on the mainstream position, but some people want to take it further.

Aside from that, there’s one more distinction: we have a common enemy and fuck all to do between now and the next election. My prescription is to take a page out of the British playbook and form a shadow government; make it damn clear each and every time a Republican policy attacks the poor and middle class exactly why their policies are harmful, and make it equally damn clear how a Democratic proposal and a Democratic Congress will do better for them. If we believe our policies our better because they’re reality-based, get that information out there. Every damn day, not just during an election, when 96% of the coverage is horse race.

Beyond that, trust in being right. The Republicans haven’t had to put together a governing coalition for years, and the last time they did, not only did they fuck it up so badly we still haven’t cleaned up the mess, but they did so quickly. Each third of the Republican party wants policies that will fuck the other two-thirds (and of course, the rest of America). We’re about to be served a platter of war, recession, race hatred, misogyny, and attacks on anyone born without a trust fund.

The core thing the Democratic party should be thinking about now: the GOP wing of the media is going to spend the next two years telling their viewers how tasty their shit sandwich is. These people don’t read the same damn newspapers we do. Your job: reach them with your message. Find low-information voters who are getting fucked and teach them why it’s important to be a high-information voter.

We believe our ideas are better and their ideas are shit. Their ideas are about to fail explosively, miserably, and catastrophically. Be ready for that.

While we’re on that topic, we keep hearing about how the Democrats (and the news media) need to learn how to “listen” and “reach out” to those special, special snowflakes in “flyover America.” (I put that in quotes because I’ve never once heard anyone seriously use the term “flyover America” except when someone is saying that other people shouldn’t use the term “flyover America.”) Those people are hurting, poor things, and we must pay extra-special attention to them.

Bullshit. We pay attention to them, and it’s called “every Democratic platform since 1932.” Rural America seems to be dying because rural America has been dying for over a century and a half. We ain’t gonna to fix that in policy; urbanization is a worldwide trend. And we should acknowledge that if the tolerant people live in cities and the intolerant people are rural, it’s because the intolerant people fucking want to stay intolerant, and they’re never going to be our voters. We don’t reach them because we don’t want them. But try to get a message to their kids.

Here’s the deal: right now, most people are focused on how we’re about to lose the gains of the last eight years. The thing is, we’re going to lose the gains of the last eighty if the mainstream Republicans carry through on their threats, and barring wizardly usage of the Senate filibuster, they’re going to. That’s before we get to Trump’s platform or whatever the Freedom Caucus and Pence get into their precious little heads. If you can’t form a platform that defends a century of the progressive agenda, which all Americans grew up understanding as “America,” you don’t deserve to lead a political party.

Finally, let’s be extremely fucking clear about who is now explicitly a Republican. I don’t know how many Republicans are neo-Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, or currently race-bashing women in hijabs, but I’m pretty fucking sure that it’s large enough to have been well over Trump’s margin of victory. Republicans want to say that “not all Republicans” are like that? Time to put your money where your mouth is and repudiate all of this shit. Because we are going to shame you like shit-stained baboons until you do. These people—and we’ll leave it to the social scientists to eventually tell us their numbers—are extremely fucking happy that your agenda won. When literal neo-Nazis are cheering on your guy, it is fucking time for you to say, “Shit, are these really the people I want to publicly associate with?”

Democrats need to reach out to sane independents and Republicans not because it’s a good strategy, not because it might help win an election, but because it’s the American thing to do. Republicans own those people until they say otherwise.

Fascists don’t have opponents, they have enemies

I’ve dealt with the last 36 hours by radically restricting my news intake; for the first time in 20 years, all news apps on my various gadgets are turned off, and I’ve been filling the 2-3 hours or more I normally spend daily on informing myself with comic books and a rewatch of Westworld.

And even so, what crept in through these filters is scary and utterly unsurprising. Numerous reports of “Day One” followed by some racist or hateful attack. A hijab torn off a woman in a Midwestern Target. An anti-gay note left on a car in North Carolina. Swastika graffiti in Philadelphia. Philadelphia.

So apparently I missed some rallies last night that I would have attended, protesting Trump’s election (and the hitch in my throat as I wrote that is precisely why I’ve been secluding myself from the news). That’s not the news. What is the news, and should be on the minds of everyone in this country who does not support Trump, even if they’re Republicans, is this: “These temper tantrums from these radical anarchists must be quelled. There is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people.” That’s a tweet by Sheriff David Clarke, tipped by Politico to be in the top two for heading the Department of Homeland Security.

