May 23

Steve M: Forget Democracy When I’m Winning

Steve MI’ve already cut a number of people out of my RSS feed because they are annoying me. But Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog has thus far avoided this treatment because in general he’s insightful. But he wrote an article yesterday that was so stunningly brain dead that I may have to change my mind. The article is, Why Democrats Could Tolerate a Lot More Division in 2008. The end of the title was cut off in my feed, so I thought that it was a call for continued democracy. But no.

Steve M is making the lamest of counterarguments against those who note that Hillary Clinton fought Obama to the end in 2008. And the argument is: it was different in 2008! He even claims that he hated Clinton for doing it then. Now in one sense, this is very consistent: when his candidate is winning, he thinks the other candidate should drop out. It’s a vile position to hold, but since that’s all that is going on, he should own it. He shouldn’t be making arguments that it was okay for Clinton to do it then but it is not okay for Sanders to do it now.

Steve M’s Retrospective Argument

And really: all his argument comes down to is that in retrospect, we know that Obama won therefore Clinton did no damage. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from pulling out statistics about how unpopular Bush was. The truth is that the reason Obama won big in 2008 was the economy. And it was only in May that we started to see the economy fall apart. So the truth is that when Clinton was fighting most she and the nation did not know the election was a slam dunk. The idea that the Democrats “had the wind at their backs” is silly if not stupid.

I do wish this whole thing were over. Bernie Sanders is not going to be the Democratic nominee. Even the marginal notion that he would get the super delegates to switch to him is now ridiculous with everything he’s done to alienate the Democratic establishment. But the man has every right to stay in the race. And Clinton supporters should accept this. Steve M concluded his article, “No, the Democrats can’t afford the luxury of a sustained fight. Not this year.” That’s a nice way of saying that Sanders should have dropped out of the race in February.

Steve M Has “Reasons”

I believe in democracy. I believe in it in the Democratic primary and I believe in it in the general election. Barring an economic catastrophe, I don’t see Trump winning. And the truth is that I don’t think that Steve M would be making the argument that this election is going to be really close under normal circumstances. But that’s what he has to say to make the argument that everyone must rush to get in line behind Clinton. Authoritarianism isn’t just something for Republicans. And it doesn’t matter if the authoritarian has “reasons”; authoritarians always have “reasons.” And in the case of Steve M, we’ve heard the exact same “reasons” before.

Let me leave you with a thought: in 2008, the Clinton and Obama camps were probably more angry at his other than the Clinton and Sanders camps are today. I didn’t even follow politics that closely then I heard lots of Clinton supporters claim that they wouldn’t vote for Obama. It didn’t go like that in the end, of course. The time for unity is the general election. The only people who call for unity in the primary are the people who are winning. If Hillary Clinton loses in November, it won’t be because of Bernie Sanders.

May 23

No One Is Slacking at Frankly Curious

Nobody's SlackingI know you are all probably thinking that I’ve been slacking. I haven’t been posting two articles per day. I think this is a misconception. But the truth is that I’ve been very tired. Dealing with my father’s medical problems were hard. But they were nothing compared to after it was all over. You can maintain a certain level of energy while you have to — while you are going through a stressful situation. But after it is over, you fall apart. Or at least I do.

But all of this has been more reflected in my day job. I’ve actually been doing a lot of work here on Frankly Curious. For one thing, I think the features that I’ve been writing here have been more in-depth. In the past, when I was writing a lot of articles, I had a tendency to bring them to hasty conclusions after I hit about 500 words. Now there’s more of a natural flow of things. And I seem to be writing more things in the 800 to 900 word neighborhood.

More than that, I’m doing things that you probably haven’t noticed. The new page, Don Quixote in English Language Translation, is now up to roughly 3,000 words. And it continues to climb. But along with that, I have to go through all these old Don Quixote articles. Most of them are from the days before we switched to WordPress, and they need to be reformatted. And there are other technical details that need to be dealt with. It’s all a pain.

Of course, I know that few people around here are all that interested in Don Quixote. But it’s part of a process. There are a number of other things that I think I will do similar pages for. One is for the artist Bernard Frouchtben, although I think my articles on him are already the top three on Google. It’s too bad he isn’t better know, because I am pretty much the only source of information about him. The other thing I’m thinking about doing is a long article about Bob’s Burgers. I really do think I could do a blog on the show without any problem. And it would be unusual, because I think my insights are much deeper than what you are going to find at the AV Club.

So I haven’t been slacking. I’m just focused on making Frankly Curious more than it is. The truth is that over the last two years, we’ve seen the popularity of the site grow. But for the last six months, it’s stagnated. I do know one way that I could increase traffic: I could write about Donald Trump all the time like Digby is. But I just don’t care. In fact, as you’ll see later, about the only time I write about the presidential election at all is when I get angry at the way that “liberals” treat Bernie Sanders. It isn’t that I think Sanders deserves to be treated well. But I wish people would stop claiming that they are democratic socialists when they were never willing to vote for the only democratic socialist in the race.

Bottom line: I’m not slacking. I’m working hard. Even as I write this, I’m exhausted. Yet here I am in front of my computer working. And what are you all doing? Slacking I’ll bet!

