Hello all you frankly curious boys and girls! I am sorry that I haven’t been writing much recently. Part of it is Donald Trump. I’ll come back to him. But the bigger issue is that I’m going on vacation starting Friday morning and I won’t be back home until the afternoon of the first day of July.
July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August!
The problem for me is that a vacation really gets in the way of my work on the things I actually care about: this site, Psychotronic Review, practicing the most evil musical instrument in the world, and writing my experimental plays. You know: the stuff I don’t get paid to do.
The problem is that there is a tremendous amount of (paid) work that has to be done before going on vacation. I already have weeks of work backlog. But I have to get the really pressing things done. And I want to too! That’s because I’m not going to be working when I’m on vacation, and that means I won’t be making money. But even though I’m going to miss 9 days of work out of this month, I’m going to manage to make about 80 percent of my normal pay.
This, of course, is because I’ve been killing myself.
And Then There’s Trump
I’m now trying to avoid hearing anything about politics. In the past, it wasn’t so bad because I thought, “We’ll probably get rid of Trump in 2020 and this will all just be a bad memory.” Sure, I knew he was causing great suffering, but there was an end in sight. And to a large extent, that’s true. The immigration policy will go back to our normal inhumane situation instead of the near-genocide that Trump is overseeing. So on the domestic front, the election of a Democratic president in 2020 — or whenever — will be a good thing.
(And yes, I know that Trump has apparently reversed course on the family separation of asylum seekers. Does everyone know that we are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, by which the whole process of charging asylum seekers with trespass is illegal? So the whole, “Our hands are tied” explanation was always a crock. But the reversal sure shows that all those people who were claiming that the White House was doing it because they thought it was a political winner were wrong. They were doing it because Trump is a cruel man who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I think Elvis Costello summed him up perfectly long ago, “If it moves then you f**k it, if it doesn’t move you stab it.)
Our Long-Term International Problems
It’s on the international front that things are so depressing. After Trump is out of office, things will not reset. The world has seen that the US political system is such that it can elect a modern-day Hitler. It doesn’t matter that he got three million less votes. For one thing, that’s still a very close race when you consider just how awful Trump was — not just as a person but as a candidate. But more important, we have a non-democratic system. Hitler didn’t get 50 percent of the vote. His base was roughly that of Trump’s: 30 percent.
So I figure it will take a generation or more for us to heal these wounds. And in a certain way, they never will be. I know that Brexit hurt the UK. But the people immediately regretted it. If they had been able to vote again just a week later, it would have lost. It’s not clear that Trump would lose a year and a half later — despite the fact that other than being a monster to immigrants, he hasn’t done a thing for his straight white male racist base.
(Just a little aside: I am so looking forward to the time when these people — people like me — really do have no more power than anyone else. As a group, cis white males are such whiners about losing power and blah, blah, blah. I’ll be glad to see them have something to really complain about. Of course, if they voted liberal, their lives would be better. But as a group, we are idiots.)
Onward to Vacation
The rule for this vacation is that I get to have the kind of vacation that I most enjoy: doing nothing. I read. I watch totally awesome films. I sit in a hot tub. And apparently, I get a massage, which is the equivalent of the hot tub: except I have to drive — gurr — as many as ten miles to get it. And I have to go whale watching, which is okay, I’m just not sure how I’m going to get to the boat. I’m too tired to think about it, but I have a vague plan that relieves me of having to park in San Francisco.
It’s possible I’ll write something on the blog next week. I’m not planning to, but you never know. I can’t go a day without writing something. I’m planning on working on some plays. But I’m so tired right now, the thought is not appealing. They require a lot more work than a blog post — especially a rambling one like this. (I have Facebook posts that are better than this!)
I Need This
Generally, I’m told that I need a vacation. This is the first time I feel like I need a vacation — I certainly want it more than any one I can remember. My next vacation (which will be the last for a while) will likely not be that great because I’m going with my family. And they all have this idea that you do things on vacation. And that’s such a silly thing, because I will be doing something — my favorite thing to do: metabolize!
Today was a long day. Tomorrow will be worse. Just let me die on the beach.
I pass by this house a few times a day as I take walks to lower my cholesterol. It’s a sign of what many Americans think of as patriotism but that is really just nationalism. There are two flags there: not nation and state, but nation and local sports team.
Most People Disrespect the Flag
As I go for walks, I’m always amazed at the number of houses that have American flags hang, which are never taken down. Some of them are in tatters. But I’ve gotten used to that. What really interests me are the people who have invested in poles as you can see in the image above.
Now let me be perfectly honest here. At least the owner of this pole takes the whole flag ceremony seriously. They always take the flag(s) down at dusk. This is traditional. Unless a flag has a spotlight it should not, by tradition, fly at night. So I appreciate that they take their flag waving more seriously than the people who put yellow ribbons on the backs of their cars during the Iraq War — as if that meant anything.
Why I Don’t Like Flags: They Are Nationalistic
But I don’t like flying the flag because it strikes me as more nationalism than patriotism. It stinks of “My country, right or wrong!” (I know the original phrase continued, “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” But that isn’t what people remember.)
People who care about ideals, which is the core of my patriotism, don’t wave flags, because we know how far we fall short of those ideals.
Who’s Number One? The US or the Warriors?
But okay, people like to wave the flag. I wouldn’t have written this article if it hadn’t been for the second flag. It isn’t the flag of California. (It is often the awful Gadsden flag, as if this white homeowner in the suburbs is being treaded upon.) Instead, it is the flag of our local professional basketball team, the Golden State Warriors.
And that strikes me as perfect! Because they have the American flag up in the same way they have the Warrior’s flag up. Just as the roster of the Warriors is constantly changing, so is America. So I assume that if fascists took over the country, they would still be flying the flag proudly. (Actually, they’d probably be flying it more proudly — most people only hate the Nazis because of the Jews; they don’t seem to have much of a clue why fascism is bad beyond that; and if any country were primed for fascism, it is modern America.)
Nation or Sports Team: Whatever!
But this just shows that these people love their country in the same pathetic way that they love their sports teams. In the case of the American flag, it has nothing to do with what the nation stands for. It is like real estate: location, location, location. They have the Warriors’ flag because they are our local team and they have the American flag because they were born here. And that’s as far as it goes.
My friend Will recently saw a house with a Confederate battle flag proudly displayed. We couldn’t find it. But we did come upon a house that had two flag poles side by side: one had the American flag and the other the San Francisco Giants’ — our local baseball team’s — flag. (We think this might have been the same house and that baseball simply trumps their racism. Sorry: “southern pride.”)
US Flags Are Not About Patriotism
I think the American flag is up out of simple habit. They know they are supposed to do that. They are virtue signaling. What’s really in their hearts is the love of seeing the Warriors or the Giants beat teams from other places — teams they would support if they lived there.
Both flags just represent nationalism on different levels. There’s no thought behind it other than that we are the good people and they are the bad. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that got us President Trump. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that is going to turn us into an authoritarian banana republic.
Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump.
I’ve cropped this AP picture taken by Evan Vucci and am licensing it under Fair Use because this article is about it and only it. It is a picture of Kim Jong-un doing what his father was unable to do. And he is only able to do it because the American system of government (not the people) elected Donald Trump to be its president.
After Decades, North Korea Gets Just What It Wanted
For decades, North Korea has wanted to talk to the United States alone. And all previous presidents — even the less than brilliant George W Bush — refused to do it.
There are many reasons for this. But probably the biggest is simply that you don’t want to give a third-rate despot the opportunity to look like he is on the same level as the leader of the free world.
Of course, maybe that whole “free world” business is over anyway. Trump seems far more interested in hanging out with authoritarian leaders than democratically elected leaders. Trump seems intent on destroying the carefully constructed post-WWII alliance.
If a Deal Is Reached, It Will Be Bad for the US
If anything comes out of these negotiations other than Kim Jong-un solidifying power in North Korea and looking more powerful everywhere else, it will be a bad deal for the US. Trump will go along with any deal now that he’s BFFs with Kim.
Trump actually said that he would know if Kim Jong-un was serious “within the first minute” of their meeting. Does that remind anyone else of George W Bush’s fatuous claim that he looked in Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul”? (Later Bush retracted this because he said Putin had changed; this is what conservatives do; they can’t admit that they’re just stupid.)
I have heard people make apologias for Trump along the lines of, “Well, he has advisers that will make sure everything is done right.” That wasn’t a bad argument to make before the president was Donald J Trump. But anyone who makes that assertion today has to ignore the last year and a half. Trump surrounds himself with yes men and doesn’t even listen to them when they deviate the smallest amount from what he believes or wants to do.
