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TIL [Feb. 17th, 2017|08:27 pm]
Josh Fredman
Today was a dark day. Not because of anything that happened to me or mine; in that respect, it was actually a perfectly fine and placid day. No, today was a dark day because today I became persuaded that one of my worst fears has come true: The evils contained in the conservative movement have metastasized and reoriented themselves in a way that has completely possessed people under twenty years old and to a lesser extent younger millennials. Without actually transforming into conservatives, these people have adopted some of the most destructive ideas coming out of conservatism in recent years. What was previously a force dying out by the old age of its victims, has successfully crossed the generational barrier and found a new kind of host.

If that is true, and I now suspect it is, then we may have reached the high water mark for justice in this country, for a long time to come. At the very least, it means we are doomed to fight these same battles for the rest of our lifetimes.

All the progress we’ve made in my lifetime isn’t illusory, but it might not be part of the inexorable march of progress that I once thought—and I’ll get into the why later (short answer: we have become disconnected from truth and consequence)—but instead a sort of pendular extreme which, ultimately, cannot hold.

The pursuit of social justice, what a noble cause that was. Safe spaces were nice while they lasted, weren’t they? And trigger warnings, those were a useful tool. Many of these ideas are brand new! I didn’t even know about them eight years ago. But they would appear to be unstable, because the tolerant, respectful society upon which they rely…does not exist.

The right wing has succeeded in appropriating and subverting all of that language (see trends), as well as caricaturing the customs and budding institutions bearing those labels, in addition to its victories in vilifying feminism, stigmatizing the shaming of hate speech, and discrediting the traditional media for many Americans (thus depriving people of one of their key recourses to the truth), even as more and more Internet comments threads abound with far-right jargon like “cuck” and “redpilled” and “political correctness.” A few years ago this stuff was on the fringe, the province of hardcore radicals like men’s rights activists, white supremacists, and straight-up Neo-Nazis. But it’s not the fringe anymore, because a new generation of people are coalescing their worldviews, and those views lack the perspective and factual grounding to understand why not to associate with such deplorables.

So, why today? What happened today to set me at such unease? Of all things, it was the damn Pewdiepie scandal. I’d seen the headlines in the news over the past few days, but hadn’t paid any attention to it. I don’t care about Pewdiepie. I’d never watched one of his videos in full. They’re not my style.

But this morning I saw an interesting headline on Google News and clicked through to find an incredibly fascinating feature on Buzzfeed (yeah, I know). This feature, by a Jacob Clifton, despite having a disheveled thesis that doesn’t entirely succeed in the heavy lifting that he wants it to, is framed in such a way that it really shed some light for me on some observations and conclusions that have been percolating in my political mind for quite a while now. In the piece, Clifton draws an association between the Gamergate Internet types and what we’re calling the “alt-right,” on the premise that what they share in common is being redpilled edgelords who see through the supposed lies of politicians, the media, and “far-left political correctness.”

The online alt-right is built on lulz, and on an insulated privilege enjoyed by people without any personal context for or historical understanding of the things their privilege lets them say. Rewriting Felix Kjellberg’s history to make him a monster — pulled along by the gravity of recent high-impact cautionary tales like those of Milo Yiannopolous and Richard Spencer — is investigative laziness that obscures a much more important fact: that “edgelords,” the boys and men who group together online for the explicit proliferation of hate speech and misogyny, will almost inevitably keep pushing the line until they end up in a truly dark place.

[…]

It’s just a short step from like-minded victim-heroes linking up to edgelords radicalizing each other, just like men’s rights activists, or creepy pick-up artists: Nobody else gets their embattled perspective, their need for validation, their need for help. In fact, they’re vilified for it. And so they urge one another on, and because all humor is based on seeds of discomfort, and seeds can eventually bloom, the joke hate eventually evolves into real hate.


This is the mechanism by which the ideological diseases of the degenerate, zombified conservative movement have transmitted over to the younger generation. These kids have grown up on YouTube and social media, and trust their chosen authorities on these new media so completely that the world of the traditional media and pre-Internet cultural formations are almost an afterthought. For them, the traditional media serves no purpose whatsoever except to validate things they already believe. We all contribute to this reputation, too—I do it myself, every time I click that “Like” button on a news story—because, whatever our motives may actually be, people who aren’t looking for motives will ascribe the simplest one: anything we post is something that we endorse in some way—be it a viewpoint or factual claims.

With each generation, as people have, become farther removed from the moving pieces that make society work, amid an environment of increasing plenty and increasing personal empowerment (or at least the perception thereof), people have gradually lost their understanding of the consequences of civic negligence. When I was coming of age it was popular for people to dismiss politics as a parlor game that didn’t matter; today, people dismiss not just politics but the whole civil arena, including investigative journalism and the responsibility upon everyone to be informed and engaged.

This isn’t a “Kids these days!” screed. My generation and all the generations above mine have these same problems. But the degree is a problem. The youngest generation has cut itself off from the readiest sources of good information—exactly as the far right has done. In their fixation on their own made-up world of “truth,” their inevitable lack of interest in the real truth has deluded them, and cost them the ability to understand why things like feminism and the shaming of hate speech is important. There’s no personal stake; none of them are going to be carted off to concentration camps. They’re going to be clothed, fed, and logged in, and that’s enough to make them complacent, and apathetic to the abounding woes in our world right now.

