Dec 08

Hebron: You Have Entered Apartheid

Hebron: This was taken by Israel. You are entering ApartheidThe first time I visited Shuhada Street in Hebron, a city of 200,000 in Israel’s West Bank, I felt as if I’d stepped through a looking glass. For most of the past 12 years, the once-bustling market street has been under lockdown to protect 800 militant Jewish settlers who’ve seized part of the old city. Aside from soldiers and a few orthodox Jewish women pushing baby carriages, Shuhada Street is empty and silent; in the parlance of the Israel Defense Forces, it is “completely sterilized,” which means that Palestinians aren’t allowed to set foot on it. Most of the Arabs who once lived in the area have left, but the few who remain are virtual prisoners in their apartments, where cages protect windows and balconies from settlers’ stones. Palestinians who live on Shuhada Street aren’t allowed to walk out their front doors; if they must go out, they have to climb onto the roof and down a fire escape into a back alley. My tour guide, an orthodox Jewish IDF veteran who’d become a fierce critic of the occupation, described what happens if the Palestinians get sick. “The Jewish subset of the Red Cross doesn’t treat Palestinians here,” he told me. “What you see a lot of times is Palestinians carrying people by foot to an area with an ambulance.”

The disorientation of Shuhada Street comes not just from the moral horror, but from the near-impossibility of conveying that horror to most Americans without sounding like a crank. Before that first visit, I was someone who rolled my eyes when left-wingers described the occupation of Palestine as apartheid, a term that seemed shrill and reductive and heedless of a thousand complexities. Afterward, I realized how hard it is, within the cramped, taboo-ridden strictures that govern mainstream discussion of Israel, to talk about what’s happening in Hebron. If I’d never been there and someone had described it to me, I wouldn’t have fully believed her.

–Michelle Goldberg
The Smearing of Keith Ellison Reveals the Warped Priorities of the Israel Lobby

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Dec 07

Confessions of a Mean Editor

Mean EditorNot long ago, a client asked me to write a newsletter about something ghastly. It is the kind of work that I think of when I tell people that I’m a whore — that I’ll do anything for money. The client, who is a good writer himself (at least when it comes this this kind of soul-crushing, ad-copy, the only thing that matters is making a buck, writing). So when he got my final version, he changed it quite a lot. But given that he’s actually a nice guy, he apologized for it.

It wasn’t necessary. I’ve been writing professionally for coming up on 30 years. And there are a few things I’ve learned. One is that writing like this is about making money, not expressing myself. Another is that writing is a collaborative enterprise. Think of Finnegans Wake and Naked Lunch. Now you might think those were written by Joyce and Burroughs, but they were not. They were group efforts, that make quite a bit more sense because they weren’t left solely in the hands of their supposed authors.

Writing Is a Team Effort

I told my client that there was no reason to apologize. I understood that I was part of a team. And frankly, I did the hardest part: writing the first official version. It’s so much easier to take someone’s writing and improve it than it is to stare at a blank screen and come up with something new to say. But I understand why he apologized. Many writers would incorrectly think that what they wrote was thrown out and the whole thing was written from scratch. That almost never happens.

Writers too often think that they have a mean editor — people who take joy in destroying their great works of art. But editors are a writer’s best friend. Do a little experiment. Find a writer you really like. Then find them published in magazines and websites where you don’t normally read them. You will likely find that they seem rather different — in some cases like a completely different writer. This is the effect of a good editor.

The Real “Mean Editor”

There is a real mean editor. In my professional work, I just don’t have the time to be one. But I’ve been one in the past. I’m even one from time to time here at Frankly Curious. Such a mean editor really doesn’t care what the writer wrote — or even what the writer intended to write. What the writer created is used only create something that the editor feels they can use.

I ran into this some 15 years ago when a writer gave me an article for a popular website I was running. The article was totally unacceptable for the website. It was too simple for the audience. So I savaged it — totally rewrote it so that it was in a form where it fit. The writer was, to put it mildly, displeased. He demanded that I take it down. I understand now, but then I was flummoxed. I thought I had done him a major favor.

