Not for nothing, but I think the PotUS actually groks terrorists pretty well

Donald Trump: “I won’t call them monsters, because they would like that term.”

… ‘course, he goes on to say the exact wrong thing, in terms of reducing or eliminating acts of terror (which, fundamentally, are acts of the alienated—which is why I think he zeros in on the terrorist psyche with such clarity), but he starts strong, and says something that few GOPers have managed in the last 16 years:

Terrorists are humans, crappy, fallible, shitty humans, but humans all the same.  Not super villains to be grudgingly admired, certainly not desperate freedom fighters, jut numb-nuts shit-heels who are almost below contempt.

Offered for Contrast: The Case Against the Case for Impeachment

This argument strikes me as willfully obtuse (in the 20thC impeachment has been about a preponderance of wrongdoing, not a single gotcha), but I offer it to contrast most of what I’ve shared over the past few days:

OPINION: The Comey memo offers zero evidence to impeach Trump

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

For the record, over the past week it’s become increasingly clear that our representatives need to start saying the word “impeachment“—which is, recall, a formal Congressional statement of charges and investigation, not a fancy way of saying “removal from office.”  Is it time for removal from office?  I have no fucking clue.  Is it time to formally level charges?  It sure seems that way—but I don’t know, and am in no position to figure it out.  It is certainly time for us to accept that we need to seriously talk about this, not just throw the word around in histrionic fits.  It’s like the word “cancer” or the phrase “I’m dying”: We use these a lot as shorthands for things like “I feely sorta achy” or “I’m super-duper tired,” but there are also times when you do have cancer, when you are dying, and you need to actually start to talk about that with your loved ones.

And we’re in that place now, the place where we have to talk about cutting off our nose not to spite our face, but to save it before the cancer metastasizes.

This isn’t because the PotUS fired Comey for the stated reason that he was sick of “this Russia thing,” and it isn’t because he spilled the beans to that same hostile foreign power, and it isn’t because he tried to obstruct the early stages of the investigation into Trump-Russia ties back in February and it isn’t because he quite clearly benefited from—and plausible in some form, by action, inaction, or willful ignorance, colluded with—election meddling by that foreign power.  It isn’t because he, his staff, and his family have very publicly sought to personally profit from holding the Office of the PotUS, and it isn’t because everyone in his inner circle seems to treat the very notion of “ethics” the way a dog treats an especially sexy throw-pillow, and it isn’t because of the breaking-strain bend he’s put in the Emoluments Clause, and it isn’t because of his stated seditious animosity to the rule of law as it is widely recognized in this country—especially as pertains to the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments.  It is because of the preponderance of those things and more, taken all together, without pause, without recrimination, without apparent shame or the recognition that each of them is not simply Bad, but actually contemptuous of the very notion that governments are instituted among regular folks like us (not inflicted upon them) and derive their powers from the consent of the governed (which again, is us).  His high crime, if nothing else, is that he acts with contempt for us and for our institutions.

“What is his impeachable offense?”

Dude, at this point, what isn’t?

A Brief Tale of Uncertain Moral for Yom Ha’Shoa

I wrote about this via Twitter back in January.  I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God.  And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows.  But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history.  And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up:  I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.

I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.

Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…

…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…

…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…

…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…

…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…

…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …

… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…

…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…

…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…

… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…

… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…

… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.

Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.

I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might seraphchamsa-IMG_7181meditate on this story further, as you go about your days.  Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.

Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today:  Tell this to your sons and daughters.  This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook.  Not monsters.  Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs.  No more, no less.

Human beings like you and me.  No more, no less.

“President Trump’s biggest weakness is that he doesn’t know how to make deals.”

I don’t put too much trust in political prognostication by narrative extrapolation, but this lil article in the WaPo— “Trump is throwing himself into the Democrats’ trap” —is reminding me of something I wrote way back in June 2016:

Is he a great negotiator?  No.

Is a great businessman?  No.

Is a statesman of any stripe? No.

Is he even a politician, in any conventional sense of the word?  No.

But he is possibly the greatest salesman this country has ever known, in part because he has perfected the sales process beyond the need for any product at all.

