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The Moralist, the Moralizing, and the Moral of the Story

Fight: Mikasa awakens ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, 'The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2'.

There is no moral to the story; it is convenient word play in an age of professional moralists and societal resentment toward morals of stories.

A personal moment: Something strange occurred by which a blog accustomed to calling thirty hits an outstanding day pulled about sixty for two in a row. The phenomenon on this occasion is one of a scant few posts written directly about the infamous former FOX News personality Bill O’Reilly, on an occasion he appeared to throw his own mother under the bus.

One of those weird curses of privilege: Since people are reading it, do I deliberately write a follow-up? Great, who wants to read that much of me crowing about the demise of Bill O’Reilly’s tenure at FOX News? And can I really muster the will to wallow in such sordid tales when it means putting Bill O’Reilly’s face on a protracted discussion of sexual harassment and belligerence? And how much should I really complain about the world when this is the question I’m nibbling through lunch time?

Maybe it’s these conundra, even more than the low ethics, that we come to disdain about conservatives. I can still remember a Doonesbury episode from the Time of the Blue Dress, and the idea that Mike was relieved that his twelve year-old daughter already understood enough about fellatio that he need not explain that aspect of the headlines. The idea of putting Bill O’Reilly‘s face on any discussion of sexual harassment almost feels like harassing belligerence of its own.

To the other, it is not so much a question of passing on opportunity; rather, well, damn it, the smartest thing to do would be to stop now.

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A Reflection on an Echo of a Cartoon

Detail of cartoon by Jen Sorensen, via Daily Kos Comics, 3 January 2017.

To the one, winter is as winter does, and we should probably leave it at that. Nonetheless, a month later, Jen Sorensen’s point still echoes:

Hillary has certainly frustrated me at times over the years, but I came to admire her intelligence and poise over the course of this election cycle. Her performance at the debates with Trump was nothing short of heroic. She also ran on the most progressive Democratic platform ever, but since policy has become almost completely divorced from politics, she gets little credit for that. I could go on, but as my husband says, this was not so much an election as an exorcism, the culmination of a decades-long smear campaign by the right.

The term “political correctness” has been the cornerstone of conservative efforts to transform the ideas of civil rights and equality into something frivolous and stupid. The right loves plucking silly examples from obscure, powerless people and blowing them up into huge “culture war” issues that supposedly threaten the nation. “PC” is an insult that plays into their hands.

Along these same lines, “liberal elites”―long a Fox News favorite―is designed to shift attention away from the actual economic elites hoovering up the world’s wealth and resources, such as the Koch Brothers or Trump, and instead make one think of poodle-owning urbanites supposedly looking down their noses at everyone (while in reality voting to raise the minimum wage). It’s a frame, not a fact, and hides a deep anti-intellectual agenda.

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A Tragic Tale of Tools

#lulz | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from FLCL episode 2, 'Firestarter'.

Trying to explain #pizzagate reminds of an old lyricα: “Baring your soul was the in thing to do. It’s fun and it’s easy for an empty-headed fool.” And it’s true, those recalling the period closely―and thus painfully―enough, yes, the line works well enough. Indeed, we might cringe recalling Iron John and the mythic Fire in the Belly, but the vinyl memory also brings to mind a trend of men exploring their feelings, shedding fear about shedding tears, and, of course, reinforcing the stereotypes they would ostensibly otherwise break by pursuing their feminine sides. It is then, merely coincidental―or, you know, not, given how the interconnectedness of all things is most affecting of our lives when asserting through the historical record―that scattershot assertions of traditional masculinity find themselves so close to an invented scandal asserting child sexual exploitation by one group while relying on an opposing group wallowing in child rape fantasies.

Never mind. Andrew Breiner takes his turn for Salon:

But a small number of people on message boards like 4chan and Reddit were more interested in seemingly mundane emails about small social gatherings and parties hosted by Podesta and his friends. Specifically, they noticed that these emails mentioned pizza a few times.