But now I think I was a mean editor. This was not, after all, a professional writer. And I was not paying. Just the same, I was offering him a huge audience that he could never have gotten otherwise. But I should have just sent the article back and explained why the article would not work and what I needed. Just the same, he did end up with an article that was far superior to what he wrote and he would have received a byline for what was mostly my work.

Helping Writers — Even When It Hurts

When dealing with professional writers, it’s much easier. No one pays for work that they can’t use. So if something is unacceptable, I just send it back. This is kind of mean, but writers seem never to see it that way. Sadly, “professional” writers don’t usually do much of a better job on their second try than they do their first. And that’s usually where I stop. I make a note that this is not a writer worth using in the future. And even if I have to make substantial changes to the work, few of these writers will think me a mean editor — because they can’t be bothered to read what gets published.

I do understand why my client apologized to me. At the same time, it was slightly offensive. He showed that he didn’t understand that I was a good and experienced a writer. I suppose he doesn’t want to be seen as a mean editor. And in a sense, he is. He could have sent it back to me and asked that I write it more in his style. But I now know his style and shouldn’t require much editing in the future.

But the truth is that all writers need a mean editor. The best editors help writers to develop their own mean editors — internal voices that tell them, “This sucks; let’s savage it; let’s start all over.” Otherwise, you’ll never be much more than a mediocre writer.

The mean editor: destroyer of the medicore writer.

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Dec 07

Happy Birthday: Noam Chomsky at 88

Noam Chomsky 1977Today is Noam Chomsky’s 88th birthday. It’s remarkable to see him these days. We know that the human brain deteriorates distinctly around the age of 70. Yet Chomsky’s certainly doesn’t seem to have. Now part of this is no doubt that he was operating at such a high level before that he’s still sailing above most of us.

Noam Chomsky vs William Buckley

But it’s not that I don’t see it. I don’t think he is quite as quick as he was in 1969. Watch him debating William F Buckley. He was 40 years old at that time. It’s interesting in that Chomsky flails Buckley effortlessly. But it is clear that Buckley (no intellectual slouch) is working very hard and losing to a man who seems to be preoccupied with something else — perhaps a linguistics question that came up at the graduate seminar that day. It’s only because of Chomsky’s passive speaking style that conservatives think of this confrontation as something of a tie rather than an embarrassing defeat, which it obviously was.

After all these years, this exchange is well worth watching. It isn’t just because nothing has changed in a categorical sense. It’s also just wondrous to watch Chomsky at the peak of his powers (full debate):

I can’t speak to Chomsky’s work on linguistics. The basics of it are clear. I even put “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” into my most recent book to make a point about the lack of editing from certain small presses. But that is a subject for another time. For the last fifty years, Chomsky has been known for his political work. And it is the reason that he’s been important in my life.

Chomsky at 88

It is still amazing to listen to him or, even better, read him. He’s probably been the biggest influence on my thinking about foreign affairs. That has, in turn, changed how I’ve thought about domestic matters. But this interview he did with Mehdi Hasan is probably the most insightful thing I’ve seen about the post-Trump world. Given that I’ve highlighted it twice already, you’ve probably seen it. But if not, you really should take the time.

The down side of Noam Chomsky is that he can make you feel hopeless. His insights are so clear that it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that those in power know. That’s what is so devastating in the Buckley interview: that it shows that Buckley understands what Chomsky is talking about, but that he just doesn’t care because all the pain that the country causes results in much better lives for people like Buckley — and let’s be honest: Chomsky and me as well.

Chomsky Still Has Much to Teach

The one thing that I can get almost no one to understand is the biggest thing that I learned from Chomsky: that all the stuff we tell ourselves about being a force for good in the world is a lie. That’s not to say that we kill innocent children for pleasure. But it is to say that killing innocent children would only get in the way of our policies if it might create an unacceptable level of blow-back.

The world — my world — is a far greater place because Noam Chomsky is in it. And even at 88 years old, he continues to improve it. I hope I can wish him many more happy birthdays.

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Dec 06

Democratic Party: Don’t Change! Keep Moving Left!

