Disengage

Today’s prompt from The Daily Post: Test

“Here’s what you do.” As she talked, Annie removed the band that was losing its grip on her brown ponytail. “Extend your arm, like you’re trying to hit me, but keep the rest of your body quiet, don’t lunge yet. Wait for OK to bring her blade over to parry, then loosen your grip a little, let gravity drop the blade.” Band secured and ponytail once again riding pertly behind her head, Annie lowered her arms down to her side. “Start your lunge, and bring the blade up on the other side of hers. Understand?”

Standing to Annie’s left and several feet across from where Aurora O’Kelley waited in full fencing gear, The Bird nodded slowly, and said she guessed she was ready.

“Just take it slow.” OK’s voice raised in tone with each word. “Have some fun!”

The Bird nodded again, then placed her gray mask over her head. Securing the lower end under her chin, she then saw Annie offering her a foil. “The disengage is one of the most effective attacks in fencing.” The Bird noticed Annie was speaking in the same cadence as Coach Dan. “It’s all about timing and execution, not speed or strength.” Annie then commanded The Bird into en garde position, and waved OK closer.

“Extend.” At Annie’s prompt, The Bird propelled her slender body forward, stopping at Annie’s order to halt. “Don’t lunge yet, just extend.” The Bird stepped back, her apology dismissed by Annie’s waving hand. “Don’t show me you’re sorry, show me the correction. Extend.” The Bird brought her arm forward, a toothpick holding on to a match; Annie grasped the blade, directed its point at OK. “Aim at the target, always.” Still holding the blade, Annie looked over at OK — “Now parry.” Bringing her arm across her body and rotating, OK brought her foil towards The Bird’s. Annie let go of the blade, then grabbed The Bird’s wrist — “Keep your arm steady, just loosen your grip on the handle.”

The Bird realized she was completely under Annie’s command, obeying her instructions like a robot. As she unflexed her fingers, and watched the thin blade of her foil fall like a clock’s minute hand, she glanced over at Annie, whose eyes watched approvingly. The Bird sensed she was being tested, not so much for her ability to perform this action but rather for her coachability. OK’s blade continued along its path, passing over The Bird’s blade; Annie released her grip — “Now bring up the blade, and lunge.”

The Bird felt her body come forward, as if cords on her back had been suddenly cut, and her blade came up as if it were leading her. Her foot landed softly, as did the point of her blade, landing squarely on OK’s jacketed chest. “Cool!” OK’s smile was visible behind her gray mask. “That was awesome!”

Standing and bringing her foil back towards her, The Bird looked over at Annie. “Well done,” the sophomore said, her lips tight but eyes betraying a smile.

For Surak

Today marks the finale to my week-long series of comments on the US Presidential election this November. I’ve explained why I’m voting for Clinton (despite my reservations about her record, and a Biblical disgust with her “deplorables” speech), had some fun in presenting the case both for and against Trump, gave the third-party candidates more attention than they probably deserve, and provided a running analysis of the first debate.

One last promise remains to be kept — that Star Trek reference. Have to pay homage to the man in that bowl-cut hairdo, pointy ears, and serious eyebrows.

If you’re a fan of the original television series from the 1960s, you may recognize that the image at the top of this post is not Spock, but rather a different Vulcan, Surak. (Many Vulcan names begin with S, end with k, and have five letters. You’re welcome.) He appeared in one of the final shows of that initial run, titled “The Savage Curtain” but often referred to by Star Trek fans as “The Abe Lincoln Episode.” That’s because the show begins with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock scanning a planet for life forms, when all of a sudden the Great Emancipator appears on the Enterprise’s viewscreen, complete with Amish beard and stovepipe hat, sitting on a marble seat like he’s posing for his memorial. And believe it or not, the episode only gets weirder after that.

rockpeople

He’s actually called Yarnek, and he’s an Excaliban, but it’s a lot more fun to just call them Rock People

At Honest Abe’s invitation, Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet, where they all meet the Rock People. (I will eventually get to US politics; just hang in there with me a little bit longer.) They apparently can read minds and create humans (out of rocks, I guess), and like to stage “plays” to learn about people who aren’t made out of rocks. For their next play, they’ve created Genghis Khan and a team of Bad People, and order Kirk and his team to fight them to the death. See, the Rock People want to understand the difference between good and evil, which they obviously need to study since they apparently have no problem with kidnapping people and forcing them into mortal combat.

