Saturday, September 17, 2016

I'm not That Excited by Hillary Clinton ... But That's How I Feel Every Four Years

It's said that Hillary Clinton suffers from an enthusiasm gap. People just aren't that jazzed to vote for her, and her greatest assett is that many voters are terrified of the apocalyptic disaster a Trump presidency is liable to usher in.

Her supporters have been trying to convince us to get excited. She's incredibly qualified. She has a long history of public service. She's smart and willing to engage with the nuts and bolts of government.

But why should I get excited for Hillary, when I haven't been excited by any of the presidential candidates I've had to vote for over the years?

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Even before I could vote I followed the elections, and the last time the candidate I liked actually became the nominee was in 1972, when McGovern became a cautionary tale in nominating the genuine liberal.

After that it's been all disappointments. In 1976 I really liked Mo Udall, and thought Jerry Brown showed promise, but instead got Jimmy Carter. Whoopdefucking do. 

The first election I could vote in was 1980. Once again, Jimmy Carter was the nominee, and since he had just instituted draft registration for people my age, I was really unhappy with him. I would have preferred Ted Kennedy, or, once again, Brown, but Carter was the nominee. I voted for third party candidate John Anderson. I wasn't excited by Anderson, I just really didn't like Carter. And I was going through my "they're all the same" phase, which ended as I watched Reagan dismantled the government and put foxes in charge of every henhouse, creating a swathe of destruction we have yet to recover from.

There were some good guys running in 1984. I remember liking Alan Cranston. George McGovern took another shot at it. And Jesse Jackson was an exciting possibility. And in their wisdom, the people nominated bland, middle-of-the-road Walter Mondale. Who I did vote for, because, after all, Reagan was gutting the country.

In 1988, my guy was the bow-tied liberal Paul Simon (no, not the Garfunkle one), though Jesse Jackson was still a solid second. Instead, we got the uninspiring Michael Dukakis. I voted for him, but we still got the Bush that gave us Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and an idiot son for our future.

I don't know who I was cheering for in 1992. Jerry Brown. Eugene McCarthy? I know who I wasn't cheering for: Bill Clinton, the guy who brought neoconservatism into the Democratic mainstream. Still, better than more Bush.

It was Clinton or nothing in 1996. He'd turned out to be even worse than I expected; his biggest achievement was gutting welfare. But it wasn't like the Republicans were going to be an improvement.

I wasn't impressed by Al Gore in 2000, who I knew of mainly through his wife's stupid music censorship activism, but it was a year of little choice. I voted for him, but a bunch of people going through their "they're all the same" phase went for Ralph Nader, leading directly to the American invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS.

My guy in 2004 was flaming liberal Dennis Kucinich, although Howard Dean also held a lot of appeal. So we got John Kerry. And another four terrible Bush years.

Kucinich was still my man in 2008, although quirky Mike Gravel was also pretty appealing. As for Obama, well, he was basically an early-70s Republican, but at least he brought some history with him, and he was pretty darn likable. That was probably the closest I came to being enthusiastic about the Democratic nominee, but I knew he was going to be a disappointment. And I voted for him again in 2012 even though he had proved me right.

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In 2016 I wanted Bernie Sanders, of course. In this crazy election year he really did have the potential to win and be the most progressive president of my lifetime. So I'm disappointed that I'm stuck with Clinton.

But - and I guess this is my real point - I'm not any more disappointed than usual. In spite of all the antipathy she inspires in people, I don't see her as worse than Gore, or Mondale, or Obama, or her husband, or even Carter, who in retrospect was actually pretty good. She just represents another time when the middle-of-the-road Democrat beat my liberal favorite.
I don't need to be enthusiastic about Clinton. I have voted for every Democratic nominee since 1984, and I will do so again.

I vote for the Democrat because I learned in 1980 what happens when you don't vote for the Democrat. Terrible, terrible things. And I know that a neoconservative replacement for our neoconservative president is still a lot better than an unqualified authoritarian narcicist. 

If Clinton wins, I will be thrilled. I will be dancing in the street, because we will have dodged the biggest bullet in my lifetime and a woman will have broken America's highest glass ceiling. It will be a great night.

Then I'll brace myself for the inevitable disappointment, just as I have with every Democratic win. It's better than bracing myself for the shit show of a Democratic loss.  








