Monthly Archive: April 2017

Apr 29

Chaos Theory as it Relates to Rick and Morty

Fractal - Chaos TheoryIt’s weird, but the television show Rick and Morty has given me many ideas for articles. There’s just so much to it. A show like Bob’s Burgers is really all about the characters. But Rick and Morty brings up so many bizarre ideas that I have a hard time not getting lost in them. Most recently, I was thinking of the infinite timelines. This is what explains the Council of Ricks and Jerryboree — the daycare center for Jerrys. Of course, it’s all absurd.

To begin with, if there are infinite timelines, why are there only three thousand Ricks on the Council of Ricks? Well, I do have what might sound like a reasonable explanation: out of the infinite timelines, there are only so many that just happened to have Ricks. This doesn’t work, of course. If there are an infinite number of timelines, there would be an infinite number of timelines with Rick. Infinity is that way. But that doesn’t bother me all that much. What does bother me is this: Rick, Morty, Summer, Beth, Jerry.

Chaos Theory

The issue is this: chaos theory. When I was in my 20s, chaos theory was the thing — even non-nerds were into it. I wasn’t, of course. And that’s because it’s actually a really simple thing. (Research on it, is another matter; but that’s beyond pretty much all but specialists.) It’s just about non-linear systems. Let me explain.

Imagine you are pushing a cart down the road at a fairly constant rate and I’m making measurements of it to figure out how far you’ve gone. That’s a linear system. If I make a small mistake in the measurement of your speed, it will cause me to be wrong in calculating the distance you’ve traveled. But the error will be proportional to the error I made in your speed.

Non-Linear Systems

Rick and MortyNow imagine that you are tripling your speed every ten seconds. Then a small error in my speed measurements will lead to a huge error in the distance traveled. In this case, the error will be squared for reasons that I’d love to explain to you, but don’t have the time (nor, admit it, do you the the interest — a fact I know from experience).

Non-linear systems can be highly non-linear, however. To (inappropriately) use the cart example, you could have a situation where a single small error would cause your final answer to be off by a factor of millions. And that’s what chaos theory is all about. And we have an example of that: the weather, which is where this all started. If you want to know more, learn about Edward Lorenz.

Chaos Theory and Time

Think about time. But first, let’s quote Robert Marley from John Dies at the End, “Time is an ocean, not a garden hose.” We have to forget that, even though I think it’s more or less correct. Imagine time as a garden hose — a line. How chaotic is it? Well, we certainly know it is nothing close to linear. Consider the following example:

A woman is going to buy a ticket for the state lottery. She uses the random system. On her way to the store to get it, a squirrel darts in front of her causing her to slow down and get to the store a couple of seconds later. That is the difference between her life going on as usual and her life completely changing because she won a half billion dollars.

That’s one example. So my belief is that time is the most chaotic system imaginable — indeed, infinitely chaotic — the ultimate example of chaos theory. And that brings us back to Rick and Morty. The best estimates are that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. Given that all of the universes in the show are roughly the same, they too must be that old. Time is just stuff happening: it’s a concept to explain why things change; this is why time doesn’t exist without matter. And 13.8 billion years is a lot of time.

A Long Time Coming: 13.8 Billion Years

Even if time were non-chaotic and changes had linear effects — if small changes would have small effects — that’s enough time that there just wouldn’t be multiple Ricks. But even if there were, how is it that they all marry the same woman who has a daughter named Beth, who goes on to marry a man named Jerry with whom she has two children named Morty and Summer.

Okay: infinity. If there are an infinite number of timelines, then literally every possible universe would exist. (It’s still odd that all of those universes start at the same time.) But if that’s the case, where are all the timelines that are exactly like the 3,000 that we know about except that Morty’s sister is named Winter?

I understand: Rick and Morty is just a television show — one I find quite entertaining. But I actually think that it is dangerous to think that time is not chaotic. Politically, it’s the same as believing in an activist God. It justifies kings because they are the result of fate rather than blind chance.

Who You Are Is the Result of Dumb Luck

The more we know about the world, the more we know that luck is everything. Were you born with a good body? Were you born to parents who raised you in a loving and intellectually stimulating environment? Did you inherit billions of dollars? Were you born in the San Francisco rather than Monrovia? Did a squirrel run in front of your car when you went to buy your lottery ticket?

