All posts by Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

Men: don’t be bullied into protecting predators

I was, to put it mildly, in shock. Here, sitting comfortably before me, leaning out from the detention room cubbie next to me, was… Nick.

Nick was an asshole. Nick was what I called at the time a CPA: a Certified, Public Asshole. He ran with a lot of kids and was liked by none. He frequently influenced events around him, but lacked the ability or the social juice to affect them alone. Instead he sat like a parrot on the shoulders of stronger kids, whispering into their ears and taking what scraps fell from their mouths. He knew the easy meat when he saw it. He took more than his share. Nick was an asshole.

Nick was also a victim. I would learn later that Nick’s dad was in jail for the umpteenth time and his mom was.. ill-prepared, to be charitable. Nick was a child not without his reasons to be angry and to seek easy victories. This excused absolutely nothing but explained quite a bit.

And anyway: here he was. Docile – chatty, even – in a detention room alone with me. Where he could have done anything.  Like the meanest dog in your neighborhood, off the chain and rolling on his back, looking for belly rubs. What the everloving fuck was this?

What the everloving fuck it was

It wouldn’t be until my thirties, long after my bully had disappeared into the landscape, before I recognized the truth: bullies never bully alone. Ever. They pick out the weakest defenses and shatter those walls in full view of their shared social circle. Gym class was always a good choice, if they could manage it, but the lunch room always worked in a pinch. They would find one person to make squeal while everybody else watched.

No. Nobody did anything about it. Yes. A few of his lunkhead friends laughed. But it wasn’t until my adulthood that I would understand that most of the audience were just as terrified to be next. Or at least, uncomfortable enough not to want to change their own lanes in the Darwinist supercollider that is High School. How could they risk it? There are no rules for bullies.

All of which is to say: bullies aren’t just bullying their victims, they’re also forcing the group to cede to their demands. The group itself is bullied. Some go along willingly. Others might be ashamed to see their behavior. But one way or another, all bend to his will because it’s just easier than resisting. Group behavior – the tendency of individuals to act in concert with the group around them – is being hacked by a single sadist. And as soon as things break up, he says, “everybody laughed! It was great fun for all of us!”

But it wasn’t fun for all of us.

Our bullies live among us

In the year 2018, the #MeToo movement has swept through Hollywood like a wildfire, now ready to raze the halls of the Senate, and white men like me are… jumpy. Some of us are belligerent and defensive; some of us have our eyes on our own papers, hoping not to be noticed. Some of us have centered our man buns to achieve the elite yoga pose that is the “woke bro.” But whether by dint of special wokeness, a guilty conscience or generalized anxiety, most of us feel like we need to profess our innocence.

We do so because we’re afraid to be the next under scrutiny. We do it because, in the back of our minds, we worry that being innocent won’t be enough, this time. Or that something we thought was innocent at the time might have crossed some line we won’t be able to defend now. How can we know? The rules have changed.

But be honest with yourself: you’re not a rapist. Awkward? Nervous? Out on a limb?.. An idiot? Quite possibly. But not a predator. Misunderstandings happen all the time. Dating is like that. But awkwardness isn’t a crime.

Neither are the things Brett Kavanaugh stands accused of innocent mistakes. Even in isolation, any of the three accusations is a clear crime according to the law at the time. And your stomach probably would have turned at the thought of his behavior in 1982 as much as it does in 2018.  The rules have not, in fact, changed. The willingness to prosecute the law is what has changed.

You’re getting bullied, but not by women

Don’t explain to the women in your life that “wouldn’t do that.” They’ve got your number. It isn’t them and it isn’t Alissa Milano that’s making you feel like shit.

The person that’s bullying you is every asshole who says, “everybody laughed, and we all had fun.” “Boys will be boys,” and anyway, if it happened, it couldn’t have been that bad. It is the men who insist “anyone can get caught” and “you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

It is people like Brett Kavanaugh, accused by three women. Its people like President Donald J Trump, credibly accused by no less than 19 women. It’s the actual bullies. Same as they ever were, riding the shoulders of more ethical men, whispering in their ears and looking for cover in numbers.

These are the men who are the self-appointed arbiters of who among us are the “winners” and who are the “losers.” In Brett’s case, of which private schools’ girls deserve victimhood and which do not. Of which girls are “fuckable” and which are “dateable.” No doubt, the stone-faced Misses Kavanaugh had a very different experience of Brett Kavanaugh than did Miss Blasey-Ford.

Brett Kavanaugh can take care of himself

In fact, not only is Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior not “normal” in any era – not only is Donald Trump not “an innocent man” – these are exactly the kinds of rich kid, private school bully-boys that invariably got fucked at the end of every 80’s college movie, ever. Because nobody really likes those motherfuckers. We’re all quite happy to see them in a movie, covered in mud, their girls gone to hang with the nerds, with some unspeakable thing wrong with their private parts. Yet we’re expected to defend them in real life? Why?

