Aaron Hernandez

Several posts I have seen suggest that Aaron Hernandez did away with himself in an esoteric legal maneuver to ensure that his daughter inherits money. This not legally correct. And it’s a huge DISTRACTION from what is really important here.

The theories hinge on a legal doctrine called ‘abatement ab initiatio’ which destroys the conviction of someone who dies while on an appeal. While this doctrine might come into play in this case it has no real relevance to the final outcome.

The first version of the theory has Hernandez reinstated in his NFL contract. This won’t happen, he wasn’t sent down because of his conviction, but because of his arrest. In fact, even if he was found not-guilty he still wouldn’t have been reinstated. Is this unfair? Yes. Is this legal? Unfortunately. Also, it can happen to you.

The other version of the theory has Hernandez seeking to protect his estate from the victims’ lawyers. This is just inaccurate. One of the most important legal rules in—not just the Constitution—but also Common law in general is the rule against ‘double jeopardy’ which means that you cannot be tried twice on the same case, except in cases of mistrial.

As with many fundamental civil and legal rights this has been eroded to the point of meaninglessness by cupidity and electioneering. Even if you are outright acquitted, expect to find yourself in civil court for the same thing. The legal standard is very low in civil court, so there is a greater likelihood of the complainant succeeding. (Particularly if you have a sizable bank account, but yes this can happen to you too.)

Even though Hernandez is dead, it is possible to bring civil claims against an Estate for ‘wrongful death.’

The reason I am writing this is not to pick picayune legal disputes but to point to two things:

  • SUICIDE DOES NOT FIX PROBLEMS! Call 1-800-273-8255 for confidential help that does.
  • The American prison system is evil, it does not serve justice, but compounds injustice by creating more wrongs.

Most analyses of the American prison-industrial complex focus on mass overincarceration, especially of blacks. And that’s true, many people in prison are innocent, ‘guilty’ of offences which shouldn’t be offences or guilty of trivial offenses which shouldn’t EVER result in incarceration but there is another problem: American prisons and jails are charnel houses. Physical, psychological and sexual abuse is widespread. Gangs and other criminal enterprises operate openly. Foreign embassies warn their citizens who intend to visit the U.S. against them. Prison reform, both in the administration of prisons and in who is sent to them is desperately needed.

Remember that society is judged by how it treats the least among its ranks. And who could be lesser than those we have chosen to keep under lock and key?

This is enabled by the greatest cancer of American social thinking: If someone slips at the stop of the stairs, we don’t grab their hand to steady them: we shove—hard—and then mozy down to the bottom and spit on them, hating them for falling. This is true not just in criminal ‘justice’ but in the economy. Oh, you fell and broke your spine? Well, you shouldn’t have done that. Just stop being poor already. I digress, but not much.

Now, the point here is not whether or not Hernandez is even guilty, after all murder isn’t ‘slipping’ as much as it is jumping over a cliff, morally speaking. The point is that we have ceased to view prisoners and convicts as human beings. We are devoid of moral feeling towards them. We have chosen to ignore them and to refuse to look at these problems.

The social photographer Jacob Riis documented in pictures the horrors of ‘How the Other Half Lives‘ in his 1890 book of the same name. It shocked the imagination of polite society. This problem was huge, but kept out of sight and so out of mind and so out of remedy. But we have gone back to this, or perhaps never left it.

When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died of Heroin use suddenly it was on the front-page of all the Newspapers. Before him, hundreds and thousands of faceless, nameless little people died and we did not care.

The opioid crisis was not and is not new. But one celebrity was all it took…

….all it took to bring about a lot of hand-wringing, protestations of helplessness by officials and by the media and water-cooler “awareness” and a few band-aids such as naloxone with absolutely none of the radical and possibly effectual action.

Will that not yet be the case again here? If that? I am concerned that the U.S. is careening towards state failure.

We have entered into an atmosphere of faux-helplessness: we talk non-stop about huge social problems but even when what is necessary to do is very clear we cannot do it. When it is unclear what to do we are unwilling to try things until we find something that works. Our political system is not capable of functioning. And even more scarily I do not see a path to restoring that capability. We have lost the ability to imagine.

