Required reading: biography of a plague

“Pandemic” is a relatively new concept. The term was coined within living memory to confer grave exponentiality beyond its relatively tame precursors, such as “epidemic” and “outbreak.”

The concept is new because the phenomenon is rare. Isolated or concentrated contagions have of course appeared throughout history—the Plague of Athens (about 430 BCE, probably typhus) ravaged that city and spread to some neighboring Mediterranean regions, but not much beyond that. There were also virulent but localized outbreaks in the 6th century CE, and later in the 12th and 13th centuries. These were noted by a few contemporary chroniclers but seemed to have little impact beyond their immediate environs.

That changed in the 14th century, with humanity’s first great pandemic; lacking that modern descriptor it was known at the time as the Great Mortality, or simply, the Pestilence. It was only in the aftermath that it was granted its most familiar title, the Black Death.

“O happy posterity who will not experience such abysmal woe, and will look on our testimony as a fable” - Petrarch

My source for this grim retrospective is Barbara Tuchman’s 1978 book, A Distant Mirror. Tuchman was a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author, known for giant, sweeping, yet consumable historical works. A Distant Mirror, although I call it here a biography of a plague, was really a biography of an era: what she called “the calamitous” 14th century. Calamitous because in addition to the Black Death (which started around 1347), the century also saw the start (and bulk) of the misnamed Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453), and the Papal Schism of 1378, which was to result in three concurrent, competing popes, all excommunicating each other, all raising armies against each other. It was a dark time.

Tuchman deals in facts. It’s popular to say that the Black Death, bubonic plague, was to eradicate anywhere between a third and a half of Europe’s population. Tuchman demonstrates that’s speculation, mixed with the terrified hyperbole of the moment. The truth is that no one knows what the total population was before the plague, or after. Extrapolation flows from local and regional reports—the cities of Paris, Florence, Venice, and Genoa were the largest in Europe, each with a population of about 100,000. Each suffered mortality rates of between one third and two thirds. London, Rome, Naples, Palermo, and Cologne had about half that population, and each seemed to suffer somewhat higher death rates. Vagaries abounded: some villages were totally untouched, others completely depopulated. Women seemed to suffer worse than men, children more so than adults, and certain professions more so than others. The clergy, as a whole, had a lower death rate, yet three successive Archbishops of Canterbury died of the plague within a year, between August 1348 and July of 1349. Cloistered monks and nuns, unsurprisingly, were hard hit; numerous reports tell of monasteries completely wiped out. The above-quoted Petrarch, renowned Italian poet, had a brother who was a Carthusian monk, who was to bury first his abbot, then every one of his 34 fellow monks one by one, until only he and his dog were left alive. In Kilkenny Ireland, a monk named John Clyn kept a written record of the deadly dissolution of his monastery. His final entry: “I leave parchment to continue this work, if perchance any man survive and escape this pestilence and carry on the work which I have begun.” Thereafter another hand records that Brother John, too, had succumbed.

Such personal records form the heart of Tuchman’s survey, and they can be all too real, and all too heart wrenching. From Siena, Italy we read, “I, Angolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands, and so did many others likewise.” Elsewhere in Siena (which to this day is home to an unfinished cathedral, planned to be the world’s largest, abandoned when the majority of workers died of plague), a chronicler recorded the mass burials: “And no bells tolled, and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death…And people said and believed, ‘This is the end of the world.’”

Heady stuff. All the more heady to read, and contemplate, during our current days of pandemic and quarantine. But are there lessons here?

First, of course, there are stark differences. The diseases are very different. Our present pestilence is a virus; bubonic plague is caused by bacteria, spread first by infected rats and fleas, later by personal contact when the disease mutates into its pneumonic form. Our understanding of that, of microbial theory and of effective hygienic practices, are supremely operative as well. We understand disease vectors and prevention in ways that could not have been conceived of in the 14th century, and that’s a life saver. Global communication, also, is a vastly different variable. We all have a window into the present circumstances, whereas the average victim of the Black Death probably died completely unaware that others were suffering likewise, from India to Iceland.