Friday, September 16, 2016

Clinton’s Suicide of a Thousand Cuts versus Trump’s Big Lies

Hillary Clinton has once again got herself in trouble for holding back information, in this case not letting the press know that she had pneumonia until she almost collapsed. It’s ultimately a pretty small lie, but it feeds perfectly into the narrative of Clinton as shifty.

At her most dishonest, Clinton doesn’t come close to the dishonesty of her rival, Donald Trump, who tells huge whoppers on a daily basis. Clinton more often paints things in the best light based on the public record, and then continually makes small changes in her story as new information comes to light. Overall, her stories don’t really change all that much, but the constant drip-drip-drip of modifications makes it seem like she never actually tells the truth.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, tells huge, ridiculous, easily disproved lies, and when he is shown the evidence, he simply insists the evidence is wrong. The irony for Clinton is that her attempts to adjust her story to conform to the available facts creates a perception of shiftiness, while Trump’s bold, unapologetic dishonesty just makes people think that he’s a man who sticks to his guns.

Imagine Hillary Clinton were accused of shooting someone. The police would take her into the interrogation room, and she would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.”

When the cops would show her a photo of her with the victim, she would say, “well, we may have met once, but I don’t remember them, and anyway, I was out of town and don’t own a gun.” And when they bring in the gun, registered in her name, with her fingerprints on it, she would say “come to think of it, I do have a gun, but I certainly never shot someone I barely knew with it.”

Now imagine Donald Trump was accused of shooting someone. He too would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.” Faced with a picture of himself with the victim, he would say, “I never met him, that’s not even me in the photo.” When they brought in the gun, he would say, “I never owned a gun, those aren’t my fingerprints.” When they showed security video of him pointing the gun at the victim and pulling the trigger, he would say, “no, that’s not me. Absolutely not.”

Trump’s ability to stick to his lies makes it difficult for the press to even report on them. Every time Clinton makes a small change in her story, the press can write, “faced with new information, Clinton changes story.” But how many times can the press report that Donald Trump has repeated the exact same lie in the exact same way? It’s not really news; it’s like reporting that the sun rose this morning.

It must be frustrating for Clinton to see her every lawyerly prevarication become a damning headline while her opponent tells so many lies that journalists consider them nothing but “dog bites man” stories. But she keeps reinforcing the negative perceptions by refusing to get ahead of a story; she always waits for events to catch up with her. If on Friday she’d simply announced she had a touch of pneumonia but was going to try and keep going, she would have seemed forthright for admitting to illness and tough for pushing through, and video of her staggering into a car would have been nothing but proof that you shouldn’t run around when you have pneumonia. By waiting until she had no choice but to say something, she encourages people to think she has something worse than pneumonia. If in a couple of days she announces she actually has double pneumonia, no one will be surprised, because that’s what she does.

And if in a couple of days Donald Trump announces that he is incapable of getting sick and in fact hasn’t even aged since he was thirty, people will shrug. Because that’s just Donald being Donald.





Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Donald Trump's Best Path to the Presidency Involves a Russian Invasion

Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. Obama was born in Kenya. Ted Cruz's father was in on the Kennedy Assassination. The Clintons killed Vince Foster. 

So Trump should love my theory on why he's running such a terrible campaign.
Right now, pollsters are giving Trump about a 15% chance of winning in November, seemingly because he keeps saying crazy things about how Obama founded Isis or Second Amendment people could do "something" about Clinton. Trump became the Republican nominee because his outrageous statements kept him on the front page, but while that worked great among disaffected, angry Republicans, it's failing with everyone else.

But if I were a conspiracy theorist like Trump, I would think he was blowing the election on purpose, because his goal is not to be elected but to be appointed.

Right now, Trump is claiming that the only way he can lose is if Clinton steals the election through fraud. Among hardcore Trumpites, who believe all the polls are heavily skewed, this is a persuasive argument. 

So, Trump has established that his loss will be from Clinton's skulldugery, the government will be illegitimate, and people with guns will have to do something about it.

For all the crazy shit he says, 40% of the voters are still planning to vote for him right now, so there are a lot of people on his bandwagon. And a lot of them have guns.

So here's the theory. Trump throws the election. His followers, who believe it was all voter fraud, rise up and start shooting Democrats. The country descends into chaos. Tea Party radicals claim the government has collapsed and request help from Russia, because Republicans have a hard on for Putin (apparently, he's what they consider a "strong leader"). Russia invades and appoints their buddy Trump - who has praised Putin and has financial connections with Russia - as the country's new dictator.