Trump will jump at anything and the Republicans will not stop him because they got their tax cuts and they are terrified of their base voters.
Most Likely, Nothing Will Come of The Negotiations, Because This Was Never About the Negotiations
But more likely, nothing at all will come from this summit. Trump will leave Singapore and say, “I knew in the first minute he wasn’t serious!”
Regardless, this was always about Kim Jong-un getting that picture above. He out-maneuvered Trump in a way that Kim Jong-il couldn’t out-maneuver George W Bush. That is sad.
What Intelligent Person Would Make a Deal With the US Now?
And Kim Jong-un would be an idiot to make a deal with the US anyway. Look at what happened to Muammar Gaddafi! Look what happened to the Iran deal! Look at how Trump treats our longstanding friends!
Making deals with the US is dangerous. Making deals with Trump is madness. I think Kim Jong-un is a psychopath.
But he’s not a madman and certainly not an idiot. Unfortunately for the US, Trump is a madman and an idiot.
They might as well pack their bags. Kim Jong-un got what he wanted. And Trump will get nothing that he wants, except for manic tweets about how dishonest and weak Kim is. Except all the world will know that Kim played Trump for the foolish mark he is.
Bruce Cockburn’s song “Yanqui Go Home!” is a great song, but it’s clear that Yanqui didn’t go home, he just went to several more bars:
When I was a libertarian, the single biggest philosophical mistake I made was to think that the government was the only cause of the limitation of freedom. This was because the government had the right to jail and kill you. For a long time, I used an argument that I hear from libertarians all the time today: a private company can’t hurt you because you don’t have to work for them and you don’t have to shop with them. These people should really talk to Colin Kaepernick — a man who lost his job for making a respectful protest.
Colin Kaepernick Isn’t Free
When he first protested, he simply sat for the national anthem. But after talking to a Green Beret, Kaepernick choose to take a knee. The reason was the Green Beret told him it was something that soldiers did in front of a fallen soldier’s grave. As the Green Beret put it: “to show respect.”
So taking the knee isn’t to show disrespect to America (not that it should matter). It could just as easily be that the tradition was that we all kneel. But doing something that not everyone else was doing was the whole point of his protest. In the best tradition of the United States, Colin Kaepernick non-violently asked people to think of something during the two minutes of the national anthem.
But that isn’t good enough for a lot of people. It isn’t good enough for pretty much every conservative in this country. And it isn’t okay for a lot of other people too. This is because their idea of patriotism is “America: right or wrong.”
What they are really calling for is what I grew up thinking was all wrong about the Soviet Union: the requirement that everyone must behave the same way. The people weren’t a collection of individuals but simply a thing. Let’s call it the synchronized swimming theory of society: if everyone isn’t doing exactly what the coach wants, it’s all a catastrophe.
The Libertarian Belief in Theoretical Freedom
“Ah!” I hear the libertarians say, “But Colin Kaepernick isn’t being oppressed. He could get another job!” Yeah, he can. But he can’t get a job doing what he has been trained at, working at the level he has attained and wants to perform. And why? Because the owners shut him out. It is exactly the same thing I discussed in Property Rights. In that case, it was an out of work farmer who simply can’t work because all the land to farm is owned by someone else.
One commonly hears libertarians say, “Rights imply responsibility.” But somehow, that’s only ever applied to workers. It isn’t applied to owners. So property rights don’t imply any responsibility on the part of the property owner.
So in the libertarian utopia: you get real freedom if you’re rich, but just theoretical freedom if you aren’t. It’s much like Orwell’s parody of the Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
So Colin Kaepernick is out of a job, but he’s got another, far more important one. And history will show him to be a great man and the owners who clearly colluded to deny him a job they needed filling will be seen for what they are: soulless, immoral people for whom money is all that matters.
And, of course, in 40 years, all conservatives will honor Kaepernick as a great man, as they always do when it doesn’t matter — when there is a new status quo to honor.
(I am so ashamed to be white in this case. It took a whole season for the first white player to take a knee. Since then, there have been more, but it was never more than a small group.)
Another Libertarian Myth
Now we get to another libertarian myth (There are so many!) with the NFL forbidding players from kneeling. It turns out this is flatly illegal. And I suspect the owners know this. But this is all about appeasing President Donald J Trump.
If the courts say that they must allow the players, what can they do? Trump can’t go after them and the vile “America: right or wrong” crowd will know that this horrible two-minute distraction of the time before the most important issue of playing a game can’t be helped.
Of course, this is the opposite of the way things usually go. Normally, even really bad presidents have better things to do than stick their noses into the minutia of how exactly entertainment is managed by the producers of that entertainment. So it is normally the case of owners getting the government to do their bidding.
The “Perfect” Libertarian Courts
The truth is that it really doesn’t matter that the government has a monopoly on going to war and putting people in cages. The rich will always control that government unless safeguards are put in place by the people. But libertarians want to go the other direction. Private courts! Yeah, that will work out great, because the far greater safeguards we have today (you know, the ones that will find for the players against the NFL) won’t be there.
As a result, we see that yet again libertarianism simply turns into “might makes right.” Courts would turn into nothing more than a show to justify finding for whomever gave the bigger pile of cash (or gold — a libertarian fantasy — the same goes for bitcoin).
What About Roseanne?
The cases of Colin Kaepernick and Roseanne Barr could not be more different. Kaepernick was making a dignified protest and was simply not hired through the collusion of NFL owners. Roseanne Barr made her employer look bad and cost them money in the long term.
But that hardly matters. I don’t think Roseanne should have been fired. She is a toxic, unstable person. She was before ABC gave her the show and she is today.
Roseanne Barr, 2018: I apologize for comparing Valerie Jarrett, a black woman, to an ape. I should have known better. Forgive me—my joke was in bad taste
Roseanne Barr, 2013: I apologize for comparing Susan Rice, a black woman, to an ape. I should have known be pic.twitter.com/P10YtYH9Sc
After Robert Downey Jr had his half-decade of drug use and unstable behavior, he had to prove himself. He slowly worked his way back and beyond. But not Roseanne! Her career was all but over. But then she became a Trump supporter and ABC saw big money.
(Truthfully, it never made sense long-term. As I believe I discussed in the comments around here, I figured the show would last about 3 years. By next year, it would only be watched by old people. It would get great ratings, but not great advertisers. It’s like when Jay Leno was beating David Letterman in the ratings: I recall reading at the time that because Letterman had a younger audience, his show made more money. So the Roseanne reboot was just a quick money grab — typical of corporate Hollywood.)
ABC Is Not Acting Morally
ABC acting as though they are taking a moral stand is ridiculous. They knew who they were hiring. They hired exactly the same person they fired.
That wasn’t the case with the people who tentatively hired Downey shortly after he got past his self-destructive period. So ABC isn’t the “good guy” in this case. First, they foisted Roseanne on the nation, then they fired her so that conservatives can have another data point about how mean “liberals” are with all their “political correctness.”
(Yes, we haven’t seen conservatives rally around her; they’re too afraid — they have no idea what she might do next; but trust me, the Republican base thinks she has been completely wronged, that it wasn’t a racist tweet, and that had it been, they would have liked it more.)
Most People Require Jobs
Obviously, Roseanne doesn’t need a job. She didn’t need the reboot of the series, except to get attention and push the false narrative that stuggling middle America just loves Donald Trump. I doubt Colin Kaepernick can go the rest of his life without a job. But none of this is about either of them.
Almost everyone has to have a job. Yet we live in a society where you literally do not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If you can’t find a job, you can find yourself hungry on the street. Eventually, you can find yourself dead.
Libertarians Want You to Have Less Freedom
Yet for the libertarians, this situation isn’t good enough. Owners of capital should have far more power over your life. They want everyone to give up the little actual liberty they have for theoretical liberty. The only practical liberty in the libertarian utopia is for the rich — like now, but much, much worse.
Freedom is a simple concept. Let me give you a simple example from my life. I don’t have the freedom to get my teeth fixed right now. Hopefully, they will hold out long enough so that I can slowly get them repaired (my dentist is not hopeful that I have enough time). What libertarians offer is potential freedom. I could get all my teeth fixed today if I had $80 million like Roseanne Barr.
Who thinks that is real freedom other than rich people and young people who think they will be rich?
Freedom is not the freedom to maybe get a job you would have had you not taken a brave political stand. Freedom isn’t even losing your job for being exactly the person your employer knew you were when they hired you.
How Capitalism Makes Things Worse
I know how capitalism apologists will respond. “If it weren’t for our system, we wouldn’t have smartphones and we would live under authoritarian rule.” Really? Is that how limited their creativity is? The truth is, the world would be a better place if I had the freedom to do what I want. Humans want to work; they want to be productive; they want to make society better. (Obviously, not all humans, but most humans.)
