The DNC Doesn’t Owe You Anything

I just want to expand upon a point I made snarkily on Twitter that’s gotten some attention and heat. I said:

BREAKING: Secret emails reveal that many in DNC did not like non-Democrat, anti-DNC candidate Sanders, preferred actual Democrat.

WikiLeaks (which probably needs a whole other post to complain about) released private email correspondences from the Democratic National Committee showing that, shock of shocks, the DNC really did favor Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Well no shit.

There is nothing wrong with a political party’s operation preferring one candidate over another, especially if one candidate would be a terrible choice for nominee. Especially if that terrible choice also happens to have been a Democrat for about five minutes. Especially when that terrible choice seems to loathe the very party he wants to nominate him.

The DNC would be full of suicidal lunatics if they didn’t prefer one over the other when the choice is so stark. If it were a choice between, for example, John Kerry and Joe Biden, there would be little reason for there to be any kind of consternation over who might get nominated. Neither of those candidates oppose the party itself in any meaningful way, and both would have comparable electoral prospects. But Clinton versus Sanders is easy. If you are in the DNC, and you’re not a lunatic, you prefer the former Secretary of State and First Lady who’s mind-blowingly qualified and has been fighting for and winning Democratic objectives for decades. You don’t choose the batty old socialist from Vermont who has accomplished little in office, who has accused the party of all manner of crimes and corruption, and who isn’t even really a Democrat to begin with. Because, again, we’re assuming they’re not lunatics.

Ah, you might retort, as many have in various forms, So it’s okay that the party cheated and denied the voters their true choice???

Stop it, I say, you sound crazy.

First, there’s no reason to believe anyone cheated anything, and asserting as much is just conspiracy mongering. And there would have been no reason to “cheat” anyway, because Clinton — at all times throughout this entire campaign, without any exception of which I am aware — was the more popular candidate. Thus, she won the most votes, and also thus, won the most pledged delegates. So the voters actually got their choice. Just because you might not like that choice doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Second (and I feel like I’m beating this drum to death), political parties are not the government, and they have no obligation to choose the candidates they field for office by election. None. The DNC doesn’t owe you an election, or a voice, or any role in its nomination process whatsoever — especially if you’re not even a Democrat. They’ve chosen to go about it a certain way that includes a mix of statewide popular elections and the judgment of some party leaders. But any political party could decide tomorrow that they will choose candidates by random lottery, by a series of duels, by high score at Crossy Road, or — and I know this sounds nuts — by a bunch of party leaders getting together to hash out which candidate would best advance the causes of the party and have the best chance of getting elected. Insane, right?

This is to say that if the DNC did put their thumb on the scale for Clinton somewhere, that’s entirely within their right to do so. But it’s also true that there’s little evidence that they did any meaningful thumbing. The scheduling of the early debates on Saturday nights was stupid and transparent, and actually kind of cowardly, but it wasn’t evil or undemocratic or anything like that.

The DNC’s obligation is to further the Democratic Party. That’s what they owe you, the best shot for Democrats to be elected to office. They are not obligated to appease a loud and hostile constituency, or even to honor small-D democratic principles. They need to help Democrats who believe in Democrat things get elected. That’s it.

My only wish is that they were better at it.

I Watched the Mighty Skyline Fall

Cleaning up the kitchen after dinner this evening, my wife Jessica had put on some Billy Joel to listen to, and asked what album of his I preferred to hear. Songs in the Attic, I replied, his 1981 live album intended as a way to introduce his older songs to an audience who has just become aware of him from 1977’s The Stranger. The performances of songs like “Streetlife Serenader,” “Los Angelenos,” and “Summer, Highland Falls” are far, far superior to their studio album versions. Perhaps my favorite song on the record, however, is “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway).”

And then it hit me. Holy shit, I thought to myself. It’s 2016. Next year is 2017. That’s crazy!

Let me just quote Wikipedia for an explanation of what this amazing song is all about:

Joel has described it as a “science fiction song” about an apocalypse occurring in New York as a result of discussions that the city was failing in the 1970s. … He explain[ed] that the song depicts the apocalypse occurring in New York, “the skyline tumbling down, this horrendous conflagration happening in New York City.” Joel stated that the song is titled “Miami 2017” because many New Yorkers retire to Miami and the narrator is telling his grandchildren in the year 2017 about what he saw in the destruction of New York.

So in Joel’s sort of alternate-parallel-universe, New York City becomes an unfathomable disaster (“it always burned up there before”), its problems in the 70s running out of control, and some unmentioned authority sees to it that the city is simply wiped off the map. (“They said that Queens could stay,” of course, and someone “picked the Yankees up for free.”)

