Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.
Ted Cruz said that the El Paso massacre was “a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy.” This is representative of what I’ve seen throughout the day from conservatives. And I’ve seen a lot of liberals applaud what seems like a change coming from conservatives that used to believe these things only happened because of insanity.
But isn’t it obvious that calling this terrorism is just the newest way for conservatives to ignore the main problem that there are too many guns floating around?
After the Sandy Hook massacre, many on the left (including me) discussed the effect of mental illness and access to care. That’s because the shooter was, in fact, mentally ill. But conservatives quickly picked up on this idea. “The problem isn’t guns! It’s the mentally ill!”
In general, this narrative has worked with most mass shootings because most of the perpetrators end up dead — often at their own hands. It’s harder to do that in the case of the El Paso massacre because the perpetrator survived.
But it doesn’t matter whether you want to say that some guy started killing a bunch of people because he was insane, just bad, or a terrorist. Each of these cases reduces a systemic problem to one of bad actors. If you accept this idea then there is no point in trying to change the environment. Instead, you just have to get the bad actor.
We must speak clearly to combat evil in any form it takes. What we saw yesterday was a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy. There is no place for this in El Paso, in Texas, or anywhere across our nation.
We are all Americans and we are all standing united with El Paso.
If this causes any changes in the law, it will be around the edges. But even this is unlikely to happen. In a few days, after reporters stop asking politicians about this, the conservatives will go back the NRA line that universal background checks are one step from tyranny.
And even if we did get background checks, I wonder how much good it would do. Guns are widely available outside of legal channels. We are decades past the point where minor tinkering around the edges is going to do much good.
Not that I’m against trying. But like I said: nothing is going to change.
It’s bad to watch Ted Cruz and the rest of the conservatives in this country stonewalling against doing anything about gun violence. But it’s worse to watch that while the nation gives them credit for being so reasonable.
Image of Ted Cruz is from the US Government and thus in the public domain.
One thing I’ve learned over years of blogging (Coming up on our 10 year anniversary!) is that it is wrong to be vague about things you criticize. More than wrong, it’s boring. You see this all the time with conservatives. “Libtards are saying white men should be killed!” Really? Who is saying this? So I find it a little worrying that I say this: Matt Yglesias has been arguing for the Democrats to nominate Joe Biden.
I’ve been following Yglesias’ on Twitter and on The Weeds podcast. And he has this overarching idea that Elizabeth Warren is more popular than she should be and that the people who support her shouldn’t. And below all this is, I think, the idea that she can’t beat Trump. You know: because people don’t actually support her ideas. The people (as though Yglesias has any more of a clue what “the people” want than I do) just want to get rid of Trump and don’t actually want any structural reform of the American economic system.
For all I know, Matt Yglesias will vote for Elizabeth Warren. But he’s fond of the “hot take.” He loves to play the informed iconoclast. So I’m not arguing anything about what’s in his heart. But his “take” on Warren seems to be ill-advised.
Why Does Matt Yglesias Think Warren Will Lose?
Does he really think that people are going to choose to vote for Trump over Warren because of these policy issues? She’s talking about making structural changes to the economy when Trump is talking about nuclear war with Iran. I wonder how the American people will vote?!
But what really bugs me about this is that we have loads of political science data on this question. Unless 2020 is somehow completely different from every other election for almost 50 years, Trump will win or lose based on the economy.
And it’s worse than that. The economy is the most important thing. Pretty much everything else runs against Trump. If the economy slows down, Trump is toast. It doesn’t matter what Democrat runs against him.
On the other hand, if the economy heats up to a point that none of us can even imagine now, no Democrat will be able to beat him.
Remember: my simple political science model predicted that Trump would win in 2016. Trump’s election to president doesn’t change the underlying political science.
Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?
This political science is exactly the kind of stuff that Vox writers live and breath. So why does Yglesias seem to have forgotten it all?
I suspect that it all comes down to him playing the part of a journalist rather than living the part — you know, where he actually looks for the truth?
There’s not much point in focusing on political science since it doesn’t change much over time. Instead, focus on your own ideas about electability!
And that’s what Yglesias is doing. He’s far too smart to fall into the trap of thinking “electable” means “white man.” But he isn’t so smart that he can’t fall into the same trap with a more sophisticated notion of electability.
But really: it isn’t that sophisticated. Despite all evidence, he’s assuming that people vote based upon policy rather than what we know: people base their policy ideas on the candidate they vote for.
This is sad to see because, despite it all, Matt Yglesias is still an interesting and insightful writer. His problem is simply that he, like far lesser journalist, is being blinded by the narrative he has landed on.
