Decade done

Another year, another silent prayer that next year’s social-media utterances are less fraught and more fun. (Previously.)

  • [A friend made a “time to make the donuts” post.]

    “Time to make the donuts” is my first waking thought most days.

    The weird thing is, a different Facebook friend made a “time to make the donuts” comment (to which I made the same reply) a year ago, as one of the very first posts of 2018.

    So a new year is now “time to make a time to make the donuts” post.

  • [When someone shared the right wing meme “shove the border wall down their throats like they shoved Obamacare down ours.”]

    Why are you in favor of a border wall?

    Why are you opposed to the ACA?

    Why are you in favor of a government shutdown?

    [Later in the thread, replying to “have a obligation to stop the eligals and drugs coming into our country.”]

    To support building a border wall to solve this problem, you have to believe (a) that this is a big enough crisis and (b) the border wall is the right solution.

    If you believe both of those things, ask yourself where that belief came from. If it came from people you know whose opinions you trust, ask where their belief came from.

    I think you’ll find it all originates as Fox News propaganda. Forgive me for presuming, but the fact that you didn’t know Obamacare is really called the Affordable Care Act reinforces this belief. Having successfully demonized Barack Obama, Fox News makes a point always to attach his name to things they want their audience to despise.

    No expert in immigration or border security takes either (a) or (b) seriously. But Fox News is committed to selling the urgency of the wall to those of us who aren’t experts.

    Why would they want you to despise the ACA and support a border wall? Because if the ACA is a success, that means the Democratic party sometimes deserves your vote. And if the border wall is a mistake, that means the Republican party sometimes doesn’t. And Fox News is in the business of making sure you think Democrats are the literal enemy.

    Hence the “let’s do to them what they did to us” framing of your original post: it’s part of a program to drive a wedge between us, to convince us all that we’re at each other’s throats. To make us forget that we have centuries of experience compromising and finding common ground.

    That, after all, is what democracy is – the messy business of figuring out what we can all agree on. As we’ve seen, it works wonders. It made us the most successful nation in human history. But democracy – “rule by the people” – is by definition a threat to those already in power. So they are forever trying to undermine it. It’s our job not to let them.

    [Later still, after a counterargument consisting mainly of “as far as Trump goes, he’s a intelegent business man.”]

    Is he? How do you know?

    I’m going to say something uncontroversial: Han Solo and Indiana Jones are two of the coolest movie characters of my lifetime. Both have loads of charm and wit.

    Harrison Ford plays them both. Have you ever seen him in a talk-show interview?

    https://youtu.be/HRwsWmBC2bc
    https://youtu.be/Xprm-H1mWPE

    The man is a block of wood with zero charisma. But give him a script and some direction, point a camera at him, and suddenly women want to have his babies, men want to start wearing fedoras and leather jackets, and movie studios want to pay him eight figures because they know they’ll earn back ten.

    You see where I’m going with this, right? Maybe Trump is an intelligent businessman… or maybe his real skill is in simply playing one on TV, with as much actual skill in leadership and negotiating as Harrison Ford has in archaeology.

    How can we know which is right? If you wanted to know if someone’s a successful businessman, one thing you would not do is believe the man’s own pronouncements about his prowess. In fact you’d do the opposite, knowing that only weak men feel the need to insist they’re rich and powerful.

    No, you’d look at the health of the companies he’s started. You’d gauge his ability to hire and retain top talent, and earn their loyalty and respect. You’d see how often he manages to achieve his goals by aligning the interests of different groups of stakeholders.

    By those measures, Trump is a failure on an operatic scale. Nearly every venture he ever started is now bankrupt and/or under criminal investigation. He employs his relatives because, like a mob boss, he can’t trust anyone else in his inner circle, which is a revolving door of backstabbers that leads, for many, to jail or ruin. In fact so few people are willing to work for him that some of the most coveted high-power jobs in Washington go unfilled. Virtually none of his campaign goals has been realized.

    “But he’s a self-made billionaire” you say. He is neither self-made nor a billionaire. (Why do you think he refuses to disclose his tax returns?) There has now been extensive reporting and judicial scrutiny that shows young Donald Trump burned through money faster than his rich father could find ways to skirt the tax laws to give him more; and that in the early 2000’s Trump was in such a dire financial situation that he had no choice but to link up with an international money-laundering cartel.

    Of course he says he a genius businessman. What else is he going to say?

    [Much later, after someone commented “it shows Congress we the people run this country not them.”]

    After their experience rebelling against King George, the Founding Fathers rightly mistrusted executive authority. That’s why they gave most of the power in the Constitution not to the President, but to Congress – the body consisting of the directly elected representatives of “we the people.” The job of the President is mainly to carry out the decisions reached by Congress.

    It’s true that, over the years, this balance of power has changed as Congress has granted more authority to the executive branch. This has happened bit by bit by bit, mostly when Congress has felt the need to punt on some politically difficult decision. It’s a design flaw in the Constitution. Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to say that letting the President have his way means we the people are in charge. In fact it means the exact opposite.

    [Very much later.]

    I see plenty of debate on this thread, which is good. Frustrating as it can seem at times, that’s democracy! That’s literally exactly what democracy is.

    What I don’t see is debate about the basic premise:

    • Whether a crisis exists;
    • If it does, whether addressing the crisis involves making the southern border a little bit harder to cross.

    You’re all assuming the answers to the first two questions are “yes” and “yes” and have jumped straight to “is a wall the best way to make the southern border a little bit harder to cross?”

    That’s not an accident. That’s manipulation.

    Keep in mind that the oldest trick in the seizing-more-power playbook is to gin up some crisis, make enough people believe in it, and convince them that you’re the one who can solve it.

    So, does a crisis exist? How do you know?

    [Then came a meme: Dorothy asks The Scarecrow, “But how do you talk without a brain?” and The Scarecrow replies, “I’m a Democrat.”]

    What’s more important: scoring 🤣 points from people who already agree with you? Or finding common ground with those who don’t? One’s easy, fun, and a cop-out; one’s hard, thankless, and your civic duty.

    Obviously I disagree with the original post and some of the opinions in this thread. In response I have patiently tried to persuade others to understand my point of view. I have insulted no one. I invite you and everyone to treat your fellow countrymen with the same respect.

    [Finally, a right-wing meme asking why the government can erect so many thousands of miles of sound walls alongside highways but should be prevented from building a border wall.]

    Are you posing this question in a sincere effort to get an answer?

    If so, here’s mine:

    • These would make ineffective border walls. Effective border walls would have to be much higher and stronger, and they’d have to be built (and maintained) in much more remote and rugged places. They would therefore be much, much more expensive.
    • A wall would do very little to protect our lives, which are not meaningfully threatened by the southern border.
    • There are many better uses for the same money and manpower that would protect our lives from actual, serious threats.
    • History has shown the folly of erecting border walls.
  • [When asked if I can explain why it’s ok to spend $XX billion on foreign aid but not $X billion on a border wall.]

    Yes! It’s easily explained by this:

    Don Corleone understands that when you’re rich and powerful, doing favors for others places them in your power.

    When we give foreign aid to other countries, we can influence their policies to our benefit. On one end of the influence spectrum, we can threaten to cut off their aid. On the other end of the spectrum, we can offer to forgive their debt. Most of our international relations are conducted somewhere in between those two extremes: countries operating with an understanding that it’s in their interest to keep America happy.

    Only about 1% of our budget goes to all the foreign aid we give out. The return on that investment is tremendous. We recoup many times that small amount: in our economy, our security, and our ability to exercise power around the world.

  • Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.
    Trump Has Defeated Himself

  • [Someone posted a right-wing meme saying, “So Democrats want to impeach President Trump because of 4 million new jobs, low gas prices, defeating ISIS, …etc…”]

    No, that’s not why.

    [Then, in reply to “so what’s there big reason?”]

    There is of course disagreement on the exact grounds for impeachment, but here are some of the things different groups have said:
    Proposed grounds for impeachment and timeline

    In a nutshell:

    • Obstruction of justice, multiple counts (which is what they would have impeached Nixon on, if he hadn’t resigned first)
    • Lying under oath (which is what they did impeach Clinton on)
    • Violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments” clauses (designed to prevent bribery of the President)
    • Disclosure of classified information to a foreign enemy

    So, not nitpicky things. In addition to these, some have suggested other less-tangible grounds, like inciting hatred and a failure of moral leadership. There’s also a cluster of potential criminal charges relating to the Trump Organization, including fraud and money laundering. It’s not clear to me whether those would be part of any impeachment effort.

    Personally there are a few things I would add, like the concentration camps at the border where thousands live, and some die, in cages with inadequate care and no prospects for release or change – short of a massacre, one of the most monstrous atrocities in modern history.

    Most are awaiting the report from the Mueller investigation, which is widely expected to contain revelations many times more damning than even the various bombshells that have already become public.

  • Holy crap, was Vice some amazing filmmaking. But I didn’t realize I should have emotionally prepared myself to relive all that.

  • [Someone posted a right-wing video purporting to show how insecure our border is.]

    Why is this all anyone’s talking about now? Is there suddenly a crisis so bad that all other government business must stop until this is resolved? Or is there some other explanation?

    Let’s suppose there is a terrible immediate crisis: terrorists, criminals, and drugs entering the country. Is that problem worse now than it’s ever been?

    Let’s suppose that it is worse now than it’s ever been. So let’s build a giant wall! If we put 10,000 men on the job, it can be built by 2030.

    Oh but wait. This is a TERRIBLE IMMEDIATE CRISIS. 2030 isn’t nearly soon enough. Never mind, we need a wall, we’ve got to shut down the government anyway until we get it!

    Oh but wait. 95% or more of terrorists, criminals, and drugs enter the country by air. With the government shut down, TSA agents aren’t getting paid and are calling in sick by the hundreds. As a result, our airport security is a fraction of what it should be.

    If there’s a terrible immediate crisis, why would Trump be making it worse by compromising airport security? (Not to mention food security, since FDA inspections are now halted.)

    Maybe there’s not really a crisis and/or the wall isn’t the right solution? But then why is Trump insisting on this wall?

    Could it be that, as a reality TV star, Trump knows an applause line when he hears it? And when during his campaign, as he tossed out outrageous but attention-getting off-the-cuff ideas one after another (remember?), the racists that flocked to him cheered the wall more than any other proposal, so he zeroed in on that?

    (Yes, racists. You don’t hear anyone calling for a wall on the Canadian border, do you? Why do you suppose that is?)

    Can the actual crisis be that, having committed himself so thoroughly to this idea, he now risks humiliation by admitting he never really thought it through?

    Have we crippled ourselves because one man is afraid of being exposed as a fool?

    [“Do you feel that some of the wall is fueled by racists?”]

    Well, racists make up part of Trump’s coalition, wouldn’t you agree? And what else explains their eagerness to wall us off from Mexico but not Canada – an even longer, even more open border?

    The answer can’t be “terrorists, criminals, and drugs only come from Mexico,” because (a) that’s not remotely true and (b) even if it is, and we made coming across the southern border harder, don’t you think they would just start coming over the undefended northern border instead? (To say nothing of our long coastlines.)

    Isn’t it possible that part of the answer is our northern neighbors are mostly white and English-speaking, and our southern neighbors are neither?

    Anyway, we have effective border controls: satellites, drones, sensors, patrols, all of which is working today, all of which we could scale up very quickly if we felt the need – which isn’t true for a wall. Thanks to those controls, illegal border crossings are about one-third of what they were twenty years ago, and if it wasn’t a stop-everything crisis then, why should it be now?

    Unless, as I say, the crisis is actually about Trump having to save face somehow.

    [“I don’t see how trump is racist? And if I’m in favor of a border wall does that too make me racist?”]

    Neither of those things is what I wrote. I said that there are racists among his supporters – the KKK called Trump “our guy” – and those racists liked the sound of the wall because of what it represents: keeping brown people out of America.

    When Trump saw he had a winning line with “build the wall,” he doubled down on it, because as a showman, that’s what you do. He built up a whole story about how we need it urgently, so that non-racists could buy into the idea too. But a story it is.

    [“Do you not think it’s a problem that illegal immigrants are coming into our country?”]

    Sure it’s a problem, but only a small one. If some of those immigrants are criminals? Well, so are plenty of Americans. If some of those immigrants go on welfare? Yes, it costs us all a few cents more, but nothing compared to the price we all pay for, say, Trump’s big tax cut for the wealthy, or the trade war he started with China.

    Anyway, most illegal immigrants are here not because they snuck across the border, but because they started as legal immigrants who overstayed their visas. A wall would do nothing to address that. A wall would do nothing to address the smuggling of drugs hidden inside legal shipments, which is how most smuggling happens. A wall would not stop a terrorist in Mexico from buying a $300 plane ticket, flying to Canada, and entering the United States literally by crossing the street.

    When you say “of course the wall won’t be 100% perfect,” what you’re overlooking is that it will be close to 0% perfect. We have worse problems, and better solutions, that need our attention and our money.

    We are all racist, but as with all of our worst impulses, some of us have learned this about ourselves and chosen to exercise control over it, others haven’t. When I refer to racists, I’m talking about those folks.

  • [On a lighter note, in response to “Anybody know what to do if you accidentally washed your remote. Asking for a friend.”]

    Now you can only watch clean shows.

  • Disavowed.
    Kremlin: Allegations Of Trump Being A Russian Agent Are ‘Absurd’ And ‘Stupid’

  • [Someone posted a hateful right-wing meme. Someone else challenged him. Original poster answered, “I don’t know anything about it tbh”]

    Then why amplify the message by reposting it? A sincere question.

  • I’m hearing “no worries” in response to “thank you” more and more often. I consider it rude. Here’s why: “no worries” (or the similar “don’t worry about it”) is what you’d say if someone apologized to you for some slight or injury or inconvenience. Saying it in response to “thank you,” as when you’ve just done something for someone, implies that you were inconvenienced but don’t mind. That’s a very different sentiment from “you’re welcome,” which implies that it’s your pleasure to do things for that person.

  • [Someone linked to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tax plan can get the rich to actually want to make all Americans richer. Here’s how.]

    Sounds something like my Sigma Tax idea.

  • [Right-wing meme: raising the flag at Iwo Jima, caption “Nobody called it toxic masculinity when we were saving the world.”]

    There are EVIL VILLAINS working to DESTROY AMERICA.

    They do it by hijacking the DOPAMINE CIRCUIT in your brain. Yes, yours.

    Dopamine is the pleasurable REWARD CHEMICAL your brain releases when you ACHIEVE SOMETHING.

    It’s what makes dumb games like Tetris, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush ADDICTIVE.

    Memes like this are churned out by TROLL FARMS. They pay MONEY for this kind of thing.

    You get a DOPAMINE HIT when you repost it or when someone “likes” it, just like a game.

    Its message seems harmless and true, but it’s actually HARMFUL and FALSE.

    FALSE: No one is calling masculinity “toxic.” Instead, there’s something else called “toxic masculinity,” separate from real masculinity. (Real masculinity is, “Let’s get this unpleasant job done.” Toxic masculinity is, “That fag smiled at me, let’s beat the shit out of him so no one thinks I liked it.”)

    HARMFUL: This trains conservatives in how to mock and ignore liberals. (There are similar memes shared by liberals that ridicule conservatives.) Seems tiny by itself, but multiply it by hundreds of different memes and millions of shares and likes, and you’ve got a nation that can’t reach compromise on anything, or even talk to one another.

    The troll farms that produce memes like this are bankrolled by BILLIONAIRES who benefit from a WEAK AMERICA. Don’t let yourself be an unwitting soldier in their army! When you see something like this that triggers that satisfying TRIBAL FEELING (“Haha, those coastal elites are the worst, amirite?” or “Those clueless rednecks just don’t get it, smdh”), that’s the time to stop and BE SUSPICIOUS of its motives.

    Stop letting them divide us. We’re the UNITED States of America.

  • [Right-wing meme: Nancy Pelosi says “Our security is fine, we do not need a wall” and also says, “I’m canceling the State of the Union address due to concerns about security.”]

    “Like the ski resort full of girls hunting for husbands and husbands hunting for girls the situation is not as symmetrical as it might seem.”

    [“I don’t understand?”]

    The security threat of a few bad people sneaking across the border and fanning out across North America in an attempt to disappear is pretty different from the security threat of all our national leaders concentrated in a single easily targeted location at a time of diminished law-enforcement capacity.

  • [In reply to Roger Stone Arrested for breakfast, Trump Caves for lunch. Can’t wait to find out what’s for dinner..]

    Unfortunately it’ll probably be something dramatic that Trump feels he needs to do to prove he’s winning.

  • Hope Adam McKay and I both live long enough for us to get some distance from this era, for him to make an amazing movie about it, and for me to see it and laugh and cry.

  • [On whether to spring for a high school ring.]

    Hahaha! I got suckered into buying mine. In thirty-five years I’ve worn it exactly zero times.

  • Just heard the mini story on Point Roberts. Did you know U.S. gas pumps switched briefly to metric when gas broke $1/gal, to cope with the pumps’ 99.9¢/gal limit? @romanmars

  • It only takes some idiots to ruin things for everyone.

    Part of a vaccine’s effect is to make it harder for a virus to infect you if you come into contact with it. Harder, but not impossible.

    Most of a vaccine’s effect is that when you multiply that first effect by vaccinating everyone, the virus can’t spread. You are much less likely ever to come into contact with it.

    If enough people forgo the vaccine, they increase your risk, even if you’ve gotten it.

    “Idiots” is not a strong enough word.

  • [Friend posts God ‘wanted Donald Trump to become president’.]

    God also wanted World War II to happen.

    God is a dick.

  • [Someone writes a post ridiculing the idea that drug addiction is a disease.]

    I lived for several years without chickenpox. I didn’t want chickenpox. But then the people around me got chickenpox and I was exposed repeatedly. My immune system put up a fight but to no avail. I got chickenpox. Once I got it, I tried and tried to get rid of it. It took some time, but finally I was chickenpox-free.

    I lived for several years without smoking. I didn’t want to smoke. But then the people around me started smoking and I was exposed repeatedly. My intellect put up a fight but to no avail. I started smoking. Once I started, I tried and tried to quit. It took some time, but finally I was cigarette-free.

  • [Right-wing meme: “They came to take part in the American Dream. European Christians built this nation. They didn’t come to bitch, collect welfare, demand citizenship, wave the Mexican flag, wage jihad, or replace the Constitution with sharia law.”]

    They didn’t demand citizenship?

    They didn’t wave their native countries’ flags?

    They didn’t try to impose their religious views on others?

    How sure are you about these statements?

  • [Right wing meme: “Bush 41: We have a border crisis. Clinton: We have a border crisis. Bush 43: We have a border crisis. Obama: We have a border crisis. HRC: We have a border crisis. Trump: Let’s build a wall and end the border crisis. Media: OMG, Trump manufactured the border crisis!”]

    It’s true that a southern-border crisis has been a recurring theme for a long time. It’s misleading to say that presidents and presidential candidates have been saying so, but then to leave out what they did about it. That makes it sound like it’s only gotten worse and worse until Trump decided finally to address it. In fact it’s gotten mostly better over the past 15-20 years. What Trump has manufactured is the sense that things are worse than they’ve ever been – also that a wall is any kind of solution.

