Reform the Police

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Why do we have police?

Seriously. I'm asking. Because right now it looks like they're part of the problem.

This weekend's protests against the kind of casual police violence and brutal behavior that we've all become somehow accustomed to were hijacked. By anarchists, by agitator plants, by right-wing chaos agents, by people who just look for any excuse to break stuff and loot. But also by the police.

Thank god for pocket cameras and the internet. Those technological marvels allowed us to see and hear so many examples of police departments doubling down on the offenses that prompted people to protest them in the first place. Police firing gas and projectiles at bystanders, some while standing on their own front porch. Police shoving, kicking, and bludgeoning protesters. Police using their vehicles and horses to assault people. Police pepper-spraying people, targeting reporters with tear gas, and generally behaving like government-sanctioned thugs.

The reports from some towns where police joined the protests are heartening, I don't want to overlook those. But even here, in my city of Seattle that has what is supposed to be one of the more enlightened police forces among large American cities, the cops were out last night to "restore order" and in so doing escalated things to violence and pepper-sprayed and manhandled crowds indiscriminately, with more unprovoked violence today.

So I ask again, why do we have police? What's their purpose? What should be their purpose?

Obviously, we need some sort of public safety agency. We are, in theory anyway, a culture based upon law and a social contract that requires those laws to be enforced somehow. Those laws are sometimes flawed—horribly so in too many cases—but makeup and details of the laws in general are a different matter than how the police operate. If the police are simply there to enforce the laws, then why are they permitted to break said laws?

I'm a straight white guy that has never had any sort of serious run-in with the police. When I got pulled over by traffic cop for the ridiculous offense of driving below the speed limit on an empty freeway late at night, I didn't fear for my safety. I have never even been in the vicinity when a cop has drawn a weapon. My personal experiences are not difficult in this manner. Nevertheless, I no longer trust the police even to the degree I did before this week, which was not as much as you might think, because I have to be suspicious of their tendency to use violence as a first resort in any given circumstance.

The history of how police forces came to be is not pretty. Police forces were formed to shield the wealthy from the rabble, to be a power arm of slaveholders, to be protectors of property. Theoretically, the rationale for police has evolved over time to "protect and serve" the public interest generally, to be agents of the law in broader terms as a way to keep people safe as well as to prevent theft and vandalism and the like. Yet, what we saw last night, what has happened many times before during civil unrest—this is, after all, the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre—was police forces in cities across the nation violently and indiscriminately clearing streets and otherwise wreaking their own havoc to protect property. Few if any police appeared to be doing anything to protect people, to promote public safety, to even apprehend criminals.

"But the police needed to restore order!" you might say. Well, (a) that regular order includes the sort of thing that prompted the protests in the first place, so there's that; (b) was that really the way to clam things down, by escalating to the point of chaos?

I get it, things can get a little crazy when the looters and vandals get involved. Those agitators used the protest crowds as cover for their criminality. But that wasn't the sequence of events in some cases, in some cases the police were the cause of craziness, provoking the start of something where those looters and vandals could have the cover they needed. Once that sort of chaos is happening, I don't know what alternative I'd suggest for handling it. But let's not actually create the chaos first, OK?

Police culture is steeped in violence. Police are trained to assume any interaction with a civilian can become deadly. Nuance is not a concern. Perhaps more importantly, police are likewise trained to revere and protect each other regardless of circumstance. Just look at the scene in Minneapolis that sparked this mess: One officer did the actual murdering of George Floyd, several others aided and abetted, and one looked on without taking any action. One might assume that the onlooker wasn't on board with murdering Mr. Floyd, but did he act to stop or in any way oppose his fellow policeman's behavior? Why not? If he witnessed a civilian doing anything remotely like that he would likely have been all over it, but this was a fellow cop, so he did nothing. (Yes, that's a supposition, I'm giving the guy the benefit of the doubt when he may have, in fact, been just as cruel and indifferent to snuffing out a black person's life.)

The purpose of the police force needs to be clarified. The tactics of the police force need to be focused away from the "force" part. The people that join the police need to be vetted to a far greater degree. And the police need to be policed, and a reformed police culture should welcome such oversight instead of resent it. Cops are not above the law. Individual cops who are out there making things worse for everyone should not be cops, and decent cops should be all in favor of weeding the bad cops out and keeping violent white-supremacist types and power-drunk asshats from becoming cops in the first place.

My reaction when seeing a police officer in even the most routine of circumstances is not reassurance or safety, it's apprehension and suspicion. I'm less apprehensive if the officer is black, but not a lot. Because I know police are violent. I know they will assume even the most trivial interaction can be a reason to use force. I know they are armed with lethal weaponry, and even if they opt for a taser instead of a pistol—not harmless, incidentally—they can be assumed to "subdue first, ask questions later."

The police need to change. Society needs to change them.

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Worse Before Better: Are We There Yet?

MPLSfire

I don't even know where to start. This is probably gonna be a rambly, stream-of-consciousness post. Probably with swearing.

I mean, this has been one hell of a week. Monumental eruptions of anger. Astonishing levels of idiocy in government. Institutional racism in full view. One hell of a week.

On the other hand, this is, you know, just another week in these United States.

Especially these United States as it has existed these last three and a half years, especially as that subset of history has existed in the last three and a half months. But still, in the macro sense, you know, just another week. A policeman murdered a black citizen for dubious or no reasons? Ain't that America.