Is that an insane theory? Sure. Do I expect anyone to believe it? Of course not. But in a crazy election against a seemingly inept businessman who has already used his bizarre behavior to become the Republican nominee, you've got to consider all the possibilities.

At the least, it's more likely than the Clintons having murdered Vince Foster.





Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Trolley Problem and the Protest Voter

In a well-known thought experiment called the Trolley Problem, a train is hurtling down a track towards five people tied to that track, and you can pull a switch to move it to a different track on which one man is standing.

This is generally used to explore moral choice and whether you'd be personally willing to kill one person to save five. If you do so, his blood is on your hands, but if you don't throw the switch, five people will die.

It would be a terrible decision to make.

It's also a lot like the decision voters are facing this year. The train is heading down a track called TRUMP that will cause horrible disasters, inflame racism, bring trade wars and possibly real wars, destroy America's standing in the world, and give us a right-wing Supreme Court that will chip away at our civil rights for decades to come.

The other track is called CLINTON. The train will cause less damage if it goes down the Clinton track, but there's likely to be some poor judgement, some foreign misadventuring, and a poorly-handled scandal or two.

It's a grim decision.

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If only there were another way. If this were an action movie, you could fire a rocket launcher that curled the track up so that the train would fly up and sail right over those people, landing on the track right past the victims.

You could also do nothing and hope for a miracle. Perhaps the train will run out of gas right before it hits anyone. Or Doctor Who will appear and send it through a time portal into an alternate dimension where no one is tied to the tracks.

What you really need is another switch. Not one that will actually effect the direction of the train, but one you can pull so you can feel you're doing something without having to make this terrible decision.

Let's give you that switch and put a sign on it that says "PROTEST VOTE." Pull it, and you can tell yourself that those five dead people aren't your fault at all; you pulled a switch; what more could you do?

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Right now we have a choice of presidents: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. One of those two people is going to be president. And a lot of people are just watching that train speed down the track and saying, "hey, it's not my train." Republicans who hate Donald Trump are saying, I can't vote for him, he's a dangerous incompetent with no qualifications, so I'll vote for a third party, but never Clinton, because she's evil. Hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters are saying they'll just write his name in rather than vote for Clinton; multiple people have said to me, in virtually the exact same words, "it's not my fault if Trump wins; I'm not the one who chose an unelectable candidate."

Years ago a friend was defending her vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. Her position was simple: if she just voted for someone terrible because their opponent was even more terrible, she was accepting this terrible political system. Things would never get better if people didn't stand up and refuse to cooperate with the status quo.

It's a fair point, but the question that should be asked is, did voting for Nader do anything besides help make George W. Bush president? Did it create a powerful liberal movement? Did it cause politicians to change their ways because a sliver of the populace was unhappy with both sides?

No, it didn't.

If we had a different system for electing people, where parties could gain power according to the proportion of their vote, or where there was a series of run-offs that would make a third-party vote more than just a throwaway, we would have a mechanism to change the system. But we don't, and I don't think many of the protester voters are even working to change our electoral system in a way that would give them that power.

Meanwhile, third parties seem loathe to go through the nuts and bolts of building a party, as Dan Savage pointed out in a wonderful diatribe:

If you're interested in building a third party, a viable third party, you don’t start with president. You don't start by running someone for fucking president.
Where are the Green Party candidates for city councils? For county councils? For state legislatures? For state assessor? For state insurance commissioner? For governor? For fucking dogcatcher? I would be SO willing to vote for Green Party candidates who are starting at the bottom, grassroots, bottom up, building a third party, a viable third party.
Voting for a third party presidential candidate won't advance any agenda. It won't give that party more power, more influence, more legitimacy, or a better future. It will be just the same as voting for "none of them."

And you can do that if you want. Just admit that this is all you are doing. You are not changing the system or creating a brighter tomorrow. You are saying "fuck it."

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You don't have to do anything about that train. It's not your train. You didn't send it down the track. You didn't tie those people up. Why should you take responsibility for other people's actions just because you're the one standing there?

The people on the track screaming "please don't let us die" are probably less philosophical. To them, the mistake made when the train started moving cannot be rectified, and the only thing that will save their lives is you pulling that switch.

And it's a painful switch to pull. I mean, my god, you're going to kill someone! Sure, you'll save five people, but you'll be responsible for a death. How is that fair?

Perhaps after you pull your protest vote switch, someone else will rush up and pull the working switch so you can feel good about yourself and your principled refusal to take responsibility for a problem not of your making. If not, you can watch those people die and say, "fucking railroad company, this is all their fault."

