Thursday, April 13, 2017

We Got One

There's a throwaway scene in Ghostbusters where they've been struggling as a business, and Jeanine finally gets a customer call, screams "We got one!" and hits the alarm, finally putting the team to purposeful work. Lots of excited movement happens afterward, and of course, the plot moves forward so that's a big plus as well.

This is how I felt when a publisher offered to buy one of my novels for the first time, and now, with the paperwork in, I feel comfortable enough to officially announce that my first novel, an epic fantasy, will be released by Parvus Press in 2018.

It got me thinking of 2011, when I first started drafting. I was playing a lot of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Skyrim, because I like the word 'sky' and I'm an unapologetic nerd. I decided I wanted to write something that had everything I loved about English (drama, plot structure, emotional investment) with everything I loved about video games (action, challenge, emotional investment). I had just finished my first novel, so I was riding a wave of confidence just knowing that crossing the finish line was a thing that sometimes happened.

It got me thinking of the games I'd first really loved when I was a kid. Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy were my introduction to JRPGs (or Japanese Role Playing Games, for those of you who don't know because you did weird things like play sports and get laid when you were young). I was hooked on how hard they made you work in order to succeed. It wasn't until years later I realized I loved books that did the same to their protagonists. The elemental fiends in the early Final Fantasy games got me thinking about elemental sorcery, and what it might look like if the elements were extended into kingdoms and cultures. A preview of my world and its various twisted denizens will come when we're closer to publication.

You'll recognize my love for Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and J.K. Rowling when you read. I'm fine with building on amazing things that happened before I had any discipline or ability. I didn't realize what I was writing until a college kid who worked for me showed me "Avatar: The Last Airbender". There are differences that will become clear, but I'm fine calling "Rise of the Paramancers" (working title) an adult version of that most recent elemental universe.

And for those my age, when you read my work, I hope you'll feel that same general sense of awesomeness you felt when you realized how super Super Nintendo was. Feel that amazement at a boss battle filling the whole screen with a demented form and a massive energy bar. Or that joy when all you had to do was bang plastic action figures together with a friend who geeked out the same way you did. I felt these things when I was writing, and I hope the hours the Parvus team and I put in will take you to the same fantastic places.

Since I'm celebrating a milestone here, there are people I have to thank as well. John, Eric, and Colin at Parvus for giving me a chance. Shane for tolerating all the times I'm three feet away but typing and hence not there at all. Everyone from my past four writing groups. Mom, Dad, and Kathie, for giving me time to play and imagine when I was a kid. (Seriously folks, stop overbooking your little dreamers...) And Flower, for making me want to join her lunatic literary world.

The pieces you write don't all just sit on your computer (though many of them do). Some of them cross the finish line with time and patience. We got one, Jeanine, we got one.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Next Attack Will Happen. (What If We Decide Now Not to Overreact?)

The Trump thing keeps giving me Bush flashbacks. Dubya didn't get to enjoy much of a honeymoon period after his inauguration either, because he also didn't win the popular vote. He looked like a one-term wonder in early 2000. Between his stupidity, conflicts of interest, and tendency to lash out at everyone and everything regardless of reality, Trump might not be in the White House long enough to host a Labor Day cookout.


Bush didn't do 9/11, but does anyone doubt it served him politically? Suddenly you had to support him or the turrurrists win. If you didn't, you weren't a real 'murkin. He was given so much leeway that he questioned the heroism of an actual war hero and we rewarded his chicken hawk ass with re-election.

It took Katrina to remind us that sometimes the government we pay for can come in handy, but only when qualified professionals are in charge. This is part of why I don't believe Bush planned 9/11. He wasn't competent enough to plan anything that actually achieved its objectives.

Which brings us to Trump, whose single achievement to date is making Bush look like a dignified, nuanced thinker by comparison. He has proven himself to be a never-ending brain fart, a walking constitutional crisis. How can a man with so many thoughts be so thoughtless? Given his tendency to provoke, his inability to differentiate between violent strains of Islam and the rest, and the fact that he is a living recruitment poster for groups like Al Qaeda and I.S.I.S, another attack on U.S. soil during a Trump or Pence presidency is likely.

Though 9/11 was undoubtedly one of the worst moments in U.S. history, I've always felt our reaction to it was worth consideration as a separate historic disaster. It's like we were sucker punched in the eye and responded by throwing blind punches at everyone and anyone in arm's length. We also responded with acts of self-mutilation: torture, indefinite detention of terror suspects, and lunatic military spending. Our response was predicted by bin Laden. It's time to face the painful truth that before we gave him the bullets he deserved, we gave bin Laden everything he ever wanted.

