Thursday, December 29, 2016

Speed, Computers, Security, Nobody Knows What's Going On, Get on with your life

Asked about sanctions against Russia for interfering with the US Presidential election, here is what President-elect Donald J. Trump said (with Don King standing beside him holding an American flag):
I think we ought to get on with our lives, I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.
And that is how it's going to be.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tiniest-Handed Authoritarian of the Year

Trump has been going around doing rallies (which is weird in itself), and there is a point he brings up every time. He is Time magazine's Person of the Year this year, whatever. But here's the thing he complains about. He says they should call him "Man of the Year." His crowds go wild over this. He has brought it up at three different events so far.

We know why they don't call it "Man of the Year." It isn't Man of the Year because there is an upheaval going on, gender roles in our society are changing. Women are people now, they are working and participating in the economy, they are engaging in intellectual dialogue, they fight in wars. A hundred years ago they couldn't vote, and now the goal, among people who have thought about it, is equality. And the way ahead is hard but the goal seems reachable, besides being practical and good. To reach this goal some things have to change, some doors have to be unlocked.

Trump and his basket of deplorables call this "political correctness," they hate it that Time considers women to be equal to men, but Time can call it whatever they want. Nobody is forcing anybody to stop saying "Man," it just isn't part of the phrase "Person of the Year," which Time magazine owns. If Trump wants to be Man of the Year then he can buy Time and change the title. Nobody's stopping him. In the meantime, the people who currently own the magazine call it something different.

It's not political correctness, not somebody saying you can't say something because you might offend somebody. The NFL has a Man of the Year and nobody cares. Time has a Person of the Year because there are great women who sometimes deserve the award. And anyway, since 1986, that is, in the past thirty years, Angela Merkel last year was the only woman who has won the award. So political correctness is not really doing spectacularly well in this particular domain.

The rallying-point is that Trump and his followers do not want this kind of social change. He has made a point of dehumanizing women, especially when he was running against one; it is not even an undercurrent, it is what he stands for, with his shady modeling agencies and beauty pageants and his three wives and what's up with him and his daughter, for crying out loud?

There are two other alternatives for Time, right? They could have Man of the Year and Woman of the Year, and if they wanted to be progressive about it the Woman would be some scientist or powerful politician, but just as likely it would be a woman who is attractive, acts or sings, dresses fashionably, and makes moderately provocative social statements.

The other thing Time could do is just forget the Woman of the Year. Award a Man of the Year and that's all. How do you like the sound of that? I don't remember people complaining, but that's what they did up until 1999.

And that's what Trump wants to go back to, what his followers want. They believe America was great back then, when the concept of a Woman of the Year was not even a thought you had. You didn't miss it back then, you didn't go hey wait a minute, what about the women? It just didn't exist, there was no such thing, and that's how it was. If there was a great woman they called them Man of the Year, no problem. A couple of women got the Man of the Year award, and I suppose that was a little awkward but it was not a big deal and it didn't happen very often.

This "great again" concept is terrible, going backwards to ugliness. Hopefully we get through this phase of history without losing too much ground.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Revelation of Russian Hackers

The Post came out the other day with a story about a secret CIA report saying that Russia pulled strings to help Trump win the election. People have been saying this all along, so it wasn't really news -- it's weird, go back and google it and you will see talk about Russian hackers going back well before the election. The new breaking story was just the emails, nothing to do with fake news which was the more interesting propaganda development, to my mind.

Honestly I have a real problem with "news" about "secret reports" -- if it's secret then why is it on the front page of The Post? Somebody in the government committed a crime by giving secret information to a reporter, and that is how we, the public, find out about things. If a government employee gives out information because of their conscience they are charged with a crime, if they do it for political reasons, no problem. So now we find out that before the election the President and Congress knew the Russians had given Hillary's emails to Wikileaks in order to get Trump elected. But because of backroom deal-making between the parties the Director of the FBI -- who had also been briefed by the CIA about this -- was able to pull Hillary down from her lead without any interference by the people who knew what was going on.

Apparently the Russians had gotten into both the Democratic and Republican inside-baseball email systems and gave the Democrats' information to Wikileaks. That means they saved the Republicans' emails, which can be used for blackmail later -- watch the word kompromat enter the English vocabulary. Trump now has called the CIA big fat liars and is busy carrying on a beauty pageant to find the very worst person for each cabinet position. And yeah, that's our country at the moment.