But more broadly, Tuchman identifies social and societal trends from the plague which are, if not instructive, then at least food for thought. She describes the tortured waiting of the not-yet infected, expecting death, giving in to madness and barbarity. She describes both the collapsing economies, and the rebuilding of those in the aftermath—landowners and monarchs ordering surviving peasants back to the fields, and those peasants slowly realizing the value and scarcity of their labor. Tuchman proposes that the plague kickstarted the labor movement we’re still engaged in today.

Barbara Tuchman published A Distant Mirror in 1978, and it’s doubtful she meant it as a warning around some future pandemic. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take it as such.

Pandemics, again, are rare. Generations might pass without the appearance of one. The same can be said for tsunamis—yet cultures exist that pass down dire warnings about the deadly inundations, voiced by elders who’d never seen any with their own eyes. On 26 December 2004 people who remembered those warnings ran for their lives and survived. Those who forgot, or even hesitated, drowned.

I don’t think Tuchman foresaw this, but that’s where we are today. The tide has just rolled out beyond the horizon, and the world is struggling to understand why. Some stand on the shore and stare in wonder, others say we should ignore it and get back to work. But faint, long-dead voices are whispering that this has happened before. They’re whispering lessons. Are we listening?


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Write it out – together

The Quarantine Literary Project is a virtual anthology. Social un-distancing through words. Or less succinctly, an invitation to any and all to write it out: write whatever they’re thinking, whatever they care to share. No rules, no constraints, no expectations.

Use the submit button below to add your work. Just add to the bottom of the document and include your name and the date. Easy! Feel free to invite others.

What will my literary partner, Robin Reynolds, and I do with your work? We’re not sure yet but we do know that you will always retain ownership of anything you write. When we publish (in whatever form the community collectively decides), you can choose whether or not to be included and you, the author, will always be attributed..

Stay healthy and stay sane!

Submit HERE

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Here’s one for the classic movie buffs…

Could it be that Max von Sydow left us earlier this week because he’s tired of gaming with the Grim Reaper every time a plague comes ’round?

But seriously. These are strange times indeed, the likes of which most of us have never seen. What can we do but hunker down, take care of ourselves and each other, and just get through it? I expect we’ll emerge on the other side of this thing better and wiser.

Oh, and since you’ve got time on your hands, go ahead and watch The Seventh Seal, a helluva movie by a helluva director, starring a golden-age actor, the likes of whom we shall not see again.

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Just eat the banana

Perhaps the most startling of the dystopian scenarios tossed around in this long millennial hangover we keep suffering through, is the well-nigh unprovable Simulation Theory—it posits that we’re all unwitting Trons, bumbling through our level-ups and side-quests, in someone else’s long-running computer model. Our existence and our universe are illusory, in other words; just bits and bytes running through pre-programmed destinies, all for the inscrutable edification of some unseen Operator.

Who knows. If this is a sim then it’s turned out every bit as torturous as The Sims—really abusive gameplay where you build worlds to test your sims with fire, ice, and chaos. Usually you break them, and you watch them scatter in panic. It’s funny from your far-removed perspective.

Back in our sphere, the most likely explanation is that this is no sim, this is the real life, and the chaos testing and breaking us wasn’t thrown down unto us by any grand orchestrator, No, this is just the ditch we’ve driven ourselves into. We’d been steering in this direction for a good long while now. Seems to be our species’ default vector in fact.

So here we are. The Twenty-Teens fade into the rear view, as the Twenties start to Roar. Australia is on fire, Puerto Rico gets hit by a decathlon of disasters, impeachment staggers on and greedheads from all sides fund-raise off it. Trump-clones are ascendant worldwide, because “fake news” and “enemies of the people” translate into every language. Trump himself, meanwhile, just keeps on trumping.

So–sim or real? Does it even matter? You’ll react, or not—march in the streets or curl up and cry—according to someone else’s programming, or your own. Some of us will keep fighting for our idea of a perfect world, and that’ll either be fruitful or folly. We’ll have to play through to the end to see which.

