Friday, February 10, 2017

Recriminatory stupidity

Now that was an interesting first three weeks, wasn't it? It's like having a five-year old as leader of the most powerful nation on Earth: "There's no way he'd do that, would he...?" Everyone with that attitude or who actually uttered that statement is the equivalent of a direct challenge to the Idiot. It's like telling said five-year old not to run out into the street. That's immediately the first thing he thinks of doing. Now it just remains to be seen if Nancy Pelosi can find the right angle: "I bet you can't raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour!" (This never works on kids, either.) I said before the election that if the Idiot got elected, this would be non-stop entertainment, and it is (waves tiny flag /mgoblog), even if it's the "shock value" kind of entertainment. More's the pity.

Tangent: I've found no more suitable title for President Trump (snicker) than The Idiot. I'm betting that most people will read that in the conventional sense in which it's intended. Me being one of those untrustworthy and uselessly hyper-educated types, I can only think of Prince Myshkin every time I use that term, which is hilarious because of the genuine irony present in Dostoyevsky's novel (That's right people. Not sarcasm. Not coincidence. Actual irony.) Myshkin, as a character, is everything that Trump is not and someone who would be roundly rejected by both Trump followers and many Democrats as unsuitable for public office. Again, more's the pity. /tangent.

Howevah! One thing that has become increasingly annoying over the past few weeks is the recriminatory bullshit being lobbed from many corners of the Democratic sphere (mixed metaphor!; that's how complex modern politics are.) "Thanks to all those Sanders/Stein/Johnson/insertrandomnon-Clintoncandidatehere voters who said there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans!"


First off: What, exactly, does this accomplish? It lets you vent your spleen at... who?
The Idiot? No.
McConnell? No.
Goldman Sachs? No.
Putin? No.
Millions of Trumpistas? Not them, either.

Instead, you direct your teenage angst and ire against the very people who would otherwise be your allies. I've seen this,happen in previous scenarios too many times to count. These are people taking the chance to get Twitter yuks and demonstrate their perceived superiority over other points of view, while the building continues to burn around them. The most important thing to do right now is fight back. I think a great first step would be to alienate the people willing to fight alongside you and who, incidentally, have often been doing it longer and harder than you ever have, especially if you're a Clinton fan. (That, folks, is sarcasm.)

Secondly, they're still using the old boogeyman routine: "If you don't vote for our horrible candidate, you'll get something even more horrible!" They've been stroking that since Kennedy and, since the advent of the DLC and the Clintons, the horrible candidate has gotten (ahem) progressively worse with one exception: Obama, who tried to separate himself from the DLC types and was rather ferociously attacked for it in 2008 by one Hillary Clinton... who no doubt had done a 180 and become a stalwart supporter of the little guy by 2016. Seriously. Just ask her. Yes, I'm putting aside all of the ways that Obama really wasn't for the little guy (especially if said little guy happened to live in, say, rural Yemen) but let's not get into that.


The point is simple: Democrats are not entitled to votes no matter how awful the GOP candidate may be. They have to earn them, just like everyone else. If you want millions of progressives to actually vote for a Democrat, one has to be proffered that isn't on the payroll of Bank of America and Co. If you give people something to vote for, they will. If all you ever talk about is someone to vote against, at some point, they stop caring. They'll stop caring even sooner if your response to their not voting for your candidate is attempting to browbeat them with specious reasoning. Hillary Clinton's husband did more to shape the modern economy for the worse than any Republican going back to Warren Harding. And you're telling me that she would have suddenly abandoned her wealthy donors and decided that the way forward is to help the little guy? Her campaign and extensive history say otherwise.

You just lost an election to the worst candidate who's ever run for president and your response is to blame everyone who didn't vote for your candidate who couldn't win that race. Just think about that for a bit and then wonder if your next tweet should be sniping at people like a rejected teenager or promoting the actual efforts of groups like Rogue NASA.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Catching up with the past


In addition to Westworld (which, yes, I will get back to at some point. I've watched the third episode, but Tricia and I have been watching most series together and we've been kind of distracted by house things and it's a measure of interest generated by any particular show as to how quickly she falls asleep while trying to watch it. Orange is the New Black? No problem sitting through three or four episodes. Westworld... eh.), I recently started watching Vikings, which has been heralded by the history geeks on the board for years now. I was hesitant to get into it for a couple reasons. First off, my tolerance for dramatized history is fairly low. Being a nerd, I know the reality of a lot of what I'm watching and, thus, don't often have the fascination with it like I would for a new story. I've kinda seen it before, so when deviations are added for the sake of story, it's a little jarring and then I start poking holes in things and it just gets muddled. A lot of people I know rave about HBO's Rome as one of the best things ever. I did enjoy it, but I also thought it was adding a lot of soap opera drama for a story that was already pretty exciting (see: William Shakespeare, if not The Gallic Wars.) In terms of historical dramas, I thought Deadwood was vastly superior and I enjoy Roman history much more than the American West.