For most of my life, I’ve dismissed Erik Satie as a composer who created pretty but ultimately uninteresting music. Like most of the opinions I developed as a teen, this was wrong. And over the last few months, I’ve been listening to a lot of his work. It’s magnificent.
The other night, I was listening to Embryons Desséchés. It’s pretty typical of his mature work. But right at the end of the piece, he makes a joke. And it was wonderful for me to hear because I don’t usually get musical jokes. While it’s true that I know a lot more about classical music than most people, I don’t actually know that much about classical music.
What’s more, musical jokes are like regular jokes: they don’t age well. Satie’s joke only works in the context of the move out of the Romantic period. And I only get the joke because I’ve spent so much of my life fuming about the excesses of this most-played and least-fulfilling period of classical music.
Find the Joke!
Before I explain the joke, see if you can’t hear it in the third movement. You should at least note that the ending seems out of place with the rest of the piece.
Slapping Romantics for Fun and Profit
Even in this one movement, you can tell that Satie is messing around. He skips around in terms of style — as he does in the piece as a whole. The first movement even previews what he will ultimately do in the third.
So as I listen, I enjoy hearing Satie having fun bouncing around stylistically. And then he says, “Hey! Remember this?!” And he provides one of these ridiculously extended endings that I love to hate.
This is usually said to be a direct attack on Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. That does seem to be the case, but I think Satie means for his attack to be broader:
Erik Satie’s Other Jokes
Apparently, Satie was making more jokes than this one. In particular, he ridicules the music-hall song “Mon rocher de Saint-Malo” (“My rock of Saint-Malo”), which you can hear quoted very clearly in the first movement.
This isn’t really a musical joke, however. You can only see it in Satie’s notes on the score such as, “‘It was a very nice rock! Very sticky!” But even if musically it had been more than a quotation, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I don’t recall hearing the song before. And I have no context within which to find it funny. Apparently, the song was very popular at that time and Satie was not a fan.
Humor Ages Poorly
This is a problem with all humor. In fact, I developed my approach to theater in an effort to find an audience for my jokes. I found that people didn’t find my jokes funny because they couldn’t understand them. So I got the idea of creating theater to teach the audience so that they would then laugh at my esoteric jokes. How well that works is open to debate.
The good thing about music is that by the time people don’t understand any jokes placed in a piece, they’ve also gotten to the point where the joke doesn’t stand out as odd. A great example of this is Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke). Most people think it sounds fine. To me, it sounds clunky and certainly not the work of Mozart at this late stage of his career. But I have little doubt that he and his friends screamed with laughter when they performed it.
I’m just glad that I was able to pick up a notable musical joke for a change. And I did laugh — a lot!
Ezra Klein’s most recent interview sounded really interesting, “Rod Dreher on America’s post-Christian culture war.” Dreher is a writer for The American Conservative — a journal I have a fairly high opinion of. And at first, I was onboard for what he had to say. Dreher talked about something that’s important to me: that most religious people are facile and don’t take their beliefs seriously. But then he talked about his own political beliefs and they were no impressive.
Rod Dreher Cares About Poverty — Sometimes
Klein asked Dreher the classic question: why the focus on sexual matters and so little on, say, poverty. As Klein noted, sexual matters don’t hurt anyone but poverty does. Dreher went on to explain why sex was so important to people like him who think it is a good idea to base their morality on an ancient religious text and tradition. But before he got to that, he said that he felt that Christians should talk more about poverty.
But the question is not why that amorphous group of facile Christians focus on sexual matters; it is why the Very Serious Christian Rod Dreher does. Because looking at his writing he doesn’t seem that concerned about starving children. Like unserious Christians, he is most concerned about the brave martyrs forced to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.
Saint Sebastian! You knew nothing of pain! American Christians might someday not be able to fire employees for being gay!
It’s Not Homophobia — It’s Religion!
Ezra Klein pushed Dreher many times on why his homophobia is okay when racism is not. (He didn’t put it in such a coarse way, of course.) Dreher has a theological argument for why there is a difference. But I don’t see how it matters.
If things were switched and now homophobia were something no respectable person would admit to but racism were, a racist Christian could now make a theological argument for why homophobia was un-Christian but racism was not.
Rod Dreher’s argument comes down to this: because he has a Biblical rationalization for his beliefs they aren’t bigotry; they are just his faith. I don’t see how this helps him. Racists have reasons for their beliefs too. That’s what all the conservative obsession with IQ tests is about.