May 22

Theranos and All That Silicon Valley Nonsense

TheranosI’m not much of a fan of Facebook. It is, after all, just a photo sharing website that took off. What it had that other photo sharing websites didn’t have was founders with friends who had rich daddies. But at least it does work as advertised. There are other issues with it that I will come back to, but it is generally useful to people. This is not always the case. Take the case of Theranos.

Theranos is one of the big new purveyors of Silicon Valley disruption. It created a device called Edison that could test for disease using just a couple of drops of blood instead of a whole vile. Thus, instead of going to a phlebotomists to get blood draw, you would “just” get your finger poked and be done with it. There was just a small problem: it didn’t work that well. The Wall Street Journal reported last week, Theranos Voids Two Years of Edison Blood-Test Results.

But what’s the big deal? People make mistakes. Well, it’s a little worse than that. Theranos is voiding all results from a two year period. Geoffrey Baird of the University of Washington Department of Laboratory Medicine said that this was “unprecedented.” But what’s worse is that this move was really just an attempt by the company to mitigate damage. Back in October, The Wall Street Journal published an investigative report, Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled With Its Blood-Test Technology. And since then, the heat has been on.

In April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened Theranos with banning founder Elizabeth Holmes and her second in command, Sunny Balwani, with a two year ban from working anywhere in the blood-testing industry. Balwani later resigned. But the whole thing is a mess. And this is at a company that is supposedly worth $9 billion. But as they were showering the company with money, no one seemed to care that their product could do what it claimed.

More Fundamental Problems With Theranos

But even if the product worked, there are other problems. Like so much Silicon Valley “innovation,” I wonder why we should care. To me, the ultimate example of this is this app that allows you to deposit a check to your bank account remotely. I first saw it with a commercial of a couple who were laying in bed on a Sunday morning and didn’t want to go out to the bank. Well, okay. But there’s no mail delivery on Sunday, so you probably got the check on Saturday. And depositing it on Sunday will be no better than waiting until Monday. So who cares?

So whether it is Theranos or Facebook, what they really do is provide investors with a better way to make money. They don’t offer customers anything distinctly better.

One of the selling points of this procedure was that it was less painful. I find this a farcical statement. I have really bad veins and have gotten lots of blood tests. There is basically no pain associated with giving blood unless it has to be drawn from an unusual place like a knuckle. On the other hand, the idea of having my finger stabbed gives me chills. And it isn’t like I don’t have a lot of experience with that too. It’s a minor thing, but typical that Theranos would use a thoughtless lie to sell its product.

A more important issue is whether this is a good idea to allow people to get tested all the time. I know far too many people (I might be one) who would become addicted to this. And having medical treatments are often more dangerous than the disease (or in many cases, non-disease). In my father’s recent problems, we now think that it was just a kidney stone. But in putting a catheter in, they managed to cause a bladder infection. So basically 90% of the pain was due to the doctors.

New Ways to Do Old Things

But what more bothers me about Theranos is that there is nothing truly disruptive about it. It would be innovative in the sense of making blood tests easier. But it is disruptive only in an economic sense. It is a way of putting a bunch of phlebotomists out of work and then keeping all the savings. This seems to be the point of “disruption.” In the past, technologies that put people out of work were worth it because the savings were shared. That’s just not true anymore.

So whether it is Theranos or Facebook, what they really do is provide investors with a better way to make money. They don’t offer customers anything distinctly better. For all the talk of Uber, people aren’t getting anything better. Uber is just a way to skirt existing regulations and make drivers pay more of their own expenses. And it’s still hard to get a ride where it was hard before.

Afterword

As you may know, I used to work with my brilliant young friend Mikhail on a start-up. And it amazed me that we couldn’t get investors. But now it seems all too clear. We were doing cutting edge technology. It had a clear path to profitability, but it wasn’t a way of siphoning off money from an existing money-making system. And that’s why no one was interested. It reminds me of a conversation I had a long time ago with Jim Hogshire. I mentioned that I wanted to write a book about a particular subject, but that there were already books on the subject. He told me that it was easier to get a book published if there were already books on the subject. The hardest thing to sell to publishers was something brand new.

That’s the same thing in “innovative” Silicon Valley. They aren’t interested in anything new. That’s why Facebook was so big: it wasn’t new. It a distinct example of something that was well worn. So it isn’t at all surprising that investors in Theranos didn’t care if the company could actually do what it claimed.

May 21

Matt Taibbi on Republican Weaklings

Matt TaibbiIf this isn’t the end for the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid taxes. They even sullied the word “American” by insisting they were the only real ones. They preferred Lubbock to Paris, and their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut — the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

A century ago, the small-town American was Gary Cooper: tough, silent, upright and confident. The modern Republican Party changed that person into a haranguing neurotic who couldn’t make it through a dinner without quizzing you about your politics. They destroyed the American character. No hell is hot enough for them. And when Trump came along, they rolled over like the weaklings they’ve always been, bowing more or less instantly to his parodic show of strength.

—Matt Taibbi
RIP, GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party

May 21

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson and Convenient Science

Johnny IsaksonGeorgia Senator Johnny Isakson wants to do something about the Zika virus. Because scientists have said that it is very dangerous. But like a lot of people, Johnny Isakson only thinks science is important when it doesn’t get in the way of his dogma. A lot of those convenient science believers are in my family.