The environment that's allowed the string of killings of black folks by police recently has been stoked by our current so-called president and his minions and the larger Republican party, yes. It must be pointed out that President VonClownstick exacerbated the permissiveness around police brutality, especially when those being brutalized are black, repeatedly and without remorse. He is culpable. But he didn't start it. This is hundreds of years old.

And we as human beings in human society have gotten better, yes, but we've yet to get over this shit. And it's beyond frustrating. It has been a progression, sure; things were better in 1900 than 1850, better yet in 1950, better yet in 1970, better yet in 2010. Not so much improvement between 2016 and 2020, what with racist fuck klanhat setting the tone from the White House, but overall, long-view, better. But it's still too damn slow, and that's a long time for injustices to fester.

George Floyd was murdered by a cop for a variety of very bad reasons that mostly revolve around power and insecurity. Brionna Taylor was killed by cops who didn't think it necessary to do the basics of policework before busting in to the wrong home in search of someone who'd already been apprehended and just shooting whoever was there if whoever was there had dark skin. Michael Dean was murdered by a cop apparently just for driving while black and the cop felt like it. Eric Reason was murdered by an off-duty cop over a parking space. I could go on. And on and on and on and on and on and on some more, take a breath and keep going on and on for a good long while.

So, yeah, people are mad. Protests are good and proper. The violence I'm not on board with, but I get it. (Some of it, anyway—from some of the footage I've seen I have to wonder if there isn't a faction represented that just likes to break things for whatever excuse is handy, but burning down that Minneapolis cop's precinct, with that police department's history? I get it, yeah.) Shit's gotta change and oftentimes change needs a push.

I grew up on Star Trek (obviously) and have always subscribed to the ideals put forth there, believed us to be a people that could achieve a future free of the stupidity and machismo we're confronted with all the time today. When I was a kid, one of my favorite episodes was "A Taste of Armageddon," in which two worlds have been fighting a war for centuries and have sanitized the process so completely that the populaces just accept it as the way things are and perpetuate the clean, deadly carnage decade after decade after decade. Captain Kirk and the crew are declared casualties in their war and, in order to escape, they destroy the apparatus that allows the war's cleanliness; this forces the world leaders to realize that war is a thing to be avoided and that making peace is a real option. Kirk has a mini-monologue at the end of that script that I've always loved—arguing with a planetary leader who insists people have a killer instinct that rules them, he says: "All right, it's instinctive. We're human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But the instinct can be fought. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we won't kill today." (Just one of many bits of Gene L. Coon dialogue that reached me as an impressionable youngling, delivered with just the right level of Shatnerian melodrama. And no, I didn't have to look it up.)

Police departments can learn from this. I'm not saying police can know on any given day whether or not they'll be in a life-or-death situation that might call for deadly force, but I am saying that in all other circumstances, they can choose not to wield it. Pull over someone for speeding? You can choose not to draw your gun as you first approach the car, you can choose not to fire your gun at an unarmed person. Trying to apprehend a suspect in the middle of the night in an apartment you've just busted down the door of? You can choose not to start shooting unprovoked. Stop someone for allegedly forging a $20 check? You can choose not to crush his windpipe in order to feel like a big bad powerful asshole.

Law enforcement, along with American society at large, took a nasty turn after 9/11. The US went all in on machismo in the GWB years to our profound detriment, and while we came back from it a little bit after W slunked off to Texas to learn watercolors, we're in much worse shape now with public policy based on grievance and selfishness and the way of I-get-mine-and-fuck-you as a governing principle.

Even Star Trek knew that in order to get to its relatively idyllic future things would have to get worse first. Bad enough to kick our collective asses out of a complacency that lets us keep on settling for tiny two-steps-forward-one-step-back progressions. I hope the single four-year term of President VonClownstick is as bad as we need to get, 'cause this is plenty scary enough.

Wake the fuck up, America.

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"Star Trek: Picard" season ends in disappointment

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"I read once that a commander has to act like a paragon of virtue. I never met a paragon."

"Neither have I."

—Eve McHuron and Captain Kirk, "Mudd's Women"

 

It's been a week now since the first season of Star Trek: Picard came to a close and I've almost gathered my thoughts about it. They're a bit muddy and uneven. It started out so well—or, at least, it set up some great plot elements with terrific dialogue and character writing. And as things progressed through the ten-episode run, it built on them nicely—until they stopped.

The final few episodes were just a letdown. Not entirely; there's good stuff in all of them, but there's also some lazy maguffiny stuff. More importantly, some of those really interesting setups were just resolved with a throwaway line of dialogue or ignored altogether. It's like they hit episode 6 and then realized that they were past the halfway mark and oh crap now what do we do with all this stuff?

It's extra disappointing because Michael Chabon was the showrunner and I love Michael Chabon. Brilliant novelist. Great with characters. Knows his Star Trek. And yet this kind of fell apart. Star Trek: Discovery also suffered from some of this same kind of trouble in its first two seasons, though, and there is a common element on the staff: Executive producer Alex Kurtzman. Is it his fault? Maybe. But I always default to blaming him because he worked on the J.J. Abrams movies, which cared not a whit for what makes Star Trek good.

