Image and Capitalism

Female Classical MusicianElizabeth referred me to a very interesting academic article, Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians. It finds that when the judges can’t see the performer, women musicians do markedly better.[1] This is not surprising.

You probably remember that widely cited study about people with black-sounding names receiving fewer interviews than people with white-sounding names. A more recent study has called it into question. The researchers claim that the results may not indicate race but rather social status. Personally, I don’t find the study all that compelling. But even if true, it just indicates a different kind of prejudice — one that just happens to correlate with race in this country.

I’m interested in this question on a very basic level. I’m interested in the way that things like height, weight, and perceived attractiveness affect how people are rewarded. This is not because they are particularly important. Instead, I’m interested in the ways in which even on the most facile level, meritocracy is nonsense.

Image and the Workplace

Consider someone needed to do data entry. All that matters is typing skills. There are two candidates. One of them is sullen and ugly with a typing speed of 100 wmp. The other is chipper and attractive with a typing speed of 90 wmp. Just based upon the work that needs to get done, the first candidate should be hired. But we all know it is the second candidate who will be hired.

In this case, people will complain that it’s a drag to be around sullen people. First, those who think that have never had a data entry job. But beyond that, I think the same would be true if the job were done remotely. As I learned in a career class in high school: the candidate who is hired is the one the employer likes the most.

I’ve seen this in the freelance writing world. Writers do not like to update their pictures. This is, not surprisingly, most true of female writers because they are most judged on their appearance. This is far too common to be simply a question of vanity. Image = money.

Capitalism and the Ugly Person

This is a fundamental failing of capitalism. Without capitalism, people will still be discriminated against. But their livelihoods will not depend upon their attractiveness. And they will be better able to find meaning in their lives outside their value in the market.

It’s funny how capitalism makes all our social problems worse. Yet we are just supposed to accept it because “Stalin!” Or “iPhones!”

The Music Biz

It’s shocking the degree to which personal attractiveness dictates the careers of classical musicians. You might have noticed how opera changed from the 1960s when the singers tended to be overweight to the point now when most singers are hunka hunka burning loves.

Or look at almost any recent instrumental star like Tine Thing Helseth (who is nonetheless great).

But it’s worse than that. The rise of child stars in classical music is part of this. They have always existed but now that there are more and better ways to monetize them, they have exploded.

What drives me crazy, is the tendency of musicians (Especially pianists and violinists!) to sway and close their eyes and do everything else to communicate to the audience who very much they feel the music. Rubbish! That’s image over music. (It’s also a classical music audience that is mostly tone deaf.)

Back to Reality: Managers Are Dumb

All of this brings me back to an interview I was at where the guy being interviewed was clearly incompetent. But he was a good-looking, ex-military guy. And he was very confident. I knew he would be useless, but the owners loved him.

This problem only gets worse the more inequality there is in the economy. When you have millions of dollars, you can stand to waste some of it in the name of surrounding yourself with the cool people. If that means your employees type 10 percent slower — or even that they never get any work done at all — no big deal.

Capitalism: all your worst prejudices realized!


[1] There is something odd that goes on in semifinal rounds. You can read about it in the paper if you are interested. If anything, however, it is further indication that women are discriminated in getting seats in symphony orchestras.

Warren Wants to End the Filibuster

Elizabeth WarrenFor generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice. And in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.

I’ve only served one term in the Senate — but I’ve seen what’s happening. We all saw what they did to President Obama. I’ve watched Republicans abuse the rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they’re in power.

We saw it happen again just this week. Republicans spent years — years — exploiting the rules to slow down or block President Obama’s mainstream judges and executive nominees. But now that they’re in power, they’re unilaterally changing those rules to speed them up and ram through President Trump’s extremist nominees.

So let me be as clear as I can about this. When Democrats next have power, we should be bold: We are done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.

And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems in this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.

–Elizabeth Warren
Al Sharpton’s National Action Network

Protecting the Democratic Party From Joe Biden

Joe BidenSorry I’ve been away. I’ve been wanting to write this article for days. I wasn’t surprised when Lucy Flores came forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Joe Biden. All I thought was, “The timing is no accident.”

I didn’t think that it was unfair. Indeed, I think just the opposite. The truth is that Joe Biden is a pox on the Democratic Party’s primary. He should have announced that he wasn’t running long ago. The party was kind to wait this long before calling him out on decades of behavior that is at least creepy.

Bernie Takes One for The Team

It’s funny that Biden now thinks that this whole thing is the work of the Bernie Sanders campaign. If it is, then all those people who are mad that Sanders doesn’t support the Democratic Party need to admit that he’s now done something great for the party.

Look: I understand that Joe Biden is killing it in the polls. But it’s meaningless. A Morning Consult poll found that the biggest second choice of Biden supporters was Sanders. And the biggest second choice of Sanders supporters was Biden. What this indicates is that both candidates’ support is highly dependent upon name recognition.

There is a difference, however. Whereas Sanders has a clear base of support, Biden has none outside Morning Joe and other elite “centrist” pundits.

As soon as it came to blows, Biden was going to wilt. He’s already run for president twice and both times he failed miserably. I think he’s a great retail politician. But that doesn’t count for much in a presidential race. (Bill Clinton was also a great retail politician, but he’s more than that.)

Would Trump Have Ignored Biden’s Behavior?

Another interesting thing about the Biden complaint that Sanders set him up is that this was going to happen eventually. If all the Democrats had played nice and ignored Uncle Joe’s behavior, you can count on Donald Trump bringing it up in the general election — if Biden somehow managed to get the nomination.

I know it sounds ridiculous. How could Trump possibly complain about how another man treats women? But he would have! In his mind, Trump can never be held accountable because, of course, all women want to be grabbed by the “pussy” by such an attractive and powerful man. But Joe Biden? Good God! Just look at the man’s hair!

