The Whisper Network, Continued

In the wake of both John Conyers and Al Franken being forced to resign from Congress over their “inappropriate sexual behavior”, there does indeed seem to be a backlash against the #metoo anti-harassment movement, although not from the Right. Dahlia Lithwick in Slate says,  “Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve. ”

It’s often pointed out that Franken’s main accuser, Leann Tweeden is a conservative Fox (Sports) alumna and allegedly an associate of Trump family members. Celebrity Tom Arnold accused her of being coached by a “Roger Stone pal” at her radio station. And some Democrats have gone much further in bemoaning their party’s policy toward one of their own. In the Washington Post, feminist author Kate Harding said “I don’t believe (that Franken) resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.” But she elaborates: “When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault… Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing.”

So Democrats should go back to saying “it’s okay when it’s our guy?” That would indeed solve the double standard problem. If both parties are going to roast the enemy for the same thing that they forgive on their side, there’s one standard that is being applied equally.

The problem is that the Democratic liberal base won’t go for it anymore. More specifically, the women in the Democratic hierarchy won’t go for it anymore. It was Democratic women Senators who led the demand that Franken resign. Recall that whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, this whole #metoo thing erupted after the first allegations came out concerning Harvey Weinstein. Snap quiz, who was a bigger fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, Harvey Weinstein or Charles Koch? It’s Franken who’s expected to fall on his sword for the good of the Party, not the feminist contingent of the Party that’s expected to put up with him for the sake of not letting Republicans “get” one.

What all this proves to me is that liberals need to find a happy medium between retroactively crucifying Al Franken – who was never accused of adultery, let alone rape – for sleazy behavior that occurred before he ever ran for office, versus “it’s not perjury if it was over a blowjob, and even if it was, it’s just a Republican witch hunt.” Maybe we should acknowledge that if “believe the women” is not as bad an extreme as “always believe the accused”, it is still an extreme. Maybe rather than uncritically dismissing or believing the accuser, we should take the accuser seriously, seriously enough to give the claims proper investigation.

Because even in the olden days, it was sometimes more likely that allegations of sexual misbehavior from a politician would be taken seriously, and a politician’s career could be destroyed over allegations that were both less substantial and more substantial than the charges against Franken. In 1988, Democrat Gary Hart was preparing a run for the presidency until the press started covering his relationship with a young woman named Donna Rice, a relationship that both Rice and Hart have maintained to this day was not sexual. Then after the 1992 campaign, Republican Senator Bob Packwood was shadowed by continuing allegations of sexual assault, allegations which intensified after the Senate Ethics Committee requested his diary and found out that he had altered the diary passages. Eventually Packwood resigned in 1995.  Incidentally, the Wikipedia article on this points out that the head of the Committee at the time was Senator Mitch McConnell, who had said afterward in regard to President Clinton’s impeachment: “As most of you will recall, the Senate faced a similar choice just a few short years ago. It was one of our own who had clearly crossed the line. It was one of our own who had engaged in sexual misconduct and obstruction of justice… During the Packwood debate, we made the tough choice. And, I have to say, that decision was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my career in public service. To recommend expelling from the United States Senate a colleague, a member of my own party, and most importantly, a friend with whom I had served in the Senate for over a decade. We sent a clear message to the nation that no man is above the law.”

What caused the standard to change all of a sudden?

What happened was that a certain politician in the duopoly decided that winning was more important than shame. Packwood and Hart could be shamed out of the system. Bill Clinton could not. And while I’m sure Hillary Clinton didn’t plan on things turning out this way, the fact that she was First Enabler in 1998 meant that in 2016 she was the only person in either major party who was not in position to take on Donald Trump over his history of sexism. It’s not as though she didn’t get some good licks in, especially with invoking Alicia Machado in a debate, but the fact that Trump got as many white female voters as he did indicated that Clinton had a critical problem with her core audience.

Democratic ambivalence on this issue is precisely because Republicans have embraced Bill Clinton’s approach more thoroughly than they have. Not only that, this allowed Trump to disarm the whole premise of enforcing moral standards. He has also shown right-wingers the path to counter left-wing virtue signaling: Don’t let them shame you. Don’t let them crybully you. Don’t apologize for what you are. The problem occurs when what you are is not just objectively evil but belligerently stupid.

The other day, (Dec. 6) Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic wrote a piece called “Embracing Depravity,” which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a pretty good analysis of where the Republican groupthink is now. It explains why the “conservative” movement, in all its contradictions, has one consistent factor: what Friedersdorf calls ressentiment.

“Culture-war conflict now dominates their political identity.

“And to watch them embrace the label ‘deplorable’ even as they elevate a man like (Roy) Moore is to suspect (Julian) Sanchez was right in seeing ressentiment as ‘a resignation to impotence on the cultural front where the real conflict lies. It effectively says: We cede to the bogeyman cultural elites the power of stereotypical definition, so becoming the stereotype more fully and grotesquely is our only means of empowerment.”

This is why it doesn’t do good to whine that it’s not fair that Democrats are being held to a standard that Republicans don’t respect. When you’re a Democrat, you find excuses for why you can’t win elections. It’s what you do. But more importantly, liberals, you are never going to be more punk rock than the Republicans. You are never going to be more transgressive. You are always going to be under the self-imposed double standard, if only because you have any standards at all. Because unlike Republicans, who have discarded all standards except winning, you are still under the delusion that you have morals. That your political calculus is based on a higher standard. That you’re here to fight for something.

So here’s a radical Communist idea, liberals: Why not FIGHT for something?

