May 26

How to Stay a Bad Writer in 3 Easy Steps

Dick Dastardly - Bad WriterI’m a professional editor. I’m all right at the job. In the past, I’ve worked with some great editors, so I’m well aware of where I am lacking. But I do a reasonable job. And I am capable of turning a bad writer into a competent one — if the writer has any interest in that.

There are two attitudes that writers have toward editors. Some, like me, love editors — as long as they reasonably good. They help the writer out enormously. Writing is a very introverted activity and just having a sane outsider to point out unclear sections is very helpful. But a good editor (much less a great editor) is a collaborator who can greatly improve a writer’s work.

Then there are writers who hate editors. I am not one of them. But I can speculate because I’ve had a recent run in with someone who is nominally my editor. That wasn’t truly an issue of my not getting along with an editor, however. I was never asked to change any text. Instead, I got a flood of complaints about constantly changing format requests. But I suspect that writers who hate editors feel much as I did.

I felt as though I was being abused. The “editor” was simply trying to assert her authority on me — not doing her job and not asking for anything that would actually improve what I had written. In fact, in the case of this “editor,” I don’t think the text for the vast majority of the work was read. And that is doubtless how editor hating writers feel: that what they produced is just fine and that the editor is just being difficult.

In my experience, writers who hate editors are bad. I suspect a lot of it has to do with their inability to take criticism. There are a lot of people who think they can write who really can’t do much more than talk on paper. And the situation is getting worse because the internet has created an explosion in the need for written content. So it isn’t hard to be a professional writer.

But there’s a problem. If you do something long enough, there is a good chance that you will become at least competent. And then where will you be? Because being a bad professional writer is great! I mean that. When I’m being paid to write something, I fret over it endlessly. I’ll spend an hour working on a single sentence if it is critical to the piece. But for the bad writer, it doesn’t matter. You just dump your thoughts on the page and collect your check.

Editors can stand in the way of that. They can force you to improve. And so, given that I would hate so see any bad writer lose out on the gravy train that they’ve found, I offer the following three easy steps for staying a bad writer:

  1. Submit a thousand words of really mediocre copy. Don’t worry about it being in the least bit interesting. Just dump some words on the page, make sure no more than two to three words are misspelled, and submit it.
  2. You will hear back from your editor who will, fearing for your fragile writer feelings, ask for a “polish.” But because the editor knows that you are bad writer, they will give a specific list of numbered changes to make. Ignore these changes. Spend maybe 15 minutes noodling with some of what you wrote, but be careful: don’t make any changes that would notably improve the copy!
  3. You will hear back from your editor who will, fearing for your fragile writer feelings but now somewhat pissed off because you ignored their previous request, ask for a “polish as I requested before.” The editor will usually restate the requested changes in a different way so that the two of you can pretend that you are not just a hopeless, arrogant, and bad writer who they would fire if they were allowed. Now you must go in and make all the changes requested. But don’t do them artfully; do them as quickly as possible. And then — this is critical — don’t do a final read through to see if it all makes sense. This last bit should be easy, because as a bad writer, you never do a final read through anyway.

At this point, the editor will just fix what the bad writer wrote. The truth is that the editor knows that the bad writer is incapable of doing any better. And even if they were, they wouldn’t care enough to spend the time to do it. What’s more, if the editor hurts the fragile feelings of the bad writer, the bad writer will just complain to the editor’s boss.

Eventually, of course, the bad writer will be fired. But they will just get another job where they will torture another editor.

May 26

The Alternate Reality of Hillary or Bust

Hillary ClintonI’ve been thinking about an alternate reality where there is a “Hillary or Bust” movement. I actually think that there is an implicit one. I read a number of articles when Sanders first started to take off about how we couldn’t support him. He wasn’t even a Democrat! Blah, blah, blah. The truth is that one concern I’ve had since the beginning has been if Sanders had won the nomination, the Democratic establishment would not have supported him. But let’s move back.

