The truth is somewhere in the middle

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WARNING: IN THIS POST I WILL TAKE MODERATE, GENERALLY CENTRIST VIEWS WITH AN ATTEMPT TO RESPECT ALL SIDES OF A CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECT. I WILL OFFSET THIS MODERATION WITH ALL CAPS, GUY FIERI, AND WAKA FLOCKA FLAME.

In general, I’d say that I’m a pretty self-critical human. I have significant doubts about my career choices (gambling?), relationships (tha fuck?), living arrangements (paying a pile of cash to live with roommates), my diet (should I eat tastier food cause its awesome? Or stay healthier?), my travel schedule (should I stay at home and build a life? or, isn’t Mexican guacamole that much better?). Like most people, I assume, the big decisions in my life are sources of significant doubt. Now, this isn’t a bad thing – doubt should not be conflated with weakness, and so long as it doesn’t turn into crippling insecurity it can be a valuable check on my attitude and behavior. In fact, this doubt is probably a critical driving force to my own self improvement.

But, with all that said, I still find myself significantly dogmatic about certain things. Isn’t it odd that, while so many important things in my life fill me with doubt, other things imbue in me a fearless sense of righteousness and unmovable confidence? I am so definitely right about these things that I don’t even pause to consider them.

I think it’s odd, mostly because when I reflect on these areas of dogmatism, I find the subjects to be much less clearcut and black/white than I’d expected. I also find that, when exploring my own dogmas, I find myself adopting positions that are inherently controversial. In fact, maybe it’s precisely because I am questioning dogma that the controversy is created. Curious about what I mean? No, Andrew, not really? Tough break.

Let’s start uncontroversial and proceed down the path.

I’d like to introduce you to Rania Khalek and Charles Lister. Rania is a hard-leftist twitter personality and sort-of journalist who talks a lot about the war in Syria, primarily from the point of view that anti-Assad rebels are basically various forms of ISIS / Al-Qaeda / Jihadism and that they’re basically terrible and fascist. Charles is an academic who writes a lot about the war in Syria, primarily that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is basically terrible and fascist. Rania and Charles don’t like each other very much (sitcom??). Rania thinks Charles supports (either tacitly or explicit) radical jihadists who hate liberalism and the values of tolerance. She’s basically right. Charles thinks Rania supports a brutal dictator who regularly commits war crimes. He’s also basically right. The truth in this area is probably that both sides are basically terrible and fascist, but neither Rania nor Charles can get past their own perspectives to see it.

What’s that Andrew? It’s not controversial to say that both ISIS and Assad suck? Fine, let’s go harder.

this song should be the background for all controversial blog posts

Abortion. I was raised in a firmly pro-choice household. I was largely surrounded by pro-choice people. The concept of not telling other people what they can and can’t do also generally appeals to me. In time, my pro-choice dogma set and hardened into something unshakable. Then, compounding with this preexisting belief system, I noticed that people with whom I generally disagreed (people who are anti-gay, anti-intellectual, anti-science, etc.) were also anti-choice. So, this became a sort of confirmation – if all of these people are against something, it’s probably smart for me to be for it. And that, roughly, is where I still stand today. But, in the interest of challenging my own dogma, and in part due to my recent exploration of GOP twitter accounts, I decided to take a second look. Here’s what I can deduce:

Once a child is born, their legal rights attach. Nobody disputes this (I couldn’t find any groups in favor of post-birth abortion, cause that seems pretty murdery). When a woman ovulates or a man masturbates, the associated eggs and sperm definitely do not get rights (otherwise us men would be in real, real big trouble). So, somewhere between conception and birth, human rights have to attach. One might reasonably say that these rights should attach “when life begins”. So, who knows when that is? Only a fool or a fanatic (or a deity in case any of you readers are one of those), can say with confidence that they know exactly when life begins. I’d highly recommend David Foster Wallace’s point of view on this issue. The basic premise is:

  • You can’t really be sure when life begins. If you feel like you’re sure, you’re either being overly dogmatic or you are a deity.
  • If you’re not sure if something is or isn’t both human and alive, you should default to not doing anything harmful to it (in case you’re wrong and it is in fact human and alive)
  • If someone else is sure about it, and you’re not sure about it, you shouldn’t tell them what to do.

In a sense, this is a somewhat strongly libertarian viewpoint (which also appeals to me), but it tends to make the individual lean pro-life and the polity lean pro-choice. Which I find to be a reasonable point of view. In short, it isn’t being pro-life that’s so fucking annoying, it’s that pro-life people feel obliged to tell everyone else that they know definitively when life begins and that other people don’t. That’s a sort of arrogance that befouls the issue and distracts from the underlying question – when does life begin and when do rights attach? And honestly, who the fuck knows.

Too hard in the paint?

DONT CARE LETS KEEP IT LIT

Israel. I went on Birthright / Taglit as is somehow apparently my right because my dad’s dad was Jewish. Cool. So, fully understanding the circumstances, I made the fine people who sponsor these trips a deal – I’d let them try to indoctrinate me for a week in exchange for a free trip to the Middle East. It seemed like a fair trade.

Now, all the pro-Israel folks out there are thinking to themselves, “this fucking guy is about to stab Israel in the back, bastard!” And, all the pro-Palestine folks out there are thinking to themselves, “this fucking guy is about to talk about how he fell in love with Israel and supports the occupation, bastard!” Guess what squad – you’re both wrong. Israel has an existential problem: it’s not a democracy. It’s a fake democracy. It’s a democracy in which 80% of the people get equal rights, but 20% of the people are less equal than the others. If I’m a Jew I can emigrate to Israel whenever I feel like it. If I’m an Israeli Arab (a citizen, mind you), I can’t get my family into Israel no matter how hard I try. My representation in Knesset is restricted. My national anthem is about how great it is to be Jewish. I’m constantly being profiled, discriminated against, and treated poorly. As my Birthright group’s trip leader, a former Israeli tank commander, said, “Be careful at this hotel. Lots of Arabs work here. They steal.” Or, as another passerby told me, “Obama is a Muslim. He’s the enemy. He hates Jews.” So yeah, not a real democracy, more like a half-democracy half-apartheid combo-mix. But, if I’m a Jew, I see an opposition with leadership that is generally vicious, inhumane, theocratic, radicalized, and impossible to cooperate or compromise with. I’m always reminded of this cartoon:

When the general strategy of resistance includes: suicide bombings, random knife attacks, running over civilians with automobiles, and indiscriminate rocket launches, it’s not exactly a strong argument for “these people have their shit together and are ready to be an organized nation-state.” Now, it’s of-course unfair to paint all Israelis as apartheid racists or to paint all Palestinians as Islamist radicals. But it’s also unfair to pretend that your side, whichever it might be, never does anything wrong. The truth, again, is somewhere in the middle.

SO HARD IN THE PAINT

AGAIN

Let’s talk love. In my life, I’ve been surrounded by a potent mixture of high quality relationships and Disney movies. My clear expectation was to go to college, figure some shit out (hi poker), meet an awesome woman with whom I clicked perfectly, get married in my mid twenties, get some kids going by 30 or so, retire by 35, call it good. This vision became a part of my identity. It is questionable whether or not this self-image was created societally or internally, but I suspect the truth (again) is somewhere in the middle. So, when I went to college, figured some shit out (hi poker), and met an awesome woman with whom I seemed to click perfectly, everything was going according to plan. But, when things with that girl didn’t work out, I didn’t just lose the relationship, I lost the dogma. I lost the identity. Once the plan fell apart, I didn’t know where to turn. I had been so sure that I knew *the truth* that now, absent that truth, I was completely lost.

Over the past few years, in coming to terms with that loss of identity and accepting new directions in my life, I have considered challenges to my own personal dogma. Instead of a firm, “this is how life works” point of view, I am now considering a, maybe-there-are-reasonable-arguments-to-be-made-for-both-settling-down-in-a-stable relationship-and-staying-single-or-nonmonogamous-or-polyamorous-or-whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days perspective. This stirs controversy in my relationships, friendships, and family. But maybe that controversy is what we need to actually move forward in life!

I once heard a law professor at the University of Washington say: “The challenge is not to become disagreeable, even when we disagree.” We only become disagreeable when the controversy attacks our dogma, our belief, and not just our ideas. After all, ideas are better than beliefs. I’ll close with the actual movie Dogma (an amazing film if you haven’t seen it), and Chris Rock as the 13th Apostle Rufus:

HOT TAKE FACTORY CLOSED FOR BUSINESS

In Sickness and In Health

It’s the winter season, and I’ve been sick a bit more than normal. In my past, getting sick was less an unfortunate occurrence than a fact of life. All year long, every three weeks, like clockwork, I’d feel small poppings in my ear and creaks in my joints and I’d know I was in for about five days of a blistery sore throat, canker sores in my mouth, chills, and general malaise. From time-to-time it’d get bad enough that I’d go to the doctor to get checked for Strep, but no, it was never Strep, and so the doctors always refused to remove my tonsils. 1e8

C’mon doc, I’m dying here

Eventually, one time I got really sick and ended up at a hospital in Puerto Rico, listening to various doctors say things like “Si, tienes infeccion del oido” and “no, no, no tienes infeccion del oido”. When I finally got back, I stormed into the doctor’s office and said something significantly more polite than “Fuck You, Take Out My Fucking Tonsils”, but no less firm, and they took them out.