Radical anarchists. That’s the language being used about protest rallies, about a community of stunned and shocked people who were told consistently and with certainty that they would not wake on Wednesday to the America they’ve nonetheless inherited. “Radical anarchists” are bomb-throwers in the 1920s. Peaceful protesters are, until now, protected by the Constitution. But as we’re about to be reminded, Constitutional protections mean nothing when a government wants to subvert them and the courts are filled with judges who support that government.

This is the language of fascists. I didn’t expect to see the tarring of half the nation as the enemy until the first bad thing happened to Trump’s approval rating, but of course, I was being optimistic. It happens immediately. It will go on relentlessly. It will be cheered on by the people who elected Trump, and it will not be opposed by the supposed rational Republicans who many are foolishly expecting to somehow save us from the oncoming debacle. That track record is established: they fell in line behind their candidate, of course they’re going to do the same now.

Meanwhile, the brave pollyannas on the left are posting calls to action about how now is the time to fight even harder for what we believe in. They are forgetting the J. Edgar Hoover FBI, the use of the bully pulpit by Mussolini and Hitler, the awesome law enforcement powers of the federal government when wielded by authoritarians, and the insanely powerful surveillance techniques that America now owns. We are about to become the enemies of the government, and we’re talking like it’s just politics as usual. I give it a year, maybe two, until the new authoritarian worldview becomes normalized and the rank-and-file in the police and law enforcement start to get with the new program; some will adopt it gleefully and immediately. After that, of course, the people start to fall in line with how they’re being policed.

I don’t know offhand of a historical precedent for an authoritarian state to elect its way out of authoritarianism. I can think of two obvious examples where liberal democracy was established after the governments in question were invaded, conquered, deposed, and reconstituted. There are other countries that had revolutions. But normal, sane, peaceful elections? No, that’s not the path back from authoritarianism; once you start down that road, the authoritarians themselves build the barricades to prevent future loss of power.

Most people reading this will probably think I’m being overdramatic. But I remind them, it’s been only 36 hours, and already I’m labeled a radical anarchist.

Don’t lose hope? Why not?

My Twitter feed is full of attempts at hopeful messages among aghast liberals: “Sleep well. Tomorrow, we organize.” These people are fucking kidding themselves.

And Facebook, my cohort of somewhat less-liberal (but still mostly Hillary-supporting) friends and colleagues, are telling me that I’m being extreme in my reactions, and it’s not the end of the world.

It isn’t? Let’s start with this. With the agreements we’ve made during the Obama administration, the world was just maybe going to be able to restrict itself to a global increase of 2°C. Trump’s stated policies put us on a track to 4°C or higher. 4°C is when the global food chain breaks down. Sure, I’ll be dead before that happens, but do you have children? Thinking maybe of grandchildren someday? They’ll live it.

Meanwhile, I’ve seen a dozen mentions of Obamacare, as if that’s what’s on the table. Has anyone listened to any Republicans? The mainstream goal is to dismantle the New Deal and the Great Society with privatization and state block grants. God only knows what the evangelicals and the Trumpistas want to do; I haven’t been listening, because I thought we’d never be here.

The fact is, everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, are living in a fantasy world where certain things about America remain true no matter what happens. We’re exceptional. We’re an example to the world. We’re the leaders of the free world. We’re all the things that were taught to us in grade school, at an age when it’s not learning history, it’s learning mythology.

Lies. Today proved that this is a load of complete and utter bullshit, made forgivable only because four generations of Americans who passed it down believed it too.

All of that mythology is based on national actions and global institutions that built that. No one ever convened a meeting at the United Nations and said the president was the leader of the free world. The president held that position, insofar as he actually did, because we were the most powerful nation on Earth, and our allies tolerated that position. We worked for the common good, often enough, that it was allowable for America to hold the position of power it did.

And it’s not just military power, although that’s a hell of a large thing. The dollar is the world’s reserve currency. The national debt is the safest place to invest. The American economy is large enough to tolerate even Great Recessions. All of these things combined are what made America exceptional among nations.

All of these things are now in jeopardy, if I’m to take at face value the things that Trump has said during his campaign. And even if I don’t, I have zero confidence in his ability to assemble a team that won’t manage these principles into oblivion.

Meanwhile, at home, I’m trying to think of historical precedents for which established legal norms are not at risk, and the most recent thing I can come up with is women’s suffrage. We trust in Congress not to make radical changes, or we trust in a president to act as a brake on those changes, or we trust in the courts to be the arbiters of the rule of law. All of those mechanisms have either failed tonight, or are going to in the next four years.