Don’t be bullied. Don’t get conned into thinking that, just because you’re the same sex as an accuser, that makes you the same. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women in your life and demand the law be enforced evenly.

Feckless, Feckless

A few weeks ago (or was it years? Who can tell?), Samantha Bee got herself into hot water by calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” I’ve said my peace on the cunt part. But what I find interesting is that mere weeks later, Steve Schmidt, a long-time Republican operative and former chair of the John McCain presidential campaign, renounced his party membership by using the word “feckless” to describe his former party fellows:

I couldn’t help thinking that this transference of the word could not be accidental. That in fact, Sam Bee may have introduced a word into our common lexicon that has stuck to the Party of Trump. So I took a look at Google Trends, and what do you know?

We may presume that the solid red line which represents the searches for “cunt” probably represent a lot of porn searches. At least, let’s hope so. But once the phrase “feckless cunt” enters into the lexicon, you can see the word feckless far outperforms the word cunt. And indeed, continues to show interest. The mutual rise in searches indicates the phrase “feckless cunt” became a popular search term. But the fact that feckless outperforms cunt indicates that the word itself was of interest. People are searching for the term, which we may presume means they’re seeking to define it.

Even if we can’t all define it, the word “feckless” seems to resonate: it sound right.

It sounds right because it gets to the heart of the matter. After all, the suffix “less” indicates a loss or a lacking. And we certainly expect more out of our government, in this moment. Something seems lacking. Our train seems to be careening off the rails and those in charge don’t seem to just be complicit. Worse than that, they just seem incapable. We are left wanting something we can’t find in Congress, at all.

We expect the three branches of government to work independently, but that’s not happening. Republicans are supposed to be a party of fiscal responsibility, but even when Trump threatens our economy with trade war, that party remains mum. Republicans are supposed to be the standard-bearers for Christianity (in an explicitly non-denominational government, but still). Yet even as we watch children pressed into the service of their own continuing psychological troubles – psychological troubles voluntarily pushed upon them by our government and in our name – they complain and preen, but do nothing. They accomplish nothing. Not because they agree with the policy. Simply because they cannot rise to this moment.

In the past, Americans have been willing to believe that having a Republican in the White House and a Democratic majority in Congress (or vice versa) was a net benefit to our government. We believe that because we believe in the balance and separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution, and assume the conflicting ambitions of the two parties will guarantee that separation.

Whether having an opposing majority in Congress will help with our present situation remains to be seen. But one thing can be said for certain, which is that as bad as Trump may be, this moment in history will be remembered for how far wrong our democracy can go wrong when one branch of our government pointedly refuses to check another. When one branch of our government chooses the path of least resistance in the face of so much wrongdoing from another. When one branch of our government, given the opportunity to right the wrong of another, simply punts. When our leaders are, in a word, feckless.

Miss America isn’t a beauty contest, anymore

Well, so there. Miss America will no longer judge women on the basis of their physical appearance. Because Miss America is evolving!

I’m all for modernity and evolution, but how does Miss America get away with this kind of “evolution?” After decades of parading women around in swim suits, now they’re going to take a deep dive into contestants’ minds? To the exclusion of judging contestants’ physical appearance?

I don’t mean this as a “woke” insult. It’s just that this plan is terribly off-brand. Like Old Spice feminine hygiene products: it’s not that you’re not allowed, it’s just that you really, really shouldn’t.

Miss America is THE beauty pageant, its garish materialism known world-wide, for better or worse. It’s got its own song. It has it’s own swag. Every teenage girl who wins the Insert-Local-Agricultural-Product-Here Festival gets asked the same question: “does this mean you’re gonna be the next Miss America?” Very few brands achieve the collective-conscience market saturation that the Miss American pageant has.

It doesn’t feel like a wise move to attempt to completely reinvent the pageant. Not only unwise, but likely to disappoint: going from beauty pageant to pageant-of-the-mind – all while still publicly judging women and only women – doesn’t seem like a reachable goal.

I’m also all for lovely women who like to wear pretty things (or not) and get their pictures taken. I’m nobody’s prude, as readers well know. If the Miss America pageant has been a paragon of body-shaming in a culture that left woman no alternative role models, objecting to that fact need not include the belief that woman cannot use their physical attractiveness to their advantage. Lots of people, male and female, find work using their physical comeliness.

Instead, allow me to propose that the problem is that the Miss America Pageant is adopting a definition of evolution that doesn’t match the evidence. Species do not evolve. Evolution happens through the production of new species, often to the doom of the previous species. We don’t need Miss America to evolve: we need evolution to present us with it’s alternative.

Relax, ya cunts.

She said the C-word. On television: the place where your grandmother gets her Internet news.