My mother’s side of the family was made up of a bunch of conservative Christians. In fact, by family lore, my aunt gave Oral Roberts $5,000 or more. The reason we believe this is because she received a hand written note from him. But it was one of those things where a Christian is going through a bad time and think if they can just give a big pile of cash to “God,” then all their problems will work out. But they were definitely more interested in talking about abortion than feeding the poor. But the thing they most liked to talk about was the evils of science — evolution specifically.

My parents were both the black sheep of their families, so I didn’t have to worry about this. My parents believed in science. But whenever we would visit this part of the family, I would hear them scoff at the idea of evolution. It’s was curious, because in many ways they knew more about it than most people. They could give you reasons for why carbon-14 dating didn’t work and holes in the fossil record and stuff like that. It was just because they listened to people like John Morris Pendleton. Normal people just assume that scientists know what they are doing and don’t get into the weeds.

Science Is Often Inconvenient

When I would listen to the arguments made against evolution, I would get angry. To me, even as a teenager, science was something you either accepted or you didn’t. It wasn’t a la carte — something you could accept when it was convenient and reject when it wasn’t. That’s not the way that science works.

I even remember a conversation that I had when one of my physics professors when I was in college. I was still struggling with quantum mechanics — not in a scientific way, but in a philosophical way. I told him that I just didn’t like the fact that reality seemed to not be deterministic. He told me he agreed with me. It sucks that the universe is not the way that we want it to be.

Johnny Isakson wants more money to fight the Zika virus since the CDC “convinced him that Zika could be more dangerous for the US than Ebola.” I wondered if Senator Isakson was also as accepting of the scientific consensus on global warming.

But our job is to uncover the universe, not to define it. My professor, Joe Tenn, didn’t say that last part because he didn’t need to. It was enough that he shared my discomfiture. Of course, we weren’t alone. Einstein felt the same way, and that’s what his famous line is all about, “God does not play dice!”

What bugged me about this side of the family is how they picked and chose what science they were going to believe. They were more than willing to take the good things that science gave them: air conditioning, automobiles, MRIs. But they weren’t willing to take the science that demanded anything from them. They didn’t believe evolution, even though it being wrong would have ripple effects throughout all of science. And this offends me.

In all areas of science, they just accept without thinking much about it. But when their pastor tells them that this or that bit of science is not true because it appears to disagree with their religious dogma, they are suddenly experts on science. It’s offensive to actual scientists — and to the entire civilization that has been built on science.

Of course, it isn’t just religious people who do this. On many occasions, I’ve had conservatives tell me that global warming is a hoax. They try to set me straight. They get their information from Fox News and Breitbart. And that makes them more qualified than I am with my ten years of study the subject as a graduate student and then physics professor. But again, these same people accept all the other aspects of science that don’t get in the way of their preferred policy positions.

Johnny Isakson Thinks Science Is Useful This Time

And that brings us back to our good friend Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson. On Thursday, I heard a story on NPR, Southern Lawmakers Lead Fight Over Funding To Combat Zika Virus. In it, I learned that Johnny Isakson wants more money to fight the Zika virus since the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta convinced him that Zika could be more dangerous for the US than Ebol.” I wondered if Senator Isakson was also as accepting of the scientific consensus on global warming.

Well, Johnny Isakson is not a Stage I Global Warming Denier. He’s at Stage II: there is global warming, but humans aren’t the cause! And the truth is in 2015 (when he cast his vote to this effect), that’s the most intense level of global warming denial. The only people who say it isn’t happening at all are those who claim there is a conspiracy.

What I wonder is why it is that Johnny Isakson is willing to believe the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We know far more about radiative forcing of the atmosphere than we do about the spread of the Zika virus. But it’s the same thing as with my conservative Christian family members: it doesn’t require that he do any intellectual work and counter his dogma to accept science when it comes to Zika. But when it comes to global warming any other science that isn’t convenient, well, that’s a whole different thing.

May 20

Bob Bennett’s Last Wish: To Be Misremembered

Bob BennettI’m not big on honoring the dead when I wasn’t inclined to honor them when they were alive. I mean, I would never go to the door of a grieving family and say, “You know, your father was an awful man who made the world worse when he had the power to make it better.” But that doesn’t mean that I will join in on the “What a good man!” chorus that’s going on. It’s all about Bob Bennett’s death bed wish to apologize to Muslims for the fact that Donald Trump will be the head of the Republican Party — Bob Bennett’s party.

Tim Mak reported on the story for The Daily Beast, Dying GOP Senator Apologizes to Muslims for Donald Trump. And it ends almost as poignantly as The Grapes of Wrath, “But even as he was passing away, Bennett struggled to press the issues — to ensure that though his life was ending, the ideas he held dear would not go with it.” But instead of a starving man being breast fed by a woman who just gave birth to a dead baby, it is the story of a multi-millionaire bigot who wants to be remembered as a Good Guy™.

