Category Archives: Politics

Why Was Ivanka Trump in Nordstrom to Start With?

Why Was Ivanka Trump in Nordstrom to Start With?I’m sure you’ve heard the good news that we won’t have Ivanka Trump’s “fashion brand” to kick around anymore.

According to Trump, she’s just so involved in Washington politics that she can’t give the company the love it deserves. This is odd in a couple of ways. One is that she hasn’t been running the company since her father became president due to conflicts of interest. (Or rather: the public backlash that she could expect from exactly the demographic she was trying to sell to.)

The other odd thing is that I don’t know what she’s been doing in Washington. She was supposed to be moderating her father. Well, that didn’t work out very well. And then she just vanished. So anything she’s doing in Washington, you can bet it is — at base — lobbying to make the Trump family fortune bigger.

Did Ivanka Trump Create Fashionable Clothing?

But as I was reading up on this, I came upon a great article in The Guardian from a year and a half ago, Is Ivanka Trump’s Fashion Line Any Good? It’s written by Hannah Marriott, the Fashion Editor of the paper.

The article was written shortly after Nordstrom and other retailers dropped Ivanka Trump from their stores. Daddy Trump and the rest of the right wing claimed it was all about politics. Nordstrom said her stuff just wasn’t selling well. But Marriott had a different idea: the Ivanka Trump line just wasn’t very good. She wrote, “The collection shows a talent for taking the temperature of what was happening in design five years ago…”

Another Opinion

Everyone who knows me, knows what a fashion maven I am not. Other than underwear and socks, I do not believe I have a single piece of clothing that was not given to me. People are always trying to improve me. (You really would think that after all this time, they would have given up.)

But Marriott is not the only person to say that the Ivanka Trump clothing line was not up to snuff. Caille Millner at The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, Why Ivanka Trump Really Shut Down Her Line of Clothing. In the article, she goes in search of Ivanka Trump clothing in local stores and finds them decidedly not good choices for the people they were meant to appeal to. She concludes, “I point to this shopping excursion because, ultimately, I think the products are what sunk Ivanka Trump.”

I looked for glowing reviews of the Ivanka Trump line and I did not find any. So with these two opinions combined with the fact that Daddy Trump has never put out anything good, I think it’s safe to say that Ivanka Trump’s clothing line (or fashion brand or whatever the hell you want to call it) sucked.

Why Did This Expensive Crap Get Stocked?

My question is: why did Nordstrom carry what was clearly an expensive line with mediocre quality and design? That’s pretty much a rhetorical question. I think most people around here already know the answer: the Trump name. It doesn’t matter how many times Daddy Trump failed, corporate America is always willing to give him or his equally evil but more polished offspring another chance.

It reminds me of the days when I worked in corporate America. As a whole, management were the biggest marks for con artists. I’ve sat in on interviews with people who were clearly unqualified for the jobs they were applying for. The regular employees could spot the con in an instant. The managers were usually blown away. I think it’s because managers value style over substance. Workers have to actually produce something.

But imagine after Trump is out of the White House and a Democrat is in there cleaning up the huge mess from years of Republican rule (this time, the Democratic president really will need to go on an apology tour — not just in the fevered imaginations of Fox News hosts and watchers). I’m sure that Ivanka Trump will reintroduce her new clothing brand.

And Nordstrom will stock it, again! When it comes to a Trump, corporate America can’t be fooled enough.

The Rich Aren’t Allowed to Fail in America

Of course, this is generally true of the rich in modern America. You just can’t screw up enough so that you won’t be given another chance — another loan you won’t be able to pay back — another high-paying job you aren’t qualified for.

But the Poor Are

If you are not rich, well, roll the dice! If you screw up, there will be no one to catch you if you fall.

It’s funny. I remember all through the 2012 presidential campaign hearing about how important it was to reward “risk takers.” But the fact is that the rich in this country aren’t really taking risks. When a worker takes all their savings to start a small business, they are laying it on the line. Not so for the rich, even if they lose all their money. That’s because all their rich friends will lift them back up.

A regular American can hope at best that when their business fails, the economy isn’t too bad and they can get a job.

A Rose by Any Other Name?

One thing’s for certain: if some nobody came out with Ivanka Trump’s products, Nordstrom would never have stocked it in the first place.

dear wendy number 1

The Rise and Fall of the Third ReichHi, Wendy!

Pleased to meet ya. I hope this doesn’t sound speciest, but some of my best friends have been rats

Okay, so no archy and mehitabel. What would you recommend I read?

Oh, and see if your computer has a “sticky keys” option. Just a suggestion

Thank you.
Dave L

dear dave l,

it’s interesting that you would say some of your best friends have been rats for two reasons…

  1. all of my best friends are rats
  2. and yeah, rats don’t live very long, don’t rub it in.

this is an excellent question if by ‘you’ you mean ‘all of humanity especially america’ and by ‘should’ you mean ‘must.’

personally, i like a good story. but i like to know how it’s going to end. now don’t get up on your heals. you already know how just about every story is going to end. when you watch hamlet do you really think he’s getting out of that play alive[question mark]

i would like to see you humans read as much as possible — it doesn’t matter what. the more you’re reading, the more you are not making the lives of the rest of us worse.

but i won’t leave you with this. just so that you should all be prepared for the future, i recommend The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

in particular, you should pay attention to the sonderweg thesis.

[parenthesis]this is different from the soderbergh thesis, which holds that people will only put up with your pseudo-avant-garde bullshit before they stop pretending to like it.[parenthesis]

the sonderweg thesis holds that there is a direct line from martin luther to nazism. if you question me — and many easily dismissed human historians have — you should check out this quote frank posted before i was born, Antisemite Martin Luther. if luther had just gotten to his eighth point — paper was expensive back then — i’m sure it would have been genocide — a ‘final solution,’ if you will.

obviously, martin luther was not an american — unless you are a mormon — who knows what those people think. but the vast majority of americans are christians. and a large majority of those christians are protestants.

so i’ll spell it out. they ain’t done killing witches.

protestantism is the religion that the antisemite martin luther started. it was a stupid idea. he thought people should actually read the bible because then they would know what god really wanted rather than getting it filtered through the hateful corrupt catholic church. the problem is that the bible is a whole lot of contradictory rubbish that only an expert can make any sense of at all.

luckily, almost none of these protestants actually do read the bible. they just allow it to be filtered through their hateful corrupt churches.

bob dylan, during one of his most annoying periods, sang ‘gotta serve somebody.’ in my experience, christians have to hate somebody.

it may be the jews
or it may be the spicks
but you’re gonna have to hate somebody.

i know that a lot of you out there think that trump will leave office and everything will be fine. that’s not true.

