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.

Achilleus, Hector, and American Masculinity

Achilles Slays Hector

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

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

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

Greek Heroes

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

Achilleus

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

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

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

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

Hector

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

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

Real Men

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

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

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

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

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

A Choice of Men

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

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

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


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

Libertarian Island Is an Actual Proposal

Drowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Study in Silliness

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

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

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

Free Market in People

This passage is my favorite:

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

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

Real Governmental Problems

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

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

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

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

Again, old news.

Real Villains

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

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

One Little Problem — How the Heck Can It Work?

Ayn Rand

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ayn Rand Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

Best of Luck!

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

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


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

Who Is Virtue Signaling For?

Pledge of Allegiance

When people virtue signal, who are they signaling to? At least when it comes to liberals and leftists, the people they’re signaling to are themselves. They are trying to be the kind of people they think are good.

They absolutely are not signaling to others. In fact, that would be embarrassing. And that’s part of the problem with conservatives who point out supposed virtue signaling; it accuses them of something they absolutely are not doing at the same time it does what they don’t want to be done. If a liberal is signaling to others, they aren’t being the good person they want to be.

How to Be a Good Person

The conservative view goes along with Aristotle’s notion of how to be a good person. The idea is that you should pretend to be good. You should act the way that good people act and eventually, you too will be a good person.

But people have images of themselves. And they will give up a lot to live up to that image. For example, most people become vegetarians despite the taste of meat, not because of it. We see this very clearly with conservatives too.

There is a common liberal complaint that conservatives “vote against their interests.” But that is rarely true. They often vote against their economic interests. But white people voting for policies that oppress brown people? That’s an interest. They are voting for an idea that white people are better than brown people. And need I remind everyone that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly white.

Conservative Signaling

And conservatives signal too. What do you think all that ostentatious patriotism is about? And I think that’s genuine. Just as with liberals signaling that they are tolerant and so on, conservatives are signaling to themselves that they are good people — the kind of people who love the flag and all that.

Conservatives signal other things too. One I notice a lot is signaling that they are skeptics: nobody’s fools. Unlike liberals, who supposedly let emotions get in the way of their view of the world, conservatives see things the way they are. (Not that I agree.)

Allow People to Be Who They Are

I wish conservatives would allow us on the left to have our beliefs without pathologizing them. But I know they won’t because if leftists’ acceptance of others is a sincere belief, what’s wrong with them?

So it is doubtful things will change. But the charge of “virtue signaling” is hollow. It’s just a way of claiming they don’t accept our view of the world. And we know that. So it really means they have no argument.


Image cropped from Pledge of Allegiance by TheeErin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Bullies Are Never The Adults In The Room: The Fall of Deadspin

Deadspin Logo

Recently, a “private equity firm” (read: rich guys with money) bought most of the Gizmodo Media Group. That company includes several sites which aren’t hugely read, and several that are — such as The Onion, Jezebel, The Root, and Deadspin.

I assume everyone knows what The Onion is. Jezebel is a feminist website. The Root is an online magazine co-founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr, which focuses on African-American politics and culture. (It’s often surprisingly funny, even when dealing with instances of dumb racism that infuriate the writers.) Deadspin is about sports, so I’ve cited it often in my baseball-related writing.

History of Deadspin

The thing about Deadspin is that it was founded primarily for writers to make snarky remarks criticizing the fawning coverage of successful teams and athletes often featured on ESPN.

Over the years, it maintained the snarky tone but branched out to include skeezy team owners and politicians (and even annoying holiday catalogs) among its targets. The great Neil deMause, our nation’s top writer on terrible taxpayer-funded stadium deals, often wrote there.

Drew Magary, a former commenter on the site, eventually became an editor. He made the absolutely true observation that when readers say “just stick to sports” they don’t really mean it. What they mean is “don’t cover sports with” things some readers don’t want to know about, such as players who make statements against racism or war or shabby college athletic pay. (They’re fine with F-15s flying over the Super Bowl, and stories of players who saved kittens.)

Deadspin would cover “edgy” political sports stories, usually with a left-of-center attitude, and made quite a bit of money doing so.

The Beginning of the End

Enter the new owners — a group of old men who’d run almost every publication they’d ever been in charge of into the ground. (Well, except Forbes. Rich people will always like their Forbes.)

