Bansei (2002-2021)

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Bansei (mid-late October 2002 - May 15, 2021)

Bansei did not wake me with a meow, asking to be fed. She did not sneak into the shower while the water was warming to sip the presumably much tastier water from the shower spigot. She did not rub her head against me or trill in anticipation of tuna. She did none of those things because she left me last Saturday, dying due to complications from kidney failure at the age of 18 years and 7 months.

I've lost cats before. Four now as an adult and at least that many as a child. It's always tremendously upsetting. I love my cats, past and present, all very much and all uniquely. Losing Bansei has been hitting me harder that I anticipated it would, and I've been anticipating it for a while now.

My truly awesome veterinarian gave me the bad news a few months ago, at Bansei's last regular senior checkup: the one functioning kidney was no longer functioning. Things were going to worsen, but for the time being it was manageable with medications and home hydration treatments. Bansei had been living with chronic kidney disease for nine and a half years, a slow and mostly imperceptible condition that would, every few years or so, take a leap and get worse but never really affected her daily life in any significant fashion until recently. About three or four years in it affected her litter box habits in an annoying (to me) way, otherwise the only way we knew there was a problem was when we'd do the lab tests at her semi-annual vet checkups. She was a tough old broad in that respect. Even in the midst of the end stages of her disease she continued to eat (though not enough), purr, enjoy the sun, and engage in activity commensurate with a kitty of her age, the equivalent of 90 in people years. Still, during the last couple of months there was no mistaking a deterioration in her overall health and I knew we were down to a matter of weeks, maybe months if we were really fortunate. Every time she had a relatively bad day I would steel myself, sometimes nervously going into a pre-mourn, but she always perked up shortly after.

One of the complications of not having working kidneys filter blood properly is hypertension. I knew this because I read whatever I could find online about feline renal failure, and I began to notice over the last ten days or so that her pupils tended to stay dilated more than seemed appropriate for the light level, an indication of said hypertension. Even so I was still surprised and not immediately cognizant of what exactly happened when Bansei had a stroke Saturday afternoon. I was out on my balcony and heard her yowl from inside. When I came in to check on her I couldn't find her right away, then saw out of the corner of my eye that she had tumbled down the stairs. She must have been walking out of the bedroom and toward the balcony door when the stroke hit her near the top of the stairs. I scooped her up, breathing but immobile, and held her close while I phoned my friends Amy and Lindsey for help. I knew there was nothing more to be done; the stroke had left her paralyzed. While I waited for Lindsey to come over, I held Bansei and stroked her and talked to her, trying not to cry lest I upset her further. I told her she deserved better, that I had done my damnedest to give her the very best life I could give her and how it was totally unfair that we did not yet have Dr. McCoy's kidney-growth pills that would have spared her this indignity.

BanseiTower

Lindsey (a licensed vet) arrived and helped ease Bansei's distress and bring her time to a close. It was, given the circumstances, probably the best outcome (except for the stroke) I could hope for, only a very brief period of severe suffering and absolutely no question that I was not acting prematurely. Yet I felt, and to a degree continue to feel, quite irrationally, that I failed my precious kitty.

Intellectually, of course, I know better. I know I did everything that could possibly have been done short of a traumatic hospitalization at the end of her life that I didn't want to put her through. But that's the thing with pets—they are utterly and completely dependent on their human(s) to take care of them. They trust us to do right by them. I was responsible for her, so even though I know full well that the only thing I could have possibly done differently was opt for a euthanasia in advance of any possibility of severe decline—something I could never bring myself to do—there are feelings of guilt. That I should have, somehow, done more.

The irrational guilt will pass, I know. It was the same when Pixel died a few years ago, and though circumstances were different back in the early aughts (veterinary malpractice, plus younger me not knowing as much as I do now), it was similar when Bansei and Pixel's predecessors, Charcoal and I-Chaya, died.