If the game of moral superiority is, if not a wash, ultimately meaningless in winning elections, if it ultimately comes down to voter turnout, and if Republican tax “reform” is doing more to cement their Snidely Whiplash image than anything leftists could imagine, then Democrats ought to spend this next year concentrating on the very “flyover” counties that won Trump the election in 2016, the very places that will be hardest hit by Republican policy, and convince those voters that their party is able to help them out. But that would require having both a message and a plan.

…Naahh, that’s too hard, isn’t it?

The Whisper Network

“I wish to argue that none of you possibly have enough evidence to jump to this conclusion, but experience has taught me that only guarantees it to be the case.”

-Vaarsuvius, Order of the Stick #1106

I had almost thought the issue of powerful men getting taken down by a history of sexual harassment was starting to lose currency. But last week the big news was that Today show lead anchor Matt Lauer was “suddenly” fired after NBC News recieved a detailed complaint, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack saying “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.” As it turned out, both Variety and the New York Times had been investigating an extensive history of misbehavior on Lauer’s part.  Less publicized that week was the news that hip-hop mogul and producer Russell Simmons was stepping down from his companies after he was accused of sexual assault.

This phenomenon is in fact so widespread and happening so fast that a lot of observers are worried about it. For one thing, the idea that we should believe all women who accuse men of abuse is getting challenged. Professional feminist Lena Dunham defended a writer from her show Girls after he was accused of rape by actress Aurora Perrineau, saying he was one of the just “3% of assault cases that are misrepresented every year.” More relevant to politics, Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken was accused of groping one woman on a USO tour, and then another. Now it’s up to six. Not only that, veteran Congressman John Conyers (D.-Michigan) was accused of a long history of improper sexual behavior. Yet another Congressman, Ruben Kihuen (D.-Nevada) was just accused of repeated sexual advances and improper touching by an aide.  But it wasn’t until fairly recently that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called upon Conyers to resign. (Perhaps for that reason, she was a lot quicker to go after Kihuen.)

So what? The story now is, we “believe all women” unless the accused is a friend of ours? Or if it’s politically inconvenient?

To their credit, a lot of liberals are saying politics be damned, such men need to be out of Congress, even if they’re Democrats. But it’s not that simple. Conyers’ seat (in the Detroit area) is safe, and in any case he’s very old and may need to retire anyway. However, if Kihuen resigns, the Governor of Nevada (who would appoint his replacement) is a Republican. And Franken has been a serious asset to the Democrats in the Senate, and even if Minnesota’s Democratic governor replaced him, that party needs all the seats it can get.

Not that Republicans are any more pure. As more documented stories of Roy Moore’s predilection for younger girls came up in Alabama, that just increased the desire of Alabama Republicans to get him elected Senator. But that’s what they are. All that matters to them is winning. “Conservatives” would vote for Bill Clinton himself if he said he was a Republican. But as I keep telling Republicans, they kinda did.

In large part, a lot of liberals are worried that there’s going to be some sort of right-wing backlash once somebody gets the idea that they can make a false claim. When Rolling Stone published a “searing expose'” on a gang rape at the University of Virginia campus, the story turned out to be unverifiable and was later retracted.  This critically undermined Rolling Stone’s journalistic reputation (to the extent that it had one) and set back feminist attempts to target “rape culture.”

More recently, Bari Weiss in the New York Times worried that the current ascendancy of #metoo feminism is going to set up its own downfall, citing the Teen Vogue writer Emily Linden who had to shut down her Twitter account after posting ““If some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.” Weiss says that while she sympathizes with that attitude, “I think that ‘believing all women’ can rapidly be transmogrified into an ideological orthodoxy that will not serve women at all. ”

There is of course a danger of backlash with all the sexual harassment stories, but the reason that hasn’t happened yet in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein case is because when an individual is accused of sexual abuse, it’s not just one case that can’t be verified. There always turns out to be more behind it.

When Anthony Rapp made his accusation against Kevin Spacey, at the time I thought it was just an isolated case of Spacey being drunk quite a few years ago. (Though it still reflected badly on him that he would let himself get so out of control.) But according to producers on House of Cards, Spacey had been engaging in harassment fairly recently, and often enough to where it was brought up as a problem. When an accusation gets in the news, it stays in the news if it turns out to be a pattern.

There is now actually a term for how this works. Feminists Valerie Aurora and Leigh Blackwood came up with an observation they call “the Al Capone Theory.” The basis is that Al Capone had a major organized crime ring going with alcohol smuggling, but the Federal government couldn’t get him on those grounds, but they could trace his income and prosecute him for tax evasion on his assets. Aurora and Blackwood said: “We noticed a similar pattern in reports of sexual harassment and assault: often people who engage in sexually predatory behavior also faked expense reports, plagiarized writing, or stole credit for other people’s work.” In other words, even where (say) sexual harassment is hard to prove or prosecute, it may be possible to prosecute an offender for other more easily-established criminal offenses – because the kind of person who engages in sexual harassment is the kind of person who is likely to commit other crimes. “Ask around about the person who gets handsy with the receptionist, or makes sex jokes when they get drunk, and you’ll often find out that they also violated the company expense policy, or exaggerated on their résumé, or took credit for a colleague’s project.” Whether companies know the “Al Capone Theory” term or not, they are becoming more cognizant of this pattern in order to guard against it, given that such personality types can cost money for reasons other than public harrassment suits.

More directly, a lot of these sexual harassment cases gain traction because they’re not isolated incidents. When the first accusations came out against Harvey Weinstein, they destroyed his reputation, but they couldn’t be prosecuted because they were past the statute of limitations for assault. But recently the NYPD announced that it has at least one rape case that is recent enough to investigate.

