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Friday, August 10, 2018

Zero Sum


Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security, and prestige, it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.
-- Bantu Stephen Biko, South African anti-apartheid activist


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And we've circled back 'round to this.

He’s so predictable. This is Trump’s go-to move when he’s cornered or stressed or feeling unloved.

This is Trump’s fan-tribute. Like those songs fading music groups do, a closing feel-good number, with lyrics of tired clichés about roadies and the cheap seats and hotel rooms and the lonely road and how it’s all worth it when they get up on the stage and see the faces of the fans. You people, you’re why we do it. And the fans cheer. It’s us! Us! Oh, they’re singing about us! They love us! And the easy applause swells over the music. And a bunch of old has-beens get to feel like they did back in the days when they filled stadiums with a 100,000 fans. Listen to ‘em cheer. We still got it.

That’s what this is.

Trump’s feeling down, feeling blue, feelin’ old and unloved.

So he throws this out. Those darn black people. Always with the protesting. Why, they don’t even know what they’re mad about! The fans, man, the poor football fans. You people go to the game for fun and these ungrateful types wanna protest? They’re practically stealing from you, what with all the money it costs you for the tickets. Why can’t they just be cool? Just be happy? Look at all that money they’re making! You, White People, you’re the real victims here.

Easy cheers.

Easy applause.

Oh, he’s talking about us! He’s loves us! And the crowd cheers. And it makes him feel good. Important. Loved. Righteous. He’s still got it.

The NFL players are at it again - taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love. Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!

Take that apart though.

Look at what he’s actually saying.

"unable to define"

Woof woof! There’s a dog whistle for you.

There it is, right there. Unable to define. That's what he said.

Numerous players (i.e. black players)…

…want to show their "outrage" (in quote marks, to delineate that their concerns are fake. Not valid. Not real. Not like white people’s outrage, not like his own supporters’ rage. Black people, you see, they don’t feel things like you and I do, they don’t love their own kids, their families, their friends, their community or nation, not like we do. That’s what the plantation owners used to say when they sold off black children to other slavers. They’re not like us. That’s why their outrage is in quotes, because it’s not like ours)…

…at something most of them are unable to define (they don’t even know what they’re mad at, man! Silly negroes).

There it is.

Right there.

Right. There.

The whitest of white privilege.

Their outrage, it's not real! Why, they don't even know what they're mad about! I mean, look at how well off they are, what are they complaining about anyway?

That ignorance, that attitude, that dismissal, that is exactly what those players are protesting. The centuries of bigotry and racism and oppression that leads directly to that privileged blindness, that right there. That’s the thing. That’s the root of it. That’s the very essence, right there.

Talk about irony.

You could describe every Trump supporter at every Trump rally in the same manner, only you'd actually be accurate instead of wrong.

These white conservatives, they're all mad, pissed off, they have no idea why and they don't care. Pissed off is an identity, the identity, of modern conservatives. They're always mad about something, always certain they are being attacked, diminished, made lesser somehow, under assault, being invaded and violated. 

It’s who they are.

Trump says unemployment is the lowest in history? The only jobs that are unfilled are the ones nobody wants? They're still mad about jobs. Immigrants, yeah, they’re taking our jobs! Those filthy bastards!

Trump tells you the GDP is the highest in history, the economy is booming like never before, the stock market is at an all time high, taxes are low, wages are up and companies are handing out bonuses! That’s what he says. His supporters are mad. They’re taking our money! Impose those tariffs! It’s those bad trade deals! Screw Europe! Screw China! They’re bleeding us dry, man! It’s so unfair! So unfair!

The vast majority of the country is of their religion. We've never had a president who wasn't a Christian. Members of our government loudly declare their faith every day, publicly, from their government offices while in the performance of their government jobs. They don’t have to hide it, they’re proud of their faith, they shove it in your face, they brag about it. Christian prayers are offered up at every public event, every government function, sporting contests, and flood dozens of TV channels and hundreds radio stations across the country. The various fetishes of that religion are on every corner, crosses sprout like weeds, and the symbols of Christianity are displayed openly and proudly by its adherents. Christianity rakes in billions, tax free, and builds itself massive monuments of gold and steel ten stories high. Our religious holidays are Christian holidays. Still, they're mad, our religion is under attack! We’re oppressed, persecuted, they angrily shout!

They’re white and Christian and straight, this entire country is built around them. They have never, not once walked into a place and wondered if they’ll be served or asked to leave instead, if they’ll get refused a room, or a loan, or a decent education. They don’t have to straighten their hair or worry if they sound “American” enough. And every national hero, every Hollywood star, looks just like them.  They never have to fear if their kids will get shot down on the street because some cop confused a toy for a gun. They never have to worry if they’ll be thrown in jail for “resisting arrest” when they’re pulled over for no reason. Nobody is demanding that they show a picture ID to vote – and then closing down DMV offices in their neighborhoods to make it impossible to get that ID. No one is purging them from voter records. Nobody calls the police on them when they have a barbeque in the park, or their kids set up a lemonade stand, or they’re waiting for a friend in a coffee shop, or if they fall asleep in their dorm’s study room, or they’re a fireman trying to save lives and property, or they’re a 12-year-old kid running a lawn mowing business. They never had to march for their civil rights, for freedom, for justice. They get a boost, an advantage, in everything, every single facet of our society, just for being who they are. And yet they’re still mad, Trump tells them that they are oppressed and put upon and they believe it. They’re mad. Angry at the idea that somebody else, somebody not like them, should get that same privilege.

Hey, don’t take my word for it.

Go to to a Trump rally. Listen to his speeches. Look at his actions. That’s how he got elected. That’s exactly what he tells his supporters. You’re the victims. “They” are taking your money, your jobs, your religion, your freedom, and your country away from you. I’m gonna give it back to you. That was his whole campaign. Take back America for real Americans, right? Real Americans just like them.

But the people who are actually oppressed?

The Americans who daily face actual discrimination and disadvantage?

The refugees desperately fleeing actual horror and persecution? Screw ‘em.

He’s got nothing but contempt for them.

He’s got nothing but dismissal.

…wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define.

Woof woof.

Those players who take a knee, they have articulated the reasons for their protest at length. Repeatedly. Over and over.

They’ve written hundreds of thousands of words on the subject.

They’ve given hundreds of interviews.

They’ve spoken out in every venue this country has.

The reason for their protest, for their statement, has been detailed in every major paper in this country, and on nearly every major media channel.

If you don’t know why they take a knee, if Trump doesn’t know by now, well then it’s because you refuse to listen.


If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."
-- Lyndon Johnson, 36th President of the United States of America


What really confuses Trump is the money.

They make a fortune doing what they love. Be happy, be cool!

You're making money, so what's the problem?

You’re getting paid. So why are you bellyaching about stuff? Be cool, man!

People protest police abuse? What’s the problem? The GDP is at an all time high! Be Happy!

Nazis on the march in America’s cities? What are you complaining about? The stock market is roaring!

Why do you care about black men being shot down in the street? What’s that to you? You’re rich, man!

Other people denied their civil rights and due process? Injustice? Inequality? Racism? Violence and oppression? So what? Business profits are great! If you're making money, what do you have to complain about? To hell with everybody else, you’re making money, right? You’re rich, aren't you? So what’s the problem?

Because Trump and conservatives like him can't conceive of anything more important than money.

This is Trump. This is Trump every day, you’re making money, man, what’s the problem?

No matter how many times Colin Kaepernick explained himself, no matter how many interviews Malcolm Jenkins gives, no matter how many times the players explain the reasons for their protest, no matter how detailed, no matter how specific, Trump can't hear it. He won't hear it. Because he simply cannot fathom putting the welfare of others over money.

This is the philosophy of modern conservatism: I got mine, fuck you.

This is the core of their horrible selfish religion: I'm saved, you can burn in hell.

You’ve heard me say this many times before: It’s not heaven if everybody gets to go.  The best part about Conservative Heaven isn’t being up there with Jesus, no, it’s gloating at the poor saps burning forever down below. Ha ha HAH. We’re Saved, fuck you, losers! And that horrible selfish religion shapes everything else. We got ours, our healthcare, our food, our clean water, our homes, our jobs, our retirement, our stock options, our savings, our opportunity, our salvation, so fuck you. The best part of America is that everybody doesn’t get to go. There’s no point in privilege if everybody is privileged. You can’t think of yourself as exceptional if everybody is exceptional. There’s no point in being rich if everybody else is rich too. They see liberty and justice and freedom as a zero sum game. If others get more, they are somehow diminished, lessened, cheated of their exalted status and made average.