    Please read this: President Obama Also Faced A ‘Crisis’ At The Southern Border.

    Excerpt:

    When the surge of migrant children began arriving in 2014, the Obama administration tried some of the same tactics as the Trump administration.

    The Obama administration housed migrant children in temporary camps on military bases. And it pushed for long-term detention of migrant families while their asylum cases played out in immigration court […]

    But then, those tactics shifted […]

    According to [migrant rights expert] Michelle Brané, the Obama administration deserves credit for learning from its mistakes.

    “The Trump administration has done basically the opposite,” Brané said. “They took exactly what failed, and expanded on it.”

  • A little hug becomes huge instantly
    If you just add silent E

    [Followup.]

    Gonna be honest: when he turned a twin into twine, six-year-old me was a little freaked out.

    [Friend writes, “Just watch out for the lesser-known invisible E.”]

    The one at the end of “mic,” you mean?

  • At this point we could probably attach generators to the founding fathers spinning in their graves and generate a small city’s worth of electricity.

  • [Left-wing friend posts hateful and ignorant right-wing meme. Other liberals reliably heap scorn on it.]

    Not sure what calling this disgusting or stupid will accomplish other than making someone who agrees with it feel defensive, and harden them in their opinions. Me, I’d ask why Trump deserves having his flaws overlooked when so many others (like Obama) are summarily dismissed as the enemy.

  • [Aggressive right-wing meme says “Fuck open borders” among other things.]

    Why?

    This is a sincere question.

    Why “fuck” these things? (As opposed to “I oppose open borders,” for example.)

    Why fuck these particular things? (As opposed to “fuck climate change” or “fuck corporations paying zero taxes on billions in profit”?)

  • “Nice guys finish last” is not enough of a reason not to be a nice guy.

    [Followup.]

    …because “virtue is its own reward.”

  • [Right-wing meme: “If theres even one homeless child in America we have no room for illegal aliens.”]

    Not sure why you tagged me in this post. Is it to see whether I have a countervailing opinion?

    I’m not in favor of illegal aliens. (Or homeless children!) But if you want to know what I think is wrong with this meme, here’s something: homelessness is not a product of illegal immigration. It’s a function of the economy and of public policy, both of which have been badly out of balance for many years now. We could house all homeless people for next to nothing, comparatively speaking. We just have to decide to, instead of deciding that billionaires pay too much tax, for instance.

    Generally speaking, immigration expands the economy (up to a point). A good, legal immigration policy would help solve homelessness, not worsen it.

    It’s not like America is an egg carton with illegal-alien eggs taking up the spaces of citizen eggs.

  • [Right-wing tweet from one Cloyd Rivers: “When you reward mediocracy and give kids a trophy just for playin’, you end up with fast food workers who think they deserve $15/hr. Merica.” Someone points out that $7.25/hr is not a livable wage. Rivers: “Let me learn you some knowledge. Minimum wage ain’t supposed to be a career. It’s meant for high school/college kids with no discernible skills, not adults supportin’ a family.”]

    I wonder where Cloyd Rivers thinks higher skills will come from for most folks. Underfunded public schools? Unaffordable colleges? On-the-job training, maybe, but if you start as a fry cook, what are your career opportunities?

    [Friend points out there are plenty of affordable community colleges and trade schools.]

    Fair point. Of course even if you can get college paid for, you still have to be able to afford the time it takes to attend it, but that’s a whole nother discussion.

  • Headline: 40% of voters would re-elect Trump.

    OK. How many of those have access to news other than Trump propaganda?

    If that’s the only information you had, you’d vote to re-elect him too.

  • I’m excited to see Captain Marvel this weekend, but am still not over the fact that the real Captain Marvel now has to call himself Shazam.

  • How strange is it that we’re getting Captain Marvel and Shazam movies just a few weeks apart?

    Also, for nostalgia’s sake: Captain Marvel saves the day

    [Someone posts about Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.]

    Ah, EW+DG! <3 Blazing a trail that Xena, Warrior Princess never acknowledged.

    [Followup.]

    Ginger or Mary Ann? (Mary Ann of course)
    Jennifer or Bailey? (Bailey)
    Electra Woman or Dyna Girl? (Dyna Girl)

  • Who are these people who leave a Marvel movie as soon as the credits start to roll?

  • If you virtue-signal but don’t actually embody the virtue you’re signaling, that’s clearly bad. If you do embody the virtue, then avoiding signaling it can be thought of as a higher form of it, just as anonymous giving is a higher form of charity than non-anonymous. On the other hand, you then open yourself up to a charge of false modesty, and lose an opportunity to model the behavior for others that you’d like to see them adopt.

  • [In reply to a meme of a guy working on a home-improvement project, caption “This will only take an hour / 8 hours later”]

    Reminds me of Hal fixing a light bulb

  • I don’t understand how people tolerate raspberry seeds.

  • [Friend’s son got a moving violation which says “Bring ONE parent to court.”]

    Just like a Wonka Golden Ticket! “You may bring one member of your own family but no one else!”

  • Don’t say “iconic.” Don’t say “way, shape, or form.” Don’t say “changed forever.”

  • I wrote a thing you might enjoy reading!
    Understanding the Stellar consensus protocol

  • Fear of competition is a nice way to tie a lot of current narratives together.

    White supremacists are wedded to a philosophy that can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas on its merits, so they have to annihilate threats to their story.

    Gerrymandering and voter suppression are meant to protect powerful politicians from competition.

    The tech and telecom giants fear competition and so engulf and devour their competitors before they pose a serious threat.

    Wealthy parents who doubt their children’s ability to compete buy admission into prestigious colleges.

    On an individual basis, many of these behaviors are rational. As a society we must be more aggressive about insisting on fair competition in the public sphere, the only sure protection against decline.

  • Took Archer for one of these tonight. His verdict: it’s like sucking toothpaste through a straw.

  • Culturally appropriate(d) breakfast.

    [In reply to “That is the most unappetizing thing I have ever seen on a plate!” and “Ew!”]

    You do not like them. So you say.
    Try them! Try them! And you may.
    Try them and you may, I say.

  • We are all racist. Those who claim not to be are worse than those who acknowledge they are and are actively fighting it.

  • [In response to the all-black-and-white Steamboat Willie Lego set.]

    Gasp!

    On another note: ohhh, it’s the boat that’s called Willie! I always thought Mickey was called Steamboat Willie in this cartoon, which made me wonder why it’s celebrated as the debut of Mickey Mouse.

  • [My congressman advances a bill protecting local TV-station ownership, which would force Sinclair out of some markets.]

    Now that’s striking at the root.

  • When a news headline says that such-and-such Supreme Court justice cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 case, couldn’t you say the same thing about any of the five?

  • [Another right-wing meme about addiction not being a disease, because you don’t “walk outside and catch crackhead.”]

    AIDS is a disease, right? But you don’t just walk outside and catch it, you have to engage in some pretty specific behavior, and then your insides become disordered in a particular way. Same with addiction.

  • The hot takes you read or heard over the weekend about the Mueller report were probably all wrong. Please read this. https://twitter.com/SethAbramson/status/1109913558333210629

  • Baklava Galactica

  • On the bright side, maybe this will give a boost to projects like Solid, IPLD, and others that seek to redecentralize the net.
    EU Puts An End To The Open Internet: Link Taxes And Filters Approved By Just 5 Votes

  • [Friend asks, “So now we have Republican congressmen quoting Mein Kampf on the floor of the House. How do we end this fucking nightmare?!”]

    By pooling our assets and buying out Fox and Sinclair.

  • Strongly recommend the Story Pirates podcast (for both kids and adults).

  • [A tweet said Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were spotted having lunch together. AOC tweeted BREAKING: We had labneh.]

    omg i love her

  • [Friend posts, “You land a guest role on one of the Law & Orders. Are you a judge, witness, perp, bystander, or defense attorney?”]

    I’m fired after a day and a half of production because I can’t stop glancing into the camera lens.

  • President Buttgiggle. I’m ready.

  • [Friend posts meme: “Companies that have self checkout machines are not hiring and training people for jobs of the future, they are training you to do it for free.”]

    I’m not unsympathetic to this argument, but could you not say the same about the mountains of other kinds of automation that have obsoleted various jobs since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? None of us today gives a thought to the idea that we’ve been trained to operate elevators “for free”…

  • The OA, season one, was powerfully weird and held my attention for that reason; but it was also frustrating, seeming to lack a strong narrative through-line. Season two is equally weird but also deeply satisfying.

  • [Archer’s 14th-birthday photo.]

    One year out of date
    (A year that he reports was great)

  • Notre-DAMN

  • Pipe through

    perl -pe ‘s/([01]+)/chr(oct(“0b$1”))/eg’

    to read Mayor Pete’s message to the bots.

    Pete Buttigieg Stuns Campaign Crowd By Speaking To Manufacturing Robots In Fluent Binary

  • [Friend posts news about an old workplace destroyed by fire the same week I spend a week working in NYC.]

    I see your “personal history gone” and raise you being waist-deep in hipsters, boutiques, coworking spaces, tasting rooms, and specialty bakeries, all in a part of Brooklyn where, in my time, you didn’t dare go.

    [Followup.]

    (And we liked it that way!)

  • Unoriginal headlines are unoriginal. terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad

  • On the political question of whether to pursue impeachment, I have this observation: the Constitution says we must, and we already have one party of ignoring the Constitution. We don’t need two.
    The Mueller Report Was My Tipping Point

    [Someone points out it’s not “must.”]

    You’re right: technically it’s only “may.” But our Congressman, Jared Huffman, is right about why it’s really “must.” https://www.facebook.com/jared.huffman.9/posts/1878758642229788

  • Explore all the branches of the story tree – then add some of your own!
    Kill Ralphie!

  • Seventeen years. Never not a rockstar. (Only now it’s a little more literal.)

  • Why is this the road sign for “playground”? I haven’t seen a seesaw at a playground in decades. Do kids even know what that silhouette is?

    [Followup.]

    “Phone”

  • [Right-wing meme: “There are over 350 million guns in the United States right now. If guns were really about killing people you’d all be dead by now.”]

    If the point of this post is that more guns does not mean more gun violence, that’s simply wrong. There is a well-established correlation showing the very opposite.

    [“I’m just saying that it doesn’t matter if there’s more or not. If someone wants to hurt you by way of a gun they will get one legal or not.”]

    You’re right: if someone’s determined to shoot me, then one way or another they’ll find a gun and shoot me. The number of guns sloshing around won’t change that.

    But it’s wrong to conclude that the number of guns therefore doesn’t matter, because you haven’t accounted for unpremeditated shootings. Very many people get shot by accident, or because a situation escalated farther than it would have if a gun hadn’t been involved. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess this accounts for the majority of gun violence.

    It is hard to argue that reducing the total number of guns would have no impact on that number. Impossible, actually, since where it’s been done – whether by law, or with buyback programs, or just social pressure – it’s been shown to work exactly as expected. Reduce guns, reduce gun violence.

    I’d like to know what motivated you to repost this meme to begin with. It’s labeled “defend the 2nd,” which suggests you’re concerned about gun rights. But gun rights are as permissive as they have been at any time in this country’s history. There is no crisis looming where we lose those rights.

    Nevertheless, something moved you strongly enough – outraged you, possibly – to make you publicly take a side on this issue. I’m guessing this was the result of seeing others online taking a similar position, all premised on the idea that gun rights need defending. You’ve amplified that message: now others who see your repost will have a stronger sense (one they can’t quite put their finger on) that our gun rights are under a threat that must be fought against.

    If there is no real crisis, then why do these memes exist? What is their purpose, if not to preserve gun rights? Whom do they benefit?

    The answer is: politicians, who have identified this as a useful wedge issue, one about which it’s easy to whip up strong emotions on both sides regardless of the actual facts. Why that’s useful to them: because if you think the liberals are coming for your guns, you are much less likely to band with them against the REAL outrages. Like babies dying in American concentration camps. Like multibillion-dollar corporations paying zero dollars in tax, while all the rest of us pay thousands more. Like oil companies concluding privately that they’re destroying the planet, while paying to publish “research reports” claiming the greenhouse effect is a hoax. Like public lands being sold off to private companies, public policy being sold off to foreign governments, and on and on.

    They fear us uniting to address these challenges, so they are strongly motivated to keep us divided. Constantly beating the drum about things like gun rights and abortion are a great way to do that.

    What if we stopped marching to their beat? What if we stopped letting them trigger us all the time and started demanding action on the things we can all agree about?

  • [On “May the fourth.”]

    I resist the dumb pun. As far as I’m concerned, today is Dave Brubeck day.

  • [Friend posts a pun about onions.]

    Now I’ve heard it allium.

  • [Someone posts a meme describing a fantasy of Trump getting re-elected, declaring a Vietnam war 2.0, Gen Z kids getting drafted to fight, and soldiers doing Fortnite victory dances over slaughtered rice farmers.]

    Jesus Christ

    [Then, when that got a laughing-face reaction.]

    Sorry, I should have been clearer: Jesus Christ, this is deranged, and not in a good way. It frightens and depresses me that you find humor in it.

  • Hello in heaven, Mom! You have now missed twelve years of anecdotes and updates about your grandsons. I badly want to be able to tell them all to you and hear your reaction, but honestly I already know exactly what it would be: kvelling your brains out.

  • [Right-wing meme about Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner: “Bruce was limber, Bruce was quick, Bruce went liberal & lost his dick.”]

    Anyone can be transgender. The only connection with liberalism is, liberals are the ones who believe it doesn’t make you any less of a person.

  • It pains me to admit it now, but I poked fun at gay people when I was young. Also, I had some stereotypical racial prejudices.

    These were attitudes handed down to me by my culture, fueled in large part by having no actual gay people (that I knew about) or brown people in my life.

    I’m happy to say that I’ve long since outgrown those attitudes, but at least I can understand racists and homophobes: they lack an exposure to diversity that, in my life, helped to dispel my ignorance.

    But no one’s not exposed to women. For the life of me I cannot understand those men who treat women as an underclass.

    [Friend writes, “Undersized genitalia… just guessing.”]

    Then I really cannot understand them 😉

  • [Friend writes, “I never watched Game of Thrones, and overhearing all the hype is confusing me. Did it have a dragon named… Drogon?”]

    Two responses, can’t choose between them, you decide.

    1. “When he gets in a scrape
    He makes his escape
    With the help of his friend
    An ape named Ape”

    2. Better than a chimp named Cheetah

  • I’ve always considered myself an ally for women, but have always harbored this bit of unuttered skepticism: as long as there exist women willing to trade on sex appeal, what hope of equality can there be for the rest who aren’t?

    That bit of skepticism, I realized not long ago, rested upon a bedrock of unconscious bias: the assumption that the gatekeepers will always be ones on whom female sex appeal works.

    That need not be true. In fact it needs not to be true.
    Where women call the shots

  • [A friend posted about the Democrats’ inability to frame issues well.]

    I heard a Fresh Air interview years ago with a Democratic Party strategist lamenting this gap in messaging skill. Don’t remember who it was, but I do remember him pointing out (correctly, I thought) that part of the difference relates to the conservative preference for authority, which allows their echo chamber to line up behind and amplify their message of the day; while progressives, more committed to democracy per se, have the proverbial cats to herd. So even though they do have a message of the day, everyone is reading from their own scripts, to the detriment of the party. I also remember Terry Gross asking him what some recent messages of the day have been, and he couldn’t answer, because he doesn’t read them. 🤦

  • [Friend posts news story about segregation in the Bay Area being worse now than in 1970 and comments, “Typical liberal policymaking!”]

    I have no trouble at all believing that segregation is an unintended consequence of liberal policymaking, but which policies do you think are responsible, and how do you think they contribute to segregation?

    [Crickets.]

  • Me: I have nothing left to teach you about being cool.
    Jonah: I know.

    [When an astonished friend asked if he really played the legendary Sweetwater Music Hall.]

    Ahem, he tore the roof off of Sweetwater.

  • Dear @CanadaDry, I bought the 10-ounce bottles of tonic water from @SchweppesGB because they were glass and yours were plastic.

  • Does Donald Trump belong in prison or in command of our nuclear arsenal?

    Pelosi: Why not both?

  • Personally I think she would be great rebooting Ackmena, the bartender role made famous by Bea Arthur.
    Emma Thompson Tried to Be in Star Wars

  • Neal Stephenson has blown my mind with his latest book, Fall; or Dodge in Hell. Didn’t want it to end but couldn’t stop reading. Sure it’s fiction but it will change your IRL ideas about cosmology and theology, to say nothing of fake news and filter bubbles.

    [Followup.]

    The Baroque Cycle remains my favorite work of his, and those who read that first will find Fall to be a satisfying bookend of a sort to that one.

  • [Friend posts this photo with the comment, “Omnipotence ain’t all that I guess”]

    Marriage = 1 man in pants + 1 man in a kilt

  • Thy birth this day we note with cheer
    As in years past, and now again
    It cometh up but once each year
    The natal day of dear McKen-
    na

    (Sorry, “McKenna” doesn’t fit at the end of a line of iambic tetrameter.)

    Happy birthday!

  • Fourth of July – what a day to lose the Little Drummer Boy challenge!

  • How could anybody be expected to handle school on a day like this?

  • [Storm left a large broken tree branch dangling right over someone’s house.]

    DAMN-ocles

  • Have they tried Hare Krishna?

  • [Home Depot owner is a major GOP donor.]

    Home DepNO

    Home Despot

  • I don’t entirely agree with this op-ed’s prescription against boldness, but I definitely agree with this:

    “I wonder what would happen if the Democratic nominee simply refused to talk about Trump. No responding to whatever stupid nickname he comes up with. No sweeping denunciation of some deed of his that any sensible American already knows is wrong. Just the articulation of better solutions to America’s problems. Trump would go mad with the lack of attention. And maybe then, thank heaven, he’d go away.”
    How Democrats Defeat Donald Trump

    [Followup.]

    Michelle Obama said it first, and better: When they go low, we go high.

  • [Right-wing meme: “Musslamic Democrat, Ilhan Omar, has threatened members of Congress. She’s told several Republicans that she’ll send them ‘shawarma’, to ‘give them a taste of her culture.’. Share to say arrest her now!” A friend ridiculed the ignorance on display.]

    This is evil genius at work. The meme creator(s) knew just what they were doing.

    The sentiment and tone will resonate with some people even if they don’t know what shawarma is (or do know, but somehow gloss over that part of the message). They’ll repost and spread the meme.

    Those who oppose messages like this one will fixate on surface errors (“shawarma,” “musslamic,” etc.) and dismiss the person reposting it as an idiot.

    They may even call out the mistake publicly, causing a defensive reaction by the poster: entrenchment of their attitude vis-a-vis the meme, hostility toward those pointing out the error.

    Wedge between right and left driven deeper. Mission accomplished!

    [Followup.]

    “will fixate on surface errors”

    …overlooking the more important ones, like the fact that the comma goes inside the quotation marks.

  • Held the door open for a black man at the post office today. He said, “Thank you, my brother,” and it was the best feeling in the world.