The approach taken by the authors of the Al Capone Theory points towards a critical standard that addresses the serious possibility of treating men unfairly. One of the concerns of men is that the “whisper network” has the potential to destroy men over isolated, consensual encounters when there is no legal standard such as presumption of innocence. But one thing that’s overlooked with that position is that the abuses themselves are a case where men (usually men) are taking advantage of grey areas in the law and in company human resources policies, and in the reaction of the culture to women’s claims. Until recently, when women did try to work within the system, their claims were disregarded by superiors, for example in the case of Lauer. The Variety article said: “Several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding ‘Today.’ NBC declined to comment. For most of Lauer’s tenure at ‘Today,’ the morning news show was No. 1 in the ratings, and executives were eager to keep him happy.” Whereas the standard that Aurora and Blackwood are endorsing obliges companies to review a person’s overall performance record to corroborate accusations of bad behavior, including accusations against women.

It seems as though liberals in the media and politics are taking a look at where politics have gone and then taking a look at the “sophisticated” culture they did so much to enable, at least when Bill Clinton was president. And whether they admit it or not, they’re making a connection.

Consider that however self-conscious and hypocritical liberals might seem about sexual harassment, they are at least taking a look in the mirror and cleaning up their own house.

But then consider that Donald Trump is still president.

And that Roy Moore, at least initially, was leading in the polls after the Washington Post story came out.

And it seems to me that “conservatives” are looking at self-flagellating liberals, and they’ve decided that if it looks embarrassing or hypocritical to develop a conscience too late, then clearly the best course of action is to never develop a conscience at all.

REVIEW: Justice League

When I was on vacation back East, my brother took me to see Justice League for its special Thursday night premiere on November 16. However I didn’t have access to my computer to post a review until I got home. So by now it’s hardly a secret that in this movie Superman comes back to life.

After Clark Kent’s funeral in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) form a working partnership, ending their retirement from superheroics and using Lex Luthor’s files to recruit additional metahumans to form a team against a threat that Batman is convinced is just around the corner.

The first two metahumans are surly drunk Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and the nervous-but-eager Flash (Ezra Miller). The third is Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), whose genius father used cybernetic parts to rebuild his body after an auto accident that maimed Victor and killed his mother. However this turned Victor into an inhuman cyborg with vast control over technology that sometimes controls him in turn. Moreover, the reason Doctor Stone could perform this operation is because he was using an alien artifact he called a “Change Engine” that turns out to be tied to Batman’s impending threat: Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), an alien warlord who is so powerful that in an ancient age, he could only be driven off by a coalition of gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, at least one Green Lantern and a troop of humans who look suspiciously like the Men of Gondor. Steppenwolf’s power is tied to three Mother Boxes (including Cyborg’s Change Engine) that were dormant on Earth until Superman died, at which point they reactivated and beckoned Steppenwolf back. (While Steppenwolf has Mother Boxes, boom tubes and an army of Parademons, his connection to Darkseid is mentioned only once.)

Justice League brought back a couple of things that irritated me about Batman v Superman. The first was angry-yet-stupid Superman. After Steppenwolf beats up the team in their first encounter, Batman deduces that Cyborg can hook his Mother Box up to the Kryptonian biomatrix at Luthor’s lab in Metropolis, and put Superman’s corpse in to revive him. And in one of his best lines, Flash muses whether the revived Superman will be cool and back to normal or whether this will be like “Pet Sematary.” Well, the plan works, and sure enough, the result is more like Pet Sematary. Until Batman uses an unusual tactic to get Clark (Henry Cavill) back to his senses, Superman kicks ass on the entire team, not coincidentally destroying what’s left of his own ruined monument. It sort of makes sense that Superman is not in his right mind after revival, after all he’s been mostly dead all year. But still, it ties into the idea that people are supposed to be afraid of Superman. And that conflicts with a larger theme that is implicit in Justice League: Why do these guys NEED Superman, anyway?

I mean, Batman is the brains and the bankroll, Flash is at least as fast as Superman, Wonder Woman is about that strong, Aquaman is almost that strong, and Cyborg can do things with technology that haven’t even been quantified yet. There are a couple of good scenes that get to the heart of the matter. At one point Bruce tells Alfred (Jeremy Irons) that Clark was a better human than him. Clark had managed to fall in love, get a job, and live alongside regular people, something Bruce had never done. That and the influence of his foster parents made Clark more grounded than the antisocial Batman. Later there are a couple bits of dialogue where Diana confronts Bruce and brings up the notion that he is (in a passive-aggressive way) trying to get her to take over the team. And he responds that after Steve Trevor died, she withdrew from the world. She didn’t act as a public superhero, and basically hid her light under a bushel while Superman became a public figure. And she responds in so many words that when you’re placed in a position of leadership, and have to make decisions that could get people killed, at that point everyone is Steve Trevor.

Wonder Woman is the closest thing to a morally perfect character in the DCEU, but even she doesn’t see herself in Superman’s role. Superman is specifically referred to as a beacon of hope in Justice League at least once. The problem is that that description could fit Superman in almost any other DC movie before BvS (including Man of Steel) but it’s at odds with the themes of BvS, in particular the idea that Superman is an alien, godlike being who is a figure of fear, or at best awe. This is why the government in BvS had plans to stop him (and Doomsday) with a nuke, and why in Suicide Squad Amanda Waller and her allies were able to present their project on the rationale of being able to stop Superman (or a similar threat) in case he kidnapped the President. The best analog to Superman in Marvel Comics in this regard is Captain America, the Golden Age hero that every costumed hero since has tried to emulate. And that’s because Captain America always does the right thing, even if it means going against the authorities. In Captain America: Civil War, the movie makes it clear that world governments would have good reason to monitor and regulate metahumans, but it also makes it clear that if the US government is against Captain America, then it’s the government that’s in the wrong. Whereas in the Snyderverse, Superman isn’t the world’s greatest hero because of his spirit or inspirational presence. He’s the greatest hero because he is the most powerful being on Earth who hasn’t decided to become a supervillain, apparently because he lacks the initiative.

