Category Archives: politics

Boycott With Your Brain


Did you know Nike is under boycott?

I only recently learned! Or only recently re-learned, maybe. I feel like it’s the sort of thing I heard about and immediately dismissed because, well, it struck my ear as being a little bit ridiculous. Or maybe a lot ridiculous. I mean, I get it. It’s the age of protest and all. Wasn’t it last year that Time magazine named “the protester” its person of the year? (Bit of a cop out, actually, that. Hard to pick one really stand-out individual so let’s put a faceless mob on the cover and call it a day.) (Also, I’ve looked it up, and it turns out 2011 was when “the protester” was person of the year, which, well, I mistook 2011 for happening a year ago, and can you blame me?) (Also also, 2011 wasn’t the only time they copped. Last year it was “the guardians” and in 2017 it was “the silence breakers” and in 2006 it was — ugh — “you”. Which is not to take anything away from their reasons for the choices, but collectives like that aren’t really a “person” are they? Rabbit-hole dive over)

But that sort of thing always feels a little far away. Those people over there are making a big stink about it, but these people over here in my circle? Nah, they’re clever, they wouldn’t go in for that sort of nonsense. Sure, people are on YouTube and even, sometimes, the news (because the news is a nonstop trash fire these days), shooting up their coolers with automatic rifles or whatever. (Why shoot up a perfectly functional cooler, by the way? The company already has your money. What message are you sending, and to whom?)

Except, well, sometimes those people over there? They’re actually over here.

And, look, I get it. We all have opinions, and it’s the age of protest and power to the people and to the individual and let your money talk and blah, blah, blah. If you feel strongly about a thing, by all means boycott, protest, stage a walkout, whatever. That’s your right, whether you’re right or not.

Image result for boycott everything

But here’s a modest proposal to anybody protesting or boycotting or walking-out. Don’t do it because your favorite talk show host or YouTuber or social media guru told you to. Do it because you’ve studied the issue, analyzed the point-of-view of the victim of your civil action, and disagreed with it on legitimate grounds.

This is called arguing in good faith, and it’s not hard to do, though it might be inconvenient.

In the Nike example, the reason to boycott (as I understand it generally) is this: Colin Kaepernick disrespected veterans when he refused to stand for the national anthem. Nike then hired him as a spokesperson. Therefore Nike is disrespecting veterans, therefore boycott Nike.

But the truth is, Kaepernick never said a cross word about veterans, did he? Or took any action which led to harm for a veteran? Did he actually do anything to harm somebody who wasn’t out looking for a reason to be harmed? (Here’s a newsflash — if you go out shopping for offense, you’ll have no trouble finding it, and you don’t have to watch an NFL game either.)

To argue for a boycott of Nike in good faith is to first ask yourself: what did Kaepernick actually do? Well, he knelt during the national anthem. That action in and of itself is harmless even if it’s unexpected or shocking to the sensibilities. In the absence of physical or emotional harm, then, the next question which must be asked is, why did he do it? The lazy answer is to disrespect veterans because that’s what a lot of other people interpreted the action to mean, but to answer in good faith is to take the reason he gave, which is: he was upset about the apparent murders of black children by police and the lack of justice for the officers involved. Why kneel during the anthem? Because as a professional NFL player, it was a unique platform afforded to him that most other people who felt as he did were not entitled to. He used that platform to bring visibility to the issue. You can choose to change the channel when news of another unarmed black person being killed floats across the screen, can’t you? Or not watch news at all? (Not a bad idea of late if you ask me.) But when you turn on the TV for the game on the weekend and you see the quarterback taking a knee, you have to ask yourself “what’s going on there?”

So, he used a unique platform afforded to him to bring visibility to a racial issue. His actions got him fired, effectively, but Nike saw that, figured it was a campaign worth giving voice to, and hired him on.

To boycott Nike, in other words, is to boycott the hiring of a man who used his platform to bring attention to a racial issue that was negatively affecting the country.

Now, you’re entitled to think that’s a bad thing, and if you do think that’s a bad thing, then by all means, never spend another dime on anything Nike in your life. Set fire to your sneakers, toss your jumpsuits in the ocean. (No, don’t do that, the ocean has it hard enough.)