An aside – getting one’s tonsils out is completely fucking miserable and so, so worth it. 38225053

Where were you when I needed you, celebrity lookalike? Probably getting ready to break my heart again. Thanks MacAdams. Thanks Emma.

What ensued was a brutal two weeks of suffering, a complete and utter binge of LOST, in which I was high enough on Vicodin to think it was probably the most amazing show of all time, a belief to which I somehow still cling this very day.

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yes, yes we do Jack

This long digression to start my essay serves only to prove that I have a long and storied relationship with being sick, though over time I came to learn ways to mitigate my problems. The tonsil removal was a big help. Changing toothpastes got the terrible canker sores to stop appearing. Now, when I get that popping in my ears and creaking in the joints, I immediately cancel my plans, lay down, drink water, and read a book, or if that’s too straining, binge watch Firefly.

What’s that, you haven’t seen firefly?

download (3)

With that said, there’s one sensation I most identify with sickness, and it isn’t pain in the throat or aching in the knees. It’s not even the cold shiver one tastes while beneath a dozen blankets. No, the sensation that sticks with me is purely mental.

In short: when you’re sick, you can’t remember what it felt like when you weren’t sick. It’s your new reality. And then, one day (one hopes), your little army of immune system fighters beats back flu-ISIS and then normal reality returns.

And then, the real trick! Once you’re healthy, you can’t remember what it felt like to be sick.

From here, we can go in two different directions. The first would be to consider how powerful our bodies are, waging their microscopic chemical battles that completely and overwhelmingly dictate our state of consciousness. I am reminded of a time when I was visited by friend with whom I have a powerful physical connection. Before she arrived, we both agreed that it might be best to remain platonic (physical relationships can get complicated, can’t they?) There was much nodding and respectful agreement. And then, we saw each other, and all the planning and careful consideration melted away instantly, and my mind was blank and occupied with a sudden and alternate reality, and then it wasn’t until the chemicals had died down that I was able to maintain an actual thought again. Of course, while I was in the one world I couldn’t be in the other.

The other direction we can take is to realize that whatever state you’re in at this moment is inherently non-permanent. While your current reality adopts an air of absolute rigidity, it isn’t hard to reflect upon a time when so many of the take-for-granteds were completely different. Remember when you were in love with her? Or how sad you were when you and her broke up? Really? Her?

Her?

I had a reasonably tough break up last summer, I felt alone, I cried. I knew her and my relationship wasn’t perfect, and that it was ultimately unfulfilling, but still, it seemed lonely and sad and scary to be on my own. Then, as I’ve spent far too many hours documenting, I went to burning man, fell in love with some tacos, came back, and met that ex-girlfriend for lunch. The sensation that overcame me wasn’t one of longing or regret, or scorn for our breakup, but one of complete and utter normalcy. This girl was fine, smart, cool, whatever, but I had actually been sad over this? It felt like a completely alternate reality.

Another aside – in this light, I’d really highly recommend that everyone read Murakami’s masterful 1Q84. It’s almost the epitome of this sensation – being in one reality with only the faintest recollection that a separate reality exists. Even more powerfully, he captures the jarring – his perfect word is wrenching –  sensation of transitioning between the two realities. Maybe, in some way, this is something like a yin and yang, the heights of joy and the depths of sadness, the misery of sickness and the vibrant delight of health. Now that’s something to think about.

1q84

buy this and read it

But let’s avoid more digression and continue plodding along our path – we’ve arrived at yet another yin and yang, this time on the subject of transience and permanence. I had a deep, soulful conversation with a brilliant person with whom I share many (but not all) beliefs. In many ways, her life had been marked by significant transience (which upon reflection seems to be a running theme of many closest to me), and she now questions the validity of the glamorous, grandiose, and sweeping notions of “forever” and “pair bonds” and “marriage” and permanence in general. She rejected the idea that some sort of sacrifice on the altar of stability would be the key to happiness. When I suggested that, without stable or permanent relationships, one might find oneself alone and lonely in middle age, she retorted without hesitation that one might find oneself married and lonely just as easily.

What about commitments? I asked. Many decisions in life don’t allow for complete transience, and are instead some form of semi-transient, like a relationship that lasts for a year or two, or four years of college, or 10 years of marriage, or raising children. I don’t know the answer to this. We can only ever make choices in the reality where we live. Should we commit to things, even knowing that they may one day no longer be true? Can I allow myself to be sad, knowing that someday I will be happy? Should a person get married, knowing that one day they may not wish to be married? Or have children, knowing that they may not wish they had? Isn’t any choice like this, to a degree, a somewhat knee-jerk sacrifice of one’s future autonomy?

On the other side, does transience actually rob us of anything at all? I sometimes am afraid for a future of isolation, yet I’ve not yet had a time in my life that was absent of love or attention or affection. Maybe being a single 45 year old is no more or less likely a lonely experience than a married 45 year old. Could it even be more likely to instill a sense of self-worth, independence, and happiness?

I’m reminded of this incredibly on-point and well written Onion Article:

Study: Casual Sex Only Rewarding for First Few Decades

In short, I have serious doubts about the premise above, for myself and for most people. While, when comparing myself to most, freedom means more and stability means less, there are still those for whom the reverse is true. There are people who crave freedom far more than I do, and for them, transience may have some greater appeal. It’s an odd position for me to be in, given my love of independence, but having grown up in a family filled with long-lasting (permanent?) relationships and having been fed a healthy diet of Ryan Gosling movies, I still have some sort of (irrational?) confidence that longevity provides the happiest outcomes. Am I wrong?

The last section of this increasingly disjointed missive is about drugs, particularly hallucinogenic drugs, as a gateway to seeing between different realities. Just like a sick person can’t imagine health and a healthy person can’t imagine sickness, or a lovestruck person can’t imagine single-life and a single person may have forgotten entirely what it’s like to be in love, hallucinogenic drugs seemingly have the power to reopen some of those pathways. Living in an alternate universe for a minute can shine a bright light on the reality to which you’ve felt bound, and could reveal to you the transience of your current existence. Maybe some hardship is revealed to be only fleeting. Maybe some numbness is unveiled to be on the cusp of melting. In April, I’m attending a conference on hallucinogens as medicine, and I’m sure I’ll have much more to write on the subject then.

But, in the meantime, I’ll retire with these final thoughts: it seems to me there is no right or wrong path to get to where you are going, and the goal of life is to find peace and acceptance with what you cannot control. This idea, in its essence, reached the philosophers in Greece and the Stoics in Rome and the Taoists and Buddhists in Asia and I’m sure many other places that I’m not worldly enough to recall. So, while we may desire a different reality, and we may take actionable steps to achieve that reality, we must hold two thoughts in our head at the same time – I will find peace in this reality as though it were permanent, and also that it is not permanent.

Thanks for reading –

Andrew

 

The War for Our Souls

I was recently in a spirited debate with several intelligent people about the next steps for Democrats in Congress. While I identify as a centrist (or I guess what used to be a centrist), I tend to side with Democrats over Republicans on a lot of issues. Sometimes I feel like this:

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Anyway, during this debate my friends (all generally liberal Democrats themselves) were insistent on one theme. “The Republicans”, they said, “refused to compromise, refused to play fair, refused to bend or be civil or be humane, and they fucking won. Now, it’s our turn.” I was sent this Tweet:

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Actually, fuck it, this is by far the best commentary on the subject:

But no, I still disagree. Yes, the Republican party took advantage of compromise-seeking Democrats to:

Gut Obamacare

Destroy Merrick Garland

Undermine foreign policy

Create governmental gridlock

Many Dems assumed that this would result in a loss of popular support for the “Party of No” in the “Do Nothing Congress”. How wrong they were! It turns out the general public (at least 46% of the voters) didn’t mind the obstructionist tactics and were flatly in support of their stubborn conservative congresspeople.

Fuck! The results orientation thinking came in strong (which was surprising from a group of poker players). “Republicans did that, and it worked, so we should do that too, and it will also work.” Seems like faulty logic to me.

For me, there is a real fear of this attitude catching fire. If both sides continue to move toward obstruction and polarization, the only results are violent.

