“Smart” Guns Aren’t

This is a really fascinating video for anyone interested in the emergent complexities (and edge/corner-case failures) that inevitably arise when folks start fixing social problem with technology.  It’s absolutely mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks they have a “simple” gun-control/gun-safety solution, especially one that involves “smart gun technology” (SPOILER ALERT: such solutions are not solutions at all).

Just as an aside, it seems a little over-cautious for WIRED to call these “potentially dangerous flaws” in the gun’s design:  The gun can be fired by an unauthorized person in possession of the firearm (using magnets available at any hardware store), and it can also be disabled at a distance by an attacker with some minor soldering skills.  Both of these hacks require very little skill (and not even all that much money) to execute now that the flaw is known.  As such, the gun fails at both things it’s supposed to do (i.e., work in an an emergency and prevent unauthorized folks from making it work).  The existence of these flaws guarantees that large agencies (military, law enforcement, etc.) will never use these unreliable solutions, and thus the price won’t come down due to economies of scale. 

This smart gun is, at best, a novelty—and there is no reason to believe that any of the other early generation technologies will be any better until there is a fundamental change in how these are designed and engineered (e.g., the design needs to be open and companies need to start offering very high bounties for finding hacks, so that guys like the fella in the video have an incentive to buy these things as soon as they hit the market and start tearing them down).

We Have Entered the Zone of Maximum Mayhem

Listen: There is going to be a major attack on U.S. soil between now and, I dunno, probably the end of January 2018.  (I personally think it’ll be earlier—possibly by mid-October—but depending on who is attacking, I think they might wait as late as Xmas/New Year’s in order to maximize mayhem).

I’ve been saying this for months, but I think most folks thought I was kidding.  I’m not.

My Reasoning

A disorganized defender cannot defend.  When your opponent is disoriented, you strike.  It’s elementary, and holds in many fields: In business negotiations, in chess, in Go,in court, in bar fights and boxing matches, in battlefields and hardened bunkers.

Readers of a certain age will recall that the success of the 9/11 attacks was widely attributed to a “failure to connect the dots” within the Executive Branch (especially within intelligence and foreign affairs agencies).  Why did we fail to connect the dots?  Because there were empty seats throughout the administration, and the folks in many of the filled seats were still coming up to speed.

Rewind 11 months from 9/11, and you’ll recall we had an insanely close presidential election that ultimately needed to be decided by the Supreme Court.  As a result, when G.W.Bush took office, his team had significantly less time to pull together their nominations than was the modern norm.  100 days in, he was still behind, with only about 35 confirmed nominees (there are several thousand positions that need to be filled by any incoming president, of which about 577 are considered vital by experts).  200 days in GWB had 294 nominations confirmed, roughly half of the most vital positions.  In other words, on day 200 in office, G.W.Bush still had 283 empty seats in vital parts of the Executive Branch, and many of the seats that were filled had folks sitting in them who’d only had a couple months—maybe just weeks—to digest, consider, and route huge amounts of intel.  About a month after that we notably “failed to connect the dots” and 19 dudes crashed four airplanes with the net result of 3,000 humans being cooked and crushed in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania farm field.

I was teaching school that day, back in my old life.  I stood in a room with a bunch of troubled teens and watched folks jump out of the World Trade Center towers rather than burn inside. I walked outside with a coworker.  Our school was under several flight paths, but the sky was perfectly clear above us, no clouds, no contrails, no planes, because every plane in the nation was grounded.

But, man, that sky, so blue.  So clear.

Within a year I was on a “selectee list.” For the next eight years every time I flew I was pulled out of line, searched, patted down, swabbed for explosives, questioned, stripped down to socks, pants, and undershirt. But, you know, whatevs, right?  Terror.  Safety.  Patriotism.  #America.

But my mind wanders.  All apologies.  More to the point:

How’s Trump Doing?

How’s Trump doing, in terms of getting the right folks in the right seats, and thus preventing another major attack and loss of life on U.S. soil?