To help out Team Kirk, the Rock People also create Surak, who’s like the Buddha or Moses of Vulcan; Spock is very impressed, even though Surak’s probably made out of rocks like Lincoln. The Bad People then show up and start throwing plastic rocks, and after Team Kirk repels the attack and regroups, Surak tells his teammates he will no longer fight, but will rather go to the other team and propose a peace treaty. Kirk tries to dissuade him, but Surak dismisses his arguments; many peace emissaries, Surak explains, were killed on Vulcan before the logic of peace was finally accepted. Surak then goes off and gets himself killed; Lincoln tries to save him and gets a spear in the back; the Bad People attack again, Team Kirk wins, and the Rock People let them beam back to the Enterprise so they can fly around space for two more episodes before getting cancelled and then becoming legends on UHF.

Oh right, this is about politics. In a recent poll, seven percent of respondents reported they have lost a friendship over this year’s election. More so than in past election cycles, the conversation between the major political parties has turned into a shouting match, neither side willing to give any consideration to the other; thoughtful debate has been replaced with a mindless battle of insults, the “winner” being the one who comes up with the most clever putdown.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I don’t often write about politics. I had engaged in political debate during my graduate school years, and let’s just say I didn’t do well at it — I’d get frustrated, angry, and end most discussions suffering some form of embarrassment. I realized I wasn’t very good at political discourse, and for no other reason than the sake of my mental health, decided to stay silent.

The nastiness of this election, however, has inspired me to try again, this time with the goal of somehow elevating the level of political discourse. To agree, but challenge; to disagree, but continue the conversation. I want to channel my inner Surak, taking the high road and approaching my adversaries with words of logic, challenging their ideas without insulting their integrity, refusing to see political arguments as a fight to the death but a struggle in which both combatants can win. It’s not going to be easy, will be more work than fun at times, and I expect to be hit with plastic rocks and get a few spears in the back along the way. But that’s how I’ve got to do this; besides, the father of Vulan philosophy wouldn’t have it any other way.

All right, Star Trek reference is completed, as is my political commentary, at least for now. Time to move on to a different subject tomorrow.

Deplorable

Reuters/Isop poll on racial attitudes

Let me start by declaring that I will not renege on two promises I made when starting this series of political posts last week:

  1. I’m going to stop soon
  2. There will be a Star Trek reference

(Although given the subject matter, breaking a promise would be entirely appropriate.)

There’s one more topic I need to address before I boldy go into the final frontier, something that’s been bothering me ever since I read the following statement from Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.

Those words have become a rallying cry for supporters of both Trump and Clinton, and will likely become the signature moment of this election. I simply can’t end my commentary without reflecting on their significance.

I believe that statement was a mistake, and a foolish one at that, for the following reasons:

  • It was politically useless. In both substance and style, every word in a presidential campaign will be broadcast, spun, analyzed, dissected, misinterpreted, abused, hailed, disparaged; candidates must use words strategically, with the knowledge that what inspires their supporters will also be used against them by the opposition. Clinton’s “deplorables” speech, delivered to a friendly crowd already committed to supporting her, was a sermon delivered to the choir, and did nothing to broaden her appeal (her poll numbers have gone down steadily after the speech). To borrow a phrase from tennis, the speech was an unforced error that could only hurt her chances of winning in November.
  • Casual attempts to prove its veracity are unreliable. Some Clinton supporters have defended her statement by claiming it was, well, accurate. Support for this argument typically comes from survey data on racial attitudes (such as the one I included at the top of this post) which, if you look at the numbers, do indeed show that nearly half of Trump supporters believe blacks are less intelligent, lazier, ruder, and more violent than whites. Here’s the problem with that data — any person with even a Homerian (Simpson, that is) level of intuition would be able to see the intent of the survey questions, and many would respond less than honestly. You can’t accurately measure racial attitudes by asking people what they believe — you have to observe what they actually do. Do pedestrians cross the street when approaching a group of black teens? Are customers more likely to count change provided by black cashiers? Are black employees more likely to be disciplined by managers for being late to a meeting? That kind of data is far more reliable than survey responses, which provide information that likely underestimates the scope of the problem. Which leads conveniently to my next point.
  • It effing reeks of hypocrisy. An implicit argument of the “deplorables” speech, and all of its supporters, is a self-righteous identification of the problem — “it’s them people, causing the trouble.” But let’s take another look at that survey data, shall we? Between a quarter and a third of all responders said yes to most questions, and as stated above, Trump supporters were notably above the average on all responses. But take a look at the responses from Clinton supporters — they are all within single percentage points of the average, making them little if no better custodians of racial morality than the general population. Any honest evaluation of the survey data suggests that racism is a virus that can infect anyone, regardless of political affiliation. In other words, if you believe the survey reveals a sizeable mote in the eye of Trump supporters, you also gotta think you could build a frigging bridge outta all them beams Clinton supporters are lugging around. All the sanctimonious defenses of the “deplorables” speech are rooted in crass hypocrisy, a transparent and pathetic attempt at scapegoating, and need to be thrown back onto the steaming dunghill in Hell from where it was stolen.

It’s not going to happen, but I wish another line from Clinton, delivered last night in the first debate, would supplant the “deplorables” speech as the one memory of this election preserved by history. It was a response to a question on whether she believed the police were inherently biased against blacks, a belief she had suggested in a different campaign speech:

Implicit bias is a problem for all of us, not just the police.

Survey responses, and the more telling interactions in our society, will not improve until we reach that level of understanding.

 

Surviving the Debate

Doing something different today — making notes on tonight’s Presidential debate. This isn’t a live stream, but I’ll keep my editing after the fact to a minimum.

9:07 – Clinton begins with her laundry list of economic proposals; comprehensive and uninspiring. Trump accuses China and Mexico of stealing American jobs

9:16 – Clinton claims Trump took advantage of the housing crisis; Trump interrupts, says “that’s just business.” There’s your sound clip.

9:21 – Trump calls out Clinton’s change of mind on the Trans Pacific trade act; her attempts to explain it away aren’t going to work

9:25 – feeling really sorry for Lester Holt

9:29 – Clinton’s sticking to her guns on tax increases

9:31 – Holt asks Trump on releasing his tax returns; Trump attempts to make a deal for Clinton’s 33 thousand emails. Clinton speculates about what he’s hiding.

9:39 – Clinton talks about the people Trump has refused to pay; he responds by suggesting he’ll file a negative review of their work on Angie’s List.

9:44 – the debate shifts to race. Clinton talks about criminal justice reform and gun control; Trump talks about restoring law and order, and implementing stop-and-frisk in Chicago. Holt reminds Trump that stop and frisk was found unconstitutional; Trump says the judge was wrong.

9:53 – Clinton: “Implicit bias is a problem for all of us, not just the police.” That might be the closest we get to a profound statement this evening.

9:55 – Trump reminds Clinton that her husband’s administration coined the term “superpredator;” so now he’s the guy holding the Clintons accountable?

9:58 – Clinton gets applause for saying she’s been preparing to be President; Trump does the eye roll

9:59 – here we go! Holt asks about Trump’s birther views, and he tries to blame it on Clinton. She doesn’t respond to his charges, then hits him for the lawsuits he was hit with for discriminatory housing. His response — “its just one of those things.”

10:06 – cybersecurity. Clinton claims Russia broke into the Democratic National Committee’s network, and hints at Trump’s close relationship with Putin. Trump blames a 400-pound hacker.

10:13 – how to prevent home-grown terrorist attacks; Trump blames it on not taking Iraq’s oil. Clinton says we need to cooperate with Muslims here and abroad

10:19 – Holt says Trump supported invaded Iraq in 2002; Trump says he didn’t. Holt says the record shows differently.