Protecting the Democratic Party

Obviously, I don’t know what led to these allegations against Biden. But it is clear that it is someone who wants the Democratic Party to have a good primary that serves the interest of the Democratic base. That means providing a platform for people like Warren, Sanders, and Harris. Biden represents much of what has been wrong with the Democratic Party for the last four decades.

You could always depend upon him to stand up for credit card companies over regular Americans. He has always been a big supporter of mass incarceration. And he’s a big supporter of the death penalty. He’s a real caring guy!

I feel very much like Biden is Drunk Uncle Joe and he needs to go home and sleep it off. Whoever started this — whether it is just Lucy Flores herself or not — did the Democratic Party and the nation itself a great favor.

Biden, go home.

Afterword

There are rumors that Joe Biden plans to run for president regardless. If that’s the case, he should announce. If he does run, I will take joy in watching him crash and burn. And if he does win, it means the Democratic Party really is pointless.

Hierarchy in Capitalism and Socialism

Human HierarchyThe video below is really good. However, I think he goes too easy on libertarians. Libertarians are authoritarians.

I know that there are (relatively) serious libertarians who don’t go along with this. There are, for example, a few libertarians who believe in labor unions and are against the totally anti-freedom “right to work” laws.

You can see the authoritarian tendencies of libertarians in the way they fetishize business-people and disregard workers. If the philosophy were really about freedom, it wouldn’t matter what people do. But it matters a great deal to libertarians.

What this all comes down to is their absolute allegiance to hierarchy (what the video is about). What distinguishes libertarians from conservatives and fascists is the means not the ends of their perfectly constructed hierarchy.

Finding Meaning in Socialism

I think about this stuff a lot with regard to socialism. Socialism is a great system for someone like me who, because of my early environment, is highly self-actualized. I personally think that living under socialism causes people to be more self-actualized. But at least for now, most people need external forces to provide them with a sense of meaning.

It is not enough to just give someone money. People need to feel that there is a point to life — beyond a Schopenhauerian one. And I believe that meaning comes mostly from work.

But I mean work in a different sense than we think of as work in a capitalist context. Work is raising a family. Work is caring for a sick friend. It is creating a work of art that no one will ever see.

For conservatives, meaning comes from success in the hierarchy. This is an arbitrary construction. And not an edifying one.

Our mystics now have to operate in the context of a church that must trick people into giving money in the name of having a happy happy time after they die.

And it leads to absolutely ridiculous products that no one ever wanted and no one will ever need. Like GarfieldEats — your one-stop shop for pizzas shaped like a second-rate cartoon character.

But capitalists do have an advantage over socialists: they have a system that gives people meaning. It’s an awful one. A serious heroin addiction also gives people meaning. Few would argue that people should thus become junkies. Yet such an addiction provides exactly the same kind of meaning that capitalism does.

Beyond Hierarchy

Ultimately, what socialism needs is for people to stop thinking in terms of hierarchy. As we know from the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period, there is nothing natural about hierarchy.

Or rather, it is far more complex. There will always be someone widely considered the best musician; the best woodworker; the best gardener. The problem with capitalism is that it tries to force these innumerable hierarchies in any collection of humans into a single hierarchy.

Most people don’t care that they aren’t the fastest runner or whatever. They find meaning on their own terms — generally being the best human as they define it. This project is not helped by a society that fetishizes achievement in the art of accumulating more money than you could actually spend.

(It’s interesting that in the early 14th century, Dante presented greed as a particularly bad sin. Now greed is the highest good because of the “magic of the market” making us all better off. That was a major apologetic coup by the worshippers of capitalism — one most Christians gladly accept.)

And this is why I think socialism is key to human happiness. By valuing people in all their variety, we treat them as individuals. In capitalism, people are valued as cogs in the hierarchy.

Human Value

This is why we see the absurd display of rich people being asked not just about things they know nothing of but about things that reflect on their position on the hierarchy. Ask David Koch about global warming! Probe Mark Zuckerberg about antitrust law! Ask anyone in the Walton family about anything at all!

The only difference between these exercises and the man-on-the-street interviews (which we no longer see) is that people think billionaires’ opinions mean something.

Society succeeds from the ground up. Capitalism teaches us the opposite: it is only because of the people at the top of our arbitrary hierarchy that we even manage to have enough food. Yet if stranded on an island, I would much rather be with my next-door neighbor than Bill Gates.

We must value people as people and not for where they happen to find themselves on the capitalist hierarchy. That is no different than valuing people on how well they play Red Dead Redemption 2.

Why the Lies of the Iraq War Still Matter

George W BushThere is a tendency to look back on the George W Bush years with a certain amount of nostalgia. He might have been awful but at least he wasn’t Trump. But is that really true? This week is the 16th anniversary of the Iraq War and I think it shows that nothing has really changed.

From mid-2002 to roughly mid-2003, I was working at home. So I spent a lot of time listening to NPR. Now I know what conservatives think, “NPR?! That’s leftist radio!” But you know what a conservative’s definition of “leftist” is: “not far right.” The truth is that NPR is the most middle-of-the-road, Milquetoast news you can find.

In the lead-up to the Iraq War, there was no pushback. When Dick Cheney when on The News Hour to quote stories in The New York Times that he had planted, it was allowed without a hint of skepticism.

So the only thing I was being “told” was that this Saddam Hussein guy was really dangerous and maybe we should go to war. But somehow, that was not my takeaway.

The Iraq War Lie

Donald Trump has done many reprehensible things. But he hasn’t caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians — yet.

From no later than September 2002, it was clear to me that the Bush administration was going to war with Iraq. And all “news” was just a propaganda effort to sell it.