first, roughly half of you idiot americans voted for the man. and it’s not like he didn’t let you know exactly who he was. you knew he was a constant liar before you voted him the most powerful man in the world. [parenthesis]the most powerful creature on earth is the leader of a large colony of termites in australia.[parenthesis] you knew he was an idiot. you knew he didn’t know anything about politics. you knew he was a bigot. you knew he was a sexist. if he’s surprised you as president, you are even stupider than he is.

but even if you did somehow go back to normal, you won’t think about what happened. america doesn’t look back. you think the best way to deal with past wrongs is to ‘look forward’ and pretend it never happened. until it happens again.

i give you all 30 years tops before you have world war iii.

so i say to my fellow rats, ‘let’s start heading south.’

and i say to europe, ‘i think you had better start spending a lot more on your military because fascist america is coming for you and i don’t think russia’s gonna help much this time — but you never know. if america doesn’t have have a complete idiot in charge but just an insane one, the country might attack russia, china, and india as well. still, prepare for the worst.’

and finally, to americans, i ask, ‘is this really how you want to see your empire go down[question mark]’ don’t answer that question americans. it was rhetorical.

cheers,
sally fink signature
wendy

Thomas Frank at Book Passages

Thomas Frank at Book Passages (12 July 2018)
Thomas Frank at Book Passages (12 July 2018)

Thomas Frank was at Book Passages last night. He’s on a tour for his new book Rendezvous With Oblivion: Reports From a Sinking Ship. He was his charming self. I think that he is on the outside what I am on the inside: totally despairing but laughing about it because it’s all so absurd. I don’t just mean the politics — I mean everything. Life is a joke, and I am the punchline. You either laugh or cry.

Poor Will

I dragged Will with me. He didn’t know Thomas Frank. I should have prepared him. While Will laughed a fair amount during the talk, he left about halfway through. I figured he went to the bathroom. We had been drinking a lot of caffeine. And indeed, he did do that. But he noticed that Book Passages sold beer so he got one.

We were separated for the rest of the event. I only saw him back in his seat when I was in line to get my book signed. (More on that in a minute.) But afterward, he was so depressed. I felt bad.

Thomas Frank Said Something New

But there was almost nothing in the speech that was really new. The only thing that surprised me is that he said he liked Democratic politicians more than the liberal commentariat and (gag) political consultants. He noted that someone he used to hate, Cory Booker, sees where things are going and is now really good. And where things are going is real (leftist) populism, not this fake rightwing stuff Republicans use to get elected so they can give tax breaks to billionaires and rip apart unions.

Listening to that, I thought he’d been reading my mind because that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking and Booker is my favorite example. And I know what conservatives and liberal “purists” will say, “He’s just saying those things to get elected!” (Yes, Booker wants to be President.) I heard the same thing about Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

And so what?! They are Democrats! By and large, they will govern the way they campaigned. Compare this to Trump: campaigns on building the wall and how the working class is getting screwed. He gets into office and there is no wall. But there is a great big tax cut for fat cats; he’s made healthcare go up in price; he’s started a trade war that is going to hurt the working people who voted for him.

But he did stick by his racism. I’ve got to give him that!

Book Signing

So I stood in line to get my book signed. He’s really great. He’s cheerful and nice to people who stand in front of him and pontificate about things they probably learned from him.

But it gave me time to think of something to say to him. At first, I was going to say, “Could you write, ‘To Frank from Tom,’ so I can use it later to prove that we used to be friends and ask to borrow a couple of bucks.” That seemed a bit too oblique, even for someone as sharp as Thomas Frank. Also, it was a little too much Tom Waits:

Thomas Frank: Hüsker Dü Fan

During the talk, he mentioned hanging out with some of his friends under a freeway overpass drinking and listening to Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade while seeing the McMansions being built. And he asked if anyone remembered Hüsker Dü. There was a scattering of acknowledgment. I, of course, was vaguely offended. What else is new? I’m an arrogant bastard. So I figured I’d talk to him a little bit about punk. It would probably be refreshing after the constant political talk that would make Mary Poppins’ suicidal.

So I told him Hüsker Dü was great — especially Zen Arcade. Then I asked him if he was into Minutemen and he was slightly less excited by them but he said he three of their albums. Maybe he’s just really good at this kind of stuff, but giving me an exact number of books made me think he was telling the truth. And why not? For one thing, we are both the same age with relatively similar backgrounds. Minutemen were one of the most political punk bands around — outside Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four, which were much more (probably too) explicit.

Without my asking, he did give me a good signature. I don’t doubt he always uses it when he runs into people named Frank or Thomas. “To Frank from Frank. Thomas Frank.” He has a much better signature than Bruce Campbell — not that I’m complaining about having both of Bruce’s autobiographies signed, thanks to Elizabeth.

Thomas Frank’s Talk

I made an audio recording of the talk. I hate those jittery YouTube videos. The video is mostly useless and the sound is terrible. The sound is pretty terrible here too, but if you turn it up, you can make it all out. I missed the first minute or so, so I faded in. He starts by making a comment about what the Trump Presidential Library will be like. (It’s an interesting thought given that the Nixon Library was filled with flat-out lies to decades.) But the rest of it is a reasonable recording of the event.

It probably would have been even more interesting to record the book signing. But alas.

The book, which I bought more to support independent booksellers than anything, is just a collection of previously published essays — at least half of which I’ve read. But I think I’ve read The Wrecking Crew twice, so I’ll probably read this too.

Happy Independence Day?

Happy Independence Day?

Oh, the Places I’ve Gone!

When I was a kid, I loved the Fourth of July: Independence Day! Admittedly, part of it was because they showed 1776 on television that day every year and I loved musicals. But I was also super patriotic because I totally bought all the lies my teachers had told me about this great nation.

Now it is just a night filled with loud noises and ignorant people.

One Nation, Built on Racism

Things really changed for me just a few years ago when I read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

I really should have known, of course. Historians have been writing for a long time about the fact that the primary push for the southern colonies to enter the Revolutionary War was their fear that England was going to take their slaves away.

The Bigots…

Now I understand: for about 30 percent of the modern US population, that sounds like a damned good reason to start a war. In fact, all those people clamoring about “states’ rights” only really care about them in so far as it will allow them to bring back Jim Crow if not outright slavery. It certainly isn’t a concept they believe in when California wants to maintain high pollution-control standards.

Yes, I’m calling 30 percent of the nation bigots.

And the Racists…

The rest of us are just racists — regardless of color. That’s just what happens when you grow up in a racist society. The best of us fight it, but it’s still there — poisoning us.

As Jesse Jackson said, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps… then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

I feel the same way when I involuntarily tense up when a young black man gets on the bus. I disgust myself.