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

Not great.  In fact, he’s doing cataclysmically poorly.  He was behind Bush on Day 100, and he’s now even further behind:

As of August 4, when the Senate left town for its August recess, Trump has nominated 277 people for key posts, has had 124 confirmed, and has withdrawn eight of the nominations, according to CNN’s tracker.

The Partnership for Public Service has identified 577 executive branch positions as being particularly essential — and Trump has only successfully filled about a fifth of them.

We got smashed in the mouth in 2001 because we only had 294 folks in 577 vital seats.  Today we have about 124 folks on deck.  Among those seats that remain empty: Most of the undersecretaries of state, assistant secretaries of state, assistant secretaries of defense, an undersecretaries of defense, and most of our ambassadors.

FUBAR.

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So Who is Coming to Hurt Us?

It’s a three-way coin toss, in my humble:

  1. North Korea
  2. Actual International Terrorists (like 9/11)
  3. Domestic Terrorists (I group someone like the Tsarnaev brothers or the Pulse Nightclub Shooter alongside Timothy McVeigh and Buford O. Furrow, Jr. as “domestic terrorists” for the reasons outlined in this very enlightening interview over on Slate: “Profiling White Supremacists Won’t Stop White Supremacist Terrorism)

If I were a gambling man (and we all are now, here in the Zone of Maximum Mayhem) I’d put my money on #3. 

Yeah, North Korea seems like an obvious choice: They can hit the U.S. mainland with any number of missiles, and they have a nuke small enough to mount on such an ICBM.  They probably don’t have the reentry ballistics quite right just yet, which means the nuclear device won’t detonate properly, but a goddamn intercontinental ballistic dirty bomb plowing into D.C. or NYC is 1) well within N.K.’s capabilities and 2) not something you walk off.

But launching such an attack is actual suicide for that country—especially with our current PotUS—and regardless of what we say about the Kim regime, he’s not an actual lunatic; he has a country to run and a dynasty to maintain.  Given how he’s behaving now, and in the absence of us launching a pre-emptive strike, I don’t see N.K. nuking us before Xmas.  (See also North Korea’s latest launch designed to cause maximum mayhem, minimal blowback

(All of that, of course, assumes the tests they’ve been firing have indeed been tests, and not a killdeer-like misdirection.  If N.K. can cripple us in a first strike—say, by nuking LA, NYC, and DC in a single salvo—well, then I imagine they will, and probably sometime this fall.)

As for actual International Terror, believe it or not that’s on the wane in the Western world.  When you stop calling everything involving a Muslim “international” and actually look at the facts of the recent attacks in the U.S. and Europe, you see that the last several “Islamist” terror events in the U.S. have a lot more in common with White Power hate crimes than 9/11.  (Pulse Nightclub is a solid example of this.)

-7ab6fc43f523b282So that leaves us with Domestic Terror.  I’m thinking it’ll be White Supremacists.  The PotUS has done a lot lately to make them feel empowered, and those among them with basic arithmetic and reading comprehension skills absolutely understand that there will never again be a White Majority in this country.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t be “Islamists” born in Newark or Peoria, or Antifa/Black Blocers looking to head off the impending pogroms, or good ole Militia/Sovereign Citizen folks (who despise the PotUS just as much as the Antifa folks do).  They’re all in the same gang, at heart. FullSizeRender (1)

But who fucking cares, right?  People are going to die—your friends and neighbors—at the hands of your other friends and neighbors, and a lot more are going to suffer, and we are locked in on those rails now, inextricable.  These are how these dots connect, and it is far too late to do anything about it before it happens.

(Alternately, listen to and consider this: Episode 790: Rough Translation in Ukraine  ’cause maybe I’m wrong, and we’ll go with a whimper, not a bang.  And maybe we’re already gone—or, hell, maybe I’m the misinformation that stumbles out of Bethlehem to be born. Your call.)

Jesus!  Dave, What Should I Do!?

I have no clue.  Stay safe.  Don’t hurt any one.

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Not to be ungrateful or anything, but here’s the thing about neo-Nazis and antifas…

…They both make me feel like my life—and those of my son, daughter, wife, and co-religionists—are these little bullshit plastic tokens in some game they’re playing.