If Bush's judgment was questionable in a crisis, imagine Trump's. Everything 62 million Americans liked about him, his "simplicity", his "telling it like it is", will be the opposite of what we need. It may be time to face the facts that the "virtues" of an American political candidate might not match the virtues needed by a person in a governing position. Some people mistake patience, nuance, and intellect for weakness, and this belief has become a national weakness in and of itself.

What if we decide in advance not to overreact next time an attack happens? We ought to commit to a sober reaction now, while we have the benefit of calm. Justice doesn't need to be swift, it needs to be slow and accurate. The danger of overreaction is greater now than it was in 2001. Whatever Bush's faults, he wasn't a human mood swing. He reacted months later by invading the wrong nation, because he didn't know or care enough to know. In response to even a minor terrorist attack, Trump would likely nuke South America, Africa, and Antarctica: anywhere full of brown people and endangered species he could easily scapegoat with his minority of supporters (and where he doesn't privately own a golf course or hotel, this is where those conflicts of interest come into play, bigly).

There are two things that frighten me more than Trump: One is a future politician with his amorality, but also with actual intelligence and discipline, who uses Trump's fear-baiting and chaos-as-camouflage templates to hypnotize us toward fascism. The other is Trump and his white Nazi brigade using the next terrorist attack to crush all resistance and change America in their deadly, kleptocratic, Putin-esque corporate-military image. Stupid becomes cool and questioning his government becomes treason. "The Media" can't be trusted except for the outlets President Deathwig approves of (and of course, they are the ones who approve of him). Dissenters disappear in the night. We go to war when and where he says, because he says. The damage we do to ourselves is, again, worse than what any home-grown or authentic Islamic terrorist could achieve.

We can and should decide ahead of time, now, while we have the luxury of security keeping us rational, that we will never again allow any tragedy to make us choose cowardice over true bravery, fear over compassion, and authority over resistance.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Atrocity Fatigue

We've been here before, but not this low. I remember this level of fear, hate, and contempt for nonconformity just after 9/11, when there was an intense level of social pressure to back another bad president.

But making Bush look graceful may wind up being Trump's most dazzling achievement. Read or watch Bush's inauguration speech in 2001. Boob that he was, he at least acknowledged he hadn't won the popular vote and pledged to try his best to win over those whose vote he hadn't earned. Is anyone expecting anything that magnanimous to escape the combed-over gasbag on stage tomorrow?

That's the trouble with Trump. We keep lowering our expectations and he keeps finding ways to still disappoint. He must be unstoppable in a Limbo contest.

His primary weapon to date is atrocity fatigue. He called a judge unfit because of the judge's race? Must be Tuesday. He made fun of a disabled reporter? Yawn. He appointed Emperor Palpatine to run NASA? Well, at least that guy's more experienced than Betsy DeVos.

Disengagement seems like a form of self-preservation in this environment. Resist that. Participation is the only way out.

Look at history. By 2006 we'd learned our lesson and Bush lost his rubber stamp congress because an informed electorate demanded a change. That congress helped us recover from the Bush collapse of 2008. I am a homeowner because of good legislation passed by that congress under Obama. The Great Recession didn't become a depression because of that congress.

It took a very specific event for us to remember that contempt for government is not a valid replacement for functional government. Our impotent reaction to Katrina in 2005 sent two messages to most of the population. The first was that climate change was real and dangerous. The second was that we need a competent government and we need one another. Conservative contempt for government had led Bush to appoint friends based on their loyalty rather than professionals based on their qualifications. That choice cost lives, and we saw it on our televisions. Unfortunately, it seems to take a disaster in America for us to remember that we are a country at all. In times of relative comfort, we act like we're a series of competing small businesses.

There are reasons for optimism already. Maybe this man is all the disaster we need to make us something like a country again. Based on Trump's declining polls, people paid attention to the subtext of his cabinet appointments. It didn't go unnoticed how many wolves were put in charge of hen houses. It didn't go unnoticed how many alligators the supposed swamp-drainer nuzzled up to and how quickly he sold his working class voters right the fuck out.

There are protests. We need those. Please stop all this casual contempt for the people in the streets just because they care. Democracies need protests. If you don't agree, don't participate. Or run a counter-protest. Just don't be that asshole rooting for our too-militarized police to beat the shit out of everyone and ship them off to Guantanamo. That's too real a danger to be funny right now.

Watch what you allow this man to inspire in you. He's got a gift for hate, fear, and chaos. But that means we need to keep a closer watch on him. Do not allow him to wear you down with his Twitter-bombs and casual racism and depressing ignorance and exhausting entitlement and unforgivable lack of reflection and humility. There are still more of us (65 > 62!) and if we show the shortcomings of his corporatism dressed as populism, true populism can win out in 2018 and 2020.

