Town Halls: Trump vs Biden

Joe Biden 2019

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden attended cable news town halls this week. And the difference was stark.

Trump

Trump’s town hall was pretty bad. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but in his press conferences, Trump relies a whole bunch on yelling at reporters. If he gets a difficult question, he just calls the reporter “nasty” (especially if it’s a woman) or “fake news.” Then he moves on.

But with the town hall, he couldn’t really do that. And the fact that he didn’t shows that he’s more together than he often appears. So he was left with his other weapon: bold-faced lies. And he used it a lot.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Donald Trump

Daniel Dale has been documenting Trump’s lies for a long time. After the town hall, he said, “There was just so much lying, Don. I’m going to go quickly here so literally just stop me whenever you need to.” Over a minute and a half later, he said, “Don, this is a preliminary list. I have hours of fact-checking to do today because there is even more of this. This was just a fire-hose of lying, again, from the president.”

And when cornered, he just blamed Obama. Remember back in June 2009 when Republicans were outraged that Obama occasionally mentioned Bush? Republicans really are a postmodern party that believes in nothing other than that it is good if they do something and bad if the Democrats do it.

“I Don’t Feel Your Pain”

But it’s more than just the lying. It’s also that Trump seems to be unable to empathize with other people. When he was asked if he understood that the MAGA slogan was tone deaf for African Americans, Trump responded that things were better for blacks under his administration.

It went so poorly that Laura Ingraham called the town hall an “ambush.” It doesn’t make any sense to call it that. Trump must have known what he was getting into. And frankly, it wasn’t all that hard a venue. It’s just that Trump is really, really bad at this stuff.

Biden

The only bad thing I can say about Biden’s town hall was that he’s showing his age. But he’s still the same old Joe. And one thing I thought while watching it was that he was standing throughout it. Yeah, I know Trump will be standing in the debates. But he sat for his town hall and that’s how I always think of him: sitting. Or wandering around on the grass.

Biden was really focused at the town hall. Again and again, he showed himself to be really informed about policy and related minutia. I guess that’s what comes from dedicating your life to this stuff.

Biden Is Good at Politics

Check out the following clip of Biden answering a question from a woman whose mother has cancer. Biden engages with her. He even manages to remember that the woman said “multiple myeloma” in her question (a feat I could not accomplish). And he still manages to use it to attack Trump.

During part of the answer, he veers off to talk about his son and attack Trump’s comments about soldiers being “losers.” I’m sure that’s something that Biden cares deeply about. But it was still a brilliant piece of political theater. His son died of cancer so it was related. And I’m sure Biden has no problem getting choked up when thinking about his son.

Watch this; it really is brilliant.

Republicans Respond

Of course, just as the right-wing came to the defense of Trump’s horrible town hall, they had to trash Biden’s. And the best idea they came up with was from Bill O’Reilly.

The truth is that Bill O’Reilly knows better than this. But it doesn’t matter. They have to come up with some reason to claim that Trump is right and true and Biden is not.

Dean Baker responded, “Yeah, someone must have told Biden there would be questions on the pandemic and the economy. Otherwise, how could he be so well prepared.”

But most of the better responses were like BrooklynDad Defiant! who said, “Hilarious that Joe Biden is supposed to be Sleepy and Slow, but guys like Bill O’Reilly think he has the mental acuity to memorize a ton of questions AND answers.”

Final Analysis

I’ve become far more pragmatic in my politics over the last year or two. I think Trump does that to people. This isn’t to say my goals for politics have changed — just that I’m more risk averse and focused on the short-term.

I like Biden and I think he’s a decent guy. If he becomes president, I won’t be thrilled with his foreign policy, but it will be far better than Trump’s. And I’ll generally find his domestic policies to be less bold than they should be. But I fully expect to be significantly more pleased than I was with Obama.

And Biden showed that he is rather good at this whole politics thing. Who would have thought?! I mean, he’s only been doing it for 50 years. But it’s more than that. I’ve said before: Joe Biden is the best retail politician of my lifetime — with the possible exception of Bill Clinton.

