Ideas Versus Products

Frank MoraesA guy I work with a lot wrote an article years ago with a title something like, “Nobody Cares About Your Great Website Idea.” I remember liking it, but I can’t find it now. It doesn’t matter. It just occurred to me because I was thinking of the difference between having an idea and producing a product. In my case, a blog post.

Every profession has its little annoyances. In writing, it is having to listen to people tell you their idea for a novel or a screenplay. It doesn’t even matter if you are a writer. You might just want to be a writer and people will offer you ideas. It’s annoying for a couple of reasons.

Why Ideas Don’t Matter

First, there’s kind of an implied insult that you need ideas. I’ve never known a writer to not have vastly more ideas than time. I remember reading an interview with Charles Schulz where he said, if you couldn’t just sit down at your desk and think of something funny to draw, you weren’t a cartoonist. I think he overstated, but there is much to that.

The second problem with being offered ideas is related to the first. People think they are giving you something valuable, but they aren’t. If you took their idea, they would be giving you (almost certainly unpaid) work. Because it is taking an idea and turning it into a story or whatever that matters, not the idea itself. Usually, the final product has little relationship to the starting idea.

Think of the great film Chinatown. What scene does everyone remember? “She’s my sister and my daughter!” But Robert Towne’s original idea was to write about water rights in southern California. Now, that is ultimately what the story is about. But it’s not what people take away from the film.

Blog Post Ideas

Anyway, this is all about fiction. Blog posts are rather a different thing. And I do remember when I was writing a lot more, it could be difficult to come up with stuff to write about — at least when I had other writing work. Now I have the opposite problem.

Recently, I’ve had all these ideas for articles that I find hard to get entered into the computer. It’s mostly other work that is getting in the way — but not as you might think. I’ve been so stressed out that the idea of sitting down to write for pleasure has been impossible.

That’s true of the work here and Psychotronic Review, as well as my plays. In fact, I think I have had a breakthrough with my folklore play. But I don’t know if its going to work. Most ideas turn to ashes when presented with the stark sunlight of implementation.

(For the record, the new idea is to have two choruses who gradually disagree on how the play should be performed dividing the cast and crew into full-scale war. I know I can use that somewhere, but not necessarily in this play. Note that I don’t care that someone is going to steal this idea. Anyone good enough will have their own ideas on how to rip off Luigi Pirandello.)

But right now, I’m keen to sit in front of the screen and write for fun. So I hope that continues and I can maintain my minimal output on the consistent schedule I used to have. That is: the new consistent schedule, not the old one. I don’t have anything close to the amount of time to do six posts per day!


I would like to say in my defense that for a personal blog, this one still grinds out an enormous amount of content. What I’m more bothered by is not being very active with the comments. I’ll work on that too. But now I’m going to write an article for tomorrow that I’ve been meaning to write for at least a week. It should be fun: I get to go after libertarians again. That’s what passes for fun around here. That and the serial comma.

The Democrats’ Most Recent Lost Opportunity

Keith Ellison: Not DNC ChairThe DNC chair position looms large — perhaps larger than it should — in the minds of Sanders supporters. Many Sanders supporters believe that former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz helped stack the deck against Sanders — and that this was a key reason Sanders lost the primary.

Few people outside the hard-core Sanders circle think this is true, but to an extent that’s the point: precisely because many Democrats think Sanders supporters overstate the institutional power of the DNC chair, this is a smart concession to make to them. Putting an unassailable Sanders ally at its helm is an easy way to demonstrate that the party is reformed and no longer “rigged” — especially if you don’t believe it was ever rigged in the first place.

The Emergence of Tom Perez Mutes Ideological Conflict

The most obvious alternative to a stalwart progressive like Ellison would have been for Sanders’ critics in the Democratic Party to elevate a standard-bearer of the party’s more moderate wing. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, for example, ran far ahead of Hillary Clinton in the red state and would have been a plausible centrist alternative to Ellison.

Instead, Ellison’s strongest opponent looks to be Perez. Four Democratic governors are backing him, he’s received endorsements from a few labor unions, and some Sanders allies, bolstered by reporting from The New York Times, feels the Perez boom is being fueled by Obama’s political team — though the White House denies this.

But Perez doesn’t present much of an ideological break from Ellison. He was an ardent foe of the Iraq War within weeks of it being declared; he has longstanding connections to the labor movement and the “Fight for $15” minimum wage campaign; he’s widely considered Obama’s most liberal Cabinet member; union leaders have loved his work.

