Defining Enemies

It didn’t take long. Within minutes after I finished watching Biden’s speech, a dear friend whose politics I don’t share—although he is staunchly antifascist and hence respectable—posted on Facebook that I have learned nothing, because I disagree with Joe Biden when he says that Americans are not our enemies.

I disagree with that because it’s overtly false on its face, and that’s something I have very much learned in the last four years. It’s something I forgot in 2008, when I thought American support for torture had been repudiated once and for all. I was wrong then, and I’m right now.

Let’s approach this question logically. One of the following must be true:

1. Under no circumstances can a citizen of the United States be the enemy of another.

This is egregiously false, as was demonstrated in 1776 and 1861 at the national level, and which continues to be demonstrable at smaller ones. We want to still believe that disregard for the lives and a willingness to violence against fellow Americans is a fringe belief, but if it is, it’s a fringe belief that 70 million Americans are willing to stand with. If you’re completely comfortable that there will be no electoral violence between now and the Inauguration, or after, the FBI has research to show you.

2. Under no circumstances short of violence can a citizen of the United States be the enemy of another.

This caveat provides the comfortable wiggle room for many. “We simply disagree vociferously—until it’s a matter of life and death, we’re not enemies.”

My question, then, is how much violence is tolerable? It’s not zero. It’s never been zero. The widespread protests of 2020 should have told comfortable, safe, kumbayah America that millions of fellow Americans do not feel safe in the streets and do not feel protected—quite the opposite, the police who protect the privileged are their biggest threat. But a Democrat has been elected, so yay, all must be forgiven of those who cheered on the carnage.

But never mind the widespread enthusiasm for police brutality. I would argue that continued willful ignorance of public health and disregard for 230,000 American deaths shows the Republican party to be a death cult. There remains little doubt that their ongoing resistance to effective measures will contribute to the rise of this number by tens or hundreds of thousands. These are Civil War numbers. The only difference is that the triggers being pulled are invisible.

3. Under some circumstances, a citizen of the United States can be the enemy of another.

This is the only reasonable conclusion to draw, and the simplest place to draw the line is when an American cares nothing about the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness about a class of Americans they deem to be “other.” But for a more rigorous definition, we have text. Originalist text, if you will:

We the people of the United States
in order to form a more perfect Union1
establish justice2
and ensure domestic tranquility,3
provide for the common defense4
promote the general welfare5
and secure the blessings of liberty6
for ourselves and our posterity7
do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.

I argue that if you do not support the seven bullet points above, you are un-American. And I further argue that the Republican party has abdicated its agreement to these points—in some cases for four years, in others, for decades. Need I enumerate the ways in which Republican policy overtly states its opposition to these values? Must I point out the numerous minoritarian hammerlocks they maintain on power, in the Electoral College, in gerrymandered House districts, in the Senate, and in the Supreme Court? They gloat about it.

It’s really quite simple. The predicate to having political opponents, not enemies, is a set of shared values. We did not erode these values in the other side; they chose to abdicate them as a path to power.

We are not demonizing the other side to state factual things about them; we are stating the truth in order to stand the slightest chance of reversing it.

If this sounds like demonization but is factually true, the existence of the debate is the proof of the argument: we continue to pretend we’re playing by the same values because we have the emotional development of children and a perverse belief in our inaccurate myths. Transplant any of these politics to another country. If you would say different things about the same scenario elsewhere, you are awash in comforting bullshit.

I’ve stated elsewhere and I’ll reiterate it: if you continue to have respect for a political opponent who voted for Trump, analyze the strength of your own values. It used to be taken for granted that we would reject Nazism, white supremacy, fascism, authoritarianism, brutalization, and a failure to agree to the peaceful change of power. Their side has embraced all of these things, and much more, including astonishing levels of incompetence and corruption. These are the positions of enemies of American values.

Phrased another way: if you, as I do, know Republicans who left the fold due to disgust with the past four years, what changes need to take place within the Republican party for them to return without the taint of the past four years? Joe Biden seems to think that all is forgiven—or at least, promotes the myth that all is forgiven. History and the experience of the global community indicates this is a dangerous myth to believe.

See America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent, Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic

So… no. Hell no. Mitch McConnell does not get to become the Mitch McConnell of 2008, the principled opponent of Democrats. Mitch McConnell is the enabler of autocrats, a direct promoter of forces within the American experiment that seek to end it. The Republican Party requires a reckoning, one that could have been but was not imposed by a tidal wave of Democratic wins this week, and one that now is questionable whether it will happen at all. The absence of that tidal wave stands as a clear warning.

If you treat those who consider you an enemy as your opponent, expect to lose. They’re not playing by your rules, or by any rules. They’re welcome back to the table as distinguished opponents at their option, but until then we cannot pretend otherwise, or demand that some privileged plurality of us return to the safety of our mythical American blankie. There is only one thing that can be shared now by all Americans: our collective failure to face ourselves. If we wish to return to a time when we can share better things, we must be clear about where we’re starting from.

Automation script for Mac 43 folders Desktop

I wrote an extremely simple AppleScript to create a 43 Folders setup on my Desktop, wherein I can put a file away for now and have it show up again automatically on a given day in the future. The script assumes there’s a folder named “43 Folders” on the Desktop, containing folders named with the following date convention: 20200704 for July 4th, 2020.

Picture of AppleScript

Then I used “Poor Man’s Cron” to automate this every morning: save the script as an application, store in ~/Applications, and launch it with a repeating event in my calendar every morning at 8 AM. Note: you’ll have to manually launch the app once the first time, in order to tell the Finder that it’s okay to run the app, and that the app has permissions to do the things it wants to do.