There was absolutely no question of what was coming. This fact has made me angry at liberals who supported the war. How could they have known?! By paying the smallest amount of attention.

But here’s the thing: we know that George W Bush lied us into war. And we know that Dick Cheney did too. As did the “oh so respectable” Condoleezza Rice. And “reasonable” Colin Powell.

How are any of these people worse than Donald Trump? The answer most people will give is that they didn’t lie about everything. But that doesn’t make sense. These supposedly respectable Republicans lied about the single most important policy issue of their time. And while Trump probably does have a mental defect that doesn’t allow him to know what the truth really is, these people don’t have that excuse.

It’s like I’ve often said: a racist is not as bad as a non-racist who uses racism to gain power. These people lied because they thought their personal interests were more important than the rights of other countries.

Lies Then, Lies Now

Donald Trump has done many reprehensible things. But he hasn’t caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians — yet. But that’s not my point.

What we know about the Iraq War is that the US intelligence services didn’t believe that Iraq was any kind of threat. So George W Bush and his enablers just made up their own intelligence.

We know Colin Powell was lying when he told the UN, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” (Compare this to the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space, “We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer.” It’s chilling!)

Same as It Ever Was

Republicans had no respect for the truth then and they have none now. It’s not surprising that they should have selected a leader who appears to not even know the difference between fact and what he wants to believe.

Nor is it surprising that the American people would make such a man president. Americans have been fed a delusional diet of American exceptionalism for decades. Generally speaking, we can’t recognize the truth. We still think we support democracy because our media titans tell us that Saudi Arabia is modernizing and is much better than Venezuela where they have ridiculous things like internationally-monitored free elections.

The Republican Party will back anyone — and I do mean anyone — who will deliver the only things the party cares about: tax cuts and deregulation. There is no difference between George W Bush and Donald Trump — other than that the former is more evil and the latter is more stupid.

Bill Maher, Lee Camp, and Comedy Cojones

Lee CampAs a reader of this site, you are of course a good liberal, and no doubt familiar with the many post-Jon Stewart purveyors of political humor. John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Seth Myers’s “A Closer Look” segments, the unfairly canceled Larry Wilmore, and Michelle Wolf.

All have done great work. But you may not be familiar with a more left-wing alternative, the columnist and comic Lee Camp. We’ll get to him in a moment!

Bill Maher: Daring Truthteller

Recently, the funny writer Drew Magary posted an article at GQ, titled Bill Maher: Do We Need Him? Maher has, once again, said something people take umbrage at — this time, joking that rural communities lack sophistication. As Magary observes, this is far from the most offensive thing Maher’s ever said — it doesn’t even crack the top 20. (And, in this case, the riffing clearly was a joke; most of Maher’s truly repugnant opinions are delivered with full sincerity.)

Magary is perhaps a little too dismissive of Maher’s long-practiced joke-delivery style. It’s old-fashioned, but he is skilled at it. What Magary gets absolutely right is exasperation at Maher’s “smarmy brand as Teller of Uncomfortable Truths,” a tone Maher’s adopted since being fired by ABC for saying 2001’s suicide bombers were, physically, not cowards.

While ABC was rather gutless in that instance, Maher ended up quite rich and happy at HBO — essentially, like getting fired from a bad job and immediately finding a better one. So Maher’s firing hardly counts as a great hardship, suffered for Telling Uncomfortable Truths.

Punching Down

Along with his self-righteous sense of singular moral courage, Maher has repeatedly punched down on targets his audience shares no admiration for (fundamentalist Muslims, humorless liberals) and, worse, given airtime to others who’ve been justly criticized for more viciously doing the same.

The likes of Ann Coulter, Grover Norquist, Jordan Peterson, and Milo Yiannopoulos, Maher seems to believe, are kindred spirits, attacked by those who want to stifle free speech. In fact, they are the ones attempting to stifle free speech, by deflecting genuine criticism with evasions, untruths, and whining about persecution.

There might be some point in having these monsters on if Maher or his other guests called out their incessant dishonesty. That rarely seems to happen. The most widely-watched clip on Maher’s YouTube page is where Larry Wilmore berates Yiannopoulos for his repugnant remarks towards the LGTB community. Generally, the guests, and Maher, let the liars get away with it.

(The vile Yiannopoulos, now broke, wants other to feel sorry for him. Nobody complains more than a neofascist whose viciousness towards others stops being rewarding.)

As Magary correctly states: Bill Maher’s “show has done far more to legitimize shitty people than to subvert them.” Which, more than the smugness, more than the faux-daring offensiveness, is why I no longer tolerate the skilled joke delivery of Bill Maher.

Lee Camp

I’d been reading Camp’s occasional TruthDig columns for a while, and finally got around to noticing that his bio line mentions the show, Redacted Tonight. It’s roughly in the same visual style as most of those mentioned above, although it clearly doesn’t have the same budget. (In that way it reminds me of the early years of The Daily Show, with a far stronger political viewpoint.)

Here’s his column’s take on our mucking around in Venezuela:

Maybe those people really need our help, and U.S. intervention will work out great—exactly like it did in Syria,
and Yemen,
and Iraq,
and Iran,
and Afghanistan,
and Chile,
and Honduras,
and Haiti,
and Somalia,
and Libya,
and Guatemala,
and Nicaragua,
and Colombia,
and Panama,
and Fraggle Rock,
and those tree forts where the EWOKS LIVED!

Camp is an avowed socialist and Washington, DC native; that’s where the program is taped. (Most of these programs are taped in New York — Bee and Oliver share the same studio, in fact, and Bee once carved her name in his desk!)

It’s presumably because Washington is the home to RT America (The US branch of RT Network, which is funded by the Russian government). They presumably host Camp’s program because of his opposition to American imperialism.