Bob Bennett: Bigot

Bigot?! Was Bob Bennett a bigot? Well, when it came to the LGBT community, he sure was. When it came to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the Human Rights Campaign gave him a 0% rating. That was when 103 of 535 members of Congress got a 100% rating. And another 69 got a 90% or greater rating. So one-third of Congress got 90% or better, and Bob Bennett got 0%. He voted against legislation that would make it illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. What a kind and accepting man!

I appreciate that he didn’t want to be remembered as a bigoted war monger who really only cared about the rich. But that doesn’t mean we should change history and remember him as something he never was.

But none of that matters because, “He would go to people with the hijab and tell them he was glad they were in America, and they were welcome here.” Now just to be clear, this kind of ostentatious personal outreach is actually creepy. And it puts the person approached in an uncomfortable position of being simply a member of a group. The act isn’t about them feeling welcome but about Bob Bennett feeling good about being welcoming. Imagine if I stopped Native Americans on the street to express my regret for the Trail of Tears. That’s what he’s been doing but Muslims are so actively discriminated against in the US today that his act is seen by many to be noble. It isn’t; it is just a different kind of racism.

Bob Bennett: Typical Republican

Meanwhile, Bob Bennett did so much for corporation and so much to individuals. He voted against getting rid of the tax subsidy for companies that offshore jobs at the same time that he voted to make it harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy. He also voted multiple times to make it harder to sue corporations. He voted to further limit appeals on death penalty cases. He voted against taking racial statistics into account in death penalty appeals. And he was, of course, a big drug warrior. And he was against doing any rehabilitation in our prison system. He was, in other words, an entirely typical Republican.

When it comes to Donald Trump, it is hard to see how he’s all that much different. In 2006, he voted to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. He’s been against any kind of pathway to citizenship. So what we really see from Bob Bennett is your typical intolerant Republican who is upset that Donald Trump is so explicit about this stuff. It isn’t that he disagreed with Trump’s bigotry; it’s just that he doesn’t want to be associated with it.

There is another issue, however. Bob Bennett in general wanted to do whatever it was that big business wanted. So in general, he was pro-immigration — not for the sake of the individuals, but for the sake of the corporations that wanted to get low-cost workers. So even in his substantive disagreement with Donald Trump, Bob Bennett was still on the wrong side — for corporations and against humans.

So Bob Bennett is dead. He was 82 years old, so it isn’t that big a deal. And the man was very pro-war. He supported the Iraq War. And had he been in office, I’m sure he would have been against the Iran nuclear deal. He was one of many war enablers who allowed lots of Muslim children to never get the chance to live to 82 years. I appreciate that he didn’t want to be remembered as a bigoted war monger who really only cared about the rich. But that doesn’t mean we should change history and remember him as something he never was.

Update

Martin Longman wrote a great article that is similarly unmoved, On Bob Bennett and Donald Trump. It goes into Bob Bennett’s association with Nixon’s Plumbers. Longman sums up, “But it’s a sad testimony that the party is now too awful for a guy with Bob Bennett’s moral compass.” That is to say: Bob Bennett doesn’t have much of a moral compass.

May 20

“We Loved Sanders — Until It Mattered!”

Bernie SandersA lot of the liberal blogosphere is dumping all over Sanders — and this has largely been true since the beginning. This is partly because, as an older guy, I read a lot of older bloggers. And being older, they tend to be Hillary Clinton supporters. And that’s great! Bravo! I have no problem with people supporting Clinton. But let’s be honest about the reasons.

My prime example is PM Carpenter, who has spent the last decade telling the world that he’s a democratic socialist. But the moment Sanders became an actual threat, Carpenter posted, Why This Democratic Socialist Opposes Bernie Sanders. The short answer: because America is not ready for a socialist. Well, maybe one particular American whose initials are PMC. But he isn’t alone and it’s gotten to annoy me.

I’ve decided their slogan should be, “We love Sanders — as long as it doesn’t matter!” Because that’s the thing. As long as no choice had to be made, he was great. But the moment it was a decision between actually standing against our unjust economic system and just going along and treating it as a problem no more pressing than same sex marriage, their decision was clear.

As Matt Bruenig has pus it: the Baby Boomers just don’t like the idea that they are the conservative ones now. Here’s my usual caveat: I like Clinton. I don’t have a problem with people supporting her over Sanders. But I think it’s about time that these Clinton supporters admit that they prefer her because her policies are more to their liking — not because he is unrealistic or some of his supporters are jerks. Or because America isn’t “ready.”

When Clinton Was Sanders

It is, of course, ironic that when Clinton was in Sanders’ position in 2008, she acted very much like he is now. Of course, things are different between then and now: things were closer then. But they certainly weren’t categorically different. And just as Clinton claimed it was a good idea to stay in the race in 2008 because Obama might be assassinated, Sanders could certainly argue that he should stay in because she might be indicted. As far as I know, he hasn’t said anything that vile.

Sanders is very likely to get the Jackson treatment. Will he be offered the VP spot if he drops out after the last primary and endorses Clinton? I rather doubt it.

I’m not thrilled with some of the things Sanders is doing right now — just as I wasn’t thrilled with Clinton in 2008. But the main thing is I feel that yet again, the liberals in the Democratic Party are being told they must get in line or else the boogeyman (insert whatever Republican is running) will be elected and the world will end. And I’m tired of hearing it.

