Thursday, December 22, 2016

No honeymoon

Traditionally a new administration gets a honeymoon period, a period of time in which it's considered bad manners to blast it for alleged bad behavior, malfeasance, bad faith, etc. We extend the new administration the benefit of the doubt on a lot of things.

Teh Donald thumbed his nose at most traditions in the course of his campaign and has continued to flout the norms of how a president-elect behaves in the run-up to his presidency. Never has Donnie showed he's worthy of the benefit of the doubt. It's therefore only appropriate that we, the people, follow suit by foregoing the traditional honeymoon period.

I had originally entitled this post "Resist". That's not right, though: we can't blindly obstruct him, as Senate Republicans blindly and stupidly obstructed Obama. Donnie isn't evil incarnate: he's just a raging, possibly clinically diagnosable narcissist. It's possible he'll do things that are actually defensible or even good for the country, just because they accord with his egotism. Stranger things have happened.

But it's a safe bet that most of the time his actions will be antithetical to the spirit of liberal democracy and corrosive to the freedoms and liberties we hold dear. When he tramples on those freedoms, then we have to resist — even if it's on Day One of his administration.

If ever there was a good fight, this is it.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

My Obsession Now: The Old 97's, "How Lovely All It Was"

Most people listen to the Old 97's because of lead singer and songwriter Rhett Miller. I like Miller well enough as a singer and he has certainly penned his share of terrific songs for the band. However, the guy whose contributions I anticipate most eagerly is bassist Murry Hammond. From "W. TX Teardrops", my introduction to his vocal stylings, right on through today, I always look for his gem of a song on each album. I'm grateful as hell that he, at least, keeps the alt-country spirit alive in the band.

In the case of The Grand Theatre, Vol. 2, that gem is "How Lovely All It Was". I first heard this album during a long drive a couple of years ago. When this track came on, I almost forgot I was driving. I found myself hitting the "back" button so often, I finally pulled over and set the track to repeat. It accompanied me for the last three or four hours of the trip.

As with many of his numbers, I'm not quite sure what exactly he's singing about: the lyrics are a little oblique, just as the song's title is. The atmosphere, though, is reflective and a bit mournful, which suits my recent mood to a T.

This is my best guess as to the lyrics that resonate most:

If I don't see you again this way tomorrow
And my body doesn't break under the sorrow I swallow
I'll see you one old tomorrow
By and by

...

We're movin' on: you know that we've got to, man
How lovely all it was, how lovely all it was
The sun moves up and on, and so must we, my friend
How lovely all it was, how lovely all it was

(The ending, with just Murry singing to an acoustic accompaniment, sounds like it could have been a studio outtake from his solo album.)

I'm currently wallowing in the past and while it's kind of refreshing to dig up these particular memories, at some point I'll have to move up and on. How fortunate that Murry will be there to remind me.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The new journalistic principle

The United States' big media organizations did not cover themselves in glory with regard to their presidential election coverage. As always, they framed the election as a game, with innumerable polls serving as the scoreboard. Worse, though, was how consistently they let Donnie lead them around by the nose. Every tweet triggered a flood of breathless "reporting".

If it wasn't obvious before, it damned well should be now: they got played. Or rather, they let Donnie play us because his exploits made them a lot of money.

Come on! Every time Donnie needed to distract us from news that genuinely damaged his campaign, he shot off a handful of tweets that whipsawed the national conversation in a different direction. And every time, it worked. Our vaunted media elites ran after the fresh clickbait like junkies chasing their next fix.

Worse, we followed them. We all wound up in Donnieland, the crappiest place on Earth, where our fever dreams sound true. (They aren't, to be clear, but that's what Donnie wants us to think.)

If the big media outlets want to stay relevant in what promises to be the most dishonest, utterly shameless administration in history, they're going to have to make one radical adjustment to their rules of operation. It's the same radical adjustmment all of us will have to make on Inauguration Day.

That adjustment?

Ignore everything Donnie says. Pay attention solely to his deeds.

They — we — can't trust anything the Narcissist-in-Chief says. We can't even assume he's lying: he has no fixed relationship to the truth. If you listen to him you will get dizzy and throw up — or go nuts.

We must stop acting like every word emitted from one of his orifices for public consumption is worth mentioning. Got that, journalists? No matter how tempted you are to file several hundred words on last night's tweetstorm, don't do it.

As for us, the audience? Our job is, do no (more) harm.

Stop rewarding Donnie by retweeting him, even ironically. Stop rewarding anybody who enables him. That includes anyone or anything claiming to be a news outlet.

Again: ignore what Donnie says. Watch what he does.

And keep your hold on reality, because that's what Donnie wants: for us no longer to know what's true.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Whom do you trust?

The New York Times has a piece on how just one uninformed tweet about supposed busing-in of anti-Trump protesters went viral. The buses, it turned out, had been chartered for a tech conference.

The guy who made the original tweet claimed he was a busy man who couldn't be expected to check every little fact, and he seemed genuinely surprised his tweet went viral. Um, okay. Tweet in haste, repent at leisure.

Still, the people who made the tweet viral aren't exactly blameless. In this day of so-called "citizen journalism", you're responsible for what you share.

It's popular in some quarters to deride the mainstream media as untrustworthy and biased. In the strictest sense it's true that big-name news outlets make mistakes and have implicit (or explicit) biases. However, it's also true that they have policies in place to keep them from intentional errors, and for the most part the people who work at these outlets don't do it for the money: they do it because they believe in reporting the truth.

The guy who tweets out a random observation may believe he's reporting the truth, too. But does he really care whether he's doing so? The guy who tweeted about the buses didn't care.

If you don't trust the mainstream media, whom do you trust to tell you what's going on in the world? Anyone, whether you know his motives or not? Only those who say things with which you agree?

In that case, you might as well be talking to yourself. And in fact, if you take your distrust far enough, that's exactly where you'll wind up.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The day after

I remember thinking, after George W. Bush finally won the contested 2000 presidential election, "Well hell, maybe this coke-sniffing intellectual lightweight won't be as bad as everyone's worst fears." Less than a year later we had 11 September 2001 and W's reaction to that is still resonating, with disastrous consequences, today.

I do not want to think about the consequences of today's election down the line, especially since the GOP has control of both houses of Congress as well. Teh Donald is very much on the record as thinking climate change is a hoax. Humanity might well survive climate change as a species, but I guarantee you that human civilization won't if Trumpian (and Inhofe-ian) head-up-ass syndrome persists. I'm glad I don't have kids.

London was taken aback by Brexit; the American bicoastal elites have now been taken aback by Donnie. Reactionary, xenophobic rage is now in charge of the oldest English-speaking nations.

The year started with the loss of Bowie and Prince, among others. Now I'm feeling even sorrier for myself: not only are we without these still-vital artists, but they don't have to witness the triumph of the barbarians.

Monday, November 7, 2016

"How Trump Diagnosed American Politics", Andy Kroll

I've been sparing in how much election coverage I've read these past few weeks: I decided that paying too much attention to this year's election is unduly punishing. But Kroll's piece isn't so much about this election as how we conduct all our campaigns — and how flawed that is. From the obscene amounts of money legally permitted to flow into the process, to the truly asinine (or corrupt?) media coverage, to the insipid lack of honesty in candidates' rhetoric, we've got a lot to fix. On the lack of honesty, Kroll grudgingly thanks Trump for bluntly calling that out early in his campaign. That seems a bit much: we don't thank a heart attack for alerting us to our cardiovascular disease. Moreover, Bernie Sanders also was blunt in his criticisms, and he actually made sense and spoke truthfully.

This isn't a piece that needs to be read before the election's over, but it certainly deserves to be pondered afterwards.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Today's epiphany

There is an exceptionally dark and painful place in Hell waiting for whoever came up with autoplay on Web pages.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Maddow goes too far

On her show tonight, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow aired an excerpt from an NBC News report that presumably will air at some point on NBC's own news programs. Maddow hammered home the point that Donald Trump was in the room when his father Fred allegedly told one of his employees that Fred's company didn't rent to "n***ers". According to that employee, who appeared on camera, Donald Trump also nodded in agreement when his father made that statement.

Donald Trump is a crummy human being, no question. But Maddow is trying to tie him to remarks his father made decades ago, and that's not right.

First, it was Fred Trump, not Donald, who made the inflammatory remark. Imputing guilt by association is a disreputable practice. It looks bad for Donald that he nodded in agreement, but he was fairly young, and a lot of us go along with our parents when we're young because we're not mature enough to disagree.

Second, to my mind, an ordinary candidate is allowed to do the same thing the rest of us do: grow up and learn. I try not to hold people's youthful mistakes against them unless they really invite it by being aggressively moralistic about others. Trump is no ordinary candidate, of course, yet for all his faults, he hasn't made his own virtue a hallmark of his campaign.

Finally, you don't have to dig up decades-old stories of shameful behavior to make the point that Donnie is a crummy human being. He makes that point for us every day, in ways that shock and appall us. Yet I can loathe him without holding him to a higher standard than I do everyone else.

Was Donnie a crummy human being when he was young? The evidence I've seen suggests he was. Yet that's not nearly as important to me as the daily parade of unedited video that tells us he still is.

