Not much to say except this is completely predictable.  Small-time police department given the armaments of an invading army (literally) and firm in the belief that all crime is fungible and all criminals are supervillains. Throw in the racial element of a town in the South with a history of disproportionate police action against racial minorities and you have all the elements needed for Birmingham fifty years later…with the caveat that the cops in Birmingham had dogs, firehoses, and revolvers.  Not fully automatic assault rifles with six clips each, armored vehicles, countersnipers and tear gas.

Which is fucking absurd. Their “sniper” was sitting on top of the armored vehicle with his SR-25 on a bipod, exposed to everyone in a position that in a real war zone would get him greased in about ten seconds.  That was a guy who was absolutely positive he wasn’t going to be shot at…which means he had no business being up there to begin with. Countless Tweets from people who service in Iraq have pointed out that the Ferguson cops are carrying far more ammo – and actually pointing their guns FAR more – than they ever did in-country, and one in particular noted that American troops put down riots outside mosques with less loadout than the Ferguson PD feels obliged to carry.

It’s out of hand.  And really, there’s no way to easily sort it out.  Ideally, you’d put the entirety of local law-enforcement on the sidelines and bring in cops from somewhere else where the police aren’t merely the best-armed gang and the rednecks who want to need the guns don’t have badges. And then the community activists would do a bang-up job of isolating the guys who just want to throw Molotovs and stir the shit (I guarantee you there are some of the usual Free Mumia-International ANSWER-Black Bloc-type douchetards out there making things worse).  If you could remove the untrustworthy police from the situation and launch a loudly public external investigation, you might persuade people that this is not going to be swept under the rug and justice will be served.  But then, if ifs and buts were bros and sluts we’d all have been laid on prom night, and right now not a mumbling word is being said about ann investigation.  Hell, nobody knows where the shooter cop is, he’s not in custody, and there are rednecks marching for HIM in St Louis even after autopsy results suggest that he capped an unarmed man on his knees.

And that’s really the thing, isn’t it? The Ferguson police are out spreading the meme that the kid was a criminal, that he had just robbed a gas station or something, despite admitting that the cop would have no knowledge of that at the time of the incident.  And even if it’s completely true – we’re doing “shot six times without trial” as an appropriate response to an unarmed theft now?  It’s like I said earlier: in the minds of certain people, all crime is fungible and every criminal is a terrorist and all terrorists are Magneto.  And more than one person is pointing out how a bunch of old white people pointed military weapons at the ATF for two weeks at the Bundy Ranch without consequence, and the point should not be lost on anyone.  Those old crackers weren’t criminals, after all, they weren’t dark enough for that.

Ironically, we have just found the perfect use for Google Glass.  Real time video of everything a cop does from the moment they step out of the car, both policeman and subject, with real-time data updates in the corner of your eye too.  Horses for courses, and law enforcement is the ideal spot for it.  And we already have documented evidence that the camera makes a huge difference: cops play by the rules and citizens know that tape is running on them too.  Instant surveillance at the time it’s needed: maybe that’s the fix.  Because the cops are loaded for bear in Ferguson but they’re still trying to shut down the media – which is all the proof you need that in 2014, the iPhone is mightier than the sword.

“Do you KNOW there’s other people?”

The paraphrase is Eddie Izzard, of course, during the award-winning Dressed to Kill, when he asks his American audience “do you know there’re other countries?” And the crowd roars, because after all, Americans are famous for not really grasping the existence of anything beyond our borders.  It’s an age-old story, one going back to Washington and his warning against foreign entanglements.  Fair enough.

But the border has gotten closer and closer – and basically now exists in front of an American’s nose.  For a decade now, I’ve been snarking that the first lesson on day one of California driving school is “there are no other cars on the road” and I stand by it. But there are also no other people on the train platform. There certainly aren’t any signs saying “No Smoking” or “Dismount Zone” or “Walk Your Bike.” There definitely aren’t any people getting off the train when you’re trying to get onto it – or while you’re standing idly in the doorway. And there absolutely isn’t another car at the four-way stop, especially one that was there before you.  And even if you do notice these things, it’s okay, because you were in a hurry, so you had to drive your car down the bike lane or ride your bike on the VTA platform or blow through the red light to make a left into pedestrian traffic or walk through the big red DON’T WALK sign underneath the green light.