Democratic Party - Corporate LogoLast week, Jonathan Chait wrote an article, The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral. The argument that it makes is that there really is no lesson for the Democrats to learn from this election except, “Don’t nominate Hillary Clinton for president again.” Now I think this is wrong. I think that Joe Biden and Martin O’Malley would have lost — and likely in exactly the same way. But Chait couldn’t leave it at that and focus on the idea that the Democratic Party doesn’t really need to make any big changes. He had to spend a third of the article attacking Bernie Sanders.

Now if you read Chait regularly, you know why this is. Chait spent much of the primary talking about how it would be ridiculous to nominate Bernie Sanders because he would lose. Hillary Clinton was the smart choice. But now, she’s the dumb choice (in Chait’s mind). So he has to spend a bunch of time talking about how she was the dumb choice — just not as dumb as Sanders would have been. But this statement was hilarious, “Reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who saw the Republican Party’s opposition research on Sanders, called it ‘brutal’…”

Funny Opposition Research

Why do I find this funny? Because I’m sure that Reporter Kurt Eichenwald would have said the same thing about the Democratic Party’s opposition research on Trump. So it’s kind of hard to see how this makes any sense in an article that claims that, with a hat tip to William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.” After all, Sanders could have lost the popular vote — getting 5 million fewer votes than Clinton — and still have been the next president. Brutal opposition research isn’t apparently as important as it used to be. (Actually, Bill Clinton showed that back in 1992.)

I’m not saying that Sanders would have won the election. I tend to think he would have lost for the same reasons that Clinton lost. I’ve blamed the loss on 1992 and the Democratic Party’s hard right turn. But I could as easily blame it on Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and their total disregard for organized labor over the past eight years. I think the Democratic Party has a branding problem. Was Hillary Clinton a bit too cozy with Goldman Sachs? Sure. But would that really have mattered if she had been running in the party of FDR? I don’t think so.

The Future of the Democratic Party

Of course, something is going on that isn’t being stated. There are a lot of people like Chait who really don’t want this election to be seen as a reason for the party to move to the left. And I really don’t want this election to be seen as a reason for the party to move to the right. I agree with Chait’s overall argument: there is nothing major to change in the Democratic Party. It has been moving to the left on economic issues and this is good. So we lost an election (even though millions more people voted for us)? So what?!

Now is not the time to go running home to the corporate “New” Democrats. They are not the future. All those black and brown people and all those followers of minority religions have something in common: they are mostly workers — and not terribly well paid ones either. The next time we get power (and it will be soon), we need to start producing for ordinary Americans. And guess what? They aren’t white; they’re brown. Welcome to the new America. Old white America: enjoy your last gasp.


Step one: get rid of that damned corporate logo and bring back the kicking ass!

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Dec 06

Ian Millhiser: Constitutional Amendments Ranked

–Ian Millhiser
Tweet, Expanded by Me

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Dec 05

The 2016 DNC Chair Election

DNC ChairThe election for the new DNC chair is coming up. According to the bylaws of the Democratic Party the chairperson is mostly responsible for carrying out the programs and policies of the National Convention and Democratic National Committee. Further the person shall preside over meetings and serve full time.

Recently we have had two part-time chairs: Tim Kaine and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. I think most agree that Wasserman-Schultz was awful as chair. But I would go further and argue that nice guy Tim Kaine was awful too. Senator Kaine is the reason we have the corporate logo instead of the kicking donkey.

Essentially, the job of chair is to go around raising money and running the programs and policies for the Democratic Party as a whole.

They don’t have a lot of real power but they do have some influence.

Who Cares Who the DNC Chair Is?

There are a couple of reasons we care who the DNC chair is. The chair is in charge of party building and winning elections. Democrats can’t have an influence on policy if they don’t have elected officials to implement that policy. The US doesn’t work when the Democratic Party is as dysfunctional as the Republicans.

What the Chair Needs to Do

Essentially the DNC chair will need to create and implement a strategy that targets all of the congressional seats that will be winnable in 2018. At the same time, they will help build up the state parties so they can take over state legislatures we don’t have and hang onto ones we do.

There isn’t much more to the job than that.