As you all should know by now, I’m really against the “Bernie or Bust” movement. Well, if it is just a rhetorical movement to help Bernie Sanders in the primary, then I’m fine with it. But there clearly are people who have convinced themselves that the difference between Clinton and any Republican is minor. I don’t think that they are all that wrong on this point. Where they are wrong is in thinking that Sanders is some kind of radical. For all we hear about incrementalism with regard to Clinton, Sanders is also an incrementalist. Americans really need to get out more, ideologically speaking!

But I think the “Bernie or Bust” movement is really quite small. In an alternate reality where Bernie were winning, I think there would be a huge “Hillary or Bust” movement. And it wouldn’t just be brats on Twitter and subgeniuses on The Young Turks. The “Hillary or Bust” movement would be more like the “Never Trump” movement. But given that Democrats aren’t generally authoritarians, they wouldn’t fall in line the way the Republican dissenters have.

It’s perfectly fine to complain that Sanders and other liberals are uncompromising. But the people making these complaints are no more willing to compromise…

This really isn’t about the Democratic Party, of course. It’s about the Labour Party and its treatment of Jeremy Corbyn. It isn’t just all the public slanders. It is that after Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party — because the people who make up the party voted for him — the establishment had no interest in helping him or aligning with him. This is the Labour establishment that has lost two straight elections — the second one of which was very much winnable.

The main (public) establishment complaint about Corbyn is that he really isn’t up to the task of leading the Labour Party. I largely agree with that. But instead of making the best of a situation they didn’t like, the Labour Party establishment turned its back on him. It is apparently better to lose another election (and in the process teach the prols who voted for Corbyn a lesson) than to get only part of what they want.

And that’s the thing I’ve noticed here in the United States. It’s perfectly fine to complain that Sanders and other liberals are uncompromising. But the people making these complaints are no more willing to compromise; they just happen to be in power and thus are getting everything they want (inside the party). So I really have almost no doubt that it were Sanders who had effectively won the Democratic Primary, there would be a “Hillary or Bust” (or “Never Bernie”) movement that was far bigger, more viscous, and more effective than the “Bernie or Bust” movement. Like with the Labour Party, the Democratic Party establishment would rather lose than win with the “wrong” candidate.

Note that this has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton. She just happens to be the establishment candidate for the Democrats in 2016. And I’m fairly fond of her. Talking about “Hillary or Bust” is really just talking about about the way that those in power respond to change. So as much as I might not like “Bernie or Bust,” I think we have to admit that if things were reversed, it would be far worse.

May 25

Burt Kwouk RIP

Burt KwoukI just found out that Burt Kwouk died yesterday. He was the kind of actor that you saw everywhere, but he will always be remembered for the part of Cato Fong, Inspector Jacques Clouseau servant who attacked him all the time in The Pink Panther film series. This was supposed to be part of Clouseau’s continued training. But it is quite absurd. In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the two of them totally destroy Clouseau’s apartment. (Not that it matters, given that it is blown up shortly afterward.)

The following scene is entirely typical. Cato surprises Clouseau, they fight, and after the fight is over, Clouseau attacks Cato in the most unsportsmanlike way imaginable. It’s very silly stuff. But I love it. And when I was a kid, Cato was the only character I really felt a kinship to.

But Burt Kwouk was much more Cato Fong. The IMDb has him listed in 144 films and television shows. And this gives him but one credit for the 78 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine that he appeared in. No cause of death has been announced. He was 85.

I think I will call it a night and watch one of the Pink Panther movies. I only recently got The Pink Panther Collection with the first five films.

May 25

Why Is Danish Actor Mille Dinesen So Worried About Taxes in the US?

Mille Dinesen - Denmark TaxesSchool teacher Mille Dinesen is really upset about taxes in the United States!

I found out all about it when I was talking to William today. He mentioned that one of his clients (who appears to be a little unstable) saw his “Feel the Bern” bumper sticker and emailed him something about how horrible things are in Denmark. You see, both Sanders and Clinton have said nice things about Denmark. And we aren’t supposed to do that, because everyone knows that Fascist Italy was so much better. I did a quick Google search and found out that the text was taken from what was a viral meme that was supposedly written by a school teacher in Denmark, apparently Mille Dinesen, even though it was signed in some versions, “Mikkel Clair Nissen.” But you can see Mille Dinesen there on the left, and she’s the one displayed in the meme. See the chalkboard behind her?!

