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About Frank Moraes

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.

Don’t See Randy Rainbow Live

Randy RainbowLast night, I went to see Randy Rainbow. I got a free ticket. But it was extremely troubling.

It’s hard to write this because I had a great time last night. The show was funny and the band was great. But part of me can’t watch a show without seeing it from a professional and political standpoint. And on these fronts, it was pretty bad.

Professional Entertainment

The crowd that came out to see Randy Rainbow last night was scary. I thought that I liked his work. These people were crazy in love. During the question and answer section of the show, I suffered greatly from pena ajena. The questions were embarrassing. One example, “If your mother ever wants a break, I’m willing to step in.” Rainbow dealt with the question well, “You know I’m in my 30s, right?” (He’s fast approaching 39. Vanity, thy name is Randy!)

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the audience ate up the performance. But my seat cost $55. So I had expectations even if I wasn’t the one paying.

Problems With the Show

Probably the worst part of the show was that the sound was horrible. All the canned sound (more on that in a minute) seemed to come from one speaker. And the EQ was off. There wasn’t enough bass and there was too much treble. It made me uncomfortable. And even though I was otherwise enjoying the show, I probably would have slipped out if I hadn’t been packed in on both sides.

More annoying when it came to the ticket price was the fact that roughly a quarter of the show was pre-recorded video. And these weren’t recorded for the show. They were mostly standard Randy Rainbow YouTube videos. I’d seen half of them before.

And they’re good. (Of course, blown up on a big screen they don’t look so good.) But I could stay home and watch it for free. I think it says a lot about Randy Rainbow’s contempt for his audience that he doesn’t think he needs to program a full 90 minutes of live material.

Canned Music

The live songs always include canned music — mostly background vocals. I don’t particularly like this, but I understand it. I wouldn’t even bring it up except that when Rainbow is singing live, he is usually up on the screen singing as well.

It also highlights the fact that Randy Rainbow isn’t that compelling a live performer. His singing is fine but his gestures are muted — designed for nightclub performances, not a large theater. I think that having a giant screen is meant to make up for this but it only made the live Randy Rainbow seem smaller. It was also extremely distracting.

Often, when performers don’t have a great stage presence, they make up for it in other ways like having outrageous costumes. Rainbow does this to some extent, but not nearly enough. His costumes are more along the lines of prototypes. Like he’s saying, “If this were a real performance, I’d have an amazing costume here.”

Another factor that makes it less than it could be is Randy Rainbow’s dismissive personality. His attitude toward the audience is the same as it is toward Trump. And I kept remembering a headline in Current Affairs, People Who ‘Pretend’ to Be Shitty Are Frequently Just Shitty. Although given his audience, I can’t necessarily blame him.

Commodity Machine

Truthfully, the show would be far better if Randy Rainbow just performed show tunes with his exceptional band. I was especially taken with Justin Vance on sax, clarinet, and flute. He really added to the feel that there was an orchestra on stage instead of just a four-piece combo.

Of course, such a show wouldn’t be popular. It certainly wouldn’t pay for the caliber of the band. But that’s the point. The entire Randy Rainbow organization is a commodity machine.

Randy Rainbow Merch

There are a half-dozen different Randy Rainbow t-shirts you can buy. They are low-quality and made in Honduras. But hey, a good-quality t-shirt might have taken a dollar off the profits.

So perhaps you would like Randy Rainbow glasses? How about socks? The t-shirts are $30 but the socks are a real bargain at just $20.

For only $5, you can get a “what the fuck you guys?” bumper sticker, which is more or less what I thought about this exercise in non-productive capitalism.

Making Money

The two young women selling all the Randy Rainbow stuff were working very fast to meet the demand. It made me start to do some rough calculations.

There were 1,633 seats at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Seats were $39.50, $45.00, and $55.00. Based on where I was sitting, I would say these represent about 30%, 50%, and 20% of the total seats. The place was packed, so that’s roughly $75,000. I figure rental is $10,000 for the night. The total cost for labor is $10,000 — if Randy Rainbow pays really well. And let’s give him another $10,000 for misc expenses.

That means, even without at least a few thousand dollars from Randy Rainbow merch, the production netted $45,000 playing in a small city. I don’t begrudge Randy Rainbow. Get it while you can!

Capitalism Destroying Art

But the whole thing highlights many problems with capitalism. First, Randy Rainbow is making an excessive amount of money while producing relatively little material. And he’s fast approaching the point where he will not have to produce anything at all.

Then there is the fact that people have to pay $40 just to get a bad seat at this event. And they are apparently paying it because of Randy Rainbow’s celebrity. I too went in eager to like it. But had I paid, I would have felt let down. There was maybe $15 up there on stage. The extra $25 to $40 was what we pay because the market can bear it.

Whatever. Randy Rainbow remains an interesting creative artist. And the people love him. But there really is no reason to leave the house. You can buy all that crap from home too.

YouTube and Twitter are the perfect venues for Randy Rainbow.