I've been cleaning up the condo yesterday and today, dismantling the various devices I cobbled together to help Bansei in her elderhood and mitigate her frailties. It makes the place look very empty in spots. I notice her absence everywhere. But for the rest of us, life goes on. I have Kuro-Raimei and Zephyr still to care for and comfort me. And I will always remember my Bansei.

I first met her on the last day of November, 2002, at what I've come to think of as the King County Animal POW Camp, a dreadful shelter down in Auburn. I'd been wanting to find a new kitten after losing I-Chaya a couple of months prior and checking out various places. On walking into the facility I decided instantly that I would be taking someone home from there if just to save her from that wholly unpleasant environment. Bansei was in a very small cage with two brothers, and she looked at me in what I anthropomorphised as anxious hope. I chose her, told the attendant, and then was told I couldn't have her yet as she hadn't been spayed. But I could put in the paperwork and come back three days later. I did, and took the estimated-to-be-seven-week old baby girl cat home and gave her the best name any pet cat has ever had in the history of cats: 伴星 (ばんせい).

BanseiKitten Pixel

She took immediately to Pixel, who was by then 2½ or so. The two of them played together and Bansei at that age liked to fetch foam golf balls I would toss around our small apartment on 45th Street. She grew up fast and still tried to squeeze into small spaces she used to fit into for a while after it was impossible for her. It wasn't long before she developed the first of her many many medical and dental problems; Bansei became the most expensive cat I've ever had by far. After we moved into a bigger space when she was around four, she had to have her first tooth removed due to a genetic predisposition for resorption. By the time she was middle-aged, she'd had all of her fangs removed—at times making her twist her mouth a bit in what I called her "tiny Elvis" face—and by the time she was elderly she only had a smattering of small teeth left. When she was 9 she'd apparently decided she didn't like the (rather expensive) food I was feeding her and went on a hunger strike; taking her in to see Dr. Schuldt and discover any underlying issue, we found that she had begun to go into liver failure due to lack of intake which was due to an infection and things looked very bleak. But Dr. Schuldt is the best, and though it took weeks in the hospital Bansei recovered fully, though her kidney disease began as a consequence of all that. She had another, briefer, hospital stay for a lesser ailment too. We needed great veterinary care and I'm grateful we were able to get it.

When I would go out of town Bansei would get anxious. Until her last couple of years, she was a fastidious groomer and when I was away for any length of time she would overgroom as a coping activity. This led to many hairballs in inconvenient places and taught me to lay towels on the bed and other furniture when I'd go on trips. Her temporary caretakers sometimes reported that Bansei made it known they were unwelcome invaders and that they were to leave the food and get out, else there would be trouble. I was sorry to hear this in most respects, but it also made me feel good—Bansei had a human and it was me, nobody else.

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She was upset when we moved again, into the home I'm in now. It was big and unfamiliar and she stayed in her cat-tree cube for nearly three days straight before getting accustomed to the new digs. Then she enjoyed the larger space to roam. When Pixel left us, Bansei was very sad, wailing and sniffing around and searching for her pal, and really was never the same afterward. Raimei joined us a few months later and, while this new kitten was very keen to be friends with Bansei, Ban-ban really wasn't having it with kitten energy. She adjusted and there came a sort of acceptance and détente, but to take some of the unwanted attention off Bansei, I brought in kitty number three, Zephyr, to be Raimei's principal playmate. It worked out well and we were a happy three-kitty fam.

Until last Saturday.

I will and do miss Bansei's loud voice, her subtle purr, and her loyal companionship. I will miss her forays into the shower, her insistence on only the best tuna-based food, the way she draped herself over the sofa arms on a hot day like a Salvador Dali painting. I will miss her insisting that it is time for my guests to leave when she's had enough of their presence. I miss her climbing into my lap when I watch TV and her favorite method of expressing affection, pressing her head up against mine and rubbing her cheeks on me to mark me as hers.

She was my unique and precious companion star, the Proxima to my Alpha (and to Pixel's Centauri-B). Without her I have a hole in my heart.