The assumption of many fans is that Superman is like this in the DC Extended Universe because Zach Snyder is a devotee of Ayn Rand (his production company is called Atlas Entertainment). I have addressed this subject at great length. In any case Snyder, along with scriptwriter Chris Terrio, wrote the original story for Justice League and was directing the movie until the tragic death of his daughter forced him to quit work on the film. Somewhere in this process Joss Whedon got put in (allegedly because test audiences found Snyder’s first run film unwatchable) to co-write the script, and ended up taking over direction as well (even though Snyder is still listed as sole director). As most other reviewers have pointed out, this has resulted in a disjointed and uneven film. It’s sometimes hard to tell where Snyder ends and Whedon begins, but for the most part Justice League is very much a Zach Snyder film- ponderous direction, muted colors, overcast skies and way too much CGI. There is however one scene that seems unquestionably Whedon’s: in the Big Boss fight, Superman has to help Cyborg contain an energy explosion, and when it throws them back, these two characters – who up to now have been MORE grim and serious than Batman – lie back and laugh. And they joke about it. I just couldn’t imagine something this relaxed and good-natured in Snyder’s work up to this point.

Moreover, the earliest previews for Justice League (mostly released before Whedon stepped in) showed Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller having so much fun playing their characters that it gave me the impression that DC was trying to change the direction of things.

At least once in Justice League, Batman says that his drive to form the team (and later, to revive Superman) is an attempt at redemption on his part: Batman almost killed Superman because he had the wrong idea about him. I get the impression that Justice League is a similar quest for redemption on the part of DC’s movie team. It doesn’t exactly work, because the script makes clear that Zach Snyder (and/or Chris Terrio) still doesn’t get Superman. Ultimately, though, Justice League is in the same class as Suicide Squad:  a grim and muddy Snyderverse project that, thanks to bright performances and some last-minute script doctoring, ends up as a patchwork monster that somehow manages to live.

Oh, and I mentioned that Justice League brought back two of the things that irritated me about BvS. The first was Mean Superman. The second was Jesse Eisenberg’s irritating dingbat version of Lex Luthor. Fortunately he appears only very briefly and at the very last scene after the credits. So teasing the next movie with an end-credits scene is one of two things that the DCEU learned from Marvel Studios. The other of course, is hire Joss Whedon to write and direct your movies.

REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok

Much of the action in Thor:Ragnarok has already been given away in the previews: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must fight the evil goddess Hela (Cate Blanchett, looking like Marilyn Manson as designed by Jack Kirby) to defend Asgard, and is defeated, losing both his hammer and his hair.  While Heimdall (Idris Elba) leads a resistance to Hela’s occupation, Thor and his brother/rival Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wind up on an alien planet where Thor is enslaved to a gladiator master who’s played by Jeff Goldblum, because why not.  And in his first match, Thor must fight The Hulk, “a friend from work”, setting up what might be the greatest mismatched buddy-cop movie of all time.

It’s slightly more complex than this, but Thor: Ragnarok is a very straightforward, ass-kicking movie, and the fight sequences are spectacular, even if they’re obviously CGI.  The principals are given a fun supporting cast including Tessa Thompson as the last of the Valkyries and “Korg”, an animated pile of rocks (voiced by Taika Waititi, the movie’s director).  And while a lot of the cute touches in this film are on par with other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s also a bit of character growth.  Thor has always been a big lunk who is often the comic relief in his own stories, but he is a good deal more intelligent than he has been depicted in previous movies.  I liked where Thor was able to see through Loki’s deceptions, at least twice.  He is able to do this because as Thor tells him, Loki doesn’t want to be anything other than what he is.

Although if anyone knows about the original Norse myth, the title Ragnarok sort of gives away what could be a major change to the setting.  Even so, for the most part, everything works out for everybody.  Until the end-credits sequence.



Twitter Is Too Aptly Named

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.  A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

This week, one of the biggest news stories was the sudden and cascading decline of movie producer Harvey Weinstein as testimony about his history of sexual harassment continued to reach the media. Things have gotten to the point where The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Weinstein from the institution “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority”.

There’s not too much more I can add except to touch on two points people have already made. One, Harvey Weinstein resembles nothing so much as a bowl of oatmeal with a beard on it. Second, Republicans cannot accuse feminist liberal Democrats of hypocrisy in supporting fundraiser Harvey Weinstein if they’re going to continue to enable Donald Trump, whose sexist behavior is that much more thoroughly documented and whose bullying and vengeful temperament is that much more publicly obvious.

Rather, I want to use this issue to touch on something that has been bugging me for a while and ties into it in several ways.

During this week, former actress Rose McGowan has been increasingly active on social media, especially Twitter, in regard to the Weinstein case. Eventually she stated that she was not merely harassed but actually raped by Weinstein. But on Thursday October 12, Twitter suspended her account, which caused McGowan to respond on Instagram asking concerned people to boycott Twitter over the matter. Twitter stated – after the fact – that the reason for McGowan’s suspension was that she had posted someone’s private phone number. They also said, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

But as pointed out, the miscommunication led to intense controversy for Twitter, along with accusations of inconsistency. “Because the offending tweet that included the phone number had been deleted, it wasn’t initially clear from McGowan’s Instagram post or a perusal of her Twitter feed which of Twitter’s rules she had violated. McGowan didn’t appear to have threatened anyone, and she wasn’t sharing graphic content or engaging in hate speech or violent speech.

“The industry veterans McGowan had been discussing in her tweets, however, are all powerful public figures in Hollywood. This fact, along with the lack of initial clarity about why she was suspended, led to rampant speculation that she was being silenced for being too aggressive about calling out the many men who allegedly stood by while Weinstein continued his pattern of assaults on women for years. ”

On Saturday, the ABC News site released a story about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s official response to the issue.  And reading this piece I was struck by two things. One was that the platform was going to be clarifying new rules: “New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. [sic] These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week.”

