Think pieces on Pivots and Whiskers on Kittens…

This is a think piece on pivots.

Except it’s not.

But now you can’t get it out of your head.

This is how the current presidential administration operates to the average person. They take a statement that in and of itself is at least reasonable to consider: “surely all these illegal people here are stealing jobs” or “The middle east is filled with Islamic terrorism and they already hit us once” and, from there policy is made without actually considering the data.

And the media has failed us by refusing to use plain language to call it out because it’s too busy inside a bubble of its own creation to speak plainly for fear of appearing adversarial. They would be better served by simply not reporting the administration at all, or at least stop giving it front page treatment. But they are addicted to clicks.

If you don’t believe me ask yourself, who, outside of the media and some West Wing fans, even understands the obsession and meaning of the word “Pivot” right now?

A pivot in the current environment isn’t truth, it’s lying with style. Not much thinking required on that.

Unwarranted

Let’s talk about the fourth amendment.

Now to be upfront, I am not a lawyer. That sentence is usually followed by a “but, I blah blah blah might as well be” bullshit justification for being an expert, even if on the layman level.

I am not a constitutional law expert either.

I’m a weird bird. I consume trial transcripts. There’s probably half a dozen cases where I have read every brief, motion transcript or filing. US v Microsoft is probably where I got the bug. Such a fascinating case from end to end.

BUT

That doesn’t make me a lawyer.

I do, however, have opinions on the law. I also where possible, repeat guidance that learned lawyers have stated publicly.

With that, let us examine the 4th amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This is a good amendment, and very important. It essentially is the protection in our society from the government simply looking at whatever it wants to on a fishing expedition and it has served us well to date.

But then 9/11.

I’ve stated it before, but there is an old joke that a liberal is simply a conservative that has never been mugged. On 9/11 our entire country got mugged. To put it succinctly: We lost our collective minds.

Shrouded in cries of “Never forget” and “Protect the homeland” we quite simply did shame to our founding fathers by agreeing to give up many of the things that make America unique. All in the interests of thinking we could prevent another 9/11 from happening.

We can’t. Another major terrorist attack will happen on American soil. If you count domestic terrorism, many already have. It is not a “solve for zero” problem. The safest society in the world is one that chains everyone in the country to their beds 24/7. The greatest victory Osama Bin Laden achieved is our own violation of our principles. Every shoe taken off at an airport, every email read by the NSA, every time a TSA agent violates someone’s body in the interests of the greater good of security is in the final analysis, a victory for those who attacked us. They terrorized us.

So why does this bring me to the 4th amendment?

The word “Warrant”.

We put a lot of stock in that word. I don’t know an American who would not say “well if they had a warrant then…”

But here’s the thing. It’s trivial to get one. It is the linchpin of the entire 4th amendment. It is the very due process we trust. That a judge considered the arguments and, having weighed the impact and risks, issued the command that bypasses the amendment.

How many warrants are denied? Less and less I fear. I am concerned that in the post 9/11 world no judge wants to be the one to deny a warrant if the word terrorism is involved. I am concerned the process of obtaining a warrant, often on very tight timelines, has been so diluted as to make the 4th amendment itself useless.

Let us consider a hypothetical. I tweet to Edward Snowden. He replies. Because his twitter stream is followed closely by law enforcement, and I am a well-known member of the security industry, how difficult would it be on the part of a judge to issue a warrant to search my computers and phone due to Snowden’s status as a fugitive whose actions have (according to those pleading the warrant) materially affected the security of the United States?

I see struggles like this all the time. Thanks to the Patriot act one need simply find some way to invoke terrorism in the application for a warrant and many safeguards that might give a judge or controlling authority pause simply melt away.

This problem is not related to political administrations. It existed under Bush, Obama, and now Trump.

Armor is only as strong as its weakest point. In the case of the 4th amendment, the strongest link is now made of brittle, poorly cast metal.

I WROTED YOU A CHRISTMAS STORY.

(It is of course non-canon. Eternal thanks to Brenda Cooper, Wil Wheaton, Christina Diddle, and Yesenia Cisneros for story notes and feedback. Yes it’s a little blasphemous, if you are sensitive to that, don’t bother reading. You will have no one to blame but yourself.)

 

Teaching Toward Bethlehem

 

 

The air was crisp and cold, and smelled strongly of smoke. To be more clear, it wasn’t the smoke smell of destruction nor the smoke of a pipe of herb. It was hearth fire smoke. Wood smoke. A smell of comfort, and Nathanial Boren inhaled it deeply and held it inside of him for a moment. He exhaled and watched his breath float away into the night sky, imagining for a moment it was smoke itself. It was a childhood play act that even at the ripe old age of fifty-one he indulged in.