If you believe, as I do, that even the mainstream Republicans govern from an ideology that is divorced from reality—and which will now have additional Republican insurgencies to deal with from even more discredited and reprehensible points of view—you expect this presidency to fail, and fail badly. It’s not a question of cheering on that outcome; it’s a realistic assessment that no one who is about to control the levers of power has any experience with actually governing.

And what happens to the Trump supporters when that happens? If the recession that apparently started yesterday takes hold, whom will that hurt? Everyone in the middle class on down. What happens when Republican economic policies pass, and the red states discover to their horror that they’ve actually been relying on a safety net that paid them more than they paid out?

I’ll tell you what happens: they listen to Fox News, and Breitbart, and a dozen new sites that I haven’t heard of now, but which will be mainstream by 2018. They listen to Trump, who will react exactly as we can expect him to act when his numbers drop: by blaming the immigrants, or the Senate Democrats, or the few levers of power he doesn’t yet control.

If that sounds like blaming the Jews, it’s exactly like that, in that I won’t be in the least surprised if that explicitly happens.

Twitter reminds me that the Republicans haven’t swept federal power since 19281, which was also the last time we elected someone with no elective or military experience. Many people are noting that this was followed by the Great Depression; my understanding of history is that there wasn’t exactly a one-to-one correlation between those events, but that Hoover’s mismanagement of 1929 certainly made 1930 onwards as bad and as long as it was.

Whatever problems that come next, and there will be problems, are going to be met by the same level of incompetence, but this time, with all of the character flaws, corruption, lies, and outright manipulation that marked the campaign. Chris Christie is in charge of the transition team. Rudy Giuliani—the person whose name gave birth to Giuliani Time, when police sodomized a black man with a broomstick—will be in charge of Justice.

The country would be unrecognizable in four years’ time, except that with the quality of our media, the outrages of 2017 will be normalized by 2018, and so on through the term. The last time we had a Republican president, America tortured its military captives as a matter of policy, and we’ve been debating that ever since.

There is nothing we can’t normalize.

The sole historical bright spot I can conceive is that Hoover was followed by Roosevelt, and desperate times led to the beginnings of the social fabric that we are about to blow to hell. Perhaps that will happen again. But Hoover didn’t have the modern American military, didn’t have nuclear weapons, didn’t have the fractious news media, and didn’t have the worst parts of the Internet. And by most accounts, Hoover was a decent man. We are set up to fail on all of these counts.

I have no doubt that some form of political resistance will form. I am certain that someone will come up with a strategy to attempt to slow the disaster, and that Democrats and perhaps even horrified Republicans may coalesce around such. But at the moment, the best we can hope for is that the Republicans, so surprised by their victory, will fractionate as badly as we all expected them to in the face of a loss, and that Chuck Schumer turns out to be a master of 4-dimensional chess.

These are thin hopes. I would be happy to hang my thoughts and political efforts on something better. But I suspect that no one, least of all the people who voted for it, have any fucking clue what we’re in for.

1Update 11/11, 2:39 PM: I’ve been reminded since, and I can’t believe I forgot, that the Supreme Court decision which handed the election to W also gave him the 50/50 Senate when he already had the House.

Thirty-three point five percent

Most people are saying that they’re sick and tired of this election. I’m past that. I’m sick and tired of fucking Americans.

Like most other politically-obsessed people, I’ve been compulsively reloading the 538 page, and watching Clinton’s chances sink from 5/6 to 2/3 since the Comey announcement. Which was, let us not forget, “We have found more complete and utter horseshit with an even higher horseshit content than the horseshit I heaped on Hillary in July, in a spectacularly partisan manner that completely besmirched this office.” Besmirching not yet complete, Comey decided that it was better to continue acting like a partisan hack, than to run the risk of batshit crazy Republicans in the House going all batshit on him if they found out about the new horseshit on November 9th.

Of course, any reasonably sane observer would have noted that batshit’s gonna batshit, and if they’re not threatening to impeach him over the new horseshit, they’ll do it over something else. Nothing short of complete and utter capitulation to their batshittery is going to satisfy them. This is fucking obvious to everyone but the guy running the FBI, who is supposed to be smart.

Now, I’m on record for all the technical reasons why this email horseshit was horseshit from day one, beginning with the fact that every goddamn mention of email that doesn’t include talk about State’s own hacks is journalistic malpractice. Number of emails that were exposed by Hillary that weren’t subsequently exposed by much bigger hacks: zero. Doesn’t fucking matter if she had a rule on her server that forwarded every goddamn message to kgb.ru; we know for a fact that the State department’s breaches were worse.