Secondly: History Channel. I get that they have to produce what sells and that their audience is probably largely made up of nominal Trump voters who enjoy endless retakes on Vietnam and other manifestations of the Cold War, but they've already created an American Heroes channel. Isn't that enough? Every depiction of history is going to have an implicit agenda, but I stopped watching the History channel years ago because I really tired of the often-ridiculously Americanized aspect to it. Howevah, I had a day off and finally started watching some Vikings.


That phrase has some odd implications. It's like being a 9th-century monk in some monastery on the coast of the North Sea whose previous goal in life was observing the habits of Northern Lapwings. "The Bloodythroated Savages began their migration today. The local field was quite literally aflame with their presence." And, of course, the opening scene to the first episode is exactly that, showing Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), slaughtering the natives somewhere in what is presumably a narrowly-successful raid, since they seem to be the only survivors. Can two people guide a longboat back across the sea? Guess we'll find out. It's a bit too early in the timeline for them to be the Danish invaders/settlers on the British east coast.


But then we drop right back into wherever Ragnar and Co. are originating from ("Scandinavia") and get a good dose of the culture surrounding them. I thought that was a great way to start, especially since they spent a fair amount of time on the Thing, the tribal council that somewhat influences Earl Haraldson's (Gabriel Byrne) thinking. It's about as effective in that respect as our own modern Congress will be in the next four years, but it at least conveys some of the differences in Viking thought from, say, Western European serfdom. Speaking of Byrne, I was at first excited to see that he was present, since I'm a fan of a lot of his work, and the presentation of some past tragedy involving his sons was at least the foundation of a motivation that gives him more depth than the usual Sauron-style bad guy ("I am mean and angry... because I am mean and angry! Arrrrrrr!") However, fairly soon, it felt to me like Byrne was kind of slumming it for a paycheck in that there was nothing particularly compelling about his character. It was a nice Denethor moment (speaking of Sauron; the LotR references will be plentiful here, given the foundation for much of Tolkien's work) when he was warning Ragnar to keep his wild ideas to himself, though.

Most of the other actors do well enough in their parts. Some of them shaded a bit toward the trite side; Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) having to flex her shieldmaiden muscle and Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) being the prototypical "mad scientist" shipbuilder who will enable Ragnar to follow his dream like his namesake of legend (and possibly history.) But you can forgive some of that for the level of production involved and the writers trying to clue people in to both the history and the drama, simultaneously, because they know there are nerds out there like me who will be spot-checking.


So, altogether, pretty worthwhile. I'm mildly fascinated by that period of history (as with so many others) mostly because of the aforementioned migratory patterns of the tribes and civilizations of that era and the impact that they had. I don't know that I'll be checking back in regularly on it in this space, since I'm not sure what kind of progress I'll make. New seasons of regular stuff like House of Cards and GoT aren't that far off. And, yes, I'm trying to finish Westworld. But I thought it was worth a mention and perhaps I'll see if I can get on board with all the other sunstone compass followers.

Friday, December 30, 2016

And in the taste confounds the appetite

"These violent delights have violent ends
 And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
 Which as they kiss consume
 the sweetest honey is loathsome in his own deliciousness
 And in the taste confounds the appetite."
That's Romeo and Juliet, act II, scene VI. The first line was whispered by character Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum) in the premiere episode of Westworld, which I am only now perusing since I've just recently turned the cable back on. Does that make me a cord rejoiner? I don't know. What it does make me is late to the party, since several people I know and most of the TV critics out there in La La Land (otherwise known as the realm of the ICP: Insane Clown President) think that Westworld is the best thing to hit HBO since the first season of True Detective (We will never speak of the second season again.) After watching the first two episodes, I can't say that I agree.