Picard sets up these big issues in its premise, with the Federation having abandoned their rescue/relief mission to save their historical enemies the Romulans from the Romulan system's impending supernova, a decision made at least in part because of a massacre at a Mars shipyard by android laborers. The fallout from the massacre included a ban on all synthetic lifeforms, something Jean-Luc Picard, of course, vehemently opposes. The abandonment of the mission and the synthetic ban lead to his resignation from the fleet and a lot of personal drama and trauma. So when none of this is satisfactorily paid off, it's a humongous failure of the writing staff.

The android attack was, unsurprisingly, engineered by secretive paranoid Romulans even though it harmed their own interests. This is pursued and builds to the greater threat that the season hinges on, all great, but then the resolution is a big nothing. The secret paranoid Romulan anti-android cult is not only not satisfactorily explained—they basically just come off as stupid dupes enthralled by ancient stories—but as they are about to wipe out the android population at the secret hiding world, deus ex machina appears in the form of Acting Captain Will Riker and a fleet of UFP ships that intimidate the Roms into simply retreating, and then they leave too, apparently never to return, which makes zero sense. But this confrontation is apparently all it takes for the Romulans to give up on their zealotry and for the Federation government to rescind their now-15-year ban on androids when they wouldn't hear of it before, and we get no details on it. It's just an expository line of dialogue, "oh, and the ban is lifted, so all is good now!" Say what? How?

Where's the dramatic scene that shows how the government overreaction played into terrorism and was self-defeating, providing a valuable lesson to be learned about not abandoning principle out of fear and ignorance? I'm not saying we need a hit-us-over-the-head teaching moment ala "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," but this was supposedly the underlying theme of the whole season. From Picard fighting Starfleet and his government on their bad decisions to seeking out the sleeper-agent-type android Shoji to exploring the victimhood of the Borg and the potential redemption (and exploitation) of the XBs (ex-Borg) to the myriad references to our beloved Mr. Data, it's not unreasonable to expect the story to resolve itself around this theme. Instead we just got some big action stuff (along with one truly brilliant and touching scene of character depth), a bit of a troubling introduction of a new technological and storytelling element that will in a broad sense have to be ignored lest it completely change Federation culture (much like J.J. Fricking Abrams did with magic blood reversing death in the abominable Star Trek Into Darkness), and all the loose ends and forgotten plot points.

I gather from stuff I read on Twitter, that infallible source of reality and facts, that the Riker scene was a late change. It was supposed to have been Admiral Clancy, who we saw Picard argue with in the early episodes, that came to the rescue and that, perhaps, might have mitigated some of the lost opportunity issue with the fleet and government having to acknowledge and rectify their errors. Or not.

Sigh. I have high expectations for my Star Trek. And this show had a lot going for it, not the least was Chabon and his gift for character and dialogue—which were well used, no doubt; I loved (for the most part) the episode set at the Riker/Troi home. But pacing the plot, creating drama by needlessly killing characters off (RIP Hugh, loads of XBs, Maddox), working in more needless death in the form of Riker and Troi's deceased son (killed by a disease made incurable only by the synth ban—what? dumb), just ignoring the broader ramifications of your whole theme... Fucking Kurtzman. (I will continue to blame him until there's evidence pointing elsewhere.)

I gripe because I care. I love Star Trek, I want it to live up to its own high standard, and when it fails it's a blow.

Oh well. At least this show isn't Voyager.

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Troubled Times

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Adam Schlesinger (1967-2020)

I don't know anyone personally that has COVID-19. At least, I don't think I do. But today the pandemic claimed someone I will certainly miss: Fountains of Wayne co-leader and songwriter Adam Schlesinger died from complications due to the coronavirus today.

Now, I'm not a big music guy. Most of my contemporaries are far more into bands and concerts and geeking out to nuances of different rock venues than I ever have been or ever will be. But Fountains was one band I actually went out of my way to see in person (and kind of regretted it, but not because of the music; the rock-club atmosphere and the amps kicked up to eleven so your ears bleed just make the whole experience kind of unpleasant even when Adam and Chris and co. were playing great tunes), which indicates how much their stuff speaks to me.

FoW hadn't had a new album in five years or so, and they had officially "disbanded" since, what with Schlesinger finding all kinds of time-consuming Hollywood work—writing songs for film and TV, producing other bands' albums—and co-leader Chris Collingwood experimenting with solo work (Look Park), but it's not like Yoko broke up the band, there was plenty of hope for more. Alas.

Schlesinger's songs are breezy, fun, melancholy, peppy, clever, poignant. Some Fountains albums are better than others, but none of them are poor. They all have good variety in them and just ooze talent. I enjoyed some of the songs he wrote for the TV musical "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," which I probably never would have checked out if not for his involvement (it was an OK show), and the Tom Hanks movie "That Thing You Do." But to me he was at his best paired with Collingwood in the band they named after a lawn-ornament shop in Wayne, New Jersey.