And the Liars…

There are, of course, people who claim not to have a racist bone in their bodies. They were wonderfully satirized by Stephen Colbert. I suppose some of them are just clueless racists. But mostly, I think they are lying bigots.

If you can’t admit to your faults, you have no hope of fixing them — or even becoming slightly less vile.

Revolution: What Is It Good For?!

Ultimately, the American Revolution was good for the white men that were already doing well. For everyone else — and that includes poor white men — the war didn’t improve their lives. And made the lives of millions to come far worse.

It’s Not Just About Racism

Dylan Matthews makes pretty much the same argument that I just made, but better because he didn’t spend the day writing and editing a mammoth article on Unix shells, Three Reasons the American Revolution Was a Mistake.

In the article, he also addresses the treatment of the first Americans. They would have been treated badly regardless — as they were in Canada. But it’s most likely that there wouldn’t have been a genocide committed against them over decades.

If you want to get a good idea of how badly we treated the first Americans, you should check out the ignorant and racist comments to my article Ayn Rand and Indians. I don’t want to get into it here. I’ve written a lot about this subject in the past.

Parliamentary System

Matthews third reason for why we would have been better off not separating from England is that we would now have a much more stable system of government: a parliamentary system. I’ve also written a lot about this, so I’m not going to dive into it.

You should really just go read Matthews’ fine article. I agree with it point by point.

The Bottom Line

Tomorrow, when I wake up, I will put the flag out. I don’t especially like to because I don’t like the way that people see the flag. I have traditionally seen it as aspirational. Right now, I see it as pictured above: the zombie apocalypse has happened; they’ve destroyed what’s good about us and now they’re hungry for our best aspirations.

But even if we fight them back, our vile and partisan Supreme Court will do all it can to bring the end. Because they crave brains too.

Happy “Independence” Day!

How a Vacation Gets You Coming and Going

Frank on Vacation in Mexico With Grumpy SquirrelHello all you frankly curious boys and girls! I am sorry that I haven’t been writing much recently. Part of it is Donald Trump. I’ll come back to him. But the bigger issue is that I’m going on vacation starting Friday morning and I won’t be back home until the afternoon of the first day of July.

July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August!

The problem for me is that a vacation really gets in the way of my work on the things I actually care about: this site, Psychotronic Review, practicing the most evil musical instrument in the world, and writing my experimental plays. You know: the stuff I don’t get paid to do.

The problem is that there is a tremendous amount of (paid) work that has to be done before going on vacation. I already have weeks of work backlog. But I have to get the really pressing things done. And I want to too! That’s because I’m not going to be working when I’m on vacation, and that means I won’t be making money. But even though I’m going to miss 9 days of work out of this month, I’m going to manage to make about 80 percent of my normal pay.

This, of course, is because I’ve been killing myself.

And Then There’s Trump

I’m now trying to avoid hearing anything about politics. In the past, it wasn’t so bad because I thought, “We’ll probably get rid of Trump in 2020 and this will all just be a bad memory.” Sure, I knew he was causing great suffering, but there was an end in sight. And to a large extent, that’s true. The immigration policy will go back to our normal inhumane situation instead of the near-genocide that Trump is overseeing. So on the domestic front, the election of a Democratic president in 2020 — or whenever — will be a good thing.

(And yes, I know that Trump has apparently reversed course on the family separation of asylum seekers. Does everyone know that we are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, by which the whole process of charging asylum seekers with trespass is illegal? So the whole, “Our hands are tied” explanation was always a crock. But the reversal sure shows that all those people who were claiming that the White House was doing it because they thought it was a political winner were wrong. They were doing it because Trump is a cruel man who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I think Elvis Costello summed him up perfectly long ago, “If it moves then you f**k it, if it doesn’t move you stab it.)

Our Long-Term International Problems

It’s on the international front that things are so depressing. After Trump is out of office, things will not reset. The world has seen that the US political system is such that it can elect a modern-day Hitler. It doesn’t matter that he got three million less votes. For one thing, that’s still a very close race when you consider just how awful Trump was — not just as a person but as a candidate. But more important, we have a non-democratic system. Hitler didn’t get 50 percent of the vote. His base was roughly that of Trump’s: 30 percent.

So I figure it will take a generation or more for us to heal these wounds. And in a certain way, they never will be. I know that Brexit hurt the UK. But the people immediately regretted it. If they had been able to vote again just a week later, it would have lost. It’s not clear that Trump would lose a year and a half later — despite the fact that other than being a monster to immigrants, he hasn’t done a thing for his straight white male racist base.

(Just a little aside: I am so looking forward to the time when these people — people like me — really do have no more power than anyone else. As a group, cis white males are such whiners about losing power and blah, blah, blah. I’ll be glad to see them have something to really complain about. Of course, if they voted liberal, their lives would be better. But as a group, we are idiots.)

Onward to Vacation

The rule for this vacation is that I get to have the kind of vacation that I most enjoy: doing nothing. I read. I watch totally awesome films. I sit in a hot tub. And apparently, I get a massage, which is the equivalent of the hot tub: except I have to drive — gurr — as many as ten miles to get it. And I have to go whale watching, which is okay, I’m just not sure how I’m going to get to the boat. I’m too tired to think about it, but I have a vague plan that relieves me of having to park in San Francisco.

It’s possible I’ll write something on the blog next week. I’m not planning to, but you never know. I can’t go a day without writing something. I’m planning on working on some plays. But I’m so tired right now, the thought is not appealing. They require a lot more work than a blog post — especially a rambling one like this. (I have Facebook posts that are better than this!)

I Need This

Generally, I’m told that I need a vacation. This is the first time I feel like I need a vacation — I certainly want it more than any one I can remember. My next vacation (which will be the last for a while) will likely not be that great because I’m going with my family. And they all have this idea that you do things on vacation. And that’s such a silly thing, because I will be doing something — my favorite thing to do: metabolize!

Today was a long day. Tomorrow will be worse. Just let me die on the beach.

American Patriotism Is Usually Just Nationalism

American Patriotism Is Usually Just Nationalism
The “Patriot” Who Lives Near Me

I pass by this house a few times a day as I take walks to lower my cholesterol. It’s a sign of what many Americans think of as patriotism but that is really just nationalism. There are two flags there: not nation and state, but nation and local sports team.

Most People Disrespect the Flag

As I go for walks, I’m always amazed at the number of houses that have American flags hang, which are never taken down. Some of them are in tatters. But I’ve gotten used to that. What really interests me are the people who have invested in poles as you can see in the image above.

Now let me be perfectly honest here. At least the owner of this pole takes the whole flag ceremony seriously. They always take the flag(s) down at dusk. This is traditional. Unless a flag has a spotlight it should not, by tradition, fly at night. So I appreciate that they take their flag waving more seriously than the people who put yellow ribbons on the backs of their cars during the Iraq War — as if that meant anything.