Economics Doesn’t End Under Socialism

Libertarian SocialismElizabeth Warren said, “I’m a capitalist. I believe in markets.” This is perhaps the stupidest or at least most ignorant thing I have ever heard Elizabeth Warren say. But it’s not just her. I hear this said all the time by people who are, in fact, socialists.

Where did people get the idea that a socialist economy wouldn’t have markets? Does economics stop working in a socialist economy? Of course not! What this idea shows is that most people don’t know fuck all about socialism.

Socialism is an economic system where workers own the means of production. That is to say: people should get paid for their work. They should not be paid for owning stuff. That’s it. Workers will still make things. They will still exchange voluntarily in markets.

Socialist Don’t Understand Socialism?

It is incredibly annoying to see self-proclaimed socialist in the United States accept this. The idea that there wouldn’t be markets seems to follow from the myth that socialism is a top-down authoritarian system like Stalinism.

I can see why conservatives and liberals would want to frame it this way. But why socialist? But maybe the issue is not why socialists would say such things but why so many liberals now call themselves socialists.

I fear that some so-called socialists are just incredibly childish. Some clearly think that socialism is some major break from reality. It’s a world where you get all the candy you want and transparent fairies dot the sky and life is a dream. I don’t know. I realize it doesn’t generally go that far but I’ve heard people say some pretty naive things that are only slightly less absurd than fairies.

But this brings up a broader point. Most people who claim to be socialists are really just old-fashion New Deal Democrats. And this very much includes Bernie Sanders.[1] Socialism means something. It’s something I believe in. And it’s not just Capitalism Lite.

Allies Not Comrades

That’s not to say that I don’t think these people are allies. I very much do. Their vision of the future is infinitely better than our present. At the same time, it’s annoying supposed socialists complain about Elizabeth Warren when she says she is “a capitalist to my bones.” Even if Bernie Sanders were pushing notably different policies (and he isn’t) it’s not like those policies have a chance in this country in the short-term.[2]

The truth is that if good old-fashioned New Deal liberalism is ever going to become dominant then people need to accept that some of us believe in actual socialism. The term shouldn’t be co-opted by people who are ultimately the opposite: capitalists.

America Needs a Real Left Wing

Understand this is not about purity. In fact, as I’ve noted there’s a very real practical issue here. Part of what’s going so very wrong in the United States is that the Overton window has contracted ridiculously and this has simply moved the country rightward.

In The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism, John Nichols noted that socialism used to be part of our national conversation. It became a boogeyman rather late in the Cold War.

Don’t Water Down Socialism

Now Liberals are trying to define it out of existence. And this may work to some extent in the short-term. But it doesn’t move us forward in the long term. Because then socialism just becomes this mushy word for an economic and political system that is not as bad as what the Republicans have on offer. And, at best, that means that roughly half of the time Republicans will be in charge. And that’s one step forward and two steps back — as it has been for the last 40 years.


[1] Based upon statements when he was younger, Sanders was a socialist. At this point, he’s an extremely successful politician on the national stage. He’s had to tone things down to get where he is. And I don’t hold that against him at all. As it is, he’s a lightning rod. His Medicare for All plan doesn’t explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t covered so the right-wing press is going crazy. Typical. But Sanders is not a socialist.

[2] I’ll admit: if Jeremy Corbyn were running here, he’d be my first choice. Because he would be a prominent advocate for actual socialism. I just don’t see Sanders as a socialist. Most Americans don’t know the difference between a democratic socialist and a social democrat. Well, it’s right there: Corbyn is a democratic socialist and Sanders is a social democrat. And it doesn’t matter what they call themselves.

Pete Buttigieg Isn’t Wrong About Insurance Companies

Pete ButtigiegI don’t like Pete Buttigieg. He’s vague while young. And that means that he is almost certain to become more conservative. And his political inexperience means he will almost certainly be controlled by others once in the White House. So I don’t support him. But Ana Kasparian (see video below) is wrong when she claims that he doesn’t believe in Medicare for All because he thinks insurance companies will still exist.

Buttigieg spoke to George Stephanopoulos who asked, “Isn’t Kamala Harris… right when she says, ‘That means doing away with private insurance’?” Buttigieg responded, “I don’t see why it requires that. After all, if the framework we’re using is Medicare, a lot of people who have Medicare also have Medicare supplements.” Kasparian claims this means that Buttigieg is for a public option.

My position is that we shouldn’t have private healthcare. It is morally unacceptable that some people would live and others die due only to their ability to pay for better healthcare. But then, I’m a socialist; I don’t believe that economics should allow Dick Cheney to live to be an old man while ordinary children die while waiting for a heart transplant.

Medicare for All and Insurance Companies

But the argument against Buttigieg, in this case, smacks of Purity Politics — as if Medicare for All is the only thing we will ever need in order to healthcare justice. Just as I support Obamacare, I support Medicare for All — even though it is just one more step.[1]

What’s more, even Sanders’ plan allows for private insurance. It just forbids private insurance from competing against Medicare for All. And this is exactly what Buttigieg was saying.