The fact that the online backlash to the Pewdiepie scandal has had the same tenor as that of Trump’s supporters’ venomous disparagements against “fake news” and “hit jobs on Trump” is starkly illuminating, and horrifying.

So let me talk about Pewdiepie for a bit. Because it wasn’t that Buzzfeed article that caused my chilling epiphany today. It was a couple of YouTube videos, many hours later: I was checking out YouTube, my day’s labors complete, when I found a thumbnail on the Pewdiepie scandal from a YouTuber who used to make content that I enjoyed: My Little Pony compilation videos. I was puzzled to see him weighing in on something so political, and, if the look of the thumbnail and video title were to be believed, to see that he was coming in on the side of the edgelords. Sure enough, he revealed himself to be a full-on right-wing wanker. I don’t understand how you can be one of the Internet’s leading bronies and end up hating feminism and Hillary Clinton, but there you go. And from there, I saw YouTube recommending another video, this one featuring a bunch of famous YouTubers going

The same thing had happened, in a much more publicly explosive way, just weeks earlier with another YouTuber whose work I used to enjoy: JonTron. He had done an interview with a fascist YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad, one of those chillingly articulate, calm-toned, intellectual-sounding people who also happens to be a complete fucking Nazi. The scariest kind of Nazi, as it so happens: the one who disavows Hitler and fascism so convincingly that you almost don’t notice that he supports all of the same ideological positions that the Nazis once held.

For people who know better, going on Sargon’s show is crossing a red line. You don’t associate with Nazis. You don’t lend them your star power. You don’t validate them with your presence. But JonTron did, and not only that but he had a veritable volcanic eruption. After years of concealing his politics from public view, JonTron went on a right-wing screed, and has been hitting his Twitter account hard with the right-wing memes ever since. For him, going on Sargon’s show was an act of self-liberation.

Mind you, this was only a few weeks ago. When I saw it—and listened to some of the interview, just to give Jon a fair hearing—not only did I lose the respect I had had for him, but I recognized that, from that day on, his primary fanbase would be something very different from what it had formerly been: No longer would his core constituents be generic gamer geeks who love his comedic send-ups of video games and movies. No, from now on his core constituents would be edgelords, for he himself turns out to be one of them.

I thought it would lead to him being shunned by the broader YouTube community, the way he laughed when Sargon trotted out the n-word, the way he bashed the media just as right-wingers do, and the way he said he didn’t consider Trump’s apologetics for sexual assault to be a serious issue, considering the threat facing America were Hillary Clinton to be elected.

But JonTron wasn’t shunned. He took some flak, but in general his fans were hugely supportive of him, and so was his fellow YouTube celebrity community.

Fast forward to today, when I saw that video by the Pony guy, and virtually all of the comments were congratulatory to him and vindictive against the media and the “far left” and “SJWs.”

That was the moment that shook me. That moment when you realize that this isn’t just a raid from some right-wing website, that these aren’t paid trolls, that, instead, something very scary, which used to be radical and far out on the fringe, is now so incredibly popular that it has mainstream support even on a channel from a person who makes My Little Pony videos.

It’s the sinking feeling you get when you realize that you’ve just lost a war that you had no expectation of losing. It’s like what happened on November 8, except, to me, a far more serious and far-reaching defeat.

The proverbial signature on the death warrant was that the Pony guy, in his video, talked about how a bunch of other YouTube celebrities had gone on Sargon’s show a couple days past to defend Pewdiepie—including one YouTuber, boogie, who, for one thing, I still like and respect, and, for another, is a flippin’ unapologetic progressive. But he went on Sargon’s show for a group interview.

Sargon of Akkad—and more specifically the once-forbidden ideological cathedral of ultraconservative nationalist supremacy—has been normalized.

I went and watched Pewdiepie’s own response video to the scandal. In it, he was highly articulate and made a very well-constructed argument in his own defense, which included numerous attacks on the media for attacking him. (Sound familiar?) What Pewdiepie didn’t do, despite apologizing for making jokes that “went too far,” was address the entirety of the charges against him. He hacked at the charges that were easy to refute. He didn’t address the charges that he does indeed exploit anti-Semitic humor to entertain his audience.

People watching that video who didn’t know better—who didn’t do any due diligence, and wouldn’t trust the media’s coverage anyway—would have no way of knowing that. And, overwhelmingly, the response among his fans and supporters was congratulatory to him and vindictive against the media, etc., etc.

The fact that the YouTube celebrity community has almost universally come out in Pewdiepie’s defense, citing such noble reasons as free speech and media accountability, belies their true motives, of which there are exactly two: First and foremost, most of these people just want to protect their revenue streams. They make money, and they want to keep making money. They see a “hit job” on Pewdiepie as a threat to them. And secondly, many of them not only don’t understand how and why Pewdiepie was in the wrong, but they in fact actively buy in to the new culture of delusion which says that the media is just a bunch of liars. They don’t understand that it’s a serious problem when somebody who makes millions of dollars and has millions of fans and exerts influence over his entire industry taps into latent genocidal hatreds and bigotries in order to push his already-detached-from-reality fanbase farther and farther into edgelord extremism. Pewdiepie’s feeble defense—“It was only a joke”—is something that thinking people would never accept at face value, yet, among the emerging generation, not only is that something to be taken at face value, but it’s a sacrosanct proposition! Down with political correctness. Make jokes about anything!