This is how Trump and his supporters think. You've got yours, why are you protesting? Fuck them, you got yours!

This is the very core of modern Republicanism where everything is for profit, prisons, healthcare, education, religion, civil rights, equality, justice, liberty, all of it for money. And so long as you get yours, well, then to hell with everybody else because there’s not enough to go around and heaven isn’t heaven if everybody gets to go.

These people are almost literally the rich sons of bitches who rowed away from the Titanic in half empty lifeboats as 1500 people drowned in freezing water behind them. Fuck you, losers! I got mine.

This literally defines the very platform of the Republican Party. It’s become their entire ideology, from civil rights to foreign policy, fuck you, so long as I got mine.

And if you didn’t get yours, well, that’s your fault. If the playing field isn’t level, if society is rigged against you, if others are working night and day to marginalize you, too bad, that’s your fault, loser. If you worked your whole life, you saved and you sacrificed, and then one day a bunch of rich assholes implode the economy and they wipe out your savings, your kid’s college fund, your retirement, your job, your home, everything, well, too bad for you, Loser. You should have planned better, you should have worked harder. You should have been born privileged. Pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps, and then pulled the ladder up after yourself.

This ideology, this religion, is nothing but selfishness. It’s a complete lack of empathy shamelessly writ large.

It’s Trump’s go-to move, his fan tribute, because it always gets a cheer from the suckers.

And the more things change, well, you know the rest…

Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.”
-- Mwai Kibaki, 3rd President of Kenya

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Donation Drive and Giveaway

As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.

Also, as previously noted, I don’t like doing this. But it is a necessary part of this business model.

Also, as previously noted, some people are deeply, deeply offended by this. Yes, they are, and they write me hatemail to tell me all about it or attack me on social media over it. However, despite the sneering criticism of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way. It’s not easy, and I wish there was another way to go about it, but an independent political writer can make a living this way.

Yes, writer.

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. Social media “influencer.” Whatever you want to call it. Eight hours a day, I put words together. I never intended this to become a profession. Well, I mean, I did, but not this. Not this way. See, I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. My grandmother used to hand out books at Christmas and when I was about seven or so, she gave me a copy of The Hardy Boys #8, The Mystery of Cabin Island. I’d always loved words, and my mom used to read to me when I was little, Bolivar Shagnasty, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Go Dog Go! I loved the pictures and the stories, but I’d never been much of a reader before The Mystery of Cabin Island. That book changed everything for me. I became a voracious reader. I read everything – particularly once I discovered this thing called a library where you could go and they’d just let you borrow whatever books you wanted. The Hardy Boys. Nancy Drew. The Bobbsey Twins. Adventure novels. Historical fiction. Ghost stories. And then one day on the way to the checkout desk I passed a rack of paperbacks. Ragged. Dog eared. Lurid. And right in the middle was this weird purple cover with this weird machine and a bunch of strange people kind of doing something around it, dancing? Working? Praying? I dunno. It was “Farmer in the Sky” by some character named Robert Heinlein. I knew that name. He wrote stories for Boys Life and as a scout I had a subscription. I picked it up and added to the pile and the librarian said, “you don’t want that.” Yeah, right, lady. She did eventually let me check it out and I discovered science fiction and whole new worlds opened up for me. The second science fiction book I ever read was Robert Silverberg’s “Time of the Great Freeze” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d sit in class and dream about it, about a world in the grip of new ice age, about atomic cities under miles of glacier ice, men fighting their way from New York to London over thousands of miles of frozen sea. That story was, man, hell, I still think about it five decades later. Goddamn, science fiction grabbed my imagination like nothing else.

I never met Heinlein, but many, many years later I met Bob Silverberg. I shared a stage with him, in fact, the Hugo awards at the World Science Fiction convention. I got to talk to him afterwards. It was like talking to Walt Disney or Mark Twain, the people who created the dreams of your childhood. You have no idea what that meant to me. See, way back when, some time not too long after I discovered books, I suddenly realized that there was a whole class of people, somewhere, who wrote those things. People who were paid to daydream, to think up stories, put words together. They didn’t get yelled at and told to pay attention in class. They got paid for it (not a lot, as it turns out, but something anyway). Writers.

Other kids dreamed of being cops or firemen or doctors or astronauts. A writer though, well, a writer is all of those things and everything else. Adventurer. Actor. Teacher. Warrior. Pilot. Passenger. Spaceman. Sailor. Scientist. Citizen. Villain. Hero. Whatever their imagination can dream up.

Writer.

People did that.

And that’s what I wanted to be.

I mean, I already had the daydreaming part down, how hard could the rest of it be, right?

Now, it used to be “writer” was defined as somebody who assembled words and ideas into books, short stories, articles, and perhaps screenplays, fact or fiction, and submitted those efforts via various means to editors at publishing houses or various presses or various media outlets, and then lived on cheese sandwiches hoping a check of some modest amount would come back. Traditionally the profession of “writer” meant you repeated this cycle without healthcare or adequate hygiene or presentable clothes until you died, or gave it up for a real job – both of which happened with distressing frequency.

Turns the rest of it was pretty hard. It’s work and a lot of it.

That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.

And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.

And that’s what I wanted to do. Ever since I was that kid, I’ve written down ideas. First laboriously by longhand, in notebooks. Then on an old typewriter. Then via generation after generation of personal computer. None of those doodles were very good. And I went off and did other things to make a living. But I always wanted to be writer.

When I retired from the Navy, I promised myself that I would do it. I’d sit down and get serious about it and I’d do it. So, the very day after I took off my uniform for the last time, I started a blog, this one. Stonekettle Station. I didn’t know what I was going to write, but I figured it was a way to teach myself the craft. I had no intention of making a living from this. None. I mean, who does that? (a few do now, but not back then). Hell, if I was lucky, maybe one or two people might even read it. But, I reasoned, if I worked at it every day, I could learn how to write the things people might read. Then I could, I dunno, something something book! My plan, admittedly, was a bit vague, but I figured I’d work it out as I went along.

Those early bits are pretty horrible. Pretty bad. Embarrassing even, some of them. I leave them up though, as a measure of how far I’ve come. Over time I came to realize that I’m unlikely to be another Heinlein or Silverberg. Whatever they had, have, that ability to create worlds whole cloth, I don’t. At least not the kind of refined ability needed crank out novels in volume large enough to actually pay the mortgage. I’ll keep at it, but it’s not what I’m good at.


Write what you know, that’s what they tell you. 


A lifetime in military intelligence and I know politics, ours and theirs, the military, war, conflict, and how to pull out the pieces and take the complexity apart into something others can understand. And somehow, that’s what I ended up doing, writing about politics for quarter of million people every day. It helped, I think, that social media was coming online just as I started doing this, Facebook, Twitter, that’s where my audience is.

And that’s the problem.

Nobody pays you to write about politics on social media.

Well, okay, nowadays, maybe they do – but it’s not the kind of thing I’m interested in, being the professional troll for some foreign nation or a shill for some media conglomerate or political party.

There’s no professional market for an independent political writer who spends most of his time on social media.

But, that’s where I am anyway. In that strange new middle ground.

Ten years ago, hell five years ago, I would never have guessed that Facebook would become my primary platform for day to day short form.  Facebook is a horrible platform for the kinds of things I write. It’s a bastard cross between a blog and public forum and doesn’t do either very well. It’s subject to arbitrary and random censorship. There’s no protection for intellectual property at all. It lacks the most basic of editing tools and formatting functions, its search capability is ridiculous and all but useless. Facebook’s interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization – limitless to everybody but Facebook users that is. It’s impossible to get any kind of help from the operators and it’s subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.

And yet – and yet -- it does one thing very, very well.

It does one thing that other technology cannot do, that traditional publishing venues cannot do.

Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other social media platforms connect writers to people in an organic, viral, geometrically expanding manner that is completely impossible anywhere else and that has never existed before.

Now, interacting with readers on a real time basis for hours upon hours every single goddamned day isn’t for every writer.