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Double Standards

Quite a couple of days it's been, eh?

There's a lot to be said about the attempted coup and attack on the Capitol building by some of the world's dumbest criminals, but I'm going to skip a lot of that right now. Other people are saying those things very eloquently anyway, particularly Chris Hayes:

But among all the talk and righteous outrage has been a lot of anger about the lack of force used by law-enforcement against the insurrectionists. That's the part I want to get into.

Firstly, the Capitol Police were (a) compromised by infiltrators/partly collaborating with the mob and (b) prevented from having adequate manpower to handle the situation by Federal officials, victimized by Trumpian sabotage. So even though their lack of preparation is astounding, it was part of the coup attempt and that should be factored into the outrage. That lack of manpower is a big reason there were so few arrests Wednesday—when you're that understaffed to begin with, you don't want to take more officers away from trying to handle a mob in order to book people—but hopefully there will be many arrests to come in the next several days. After all, so many of the mob members were quite willing to let us know who they are, with their selfies and carrying their phones with them the whole time and their stupid refusal to wear pandemic-practical face coverings. Finding them shouldn't be that hard.

But the thing that's bugging me is the backlash at the obvious double standards among police forces—surely, if these were BLM people demonstrating, there would have been lots of shooting, lots of beatings, a much higher death toll. Which is unquestionably true. For the reason that the people in charge have radically different agendas for those two circumstances, and because of systemic bias in law-enforcement that sees brownness as a threat and palefaces as protectees. That part of the outrage isn't what unsettles me, it's the next part of most of those complaints: "Where were all the rubber bullets and brutal beat-downs?" When that part is said in ironic fashion to illustrate the reality of the double-standard, right on, I'm with you. When it's meant literally, with a genuine wish to see the police assault and brutalize these insurrectionists—a group I have heard suitably described as "Vanilla Isis" and amusingly if not appropriately as "Y'all-Qaeda"—that's where I get a little queasy. We can't be out for blood for the sake of getting even.

Which isn't to say there shouldn't have been a decent-sized security force in place Wednesday, there absolutely should have been. After all, this was a known event, they fucking announced it to the world in advance. And said force should have repelled the mob when they tried storming the building for the safety of the officials and staff within. I would have preferred the members of that mob be subdued and arrested rather than helped down the Capitol steps and sent on their way after leaving the building they just vandalized.

But in the vein of two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right, brutalizing Vanilla Isis once they're not an immediate danger is just as bad as brutalizing Black Lives Matter protesters. Yeah, I'm human, I get the idea that there would be some satisfaction in seeing that asshole photographed with his feet on Nancy Pelosi's assistant's desk or the idiot carrying a lectern out of the Capitol laid out with a blow from a cop's baton; heck, it might feel good to take my Louisville Slugger to Ted Cruz myself. But we can't have it both ways. If beating up our black and brown neighbors for peacefully marching is intolerable—and it is—then we shouldn't be calling for similar smackdowns of these fuckers.

The Capitol Police need to be investigated, there were clearly elements of that agency that were in on the insurrection. But the rest of them were overwhelmed by design, hamstrung from being able to effectively contain the mob by the fact that the Defense Department and the Executive Branch of the Federal government—i.e. Trump and his minions, otherwise known as the instigators of the insurrection—control things like the DC National Guard and prevented aid from other jurisdictions from being speedily deployed.

There's so much outrage to go around with this event, it's truly gobsmacking that we are in this reality of a United States populated with a hefty percentage of people who are truly evil and/or astonishingly stupid and pathetic to allow a Donald Trump presidency in the first place. I just don't think it helps anyone to actually want to see heads cracked.

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Election Thoughts

Screenshot 2020 11 08 211107
The world rejoices, including this woman in Japan

Relief.