Schlesinger lyrics are their own form of poetry. Songs about unrequited or broken loves ("Pining away every hour in your room / Rolling with the motion, waiting til it's opportune / Sitting there watching time fly past you / Why do tomorrow / What you could never do?"), the suburban proliferation of outlet malls ("God forgive the passengers if we should fail / To find a penny fountain or a half-off sale / I need a merchant / I just started searching for a Holy Grail"), staying behind in your hometown while someone else succeeds elsewhere ("I see your face in the strangest places / Movies and magazines / I saw you talkin' to Christopher Walken / On my TV screen"), toiling away in a dull job ("Working all day for a mean little guy / With a bad toupee and a soup-stained tie / He's got me running 'round the office / Like a gerbil on a wheel / He can tell me what to do / But he can't tell me what to feel"), the monotony of a tour ("Seatbacks and traytables please / Suddenly I can't feel my knees / Second-run movies / In-flight shopping magazines / Wheezing the air up there / Got me a backache somewhere / Is that Santa Barbara? I think I've I been there").

And, of course, my two very favorite Christmas songs: "I Want an Alien for Christmas"  and "The Man in the Santa Suit" ("How Jimmy's grown this year / says 'Mommy, quick come here' / 'Santa's sweaty and he smells like beer'").

If you're unfamiliar, Spotify has most of FoW's music. Please to enjoy.

Safe journey, Adam Schlesinger. We will metaphorically shoot the sky full of holes for you.



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Donald Trump Wants You Dead

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Maybe not you specifically, but a lot of people.

President VonClownstick is so concerned with getting his resorts reopened, with getting stock prices up, with getting money for himself and his corporate brethren, that he will kill a whole lot of Americans to make it happen.

Except it won't work that way. Our deranged POTUS cannot comprehend that trying to "reopen America" in the midst of this crisis will not help the economy. He can't see past the "closed" signs on his hotels.

Today's insane remarks by the man masquerading as President were very revealing. Whether he actually believes that more people would commit suicide under isolation protocols than would die from COVID-19 and from other things that the pandemic prevented treatment for or he's just saying that to gaslight people into thinking it's the end of the world, either way it shows us that he values wealth above health. That money is more important than being alive, and that losing money equals why bother living?

Lawrence O'Donnell had two segments tonight that are worth sharing. The whole show was illuminating, but these bookend pieces stood out. Check 'em out.



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American Idiots

I went out today. I was responsible about it, I didn't interact with people. I went for a lengthy walk around the neighborhood and then made a stop at Fred Meyer for a few groceries. Then I had a brief exchange with a neighbor before returning to the safety of the indoors.

I overheard some stuff at Fred Meyer (where all the employees were wearing cheap plastic gloves and maybe 10% of the customers were wearing surgical masks) that revealed the frustrations people are having with this crisis time—and they're all about the inconvenience of it. My neighbor had similar attitudes. I very much hope these people are outliers, but I think they're not. I think too many people are being stubborn and/or ignorant—willfully or otherwise—to reality.

The general gist of these comments was:

  • This is being blown way out of proportion
  • It's all fine, we're overreacting, it's not like it's a zombie apocalypse
  • My health is good, I always get better if I'm sick, so I don't much care if I get the virus
  • My friend has been isolating for two weeks, so it's OK to go see her now
  • I'm so pissed X was canceled for no good reason

The governor announced a stay-home edict today. He resisted it for a while, but people were just being too stupid.

I get that it's frustrating. Especially for the more extroverted of y'all. Staying home all the time is hard, especially if your home is small. But apparently we need to go over some things.

  • Do not listen to the President. He's a moron. He cares about big business, the stock market, and making money for himself, and everything he says and does is to further that interest. He doesn't give a shit about you. More importantly, he has no idea what he's talking about and is misinforming people about "15-day periods" and drug therapies and basically everything else to do with this.
  • We aren't overreacting; if anything, we are underreacting. It may not be a zombie apocalypse, but you know zombies are a metaphor for, um, pandemics, right? This is a Coronavirus that nobody has an immunity to. It is not like the flu, which many people have a level of immunity to. In order to change its danger level, one of two things needs to happen: People get immunity or people stop spreading it. For people to get immunity, they either need a vaccine (doesn't yet exist, won't for at least 18 months at best) or they need to be exposed to it, get sick, and recover. As we've seen in stark terms, a lot of people who get sick aren't going to recover, so that seems like a bad strategy.
  • That leaves stop spreading it, and since our government screwed the pooch on this when there was opportunity to prepare, we have essentially no testing capacity to determine who has it and who doesn't among the general populace. This bug can infect you and essentially lay dormant for two weeks before symptoms manifest. It's generally another week-plus before you'd be sick enough to need medical attention if you're among those that would need it. So there's a large span of time when you would unknowingly be shedding virus as a carrier, and transmission doesn't have to be direct—you can leave the virus on objects, where depending on the type of surface, it can live for many days. So yeah, you can give it to someone by shaking hands, but you can also give it to someone by, say, pumping gas in an otherwise empty gas station and the next day another person uses that same pump then absentmindedly scratches his nose. You can give it to someone by paying for something; you shed it on your money then the money changes hands. You leave it on the buttons of an ATM, the next person to use the ATM picks it up.
  • You might be healthy and recover find if you get the virus, but you can pass it to someone else who isn't and doesn't.
  • Isolating for two weeks means the person isolating is letting enough time pass in order for his/her own potential symptoms to manifest. If you isolate for two weeks/15 days/whatever similar period, it's to protect other people from you, it does absolutely nothing to prevent you from catching the virus from others once you're done isolating. So to that woman at Fred Meyer today that thought it would be safe for her friend to get visits now: you had it backwards. She probably won't infect you because she'd been isolating; you can still infect her because you weren't.
  • I'm upset that stuff got canceled too. I was supposed to do my season ticket draft tonight, but now we don't know if there's even going to be a baseball season, and yeah, that sucks. But it would suck more to have 35,000 potential disease carriers get together at the ballpark. Or even 100 carriers with 34,900 "normals," 'cause then 300-900 or so people would leave infected and infect more people and infect more people... exponential math might sound complicated, but it's really not.