  • Ironically, the word that came to mind to describe Huffman’s reasoning was “unimpeachable.”
    https://www.facebook.com/jared.huffman.9/posts/2036511569787827

    [Friend comments, “Love Huffman! So smart and thoughtful. Would love to see HIM president.”]

    100%. If you want to love him even more, I can recommend his podcast.

  • [After a mass shooting, friend posts, “I actually find it reassuring that POTUS felt he needed to make an anti-racist, unifying statement this morning, no matter how hypocritical and scripted. I don’t even care about the deflection to mental illness and video games. It feels like a desperation move.”]

    Worse dictators than Trump have been brought down by public opinion.

  • [Slate tweets, “Jimmy Carter’s revolutionary efforts to diversify the courts changed the law forever. Trump is undoing that achievement one judge at a time.”]

    “Forever”? The second sentence contradicts the first sentence.

  • Everyone please stop saying “X changed Y forever.” We don’t know yet. changed forever

    [A friend points out the observation by Heraclitus that “you never step in the same river twice.”]

    OK, “X changed Y forever” is allowed again, as long as you add, “and so did everything else.”

  • Ask any mermaid you happen to see
    What’s the best tuna that doesn’t advertise on Tucker Carlson?
    (Hint: not @StarKistCharlie)

  • Have you seen the cool fan theory that it’s only a fake cancellation? Is The OA Fake-Canceled or Am I Just Losing My Mind?

    [“Wishful thinking,” writes a friend.]

    But a “take all my money” moment if true.

  • I left Google four years ago. Just sayin’.

    [A friend writes, “You are the king of good timing!”]

    That sounds like a character from The Phantom Tollbooth. “What land is this?” wondered Milo, and no sooner had he uttered it than a balding, middle-aged man appeared, wearing a crown and announcing, “Welcome to the Kingdom of Good Timing!”

  • What’s the name for the phenomenon where you saw some episode of some show once, and then months or years later you see a random rerun of the same show and it’s the same episode?

  • [Friend tweets, “All these people calling for recession so they can buy a house seem to misunderstand how this works. Sure, the price of that house you have your eye on might drop by 40%, but so will your net worth. And that job that’s paying your salary? They’ve told you to clean out your desk.”]

    Oh and not for nothing, the human misery all around you increases. But whatevs

  • The proprietor would not let me pay him for fixing, on the spot, a pair of expensive sunglasses I bought from him years ago and which have held up so well that he hasn’t seen another penny from me since. So instead I am urging all my northern California friends to give the SunGlass Galleria of Marin their business.

  • [Friend writes, “What do you call a sophomore who boysplains to his math teacher? An algebro. (The letters on my rack in a recent Scrabble game.)”]

    In the version of Scrabble I play with my family, a word like this is acceptable if you can supply a definition that meets with general acclaim.

    Also: what does Wyldstyle wear under her top? A Legobra

  • [Re: storing solar power.]

    Every home should have its own molten salt tank.

  • Trump, soon. Bananas – Executive Orders

  • Unintentionally hilarious typo: Better safe then sorry.

  • Go to your Facebook settings, then to “Security and Login,” and turn on “Two-factor authentication.” This prevents hackers from accessing your account even if they guess (or otherwise obtain) your password. (Let me know if you’d like more info about how this works.)

    After you’ve done that, go to the “Apps and Websites” section of settings and disable the access to your Facebook account that you may previously have granted to other apps and websites.

  • My wife sent me to the store
    I cannot remember what for
    What comes after the ampersand
    In “Honey, pick up some Pampers and”?
    – Ogden Bob

    [Friend urgently asks if this is an oblique way to say we’re expecting again.]

    No, it’s just my way of letting you know what a rhyme for “ampersand” is.

  • [Friend posts this image and writes, “This is from the page you have to go through to register for a SECURITY conference that I’ve chosen not to name. Can anyone explain to me any way this can possibly be useful?”]

    These are security researchers, so this has to be the sort of mischief where they hope X% of website visitors will reflexively enter one of their other passwords.

  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say that John [Roderick]’s whimsical pronunciation of “UFOs” (as “oof-o’s”) can be traced back to James Belushi’s performance in the 1987 comedy Real Men.

  • The eyes of the nation turn expectantly to Vice President Pence. Conversion therapy center founder who sought to turn LGBTQ Christians straight says he’s gay, rejects ‘cycle of self shame’

  • “Doonbeg boondoggle” is a headline phrase for the ages.

    [Followup.]

    History nerds of the future will challenge each other with questions like “What was the Doonbeg boondoggle”?

  • This is an example of some of the political e-mail I get. I will never respond to or even open messages of this type: the ones that are trying to trigger me, to tap into the hatred they assume I must feel, my supposed eagerness to see Trump humiliated.

    I do not hate Donald Trump. I am not eager to see Trump humiliated. On the contrary, I am eager to see him stop humiliating himself: to honor his oath of office for once, to put the good of the country ahead of his petty interests. Any time he does that I will cheer him gladly. But it won’t be without considerable surprise and some suspicion, since he consistently acts in the same way as the senders of this message: relying on and appealing to our basest instincts.

    [Followup.]

    It’s 0% Trump hatred, 100% affection for American ideals and institutions.

    OK, OK, it’s close to 0% Trump hatred.

  • “Psst! What does a yellow light mean?”
    “Slow down.”
    “OK. What… does… a… yellow… light… mean?”

  • Cold turkey has not worked for me in the past. What has been working for me lately has been paying closer attention to the protein content of the things I eat. The more protein I get, the less I crave sugar and carbs. I still allow myself a bite or two of sweets a couple of times a day, and that seems to be enough to keep the addiction monkey satisfied while I slowly but steadily lose weight.

  • Does Superman supermansplain?

  • Wondering what the deterrent value is of two weeks in prison.

    I mean, we’re trying to get our kid into college right now, and two weeks in prison seems like a very small price to pay for taking a shortcut through the process.

    [Followup.]

    Better not chance it. I mean, I can only count on white-person justice, not celebrity justice.

  • [Friend posted about the San Antonio teacher who asked his students to describe the positive aspects of life as a slave as well as the negative.]

    If this was the teacher’s subversive way to expose and then challenge the students’ unexamined racism, then good effort, I say, but misguided and tone deaf. If it wasn’t, then sheesh.

  • Preordered.
    We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump

  • Just noticed that all the e-mail notifications I receive from Facebook have an:

    X-Mailer: ZuckMail [version 1.00]

    field in the header. 🙄

  • A eye-opening challenge: on your next visit to the grocery store, try to avoid plastic packaging completely. Let me know how you do.

  • On one recent visit I wanted some cold cuts. I could have bought the prepackaged kind, but, plastic. So I went to the deli counter, where they could slice me some fresh meat and wrap it in wax paper. They did that – but then they slid the wax paper package into a ziploc plastic bag! (I asked them to take the plastic bag back.)

  • [Friend posts about the assassination of the Panama Papers reporter two years ago by a car bomb, which none of us had heard a single thing about.]

    wtf

  • Wow, look at Neil Hamilton in the 1930’s! He was Commissioner Gordon on TV in the 60’s. He died on this date in 1984.

  • My investment in Will Donald Trump complete his first term is presently +26%

  • Everyone go see Maiden. Hollywood couldn’t write a more rousing story of adventure and redemption than the one these real-life women lived.

  • The Google Wave team is all like, “SEE?”
    The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is… Google Docs

    [Someone points out how slow Google Wave was.]

    They never got the chance to make it fast.

  • Holy cow!
    GEO Group Running Out of Banks as 100% of Known Banking Partners Say ‘No’ to the Private Prison Sector

  • Yes, there has always been corruption. Yes, government is usually maddeningly inefficient. But there was a time, not that long ago, when a prevailing commitment to the principles of our nation actually truly counterbalanced those things, and real good got done. There will be such a time again, IF WE WILL IT.

  • You don’t fix a bug without adding regression tests.
    Every article of impeachment against 45 that’s introduced to public should be presented along w/ proposed changes for how we prevent this in future…

  • [Someone refers to Trump supporters as dummies.]

    Dummies? Or people stranded in information landscapes saturated by Fox News and conservative talk radio?

  • Vaccinated: f u, flu.

  • [Cycling friend laments the filling up of a protected bike lane by cars thinking they could park there.]

    To be fair, I’m on your side and I’d still probably make that mistake.

  • To help my kids keep abreast of the news, I summarized today’s headlines for them. It looked like this.

    [Followup.]

    I would pay good money for a website that was just an interactive, browseable, up-to-date version of this. No joke.

  • Watergate happened in a Washington populated by men who had personally gone to war and learned a visceral lesson about the evils of fascism and authoritarianism. Today’s Washington has forgotten.

  • When you pull the lid off the Han Solo in Carbonite roaster, does Harrison Ford emerge, shivering and blind?

  • [Friend wonders if Republicans defend Trump because they know Pence would be worse.]

    Not according to When a Vice President Becomes a Threat

    “If it was just a matter of magically snapping their fingers… pretty much every Republican senator would switch out Pence for Trump.”

  • [Friend responds to the latest Trump outrage with the usual “If Joe Biden acted that way Republicans would go ballistics with cries of ‘Traitor!’”]

    If Joe Biden poured himself a glass of lemonade, Republicans would go ballistic with cries of “Traitor!”

  • [Friend posts, “What is it with the last two GOP Presidents and their love of childish nicknames?”]

    cough can only feel big by belittling others cough

  • My Yom Kippur character: Atoney the Tiger. His product is Fasting Flakes, so terrible that it’s easy not to eat them. “They’re GRRRRR-oss!”

  • The world needs a @scottmccloud-style explainer for the Trump scandals.

  • [Paul Krugman tweets You know, it would be one thing if American democracy had been overthrown by sinister super villains. In fact, the guys who seized power are tacky, lowlife crooks.]

    That the feet on the ground are “useful idiots” doesn’t change the fact that Putin fits the bill to a T.

  • IMPORTANT: Institutions Work

    These days it can feel like they don’t and never have. This is an illusion: the result of a decades-long effort by the powerful to dismantle them. Why make that effort? Because THEY WORKED TOO WELL to let them get away with whatever they wanted.

    Young people especially, who may not remember a better-functioning time: have faith in the power of institutions as a force for good, and let’s repair the damage.

  • The power to enforce subpoenas seems to me like a use-it-or-lose-it kind of thing.

  • “Are my methods unsound?”

    “I don’t see… any method… at all, sir.”

  • “Going into the details of Anti-de Sitter / Conformal Field Theory would require another book entirely.” – @seanmcarroll in Something Deeply Hidden

    Me: Shut up and take my money!

  • Trump said the quiet part out loud – “We’ve taken control of the oil” – lending credence to the theory that the Trump presidency has been a project to, among other things, secure Syrian oil fields for Russia.

  • From those to whom we give the greatest authority we must demand the greatest accountability.

  • “No one is above the law, not even the President of the United States.”

    I’ve seen this a lot lately, but it’s wrong. It should be:

    “No one is above the law, LEAST OF ALL the President of the United States.”

    The law must constrain the President MORE than it does everyone else.

  • [Friend tweets, “If you feel a need to debate Trump and his moron army – don’t know why you would, but some people do…”]

    “don’t know why you would”

    Because they are our countrymen and (for a lot of them) it’s not their fault they live in places where the conservative propaganda machine has a media monopoly.

  • Quick, to the newspapers to find out what to think about the Gell-Mann effect!

  • Dudes, look. I get it. As a white man I too feel anxiety about re-leveling my privilege. I’m committed to it, though, because, y’know, justice.

    But keep this up and you’ll blow it for all of us. Re-leveling won’t stop at equality… and we’ll deserve wherever it does end up. https://t.co/nluIrg9u7P

  • Prediction: McConnell will soon have to inform Trump it’s time to resign, because he can no longer protect him against removal from office. Trump will fulminate for a few news cycles and then make a surprise state visit to Moscow. There he will seek asylum from American justice and resign the presidency, not via prime-time address to the nation but by a tweet saying, effectively, “Fuck all y’all.” There will be a period of confusion about whether we have a president or not, and ultimately the Supreme Court will have to decide whether the fuck-you tweet is official-enough notification to make Mike Pence president.

    [Followup.]

    You heard it here first.

    [Various entertaining alternate scenarios proposed.]

    This is what I predict will happen, it’s not what I hope will happen.

    What I hope happens is much closer to the climax of Moana, where someone figures out how to put back into Trump supporters the heart that’s been stolen from inside them, and they are magically unmonsterified. “This is not who you are.” Moana – Know Who You Are

    [A friend posits the Pence-pardons-Trump gambit.]

    That seems like the obvious thing but AIUI a presidential pardon from Pence doesn’t get Trump off the hook for state charges that NY investigators are itching to bring.

    [Followup.]

    The Onion is thinking along the same lines I see. Trump Ties Thousands Of Balloons To White House Roof In Attempt To Sail Away From Impeachment Inquiry

  • A treat! Amazon Prime Video is presently streaming one of my favorite movies, Movie Movie, an homage from 1978 to the old-fashioned double features of the 30’s. The first “feature” is a black-and-white boxing melodrama; the second is a Technicolor musical extravaganza. Both are very tongue-in-cheek and affectionate and hilarious.

    Here’s what makes it extra special. When it was originally released on video in the 80’s, it was the depths of the Ted Turner colorize-everything-yes-even-Casablanca era, and those idiots colorized the boxing melodrama (even though George Burns introduces the film saying the first half’s in black and white). From then until now, that was the only version I’ve been able to find anywhere – but the version on Amazon Prime is restored to its proper form. Hooray! Watch and enjoy.

  • Had a quantum-mechanics insight recently as a result of reading Sean Carroll’s terrific new book, Something Deeply Hidden.

    The book makes a case for the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics, as opposed to the more traditional Copenhagen interpretation.

    In the Copenhagen version, there are many possible outcomes for submicroscopic events, and nature randomly chooses one, but only when the event is “measured” by an “observer.” The probability of each possible outcome is given by a mathematical formula called a wave function, and the process of nature choosing one of those outcomes is called collapse of the wave function. “Measurement by an observer” could be taken to mean interaction with any macroscopic system, as if there’s one set of rules (“quantum physics”) for submicroscopic interactions and another set of rules (“classical physics”) for larger ones.

    Where is the transition from quantum to classical? How does nature choose an outcome? Copenhagen doesn’t say. It just says, “Do the math and you can predict the behavior of nature to an unprecedented degree.” In this it’s right, which explains why the vague epistemic underpinnings of Copenhagen have gone largely unquestioned for so long.

    In the Many Worlds interpretation the wave function does not collapse. When the wave function says a submicroscopic thing can zig left or zag right, then reality branches and both outcomes really happen. When an observer measures the outcome, the observer becomes “entangled” with the possible outcomes and now there are two observers, one who saw the thing zig left and one who saw it zag right.

    What’s the meaning of “are” in that last sentence? Obviously we all experience just a single reality. If I saw the thing zig left, where’s the “me” who saw it zag right?

    This is the insight I had: the other “me” exists in the same sense that the “me” of last year exists. Absolutely real and completely inaccessible from this reality.

    [Friend objects that this would mean other universes are robbing ours of energy.]

    My understanding is that this objection is based on a non-rigorous understanding of the law of conservation of energy.

    When the wave function branches, the total energy after the branch must equal the total energy before. That means that (in the simple case of two equally weighted outcomes) the total has to be shared across two realities, so each has half the energy of before.

    But so what? Inside each reality, the absolute energy of everything is scaled down equally, meaning that the relative amounts of energy remain unchanged, and that’s all that matters to our experience. A muon is still as heavy as 207 electrons, in other words. That it’s half as heavy as a pre-branch muon is irrelevant – there are no pre-branch muons around to compare it with.

    [Friend uses Zeno’s paradox to point out a supposed fallacy: “If they halve the distance between them every 10 seconds, how long until they’re actually touching?”]

    If they also halve their sizes every ten seconds, they’ll never touch. Infinity isn’t just for very very big numbers; it’s also for very very small ones.

    Our intuition says that the total energy value being spread among branching universes must deplete sooner or later, but (a) why should we trust our intuition when it comes to this? and (b) maybe it will, raising the fascinating but completely speculative possibility that there are “leaves” at the ends of the branches of the multiverse to be found when some minimum energy value is reached.

  • Hey, alla youse
    Have you heard the news?
    Today is the birthday
    Of my sister Suze

    I think that she’s fine
    That sister of mine
    But one thing she’s not:
    She’s not twenty-nine

  • Visited Houston last week. Saw this at the Johnson Space Center! It was part of their fiftieth-anniversary celebration of Apollo 11. Who sees the problem here?

    [A friend spots it: it should be Edwin Aldrin, not Edward Aldrin.]

    Of all the places!!

  • Dear Toyota USA,

    We were considering a new RAV4. Welp, not anymore.

    Signed,
    – A California Couple

    Toyota’s Support of Trump Emissions Rules Shocks Californians

  • [During a devastating wildfire season.]

    Incredible (and yet not) that the lack of any word from the White House about the situation in California isn’t news.

    [A friend comments about Trump.]

    To be clear, it is unsurprising and frankly uninteresting that Trump has said nothing. The surprising thing is that no one has commented on his saying nothing; it’s completely normalized now.

  • [Halloween.]

    Selected subject lines from today’s political e-mails:

    • Avoid fright this Election Night
    • A spooky poll
    • Truly scary
    • A scary thought
    • Treats, not tricks
    • Here’s what’s spooky
  • [Friend posts health meme: “Balto didn’t bust his ass across the Alaskan tundra in 1925 to get those vaccines for dying children, for you to send your kids to school without being vaccinated in 2019.”]

    The full story is much, MUCH more amazing than just “hero dog delivers life-saving serum.” Also, Balto gets rather more of the credit than he deserves. Check out The 1925 Serum Run to Nome

  • [In response to scaremongering about the prospect of Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic nominee.]

    If Warren’s elected and her ideas do turn out to be terrible, at least they will have been enacted within the framework of actual policymaking. We’d still have the machinery of government in place to fix any mistakes. But with Trump?

    That’s about all the thought this takes.

  • [Right-wing friends praising Trump’s handling of China.]

    For generations, the United States has been a beacon of hope for people all over the world. Desperate families fleeing violence and crushing poverty have found justice and opportunity here.

    Now when they come, we literally steal their children, sell them into adoption, and give the profits to Betsy DeVos.

    I might feel better about the administration’s efforts on our trade imbalance with China and prison reform and whatever else if it weren’t for little things like that.

    How do you reconcile your support for Trump with that?

    Or with “abusing power for political gain,” “mishandling classified information,” “undermining duly enacted federal law,” “obstruction of Congress,” “obstruction of justice,” “profiting from office,” and “fomenting violence?” (The (Full) Case for Impeachment)

    Or with the strange fact that nearly everything Trump does harms our institutions and alliances and aids Vladimir Putin?

    This is a sincere request for information. I have not yet found any Trump supporter willing or able to answer this question in any way other than “so what? all politicians are crooks,” which is no answer at all. Can you?

    [Crickets.]

  • [On the publication of the White House tell-all A Warning by Anonymous.]