I think that if people can see that their entire success in life is due to nothing but luck (and I cannot escape this conclusion myself), then we will build a more equitable society. Feudalism existed because people believed that God chose how people’s lives should be. Capitalism exists because people believe that the rich have earned what they have — at least to some extent.

Thomas Paine: Computer Program

Thomas PaineThomas Paine was a great rhetorician who was far ahead of his time in terms of social thinking. But that’s just because he was born with the perfect body and environment to make him Thomas Paine. He didn’t choose to be Thomas Paine. Now that’s not to say that we shouldn’t look up to him. The society should pay tribute to people who made the world better, because we want to create an environment that causes people to be better. Thomas Paine’s body born into 1950 Soviet Union would not be the Thomas Paine we all know and love.

But recognizing that Thomas Paine could no more be anything other than what he was than that a computer program can do anything other than what it was programmed to do allows us to see that having great material differences between people is immoral. Thomas Paine should not have had any more comfortable a life than the millions of African slaves that supported the southern colonies’ economies. We are nothing more (or less) than exactly what we have to be.

Immoral Society Based on False Premises

And these are the kinds of things that you can think about if you watch Rick and Morty. Time is the ultimate example of chaos theory. Luck is the only thing that determines who we are. There is no free will. Our unwillingness to see this provides intellectual cover for an immoral system — one that (if we are very lucky) future generations will look back on in horror, just as we look back at the burning of witches and the enslavement of humans.

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Apr 28

Poor Pay More Taxes Than Rich

Poor Pay More Taxes Than RichWhen all forms of taxes and income are considered, poor Americans pay higher tax rates than the richest 1%.

The analysis starts with state and local taxes, which are often ignored by apologists for big-income tax cuts. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the state and local tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of individuals is double that of the top 1 percent (10.9 percent vs. 5.4 percent). New data from Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman allows us to go further: When unrealized capital gains are included in the wealth-building of the richest 1%, the overall tax rates plunge for the super-rich, causing the poorest Americans to pay the highest rates.

What is the justification for adding unrealized capital gains to one’s income? The 16th Amendment gives Congress the power “to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” Thus, under an original definition of income developed by the American economists Robert M. Haig and Henry C. Simons in the 1920s and still utilized by financial economists, an increase in the value of a stock or other asset would be subject to taxation even if it’s not sold.

With this more accurate guide to income measurement, the real tax rates paid by the 1% can be calculated. The bottom line is that poor Americans pay about 25 percent in total taxes, while the 1% pays anywhere from 18 to 23 percent.

–Paul Buchheit
The Rich Pay Fewer Taxes Than the Poor, and Get More Services

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Apr 27

Fake Hypocrisy Versus Real Hypocrisy

Fake Hypocrisy Versus Real HypocrisyThere’s this thing about modern American conservatism: it’s clueless appropriation of liberal complaints. You see it all the time in countless ways. But I want to talk about hypocrisy today, because of something I just saw. But before I get to that, I want to go back almost three years.

At that time, I wrote an article about the religious scholar Robert M Price. He’s incredibly knowledgeable on Christianity, but also other things like New Age belief systems and H P Lovecraft. And in this way, he’s what one would have to call a liberal — some would say a radical. But politically, he’s conservative. But he’s not a smart conservative. Whenever he talks about politics, it’s clear that all his information comes from right wing radio.

And on one occasion, he said something that I had heard so many times before. He was talking about hypocrisy as it related to the Bible. And then he gave an example.

Fake Hypocrisy

I wrote at the time:

And as an example, he mentioned Congress members who excluded themselves from Obamacare. Well, as anyone who knows anything about Obamacare can tell you: Obamacare doesn’t affect people who already get healthcare from their employers. But it is because of this conservative talking point that the law was changed and gummed up even more.

This is a clear example of fake hypocrisy. The Democratic members of Congress (Remember: not a single Republican in either house voted for it.) weren’t treating themselves any different than they were treating people who work full-time at Walmart.

“Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff.” –Sarah Kliff

Now sure: if Congress had passed single-payer healthcare and forbade people from buying private insurance (something that would never happen) and then kept their previous insurance, that would have been hypocrisy. But that wasn’t the case. Price thought it was hypocrisy because he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Real Hypocrisy

And so we come to the present day. On Monday, Sarah Kliff wrote, Republicans Exempt Their Own Insurance From Their Latest Health Care Proposal. She put it simply, “House Republicans appear to have included a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from their latest health care plan.” What she’s talking about is the provision that allows states to opt out of “Obamacare’s ban on preexisting conditions.” You know: so that sick people in Alabama and Idaho could be further screwed over. I guess in the fantasyland of Republicans, that’s called “Choice!”

But Kliff continued:

Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff. A spokesperson for Representative Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who authored this amendment, confirmed this was the case: Members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping these Obamacare regulations.

I wish that Dr Price read the newspaper instead of getting all his news filtered through Rush Limbaugh. Because here is a case of real hypocrisy. In fact, it is a case of stunningly wicked hypocrisy. This is Old Testament kind of hypocrisy — you know: David and Bathsheba hypocrisy.

It’s All Different Now

Of course, now everything’s changed. Yesterday, Kliff wrote, GOP House Member Says He’ll Fix the Exemption for Congress in His Health Bill. The member in question is Tom MacArthur himself. But the only reason he’s removing it from the bill is because he got caught. If it hadn’t been reported on, it would have stayed. MacArthur put it in the bill because, like most Republican politicians, he’s a real hypocrite.

To make matters worse, MacArthur appears to have lied about the reason he put it in. He blamed the Senate Budget Committee. The Senate Budget Committee spokesperson said in no uncertain terms that this was absolutely false. It was not, as Ben Bradlee would say, “A non-denial denial.”

Summing Up

A liberal friend of mine doesn’t like it when I go after Republicans so harshly because she has Republican family members and friends. But the funny thing is that as I’ve become less partisan — feeling like I’m floating out there far to the Democratic Party’s left — my opinion of Republicans has cratered. The politicians are — with almost no exceptions — simply evil. And the voters are stupid, ignorant, or both.

I just don’t have the time for it anymore. If the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire, the United States is the Evil Empire. And that’s certainly what the world thinks. But like all evil empires throughout history, we think we’re just spreading peace and love. We are an ignorant people. It’s not surprising that half of us can’t tell the difference between fake hypocrisy and real hypocrisy.

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Apr 27

We’ve Lived Long in a Post-Truth World

Richard SeymourWe live, supposedly, in an age of “fake news” and “post-truth politics.” This is a misunderstanding. “Pre-post-truth politics” includes the era of the “war on terror” and its deceptions, and the orthodoxies and falsehoods which led to the elite debacle of the credit crunch. It is technique, not truth, which has been found wanting. That is, the idea of a “fact” as an objective measurement of reality, is losing ground in the post-credit crunch era.

“Post-truth politics” is what, until now, we have been living under: technocracy, in a word. The “monstrous worship of facts,” as Wilde called it, is nothing other than an avoidance of the question of truth. The category of “fake news” describes a fusion of infotainment, propaganda, public relations and churnalism which has been long in the making, now accelerated by online advertising revenues. The moral panic which blames “fake news” for the rise of fascism and right-wing populism misses the point that these degraded ecologies of information have triumphed in the vacuum of political possibilities produced by the post-Cold War consensus.

What the moral panic also obscures, by displacing it, is the fact that “fake news” is just one symptom of the breakdown of the near ideological monopoly previously enjoyed by large commercial and state media outlets.

–Richard Seymour
After the Catastrophe: Resistance and the Post-Truth Era

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Apr 26

Creed: the Best Swan Song for the Rocky Franchise

Creed Would Be the Best Song Song for the Rocky FranchiseOver the weekend, I watched the 2015 hit Creed. This is not surprising. Since I saw the first Rocky in early 1977, I’ve been a fan of it. That first film remains a great cinematic accomplishment. Although utterly genre, John Avildsen’s direction makes the film seem almost cinéma vérité. It was the first film to make major use of the steadicam — but primarily for financial reasons. Thus, it adds to the film rather than distracting as it did in many films to follow, most notably Goodfellas. The acting was exceptional, and the script establish Sylvester Stallone as one of the best genre writers in Hollywood.