On the way to that, we’ll just to have to try and tackle each fresh new hell as it rises. There’s probably no one right way to do that, but as a general strategy I recommend we follow this guy‘s lead. He stepped up to the plate at Miami’s Art Basel last month, where madness curb-stomped art, and an installation called “Comedian,” a banana duct-taped to a wall, could command a $120,000 price tag. David Datuna committed a random act of sanity: he ate the banana.

Look for own your bananas on the wall—your own opportunities to remember what sanity looks like. Sanity is going to be a rarer and rarer commodity as we go on, and this is written at a moment when it feels like it’s been gone for ages. No choice but to supply our own. One banana at a time.

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One follows the other

WORK

…..til you die,

she was told -

ergs and calories in

-to the slow-roll gears of

economic bloat. Everyone

benefits, everyone

dies. And some press

-stamp’d armature flows

directly down the supply stream,

an alchemical descendent of

her toil

bound for all our landfills, and

rendering her, in plain view, utterly

irrelevant.

.

Work til

…..you DIE, he was

told, and every erg every

calorie, that

bubbles up here, burns off there

fed into the all-consuming queue,

(our all-consumer queue)

just to fuel all of his and all of our

(utterly irrelevant)

illusions.

.

Live BEFORE you die,

…..we proclaim. And

it is subversion.

Subvert your own ergs, your

own calories, build your own

palace, live your own and be your own.

All else is

…..utterly irrelevant.

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Impeach that PO(tu)S

They say that if you come at the king, you’d better not miss. That in a nutshell is the reason I’ve argued against the initiation of impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. It’s a politically pragmatic stance on my part, but then, impeachment is the ultimate in political pragmatism.

I found impeachment heretofore unpragmatic because it’s ultimately destined to fail—if success were to measured by the ultimate removal of Trump from office. The Senate seems all but sure to acquit him on any articles of impeachment presented to them, up to and including Trump’s own fabled shooting of an innocent on 5th Avenue.

Articles surrounding Mueller’s findings, or any of the myriad of scandals that landed prior to these waning days of September, were all just murky enough, with enough arcane details and inbuilt deniability, to mute the popular indignation that’d force Senate Republicans to put country before party (for once) and shed their orange albatross. As it stood, and as it unbelievably still stands, they’re standing by their man, and the results of the Senate portion of the impeachment process seemed, and seems, a foregone conclusion.

So given that Mueller murkiness, I argued against impeachment, positing that the process would get us nowhere, and it very well might hand Trump an undeserved Clinton-like bump just as we head into the election.

That was then. This is now, and I make that argument no more. Impeach the hell out of him, I say.

There’s pragmatism here too. The current scandal, Trump’s Ukraine hurricane, his Monica Zelensky, this one is in no way murky. We all know a shakedown when we see it. And we all feel in our gut that enlisting foreign aid—at a president-to-president level, no less!—to take down a political rival, this is the definition of abuse of power. The Senate may still vote to acquit; they probably will. But this one laid bare Trump’s corruption, and the post-acquital bump will go the other way I think. Indeed, I think the protectors and enablers of Trump’s naked corruption, no less than Trump himself, will finally be held to account with this one, regardless of what the Senate does. And if it does what we all assume it will, it’ll be held to account as well.

Because there comes a time when pragmatism has to take a back seat to doing what’s right, and the impeachment of Donald Trump isn’t just pragmatic, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. It is absolute in the sense that its rightness stands independent of the Senate’s actions and the likely outcome. It is right, it is proper, it is necessary for the nation to hold the formal process of cataloging Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors.

Speaking of those—we might as well dispose of the currently mandated talking point that no crime was committed here. In any just world we’d recognize that the real crime is that the party that fancies itself the USA’s moral compass defends a serial con artist based on his skillful use of merely implied quid pro quo. But hey, this is the hill they’ve chosen, let them die on it.

Me, I don’t even see any need to contest it. The court of public opinion can, again, decide for themselves if they recognize an extortion racket when they see it. For the purposes of impeachment, that would matter only if we could act against high crimes alone.

Misdemeanors, on the other hand, is the shoal designed to sink presidencies. It doesn’t mean what you think it means, because it meant something different to the framers of the Constitution: Mis-demeanors. Misbehavior. It doesn’t have to be a crime. It only has to be something, a behavior, that’s incompatible with the presidency. Really, it can be anything a majority of the House of Representatives says it is.