Why I Don’t Like Flags: They Are Nationalistic

But I don’t like flying the flag because it strikes me as more nationalism than patriotism. It stinks of “My country, right or wrong!” (I know the original phrase continued, “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” But that isn’t what people remember.)

People who care about ideals, which is the core of my patriotism, don’t wave flags, because we know how far we fall short of those ideals.

Who’s Number One? The US or the Warriors?

US and Warriors FlagsBut okay, people like to wave the flag. I wouldn’t have written this article if it hadn’t been for the second flag. It isn’t the flag of California. (It is often the awful Gadsden flag, as if this white homeowner in the suburbs is being treaded upon.) Instead, it is the flag of our local professional basketball team, the Golden State Warriors.

And that strikes me as perfect! Because they have the American flag up in the same way they have the Warrior’s flag up. Just as the roster of the Warriors is constantly changing, so is America. So I assume that if fascists took over the country, they would still be flying the flag proudly. (Actually, they’d probably be flying it more proudly — most people only hate the Nazis because of the Jews; they don’t seem to have much of a clue why fascism is bad beyond that; and if any country were primed for fascism, it is modern America.)

Nation or Sports Team: Whatever!

But this just shows that these people love their country in the same pathetic way that they love their sports teams. In the case of the American flag, it has nothing to do with what the nation stands for. It is like real estate: location, location, location. They have the Warriors’ flag because they are our local team and they have the American flag because they were born here. And that’s as far as it goes.

My friend Will recently saw a house with a Confederate battle flag proudly displayed. We couldn’t find it. But we did come upon a house that had two flag poles side by side: one had the American flag and the other the San Francisco Giants’ — our local baseball team’s — flag. (We think this might have been the same house and that baseball simply trumps their racism. Sorry: “southern pride.”)

US Flags Are Not About Patriotism

I think the American flag is up out of simple habit. They know they are supposed to do that. They are virtue signaling. What’s really in their hearts is the love of seeing the Warriors or the Giants beat teams from other places — teams they would support if they lived there.

Both flags just represent nationalism on different levels. There’s no thought behind it other than that we are the good people and they are the bad. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that got us President Trump. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that is going to turn us into an authoritarian banana republic.

The Statue of Liberty should be weeping.

What the Summit With North Korea Is Really All About

North Korea's Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump
Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump.

I’ve cropped this AP picture taken by Evan Vucci and am licensing it under Fair Use because this article is about it and only it. It is a picture of Kim Jong-un doing what his father was unable to do. And he is only able to do it because the American system of government (not the people) elected Donald Trump to be its president.

After Decades, North Korea Gets Just What It Wanted

For decades, North Korea has wanted to talk to the United States alone. And all previous presidents — even the less than brilliant George W Bush — refused to do it.

There are many reasons for this. But probably the biggest is simply that you don’t want to give a third-rate despot the opportunity to look like he is on the same level as the leader of the free world.

Of course, maybe that whole “free world” business is over anyway. Trump seems far more interested in hanging out with authoritarian leaders than democratically elected leaders. Trump seems intent on destroying the carefully constructed post-WWII alliance.

If a Deal Is Reached, It Will Be Bad for the US

If anything comes out of these negotiations other than Kim Jong-un solidifying power in North Korea and looking more powerful everywhere else, it will be a bad deal for the US. Trump will go along with any deal now that he’s BFFs with Kim.

Trump actually said that he would know if Kim Jong-un was serious “within the first minute” of their meeting. Does that remind anyone else of George W Bush’s fatuous claim that he looked in Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul”? (Later Bush retracted this because he said Putin had changed; this is what conservatives do; they can’t admit that they’re just stupid.)

I have heard people make apologias for Trump along the lines of, “Well, he has advisers that will make sure everything is done right.” That wasn’t a bad argument to make before the president was Donald J Trump. But anyone who makes that assertion today has to ignore the last year and a half. Trump surrounds himself with yes men and doesn’t even listen to them when they deviate the smallest amount from what he believes or wants to do.

Trump will jump at anything and the Republicans will not stop him because they got their tax cuts and they are terrified of their base voters.

Most Likely, Nothing Will Come of The Negotiations, Because This Was Never About the Negotiations

But more likely, nothing at all will come from this summit. Trump will leave Singapore and say, “I knew in the first minute he wasn’t serious!”

Regardless, this was always about Kim Jong-un getting that picture above. He out-maneuvered Trump in a way that Kim Jong-il couldn’t out-maneuver George W Bush. That is sad.

What Intelligent Person Would Make a Deal With the US Now?

And Kim Jong-un would be an idiot to make a deal with the US anyway. Look at what happened to Muammar Gaddafi! Look what happened to the Iran deal! Look at how Trump treats our longstanding friends!

Making deals with the US is dangerous. Making deals with Trump is madness. I think Kim Jong-un is a psychopath.

But he’s not a madman and certainly not an idiot. Unfortunately for the US, Trump is a madman and an idiot.

They might as well pack their bags. Kim Jong-un got what he wanted. And Trump will get nothing that he wants, except for manic tweets about how dishonest and weak Kim is. Except all the world will know that Kim played Trump for the foolish mark he is.

Afterword

Bruce Cockburn’s song “Yanqui Go Home!” is a great song, but it’s clear that Yanqui didn’t go home, he just went to several more bars:

Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian Myth

Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian MythWhen I was a libertarian, the single biggest philosophical mistake I made was to think that the government was the only cause of the limitation of freedom. This was because the government had the right to jail and kill you. For a long time, I used an argument that I hear from libertarians all the time today: a private company can’t hurt you because you don’t have to work for them and you don’t have to shop with them. These people should really talk to Colin Kaepernick — a man who lost his job for making a respectful protest.

Colin Kaepernick Isn’t Free

When he first protested, he simply sat for the national anthem. But after talking to a Green Beret, Kaepernick choose to take a knee. The reason was the Green Beret told him it was something that soldiers did in front of a fallen soldier’s grave. As the Green Beret put it: “to show respect.”

So taking the knee isn’t to show disrespect to America (not that it should matter). It could just as easily be that the tradition was that we all kneel. But doing something that not everyone else was doing was the whole point of his protest. In the best tradition of the United States, Colin Kaepernick non-violently asked people to think of something during the two minutes of the national anthem.

But that isn’t good enough for a lot of people. It isn’t good enough for pretty much every conservative in this country. And it isn’t okay for a lot of other people too. This is because their idea of patriotism is “America: right or wrong.”