Pete Buttigieg Is a Man for Another Time

But as I said: I’m no supporter of Pete Buttigieg. But of it is a matter of character. Nathan J Robinson did a good overview of why Buttigieg wasn’t trustworthy. But I could look past that. On the issues, there isn’t a whole lot to like. Actually: there isn’t a whole lot at all.

On most issues, Buttigieg has never said anything publicly. Most of his positions are pretty standard liberal ideas. But there are cracks. He’s in favor of charter schools, for example. But what’s most troubling is that he has contradicted himself a couple of times on Medicare for all. Despite what he told George Stephanopoulos, he’s generally been in favor of a public option.

That’s fine. But as we know through long, painful experience with President Obama, we aren’t likely to get the public option if that is our ask. Pre-compromising is not a good negotiating standpoint.

So it’s fine to criticize Pete Buttigieg. (Can’t we just call him “The Kid”?) But let’s not confuse what Medicare for All is just in the name of going after a man that has more than enough vulnerabilities.

Update

Sanders’ Medicare for All plan does not explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t included. So of course Fox News and Washington Examiner are going crazy saying that it covers “illegal immigrants.” It will never fly and I’m sure the Sanders campaign will clarify. But it’s interesting just how bigotted conservatives are. There must be something very wrong with our kindergartens because half the nation is not learning the most basic concepts of social existence.


[1] I’m not just looking toward healthcare equality. There is no way that at this time Medicare for All (or any other “universal” program) will include undocumented people. I don’t know of a major candidate who is suggesting this. And even if one did and then became president, there’s no way it would stay in the legislation until passage. I hate to be a pessimist about this stuff, but we live in an exceptionally xenophobic country.

Olly Thorn Somehow Believes in Free Will

Olly ThornI’ve been very impressed with the work that Olly Thorn does over at Philosophy Tube. Like most of my YouTube consumption, I listen to him while making dinner. He usually has interesting things to say.

Free Will and Healthcare

While making dinner yesterday evening, I listened to two of his videos. (He puts out relatively short videos each week.) The first one was Healthcare, Ethics, & Postmodernism. In it, he discussed healthcare ethics. In particular, he talked about the way that many healthcare providers try to ration based upon the behavior of patients. He calls this the Principle of Voluntary Responsibility.

People naturally believe, for example, lung transplants should go to those suffering from cystic fibrosis before those suffering from lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Thorn makes excellent points about this and you really should watch the video.

But he skips the question of free will.

Now that might seem like a strange complaint about this video on healthcare. But I have a hard time getting past this issue when discussing what people call voluntary behavior.

I know it seems like having cystic fibrosis is just bad luck whereas being a lifelong smoker is a choice. But I think both people have bad luck. To say that the smoker could have chosen to not smoke is only saying that in a different universe with different starting assumptions the smoker would have made different choices. That’s true. But that doesn’t change the facts in the universe in which the smoker actually lived.

Encouraging Better Behavior — In Theory

None of this is to say that the cystic fibrosis sufferer shouldn’t get the lung transplant. Putting smokers at the end of the lung line is a way to encourage people to make better decisions in the future.

The problem with this is that we live in a highly unjust society. As a result, it is usually the poor who “choose” to smoke. And after smoking became taboo in the US, our tobacco companies just started selling more cigarettes overseas. That is: as middle- and upper-class people stopped smoking here the tobacco industry just got more poor people elsewhere addicted.

Fillwill and Torture

Although I’m even more concerned about the issues Thorn raised in his healthcare video, we still largely agree (I think). But that’s not the case in his video What Is Solitary Confinement Like?

In the video, he argues that solitary confinement is torture and he speculates that it should not be given to anyone. I’m fine with all that.

But then he says:

The neo-Nazi terrorist Anders Breivik murdered 77 people including several teenagers in 2011. And he’s been in various forms of solitary confinement ever since. And I have to confess, I have no sympathy for him.

It’s an understandable opinion. But I don’t share it. Breivik is a horrible person. But I’m not okay with him being tortured for the exact same reason that I wouldn’t be for torturing a cougar that attacked and killed my nephew.

Sure, that cougar has to be put somewhere that it can’t harm people. But I don’t blame it for being a cougar. And I don’t blame Anders Breivik for being a psychopath.

Free Will Obscures Reality

I understand that everyone feels like they have free will. I do too. But it’s a delusion. It’s a story we tell ourselves to keep going — keep living.

But I really do think that we can’t see reality and we can’t think ethically if we don’t abandon the concept of free will.

No one deserves to be tortured, even people who gleefully tortured. To say they do is to make the same ethical mistake that proponents of capital punishment make. And I know it’s hard to think this way. “An eye for an eye” just seems logical. But it’s not. It’s applying a kind of culpability that we don’t to dogs.

And I think we can all agree that we are no better than dogs.