Sanders Is Jackson

Also, other than 2008 when (as I said) Clinton behaved very much as Sanders is now, we have to go all the way back to 1988 to find a Democratic primary that was anywhere near this close. In that primary, Dukakis won 1,792 delegates (42.4% of the popular vote). Jesse Jackson won 1,023 delegates (29.4% of the votes). And my recollection is that Jackson was treated very badly. And I say that as someone who worked on Dukakis’ campaign. But Jackson played nice and in the end got… nothing. There’s a history of this. The left is just supposed to remain silent and show up to vote for whatever candidate the establishment wants.

Clinton had a far better reason for (finally) playing along in 2008. I mean, hell, it got her a party elite that wanted to just give the nomination to her in 2016. But Sanders is very likely to get the Jackson treatment. Will he be offered the VP spot if he drops out after the last primary and endorses Clinton? I rather doubt it. And I wonder if this hasn’t already been made clear to Sanders.

The main thing is that it is hard to believe that Sanders will be treated well in the end given that the main complaint I’ve heard against him since at least January is that he isn’t a real Democrat and he refuses to raise money for other candidates. Because, you know, that’s what voters care about the most: the party’s fund raising problems. Actually, I think the conservative wing of the party thinks what it always thinks of us liberals: we have nowhere else to go.

Honesty About Sanders

But getting back to our liberal blogging friends, my complaint continues on because everything done by Sanders is always painted in the worst light possible. I think this is what you get when years of writing makes you someone who ought to support Sanders. You can’t make the policy argument, so you make the argument that he is unfit for the office. Josh Marshall has determined, apparently based on a polyp in his anal cavity, that all the negativity in this campaign comes straight from Sanders himself.

Personally, I’m willing to wait and see if Sanders will refuse to endorse Clinton as Steve M claims at No More Mister Nice Blog. But that’s probably because my belief about policy goes along with my support of Sanders. I don’t have to troll around looking for any excuse to not support the candidate who I always claimed I would support should they been on offer.

Afterword: It’s Personal Too

I also don’t like the fact that Sanders supporters are painted with such a broad brush. I do not think that I’m an outlier in terms of Sanders supporters. I think the people misbehaving are the outliers. And it bothers me that this is exactly the same kind of thinking that reinforces racist steteotypes. Over ten million Democrats have voted for Sanders and they are all just like those idiots in Nevada. With one or two exceptions, of course.

Update

I just saw Krugman’s newest, “Questions of Character.” He really is the king of the anti-Sanders filter. And I think he’s done great damage to his reputation. On Economist’s View, he is hounded in the comments for his knee-jerk Sanders slamming and for his stupid new claim that, “Reality has a well known center-left bias.” It just shows that Krugman now believes that he is keeper of Reality™. It’s sad, but it isn’t surprising. Great fame and wealth drives people crazy. It’s one of the under-appreciated aspects income inequality. But at least Krugman isn’t drugging and raping women — as far as we know.

Update 2

I haven’t read Krugman’s newest column. But I saw Mark Thoma’s edit of it. Apparently, in “Obama’s War on Inequality,” Krugman spends a good deal of time bashing Sanders. But as Thoma removed all the Sanders stuff. He’s done it lots before. And what you see is how easy it is to edit the Sanders slams out — because they aren’t central to what he’s writing about. Krugman just can’t help it. This is what we in the editing business call “bad writing.” I run into it with my own writers all the time where they get sidetracked about something they care about. Krugman is the new Jonathan Chait: if anything is more to the left than he is, it’s Wrong™.

Update 3

I found this article by Steven Attewell very interesting. Just as an aside, he mentioned that moderate Democrats “were happy enough to be for single-payer when it wasn’t going to pass.” This is what I’m talking about. There’s a big group in the Democratic Party that claims to be liberal for purely rhetorical purposes. If it were 1965, we’d find out suddenly that all their support for the Voting Rights Act vanished as soon as they were expected to vote on it.

May 19

NPR’s Pledge Drive Challenge Grant Scam

NPR Pledge Drive ScamAh, the NPR pledge drive!

The only time I listen to NPR is when I’m driving. And since I hate driving and don’t own a car, I don’t often listen to NPR. And I’m glad, because it always annoys me. It is a parade of typical, biased, American media. If the reporting is on an official US enemy, the reporting will be distinctly negative. And so on. Today, I heard a report on the US military bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. And it was just taken as given that the US military was totally without any culpability and they were simply duped by those cunning Afghani forces. Really: it was that bad.

But it seems that every time I am forced to drive and end up listening to NPR, there is a pledge drive going on. One thing that’s interesting about this is how much NPR (and PBS, of course) are like the American government itself. The lower and middle classes pay for the vast majority of the operating costs. But both the US government and NPR do the bidding of their wealthiest members. I am given a guilt trip in the pledge drive to give money, but the rich actually get return on their investments.

The Challenge Grant Scam

There is an illustration of this that really bugs me because it offends my sense of math: the pledge drive “Challenge Grant.” This is when we are told that if there are (usually) $1,000 in pledges during the current break, that amount will be matched by some business. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t add up. Let’s assume that there are two pledge breaks per hour for 12 hours of each day. That’s 24 pledge breaks per day.