In a sense, modern American politics manifested itself like an unrequited romantic relationship. Democrats are all like, “Baby, why don’t you call me anymore? Let’s sit down and talk it through,” and Republicans are all like, “Nah girl, I don’t want to play this game anymore.” And, if one side backs out of the relationship (or, in this case, the U.S. Constitution and democratic norms), that’s pretty much it – the game is over. Unfortunately, unlike my relationship metaphor, if “the game is over means that “the U.S. Constitution is over”, many millions of people are likely to suffer.

So, in the defense of the American system, I believe we need a two-fold approach. First, resist like all hell. Be disobedient when your government is breaking the law, or is enforcing laws that are either unconstitutional or contrary to the interests of justice and common sense. But, secondly, we must continue striving to bring normal folk into the fold, capture the middle, battle for hearts and minds and convince them of the righteousness and justice of liberal values, which now include: caring for refugees and the needy, helping the disenfranchised and the oppressed, battling racism and misogyny, etc – these things are the future, and we must convince others to join us (and not name-call everyone who doesn’t immediately sign up).

On Protests

As I write this, pissed off Berkeley students are destroying property and lighting stuff on fire as part of their (successful) bid to stop noted fascist and walking contradiction Milo Yiannopolous from speaking on their campus (he was invited by the Campus Republicans). Milo’s an interesting character – he was basically propelled to stardom on Breitbart by Steve Bannon (now KING STEVE BANNON to you) for being a particularly clever and ruthless troll. His claims to fame are his classic “How can I be a Nazi if I’m gay and Jewish?! Sieg Heil tho!” and his “harmless trolling” where he got thousands of people to tweet horrible, racist, mean-spirited things to a black female comedian before getting banned by Twitter.

Anyway, for how abhorrent and hateful Milo’s schtick is, it’s not a surprise that he drew massive protests at the People’s Republic of Berkeley, but it’s a goddamn shame that protesters turned violent and destroyed property. It’s a difficult line to walk – I think that resisting encroachments on the Constitution via protesting and mass action is a critical function of democracy – and no, you do not have a freedom of speech right to have an uninterrupted lecture on a college campus.

free_speech_2xfrom the ever-genius XKCD.com

But, you also don’t want to be destroying people’s stuff, preventing normal folk from going about their lives, etc. Protests, by nature, must be disruptive to be effective, but it’s important to be careful about who you’re disrupting and how  you’re disrupting them. In this sense, I am starting to believe that the anti-Trump resistance needs significantly better organization and discipline. Here are some rules I think would help the team:

  1. No violence of any kind. While I expressed my own concerns about punching nazis previously, I still don’t believe it’s the right answer. I definitely don’t agree with Berkeley protesters destroying a starbucks or burning stuff.
  2. Stay on message. Somehow at SFO the rallying cry of “let them in” or “let the lawyers in” occasionally became “Free Palestine” which, while it could be argued as a noble cause, is certainly more controversial and less defensible than “this guy was vetted for years to get his green card and has a family in the US and is now being deported to Somalia”.
  3. Similarly – Maintain a clear agenda. BLM was effective when they asked for body cameras and demilitarized police. Occupy Wall Street was (sort of) effective when they asked for punishment for criminal bankers. They all lost steam when the agenda got muddled.
  4. Coordinate events – In SF, at least, there have been overlapping protests and events that cannibalize each other.
  5. Don’t stay silent. If you see discrimination, racism, or any other form of bigotry, don’t shake your head and sigh, confront the person. Confrontation is a beautiful thing. It brings truth to light. Don’t be violent, just be firm.

I will be working on these things over time. I have some high hopes that as a nation we will be able to weather this storm and return to the lovable disfunction we’d grown accustomed to.

My questions to you:

  1. Do you think we should try to keep the moral high ground? Or do we go gloves off, fight-to-the-death type situation?
  2. What do you think is necessary for a successful resistance to unconstitutional government policies?

Let’s work together, yeah?

I visited the Twitter page of every GOP Representative. It was fascinating.

Yesterday, feeling incredibly sick with a brutal sore throat, I lay down to rest in the afternoon and made the irrevocably bad choice to pick up Twitter, where I was informed of a protest at SFO against the Muslim Ban. As an Arabic speaker, I realized I might be in a unique position to assist, so I pulled myself out of bed and headed down there with a massive thermos of tea.

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Over the next several hours, while it appeared nobody was able to even speak with the detainees, I streamed live for a bit on Twitter, I talked to some cops to get their bead on the situation, I grilled Gavin Newsom (who has future-presidential-candidate-who-loses-in-the-primary written all over him) for information, I ran into some old Dartmouth friends I hadn’t seen in ages, and then, feeling too sick to stand, I went home.

Once I got home, however, my fervor hadn’t totally died down, and so, for my own curiosity, I decided to make a spreadsheet of every member of the House of Representatives and to check their twitter pages to see if they’d made any kind of statement about the sweeping and sudden executive order to block all immigrants, even ones with families, houses, jobs, and green cards here in the USA, from entering the country. The results were fascinating.

There are 247 Republican members of the House of Representatives.

Of the 247, 13 don’t use Twitter, and may have released a statement in some other way, so I’m removing them from the count.

Of the remaining 230 Republicans who DO use Twitter:

36 of them made a comment to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance day (and, defying White House policy, 6 of them actually referenced something somewhat related to Jews)

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30 of them made reference to the Challenger astronauts who died

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5 spoke out against the Muslim Ban.

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That’s right – exactly 5 reps, or 2% of the GOP, care about the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, equal protections of the law, or respecting the lives and families of legal immigrants who hold Green cards, visas, and other forms of documentation (of course, 0% of them respect the experiences of undocumented immigrants, but that’s a story for another day).

It bodes very poorly for the country that such an overwhelming majority of GOP representatives had no public comment about such a massive extension of executive power or the specific (and somewhat random) targeting of countries who have never produced terror attacks in the US (the largest sponsors of terror activity are by far Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which are exempt from the ban, and curiously, both of which have strong business ties with both the US and with Trump personally).

Akoya_Damac_83

Trump w/ UAE magnate/criminal Hussein Sajwani, a beacon of western values

However, virtually every GOP Representative did have a comment to make on a different issue.

What did everyone want to talk about?

Abortion.

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Basically every GOP rep, with only a handful of exceptions, had a Twitter feed filled from top to bottom with “March For Life” content. I suppose I shouldn’t have been as surprised, but I’ll be honest, I was. It struck me as another moment in which my life (and the lives of most on the liberal coasts) and the lives of heartlanders sharply diverge and neither side even knows it’s happening. The abortion issue is truly massive, even though Blue Staters have more or less considered the issue settled, at least within their own states (e.g. Roe v. Wade exists, abortion is legal, we need to defend that, but in general we won so things are reasonably good).

Now, I intend to write at greater length on abortion later, but my takeaways are as such:

  1. Abortion may be such a fundamentally divisive issue that a position of compromise may not be attainable, which maintains a high level of tension in the political climate
  2. Only 5 GOP representatives give even a tiny shit about opposing Trump.

In case you were wondering, those five are:

Justin Amash (R – MI)

Brian Fitzpatrick (R – PA)

Mike Coffman (R – CO)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – FL)

Charlie Dent (R – PA)

Thank you guys. You are a primary line of defense against the onslaught of tyranny in America. We rely on you.

 

 

 

Will you help me understand? Will you join me?

Over the past 8 days or so, I’ve had a really hard time bringing myself to write anything even remotely political. Every time I think about the subject I get filled with a sense of overwhelming dread that compels me to do literally anything else. The internet’s social media streets have become a wasteland for the closed-minded and the hateful, on both sides of the aisle. The concept that, in order for a society to move forward, we have to convince the other side, and not just bludgeon them with a hammer, seems lost on everyone. Even a short venture into this melancholy internet fugue state seemed like a waste of my time and energy, fruitless, hopeless, depressing.

In the buildup to the Trump presidency, I found myself saying a lot of things that even conservatives agreed with me on. “He can’t actually ban Muslims – is he going to ask people what their religions are before they enter? Couldn’t they just say, ‘No’?” And yet, he has found a way. “The wall is an impossible construction project, it can’t be built, and the cost would be outrageous.” And yet, the wheels are in motion (and he suggests a 20% tax on the American consumer to make it happen).

During the campaign, there were only a few points of view one could hold:

  1. He doesn’t mean what he says.
  2. He means what he says, but he won’t be able to do any of it because the system prevents it (i.e. it’s illegal or unconstitutional)
  3. He means what he says, and he’ll try to destroy the system in order to do it.

To me, #1 always seemed like bullshit. People always want to assume that wildly extreme rhetoric is just a device to get elected, and that the candidate doesn’t actually believe in it. If I’ve learned anything from poker, it’s that most people tell you exactly what they want. Here’s an example of the New York Times falling for this particular trick:

New York Times Hitler

I was frankly stuck between #2 and #3, but I generally have a deep faith and belief in the American system’s ability to restrain executive power, so I ended up in barrel #2 – “the system will prevent a President from acting illegally”.