God, some of them even invoke bygone luminaries like George Carlin to make their case, and in so doing completely fail to realize that Carlin’s crude and hurtful humor was deeply subversive on behalf of shedding light on social injustices, whereas today we’re fighting for it to be socially acceptable to make jokes about baking Jews in ovens and raping people.

Anyhow, it all came together for me, today. I understand what’s happening a lot better. Or, at least I think I do.

And I would be remiss not to make at least one, mournful “I told you so.” We on the left share much of the blame for this. We abandoned unionism, inclusiveness, and humanism in favor of identity politics, hatred, and derision. Well, no “we”; I fought it every step of the way. But enough of us did it, and did it so well, that we ended up galvanizing the enemy. And, surprise surprise, it turns out that privileged classes of people, when they band together, can exert quite a bit of influence.

So now we have this odd situation where the older millennial generation and younger X’ers are staunchly liberal and still hold dear all of these sociological frameworks and narratives we’ve built about social justice and so on, but, right on our heels, is a generation who is going to oppose social justice at every step unless we can find a way to completely change the language of the debate. Good luck on that.
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Feature! Josh's Old Music [Feb. 11th, 2017|03:28 am]
Josh Fredman
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As I mentioned in this week’s Curious Tale Saturdays article, on Thursday I powered up my old Seagate external hard drive, the one I had used to make a backup of my old computer, the one that carried me through from 2000 through 2009. This drive lived in storage for six-and-a-half years, and sat unused in my apartment for two years before that, and many of the files themselves were a number of years older still. In short, we’re talking vintage stuff. A time capsule, if you will. I greatly looked forward to getting back to it during my years away in Texas.

Included in the old files are every one of my musical compositions that I’d ever transcribed up to early 2008 (including my childhood compositions from the 1990s). I greatly enjoyed revisiting my old work after so long, and I thought I’d share a few of them with you. They’re more interesting, I think, as an insight into my development as a composer. Their musical ideas are quite promising; I certainly don’t lack for inspiration; but ultimately they are not particularly good.

The classification codes are a hodgepodge. “ATH” is self-explanatory. “M” means I composed it on Michael’s donated laptop, Archimedes. “O” is a retroactive code indicating my “oldest” adult-era work.

Archimedes failed in 2010 and I haven’t had the resources to troubleshoot it yet. Some of the most interesting music I’ve ever written remains trapped there, and it’s likely that some of the pieces featured here were updated further in 2009 or 2010, after the hard drive backup was created.



“Josh – ATH 01 – The Guard of Galavar Mvt. 1”
Last Edited: July 2009
This short fanfare articulates a theme that I created as a kid, before the Guard of Galavar even existed. I privately associated it with the Guard back in the RPG era. It’s a theme with a lot of dramatic versatility, lending itself to sorrowfulness, introspection, epic adventure, fatalism, and more.

“Josh – M11 – Jaunty Theme”
Last Edited: February 2009
This was one of my most important pieces from that era. It takes the simple premise of a “jaunty” theme and builds a number of variations around it. Here you can hear me experimenting with variations, inversions, key shifts, time signature shifts, melodies, and, more fundamentally, experimenting with how music works. I remember that, when the left-hand line opens up for the main melody, I truly felt at the time like I was making music. Of the five pieces featured today, I suppose this one sounds the closest to being “complete,” in terms of the sound and the premise that you could put it on an album and people would accept it as a legitimate track.

“Josh – M28 – Menu Music A”
Last Edited: July 2009
In the spirit of The Secret of Mana’s wonderful menu music, I conceived of this music to go with the menu screen of my own RPG (an RPG video game being one of my many on-hiatus major projects). This piece is important because it sounds like I wanted it to sound—not something I frequently achieved in that era, and which I still struggle with. Notice also the back-and-forth key shift that is closely associated with Silence’s tree of musical themes. I have loved that rolling, Celtic-sounding key progression since I was a kid and use it repeatedly in my music. (It appears in the “Jaunty Theme” above, for instance.

“Josh O12 – Merry Go Round”
Last Edited: December 2004
This piece is intended for a scene in my RPG set on a merry-go-round. If you’ve ever ridden one, you’ll know that I succeeded. At the time, it was the most impressive piece of music I had ever written. This piece is five years older than the other ones I’m featuring. I originally wanted to do a more diverse cross-section of music, but it turned out that nearly all of the most important pieces fell in 2008 and 2009. A lot of the stuff prior to that just isn’t interesting—and that’s compared to the pieces where, and it’s already a stretch to say that they’re interesting.

“Josh – M27 – Violent”
Last Edited: July 2009
Probably the best piece of music being featured here today, this piece is important because of its musical ambition and relatively successful implementation—you can tell what the piece is trying to do—as well as its colorful usage of strings in the middle portion, which marks a level of accomplishment that I didn’t typically reach at the time.
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Asking Won't Work [Feb. 10th, 2017|05:53 pm]
Josh Fredman
TRUMP: I’m gonna do something completely insane!

PUBLIC: You’d better not try it!

TRUMP: Or what?

PUBLIC: Or we’ll disapprove of you!

TRUMP: *does the thing anyway*

PUBLIC: Did everyone see that? He did the thing!

TRUMP: I sure did, and I’m gonna do much worse than that.

PUBLIC: How do you respond to critics who disapprove of you doing the thing?

