Odds and Ends Vol 26

Odds and Ends

Here we are with another week’s worth of stuff that caught my attention for a few moments.

Jade’s Trick

I came upon this article I wrote six years ago, “Jade’s Trick” in Shakespeare. It’s rather good. There are three plays in which That Bard uses the phrase and so I’m able to nail-down it’s meaning.

I came upon it because I saw a video where Jordan Peterson was complaining that English majors can now get a degree without ever encountering Shakespeare. It’s a typical conservative complaint.

But more than that, people who speak like this usually know little of Shakespeare and only mention him because “everyone” thinks he’s such a great writer. Well, he wasn’t such a great writer. He was among the best at his particular place and time.

I’m sure if I ever got into a discussion of this, Peterson would pull a jade’s trick. I know him of old.

Blake Neff and Conservative Plausible Deniability

So it turns out that Tucker Carlson’s top writer, Blake Neff, has been posting “racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content” anonymously for the past 5 years. As a result of this information coming to light, Neff quit.

Notice that I didn’t say that he quit because he was racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. I didn’t say he was fired because he’s a white supremacist. And I certainly didn’t say that he was fired because he was having a nefarious effect on our political discourse.

That’s because we always knew that. Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist and he spews out those toxic beliefs on his show nightly. But in modern America, as long as you have a patina of respectability, as long as you don’t use the forbidden words, you can spout the worst stuff in the world and you’re fine.

This gets to my main problem with the #NeverTrump movement. It isn’t about Trump’s incompetence and horrible policies. The truth is, the last Republican president was incompetent. And he had roughly the same policies as Trump too. No: the problem is how crude Trump is.

And this is why America is at a very dangerous point. The next Republican president will be more like Tucker Carlson (or be Tucker Carson himself). And since he will say the “acceptable” things even while doing what Trump is doing — And worse! — there will be no uproar. In fact, he will be the new Ronald Reagan: the authoritarian Americans have so long craved!

Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson will continue to have the highest-rated cable news show in history. And all Right-Thinking Americans will pretend that it’s just a coincidence that he happened to have had a writer who was a full-on white supremacist. And they can get away with think that because Tucker Carlson knows better than to spout his racist garbage unfiltered.

Free Speech Hypocrite Bari Weiss Resigns

For decades, it’s been widely accepted that The Wall Street Journal editorial page is a toxic stew of lies, ignorance, and villainy. So why The New York Times thought that “diversity” would be increased by bringing on Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss from there, I can’t say. There have always been two problems with them:

  1. Apart from having vile opinions, they are simply bad at their jobs.
  2. Coming from inside the conservative echo-chamber, they both have extremely thin skins.

This second one is critical because it makes them claim that any disagreement is oppression. Liberals are supposed to pretend that they aren’t disingenuous ideologues and respond always, “I politely disagree but not like I disagree with the people who impolitely disagree with you!”

So after 3 years of The New York Times making all manner of accommodations for for Bari Weiss, she has resigned because the paper didn’t defend her from the other reporters at the paper who disagreed with her. So good riddance.

But she will continue to have a good career as a professional moderate even as the only stuff she writes is right-wing nonsense.

Ivanka Trump Wants You: To Be a Phlebotomist

The White House is pushing a campaign for workers to learn new skills. On one level, that’s great. People should constantly learn. It’s good for you and it’s fun. But this does seem to imply that the reason you hate your job is that you just suck and that you should do something about it.

Also part of this is the current conventional wisdom that workers should take all the risk and spend all the resources on making themselves employable. Then the companies should make the big profits because, according to conservative dogma, they took all the risks!

Here’s one of the ads. The phlebotomist is in there but she isn’t highlighted:

But can we all take a moment and marvel that the person the administration has spearheading this is a trust-fund baby (Ivanka Trump) of a trust-fund baby (Trump).

Let’s look back at the last two Democratic presidents: Obama and Clinton were both from working class families. The last two Republican presidents were both born into wealth and never did anything of significance.

Yet it’s the Republicans who claim to be salt of the Earth and just regular guys. In this regard, Ivanka Trump is the perfect person to tell the nation to learn new skills. Her trust-fund husband probably helped her with the project.

The Price of Folly

It’s well known that gold is not that useful a metal. In industry, it can usually be substituted for. That isn’t really true of silver, which is a more usable metal generally. Right now, the price of gold is roughly 100 times the price of silver. This is an indication of gold being purchased for other reasons — mostly for investment.

In terms of its use and rarity, gold is clearly over-priced. Yet only a fool would say it isn’t a good investment because of this. The price of gold is not driven by normal considerations. It is driven by the fact that hoards of people are convinced that it is a safe asset. So it’s price always peaks during economic downturns because people are sure gold is a safe haven.

There’s a weird kind of thing that goes on with this. The truth is that gold is not a good investment over the long-run. But even while central banks have made inflation a thing of the past, gold people continue to believe that hyperinflation is just around the corner. So they push up gold prices thus continuing the belief that gold is a good investment. Of course, this only goes on for so long.

Another thing gold people say is that inflation really is high but that the government is lying. The go-to example is the price of milk. “Have you seen how expensive milk is!” But if you look at milk prices since 1930, you’ll see they only went up substantially at the start of the Great Depression. Even during 1970s, milk only went up about 5 percent per year.

So gold continues to do better than the US dollar — but only because a bunch of fools keep buying it based on the same misunderstanding of economics. Ultimately, the price of gold will crash. It’s high price now is an indication that we are a wealthy country and so fools can continue to push up the price of gold.