I assume that this urban apocalypse happens more or less contemporaneously with the time the song was written, the late 1970s, because in the song, 2017 is supposed to be the far future, when elderly retirees in Miami are thinking back on the event, “Before we all lived here in Florida / Before the Mafia took over Mexico.” But of course 2017 is no longer the far future. It’s five and a half months away.

It’s worth pausing to consider, as noted by Joel himself, that on September 11, 2001, we all, in fact, “watched the mighty skyline fall.” But it wasn’t a failed city that needed to be “dealt with,” as in the song, but a revived and ascendant city that was attacked by those who preferred that we all exist in a kind of Bronze Age hellscape.

But in both cases – the obliteration of the city in the song, as well as after the towers fell in real life – New Yorkers are and were defiant and resilient:

We held a concert out in Brooklyn,
To watch the Island Bridges blow.
They turned our power down,
And drove us underground,
But we went right with the show!

Luckily, in the real world, New York is still here as 2017 approaches. But there’s also the eerie line in the song about how “the Mafia took over Mexico.” That, of course, hasn’t happened as far as I know. But the intractability and unthinkable horrors wrought by drug cartels in Mexico today make the line disturbingly prophetic.

I wonder if Joel could have conceived in his dystopian 2017 that someone like Donald Trump might approach the presidency. After a year like 2016, it’s not hard to imagine a President Trump, fictional or nonfictional, deciding that the best way to deal with any hotbed of trouble and unrest, be it within or without our borders, is to lay waste to it.

In which case, we’d be looking back on it from, say, 2057. Not in Miami, of course, because by that time it’d probably be either under water or too hot to bear. But perhaps in Maine, forty years from now, a handful of us old folks will look back in horror and wonder, still alive, “To tell the world about / The way the lights went out.”

But of course, it’s just a song.

Uniquely Okay to Mistreat

“Bullying” is such a weak word, isn’t it? The word itself (not the act) always evokes silly images for me, either of cartoon schoolyard lunkheads or anthropomorphized bovines. The word “bully” doesn’t really do justice to what it can mean to the victim of bullying, particularly if the victim is a child, and experiences it day in and day out as I did. Maybe bullying would be taken more seriously if we used more specific and accurate words to define the behavior: abuse, harassment, assault, persecution, dehumanization.

We usually reserve words like this for crimes or significant social ills, and it’s understandable that it can be hard to comprehend them as applying to, say, 6th-graders in gym class. But if anything, the impact on the 6th-grader is potentially far more severe and pernicious than on the adult who is treated similarly.

I recently saw this Reddit thread on bullying, in which the original poster argues in favor of all-out legal prosecution for bullying (which I am not advocating here). “Aquareon” writes:

[One rationale against prosecution was that] they were “just having fun” (at my expense) and that if I could successfully have them sent to juvie or some similarly severe consequence, it would be a disproportionate retaliation.

I reject that reasoning as an adult because of the lasting scars bullying left. Knowing that those responsible got away with it scott free and are now forever beyond my reach has been the source of more suffering by far than the stuff they actually said and did at the time. It has undermined my belief in justice and left me feeling like I am uniquely okay to mistreat, where others are not.

Never getting “justice” for the abuse I endured as a kid is not the the greatest source of suffering for me, but it certainly sticks in my craw all these years after the fact. It’s really that last sentence that truly strikes a chord:

It has undermined my belief in justice and left me feeling like I am uniquely okay to mistreat, where others are not.

That’s the damage. In part because there is no meaningful recourse for victims of bullying (informing teachers and other authority figures usually only makes things worse for the victim), and because the perpetrators rarely face meaningful consequences (and when they do, again, the bullying only increases as a result), and because those peers who are not engaged in the bullying show a tacit approval of it by either enjoying the spectacle or staying silent, the message to the young, impressionable victim is, “you deserve this.”

How could it be otherwise? The school and its surrounding outcroppings (buses, extracurriculars, etc.), and the people who inhabit it, are a kid’s entire world. When a bullying victim’s entire known universe conspires to convince them that they are “uniquely okay to mistreat,” they will be easily convinced. I certainly was.

And I still feel that way. Of course I know intellectually that this isn’t true, but I’m fighting against years of memorized thought patterns, conditioned responses, impressions of myself that were baked into my brain just when I was at the age of figuring myself out. For all the work I’ve done on correcting this wrong thinking over the years, it may always be that my instinct will be to consider myself subhuman, of all things considered last, with only my higher reasoning to throw my sense of self-worth a rope and hoist it up to firmer ground.