Rod Dreher: Alarmist
He’s also an alarmist. Ezra Klein explicitly stayed away from this because he didn’t want to have a debate and wanted to share Dreher’s thoughts that were worth listening to. I’m not sure any of them are. Dreher really isn’t a serious thinker.
Here is some of the “evidence” that Rod Dreher presented for how the secular society is destroying Christians and why he writes so much about religious liberty (and by extension, so little about child poverty):
“We’re being made to care!” That’s Erick Erickson’s line. You can’t ignore it when the freedom of your religious school is put at risk by lawsuits by the advance of gay rights… I’ll tell you a story here. A pastor here in Baton Rouge here where I live, which is pretty much deep Trumplandia, came to me and said that a woman came to him and his congregation and said, “I need your help here. My middle-school daughter has come home and said that she thinks she’s a boy. And I went to the [public school guidance counselor] and asked what was going on with my daughter and she told me quite firmly, ‘You had better accept your son how he is.'” This is a huge thing.
There are a couple of things worth noting here. First, the guy is quoting Erick Erickson. I’m surprised that any thoughtful person would associate with Erickson. While it is true that Erickson was once a never-Trumper, like most he eventually supported Trump (after seeing that Trump was just a typical bigot-Republican and thus of no threat to the status quo).
God Wants Anecdotal Evidence
The main thing to notice is that this is a three-level story. Are we really to believe that the counselor said “quite firmly” given it came through two men who would just assume it? Plus, this woman wasn’t even a member of this church! (What are the odds that she has a religious reason for her concern?) Is she credible? She might just be some crazy person.
It sounds like the kind of case that the church would have made a big deal about had the woman been credible. Yet I haven’t found any news stories about it.
I would think that anyone who really thought that Christians were being oppressed would look for actual data. But of course, Rod Dreher doesn’t look for actual evidence. He don’t need no stinking evidence. He feels that Christians are being oppressed and those are the only (Ben Shapiro-approved) facts he needs!
I am in Chicago, the Muggy City. Yesterday, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). It’s an impressive museum, but its audience is the American family and I found myself bristling about its treatment of history. I know people would say it is done “for the kids.” But I don’t think so. Most of what I hated was there to make adult Americans bask in their delusions of superiority.
This is in contrast to the Chicago History Museum (CHM), where there was a great exhibit about the struggle for minority rights. It was excellent in presenting things as diverse as slavery, the Indian Rights movement, Japanese internment, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Similarly, the International Museum of Surgical Science was a horror show of medical progress topped off with an exhibit about the use of medicine in perpetrating the Holocaust. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying the Holocaust and I still broke down three times.
Vacation Is a Time to Cry
You might think this odd. I’m on vacation. Why would I enjoy being tortured by the villainy of humanity? Well, I’m not. I just don’t like being lied to.
For example, the CHM had a great and fun exhibit on Chicago blues. But it too didn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. See the image on the right, “Help Save the Youth of America: DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS.” And this was a thing: record companies had race record lines — designed to be sold to blacks but clearly appealing to white youths.
I don’t like knowing this. But I actively dislike being lied to. And I most of all hate seeing American myths presented in museums as fact. And that brings us to the German submarine U-505.
U-Boat Sailors Are People Too
U-505 was captured by the US Navy in June 1944. It wasn’t the first U-boat to be captured. It wasn’t the last. But it’s interesting all the same. But it was presented in the museum the same way TV presented the Moon landing: America wins!
To me, the story of the U-boat capture is much more interesting from the perspective of those on the U-boat. There was very little of that. There was an enormous amount of information about the US attacks on it but almost nothing on what damage was done to the U-boat.
But more important, after the crew was captured, they were hidden so that the Nazis would not know that the Allies had the Enigma codes. But these were of limited value. So why exactly it was necessary to defy the Geneva Conventions is not clear to me.
I get why it was done. You never know. But it highlights the nonsense of the concept of the “rules of war.” And it is certain that this story would have been told very differently if the Axis powers had won the war.
No Nuance When It Comes to America
Regardless, at the MSI, there was little nuance. The decision to hide the Germans was presented as though there were no alternative. Indeed, the families of the German sailors were told they were dead. This was presented as a good thing in that they all had a great surprise when the families found out 3 years later that the men were alive.
I guess this all annoys me because as a child, I really believed all this American mythology. We were the Good Guys who never tortured and just wanted people to be Free! So I was devastated when I learned that the US was the biggest bully in the world only interested in its own gain. (See my article on Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.)