But I will give the gold bugs this: at least gold does have some intrinsic value. That cannot be said of bitcoin and the thousands of other cryptocurrencies. But that doesn’t void the fact that the gold market is driven by a bunch of people who know just enough economics to be dangerous.

Reel Bad Arabs

Reel Bad Arabs is a one-hour documentary based on Jack Shaheen’s book of the same name. I recommend checking it out. Most of it is stuff I’m well aware of. But I had never noticed the stuff about Network. Give it a view.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly to Chuck Woolery

Four years ago, I wrote, Why So Many Conservative Game Show Hosts? In it, I explained why game show hosts are so often conservative. One of the hosts I highlighted was Chuck Woolery. He’s been one of the most outspoken.

Sunday night, Wollery tweeted, “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid-19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I’m sick of it.” [I fixed a couple of typos but kept the redundant content.]

Then Monday morning (H/T: JJC):

Chuck Woolery COVID-19 Tweets

Fifteen hours and 22 minutes later, he followed it up with, “To further clarify and add perspective, Covid-19 is real and it is here. My son tested positive for the virus, and I feel for [all] of those suffering and especially for those who have lost loved ones.”

According to Showbiz 411, Woolery shut his account down. I’m glad to see that. Ranty old men shouldn’t have Twitter accounts. Of course, Woolery hasn’t really backed off his claim. On his podcast, he said that he never used the word “hoax.” In other words, he left Twitter because he couldn’t take the heat. But on his podcast where no one can challenge him, he’s as awful as usual.

H/T: Dave L from alerting me to this.

Now Playing at Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic Review is featuring a low-budget horror film from 1973, Messiah of Evil. It was made by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, a married couple well-known for their screenplays for American GraffitiIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Howard the Duck.

I checked the film out because I’ve been watching a lot of Italian horror films. I heard Kate Ellinger say that Messiah of Evil had a kinship with the Gates of Hell trilogy in its Lovecraftian basis. But it’s more than that. Much of the film looks like what we later see from Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Here’s the trailer:

Until Next Time

I hope there is enough to write about in the coming month…

Relativism Doesn’t Lead to Authoritarianism

The Ominous Parallels

In The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff makes the argument that relativism was leading the US to Nazism. It isn’t a great argument. It is based mostly on some really pathetic readings of Kant and Hegel that show that he doesn’t understand them. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that his analysis is nonsense.

But right now, we are in a situation where the US is moving towards authoritarianism with people justifying it with relativism.

This is not leftist relativism. It is the opposite of what Peikoff (or Paul Johnson or David French or any other “serious” conservative) told us. This is right-wing relativism.

In decades past, people criticized leftist for their relativism. And by and large, leftists thought it and turned against it. It’s very hard to find anyone on the left who accepts it today.

Authoritarianism Leads to Relativism

The right did not accept relativism in a general sense, however. Instead, conservatives got more and more authoritarian over the last few decades. Then they grabbed onto relativism as a post-hoc justification for it.

So it’s not relativism itself that led to authoritarianism. It was the other way around. Authoritarianism led to relativism.

And this shows the problem with people like Leonard Peikoff who complained that leftists were going to bring about authoritarianism. They may have been right that authoritarianism is coming but they totally missed the mechanism — and even where it was coming from.

It is also interesting that a lot of supposed libertarians who are anti-authoritarian naturally turn to someone like Donald Trump when he gains power. Fundamentally, philosophy of this nature is not strong enough to protect you. It seems to work the other way around.

The Limits of Ideology

Many people want to believe that they are Masters of the Universe. They think that they should have the right to do anything they want. So they grabbed on to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. It is not, as they almost always claim, the other way around.

People do not start with first principles and then base their political views on that. Philosophy is almost always used as a way to justify what people already believe not to guide them in what they ought to believe.

And that’s even more true on the right where they so limit the information that can get to them.

The entire world would be better off if people just tried to be decent. What we are seeing in the US is that vilifying groups of people and empowering demagogues leads to authoritarianism. And the people will grab hold of any justification available.

Leonard Peikoff and other conservatives and libertarians have spent decades predicting authoritarianism from the left. They ignored the growing authoritarianism of their allies on the right. I don’t think it was a mistake. It was just a question of priorities.

Ben Shapiro and Gender vs Age

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro is an odd phenomenon. People who like him take the most facile arguments as genius. It reminds me that as a writer, you find that greater fame mostly leads to more people who don’t engage seriously with your work. But I guess that’s enough for Shapiro.

Over the weekend, I came upon his old argument that gender and age are the same things. You can’t choose your gender any more than you can choose your age. It is the most facile of facile arguments. But it’s actually a very useful comparison. If Ben Shapiro engaged with it, he’d learn a few thing.

Numeric Age and Sex

As most people should know by now, there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological term and gender is a sociological term. So if someone has XX chromosomes, their sex would be female. Their gender would be whatever they present as.

Of course, even sex can be difficult. Not all humans have XX or XY chromosomes.Some people have XXY or XYY chromosomes. Or X, XXX, or XXYY. Biology is varied and I’m frankly amazed that our bodies work at all.

Warning: do not read the comments on this video; you will overdose on hate and ignorance.

So we can’t say that there are just two sexes. But you could say that there is some number of sexes. For ease, let’s say there are three: female, male, and other. This is quantitative and roughly equivalent to someone’s numeric age.

As far as I know, my sex is male and my age is 56 years old. It would be wrong for me to say that my sex is female and my age is 42 (much as I might like to).

But under most circumstances, people aren’t interested in the numeric age and sex of adults. These attributes just aren’t that useful.

Qualitative Age and Gender

On the other hand, people are interested in qualitative age and gender.

