Could happen

July 21st, 2016.  Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio.

The applause is thunderous.  20,000 Republican delegates, party officials, and other assorted personnel jam the arena, and the moment they’ve been awaiting is finally here.  Party chairman Reince Priebus introduces the nominee, Donald J. Trump.  Tricorn hats with tea bags at the corners flail madly on thousands of heads.  People mime shooting into the air with guns they were not allowed to bring inside. There is a palpable air of hysteria.  The crowd is, to be generous, purely monochromatic.

Trump, “The Donald,” steps to the podium, fighting against a nearly solid wave of sound.  This isn’t an acceptance speech, this is a coronation.  The people here are either fanatics, or are willing to pretend as long as it is politically expedient.  Anything less than full-throated support would be career suicide.  He approaches the podium with the predator lurch of a bear.  He waves, he preens.  He makes gestures and looks to cameras that would revolt most humans.  Most who are not in attendance here tonight, at least.  It takes a full five minutes for the applause and shouts to die to an acceptable level as Trump drinks it in like fine wine.  It is obvious that he savors every minute of it.

Finally, he motions for silence.  The crowd dutifully quiets.  It is time for their leader to speak.

“Thank you, thank you all so much.  I want to thank the great city of Cleveland, a place that understands what a return to greatness is!” (Thunderous applause). “I want to thank my friends at the RNC for this evening, and I want to thank all of you.”

As the applause dies again, something sails through the air and lands at the edge of the stage.  It is a thong.  Trump nods and points at it. “I admire your enthusiasm!” he quips.  Another minute of raucous screaming before he motions for silence.

“This has been a tough campaign, I’m not going to lie.  We fought hard, we duked it out, punched until it hurt our fists.  But we did it.  We’re here, and we’re ready for the title fight!” Applause.

“Every step of the way, people have rallied behind me.  Every step there have been more and more.  My message has spread across this great land, and millions have answered the call.  When I started, I didn’t think anyone was ready to listen, ready to get on board with what I was selling, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s a deal, right?” Wild applause. “But you did, you heard what I was saying and you took that banner.  You took it, and raised it high into the air, and together we marched.  From New Hampshire to South Carolina, Nevada, on to Super Tuesday, and beyond, you continued to gather to my vision for making America great again!  Every time I thought maybe you wouldn’t, you did.  You rallied.  You joined the cause!”

Trump waits for the applause to die again.  It is feverish.  It is the wild-eyed applause of a group of fourth-grade students who have just eaten an entire cake.

“For that, I would like to say…” He pauses.  The words scroll up the teleprompter.  His face is the same smug mask it’s been since day one, but there is a sudden, almost imperceptible shift.  He eyes the next line on the teleprompter, then looks away.

“I would like to say, WHAT IS YOUR GODDAMN PROBLEM?”  He bellows into the microphone.  An immediate pall falls over the arena.  Offstage, Priebus’ hands go clammy and a sheen of sweat instantly forms on his brow.  “Cut the microphone.  NOW,” he barks at his aide, who scrambles off.

“I’ve been spouting the most insane things for MONTHS!” Trump continues.  “Racist, xenophobic nightmares from…” the mic cuts out.  He turns deliberately to the side, and locks eyes with Priebus, who is barely contained rage.  Trump flicks his eyes to the rafters, nods, then looks back.  He speaks, and his microphone is back on.  “I’m a media mogul, did you really think you could silence me?  Who do you think did the sound work here?  Who do you think is running this?”  Priebus turns and runs.  Trump turns back to the stunned crowd.

“Pure fascism.  I thought, ‘no, they’ll definitely balk at building a wall, at deporting everyone, at my overt misogyny,’ but you didn’t!  You ate it up like starving dogs!  And you didn’t even care what package it came in.  A twice-divorced New York elitist with a foreign wife, who was a Clinton-donating registered Democrat a few years ago!  There were even rape allegations against me, but you thought barely believable rumors of affairs by one of my opponents was worse!  You people are horrifying!  I was really hoping you’d say ‘no more, this guy is wrong about everything’, but you didn’t.  You fed it.  You showed yourselves as the thugs you are.  Well now, America gets to see it, too.  So enjoy the next few months, you mouth-breathing Neanderthals.  Enjoy watching your party tear itself apart trying to find a soul that it clearly sold a long time ago.  Good luck finding a nominee, because I want to have nothing to do with you.  Good night.”

