My Solution for Saving the Racist Joke

Oompa Loompa -- People We Can HateEd Kilgore wrote a really good article over at Political Animal, Tell Us What You Really Mean By “Political Correctness,” Conservatives! It is mostly an attack on little brain SE Cupp. (I mean that: she is dimwitted; she wouldn’t have a job if she weren’t conservative.) She claims that the rise of Donald Trump is because of political correctness on college campuses. “If not for the loony sensitivities foisted upon us by the left, someone like Trump would be immediately dismissed as unprofessional and unserious, an incoherent blurter.” That’s actually quite funny. Because school kids aren’t able to shoot pretend guns, old people are voting for Trump. There is something unprofessional and unserious here, but it ain’t Trump.

Kilgore fired back, “Is that the source of all this hysteria?” Of course, it isn’t. It is just another excuse for a conservative pundit to blame the dysfunction of the Republican Party on the liberals. According to this view, if it weren’t for liberals being such meanies, the Republicans would be nominating people like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Well, Kilgore called bunk on that:

The Trump supporters and proto-Trump supporters I know are upset by things like having to listen to Spanish-language messages on customer service lines, not being able to call women “chicks” without someone frowning at them, and having to stop telling racist jokes at work. That’s what “political correctness” is code for: having to worry about the sensitivities of people who were invisible or submissive not that very long ago.

That’s exactly right. Since the 1970s, I’ve been hearing the same thing about the LGBT community: “I don’t care, but do they have to rub it in my face?” This same exact thing was told to me less than a month ago by a young social conservative who was about to go into the military. What the “it” that is rubbed in everyone’s faces is the fact of their identity. When we see an old heterosexual couple holding hands, it is charming. But two old gay men?! Oh. My. God! It’s somehow not a sign of personal affection but a political statement. “Look at us! We’re gay!” And this is what Kilgore is getting at: conservatives want those gay men back in the closet.

This goes along with what I’ve long argued about the supposed war on Christmas. It isn’t enough to be inclusive of Christians, they must be held up as uniquely right. It’s perfectly fine for there to be atheists and Muslims — as long as they are quiet and don’t mess up the illusion that everyone is a Christian. But this is part of a broader conservative complaint. And it is what is behind the “take our country back” meme. This is because they actually think that “our country” belongs to white Christian men and the women who are subservient to them.

But I have an idea for how we can maintain at least a little of our homogeneous culture: we can make up outsiders. And I recommend the Oompa Loompas. As Paul Bibeau reminds us, they are just “green-haired freaks.” So let’s take my very favorite joke when I was a kid. It was originally an Italian joke. When I got older, I made it a Portuguese joke, because my family is from Portugal. But it works great with the Oompa Loompas:

There was a joint space mission between the Americans, the Russians, and the people of Loompaland. And as will happen in these situations, the three of them were talking and getting a little boastful. The Russian said, “We were the first in space.” The American countered, “Well, so what? We were the first to land on the moon!” And the Oompa Loompa said, “That’s nothing! We are going to be the first to land on the sun!” The Russian and American burst out laughing. “You can’t do that,” said the Russian. “You’d burn up. The Oompa Loompa sighed, “You think we’re stupid?! We’re going at night.”

So you see: we can maintain our hateful bigotry at almost no cost to society. That is assuming that we don’t discover of a orange faced green-haired freaks. Oh my God! I just thought: what if John Boehner starts swimming in over-chlorinated water? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Piketty’s Quiet Revolution

Thomas Piketty - LionOver a certain wealth level, particularly if you are Bill Gates, if you have several dozen billion dollars, you know it’s not very useful for society if you keep it forever. So you should return part of it each year. In a way, it’s like permanent land reform. It’s like a permanent revolution, but it’s a quiet revolution because it takes place within the rule of law.

—Thomas Piketty
A Property Crisis: Interview With Thomas Piketty

Did the Soviet Empire Reduce US Inequality?

Branko MilanovicI’m well aware of just how self-impressed I am. It’s because whenever I see someone writing what about what I’ve been thinking, my impression is, “What a brilliant thinker!” That’s what I thought when I saw Branko Milanovic’s article, Did Socialism Keep Capitalism Equal? What he’s getting at is the idea that as long as there was the Soviet empire, capitalists in the west had to be careful. They couldn’t allow inequality to get out of hand for fear that the people would just choose the other side. But now, without the threat of communism, the capitalists are going wild, because, hey, what options do the people have?