TRUMP: They’re losers. *does an even worse thing*

PUBLIC: What?!! How dare you!? Did everyone see that? He did an ~even worse~ thing!

TRUMP: Why shouldn’t I?

PUBLIC: You have to do what we say and stop doing these awful things!

TRUMP: Everyone loves me and supports everything I do, except the bad hombres and nasty women and the media, and they’re all losers.

PUBLIC: Look, we’re talking about peer pressure and the honor system. You have to listen to us! Or we will disapprove of you further!

TRUMP: *does a yet even crazier, more horrible thing*

~~~
This is the overlooked story of the Trump phenomenon. So much of our power in the sociopolitical realm is based on conformity and peer pressure, and, because humanity is a social species, we’re so used to that kind of power working that we don’t know what to do when it fails.

It’s like a public restroom: We pee in the toilet and not on the floor, because that’s what we agree we’re supposed to do. In exchange for our conformity, we have a usable public restroom. But Trump pees on the floor, and gradually we’re realizing that all our usual recourses are ineffective: We ask him to stop, but he pees on the floor anyway. We tell others that he pees on the floor, but the censure just makes him defiant and he carries on tinkling. We stridently and desperately hound him to change his ways, and he says “No.”

Trump may, as reported, have a very thin skin and be deeply insecure about public criticism, but he’s not a pushover. At every point during his campaign, his transition, and now his presidency, he has proven immune to scandal because the power of scandal is essentially just peer pressure. It says “You’ve done wrong, so give up your power.” And Trump doesn’t go along with it. “Why should I give up my power?” he says. “It’s mine and I deserve it, and you’re just a jealous loser.” And his administration, particularly his inner circle, are unusually insular and disconnected from public censure, making them, especially under their boss’ umbrella, less vulnerable to scandal too.

Trump’s ability to hold onto his power despite peer pressure probably isn’t especially deliberate on his part; far from being indicative of a strong will, I suspect it is actually a symptom of his narcissism. But either way, it makes him almost completely resilient to the usual public forces that would otherwise undermine his disastrous presidency and rein him in. And I think no amount of media criticism or public disapproval is going to change his course.

Presently, we the opposition, we his detractors, are expending an enormous amount of energy trying to ask him harder and disapprove of him more visibly. This is not going to work. The only way to rein him in is to use powers not dependent on social conformity: primarily, the logistical disruption of his presidency. The lawsuit against his Muslim ban is a perfect example. The Democratic obstruction to his Cabinet in the Senate is a less pure example but still valid. Every day that gets wasted in the friction of disruption is one less day he has to do horrible things. Trump’s presidency is poised to be as effective as the Congressional GOP is capable of mustering itself to facilitate. We’re going to lose a lot of battles. Nevertheless, our only real choice (short of terrorism or a coup, which remains outside the realm of something I would support) is to play as fierce of a delaying game as possible ahead of contesting the 2018 elections as hard as we can.

There is something to be said for the solidarity and social momentum built among activists just from exerting peer pressure on Trump, so I won’t say that our current strategy is completely useless. But we can exert quite a bit of public disapproval without actually trying to engage with Trump or expect acquiescence or agreement from him on any of our demands, and I think that’s what we should do: We should continue pointing out to one another (and to the broader public) all the horrible shit that he and his administration are doing—and make no mistake that Trump’s administration is a lot scarier than he himself is—while simultaneously ceasing our efforts to effect deeper and deeper extremes of outrage, because down that road lies exhaustion and burnout, as well as a loss of credibility among the broader public—something that is already happening. Let’s instead maintain a sustainable level of outrage, and blend our illustration of this administration as being unprecedently unfit to lead (which it is) with pragmatic logistical disruption. And let’s stop feigning indignation when Trump refuses to give in to our demands. We’re not winning that one.
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I Support a Third Party [Feb. 8th, 2017|04:04 am]
Josh Fredman
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and made a couple of abortive efforts to write one of my typical light essays, but in lieu of that I’m just going to say it plain:

This is the right time to leave the Democratic Party and create a third party. (Not one of the nutty ones we already have; a real one.)

Never before have I said that. Never before have I held that view. In fact I’ve been quite tenacious about supporting Democrats in spite of their many failings, and shaming people who abandon the Democrats to vote for some dead-end progressive third party. That’s for one simple reason: We couldn’t afford to divide our numbers, lose elections, and let the Republicans gain complete federal power.

Well, it happened anyway. @$#&ing losers didn’t turn out to vote, and now we are living in what was once upon a time the worst-case scenario that could be plausibly envisioned. All the good stuff we’d protected and all the bad stuff we’d managed to avoid letting happen in the past twenty years of steadily worsening conservative lunacy…is toast.

The Democrats aren’t ~bad~, per se. They’re just too addled. They’re more interested in doing things the way things are done than in actually making life better. The conventions, customs, and power centers of the Democratic leadership are what I would hope to displace by creating a third party. Not Democrats themselves. Hell, even many members of the Democratic leadership are solid liberals with good intentions, like Patty Murray and Nancy Pelosi. They’re just not doing politics the way it needs to be done nowadays.

Ideally, we’d poach all the best elected Democrats into our new party, and in the space of one or two elections essentially switch places with the Democratic Party, relegating them to fringe status while absorbing much of their base and rank and file, yet imposing a new power structure on that body and thereby effecting a new era of effective strategy and visionary leadership: a complete transformation of political rhetoric and conduct, something that’s effective in energizing the country against the lunacy of the now-zombified conservative movement.