    Prediction: “Anonymous” will turn out to be “John Barron.”

  • Thirty-one years ago
    Upon this date
    Two kids fell in love
    When they stayed up late

    On this very day
    Twenty years before now
    They made it official
    By exchanging a vow

  • [Friend wonders why Trump would pardon soldiers convicted of UCMJ violations over the objections of everyone: “There’s no clear benefit to Trump.”]

    Trump, thinking: “When the shit hits the fan I’ll need the army on my side. Maybe if I pardon some soldiers…”

  • [Friend mentions Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.]

    One of my very favorite books of all time.

  • Northern California doesn’t do fall colors, much, but my street managed to eke this out this morning, for which I’m grateful.

    [Friend writes, Look out for that volcano at the end of the road!]

    Ha. Take a closer look at that “volcano,” those are the real colors of fall around these parts.

  • The buck stops everywhere else.

  • If you’re old enough, you might remember Disco Demolition Night. Literally overnight we all went from listening to disco music on our top 40 stations to asserting “Disco sucks!”

    It’s not that we stopped liking disco music. It was more like oh hey, I have no opinion on this topic and here’s a fun new one to have!

    Of course once we decided to “have” this opinion, we had to defend having it. I personally remember sneering at those who failed to agree that disco sucks.

    This is how I understand Trump’s base of support.
    Disco Demolition Night

    [Followup.]

    Disco lives forever!

  • On what would have been my Mom’s birthday, there are a thousand reasons I wish she were still around, but at least I’ve been spared the constant diagnosing over long-distance phone calls of video-streaming devices and services.

    Oh who am I kidding, I would secretly have loved that. Miss you, Mom.

  • [About the Star Wars-themed Instant Pot.]

    Please let it make the sounds of Aunt Beru’s kitchen.

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Excellent, and I didn’t expect it to be about what it was about.

    Knives Out: Excellent, and I didn’t expect it to be an allegory for what it’s an allegory for.

  • If you have a resolution in mind, why wait for the new year? Meatless Mondays begin for me today.
    Meatless Monday

  • Saturday night. Choose one:

    [01] Alright for fighting
    [02] S, A, T-U-R, D-A-Y… night!
    [03] Everybody loves
    [04] Live from New York, it’s
    [05] Fever
    [06] Divas
    [07] Special
    [08] Sunday morning
    [09] Fish fry
    [10] High n dry
    [11] Another
    [12] One more
    [13] Same old
    [14] Jukebox

  • Competition makes everything better. That’s the whole idea behind democracy, and also capitalism. Without competition, those systems can’t work.

    Unfortunately, the first impulse of a person or a group with some power is to limit the competition they’re subject to. Big companies buy up small challengers. Political parties close access to debates. Anti-trust laws get weakened. Power consolidates.

    America won’t be America again until we can restore robust competition in public and private spheres. That might seem impossible, but Represent.Us has a very credible plan that is already starting to work. They need your help to bring it to full fruition. Please give your money and time.

    End corruption. Defend the Republic.

  • Fallen fire.

  • My nerves are not equal to our current historical moment. The fight-or-flight phrasing of the political e-mails I’m getting are not helping.

  • I was having a rough time dealing with the political news yesterday, as I sometimes do. Getting some family time in after work helped. And so did these words from Heather Cox Richardson’s (amazing, essential) daily summary, which identified my dejection as the calculated product of a group both cynical and desperate, a realization that caused the power of my dejection to evaporate as if by magic.

    “The Republicans are not trying to make a case, or to persuade anyone; they are simply trying to dominate by making this all so painful we stop caring and let them get away with excusing their president for abuses that no one contests.

    “It is a travesty… but remember that they would not behave this way if they thought they had it sewn up. They know their only hope is to convince the majority of Americans, who disapprove of Trump, either to believe their lies or to get so tired of the screaming that they give up. It is classic abusive behavior.”

    https://www.facebook.com/heathercoxrichardson/posts/2096849707125751

  • 75 years ago today, a surprise enemy attack in the Ardennes forest against exhausted and undersupplied American troops marked the beginning of our bloodiest battle in World War II – and, after more than a month of miserable fighting, arguably our greatest victory.

    The threat against American democracy then was not as great as it is now, coming as it does from within, by those whom we have entrusted to protect the Constitution but who have, in word and deed, demonstrated their undisguised hostility to it.

    What must you, a patriotic American, do? Freeze in a ditch through a long Belgian winter without adequate food or clothing while shells explode and shrapnel flies by?

    No, though a hardy earlier generation did just that. If they could do that, YOU can certainly show up at an event TOMORROW AFTERNOON in support of impeachment. Find one near you at https://www.impeach.org/event/impeach-and-remove-attend/search.

    Think showing up won’t make a difference? In fact it’s the one thing the other side fears. PROTESTS WORK. Getting us to think otherwise is their whole strategy. It’s the reason they’ve been spamming the news and social media with deflections, distractions, polling, and scaremongering about impeachment backfiring, etc. It’s to discourage us and wear us down. Don’t fall for it.

    If we don’t preserve the rule of law, you’ll miss it when it’s gone. And you’ll feel even worse knowing you could have done more. SHOW UP.

  • [Friend posts link to article about The Married Kama Sutra, with this excerpt: “When the man is loading the dishwasher, and the woman must come over, because he’s loading it wrong, it is called ‘The Dishwasher Position.’”]

    In our house it’s me who fixes the wrong dish loading of my wife. We’re kinky like that.

  • [Trump is impeached. Friend posts a meme: “America doesn’t need a new president, America needs a new Congress!”]

    I guess you support Trump and disagree with today’s impeachment vote. Can you explain why? I’d sincerely like to understand your position. Because everything I’ve heard to support impeachment is overwhelmingly damning, and nothing I’ve heard in defense of Trump makes a lick of sense.

    [“I don’t really have anything too back up why, but he’s done a lot of good for this country…”]

    “he’s done a lot of good for this country with jobs”

    Are you aware that though the number of jobs has indeed been increasing, another number called the Jobs Quality Index has been plummeting? This means that more jobs than ever are unskilled, low-wage jobs without security or benefits.

    “national debt”

    Are you aware that when Trump took office, the national debt was 19 trillion, and it’s now 23 trillion? Are you aware that the deficit (the amount by which government spending exceeds revenue each year) was declining when he took office, slowing the accumulation of debt, but that it is now growing again?

    “spent more time working with the president and the rest of the republicans”
    “I really don’t expect any [of] them to help each other”

    Are you aware that Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have worked together to create and pass more than three hundred bills, most with strong support from both parties (covering such things as drug prices, election security, and worker pensions), but that Mitch McConnell has sent them all to a “graveyard” in the Senate where he refuses to let them be debated?

    If you were not aware of these things before, does being aware of them change your mind? If not, why not?

    If you were aware of these things before, why are you willing to overlook them?

    As I said before, I really, really want to understand your position. Please help me.

    [“trump isn’t the best president we’ve had but he is better than any of the candidates the Democratic Party had/has too offer”]

    Again I must ask if you’re able to articulate why?

    [“you win”]

    If you think this is about me trying to win something, then I have failed to explain myself, and I lose.

  • In 1980, shortly before the release of The Empire Strikes Back, a Time magazine article previewed and explained the “Episode V” in the opening crawl. (The original Star Wars was not yet “Episode IV: A New Hope.” It was retroactively retitled for a subsequent re-release.) That’s the first we heard of George Lucas’s nine-movie plan, which was then slated to wrap up in 2001. That seemed impossibly far off to 14-year-old me – half again as distant in time as my lifespan so far – but when I made the effort to imagine finally getting to see that film in that unknowable future, it felt like it would be a glorious culmination, a completion, a bookend for the first few volumes of my own life, the apotheosis of moviegoing.

    Now that it’s actually here it feels like just another holiday-season errand to take care of.

  • [“Friend posts link to Warning lights are flashing for Democrats as they impeach Trump.]

    “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

  • [Someone posts a meme of a crying baby labeled “Official seal of the United States Democratic Party” and the comment, “The truth hurts Democrats.”]

    I know I’m making a pest of myself and I’m sorry. But I have a lot of affection and respect for you which is why I am so eager to understand your posting of things like this meme, which makes no sense to me. What purpose could you be trying to serve by insulting so many other Americans, at a time when everyone on all sides complains about the political divide in our country? Where do you think that divide comes from? It comes from you, and people like you, doing things exactly like posting this meme, and signaling in other ways that you refuse to engage with anyone who disagrees with your dear leader.

    How did he become your dear leader, and how did you become convinced that he can never be wrong, so everyone else always must be? That’s what makes no sense to me. That’s what I’m frankly desperate to have you explain. Because the twentieth century sent us many very clear warnings about the destruction and suffering that awaits all of us as long as you and people like you keep deepening the divide instead of trying to reach across.

  • [Ken Olin tweets, “I truly believe the only reason Trump lies so much about things that are incredibly easy to check, is because he’s insane.”]

    Insanity [paraphrased]: doing the same thing again and again and expecting it to work.

    Trump’s lies keep working.

    We keep expecting facts to work against them. We try and try and keep failing.

    We are the insane ones.

2018 in review


My social-media utterances this year, in all their political-anxiety and quixotically-attempting-to-engage-with-the-other-side glory. Leavened by not nearly enough comic relief.

2019, I just want to tell you good luck. We’re all counting on you. (Previously.)

  • “Time to make the donuts” is my first waking thought most days.

  • Visited Kachka recently, and ate “like a Russian” as advised by the menu: with every square inch of the table covered in assorted zakuski and pelmeni, interspersing tastes of everything with shots of three different kinds of vodka. It was amazing. And all I could think of was how much I missed out in the 1980’s, before I knew how to eat, when I politely declined all the unfamiliar Russian dishes Olga Epelboim put in front of me when I visited. I’m sure now that they must have been delicious.

  • Webcomics make the best essays. The Good War

  • [In a comment thread.]

    Animal House, in case you didn’t know, is the greatest comedy ever made, with the possible exceptions of Groundhog Day, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and What’s Up, Doc?

  • [Commenting on (and quoting) a post promoting a right-wing opinion column.]

    “if you read with an open non biased mind (sorry most wont)”

    O the irony.

  • Everyone is wrong. What’s your position on GPS?

  • Earlier today I was despairing. “How does the rule of law come back from a day like today?”

    Then I read @HoarseWisperer’s tweet and I thought, “Oh, maybe this way.”

  • [After the State of the Union address.]

    The best thing you can do today is to donate money to an organization to repudiate the destructive agenda described in last night’s speech. Does it bother you that Trump and his allies are dismantling individual liberties? Donate to the ACLU. That they’re trashing the environment? Donate to the Sierra Club. That they’re enabling hate groups? Donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center. That they’re co-opting the news media? Donate to ProPublica. That they’re undermining the very structures of government? Donate to Indivisible, Flippable, or SisterDistrict (and vote in November!) to elect officials who respect rather than revile the role of government.

    There are a hundred other worthy organizations you could send money to. Choose one, choose two, choose ten. But donate a meaningful amount TODAY – NOW – to help us all send the message loud and clear that we reject the plutocracy the GOP cheered for last night – we want Liberty, we want Justice, and we want them for All.

    Let tomorrow’s headlines be about the outpouring of opposition to Donald Trump and his shameless enablers.

  • [Commented on a post by Dave, a right-wing friend, condemning kneeling during the national anthem, on the grounds that it’s disrespectful to the armed forces.]

    Suppose a white man shoots a young black kid to death and gets away with it by telling a jury nothing more than “a black kid in a hoodie made me afraid for my safety.”

    Suppose a cop gets away with basically the same exact thing.

    Suppose that happens again and again and again and again. Suppose it happens hundreds and hundreds of times in places all over the country and there’s no sign of things ever changing for the better.

    Suppose the collective apathy about this crisis offends your conscience. And suppose you’re a celebrity. You’d like to use your renown to give something back to the country that made you a star. You don’t want to make too big a thing out of it – no speeches, no marches, no boycotts – just a quiet symbolic gesture in the hope that it will raise awareness.

    What would you do?

    [Friend responded that I can’t keep up this “insane liberal rage” for seven more years.]

    Not rage. A sincere question. What would you do?

    I’m curious. Why did this read to you as “insane rage”?

    [And when Chris chimed in with, “Don’t try to have an intelligent conversation with a liberal. It just won’t work.”]

    That can be taken either way. Not knowing you, it’s impossible to tell who you’re insulting, me or Dave!

    [And when the thread went silent.]

    I posed a simple question above: “What would you do?”

    I didn’t get an answer. But I did get called a liberal, twice.

    What about my question makes me a liberal? My question barely expresses any opinions; it just lays out a hypothetical (a thinly veiled one, I admit). If there’s any opinion that comes through, it’s a hatred of injustice.

    But that’s universal. Don’t you hate injustice too?

    [And finally…]

    So rather than get an answer I got called a liberal, as if that excuses conservatives from engaging with me.

    But we are countrymen together. Neither of us is going away. It is our civic obligation to engage with one another. To compromise. America has at times been excellent at this – and those are the times America has been best.

    What’s the alternative? Constantly to undermine one another? Whose agenda does that serve?

    The truth is, liberals and conservatives agree on most things. We all want safe food and drugs, clean air and water, adequate pay for honest work, fair elections, peace, justice, public safety.

    But no politician ever won office by telling you how much they’re like their opponent. So they must find the fissures of disagreement, drive a wedge there, and hammer, hammer, hammer. If they do it enough you can start to believe that your political opponents – your fellow Americans! – are traitorous threats to your very way of life. Don’t fall for it.

    They have to keep us hating each other to keep the money and the votes flowing. But it’s not liberals vs. conservatives. It’s all of us against the fuckers that want to keep us divided.

  • Gotta become a billionaire now so I can mount a vanity space mission to recover Elon’s Tesla.

    Glad finally to have a reason.

  • TFW a complex narrative dream draws to a satisfying conclusion and you wake up naturally five minutes before the time you had the alarm set for.

  • [In reply to @TomiLahren’s tweet, “Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda?”]

    Is it time to talk about last week’s massacre yet?
    The one the week before that?
    The one the week before that?
    The one the week before that?

  • [Replying to a gun-rights maximalist in a comment thread after another mass shooting.]

    “semi automatic weapons were around for decades before these Mass shootings became so common”

    My pet theory: we are collectively too wealthy. Our homes have gotten too big and comfortable. We therefore spend too much time in them and too little in common spaces, disintegrating our communities.

    Whether that’s true or not, positively identifying deep societal problems won’t happen any time soon, to say nothing of fixing them. In the meantime, the next gun massacre will happen soon. This is an emergency. I suggest sensible gun-control measures. What practical solution do you suggest? It should be something other than “get people wondering whether guns are the real problem.”

  • [In another comment thread about how to address the problem of school shootings.]

    There are over 90,000 schools in the country. Stationing a single $30k-per-year rent-a-cop at each one of them will cost $2.7 billion and offhand doesn’t seem like it will accomplish very much. Even if that money were available I’m sure many of those schools would prefer to spend it on more teachers, new textbooks, heat in the winter, etc.

  • [Mueller indicts Russian spies with ties to the President; Congressman Nadler mentions possibility of impeachment; right-wing friend says Nadler should get voted out.]

    Have you read this week’s Mueller indictment? It’s here: https://www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download

    If you “can’t believe” what Nadler’s talking about, then you have to be prepared to refute the numerous specific, credible allegations in that document laying out the means and motives for a concerted and ongoing criminal conspiracy by foreign nationals to disrupt our electoral process and other civic functions.

    Or you have to believe that protecting against that kind of threat isn’t required of the President. In which case, have you read his job description? It’s here: http://constitution.findlaw.com/article2.html

    [Another in the thread writes, “Democrats are not only Stupid, they are IDIOTARDS!”]

    If that’s your attitude, how do you propose to make common cause with them? We are, after all, one nation, and Democrats comprise very many of your countrymen.

    If we can’t focus on the things that unite us, governing by compromise and concession like every generation for 150 years has managed to do, we’ll descend into endless squabbling at least, and perhaps even tear ourselves apart – either of which outcome benefits other major players on the world stage.

    Don’t follow their script.

    [Still another, Gregg, asks, “What does Nadler want POTUS to do declare war on Russia?”]

    There are many, many steps that can be taken before war. Sanctions. Freezing of assets. Dedicating the resources to strengthen those institutions that are under attack. Making a damn speech.

    A great start would be to stop trying to undermine the investigation that’s uncovering all this.

    [Gregg responds that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because of sanctions.]

    Are you arguing that, because it led to the attack on Pearl Harbor, we should not have organized the global embargo of Japan? Even after it had invaded China and attacked American, British, and Dutch interests (to say nothing of their brutality towards the Chinese)? Even when their expansionist plans were clear, and threatened our allies? What should we have done – nothing?

    In the eighty years since then, sanctions, freezing of assets, expulsions of ambassadors, punitive tariffs, and other common tools of diplomatic pressure have been used innumerable times all around the world, hardly ever leading to war.

    What should we do now? Not declare war, but not do anything that might provoke a hostile response – so, nothing?

  • [Comment thread with gun-rights maximalist Derick, asking what if you need to defend against home invasion.]

    If I were seriously afraid of that possibility, my first step would be putting steel bars on all my windows, and reinforcing my front door – measures that might reduce my home’s curb appeal but at least don’t require extending dangerous rights to murderous maniacs. The fact that many people claiming to need assault weapons for home defense don’t take other simpler measures first suggests to me that there’s something else going on.

    [Derick asks, what if it happens anyway? What would you do?]

    What would I do? Comply with their demands and hope for the best. Anything else is a Hollywood fantasy.

    My gun would of course be locked in a gun safe, and my ammunition would be locked away separately – basics of responsible gun ownership. Most of the ways a home invasion scenario could unfold would not permit me to get my weapon and the ammunition for it and load it and be ready to use it. Plus I’d have to believe in the first place that that’s the best way to survive the situation. The situations in which I believed that and could get and load my gun AND couldn’t get the job done except with a military assault rifle are fewer still.

    Why obsess over this scenario? You take a bigger risk going outside without sunscreen.

    [Why he obsesses: it happened to his young daughters.]

    That’s a horrifying story. I’m glad it turned out OK […]

    However, nothing in your story suggests that the acquisition of murder-spree quantities of munitions by mentally unbalanced teens must remain completely frictionless.

  • [Friend asks what to do when confronted with an idiotic proposal like arming teachers: dignify with a response, or ignore and cede the debate?]

    “What to do?”

    This: @profmusgrave’s tweet

    Don’t tell people they’re idiots. They won’t hear you. Ask questions that expose their idiocy.

  • [After another mass shooting.]

    Of course it’s violent videogames, it’s gotta be. Unless there are any counterexamples, like countries that have violent videogames and no mass-shooting epidemic. 🤔

  • [Regarding the outspoken survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.]

    Why are kids having success speaking truth to power when the rest of us have not for so long? Not because they are recently traumatized. It’s because Fox hasn’t spent decades laying the groundwork for how to ignore and belittle them.

