This is hella depressing, but you really need to take ~10 minutes to page through this whole thing: “Vanishing: The Extinction Crisis is Far Worse Than You Think”
Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):
They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board. Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence. And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm. The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over.
So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:
- Learn these three sentences:
- An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?” (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
- A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
- A stern: “Not OK, dude.” Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
- Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
- Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs. This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.
Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop. Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”
Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally). 1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval. You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life. The same here. No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.
Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way. Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.
I want to talk about why this picture absolutely breaks my heart, but fist I want to talk about that quote in the title. It comes from a “congratulatory address” penned by Rabbi Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, and presented to President George Washington. Washington, in his reply, mirrors Rabbi Seixas’s language, but gives us the slightly more familiar formulation, callings ours a government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” But I really like the full paragraph, so I offer it now:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
I like that he starts to poke a whole in “tolerance” right from the birth of our nation—I myself am done with being “tolerated,” like a fart in an elevator or a tax you can’t dodge. You can accept me as your fellow citizen, or deride me as a Jew, but I’m not going to be tolerated or indulged. And I like that he finishes by saying “all we want us for everyone—and anyone—to show up and be good citizens to all.” I can pledge my allegiance to such words.
And, yes, America has done a crap job of giving bigotry no sanction over the years, but as a Vision Statement it’s solid, and viewed over the course of the centuries, we’ve pretty steadiy progressed.
Until now, and because of this man. In the last year—and at an accelerating clip—we’ve raced backward. Today—and I’m telling you this as a fact, based on my actual experience of actual events, and a lifetime of actually keeping an eye on actual trends in how folks think of Jews—we’ve slid back decades. The sort of anti-Semitic garbage folks haven’t pulled since I was a kid are back and feisty as ever.
And President-Elect Tantrum hasn’t done shit. In the weeks following his “electoral triumph” he literally spent more time hassling actors than he did decrying hate crimes and all-around shittiness being done in his name and on behalf of his team.
And there’s the man himself, draped in a prayer shawl—something I wore at my bar mitzvah, that I wore at my own wedding and while officiating a wedding, that I wear on our High Holy Days—and it kills me. Not just to see something sacred ripped from its context and used as a damned fashion accessory (and apart from the weird vein of quasi-crypto-Judaic cultural appropriation that has long pulsed through Detroit’s black Evangelical communities), but to see it on a man who can’t be bothered to extend the minimum effort toward Doing the Right Thing.
Jesus! His most beloved daughter—the daughter that, bizarely, is I guess going to be First Lady somehow?—is Jewish! (she converted) Yet even then, he can’t be bothered to speak out against anti-Semitism. And if he can’t be bothered to speak out against a rising tide that would like to see his daughter killed, cremated, and scattered to the sea, what the hell can I possibly expect from him when it comes everyone else, the blacks and browns and queers and immigrants and whoevers with whom he seems to have absolutely no personal contact.
George W. Bush—a terrible president responsible for terrible suffering—did the right thing in situations like this. It’s one of the very basic components of presidenting: Being reassuring and calming when the shit hits the fan. Obama has been fantastic at it; both Bushes had their moments, Clinton could do it, Reagan certainly did (sorry. that’s as far back as I personally go with presidents).
And yet this guy won’t. And that’s unforgivable.
So what do I need for this to be good, for us to move forward and me to be able to grit my teeth and say “President Trump”?
When I’m wearing my tallit on Yom Kippur, I’m told that three things “soften the Lord’s harsh decree” as It considers our failings:
And that’s what I want: A president who says “It was a cock-up not to get on this sooner,” gives some evidence of thinking meaningfully and deeply about how he’s fanned these flames and what he needs to do to stop doing so, and takes some sort of action to show solidarity with us, the people of all of the protected classes who are now checking our locks, keeping an eye peeled, and sleeping light every night.
(NOTE: If you’re feeling deja vu, don’t sweat it; I post this every year, because I love you)
I’m a mixed Jew who’s lived in the American Midwest for his entire life. I think these songs, more than anything else I’ve ever written, are honest about that experience.
- Another Dark Xmastime (FUN FACT: I wrote this during my first year as a fundamentally unemployable stay-at-home dad; my son believes it is an accepted part of the general Xmas Music Canon.)
- Dreidel Bells (FUN FACT: The beat here is an original GameBoy running an early German Nanoloop cartridge. Both voices are obviously me, but the filters for the robot voice badly overburdened my iBook, causing significant lag–which is why Mr. Roboto struggles so badly to hit his marks.)