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Political cults (Donald Trump wins IV)

A person of outright and obviously immoral character has been elected president. This has been done legitimately, according to the rules and without tampering. Furthermore, this person is simply not fit to conduct an effective presidency. He does not have the experience, temperament or wisdom.

These defects of Mr. Trump were obvious, nobody can claim to be surprised by them, unlike was the case with, say Nixon. But Donald Trump is not a normal politician: rather he is the leader of something which resembles a political cult. And as is always the case when we are dealing with cults, it is necessary to build ‘off ramps’ so that his supporters can make an exit. At what time should we do this? Immediately.

When people are entranced by a person or thing which is actually quite bad they often are immune to reality for a time, but eventually the shine wears off. They then go through a period of internal and external defensiveness. Eventually, they will deescalate their emotional investment until they leave the fold.

If you will excuse a facile, even cheeky example this pattern has recently been observed with products made by a certain fruit company.

But back to seriousness. It is imperative to accelerate the de-escalation of emotional investment because primaries are coming up: all the House and 1/3rd of the Senate in two years. If people bristle in anger and blame and use destructive negative rhetoric (such as the obsession with trying to get the newspapers to use the word ‘lie’ and smearing all people who voted for Trump as bigots, etc) then the de-escalation will not take place.

Applying deviance-labels to people who have erred does nothing to improve or even meaningfully explain their behavior. It’s important to remember that nobody ever considers themselves to be in a cult. Experts who study cults say that one of the main reasons why people remain in cults, even after extreme behavior such as violence occurs, is that the cost of exiting is rejection and not just by coreligionists.

Cult members fear being scorned, called stupid or deemed mentally ill by the ‘outside world.’ However, how do I justify my terming of Trumpism as cult-like?

  • Cults target alienated people who have suffered some sense of loss or dislocation. * The cult then provides simple, albeit false, answers to complex (or imaginary) problems.
  • Cults subtly discourage critical thought.
  • Cults are hugely oriented towards a single person, only he knows the secrets of the world.
  • Cults seek to distort the victims’ understanding of reality with alternative facts.
  • Cults are isolating, they keep their victims’ in filter-bubbles.
  • Cults avoid individualistic expression. They speak of ‘we.’ This is because…
  • Cults are very often marked by a distinct “us” and “them” mentality. Cults tend to have an enemy.
  • Cults devalue the intellect of others without rational basis. Foes are ‘failing piles of garbage.’ A cult usually does not attempt to disprove evidence but to reject it out of hand.
  • Cults are obsessed with symbolism and pageantry.
  • Cults exhibit outwardly-directed negative emotions such as fear, hate and anger.

It should be apparent how these features apply to Trumpism.

As for the broader question of how our political system became amenable to cultish behavior, let us realize that our world has changed very rapidly.

If we look back to the world at the end of the 19th century, we see massive political, cultural and economic change due to the transition from a largely agrarian and rural to largely industrialized and urban lifestyle. This came to be known as the fin de siècle and it was marked by uncertainty, fear, malaise and pessimism as well as a rejection of rationalism and Enlightenment thinking. This perfectly set the stage for fascism. It’s also eerily familiar, no? Perhaps future historians will speak of “début de siècle.”

Now, Donald Trump is not a fascist. I know that this phrase has been bandied about and I am guilty of having carelessly used it myself. Defining “fascist” is notoriously slippery, but to my mind the core distinction between fascism and authoritarianism is the emotional investiture in the state as the embodiment of national glory and the agent of her millennial destiny. So far, this is not present. The bad news is that these elements are pretty easy to get to from where Mr. Trump is standing. The even worse news is that this is not important. It’s not actionable.

The real problem is not just that Mr. Trump is evil, but that he is IRRATIONALLY evil. It is not possible to accurately predict how he will behave.

As you may know, a huge scandal has erupted in South Korea. It has been revealed that the President, Park Geun Hye was under the thrall of a shaman-like figure who has apparently influenced government policy and has allegedly used her closeness to the President to shake down companies for “donations.” There are also other, wilder allegations.