Believe me.

It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it.

In point of fact, a lot of writers become writers because they are anti-social bastards who enjoy living on moldy fake-cheese sandwiches and sitting around all day in dirty pajama pants and who tend to break out in a cold sweat when they actually have to put on pants and go outside where all the other people are.

So real time interaction with their audience isn’t something they consider a feature.

And that’s okay.

“Writer” is a loose enough definition that it accommodates the gregarious right alongside the smelly hermit.

But, if you write well, if you write the things people are interested in, and if you’re willing to interact with your audience directly and in real time, then social media makes it possible for your work to spread far beyond the size of audiences normally available to traditional writers. For example: a few years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month on a good month – and that was after 8 years of writing every single day.  Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook. Less than a 1000 on Twitter. Two years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience exceeds 160,000 people per day for my personal page and the Stonekettle Station Group has grown to more than 30,000. There are another 100,000 followers on Twitter, and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 100,000 unique pageviews in a few hours.

Social media, for all its ills, has created new opportunity, an alternative to traditional writing models. Not a replacement, a supplement.

And that’s where I ended up. That’s where I exist.

I admit that in my case there is some degree of luck. I happened to be in the right place just as opportunity opened with the right experience and skillset and enough free time to take advantage of it.  It suits me. It’s not easy. Really it’s not. It sometimes (often) takes 14 to 18 hour days, research, writing, swearing at the screen, dealing with trolls and hatemail, it can be incredibly frustrating at times for reasons you never imagine or anticipate. It requires constant attention, a constant presence, and everything becomes grist for the mill, making much of your life public – something that is often less than thrilling to your spouse and your kids.

It can be dangerous. People threaten you, threaten violence, even death. Worse (yes, worse), they work to actively take you down, silence your voice, get you kicked off the platforms you’ve invested more than a decade in – and some of most persistent attacks in this regard come from, well, for lack of a better word, your own side.

It’s work.

Goddamn is it work.

I’ve been invited to a number of writers’ conventions to talk about this with other writers – or those who want to become writers under this new paradigm. That’s something I’m happy to do. I’ve been pretty lucky and I’m glad to pay that forward. The world is a big place, there’s plenty of room for many, many more writers in this new arena and I’m happy to help get them started. But, and this is real kicker, all those people, for me a quarter million readers a day, an audience that size would give a traditional writer some guaranteed income via the traditional means of agent, publisher, bookstore, publisher, check. But for me? There’s no such structure, no established methodology of turning words into income.

That structure is slowly evolving, I can see it happening, but it’s still nebulous and indistinct and for the moment it’s just me and you. Nobody in the middle. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. And you know, if every one of those quarter million daily readers signed up for Patreon and donated a buck a month, well, I’d be writing this from the deck of my personal yacht. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and it’s probably better for us all that it doesn’t because I’d spend all my time lounging around that aforementioned boat like I was Betsy DeVos instead of, you know, writing.

There are other ways to do this, advertising is one of those models. But I look at sites covered in ads and I hate them. They actively drive me away. I ran ads here on the Stonekettle Station, but the increased revenue wasn’t worth seeing ads for things I adamantly don’t agree with on my website, shoved in front of my readers. I don’t want to use that model. So I opted out of the ads and removed them from my platform. I lost the revenue, but I get to keep my self-respect.

Likewise I find problems with other methodologies, specifically in that almost all of them would leave me beholden to various agencies.

So, I won’t do that either.


And every once in a while I need to ask for money.


I don’t like this.

But it’s necessary.

It’s necessary if I am to remain who I am and if I am to continue to write the things I write and that you come here to read.

But, and this is the important part, this way I am independent. I don’t owe anybody, no business, no agenda, no political party or ideology, no boss, I don’t owe any of them a damned thing.  I write what I write, be it long form, short Facebook posts, or a simple Tweet, to the very best of my ability and as I see it – not as somebody else has directed me to see it. I maintain my social media sites, my Facebook page and the Stonekettle Facebook Group, my Twitter feed, as independent entities, managed by me and me alone to my standards and not some corporate agenda.

It’s important to me. And it seems to be important to you, dear reader, and I take that responsibility seriously.

By remaining independent, I owe only you, the readers, the very best work I can put out and that’s it.

But it only works if you provide support.

I doubt I’ll ever get used to it, asking for money, even as other mainstream sites do it without any shame, and I’m not sure I want to.  That aversion always, every time, makes me more determined to improve, to work harder, to produce a better product for you and to expand opportunities for you to have your say, to interact, in a safe and intelligent forum.

So, here it is: I’m asking you to donate.

Because my business model is evolving, and because IRS regulations, state and federal laws, etc, all of these things impact this process, I tend to change things up every time, trying to find a way to accommodate the legal requirements with my own principles.

Here’s how I’m doing it this time:

The donation drive runs from August 1st until sometime in September.

I’m not sure exactly when I’ll end it. Let me explain why: I’m giving away stuff. Loot. Booty.


image


The last few times I did this, I waited until the end to hand out stuff. I’m not happy with that, for a number of reasons. So, this time, I’m going to give away prizes every day.

That’s right. Every day.

And so, the subscription drive will go on until I run out of things to give away.

I’ve got 50 Stonekettle Station pens. Some are worth $35, some are worth $100 or more. I’ll give one away every day until I run out and I might be making more while this process goes on. I’ve also got a stack of Alternate Truths – the best-selling political anthology which contains my short story: Gettysburg, AND the sequel: More Alternative Truths, which contains my vignette Doctor Republican’s Monster and my collaborative short, Moses. Every other day, I’ll give away a signed copy.

I may throw in some other Stonekettle Station items as the drive goes on, T-shirts, key chains, and so on.

If you donate starting today, I’ll throw your name in the hat. The sooner you donate, the fewer people there’ll be, the better your chance. Gifts will get mailed out every day. You don’t have to wait until the end of the drive, whenever that is.


To donate, click on the “Donation” button, either embedded in the text below or on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions.




You may enter more than once. Each donation will be counted as a unique subscription.

If you’ve already donated to Stonekettle Station this month, you’re already on the subscription list.

Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the giveaway. (See the footnote below for additional information regarding automatic reoccurring donations)

Legal Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle.  Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog and the associated social media feeds and conducted in accordance with state and federal law.

That is:  you’re paying for content, not a chance to win something.

I use the word “donation” because that’s the name of the PayPal function. That said, I am not claiming any tax-exempt status or charity. Donations are considered business income and I pay all applicable state and federal taxes on that income and I have the records to prove it.

The items I give away are my intellectual property, created and paid for by me.  As such I chose to randomly gift them to supporters, just as I give away my custom made pens to my fellow writers.  The giveaway list is generated randomly from voluntary subscriptions, since I have no other way to determine who readers are.  You are not donating for a chance to win a prize, you’re paying for the content of this blog and my associated social media feeds and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays, Facebook posts, and Tweets.

As always, thank you for your support.



Addendum: (updated as we go)

Aug 2: Chih Wen is today’s recipient of a Stonekettle Station Pen.
Aug 3: Hayley Hop and Karen Soule are today’s winners.
Aug 4: Craig Brankin is today’s winner.
Aug 5: James O'Malley wins today.
Aug 6: Anonymous
Aug 7: Chris Hull and Chris Hull – there were two Chris Hulls, I wasn’t clear regarding which was the winner, so, they’re both winners.
Aug 8: Anonymous
Aug 9: Jim Hudlow is today’s winner.
Aug 10: Anonymous
Aug 11: John Hanna is today’s winner.
Aug 12: Anonymous.
Aug 13: Anonymous and Kim Hallett are today’s winners.
Aug 14: Anonymous.
Aug 15: Wendy Halvorson is today’s winner.






*Reoccurring Payments: If you’ve set up a monthly donation via PayPal and you suddenly realize it’s been cancelled, that’s not me rejecting your money (because I would never do that. I need the money and I’m not too proud to say so). Likely it’s something to do with the PayPal process, usually your card has expired. I have no control over that.

* Pens. I will continue to produce pens for sale via my Etsy store per the usual process.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Quod Erat Demonstrandum


I judge people based on their capability, honesty, and merit.
-- Donald Trump


Give me what I want, or I'll punish the whole country!


image

I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!