They started off by hiring their buddies, ignoring internal candidates, and several female staff complained about a particularly rude, dismissive tone. The first thing they did was tell all the writers they were expected to generate Moar Page Views[1], which is the besetting nightmare of anyone who puts thought and energy into their writing (yes, even jokes about sports take thought and energy).

Then they made it clear that this political nonsense was going to stop. Deadspin was going to be a series of click-through articles with virtually no content to distract readers beyond increasingly loud, pushy ads. The staff, naturally, fought back on this, arguing that the site was successful precisely because it drew an audience bored by what most dumb sports sites were churning out.

That’s when heads began to roll. First, Megan Greenwell, the editor-in-chief, left. Next, the deputy editor was fired, after refusing to “stick to sports.” One day later, in a truly brilliant move, the senior writers all posted non-sports, fully political articles each tagged “stick to sports” — then quit. Drew Magary quit the following day (the site’s masthead still features a direct link to his archived articles).

What you’re left with as a company might very well remain profitable, but it’s no longer any place anybody wants to work.

Jerk Boss Behavior

Similar complaints about editorial interference and overbearing new management prickiness have been made by editorial and writing staff at all of Gizmodo Media’s other websites, although none with an exodus so large as Deadspin‘s. Some former writers have noted, correctly, that this is exactly normal when private equity firms take over, well, anything (be it a successful website or struggling retail company).

But the most fascinating observation came from Deadspin‘s first high-profile escapee, aforementioned editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell, in her essay called “The Adults In The Room”:

The beginning of the end of my time here came when Spanfeller, my boss’s boss, threw a tantrum in an email to the entire company over a story our staff was reporting on his hiring practices, management style, and threats to editorial independence. He accused us of biased journalism based on the fact that we had sent an early draft to our media lawyer, which is standard journalistic practice. He accused me and a 26-year-old reporter who works for me — a wildly talented reporter who has as much integrity as anyone I’ve ever worked with — of trying to “shame and discredit others in our community” by reporting a story. When another colleague suggested in an all-staff meeting that his email was itself an attempt to publicly shame and discredit his employees, he doubled down, saying he is a transparent guy who says what he thinks…

After I submitted my resignation, explaining that the ongoing undermining from my bosses made it impossible for me to continue to succeed in my job, and that I believed I was putting my staff at risk by staying, the CEO threw a tinier tantrum. When I passed Spanfeller in the office a week after I put in notice, he let out a cruel barking laugh, as if he was disgusted to be in my presence. I said “you can speak to me, you know,” and he responded in a tone familiar to anyone who was ever bullied in middle school. “I don’t want to,” he sneered.

Greenwell’s point, of course, was that this sort of management style is common among those who consider themselves to be the hard-nosed realists, the grownups, the adults in the room. And that as a result, it drives talented people away. What you’re left with as a company might very well remain profitable, but it’s no longer any place anybody wants to work. (Sociopathic environments like Enron and the Trump White House have shown a spectacular propensity to ruin all they touch.)

That office interaction she describes also reminds me of a line from the show Deadwood: “Can’t shut up. Every bully I’ve ever met can’t shut his fuckin’ mouth.”[2]

Why Can’t Bullies Ever Shut Up?

The bully, by definition, always has to have the last word. Because anything else means admitting, or at least allowing others to believe, that you realize your behavior was wrong.

Now, are bullies the only ones who do this? Heavens, no. We’ve all done it in arguments with romantic partners, family members, online commenters, insurance company phone reps, whatever, when we felt we were in the right. Most of us, though, will eventually realize we’ve taken an argument too far and agree to disagree, retire to separate corners, drop the argument altogether — apologize if we really feel crummy about the whole thing.

A true bully will always have the last word. Even if they apologized before, they’ll nurture and nourish their interior anger at having had to do so, and take the first opportunity to resume the argument (if not with the individual in question, then anyone who seems an appropriate abuse double).

A true bully never really regrets behaving the way they do; they consider it their right as the more powerful person.

Most of the writers who quit are enormously talented and probably will have no difficulties finding new employment.

Why Are Many People In Power Some Degree Of Bully?

Orwell once stated that every bully is also a coward. I’m sure there is some truth to this. Any child services professional knows that bullies are often children who come from abusive homes. So do behavioral psychologists who study serial killers. That sort of bully might have a twisted manifestation of the impostor syndrome, where someone who has power over others constantly fears being found out as a fraud.

Some bullies, however, show no signs of ever having been mistreated in their lives. And that’s the kind I think those new Gizmodo Media owners are. They don’t fear being exposed for the frauds, or jerks, that they are. In fact, they assume such a thing will never happen. Not to them.

Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and if that’s not innate to human behavior it is certainly innate to our current form of capitalism. Everyone under capitalism is ranked by their status, in ways both big (investment portfolio size) and small (an office worker at an ad firm is considered “cooler” than a garbage hauler who makes more money).

A great many people who demean others because they have a higher status under capitalism are Orwellian coward-bullies; they’ll be rank suck-ups to those above them and full-on buttholes to anyone beneath. (As another saying goes, “shit rolls downhill.”)

Not the ones at our very top, though. Not the ones who know that no decision they make will ever harm their lives in any serious way. The super-rich almost never become poor — and only go to jail when they present a problem to the other super-rich. Since they have no need to fear any repercussions for their actions, why not be a rude jerk “who says what he thinks,” if you like? If it makes you feel really, really badass.

The Ultimate Fate Of Deadspin

Most of the writers who quit are enormously talented and probably will have no difficulties finding new employment. Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports’s Hardball Talk does something very similar with his sportswriting. There’s lots of places a clever writer can go if they don’t want to write sports on the internet anymore. (One does need a solid resume for this, however.)

Could the site itself come back in some sort of different form? Ari Paul at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) thinks there may be, if writers band together to form some kind of employee-owned website. Paul admits such a venture would require considerable risk with very little early reward, yet suggests that “for independent media to survive… we’re at a breaking point, so it’s necessary.”

How about the site itself? No doubt it will continue in some sort of fashion, as it currently does, but I suspect it will never draw such a loyal following again. Especially not if the new owners continue amping up intrusive ad placements. Fans of witty sports/politics coverage can find other places to go, especially on podcasts and the like.

My guess is Deadspin‘s most consistent readers — you know, the ones advertisers like best — will drift away if they already haven’t fled in disgust. (God help these new owners if they push The Root‘s staff into mass escapage.)

Will it hurt the private equity investors at all? They might make less profit than they expected, but they’ll be fine. Even if they do take a loss, they’ll certainly blame someone besides themselves. Not every spoiled brat grows up to be a bully, but every rich bully is a spoiled brat.


[1] “Moar” is apparently who high young-people spell “more” online. Who am I to stand in the way? -FM

[2] The full quote is, “Can’t shut up! Every bully I ever met can’t shut his fuckin’ mouth. Except when he’s afraid.” It is said by Seth Bullock to George Heart in the final film.

Deadspin Logo by Deadspin – Univision, Public Domain.

Home Repair and the Joys of Marriage

Flooded BasementSo a month ago, I went downstairs to grab a beer, and there was water in the basement.

I should explain — I live in Minnesota. We have snow, if you haven’t heard. And it usually melts gradually. This crap melted all at once.

Twenty standing inches of it.

And I only moved in a few years ago. (I’ve always lived in apartments.)

I went upstairs to drink my beer, hoping when I was done, the basement water would have gone away. Maybe house spiders would have drunk it or something. As is usual when avoiding problems, when I went back, the basement water was worse.

Contacting the Wife

I called Mrs James at one of her three jobs. “I fucking think the goddamn fucking basement is flooding like fucking shit.”

No response to that voicemail.

I called again. “We have water downstairs. I cannot scoop it up fast enough.”

I was bailing it out with the drip tray from a toaster oven, that’s all I could think of.

Her response? “I just left work; I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

I seem to have a reverse polarity with cussing, where I swear so constantly, people who know me take me seriously when I stop swearing. Go figure.

Recruiting the Wife

Anyhoo, as it turned out, the house vacuum does double duty. Remove the dirt filter and that machine can slurp up floodwater. Problem is, it doesn’t do it fast as the water comes in, so you gotta run and empty it constantly for about 12 hours. You do this in shifts. One person grabs an hour or two of couch sleep, then the other takes over, etc.

A day later, we were both still sleep-deprived, and got into an argument over some meaningless thing. So I ran out of the room to kick a hole in some drywall. (While I have never struck a living being in anger, I have been known to attack inanimate objects.)

Wisdom of a Wall

If walls could talk, this one would have said, “You dumbass! You wanted the movie version of when some couple comes together to save the family from a flood, or volcano, or alien monster attack, and at the end, they’re closer than ever for all eternity. In fact, even dealing with a leaky basement for hours on end is stressful and exhausting. At the end, all you saved was thousands of dollars in basement repair you can’t afford right now.”

