DMV and Nothingness

Being and NothingnessI had to spend the afternoon at the DMV today. And I spent much of it reading (or trying to read) Why Does the World Exist? There is perhaps no more bizarre place to contemplate the nature of existence. At least for me. Because I have a natural tendency to get captured by solipsism. When you get right down to it, I’m not too sure that you exist. And just to show you how outside of normal thought I have gone, although I think I may well be alone in the universe—perhaps a dream of the universe itself—I fully accept that you too are alone in the universe.

At the DMV, the nature of existence takes on an intense “in your face” form. I spent most of the time there right behind a 60-year-old man who was getting an identification card. Apparently, the government had taken his driver’s license away from him for good. But the people at the convenience store would not take his expired driver’s license to prove that he was over 18 and thus allowed to buy cigarettes. If ever there were proof that I am a subset of the universe, there it was! Alone with my little brain, I never would have conceived of such a character.

It isn’t that the guy was strange. I’m actually rather good at creating very interesting and unusual characters. But I would never conceive of a character that had such a ridiculously trivial motivation. In fact, since hearing his story, I’ve been trying to spice it up. Surely the cigarette thing was a ruse. For one thing, I know that it will take him up to four weeks to get his card. Yet he had cigarettes. He was smoking at the bus stop. There is definitely more there than meets the eye. He’s up to no good.

Or was he? One thing I’ve learned during this “life” is that “God” is a terrible story teller. He is always creating two-dimensional characters in plots that are complicated without being interesting. Or so they seem to me. It is very clear that the stories and character I create are much better. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe it is just the limitations of my little brain—or the fact that I have a brain at all. This is, after all, the same brain that thinks (despite all the obviously contrary evidence) that nothing ought to exist.

I think, therefore I am confused.

Don’t Get Excited About Immigration Reform

Statue of LibertyThis morning, an immigration reform framework was announced by 8 senators. There are two big reasons why we shouldn’t be excited by it.

First, it is primarily a huge giveaway to corporate power. It specifically calls for making it easier for high tech and farm workers to be giving a quick route into the country. I’m not against this necessarily. But the biggest problem we have in this country is in the healthcare field where groups like the AMA and ADA manage to erect huge barriers to foreign doctors and dentists practicing in this country. This is all about priorities and for the ruling class, getting tomatoes picked for a cent and a half a pound is far more important than providing all Americans affordable healthcare.

Second, this is a framework, not even a bill. Plus, it is coming out of the Senate and not the House. Anything that is good in the bill (and there is much) is likely to be stripped out or at least watered down. So stay tuned.

Part of me thinks that this is all one big PR push for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential run. As such, it doesn’t matter if the framework goes anywhere; it just matters that Rubio does something that looks like he gives a shit about anyone but our corporate overlords. I find it interesting that Rubio was the one to push the most conservative aspect of this plan: that the 11 million undocumented residents must get at the back of the line in applying for citizenship. This could put off citizenship for these people for decades. As they say, the demon is in the details, but this could make the whole reform practically nonexistent.

So let’s just wait. Let’s see how this moves forward. It will be a good test of whether the Republican Party is prepared to make even the smallest steps toward reform.


The framework specifically mentions children. Ezra Klein reports:

The obvious exception is children, and sure enough, they get a special mention: “individuals who entered the United States as minor children did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws. Consequently, under our proposal these individuals will not face the same requirements as other individuals in order to earn a path to citizenship.”

These are pretty words, but they don’t make much sense. The whole reason that conservatives are against “amnesty” is that sets a bad precedent. It gives people an incentive to come to the United States illegally. The children may not have come here knowingly, but their parents did. Giving children special treatment gives parents everywhere an incentive to bring their kids here illegally.

Having said that, I’m all for making it easier for children to immigrate here. But I’m also for amnesty. I really think there is more than enough room here in the United States for everyone who wants to come. That isn’t true of most conservatives or even liberals.

Occasionally Principled Thoughtless Assholes

Bobby JindalThis weekend Republicans had yet another get together where they planned to figure out how to stop being a minority party without, you know, actually changing the party in any meaningful way. And I think it is important to remember that some of their great ideas are really not going to work. Recently, I’ve been hearing this one, “Never discuss rape.” A better idea would be, “Pretend that you are for abortion exceptions.” As I’ve noted, this is the real hateful position. But it continues to be the one that comes off the least repellent. It just is the case that being an abortion absolutist is going to get the Republicans into trouble.

And this brings me to my general advice for Republicans, “It’s the policies, stupid.” Last week, Bobby Jindal said that the Republicans had to stop being the stupid party. But any party that takes advice about how not to be stupid from a creationist who has done exorcisms is in deep trouble. And it isn’t just that the Republicans are the party of stupid. They are also the party of hateful. Everywhere they seem committed to have no principle to being anything but thoughtless assholes. Except on abortion where their principled stands makes them thoughtless assholes.

It’s getting old to note that the Republicans are talking around their problems. And even I have been saying that eventually they will have to take a look at their policies. But there are good reasons to resist such a move. Traditionally, the Republicans have been pretty good at finding a charismatic leader and going from there. It was only 6 years between the humiliation of Nixon’s resignation and the start of the Reagan party. Now you could argue—and I do—that Reagan became president only because Paul Volcker created a recession just as we were coming to the 1980 election. But there will always be such events that will give Republicans hope.

The Republicans will have to change their policies eventually. The demographic shift is too extreme. So they are bound to do worse and worse in the coming decade. But eventually, they will figure out a way to get Latinos to resent African Americans. Or something. But that will happen. And the price they’ll pay will be giving in on little things. Like immigration reform, which their primary constituency (the rich) want anyway.

Kiriakou on Conviction

John KiriakouI am proud that I stood up to our government. I stood up for what I believed was right conviction or no conviction. I mean they can convict anybody of anything if they put their minds to it, but I wear this as a badge of honor. I am not a criminal. I am a whistleblower. The thing that I blew the whistle on is now the law of the land. Torture is illegal and it’s officially abandoned in our country and I’m proud to have had a role in that.

—John Kiriakou
Quoted in Fire Dog Lake

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Curiosity Kills One’s Will To Live

VictoriaI would earnestly warn you against trying to find out the reason and explanation for everything… To try to find out the reason for everything is very dangerous and leads to nothing but disappointment and dissatisfaction, unsettling your mind and in the end making you miserable. 1

We ourselves have suffered greatly. Our son Bertie has been a great disappointment. As we have said before: handsome I cannot think him, with that painfully small and narrow head, those immense features and total want of chin.2 We were of the belief that the distillation of royal qualities, ensured by the marriage of first cousins, would have produced a truly fine specimen. We choose not to wonder why we have been so abused by fate. Questions unasked need not be answered.

And so, by strength of character and a discerning mind, we are quite content. In truth, we are consummately giddy with our lack of curiosity.

[1] From a letter to her granddaughter in 1883.
[2] An excerpt from Jane Ridley’s Bertie: A Life of Edward VII, found on BBC News.