So here’s where we run into a bit of a problem. Obama did a bunch of illegal stuff to get around the Republican Congress, and those with generally liberal values found themselves in a precarious position – promoting Plato’s concept of the “Philosopher King“. For those who aren’t familiar with the Philosopher King trap, it works like this:

  1. If you have a good King, having a King is the absolute fucking best. They make good choices unilaterally, they support justice and fairness and strength and nobody has to worry about anything. So, let’s support well-intentioned but non-democratic executive action. Yay, Philosopher King Obama!
  2. The King dies. Or, his term expires. You get a new King.
  3. “Hey, this King doesn’t seem as nice as the old King. Can we go back to the system we had before?” (spoilers: no, no you can’t)

So yes, Democrats have a load of blame to shoulder. They cheered when Obama signed executive orders to disenfranchise the Congress and exert his presidential will on issues like immigration and gay rights. Here’s an important distinction – I agree with Obama on those things in general, but we have three branches of government for a reason, and Democrats probably should have just sucked it up and worked on winning the House and the Senate instead of complaining that they said “No” to everything (as is their right) and then bending the law to get around them.

But I digress.


Now that we have spent years dismantling the system of checks and balances that we once relied upon, we find ourselves with a new King that didn’t even take a week before swinging his sledgehammer at the traditional system.

His white house called the press “the opposition party” and told them to “shut up”.

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As a reminder, the Framers of the Constitution thought the press was so important it should be included in Amendment #1, top of the list, along with religion, speech, and assembly.

He closed the door on thousands of hardworking LEGAL American immigrants and prevented them from coming home to see their families, or leaving the country to go on work trips. My brother, an employee at Google, wrote angrily about his experience:

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The destruction of traditional American values couldn’t be more clear or more obvious – so why are so many Republicans and conservatives refusing to speak up? Where all the Christians saying, “Love they neighbor”?

If I could irreverently relate it to something silly, I might be able to explain.

When I was in college, I had a friend named… Jim Caballo. Jim was an agitator at heart, and was always getting drunk and instigating conflict. He was small in stature, and used that to his advantage as larger men felt uncomfortable dealing with beratement from such a smaller person. Anyway, Jim would start some shit, we’d all restrain him, and once we’d separated him from his target a bit he’d say, “I’m just playing around, let me go apologize. I want to go apologize.” So, and I can’t believe we fell for this every time, we’d let him go, and he’d walk up to whoever he was trying to fight and he’d say, “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry, and if you’ll just admit that you’re a bitch then we’ll be cool.” Of course, this would start the conflict all over.

To a degree, this is what people on the left are saying now: “Republicans, admit that you are terrible people, racists, bigots, fools for electing Trump, Nazis, Klansmen, and general standard bearers of evil, and then we’re cool and you can join our team to fight against Trump.” Is it any wonder that this deal is unpalatable to people on the right? “Admit that you’re a bitch and then we’ll be cool?”

If we want to defeat Trump’s dismantling of our constitutional system, we need a new attitude. I think it has to come from mutual understanding.

So, I’m asking any Trump supporters I know or who read this to respond:

How are you OK with the Green-Card-Holding hardworking LEGAL immigrant being refused at the border while his 6-year-old daughter waits on the other side?

How do you reconcile the text of the 1st Amendment with the White House’s overt threats to the media/press?

I ask these questions not to insult or humiliate or “gotcha”, but to genuinely try to understand why you would feel positive about the destruction of normal families or the dismantling of our most sacred documents.


On one final note, I, like many Americans, felt conflicted about the video of Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face on camera. First, it is important to state clearly (as Spencer denies this on camera) that he is indeed a neo Nazi:

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(while “hail victory” sounds innocuous in English, it’s German counterpart might be a little more memorable – “Sieg Heil”)

I must admit, my first reaction to seeing a Nazi get punched was gleeful. Given my Jewish ancestry (my father’s side is Jewish, mother’s is Roman Catholic), Nazi fucks were responsible for the complete destruction of my father’s side of the family tree, not to mention the cold murder of millions in death camps and machine gun pits. So, a good sock in the kisser seemed like a great place to start. I was also reminded of this scene from La Haine (couldn’t find English subtitles, but for you non French speakers – a French Jew, Sub-Saharan African, and North African immigrant come upon a handgun, and then later they end up in a fight with a Neo Nazi skinhead. They drag him to a basement, and one of them says, “the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.”

For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve hated Nazis. And, there can be no doubt – the mission of Neo-Nazis, and any ethnic or racial separatist, is the extermination and murder of “lesser” races, liberals, centrists, gays, foreigners, and anyone else who isn’t them. And so, fighting against Nazis is existential for basically everyone.

But, we also live in a system where someone is allowed to say horrible things without threat of incarceration, and while we don’t have to listen to them (seriously can we stop broadcasting these guys?) we are also not allowed to assault them. I am reminded of this super funny Onion article – ACLU defends Neo-Nazis right to burn down ACLU headquarters. And, so long as the Nazis are just talking and not acting (and there aren’t really any paramilitary groups or book burnings or lynchings going on, we’d lose a square on the Fascism Bingo board) we probably shouldn’t be punching them. Again, we run into the philosopher king problem – if it’s OK for a “just” person to punch someone else for talking, what happens when someone less “just” decides to punch for talking? How do we draw the line and define justice?

The right answer is that we don’t, we are a society based on free speech and largely assault-free free-speech.

However, when and if the fascists actually start taking action, we must be there to swiftly meet them on the field. So, I’m spending the next month or so getting to know various anti-fascist outlets, ranging from the more extreme “we’ll go to war with the fascists if they try anything” to the less extreme “we’ll use journalism and activism to combat the rising tide”.


To conclude – it seems like every so often throughout the course of human history the human psyche contracts a virus. A stirring feeling of indignation, or unfairness, possibly a reasonable or well-founded one, lodges itself in the pit of the common man’s stomach, and he bands together with his compatriots to lash out against the easiest target to blame for his sudden insecurity. Wild visions of glory and righteousness blind him. His mind begins to falter and dim, like shades slowly drawn, until he sees only darkness and feels only anger and confusion. The virus manifests itself in visions of abounding conspiracy, racial or ethnic or linguistic unification, a restoration of a mythical time when everything was better, and eventually in downcast eyes, walls constructed, and ultimately violence (though what are downcast eyes and barbed wire fences but violent acts themselves?). My beloved grandfather used to tell about a friend of his in Germany in 1936 or so, who, from across the street, saw an old Jewish friend, a musician, that he hadn’t seen in years. Excitedly, he ran up to his old friend, “It’s so good to see you! It’s been so long!” he shouted. The other man, the Jew, looked down at the pavement and said, “Albert, it’s not good for you to be seen with me.” And they parted ways. My grandfather, and the other members of the greatest generation, understood the gravity of this virus. They understood the fear that once hung over every day life, like a dark and endless cloud creeping over the horizon. It is no coincidence to me that the return of this illness coincides with the gradual death of his generation, the stewards of civic duty and respect for the constitutional system. It’s not to say that they were a perfect bunch (of course they weren’t), but they understood something that we seem to be forgetting – our system must be protected, it must be cherished, we must not lose ourselves to false cries of patriotism and the destruction of all values we hold most dear.

I will be on the streets of San Francisco assisting our poorest citizens, our immigrants (legal and otherwise), our Muslim-American brothers and sisters, our communities. Will you join me?

In Which Andrew Rages Against Bureaucracy

Over the past few days I have been stuck in a cabin alone in Lake Tahoe (tough life), and while I have occasionally felt like this:

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all work and no play makes Andrew freak out

I generally have felt like this:

Anyway, right as I was getting into the swing of my living-alone-in-a-snow-covered-cabin lifestyle, the power cuts out. So, bunkered down with no real ability to leave and very little food, I proceeded to eat dry Honey Bunches of Oats and carrots and hummus as I waited patiently for the power to come back on (which it did about 20 hours later).

The roads were plowed, and I decided to take my car down to Safeway and pick up some real food to cook with. I arrived in time to see them throwing away their entire inventory of meat and dairy. Thousands of dollars of food, pitched in the garbage. It had gone too long without refrigeration, I inferred, and therefore some bureaucratic company policy demanded its disposal.

Then, when we went to go check out (more Honey Bunches of Oats and hummus), the checkout lady (a middle-aged woman who was very kind to me) was visibly upset that they would’ve thrown all of this food out. And, while maybe I am overly empathetic, this really pissed me off.

Let’s get this straight. A snowstorm killed the electricity, which killed the refrigeration, which killed the meat.

Let’s try again. A snowstorm killed the refrigeration.

One more time. Covering the ground in frozen water made it impossible to keep things cold. 201504_1236_dabce_sm

As any Dartmouth beer-drinker or Lake Tahoe ski bum will tell you, if you want something to be refrigerated, stick it in the fucking snow. Because bureaucracy always has to be so goddamn rigid in its application, Safeway torched thousands of dollars of merchandise and did it right in the face of a poor old woman who was perfectly capable of sticking the food in the goddamn snow herself.