A Few Words About RT Network

The little-seen network is state-sponsored and claims to receive no editorial interference. That’s hard to determine, but they’ve certainly run programs with hosts and/or guests who are no lovers of the crony capitalism Russia has embraced since 1989. For example, Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann, and Noam Chomsky, among others.

It’s also had some true wackadoodle guests on before, like the crazy Jesse Ventura. Larry King has a show there, maybe because he missed wearing the suspenders. Basically, the gist seems to be that anyone who legitimizes the viewpoint that America isn’t always a Pure Force Of Moral Goodness for our world is welcome on that network.

Well, as others have noted, it’s not like we don’t export CNN to basically every airport on Earth, and that’s in the business of justifying America’s awesomeness. My best guess is that RT will hardly allow any direct criticism of Moscow’s policies, while most other subjects are fair game. Al-Jazeera English, which is widely considered a genuine source of reportage, doesn’t ever criticize Qatar.

As Glen Greenwald noted recently, the US media accepted unquestioningly a false 23 February story from Venezuela that showed our preferred side in the best light while demonizing the enemy. An RT reporter got the story correct, later that very day. (It took The New York Times until 10 March to confirm what that reporter had said immediately.) While Greenwald admits that we should look hard at any government’s state-approved media, in this instance, it was the RT reporter “who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth.”

The New York Times, naturally, considers Lee Camp a Russian tool. NPR is slightly more forgiving.

Redacted Tonight

Camp comes across a little like a young college student who just discovered socialism. But he was born in 1980 and told Fox & Friends to go fart itself, on air, ten years ago. He’s been an Onion writer and part of the East Coast comedy scene. If anything makes him look younger, it’s the long hair; in one episode a co-performer calls him “progressive Jesus.”

Most episodes feature Camp in the funny-angry opening role, then interviewing either one of his co-performers (he’ll play the straight man) or a serious guest; one recent episode featured human rights’ activists from Colombia.

He could use a larger writing staff (most of these shows credit at least ten), as sometimes the jokes are a little repetitive; Camp relies on a lot of what Spock called “colorful metaphors.” Take this recent example:

In my professional opinion, anyone who had anything to do with the selling, perpetrating or planning of the Iraq War should never again hold a position higher than assistant trainee to the guy who picks up the shit of a dog that does not belong to anyone of any particular importance. If that position does not exist, we as a nation should create it just for this moment.

But even when the jokes sound similar, his outrage at criminal injustice always feels real. Here’s a typical recent episode:

Fake Cojones And The Real Thing

Ultimately, Maher’s schtick is hugely neoliberal. It’s humor for the kind of socially tolerant careerists who trust our financial overlords, are vaguely critical of our widely-known military disasters and don’t want to hear about the secret wars. The sort of people who think TED Talks and (Maher’s frequent guest) Andrew Sullivan represent common-sense wisdom. For whom Maher can seem kinkily outrageous at times, but mostly against those dumb religious sorts and super-lefties who don’t live in the real world.

Maher pretends to have Giant Cojones, which gets him accepted among the faux-intelligentsia and has made him obscenely rich.

Lee Camp’s humor might at times feel a little more desperate because he’s genuinely angry. Is he hurting? No, he’s got a perfectly successful comic career, even if it currently involves going a bit quiet on Russia’s crimes. But, as a true liberal, he’s frustrated and furious at what our system of power does here, there, everywhere. And that takes more cajones than Bill Maher has ever had since his struggling club days.

Stop Appealing to Authority About Names

AuthoritariansBack in the early 90s, everyone pronounced Linux with a hard-i as in “fire.” For one thing, how else would an English speaker pronounce it? (If you are Finish, you can pronounce it how ever your language dictates.) But more important, Linux came from the fact that the kernel was written by Linus Torvalds.

Then everything changed in 1994 when Torvalds produced a bit of audio. On it, Torvalds said, “Hello, this is Linus Torvalds, and I pronounce Linux as ‘lee-nux.'” And everyone started pronouncing Linux incorrectly.

I don’t say people pronounced it incorrectly just because I don’t like it. Torvalds did not say he pronounced Linux as “len-ux.” In Finish, people apparently pronounce “Linus” as “Lee-nus.” But here in America, we pronounce Linus as “lie-nus.” I personally think we should pronounce Linux the way we did at first. But even if you don’t accept that, we don’t pronounce Linux the way that Torvalds did.

Now Torvalds is not a thoughtful guy. Otherwise, he would have realized that distributing his audio recording was an authoritarian move. Up to that time, people argued about it. But the moment The Great and Powerful Linus had his say, The Ignorant and Weak Computer Geeks fell into line. And now we have a stupid name for an important piece of software.

It amazes me that people fall for this stuff. If Torvalds had decided that his kernel should be named “smelly Finish anal cavity,” I doubt everyone would have followed along.

Idiot Developers Choose to Pronounce GIF as “Jif”

The issue is much worse for GIF. Steve Wilhite is the main person responsible for the image format. Like Linus Torvalds, he is a great computer scientist but otherwise an idiot. He has been outspoken in saying that it is pronounced “jif.” But his argument is nothing more than that he and the gang at CompuServ used to pronounce it like the peanut butter and say, “Choosy developers choose GIF.”

A bunch of computer scientists made a bad joke? Well, in recognition of this rare event, let’s throw all reason aside and pronounce GIF like it’s a brand of peanut butter!

The problem is that GIF is an acronym. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Normally, acronyms follow from the words that are in them. For example, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is not referred to as “jat.”

Of course, the vast majority of people pronounce GIF with a hard-G. That’s because few people knew that the GIF creators thought it should be pronounced in some unreasonable way. If they had, they would have gone along as the authoritarian followers they are.