His wife was fast asleep in the settlement behind him, his children were grown and had hearth fires of their own. Nights like this he could stand out near the perimeter, see the stars in the winter night air and just be. For a moment he wished he’d poured a dram of the spiced cider on the stove before he went out, then decided that tiny imperfection made the night somehow better.

Sometimes just being meant feeling a slight pang of regret.

The grassy hills that rolled over the landscape were dusted in a bit of light frost and the dark outline of the old city structure could just be made out against the far mountains under the light of the full moon. The perimeter was set up to prevent raids from there, but the grand old Vancouver skyline still stood proud if inert. Nathanial’s reverie was broken by Old Messy goat, the cranky one, who bleated from her position at the center of the flock and that’s when little Rhiannon scared the living shit out of him.

“Caught ya dreaming!” she shouted, slapping him on the backside.

After the shock wore off “Sweet Christ child, you’ll give me a heart attack!”

Rhiannon cocked her head, dark skin and eyes bundled up in her little parka, “You weren’t tending the flock. I get spanked for that.”

All of nine years old, his granddaughter was already a taskmaster at settlement responsibilities, and yes, he had been musing instead of watching the herd. For a moment he was doubly grateful for not having the cider, as she startled him so badly he would have either dashed it on himself or on her.

“Fair point. What are you doing out here? The perimeter isn’t safe at night.”

A shrug, just like her mother would, “Yeah well you guys say that, but no one has come from the city since, you know, I was born.” She put a sarcastic emphasis on the last word and Nathanial’s heart soared because that part, that part was just like his wife.

“All right little one, look and tell me what you see.”

Rhiannon dutifully gazed over the perimeter fence line for a moment. Nathanial could see her mind working on the proper response. She was analytical. Businesslike. It hurt somewhat to realize she was not whimsical, and that this world had by necessity made her that way.

“There’s no tracks in the frost, no one has been in the crossfire zone. Old Messy is cranky because none of the males want to fuck her.” She said plainly.

“Hey! Language!”

Rhiannon rolled her eyes, “Owpaw I know all about fucking. That’s how we get more goats and babies.”

“Language! I should speak to your mother about her teachings.”

Again with the rolled eyes. “You guys tell me how important words are, then spend a lot of time telling me not to say them.”

Nathanial took a deep breath for a blistery comeback and exhaled slowly instead. The air still smelled of burning wood and comfort.

“Yes. Yes, sometimes we do that. We’re not perfect. But while your eyes caught much, you missed my point. Look at the sky.”

She cast her eyes up at the stars then shrugged again like her mother.

“It’s clear. No glowy fog or clouds tonight.”

“But do you see that star?” he pointed.

“The brighter one?”

“Yes, that one.” He said.

This time there wasn’t a shrug. Now, she was listening.

“I see it.”

“That star is Polaris. It is the northern star. It’s one of the brighter stars in the night sky. It is said that Polaris guided the shepherds.”

And yet again with the eye rolling. Nathanial wanted for a moment to chastise her but Rhiannon wasn’t one to be silenced or interrupted.

“Oh not the Christmas story again.”

“It’s winter little one, and the time when we used to mark this time with great celebration.”

She pulled the hood of her winter coat back, her dander up now, which again gave Nathanial great delight. Rhiannon had a sharp mind. He had much hope for this young generation.

“Stupid! Owpaw no one tends flocks in the field in desert winter. And wise men don’t need a star to guide them. The whole story is dumb. Why would a god fuck some woman—“

“Language!”

“—to create another version of himself to die but not really die so everyone here could hurt people then feel bad and feel ok about it later because they think they get to live forever?”

Rhiannon’s blood was up he could see, Nathanial changed his mind and wished for a moment he had that cider. He looked back up at the sky.

“I suppose you’re right.”

Rhiannon blinked, unsure of herself. He shifted slightly and put his arm around her.

“I like the story though,” he said, “It reminds me of generosity. It reminds me of sacrifice. It reminds me of the fact even if we worship something, that doesn’t mean it didn’t face struggle too. All we have in the end, are our stories. Isn’t the message of the Christ worth that? Forget the main parts, think about the message. Of love and sharing it. Doing something to help everyone. Yes, the story is a myth but all stories are. We can take the lessons even if we don’t buy the story right?”