That’s what Trump said this morning. We need great people coming into our country.

Great people.

And you get those people, apparently, with a "merit" based immigration system.

Immigration based on merit.

And not just immigration.

Merit is important to Republicans, to Trump. He says it quite a bit. Merit. In all caps, so apparently he means it this time.

Merit. This is a common theme with Trump, judging people based on “merit.”

What merit? And who decides?


Who decides which immigrants have merit?


No, I mean it. Tell me, who decides which immigrants have merit?

Who decides which people have merit, which human beings have merit and which ones don’t. Who decides that?

See, it’s one thing for an individual, a private businessman, to apply some personal, arbitrary measure of merit to others in his personal interactions. Perhaps we all do this to some degree.

It’s another thing entirely for the government to decide the merits of a human being.

And Trump is no longer a private individual, for the moment, for better or worse, he is the government.


Who decides which immigrants have merit?


Hell, before we even get to that, you'll have to define what "merit" means in this context.

What is human merit? Is there a standard set of criteria? An agreed upon list of traits which constitute merit? Is merit measured in degree, with precision, a scale perhaps from 0 to 100? What is the minimum amount of merit to allow entry? How do you measure it? Who measures it? When do you measure it – i.e. when a person is an infant? A child? A teen? An adult? When? After they’ve had some education. After they’ve made a fortune? After they’ve gained some proven worth? Or is it raw potential?

The inherent merit you’re either born with or not. Is that it? Is it?

People change, they grow, and they sometimes diminish with time – you have only to look at those we once though had great merit until they suddenly didn’t. Bill Cosby comes to mind, along with myriad other entertainers, politicians, and wealthy entrepreneurs who’ve fallen from grace in recent memory.

Merit?

How do you measure that? Because we’ve never been able to do so in any quantifiable manner.

Instead we use vague subjective terms and questionable metrics: Happy. Well adjusted. High IQ. Studious. Smart. Above average. Well educated. Talented.

Take this guy, does he have merit?  The smartest kid in class. 167 IQ. Skipped ahead in high school, National Merit Finalist, graduated at 15, accepted into Harvard at 16, full scholarship for advanced mathematics. PhD by 25. A genius by every measure. His potential for greatness and merit? Unlimited. Trump says, "We need great people coming into our Country!" Great people. Great. Well, then what are the things that make a person "great?" Does that guy, the one just I described have merit? Is he the kind of 25-year-old we’d want helping us make America great? If you met him at the border, would he be the type you’d let in?

Yeah?

That’s Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.


So, who defines human merit in the context of greatness?


Trump's own mother was an immigrant.

When she immigrated here at the start of the Great Depression. She was a teenager, 18 years old. Her first language was Gaelic, her English nearly incomprehensible to Americans. She had no education, no trade, no special skills, no unique abilities, no money. She was a dirt-poor economic immigrant, one of tens of thousands from Scotland during the depression. She ended up a domestic servant in New York, scrubbing the toilets of the more well-to-do.

Now, what "merit" did she have?

It's not as if America needed another dirt poor non-skilled toilet-scrubber during the Depression. We had plenty of natural born Americans of our own who needed jobs and would have done anything to get them, including scrubbing toilets. What merit did Mary Ann MacLeod have? Why should she have been allowed to come here and take a job, money, a desperately needed livelihood, from an American?

What greatness did she have?

Other than being young, and pretty, and white, and eventually married to a rich guy, I mean?

Much the same could be said of the President's current wife. What greatness did Melanija Knavs have? What merit? Her father was an Eastern Bloc communist. There's nothing special about her education or her experience, she has no unique abilities, no special skills. She did have a trade when she came here, true, but "model" is hardly something great that America needs and can't produce for itself. Her looks got her here, true, but they're fading now and she'll never walk a runway again -- so what merit does she have? Other than being attractive and white and married to a rich guy?


Who decides which immigrants have merit?


How do you define "great people."

What is it that makes an immigrant great?

Who decides what greatness is?

It matters. Very much.

For example: Trump and numerous Republicans have said, or implied, more than once, that immigrants – and in particular, Latinos – tend to vote for Democrats, or at least this is the assumption. And thus, many outspoken Republicans seem to suggest that alone should be enough to bar them from the country. And you don't have to look very far or very hard to find them saying so.

So does that mean we let people into this country, and eventually grant citizenship, to only those who have the "merit" of voting for the political party we like?

Who decides that?

Those currently in power? The same way we decide gerrymandering and voting districts? Yeah?

Or do we compromise? Balance it out? Sure, like before the Civil War when the Union granted statehood only in pairs, one Slave State and one Non-Slave State had to be admitted together in order to maintain balance in Congress.

Like that?

Is that a template for immigrants? We only grant citizenship in pairs, one liberal and one conservative at a time, so as to maintain the balance and assuage Republican fears?

Silly?

Perhaps.

But we've made many such ridiculous compromises in the past, or worse.


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-- Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

Who decides what human merit actually is?

No, seriously, who decides?

Is skill with a scalpel more valuable to America than the skills of a warrior? No, I'm not being facetious here. We have holidays to honor the military, Trump himself wants to see soldiers parade through the Capital. We have no national holidays to honor doctors and nurses, Trump hasn’t ordered a parade for those who save lives rather than those who take them. So, which has more merit, the doctor? or the warrior?

Is ability with complex math more meritorious than, say, facility with music? And we’re back to Ted Kaczynski again, aren’t we?

Some kid, say, hyperactive, no education, no experience, behavioral problems, only skill is screwing around on skateboards. He shows up at the border, you gonna let him in?

No?

No merit. No special skills. No useful education. Just another punk kid, just another troublemaker on wheels. No merit.

That’s Tony Hawk. Pro-skateboarder at 14. World Champion twelve years in a row. Today he’s a 50-year-old man, who still does little more than screw around on skateboards – and he’s recognized the world over, a hero to tens of thousands, a star, a leader in a billion dollar industry, and business is lined up twenty deep for his endorsement.

What merit to America’s supposed greatness does skateboarding have?

Well, that depends on how you define merit, doesn’t it?

How many Tony Hawks didn’t have the luxury of being born here? How many future sports stars are right now six years old and locked in cages on our southern border? And what if those skills, that merit, develops only after someone immigrates to America? What if it's America itself, the opportunities here, that create greatness in a person and not the other way around? What if it's both? I mean, how do you know? How can you know? How can you predict human nature, human potential with any degree of fidelity?

How do you tell the Ted Kaczynskis from the Tony Hawks?

 

Who decides what merit is?


Isn't merit subjective?

Dependent on the moment? Subject to change?

Merit. Human merit. I came from the military. From the Navy to be specific. I spent most of my adult life there. I joined up, at least in some part, because I didn’t know what merit I might have. I had some education, a bit. But I wasn’t a warrior. I wasn’t an egghead. I didn’t fit in much of anywhere. I didn’t have a lot of direction, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself.  The military gave me that, direction, purpose, education, perspective.  I learned something about human worth. You see, turns out I was selected for something special. Intelligence work. And back in the day, back during the Cold War, my specialty was pretty damned important. And the prestige of my profession was very high in the military. No one knew what we did. We were special, important, and we were regarded – at least we thought so – with more than a bit of mysticism and respect, and maybe a little awe. It made you feel a cut above the average sailor. Unique. Imbued with special merit, perhaps, greatness even.

But, see, here’s the thing.

Out there, on the pointy end, far from home, onboard a warship, you learn a little something about merit – and maybe something about your own relative worth.

Us? We spooks, those of us who worked behind locked steel doors, well, out there we were no more special – and lot less so – than the rest of the crew. Merit? Let me tell you about merit. Out there, far, far from home, the unnamed and unknown sailors who carried the mailbags to the helicopter in some distant port, the men who flew those machines over the sea and landed them on a pitching deck, the clerk who sorted that mail and handed it out at mail call, well, let me tell you those son of bitches had merit. Because a letter from home, back then before email and satellite network connections at sea, that guy was your lifeline to home. The ship’s servicemen, who washed your laundry every day, down in the bowels of the ship, who sweated their asses off in steam-filled compartments so that you could have clean skivvies, those men had merit.  If you crossed them, you might spend the next three months of your deployment free-balling it. The mess specialists, the ones who cooked your breakfast and served your lunch and made your dinner, those guys had merit, and one hell of a lot more than some codebreaker like me up in the spook-shack, because the quality of navy chow determines in very, very large part the morale of a ship. Bad cooks are a special misery at sea. Merit? There was no glory in sorting mail, in washing clothes, in cooking up dinner, or in the hundred other jobs done by the unnamed and unknown sailors out there everyday, but the ships won’t move without them and it sure doesn’t take you long to learn just how important they are to your quality of life.