10:22 – Trump says his temperament is better than Clinton’s. And when Clinton suggests he would start a war if our troops were taunted, he agreed.

10:32 – Trump restates a Holt question with a sexist attack on Clinton’s stamina

10:38 – Clinton says she’ll support the outcome of the election; Trump eventually agrees, only after suggesting illegal immigrants will cast illegal votes for Clinton.

10:40 – thankfully, it’s over. Both candidates basically repeated their talking points, but Trump made more mistakes (“that’s business”) than did Clinton.

Because Fear Sucks

Reluctant supporters of both Clinton and Trump often promote their candidate as the lesser of two evils — an argument that Green Party candidate Jill Stein has dismissed as “the politics of fear.” I’ve always felt more satisfied when voting for a candidate rather than against their opponent, and in that spirit I offer the following reasons for casting my presidential vote this fall for the Democratic nominee:

  • I agree with her positions on many issues. I don’t like her proposal for guaranteed family and medical leave (yet another burden for small businesses), her immigration reform plan offers a path to citizenship that I’d rather not see, and I think her statements on Wall Street reform are disingenuous. But there’s a lot I do like, such as her plan for infrastructure improvements (and yes, I know that means taxes, my taxes, are going up). Among all the candidates on the presidential ballot, Clinton is by far the one whose ideas are closest to my own — and I can’t think of a stronger criterion for choosing a candidate.
  • She has experience working with Republicans. Democrats may retake the Senate this fall, but certainly won’t have enough votes to prevent filibusters and may not be able to continue control in 2018 — and they are highly unlikely to take the House. Given this reality, Clinton’s extensive contacts in Washington become a benefit; she has certainly exaggerated her bipartisan record, but her track record suggests she would work better with an adversarial Congress than any of the other candidates.
  • She’s tough. From the moment she arrived in the White House back in 1992, Clinton has been under attack almost continually. Some of that criticism has been fair (using a personal email server as Secretary of State wasn’t criminal, but it was certainly careless), some was motivated by partisan politics — but too much of it has been personal and misogynistic. And when she stepped down from State four years ago, nobody, other than the usual gang of haters, would have blamed her if she decided to walk away from all the nonsense. But she not only came back, she decided to pursue her greatest ambition one more shot, knowing the pressure would only increase. I not only admire her resiliency, I believe it to be a desirable quality for a leader.

That pretty much wraps up my analysis of the coming election. But I do have an afterword for tomorrow — and will finally get to that Star Trek reference I promised.

Time to Go Green, or Love the Libertarians?

I can’t vote for Trump, but have reservations about Clinton. And I’m not alone — both the Republican and Democratic candidates have net unfavorable ratings in public opinion polls. An ideal environment, it would seem, for either or both of the Libertarians and Greens, parties that, like a shirt stain that neither spreads nor disappears, stubbornly remain on the fringes of American politics.

Going third-party isn’t out of the question for me. John Anderson in 1980, Ralph Nader in 2000 — seems like I cast a protest vote every 20 years. And whenever I consider Jill Stein’s Green Party or Gary Johnson’s Libertarians, it’s like being on a blind date that’s going well. Hey, I don’t know much about you, but I dig some of your ideas. End the war on drugs! Abolish torture! Let women make their own reproductive decisions!

But then you ask a few more questions — seriously, you don’t believe in mandatory vaccinations? — and then some hard truths become evident about that person sitting in the Applebee’s booth across from you:

  • Some of their ideas are just plain wacky. Stein believes Wi-Fi signals are a threat to students, and Johnson believes our nation’s gun laws are too restrictive. Well that’s…unique.

  • They haven’t accomplished much, and their prospects for the future are dim. Both the Green and Libertarian parties have been around for decades, and they’ve never threatened to break the threshold (15% support in the polls) required to get on the presidential debate stage. And despite near optimal conditions this year for expanding their appeal, they have had no impact on the campaign. Maybe all you need is a some good luck.

