The Cruelty Is the Point

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.

That’s the upshot from the final paragraph, but the whole thing is worth a read as a document of our viciousness and how little progress we’ve made.

The final nail in the coffin of my both-sides-ism was the 2016 conventions. One party kept stressing how its members were bringing aid to those most in need. The other was pointing out who should be locked up.

Russians Meddling in Star Wars

In and of itself, the idea of looking for meaning and a reflection of one’s own life in pop culture is perfectly fine. I would even argue that it’s the first step toward digging deeper into a work of art, because it leads us down a path of critical thought and invigorating discussion with friends — and maybe even a little bit of self-examination.

But here’s where things have flipped on their ear in the 2010s: Many fans of a work aren’t just looking for meaning in the work itself, but for the work to impart meaning upon them. Too often, they ask pop culture to fill the role that religion, philosophy, or psychology once did.

Todd VanDerWerff keeps giving me lots to think about.

I’ve chewed around the edges of this before in trying to understand the relationship between writing and ego, and again while reading Infinite Jest. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decline of community and religious organizations has preceded the rise of fandamentalism and politics-as-pro-wrestling.

I’m not suggesting that the solution is “go to church”, of course. But we’ve created a vacuum of cultural and emotional need, and we’ve started the new holy war to try to fill that void.

Stories are often escape, and that sounds charmingly harmless as long as you don’t think about it too long. As long as you don’t start analyzing the structure of the most popular stories. As long as you don’t reflect that one of the biggest non-Nazi criticisms of “The Last Jedi” was its rejection of moralism and lack of a clear villain.

We love to quote Marx’s “opium of the people” observation, but my friend Dan recently reminded me that the full quote, in context, reads rather differently than most people think:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

At the core of fundamentalism of any stripe is a scrabbling desperation to change my environment to make me feel safe and reinforced. To change what is outside of me in the hopes that it will fix what is fearful and suffering inside. Whether with online fights about sci-fi or our current political climate, what we’re hearing now is the suffering cry of a diseased and possibly dying culture.

Remarkably perceptive of the Russians and modern American Nazis to see that the best way to attack our political system is to come at the new religion first. But they’re going to hurt more than just the shot at a more just and inclusive society. And they don’t care.

Vote GLaDOS/HAL 2020

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When you create a weather app whose whole concept is being powered by a murderous, anti-human AI, it’d be the easiest thing in the world to take that joke and run with it for goofs. When you use it to demonstrate how far we’ve gotten from basic human decency while running with the joke, you’re operating on the fine and delicate line between comedy and rage.

That takes skill, not to mention stones. App stores are hard to make a living in because app pricing has taught people to value useful software less than coffee and a bagel. A feature like this (which you have to turn on in settings to really get the effect, but still) potentially shrinks your revenue further. So I’m on board. They get my annual subscription.

Funny people are being asked to play the role for democracy that Jesus played in the temple. My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.

I miss the days when laughing didn’t matter so much. When I didn’t scramble for my wallet just because I found out that my favorite Git client backs women’s causes and the ACLU.

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions

Cambridge Analytica got shit tons of data that helped the Trump campaign by gaming Facebook.

People are going to call this a “hack” or an “exploit”. It was not. It was unethical harvesting, but it was using a system that Facebook set up as a key part of their core business model. From Daring Fireball, where I saw it linked first:

This was not a security breach. This is simply what Facebook is: a massive surveillance machine.

Between this and their profiting off of Russian trolls and misinformation that they pointedly did not ask questions about, it’s clear that Facebook is a big part of the reason why a probable felon who sexually assaults women and doesn’t have the attention span to read a two-page brief is President of the United States of America.

The 21st century definition of irony: Political outrage posted to Facebook or Twitter.

Update: Facebook fixed the problem by banning the whistleblower. Letting these people install software on your phone sounds like a good idea.

More updates: Even better! Their chief information security officer left over a dispute about this kind of thing. Includes a shocking revelation that security concerns on this issue were overridden by money concerns. And Zuck knew about the Russian accounts when he dismissed the idea publicly:

By November 2016, the team had uncovered evidence that Russian operatives had aggressively pushed DNC leaks and propaganda on Facebook. That same month, Mr. Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the notion that fake news influenced the 2016 election, calling it a “pretty crazy idea.”

You’ll have to come looking, I guess

I ditched active participation in Twitter several months ago. The outrage cycle was tiring. People shouting THREAD over and over again was tiring. The endless punishment of women and people of color while the Nazis were constantly given what could only absurdly be termed “free speech consideration” was exhausting.

Twitter seemed so full of promise once. It looked like it could change the world, and unfortunately, it did.

It’s like a high-speed microcosm of the Boomer generation, all promises of a new world of prosperity and ideas shared and debated, but then money and power start making demands and everything gets thrown in reverse. Such is Twitter, and such is America forever if we don't figure it out.