I was almost as happy with Rocky II. Although Stallone directed it, he did his best to imitate Avildsen. I remember going to see Rocky III on opening day and being crushed. It was clear at that point that any art in the Rocky franchise was gone and that it was now commodity. Rocky IV was an offense of epic proportions. Even without getting into the politics of it, the casting of Dolph Lundgren was rediculous. Rocky V is an odd film. It is Stallone’s weakest script, but it manages to succeed more than it deserves with the return of Avildsen as director. Finally, Rocky Balboa managed to charm, but the boxing was ancillary and even more unbelievable than usual.

Creed Is a Reboot

I just don’t think Creed could have been a hit four decades ago, which is all the more reason it makes a fine bookend to the Rocky franchise.

Creed is distinct in many ways. Primarily, it is a reboot — essentially a remake of the first film. It is the only one in the Rocky universe in which the title character does no boxing. Unlike all the other films that you could say were Stallone’s, this one is writer-director Ryan Coogler’s. (It was co-written with Aaron Covington.) And there is much to like about him. I think he has a fine career ahead of him. But Creed is hardly a great film, even though only the original Rocky is clearly superior.

The biggest problem with the film is that it tries to do far too much in what is, after all, a simple genre picture. The film is based on the same “give a nobody the chance of a lifetime” plot that the original was based on. I have no problem with that. But I’m not sure how a writer could create a story based on that kernel and then expect us to take seriously the chemotherapy treatments of the trainer. But more than that, this is a film that is cluttered with too many subplots and a lead character that doesn’t have much in the way of a personality.

Creed Washes Racist Tint of Original

Still, I’m very glad the film was made, because it makes up from what I always saw as a problem with the first film: its implicit racism. By this, I’m not talking about the film itself. Rather, I’m talking about what I discussed in Zulu and the Racism We Bring to It. I simply don’t think that Rocky would have been a hit had the races of the fighters been swapped. That’s just a fact of American life. Maybe its more accurate to say that the problem is ethnocentrism: whites want to see a white man win — especially in the mid-1970s — when whites in the US were still in their migration from the cities to the suburbs to escape the “horrors” of busing.

Creed does manage to reverse the races of the characters. And it does it effectively and affectingly. Just the same, Tony Bellew as the “bad” British boxer Ricky Conlan isn’t quite the threat that Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) was. Creed was a stand-in for the ultimate white terror: an intelligent and powerful black man. In fact, that’s one of the high points of the original movie where Creed is working on his various business dealings while we watch Rocky punching raw frozen beef on the television.

Let Creed Be the Franchise’s End

I find it impossible not to see Creed in political terms — and very positives ones at that. The first was a huge hit, and I just don’t think Creed could have been a hit four decades ago. And it makes a fine bookend to the Rocky franchise. Unfortunately, a sequel was in development and may become a film. I doubt that Coogler would be much involved, given he is finishing Black Panther and seems generally of a mind to make films of some substance.

My hope is that Creed is the end of the franchise. It is the way to go out. What would a sequel offer us anyway? It would almost certainly be a combination of Rocky II and Rocky III. Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) would marry Bianca (Tessa Thompson). And Rocky would die — but probably much later in the film than Mickey (Burgess Meredith) did in Rocky III. And Creed would become the champion. I just can’t see it being anything but filmmaking by the numbers.

Creed would be the best swan song for this very uneven franchise. I dearly hope that it is.

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Apr 26

Corporate Tax Cut Would Destroy Government

George CallasI want to pick up on… the constraints of reconciliation rules as well as [the possibility that] the White House might come out with a plan that has no offsets. It is a very, very important point here. A plan of business tax cuts that has no offsets… is not a thing. It’s not a real thing and people can come up with whatever plans they want. Not only can that not pass Congress, it cannot even begin to move through Congress day one.

There are political reasons for that. Number one, members wouldn’t vote for it. But there are also statutory procedural legal reasons why that can’t happen… There is this magic unicorn running around, and I think one of the biggest threats to the timeline on tax reform is the continued survival of magic unicorns — people saying “Why don’t we do this instead?” when this is actually something that cannot be done. And as long as that exists, it’s hard to move forward by getting people to go through what the Speaker refers to as the stages of grief for tax reform where you have to come to the realization that there are tough choices that have to be made. And you cannot escape those tough choices.