So beyond the fact that places like the MSI feed the delusions of American adults, I really hate the fact that children are lied to before they have any defenses against this corrosive nonsense.
In a recent interview, Elizabeth Warren was asked by Ezra Klein what she could do if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and she can’t get any of her plans through Congress. (And let’s be honest: even if the Democrats do gain control of the Senate, she may have problems because the Democratic elites are still far to the right of the party itself.) Her answers were good — discussing the importance of putting people in charge of federal agencies who actually believe in their missions.
But she didn’t mention the single most important reason that presidents have a profound effect on the economy: the Federal Reserve Board. This is something I discussed years ago, Why the Economy Does Better Under Democrats. It was based on an article by economist Mark Thoma where he explained why, since World War II, the economy has done much better under Democratic than Republican presidents. There are a number of reasons for this but control of the Fed is one that the president has complete control over.
I suppose I should clarify a few things. The economy has done fine under Trump. But that appears to be due to the tremendous amount of slack in the economy. Most of what Trump has provided has only hurt it: tariffs and political uncertainty. Even the tax cut was designed so as to have a minimum effect on the economy in the short-term.
One place Trump has complained (rightly so) is that the Federal Reserve has been raising interests rates and thus slowing the economy. The reason for this is that the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, believes that we are on the verge of an inflation spiral. It’s funny because this is pretty much what all the establishment types have been thinking for half a decade.
But it’s Trump’s own fault. He could have appointed a Fed chair that would have pursued the kind of expansive monetary policy Trump wants. But like the judges he nominates, Trump has no idea who to nominate to the Federal Reserve. So he just listens to the establishment Republicans that he surrounds himself with. Actually, we are lucky we got Powell. He’s really no different from the last Fed chair, Janet Yellen. It really raises the question of why Trump replaced her. But I think the answer is clear: he thought he was getting something different.
Unlike Trump, Elizabeth Warren knows stuff — especially when it comes to the economy. I don’t expect she would make radical appointments to the Fed. But she would know what she is doing. And the monetary establishment might think her appointments were radical. I know she wouldn’t appoint the kind of hard-money zealots that conservatives prefer.
And she’s right that her policies and appointments will make a huge difference. Putting someone in charge at the EPA who will clamp down on polluters will mean corporations have to spend some of their profits on mitigation — you know, forcing them to employ workers rather than simply making the rich even richer.
Additionally, she can help our economy by reversing many of Trump’s policies like his tariffs — and threats of tariffs.
Elizabeth Warren has a plan in case Republicans stymie all her legislative plans. She can use executive power to make the world better — just as Trump has used it to make it worse.
I’ve gotten into the habit of posting little things that occur to me on Facebook. But I’m in the process of leaving Facebook. It really is an evil dump. And it bugs me that I’m creating free content for it.
Few songs feel me with so much energy as “Murder, He Says” written by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh for the film Happy Go Lucky (1943). It is sung by Betty Hutton who co-starred in the film.
Hutton was never what I would call a movie star. Her focus was more on live performance although she had a number of hit records like the Hoagy Carmichael song Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. If you watch the video for that song, you can tell that Hutton was something of a goof.
Her biggest success was probably in the title role of Annie Get Your Gun — a role she was born to play. I’m just not that fond of musicals like that anymore. (I loved them when I was a kid!)
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
The film I most associate her with is The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944). It was one of the handful of Preston Sturges classics made during World War II. In it, Hutton plays a classic girl who can’t say no. She wakes up one morning having remembered that she married a soldier the night before but can’t remember his name (except that it had a “z” in it). Later, she learns that she is pregnant.
The film is a maze of absurdities in its attempt to justify what everyone watching knows is about premarital sex in the age of the Hays Code. If you get a chance, you should watch it. The plot doesn’t make much sense. But Sturges’ dialog is as witty as ever and Betty Hutton is her usual effervescent self.
Murder, He Says
Here is Hutton performing “Murder, He Says” for the troops:
Image of Betty Hutton is via Wikipedia and in the public domain.
Cannabis is legal in Canada and quasi-legal in places in the US. Yet in the not too distant past, people spent a decade or more for cannabis possession. Even today, you can spend up to 20 years if the police claim you are distributing.
Whether cannabis is a great evil or no big deal depends upon when and where you are. I recently discovered that there are now cannabis affiliates programs. These are effectively advertising programs. For example, if you had a cannabis-related website, you could advertise for a seed or accessory (or, depending upon where you live, cannabis by mail) company and get a percentage of the sale.