Unless you've truly been a hermit for two to three weeks with zero interaction with the outside world, you don't know if you've got the bug. Probably not, just based on laws of numbers, but you don't know. I could have picked it up off my shopping cart at Freddy's today, or from the checkout machine (staffed checkout lines were few and long and I didn't want to be in a line of people, some of whom had surgical masks on), or from a passerby in the salsa aisle. I washed my hands when I got home, but still.

Take this seriously. Heed the new rules. Listen to your local officials.

Not the President, though. He and his people will gladly kill you in order to pump up their stock portfolios.

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Biden vs. Bernie Debate

I'm currently watching the Democratic candidate debate CNN held earlier tonight between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. After starting out fairly civilly in discussing the Coronavirus and things related to that crisis, things devolved into a stupid series of arguments.

I'm about halfway through the thing, so maybe it'll get even worse.

Both candidates have their faults, but I have to say, Sanders is presenting himself very poorly here. As a long-serving Senator and Congressman, Bernie Sanders knows how things work, he knows how the sausage is made, and he is twisting things about Joe Biden's history in a less-than-honest fashion by shouting in outrage about things like bankruptcy legislation, gay rights legislation, and health care bills. Bernie is smart enough to know better, so I have to conclude he is consciously preying on many Americans' simplistic and flawed understanding of legislation and realities of Republican obstructionism in an attempt to sell a distorted view of Joe Biden to Democratic voters.

Joe Biden isn't perfect, and he does have some dubious votes in his history. Same is true for Bernie Sanders. But Biden, for all his faults, is presenting himself as a more honest, more mature thinker here. This foodfight is counter-productive, Bernie, you ain't gonna win. Quit inciting your supporters to treat this like people who voted for Ralph Nader treated things in 2000.

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Plastic Pollution Pandemic

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One of my clients is a beachcomber. He writes about the myriad flotsam that makes its way from the oceans to our beaches, where that flotsam comes from, how it flows around the world. (Buy his book, if you like, or subscribe to his newsletter.) It's interesting generally, but since I took over the layout duties on his quarterly newsletter a few months ago (and thus reading all the articles more closely) I've been paying more attention to how our trash, specifically plastic trash, is not only dumped into our waterways but is essentially not disposable at all.

 We've all been taught that we can recycle plastic, but it turns out that's not really true. A minority of the plastics we buy can be recycled (sort of), but the rest can't really be recycled at all under current technological limitations. When it is recycled, plastics can only go through the process between one and ten times depending on specifics, degrading each time and requiring more "fresh" material to mix in; in our current reality, it's usually not recycling at all but downcycling, a one-time-only re-use that turns, say, soda bottles into something like fleece or shoe parts.

The downcycling is useful, sure, and it'd be great if we could turn all of our plastic packaging and such into sweaters and sandals. But that has no effect at all on the production of new plastic, so no matter how many bottles become sneakers we're still piling up more and more and more plastic waste. And for now, anyway, even a downcycle is impossible for most things given the limitations of sorting facilities, mixed or contaminated plastic products, and poor-to-nonexistent market for crappy degraded materials.

And then there's the melting-down of plastics if they are recycled; great, they get repurposed, but we're burning fuels and creating different kinds of pollution to do it.

So, no matter how diligent we are about our recycling bin maintenance, most of our plastic trash ends up (a) in a landfill, (b) in the ocean, or (c) incinerated for fuel and adding to toxic air pollution. (Maybe all three, given enough time.)

Naturally, this has led me to want to consume less plastic. Which in modern American society is a lot harder than you might think. Really the only practical thing one can do is cut down on single-use plastics, i.e. stuff intended for short-term use that you can't repurpose yourself—basically packaging of various types. And straws, I guess. But so damn many things sold in your average supermarket come with plastic packaging. I avoid produce bags, I buy my Coca-Cola in cans instead of bottles, milk in paper cartons instead of plastic jugs. But single-use plastic is everywhere. Shrinkwrap. Packing foam. Bags for everything from tortilla chips to bread to hardware. Jars and bottles that once were glass are now plastic for condiments and salad dressings. You can't practically avoid it. So we buy it, we throw it away, it gets into the water, the ground, the air, our food, us. It never biodegrades.

Thus, like so many environmental concerns, the onus needs to be on manufacturers and governments to address this. Regulations, incentives, taxes, things that can prompt companies to reduce/eliminate plastic packaging and/or to use only types that can be handled by the limited recycling options available, as well as R & D for true recycling methods for plastics. "We are beyond the crisis point on plastic waste," says Senator Tom Udall (D, NM). Udall is quoted in this excellent piece from the latest Rolling Stone that gets pretty deeply into the history and scope of the problem; developments like bio-plastics and plant-based packaging are welcome advances, but meantime we're drowning in saran-wrap and take-out trays. We need more Udalls to lead. “We’re trying to turn the industry around,” he says, “to do this in a more environmentally sustainable way.”

I recommend reading the Rolling Stone article. And, somehow, buying less plastic.