On the to-do list is to add a few lines of code to make the folders into the friendlier “2020-07-04” format, which I’ll post here when I get around to it.

Process 43

Fuzzy thinking about violence

Let’s get the equivocating bullshit out of the way: if you don’t stand with the rioting, you don’t stand with the protest.

Wait, what the fuck? Let me explain.

People take to the streets as a form of protest because it’s the first form of protest, probably the off-schedule way a shaman was deposed as head of a Bear tribe back in 80,000 B.C. Throughout history, under governments ranging from absolute autarchies through failed democracies to Communist dictatorships, when people have enough they take the streets. Sometimes literally, with barricades. Throughout history, this has preceded many teeth being kicked in, and throughout history, the authorities are much more often the kickers than the ones getting kicked.

It’s a painful route to take, and it’s how damn near every revolution that’s written down in history books gets started. The ones that are won by the protesters happen when the authorities are themselves met with overwhelming force—in some cases, external armies, and in others, internal moral suasion. Sometimes, the chief of police stands aside and says, “the palace is that way, go get ‘im.” It’s not that riots don’t work—history is replete with examples that they’re the only thing that did when other methods failed.

Ah, you say, but there’s a difference between violent and nonviolent protest, and looters have crossed that line. Have they? Dictionaries are interesting here, because they use protest to define violence:

Hello, circular reasoning.

The obvious flaw here is that for purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about the use of physical force against someone, not something. If someone steals your car when you’re not in it, that’s a nonviolent crime. If they then crash that car 20 miles away, it’s still nonviolent. Your car may feel differently, but that’s the whole point, your car doesn’t feel a goddamn thing. It’s an object. If they did it deliberately to hurt you, that’s something else—it could be an act of emotional violence against you, the part of this equation that feels things. Eye of the beholder stuff.

If you come out of that saying, “Okay, I support nonviolent protest so long as they’re also not damaging property,” now you’re setting limits on the kinds, types, and topics of protests you support, and hence you’re only in support of conditional speech. You have an absolute First Amendment right to burn down a Starbucks. What you don’t have a right to is to escape the consequences from the criminal act of burning down a store. But you can’t be held on different charges of burning down a Starbucks as opposed to a Dunkin’. Would you say that a mob that burned down a Wendy’s and left the Chick-fil-A untouched, or that salted the earth of the Hobby Lobby while protecting a Michaels, cannot possibly be engaging in political speech?

In other words, when you say you oppose the looting, you’re picturing this:

…a presumably uninvolved person taking advantage of chaos to engage in some theft. And yes, some of that goes on. I’ve never looted a store or been part of a mob that was, so I couldn’t tell you personally how much of that there is. But I can say that what you should be picturing is this:

To put it yet a third way: if you cheered when the Iraqis brought down the statue of Saddam Hussein, and you don’t stand with the neo-Nazis when they hold rallies at Confederate statue sites, then where are you with people trying to destroy the statue of Frank Rizzo, the eminently racist former mayor of Philadelphia who rose to power by being its eminently racist police commissioner? Would you say that’s not a valid part of a protest against police brutality?

It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “I cease to support nonviolent protest when property damage happens as part of or alongside it.” That’s your call. Just don’t give yourself the warm fuzzies of supporting the protest any longer. You’re now on the side of the authorities, the Man, and Law and Order. “They’ve” gone too far and now must be stopped—or channeled back to when you were comfortable with them. And now you have to understand that you’re ranking that comfort ahead of whatever the protest is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m terrified of what’s going on and want it to stop. I’m also literally going hungry this weekend because the curfews and store closures include food and I’m not prepared for that. I don’t live where the riots are happening, and I get to write this from a place of privilege. But tonight they could reach to outside my door.

So I have to ask myself: do I support what’s being protested enough to put up with that, to have skin in the game? Or do I oppose the protest?

If you don’t stand with the rioting, you don’t stand with the protest.

Postscript: I had notes on the obvious reply to this post, namely, “Gandhi and MLK, those are the protesters I support.” That is, let’s go only with the protests where they’re committed to the forms of nonviolence that are easy to be comfortable with.

I call that a “form” of nonviolence because it doesn’t actually reduce violence—it says that the protesters will absorb more violence from their opponents without violent opposition, and use that in their favor. Net amount of violence in the form of teeth being kicked in, in absolute numbers, remains about the same.

I’m with you on that—they’re the only kinds of protests I engage in, and I’ve left a few that started down a dark path. But what it also says is, “Let’s take the two most exceptional and preternaturally gifted protesters of the last century and make them the baseline minimum for agreement in this one.”

I’m proud of the protest groups I’ve worked with that have done everything they could to meet this standard, and I’ll stand with them again. But at its core, protest is a form of civil disobedience, with the noun being “disobedience” and the modifier being “civil.” If you prefer the protests of the disobediently civilized, that’s fine, so do I. But you can’t restrict protest to that standard, or else you’re limiting all protests to what are obviously ineffective methods in many cases.

Again, it comes down to: do you believe in free speech or conditional speech? This essay is only meant to be damning if you believe in the latter but pretend you’re for the former.

Now that we know what we’re capable of…

Hello from one undisclosed bunker to another. It’s been a hell of a month, and it’s looking like it’ll be at least another month of this, maybe more. Maybe much more, given that only around half of us are distancing, and that might not be enough to let us go outside safely.

We’re doing what we’re doing to save lives: our own, those close to us, and strangers. So my question: why did you wait this long?