And none of us should feel good about this fact.  That he’s a shit negotiator and abysmal dealmaker in no way impedes his capacity to hurt countless people, profoundly and callously—because profound callousness is the product he’s selling.  Even just glance at the charts here and you’ll see what I mean.  Hell, just remember that his healthcare plan—which was so fucked up even his own party wouldn’t support—cost more and covered fewer people than a simple repeal of Obamacare.  It didn’t obey any coherent American political ideology—it wasn’t more care, or better care, or cheaper care.  It was just profoundly callous and cruel, because that’s what he sells: The opportunity to exercise a callous “fuck you!“ishness toward a world that fails to recognize how inherently wonderful and superior you are.

We’re not even “through the looking glass” here, because it’s a universe without mirrors or even light, just groping through the darkness insisting what you need to be true must be true, because otherwise you are a fucking freier of the first degree, and you’ve been duped by a soft-handed dimbulb who couldn’t even convince his buddies to do the thing they’ve spent seven years screaming they were gonna do at the very first opportunity.

FREE READ: “The Lure of Lake 19” by David Erik Nelson

My horror short, “The Lure of Lake 19,” is up and free to read over at Evil Girlfriend Media’s Speculate! webzine.  This year’s theme is Curiosity Killed the Cat—’cause ain’t that the truth.

The story starts like this

Tate didn’t like how the kid was acting. The teenaged male in the second-hand cruiser’s back seat—who could produce no ID,10LureOfLake19a-300x200 but had given the moderately improbable name of “Jamal Kartazian”—was far too compliant. As a rule, kids like this—scrawny white boys with lumpy dreadlocks and grimy hoodies—were a spewing font of the Three Bs: bravado, back-peddling, and begging.

But not this kid. Jamal Kartazian was cool and collected; he almost seemed satisfied to find himself locked in the back of a cop car. And, in contrast to every other kid Tate had ever busted in his short two-act career as first a cop and then a rent-a-cop, this kid was actually asking to be “hauled back to the station.”

. . . and goes downhill from there:  “The Lure of Lake 19” by David Erik Nelson

Enjoy!

Emails to reps done!🇺🇸⌨️ Topic: @POTUS’s dumbass—& perfectly legal—”Muslim device travel ban” is a distraction

Here’s what I wrote—just in case you’d like to call your reps about something similar:

SUBJECT: Plz don’t get distracted by the White House’s “Muslim device travel ban”

Dear TKTKTK,

Like many of the folks calling and emailing you today, I’m distressed by the White House’s newest arbitrary travel limitation: No laptops or tablets can travel carry-on from 10 airports in Muslim-majority countries.  Why?  Has there been a specific threat?  No.  Because recent attacks have had something to do with using laptops and tablets (but not phones or phone-sized game systems) as weapons or to conceal weapons?  No.  Heck, according to this morning’s New York Times, this new ban was rolled out without sufficiently informing the TSA in advance.

But I’m not writing about that, because I think this “Muslim device ban” is a dumb, arbitrary move that’s perfectly within the Administration’s powers—and I also firmly believe that it is being tossed into the news cycle as a distraction, diverting our attention away from FBI Director James B. Comey’s public acknowledgment that the FBI is indeed investigating Trump/Kremlin ties, and that there is enough substance there for months of investigation, and may include the White House.

Please continue to focus on Trump/White House ties to Russia (both during the election and now), as well as Trump family conflicts of interest (ranging from Trump’s sudden receipt of valuable Chinese trademarks after years of delays to the sudden popularity of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line—which coincidentally followed immediately after the President of the United States publicly scolded a department store for not carrying it, and the Counselor to the President appeared on national television and told citizens to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”)

And, as ever, please keep up the good work.  We shall defeat them one by one.

Thank you!

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

I don’t know what bugs me more: the vicious anti-Semitism or the terrible math

Just a quick take here.  These flyers were found posted around the University of Illinois Chicago:

Whoa! Racist, but persuasive—there's even footnotes!
Whoa! Racist, but persuasive—there’s even footnotes!

The argument looks kosher—there’s a neat graphic, and even footnotes to a reputable, impartial source!  But if you actually look at the link indicated for footnote #2, you find pretty much nothing other than this graphic:

Actual facts once again wreck a perfectly usable racist trope. Also, way to go, American Hindus!
Actual facts once again wreck a perfectly usable racist trope. Also, way to go, American Hindus!