That’s America.

Merit? What has more merit? A dentist when you need a cavity filled or the garbage man when your cans are overflowing? The person who waits on your table when you’re hungry or the one who cuts your hair? Those people, the ones who turn up whenever you need help, the ones who stop alongside the road to help you with a flat, the ones who always turn up to help look for a missing child, the ones who fill the sandbags when the water is rising and the winds start to howl, what merit do they have?


Who decides the merit of a human being?


Is merit education? Experience? Skill? Intellect? Able bodied? Ability? Something you’re born with or something you learn?

Or is merit your Race? Religion? Language? Wealth? Health? Politics? Age? Attractiveness? Breeding potential? Skull shape? Eye color?

Who decides what constitutes human merit? What makes a human being great or not?

You know, there have been nations throughout history who have attempted to define exactly that, define greatness, define merit. Measure it. And set human beings on a scale, their worth measured against each other.

Universally, history regards those societies as monsters and we hold them up as examples of horror and the ultimate villainy.


Who decides which people have merit and which ones do not?


You?

Me?

Donald Trump?

Congress? Voters? The mob? Some faceless bureaucrat? A secret committee? Do we contract it out? Outsource the decision to a company in Bangladesh? Who decides?

And how long, once we begin assessing immigrants on their supposed merit, their unmeasurable and unknowable potential contribution to our alleged national greatness, how long before we likewise begin dividing up natural born Americans into categories of relative worth? How long before we begin separating those with merit from those judged to have less, or none?

And what do we do with those who have no merit to our society? What happens to them?

When the state grants itself the power to decide which humans are worthy and which ones are not, then slavery, genocide, absolutism, war, and horror follow almost immediately. Every time.

Every. Time.

Every. Single. Time.

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And there is no power more absolute, or more corrupting, than a government who declares itself the arbiter of human worth.


Since I have difficulty defining merit and what merit alone means – and in any context, whether it's judicial or otherwise – I accept that different experiences in and of itself, bring merit to the system.
-- Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Folly, Vice, and Madness

There is just so much hurt, disappointment, and oppression one can take… The line between reason and madness grows thinner.
-- Rosa Parks


Let's begin here:

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Now that Harley-Davidson is moving part of its operation out of the U.S., my Administration is working with other Motor Cycle companies who want to move into the U.S. Harley customers are not happy with their move - sales are down 7% in 2017. The U.S. is where the Action is!

Did you read that?

Do you see what it says? What it implies?

Trump is working with "other" motorcycle (or "Motor Cycle") companies who want to move to the U.S.

Other motorcycle companies.

Who want to move to the U.S.

Meaning they're not in the U.S. now.

Meaning they're not American.

You see this, right?

Leaving aside the part where he offers up some statistic from 2017, you know, before Harley-Davidson announced their decision to move some of their manufacturing overseas in response to Trump’s 2018 trade war, Donald Trump would rather work with foreign companies, instead of changing the wrong-headed policies that forced an American company into this situation in the first place.

I mean, you do see it, right?

No?

Maybe it's just me.

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Just out that the Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians - including to government officials. How big (and bad) is that?

How big and bad is that, asks Trump.

How big?

How bad?

Well, I don't know.

How could I?

You see, it's impossible to say one way or the other, because Trump deliberately offers no proof and no context.

How bad? Well, what if those Iranians were ... persecuted Christians?

What if they were Iranian Jews?

What if Obama allowed 2500 persecuted Iranian Christians fleeing Muslim persecution into this country? Made them Americans? Would that be big and bad? Or small and good?

I mean, would that information influence your perception of this situation?

Would it?

Is that what happened?

How do you know? If Trump never gives supporting facts or context or sources?

It’s not actually. What happened. Because, in fact, there were no 2500 Iranians granted US citizenship as part of the Iranian nuclear deal. None. Zero. Not one. No, Trump based his accusation on a Fox News story which was in turn based on a comment by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary hardliner Hojjat al-Islam Mojtaba Zolnour. And there is no evidence whatsoever to support Zolnour's claim. The guy just made it up in order to accuse his own more moderate countrymen of striking some secret deal with The Great Satan, i.e. us. See, Zolnour and other Iranian extremists don't want any deal restricting their nuclear ambitions. And they are trying to take down their own, increasingly moderate government who wants to reach an agreement with the West.

Ironic, isn’t it? That Trump should then be parroting this lie, eh? Not to mention Fox News.

Ironic indeed.

Speaking of nuclear war:

image

Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well! In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months. All of Asia is thrilled. Only the Opposition Party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!

Many good conversations.

What conversations? Who's doing the conversing? What are they talking about? Are our allies involved? Is Congress? These are matters of national interest, matters of state, matters of the public record. And yet, there's no proof of this assertion. None.

"If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!"

Really?

That's the president saying we would be at war with North Korea. It’s not ambiguous. There’s no room for flexible interpretation. We would be at war with North Korea.

Was North Korea preparing for war? I mean, this is a hell of a statement: If not for me, we would be at war with North Korea.

Trump is claiming he personally stopped a war. A war that we would be in right now.

But there’s no evidence that North Korea was preparing for war.

So who then does that leave as the aggressor?

Us?

On what grounds? At what provocation? Because it sounds an awful lot like the United States was secretly gearing up for a preemptive war -- which would be illegal by both our own and international law – not to mention the very thing Trump spent years castigating George Bush over.

Again, maybe it's just me.

image

How can the Democrats, who are weak on the Border and weak on Crime, do well in November. The people of our Country want and demand Safety and Security, while the Democrats are more interested in ripping apart and demeaning (and not properly funding) our great Law Enforcement!

Demeaning.

A loss of dignity of and respect for. Degrading. Humiliating. Shameful. Debase. Degrade. That’s what demeaning means.

Trump says democrats are “demeaning” our “great law enforcement.”

Demeaning.

You see it, right?

The implication?

You should respect authority simply because it is authority, because it wears a uniform. Not because it is worthy of respect.

Speaking out against abuse of power is unpatriotic. Militancy is necessary, authoritarianism is necessary, oppression is necessary, for safety, for security, for the public good.

I mean you see it, don’t you?

You hear the echoes of all the worst regimes from history in that rhetoric, do you not? You can hear the tromp of jackboots and the screams from the concentration camps, can’t you? For the public good. For safety. For security.

No?

Maybe you’re just not listening.

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When we have an 'infestation' of MS-13 GANGS in certain parts of our country, who do we send to get them out? ICE! They are tougher and smarter than these rough criminal elelments [sic] that bad immigration laws allow into our country. Dems do not appreciate the great job they do! Nov.

...these rough criminal elements that bad immigration laws allow into our country...

There is no proof of this. None.

And in fact existing data shows exactly the opposite. Trump ignores his own experts for a politically driven false worldview, because it pushes the narrative of fear. And because that fear drives the conservative agenda: We must do this because "the people of our country want and demand safety and security."

The people of our country want and demand safety and security.

You see it, right?

You hear it, right?

These are the very same words from your history books. These are the very same ideas our grandfathers stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight.

The very same.

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The economy is doing perhaps better than ever before, and that’s prior to fixing some of the worst and most unfair Trade Deals ever made by any country. In any event, they are coming along very well. Most countries agree that they must be changed, but nobody ever asked!

"perhaps"

See the weasel words?

Perhaps. He caveats every statement like this, giving himself a way out, showing that he himself doesn't really believe what he's saying. That he knows his own words are untrue.

He doesn't believe it.

He doesn’t, but the howling mob does.

"most countries"

Note again that he doesn't provide any proof of this, no list of countries, no world leaders to back him up. In fact, the response from world leaders and our erstwhile trading partners says exactly the opposite. Again.

And we are now for all practical purposes in a trade war.