But only if we resist his remarkable ability to fatigue.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trumpocalypse Maybe

So that happened. And quit it with that post about the electoral college overriding the will of the electors. Hillary had more total votes, but this election was contested under a certain set of rules, and we have to honor the fact that she lost with more total votes.

1. The electoral college has to go, as Trump said himself in 2012.
This is the second time in five elections that someone has lost with more votes than their opponent. Obviously this is one of the very dysfunctional systems Trump won by lamenting in the first place. Go ahead, candidate of change, show us some integrity!

2. It wasn't all racists.
There just aren't that many white hoods to go around. There also aren't that many white people to go around anymore. A big part of the Trump vote were people who felt left behind, people whose insurance premiums are skyrocketing. Many of them mistakenly think Obama personally raised their rates. (Price-gouging big pharma C.E.O.s seem to have avoided blame...) Many more voters didn't know or didn't care that there was a Republican congress in power who should've been equally accountable. It doesn't matter. It's over and the damage is done. Even the non-racist Trump voters voted in the name of change, and boy are we all going to get it.

3. Your black, latino, gay, and female friends get to be angry with you the first time racist, homophobic, or misogynist legislation happens.
You voted based on the interest of your family, or at least you believe you did. The fact that you didn't consider what might happen to the families of your friends and neighbors is going to come back to haunt you. Expect some backlash. Expect some declined invitations. Expect fewer wedding and Christening gifts from your gay friends, friends of color, and some female friends. You just showed us that at the very least, our rights weren't important enough to consider when you voted. If laws making us second-class citizens are passed, we have every right to be pissed off at you. Friendships end when there is a lack of basic respect by one of the parties involved. It's a lot more than sour grapes when you show your friends that level of disregard.

4. Democrats, governing to the center leaves you vulnerable.
I give Obama credit as a human being for reaching across the aisle as many times as he did, but as a politician, it will be thought of as his fatal flaw. He looked at the Republican-majority congress and got the legislation through that he thought he could, but voters mistook those compromises as his principles. By running to the left and governing to the center, he discredited left-wing populism. Trump stepped into the vacuum with nationalist, right-wing populist rhetoric, and appeared principled (to some) by comparison.

The next time Democrats have power (assuming we recover from whatever form the Trumpocalypse takes) in the White House and not in congress, the president and his Democratic allies in congress need to put forth the laws we need and force the other side to reveal themselves as the problem when they shoot those laws down. Then we need to loudly show the voters who the problem is. Obama, in his pragmatism, probably thought that would be a waste of time. His legacy will unfortunately suffer because the voters mistook him for all three branches of government. Many of them probably believe Democrats have been in power for decades, based on how George W. Bush has been erased from history.

5. We owe Trump a chance not to be as terrible as we think he'll be, based on his atrocious campaign.
Trump was credited with "being real" while running, so he now must make every effort to fulfill his promises to the working class. If he brings Apple factories back to the U.S.A., and allows those jobs to be good union jobs rather than the child labor jobs they currently are, we all have to expect to take a hit on our retirement accounts. (Remember, we are Wall Street too, whether we want to admit it or not.) We'll all have to pay more for products as well, and as a result, our employers will have to be forced to pay us more. This will be worth it, if it means an economy where everyone's labor is valued and everyone can participate in the economy. To keep his promises, Trump must harm the fortunes of all of his oligarch golf buddies and old prep school roommates. I never believed he would actually do it, and I still don't, but I'd be thrilled to be wrong.

The anti-government radicals must now govern, and be held responsible for all of the results. You no longer have the black boogeyman to kick around, boys. It's all on you to reign in corporate power without becoming the fascists many of us fear you to be.

6. You are responsible for the increase in hate crimes that has already happened, and all that happen during your tenure.
When Chad and Todd and the neanderthal frat boys, who somehow feel ostracized despite their trust funds, go out on a Saturday night to gay bash or run over someone they perceive to be an illegal immigrant, that's on Trump, and all of you who voted for him. He showed you who he was and you failed to recoil in horror. You need to own that shit.

7. If Trump starts to live up to his fascist rhetoric, we must all shut this country down to stop him.
Whether you like him or not, we all need to admit what Trump said on the campaign trail. He did threaten to attack the press by "expanding libel laws" if they criticized him (though in truth, they couldn't have rolled over harder for their orange ratings cow if they tried). He did threaten to jail his political opponents. He did play footsie with assassins with that "my second amendment people, maybe there is a solution" bullshit. He did say "I alone can solve all of these problems" during his odious R.N.C. speech (which Hillary would've been crucified for, based on the level of America-bashing in it). The promise of solving all of our problems if we just give him all the power is something that fascists do. The fears of the majority of us who didn't vote Trump are real: they are based on his own words.

