July 2019

The few big things I want to flag from the second night of the second round of Democratic debates were served up by Cory Booker, Julián Castro, and then a tag-team of Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand, but I’ll start by giving the only credit I’m going to give Joe Biden, for his opening statement.

You know, we have a president, as everybody has acknowledged here, every day is ripping at the social fabric of this country, but no one man has the capacity to rip that apart. It’s too strong. We’re too good. Just look at this stage, made up of very diverse people from diverse backgrounds, went on to be mayors, senators, governors, congresswomen, members of the cabinet, and, yes, even a vice president. Mr. President, this is America. And we are stronger and great because of this diversity, Mr. President, not in spite of it, Mr. President. So, Mr. President, let’s get something straight: We love it. We are not leaving it. We are here to stay. And we’re certainly not going to leave it to you.

That really is a pretty great last pair of sentences there, and I’m still the furthest thing from wanting Biden as the candidate but credit to where it’s due.

Castro set up a framing that I hope to see others in the field run with when he remarked, “Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t.” That isn’t, however, the big Castro thing I want to get to. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I want to get to Booker.

First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.

This is really crucial. The idea that Biden believes he can ride the shoulders of Obama’s coattails at every turn but then the moment he’s asked if he tried to stop Obama’s deportation policies throw up his hands and say, hey, man, I was just the vice-president isn’t going to work. Teams across the Democratic field should be looking for other questionable Obama policies to press Biden on in the future.

(Booker was also right to press Biden on his staunch support for various crime bills, and I hope that Booker comes back to one of Biden’s primary defenses there, which was that these bills “were passed overwhelmingly”. Booker should hit back that, well, yes, that’s exactly part of the problem: they were always problematic for communities of color and you all kept passing them anyway.)

Castro got to something that’s been as important to me in terms of things not making it into the discussion as was last night’s bit from Buttigieg about not making decisions based upon a fear of Republicans calling them socialists. It was on the matter of impeachment, and it came after Nancy Pelosi Bill de Blasio asserted that, “The best impeachment is beating him in 2020.” (And then Bennet effectively agreed with him.)

Well, let me first say that I really do believe that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. All of us have a vision for the future of the country that we’re articulating to the American people. We’re going to continue to do that. We have an election coming up. At the same time, Senator, you know, I think that too many folks in the Senate and in the Congress have been spooked by 1998. I believe that the times are different. And in fact, I think that folks are making a mistake by not pursuing impeachment. The Mueller Report clearly details that he deserves it. And what’s going to happen in the fall of next year, of 2020, if they don’t impeach him, is he’s going to say, “You see? You see? The Democrats didn’t go after me on impeachment, and you know why? Because I didn’t do anything wrong. These folks that always investigate me, they’re always trying to go after me. When it came down to it, they didn’t go after me there because I didn’t do anything wrong.” Conversely, if Mitch McConnell is the one that lets him off the hook, we’re going to be able to say, “Well, sure, they impeached him in the House, but his friend, Mitch McConnell, Moscow Mitch, let him off the hook.”

Castro gets both the moral and the political calculus here exactly right in a way that almost no other Democrat or cable news pundit has, much to my frustration.

If we just wait to let the election litigate Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors and he wins, we’ve let the history be written as, “America ratifies lawless presidency.” However, if we litigate his crimes in the House of Representatives and the Senate refuses to convict, the history is written as, “Senate partisans ratify presidentiall lawlessness.”

This difference and distinction matters, and Castro clearly understands this, and I hope it brings more clarity to an otherwise frustrated debate on both the morality and polities of impeachment that Pelosi seems not to understand.

One other important pairing of remarks that came up that should be highlighted, although I’m not sure they will be: Inslee and Gillibrand’s comments on privilege, beginning with Inslee talking about racial (and other) discrimination.

You know, I approach this question with humility because I have not experienced what many Americans have. I’ve never been a black teenager pulled over in a white neighborhood. I’ve never been a woman talked over in a meeting. I’ve never been an LGBTQ member subject to a slur. And so I have believed I have an added responsibility, a double responsibility, to deal with racial disparity.

(Very parenthetically, Ben Browder should play Inslee in the movie. I guarantee that once you hear it, you’ll never be able to un-hear it.)

This wasn’t a direct lead-in to Gillibrand, with Alan Yang and Castro weighing in between them, but she also struck an important tone here.