I would have nodded and admitted, “Yeah, right.”

“Well, haha! Now you’re going to have to fix me! Who’s the supposedly self-aware collection of atoms now? At least I didn’t mrmuph glurn nmmble…”

Because, if walls could talk, that’s when I would have taped newspaper over the drywall hole to shut it up.

They can’t, but in fact, I did. Since I don’t know how to fix drywall. But I’ll get around to it later.

Olly Thorn Somehow Believes in Free Will

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

Free Will and Healthcare

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

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

But he skips the question of free will.

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

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

Encouraging Better Behavior — In Theory

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

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

Fillwill and Torture

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

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

But then he says:

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

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

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

Free Will Obscures Reality

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

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

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

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

Attached to a Rotting Corpse

Daisy and Violet HiltonI was watching the film Chained for Life (1952) as part of my work over at Psychotronic Review. The stars of the film are Daisy and Violet Hilton — conjoined twins born in 1908. But as Mark Weldon put it in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, the story in the film is “nothing compared to their real story.” That’s true. They lived a real horror story.

To begin with, their mother sold them to another woman, Mary Hilton, who basically enslaved them — turning them into a modern freak exhibit. They were controlled through violence. As part of this, they were trained as musicians, and you can see this in the film. They are really good. But when Hilton died, she willed the twins to her daughter, Edith Meyers. Get that? Willed! This is in the 1920s.

A Better Childhood

Their lives improved in 1931 when the twins sued to get out of their “contract” with Edith Meyers and her husband. As a result of the case, they were paid $100,000. This should give you some idea of just how much money the Meyers family (and Hilton before them) brought in on the backs of Daisy and Violet. Humans are savage when it means making a buck.

They lived as performers for most of the rest of their lives. Even if they hadn’t been conjoined, their musical skills would have been in demand — at least as long as vaudeville continued. After that, it was harder to make a living. But they continued — Chained for Life being part of that.

In 1961, they performed at a drive-in theater. Afterward, their manager abandoned them — penniless. They were forced to get a job working at a fruit stand. They worked that job for over 7 years before they died some time around the new year 1969. That was when the true horror occurred.

When Conjoined Twins Die

I had never thought what it would be like when conjoined twins died. But generally, they would not die at the same time. So when one dies, the other is attached to a rotting corpse. And this is what happened to Daisy and Violet.

They were suffering from the flu. Daisy died first. Violet died between two and four days later. So she got to spend this time with the corpse of her sister as it slowly poisoned her to death.

Real Life Horror

This strikes me as a great premise for a novel: a woman attached to her dead sister thinking back on her difficult life while she waits to die. I’m thinking something along the lines of Pincher Martin.

But more than that, I’m thinking of Synecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman stated that the idea was to create a horror film — but not to include classic horror elements but rather the things that terrified him.

Violet Hilton could have been too ill to have even noticed her situation. But really, wouldn’t she have gotten thirsty and tried to get up at some point?

Regardless, it’s like with people’s reaction to folklore: it doesn’t matter if it is true but that it could be true.

Spending my last hours on Earth trapped with a rotting corpse — attached to me or not — is a terrifying thought.

It makes me think of conjoined twins in a whole new way. The universe is cruel.

Why I’m Probably Not as Sexist as I Am Racist

Why I'm Probably Not as Sexist as I Am RacistI think a lot more about racism than I do sexism. The reason is that I know I’m racist whereas I don’t generally think of myself as sexist. But that’s nonsense. I am sexist.

If I were given a stack of resumes, I suspect we would find some bias in my picks. (Assuming I hadn’t been primed; I bet I’d do a pretty good job right now.)

What Is Racism? Sexism?

But let me back up for a moment because I don’t want you to think that I’m just virtue-signalling here. I define “racism” and “sexism” pretty broadly: any irrational bias that one holds against a category of people. So if your heart races when you see a black man approaching you on an isolated street, that’s racism — even if you are a black man.

I don’t beat myself up about this because it is virtually impossible not to grow up in this nation and not be racist. It even affects blacks. And I’m sure the same is true of sexism.

Even though I do not believe in free will, I am not fatalistic about this. Knowing our subconscious biases allows us to be more focused on fighting our irrational subconscious tendencies.

(None of this is to say that subconscious bias is as bad as overt racism. But I don’t usually talk about overt racism because our country’s fixation on it is a big part of our racism problem. Using the n-word is racist. Seemingly nothing else short of murder is.)

