a conversation

Reasonable Person: Another mass murder.
MAGA Person: Thoughts and prayers.
RP: There’s so much hate in the world.
MP: Amen. Lotsa hate.
RP: So much division, so much hostility.
MP: Buttloads of hostility.
RP: The nation hasn’t been this divided since the Civil War.
MP: Can’t argue with that.
RP: Something needs to be done.
MP: Absofuckinglutely.
RP: This has to stop.
MP: Got to.
RP: Something has to change.
MP: Yep.
RP: We don’t have to live like this.
MP: No, we don’t.
RP: You know what this country needs?
MP: I surely do. Trump.
RP: …?
MP: …!
RP: Trump?
MP: Yep. And more guns.
RP: But…
MP: And Jesus. In schools.
RP: I have to disagree.
MP: STOP SHOVING YOUR BELIEFS DOWN MY THROAT!
RP: …?
MP: This is why I carry a gun. To protect myself. DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!
RP: But…
MP: pew pew pew.
RP: [bleeds all over]
MP: I felt threatened.
MP: Stop bleeding on me.
MP: …
MP: Maybe I should run for the local school board.

election day

I have no idea what’s going to happen today. Neither do you.

Maybe it’ll be a quiet day. Maybe voters will line up, take their turn in the voting booth, greet each other like good citizens, then patiently wait to see the results of the election. Maybe everybody will accept those results. Maybe. But probably not.

Maybe we’ll get to see the blue wave we’ve heard so much about. Maybe Democratic voters will turn out in such massive numbers that despite the monstrous gerrymandered voting districts, Democrats will retain control of both houses of Congress. Maybe some of the worst GOP assholes will be handed their hats and told to go home. Maybe. Maybe not.

Maybe Republicans are right. Maybe voters are so afraid of imaginary enemies–of Antifa and BLM, of caravans of infected drug-toting immigrant rapists from South and Central America, of gay teachers brainwashing white hetero Christian students into becoming trans furries who drink soy lattes while using the litterbox–that they’ll vote for authoritarian leaders who’ll protect them from…something. Maybe. I hope not, but maybe.

Maybe there’ll be violence at polling sites. Long lines, political hatred, the easy availability of firearms, the loosening of restrictions limiting who can own and carry a gun and where they can legally carry them–all those things contribute to the probability of mayhem. And if schools and churches and supermarkets are vulnerable to mass shooting incidents (I fucking hate the term ‘incidents’ to describe these), will anybody be surprised to hear about one at a polling site? Maybe blood will be shed today. Maybe. Again, I hope not. But only an idiot would dismiss the possibility.

I don’t know what’s going to happen today. I don’t know what’s going to happen today partly because I don’t quite recognize the nation we’ve become.

I don’t know what’s going to happen today, but I know this: I voted. I voted for the nation I hope still exists. I voted for the nation I want us to become.

Maybe it’ll happen. Maybe not.

If you haven’t voted yet, go vote now. Vote for your lives.

the intersection of rigged, crooked, and evil

I want to be optimistic about the mid-term elections. And I kinda sorta am, because I know there are more Democrats than Republicans.

But I also know that having a majority of voters isn’t enough anymore. I know Republicans have wildly gerrymandered Congressional districts to give themselves an advantage, I know Republicans have pretty much decided in advance NOT to accept any result other than a victory, I know Republicans are doing everything they can get away with (and they can get away with a LOT) to make it more difficult for Democratic voters to vote, and I know the news media is generally unwilling to report that a LOT of Republican candidates are flat out lying. I know that Republicans maintain a media advantage. I know there’s a massive double standard for reporting on Democrats and Republicans.

Here’s an example: yesterday Comrade Trump (on his Twitter-facsimile) wrote this:

Our Country is Rigged, Crooked, and Evil.

And not a single major news source reported it. Imagine if a Democrat had said that. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or Barack Obama had said “Our country is evil.” Every Republican would be screaming in outrage, every news agency would make it a major story, every evening news broadcast would cover it and it would be endlessly repeated in every GOP political advert in every state. Any Democrat who said that would be vilified, and rightly so. But Trump can say it and all it elicits is a shrug. Because that’s what we expect from MAGA assholes.