In the event that he attempts to overreach, we are prepared to shut this country down in the name of justice. Remember, we are the majority, though we lost. And Trump needs us a hell of a lot more than we need him.

I didn't sleep very well election night, but I slept fine the night after, because I realized there are still more of us, and all of his supporters are not deplorable, though they do need to answer for those among them who are. I realized I owe this man a chance to earn my vote in 2020. I owe him a chance not to be what I think he is based on the hideousness he's shown me so far. If he reigns in corporate power without becoming a fascist, brings jobs home, invites all of us into the economy, and owns his inevitable failures and shortcomings rather than scapegoating the least powerful among us, there's a chance I could get behind him. If he does what I think he'll do instead, and gets congress to legislate like a more racist, more homophobic, more ignorant, version of the George W. Bush crew, I'll be among the many stubborn obstructionists he'll have to contend with. I think we just burned down the house because some of us were mad about our helpings from the kitchen, but I would love to be absolutely wrong about that.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Damnation (Salvation?) and Technology in Black Mirror

All week I've had two songs stuck in my head: the soul-crushing "Exit Music (for a film)" from Radiohead's 1997 tech-angst masterpiece "OK Computer", and Belinda Carlisle's sugar-bop scrunchie anthem "Heaven is a Place on Earth", from ten years earlier. The reason for the manic-depressive playlist in my head is the Netflix show "Black Mirror".

You hit a certain age and everything reminds you of ten things that were very similar. You aren't cynical, but you've seen and heard a lot, and pop culture is aimed at young people who spend a lot of money on shit they don't know they don't need. "Black Mirror" is one of those wonderful experiences that makes you struggle to find something it reminds you of. The series is a master class on plot twist embedding, re-purposing pop music, and leaving the viewer haunted and questioning the way only a good book usually can.

The standout episodes from season three include the first episode, which focuses on our cultural obsession with social media instant gratification in the form of views and likes, and the third and fourth episodes, which may be the best two hours of television I've seen this year, including the final two episodes of "Game of Thrones" season six, which I loved.

I never would've thought a television villain would top Cersei's triumphant wine-tasting as she watches the Sept of Baelor, full of her enemies, burn to the ground on her orders. But the troll in episode three of "Black Mirror" pulls it off, in part by staying off the screen.

(Black Mirror spoilers from here on down.)

The episode, masterfully titled "Shut Up and Dance" in another pop music reference, focuses on a sad, weak kid who gets a virus on his computer. His sister borrowed it. He understandably barked at her not to do that and took it back, shutting himself in his room. We know he's a sad, weak kid because he's a busboy at a greasy spoon. He gives a little girl a toy she left behind by accident. Her mother thanks him, taking in his popsicle stick physique and sad dog eyes. The buff cooks call him a knobber, which is the Queen's English for something less than civil. We never see him at school, but are left to guess he's underage due to his riding a bike to work and his later confession to be waiting to take his driver's test.

At home, in his room with his laptop, he locks the door and pulls down his pants. Next scene, he's washing his hands. We get it. He gets a message from an unknown e-mail saying "I know what you did". A hacker taped his solo session without his knowledge and threatens to send it to all of his e-mail contacts if he doesn't do as he's told. This moment was psychologically scarier than anything I saw on the visceral season premier of "Walking Dead", and I mean that as a compliment to "Black Mirror" rather than a knock on the former. (Sorry Glenn, sorry big ginger gent who also died.)

The boy does everything he's told, meeting others whose online sins have left them vulnerable to the same troll or team of trolls. The boy buddies up with Bronn from "Game of Thrones", who has a name, but to me he's Bronn. Bronn is a husband who the troll caught seeking a prostitute because "you get bored and want to fuck a twenty-something". They're forced to rob a bank and Bronn is told he can go home. The boy's punishment continues, though, and we're left with this nagging feeling like, why is he being pummeled so hard for having a good English wank? Shouldn't that be the very definition of a victimless crime?

The boy is forced to fight a man to the death, and the man reveals he was "looking at pictures of kids". We realize the boy has done the same and think, "You fuckers, you just made me feel bad for a pedophile for forty minutes." We remember his kindness to the little girl at his job. We remember how protective he was of his computer. We remember all those times we thought "but all he did was masturbate, this seems harsh" and it all makes sense. Plot twist embedding at its finest, subject matter aside.