I’d want our new party to offer not populism—which everyone is agitating for right now, despite it being both dangerous and not what we actually need—but unionism. “We’re all in this together.” Welfare needs to be reintroduced; people need to understand that these giant programs are for everybody. People also need to understand that they need to do their part. Right now on the left we’re wasting so much energy on identity politics. What we need to be doing is saying “Here’s our vision for America, and we’re all going to do everything within our power to make it happen.”

By the way, one of the few saving graces left when it comes to our current national political climate is the fact that, because conservatism has zombified, conservatives have no vision. We throw the ol’ “Nazi” word around a lot these days, but the Nazis had vision and discipline. That’s what made them so powerful. They didn’t want to destroy civilization. They wanted to bend it into something else, and they knew what that “something else” was. Today’s conservatives don’t. They’re too cowardly to have a vision of their own, and they’re alive at a time when the whole world spits on vision; it’s so much easier to tear somebody else’s vision down than to lay out your own and face the same risk.

Our new party, to replace the Democrats, would succeed by having a vision. Not a vision of identity politics, and environmental fear-mongering, and other such caustic viewpoints, but a positive, constructive vision that spans the full breadth of society and the wider world we live in. When it comes to the issues—sexism, racism, pollution, crime, healthcare, incomes, and so on—Democrats and Republicans alike have long presented a pessimistic, cynical view of the world. They keep saying “Look at all these horrible things that are going wrong. Elect us and we’ll fix them.” But our new party would take that same reality and present it from the other end: “Here’s all these good things we’re going to do, that we all agree need to be done.”

Ironically, given my unionist bent, I think we stand a good chance of building such a party by couching it in the form of an independence party. An independence movement can become the aesthetic framework for us to rally around in the conceptualization of what society could and should look like, which is something we have lost sight of in the endless defeats and slow, unsatisfying grinds of the past twenty years.

I’d also like our new party to be more engaged in governing (itself if not society as a whole) through the conventions that our world has only newly stepped into. Everyone’s on the Internet these days, so our party ought to conduct as much of its business there as possible, in an interactive way that goes beyond pushing press releases and asking people to like pictures of clear skies and clean rivers. We could stream policy debates, hold advisory votes, do online workshops in the style of let’s-plays. We could communicate intensively with people, explaining to them why our policies end up looking the way they do if popular opinion points in another direction. And there would be local subdivisions, so that the party would actually be plugged in to its people.

All of this stuff nominally exists now, but nobody cares because it doesn’t matter: It’s opaque and labyrinthine, and you have to be a wonk or an activist to really engage in it, and leadership makes up its own policies anyway. Ordinary people have plenty of political steam, as we see on social media every day. They just don’t have political stamina. But we could make incremental gains in their stamina by showing them that their participation matters, and investing them in the process. We have all these decades of data on marketing and human behavior. Starbucks has figured out how to make us pay five dollars for something we could make for ten cents at home. If that can be a real thing, so can manipulating people into caring more about political engagement.

I’ll close by saying this: It’s not gonna happen. I think eventually one of our two major parties will split, but I don’t think it’s going to be the Democrats here in 2017.

Nevertheless, we’re in the acid pit. We’re at rock-bottom. There’s never going to be a better time to experiment with our political system than right now. So if you want to support third parties in competitive races later this year, and in the 2018 Congressional elections, I say go for it. Build a movement. I hold those who voted third-party in 2016 in the highest of contempt, because they did so knowing how far we could fall. But now, well, here we are. For as desperately as we need to win back the Congress, and then the White House, winning elections isn't enough to avert the coming political collapse anymore. Even more than short-term victory, we need to have a vision for society again.
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Congress Drafting National "Right-to-Work" Bill [Feb. 3rd, 2017|02:38 pm]
Josh Fredman
This wouldn't be the end of unions per se, but it'd be like removing the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act: It would devastate the financial solvency of unions.

Even so, at this point the propaganda war has been so successful that there is very little appreciation left in the US for unions. The world, and certainly American society in particular, is changing away from a paradigm of worker rights and empowerment toward one of worker complacency and acquiescence. People expect their jobs to be shit, expect to get a raw deal, but they are just comfortable enough materially and in the workplace that it short-circuits the momentum to organize. Unions arose because people were being butchered in the factories for starvation wages. That visceral injustice more or less no longer exists.

It is one of the worst of all flaws in human nature, and one of the most fatal, I think, that the overwhelming majority of people cannot seem to string together cause and effect or conceive of hypotheticals. If more people could do that, we wouldn't be having all these problems in society. Instead, it seems that the fabric of American culture has decayed into--or perhaps has always been in--a state of primitivism, encompassing only the immediate world.

Ah, but who needs unions, national parks, a free Internet, foreign allies, healthcare, food, the right to vote, clean air, birth control, police accountability, or equality under the law, eh?
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Six Years Ago [Feb. 2nd, 2017|04:44 pm]
Josh Fredman
'Twas six years ago in the weest hours of tomorrow that I got on a bus and traveled to Texas, and unwittingly brought to a close the old era of my life and began a new one.

There's a lot I remember about those whirlwind few days. I remember eating dinner at a restaurant with Kendra six years ago tonight, in Aiken, the last time (to date) I would ever see her in person.