Now, I have to admit that, when I think of a “C-word” that I’d rather not hear out loud, it’s probably something like “chlamydia.” Because let’s face it: that word evokes the painful, milky discharge of an uncomfortable truth. But “The C-Word®”? Honestly, I don’t get the aversion.

I don’t like to brag, but I’ve seen my share of C-words. On balance, I’ve liked them. They’re nice. It’s true I don’t actually own one of my own, so there’s a good chance I’m missing part of the story. But my personal experience is one that always brings a smile to my face. It’s not the kind of thing that makes me think ill of someone.

By the way: do you have to have a C-word to be the C-word? Or can you be a C-word with a cock? Are C-words fungible?

Can you be a C-word and have penis envy? That almost feels like a given. Can you be one dumb pecker and have C-word envy? I don’t think I’ve ever looked that one up. If you can balance an equation with C-words, can you also balance the equation with penises? Because it feel like some sort of Law of Transference should apply, in other words?

Speaking of other words, another celebrity said the A-word, recently. By A-word, of course, I don’t refer to the normal “A-word”: appendicitis. (because who would want one of those?) Rather, I refer to the word “ape.”

Ape isn’t a nasty word – certainly, not in need of it’s own letter-designated euphemism – but tweeting the word caused offense, nonetheless. I mean, sure: there’s the N-word. We all know about the N-word. You’re not allowed to say the N-word, unless you rap or are writing a book about pre-Civil War America. You’d have to be some sort of C-word to say the N-word. And ain’t all that just a kick in the ol’ schlong?

But even though “ape” is not a bad word, it caused offense? Whereas the word-that-dare-not-speak-its-name refers to an inoffensive part of the human anatomy? And who was the dick that wanted us to draw an equivalence between C-words and apes, anyway?

It’s almost as if vulgarity and offense aren’t the same things. But of course that can’t be true, wonder the entire cast and crew of Fox and Friends? It’s very confusing. And this woman just says the C-word on television. Where your grandma gets her internet news.

What a cunt.

Top 5 Things That Don’t Last as Long as James Sheppard’s non-Voting Record

James Sheppard
James Sheppard, photo courtesy City Magazine on SmugMug.

I’m sure I’ve been slow-on-the-stick on this score, but it’s only just been made clear to me that James Sheppard, the former Rochester City Police Chief and current candidate for the Democratic nomination to Mayor of Rochester, didn’t vote for 32 consecutive years. Thirty-two years, between 1982 and 2013. Now, he’s asking for your vote. That strikes me as a profoundly cynical political move. He’s asking Rochester residents to exercise their franchise in favour of a man that, for all intents and purposes, has never demonstrated much regard for his own.

To be clear: it’s ok if you vote. It’s ok if you don’t. It’s even ok if, like I suspect a lot of Americans, you vote some years and not others. All of these decisions are yours to make as citizens of these United States. Entering public life however means making a commitment to work on behalf of voters. Having spent three decades of your life not voting for yourself doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. In fact, it seems openly galling.

But how long is 30 years, anyway? Just how much time did he spend not exercising his sovereignty, leaving it for others to decide the issues of the day? Here, then, is an exploration of that span of time, set against other benchmarks. 5 things that won’t last as long as James Sheppard’s non-voting record:

5. All of your pets (except maybe your bird)

Your dog
Via the University of Liverpool on Flickr.

Sorry, Fido. But if you were waiting for James Sheppard to vote for stronger protections for your stray brethren, it won’t happen in your lifetime. In fact, not you, nor that asshole cat, nor the weirdo lizard in the cage nor even the damned bird will last long enough to see James Sheppard exercise his right to vote. The average lifespan of a household cat is around 20 years. For a dog, it’s more like 15. So, James might have owned two very healthy dogs that never saw him wear his I Voted sticker.

Maybe an particularly sagacious African Grey Parrot could have seen James Sheppard vote in their wizened latter years. But rumors of the longevity of pet birds is largely overblown, too. Most are dead in plenty of time to miss James’ suffrage.

4. One Saturnian Year

Saturn
Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/CalTech on Flickr.

Our Solar System’s sixth planet lies 9.5 AU (Astronomical Units) from the Sun. That’s nine and a half times the distance between the Sun and Earth, or about 883 million miles (1420km) from the Sun. That’s a long way, and as you might expect, it takes quite a long time for the Kronian giant to make a single trip around the Sun. Twenty nine and a half Earth years, to be exact.

But as long as a year on Saturn is, it’s merely a large fraction of the time since James Sheppard engaged in our national plebiscite. Nor any other election. For a representative. For a County Executive. For County Dog Catcher or even – wait for it – Rochester City Mayor.

3. Your mortgage

Old, tumbled down house
House image courtesy Bambe1964 on Fickr.

I don’t know about you, but I very clearly remember the cold, dread fear that overcame me when I realized I was signing up for 30 years of payments for a home. “My god,” I thought, “What an insane risk I’m taking here. Am I ready,” I wondered?