What they are really calling for is what I grew up thinking was all wrong about the Soviet Union: the requirement that everyone must behave the same way. The people weren’t a collection of individuals but simply a thing. Let’s call it the synchronized swimming theory of society: if everyone isn’t doing exactly what the coach wants, it’s all a catastrophe.

The Libertarian Belief in Theoretical Freedom

“Ah!” I hear the libertarians say, “But Colin Kaepernick isn’t being oppressed. He could get another job!” Yeah, he can. But he can’t get a job doing what he has been trained at, working at the level he has attained and wants to perform. And why? Because the owners shut him out. It is exactly the same thing I discussed in Property Rights. In that case, it was an out of work farmer who simply can’t work because all the land to farm is owned by someone else.

One commonly hears libertarians say, “Rights imply responsibility.” But somehow, that’s only ever applied to workers. It isn’t applied to owners. So property rights don’t imply any responsibility on the part of the property owner.

So in the libertarian utopia: you get real freedom if you’re rich, but just theoretical freedom if you aren’t. It’s much like Orwell’s parody of the Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

So Colin Kaepernick is out of a job, but he’s got another, far more important one. And history will show him to be a great man and the owners who clearly colluded to deny him a job they needed filling will be seen for what they are: soulless, immoral people for whom money is all that matters.

And, of course, in 40 years, all conservatives will honor Kaepernick as a great man, as they always do when it doesn’t matter — when there is a new status quo to honor.

(I am so ashamed to be white in this case. It took a whole season for the first white player to take a knee. Since then, there have been more, but it was never more than a small group.)

Another Libertarian Myth

Now we get to another libertarian myth (There are so many!) with the NFL forbidding players from kneeling. It turns out this is flatly illegal. And I suspect the owners know this. But this is all about appeasing President Donald J Trump.

If the courts say that they must allow the players, what can they do? Trump can’t go after them and the vile “America: right or wrong” crowd will know that this horrible two-minute distraction of the time before the most important issue of playing a game can’t be helped.

Of course, this is the opposite of the way things usually go. Normally, even really bad presidents have better things to do than stick their noses into the minutia of how exactly entertainment is managed by the producers of that entertainment. So it is normally the case of owners getting the government to do their bidding.

The “Perfect” Libertarian Courts

The truth is that it really doesn’t matter that the government has a monopoly on going to war and putting people in cages. The rich will always control that government unless safeguards are put in place by the people. But libertarians want to go the other direction. Private courts! Yeah, that will work out great, because the far greater safeguards we have today (you know, the ones that will find for the players against the NFL) won’t be there.

As a result, we see that yet again libertarianism simply turns into “might makes right.” Courts would turn into nothing more than a show to justify finding for whomever gave the bigger pile of cash (or gold — a libertarian fantasy — the same goes for bitcoin).

What About Roseanne?

The cases of Colin Kaepernick and Roseanne Barr could not be more different. Kaepernick was making a dignified protest and was simply not hired through the collusion of NFL owners. Roseanne Barr made her employer look bad and cost them money in the long term.

But that hardly matters. I don’t think Roseanne should have been fired. She is a toxic, unstable person. She was before ABC gave her the show and she is today.

After Robert Downey Jr had his half-decade of drug use and unstable behavior, he had to prove himself. He slowly worked his way back and beyond. But not Roseanne! Her career was all but over. But then she became a Trump supporter and ABC saw big money.

(Truthfully, it never made sense long-term. As I believe I discussed in the comments around here, I figured the show would last about 3 years. By next year, it would only be watched by old people. It would get great ratings, but not great advertisers. It’s like when Jay Leno was beating David Letterman in the ratings: I recall reading at the time that because Letterman had a younger audience, his show made more money. So the Roseanne reboot was just a quick money grab — typical of corporate Hollywood.)

ABC Is Not Acting Morally

ABC acting as though they are taking a moral stand is ridiculous. They knew who they were hiring. They hired exactly the same person they fired.

That wasn’t the case with the people who tentatively hired Downey shortly after he got past his self-destructive period. So ABC isn’t the “good guy” in this case. First, they foisted Roseanne on the nation, then they fired her so that conservatives can have another data point about how mean “liberals” are with all their “political correctness.”[1]

(Yes, we haven’t seen conservatives rally around her; they’re too afraid — they have no idea what she might do next; but trust me, the Republican base thinks she has been completely wronged, that it wasn’t a racist tweet, and that had it been, they would have liked it more.)

Most People Require Jobs

Obviously, Roseanne doesn’t need a job. She didn’t need the reboot of the series, except to get attention and push the false narrative that stuggling middle America just loves Donald Trump. I doubt Colin Kaepernick can go the rest of his life without a job. But none of this is about either of them.

Almost everyone has to have a job. Yet we live in a society where you literally do not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If you can’t find a job, you can find yourself hungry on the street. Eventually, you can find yourself dead.

Libertarians Want You to Have Less Freedom

Yet for the libertarians, this situation isn’t good enough. Owners of capital should have far more power over your life. They want everyone to give up the little actual liberty they have for theoretical liberty. The only practical liberty in the libertarian utopia is for the rich — like now, but much, much worse.

Freedom is a simple concept. Let me give you a simple example from my life. I don’t have the freedom to get my teeth fixed right now. Hopefully, they will hold out long enough so that I can slowly get them repaired (my dentist is not hopeful that I have enough time). What libertarians offer is potential freedom. I could get all my teeth fixed today if I had $80 million like Roseanne Barr.

Who thinks that is real freedom other than rich people and young people who think they will be rich?

Freedom is not the freedom to maybe get a job you would have had you not taken a brave political stand. Freedom isn’t even losing your job for being exactly the person your employer knew you were when they hired you.

How Capitalism Makes Things Worse

I know how capitalism apologists will respond. “If it weren’t for our system, we wouldn’t have smartphones and we would live under authoritarian rule.” Really? Is that how limited their creativity is? The truth is, the world would be a better place if I had the freedom to do what I want. Humans want to work; they want to be productive; they want to make society better. (Obviously, not all humans, but most humans.)

But instead, they are forced into jobs where they sell crap that people don’t need or even want. If it weren’t for capitalism, there would be no opioid crisis in this country. I noted two decades ago that there would be problems with Oxycontin and MS-Contin because they relieved pain for substantially less time than advertised and would thus cause people to take more and eventually turn to the black market.

Doctors could have prescribed methadone, which works really well. But it wasn’t under patent. There wasn’t a bunch of money to be made off it. So it wasn’t pushed on doctors as the miracle drug it is. Instead, a toxic jumble of chemicals made to slowly release a short-acting opioid was. And today we have a big problem.

That’s Capitalism!

That’s what capitalism produces: not what we need but what makes certain people rich. But in the libertarian utopia, that would never happen.