I read an article which asserted that what truly galled Koreans was not the corruption, it is endemic and something to which they are to a degree inured but the irrationality of the corruption. Koreans realized that they could no longer dismiss allegations and rumors as “too absurd” because nothing now is too absurd. Likely, many of the hurricane of innuendos to consume the Blue House are exaggerated or false, but the comforting basis of “no rational person would…” has been swept away. There is no suggestion that Mr. Trump has fallen in with anything quite like this. (Though, upon even brief examination the religious ideology of Betsy De Vos is… terrifying.) But there is no questioning that we cannot ever dismiss anything Donald Trump threatens to do, tweets about or is rumored to be going to do with a sentence which begins “no rational person would…”

Chaos Reigns.

Consider just one small part this. Can we say “no rational person would ignore an order of the Supreme Court.” Can this sentence apply to Mr. Trump? If not, and if eventually we come to this point what happens? A Constitutional Crisis is more at this point a question of ‘what will trigger it and when and how bad?’ and not ‘will it take place?’

The Republic is at risk. This is why it is so important that we off-ramp Trumpists because we will need their help in two years. It is likely that many congressional Republicans are going along with Trumpism because they saw which way their district went and are afraid of losing their seats. Until that changes, Mr. Trump bears no credible threat of impeachment, defunding* or blocking. He knows this.

We do not need a blue-wave to put a firewall on Trump, we just need off-ramping. We just need to shift the political calculus so that Republicans find it politically advantageous to stand up to Trump.

– – – –

* Congress’ supremacy in taxation, borrowing and spending is the key. Not only can Congress refuse to authorize borrowing or taxing to fund projects, it can frustrate the president from rearranging the existing budget by passing a law prohibiting the expenditure of “appropriated funds” on anything it doesn’t want the Executive branch to do.

Computer Dream

I have a theory. And it is just a theory, I’m spitballing not researching so let’s not get carried away here. But…

I hypothesize for the purpose of discussion that the real purpose of all these fake news stories is not exactly to deceive us, but rather to place us unto an epistemic fugue state in which truth and falsity commingle to such an extent that the question of ‘what is true’ and ‘what is false’ is lost.

In order to do this, these sites circumvent the gatekeepers who normally keep garbage out of circulation (the much and somewhat wrongly derided ‘mainstream media’) by exploiting the network effect.

After all, if one is to see a wild, wild lie mixed in with the truth, is it not possible that the presence of this lie would impeach the credibility of the truths rather than the truths’ presence falsely bolstering the credibility of the lie?

If I give you a list of five claims, one a clear lie and the others undetermined, wouldn’t you then presume that the accuracy of the 4 remaining claims is in doubt. If I lie once, might I not lie again?

And, If we do not know what is true and what is untrue might we then be more susceptible to non-rational forms of persuasion?

So, an obvious question is ‘who is behind these fake news sites?’ In some cases it is clear that it is Trump associates. Brietbart’s head honcho Stephen Bannon is a key Trump adviser. In some cases it appears to be bored teenagers, but in many cases (including many of the latter cases which seem at least slightly suspect to me) it is unclear, particularly with the small ones.

The most probable answer is that it is Trump. Either the Trump campaign or arms-length bodies or advocacy groups. Many of the site’s DNS registration information is hidden, the sites are registered on behalf of the real owners by proxy companies. (This is a perfectly legitimate and commonplace business.)

But… let’s go really far down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole for just a moment here.

Could it be Russia?

Why Russia? Well, because simply put something very similar is happening in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, everything was fake. Everyone knew it was fake but everyone pretended that it was not. To do otherwise was crimethink. In modern Russia, everything is still fake. Or more accurately, everything is postmodernist. Because now, everyone accepts that it is fake and just moves on.

The chief of fakery is Vladislav Surkov. He is Mr Putin’s gray eminence but also writes lyrics for rock bands and avant garde poetry. I’m not joking. He also is generally thought to have written a novel about himself and what he is doing under a pseudonym which is a masculinized version of his wife’s maiden name.

Surkov sponsors everyone and everything, even the political opposition at times. yet, everyone knows. According to the dissident writer Eduard Limonov, the strategy is based on keeping the opposition constantly confused. The political system relies on everyone being unsure of what is actually happening and what is not. Is even the opposition real? Who knows!