(Tangent: to create an image to illustrate this, I typed Trump’s line into the ‘detailed description’ box of DALL-E2 to see what it would generate. What it generated was this: “It looks like this request may not follow our content policy.” Even artificial intelligence is offended by the line. I had to modify Trump’s words to make the description more palatable to the AI, which then generated the following image.)

“Our cities are rigged, crooked, and in ruins.”

I don’t believe our country is generally rigged, crooked, and evil. I DO believe many of the systems of the US are rigged against the poor and minorities. I also believe capitalism is inherently crooked. I’m not sure I believe in the concept of evil, though I’ve seen enough awful, horrible things that I can’t deny the possibility that it exists.

But if there is an intersection of rigged, crooked, and evil, it’s manifested in MAGA and the MAGA vision of America.

I want to be optimistic. I want to be convinced that enough Americans believe in democracy to vote to save it. I want to be confident that representative democracy is strong enough to stand up to MAGA. I really, really, really want to be optimistic.

But I’m just not. I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful. And I’m afraid of being hopeful.

meat shield

Yeah, so Vlad Putin is ‘mobilizing’ 300,000 Russian men to serve in his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. In fact, he’s probably ordered a much larger conscription; some estimate as many as a million Russian men, mostly from the more rural ethnic regions of Russia.

The vast majority of these conscripts will receive little (or no) training before being deployed. This is a feature of the Russian Army, not a design flaw. The lack of training is a deliberate aspect of Russian military strategy in Ukraine.

You may be thinking, “Greg, old sock, that doesn’t make a lick of sense.” And you’d be right (aside from calling me ‘old sock’ and I don’t know WHY you insist on calling me that) IF we were thinking about any conventional Western military strategy. But the current Russian military approach is built around what they call a Battalion Tactical Group (BTG).

The BTG approach involves a cadre of highly skilled soldiers around which poor quality infantry units can be attached. Different types of unskilled units will be attached to a BTG depending upon the nature of the mission or the condition under which they’re fighting. The unskilled or untrained units serve as a literal meat shield to protect the core of the BTG.

This is how it works. Say you’re a Russian officer and you want to know if there’s an ambush ahead, or if there are tanks in that village. You send the meat shield forward to draw their fire. That exposes the location of the enemy units, allowing the BTG’s artillery to target those positions. It works the same way on defense; station the meat shield in between the advancing Ukrainians and the core BTG; when the conscripts get attacked, the BTG artillery can target Ukrainian attackers more effectively.

It’s hard on the meat shield, to be sure, but it keeps the core of skilled professional troops more or less intact. Since the conscripts require little or no training and, for the most part, aren’t given decent weaponry, the meat shield is easily replaced. Just conscript a few thousand more ethnic peasants, and hey bingo, you’re back in business.

It’s a mistake to think of the effectiveness of the Russian Army in terms of casualties. It’s designed to have high casualty rates. Lots of dead and wounded conscripts are acceptable, so long as they achieve the strategic and tactical goals, and keep the core BTG units relatively secure.

The mobilization of a 300,000 body meat shield will help the Russian Army defend the territory they’ve stolen — for a period of time. Maybe it’ll be enough to get them through the winter, which will give them time to train and reinforce the BTGs. And that will prolong the war.

This, of course, is assuming Putin doesn’t contract ‘high building syndrome’ because of his unpopular war policies. It’s looking more and more like he’s losing control of the nation.

well, here we are

I haven’t written here for a week or so — not because I don’t have anything to say, but because there’s SO MUCH to say. I start to write about this, which is necessarily tied into that and is deeply connected to this other thing. You can’t, for example, write about abortion without also writing about the political corruption of the Supreme Court, which means you also need to address the rising fascism of the Republican Party and the green grass grows all around, all around.

But here we are on July 4th. Independence Day, right? When we celebrate the decision by a group of colonists so fed up with a hostile government that subjected them to such “a long train of abuses and usurpations” that they felt it was necessary “to dissolve the political bands which have connected them.”

I think the operative term there is necessary. It’s from the Latin necesse (which meant ‘unavoidable’) and cedere (to withdraw, go away). Necessary, a thing from which there is no backing away. The colonists felt it was necessary to rebel against the government that oppressed them.