The Candidates

A number of people have announced interest in becoming the next DNC chair. The most famous of them is Howard Dean. He previously had the job from 2005 to 2009 — an incredibly good period of Democratic Party growth. Unfortunately, Dean has withdrawn from the race for DNC chair. He sees the race as shaping up to be a proxy war between Keith Ellison (representing the Sanders side of the party) and himself (representing the Clinton side). He thinks the party needs unity and a high-profile fight between the two men would be bad for that.

Keith Ellison

Ellison is the co-chair with Representative Raul Grijalva of the House Progressive Caucus. He has been part of Congress since 2007 — elected in the Democratic wave year of 2006. Since he has been on the Hill for quite some time he has racked up a lot of endorsements from the Democratic Congressional Caucus: Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren from the Senate, his co-chair from the House, and others. After all, they know him. He has released a plan for action if he is elected chair that talks about the basics of party building along with some of the other things people are concerned about for party chair.

One problem is that he is in Congress and we need a full time chair. He has, however, indicated that he might resign as Representative if he is elected. Another issue is that he doesn’t have a political machine that stretches past his own district.

He has, however, generated a lot of excitement; and that is always good.

Tom Perez

Perez is Obama’s Labor Secretary and he is a firecracker — exhibiting immense energy. However, he may decide to run for governor of Maryland instead. There haven’t been many articles about him running since 11 November. So it is unclear if he will actually run or not.

Perez has a lot of connections nationwide from being Labor Secretary, and they are with people who could be potentially recruited as candidates. How he is on fundraising is a different story. So he may have what is needed since he has energy and connections; but he could still fail since he doesn’t have the fundraising prowess.

Jaime Harrison

Harrison is the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. And he was a lobbyist at one point for the Podesta Group (he left that position when he announced he was seeking to run for DNC chair). He would be a full time chair and he also gets that we need to focus on the state rather than national party. He is supported by Representative James Clyburn who he worked for when the Democrats were in charge of Congress.

Where he doesn’t have much of an argument is in the results of the South Carolina election cycles that he was in charge of. He didn’t manage to build the party or recruit candidates to run for office. Amazingly, 27 of the Republican-held seats for the state legislature were uncontested — one-quarter of them all. That is a bad sign for someone wanting to be DNC chair.

Raymond Buckley

The most recent announcement in the race was from the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Raymond Buckley. He has run a very successful state party: New Hampshire picked up the Senate seat, a House seat, and gained 17 seats (10 percent) in the State House.

Buckley clearly knows how to build a party and win elections. He also has been doing party politics for a very long time. He probably knows that winning in 2018 involves an immense amount cat herding — something he has done a lot of locally. However, he isn’t inspiring like Ellison is, doesn’t appear to have the firecracker energy of Perez, and isn’t from a southern state like Harrison.

The Coming DNC Chair Campaign

The DNC has announced they will have candidate forums in four cities around the country. One is in Phoenix, so I will be attending.

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Dec 05

Army Says No to Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing

Dakota Access Pipeline ProtestThe Department of the Army will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works announced today.

Jo-Ellen Darcy said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. Her office had announced on November 14, 2016 that it was delaying the decision on the easement to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the proposed crossing. Tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.

–US Army Press Release
Army Will Not Grant Easement for Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing

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Dec 04

Trevor Noah Steps It Up Against Tomi Lahren

Tomi LahrenLast Wednesday, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show interviewed far-right video’s “It Girl,” one Tomi Lahren. Ms. Lahren’s bile-filled screeds against the evils of liberal America are hugely popular right now on social media. (Shouldn’t we change that description to “antisocial”?) She comes across as the Muppet Babies version of Ann Coulter.

It has apparently been widely shared among Noah fans, who appreciate his unflappable demeanor, and among Lahren fans, who like it whenever someone uses a vicious manner to expresses hateful sentiments they admire. (Oh, yes, does that make them feel strong.) Tomi Lahren also lies, which her audience no doubt loves, as well.

Dish It Out vs Take It

The lies begin immediately, with Lahren claiming she’s “not angry.” Well, then she does a good job playing it on TV (and she’s well aware that constantly-fueled rage is what her intended audience feeds upon).

