On War

I hate doing things as a simple meme post.  The world is so much more complicated than that.

The attacks in Paris were a physical set of attacks made against a NATO country.  We here in America have sworn mutual defense with France, and so these attacks may as well have been made against us for our response.

These attacks are the direct result of a historical trend going back to just after World War II, and that trend is this:  We have forgotten how to go to war.

I can hear my mother’s generation getting pissed off at me as I write that.  Korea!  Vietnam!  Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm!  I can hear my own generation telling me about Iraq and Afghanistan.  We’ve been in so many wars since World War II.  How dare I suggest that we’ve forgotten how?

Answer:  Because we have.

The Cold War was amazing.  While we were in the Cold War, we could participate in these little side conflicts.  We used pawns in the Middle East (Israel for us, Egypt and Syria for the USSR).  We intervened in Vietnam, so the Soviets sold them weapons.  The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we backed the Taliban resistance against them.  And we could never go quite far enough.

See, there was always this risk present during the Cold War.  Vietnam is the most well-known example, and I’ll use it, but just realize this risk was omnipresent in all these little brushfire wars.

In Vietnam, our military had certain things it could do, and certain things it couldn’t.  There were Rules of Engagement, and they had to be followed.  The reason?  Because, well…nobody wanted to be the next Germany.

Let me go back a little farther than that, actually.  Let me go back all the way to WWI.  In the early days, Germany had its Schlieffen Plan.  This was a plan to deal with the fact that it was essentially surrounded by hitting France as hard and fast as possible, with the idea that Russia would take a while to mobilize.  It was a plan based purely on military necessity, and it neglected politics entirely.  This was its downfall.

See, in order to execute the Schlieffen plan, the German Army needed to go through Belgium.  This was, in fact, violent, and Belgian partisan resistance proved rather nasty, so the Germans essentially got into a war with the Belgians before anyone else.  This was a completely neutral country, and the “Rape of Belgium” became a piece of propaganda that the Entente forces used throughout the war to villify Germany and turn popular opinion (from places like, say, the United States) against them.

This, of course, meant that Germany got the nasty end of the stick in not one, but two different wars; a lesson to be learned, there.

So, in the Cold War, two superpowers faced each other for domination of the world.  Neither one wanted to be the country to blame for war with the other, because whoever lost the public opinion battle lost everything.  Each one wanted to take a piece out of the other, but neither was willing to risk being the overt aggressor in a war, for fear that they would be portrayed as the great evil.

So we got the infamous Rules of Engagement.  And ever since, politics has mucked about in the way we do war.  Now, in counter-insurgency-land, we go for the Hearts and Minds of the People.  And just look at how well that’s worked for us.

Situation:  you’re a villager in Afghanistan.  You’re Muslim, but you’re not really into the whole violent-revolution thing.  You want to have goats, raise your kids, and live your life.  You are content to simply be a peaceful, poor farmer, and want nothing more than to go about your life in peace.

That’s not going to happen, because you’re in the middle of a war.  Every once in a while, the Americans swing through on an armed patrol.  They talk to you through an interpreter to gather intelligence on what the Taliban is doing.

Now, you know what the Taliban is doing.  You know this because, well, the Taliban has stashed a number of weapons on your land, and is using your goat trails to deploy IED’s in an effort to kill these Americans.  You think this is basically stupid, because the Taliban is a bunch of extremists trying to get themselves killed and doing violence in the name of the God of Peace.  You’d be perfectly happy to help the Americans, normally.

But the Taliban has told you that, if they find out you’re helping Americans, they’re going to kill you.  They will kill you, rape your wife, take your land, and turn your son into a bachi-bazi.  So you keep your damn mouth shut.  Let the Americans find the Taliban on their own; no sense sticking your neck out.

The Americans leave.  They encounter an ambush on the road through your land.  Some are killed by the IED’s you knew about, others are killed when the Taliban use those guns hidden on your land to mow them down.  The surviving Americans return to you, and ask you if you knew about the Taliban.  You shake your head “no.”  They know you’re lying.  You know they know you’re lying.  And they get angry with you, they shout, and then they leave.

At the end of the day, you are alive.  Your wife is still your wife.  Your son is still going to grow into a man.  You still have your land, your goats, and can live your life.  Sure, some Americans got killed, and that’s really too bad because they seem like nice guys.  But you had to look out for yourself, right?

Here’s the thing:  in this scenario, you the poor Afghani farmer made the best possible decision for yourself and your family.  Side with the Taliban, the Americans get grumpy with you but do nothing.  Side with the Americans, the Taliban inflicts horrible vengeance on you.  Side with noone, both of these things happen.  The absolutely rational response to this is to side with the Taliban.