ContraPoints dealt with this subject in her video Pronouns. In it, she discusses the social use of gender. It’s not about chromosomes or biology.

It’s also confusing. To make a big deal of calling someone (who looks like a woman) a man doesn’t create clarity. From a social standpoint, if someone looks like a man they are a man.

(As for non-binary people, I think it is the same for many cis people who may not present clearly as one gender or the other: there may be initial confusion but this can be worked out with a little sensitivity and knowledge.)

Qualitative age works the same way and has many of the same problems. I think of myself as old but many people might consider me middle-aged. These are terms that are less clear than quantitative age. And even if octogenarians want to call me “young” I still feel old.

There is, of course, one way that qualitative age and gender are different. People who mis-age me do it to make me feel better. People who mis-gender do it to make the other person feel bad and generally to make some ideological point.

Summary

So in the video, Ben Shapiro is making a false analogy when he asks the young woman, “Why aren’t you 60?” It would be appropriate to say, “Why aren’t you old?” But had he done that, everyone would have see that it was no argument at all. If the young women felt old, that’s her business.

So Shapiro has to create a false analogy. And it’s particularly bad because he knows the difference between sex and gender. But he chooses to ignore gender. As he says in the ContraPoints video of he/she: “Biology is the nature of the pronoun.”

But it isn’t. Unfortunately, thinking about the issue with a little clarity would only help his endeavor to “Debate Leftists and Destroy Them.” It would only bring him closer to the truth.


Ben Shapiro by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

NASCAR Bans Confederate Flag

Back in June 2013, I went to my first (and thus far only) NASCAR race. And I came away with a much greater appreciation of the sport. I saw it a lot like chess — a game that I played with a fair amount of seriousness for a long period of my life. It was fascinating to see how the racers won and lost their races just a little bit at a time — just like in a chess match between professionals.

I didn’t come away interested in the sport. Actually, given how evenly matched the drivers are and how subtle it all is, I’m amazed that it’s popular. But if people appreciate auto racing at even my simple level, I’m impressed. Good for them!

Confederate Flags at NASCAR

Of course, I wasn’t so impressed with the cultural elements of my time with NASCAR. It was filled with overt nationalism and public displays of religiosity that Jesus cautioned against in the Sermon on the Mount.[1] But you will see much the same at any sporting event in the US.

What really stood out were all the Confederate flags. I have zero tolerance for this. The people who sport them are at very best deluded. But in general, they are racist to such an extent that they are beyond proud of it. It’s not enough that they don’t care if you know about their bigotry. They want everyone to know about it.

The Confederate flag is the symbol of an act of treason against our country in the name of one of our worst shames: slavery. And this is not helped because most people who display the flag think they are the “true” or “real” Americans. They aren’t. They don’t like America but rather some vision of an American past where white men were proudly on top and everyone else kept quiet.

NASCAR Says No to the Confederate Flag

So I was thrilled when NASCAR put out the following statement:

The Presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors, and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.

Don’t misunderstand me: this is a business decision. NASCAR could see two things clearly:

  1. Most of their fans think of themselves as good people who are not in favor of overt racism and so will welcome this ban of the Confederate flag.
  2. NASCAR has a lot more black and brown fans than they do hard-core racist fans.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped a bunch of people online from claiming that they will never support NASCAR again:

But mostly, people seem pleased. (Check out this parody tweet.) I suspect for a lot of people, even ones who may not especially like it, it isn’t worth contesting. As the poet said: the times they are a-changing.

Congratulations

Regardless, it says something when a large business like NASCAR decides that it will not tolerate the Confederate flag. It says the time is over for when people could claim this treasonous, racist flag is just about their “southern pride” or some other horseshit.

Congratulations America! You won NASCAR!


[1] Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Confessions of a Republican

William Bogert

The iconic political commercial of the 1964 presidential election was Johnson’s Daisy ad. It featured a little girl pulling the leaves off a daisy while she counted them. Then, in voice-over, we hear a countdown and a nuclear explosion.

Then we hear Johnson saying, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” And we are finally told to vote for him because, “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Everyone at the time knew what this meant: if Goldwater became president, he would start a nuclear war. That may have been unfair. And even at the time it was criticized, which may explain why it only aired once. Not that it needed to run again. The ad hammered home what most people were already thinking.

Confessions of a Republican

There was another Johnson ad during that campaign: Confessions of a Republican. It ran a number of times. And it was very intellectual. It’s for that reason and many others that it would never be used today.

It’s a remarkable ad in its authenticity. But I’m not sure that it moved many people. It seems like the kind of ad that would move someone like me. But we are unlikely to need convincing.

William Bogert

What I find most interesting is the actor, William Bogert. For people of my age, he will always be remembered as the father in War Games who butters his corn in an unusual (and somehow disgusting) way.

He’s telling the truth: he had been a Republican. In fact, he was indicative of the great party consolidation that was going on in the mid-1960s where liberal Republicans were becoming Democrats and racist Democrats were becoming Republicans. But I don’t know if he ever became a Democrat. I know that he was married to Muppet puppeteer Eren Ozker, so he must have been a liberal.

But what’s even more interesting about Bogert is that he did very little filmed acting until about 10 years after he did this ad. He’d been acting since about 10 years before the ad. But there isn’t much documentation. He could have been working in television but it’s more likely he was doing theater and industrial films. He certainly seem comfortable with the camera in the ad.

2016

In 2016, Bogert filmed a follow-up ad for Hillary Clinton regarding Donald Trump. It’s also good. Very authentic. And it didn’t change anything. Because apparently a lot of Americans do like unpredictability in the use of nuclear weapons.