As is usual with far-right media figures, Lahren’s untruths and deliberate distortions don’t cease. They become something like Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound, with constant delivery and repetition of falsehoods substituting for argument. Throw in a little flag-decal patriotism, and the effect means to convey that people On God’s Side have so much data to back them up, their bomb-droppings are irrefutable.

With immense patience and charm, Noah sets about defusing them. It’s a terrific performance. He addresses each of her bogus claims and false equivalencies. I won’t spoil any of his jokes (and the best ones seem to fly right over Lahren’s head), but here’s one example of his tone.

Tomi Lahren considers BlackLivesMatter to be essentially a violent subversive organization, morally equivalent to the KKK. To “prove” this, she cites instances of destruction and murder committed by self-identified BLM supporters. Noah counters that these are the actions of individuals, and the movement does not advocate violence (which is true). Nope, says Lahren, if someone says your movement inspired their hatred, your movement is hateful.

Noah then asks about the KKK and Trump — by Lahren’s logic, isn’t Trump responsible for the KKK’s resurgence? Even if you haven’t watched the video yet, you already know her answer. No! Trump is good! BLM bad! Etc. We’ve heard this record before.

Tomi Lahren’s Damn Lies and Statistics

Tomi Lahren soon floats a statistic so baffling, the audience gasps; a black person is 18.5 times more likely to shoot a police officer than get shot by one. She then claims the 18.5 number is a statistic “no one wants to talk about.” Noah deftly changes the discussion point.

That multiplier 18.5 stuck in my head for a day. Surely, it can’t be true?

Of course, it’s not; and, as Gore Vidal once said elsewhere, it would make a good project for a course in logic. What on Earth can she mean? Well, for one, this statistic actually refers to the probability of any given police officer being shot by a black person, versus the probability of any given unarmed black person being shot by a police officer.

Since there are vastly more black citizens in America than police officers, the number starts to make sense. While policing is not among America’s most dangerous jobs, it does carry some risk, more so than that of the average citizen being killed by a cop.

Look at it this way: shouldn’t the police have a far higher risk of being shot by criminals than you have of being shot by officers? In that context, 18.5 seems amazingly low. If air travel was only 18.5 times less likely to end in explosions than space rockets, none of us would fly again.

The statistic comes from author Heather Mac Donald, who has long written that excessive police violence against minorities is a myth. As she has a clear ax to grind, her number is suspect, but I’ll use it for the sake of argument.

A Simple Test

The argument then becomes: how much more likely is a police officer to be shot by a non-black person than a non-black person to be shot by an officer?

Happily, a programmer named Joseph Atkins-Turkish has read Mac Donald’s work, and done the computations for us, Next Time You See a Racist Abuse Statistics, Here’s How You Call Them Out. Surprise, surprise! Using Mac Donald’s numbers, an officer is 124 times more likely to get shot by a non-black person than a non-black person is to be shot by an officer.

I realize this is Mac Donald’s sin. She is a published book author and contributor to publications like the Wall Street Journal, while Tomi Lahren is merely a young twerp kissing instant celebrity’s rear end. The one knows she is lying; the other blithely repeats this lie. Still, from my perspective, it’s hard not to fault them both.

Noah’s Better At Being Serious Than Funny

I have not watched The Daily Show much since Noah took over. To be honest, I never watched it much before, as I haven’t had cable in 10+ years. But I’d come across the occasional Jon Stewart segment online which had some bite to it.

Most Americans probably first saw Trevor Noah, as I did, on a Daily Show segment where Noah played a game called “Spot the Africa” — showing thriving cities and broken slums, asking Stewart to pick which one was America and which one Africa. The joke was that we tend to stereotype Africa as though it hasn’t changed in the last half century.

The appeal of that segment no doubt helped Noah land the Daily Show anchor gig. How’s he done? It’s a matter of opinion.

Larry Wilmore

Myself, I preferred seeing clips from Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show — Wilmore’s an older fellow, like myself, and his sense of humor just gels with me more.

Plus, Wilmore got fired, largely because he wasn’t picking up the antisocial media “traction” Noah does. I’m still plenty mad at Comedy Central about that. We could have used Wilmore during the general election — and I think the added viewership during election season would have translated into more people coming to appreciate Wilmore’s dry wit.