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The Anti-Trump and Stephen Colbert

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I missed this when it aired, but here on Super Tuesday Eve it seems like a good time to see and share this fun clip of Stephen Colbert trying to hoard his ribs away from needy children.

Also, I love how EW immediately identifies Bezos by the Lex Luthor comparison.

Since it is Super Tuesday Eve, here is your last-minute reminder to exercise your right to vote. Do it now (or later if your state votes later) or do it in person tomorrow (or later if your state votes later), but voting is a privilege that, if President VonClownstick and the modern Banana Republican party have their way, will not exist as we know it after this year. My endorsement is at right, but do your own research and make your own choice; just remember this is a primary and not the general and whomever has delegates at the convention will have power to shape the ticket and the agenda, because it's looking likely that no one will have a majority before the big July event in Milwaukee.

We in Washington state got our ballots in the mail over a week ago and I turned mine in already even though our turn isn't officially until a week from tomorrow. Tomorrow's results will be the first time we get real results from a substantial portion of the electorate, so what's come before isn't as telling as what the media pretends it is. Vote, and vote with conviction.

 

Please to enjoy.

 

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Debate Fail

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CBS: Bad at baseball, bad at debates

Well, that was embarrassing.

The latest (and last before Super Tuesday) debate in the Democratic primary campaign ended a little while ago and the most charitable thing I can say about it is that it was a mess. Candidates talking over each other, petty sniping, perhaps the worst moderator performance yet. That last is really saying something—the questions in these debates have been pretty lame, but these people, who in their day jobs aren't all that bad, were astonishingly ineffective and ass-backwards with their priorities. At least Chuck Todd wasn't involved.

Some good moments in terms of candidate answers/comments, which I'll note below, but they were ignored by moderators who allowed and even engineered pivots to nonsense and shouting. Unlike the last couple of debates, I watched this one solo and followed my Twitter feed in more-or-less real time; some solid commentary:

CBS screwed the pooch so badly. From dumb questions that completely ignored the most pressing issues of the day to complete lack of control over the crosstalk to steamrolling through and past the most pertinent things said by the candidates, CBS handled this in such an unprofessional manner that they should be suspended for four years from hosting national debates. And, the cherry on top, they ran at least two Bloomberg ads during the breaks. What. The. Frak.

It called to mind my feelings when CBS had the broadcast rights for Major League Baseball in the ’90s. They instituted a playoff schedule that didn't allow fans to watch games out of their immediate market and saddled us with some of the worst sportscasters of the day (looking at you, Musberger). We missed NBC and Scully and Costas so much. (Still do, since when CBS lost the rights they went to Fox. Not worse, but not much better.)

But unlike sports, a Presidential election is hugely consequential and deserves, you know, actual journalism and substantive conversation rather than reality-show bear-poking and inane repetitive dumbed-down-agenda-setting. Truly pathetic, punctuated by a last-question round more suitable for a campaign for prom king/queen and then a gratuitous commercial break to run, among others, yet another fucking Bloomberg ad.

When there was good substance, it came from Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and a little from Tom Steyer. Pete Buttigieg had a couple of good answers as well, but hurt himself with some too.

Pete scored with some acknowledgment of his white privilege and recognition that neither he nor anyone else still running has the experience of being black/brown in America, as well as getting a good shot in against Bernie Sanders' support for keeping the filibuster rule—"How are we going to deliver a revolution if you won’t even support a rule change?"—but also warned that a Sanders nomination would beget "a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the ’50s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolution politics of the ’60s," denigrating a 1960s period in politics that resulted in, among other things, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, "The Great Society," the women's lib movement, et.al, things that are very much tied to Democratic staple values. Not only will this not appeal to Sanders' supporters—a ’60s-style uprising is the point to a lot of them—it may well alienate rank-and-file Dems to diminish what came from that time of tumult.

Warren once more shivved Bloomberg for his past treatment of women and history of funding Republicans, which was welcome. She also made a strong case for public education and its importance, addressed foreign policy issues like military intervention and Middle-East conflicts with thoughtful substance and diplomatic aplomb, and most importantly made her case for being the true progressive choice by (a) pointing out that her "progressive" proposals are popular among Democrats and largely mainstream, and (b) showing her knowledge of the system and how to navigate it, something Sanders simply has not shown an ability to do. Part of that is her insistence that the Senate must do away with the filibuster, a goal Sanders opposes, as necessary to overcome Republican intransigence. I'm ambivalent about removing that tool from the box, but it has been abused so broadly and routinely by Mitch McConnel and company that I agree in principle. (I'd prefer an adjustment to the rule that returns it to the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" style filibuster that requires a Senator hold the floor indefinitely; still plenty of opportunity for abuse there, though, so I might be convinced even that has to go.)

Biden went to his tired routine of claiming he's the only one running who'd ever accomplished anything, which is, frankly, annoying, but he also looked strong and more together than he has in prior debates. When discussing gun violence (nice to see that brought up, by the way), he called out the NRA, which was great, while also sticking it to Sanders for his previous support of gun-lobby positions (positions which, to his credit, Sanders now admits were wrong). He also showed some foreign policy chops when hammering the Trump Administration for its myriad failures.

Steyer is essentially irrelevant at this point, but he's polling high enough in South Carolina that he took a little bit of heat and occasionally made a nice point on something like climate change that was then steamrolled by crosstalk or moderator dismissiveness.