Hopefully you'll feel just as good about that decision later on, when you're tied to the track, the train is coming, and the one person who can save you turns to go.



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Children: Savage Enforcers of Society Conformity

Look at your fingernails. Go ahead, just take a peek. Do you look at them the masculine or feminine way?

If you know the answer to that, you probably learned it in childhood from a peer. In case that's a lesson you missed, boys look at their fingernails by curving their fingers over their upturned palms. Girls point their palms forward.

If you know that, you probably also know that boys look at the bottom of their shoe by bending their knee in front of them, while girls kick their foot up behind and look over their shoulder.

I failed both of these tests in grammar school, and was told I was a girl. I was unhappy about that, and changed appropriately.

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When talking about gender stereotypes, it is often suggested that much of the problem comes from toy companies that make all girl toys pink and advertising that divides toys into those for boys and those for girls. Some people seem to think that if we could just remove these societal messages, that children would be free to choose what they enjoy, rather than what society considers appropriate.

But what if Mattel and Walmart aren't really the problem? What if the problem is, in part, a culture of conformity passed from child to child, with rigid, stringently enforced rules? How do you change that?

Childhood is full of rules and tests (according to this thread, there are also gender tests involving looking at the sky and removing sweaters), created not by the media or the government but by children who use them as weapons. Yet even though these rules appear to arise organically out of the muck of childhood, they seem to strongly reinforce the culture's priorities. Besides gender conformity, consumerism is encouraged through attacks on things like "floods," a term for too-short pants.

Floods are a natural result of the speed at which children grow. A typical parental strategy is to buy things when they're too big and keep them until they're too small. This is sensible, but ill-fitting clothes can get you in trouble with the herd. (Note: I have no idea if floods or fingernail testing are still done; children may have different tests now, but I guarantee they have some.)

Why would children be so insistent that their peers shop frequently? No reason. In fact, it's unlikely children actually care that much aesthetically about the length of your pants or the way you look at fingernails.

Instead, it's all about beating you down, because children are savage, sadistic monsters. Children simply grab the popular weapons and use them on every target. They try out new insults and see what sticks. And if it sticks, it is carried on, year after year.

The weapons that stick tend to be those that society at large emphasizes. Society says boys should not act like girls, and boys find ways to test for girliness. (I imagine girls have their own tests, although I don't know what they are.)

To some extent, Mattel actually does effect the concept of normality, because they show children what society holds important. Movies do as well when they feature brave boys and crying girls. But these concepts are so deeply embedded that superficial changes like removing gender recommendations from toy boxes probably won't do much. Fix the toys, and you've still got a society where women speaking firmly are accused of shrill shouting even when faced with men who are shrilly shouting to no objection. You can't teach children to be more open and accepting if all of society if promoting the opposite. One of the first thing children figure out is words mean much less than actions.

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My first inclination when I thought of this was that it's all pretty hopeless. Childhood conformity is so powerful that I doubt tweaks to marketing and speech would have any effect.

I did have one idea, though. Children, as I say, just want weapons they can use to beat down their peers (you non-cynics will probably disagree with that, but I feel the evidence is pretty solid). So what if that destructive power could be used for good?

Children, reflecting society, push gender conformity and consumerism because those are the weapons that work. If you could convince children that the worst, most embarrassing, most deviant qualities were racism, or greed, or bad manners, or littering, then these children would create tests for these qualities and crucify those who didn't do things the "right" way.

How can that be done? Well, as someone who doesn't care for children and avoids them as much as possible, I'm not able to answer that question. But if you like children enough to interact with them yet still understand their dark nature, see if you can come up with a way to use their savagery to make the world a better place.

Or if not a better place, at least one where one is judged by something more important than fingernail examination.




Tuesday, June 28, 2016

David Cameron is Paul Ryan's Ghost of Christmas Future

The lesson many pundits are taking from Britain's vote to leave the European Union is that the appeal to bigotry, hatred, and fear can lead people to vote against their best interests and royally fuck themselves up out of pure spite. If that can happen there, they say, then a Trump presidency can happen here.

That may be true, and we should certainly all be scared. But Brexit should also scare one particular American, Paul Ryan, who just had a chance to see what happens when politicians make a short-term political calculus that destroys their career.

Brexit happened because Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to get reelected. A chunk of anti-immigration conservatives wanted Britain out of the European Union and to keep the Conservative Party together and win an election, Cameron agreed to a referendum on leaving the EU.