The meme has been thoroughly rebutted. PolitiFact, for example, went after the claim that the suicide rate in Denmark was two to three times higher than in the US. It turns out that the suicide rate in Denmark was higher in Denmark in 1960 through 1990. But it has steadily decreased. And the US suicide rate has gone up steadily (though not as drastically). So now the suicide rate in the US is substantially higher than it is in the Denmark. Oh well.

But mostly the thing is about how terrible the taxes are. This is a typical conservative thing. What if the government taxed you at 90% and then gave the money back to you? That is, in fact, largely what the government does. Conservatives have this idea that the government takes money and just wastes it. But if that money is used to make people better off, then the rate of taxes is not a big deal. One problem we have here in the US is that we tax a great deal so that we can spend roughly as much on our military as the rest of the world combined.

Last year, Matt Bruenig wrote a very interesting article, When Is It Better Not to Be in America? It looks at the Luxembourg Income Survey data to determine how much disposable income people have at different places in the income distribution. And it turns out that people in the bottom one-third of the income scale do better in Denmark than they do in the US. And it is the opposite for the people at the top. As Bruenig noted, “We treat our rich well. Nobody can deny that.”

He goes on to note that the harm of taking money away from the wealthy is more than offset by the good that is done by giving the poor money. Not that this is the final word on the subject or anything. But the fact that cars are taxed at 180% in Denmark is totally irrelevant. The point of the meme isn’t to make people think about Denmark — it is to make people not think about America.

Mikkel Clair Nissen or Mille Dinesen — Whatever!

But there’s a funny thing about that school teacher. That isn’t a school teacher. It is Danish actor Mille Dinesen in the title role of the Danish television show Rita about a “headstrong and unconventional teacher and single mother.” (These are the kind of jobs that TinEye reverse image searches are great for!) I’m sure the writer (who appears to be just another libertarian loon) did a Google image search on “Danish teacher” and grabbed it. He is from Denmark. But he might have bigger problems than pretending to be a school teacher on television. This is from his Facebook page:

Hi folks, as I have mentioned earlier, I left the US a month ago to find out what was going on with my children. Unfortunately all in avail. I don’t feel safe in Denmark, I therefore left for Spain after only a week in Denmark and now reside in Spain where I am working in a night club. Well, this is just an update, as well as a thanks to all of you who have supported me through hard times.

Sounds a bit like Alex Jones, “I don’t feel safe in Denmark”! But I wonder why it is that people on the political right find it necessary to cherry pick data and generally distort reality in order to make their case. Oh, I’m kidding! They do it because their ideas are bad. But I’ll admit: if I have to wade through rubbish, I’d rather look at Mille Dinesen than Mikkel Clair Nissen.

May 24

Sadly, It Is Not Johnny-Cum-Lately

Johnny-Cum-LatelyIt’s amazing how the internet can allow you to seem a lot more knowledgeable than you are. For example, I was thinking of the phrase “Johnny-come-lately.” But I thought that the middle word was “cum” and not “come.” It is, after all, a weird construction. And I was used to phrases of this form that used “cum”: something-cum-something. So so why not Johnny-cum-lately? I decided to look up the word “cum.” And then I released that if I entered that word into Google, I was not going to get the information that I was looking for.

It reminds me of a time years ago that I was working on an underground magazine called Orange Toast. And I had this idea for a comic called, “Alf: Prostitute for Peace.” And we all thought it would be extra funny if I drew it. Then, the mastermind of the whole thing, Mark Neville, would do the pen work. So it ended up looking kind of professional, but with my total lack of perspective and whatnot. But I remember that Mark was unhappy that I used the word “come” for what he thought should be “cum.” Mark was pedantic in that way.

The truth is, I didn’t really know. Having an orgasm seems to me rather like “coming.” And the use of “cum” in the porn industry strikes me even today as an affectation. Regardless, I always knew that “cum” was a real Latin word, so I entered “cum Latin” and I got the answer that I was looking for. In Latin, “cum” means “with.” Although it also means “together,” which I find amusing. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of simultaneous orgasms. But when the word is used in everyday English, it is with the former meaning — or perhaps “along with.”