There’s an old parable: you’re walking alongside a pond, dressed in your best, most expensive business clothes. You see a child drowning. For the sake of argument, you’re an excellent swimmer and maybe trained in rescue techniques. Do your clothes prevent you from jumping into the water to save the child? Do you pause at the shoreline to strip to your underwear? Or do you dive into the scummy water as quickly as you can?

Most of us don’t know the answer to this question, but we know what our best selves would do, and we want to believe that we’d do the same. The problem is: we don’t. Every day thousands of children die from malnutrition, poverty, hunger, poor medical care—you know the story. Maybe you’ve donated to the groups that help. Maybe you haven’t. All we know is, children are still dying.

The standard psychological answer for this is salience. A child in front of you, with only you available to help, calls upon you in a way that a starving child halfway across the country or around the world does not. Other people can take responsibility. It’s not immediate, so it’s not salient—which is to say, it doesn’t break through the barriers which keep you in your habits, which make the death of this particular child more important than whatever it is you’re already doing.

But there’s a deeper answer than that, and that’s comfort. Americans, we like to be comfortable. Other nations, other peoples, other generations of Americans, they knew how to sacrifice. How to send their teenage children to Germany and Japan. How to build barricades in Paris in the 18th century and storm the Bastille. How to form communities that prevented any one of them from going hungry, or provided other subsistence even when the whole town was barely above that level.

Four months ago, you knew that Americans went to bed hungry, that a large fraction of children live in poverty, that millions have no health insurance and millions more can’t rely on theirs to handle catastrophe. Whatever you did in the face of such things, it wasn’t enough, because such things took place.

We’ve invaded countries without reason. We’ve tortured prisoners, sometimes innocent prisoners. We’ve built concentration camps at our borders. We’ve denied basic and necessary health services to every woman of childbearing age living in the wrong states. We’ve disenfranchised millions. We’ve been ruled for 12 out of the last 20 years by presidents who lost the popular vote, and they’ve appointed half the Supreme Court.

And you let it all happen. You, personally. And me. Who, other than Americans, can take responsibility for the actions of America? If you don’t feel responsible—why not?

And that’s the reason why we didn’t act, why we’re all pretty damned sure we never will. It’s not only about salience, and it’s not only about comfort. It’s about convenience. We’ll donate money—if we have any left over after we buy our luxuries. We’ll make time available to volunteer—in ways that don’t push us too hard. We’ll attend protests, but not the kind of protest that ends in mass arrests.

But now, in the face of a threat that can’t be bargained with, that doesn’t brook negotiation, that genuinely is a threat where we’re waiting for experts and leaders to do their work and we’re fucked if they fail, when that happened: we dropped damn near everything that was normal about our lives and stayed the fuck home. We changed every routine we had. We did the uncomfortable, inconvenient, but now salient things that other generations, peoples, and nations have done in the face of a threat to their common sense of humanity.

These other problems, the ones we’ve resigned ourselves to living with (or rather, that we’ve consigned other people to live through): they’re just bad management. They are vulnerable to bargains, negotiation, and just plain getting their asses kicked. We know we can have better health care, more equal treatment under the law, less abject poverty, more human dignity. We know this because our peers do it, and we know this because we instinctively know this. That’s why those in favor of deprivation, those who profit from it, fight so hard to make sure you stick to what’s convenient: they know there’s nothing else stopping you.

When this is over, when we’ve achieved whatever we call “new normal,” we’ll have space to address our other political endemics, or we can return to the status quo. It’s notable that somehow, the government spending and social safety net that would help at any time are suddenly bipartisan during crisis time; it’s almost as if everyone knows this shit works, but we don’t care enough most times to make it happen, or somehow can’t when the wrong party’s or the wrong color president is in office. Or if it costs money that goes to the wrong people. That’s inconvenient. It’s especially inconvenient for those of us outraged by it all, because to act on it effectively would be a lot of effort. Easier to be comfortable.

What will you do next, now that you know what you’re capable of?

Postscript: I wrote this in the second person to be provocative, but I don’t exclude myself from this responsibility or this guilt. I think I do more than the average bear regarding social justice; I’m also pretty damn sure I’m grading myself on a curve and have frequently rested on imaginary laurels.

But I can say that for the past two years, I’ve taken on a volunteer role that’s caused me real hardship and sacrifice, that’s been regularly inconvenient and uncomfortable. I’ve done this—and pretty much only this in terms of activism—because this has been the best place to put my time, effort, and resources; it’s been a lever where I think I can make a real difference, more so than in the other volunteer work I’ve done.

That doesn’t let me off the hook for all the ills my work doesn’t address. But if anyone asks me what I did during the final collapse of a sustainable environment, or when we were ruled by a Nazi sympathizer, or when our democracy was trashed, I can point to what my nonprofit sets out to do, then to roughly 4,000 hours and counting and say, “I did that.”

Now, like everyone else, I’m discovering what other sacrifices I could have made sooner, and that what I thought was my utmost maybe wasn’t. It’s up to me to decide what’s enough. It’s up to you, too. What will you point to? Will that satisfy you? And when you insist it was the best you could have done—will you believe yourself?

An open letter to Elizabeth Warren

As of tonight, I’m officially nervous. All three Democratic candidates (factoring in Bloomberg’s dropping now that his coronation is cancelled) may very well be electable, but the two front-runners have terrifying game theory negatives.

Bernie might get to the convention with voter wind at his back, but he’s never going to win over the party faithful—which means begrudging support from the people who actually do work on the ground in parallel with the presidential campaign. Joe might have superdelegates and the party establishment in his pocket (along with, it must be said, key voter demographics), but if he arrives at the convention with anything less than an outright majority, we all find out how many Bernie voters are Bernie voters, and will ditch for Jill Stein or stay home.