[The reconciliation rules] don’t say that tax cuts have to sunset in 10 years. They say that you cannot have the deficit increase beyond the 10 year window… If your permanent tax reform that is fully offset with the base broadening forever, you are fine. You don’t have to make anything sunset under the reconciliation rules. You can have permanent tax cuts that are paid for in the out years. You have legislation that has no offsets, no base broadening, so it’s just tax cuts. You either have to get Democrats to support it, which they will not. Or you have to do it through reconciliation so you can do it on a partisan basis with only Republican votes.

Again, reconciliation says you cannot increase the deficit after 10 years… Here is a data point for folks. A corporate rate cut that is sunset after three years will increase the deficit in the second decade. We know this. Not 10 years. Three years. You could not do a straight-up offset three-year corporate rate cut in reconciliation. The rules prohibit it.

You might be able to do two years. A two year corporate rate cut would have virtually no growth effect. It would not alter business decisions. It would not cause anyone to build a factory. It would not stop any inversions or acquisitions of US companies by foreign companies. It would not cause anyone to restructure their supply chain. It would just be dropping cash out of helicopters on corporate headquarters for a couple of years.

–George Callas
Institute of International Finance Policy Summit, Tax Policy

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Apr 25

Sick and Tired and Over-Worked

Frank MoraesHave you missed me? I’m sick and tired and over-worked. Really. I have some awful kind of flu. I’m not sleeping well. And I have various obligations that are making attention to this blog very difficult. But I thought I could spend a few minutes ranting to you about stuff that’s on my mind. But note that throughout this week, I will post what I can, I’m just not sure what I’ll be able to post. (Maybe stuff like this.)

Politics

I know most of the regulars around here come for the politics. To be honest, I don’t know why. None of you seem to agree with me. And more and more I’m seeing myself as an old fashioned socialist. You know: like George Bernard Shaw. But you know, without the brilliance. Anyway, I wanted to say something about politics — keep you all interested.

I hear that our man from whine country, Josh Barro, thinks that the Republicans won’t agree on cutting taxes. You know: because a lot of Republicans want tax reform and Trump simply wants to cut taxes. It always amazes me that a man with all Barro’s advantages can be so amazingly ignorant. Who thinks the Republicans aren’t going to come together to cut the taxes of the rich? That’s their raison d’etre. Give me a break!

Spider Baby

I might be doing great when you read this. Or terrible. But I’ll be busy. I hope by this weekend, I’ll be back writing the kind of considered nonfiction that you’ve come to expect of me.

In 1967, Jack Hill made a horror-comedy called Spider Baby. I’ve been obsessing about it. I can’t believe that I had never seen the film until about a week ago. It stars Lon Chaney as a very caring and sympathetic chauffeur and caretaker of three children who are, well, insane — if that’s the right word. It is laugh-out-loud funny and hide-your-eyes scary.

Not that I expect any of you to care. Oh, a few you will, I suppose. In fact, I can even imagine someone commenting that it’s their favorite film. Of course, no one commented on the quote I posted about Jill Banner, so maybe not. My taste in film has change, and as with most things in my life, it’s just pushed we further into isolation. But if you get a chance to see the film, give a view for me.

The Plays

You know, I’ve written a couple dozen plays, but none of them are “feature” length: one and a half to two hours. And so I’ve been working really hard to turn a 45 minute play into a full length one. And after much painful work, I’ve decided to screw it. I probably mentioned that I was working on a play where the cast and crew (the same thing in my plays) divide into two factions and go to war with each other.

I haven’t been able to make it work. But I know that I can — I just have to spend the time on it. But it occurred to me the other day that it made no sense to do that in that play. And that got me thinking that it’s madness to try to make any of my plays this long. They aren’t truly plays but theatrical essays. I get over a half an hour on a very wacky comedy about MP3 compression. That in itself is a herculean accomplishment.

