Heads up: This post discusses death and COVID-19.

How would you feel if you woke up to news that Salt Lake City was lost?

Every single person within the city dead. When the sun rises in the desert, no one stirs from the suburbs. There is no banter at the coffeeshop, no sleepy commuters on the bus. No students cross its college campuses. No worshipers stir near the massive temple. The streets are silent but for the wind.

It is a city of the dead.

Or imagine Salem, Oregon, destroyed. Just an hour south of Portland, it’s the state’s capital and second-largest city. The streetlights might flick on automatically, but our tiny downtown shows no signs of life. No heart beats to pump blood to a hand to flick on a neon “OPEN” sign. The cherry-lined State Capitol State Park is empty. The state fairgrounds, which only so recently sheltered evacuees from the local wildfires, now hosts nothing but empty exhibition halls and livestock pens. No one tends the fields. No boat pierces the Willamette River.

Or imagine devastation in southeastern Washington State, where I went to college. Not only is the town of Walla Walla gutted, so too is the Tri-Cities, an hour away. What would it do to your heart to see an entire region’s population dead? Thousands of people, never going to breathe again, never going to laugh or dance or sing or work or hold hands and watch the sun set.

Little Rock, Arkansas.

Vancouver, Washington.

Pomona, California.

Savannah, Georgia.

Waco, Texas.

Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Any one of these cities–imagine it dead.

As I write this, the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus resource center reports that 199,299 U.S. Americans have died to the disease. If it were a city, it would be the 120th most populous city in the country. 200,567 people live in Salt Lake City; this city of the dead will overpass it within the next two days.

How would you feel if an entire major US city were wiped off the map… and the federal government did little more than wring its hands? Worse, the president even knew it was coming, and downplayed the threat? How would you feel if several senators used their insider knowledge to make millions off of these American deaths? If the president welcomed the deaths as an excuse to avoid “disgusting people”? How would you feel if the federal government looked at the impending catastrophe and insisted it was not its responsibility to prevent American deaths?

How would you feel if the city were 50,000 people? 100,000? How big could the necropolis grow before you would feel it in your heart? Before you would allow yourself to believe that this was wrong?

Every day, the city of the dead grows, and our country’s leaders do nothing.

Thanks to my friend Teddy for the metaphor.

It’s high school, and I believe copyright is ridiculous.

My dad has introduced me to Project Gutenberg, an ever-growing library of books in the public domain, and I am spellbound. Contained within its creaky website are thousands of books that are owned by nobody. Or maybe everybody. After all, I could download one and do whatever I wanted with it. I could republish The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, only with the protagonist’s name changed to something patently absurd like “Benedict Cumberbatch”, and I would be utterly free of consequences, because I own those stories now as much as anyone else. They are free to be remixed, reworked. They belong to none of us, and all of us.

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Hiding In Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah KendziorSarah Kendzior

The rise of Donald Trump may have shocked Americans, but it should not have surprised them. His anti-democratic movement is the culmination of a decades-long breakdown of U.S. institutions. The same blindness to U.S. decline – particularly the loss of economic stability for the majority of the population and opportunity-hoarding by the few – is reflected in an unwillingness to accept that authoritarianism can indeed thrive in the so-called “home of the free”.

As Americans struggle to reconcile the gulf between a flagrant aspiring autocrat and the democratic precepts they had been told were sacred and immutable, the inherent fragility of American democracy has been revealed. Hiding in Plain Sight exposes this continual loss of freedom, the rise of consolidated corruption, and the secrets behind a burgeoning autocratic United States that have been hiding in plain sight for decades. In Kendzior’s signature and celebrated style, she expertly outlines Trump’s meteoric rise from the 1980s until today, interlinking key moments of his life with the degradation of the American political system and the continual erosion of our civil liberties by foreign powers.

Kendzior also offers a never-before-seen look at her personal life and her lifelong tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – living in New York through 9/11 and in St. Louis during the Ferguson uprising, and researching media and authoritarianism when Trump emerged using the same tactics as the post-Soviet dictatorships she had long studied.

Hiding in Plain Sight is about confronting injustice – an often agonizing process, but an honest and necessary one – as the only way that offers the possibility of ending it.

I have favorite books. This is not one of them.

I have books I want to suggest to people. This is not one either.

This book is not enjoyable. It is sobering. Reading it is like sinking into ice-cold water. Every fact is laid out crystal-clear, with the piercing pain of a truth you knew but hoped you could ignore. I could only read a couple pages each sitting before I had to walk away.

And yet, it’s possibly the most important book I’ve ever read. With grim steadiness, Kendzior draws on her experience studying autocratic states to establish that we in the US are experiencing an autocratic consolidation of power, hardly different from those seen in former democracies such as the Ukraine or Hungary. She draws careful connections between several Republican operatives, as well as many White House officials and Trump himself, and powerful figures in the shadows who have sought for years to, as she puts it, “strip America down and sell it for parts”.

It is about the decline of America and the rise of Donald Trump. It is an obituary for American exceptionalism. It is a desperate warning.

I can’t just suggest this book. It’s not just good. It’s imperative. It’s necessary. I want to plead with you:

If you never take any other recommendation from me, please read this book.

Please. Read it soon.

Because before long, it may be too late to matter.

Mr. Trump--I mean, Toad.


Toad is very rich and a bit of a fop, with a penchant for Harris tweed suits. He owns his own horse, and is able to indulge his impulsive desires, such as punting, house boating and hot air ballooning. Toad is intelligent, creative and resourceful; however, he is also narcissistic, self-centred almost to the point of sociopathy, and completely lacking in even the most basic common sense.


Let’s call him Mr. Toad. Continue reading

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Stale Content Alert!

This post was written a long time ago, and my views have almost certainly evolved since then. Please keep that in mind while reading, commenting, or sharing.

Spencer’s really pretty fired up right now, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The topic of the day? Flag burning, and the people who are trying to put a Constitutional end to it. Continue reading