Remember those Bernie guys who tried to make the 2016 convention a circus? They’re still around. They won’t take a Biden pseudo-win quietly. And if Bernie really is sailing on young and new voters, well, they’re the first ones who’ll ditch the general if they can’t vote for their guy.

That’s not to say that I think either Bernie or Biden are toast—contrary to the myth that many Democrats buy into that Trump is sparkles and magic, I still believe that incompetent leadership leads to bad results, and I still believe that we’ll see them before November in ways that Fox News can’t paper over. But it could still be a nailbiter against the worst president we’ve ever had.

So my advice to Warren: stay in the damn race and stop trying to win. You can’t out-Bernie Bernie and you don’t want to tack to Biden. What you can do: start running ranked-choice voting polls in all fifty states and release them all. Now that Pete, Amy, and Mike are toast, there’s one and only one compromise candidate, and that’s you.

That was your pre-primary strength: the politics of Bernie, the pragmatism of Biden or Hillary, and the demeanor of Muhammad Ali. You hit the stump saying that you’ll support any candidate who shows up at the convention with a majority before superdelegates weigh in—but you wave around polls showing that you’re the preferred second choice of both wings of the Democratic electorate. Do you have any doubt you’re not?

Here’s the thing: your support may not be wide enough to win primaries, but it’s damned deep, and the people who support you are all in. You need to keep them going, keep them energized, and get enough of them to avoid jumping ship to keep yourself viable as the alternative. Biden and Bernie will never be that person—and may wreck the party or the election going head-to-head. The common ground between those two is a DMZ minefield. The third option is necessary. You’re it.

Speaking for myself: I’m Bernie politics all the way, but as I’ve written before, I think he’ll be a bad president. I think Biden’s presidency will continue the 40-year trend of fixing Republican mistakes, lukewarm successes, and no inspiring wins, that lead to Republican reversal of our gains (and then some) immediately after. But I think he’ll be a better president. So I have no idea which lever I’d pull in April.

I hope I don’t have to decide.

Things I Don’t Understand About the Present Moment

  1. There’s such a thing as a monumental political swing, but short of French revolutions they take decades. Bernie was fringe politics in 2016 who normalized his agenda for 40% of 50% of the electorate. That doesn’t describe a front-runner in 2020.
  2. That everyone, inside the Democratic party and out, who chides us with “this moment is too important, you should all coalesce around a single candidate early” does not understand that the single candidate they have in mind is their candidate, and that we hear this from five different directions daily.
  3. Why Trump is being normalized by damn near everyone, who says that “a strong economy will win over everything else.” I was raised to believe that incompetence eventually leads to disaster, and yet these people simultaneously give credit for the DJIA and don’t price in the odds that Trump policies will eventually tank… well, everything.
  4. That this normalization disregards the certainty that Trump is exacerbating the trashing of the planet and we’ll end up spending trillions of dollars on disaster mediation. (Although see below.)
  5. The fervor I see for Warren online, and in the crowds going to her events, doesn’t jibe with her erasure in the news media. (Although see below.)
  6. The fervor I see for Bloomberg in the press and his correlated rise in the polls, when the thing both established and left Democrats hate most are national candidates who haven’t paid their dues and built a base for their colleagues.

Things I fear I understand about the present moment:

  1. The strongest kind of media bias is towards profitability, and there is nothing in politics more profitable than a close race. If the conventional wisdom is that Bernie’s negatives will result in a close race with Trump—and why wouldn’t it be?—of course there will be an unconscious bias pushing him forward.
  2. Bernie is entirely unlike Trump, but the core of Bernie’s voters sound a hell of a lot like the core of Trump’s voters in their cult of personality. The difference is that the Democrats aren’t running scared and this causes greater division, while Republicans will cave to keep their votes and maintain their power.
  3. The same can be said about Mike Bloomberg and a billionaire sweeping in with his money to “save us all because only he can do it.”
  4. Warren’s erasure in the media since Iowa: misogyny.
  5. Warren’s erasure in the media since Iowa: a sense that she might be a compromise candidate (between Bernie and the moderates), and hence be less exciting (and less profitable) to cover between the convention and the general.
  6. A brokered convention could be covered as an astonishing coalescence within the Democratic party, but instead the word “disarray” is going to be the most used in the news media word cloud for months.
  7. The normalization of Trump is exactly what you’d expect when the news media (seeking profitable, enraging stories), big money (seeking short term economic gain), and outside forces (seeking Russian dominance into the American vacuum) are all served by a Trump victory.

I’m not scared by any one candidate (although Bernie’s age and moral certainty, and Pete’s inexperience, make me think they’ll be bad presidents). I’m terrified by what the present moment seems to say about our politics.

“Kumbayah, Asshole”

This morning, I pressed the Publish button on a 5,000 word essay in this space, but didn’t publicize it anywhere because I thought I should probably come back to it. The topic: in the last six months or so, I’ve been hearing repeatedly from multiple people regarding what a dick I was being online, arguing too much and generally disturbing everyone’s sensibilities. The title of this post is a fair summary of what I was hearing.

People who don’t have mental illnesses never understand this, but when I hear critiques like that, I don’t get to have an opinion. I’m bipolar with ADHD—that means a lot of things, but first and foremost it means that my self-perceptions don’t mean shit in this instance. Each and every time, I go back and reread what I wrote. Sometimes they’re right, and I was a dick. Often they’re not, and so I say something olive branchy that still manages to be entirely true. If I can’t say “I’m sorry for what I said” because I’m not, I can usually at least say, “I did not intend your reaction and I’m sorry I caused it.”