Rhiannon hugged her grandfather tightly around his waist. “No. It’s silly. But I think I know what you mean?”

He did. They stood like that, enjoying the cold for a moment.

“There’s a hymn I like,” he said.

“The holy night one?”

“It’s fun to sing isn’t it?”

“I guess,” she said.

“There’s a line about fall on your knees, hear the angel voices.”

“That’s dumb. You can’t fight back on your knees.”

“That’s not entirely true, but also not the point,” Nathanial said. He didn’t feel the need to further it.

There was a moment again with just the two hugging each other in the cold. The goat bleated.

“I think you’re right about Old Messy,” He said.

“Yeah. I am I think,” came the small reply.

“Go to bed little one.”

Rhiannon hugged him tight and breathed in deeply. Nathanial realized for a moment that perhaps he had imparted some wisdom. He also realized that having an impact on her was a life experience few and far between. Rhiannon let him go and trudged off but then turned for a moment.

“Owpaw, what is the point though? Why even bother with these people you made if you’re a god? Make them think they can be bad but feel bad and be forgiven?”

Nathanial smiled. “I don’t know. Maybe people should try harder to avoid being bad.”

Rhiannon frowned. “Wait. This is you telling me again I can’t tease Nat Jr? Owpaw he is so lame.” Again she emphasized the last word with sarcasm.

Mission accomplished, her brother might experience a little less torment.

“Merry Christmas, Rhiannon.” It was an instruction not a wish.

And she rolled her eyes, shuffled back to her cabin. Nathanial took a deep breath of the night air, and watched the flock.

 

On the Thanksgiving

It’s storming outside, and Lucien is nervous. The house is talking now and in many ways it is the wind that gives it its voice, not unlike how our own voices work. There’s a low groan from the fireplace downstairs because I have the chimney flute open for a fire later. There’s a pop and crack from time to time as the wood frame adjusts to the storm. The heat registers chime in as they activate to the cold trying to get in. The oven downstairs is almost finished roasting the duck, which will be basically our food supply for the next two days because it’s a larger bird than even I and the dogs could polish off in one sitting.

I am finding I like spending thanksgiving alone. It’s a day where everyone is busy making and doing things and enjoying company and, not unlike someone who works the night shift and sees how everything changes when the vast majority of humans are otherwise occupied, I feel like this day is my own private secret. It’s a good space to reflect, do some fun self-care, and actually pause for a moment to just be thankful by yourself.

Sometimes I think we should all take thanksgiving day privately, and leave the grand sharing with friends and awesome communal experience to Christmas. In a way, I think what we know of even the idea of Jesus would like that. A private reflection followed by a joyous celebration. But that would probably decimate the Turkey Industrial Complex. It would also probably decimate the Xanax Industrial Complex because there would be no political or religious arguments.

I’m thankful for so many things and, in general am happier than I have ever been. I’m thankful for growing up a lot in the past two years. I’m thankful for friends who helped me out through a tough spot. I’m thankful for my dogs Lucien and Basil without whom I simply could not function.  I’m thankful for the land that I live on and that it provides great joy for myself and the dogs. I’m grateful for the house that I live in which echoes and talks in its own way as I mentioned before and seems to be feeding my creative spirit. I love my job and the people I work with and am very thankful for the opportunity that has been provided to me.

I’m thankful for life! We spend such a short time on our planet. I wish so very deeply that I could share my new found zen sense that there is no great scorecard up in the sky for any of us. Our species moves on long timelines but our impact on it moves only in tiny bursts. History cares not in value for the victory of an election day for instance. It merely records it. Set down your baggage if you can, and stretch your arms.

I’m thankful for my privilege. I didn’t earn it nor do I deserve it, and I wish that everyone had the same privilege. My price for being thankful for it is to see it and work as much as I can to provide its benefits to everyone. Everyone. Because everyone deserves it.

The sun is setting. Dark when it’s day applies to us in Seattle. Basil is looking at me with his deep brown eyes and his serious face. I had put jazz on the turntable downstairs but it’s run through its side. It’s time to go outside and run my boy ragged with his ball while there’s light.

It’s thanksgiving. And if I was struck dead at any moment I would want my last words to be:

“Thank you for everything. I had a wonderful time.”

Thoughts on an Election

It’s not going to be ok. Not for a while. Strangely, that’s the magic of our American system.

***

I woke up this morning thinking of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. It was a fairly good one as I recall, where the Enterprise was evaluating first contact with a race who wasn’t quite ready for it.