Nor are their stated agendas, both geared toward more comprehensive and more granual organizing, particularly different. Perez calls for a DNC strategy in every zip code, while Ellison has called for one in every county…

In many ways what really aggravates Sanders’ allies about the push for Perez is the very absence of any kind of clear strategic or ideological gap between Perez and Ellison. If a big part of the case for Ellison is that installing a well-known Sanders ally at the DNC would help unify the party, then the essence of the case for Perez seems to be a desire to freeze Sanders’ circle out.

–Jeff Stein
The DNC Race Has Become Another Fight Over Bernie Sanders

Note that I referenced Stein’s article at the time, Keith Ellison and the Difficult Path Forward. I don’t have a problem with Perez as the DNC chair. My point of digging up this quote is simply to show that this would have been an easy token for the establishment wing of the party to make to the liberal wing. But it wasn’t even willing to do that — as I discussed in that article almost two months ago.

Grammar Bullies and Their Justifications

Stephen Fry - Grammar BulliesThe following video by Matthew Rogers and Stephen Fry rather sums up my approach to writing and grammar. It reminded me of a time long ago when I allowed my father to read the first five chapters of my first novel. He gave it to his girlfriend who considered herself quite erudite. She also hated me for reasons that were never really clear to me.

While having dinner with them one time, I was shocked to learn that she had read the chapters. This was not acceptable to me because I am very cautious about who I allow to read my fiction. Be that as it may, I was eager to find out what she had thought. But she did not think anything of the story. She was focused on the grammar errors that she had found. I say “errors” but the truth was that she was only able to find one thing that was sort of an error: a sentence fragment.

Given that it was some 20,000 words and a draft that had never been copy edited, I thought that was pretty good. But she held onto her criticisms with a barely disguised glee as though somehow she had vanquished me. I got the impression that in her mind she had proved that I was no writer as if all of my writing in various forms over the previous 20 years didn’t count. All that counted was that a real writer never made a grammar error. Or something. There really was something wrong with that woman.

Clear Communication

Regardless, one part of this video that I really like is where Fry says that grammar conservatives’ claims that they are just trying to keep communication clear never holds water. The issue actually is clarity. But the rigid application of grammar rules normally gets in the way of this. It doesn’t help that most people only know about this or that rule because they were told it at an impressionable age. I used to yield to these grammar bullies, until I realized that they generally understood relatively little about grammar and almost nothing about communicating.

The Sad State of “Importantly”

Many years ago, I stopped using the word “importantly” altogether. I got tired of people complaining about sentences like, “And most importantly, the blah blah blah.” The argument is that it should be “important.” But that’s not true. For one thing, if that is what one wanted to say, it would be, “And most important the blah blah blah.” There would be no comma. The original construct is a shortened version of, “And in the most important way, the blah blah blah.” The second construct just isn’t very natural; it sounds like someone writing for Kung Fu, “And most important father led the family out of danger.”

I’ve thought about bringing “importantly” back into my writing. Unfortunately, I’ve also come to dislike adding “ly” to words to make them adverbs. I would like to see a lot less of that. But it is a personal, aesthetic thing; not grammar dogma originating in Mrs Johnston’s 7th grade English class.

Fun With Grammar

None of this means that I don’t delight in funny or interesting errors. I love things like, “Beat red.” They are charming. Hell, they’re poetry. And I can appreciate constructs like, “The dog caught the Frisbee as it flew through the air.” But it is exactly that kind of ambiguity that writers normally try to avoid. It isn’t wrong; it is just unclear. And in the end, clarity is the only thing that matters in writing. All is clarity.

Grammar is not a weapon.


At the very end, Fry mentions how it bugs him when people aspirate the letter “h.” I’m not sure what he’s talking about because it fades out. But I have an issue with this. It is fine if you want to say “a historian” or “an historian.” But if you aspirate the “h” then it is “a historian.” If you are going to use “an” you don’t aspirate the “h.” To do so is pretentious in the extreme.

TSA Behavior Screening Program Is a Sham

Cora Currier - TSA Screening ShamNewly released documents from the Transportation Security Administration appear to confirm the concerns of critics who say that the agency’s controversial program that relies on body language, appearance, and particular behaviors to select passengers for extra screening in airports has little basis in science and has led to racial profiling.

