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.

“Won’t Somebody Think of the Children!!1!” (Yemen Edition)

“On the campaign trail, Trump endorsed killing relatives of terrorist suspects, which is a war crime. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he told Fox News in December 2015.” (source)

If your position is “Trump said we should kill the families of ‘terrorists’—an abominable, authoritarian war crime—and now he’s doing just that!” well, way back in 2016, when we had a President with a Noble Peace Prize on his mantle, we dropped thousands of bombs on Yemen (google it), and it isn’t like those somehow magically only killed sworn soldiers of AQAP.  A bomb dropped from a drone isn’t somehow more accurate than a highly trained SEAL with an excellent rifle standing in the same room as someone.  But, man oh man, do we suddenly give a fuck about Yemen, and military operations in Yemen, and civilian casualties in Yemen!  Better late than never, amiright?

Nawar al-Awlaki was 8 years old. Now she's dead. Don't forget to pay your taxes on April 18!
Nawar al-Awlaki was 8 years old. Now she’s dead. Don’t forget to pay your taxes on April 18!

I’m once again reminded of Penn & Teller’s Fishes and Loaves:

Penn and Teller were scheduled to appear on Letterman, and so they prepared a new twist on a classic “broken and restored watch” routine. In their improved version, they’d borrow Letterman’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them. Letterman would then freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!

But the network standards and practices lawyers wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen. So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the routine: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it. They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch. Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.

The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that everyone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.

Same here: Dozens, hundreds, thousands of Yemeni kids are killed by bombs Made-in-the-USA, and we’re fine with it—as long as we don’t have to see her fucking picture, as long as it’s done from 36,000 feet by a drone piloted by some dude drinking a Sprite in a cubicle at Creech AFB and there’s no chance of one of “our boys” having to come home in a box in order to git ‘er done!  God forbid we should look at what our tax dollars are buying. 

It’s harsh, but it’s an apt summation of American foreign policy: Killing people’s families is our business model.

It was our business model in 2016, it will continue to be in 2017, the party, skin color, generation, and gender of the president notwithstanding.  If you don’t like that—well, you’re in decent company, because I don’t like it either.  But let’s be honest with ourselves, and just take a damned second to sort out of we really don’t like being in the Murder Business, or if we simply dislike it when a mouthy, pudgy, tactless New Yorker is the one murdering on our behalf.

Finally, if you’re suddenly worried about Trump triggering “World War III,” then I invite you to consider something: Maybe—just maybe—WWIII has been going on for the last 15 years.  We just outsourced all the suffering to developing nations—the same way we do with all the rest of our dirty work.

Maybe this is something else to talk about tomorrow, when you call your reps. I dunno; that’s between you and them.

Tech Companies: “How Dare You Suggest We’d Help Build the Muslim Registry We Already Built!”

So, when I saw this item the other day, I immediately thought of this blog post I penned in January 2015.  tl;dr on all this:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 handwould 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.

 

The Final Test of the Electoral College

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

That Guy in that Musical Everyone is Nuts Over

It seems like we finally have an excellent test as to whether or not the Electoral College is worth the inequality it introduces to an already highly unequal system[1]: 

On the one hand, we have a popularly elected candidate with an enormous margin of victory (roughly 2.5 million votes?) who is highly qualified, thoroughly vetted, and has spent so many decades as a public servant that she is a very thoroughly known quantity.  On the other we have a historically unpopular candidate who has continued to behave in alarmingly erratic fashion since his election—for example, threatening to dismantle the First Amendment and strip individuals of their natural-born citizenship, as well as questioning the legitimacy of the election he won—who keeps himself cloaked in secrecy, is drowning in conflicts of interest, and eked out electoral victory on a technicality almost certainly because of the concerted effort of a foreign power antagonistic to US interests.

(DISCLOSURE: The first clause of the top tweet is untrue—see graph below—and the second clause entirely unsubstantiated.  The lower tweet ignores two decades of judicial precedence and sorta suggests that the PotUS should be able to jail people at will; both overstep the bounds of the Executive Branch.)

I’ve previously envied against the Electoral College (see, for example, footnote #1 below), but Lawrence Lessig is making a compelling counter argument in defense of the much-maligned Electoral College:

“Instead, if the electoral college is to control who becomes our president, we should take it seriously by understanding its purpose precisely. It is not meant to deny a reasonable judgment by the people. It is meant to be a circuit breaker — just in case the people go crazy.”

Or, as in the case this year, that the system itself seems to have been substantially short-circuited (or, perhaps more chillingly, to have become so well understood that it is now a completely deterministic game, like checkers—see also “The Book“—and thus will evermore be owned by folks with the talent for low intrigue, the little arts of popularity, and the technology to leverage radical uncertainty in a cognitively exhausted populace).