So while it may feel great to pile more and more of his past on Donnie's orange head, it doesn't lend luster to Rachel Maddow or MSNBC to pile on with this story.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The resident-alienated threat

In "Trump's Rigged Game", Atlantic senior editor Yoni Appelbaum quoted a Trump voter (via a Boston Globe article) who said, among other things, that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, "I hope we can start a coup." He continued,
"We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it's going to take. . . . I would do whatever I can for my country."
Another Trump supporter (again, quoted by Appelbaum from the Globe piece) said,
"We don’t have a voice anymore, and Donald Trump is giving us a voice."
If Trump voters are worried about the resident aliens, legal and illegal, the rest of us are worried about the resident-alienated — those citizens who feel totally powerless against the tide of economic, social and demographic upheaval. They think "we" are out to get them, and only Trump stands in the way.

My first reaction is that they picked a hell of a standard bearer in Donnie: they couldn't have designed a more perfectly repellent candidate if they'd tried.

As for alienation, having been an outsider in a lot of respects for my entire life, I kind of understand how they feel. It's not easy being on the outside, feeling like the in-crowd is laughing at you. You've got to hide the things you think will make you a target for bullying. In civic life, things get even worse: bullies at school can't do much about your core beliefs. But the power of the government can, or so you might think. I have no patience with what's called the assault on religious rights (I think it's a bogus victimization pose) but I don't doubt some well-meaning people buy into the rhetoric.

Between the hysterical ravings of fringe far-right media and Donnie himself, these people are aggrieved and feel like their backs are against the wall. They're desperate, whether or not they have a real reason to feel that way. And they've so completely bought into the idea that The Whole System Is Crooked, why would they hesitate to destroy it?

Desperate, aggrieved, and not recognizing that they have a stake in society, these folks are primed and ready to do some damage if the right spark comes along. The election, particularly if it's a squeaker that nevertheless ultimately results in a Clinton victory, might be that spark.

Frankly, that first fellow, the one who prophesies bloodshed, reminds me of Timothy McVeigh and other mass killers — seething over unpunished injustices, convinced he has nothing to lose by killing a whole bunch of people in the name of retaking "his" country.

I don't know what it's going to take to get it through these people's thick skulls that the rest of us are trying as best we can to make this country better and that we don't hate them (though our patience has worn thin). But if Hillary wins, her first job — or rather, Obama's last before leaving office — may be to contain the damage these thoroughly alienated residents do in their fury and frustration.

They no longer accept that they're bound by the norms of our democratic process.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Principle or party

Alert emergency rooms across the country: some elected Republicans must be feeling whiplash, so quickly have they reversed themselves with respect to their party's presidential nominee.

This past weekend, these politicians distanced themselves from Teh Donald over that Access Hollywood video. Now, they're proclaiming their intention to vote for him.

They're bending in their party's political wind, and it's blowing fiercely in favor of Teh Donald. But why?

When I think of Republican voters, I think of "values voters". There's a reason the Moral Majority hewed very closely to the GOP. Highly religious voters lean heavily Republican.

How do these deeply principled, religiously devout people stay with Donnie?

It will seem strange to say this, but I hope it's because they genuinely see Hillary Clinton as the devil's handmaiden, capable of bottomless evil. That mindset is the only one that could justify their loyalty to Donnie.

The alternative is that they see politics as a blood sport, and they're all about "our guy, right or wrong". Party over principle. As nihilistic and destructive an attitude toward governance as is possible.

If that's where we are in our politics, this country is screwed.

So yes, I hope Donnie's voters think Hillary is the embodiment of evil, as terrible as that mindset is, because the alternative is just too grim to consider.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Even when apologizing, Trump lies

Teh Donald's candid (and crude) comments about women a decade ago are causing his campaign enough headaches that he has been forced to apologize for them. It was, unsurprisingly, one of those contemptible "if anyone was offended" non-apologies. Yet that wasn't the worst part of it. Even in his pseudo-apology, Donnie couldn't help throwing in a barefaced lie.
"Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am."
I've never met the man (and hope I never do), but let's state the obvious: we all know him. We know his views on women well enough to know that his words in that decade-old videotape emphatically do reflect who he is and how he thinks.

Donnie has repeatedly and very publicly shat on women he doesn't like. The roster includes Rosie O'Donnell, Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly, and Alicia Machado, and they're just the ones that come to mind without a Web search. The AP interviewed insiders on Donnie's former TV show, The Apprentice, who recounted his sexist and demeaning treatment of female contestants.

So yeah, Donnie, you lied. The words in that video do reflect who you are.

[UPDATE: I misidentified one of the women Trump has denigrated. It was not Meg Whitman, but Carly Fiorina. I've corrected that in the original text.

Also, I said that Teh Donald gave a typical non-apology apology. This is partially true: his first response, on Friday, did indeed include the weasel words, "if anyone was offended". However, his video apology on Saturday included the straightforward, "I apologize". Still too little, too late, but at least he didn't repeat his smarmy mistake of Friday.]

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The safe target

Amid the uproar over a certain far-right pundit's protegé's racist TV segment focused on Chinese Americans, I reflect that it must be a profound relief to that pundit and his audience that they can still smugly mock somebody in this great nation and not feel any meaningful blowback.

I mean, let's face it: prejudice against Them Yellow People simply doesn't get people rioting in the streets or instigating damaging boycotts or otherwise threatening the livelihoods and reputations of the bigots.

So rejoice, white racists: while you will get your asses handed to you if you go after the niggers, kikes, spics, faggots, and cunts, you can still piss on the chinks, gooks, and slants to your little hearts' content.

Gotta start somewhere to make this country great again, huh?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stuck in the past

It's funny, but any way you look at our choices this election, we're looking backwards.

Teh Donald, obviously, wants to take us back to a time when white people ran the show. His argument is that everything worked well before Those Uppity Others started shoving their oars in, degrading the country economically, militarily and morally. To be clear, this is a fantasy on so many levels, I don't have space or time to go into the details. Even so, this is the fantasy that Republicans, and the far right in particular, have told themselves since Reagan rode this story to the Oval Office.

HRC talks about moving forward, about progression and progressiveness. Yet the values she espouses are rooted in her own past. I happen to subscribe to a lot of these values, since they happen to result in the most people being treated as, well, people rather than, say, diseased freaks or chattel. Nevertheless, her campaign essentially has defined itself as the only defense against the regression demanded by the far right. Guard what we have achieved, is the essence of her message. That, if you think about it, is an essentially conservative, backwards-looking message.

Moreover, HRC's actual campaign strategy is almost comically backwards-looking. It is as conventional as President Obama's suits. Sure, she has the trappings of modernity in terms of social media, but she clearly only groks their forms, not their substance. Amazingly, Teh Donald is the one who truly has figured out how to exploit social media's reach. He's no technological innovator, but he is, for better or (far more likely) worse, a cultural one. HRC communicates like a non-human primate holds a tool — awkwardly. Teh Donald, by comparison, is a self-taught craftsman.

If HRC loses, it will be because she hewed to a conservative vision (by Democratic standards) and campaign style that failed to resonate with or galvanize enough of the public.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Oh Lord, is hating Guy Fieri passé?

Scott Timberg's Salon piece is "The Fieri-ssance is here: Sorry, Anthony Bourdain — it's no longer cool to hate on Guy Fieri".

Please, say it ain't so.

Timberg cites a few recent unironic, laudatory pieces about the frosted dude, and takes a whack at explaining the putative new trend:

So what’s going on here? Critical opinion follows a pretty predictable path. There’s only so much abuse even an obnoxious celebrity can take before someone jumps to his or her defense. In some cases, it’s a manifestation of the American urge against snobbery and in favor of underdogs. In other situations (such as when people defend The Eagles), it’s purely opportunistic. When it comes to Fieri, he is also benefiting from the long-practiced tendency of men’s magazines to champion reviled figures for being tougher, cruder, ruder and more ruggedly individual than all those prissy doubters around them.
Okay, first, let's call Timberg's piece what it is: clickbait. I fell for it. Yet I don't feel completely duped: the piece isn't as fluffy as most clickbait I've seen.

That said, Timberg's wrong on a few counts. First, a few non-hating pieces do not a trend make. Second, in no way can Fieri be considered an "underdog": Food Network is so dominated by his shows that it plausibly could be rebranded the Fieri Network. Third, of the adjectives that come to mind if I'm forced to think of him, "tough", "rude" and "rugged" (or even "ruggedly individual") are nowhere to be found. "Dumb as a post" springs effortlessly to mind, though. Worse, people emulate his party-hearty posing. Every moment he's on TV saps our collective intelligence.

Do you love Fieri? Congratulations, you have an entire cable channel catering to you. I'm still going to loathe the sight and sound of him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Give Trump the respect he deserves

Per The Hollywood Reporter's account of Teh Donald's recent remarks on a TV show I will not mention: "If [Hillary Clinton] treats me with respect [in the upcoming debates], I will treat her with respect."

Teh Donald degrades and debases any language he speaks. It's my great misfortune that it happens to be English, albeit at a fourth-grade level.

Donnie, you have no idea what "respect" is. You only know it secondhand, as something other people get. You have spent your whole life grasping for it, under the mistaken impression that with enough money you could buy it.

If you were twenty, I'd sincerely and wholeheartedly pity you. I do pity you, in fact, just not very much, because you're seventy and you damned well ought to have learned what the rest of us figure out as children — that respect is earned, and it starts by treating others with respect. You didn't learn, because you're well-off and narcissistic beyond belief — pathologically so, in fact. You are so self-absorbed and so indifferent to truth or honor or decency or empathy that you can't even grasp what I'm talking about.

