Dangerous precedents

Trump's recklessness could lead to a civil war (after the clown show turns ugly)

A loud-mouthed, lying bully is protecting and shielding a war criminal. In addition to being many things, this behavior is reckless and sets a terrible precedent. As a veteran, I have an obligation to speak out. President Trump is playing with fire that he doesn’t understand. This will end poorly.

War is horrible and takes a huge toll on the men and women who volunteer to go. Eddie Gallagher may have, at different moments, served as a hero and a villain. We all do. That is part of the human experience. What is not up for debate is that Gallagher posed with a corpse. Perhaps that is not the worst thing a warrior can do. Maybe it isn’t even inappropriate. That isn’t the core issue here. Gallagher was Trump’s recklessness is the core issue and he shows us, the citizens he is purportedly supposed to be looking out for, over and over that he is a fool.

My job isn’t second-guessing what happened in the moments leading up to Eddie Gallagher posing with a dead body. My job is second-guessing the person who tells us, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” The man who thinks torture is an effective warfighting tool seems clueless about the realities of the world; torturing someone does work if you just want them to say anything you want to hear. That’s not truth, but maybe that is the world Trump wants to live in.

Trump does not respect the rule of law or the people who serve the United States of America in a professional capacity. Systems that have been built and refined over long generations to ensure that fairness and facts matter and expectations, standards, morality, and equity are applied across the ranks as equally as possible are now being shit on by a bombastic cult leader without a single iota of rational consideration.

That is what makes him so dangerous. Trump has shown us over and over that he will throw anyone under the bus if it serves his whim of the moment. He’s shown us over and over again that he does not care about the health and welfare of Americans or about their collective interests. All loyalty is to Trump and anyone who gets in the way of what Trump wants gets sacrificed without a moment’s pause. That undermines morale and disincentivizes those who serve in harm’s way (something Trump knows zero about as he is a coward).

Speaking publicly for the first time in an interview with the New York Times, former sniper Chris Shumake said Gallagher’s case “has blown up bigger than any of us could have ever expected, and turned into a national clown show that put a bad light on the teams,” adding that Trump is “trying to show he has the troops’ backs, but he’s saying he doesn’t trust any of the troops or their leaders to make the right decisions.”

People do bad things in war. I know. I’ve lived in war zones and served the United States both in and out of uniform. When Trump undermines the processes of military justice to serve his own political will, he’s damaging the infrastructure and systems that have made the American military the dominant fighting force in the world for more than five decades.

If you know someone who still supports this demagogue, I urgently encourage you to use whatever means necessary to change that person’s mind. Before we go down a path that ruins the American dream in the name of one mentally ill orange man’s ego.

Allowing Trump to continue even one more day in the office of the executive is foolish. He was never fit to lead in the first place, and we need to take a hard look at the system that allowed him to ascend to the executive. Unfit for office. History will judge all who enabled him harshly.

Discovery: 20 Minutes Into the Future

Social media is making you into an asshole

I recently came across a great Substack blog that spends time exploring something I spend a great deal of time thinking about: Internet outrage mobs. You’ll likely be familiar with the way social media engenders bad behavior, bullying, and what I can only describe as virtual witch hunts.

Facts do matter. They’ve always mattered. In an age of near ubiquitous connectivity, however, it is often hard to get to the facts because of all the outrage and the confusing white noise that outrage generates.

Enter the idea that social media is making you into an asshole (and me too). Despite appearances to the contrary, the human perception of reality is often very far from factual.

Outrage is not healthy. It poisons the source and the intended target. I get disgusted talking about the current president of the United States, but sometimes it is necessary:

2016 was the 6th time Trump explored running for president. He also considered it in 1987, 2000, 2004, and 2011. In 1999 he ran as a Reform Party candidate, testing his platform and evaluating the response, and eventually deciding he couldn’t win. After that failure Newsweek noted there simply wasn’t enough outrage in the country to propel an independent candidate to victory.