While this graph does show 46% of Jews to be in the top 18% of earners (the largest percentage for an identified American religious group), it is not possible to extrapolate what percentage of which religious persuasions occupy the 1% from this graphic (i.e., those earning in the $500,000 to $1.2 million range).

Anyway, just another reminder that on November 8, 2016 me and my kids were fired from being White—again. 🇺🇸🔥

Yesterday someone threatened to blow up my daughter’s daycare

…because it is a Jewish daycare in a Jewish Community Center and we are Jews. This is the second bomb threat we’ve received there in under 10 months. For context, in the preceding 11 years, our JCC received zero bomb threats. (I’ve written more about this at various times—here are a few posts—but the tl;dr is that hate crimes targeting Jews are absolutely off the charts right now.)

This probably makes you sick to your stomach. If so, please call your reps and tell them so. I have no clue what they can do about any of this. I just know that it’s better to light a candle than to sit and curse the dark.

Thank you.

hand

White Supremacy, THE PURGE, and “the least racist person you’ll ever meet”

A couple summers back my wife and I watched THE PURGE on Netflix.  We weren’t expecting great chops as either sci-fi or horror (it’s sort of the lazier ends of both), but we were both sorta taken aback by how bafflingly racist the whole thing was.

Just to be super-duper clear: I’m not saying that the filmmaker is racist (I don’t really have any clue who the guy is; he looks white-ish in pictures, but who knows—or really cares—what his identity is).  I’m not saying the actors are racist.  I’m not saying that any aspect of the conscious intent of the film is racist. In fact, it sorta goes out of its way to be tokenishly multicultural and non-racist (the only totally morally uncompromised primary character is the nameless black male, one of the more prominent secondary characters is a black woman, there’s an Asian man in the mix, and all of the villains are white and explicitly upper-class)—which what was precisely what made it so baffling: even though the film worked to be formally racially progressive, both my wife and I (nominally white people) found ourselves queasy with some of the lines these actors were obliged to say (specifically constantly and exclusively referring to the black man as a “pig”) and found ourselves almost simultaneously asking aloud mid-film:

“Jeez!  How the hell would a black person feel watching this?”

Or, more to the point, how would a black person feel watching this film knowing what I know?

Because, through a crazy coincidence, I happened to know something about this film not immediately apperent to average viewers, but certainly known to the filmmakers:

The film opens with a montage of faux surveillance cam footage of various violent crimes, establishing the cultural mood of this near-future dystopia (you see some of this montage at around the 26sec mark in the trailer embedded above).  The sort of things you’d expect: Liquor store robberies, riots, a woman getting held up at an ATM, a black man with a sawed off shotgun jumping a police station lobby counter and firing at police officers, etc.

But here’s the catch: I recognized that last piece of footage, which I’d stumbled across in 2013 doing research for a client.  It was not faux anything; it was actual CCTV footage from a Detroit police station.  The black man with the shotgun was 38 year-old Lamar Moore, his motive is still unknown, and he died during that attack. In fact, he was fatally shot just after the piece of footage used in THE PURGE‘s mood-setting montage.

The final, violent minutes of a black man’s life were used to set the mood for a mediocre Ethan Hawke vehicle.  Someone found that footage and edited it in.  Someone made sure the rights were cleared, so they wouldn’t get stung on copyright infringement later.  And that someone didn’t seem to think, in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, that this might plausibly be a sore spot for anyone (for example, 37 million Americans).

This, for me, finally highlighted the bright line difference between “racism” and “white supremacy.”  Racism is really about a conscious framework, a deeply seated belief that people of color or Jews or immigrants or whoever have certain essential characteristics that make them unfit.  White supremacy is assigning the interests of white people primacy–generally in complete ignorance of the experience of non-Whites, in much the same way that you probably never think about the impact patching a hole in your eaves has on the squirrels who’d set up house in your attic.  A racist thinks black people are lazy and Jews are greedy cheats (or whatever), while the vast majority of rank-and-file white supremacists probably don’t think about them at all.  While all white racists are implicitly white supremacists, not all white supremacists are necessarily racist.

Do the makers of THE PURGE think ill of black people?  I don’t think so–but I also don’t think they honestly considered the existence of black viewers as sentient entities who might view this film and think “What the fuck are you people doing?!”