Files turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act include a range of studies that undermines the program’s premise, demonstrating that attempts to look for physical signs of deception are highly subjective and unreliable. Also among the files are presentations and reports from the TSA and other law enforcement agencies that put forth untested theories of how to profile attackers and rely on broad stereotypes about Muslims.

The TSA has deployed behavior detection officers, or BDOs, at security checkpoints and in plainclothes throughout airports to look for travelers exhibiting behaviors that might betray fear, stress, or deception. According to the documents, these officers engage in “casual conversations” such that the passengers don’t realize they “have undergone any deliberate line of questioning.”

These spotters can pick people out for extra screening, refer them to law enforcement or immigration authorities, or block them from boarding a plane.

Looking out for suspicious behaviors is hardly surprising, but TSA’s approach has been roundly criticized by government watchdogs and outside observers who say there’s no scientific basis for the clues the officers rely on as indicators. The program — previously known as “SPOT,” for Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, and now called “Behavior Detection and Analysis” — has cost $1.5 billion since it was rolled out in 2007, according to a recent inspector general’s report.

–Cora Currier
Tsa’s Own Files Show Doubtful Science Behind Its Behavior Screening Program

Observe the Writer in Its Unnatural Habitat

Mall of America

Anybody out there want a free vacation? Plane tickets, hotel room, and $80 per diem included? Plus a nice $2,500 check?!

Well, all you have to do is win the Mall Of America’s “Writer-in-Residence” contest.

The Mall of America — pride of Bloomington, Minnesota — is turning 25 this year, and they’re looking for writers to capture that undefinable “Mall atmosphere.” (Um, it’s a mall.)

Submit your 150-word proposal at contest page before 10 March 2017. No previous publishing experience is required. And be creative! As the entry page says, “Heck, if you can make the assignment work as a musical-comedy screenplay, by all means make it so!”

Selected semifinalists will advance to an elimination round, amping their proposal up to a daunting 500-800 words. That’s around 50 Tweets, but life is full of challenges. Be brave.

The Mall of America Gig

So what, exactly, is the “in residence” part? I’m glad you asked. That’s where the real fun begins. You get five eight-hour days hanging around the Mall, and you are supposed to write about it. Not in some corner office! Oh, no. Here’s how it works — from the Official Contest Rules page (PDF):

Winner’s workspace will be located in a common area space within Mall of America. The core daily work hours will be 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. While the Winner will be encouraged to take breaks from writing to explore the Mall, post on social media, eat and find inspiration, the Winner will need to be physically present at the writer’s desk for no fewer than four (4) hours per day. The Winner’s ongoing work may be displayed in almost-real time on a large monitor at the workspace.

The work product may scroll continuously throughout the day for passersby to view. Content will not be displayed on the monitor until it has been submitted by the Winner and approved by a Mall of America Marketing representative. The Winner must submit new content of no less than 150 words, to be displayed on the monitor at three (3) mutually agreed upon times each day. Winner’s written work must not be inaccurate, derogatory, incompatible with, inconsistent with, or otherwise contradictory to the Mall of America’s desired presentation of the Mall or the patrons, tenants, licensees, invitees, or employees of the Mall.

Essentially, it’s a zoo with one animal: the lone ad copy writer in its unnatural habitat. Parents can bring their children to observe the writer as it types, stares blankly, types, stares blankly. “Look, Billie, it’s going to forage for food!” I’m tempted to apply for this, but unlike a zoo chimpanzee, I would not be allowed to fling poo.

What Would Be a Good Mall Story?

If you didn’t have to write ad copy, there’s lots of interesting people at malls. The workers, for one: security guards, janitorial staff, those unfortunate young women working at Hot Dog on a Stick. Obvious tourists (although the Mall isn’t as big a draw for them as it was back when). Teenagers with nothing else to do.

There are also old folks, in almost every large shopping mall, who go walking in the morning before stores open. I don’t know which mall started this, but it’s pretty common. It’s a way for the seniors to get some exercise on a surface which is smooth, under climate controlled conditions, and without crowds knocking them over. They’ll usually finish their walk at some little store where they can get coffee and doughnuts. Those are interesting people; I’ve met a few.

Where Have All the (Ad Copy) Writers Gone?