You lie, you malign, you mock and you demean as casually as you breathe. You feign outrage when you're proved to be a liar, a bigot, a cheat, and an ignoramus.

And you prate of respect?

Donnie, kiss my ass.

Oh wait, you consider that respect. (Hey, Jimmy Fallon, how's the air down there?)

Hmm, how to give you the respect you deserve in a way you'll understand?

Oh, I know!

Go fuck yourself.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The unfunny Fallon-Trump follies

Okay, it's unfair for me to call Teh Donald's appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show unfunny since I didn't see it. On the other hand, I share the opinion of Slate's Willa Paskin:
Fallon was working from an old, outdated script, one that misses both the moral and the mortal threat of this year’s election. Twitter exploded with criticism of Fallon from the left, viewers furious that, by acting as if this election is like past elections, Fallon was normalizing Trump’s bigotry, xenophobia and lies.

Any appearance that gives Trump free rein to charm without challenging him, goes this argument, establishes a false equivalence between Trump and previous Republican candidates—as well as between Trump and Clinton. Trump is not just another candidate and despite structural incentives to treat him as such, doing so has a moral valence, even if it is only intended to have entertainment value.

Fallon relies on there being room for we're-all-human-beings humor between the political parties. What he and his staff ignored is just how toxic Teh Donald is to a good half of the country (and I'm deeply saddened it's not a lot more). The people who reject Trump don't reject him as an ordinary politician: we reject him as a cancer on the body politic.

Fallon is the last guy in these fraught times who should tread anywhere near the intersection of politics and comedy. He comes off as a sycophantic tool, which kind of dents his aw-shucks nice guy persona.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Wells Fargo and corporate responsibility

Wells Fargo employees were caught opening accounts and issuing credit cards in their customers' names without those customers' consent. The bank has been fined $185 million and over 5,000 employees have been fired as a result.

Let me observe that the numbers are a little weird. $185 million is a good-sized lottery jackpot, but it's barely a scratch in terms of what a profitable financial institution the size of Wells makes. A fine ten times that amount would have made a bigger impression on both Wells and the public.

On the other hand, at least 5,300 people were canned. That's a huge number. Usually an ethical breach is confined to one person, or a single division with an amoral leader. What does it say about Wells that so many people were deemed guilty of nakedly illegal behavior?

Employees have complained that they were under intense pressure to sell more services to existing customers, and the only way to satisfy management was to resort to the blatant fakery for which Wells is now apologizing. (The New York Times featured a banner ad for Wells on both the home page and the page for the article on the scandal. I didn't click on it but I've no doubt it leads to some kind of damage-control statement.)

The Times piece is inclined to make excuses for Wells, citing regulators' concern that "the bank lacked the necessary controls and oversight of its employees" and quoting one analyst who claimed, “It is way out of character for one of the cleanest banks around.... It’s a head-scratcher why so many employees felt comfortable crossing the line.”

It's not a head-scratcher at all! They crossed the line because their managers made the company's priorities crystal-clear: sell or bust. Only someone completely lost in the financial services industry's distorted picture of itself could be puzzled by what happened.

As for internal controls, those are for catching lone miscreants among a population of basically honest workers. Wholesale fraud is too big for controls to, well, control. It's too easy to bypass controls when so damned many people want to subvert them.

Canning over 5,000 people says that there's something deeply rotten in Wells' corporate culture. Yet I haven't heard that any members of Wells' executive management team were among those fired.

Why not? Are we supposed to believe that upper management was not responsible for the company's culture, that they didn't set the tone?

When the guys at the bottom are under such intense pressure, the fat asses at the top are applying that pressure.

The fine is too small and nobody who really counts has been fired (or is looking at jail time). This story had better not be over.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Second Amendment overzealousness

A piece about concealed-carry laws and the University of Texas included this succinct statement of how gun-rights supporters view the Second Amendment.
... self-defense and the right of individuals to bear arms must not be restricted.
And indeed, the text of the Second Amendment is plain:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
"... shall not be infringed" is about as clear a statement as can be.

And yet ...

The Bill of Rights is a broad guide to principles. And if there's one truth about rights, it's this: they aren't unconstrained. They can't be. Not as long as there are other people around you who also have rights.

We intuitively know that. We put limits on free speech even though the very first amendment to the Constitution says Congress mustn't. We don't allow felons or the mentally unstable to own weapons. We know that "shall not be infringed" is not the absolute that pundits sometimes claim it is.

So the determination of the Texas Legislature to ignore the concerns of the administrators of the University of Texas when it comes to the circumstances under which guns should be allowed on campus is disquieting. What, after all, is the purpose of allowing weapons on campus to a greater extent than was already permissible?

There's only one reason: to cater to the fears of gun owners. Not only their fear that the Second Amendment is under attack by gun-control advocates, but their fear of ... the world. Consider the sentiments of Huyler Marsh, a student who carries a .45 caliber pistol:

“I wear it pretty much whenever I can,” Mr. Marsh said. “It’s not that I’m afraid of getting attacked all the time. It’s more like a fire extinguisher or a seatbelt. You always have it and hope you never have to use it. If I call 911, it might be 10 minutes before they get here. It might be more. It’s nice to know you have ultimate responsibility for your safety.”
Marsh may think he isn't afraid of being attacked, but the rest of his statement reveals that he is.

Most of us don't spend our time worrying about car crashes or accidental fires. We're grateful for seat belts and fire extinguishers, but we don't obsess about them. We certainly don't carry them around with us, "just in case". Partly that's for practical reasons. But mostly, it's because we don't live our lives assuming the worst is going to happen.

Marsh, though, does. He assumes that he just might need that gun at any moment.

That may strike you as admirably cautious. However, it strikes me as high-strung.

I'm not knocking high-strung people per se: I'm one myself. But it's not good to live your life in a state of perpetual readiness for attack. Physiologically, living in constant stress is detrimental to your health. Psychologically, it means that hanging over your interactions with others is the thought that they might attack you.

Marsh undoubtedly doesn't think so, and he might even argue that having his pistol makes him less nervous, knowing he's ready for whatever happens. That may be true. However, it doesn't explain why he feels so apprehensive about life outside the home that he has to strap the gun on whenever he leaves.

I'm not thrilled that his view of the world is so dark that he feels he has to carry in the first place. That's the real problem with the arguments for concealed-carry: its proponents are driven by a suspicious, highly fearful view of the rest of us.

As a practical matter, too, carrying a weapon tells us nothing of your intentions. The fact is that you know you're a good guy with a gun, but the rest of us have no way of knowing that. (Nor, for that matter, do you know that I am also a good guy with a gun, or would be if I carried.) If you reach toward your back pocket, is it to pull out your wallet — or a piece? If I know you're packing, should I wait until I'm sure, or should I act preemptively because, well, you look dangerous? Did you pull your piece because you spotted what you think is a suspicious-looking dude who's also packing? I have no way of knowing.

As a principle the Second Amendment is easy to fetishize. In reality, it's a principle that we struggle with, and we should. Guns have but one purpose: to kill. To treat bearing weapons as an absolutely inviolable right is not a viable attitude — not if we treasure the rest of our rights. That goes against what Second Amendment absolutists claim, of course; "we need our guns to secure our other rights!" But in practice, the danger of abridged rights doesn't come from the government — not today. Today, that danger comes from gun-toting zealots who refuse to accept that their favorite Constitutional amendment has limits. That a lot of these folks are also driven by fear, though they don't know it, just makes the situation worse.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We'll miss you, Larry

Larry Wilmore's Nightly Show has been cancelled by Comedy Central. The network's president said that the show really wasn't capturing an audience, either live, DVR-delayed or online.

I can't be too bitter about the cancellation — not without being a complete hypocrite, anyway. Although I said I might keep checking out his show, I mostly didn't: I relished too much the hour I recovered after giving up on the late-night variety shows.

Yet I feel bad for Wilmore. Unlike Trevor Noah, Wilmore actually has given a shit about his show and the subjects it covers. He has provided an important and unique perspective in the late-night universe and he has featured guests no one else has. Wilmore took a risk in addressing so directly the contentious issue of structural racism in American society.

He is also an unapologetic geek and promoter of scientific literacy. In that, his only competitor is Colbert. However, Colbert is known more for being a cultural geek (Tolkien, the Bible, etc.); Wilmore, though, is a space nerd. One of my favorite Nightly Show bits was Wilmore's "book club in space" with Buzz Aldrin. You could see the light of the true fan shining from Wilmore's eyes. It was delightful. In this age of rampant anti-intellectualism, we need all the science geeks we can get.

Perhaps most admirably, Wilmore hasn't been afraid to be thoughtful. Wilmore talks to his guests and correspondents, and not just in the standard six-questions-on-a-blue-card rhythm that is the M.O. for every other weeknight host. He actually has listened and responded to people in a way that makes both him and his guests human.

Yeah, I'm singing Wilmore's praises more effusively than I did in March. However, back then, I assumed that The Daily Show and The Nightly Show were destined for lengthy runs. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been more enthusiastic about Wilmore.

In the end, I get why Comedy Central pulled the plug: The Nightly Show has neither ratings nor buzz. For better or worse, the network has bet on The Daily Show (and @ Midnight) to carry its late-night banner. I think the network has made a bad bet. At least now, though, I don't have to feel bad that I'm not letting Wilmore school me.

I hope Wilmore gets another chance to give us his take on current events, this time in a format that does him justice.