Trump is a bad retail politician. He’s at his best in front of big adoring crowds. He will struggle in the debates. His only hope is that the media grade him on a curve. And they have so far.


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

Ben Shapiro Hates BLM’s Goals, Not Its Tactics

Ben Shapiro

Recently Ben Shapiro was on Joe Rogan’s podcast. And he made this very nuanced argument that when it comes to protest, Colin Kaepernick was wrong but Martin Luther King Jr was right.

His argument was that King said that “In the name of the flag you should stop racism” but that Kaepernick is saying that America is racist.

But really: this is a distinction developed to justify a predetermined conclusion. And Shapiro’s conclusion is based upon his visceral dislike of Black Lives Matter and all modern social justice movements.

Shapiro could as easily argue that King was right because he showed respect by wearing a suit. Or that Kaepernick is disrespectful because his hair is too long. Or that we should listen to religious leaders but not sports figures. It does not matter!

If Ben Shapiro Had Been Alive in 1963

As I’ve noted in the past, conservative beliefs only has a shelf-life of a generation or two. After that, the beliefs’ naked racism and general villainy is clear even to present-day conservatives.

If Ben Shapiro been around in the 1960s, he would have been like William F Buckley Jr was. In his 1963 book, Rumbles Left and Right: A Book About Troublesome People and Ideas (1963), Buckley wrote:

Dr Martin Luther King is more sensitive, and so more bitter, than the average Southern Negro, and hence unqualified as a litmus of the Southern Negro’s discontent.

You see, conservatives always have a reason to explain being against the justice movements of the moment. In fact, when NBA players recently staged a walk-out over police shootings, Jared Kushner responded condescendingly, “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.”

The subtext is clear: what are all these rich guys whining about! This is what Buckley was saying: they don’t have the right to speak for ordinary blacks. The only thing that distinguishes Ben Shapiro is his specific justification for discounting what Colin Kaepernick says.

Ben Shapiro Can’t Admit What He Thinks

The problem for people like Shapiro is that they can’t come out and say what they believe: that all the struggles of the past were great but all the modern ones are wrong and are tearing this country apart. Saying that would make it clear that they are hateful, clueless, or both.

No modern conservative would say that a poll tax is okay. That is a relic of the racist past! If, however, you propose a poll tax in the form of new ID requirements that black people disproportionately don’t have, well, that’s just common sense. And, of course, that’s just what Ben Shapiro believes.

Ben Shapiro Isn’t Against Racism

Let’s be clear here. Ben Shapiro isn’t against Colin Kaepernick for the way he makes his argument. He is against Kaepernick’s goals. And Shapiro is not acting out of ignorance. He will not admit the existence of systemic racism. But it isn’t just an opinion he repeats.

He has lots of cherry-picked research (usually also distorted) to back up his position. And the only way you can cherry-pick is to go through the orchard. So Ben Shapiro is well aware that the arguments he’s making are not well-supported by the data. Yet he makes them anyway.

I cannot say why it is that conservatives are determined to find that the world is right and just — however it happens to be at the moment and regardless of how often their previous claims are shown to be wrong. But that is what this is all about: pushing a particular narrative of the world.

Ben Shapiro Is Disingenuous

That requires that you discount any evidence the pushes against your utopian narrative. And we all do this to one extent or another. So I don’t exactly blame Shapiro for that.

But I do blame him for not being honest: for not simply saying that he doesn’t believe in what Colin Kaepernick is protesting. Instead, Ben Shapiro tries to sound high-minded. Like he disagrees with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it!

But he’s not willing to do that. So he wants to shut down the conversation. He knows that ultimately the facts are not on his side. So in order to stop people talking about the stuff that makes him feel uncomfortable, Shapiro must distinguish between the good black protest of MLK and the bad black protest of Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.