Why I Like Women More Than Men

The truth is that I like women more than men — in a general sense. And I think I know why.

Until about ten years ago, I was always painfully thin. And I have always been short. And I’ve been bullied by “alpha” males from school to work and beyond. So I’ve always felt more at home with women.

(This isn’t to say that women can’t be bullies. But mostly, they are bullies in ways that I’m better able to deal with.)

On the other side of things, my knowledge of black culture comes mostly from the media and other racist white people. (I scored “slight bias toward whites” on the subconscious bias test.)

Liking Women Doesn’t Equal Non-Sexist

I’ve known a lot of other guys who prefer to be around women. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t sexist. (How much easier it is to see others’ faults than your own!)

Indeed, the attacks from the “alpha” males is part of the general process of systemic sexism in our society. Regardless what conservatives say, there is wide-scale acceptance and admiration of brutal male culture — even in romantic comedies!

So we may end up with a man who adores women but nonetheless just assumes that an executive at his firm would be a man. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any female executives at his firm. But they would be there either because they are far better than any other available man or because of some bit of luck.

Moving Forward

This, of course, is why the “there’s no racism in America because Obama was president” is such a facile argument.

But it is also why I should be even more concerned about my own sexism. And racism. And pretty much every other –ism you can name. I am a man of my time and place. And the only way forward (as individuals and society) is to fight against this.

It’s interesting that even as technology changes society at a prodigious speed, we don’t move any faster in ridding ourselves of these horrible biases. At times it seems we are going in the opposite direction.

A Very Alpha Christmas

Alpha SantaAh, Christmas! There are many things I like about it. Well, two: giving presents and cooking. Really: if you are past the age of 30, Christmas really ought to be about giving. And for women, it mostly is. For men, well. You know men.

My Christmas

I just want to explain what my Christmases are like. I always go to my sister’s house. And the two of us cook and otherwise wait on all the men who sit on the couch and watch sports and other “reality” shows.

(Yes, I do know that I’m a man. But socially, I’m not. It’s strange that supposed alpha men who supposedly love women so much don’t want to spend time around them. But maybe it is just that they want them for sex and otherwise, they prefer to be around each other because they are culturally stunted and the source of 90 percent of all the pain in the world.)

Compromise

But in our coming and going, it might be nice to see, I don’t know, some Christmas shows. Maybe hear some Christmas music? I’m not that fond of either. But it is certainly better than yet another football game — yet another episode of Pawn Stars (AKA: the show where bottom feeders make money off desperate people).

The truth is, I don’t much care. What does matter is that there is no compromise. It is just assumed by the men that whatever they want to watch is what will be watched. And it is just assumed that they will be waited on.

Tolerance

Truly, I’m thinking that next year, my sister and I will get a hotel room. We’ll allow the the kids to come by and let the “alpha” males conquer Christmas. If pizza parlors are open on Christmas, they should have no problem. And it will give them more man time.

Anyway, Merry Christmas! Remember the reason for the season: learning extreme tolerance.

Afterword

Later, when everything calmed down, I went into the back bedroom and watched Family Feud with my great-nephew, Hector. He apparently enjoys it and I don’t mind watching it. Steve Harvey is genuinely funny and manages to mock the contestants in a way that doesn’t embarrass me. (I suffer greatly from pena ajena.)

Hector quickly fell asleep and I continued to read and watch the show. It was very peaceful — the way Christmas should be. In addition to this very pleasant time, I got to observe something very disturbing on Family Feud.

Watermelon Man

The question was, “Name something the same size as Steve Harvey’s head.” Bear in mind that Harvey is an African American. And the white contestant buzzed-in and answered, “Watermelon.”

I’m not saying that the contestant was actively racist. But such things are the result of living in a racist society. This is the main reason that I say everyone is racist. It is the same reason that everyone knew Reagan’s “welfare queen” was black (even though she wasn’t).[1] But the contestant’s answer wasn’t far from saying, “Friday chicken!”

Steve Harvey, of course, ignored the racial aspect of it and made a big deal out of the fact that his head — No one’s head! — is as big as a watermelon. It was very funny.

Indication of Broader Racism

But the amazing thing is “watermelon” was the #2 answer with one-quarter of respondents saying it. I had originally thought that the contestant was idiosyncratic. But no. People really do associate African Americans with watermelons.

That’s not a problem, of course. But it is indicative of the subconscious racism that people hold. And it does matter when employers choose whites with felony convictions over blacks with no criminal background.