Turn the Water Off

The whole thing reminded me that one of my favorite plays when I was a kid (and now too) is Robert Anderson’s 1967 smash Broadway play You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running. And what is that? It’s just 4 short plays put together. Now I’m no Anderson. But it did occur to me that I could make a play where the first act is two 30 minute plays and the second act is a 45 minute play.

And then I can take the play around to theater people and show it them. That will provide the high point of my life were the head of some theater company says, “Haven’t you ever seen a play?!” That would be delicious!

Because that’s all I’ve got: I’m weird. Yes, I’ve seen many plays. And I’ve read hundreds. And the things that I’ve taken from them are different than what most people have taken from then. I really do know what I’m doing. But I’m not Shaw. I’m not Anderson. That’s probably why Psychotronic Review is so important to me. You might hate my play “MP3” (I’m not that fond of it myself, although it has 10 minutes that are magic). But it would be different from what you expect. And you wouldn’t know how it was going to end.

(Am I alone in this? Does it bother any of you that you know how almost every play and film is going to end? There’s a reason for that: the play wouldn’t work otherwise. At least it wouldn’t in a traditional story. But good God: have we learned nothing since Homer?!)

So the idea of knowledgeable people hating my work is wonderful. I’ve always felt much better as an outsider. It’s easier to be hated than loved. (There is, of course, the small chance that there is an audience for my work — but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.)

That’s All Folks

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to write this week. But I’m not going anywhere. In fact, as I sit here, drinking my Theraflu, I’ve gotten kind of excited. I might be doing great when you read this. Or terrible. But I’ll be busy. I hope by this weekend, I’ll be back writing the kind of considered nonfiction that you’ve come to expect of me. (Note: “considered” was added to that sentence as a joke.) Although I really have about 3,000 pent up words on Spider Baby, and you know I’m not going to be publishing it here.

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Apr 24

Trump’s Big Week

Brian Beutler - Trump's Big WeekIt’s hard to imagine a better metaphor for Donald Trump’s presidency than if, backed by a Republican-controlled Congress, he celebrates his 100th day in office by shutting down his own government. This outcome is by no means inevitable, but the odds of it are astonishingly high: Government funding runs out on Friday, and Trump hits the 100-day mark on Saturday.

It is unprecedented in the modern era for an appropriations fight to end in a government shutdown when one party has full control — or really under any configuration other than when the president is a Democrat and Republicans control at least one chamber in Congress. The current partisan alignment should effectively preclude a shutdown, but Trump’s particular mix of incompetence, narcissism, and poor judgment is potent enough to confound basic game theory. As in so many realms of public affairs, Trump’s mere presence creates massive amounts of uncertainty.

To see how Trump changes the normal calculation, consider what the appropriations process would look like in a more generic case, where Republicans enjoyed identical congressional majorities but under a president who behaved rationally.

In that case, we would expect the president and GOP leaders to work backwards from a desire to avoid a shutdown, toward an optimal outcome in which appropriations did not lapse and Congress funded as many of their priorities as possible. The hard fact that funding the government almost always requires a measure of bipartisanship places a fairly firm limit on what’s possible in that context. The minority party has a disproportionate amount of power over annual appropriations, but you go to the spending fight with the army you have, not the army you might want, or wish to have at a later time. If Democrats were horribly recalcitrant, they could reject every single Republican bid, leaving Republicans a choice between simply extending existing funds or shutting down the government — in which case a rational party would harrumph and agree to extend the funds.

–Brian Beutler
Trump Will Provoke a Crisis or Be Humiliated This Week

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Apr 23

The Short Life of Jill Banner

Jill BannerI don’t know how we found out about Jill Banner. Somebody must have told us about her. She just came into the office for an interview and I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to get any kind of a leading role. We just chatted with her and she admitted she hadn’t had any experience. But she said, “I’m a lot of fun to have around.” And the way she said that, all of us in the room suddenly felt that this strange girl was just right for the picture. She just had this kind of presence.

It wasn’t until not too many years ago I had been trying to locate Jill Banner. I had a phone number on her, and I had no idea that she had died. And I learned that she had died in a terrible, terrible automobile accident on the Pacific Coast Highway. She was at that time living with Marlon Brando and, in fact, working on a screenplay with him. And I also heard from Jill’s manager that Brando that told someone that Jill was the only woman he had ever really loved. At her funeral, he remained long after everybody else had left — standing over her grave. So it must have been quite a relationship. And she was quite a remarkable girl, so I could understand very much why Brando would be fascinated by her.