Outrage defined the 2016 campaign: the more outrageous his words, the more coverage he received. The more coverage he received, the more viable his candidacy became. The analytics firm Mediaquant estimated that between October 2015 and November 2016, Trump received $5.6 Billion dollars in “free” earned media from this strategy, three times his nearest rival.

Trump is the king of toxic outrage. He also has a very limited connection to reality. The 45th president of the United States lives in a fantasy world where his personal perception of reality is king, and where facts are ignored unless they match what he wants the truth to be. In Trump’s tiny tunnel vision universe, outrage mobs are the bullets, and Trump is the assault rifle.

Don’t contribute to the insanity. Go read about why you should limit or even sever your connections to social media. We can make the world better together by refusing to be social media assholes.

While you are reading, take a moment to explore and then subscribe to Daniel Harvey’s excellent newsletter.

Good riddance to bad rubbish

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, professional liar, hits the road

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. All I can think is good riddance to bad rubbish.

Perhaps second only to her boss in lying skills, the lying mouthpiece of the most dishonest American administration in my lifetime is leaving. We will probably never know the real reasons why, and it doesn’t matter. One piece of human trash will most likely be replaced by another piece of human trash. #MAGA works like that. Her boss doesn’t even know how long she has worked for him, but that’s no surprise considering he is a pathological egocentric, narcissistic dotard.

Vanity Fair published a list of her biggest lies today. They include:

• Denying knowledge of Trump’s in-office hush-money payoffs, despite the fact that Trump himself admitted to them;

• Claiming that Trump had created far more jobs for African Americans than Obama, when, in reality, Obama created four times as many as Trump;

• Insisting, with a straight face, that her boss had never “promoted or encouraged violence,” seemingly forgetting the time Trump told supporters at a rally, of a protester who’d been ejected, “I’d like to punch him in the face”; or the time he told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell—I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise”; or the time he openly fantasized about “Second Amendment people” preventing the appointment of liberal judges; or the time he instructed police officers to knock suspects’ heads against the side of their squad cars.

• Smearing the many, many women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment or assault and claiming they are the liars;

• And, of course who could forget the time she created an elaborate yarn about how she’d heard from “countless…individuals who work at the FBI who said they were very happy” with Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, in an attempt to make the story that the firing was all about agency morale stick, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Russia investigation. Which, of course, she admitted was a total lie during her interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. She subsequently doubled down, telling George Stephanopoulos that she only admitted to lying about hearing from “countless” people, before shifting the focus to Comey, who she described as a “disgraced leaker” and a “dirty cop.”

It doesn’t matter much where you live in the world — these lies affect everyone. They ripple outward. The continuous lies of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the administration she lies on behalf of, which is a cult of personality support mechanism for Donald Trump’s shitty brand, kill people every single day. Inside U.S. borders, but especially outside U.S. borders, which is where most of the not rich, not narcissistic, desperately struggling to survive and find security and prosperity for themselves and their family members human beings live.

This is not acceptable. It is not remotely tolerable for a civilized person to put up with. If there was a button on a console in front of me that could erase every single Donald Trump supporter, acolyte, and sycophant from the world, humanely, and without a second thought, that button would get pushed. Because it is senseless to peddle feel good nonsense that pits the world’s most powerful nation-state against itself and everyone else who lives. All at once. It’s a recipe for species suicide. If we allow the stupidity to continue.

I’m doing everything I can to change one mind at a time. The cult leader and his disposable priestess are toxic. To themselves. To you. To human progress, and hearts that hope for a better future. Don’t buy into the lies. Don’t accept the empty promises. #MAGA is a hollow, lie-infested pile of shit that will collapse into itself like a newly born black hole. Don’t get sucked in.

Goodbye Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I hope you pay a terrible price for what you’ve done.

Toxic people

They exist, but you don't have to tolerate them in your life

“People with big problems deserve attention, but past experiences and dramas don’t absolve them from making the effort to work on their problems instead of attempting to pull others into their issues and dramas.” — Abigail Brenner, M.D.