Sanders took a lot of pounding and probably came out much as he went in, support-wise. The criticisms of his recent comments about Cuba and his fast-and-loose approach to details on his big visions really didn't land in terms of peeling support away from him. It may end up factoring into whether he gains support from anyone else's bloc when others eventually drop out, though. Bloomberg at least twice invoked 9/11 as if he were trying to be Rudy Giuliani, plus he tried to be funny and charming and failed miserably. Klobuchar didn't move her needle either way.

Best lines that may or may not end up making the rounds:

  • Emphasizing the need for Democrats to gain seats in the Senate, Buttigieg said, "The time has come to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters."
  • Warren: "I've been in the Senate. What I've seen: gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority and then doesn't pass because of the filibuster. Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry."
  • Buttigieg: "We're not going to win these critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime."
  • "You're the moderators, guys." —Sanders to the alleged journalists, while everyone was yelling over each other
  • Warren: "Progressive ideas are popular ideas, even if there are a lot of people on this stage who don't want to say so."
  • "A majority of the American people I think right now just want to be able to turn on the TV, see their president, and actually feel their blood pressure go down a little bit, instead of up through the roof." —Buttigieg
  • "I'm looking forward to making sure there's a black woman on the Supreme Court." —Biden
  • "We need to bring working people back in to the Democratic party." —Sanders, who himself has still not joined the Democratic party
  • "It's not up to us to determine what the terms of a two-state solution are. We want to be a good ally to everyone in the [Middle-East] region. The best way to do that is to encourage the parties to get to the negotiating table themselves." —Warren
  • Also Warren: "We have got to use our military only when we see a military problem that can be solved militarily."
  • "Tommy come lately." —Biden
  • "I know a lot of black people." —Bloomberg

More Twitter goodness:

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Bernie Freak Out!!!!!

SandersWarren
Similar goals, different strengths

Three, count 'em, three states have held nominating procedures for the Democratic race for President. Two of those were caucuses, and the one that was a primary was effectively an open primary—very, very few people have yet had their say and New Hampshire allowed crossover voting. So of course this is the perfect time for everyone to FREAK THE FRAK OUT because Bernie Sanders is in the lead with 45 delegates. 1,991 are needed for nomination.

It's the nature of the system that early contests have ridiculous influence over the whole process. It's basically insane that this is the stage that could really truly determine who's viable and who isn't, but for now, anyway, it's the reality we live in. And the conventional wisdom among the punditry, for what that's worth, seems to be that there are too many candidates still standing to avoid a Bernie Sanders nomination through non-majority plurality.

I don't know if I buy the details of that conventional wisdom, but the broad strokes are troubling to me. Under normal circumstances it might just be a curiosity or a mild irritant, but circumstances are so far from normal I find I am very close to joining the freakout.

Don't get me wrong, I like Bernie Sanders when it comes to policy, in large part. Not entirely, but in large part. But I fear him as a general election candidate. That might be unfair, that might not stand up to thorough examination, but it's still there. I do not want him to be our nominee for a number of reasons, chief of which is that I am afraid the Republican propaganda machine will succeed in opposing him in a way it would not in opposing the other candidates. The Trumpers will paint him as a very different kind of socialist than he actually is and in too may people, it will stick. His failures to support sanctions on Russia are curious and those will be weaponized (incongruously, but still). His lack of specificity on how to finance his grand visions will be used to tar him as a fantasist (again without acknowledging the rank hypocrisy of it). His sort of unpleasant grumpy personality could work against him too. His health is in question and he's being a bit too secretive about it.

On the other hand, Sanders is energizing a voting bloc that we need—younger voters, a group that historically has been apathetic. Pro-Bernie advocates have argued that those new voters will (a) not support anyone else, and (b) will outnumber any groups that defect. Maybe.

I just don't want to risk it. Elizabeth Warren is my candidate of choice, as I've said before; I think she's a far, far better candidate not just in terms of policy but in terms of inclusiveness and attitude and ability to actually make progress, and she should be as attractive to those young voters as Sanders is (if they were to pay attention, which is far from certain). I know a couple of people that fear her as the nominee because of sexism (not theirs, but their perception of the electorate), but I think she's on pretty solid footing there. She's tough in a way that doesn't offend (at least, doesn't offend people that don't oppress other people) and she has more chops when it comes to fighting corruption—which, aside from preventing tyranny, should be either the number one or number two issue in this election, along with climate change—than anyone else by a long shot. Joe Biden is a troubling candidate because of how he presents himself and a kind of out-of-touchness he seems to embody, but I'd be fine with him, I think he could cut it. Klobuchar isn't a viable option, but I'd be OK with her too, if not super jazzed. Mayor Pete is evidently a super-smart guy, but I want him to get some more experience before jumping all the way from mayor of a modest city to president; still, I'm OK with him too. None of them seem nearly as risky as Sanders in the general, and all of them would probably have more success after becoming president.

Even if he were to win, I don't see Bernie getting very much accomplished. He has fine goals, but getting them done will take a lot of work and he's short on allies in Congress. He still won't join the Democratic party. He would have to become a Democrat by requirement if he were to win as the party's nominee, but he's stubbornly refused so far, which isn't exactly a problem but also seems a bit...off-putting? To congressional leadership, I mean (mostly). Again, Warren seems like a much better choice for making actual progress. Much better. Many of these younger Bernie devotees could end up jaded and disillusioned if he wins and doesn't get Medicare for All and free college passed into law in four years.