Militaries do not exist to win hearts and minds.  They are a tool of diplomacy, but not of politics.  The only purpose for a military is to kill people until they stop trying to kill you.

We understood a thing in World War II that we’ve forgotten these days:  if you provide aid and comfort to the enemy, then you are the enemy.  War is a thing fought against an entire society.  The purpose is to hit that society so hard that they stop fighting.  War is not a thing fought against individual people.  If you’re in a war, and some parts of your enemy are still engaging you in combat, then the enemy must still be conquered.  You kill him, you kill everyone who helps them, you take all their stuff.  That is war.

That Afghani goat farmer?  If he understands that America is making war against all of his people, understands that the Taliban is making him an enemy of American as soon as they use his land.  He then either does exactly what he did anyways, at which point we shoot him.  Or he comes to us, because now he’s just as afraid of us as he is of them.  That is what a military is for.

Everything else is just really violent masturbation.

Now, I can hear my liberal friends bitching about this take on things.  The Afghani farmer is just trying to live a peaceful life, how can I advocate for his death?  What kind of an inhuman am I?

Here is where I take a step back and say this:  I am talking about how one makes war.

I am not advocating that we make war.  I am saying that we need to understand the basic nature of warfare.  And we need to understand it before we get into a war.  Because for the last sixty years, America has gone halfway to war.  We’ve gone to war with some of the people in a country.  And we have gotten our ass handed to us pretty repeatedly.

War is inhumane.  It is evil, and nasty, and horrible.  It is the creation of death for personal gain.  The moment we decide to go to war, we have decided that the gain is worth inflicting some serious horror on people.  War is the least moral thing one society can do to another, and when we decide to engage in a war we need to understand this.

I think we’d end up in far fewer wars if we did.

But if we did end up in one, we’d win.  If you are funding our enemies, you are an enemy.  If you are supporting the people trying to kill us, you are trying to kill us and we will kill you until you stop.  There is no such thing as a civilian in war anymore.

Historical example:  There was no society more fanatical than 1940s Japan.  You think the current Islamic Extremists are crazy?  No more so than Kamikaze pilots flying themselves into aircraft carriers for the glory of the Emperor.  And yet, within a decade of World War II, Japan was an emerging economy, a free democracy and a powerful ally of America.  The entire society flipped around and fell in line in less time than we’ve currently had troops in Afghanistan.

Why?  Because they did not have a choice.  We demonstrated, clearly, that their options were (1) Play Ball, or (2) Die Screaming.  Not shocking they went with choice #1.  We didn’t spare the civilians; we killed them all.  We inflicted horrors on Japan the likes of which have not been duplicated by one society on another since.

I don’t know if we should be at war in the Middle East.  I think the concept of war in the Middle East is terrifying.  But I do know that this just-the-tip halfway-war that we’ve gotten ourselves into is a political shitshow.  Either we go in hard, or we get the hell out.  Until that point, we’re just going to continue creating enemies for ourselves.

TL;DR?  There ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.


So, now we’ve been attacked.  Paris, but our ally, so may as well be us.  Our response should be swift, certain, and final.  There is no way to make war moral; the closest thing is to make it fast.  If you’re a civilian in this territory, well…sucks to be you.  But you’re supporting a war on us, and your government has shown an absolute lack of care for humanity.  The only way to deal with that is to fight fire with plasma.

We aren’t going to charm Islamic Extremists.  We are at war.  We need to recognize that, and we need to take the leash off already.  If this is going to get horrible, then let it be over quickly.  That is only going to happen with the application of swift and ruthless force.

I just hope we remember how that works.

On Finding Some Common Ground

Ladies and Gentlemen of America, I have a news flash for you.  The Constitution Is.  It exists, it is interpreted by the Supreme Court, and nothing short of a Constitutional Amendment is going to change that.  Stop trying to make arguments that it isn’t.

To the Left:  like it or lump it, the Second Amendment is part of that document.  It’s there.  We can debate whether or not it’s a good thing that it is there, but it’s there and you’re not going to change it anytime soon.  I know, I know, you love to cite to dissenting opinions in the Supreme Court, but they’re the dissent.  Without a Constitutional Amendment, the Second Amendment is what it is.  As a nation, we have decided that owning guns is really cool, and getting shot at occasionally is worth it so we can own guns.  Support it or not, that’s the constitution.  Deal with it.

To the Right:  All that shit I just said about the Second Amendment?  It’s true of more than just the Second Amendment.  You’re willing to trade corpses for guns, the Left is willing to trade inert fetuses for a woman’s right to choose.  And it’ll take a Constitutional Amendment to change that.  Also, it will take a Constitutional Amendment to change the fact that gays can marry.  Suck it the hell up.  Freedom of religion means more than the freedom to choose your brand of Christianity, Congress has the power to tax and spend, speech is still free, and cops can’t kick down everyone’s doors for the fun of it.  Deal with it.