Cameron didn't want Britain to leave the EU, he just wanted to pacify those on the right and counter the popularity of the anti-immigration U.K. Nationalist Party. He figured he could easily persuade voters to vote REMAIN.

He couldn't, and having created a disastrous situation with disastrous results, he had no choice but to resign.

Now, Cameron will go down in history as the guy who screwed Britain and the EU. That is his legacy. Nothing he has ever done in his life will matter; he's the Brexit guy.

Like Cameron, Paul Ryan decided to do something dangerous to the country for political expediency: support Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate. Trump, a racist, xenophobic no-nothing conman (or, as the Scottish would say, a weaselheaded, Cheeto-faced, jizztrumpet/fucknugget/shitgibbon) who spews hatred against minorities like a shit-throwing sprinkler system, gained the nomination through big lies and absurd promises. It's clear to everyone with half a brain, including Ryan, that he is a toxic bomb set to blow up this country.

But Ryan also believes, probably correctly, that Trump is somewhat more likely to support his help-the-rich, screw-the-poor agenda than Hillary Clinton, and for that reason, he has chosen to endorse the monster.

Ryan's endorsement looks worse and worse every time Trump claims his right to be judged only by those with European ancestry or congratulates himself when horrible tragedies befall the country, but while Ryan will mildly criticize Trump's remarks, he is still determined to make him president.  Ultimately, whether he succeeds or not, he is probably destroying his career.

In November, one of two things will happen. Either Trump, in spite of a phenomenally incompetent campaign, will win, or Clinton will. If it's Trump, well then, an authoritarian lunatic will helm this country, most likely sending the world into economic collapse, and Ryan will intimately tied to that disaster (and probably won't even get much from his shopping list out of the short-fingered megalomaniac). If it's Clinton, then Ryan sold his soul and got nothing for it except a GOP in flames.

The U.S. does not have Britain's parliamentarian system, so Ryan won't have to resign anything. He'll still be a congressman. He might even get reelected; in this country an incumbent can get reelected even if he's in prison for fraud. But his career as the golden boy of the GOP will be over. Like Cameron, he will forever after be known for one thing; tying himself to a bucket of shit, throwing the bucket down a well, and trying not to fall in after it.

Watch out Ryan; it's a very heavy bucket.

Monday, June 27, 2016

On Not Being Photographed by Bill Cunningham

I first heard of Bill Cunningham years ago when someone told me he was at the Jazz Age Lawn Party and I said, who? It was something I was supposed to know.

For 40 years, until quite close to his recent death, Cunningham took photos for the New York Times, specializing in people he found stylish. Some were famous, some were just people walking by. He would also turn up at events that drew those who wanted to show off their finery, which is why I used to catch sight of the dapper gentleman clicking away at JALP and the Easter Parade.

The dress-up people at JALP seemed obsessed with getting their picture taking by Cunningham. By dress-up people, I mean those who devoted themselves to period wear. The people who scoured eBay and thrift shops for authentic 1920s vintage clothing. Who studied old photos to get the look just right. Who purchased vintage picnic baskets. For many, that picture in the Times was a victory, and Cunningham obliviously walking past you without a glance at your authentic, over-priced 1920s hat a terrible defeat.

It was a race I never ran.

I mainly went to JALP to dance. Sure, I dressed up a little, but I've always had a close-enough-for-rock-n-roll approach to vintage dress, and worried more about being comfortable in the blazing heat of summer than in wowing the dress-up world. I would certainly never, as the serious folk did, wear wool on a humid, 90-degree day.

Look at this picture from the New York Post of me dancing with my girlfriend Laurel. I am making less effort than the three people I'm sharing the picture with, who are all aiming for authenticity. I've got some nice wide-legged pants, but I'm also wearing a golfing shirt that wicks away moisture, a bow-tie with a crossword puzzle design, and elastic suspenders with skulls on them.

Not that I don't think I look great. I love those suspenders, and that bow tie is hilarious. I had other great things I wore to JALP, like orange linen pants that Laurel still mocks me for. But though I liked my colorful, somewhat rumpled style, I knew it wasn't Cunningham-worthy. And I respected his vision.

While others think fondly back to the day Bill stopped to snap their picture, I celebrate him for a different reason; he knew enough about style to ignore half-assed outfits like mine.


Orange pants, suspenders with a newspaper theme and a golf shirt. Close enough.