Westworld is based on the original Michael Crichton film from 1973 which, as an artifact of its era, was decent. Yul Brynner is excellent as the leading unstoppable android and Crichton's misunderstood premise of corporate greed (a theme he would return to, repeatedly) overriding basic morality was lost amidst the general audience perception that technology is evil and, obviously, wears a black hat. And I suppose I'm carrying some degree of bias while I watch the HBO series, because I know how this story plays out, based on what I've been seeing in the first couple episodes. Critics hailed it for its "world-building" but I spent a fair amount of time during both doing the "get on with it, already" wave with my hand. There is a certain amount of time that's necessary to establish the fact that the hosts essentially forget everything with every morning. Visual repetition is the best way to establish that for new viewers, so I get it.

But my problem with said world-building runs deeper than that. Many of the interactions, such as that between Lee, the narrative director (Simon Quarterman), and Theresa, the operations director (Sidse Babett Knudsen) were blatantly staged for the audience's benefit. Instead of appearing as an organic interaction (like, say, between Rust and Marty in True Detective), this was a neon sign blaring: "Here be conflict! Engage it if you dare!" Yes, you have to lay the groundwork and, yes, it's tough to do in a 10 episode series. But it's been done with somewhat more subtlety and which made both characters seem even mildly interesting, which those two do not.


Similarly, Ed Harris as the Man in Black in the world's most obvious homage to Brynner (Can his name be Johnny to make it that much more ham-fisted? He shoots people just to watch them die!) does nothing for me. He's been around awhile and he wants to see what makes the big machine tick. Fair enough. Does he have to be completely amoral in order to do that? Was the semi-gratuitous rape scene necessary to establish the spiel he'd already spoken on the train, about playing the black hat being the best time of his life? And if we were going to have a rape scene to establish an amoral character, was it necessary to close the door so that tender sensibilities somehow aren't bruised by the already-screaming woman? With the amount of nudity and violence already going around in order to establish that this is the point where ordinary people can abuse thinking beings to their heart's content, somehow that moment was deemed over the top and, instead of simply going off camera, Nolan felt that overtly shutting the barn door was how it should work? Get the audience to focus specifically on that act and then shield them from its consequences? Super-meta example of what the park embodies or shying away from what your story is depicting?

Don't get me wrong. It's not awful. It's just not gripping. I can and will watch the next couple episodes, but there's certainly nothing compelling me to do so. As all three of my regular readers know, I regard the director's cut of Blade Runner (no voiceover, ends in the elevator) to be the finest science fiction film ever made and one of the finest, period. That film asked many of the important questions about humanity and consciousness (and conscience) in a far more elegant way than anything I've seen so far on Westworld. Telling me that these are sentient beings locked in an endless loop for the entertainment of others is a good starting point. Expanding into their realization of this indentured servitude is a natural progression. But so far none of the mystery involved (Dolores and Maeve's past memories; the Man in Black's pursuit of the maze; etc.) is interesting enough to get me to want to rush back to the series tomorrow morning.


Also, I certainly respect Jonathan Nolan's (and Lisa Joy's) writing talent. He's been the co-writer on some of his brother, Christopher's, biggest films. But I wonder if he has the vision of his brother to carry a grand concept through to the ends that it requires. Crafting a story about questioning personal, corporate, and societal morality is all well and good. But including the original creator, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins; is he a coward? Does he have a friend named Jesse?), attempting to try to steer that amorality train back toward something more acceptable by including Christianity is just a step too far down the idiot path for me. Is the assumption that the park, in general, lacks a moral basis because it lacks religion? Do I really need to delve into the history of the church to prick that balloon? Hey, are the hosts like those slaves you can get from surrounding nations, per Leviticus? Or is Dolores like one of the daughters of Lot?

To the show's credit, I did really enjoy Jeffrey Wright's performance as Bernie, mildly conflicted soul designer (I thought he was great in Syriana, too) and the most intriguing moment for me of the whole two-plus hours was when programmer Elsie (Shannon Woodward) kissed host Clementine (Angela Sarafyan.) There was character revelation ("world-building") and mystery in one little motion that had me asking questions that are both intriguing and not obvious. More of that, please, and perhaps less of the grandiose references. I mean, if we're going to go all Shakespearean on everybody, should we be referencing the constant presence of the flies in what seems to otherwise be a fairly sanitized environment?
"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods
 They kill us for their sport."
That's King Lear, act IV, scene I. Seems almost referential to the overall plot. Or perhaps I'm either overthinking it or asking too much?