What’s blowing my mind is that I thought that everyone who was going to be swayed by horseshit was already priced in; the American people have been hearing about email email email for 18 months. There is one group of voters who should have had their minds changed by the FBI horseshit non-announcement: utterly fucking dumb people. Even if you totally hate Hillary, ten seconds on any actual news site will tell you that a) there’s nothing there, and b) man, did Comey really blow away a hundred years of what’s goddamn expected from an FBI director.

Really: in order to give one-tenth of a shit about the FBI announcement, you have to read a headline or a GOP talking points memo and nothing else. (Or, of course, get all your news from right-wing media which profits from feeding you horseshit.)

But that’s alright. Jacksonian democracy and all that, so willfully uneducated people who can have their votes swayed by horseshit have their votes counted like anyone else. It’s okay that they’re out there, it’s just that they’re out there in huge fucking numbers, because their party leaders have gotten them used to a diet of horseshit since 1994 so they no longer know what real news tastes like.

That’s not what’s got me pissed off at fucking Americans. What’s got me pissed off is that we’re supposed to be a nation of ideals, and one of those ideals is that we’re supposed to put country over party. Another one of those ideals is that we’re supposed to give a shit and care about the political positions of the other side. Let’s try that, shall we?

For example, there are all those values voter Republicans, who have been cramming their vision of “one man-one subjugated woman” down our pieholes since 1981. Surely they wouldn’t vote for a man with three wives who glorifies sexual assault, who’s been extremely iffy on that whole abortion thing, who’s on trial for fucking rape of a minor in December?

Or the fiscal responsibility Republicans, the supposed smart ones, who have been advocating an Ayn Randian hellscape for thirty years and who are deeply, seriously concerned about the national debt except when it’s time to bomb the fuck out of someone. Surely they wouldn’t vote for a man who wants to blow a $20 trillion hole in the budget, who claims that his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan will pay for itself, and who wants to suck up all of the oil out of the Middle East and all of the concrete out of America to build a fucking huge wall?

Or the establishment Republicans, the ones who understand how the world works and who can sometimes speak using two-syllable words. The ones who have advocated for intransigent gridlock for partisan gain, but who understand why gridlock is bad and can sometimes be made to show reason, if only behind closed doors where no one can quote them? Surely they understand the danger of electing a man who doesn’t understand why nuclear weapons shouldn’t be used, why NATO is a good thing, and what happens when you have someone running the country with the self-control of a toddler on crack.

No, no, and fucking no. If any of these groups were holding firm in their prior horror and disdain of the orange-faced monstrosity, there would be firewalls in his ceiling. Those have been falling, one by fucking one. For the Republicans, it’s all “Hillary sucks!” and not a goddamn whit of concern about how many decades of Republican ideals, Republican values, or goddamn American patriotism they’re selling out to line up behind this nominee.

I’ve said it before, I’ve said it again. Donald Trump’s election would be a partisan disaster for my side, but he would be a nonpartisan disaster for America. You don’t need me to list the reasons why — everyone who’s ever served a day in national office, everyone who’s ever written a political news story, and the entire goddamn stock market has been saying this for months. Trump’s America will be either a kakistocracy or a kleptocracy, possibly both.

And yes, I do get it: the election of Clinton and a Democratic Senate is a partisan disaster for the other side. Give Schumer control of the Senate, and the Democrats have indicated they have finally found their balls and are fed up with the Republicans doing shit-all for eight years. You won’t like who gets nominated. People like me are going to be hounding Hillary not to be fucking nice to you. Maybe you should have thought of that while you had a moderate like Merrick Garland ready to warm a bench chair.

But seriously, Republicans. You have no fucking clue what a Trump presidency will look like, because Trump himself has no fucking clue; he’s clearly operating on the theory that whatever he farts out on Twitter is complete gold until he contradicts himself three hours later. Maybe Pence will be Acting President, and maybe Trump will be a dictator. (Seriously, though, if you think an ego like that is going to take a backseat, there’s just no hope for you.) Trump has shown an understanding of the presidency that we’d find appalling in a fifth grader, and because of you, he has a one in three chance of getting there.