In the meantime, so long and thanks for all the fish, Larry. Best of luck to you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Trump and sarcasm

In the least surprising turn of events this week:
Donald J. Trump tried to quash the latest controversy engulfing his campaign on Friday by claiming that he was not serious when he insisted several times this week that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were the “founders” of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Come again, Donald?
After making the suggestion at a rally on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump doubled down on the assertion on Thursday, insisting in interviews that he really did intend to say that the president and Mrs. Clinton had ISIS. But in an early-morning Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that he was just being sarcastic.
Teh Donald has pulled this stunt several times. If you're musically inclined you might call it a leitmotif.

Supporters are inclined to shrug off all the consternation over his inflammatory remarks. After all, his fans adore his willingness to flout what they call "political correctness". It tickles them even more when he turns around and says that of course he didn't mean it, that he was just being sarcastic. It makes the rest of us look like the hypersensitive sissies he and his most loyal supporters caricature us as in their private (and increasingly, public) conversations.

Teh Donald wasn't being sarcastic.

For sarcasm to work, you have to know, or believe you know, what the speaker's real attitude is — and that attitude has to be different from the one he expresses.

There is nothing different between the non-sarcastic sentiments Teh Donald spews, and what he calls his sarcastic comments.

His racism toward President Obama and his misogyny toward Hillary Clinton, as well as his fondness for quick solutions centered on violence, are at the very core of who he is.

For Teh Donald to claim he was being sarcastic is equivalent to giving the standard non-apology apology: "I apologize to anyone who was offended ...".

Fuck your evasion, Donnie.

You say hateful, vile shit. One day you will choke on it and leave the world a better place.

Oh, did you take me seriously? You short-fingered silly. I was being sarcastic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The silly hope of a pivot

There has been a lot of chatter about Teh Donald's supposed any-day-now pivot to the political center over the last couple of weeks.

To which my response has been a weary, "Really?"

In elections past, it made sense to speak of politicians "pivoting" toward the center, after they'd thrown red meat to their party's more extreme base in the primaries. But could you really expect that of Teh Donald?

The point of the center-pivot is to make yourself a plausible choice to undecided voters. Those voters have to believe it's possible you might mean what you're saying now rather than what you said during the primaries. They need to think you're not the extremist you sounded like a few months ago.

Pick your favorite Trump statement. If he discounted or disavowed it tomorrow, would you believe him?

Of course not!

If you believe Teh Donald has no filter, that he says exactly what he's thinking at that moment, then how could he maintain his brand if he explicitly contradicted himself?

On the other hand, if you believe that Teh Donald has no fixed relationship to the truth, then nothing he says means anything.

He has said childish, ignorant, threatening, bigoted things. If he has no filter, then he means those things. If he has no fixed relationship to the truth, he might or might not mean those things. But even if he doesn't mean them, he's perfectly comfortable sounding like he means them. That kills any possibility of reassuring the undecided populace that he isn't nuts, which is the whole point of the pivot to the center.

The Republican establishment would love for him to start talking like a guy you could trust as commander-in-chief and man with sole authority to use the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal.

That's not gonna happen. Even if it did happen, we'd all assume they'd done a Manchurian Candidate on him. We would never trust a pivoted Trump.

So can we all stop the pretense that Trump wlll pivot, and that a pivot would make him a viable candidate?

He is exactly what he sounds like, a dangerous narcissist and ignoramus who shouldn't be allowed to tour the White House, much less live in it.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Can Hillary reach Trump's America?

In a Salon piece entitled, "Trump's suicide mission: He's not trying to destroy his own campaign — the destructive urge he represents is much bigger than that", Andrew O'Hehir observes that Americans love to talk big, love to thump our chests and proclaim our exceptionalism (well, I don't but then, I'm an outlier), but we also have deeply self-destructive impulses.

He argues that suicide and obesity rates, along with political polarization that results in closed information bubbles, have created

... a health crisis on an enormous scale — a crisis that is simultaneously physical, psychological and spiritual and is hardly ever understood in holistic terms. If Trump is the most prominent symptom of this systemic disorder at the moment, he is not its cause or even its leading indicator.
Or, putting it less abstractly:
I’m saying that the state of borderline psychosis produced by electronic consumer society leads to OxyContin addiction and Baconator Fries and a suicide epidemic and Donald Trump. Those things are not all the same, but they are interconnected.
It's a vast argument and no little Web article could hope to make it effectively, so although he didn't succeed in convincing me I'm willing to chalk that up to insufficient space.

Given my skepticism that he's onto something, I would not have mentioned this piece except that he makes a troubling point in passing:

I’m not sure the Clinton-Obama-Clinton leadership of the Democratic Party has the slightest understanding of the physical and psychological dislocation of so much of America, the loneliness and desperation that has found its voice, for the moment, in Donald Trump. Why would they, since they are every bit as complicit in the political economy that made all this possible as the Republicans are?
A Trump victory in November would be a blind cliff jump for the country: we might fall into water and live, but there's a substantial risk we'd break ourselves beyond recognition or even recovery. (That's what I think a lot of Trump supporters hope: that the country will change from what it is, a multicultural stew of many hues and opinions, to a place that looks and feels a lot more like Pleasantville before Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon started messing things up.)

Yet even if Hillary Clinton wins, Trump's supporters aren't going away. Forget the immediate aftermath, which Trump, by talking darkly of rigged elections, is already setting up to be nastier than Bush v. Gore. What's going to happen when we get past that Constitutional crisis? Trump's supporters are going to be in the same economic and cultural places they are now, and those places led them to support him and despise her (if they didn't already). They represent too numerous a constituency to be ignored. More to the point, I think a lot of them are genuinely in need.

If their need is a job or substance abuse care or something else altogether, is Clinton ready to do something about it? Does she have even the foggiest idea what to do? Can she find a way to break through their hostility toward her, both to hear how they genuinely feel and to get them to understand her position? Can she, in short, plant the seed for even the most basic national consensus on how to move forward?

(And yeah, I know she would face as uphill a communications battle as any president ever has, considering there's a genuinely vast array of right-wing media whose business model is inextricably tied to fostering distrust of anything to its political left. Well, them's the conditions that prevail. Nobody forced her to run this year.)

Assuming she can design a reasonable plan of action, does she have a plan for enlisting Congress to act on it? Can she break through the partisan logjam, knock heads together and make our legislature actually do its job instead of obsessing over securing one party's supermajority so that party's platform can steamroll over the other's? (I'm sorry to say that nothing short of a Moe Howard-ish clunking of heads together is going to focus our major parties' Congressional leaders on actually passing meaningful legislation.)

By the way, if you're thinking that it would be really nice if these Trump supporters just left the country (jumped into the ocean, were taken by aliens, whatever), you're part of the problem. If we can teach ourselves to find the humanity in refugees 10,000 miles from here, we can damned well teach ourselves to find the humanity in someone 10 miles from our home. Maybe in the process, we can reach out to him and figure out how to get him to see the humanity in us. We're in this together, people. We need to act like it.

It's an open question whether anybody can ameliorate the conditions that have fed the political rise of Trump. The thing is, if Hillary Clinton becomes president, she's going to have to try. Does she recognize the challenge? Does the famously calculating HRC have a plan?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Spare some pity for Donald Trump

It seems insane to suggest we should spare a moment of pity for Donald Trump. He doesn't want it, and given how enthusiastically he has incited hatred toward individual people and groups, he doesn't deserve it.

And yet ...

Think about his behavior. Most recently, responding to an annoyingly effective rhetorical salvo against him, he derided and vilified the Khans, parents of a U.S. military officer killed in Iraq. As anyone but he could have predicted, his heartless remarks blew up in his face.

Why did a man who claims to be smarter than everybody else in the room behave so stupidly, and why has he committed such unforced errors so often during his campaign?

One answer is that he has found that his comments go over like gangbusters with his supporters. But another is that, contrary to his own pronouncements, he's not that smart. He actually doesn't know any better.

Trump has gone his entire adult life without knowing how to be an adult. He has never had to be one: first his father's money, then his own, has served to smooth his path. Physically he's seventy but emotionally, he's somewhere around four. Really.

What about his family, especially his children? (Best to tread lightly regarding his wives.) Well, I didn't watch the convention speeches so I don't know what his relationship with his kids is like. I assume it's at least okay or they wouldn't be campaigning for him. I conclude he's at least somewhat capable of warm feelings for others.

Yet we don't hear longtime friends and acquaintances gushing about what a great guy he is. Trump is the only one who gushes about Trump. By way of compensation, perhaps, he does so unceasingly.

That's sad.

In my experience, the more you praise yourself, the more desperate you are for others' esteem (understandably, if you never get it) and the worse you take any criticism. Throughout his adult life, Trump has sought to aggrandize himself. Throughout his adult life, he has overreacted to criticism or mockery. (He's still very publicly pissed about that "short-fingered vulgarian" epithet from more than a quarter-century ago, for heaven's sake.) He loves the spotlight, but only on his terms.

He's the presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties, in spite of that party's leaders' best efforts to deny him that prize. He's also the leader of a mass movement. Even his fiercest critics, and I'm one, have to admit that he has come farther than anyone thought he would. Yet even if he wins in November — even if he captures the country's ultimate political prize — it won't be enough. Becoming president won't garner him the respect and admiration he craves. Becoming president won't fill the void in his heart.