Here’s the point, the phrasing of which I’ve basically stolen from Sam Harris in more than one of his debates: if you can’t summarize the other person’s point of view in a way that they would agree with, then you haven’t understood them — and you definitely shouldn’t be taking action based on that flawed misunderstanding. And it’s my sneaking suspicion that most of the Nike boycotters — or boycotters of most other things in recent history — couldn’t articulate their reasons in this way.

In other words, think critically. Spend, or refuse to spend, your dollars mindfully, based on the reality we live in, not on the basis of an imaginary world that you’ve heard about somewhere.

In even simpler terms: brain harder.

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SUPPORT THE CAUSE


Just picking my head out of the sand to relate a funny:

Many months ago — maybe more like a year ago — I followed a link to a survey asking “real Americans” for their input on Trump’s presidency. I filled it out, in detail. I seem to recall one of the questions reading:

As Commander-in-Chief, President Trump’s performance has been:

A. Amazing

B. Great

C. Good

D. Other

With lots more to that effect. Needless to say, I answered with a lot of “other” and had a good time venting a bit of my spleen, and I still do it every now and then.

What I didn’t consider was that filling out said survey apparently added me to a list of “real Americans” who might be interested in supporting our president’s cause, and more to the point, in supporting his cause with my dollars.

Nothing happened for a while, but in the past few months, I’ve gotten barraged with e-mails — literally sometimes six or seven a day — begging me for my contribution.

“Friend, is your name on the list?”

“Friend, will you count yourself among our ranks?”

“Friend, we need your support!”

I get a kick out of the fact that I’m assumed to be a “friend,” and I certainly get a kick out of the increasingly desperate tone of the letters. They’re “signed” from all members of the clan, from the big daddy himself to his non-security-clearanced in-law to the daughter he seems to have an unnatural attraction to. From the daughter he’d like us to forget he has to the one Trump son he cares about and even from the other Trump son. As if these people sat around typing out these pleas for cash (“just one dollar!”).

But what really makes me laugh is the big red banner at the bottom of each one:

Screenshot 2018-04-11 17.32.08

Deadline: 11:59 PM TONIGHT.

Every single e-mail for months (I open one every few weeks for giggles) has a deadline of 11:59 PM TONIGHT. As if at the stroke of midnight, like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin, I will lose my chance to support the orange one forever.

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I can’t help thinking that even if I did support this particular cause, the desperate language and the hyperbole would disincline me from giving them a dime. I mean, have some dignity. And even a two-year-old can figure out that when the “deadline” passes and a new deadline follows, and another one after that … that the deadline means nothing. If I were the cleverer sort, or if I had the time (or the extra fargoes to give in a day) I’m sure I could have a lot of fun responding to these e-mails and messing with some poor staffer about why my sizable donation won’t go through.

As it is, I’m just content to giggle to myself … while also feeling more than a little bit gross about the fact that my name is on a list of people who might potentially support this man.

But, you know, I hear things are going well for him lately — so I’m sure he’ll do just fine without my abuse.

Sigh. Never fill out a survey.


A Beach Story


The scene: a beach at the height of vacation season. Surf music sallies forth from a jauntily tipped stereo. In the near distance, a volleyball game played by tanned and toned collegiate types. Farther down the beach, a handful of pasty kids slathered in sunscreen splash around in tide pools. Eventually, our focus tightens on a young girl of vaguely foreign lineage building a sand castle. It isn’t much, but she’s quite proud of it. She sticks a flag on the highest tower.

A shadow falls over her castle — a big one. She turns. The sun is eclipsed by a bulbous figure with flyaway coppery hair. She has to shield her eyes to look at him, and this was clearly his purpose. He sneers, chomps the last too-big bite of an over-condimented hot dog, and tosses the wrapper in the sand. Then he plasters a smarmy grin across his chops.

Bulbous: That’s a really, really nice sand castle. Just the best.

Vaguely-Foreign Girl: Um, thanks.

Bulbous: I mean it. I really mean it. I really want you to know that I support you, okay? Building this great sand castle? It’s what we need. Very good people. Sensational.

VFG: O…kay?

Bulbous: It would really be a shame if something happened to it. Such a shame. Terrible.