So I don’t believe that it’s the responsibility of Cory and Kamala to be the only voice that takes on these issues of institutional racism, systemic racism in our country. I think as a white woman of privilege, who is a U.S. senator, running for president of the United States, it is also my responsibility to lift up those voices that aren’t being listened to. And I can talk to those white women in the suburbs that voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is, that when their son is walking down a street with a bag of M&Ms in his pocket, wearing a hoodie, his whiteness is what protects him from not being shot. When his—when her—when their child has a car that breaks down, and he knocks on someone’s door for help, and the door opens, and the help is given, it’s his whiteness that protects him from being shot. That is what white privilege in America is today. And so, my responsibility’s to only lift up those stories, but explain to communities across America, like I did in Youngstown, Ohio, to a young mother, that this is all of our responsibilities, and that together we can make our community stronger.

(White privilege is more than the possibilities of being shot and killed, of course, but it’s hard to argue with putting the mortal dangers front and center. I’m not holding my breath for this topic to come up in debate again, but it would be nice to see if Gillibrand or others can show the definition to be more expansive than this.)

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least note what Yang had to say on the subject of the climate crisis.

This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground. And the best way to do that is to put economic resources into your hands so you can protect yourself and your families.


It’s been awhile since I had a good “who the fuck is writing this timeline” moment, but this jaw-dropper of a New York Times piece that no one asked for or ever would ask for likely qualifies as an all-time winner.

Revealed by the Times is that Jeffrey Epstein apparently had something of a transhumanist eugenics bent that included a desire to seed the world by impregnating women at a New Mexico facility. I’m left pleading to the sky for an answer to why all these evil men with which we have found ourselves surrounded seem to be a combination of James Bond villain, Wile E. Coyote, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Everyone’s going to write about the eugenics (or maybe the penis-freezing!), so what I wanted to note was a uniquely-batshit revelation elsewhere in the article.

Mr. Epstein was willing to finance research that others viewed as bizarre. He told one scientist that he was bankrolling efforts to identify a mysterious particle that might trigger the feeling that someone is watching you.

Sophons. He’s literally talking about sophons. Jeffrey Epstein read The Three-Body Problem, a Chinese science-fiction novel, and became so paranoid he actually tried to find scientists willing to investigate the sophon threat.

I can’t. I just can’t.

These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.

From Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump by Washington National Cathedral

It’s a madness, alas, we must take literally and seriously. If we continue to look for a reason why the president attacked Baltimore, we are distracting ourselves from what’s going on. Trump is not attacking one set of policies in order to justify another set of policies. There is no motive. There is no cause and effect. He’s attacking the very thinking that goes into policy-making. In other words, he’s attacking our minds until we stop thinking altogether and all that’s left is him and the power he wields.

From To Understand Trump, Stop Thinking Rationally by John Stoehr

There are two things I wish were the takeaways from last night’s debate but won’t be, because neither of them fit into the usual narratives: Buttigieg’s admonition against campaigning based upon what the Republicans will say, and Williamson’s (yes, look, I know, and I’ll get to it) trenchant analysis of race in America.

It’s time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. It’s true that we embrace a far left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialist. Let’s stand up for the right policy, go up there and defend it.

Buttigieg is dead-on about this. I’ve suggested before that the Democrats could run literally on the verbatim Republican Party platform and they’d still be attacked as socialists. (Hilariously, he’s now using that tweak. That’s not me taking credit; it’s the logical extension of the rhetoric.) I’m glad he’s begun making this a centerpiece argument in his campaign, though I’m skeptical it will break through the thick heads of the gatekeepers of the national conversation.

The problem is that the cable pundit class and the Democratic consultant class refuse to acknowledge the sort of nonsensical rhetorical asymmetry exemplified by the GOP’s cries of “socialism!”, partly because of their continued, and mystifying, belief that Republicans somehow still operate in good faith. It’s also partly because, well, I don’t know—whatever it is that prompted Paul Begala today to think he had some wisdom to impart on the related matter of whether or not some Democrats, and moderators, on stage last night simply were echoing Republican talking points.

Barack Obama opposed Medicare for All. His Affordable Care Act was more moderate, more incremental than anything anyone on that stage said tonight. So, I suppose he was just repeating Republican talking points?

As you can imagine, the early replies to this tweet comprised an endless string of, “Yes!”