Whatever happens in November, Trump will try to spin it to his best advantage. That alone would make pitying him a tall order. Remembering that he has cheerfully flouted all sorts of rhetorical taboos, inciting (or rather, reinforcing and legitimizing) bigotry and violence among his supporters, makes it almost impossible to imagine feeling sorry for him. (I'm trying not to envision the damage he could do as president, lest I undo my whole argument.)

And yet ... his lifelong, very public quest for respect from anyone and everyone attests to how badly damaged he is. If his reckless, divisive campaign for the presidency (or, heaven forbid, his capture of the office) doesn't wreck the country, you might spare him just a bit of compassion. However much money he has, he's a most pitiable person.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trump and sacrifice

Donald Trump was called out during the Democratic National Convention by Khizr Khan, whose son died in combat in Iraq. Trump finally responded.

Here was the core of Khan's message to Trump:

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.
The heart of Trump's reply?
"I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs."
Wow.

If you're completely on board with Trump, I ask: do you think that creating "thousands and thousands of jobs" is a "sacrifice"?

I mean, Trump didn't create those jobs out of the goodness of his heart. He created them as a side effect of wanting to make a ton of money, which he says he did. So again, is making a ton of money a sacrifice?

A guy who equates making a ton of money with losing a son is a shitty human being. Really. (And if you think he was joking, he's still a shitty human being. He's just also a shitty comedian.)

Is normal enough?

Andrew O'Hehir's Salon piece bears the unwieldy titie, "Clinton's DNC was a big win for normal people and normal politics — but in a country gone insane, that might be a problem". Yet that title expresses a valid concern, one that I share.

O'Hehir observes that there was a lot to cheer for in the convention, but:

There were also pathological outbreaks of jingoism and flag-waving, promises of endless war against faceless enemies, and a consistent rhetoric of American exceptionalism that would have seemed too extreme for almost any Republican convention of the pre-Reagan years. I understand the strategy, pretty much, and I understand the goal. But Jesus H. Christ. Did we have to go all the way to that screaming general out of “Dr. Strangelove”?
The takeaway:
I feel absolutely no doubt that the same insanity virus that destroyed the Republican Party from within has infected the Democrats, and the normals are completely unaware of it.
I don't doubt O'Hehir's right. Paranoia is contagious, and right-wing paranoia has had a couple of decades of pretty effective messaging to infect all of us. That it doesn't take quite the same form among Democrats that it does among Republicans is no comfort: paranoia is still an unhealthy condition.

Will it take a truly out-of-the-box thinker, rather than a flawed "normal", to take the country in a more effective, more positive direction? Perhaps. But for November, we have only one of those two, the flawed normal that is Hillary Clinton. Trump is many things, but a thinker is not one of them. So in November, normal, however flawed it is, will be enough.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Assange and the election

As a U.S. citizen, I have deeply mixed feelings about what Julian Assange has done with Wikileaks in the past. The light Wikileaks shed on U.S. policy may well prove, in the long run, to be beneficial for the country. If the fear of embarrassment, or jail, keeps government officials from doing stupid things, I don't think that's bad. That's as positive a spin as I can muster.

The DNC leaks are a different story — so far.

The revelation that the Democratic establishment was in the bag for Hillary Clinton actually doesn't bother me that much. I assumed it was anyway.

On the other hand, Assange's avowed antipathy toward Clinton bugs the hell out of me.

I supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries. I think Hillary Clinton is too politically malleable in too many of the wrong ways, just as her husband was (and is).

Even so — even granting all the legitimate criticism of HRC — there is one overriding reason to support her: Donald Trump.

Assange, though, will have none of that. When asked by an ITV interviewer, "Would you prefer Trump to be president?":

Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.

First, citing his “personal perspective,” Mr. Assange accused Mrs. Clinton of having been among those pushing to indict him after WikiLeaks disseminated a quarter of a million diplomatic cables during her tenure as secretary of state.

“We do see her as a bit of a problem for freedom of the press more generally,” Mr. Assange said.

Um, yeah ... what did you expect her to do, Mr. Assange? Cheer you on? You did the equivalent of kicking her in a very tender place; you look asinine for being angry she did her best to kick back.

Oh, and if you think Clinton would be bad for freedom of the press, you really should take a closer look at Trump: he has scant respect for journalists — and he's one of the higher-profile public figures who has proven he doesn't need (all of) them to get his message out.

But what was the second way she would be problematic?

In addition, Mr. Assange criticized Mrs. Clinton for pushing to intervene in Libya in 2011 when Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was cracking down on Arab Spring protesters; he said that the result of the NATO air war was Libya’s collapse into anarchy, enabling the Islamic State to flourish.

“She has a long history of being a liberal war hawk, and we presume she is going to proceed” with that approach if elected president, he said.

This, I can understand as a legitimate concern for a foreign national. Whether you agree with Assange or not, it's undeniable that U.S. actions can have huge effects on the rest of the world. The U.S. repeatedly has intervened illegally and often covertly in other countries' politics. The consequences have been bad. You might be tempted to say, turnabout is fair play. But maybe you should learn from our bad example instead of repeating our mistakes.

Assange's attempt to insert himself into the U.S. presidential campaign leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As much as he may be concerned by what the next U.S. president will do to the rest of the world, he won't have to live with what the next president will do to this country. I and millions of others will.

I'm asserting my interest over yours, Julian. I flatly reject your attempt to tip the scales of the 2016 presidential election. Your selective document releases are morally indefensible. And you needed to occupy the moral high ground, Julian, if you had any hope of affecting how the U.S. population thinks of (and thereby votes to treat) the rest of the world. Kiss that hope goodbye.

Unless you have evidence that Hillary Clinton kidnapped the Lindbergh baby or murdered Jimmy Hoffa, you have revealed yourself to be a supremely petty man. You don't leak documents, you take leaks on people you don't like.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Oh Jon, we missed you

The appearance of "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA" (aka Pundit Colbert) on Monday's Late Show was a thrill.

The appearance of Jon Stewart on Thursday's Late Show was even better.

Stewart has appeared on Colbert's CBS show before, but the appearances always have been in bits for the show (except for his pitch to goad Congress into renewing benefits for the health-impaired first responders who responded to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks). Monday's bit involving Pundit Colbert was Stewart's most extended appearance — until Thursday.

Thursday night, Colbert mentioned that Roger Ailes had been forced out of his job as head of Fox News. After a joke or two on that subject, Colbert wished he could share the news with someone. Cue Stewart, rising from under the desk. The two bantered for a minute, then Stewart asked if he could share a few thoughts on the subject — from behind the desk. A couple of wardrobe additions later (a black suit jacket and clip-on tie), Stewart was back behind a desk again for the first time since he left The Daily Show.

Then ... magic. For the first time in a year, we got our Jon Stewart fix.

I can't help wondering how those Late Show viewers who had never seen Stewart and Colbert on Comedy Central felt about Stewart's take-down of conservative media generally and Sean Hannity in particular, largely using Hannity's own words. It wasn't for everyone. It was brutal, in the vintage Daily Show style Stewart pioneered.

And for that reason, it was glorious.

(On Monday, Colbert had teased that Stewart would return later in the week. I don't think this was what they had in mind: for one thing, Ailes wasn't known to be in serious trouble until Tuesday. Yet if there was furious last-minute rewriting to adjust for Ailes' ouster, it didn't show.)

Jon, I can't tell you how much we've missed you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Oh Stephen, we missed you

Hearing that Jon Stewart would be joining Stephen Colbert on The Late Show allowed me to hope that the two would reverse their Daily Show roles, with Stewart being Colbert's correspondent reporting from the conventions.

On Monday's Late Show, Stewart's role was limited to one short skit. The skit, though, served to reintroduce the blowhard pundit "Stephen Colbert", the host of The Colbert Report.

The moment Pundit Colbert stepped behind the desk and uttered the word "Nation", I felt I'd been reunited with an old friend.

In a way, the character's return was inevitable. The real Stephen Colbert can't comment effectively on the Republican Party's all-but-anointed presidential nominee, a lying bigot who overcompensates for his pathological inferiority complex with a buffoonish egomania. The idea is too bizarre and tragic for a normal person to frame. Only the pundit "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA" could reach the rhetorical high notes needed to express the outrageousness of this train wreck. And reach those high notes he did, through the resurrection of the Report's best-known recurring bit, "The W0rd".

Though Pundit Colbert was only onscreen for a few minutes, he seemed to add a spark to the whole hour. As his arch "Hungry for Power Games" presenter in a different bit, Colbert hurled brutally accurate barbs at Republicans and the far right while strolling through the mostly-empty Cleveland convention hall. The sequence was audacious and frequently hilarious. Even the show's opening, a musical number, seemed inspired. (The interview with Zoe Saldana was anodyne and a bit with Sam Waterston was a bust, but the hit-to-miss ratio was still better than the last time I saw the show.)

Pundit Colbert asked if we'd missed him. Yes. We missed him terribly.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Rudy, shut up

Per the New York Times, Rudy Giuliani on Sunday's "Face the Nation":
“When you say black lives matter, that’s inherently racist,” Mr. Giuliani said in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That’s anti-American, and it’s racist.”
If only Giuliani really had to face the nation.

Look, Rudy, I'm asking this in the kindest possible spirit, really.

Could you please shut the fuck up?

Really, just shut the fuck up.

Shut the fuck up and listen for a change.

Start by listening to yourself.

“They sing rap songs about killing police officers, and they talk about killing police officers, and they yell it out at their rallies and the police officers hear it,” he said.
This is the same stuff you said twenty years ago. You're kind of a broken record.

