Essays & Articles

Blogs

The one thing I don’t like about blogs is the reverse chronological order posts all runbackwardsman in. It can be a bit awkward for a visitor who doesn’t frequent these kinds of sites. They may scroll through the most recent bit of prose, find it not to their liking, or think that’s really all there is, and leave. Never to return.

I don’t have a simple solution for this concern of mine, but for now, until I determine a better way, if you want to read my thoughts on a particular subject, select it from the Categories section to your right, or right here:

If you don’t mind your topics scrambled up a bit, then scroll on down. If you’re interested in diet and/or strength training, check my site dedicated to such matters at HEAVY.

Social Media Sucks

Facebook is among the most commonly visited websites in the world, and we’re not talking about just social media sites, but over the entire internet. YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit are right behind them when it comes to social media sites specifically. We are spending a lot of time on these sites sharing. Some people make money from their social media activity, some advertise in hopes of making money, but most just share. What we’re all sharing is part of why this seemingly amazing and useful interconnected world of information sucks so bad.

The last US Presidential Election cycle highlighted how it easy it is to take advantage of people’s innate biases to spread disinformation with social media. Literally fabricated accounts of the most ridiculous tabloid-style writing was passed off as legitimate news articles and shared by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people to their social media friends. Countless memes were created with false quotes implicating one candidate or another in something untoward, and again, spread like an out of control wildfire. We also now know that some of these falsified stories originated out of foreign countries, specifically targeting one particular candidate to attempt to influence the broader media coverage and voter’s attitudes toward this candidate. It worked remarkably well.

Disinformation and misinformation is just one aspect of the suckage that spews forth from social media. Spend a little time on Twitter, or reading YouTube or Facebook comments and you’ll see truly vicious and hateful rhetoric aimed at literally anyone and everyone. No matter the topic, from sports to politics, from breastfeeding to sexual orientation, everyone is a target.

Even in the less savage circles of the social media internet–and let’s face it, when you’re as big as Facebook, you might as well be called your own internet–everyone posting something on their page risks being embarrassed by their friends or family, critiqued or evaluated on the appropriateness of what they chose to share, or one-upped by someone whose vacation was just better than yours, or whose TV is more fabulous, or whose new car is even better than your new car.

Social media sucks because it’s used by people, and people suck. Social media has just given people an enormous platform to display their inherent tendencies, which unfortunately are really shitty. People are greedy, selfish, jealous, attention-seeking, vindictive, manipulative, and judgmental, just to name a few qualities off the top of my head. As Elaine Benes famously told Jerry Seinfeld: “I will never understand people.” To which Jerry responded with a fundamental fact about the human condition:

System Check 

I think it’s time to fully test the system. Let’s see if the dam will hold.

The dam of American checks and balances is leaking, and there are few fingers in the dike. The presidency of Donald J. Trump is stress testing our systems and I think the opportunity to fully test the system is upon us, like civil engineers testing a bridge to be sure it will hold.

We can talk about the campaign for the White House, but that was more a display that the delicate political norms we all take for granted were nothing more than a thin veil covering the dark underbelly of racism, tribalism and nationalism. Voters still voted for the man who called Mexicans rapists, who mocked the disabled, who threatened to jail his political opponents, who proposed banning an entire religion from entering the United States. This was shocking certainly, but not a failure of the underlying principles of our governing process. No, the first test of the system would arguably have been the Convention; where the delegates could have selected someone else as the nominee, despite the voters preference, but this did not occur.

The next test was the election itself, which demonstrated yet again that this geographic parsing of the weight carried by votes in a given state failed to put forth the most popular candidate to the highest office, and instead elected someone despite the fact that 11,000,000 more Americans had voted for someone else. The actual Electoral College then had an opportunity to use their judgement and not cast their state’s votes for a man so obviously ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the position that a minority of American voters chose him for. They did not, and Donald J. Trump, a 70-year old former Beauty Pageant owner and Game Show Host with no political experience, became the President of the United States.