The principal achievement of American life and culture in the 21st century has been to make it more solipsistic than was ever before possible.  The proliferation of media means you can now see exactly what you want without ever encountering a dissenting opinion or distressing fact. Entire online ecosystems now exist to tell you how right you are, to affirm everything you believe and allow you to freely and anonymously lash out at anyone with the temerity to be different. The main effect of a device that can transmit all the world’s knowledge into the palm of your hand has been to get between you and anything you don’t want to bother noticing.

It cuts both ways. On the one hand, that lonely geek kid in a hick town in Alabama now has access to a wider world around him and knows there’s something else.  On the other hand, his relatives can now bombard everyone they know with a thousand email forwards, each more bogus than the last, giving each other the incontrovertible factual proof that a Muslim atheistic socialist theocrat has taken over and is persecuting Christians. (Sidenote: I disrespect any American Christian who claims they’re being persecuted when believers in Syria and Iraq are literally being ordered to convert to Islam at the point of an AK, but that’s a different post.) Conspiracy-mongers, outright racists, people with behaviors and beliefs that would have been socially abhorrent even twenty years ago – all have found mutually reinforcing support and validation through five hundred channels of TV and unlimited bandwidth.

(Aside: that’s what drives me nuts about the misuse of things like “civil disobedience” and the First Amendment. When those folks went to jail in Birmingham, they were dressed in their Sunday best, and they went along without a fight, because they knew they were breaking the law and they accepted the consequences.  Now people say stupid shit and scream “First Amendment” without realizing that it guarantees freedom of speech, not freedom from consequence.  You want to dress like a circus clown? Don’t bitch when people stare.  You want to make a spectacle of yourself on TV and radio and Twitter? Don’t bitch when you get taken off the air.)

It doesn’t help that one of our two political parties is driven entirely by the ethos of “I Got Mine – Fuck You.” That’s the libertarian ethic at its most distilled, the idea that it should be possible to shuffle your money through two other countries and pay no taxes, or that you should be able to go armed and pick a fight and blow somebody away without consequence, or that your private shuttle should have the free use of public bus stops and that you should be able to resell your public parking space for profit.  I got mine, fuck you. And everyone who reads Atlas Shrugged and decides that it means them – they are the special ones, they are John Galt, they are the uniquely gifted and talented and the backbone of society as opposed to those looters and moochers who have the temerity not to have been born on third base – just feeds the beast.  I got mine, fuck you. 

In a way, I guess it was inevitable. The baby boomers were the original Me Generation, and they raised a critical mass of kids with a wall full of participation ribbons and helicoptered in to complain about grades and playing time.  It’s not lost on me that the bulk of bad actors on local transit are headed back to San Francisco in the afternoon, where a whole world is being carved out in “the Quad” so you can be bused back and forth to your job and have a hip edgy urban lifestyle in between.   Hannah Hart was being satirical about “adultolescence”. I don’t think these kids are.  So if you want to dress up like you woke up drunk in a Goodwill donation bin, go ahead, do your thing.  But be prepared for people not to take you seriously. If you want to go to work dressed for wake-and-bake in the dorm common room, go on with your bad self, but prepare to be judged. This might be the most casual place on Earth, but it’s not too much to expect things like clean and sort-of matching clothes in a professional environment. Respect for other people suggests that your teal V-neck with a fountain of chest hair doesn’t really pair with your faded brick red drainpipe jeans, which probably ought not be pegged with your Toms – but at the very least, I’ll be damned if you can help me pick out a shirt.  But hey, if the VC doesn’t care, do your thing.