I’m not sure if anybody else finds it odd that such a public platform would need to add strictures about non-consensual “advances” and displays of nudity, not to mention glorification of hate and violence. But then when someone like Milo Yiannopoulous gets banned for violating Twitter’s “terms of use” I think the implied joke is that Twitter has any.

Secondly, for Dorsey to make his statement on Twitter, he had to release it in multiple posts. This is an increasingly common usage of the platform known as a “tweetstorm.” In this case, the article shows an excerpt starting with post 6: “We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them. 7/ New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. 8/ These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week. ” As in, the quote that I just gave from the news article had to be posted as two separate posts in Twitter, within a larger announcement.

This phenomenon has started to develop some criticism within Twitter. One article on Buzzfeed implied that much of the need for the tweetstorm could be solved by just getting a blog. But it went further and mentioned complaints that the tweetstorm violates Twitter etiquette (‘Twitter etiquette’ being an oxymoron that ranks up there with ‘gaming journalism’) in that the “stormer” is making a multi-post statement with no indication of when it winds up, although there are some exceptions. This already shows signs of escalating: “Imagine, for a moment, a future version of Twitter where the tweetstorm™ convention spreads, bleeding first through the tech venture capital and entrepreneur community. Then the tech reporters catch on, issuing long monologues on the future of the industry/a given product. Tweetstorms™ are rebutted by other tweetstorms™, which is manageable and contained in a niche media sphere until Politics Twitter catches on. Always on the lookout for a new broadcast platform, the tweetstorm™ spreads from reporters to pundits and think tanks and then to the politicians themselves. Once a frenetic but followable place, your timeline is now virtually destroyed by an avalanche of soliloquies. ”

But the tweetstorm is simply bringing up both the deliberate and practical limitations of Twitter. When the press interviewed Dorsey in 2009 about the origins of Twitter, he said that at the time (2006) he and the other developers were working with the constraints of the instant-message (IM) format for mobile devices, where basic phones were limited to 160 characters before they split the message. Limiting a username to 20 characters and the main text to 140 was where the concept developed. They worked with that format precisely because it allowed the user to update from anywhere. Dorsey said the “twitter” name came from that idea: “We wanted to capture that in the name — we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word ‘twitch,’ because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But ‘twitch’ is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word ‘twitter,’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds.’ And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Unfortunately, Twitter is too aptly named. Tweets are exactly that, short bursts of inconsequential information, but that very informality has exploded the popularity of the format such that people are using it in ways that just don’t work. Thus, the tweetstorm. The tweetstorm is for people who are trying to express complex, paragraph-length arguments in a format that is deliberately hostile to the complete sentence, let alone the paragraph.

But the popularity and convenience of Twitter ties into the other issue, namely that the tweetstorm implies the question, “why not just start a blog?” Twitter and other social media like Facebook are designed for immediate transmission and feedback. They are impulse media. I believe that if you are going to have a social media presence, you should know the right tool for the right job. I don’t need a blog to share cute animal videos to friends. For that I have Facebook. I don’t post to this blog every day or even every week because I don’t always have time to elaborate on my ideas, whereas I can usually find the time to post something on Facebook. But I decided to create my own blog not only to post essay-length pieces but because I could control the content to a greater degree than something I posted or liked on Facebook. I had already mentioned that this blog has no comments option because I had noticed the same problem on Facebook that critics are finding with Twitter, the capacity of people to hijack the thread with their own opinions which end up becoming bitter debates that crowd out the original post.  Just as the posting format affects the content, so does the larger context of the medium. Just as Twitter is built around the “short burst of inconsequential information” to an even greater degree than other platforms, that is the way its reply/comment function works. In that respect, for the Buzzfeed writer to complain about the extended reply is to miss the point. To be worried about such a thing is to believe that the other person’s opinion is consequential and worth respecting. That’s not what Twitter is about. Twitter is not about considered opinion. Twitter is about hit-and-run posting.

Which brings us to the most problematic Twitter abuser. Liddle Donnie Trump. The Harvey Weinstein of presidents.

There’s usually a recurring theme in Washington DC’s assessments of the “president”, even from Republicans who have always supported him. It’s words to the effect of “somebody needs to take away his phone.” That is, someone on Trump’s staff needs to make him stop tweeting. The most glaring recent example of this problem was when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced indirect efforts to talk to North Korea and Trump tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. This is not the sort of thing that a president does if he cares about his Secretary of State and his position as a representative. But that’s not the sort of thing that you do if you care about actions, period. And yet every time the subject comes up,  Trump and his shills defend his use of his personal account to blur the line between personal and political statements, saying that it is how he speaks “directly to the people.” Trump would not be the first president, especially in the Republican Party, to try to bypass the media gatekeepers of information. But as with everybody else who uses Twitter, his choice of platform both shapes and becomes the message. Analysts have noted that a lot of his tweets take place at 3 am or some other time when he is in bed or sleep-deprived, which only increases the likelihood that the posts are impulsive rather than deliberate. Or perhaps, Trump’s actions are deliberate only in that he has just enough concentration to be impulsive. Given that Trump was caught on tape in 2000 saying he couldn’t support Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign because it was supported by David Duke, there is evidence that Donald Trump once had a brain. But Trump, like his party, has since become prone to unsubtle, unconsidered opinion to the exclusion of serious thinking. Before social media, you had AM radio concentrating “conservative” positions down to emotionalism. Now on the Internet, the medium of expression is that much more prone to opinion that is literally reactionary.

