My Head Hurts

My head hurts, literally and figuratively. Can’t glimpse media for 10 seconds without being overwhelmed and terrified by a torrent of news about the rise of authoritarianism in our own back yard. There is SO much of it, no one knows which story to focus on. It’s been like this since the beginning of the campaigns – a daily shit storm brilliantly engineered to keep our heads spinning. No one knows which end is up. For a year and a half, one man has completely dominated our social media, our conversations, our news, our nightmares. Friends are fighting with friends, family ties are strained by disagreement. Part of me wants to just check out and remember that there is more to life than this one man, that he can’t ruin everything. The other part of me feels like it would be irresponsible not to be vacuuming up every piece of news, not to be rising up. I want to re-share every damn thing, and I also want to post puppy pictures. I know I’m not alone. I see otherwise sane people claiming emotional fatigue and “checking out,” and part of me wants to join them. We’re torn between needing to carry on with life so Trump doesn’t “own” us and needing to stay awake. Meanwhile, who has the time to deal with all of this? We have jobs and families and stuff to do, and media was already a time suck even before Trump – now there’s no way to keep up. Did I mention my head hurts?

Feeling Erased

I get the feeling that many on the right don’t understand why people are so upset, and why the upset does not seem to be subsiding. Last night I heard a report that Trump plans to sign a record-breaking 25 executive orders in his first few days in office, which together will amount to effectively erasing Obama’s legacy – essentially undoing his life’s work. This morning I woke up feeling like the same was happening to me, on a smaller scale. We (leftists) work every single day to teach our children inclusivity, and how to identify/address racism when we encounter it. We teach our kids to pick up trash if they find it in the woods, to take a bicycle rather than a car when feasible. Because every little bit helps, and the small sacrifices are so very much worth it. We donate to environmental and human rights causes, work to raise awareness about industrial practices that can hurt humanity or the earth, and so on.

So when you wake up one day and find that the new regime is installing one of the nation’s most prominent white nationalists in a top position, that a climate skeptic will head the EPA, that plans for mass deportations are under way…. all together it feels like your life’s work is being erased. And that, in turn makes us feel equal parts furious, helpless, and depressed. We are not protesting because we lost the election, and we’re not protesting because the conservatives are in. We are protesting because of extreme, sweeping changes that are about to happen that will collectively undermine our lifes’ work.

That’s why we’re angry: We feel erased.

How can we communicate in a Trump/Clinton world?

“Listen to me. I’m talking.”
“No, you listen to me.”
[1st person not listening to what 2nd person is saying]
[2nd person not listening to what 1st person is saying]

We all have something to say. But while we’re listening to the response, we’re too busy preparing the next thing we want to say to really hear what the 1st person is saying. Everyone is talking, no one is listening.

I see my direct and extended families being torn apart by political differences. We “can’t even imagine” what the other is thinking. And I know this is happening to so many.

Moved and troubled watching this 60 Minutes piece – very experienced moderator trying to get people with different perspectives in a room to hear each other, and it was almost impossible. The only thing they really agreed on was that vast majority voted against a candidate, rather than for. Beyond that, it was chaos. Moderator has been doing this for 20 years, says he’s never seen anything like it. People used to take turns listening and talking – now everyone talks at once, over and through each other.

Can we fix this? How has your family handled it?

On Losing to Donald Trump

The gut-level feeling I’ve experienced all day, and the one that I’m hearing so many people share, is PHYSICAL. I literally feel nauseous, like I could throw up, as if I just experienced a death in the family. It is not just the feeling of losing, and it is not just the feeling of losing to Republicans. It is the feeling of losing to Donald Trump.

In Trump we have not just a person we disagree with on some or most issues, but a walking embodiment of everything we work so hard each and every day to evolve beyond as a society and as a nation. By electing Trump, we give up any claim to moral high ground on any matter of importance, and any claim to being a nation that others can look up to. We become the laughing stock of the world, rather than a trusted ally. With Trump we doom the economy, the environment, the constitution, and human rights all in one go. It is the feeling that America has sunk to its lowest point in our lifetimes.

A relative told me today, “It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything.” No, it’s true, earth didn’t just get hit by an asteroid. But at 52, I can say that there is not a single event in my lifetime that has filled me with more despair or fear for the future of my country (and my child’s future) than the election of this man. I have never felt more ashamed to be an American. And after all of the late nights discussing the 384 Reasons Why Donald Trump Must Never Be Allowed to Become President, it feels like all of that effort was wasted. Which, in turn, makes talking about anything that matters feel pointless.

Because this is not just about one man. It is about the fact that *millions* of people are A-OK with what this one man represents, and apparently have no understanding or appreciation for the threat(s) he represents to them. It is the sudden awareness of how profoundly broken we are as a society that we collectively decided “This is OK.” The PHYSICAL feeling of illness I am experiencing right now is a direct result of that despair. It is so tempting to throw in the towel and just stop trying. I see some of you coming around already to messages of hope, calls to keep fighting, etc. I’m sure I’ll get there. But right now I just want to hurl.