I remember immediately losing something important as soon as I got on the train and spending half the ride to Atlanta trying to find it. I remember almost getting stranded at Atlanta and nearly losing all of my belongings because of hostile indifference and lack of clear communication from the bus driver, who had been called in early (it was about 3 am, mind you) to do a substitute shift. (Even despite that mitigating circumstance, the fact of nearly losing all of my belongings and being stranded in a city with only a few dollars was enough to convict me never to ride long-haul American bus services again.)

I remember seeing more of the South's poverty along the ride and at the stations. I remember being stranded at the Dallas bus depot because of the blizzard, and then being rescued by Amy and Amtrak, and getting on a train later that day and heading for Alpine. I remember stinking from all the sweating I did and no shower!

I remember seeing Amy's parents' old apartment in Alpine, and I remember Foo barking at me like I was going to invade his homeland (which I promptly did). I remember meeting Amy's dad for the first time and learning "Only winners no losers." And I think I went to a Unitarian service my second day there? Not entirely sure on that one.

I stayed in that apartment for a week or so before finally moving up to the Mountain. I remember Amy driving me, in her cute little red Cruiser, up the road from Alpine to the Observatory. I remember asking her to stop at all the historical markers along the road, and she said it was cool to have someone new to do that with, because she had long stopped paying attention to them.

Once I finally did transfer my flag to the Mountain, I remember meeting opilions for the first time. There were lots in the hall, and even a couple in the kitchen sink! (Thirsty, no doubt, and then there's no way for them to get out.)

That was a wonderful time. By circumstance, it corresponds neatly enough, six years on, to the time of my arrival in Bellingham. I don't have the same wide-eyed elation now that I did then. For one, I am sad to say, I'm just that much older and more wizened from life's setbacks. But for another, I didn't have a dear friend to see me off from the place I left behind, and I don't have a dear friend waiting to welcome me into their life here. So it's a much lonelier transition, yet no less important.

I do have opilions, tho! I actually found a local opilion right here in the apartment on my first night. It was super small. I couldn't put it outside because of a cold snap, and I didn't want to put it in the opilion terrarium since it was so little: I knew I would never see it again! I gave it some water but it wasn't interested. I put it in a cup with the intention of thinking of something else to do with it the next day, but a day later it had died! =[

So, does that count as a good omen or a bad one? Maybe just a powerful object lesson: Don't wait to get stuff done. To revive my spirits, meanwhile, I discovered the next day that yet another generation of baby opilions has hatched in the terrarium. That's exciting and unexpected. I am going to find something to do with the opilions here in the next few weeks. Wish me luck!
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Lunar Festival [Feb. 1st, 2017|11:03 pm]
Josh Fredman
At the end of my last winter on the Mountain, right around March when I was going through a particularly rough patch, I saw two of the most beautiful moons I had ever seen in my time there. One of them, alas, is forgotten to me now, for it was almost two years ago. But the other one I still remember: It was unseasonably warm, and there were wavy, almost translucent clouds high in the sky, lit only by the moon, and it was breeze (I think!). Occlusions and opacities together with the moonlight combined to make parts of the spectacle seem thicker and more tenebrous that a customary night sky, and other parts seem brighter and more exalted. Overall, the whole scene had the feeling of something tropical. There was nothing else quite like it I ever experienced on the Mountain.

I always meant to write about it. =[

Those were good times for celestial viewings. After I left, my viewings went way down. For one, I was sick. Later on, upon my return to the Pacific Northwest, I often did not have the time, and moreover I often lacked access to a suitable view--the pitfall of buildings and trees obscuring the true horizon and its upper proximity.

But this has changed, a bit, ever since moving into my new place. Here, I have a thin but gratifying westward view--quite better than anything since Texas! I can see the Islands, and the Salish Sea. Only a bit, but they're there. I have also watched about three to five sunsets since arriving, and two sunrise Ribbons of Dajar. Given the lay of things, the sunsets have all been through the trees, but, still, it's nice.

Just a few minutes ago I happened to be listening to "The Four Medallions" from Final Fantasy IX, and I just so happened to catch the fat crescent moon as it was dipping low. The atmosphere is thick with occlusions and opacities tonight, so the moon was quite richly reddened. As the upbeat mystic music played and the red moon passed over my favorite traffic signal in Bellingham (which I've never been to; it's only my favorite because it's far away and it peeks out of the trees all by itself and I think it's cute), I got the vibe of a lush festival, and I was reminded of that night on the Mountain when the sky was so strange, the air was warm and wet, and everything felt tropical. Such is the boon of being indoors; it's actually exceedingly cold and rather dry outside tonight.

My days of thoroughbred celestial viewings won't return anytime soon, but I feel quite pleased and at home to have so much access to the sky again.
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The First Constitutional Crisis Happened in 2016 [Feb. 1st, 2017|04:30 pm]
Josh Fredman
Now that the Supreme Court fight is on our hands, we have to face an unpleasant truth: Once stolen, a Supreme Court seat cannot simply be “un-stolen.” It can only be “re-stolen.” The Republicans are playing by a different set of rules than the Democrats are. They stole a Supreme Court seat from President Obama, and have put us in the unwinnable position of either re-stealing it from them or acquiescing to them, either of which validates their crime.

In plainer English, we had a constitutional crisis last year, and by both media and public it was relatively unremarked upon as such…presumably because we all assumed that Clinton would win, and that we would retake the Senate.

A constitutional crisis rises above the usual congressional gridlock and obstructionism that Republicans threw up during President Obama’s administration. Instead they put us into a situation where anything we do is going to undermine the credibility of the government. The very nature of a constitutional crisis makes it virtually unresolvable so long as any of the various concerned parties refuse to cooperate in goodwill.