  • Fool me once… I was voting for the first time in 1980, and was politically naive; gimme a mulligan that year. Twenty years later, I was living in a state with a non-competitive race, and hoped my vote would propel the Greens to the debate stage in 2004. I don’t believe my vote enabled Bush the Younger to become President (he lost my state by a half million votes!), but this year, I’m not taking any chances. Hey, thanks for the invite, but I feel like I need my own space tonight.

In the current election cycle, third-party candidates had their opportunity in the summer, after the two major parties had their conventions and both of their candidates remained mired in their net unfavorable ratings. But Labor Day has passed, and the alternative parties have failed to broaden their appeal. I really do wish them well, and hope either or, ideally, both can make a serious challenge four years from now (when I will have entered what appears to be my cicadan rhythm for voting third party). But this year — sorry. Not happening.

If Trump is Your Answer, You’re Asking the Wrong Question

One of several monuments to Trump’s ego. Yes, it went bankrupt.

Unlike my contribution from yesterday, I had planned to play this one straight — and then, that second glass of wine arrived. But come to think of it, my current state seems somehow appropriate, given my subject matter.

The following lists my justifications for refusing to give any serious consideration for voting for Trump this November:

  • Each of his ideas has all the sophistication of a maniacal plan devised by a comic book villain. Where the hell do I start? Incarcerating women who have an abortion? Registering Muslims? Pulling out of NATO? Establishing unconstitutional police tactics as a national policy? Starting economically disastrous trade wars? Let’s go with what seems to be his personal favorite, as he keeps coming back to — that 2000-mile-long wall he wants to build along the southern US border. Would it stop all those nasty people he says the Mexican government is sending our way? Of course not — almost half of undocumented workers in the USA are here because they are overstaying the expiration of legal work visas, and does nothing to prevent employers from searching for cheap, exploitable labor. Much like Doctor Doom, Trump consistently fails to think through the potential complications with his grandiose plans. Attention focused solely on the end result (it’s gonna be great), he leaves the niggling details to his befuddled underlings, then blames them when it all falls apart. You’re fired!
  • He admires tyrants. Vladamir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Abdel-Fattah al-SissiMussoliniSaddam Hussein, for chrissakes — Trump has praised far too many dictators, too many times, for these to be brushed aside as mistakes in casual conversation. Of course, our current President has also been chummy with dictators, as have past leaders of our country — but none have expressed the level of respect that Trump has consistently expressed, and this admiration suggests his governing style could be similarly autocratic.
  • Success in business does not guarantee success in politics. Even if we accept the notion that Trunp has been a successful businessman (which is highly debatable — how many of his ventures have gone bankrupt?), it is utter folly to assume that success will translate into politics. A business owner can fire his managers, but a President can’t fire Congress or the Supreme Court. Well actually, he could fire them. But only if he declared emergency powers, invoked martial law. In other words, if he decided to become a dictator. But of course, dictatorship has absolutely no appeal for him …

All this, and I didn’t say a word about the flaws in his personal character (you know, his misogyny, temper, vindictiveness, etc.). That’s because I think all of that pales in comparison to the damage his ideas and executive style would inflict on our country. We have a lot of problems, to be sure; a President Trump would only make them worse.

Am I Really Going to Do This?

Yes I am, no matter how much it pains me. As part of my analysis of the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, I will, to the best of my abilities, present a reasoned, articulate argument for voting for the Republican candidate and complete freaking maniac, Donald Trump. As I wrote yesterday, exploring the other side of an argument (even when that side is false and dangerous) is a good way to strengthen your own position. And the only way to do this effectively, is with conviction (nobody said having principles would always be easy).