Now, try listening to the rest of the country. Listen, and open your eyes.

What the rest of America is slowly waking up to is, blacks didn't start the bloodshed. Blacks are reacting in a totally understandable way to institutionalized racism so deep, so broad, that you haven't seen it (because as a white man, things seem just fine as they are). That racism extends to how some police officers across the country are treating black suspects.

The bottom line is, black men and women are dying at the hands of the police way more often than they should be — way more often than anyone with a conscience can stand.

That doesn't excuse five police officers dying at the hands of a disturbed black man in Dallas — but it sure as hell explains why they did. It wasn't fucking rap lyrics that drove Micah Johnson.

Yes, you can tritely say "all lives matter", but to do so you must willfully ignore the fact that blacks are dying at the hands of the police more often than anybody else.

Really, Rudy, you have to get out of your own head. You can't ever really understand the anguish and stress of being black, but you have to start respecting blacks. They're not just making this shit up! You have to realize that being black carries stigmas in this country that no other minority status does.

Nothing that comes out of your mouth is helping. Nothing that has come out of your mouth for a long time has helped.

So please, shut up and listen for a change.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit's lesson for us

Does Britain's vote to leave the European Union hold a lesson for the U.S.? I think so.

Whether you think the arguments for leaving held water, they convinced a lot of people. Complaining that those people were stupid was guaranteed to piss them off and stiffen their resolve to spite you. Is this what happened? Maybe, maybe not, but this oft-implied attitude on the part of government officials and other members of the elite didn't help.

I think another big factor was a sense that a lot of those in the Leave camp were losing out economically. The elites in London didn't seem to give a damn about people who were being left behind by the roaring economy. That would be the global economy — the same global economy that has left so many behind in the U.S.

The U.S. government hasn't done much to ameliorate the plight of this country's left-behinds, preferring to focus on easing the way for the big corporations that dominate the global economy. In a sense, the federal government has been operating on a supply-side, very conservative economic model: help the companies and they'll "trickle down" jobs. This has been true since 1980 and under Democratic presidents as well as Republican ones.

Unquestionably our economy needs jobs for prosperity. However, the federal government has been blind to all but the stock market for too long. People outside the trendy sectors of the economy have been ignored.

The result? Trump (on the right) and Bernie Sanders (on the left).

Trump also benefits from a backlash against cultural changes. (This, too, was a likely driver of Leave votes in the UK.) To quote Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a failure to communicate. The urban and cultural elites — and I plead guilty to being both, even if I'm not quite sure what the "cultural elite" is — haven't paid attention to our fellow citizens who don't agree with us on social issues and who were being left behind by the global economy.

It's too late for the U.S.'s urban and cultural elites to do anything about our deafness and blindness that will change the election. But even if Trump doesn't win the presidency, we're going to have to reckon with his supporters. We don't have to agree with (or do anything to encourage) the bigotry and divisiveness he has forced to the surface of the body politic, but we damned sure have to address the legitimate economic grievances that fueled his rise. We need to accord his supporters the respect they're due as our neighbors and fellow citizens. (We can also see about getting them to listen to us, too.)

If we don't come together, the U.S. will follow the UK's example, giving in to hyper-nationalism and isolationism out of a sense of legitimate but misplaced grievance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sauce for the goose

Rachel Maddow is excited by the "sit-in" being conducted by Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives. The Democrats are breaking regular order and disrupting the routine of House business to demand a vote on gun-control measures.

The sit-in is ongoing and we don't know how or when it will end. However, it's not nearly as exciting for me as it is for Maddow.

When members of Congress throw over the institution's rules and procedures, they set a dangerous precedent. Republicans will remember what Democrats have done and they won't hesitate to pull a similar stunt, or worse, if they think they can derive political benefit. Sauce for the goose, and all that.

Congress is a dysfunctional mess, no question, but turning it into more of a circus isn't going to make it better. If you think that Congress is so broken that we might as well disrupt it any way we can, you're indulging the same irrational, anarchic impulses as Trump's supporters.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mental clutter and creativity

Prof. Moshe Bar penned a brief piece for the New York Times whose thrust is that our brains are overloaded with stray thinking. His recent research finds
... the capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of “mental load.”

...

... our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.

His research has implications for everyone, but I'm particularly interested in what it means for voiceover talents. To be as free and creative as possible, you have to leave the rest of the day behind when you belly up to the mic. Sometimes we even tell ourselves (or at least inexperienced talents do this) that a given script doesn't really need our fullest attention, that we can wing it. 'Tain't so, and it would be helpful to cultivate meditation or some other practice that clears our minds. As Bar puts it:
Except when you are flying an F-16 aircraft or experiencing extreme fear or having an orgasm, your life leaves too much room for your mind to wander. As a result, only a small fraction of your mental capacity remains engaged in what is before it, and mind-wandering and ruminations become a tax on the quality of your life.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Religion and hatred

I don't hold many absolute beliefs. I'm temperamentally unable to avoid seeing the other person's point of view, most of the time.

I do, though, have one absolute belief that is particularly relevant right now:

No true religion teaches that it's okay to hate whole groups of people.
Looking at the wide swath of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, most of these faiths' adherents would deny that hatred is at the heart of their religion. However, each of these faiths has numerous sects that do make hatred a core principle. Some hate non-adherents, some hate taboo violators, aka "sinners". Such hatred isn't merely accepted, it's considered virtuous. Such hatred can even be a justification for violence.

These sects are an abomination.

Religion is supposed to be a guide to ethical living. How is it ethical to hate whole groups of people you don't know? How is it ethical to classify whole groups of people you don't know as, essentially, sub-human?

The Orlando mass murderer has gotten many commentators tangled up in the confused but toxic stew of his supposed religious beliefs and personal prejudices. One thing is tragically clear, though: he got it into his messed-up head that his religion was eminently okay with his hating gay people.

The Orlando mass murderer was very likely mentally ill. That doesn't let his religion, or religion in general, off the hook, though.

The message "God hates gays" is a depressingly prevalent one, espoused by hundreds if not thousands of religious leaders at the local and national level. It's a trope that transcends the Christian/Muslim divide, and for all I know is present in fundamentalist Jewish and Hindu sects, too. This message of hatred, broadcast by a thousand voices from all sides (including his father's), sank into the Orlando mass murderer's unstable mind. Eventually he acted on it.

The thing is, he wasn't the first and he won't be the last deeply troubled person to glom onto hatred as an organizing principle for his life.

It's long past time for you so-called religious leaders who spew this garbage to own up to your role in creating men like the Orlando mass murderer. You have a moral responsibility for the fallout of your relentless drumbeat of hatred.

A religion that promotes hatred of others as a virtue isn't a religion: it's heresy. People who spread such heresy incite time bombs like the Orlando mass murderer. The incitement, the drumbeat of hatred, has to stop.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Persky's privileged reasoning

Judge Aaron Persky, he of the six-months-jail-for-rape sentence, finally has had his say in the court of public opinion, thanks to the UK's Guardian, which provided a transcript of Persky's remarks at the sentencing hearing.

Color me unconvinced by Persky's reasoning.

He lists a number of considerations that he was legally bound to consider in deciding on a sentence, going through them one by one. What seems to have impressed him most were the numerous character-attestation letters submitted on defendant Brock Turner's behalf. From these, Persky seems to have decided that a lengthy prison stint — or even a moderately lengthy one of six years, which the prosecutor recommended — would be too severe a punishment.

I think you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life. And the impact statements that have been – or the, really, character letters that have been submitted do show a huge collateral consequence for Mr. Turner based on the conviction.
Persky can only be said to have taken a far more positive attitude toward Turner's character and prospects than the rest of us.

Persky's assessment of Turner's character is especially troubling. Persky thinks that Turner's intoxication mitigated the severity of the crime, noting that we'd think even less of Turner if he had raped an unconscious girl while he was sober. While true, the bottom line is that Turner raped an unconscious girl. Persky totally sidesteps that point. It's as if Persky thinks alcohol is a get-out-of-jail-free card in Monopoly.

Judge Persky, do all drunken young men try to rape unconscious women in your world?

As for Turner's prospects post-jail, nobody knows what they'll be, maybe not even Turner himself. But judging from his father's despicable indifference to his son's victim, I don't think Turner has been raised to understand social norms all that well. I think he has been raised in an atmosphere in which the concerns of others are not all that important. If you believe "in vino, veritas", that alcohol can be a useful truth serum of sorts, then Turner revealed a very unappetizing truth about himself. His willingness to rape an unconscious woman apparently was only held in check by sobriety, not by any sense of the grotesque immorality of such an act. His disinhibited crime does not paint a pretty picture of who he is or who he's likely to be later in life.

Having no prior criminal record and being armed with a wheelbarrow of character references made a big impression on Judge Persky. I would guess that Persky also viewed Turner as a sympathetic-looking and -sounding defendant, the boy next door.

Persky was so focused on the possible adverse consequences for the defendant that he forgot who the victim in this case really was. Shame on him.

Friday, June 17, 2016

McCain's bitterness

Obama's responsible for the Orlando massacre. That's what John McCain originally said. Then he said he misspoke.
"I did not mean to imply that the president was personally responsible. I was referring to President Obama’s national security decisions, not the president himself."
A distinction without a difference.

Why did McCain drag Obama into the blame game in the first place?