Image and Capitalism

Female Classical MusicianElizabeth referred me to a very interesting academic article, Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians. It finds that when the judges can’t see the performer, women musicians do markedly better.[1] This is not surprising.

You probably remember that widely cited study about people with black-sounding names receiving fewer interviews than people with white-sounding names. A more recent study has called it into question. The researchers claim that the results may not indicate race but rather social status. Personally, I don’t find the study all that compelling. But even if true, it just indicates a different kind of prejudice — one that just happens to correlate with race in this country.

I’m interested in this question on a very basic level. I’m interested in the way that things like height, weight, and perceived attractiveness affect how people are rewarded. This is not because they are particularly important. Instead, I’m interested in the ways in which even on the most facile level, meritocracy is nonsense.

Image and the Workplace

Consider someone needed to do data entry. All that matters is typing skills. There are two candidates. One of them is sullen and ugly with a typing speed of 100 wmp. The other is chipper and attractive with a typing speed of 90 wmp. Just based upon the work that needs to get done, the first candidate should be hired. But we all know it is the second candidate who will be hired.

In this case, people will complain that it’s a drag to be around sullen people. First, those who think that have never had a data entry job. But beyond that, I think the same would be true if the job were done remotely. As I learned in a career class in high school: the candidate who is hired is the one the employer likes the most.

I’ve seen this in the freelance writing world. Writers do not like to update their pictures. This is, not surprisingly, most true of female writers because they are most judged on their appearance. This is far too common to be simply a question of vanity. Image = money.

Capitalism and the Ugly Person

This is a fundamental failing of capitalism. Without capitalism, people will still be discriminated against. But their livelihoods will not depend upon their attractiveness. And they will be better able to find meaning in their lives outside their value in the market.

It’s funny how capitalism makes all our social problems worse. Yet we are just supposed to accept it because “Stalin!” Or “iPhones!”

The Music Biz

It’s shocking the degree to which personal attractiveness dictates the careers of classical musicians. You might have noticed how opera changed from the 1960s when the singers tended to be overweight to the point now when most singers are hunka hunka burning loves.

Or look at almost any recent instrumental star like Tine Thing Helseth (who is nonetheless great).

But it’s worse than that. The rise of child stars in classical music is part of this. They have always existed but now that there are more and better ways to monetize them, they have exploded.

What drives me crazy, is the tendency of musicians (Especially pianists and violinists!) to sway and close their eyes and do everything else to communicate to the audience who very much they feel the music. Rubbish! That’s image over music. (It’s also a classical music audience that is mostly tone deaf.)

Back to Reality: Managers Are Dumb

All of this brings me back to an interview I was at where the guy being interviewed was clearly incompetent. But he was a good-looking, ex-military guy. And he was very confident. I knew he would be useless, but the owners loved him.

This problem only gets worse the more inequality there is in the economy. When you have millions of dollars, you can stand to waste some of it in the name of surrounding yourself with the cool people. If that means your employees type 10 percent slower — or even that they never get any work done at all — no big deal.

Capitalism: all your worst prejudices realized!


[1] There is something odd that goes on in semifinal rounds. You can read about it in the paper if you are interested. If anything, however, it is further indication that women are discriminated in getting seats in symphony orchestras.

Warren Wants to End the Filibuster

Elizabeth WarrenFor generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice. And in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.

I’ve only served one term in the Senate — but I’ve seen what’s happening. We all saw what they did to President Obama. I’ve watched Republicans abuse the rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they’re in power.

We saw it happen again just this week. Republicans spent years — years — exploiting the rules to slow down or block President Obama’s mainstream judges and executive nominees. But now that they’re in power, they’re unilaterally changing those rules to speed them up and ram through President Trump’s extremist nominees.

So let me be as clear as I can about this. When Democrats next have power, we should be bold: We are done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.

And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems in this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.

–Elizabeth Warren
Al Sharpton’s National Action Network

Protecting the Democratic Party From Joe Biden

Joe BidenSorry I’ve been away. I’ve been wanting to write this article for days. I wasn’t surprised when Lucy Flores came forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Joe Biden. All I thought was, “The timing is no accident.”

I didn’t think that it was unfair. Indeed, I think just the opposite. The truth is that Joe Biden is a pox on the Democratic Party’s primary. He should have announced that he wasn’t running long ago. The party was kind to wait this long before calling him out on decades of behavior that is at least creepy.

Bernie Takes One for The Team

It’s funny that Biden now thinks that this whole thing is the work of the Bernie Sanders campaign. If it is, then all those people who are mad that Sanders doesn’t support the Democratic Party need to admit that he’s now done something great for the party.

Look: I understand that Joe Biden is killing it in the polls. But it’s meaningless. A Morning Consult poll found that the biggest second choice of Biden supporters was Sanders. And the biggest second choice of Sanders supporters was Biden. What this indicates is that both candidates’ support is highly dependent upon name recognition.