But ad copy? Are ad writers so lousy now you need an open contest to find any new ideas? Malls are surrealistically creepy, and always were — that was their appeal, once they spread like gangrene. Ooh, check out the pus, it’s so strange! Capitalism made blatant, with only the feeblest attempts to resemble anything human — a sad tree here, some soothing music there.

To go biblical, these contest runners are desperately trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. Reanimating an abomination that never should have existed at all.

My Personal Mall Story

Naturally, being a Minnesotan, I have been to the Mall many times. One time, I went to go see a movie. Mall of America has got movie theaters, kiddie rides, bars, the whole deal — just like most mega-malls.

A while before, a friend had given me some marijuana brownies he’d made from homegrown weed. On my movie trip, I was riding the bus, planning on munching popcorn, and I thought this was the perfect time to eat those brownies.

I got to the Mall a bit earlier than planned, and the brownies were kicking in. Very strongly. So I decided to hang out in a sporting-goods shop. I like sports uniforms; they freak me out less than the garish stuff sold in most stores.

I saw a Minnesota Twins jersey I suddenly, really, wanted. I almost bought it. Then I remembered — there was another, competing sporting goods store about 300 feet away. I thought I should comparison shop. So I noted the price and headed for the other store.

The other store had a similar jersey, and I almost bought that one. Until I remembered I’d come there to comparison shop. What was the price in that other store? I’d forgotten.

You can see where this is going. I wandered between those stores — perhaps five times each. Finally I realized it was time for the movie, I was way too high to comparison shop, and I should just buy the damn jersey. Which I still have. Consumerism!

Think Outside The Box, While Inside a Box!

Come up with a musical-comedy screenplay. Or why not a comedy routine? A sarcastic, hipster slag on anyone insufficiently cool to realize how cool the Mall is? Everything is permitted. Nothing is forbidden. Assuming approval from Mall of America Marketing, of course.

I remember, during our high school graduation ceremony, the outgoing principal giving a speech about creativity. Don’t be afraid to dare new ideas, he said. Think different. Be a rebel. This contradicted every authoritarian ruling he’d decreed during my years at school, in a way. But in another way, it didn’t.

Think differently — for money. Be creative, dare to dream — for money. Change the world — for money.

So, have at the contest, folks! Be the zoo writer! Be innovative and new! Just keep in mind:

Contestant acknowledges and agrees that Sponsor may use Submission without the approval of Contestant throughout the world, an unlimited number of times, in perpetuity in any and all media, now known or hereafter invented.

That’s true even if you don’t win. But hey, you get a chance to write in your cage for five days.

Sonoma County Town Hall Pulls in the People

Sonoma County Town Hall

This morning, we had a town hall on healthcare with Congressional Representative Mike Thompson and State Senator Mike McGuire. It was at the local high school, which is roughly a half mile away from me, so I walked down to it.

The first thing that struck me was that there were other people out walking and it was pretty clear they were on their way to the Town Hall as well. I had noticed when I left that two unfamiliar cars were parked in front of my house (I live is pretty rural area). It was only on getting to the high school that I realized they must have been people who went to the town hall. The very large Pine High School parking lot was packed.

As you can see in the photo above, it was standing room only. There are about 400 people in that photo, and that is about one-third of the gymnasium. So there were roughly a thousand people there. And note that it wasn’t constant: people came and people went. It wouldn’t surprise me if two thousand people took part in the whole thing.

It’s About Engagement

I wasn’t that interested in what the politicians had to say. And while I was there, they didn’t say much. Mostly, people spoke — generally with some eloquence. But there was anger and fear in the air.

There was also a sense of the ridiculousness of the whole thing: we have a system, it works, and now we stand to lose it just because the Republicans made political hay out of it over the last eight years? We know that despite everything, less than 20 percent of Americans want Obamacare repealed outright — at least not without Trump’s facile promise of some better and “great.”

I didn’t stick around long. I just wanted to get some pictures and see what the turn-out would look like. Crowds are not my thing (unless I am on a stage and they are watching me). And this is northern California. My Representative (Thompson) is a good deal more conservative than I would like. But there’s no question that he’s a solid, mainstream Democrat who votes as I want him to the vast majority of the time (given our limited options).

My take-away from the whole thing was that this is the kind of political engagement that is necessary if we are to survive. As Benjamin Franklin probably didn’t say, but should have, when (probably not) asked what form of government the USA would have, “A republic, if you can keep it.” If citizens don’t participate in a democracy (Okay Glenn Beck fans, Democratic Republic!), if they don’t vote, if they don’t communicate with their representatives, if they don’t pay attention to what’s going on — they lose everything.