Had I known there would be a candidate for the Mayorship of Rochester that spent more than thirty years not voting, perhaps I might have rested easier. Surely, if a man can spend that much time ignoring the call to the ballot box and still ask his neighbors for their vote, then thirty years can’t possibly be that big of a deal.

Right?

2. An entire human generation

Newborn Baby
Newborn photo courtesy Josua Rappeneker on Flickr.

Ecologically speaking, a “generation” is the time it takes for an individual of a given species to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. The length of a human generation has increased as the needs of our societies dictate. Currently, a human generation stands at 25 years.

But plenty of women have pumped out a rugrat or two in the time it’s taken James Sheppard to decide to give birth to an act of citizenship. Women born in 1982 have grown old enough to have had their own children. And then some. In fact, a woman born in 1982 and conforming to the generational gap would have a ten year old kid. And perhaps more.

Kinda makes you wonder at what point James decided that the futures of those 1982 babies or the futures of his prospective constituents mattered enough to him to pull a lever for any candidate, anywhere?

1. Twelve consecutive NFL careers

NFL Football game
Football game photo courtesy April Spreeman on Flickr.

We see superstar athletes in the NFL with long careers and think that of course, players last a long time in the game. But it’s simply not true at all. In fact, according to Sports Illustrated, the average span of a career across all positions in the NFL is a paltry 2.66 years. Given the sheer time, effort and parental income it takes to rise to the level of an NFL star, it makes you wonder why anybody anywhere even bothers. You’d be better off finding an indoor football league to play on and stay the hell out of what is obviously an incredibly hot, halcyon spotlight.

Regardless, James Sheppard’s non-voting record actually exceeds the careers of an entire NFL offensive team, consecutively. Twelve professional football players entered the NFL, played a few games and had their hopes and dreams crushed under the grinding boot of corporate indifference. Their jerseys are not available at any NFL outlet. Their names are barely remembered by any but those who know them.

But then, it’s no shame to not be famous. So go we all, but for a few exceptions. Will voters add James Sheppard’s name to the list of Rochester Mayors?

Fake News: 5 Ways to Not Become an Online News Luddite

The fake news got to us. And I suppose the result was obvious.

A wellspring has bubbled up through the blogosphere and is now producing blog articles sounding the alarm: other blogs might be “fake news.” Some of those articles are focused on the left, some on the right. All of them, I’m sure, propose to improve blogging. But as the reality of the Russian hack on our democracy sinks in across the internet, these posts are a symptom of our suspicions, grown louder. Loud enough that bloggers are telling other bloggers not to link to bloggers because credibility.

Wasn’t the great leap forward back in the Web2.0 days the democratization of media? Didn’t RSS, and blogging, and social media, and “sharing,” mean that the analysis, emphasis and direction of news would no longer be dominated by corporate profit motives? Far more importantly, the democratization of media always meant that as bloggers and as news consumers, we asserted credibility in the democratic fashion: collective assent.

That collective assent has been plundered. We as a nation have been had. And as that reality looms larger and larger – as jeers and jabs turn to stunned silence – we’re falling back on the instincts that allow authoritarians to rise to power. Our confidence shrinks and doubt prompts us to “follow the leader.”

So this is how freedom of the press dies: the moment when we decide that certain press is more free than other press. Because it’s safer. Because we have been attacked once. Because the news seems to hit independent media particularly harshly. Because we relent.

Let’s not go quite so gently into that good night. Democracy survives when the good and the wise steel themselves against fear. To that end, I present for you five good ways to protect your democratic franchise in the modern online world and avoid fake news:

5. Understand what happened

The full scope of the Russia’s interference in our elections is still being tallied, at least publicly. But one thing it is important to understand is that much of the hack was on search engines. A user – perhaps you, perhaps someone else – searches Google or Bing for a topic and scans the results. What he finds are links to sources that are intentionally conning him. They arrived in those top few spaces in the search engine’s results because Russian hackers coaxed search engines into paying them undue attention.

All of which is to say that your favourite independent news source didn’t change. Daily Kos didn’t get any more or less credible. Instead, the search engines you use got changed, and as alleged by the Intelligence Community, perhaps your vote as well.

More importantly, the change to search results was targeted. Services like Google use your location to determine the best sources of content. On average, a Rochesterian would probably prefer to read the D&C’s article on Russian hacking than one from the NBC 7 in San Diego. But the hack also took advantage of this fact and, based on the below comments of Senator Mark Warner, may have concentrated their activities on the “firewall states” of Michigan and Pennsylvania. (emphasis mine):

1,000 Paid Russian Trolls Spread Fake News On Hillary Clinton, Senate Intelligence Heads Told || HuffingtonPost.com:

“What really concerns me [are reports] there were upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, … that can generate news down to specific areas,”

In other words: you may never have seen so much as a scrap of fake news, depending on where you live.