Cannabis Goes Mainstream
If you want to get an idea of how this works, check out THCaffiliates.com. It is a very professional site that connects website owners to affiliate programs that they can use.
What I find really interesting about this is just how mainstream this has all become. Cannabis is just another commodity.
To be clear: I have no problem with this. Cannabis is just another commodity. But it is telling that cannabis was once a major boogieman in even more enlightened areas.
This all had me wondering just what the point of these laws is. And I’m not even particularly interested in the drug laws specifically. I’m more thinking of classic censorship of art.
Because of all my writing about film, I constantly run into something strange in the United Kingdom. They don’t have a First Amendment there so it is far easier to censor films.
For example, when Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alivecame out on video in 1982, it was banned. Just ten years later, it was allowed with 25 seconds cut from it. Eight years after that, it was released in whole.
Once “unwatchable,” Eaten Alive is now passe (but totally awesome).
I see this again and again and again. The difference between something that will “destroy the youth of today” and something that is acceptable or even lauded is a few years. What’s up with that?!
Remember back in 1985 when Tipper Gore got the whole nation freaked out about nasty lyrics in pop songs? There is no proof that the Parental Advisory Stickers actually worked to “protect the kids!” But they sure made middle-class parents like Gore feel better.
Highlights of the PMRC hearings.
Censorship Is for the Censors
And that is the point. Censorship is about making the censors feel better. It wasn’t film-lovers who changed their minds about Eaten Alive after ten years; it was the censors. By then, the stuff in the film was so common it no longer scared them.
And that brings us back to drugs. In the early 20th century, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics looked at making caffeine illegal. They quickly found that its use was so ubiquitous that it was impossible. It’s pretty hard to censor something that everyone is using.
I hope that right now you are taking a long and perfectly legal hit of cannabis.
 The word “marijuana” comes from Mexican Spanish for cannabis. It became the default in the United States because Harry Anslinger popularized it in his efforts to make it illegal as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The idea was to associate it with Mexicans and turn the public against it. This has always been the approach to making drugs illegal from the first anti-drug law in the US in San Francisco where opium dens were made illegal to keep white women safe from those evil Chinese men. Racism is the surest way to get people on board for your small-minded cause.
 Note that there wasn’t a law just as there wasn’t a law during the horror comics freak-out of the 1950s. Instead, a bunch of powerful people just bullied the recording industry into self-censorship.
Image of cannabis bud via PICRYL, in the public domain.
There has been a recent controversy in the trans community. It brought up something that I spend a lot of time thinking about: the nature of competition and choice. But before I discuss that, let me go over the controversy.
Trans Athletes in Women’s Sports
EssenceOfThought and Rationality Rules have been fighting since the latter created a video, “The Athletic Advantage of Transgender Women (And Why It Is UNFAIR).” His basic argument is that if we don’t stop trans-women from competing in women’s sports there will be no women’s sports because it will only be trans-women who compete at the top levels.
I think there are generally two gut reactions to this. For most people, this just seems like “common sense.” For others, this seems like the typical hysteria of the bigotted mind.
On the facts, I side with EssenceOfThought. I have to admit to learning quite a lot. Not surprisingly, I haven’t given much thought to sports or biological changes caused by hormone treatments. To his credit, Rationality Rules has also been educated and changed his thinking — at least to some degree. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of argument on this matter.
As for the rest of this controversy, I don’t especially want to engage. But I don’t like the way Rationality Rules or his defenders have behaved — taking potshots at EssenceOfThought without owning it.
I know that EssenceOfThought can be brutal online. I like that. In one video (that I can’t find now), a friend of Rationality Rules says it is wrong to make instant messages public while briefly showing the twitter feed of EssenceOfThought. I believe this is in reference to their fight with Logicked. Out of context, it is just a smear — and a cowardly one given EssenceOfThought is never mentioned.
As EssenceOfThought has pointed out, this is nothing but tone policing. That’s petty, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. But it’s useless. And I do have a problem with that.
What Do Sports Prove?
Over the years, I’ve come to see hierarchy as fundamentally incoherent. This is a natural outgrowth to my rejection of free will. Without it, any person’s position in a group is entirely outside their control.
Thus, if one is the best sprinter, it is the result of the body (including the brain) they were born with as well as the environment that body interacts with. Much is made of the work-ethic of great athletes. But this too is not a choice but the result of the body and its environment. There is no choice — only the illusion of choice.
Despite all this, humans continue to feel pride in “choices” they believe they have made. And I understand: it is important for society to have standards — they help individuals to make good decisions — ones that make them happier. But it makes no sense for individuals to feel pride in what they do.