We’re supposed to be better than this. We’re supposed to have some basic agreement on the value of institutions and government, which in turn has some connection to goddamn reality. Yes, Democrats suck and want to destroy the country; all the partisan bullshit you’ve been feeding yourselves remains just as potent as it ever was. I’m a Democrat; go ahead and completely dismiss every damn thing I’m saying if you like. But listen to what other fucking Republicans have been saying for 18 months. Trump is not normal. Trump is not qualified. Trump is a fucking disaster.

And if you’re voting in favor of chaos, if you just want to throw a monkey wrench into the entire system and blow it up: well, you’ve already won. Even with a Clinton presidency, a Republican House is planning on filing impeachment papers at 12:01 PM on January 20th. Keep the Senate, and watch our Supreme Court and federal judiciary dwindle to about half the number of judges it’s supposed to have. All of the ways in which the system is fucked up, all of the things you’re voting against, are going to get far worse, thanks to the incentives you’re laying out in front of your elected officials. “Keep gridlocking the system. Keep being lying motherfuckers. We will reward you for that.”

American democracy requires both sides to have some people being the fucking grown-ups. And I’m going to continue respecting Republicans with whom I only have partisan disagreements. But when it’s completely fucking obvious that the majority of Republicans think winning is more important than the country, then no. Enough. Dayenu. You’re not a political party, you’re vandals. You’re wrecking the place, and you know you are.

Pardon this partisan’s observation, but fuck, I still somehow expected better of you.

Coin flip

Nate Silver, stop fucking with us.

Last time I wrote about the election, I confidently projected that a Hillary win would cause turmoil for the country because Trump’s campaign was doing so much to delegitimize her. As I write this, a few hours before the first debate, 538 has the presidential election pretty much at a coin flip, with the Republicans likely to retain the Senate.

Obviously, I never expected to be here, and it’s worth pointing out why. There are two firewalls that I thought would protect a Clinton presidency from electoral shifts:

1) all else being equal, there’s no question that the Democratic and Clinton campaigns are better organized and better funded, and that’s going to translate into a few points during the election which don’t show up in current polling. It should be enough to tip a 50/50 race in her direction; on the other hand, if the large number of undecideds have a collective aneurysm and break for Trump, there’s not much that can be done.

2) the bigger firewall, I thought, were the Republicans themselves.

Let’s keep in mind that there was never a time when the possibility of a Trump presidency wasn’t viewed as horrible by a bipartisan majority of the country. The Republicans had the first crack at bat at this, with widespread mocking and condemnation of his primary run. When it started looking like he might take the nomination, the horror went mainstream, but in practice it was largely restricted to Republicans strategizing over how to manage the loss they’d presumably take in the general.

But now we’re pretty damn close to even, and one of the reasons is that the Republican party establishment is still acting like this is a normal candidate. Party mechanisms are grinding into place, party faithful are convinced the opponent is Satan, party money is flowing into campaign coffers.

The entire Republican party is Ted Cruz.

It’s important to make the distinction between the two ways the Trump presidency will be an utter disaster. It will be a partisan disaster. And it will be a nonpartisan disaster.

From a partisan perspective, the insane way we populate our Supreme Court, and the morbid death lottery that gives some presidents much more sway, guarantees that it’s going to be hell for one side or the other. Senate Republicans managed to ramp this up by adding one more winning raffle ticket to 2017. Barring political assassination (which our system bizarrely incentivizes), November is going to determine the direction of the Court for the probable rest of my lifetime.

In the Congress, it’s no less odd. A month ago, polls predicted a Clinton win with such dominance that the Senate would certainly switch, and there were good odds the House would as well. Today, a Trump win would mean certain domination of the Congress by the GOP. That’s in a month. There are many descriptors for this situation, but “stable democracy” is not one of them.

However, let’s also consider the much more important nonpartisan perspective. On nearly every measure you choose, Trump would upset the international order: foreign policy, international relations, economics and trade. His domestic law and order plans sound like the day before Kristallnacht. Most of what we take for granted as “normal” would be at risk, in much the same way that W upended generations of prior convention after 9/11 and dragged us, mostly smiling and approving, into a new security state.

There are any number of Republicans who think these changes are preposterous; one gets the impression that the actual percentage of Republican leadership who feel this way is far greater than the stated percentage. But for either venal reasons, or because they’re weighing the partisan more than the nonpartisan, they say nothing.

(And of course, thanks to the partisan considerations, there’s not a goddamn thing a Democrat can say that will be heard by most Republicans. This is what’s so infuriating about debate moderators saying that the truth is not their job; it guarantees it won’t be anybody’s job.)