Boldly disregarding the simple explanation that the emailers, like most Americans, eat pizza regularly and find it to be an easy food to serve and eat while socializing, self-appointed Internet detectives decided that “pizza” was a complex code for pedophilia. Using this code, Pizzagaters claim, Podesta and his well-heeled pals could brazenly discuss their plans for throwing disgusting sex parties exploiting enslaved children, in between exchanges about Clinton’s campaign strategy and setting up conference calls.

It’s important to note that since the theories that would become Pizzagate began on 4chan and Reddit, sites known for trolling people with cruel, complicated pranks, it’s likely that many of the conspiracy theory’s originators were joking―coming up with absurdities to entertain themselves.

But it took a very short time for /r/Pizzagate, the now-closed Pizzagate-focused Reddit subforum, or subreddit, to fill with people who appeared to be true believers. The theory also became popular on Reddit’s “The Donald,” a hub for Trump supporters. From there, Pizzagate caught the attention of conservative fake news sites, minor white supremacist celebrities, and supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s been amplified for unknown reasons by Twitter bots traced to the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Vietnam.

To the one, we can only reiterate the question of whether or not Trump supporters are complaisant assets to the machinations of international interests, but perhaps more importantly we should note, to the other, the question of lulz.

That is to say, we might recall Brendan Gauthier’s report for Salon in September:

Perhaps the most noteworthy admission came from a 4chan user who openly acknowledged the big scary alt-right’s satirical (and inflammatory) edge: “CTR shills still not realising that pol is a board of satire and our only mission is to meme the retarded manchild to the white house for the lulz.”

This is one of those weird facets we might wish to pay some attention to. Overseas twitterbots are sufficient to move a soft-headed religious fanatic to terrorize a pizzeria as a means of taking up arms against Hillary Clinton; the lulzaholics ought to be proud, but what about the rest of Donald Trump’s supporters?

In the end, it’s all the same. They get played by Russian trolls, international misinformation bloggers, and botnets around the world because they want to.

It is easy enough to remind that it always has been about supremacism and lulz; as the excuses fall away, what else will be left?

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α Memory insists it comes from a Seattle band from the late eighties into the early nineties called Chemistry Set, but that vinyl echo is really dusty.

Image note: Naota gets screwed. (Detail of frame from FLCL episode 2, “Fire Starter”.)

Breiner, Andrew. “Pizzagate, explained: Everything you want to know about the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria conspiracy theory but are too afraid to search for on Reddit”. Salon. 10 Deceember 2016.

Gauthier, Brendan. “Pepe’s post-debate identity crisis: Online alt-right turns on Donald Trump after his presidential debate fiasco”. Salon. 27 September 2016.

A Note on Equivalence (Calling Bullshit Mix)

I just sent this message to a friend:

I’ll see if a link turns up later ….

Our local news just did a bit on Donald Trump’s mouth, and the latest revelations from the Howard Stern corner of the Universe.

So at the end, they tacked on a Frankenstein’s monster equivalence about Hillary Clinton, email, and a paid speech about how far her life had come from her middle class upbringing.

Never mind. It’s a lot of effort to blog right now, and this was so goddamn blatant … I really need to think about this. I mean, fuck.

And, yeah, it’s 23:08. That story led the local news.

Yeah. Right. I’ll work on finding a link for that. KOMO 4. 8 October. Eleven o’clock news.

The Hurricane Conspiracy (Drudge Scott)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to the Advanced Pharma, 22 February 2013, in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This is one of those moments that presents a challenge about how, exactly, one should accommodate and assimilate deal with it; Eric Levitz explains:

Matt Drudge is concerned that this “impending hurricane” narrative is a bit too convenient: One minute, Obama says climate change is real and could increase the frequency of extreme weather events; several years and hurricanes later, another extreme weather event appears just as Hillary Clinton is campaigning to succeed him.

It shouldn’t be hard to reconcile climate-change denial and acceptance of meteorology. Even Florida’s terrible governor can do it.

“If you need to evacuate and you haven’t―evacuate!” Rick Scott said Thursday. “This storm will kill you.”

Indulge me, please, and recite the following sentence aloud: Rick Scott is a secret Clinton operative.

A’ight, then, any questions?