But, that’s not Noah’s fault, and I should stop resenting him for it. Does his tenure on The Daily Show need time to find its own rhythm? Surely it does. Will they find it? Who knows.

His skilled, polite (on his side, at any rate) debate with Tomi Lahren shows one direction the show might go in. Noah’s “Spot the Africa” segment was serious underneath the irony. His interview here is deadly serious, yet he unearths humor in it. This might be his superpower! Let’s hope so.

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Dec 04

How Carrier Played Donald Trump

Bernie SandersToday, about 1,000 Carrier workers and their families should be rejoicing. But the rest of our nation’s workers should be very nervous.

President-elect Donald Trump will reportedly announce a deal with United Technologies, the corporation that owns Carrier, that keeps less than 1,000 of the 2,100 jobs in America that were previously scheduled to be transferred to Mexico. Let’s be clear: It is not good enough to save some of these jobs. Trump made a promise that he would save all of these jobs, and we cannot rest until an ironclad contract is signed to ensure that all of these workers are able to continue working in Indiana without having their pay or benefits slashed.

In exchange for allowing United Technologies to continue to offshore more than 1,000 jobs, Trump will reportedly give the company tax and regulatory favors that the corporation has sought. Just a short few months ago, Trump was pledging to force United Technologies to “pay a damn tax.” He was insisting on very steep tariffs for companies like Carrier that left the United States and wanted to sell their foreign-made products back in the United States. Instead of a damn tax, the company will be rewarded with a damn tax cut. Wow! How’s that for standing up to corporate greed? How’s that for punishing corporations that shut down in the United States and move abroad?

In essence, United Technologies took Trump hostage and won. And that should send a shock wave of fear through all workers across the country.

–Bernie Sanders
Carrier Just Showed Corporations How to Beat Donald Trump

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Dec 03

Could Trump Go to China?

Donald Trump - HopeI have a love-hate relationship with the saying, “Only Nixon could go to China!” What it means is that only a total Cold Warrior who was utterly anti-China would have the political clout to do that. An internationalist like myself would never be able to do that because people wouldn’t trust me. (Also, I would never be president for all of Sherman’s reasons and for the fact that no one would ever elect me.) The reason I love the statement is because it is true. The reason I hate it is that it is true.

I don’t think of it in terms of Nixon and China, I think of it in terms of Clinton and welfare “reform.” A Democratic president managed to screw the poor in a way that no Republican had ever dared. Oh, ain’t democracy grand! So it with this in mind that I hold out a long-shot hope that Trump might do something good. What? I certainly can’t say. But you never know. And I’m just trying to get through this month, much less the next 8 years. (Sorry folks, I give Trump an 80 percent chance of winning re-election — something I wrote about long before the election.)

The reason I bring this up because of something that Noam Chomsky said in an interview. Mehdi Hasan asked him about something Slavoj Žižek had said, “Trump would shake up the system and could be a positive force in terms of undermining the status quo.” It’s the first time that I’ve ever thought of Žižek as a useful idiot. I thought he had said that after the election. But he didn’t. Hasan asked Chomsky if Žižek had a point. Chomsky’s response was quite right, “Terrible point. It was the same point that people like him said about Hitler in the early 30s… He’ll shake up the system: in bad ways.”

We Can Hope Trump Will Do Good

But at this point, I’m afraid that we are left with Žižek’s hope. A Donald Trump presidency is not something I wanted. For the first time in about a decade, I have had serious suicidal thoughts. It’s pathetic, really; but it does indicate just how bad I think a Trump presidency will be not just for the nation but for the world. Still, I think we have to have hope. And there is one reason to have hope: Trump is a narcissist. And narcissists want to be loved.

Of course, it doesn’t look good. He has decided that Tom Price should head Health and Human Services (HHS). And I’m not sure that the crowds will stop cheering if 20 million people lose their health insurance — at least for a while. But like I said, we’ve got to have hope.

But that doesn’t mean that we should be idiots. The truth is that Trump’s total lack of experience in politics means that he will be a mark for the Republican establishment. The pick of Price to run HHS actually shows this. It is not the kind of pick of someone who is actually outside the Beltway. Tom Price could just as easily have been picked by Mike Pence.