Beyond that, however, a Trump presidency will be a nonpartisan disaster because the Republicans are not prepared to govern. The GOP is fractured between their establishment, the Tea Party, and the insurgent Trump voters. (And let’s not forget that their “establishment” used to be the right wing of the party in the 80s and 90s who drummed out the consensus-building moderates.) They deposed their own Speaker and hamstrung the next one. Their Senate leadership has had no agenda but obstruction the entire time they’ve been in power. They’ve had both Congressional houses; they could have moved legislation and attempted to work with a president and a party whose only tools were filibusters and vetos. They chose not to govern.

It’s not merely a partisan disaster when the entire government falls to this crew, it’s a nonpartisan disaster as well. The Senate filibuster becomes the only tool to prevent whatever legislation comes out of the febrile minds in the White House and the Tea Party. There’s no bipartisan “other side” to blame any more; it’s all on one party.

And that party would be led by President Trump. I have to believe that the sensible Republicans who wanted to increase their power are still wary of domination. Controlling all three branches of government simply isn’t in their playbook; it’s as frighteningly new as Trump would be. That’s not to say that they want to lose, but certainly they haven’t planned to win.

So now in the countdown to the debate, we’re all — that is, the bipartisan coalition of people who realize that Trump is a nonpartisan disaster — looking to Hillary to be masterful, and to Trump to melt down in a way that even his supporters can’t ignore. That appears to be the penultimate tripwire protecting us from electoral disaster.

Because the last firewall requires those Republicans who have fallen in line to stop doing so. And I don’t think they will.

What I’ll never forget

It’s the day after the anniversary, and my Facebook timeline is still filled with calls to #NeverForget.

I’ll never forget that I slept through the 9/11 attacks; my friend texted me shortly after and woke me up, and I looked at my phone to see his name but not the text, long enough to think, “What is he thinking texting me this early?”, before going back to sleep. I woke up two hours later to the sound of NPR telling us that we didn’t know much and we shouldn’t panic, and realized immediately that this was a terrifying thing to hear.

I’ll never forget the sense of disbelief when I read on the Internet that the towers had collapsed. I pictured a facade dropping off with the superstructure remaining intact. It wasn’t until I saw the video that I believed it.

I’ll never forget the sound of fighter jets flying what sounded like inches above the roof of my apartment building.

I’ll never forget the epiphany I had that evening, desperately clinging to normal routines on an abnormal day, having a cigarette in front of a Washington DC Starbucks: that they had hit us as hard as they could, as hard as we had ever been hit, and that it didn’t even register on the scale of existential threats. We were too big, too spread out, too powerful; the sun would rise on America as it had the day before. My greatest risk was still getting hit by a car on the walk home.

I’ll never forget finally reaching my parents when cell service started working again, telling them I was fine, only a few miles away from what would have been the worst terrorist attack in the United States the day before. And it was true. We were fine.

I’ll never forget how my country seemed to lose its collective mind, demanding any action whatsoever that seemed to increase its safety, regardless of whether that action had anything to do with 9/11. As if we didn’t accept gross infringements on our safety daily as part of living in the 21st century. As if our individual safety was our highest value.

I’ll never forget the time I did feel personally terrorized, when two men converted their car into a sniper’s perch, and for a few weeks randomly murdered people in the DC area. For those weeks, I walked home with a staggered step, in zigzag, wondering if a sniper bullet left you alive long enough to realize what had happened. These men weren’t al-Qaeda or ISIS, they were just crazed criminals with a rifle.

I’ll never forget being taken off my plane at Newark, when a random guy decided to say goodbye to his girlfriend at the gate, and they shut down the airport. Thousands of us were herded into crowded conditions in the baggage area, with all of our luggage. We were told nothing by the airport or the airlines. I’ll never forget realizing that if any of these people intended to blow up a plane, they now had a better, easier target; hundreds would die in an explosion, hundreds more would die in the crush for the doors. I went outside and smoked a pack of cigarettes, got interviewed on local news, and managed to be on the first plane out eight hours later.

I’ll never forget the number of people who have looked at me like I was crazy when I have said any of this in the past fifteen years. I don’t expect that to change in my lifetime.

I’ll never forget how I’ve felt proud, patriotic, sad, moved, communitarian, ashamed, and guilty, about what happened to us and what we did after. But I’ve never felt terrorized by terrorists. I’ve reported unattended bags on trains, but never someone who “looked wrong”. I’ve never demonized the enemies of this country, or exalted them to the rank of supervillains, or forgotten who in this world is powerful, and who is weak. I’ve never felt like the victim.

These are things I hope to never forget.