William Bogert died on 12 January of this year. I’m reserving judgement. If Trump wins in November, I’ll be glad Bogert didn’t live to see it. But if Trump loses, well, that will make Bogert’s death sad. But I’ll live with it — distracted as I am dancing in the streets.


Image cropped from the original ad, which is in the public domain.

Paul Tudor Jones and the Bitcoin Con

Paul Tudor Jones
Paul Tudor Jones

Paul Tudor Jones made a splash recently by investing either “just over 1 percent” or “almost 2” percent of his assets on bitcoin.

That might be a great investment. After all, bitcoin enthusiasts are just the newest generation of gold freaks. The market in cryptocurrency is not driven by those who think it will one day be a useful currency. It’s driven by the ideology of debt hysteria. These people all believe that hyperinflation is just a short time away.

But unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stopped making predictions about the end of the world after they were wrong a half-dozen times, the debt hysterics never admit defeat. It’s just a couple of years away!

If you follow the bitcoin press, you’ll see it’s more advocacy than news. While they do bring up troubling issues, the articles are always peppered with lots of happy horseshit from “industry leaders.” Unmentioned is that all of these people have strong incentives to keep the crypto bubble inflating.

The Value of Currencies

Think about currency in terms of its actual value. Those in the digital bubble refer to government-created currencies as “fiat.” It’s almost always used derisively. But it is true to some extent.

You see, even if all the world decides that the US dollar is useless, it will still have value. You and I can still pay our taxes with it. So the government, by law, provides its currency with value.

Where is the value of bitcoin except in the heads of its believers? The few things I can buy directly with bitcoin only exist because people are speculating on the currency.

But I understand: currency is a strange thing. The more you think about it the less you understand. But bitcoin advocates seem to think that it is some stable form of wealth whereas fiat currencies can’t be trusted. This is despite the fact that all the major currencies have been rock-solid over the last 40 years while the supposed great stores of wealth like gold and bitcoin have been all over the place.

“Whims” of Government, “Wisdom” of Markets

I said before that Paul Tudor Jones might be making a good investment. I am not, however, saying he is smart. His reasons for investing in bitcoin are based on the same old fact-free debt hysteria.

He noted that bitcoin wasn’t “subject to the whims of government spending.” First, the value of a currency is not subject to the whims of government spending. Japan, for example, has a 200% debt-to-GDP ratio but can borrow cheaply. The UK had a debt-to-GDP ratio that high or higher from roughly 1920 through 1960.

The second issue is this anti-government idea that what it does is bad. The whims of the market are supposedly fine. Bitcoin went from $15,000 at the start of 2018 to $4,000 at the start of 2019 to $7,000 at the start of 2020.

Think about that as a practical matter. Here are what you would have paid for a loaf of bread:

YearCost
2018$4.00
2019$15.00
2020$8.57

Wow! What a great system! You might as well live under hyper-inflation.

Inflation, Deflation, and Libertarian Fantasies

Paul Tudor Jones also said this:

If you take cash, on the other hand, and you think about it from a purchasing power standpoint, if you own cash in the world today, you know your central bank has an avowed goal of depreciating its value 2 percent per year. So you have, in essence, a wasting asset in your hands.

One of my first indications that libertarianism was nonsense was an article about the glories of the gold standard. It noted that inflation was a terrible thing that destroyed our precious wealth. It even talked about how great deflation (negative inflation) was. “Wouldn’t it be great if your money went up in value?!”

Well, no. It would be terrible.

If you are rich, a monetary system with no inflation or deflation might be great. If you have to work for a living, it’s terrible. The economy would not grow nearly as fast without modest inflation. If you knew that things would only get cheaper over time, you would hold off on purchases.

Now, that might be great in the abstract. We do a lot of useless consumption. But we need to set up an economic system where the lack of consumption doesn’t result in poor people starving.

Deflation would also be catastrophic for lending. Imagine if in addition to the interest you have to pay on a loan you have to pay it with money that is worth more!

The “Wisdom” of Paul Tudor Jones

People like Paul Tudor Jones don’t think this kind of stuff through. They don’t have to. They are like two guys running from a bear: it doesn’t matter how fast they are; the one who is slower gets eaten. In the bitcoin market, Jones can be an idiot as long as there are even bigger idiots for him to make money from.

That’s all fine. What’s not fine is that people like him are held up as oracles about the economy. And the fact that people see him on television results in something really odd.

People who don’t follow business at all tend to be slightly better informed on how the economy works. That’s simply because they haven’t swallowed all the debt scold nonsense that isn’t true but sounds so very Serious.

So invest in cryptocurrencies or don’t. I actually find them very interesting. I think the rise of stablecoins shows that they may be very useful in time. But the rise and fall of their prices is about speculation — mostly speculation based on nonsense reasoning.

If you invest in corn futures, you are doing something: helping corn get to where it needs to be in the global marketplace. What are you doing when you invest in bitcoin? I don’t think you are doing anything more than if you played poker.

Yes: some people are better poker players than others. Some people make a lot of money playing poker. But the world isn’t a better place because you play poker.


Image created from Paul Tudor Jones by Hedge Fund Letters under CC BY 3.0.

Murder on a Sunday Morning

Benton Butler vs Juan Curtis
Brenton Butler (left) and Juan Curtis (right)

I recently discovered the Academy Award winning documentary feature Murder on a Sunday Morning. It tells the story of the prosecution of Brenton Butler for the murder of Mary Ann Stephens, a tourist to Jacksonville, FL.

It tells a story that we know far too well: a young black man is out walking and the police frame him for a murder. Of course, no one thinks they meant to frame an innocent man. But their casual racism and overt laziness created a narrative which they then did everything they could to make true.