Somehow, floss kid manages to win the fight against the older perv and it cuts back to all the people the troll had been blackmailing. They receive that grinning troll meme-emoji-whatever the kids call it and the troll wrecks their lives anyway. Radiohead blares as the beaten-up boy receives a call from his mother, shrieking about what he's done, and the police grab him.

The real trick with "Black Mirror" is it makes you think for days afterward. Who was the real villain? The troll was absolutely merciless, but his victims were far from innocent. At the same time, who the hell was (s)he to do that to four human beings (s)he had no context to judge? We lack context, as the troll does, and I think that's the point. The boy's family is destroyed, and they are innocent. Bronn's family is likely destroyed, and we don't know if his infidelity was brought on by a frigid partner, we don't know if his wife was cheating too. Another character is revealed to be a CEO who forwarded a racist e-mail, but we don't know if she's racist in her hiring and firing, or merely guilty of distasteful humor. The fourth character's "crime" is even never revealed, we just see his family imploding in their living room. Lots of collateral damage. No context. The trolls are merciless, omnipresent, and unaccountable. The secret destroyers are so terrifying, we're left wondering if it's okay to pity a potential pedophile. That's how you hammer home a point. I was overwhelmed with the horror of the plot and the beauty of the writing structure all at once.

After all that, a palate-cleanser was in order, and episode four provided not only that, but the most uplifting television sequence since the end of HBO's "Six Feet Under". "San Junipero" is a love story between women where thankfully the fact that they're both women is incidental. It starts in a setting so eighties you can smell the Aqua-net. This is a story of a reluctant lover (the hilariously named Yorkie) being won over physically by the more experienced party girl Kelly. Then Yorkie has to get Kelly to admit there's something between them emotionally, and she's worth Kelly overcoming her fear of emotional attachment.

If all that sounds pretty standard, it is, until we find out the party town is actually virtual reality, and in the real world, Kelly is elderly and dying of cancer, and Yorkie was paralyzed in her youth in a car accident following a coming out to her parents that didn't go well because religion. The first emotional thing Yorkie convinces Kelly to do is to visit her in reality.

Then we learn San Junipero isn't just for ill people. The consciousness of dead people who've spent time there can be saved there for as long as they want. (They never really explain how this is funded, which is the only little wart on a flawless hour of television.) We realize they've created Heaven.

The rest of the story hinges on Kelly's decision to either join the husband and daughter who predeceased her without being "saved" in San Junipero, or to enjoy Yorkie's company for as long as they both choose to be there. Kelly marries Yorkie so she can let her off life support, but we aren't sure she'll join her.

Cue Belinda Carlisle cooing "Ohh, bay-be do ya know what that's worth? Ohh, hea-vun is a place on earth". Of course Kelly joins her as the credits bleed in, but that's where the cut gets devious. During that one synth part of the song, we see shots of Kelly and Yorkie dancing in slow-mo ecstasy, followed by side-by-side high-tech U.S.B.s, stored by robots, likely the devices containing Kelly and Yorkie's...collective consciousnesses? Souls? In a cut shot, we see all the blinking lights of all the "saved", and one last "hea-ea-vuhn" from Belinda. You cheeky bastards. If I'm not doing it justice with my writing, I sincerely apologize. It's brilliant and needs to be seen, heard, and felt.

Does it matter that the gods in the machine gave Yorkie the romance she deserved to have during her life? Should that cheapen it somehow? Does it matter that, in this instance, the gods we made were kinder to us than the gods who made us? Fluff that '87 'fro and spin with your love on the dance floor like you're young and carefree again, but know that with a show this good, the questions it generates will linger on your mind for days afterward.

The key to great sci-fi is that it doesn't stretch reality too far, it only advances us two or three steps from where we are today. For a terrifying, exhilarating look at where we're headed, watch "Black Mirror".

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Revolutionary Changes We Should Consider

I'm always obsessed with a book, and right now it's So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. The phenomenon he's exploring is the return of public shaming, via the internet, for the first time since the inglorious days of stockades, those brutal tar and feather, torch and pitchfork days. (Though their hats and wigs were cool, at least.) The two main reasons for the return of public shaming are outlined by Ronson: it's easy to be evil - to hate a stranger with the internet feeling so anonymous - and false indignation mixed with instant mob hi-fives is a drug like no other.

I would've added another reason: people are finally starting to process how ripped off they've been by our economic system. But how do you hold billionaire C.E.O.'s accountable when they've consolidated power to the degree they have? We don't know where to begin, so we turn on each other.

My last post was all about the revolution we don't need: the Trumpening. Thank you all for the 200+ views. Because of the resulting conversations, I've done a lot of thinking about the changes we might want to consider. This will be an exercise in reckless speculation, in the hopes of having more civil conversation. I've got Republican friends. I hate their philosophy, but I love them personally. I have reason to believe they feel the same about me. The return of civil disagreement is the first revolutionary change I'm trying to start in my own circles. The others below would require voting for the right kind of candidates, pressuring them once elected, and probably a good deal of civil disobedience in many cases.