Grammarist offers a good example of the use of the word, “Jimmy is a hunter-cum-animal-activist.” And in that example, you can see how easy it is to get confused. It means that Jimmy is a hunter and an animal activist — a somewhat ironic, or at least unusual, combination. But if you read the sentence out of context, it would be more natural to read “cum” as “become” as in, “Jimmy is a hunter turned animal activist.” So you can see why I might have thought the original phrase was “Johnny-cum-lately.” And I think the case can be made.

For example, when “cum” is used as a conjunction it can mean “since” or “while” or “although.” The last of those works rather well. It isn’t that I’m trying to justify my ignorance. It’s just that “Johnny-come-lately” is so strange a way to describe a newcomer. That’s not to say that it isn’t useful, because none of the definitions I’ve seen get at the critical thing about the phrase: it is a pejorative. The implication is always that someone has joined a group or movement only after it became popular and most likely only because as well.

Regardless, I wish it were “Johnny-cum-lately.” It just feels right. The right spelling of it doesn’t make distinctly more sense.

May 24

Why I’m Against Open Primaries

Open PrimariesOne thing that has shown up a lot on the Bernie Sanders side of the Democratic primary is the idea that independents should be able to vote in party primaries. Indeed, this is already the case in 20 states. I think this is totally wrong. What’s more, I think those in favor of it have forgotten what political parties have traditionally been. In the not so distant past, political party elites pretty much decided who was going to be their candidates. Since then, things have gotten much more democratic. And that’s a good thing. But open primaries? I think it would be better to go back to the elites deciding.

I don’t like our two party system. If we had a parliamentary system with multiple parties, I most definitely wouldn’t be a Democrat. But we do have the system that we have. Let’s change the system! I’m all for that. But I’m not for people who can’t even be willing to take a stand as to their party preference deciding which candidate either party decides to nominate. Democrats should get to nominate the Democratic nominee and Republicans should get to nominate the Republican nominee. Otherwise, what is the primary even for?! Why not just go straight to the general election?

I’m not sure what the Sanders campaign is complaining about. According to Ballotpedia, Clinton has won 58% of the open primaries and 61% of the closed primaries.

There are lots of things we could change about the primary system. I’d personally like to see fewer super delegates in the Democratic Party. But it doesn’t much matter. I fully believe that if Bernie Sanders had three million more votes than Hillary Clinton, there would be a mad rush of super delegates to Sanders. And look at the Republican Party! It seems that every four years they change their rules to stop what happened last time from happening again. And they succeed! Something even worse happens, instead!

Open Primaries Are Like Non-Primaries

I’ll be honest: I don’t understand this issue at all. Being a member of a political party is no more difficult than registering to vote. (I think having to register to vote in general elections is a big problem, but few people are complaining about it.) Allowing independents to vote in partisan primaries is like letting Canadians vote in US elections. It really isn’t any business of independents who the Democrats and Republicans nominate.

Now I’ll admit: I’m not keep on independents. To me, they are just a bunch of people with a clear partisan ax to grind who want the world to applaud them for their “independence” and lack of partisanship. Well, if that’s what they want, there ought to be some price to pay. And the bare minimum that the price should be is that they don’t get a say in how the political parties run their business. They are, after all, “independent.” Why do they even care who the parties nominate? They are above all that! And in the end, there will be a full slate of candidates to vote from parties more explicitly fascist than the Republicans to actual socialists.

What’s more, I’m not sure what the Sanders campaign is complaining about. According to Ballotpedia, Clinton has won 58% of the open primaries and 61% of the closed primaries. Are we really supposed to believe that this election would be different if there had been nothing but open primaries? I’m a very disgruntled Democrat. But I am a Democrat. And I don’t see why people who can’t even be bothered to pick a party should get a say in who my party nominates.

Afterword

Note that this does not apply to candidates. The fact that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat doesn’t matter in the least as long as members of the Democratic Party want to nominate him.

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.

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