“Challenge Grants offer your company valuable exposure on KQED… During a KQED pledge drive, your company is recognized as the provider of a Challenge Grant.” —KQED

And the pledge drives are generally two weeks long. So that’s a total of 336 pledge breaks. (I’m certain that it’s less than that, so this gives NPR the benefit of the doubt.) There are also a lot of $500 Challenge Grants, and almost none above $1000. So the $336,000 in Challenge Grants is probably way high. It’s probably less than half of that.

But the KQED pledge drives generally raise about $2 million. Or at least that’s what they used to raise when I listened to the network more regularly. If that’s the case, then Challenge Grants make up at most 17%. Now that’s interesting, because that is suspiciously close to the 19% of NPR corporate funding. So I wonder if these are just contributions that would be given regardless.

Pledge Drive Math Doesn’t Add Up

The bigger issue, however, is that at 17% (At most!) of pledges, the Challenge Grants are always met. If even half of them failed, NPR wouldn’t come close to reaching its goals. So the Challenge Grants are just a lie to get people to pledge right now. But clearly, they would work a whole lot better if they were $10,000 instead of $1,000 — or the every more pathetic $500. So why aren’t they?

Well, KQED tells you why in its webpage, Pledge Challenge Grants, “Challenge Grants offer your company valuable exposure on KQED.” Indeed they do. The company name is mentioned at least three times and it is often accompanied by extra verbiage about how the company has been supplying fine whatever to the Bay Area since whenever. It is, in other words, straight advertising to a relatively affluent audience. And it doesn’t sound like an advertisement; it sounds like the company is just socially responsible.

The Big Lie

I find it really annoying because the hosts lie about it. They talk about how they will have to send the money back if the challenge isn’t met. And that’s true; it’s just that the challenge isn’t ever not met during the pledge drive. In fact, I assume that during a 10 minute pledge drive, the challenge is met within two minutes tops.

I know a lot about NPR pledge drives. If you want to know more, check out June Thomas’ article, Let’s Get Those Phones Ringing! The Cunning Genius of the Public Radio Fundraising Drive. But they are still effective. Yesterday, I decided that I really should send them some money. And then I stopped myself because that is crazy!

Instead, I went over to Democracy Now! and donated the money to them. There are two reasons. First, they need it a lot more. Second, it’s a really important news outlet whereas NPR provides better but not qualitatively different news coverage than CNN. And that reminds me, I need to give to FAIR too!

Remember: the Koch brothers don’t give to Democracy Now! and Fair. But you know who they do give to, right?

May 19

Cornerstone Content Begins

Cornerstone ContentI finally started my first project to create cornerstone content. This is a fascinating thing about the internet and search engines. Having a hundred small pages on a subject does not get you to rank nearly as high as having a single substantial page. So given that I have at least a couple dozen pages on various aspects of Don Quixote, I’m in the process of creating just such a page. But it will be months in the making. I just wrote the beginning of it. The article is called, Don Quixote in English Language Translation.

Thus far, it is all original content. In fact, the article is worth checking out. I talk about what Don Quixote is. People think of it as a novel, but it’s actually two novels. And they are rather different. It’s too bad that the first novel isn’t published alone any more. As it is, I think the thickness of the book puts people off. And the first novel stands all by itself. In fact, there really is nothing in the second book that is part of our cultural identity. And I say that as one who thinks that second novel is superior. Anyway, check it out. Even though it is a page (as opposed to a post, which is what this article is), you can still leave comments.

Eventually, I will get to the point of doing a summary of the stuff I’ve written about on the blog. This is actually kind of backwards. The idea of cornerstone content is that you are supposed to start with that. But who thinks about such things when you start a blog? In fact, even after all my work with Quality Nonsense (where I always have to think about SEO), I didn’t think about this kind of stuff on Frankly Curious. My thinking started to change when I installed the Yoast plugin for WordPress.

Yoast is a bit of nag software that reminds you of things and alerts you to things that you do wrong. For example, it has you assign a “focus keyword” for each post. For this article, it is “cornerstone content.” And then it is very unhappy if it constitutes less than 0.5% of the words you’ve written. At the same time, it doesn’t like it if it represents more than 2.5%, because apparently Google will think that you are “keyword stuffing” and would potentially see the page as spam.

How Cornerstone Content Will Make Us Famous!

Another big thing that Yoast does is keep track of the focus keywords that you’ve used in the past. If you’ve used the focus keyword once before, it warns you and mentions that you might check out it’s page, Using Cornerstone Content to Make Your Site Rank. But if you’ve used the focus keyword more than once before, it complains. It’s complained a lot about “Donald Trump” and “Bernie Sanders” and “Hillary Clinton.” Which, makes me think that the next election cycle I might start a page for the election itself. That’s undoubtedly what smart and experienced bloggers do.

In addition to this, my “boss” Toni thinks that Frankly Curious gets half the traffic that it ought to considering the quantity and quality of the content. And I would definitely like to get more traffic. And that’s especially true when it comes to something like Don Quixote. the truth is that there aren’t really any sites that answer the common question, “Which Don Quixote should I read?” And given the fact that I’m also a big advocate for the book, I’d like to have more people ending up here.