The away team was found out, and an enlightened leader of the race seemed set to push his civilization to the next phase. But they were not ready. Institutionalized pride and fear, some religious and some xenophobia caused tragedy and in the end first contact had to be delayed. Bad for the civilization involved as the Federation could have helped them solve numerous problems. But good in the sense that forcing a change will always be met with the elements of tradition and protection and that could now let them know there was a change on the horizon. Don’t worry, just not today.

We get caught up in waves of positive change. We have a short time on the Earth. We tend to believe in momentum despite the fact history has shown us over and over again the momentum surges back quickly, sharply, and sometimes with great pain.

***

I was talking last week with a fellow Bernie supporter and we were joined in the conversation by a Trump supporter who opined:

“You guys should have run Bernie. I like him as much as Trump. He would shake things up. But Hillary, all she and her husband want is another turn at the power wheel.”

It wasn’t a sexist comment. It wasn’t a conservative comment. It was an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

***

What has bothered me most by far are my scared friends. People of color. Non-Christians. People who, thanks to the gradual removal of morality from a biological imperative, have come out as gay or gender neutral or fluid or been able to embrace their true physical identity or their religious preference openly for the past eight years.

These people are afraid not just for the direction of the country they are terrified for their marriage, their ability to use a restroom, their ability to practice their faith, their feeling that it is unreasonable for a police officer to be able to shoot them under lax rules of engagement.

I can’t tell them to calm down, they are rightfully losing their shit over what this means for them and I have zero frame of reference to help.

***

While Trump may indeed be the least qualified person to run and win, the long arc of history in general shows there have been far worse presidents. Harding, Buchanan, Hoover all come to mind immediately. Granted Trump has not started yet, but I do take heart in that we’re still here and the gradual trend while never moving fast enough for my liking is ever better.

***

The status quo sucks. Hillary Clinton was, by the traditional sense of the idea, one of the most qualified candidates in years according to the job description. Donald Trump, in objective contrast, was one of the least by the same definition. But the reality is many of my fellow citizens simply feel slighted by a system that rewards playing by Washington rules. By playing the game.

I make no apologies nor regrets for my support of Hillary Clinton. I find Donald Trump in every way abhorrent in his behavior and his inability to understand you can lie for the rest of your life to make people like you but that will not change the fact you lie constantly.

The only downfall to Hillary as a candidate is that she and her husband have consistently handed their enemies the ammo needed to build a long and sustained narrative that they are untrustworthy. I still boggle over the email server. I get how it happened, and I understand its implications are not near as severe a “crime” as one side would like it to be. But it’s still a self-inflicted wound in a career riddled with them. The sum total of controversies over the Clinton’s that have been disproven is staggering but it is undercut on an almost two-year basis by something they say or do themselves that actually can be used against them.

***

I said on twitter that Trump has a mandate now. That’s not correct and I should have put it better. You cannot have a mandate when the other candidate won the popular vote.

What the Republicans have now is unfettered control. They have the three branches of the Federal government and a majority of the state legislatures and governorships. That means effectively if the Republican party wanted to add an amendment to the constitution they could do so far more easily than at any time in recent history. (note I said more easily not easily. It’s still a difficult process)

What this means is: They have no one to blame and no excuses. If the next four years is the dawning of a new golden age of prosperity or worse the dawning of a new dark age, it will be the direct result of conservative policy and no one else’s.

***

I hope Trump is the Republican party’s Carter.

***

What does this mean for NASA? One of the “Make America Great Again” pillars is a throwback to times when America had great successes. What was a more crowning achievement of American greatness than landing on the moon? Someone tell President-elect Trump that the Chinese are headed to Mars first. That ought to do it.

***

Talk of secession and faithless electors upsets me. The former was settled over the lives of 600,000 Americans. It is settled. No state can legally peacefully secede from the United States. It is not possible.

The latter would give us a powerless democrat in the white house against the aforementioned full republican control of the rest of the governing apparatus.

Both are folly.

***

I keep coming back to that Star Trek episode. One-half of the country isn’t listening to the other half. If we’re not listening, we’re missing the opportunity to assuage fear. To address concern. To actually learn that maybe some of what we think is wrong. I used to watch that episode thinking “screw it just do the first contact and deal with the fall out” But in that fictional world the fear meant people’s lives.

On this side of the real world it’s already costing lives and the full brunt of change isn’t even realized yet. What do you actually do in that situation?

You can sit and hate I suppose. But that’s going to be a long four years.

***

Michelle 2020.