And this, right here, brings me to the President, and why it makes me insane to hear him get all huffy about being “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” and “the least racist person.”

’cause Donald Trump is the guy who’s says stuff like this:

Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”

Meanwhile, I’m a Jew, and even if I’d never met another Jew in my life, I’ve still met me.  And earlier today I was hanging out with Brian, and he’s black, and he–likewise–has met himself (as well as his sister, his children, his parents, etc., etc., etc.)  Obviously, we’ve met each other.

And I really and sincerely do not believe that Donald Trump is so tremendously stupid or naive that he honestly believes that he is less anti-Semitic than every living Jew and less racist than every living African American.

As such, the only possible way that he could believe the sentence “I’m the least anti-Semitic/racist person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” is if he either doesn’t conceive of Brian and me as being part of the “you” he is speaking to (which is weird, since I heard him say that in a live presser, and therefore literarily was part of that “you” at the very moment he spoke) or he does not conceive of us as being “people.”

Does this make him a racist or an anti-Semite?  No, not at all; he’s a white supremacist, and he really and honestly doesn’t even think about me and Brian existing at all, nor how his words and silences impact our lives.

Meanwhile, as I write this, the wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers continues: There was one two hours ago in New Orleans, on top of the 11 on Monday, bringing us to a total of more than 70 this year.  For comparison, a “normal” year might see two dozen bomb threats targeting JCCs and synagogues total for the entire year.

I imagine some of you are getting damn tired of hearing this, all this whining and “identity politics” that “divide America” by “drawing attention to our differences” because, after all, we’re all the same underneath.  I hear you, and I understand.  But I’m absolutely terrified that, in the absence of me saying this stuff, then you aren’t thinking about the fact that I exist at all, and might just do things—or fail to do things—that get me and my children killed.

UPDATE: Exactly twenty minutes after posting this I got an email telling me that a bomb threat had been called into my daughter’s daycare at 9:10 AM.  They’ve evacuated the building, and my daughter is currently being hidden someplace secure, someplace I do not know where she is, while they sweep the building.

So here we are.  This is my day.  This is America in 2017.

The Math I Should Not Have Done

There have been more than 60 bomb threats targeting U.S. Jewish Community Centers in the past month, more than 30 of them since the inauguration alone (i.e., in the last twelve days).  Most of these have been domestic in origin (I have that from several sources, include a JCC security head who was told this at an info session with the Detroit FBI office this week).

just another funny little joke, i guess
just another funny little joke, i guess

That number sounds bad—but you don’t really have a benchmark for this, right?  I mean, you ask yourself “Well, how often do folks call bomb threats into YMCAs or non-Jewish daycares?”, and the answer is “Basically zero”—so that sounds bad.  But then you poke around online, and find that U.S. schools get over a thousand bomb threats every year (in fact, I used to teach at an alternative school, and one of my students—a very sweet and peaceful kid when I knew him—had been kicked out of his last school for making a bomb threat).  And how often do schools get bombed?  (Actually, bombs are placed at schools more than you think: According to some old ATF numbers, nearly 100 devces are placed each year in schools).

So I started poking around the FBI UCR (Universal Crime Reporting) Hate Crime stats.  Here’s a representative sample of annual anti-Jewish “intimidation” crime tallies (“intimidation” is the UCR category that includes, but is not limited to, bomb threats).  You’ll note a predominantly downward trend:

  • 1996 had 363 such offenses 
  • 1997: 387
  • 1998: 380
  • 1999: 420
  • 2007: 201
  • 2008: 201
  • 2010: 201
  • 2011: 187
  • 2012: 87
  • 2013: 152
  • 2014: 93
  • 2015: 114

(My numbers above are spotty, owing both to gaps in the FBI stats and because I just can’t dedicate too much time to picking around UCR reports tonight.)

I’ve emphasized 1999 for three reasons:

  1. It is the peak of the available numbers by a significant margin.
  2. It’s the year of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting committed by Buford O. Furrow
  3. If January 2017 is indicative, then we can expect 600 bomb threats this year.  And if bomb threats generally correlate to the volume and volatility of anti-Semitic hate floating around out there . . . well, you can do the math.