The funny thing is that the Repubicans "won" the election and are not inclined to question exactly how that happened. Hillary has washed off her makeup and is done with it all, Trump is gloating and tweeting up in his golden tower, and a doomed populace is hoping that enough electors will switch sides, or that we can have the election again, or something. But the winners are now running the show and they -- of course -- don't want do-overs.

It's funny that the one system that was not breached is Hillary's private email server, which the Republicans and the media kept the public focused on.

The asymmetry of this year's election campaign was bizarre but nobody really commented on it. On one hand we read every detail of Hillary Clinton's life, we had her financial records and a million emails between her people. It was actually amazing that there was not any scandal in all that, the DNC was unfair to Bernie but you knew that already. Oh, and "pizza" means "molesting children." The FBI had to go so far as to drag Anthony Weiner into it, to poison the atmosphere surrounding Hillary after nothing came out of her staff's emails. On the other side, there was nothing, total information blackout, and people were fine with that. Donald Trump did not even release his tax records so nobody knows if he has money, who he owes, what businesses he is involved in. And the Russians are hanging onto his emails, which we don't get to see. So instead of talking about the unfairness of one side being totally exposed to the public while the other operates in darkness, we obsessed over the details of the Democrats' emails, which were public. On one hand we had a candidate we knew everything about, warts and all, and on the other side... a pig in a poke. Which we elected President.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Comet Ping Pong Craziness

I play music and sometimes I like to go out and see what's new and happening. I don't get out very often, but a few weeks ago my wife went out of town to help her sister move, I had a Friday night to myself, and I went out to hear some music in Chevy Chase.

I went to a place called Comet Ping Ping, on Connecticut Avenue, in Northwest. I overestimated the drive and got there early, went in, hung around for a few minutes. It's a family place, pizza and beer and ping pong tables. Some college age ladies were playing ping pong, switching ends running around the table each time somebody hit the ball, laughing. The band was setting up in the back, behind a curtain. I hung out on the street for a while, wandered into Politics and Prose, stuck my head in at Jake's Americana where my band had played once, eyeballed the Sri Lankan restaurant for future reference. I sat on a bench and watched people walk by.

The bands ... varied in quality. The first was a polyrhythmic duo, drums and synthesizer, and I might like to hear them again. I wasn't sure if they were doing what they did on purpose or just didn't know how to count the meter, but I read some interviews with them and yeah, they know what they're doing. It sounds fresh and spontaneous but it is also disciplined.The second band had a bunch of electric guitars playing mostly in unison and the effect is pretty cool, a wall of sound. Cool for the first twenty minutes or so. The last guy played electric guitar through some digital processing equipment and, well, I'm open to anything but I would call that "noise." It was just a roar and I left after it didn't get any better. The night was just what I had hoped, I had a beer and heard some music. The crowd was enthusiastic, attentive, I think it is good to hang out with young people sometimes.

Wikileaks put email online, where a person found a handkerchief in the kitchen and asked if the person who probably lost it wanted to come by and pick it up, or should they mail it to them. This led some conspiracy theorists to connect random dots, to put together a theory, if I get this right, that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta have some kind of human trafficking ring of child molesters that uses Comet Ping Pong as their headquarters.

A few years ago I talked to Comet Ping Pong about our band playing there. It was kind of charming, the manager explained that they would book us, but they could only pay us in pizzas. We declined, but at least they were honest about it. Bands play there basically for free, hoping to build up an audience.

But now Comet Ping Pong is getting calls, death threats. Sunday a guy drove up from North Carolina with an automatic rifle and fired it inside the place. He was "self-investigating" the child molesters. He thought there were kidnapped children being held in a basement or back room somewhere, and he was going to rescue them. The Post quoted a friend of his this morning saying, literally, "He is not a nut." Wait, what? What does it take any more?

Last week I scrolled through one of the web sites about this, before it was big news. These people are serious. They really do believe that Hillary Clinton is running a human trafficking operation out of Comet Ping Pong, and they have left a lot of clues, sort of like "Paul is dead." The people who believe this theory call newspapers like the Washington Post "fake news" and believe every rumor online about the Clintons being Satanists or criminals or pedophiles. I have some complaints about The Post but I know the difference between reality and fantasy.

And by the way, this is not "fake news." This was not published on a site that looked like a legitimate news site. This rumor oozed out of a festering boil of public discussion on Reddit. The discussion there got so nasty that Reddit finally kicked them out, and that's saying a lot. This story was not planted in the media, it emerged and spread through forums and discussion groups and social media, one person to another.