There is a difference, however. Whereas Sanders has a clear base of support, Biden has none outside Morning Joe and other elite “centrist” pundits.

As soon as it came to blows, Biden was going to wilt. He’s already run for president twice and both times he failed miserably. I think he’s a great retail politician. But that doesn’t count for much in a presidential race. (Bill Clinton was also a great retail politician, but he’s more than that.)

Would Trump Have Ignored Biden’s Behavior?

Another interesting thing about the Biden complaint that Sanders set him up is that this was going to happen eventually. If all the Democrats had played nice and ignored Uncle Joe’s behavior, you can count on Donald Trump bringing it up in the general election — if Biden somehow managed to get the nomination.

I know it sounds ridiculous. How could Trump possibly complain about how another man treats women? But he would have! In his mind, Trump can never be held accountable because, of course, all women want to be grabbed by the “pussy” by such an attractive and powerful man. But Joe Biden? Good God! Just look at the man’s hair!

Protecting the Democratic Party

Obviously, I don’t know what led to these allegations against Biden. But it is clear that it is someone who wants the Democratic Party to have a good primary that serves the interest of the Democratic base. That means providing a platform for people like Warren, Sanders, and Harris. Biden represents much of what has been wrong with the Democratic Party for the last four decades.

You could always depend upon him to stand up for credit card companies over regular Americans. He has always been a big supporter of mass incarceration. And he’s a big supporter of the death penalty. He’s a real caring guy!

I feel very much like Biden is Drunk Uncle Joe and he needs to go home and sleep it off. Whoever started this — whether it is just Lucy Flores herself or not — did the Democratic Party and the nation itself a great favor.

Biden, go home.

Afterword

There are rumors that Joe Biden plans to run for president regardless. If that’s the case, he should announce. If he does run, I will take joy in watching him crash and burn. And if he does win, it means the Democratic Party really is pointless.

Hierarchy in Capitalism and Socialism

Human HierarchyThe video below is really good. However, I think he goes too easy on libertarians. Libertarians are authoritarians.

I know that there are (relatively) serious libertarians who don’t go along with this. There are, for example, a few libertarians who believe in labor unions and are against the totally anti-freedom “right to work” laws.

You can see the authoritarian tendencies of libertarians in the way they fetishize business-people and disregard workers. If the philosophy were really about freedom, it wouldn’t matter what people do. But it matters a great deal to libertarians.

What this all comes down to is their absolute allegiance to hierarchy (what the video is about). What distinguishes libertarians from conservatives and fascists is the means not the ends of their perfectly constructed hierarchy.

Finding Meaning in Socialism

I think about this stuff a lot with regard to socialism. Socialism is a great system for someone like me who, because of my early environment, is highly self-actualized. I personally think that living under socialism causes people to be more self-actualized. But at least for now, most people need external forces to provide them with a sense of meaning.

It is not enough to just give someone money. People need to feel that there is a point to life — beyond a Schopenhauerian one. And I believe that meaning comes mostly from work.

But I mean work in a different sense than we think of as work in a capitalist context. Work is raising a family. Work is caring for a sick friend. It is creating a work of art that no one will ever see.

For conservatives, meaning comes from success in the hierarchy. This is an arbitrary construction. And not an edifying one.

Our mystics now have to operate in the context of a church that must trick people into giving money in the name of having a happy happy time after they die.

And it leads to absolutely ridiculous products that no one ever wanted and no one will ever need. Like GarfieldEats — your one-stop shop for pizzas shaped like a second-rate cartoon character.

But capitalists do have an advantage over socialists: they have a system that gives people meaning. It’s an awful one. A serious heroin addiction also gives people meaning. Few would argue that people should thus become junkies. Yet such an addiction provides exactly the same kind of meaning that capitalism does.

Beyond Hierarchy

Ultimately, what socialism needs is for people to stop thinking in terms of hierarchy. As we know from the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period, there is nothing natural about hierarchy.

Or rather, it is far more complex. There will always be someone widely considered the best musician; the best woodworker; the best gardener. The problem with capitalism is that it tries to force these innumerable hierarchies in any collection of humans into a single hierarchy.

Most people don’t care that they aren’t the fastest runner or whatever. They find meaning on their own terms — generally being the best human as they define it. This project is not helped by a society that fetishizes achievement in the art of accumulating more money than you could actually spend.

(It’s interesting that in the early 14th century, Dante presented greed as a particularly bad sin. Now greed is the highest good because of the “magic of the market” making us all better off. That was a major apologetic coup by the worshippers of capitalism — one most Christians gladly accept.)

And this is why I think socialism is key to human happiness. By valuing people in all their variety, we treat them as individuals. In capitalism, people are valued as cogs in the hierarchy.

Human Value

This is why we see the absurd display of rich people being asked not just about things they know nothing of but about things that reflect on their position on the hierarchy. Ask David Koch about global warming! Probe Mark Zuckerberg about antitrust law! Ask anyone in the Walton family about anything at all!