When we think about the Declaration of Independence, we tend to focus on the dramatic bits at the beginning. Mainly this line:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That’s powerful stuff, no mistake. Beautifully written. But we forget that the biggest chunk of the Declaration is a list of grievances — an inventory of all the shit the government of the King of England was imposing on the American colonies. That list includes stuff like:

— He has obstructed the Administration of Justice
— He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices
— He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us

There’s another small chunk of Declaration that gets overlooked. It’s just a paragraph that basically says, “Hey, look, we warned you guys about this. Repeatedly. We asked you nicely to knock this shit off. We have appealed to your native justice and magnanimity. But no, you fucking ignored all those warnings. You have been deaf to the voice of justice.

A lot of us today feel much as those colonists did almost 250 years ago. Instead of a tyrannical king or queen, we have to deal with a neo-fascist Republican Party. We have to deal with Republican at the state level who are actively manipulating laws to undermine the process of representative democracy. We have to deal with a Republican Supreme Court that ignores legal precedence when it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs or their political ideology. We have to deal with a former president who not only refused to accept the result of a free and fair election, but continues to foment sedition.

Those colonists had to choose — do we keep putting up with this shit, or do we act? We have to make a similar choice. We know basically what needs to be done. The Supreme Court MUST be made neutral. It MUST be returned to balance. Not a liberal Court (as much as I’d love that); just a Supreme Court that isn’t governed by any partisan ideology.

The Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary document. I mean revolutionary in every sense of the term. It sparked an actual revolution, it started a shooting war. We don’t want or need that here. We don’t need to turn the world upside down — at least not at this point; we just need to put it back into balance.

But one thing is clear. If we don’t act, if we keep putting up with this shit, if we don’t start electing Democrats who are willing to make some radical but legal decisions to balance SCOTUS, if we don’t do that in the very next election, then we may never see another free and fair election in my lifetime.

liz cheney will get you

I confess to having high hopes and low expectations from the January 6th Insurrection Committee hearings. I fully expected to be underwhelmed by last week’s prime time hearing and was surprised that it was as well orchestrated and effective as it was. But I seriously doubted this morning’s hearing would be as organized and productive.

I was wrong.

This committee is different. They’re actually focused and disciplined. In most congressional hearings, the members use the time relegated for questions to make political statements, score political points, and create sound bites in the hope of getting a moment on the evening news. These committee members have somehow found the strength of purpose to sit back, shut the fuck up, and let one or two people run the show.

This means we’re getting a coherent narrative, one that everybody on the committee agrees with and supports. It’s also a compelling narrative, and they’re presenting it in a way that trial attorneys will appreciate. At the beginning of each hearing so far, they said, “This is what the evidence will show.” Then they’re using each hearing to show individual elements of the evidence. And at the end, they repeat, “Here’s what the evidence we just presented means.” Structurally, the hearings have been beautiful.

I did NOT expect to learn anything new from the hearings. But again, I was wrong. I learned that Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry had been in touch with the White House after the insurrection to seek a presidential pardon, and that “multiple other Republicans” had done the same. Multiple. Now I want to know which ones–and I think there’s a good chance the hearings will produce the names.

I learned Jared Kushner, the lizard-brained son-in-law of Comrade Trump, dismissed threats by White House lawyers and DOJ legal staff to resign if Trump followed through on various blatantly illegal/unconstitutional schemes. He said the most Jared Kushner thing ever:

“My interest at that time was on trying to get as many pardons done, and I know that he was always, him and the team, were always saying ‘Oh we are going to resign’. So, I kind of took it up to just be whining, to be honest with you.”

That’s right. He was too busy arranging pardons–around 120 pardons in the post-election period–many of them for Trump cronies who were involved in crimes aiding Trump. So busy he assumed resignation threats by multiple legal staff from multiple agencies claiming Trump was knowingly advocating criminal acts was just ‘whining’. Lawdy.

Trump should remember that Liz Cheney’s dad once shot a friend in the face with a shotgun, and the only person who scares Dick Cheney is Liz.

But the most astonishing thing I learned was this: Liz Cheney is Keyser Söze. If you’ll remember from the movie, Keyser Söze was threatened by a Hungarian drug gang, told to get out of the drug business. When he refused, they took Söze’s family and threatened to kill them unless he gave up his drug business. To prove their point, they killed one of his children. Instead of giving in, Söze then shoots and kills his own family and he kills all the Hungarians holding them–except one. Then…

“He lets the last Hungarian go. He waits until his wife and kids are in the ground and then he goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents and their parents’ friends. He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in, he kills people that owe them money.”