That's my top-line reaction to Election 2020: Stepping Back From Tyranny, the sequel that blew the pants off its progenitor, Election 2016: Racism is Back and it Brought Misogyny Along for Laughs. Composing a post to articulate my feelings from this week has been a challenge, because those feelings run the gamut. But relief, yeah. That's the biggest thing.

Going into Tuesday, I had convinced myself that I wasn't all that worried. Clearly, the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket was going to win, there was no possible way President VonClownstick had enough people in his basket of deplorables to match the rest of us, not after the 63 million people that voted for him last time saw how he actually performed for nearly a full presidential term. Sure, he and his corrupt minions were going to try every bit of ratfuckery that they could think of to suppress the vote and cheat their way to "victory," but, I told myself, we had the numbers. We would turn out a record-breaking tsunami of votes that would prove more than enough to counter the cheating.

In the end, I may have been right about the result, but I wasn't right about my confidence. I was lying to myself—I was worried. And it manifested as a knot in my guts Tuesday evening and really kicked into high gear when things were still too close to call Wednesday morning. The bastard was actually getting more votes than last time. Millions more.

How the—

what—

that's not—

It was dumbfounding. The logical portion of my brain was calm, I knew that circumstances remained favorable and that because of the pandemic the Republicans' favored methods of committing election fraud would be largely neutered. But my emotional condition was fraught. Like, I'm sure, many others around the country and around the world (and perhaps even some extraterrestrial observers, who knows), I found myself in a kind of stasis, continually either watching TV news coverage or reading Twitter feeds, needing to see updated results. (I call it Kornacki Syndrome.) It was exhausting, but I wasn't really aware how much so. By the time Saturday morning rolled around, I had gotten, I don't know, maybe eight or ten hours of sleep over the roughly four-day period, snatched in bits of two hours at a time and lightly enough that I was never far from waking up to check Twitter again. When all the press outlets called Pennsylvania and Nevada, confirming a Biden victory, it was like a string was cut. The tension relaxed and I fell asleep, deeply enough to have weird dreams and keep me out of commission for the entire rest of Saturday. Except for a brief interregnum to feed the cats, who had awoken me with unsubtle demands, I slept from around 9 in the morning until 2:30am.

The sleep was refreshing. I'm able to put my mind off the news. I read fiction most of the day and was able to be completely immersed in the book. The grip of anxiety that has been a constant companion for four years isn't gone—we've still got 73 days until Joe and Kamala take over, and you know it's going to be a rough transition—but it's vastly improved.

Relief.

But there's more, too. The flood of feelings includes several distinct emotive states.

Pride in the passion displayed by so many of the 75 million voters that got us here. A kind of relish in the success of efforts like that of fairfight.com to combat voter suppression and turn out people who historically haven't really participated. Glee in the utter foolishness of the Trump campaign's attempts at lawsuits to throw out votes. Even a kind of patriotic satisfaction in the power of an engaged electorate to overcome the forces of propaganda and fascism. Hope for a reform that will come with not only Biden and Harris leading the way, but with a score or more of outstanding congresspeople, including my own representative Pramila Jayapal, newly-elected Mark Kelley, Adam Schiff, and Val Demmings pushing for a better future.

On the flip side, though, there's fear. Fear of the more volatile cohort in Trump's fanbase, who will not take this well. Fear for the future, as 70 million Americans have shown themselves to be perfectly OK with authoritarian rule. Confusion about those Americans, a large portion of whom are almost certainly not evil but brainwashed; how does that happen, can they be reached, are they too far gone? Are they able to come to the realization that they've been conned, or are they too damaged? (Of course, a not-insignificant percentage of them know exactly what they were doing and are ruled by some combination of greed and hate and self-loathing, be they the likes of Mortimer Duke or George Zimmerman, and I've long accepted that we'll never be fully rid of them.) Outrage and disgust that there are pockets of this country that simply refuse to evolve; Americans this week reelected or elected for the first time some truly horrible people to both houses of Congress—Mitch McConnell, an evil man with no redeeming qualities, was handily reelected by the citizens of Kentucky; Lindsey Graham, an obsequious toady that is clearly being blackmailed, easily regained his seat; Devin Nunes, a Russian asset, is returning to the House. Louie Gohmert, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Joni Ernst, James Inhofe, and Darrell Issa—all terrible people—were all reelected.