Well, there is one obvious answer to that: there was no communism before there was communism. There was no French Revolution before the French Revolution. This is part of a lesson that I’ve been trying to teach conservatives for years. It is hard to find a serious conservative who doesn’t think that FDR turned our capitalist utopia into a dystopian socialism. They just can’t see that what FDR most likely did was save capitalism in the United States. Otherwise, there probably would have been a revolution. And the US would have become a fascist state. (Because let’s face it: that’s where we tend to go as a people.)

But I think that Milanovic is really onto something. The rise of the whole “greed is good” mentality went along with the decline of the Soviet empire. In the 1950s, many people in the US government were worried that the Soviets could win the Cold War because of its centralization of power. It might not be so wonderful to live under, but such a system could — in theory — have been more effective in accomplishing its strategic goals. And that was a valid opinion — especially after Sputnik.

But by the 1970s and 1980s — regardless of the rhetoric of Nixon and Carter and Reagan — everyone knew that wasn’t true. And as a result, the rich grabbed more and more wealth and more and more power. As Milanovic points out, “Now, this idea comes from the fact that rich capitalist countries experienced an extraordinary period of decreasing inequality from around 1920s to 1980s…” But of course, the decline and fall of the Soviet empire is not the only possible reason for this. But I think the union story is hard to refute: the true decimation of unions is not due to skills-based jobs and globalization.

Ultimately, I think that Milanovic thinks that the threat of the Soviet empire (basically: fear of revolution) wasn’t the reason that we saw a decrease of inequality until about 1980 and then an increase. But it is certainly one of the reasons. And it is something that we who are not part of the power elite need to think about. We need something that will keep the rich in line. But the only thing that I can think of is solidarity. And the power elite have been fiendishly good at keeping the rest of us at each other’s throats, rather than focusing on how it is the power elite itself that is keeping us down. It would be sad indeed if we needed another Soviet empire for ordinary Americans to share in the wealth of this country.

Why Silicon Valley Doesn’t Get Politics: Because It’s Filled With Idiots

Sloppy Thinker Tim UrbanAt Vox on Thursday, David Roberts wrote an exceptional article, Tech Nerds Are Smart. But They Can’t Seem to Get Their Heads Around Politics. But there is a fundamental problem with the article: Roberts really doesn’t understand “nerd” culture. (Still, you should read it.) He started the article by talking about how nerds in the past were at the bottom of the pecking order, but now the “coolest kids” are the nerds. No, not really. When you watch Shark Tank, do you see a bunch a nerds? No. You see a bunch of alpha jerks passing judgement on people who are generally not pushing any new ideas. I think the single biggest “idea” that people come on the show with is some kind of new fashion. Then, as now, the true nerds are lucky if they get a decent job where their nerd abilities can be used.

So just because the billionaire class in Silicon Valley pretend to be nerds, doesn’t mean that they are. Bill Gates? Even at his height, I never would have hired him as a programmer. Steve Jobs? He has a better claim to fashion designer than technological innovator. And don’t even get me started about Mark Zuckerberg — who I will admit is a nerd, but his success has nothing to do with it. So when a writer goes searching around Silicon Valley looking at all the “smart people” and wondering why they are so stupid about politics, I just laugh. They are stupid about everything — except “business,” which is far more about being ruthless and soulless than it is about being smart.

But Roberts does get to the heart of the matter in a section titled, “The quasi-libertarian anti-politics of the tech nerd.” I would use the word “glibertarian” — a person with a vague sense that the government is bad but without having given it any thought at all. But Roberts is actually focused on the fact that these high tech wunderkind just dismiss politics and assume that the two “sides” are equally wrong. Take, for example, the following image from Tim Urban’s Wait But Why:

Wait But Why - Politics

Obviously, this is the kind of graph that shows a complete lack of interest in the subject. The main problem is not that it is wrong. The main problem is that it is conventional wisdom. It is what you will read on the opinion page of USA Today everyday. It shows that the writer might be able to dig into the science of climate change. But he has absolutely no interest in digging into politics because he doesn’t think that there is anything to know. In other words, when it comes to politics, someone like Tim Urban is totally postmodern: there is no truth — just opinion.