Yesterday on Twitter the looney-toons decided that this guy with the gun had been sent there as a "false flag" operation, to make it look like the nutty ones had done something nutty, when of course they are the ones who see behind the façade and know what's really going on. They are sure this is all part of the cover-up of Hillary's child sex ring.

This story has been linked to Trump's pick for national security advisor. But Mike Flynn did not tweet about Comet Ping Pong, he accused Hillary of being a pedophile in another context. His son, though, who is always by his side, does claim that this story is "true until proven false." So the story that Comet Ping Pong is headquarters for a Hillary/Podesta pedophile ring has tentacles right into the Trump White House.

I have talked before about mental illness and guns. There can be mental illness where you feel bad, or you say impulsive things, you might talk to yourself, your thoughts are fuzzy or disordered, that's all understandably mentally ill. But what do you call it when an entire community decides to divorce itself from facts? Is that illness or ideology? Or maybe it is just irresponsibility and abdication of decency.

It reminds me of a time when people believed the world was dominated by mythical beings. Aphrodite would put love in your heart, Hermes put thoughts in your head. In the absence of scientific knowledge, that is a good enough way to see it, you can understand what's going on in terms of invisible cosmic forces. I think it is halfway between a dream-world and modern consciousness, logic and causality don't really hold but things sort of fit together in a fable or myth. Things happen that you can't see, and that's why the visible world is as it is. And still in the twenty first century people feel they can mythologize someone, for instance Hillary Clinton, they can attribute any kind of evil to her, and it "makes sense" to them. In fact it makes more sense to those people than real things that you can see. Because someone could be manipulating reality like a stage-prop, but nobody can manipulate "the truth."

I really don't know how you confront this. Once a person has let go of the string, once their balloon has soared away from ground, you can't reason with them. You can't even empathize with them, once they have determined that you are earthbound. It's scary.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Reappearance of the Swastika

In yesterday's Washington Post the big headline on Page One was "Trump nominees map out plans for tax revamp, trade." Because it's an election year, see, and the new guy is coming in and there will be parades and balls and transitional stuff. It happens every time we get a new President, cabinet members, policies. Nothing to see here.

Back in the Metro section on page B-6, after the PG County Councilman who crashed his car drunk, after Alexandria Confederate symbols to stay for now, after rail-car reliability is a priority, after the obit for the guy who invented the Big Mac, was a story from Montgomery County: Swastika found in high school restroom.
The incident is the second at Quince Orchard since October, when a caustic substance was used on the football field to create the image of a swastika, according to Montgomery County police. An investigation is still underway, police said.
My own reaction was a little surprising to me. The question came into my mind -- why is this in the newspaper?

Of course the swastika was a despised symbol when I was young, after World War II. My father was one of the lucky ones, he was brought back from the brink of death after he was shot down fighting Nazis; he was later able to walk with a cane. We had to help him put his socks on as kids, that was something we learned when we were big enough. Lots of dads had scars. We didn't like Nazis and swastikas back then. We still sang "Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk..." years after the war. But, you know, things change, now people walk around with telephones in their pocket, TV is in color and some of the new screens almost look real, I haven't seen a typewriter in ages.

My father's generation is just about gone, and a new one has taken over. Of course swastikas used to be a bad thing. But nowadays Nazis, the KKK, swastikas, untruths, racial and religious prejudice and violence are as American as pussy-grabbing.

So a kid scrawled a swastika in the bathroom, he was just expressing his patriotism. He supports our newly-elected President. Why is it in the paper, again?

I wonder how long the newspapers will bother to carry this kind of story at all. The Post quotes some old-fashioned grown-ups sputtering about "hate-based acts" and "will not be tolerated." Then the paper does a smart thing and saves space by listing off a lot of incidents in one article, so they don't have to keep running dog-bites-man over and over again, month after month. October thirtieth, November tenth, November eleventh, November fourteenth... "Our schools must continue to be safe places for students to learn," some lib said. Someone else was quoted in the lamestream Post saying, "They’ve lost their shame."

It'll be in a Saturday Night Live skit next, and then on South Park, or maybe South Park will have swastika-scrawlers first. Comedians will joke about swastika graffiti, at first in self-righteous tones but pretty soon they will be joke-admitting that they also sometimes scrawl swastikas and the crowd will laugh sympathetically, remembering the last fence or wall they scrawled swastikas on. Eventually people will forget that the swastika was once considered a negative symbol, or they will forget why, the news stories will have long disappeared, the jokes won't be edgy or funny anymore, and the transition will be complete.