We've done the most important thing. We've ousted Trump and given the United States the opportunity to fortify itself against potential future autocratic leaders. But there's a long way to go to bring this country into a worthy future, and parts of it may have to be dragged along kicking and screaming.

But for now, relief.

 

*ADDENDUM*

 

I just watched John Oliver's show from tonight and, naturally, he makes some of these points a lot better than I. Please to enjoy.

 

 

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May We Live in Interesting Times

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The past week has been, let's say, trying. I've not been doing well with it.

Those who have been readers of this irregularly updated site know of my struggles with what I refer to as the Black Hole; while in inapt metaphor in some ways, it serves my purposes. The gravity of depression is the worst thing about it—it pulls you into it and the deeper you go the more energy it requires to break free.

Except you can't ever break free of the Black Hole. It's always there, the best you can do is achieve a high, stable orbit. I manage this more often than not, thanks in large part to psychopharmacology, but not always.

Even when not in the grips of an episode, maintaining orbit requires a certain amount of energy. If you get sapped of that, you start losing altitude. Gradually at first, so slowly that it can be a week or three before you realize you've slipped and only notice when it gets to be closer to a free-fall.

Anyway, ever since President VonClownstick was declared the winner of the election four years ago, there's been an extra layer of tension in my psyche. Like many of us out there, I'm anxious. A kind of primed fight-or-flight response waiting to be triggered. My mind has been on a more-or-less constant Red Alert. This year it's only been ratcheted up. I mean, impeachment failed because the entire Republican party has become a corrupt anti-democratic scourge and then the pandemic hit. And that was met with such ignorance, disinterest, and astonishing levels of incompetence as to put the US Government effectively on the side of the coronavirus. It was already enough to drive one up the wall, and then RBG died, and we can't even give her the mourning she deserves because her death set off another round of nationwide anxiety attacks.

I hit the wall. Figuratively, I mean, I didn't actually punch my walls. But I was angry enough to. I was mad at pretty much everything for a while there. My Red Alert mind boiled over in frustrated rage at how our society put itself in an entirely predictable, entirely preventable, mostly self-inflicted catastrophic circumstance.

I've started to gain some altitude on the Black Hole. I'm not spewing anger at every turn any more. I'm a little more even-keeled. But the catastrophic circumstance we're living through is no better. After RBG died and we all set about fretting over how to prevent the VonClownstick brigade from further turning the Supreme Court into a fascistic rubber stamp for government by mobsters, the pre-election GOP propaganda and machinations to interfere and cheat went into overdrive.

I don't know how I'm going to keep up the necessary fight against the Black Hole over the next couple of months; I won't truly be able to relax and really climb to high orbit until this regime of criminal thugs is gone. But in the meantime, we've all got to do our part to make sure we actually get to that point.

That means, first and foremost, to ensure that everyone who is able to vote does vote in this election.

The Trumpsters are out there decrying voting isn't legitimate, that we need to "get rid of the ballots," that people shouldn't be allowed to participate unless they vow to support the incumbent. The president is on TV just about every day making such claims, railing against mail-in ballots, against early voting, against participation, basically. His claims are all bullshit, of course, but they have a purpose. The guy is by no means an intelligent person, but nor is he a total moron. There are one or two areas in which he has some competence, and manipulation is one of them.

The president is railing against voting by means other than in-person at polling places for two reasons. One, because he wants to lay the foundation for his inevitable "legal" challenges to the election when he loses; by squawking repeatedly for months about how mail ballots are fraudulent in advance of the election, before there could even be any evidence of what he wants us to believe, he hopes to make it seem reasonable to make that claim after the fact—he needs this advance primer because he knows his challenges will be baseless and wants to create a false basis in the minds of the public first. Two, and this is something I have yet to hear any media types give much attention to, because mail-in/absentee ballots leave a paper trail, and the more voters he can drive to in-person voting at polling stations, the more votes will be cast on machines that can be hacked and by methods that cannot be traced.