- DreidelDreidelDreidel (FUN FACT: The beat here is a vintage analog Boss DR-55 once owned by POE, crammed through a heavy-metal distortion stompbox.)
Happy Non-Denominational Gift Giving Season to All!
SNL doesn’t hit the mark often these days, but I think this one really gets the Non-Denominational Holiday Season Spirit right, without tending into snark, irony, treacle, or pedantry:
I outlined my thinking more fully about two weeks ago (here’s the post: The Final Test of the Electoral College), but I think it’s fair to say that the Electoral College has finally proven itself to be, at best, a quaint vestigial
growth on the Republic, and at worst a systemic effort at the national level to generally discount the value of votes in the most populous states (which are also, incidentally, where the densest populations of immigrants and people of color live) in favor of giving undue weight to those in the least populous (and, entirely coincidentally, predominately white) sections.
Please contact your state reps and encourage them to support the National Popular Vote. Abolishing the popular vote has seen support left, right, and center in recent years, including that of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I have it on good word that the National Popular Vote way of going about getting this done is basically the only way it’s gonna happen; support them.
Almost certainly not, but listen:
Crappy fluorescent fixtures flicker at 120 Hz (i.e., 120 times each second, twice the frequency of the AC mains)—but that’s when performing perfectly. Usually, you won’t notice that at all. In fact, a flicker can get down to around 60 Hz before the average person can see it (I’ve been told that this was part of the motivation for choosing that frequency, as early incandescent bulbs would tend to noticeably pulse along with the AC).
But if the fluorescent light is visible and unambiguously flickering, then it’s definitely down below 50 Hz. And here’s the thing: the bright LEDs they’re using in this experiment to successfully treat and reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they’re pulsing at 40 Hz—i.e., the “creepy horror-film industrial building” frequency.
(Please do listen to the entire podcast before deciding to spend a lot of time sitting under shitty office lights; the research is in its infancy and the rate of successful transfer of Alzheimer’s research from rodents to humans is something like 0.4%).
Trump transition team has been publicly mulling over creating/reviving a “Muslim Registry.” The Intercept started calling social media/tech companies and only one—Twitter—said “We’d never help with this!” (FYI, IBM has been down this road before, and yet still somehow doesn’t know the right answer to this question). Yesterday, Facebook finally clearly said “No way! We won’t do it! We’d never build a Muslim Regsitry!”
But here’s the thing:
- As I pointed out back in Jan 2015, these companies have already built these databases. They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good or if you even give two shits about Santa Claus.
- More to the point, the abstract threat I wrote about back in Jan 2015, when it freaked me out a little that Amazon had clearly flagged me as a Jew, became real in the Spring of 2016 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center housing my daughter’s daycare. Because I sit on the Board of our congregation (which uses that building regularly for our religious services), I ended up touching base with the local police and FBI agents investigating the incident. As it turned out six JCCs across the U.S. (in locales as far-flung as St. Louis, New York, and Louisiana) received the same threats at the same time—and all had very similar names. When I did some googling, I found that all of us were listed together alphabetically in online Jewish education directories, with our phone numbers and addresses. I.e., someone was just working their way down a list. This time around, it was just to make phone calls and fuck with us and our kids. Next time? Who knows; here’s what said in 2015, and it’s still about the same:
[I]n Amazon’s datacenter, I’m a row in a table. The index on that row is something like “CUSTOMER #2045674” and the cells include “kindle-owner” and “SF reader” and “owl pellet buyer” and “Jew” and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions–until that table gets resorted by the “Jew” column, and then I’m a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I’ll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then!
So I guess it’s swell that Facebook and IBM and Amazon and whoever else would never-ever-ever build the Muslim Registry they already built, but what if they maybe entirely accidentally do build a registry (which they already built, which is already being used to facilitate hate crimes and international terror)? What then?
FYI, in business jargon, this is an externality.
[panel #1] “Hey”
[panel #2] “I… um…”
[panel #3] “I’m… a little… concerned…”
[panel #4] “that I look like a wang, Dave.”
[panel #5] OFF-PANEL VOICE: “You aren’t a wang! You’re a little ghost in a cape, and if I call it…”
[panel #6] OFF-PANEL VOICE: “… Little Ghost, then everything will be fine, so you shouldn’t worry.”