Friday, November 11, 2016

The ego begins

One thing to keep in mind is that Donald J. Trump is not the typical Republican. There's nothing particularly "conservative" about him, especially when it comes to being recognized as the smartest guy in the room. Anyone who remembers this


should understand that easily. So this article by Politico should already be tickling some Democrats.
“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” Trump said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure — which will become, by the way, second to none — and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”
You're looking at every county commissioner and city mayor whose jurisdiction contains one or more of the above.
Trump wants to be known as the 21 century's Justinian II; the guy who saved/restored the Roman Empire (kinda... for a few years.) You can't have that if The Beast is dodging potholes every time the president goes out to review the peasants. This is part of why people like Paul Ryan and mainstream Republicans were leery of getting on board with Trump in the first place. He doesn't play ball in the typical DC fashion and will be loathe to abandon any project that makes him look the magnanimous overlord to plighted Americans. He doesn't answer to the donor class and he doesn't really care about "conservative principles." The problem for all of us is that he doesn't really care about anything that doesn't burnish the image of Trump. But navigating those waters while watching Ryan and Co. wrestle with the more hardcore budgetarians in the House will be endlessly entertaining.

And the crowner of that piece is, of course, the quote from the Heritage Foundation's Dan Holler:
“It would be a mistake to prioritize Big Government endeavors over important issues like repealing Obamacare, reforming our regulatory system and expanding domestic energy production,” Holler said. “Along with confirming a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, these are the type of legislative efforts that will help anxious families and folks struggling all across the country.”
'Cuz, y'know, every former pipefitter stuck working at Home Depot that I know is direly concerned about how a conservative justice on the Court or the profits of Chevron will help his anxious family. I mean, seriously, how could you be thinking about anything else while working for $10 an hour? Priorities, yo.

Going back to the well

Here we are, two days out, and I've been involved in a number of conversations with people trying to understand the whys and wherefores of president-elect, Donald J. Trump. I get that. It's a surprising turn of events for many people who figured there was no way that the voting public could be so irrational as to elect that idiot. But I don't think irrationality is the issue here. I've also been involved in a couple conversations wherein people objected to my overtly humorous reaction to the election. I get that, too. A lot of people are frightened of what a Trump administration could look like, especially as we are now regaled with stories of who is under consideration: Ann Coulter, Myron Ebell, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, etc. A couple things about that:
  • My sense of humor has been described as anything from "macabre" to "quaint" because I tend to find humor in situations that many people find abhorrent. There's a certain level of cosmic perspective ("Nothing will ever match the depredations that would accompany the world being taken over by Yog-Sothoth!") but it's often a Robert Frost thing ("If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.")
  • I TOTALLY called the Palin as Secretary of the Interior thing. There's no better indication of a collection of people that have no clue as to how government (to say nothing of Interior) actually functions than to believe that she's the right choice for that post.
  • Ann Coulter as White House press secretary. Can't you just imagine Trump barging onto the dais in the press room to interrupt Coulter saying something outrageous with a pronouncement that's even MORE outrageous? Pardon me while I convulse with laughter again. It helps if you have absolutely zero respect for most of these institutions as a whole, given that they largely deserve none.
 Those people all sound horrible for those of us actually concerned about things like, say, climate change or police-community relations. But what concerns me even more is the number of Democratic voters and media types who are continuing with the "race" and "likeability" angles as to why Hillary Clinton lost to the most outrageous and incompetent candidate and campaign in the last century.

Race is a factor, as David Duke and his execrable ilk are now happy to tell you. Clinton's difficulties on the stage and with regular folks are a factor, as has been cited often. But just because some of Trump's supporters are bigots


and just because Clinton was a suboptimal candidate on the stump


doesn't make those the defining traits of her loss. Anyone remember what Bill Clinton's in-house slogan was for his campaign in 1992?


And there you go. When you have a block of voters that have missed out on the benefits of the "new economy" and are, at best, serially lied to by politicians promising to help them or, at worst, are labeled as losers by the media for not succeeding in said "new economy", presenting them with a candidate whose message is just more of the same is a sure recipe for disaster. The only thing that kept this race close for Clinton was the fact that Trump is such a horrible human being (and who goes on trial for fraud in a couple weeks. 'Merica!) If she'd been running against Romney, it would have been a slaughter. But, again, one of the reasons someone like Romney or Jeb Bush didn't get nominated is that they represent the same things Clinton does: Goldman Sachs, concentration of weatlh, and continued oligarchy. In the emails that were hacked from the DNC, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress put it best:
“I mean it makes my life more difficult after telling every reporter I know she’s actually progressive but that is really the smallest of issues. It worries me more that she doesn’t seem to know what planet we are all living in at the moment.”
Here's a hint: She doesn't.