But using cornerstone content has a good aspect to it that has nothing to do with making the site more popular. I do want to put together all my thoughts on Don Quixote and other subjects. Just the same, most people are not interested in reading 20,000 word articles. So this is perfect. People can get here because Google likes these long articles, but then they can quickly find links to specific information that they are looking for.

Of course, I don’t know how well this is all going to work. The experts claim this is the way you are supposed to do things. Right now, a search of “don quixote translations” brings up my very old article, About to Read Don Quixote in the top ten. It’s a clever idea for an article but I know infinitely more now. And I’m keen to share that knowledge.

May 18

Why Republicans Can’t Do Oppo Research in Primaries

Donald Trump and the ReformoconsBrian Beutler wrote a very good article on Monday, The Wackiest Donald Trump Conspiracy Theory Yet. But the headline (which I’m sure he didn’t write) is misleading. Rather than “wackiest” it should be “most predictable.” Republicans are now getting very excited about the idea that the media held back on Donald Trump during the primary, only to open up on him in the general election. The Liberal Media™ strikes again! Apparently, we are supposed to believe that Republicans don’t know how to do oppo research.

For those who don’t know, oppo research is what campaigns do to each other — looking for dirt. A great example of this is in Primary Colors where Libby and Henry head out to Florida to dig up dirt on Fred Picker. Also in that film is what I can only call reverse oppo research, where the campaign investigates its own candidate to know and prepare for anything that other candidates might dig up. I’m sure all modern campaigns do both of these things. I’m also sure that Trump’s campaign has not — or at least not much. That’s one of the most amazing thing about Trump: that he managed to dominate the primary without really having much of a campaign.

Silly Conspiracy Theory

This conspiracy makes no sense, because so much of the dirt that reporters find is fed to them by campaigns. As Beutler noted, campaigns “have more resources, no daily print deadlines, and no need to worry about impartiality.” So if the media didn’t dig up enough dirt during the primary, the fault lies not with the media itself, but with Trump’s pathetic opponents. Regardless, why would the media start dumping on Trump now — before he’s locked up the nomination? It would make the most sense to wait until after California.

Primary Colors - Oppo ResearchOf course, I don’t really see that there is any greater amount of scandal now than there was before. Trump is a scandal machine. What’s going on is that Republicans are looking for something to blame. None of the pundits who are pushing this conspiracy are so naive as to not know about oppo research. They are just pretending for the ignorant conservative masses who might be slowly realizing that they are on the verge of nominating a scandal plagued fool.

Republicans Can’t Do Oppo Research!

The real question is why is it that over a dozen major Republican presidential candidates had campaigns with oppo research that couldn’t dig up any dirt about Trump? Well, in part, that’s unfair; they did dig up dirt; it’s just that none of it stuck. But the bigger problem is that much of what Donald Trump has done that’s bad is not considered bad by Republican elites.

Trump contracted with undocumented workers? So what! He’s just being a Randian Übermensch. He was a “job creator”! So he seems to have sexually harassed every woman he worked around? Since when has the Republican Party thought that women should be anything but subordinate to powerful men? “Sit quietly while I talk about pubic hair on a Coke can!” That sums up Republican outreach to women. And the fact that his tax plan was fantastical didn’t matter when the rival Republican tax plans were only less fantastical in level. It’s like saying, “Those Harry Potter books are fantasy, but Lord of the Rings is…” What?! Fantasy written for slightly older people?

Democrats Can Do Oppo Research!

There is no doubt that the Clinton campaign has a small library of dirt on Trump. But why would any Democrat let fly with their best material until after the general election starts? As Beutler put it, “It isn’t the media that’s been strategically holding fire — it’s the Democrats.” Actually, as much as we hear that we don’t want to hurt candidates in the primary, the truth is that we do: because the other party certainly will release any damaging information once the general is on.

This is where the Democratic Party has a distinct advantage. Democratic policies are generally popular. So Democratic candidates don’t have to hold back on criticisms that would be effective. Republicans have to twist themselves into knots in order to attack each other. Of course, I’m not certain that it would have mattered. There is at least a third of the Republican Party that wants nothing more (And I mean that literally!) than a charismatic authoritarian. And now they’ve got one.

May 18

Liberals’ Disregard for the White Working Class

White Working ClassMatt Bruenig wrote a very interesting article recently, Demonizing, Not Engaging. In it, he highlighted an interesting inconsistency among liberal pundits. The African American community is overall quite homophobic. The white working class is overall quite racist. Yet liberals pundits have decided the best thing is to engage and find common ground with the African American community. They mostly want to demonize the white working class as hopeless racists. Why is this?

Bruenig presents one idea from Emmett Rensin: it’s all about who is likely to vote Democratic. African Americans are part of the Democratic coalition and the white working class is not. But this strikes me as question begging. If the liberal pundit class vilified the African American community, the Democratic Party would quickly see its coalition shrink by one. We are still left with the question of why it is that the pundit class finds it so easy to vilify the white working class.