The murder had happened about two hours earlier and they new they were looking for a six-foot tall black man between the ages of 20 and 25. Butler was black, but he was only 15 and considerably shorter than six foot.

Butler made the mistake of being on his way to a Blockbuster video store to apply for a job at the wrong time. The police decided to talk to him. Although there was nothing suspicious about him, the police put him in the back of a squad car and had the victim’s husband, James Stephens, identify him.

Stephens first did it at the distance. He said Butler was the man but that he would like to get a closer look. When he got a closer look, he repeated his identification.

A Terrible Eye-Witness

The film doesn’t go into it much, but this is a terrible set-up. If you show someone in the back of a police car, you are priming them to think that the person is a criminal. And why would the police be asking the husband if they didn’t have some indication that Butler was the guy?

Note that there was no line-up. The standard thing is to get a small group of people who look more or less alike. Then, if the witness identifies the suspect, it might mean something. This identification meant nothing at all.

The Real Killer

A couple of months after the state had embarrassed itself and lost in court, the defense team alerted the police to a young man named Juan Curtis. He not only fit the initial eye-witness’ description, his fingerprints were found on the victim’s purse. The police had not checked for fingerprints on the purse during their investigation of Butler.

As you can see in the picture at the top of this article, Brenton Butler and Juan Curtis do not look at all alike.

Building the Case

Once the police decided they had their man (The first person they questioned!) they set about proving it. That mostly meant interrogating a 15-year-old boy without representation or even telling his parents that he had been arrested.

After hours of this, Butler still maintained that he was innocent so they brought in a “specialist” who beat him up and eventually implied he was going to shoot the young man. That’s when Butler signed a confession.

Interesting thing about that confession: it was filled with a bunch of stuff that went against what was known about the case. But it didn’t matter.

Nor did it matter that the purse was found 9.5 miles away. Butler would only have had two hours to take the purse there and then return home. But this loose end, like all the others, was ignored.

A Bad Prosecution

According to one of the defense lawyers, he contacted the state attorney — basically to say, “You need to drop this case; it’s garbage.” But the state attorney said that they had to prosecute the case to defend the honor of the cops. As is clear in this film, these cops didn’t have any honor. They ranged from lazy to selfish to evil.

The case was led by long-time public defenders Ann Finnell and Patrick McGuinness. They are now part of their law film, Finnell, Mcguinness, Nezami & Andux. Brenton Butler wrote his own book of the ordeal, They Said It Was Murder.

A Great Film

I highly recommend watching this film. Many of the courtroom moments are right out of a Hollywood movie. When the cops aren’t talking about what a terrible job they did, they are lying. And it’s good to see the lawyers tear them apart.


Image created from two frames in the film. It is taken under Fair Use.

Achilleus, Hector, and American Masculinity

Achilles Slays Hector

Over at Vox, Anna North wrote, What Trump’s Refusal to Wear a Mask Says About Masculinity in America. It discusses how some men don’t wear masks because they see it as unmanly. This goes along with my experience.

The basic idea here is that a real man ain’t afraid of no germs. There are many aspects to this. For one, it’s anti-intellectual. No one would say welding with a helmet was unmanly because the potential harm is obvious. But a virus is invisible so wearing a mask is for sissies.

More important, wearing a mask shows care for others. And this is at the core of this toxic idea of masculinity. It is part of the “live free or die” ethos of American males that sees only rights and no responsibilities on the part of society’s supposed leaders. This kind of thinking is understandable among the young who are, by and large, selfish and stupid. But from our president who is in his mid-70s, it’s outrageous.

Greek Heroes

Roughly speaking, the Greeks presented us with two ideals of masculinity.

Achilleus

The first was Achilleus (more commonly, Achilles). He was a bachelor warrior. A man who cared only for himself and his glory.

When he doesn’t get his way during the war, he runs home to mother and refuses to fight. If it weren’t that he was definitionally a Hero, everyone would see him for the petulant child he is.

Remember: Achilleus chose to die young but to be forever remembered as a glorious hero. Yet what did he do? He didn’t defeat the Trojans. Mostly, he defeated Hector and then desecrated his body like an immoral fiend. (Admittedly, Homer seems to see the defeat of Hector as the defeat of the Trojans.)

I’ve never liked the character. From the first time I read The Iliad, I thought he was a total dick. It didn’t help that I saw way too many Achilleuses all around me — men who thought caring for their own desires was the alpha and omega of masculinity.

Hector

When Hector is killed in The Iliad, I was crushed. He represents a decidedly different view of masculinity. Whereas Achilleus choose a short and glorious life, Hector would have chosen the long and uneventful one. He was a reluctant warrior and a family man.

Hector is also a regular guy in that events affect him. Achilleus got to choose his destiny. Hector gets stuck with a brother who can’t keep it in his pants. And this results in his own death and the enslavement of his family.

Real Men

To me, Achilleus is a child’s idea of what a man should be. Hector is the hero we should admire.

And if you read more serious conservative writers (or at least conservative writers when they are trying to sound serious), you will see that they talk about how men should act as protectors of the weak in society.

But for most Americans, entitlement is the essence of masculinity. What makes a man is his disinterest in those around him.

We see this with face masks today. I wear a face mask to protect others. I’m not concerned about myself. First, I’m in good health and would doubtless weather the virus well. Second, I’m not afraid to die.

At the same time, I hate wearing a mask. But doing so is a small thing compared to protecting others — especially the weak and otherwise vulnerable.

