a klingon who thinks like a vulcan

Yesterday, in another venue, after Comrade Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, I made this comment:

Robert Mueller is like a Klingon trained to think like a Vulcan.

Okay, that’s pretty nerdy. What I meant is that Mueller is approaching the Trump-Russia investigation with savage intensity harnessed by terrifyingly cold logic. It’s not just that Mueller is racking up so many guilty pleas and convictions, it’s also the totality of his control over the case. Consider these two things as proof of that control.

First, the plea itself was a surprise to everybody but Cohen and Mueller’s staff. Nobody knew this was going to happen until shortly before Cohen showed up in the courtroom. That’s astonishing. Keeping any secret in Washington, DC is hard. Keeping a secret in one of the most important criminal investigations in the history of the US, when every news agency and every political or criminal reporter on the East Coast is trying to uncover that secret, should be almost impossible. But Mueller’s team is disciplined and professional. They don’t leak.

Robert Mueller about to perform a Vulcan synaptic pattern displacement.

Second, buried in section seven of Cohen’s plea arrangement is this line:

The Government and your client reserve the right to describe fully, both orally and in writing, to the sentencing judge, the nature and seriousness of your client’s misconduct, including any misconduct not described in the charges to which your client is pleading guilty.

Why is this important? Because while Mueller is required by law to submit a report at the conclusion of his investigation, the Attorney General (or the Acting Attorney General in this case) isn’t required to make the report public. It’s entirely possible (and lots of folks think it’s likely) that Acting AG Whitaker would seal the report. Keep it confidential and out of the view of the public.

But with this provision in the plea arrangement, Mueller has protected his ability to let the public know what he discovered in the course of his investigation. If the report itself gets stifled, Mueller and/or his staff can read it out loud in the courtroom. They’re not taking any chances; they’ve been making a case and they want that case to be heard.

Klingon ruthlessness directed by Vulcan reason and logic. If you’re a target of Mueller’s investigation, that’s a terrifying combination. If you’re a good citizen, it’s a comfort.

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a certain regard for audacity

Okay, I know this is going to sound weird. But I have a certain regard for Melania Trump’s red Christmas trees. Don’t get me wrong–they’re horrible. But they’re also bizarrely beautiful. If we saw those crimson trees in a movie with subtitles, outside of the context of Christmas, they could win awards for set design.

But what I really appreciate about those trees is Melania’s deliberately in-your-face approach to holiday decoration. She had to know how ordinary folks and the media would respond to them, but that didn’t dissuade her. It’s as if Melania Trump is saying, “You make fun of me? You mock me? Pffft, your opinion means nothing. I will not shrink away. I will cover your Christmas trees in the blood of innocents. I will create in the hallways of your presidential palace a nightmare so hellish it can never be cleansed. I will crush your soul through fashion. This I will do to your Christmas, and though you may weep and rend your clothes, there is nothing…nothing…you can do to stop me. I will have my revenge; you will look into my narrow eyes and cower on your knees before me.”

Comrade Trump, of course, is a buffoon, but Melania is not. She has the elegance and audacity of a Bond villain. Trump may shout and threaten and bluster; he could destroy the nation as much through accident as intent. But Melania would set fire to the entire world with cold, casual contempt. She’d cut your throat with exquisite precision using a Danish-designed scalpel, then she’d kick you once–just once–very carefully and methodically, directly in the balls for bleeding on her Christian Louboutins. She may be terrible, but she’s terrible with deliberation and a flair for the dramatic.

The thing is, she can’t burn the world. She lacks access to real power, for which we should be grateful. She is mocked and scorned and ridiculed, and her only weapons of reprisal are fashion and set design. I can’t find it in me to like her or feel much in the way of sorrow for her; to some extent she’s earned the mocking and scorn and ridicule. But at the same time, I feel compassion for her. She made a deal with the devil, and I suspect it’s cost her more than she bargained for.