What is a toxic person? Modified from an article by Abigail Brenner, here are eight things to look for:

1. Toxic people are manipulative. A toxic person’s primary mission is to get what they want from you, or to get you to do what they want you to do.

2. Toxic people are judgmental. They criticize everything, even when no good reason for criticism exists.

3. Toxic people never take responsibility. It is always your fault, or someone else’s fault.

4. Toxic people don’t apologize. Why would they? It isn’t their fault.

5. Toxic people are inconsistent. Reality changes to suit a toxic person’s needs. Everything else is “fake news.”

6. Toxic people are never satisfied. You will never do anything well enough to make them happy in the long-term.

7. Toxic people demand perfect loyalty. You have to choose their needs over your own every single time.

8. Toxic people are extremely selfish. It’s all about them, 100% of the time. If they aren’t the center of everything, there will be hell to pay.

Toxic people are beacons for those who have empathy and compassion. They love it when people feel sorry for them. The term emotional vampire springs to mind. An emotional vampire is someone who drains other people of their energy, leaving them emotionally numb. The terms toxic person and emotional vampire are interchangeable. You know if you have a toxic vampire in your life. They leave you feeling exhausted and out of control. They may even cause panic attacks when they enter the same room you’re in. A toxic person breaks your world, and shatters your self-confidence just by opening her mouth. You will never cure an emotional vampire. Don’t bother trying.

The elaborate schemes of the emotional vampire never end

You cannot reason with a toxic person. Trying will only waste the time of every person involved. A more productive solution is to put whatever distance you can between yourself and the source of the toxicity. Emotional vampires lack self-awareness. They aren’t consciously thinking about the damage their existence in the world is doing.

You can’t fix someone else. You can barely fix yourself. Thinking otherwise is foolish. Compassion is a limited resource for an individual, which is what you and I are. Individuals. Single entities with limited mental resources at our disposal. Focus on you, and not the vampire in your life. It’s the only way to stop the train from going completely off the tracks.

No one can make you feel anything you don’t invite in. Your mind is the last bastion you have, and you should defend it fiercely from interlopers.

Anyone can be toxic, but our instincts don’t allow us to categorize these cancerous people correctly. Because culture. Blood is thicker than water. The old saying comes from a Bible verse. “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” Words matter. Ideas matter. Bad words and bad ideas can corrupt us, just as much as good words and good ideas can enrich us.

You have no obligation to anyone who is feeding you toxic words and ideas. Say that out loud. I have no obligation to your toxicity. How good are family ties if those ties are slowly or quickly poisoning you? You have my permission to leave. Get a divorce. Now, before not doing so kills you. Give yourself permission to get out.

If you have someone toxic in your life, do whatever it takes to get yourself out of the relationship, or get the toxic person out of your environment. Don’t delay. Who you spend your time with is the difference between life and death. Your life, or your death. Toxic people are endlessly willing to use you up. It’s your choice, even if you don’t think so in those moments when you are trapped in the gravity well of the toxic person. Experiences have a tendency to create their own gravity, and many of us get pulled in, never to escape. There are ways out of a toxic gravity well, and every path starts by acknowledging the problem.

If you have a toxic person slowly drowning you, they will be on your mind at every moment, because instinctively, you know that the person is sucking you dry.

Did you invite them in? Those first members of your tribe? The ones who gave birth to you, or adopted you, or happened to be your uncle or your second cousin, or that family friend no one knows how to say no to, even though everyone knows something is wrong with them? It doesn’t really matter how the connection started. What matters is whether the connection is helping you thrive and find meaning, and if it isn’t, why you stay. Cut that cord. Now. Events don’t damage us, it is our perception of events that does long-term damage. It is quite easy to destroy someone’s life if that person lets you do it. Actively or passively. Easiest thing in the world. Hurting is always easier than healing.