–Jack Hill
Interviewed in The Hatching of Spider Baby

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Apr 22

Professor Moore Is Dead

Will H Moore - Professor Moore Is DeadWill H Moore was a professor of Political Science at Arizona State University. On Wednesday, he posted Punched Out on his blog Will Opines. It was a shockingly calm and rational suicide note. I wasn’t even sure it was for real, but Inside Higher Ed confirmed that he had, Professor Shares Suicide Note on Blog. A friend sent it to me saying that she feared that it read rather too much like me and that I might some day do this.

It’s interesting to read the blog post because it is neither whiny nor sad. I suppose there is a certain amount of resignation in it. But it shows how a person’s situation isn’t what matters but how they experience it. Professor Moore even seems to understand that his suicide is the act of a privileged man. The blog post would be less ambiguously titled “clocked out,” because that’s what he’s doing — he’s done with life in the same way that a factory worker is done with a day of work. (He is explicit about this.)

To Write Is to Live

But the suicide note itself shows how different Moore is from me. I can’t imagine writing a suicide note. If I still have the will to communicate, then I will keep on. Just the same, much of what he wrote was chillingly familiar. But it seemed to be more me of a couple of decades ago. I spent a good decade of my life trying to kill myself through other means. And I survived in a way that has made me, I think, a better person. At least I can say this: I like myself more than the man I used to be. And more important: I like myself more now and I liked myself then.

Professor Moore mentions that on the Meyer-Briggs test, he always scored (IE)NTJ. That is: he was sometimes introverted and sometimes extroverted. N stands for intuition (vs sensing). T is for thinking (vs feeling). And J is for judgement (vs perception). When I was younger, I was a solid INTP, but over the years, my T score fell to the point where I am now solidly INFP. But I feel certain that I would have liked Moore. I have had a lot of (IE)NTJ friends over the years. They’re more grounded than I am. I suppose I add a little color to their lives and they add a little stability to mine.

Why Did Professor Moore Do It?

Put simply, Moore’s reason for suicide is that he needs to produce or he falls into depression. But in order to produce, he must interact with people, which he finds painful. He said that he was borderline autistic — having great difficulty understanding why other people acted as they do. This is the one place where I feel most distant from him. To me, the abyss is my friend. I think I’m somewhat like Emily Dickinson. I’d love to be well known and widely read; but I’m fine just producing for me, and when I’m gone, the abyss.

Of course, I don’t believe that this is why Professor Moore killed himself. I don’t think there are reasons. The drive is there and then we make up the reasons. But it certainly doesn’t seem like this is a momentary fancy on his part. Whatever private suffering he was experiencing, it is gone now. It’s sad for those who loved him. But the old Christian platitude is one that I fully accept because I think that death is simply the absence of suffering: he is in a better place now.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/22/professor-moore/

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Apr 22

CBP Investigated for Abuse of @ALT_USCIS

Sam Biddle - CBP Investigated for Abuse of @ALT_USCISIn the first week of April, Twitter revealed that the US Customs and Border Protection agency was trying to force the company to reveal the identity of @ALT_USCIS, an anonymous, deeply anti-Trump account claiming to be run from within US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Department of Homeland Security is now formally investigating whether the attempted unmasking was an abuse of power.

Just one day after Twitter said that it had been targeted by a CBP summons demanding identifying information about @ALT_USCIS, Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat outspoken on privacy issues, wrote a letter to the agency’s acting commissioner asking for an explanation of what clearly appeared to be a politically motivated attempt to stifle speech critical of the Trump administration. In a response sent today, John Roth, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, the parent organization of both CBP and USCIS, said that “We have concluded that no classified information was released via the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account,” and that the summons itself is now the subject of an internal review…

–Sam Biddle
Border Agency Under Investigation for Trying to Unmask Anonymous Twitter Account

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/22/alt_uscis/

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Apr 21

Apparently Trump Won’t Protect Julian Assange

Apparently Trump Won't Protect Julian AssangeI just saw this headline at CNN, Sources: US Prepares Charges to Seek Arrest of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. I thought it a bit strange because I thought that Assange would be most safe if Donald Trump became president.