A Choice of Men

The American idea of masculinity is like the American idea of a lot of things: it’s a children’s complaint, “You can’t tell me what to do!” But we aren’t talking about enslaving ourselves for the purpose of helping others. In this case and many others, we are talking about the most minor inconveniences. Yet this is portrayed as tyranny.

I’m not saying that Achilleus and Hector are the only ways for men to be. But they are the traditional ideals. And they are the ones that conservatives appeal to when it suits them. But when it comes to it, they thoughtlessly choose Achilleus. Mostly, they seem unaware that Hector is an alternative.

It’s time for us to give up our obsession with Achilleus. No good society can be based on that kind of narcissistic personality. We elected a president who personifies this. And if we can’t get past this, we are doomed.


Image cropped from Achilles Kills Hector by Peter Paul Rubens via Wikipedia in the public domain.

Libertarian Island Is an Actual Proposal

Drowning

For years, I had this wicked little idea for a “reality show” called Libertarian Island. In it, we’d drop prominent free-market types on a deserted island, and let them fight to the death. Like The Hunger Games with uglier participants and more cannibalism.

Rush would get killed first, as he has the most meat on his bones. The Koch brothers would form an alliance with Scott Walker, then eat him. Sarah Palin would, ironically, get trampled by a moose. Newt Gingrich would contract cancer and divorce himself. I’m not sure who would win, but Dick Cheney’d be best at shooting into people’s faces.

Unbeknownst to me, there’s been a libertarian think tank that actually wants to create their own floating island. Not for murder (well, not of the rich), but as the ultimate free-market utopia. They’re called the Seasteading Institute, as in like homesteading, on the ocean. (Phonetically, it makes me think of some chic new birthing procedure.)

Apparently, for a while the idea gained real traction among Silicon Valley types, no doubt dreaming of being surrounded by great minds like themselves. (Peter Thiel of the Valley is a major investor, and a major blowhard.) Yet they lost interest (perhaps sensibly realizing they already get every concession they want from America’s political parties).

Happily for fans of really crazy ideas, the project is now back on. The Seasteading people are in negotiations with French Polynesia (islands containing Tahiti, Pago Pago, and other places Marlon Brando lived to be weird).

This would appear to make sense from the Polynesian standpoint; it brings flights to their airports, money to their economy, and some cool stuff to wash up onshore when an eventual typhoon or tsunami wrecks the seasteaders.

A Study in Silliness

I still doubt it can happen. (Why spend all that startup cash when you can just bank in Panama?) Yet the effort they’re putting into it is impressive.

Particularly fun is this academic-style PDF, presented at a conference in the Bahamas. Unless the conference featured peer review, it’s not really an academic paper, but it adds a little intellectual patina. Like having impressive book titles lying around that the owner never intends to read. (A suggested example for conservatives is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Whine.)

The paper is full of silly pseudo-terminology. Libertarian ideology is “public-choice theory.” (For rich people.) “Constitutional states” are those with, um, actual rules, which are always doomed to failure. (For rich people.) “Mobile citizens”? Rich people. (The authors praise that laboratory of “competitive government” innovation, feudalism.)

Free Market in People

This passage is my favorite:

The European settlement of North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries shows this dynamic at work. The open space of this frontier allowed many new jurisdictions to be formed. Colonies, some of which were explicitly for-profit enterprises, had a great deal of independence and varied in their approach to governance. With an abundance of land and a shortage of people, colonies needed to attract residents to survive and grow. Settlers were comparatively mobile and good rules would give a colony an advantage in the competitive struggle for citizens. Churches and various culturally-specific governance providers added to the diversity, and the result was many new entrants into the governance market competing for citizens.

Nothing like genocide and forced labor camps to make the “governance industry more competitive.” You get the sense that if an extinction-size meteor were heading towards Earth, these people would be arguing for regulatory cuts.

Real Governmental Problems

To be fair, the authors do have some good (if common) sense in their criticism of existing governments:

When the role of individual interests in choice are reduced, expressive concerns are even more likely to dominate than is the case in workaday politics.

My monster-to-human translator decodes that as “voters who feel powerless make emotional choices instead of logical ones.” True enough — but Thomas Frank says it more readably.

Enforcement of constitutional promises is usually left to governments themselves, leaving them relatively free to break these rules, either explicitly or through liberal interpretation.

Again, old news.

Real Villains

Democracies are always subject to the risk of regulatory capture — rule by the very organizations they are supposed to be subjecting to law. This was a favorite argument of Milton Friedman.

It shouldn’t come as any shock that one of the authors here is Milton’s grandson, Patri. Naturally, Gramps was more concerned with labor unions and taxes than he was with corporate malfeasance, and so when Patri mentions “special interests,” it’s not hard to guess who he has in mind.

One Little Problem — How the Heck Can It Work?

Ayn Rand

How is this all to be paid for? The magic of the market, naturally. Investors will buy their own floating houses, easily detachable from the Hive if they don’t like how it’s working. (And go … where? To a houseboat community in America? Warning: vermin issues.)

What will power the economy? The authors have some ideas, including aquaculture and medical tourism “enabled by cheap labor.” Well, if you don’t have money for cancer surgery in America, you certainly don’t have the money for tickets to Tahiti.

I suppose they could specialize in experimental treatments for the desperate. And that perennial favorite of rich folks — black-market organ trafficking.

That “cheap labor” line is no surprise — conservatives have loved it forever. But it is telling of a major problem with the model. Cheap labor means a workforce. They have to live somewhere. You’re not going to give them their own fancy detachable houses, as they might detach. They also might want to organize. Which means paying for a goon force, which means taxes.