But instead, they are forced into jobs where they sell crap that people don’t need or even want. If it weren’t for capitalism, there would be no opioid crisis in this country. I noted two decades ago that there would be problems with Oxycontin and MS-Contin because they relieved pain for substantially less time than advertised and would thus cause people to take more and eventually turn to the black market.
Doctors could have prescribed methadone, which works really well. But it wasn’t under patent. There wasn’t a bunch of money to be made off it. So it wasn’t pushed on doctors as the miracle drug it is. Instead, a toxic jumble of chemicals made to slowly release a short-acting opioid was. And today we have a big problem.
That’s what capitalism produces: not what we need but what makes certain people rich. But in the libertarian utopia, that would never happen.
The libertarian utopia would quickly devolve into the Mad Max world. Then some vile warlord would become dominant, and we would all live under an authoritarian dictatorship. Good luck with that cold turkey detox white people. And thank you libertarians!
One final thought about Roseanne. This is yet another example of a racist society trying to scapegoat one person for what they say so as to ignore the much more important racism that people of color live with every day. Roseanne hurt almost no one with her tweet. And she certainly didn’t kill anyone. But our racist society kills people all the time. So the racism that most hurts us is just ignored (Colin Kaepernick) while we make a big deal about the racism of a crazy woman that doesn’t mean squat in the grand scheme of things.
Indeed, scapegoating Roseanne helps racism, because it makes tens of millions of white people think that as long as you don’t say the wrong words or imply the wrong things, America is a total meritocracy where any black kid can become president. It’s like saying we have an equal chance to win a game of Monopoly despite starting the game after every piece of property has already been purchased. It’s hogwash. Remember all the conservatives saying that Obama’s election was proof that there was no racism in America? That is the racism that never gets anyone fired; it is the racism we need to fight.
Why Roseanne Matters
The only reason Roseanne’s racism toward blacks is interesting is that she says what roughly 40 percent of the country believes. And most of the rest of us are just less racist (including roughly half of blacks — society poisons widely).
 I put “political correctness” in scare quotes because it is a meaningless term. What it is supposed to mean is done by everyone — and as far as I can tell, much more by conservatives. The whole “you must stand for the national anthem” is a typical case of political correctness. But it is almost never applied to conservatives.
Today was the 70th anniversary of a grand experiment. Many Jews had long wanted their own land and they fought for it. Many of them were terrorists in the cause — though you will never hear that on the television news in America. But after World War II, a Jewish homeland was founded. After all: Nazis.
I Supported Zionism for a Long Time
Not only would I have been on board then, I was on board most of my life. Even over the last decades I continued to support Zionism because I though the Jews, as a group, really did have something to fear. And they do!
Even in the US (a very Jew-friendly country), according to the FBI, over half of reported religious-based hate crimes are committed against Jews. But the fact that Jews are hated by many, I don’t support a Jewish state. Indeed, I believe that Israel has made antisemitism worse.
Israel Has Lost Legitimacy
What Israel has shown is that just because you have been oppressed in the past, does not mean that you will not turn into an oppressor yourself. Indeed, we accept on the individual level that abused children usually grow up to be abusers. So, I’m afraid, it is with countries. And so it seems to be with Israel.
It’s been clear for decades that Israel has no interest in making peace with the Palestinians. In an earlier time, Israel would have simply committed a mass genocide and taken over all of the remaining Palestinian land. (See, for example, the Old Testament.)
But with modern media, they can’t do that, so they’ve done it inch by inch — both through murder and by simply stealing land.
The American “Honest Broker” Lie Is Clearly Exposed
There is one good thing to come out of this, however. The US has moved its embassy to Jerusalem. And in so doing has shown, in a way that even the most rapid Israeli apologists cannot rationally dispute, that the US is not an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and haven’t been for at least the 37 years.
If Israel did simply march into the West Bank and killed everyone outside of all the Jewish Settlements (most illegal), the US government would report that it was provoked and a necessary step to keep the people of Isreal safe. And the media would present it that way, noting that some disagree.
Israel Has Nothing to Fear
Israel has by far the most powerful military of any country in the region. Other states may grumble about them, but they would not willingly go to war against Israel. They are the only nuclear state. And are they nuclear! They have an estimated 200 to 400 warheads.
The only threat to Israel are are rockets from Gaza. It is often reported that in the last two decades there have been thousands of such attacks. But that number includes mortars as well — which have a very short range. Still, there is a lot of firing. But they are mostly impotent. Over the last two decades, fewer than 30 people have been killed. Israel should probably worry more about people texting and driving.
And it isn’t like the Palestinians don’t have some cause. I’m not in favor of violence under any circumstances. And I think the people firing these rockets are making a tactical mistake. But it is the case that at least the attacks get covered in the US media. The countless peace protests are completely blacked-out of mainstream television coverage, and almost never covered anywhere in the mainstream press.
How Long Will the Apologetics Go On?
Regardless, the fact is that while the Palestinians kill almost no Israelis, the Israelis kill a lot of Palestinians. I wrote the following analogy on Facebook this morning:
If the US media reported on playground incidents like they do the Israel-Palestine conflict. “A teacher killed a first-grader on the playground of Monroe Elementary School. But it must be remembered that the child intentionally scratched the teacher, requiring a band-aid. Also, the teacher killed the student’s parents and took over their house. Governmental authorities have questioned Whether this wasn’t an overreaction. But no legal sanctions are currently being considered by the district attorney.”
I’m Sick of Israeli and American Disingenuousness
And that’s how I feel. And I’m sick to death of reading in the US press it would all be over if the Palestinians would just stop launching those rockets. It sickens me that Palestinian peace protests are all but ignored in this country. I’m tired of the apologetics for decades illegal Israeli settlements, clearly designed to make any peace impossible. I’m sick of it all.
Call me antisemitic if you like. That’s the great trump card of Israeli fanatics: if you are against Israel, you are against Jews. That couldn’t be further from the truth for me. And I would just refer you to the image above.
So many people have died because the US allows Israel to behave even worse than it does.
Violence Causes Fear Causes Violence
Albert Einstein never said, “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” But I’ve never been that into Einstein quotes anyway. I know his science, that is enough. He wasn’t a moral philosopher. But I like the fake quote, because I think it is largely true. A great trauma was wreaked upon a group. It is not at all surprising that many of that group’s survivors would, out of fear, take on the role of the oppressor, even if they are doing it step by step rather than with the Nazi’s brutal swiftness.
I’m afraid it is long past time to have bombed Isreal’s nuclear silos. At this point, I fear that Israel is at least as likely to use one or more of its nukes as India, Pakistan, or North Korea. How can we stop this failed experiment now? I don’t know. I do know this though: the fault lies with the US, just as if North Korea kills millions with its nukes, blame ultimately belongs to China.
I remember that Bill Maher, in his movie Religulous, interviewed a guy who believed much as the men in the picture above. Maher listened to him for a bit and then just walked out. The implication was that he was just a crazy man spouting nonsense. But even though I was a Zionist at the time, it was clear to me that he wasn’t spouting nonsense. It’s just that Maher, like the vast majority of Americans can brook no one who thinks that Israel isn’t some fragile country surrounded by powerful enemies and thus must be protected.
I didn’t agree with the guy and I don’t. Why would I. It is based on a very conservative reading of the Torah. But it isn’t an insane or stupid belief. And they are right: Israel is a highly nationalist state. It strikes me as having as much to do with Jewish roots as Utah has to do with Mormon roots. Bill Maher was so much better when he was just a comedian and before he thought he was smart.
When I was younger, I often heard the Peter Principle defined as follows, “Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.” Thus, I saw it as a statement of the stupidity of corporations: that they promoted incompetent people. But that is not it at all.
Investopedia provides a far better definition of the phenomenon, “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.”
It was only when the Peter Principle started to be applied to me I came to understand it. And it was then that I saw that it wasn’t an attack on the employee but on the corporation.
Peter Principle in High Tech
Consider this example, which I have seen in action many times. A computer programmer is hired by a company and they are great — a modern-day alchemist who manages to things done no one thought was even possible. So the company, wanting to reward this exceptional coder, promotes them to a programming manager. And this person is not great at the new job. To start with, they don’t like it because programming is in their bones. But also: they don’t know anything about management. They hate going to meetings. They think spreadsheets and reports are things people create because they don’t know how to code or that they’re just plain stupid. So, far from being a great manager, they are a bad manager — maybe bad enough to get fired.