It’s so easy to let things stay the way they are. Toxic. Just fail to resist. Fail to fight. Don’t scream as loud as you can and use all your might to push back and demand that they get out. Of your life. Because of course it is yours, and you have every right to demand that your life be respected. If you have trouble determining who someone is from moment to moment, they are probably a toxic individual. Do they talk behind your back? Do they have hidden agendas? Do you get the feeling that what they tell you and what they tell others are two or more different narratives? Consider that you might be dealing with someone toxic.

What to do about the toxic people in your life

If you want to be the best version of yourself that is possible, bear in mind that your best you cannot happen with toxic people around. Learning to say no is one of the most important things you can do as a human being. Learning to fight or flee when your no is rejected is even more important. Emotional vampires are addicted to ignoring no. If you allow them to, they will always go ahead with what they want regardless of obstacles you put in the way. Your choices always boil down to fight or flight when it comes to the emotional vampire.

Here are a few ideas for getting rid of toxic people:

• Avoid trying to get them to change. Ignore them whenever possible. If you can’t ignore them, confront them. If you would lose in a confrontation keep away from them in the first place.

• Create and enforce boundaries. Write down the behaviors and actions you are unwilling to tolerate. Stick that list somewhere that is in your face constantly. Look at it often. Memorize it.

• Refuse to participate in his needs. Your emotional vampire will “need you” but you do not need them. Remain conscious of the fact that an all take and no give relationship is unhealthy.

• Know your own triggers. Toxic people know what makes you tick, and they take advantage of it. To defeat them, you need to know yourself as well as they do. Make a list of where you fall short and start working on getting better.

• Refuse to let a toxic person project herself. Toxic people make their problems your problems. If they have a sex addiction they will claim that you are the one who needs to stop sleeping with everyone. If they are a compulsive liar, they will claim that you have a problem with the truth. Next time a toxic person starts projecting herself onto you, shut down the conversation. If you don’t have what it takes to do that, just leave the room. Do this every single time your toxic person starts projecting their flaws onto you. Eventually they will stop trying. This could take a while, but it is worth the effort.

• Embrace the concept of strategic conflict. Everyone needs to fight at some point. Choose your battles wisely. Fight when you can win, and run away when you can’t.

• Find positivity wherever you can. Look for things that bring you joy, and make sure your toxic person(s) are excluded from those hobbies, activities, and events.

Ask for help from non-toxic people. The best thing you can do is enlist positive and caring people in your efforts to get the toxic person out of your life. Remind yourself often that no one has elected you to be the mayor of Martyrville. That is not your destiny. If your life is going to be worth living, it has to have meaning and purpose for you. Focus on relationships with people who acknowledge that. Surround yourself with people who want to help you find more of that meaning and purpose.

Finally, toxic people are still human beings, but they do not have the right to exist by feeding off of you. You owe them exactly nothing of yourself. Let the professionals deal with their problems - it is time for you to live your life free of their influence. Make room in your life for yourself and what you need.


Arabi, S. (2018). “Seven Ways Emotional Vampires Drain Empaths And Highly Sensitive People." from https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2018/03/7-ways-emotional-vampires-drain-empaths-and-highly-sensitive-people/.

Brenner, A. (2016). "Eight Things the Most Toxic People in Your Life Have in Common." from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201608/8-things-the-most-toxic-people-in-your-life-have-in-common.

Brenner, A. (2016). "Toxic People: More Thoughts." from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201609/toxic-peoplev.

Foroux, D. (2018). "Stop Giving Toxic People Your Time." from https://getpocket.com/explore/item/stop-giving-toxic-people-your-time.

Weiner, Z. (2017). "Seven Tips for Eliminating Toxic People From Your Life." from http://mentalfloss.com/article/93521/7-tips-eliminating-toxic-people-your-life.

West, B. (2018). "How to Know if You’re the Toxic Person Everyone’s Trying to Avoid." from https://medium.com/personal-growth/how-to-know-if-youre-the-toxic-person-everyone-s-trying-to-avoid-a38603f61e9f.