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Crazy Maxine Waters, said by some to be one of the most corrupt people in politics, is rapidly becoming, together with Nancy Pelosi, the FACE of the Democrat Party. Her ranting and raving, even referring to herself as a wounded animal, will make people flee the Democrats!

"said by some"

Again, who? Who said that? When did they say it? What was the context? What proof do they offer of this "most corrupt people in politics?"

Trump repeats the murmuring of sycophants and agents provocateur, the paranoid unhinged voices in his head, but offers no actual proof.

But, of course, the howling mob requires no proof. No critical thought. No reason. No objective thought.

They only require a target for their hate.


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Many Democrats are deeply concerned about the fact that their ‘leadership’ wants to denounce and abandon the great men and women of ICE, thereby declaring war on Law & Order. These people will be voting for Republicans in November and, in many cases, joining the Republican Party!

"many Democrats"

Many.

Democrats.

What democrats? Who are these people? What democrats are joining the Republican party? If there are “many” then it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a list of names. Where is it?

Instead, it's prominent republicans who are publicly abandoning Trump, abandoning their party. So who are these democrats Trump is talking about, the ones joining the republican party? Who are they? Let's see the voter registration rolls. Let’s see the headlines.

Well?

It never even occurs to his supporters to demand such proof. He tells them what they want to hear. He makes their unfocused rage and their impotent fury legitimate. They don't need proof.

They just need a target for their hate.

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Wow! The NSA has deleted 685 million phone calls and text messages. Privacy violations? They blame technical irregularities. Such a disgrace. The Witch Hunt continues!

Wow, indeed.

And now we’re down to it.

You see, once upon a time, the idea of spying on Americans was utterly abhorrent to the civilian analysts and the military electronic warfare specialists and the signals intelligence experts of the Nationals Security Agency. I know, I used to be one of those people. Our job was to protect Americans, not spy on them. We were proud of that. It was important. How we did our job mattered as much as why. We were patriots, not the fucking Gestapo.

Now?

Now, the National Security Agency spies on Americans.

Now, NSA spends more time and more resources and more effort spying on Americans with the willing assistance of American business than they do on our enemies.

Because they were ordered to do so.

Because our leaders tell them that we are the enemy.

Because Congress changed the law and provided limitless funding.

Because the president, this one and the previous one and the one before that gave the order.

And apparently Trump didn't even read the Defense Authorization bill he signed last month.

And why?

Why was the National Security Agency ordered to spy on Americans?

Why was the US intelligence apparatus turned loose on Americans?

Why was its mission expanded to domestic surveillance and its budget massively enlarged to support spying on its own citizens?

Why did Congress change the law and the President give the order?

Why?

Because "the people of our Country want and demand safety and security."


That’s why.


Because the generals and the spies and the angry white men who run this country, those fearful old Cold Warriors, they told us that the only way to make ourselves safe, the only way to gain security, was to let the FBI and the CIA and the NSA and the local cops listen to our phone calls,

read our emails,

monitor our texts,

plumb our hard drives,

audit our library records,

access our medical history,

search our houses,

all without a warrant, without probable cause, without oversight.

That's what they all told us when they passed the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act and when they renew those secret laws every year.

That’s what they tell us when they strip-search little kids and old ladies in the airports. When they kidnap citizens right off the street and spirit them away for "enhanced interrogation" at some CIA black site in some undisclosed foreign country. When they detained Americans without warrant or trial.

That’s what conservatives told us.

That's what Republicans like Trump tell us now.

Ironic, no? That out of fear we demand impossible safety and security, and thus grant unlimited powers to government, and that government then makes us into the enemy in the name our own safety and security.

And when people like me – someone who used to work for these sons of bitches and who knows the terrible power of the intelligence community from the inside – when we told you that was madness, well, we were shouted down as "weak on the Border and weak on Crime" and weak on terror and weak on national security.

We were called unamerican and unpatriotic.

We were called traitors.

And we still are, every day. Including today by the president himself who is right now ironically bemoaning the very authoritarianism he himself, and his own party, helped to create.

Donald Trump is insane.

He's a raving madman. A very, very dangerous madman, who's surrounded himself with toadies and fops and fascists and evil lieutenants and is cheered by the brainless mob like some goddamned megalomaniac from an Ian Fleming novel.

He demonstrates this every single day and you have only to look at his own words up above to see it.

And yet, right now, right here, on this blog, in my social media timelines, liberals will shortly arrive and admonish me to "just ignore him."

Just ignore him.


That’s what they'll say. Just ignore him.


Wrong.

Fucking wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Ignoring madness is how you wake up one morning in a country gone utterly mad.

Ignoring madness is how we all ended up here. Now. In this place. Living under this insanity.

Trump's insanity, his duplicity, his dangerous disingenuous bullshit, must be called out every single time.

Every. Single. Time.

Trump and his supporters must be held to account.

If congress wouldn't do it, then congress too must be held to account.

Because, sooner or later, Citizens, one way or the other, we're all going to be held to account for this madness.


But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
--
Edmund Burke

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hunting the Unicorn -- to Extinction


You ever see the movie Bedazzled?

The remake, not the original.

Elizabeth Hurley as The Devil.

Brendan Fraser as the hapless Elliot, who trades his soul for seven wishes – all of which keep going horribly wrong?

Elliot wishes to be rich and powerful and ends up a Colombian drug lord whose wife hates him and who is killed by his own men.

He then wishes to be famous and admired, and the Devil makes him into a seven foot tall world famous pro basketball player … and endows him with a “teenie weenie winkie.”

Determined to get it right, Elliot thinks carefully indeed when asking for his next wish…

Elliot: I wanna be smart. No, no, I wanna be really smart. And, uh, I wanna be able to talk good … well. What’s the word?

The Devil: Articulate?

Elliot: Articulate! Yeah, I wanna be articulate. And I want to be witty. Sophisticated. Charming. I want to know everything about everything. I want to be popular. Good looking. No, no make that great looking. And I want Allison to fall absolutely head over heels in love with me.

The Devil: Anything else?

Elliot: Like … what?

The Devil: Like winkie wise?

Elliot: Oh. Right. Um. Yeah. Well, um. I wanna be, uh, (grins shyly) I wanna be big. Nah uh, ah, not like practical joke big. But, you know, (pantomimes fist pumping like a piston) big. That clear?

The Devil: Crystal. You just say, “I wish,” and I’ll fill in the rest.

Elliot: Okay. I wish that I was witty and fu…

The Devil: Blah blah blah blah, you got it, Smarty Pants!

And Elliot gets everything he asked for. He’s intelligent, handsome, well spoken, admired, sophisticated and charming. He knows everything about everything. He’s the most popular man in every room. And he’s big, not practical joke big, but, you know, big. He’s a writer and he’s so good that his books win the Pulitzer before they are even published.

And the woman he wants falls instantly and madly in love with him.

Exactly as he asked.


Except, well,  like they say, the devil is in the details.


I said a thing.

It was a bad thing.

I did. I said a bad thing.

A terrible, no good, very bad thing.


image


I said, “show up and vote.”

Show up and vote, and you can win. Yep. That’s what I said.

I know, terrible, right? How could I? Show up, vote. What was I thinking?

In my defense, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The whole concept of America is based on that idea. Show up and vote. Throw the bastards out. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. But you’re not supposed to say it out loud. I guess it makes the people who didn’t show up feel uncomfortable or something. Whatever. It was a throwaway comment. Nothing particularly deep. Bumper sticker pithiness. Show up and vote. It’s not the first time I’ve said this. As I reminded Twitter, I said it before, in 2008, in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, in 2016…

I’ve said it, well, a lot.

Some folks, as noted above, were less than thrilled to be reminded.

This was several days ago, last week, before the state primaries and special elections. I was talking about the various candidates in various elections and naturally some defeatist started in with a litany of liberal woe. And I said, stop it. Just, stop it with that. Stop. I don’t want to hear about why you can’t vote. I’m telling you, again, show up and vote. Show the fuck up and vote and you can win. Look at Alabama, I said. Look at Western Pennsylvania. Look at what’s happening in Arizona. It doesn’t get any more rigged against liberals than there.

Of course, the game is rigged.

Of course, the other side cheats.

Of course, they’re doing everything they can to keep you from the polls.

Of course, they are. Of course. But if your vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be working so damned hard to keep you from exercising it. Get your ass to the polls, no matter what. Every time.