Meanwhile, that same company probably has a mediocre programmer who would make a great manager. But they can’t be made a manager because it would be unfair. The mediocre coder would now be above the brilliant coder in the the hierarchy. The mediocre coder would make more money. The mediocre coder would be sent to conferences and fly business class. In other words, the mediocre coder will be better than the brilliant coder.
Hierarchy Destroys Diversity
The problem, of course, is that most companies have it all backwards. And a hierarchy is almost never the best way to structure a group. But you see the human tendency toward hierarchy. The World Wide Web was definitionally flat. It was, quite literally, a web. But once it became commercialized, it turned into a hierarchy. The vast majority of people on the internet spend the vast majority of their time on the top 100 websites.
And it’s built in. If you are on Facebook, why? Why not another platform? Because Facebook is only useful if everyone is there. It isn’t just a monopoly, it’s a company that can only exist as a monopoly. There is absolutely nothing technologically interesting about it and that has been true from its very idea. It provides Sudoku Meaning to people. But it’s also herd mentality. Have you ever noted the shape of a stampeding herd?
The point is the hierarchy — this idea that we need one. The fact is that it is much easier to find a good middle-manager than it is to find a good programmer or other creative. But because we think the hierarchy is natural or right or whatever, we must put the creatives at the bottom. We must pretend that although necessary, they aren’t worth that much. Hence, companies try to turn exceptional creatives into exceptional managers, but end up with mediocre (and generally unhappy) managers.
We Need a Better System
There are better ways, of course. The most obvious is the ecosystem. It is typical of the stupidity of man that the lion is referred to as the “king of the jungle.” (And that makes no sense given that lions don’t live in the jungle, tigers do.) That’s not the way the jungle works. Yes, there are apex predators. But everyone dies and is eaten. Humans think they control this planet? Ha! Insects and bacteria.
But there is no reason that a manager of programmers should necessarily make more than any given programmer. Especially if you want to believe in a meritocracy (and we don’t have one and can’t have one), you should see this. A programmer working alone can revolutionize the world. A manager working alone can’t do anything at all.
In a company however, you need lots of people doing lots of things. And doubtless, some of those people are worth more to the company than others. But the hierarchy doesn’t come close to modeling this. An ecosystem does.
The Lost in America Reversal
There’s a scene in Lost in America where this idea is put on its head. Albert Brooks plays an idiot, as usual. He’s a great advertising creative and gets upset when he isn’t going to be promoted to management. And his supervisor tells him plainly that Brooks is too talented a creative to lose him to management so he promoted someone with far less ability.
And that’s the way it should be. Except it shouldn’t be that the other guy was “promoted.” There should be an ecosystem where everyone plays their role — doing what they like and are good at. And if that means a lowly coder makes as much as the vice-president of finance, so be it. (Note: the vice-president of finance is just at the top of a huge group of people. So he isn’t actually doing any more work than the coder, and isn’t necessarily any more important — even if the vast bureaucracy he leads is).
But that doesn’t stop me from commenting on his work. He has a hierarchy of science that starts with math and ends with arts. Forget that this is the most cliched hierarchy ever, math is not a science. And unlike other hierarchies, his is implying that math is more important than physics is more important than chemistry is more important than biology. Blah, blah blah. Based on his other work, he’s a New Atheist — a total embarrassment.
He wrote this with the image, “Most people are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but do we consider the underlying structure of science when trying to determine why we behave the way we do. [sic]” You can study and learns lots about biology and psychology without knowing anything about physics or math. The guy’s a complete idiot.
Science Doesn’t Work That Way
Science doesn’t have a structure. And more and more all of the walls between the different fields are falling down. Go look at a biology grad student and you won’t be able to tell them apart from a chemistry grad student. Given that math and physics are my fields, you would think I would be pleased by this. But it’s just wrong.
Also, the artwork was terrible. I had to fix several things and even still there is one notable error that remains. And I’m no artist. But I did like the colors, so I used it.
This article is based on a Facebook post from yesterday early morning — right when I found out that Trump did what I knew he was going to do. But sense Frankly Curious has a lot of smart readers (that is: they aren’t on Facebook), I’m presented it here. I’ve edited and greatly expanded it. –FM
Yesterday, President* Trump will did another stupid and cruel thing, primarily because he just doesn’t like Barack Obama. And the world will be worse off for it. I’m talking about walking out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, of course.
But my bet is that Iran will stay in the deal with the Europeans, especially if they sweeten it. Of course, the Trump administration is now saying that they are going to start a trade war with any European country that stays in the deal. But I don’t really see that happening. I think the Europeans know that Trump is not long for political office (and maybe even life outside a cage). And Europe can hurt us just as badly as we can them.
The worst thing is that the deal completely falls apart.
If the Iran Deal Can’t Be Trusted How Could a North Korea Deal?
Of course, the bigger issue for us is that the US will show in the biggest way it ever has that it can’t be trusted. This is right before a negotiation with North Korea!
My prediction on this is that there will be a meeting, because it will make Kim Jong-un look like a major player in world politics (which he isn’t).
But there will be no deal. Why in the world would he make a deal with the US?
To begin with, I don’t think the Trump administration is capable of making a deal because their idea of a deal is that the US gets everything it wants and everyone else gets nothing.
At least when Stormy Daniels got f**ked by Trump, she got a decent amount of money. What is North Korea going to get? Since Trump is, in fact, a terrible negotiator, if a deal did manage to be made, it would be overwhelmingly in North Korea’s favor.
The Iran Deal on the Domestic Front
It isn’t just the North Koreans and other countries who shouldn’t trust Trump and therefore the US.
What are struggling whites who voted for Trump getting from anything he’s done other than a sense that they are pissing off people like me? They are doing worse than ever. Trump cares about them like he does bubble gum stuck to his shoe.
Why Was Trump Elected Anyway?
I would like to think that this is just a dark period for the US. But that’s not it. The US has been a fading empire for decades. Trump is just a darker shade of black. It might get a bit better after he is gone. But not much.
The reason is that about 30 percent of Americans are rightly pissed off about things, but are mad at the wrong people; they support the very people (eg, Trump, the Republican Party) who have made their lives worse over the last 40 years.
Then about 20 percent of Americans are just idiots.
As CGP Grey has noted, “Would anyone tolerate a sport where, by a quirk of the rules, there was a 7 percent chance that the loser would win? Not likely!” Then why do you put up with it in the much more important issue of presidential politics?
I’ll tell you this: if it had been Democrats who won two recent elections while getting fewer votes, Republicans would demand a change.
And Democrats — being somewhat rational and having a sense of fair play — would go along with it. But since it is helping Republicans, they are against changing it. Although their voters were for changing it — right up to the point that Trump “won.” Then they flipped. The Republicans are no longer a political party; they are a cult — and I’m not just talking about Trump.
We Continue the Struggle, But I Fear It Is Hopeless
I’m sad and embarrassed by my country. “Take Back Our Country,” indeed! (Where did they get the idea that it was theirs and not ours?) Our country is being destroyed by the people who use that phrase.
 Here’s a little advice: if you are negotiating with someone who talks about what a great negotiator they are, all you need to do is flatter them and you will get an unimaginably good deal. Trump is the ultimate example of that. Remember: Trump would have far more money today if he had simply put his inheritance in an indexed mutual fund. This is what’s known as an opportunity cost. If you have money, it isn’t hard to make more. The question is whether you are making as much as you could elsewhere. Trump has been a huge failure economically, even though his cultists believe otherwise.
When I was very young (less than 10-years-old), I loved game shows. I know why: I was good at them. Even into my teens, I wanted to be on Tic-Tac-Dough because I would have been on there for months. Then I just wanted the money and I couldn’t believe how ignorant the contestants were. But why do mature people like game shows?
And I don’t just mean the traditional game shows. Almost all “reality” shows are game shows. Dancing with the Stars is a game show. I find them mind numbing. But most people love them!
Watching the Money on Game Shows
And I know why. It was all explained at the end of the movie Quiz Show. Dan Enright (played by David Paymer, who you’ve never heard of but have seen everywhere — 233 credits on IMDb) gives the best speech of the film:
But even the quiz shows’ll be back. Why fix them? Think about it, will ya? You could do exactly the same thing by just making the questions easier. See, the audience didn’t tune in to watch some amazing display of intellectual ability. They just wanted to watch the money.
“Reality” TV Show Forged in Fire
My father loves a game show called Forged in Fire. In it, these guys with forges make swords and compete.
If I didn’t hate these kinds of shows so much, I would find it funny. The judges are so serious and make out that they are such experts. But they are really more like sports “color” guys who are constantly repeating the same things.