Somebody please stop me before I keep typing. All right then! Here is my list of reasons for thinking that Trump might actually be a good choice for President:

  • He’s an outsider. Trump has never held a political office (there’s a reason for that), and his relationship with the Washington establishment is shaky at best. Comfort and complacency in the capital has led to an almost continual state of gridlock; his presence in the White House could be a welcome disruption, assuming he doesn’t wreck the place.
  • He is distrusted by both major political parties. Democrats loathe his policy positions, and Republicans fear he is ruining their party’s plan to appeal to a more diverse, younger electorate. Partisan bickering is a major contributor to legislative inaction; the parties might be able to find room for unity in opposition to Trump’s combativeness, an instinct he can’t seem to avoid. Oh God I can’t DO THIS anymore!
  • He doesn’t care what people think. It’s possible that Trump could propose a law, treaty, or military action that makes sense  (you’ll know if it happens, because it will occur just after a full orchestra of flying monkeys emerges from his posterior and performs Mozart). And for political reasons, one or both parties may object to that idea. Never one to worry about the consquences of his actions, Trump would bully, cajole, and literally force his idea (up to and most likely including the dismantling of most Constitutional protections against executive overreach) past any opposition.

There. I can breathe now. Might need to take a shower. Looking forward to tomorrow, when I can start walking back some of what I’ve forced myself to have written today.

The Case Against Clinton

hillaryclintonphiladelphiaairportFor better or worse, I’m following through on my idea from yesterday to write about this fall’s presidential election in the USA. It’s an itch that’s got to be scratched, so for the next several days there’ll be no fiction, no lame poetry, no prompt responses, no reblogs. If politics ain’t your thing, you might want to check out for a while; catch up with you later.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I’m no fan of the man I call The Fraud. As I’ll explain in a future post, I’m also not in favor of voting for any of the third-party candidates that will be on the ballot. (Odd to use that term for multiple candidates; shouldn’t there be a fourth-party, fifth-party etc?) That leaves one candidate, the nominee of the Democratic Party, former First Lady / Senator / Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s who I’ll be voting for on November 8.

But, in the best tradition of high school debate, I’m going to start this series of posts by outlining the case against my position. It’s a useful exercise, demonstrating an understanding of the opposing argument and thereby strengthening your own. (At least that’s what I always said when teaching Freshman Composition.) About thirty seconds of Google searching will yield a wealth of negative information about Clinton — some of it based in fact, many of it motivated by bias, and quite a bit that is pure fabrication. I’ll try to stick to the facts in my list of reasons why I sometimes wonder if I’m making the right decision:

  • She is too friendly with Wall Street. “Too big to fail” financial institutions commit massive fraud which leads to a global crisis, and Washington bails them out and prosecutes nobody. Wells Fargo violates a series of laws, and gets a slap on the wrist. Too many lawmakers are in the back pocket of Wall Street, and too few are speaking out against the corruption. Clinton has talked about financial reform (mostly inspired by her struggles in the primaries against Bernie Sanders), but she has also accepted millions in campaign contributions from Wall Street. Corruption in Washington is rampant, and Clinton (whose husband advocated many of the financial “reforms” that led to the 2008 crisis) is probably not the person to effect change.
  • She’s a foreign policy hawk. Clinton says she regrets her decision as Senator to vote in favor of the Iraq invasion in 2002, although judging by her subsequent foreign policy decisions, it’s hard not to believe that she only regrets the political impact of her vote. Our military is weary and overstretched; the last thing we need is a President who believes the United States needs to act as the world’s policeman.
  • Her obsession with privacy is disturbing. It’s not in the Constitution, but anyone who wants to be President has to understand it is the most public job in the nation, if not the world. It may not be fair, but it’s not going to change. Clinton has had legendary battles with the media over the decades, and many have been rooted in her refusal to divulge information that many consider to be in the public domain. Her recent bout of pneumonia is a case in point; she attempted to conceal her sickness with a cover story (she was visiting her daughter) after abruptly leaving a campaign event, which was followed by another cover story (she was dehydrated) to explain why she abandoned her press corps, and only revealed the full truth after a disturbing video of her stumbling was made public. She’s got pneumonia, and needs rest — say that at the outset, and there’s no controversy. A government wanting to act in secret is, shall we say, a danger to the public, and I don’t believe Clinton will be any less secretive as President than she is now.

There, my job for today is done. Tomorrow’s task will be more difficult, but it’s gotta be done.