In a weird way, I respect the fact that she’s fighting back. There may not be anything very Christmasy about those red firs, but they’re delicious as a gesture of defiance. I only wish she’d made her walk down that hallway while drinking from a red Starbucks cup.

thank you for your service

I had a routine medical exam thing a couple of weeks ago, part of which involved answering a bunch of questions. One of the questions was “Are you a veteran?” I said yes, she said “Thank you for your service,” and went on to the next question.

I didn’t think about it at the time. I mean, it was just a question. Like “Do you smoke?” or “Do you exercise?” But afterwards, that reflexive “Thank you for your service” started to irk me. Because it was reflexive. Like saying ‘Bless you’ when somebody sneezes. It was just an automatic response.

I found myself thinking ‘Why the hell is she thanking me? I didn’t do it for her.’ And because I’m the sort of guy who tends to think too much about too many things, I started to wonder how I’d explain to her why I joined the military. The simple answer is because it was expected of me. Which is true and accurate, but it’s not a complete answer.

I come from a military family. My father had been a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII, most of my uncles had served in the Army in Europe, one served in Korea during that war. I came of military age during the last years of the war in Vietnam. Both of my older brothers were Marines in Vietnam. One was badly wounded physically, the other was badly wounded emotionally.

I protested against that war. I didn’t start protesting until after my brother had been shot up. I came home from school one day to find a Marine officer and chaplain standing outside the door to my home. They’d knocked on the door, but my mother wouldn’t let them into the house. I assumed my brother had been killed. I let them in, and we learned he’d been shot — but because he was in a recon unit, nobody seemed to know where he was when he was shot, how badly he was wounded, or even what parts of his body had been hit. I started protesting while he was still hospitalized; he was hospitalized for nearly a year. I kept protesting when my other brother joined the Marines and went to Vietnam. It angered my father, it angered my brothers, but I did it anyway. 

And when I eighteen, I joined the military. Not the Marines — both of my brothers made me promise I wouldn’t join the Marines. I joined the Air Force. I hadn’t gone to a protest since I graduated from high school, but the war in Vietnam was still going on.

So why did I join? Because it was expected of me. Because I expected it of myself. Because my family taught me that the notion of service was important. Not necessarily military service, but service. To the community, to the state, to the nation. I was taught to be thankful for what I was given and that I should give back.

I hated it. I hated having to wear a uniform. I hated having to salute people. I hated following orders. I hated it, but I was a damned good medic. I hated it, but I learned I could do stuff I’d no idea I could do. I hated it, but I learned discipline. Not just to follow rules and orders, but actual discipline — how to control myself in situations where control is critical and necessary. I hated it, but at the same time I felt I was serving a purpose — that in some very small but meaningful way I was giving back. And even though I spent four long years in military harness, I’m aware I didn’t really do that much.

Thinking about all that — and about the woman who’d automatically thanked me for my service — I came to the conclusion that maybe I really did, after all, do it for her. I didn’t do it because of her, but I did it for her. The thing is, somebody has to do it. Regardless of what ‘it’ is, somebody always has to do it. Somebody has to shoulder a firearm and walk post. Somebody has to fight fires. Somebody has to enforce law. Somebody has to pick up trash and repair roads and defend the accused and take photos for your driver’s license and teach your kids and deliver your mail. You don’t know who they are, and they’re not doing it because of you, but they are most definitely doing it for you. They may not do it well, but nevertheless they’re doing it for you

They’ll do it whether you thank them or not. Because it’s expected. Because it’s necessary. And now I realize it was silly and stupid for me to expect that woman to sincerely thank me for my service. It was silly and stupid to be irked by her perfunctory thanks. Because how can she possibly know what my service was like? And I realize now that my thanks to her, when she’d finished her examination, was also perfunctory. Because I’ve no idea what her service is like.

So I’m going to try to be more sincere when I thank people. At least over this holiday season, I’m going to try to genuinely recognize and appreciate the person who serves me my burger, or rings up my groceries at the register, or drops off the package from Amazon. I’m not going to completely succeed, I know that. But damn it, I’m going to try.