And the format is entirely typical: most of the show consists of interviews with the sword makers. First they interviewed before their swords are judged. Then they interviewed after the swords are judged.
The show runs 42 minutes, but if you cut out all the repetition, fluff, and ridiculously long dramatic pauses by the judges, you might have 5 minutes of material. That’s a lot of nothing to sit through to find out who wins the $10,000.
It’s Probably All Fake
Last night I asked my father about the show. Because all my life I have lived on the outskirts (and sometimes right in the middle) of the construction industry. I’ve never met anyone with a forge. Now I know: it is probably one of those situations where if you know anyone with a forge, you know ten. They are a tight group.
But there isn’t a huge demand for swords and other things made in a small forge. Yet the show has had 66 episodes with 4 contestants on each. That is 264 people with forges who are willing to go on the show. I don’t buy that for a minute.
Andy Kaufman was on The Dating Game three times as part of his effort to become a successful entertainer. I won’t be at all surprised if one of the 264 people who was on Forged in Fire turns out to be a successful actor.
It Might Have Been Real at Some Point
I have little doubt that when the show started, they were using real people. But as time went on, they couldn’t find people. So they hired actors and had other people make the swords. At this point, I’m sure the entire show is scripted (in the same way professional wrestling is — not exact dialog, but everyone is told what to say, and it comes from some guy like me who doesn’t mind writing crap anonymously if the money is good enough).
When I mentioned this to my father, he pushed back. You could see their forges! Yeah, and one well designed set could be made to look a million ways by a professional art director. Did my father think the forge in Army of Darkness was a real one? No. He yielded the point.
But he will continue to watch the show. It makes no demands of him. And it gives him the ultimate American thrill: watching an absolute win and three absolute losses.
The Black and White of Competition
Of course, even if the show is for real (and I don’t think it is), it’s just one competition.
It reminds me of something I heard someone say about Major League Baseball (roughly): “Each season, every team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, and its the last 50 that determines who does well or who does poorly.” (MLB now plays 162 games a year, but you get the point.) Similarly, it is often said of the National Football League, “On any given day, any team can beat any other.”
I like those quotes because they talk about reality. The truth is that there are thousands of great baseball players who are roughly as good as each other.
But Americans like things clear. That’s why soccer has had such a hard time here: most games end in a tie. (Or at least they used to. I don’t care enough to look it up.) Americans hate that kind of thing because there must be a winner who celebrate far too much and a loser who we criticize far too much.
Life Is Not a Competition
But my life and that of every human I’ve ever known is a mess of contradictions and general messiness. You never win because there is nothing to win. You just continue to live until you don’t.
To make up for the fact that you have to appreciate life at a higher level — that you have to work to find the sacred, as David Foster Wallace put it, in a crowed grocery store when you’re tired and grumpy — people make up games and pretend that life is one too.
Life Is a Process — a Struggle
The one sport I enjoy watching is baseball, because it is beautiful and subtle. But I much prefer watching amateur or minor league ball. The people in the majors make it look too easy, even though it is enjoyable enough to watch.
But I prefer to watch the struggle. Because we are all Sisyphus.
It doesn’t matter our wins or losses. To quote John Maynard Keynes, “In the long-run, we are all dead.” And in the short-run, I’d rather do something more edifying.
I’m not Capital One, so I’ll ask the ultimate question, “What’s in your soul?” I ask it of myself first.
None of this is to take away from people who try to excel at anything. I’m that way too. And in weird ways. I practice the clarinet each night. Why the clarinet? Because it is the most bizarre instrument known to humanity.
But there is a difference between pursuing mastery and simply wanting to win. And we live in a degenerate country where the primary motivation is winning. And you will never find the sacred in such an ignoble goal.
Oh how we need to evolve!
 That’s another thing about most game shows. On Tic-Tac-Dough, you stayed on the show until you lost. So you could win hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the people on Forged in Fire are setting themselves up to be humiliated for a maximum payout of what the median American makes in two months. Who would do that?! Well, idiots. Also: actors (see above).
Image taken from Wikipedia that says it is in the public domain. It is someone’s creation of a wheel much like that on Wheel of Fortune, but it isn’t their wheel. And I don’t think their wheel is creative enough to get a copyright. Maybe it’s trademarked. Image of painting of Sisyphus is in the public domain. I don’t know the artist. If anyone does, let me know.
Again and again the media makes the claim that Hillary Clinton lost the easiest election ever.
By Damon Linker (twice). By ostensibly professional Democratic partisan Jon Favreau. Chris Cillizza of course. They often do this because they assume her campaign was terrible and she did nothing right. They often do not explain exactly what her campaign did that was so terrible except that she did not go to Wisconsin. After all, Cheato was the worst candidate in history therefore it must be her fault.
But this isn’t true.
The Fundamentals Were Against Her From the Start
When it comes to any given election, there are a group that will always vote Democratic and a group that will always vote Republican. The rest of voters are what need to be persuaded. In the 2016 election many of these were individuals who had voted for Obama but were ready for something new.
This is what is called third term fatigue. Generally, a third termer can win when the opponent is one of two things: bland and boring, or simply bad at campaigning. History gives us three examples.
In 1940, Republicans nominated as a surprise candidate when their convention deadlocked a former Democrat Wendell Willkie. He was a tough campaigner, but he was indistinguishable from the Democrats based on what he was proposing. He lost.
In 1948, Republicans nominated a very bland but popular governor of New York who was an extremely lazy campaigner who did not even endorse his party’s platform. But he was beloved by the media (sounds familiar) and they gave him all sorts of advantages in the press. Meanwhile Truman was barnstorming the country and giving rip-roaring speeches. In the days before real mass media like TV, he was a good in-person entertainer. He also was the current president who in a masterful stroke, called the majority Republican Congress back into session to pass their priorities as listed in the platform. They failed.
In 1988, Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis. He was a passionless fellow who had a couple of problems. First, he had no passion. Second, he was governor of a state where a black guy was given a furlough and killed a woman. George HW Bush seems like a sad old man now but he okayed using a racist ad against Dukakis and it won him the election. (Racism will return again and again in this story.)
Donald Trump Was A Formidable Candidate
Next, the fallacy that Cheato was somehow a terrible candidate. He didn’t do what he needed to do of course. He didn’t fundraise. He only did one event a day. Trump was also extremely stupid. And he had to fire two campaign managers mid-campaign. (Lewandowski and Manafort)
Trump Was Tough — For Other Reasons
He was a formidable candidate for other reasons-he was entertaining as a clown often is. Because of that, he got almost 5 billion dollars in free advertising. Much of it was negative but all of it was free. Hell, his podium got more airtime than Clinton even when she was making major speeches.
Russia is also the group that handed Wikileaks most of the non-Clinton email messages to be dropped for the media to blather relentlessly and pointlessly over.
He was not a normal politician so didn’t care about the general election. Remember, before the general, Cheato had to face 15 Republicans, some of whom were extremely good politicians. Despite Rubio’s whining, he has been elected numerous times in Florida. He even won re-election in 2016 while complaining about how much he hated being a senator.
John Kasich was no joke when he ran. Kasich is one of those smiling Republicans who gut you while you are complimenting them on how nice they seem. He won re-election in 2014 by thirty points. Even now he is above 50% as governor despite Ohio’s economy not being that great.
Ted Cruz was another major contender who had no reason to suspect he would lose. He had, after all, been the guy who gave one of history’s biggest political upsets with his surprise win in 2012 in the Texas Republican primary. David Dewhurst, his then opponent, had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead after the initial primary in May when he got 10 points over Cruz but was flipped by the runoff election in July. That is a shift of over 10 points in two months.
Jeb Bush was always going to suck.
But with those three other opponents, it should have been simple for them to beat Cheato. Why didn’t they?
Trump’s Lack of Care
I believe a large part of it was Cheato simply didn’t care enough to moderate his tone for the general. Republicans had been playing with fire since 1972 and the invention of the Southern Strategy. They use racist policies that they paper over so those who have zero interest in dealing with it can pretend that no, the Republicans are not the home of white supremacy. Their news organizations (Fox, Sinclair, and others) go to a great deal of effort to magnify racial tensions by overreacting to the slightest expansion of rights of non-whites while steeply underreacting to real world racist results. In addition, Republican state legislatures have been openly racist for years with the North Carolina legislature being so racist a court took extreme measures to point this out.
The national politicians (including Kasich, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush) had long been playing cute, so they usually were using dog whistles to hide the racism. 2016 and Cheato blew past the dog whistles and gave the Republican base what they wanted — a racist candidate who was happy to play up all the same conspiracies that they had been fed for years by Fox News.