Look, I understand that Hillary Clinton lost the election due to a kind of political perfect storm. There are so many single things that could have gone differently that seem like they would have given the presidency to her. But I’m convinced that this isn’t really true. There is one thing alone that assured her defeat. You could take everything else away, but with the WikiLeaks drip, drip, drip of substanceless innuendo, she would have lost regardless.

Julian Assange’s First Problem

So Donald Trump owes his current job title to Julian Assange. Now if Assange had done such a great favor to men as vile as Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich, I firmly believe they would protect him. But there are two major things that stop Trump from doing so. One is that he’s delusional. I doubt that he knows what a huge favor Assange did for him.

Oh sure, Trump said that he loved WikiLeaks. But Trump’s attention span is about that of a gnat. And loving the sabotage that WikiLeaks was doing to Clinton doesn’t mean that Trump had or has any idea of just how much help he was receiving.

And Assange has said he has nothing against Clinton personally. In an interview with Jeremy Scahill, he said, “I think I’d probably like her in person… In some ways she’s a bit like me, She’s a bit wonkish and a bit awkward. So maybe we’d get along.” That certainly can’t endear him to Trump.

(For the record, I don’t think Assange wanted Trump to win so much as he just wanted to mess with the United States. And although I understand that urge, a lot of poor people, who have never had his advantages will die because of his meddling. Power is extremely dangerous in anyone’s hands. I know it would be a bad idea to give it to me.)

Julian Assange’s Second Problem

If Julian Assange rots in a prison for a decade — Or the rest of his life! — I’ll feel bad for him, just like I feel bad for almost everyone in that situation.

The second issue, of course, is that Donald Trump just doesn’t care. I’m sure if he were capable of seeing that Assange made him president, Trump’s response would be, “Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?”

I know that there has been a lot of reporting about how loyal Donald Trump is to his friends. But he’s kind of the anti-me. I find it almost impossible to stay angry at anyone if they are not continuing to make me angry. So I hate you while you’re kicking me but once you stop, I’m not angry for very long.

For Trump, it’s that he likes you as long as you smooch his bottom. But that has to keep going. If you don’t say anything bad about him, he won’t go after you. But if you aren’t actively saying what a great guy he is, he isn’t going help you out. And I don’t think that Julian Assange is inclined to smooch his bottom, nor is he in a position to do so if he were so inclined.

I Used to Feel Sorry for Julian Assange

The truth is that Assange has been treated very badly — especially by the United States and then all the countries that will do its bidding to stay on its good side. And I do think that bad things will happen to Assange and that they will be unjust. But I’ve gotten to the point of not caring. He’s done a lot of good work, but he threw it away in what was nothing but a partisan campaign to keep the media constantly talking about Hillary Clinton’s email, even though there really wasn’t anything of substance there.

If Julian Assange rots in a prison for a decade — Or the rest of his life! — I’ll feel bad for him, just like I feel bad for almost everyone in that situation. But I won’t feel anything special for him. I won’t feel for him the way I did for Chelsea Manning and the way I do feel for Edward Snowden.

(And for the record: Edward Snowden is an American hero. And those who don’t see that have been blinded by the power elite. The arguments against him are so pathetic that I can’t even bear to get into them anymore. But let me say this. For all of you out there who claim that he should come back to the US and stand trial, remember this: he won’t be able to defend himself. The courts will find that everything he wants to use to defend himself will endanger national security. So I don’t want to hear it. All of you can stand up and call for transparency — as long as it is in theory or in the past. Otherwise: blah, blah, blah. Just admit that you don’t believe in transparency — “I believe in the the transparency that the power elite want to provide to me!” — and we’ll get along a lot better.)

The Future Is Unknown

Of course, Julian Assange might make it out of all this without much discomfort. There seems to be more sympathy in this country for the man who gave us the worst president in recent history than the man who informed the nation about the bad actions of our government.

Regardless, I will not be crying any tears for Julian Assange. Just like Donald Trump won’t.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/04/21/julian-assange-2/

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