All the fists and spray paint sorta feel the same to me. They all make me think “Who’s coming to hurt us?

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Photo Aug 18, 3 22 34 PM

(Just to be clear: All of these pics are from the last week in my home town, Ann Arbor, MI.)

(see also: Profiling White Supremacists Won’t Stop White Supremacist Terrorism“)

What Can I Do About Hate?  Just Take a Baby Step, White People!

The "fine people" protesting in support of Confederate statuary—AND NOT AT ALL  RACIST!—in Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017
The “fine people” protesting in support of Confederate statuary—AND NOT AT ALL
RACIST!—in Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017

In the weeks since Charlottesville there’s been a fair bit of “What can we[*] do about hate?” talk—on social media, in NYT and WaPo and Slate op-eds and think pieces, out on the street and around supper tables.  As someone in a class of folks disproportionately on the receiving end of the most resent paroxysm of hate, I have a suggestion:

Take “Awesome Baby Steps”

EXAMPLE: Last week the skatepark in my town—the one my son and I go to, the one lots of kids in this area (and, notably, lots of brown kids) use—got hit with motor oil (intended to ruin the concrete for skating) and dozens of swastikas and slurs.

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Photo Aug 18, 3 22 26 PM Photo Aug 18, 3 22 34 PM

The city, of course, responded in no time, and had it all clean in hours—God bless ’em. 

I went to skate there the next and found two things:  1) that the park was uncharacteristically busy for an early Saturday morning, all happy families showing resolve; and 2) it was covered in this new chalk graffiti

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Photo Aug 19, 9 16 35 AM

It’ll sound dumb, but this made me feel better.  This, in fact, moved me to tears. Folks punching Nazis in Charlottesville did not move me to tears or make me feel safer.  Neither did folks tearing down statues (although I nonetheless applaud that, and more so applaud the many cities who have covered and removed statues in the meantime—because tearing down the participation trophies handed out to white supremacists, nominally honoring traitors, is what you should do after winning a war). 

But kids coming out with chalk to make sure I knew that they continued to welcome me in civil society did make me feel better.  In fact, it made me feel better in excess of the amount the defacement had made me feel awful—and that slap in the face had left me livid and enraged and absolutely nauseated with a dread so atavistic that I sorta imagine it’s more akin to what a mouse exposed in vacant stubble feels than to any un-fun emotion an employable White man might know.  (This isn’t to say that White men don’t know bad times; it’s to say that there is a very specific flavor to being history’s perpetual prey).

Those kids with their chalk, that was an Awesome Baby Step. It didn’t take much—not much money, not much time, not much risk—but it made me feel a great deal better.  The pay-off was totally disproportionate.

You're not helping, autocorrect!
You’re not helping, autocorrect!

Again, I know this likely sounds silly. “Dave,” you’re thinking, “You know us! We see you every day when you’re walking your dog; we nod at each other and wave.  You know we’re cool with you!”

Listen: You can never, ever presume that the folks targeted by hate can continue to feel confident that you are OK with them being Americans. Don’t argue with me about it being stupid or paranoid or insulting—it’s just a fact of life.  In fact, the ability to look at rank-and-file White people with confidence and feel that this person has your back is the first thing to slip.  After all, someone voted for Trump, despite all the things he said.  Someone buys those Confederate flag stickers, someone goes to those rallies, someone breaks out the spray-paint, someone dials in the bomb threats.  It’s just not a possible state of affairs that every White person I see is one of the “Good Guys” and all the bigots are magically somewhere else—but also close enough to trash my skatepark, flyer my streets, drive through my neighborhoods, vote in our elections, etc., etc., etc.

So, here’s one example of an Awesome Baby Step you can almost certainly do almost immediately:

Start being super friendly to people of color every day

Nothing crazy, just always make a point to smile and acknowledge and greet—like, constantly: When you pass on the sidewalk, walk into a building, at the checkout line, whatever. 

The best case scenario is that these folks—who may have taken some hateful shit recently—feel less on the outs with the country. The worst case scenario is people think you are just a super friendly person.  Either way, none of us think “This person is coming to hurt us.”  It’s either a win-win, or just a win.  The odds are with you.