I’ve seen this play out all through my life, and it never gets any easier for me to swallow. I ate lunch at the foot of a Buddhist temple in Asia and watched as the restaurant management refused to give leftover food to a starving beggar outside (they threw it away instead). I visited a Starbucks at 9:55pm (it closed at 10pm). I could purchase a lemon bar until 10pm, and then they would be thrown away. Can’t I just wait until 10pm and then, like, you throw it away into my mouth?

I understand the mechanics of this madness – for Safeway, the possible liability of selling spoiled food far outweighs any short term financial loss. This hypothetical, though, doesn’t make the reality any less insane. Isn’t there a better system for this? Can’t we make choices like this on a case-by-case basis? Can’t I sign a goddamn waiver and just take that perfectly fine ham for free?

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this one took me a minute and then I laughed very hard

I don’t just blame Safeway HQ, though (but they are to blame). I also blame the bureaucrat who chooses to actually enact this. Sometimes, the rules are best applied on a case-by-case basis. The best judges, cops, teachers, and parents do this. The worst ones always operate strictly by the book, and it makes life worse for everyone. Doesn’t anybody have a solution for this?

I have a whole collection of “bureaucratic madness” notes I’ve collected over the years. Here’s a quick, abbreviated list:

  • I was denied access to a public train station’s wall outlet by a security guard, who said “we can’t allow anyone to use this, what if the homeless all tried to use it?” assuming that dead-battery-iPads is a common homeless problem
  • The aforementioned Buddhist Temple and Starbucks incidents
  • If you buy an old house that doesn’t fit modern safety codes, it’s fine. If you then make any kind of change to the house, it immediately becomes a state hazard for which you are liable. ‘Cause that makes sense.
  • If you have a tourist visa in Thailand, and it’s about to run out, don’t worry – just drive all the way to Cambodia, cross the border, this part is critical – do a U-turn, then drive back. Ta-dah!
  • ANYTIME A COMPUTER TELLS YOU TO TROUBLESHOOT INTERNET PROBLEMS ONLINE

There are many, many more. I also hate ski-house guest fees, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I have more serious things to write about in the future, about politics or love or personal ambition, but for now it just makes me frustrated that the systems of modern society are often so blind to common sense and the needs of ordinary people.

Love you all

Andrew

 

Do Life Transitions Inherently Suck?

Let me start by apologizing for the state of my blog – WordPress installed an unready patch and literally deleted my entire media library. In theory, the text of my blogs are all still there, but the images have been wiped. I will be going back and trying to repair them as best I can, at least going back a little ways. But of course, WordPress isn’t the only one to blame – I’ve had a lot going on and haven’t made the time to write. My b.

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Now, on that fitting introduction, I’d like to talk a little bit about transitions. No, not the gender identity kind (man it’s wild that we have to specify things like that these days – definitely a good thing for society at large, but I’m going to be pretty lost as an old man I think). No, we’re going to talk about the small, medium, and large kind of life transition.

Cliffnotes: they suck. They’re also pretty great. Let’s dive in.

Let me tell you a story about young Andrew.

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Not me, but close enough – there’s a specific picture I wanted here of middle-school Andrew in my BBall uniform with my awesome bowlcut but I couldn’t find it

When I was in preschool, my best friend was Jeffrey Doppelt (we stopped being friends around age 4 when Stephen Walters moved in, sorry Jeff/’sup Stephen). After preschool, sometimes I’d go over to Jeffrey’s house to play. It was a pretty great time. I was in the flow, straight killin’ play time. Then, like the evil witch of the west, my mother would suddenly arrive at my Doppeltian playtime paradise to inform me that I had to leave. “What the fuck!” I would exclaim (emotionally; verbally it probably sounded more like “wahhhhhhhh”). I would refuse to move. Then, my mom would pick me up and carry me outside while I fucking wailed and screamed. At one point, I distinctly remember grabbing ahold of the banister and absolutely refusing to let go. Transitions are complete bullshit. Playtime was fucking great, whatever comes next is unlikely to be so great, so fuck this noise, imma grab the banister and cling.

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fuck you shutterstock

Another story: When I was 8 or 9, my parents decided to ship me to summer camp with my brothers. How all parents don’t do this is beyond me – you basically simultaneously purchase the most epic month of your child’s personal development AND a peaceful, child-free home where you can reflect on what life would’ve been like had you never decided to birth these little monsters. But I digress. When I was informed that I’d be going to summer camp, I threw an absolute shitfit. I was incensed. Did they not love me? Did they not care that I was perfectly happy in my house for the summer? Was this the equivalent of Spartan parents carrying their child out to the woods to die? I shouted (emotionally; verbally it probably sounded more like “i don’t wannnnnaaaaaa”). Then, when I actually went to summer camp, and had the greatest time of my life other than burning man, and then it ended and my parents came to pick me up, I threw a shitfit then too! Didn’t they understand that camp was way better than my home life? Those thoughtless monsters!!

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This latter example is more apropos of what I’d like to dive into – transitions ALWAYS suck, because we’re almost always at least relatively cool with our current surroundings and the “mystery box” is filled with unknowns. Not only do we do a poor job of evaluating our future happiness with our post-transition life, we tend to grossly overestimate the likelihood of worst-case events. When we go bungee jumping, we spend our time imagining all of the gruesome ways we could die, not the awesome sensation and rush we’re going to experience. Then, when we do it, we’re like “oh, that’s not so bad” – once the post-transition life becomes real, it’s suddenly not so scary, and it’s usually better than the pre-transition life (though not always – I will not be going bungee jumping again anytime soon).

Now, sometimes life gets so hard that the post-transition life, despite it being objectively terrifying and totally unknown, is still preferable to the current situation. This can often be the case with a bad relationship or a crippling breakup – finally it kinda reaches a point where it’s like “OK, I actually prefer the terrifying mystery box to a palpable unhappiness that I can hold in my hand and see and taste and touch.” Usually, it’s only when things get really, really bad that we’re motivated to get past our fears and take action to improve our lives. One of my goals this year is to try to be faster at recognizing situations that could easily be changed but that which don’t bring me great happiness, and then just changing them and embracing the transition (the inner child in me is freaking out as I write this).

Most of us only take the mystery box when shit gets really hard

Perhaps the greatest challenge of any transition isn’t the loss of a tangible thing though (an awesome job, a great apartment, a cherished relationship) but rather the loss of identity that comes along with it. I really viewed myself as one of the top tier poker players in the world even as I got shellacked heads-up by some of the true studs there. It was really emotionally difficult to handle the transition from “one of the best” to “probably still pretty good”, not because I lost the money (whatever) or because I lost the ability to make money (I didn’t) but because I had clung to that vision of myself like the banister of my youth. I had a really hard time letting go of a lover because I’d connected my identity so tightly with my vision of our (almost entirely hypothetical) relationship. In a sense, it wasn’t losing her that sucked (I never really had her), it was losing the piece of myself that believed in that relationship.

Maybe this is one reason why I’ve had a hard time traditionally with transitions – I rarely get very low, and so I rarely hit those moments of “fuck this, we gotta make a change”. As a result I seem to end up with long-lasting and complex relationships. Of course, I don’t mind this (in fact, I kind-of enjoy it and tremendously love the people with which those relationships have developed), but it my difficulties with transition starts to makes sense to me in this context. I have some friends who have zero issue with transitions – for them, the mystery box seems obviously superior, and the moment the opportunity for transition appears they seize. See ya later past life, bienvenidos a la futura.

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ok internet, I laughed

So, willfully I’ve often chosen not force these transitions, not to push toward them at the first moment of conflict. Whether this is for better or for worse is beyond me, but in general I feel pretty good with the choices that I’ve made and don’t live with many regrets. If anything, I sometimes regret not pursuing the opportunities in front of me more fully! But, these regrets aren’t serious and I’ve enjoyed my right to choose when I’m ready to move on from something and enter a new phase of life.

But, unfortunately, not all transitions are ones that we get to choose. In the course of the last four months, I lost a major piece of my identity, my childhood, and my family. If anything was going to usher in a change from my (overly lengthy) youth to the reign of adulthood, it’d be the loss of my beloved grandparents. Sometimes, we don’t get to think about what’s behind door number 3 (mixed metaphor), we just get shoved through it and we get to deal with whatever’s on the other side. So, this sudden, tragic change has had me thinking of the following things:

  • Do I want to keep living where I’m living? Am I attracted to a different lifestyle that I’m not living because I’m afraid of transition?
  • Do I want to keep pursuing who I’m pursuing? Am I afraid to be unattached and free?
  • Or, do I want to remain unattached and uncommitted? Am I afraid to connect my life with another person and transition from complete freedom to companionship and compromise?
  • Do I want to keep working how I’m working? Is there the reality of “normal jobbery” or “leap-of-faith-for-a-career” so scary? Or am I exaggerating in my head a reality that doesn’t reflect the danger of actually pursuing my dreams?