The only difference between these exercises and the man-on-the-street interviews (which we no longer see) is that people think billionaires’ opinions mean something.

Society succeeds from the ground up. Capitalism teaches us the opposite: it is only because of the people at the top of our arbitrary hierarchy that we even manage to have enough food. Yet if stranded on an island, I would much rather be with my next-door neighbor than Bill Gates.

We must value people as people and not for where they happen to find themselves on the capitalist hierarchy. That is no different than valuing people on how well they play Red Dead Redemption 2.

Why the Lies of the Iraq War Still Matter

George W BushThere is a tendency to look back on the George W Bush years with a certain amount of nostalgia. He might have been awful but at least he wasn’t Trump. But is that really true? This week is the 16th anniversary of the Iraq War and I think it shows that nothing has really changed.

From mid-2002 to roughly mid-2003, I was working at home. So I spent a lot of time listening to NPR. Now I know what conservatives think, “NPR?! That’s leftist radio!” But you know what a conservative’s definition of “leftist” is: “not far right.” The truth is that NPR is the most middle-of-the-road, Milquetoast news you can find.

In the lead-up to the Iraq War, there was no pushback. When Dick Cheney when on The News Hour to quote stories in The New York Times that he had planted, it was allowed without a hint of skepticism.

So the only thing I was being “told” was that this Saddam Hussein guy was really dangerous and maybe we should go to war. But somehow, that was not my takeaway.

The Iraq War Lie

Donald Trump has done many reprehensible things. But he hasn’t caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians — yet.

From no later than September 2002, it was clear to me that the Bush administration was going to war with Iraq. And all “news” was just a propaganda effort to sell it.

There was absolutely no question of what was coming. This fact has made me angry at liberals who supported the war. How could they have known?! By paying the smallest amount of attention.

But here’s the thing: we know that George W Bush lied us into war. And we know that Dick Cheney did too. As did the “oh so respectable” Condoleezza Rice. And “reasonable” Colin Powell.

How are any of these people worse than Donald Trump? The answer most people will give is that they didn’t lie about everything. But that doesn’t make sense. These supposedly respectable Republicans lied about the single most important policy issue of their time. And while Trump probably does have a mental defect that doesn’t allow him to know what the truth really is, these people don’t have that excuse.

It’s like I’ve often said: a racist is not as bad as a non-racist who uses racism to gain power. These people lied because they thought their personal interests were more important than the rights of other countries.

Lies Then, Lies Now

Donald Trump has done many reprehensible things. But he hasn’t caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians — yet. But that’s not my point.

What we know about the Iraq War is that the US intelligence services didn’t believe that Iraq was any kind of threat. So George W Bush and his enablers just made up their own intelligence.

We know Colin Powell was lying when he told the UN, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” (Compare this to the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space, “We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer.” It’s chilling!)

Same as It Ever Was

Republicans had no respect for the truth then and they have none now. It’s not surprising that they should have selected a leader who appears to not even know the difference between fact and what he wants to believe.

Nor is it surprising that the American people would make such a man president. Americans have been fed a delusional diet of American exceptionalism for decades. Generally speaking, we can’t recognize the truth. We still think we support democracy because our media titans tell us that Saudi Arabia is modernizing and is much better than Venezuela where they have ridiculous things like internationally-monitored free elections.

The Republican Party will back anyone — and I do mean anyone — who will deliver the only things the party cares about: tax cuts and deregulation. There is no difference between George W Bush and Donald Trump — other than that the former is more evil and the latter is more stupid.

Stop Appealing to Authority About Names

AuthoritariansBack in the early 90s, everyone pronounced Linux with a hard-i as in “fire.” For one thing, how else would an English speaker pronounce it? (If you are Finish, you can pronounce it how ever your language dictates.) But more important, Linux came from the fact that the kernel was written by Linus Torvalds.

Then everything changed in 1994 when Torvalds produced a bit of audio. On it, Torvalds said, “Hello, this is Linus Torvalds, and I pronounce Linux as ‘lee-nux.'” And everyone started pronouncing Linux incorrectly.

I don’t say people pronounced it incorrectly just because I don’t like it. Torvalds did not say he pronounced Linux as “len-ux.” In Finish, people apparently pronounce “Linus” as “Lee-nus.” But here in America, we pronounce Linus as “lie-nus.” I personally think we should pronounce Linux the way we did at first. But even if you don’t accept that, we don’t pronounce Linux the way that Torvalds did.

Now Torvalds is not a thoughtful guy. Otherwise, he would have realized that distributing his audio recording was an authoritarian move. Up to that time, people argued about it. But the moment The Great and Powerful Linus had his say, The Ignorant and Weak Computer Geeks fell into line. And now we have a stupid name for an important piece of software.

It amazes me that people fall for this stuff. If Torvalds had decided that his kernel should be named “smelly Finish anal cavity,” I doubt everyone would have followed along.