Slippery Slope

Unfortunately, THE WEEK magazine didn’t publish this excellent blurb on their site, but it ran in the 6/28/2013 print edition. I thought it was such an excellent critique of a too-common rhetorical technique that I wanted to post it here:

Logicians call the slippery slope a a classic logical fallacy. There’s no reason to reject doing one thing, they say, just because it might open the door for some undesirable extreme; permitting “A” does not suspend our ability to say “but not B” or “certainly not Z” down the line. Indeed, given the endless parade of imagined horribles one could conjure up for any policy decision, the slippery slope can easily become an argument for doing nothing at all. yet act we do; as George Will once noted, “All politics takes place on a slippery slope.”

That’s never been more true, it seems than now. Allowing gay marriage puts us on the  slippery slope to polygamy and bestiality, opponents say; gun registration would start us sliding into the unconstitutional morass of universal arms confiscation. An NSA whistle-blower, William Binney, said last week that the agency’s surveillance activities pus on a “a slippery slope toward a totalitarian state.” And this week we’re hearing a similar argument that President Obama’s decision to arm Syrian rebels, however meagerly, has all but doomed us to an Iraq-style debacle. These critics may be right to urge caution, but in their panicked vehemence, they’ve abandone nuance and succumbed to the summoning up worst-case scenarios.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh points out that metaphors like the slippery slope “often start by enriching our vision and end by clouding it.” Decriminalizing marijuana doesn’t have to turn the U.S. into a stoner nation, nor does sending M-16s to Syrian rebels inevitably mean boots on the grond in damascus. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t watch our footing.


The NSA’s Massive Data Center

When Wired published their piece on the massive Utah Data Center (“The Matrix”) more than a year ago, designed to capture and process data from virtually every sort of phone and internet transmission imaginable, I thought the story would explode. It was a fascinating expose’ on a government project with immense implications for privacy. It got some retweets in the technosphere at the time, but never rose to public awareness. That baffled me.

The datacenter had been ten years in the making (so be careful about blaming it all on Obama):

“It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration”

… and was funded by the tens of billions of cash thrown at the NSA in post-9/11 budget awards.

The facility consists of four 25,000 sq ft buildings packed top-to-bottom with servers and data pipes, all kept chill by *60,000 tons of cooling equipment.* They’re not messing around.


Just read it. We can’t say we didn’t know this was coming.

Notes on Jury Duty

Just finished taking part in a jury selection process which lasted four days: 95 potential jurors for a 4-6 week criminal murder trial. The process was amazingly, painfully inefficient in so many ways, but only because it’s FAIR in the extreme. Which is great. For example, at one point, we had to sit in the hallway (most of us on the floor) for 2.5 hours because one person couldn’t hear well and they had to track down assistive listening devices to make sure that *everyone* could hear, no exceptions.

Almost every single potential juror was interviewed about whether they knew anyone in law enforcement, whether they had ever experienced violence, whether they had biases on account of the suspect already being in custody, how they felt about the concept of aiding and abetting, about the paradox of innocent until proven guilty, etc. (each question with an eye toward any bias it might impart in the juror).

It was *amazing* to hear everyones’ stories and opinions. Our country is so diverse, so strange, so wonderful. One person was a politics and law professor. The next has spent his life in the projects, and his own son was murdered (“execution style”) outside his house. One person works at a big box store, the next claimed to have beaten up by cops . The next was a toxicological soil inspector. The next  a lifetime NRA member. The next  a social worker who doesn’t trust the judicial system based on what she’s seen. The next is from a large law enforcement family. The next refuses to look at photos that involve blood, the next had a job incinerating amputated limbs and things at a hospital (so gore means nothing to them). It just went on and on.

And there was so much personal philosophy – some of it clear, some of it muddy. I was fascinated by how skillfully the judge and the attorneys got people to drill in on their fuzzy ideas with laser focus – so many people changed their original opinions after a few minutes of dialog, and came around to admitting that perhaps they weren’t quite as biased as they thought they were after all.

For the first couple of days, I was frustrated, trying to figure out a workable escape plan. By the end of the process, I was all-in, and ready to give up work for a month just for the privilege of participating. I really wanted to jump out of my day job and into this strange world, to have this totally new experience. But, unfortunately, I was one of only eight people who never got questioned (the order is randomly determined, and they had finally chosen the jury just before they got to me). Still, I feel like I learned more about our country in just a few days of listening to real people talk than in a lifetime of watching the news.

I’m a bit bummed not to have been selected, truth be told.

Thoughts on Our Political 50/50

Election night, and Obama has just won his second term. While he trounced it in the electoral vote, the popular vote was nearly dead even. Which, when you think about it, is a really strange thing.

How is it that our nation has become so *perfectly* divided across tens of millions of votes, statistically speaking? Why not 48/52 (in either direction)? Or 40/60?. The perfect numbers split feels like the mathematical settling of a great pendulum, like Forces in Motion no longer in motion, like two bodies of water connected by a channel, finding their natural level. As if the system of checks and balances has counter-checked itself into submission. Like a left brain and a right brain connected by a corpus collosum. Both sides watch the red/blue map and wonder “Who are all these people who don’t see it my way? What drives them, what makes them tick?,” while really we’re just synapses in a global brain that’s finding its natural level. Not that that’s how I want it to be – of course I wish we didn’t have to fight for the environment, wish we didn’t have to fight for gay marriage, wish we didn’t have to fight to have a modicum of civilized health care, wish we didn’t have to fight to keep the middle class from vanishing. But regardless how I wish things were, just think it’s astonishing – almost magical – that we have settled into this perfect mathematical split. Feels like something deep and weird in the statistical nature of the world.