Which is the trick. I ask “do you know there’s other people?” and immediately get asked “do YOU know there’s other people?”  It’s the age-old intolerance trap: if you don’t tolerate my intolerance, you yourself are intolerant and lose all moral standing.  But here’s the thing: we live in a society. We have to rub along or the whole thing falls apart eventually. If you insist on “I got mine, fuck you” and everyone else does too, you wind up with that libertarian paradise of Somalia. And while I’m sure that’s the perpetual wet dream of the people who want to need the guns, it’s no kind of a society.  If we’re going to survive, everybody’s going to have to accept that you have to nudge over and make room for the next guy.  Including those who want to freeload off the tolerance of others.

In essence, there it is: the Golden Rule rewritten for the 21st century. And we need it. Damn near everything that’s wrong with American society in 2014 can be nailed down to the disposal of any sense of empathy, the abandonment of any concept of community deeper than “people I agree with on Facebook”, and the refusal to acknowledge that somebody somewhere might be different and that’s all right.

We’re all idiots

I was first directed to John Cole when he was still largely a generic right-wing warblogger. He was taking a break to take the piss out of some Catholic functionary who had denied communion to some little girl over an arcane and probably ridiculous point of theological legerdemain, and after some glancing around I noticed he was also taking the piss out of people who thought Terri Schiavo was one favorable ruling away from jumping out of bed and playing lacrosse.  And he was turning on the GOP with the sort of savagery normally reserved for the dirtiest and filthiest of hippies because they could just not let this woman die in peace when there was religious-politics hay to be made from it.  And that was the tipping point.

Nine years on, John Cole isn’t really a liberal at all.  He’s just a regular guy who found the ground shifting beneath him and making him a supporter of Democrats without any fundamental change in his worldview or approach…with one exception. He acknowledges now that he is an idiot, which he was unwilling to do when he was blindly backing the Bush administration’s charge into Iraq.  But then, he tends not to candy-coat very much…including the fact that he is an alcoholic and needs help.

His attempts to get into rehab were by turns hilarious and horrifying, because the American health care system is not equipped to deal with someone who walks into the ER and says “I am drinking myself to death and I need your help to prevent it.”  It took about five tries for him to be admitted into a facility for detox, but he got there eventually, and is now nine or ten days sober with a more traditional 28-day rehab stint coming up.

I would have liked to have a beer with this guy, but I would settle for a nice Coke Zero or something, because he is an interesting dude.  Gulf War I veteran, now teaching college somewhere in West Virginia, sponsor of a fraternity which appears to be less the typical douchebags and more just a bunch of guys who he is trying to make less knuckleheaded.  Not a guy who puts on a lot of airs. The sort who goes into Macy’s and asks “where’s the fat guy section?”  Although given that he dropped 20 pounds in the first 8 days of hospital-enforced sobriety (pancreatitis is hell) that may not be a thing for long.

Here’s the point of all this: the guy knows he’s an idiot. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, because we’re all idiots.  I’m smarter than 99.95% of everyone in this country, and I’m an idiot. I wouldn’t know where to start changing the oil on my Rabbit, after always changing my own throughout high school and college.  I can’t fix anything in the house.  My knowledge of history outside of England from about 1065 to the Revolution and the US after that is feeble at best. I haven’t had a firm grip on mainstream pop culture in a decade or so.  If I try to cook anything that doesn’t involve a mix or throwing meat on a grill, I’m liable to burn the house down. There are gaps in my knowledge that leave me sub-functional as an ordinary human being.

We’re all idiots. The trick is knowing where your shortcomings are and then being able to patch them over.  Either know where the takeout places are, or marry someone who can handle the strategic finances, or buy a bike that never needs to be maintained other than putting air in the tires.  Possibly the most important part of being a grown mature functioning adult is to know the ways in which you are an idiot and do what is necessary to mitigate it.  A lot of people are very very bad at that.

Fortunately, Cole isn’t. Good luck, dude.