Those Meddling Kids

I just read a “news” story on Fox News. I knew before the page even loaded there would be no THERE there, but it’s important to pay a bit of attention to the propaganda arm of the Trump administration from time to time. If you don’t know what bullshit they are spewing, you can’t counter it when you hear it repeated in the wild.

Fox News Headline

In what ways was Germany “meddling” in American politics or policy? Some of their elected officials had opinions about those subjects and dared to voice them out loud in front of people who reported them to the world. Yes, people speaking their minds on what the President of the United States is doing is now “meddling” in American politics. It certainly seems they’d like Germans using their right to free speech to be equated with Russia “meddling” in our elections. To be honest, I’ve thought, since the beginning of this whole ugly mess, that the word “meddling” was entirely too light of a word to use to describe Russia’s attack upon our democracy. Its a squishy, soft word best left in the mouths of cartoon villains while decrying how they’d have gotten away with their dastardly plan, if the Scooby team hadn’t been so good at sleuthing.

Having an opinion on what anyone or any country is doing and speaking it out loud is not, in any way, meddling. The fact that Fox News would like to equate deploying opinions in public with attempting to thwart free and fair elections in the minds of their viewers/readers should give one pause. When will it become “meddling” in American politics and foreign policy for Americans to voice their opinions on the Trump administration?

Flashbacks of Dystopia

Earlier today, a friend of mine said she felt like we are living in a flashback scene in a movie showing how the dystopia depicted in the movie came to be. A great many people feel that way, myself included. What follows is my response to what she said.

*****

You feel that way because we are living in such a time. I’ve been squawking about this since G. W. Bush was elected. Not that he was going to be the downfall of it all, but that the Republicans had decided having power was more important than doing good. They sidled up to the lunatic fringe … the racists, the homophobes, the misogynists, the evangelical fundamental Christians … and they began to shape their party to gain their votes, because they needed those votes to stay in power. They made it seem okay to be a racist, a homophobe, a hateful Christian, a woman-hater. They supported those views to maintain their power, while simultaneously doing very little to appease the fringe elements they had courted, and then Bush broke things in our systems. Just small things, but it paved the way for the bigger things to be broken later.

Along comes Trump. He has normalized the racism, sexism, homophobia, and the darkest dreams of fundamental Christianity to the point where they feel it’s perfectly acceptable to be themselves in public. To express their inner thoughts out loud and be proud of them. Trump has taken the power the Republicans borrowed from the lunatic fringe during the Bush administration and given it back to them tenfold, and it has proven to them that their faith in the Republican Party was well founded. They are now true believers, and the Republican Party, as it has historically existed, has transformed completely into something new, darker, and wholly awful. They have become the party of hate.

Trump has used the small things that were broken during the Bush administration to break more things. Deeper things … things fundamental to the functioning of our government and society, as well as governments and societies around the planet. And even with all he is doing, I still don’t quite feel like he is the true danger. He’s the proverbial bull in the china shop, thrashing wildly and destroying everything he touches. The true danger is what comes after all the pieces are on the floor and someone comes in with a tube of glue and starts putting the pieces back together again. Do they put them together again the way they were? Or do they put them together in some new twisted way that suits their vision of the way it should be? And what pieces were ground into dust and will be forever missing?

It may very well be Trump that tries to put the pieces together again. It would fit with his method of causing a problem so he can then “fix” it, but his fixes are always illusions. Smoke and mirrors, lies. I don’t believe he is intelligent enough to to entirely reshape America to match his vision of what it should be. What we must be careful of is what comes after Trump. Someone who is more intelligent but has their own vision of what the world should look like, and this someone is likely already already holding power and just waiting, quietly to be handed the mantle of control and a tube of glue. But it needn’t be someone on the conservative side of the political equation. The pendulum of politics swings. With the Bush administration, it swung further to the right than it had in a while, and then it swung back to the left and gave us Obama. It has now swung extremely far to the right, and being a pendulum, it will eventually swing … possibly too far to the left.

Political beliefs and systems do not exist on a straight line with the far right and far left on the ends. It’s a circle, and where the two most diametrically opposed “ends” meet lies totalitarianism. Currently, both the far right and far left are in agreement that the world should burn, that the bull should smash everything in the china shop, because they both believe they will then be able to pick up the pieces and reform the world to their liking. Whoever manages to get through the front door of the china shop, say the right things, make the right promises, and is holding a tube of glue will be viewed as a savior, and humans often overlook the foibles of their saviors when under stress. Just look at the Republican Party today for an example. The President, a member of their party, does things they don’t agree with, and instead of doing anything tangible to push back against it, they express their concerns while giving him what he wants. Why? Because they feel he is protecting them from having to live in a world that isn’t white, heteronormative, and patriarchal. They fear the loss of power and privilege. While the person who steps in once everything is lying on the floor in pieces could exist anywhere on the political spectrum, it is on the fringes where the greatest peril lies.