Language Is Not Proscriptive

What this all comes down to is that a group of people should be allowed to communicate the way they want. This is why I have no problem with “PIN number” — something that drives a lot of people like me crazy.

The situation is bad enough when someone hauls out the dictionary, “See! It says in The Book that you are wrong!” People often fight back against that. But when it is a computer star, the normally “libertarian” online nerd community rushes to comply, Jawohl!

And this is the real problem: authoritarianism. It isn’t just the weak internet nerds; it’s also the stars themselves. Back in 2013, Wilhite complained, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

But this is hardly surprising. Despite that most of these computer scientists think of themselves as Howard Roark, on the whole, they are limited thinkers who easily bend to facile arguments. Whether acting as authoritarian leaders or authoritarian followers, they shouldn’t be listened to.

Disclaimer

This article strikes me as the kind of thing that certain kinds of idiots would use as a kind of gotcha, “So you agree we shouldn’t call transgender people by their preferred pronoun!” That’s not the case at all. I’m not talking about that. For one thing, this is just a matter of manners. It’s interesting that Ben Shapiro thinks that his scientific ignorance trumps any kind of social norm toward politeness.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the current pronunciation of Linux if the community had always pronounced it with a soft-I. My problem is this appeal to authority. “This piece of free software will from now on be called Liposuction!”

Of course, I pronounce Linux with a soft-I. The word is established and it would be confusing to pronounce it with a hard-I. But how ever I pronounce it isn’t going to personally harm anyone. Although if it harmed Linus Torvalds, I don’t think I’d care.

Republicans Support Israel but Not Jews

JexodusRecently, Trump tweeted conservative activist Elizabeth Pipko’s quote, “Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party. We saw a lot of anti-Israel policies start under the Obama Administration, and it got worsts & worse. There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party. They don’t care about Israel or the Jewish people.”

Misinformation From Jexodus

This is part of the new astroturf group Jexodus. Conservatives love these fake groups. Last year there was WalkAway, which was supposedly a movement of liberals who were “walking away” from the Democratic Party. Of course, there was no such movement. In fact, Russian bots were using #WalkAway to discourage liberal voting ahead of the 2018 general election.

We are seeing the same thing with Jexodus. It’s actually funny how obvious this is. Although the group says that Elizabeth Pipko is its national spokesperson, there is nothing on their website to indicates that Jexodus is anything but her. I searched Archive.org. The first appearance of Jexodus.com was on 6 March 2019. (The domain name was created last November.) And the first appearance of the website already had “MEET ELIZABETH” in its menubar.

What’s more, check out the announcement:

We are thrilled to announce Elizabeth Pipko, international model, Trump 2016 campaign staffer, poet, patriot, and fiercely proud millennial Jew — as our national JEXODUS spokesperson.

So Pipko has been a Republican for at least three years. How does she have any connection to an exodus (Or jexodus because this time it’s Jews!) of Jews from the Democratic Party?

Conservatives don’t even try anymore. The domain was registered last November. And it was only for a year. So the whole thing was only ever meant for one news cycle. Sadly, it’s received enormous coverage even if it has been mostly skeptical, it pushes the idea that hordes of Jewish Americans only care about Israel.

Other than rabid support for Israel because it has a proto-fascist government, what does the Republican Party provide for Jewish Americans? As with all but the super rich: not much.

Libertarians Don’t Deliver

Conservatives don’t care about Jews even as they are hysterical about Israel.

I had a similar experience when, long ago, I was a libertarian.

My main issue was drugs. I was concerned then (as now) that people were thrown in cages because of their use of vegetable products. So it isn’t surprising that my first real break with libertarianism was over this issue.

You see, most libertarians are just neo-confederates. They hate the Civil Rights Act. They claim to be for “states’ rights” because of their love of local control. But in fact, they just believe in them so that they can set up white supremacy at the state level.

Note that the Libertarian Party started in the wake of the civil rights movement. This isn’t a coincidence, although I’m not saying that its founders were neo-confederates.

But even among less racist libertarians, it was all about taxes. And while they accepted that drugs should be legal (or at least decriminalized), it wasn’t an issue they cared about all that much.

More important, over time I saw that libertarians weren’t doing much to stop the Drug War. But the Democrats were. They might not have any overarching ideology about drugs, but they saw a problem and they worked to fix it.

In other words, ideology is meaningless if it isn’t making the world better. And libertarians have a vile ideology that really doesn’t care about the interests of the poor and weak.

Similarly, conservatives don’t care about Jews even as they are hysterical about Israel.

Liberal Jewish Americans

Just like with any group in America, Jewish liberals vote for Democrats and Jewish conservatives vote for Republicans. It’s just that the vast majority of American Jews are liberal.

Paul Waldman wrote an excellent response to this, No, President Trump, America’s Jews Will Not Be Joining You in the GOP. Waldman is apparently Jewish and he talks about his mother telling him about the “liberal legacy of Judaism.” So it makes sense that the vast majority of American Jews would vote for the Democratic Party.

Of course, the right thinks that Jews should vote Republican. Ben Shapiro famously thinks the Jews who vote for Democrats are Jews in Name Only. But ultimately, this is just equating support for Jews with support for Israel. And I think that most evangelicals who support Israel do so in an explicitly anti-Jewish way. (They want Jews in control of Jerusalem to bring on the end times when all Jews will convert or be killed.)

As Paul Waldman’s mother shows us, the unique history of the Jews makes them “sympathize with the oppressed and the excluded.” And it is in this way that the Republicans are clueless about their appeal to American Jews. The Republican Party is in no way the party of the oppressed and excluded. Quite the opposite.

