Change of mood

Before last Monday, many friends told me they were dreading watching the debate. Quite a few said that they were tempted to simply wait until it was over, and then hear about it afterward. That’s how anxious everyone was.

As it happens, all of those friends did indeed watch the debate, and they are glad they did. In the circles I travel, there has been a decided change of mood this week.

There was something wonderful about seeing the actual Hillary Clinton in action. Her quick wit, her confident smile, and her sense of humor are so much more fun than the mythical creature some in the press have been creating.

It was also heartening to see, as some have pointed out, that there is no “other” Donald Trump, and that he didn’t rise to the occasion after all. That is most likely because, as far as Trump is concerned, he is the occasion.

There are three more debates to go. I find myself looking forward to watching them.

Cartoon violence

I had to stop watching Game of Thrones, in spite of many friends telling me that it was the best thing ever. I stopped because it was filled with psychological violence.

I’m just not very good with psychological violence, people being cruel to each other, stealing away their dignity or even their souls. I appreciate the attraction of Grand Guignol — the psychic spit take on the human condition that is just so awful you cannot look away.

But I can’t seem to sit through it for purposes of mere entertainment. I’m not saying that others are wrong to do so. Everyone’s entitled to their own brand of enjoyment, and this one is certainly very well done for what it is.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no problem with the violence in Gotham. Lots of killing, maiming, severed hands and heads aplenty. The show portrays all sorts of violence that is completely beyond the pale.

But it’s all cartoon violence. There is no psychological depth to it. The show is written in such a way that you know none of the violence is even remotely real. It telegraphs its fakery.

So I guess for me it’s not about the level of violence. It’s about the kind of violence. Cartoon violence is ok. Depiction of real psychological harm, just for the purpose of entertainment, is not.

So here’s a question

So here’s a question: Just how weird and off-message and defensive would Donald Trump have needed to be before his supporters felt that he had “lost” the debate?

There were so many topics in his campaign’s playbook he could have used to attack Hillary Clinton on, and he used pretty much none of them. Instead, he let her make the debate a referendum on him, time and again. There were so many moments when he simply lost the thread. Here are just a few.

When reminded of his various on-the-record “climate change is a hoax” statements, he claimed he’d never said them. When asked why he had continued to publicly tout the “birther” conspiracy between 2012 and 2016, he just replied that no one was caring much about it. Do you understand that answer? Does anybody?

When called by Clinton on all the nasty things he has publicly said about women, he didn’t deny it — he just defended himself by claiming those statements were all about Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, um, really???

He also seemed sincerely unaware of NATO’s decades-long history of antiterrorism programs. His assertion that NATO only started doing something about terrorism after he’d personally suggested it was so outright nutty that it was almost charming.

And just when I figured things couldn’t get weirder, Trump started brazenly touting his new hotel, right in the middle of the debate. You can’t make this stuff up.

So I wonder, what would Donald Trump have needed to do for his supporters to think he had lost? Literally pull down his pants?

How they decide who won the debate

I watched this evening’s presidential debate at our lab. I was joined by several students.

It was hard for me to properly assess the outcome, since at this point I can’t be anything close to objective. I saw what looked to me like one candidate calmly giving detailed and informed answers to questions of policy, while the other candidate seemed to just be reciting the same few slogans over and over. But your mileage may vary.

After the debate had ended, we spent some time discussing it. At some point an undergrad asked me how they decide the winner.

I told him that it was easy: “Fox News will announce the winner. Also, the New York Times will announce the winner. But they won’t announce the same winner.”

Day off

I generally work all the time. It’s not that I have a work ethic, more that I like what I do. Especially the programming part, prototyping, experimenting, or just noodling around in the code to make something look better.

But today I did something very rare: I took the day off. Completely. No coding, no administrativia, nada. I read the newspaper, solved a crossword puzzle, relaxed, took a nap, saw an episode of Gotham, cooked some food, but absolutely nothing even vaguely responsible.

I don’t think I need to do that very often, and I probably wouldn’t even enjoy it if I did it too often. But every once in a while it feels great!

Learning a new word

I had never heard the term “shitposting” until yesterday. Those of you who are familiar with the virtual reality scene, and are even vaguely following politics, will know why I find this word so dispiriting.

Yes, we can disagree with one another, and we can argue with each other on the merits. What you believe to be true will not, as a rule, match up to what I believe to be true.

But to use jackboot tactics to squash meaningful discussion — to borrow a playbook right out of a 1932 National Socialist playbook — that’s just disgusting.

It was difficult for me to learn that this sort of thing is being supported by somebody I had thought of as one of us. I tend to believe, perhaps naively, that people on the cutting edge of what is possible are above fascist tactics. That they are about fostering conversation, rather than squashing it before it can begin.

I won’t say who this post is about. Those who know, will know. I will just say that I am terribly disappointed, and very sad.

Living in the future

I was on a panel today with some really smart and impressive co-panelists. What we all had in common was that for the last several years we have each been completely immersed in the questions surrounding the potential of virtual and mixed reality.

We’ve all been living and breathing it, creating projects, trying one thing and then the other. And always with an eye on where things might be going next, and what might be possible when the next generation of hardware arrives, or the hardware that will arrive three or five years from now.

To the audience we must have sounded a little weird, talking about the future, about things that do not yet exist out there in the world, as though they were everyday realities. But that’s the thing: They will be everyday realities, for better or worse, which means that somebody needs to be thinking about them now.

Sometimes it can feel a little odd talking to people about things that do not yet quite exist. It’s comforting to meet other people who are also living in the future.

What Trump is really promising

For quite a while I didn’t quite get it about Donald Trump. I wondered why he is going out his way to say nutty things during this Presidential race — insulting everyone from parents of slain soldiers to U.S. generals to babies, making up weird statistics out of whole cloth and then immediately reversing himself, embracing torture, claiming Vladimir Putin as a role model, that ostentatiously insane “Mexican Wall” thing — the list is incredibly long. And every day he adds to it.

But now I finally get it, thanks to his recent “Birther” announcement. As you know, since he goaded Barack Obama into producing a long form birth certificate back in 2011, Donald Trump has continued the charade, claiming in numerous TV interviews and public statements that the birth certificate might be a fraud.

So when he now announces, straight-faced, that he never said the things that he obviously said on record — and that it’s easy for the Press to show everyone that he said on record, just by rolling the videotapes — it can only mean one thing. Trump is telling the Press: “You are all my bitch.”

What we are seeing now is a raw undisguised flexing of power. And clearly it’s working. Sure, Colbert and Seth Meyers can skewer him all they want, but it doesn’t matter. The very point of Trump’s message is that he can lie bare-faced straight into the TV cameras, in a pointedly obvious way, and it won’t hurt him.

So here we have a candidate for President who is running nearly even in the polls with only one real message: I am an unstoppable strongman, and my power is absolute.

The world has had a few of those before within this past century. I can’t say it has ever turned out well.