I have no definitive answers. I still cling from time to time to the emotional bannisters of the Doppelt house. But sometimes it’s important to ask these questions. For me, 2016 was about learning how to have hard conversations, create tension, and keep my emotions in check and my rationality in charge. In 2017 I think I’ll learn to embrace the transition, whichever direction it may take me. Maybe it takes the death of a cherished person to open one’s eyes to the life that’s still able to be lived. Maybe that’s the kick that forces me out the door, out of my comfort zone, and into the best experiences of my life.

Or maybe transitions just suck, and then they don’t, and there’s nothing more to it.

What do you think?

Also if you haven’t seen this it’s fucking gold and I’ve been laughing all day:

The Story of Jack, the Facebook-Friend/Troll who runs my life

Ever since I became faux-internet-famous for clicking buttons at high stakes no-limit tables back in 2007, I have received a reasonable number of random poker-player Facebook Friend Requests. In general, I always accept these requests, as I don’t mind talking to people, I like connections, and (selfishly) I sell some poker products (books and coaching) that sometimes people might buy. So, I don’t really mind.

Here’s the story of how one of these people came to run my life.

During the election, there was a lot of heated rhetoric flying around in all directions. As we now know, fake news was also a pretty significant problem. It’s really easy to fall into these carefully crafted narratives – we are used to reading things that have gone through journalistic process to ensure their accuracy, so we tend to believe the stories we’re told. I’d highly, highly recommend reading this bit about the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect (something all poker players have experienced at some point when reading poker articles). Today, news articles look and feel the same as before, but the careful process that helps ensure accuracy has gone away. I’ll be the first to admit that I have succumbed to the internet’s false narratives.

Let me explain: When the Boston Bombings occurred, I was rocking Twitter on 3-monitors. I was part of the hunt. Boston Police radio scanners live, multiple twitter channels, it was like I was playing poker but instead of winning money I was saving the world from terrorism. Hoorah.

Google search: nerd vigilante meme

The BPD had released some black-and-white photos of the suspects, showing a picture of a guy with long, curly hair coming out from under his baseball cap. Now, the sleuths at Reddit had done a search for missing person’s in the area, and discovered that a college student named Sunil Tripathi had recently been reported as a missing person. And, when they pulled up his class photo, he had long, curly hair. And, and this is a fucking spoiler, Sunil Tripathi’s skin was not white! Fucking Bingo. Soon, Sunil’s name was circulating wildly through the internet, until it trickled back to the BPD, who mentioned him on the radio as a possible suspect.

So, to recap –  Sunil was nonwhite, had gone missing, had similar hair to the suspect, and the Boston PD had identified him on the radio as a suspect. The narrative was convincing. I posted something on Facebook about how shocking it is that someone so generally loved (and Sunil was indeed very loved) could be such a monster. I propagated this narrative myself, lending creditability to it among those who trust me.

Here’s a gif of how easy it is to fall into a false narrative:

Of course, Sunil Tripathi ended up being just a sad college student who killed himself. That his family, who had to endure this tragic suffering, also had to be painted as monsters, and that their dead son was attacked for being a terrorist and murderer, is a sad footnote on this horrible story. And, as we now know, that curly hair belonged to Djokhar Tsarnaev, the real evil fuck who did this.

The point, though, is that it’s easy to buy into the narrative, no matter how real it actually is, and no matter which side of the political aisle you call home. And, this type of false narrative is really dangerous to discourse and the way we view the truth (as has become abundantly clear). The loss of the editorial process passes a lot of that “truth” responsibility onto the consumers, and we’re not really ready for it.

So, whenever I see a news article from anyone, either side, that I know to be false or gratuitously misleading, I feel a moral obligation to respond. Otherwise, I’m tacitly approving the dissemination of this type of content. This moral obligation is annoying as fuck, but it exists nonetheless. It’s annoying in the way that, if you were to see some guys beating up another guy, you have to call the cops, and then you have to get involved, and it’s not your favorite thing (unless you’re Ryan Gosling), but you have to do it because you’re a human and we’re all in this together. It also takes up a shitton of time, but we’ll get back to that.

Now, I don’t lose empathy when I respond. As someone who has succumbed to fake news and false narratives before, I don’t call people “idiots” or “morons” or “assholes” or “traitors” or whatever. I just respectfully point out that “hey, that’s not exactly true”, and engage in a peaceful but firm way.

So let’s tie it all back to Jack. Jack is a middle-aged poker player and soccer coach who lives somewhere in the South. A while back, he friend requested me, and I accepted. He likes sports and taking stupid quizzes on the internet to see which GoT character he most resembles. Then, out of the blue in during campaign season back in 2015, he posted some political content (God knows what) that I happened to find really objectionable. So, feeling that pull of moral responsibility, I engaged. Now, Jack and I didn’t agree or anything like that, but it was at least remotely amicable.

Of course, the Gods at Facebook saw this and their algorithm became really curious about my friendship with Jack. “Hmmm,” they said. “Our Creator, the one called Zuckerberg, taught us that engagements are the same thing as friendships. And, whenever Jack posts content, Andrew engages with it. Every time! These must be the best of friends. Let’s give them more!” And so, suddenly, my entire fucking Facebook feed gets filled with Jack’s posts about how Hillary is a murderer and Bill is a rapist and Obama is a Muslim, with nary a post critical of Dear Leader-elect Trump (though lots of sports stuff and GoT quizzes). And, of course, that moral responsibility thing keeps kicking in, and so suddenly I’m spending all my goddamn time arguing with trolls on the internet. So time consuming!

However, this experience was not entirely negative. You see, it is too easy for people stuck inside their liberal echo chamber to assume that all Trump supporters are racists and homophobes. I don’t think that Jack is a racist – many of the soccer players he coaches are non-white, and he shows off their successes with the excitement of a proud dad. Many of his friends are non-white, and he laughs and interacts with them and has a good time. I actually don’t think he has much of a problem with legal immigration. He mostly just wants American citizens to get opportunities opportunities first and foremost, and deeply distrusts the Clinton establishment. These things aren’t really unreasonable.

Now, he’s bought into some of the narratives that are pretty outlandish and conspiracy-theorist-y. The Clinton’s are probably not murderers and rapists. One of Jack’s favorite refrains is that Obama is a Muslim because he once commented that the Call to Prayer was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen. Well Jack, I can tell you that the Call to Prayer is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I can do it in fucking Arabic. Does that make me a Muslim too? (Also, side note that many American Christians don’t seem to get – Allah is just the word in Arabic for “God”, the same way that “Dios” means god in Spanish or “Dieu” in French. And it’s the same God. And Muslims love Jesus. Mindblowing shit, I know.)

Just so you don’t think i’m bullshitting, this is actually true.

And, to continue on this momentary tangent – who the fuck cares if I’m a Muslim? The First Amendment doesn’t say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, unless you’re a Muslim, cause that shit is scary.” While I’ve always prided John McCain on his response to that crazy old batshit woman, the better response would’ve been, “No Ma’am, he’s not a Arab, but also Arabs are normal people just like us white folk, and deserve the same respect as Americans of any other ethnicity.”

Back from the tangent – Jack and I will not agree on many things. And, I don’t believe that Jack sees the danger in a lot of Trump’s rhetoric. As I described in my last post, he’s nestled pretty deeply in the “us-guys”, the protected class that fascists use to Other their political opposition. So, he believes some of it the rhetoric (not all of it is unreasonable), and he’s incentivized to not fight against the other stuff (since the “us-guys” are the ones who reap the tangible benefits of a fascistic environment).

But, here’s the thing – I actually DO believe that Jack believes in the US Constitution. I think there is a silver lining to this populist revolt happening on the right, and that is an underlying belief in a limited government, greater liberties, and a strong 2nd Amendment. Now, Jack did say he thinks we should have a bit more authoritarianism, but also that he stands against the fascists and the Neo-Nazis. So, altogether, a bit of a mixed bag.

The point of this whole rambling is that we need to actively start engaging with people outside of the echo chamber. Make sure you retain empathy. I know for sure that Jack doesn’t agree with me about much, but I do think he respects me, and I think he’d fight for my rights if they were in danger. The less we interact, the more we convince ourselves that everyone on the other side is an evil bastard, something less than human, a Nazi or a Libtard or a Feminazi or a Racist Bigot or any of the other things we lob at each other to dehumanize each other. Now, there ARE actual Nazis and Racists out there, as well as Anarchists and cop killers and assholes of all persuasions, and it’s important to call them out when we see them. But, most of our political opposition are NOT those people. Most Trump voters are NOT Nazis. Most Black Lives Matter activists are NOT cop killers. Most people just want meaningful, reasonable change that will improve their lives and the lives of their families. If we put down our knives and broken bottles for just a few minutes and start engaging, maybe the Facebook Gods will force us to interact and see each other for what we are – small, little humans worried about our futures. We’re all willing to listen to reason if we think the other person gives a shit about us.