4. Verify Your “Fake News”

There is no “exclusive news” anymore and things break quickly. They ricochet across the Internet, getting picked up by a wide variety of sources. Even those of us who spend a significant amount of our time monitoring news and social sometimes find that we’re way behind on a developing story, from time to time.

If the source you’re reading from claims to have content no one else has, chances are better than good that it’s crap. Move on.

There are exceptions to this rule all the time. Momentarily being “exclusive” doesn’t make news “fake news.” But until others verify what your source says it has, there’s no reason to jump to any conclusions. Most of us are not in a position, from moment to moment, to verify someone else’s work as it arrives on the Internet. Rely on the “collective assent” in your network.

Fake news tends to do it’s own ricochet, of course. But it doesn’t last long in reputable sources. See tip #2 for more on that.

3. Ask Yourself: “Are Facts or Opinions In Dispute?”

The great New York State Senator Patrick Moynihan once famously intoned, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” The same holds true for the Internet, and dovetails with tip #4: lots of different news sources and opinion makers differ on the interpretation of facts, but very few legitimate news sources will hold forth “facts” of which they are the exclusive source.

Liberal news sources will interpret news one way, Conservatives the next. Industry insiders or people on the ground will interpret news based on informed, practical knowledge that differs from political takes altogether. And those may still differ from policy makers for whom other priorities are higher. But they all agree on what’s happening.

When a source introduces “facts” for which you can find no other corroborating stories, it might be fake news. If they continue to press ideas for which there is no other evidence, chances are pretty good they’re full of shit. Move on.

2. Be Clear on Your Sources

As wonderful as Google and Bing and other search engines can be, you are always at the mercy of someone else’s algorithms to get your news. Search engines have learned a harsh lesson and will doubtless change as a result of the hack. But they won’t change what they fundamentally are, and what they are is always subject to manipulation.

Learn to recognize your sources. Your favourite websites, Twitter accounts, and journalists. Judge them based on their successes as defined in the last few tips. Do they confirm stories that end up being true? Do they propose ideas you can’t confirm anywhere else? Do they confirm stories with any other sources? And are those sources credible? Are your sources “insiders,” giving you insight you couldn’t have expected anywhere else, or just imaginative frauds, filling your time with “fake news?”

It’s worth having sources you fundamentally disagree with as well. Again: left and right may disagree on the interpretation of facts, but not on the facts. If there’s a difference between your opposing viewpoint sources, is it factual or interpretive?

If you’re not letting the news just fly at you randomly, from the search results on Bing or the most recent tweets in your feed, you’re starting to curate a useful information stream. It won’t be 100%, but it’ll be better than leaving yourself prone before an endless barrage of media.

1. Support What’s Right

This part is really important. Remember that the modern social media news landscape requires our collective, informed assent for its authority and credibility. We need each other for any of us to have either of those two things. The unwritten compact of those early days needs to be restored: that bloggers and the audiences they serve can filter and vet information just as well as people with communications degrees.

We need to be referees. We need to call balls and strikes. We need to allow ourselves to be checked by our audiences and by our peers. Most of all, we need to reform the networks we once had. More and more, social media networks feel less like networks and more like point-to-point noise protocols. They feel like unassociated beams of information, no unifying direction and no point of reference, no particular trust and no special loyalty. We need to rebuild that trust and loyalty by being the worthy readers and bloggers we’ve always been.

This Republican Moment, Visualized as Punnett Squares

Late Update: As of 3:40 this afternoon, the AHCA bill got pulled from the floor and there will be no vote today, if ever. So we can say for sure that environmental pressures elicited a complete reversal of fortune for at least one recessive gene, the Robber gene.

Additionally, Nunes cancelled a public hearing on Russian interference in our elections, so at least one Republican is heavily expressing the T. Stay tuned!

Rare in American politics is a moment as elemental as this. Rarely do the political winds so agonizingly divide a party along such simple lines. But that is the moment we find ourselves in.

It was only just Monday, March 20th when we last through our democracy a sacred and untouchable thing. A thing that, while we may quibble about this and that, many have always seen as an unimpeachable institution of fairness and transparency. Now we know with certainty that our election was hacked and our winning candidate materially helped by that hacking.

Moreover, we have evidence that said candidate – the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump – was aided from within by campaign members willing to court Russian interference. If Trump was a willing actor in all of this, he may be courting treason. If he was not, he’s proven himself to be wholly unqualified for the job he finds himself in and utterly stripped of any political capital normally conferred to the highest office in the land.

Republicans need that political capital. For seven years, Republicans have promised their base that they would eliminate Obamacare. The solution presented by Republican leadership is a killing field of cuts, caps and victims. Passing such a bill would be all but impossible without the President’s leadership and the good will that normally accompanies a newly-minted president. The window of opportunity for such a big bill shrinks quickly after Election Day. The more so under the circumstances.