If you can win in Alabama, you can win anywhere.

If you goddamned liberals would just stop finding reasons to lose and show up and …

clip_image001[4]

What?

Oh. Right. Riiiight.

You’re already mad. I’m not even through the intro and you’re shouting at your screen. Gerrymandering! Rigged elections! Voter suppression! I live in a red state, my vote doesn’t count! And my particular favorite: Not all liberals, Asshole!

And you’re reaching for your keyboards.

I know. I know, I do. I hear you. Hey, I showed up at my polling station the last time, here the ultra conservative religious land of Florida’s District #1 and it was a huge Southern Baptist Church with Trump signs out front and poll workers wearing Trump shirts inside. I get it, man. Believe me, I do.

Hold that thought. Wait a second. I haven’t even gotten to really offensive part yet.


Look here, you tell me you show up.

But you don’t.

You don’t.

You show up for the presidential elections, once every four years.

But you don’t show up in the middle when it actually counts.

See, you, you liberals, you’ll stand in the freezing rain for a month to save the snowy spotted owl’s habitat, you’ll chain yourself to an oil tanker to protest drilling in the Arctic, you’ll occupy Wall Street. But you don’t show up when it actually counts.

Not enough of you anyway.

Folks, it’s idiotic to only show up for the one election where your vote – the popular vote – doesn’t actually do anything.

If you stand in the rain for a month because you care about something, but you don’t show up when your vote actually matters, to elect people who actually care about the same things you do, then you might as well just stay home and keep dry. Because if you don’t do the grunt work of democracy, if you don’t do your duty as a citizen of the republic, then all the marching and singing and protesting in the world isn’t going to do a goddamned thing.

It’s worse than useless to show up for the presidential election, but not the elections where your vote actually matters, i.e. local, state, and the mid-terms.

You have to show for every election. Every. Single. One. From school board to president. Every single time.

And don’t tell me that you do.


Because you don’t.


Liberals turned out in huge cheering masses in 2008.

Sure they did. And they elected Barack Obama. Hot damn. They were finally – finally – going to get everything they ever wanted. They were going to be smart and articulate, right? Witty. Sophisticated. Charming. They were going know everything about everything. They were going to be popular. Good looking. No, no make that great looking. Everybody was going to fall absolutely head over heels in love with them.

And they were going to be big

They were finally going to get that unicorn they’d been dreaming about all those years.

Except, well, see, the devil is in the details and unicorns are notoriously fickle creatures.


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The unicorn slipped out of their grasp, as unicorns tend to do.

So in 2010, disappointed, they didn’t show up.

And they lost the House.

Liberals wanted a unicorn from Obama and they didn’t get it and they were all disappointed and depressed. Let down. Uninspired. So they didn’t show up. And the House went not just to Republicans, but to the Tea Party. Right wing fanatics. Conservative extremists. Fringe conspiracy nuts, racists, nationalists, jingoists, who hated government so intensely that they were determined to destroy it at all costs. Now, this wasn’t a surprise. The Tea Party didn’t exactly try to hide who and what they were. They were proud of it. They painted it on their misspelled signs in letters four feet high. They marched on Washington waving their guns and their bibles and told everybody who would listen what they were going to do once they got into power. It wasn’t a secret.

But it wasn’t enough to get liberals to show up either.

That’s what you told me back then.

It’s not enough to vote against something – no matter how terrible, that’s what you said. Fuck you, Jim, don’t try to scare us into voting. We want our unicorn. We deserve it, yes, we do. We’ve been marching and protesting for decades, now is our time. We want it and we’re not going to compromise. Liberals don’t just fall in line, Jim, you fascist. That’s what you told me. Liberals are smart, we think for ourselves, we want to be inspired.  There has to be more than just voting against the bad guys, more than just the lesser of evils. No, liberals have to vote for something,

That’s what you said.

And so, the House fell to the Tea Party, but at least you had your unicorn dreams to keep you warm at night.

Liberals showed up for the Presidential election in 2012 though.

Of course they did. Turns out the Tea Party was pretty damned shitty indeed. And so, it seems liberals could indeed vote against something if they had to. They turned out. Two years too late, and by then Obama was well and truly hobbled. But liberals were still hoping for a unicorn, somehow, someway. Magic, I guess. So they showed up and they voted, and reelected Obama in a landslide.

But, without the House, there was no damned way they were going to get their wishes.

Naturally they blamed Obama for not magically giving them everything they wanted anyway and so in 2014 they once again didn’t show up and so they lost the Senate.

And this time it wasn’t just the Tea Party. By not showing up, liberals handed congress over to the likes of Mitch McConnell – the very epitome, the foul distilled bitter essence, of every single thing they supposedly despise. They elected and reelected Obama, hoping for a unicorn, and then cut his legs off and tied his arms behind his back and hung Mitch McConnell around his neck.

Meanwhile, local and state elections were going to conservatives.

Why?

Because they show up.

They show up, every election from dog catcher to school board to President. They show up. Your angry racist white uncle, the one who believes everything Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh tell him. The Tea Party. The religious nuts. The NRA. They show up. Every. Single. Time. See, you think about it once every four years. But those people? Your angry uncle, the religious nuts, the gun fanatics, the ones who are convinced the gays and the Muslims and the godless filthy liberals are stealing their country out from beneath them? Well, they think about it every day.

And they rage about it every day.

And they’re furious, every day.

And so they show up, every time.

Don’t take my word for it, go look for yourself. Volunteer to work the election. Tell me who shows up. Not just once, but every time.


What?

What’s that? Not all liberals?

No kidding. Of course it’s not all liberals. Of course it’s not you, you personally. Of course you show up, every time. Sure. Not all liberals.

But a lot of them.

Tell me something: local elections, code enforcement officer, county clerk, selectman, elder, town counsel, mayor, school board. The judges on your state ballot, what do you know about them? Wait, are there judges on your state ballot? Are state judges selected the same way across all states? Do you know? Guess what? They’re not. The methodology for selecting judges varies widely between states, partisan elections, nonpartisan elections, legislative elections, gubernatorial appointments, and/or assisted appointments. Quick, which method does your state use? Do you elect your judges or does your state government appoint them? Picture your ballot, are there judges on it? Is the candidate judge’s political affiliation listed or not? What do you know about those potential judges? How can you find out? What do those judges judge? Family court? Traffic court? Property court? Criminal court? Are they city or municipal courts? County courts? Circuit courts? Regional courts?

Name a judge on the bench of your local circuit court. No? Okay, how about just the Chief Judge for your district?

Do you think it matters? Judges are impartial, right? Non-partisan.

Aren’t they?

Let me tell you a story: I know somebody, a woman, who spent years in an abusive marriage. The abuse wasn’t physical and I’ll spare you the ugly details, but it was pretty typical for the Deep South, far too common here in the Florida Panhandle. She met him when she was very young, high school. He was older, already had a kid from a previous relationship. She dropped out of school to marry him. They had three more kids. She grew up – and that was the problem. She stopped being the submissive, naïve kid he’d married. She got tired of being treated like property. She tried, but he wouldn’t change. It’s the culture here. He was a Good Ol’ Boy, a redneck. No education himself. Limited opportunities. Proudly poor and Southern. She tried, she really did. But it got worse instead of better. So, she left him. She walked out, filed for divorce. A few months later, she met somebody else, a military guy. Smart. Educated. With employers lining up to hire him after he retired from the service. He treated her decent. They got married and moved away when a defense contractor offered him a good job out of state. They bought a nice house, a new car, and for the first time in her life she was living like other people do. Medical. Dental. Decent clothes. Decent neighborhood. A little money in her pocket. Somebody who cared about her and treated her like an equal instead of property. But, there were those kids. The youngest was ten, and living with his dad back in Florida, who’d let things go after she left him. The house was a dump, dirty and falling apart. Seems he was having trouble finding another woman to wait on him hand and foot – he’d even gone looking for an Asian mail-order bride, on the theory that they weren’t like those, as he said, American bitches. So she came back to Florida and took him to court for custody of her son. She was confident, going into that court last week. She knew that she could give her son a good life, opportunities, education, medical, dental, a way out of poverty. But, and here’s the point of the story, the judge was a Southern Conservative, an Evangelical Christian. The judge literally screamed, red faced, at this woman, told her in front of her children and in front of the court that she was a terrible mother for getting divorced, for getting remarried, for trying to make a better life for herself. The judge called her selfish for moving out of state with her new husband. Selfish, that’s what she was called for not wanting to be property. The judge destroyed her, right there in the courtroom in front of her own children, while her ex looked on grinning. And then, the judge gave full custody to the father.