So, what now? Well, what this presents us with now is opportunity. Yes, the next four years are going to be a bit of a trial with the GOP controlling all of the government and that idiot loose in the White House. But the opportunity comes in the fact that so many people dread that reality. This should be a galvanizing event. Don't be one of those Facebook warriors screeching at me about how others are going to suffer more than I am. I'm aware of that. What I'm saying is that there were plenty of people already suffering, including those highlighted by the keyboard champions whose only real expression of concern was to hit a Paypal button to toss $20 toward the Clinton campaign and feel like they were "contributing" to anything other than a stagnant edifice that's already rolling in cash, thanks. Again, borrowing from people who are likely expressing it better than I am, take a listen to Marc Lamont Hill on The Breakfast Club from a few months back:


The pertinent stuff begins at the 11:05 mark, but the whole thing is worth a watch, as he's a very interesting guy. But, in short, what he says is that he's not interested in voting for the same thing that continues to not work and a Trump presidency may be the thing that gets the majority of people to finally fight back against a system that is largely designed to make them passive observers (i.e. the equivalent of walking into a voting booth every four years), rather than active participants.

We can't just keep dismissing this event as the work of closed-minded racists. That's missing the point. The point is that a genuinely democratic and/or representative republic has to work for more than just the wealthy and ours simply doesn't.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So, here's the thing

When this whole thing started and I was as surprised as anyone that a narcissistic buffoon with little record of accomplishing anything without someone else's money (i.e. Daddy's) was going to be the Republican nominee for president, I told several people that it would be the most fitting result possible for modern American politics and, if he did win, I was going to laugh my ass off. You'll have to pardon the exaggeration of intensity, because I actually dozed off while reading tonight (and, yes, ignoring election results) and when I woke up, the media were declaring President Trump. The first thing I did?

I'm letting this picture break the margin because... yeah.
I mean, actually, it was me laughing and the cats looking at me with exasperation like I know so many other people in my life will, but this is a pretty good representation. Everyone is going to try to highlight this or that factor that supposedly led to this result, be it emails or racists or a supposed reluctance to keep the same party in office, three terms in a row. But that last one is kind of crucial because, in the end, they're all the same party.

"What?!!", you scream. "There's no way you can compare that bigoted man-child to any rational candidate!" Oh, but I can, because he's part of the same class of people that own both major parties and, in effect, make them essentially the same party. So is Hillary Clinton. And there's your problem. That problem isn't bigotry or ignorance or religion or ideology, although all of those do contribute to the mess. That problem is money; who has it and who doesn't.

I hang out on a lot of gamer sites, both electronic and the old-fashioned cardboard type. Games are kind of a dominant hobby in my life, whether watching them (Michigan, Liverpool) or playing them or both. Strangely enough, I detested the game theory side of political science when I was in school. But a few months back, there was a post on a gaming forum (Fortress: Ameritrash) that called for people to register to vote in the upcoming election because of the perceived importance of the result. This forum has a number of regulars from around the world, so many of them chimed in with questions about the impending election and why Americans didn't go to the polls and so on. Someone suggested it was simply a matter of laziness on the part of the electorate. My response was this:

We might get better turnout if, like every other modernized nation, people had the day off to vote. We also would get better turnout if people thought their vote actually had an impact on the process by getting rid of the Electoral College and instituting ranked (or instant runoff) voting, so that there would be more viable candidates in the race and an actual choice for many people. You can't blame people for not participating if they've been told that either they have no choice but to vote for someone they find detestable or that their choice doesn't matter at all. And that they should spend hours standing in line away from their families and their jobs while they're making that useless or nonexistent choice. When people are encouraged to not participate, they won't. You can't castigate them for that.
At that point, someone asked for a perspective on the current state of American politics. I've been, uh, out of the scene for a few years, but I like to think that I still have a grasp of some of the nuances, so I chimed back in:

Just to clarify my perspective and position, I built the Green Party from the ground up in the state of Michigan and chaired it for 5 years, so those are my politics. However, I spent a long time trying to deal with the tunnel-visioned in those circles, who often declared that if you weren't part of the solution (that they would happily remonstrate to you at all times), then you were part of the problem. Needless to say, this is how so many good ideas get marginalized, as people attempt to be "Greener than thou" or whatever label they choose to follow or affix. I'm not active anymore for a variety of reasons, but I still know a lot of people in various political circles, on the Hill, etc. and I still like to drop into local meetings and have been, for example, to several Tea Party gatherings over the past few years because I like to know what people are saying and thinking, rather than what other people SAY "those people" are saying and thinking. 
The mood in the US right now isn't especially positive and it's driven by a number of things but, at root, the problem is economic. America, the Land of Opportunity is no longer so for the vast majority of the population and that trend has finally enveloped the bulk of the white population, who were the ones who most believed in the concept of that opportunity because it was sold to them from every politician, every neighbor, and every form of media. The American Dream is kinda dead. This is why Avik Roy, a fairly prominent conservative thinker, said the other day that the GOP is dying because it can no longer mask the fact that its central ideology isn't economic conservatism, but, rather, white nationalism. They can't sell the former idea because the concept of moving up the economic ladder is no longer a sure thing, hard work or no. So they've had to rely on the latter idea since Goldwater and it's only accelerated in the past couple decades. The frustration, on the left and the right, is paramount. This is why Donald Trump is where he is. 
Think about it: This is a man who, in the course of the past week, dismissed the Geneva conventions, talked about exiting NATO and then the amount of money the other members would have to toss at the US to rejoin, suggested that the president of Russia should release more negative info about Trump's primary electoral rival, and refused to release his tax returns. Any one of those statements or actions would be heavy damage, if not death, to any normal campaign. But Trump's supporters don't give a shit about any of that because it doesn't matter to what's in front of them right now. What's in front of them right now is a pretty stark reality: They need an education to hopefully get a decent job, but the old reliables like law school are no longer so reliable. If they tried to get that education, they'd have to go six figures into debt and, aside from that incredible burden, who'd be working to support their family (whether it be children or parents)? Meanwhile, they're still constantly berated by the stories of the success of the 1% and told that if they work hard they, too, can be "successful". But the reality says that that won't be the case and so now they're looking for answers. Trump is providing those answers in the simplest manner possible and using tried and true methods that are inherent to American politics from the dawn of its existence. Race has always been an element of American politics since before those fabled founding documents were written and it always will be. It will always be easy to divert people's attention from the real cause of their troubles (lack of opportunity caused by the concentration of wealth) to some other vague reason that usually involves people who look differently (race) or act differently (sexuality) or worship differently (obvs.) 
What's accelerated the process in the past 20 years is this thing we're currently all sitting on: the Internet. It is, in turn, the greatest and worst communication device ever created. It's the greatest because it allows thoughts and ideas to travel instantly around the world and for people of like mind to find each other and exchange those ideas. It's the worst because it allows people of like mind to segment themselves from the rest of humanity until they hear only what it is that they're comfortable hearing. When what you're already predisposed to believe is repeated to you hundreds of times a day, it's difficult to abandon it even when confronted by the stark reality that it's not true. That's why Trump is lauded for "telling it like it is", even when much of what he says are flat out lies. But those people that support him have been lied to constantly by "regular" politicians (like Clinton, for example) for all of their lives. Hearing different lies from a guy who clearly is not your regular politician is invigorating in a way because it provides some tiny element of hope that he might be able to turn a couple of those lies into reality, if only because he'd try to do something (outlandishly) different. And that's what most of these people are lacking: hope. In other modernized nations, you have socialized medicine, daycare, education, maternity leave, and a dozen other things that support the idea of changing your circumstances and moving on to something new and better. That's hope. That's not present in the US right now because almost none of those things are available, since American Individualism speaks against the idea of socialism in all of its forms (except when it comes to bailing out major banks, but that's another rant...) 
This is why there was so much commentary (usually in very dark terms) about how Bernie and Trump supporters were saying the same things. "But they're on opposite sides of the spectrum!", the wealthy and appropriately-threatened talking heads shrieked. No. They're just looking at the same problem from different perspectives. Trump is saying that everything is broken for one set of reasons. Bernie was saying so for a different set of reasons. Clinton, representing the "I got mine!" Democrats, is basically saying that they're both wrong and if we keep doing what we've been doing, everything will be fine. And it will be fine, for the very wealthy segment of the populace that she actually represents. But it won't be for everyone else, including the vast majority of her supporters.
That's the key, yes? As has been said so many times before, it's not about race, or sexuality, or religion, or gender. Those things all have some impact, but when we're talking identities it's really about one thing and one thing only: class. Class means money: who has it and who doesn't. Trump can't identify with the vast majority of the people who voted for him. But neither can Clinton. She travels in the same circles that he does and speaks the same language. Some may call that a necessary evil of US politics. I call it the thing that's making politics virtually irrelevant to the bulk of the population, who might just be inclined to deliver a "vote of change", as it were, no matter how apparently irrational. Yes, I realize that Nate Silver's polling data indicated that Trump's supporters, on average, were wealthier than Clinton's but somehow a good chunk of Mr. Silver's results never seem to conform to the reality that I see on the ground. One begins to question the math.