And we haven’t even discussed military protection yet. Let’s say the floating island is highly popular. What’s to stop a single warship from showing up and demanding a ransom, or threatening to sink the island? Well, for that you need a military alliance of some kind. They’re not going to provide that service for nothing.

So the Seasteaders would need a government and constitution and taxes — or something pretty much the same, if labeled differently. (A “freedom fee”?) Why not just go live in a touristy tax shelter and open some hotel there? It would cost less.

The Ayn Rand Fantasy

These are dreamers, my friends. If you look at their board members, you see a lot of young faces. They’re gonna change the world!

You also see the usual libertarian interest groups. Drug legalization types, gay rights folks, hedge fund managers, Big Ag executives, right-wing think tank members, etc.

These are people who’ve swallowed the Norquist Kool-Aid; the only reason conservative policies haven’t created earthly paradise is, naturally, that pro-business trends worldwide haven’t gone far enough.

It’s the Ayn Rand fantasy. If you only achieve perfect “freedom” for those who can afford it, their brilliance will shower humankind with its blessings. War, famine, global warming, all shall be solved through “market innovation.” (Forgetting that markets are profiting quite handsomely off all three.)

It’s the supreme arrogance of true believers, and ultimately no different from the religious fanaticism that justifies terrorism. Except that it kills far more people.

Best of Luck!

In any case, I hope this project is pursued for years to come. It strikes me as a harmless way for rich idiots to lose their money, which is never a bad thing. Maybe someone can talk President Trump into investing.

He can slap his name on the organ-dealing hospital. And when his sign washes ashore, it can grace some charming Polynesian tiki bar.


Image cropped from pxfuel. Image cropped from Ayn Rand by DonkeyHotey under CC BY-SA 2.0.

What the Coronavirus Pandemic Says About the November Election

Donald Trump

Some of my friends are feeling way too cocky about the upcoming November election. They see that tens of thousands of people have died and that the economy is in trouble, and they think Trump cannot survive. What’s more, Trump has clearly screwed this up and more recently he seems like he’s losing his mind.

It does seem like a slam dunk. But both Obama and Bush Jr had low approval ratings at this point and they went on to win re-election. And the opposite is also true. A year out, Bush Sr had almost a 70% approval rating and he lost badly. I have little doubt that if the election were today, Trump would lose in a landslide. In six months? I don’t know.

Two Scenarios

Roughly speaking, there are two ways this can go. Things could stay bad. The cases could keep mounting and the deaths could continue to climb. The economy could struggle along but more or less stay where it is right now.

If that happens, not only is Trump going down big, so is the entire Republican Party. We could see Mitch McConnell lose his seat in Kentucky. And as much as I do not want to see this happen for my own sake and that of everyone else in the nation, such a defeat would be a silver lining. (But don’t kid yourself: after the Democrats began to heal the economy, the Republicans would come roaring back.)

The other possibility is that things slowly start to get better. In two months, new cases come to a trickle. In 4 months, most people are back at work. And in six months, sports return but with limited seating.

If that happens, people will likely re-elect Trump. They will only see that things are improving; it won’t matter at all that he is the guy responsible for making things so bad. I know: it’s crazy! But this is how people vote.

(I know a lot of my leftist friends are learning this painful lesson. I’ve seen people complaining that most Biden voters are more in agreement with Sanders’ policies. Welcome to the party! Politics really isn’t about policy; it’s about relationships. And if we are ever going to get the kind of power necessary to make systemic change, we need to embrace this.)

The Lynn Vavreck Election

Probably the best scenario is that things do return to normal quickly but we get an election like Lynn Vavreck laid out in The Message Matters. According to her research, an out-party (the Democrats in this case) can beat an incumbent despite strong economic growth if they can make the campaign about something other than the economy.

In general, it’s hard to do this. People care about the economy above all else. Think of it in the most blunt terms: people want to be sure they will have food and a safe place to live. That’s what a strong economy means to them.

I’ve often noted that had Howard Dean won the Democratic primary in 2004, he probably would have won the general election. That’s because he would have made the election about the Iraq War, which was unpopular by then. Instead, the Democrats nominated Kerry, who couldn’t make that case well because he had essentially voted for the war.

Can Biden Vavreck Trump?

Joe Biden 2019

If Biden is smart, he will make this election all about corruption. He could also make it about norms and civility. These are things where Trump is extremely vulnerable. Trump can counter, “Hunter Biden,” but I don’t think that plays outside the people who are guaranteed to vote for him.

One of the problems for Hillary Clinton in 2016 was this weird narrative that had been going on since the early 1990s about her being untrustworthy. Vince Foster killed himself just a few months after Bill Clinton took office and already there were claims that Hillary Clinton had him murdered!

Yes, that was all in the right-wing fever swamps, but it was something that accreted so much garbage over the years that mainstream journalist started thinking there must be something there. Either that or that they simply had to cover such nonsense as though it were real. (Also: it’s pure sexism — the idea that women are duplicitous and can’t be trusted.)

Biden doesn’t have that problem. And I think that whatever happens, Uncle Joe will come out like he did in the 2012 vice-presidential debate. You may remember that Paul Ryan was going on about how Obama was stealing money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. And Biden came back with, “Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?”

I was blown away with that because it accepts the way people think. You don’t have to look at the numbers. You might not like Obama and Biden for a lot of reasons, but you know that they would protect Medicare better than Romney and Ryan would.

Help Joe Biden Win

So I think as long as Biden does not talk about the economy, he stands a good chance of winning. I can’t say more than that because, as Vavreck showed in her book, when this approach works, it leads to extremely close elections.

Of course, there is another possibility. It could be that our current situation is so unusual that none of the political science based on elections after World War II matter. In that case, we don’t know what will happen.