We live in dangerous times. Not just in America but around the world, the political pendulum is swinging wildly and bulls are thrashing around in china shops breaking fundamental parts of governance and society. Norms are being rewritten, the awful things people used to say quietly are being shouted on the streets, the core values we once thought were indestructible are crumbling, and the worst amongst us are feeling empowered. I don’t know if we are a couple of months or some years from living in a world completely unrecognizable, but I do know we … as a country and a planet … are closer than we have ever been. I also don’t know if the momentum of events has built up enough yet to carry us over the edge or whether we can stop it all and reverse it. Some days, it feels as though we are already falling and there is no stopping it until we find ourselves on the floor, just a pile of sparkling pieces that were once a beautiful whole.

So what can any one person do in such perilous times? Don’t retreat from the horrors of what’s happening in the world. Stay aware and engaged. Push back. Use your voice. Vote. Help other people vote. Be good. Do good. Stand beside those who are also doing good. Protect those who need protection. Take care of yourself. Take care of others. Help those who need help. Insist that we can do better. Persist in the face of opposition. Refrain from giving in to hopelessness and despair. Confront the degradation of society’s norms.

Resist. Resist. Resist.

Truth Tellers, Not Ratings Seekers

As someone who studied journalism and went on to work as a journalist for a little while, and who spent a lot of time writing headlines, I feel the need to illuminate a few things. Headlines are not news. They are clickbait. They were clickbait long before clicking was a thing. They are eyecatching, barely informative tidbits designed to get you to read the rest of the story. The best headline I ever wrote, which won me an actual award, was … Student Council Out For Blood. Doesn’t tell you much does it? Makes you want to know what the story had to say, I bet. That’s what headlines are created to do. It is their function. They are meant to attract your attention. Once again, repeat after me, all headlines are clickbait and always have been, throughout all of journalistic history. They are not news.

And here’s something you should know about the stories under the headlines … 75% or more of every story is mostly unnecessary fluff and cruft. Once upon a time, the first paragraph of a story would contain all the most important information. Who, what, when, where, why, and how. The rest of the story descended through layers of further information to flesh that out, and the lower any particular paragraph of information appeared in a story, the less important it was. Why, you ask? Long ago in the dark ages, those of us who worked in the layout and paste up room had to make stories fit into spaces. We’d trim from the bottom up until it fit. If doing so made the story incomprehensible or otherwise less readable, then it had to be rewritten or was simply left out. Being a journalist meant you wrote every paragraph as though it might the closing to your story, and you were always ready to do some light editing if that wasn’t going to work. My how times have changed, and quite frankly, I believe that most of the problems journalists and journalism itself face today have been caused by the lack of any necessity to be concise and precisely accurate in a limited space.

It’s not just the change to Google News that’s grinding my gears today. That was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve been irritated and sometimes enraged by the state of journalism generally and American journalism particularly for quite a long while. Without respectable news sources and journalists who are willing to be truth tellers rather than ratings seekers, we are … to put it bluntly … doomed. Why do you think one of the first things a dictator does is take over all sources of information? Because that’s where the power resides. That power can be used for good or evil, and I’m not seeing a great many news outlets using it for good these days.

News today feels like propaganda, because in essence, that is what it has become. It’s market tested, light on facts and heavy on opinion, and the vast majority of it is designed to persuade rather than inform. And in its mad glee to appear “unbiased”, modern journalism tells both sides of stories that only have one actual factual side. Such is the crazy world we now live in. Most days, I feel as though it has all gone so far over the brink that journalism as we know it now cannot be redeemed, and there is no coming back from this “scoop first, find out facts later” insanity. I hold out hope that somewhere out there are young people wanting to be journalists … old school, tell it like it is, hell-be-damned journalists, and not just using words and “access” to gain fame, fortune, glory, and power. I guess time will tell. I’ll be watching and waiting for a new generation of truth tellers to emerge, but I suspect I’ll be watching and waiting for quite a while.

Case Closed

Last night a little news story crossed my digital path, and I just have to share it with you. Now, before I do, let me just say that either this story is fake news that made its way into the real news stream, or this woman and her lawyers are bags of nuts.

Someone named Karen Goode is suing a San Antonio area Popeye's fast food restaurant because they … well, let me just quote the lawsuit …

“Plaintiff purchased rice and beans from Defendants’ restaurant that contained flesh eating New World Screwworms, and Plaintiff unknowingly ingested the flesh eating screwworms. The flesh eating screwworms entered Plaintiff’s digestive track, laid eggs which embedded in the interior lining of Plaintiff’s small intestine, and when hatched, infested Plaintiff’s body and began to eat Plaintiff alive from the inside-out.”