And already the howls of outrage are beginning to rise; not by Democrats against Trump and the GOP, but Democrats against anyone who didn't vote for their fatally-flawed candidate. This is identical to the situation in 2000. The Democrats put forth a candidate that really stood for no one but the money. When voters went for Bush, instead of blaming their own milquetoast efforts, they blamed minor party candidate, Ralph Nader, and, specifically, Green voters in Florida. This is despite the fact that Nader's votes in Florida were about 10% of the total of registered Democrats who voted for Bush. I suspect we will see similar results here, given that a significant number of former Obama supporters have apparently cast their lot with Trump. Once again, that outrage bespeaks a lack of understanding of or a lack of empathy for the people who, as I noted above, have little hope for improvement in their lives. Asking them to elect another Clinton when the impact of the policies of the first one (NAFTA, Reinventing Government, rescinding Glass-Steagall, Commodity Futures Modernization Act, etc., etc.) helped shape the current economic reality in largely negative ways is asking quite a bit.

But the root of that whole issue goes deeper than just venal Democrats. When discussing the minor party spoiler effect on the aforementioned forum, I also mentioned the pernicious effect of ballot access laws in many states and the denial of actual choice to much of the public, who are thus left with poor selections like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton:

Most minor parties run presidential candidates for two reasons: 1) Visibility. In a presidential year, no one pays attention if you don't have someone in the horse race. Those are also the years when most fundraising is done and the way to raise the most $ is via high profile races; presumed fool's errands or not. 2) Even more importantly, ballot access laws. See, the laws are written by Dems and Reps to ensure their dominance. The majority of states require you to get a certain percentage of the vote of the highest candidate to stay on the ballot. That's usually a presidential or senatorial race. If you don't run one, you're basically conceding your ballot access next time. Having organized multiple efforts, I can tell you that ballot access drives are often quite difficult and expensive, using time, energy, and money that could otherwise go toward those smaller campaigns. So, no, it's not just because we're all idealistic fools thinking we can win the White House. It's because the laws are written to make it as difficult as possible for the public to actually have a choice. We managed to change the law in Michigan by coordinating every minor party in the state along with a Libertarian-leaning GOP state rep and a sympathetic writer in one of the major papers. Now minor parties only need a certain percentage of the vote of any state-wide candidate, but that's an exception and we took advantage of extraordinary circumstances to get there.
Remember that all election laws are written by and for the two (one) major parties and are written to serve their interests. That primary interest is to stay in power. So, there it is.

I'm no soothsayer. As I mentioned at the start of this ramble, I was as surprised as anyone else when Trump did manage to land the nomination. But the more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense, in the same way that his victory yesterday makes sense. And here we are: President Trump. (Honestly, I convulse with laughter every time I think of that. If that idiot's term in office demonstrates anything, it will be just how absurd the whole situation has become. Non. Stop. Entertainment.) 

When the financial crisis of the last decade began in 2008, my opinion was that the only genuine way to solve many of the structural issues it revealed was to let the banks burn. There should be actual consequences for their actions and all that. Instead, they were bailed out and now wield more power than ever. Once again, we have come to a point of reflection. Will the half of the populace who didn't vote for Trump agitate in favor of actual structural change, both economically and electorally, like many of those who did vote for him apparently desire? Or will they just return to the status quo and let big money continue owning the government that's nominally of, by, and for? This would seem to be the moment to take a stand, yo. I'm just going to be over here chortling while thinking about that idiot trying to interact with other nations. Or anyone, really. His victory speech tonight was still him talking about how many generals and admirals were on his side. Hello? Donald? You won, dude. Most humans' egos would no longer need the massage. But, well, yeah... (Seriously. I can't stop laughing.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

This is the bed you have made


So... yeah. As I was saying before, this is what happens when utter incompetence becomes the order of the day. Under ordinary circumstances, you'd have to work quite hard to pull off a display that bad but these are, as the proverb says, interesting times and, therefore, not ordinary. The above summary, which was reproduced on Twitter and in various spots around the Intertubes (I wish I knew who originally wrote it so I could give credit; feel free to comment if you know from whence it originates), doesn't even include what I thought was the pinnacle moment. That was when the live chat on the Youtube broadcast of the convention was shut down by the Grand Old Party because an actual elected official there to speak positively about Trump (precious few of those), was given a typical response by a portion of the Donald's base. See, Linda Lingle, the former governor of Hawaii, happens to be Jewish. Consequently, it took not very long for the anti-Semites to come creeping into the daylight of their monitors and begin reciting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Trump's new campaign slogan could be a self-reflective one: This is the bed you have made. That would, of course, require that the candidate be capable of any kind of reflection that didn't involve a mirror.