  • I’ve been telling my kids, “My generation is leaving a mess yours is going to have to clean up.” AND IT’S HAPPENING. 😍 @LittleMissFlint’s tweet

  • The NRA changed from being about shooting targets and food to shooting people. RAWR

  • I refuse to buy anything in the “For Dummies” line of products and so should you.

  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman is streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s an unusual movie in which Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons play dual roles: lovers in 19th-century England, and the actors portraying those lovers in the film-within-a-film being shot in the modern day. Period scenes are intercut with modern scenes; the two stories parallel each other.

    I cannot stop thinking about a scene in which the actors are rehearsing a moment in the film. It’s the simplest little moment: he sees her, she sees him. They start to run through it but are casual and unfocused. They are actors, acting. They perform it something like I imagine I would (my acting skills never having developed beyond the sixth grade). Then she says, “let’s just do it again” and they do. An alchemical transformation takes place. Suddenly they are in the scene, they are their characters. Even though it’s the same two people in the same little room on the same dreary afternoon, somehow, all at once, it’s not – and that’s before the scene abruptly jumps back to the 19th century. It is pure magic, and it proves the adage that good acting is the best special effect. The French Lieutenant’s Woman Clip – Scene Rehearsal

  • [Right-wing friend lauds Trump for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.]

    North Korea has sought a meeting with an American president since the 1990s. That Trump chooses to engage now signals to every other third world dictator that their best bet is to develop a nuclear program too.

  • Signing into any website and clicking the Remember Me checkbox now triggers a big Mexican musical number in my head. #Coco

  • We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because we need a Space Force. #iftrumpsaidit

  • December 7th, 1941, a famous, very very famous date. #iftrumpsaidit

  • Fuck. If this is true, the moment of truth is fast approaching when we must all stand and fight, maybe literally, in a showdown between democracy and totalitarianism. @BillKristol’s tweet

  • Mr. Gorbachev, build this wall! #iftrumpsaidit

  • Speak softly and carry – I’m the softest speaker, OK? The. Softest. No one speaks softer than me. And I do, I carry a big stick. A serious, serious stick. #iftrumpsaidit

  • The only thing we have to fear is rapists from Mexico. #iftrumpsaidit

  • Ask not what your country can do for you. I’ll tell you what your country can do for you. Not much, I can tell you that. #iftrumpsaidit

  • [Friend reports his kid found a VHS tape and had no idea what it was. They couldn’t watch the tape, but found an online version to watch.]

    When you’re done streaming, remember: be kind, rewind

  • [On high school classmate Cynthia Nixon running for governor.]

    I have been hearing Edward Everett Horton announce in disbelief “The Governor of New York State!” all day long. Pocketful of Miracles clip

  • Really, really pleased to be able to share the past several months’ work by the thoughtful and talented team at Chain: TxVM, the transaction virtual machine. Introducing TxVM, the Transaction Virtual Machine

  • Hey, wait a second, babies don’t lactate. Just what is Holland trying to pull?

  • McConnell doing something sensible? I am so confused. Sen. Mitch McConnell pushes bill to legalize hemp

    There just has to be something corrupt behind this.

  • [Responding to a cynical post about the questionable new policy of making Parkland students wear clear backpacks and ID badges.]

    “Welcome to the futility of adulthood.”

    It’s just more difficult than most expect, not futile. If it were futile to try achieving things through collective action, we’d still have slavery, women wouldn’t have the vote, everyone would fear smallpox, there’d be no flag on the moon, rivers in Ohio would routinely catch fire, and we’d all have to be covered head-to-foot on sunny days because of ozone depletion.

  • @Emma4Change is not the first E.González to affect presidential politics.

  • [Friend says he has a “+5 dog of cuddling.”]

    The dragon attacks! You say, “Fluffy, cuddle!” Fluffy nuzzles the dragon. They curl up together. You loot the gold.

  • Dear Jeff Bezos, George Soros, or whoever: please buy a controlling interest in Sinclair Broadcast Group. A steal at $1.6 billion. Thanks!

  • [In a thread about the evils of social media.]

    Social media has its problems, no doubt about that. But without it, how many of you would I be in touch with? How many of my ideas could I get across, and how many of yours could I absorb? Would politicians feel compelled to pay attention to the Parkland kids? Could we go back to relying solely on the mainstream press? Could the (much diminished) mainstream press even do its job without using social-media posts as informal stringers?

    The techno-utopianist in me is not dead yet. If these platforms can be made savvier, and if we can become savvier in how we use them – as earlier generations did with their brand-new forms of media – I believe they may be the very key to reversing the divisions they have sown.

  • The name of a character in my dream last night: Dr. Fishfuffy.

  • [In reply to @AoDespair’s tweet]

    Because when you actually are supreme you don’t have to go around insisting you are.

  • [In reply to @iiTalW’s tweet, “People who can’t distinguish between etymology and entomology bug me in ways I cannot put into words.”]

    Laughed so hard I almost needed an enterologist.

  • Welcome to America, where we don’t care what you’re famous for as long as you’re famous.

  • [Eleven years after Mom died.]

    Neil Diamond karaoke at the top of my voice. Miss you, Mom.

  • React to Trump with sputtering outrage and you’re playing on his turf. You have no chance. Stay cool, calm, confident, and classy, and he’s defenseless.

  • Dear @ATT, if you really think pay-for-play was a mistake, you’ll renounce the fruits of that deal. Otherwise, you really only think getting caught was a mistake.

  • [In reply to @jasontoff’s tweet]

    Just this week my long-time dental hygienist confessed to me she’s had plenty of cavities, “same as anyone.”

  • [In another comment thread about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.]

    “I remember when I could go to a concert, a movie, or a ballgame and not deal with politics.”

    People who aren’t professionals, or straight, or white, or men read that and think, “Imagine being so privileged you could ignore politics.”

  • I like the way the word “continuum” sounds and wish we pronounced “vacuum” the same way.

  • [Latin professor friend asks me to turn a comment about her cat into a haiku.]

    [reporting for duty]

    Snoring Percy dreams
    While I write Latin exams:
    “Dormiens bonum”

  • [Trump tweets, “Great meeting with Kim Kardashian today, talked about prison reform and sentencing.” Friend posts it with the comment, “I rebooted my router but I still seem to be living in some insane nonsense universe.”]

    When did we fork off of the sensible timeline?

    I think it was at the moment that presidential stain landed on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, though no one could have known at the time the power it would grant to the forces of Chaos. In the movie they’ll make someday about this era, that instant will be freighted with significance via super-slow-motion (tastefully, somehow, I hope), accompanied by a dissonant orchestral crescendo and spinny kaleidoscopic visuals to represent a Rip in Reality.

  • [Smartphone display design trends vs. slow recovery from hurricane devastation.]

    I see the word “notch” in my various news feeds about ten times as often as I see “Puerto Rico.”

  • [Comment thread about science headline, “Process takes CO2 from the air, converts it to carbon nanotubes.]

    Coming soon: “Desperate scientists seek ways to resuscitate plant life and reduce widespread fires after oxygen/CO2 imbalance.”

    Also: “Carbon nanotube lobby disputes atmosphere imbalance is human-caused.”

  • Sitting in a Starbucks, listening to a mom who has clearly forgotten what it is to be a child trying to talk her young daughter out of a sugary snack… by describing what’s in it. “It’s marshmallow and white frosting. No.” “PLEEEEEASE.”

    Child abuse.

  • [In reply to @adamdavidson’s tweet, “After showing some Trump-supporters statistics that quickly disprove their pro-Trump/anti-Obama economic claims, I have come to the following conclusion: This isn’t about facts.”]

    Disagree. The facts will matter in the end. The challenge first, though, is getting those facts past the rhetorical defenses erected by the likes of Fox News.

  • Inhumane work conditions > labor unions > “Capitalism works, who needs unions?”
    Racism/sexism > civil rights laws > “We are equal, who needs laws?”
    Horrifying diseases > vaccines > “No epidemics, who need vaccines?”
    Tyranny > democracy > “No tyrants, who needs democracy?”
    #wcgw

  • Woke up this morning reluctantly realizing that I need to do the right thing and turn myself in for my recent act of theft and vandalism, if for no other reason than to spite Donald Trump by showing how one takes responsibility for one’s actions. A few weeks ago I stole an unattended new ferry boat on a lark, piloted it up one of Marin’s waterways, ran it aground in some shallows, and then hiked out of there. I’ve nervously been following news reports of the incident since then. A lot of people had been inconvenienced cleaning up after my little stunt, and I caused at least tens of thousands in property damage. I wanted to give myself up before the investigation led to me. I was probably headed for jail.

    It was only after I’d been awake for several minutes that I slowly became convinced, with growing relief, that none of this had ever actually happened. Instead it’s been an interlocking series of dreams I’ve been having over the past few weeks.

    Or has it? Maybe it was just one dream, with a depth-of-time illusion as one aspect of it, making it seem like I was remembering things from weeks ago when I wasn’t really. How would I know the difference?

    Have you ever had a series of dreams telling a continuing story across days or weeks? Are you sure?

  • The guy who took the seat right next to me on the ferry when there were still plenty of others available, and who I therefore automatically resented even though the ferry was bound to fill up anyway, just gave up his seat to a young mom standing with babe in arms, so now I have to admire him, dammit.

  • [Right-winger in comment thread concedes that kids and even babies in terribly understaffed and underequipped detention centers is “not a great situation” but what can you do?]

    Not a great situation? Short of a massacre, this is among the most monstrous abuses in human history.

    [Right-winger blames the countries they’re fleeing and asks how I would handle it.]

    When I worked at Google, there was a philosophy called “That’s our problem.” If the user wants to search for something but misspells a word, that’s not their problem, that’s our problem. If they’re too impatient to wait 600 milliseconds for a web page to load, that’s not their problem, that’s our problem. We have to make things right for the user even in light of those problems.

    Laying blame accomplishes exactly nothing. If people are leaving other countries to come here, that’s our problem. We have to make things right.

    Generations of immigrants have come to this country without our tearing babies from their mothers’ arms, putting them in cages, and permanently blighting their lives. It’s hard to imagine any crisis that would make this necessary, and there certainly isn’t one now. So my answer to your question, “How would you handle it?” is “Any of the other ways America has handled immigration before now.”

  • A true horror story.

    There’s a chip in the paint on a wall in my house. Every time it catches my eye, a part of my brain immediately goes, “Is it a spider?” and I turn to look right at it. No, it’s not a spider.

    This happened enough times that I finally trained myself not to look at that spot every time it catches my eye. I know it’s not a spider.

    The other day it WAS a spider.

    The end.

    [Good luck ever sleeping again!]

  • [Friend points out all the good that spiders do for us.]

    My forebrain says the same thing. My hindbrain begs to differ.

  • If we can just get @HillaryClinton to go on TV and say, “Caging small children is just and right and we should do more of it,” I think Republicans would all say, “It’s sinful and cruel!” and would end the policy immediately.

  • In the midst of all the shouting about immigration comes Malcolm Gladwell’s latest podcast episode that explains how strengthening border enforcement over the past few decades, with the best intentions and under irreproachable leadership, paradoxically produced more illegal immigration, not less. General Chapman’s last stand

  • [In reply to @clmazin’s tweet]

    I get your point, but maybe not the best example. Have you seen the original Star Wars script before Lucas’s friends helped to hone it?

  • [In the midst of outrage over child detention, Melania wore a jacket that said “I really don’t care, do u?” Her spokesperson said there was no hidden message.]

    It’s true, there was no hidden message. It wasn’t hidden.

  • [In reply to @adamdavidson’s tweet]

    “Own the Libs”

    3 liberals & 3 conservatives debate a topic for 20mins, live. Viewers vote in real-time on who’s winning.

    R’s tune in to see D’s get owned, the seeming outcome most of the time. Meanwhile it’s breaching the barrier keeping left-wing ideas out of right-wing minds.

  • Them: “Bakers can refuse service to gay couples!”
    Us: “Intolerance is wrong.”
    Them: “Restaurants kicked us out!”
    Us: “Yay!”
    Them: “Oh so now it’s OK?”

    Yes. Intolerance is the thing it’s OK not to tolerate.

  • We have 1/20th the Congressional representation George Washington wanted us to have. Homeopathic democracy

  • [In reply to @EmilyGorcenski’s tweet]

    Most folks just follow the dominant narrative. Today that narrative is told by Fox News. Those same folks would have cheered the defeat of fascism in WWII, but only incidentally. They’ll incidentally be on the right side of history again only when our side tells a better story.

  • Without due process, you’re an undocumented immigrant and can be deported. Oh, you’re not? Prove it! Sorry, there’s no process for proving it.

  • Can Trump be sued for persistent elevated cortisol levels caused by an unending state of emergency, undoubtedly contributing to a shortened lifespan? Asking for a friend.

  • [Friend despairing over child-detention crisis just doesn’t know what to do.]

    Vote. Register others to vote. Donate money. Donate time. Call your representatives. Attend protests. Join organizations.

    Our generation got used to the idea of coasting on the victories of the past, but that is now over. Democracy means we are the ones who have to make things happen, no one else.

  • Things we used to think were great:
    – White bread
    – Bill Cosby
    – Capitalism

  • Tl;dr – Everyone wake the f up before this becomes a nightmare we can’t wake up from. @SethAbramson’s tweet

  • [In a comment thread about ICE destroying records of abuse in its detention centers, a friend asks who will step up to stop them.]

    You and millions like you, NOW. Otherwise, nobody.

  • Nothing says the Supreme Court has to have nine members. Vote like hell so we can turn a six-member majority into a six-member minority.

  • Money talks. But we can make money SCREAM. #generalstrike

  • It’s all Bill Clinton’s fault. He succeeded too well in moving the party to the right. It co-opted the GOP’s best positions, hollowing it out and leaving it with nothing but extremism.

  • [Right-wing friend posts an unflattering photo of a frowning Maxine Waters, captioned “The new face of the Democrat party. It is mean, angry, and hates our great country.”]

    What about this picture makes you think Ms. Waters is expressing hatred of our country? Maybe instead it’s hatred of misogyny, or of racism, or of attacks on children traumatized by gun violence, or of inaction in the face of multiple humanitarian crises, or of self-dealing, or of three thousand documentable lies, or of monumental ethics violations, or of fawning over autocrats, or of fucking BABY JAILS, or of wrecking alliances, or of pointless and costly trade wars, or of bankrupting the country to reward the super-rich, or of not lifting a finger to defend the Constitution against its most dire foreign threat in history.

    I mean, maybe it’s hatred of our country, but I think I know what hatred of our country really looks like, and it’s not a facial expression.

  • [In reply to @CollinRugg’s tweet, “The Annapolis shooting is the best news the Left has heard all week. They can now pretend like they care about gun violence and use ever trick in the book to make Trump look bad. Sad!”]

    If you believe the goal of politics is to make one another look bad, you are under the sway of those trying to tear this country apart.

    Please join those of us who believe the goal is to do the most good for the people most in need.

  • [Responding to a friend posting about Germans in WWII failing to foresee the depths of evil they were headed for.]

    This does not help answer a perhaps-unanswerable question: fight or flight? If we stay, are we fools not to learn from their experience, because another holocaust is inevitable? If we flee, are we abandoning the country to its worst elements and thereby maybe causing another holocaust?

  • Grieving is a process. Let’s grieve, and let’s get through it so we can get to the next, more useful step. The America We Thought We Knew Is Gone

  • [After right-wing friend reposts propaganda item, made to look like a CNN tweet, quoting Maxine Waters saying next Supreme Court justice should be an illegal immigrant.]

    Fraudulent Twitter account suspended. (”@CnnPoltics” is missing an “i.”)

    Please be less eager to believe and spread misinformation like this, whose goal is to sow chaos and division. We need the opposite.

  • It works on me, and on everyone I know. But good news: forewarned is forearmed. @LincolnsBible’s tweet

  • I don’t want a blue wave in November. That’s too “us-vs-them,” which is how we got into this mess to begin with.

    I want record-breaking turnout for a renewal of American values: fairness, decency, justice, courage. A red-white-and-blue wave.

  • [On Fox News dropping the “democratic” from the phrase “democratic socialism” to whip up opposition.]

    I’ve been saying (to some DSA friends of mine) that they need better branding, for just that reason. I suggested “asymptotic capitalism.”

  • Talked to an in-law of mine in rural PA who is a Trump supporter. I asked why. He said:

    1. He’s a billionaire so doesn’t have to take shit from anyone.

    2. There are too many bleeding hearts.

    3. His in-your-face style is refreshing.

    4. Sure he’s out for himself, but so are all politicians.

    5. What’s up with tearing apart families at the border? Immigrants who follow the rules should be allowed in, those who don’t should be sent back, simple as that.

    6. Too busy and tired all the time to pay close attention to everything going on.

    This is not a raging libtard hater. This is a sensible, hardworking family man with some strong opinions who has internalized the Trump triumphalism he hears all around him because why wouldn’t he?

    He respects my intelligence and was genuinely taken aback to hear me use the word “frightened” to describe my feelings about Trump.

    When he becomes convinced of the truth behind everything he will turn on the GOP with a vengeance, no question.

    Hard to extrapolate from a single data point but I sense this describes very, very many Trump voters.

    Convinces me that @adamdavidson is right: making the truth clear and accessible is the challenge of our time. @adamdavidson’s tweet

  • [In a comment thread about an opinion article, headline “Susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than partisan bias.”]

    My experience has been that you can’t tell a Trump voter anything, but if you ask questions (without rancor) meant to make them repeat out loud the policies they supposedly agree with, the rational brain engages and they have a meaningful “hmm” moment.

  • [In reply to @owillis’s tweet]

    “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed”

  • [Ahead of the Trump-Putin meeting.]

    Putin wanted sanctions eliminated, NATO weakened, trade disrupted, and Americans at each other’s throats. Mission accomplished. What do you suppose he will instruct Trump to do next? #TreasonSummit

  • Tomorrow’s front page. Find your courage and make it happen, Nytimes.com. You know it’s the right thing. #TreasonSummit

  • [Dan Rather tweets, “The President… trusts the word of a former KGB agent over the consensus of the American intelligence community backed by a ton of facts… Everyone who excuses Trump’s behavior must answer that now.” Right-wing acquaintance calls it “fake news.”]

    Please suppose for a moment that what the left says about Trump is true: his many bankruptcies left his finances in a shambles that he could repair only by becoming an important cog in an international money-laundering scheme dominated by Russian oligarchs and therefore by Putin, and that Trump is therefore dependent on Putin for his very sense of self, since Trump defines himself by his wealth. Putin exploits this dependence to dismantle the institutions (the WTO, NATO, the U.S. State Department) that oppose his ambitions.

    The left sees evidence of this hypothesis in everything Trump does, and also in the things he fails to do (like cancel the summit meeting, or at least have others in attendance, or confront Putin, or expel diplomats, or make a speech defending the integrity of our elections, or release his tax returns, or, hell, devise a disparaging nickname for Putin like he’s done for seemingly everyone else). Clearly you do not.

    So, question: supposing these things are true, what would it take to convince you?

    [Normally prolific acquaintance never replied.]

  • [On the giant Jeff Goldblum statue that appeared in London.]

    “What is he, making fun of me?”