VFG: (a look of concern growing.) What?

It’s unclear if Bulbous actually hears her or not.

Bulbous: Here are the facts, okay? Are you listening? Here it is: In an hour or so, I’m going to come back here and kick this castle over.

VFG: Why would you do that?

Bulbous: Listen. We’re making the beaches great again. I’m not doing it now. Nobody’s kicking over your castle now. But, okay, in a little while, right? An hour. I’ll be back. With the kicking.

VFG: But I worked really hard on this. I’m not hurting anybody.

Bulbous: I get it. I get it. And these guys over here? (He gestures without looking behind him.) They’re going to build you a better one. The best. Believe me. It’s up to them.

She looks. The guys in question seem to be engaged with the sand in every way except building castles, or in fact building anything. Rather, they are shouting at each other, throwing sand, crying; making a whole lot of noise and accomplishing nothing. There is not a grown-up in sight.

VFG: Them? They don’t look very capable.

Bulbous: They’re with me. Well, kind of. Well, maybe. I’m not sure. We’ll see.

VFG: That one is dumping sand in the other one’s shorts.

Bulbous: Yeah, I’m not too sure about him.

VFG: And … that one’s eating the sand.

Bulbous: Him either.

VFG: And that one? The one pouring sand into his own eyes? He looks like a turtle.

Bulbous: The important thing is, it’s up to them.

VFG: It’s just that they’ve been there all morning.

Bulbous: Uh-huh.

VFG: And they haven’t built any other sand castles.

Bulbous: (quickly losing interest) Uh-huh.

VFG: And they haven’t shown any interest in building any sand castles. In fact — I don’t even know what they’re doing over there.

Bulbous: Right, right.

VFG: So … what makes you think they’re going to build one, for me, in the next hour? I mean, I don’t even know them. And I’m pretty sure they’re playing over there so they can pretend I don’t exist.

Bulbous: Believe me.

VFG: Believe you, what?

Bulbous: Believe me.

They stare at each other for a moment. It’s tense. But then, suddenly, Bulbous seems to forget about her entirely.

Bulbous: Well, I’ve got to go meet with some of the beach authorities and see about putting a tax on all this sunshine.

VFG: This is cruel. What did I ever do to you? Do you just hate me?

Bulbous turns to her and smiles, and behind his eyes is the confidence of a man who knows he will get away with any lie he chooses to tell.

Bulbous: I love everybody. Nobody loves everybody more than me. Now get the hell off my beach.

*********************

It bears saying again: the people who voted for this guy and aren’t working to stop him from all his evil — today it happens to be throwing out of the country people who have committed no crime and have no ties at all to whatever country he might send them to (sorry — not throwing them out today, throwing them out six months from now) — those people are complicit in all of this.

 


It’s 2017, Why Do We Have To Even Talk About White Supremacy?


I get it. You voted for Trump.

Well, no, I don’t. I don’t get it. It’s not like Trump hid who he was at any point during the race or during his first (sigh) 200 days.

But you wanted a Republican agenda, and you were disgusted at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, and you pulled the lever for the orange one. You held your nose and voted. Lesser of two evils.

Maybe you wanted to believe his shenanigans were an act. His stir-the-pot, say-something-outrageous-and-watch-the-media-jump antics were a means to an end, and not just an end in themselves. Seven-dimensional chess. The real point was that he was going to make America great again. Shake up the system. Drain the swamp. Lock her up.

And maybe it was possible to hide behind all that. “I wish he’d act more presidential, but…” Point to healthcare instead. (Oh, wait.) Point to his wall instead. (Hmm, maybe not.) Point to the Republican-controlled congress and all the progress they’re making. (Yeah, about that…)

But you can’t hide behind that anymore, can you? You can’t, with any ounce of dignity or plausible deniability, say that you “wish he’d act better.” Because he has now laid out on the table exactly who he is for everybody to see. It doesn’t get simpler than condemning white nationalists. It doesn’t get easier than saying “those dicks over there? The ones flying swastikas on the streets of America? Yeah, they’re not okay.” You don’t have to wait two days for “the facts to come in.” (When does this guy ever wait for facts, anyway? He’s got a tweet locked and loaded for anybody who rubs him wrong on literally any other topic, but literal Nazis? Nah, let’s make sure we have full information.) You stomp on it. Set fire to it. Throw it over the fence. Put as much daylight between you and that ideology as you possibly can.