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Image note: Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to the Advanced Pharma, 22 February 2013, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Levitz, Eric. “Matt Drudge Suggests Hurricane Matthew Might Be a Liberal Conspiracy”. New York. 6 October 2016.

A Note About Software

Detail of frame from 'Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor' episode 8, "Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …"

It is true I really, really don’t understand the bit about how software gets to decide, arbitrarily, when to function or not.

Obviously, that’s not really the case, but I don’t get why simple functions like writing proper data to files randomly escape various applications’ faculties. It would seem that the basic functions of the software ought to include working properly, but as people I know in the industry remind, that’s just not fair. Making software is really hard, and nothing is written to standard because there are no standards despite the fact that the industry has formal standards.

This is not necessarily, then, a software issue. Rather, it seems a matter of the business model.

Nor am I being fair; not all software is written to the nickel and dime prime directive informing the decisions of the tech sector in general.

Look, if I’m doing something really complicated? Yeah, occasionally the software is going to glitch up. But I’m sorry, while software is really, really hard to do, that line becomes something of a head scratcher when the issue is why saving files properly is somehow too much to ask of software.

Because I don’t understand this. The best work-around at present is stop production and wait for the update. Spending for alternative software is not always feasible.

Honestly, if expecting your application to properly save data is asking too much, look, I’m not going to drive a stake through your heart, or anything, but come on. What’s the problem? You and I both know the answer isn’t to say that software is hard to do. We both know this is a problem has to do with the business model.

The joke used to be, Good enough for government work. These days it is, Good enough for the tech sector.

This is what it comes down to: Creating software is essentially a matter of setting billions of switches properly according to intricate designs. It is not worth the investment to actually do this properly.

Update: It would seem a bug believed fixed seven years ago is once again in play. Workaround: Figure out which non-alphanumeric characters―especially Unicode resolutions like u2026 (ellipsis)―do or don’t write properly to image file comment data. You know, where you might put copyright information. Good luck. [8 Aug. 2016]

Speculation on Murmur and Buzz (HRC Horizon Remix)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

And yet this is all about me. Should I apologize, or can we just admit that’s an inherent aspect of this valence of the blogosphere?

Because the truth is that the great “candidate” post is something you always want to get around to but somehow gets put off because any starting point leads to seemingly daunting prospects.. Whether it’s Ezra Klein’s article about how, “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician”―and it’s a very good article, but still you want to argue about what do you mean “it’s time”?―or perhaps reminding my Sanders-supporting neighbors why he’s endorsing Hillary Clinton, it’s actually a really big pitch; there’s a lot going on.

But the post need not be some grandiose presentation; nor is that a repudiation of the basic idea of pitching the campaign.

Let’s try it this way: Steve Benen considers the murmur and buzz around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential shortlist, mainly reports that the leading contenders are Tom Vilsack, presently Secretary of Agriculture and formerly governor of Iowa; and Tim Kaine, presently the junior U.S. Senator from Virginia, previously serving as that state’s governor, and in between managing an overlapping gig as chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

Clinton seemed to tilt her hand a bit on Monday during an interview with Charlie Rose, which included the presumptive Democratic nominee emphasizing “experience” as the key factor. “I am afflicted with the responsibility gene,” she added.

The interview turned into a sort of word-association game. Asked about Kaine and his self-professed “boring” personality, Clinton said, “And I love that about him. I mean, he’s never lost an election. He was a world-class mayor, governor and senator, and is one of the most highly respected senators I know.”

Asked about Hickenlooper, Clinton said, “First class.” Asked about Warren, she added, “Amazing. I mean, what she has done in relatively few years to put the agenda of inequality front and center is something that I think we should all be grateful for.”

Sanders supporters, of course, will be disappointed; I would in turn suggest that hope is not yet lost. While it is true that on this occasion I can read the conventional wisdom as well as any other, it is similarly true that this is a year in which I presume the conventional wisdom unstable. To wit, while it is unlikely, Hillary Clinton is perfectly capable of turning the screw in order to mean the manner, relative dimension, and quality of experience, thus turning to the essential newcomer, Elizabeth Warren.