Pragmatically, if we allow the nominee to be confirmed, then, assuming no unexpected deaths or resignations, it will cement conservative dominance of the Supreme Court for decades. And if we do as the Republicans did and refuse to allow the nominee to be confirmed, we’re reinforcing the Republican logic that the first party to violate the Constitution even more is going to be the one who somehow manages to get its pick on the Court.

Realistically, the outcome will be the former: Congressional Democrats almost always cave to Republicans in these kinds of confrontations. To imagine them having the brass to block a nominee for four years is frankly unthinkable.

I expect it will go down in one of three ways: 1) Some kind of meaningless “grand bargain” will be struck that gives Republicans what they want right now in return for an empty promise to reciprocate the next time Democrats are in their position; 2) Democrats will cave altogether; or 3) Republicans will eliminate the power of the minority to block the confirmation.

Which of those actually happens doesn’t matter. In every case, Trump gets to fill President Obama’s Supreme Court seat.

The constitutional crisis upon us is another sign that the nation is unraveling. Republicans have learned to play by a double standard. From taking away citizens’ right to vote, to gerrymandering districts in their favor, and now to stealing seats on the Supreme Court, they know they can get what they want by breaking the law.

Frankly the Republicans directly responsible for this disgrace—the Republican leadership and the relevant committee members—are almost certainly guilty of treason and I personally think they should be put on trial and put to death if convicted. But that’s not going to happen, and even if it did happen it wouldn’t solve our worsening national crisis.

As for what I think Democrats in the Senate should do, I think that the least bad of all scenarios is for them to insist upon a vote on Merrick Garland—who was by all means a compromise nominee on President Obama’s part—and block any alternative Republican nominee indefinitely, including this Gorsuch loser, until such time as the Republicans take away their ability to block the inevitable confirmation. Ordinarily I would never be able to advise this path—after all, we’d be doing functionally what the Republicans did in the first place: stealing a Supreme Court seat—but because of the context it seems like the only choice.

However, even if the Democrats follow this line, the damage is done. In the future we will need to find a way to rectify the stolen Supreme Court seat without vengeance. We cannot let it stand unanswered in the current political climate, for it only emboldens the Republicans to become even more treasonous.
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Celestial Conjunction: Moon, Venus, Mars [Feb. 1st, 2017|02:17 am]
Josh Fredman
I saw the celestial conjunction tonight! I had been looking forward to it all month ever since reading about it in an astronomy forecast. Moreover, it had been particularly forward in my mind in the past week or more, because I had falsely remembered the conjunction as being much earlier than it actually ended up being, and so it occupied an unusually large swath of "imminent" status in my expectations.

The waxing crescent Moon, Venus, and Mars making the top of the triangle. Quite lovely though in the city Mars does not get to shine the way it did on the Mountain.

Oh, and I also noticed that you can just barely make out the galaxy ribbon here in Bellingham, if you know to look for it.
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On Our Fraying National Identity [Jan. 31st, 2017|09:32 pm]
Josh Fredman
It isn’t that Donald Trump is our president now, that makes the breakup of America more likely than it has been in our lifetimes. Nor is it the unilateral Republican control of the federal government. Nor, astonishingly, is it the revolting right-wing policy agenda, the result of a generation of intellectual inbreeding and ethical insolvency, an agenda which—make no mistake—is horrifying to look at even in the abstract, let alone in its real-world costs, and transgresses humanity’s fitful but noble journey toward justice and self-determination.

Any of those storms, even combined, a people of such pedigree as us could easily weather.

No, the existential danger facing our country, the omen of its demise, is found instead in the context of those storms:

It is that Donald Trump was elected president at all, by us, despite full and sweeping disclosure to the American public during the campaign that he is a despicable and incompetent human being: a narcissist and egomaniac incapable of fulfilling the duties of the president, an inflamer of bigotry and nationalism, and an apologist for sex crimes, business crimes, and hate crimes of every color, a mate who does not deserve to occupy what was once the noblest, and is still the most powerful, office in the world.

It is that the unilateral Republican control of the federal government only exists because conservatives rigged the system to make it so: They denied President Obama his constitutional right to appoint hundreds of federal judges and other officials, including to the Supreme Court. They exploited their power in the federal government and their control of state legislatures nationwide to gerrymander the House of Representatives vastly in their favor, and likewise many state legislatures beneath them, all of whom in turn serve the Republican Party’s partisan interests. They abused their power to infringe people’s right to vote—poor people, black people, people whose voting patterns correlate with a lack of Republican support—by passing state laws nationwide that limited people’s access to the franchise. And for six years under President Obama they allowed no significant policy accomplishments whatsoever, and for two years before that they refused to cooperate at all with the Democratic majority on anything, always despite a willingness to cooperate and a desire for bipartisanship on the part of the Administration and the Democrats in Congress. This general dysfunction of the federal government is the most damning of all, because in those eight years—and in particular the last six—our nation faced many crises that sorely deserved national action.

It is that the right-wing agenda calls for the systematic oppression of virtually the entire American people, by allowing corporate interests and financial rackets to plunder the poor, the working class, and the middle class, and by systematically preventing or abrogating the civil liberties of females, nonwhites, queerfolk, non-Christians, immigrants, the elderly, the young, religious minorities and nonbelievers, natives, and many other groups of people.