Instead, they should feel gratefulness. If you’re smart, you are lucky. And there is no point in society praising intelligence since it is its own reward. The same goes for knowledge. Or height. Or speed.
But I know what people always say. It’s some variation on, “But Donovan Bailey worked really hard!” Sure he did. And his work ethic was something else he was gifted.
I think it is great that humans strive to improve themselves. But in our endeavor to pit people against each other, we soil a noble endeavor.
A good example of this is how grades work. Most successful students know the experience of becoming addicted to good grades and losing their love of learning as a result. (See Alfie Kohn’s work.)
But this is all practical stuff. I’ll have to write an article about it sometime in order to make a convincing case. My point here is we are all just given. We may think we create ourselves, but we’re really just along for the ride.
To me, the most remarkable thing about transgender women is how hormones change their bodies in fundamental ways. EssenseOfThought pointed out a few things in this regard. One is that trans-women generally have lower testosterone levels than cis-women. What’s more, hormone therapy “reduces muscle mass, bone density, and hemoglobin count while increasing body fat.” Yet excellent trans-women athletes were normally excellent cis-male athletes.
This shows how we aren’t in control of who we are. This has obvious relevance to transgender people. But it is much bigger than that. Thus, it makes no sense to me that we let people live in poverty or otherwise suffer. Beyond setting up a society that gives people the best chance to thrive, we need to get past notions like success.
If you’re prevented from being entertained by [watching a great women’s soccer game] because you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, they couldn’t beat the German men’s team!” then that’s just sad.
I want a world in which individuals are appreciated. We act like we live in such a world, but we don’t. Instead, we live in the world of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If you don’t have abilities that make you marketable, you’re an outcast — or at least someone of no value. We celebrate those with red noses when we need them. But that isn’t appreciating individuals.
I specifically use this example because I know what I’m talking about goes back to things we teach children about inclusion and love. But these morals are not what our society is based on. Appreciating people as people and not for how they can make you richer or entertain you should be the goal regardless.
But it’s also the case that we have no reason to be proud that we are smart or fast or knowledgeable. Again: we should be grateful. We are lucky. But we are not great or better than others.
This is not a defense of Sanders (or even Warren, who I’m actively supporting). For one thing, he doesn’t need defending. He calls himself a socialist but he doesn’t qualify by my definition. He’s a New Deal Democrat. It’s sad that politics in the US is so far off the rails that someone with such middle-of-the-road opinions as Sanders can get away with calling himself a socialist.
(I suppose it is more accurate to call Sanders a Social Democrat. But Americans don’t usually know what that is. Or what Democratic Socialist is. Or basically anything at all. That’s why simplistic slogans is the way of the day: “Capitalism good! Socialism bad!”)
The Pathetic Logic of “Electable” Candidates
It is a fool’s game to try to figure out which candidate is more electable. I know in 2004, everyone thought John Kerry was the most electable. He lost.
In fact, based upon Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters, it is now clear the Democrats’ best chance to win the presidency in 2004 was by nominating Howard Dean and running an anti-war campaign. But that’s not the kind of insight that falls out of people’s common sense.
People aren’t interested in political science. In fact, mostly, they have no idea what it even is. So instead of engaging with what the data show us, they try to read other people’s minds. And it just doesn’t work.
The Racist Neighbor
There’s actually some sociological research on how people think this way. People always assume that their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. And when it comes to Democrats, they always assume the world is more conservative than it actually is.
An important aspect of this is that it means we automatically dismiss women and people of color. “We must defeat Donald Trump” easily breaks down to “We must nominate a white man!” Indeed, I’ve even heard liberals I know speculate that maybe we shouldn’t nominate a woman — as though Hillary Clinton didn’t win 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016!
But how did he know?! Even at the time, I thought this was nonsense. But after Donald Trump, how does anyone claim to know who others will vote for?
Voters Don’t Care If They Like a Candidate
I always go back to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign. It was really painful to watch it transpire.
There was the tank photo op that Bush turned into a commercial:
Then there was the rape of Kitty debate question:
And, of course, the Willie Horton ad:
All of that seemed to matter a great deal. But it didn’t. These things stuck because the economy was roaring along and Bush’s party was in the White House.
Similarly, the misreporting of Bush and the grocery scanner was a big thing in 1992 because the economy was tanking and Bush’s party was still in the White House.
People used to marvel at how nothing ever stuck to Ronald Reagan. We called him the Teflon President. But it was because the economy was doing well. Nothing really sticks when things are going well for the president and non-issues do stick when things are going badly.