Idiot Developers Choose to Pronounce GIF as “Jif”

The issue is much worse for GIF. Steve Wilhite is the main person responsible for the image format. Like Linus Torvalds, he is a great computer scientist but otherwise an idiot. He has been outspoken in saying that it is pronounced “jif.” But his argument is nothing more than that he and the gang at CompuServ used to pronounce it like the peanut butter and say, “Choosy developers choose GIF.”

A bunch of computer scientists made a bad joke? Well, in recognition of this rare event, let’s throw all reason aside and pronounce GIF like it’s a brand of peanut butter!

The problem is that GIF is an acronym. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Normally, acronyms follow from the words that are in them. For example, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is not referred to as “jat.”

Of course, the vast majority of people pronounce GIF with a hard-G. That’s because few people knew that the GIF creators thought it should be pronounced in some unreasonable way. If they had, they would have gone along as the authoritarian followers they are.

Language Is Not Proscriptive

What this all comes down to is that a group of people should be allowed to communicate the way they want. This is why I have no problem with “PIN number” — something that drives a lot of people like me crazy.

The situation is bad enough when someone hauls out the dictionary, “See! It says in The Book that you are wrong!” People often fight back against that. But when it is a computer star, the normally “libertarian” online nerd community rushes to comply, Jawohl!

And this is the real problem: authoritarianism. It isn’t just the weak internet nerds; it’s also the stars themselves. Back in 2013, Wilhite complained, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

But this is hardly surprising. Despite that most of these computer scientists think of themselves as Howard Roark, on the whole, they are limited thinkers who easily bend to facile arguments. Whether acting as authoritarian leaders or authoritarian followers, they shouldn’t be listened to.

Disclaimer

This article strikes me as the kind of thing that certain kinds of idiots would use as a kind of gotcha, “So you agree we shouldn’t call transgender people by their preferred pronoun!” That’s not the case at all. I’m not talking about that. For one thing, this is just a matter of manners. It’s interesting that Ben Shapiro thinks that his scientific ignorance trumps any kind of social norm toward politeness.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the current pronunciation of Linux if the community had always pronounced it with a soft-I. My problem is this appeal to authority. “This piece of free software will from now on be called Liposuction!”

Of course, I pronounce Linux with a soft-I. The word is established and it would be confusing to pronounce it with a hard-I. But how ever I pronounce it isn’t going to personally harm anyone. Although if it harmed Linus Torvalds, I don’t think I’d care.

Republicans Support Israel but Not Jews

JexodusRecently, Trump tweeted conservative activist Elizabeth Pipko’s quote, “Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party. We saw a lot of anti-Israel policies start under the Obama Administration, and it got worsts & worse. There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party. They don’t care about Israel or the Jewish people.”

Misinformation From Jexodus

This is part of the new astroturf group Jexodus. Conservatives love these fake groups. Last year there was WalkAway, which was supposedly a movement of liberals who were “walking away” from the Democratic Party. Of course, there was no such movement. In fact, Russian bots were using #WalkAway to discourage liberal voting ahead of the 2018 general election.

We are seeing the same thing with Jexodus. It’s actually funny how obvious this is. Although the group says that Elizabeth Pipko is its national spokesperson, there is nothing on their website to indicates that Jexodus is anything but her. I searched Archive.org. The first appearance of Jexodus.com was on 6 March 2019. (The domain name was created last November.) And the first appearance of the website already had “MEET ELIZABETH” in its menubar.

What’s more, check out the announcement:

We are thrilled to announce Elizabeth Pipko, international model, Trump 2016 campaign staffer, poet, patriot, and fiercely proud millennial Jew — as our national JEXODUS spokesperson.

So Pipko has been a Republican for at least three years. How does she have any connection to an exodus (Or jexodus because this time it’s Jews!) of Jews from the Democratic Party?

Conservatives don’t even try anymore. The domain was registered last November. And it was only for a year. So the whole thing was only ever meant for one news cycle. Sadly, it’s received enormous coverage even if it has been mostly skeptical, it pushes the idea that hordes of Jewish Americans only care about Israel.

Other than rabid support for Israel because it has a proto-fascist government, what does the Republican Party provide for Jewish Americans? As with all but the super rich: not much.

Libertarians Don’t Deliver

Conservatives don’t care about Jews even as they are hysterical about Israel.

I had a similar experience when, long ago, I was a libertarian.

My main issue was drugs. I was concerned then (as now) that people were thrown in cages because of their use of vegetable products. So it isn’t surprising that my first real break with libertarianism was over this issue.

You see, most libertarians are just neo-confederates. They hate the Civil Rights Act. They claim to be for “states’ rights” because of their love of local control. But in fact, they just believe in them so that they can set up white supremacy at the state level.

Note that the Libertarian Party started in the wake of the civil rights movement. This isn’t a coincidence, although I’m not saying that its founders were neo-confederates.

But even among less racist libertarians, it was all about taxes. And while they accepted that drugs should be legal (or at least decriminalized), it wasn’t an issue they cared about all that much.