Thus Republicans find themselves faced with two career-deciding questions, inextricably linked. The first is whether or not to support President Trump. Doing so means sheltering under his protection. But in the current context, that shelter doesn’t look very reliable.

The second is whether or not to support a putative “American Health Care Act.” Supporting the AHCA certainly means making a principled stand for the ideal of limited government. Rejecting the AHCA is just as certainly an invitation to an Alt-Right primary challenger. But hanging in the balance are huge core constituencies, potentially left high and dry and spoiling for justice.

Yesterday, I conceived of the problem as a kind of Punnett Square choice. if you don’t remember Punnett Squares, let me refresh your memory.

Reginald Punnett was an early 20th century scientist who described a visual system for determining the relative successes of dominant and recessive genes in sexually reproduced offspring. It is a matrix that puts the dominant and recessive genes for each trait in a separate row or column in a two-dimensional grid. It shows that dominant traits, when expressed together, have the greatest likelihood of being both expressed and passed on to the next generation.

A Punnett Square illustrating the choices facing Republicans. T stands for Traitor (Trump), while R stands for Robber (AHCA).

In my Punnett Square experiment, I took the two primary issues before Republicans as two separate traits. T stands for Trump or Treason if you like. Did my bias just show there? Why would anyone bother to continue reading past such an admission? Shouldn’t I find a more neutral way of speaking about such an important issue? Yes, reasons, and go fuck yourself.

The second trait is R, standing for robbing old people for the benefit of rich people. Again: go fuck yourself.

In deciding what was the dominant and what was the recessive expression of each trait, it boiled down to what I thought the preferred Republican position on each issue would be. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that party members generally prefer to keep lined up behind the leader of the party, in this case, Trump. Thus supporting Trump (capital “T”) is the dominant trait. Not supporting the leader, lowercase “t”, is the recessive trait.

On the other hand, Republicans have spent the better part of seven years railing against Obamacare. Voting against any attempt to roll Obamacare back seems like political heresy. Here, the natural, dominant (“R”) course of action is to vote in favour of the AHCA.

It is important to note that the safest possible option seems likely to be opposing both the president and the AHCA. But doing so would mean expressing the two recessive genes in the Republican DNA and not likely to happen.

What we see when we put it together in this way is actually quite interesting. We predict that the most likely outcome for today (if anything happens at all) is that Republicans will end up lining up behind the president and voting for the AHCA. The odds that the dominant traits will be expressed are high. In fact, it’s also possible for a Republican to skirt the line, choosing to support the AHCA but not Trump or vice versa. Because in politics as in life, recessive traits do express themselves from time to time.

What does science tell us about the likelihood of recessive genes expressing themselves? Well, while basic probability would have it that only 25% of all “offspring” would express the recessive traits for both genes, evolution tells us that things can go very differently. Environmental pressures can act on a species, cutting small groups off from the species.

Small groups of isolated genes means necessarily smaller gene pools and the increasing probability of recessive genes gaining the upper hand. In extreme cases, enough recessive genes get introduced into the new gene pool to cause what science calls “speciation,” or the creating of an entirely new species. We see this not only in the fossil record, but happening in real time as global warming forces species into ever-more-isolated pockets.

There is no shortage of environmental pressure on Republicans in this moment. Everything about Russian hacking, health care, the SCOTUS and our economy seems to be coming down to this moment. And as we enter the second day of “now or never” AHCA horsetrading, it certainly seems to be having an effect.

Politicians are indeed facing increasing isolation, avoiding town hall meetings and retreating into their narrow caucuses even within the party. It’s clear that not every pol is going to get what they want out of this new president, in fact, many pols will have to live with significantly less than they had before.

Will the result be a new evolution of Republican politics? Will the Republicans finally embrace evolution at least enough to save their own asses?

A Fundamental Question: what did the Russian hack look like?

Senator Al Franken was just on This Week with Martha Radditz, talking about the Russian hack into our elections and the Trump Campaign’s strange relationship with said. In discussing the hack itself, Franken pointed out that one means of hacking the system was to “mess with Google’s algorithms” to make reports from Russian state-controlled RT or Sputnik show up higher in the rankings.

What he’s referring to, if I understand him correctly, isn’t “messing with” Google’s search ranking algorithms directly. Instead, he’s referring to what most of us call “black hat search engine optimization“: the intentional manipulation of the way setearch engines work to get an illegitimate source to the top of the search results.

Regardless, it seems like our discussion of Russian hacking, collusion with US interests and the rest is greatly confused by not knowing what the “hack” actually was. Right now, we have an idea of Russian hacking, allegations of Trump Camp collusion, discoveries of conversations between principals in this story, potential perjury of our nation’s Attorney General… anything but hard fact on which to base a reasonable decision.