Steve Harvey: Soother of White Fragility

As a result of this, I find it outrageous that the producers of Family Feud allowed that question through. It obviously required that Harvey do a 21st century minstrel act. The fact that he is a pro that handles casual racism in a way that doesn’t upset whites doesn’t really help matters.

So my first reaction was shock and horror. But Steve Harvey’s handling of it amused and calmed me (as it was meant to). But more reflection makes it even worse.

It was still better than dealing with my alpha family members. And Hector is very sweet — especially when he’s asleep!


[1] Giving Linda Taylor the moniker “welfare queen” (which Reagan popularized but didn’t invent) was not right. And it was even worse for Reagan to use her as an excuse to cut welfare. Taylor was simply a criminal. Using her as an example of a welfare recipient is like using a human trafficker who launders money through a credit union as an example of a bank customer.

Sexual Assault and the Abandonment of Norms

Sexual Assault and the Abandonment of NormsAlleen Brown and John Knefel at The Intercept wrote an amazingly interesting article, The FBI Used the #MeToo Moment to Pressure an Environmental Activist into Becoming an Informant. The main point of the article is interesting enough: that the FBI is using the #MeToo movement for its traditional purpose of destroying all leftist political movements. But I want to discuss the other story: the sexual abuse allegations.

The Assault of Julie Henry

In 2014, environmental activist Julie Henry seems to have been sexually assaulted by environmental folk-hero Rod Coronado. My personal opinion is that this absolutely happened. But I don’t think that either of them is lying, but it certainly seems as though Coronado at least realizes to some extent that his behavior was wrong — even if it was only after he started to be attacked.

I don’t want to go into detail about all of this. You really should read The Intercept article. But the main thing is that Coronado forced himself on Henry in a motel room. But she didn’t really fight back in a physical way. And she could have.

But here’s the thing: I completely understand.

I’ve been in similar situations several times — although never to the point that Henry suffered. It’s hard not to blame yourself. Because in these situations, it seems very much like two people are playing the same game with totally different rules.

Norms and Sexual Assault

For me, it is all about social norms. I had one experience on a bus going to Los Angeles about ten years ago. This drunk guy (Coronado was, not surprisingly, also drunk) was coming on to me. I didn’t want to make a scene — I very rarely do. So I used all of my social skills — and everything I’d learned from decades of being the placator in a dysfunctional family — to tell this guy I was not interested.

It got to the point where he grabbed my penis and I moved. That was the end of that.

But the whole experience was so surreal. It’s easy to say that he was willfully avoiding all my clear signals. But I don’t really think that is the case.

I think this is how most men are socialized. And I’m hardly unsympathetic. The truth is that no does not always mean no. And men are not generally very socially sophisticated. So a polite but firm no is often taken as nothing but a negotiating tactic.

On the other hand, when women have said “no” to me in a playful way, stopping always allows them to clarify. So while I am sympathetic to how confusing sex can be for men, I am most definitely not defending it. Quite the opposite.

Socializing Men

I think as a society, we need to do a much better job of socializing men. And given all the problems men have anyway, they should completely eschew sexual encounters when drunk.

Sadly, I believe the only way that this will ever happen is if women like Julie Henry keep coming forward. That’s not to say I believe we should all pile on Rod Coronado. When reading what he had to say, I got the impression that he really doesn’t understand.

What we really need — what would be most effective — is for men to see what they’ve done. And I mean see. I don’t mean generic apologies that really come down to, “I’m sorry I was caught.”

I’m not just talking about other men. Decades ago, I was on a date with a woman whose hand I held about two seconds too long. I know it doesn’t sound like much. But it was a physical battle of wills — and something I’ve been greatly embarrassed about ever since. (Not that the woman made me feel bad about it. She absolutely did not. She was actually very sweet.)

Obviously, for a lot of men, sexual assault is something else — something uncontrollable. But I firmly believe that the vast majority of men can be socialized. Sadly, regardless of #MeToo and other similar movements over the decades, men are generally not. And it hurts us all.

Broader Social Problem

The fact that Henry’s account of what happened would likely find little sympathy in the nation as a whole is telling. Too many people think that if a woman could scream or gouge out some eyes or otherwise avoid the attacker, she couldn’t have been assaulted. But that shows a fundamental disconnect about the way people exist in a broader social context.

And I don’t want to live in a world where people have to destroy their good social behaviors for the sake of being physically safe.

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