So while I’m not here endorsing prosecution, I do think this aspect of bullying is worth taking very seriously as we figure out what the best response to bullying actually is. “Just get over it,” as I’ve been told innumerable times even by those who love me, just isn’t it.

The Bridge to the Everything Store: An Epilogue

Damages were paid today to many, many people in the aftermath of the Apple iBooks price fixing case. Paid, specifically, to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon customers, those whom the government determined to have been harmed by Apple’s collusion with the publishing industry to keep ebook prices high.

$400 million was awarded to customers. About twenty-five of those 400 million were given to me in the form of Amazon credit. Credit I could not use, of course, because a little over a year ago Amazon exiled me for “excessive returns.” I had made several heartfelt entreaties in those days, but was each time denied. I was banished.

Being legally owed today’s settlement credit, but unable to do anything with it, I decided to ask Amazon what should be done. I suggested they might just cut me a check, and if not, I would next ask if they could simply award it to my wife (who got a way bigger credit than me, but whatever). Of course, I also suggested that they might just reinstate me.

Here’s part of the response I got back.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 3.25.04 PM

And that was that. All my sins forgiven, and even an apology given to me for “any inconvenience.”

I am once again welcome to roam the virtual aisles of the Everything Store. Wiser, more cautious, but welcome.

Perhaps this has something to do with the political climate. Perhaps Jeff Bezos, who loathes Donald Trump, wishes as Hillary Clinton does to build bridges, not walls. Or perhaps this was Amazon being in a celebratory mood over their moral victory over the behemoth Apple. Whatever the reason, it’s good to be back.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some heavy Wish List maintenance to attend to.

Jill Stein’s Shameful Pander on Vaccines and Homeopathy

About a month ago on a Reddit AMA, Dr. Jill Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee for president, was asked a simple question about her official stance on vaccines and homeopathy.

Stein is, of course, a physician, so the answer, one would think, would be simple. For example, “Vaccines are safe and save lives, and everyone who can get vaccinated against preventable diseases absolutely should. Homeopathy is a sham pseudoscience that doesn’t do anything, wasting people’s money and risking people’s health while having no effect.”

Nope. You see she’s running in the Green Party, and hoping to pick up some of that sweet, sweet Bernie-rage. So here’s her answer:

I don’t know if we have an “official” stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn’t allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the US, however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn’t be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-indsutrial complex.

Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, its no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice. A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat. Same goes for vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We need to take the corporate influence out of government so people will trust our health authorities, and the rest of the government for that matter. End the revolving door. Appoint qualified professionals without a financial interest in the product being regulated. Create public funding of elections to stop the buying of elections by corporations and the super-rich.

For homeopathy, just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe. By the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is also problematic. There’s a lot of snake-oil in this system. We need research and licensing boards that are protected from conflicts of interest. They should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural” or not.

What the fuck was that? I mean, I honestly can’t discern an actual position out of this inscrutable wall of pandering.

The best I can glean from this mess is, “Vaccines may have saved lives, but now you should be afraid for your life because Big Pharma.”

And on homeopathy, what the fuck does “just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe” even mean? I honestly don’t know. But then she gets back to making people scared. It’s not the fake medicine that’s the problem, you see, but Big Pharma pulling the strings. I mean, YOU CAN’T TRUST ANYONE.

I so deeply regret my support of Ralph Nader in 2000, but I always maintained a place in my heart for the Greens, those well-meaning hippies. But this is just gross. Stein is a fucking doctor, and she should at least have enough respect for the voters to speak a plain truth about issues that are literally life and death.

And if she actually believes what she’s saying (assuming she even knows what she’s saying), then all the worse. Be gone, Green Party. You once seemed full of fresh ideas, but now, well, you’ve spoiled.

The Facile Conflation

Ariella Barker was a Sanders supporter who tried and failed to get the Sanders campaign to take seriously her concerns about what she called the campaign’s “disability outreach failures,” and problems she saw with Sanders’ policies around disabled issues. In the process, she saw Sanders a little more clearly, and now supports Clinton. She writes:

His speeches never change for a reason. It isn’t because, as his supporters allege, he’s authentic and always on the right side of things. It’s because he doesn’t care to adapt, to research issues other than income inequality and the environment, follow up on his lofty ideas with solid policy initiatives or to make any compromises to achieve his goals. Rather, he just plays the blame game, pointing out everything that’s wrong with this country and proposing no specific plans to achieve his goals. He prides himself on being so honest and trustworthy while lying to the electorate about his concern for our well being and Hillary’s lack thereof. In reality, I see now that he doesn’t care about anyone’s well being but his own ability to rise to power.