With any other type of crime, there’s a dead body, a missing item, a victim. There is physical proof that something happened, if not what happened or who did it. And for better or worse, our sense of the importance and severity of the crime reflects the physical proof of the act. Here, we have nothing.

It’s hard to imagine the American public continuing to be interested in this story long-term without a lot firmer proof of what went wrong in the first place. What exactly did the Russian hack of our elections look like?

I guess we’re all socio-political bigots.

We’re getting closer and closer to defining our politics as a scientific imperative, day by day. A recently-published study tested a couple basic hypothesis aimed at predicting the relative prejudice we show those of opposing views. The result? Economic views hold considerably less prejudice than social ones, and there is literally no evidence to suggest that one side of the political spectrum is automatically more prejudiced against their opposition than the other.

The hypotheses tested included the idea that social and economic differences would elicit different degrees of prejudice, and that social conservatives would naturally be more prejudicial to opposing viewpoints than social liberals. After testing these hypotheses with a wide variety of test subjects and methodologies (how the test is conducted and scored), the first hypothesis showed strong signs of being accurate, while the second did not.

Conservative values quite often dovetail with racial, sexual or other prejudices. Sometimes, they just seem to exist to support those prejudices, which is the case where gendered bathrooms are concerned. It’s easy as Liberals to assume that political prejudice must automatically come with the package. It’s easy to believe that we are open-minded and without a trace of prejudice, because we fight for social justice.

But this study is a good sign that maybe none of those things are true. Our haste to believe that “objective truth” obviates the need for discussion is at least one good sign that this is not at all true.

It isn’t necessary to give up our values in order to acknowledge our faults. And Conservatives can go on being racist as ever. This study just makes clear that not all assumptions go with the others.

What is really interesting is how economic differences seem to elicit less prejudice. That would seem at odds with what Republican and Conservative strategies seem to be, focusing as they do on “tax and spend librulls.” It might be a point worth considering that economic differences aren’t the wedge people believe, according to the data. Demonizing Democrats seems to have worked, but when it come right down to economic issues – or issues framed as such – we’re a lot more likely to listen to one another.

Errors in Execution

The rolling window of “Trump could have done this better” excuses for the Trump White House’s dick-tripping incompetence is getting tiresome. Three weeks in, and I think everybody could use a vacation, but let’s please not entertain these “simple answers” as the logical choice when describing what we’ve seen so far. Most recently, we now have this Politico puff piece on the putative “gold standard” of White House Chiefs of Staff, James Baker, in which Baker firmly chides Trump on how to be more Republican.

It is a fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban could easily have been implemented with more care and consequently less resistance. The president has pretty wide latitude in deciding who comes in or out of this country. This has been the case since the 70’s. Yes, he can cut off immigration from one, a group or all nations for whatever time he chooses, at least in theory.

Doing so would cause quite a bit of panic no matter the timing, leading to inevitable law suits. Liberals like myself would absolutely argue the constitutionality of ban like Trump’s. It wouldn’t be smooth sailing however they did it. But it could have been done.

It’s also true that, as a rule, Republicans aren’t that into Russia. That certainly describes the attitude of the Reagan White House in which Baker served. American foreign policy has, since early in the Cold War, been built largely on the lead Republicans set. And that lead was very anti-Russia. Even after Glasnost, very few Republicans I’ve ever known have thought highly of or trusted Russia.

A different relationship with Russia, even in present context, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. A more trusting relationship with Russia is not objectively worse than a less trusting one.

But for chrissakes, come on! Let’s please stop listening to people patiently tell us that what we’re seeing isn’t real.

Trump’s Muslim ban was not badly-planned. It was meant to cause chaos and panic. It was meant to trap the foreign-born at airports. It was meant to put the “enemies” of Trump’s agenda “on notice.” And those enemies were the foreign-born. That was the point. That’s why Trump said the ban was “going very well. You can see it at the airports.” The “news junkie” president did not fail to notice the chaos roiling the airports.

Trump’s ties to Russia aren’t accidental and neither are those shared by an incredible number of his lieutenants. Calls between his National Security Advisor Flynn and the Russian Ambassador before, during and after the election were not innocent even if they contained no relevant information. Throwing him under the bus will change nothing fundamental about the situation in the White House. It is a persistent fact of this administration that they have openly and not-so-openly had ties to the very same nation that our intelligence agencies confirm were responsible for the hacking of our nation’s democratic institutions.

Baker presumably expects these ties to be disappeared by a simple, grandfatherly “tut-tut.” He gravely intones about the need for sanctions against Russia in a way that clearly says “that’s the Republican Way.”

“Come along now, son,” he seems to say, “Let’s get you a flag pin and some photo time at West Point.”