And if you’re reading this, thank you very much.

Editorial Note: I thought I’d illustrate this with a photo or two from my days in uniform, but I’ve never bothered to keep any of that stuff. I’m going to check with my ex to see if she kept any of it. It could be worth a giggle.

it’s not about her clothes

We keep falling for it. By ‘we’ I mean liberals, and by ‘it’ I mean the misleading bullshit conservatives throw in front of us to distract us. We keep falling for it. You’d think we’d know better by now, but no…we keep falling for it.

Let me give you an example. A few days ago Eddie Scarry, a writer for the conservative newspaper The Washington Examiner, posted this on Twitter.

And, of course, immediately there was a backlash. A deserved backlash, to be sure, but mostly it was a backlash about this line: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles. It was a backlash about the term ‘girl’ used for a 29-year-old woman who was a newly-elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives. But mostly it turned into a discussion about what clothes are appropriate — and affordable — for a young woman from the working class who wants to look nice in an office environment.

Which means we fell for it. Remember, ‘it’ is the misleading bullshit conservatives throw in front of us to distract us. It’s NOT about her clothes. When we respond to bullshit by discussing the clothing options of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we are falling for the misleading bullshit. It’s sabotage. It’s creating a narrative designed to undermine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s suggesting she is a fraud, that she’s not who she says she is, that she doesn’t belong in a position of power, that she can’t be trusted. That she’s phony. I’m going to say it again; it’s NOT about her clothes. We do her a disservice when we let folks like Eddie Scarry distract us by talking about her clothes.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez working as a bartender.

Repeat his attack — and similar attacks — for a decade and some of that narrative will infiltrate the public consciousness. After a few years, people will begin to distrust AOC without quite knowing why; they’ll begin to dislike her without knowing quite why. This is exactly what conservatives did to Hillary Clinton. It’s what they’ve done to Nancy Pelosi. It’s what they’ve consistently done to all effective Democratic women leaders.

They’ve started on AOC even before she’s been sworn in. Why? Because she scares the absolute shit out of them. She’s young. She’s young AND she’s conventionally attractive. She’s a young, attractive woman AND she’s of Puerto Rican descent. She’s a young, attractive, working class Latinx AND with less than US$200,000 in campaign funds, she won a primary against a long-term Democrat with campaign funds of nearly $3.5 million and who was the Chair of the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives. She did it through hard work combined with intelligence and passion. And that scares them.

It’s not about her clothes.

She scares them because she’s the future. It’s a future they don’t want to see happen. It’s a future that doesn’t rely on — or need — a well-connected network of middle-aged (or old) white guys. She scares them because they’re losing their power and their authority and their privilege — and they’re losing it all to people like her. So yeah, she scares the absolute shit out of them.

Let’s face it, Eddie Scarry doesn’t give a damn what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wears to work. He only cares that she reports for work in Congress. He only cares that Congress this year is less white, less male, and less hetero than it’s ever been. Eddie Scarry isn’t a fashion blogger; he’s a conservative political reporter with an agenda (and I’m being charitable here; Scarry made his bones at a gossip blog called FishbowlDC). He only cares about undermining effective Democratic leaders. He’s only concerned with sowing discord among liberals.

Don’t let him trick you into thinking this is about clothes. It’s not. It’s really not. It’s about the slow introduction of poison. It’s about weakening Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If we continue to fall for the bullshit Scarry and folks like him throw in front of us, we’re just spreading the poison.

a mild defense of facebook

Facebook, I’m told, isn’t cool anymore. I’m not sure it ever was — but now, at this point in time, I’ve been assured by folks who have a more confident hand at the ‘this is cool’ wheel, Facebook is decidedly not cool.