And Trump might be different in exactly the way that we don’t want. Despite what most people think, presidents do live up to their promises. Maybe that’s how Trump will be different. When he said he would protect Medicare, maybe it meant nothing.

So I’m not suggesting that we should be too hopeful. But we’ve got to stay hopeful enough to keep fighting.

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Dec 03

Paul Krugman on Trump “Saving” Carrier Jobs

Paul Krugman - CarrierWill there be a political backlash, a surge of buyer’s remorse? Maybe. Certainly Democrats will be well advised to hammer Mr Trump’s betrayal of the working class nonstop. But we do need to consider the tactics that he will use to obscure the scope of his betrayal.

One tactic, which we’ve already seen with this week’s ostentatious announcement of a deal to keep some Carrier jobs in America, will be to distract the nation with bright, shiny, trivial objects. True, this tactic will work only if news coverage is both gullible and innumerate.

No, Mr Trump didn’t “stand up” to Carrier — he seems to have offered it a bribe. And we’re talking about a thousand jobs in a huge economy; at the rate of one Carrier-size deal a week, it would take Mr Trump 30 years to save as many jobs as President Obama did with the auto bailout; it would take him a century to make up for the overall loss of manufacturing jobs just since 2000.

But judging from the coverage of the deal so far, assuming that the news media will be gullible and innumerate seems like a good bet.

–Paul Krugman
Seduced and Betrayed by Donald Trump

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Dec 02

You Really Don’t Know Nerds

Nerds StereotypeFor the last couple of months, the most popular article on Frankly Curious is, This Is Not a Math Joke. I assume it is being passed around on reddit or something. I really have no idea if people like it because they agree with it or because they find it amusing that people like me exist. It is about a “math” joke that appeared on an episode of The Simpsons. And I claimed that it was not a math joke but a joke for non-nerds to laugh at what they think of as the kind of thing nerds think of as funny.

I’m more idiosyncratic than most nerds. And I’m definitely not a “science nerd.” But I’ve spent most of my life in and around science, so I can pass. And when I came upon the following bit of computer code, I was amused:

int i;main(){for(;i["]<i;++i){--i;}"];read('-'-'-',i+++"hell\
o, world!\n",'/'/'/'));}read(j,i,p){write(j/p+p,i---j,i/i);}

A Computer Science Joke

Now a true computer science nerd would probably be able to explain all of this little bit of C code. But I can’t. I do, however, understand it enough to find it hilarious. For example, it pretends to increment through i and do nothing but decrement i. That is very funny. But it’s even more funny that it doesn’t actually do that. To even start to explain what I think it does would require knowledge that 99 percent of my readers don’t have. And it would take a long time to explain.

This was one of the winners of the first (1984) International Obfuscated C Code Contest. And part of the problem with this bit of code is probably found in the README about that year’s contest, “Restrictions against machine dependent code were not in the rules in 1984.” You see, one of the great things about C is that it is basically just a micro-step above assembly language. And compilers do allow you to take a normal variable and use it as a pointer to the memory address of that value. Hence, i["]<i;++i){--i;}"]. And where exactly "]<i;++i){--i;}" would point relative to the original memory address would indeed be machine dependent. (I told you that you wouldn’t understand.)

What Nerds Are Really Like

The thing is, when I was in graduate school, people were crazy about the Obfuscated C Code Contest. It’s similar to the way that grammar geeks love the sentence, Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. This is what nerds do. Actually, this is what nerds are. Popular conceptions of nerds are based largely on what children who were into science acted like. It’s equivalent to assuming boiler techs must all punch women they like in the shoulder, because that’s what they did when they were six years old.

It’s this idea that has always made me hate films and plays about mathematicians: where’s the math?! Because, you know, for mathematicians, it really is all about the math. That’s not to say that they don’t have regular lives too. But the math is the reason anyone wrote a script. These things are like a film about Jacques Cousteau where he’s never on a boat.

All I’m asking is that society give nerds their due. I suppose that The Simpsons can be forgiven, because that particular “math” joke involved kids. But let’s be very honest: “i 8 sum pi” is what society thinks of us. And I hate society for it.

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