See, this county is divided so thoroughly that we are never going to see a Constitutional Amendment on any of these issues.  It isn’t going to fucking happen.  Have you seen what it takes to get one of those?   Not going to happen on any volatile issue anytime soon.

And yet, it is these very issues that we see getting kicked up, again and again.  The Left wants to talk about guns, even though it knows damned well it can’t do squat about guns.  The Right wants to talk about abortion and gay marriage, even though it knows damned well those issues are settled.  They’re not fucking issues.  Absent a Constitutional Amendment, those issues are done.  Decided.  Over with.

So why the hell are they the ones we keep seeing politicians talk about?

Because there is nothing a politician can actually do about them.  You can rail on and on about an issue, and never actually do anything about it.  Just use the issue to whip up some votes anytime you need ’em.  And nobody can come down on you about it, because what could you do?  That pesky Supreme Court was in the way of actually doing anything.  But you still want the votes, and so you can flog these issues endlessly.


That’s a clip from the West Wing, obviously.  And it’s fictional, but only in the specifics.  The idea that you want the issue, rather than the solution, is the thing running our country right now.

So, politicians of the world.  Show me something.  Do something.  And that means stop arguing and raising issues you know you’re powerless to change, and start talking about the issues where you can make a difference.

Interestingly, one of those keeps coming up from the Right.

See, in their demagoguery over guns, the Right has been referring to mental health issues a lot, lately.  According to your basic conservative talking points, it’s not guns that go on these massacres, it’s people with mental illness.

And that’s statistically bullshit.  But I don’t care, because the gun thing ain’t changin’ soon.

Dear Lefties:  there is an opportunity here to address a major problem in this county.  You can do a thing.  A thing that will help a lot of people.  No, it’s not anything to do with guns.  And I know, I know you want to talk about guns.  You want to talk about guns because talking about guns lets you portray the Right as a bunch of cold-hearted murderers, and that’s good for a couple of points on the ol’ tracking polls.

But there is something to be done.  The Right is talking about the problems in our mental health system, and your response is to come back on them about guns?

Fuck that.  Call their fucking bluff.  Whether or not it is related to massacres, we have a massive problem with how we deal with mentally ill people in this country.  

Put it this way.  If I were to ask a Lefty whether or not we should fix our mental health system, and ask that question independent of the mass-murder context, that Lefty would invariably tell me that we need to update our mental health system.  Because we do.  The one we have is shit, ladies and gentlemen, the Right is not wrong about that.  So if the Left would agree we need to update our mental health system, and the Right is now saying that updating our mental health system would fix the ongoing massacre issues, then why in the fuckballs isn’t there a bill ON THE FLOOR OF THE CONGRESS RIGHT GOD DAMNED NOW that would fix our mental health system?

It’s probably not going to fix the massacres.  But it’s going to fix a shitpot of other problems we have, and it seems like something you could get the Right on board with at the moment.  This is a thing that you could get done.  So why aren’t you?

Because you want the issue.  Because you’d rather point fingers at the Right’s sad attempt to dodge the gun issue than seize the moment for what it is; a chance to fix an actual fucking problem in this country.  And Righties, you’re not off the hook on this one either.  If you’re going to point to mental health as the problem, then come up with a solution.  One that involves more than tax cuts for pharmaceutical companies.

But, no.  We won’t watch this thing get done.  Because it’s much better for politicians to talk about hot-button issues than to fix the ones we all agree on.  Welcome to America.

The Law of Superefficient Reactions

“For every internet action, there is a greater and opposite reaction.”

There.  I’ve boiled it down for you.  You want an explanation?  OK, let’s get into the math of this thing.

Let’s say Alex makes an argument on the internet, which we will take as A.  Now, A could be basically any position at all, and in order to avoid any particular political situation, I’m leaving it as a variable.  Alex takes position A.

Betty sees position A on the internet.  Now, Betty’s a consumer of information on the internet, which means she has a pretty short attention span.  Alex maybe simply posted a one-liner, and she doesn’t have much to go on.  Or Alex posted a tl;dr rant about a topic, and Betty skimmed it.  Point is, there’s a number of different ways A can be taken, because language is imperfect and people are imperfect.  So A can actually be represented as a set of interpretations.  {A(1), A(2), A(3)…A(infinite)}  Contained among that set is A(A), which is the position that Alex meant to convey.