But wait! What about the fact that many voters voted for Obama before they voted for Cheato? Racial resentment plays a large part in this. It is dressed up as “cultural anxiety” but it is plain ol’ racism.
“I voted for Obama but black people didn’t stop demanding things.”
A co-worker said that to me. I don’t know why it is weird that they would demand to not be shot but then I try to actively work on my privilege.
Let’s Talk Sexism
The 2016 election was one of the ones where cultural issues hold great sway. Why? The economy was humming along okay, the world was mostly at peace, and there wasn’t a sense of urgency like there had been in 1992 and 2008. Both of those years had pick ups by Democrats because the US was worried about the economy. 2008 was bad enough that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama won in a landslide.
The 800 lb gorilla in the room that is rarely spoken about except by Hillary Clinton fans like myself is the sexism.
Many People Don’t See Women as Presidents
It is extremely hard for a woman to run for President of the United States. Here is a table of only the national party candidates who got at least on the nominating ballot at the convention.
Of the 10 women who have run for the national parties, only Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, Hillary Clinton, and Carly Fiorina have been taken seriously enough to win delegates. And of those four, only one has made it to the general election. Every other woman has been a third-party candidate who was there mostly for symbolic reasons.
Gee, looking at it like that shows it is kind of hard does it not?
Further, we have numbers to back up the fact it was sexism and not simply Hillary Clinton being somehow uniquely unlikable. We also have confessions from Republicans.
Let us look at the numbers for Hillary Clinton and her “likability”:
If she was not running for anything and was a subordinate to another person, Clinton was popular for a politician. She hit a peak of 60% in 2011. But then Benghazi happened, and she decided to leave office, which the media assumed was so she could run for the White House. The Republicans, as confessed here by Kevin McCarthy, decided to abuse their power once again to try to stop her.
Note that word in there: untrustworthy.
Lies, Damn Lies, and the Truth
Clinton is not much of a liar. She has had very few outright lies — 31 in ten years. (I disagree with some of Politifact’s characterizations of her statements since obviously some of them were hyperbole that all politicians fall prey to but whatever.)
Barack Obama had 71 in that time frame. Donald Trump set the webpage on fire. Mitt Romney (they stopped tracking him after 2012) had 32.
In fact, if you want honesty out of a politician, go ask a Democrat. They usually will tell you the truth.
Why Is Hillary Seen as a Liar?
Yet she is assumed to be lying all the time. Why? Women tend to be more honest than men but Clinton has been called a liar since William Safire’s column on her being a congenital liar in 1996 despite her generally being honest.
Which means it isn’t about Clinton’s actual honesty. It is about the people who lie about her.
Republicans have been doing that since she showed up on the national scene as Bill Clinton’s wife (prior to that, she was her own person but when Bill ran for the presidency, things changed a wee bit.) The media has usually and gleefully joined in. This has happened again, and again, and again, and again.
(A good example of this is Judicial Watch who were the ones who sought her emails from her time at State and repeatedly made up claims about them that the media swallowed whole scale. Judicial Watch is not a clean actor. They have a vendetta against Clinton and the media has never particularly cared.)
Hillary Fought This False Narrative
Because of this, Clinton spent most of 2015 and 2016 being as precise as possible in her speaking. She obviously failed since multiple times she had to go back and explain something when it was distorted by the press (who then distorted what she explained.) She is still having to do that when the brouhaha flared up over her accurate statement in India about where she won and where Cheato won and why.
Yet even though she is no more of a liar then say Obama, she is treated much worse by the press. Even her husband isn’t treated as badly as she is. It is why he is at 45% and she is at 36%. Part of the reason is of course that Fox News has been acting like she is currently President despite her repeated attempts to resign as their President in Fake.
There is also some other data that show it was about sexism that is little looked at.
I have used this before to explain why Clinton lost and I think it is important to look at. Firefighters are one of the last main bastions of white masculinity. The group is mostly white, mostly male.
They voted for Obama at barely more than 50% in 2008 and less than 50% in 2012. But they dropped to 27% for Clinton. The only thing that really explains both (since they voted for Bill Clinton at a much higher rate) is racism for Obama and sexism for Clinton.
They don’t even hide it. The president of the Firefighters Union flatly stated that they didn’t like Clinton or Democrats being focused on minorities and college educated whites instead of them.
And finally, the last part about sexism is James Comey. He of the impeccable reputation that somehow viewed his women bosses as less than reasonable. First up is Loretta Lynch. He thought she had a credibility gap. Why? There was no reason to assume it this time. He had to use a doctored email that was thoroughly debunked by his own team to assume she was going to be discredited by the partisan press.
Yet the entire time he could have gone to Sally Yates about his concerns because he may have thought that Lynch was not impartial enough. Never went to her. Didn’t go to her again when he found out about the email messages that were on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Didn’t go to her when she was acting AG with Cheato’s behavior after the election.
(This probably should not be a surprise since the mostly male FBI has a bit of an issue with the sexism against Hillary Clinton being as obvious as the ones against Lynch and Yates:
“Besides, as one bureau official after another has made clear to me in recent months, Comey never expected Clinton to lose. He saw The Letter as the politically expedient thing to do to help bolster the legitimacy of her victory – and preserve the FBI’s apolitical reputation. “The worst-case scenario [in his mind] was she was going to be really pissed [at him],” one executive told me. “But then we’d sit her down and tell her it was her fault we were in this position.”)
The 2016 election is one that still rankles for so many reasons that we aren’t going to finish grappling with them any time soon. There are many actors who refuse to take a hard look at their behavior. From the media refusing, almost to a person, to look at what they obviously did wrong; to average Americans who do not want to admit they were acting in sexist and racist ways; to the lack of caring by Republicans as they have been turned into traitors for Russian money.
Even I have not admitted my errors. While I was active online campaigning I did little in-person and even less phonebanking. I had reasons. My loss in 2014 made physical campaigning extremely painful, but I should have done more. That is on me.
Clinton looked at her behavior in What Happened which was a bit self-serving as all memoirs are, but she did look at what she did wrong. She admitted she screwed up. As far as I can tell, she is the only one who has admitted their screw-ups. Amy Chozick comes somewhat close in her memoir Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, And One Intact Glass Ceiling however the excerpts posted online are extremely clueless and self-serving.
There is a great deal to be learned from the 2016 election. Some has been with Eric Holder’s group to combat gerrymandering. DNC’s efforts to quietly help campaigns get the vote out. But the problems of racism, sexism, Russia, and the media’s right wing behavior have not gone away and will not any time soon.
Image of Elizabeth Rogers used by permission. Article cross-posted on Humorless Rants.
I do love the Sam Cooke song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Cooke is one of those performers, like Brel, who never misses. If you put together “Sam Cooke’s Least Loved Songs” it would still be a great album. According to Cooke the song is about social change and he was thinking specifically of his touring group being turned away by a “whites only” hotel. But it sounds like a gospel song. In particular, it sounds like a black gospel song — so full of hope because that’s all they had.
When I first went to college, one of the few courses I always attended was Developmental Psychology. And I learned the term “meta-grumble.” The construction actually makes no sense: a grumble about a grumble?! But what it means in the literature is the complaints of those who have all their basic needs met. As a result, any complaint I have is a meta-grumble. Imagine if someone had told me at 10 years old that I would be a successful freelance writer and editor and have enough money to buy anything that I wanted and was able to spend much of my time learning new things. I would have been thrilled.
But I’m not. Earlier I was having a panic attack. I drove to the store to buy a bottle of vodka. I was so freaked out that I got a bottle of gin instead. But I drank two shots and the panic went away. But I can still taste the gin and that makes me want to retch. Here I am living my dream life and self-medicating with vile alcohol. I don’t have anything but meta-grumbles. Yet here I am: a hopeless mess.
The initial incident that spawned “A Change Is Gonna Come” happened just a year and half before Sam Cooke was murdered. It was recorded less than a year before he was murdered. And it was release a week and a half after he was murdered. The most important lines to me are these:
There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on.
Sam Cooke was Wrongly Optimistic
In fact, no. He couldn’t carry on long enough for the song to be released. And the police never considered it a murder. It was just a black man, after all. I have little doubt that Cooke was set up to be robbed and that the murder was part of that: Elisa Boyer and Bertha Franklin were working a scam they had worked many times before. But again: the police were probably only interested in the case to the extent that it deprived them of killing Sam Cooke themselves. The absolute best take on the murder was that Sam Cooke was robbed and Franklin did feel threatened. But I find it hard to believe that someone feels that threatened but has time to go get the shot gun.