Cool or not, Facebook is an integral part of my morning routine. Since I haven’t held a straight job since 2000 and since I have little native self-discipline, I rely on routines to make sure I get stuff done. Without routines I’d spend my entire day with a cat on my lap, researching stuff I don’t really need to know (seriously, how does a turtle pull its head into its shell–do the vertebrae collapse somehow, does its neck just curve a lot, what the hell is going on in there?), or entranced by the way the morning sunlight refracts off the sugar crystals on the top of the blueberry muffins, or indulging in the shame of politics (indictments of Jerome Corsi, yes please), or pointlessly unpacking all the elements of the most recent Doctor Who episode (what other sci-fi show would do such an intimate exploration of the Partition of India?).

Initiating my morning routine.

So routines (which are also not cool) are important to me, and Facebook is part of my morning routine, which is as follows:

  1. Check the perimeter (though c’mon, I’m living in an incredibly safe and boring suburb now, and the only thing I’m likely to discover when checking the perimeter is the weather) with the aid of the cat.
  2. Feed the cat her stink food.
  3. Make coffee.
  4. Read the news — general Google news headlines first, dipping into stories that interest me; Washington Post for fundamental news reporting; Daily Kos for the lefty take on events.
  5. Tell myself to read my email, look at my email subject headings, then usually ignore my email (unless it’s clearly hate mail, which I’ll generally read for some reason; today’s hate mail: “Are all you cunts ready for cw2? We are!” Which I probably shouldn’t have read, because now I feel I have to get ready for the Second American Civil War, and who has time for that?).
  6. Scroll through Facebook.

I should note that I don’t do Family Facebook. I keep my personal life separate from my online life, so I don’t ‘friend’ loved ones or family members (and I might as well confess that I’m really not at all interested to hear that somebody’s grandchild scored a goal at a soccer match over the weekend). Instead Facebook for me is about friends and art and politics, which may sound like three separate categories but in reality are generally all smooshed together.

Friends, art, and politics smooshed together through Panel Pulp.

What that means in practical terms is this: Facebook inserts serendipity and random weirdness into my morning. I like that. I like that I’ve become friendly and familiar with folks and I have no recollection at all how I came into contact with them. These are people who’ve come bouncing into my line of sight from some odd social angle and caught my attention in some pleasing or interesting way (and now that I say that, it occurs to me that the process is a lot like seeing the morning sunlight refracting off the sugar crystals on the blueberry muffin). It just happens and I’m lucky enough to notice.

The serendipity and random weirdness isn’t just how I’ve made friends on Facebook, it’s also an intrinsic and essential part of reason I keep this as part of my routine. People post the most unexpected and wonderful stuff on Facebook. I’m not talking about videos of amusing cats or goats playing balloons, though I often enjoy that stuff too. I’m talking about stuff for audiences that I didn’t even know existed. Like Panel Pulp (which is actually a Twitter account, but is often reposted on Facebook).

Another example: international marble racing. If not for my friend Young Jo, I’d have never encountered Jelle’s Marble Runs or seen these exciting qualifying races for the 2018 Sand Marble Race (I prefer the organic nature of sand marble racing over the more sophisticated manufactured marble racing tracks…but that’s just me; also, I’m inclined to be suspicious of Marbly McMarbleface).

Another bit of weird and random I love about Facebook is that I encounter folks who are open and unapologetic about their weirdness. So open, in fact, that they’re not even aware of how weird their weirdness is, and I find that completely endearing. I mean, who creates marble race tracks, records the races, keeps track of the stats of the individual marbles, and narrates the videos? Even weirder is the fact that these videos have an audience. I love that.

The most consistent thing that draws me to Facebook (aside from the politics) is that it exposes me to some really diverse facets of the arts. Bizarre sci-fi art, stark 1950s Japanese noir photography, beautiful original pen and ink art, strange and/or practical yarn art, and lots of personal photography. For example, this morning I saw this photograph by Larry Rose:

Larry Rose — West room corner.

I have no memory of how I became friends with Larry Rose. I know little about him as a person. But I know and enjoy his work. This wonderfully subtle photo kept me from doing the work I was supposed to be doing for maybe ten minutes. At least two different light sources, each operating at a different wavelength, creating strange but predictable shadows and colors. An antenna at an almost perfect 45 degree angle that creates a bit of visual tension against all the other horizontal and vertical lines. And that beautiful Borg Cube of a lampshade that seems to be floating in the corner. Without Facebook, I’d probably never have seen this photo.