Betty disagrees with Alex’s position, and wants to respond to it.  Now, Betty wants to make an argument, here, and the more extreme Alex’s position, the easier it will be to argue against it.  So Betty has a natural tendency to imply extremity to Alex’s position, and states for herself position B.  Position B will be a response to the interpretation of A we’ll call A(B).  A(A) will, because of this tendency, almost always be less extreme than A(B).  So, A(A) < A(B).  Therefore, we can also assume that A<B.  Position B will be more extreme than Position A.

The problem here is that Betty has now performed an action on the internet, and there are several possible interpretations of that action {B(1), B(2), B(3)…B(infinite)}.  Contained among that set is B{B} which is the position Betty meant to convey.  Remember that B(B)=A(B), so therefore B(B)>A(A).    Now Carl is going to come along, view Betty’s position, and disagree with it in statement C.  Of course, Carl will be selecting an interpretation of B we will call B(C), such that B(C)>B(B).  C will therefore be such that C>B.

And this repeats, ad infinitum.

This is a function unique to internet communication, wherein there is no dialogue being conducted between the two people, but rather is a function of each person performing their opinion for their audience.  The purpose of the increase in extremity is (oftimes subconsciously) to present a quasi-straw-man interpretation of the opposing position in order to rally like-minded people around the speaker, and not to directly rebut the holder of the original position.  This phenomenon is therefore limited to modes of communication that lend themselves to public demagoguery, and not dialogue.

There are a couple of corollaries to this law:

Corollary 1:  Arguments on the internet tend to become more extreme over time, not less.

This corollary seems pretty self evident.  If every internet action has a greater and opposite reaction, then we’re locked in a death-spiral of ever-increasing extreme stupidity, with each side cranking its rhetoric up more and more to combat each other.

Corollary 2:  As society relies more on the internet for communication, society will become more polarized.

This also follows logically.  If the internet produces an ever-increasing growth to extremity, and society relies more and more on the internet for communication, then it follows logically that society itself will become more extremely polarized.

Corollary 3:  As positions become more extreme, engagement in dialogue becomes less desirable by the holders of those positions.

Dialogue is the obvious solution.  But the more bitterly entrenched positions become, the less likely that open and free dialogue between parties is going to occur.  That means the Law reinforces itself as it spins out of control.

Corollary 4:  As positions become more extreme, opportunities for civil compromise decrease.


Corollary 5:  In order to gain attention within one’s own social group, it becomes necessary to take a more extreme position over time.

So, this is a factor that’s adding to the issues.  There are a certain number of people that want to be seen as “leaders” in any given situation, to be acclaimed by their peers.  In order to stand out, though, they have to take things one step further.  This is where we get the Kim Davis’s of the world.  It’s also where we get the Columbia students who want a trigger warning attached to Ovid.  Both of these people are extremist nutjobs.
So, there.  I’ve boiled the math down for you.  Now you know why we’re fucked.

By the way, I’m not targeting one particular political group, here.  This isn’t specific to SJW’s, MRA’s, Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Feminists, Gay Rights Activists, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party, Coffee Party…it isn’t specific because it applies to all of them.  The Law has taken you over, and is driving you into positions that make it impossible to fucking talk to you.

The solution is to shut the hell up for a moment, then engage the person in an actual dialogue about their position.  This can be done in the comments, or privately.  Engaging in dialogue as opposed to performing as a demagogue causes positions to moderate instead of become more extreme.  We need social media to encourage cross-contamination of ideas, instead of what we have now.

Final Thoughts on Sasquan, The World SF&F Convention 2015

Frog and I had a wonderful, amazing convention.  We got to meet fans we didn’t know we had, sell many books, hang out with authors and friends, find more people who share our interests, and even attend a few room parties.  It was a beautiful, smokey, unforgettable experience.

Conventions always remind me why I started writing in the first place; why I love doing it so much.  But even more this year, it reminded me that you need to seize the opportunities as they come.  The chances to see your friends, love your family, strive for excellence, and be true to yourself.   I feel it even more keenly now, because on coming home after Worldcon, I learned that a beautiful lady who I have known for my whole life, and who was there for just about every pivotal moment I’ve had up until now, has passed away.  She lived 90 years with panache and passion.  I only hope when the time comes for me to tally my achievements, I will have done half as much.  My life thus far has been blessed with such lovely people and potential futures.  I am so grateful.

Cherish the moments you have, seize the opportunities as they come, and love life.  After all, no matter what the video games tell us, we only get one each.

On Collateral Damage

Let me talk to you for a moment about Jennifer Brozek.

Now, I’ve been going to panels with Jennifer for a couple of years.  She’s an amazing speaker, she’s a hell of a gamer, and she is amazing at what she does.  She has nothing to do with the Sad Puppy or Rapid Puppy or any kind of fucking puppy.