So in the 4,000 words I just cut, I explained how self-analysis works after 25 years of therapy in far greater detail, did an analysis of why a dozen problems out in the world have made us much more distrustful of each other, how this may have led to hair-trigger emotional reactions to what used to be entirely acceptable, and pointed out various hypocrisies regarding some exceedingly hostile messages I’ve received telling me I need to be more civil. Then I blew it all to hell, because after revising this literally 29 times and counting, I realized that the core issue here is miscommunication—and the people who are absolutely certain of what I’m saying, in contradiction to my actual words, will just as effectively misread what I write here.

Suffice to say: sometimes my fault, sometimes not. But one thing they’re all certain of: that I’m also absolutely certain of my position. But I’m not. I’m literally crazy. What I’m certain of is that I have a goddamn good command of facts and rhetoric, little goddamn pity for people who don’t, and little goddamn patience for people who don’t think they’re important parts of an opinion breakfast. However, my conclusions are malleable—how could they not be, half of them are about technology that will be obsolete in three years. My facts are memorized by a computer made of meat. They can be misremembered, out of date, or poorly sourced in the first place. Most of them are not, so I don’t know which ones are rotten until I bring it out and someone corrects me. I have discussions and debates because I learn from them. That’s not speaking from a position of certainty, and the point is not to “win,” the conversation is the point. Didn’t we all used to be like this?

I’m pretty fucking sure that pressing the Publish button again is going to be a Friendship Limiting Move. But there are a few reasons to do so. It could be that I’m just a dick from now on and people who don’t leave will have to put up with that; might as well be honest about it, because whom do you know who entirely changed personality at 50? Or that everyone is batshit crazy from living in a kakistocracy and I haven’t changed one iota, but everyone now needs their warm fluffy blankie of nothing but 👍👍👍💖💖😆 and I’ll be ostracized for not providing one.

But the main reason I’m posting this: shit, people, you’re all scattered to hell and gone. I have two close friends in Philadelphia I rarely get to see, a dozen more in DC I rarely get to see, and I can go two weeks without speaking more than a single sentence a day out loud. (“Venti, about an inch of room for milk, thank you.” This is in no way an exaggeration.) I am fine with this, because I have to be—it’s not like anyone makes an effort anymore to be in touch anywhere but online, and I’m no exception. I’ve been a digital native since Reagan’s first term; there are things about my social life I’d like to improve, but being lonely is not one of them.

So tell me to stick to small talk online, and never say anything that could possibly be upsetting or controversial, and that’s the scope of our friendship from now on. Let’s just be honest and say it’s the end of it—all that’s left is performative kabuki.

How I concluded the original essay:

It’s one thing to assume that a random stranger online is a troll. It’s another to forget everything you know about someone in order to reach that conclusion. Three of the people who criticized me have known me for literally 40 years. I cannot believe that it comes as a surprise to them that I have strong opinions, and that when I share them, it’s because I enjoy debate. In my world, that understanding of me should provide the benefit of the doubt. Likewise when there’s broad agreement on large concepts and interesting discussions to be had on smaller ones within them—if we’re allies on an issue overall, is it necessary for us to be in lockstep on codicil 17, section 8? These days, apparently yes.

But while I usually feel justified I wasn’t inappropriate when I review my words, the fact remains, I’m bipolar with ADHD and I don’t get to feel secure in those conclusions. So these are my next steps, and I list them as an open message to anyone I’ve offended, pissed off, transgressed against their social norms, or otherwise ruined their evening:

  • It is never my intention to provoke a negative emotional response to a discussion. I’m aiming for emotionally-neutral-and-interesting, humorous, or warm fuzzies. Anyone I actually want to go fuck themselves, I’ve stopped talking to them long ago.
  • For the dozen or so of you who’ve complained, I’m making a list. An actual list, with your names and the things you thought I did wrong. I think this is silly and I doubt any other human being on Facebook does this. It’s just that my only alternative is to write you off entirely.
  • When I post to or comment on Facebook or Twitter, it’s stream of consciousness. Five minutes later I’ve entirely forgotten I wrote it until a notification brings me back to it. When you detect a trend in what I’m saying, I haven’t noticed it until you point it out to me.
  • Likewise, if you’re slowly getting pissed, I have no fucking clue.
  • So tell me.
  • If you do, I’ll add you to the list.
  • Since my time here is stream of consciousness, your presence on the list does not guarantee compliance—I’m not going to keep it open in a side window every time I’m online. I’ll review it from time to time, and every time I change it, and with any luck avoiding you will become habitual.
  • I’ll ask for some benefit of the doubt. Remember: bipolar and ADHD. These are not excuses, they are illnesses. They affect how I perceive the world and how I act. I will judge people on the basis of whether they respect that.
  • I will likewise judge people for dictating to me what I can and can’t say, and the words I use. Because frankly, one of the ways I’m out of fucks to give is that I don’t need friends who disrespect me. Similar to disregard for mental illnesses, “helpful” advice such as how I should change my entire communications style, approach to life, what conversations I enjoy, or how I avoid depressive isolation, has a possibility of knocking 50% to 95% off my regard for you as a quality human being. You will not be informed of this. Several people already have not been. Some people have not used up all of their Get Out of Jail Free cards and are still doing fine despite using these actual words once or twice. No one but me knows which is which, or ever will.
  • Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether my opinion of you matters to you.

A format for better debates, please?

Hey, we all like actual debates, right? That is, the format that’s very much not what we saw the last two nights, where people talk to each other and don’t struggle for airtime. For intellectual folks, people directly addressing each other can be stimulating and interesting. For everyone else (and, well, us too), as we saw when two candidates go went it, that’s the part of the event that’s entertaining—and possibly tells you more about the people.