The best example I can think of: Suppose a president decided one day to no longer do his job. Suppose he stopped taking meetings, stopped answering correspondence, suppose he even locked himself in his room and refused to come out. None of that is illegal. But none of it is tolerable in our president. Such a president would have to be removed.

So too would be a president who repeatedly, unashamedly used his office for personal gain and political advantage. Who not only let this malfeasance seep into the international relations and national security arenas, but did so in our dealings with some of the most volatile regions of the world. The outrages have long been stacking up, but this most recent one is particularly breathtaking: to create the illusion of dirt on a current rival, he withheld military aid from a country that has twice, in just the last handful of years, been invaded by the country that he last enlisted aid from, to take down his previous rival.

They’re defending that, and it’s indefensible.

But then, that’s what they signed up for—them and every person with eyes and a functioning prefrontal cortex that voted for Trump. The Trump we got is the Trump we’ve always known, from the moment he peacocked onto the ’80s stage: narcissistic, amoral, and shallow as a puddle. Whatever Faustian bargain, however many judges and justices they thought this presidency might be worth, they bought and paid for it, and the receipt will dog them all their days, because Trump has behaved, and is only capable of behaving, precisely as he has forever advertised. They knew that, or should have known it, and the country has suffered as a result.

Trump prevailed at the polls in 2016, barely, by presenting the Trump-facet he correctly divined most appealed to the rubes. He was lucky enough to face an opponent that most of those rubes hated, and that no one loved enough to spark the resistance the moment required. Even then he couldn’t pull enough votes for a popular win, and squeaked into office through a Constitutional back door.

There’s no reason he should enjoy any of those unlikely advantages again, so there’s no reason to suspect the Trump era will extend beyond January 2021…and there’s a glimmer of hope, at least, that it’ll end much sooner.

Impeach his sorry crooked ass. Put his crimes and trespasses before the Senate, and let them rule as they will. Let the American electorate take that, in its entirety, into the booth with them 13 months from now. Let’s see if Trump being Trump is something America can continue to stomach.

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RIP Eddie Money (March 21 1949 – Sept 13 2019)

.

Onetime NYPD officer, longtime FM radio staple – Edward Joseph Mahoney, better known as Eddie Money, has lost his battle with esophageal cancer. May he rest in peace.

.

.

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Labor Day – cookouts and class struggle

Just a wee, timely reminder that Labor Day is our late-summer salute to a movement, to a social class, to all the toilers who have built and continue to build the skeleton and connective tissue of our nation-state. A reminder that they built, and continue to struggle to maintain a middle-class culture that’s largely unique in a world history. And a reminder, finally, that all of this is, and has been for far too long, in great peril.

The struggle continues. Happy Labor Day.

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The pendulum’s gonna do what a pendulum does

Someone once told me that if I really wanted to know what was going on in the world I should skip the front page, and flip directly to the business page. Years have passed, and I’ve since dabbled in business directly, so I know corporate America isn’t exactly devoid of lies…but the point remains valid. Business people, business leaders in particular, are incentivized to deal in facts, in reality. They’re as prone as any of us to bias and political dogma, but at the end of the day they have the means to know which way the cultural winds are blowing, and they have the motive (profit variety) to drift in that same direction.

So draw a line from that to the statement issued this week by the Business Roundtable, a pro-business lobbying group founded in 1972 by the CEO of Alcoa. Current membership includes CEOs of Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, Apple, Amazon, and a couple hundred other leading American businesses. All of those CEOs signed the joint communique which redefines the obligations of corporations and their leadership. They stated that they must serve communities, their employees, our culture, and our nation.

This is huge. For decades the Roundtable and every group like it recognized just one master: the shareholder; and just one responsibility: to increase shareholder value. This then is a tectonic shift.

Those new values and sentiments seem at odds with the pro-business, America-first dogma that’s been putting down roots in Washington, and elsewhere, these last three years. Indeed, those values and sentiments seem so opposed to Trumpism that you might be tempted to call them downright liberal.