Yeah, it could happen.

(cough!)

(ahem!)

But there is a hidden gem, there.

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Baked Lettuce, and the Decline of Western Civilization

This is a human weakness.Who cares if the internet is really mad at Nigella Watson?  Detail of Huffington Post sidebar, 17 November 2015.

In the first place, I loathe badly-written headlines, and Huffington Post specializes in that.

There is also the pedantic fact that “the Internet” doesn’t get angry at anyone. Naturally, we get what they mean, but still, it’s a really, really dumb headline, and HuffPo ought to be embarrassed; its editors would probably do the site―and the rest of humanity―some good by filing their resignations.

Additionally, we might offer the following consideration:

People really feel strongly about putting lettuce in the oven.

The Internet wept as they watched Nigella Lawson bake some lettuce leaves and subsequently add insult to injury by placing a fried egg on top.

The chef made her version of a Caesar salad on her BBC show “Simply Nigella” and it did not go over easy with fans. Her recipe consisted of lettuce baked in the oven with anchovies and garlic, all topped with the aforementioned egg. This strays from the traditional formula, which involves fresh lettuce, croutons and a white dressing.

Outraged viewers took to Twitter, decrying Nigella for her offensive, senseless actions.

Speaking of being embarrassed, we can only wonder if writing about people wringing their hands and losing their minds because Nigella put lettuce in the oven is what Samantha Guff had in mind when she undertook her editorial fellowship at Huffington Post. Much like being relegated to penning articles about plot holes in Star Wars, we might wonder if Ms. Guff finds herself enduring those excruciating moments in which she wonders if her parents were right, and she should have skipped journalism for something more useful.

To the other, I was dumb enough to click the lettuce link, and it doesn’t help to suggest I did so fully expecting to write a blog post about it. (No, really, one need not be a scholar to recognize wasted journalism from afar; promoted content is a particular sensitivity of mine, and the Hufffington Post sidebar is particularly odious. Something about dead fish in a barrel goes here.)

Look, bad journalism is one thing. And, yes, HuffPo’s need to suggest godawful content is the sort of thing Arianna owes her readers fiercely for. The age of the internet has brought us tremendous informational resources; unfortunately, our market priorities demand we squander them. Seriously, as much as I might pick on Sophie Bartholomew, Anisa Subedar, Marion Edney, and Danny Beckwith for being hilariously useless human beings, I also acknowledge it’s a thin pretense for wasting my own time. So, you know, let’s blame Samantha. And she, in turn, can point to her editors. And they, in turn, can tell Arianna what a wonderful person she is, and how her shit doesn’t stink. Honestly, who looks at a potentially infinite idea and sets up a business model to waste as much of it as humanly possible?

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Guff, Samantha. “Internet Is Mad At Nigella Lawson For Putting Lettuce In The Oven”. The Huffington Post. 17 November 2015.

Overdue

Detail of frame from Serial Experiments Lain, Layer 02, 'Girls'.

One note about the passing of time is that the ravages of age compel me to recall―

It’s one thing to have swallowed “the red pill” in a small town in which your pick-up artist (PUA) exploits are likely to become general knowledge, but it’s another thing entirely to be an “alpha” on the prowl who also writes a blog and does a podcast about his conquests — especially after they become general knowledge.

Protesters gather outside Waking Life Espresso in Asheville, North Carolina, in September 2015, denouncing misogyny and the sexually harassing, predatory assertion of the pickup artist after the coffee shop's owners, Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens, were revealed by a local blogger as PUAs who advocate and blog their ideas and behavior.  (Uncredited photo via Salon.com)That is precisely the situation that two PUAs — Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens — find themselves in after Ashevilleblog published an article (based on information gleaned from an anonymous blog) about the owners of Waking Life Espresso and the online accounts of their exploits at Holistic Game and a Twitter account by the same name.