I’m serious.

The libertarian utopia would quickly devolve into the Mad Max world. Then some vile warlord would become dominant, and we would all live under an authoritarian dictatorship. Good luck with that cold turkey detox white people. And thank you libertarians!

Afterword

One final thought about Roseanne. This is yet another example of a racist society trying to scapegoat one person for what they say so as to ignore the much more important racism that people of color live with every day. Roseanne hurt almost no one with her tweet. And she certainly didn’t kill anyone. But our racist society kills people all the time. So the racism that most hurts us is just ignored (Colin Kaepernick) while we make a big deal about the racism of a crazy woman that doesn’t mean squat in the grand scheme of things.

Indeed, scapegoating Roseanne helps racism, because it makes tens of millions of white people think that as long as you don’t say the wrong words or imply the wrong things, America is a total meritocracy where any black kid can become president. It’s like saying we have an equal chance to win a game of Monopoly despite starting the game after every piece of property has already been purchased. It’s hogwash. Remember all the conservatives saying that Obama’s election was proof that there was no racism in America? That is the racism that never gets anyone fired; it is the racism we need to fight.

Why Roseanne Matters

The only reason Roseanne’s racism toward blacks is interesting is that she says what roughly 40 percent of the country believes. And most of the rest of us are just less racist (including roughly half of blacks — society poisons widely).


[1] I put “political correctness” in scare quotes because it is a meaningless term. What it is supposed to mean is done by everyone — and as far as I can tell, much more by conservatives. The whole “you must stand for the national anthem” is a typical case of political correctness. But it is almost never applied to conservatives.

The 70 Year (Failed) Experiment of Zionism

The 70 Year (Failed) Experiment of Zionism - Judaism and Zionism Are Diametrically Opposed

Today was the 70th anniversary of a grand experiment. Many Jews had long wanted their own land and they fought for it. Many of them were terrorists in the cause — though you will never hear that on the television news in America. But after World War II, a Jewish homeland was founded. After all: Nazis.

I Supported Zionism for a Long Time

Not only would I have been on board then, I was on board most of my life. Even over the last decades I continued to support Zionism because I though the Jews, as a group, really did have something to fear. And they do!

Even in the US (a very Jew-friendly country), according to the FBI, over half of reported religious-based hate crimes are committed against Jews. But the fact that Jews are hated by many, I don’t support a Jewish state. Indeed, I believe that Israel has made antisemitism worse.

Israel Has Lost Legitimacy

What Israel has shown is that just because you have been oppressed in the past, does not mean that you will not turn into an oppressor yourself. Indeed, we accept on the individual level that abused children usually grow up to be abusers. So, I’m afraid, it is with countries. And so it seems to be with Israel.

It’s been clear for decades that Israel has no interest in making peace with the Palestinians. In an earlier time, Israel would have simply committed a mass genocide and taken over all of the remaining Palestinian land. (See, for example, the Old Testament.)

But with modern media, they can’t do that, so they’ve done it inch by inch — both through murder and by simply stealing land.

The American “Honest Broker” Lie Is Clearly Exposed

There is one good thing to come out of this, however. The US has moved its embassy to Jerusalem. And in so doing has shown, in a way that even the most rapid Israeli apologists cannot rationally dispute, that the US is not an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and haven’t been for at least the 37 years.

If Israel did simply march into the West Bank and killed everyone outside of all the Jewish Settlements (most illegal), the US government would report that it was provoked and a necessary step to keep the people of Isreal safe. And the media would present it that way, noting that some disagree.

Israel Has Nothing to Fear

Israel has by far the most powerful military of any country in the region. Other states may grumble about them, but they would not willingly go to war against Israel. They are the only nuclear state. And are they nuclear! They have an estimated 200 to 400 warheads.

The only threat to Israel are are rockets from Gaza. It is often reported that in the last two decades there have been thousands of such attacks. But that number includes mortars as well — which have a very short range. Still, there is a lot of firing. But they are mostly impotent. Over the last two decades, fewer than 30 people have been killed. Israel should probably worry more about people texting and driving.

And it isn’t like the Palestinians don’t have some cause. I’m not in favor of violence under any circumstances. And I think the people firing these rockets are making a tactical mistake. But it is the case that at least the attacks get covered in the US media. The countless peace protests are completely blacked-out of mainstream television coverage, and almost never covered anywhere in the mainstream press.

How Long Will the Apologetics Go On?

Regardless, the fact is that while the Palestinians kill almost no Israelis, the Israelis kill a lot of Palestinians. I wrote the following analogy on Facebook this morning:

If the US media reported on playground incidents like they do the Israel-Palestine conflict. “A teacher killed a first-grader on the playground of Monroe Elementary School. But it must be remembered that the child intentionally scratched the teacher, requiring a band-aid. Also, the teacher killed the student’s parents and took over their house. Governmental authorities have questioned Whether this wasn’t an overreaction. But no legal sanctions are currently being considered by the district attorney.”

I’m Sick of Israeli and American Disingenuousness

And that’s how I feel. And I’m sick to death of reading in the US press it would all be over if the Palestinians would just stop launching those rockets. It sickens me that Palestinian peace protests are all but ignored in this country. I’m tired of the apologetics for decades illegal Israeli settlements, clearly designed to make any peace impossible. I’m sick of it all.

Call me antisemitic if you like. That’s the great trump card of Israeli fanatics: if you are against Israel, you are against Jews. That couldn’t be further from the truth for me. And I would just refer you to the image above.

So many people have died because the US allows Israel to behave even worse than it does.

Violence Causes Fear Causes Violence

Albert Einstein never said, “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” But I’ve never been that into Einstein quotes anyway. I know his science, that is enough. He wasn’t a moral philosopher. But I like the fake quote, because I think it is largely true. A great trauma was wreaked upon a group. It is not at all surprising that many of that group’s survivors would, out of fear, take on the role of the oppressor, even if they are doing it step by step rather than with the Nazi’s brutal swiftness.

I’m afraid it is long past time to have bombed Isreal’s nuclear silos. At this point, I fear that Israel is at least as likely to use one or more of its nukes as India, Pakistan, or North Korea. How can we stop this failed experiment now? I don’t know. I do know this though: the fault lies with the US, just as if North Korea kills millions with its nukes, blame ultimately belongs to China.

Afterword

I remember that Bill Maher, in his movie Religulous, interviewed a guy who believed much as the men in the picture above. Maher listened to him for a bit and then just walked out. The implication was that he was just a crazy man spouting nonsense. But even though I was a Zionist at the time, it was clear to me that he wasn’t spouting nonsense. It’s just that Maher, like the vast majority of Americans can brook no one who thinks that Israel isn’t some fragile country surrounded by powerful enemies and thus must be protected.