I am pissed off at the moment.  Fandom, fellow Hugo voters, I am talking to you.  You.  Fucked.  Up.

See, Jennifer was nominated for Best Editor – Short Fiction.  And rightfully so.  Her work on Apocalypse Ink Productions is fabulous, and I can’t recommend it more.  She didn’t have anything to do with the political fallout; she was there on her own power.

And you voted “no award.”

I get that Vox Day is a prick.  I’m not behind him at all.  And I would never encourage you to vote for him.

But “no award” is a vote that means I do not believe anyone nominated in this category is worthy.  It takes every nominee out, not just the ones you don’t like.

When you voted “no award,” you told the world that Jennifer didn’t deserve a Hugo.  Did you truly believe that?  Or did the Sad Puppy thing mean you just checked the “No Award” box all the way down?

I haven’t looked, but I’m willing to bet within hours of the awards closing, the Puppies will be claiming victory.  And that’s too bad, because there were gems hidden in this muck.  Gems that deserved a little recognition.  Gems who work hard to present good content to the fan community.

Toni Weisskopf has nothing to do with the Puppies.  Tedd Roberts had nothing to do with the Puppies.

So I am sorry, to all those who deserved a Hugo, who should have gotten a Hugo, and who have nothing to do with the political fuckups concerning the Hugos.  For what its worth, you had my vote.


WorldCon Report, Day 3: Into the Smoke

So, day 3 was supposed to be simple.  I had one job to do.  That job, by the way, was to drink beer, an activity that I perform on occasion with no obligation whatsoever.

Well, that and work sgt-at-arms for the Business Meeting, which was fun but uneventful (wait for Day 5).

No, Friday was shaping up to be the day during which unscheduled activities dominated.

Let’s start with this little tidbit:  panelists here at Worldcon, in a shocking display of apathy for the environment, are given a different table tent for each panel.  What do we do with the old ones?  Chuck ’em!

Well, Bob Brown got his hands on one of mine.  The results have been…interesting.

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Then we drank beer.  Beer was good.  Met some good peeps, drank some good brew, talked books and writing.  What more could you possibly want?

Then, as we sat with beers in hand, the smoke rolled in.


Now, let’s be clear here; we set our state on fire to celebrate Sasquan about a week ago.  But on Friday, the wind shifted, and like smoke following beauty at a campfire the entire con was enveloped in a dense haze.  Fliers were posted indicating that it was unsafe to travel outside, which is kinda crazy for a con that is happening in multiple hotels.

Last, we ended up at dinner with the following people:

  1.  Us
  2. Out Publisher, Maggie Bonham of Sky Warrior Books
  3. Voss Foster, brilliant author in his own right and recent podcast guest for the 3 Unwise Men
  4. Trish McCallan, who writes romance novels and for whom I do not have a link,
  5. The girl who started us writing
  6. An attorney that used to work for me
  7. That attorney’s brother
  8. That attorney’s brother’s girlfriend

This was something of a clashing of the worlds, but a good time and decent mexican food was had by all.

Today, you can catch us at the 10-2 session in Author’s Alley, as we’ll be sharing a table with Kaye Thornbrugh and Jessica Rising.  Esther will be signing autographs at 10.:00.  I’ll be talking about humor in teen and middle grade fiction in 401C at 11:00, then Fandom for Children and Teens at 2:00.  I’m finishing up by taking up the mantle of Cyberpunk in the Sub-Genre Games at 4:00; that should be a blast.

See you there!

WorldCon Report, Day 1: The drumbeat begins

Alright, day one of Worldcon was a slow start.

Jessica Rising was awesome enough to show Esther and I a sneaky way to get in the registration line before the doors to the convention center opened, thus insuring that we did not actually have to wait in said line for more than a couple of seconds once registration opened.  This cleared up our day significantly.

The green room at Worldcon appears to be one of the more lackluster green rooms I’ve been in.  This actually makes a certain amount of sense, as authors will stab a bitch to get on panels at this con; there’s really no reason to try to seduce us further with nummy treats.  Still, I dream of the (literal) salad days in the Radcon green room.

On a more interesting front, I will be standing sergeant-at-arms for the World Science Fiction organization.  Does this sound boring to you?  It is not.  Allow me to rephrase:

I am a peacekeeper for the rule-making committee for Worldcon.  Including the committee that will be debating changes to the Hugo nominating process.

Now, I have been specifically told that, in the event of physical resistance, I am not allowed to simply bounce a motherfucker, which is too bad.  That would have been fun.  That said, I’ll be the one trying to impose some form of order on what is shaping up to be an absolute train wreck.  Wish me luck on that, and await my final con report for details on how it went.