Why? Because good Christians – at least the judge’s version – don’t divorce their husbands and move away. No matter what.

And this isn’t unique in that court room.

The judge has a long, long record of punishing petitioners for not living up to certain religious and political beliefs common to this area.

Now, what do you know about your judges?

When you go to the ballot box and you vote, what do you know about those judges?

All of these people, from local selectman to your local school board to your state district circuit court, all have impact on your life, both directly and indirectly. That’s where it starts. These are the foundation stones of government in America. These people go on to state level. They become your state representatives, your state senators, they are appointed to the federal court system, they become your governor.

They directly shape how America is governed at the level that most directly affects you.

Then, they go on to Washington.

And they don’t get there by themselves.

Almost without fail, they are helped along – if not chosen directly – by your state’s various political parties.

Tell me, who appoints your state’s electors to the Electoral College? You know, the apparatus that actually selects the President?

You show up every four years to the one election – the one election – where your vote doesn’t actually decide things, but you don’t show up for the myriad elections where it does. You’re worried about the cupola, while the foundation rots.

And don’t tell me that you do. Show up. Because the local governments, the state governments, the judges, the US House, the Senate, are all in the hands of … conservatives. The majority of those seats anyway.

Quod erat Demonstrandum.


It's not enough to show up every four years.


You have to show up every time.

You have to show up for the midterms.

You have to show up for the state elections.

You have to show up for your local elections.

You have to get informed and you have to show up every single time.


You know what happened?


Do you know what happened when I said, “Show up and vote?” Do you?

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80,000 liberals fell to fighting in my social media timeline. Screeching like baboons and throwing shit at each other.

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What were they fighting over?

Well, they fought about the way I said things

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They fought about political parties.

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They fought about the limited choices.

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They fought depression.

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They fought about disillusionment.

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They fought about generalizations.

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They fought over ridiculous analogies.

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They fought over conspiracy theories.

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They fought over purity.

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They fought over Republicans.

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They were pretty sure that I must be targeting them personally, so they fought over that.

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They fought over the Electoral College.

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But mostly they fought over Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

And fought.

And fought.

And fought.

The various conservatives chiming with what I’m sure they considered wit were drowned out by the fighting liberals.

It went on in earnest for three days, buoyed up by swarming bots and prodded by foreign trolls, and it’s continued fitfully ever since. If you want to see for yourself, take a look at my Twitter timeline starting around May 21th.

Two days into the battle, I said this:

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And that’s when things really went to hell.

Show up and vote.

I might have said it more than once.

I didn’t mention Hillary. I didn’t mention Bernie. I said, show up and vote in 2018, in 2020. Show up and vote and you can win.

And got tens of thousands of responses, many telling me why liberals can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t, show up and vote.

But this one, right here, this is the evergreen comment. This is the one that jumps out.

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Saying, “show up and vote” is shaming.

You’re ashamed of being told to show up and vote.

You want to vote, but you don’t want to have to vote.

You want to vote, but you don’t want to vote if the candidate isn’t perfect.

You want to vote, but you don’t want to vote because somebody told you to. 

You want to vote, but you don’t want to vote just because everybody else is voting.

You want to vote, but you don’t want to vote against something, you want to vote for it. 

You want to vote, but you don’t want to vote just because bad shit will happen to us all if you don’t.

You want to vote, but you don’t want to vote just because it’s your boring old duty as a citizen of the Republic.

None of those reasons are good enough to make you show up. No. It’s not enough that if you don’t show up, you get Trump, McConnell, Ryan, and Neil Gorsuch – and they then proceed to burn down every single thing you ever cared about. No, to vote, to show up, you need a magnificently-maned, golden-horned, rampant, virile snowy white stallion bearing wonderful gifts and wild music, blood quickening inspiration and powerful magics. You need to be inspired. You need to hear angels.

You need a unicorn.


So I asked.


Who is that? What would it take for you to show up? Who is that candidate?

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Articulate. Witty. Charming. Know everything about everything. Popular. Great looking. You want to fall in love with him or her. Right?

He (or she) has to be big.

Not practical joke big. But, you know, big.

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It goes on for a long, long time.

Far, far longer than I have room to post here.

If you’ve got a Twitter account, you can read all the responses here.

Thousands of responses. Many people just said, well, you know, so long as the candidate has a pulse and isn’t Trump, they’ll show up. But many people said, no, no, I want, well, I want articulate. And witty! And he, or she, has to be charming. They have to know everything about everything. Popular. Great looking. Big. It’s not enough for me to just show up. I’ve got to be inspired. I’ve got to fall in love.

A unicorn.


Folks, no candidate, no one, can be all of that. It’s just not possible.


Unicorns don’t exist and they never have.

No candidate is going to be everything you want.

The Constitution never promised you perfect choices.

And wishes always go wrong, which is why wishes are a lousy way to run a country. So are revolutions.

The Republic doesn’t run on moonbeams and magic. It can’t be all things to all people all of the time. The work of maintaining the republic is tedious and boring, if you’re doing it right. Duty very often isn’t glamourous or popular or even particularly inspiring, but that is what holds civilization together. Sometimes, most times, it’s just about showing up and doing what has to be done to hold back the fall of night and for no other reason than because the alternative is disaster and ruin. It’s your duty as a citizen to keep the nuts from working loose and the walls from falling down. You don’t get a medal for that and nobody is going to sing songs about you, but it’s your job nonetheless.

Duty, very often, isn’t even particularly moral. Mostly it’s about doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, most of the time.

You tell me there’s no difference between one side and the other, that it’s only a choice between the lesser of evils.

But I’m here to tell you that there is an enormous difference between those who want power only to benefit themselves and those who seek power for the betterment of us all.

There’s an enormous difference between those who labor in the trenches, working every day to make the world a better place, little by little, inch by inch, and those who want to jump ahead via magic.

There’s a huge difference between doing your duty and self gratification. 

The people on top right now, the ones in charge, they have no interest in duty – to the Republic or to you.

They want all of the benefits of civilization and none of the responsibility.

They want what Elliot wanted in that story up above, the one about accepting gifts from the Devil. They want fame and glory and wealth, and they want a nation where those things are possible only for them. They’ve made the same horrible selfish mistake Elliot did when he asked the Devil to bend the object of his desire to his will, to turn her into a meat puppet for his own gratification, instead of working to become the kind of person she might love and respect of her own volition. They see government as nothing more than a way to line their own pockets and so they’ve made a deal with the devil because they want what Elliot wanted. They want the reward without having to do any of the work. And in the end, that always goes bad. Every single time.

In the movie, Elliot comes to realize that wishing will never, ever make him happy. 

Wishing will never make him smart and handsome, witty and charming, popular, rich, or even, you know, big. In the end, he had to do the work, he had to show up, be aware, think about others, make sacrifices and compromises and little by little become the person others could admire and respect.

There are no unicorns.

There never have been.

There are no shortcuts. If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens.

You have to do the work.

You have to show up and do your duty. 

You have to do your duty, even if the candidate isn’t perfect.

You have to do your duty, even if you hate it, even if you don’t want to.

You have to do your duty, because bad shit will happen to us all if you don’t.

You have to do your duty, even if the odds are stacked against you and the other guy doesn’t play fair.

You have to do your duty as a citizen of the Republic because you are a citizen of the Republic.

You don’t have to like it. You don’t need to be inspired. You don’t need a unicorn.

It doesn’t have to be easy. It’s your job.

Get informed.

Get motivated.

Get after it. Do your duty to the republic. Show up. And you can win.

And when you win, well, then – then – you can fix things. Then, you can have your unicorn.

But you have to win first.


Elliot: I don't get it, though. Why are you, you know ... being nice?

The Devil: Look, Elliot, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The whole good-and-evil thing? You know, Him and me? It really comes down to you. You don't have to look very hard for heaven or hell. They're right here on Earth. You make the choice, and I guess you just made it.