That makes Ben Shapiro an evil man. He’s nothing even in the realm of an honest broker. It’s no wonder he’s so beloved on the right. It’s no wonder the rich shovel so much money at him.


Ben Shapiroby Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jay Leno and Monica Lewinsky

Jay Leno Is a Dick

I didn’t pay much attention to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At that point in my life, I didn’t pay much attention to politics. But I remember the time. I considered myself a libertarian, but I couldn’t believe all the nonsense that the right-wing did to the Clintons.

And that was all the Monica Lewinsky scandal was: an opportunity for the right-wing to further attack Bill Clinton. It’s kind of hard to imagine now. I mean, Bill Clinton had an affair. It was improper. He didn’t have an open relationship with his wife. And Lewinsky was a subordinate.

But the great wrong done to her way by the right-wing with the fawning help and approval of the mainstream media. Ultimately, it didn’t really affect Clinton all that much. But Lewinsky became an object of public shame. She was only 22 when the affair started. But that hardly mattered. She was a woman so it was open season.

I didn’t know quite how bad it was until I watched this excellent segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Public Shaming.”

Jay Leno

According to Oliver, the comedian who was the worst when it came to attacking Monica Lewinsky was Jay Leno. On one level, that’s not at all surprising. Although I thought Leno was pretty good early on in this career, his work on The Tonight Show was very much like the meals I always imagine him eating: large and poorly prepared.

Monica Lewinsky jokes are not hard to write. You can see upwards of a dozen groaners in the video. So of course Leno dipped into that well deep and often.

What does surprise me is who the consumers for this material were. For example, my mother used to watch his show. I remember Leno was seen as the middle-of-the-road comedian who didn’t offend anyone.

But I probably should have known. Whenever something is held up as an ideal for middle-America, it usually means that it is overflowing with the prejudices of the time.

John Oliver’s Response

In the image above, you can see that Jay Leno presented a Dr Seuss parody to go after Lewinsky. It’s called, “The Slut in the Hat.”

So John Oliver offered up the following Dr Seuss parody: “Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!”

But I will give Leno this: he has largely gone away. But I’m sure we can count on him to turn up every now and then to complain about how people are doing things that he doesn’t like. You know: things he used to do.

Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!

Images taken from the John Oliver video under Fair Use.

Letters From Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’ll try to post something later. I’m super busy at the moment so I don’t have time for a regular article.

But I got a letter posted to my business partner, William, at our business address. It had handwriting on the envelope. I opened it to see if there was a check inside. There wasn’t.

But there was a handwritten letter. It was in rather bad cursive and I couldn’t easily read it. So I contacted Will and rather than come over, he had me read it to him, which I did with some effort.

Jehovah's Witnesses Letter

Jehovah’s Witnesses COVID-19 Waste

Will figured it out long before I did. In fact, he might have known from the start. The letter says it is from one of his neighbors, Janell, and that if he is looking for meaning in this crazy world, he is in luck! It ends by mentioning that there is a website that will answer all the big questions like:

What is the purpose of life and many more answers [to] the questions that you can ask and search out. Something for everyone including cartoons for the little one. The website is J.W.Org [sic] and I hope you will take time to check it out.

It’s clear that this is a pre-written letter. So the Jehovah’s Witnesses are now limited in terms of going door-to-door. So they are having their members sit at home and hand-write these things. And they are apparently going to people in databases because I can’t imagine how else this letter would have found its way to our business address.

Will tells me this is nothing new. The church has people do this who can’t normally go door-to-door. So even if you are confined at home, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a way for your to waste your time annoying the wider world!

Witnessing Is Nonsense

Many years ago, I read an article by Bible scholar Robert M Price about this idea that all Christians should be out witnessing to the rest of us. He argued that the books that make up the Bible were meant for the priest class. So when the Bible talks about witnessing, it means the priests, not the ordinary followers.

I think it is horrible that any group does this. And it is only because we are all extra gentle to religious people that we don’t meet them on the porch with our guns. What they are doing is not just useless; it is rude.