So let’s burn down the echo chambers and hear each other out.

*braces for the barrage of “idiot commie traitor” comments*

Thanks for reading 🙂

Andrew

Fascism Bingo!

I got a pretty large response from my last blog post, detailing both my love of America (and of future President Camacho) and my fear of tyranny, leading to the admission that I (and my family) have been constructing a plan to secure our safety, even if it has to happen outside of the USA. I took a lot of phone calls, twitter messages, texts, etc. asking about the plan. What specifically did I have in mind? How would it look?

Fascists are like Camacho, except scarier, and with fewer Super Smackdown titles

Before I dive into the specifics, I’d like to again state that I aim not to be an alarmist. Signals from the Trump transition (or Trumpsition? anyone?) have been decidedly mixed – he’s backed off on gay marriage, the wall and Obamacare, the libel laws thing, torture, a lot of the really deplorable stuff, but he’s also appointed people (or threatened to appoint people) who deny climate science and/or run fascistic propaganda outlets.* He also recently tweeted that “millions of people voted illegally”, a pretty factless claim, but one that will inspire a forthcoming blog post in its own right I’m sure.

pretty much. evidence is for losers. Sad!

*a quick note on Steve Bannon. I recently read the transcript of his Skype interview with Vatican officials as transcribed by Buzzfeed, and I must say that it was fascinating. I went into it expecting to be scared of Bannon, and I left feeling way more scared of Bannon than I thought I’d be. You see, I was expecting a standard issue bigot – blah blah blah, the problem is the black people and the jews and the arabs, us white folk are good, etc. What I saw, instead, was a brilliant man with a searing, persuasive, intellectual critique of the cronyism and corporatism that are undermining global capitalism, and a vision for a “global revolution” – his words – against a corrupt financial and political power structure. This was compelling material. But, when asked about the racism and anti-semitism that comes with alleging white oppression and global banking cabals, he said that it “all sort of washes out, doesn’t it?”. To translate – Bannon seems willing to utilize the base prejudices of average people in order to motivate them to overthrow the system, either by turning a blind eye or actively encouraging fascistic behavior. This is way more dangerous than your average klansman or skinhead. This is a man whose vision is built upon a seed of truth, planted in a garden of injustice against the lower classes. He’s like a Bernie Sanders without the commitment to diversity, racial integration, or women’s rights. To be clear – I actually doubt that Bannon is, himself, a racist or a mysoginist, but he signed off on Breitbart articles that clearly were. He’s like a dark, Bizarro Bernie Sanders. And that’s scary.

yessss

Back to the topic at hand: I’d like to note that fake news and echo chambers are not party-specific problems. Recently, I was horrified to learn of a letter apparently sent to Muslim women in the US, with the header “Dear Terrorist-Bitch”, that Reza Aslan tweeted out, saying that it was being “sent to Muslim women all over America”. My outrage lasted just until I Snopes’d it, and found that it probably hadn’t happened (at least probably not more than one time, which is still awful, but not a national news story). Both sides have their own fake news and their own echo chambers, and we actually need to do tangible things to bridge these gaps. But, I’ll write about that more another time.

This time, I want to discuss The Plan – today, we’ll talk about how we know fascism is actually happening, and next time we’ll talk specifics about dealing with it. It’s really easy to shout “fascism!” and be wrong, and that really devalues the warning signs when fascism is actually coming down on our heads. So how can we know what it looks like?

Traditionally, the descent of fascism operates like this:

Step 1: Conservative Leadership: “The problem is those-guys, not us-guys. If we get rid of those-guys, us-guys will make everything sunshine and rainbows. Let’s start rationalizing the removal of their rights and dehumanizing those-guys.”

Step 2: The those-guys freak the fuck out, “how dare you accuse us of wrongdoing you crazy fucks? You can’t take away our rights! Protest! Not my President! It’s your fault you old racist asshole fucks!”

Step 3: Conservative Leadership: “See? Those-guys are unstable and need to be stopped by us-guys. Let’s pass some laws / ordinances to give them a little bit less room to operate.”

Step 4: (Something really bad, an event, happens). “It was definitely those-guys. We need emergency powers to protect us-guys from those-guys. The time to take care of them has come” and then everyone who’s been rationalizing this behavior since Step 1 signs off on it. And, because most people are included in us-guys, nobody wants to risk their us-guys status so they stay quiet and watch as the those-guys are removed from society, until the next round of those-guys can start (and a big chunk of the us-guys get thrown into the those-guys category).

Famous example:

Germany:

Step 1: It’s the commies! And the Jews. But mostly the commies (who are also Jews).

Step 2-3: See? They’re rioting and protesting. Those dirty commies, they hate Germany and don’t want true, natural-born Germans to succeed.

Step 4: Reichstag burns. Definitely the commies, we have an emergency, we need power to take care of and eliminate the commies. Then, the commies became the Jews, the rival conservatives, the intellectuals, the artists, the gays, the blacks, etc.

More recent example:

Turkey:

Step 1: Erdogan: “The secularists and infidels are preventing Turkey from becoming the great empire / caliphate it once was.”

Step 2: (Secularists take their shirts off and make out in public squares to protest “modesty” laws)

Step 3: Erdogan: “See? Is this the example you want for your children? Rampant promiscuity and the destruction of Turkish/Islamic culture. Let’s crack down harder.”

Step 4: The coup is attempted. “Now, it’s an emergency, we need to arrest the sympathizers of this attack on the Turkish people. It’s time to arrest the secularists in government, education, military, etc.”

But, the tricky part is that some elements of fascism may exist without the whole system falling apart. This, of course, makes everyone who shrieks “the Nazis are here! fascism is coming for all of us!” look quite silly. There is some danger of crying wolf every time that conservatives take over the government (the same way people shout that Obama is a communist, if that makes sense). But, you really don’t want to be the person who was silent when fascism really is coming. So how can you know whether or not fascism is really here? Or whether or not it’s actually time to execute The Plan and leave the country (or stay and fight, depending on your preference)?

With all of this in mind, I’ve invented a game to explain how The Plan will work for myself and my family. It’s called Fascism Bingo. Ready? Let’s play the game!

ANDREW PRESENTS: FASCISM BINGO!

1-2 White Squares – Move Money & Prepare for Resettlement

  • Restrictions on free press (including legal action)
  • Restrictions on economic mobility (e.g. transferring money out of country)
  • Restriction of public assembly (beyond commonly accepted permit requirements)
  • State-sponsored violence against protesters (a la Kent State)
  • Far-ranging 2nd Amendment Restrictions
  • Limits to Social Media or other internet services
  • Prosecution of leading political opposition
  • Domestic Drone Deployment

Any Wildcard Square – WILDCARD! TIME TO GO

  • Loyalty Oaths
  • Formation of paramilitary forces
  • Religious Test or identifications
  • Outbound travel restrictions
  • Domestic deployment of military forces
  • Targeted economic restrictions (certain groups can or cannot engage in business or commerce)

In the slide to fascism, there is a spectrum. Shooting protesters is obviously authoritarian and fascistic, but arresting protesters who violate city ordinances and annoy the shit out of their neighbors isn’t necessarily the oppressive steel-toed boot of the state. But, even the killing of protesters (as happened at Kent State) didn’t signal the collapse of the Republic and the onslaught of fascism. So, in Fascism Bingo, if you get 3 of the small fish, it adds up to one of the big fish. In either case, it’s time to go.

Generally, the plan is to start making preparations (moving money, preparing a soft landing) if and when 1-2 of these bingo squares get completed. Until then, though, I’m cautiously optimistic that the Republic will continue onward.

What do you guys think? Too reactionary/alarmist? Not alarmist enough? Does anybody want to play fascism bingo with me??

The times they are a’changing

I want to start this post by stating clearly – I do not ever wish to leave the USA and live elsewhere. I love America, my home, my friends, my family, my work. I believe massively in the US Constitution, I even love our stupid gridlocked congress.

When Donald Trump won the presidency on Tuesday, I made a preliminary plan to leave. No, I’m not going to leave anytime soon, and I’m not going to leave because of my distaste or distrust of Trump, or that I think the country is going to shit, or whatever. I made a plan to leave in the event that I soon won’t be able to. You see, being a liberal Jew carries with it some dangers (from a historical point of view). And while there are minorities for whom today’s dangers are far more real and pressing (a list will be featured below), intellectual Jews are never too far down the list. And so I, like many other people of Jewish descent that I know, made a plan to escape, or to hide, just in case. An unlikely case, but one that has increased from “zero” to “non-zero”, which should be scary for everyone.