(If this seems disjoint—what with me mostly talking about anti-Semitism to this point, and now I’m talking about people of color, and the Venn Diagram of “brown” and “Jewish” in America is frightfully close to just being a pair of tangent circles—just know this: My lived experience, and that of most Jews I know, is that White people who are shitty to people of color are fairly likely to be shitty to Jews, too.)

Another Baby Step in Being Awesome:

When folks get targeted with words of hate, take a moment to counteract that with words of support

EXAMPLE: Our local Jewish Family Services got a bomb threat last Monday.  (In case you don’t know JFS, they aren’t an agency specifically offering services to Jewish families, but rather a non-profit founded by Jewish families to offer services in general, sorta returning the favor for the support many of our families received as refugees in the 20th Century). Our local JFS is the primary agency handling refugee resettlement for Syrians here in Ann Arbor.  That particular building is also a food pantry for struggling families in general.  So, threatening to bomb them isn’t just an attack on Jews: It’s an attack on the poor in general, and immigrants of all sort.  It’s a mean, small-hearted, fucked-up thing to do.  (Not for nothing, but if you are a White person pissed off that White families are struggling, I can tell you for a fact that JFS is handing out food support to just those exact White families that you, as a White Supremacist, want to see helped.  So, really, what the fuck?! Let us feed your people, OK?)

You probably feel bad learning that some jackass felt the need to totally derail a day of JFS trying to help immigrants and poor people (people who, more so than most, can hardly afford to “come back tomorrow; we’re closed because of a bomb threat.”)  Maybe you want to bend the arc of the moral universe back toward justice—but don’t know what to do.  Try this:

Call JFS, tell them you support what they do, and make a donationeven a tiny one.  Multiples of $18 are a traditional sum among Jews (it’s symbolic of Life), but anything is fine—or just voicing your support: 734-769-0209

I see a lot of White people and gentiles crying because we don’t know the “content of their hearts,” or whatever.  But I’ve got to level with you:

As a Jew—as one of the JEWS that was told last week that his skatepark and his wife (a “white woman”) were not for him, that he should DIE—I don’t particularly care what is in any of your hearts, because your heart isn’t going to kill me.

It’s your hands that will kill me.  And so I’m watching your hands.  I am wary, because wariness is what got my grandfather (Z”L) out of Ukraine before he joined his father in a ditch.  Wariness is what got my Aunt Lola (Z”L) through Auschwitz and to these shining shores.

Right now, your fingers dialing the phone, your voice, your words, your eye contact and smile are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.  Use them to take awesome baby steps.

It is 2017:  You can take baby steps toward white supremacy, or baby steps away.  There’s no standing still anymore—because there never really was.

Thank you.


[*] “We” in this case has disproprtionately—sometimes explicitely, more often implicitely—been White people (and nominally White people, like myself). So I’m addressing that crowd—but let’s be real: These baby steps work for all of us. See also MLK’s 8 Commandments.

EXPIRATION DATE chapter 8 has DROPPED! The End approaches, sheeple! There is only One Chapter LEFT!!!

Hey-hey, all my Best Belovéd:

Just a quick heads-up that Chapter 8 of my novella Expiration Date is now available free online (as are the discussion questions, the Ann Arbor District Library Summer Games points and badges—all that).

This chapter brings us a chemical event, a reunion, a revelation, Bram’s magic chopstick (of limited utility), and something mysterious high in the sky.  Come grab your copy of Chapter 8 now!

And please spread the word: If you know someone who might dig this, drop them a link. Thx!

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The end draws nigh! EXPIRATION DATE chapter 7 is here! #FreeReadFriday

… and, SPOILER ALERT: the *FAKE NEWS!1!!*, “ghost SWATs” and Boltzmann brains have arrived!

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Chapter 7 is here, as is every every previous chapterfree online and downloadable as PDFs, courtesy of the fine folks at Arbor Teas (who’ve also furnished discussion questions for book groups and connected with the Ann Abror District Library for special Summer Games points and badges.

Also, I’ll be doing a little Q&A here once the final chapter of Expiration Date drops, so if you have questions, please feel free to drop me a line.