It also involves child abuse. They always use the “little ones” because they are great calling cards.

Truly, I say to you: any church that must depend upon indoctrinating children worships a false god.

The only thing that is good about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they don’t vote. I assure you, if they did, they would be all-in for Donald Trump.

Nick Sandmann, Donald Trump, and the Modern GOP

Nick Sandmann at the RNC

I wasn’t at all surprised that the GOP announced that Nick Sandmann would be speaking at the Republican National Convention. In a sense, he’s the perfect speaker because the party is nothing but a reactionary group with nothing to offer but whining about how mean everyone is to them.

If you don’t remember, Nick Sandmann is a high school bully who got into a stand-off with a Native American who interceded between some Covington Catholic High School students and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.

Sandmann’s creepy grin and his racist comrades got some bad attention on Twitter and in the news. So his parents hired a PR firm and he went on a media tour culminating with nuisance lawsuits against The Washington Post, CNN, and others.

Nick Sandmann Gives a Speech

So the GOP gave him 5 minutes at the RNC. The worst you can say about the media coverage of the original incident is that it was too critical. I happen to think it wasn’t critical enough. Sandmann was a bully running the usual, “I’m not touching you!” play.

But it was interesting to watch Sandmann’s speech because he changed his story notably from what he told while on his media tour. What’s more, it made the Native American involved in the incident, Nathan Phillips, out to be the bad guy. Of course, I knew that was always what laid behind his behavior. It was always just a bunch of privileged white kids acting racist.

The last quarter of Sandmann’s RNC speech was about how badly Donald Trump had been treated by the media. “I know that you’ll agree with me when we say that no one in this country has been a victim of unfair media coverage more than President Donald Trump.” Because we all know who the real victim is in all this: the leader of the free world!

Whining and Moaning

But the next day, Sandmann told Fox News:

I would have given this same exact speech at the DNC if the Democrat National Convention actually cared about holding the media accountable. But I haven’t seen that, and they never invited me to give such a speech. So, I used the platform I had.

(Note that it is the “Democrat” National Convention, not the “Democratic” National Convention. This is a typical bully move: not calling people by their names. Sandmann can’t resist this even when on his best behavior!)

First, a quarter of the speech was a love letter to Donald Trump. Is Sandmann confused on that point? Does he really think the DNC would be interested in that speech? But more important: he’s making a stand for media accountability?!

Even if you agree with him that the media was unfair, how is this a major issue? The single largest news channel is Fox News, at it is nothing if not reactionary in favor of the right. The day after Sandmann’s speech, Tucker Carlson was on the network apologizing for an apparent murderer.

I saw people on Twitter claiming that Kyle Rittenhouse is being “wronged” the way Nick Sandman was. (Don’t be surprised if Rittenhouse is turned into the same kind “victim” who was just acting in self-defense.) People on the right who claim that the media is unfair are just saying that the wrong people are being attacked.

This Is the Modern GOP

And Sandmann wasn’t alone in this regard. Most of the speeches at the RNC were filled with the same kind of whining that have come to define the Trump era. They claim to be the alpha-men who are strong and powerful. But they can’t take even the most minor criticism.

The truth is that relative to his behavior, Donald Trump has been given a pass. The mainstream news is still trying to figure out how to respond to his continual bald-faced lies. But there is Nick Sandmann and all the other Trump enablers. They don’t spend much time talking about Trump and what he does. (I wonder why?!) Instead, it’s all the world is being mean to Donald Trump — and other rich white guys who, for example, get PR firms to protect them when they behave badly in public.

Afterword

It is now widely accepted that Nick Sandmann was just a non-violent kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Nathan Phillips got in front of him because Sandmann and his friends were walking toward the Black Hebrew Israelites with clear (admittedly understandable) negative intent.

But it goes to show that in America, the truth doesn’t matter when you have money and a PR firm behind you.


Image of Nick Sandmann taken from ABC News under Fair Use.

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.