Donald Trump is the most obvious and most prolific practitioner of psychological projection anyone's ever seen on a national scale. When he accuses someone he considers to be an opponent of a certain behavior, you can bet it's because he himself is doing it. Be aware of that whenever you hear him accuse someone of something nefarious. He is accusing the Democratic party of dishonesty and thievery because he is dishonest and thieving. He may actually believe it; it is entirely possible that he cannot conceive of other people behaving in ways he does not, that he truly believes that everyone is as crooked and self-interested as he is because what else is there? He has no frame of reference for anything else.

Anyway, that's a whole 'nother tangent. The point right now is that we all have to vote. We have to turn out in unprecedented numbers, to cast an avalanche of votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris so large that it overwhelms the efforts of the VonClownstick faithful to cheat and sue and discredit their way to "victory." Everyone, if you're not yet registered to vote, do so now. Get an absentee ballot if you can. Cast it as soon as possible. Do everything you can to ensure your ballot is able to be counted on or before election day.

'Cause this is it. If this goes badly, this country is over and we're on our way to being Trumpistan. Donald Trump and the Republican party have declared war on the United States Constitution and on democracy itself, and if we allow them to win that war all bets are off. We have to beat them. Soundly and decisively. And then make sure this can't ever happen again.

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First-World Problems

st ultcomp15

It's been a week—more, really—of frustration here aboard StarshipTim, with the various components of my computer infrastructure all choosing to crap out on me in quick succession. Things are on their way to normalcy, but the journey has been a bit more adventurous than I'd prefer. I would not call it fun. Lots of time ended up being wasted and delays were/are getting a little extreme on some other items needing my attention.

And I missed out on some stuff I had intended to be quite attentive to this week, including the DNC. I did watch most of Wednesday night's convention program in real time, that was the slate I was most intrigued by, with President Obama and Senator Harris headlining. (And they were both great, by the way.)

But this technofiascofubarmeltdown, which really started a few weeks ago when I decided my laptop had met the end of its usefulness as a portable device, isn't over yet. I'm able to type this on my office PC now only through tenacious determination to make the frakking thing work.

Anyway. Laptop: replaced. The replacement machine is very nice, I'm pleased with it despite it arriving with a small problem of some stuck pixels on its screen. Fixed for now, but I wonder how often that problem is going to recur. It's a refurbished item, bound to have some issues, but for that I could afford it was a pretty sweet buy.

Office PC: under repair. This computer is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster, starting with what at the time I acquired it was a new motherboard and case and CPU, then gradually added onto over the years with expanded capacities and swapped out components and pieces recycled from old PCs. During the setup of the new laptop, which I had networked to the office in order to install common software, this PC spontaneously rebooted to a backup drive. First sign of trouble, and since I didn't even remember I had installed  the backup drive the last time I had a drive failure, it freaked me out a bit until I realized I still had all my stuff. Anyway, a little restart repair procedure and all was well again, or so I allowed myself to think, until little chirpy noises started to emanate form the desktop box. Weird, but I figured it was a fan and swapped in another fan from my box of random parts. Then it spontaneously rebooted again. Then crashed. The OS drive—the "Bridge"—isn't that old, I thought, but run some checks on it.

All tests fine. Hm. OK. Let's clone it just in case. OK, but the clone wouldn't boot, even after rebuilding the boot manager. (And that chirping was back.) Not good, corruption was in the mix pre-cloning. Still, I had everything backed up, so we'll just use that backup drive—"Auxiliary Control"—and load everything onto that, turn it into the main drive for now. It's old, though, so once that's up and running try and fix the Bridge drive. No bad sectors, after all, and of the four HDDs in the thing it's the second-newest. While we're doing that, put Windows 10 on it so I can have a dual-boot system for those times when I want something that runs on one system but not the other, and for consistency with the laptop.