Liz Cheney was threatened by the GOP hierarchy, told not to cooperate with the 1/6 Committee. When she refused, she was stripped of her committee assignments and her leadership position. When she stood her ground, refusing to go along with Trump’s Big Lie, she was booed on the House floor by some of her colleagues.

Big mistake. She’s almost certainly burned her political career to the ground, and now she’s in the process of hunting down the insurrection wing of the Republican Party, the ones who forced her to make the choice. Donald Trump probably twitches when he hears her name. She’s on her way to becoming a myth, a spook story that Republicans tell their kids at night, “Rat on your pop, and Liz Cheney will get you.”

first through the door

I give no weight to the claim by the Uvalde, TX police that they couldn’t breach that classroom door because it hadn’t been authorized. No weight at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully willing to believe that whoever was in charge of the situation (and it was such an astonishing jurisdictional fuck-up that it’s hard to say who was actually giving orders to whom) refused to authorize the breach. But I don’t believe that’s what actually prevented the police from entering the classroom. And in fact, it appears the final decision to breach was made despite orders not to do it.

I strongly suspect the reason for the delay was that nobody wanted to be the first person through the door. They knew there was somebody on the other side of the door with a semi-auto rifle. They knew that person had already shot and killed a bunch of kids; they knew he wouldn’t shy away from shooting at police officers. They knew the first officer through that classroom door would be targeted. They knew there was a very good chance that first officer through the door would be wounded or killed.

I’ve never been in that situation, though I’ve been in something similar. Years ago, when I was working as the counselor for the Psychiatric/Security Unit of a prison for women, I occasionally found myself standing outside a cell in which an inmate had either obtained or fashioned a knife. Obviously, you can’t allow prison inmates to have knives, which means somebody has to take it from them.

Because we had a duty of care for the inmates–and we actually believed in it–that meant finding a way to take the knife from the inmate with the least amount of damage to the inmate. Not the least amount of damage to the unfortunate volunteer who had to enter the cell, but to the inmate. That’s what a duty of care means; you have an obligation to try NOT to hurt the people under your care or allow them to be hurt.

The very best resolution, of course, is for that unfortunate volunteer to try to talk the inmate into surrendering the knife. As the unit’s counselor, my job was to be the unfortunate volunteer. Open the door, go in the cell by myself, try to convince an inmate to drop her weapon. You go in by yourself because that’s less threatening.

I’m not an idiot, though. I always had a team waiting outside, out of view, ready to rush in and help me if/when things went sideways. It made going into that cell a little bit less terrifying.

Talking worked maybe half the time. Half the time the inmate either refused to drop the knife (in which case I had to act to take her knife away) or she attacked me. I trained for this, of course, and practiced techniques for defending myself against a knife attack. But it was still pretty awful waiting outside that door, knowing I’d have to go in and maybe have to defend myself. The longer I had to wait (for example, if the backup team hadn’t arrived), the harder it was to open that door and step inside.

It has to be a LOT scarier to stand outside a door knowing the person inside has a semi-auto weapon and has already killed people.

But here’s the thing: that’s the job. You train for it. You practice it. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but it’s your job to put aside your personal safety. If you can’t do that–or if you’re unwilling to do that–then you should leave the job.

Over the last several years, the attitude of police officers has shifted away from that. It began with that mantra “It’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.” More and more we’re seeing police officers put their own safety ahead of the public’s. We see police officers shooting suicidal, knife-wielding, psychiatric patients–because it’s safer for them. We see police officers shooting people suspected of possibly having a weapon–because it’s safer for them. We see police officers shooting people out of fear for their own safety.

That’s perfectly understandable. Nobody wants to get hurt, nobody wants to get stabbed or shot, nobody wants to take unreasonable risks. But that’s part of the fucking job. You train and practice ways to reduce the risks, to minimize the risks, to limit the damage you will very likely have to take. But those risks are hard-wired into the job.

As I understand it (and lawdy, there is SO MUCH confusion and misinformation about what actually happened in Uvalde that we still can’t be sure what took place), the first person through the door was grazed by a bullet. He could have been killed. But had he (or some other law enforcement person) had been willing to take that risk 45 minutes earlier, there’d be fewer funerals of children held this week.