As Trump appointed sycophants and cronies to cabinet positions, selected according to some analysis as the persons most opposed to the function of their assigned department, the confirmation process was another failsafe built into the system. However, it also failed to prevent the ascendancy of the ironic appointments to positions of power. Underlying it all was the overwhelming weight of evidence indicating that a foreign power had interfered with the American election, and that the President’s own team had been aware of it, actively encouraged it, and potentially colluded with the attempts to discredit and undermine the opposition candidate. Despite all the evidence, the President refuses to acknowledge even the possibility that it occurred.

A Supreme Court vacancy was filled by discarding existing Senate rules to allow a simple majority of Senators to approve the President’s nominee, despite having obstructed the former President from allowing his nominee to ever get a hearing or consideration for the position. Again, a systemic failure allowed the unthinkable to occur right before our eyes. The President has refused to divest himself from his business interests and is actively using the office of the Presidency to enrich himself and his family. He has elevated members of his family to fabricated positions of power in the White House and his children are featured regularly on the propaganda wing of the Republican Party, FOX News, to disemble, convolute, confuse, distort and demean. The Department of Justice, the ultimate overseer of legal compliance, has deemed it lawful for the President to receive income from foreign powers who stay at his hotels, use his golf courses, or otherwise engage in business with the Trump Organization’s private, for profit ventures, in spite of the Constitution specifically prohibiting it. The dam is proving to be straining to hold back the flood waters.

And now we come to the most pressing issue we face as a nation of laws and founding principles. The President himself appears to have obstructed the judicial process by attempting to influence the law enforcement agencies investigating his campaign for their involvement in the interference by a foreign nation of our election. On more than one occasion, the President attempted to sway the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempts to get to the bottom of the breadth of knowledge, cooperation and potential collusion with the Russian government or Russian operatives by his team or possibly the President himself. When this attempt failed, the President fired the head of the FBI. To avoid any confusion, the President went on national television and assured the American public that he, Donald J. Trump, had fired the head of the FBI because of the investigation into Russian interference in our election: “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’.”

James Comey then appeared before Congress and provided significant details about his private conversations with the President, including indicating that he had asked not to be left alone with Trump. Trump had asked for loyalty, and as this 1992 interview with Trump will show, being disloyal to him is unacceptable:

 

Meanwhile, the Deputy Attorney General appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the ongoing election interference and potential collusion with President Trump, his campaign personnel and/or members of his current administration. Robert Mueller, a former head of the FBI, is now in place with wide powers of investigation, and as one would expect under a systems stress test, rumors are floating about that the President is considering asking the Deputy Attorney General to fire Mueller, or if he refuses, firing him and replacing him with someone who will do his bidding, or potentially testing his legal authority and just firing Mueller himself.   According to some legal minds, this would create a Constitutional Crisis in the United States, where the President has placed himself above the law and will do everything in his power to prevent a true accounting of any possible illegal activities he or his team may have been involved in. A Constitutional Crisis is defined as a situation where “separate factions within a government disagree about the extent to which each of these factions hold sovereignty. Most commonly, constitutional crises involve some degree of conflict between different branches of government (e.g., executive, legislature, and/or judiciary), or between different levels of government in a federal system (e.g., state and federal governments).”¹

The history of Constitutional Crisis in this country is a sordid one, with epic, far-reaching effects that are still felt to this day. The most significant was the secession of seven states from the Union over the issue of slavery which lead to the American Civil War, with countrymen killing and maiming each other within our own borders. But the most recent is also the most familiar. In 1972, President Nixon, under investigation for his part in a political hacking eerily similar to the foreign hacking we are dealing with in 2017, fired the special prosecutor assigned to investigate him. The President ultimately was forced to resign when informed the votes existed to impeach him, and have him legally removed from office.

This is where we stand today. On the precipice of another dam-breaking crisis despite the systems erected after every preceding crisis to prevent this exact situation, and I say it’s time to see if the dam will hold. I want to see President Trump exert every effort, including firing the special prosecutor, to rid himself of this investigation into his possible collusion with the Russians to undermine his political opponent and ascend to the highest office in the land. I want to see the Republican majority in the House and Senate put to the ultimate test of party vs. country. I want to see if a minority party, in this case the Democrats, have any power at all when in the minority. I want to see if the Judiciary will be truly independent of the Executive and the Legislative bodies of government. We’ve come this far, we are in it deep, and we need to see if the freaking dam will hold.