I didn’t agree with the guy and I don’t. Why would I. It is based on a very conservative reading of the Torah. But it isn’t an insane or stupid belief. And they are right: Israel is a highly nationalist state. It strikes me as having as much to do with Jewish roots as Utah has to do with Mormon roots. Bill Maher was so much better when he was just a comedian and before he thought he was smart.

The Peter Principle and the Meaninglessness of Hierarchy

The Peter Principle and the Meaninglessness of HierarchyWhen I was younger, I often heard the Peter Principle defined as follows, “Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.” Thus, I saw it as a statement of the stupidity of corporations: that they promoted incompetent people. But that is not it at all.

Investopedia provides a far better definition of the phenomenon, “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.”

It was only when the Peter Principle started to be applied to me I came to understand it. And it was then that I saw that it wasn’t an attack on the employee but on the corporation.

Peter Principle in High Tech

Consider this example, which I have seen in action many times. A computer programmer is hired by a company and they are great — a modern-day alchemist who manages to things done no one thought was even possible. So the company, wanting to reward this exceptional coder, promotes them to a programming manager. And this person is not great at the new job. To start with, they don’t like it because programming is in their bones. But also: they don’t know anything about management. They hate going to meetings. They think spreadsheets and reports are things people create because they don’t know how to code or that they’re just plain stupid. So, far from being a great manager, they are a bad manager — maybe bad enough to get fired.

Meanwhile, that same company probably has a mediocre programmer who would make a great manager. But they can’t be made a manager because it would be unfair. The mediocre coder would now be above the brilliant coder in the the hierarchy. The mediocre coder would make more money. The mediocre coder would be sent to conferences and fly business class. In other words, the mediocre coder will be better than the brilliant coder.

Hierarchy Destroys Diversity

The problem, of course, is that most companies have it all backwards. And a hierarchy is almost never the best way to structure a group. But you see the human tendency toward hierarchy. The World Wide Web was definitionally flat. It was, quite literally, a web. But once it became commercialized, it turned into a hierarchy. The vast majority of people on the internet spend the vast majority of their time on the top 100 websites.

And it’s built in. If you are on Facebook, why? Why not another platform? Because Facebook is only useful if everyone is there. It isn’t just a monopoly, it’s a company that can only exist as a monopoly. There is absolutely nothing technologically interesting about it and that has been true from its very idea. It provides Sudoku Meaning to people. But it’s also herd mentality. Have you ever noted the shape of a stampeding herd?

The point is the hierarchy — this idea that we need one. The fact is that it is much easier to find a good middle-manager than it is to find a good programmer or other creative. But because we think the hierarchy is natural or right or whatever, we must put the creatives at the bottom. We must pretend that although necessary, they aren’t worth that much. Hence, companies try to turn exceptional creatives into exceptional managers, but end up with mediocre (and generally unhappy) managers.

We Need a Better System

There are better ways, of course. The most obvious is the ecosystem. It is typical of the stupidity of man that the lion is referred to as the “king of the jungle.” (And that makes no sense given that lions don’t live in the jungle, tigers do.) That’s not the way the jungle works. Yes, there are apex predators. But everyone dies and is eaten. Humans think they control this planet? Ha! Insects and bacteria.

But there is no reason that a manager of programmers should necessarily make more than any given programmer. Especially if you want to believe in a meritocracy (and we don’t have one and can’t have one), you should see this. A programmer working alone can revolutionize the world. A manager working alone can’t do anything at all.

In a company however, you need lots of people doing lots of things. And doubtless, some of those people are worth more to the company than others. But the hierarchy doesn’t come close to modeling this. An ecosystem does.

The Lost in America Reversal

There’s a scene in Lost in America where this idea is put on its head. Albert Brooks plays an idiot, as usual. He’s a great advertising creative and gets upset when he isn’t going to be promoted to management. And his supervisor tells him plainly that Brooks is too talented a creative to lose him to management so he promoted someone with far less ability.

And that’s the way it should be. Except it shouldn’t be that the other guy was “promoted.” There should be an ecosystem where everyone plays their role — doing what they like and are good at. And if that means a lowly coder makes as much as the vice-president of finance, so be it. (Note: the vice-president of finance is just at the top of a huge group of people. So he isn’t actually doing any more work than the coder, and isn’t necessarily any more important — even if the vast bureaucracy he leads is).

Trump’s Stupidity With the Iran Deal

This article is based on a Facebook post from yesterday early morning — right when I found out that Trump did what I knew he was going to do. But sense Frankly Curious has a lot of smart readers (that is: they aren’t on Facebook), I’m presented it here. I’ve edited and greatly expanded it. –FM

President Donald TrumpYesterday, President* Trump will did another stupid and cruel thing, primarily because he just doesn’t like Barack Obama. And the world will be worse off for it. I’m talking about walking out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, of course.

But my bet is that Iran will stay in the deal with the Europeans, especially if they sweeten it. Of course, the Trump administration is now saying that they are going to start a trade war with any European country that stays in the deal. But I don’t really see that happening. I think the Europeans know that Trump is not long for political office (and maybe even life outside a cage). And Europe can hurt us just as badly as we can them.

The worst thing is that the deal completely falls apart.

If the Iran Deal Can’t Be Trusted How Could a North Korea Deal?

Of course, the bigger issue for us is that the US will show in the biggest way it ever has that it can’t be trusted. This is right before a negotiation with North Korea!

My prediction on this is that there will be a meeting, because it will make Kim Jong-un look like a major player in world politics (which he isn’t).

But there will be no deal. Why in the world would he make a deal with the US?

To begin with, I don’t think the Trump administration is capable of making a deal because their idea of a deal is that the US gets everything it wants and everyone else gets nothing.

At least when Stormy Daniels got f**ked by Trump, she got a decent amount of money. What is North Korea going to get? Since Trump is, in fact, a terrible negotiator, if a deal did manage to be made, it would be overwhelmingly in North Korea’s favor.[1]

The Iran Deal on the Domestic Front

It isn’t just the North Koreans and other countries who shouldn’t trust Trump and therefore the US.

What are struggling whites who voted for Trump getting from anything he’s done other than a sense that they are pissing off people like me? They are doing worse than ever. Trump cares about them like he does bubble gum stuck to his shoe.

Why Was Trump Elected Anyway?

I would like to think that this is just a dark period for the US. But that’s not it. The US has been a fading empire for decades. Trump is just a darker shade of black. It might get a bit better after he is gone. But not much.

The reason is that about 30 percent of Americans are rightly pissed off about things, but are mad at the wrong people; they support the very people (eg, Trump, the Republican Party) who have made their lives worse over the last 40 years.

Then about 20 percent of Americans are just idiots.