Zionism as Protection of the Weak

Zionism is part of this broader project of protecting the oppressed. And I continue to tentatively support Zionism even as I have stopped supporting Israel. If ever there was a country that should fight for the oppressed and not be an oppressor, it is Israel. But that is obviously not what has happened. (It may be that Zionism will always turn out this way, but I’m willing to give it another try; this time not on contested land.)

As long as American Jews care about justice for all people, they will support the left. Even those who continue to support Israel (and that’s most) can see that it is the Democratic Party that is pushing forward on issues of inclusion and justice — and on the long-term safety of Israel. The Republican Party has become proudly white nationalistic. No amount of pandering to Israel will change that.

Democrats Can Stop Being Afraid

NRA ParodyHere’s something I’ve been thinking about: the harm conservatives do to themselves with their “all or nothing” approach and how Democrats need to stop allowing it.

Groups We Fear

I’m talking here about groups like the NRA. For a long time, Democrats were terrified of the NRA. But over time, the NRA became a Republican-only group. Since they would brook not even the smallest concession, only extremists went along with them — even if more reasonable politicians still feared them.

A good example of this is my Representative: Mike Thompson. I consider him ridiculously pro-gun. Yet the NRA gives him a C+ rating. So is it any wonder that the House Democrats have now passed a gun control bill? (Sponsored by Mike Thompson!)

We see the same thing with Israel. I think that Netanyahu will go down in history as the guy who screwed Israel by picking a side in US politics. Maybe this had to happen because Likud has become as extreme as the Republican Party. But to be so explicit about it was a bad tactical move.

I don’t think it is a surprise that the Democratic Party is now seeing a pushback to “Israel right or wrong.”

We Never Should Have Feared Them

Of course, it never mattered. For decades, Democrats did nothing on gun control and the NRA still vilified them and encouraged their members to almost always vote Republican. And most American Jews (Ben Shapiro — God’s elder brother — calls them JINOs) are more skeptical of Israel than the Democratic Party.

So we see two things. First, conservatives being unwilling to accept anything but complete capitulation. Second, we have had Democrats who capitulate in exchange for nothing.

De Rigueur Calls for “Realism”

The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests.

I hear a lot of people complaining that the younger, more aggressive, Democrats are being unrealistic. But it seems that it is the conventional wisdom that turning ever to the right would lead to power that was actually unrealistic. What exactly did we get from all Bill Clinton’s triangulation? Cries of “Socialism!” NAFTA and welfare “reform”? What did we get for electing Blue Dog Obama? Cries of “Socialism!” a near debt default and Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch?[1]

The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests. It goes way beyond the NRA and Israel. Warren’s plan to break-up Facebook and others is a good start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough; even still, many Democrats think it is outrageous because they have been living in a cave made out of money the last 25 years.

The Battle Is On

The battle is on for the soul of the Democratic Party. And may I never again see an article about how young Democrats need to be realistic. It’s funny how we never saw articles saying that the Tea Party had to be more realistic. And after Trump, what is “realistic” anyway?


[1] The stolen Gorsuch nomination doesn’t matter. There will still be articles about how the Democrats are misbehaving once they have the White House. The mainstream media all stood around twiddling their thumbs while McConnell stole a seat. But anything a Democrat does to correct that will get a loud and sustained, “Foul!” Sadly, the next Democratic president will likely be in the old mode and do nothing. When they go low, we bend down so they can better kick us in the face. But that is changing.

Bernie Sanders Voters: Welcome!

Bernie SandersIn my recent Odds and Ends Vol 24, I noted that I think the #NeverBernie brigade should be more respectful of Bernie Sanders because his millions of supporters are very much part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Indeed, a big argument against Sanders in 2016 was that on policy issues, there was no difference between his voters and Hillary Clinton’s voters. The fact that this is now ignored is one of many aspects of what I’ve come to see as “Bernie Sanders just can’t win.”

Sanders-Trump Voters

Many people make a big deal of the fact that 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump. I’m going to dig into this. But there is a bit of confusion on the matter. When this number comes up, I am sometimes also told that many Republicans voted for him in open primaries. That certainly means that Sanders actual support was less than is indicated by this vote total.

Personally, I just don’t think there are that many Republicans who voted for him. Sanders got over 13 million votes. It is absurd to think that even one million of those votes were from Republicans. But even granting that, it’s only 8 percent.

More importantly, if a lot of Sanders voters were really Republicans, that means that a much smaller number of actual Sanders supporters voted for Trump — more like 4 percent. But as I said: this is nonsense. To a first approximation, we can assume that all the people who voted for Sanders actually supported him. And that means that roughly 12 percent of them voted for Trump over Clinton.

Now 12 percent sounds like a lot. But it actually isn’t. Sure, in a ridiculous race like 2016, just a few votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could have turned the election. But I don’t think we can blame Sanders voters generally.

Clinton-McCain Voters

As political scientist John Sides points out in an article in The Washington Post, far fewer Sanders voters voted for Trump in 2016 than Clinton voters voted for John McCain in 2008. Did you get that? Let me repeat: far more Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama than Sanders voters in 2016 refused to vote for Clinton.

How many more? According to polls, 24-25 percent of Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama. So double. That’s pretty amazing.

Conservative Sanders Voters

But let’s return to the “Republicans voted for Sanders” idea. Sides presents some evidence that even if Sanders supporters weren’t Republicians, there were a number of conservatives in his coalition. It makes sense. There were people who would simply never vote for Hillary Clinton. So in the primary, they voted for Sanders.

For example, only 35 percent of the Sanders-Trump voters voted for Obama in 2012. Compare this to 95% for Sanders-Clinton voters.

What are we to make of this? I think it is clear. There was a small but important fraction of Sanders support that came from people who were conservatives and so just didn’t like Clinton. Some were Republicans and independents, but mostly they were simply conservative Democrats. They were never going to vote for Clinton, and had Sanders won the primary, most of them wouldn’t have voted for him in the general election. Most important: the vast majority of Sanders supporters will support whoever the Democrats nominate.