But before I get to far, let’s think about the election first. In general, whenever lots and lots of people think I’m wrong about something, there is at least some chance that I am indeed wrong about something. So, I wanted to pause to consider what happened. Like most of you out there (read: everyone) I was expecting some form of a Clinton landslide. Her poll numbers looked strong, predictive betting markets strongly favored her leading up to the election (and those tend to be incredibly strong indicators of performance).

You see, I’d assumed that, as the country had moved left from 2006-2012, it’d just keep moving left indefinitely. This just isn’t true (and was a critical oversight for me and most other left-leaning people) – Trump didn’t have to tack left to reach the middle, because the the general population had moved right to meet him. Clinton, who seemed center-left (or even center-right to many) was still somehow caught unexpectedly too far left to win the election. And, with rust-belt job insecurity compounding with a deep distrust of the political and media establishment infrastructure and embarrassed hatred of a PC culture that forces people to face their own biases, Trump was somehow positioned (in spite of it all) perfectly to win an election that nobody thought he could.

So now, we have President Trump.

To clarify, this guy is going to be President:

This guy:

Is going:

To be President

Honestly, I’m just happy it opens the door for future President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, Five-Time Ultimate Smackdown Champion, Porn Superstar, and (future) President of the United States.

I had traveled to Florida to participate in the campaign and campaign for Hillary. While I’d never been a massive Hillary fan (at least not the way my mother and many other amazing people are), the prospect of a Trump presidency was so repulsive that I was fully compelled to act.

As I sat at a bar watching the results come in, it became clear very immediately to me that Trump was going to win. The gap in Ohio was too wide for Hillary to recover in the other rust belt states. I felt the horrible sinking feeling that all blue-staters now know well. Suddenly, I had to leave and catch my breath. I walked east until I found a quiet spot and sat down in the park to try and recover.

After about fifteen minutes in silent meditation, it still felt hopeless. Was Trump going to ban muslims? Would Roe v. Wade be overturned? Gay marriage? Would Trumpistas (can we start calling them that?) attack me for my liberalism? My education? My ties to the Arab community? My Jewishness? Is my family in danger? Is the country over? Will there even be another election in 4 years? in 2? It’s a unique feeling to feel fully in despair for one’s country. The reality seemed clear – lots of crazy racist people were going to burn down the American ideal to prove a fucking point.

Then, I started to see through the fog and recover.

Now, I’m not going to be the gazillionth affluent straight white lucky male to preach that it’s “all going to be OK” – I said that to a couple of people immediately after the results and was put squarely in my place. For many Americans, things are NOT going to be okay anytime soon. Here is a list of people for whom it’s probably not going to be okay:

  • Muslims
  • Arabs
  • People who look like either Muslims or Arabs (can include Mexicans)
  • Mexicans
  • People who look like Mexicans (can include Arabs)
  • Black people, especially those not wishing to be frisked or shot by police officers
  • Women who want birth control
  • Women everywhere who want basic dignity and respect
  • LGBTQ people
  • People who have been struggling to get health insurance coverage
  • Syrians in Syria
  • Syrians not in Syria
  • Union factory workers
  • Non-Union factory workers
  • A few hundred people who are going to get shot by some crazy people who legally buy guns in their local Wendy’s parking lot
  • And, anybody who’d have to swim to work if the sea level rises a few feet.

And probably a lot more. That covers a wide range of people. So, no, things won’t be “OK”. But, we didn’t just elect literal Hitler. So, in a range from “Hitler” to “Martin Luther King”, we’re most likely to end up in the “shitty-but-we’ll survive” territory.

With that said, my first point about “they’re all just crazy racist hicks” is not exactly true. Lots of areas carried handily by Obama flipped to Trump. These aren’t the massive pockets of racism – they elected the first black president. Now, they’re pissed off and wanted a different vision for America.

Then, perhaps for the first time, I started searching for the truth that compelled so many people to vote for somebody so obviously unbalanced, narcissistic and shameless. Here’s what I was finally, grimly, forced to face and accept:

  • Key elements of our governmental system ARE broken. Powerful complexes have grown the power of government and lined their pockets at the same time – Military-Industrial, Pharmaceutical, Banking. Something is fundamentally wrong if the system allows criminals, banks, and large companies to operate above the law. It’s not hard to imagine why – politicians have skin in the game. Do we think it’s a coincidence that Hillary never railed against criminal bankers with the same ferocity as Bernie or Elizabeth Warren?
  • It probably is important to have some sort of border control. Both Hillary and Trump (and definitely most Americans) support some form of border control. Hillary looked silly trying to distinguish between her “fence” and his “wall”. Now, I don’t believe in mass amnesty, and I also definitely don’t believe in deportations (and even less in “deportation forces”)*
  • We are definitely not at war with Islam, but we are definitely at war with Radical Islamism. Democrats avoided using the words because they didn’t want to conflate the two, but Trump was actually correct when saying “We are at war with Radical Islamic Terrorism”. We are, he’s not wrong.

*what would I do you ask? No deportations for X years, clear path to citizenship that relies on good behavior and civic knowledge, amnesty for parents of children born in the USA, and automatic citizenship for anyone who enlists in the armed forces

Now, some quick refutations: immigrants are not dangerous, Muslims are totally fine, and so are refugees, and institutionalized racism targets African Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color (seems funny to include that on a list like this – shouldn’t it be obvious?)

In short, Trump is clearly a vile person – an obvious narcissist, racist, misogynist, bully, and possible lunatic. That he has control over anything is absolutely batshit. But, in America we have elections. It’s like we’ve committed to going to the movies with our family, and only two are showing – there’s a decent-looking movie and a really shitty-looking one. And, while you’re down for the decent-looking one, everyone else outvoted you and now you have to see the shitty movie. It sucks, but its how the system works. So, if all your family choses some crazy, you can curse your luck that these people are your relatives, but at the end of the day you have to grit your teeth and bear it.

AND NOW PRESENTING: ANDREW’S SILVER LININGS:

  • There’s a nonzero chance Trump could actually do a decent job
  • There’s a nonzero chance that Trump actually does not give a single flying fuck about his constituents and will do literally anything he wants, including flouting the religious right and the NRA (both of which would align with his pre-candidacy politics)
  • Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion would revert to a states rights issue, meaning that blue state residents won’t see any changes, and red states residents will go from “abortion is fucking impossible to get because there is only one place and its 400 miles away and I need a note from my doctor and mother and 2nd grade teacher and I need to write a short poem about my fetus before I can get one” to “ok, abortion is actually impossible to get”, which is absolutely a fucking tragedy (its insane how awful it is already for women’s reproductive issues in red states already) but it’s not “Trump is a dictator” territory.
  • The Wall and the Muslim Ban are basically impossible and won’t happen.

AND NOW PRESENTING: ANDREW’S THINGS TO BE TERRIFIED OF:

  • There’s a nonzero chance that Trump will use nuclear weapons or lead to their proliferation
  • There’s a nonzero chance that Trump will tank the US economy by engaging in pointless trade wars
  • There’s a nonzero chance that Trump will concede the entirety of the Middle East to Russian interests
  • Trump’s basically guaranteed to fuck the environment up badly, but we can take some small degree of comfort in knowing that it was mostly completely fucked already
  • There’s a reasonable chance that Trump tries to shut down the free press (not sure how he’d do it, but a big part of the country clearly has a vendetta against the “rigged” press, though in general it seems like their biggest problem is that the press thinks their ideas are stupid).
  • And, most terrifying: Trump’s success will lead to the proliferation of Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, White Supremacists, Anti-Semites, anti-intellectuals, believers in “White Genocide”, conspiracy theorists like Infowars and Breitbart, and people who generally don’t give two shits about whether information is true so long as it feels true and makes a good story that appeals to scared ordinary people.

And, that part really is the scariest – if we complete the judo-slide from Obama to fascism, it will happen because the Trump campaign gave license and credibility to ideas that ought to be shouted down. I once had to engage a (now former) “friend” who was genuinely posting Nazi-style “white genocide and the lack of focused breeding that is ruining the white race” type stuff. How could these ideas have resurfaced? Of all the fears, it is this.

This is why I started making a plan. If the slide happens, there won’t be much time to escape it. So, it’s worth discussing now. Even having a plan made me feel more relieved, more able to move forward with my life. Yes, I will always need to be vigilant as long as the doctrine of hatred and fear carries weight in the world of common discourse, but this type of action (the planning) allowed me to worry less and process.

So, I processed, I felt afraid, I felt empathy, and then I accepted that this is part of the ride of being an American. I’m actually feeling okay, that Americans will pull together and try to help each other out during what are sure to be some difficult and trying times ahead.

Thanks for reading this particularly long post – I love you all, even my Trump supporting friends, and I’m hoping we can work together to quelch the fear and hatred and remember that it’s our diversity and our freedoms that make America unique, successful and powerful. So, believe it or not, I actually want to make America Great – not “again”, but anew.

Andrew