  • [Friend says the proposed new slogan for the Democratic party is weak and suggests and alternative.]

    I agree “for the people” could be strengthened (is it supposed to imply, “…and not the corporations”?), but I disagree “truth not treason” is a good slogan. It’s unnecessarily inflammatory and confrontational to too many fellow Americans, and focuses too narrowly on one current crisis facing the country.

  • To my supporters: NEVER EVER PAY ATTENTION TO NEWS MEDIA OTHER THAN FOX OR I WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER AN ADMINISTRATION THAT CAN DEFLECT EVERY ACCUSATION. BE CREDULOUS!

  • Aw man, they’re taking away most of the rest of the YouTube video-editing tools. YouTube Enhancements (other than Blur and Trim) are going away August 22

    Previously: Requiem for Warhol

  • Welcome to 2018, where our best chance to save America from the corrupting influence of Russia is to embrace socialism.

  • When the breeze is out a-wooing
    Who can woo so well?

  • [In a thread about vanished childhood restaurants.]

    For a few years in elementary school, approximately everyone, including me, had their birthday parties in the party room at Jahn’s. It looked like this.

    The only thing I really remember from Jahn’s was cheating at a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. My victory was tinged with a shame I’ve never forgotten.

  • Wondrous is our great blue ship
    That sails around the mighty sun
    And joy to everyone that rides along!

  • [Friend posted “CHOOSE THE FORM OF THE DESTRUCTOR”]

    Media consolidation.

  • [Right-wing friend posts in favor of Trump withdrawing from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.]

    Can you explain why you think this is the right policy? I haven’t heard a coherent argument in favor. Maybe if you can articulate yours, I would agree too.

    [No answer, but someone else, Allan, writes we’re the greatest country in the world, then asks me why I think Trump’s move is wrong.]

    Here’s some of the argument I’ve heard against this policy:
    – We abandoned an earlier agreement. This harms our ability to negotiate other agreements in the future.
    – We betrayed the allies with whom we negotiated the agreement. This harms our alliances.
    – If we’re all stick and no carrot, we back Iran into a corner and compel it to get its own stick.

    Here’s where your points don’t ring true with me:
    – “We need to let these countries know that we won’t be intimidated by them” In fact everyone can see that nuclear states like Pakistan and North Korea are able to punch far above their weight. With the U.S. behaving in a hostile and unpredictable manner, racing towards acquiring nuclear weapons is Iran’s rational best move. The idea behind the agreement was to give them a better move.
    – “They can’t build a nuclear arsenal if we choke off their money supply” That didn’t stop North Korea. Sanctions fall most heavily on ordinary citizens; governments always have ways to fund their most essential projects, and under these sanctions very little will have higher priority than this.

    [Allan responds “I don’t believe in giving our country away like most liberals” and “What we really should do is level the entire place and see what grows next.”]

    “clearly nothing I say would ring true to you”

    That’s not at all clear to me. I just responded to a couple of specific points you made. I hope you won’t generalize from that to conclude we can’t have a discussion. I would genuinely like to understand your point of view better.

    I am particularly interested to know what you think “leveling the entire place” means, and what that would achieve.

    [No response.]

  • In my dream last night, I was a test pilot flying fighter jets.

    Thank you, brain.

  • If you tell a salmon that its fate is to be eaten, I doubt it would be surprised. But I’m curious to know what its reaction would be after you explain that it will be smoked, sliced, and placed atop a bagel with cream cheese and capers and red onion.

  • [Outrage over reports that Google knows your location even if you disable “Location History.”]

    That Google has a record of your location even if you turn off Location History in the Maps app is not a surprise, and wouldn’t be news if people were more technologically literate.

    Apps that use location data all depend on your device reporting it to them. Restricting one app’s use of that data doesn’t stop your device reporting it to other apps, nor should it.

    [Friend objects that people mistakenly expected Google engineers to act with greater integrity.]

    The Location History team created a feature that records your location history, and a way to disable that feature. When disabled, that feature stores no data. They didn’t lack integrity: they said what they did and they did what they said. Instead, they were naive: they believed that “disable location history” would mean to users the same thing it means to them.

    The situation is similar to the way people misunderstood Chrome’s “incognito mode,” which resulted in this warning screen. Something similar is needed for “disable location history.”

    [Much discussion ensues. Friend comments, “I’ve long been impressed at the mindfulness our pedagogue elders who dominated the academic environment there tried to care about the threat of mass surveillance… The state of Teh Valley is a real shock relative to my expectations of social norms formed back then.”]

    I strongly agree with this sentiment. Some of that old guard was among the leadership at Google when I started there, and during my time there a lot of them left, taking a certain antiestablishment ethos with them that was absent in their replacements. I hope that current events are helping to mold a new generation of technohippies.

    [Another friend observes, “This puts way too much of a burden on the individual, presumably non-tech savvy, user.”]

    The trajectory of my career, and of the industry at large, has been approximately: “Let’s share our love of computers with everyone oh shit everyone has computers now.”

  • Trump is the Icarus of organized crime.

  • [Friend asks, “Is anyone keeping a list of all the stuff we’re going to need to put back eventually?” Another suggests, “System restore to November 7, 2016.”]

    You mean, when half the electorate was ready to overlook “grab them by the pussy”? Nooo thank you.

    If we put things back just the way they were, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves getting the same result again. How about if we imagine some new better ways we’d like things to be?

  • Lived here looong ago. Weirdly chose today to google “grover cleveland mural” and found this article, which didn’t exist a week ago. @MichaelHPerlman’s tweet

  • [Friend posts, “DO NOT impeach Trump. It will embolden his base.”]

    I don’t disagree. But, counterpoint: The Constitution, use it or lose it. If we play politics with enforcing the law, we’re no better than the other side.

    Of course the framers recognized that impeachment is in the intertidal zone between politics and law, which is what makes the situation so tricky.

  • [Discussion ensues.]

    “they’ll claim he would have delivered everything he promised if the Democrats hadn’t nitpicked him out of office”

    That’s going to happen no matter what, with some Trump supporters. I sense that very many of his supporters are more like this though: @geebobg’s tweet. For those supporters, the important thing isn’t so much letting Trump self-destruct; it’s making the depth of his cravenness and criminality clear and undeniable. (And I agree the way to proceed there is to let this nightmare unspool a while longer.)

  • Escrow fund for orphaned works. Gets $ from the sale of every movie/song/etc. with a copyright whose owner can’t be determined. If you can prove ownership in some copyright, you can draw from the fund. Solves the missing-movies problem?

  • I’m not sure about the premise of this article. I mean, how many diehard Trump voters even know about everything that’s going on? Fox News sure isn’t telling them.

    Americans love a strong leader, sure. But they hate being conned. Just wait until the truth of everything starts seeping through to those voters. Nothing Donald Trump can do will drive his voters away: If last week didn’t do it, what will?

    [Discussion ensues. Friends doubt Trump supporters will ever realize they’ve been conned.]

    I don’t think I made my point clearly. It’s this: Fox News and other similar outlets have done a very effective job of cocooning much of the nation in pro-Trump propaganda on the one hand, and on the other hand training viewers to reject information from unaligned sources when it leaks into the cocoon. Under that premise, there is no mystery to Trump’s rock-steady base: they simply haven’t gotten the memo. Inevitably, they will, and they will hate, hate, hate how they’ve been manipulated.

    [“I think you’re overly optimistic here, Bob.”]

    Well, if I’m overly optimistic it wouldn’t be the first time. But note, I’m not claiming that some diehard Trump supporters won’t remain – clearly some will, no matter what. I’m claiming that very many supporters aren’t the diehard-no-matter-what types, and we haven’t heard from them only because they’re shielded from reality. When that shield fails, the situation won’t be exactly analogous to Nixon, who, for all the wrong he did, never seriously betrayed conservative principles, and even did some good while in office. Trump has neither of those advantages.

    This is, after all, the country that elected Barack Obama and popular-vote-elected Hillary Clinton.

  • [A friend writes, “I’ll be wearing my YGG cap – You Got Got!!”]

    A sure way to inhibit those who might otherwise be ready to admit they were wrong.

  • An update on TxVM, Chain’s blockchain transaction format and contract language. With examples! Feature development with TxVM

  • [Left-wing friend posts chart showing soaring corporate profits and stagnant wage growth. Right-wing friend responds with CNBC article, “Pay gains during Trump’s first year in office are the best since the Great Recession. I read and fact-check the article.]

    The headline, and much of the text in the article, is misleading. It cherrypicks a statistic called the Employment Cost Index, which is the cost to employers of the wages they pay and the benefits they provide. This number is indeed higher than at any time during the Obama administration. But it’s also not a “headline” statistic (i.e., one you hear about routinely in the news) because it does not convey the experience of ordinary Americans.

    I won’t include a link here because you’ll accuse me of cherrypicking in return, but I encourage you to Google the phrase “u.s. wage trend” and click through to multiple sources. What you’ll see is that wages are doing OK, but not superlatively so.

    [Right-winger writes, “Are you saying that the media from mainstream nbc news is misleading the people by fake news or filtered news or biased facts and misleading headlines? I need only subscribe to the articles you trust? Is that what you are saying?]

    Nope. I’m saying that article is misleading. I am not generalizing to NBC as a whole, the mainstream media, or anything else. I am recommending that you synthesize your information from a cross-section of different sources (for all things, always, not just politics), because you can’t tell in isolation when a particular source is biased. Even if that source is me 😉

  • Something fun!

    I’d like to try out some quiz questions about technological literacy. Care to be a guinea pig? Answer any of these questions in the comments below. Please, no cheating by looking things up or asking around: just state your own understanding.

    Please don’t be shy: my expectation is that everyone outside the computer industry has wrong or incomplete ideas about these questions. I’m interested in what those wrong or incomplete ideas are. COMMENTS THAT SHAME OR RIDICULE OTHERS’ ANSWERS WILL BE DELETED.

    SORRY, COMPUTER-INDUSTRY FRIENDS, YOU’RE EXCLUDED. But feel free to suggest your own questions in comments below.

    1. What is the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web?
    2. What is the difference between Google Chrome and Google Search?
    3. What is the difference between HTTP and HTML?
    4. What is the difference between HTTP and HTTPS?
    5. What are cookies?
    6. What is an operating system?

    [After a while, and some interesting responses…]

    Thanks to everyone who participated. Most of your answers were better than I expected! Here’s my attempt at answering each question briefly.

    1. What is the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web?

    The Internet is a global collection of computers and the electronic connections between them. The resulting network supports a variety of data-transfer applications: file transfer, using the file transfer protocol (FTP); e-mail, using the simple mail-transfer protocol (SMTP); and hypertext, using the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).

    (The word “hypertext” denotes linking a collection of text documents to one another.)

    The World Wide Web is a subset of the Internet. It consists of those computers that know how to respond to HTTP requests, a.k.a. “web servers.” Depending on your definition it also includes those computers that know how to issue HTTP requests (a.k.a. all the rest of us, surfing the web).

    2. What is the difference between Google Chrome and Google Search?

    Google Chrome is a web browser: an application that knows how to issue requests to web servers, and display the results. Other web browsers include Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. They all do more or less the same thing.

    Google Search is a (super duper) web server with access to an index of all the world’s websites, more or less.

    3. What is the difference between HTTP and HTML?

    HTTP is the hypertext transfer protocol. It describes the format of the messages used behind the scenes in requesting and supplying web pages and related content. When you click on a link, your computer “speaks” HTTP to the relevant web server, saying “give me document so-and-so.”

    HTML is the hypertext markup language, the format of web pages. An HTML document contains text and special notations that tell your web browser how to display it: “start a new paragraph here,” “embed an image here,” and so on.

    HTTP and HTML are related. Many HTTP requests result in the delivery of HTML-formatted documents. But HTTP delivers many types of data, not only HTML documents. For instance, if an HTML document contains an embedded image (which is not, itself, HTML), a separate HTTP request is used to retrieve it.

    4. What is the difference between HTTP and HTTPS?

    HTTP is the hypertext transfer protocol. The requests and responses made using HTTP are in “clear text,” meaning anyone eavesdropping on the connection can read everything going by.

    HTTPS is a version of HTTP in which requests and responses are encrypted. They are intelligible only to the intended parties. Eavesdroppers see only indecipherable gibberish. (The S stands for “secure.”)

    (This might not be so important except for the design of the Internet: it’s essentially made of eavesdroppers. Every message passed between two computers may end up routed through a dozen others en route, behind the scenes. Each computer along the route inspects the message to learn its ultimate destination – and may do more intrusive inspection too.)

    5. What are cookies?

    When you go to a club or a theme park, you get a handstamp. If you leave, the handstamp lets you get back in without having to buy a new ticket or pay a new cover charge.

    A cookie is similar: after you sign in to a website, the web server may ask your browser to store a cookie – typically a short alphanumeric code – and present it for inspection the next time you return. This happens behind the scenes, as a built-in part of HTTP.

    Unlike a handstamp, each visitor to a website gets a distinct cookie. Your alphanumeric code is unique. It’s how websites know it’s you the next time you show up, without requiring you to log in every time.

    6. What is an operating system?

    An operating system is a gatekeeper restricting access to a computer’s resources: its memory, its disk drives, its network interface, its screen, its keyboard and mouse, and more. Any software that wants to run on a computer needs to know the proper way to ask the operating system for the resources it needs.

    Each operating system has its own way of requesting access, which is why software written for Windows is incompatible with software written for Android which is incompatible with software written for iOS (all examples of operating systems).

    [An alternative set of answers in a separate, individual reply.]

    For all the ridicule it got, I have long thought the “information superhighway” was a decent analogy for introducing the masses to the Internet in the 1990’s.

    If the Internet’s a series of roads and the computers are houses and other buildings connected to those roads, then:

    1. The World Wide Web is warehouses full of books.
    2a. Google Chrome is the errand runner you employ to bring you books from those warehouses – and read them to you.
    2b. Google Search is the expert who knows which warehouses contain which books, and which books contain which words and phrases.
    3a. HTTP is the collection of order forms and receipts needed to request and receive books from the warehouses.
    3b. HTML is the layout and typography of the books.
    4. HTTPS is a lockbox in which your errand runner carries your order form to the warehouse, and the book they bring back. Only you and the warehouse owner have the key.
    5. Cookies are handstamps given to your errand runner by warehouses they frequent.
    6. An operating system is a set of keys to the rooms of a house. All the rooms are locked and there’s only one set of keys, so everyone has to take turns using them.

    These analogies aren’t perfect of course, but they’re not too bad.

  • Cloud eggs!

    Cloud eggs

  • [Right-winger asks in a comment thread about voter suppression how we think Republicans are suppressing votes.]

    In the past: literacy tests, poll taxes. Today: voter ID laws, targeted poll closures.

    [Right-winger responds Voter ID laws are not suppression, they ensure the integrity of the vote.]

    That’s the rationalization. But when there’s no demonstrated need for preventing widespread voter fraud, and when the demonstrated effect of voter ID laws is to discourage turnout by traditionally Democratic voters, it’s easy to see why Republicans would enact it under the guise of ensuring electoral integrity.

    I’m not saying Democrats are above using a similar trick if one existed. It’s what political parties have always done. It’d almost be malpractice for them not to try. But we must all resist such things in the name of fairness and democracy.

    “the polls in my county are controlled by the county registrar of voters, not republicans”

    Can you explain why there were 868 fewer places to vote in 2016 than in 2012, and why the closures overwhelmingly affected Democratic voters more than Republicans, without invoking partisan shenanigans?

    To doubt that political parties have influence over elections, or that they will use that influence to their benefit within the bounds of the law and sometimes beyond, is to be willfully naive.

  • [Friend posts that there are more than 500 children in detention still separated from their families. Right-wing person writes a “so-what” response.]

    “I guess their parents should have thought about the consequences to their actions”

    They did. They thought (for example) “Stay in Sinaloa and have my son murdered if he doesn’t join a drug gang? Or go to the land of opportunity?” What choice would you make?

    “This has been going on for years. Why is it such an issue now?”

    Are you suggesting that crimes against humanity get less bad the longer they go on, not worse? Should we not have emancipated the slaves?

  • This feels like one of those captures-the-whole-zeitgeist historic photos. @andyharnik’s tweet

  • [Right-wing friend posts message agreeing with comments made by Senator Sasse (R-NE) at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.]

    This is a terrific speech, and I strongly agree with most of it.

    It falls apart near the end, though. After eloquently laying out the ways in which we’ve drifted away from the Founders’ design, Sasse rightly says we need to restore the Constitutional balance of responsibilities between the three branches. But he doesn’t say how to do that – yet he urges the Senate to proceed with Kavanaugh’s confirmation as if that restoration of balance is a done deal.

    It would be nice if it were a done deal, or if there was even a plan for getting that done. But it’s not, and there isn’t, so ultimately Sasse is asking everyone to evaluate Kavanaugh for a job that doesn’t exist: non-super-legislating Supreme Court Justice.

    I have some thoughts on how the legislative branch grew less responsive. It is due, at least in part, to the shrinking size of Congress in proportion to the growth of the country. Homeopathic democracy

    By the way, was anyone else amused when Sasse used the occasion of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing to make a grandstanding speech that included criticism of senators who make grandstanding speeches during Supreme Court confirmation hearings?

  • Now it can be told! This is a very exciting time. Apologies to those of you who’ve gotten only the blandest answers from me these past few months about how work is going. Blockchain company Chain acquired by Stellar

  • [Trump disputes the death toll from Hurricane Maria, saying 3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico.]

    Perhaps he means that there are 3,000 people in Puerto Rico who did not die.

  • [During the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.]

    “There are many accomplished men and women in the judiciary, champions of conservatism, whom we can be proud to elevate to our nation’s highest court. Until we find one who cannot be credibly accused of perjury and rape I will withhold my vote.” – Any Republican senator, please.

  • I’ve seen Gary-Kurtz-produced Star Wars, and I’ve seen non-Gary-Kurtz-produced Star Wars, and I know which I prefer.

    RIP, unsung hero of a galaxy far, far away.

  • [In comment thread, right-wing guy repeats complaints about accusations against Brett Kavanaugh.]

    “accusations without proof or any kind of hearing or trial”

    How else is it supposed to work? Trial first, then accusations?

  • [Friend seeks suggestions for questions to ask two female Supreme Court Justices whom she was going to see.]

    Is there a looming crisis of legitimacy for the Court based on the trend of Justices confirmed with less and less political support (see Seems legit) and, if so, what to do about it?

  • This is who Anthony Kennedy wanted to succeed him.

  • I invite the FBI to reveal to the world anything they can learn about my past, if they choose. And I’m not even trying to get on the Supreme Court.

  • [Friend posts that right-wing complaints about due process (regarding accusations against Brett Kavanaugh) are missing the point that the confirmation hearing is a job interview, not a trial.]

    Another view: “due process” in this case means slow the fuck down. The ones screaming due process are conveniently overlooking that.

  • [Friend objects to using the phrase euphemistically.]

    What I mean is, there is a process, and it is due, in the sense that it’s one the Senate has followed for confirming all Supreme Court justices in the modern era. It’s not a euphemism; it’s just not the specific legal doctrine for which “due process” is usually shorthand.