It’s commonly understood that Obamacare took substantially the approach that so-called Romneycare did, and the “individual mandate” literally was a proposal by the Heritage Foundation in the 90s as a counter to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform push. That’s during the Clinton years, of course. The ones for which Paul Begala was around.

The pundit and consultant classes have a vested interest in certain narratives, and anything that shows those narratives to be, like many other narratives, a construction is anathema to them.

Meanwhile, dangerous space cadet Marianne Williamson somehow managed to be the bluntest and most direct person on stage last night on the subject of race in America.

My response is Flint is the tip of the iceberg. I was in Denmark, S.C., where there is a lot of talk about it being the next Flint. We have an administration that has gutted the Clean Water Act. We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities, all over this country, who are suffering from environmental injustice.

I assure you — I lived in Grosse Pointe, what happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe. This is part of the dark underbelly of American society.

Later, as a Democratic debate once again took seriously the notion of reparations, she again managed to lead the pack on how we should talk about this.

Well, first of all, it’s not $500 billion in financial assistance, it’s $200 to $500 billion payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is. We need deep truth-telling when it comes, we don’t need another commission to look at evidence. I appreciate what Congressman O’Rourke has said. It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal. All that a country is, is a collection of people. People heal when there’s some deep truth-telling. We need to recognize, when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with. That great injustice has had to do with the fact that there was 250 years of slavery followed by another hundred years of domestic terrorism.

What’s especially galling about all this racial truth-telling from a white person is that the white person in question is dangerous space cadet Marianne Williamson–who for all intents and purposes is a snake-oil saleswoman and faith healer–and not from any of the other actually viable white candidates with whom she shared the stage.

It’s not even that I don’t think other candidates on the stage don’t see these issues the same way. It’s that for some reason few if any of them bring them up, let alone with this particular degree of passion and social honesty, and we just can’t let dangerous space cadet Marianne Williamson become the passionate-defender-of-racial-justice candidate.

Sarah Kurchak has a good response to critics of Hannah Gadsby, especially the weird idea that Gadbsy somehow might be invoking autism as a kind of criticism shield. It’s an especially strange critique, to be sure, not just given that autistic people often are judged simply for being autistic, but given that Gadsby herself doesn’t even think autism is a disability, having once nonsensically intoned, “It’s not autism that makes it difficult to live with autism.”

‘I have this plan,’ Merlin [Sheldrake] says, ‘that for each formal scientific paper I ever publish I will also write its dark twin, its underground mirror-piece – the true story of how the data for that cool, tidy hypothesis-evidence-proof paper actually got acquired. I want to write about the happenstance and the shaved bumblebees and the pissing monkeys and the drunken conversations and the fuck-ups that actually bring science into being. This is the frothy, mad network that underlies and interconnects all scientific knowledge – but about which we so rarely say anything.’

From Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

Links posts here now are Highlights posts, and I’ve changed the design of them from blockquote-style to highlighting-style, since I’ve been talking so much lately about how highlights are one of the things I miss about how Medium works, and about how I wish highlighting was native to the web.

Now, there is growing recognition that buildings not only need to be designed to be functional and aesthetically pleasing, but acoustically satisfying as well – leading some architects and engineers to rethink how spaces are shaped and the materials they are made from.
Scientific research suggests they are wise to do so. Noisy work and home settings have been proven to annoy people, and noise annoyance itself has been linked to depression and anxiety. Furthermore, issues concentrating in the workplace due to office noise and intermittent noise has been found to significantly reduce human performance.

From How the sound in your office affects your mood by Lakshmi Sandhana

“Did you know that fewer than 1% of people on Twitter produce most of the Tweets that break our rules against abuse?” asks a new sitewide message making its way (and making a plea to “support a culture of respect on Twitter”) into users’ feeds today. “Please take a look at our rules to know what is and isn’t allowed.”

Everything about this message is wrong, except perhaps that statistic, which I’ve no way of checking. It’s worth noting, however, that if Twitter’s self-reported numbers are to be believed, this still is three million people running around abusing others.

It’s not clear to me just who is the audience for this message. Those three million people, or any new users like them, are not going to be dissuaded from abuse by it. In fact, it often seems like it’s the Twitter moderation team itself that needs to read the site’s rules, as violators routinely managed to go unpunished.

But what I really want to call out here is the notion that “respect” should be the goal of community standards of conduct.