The biggest story was the one about Melania Trump lifting portions of Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic convention speech for her performance last night. Some questions on the board were posed about how this could even be possible since it was such an obvious gaffe and suggested that it was an inside job of some sort. My response is to cite the first rule of political journalism, which goes back at least to Goethe and has been much paraphrased since then (and he probably swiped it, too): Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. The Trump campaign has demonstrated an astounding talent for incompetence to date. Last night is just a continuation of that pattern. If the only people you can hire are fools and, even worse in this context, fools that have never run a major political campaign, this is what you'll get. Even Paul Manafort, interim campaign manager and veteran of campaigns going back to the mid-70s, has only ever been a consultant. He's good at putting out fires. But the Trump campaign is an inferno, lit largely by the misplaced anger of his base.


Based on my response to that question, another regular suggested that if the campaign is this bad, what happens when Trump has to hire people to actually run the government? Who will want to work with him? Who will he allow to work with him and his ego? Won't this be a disaster of Biblical proportions?!!

That answer is a bit more nuanced (inasmuch as anything can be nuanced that involves The Donald.) The federal government is a huge and lethargic entity, as any Trump supporter will be glad to tell you (many of them while cashing checks.) There's a certain degree of autonomy and inertia at the Cabinet level that tends to persist unless there's a crisis. That's how we got "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!",because nobody really gave a shit who the apparatchik was that was running FEMA until he actually, you know, had to do something. A lot of people get into Cabinet posts as simply a way into the Beltway circles (I will forever recommend Mark Leibovich's This Town on this topic; it is, without a doubt, the best book on modern politics that I've ever read) so they can make money post-"public service." As long as nothing too crisis-like happens, they coast and get paid handsomely by whomever they've made deals with while in office and the country isn't too much the worse for wear. Or they take all of that inside knowledge and use it to exploit the system, typically working against the very interests they were supposed to be supporting while in office. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

Obviously, State and a couple other agencies are a bit more pertinent to the hourly situation in the world, but that's just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in a Trump administration, anyway, since he'll be the equivalent of the racist old uncle that everyone endures at Thanksgiving in almost any situation. In the event of President Trump, I won't be able to sit still thinking about that loon at a state dinner with any national leader from a culture that's not white. Or France. The comedic possibilities are almost limitless.


But in terms of how disastrous his election could be, my suspicion is that there's not a ton of difference, tonally, between Trump's band of anti-government newcomers and the cadre of hardcore Cold Warriors that George W. Bush brought with him. They're both so suffused in their own ideology that it doesn't matter if reality conflicts with it. It's almost solipsistic. I remember that a year or so after the Iraq invasion, there was an interview in the NYT magazine where Ron Suskind sat down with some flack from the White House who decried the "reality-based community" (i.e. all of us) because they (the GWB administration) "create our own reality... and you'll just be left to study what we do." Does that sound like a quote that could emerge from the Great Oompah Loompah? It does to me. Bush did a lot of damage, but he basically just kept pursuing the policies that have been part of our government for a long time. The Iraq War is, of course, the huge, glaring exception but I'd suggest that Trump, xenophobe that he is, would be even less likely to hie off on some military adventure than Clinton, as she's expressed far more interest during her career of laying waste to whomever even thinks of threatening US cash flow. Plus, she'll carry the burden of constantly having to prove her "toughness" as a consequence of her gender because, y'know, American society is stupid like that. Yes, Trump may decide to spend billions on a sixty-foot wall, but he'll at least be creating a market for sixty-one-foot ladders, so.., job creation! Woo.

What that means, of course, is that the suggested campaign slogan isn't just for the Trump campaign. It's for the American electorate as a whole. This is what's been presented to you as "choice" by those that control the message, backed up as they are by nebulous things like "tradition" and the fallacious concepts of "wasting your vote" and so on ("Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past.") There are other choices out there. You don't have to lie down in that bed and take only what you're offered. I do, however, suggest that you take time out to watch the rest of the GOP convention, because it's going to continue to be high comedy.