Though I had “left”, I kept coming to Twitter when called; I still had my blog alert my followers there when I made a post. I did that because of you, because Twitter brought a tsunami of wonderful people into my life, and I am desperate to stay in touch and remind you all how much you mean to me.

But it was also about ego. It was about “outreach”, a word that here means faves and attaboys. I hunger for that too, and it is a part of me that I would drag into an alley and kick to death if I knew how. But I can at least starve it.

I have no dreams of blogging professionally. I have a career that I like that pays me more than all but the most successful writers dream of, and that gives me options I would not otherwise have. So it wasn’t ever about money or fame. I’m just a dog whining to be petted, when you get right down to it.

I could justify that to myself before, but it's getting harder now. Not when women are being banned for criticizing men while the president* unintentionally brags about the size of his clitoris to North Korea and intentionally stokes the fires for war. I can't even distantly participate in a service that bigoted and loony. If I do, I’ve sold off the best part of me just like Jack and Biz did.

So I’m done. Facebook will never touch my new phone and I'm cutting the last remaining cord to Twitter.

I do hope you'll keep poking around here from time to time, and yes, that is still about both you and me. I'm working on it. But I hope I'm at least finally content to wonder whether anyone's listening, without seeking an answer.

Only you

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If you want to delight the hell out of some park rangers, and why wouldn't you, wear your Wokey the Bear shirt to a national landmark. One of them grilled me for the right site for "the one Neil deGrasse Tyson wears".

When Hate Is Your Life's Work

And those marchers were not alone, either. It has been sickening to live here for the past eight months and witness the staggering amount of work that many newly emboldened white Americans have put into destroying people unlike them. I’ll happily write a 1,000-word hater’s guide to a retail catalog, but my hateful efforts are nothing compared to the work these men put in. Think of Mitch McConnell, working feverishly day and night to secure votes and secretly drafting bills and calling late night Congressional sessions, all so that he could take health care away from poor people. Think of how FRENZIED he was to do this. Obsessed. Think of the sense of urgency that led him to disregard all other work just to pass a bill that could potentially harm so many, and you know that urgency hasn't faded....

Think of the utter indefatigability of these men and their champions. It’s not simply that they hate, but that they have made hatred their life’s work.

And then think of all the effort needed simply to keep these men at bay, or to undo the evil works they’ve already secured. Trump is a miserable, awful man. And even though I have heard a million times that he secretly loathes being president, the man still endeavored to get the job and shows no sign of relinquishing it, not when he can take time every day to satisfy whatever hateful itch he needs to scratch. It is exhausting to deal with him, and what’s scary is that he’s not even close to being the hardest-working white supremacist in his own government. These are men who are counting on your fatigue. These are men who are hoping that their insatiable hunger for repression wears you down eventually, and that you resign yourself to the idea that inequality is both inevitable and irreversible. It will take GENERATIONS to undo the damage they’ve inflicted upon modern America, if it can be undone at all. It’s like cleaning up after a flood.

Drew Magary, writing for GQ.

I discovered Magary through his novels. My wife got me The Hike awhile back, and I loved it so much I snatched up The Postmortal. Just finished it this week.

After reading both of those books, I can attest that Magary can imagine a whole lot of terrible shit. When a guy who writes dystopian science fiction and fantasy allegories full of dog-headed child killers is horrified by the stuff you've dreamed up, you've done something really special.

Beware of Dog

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If you drive any American two-lane highway long enough, you will inevitably pass a real shithole ramshackle house or trailer, blue tarp bricked over the hole in the roof, yard strewn with garbage and the rotting husks of large appliances and cars long dead. This two-bedroom ode to entropy will be surrounded by a fence which will almost certainly topped with barbed or razor wire and adorned with a sign. Something on the order of THIEVES AND TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT.

Still stuck at the airport

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I made this last year as an admittedly smug one-off Twitter joke. I keep it as a reminder to (1) try to not so much with the smug already and (2) work toward a world where I can afford to use some of the energy currently spent on grim resolve for frivolous shit like being a smug jerk. Or, y'know, helping.

I figure once the Russians fix our cyber I…CRAP I'm being smug again, they make it SO HARD

Lying Cat is the official mascot of 2017

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Yes, Lying Cat. And you're either thinking "of course" or "…whuh?" but either way I'm not going to explain too much, because you don't deserve Saga or Lying Cat without putting in the minimal work of reading the link.

Lying Cat is one of my favorite creations in all of comics. In no small part because of this scene with Sophie, a recently-liberated young girl who had been sold into sex slavery:

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I was going to make a Hitler joke because Lying Cat's partner is named The Will (though he does not triumph all that often), but to me the president* is less a Hitler than a reupholstered Biff Tannen.