Make the Senate more like the House:

Wyoming has just over 500,000 people. California has over thirty million. There is one Wyo-man (Wyomian? Wy-woman?) Either way, for every one person in Wyoming there are sixty people in California. The way the Senate is set up, the one person in Wyoming has far more influence over our government than the sixty people in California. I know our founding fathers set up Congress so one house was based on population and the other had two Senators regardless, but they also set up the system so that we could amend the rules based on need. The difference between the most populated colonies was far less than sixty to one in their day. (450,000 in Virginia vs. about 25,000 in Georgia) We would be more of a democracy if we balanced the Senate.

This might not mean making the Senate exactly like the House, but there has to be a way to figure out how to make it more fair. One senator representing one million Americans regardless of state lines might be the right ratio. Or maybe it should be one per half-million, so Wyoming and other small states can still have one senator just for them. Either way, it isn't fair to California, Texas, or New York that such a large portion of America is punished for living where lots of people want to live. The Senate can still be the more elite half of the legislature without giving such a disproportionate voice to the states with the fewest people.

Publicly financed elections with low spending ceilings:

This would accomplish a few necessary reforms. For one, we'd have more people with less money in our government. Our government has very little diversity in terms of professions and wealth, featuring far too many wealthy lawyers. While there are obvious advantages to lawyers becoming lawmakers, it also stands to reason that humans should be part of the discussion as well. (That's anti-lawyer humor, har-dee-har! Easy target but I couldn't resist...) Empathy comes from experiencing what the other's life is like. Laws that benefit the rest of us will probably have to come from the rest of us.

Making our politicians cheaper to buy would also limit the amount of influence wealthy individuals, foreign entities (terrorists, for all we know under Citizens United), and corporations could have on our elections. This would help to end the vicious cycle of government by and exclusively for the rich.

The Maximum Wage:

Speaking of tar and feathers and torches and pitchforks...I love bringing this one up with my Republican friends just to watch their heads spin. For those of you who embrace deregulated capitalism as our national religion, I know this is a hard sell. You'll call it communist or socialist or fascist depending on your mood.

The thing is, other very sane countries are considering it. Switzerland, those icons of neutrality, will vote on it in November. It works by linking the highest legal wage in the country to the minimum wage. (The wealthiest C.E.O. in the country can only make twelve times minimum wage, or whatever ratio is agreed on.) Then the rich become advocates for the poor, because they now have incentives to use their government-influencing superpowers for good instead of evil.

Of course, we would have to let go of one of our most cherished lies to make this happen. We would have to let go of the idea that everyone is either rich, or will be rich one day if they think of the right idea or work enough overtime, or something. The number one indicator of how much money an American would make used to be our education level. Now it's how much money our parents made. This is in part because of laws the rich have sold us on. I'm not saying great ideas or rags-to-riches stories don't happen. They do, and they're lovely. We make adorable movies about them for a reason, though: They're really fucking rare. The idea that we'll all win the lottery soon is the very thing stopping us from living far less stressful lives. With a Maximum Wage, you'll never live a life like a party rapper, but you'll pay your bills on time, have a few weeks vacation a year and money to travel with, and find yourself far less angry as a result.

The Swiss are embracing the Maximum Wage because they know it will benefit everyone, including the rich. When there is very little poverty in a country, there is very little crime, and even the rich get to breathe a sigh of relief. All that money our wealthiest people spend on doomsday prep and alarms and firearms could be staying in their pockets. Every country decides to fight poverty or fight the poor. For the last thirty years, we've chosen to do the latter, and look at all the rage that has created. We aren't obliged to keep making the same mistake.

I realize I lean left, and by modern standards I might as well have sunflowers growing out of my sideburns while I strum Woodie Guthrie ditties, but we haven't really given the left much of a chance in this country, at least not economically. In the last forty years, while we were making revolutionary social gains for every minority group, we were still violently doubling down on unfettered capitalism. Perhaps the lesson of the Reagan and post-Reagan political era should be that social justice can only advance so far without economic justice following. Advancing one while neglecting the other just leads to an imbalance, a stretch, and a rip if we let it go too far.