#NeverBernie

Just the fact that so many Clinton supporters went for McCain in 2008 should be enough to put a halt to all the #NeverBernie nonsense. But there is another, much more troublesome, way of looking at it. It could be that roughly a quarter of the Democratic Party (its more conservative members primarily) simply don’t support the party if it nominates someone considered too liberal. Or just “not who I want.”

Note that for all the screaming about Bernie Sanders not being loyal to the Democratic Party, he has been. He campaigned often and well for Hillary Clinton. He’s told his supporters not to harass his opponents. And he has said that he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is.

Not that I think any of this will matter. For a lot of Democrats, Sanders is simply “the bad child.” Everything that is bad will be taken as confirmation that Sanders is horrible and everything that is good (in as much as it is acknowledged at all) will be taken as an exception.

What if Sanders Became President?

This brings up something very concerning. I believe that if Sanders became president, he would get the same kind of support that Labour has shown Jeremy Corbyn. Most of the party will provide him with lukewarm support while a notable fraction will actively undermine him. And then he’ll be accused of alienating the party.

The truth of the matter is that there are liberals who would rather see Trump get another term than allow Sanders to become president. And God knows, they have their reasons. We all have our reasons, even if they will look pretty weak as we watch Trump start his sixth year in office.

The truth is that I would have liked it if Sanders had formally joined the Democratic Party in 2016 and stayed in. I find his claims to independence and socialism annoying. But I don’t think it would have mattered. There is just a set of people who will always hate him just as there is a set of people who will always hate Hillary Clinton.

I’m not looking forward to this upcoming election. And if Democrats don’t watch out, we’ll have a repeat of 2016 — one way or another. And I can’t even feel good about the obvious hypocrisy of many in the Democratic Party. They’ve already shown who they are.

But there’s time to realize what I’ve been saying for years: there are two alternatives in the coming election. And that’s it. I noted in 2016 that people who thought there was no difference between Clinton and Trump were delusional. And in 2020, people who can’t choose between Sanders and Trump are equally delusional.

And if Sanders Loses?

On the other side, pretending that Sanders is some kind of villain probably will cause him to lose. But at what cost? One idiotic #NeverBernie person tweeted:

We know how many Dems support Sanders: millions. We also know that if the vast majority of Sanders supporters hadn’t supported Clinton in the general election, she would have lost profoundly.

But this tweet shows that in this particular echo chamber, people just “know” that Sanders supporters don’t matter. But they do.

In their scorched-Earth approach to Sanders, the #NeverBernie brigade threaten the entire Democratic Party. No one needs to like Sanders if they don’t want to. But it would be really helpful to the party if they didn’t act so stupidly.

So let me say it: all Bernie Sanders supporters are critically important. And they are welcome by the vast majority of party members. That’s because the vast majority of them are party members. I don’t remember all this fuss when the Democratic Party marched to the right for three decades.

Odds and Ends Vol 24

Odds and EndsThere are lots of things on my mind these days. In fact, two of the sections below were going to be full articles. (It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which ones.)

But as serious as some of these issues are, three of them also come with a lot of humor. Humor seems more and more the only way to process political events — especially with Republicans constantly gaslighting us.

Ilhan Omar and her Pro-Israel, Anti-Jewish Detractors

Jonathan Chait has been one of the most hysterical critics of Ilhan Omar. But after all his claims of antisemitism, I thought it was interesting that he said the following:

Is the Democratic Party going to normalize dual-loyalty accusations as part of the Israel debate — not directed against Jews per se but against American Zionists?

Note that Omar never said anything about dual-loyalty, but let’s leave that aside. What’s interesting here is that it is no longer about antisemitism; it’s now about anti-Zionism.

Chait himself has said that he’s getting soft on support of Israel because of the behavior of its hard-right government. Somehow, that’s okay but Omar’s beliefs are not. (This is typical of Chait: anyone to the left of him is an extremist.) That in itself is interesting.

But his comments destroy an important myth among the chattering class: that they make any distinction between being against Jews and being against Israel. This is something that Chait shares with many on the right, although those on the right are generally pro-Israel and anti-Jewish. The charge of antisemitism is just a club wielded to attack anyone who isn’t a booster for Israel. And this tactic only makes real antisemitism worse.

Facts Don’t Care About Ben Shapiro’s Feelings

I have a visceral hatred of Ben Shapiro that goes well beyond his vile beliefs. Mostly, it is that he is the ultimate snowflake while being completely intolerant of others’ vulnerabilities. In order for him to admit racism against, say, blacks, Shapiro requires overwhelming evidence over years. But when it comes to himself, one needs only give him the wrong look to start him screaming, “Antisemitism!”

There’s nothing new about this. What’s annoying about Shapiro is what’s annoying about conservatives generally. We see this with the constant complaining about “political correctness.” Student’s not wanting bigots speaking at their school? Political correctness! Outrage at sports figures kneeling during the national anthem? Simple patriotism — in fact, there should be a law against that!

Ben Shapiro’s comments about Ilhan Omar show what a snowflake he is. And I would accept it if he would show one-tenth of the concern for different oppressed groups. This meme shows what’s going on.

Ben Shapiro Antisemitism Hypocrsy

Brad DeLong Embraces the Left — Kinda

In a Zack Beauchamp interview with neoliberal economist Brad DeLong, he says that it is time for the old guard of the Democratic Party to allow the younger, most leftist, members lead. It’s gotten a lot of coverage. But most people miss what he’s actually saying.