I think the issue is quite simple: shared bigotry. Although I’m sure that liberal pundits are as racist as anyone else, explicit racism has been taboo long enough that there really is no liberal pundit who has to feel queasy about having made racist statements — or even have much of a memory thinking explicitly racist thoughts.

We on the left like to laugh at the fact that the Republican Party doesn’t do much to reach out to any non-white groups. But the truth is that the Democratic Party has the same problem — just with different groups.

But being in favor of same sex marriage is really quite a new thing. So even if a liberal pundit has long been in favor of equal rights for members of the LGBT community, they no doubt have many friends who have only recently seen the light. For example: their friends Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Thus, it just doesn’t seem as much a sin to be anti-gay as to be anti-black.

All of this is quite understandable. The reason I find it troublesome is that it is part of a broader tendency among pundits of all stripes to be nothing more than representatives of their classes. This is why the Democratic Party managed to degenerate into what was once considered a conservative economic stance. The Democratic Party’s main claim to liberalism is on social policy.

A great example of this is on MSNBC where economic liberalism is relegated to the sidelines. There’s Chris Hayes when he can sneak it into his show in his desperate attemp to keep his job. And there is “crazy uncle” Ed who seems about six decades out of touch with MSNBC‘s sense of itself: young, urbane, and The Economist reading!

We on the left like to laugh at the fact that the Republican Party doesn’t do much to reach out to any groups but the white working class, religious conservatives, and the affluent. But the truth is that the Democratic Party has the same problem — just with different groups. And it is reflected in the liberal pundits and all those involved in what Bruenig calls The Discourse. Clearly, there are those who push back against this — most notably Thomas Frank. Although in this election cycle, people like Frank seem particularly marginalized as any criticism of Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party is seen as an attack on liberalism itself.

Liberals should try to make common cause with the white working class. I try, as I have written about a lot. It’s frustrating to see weeks of conversations go to waste because of one inflammatory Fox News segment. But it is worth doing. Note, however, that liberals don’t in general reach out to the black community on same sex marriage; they just accept. When it comes to the white working class, they just reject. And this just happens to align with the upper class sensibilities of the Democratic Party and its apologists.

May 17

Aging and the Dignity Society Offers

Haile Selassie and the Aging ProcessI wish I believed in God. If I did, I would have constant conversations with him like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Except that I wouldn’t be so respectful. Here’s the thing: God is either not all that nice or a total incompetent. I could deal with God being Jacques Clouseau — an idiot who bungled his way into getting a universe to exist. But I would tend to think of God as not nice. What’s more, any evidence that exists indicates that God would be something of a cruel practical joker. I’ve been thinking about this with regard to aging.

For me, aging has been overall a good thing. But I haven’t gotten old enough to hit the cliff of cognitive decline that is likely coming my way in two decades. We all see certain types of gradual cognitive decline as we age. I’ve very much seen it. I’m not as crisp a thinker. But I’ve become a far better “fuzzy computer.” And given my natural gifts have never been in the area of raw computation, this hasn’t been bad. But a sudden drop in my ability to suss out a passage of Kant would be horrible. But oh, how I can image it would make God laugh!

Dealing with my father’s illness over the last few days has gotten me thinking more about this. My father has always been a proud and independent man and aging has only made him more so. I know that it bothers him to find his body rebelling against him. In this case, there is something wrong with his kidneys — perhaps an infection — that is causing him great pain. But otherwise, he is, at 83 years, more healthy than I am. Pain and neglect should not be the reward for putting up with this universe for eight decades.

The Aging of Haile Selassie

As I sat at the San Francisco VA Medical Center late last night, I read Peter Schwab’s Haile Selassie I: Ethiopia’s Lion of Judah. I’ve become a bit obsessed with Haile Selassie recently. He ran Ethiopia from about 1916 to 1974. He was Emperor from 1930. And he was kind of like a god. And to the Rastafari, he is literally so. But Schwab described how Haile Selassie was deposed. He was 82 at that time, and I’m sure that his age had something to do with him losing his grip on power. Now Haile Selassie wasn’t a perfect man, but he did do much good, and it is hard not to find this description poignant:

It must have been devastating. This proud, noble man, used to having his orders followed and being in total control, comfortable with all the major leaders of the twentieth century, now surrounded by troops and being escorted away from all the power and authority he knew. Ramrod straight, dignified, peering into the distance past the horrors of the moment, he did as he was told. With his cape over his shoulders he walked outside. There in the driveway was an old blue Volkswagen. Told to get in, he adamantly refused. How could the emperor, he thought, get into this car when he was accustomed to solid gold horse-drawn carriages, Rolls Royces, and Mercedes-Benzes? The symbols of monarchy must be retained. But choice was no longer an option. At gunpoint he placed his five-foot-four-inch frame into the back of the car and sat as erect as ever.

Obviously, one can see the fall of Haile Selassie as simply what happens to powerful people. He was, after all, an emperor in exile during the Italian Fascist occupation of World War II. But I see it about aging mostly. Life is an arc and we end it much as we start it: helpless. But as a civilization, we have the power to push back against whatever you want to call it: the lack of God’s competence, goodness, or existence. We have the power to allow the old to have the dignity they have earned throughout their lives — whether they be Haile Selassie or my father.

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