The concepts that George Orwell referred to in Politics and the English Language were developed in setting for his novel 1984 with Newspeak, the Party’s official version of the English language. Characters in the book mentioned that Newspeak was the only language in history whose dictionary got smaller with each new edition. In the book’s appendix Orwell stated that the language was deliberately constructed by the Party for specific goals: “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. ”

Orwell’s legacy is full of ironies. A defender of cooperative anarchism, he has become the right-winger’s favorite critic of socialism. More ironic than that, his concept of language control is being best realized not by a state socialist program but by a capitalist endeavor.

In this context, Aja Romano’s Vox article is worth reviewing in that it emphasizes the political element of Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of policy. “The suspension of McGowan’s account neatly illustrates what has become a pattern in terms of how Twitter deals with harassment and abuse on its site. That is, while victims of abuse and marginalized users who deal with harassment are frequently censured over strict readings of Twitter’s abuse and safety rules, like McGowan, users who are widely seen as perpetuating real ideological violations of those rules are rarely censored.” Milo Yiannopoulous is only one famous example. Donald Trump himself is considered above censure on his Twitter account on the ground that his position makes his posts “newsworthy.” Of course threatening national security by threatening regional nuclear exchange over North Korea is going to be newsworthy. Romano continues: “McGowan’s suspension makes clear that Twitter’s abuse policies, or at least its inconsistent and confusing enforcement of those policies, do not protect abuse victims. In particular, women like McGowan who have experienced harassment and attempted to speak out about it on Twitter can be silenced at any time using the same inconsistent policy that Twitter refuses to levy against a Richard Spencer, a David Duke, or a Donald Trump — men who take advantage of the vagueness of Twitter’s abuse policies to perpetuate racism, violence, harassment, and fear.”

I would assert that the “vagueness” that Twitter’s critics observe is in fact consistent with the site in operation. Twitter is intended to be used in haste. It is intended to change the terms of debate to favor snark, insult and negativity. The positions of users like Richard Spencer or (pre-election) Donald Trump were less provocative to Twitter management than those of a Rose McGowan because whether Twitter’s users or management admit this or not, people like Donald Trump are the ones using the platform in the manner it was designed to be used.

I cannot say that this is a deliberate position on the part of the site developers, given that Jack Dorsey has apparently only now been made aware that such antisocial behavior needs to be discouraged. But that very fact indicates it was not something he was concerned with up to now.

This is also a cautionary example. Twitter became very popular with the liberal pop culture because of its wide access and ease of use, but as with much of liberal culture, it has become co-opted by the authoritarian Right, which is that much more committed to a mindset of whim and irrationality.

In the Vox article, media critic Matt Zoller Seitz was quoted (from Twitter) saying “I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it now: if a superior alternative to Twitter appeared tomorrow, I’d be gone from here in a heartbeat.” My advice to Seitz would be to get together with like-minded people and come to a consensus about what “a superior alternative to Twitter” means, and then find people of means to finance it and experts to create it. My personal goal is to make enough money to where I can buy out Twitter with the specific purpose of destroying the website. Either that, or use the space for something more ennobling, like bumfights or fetish porn.

REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery

I had already posted my impression of the first preview of Star Trek: Discovery, and having finally gotten to see the pilot episode tonight (Sept. 24) I think that based only on the first show, Discovery is pretty good for what it is.  My problem is with what it is.

The good part is that the lead character, Michael Burnham, is very good and very well-played by Sonequa Martin-Green.  At the series start she is actually the first officer aboard the USS Shenzhou but is supposed to be transferring to the ship in the show’s title.  First however, the Shenzhou has to survive a confrontation with a particularly fanatical sect of Klingons.  And apparently Burnham was raised by Spock’s father Sarek after her parents were killed by Klingons, so this may be a bit personal for her.  In the course of the episode, Burnham’s relationships with other bridge crew including Science Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and her captain, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) are established, and another strong point of this show is the chemistry between the crew that is obvious even at this point.  Said chemistry helps to heighten the tension when Burnham attempts a pre-emptive strike on the Klingons and everyone else (especially the captain) is warning her against it.

As I said in my other post, I like the relationship between the Burnham and Georgiou characters.  But I have problems.  If I could boil them down to one point, it would be that the producers are trying to make their own material with a tangential connection to Star Trek, without even resembling it as much as the retro-Trek of JJ Abrams’ movies.  This is especially important given that this show, like Enterprise, is supposed to be set in the main timeline (specifically, ten years before the Original Series).  And yet, the overall look, from the blue suit uniforms, to the darkened bridge, to the heavy use of lens flare, makes the show resemble AbramsTrek (specifically the scene on the USS Kelvin) more than the deliberately old-school Enterprise.

To quote the relevant part of my last piece, “Continuity is always an issue when you’re using established intellectual property, because while it defeats the purpose of creating something new if you don’t go off in a new direction, it defeats the purpose of saying that X is X when the new thing departs from the setting of X to begin with. It would be less irritating if Star Trek: Discovery had simply taken the parallel-universe of the J.J. Abrams series, or set the show within the past of that timeline. But the implication is that this is the universe of the original series, which already has quite enough problems with “retcon.” It’s not quite so bad with comic book properties, where a superhero series gets rebooted from scratch every decade or so and nobody questions this.. But even then, continuity matters. You can say that your Superman has no continuity with the Christopher Reeve Superman, but if you want to say that he IS Superman, don’t act surprised when people wonder why he needs to kill somebody.”