Giving one party time and a majority:

George W. Bush had a sympathetic legislature for the first six years of his presidency. Between Katrina, the odious changes to bankruptcy law, the Iraq war, infrastructure disinvestment, and the crash of '08, I would argue the results were terrible. Bill Clinton and President Obama each had a sympathetic legislature for the first eighteen months of their first terms before voters chose to elect Republican majorities in the midterm elections. Part of this is that liberal voters (especially the youngest of us) don't vote in midterms. Another part is that people complain about government gridlock, but they are also comforted by the idea of balance. Balanced government worked to a certain degree in the mid-eighties and late nineties. It doesn't work right now, I'd argue, because our right wing has been taken over by anti-government radicals intent on proving that government doesn't work by being the very thing that makes it fail.

That six-year window during the Bush administration showed us something. It showed us the results of prolonged, conservative-majority government. You can argue it was wonderful if you want. I disagree, but that's fine. There was something refreshing about seeing what would actually happen to the country if the philosophy was permitted to be translated into laws for an extended period of time.

What if we gave another party a chance like that?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Revolution We Don't Need

There's this Sting lyric I can't get out of my head lately: "I never saw no military solution that didn't end up as something worse." It makes me think of revolutions starting with the promise of populist renewal but ending in dictatorships or theocracies. It makes me think of Donald Trump, a career con-artist who came along at just the wrong moment in history. This week's R.N.C. festival of white hate and fear left me with a shame for my own country I haven't felt since our collective shrieking hysteria over Janet Jackson's boob in 2004.

We have real reasons to fear. The world is changing faster than most people are comfortable with. Unchecked Climate Change could be as devastating as thousands of terrorist attacks. Far too much money and power is still in far too few hands. Radical Islam seeking a nuclear weapon is dangerous to everyone on the planet. Vladimir Putin is a loony douche and right-wing American fanboys of his need to stop invoking his name whilst touching themselves. Under his rule, Russia is a homophobic retrograde threat to world peace.

But we have survived gargantuan threats in the past with a logical reading of data, civil arguments over solutions, and a stoic resolve to carry them out. We thrived under the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. We overcame isolationist attitudes to help defeat the threat of global fascism in World War Two. We balanced the economic brutality of the Gilded Age with strong unions, unapologetic trustbusting, and the New Deal.

So why is such a large portion of the nation seriously considering electing an inexperienced narcissist with nothing but platitudes, scapegoats, and mood swings at his disposal?

Global trade deals sure have something to do with it. Naomi Klein's 2007 book "The Shock Doctrine" explains how unfettered capitalism went from a fringe ideology in the 1960s to our unofficial national religion in the 1980s better than I ever could. It was forced on the world militarily in many instances and quietly slimed into massive budget bills in others. Whenever it has been put to the people, the idea of the world's rich having a circle jerk while the rest of us mop up has been, to say the least, unpopular.

Now the bill has come due. The real fear of power and money hoarding by the global mega-rich has been deviously merged with old silly fears of brown people, women, gays, and the nonviolent majority of Muslims. In America, poor white people are justifiably angry, but they're aiming their anger at people who have suffered just like them, rather than the old, fat, white C.E.O. class who actually dicked them over. Many of us, in our illogical fear, are turning to a shortsighted billionaire asshole to solve the problems created by shortsighted billionaire assholes.

The rise of Donald Trump has only been possible because of all of these factors. Throw in the internet and 24-hour news cycle and you get a fixation on what's wrong with the world that is wholly unprecedented. So right now it doesn't matter to many Americans that Trump is an intellectual lightweight who inherited his fortune and enhanced it by ripping off subcontractors, committing fraud, and being a shameless corporate welfare queen. It doesn't matter to many Americans that his menstrual mood swings, lack of constitutional knowledge, and utter lack of curiosity prove that he will be a completely inept president (until he declares martial law and dictatorship). It doesn't matter to many Americans that his solutions are, as Matt Taibbi expertly summarized, "ideologically vicious and logistically impossible". All that matters to his acolytes is that he has at least acknowledged the problem. The wall won't keep "them" out, but he's pointing at "them", which means he must be for protecting "us".

As his popularity has grown, his diseased mentality has been adapted by many of his devotees. Don't know facts? Shout platitudes! Tired of having to be nice? Punch a bitch! Who cares? The guy who could be president's doing it! Common courtesy was the first to go. Next will be nuance. Look at the response to the police murders of African Americans and the retaliatory murders of innocent police. In a rational society, we would add civilian review boards and police body cameras (to protect honest police from false accusation and to protect civilians from sadist cops) to the justice already meted out to cop killers. We could acknowledge wrongdoing by fringe elements on both sides. Then we could take other moderate steps to improve the relationship between the police and the communities they serve, working backward from crisis mode to "how did this happen?" mode to "how can we stop this from happening again?" mode. One community recently solved a lot of its problems with a "meet your cops" picnic followed by some of the moderate reforms mentioned above. It's easy to hate a faceless "them". It's much harder to hate Harry who you just had ribs with.