The police culture needs to change. They need to be reminded about the entire point of being police officers. Protect and serve. Protect the public, serve the public. Do that even at the risk of your own safety. If you can’t or won’t put the public ahead of yourself, go work security at some shopping mall.

failed russian flatworm strategy

Even flatworms have demonstrated the ability to learn from experience. Flatworms, like mammals, have a centralized brain; they can be trained to remember a behavior and perform it on cue. They can also be trained to avoid behaviors.

The same apparently isn’t true of Russian Army field commanders.

Your basic flatworm–not clever, but capable of learning from experience.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the staggering incompetence of their field commanders, who repeatedly fail to take even the most basic precautions to protect their troops. I mean, anybody who has spent any amount of time in military harness just assumes their commanders are fucking idiots who are casually trying to get them killed. The difference is that in the Russian Army, that appears to be true.

Behavioral psychologists back in the 1950s trained flatworms to avoid electric shocks. The Russian Army has failed to learn that lesson. In the weeks since they invaded Ukraine, the Russians have repeatedly left troops and vehicles in vulnerable, stationary positions. And the Ukrainian military has repeatedly shelled the shit out of them.

Last week, the Russians decided to take the town of Lysychansk, which meant they had to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. Crossing a river in a combat zone is a big deal. It’s a complex tactical situation for a couple of reasons. First and most obvious, the troops and vehicles crossing the river are terribly exposed. There’s no cover or concealment on a bridge. Second, you have a LOT of vehicles and troops concentrated in the same place, waiting to take their turn crossing the bridge. So they’re exposed, vulnerable and stationary. An army has to prepare to cross a river.

The Ukrainians knew the Russian Army needed to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. They sent a guy named Max–an engineer and an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) officer–to scope out the situation. He took a recon unit along the river, found the best place to ford it, and left some recon troops in place to keep watch. They prepared to defend the river.

And hey, the Russians showed up as expected. The Ukrainians let them build a pontoon bridge. They let a few troops and combat vehicles to cross over. Then they shelled the shit out of the bridge and the troops and vehicles waiting to cross over. When the artillery subsided, the Ukrainian Air Force showed up and did some close quarters bombing. The Ukrainian recon units hunted down and killed the troops that had already crossed the river and had no way back.

A flatworm wouldn’t have made this mistake.

We don’t have any solid numbers, but it appears the Russians lost over 50 armored combat vehicles and anywhere from 1500 to 2000 troops–and that includes specialized combat engineering troops, which are really hard to replace. That’s effectively a couple of battalion tactical groups eliminated. It’s a staggering loss for the Russian Army at a time when they’re already getting their ass kicked.

This was clever work by the Ukrainians, but it was made possible by the incompetence of the Russians. They failed to do any reliable reconnaissance before the operation. They failed to have reliable real-time drone recon information. They failed to establish and provide any artillery protection for their troops. They failed to provide close air support. They failed in every possible way.

A flatworm can learn from experience.

As a supporter of Ukrainian independence, I’m glad to see Russia get bloodied. But as a military veteran, I hate seeing any troops get killed because of the rigid stupidity of their leaders. The Russian Army has demonstrated it can’t win a traditional, linear ground war, not even against a smaller nation.

The Russian Army is dumber than a flatworm.

UPDATE: It appears the Russian Army attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River three times. They failed in their first attempt as reported, so they made a second attempt AT THE SAME LOCATION. I’m not making that up. And hey bingo, they got the same result. Lots of destroyed vehicles, lots of dead troops. So, being the Russian Army, they decided to try cross the river a third time AT THE SAME LOCATION AGAIN. With the same result.

EDITORIAL FLATWORM NOTE: Okay, this has nothing to do with Russia or Ukraine, but there’s an exceedingly cool thing about flatworms and memory. Like a lot of other types of worms, flatworms can regenerate themselves. If you whack off a flatworm’s tail (and really, you shouldn’t, because what’s a flatworm ever done to you?), in a couple of weeks it’ll grow into an entirely new flatworm, complete with a shiny new centralized brain.

But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that if the original flatworm had been taught to run (well, not run–it’s a flatworm, after all) a maze, the newly regenerated flatworm would remember how to run the maze too. Which suggests memory isn’t limited to the centralized brain. Memory MAY be somehow stored in other cells. How cool is that?