Respect is a thing with asymmetrical impact favoring the privileged and the powerful. Respect is kin to “civility”. Respect is used by Twitter nazis to tone-police their targets into being silenced by moderators. Respect is weaponized to game the enforcement of rules in a way which encourages abusers and discourages victims.

With all due respect, Twitter, this new message strategy regarding abuse in your community is a piece of shit.

I don’t have bladder cancer, according to the biopsies. Hilariously, and ironically given my thing about the use of messaging, I missed a message from my urologist last Thursday during my hazy surgery recovery daze telling me this. I could have been relaxing on the cancer thing for the past five days, but no.

(Way back during my original cystoscopy, my urologist’s take was just that the tissues around the diverticulum were inflamed, irritated, and mucusy. She never viewed them as a “mass”, and so was surprised when CT scans and the like were being written up as potential malignancy. Her views on the matter during surgery were consistent with those during the cystoscopy, and the biopsies showed her to be right.)

Among the things learned from today’s telephone appointment, in addition to reaffirming the lack of cancer is that my bladder diverticulum puffs out like a Mickey Mouse ear at about the four-o’clock position, which explains the difficulty in draining it. Rather than an upright diverticulum in which, in theory, there’s a gravity assist, gravity in my case is helping to keep urine in the diverticulum. This will continue to be a potential, if not likely, trouble spot.

It can be addressed, to an extent, by addressing my lifelong weak streams—which themselves now have an explanation. For lack of a better way to describe it, the path from bladder to urethra is meant to be something of a funnel. In my case, the angle is not so steep and in fact there’s almost a kind of pre-funnel hurdle. All of which combines to make it more difficult to empty my bladder, which then can contribute both to stones formation and additional irritation of the diverticulum.

There’s a surgery for that, it turns out, and if I’m honest my initial take is that I’d rather aim for the surgery than for the other relatively low-impact (as compared to the much more invasive and involved removal of the diverticulum) option of catheterizing myself in order to fully empty my bladder.

Meanwhile, the next step isn’t bladder related. There’s inflammation in my lymph nodes that needs to be explored, which likely means a round of biopsies. Some nodes are more accessible than others, and my urologist is referring me to a surgical oncologist to make some decisions there.

These lymph biopsies will happen before any decisions on the remaining urological ones, and then we will decide what happens first.

All of which still leaves outstanding the gallbladder polyps to be rechecked by CT scan in a few months; the “elevated decreased kidney function” to be rechecked by, I guess, lab work, in another month or two; and the fatigue issues that got put on hold months and months ago in order to chase down all of this other stuff.

Mostly, though, the news is: no cancer. Unless, of course, the lymph nodes have decided otherwise.

One of the disadvantages so far to not finding a therapist covered by my insurance who understands autism, let alone adult autism, that has become achingly clear over the past couple of weeks: my anxiety remains completely unconfronted by medication. Just last Friday, I suffered an epic anxiety attack at the urologist’s office that easily lasted at least half an hour. (One that, not-so-incidentally, would have been visibly obvious to anyone that passed by, including all of the doctors, nurses, and other staff who never asked if I was okay.) I was, at least, given something prior to my surgery last Monday, as I lay prone on a hospital bed and naked except for that flimsy gown. Today, I’m having one I’d say is “moderate” as I await a telephone appointment with my urologist to get the lay of the medical land, as it were. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Low levels of anxiety I can often walk back through some rudimentary breathing exercises, but cross the threshold into a more intense attack, and I am left at sea.

Todd McCarthy, the 69-year-old film critic at The Hollywood Reporter who dismissed critics of the casting of Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange as “politically correct … alarmists” and disparaged Diego Luna in Rogue One as not being “a strong and vigorous male lead” today decided to complete a sort of trifecta by confessing the “throbbing” he felt while watching… Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

CJ Eller’s talking annotations. I’ve been talking highlights. Lots of people are talking about introducing friction into how we interact with the web, or at least context. Eller’s posting their annotations; for all intents and purposes, what my Links hashtag consists of is highlights.

I’m beginning to wish the WriteFreely ecosystem had a built-in Highlights feed, a la Medium. I think that perhaps the reason why none of the various third-party highlighting systems ever gained any real traction is because they are separate and apart from anything else you might be doing on the web. They live in their own little highlights silo.

More and more, I really do think that Medium’s approach—your own page containing all of your posts, comments, and highlights–is the right one, except unrestricted to a walled garden; it needs to be web-wide. I know much of this is what the IndieWeb is after, but it should be native. It always should have been native.