Okay, let me put on my judge robes and declare that if this lawsuit actually exists, it will be thrown out of court by any judge with any amount of brain cells and the slightest bit of education. Why? Just off the top of my pre-morning-coffee brain, I can give you three solid reasons that this is (in some way or another) bullshit.

Screwworms (fly larva/maggots) do not lay eggs. They are the product of eggs. They lead to flies, who then lay eggs which become screwworms/maggots, and the cycle continues.

Screwworms, like all living things, require oxygen to survive. The digestive system of the human body is not an oxygen rich environment. In fact, one method of removing screwworms that have burrowed into a living creature is to starve them of oxygen and force them to surface.

Screwworms would not survive passing through the stomach and to get to the small intestine. The human digestive system is designed to process proteins, and screwworms/maggots are a rich source of protein. If you ate a screwworm or even a number of screwworms, your digestive system would happily digest them.

Furthermore, while it is possible for a human to be infested with New World Screwworms, it is really, extremely rare. I mean EXTREMELY rare. So while I'm not saying it couldn't happen, I am saying that it didn't happen by way of eating rice and beans at a San Antonio Popeye's. Case closed.

And if you would like more information on the New World Screwworm, you can go look it up yourself. Not only did I learn all about it some 30 years ago when this critter made its first big appearance in the USA, I went and refreshed my knowledge recently when Florida had a little outbreak out in the Keys. I'm not going to dig up the links again, because EEEEEEEWWWWWW. The information will scar you for life!

A Very Weird Thing

Interesting little thing I heard about and then looked into myself. Thought I'd share, because … it's interesting, in a scary kind of way. At the official White House web site, there's a side menu (on my iPad anyway) that lists all the links to other sections. When you scroll down to see the bottom of it, you see the links to the branches of the U.S. Government. Only it appears that one branch has gone missing from the list of three. Yes, the Judicial Branch isn't on the list. Hmmm.

Since I'm a clever geeky type of person, I look at the format for the Executive Branch link and deduce what the Judicial Branch link would be. When I typed that in and waited for it to load, this popped up.
It's a fancy 404 Not Found error page. So not only has the link to the Judicial Branch been removed, the entire page has been removed. And since the Obama Archive link was right there, I hopped on over, where I verified that my deduced link to where the Judicial Branch page should be was correct, and then read the completely bland and not at all political explanation of our Judicial Branch the Obama White House site provided.
 
Now, if there had been any changes made to either of the other branch's pages, and if the Judicial Branch page hadn't been down so long, I'd just assume they were making some edits, but no … the page for the Executive Branch and the one for the Legislative Branch are, as far as I can tell, identical to what appeared on the Obama version of the site (and probably versions prior than that, it's really boilerplate boring stuff). So I'm left wondering … what the hell is going on? I could speculate, but I'd hate to speculate.
 
Anyway, remember how I told you all to remember the past and watch the future and make note of things that change? Yeah, this is what I'm talking about. It's a small thing. May even be nothing, but it's very, very weird and was worth noting for posterity.

She Said, He Said, She Said Again

The biggest problem with trying to blog about the ridiculously idiotic and/or revoltingly evil doings of the current American regime is that just about the time I finish a post on the most recent idiotic or evil thing they have done, they go and do another one. It really just never stops. It's difficult keeping up with it all while also having a life. The local reaction to Trump's empowerment of the far right crazies though moves at a slightly slower pace. Recently, some serious shit hit the fan. Let me tell you about it …

Last week, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced that unless an illegal immigrant had been charged or found guilty of a list of very serious crimes, she would not be honoring ICE's warrantless detainer requests demanding said immigrants be turned over for expulsion from the country or federal justice measures. Additionally, people in her department would not be asking anyone about their citizenship status whether they have been arrested of a crime or have come in to report being the victim of a crime. I'd say that she threw down the gauntlet, but really, it's more like lobbing a grenade. Good! She won her election by a very wide margin, the police departments in the area support her in her run for office, and she made no bones about who she was, what she believed, and what she would do as Travis County Sheriff. She has the support of the people and local elected officials, so I'm glad to see her following through with campaign promises.

Alas, her statement hasn't sat well with the far right regime running Texas, headed by Governor Gregg Abbott. He demanded she reverse her “misguided and dangerous” policy and announced he would be withholding funds from Travis County, to the tune of $1.8 million from the Criminal Justice System. Not content with that small amount, he has since set his budget director into action contacting state agencies and asking them to report on what other funds Travis County recieves that could be withheld as well. Governor Abbott has also been making mewling noises about working on some way to remove her and other elected officials like her from office using the Texas Legislature.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Hernandez is not backing down, and other elected officials such as pussy hat wearing Judge Sarah Eckhardt have stepped forward asking Governor Abbott to reconsider his actions (nope, he won't). Neither side will be backing down it seems, so it will be interesting to see what happens going forward, especially if the federal government gets involved. With Trump's recent declaration that he will “send in the Feds” to solve Chicago's problems, without defining if he meant police or soldiers (though there's very little differentiating the two these days), one has to wonder what sending in “the Feds” to Austin would look like.