So why might corporate America believe that a liberal outlook will serve them better than a Trumpian one? It could be as simple as looking at the economic forecast—Trump continues to bellow that we’re doing great (blazing two percent growth!), while every rational economic indicator says a recession is on the horizon. It’s up in the air yet whether it’ll hit before the elections, but the smart money says that if it does, Trump can’t win.

Otherwise, there’s the simple, unavoidable fact of Trump fatigue. Some are doubting it exists, but that’s only because the MAGAs-for-life are so vocal it’s easy to forget they’re such a tiny minority. The middle is teeming, and they’re getting awful tired of this unremitting unreality show.

But mostly it’s just because we’re a nation hooked on extremes, and we like to swing back and forth between them. The cycles tend to run, not coincidentally, in four or eight year spans. Looking back on history you might notice that the shorter swings tend to happen when the movement is particularly ugly, boorish, and extremist. They wear out their welcome quicker, as it were, the public tires of them and sends them packing, and the pendulum swings back and we give the other side a try for a while.

None of this guarantees a Trump loss in 2020, of course. (Never underestimate the Dem penchant for choking in the clutch.) It only means that he’s going to fight some formidable headwinds to pull out a win.

And it’s not just me saying that, it’s the Business Roundtable. You know, Trump’s people.

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Butt music

Yes you read that right. We’re going to have a little listen to a gluteal chorale today. You will enjoy it. (How could you not?)

The composition comes to us courtesy of Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch (1450 – 1516), a religious painter renowned, maybe infamous, for fantastical and unsettling depictions of religious themes. Perhaps his most famous work is his 1505 triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Not long ago, Resident Art Goblin Amelia (she’s single-named as far as you and I are concerned), noticed that in the lower half of the right panel of Garden, the portion representing hell, there can be seen a tortured soul whose eternal punishment seems to include wearing a musical score on his exposed backside. No doubt he had it coming.

A half-millennium plus 14 years after the painting was completed, someone sat down at a piano and played what Amelia calls, “The Music Written On This Dude’s Butt.”

May it gladden your heart and lift your spirits, as it has surely done for me. Unfortunately the file isn’t embeddable, so click here to experience music from where the sun don’t shine.

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Verso (Sunday musing)

All

of the dark magick

that oozes here

and there

And elevates the pulse of these lands.

And the land that dances

- here -

there and everywhere -

pulls some magnetic threadcraft

all along the ages.

Lest some slack register

come right along

And seek the balance we’ve so forsaken.

Balance is the plaything

- everywhere -

of stars and dragons and planets. Quiet

your muddy mind and go along.

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Happy birthday HST – there is no gonzo without you (July 18, 1937 – Feb. 20, 2005)

It’s been 14 wretched years since the good Dr. Gonzo, man of letters, Hunter Stockton Thompson, left us on his own terms, just as he always said he would.

If the world was mad in his time—and it was, and he captured and commented on that madness like no one else—then the insanity has only grown. His observations and prescriptions for our current woes would certainly be welcome…although he’d just as likely wordlessly and mirthfully smack us all around, like the no-account swine we are.

“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage and whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.” – Hunter S. Thompson

When the going gets tough, the tough get weird. Selah.

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Going Fourth

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

WHEN IN THE Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…

(We can argue about whether it was a land-owners’ tax revolt, or a continental cry for freedom…)

WE HOLD these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…

(And we can argue whether Mother England was as tyrannical as accused, or whether our patriots were guilty of treason against crown and country…)

it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles…

(We’ve made a century and a half of peace with England—the world has never seen such steadfast allies…)

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…

(Those allies indulge us on this day for our martial air, for our remembrance of past glory at their expense…)

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

.

(…because it began on this day, with a savant gentleman-farmer from Virginia, who challenged the sweep of history and an empire with the power of his pen.)

Happy Fourth, patriots!

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Gerry Mander for president

It’s hard to say exactly when American democracy died. But June 27th, 2019 might be remembered as the day the U.S. Supreme Court drove a stake in its chest to make damned sure it stayed dead.