But in the grand scheme of things, I'd be happy to have to address that problem—right now the crisis is getting this tyrant out of the White House and restoring democracy and the rule of law to this country.

Bloomberg can go to hell, he's probably the worst guy we could put up. But Sanders makes me nervous and I don't want to nominate him either.

Go Warren.

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But is it Star Trek?

Picard

Last month the latest Star Trek series premiered and, naturally, I have thoughts.

Like the other currently-in-production series, Star Trek: Picard is a streaming-only, online-delivered product doing its part to make Lt. Cdr. Data's declaration that television as we've known it will only last until about 2040 come true. To save ourselves a bit of coin, some friends and I get together to watch episodes here, depriving CBS of several individual subscription fees. (They're doing OK, though.)

There is a difference of opinion about this show. Both in my Trek Night posse and in the wider culture. Some, even, in my own head. It's a complicated production. By and large it seems accepted that the show is a good piece of sci-fi, but does it rise to the level of Star Trek?

It's the same criticism that Star Trek: Discovery gets. On Discovery it's a more understandable complaint. They chose to play fast-and-loose with established canon in a prequel series and had to do some damage control on it; they canned the initial showrunner, Bryan Fuller, who is a huge fan and knows his Trek, and gave it to Alex Kurtzman, who, fairly or unfairly, has the taint of J.J. Abrams on him from their collaboration on the feature films Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, both of which were decidedly not up to Trek standard and the latter of which is a truly awful piece of work; and while the correctives in the second season were welcome, the show still has a bit of a doom-and-gloom aspect to it that rankles when the Star Trek future is supposed to be positive and hopeful. I still like it, lots of stuff there is good, and with year two I do think it counts as "real Star Trek."

Kurtzman is in the mix on Picard as well, but the writing staff here is led by one of my absolute favorite novelists, Michael Chabon. Someone who knows how to write and craft a story, someone who respects the Trek legacy, someone who knows about building characters. So already Picard is way better than Disco in some basic structural ways. But is it Star Trek?

I say yes, though I see some validity in the counter-arguments. In Picard, the story suggests failures on the part of the generally-utopian United Federation of Planets, hints at conspiracies to undercut the values our heroes are supposed to embody, and there's great disillusionment with the noble Starfleet organization that has been home to Trek heroes prior. And—in stark contrast to Star Trek: The Next Generation—it features characters that are deeply damaged: Raffi's conspiracy theories drove her family away and drove her to addiction issues; Rios had an as-yet-unspecified Starfleet experience that gave him some form of PTSD that left him a bit fatalistic; Picard himself has been nursing an outrage that damaged him; and Agnes...well, she's profoundly guilty about something and has probably been victimized by a Romulan spy. Even one of our villains seems to be conflicted to some degree. There are also relatively minor things that seem a bit "wrong," with references to individual wealth and Rios lighting up cigars here and there. (Nick Meyer may have thought smoking was a thing in Star Trek, but in that respect he was an idiot.)

But Star Trek has always been a vehicle to reflect issues of present-day society in a science-fiction wrapper. We had allegories to topics including the Vietnam war, segregation, and birth-control in the late ’60s; species extinction, ozone depletion, drug abuse, and traumatized veterans in the ’80s; glaznost, homelessness, gay acceptance (sort of), and terrorism in the ’90s; and a rather heavy-handed 9/11 reflection in the ’00s. So why not have Picard reflect the troubles of today—the United States has lost its way and has withdrawn from the world and become more isolated, so having the Federation abandon its humanitarian (I'm sure the Federation has a better word for that that isn't speciesist) mission to aid the Romulans and institute overreaching new laws in the name of security could make for a fine story, depending on the resolution (still to come). And our heroes—Picard himself and his motley crew of misfits—are upset with this. Jean-Luc Picard is probably the single-most idealized character in Trek canon and though here in his later years he is a bit jaded it's largely because his culture is not fulfilling his idealism. He is still the embodiment of moral goodness even if the civilization around him is stumbling a bit.

Plus, political conspiracies are nothing new to Star Trek. The difference (so far) is that when they've been story points before they were resolved heroically and to the culture's benefit. Is there even a political conspiracy afoot in Picard? Undoubtedly so, but it's not yet been revealed, and when it is how will it resolve?

There's also been a bit of confusion in my group here about what all has been drawn from Treks previous and what has not; Picard uses a fair amount of canonical Trek as its foundational bedrock, but most of the characters are new. There's a lot of implied backstory that assumes you know this history and can use it to fill things in. (There's a prologue novel—The Last Best Hope, by Una McCormack—that spells out a lot of that backstory, but it's not a necessity, just a rich supplement.) For someone like me, that's a plus; I'm steeped in this world and know all the deets better than some real-life history I should probably be up on. But I can see where it might bug others.

I've also seen objections to the fact that some of the characters swear in Picard, which is a silly criticism, and to some of the gore, which is not. Frankly, I'm more perturbed by Rios' smoking.

I like the show a lot. Whether it lives up to the high ideals expected of it remains to be seen, that's the nature of a serialized story. But I have faith in Michael Chabon. And I recommend it highly.

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