 

¹ Constitutional Crisis

 

He rests in peace 

Suicide is a shock to the living. We can’t accept it. Reactions range from sorrow and grief to anger at the person who chose the time and the means of their demise. As if somehow they should have considered everyone else’s feelings before making the most personal and final decision one can make. I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy, or that somehow Chris Cornell’s suicide makes sense to me, because it hasn’t and it doesn’t. The mind reels to consider it. How could a man with so much choose to check out and leave it all behind?

We will likely never have a satisfactory answer because Chris isn’t around to tell us his reasoning for the final decision of his famous life. People who knew him well are having their say, but they seem as shocked as those of us who were just fans; who didn’t really know the man at all, but felt like we did because of his contribution to the world.

Reading his lyrics is perhaps the closest thing we can get to a suicide note, but I have to be careful to remind myself he was making art. He was writing poetry. It would be easy to latch onto a song that lines everything up, to show he was depressed and wanted to die, but you’d have to ignore all the songs that didn’t fit that mold. We all fall on black days, and for some those falls are more frequent and more painful than others. Was Chris mentally ill? I don’t know, and the possibility exists that that is nothing more than an easy answer to the unsolvable problem of his suicide: “Well, he was just sick. The sickness finally got to him.”

I can only say that I’ve taken myself down the road as far as I can go. Allowing myself to feel as pessimistic as I can about the future, as regretful as I can about the past, as nihilistic as I can about the pointless meaningless of all of it and when I get nice and dark, down in the well, staring into the abyss, I still can’t get to the next step. I can’t feel like ending my life is an answer to anything. So perhaps I’m destined to never understand it, to never have closure. I’m doomed to acceptance of what is as the only answer I’ll ever have. Chris Cornell killed himself and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

I think we tell the deceased to rest in peace because we all know that peace while living is a bar set too high. In all its wonder and beauty, living also comes with pain and sorrow, strife and torment, sadness and despair. For some unfortunate ones, the scales are tipped decidedly toward misery. For Chris Cornell, in that fateful moment of deliberation, the decision was to get some peace and get it permanently.

Corruption

The degree of corruption in this President and his Administration is so exhaustive it’s difficult to quantify. From the level of dishonesty on all things–from the most petty to the most consequential–the complete ignorance of, and most disgracefully, the complete disregard for the law, the Constitution and our bedrock principles of democracy, to the overt self-enrichment and promotion of the Trump brand using his position as President, the most audacious aspect of it all is its obviousness! It’s completely in your face, out in the open, bald-faced corruption. His children wield vast powers in fabricated positions in the White House. Government agencies promote the Trump family’s books and their Florida resort. The President relentlessly attacks and maligns all adversaries, imagined and actual. He has filled his cabinet with cronies and is hellbent on undoing all things done by his predecessor through the very same Executive Orders he maligned him for using.

But the most chilling event in this terrifying experiment of having an ignorant old con man running the nation is his firing of the Director of the FBI, who was leading an investigation into the ignorant old con man running the nation. Again, the overt outrageousness of this action, reeking as it does of covering up wrongdoing by getting rid of the guy uncovering the wrongdoing is its most appalling aspect. I mean, there isn’t even an attempt at subtlety! The President and his minions will just blatantly lie, on television, in front of cameras, knowing full well that video exists to prove that they are lying. It’s as if they are daring the nation to try to stop them from doing precisely what they appear to be doing, which is enriching themselves by using the full power of their elected positions and ousting anyone who gets in the way.

I’ve stopped sharing the news articles on social media because they’re ubiquitous. The only question that remains unanswered is if our Republic’s systems of checks and balances and law and order are sufficiently solid to take the needed steps to remove this President and his people from their lofty perches. Impeachment seems like the least that should be done! For the full weight of justice to be felt would likely involve imprisonment of who knows how many people.