All going fine, if a bit tediously, getting all the software reinstalled and the programs back to the way I like them. Then, as I'm about done, the damn thing spontaneously reboots again, only this time it gets stuck at the reboot process and when I do get it to start it sometimes lets me choose which drive to boot to and sometimes not, and either way takes nearly 10 minutes to do it, and the chirping, STOP THE CHIRPING!

This afternoon's crash, after finally getting my backups reloaded, I admit defeat: This drive is kaput. No bad sectors, no apparent corruption of data in the new installs, but crashes and ten-minute boot sequences and chirps—now definitively NOT from any fans—and the latest symptom, failure to be recognized by the BIOS, and I have to call it. TOD: 11:43pm.

Working from Auxiliary Control is fine for now. It's got all I need. But it's much smaller than The Bridge was, and quite a bit older, so I will once more be scouting the eBays for a new drive. With luck, the Bridge can be recovered and transplanted with the aid of EaseUS or similar help; if not, well, we'll just do all this setup one more time.

But for the moment, I think we're good. I'll install any remaining programs as their need arises and can now get back to the requests of some clients and covering the Mariners on grandsalami.net and paying stricter attention to the news and fixing the deficiencies on my catio and catching up on the Reading Pile. Oh, and I see the new season of Lucifer is on Netflix now, so...

OK. Got through this long rambling post and not once has the computer so much as hiccupped. So I think it's safe to shut it down without fear of never getting it started again. Here we go.

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Good Choice

Biden-Harris

 

Excellent.

This is a great pairing, and Kamala has exactly the right kind of chops to take on the VonClownsticks.

Everyone make sure you're registered to vote, and vote as soon as you can. Get those ballots in before the corrupt administration can "lose them" or invalidate them or otherwise cheat them out of the picture.

And the cheating will be massive. The Russians are already doing their thing, the post office is being dismantled, Barr will facilitate any tyrannical moves Trump and co. can think of. We must turn out in such massive numbers that they are overwhelmed.

Otherwise this country is finished.

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Convergence of Catastrophe

Rachel sums things up pretty well.

 

 

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Class is in Session With Professor John Oliver

Everyone watch this. That is all.

 

 

 

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Anxiety Today

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I was on a Zoom call yesterday with members of my softball team, just shooting the breeze about whatever, you know, trivialities and silliness, but near the end of the hour-plus we were talking, we inevitably got to discussing the current state of chaos outside our windows and in the country generally.

I remarked that I was feeling a greater level of anxiety than ever, an unprecedented-for-me nervous anticipation of disaster, and one of my teammates asked me what, specifically, I was anxious about. I found it to be a tougher question to answer with any eloquence than it really should have been. I suppose that's partly due to the anxiety itself, flummoxing my search for appropriate words. And part of my lack of eloquence may have stemmed from a stunned reaction to the question. Wasn't the source of my anxiety self-evident? Weren't the disasters I was afraid of obvious?

Well, maybe not. I'm more immersed in news and current events than a lot of folks, and I'm older than some of my teammates on the call. My politics might be different than theirs, which wouldn't matter in years past, but today means I get information that other people aren't necessarily exposed to. So maybe I need to try again, to better articulate my anxiety. I'll give it a go.

What is happening in this country today, this week, this month, this year—pandemic, racism and police brutality, an impeached president that got away with his crime, all of it—is fucking insane and plenty enough cause for alarm, but most of my anxiety comes from the government response to all of that. Mayors and governors are gaslighting their constituents about the police brutality perpetrated in response to protests over police brutality. The president of the United States is demonstrating his unabashed fascism without any real pushback from within the administration. These are extremely upsetting developments and there is absolutely zero reason to assume they will fade away on their own. Locally, things seem to be calming with some real communication happening between protesters and the mayor of Seattle, and our governor is plenty sane. But the nation's government is on the verge of becoming an enemy force, of we the people and of the states and cities, and that freaks me out.