So… why the hell do we have moderators insisting they can’t talk to each other, and taking up minutes with their questions? It only ensures that only the rudest and loudest will get into a back and forth—and as we’ve seen, it allows for the rules to be applied haphazardly. I have a proposal for better debates:

  1. Before the debate, every candidate is given the same long list of topics, all brief and general: e.g., climate change, nuclear weapons, North Korea, election security. They return these lists is ranked order.

  2. The top choices are set as the topics for the debate. The number chosen is the same as the number of candidates onstage, or an integral multiple thereof. The rest go back into the pool for the next debate. New topics can be added to the pool between debates, so news events can be referenced but only briefly. “Iran response” is fine; “did Iran attach mines to those ships?” is not.

  3. Each topic is given (length of debate / (number of topics – 2)) minutes. For a 100 minute debate and eight topics, that’s ten minutes each, broken down as follows: 2 minute opening, 2 minute response, 1 minute each of followups by the same speakers, and four 1-minute followups by everyone else. Vary lengths as necessary to match available time, but not more than 25%; if they have to be shorter than 90 and 45 seconds, pick fewer topics.

  4. Everyone gets one turn in each slot. Which slot they get for which topic is assigned first by how they ranked the topics, with ties broken by the same rankings by which they qualified for the debate. Someone polling at 12% beats the other at 10%, for example. The guy who only barely squeaked in shouldn’t expect to get what they want unless no one wants it. The same ranking is used to pick the topics and assign the slots, so no gaming the system by ranking your actual first choice tenth—it likely won’t be used at all, then.

    No one knows which slots they have until the debate, when each lectern has the entire schedule on a display a few minutes before it starts.

    Example: Candidate 1, who made this their most important topic, talks for two minutes; candidate 2 ranked this first or second and responds. 1 then speaks again for a minute, followed by 2 again for a minute. 3 and 4, who ranked this topic higher than others, each have an assigned minute. The next minute is randomly assigned. The last minute is left open until the debate: candidates can press a button on their lectern to take it, but can only do this once for the entire debate. First-come, first-served, except that the first person who hasn’t spoken on the topic takes precedence over the first person who has. Anyone who never presses their button gets that minute extra for closing.

  5. There are no moderators, but there is an M.C. who normally keeps their mouth shut after introducing everyone, to do things like shush the audience. The first speaker frames the topic, the next speakers can follow their lead or not as they choose. The topic of the period is always on a chyron at the bottom of the screen. Each candidate can say whatever they like.

  6. When it’s someone’s turn to speak, their mic turns on. When they have 15 seconds left, an audible tone chimes that everyone (audience included) can hear. The volume on their mic gradually declines and turns off at the end—final words will be at low volume, hence they don’t close with a zinger that causes audience reaction to eat the next person’s time. (Get your prepared soundbites in when you start, and eat your own time, folks.) Finishing 15 seconds early, not a bad idea.

    If a speaker stops early, they can press a button and bank that time for another reply. Timers and time bank displays are on the lectern; the candidate presses a button to activate their bank for fifteen seconds, which restores the volume to the mic if they’re in the last 15 seconds—but it’ll start dropping again immediately unless they press the button twice.

  7. The cameras are pre-set and will go to the person with a live mic, but will usually split screen with the prior speaker. A second 4K video feed is provided that shows all candidates at all times, high enough resolution to see reactions not on the main broadcast (which most people won’t see until after the debate, but it could be simultaneously broadcast).

  8. The remaining two 10-minute periods are open sessions at the middle and the end, each speaker has 10/N minutes to say whatever they like. (Or three 7-minute sessions for opening, midpoint, and closing.) Mics are live the entire time for the last open session, their entire time bank is automatically added, and the next speaker’s time doesn’t start until the audience is quiet. (And maybe cap the maximum time a person can bank, so no one can shut up for two hours and talk for 10 minutes straight at the end.)

  9. A transcript of the debate is posted as soon as possible. Each minute or two’s transcript is posted on its own page in addition to the full trascript. Candidates have 24 hours to post a short reply to what anyone said (e.g., limited to 200 words, no links allowed but “see my website for details” is fine—you just can’t post a keyword to a 2,000 word reply). After 24 hours, the speaker has 24 hours to post a reply of the same length.

That leaves 20 minutes in a two-hour broadcast, which I assume will be used to make the entire thing humane. Put in a three-second break when one mic turns off and the next turns on, or a short break between topics. Two five-minute breaks for everyone to be off camera. Whatever works. Networks will probably want a buffer zone so the rules don’t make the debate run overtime.

I don’t have any illusions that this will bring Oxford-style debate to our politics, but it’s fair, it gives everyone the chance to talk on what they most care about, and I think it balances actual discussion and debate with the need to keep everyone to very short amounts of time.

Already tired of the Game of Moans

Did we all watch the same show?

I’ve been just completely amazed at most of the commentary I’ve been reading about the final two episodes of GoT, and while I don’t quite want to wade into every argument—that would lead to a post roughly as long as one of GRRM’s books—there are a few worth addressing.

Mad Queen Dany—Where the hell are people getting this from? It’s not on the screen. (It is in the execrable “inside the episode” trailers that HBO produced, which involves the two showrunners saying such idiotic things about the show which they’ve spent 4,000 hours a year analyzing since Mitt Romney was in multiway primaries, that I presume Milk of the Poppy is involved.)