I did have a single panel on Day One, a Legends and Lore panel which turned out to have three authentic Native American Storytellers on it, one other lady, and myself.  How in the hell am I supposed to contribute to Legends and Lore discussions in that setting?  I mean, I’m not whipping out the undoubtedly butchered Native American stories I heard back in Scout Camp, that’s for damn sure.

Didn’t stop the other lady, who dove headlong into an embarassing tale of her father’s sister-in-law’s second cousin, who had some Indian blood, and also may or may not have seen a UFO.  I stopped listening at that point.  Instead, I talked about the culture of old fogeys BS’ing in greasy spoon diners (for those of you who knew Colfax in the day, I specifically went into a description of Allen’s restaurant).  All in all, had a good time and pulled off yet another what the hell am I doing on this panel moment.  All’s well as ends well.

Looking forward to Day Two, which will include such things as the beginning of my stint at Sgt-at-Arms, the Sky Warrior Books table in Author’s Alley (look for Esther or I there), and the following schedule of appearances where you can catch yours truly in living color:

11:00 AM:  Reading in Spokane Falls Suite A/B
4:00 PM:  A shift at the autographing table
5:00 PM:  “Conventions of the Pacific Northwest” in room 303A
7:00 PM:  “Role-Playing Games as an Author’s Tool” in room 401C

I am slightly disappointed that all of these panels seem to be completely en pointe for me, but occasionally I do actually have to be an adult.  Looking forward to seeing anyone who can make it!


The Supremes issued a couple big opinions this week.  Then the country basically lit itself on fire.  There’s a lot of celebration, and rightly so.  There’s also a lot of hatred from the right for the judicial authority which has so finally demolished the debate.  The legal issues are done.  Gay marriage is now legal.  Full stop.

There’s a lot of talk about “activist judges,” a phrase that comes up from time to time.  The Tea Party has rehashed some old language to complain about the judges.  Ted Cruz, the great blowhard of the Senate, has even gone so far as to propose judicial approval elections be amended into the Constitution, rewriting Article III itself.

It is worth, at this moment in history, to take a look at the idea of meritocracy, to acknowledge that there is an element of meritocracy in the American government, and to celebrate the fact that we do.

Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell is off the chain, but he’s right about one basic thing.  Nine people, who have been elected by nobody, and who are not necessarily representative of the US population as a whole, may simply decide that a thing is a fundamental right, and may protect that right against anything other than a constitutional amendment.  The most powerful people in our government are not the President or the Congress; they are the Supremes.  Mostly, the Supremes try not to flex their muscle, but every once in a while they do.

And when they do, the world moves.

Abortion is legal, and part of the freedom to choose what to do with one’s own body.  Black children may go to school alongside white ones.  We are free to marry one another, regardless of race .  For over fifty years, the Court has been a major vector for social change.


This is, by no means, a new thing.

The more we reflect upon all that occurs in the United States the more shall we be persuaded that the lawyers as a body form the most powerful, if not the only, counterpoise to the democratic element. In that country we perceive how eminently the legal profession is qualified by its powers, and even by its defects, to neutralize the vices which are inherent in popular government. When the American people is intoxicated by passion, or carried away by the impetuosity of its ideas, it is checked and stopped by the almost invisible influence of its legal counsellors, who secretly oppose their aristocratic propensities to its democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to what is antique to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its immense designs, and their habitual procrastination to its ardent impatience. – Alexis de Tocqueville, On Democracy

The judicial branch has long stood as the sole remedy against what De Tocqueville called “Tyranny of the Majority.”

Why is the judicial branch so much better at enacting social change?  Well, they’re not elected, and absent an impeachment proceeding they have the bench for life.  Once a Supreme puts on the robe, getting it off him is going to be damn near impossible.  So they give two shits about what the pundits are saying.  The 24-hour news cycle of today is policed by our politicians with a fine-toothed comb, assuaged and manipulated by press secretaries and talking heads to attempt to give us a portrayal of what we should be thinking at any point in time.

SCOTUS gives 0 shits about that news cycle.  None of the SCOTUS justices are up for election, ever again.  They do not care about public opinion.  They are placed in this position by the Constitution for this specific purpose.

There is a lot of talk out there that SCOTUS should not occupy this hallowed position.  That life tenure for justices is bad.  That the justices of the Supreme Court should, like every other wielder of power in this country, be subject to the will of the people of this great country.


The people of this country are, by and large, kinda dumb.  Collectively, I mean.  We can’t decide, as a country, really basic things like whether or not every scientist on earth is right.  We hold “debates” on the concept of evolution, as though it were even debatable at this point.  While we’ve got a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, we’ve also got checks and balances for everything.