Facebook isn’t cool. But there is cool stuff to be found there. There’s a chance I’d have learned about Burning the Clocks without Facebook, but probably not. And right now there’s an excellent chance that you’re wondering if Burning the Clocks is a band, or a movie, or who the hell knows what. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll click on the link and find out.

Is that cool? I kinda think so.

breaks your goddamn heart

— So did you hear about Thousand Oaks? The mass…
— Yeah.
— You hear about the kid who survived the mass murder at Vegas only to…
— Yeah, I heard. Tel Orfanos.
— Is that his name? You see the video of his mother talking to…
— Yeah. Saw it.
— Breaks your goddamn heart.
— Yeah.
— Guns, man. I dunno.

— Thing is, the shooter? He wasn’t mentally unstable enough to be committed. So he could legally buy and own a…
— Just stop.
— What?
— Just fucking stop.
— What?
— Stop with the ‘nobody knew he was that disturbed’ shit. I’m sick of hearing it.
— I’m just saying maybe there should be some sort of law where people who aren’t unstable enough to be committed but are still pretty fucking unstable should…
— There is.
— There is what?
— There IS a fucking law. In California. Right now. A gun violence restraining order law. It allows law enforcement to temporarily disarm somebody who’s shown dangerous behavior, even if it’s not extreme enough to commit them.
— Seriously?
— Yeah. They passed the law after the Isla Vista mass murder.
— Which one was that? I can’t keep track of all…
— Elliot Rodger.
— Why do I know that name?
— He’s the patron saint of the incel movement.
— Aw, fuck.
— Yeah.
— So they…
— Yeah. After this guy went on a killing spree because he hated women California passed a law to disarm angry dangerous people who’ve demonstrated a capacity and a propensity toward violence.
— But they haven’t enforced it?

— No, I guess not. I wonder why. Maybe the law is just unpopular?
— Let’s ask Tel Orfanos’ mother.

down to hope

So here we are. Election Day in Godawful America. Nobody knows what the fuck is actually going to happen. But I suspect we’re all pretty confident it’ll be ugly.

For Democrats, progressives, liberals — for those of us who want a nation that’s actually representative of the people who live here — it’s a day of hope tempered by trepidation. We hope to do well, but we had that same hope two years ago. We’ve seen hope turn to shit. We don’t really trust hope.

We know from experience that hope doesn’t carry much weight — not in the face of rampant voter suppression, widespread gerrymandering, unchecked lying, unbridled racism, and blatant voter intimidation. We know the game is rigged against us. We know it’s not enough to get more votes; we know it’s not enough to actually win an election; we know we have to win it by a massive margin in order to overcome the institutional and political obstacles deliberately put in place to prevent us from winning.

Hope? Hope is a mug’s game. Hope is a path strewn with caltrops. Hope is standing waist-deep in a cesspit at the bottom of a hill, looking up at those at the top, who are complaining about being ill-treated while rolling boulders down at you.

Tree of Hope — Frida Kahlo, 1946

But here’s the thing about hope. You can’t help it. No matter how steep the hill, no matter how many goddamn boulders, no matter how fucking deep the cesspit, you can’t help but hope there’s a way out. You tell yourself it’s stupid to hope, you completely understand that hope only leads to disappointment and frustration and rage, and yet you just cannot help yourself. Hope is fucking brutal.

But it’s what you need in order to haul your ass out of that cesspit. Hope and hard work.

So here we are. Election Day in Godawful America and nobody knows what the fuck is actually going to happen. But we’ve done what we can. We’ve knocked on doors, we’ve made phone calls, we’ve donated time and money, we’ve encouraged others to vote and we’ve voted our ownselves.

Now it’s down to hope. With hope and hard work, maybe tomorrow will be less godawful.