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.

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.

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.

dude, not my fault

Years ago, before Academia and I decided we weren’t really compatible, I taught a variety of criminology and sociology courses — including courses on criminological theory. You know — what is crime, why do folks commit crime, how do we explain what’s going on? That sort of stuff. One of the theories I taught undergrads was Matza and Sykes’ theory of neutralization.

Matza and Sykes studied juvenile delinquency back in the 1950s. People, they said, are aware of their obligation to follow the law, so in order to skirt that obligation and do stuff they know they’re not supposed to do, they concoct a series of techniques to neutralize that obligation. In other words, they find ways to escape responsibility.

I mention all this because if you paid any attention to the news over the last week, you saw Matza and Sykes’ theory in action. Here are their five techniques of neutralization:

  • Denial of responsibility — Dude, it’s not really my fault.
  • Denial of injury — Dude, nobody really got hurt.
  • Denial of the victim — Dude, really it’s their own fault.
  • Condemning of the condemners — Dude c’mon, it’s not like you’re innocent.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties — Dude, I did it for my friends (or family, or god).

We saw ALL of these techniques in play over the last week. Every single one of them. We saw them employed by Comrade Trump, by his followers, and by most Republican politicians. Denial of responsibility: “Dude, Trump didn’t mail any of those bombs.” Denial of injury: “Dude, the bombs weren’t even bombs; they didn’t detonate and nobody got hurt.” Denial of the victim: “Dude, the people who got the mail bombs wouldn’t have gotten any mail bombs if they hadn’t tried to undermine the president like that.” Condemning the condemners: “Dude c’mon, it’s not like Democrats are innocent; I mean, a Bernie supporter shot a Republican congressmen who was playing softball, right? And people were rude to Sarah Sanders in a restaurant.” And yeah, even an appeal to higher loyalties: “The people who got the mail bombs were traitors and the real enemies of the people.”

Dude, don’t look at me, it’s not MY fault.

Even this morning, Trump was obliviously tweeting out neutralization techniques with all the desperate need of a spawning salmon.

There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!

He really can’t help himself. Trump seems to be completely incapable of accepting the notion that by labeling the news media as ‘fake’ and the ‘true Enemy of the People’ he’s not only inciting the anger he’s condemning, but also emboldening his followers to act on that anger.  Dude, it’s not my fault if the Enemy of the People get hurt; I’m just talking and words can’t really hurt you; besides, it’s the Enemy of the People who are at fault for being the Enemy of the People; and it’s not like they’re innocent, just look at how mean they are to me; and if I call the Enemy of the People the enemy, it’s because I want peace and harmony. Bitches.

It’s sad and infuriating that the only way to explain the behavior of the President of These United States is to rely on theories developed to explain criminality. Jeebus in handcuffs, we used to be a semi-decent nation.

People, you have GOT to vote. If you value decency and truth and science and integrity and compassion, you have GOT to fucking vote.

keep saying it

There’s too much to say today, and it feels like there’s not much point in saying any of it. We’re dealing with yet another mass shooting, this time a hate-inspired attack on a synagogue. We’re dealing with this just a day after the arrest of a hate-inspired series of bomb attacks on prominent critics of President Trump — which took place just a couple of days after a hate-inspired double murder of African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store (after the shooter failed to gain entry into an African-American church).

In the face of all this hate, President Trump has once again proven himself incapable of performing the basic functions of his office. Instead of trying to unify the nation against this hate, he’s continued to encourage the anger and resentment of his followers. Instead of showing compassion for the victims of this shooting and offering comfort, he blamed the temple for not having an armed guard at the door. Instead of making a sincere call for unity, he continued to fuel the bitterness and the hate. He has falsely indicted Democrats and the news media for a lack of civility while absolutely refusing to acknowledge that his rhetoric plays any part in the problem.

Many of Trump’s supporters insist that all the hate and violence being inflicted on the public — including this mass murder — is a product of false flag operations conducted by Democrats and the Deep State, intended to hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. Instead of decrying this, Trump has fed into it, insisting that he is a victim of some sort of conspiracy. In doing so, the president has deliberately undermined public trust in many of the fundamental systems of representative democracy — law enforcement, the courts, the news media. And he’s done it purely in the interest of political expediency.

Again, there’s too much to say today. And right now  it feels like there’s not much point in saying any of it. But I still think it’s important to say it. And to keep saying it. Over and over and over. Even if it doesn’t seem to do any good, it’s important to keep saying it.