Je suis un Occidental blanc privilégiée

It’s taken me a few days to coalesce my thoughts about the attacks in Paris, but in writing this I was really waiting for the inevitable reaction. Unfortunately, I could have written this days, or even months ago, and it would have been the same.

I can’t imagine what the people of Paris are going through. In many ways, this is a more horrifying attack than September 11th, or even the Charlie Hebdo attack.  This was not an attack on a specific target – even the Bataclan was not really a ‘target’ per se, other than having a high concentration of victims available.  9/11 was a strike against a symbol made by ultimately faceless killers, as everyone they directly terrorized died with them, and the overwhelming body count actually veers into Stalin’s ‘statistics’ category.  Charlie Hebdo was a directed strike against a singular group that the average person likely had a strong opinion on but didn’t think about often. The attack probably reinforced their opinion, and left them with the comforting notion that as long as they didn’t do what Charlie did, they’d be safe.

This attack, however, is the kind of attack I’d have been making against the west since 2001 were I a terrorist mastermind.  This is visceral, up front, random violence that leaves a lot of blood and even more witnesses.  This is the kind of attack that truly terrorizes a population.  It doesn’t give them the option of staying away from symbols or comforting themselves with notions that if they don’t poke the bear, it won’t eat them.  This is what terror looks like.

With all the outpourings of sympathy, for the changed user icons with French flag overlays, one would think that this is a rare occurrence.  I suppose it is, if you’re a privileged white Westerner.  But these kinds of attacks happen almost daily around the world. 147 people were murdered in an attack on Garissa University College in Kenya in April. 233 civilians were massacred over two days in Kobani, Syria in June. 145 people were murdered in a series of bombings in Borno State, Nigeria in September.  Those are just a few of the ‘larger’ attacks, but we almost never hear about them on the news, or they’re part of the background noise that’s quickly forgotten. I say this as an NPR listener – I remember all of those events being reported, but they were tucked into the regularity of other reporting and had a shelf life of maybe two days. In contrast, the Paris attacks became the only news on for hours, and is still being discussed.

We care now because the bodies are white, because they were enjoying music that we like when they died, because we saw first-hand accounts on social media. To put a fine point on it, the people who died were us. There’s a perception that everywhere that’s not speaking English is a dirt-poor third-world country where this sort of thing is an accepted part of life, but that is not the case.  People die in these attacks doing the same things the people in Paris died doing, and it gets broadcast on social media just the same.  We don’t see it, because we don’t speak Swahili or Arabic or Yoruba.

The death toll in Paris is tragic, but the real tragedy will truly unfold in the days and weeks to come. The mindset of France today should be familiar to anyone who remembers September 14th, 2001 in America.  We were numb, we were angry, we were ready to bomb anyone who didn’t give full-throated support to our desire to bomb everyone.  We were looking for enemies under every rock, and when we found people who looked like them, we didn’t stop to ask questions first. France is ready to lash out at Syrian refugees, even though those refugees are fleeing the very same violence.  They’ve come to Europe to escape incidents like this happening on a daily basis. What they’re finding is a a disturbingly familiar othering from voices on the right that has led, in the past, to some rather dark times.

Of course, France isn’t just focused on internal threats. Long the cultural symbol of hesitance in the face of danger, unwillingness to fight, or outright cowardice (a relatively undeserved stereotype), France is gnashing its teeth and vowing, in the words of President Hollande, a “war which will be pitiless” which sounds like the perfect response to point to when I have to write this again in 10 years. Hollande is George W. Bush standing at Ground Zero, vowing that Al-Qaeda would “will hear all of us soon.” 14 years later, we have a line of futility drawn straight from that pile of rubble to the attack in Paris, and it’s labelled “the Islamic State.”  This is a beast of our own making.  Hollande’s pitiless war is just going to be more of the same.  Wars of vengeance do not solve problems, they create them.  The U.S. war in Iraq created IS. IS has no borders, so attacking it means attacking Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan, and even breaking the military capacity of IS is effectively meaningless considering they weren’t rolling tanks into Paris.  Adding more death and destruction to the Middle East is the exact opposite of a solution to the problem, and it is fundamentally what IS wants.