Think about that for a second. Because if there is no truth in politics, there is no truth in nature. If the proper policy on global warming is just whatever is between the Democrats and the Republicans then why are we even talking about the science? The Republicans have good ideas? Well, I would have agreed with that 20 years ago. But since then, they’ve abandoned even the idea of revenue neutral carbon taxes. And who are these Democrats in the “crazy zone”? Really, what are those people saying that is equivalent to the total denial of decades of climate science? That the Earth is going to turn into the sun? I really don’t know. But I do know this: Tim Urban doesn’t have a clue either.

The fundamental problem is that people like Tim Urban aren’t that smart. I know that I’m a minor league genius. I’m not boasting — it’s just a fact. But that isn’t why anyone should read me. There are far smarter people than I am around. But the one thing that I’m really good at — the one thing that people like me (smart but not that smart) are good at — is knowing what I know.

The problem with the Silicon Valley whizkids — and successful business people generally — is that they think that success in one area means they are brilliant at everything. And the society buys it! This is why we constantly listen to idiot billionaires tell us what we should do about the macroeconomy.

So will it matter if people like David Roberts keep pounding on people like Tim Urban about what is actually going on in politics? I can’t see how. One of the reasons that libertarianism appeals to “smart” people is because it is so simple. It isn’t tainted by the real world. And so the kind of people who can explain global warming are generally not the kind of people who have the intellectual tools to deal with something are messy as politics. And they don’t even want to deal with the fact that half of the American political system is effectively fascist and post-fact. That would screw up their very notion that knowledge can save the world.

There are different kinds of intelligence. It isn’t surprising that the tech wunderkind don’t have a clue about politics. And let’s not forget: the world is working fairly well for them. Thus far.

Morning Music: Mom’s Favorites

This Is Sinatra!Well, it’s another week and that means that I have to come up with another theme for the Morning Music posts. And I’ve come up with a great one. But it’s dangerous, because I haven’t thought a whole week through. And I really want to get this one right. I’m going to do some of my mother’s favorite songs.

My mom was a big popular music fan. And there was pretty much never a situation in which she couldn’t pull a pop music lyric out to help explain. This is going to be an eclectic collection — spanning a few decades. I’m afraid the last decade or two, I don’t know much of what she liked.

But let’s start with a song that she sang all the time. And I hate it. It’s a Frank Sinatra tune — one of the few of his that I don’t like. And it was made famous to a new generation of people as the theme song to Married… with Children — a show that I also hated, but might appreciate more now. The song is, of course, “Love and Marriage” off the album, This Is Sinatra!:


Given the state of my parents’ marriage, I always sang it, “Love and marriage… go together like a horseless carriage.”

Anniversary Post: Ruby Ridge

Randy WeaverOn this day in 1992, the Ruby Ridge standoff ended with the surrender of Randy Weaver. I certainly think that this is one of many examples of where the federal government didn’t deal well with a volatile situation. Just the same, why is it always the right wing loons who cause these kinds of stand offs? Weaver’s family was given millions of dollars for the death of his wife. But it was fully his own fault. But these “live free or die” types are always the first to go running to the government when they feel that they’ve harmed.

But I’m really not interested in Weaver as a violent extremist. I’m interested in how he became a hero to so many people on the right. These are people, after all, who claim to be such patriots. If Weaver had been a Muslim, they would have fully backed the government. What’s more, Weaver would undoubtedly be spending the rest of his life in prison — if not having been put to death. But when it comes to right wing bigots, well, the conservatives think that they are the great defenders of freedom.

I don’t know what the right wing thinks of Ruby Ridge at this point. It seems that they have mostly forgotten it. But if it happened again, they would think the same thing. It’s also interesting that even though Ruby Ridge took place under Bush and the Waco siege took place before the Clinton administration was fully settled into the job, on the right, both cases were blamed on Clinton. Because regardless what they say, the extreme right wing is ultimately loyal to the Republican Party.

Regardless, people like Randy Weaver are not patriots; they are traitors to the aspirations and the facts of America. They should be shunned and hated. And they are by me.