He’s not saying that the New Democrats (and don’t kid yourself — they are still powerful within the party) should roll over to the left. Rather, he’s saying that there is no point in even trying to work with the Republicans. In fact, he said one thing that warmed my soul:

Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George HW Bush’s foreign policy. And did George HW Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.

Of course they didn’t! As John Dean explained over a decade ago, the Republican Party is authoritarian. They aren’t not against the Democrat because of their policy; they are against the Democrats because they aren’t Republicans.

So all DeLong is saying is that neoliberals should form a coalition with leftists. And in a sense, this is radical because there are a lot of Democrats who have looked at the way many in the Labour Party have sabotaged Jeremy Corbyn and thought, “Good idea!” So DeLong’s awakening is a good thing.

Just the same, as Mike Konczal responded, The Failures of Neoliberalism Are Bigger Than Politics. Although neoliberal policy hasn’t failed as utterly as conservative policy has, it has nonetheless failed in terms of helping ordinary workers.

#NeverBernie

Speaking of Democrats who would rather Republicans win than elect someone too far to the left:

#NeverBernie

Now I understand: some in the Democratic Party have what seem to them to be substantive criticisms of Sanders. I’m not going to litigate that here, but my experience is that the anti-Sanders hysteria is the result of online echo chambers. People can believe whatever they want about Sanders.

When I came upon #NeverBernie on Twitter, I responded as modestly as I could:

Overall, the response was positive. But I did get an interesting response, “And are you telling the Bernie people that too??” I have, of course. And she would have known that if she had simply read the headline of my article.

My point is not about Bernie Sanders, per se. My point is that there are a lot of Democrats who support Bernie Sanders. These are people who overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. (And note: Sanders supporters appear to have abandoned Clinton less often than Clinton supporters abandoned Obama.)

So is it really a good idea for the Democratic Party to vilify dependable Democrats who just happen to like Bernie Sanders?

Obviously, I don’t think so. These #NeverBernie people are doing exactly what they themselves (rightly) complained about Sanders supporters doing in 2016.

This skit isn’t nearly so funny now:

Brazil’s New President

Back on 25 Feb 2019, Brazilian actor José de Abreu announced that he was the president of Brazil. He is making fun of both Brazilian president Bolsonaro and Venezuelan opposition leader and — according to hypocritical and evil countries like the US — the “real” president, Juan Guaidó.

José de AbreuRight after this announcement, someone changed the Wikipedia entry for Brazil’s president to “disputed.” This is great because that’s what Wikipedia did the moment that the US decided that it could say who controls the Venezuelan government.

The thing is, Abreu has a stronger claim than Guaidó — at least when it comes to the validity of the current presidents. It is often reported that Maduro’s election was invalid because the opposition didn’t run. But it didn’t run because it chose to boycott the election. Maduro didn’t stop it from voting. And there is every indication that it could have won.

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, only won because Lula da Silva was wrongly imprisoned and then forbidden from running. Polls indicate that he would have won in a landslide.

Of course, the US won’t take Abreu seriously for the same reason they don’t care about the imprisonment of da Silva: they aren’t the right kind of leader — the kind that gives away all its resources to corporations.

Fact-Checking Trump’s State of the Union Address

This is from last year, but it’s very funny and insightful. If only our regular media outlets were this good.

See you all later!

Why “Solsbury Hill” Still Works

Peter GabrielNot another song post! Sorry. It just turned out that way.

My favorite Peter Gabriel song is “Solsbury Hill.” There have been other songs of his that I’ve liked more, but “Solsbury Hill” is the song that continues to engage me.

Lyrics

Part of this is just the lyrics. Despite being very “literate,” I don’t usually pay attention to lyrics. It’s only after a long time that I can get past the much more profoundly moving music to note them.

But in the case of “Solsbury Hill,” the lyrics are so clear and musically connected that I followed them from the start. What’s more, the refrain says it all:

“Hey!” he said. “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home!”

There is obvious religious subtext here. But it’s deeper than that. Acceptance is a great thing. Recently, I became accepting of losing my biggest client. I knew if it happened, it was going to be painful. But my relief in accepting it was so profound that the future looked easy. And my client is still around. Things are going well.

That’s a relatively trivial example, of course. And acceptance isn’t always a good thing. For example, a sudden improvement in the mood of a depressed person can be an indication that they have decided to kill themselves. In general, I think that’s a bad thing. But it isn’t always. And we all should work on accepting death.

Music

I bring up the song now, however, because it has an interesting rhythm.

It’s said to be in 7/4 time with a bit of 4/4 at the end of the chorus. What this means is that it has the same 7-beat patterns over and over with a 4-beat pattern during the refrain.

But this is not quite true.

The song alternates 3/4 and 4/4. Yes, 3 + 4 = 7. But consider Pink Floyd’s “Money”:

It’s in 7/4 time. It is built on that irresistible 7-beat bass line. You can divide it into 3-beat and 4-beat sections. And although the 4-beat section would work on its own, the 3-beat section would not. It really only works as a 7-beat line.

“Solsbury Hill” is very clearly a three-beat section and then a four-beat section.

Notice both the repeated guitar and synth/flute phrase: they are three beats and then four. In the case of the synth/flute, it is 3 beats and then a whole note.

This is key to what make the song work. This switching causes the listener to yearn for some kind of resolution. There is a feeling that things aren’t quite right. And then, on the refrain, it resolves with two measures of 4/4. And it is done with the same lyrics that define the song:

“Hey!” he said. “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home!”

Why It Works

This is an exquisite musical orgasm. But it is brief. Almost as soon as it happens, we are dragged back to that nagging 7/4 section.

I think this is key to why I continue to yearn for this song. It’s about acceptance both lyrically and musically. It’s about resolving conflict. And it doesn’t just show it; it takes us through an actual journey of acceptance and resolution.