Regardless, I’m not writing about Sam Cooke. I’m writing about everyone. The truth is that President Donald Trump really bothers me. I feel like I live in a new country. Even if the Democrats take control of Congress (which is unlikely; hopefully they will take the House) and a Democrat becomes President in 2020, everything has changed. The Democrat will be more corrupt than they would have been without this dark moment in the US.
It’s possible that it will all work as shock therapy. The Republicans, freed from having to pledge allegiance to Trump otherwise they will be primaried, will work to turn their “party” into a normal conservative political party. I mean, I understand why the current Republicans don’t stand up against Trump. The most recent polling of evangelicals shows that he is more popular than ever. A married man has affairs with a Playboy playmate and a porn star, and these good “traditional values” evangelicals like him more than ever.
Is This the US or North Korea?
I feel like I’m living in North Korea. The Dear Leader can do no wrong. Anything said against him is a lie. If Trump claimed he shot 18 holes of golf and got a score of -38 with 5 holes-in one, these people would believe it. Because Trump doesn’t have a constituency; he has a cult.
There is no reasoning with these people. They’ve learned that truth is just a matter of opinion. That’s right: conservative Christians are now postmodern. If I want to believe that the Moon is made of green cheese, well, that’s just my opinion. They know it’s wrong, because the Moon is actually made of Donald Trump’s sperm. But I have video evidence:
Okay! So no green cheese, but some kind of cheese! But who is to say? I literally have more evidence that the Moon is made of green cheese than they have that Donald Trump is a moral man. Because there is plenty of video evidence (mostly not in claymation) that shows quite the opposite. Just listen to him interviewed by Howard Stern. Is this the Christ of the modern conservative Christian?!
Suicide Is Always an Option
Maybe none of it matters. The first thing I think about each morning is killing myself. Don’t alert the authorities! There was a two month period over the summer where I was actually suicidal. And if things had not made a turn for the better, you would probably not be reading this today. But generally (and currently and for all my life except those two months) suicide has been an intellectual issue.
I’ve studied it very well, and I know how to kill myself in a painless and foolproof way. What I’ve never quite figured out is how exactly to do it so my body is found by professionals. I would never want a family member or friend or even hotel maid to find me. Oh yes, dying in the bathtub and putting a very clear note on the door of the hotel bathroom would probably work. But it isn’t certain. At this point, that’s what I would do.
As I said though: I’m not going to kill myself. As long as I can write, I still have hope. And as long as I have hope, I would never kill myself. And let’s face it: I’m too much of a coward to do it. If I didn’t do it over the summer, I don’t think I will ever do it. I do hope I die before I’m 60, but that’s quite different.
Still, hope that Sam Cooke showed in “A Change Is Gonnna Come” is something I just can’t relate to. I love it. I listen to it often. But I fear any change that comes will be for the worse. I’m not of my father’s generation when things were improving. My life has seen things get worse and worse. Not for me, of course! I’m blessed. I am literally living the dream.
But that isn’t enough, I’m afraid. I’m not that selfish. And of course, that’s what my country wants me to be.
It is a couple of hours since I wrote this and I’ve spent most of that time listening to Minutemen. I’ve always known that George Hurley was a great drummer, but it really stood out tonight. Strangely, I’ve found the music to be very calming. And nothing more than this acoustic set from only a few month before Boon tragically died. God I love those guys. Tonight it was “History Lesson – Part II” that really struck me, even though “I Felt Like a Gringo” will always be my song:
No. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.
Although I wish every member of the NRA would listen to “Little Man With a Gun in His Hand.” Because that’s what we think of you all. You think you’re tough. We think you’re pathetic.
Now I’m listening to a live (1980) concert by Talking Heads with Adrian Belew et al. Maybe it’s just my mood, but for the first time, I see that it’s really the rhythm section that makes the band — Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. There isn’t a lot that David Byrne adds. Of course, I think that Byrne is a supreme asshole who thinks all the success of the band is due to him. But his guitar playing really is bad. I play funk guitar better than he does. And the only album of theirs that really remains listenable is Remain in Light, and that is one of only two albums that Byrne allowed the others to take their appropriate credit. Still, this is okay. Nothing close to the worst of Minutemen.
Note: whenever I rag on Byrne, someone comes by and says, “Oh, you have to listen to X.” And I do. And it’s totally derivative work. He spent all his creativity on those first four albums. There’s nothing left. He’s boring.
And really: what was the point of bringing in Busta Jones on bass? Weymouth was perfectly competent. That’s no slight of Jones who was an amazing bassist. But it just stinks of Byrne trying to push everyone away to make himself the star. Like I said: I hate the man. If he were in the room, I’d slap him. Age hasn’t improved him either. Maturity doesn’t go along with aging for David Byrne.
Listen to the bass part on “Once in a Lifetime.” It’s almost all just vamping. That’s true of most of the songs Jones plays. Nothing he plays requires his level of skill. Did I mention that David Byrne is an asshole? It makes me feel better. I’m a mess. And there are times when I am unkind. But at least I’m not David Byrne.
I hope you understand that my real problem with Byrne is his lack of loyalty. Loyalty is very big in my life. And those who show a lack of it are really out as far as I’m concerned. I have read a lot about Byrne — especially from the early to mid-1980s. I wanted to like him but there was little to like. And if you want a good example of just how pathetic he is, listen in 1994’s “Angels.” Why didn’t he just re-release “Once in a Lifetime”? Or better: just him screaming, “I have no new ideas!”
And with that I guess I’ll go watch a monster movie because I really do feel better. The only thing is that I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.
Maybe I’m just going crazy. But I could hardly breathe watching this.
This article is dedicated to Dennes Dale Boon who died just because of bad luck. I got the picture of Sam Cooke from Wikipedia. They claim it is in the public domain. If so, great. But I’m skeptical. If not, I use it under Fair Use.
I am putting this is red now. It is now one month since this article was written. I am more angry at the Sam Harris Cultists than I was before. And still I get comments from you sub-geniuses. Interesting fact: not one of you has shown any indication that you even listened to the podcast. You don’t know what you are talking about. And for the most recent cultist, this isn’t philosophy class. I’m not publishing a book. And I am not a journalist! Can’t you people tell a personal blog when you see one?! I have a full-time job editing a large tech website. It speaks incredibly lowly of your God-substitute that you feel the need to defend him on a small (though doubtless extremely successful by your own personal standards) personal blog.
How can I make this so clear that even the sub-genius Sam Harris cultists will understand: you aren’t welcome here. I don’t care what you have to say (not that one of you has said anything worth responding to). The fact that you think Sam Harris is a great (or even good) public intellectual shows you are ignorant of what a true public intellectual (eg, Edward Said) is. I’m fine with having debates, but you people offer nothing. And you complain (as you have been for years) that I just don’t understand poor Dr Harris. Of course, it never occurs to you to look at even one other article that I’ve written about Harris — in particular the nice things I’ve said about him when he was making more sense and wasn’t nothing more than a celebrity for the almost intelligent.
But since I don’t believe you will go away, I’m simply turning off comments. I don’t even remember what I wrote. That’s how important Sam Harris is in my life. In the past, he’s had some interesting things to say. But anyone so ignorant of Charles Murray’s career as to think him some oppressed man who can’t get his message out is delusional. And it is also more evidence that Harris himself has major problems with his own racism.
One last thing. Do you really think a 1,000 word blog post is supposed to do a thorough job of refuting Sam Harris in a conversation that ran over two hours? Really?! (Why would I need to given that Klein, in his mild style showed how wrong Harris was.) That’s probably what angers me the most. I just read this article again, and other than the misinformation (see comments) about Neanderthals (which make Sam Harris look even more ignorant), I stand by it all. I’m not going to go line by line over what Harris said. For one thing, it would be boring given how much he repeats himself.
PS: I had never thought before to check what RationalWiki had to say about Sam Harris. All my experience has been direct. I didn’t know about a number of things in this well researched article. I don’t expect the Cultists to read it. And if they do, they will be secure in the knowledge that it is just yet another case of Sam Harris being misunderstood. Because Harris never writes anything wrong. It’s just that most readers can’t understand this amazingly big-hearted humanitarianism when he cherry-picks information to make Muslims look like a particularly vile religion and writes apologias for killing them. It’s sad that Sam Harris has just bought a bill of goods. It’s sadder that millions of subgeniuses can’t see or even accept that there might be more rational people on the other side. Go read the article!
Sam Harris “Debates” Ezra Klein
Sam Harris and Ezra Klein had a debate with each other for over two hours about… To be honest, I don’t know what it was about. It was supposed to be about the connection between intelligence and race. It was also supposed to be about Harris’ new BFF Charles Murray and how badly he is treated.