You Don’t Know Who Is Electable
I know I’m a broken record on this stuff, but it’s important. And I don’t think polling tells us a lot. How would people have answered this question in 2015: “Would you vote for a corrupt, crude, childish sexual assaulter who plays a rich man on TV and stiffs hardworking small business owners?” I don’t think so. In fact, most people didn’t think he would become president until moments before he did.
If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, he can win the general election. The only thing that would stop him is if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.
And if that’s true of Sanders, it is even more true of Elizabeth Warren.
People should just vote for who they want. As long as it isn’t Joe Biden — because no one wants him. His appeal is entirely that he is “electable.” I might listen to an argument based on political science that he is more electable than Harris or Warren. But this idea that he is the guy who conservatives will vote for is just nonsense based on what liberals and moderates think others want.
Similarly, let Sanders run and see how he does. This freak-out among Democrats is pathetic. And if it succeeds in anything, it will be saddling us with Joe “Waist Rub” Biden.
Vote for who you want because you don’t know anything about what other people want.
Ben Shapiro went on the BBC show Politics Live to talk about his new book The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great where he complains that as a society we must be tolerant of each other.
The host of the show, conservative journalist Andrew Neil, asked him to explain how Shapiro’s own career wasn’t contrary to this idea. Instead of answering, Shapiro complained about how unfair the whole thing was.
Shapiro ended the interview shortly after proclaiming (I’m not making this up), “I’m popular and no one has ever heard of you.”
Ben Shapiro Tweets
After the interview, Shapiro tweeted out something that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention:
Just pre-taped an interview with BBC’s @afneil. As I’m not familiar with him or his work, I misinterpreted his antagonism as political Leftism (he termed the pro-life position in America “barbaric”) – and that was apparently inaccurate. For that, I apologize.
In this tweet, he is apologizing because he called a conservative a leftist. Everything else was fine. And implicit in this is that somehow his childish behavior would have been okay if Neil had been a leftist? I don’t get it.
But later, he twitter out a face-saving statement:
.@afneil DESTROYS Ben Shapiro! So that's what that feels like ;) Broke my own rule, and wasn't properly prepared. I've addressed every single issue he raised before; see below. Still, it's Neil 1, Shapiro 0. https://t.co/UAtAUtIWtO
This is the tweet that far too many liberals are misinterpreting as saying something good about Shapiro. For example, on The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur said, “That’s a good tweet to end it there. There’s a little self-abasement.”
Thankfully, Dan Evans was there to shoot this down. He noted that this was just a standard Shapiro tactic. But the fact is that Uygur’s reaction is what most liberals will have. And that’s why Shapiro uses it. It makes Shapiro look reasonable.
Tweet Doesn’t Mean What It Appears To
Note a couple of things. First, it took Ben Shapiro a full day to come up with that tweet. It came 22 hours after the first “sorry, not sorry” tweet that showed him to be as angry as he was on Politics Live.
More important: what other move did Shapiro have? The video was out. Even assuming that the interview was done by someone like Mehdi Hasan who he would just dismiss, Shapiro still looked like a spoiled child who had never been questioned before. In situations like this, you admit defeat and pretend to be the Big Man. Shapiro is not brilliant and is nothing like what the media portray, but he is relatively smart. He understands how you deal with situations like this.
And look at the tweet itself. There is nothing about acting childishly. His error was just that he didn’t prepare properly!
How would that have changed anything? It might have made him react even worse given that he would have thought he was going into a friendly interview. The only thing that would have changed is that he wouldn’t have made the wildly embarrassing mistake of calling Andrew Neil a leftist.
And that means that Ben Shapiro’s second tweet is really just a more artful version of the first. “I was wrong about Andrew Neil being a leftist but he was still really mean to me!”
Conservative Privilege and Ignorance
This sounds a lot like Megham McCain. For all the complaining about liberal snowflakes, when it comes to celebrities, I see almost exclusively conservatives. They do nothing but whine when the aren’t provided safe-spaces where they are never challenged about their vulgar beliefs.
What’s most amazing about the whole thing is that Ben Shapiro didn’t realize that the media in other countries is different than it is here in the US. Andrew Neil wasn’t asking gotcha questions; he was asking questions. Shapiro had every opportunity to answer them and even contest their assumptions. But instead, he complained about the questions and tried to dismiss them as nothing but a leftist hit job.
The question this raises is how someone like Ben Shapiro could get so much media attention in the US without constantly running into this kind of questioning. He’s supposedly the facts guy. Yet the US media treat him with kid gloves.