The Islamic State is no stranger to massacring Muslims, as their targets are, by a wide margin, mostly people in their own neighborhood. The goal of this attack in Paris and others perpetrated in the West is to get the West to strike back.  Our own cultural insensitivity works both ways – they kill 140 people in Paris, and the average Kurd or Syrian doesn’t care in the same way we don’t care if 140 of them are killed.  Similarly, if the response is French war planes bombing targets up the street, or French soldiers going door-to-door, the people directly affected aren’t going to sit there calmly and accept that this is because of an attack 2,500 miles away.  All they’re going to see is France wrecking their town.  And eventually, an IS ideologue is going to sing sweetly to their children that they can get revenge, all they have to do is wear this vest and go to heaven.

So yes, I mourn for Paris.  But we need to stop acting like this is the only real terrorism, or that the responses we’re seeing are acceptable or even useful.  Because if we do, I’ll just be able to change a few names and post this again.  And again. And again.

 

The Decision-Making Process

One of my friends asked me recently “what makes you such a liberal?”  This was in response to a discussion we were having about capital punishment.  It was an honest question that deserved an honest answer.  I’ve had a few different answers over the years that tended toward snark, but I kind of surprised myself when I quickly came up with a solid answer that very concisely explains my political beliefs.

“A lot of examination,” I replied. “I look at things from the eyes of the lowest common denominator.”

On any given socioeconomic subject that I find myself in need of an opinion on, I ask myself two questions.  These might not always be conscious questions, but in retrospect, these two questions are the only ones that matter to me.

1) Who is hurt the most by various outcomes, and what do they think?

2) What does the science say?

His response was “Isn’t that just a matter of common sense at that point?” As Stephen Colbert has said, “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Let’s take the capital punishment example we were discussing.  Who does capital punishment hurt? The answer to that is easy: the poor and minorities.  The death penalty is applied so lopsidedly to people of color and people who can’t afford their own defense that it’s impossible to look at the numbers and not immediately see the correlation (unless, of course, you don’t want to see it).  The difference between life in prison and a needle is, almost universally, your ability to hire competent council, and the color of your skin.

Now, what does the science say?  It says that states with capital punishment have a higher murder rate than those without.  It’s not a deterrent.  If anything, it’s an aggravating circumstance.  These states don’t value life, why should their citizens?

Every issue I have an opinion on fits this framework, and almost every single time, I end up with what is typically held to be the “liberal” position.  Not necessarily the Democratic Party’s talking points, but what is commonly viewed as the far, but not necessarily radical, left.

Note that there’s no consideration to faith, religion or dogma there.  Science, and a concern for the most affected, are my guiding principles.  Almost everything I have a position on doesn’t affect me.  I’m a white, middle-aged, heterosexual male smack dab in the center of the middle class.  I am, demographically, about as close as you can get to the most privileged person that you can find (the only thing I’m missing is a few million dollars in annual income), so things like being racially profiled by the police, easy access to healthcare, and being paid only a percentage of the standard due to my plumbing aren’t things that directly affect me.  That being said, I know people that they do affect, and my concern for them becomes a general concern for everyone in that situation.

Get on it, Science.

An argument I’ve been making for a few years now is about a certain piece of technology that we should have by now but don’t.  It’s 2015, and we’ve launched a handful of human beings toward the moon and brought them back, harnessed the power of the atom to flash-murder a few hundred thousand people at once, and cured smallpox.  Science really has no limits.

No, I’m not talking about hoverboards or self-lacing shoes or even flying cars.

Driving along a windy, hilly road in the rain last night, I came across what is essentially my driving nightmare scenario.  I see, for just a split second, a deer on the road ahead in my lane, before the guy coming toward me also sees the deer. His reaction is to put on his high beams. The deer instantly vanishes, drowned out by the light I’m trying to see through.  If I’d blinked in that second, I would just have though it was some random jerk with his brights on, and plowed merrily into the deer that was apparently quite pleased to wander in traffic.

My point here is why did this scenario have to happen? With all of the advancement in vehicle technology – GPS navigation – fuel economy, impact safety, handling, etc. – why is it that we don’t have night vision?  Why do we need anything other than running lights for safety?  At night, in the rain, the lines on the road practically disappear.  Why doesn’t my windshield compensate for this?  I’d rather see that deer in green than have it come flying through my windshield.

And yeah, I understand cost.  But I can guarantee you that all of the aforementioned technology that we already have was developed at significant cost, yet is now considered standard.

So get on it, science.  Imagine all of the light pollution we could cut out if we didn’t have 250 million sets of headlights on the road.