More important, over time I saw that libertarians weren’t doing much to stop the Drug War. But the Democrats were. They might not have any overarching ideology about drugs, but they saw a problem and they worked to fix it.

In other words, ideology is meaningless if it isn’t making the world better. And libertarians have a vile ideology that really doesn’t care about the interests of the poor and weak.

Similarly, conservatives don’t care about Jews even as they are hysterical about Israel.

Liberal Jewish Americans

Just like with any group in America, Jewish liberals vote for Democrats and Jewish conservatives vote for Republicans. It’s just that the vast majority of American Jews are liberal.

Paul Waldman wrote an excellent response to this, No, President Trump, America’s Jews Will Not Be Joining You in the GOP. Waldman is apparently Jewish and he talks about his mother telling him about the “liberal legacy of Judaism.” So it makes sense that the vast majority of American Jews would vote for the Democratic Party.

Of course, the right thinks that Jews should vote Republican. Ben Shapiro famously thinks the Jews who vote for Democrats are Jews in Name Only. But ultimately, this is just equating support for Jews with support for Israel. And I think that most evangelicals who support Israel do so in an explicitly anti-Jewish way. (They want Jews in control of Jerusalem to bring on the end times when all Jews will convert or be killed.)

As Paul Waldman’s mother shows us, the unique history of the Jews makes them “sympathize with the oppressed and the excluded.” And it is in this way that the Republicans are clueless about their appeal to American Jews. The Republican Party is in no way the party of the oppressed and excluded. Quite the opposite.

Zionism as Protection of the Weak

Zionism is part of this broader project of protecting the oppressed. And I continue to tentatively support Zionism even as I have stopped supporting Israel. If ever there was a country that should fight for the oppressed and not be an oppressor, it is Israel. But that is obviously not what has happened. (It may be that Zionism will always turn out this way, but I’m willing to give it another try; this time not on contested land.)

As long as American Jews care about justice for all people, they will support the left. Even those who continue to support Israel (and that’s most) can see that it is the Democratic Party that is pushing forward on issues of inclusion and justice — and on the long-term safety of Israel. The Republican Party has become proudly white nationalistic. No amount of pandering to Israel will change that.

Democrats Can Stop Being Afraid

NRA ParodyHere’s something I’ve been thinking about: the harm conservatives do to themselves with their “all or nothing” approach and how Democrats need to stop allowing it.

Groups We Fear

I’m talking here about groups like the NRA. For a long time, Democrats were terrified of the NRA. But over time, the NRA became a Republican-only group. Since they would brook not even the smallest concession, only extremists went along with them — even if more reasonable politicians still feared them.

A good example of this is my Representative: Mike Thompson. I consider him ridiculously pro-gun. Yet the NRA gives him a C+ rating. So is it any wonder that the House Democrats have now passed a gun control bill? (Sponsored by Mike Thompson!)

We see the same thing with Israel. I think that Netanyahu will go down in history as the guy who screwed Israel by picking a side in US politics. Maybe this had to happen because Likud has become as extreme as the Republican Party. But to be so explicit about it was a bad tactical move.

I don’t think it is a surprise that the Democratic Party is now seeing a pushback to “Israel right or wrong.”

We Never Should Have Feared Them

Of course, it never mattered. For decades, Democrats did nothing on gun control and the NRA still vilified them and encouraged their members to almost always vote Republican. And most American Jews (Ben Shapiro — God’s elder brother — calls them JINOs) are more skeptical of Israel than the Democratic Party.

So we see two things. First, conservatives being unwilling to accept anything but complete capitulation. Second, we have had Democrats who capitulate in exchange for nothing.

De Rigueur Calls for “Realism”

The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests.

I hear a lot of people complaining that the younger, more aggressive, Democrats are being unrealistic. But it seems that it is the conventional wisdom that turning ever to the right would lead to power that was actually unrealistic. What exactly did we get from all Bill Clinton’s triangulation? Cries of “Socialism!” NAFTA and welfare “reform”? What did we get for electing Blue Dog Obama? Cries of “Socialism!” a near debt default and Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch?[1]

The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests. It goes way beyond the NRA and Israel. Warren’s plan to break-up Facebook and others is a good start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough; even still, many Democrats think it is outrageous because they have been living in a cave made out of money the last 25 years.

The Battle Is On

The battle is on for the soul of the Democratic Party. And may I never again see an article about how young Democrats need to be realistic. It’s funny how we never saw articles saying that the Tea Party had to be more realistic. And after Trump, what is “realistic” anyway?


[1] The stolen Gorsuch nomination doesn’t matter. There will still be articles about how the Democrats are misbehaving once they have the White House. The mainstream media all stood around twiddling their thumbs while McConnell stole a seat. But anything a Democrat does to correct that will get a loud and sustained, “Foul!” Sadly, the next Democratic president will likely be in the old mode and do nothing. When they go low, we bend down so they can better kick us in the face. But that is changing.