But I know the answer to this. Bernie Sanders gets hard questions all the time. Anyone pushing leftist policies does. But American media has been so cowed from five decades of conservative accusations of “liberal bias,” that it just lets all but the most extreme conservative nonsense go back without comment. (And this has led to what is acceptable just getting more and more radical.)
Ben Shapiro Must Be Stopped
People like Ben Shapiro need to be shut down. Their celebrity is heightened be claiming that they are somehow reasonable. Ben Shaprio acts like a petulant child on television and the takeaway is “at least he’s self-aware”? No! He’s a conservative grifter, making money by harming our society and the most vulnerable among us. He is toxic. I don’t care that he’s nice to his dog; we shouldn’t be talking about what is good about Ben Shapiro because none of that has anything to do with his work.
He’s an evil man and he must be stopped. His admitting defeat is part of his work. It is nothing to be even grudgingly positive about.
 To be fair, Shapiro isn’t saying that we should all get along. His argument is finely tuned to complain about liberals and to let off conservatives. It’s fine to call liberals fools but wrong to call conservatives racists because of course they never are.
Elizabeth Warren has a solid plan to help the US farming industry. But before I get to that, let’s talk about Star Trek.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty meets with a material scientist to barter some knowledge in exchange for a whale container. Scotty, being from the future, talks to the Mac, which doesn’t respond. The scientist says, “Just use the keyboard.” Scotty then begins typing at an amazing speed and before long, the formula for transparent aluminum is displayed on the screen. It’s a fun scene in a fun movie. But it isn’t the way the world is.
If a modern American were sent back to a neolithic city, they wouldn’t know anything. In my experience, most people don’t even know what causes the phases of the Moon — or why the seasons change.
We Need a Diverse Farming Industry
It’s because of this that I think any group of people needs to hang on to their most fundamental skills. A society of only genius computer programmers would be one economic shock away from disaster.
We need a strong farming industry. And that means a diverse farming industry. The history of farming over the last century has been one of consolidation and increased homogeneity. And this is not the result of mysterious global economic forces that no one can do anything about. Instead, it’s the result of government policy — specifically the encouragement of mergers.
The Problem With Modern Farming
Warren lays out the problem, which is mostly consolidation (as it is in so many other industries). For example, a handful of companies control the most important aspects of food production:
As a country, we’ve gotten way too focused on the strict definition of “monopoly.” The main reason anyone cares about a monopoly is that it leads to uncompetitive markets. It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand companies in a market; if the market doesn’t work, we need to do something about it.
That’s what Warren proposes to do.
Plan to Save Farm Diversity
There are a number of parts to Warren’s plan, but attacking consolidation is the most important.
As discussed before, this is the key problem. Companies do not merge so that they can provide cheaper products to consumers. They merge because they can increase profits. Even if this does result in cheaper products (and that is hardly assured), it has negative effects on the country. We see it in the overuse of corn. But more to the point, we see it in the elimination of small farms.
Mergers mean that farmers have fewer and fewer choices for buying and selling, while vertical integration has meant that big agribusinesses face less competition throughout the chain and thus capture more and more of the profits.”
Other Ways to Help Farmers
The rest of Warren’s plan discusses some examples of things she’d like to change. One is an issue that is coming for all of us but which has greatly affected farmers: technology that users can’t repair. This is all part of our out-of-control intellectual property laws. It’s like with DVDs. You may think you own them but you are actually just licensing them.
So farmers can’t fix or upgrade their own machinery. That would be violating the manufacturer’s intellectual property. It’s an outrage and it is great to see Elizabeth Warren acknowledging it.
There’s one part of her plan that I’m less sanguine about. Warren wants to limit foreign ownership of active farmland. I’m an internationalist and I don’t like this idea on that level. On the other hand, the world is the way it is. And just as we shouldn’t allow multinational corporations to control our access to food, we should be concerned about foreign interests doing it.
Ultimately, I don’t think we need to worry about this if we can reverse the consolidation in the farming industry. Foreigners are interested in farming for the same reasons that these corporations are. If we limit the size of farming concerns, we will automatically limit foreign interests.
This is yet another important policy proposal from Elizabeth Warren. It is also great politics. This issue is important in Iowa. It could well be the difference between Warren winning and losing the state.
Coming from many politicians, this wouldn’t matter so much to me. But Warren has shown herself to be far more interested in policy than politics. And her spat with Trump over her Native American blood didn’t speak well of her political sense either. But this is smart. And it’s good to see.
Image taken from a frame of the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” under Fair Use.