Even the people.

SCOTUS operates to protect our liberties from ourselves.  To ensure that we are a free and equal people, even when the majority of us want to impinge on the freedom of the minority of us.  SCOTUS owes its duties to the Constitution alone, and owes absolutely fuck-all to the rest of us.  And if that were to ever change, then SCOTUS could not function for that.

You may not like everything they do.  When they protect the freedom of massive corporations to donate money to political causes, the left is not happy.  When they protect the freedom of private companies to be douchebags , the left is not happy.

And sometimes they just get it wrong.

But for the most part, SCOTUS is the one branch of government that can act as a watchdog over the political branches, holding its power like the sword of Damocles over our elected officials, protecting the minority from tyranny of the majority.

And for that, it needs to be a meritocracy, not a democracy.’

In his Obergefell dissent, Justice Scalia notes that the Court is not representative of America.  That they are more educated, and tend to come from specific geographic areas.  The geographic areas are a funciton of the Ivy League system, which has its own flaws.  But the education?  Thank whatever God or Goddess you believe in for that one.  Because that ensures we have at least a minimal bar (no pun intended) to service.

Our country is protected from mob stupidity by a group of nine educated individuals.  Agree with them or not, they are all intelligent, well-studied people.  Support them or not in any given decision, be happy that our founders put them there.  Because a little meritocracy in the middle of a democracy is, in fact, a good thing.

What’s with the sudden rage on Twitter?

Alright, I’ve gone kind of off the rails live-tweeting this horrific CLE I’m a part of.  We’re on lunch break, now, so I’m going to break my thoughts down in a form that isn’t limited to 140 characters.

The NACDL is the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  In theory, it’s an organization that exists to support those of us down here in the trenches.  It’s supposed to be a resource for us.

And it is, to an extent.  12.75 free CLE hours is nothing to turn my nose up at.  I love me some free CLEs, and I’m just tail-waggingly happy to get them.

But the actual training is excruciating.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the public defense situation in Washington, you should know a couple of things.  First off, we’ve had some litigation concerning the fact that governments tend to underfund public defense (“I spent more taxpayer dollars defending criminals” not being the best campaign slogan ever).  This litigation is sending ripples through the rest of the nation, and we’re kind of at the epicenter.

I’m going to detour here and take a moment to talk about my experiences working the night shift at Jack in the Box.

I don’t know if anyone remembers the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E-Coli incident.  It was one of those things that was a big deal at the time, and has since faded into our memories.  But I’ll tell you one place that, as of me assuming the position behind the grill, hadn’t forgotten:  Jack in the Box.  I’ve had a lot of friends work in various fast food places, and almost all of them say something along the lines of “Man, after seeing what goes on back there no way am I ever eating at that place.”

That’s terrifying, and thought I spent a year and a half working for Jack I wouldn’t pause to eat there.  The safety standards were impeccable, and they were impeccable because the company had fucked up so badly in the past.  They knew that, with that kind of shit on their record, they had to shape up.

Back to Washington State Public Defense.  In response to those cases I linked above, our courts have put strict standards on things like how many cases I can take during a given time period.  I cannot be overworked, now.  And if the county screws with me, I can just be all “hey, no other attorney can take more, cause state standard, yo.”  No more overloading of defense attorneys; everyone is being super-fucking-careful about that, because after what happened to Mt. Vernon noone else is willing to chance it.

Enter NACDL.

The NACDL folks have come to Washington with the very clear impression that we are nothing more than overworked incompetents.  A decade ago, that may have been true.  But they’re talking to us like we’re in fucking kindergarten, here.  We are Washington State Public Defenders, and because of that we’re obviously a bunch of racist incompetents who ignore our clients and try to plead guilty as quickly as possible.

I fight, in court.  I fight hard for my clients.  I put a great deal of effort into making sure that my client’s voice is heard, even if that voice is really stupid.  I throw down with the prosecutors time after time after time, and I do it because I take pride in doing my job well.

So the #dayofpain thing on Twitter is me venting that NACDL doesn’t think I do.  They’re being nothing but condescending and rude to those of us down here in the trenches, and I’m pretty pissed off about it.  I’d love to talk about how to deal with the racism that is inherent in the system, but I don’t need you to take an entire morning to call me a racist.  I realize that the system screws people over; help me fight it.  I’m all on board with doing a great job for my client, but telling me to stop being a lazy prick really accomplishes nothing because I am not a lazy prick.

So, enjoy the ranting.  Because a bunch of corporate-lobbyist numbnuts have me for two days, and they get to pound on me for those two days.  Then I’m heading back into the trenches, and they’ll find someone else to go be rude and condescending to.