But he can’t (or won’t) do that.

I can’t say I’m surprised, and really, nobody should be. But maybe you are. Maybe it’s possible that you thought this was all an act, that he courted the support of these people to further his political ends.

But you see that’s impossible, right? This ridiculous stand for the wrongest thing possible is costing him politically no matter how you look at it. There’s no reason for it other than that he supports these people, or at the very least, doesn’t think they’re a problem.

And that’s a problem.

The president should be unifying us, but instead he’s dividing us more and more at every turn.

He should be supporting and protecting the lowest among us, and instead he’s empowering the worst among us (to be clear, those would be the Nazis and white supremacists) to prey on and intimidate everybody else.

The Trump train is heading for a catastrophe. Let’s not kid ourselves: already it’s a catastrophe, but now it’s a catastrophe heading for calamity.

One is dead in this conflict, and he can’t call those responsible by name.

And they’re planning more rallies this weekend. One in my home city. And worse than the fact that they’re doing it to begin with is the fact that now they feel empowered because the president (who they clearly identify as one of their own, and he doesn’t seem to want to decry that characterization, either).

Decrying his bad behavior is no longer enough. Republicans coming out and condemning white supremacy in the wake of this — that’s, like, less than the bare minimum. Condemning white supremacy is the default position for a human. You shouldn’t have to announce that you don’t approve of it, and yet doing so is somehow seen as a brave stand by those who have hitched themselves to Trump’s wagon for 200 painful days.

It’s not enough. Talk is cheap. It’s time for the people who held their noses and voted for Trump to stop blindly defending this old, racist monster. And stop supporting the cowardly Republicans who won’t stand up to him.

You can’t pretend anymore.

It’s time for him to go.

Past time, really.

But there’s no time like the present.


Chaotic Evil


I don’t do it all the time, but occasionally when working with characters, I think about their alignment.

You know. Dungeons & Dragons. Two sliding scales. Chaotic/Lawful, Good/Evil. It’s a more nuanced way of thinking about characters: rather than just saying “this is a bad guy,” you get “this is a character who is going to do everything he can to further his own ends without breaking the rules of society.” Or “this is a girl who will do everything she can to help somebody in need, even if it means hurting herself in the process.”

This approach was particularly instructive when drafting Villainous (working title!), a central theme of which was the blurred line between good and evil. I didn’t want cookie-cutter good- and bad-guys, so I tried to make sure that each character had strong motivations and believable reasons for the things they were doing and their worldview in general.

Why am I thinking about the alignments of my heroes and villains when I really should be focusing on the edit that’s in front of me?

Because of our goldfingered president.

I thought I was crafting a pretty cohesive psychopathic chaotic evil villain in my novel, but it turns out I had no idea what I was doing. Trump is chaotic evil to his orangey, fatty core:

A chaotic evil character tends to have no respect for rules, other people’s lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have much regard for the lives or freedom of other people. Chaotic evil characters do not work well in groups because they resent being given orders and do not usually behave themselves unless there is no alternative. (Wikipedia)

And of course, just yesterday, Trump literally put his own short-sighted interests (namely: money and continuing to appeal to those in this country who have already voted for him instead of, you know, anybody else) above the interests of the ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ PLANET with his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreements.

Let’s say nothing of the fact that he can just do this when 70% of the country he represents is against the decision. That’s a political power seminar I’m not qualified to even wonder about. Let’s not even say anything of the fact that the rest of that blurb fits big Orange to a “T”. (Resents being given orders? Check! Do not behave themselves? Grab them by the check!) I’m just concerned with the morality of it, which is entirely bankrupt.

He’s literally willing to watch the world burn if it benefits him for an election cycle. (Oh, and it’s yet another not-so-subtly-symbolic middle finger to his predecessor.)

I mean, in a way, it’s inspiring, because I can take a page from that for the characters in my own work.

But it seems a bit hopeless to be thinking about works of fiction at a time like this, when the villains we face are all too real.


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