Systemic Problems

Of course, as many of you know, over the last five years, I’ve come to believe that the problem is systemic: capitalism itself. It naturally leads to plutocracy. And that is what we effectively have. But we do still technically have a vaguely democratic system. (Consider that Wyoming with a population of 600,000 people — roughly the population of my county — has two Senators, as does California with a population 65 times greater.)

My point is that seeing people engaged in the political process is not just heartening; it is essential if we are to survive.

Chinese Room Argument

John Searle - Chinese Room ArgumentThe argument and thought-experiment now generally known as the Chinese Room Argument was first published in a paper in 1980 by American philosopher John Searle. It has become one of the best-known arguments in recent philosophy. Searle imagines himself alone in a room following a computer program for responding to Chinese characters slipped under the door. Searle understands nothing of Chinese, and yet, by following the program for manipulating symbols and numerals just as a computer does, he produces appropriate strings of Chinese characters that fool those outside into thinking there is a Chinese speaker in the room. The narrow conclusion of the argument is that programming a digital computer may make it appear to understand language but does not produce real understanding. Hence the “Turing Test” is inadequate. Searle argues that the thought experiment underscores the fact that computers merely use syntactic rules to manipulate symbol strings, but have no understanding of meaning or semantics. The broader conclusion of the argument is that the theory that human minds are computer-like computational or information processing systems is refuted. Instead minds must result from biological processes; computers can at best simulate these biological processes. Thus the argument has large implications for semantics, philosophy of language and mind, theories of consciousness, computer science, and cognitive science generally.

–David Cole
The Chinese Room Argument

Obamacare Repeal Is in Grave Danger

Jonathan ChaitEleven days before Donald Trump took office, I wrote a column with the slightly hedged but still hyperbolic headline “Obamacare Repeal Might Have Just Died Tonight.” While the “might” was doing a lot of work, my argument was that the GOP’s clearest and easiest path for repealing Obamacare had fallen short, which would force Republicans to attempt to forge a vastly more difficult path. That is what has happened since, and that is why the cause of repeal has been dying a slow and painful death. John Boehner — Who repeatedly led his party to election victories on the promise that they would repeal Obamacare! — has now admitted repeal is “not going to happen” and “most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act” would remain in place.

Let’s back up and go through how this has happened. As soon as the immediate aftermath of the election, it could be seen that “repeal and delay” gave Republicans the easiest method for destroying Obamacare. The attraction of repeal and delay is that it did not require Republicans to cobble together majorities in both chambers to support any particular alternative plan, which — despite repeated promises and assurances of imminent success — they had failed to do since the legislative debate on health care began in 2009. Repeal and delay merely required finding 218 House Republicans and 50 senators to defund Obamacare on the premise that something, to be determined later, would be better.

But several Republicans expressed reservations about repealing the law without having any clarity about its replacement, if any. By January 9, repeal-and-delay had enough opponents — Republicans could only afford to lose two votes in the Senate — that the party’s leaders would have to scrap the plan, which they did.

The Republicans’ new strategy is to stage a single vote that would repeal Obamacare and simultaneously put replacement measures in place. A group linked to Mitch McConnell is trying to whip up support for this by circulating polling showing that just 17 percent of the public supports repealing Obamacare without an immediate replacement plan. What’s important about this is not the polling result itself — independent pollsters found the same thing since well before the inauguration — but the fact that Republican leaders are now emphasizing it, rather than pretending it’s not true.

Their professed hope is that the replacement plan will give Republican members of Congress something positive to offer in the wake of killing Obamacare. The trouble for them is that attaching a replacement bill to a repeal bill makes the vote much, much harder. Now that their best chance to repeal the law is gone, the remaining options are all fairly desperate.

–Jonathan Chait
Trump’s Health-Care Nightmare Is Only Just Beginning

Gerald Burns Society

Shorter Poems - Gerald BurnsBack in the mid-1990s, at the end of my career as a graduate student and beginning of my career as college professor, I moved into a big house with three poet friends of mine: Rebecca Davis, James “Jim” Haining (the founder and editor of Salt Lick), Gerald Burns. It was a very lively environment to live in. I learned a lot about literature and writing from the experience, although Jim and Gerald were absolutely vicious when it came to literary merit. All that time, Jim was getting weaker and weaker from multiple sclerosis. But it was Gerald who managed to die first. As I recall (and by that time I was not in constant contact with him), his mother had died and he went back home to help his father. Shortly after arriving, he had a heart attack and died. He was just 57 years old.