A note:  there’s a difference between NACDL and WDA.  The WDA conference had a “we’re all in this together” feel.  NACDL is more of a “you’re all fuck-ups” feel.  The difference is palpable.

I Just Had My Ass Handed to Me By A Children’s Movie.

I’ve always been kind of a Pixar fan.  They do good films over there, and basically everyone knows it.

Up, when it came out, hit me like a truck.  I still can’t watch it again.  It’s a movie about loss, and it’s simply one of the most depressing things I’ve ever watched.  That’s not the reason for this post; that’s there to set a benchmark.  I say that to say this:

I have never had a movie kick the living shit out of me like Inside Out.

There.  I said it.  Now let me back up.

I read Howard Taylor’s review of it and (even though he put it below his Threshold) had to admit I was intrigued.  Personified emotions?  It seemed to me like you could really use that as a tool for explaining psychological development.  It could be a really neat way to interact with people who have a hard time dealing with their impulses and their emotional control.  I figured it would be a solid Pixar movie, and I was intrigued.  Then game night cancelled, World of Warcraft’s servers were overloaded, and I was bored.  So I headed down to the local theater to check it out.

In the words of Illidan, I was not prepared.

Inside Out is seriously one of the most profound works of art in our time.  Movies these days seem to be nothing more than remakes and rehashes.  As Happy Harry Hardon once told us, “All the great themes have been used up, turned into theme parks.”  So let me be clear:  I don’t know how this movie got greenlit.  I can only imagine the conversation looks like this:

Pixar:  “Hey, Disney.  Us Pixar Boys are thinking about making a movie.”

Disney:  “Great!  We tend to make a lot of money when you do that.  What are you thinking about?”

Pixar:  “Well, we’re thinking of personifying emotions.  You know, get inside someone’s head and show their emotions running around, controlling them.”

Disney:  “Sounds cool.  Could be really cute, I guess.  Happy kids movie?”

Pixar:  “Uh…yeah.  Happy.  That’s one of the five.”

Disney:  “What?”

Pixar:  “Well, you know…most emotions are important.  So there’s actually five.  Wouldn’t want to skew this.”

Disney:  “But…it’s a children’s film.  So, shouldn’t it be happy?”

Pixar:  “We were thinking of making it about growing up, and how your childhood is destroyed and replaced by less happy things as you age.”

Disney:  “Why in the hell would this make a good kids movie?”

Pixar:  “Well, it’d be a really extraordinary learning experience.  Parents and kids could talk about a wide range of emotions.  We could substantially enhance the ability of parents to understand what their children are feeling and doing by giving children a framework around which to understand it.  We could also remind all the parents how completely destroyed their once-happy childhood was, and that’ll effect them on a deep emotional level as well.”

Disney:  “So, you want to traumatize an entire generation?”

Pixar:  “As a learning experience, yeah.”

Disney:  “And you think that’ll be profitable.”

Pixar:  “We’ll throw in a cat/monkey/elephant/dolphin hybrid made out of cotton candy who powers rockets by singing and cries caramels.”

Disney:  “Why didn’t you lead with that?  Sold!”


This movie made me mourn those parts of my childhood long left behind.  It managed to dredge up every happy memory I’ve had of the past, then drive home the fact that those times are gone.  It then proceeded to destroy any hope or dreams I may have harbored about the ability to live in that kind of pure happiness again.  Not that I ever really thought that was possible, but still…you couldn’t have let me hope for it?

In short, the movie laid me raw.  I sat in the theater as the credits rolled, trying to figure out what in the hell had just happened to me.  In every other movie I’ve cried at, and there have been a couple, I’ve been crying out of empathy for the characters.  I’ve been moved by their stories, their toils, their triumphs.  Inside Out didn’t do that.  The profound, and the unique, trick of this movie was that it managed to dredge up my own personal stories and make me cry about those all over again.  I have never–never–had a work of art from any medium come at me like that.  I’m still figuring out how they did it.

If you are a parent then you need to take your children to see Inside Out.  Brace yourself to take the hit, but build a bunch of time into the schedule afterwards to break the movie down with them, see what they thought.  The fact that you will then be able to, at any point in time, ask your children which emotion is at the console, will blow your mind.  With that simple question, you now have a tool to make the child become introspective about what they’re actually doing and why.

If you are not a parent then you need to go see Inside Out.  Don’t brace yourself; you don’t need this movie as the tool for parents that it is.  Just take the hit.  Take it.  TAKE IT.  The catharsis on the other side is kind of amazing.

Hat’s off to my new favorite Pixar movie.  I have a feeling I’m going to be watching this one over and over again to figure out exactly how they did what they did.  But for now, get thee to a theater and give Pixar your cash.  They earned it with this one.