It is that there is no longer any effective threat of public censure; conservatives no longer care about the opprobrium of anyone who isn’t another conservative. Shame, one of history’s most powerful tools of conformity enforcement, has been completely eliminated from the equation.

It is that the conservative movement, through its Republican Party, instills its followers with a delusional ideology using pervasive religious and news propaganda so virulent that the very process of maintaining it causes collateral damage to the entire scientific community, to the healthcare system, to civil discourse itself, to our global power and international alliances, and to the Earth as a whole and the countless beings who live here.

I see treason against the United States. No foreign country could have done as much damage, as we did to ourselves by the actions of right-wing extremism and conservatism’s unwitting followers and enablers. Both in method and intent, conservatives and their Republican Party are taking us away from liberal democracy and toward an authoritarian state whose government is completely unresponsive to the will and the needs of the general public and exists solely to advantage a lucky few.

Nor is there any apparent avenue to redress these gaping rips in our national fabric. Conservatives hate their perceived enemies with all their being, because that is what their propaganda has taught them to do: Anyone who challenges them can be made to fit into one of their tribal labels of “liberal,” “feminist,” “terrorist,” “hoodlum,” and so on. Once the tribal division is applied, conservatives simply close their minds to such people, outright.

To make matters worse, we liberals have not done enough to deserve a respectful hearing in the first place. Though we wear the mantle of justice, we act like spoiled children, bickering amongst ourselves, picking petty battles haphazardly and without strategic thought, diluting our energy by allowing ourselves to be distracted by countless irrelevancies, making little effort at supplying visionary leadership to the broader public, and failing in our fundamental obligations to unionism and tolerance.

And the Democratic Party, which for decades has been our political vessel, has failed us entirely, and even now whispers about cooperating with the Republicans in their campaign to destroy the nation.

On top of everything, we are all aware of the single most harmful side effect of the otherwise beautiful and vast and exhilarating new world of modern media and online connectivity: In times past, many of our associations were, by circumstance, geographical or professional. But today we can associate by ideology and like-mindedness. That is not a bad thing! But it is an easily corruptible power, and we can see (with effortful awareness) the hallmarks of that corruption in the fact that most people’s political perceptions are limited to the echo chambers of their own choosing, and no can seem to agree what the reality is.

Look at our sorry state. Look at what has come of majestic America. We’re like a rotting piece of fruit; we can still see and smell our richness and beauty, but only amid the spoilage. Were it not for my impulse toward decency and humanism I would say we even deserve such a fate, given that it is we who permitted this demon to possess us.

So what is going to happen?

In the immediate sense, our federal government is about to become a lot more corrosive, belligerent, repressive, and internationally bypassed. As I have said from the moment of the election, we are going to lose all kinds of government programs and protections that previously seemed invulnerable. Because there is no way of stopping this, short of terrorism or insurrection, as the Republicans have shown they possess neither the instinct of shame nor of compassion, I have little interest in “the resistance” per se and have instead been fairly acquiescent on the point of simply accepting the inevitable cavalcade of defeats facing us in favor of directing our limited energy at retaking swaths of the government in 2017 and 2018.

(Let me take a moment to expound on that with some frank advice: If you’re signing a petition, don’t. If you’re calling a Republican elected official, don’t. Those two things are a waste of your time and a net loss of our limited energy. If you’re calling a Democratic elected official, make sure every single communication you have with them is qualified with “Do not cooperate with the Republicans on anything or I will never vote for you again.” And don’t say it as a threat: Say it as a fact. More on that another time.)

On a grander scheme, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the modern liberal democratic era, though that discussion is best left for another day. What can be said here and now is that, in the United States, I think we are hanging on to our national identity by fewer threads than it seems, and I think we should not count on either unionist precedent (including the Civil War) or the relative lack of proto-secessionist violence and disobedience to tell us that everything is fine.

In the United Kingdom, Scotland almost voted for independence despite no conventional precursor tremors of mass cultural intolerance, widespread civil disobedience, or epidemics of political violence. The same is true, if with somewhat less purity, of Quebec in Canada. Spain offers another example, albeit more complex. And if the UK as a whole completes its exit from the European Union, it will have been done virtually entirely in the arena of ideas, with hardly a drop of blood spilled or bullet fired anywhere. Therefore, in fully developed countries with modern economics and liberal democratic systems of governance, it may be the case that dissolution can happen with a measure of peace and stability—which only increases, initially, the likelihood of further dissolutions elsewhere.

If everything were fine in America, our government would function with some amount of bipartisan consensus, and the prevailing agenda of the land, if not necessarily progressive, would not actively seek to indenture the poor and punish virtually every minority. Our media would not be so decadent in its lack of rigor, nor would it be dismissed with such open derision by the conservative base. And there would be tolerance, if not universal and harmonious then at least pragmatic and communicative.

I am not saying that the nation will dissolve, but I certainly argue that it could, and my personal feeling now is that this dissolution is more likely to happen than not, especially if we allow for a timescale of decades. I can see the present-day United States still existing as such in the year 2100, but I do not think that is the road we are on today.
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