Jim used to say that reading a lot of poets was like chewing rocks, and that Gerald was such a poet — but it was worth the effort. It was true. Gerald’s poetry was very difficult. He wore his erudition on his sleeve. But I learned something really powerful from him: it isn’t necessary that a reader understand all the finer points of your writing. Sometimes the mystery has a poetry of its own. And it certainly freed me up to indulge in my own rarefied knowledge. In fact, I am doing that quite explicitly in my most recent (abandoned) novel. But if you want a better example, look no further than Moby Dick. I think the details about sailing and whaling are what make the novel great.

Recently, I found a website of the Gerald Burns Society. It is not the only website preserving his memory. And it isn’t surprising. The first time I met Gerald, he came to a party I was giving, and managed to pretty much single handedly destroy the party. He could be a distinctly difficult person. Yet he was the one thing that we should all strive to be: constantly interesting. And once you got to know him, he was the sweetest man in the world who would do anything for you.

At that time, I was very much involved in my education and thus science. Gerald pushed me to write about that. Of course, he also tried to train my mind regarding literary matters. Now how I wish he were around so we could discuss Ulysses. I remember back with some regret talking about how much I liked the Inferno and he tried to convince me that it was too easy and that I needed to learn to appreciate Paradiso. I wish I had tried at the time. I have tried since, and still don’t really enjoy it. I could really use his help.

Anyway, the Gerald Burns Society has a nice introduction to him. It is a little light on his writing, but it is filled with his drawings, which I must admit to having forgotten about. And it has this wonderful quote from David Searcy (one of the Salt Lick bunch), under the heading, The Earliest Published Burns?

One new thing about Gerald — a little stapled journal, GADFLY (bi-monthly, Cambridge MA, 35 cents) from December, 1959, contains what I believe to be the earliest published Burns. Some professor friend of Ben Fountain’s gave it to him since it contained some Ezra Pound (Ben being something of a Pound scholar) whereupon Ben showed it to me, wondering if a small elitist essay called “Man in the Street” by Gerald Burns were by the genuine article. A glance at the first line was enough: “Reading Heidegger the other day…”

Yep, that’s Gerald!

Anyway, check out the website. It is great to see people keeping Gerald’s work alive.

FBI Nab Another Fake Terrorist

Robert Lorenzo HesterThe Justice Department proudly announced the first FBI terror arrest of the the Trump administration on Tuesday: an elaborate sting operation that snared a 25-year old Missouri man who had no terrorism contacts besides the two undercover FBI agents who paid him to buy hardware supplies they said was for a bomb — and who at one point pulled a knife on him and threatened his family.

Robert Lorenzo Hester of Columbia, Missouri, didn’t have the $20 he needed to buy the 9-volt batteries, duct tape, and roofing nails his new FBI friends wanted him to get, so they gave him the money. The agents noted in a criminal complaint that Hester, who at one point brought his two small children to a meeting because he didn’t have child care, continued smoking marijuana despite professing to be a devout Muslim.

One of the social media posts that initially caught the FBI’s attention referred to a group called “The Lion Guard.” Hester told one of the undercover agents the name came from “a cartoon my children watch.”

But according to the DOJ press release, Hester had plans to conduct an “ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack” on President’s Day that would have resulted in mass casualties had it succeeded.

News reports breathlessly echoed the government’s depiction of Hester as a foiled would-be terrorist. But the only contact Hester had with ISIS was with the two undercover agents who suggested to him that they had connections with the group.

–Murtaza Hussain
Trump’s First Terror Arrest: a Broke Stoner the FBI Threatened at Knifepoint

An Aborted Apologia for Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo YiannopoulosThere is nothing I like so much as a victim. I love defending them. And I will turn on a dime. I will denounce a man one day and defend him the next if I feel he’s become a victim. And for a short period of time, I felt that way about Milo Yiannopoulos. I’ll sketch out the argument that I was going to make and then I’ll discuss why I changed my mind.