That sounds like a hyperbolic statement. It isn't. Donald Trump is a literal fascist. Even if everything he has said and done prior to this hasn't bothered you, just look at what he has done in the last two or three days. He has an unidentified and therefore unaccountable paramilitary force patrolling Washington, DC. He has ordered police and military to assault Americans for no reason beyond his convenience. He has threatened the nation's governors with military invasion if they don't start cracking heads. He has had fencing erected not just around the White House, but around public grounds near the White House to fortify it against American citizens that have the temerity to dislike him and say so, in ways expressly permitted in the U.S. Constitution. He has indicated that he considers protests of American citizens against racism and police brutality to be insurrection against the United States government. He has said so by threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act, which he thinks would allow him to mobilize the American military as his own personal gestapo.

Perhaps more importantly, he has people supporting him that appear to be completely on board with his fascism. Not just the MAGA redhat idiots that are fast becoming a new KKK, but the Attorney General of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader and scores of House and Senate Republicans, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, many if not all of the other members of the Cabinet. (Yes, Defense Secretary Esper went on TV to say he didn't support Trump's threat to use the military on Americans, but hours later he caved to pressure and got back in line behind fascism.) The United States is threatened today as it never has been before, and that is because elected (more or less) leaders are betraying their oaths to respect, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States on a daily basis.

If not for these betrayals, if not for these people who value personal power and oppression over the Bill of Rights, if not for these so-called leaders shrugging their shoulders when abuses are committed over and over and over again, Donald Trump would have been removed already. By invocation of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution or by conviction in the impeachment trial. He'd be gone. Even if you choose to ignore everything that came before in these 3½ years, the actions taken in the last 48 hours would be enough for a truly American cabinet to remove this president right now.

The fact that this president remains president, the fact that Mitch McConnell and the McConnell Minions refuse to do anything to constrain him, sets the tone for leaders in other offices. The governor of Texas "jokes" about shooting journalists. Senator Chuck Grassley says "it's OK" to use police force to clear peaceful protesters from a park if a small fraction of them could be a "potential problem." Senator Marco Rubio called the protesters in Washington, DC, "professional agitators." Even Democratic officials are taking cues from the White House—Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio, both Democrats, are today defending the New York police department and claiming they don't brutalize people despite the evidence of our own eyes and ears. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti praised the LAPD this week and downplayed the brutality perpetrated by that same LAPD. It's all fine. Keep on with the thing that has people outraged and demonstrating in the streets in the first place. We can lie to the public and say nothing bad is happening; after all, that's what the president does.

Maybe younger folks are inured to this. Maybe people whose formative years coincided with 9/11 and the reaction thereof don't have the same sense of shock and outrage and fear because some level of lawless and un-American behavior from national leaders seems normal. It's not. The Bush years, bad as they were—and they were very, very bad, as bad as a lot of us thought this country would or even could ever get in terms of presidential leadership—were a scratch in comparison to the gaping, infected wound the Trump Administration has inflicted on the entire world. Horrible as he was, George W. Bush never wanted to be a fascist dictator. And in the Obama years, Mitch McConnell stoked an opposition party and screw-you-all policies that fed the same kind of authoritarian, trample-the-Constitution ideology that Trump now personifies.

So maybe this seems like more of the same and nothing to freak out about, because isn't this the way things just are?

No. Not by a long shot.

For anyone not sufficiently convinced that we're in a dire and critical juncture of history here, I recommend listening to or reading the transcription of this interview from the podcast Deconstructed. It's published by The Intercept, which counts among its staff people I do not consider to be reputable journalists (looking at you, Glenn Greenwald), but Deconstructed host Mehdi Hasan is not Greenwald, and the content of this individual report is bang-on.

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Reform the Police

policeclipart

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

picard

"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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