  • It suits the GOP to be alienating women, at least in the short term, because as long as we’re all worked up about sexual assault, it fits into a certain namby-pamby-liberals frame, and distracts from the concealing-evidence story and the Trump-choosing-the-judge-who-will-shield-him story.

  • Reasonable people can disagree about whether Blasey Ford “proved” her allegations against Kavanaugh. But no one can disagree about the behavior we saw on display.

  • [In reply to @OfficialJonZal’s tweet]

    Exactly. There’s no shortage of qualified conservative judges. What’s needed is a reliable partisan operative to protect Trump and his enablers, because the threat to them is real and imminent.

  • [Friend posts about patriarchy (not men) being the enemy of feminism. Another calls out women who support the patriarchy.]

    Before condemning women who have supported the patriarchy, listen to this episode of the Scriptnotes Podcast, featuring guest Aline Brosh McKenna, successful screenwriter and co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She gets passionate about the boys’-club nature of Hollywood and the lack of good options for women, especially young women, who want to stand up for themselves. She describes instances of going along to get along in her own career, and regrets those, but observes that (though things have gotten incrementally better in the past couple of years) there are still no systematic mechanisms for addressing bad behavior by creepy execs. Of course this generalizes from Hollywood to society at large. One year later

  • OK, “party of law and order,” what do you have to say now? Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father

  • [Friend reposts appreciation of Walter Cronkite, misguided because it says Cronkite simply read the news and we all made up our own minds.]

    It isn’t so much that we made up our own minds as it is that we trusted him. It was a trust he earned through his gravitas – which is not just seriousness and is definitely not neutrality. Here is an excellent article on this topic: Lessons From Walter Cronkite in the Lost Art of Gravitas

  • Why are they so committed to Kavanaugh?

    Because he’s a reliable vote to frustrate investigations into Trump.

    Why are they so committed to protecting Trump?

    Because they’re culpable too. If he goes down, they go down.

    Solution: Amnesty for Trump’s enablers in Congress. They can even keep their dirty money. All they have to do is to come clean about everything.

  • [Friend: “Sadly, they have no reason to negotiate.”]

    Not necessarily true. Right now it’s a race to dismantle the machinery of justice that might eventually be brought to bear on all of them. Surely some of them fear that won’t happen in time, and they’ll end up in prison etc. Safer to take the amnesty deal and rat out the big fish.

  • Increasingly feeling like we’re going to have to relitigate the 20th century. But this time around we start with nuclear weapons, 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, and a decimated press.

  • [Friend mourns the death of American Exceptionalism.]

    Same. But to be fair, American Exceptionalism has a serious dark side. I’m hopeful about what the young people will eventually build to replace it, and fearful of what it will take to get from here to there.

  • I started writing a tweet. Then I deleted it. I have a virtuous, cleansing sensation.

  • Cons:
    – Perjury
    – Credible accusations of assault
    – Concealed records
    – Inappropriately emotional
    – Inappropriately partisan
    – Rushed, constrained investigation
    – Rushed confirmation

    Pros:
    – Is a judge
    – Likes beer

    Seriously: on what principle other than “own the libs” do conservatives support this nomination?

    [Much discussion follows.]

    I’m not wondering why the politicians support it. That’s pretty clear IMO. (“A properly functioning judicial system is a threat to me.”) I’m wondering why their constituents do.

    [A friend explains, “‘Those other guys are shedding decency in favor of partisan politics’ is the story line for both sides.”]

    This is where you lose me. The objections against Kavanaugh were based on principles that both sides claim to care about: transparency, due process, honesty, character. The arguments in favor of Kavanaugh were… what, exactly? “Don’t let the libs stop our guy”? Is that really it? What does a Kavanaugh supporter – a thoughtful one – say when confronted with the facts of his demonstrable lies, or the missing documents, or the sham investigation?

    [Friend writes, “you’re going to have to engage an actual supporter”]

    I do try from time to time, though I knew few such people. Though I am sincerely respectful in asking for their views, I never get a thorough, coherent answer. Even when it starts well, it only takes my asking a couple of clarifying questions for things to devolve to defensiveness and paranoia or, more often, just disengagement when we get to stuff the talking points don’t cover.

    [Friend writes, “They can’t all be immoral idiots, his supporters.”]

    I am willing to believe that virtually all of those people can be explained by the filter bubble they live in. They are behaving perfectly rationally, even decently, given the information they have.

    [Friend asks, “So how’s our information superior?”]

    Asked like a true scientist. Which is also the answer to your question. It is my strong impression that only (what I will advisedly refer to as) our side seeks to understand other points of view, questions our own beliefs, and grounds arguments on data and principle – i.e., is rational in the Enlightenment sense.

    It may be that some of that impression is due to my own filter bubble, but as I said earlier, some of it is from direct experience.

    Clearly few or none of us are perfect at it: clinging to unquestioned opinions, failing to consider alien ideas, etc. But our side at least strives for the ideal. I see no such thing happening or even possible on the other side. I would love to be wrong about that but I don’t see how I can be; hence this thread. (In which, by the way, thanks, everyone, for engaging.)

  • [Comment thread after Kavanaugh was confirmed. Someone wrote, “Justice Kavanaugh is superbly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court bench.”]

    How do you know? The majority of relevant documentation was kept concealed. The FBI investigation, if you can call it that, was constrained and its report secret. The confirmation process itself was rushed beyond reason, to frustrate proper vetting.

    Almost the only thing we do know for sure is that, under pressure, Kavanaugh is inappropriately emotional and incoherent.

    So, again, what makes you say that Kavanaugh was the best choice?

  • This sign EVERYWHERE Police Removed A Texas Yard Sign Showing A GOP Elephant With Its Trunk Up A Woman’ss Skirt

  • This story reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with Julie Epelboim. We had just seen Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home together. Kirk and his officers are in hiding from Starfleet, fugitives for stealing the Enterprise in Star Trek III. When Earth comes under global threat, however, they leap into action to save the day, even though they know that if they succeed they face immediate court-martial.

    Julie and I discussed whether we would make that same choice. “Of course!” I insisted at once. “Not me,” said Julie. I couldn’t understand her perspective. Earth! Under threat! A call to heroism! How could you not rush to the planet’s defense even at the expense of your own freedom?

    It occurs to me that we all now have exactly that choice to make.
    We need massive change to avoid climate hell

  • [Friend reported running into Lynda Carter, “the original Wonder Woman.”]

    Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman was 💯, but the first Wonder Woman she was not. She wasn’t even the second!
    Wonder Woman 1967 Screen Test
    Cathy Lee Crosby, the original Wonder Woman

  • [Comment thread: local high schoolers walked out of school to protest Kavanaugh. Right-winger Chris condemns them and says public education is a joke. It should teach them “innocent until proven guilty.”]

    Why do you think “innocent until proven guilty” is applicable in this case? The Kavanaugh hearings were meant to determine his fitness for an important job. They were not a trial or any other process that might have ended in depriving Kavanaugh of basic rights.

    In fact, when evaluating a job candidate, the opposite of “innocent until proven guilty” is true, and rightly so. Do you think an employer should be required to hire the first person they cannot show is a criminal?

    [Chris points out Kavanaugh underwent numerous background checks and it’s unfair for someone to show up at the last minute to torpedo his nomination.]

    During part of my time at Google I served on a hiring committee there, and a situation very like this actually came up. A candidate who’d been through three rounds of interviews, each involving multiple interviewers, made it to the final step of hiring, when following up on a reference revealed some pretty bad blood he’d left behind at one job. Whether or how much that account was true didn’t matter: we were under no obligation to hire him, and the risk of bringing on someone who might behave unprofessionally was enough for us to reject him. There were plenty of other qualified candidates.

    I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time, everywhere.

    Now, three rounds of interviews, each involving multiple interviewers, are not FBI background checks. But this was for a software engineering job, not a seat on the Supreme Court, so proportionally I’d say it’s comparable.

    [Chris asks what that candidate said when we asked about the rape allegation from 36 years ago.]

    I appreciate your continuing to engage on this topic. I would like to find common ground if possible, and if not possible, I’d like to understand why.

    Your point, though crudely put, is well-taken: we did not confront the job candidate with the accusations against him. We had no reason to, because there were plenty of other good candidates with no alleged skeletons in their closet, so why expose ourselves to the risk?

    The analogy with Kavanaugh breaks down (as I believe you are trying to point out) because we never considered the possibility that someone was deliberately trying to sabotage an otherwise qualified person. Nor did we have reason to suspect that future candidates would be similarly sandbagged. This is the mindset that I presume Kavanaugh partisans had.

    If we did have that suspicion, or if we were short on qualified candidates, we obviously would have tried to get to the bottom of it. We would have started by confronting the candidate with the allegation and noting his response. Belligerence and deflection would have been an immediate red-buzzer moment. Next we would have tried to investigate the complaints against him in greater detail. To do that we would have identified anyone claiming to have information on the subject, interviewed them, and asked to see supporting documentation. We would not have imposed constraints on the investigation’s ability to learn the truth of the matter, and we would have regarded as highly suspicious any attempt by the candidate to do so.

    In short, even with the flaws in my analogy, your point fails to support the historically hasty and suspiciously secretive nomination of Kavanaugh. The alternative explanation – that it was a naked abuse of power, only the latest in a long and increasingly brazen string of them – more than justifies the Terra Linda kids skipping school to protest. They will have to live under a weakened democracy longer than any of the rest of us. Honestly it’s a wonder any of us can go about our normal business at a time like this.

  • [Friend posts, “Hey, if you’re a rich white guy, I get your voting republican. But if you’re not part of the 1%, you’re voting against your own interests.”]

    Even the rich white guys voting Republican are voting against their own interests. History is very clear about what happens to societies with overwhelmingly lopsided and unjust concentration of wealth.

  • It’s now or never. If we fail to make a good showing in this election, we’ve endorsed the naked exercise of unchecked power, and we know how things go from there.

    The Senate is key, and though the odds are long, they’re no longer than Trump’s were at this time two years ago. WE CAN DO IT.

    How? By GIVING UNTIL IT HURTS. (If we fail, it’ll hurt ever so much worse.)

    Where? Glad you asked. I’ve devised an “urgency index” for the seven most important Senate races, based on data from fivethirtyeight.com. It suggests how to allocate your donations depending on whether you want to support 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or all 7 of those races. See the table at the link below, which also includes handy donation links for each campaign. I will periodically update the table as fivethirtyeight.com publishes new data.

    Urgency index

  • Birthday gift from my family: hiking into the rainforest, making a pilgrimage to the One Square Inch of Silence. It was amazing.

    The spot is marked with a red stone, which you swap out for one that you bring. As I was about to do that, Jonah reminded me to make like Indiana Jones swapping the idol for the bag of sand.

    [Sister wrote, “Jonah had to remind you to do that? You’ve changed, old man.”]

    It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

  • It’s launch day on my latest work project! Starlight: Payment channels on Stellar

  • Not voting is voting, but for the other side.

  • Every now and then I rev up my imagination and my generosity to max, and I try to imagine Donald Trump experiencing a single genuine moment of tenderness, grace, or humility. I have not yet succeeded.

    [Discussion about what a tragic character Trump would be in literature; also about his supporters.]

    “Can you have a free society with 1/3 ignorant racists?”

    Taking America as an example, I think the answer is “yes, somewhat,” depending on how much you consider America to have been a free society. Obviously it has been more free for some than for others at different times.

    I think the lesson of the past few years (and of much other recent history) is that the ignorant racists and other antidemocratic elements have always been there and always will, and it’s up to society to keep their power from coalescing. When the rest of us become complacent (we elected a black president, yay!) they become ascendant.

    How does one keep the power of ignorant racists in check? Possibly by the simple expedient of convincing them that their beliefs are out of the mainstream. For a fascinating discussion of this topic, check out this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, about an effort to heal Rwanda after the racist genocide there: Romeo & Juliet In Kigali: How A Soap Opera Sought To Change Behavior In Rwanda. (Spoiler alert: it worked not because it changed people’s deepest beliefs, but because it changed people’s minds about what other people believed.)

  • [Comment thread about reports that voting machines in some places were misreporting votes. One commenter said they’d like a printout of their vote but even that’s not foolproof.]

    The problem with a printout is, now you can prove to someone else how you voted, which means they can offer to pay you to vote a specific way. That is not a world we want.

    Designing verifiable balloting systems is seriously non-trivial and the focus of much research. The requirement I mentioned is sometimes referred to as “receipt-freeness,” which obviously is in tension with some other requirements. See End-to-end auditable voting systems.

  • [Friend Greg’s birthday.]

    “Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” – Mark Twain

    Happy birthday (I guess)!

  • [On an unrelated post, friend-of-friend goes on an unhinged rant against girls “claiming themselves as boys” and vice versa and wanting to use the other bathroom.]

    I am tall, trim, and muscular. I’m thirty-five years old and I have 20/20 vision and a full head of hair.

    You wouldn’t know this to look at me, though. Outwardly I’m short, balding, and fifty-two, and I wear a pair of reading glasses on a cord around my neck. On a good day I can do one complete chin-up.

    Little of that affects how I feel about myself inwardly though.

    I imagine this is what it’s like when someone feels like a man or feels like a woman but outwardly isn’t. Is your back just the way it “should” be? Are your knees? Your teeth? Nature makes mistakes. Nature creates variations.

    Honestly it would be more surprising if gender wasn’t sometimes fluid. There’s more to maleness and femaleness, after all, than just what’s between your legs. There are differences in hormonal balance and brain structure, for example. These things are determined by a cascade of complex processes that begin with just a few individual molecules in the womb. How naive to think that the outcome of those processes would be the same every time.

    So how should we feel about trans people? Some of the ones I know are terrific. Some are assholes. Just like everyone. We can judge them, but let’s do it apart from their gender identity, OK?

  • [Sister’s birthday.]

    Twenty-nine years ago* yesterday I got the best present I’ve ever received. I haven’t stopped loving it since. Happy birthday, Suze!

    * – or more

  • [One week to Election Day.]

    Bad news: If we win next week, the fight is still only beginning.

    Good news: If we lose next week, the fight is still only beginning.

    Stay strong.

  • Something symbolic happened to me this morning.

    I sat down in a Muni train on the way to work, facing forward, earbuds in as usual, listening to podcasts. A black man in a Muni security uniform sat down in front of me on a seat facing the aisle, at a right angle to me.

    At one point while we were en route he gave me a look, then looked past my shoulder.

    Only then did I become aware that a scary disheveled man sitting a couple of rows behind me was ranting loudly to another man standing in the aisle, and had been for a while. A young woman trapped in the window seat next to him looked very ill-at-ease.

    A moment later, while I was still taking in the scene, the security guard got out of his seat, stepped over to where the disturbance was happening, and offered his hand to the young woman.

    She gratefully accepted his help, squeezing past the ranting man (who paid no notice) and taking a new seat near us, visibly relieved.

    Here’s what was symbolic about that:

    I, a white man, was oblivious to the bad shit happening around me, wrapped in my bubble of privilege that allows me to assume everything will be fine. But really, things are often not fine. It took a black man, who knows better, to see the bad shit and do something about it.

    I do wish to become more a part of the solution and less a part of the problem, but clearly I still have some way to go.

    [Later…]

    PS: I do belatedly realize the chauvinism of saying this is something that happened “to me.” Baby steps…

  • [Pun-loving cousin’s birthday.]

    Tried to come up with a pun for your birthday. Asked my friend Ted for help. We couldn’t think of one, so I punted.

  • “Make America Great Again”

    If you’re white and not poor, America has been pretty consistently great for a long time. But there are plenty of others for whom it hasn’t always been great, and some for whom it never has.

    Lately, the veil that protected us middle-class white folks from knowing about the ungreat America has started to wear thin in spots, and at long last we’re getting a good look at the America others have known. Of course we don’t like it.

    We can’t make America great “again” if it wasn’t great to begin with, for some people. The only thing we can do “again” is pretend we didn’t see what we saw and try to get back to it being great for just us, somehow.

    I wouldn’t bet the farm on that being possible. And I wouldn’t do that to my conscience even if it were.

    America won’t truly be great until it’s great for everyone, so let’s Make America Actually Great Once And For All.

  • [On whether to re-elect local school board member Natu Tuatagaloa.]

    To Natu or not to Natu?

  • [In a comment thread about debating abortion.]

    I haven’t ever gotten an actual anti-abortionist’s response to this, but here’s how I prefer to argue the topic: Do the abortion math

    [“have you ever heard even anecdotal evidence of anybody ever changing their mind”]

    Sort of. I’ve heard of pro-choice women wanting abortions and finding themselves unable to go through with it; and I often hear about self-righteous anti-abortion male politicians and religious leaders revealed to have hypocritically gotten an abortion for some mistress.

    [“this argument is terrible!”]

    I sort of intended it to be terrible in the same way that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

  • [Friend reposts what appears to be a Russian-bot tweet, unfavorably comparing the chaotic election with the efficient lottery-ticket system, claiming the chaos is on purpose.]

    Designing elections is much harder than designing lotteries. Elections need “enforced secrecy,” lotteries do not. Elections need to enforce one ballot per registered voter, lotteries do not.

  • [Comment thread about Roald Dahl writing the screenplays for both Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and You Only Live Twice.]

    Also, Ian Fleming wrote both novels.

    [Friend-of-friend comments, “And I believe that Dahl and Fleming had a relationship from the secret service, where Dahl was a Mata Hari for British Intelligence, sleeping with diplomats’ wives to gather pillow talk.]

    I am so happy to know that fact.

  • [Friend posts photos from Bend, Oregon.]

    I’ve taken my family on many roadtrips and we’ve been through many towns on the way to our various destinations. None of them had the instant magnetic pull of the half hour we spent in Bend (on our way to last year’s eclipse) and we’re determined to return for real ASAP.

  • I have a feeling my mom would not have liked the age she would have been today. But we sure would have loved her sticking around a little longer. Happy birthday, mom!

  • [Posting in the “Omnibus Futurelings” Facebook group about an episode of the Omnibus podcast.]

    Belatedly listened to “The Letter J” and learned about John’s desire to be called Peter.

    That made me remember Short Time, a Dabney Coleman comedy from 1990. (It had the bad timing to name its main character Burt Simpson just as The Simpsons was becoming big.) He’s a mediocre cop who’s mistakenly told he has a terminal illness. Hoping to be killed in the line of duty for the death benefit his family will receive, he becomes a heroic supercop! (And, spoiler alert: repeatedly fails to be killed, and learns a new appreciation for his life and family along the way.)

    In one scene he bravely walks into a hostage situation in a convenience store to talk down a bomber who wants to blow himself up and his hostages with him.