So again, given that this is supposed to be the same setting as Enterprise and TOS, you have stuff like Abrams lens-flare scenes, and you have the Klingons who have been retconned to look more alien YET again.  Continuity in Doctor Who is easier to keep track of.  And then it turns out that the scenes with Sarek were not with a younger Spock but with a child Burnham (the relationship between the two not being clear in the previews).  The use of Sarek seems gratuitous; it’s not as though another Vulcan elder couldn’t have been substituted without giving this character the baggage of being associated with Mark Lenard’s character.  Because he isn’t.  He’s played by James Frain.  And when you’re playing a Vulcan, there’s a difference between “unemotional” and “creepy.”  When I think of James Frain, I think “creepy.”

As a side note, I am thinking there might be a practical reason that future episodes of this show are only going to be accessible on the CBS All Access streaming site.  A practical reason other than greed, that is.  Streaming services like Netflix allow the production of original programming with “adult” language and concepts that wouldn’t be possible on a broadcast TV show.   The pilot of Discovery doesn’t have anything that I would see as “mature” or objectionable.  However the publicity for this show has had a lot of articles in liberal outlets like Vox making much of the fact that this is the first show in the Trek franchise to have a regular character (played by Broadway star Anthony Rapp) who is openly gay and in a committed relationship with another crewman.  However, these characters were not in this pilot, presumably because they’re on the Discovery and not the Shenzhou.  It could be that some people at CBS, especially its Standards and Practices department, thought that such a concept might damage people’s fragile eggshell minds.  This is my speculation.  But again, I don’t see much reason why this program needs to be on a premium source outside broadcast TV.  Besides greed, that is.

Of course given that CBS All Access is a streaming service, Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t really have to worry about ratings.  But as much as this show intrigues me, I’m not sure if I’d shell out $5.99 a month just to see how it develops.  Which is another point of ironic contrast between this show and The Orville, a broadcast series on Fox, which is notoriously fickle about SF shows.  The Orville is basically old-school Trek with the serial numbers filed off, but despite having to be different for copyright purposes, it “feels” like the same spirit.  Star Trek: Discovery is official Trek product- and again, pretty good for what it is- but what it is goes out of its way to NOT feel like Trek.

Review: Rogue One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story strikes me as being an example of fan fiction that just happens to have been produced by the owners of the intellectual property. I say this as the highest form of compliment.

Fan fiction started off with the Star Trek community, as authors (mostly female) distributed “slash” stories (like Kirk/Spock) detailing gay relationships between principal characters, and other salacious ideas that would never have been approved by producers or censors. But as fandom became more popular (and respectable), fanfic evolved to a more professional quality, and fans even got to making their own video productions, like James Cawley’s Phase II (creating new adventures for the original Star Trek characters years before J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film).  But the main thing these productions had in common is that they were creating original stories for established characters (or an established setting) that the owners of the property didn’t want to produce themselves. But Paramount Pictures, the owners of Star Trek, seem to have reversed their tolerance for such things, quashing the recent fan project Star Trek: Axanar with a lawsuit.

Which from a fan perspective is too bad, because these ideas help expand the concept of what is possible in a fictional setting and ask questions not answered in official “canon.”

For example: What happened in the nearly 20 years between Star Wars Episodes III and IV?

The Star Wars prequels established that Palpatine had been planning to build his Death Star years before he became Emperor, and before Luke Skywalker was born. Rogue One is the story of how the new Rebel Alliance plotted to gain the plans to the space station, hoping to learn its structural flaws. (‘Spoiler alert- they found one.’ -Jimmy Kimmel) It centers on former Rebel Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who, like Rey in Episode VII, is a strong, likable heroine who is at the center of the action rather than being a support character or damsel in distress. She is recruited by Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who wants her to find her father, an Imperial scientist, but doesn’t tell her exactly why. Their mission goes south but they learn that the Empire has just completed its “planet killer” space station, and when the Rebel Alliance refuses to organize, Jyn resolves to find the plans to the base herself. As such, the movie takes cues from those old World War II movies where commandos have to perform a secret mission in occupied Europe, and you know someone is getting killed, you just aren’t sure who and how.

This greater realism (relative to Star Wars) is increased by the fact that apart from Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones!), there are no Jedi in the piece, although martial arts star Donnie Yen plays a variant of the Blind Master archetype, who was a monk at one of the last temples of the Force. This shift in emphasis is important in at least a minor way, given that while you did have a vast universe to explore with the Star Wars setting, the stories so far have mainly been about the journey of a prospective Jedi into mastery – while Luke (and Rey) had a large group around them with their own stories, once they developed their powers, they started spending more time away from the team. The prequels, meanwhile, were almost entirely about the Jedi Order.

So that in itself makes Rogue One, as launching point for Lucasfilm’s “anthology” concept, very valuable.  It ISN’T really stand-alone, given that the story ends almost exactly at the point where Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) begins. And again, we know how that worked out, and it isn’t too hard to guess what happens to these characters. But they are given a certain level of depth that the main series (especially the prequels) were not known for. Put another way, if you have an acquaintance who for some reason can’t stand Star Wars, you might ask them to see Rogue One with you. It works as a Star Wars story, and it works outside of being a Star Wars story. I hope it is a sign of things to come.

Fuck You, CNN

So in the course of everybody Monday-morning quarterbacking The Election, I saw this one thing on Facebook from CNN titled “How Gary Johnson and Jill Stein helped elect Donald Trump.”

Let me just print out the link, cause it took almost 20 minutes to find this article on CNN’s CRAPPY search engine.

This is basically another review of the point that “if all of Jill Stein’s voters and half of Gary Johnson’s voters had gone to Clinton” she would have won Florida, and Michigan, AND Pennsylvania.

Which does of course assume that it violates the laws of God and Reality to vote for someone to vote for someone other than a Republican or Democrat. Which assumes that Hillary Clinton actually earned the votes of the public. Which she did not.  Which assumes that it was not more critical that 44.4% of the voting age population did not turn out AT ALL.  Which assumes it didn’t make a little bit of difference that 42% of white women voted for TRUMP.  White women. Isn’t that Hillary’s demographic? Isn’t that like 42% of the turkeys voting for Thanksgiving? I think liberals will agree with me when I look at that New York Times graphic and say “WHAT THE FUCK???”