Let me get the elephant in the room out of the way right now: poor Charles Murray. It’s certainly true that Murray gets attacked a lot. But it really has little to do with The Bell Curve where he argued that blacks are dumber than whites, that there is nothing we can do about it, so we should just get rid of affirmative action and all those programs that try to make the nation more economically fair.
The Bell Curve was co-authored by Richard Herrnstein. He was the scientist and I believe that he was responsible for all the science in the book. He also died of lung cancer the year the book came out. So it was really Murray’s book. And like all Murray’s books, it was political. All of his books push a radical libertarian ideology. He is in favor of the universal basic income (UBI), but only because he’s a pragmatist. Like many libertarians, he’s for the UBI as a way of getting rid of all other social programs and has even said that the UBI would allow the nation to spend 10 percent less on helping the poor.
Sam Harris: Repetition Machine
What was most interesting in the debate was that Sam Harris would make a comment like, “All these people don’t want to deal with race and IQ because it makes them uncomfortable.” Ezra Klein would respond insightfully. And then Sam Harris would just repeat what he had already said in different words.
I’ve had debates with people like this. They don’t really understand the subject they are talking about at a deep level. What they think is really just emotional. So they think that if they just repeat what they believe enough, others will agree. Because they don’t actually have a rational argument. They just believe. This is hilarious coming from New Atheist Sam Harris.
The Sam Harris Cult
Of course Sam Harris leads a kind of cult. There are many young men (Yes: men!) who hang on his every word and fight with anyone who disagrees with him. So as soon as the podcast was out, I saw reddit and blog posts with titles like, “Sam Harris Destroys Ezra Klein.” Ah, no.
In fact, I had a reasonably favorable opinion of Harris before this debate. Now I think he’s kind of a dullard who within 5 years will be a conservative and frequent guest on Fox News. And it won’t matter to his cult members, most of whom now believe themselves to be liberal.
John von Neumann
I was very tickled by something that Sam Harris said about the great mathematician (among other things) John von Neumann:
I mean, for instance, I would bet my life that my IQ is lower than John von Neumann’s was. The chances of that being true are 100 percent. Of course this is mere speculation, but this is speculation that you could bet the fate of the world on. Despite what Turkheimer says in his article, in his tweets, you can make very high probability speculations. Do you think I’m inferior to John von Neumann? Do you think I think I’m inferior to John von Neumann?
The Inferiority Argument: von Neumann Edition
What he’s getting at is that just because he thinks blacks are stupid doesn’t mean he thinks they are inferior. There are many problems with this. I figure that Harris’ IQ is something like mine: in the low genius area. And that means that even though he knows he’s no von Neumann, he’s smart. He’s a guy who people look up to. He has many fans. He’s rich. Any book he wants to write will be published.
Now compare this with a black man who is also a genius. But he’s looked down on in society. If he ever got in trouble with the law, he’d probably be lucky to have a job as a janitor. He wouldn’t get all the social perks of a white man of his intelligence.
And that’s true of black people at every intelligence level. As Ezra Klein noted, black families with $100,000 incomes live, on average, in neighborhoods where the median income is $30,000. Sam Harris ignores the question.
Charles Murray Isn’t a Scientist
Harris wants to make it all about science. But it’s not about science for Murray. But it makes Harris feel good to pretend that Murray is in the business of science. Because if he is, it means that Sam Harris lives in a meritocracy. And it means that he deserves the excellent life that he has.
Of course, Sam Harris doesn’t believe in free will (I agree with him). He got lucky! But given that luck, he deserves his wonderful life.
And for the record, I do think Sam Harris is inferior to John von Neumann. Von Neumann made the world a better place and Sam Harris is making it a worse place.
By the way, Harris used that example many times in the debate. Ezra Klein ignored it because it’s stupid.
Sam Harris Doesn’t Like Neanderthals
Another of Sam Harris’ repeated examples had to do with Neanderthals. He noted that Europeans had Neanderthal genes but that Africans did not. His point was that had it been the other way around, everyone would have freaked out. This is very strange. First, Africans do have Neanderthal genes — just less than Europeans. Second, where did he get his education abut Neanderthals? The Flintstones? Neanderthals had a larger brain to body ratio than humans, indicating that they might have been smarter. What they didn’t have were well developed parts of the brain used for communication.
Now it’s true that Neanderthals as a going concern went extinct. But humans went one person from going extinct. We are all the descendants of a single woman. As I recall, the total world populations of humans got down to less than one thousand. So the fact that humans are alive today and Neanderthal are not is a simple matter of luck.
King of the Subgeniuses
I can see why all these relatively bright but not terribly bright guys love Sam Harris. First, he’s a lot smarter than they are and so can convince them with plausible but facile arguments. Plus, he feeds their prejudices in a way that allows them to think that they aren’t prejudiced — just “rational” and “scientific.”
There is no point in listening to Sam Harris. His debate with Ezra Klein showed that he has nothing to add to the public debate. He’s actually starkly closed minded. I can see why Noam Chomsky didn’t want to debate him. Chomsky would have had to stop Harris after every sentence to correct him.
If you are a Sam Harris fan, I beg you: read some real intellectuals. Harris is a pretender.
One can’t exactly celebrate this day, 50 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. But it brings up a lot of thoughts.
The first is how much I hate the deification of King. When he was alive, he was hated by northerners and southerners alike. And if he hadn’t been assassinated, he would still be hated by those on the right in this country. If he were alive today, he’d be treated the same way as Jesse Jackson. And do you remember the way he was treated by the Democrats in 1988?
But what really bugs me is the way that conservatives try to take Martin Luther King Jr for their own. They know next to nothing about King. They certainly don’t know about his still radical ideas of economic equality. Yet at least once a year, we have to hear a bunch of Republicans claim that we live in the Promised Land and so King would side with them now. What a joke!
When he was younger, my father was a member of the John Birch Society. And to this day, you cannot convince my father that King did not, in fact, visit the Soviet Union. I believe that was propaganda the FBI spread.
My father is also convinced that Martin Luther King Jr was a communist. Now you have to start with the fact that my father has no idea what a communist is. But it’s clear that King wasn’t too fond of capitalism. Neither is my father’s son. The truth is that in this country, “communist” is the same as “boogeyman.” It doesn’t mean anything. It was just the totalitarian system used by the Soviet Union. And I’m not at all certain that the people of Russia today are better off. Oh, Putin is elected, but he gets to choose who he runs against.
But speaking of embarrassing family members, there was an interesting discussion about Martin Luther King Jr over at New York, What Do We Forget About MLK? It’s short and worth reading, but here is quote from Ed Kilgore, who grew up in the south in the 1960s:
I happened to be visiting some of my rural relatives right after the assassination. The “nicer” among them were unhappy that so many Yankee politicians attended MLK’s funeral. But I mostly remember my sweet “old maid” great aunt saying that if she could find the assassin, she’d take him in and hide him and feed him and care for him the rest of his life.
Martin Luther King Jr Is No Threat Now
I really don’t think we’ve changed much. We just know what not to say publicly. I’ve seen it in more distant parts of my family. When they think they are safe (and why they think they are safe around me is anyone’s guess), they will say the most racist things. I see our society as being very much like it was in 1968, but with a patina of respectability covering over it.
And you don’t have to look hard. There have been numerous studies that show that identical resumes get interviews more often if they have a white sounding name than if they have a black sounding name. And the people making these hiring decisions aren’t illiterate southern bigots. They are people with college educations who doubtless see themselves as being color blind. But the truth is there in their subconsciouses.
The New Racism
Frankly, I would prefer if people would just be more honest. It seems like what we’ve done over the last fifty years has been to bury our racism. There are no longer laws keeping black people from moving into your neighborhood. But economic inequality does the job just as well. As The Conversation put it:
While racial segregation in US schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since — to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.
I think what I want to say on this anniversary is that at the time, most whites didn’t have a problem with Martin Luther King Jr being assassinated. They do now because he is no longer a threat to their lives. That’s what it all comes down to.
Afterword: Noor Salman Found Not Guilty
It’s been a few days, the jury in the Noor Salman case took only 12 hours to find her not guilty. It’s not surprising. The case against her was terrible. Basically, all the prosecution had against her was an initialed confession after 11 hours of interrogation. The defense was able to show that over half of it wasn’t true. So clearly, the FBI created the statement and pressured this poor woman to accept it. If I know anything about cops, it is this: they promised her if she initialed it, they would let her go home with her son.
I may write more about this later. But for the moment, I’m very pleased.
Blood Feast was the first spatter film -- no one denies this. Today, it's a charming film. I've written a novella-length article about it. You should check it out -- including my light-hearted synopsis. And then you should watch it because it's brilliant!