I don’t actually believe that Sanders “doesn’t care about anyone’s well being,” but I think it’s clear he’s either lost sight of what’s important about this election, or perhaps never really understood it.

Sanders clearly doesn’t know how lucky he is to have been who he is, where he is; to have had Burlington, Vermont as his launchpad into electoral politics. There, he had the luxury of running as an insurgent, in a tiny state that is only rivaled by Texas in its sense of independence from national norms, complete with its own secessionist movement. It’s a place where, frankly, a batty old socialist with no party affiliation could become a U.S. Senator.

So this might be why Bernie thought he could ‘insurgent’ his way through the Democratic primaries, and then to the White House. It might be why he thinks he still can, even though he can’t. It might be why he thinks he’s been somehow robbed of the nomination by some chicanery or conspiracy, which he hasn’t.

(A side note to this: I don’t doubt for a second that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC are and have always been in the bag for Clinton, and they certainly scheduled the debates as they did in order to make this as easy a process as possible for her. But I also have no reason to believe that there’s been any malfeasance as is often asserted by Sanders supporters.)

His answer to how he will accomplish all of his goals is always the same: “political revolution.” That’s not a plan. It’s not politics. Freddie deBoer wrote a while ago what he says politics actually is:

Right now I just think there’s this fundamental problem where so many people who identify themselves as being part of the broad left define their coalition based on linguistic cues, cultural overlap, and social circles. The job of politics, at its most basic, is finding common cause with people who aren’t like you. But current incentives seem to point in the opposite direction — surveying the people who are just like you and trying to come up with ways in which that social connection is actually a political connection.

DeBoer is a Sanders supporter, and this was written in late 2015. But this critique I think nails the current state of the Sanders campaign, a campaign that reviles everything outside the moral circle of Sanders’ rhetoric. What the Sanders crusaders seem to be against in principle is “finding common cause with people who aren’t like” them. That not only means no compromise with Republicans, but with other progressives.

Andrew Sullivan, in his big New York Magazine piece about Trump and the threat of fascism, wrote:

Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands.

This facile conflation has dogged actual politicians since time immemorial. It’s what disappoints the left about Obama, and what made Republicans uneasy about Romney. If you actually practice politics, you run the risk of being labeled a shill by those who speak in short sentences made up of little words.

I have no reason to think that Sanders isn’t sincere. I believe he wants to make things better, and that he believes that what he’s doing — as well as how he’s doing it — is absolutely necessary. That doesn’t mean that he’s not also wrong. And now he’s just making things worse.

Apogee Apology

So I’ve moved the blog again.

I have a blog at the Patheos network, iMortal, which I have not written in for weeks. I’m not entirely sure why, but I wanted to get some distance from a site where I am set up for disappointment. I never earn sufficient pageviews to come close to qualifying for compensation (which is a pittance to begin with), and I find myself feeling shitty about being ignored, feeling shitty about not getting any promotional support from Patheos (I am one of approximately ten-bazillion other bloggers on the atheist channel alone), and feeling shitty about never making any money for my work.

I really wanted to be on Patheos, because I thought it would be a real leg up on some sort of legitimacy as a blogger, but it’s simply not panned out. I haven’t outright quit iMortal and Patheos, but for now I think I will only post there when I have something that I suspect would really do well there. Otherwise, it will remain dormant until such time as I come up with something to put there, or they kick me off. (They’re good people there, especially Dale, who’s a truly great guy.)

So I thought I’d go back to my personal blog, this one, which only yesterday was hosted at Squarespace. Well, Squarespace isn’t free, and it was time to pony up for another year. So I canceled it, and looked for a new home. I tried a lot of alternatives, briefly, but moving almost 800 posts proves too much of a burden for most homebrew blog-import utilities, so that removed Tumblr and Blogger as options. So I’ve imported everything into this WordPress.com site. It’s not pretty, but it’s something. Whatever, it’s free, and it displays the words I type.

(There will as a result be a lot of broken links in these posts, until I fix them, if I fix them, as anything that pointed to one of my posts at the Squarespace site will just hit a wall.)

I’m trying to care less about my online metrics, my pageviews, likes, retweets, and the rest. I have cordoned off notifications and analytics on my devices, and I am trying not to seek these numbers as often as I used to. I need to stop feeling like I need to be validated by other people’s eyeballs and clicks, most of which are the result of algorithms and social forces beyond by control.

They say that if you do really good work, the audience will find you. Well, maybe my work just isn’t that good, and maybe that’s not the end of the world.