This is not to say problems like police racism and police being murdered can be solved overnight. That's the point. Problems like these are solved incrementally over decades. Stop looking for someone to blame when they don't immediately resolve themselves. And please stop listening to shills who offer you an instant solution to a complex, entrenched problem.

There's no room for nuanced solutions in Trumpland. Only one thought at a time in that dystopia. Scapegoats, mood swings, and platitudes. That's all we're cookin' at this here barbeque.

Want to test a politician? Use the word 'how'.

Donald: We're gunna build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.

Logical Voter: How?

Donald:'s gunna be yuge.

Meanwhile, lost in all of this is the fact that the Obama presidency was good for America. Ten million new jobs. Fifteen million insured. Job openings at a fifteen-year high. The unemployment rate just dropped below five percent. Wind and solar power quadrupled. Oil imports down 53 percent. Debt remains a bipartisan problem (check Bush and Reagan borrowing if you need a reminder). We're still in too many foreign wars. But overall the numbers point to progress. So he wasn't the messiah we elected in 2008. Maybe there's a lesson in that. Stop looking for a messiah.

Contrast Obama's record with where we were before. Does anybody else fucking remember 2008? Do we remember the horrors our national religion of unfettered capitalism wrought? Do we remember three quarters of a million jobs disappearing per month? Do we remember the Iraq war that created I.S.I.S? Do we remember the abandonment of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina because, you know, gubment cain't get too big? Lost in the horror of this week's R.N.C. hate festival was the fact that some of Trump's platform was announced, and it isn't populist at all. It's just Dubya 2.0. Tax cuts for the rich, anti-gay bible-thumping bullshit, and depressed wages as "the market" is allowed to union-bust, outsource, and start another round of merger-orgies. The laws Trump would seek from congress wouldn't match his pro-worker rhetoric at all.

This is where the Democrats have to avoid a fatal mistake. The T.P.P. is a trade deal meant to check China's growing influence in the Pacific, but like its predecessors, it's loaded with corporate giveaways, union-busting sludge, love letters to polluters, a fucked-up lawyer tribunal that can overrule local government laws, and a continuation of the downsizing and outsourcing that led so many of us to seriously consider electing a sassy reality show bitch.

Obama is for it. He thinks he can make it worker friendly enough so that everyone will benefit. He can't. He may suspect this, which is why he's trying to get it passed during the upcoming lame duck congress. Again, globalization would be forced on us, because if we voted, it wouldn't pass.

This would make the Democrats look like the exact elitist pigs Trump calls them. It would lend him credibility despite all the data to the contrary. Never mind that it would be a Republican congress passing it while the majority of Democrats oppose it, facts done got cancelled when we nominated a wig.

The President is wrong about T.P.P. It will be the mistake that undoes his legacy if we allow it. In addition to the toxic effects of this agreement, it could have the far more tragic consequence of turning us fascist by electing an ignorant, incurious, incapable megalomaniac president in what would likely be our last free election. I don't like our oligarchy, but I want to replace it with democracy, not anarchy.

Bernie supporters, I was one of you, and you simply have to get over it. Hillary has her faults but she's at least a qualified adult. On a side note, she's actually the most honest politician in the race according to Politifact. Her empty space of an opponent is the least honest, not that facts matter anymore. Get behind her, people. Get behind her even if you wouldn't forgive your mans if he got himself a B.J. on the side. Stop being infants. You aren't electing someone you like. You're electing the best person for the job. She's been a Senator and a Secretary of State. Her approval rating once elected has always been high. It's only ever dipped when she was running for something, because we have some lingering issues about women seeking power. So what if you don't find her sexy? The laws she will seek will help enable you to improve your life. The judges she'll appoint will make us a more just nation. The treaties she'll negotiate will be fair to all (she's already opposed T.P.P.) and she won't alienate our allies or start World War Three because her ego gets bruised sometimes. She's clearly dying to do all the un-sexy work an adult president does. It's all right there in her e-mails. (P.S. She's either the smartest legal ninja in history, smart enough to hire the smartest legal ninjas in history, or her "scandals" were just bullshit thrown into the right wing echo chamber to make them seem like something. Nothing among her "-gates" makes me consider an inexperienced emotional midget with a spray tan as a viable alternative.)

This election may be the best example of why we need more of a menu, as many other democracies have, and less of a binary system. That may be the revolutionary change we need, moving forward. But it's too late in this round of the game to change the rules. We'll either have an occasionally disappointing professional who is capable of compromise and adult discourse or an unqualified seventy-year-old toddler. Looking at the data, it isn't much of a choice at all.