Don’t let Republicans weave this narrative. Everybody in the party wants their Conservative Christmas, and they’ll wait till the tanks roll on Bowling Green to get it. They’ll say anything to stall, to cover, to explain away. Some of them might even believe it. But you can see what is happening. There is nothing subtle about Trump, there is nothing accidental about the chaos he’s created and there is absolutely nothing sincere in Republican pleas for patience.

This, after all, might be the very last election Republicans ever win. Jim Baker’s just trying to get the most out of it.

Statistics, Science and Stubbornness

I’ve been holding onto this article for a week, now, but I’m finally going to flag this for you now. It’s a great article with plenty worth reading in it. And in it, author William Davies asks the question many journalists have been asking since the election: are we living in a post-factual world? He weaves together the history of statistics as a tool of government along with what seems like a highly-energized world-wide rightward shift that seems to intentionally fly in the face of statistical and scientific fact.

I’m generally suspicious of any “grand unifying theory” of politics that blends political winds in the U.S., Britain, Eastern Europe and the Philippines. A general trend is worthy of consideration, but trying to blend them into some singular force evades the real human emotions and political grievances in play in all of those countries. It also highlights the weakness of a political system which recognizes only two diametric poles: any movement in any direction necessarily has to be viewed as either a rightward or leftward movement. Our political polarization has left us bereft of the vocabulary to describe it any other way.

About the best you can probably say about the combined shift in global politics is: “When the going gets tough, the tough take it out on the less-tough.” Regardless of the individual struggles in any one nation, there’s little doubt but that the population of refugees and asylees worldwide has reached the highest recorded levels. The trillions of dollars of global wealth lost in the subprime fiasco of 2008 has continued to trickle down, year over year, emptying bellies among the world’s poorest. Daily reports of terror attacks have eroded the confidence of even the safest people.

People – or at least enough people – in wealthier nations are increasingly saying “no” to pretty much everything. They’re focused on their countries, first. They’re withdrawing from unions. They’re reneging on promises. Yes, they are increasingly “clinging to their guns and their religion.”

But to the central question of whether our current culture is leaning not only rightward, but also away from science and statistics. It’s worth noting that science – yes, science – has already weighed in on this idea. The truth is that our political persuasion has little to nothing to do with our justifications. Our preferred reality has everything to do with an emotional connection to our beliefs. We generally choose to bolster our beliefs with facts that confirm them. And we do so after the fact.

For those whose beliefs swing right as defined by American politics, there is precious little in the way of scientific or statistical information to support their beliefs. And the number of available statistics is getting smaller every day.

The U.S. has actually admitted less refugees last year than it did in many other points in it’s history as recently as 1995. An American is 6 times more likely to die of shark attack than of refugee attack. And we’ve got a 1-in-49,000 chance of dying in a terrorist attack and a 1-in-400 chance of dying of a gunshot wound. An amazing shrinking and increasingly-unqualified pool of scientists believe climate change is either a hoax or attributable to “god” or whatever Conservatives insist on believing.

Americans generally are not with Conservatives on gay marriage. We’re not with Conservatives on marijuana legalization. We’re not impressed by private school vouchers. No one but a damned fool believes Mexico’s paying for the wall. The HPV vaccine will not make your daughter a slut, nor will vaccines cause autism. Obamacare is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to health care.

So pity poor Conservatives who insist on believing things for which there is no support whatsoever. Because their happy-go-angry bullshit train has just elected the man that’s already leaving a lot of them gobsmacked and red-faced. Small wonder, then, that the political right of our country are discarding facts, evidence, science and statistics as hokum. We are not living in a “post-factual world,” just because your beliefs are no longer supported by facts. You’re living in a bubble.

Consequences, intended or otherwise

The thing about being a billionaire real estate mogul (real or perceptual) is that there really aren’t any consequences to pissing people off. There are no consequences when you antagonize the media; there are no consequences when you join the WWE and shear someone’s hair off; there are no consequences to a walk-on role in porn. In the end, it’s just one guy signing a deal with another guy. Over and over again. The media and the public play absolutely no role.

Presidents don’t have such luxuries. Presidents make decisions every day, all of which have consequences. Sometimes for the entire world. Presidents need to communicate with their constituents and they need a robust media – even one that thinks of them as an asshole – to do it. Perhaps most critically, presidents have already entered a contract with a population that turns on their perception of you. That perception can turn on a dime, and it’ll never come back.

I’m not foolish enough to believe a 70 year old man who hasn’t figured these things out yet, ever will. In fact, I fully expect this presidency will be an exercise in head-bashing stupidity. More lawsuits, more insults and more sneering on Twitter. More affronts to our civil liberties, our culture and our values. More cogs in the Federal machine on lock-down while they await the coming Tangerine Rapture.

But I hope the rest of us know what we’re heading into, for the next four years. No more excuses about “pivots” or aides who will reign him in. What we have seen for the last week is what we can expect from here on out. You ready?