Surkov speaks of ‘nonlinear warfare.’ Once there were many groups in two sides (Axis vs Allies, NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact.) Now, everyone is against everyone.

One of the jobs of News is to expose fakes. But News can only expose things which are hidden. How is that supposed to work? Does Fact Checking work when hardly any effort is made to hide that it isn’t really so? How does one get any purchase against nothingness?

Maybe this is not true. Maybe ideas of Russian influence are a form if cranky nonsense cum wishful thinking.

(How would we know?)

But even if it is not, even if the usefulness to those of power and wealth of this postmodernist fog that has settled on our lives is a coincidence, it is still a huge problem.

The Traditional Critique is that Newspapers are dying because advertising has moved online. This is partially true. But, I think that it misses the fundamental point that the truth binary no longer is a major feature of a huge number of people’s daily lives. Since that is what newspapers sell, why buy them?

We feared, once, that we would create a computer world, upload ourselves into the dream and forget who we were. That, I think was optimistic, not dystopian.

The real dystopia is that we don’t have to do any such thing in order to find ourselves in a reality of illusion. We don’t have to upload ourselves to the computers to become lost in them.

One of the oldest traditions is the sacred knowledge. That there is some esoteric ‘truth’ that only the ‘chosen’ few can understand and so slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god.

Even seemingly completely secular systems can have this silly feature. Marxists called it ‘dialectical materialism’ and Abraham Mazlow called it ‘self-actualization.’

I believe that exactly idea is what is found in optimistic science fiction such as The Matrix and World on a Wire. And that is why I call it ‘optimistic,’ because it asserts the existence of a true world into which the properly initiated can awaken. And so, I think impliedly it stimulates our secret desire to believe that not only is there is something beyond our own experience but that all of the things which we hate about our world are just nightmares, from which we can awaken without actually doing anything.

This is not so. Neo can’t wake up.

The imaginary seems real because it is real.

If this sounds totally hopeless and depressing, however, remember that a dream is like a train which goes on its course and which cannot be turned to one side or another. You cannot change a dream, not even in theory. But you can, theoretically, change the world.

We just have to discover how.

PS: there were traces, and just traces, of the miasma around Mr Obama, particularly during the first campaign. But isn’t it weird that the first truly hyperreal postmodernist candidate is a Republican?

Opinion journalism

I read today that we are in the “golden age of opinion journalism.” First, there’s no such thing as opinion journalism any more than there is such a thing as dry water. But I don’t think I’ve read a challenging or unexpected opinion piece in at least ten years. The fundamental reason for this is, I think, the entrenchment of certain hermeneutic postures in the media industry. The doctrine that there are only isolated facts and no metanarrative, no big truth, has hopelessly compromised the very thing it sought to exalt: the facts.

Brian Williams II

I do not think BriWi will, in the end, survive. The economics of TV news and the increasingly unpredictable finances of the networks mean that they keep doing news in part for reasons of prestige and you cannot be a prestigious prevaricator, no matter how fun that phrase is to say out-loud. If he does, and there is a non-zero chance he will, it will be the final crowning proof that the public are actively rejecting their civic duty to take news seriously and consume it critically and responsibly so they can make good democratic choices. I’m not sure that needs any additional proving at this point but there you have it.

Brian Williams I

Should BriWi go away? It’s not as easy a question as it sounds. Obviously, his credibility has been seriously tarnished but is that a necessary skill for his job? When was the last time anyone took the Main Evening News shows seriously? The format was already on the way out way back in 2004 when it was hit by the 1-2-3 sucker-punch of the death, retirement and discrediting of Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather. It never recovered. What difference would it make if he did go? It would not make NBC Nightly News matter again, there is no force on heaven or earth that could do that.

Torture

The amount of airtime being given to vacuous discussion of whether or not torture produced “actionable intelligence” is a complete failure of editorial judgement. The answer to that question falls outside the scope of human knowability entirely. Its truth value cannot be learned, It is not a valid journalistic question. It is not the job of news to provide an artificial debate of talking heads.