Yes, absolutely, it would be utterly maddening if we felt that Dany committed a savage war crime out of a fit of pique, or because she didn’t get laid, or because the Red Keep set her off (make that two doses of poppymilk if you buy that story). But that’s not what we saw: we saw Dany having what was probably the easiest major victory in the entire series—we see maybe five casualties on Team Targaryen—and having some kind of painful epiphany. It’s not in dialog, and it’s only somewhat backfilled in the final episode. So what we take from the scene is what we read into it.

People who want to get infuriated seem to think that the writers are saying, “the bitch snapped,” with exactly that level of dismissal of the character. What I saw: after eight seasons of Dany balancing ruthlessness with compassion, she has a realization that an easy win is a temporary one. It doesn’t break the wheel, it doesn’t prevent future contenders for the throne, and it doesn’t cement her victory. Burning King’s Landing, on the other hand, ends the war much as an atomic bomb did—with her as sole superpower.

For those who object that “just having the dragon is enough,” get real. If you live in the 21st century it’s 98% likely you have no conception of what a single modern nuclear bomb’s effects are, and the inhabitants of the only country to ever use much smaller versions in anger are in utter denial about what our nation did 70 years ago. Stopping when the bells rang meant stopping before a deterrence was created. (And not original to me, I read someone’s else’s essay saying, “If you can fire scorpions at Drogon and then surrender scot-free, it’s only a matter of time before repeating the same strategy neutralizes her advantage.” Which, let’s recall, she regards as her child.)

You don’t have to agree with me—the point is, it’s not on the page in episode 5. You can read Emilia Clarke’s face in multiple ways; you can’t definitively establish Dany’s intent from it.

Dany the Megalomaniac—Second, folks are already royally pissed about Dany’s inability to comprehend that “we destroyed the village in order to save it” doesn’t quite fly. At least, not for the audience behind the Fourth Wall, and not for our surrogates on the show.

You know whom it does fly for? That same damned audience when considering an actual war with real casualties. How long has it been since America supported an invasion of choice by four or five to one, with most people buying into “greeted as liberators?” I’ve been hearing people say “nuke ’em until the rubble glows” since the Iranian hostage crisis forty years ago. I’ve heard just about everyone retroactively justify Afghanistan and Iraq because we deposed a dictator and shot bin Laden in the head. (Even antiwar folks have tended to soften some criticisms since those war objectives occurred.)

The words you are looking for are “cognitive dissonance.” Americans want to believe that our country and our population are basically decent, ergo by definition everything we do is basically decent. Oh, maybe we screw up a few things, but our intentions are good. Surely that creates allowances, yes? At least, it creates sufficient allowance that nearly all Americans completely forget about our military actions so long as American casualties stay in single digits.

This is Nora al-Awlaki. She died at the age of eight in a 2017 US attack on an al-Qaeda camp in Yemen. She was an American citizen. If you just found yourself thinking, “well, her al-Qaeda father shouldn’t have had her at the camp,” or “it’s horrible but these things happen,” congratulations, you just engaged in the same retroactive justification that distances Americans from horrors like Hiroshima and Dresden—and Dany from King’s Landing.

This is an American child whom my country killed. Discuss and debate that all you like—just don’t minimize it.

If you think it’s unrealistic that someone in a position of power would tell themselves a story that makes them a good person in contradiction of all evidence, you’re holding your fiction to a higher standard than your reality.

Dany the Monster—Many folks are also sputtering mad about Dany’s brand seemingly changing from “liberator of the common people” to their exterminator. This is too much of a switch for them to take.

I’m not going to repeat the dozens of articles that point-for-point demonstrate every plot beat showing her inhumanity against her enemies, ever since she didn’t much mind Drogo offing Viserys. If you think she did an unearned eighth-season heel turn, you’ve already read these and rejected them.

What I will point out, which I haven’t seen anywhere else, is that Dany has spent eight seasons dividing the world into “my people” and “everyone else.” People who are othered don’t count—whether that’s because they own slaves, have gotten wealthy from a slave society, or were the poor schmucks who took up arms at minimum wage on the wrong side of Drogon.

She didn’t merely kill these people, she burned these people. The two lead slavers of Meereen get quick deaths from Grey Worm—who presumably keeps that dagger sharp enough to be painless—but everyone from Lannister soldiers to Euron’s sailors to King’s Landing’s civilians to the Tarlys to Varys burns.

Are there any criminals you consider so awful that you’d be in favor of burning them at the stake as punishment? How about terrorists? Or actual Nazis from World War II? I’m guessing you have a sliding spectrum from “I’d vociferously oppose that” to “it’s not ideal but I’m not exactly going to argue in favor of that bastard.” Congratulations, you just demonstrated how you have a sliding scale of humanization. So does Dany.

Dany the Tyrant—Cognitive dissonance can also explain why Dany is certain that Cersei is a tyrant and she is not—but there are better explanations.

There’s been this weird rush of people saying that they wanted GoT to end on some kind of kumbayah democratic note. Or that Dany was inherently democratic in intent. Look, she freed her slave army and now they fight for her willingly!

Did any of them leave the day she did that? How much does she pay them? Do any of them have skills, interests, or socializations that would allow them to do anything but fight in an army as a profession? Do you suppose that peer pressure in a military organization and the complete absence of any other community might prevent some people from leaving? Did anyone have second thoughts when she told them she was uprooting them all to fight in a foreign land, or when the objective switched from fighting evenly matched humans to a quarter-million undead?