And while we’re at it, all you liberals who wanna guilt-trip me over voting for Gary Johnson: Would it make you cry more if I accepted your premise that NOT voting for Dolores Umbridge is the same as choosing Voldemort? Fine then. I voted for Trump. (I voted for Johnson.) I ELECTED TRUMP. (Y’know, even though Clinton won my state anyway.) In fact, I killed the Lindbergh Baby. AND Ned Stark. You happy now?

Just the other day, a hardcore conservative Christian friend on Facebook posted that “Nevada would have went to Trump if he had received the votes that Gary Johnson received. Colorado would have went to Trump if he had received the votes that Gary Johnson received. New Mexico ditto. Minnesota ditto. Maine ditto. Popular vote total ditto.” And then he went, “I am glad that your (Libertarian) votes didn’t allow Hillary to win, but that last entry would at least have kept some of her supporters from being so disruptive.”

And I wrote: “Thank you so SO much. I am going to bring up this point EVERY SINGLE TIME some liberal wants to read me the riot act cause I voted for Gary Johnson. Because we all know that if Hillary had won the Electoral College, your side would be calling me an Antichrist and their side would be buying me a beer.”

But of all the statistics, there’s one we haven’t gone over: According to their Wikipedia entry, as of 2015, CNN was available in over 96 million households in the United States. Officially, as of April 2016, CNN is no longer a news network.  CNN was simply one of the most prominent media outlets to start covering Donald Trump’s campaign as an actual political decision and not a cheesy publicity stunt, a decision that many people have cause to regret, possibly including Donald Trump. They were of course, not alone. Les Moonves, CEO of CBS was famously quoted during this campaign as saying that Trump’s presence in the campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

CNN, as opposed to the more openly liberal MSNBC or the openly conservative Fox, hired the Trump sycophant Jeffrey Lord as a regular discussion panelist, basically as the house organ of the Trump campaign. In an profile from Vanity Fair,  Lord said he had gotten the job after Trump taped an interview with Anderson Cooper in July 2015. “According to Lord, “Trump says something to the effect that, ‘Every time you have me on, you have someone following me, one of those Bush guys, who hate me. Why don’t you put on one of those guys who likes me?’” (CNN declined to comment when asked to confirm the story.) Soon after, Lord was on air. And within months, he was the only Trump supporter on regularly with people like David Axelrod, James Carville, and Ana Navarro—people whom Trump himself called “killers,” always trying to bury Jeff. “Those panels, those are horrible panels. I feel so sorry for Jeffrey Lord,” he once told a rally in Davenport, Iowa.” The article later mentions an episode caught on camera: “One recent evening, as Lord and his CNN colleagues were on air discussing the Republican convention, his cell phone rang behind his desk. As Cooper gave him a strange look and tried to keep the cameras on the other panelists, Lord says that he listened to an irate Trump, fuming that the rest of the panel was criticizing his convention. “You tell Anderson Cooper,” Lord recalled Trump saying. Seconds after, Trump hung up and the cameras panned back to Lord, who grinned at Cooper: “Well, Anderson, as a matter of fact, I’ve just spoken to Donald Trump, and he has a message for you!”

CNN more famously hired as panelist Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, whom Trump let go after being charged with simple battery against a Breitbart campaign reporter.  Lewandowski was still under the non-disclosure agreement he’d signed as part of Trump’s team, and as a CNN commentator was still receiving severance pay from the Trump campaign.

But according to one of your staff, CNN, it was Jill Stein and Gary Johnson that put the republic in danger.

WE did this? Not YOU??

You did make certain ideologies unacceptable. Followers of right-wing classical liberalism might as well be the last believers in a hokey old religion. Democratic socialists are just kooks. But Trump calling Mexicans rapists and drug smugglers? Saying that we need to ban immigrants on the basis of religion or national origin? “Great for ratings.”

But WE did this?

After all the free publicity you gave that tailored orangutan and all you have done (over the years) to make third-party candidates unpersons?

How many more people watch CNN than voted for Johnson and Stein? How many CNN viewers even know who Jill Stein is? They certainly wouldn’t have found out watching CNN campaign coverage.

Suck my big Mwamba, CNN. I am never watching you again.

There is now a greater-than-zero chance that Donald Trump will start World War III – most likely cause the dictator of North Korea hit his hands – and just as Nazi Germany started World War II and ended up losing, we will lose, because while we, like Nazi Germany, have military and technical superiority, we, like Nazi Germany will end up pissing off almost the entire rest of the planet. And once it’s over and the allied coalition occupies our nation, they will have to find the least radioactive city in North America to stage the next Nuremberg Trials. And when they do they are going to round up every surviving member of the Trump Administration along with every surviving executive of the mainstream media, and put them on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, just as the Allies ended up doing with publisher Julius Streicher.

Because while free speech is as close to an absolute as we have in America- and that DOES include what the Left calls “hate speech”- there is no requirement or obligation on the part of a news outlet or other corporation to give free publicity to a race-baiter who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, and there is no obligation on the part of a broadcaster to legitimize such a demagogue by treating his opinions as though they deserved a public hearing, as though we had not already rejected such opinions long ago as toxic to a humane society, as if we had not already fought wars to put such philosophies into the ground, and as if they deserved more credence than the opinions of libertarians and democratic socialists, simply because the wannabe fascist in question is an entertaining buffoon who’s good for ratings. And when you actively promote and endorse such positions, you have abrogated your responsibility as a news medium (to the extent that you are one) and you are complicit in whatever comes to pass.

Fuck you, CNN.