In an ideologically split, 5-4 vote, the Supremes struck down previous Federal court rulings that various state-level partisan gerrymandering efforts are unconstitutional.

Once upon a time the topic of gerrymandering—the engineering of political districts for electoral advantage—was wonky and uninteresting. The practice (and the etymology of our name for it), rolls back to the early 1800s, which only makes it that much more tedious. Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry apparently inaugurated this black art, divvying up state senate districts in favor of his presciently titled Democratic-Republican Party.

I call that prescient because modern-day gerrymandering is both bane and tool for both our major parties, and they’ve turned into a procedural stain that is (or at least should be) anything but tedious.

Yes, the GOP is the 21st-century villain in this story, but never doubt that the Dems’ hands are dirty too. They spent most of post-WWII years carving up districts for their own benefit, so no one should be surprised that when their opposition began gaining control of state legislatures, they’d do the same only more so.

And likewise, with demographers reporting a dwindling conservative base, we can forecast that the Democrats will one day rise again, and will immediately resume their own gerrymandering. This pendulum is poisonous, but it swings on.

Our only hope to break that cycle was the judiciary, and they just utterly failed us.

So welcome to the old normal, newly entrenched. Forget Gerry Mander for president; he’s dictator for life.

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Here come the Deepfakes

At some point, the onward trudge of technology has taken on more of a steamroll presentation, and much of the nextgen whatever-it-is brings far less progress to society and much more churn. It’s like the rote Silicon Valley diktat, “disrupt things,” has become the marching orders for a doomsday cult. They don’t even need to pretend they’re building consumer ware anymore. They’re hacking the culture for no better reason than to see what might happen—and they’re absolutely sedate with the understanding that we know that’s what they’re doing.

How else can you explain the emergence of deepfakes — the application of AI and CGI to create ersatz video that’s hard (but not yet impossible) to tell from the real thing? So far we’ve seen scarily convincing videos of Zuckerburg, Obama, and others. Match the images with the work of a decently imitative voice actor, tweak the peaks and valleys with ProTools, and you’ve coded yourself carte blanche to make public figures and politicians say and do whatever you please.

Well, almost. The tricksters haven’t quite yet overcome the Uncanny problem; there’s still something indefinably, inherently repellent about deepfakes, that can and should trigger a healthy dose of doubt. Unless of course they’re saying something you want to believe they’d say.

(And this is completely beside the point, but let’s take a sec to recognize what an embarrassingly stupid descriptor “deepfake” is. When did the tech sector  get so bad at naming their output? Right about the time they gave us the ‘Internet of Things’? Dreck. Blech.)

We won’t stay in the uncanny valley forever though. The tech will get better, and inside a year we’ll see ginned up e-kompromat that’ll be next to impossible to debunk. That’s when the politics of scandal gets interesting.

It’s also when American society divides further along its natural fault lines: some of us will be all too ready to believe that Hillary finally owned up to her awful antics in pizza-parlor basements, and the rest of us will be permanently scarred from repeated, vicious face-palming.

The law of unintended consequences comes into play, too. (Or maybe, ‘unexpected’ consequences, because who the hell knows what anyone intends anymore?) There’s a certain class of politician and public figure who’s going to benefit from the proliferation of deepfakes. It’s an ever-ready alibi that frees your inner Nazi. So go ahead and tell a smoky back room full of donors that Hitler actually had some pretty good ideas—one of the waiters might get it on their phone but that’s okay. Just go on Hannity and swear it was a deepfake, and all will be well.

In fact, can’t we start doing that retroactively? How long will it be until Trump is retconning the grab-em-by-the-pussy tape? He already floated a couple trial balloons that it’s not actually him on that tape (after initially admitting it, of course)—and that was at least 18 months before deepfakes entered the cultural consciousness. When will he circle back to that idea? Oh, right about the time it becomes a reelection issue….

So, yeah. Deepfakes are here. They’re not yet pulling at the threads of society, but they soon will be.

As far as I can see we really have one defense, and it’s not coincidentally the same defense we have for the entirety of the muck that big tech and the media and every stuffed shirt and talking head throws at us these days:

Believe nothing. Doubt everything.

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