"Because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures."
I had a longer post ready, but it would have been a waste of your time because we all know that McCain's talking out of his ass:
  • We got out of Iraq because the country finally figured out our occupation wasn't ever going to make the country (or the region) better.
  • We got into Iraq because George W. Bush wanted to invade, not because the invasion was in the national interest.
"ISIS is what it is today" because George W. Bush destabilized Iraq. That's the reality that McCain is at pains to repudiate. But denial ain't just a river in Egypt, Senator.

(There's also the not so little matter of our not really knowing if the Orlando mass murderer was genuinely motivated by ISIS, or was just mentally ill. See my previous post. But hey, McCain can't be bothered by little things like uncertainty about the facts.)

Senator, your wanton, ill-considered statements don't constitute serious, insightful criticism. They're petty and bitter and out of touch with reality.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Explaining the Orlando mass murderer

Once again, Esquire's Charles Pierce cuts through the noise of opinion-mongering by all and sundry to explain why we may never know what was going through what passed for mass murderer Omar Mateen's mind.
As we learn more about him, he seems to have had a staggering mixture of motives; he was such a tightly wound ball of hate that we never may truly untangle the real cause of why he did what he did. He didn't much like any minorities. He slapped his first wife around. He broke chairs. He threw angry fits at the office. He may have been a self-loathing gay man.
That's a lot of chaos swirling in one head.

Meanwhile, the single best explanation for what ISIS has come to signify was given by The Daily Telegraph's Ruth Sherlock in her piece, "Donald Trump's scaremongering response to Orlando shooting is the opposite of what America needs".

It has become an umbrella term by which psychopaths feel they can justify deranged acts.

...

Isil has become a way for the dangerously mentally ill to find meaning in their madness. They adopt the Isil flag as a cover for their own private motives.

That makes more sense to me than almost anything else written about ISIS/ISIL.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Beware judicial recalls

The light sentence given to convicted rapist Brock Turner has spurred a recall effort. Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail. While the news report doesn't explain Persky's reasoning (it doesn't look like Persky explained himself in open court), it does cite both Turner's and his father's statements to the court. Naturally, both men pleaded for leniency. The father "told the court that his son’s life shouldn’t be ruined because of '20 minutes of action'.”

I detect no hint that Turner's father has any concern for the victim, which may go a long way toward explaining why his son raped her. However, what concerns me is the recall effort against the judge.

Persky isn't a notoriously controversial judge: at least, no reports have surfaced of similarly contentious decisions on his part. Persky can't comment while the case is under appeal (as it apparently is). So what we have is an outraged public calling for a judge's job because it disagrees with one of his decisions.

Plenty of us were outraged by the recall effort mounted against justices of Iowa's Supreme Court in 2010, an effort led by opponents of those justices' ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Those justices didn't commit misconduct, they issued an unpopular ruling. The recall was purely and nakedly political.

As far as I can tell, Persky has committed no misconduct on the bench. We may disagree (vehemently) with the sentence he handed down, but we should be careful about doing more than yelling about it. Recalling judges completely ignores the role they play. Legislators and executives (mayors, governors, the President) are supposed to be responsive to public opinion. However, judges often have to ignore public opinion, or they can't safeguard the rights of those not in the majority. Thus recalling or electing judges makes absolutely no sense. (If you want a government that does only what the majority wants, ditch the judiciary, and for that matter, the Bill of Rights: the rights available to the people will be up to the majority. Better hope you're always in the majority under such a government.)

Six months sure sounds like an inappropriately light sentence for rape, and that bothers me. Even so, I won't support the recall effort against Judge Persky. Those who do may think they're crusading for justice, but they're really attacking one of the pillars of our government.

[UPDATE: I was wrong. Judge Persky did explain himself in open court.]

Friday, June 3, 2016

Baby Trump

It's somebody else's fault.

That's practically the Trump mantra. Every time you turn around, there's Teh Donald, calling somebody a "disgrace" or a "sleaze" or, in his especially regressed moments, "a very bad person". These terrible people are the reason things have gone wrong in TrumpWorld.

Here's what he had to say about a judge hearing a case in which former students are suing Trump University:

Trump leveled a series of blows against [federal judge Gonzalo] Curiel. He called him “a hater of Donald Trump” and “very hostile” person who had “railroaded” him. He then taunted the judge, who has scheduled a trial for late November, after the election.

“I’ll be seeing you in November, either as president…” Trump said, trailing off. “I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s doing this.” Trump brought up Curiel’s ethnicity: “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican…I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump.”

It sounds like the case isn't going Trump's way. Who could have predicted that?

Set aside the lawsuit, though, and consider: when has Trump ever taken responsibility for anything?

He ain't perfect. He makes mistakes. Has he ever owned them?

No.

Instead, he whines.

The judge in a case makes rulings adverse to him? Trump whines that the judge is a "hater". Trump brings up the judge's ethnicity as an unconcealed dog whistle to his followers, with the implied whine being, "He's Mexican, I've said things Mexicans don't like, so he's taking it out on me". Oh, wait, I missed a nuance: "... so he's taking it out on poor little me".

Kids say the darnedest things, but they're kids. They're young, they're ignorant of how adults behave. Adults who act like kids are not taken seriously — nor should they be.

Sometimes Trump followers make good points about what's wrong with the world. Those points, though, are easy to ignore when the messenger is so infantile. Rather than making the rest of us reconsider our perspective, he's poisoning the discussion.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thank you, Dahlia Lithwick

A lot about this election cycle bothers me — no, worse: scares me. I haven't quite been able to pin it down. However, I think Dahlia Lithwick may have identified a big part of it.

Her piece is entitled, "Fellow Liberals, Let's Stop Doing These Things". Her piece is about the bad, degrading tone afflicting not just (what passes for) discourse between left and right, but discourse between ostensibly likeminded folks on the left. She has a short list of "hideous behaviors" that seem to be prevalent, having become almost reflexive.

The list of things wrong with the country and what passes for our current national discussion is long. Lithwick has taken a stab at enumerating some of the most egregious items, and for that, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Newsflash: it's still the Internet

The New York Times is relegating "the Internet" to lowercase.

The paper cites the AP's recent decision to do the same as the impetus for its decision. The decision has been a while coming as common usage apparently has been heading in that direction.

Mr. Kent, of The A.P., said of the devotion to the capital I, “Some people feel sort of physically deep in their soul that it’s a proper noun.”

“They would compare it to a physical place with a proper name. But I just don’t think most people see it that way anymore,” he added. “For younger people, it’s always been there; it’s like water.”

That's "Thomas Kent, The A.P.'s standards editor"; the capitalization of "The A.P." is per the Times article and "The A.P." is cited mulitiple times in the article, so it wasn't a mistake. I'm sure the Times follows the A.P.'s own guidelines for how to cite "The A.P." in news articles. It's therefore quite funny that both The A.P. and the Times have chosen to de-capitalize the Internet.

If The A.P. is so determined to remind everyone that there is only one Associated Press, why is it so determined to erase the fact that there is only one Internet?

Yes, Virginia, there is only one Internet. There are many internetworks, but there is only one Internet. It's the one based on the standard TCP/IP protocol stack and publicly visible Internet Protocol addresses.

Thomas Kent, though, will have none of that.

“In our view, it’s become wholly generic, like ‘electricity or the ‘telephone,’ ” he said. “It was never trademarked. It’s not based on any proper noun. The best reason for capitalizing it in the past may have been that the word was new. But at one point, I’ve heard, ‘phonograph’ was capitalized.”
Thomas Kent is wholly ignorant of what the Internet is. It's not a descriptor for a device or a natural phenomenon. It is a proper noun! It is the name of an entity. He's not a subject-matter expert so I don't fault him for not knowing, but I do fault him for not talking to people who do know.

A.P. — or should I say "a.p." — you and the times have it wrong.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hillary needs street smarts

Hillary Clinton's unfavorables are extraordinarily high for someone who has had the career she has had and who hasn't committed a felony. Why? In part, it's residual resentment of Bill: she's seen as his co-conspirator and enabler. In part, it's her personal style: overtly calculating, legalistic in the way she carefully shows how she never crossed this line or that while often toeing right up to it, frequently disdainful of those who disagree with her. Less substantively but perhaps even more importantly, she has never learned how to convey sincerity and warmth. To be President, she has to have (or has to be able to fake) empathy for everyone.

Clinton's guardedness got her overtaken in 2008 by a guy who is, at heart, also calculating, legalistic, and frequently disdainful of his critics. However, Obama also can convey passion and a sense that he genuinely cares about something. He also has a much better developed sense of humor and is a far better speaker (and writer, I imagine).

2016 brings a different set of challenges for Clinton. The anti-establishment mood alone puts a consummately establishment politician like her at a disadvantage, as her continuing struggle for respect among Democrats shows. Bernie is behind in delegates and has no chance of capturing the nomination without a floor fight, but he's the one actually inspiring Democrats. As a rank-and-file voter, I'll support Clinton in the general election (assuming she's the nominee), but I won't be excited about her. I'm a default Democrat, and have been for a while, entirely because the Republican Party stands for a bunch of things that appall, repel, and/or scare me.

Which brings us to Trump.

I won't recapitulate all the reasons Trump's a terrible human being and an even worse candidate for president, because none of that matters as far as Clinton's concerned. The Republican Party establishment itself tried mightily to make these points, and look what happened: if the effort didn't backfire, it sure as hell didn't help, either. There's no reason to believe the Clinton campaign's efforts will be any more successful. Like many of Trump's primary rivals, she's a traditional politician, with a traditional politician's instincts for how the game is played. Trump clobbered such traditional rivals in Republican primaries, and not just because Republican primary voters are in a savagely anti-establishment mood. He has found ways of appealing to people who have been disaffected by both major parties.