A great many people forget, including far right wing Texans, that centrist Texans and liberal Texans are still very much Texans in the truest sense of the word. We're pig-headedly stubborn, loudly opinionated, quick to take action when offended, strong believers in the sanctity of property rights, lovers freedom, and dedicated fighters of authority figures trying to tell us what to do from on high. A large percentage of us are also firm supporters of the Second Amendment and neither fear nor loathe guns. If I were going to choose a liberal enclave to flex my right wing muscles in, let's just say that Austin, Texas wouldn't be my first choice. There's going to be pushback.

A Well Refilled

What follows is a post I started writing some weeks ago, on the day I decided that instead of returning to political blogging full on I would be stepping away from the Internet entirely deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, taking down the blog, axing the Livejournal, and just not interacting with the digital world at all. I don't even remember what day it was or what had happened on that day, but I'd lost hope. The fire was gone from my belly. I let fear win. I fully intended to lurk around quietly until Inauguration Day, and then make sure I had physical contact info for those people who mean the most to me before just quietly disappearing from the online world. I felt I didn't have the energy to deal with what being a public opinionated female voice on the Internet entails. It takes a deep well of passion to face death and rape threats and stupidity on a daily basis merely for speaking your mind, and my well felt very, very dry.

Then … Inauguration Day happened. I watched, because I felt it was important to bear witness, and I haven't missed one since I was a child and old enough to know what a president is. It's important to me to see history that happened during my life with my own eyes, so that in the future when people try to rewrite it, I can say “No! That's not what happened!” because people always try to rewrite history to suit their needs. Anyway, I found myself posting on Facebook and writing Tweets and getting angry, but I still intended to wake up Saturday and begin extracting myself from the online world.

But … Saturday happened. I watched the DC Women's March, and over the course of the day, the spark that ignited in my heart and mind became a conflagration. My well of passion began to refill. And then the lies and gaslighting and absolute bullshit being spewed by the current administration began rolling in, and I found my voice. I found my passion. I found maybe I do have the strength to be an opinionate woman on the Internet, and while I doubt I will be making daily posts, I can't be silent. None of us can afford to be silent. Silence lets the win, and we can't let them win.

So for posterity and completion of public record, I post the following which was to be the last thing I said on the this blog. So you know, and I don't forget … that we can all be beat down but we can't stay down. The only way to go when you find yourself at the bottom is up.

*******Unfinished Undated Post*******

I'd intended to hop back into political blogging full on. I mean, there's plenty to rant about right now, isn't there? And I have tried. I have no less than three lengthy blog posts I have been working on diligently for over a week, but a couple nights ago, while I was toiling away trying to find just the right words to express the idea that we are all so fucked right now in a more polite and less offensive way, I closed my blogging app, stared at one of my paintings hanging in the living room, and contemplated my existence on the Tree of Woe. As the afternoon turned to evening, my soul searching came to an end, and I had come to a few conclusions.

I popped out of my mother's womb into a family that was very political and a world that was full of problems, and my interest and desire to solve these problems and be a part of creating a better world for everyone started early in my life. For all the decades of my life, I have seen my country slowly plodding forward into a more progressive, inclusive, and equal society. Baby steps all the way, and the occasional back step as well, but always moving generally in the right direction, even though we've had to drag some portion of our populace along kicking and screaming. Along the way, I always held firm to the belief that humans are inherently good. I was an eternal optimist. Sure, things might be messed up and crazy right now, but it's all going to turnout okay in the end. Maybe even better than okay!

But also along the way, a small part of my heart began to harden and cynicism found a home there, and over the years, that small part has grown larger and harder as I have watched my fellow Americans (and just my fellow humans everywhere) growing once again more vocally hateful, bigoted, and willfully stupid about all manner of important issues. I have watched as all the decades of work fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of bigotry, oppression, and discrimination began to roll backwards, and my inner cynic said, “I told you so! People are shit.” My inner optimist held firm though, insisting that most of humanity was good or at least redeemable.

That was all before the current U.S. election cycle kicked off and my household spent a year with zero income during which we lost a great deal of what we'd gained in our lives and nearly lost it all. Let me tell you, when you have no money and nowhere to be and nothing to do, it gives you plenty of time to contemplate things, and so I did. Over the course of my year long deep thoughts on life in planet earth, my inner cynic finally convinced my inner optimist that it's true … people are shit. Not all people obviously, but the vast majority of humanity is a lost cause with no hope of redemption. Oh sure, eventually everything will be okay, but it's not going to be okay this year, or next year, or maybe not even next decade. I very seriously doubt that the world will be okay again in my lifetime.