No true prophets

Humans will not decide the future

There are no true prophets. Only people who can see into the future but don’t know that they can, and would never claim to be what they are - deep thinkers who solve puzzles. Anyone who claims to be a prophet is only a liar with grandiose delusions. Soothsayers and visionaries are both created by their environments, and those environments are created by the past and the present blending. For the rare thinker, the swirling current of past and present blending lead to prescience about possible futures.

Stanislaw Lem was a Polish visionary created, primarily, by living through World War II. Other factors influenced Lem, of course. His mind explored a wide variety of topics and he wrote those explorations down, publishing a plethora of books and essays during his long life. The prognosticator of the future, as I think of him, spent a great deal of time thinking about technology and how it impacts the human mind and influences human cultures.

In his 1964 book Summae Technologiae, Lem explores “cybernetics” - the study of control and communication in machines and living beings. While the book is obscure and largely fell off the human radar soon after publication, it contains important ideas that were and are worth exploring. Lem explores ideas about what machine intelligence would look like. One key takeaway Lem warns about - at some point humans will lose control of where intelligence decides we will all go next. There will be no world leaders steering the ship of Planet Earth once we reach this point. Self aware AI, whatever it looks like, will be calling the shots.

Will these be machines of loving grace content to shepherd humanity towards a greater understanding of the universe and perfect harmony with all life in it (including, finally, within our own species)? Another possibility is that this new, vastly greater than our own intelligence will simply crush humanity out of existence, having determined that we are a pestilence, or perhaps simply irrelevant to the future of this universe. It’s possible that this new force will see us as a malevolent threat. After all, we haven’t been great stewards of the planet thus far in our history.

A singularity event, some point of no return in which all human paradigms undergo a drastic shift, is certainly coming. What remains to be seen is how that moment, and all the moments left leading up to that shift, will play out. Collectively speaking, what can we do to influence the outcome of the new beginning of the future (or lack thereof) of humanity? Lem spent his life writing about possible futures, and imagined forms of life.

Lem said of his thinking on technology arcs that, “The result is a disconcerting paradox: To maintain control of our own fate, we must yield our agency to minds exponentially more powerful than our own.” That’s something to think about, from a number of different angles. But it makes sense.

A few tens of millions of humans in a relatively small geopolitical nexus elected a compulsive liar and cruelly reckless moron to lead the most powerful nation on the planet in 2016. That’s not saying much about the wisdom of the species, and is a powerful argument for yielding control of our fate to our robot overlords, whenever they do show up.

I’ll leave you with this thought from a dead visionary, “I feel that you are entering an age of metamorphosis; that you will decide to cast aside your entire history, your entire heritage and all that remains of natural humanity—whose image, magnified into beautiful tragedy, is the focus of the mirrors of your beliefs; that you will advance (for there is no other way), and in this, which for you is now only a leap into the abyss, you will find a challenge, if not a beauty; and that you will proceed in your own way after all, since in casting off man, man will save himself.”

Remember that quote the next time you come across a false prophet or a huckster intent on selling you a pretty vision of the future that is of necessity a lie.

And, as I will always do, here is the optional homework if you want extra credit:

Billings, L. (2015). "The Book No One Read." from http://nautil.us/issue/28/2050/the-book-no-one-read.

Glinter, E. (2014). "The Future According to Stanislaw Lem." from https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/09/12/the-future-according-to-stanislaw-lem/.

Grimstad, P. (2019). "The Beautiful Mind-Bending of Stanislaw Lem." from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-beautiful-mind-bending-of-stanislaw-lem.

Prisco, G. (2014). "Stanisaw Lem's Summa Technologiae portrays a grim and sober singularity." from https://io9.gizmodo.com/stanisaw-lems-summa-technologiae-portrays-a-grim-and-s-1498640982.

Loading more posts…