We see the Dothraki deciding—although how much of that is individual choice, and how much is cultural socialization to do whatever the Khal says, might be a worthwhile intellectual exercise. What we do know is that she’s breaking Dothraki cultural taboos; crossing the sea is pretty much the equivalent of holding pork rib and Chippendales night at a Saudi airbase. Surely everyone is acting free of coercion after she barbecued all the Khals they arrived with, walked out of an inferno, and asked for everyone’s support while sitting on a goddamn dragon. (After which, she’s unconcerned about her plan to take Westeros with the equivalent of a Mongol horde, which was the 13th-century equivalent of saturation bombing.)

Dany allows the freedoms she is willing to bestow, none of which seem to cost her anything. Missandei sticks around. Grey Worm never takes a vacation. Jorah keeps coming back even when she threatens his execution.

The premise that Dany was some kind of political liberation proponent is dealt with in the spot-on scene where Samwell suggests universal suffrage. We’re supposed to laugh at the comparisons to allowing horses and dogs to vote—but that’s pretty much historically accurate. The idea that a people should elect their leader was ludicrous for most of human history. It was just as ludicrous to the people who would have formed an electorate—when your monarch is the will of God, suffrage is blasphemy. What you might occasionally get is the tribalism of the Iron Islands—acclamations of minor chieftains, who go on to form the councils that acclaim higher officers. That doesn’t mean that everyone in the community gets to show up to chant Yara or Euron.

The idea that everyone should be able to vote is just a completely foreign concept until 1776. No, wait, that was male landowners. 1820? Nope, still male and white. 1865? Not after Jim Crow. 1920? 1965? How about we note the Georgia Senate election and just say “not yet” in terms of American consensus on this issue. Thinking of medieval, monarchical Dany as a proto-chapter of the League of Women Voters was wish-fulfillment of the highest order long before season eight.

Dany the Subverted Feminist Icon—Nope, not touching this with a ten-foot pole. It’s my role to mostly shut up and listen to what people say on this topic, and I don’t think I have much to contribute because I’m not emotionally invested in the messaging that some people thought was brutally undermined. I will say that just in the last hour I’ve seen feminist criticisms along the lines that Brienne, Sansa, and Anya don’t count as gender representation in the Game’s outcome, because they all establish power in the show with masculine tropes—which makes me wonder if any of these people took a moment to think about how this point of view would sound if they applied the same language to real people who might not be straight or cis.

Look, folks, yes—the last two seasons were just really fucking rushed and a lot of corners got cut. There are all sorts of pacing dynamics we grew to expect from the show during the first five seasons that were jettisoned—and in that change many things that would have been spelled out three times in the past had to be head canon. What I don’t get is why people don’t accept “HBO can’t spend $300 million on another 50 episodes” as a perfectly valid explanation for this. It may not be as satisfying as wizardly writing that leaves no plot holes unfilled and no coffee cups on the great table.

But I’ve already shown you how your standards are likely a lot lower for the world you live in than for Westeros. And that’s where the show gets made.

Update, one day later: I read today on Vox that HBO actually wanted more episodes in the final two seasons, and it was Weiss and Benioff that brought the total down to 13 in a compromise. This completely shifts the blame from one of real-world restrictions to a complete failure to manage creative limitations. I can understand the difficulties of bringing this home in less time; I fail to understand setting those limits on yourself in the first place.

About Jeff Porten

I’m Jeff Porten, and I wear several hats.

I’m a Macintosh, IT, and business development consultant, and all-around Mac guru. I do consulting on all of the above, primarily for small and medium-sized businesses and nonprofits.

I’m a freelance writer, with most of my work centered around the above. I write regularly for TidBITS, and I used to write for Macworld and other IDG publications. With the publication of Take Control of Your Productivity, I’m branching out as a productivity consultant and speaker. Same focus as my Mac and IT consulting: small businesses, nonprofits, teams at larger companies, and self-employed jacks of all trades. My first book, The Twentysomething Guide to Creative Self-Employment, was published back when I actually was twentysomething.

My home territory is roughly anywhere between New York and Washington, DC. I’m on the road elsewhere frequently.

I am usually involved with various nonprofits and progressive activism. I am the Chair of the Board of Student Pugwash USA, with prior stints as an officer or advisor at the World Federalist Movement, ISODARCO, the Kappa Alpha Society, and “Noodle Club” (a networking group for nonprofits in Washington, DC).

Finally, I play a hell of a lot of poker, and I appear to be reasonably good at it.

Feel free to reach me by email.

Laughed out loud when I realized how this headline would sound to anyone who doesn’t know either name.

(And to those who do: he hasn’t, the premise of the story is ridiculous.) Has Brian Bendis Made Tim Drake a Virgin Again?

Friends in the UK, this just came to my attention. We’re not involved, so I don’t have more details than this.

Student/Young Pugwash UK is collaborating with British Pugwash to host a major, one-day conference exploring the prospects for arms control and disarmament over the coming years. London, 23 Feb

Pugwash Peace & Disarmament Conference – SYP UK Annual Conference. | Network for Peace

Deirdre O’Leary I’ll assume this is someone you know from the Deirdre O’conference. Apple names Deirdre O’Brien senior vice president of Retail and People

Holy *fuck*, this is Not The Onion. Unbelievable. I’m certain this is illegal (and will never be pursued by the FEC or whomever is in charge of that). Trump campaign: Send us $1 and we’ll scroll your name during State of the Union live stream

Story broken by the same guy who released the governor’s yearbook picture, so let’s call this what it is: a test to see how far Democrats can be pushed to eat their own. I suspect the answer is “much more than we should.” Justin Fairfax, second in line for governor of Virginia, faces sexual assault allegation

Well, now I know how Joel Avery will be spending his retirement. An 80,000-Piece, 9-Foot Diorama Of The Death Star Trench Run From Star Wars: A New Hope