Electoral College

And finally: we don’t live in a democracy. In the US, 7 percent of presidents got less votes than the “loser.”

As CGP Grey has noted, “Would anyone tolerate a sport where, by a quirk of the rules, there was a 7 percent chance that the loser would win? Not likely!” Then why do you put up with it in the much more important issue of presidential politics?

I’ll tell you this: if it had been Democrats who won two recent elections while getting fewer votes, Republicans would demand a change.

And Democrats — being somewhat rational and having a sense of fair play — would go along with it. But since it is helping Republicans, they are against changing it. Although their voters were for changing it — right up to the point that Trump “won.” Then they flipped. The Republicans are no longer a political party; they are a cult — and I’m not just talking about Trump.

We Continue the Struggle, But I Fear It Is Hopeless

I’m sad and embarrassed by my country. “Take Back Our Country,” indeed! (Where did they get the idea that it was theirs and not ours?) Our country is being destroyed by the people who use that phrase.


[1] Here’s a little advice: if you are negotiating with someone who talks about what a great negotiator they are, all you need to do is flatter them and you will get an unimaginably good deal. Trump is the ultimate example of that. Remember: Trump would have far more money today if he had simply put his inheritance in an indexed mutual fund. This is what’s known as an opportunity cost. If you have money, it isn’t hard to make more. The question is whether you are making as much as you could elsewhere. Trump has been a huge failure economically, even though his cultists believe otherwise.

Why People Like Sports and Game Shows

Why People Like Sports and Game ShowsWhen I was very young (less than 10-years-old), I loved game shows. I know why: I was good at them. Even into my teens, I wanted to be on Tic-Tac-Dough because I would have been on there for months. Then I just wanted the money and I couldn’t believe how ignorant the contestants were. But why do mature people like game shows?

And I don’t just mean the traditional game shows. Almost all “reality” shows are game shows. Dancing with the Stars is a game show. I find them mind numbing. But most people love them!

Watching the Money on Game Shows

And I know why. It was all explained at the end of the movie Quiz Show. Dan Enright (played by David Paymer, who you’ve never heard of but have seen everywhere — 233 credits on IMDb) gives the best speech of the film:

But even the quiz shows’ll be back. Why fix them? Think about it, will ya? You could do exactly the same thing by just making the questions easier. See, the audience didn’t tune in to watch some amazing display of intellectual ability. They just wanted to watch the money.

“Reality” TV Show Forged in Fire

My father loves a game show called Forged in Fire. In it, these guys with forges make swords and compete.

If I didn’t hate these kinds of shows so much, I would find it funny. The judges are so serious and make out that they are such experts. But they are really more like sports “color” guys who are constantly repeating the same things.

And the format is entirely typical: most of the show consists of interviews with the sword makers. First they interviewed before their swords are judged. Then they interviewed after the swords are judged.

The show runs 42 minutes, but if you cut out all the repetition, fluff, and ridiculously long dramatic pauses by the judges, you might have 5 minutes of material. That’s a lot of nothing to sit through to find out who wins the $10,000.[1]

It’s Probably All Fake

Last night I asked my father about the show. Because all my life I have lived on the outskirts (and sometimes right in the middle) of the construction industry. I’ve never met anyone with a forge. Now I know: it is probably one of those situations where if you know anyone with a forge, you know ten. They are a tight group.

But there isn’t a huge demand for swords and other things made in a small forge. Yet the show has had 66 episodes with 4 contestants on each. That is 264 people with forges who are willing to go on the show. I don’t buy that for a minute.

Andy Kaufman was on The Dating Game three times as part of his effort to become a successful entertainer. I won’t be at all surprised if one of the 264 people who was on Forged in Fire turns out to be a successful actor.

It Might Have Been Real at Some Point

I have little doubt that when the show started, they were using real people. But as time went on, they couldn’t find people. So they hired actors and had other people make the swords. At this point, I’m sure the entire show is scripted (in the same way professional wrestling is — not exact dialog, but everyone is told what to say, and it comes from some guy like me who doesn’t mind writing crap anonymously if the money is good enough).

When I mentioned this to my father, he pushed back. You could see their forges! Yeah, and one well designed set could be made to look a million ways by a professional art director. Did my father think the forge in Army of Darkness was a real one? No. He yielded the point.

But he will continue to watch the show. It makes no demands of him. And it gives him the ultimate American thrill: watching an absolute win and three absolute losses.

The Black and White of Competition

We Are All SisyphusOf course, even if the show is for real (and I don’t think it is), it’s just one competition.

It reminds me of something I heard someone say about Major League Baseball (roughly): “Each season, every team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, and its the last 50 that determines who does well or who does poorly.” (MLB now plays 162 games a year, but you get the point.) Similarly, it is often said of the National Football League, “On any given day, any team can beat any other.”

I like those quotes because they talk about reality. The truth is that there are thousands of great baseball players who are roughly as good as each other.

But Americans like things clear. That’s why soccer has had such a hard time here: most games end in a tie. (Or at least they used to. I don’t care enough to look it up.) Americans hate that kind of thing because there must be a winner who celebrate far too much and a loser who we criticize far too much.

Life Is Not a Competition

But my life and that of every human I’ve ever known is a mess of contradictions and general messiness. You never win because there is nothing to win. You just continue to live until you don’t.

To make up for the fact that you have to appreciate life at a higher level — that you have to work to find the sacred, as David Foster Wallace put it, in a crowed grocery store when you’re tired and grumpy — people make up games and pretend that life is one too.

Life Is a Process — a Struggle

The one sport I enjoy watching is baseball, because it is beautiful and subtle. But I much prefer watching amateur or minor league ball. The people in the majors make it look too easy, even though it is enjoyable enough to watch.

But I prefer to watch the struggle. Because we are all Sisyphus.

It doesn’t matter our wins or losses. To quote John Maynard Keynes, “In the long-run, we are all dead.” And in the short-run, I’d rather do something more edifying.

I’m not Capital One, so I’ll ask the ultimate question, “What’s in your soul?” I ask it of myself first.

Afterword

None of this is to take away from people who try to excel at anything. I’m that way too. And in weird ways. I practice the clarinet each night. Why the clarinet? Because it is the most bizarre instrument known to humanity.

But there is a difference between pursuing mastery and simply wanting to win. And we live in a degenerate country where the primary motivation is winning. And you will never find the sacred in such an ignoble goal.

Oh how we need to evolve!


[1] That’s another thing about most game shows. On Tic-Tac-Dough, you stayed on the show until you lost. So you could win hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the people on Forged in Fire are setting themselves up to be humiliated for a maximum payout of what the median American makes in two months. Who would do that?! Well, idiots. Also: actors (see above).