The Case for Milo Yiannopoulos

There are various things that are wrong in the downfall of Milo Yiannopoulos. Let’s start with the fact that the man has been extremely vile for years regarding pretty much anything you can think of. But mostly he was sexist, racist, and transphobic. And he did it all in a manner to make it seem “cool.” Watching a 2 minute video of him is equivalent to receiving a doctorate in Hating With Style. Yet despite this, Simon & Schuster gave him a quarter million dollar advance on a book. CPAC made him its keynote speaker. (Good move, actually: Trump won white millennial voters.)

But then a known tape from 8 months ago shows up where Milo Yiannopoulos talks about the complexities of sexuality in young people and defines pedophilia as being attracted only to pre-pubescent children. Now, I have some sympathy for that view. When I see the outrage when some female teacher sleeps with her 16-year-old male student, I think it’s a bit much. I certainly think it’s wrong and I think the woman has obvious problems. But to pretend that this is in the same category of anally raping a seven-year-old is ridiculous. These matters are complicated, and Americans really don’t like complicated.

What probably got Milo Yiannopoulos in trouble, however, was this line, “I’m grateful to Father Michael; I wouldn’t give nearly as good head if it wasn’t[1] for him.” And that’s so clearly his shtick that it’s hard for me to take any more offense than hundreds of other things he said that were not over the line for the Good People™ at Simon & Schuster and CPAN and eventually even Breitbart.

The Better Case Against Milo Yiannopoulos

So I was willing to defend a man who has been very effective in making the world a worse place. But then I saw this headline at BuzzFeed, Milo Yiannopoulos Said He Was Sexually Abused as a Child and Resigned From Breitbart News. It was about his press conference yesterday. He said, “I am a gay man, and a child abuse victim. Between the ages of 13 and 16, two men touched me in ways they should not have.” He followed that up with, “My experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say almost anything on the subject, no matter how outrageous.”

Uh, no. You don’t get to do that.

As I said, the pedophilia remarks were his shtick. Now it would have been fine if he wanted to embrace his victimhood and say, “I was raped as a child and that no doubt is what has turned me into the vile person you have all come to know.” But he can’t say, “On this one issue (the only one you all seem to care about), I was wrong but the rest of what I said was right on!” Indeed, this was literally his apology at the press conference, “I don’t believe that sex with 13-years-olds is OK. I’m certainly guilty of imprecise language, which I regret… For those statements I made where I misspoke, I apologize.”

As Larry Wilmore said, “Go fuck yourself.”

He’s Not a Victim — Not for Long, Anyway

And note: I don’t think this is anything but a low point for Milo Yiannopoulos. For one thing, he’ll get to keep some if not all of the $250,000 advance. But for another, he’s done the fake apology. We won’t hear much for him for a while. But in two years at the absolute maximum, he’ll be back as a major player in the alt-right. Maybe he’ll go back to Breitbart. Regardless, time will heal his wounds. Because there is always a big audience for someone who can Hate With Style.

[1] Look, I’m not even going to explain it. Let’s just say that when you go around shaming people for being illiterate, you really better have your subjunctive mood down.

Can Democrats Take Back the House in 2018?

Greg Sargent - Dems Take House in 2018?President Trump’s new plans for vastly expanded deportations, and the forthcoming new version of his immigration ban, are a reminder: Trump is governing in full accordance with the xenophobic nationalism that drove his campaign. That posture may have driven up huge numbers among blue-collar whites, which offset his relative losses among college-educated white voters and helped him win key Rust Belt states.

But now that he is president, can the brutal real-world realization of these policies boost Democratic chances of taking back the House? If this is possible, what does that tell us about the political staying power of Trumpism in a broader sense? …

While Trump still remains very popular among blue-collar whites, those voters may not be all that decisive in the battle to wrest House seats from Republican incumbents. That’s because many of the districts where Republicans are weak have higher concentrations of college-educated whites and Latinos…

To be clear, Democrats still face a huge uphill climb — they have to net 24 seats, and Republicans still enjoy a huge amount of safe districts. Latinos turn out at low levels in midterms. Other factors, such as recruitment and retirements, will also matter. Trump may end up more popular than seems likely right now. And it should be stressed that Democrats still do have to address their weakness with blue-collar whites for all kinds of moral and political reasons.

But this is a dynamic to watch, and not just because of what it says about Democrats’ chances of taking back the House.

–Greg Sargent
Can Trump Help Democrats Take Back the House? Here’s a Big Thing to Watch.