Trump has a track record of making insults that stick to his opponents. He also has a near-magical ability to redirect the national conversation when it isn't favorable to him. Clinton needs a campaign advisor with street smarts who can counter these advantages, or she will be a footnote in the history books — just another failed presidential candidate.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Does Trump think we're all morons?

A quarter-century ago, Donald Trump was in the (insanely self-serving) habit of pretending to be someone else. He would routinely masquerade as the spokesman for Donald J. Trump.

I heard about this on the Rachel Maddow show Friday night. Although the Washington Post broke the story, Maddow addressed Trump's subsequent, flat denial of the Post's story by digging up Trump's admission of his fakery, and his apology for it, out of the pages of People magazine a quarter-century ago.

(Caveat: I believe the MSNBC link is the correct one, but I didn't watch the embedded video because I won't allow Adobe Flash to run on my system.)

First, I must admit that I've gotten so caught up in Trump's response to the Post's story that I nearly lost track of the story itself. (This is undoubtedly part of Trump's strategy and the reason for his bluff denial.) It's worth remembering that the story itself is surpassingly weird. Who pretends to be his own spokesman? Who is so obsessed with controlling his reputation that he tries to pass himself off as a third party to testify to his own character?

The word "narcissist" doesn't come within smelling distance of 1990s-era Trump. And nothing suggests his self-obsession has lessened since then.

But back to Trump's denial. Maddow dismantles it in no uncertain terms, so we can dispense with considering whether he's telling the truth and ask whether he's actively lying.

There are two choices: either Trump's memory is so bad he can't remember his '90s behavior, or he's a bald-faced liar.

I don't think you can manage the grind of a presidential campaign if you're significantly brain-damaged, so I assume Trump isn't. Thus I can only wonder if, with lies he can't be bothered to make even a tiny bit plausible, he thinks the electorate is significantly brain-damaged.

Do you think we're all morons, Donald?

Why are you lying about your embarrassing past when it's so copiously documented?

Trump's acting on the adage, "If you can't dazzle them with science, baffle them with bullshit". Trump's confidence in uttering his nonsense doesn't change what it is. It's bullshit.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The New York Times' misplaced Tr(i)ump(halism)

"Republican Party Unravels Over Trump's Takeover".

"Ryan-Trump Breach May Be Irreparable".

"Clinton Moves to Win Over Anti-Trump Republicans".

Looks bad for Teh Donald, doesn't it?

Yeah, no.

It's the 7th of May. Election Day is the 8th of November. That's six very long months away.

Trump's an emptyheaded bigot, serial liar, and all-around raging asshole who enjoys kicking people when they're down, but he's also a master at getting attention and sliming his opponents. Like a parrot, Teh Donald knows how to repeat his refrains, and six months is long enough for his bullshit to become the accepted wisdom in undecided voters' minds. His strength unfortunately coincides with Hillary Clinton's greatest weakness, her inability to convey honesty.

The Times' misplaced triumphalism, if it's shared by enough dumb Democrats or lazy independents, is going to blow up in its face.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Debasing the concept of anti-Semitism

Can you debase the concept of anti-Semitism? Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked proved you can:
“In the past, we saw European leaders speaking against the Jews. Now, we see them speaking against Israel. It is the same anti-Semitism of blood libels, spreading lies, distorting reality and brainwashing people into hating Israel and the Jews,” Shaked told the Washington Post. “Today, it is not politically correct to be anti-Semitic but being anti-Israeli is acceptable. People who have such anti-Semitic views should not be allowed to hold central leadership positions.”
You brazenly equate criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism, Minister Shaked. That's despicable.

(I was tempted to add, "You are despicable", but that would have been the same mistake Minister Shaked made, turning a legitimate criticism of a person's action and speech into an ad hominem attack on the person.)

Minister Shaked, you have the crust to call legitimate criticism of Israel's heavyhanded and violent policies anti-Semitic? Your attitude removes the possibility of separating the nation, its leaders and its citizens: you conflate them all. That encourages genuine anti-Semitism! That's so asinine, so fatuously shortsighted, I wonder if your thinking is impaired. Are you high?

Minister, you should be ashamed of yourself for debasing the concept of anti-Semitism.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Have we hit electoral bottom?

By 1984, I was convinced Ronald Reagan was taking this country in as wrong a direction as was possible. I was appalled by Reagan's relentlessly sunny refusal to come to grips with the environmental problems that had made Jimmy Carter, a man who took his responsibility for steering the nation toward a sustainable future very seriously, so concerned for the future. Reagan's cabinet was a slap in the face to thoughtful stewardship of the nation's natural resources. His foreign policy was a series of provocations, what we might today call micro-aggressions, against unfriendly nations. Reagan was the first president I was old enough to feel was a genuine danger to the nation. I didn't file the paperwork to vote in time so I could only look on as Reagan swamped Walter Mondale.

In the 1988 and 1992 elections I wasn't any more thrilled by George H. W. Bush, but even at the time I conceded that he seemed to have more on the ball than Reagan. In the years since, Bush 41 has looked better and better not just as a president (compared to his predecessor and his son, admittedly a very low bar), but as a candidate, too. Bill Clinton had already earned his "Slick Willie" moniker in my mind so my vote was about as much against Bush 41 as for Clinton. In 1996 Bob Dole was such a reactionary and Ross Perot such a loon that Clinton would have to have assaulted a nun to lose my vote.

During Clinton's presidency the far right's authoritarian tendencies broke into the open with the election to the House of Newt Gingrich and his allies. Gingrich's unwillingness to make Congress work if it redounded, even to the smallest degree, to the Democrats' credit was unprecedented in modern times. This is when our modern Congressional atherosclerosis set in.

The year 2000 marked what I assumed would be an all-time low in candidates, the barely coherent George W. Bush and the robotic stuffed-shirt Al Gore. Gore, in addition to coming off as an extraterrestrial inartfully masquerading as a human being, promised to prolong the bad feelings and unending partisan conflict that marked Clinton's last years in office. Yet Dubya was avowedly a religious zealot and self-evidently a moron. It was the first election in which I truly felt I had to hold my nose and vote for the lesser of two evils, Gore (setting aside the hopeless idealist, Ralph Nader).

By 2004 it seemed impossible that Dubya's mismanagement of the economy (his ruinous tax cuts in the face of a military conflict) and his insane swerve away from Afghanistan toward Iraq would permit him a second term. The Democrats, though, managed to find in John Kerry a candidate even less charismatic (if infinitely more cogent) than Dubya. Again, I held my nose and voted for the lesser of two evils in Kerry.

2008 was a relief in that neither major-party presidential candidate was a lost cause. Sarah Palin, though, was a different story. There had been Congressional sideshow freaks for years, but none had come within smelling distance of higher office. Palin was the first genuinely nutty, self-oblivious yet self-absorbed moron on a major-party ticket in my lifetime. (Dan Quayle was an ignoramus but he wasn't exceptionally arrogant. George W. Bush at least sensed he wasn't the brightest bulb.)

By 2008 rank-and-file Republicans had long since demonstrated they would not tolerate any presidential candidate (much less President) who didn't toe the stringent party line. Reagan's emphasis on party unity had fused with Gingrich's uncompromising insistence on doctrinal purity. John McCain's otherwise inexplicable choice of Palin as his running mate made a certain amount of sense when you consider that the party's base didn't trust him. He had to find some way of appealing to it, and he knew he couldn't convincingly make the pitch for himself.

Mitt Romney, who I suspect is personally moderate on some issues, could never have expressed or acted on those moderate beliefs if he had won. No one could. Romney wasn't intrinsically a terrible candidate to my mind, but by 2012 it was obvious that the Republican presidential candidate would not be a truly independent mind and spirit: he would merely be the vessel through which the party would exert its will, and that will was entirely the product of the far right. Romney wasn't selling himself to the electorate, he was selling the damaged GOP brand.

And now, 2016.

Oy, 2016.

That Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner in spite of the deeply negative feelings many people have toward her is something of a miracle. It's just not as big a miracle as Donald Trump being the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in spite of an even more negative reputation than HRC's.

HRC is unlikable, gives off whiffs of corruption, has showed terrible judgment (the vote on the Iraq War, using a personal email server while Secretary of State), is entirely too ready to seek military solutions rather than diplomatic ones (in spite of, again, being Secretary of State) and seems to many inauthentic. Yet this deeply flawed person is a cornucopia of virtues compared to Trump. In addition to being a bully, a misogynist and an anti-Muslim and anti-Latino bigot, Trump's either a pathological liar or too deluded to comprehend reality. What issues forth from his mouth is all but entirely wrong. Indeed, the nation might chart a beneficial course for itself by listening to Trump on any issue and then doing precisely the opposite.

These two, Clinton and Trump, barring unimaginably disruptive accidents, will be our major-party choices come November. That should scare the living crap out of you.

In a different year — or in a different universe — Hillary Clinton would by now have been rendered leprous by her opponents. This year? This year, I'm investing in a gas mask because it will not suffice to hold my nose come polling time. The only thing that stinks worse than voting for Hillary is the possibility that Trump will be elected.

Have we hit rock bottom with our candidates? I thought we'd affirmatively answered this question in 2000. Now I see how much further we could have fallen, and actually have fallen. Now the question is, is there a bottom?