It’s not surprising that the West Asheville community is protesting and boycotting the coffee shop — especially the female members of it, who learned on Twitter that they’re not human beings so much as “an endless supply of hot young pussy,” or that “there are no ‘special’ girls,” merely “cool ones and lame ones.” The lames ones, according to the Holistic Game blog, “could help themselves immensely by reading a few classic novels and working out a little [but] they get attention regardless, so the motivation to better themselves isn’t present.”

(Kaufman)

―that not so long ago the idea of a pickup artist was regarded somewhere between being hapless, charming, and forgivable to the one, and admirable to the other.

This is, in its turn, worth mentioning because in the twenty-first century American society seems especially prone to forgetfulness about matters historical. It is one thing to point out the obvious but esoteric Schwarzkopf cycleα, for instance; but quite another to see a decade like the eighties so forgotten―fashion is one thing, but it’s not just Republicans who forget Ronald Reagan’s presidency, or the fights over abortion or condoms or even marital rape.

The idea of the pickup artist is particularly reviled right now, and for reasons we might consider exceptionally obvious. But it seems strange, in the age of #NotAllMen and #JustNotMe, how many of my peers seem a bit cloudy on the issue of how important it was for guys to get laid―by a girl!―when we were younger. And it’s one thing to invoke ego defense, but, really, what drives such suppression? Can self-indictment really be so powerful? Because, I swear, they’re not all running from memories of evils committed. And just how many self-inflicted wounds, such as it is, could they possibly visit upon themselves? Deutsch-20141009-detailOr is it possible that we really have been wandering so catastrophically astray for so long without even knowing it? The proposition seems unrealistic for both magnitude and necessary complexity. Yet one point at least remains occulted: How can we possibly forget?

Still, though, the question of the pickup artist has to do with refinement and ritualization of so much masculine privilege and subordinate expectation breathing life into one of the darkest and most persistent corrosions of our human clay. And as purity cult roars its disdainful lament, we ought not wonder why this most superficial art of charlatanry also finds itself bearing the sort of scrutiny it simply cannot withstand. The pickup artist is a distillation of what hashtags of wounded masculine pride would hope to ward off.

This is an unfortunate truth: The days of the pickup artist will never be over. But this is a time in which the mythopoeic station of this lonely, notorious art can be uprooted and redefined according to what it actually is and does.

And, you know, it really is about time.

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Image notes: Top ― Detail of frame from Serial Experiments Lain, Layer 02, “Girls”. Middle ― Protesters gather outside Waking Life Espresso in Asheville, North Carolina, in September 2015, denouncing misogyny and the sexually harassing, predatory assertion of the pickup artist after the coffee shop’s owners, Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens, were revealed by a local blogger as PUAs who advocate and promote their ideas and behavior via social media. (Photo via Salon.com) Bottom ― Detail of cartoon by Barry Deutsch, 9 October 2014.

α The Schwarzkopf cycle is a superficial frame for viewing history, starting with the period between 1953-91. At the front end is Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr., who helped overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq; the latter is when his son, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., led American forces in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, whose influence and respectability depended in large part on the American response to the Iranian reaction to Shah Reza Palavi. Explicitly: From father to son, it was still the same mission. And we are, of course, still working to clean up that mess, today.

Kaufman, Scott Eric. “North Carolina coffee shop on the rocks after misogynistic owners outed as podcasting, blogging red-pill enthusiasts”. Salon. 22 September 2015.

Nifty

Detail of graphic from New York Times, 22 September 2015: Who’s Winning the Presidential Campaign?

Okay, so what part of this pretense from NYT’s The Upshot

History suggests that each party’s eventual nominee will emerge from 2015 in one of the top two or three positions, as measured by endorsements, fund-raising and polling.

isn’t seemingly self-evident?

Nonetheless, it is an interesting toy, tracking various data sources according to reasonable pretenses, but pretty much from the outset it seems as if the New York Times is overplaying its hand.

If we might suggest to keep an eye on it, and see how well they do, we might also suspect it is designed to pitch itself as somehow successful, since its job is to follow trends toward a conclusive resolution.

Still, there are plenty of people you know who need color graphics in order to figure out what’s going on. Who knows, maybe this will help.

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“Who’s Winning the Presidential Campaign?” The Upshot. 22 Septemer 2015.