Others think differently from Lessig—Orin Kerr being the standout example—but I don’t know that I’m persuaded by Kerr’s thinking, which seems extremely obtuse, mostly because it treats an actual matter of life and death (think I’m being hyperbolic?  Tell that to 100,000 dead Iraqis and Afghans, courtesy of President G.W. Bush) as though it’s a damned game of groundies.  If you’re more into fantasy fiction, this novel Electoral College solution strikes me as simultaneously both more realistic and more far-fetched than anything else I’ve seen—which is kinda par for the course this year, right?  Shit, given how 2016 has gone, I wouldn’t be shocked if we ended up with a Romney/Stein inauguration come January.

(source: Eric Rauchway)
(source: Eric Rauchway)

At any rate, taken at face value, we now will finally know:  If Trump is inaugurated next January—contrary to the will of a clear majority of Americans who cast votes which were counted (a number that is itself a subset of the total votes cast, and a sadly small subset of the total adult American population) and despite serious flaws in character and qualification—then the Electoral College has certainly outlived its usefulness, and it’s time to make a big change.

If someone else—hell, almost anyone else—is inaugurated in 44 days, then we’ll finally really and truly know what the Electoral College is for in the 21st Century.

Continue reading “The Final Test of the Electoral College”

It’s Better to Light a Candle than to Sit and Curse the Dark

If you see tweets like this:

and your gut drops with the sort of ice-water dread usually reserved for hearing phrases like “metastatic cancer,” then you are not alone.

Nicholas Kristof has some suggestions which I think are a super-duper solid starting place: “Are you traumatized by the election of Donald Trump? Here’s the program for you.

Here are a few additions/refinements:

  1. You can’t take care of anyone else if it takes all of your available energy just to keep your shit together and function.  I made myself this “survival” playlist and listen to it first thing every morning while I’m writing; I’m not sure all the choices make sense to the general public, but they all buoy my spirit.  Make your own survival playlist and listen to it religiously.  Keep your heart, kid!
  2. Wigged out that the erratic President-Elect—either through his business practices or bellicosity—will trigger (or maybe somehow worse, fail to trigger) a Constitutional crisis? Give monthly to the ACLU.
  3. Wigged out about the shouts to repeal Obamacare?  Call your congressional reps and call Paul Ryan, who has set up a sort of voice-mail straw poll to take the temperature of the electorate on this issue:  202.225.3031.  Doing both of these will only take you a few minutes, tops.
  4. Wigged out about voter suppression and election rigging? I talked to my state rep, Jeff Irwin, at the local coffee shop.  He pointed me to this very good project for fixing our damned-near broken electoral college system: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/  He also suggest you should work in your state to support expansion (or creation) of early voting and a shift to “universal absantee ballot”  If you want to support the Greens’ recounts, you can still give money to fund that (recounts are paid for by whoever requests them—not the public at large; I’ve already kicked in).  More importantly, you can volunteer to help with the recount itself in MI, WI, and PA.  It looks like they’re maybe getting deluged with trolls spamming their forms, so I’m sure honest, legit volunteers are much appreciated right now.
  5. Wigged out about access to women’s health services?  I spoke to Sarah Erdreich—author of  Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement—and she noted that the best place to give is as locally as possible:  “A lot of the effects will be felt by women that need the services but won’t be able to afford them. … as long as the government is still funding non-[abortion]-related services at PP  [Planned Parenthood] health clinics, it has a guaranteed funding source. … Near-term, a lot of the issues women have with accessing PP’s [abortion] services as financial, so if the local PP has a way to accept donations targeted towards defraying the cost for patients, that would be the most immediate. If they don’t, check out NNAF—Nat’l Network of Abortion Funds—and see what independent clinics in the area have set up.” Here’s the direct link that allows you to give to state/regional/local Planned Parenthood organizations.  Sarah especially supports the Willie Parker Fund for Abortion Access in the South; the map on this page will help you find similar funds in your area.
  6. Wigged out about hate crimes? Wear the safety pin—but more importantly, cultivate a good natured and incredulous: “Hunh.  You don’t really believe that, do you?”  Practice saying it with a squint and smile, and deploy it frequently when someone gets out of line.  Gently obliging someone to articulate their feelings and acknowledge the repercussions of what they say, and to own those words—or, hopefully, to decide they don’t really want to own those words and where they lead.  The safety pin is a nice outward symbol, because I like the idea of “safety” in the safety pin, and of being a presence to help calm the nervous. But more importantly, for my own mental health, I like to dwell on what a safety pin is for: We use them in an emergency to hold our shit together long enough to get somewhere safe and really assess what repairs we need to move forward.  And, goddamned if we ain’t in that place right now, brothers and sisters.
  7. BONUS ROUND: Wear the flag, too—not with snark or irony or upside-down, but with pride.  Let us not cede our unified identity to the haters.  E pluribus unum; the Union forever.usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26