Call on yr house rep to cosponsor these bills and help wrangle our cantankerous President🇺🇸📞

The good news is that there are plenty of signs that there is finally some  bipartisan appetite to roll back the unhealthy post-9/11 ballooning of Executive power in the federal government (a less noted, but more significant, example is explained here and here). 

Bravo!

But our specific current PotUS needs some specific, itemized reigning in.  Here are two legislative items (the first a House Resolution, the second an actual bill) that aim to do just that.  Both could use more cosponsors—and could likely get them from either side of the aisle right now.

  • H.Res.456Objecting to the conduct of the President of the United States (the name kinda says it all on this one)
  • H.R.3228Free Press Act of 2017: “To require the President to provide frequent press briefings covering the official business of the President to the White House press corps.”

In light of the President allegedly drafting his son’s fake excuses for meeting privately with foreign agents to coordinate with smearing a political opponent and, prior to that, his alleged involvement in coordinating with Fox News to produce a Fake News story smearing that same opponent, compounded by the President’s ongoing public (not at all alleged—’cause we all saw him doing the public parts, and confessing to the private parts in newspaper interviews) attempts to channel, limit, and outright detail the FBI investigation into his coordination with Russian agents to smear and defeat his opponent, these two legislative items are just about the least congress can do right now.

So call your reps and ask them to do them—or, at the very least, call them and tell them what you think about what’s going on.  Today, during your lunch break or on your commute or whatever.  It literally takes under five minutes; you can just call, say you’re a constituent, and ask:

“Is Rep. So-and-So cosponsoring  H.Res.456 and H.R.3228, which seek to hold the President accountable for questionable actions and force him to regularly communicate productively with the press?”  

If so, then thank them for their work.  If not, then thank them for their work and reiterate that you really, really think your rep should be cosponsoring these items.

Now go! Hit the phones! 

Thanks!

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Call Your Reps! (White House Conflicts-of-Interest, Independence Day 2017 Edition)🇺🇸📞

Today is a great day to call your reps and leave a message!  Wish them a Happy Independence Day and tell them what you’d like them to focus on when they get back to the office tomorrow.  If I may, I’d suggest they focus on White House conflicts-of-interest—perhaps by taking action on the following bills: 

In the House of Representatives:

  1. H.R. 371: Require the President and Vice President be included under current law that prohibits federal office holders from engaging in government business when they stand to profit (guess who the only two Executive Branch members currently exempt are?).  Also requires the PotUS and VP put their assets in a certified blind trust and disclose to the Office of Government Ethics when the make decisions that impact their personal finances.
  2. H.R. 305: Amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to require the disclosure of some tax returns by presidential candidates.  Requires sitting presidents to disclose three prior years of federal tax returns.
  3. H.Res. 186: Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to provide President Trump’s tax returns and other financial info to Congress post haste.

In the senate:

  1. S.65: Requires the President, Vice President, their spouses, and any minor children to divest of any potential financial conflicts of interest by transferring assets to a qualified blind trust.
  2. S.Con.Res. 8: Calls on the PotUS to “follow the precedent established by prior Presidents and convert his assets to conflict-free holdings, adopt blind trusts,” etc. and not take actions that favor the Trump Organization. Also declares that, lacking an “express affirmative authorization by Congress,” the PotUS’s financial dealings with foreign governments or their agents are indeed violations of the Emoluments Clause.

My personal view is that, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you should support these bills—they’re just common sense in the modern age, where anyone with even the simplest 401k, tiniest nest-egg socked away in an IRA, or humblest mortgage has a vested interest in myriad domestic and foreign policy issues.

But even if you think all of these bills are total BS, call your usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26reps.  Please call your reps and tell them that.  We should all be invested not in a system that has this or that policy outcome, but in a system where the vast majority of citizens actively participate to guide us toward whatever outcome may be.  I totally accept that I’ll often be on the losing end, policy-wise, because my beliefs and experience just don’t match up with the majority—but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna gently and quietly acquiesce to a country molded around the manic delusions of a vocal, belligerent, ideologically extreme minority of the electorate.

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?