In that case, we need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And that means doing what we can to defeat Donald Trump in November. Sign up to make phone calls or send texts, help people get registered to vote and to vote when the time comes, talk to persuadable people, whatever it takes.

Most of all: don’t assume November is in the bag. We really don’t know.


Trump image cropped from Donald Trump Official White House Portrait by Shealah Craighead in the public domain. Biden image cropped from Joe Biden by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Morning Music: Blackbird

The Beatles White Album

I’m not a huge fan of the Beatles. Or rather, I’m kind of bored of the Beatles. You see, my first significant girlfriend was a huge Beatles fan. So I listened to them excessively and read about them almost as much.

Today, however, we’re going to listen to “Blackbird” off The Beatles (traditionally called “The White Album”).

I remember reading that Paul McCartney had said the song was written for the Civil Rights movement in the US. In truth, he’s said a number of things. That’s to be expected. When you work on something long enough, you will think of it in different ways.

Regardless, I don’t much care. I prefer my political songs to be more explicit. But it is a beautiful song. And it makes me think of my crows who are more black than most blackbirds. And they’re just better — no matter what Alfred Hitchcock might tell you.


The Beatles White Album by Beat 768, own work, in the Public Domain.

The Sad Story of Tara Reade and Joe Biden [Update]

Joe Biden 2019

Tara Reade, a former Joe Biden staffer, says that he sexually assaulted her. This story has been spinning around Twitter for a while. I didn’t give it much credence, but more recent reporting has me concerned. Regardless what the truth is here, it’s very sad.

Reade worked for Biden when she was in her 20s. When she first discussed the matter publicly, she described the kind of stuff we’ve come to expect from Biden. She said he would “put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck.” But more recently, she has expanded the story — and the crime. She now alleges that Biden penetrated her with his finger. Legally, I think this would qualify as rape.

As I mentioned, I didn’t think much about Reade’s claims because it seemed like nothing more than yet another pointless battle in the Biden-Sanders war. But when I looked into it, the allegations seemed credible. That’s not to say that she’s telling the truth. I really have no idea. But there are things that tend to make me believe her.

In particular, she told her brother and friend at the time that this happened. But it hasn’t been thoroughly reported. In Ryan Grimm’s article, he reports, that she told them “about the incident.” Is this the inappropriate touching or the penetration? I tend to think it is the latter because he mentions “sexual assault.” (Grimm never calls it rape.)

Biden has unequivocally denied the allegation. Clearly, it is a story that needs more reporting.

The Two Sides

Meanwhile, the battle rages on among the Biden and Sanders supporters. As usual, I find them both wanting.

The Biden Camp

On the Biden side, people dismiss Tara Reade because of a now-deleted Medium article she wrote where she gushed about Vladimir Putin. She has defended herself by saying that her opinion has changed and that she was then writing a novel set in Russia.

I can see why people find this suspect. Just the same, I can so see myself doing the same thing. When I’m researching something new, I often get very excited about it. So I don’t have a problem believing her explanation.

On the other hand, maybe she is a Russian asset. Like I said: I don’t know.

The Sanders Camp

I understand Sanders supporters who think that Biden is a less than stellar candidate to go up against Trump. I agree although I blame the the Sanders campaign and its poor performance as much as anyone.

In the case of Tara Reade, the Sanders side is reacting the way they have to every other thing that’s come up to attack Biden. I don’t see any more thought given to it than to the ridiculous “Biden has dementia” claims.

And it’s sad because a lot of Sanders supporters don’t seem to realize how important Reade’s claims are. For many, this is just another stick to hit Biden with. But if what she says is true, this will change the primary, but not in the way that they think.

Sanders is not going to be the Democratic nominee. It is not really possible for Sanders to catch Biden. So even if Biden drops out, the nomination is going to be thrown to the party. And they will pick a unity candidate — almost certainly a woman. (And no; I’m not thinking of Warren.)

A Sad Story

So all the glee I hear coming from Sanders supporters is ill-advised. This is important stuff. If Reade is deluded, I feel for her. If she isn’t, Biden is a monster — or at least was at that time.

I’m not sure what happens if it is shown that he is guilty. But most likely, what will happen is that the allegation will remain but no other women will come forward and we will never know.

And we will be left with the uncertain and sad world we’ve always had.

Update (1 April 2020)

I’ve read more about this and I’m as confused as ever. But I’m at least more secure about what both sides are saying in this fight.

Brian & Eddie Krassenstein wrote Evidence Casts Doubt on Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegations of Joe Biden. They deliver on that title but nothing they report is rock solid. It literally does cast doubt but doesn’t destroy her claim.

The one thing I found most interesting was how positive Reade had been toward Biden in the past. Human psychology is weird though. The article is worth a read.

More important, Emily Alford wrote at Jezebel Tara Reade’s Allegations Deserve More Care. It gets to the heart of what’s so troubling about the reporting on this: that there is none. There are tons of people and documents that need to be checked that simply have not been. And as Alford notes, this all should have been done before Reade’s allegations were pushed into public.

And this is just the most basic reporting that needs to be done. The most troubling thing about the allegations is that I’ve never heard whispers that Biden was a sexual predator. Generally, guys don’t do this kind of thing just once. What normally makes allegations of this type stick is that there is an existing narrative that simply isn’t well-known outside a particular group — like was the case with Harvey Weinstein.

The lack of all these pieces does a disservice to both Reade and Biden. And sadly, I suspect that we will continue on like this with both sides convinced they are right and no one in a position to do the reporting caring enough about getting to the truth.


Image cropped from Joe Biden by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.