    Simpson: Go ahead and blow yourself up if you want. Sure gonna be missing a lot. Do you have any kids?
    Bomber: Nicky and Mikey.
    Simpson: Nicky and – how old are they?
    Bomber: Three and a half and five.
    Simpson: Well if you’re gone, who’s gonna see they graduate high school? How are you gonna find out whether they found a nice girl? Whether Mikey’s stutter ever cleared up?
    Bomber: Mikey doesn’t stutter!
    Simpson: I understand. But just saying he did. There’s so much… there’s so many things you wouldn’t even notice until they’re gone. Like, Nicky – can Nicky ride a bike?
    [Bomber shakes head “no.”]
    Simpson: Don’t you wanna teach him to ride a bike? Or see him get his braces? Finally touch the top of that door jamb?
    Bomber: How do you know about the door jamb!
    Simpson: Pal, come on. You may think you know him but I bet you don’t even know who his teacher is. Or the names of the monsters in his room. [becoming reflective] Or why he buried his shoes that time. Or why he made you call him “Peter” for a whole month.

  • Headline on the MSNBC website right now: “Clintons back in spotlight as they kick off paid speaking tour.”

    A more accurate headline would be, “Clintons back in spotlight as MSNBC reports on Clintons.”

  • As we all know, cool guys don’t look at explosions.

    Question: what was the original explosion a cool guy didn’t look at?

    I don’t know the answer. I have a guess, but I’ll keep it to myself for now. Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions

    [Later…]

    Here’s what I was thinking of: Goldfinger clip

    It’s only a proto-cool-guy-not-looking-at-an-explosion, though. He’s not walking away from it while it happens in the background, and his not-looking-at-it doesn’t convey he has zero fucks left to give (which is the storytelling point of cool-guy-not-looking-at-explosions scenes). For that I submit James Caan blowing up his house and businesses near the end of Thief (1981).

  • Trying to lose a little weight again. Finding that intrusive thoughts about food are coming up about as often as intrusive thoughts about sex did during puberty.

  • [Comment thread about favorite Christmas movies, starting with It’s A Wonderful Life.]

    Pocketful of Miracles. Also by Frank Capra (his final film), also a terrible title.

  • [In a thread converting quotes from Die Hard into fake Medieval English.]

    Come thee to the seashore, well-met wilt thou be, merry shall we make.

RAWR


[Cross-posted at https://medium.com/@bob.glickstein/rawr-22a7f54eeda3.]

Once upon a time, the National Rifle Association was a benign organization where hunters and sportsmen shared information about equipment and technique. It promoted best practices and responsible gun ownership and lobbied in favor of sensible gun regulation and preserving wilderness. Philosophically it was a sort of extension of the Boy Scouts.

That changed at the Cincinnati Revolt of 1977, where radical gun-rights maximalists took control. Over time they turned it into an organization for, more than anything else, fear. Fear of the government, so better arm yourself against its tyranny. Fear of crime, so better arm yourself against criminals. Fear of brown people, if you’re white. Fear of white people, if you’re brown. And if you’re a politician, fear of the NRA itself — if not of its political and fundraising might, then of what its own most-unhinged members, who were taught to fear the loss of their gun rights, might resort to.

The NRA changed, in short, from being about shooting targets and food to shooting people.

That means that we’ve been two generations with no moderate organization to protect sensible gun rights and promote virtues like marksmanship, self-sufficiency, and conservation without also spreading some fetishistic open-carry Wild-West apocalyptic cosplay fantasy.

I sense that’s the kind of organization to which most gun owners would prefer to belong, given the choice. So let’s give them the choice. I propose creating RAWR, Responsible Americans for a Well-Regulated militia. Primarily its purpose would be to fulfill the role of the old NRA: promote sport and hunting, safety and training, rights and regulations. It would exclude proliferation and militarism, which have no place in civilian life. Secondarily it would exist to siphon support from the NRA, whose mostly moderate members will finally have an alternative they can join without the slightest ambivalence.

I would never join the NRA. But I’d join RAWR in a heartbeat. How about you?

What’s your position on GPS?


[Cross-posted at https://medium.com/@bob.glickstein/whats-your-position-on-gps-bc98a5dff6db.]

How does GPS work?

If you’re like most people, you think it works something like this: there are satellites in orbit around the Earth. Your phone or other GPS device sends a signal to the nearest one of the satellites. Some math happens and the satellite responds with your location.

This is wrong. It’s wrong for reasons that should be obvious. Despite that, everyone believes some version of this, as near as I can tell.

This came up during the current high school mock trial season, in which my son is a mock prosecutor. In a mock trial season, all the schools in California study the same fictional case, and then the prosecution of one school meets the defense from another school in a “scrimmage” conducted like a jury trial. This year’s fictional case is a murder, and the trial begins with a defense motion to suppress some evidence: namely, GPS location data from the defendant’s car (which shows the defendant apparently stalking the victim in the days before the murder). The question argued by the kids, and that the judge must decide, is this: if a person’s car is continually transmitting its location to a third-party service provider (think Google) and the police search that third party’s records, does this infringe upon the person’s Fourth Amendment rights protecting against unreasonable searches?

I’ve sat in on several practices and scrimmages. The discussion of this motion centers on something called the Third Party Doctrine, which says that if you voluntarily give your information to a third party, you cannot reasonably expect that information to remain private, and the government can obtain that information without violating your Fourth Amendment rights. So what’s “voluntary” and what’s “giving” and what’s a “third party”? Drilling into these questions is where the universal misunderstanding of GPS often comes up. If your GPS device is already giving its location to a satellite (the debate goes), how is that different from giving it to a company that provides driving directions?

I’ve heard this now from the students arguing the case, and from their teacher, and from the volunteer attorneys coaching the team, and even from the Superior Court judge who presided over their first tournament meet yesterday. It’s disturbing not only because of the technological illiteracy it reveals, but also because it shows how accepting we’ve become of the idea that our private data is simply out of our control.

In fact a GPS device never sends anything to the satellites in orbit. The satellites are broadcast-only, like a radio station, which has no idea when you tune into it, or a clock tower, which doesn’t respond with the current time only when you ask for it. They are artificial stars that are always “visible” to the devices that know how to see them.

Each satellite continually broadcasts its own position in space, plus the current time according to its super-accurate atomic clock. Your GPS device receives this signal from several different satellites at once. Because of the speed-of-light delay, the signals from different satellites take different amounts of time to reach you. So though the satellite-A signal might say “it’s six o’clock and 33.227 seconds,” the satellite-B signal reaching you at the same instant might say “it’s six o’clock and 33.221 seconds,” which tells your GPS device that you’re closer to satellite B than to satellite A and by how much.1 With a couple more satellites’ signals it’s possible for your device to triangulate its position on Earth with high accuracy.

Why do people mistakenly believe that GPS satellites answer location queries from devices on Earth? In large part because of the way our smartphones work. They depend heavily on outsourcing work to computing resources in “the cloud,” continually sending requests and receiving responses, and we’ve grown accustomed to things working this way.

Why should it be obvious that, in the case of GPS, this is wrong? For one thing, our personal electronics have worked this way for not very long. We’ve forgotten that, before smartphones, standalone GPS receivers were sold as exactly that: receivers. Back then (just a decade or so ago) I don’t think anyone believed GPS devices ever sent signals anywhere, or in any other way leaked information about our whereabouts. With a court order, the police could seize your GPS receiver and inspect its memory of where it had been, but that information lived nowhere else, and it was largely outside anyone’s imagination that it even could.

Another reason this should be obvious: your smartphone is small. It has a small little battery and a small little antenna inside. They’re strong enough to send signals to the nearest wifi station, which is usually located within a few dozen feet, or the nearest cell tower, which is within a few dozen miles, but not to GPS satellites, which are over twelve thousand miles away.

A final reason this should be obvious: there are very many GPS devices making very many location queries every minute of the day. Responding to that many requests in a centralized location would take massive computing resources, the kind that Google and Amazon and Facebook have built multiple gigantic data centers to handle. We can’t put gigantic data centers in space. The stuff we can put in space has to run on solar power and be light and simple as possible. It has to require no maintenance.

Now, to be fair, when you use a service like Google Maps to get driving directions, you do send your location to Google, which is then able to compute the best route for wherever it is you’re going. So the misconception isn’t total. But the location you send to Google came in the first place from old-fashioned GPS triangulation that, in itself, never needs to send anything anywhere. (Note that you can use Google Maps in “offline mode,” where maps are downloaded to your device before you start your trip, and while you’re en route, Google’s servers never get involved. Your device has everything it needs to show you your location and the route you should take. Not so long ago this was how all GPS devices worked!)

What does it say that so many of us believe the wrong thing about how GPS works, and are happy to use it anyway? It suggests to me one of two things: either we’re inattentive to encroachments on our privacy, the basis of our liberty; or we are attentive, we just put a low price on that privacy, trading it away for the convenience our smartphones offer. I’m not sure which is worse. I am sure that earlier generations would not have been nearly so willing to use technology that they understood so poorly.

  1. In this example, you’re 0.006 light-seconds closer to satellite B, which is about 1,118 miles. []

Oppose Gorsuch

[My letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.]

Dear Senator Feinstein,

As a longtime constituent of yours, I urge you to block and oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with all means in your power.

In just two short months, the Trump administration has become more scandal-plagued than any other in this country’s history. Multiple Trump appointees or nominees are under clouds of suspicion or investigation. Trump himself has been openly flouting at least one constitutional law since the moment he swore his oath of office, and his executive orders are repeatedly found to be unconstitutional themselves. In short he exhibits contempt for the Constitution, not to mention the people and institutions of this great nation.

Gorsuch’s qualifications are irrelevant to this point: this President must not be permitted to place a justice on the Supreme Court. This would be true even if the GOP had not cynically and arbitrarily raised the bar last year for when presidents may nominate justices. Whether a lame duck president should be permitted to or not, surely an impeachable one, of demonstrably poor judgment in people, and plainly inimical to most of what America is about, mustn’t.

Conspirators into stumblebums

On the twentieth anniversary of the Watergate break-in, reporter Daniel Schorr gave the following account on NPR. I find it more than a little relevant today and have added some emphasis below.

One consequence [of Watergate] was to tear down the majesty of the presidency. No nation could see a president who lied, spied, wire-tapped, spoke obscenities and plotted to thwart the justice he was sworn to uphold and retain its faith in the institution. Ensuing “Gates” – White House scandals – came as shocks, but no longer as surprises. If America today has turned against its government, equating incumbency with guilt and inexperience with innocence, you can trace that back to Watergate.

A pity, because one lesson of Watergate is that the lumbering machinery of government worked. More than the press, it was the much-maligned bureaucracy and Congress and the courts that broke the cover-up: the FBI that refused to lie down and play dead; the assistant attorney general, who refused to be the president’s patsy; the Senate committee that laid the groundwork for impeachment; the federal judge who pursued the higher-ups of convicted Watergate burglars.

Since then, government and judiciary have been increasingly politicized. One wonders if today it could prevent a coup from the top. For that, it is not generally realized, was what was in the making. More sinister than what President Nixon did was what he planned to do after winning landslide re-election despite Watergate. The files and tapes disclosed his plans to centralize power in a “super Cabinet” with White House agents like political commissars riding herd on the departments.

The White House would have its own intelligence and surveillance operation. The full power of government would be turned on Nixon’s enemies. “They are asking for it, and they’re going to get it,” Nixon told John Dean. “We have not used the power in the first four years, but things are going to change now.” The nation was saved from that by the government it disdained, and the press it despises, and by whatever providence it is that makes conspirators into stumblebums.

Nixon was smarter than Trump, and had long experience in national politics, and still was thwarted in his ambition. By that measure we need only a little of that providence Daniel Schorr mentioned to work on our behalf. Let us pray that it’s still in operation.

(Daniel Schorr’s report © National Public Radio. I am grateful to NPR’s Audience and Community Relations department for unearthing this transcript for me.)

Engage

You wouldn’t know it from the level of our public discourse, but there is more that unites Americans than divides us – much more.

As Ralph Nader writes in Unstoppable, his book about forging left-right alliances on topics of common interest,

[M]ost people want safe food and drugs. They want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. They want their work to be rewarded with adequate returns for the necessities of life […] They want clean elections and competitive candidates, who provide perceived differences and choices in their platforms. They want their taxes to be reasonable and used well for the common good in an efficient manner. They want some voice in decisions that affect them. They want peace, justice, and public safety.

But Democrats don’t win office by telling you their Republican opponent is a lot like them, and Republicans don’t win office by telling you how much in common they have with Democrats. They need to find the fissures of disagreement, drive a wedge there, and hammer, hammer, hammer. Those Bible-thumping hicks in the flyover states will catch up to modern society sooner or later. The elite libtards on the coasts hate God, guns, and America. That sort of thing.

We used to know how to get along together, but it’s been trained out of us. Any political statement by one side is treated as an outrage by the other, producing ridicule, aggression, dismissiveness, and further entrenchment on both sides. We all need some deprogramming.

During yesterday’s inauguration of Donald Trump, a conservative friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

Still ecstatic it’s not Hillary.

I wrote,

Sincerely curious to know what your reasons are, as long as they’re more substantive than just “her e-mails” and “Benghazi” and “Vince Foster.”

During the campaign someone wrote that, whatever you think of Hillary, no one can plausibly believe she’d pose a threat to the Constitution; and no one can plausibly doubt that Trump does. To the extent that’s true (and it sure feels true to me), and since preserving the Constitution takes precedence over all, shouldn’t simple patriotism have demanded a Hillary vote?

My friend has not yet responded. But someone else, who I’ll call M, posted in that thread,

Liberals are the most intolerant bunch of people I have ever seen. A woman who accepts millions of dollars from foreign countries for her personal gain (foundation), while she is Secretary of State, doesn’t seem to bother you much. But if Trump says something you do not like, it’s the end of the world and the country is never going to be the same. If we survived 8 yrs of Obama, we can get through anything. He loathes America. The most divisive President ever. A vote for Hillary would have been a vote for Obama.

Now, there is plenty that’s wrong with that statement, and plenty of ways to challenge it. But that’s my programming talking: challenge the opposition, don’t let them get away with it, call them out on every little thing. What does that accomplish? Will I win a convert that way? Not a chance. I have learned from experience that a righteous takedown of this person’s misguided beliefs will make me feel puffed-up and smart and superior and maybe earn me some attaboy points among my peers… but do nothing whatever to meaningfully reach this person, to spread the idea of tolerance and respect, to heal the country. I would only have been helping the hammerers to drive their wedge deeper.

So I quashed my initial impulse to cite anecdotes and statistics and experts to prove my points and disprove theirs. Instead I responded,

Here’s the thing: no one’s ever as bad as their opponents make them out to be. Most of the things people disliked about Hillary were drip, drip, dripped into our heads for a quarter century by her opponents – and it worked! It even worked on me, a Democrat. I didn’t like her much for all those vague reasons – her shadowy connections, something something private e-mail server, etc. – until I started digging into all those criticisms for myself and found there was very little there.

On the other hand, most of what Trump opponents dislike comes from his own mouth – unconcealed hatred and disrespect for very many of our fellow citizens, proud ignorance of the Constitution, contradictory statements on almost every topic, unwillingness to engage with critics other than by suppression, and, worst of all, not one scrap of humility or kindness to be found anywhere in his persona.

I’m not disagreeing with anything in M’s post. Yes, there was a certain stink about Hillary; I smelled it too. Maybe it was just propaganda. As for Trump, I called him out on all those things that Americans want in their leaders – forthrightness, courtesy, maturity, humanity – and that all but his blindest supporters must admit he lacks.

This morning I was enormously gratified to find that M had given my comment a Facebook “like.”

This tiny interaction is my template for how we’ll win back the decent, diverse America we once had and have forgotten we want. We only need to approach conversations like this with no thought of putting the other person in their place, but in the sincere belief that we have more to learn than to teach.

We’ve been trained to treat half of the country as our ideological enemy. It’s time we learned the true enemies are the ones who’ve been turning us against each other.


Bonus: Storm, of the musical comedy duo Paul and Storm, had a similar story yesterday about engaging respectfully with a political opponent and achieving civility: Fist-bump with Uncle Sam.

The Sigma Tax

Pronounced income disparity is the root of many of our country’s problems. Economists have been talking about it for years, and last week President Obama made an attempt to bring the issue front-and-center in a speech at Knox College.

Another thing that economists have long said is, “When you tax something, you get less of it.” So here’s an idea: let’s tax income disparity!

How would this work? Easy. For companies of a given size, we decide what the ideal distribution is of wages and other compensation. We might decide, for instance, that the 90th percentile should be earning no more than 50x what the 10th percentile earns. Whatever numbers we choose, the result is a curve; presumably a less-pronounced one than this:

Once we decide on the shape of our curve, companies are free to obey it or not, distributing their compensation however they see fit. But if their curves deviate too far from the ideal, they pay a proportional income-disparity tax. Maybe they can even be eligible for an income-disparity credit if the curves deviate in the other direction.

Properly tuned, and phased in slowly, this “Sigma Tax” (for the Greek letter that designates standard deviation in statistics) should result in gentle but inexorable pressure that reduces the wage gap, improving things for the bottom 99% without breaking the 1%, while paring some of their shameful excess.

PayPal arbitration opt-out

Bob Glickstein
[address]
[phone number]
[e-mail address]
13 Oct 2012

PayPal, Inc.
Attn: Litigation Department
2211 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95131

To whom it may concern,

I am a PayPal user at the e-mail address above. I do not agree to the Agreement to Arbitrate as delineated in your Amendment to the PayPal User Agreement and Privacy Policy dated Nov 1st, 2012. By this letter I hereby reject it per the opt-out procedure described in section 14.3 (e). Kindly exclude me from the Agreement to Arbitrate.

I further request that you consider dropping the arbitration clause altogether, for all your customers, as a matter of principle. Hand-wringing about frivolous lawsuits notwithstanding, citizen access to the public court system is one of the things that makes America great. I invite you to read my fuller thoughts on the matter at www.geebobg.com/2008/09/20/the-sue-s-of-a/

Timely written acknowledgment of this request sent to the above address would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

[signature]

Bob Glickstein

Who are the real monsters?

A British film about Americans in Mexico. That seemed odd. But it didn’t stop me from watching 2010’s Monsters on Netflix recently, and enjoying it.

It’s six years after a NASA probe to Jupiter’s moons crash lands on its return to Earth, “infecting” an area of Northern Mexico near the U.S. border with samples of alien life, which thrive there and multiply, growing huge and destructive. The U.S. has erected an enormous wall along its Mexican border and its military makes regular incursions across it to suppress the creatures and limit their spread. Our two main characters have to make it back to the U.S. while traveling dangerously near, and eventually through, the infected zone. Their journey has a vérité feel and is full of suspense, with a few moments of terror and some interesting character development. By the end I found it compelling enough to go online and see what opinions others had written about it.

I was disappointed by what I found. Without exception the reviews and opinions that I read evaluated Monsters as a conventional monster movie — that is, as a mere shocker — and by that metric many critics found it lacking in terms of horror and body count and creature biology and so on, though everyone commended the guerrilla filmmaking techniques and how far the tiny budget was stretched for the sake of producing credible special effects. The principal filmmaker, Gareth Edwards, is now being talked about as a hot new talent for directing sci-fi epics.

All of which was missing the point. Not one writer commented on the glaringly obvious subtext, the very reason the film was made and the answer to why a British filmmaker chose Mexico as his setting and Americans as his characters: it’s a story about the failure of America to adapt to a changing world.

[Spoilers follow.]

Continue reading “Who are the real monsters?”