Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Cornered Rat" Report #26

Tuesday, July 17, 2018: The phrase "cornered rat" finds 98,700 Google search results, up 2% from last time.

All "Cornered Rat" postings in reverse chronological order

Monday, July 16, 2018


I may have mentioned this before, but I've been using my Twitter feed to retweet especially insightful and/or amusing tweets on our political situation. Very low flow and very selective. Mostly seldom-observed stuff.

You can also follow a Twitter list I've created which brings together some of my favorite tweeters (some left, some right, mostly center and never-Trumpers). A few, like Rick Wilson and John Schindler, have gotten famous since I've been tracking them.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

2020, FFS

I've predicted a half dozen times here that the Democrats will run an extreme leftist for president in 2020, ensuring Trump's reelection. Well, I've never been more unhappy to say "I told you so". From today's NY Times:

"Warren is Preparing for 2020. So Are Biden, Booker, Harris and Sanders".

Four out of five are arguably the most leftist in current national Democratic politics, and are plainly unelectable. None could possibly peel off the burgeoning centrists and Republican refugees and never-Trumpers. In fact, Booker - despite his carefully-cultivated media image - might be a bonafide psychopath (google for hair-raising background).

Joe Biden is obviously who I'd support, though he's a bit of a clown, plus he'll surely go with a woman or minority VP candidate as an anachronistic and gratuitous gesture that won't win him a single additional vote. With a 77 year old, I need a rock-solid VP I like as much as the candidate, and who shares Biden's broad appeal. The only non-White Guy name I can come up with is Sally Yates.

(I have no idea of her politics, but in this election I don't give a crap about issues; I want solid integrity, honor, and broad appeal, period. I want boredom. I want Gerald Friggin' Ford. Which is why the very last thing we need right now is Bernie, the left's Trump - another divisive populist demagogue playing to people's anger and sense of entitlement).

I'm still holding out hope for Schiff/Yates - or, at least, Schiff as Biden's VP. Michael Bloomberg, alas, will be 78, a year older than Biden (and lacks name recognition and national experience).

At this low point we need to drop identity politics (but we won't) and elect someone with some breadth and honor whose primary characteristic is an ability to defeat Trump (and we won't). It's not time for glass ceilings, it's time to save the republic. So, look, I'd be happy to convert to Lutheranism to preserve the purity of this call; that is, I back Schiff and Bloomberg for their circumspection, not their circumcision.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Durability of Our International Alliances

I asked a friend high in the foreign ministry of a major European country whether our alliances will "snap back" once Trump is gone, or if permanent damage has been done. He said that if Trump doesn't get reelected, much will snap back. If he's reelected, he thinks an irreversible course will take place.

I made the point that if Trump were reelected, it would surely be due to the Democrats losing their minds and running an extreme left-wing candidate in a strident campaign alienating independents (who might not vote Trump, but wouldn't vote at all). He didn't appear to completely understand this dynamic (the European left being far more progressive than left, it's hard over there to understand why a democratic socialist would strike mainstream America as unpalatably extreme).

He did make the point that already, many quiet business and political decisions are peeling Europe away from America. For example, there's increasing reluctance to purchase US military equipment because of uncertainty re: ongoing equipment support (something staunch allies never worry about). There's sharply increasing desire to buy such equipment from European manufacturers, even if quality is inferior.

But the more important realignment is in the Third World, where China is eagerly filling our vacuum (the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have helped contain that). Fifty years from now, I suspect we'll see Trump's isolationism and TPP rejection (fwiw, Hillary succumbed to political pressure from the Left to reject it, herself) as an even bigger gift to China than Bush's Iraq war was to Iran. From George HW Bush's funding of the Afghani mujahideen to George W Bush's hatchet job in Iraq to Trump's isolationism (Russia aside), the Republicans have quite an astonishing record of handing fat free victories to our most virulent adversaries.

Speaking of Bush and Iraq, I recall similar European murmurings about how Bush's foolish blunders would be forgotten if he wasn't reelected. Of course, he was, and we eventually sprung back into Europe's good graces anyway. So...who knows.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Louder Racism, Not MORE Racisim

Chilling. But there is, I think, a saving grace.

This is purely intuitive, with nothing to back it up. But I think it's correct: I don't have the sense that new racists are being minted en masse. I think this is entirely just the old racists getting louder and more brazen. Louder racism, not more racism.

Virulent racism is certainly being normalized and enabled, (even in hipster Brooklyn). And maaaaybe some mild racists have been caught up in this and grown more extreme, though I don't get a sense of a lot of that going on. But - again, this is pure intuition - I just don't get the feeling that, even in the current ugly climate - folks previously uninterested in race are turning virulently racist, as has been seen myriad times over the course of history.

That's why I'm more convinced than ever that this is all just The Un-Self-Aware Assholes’ Last Hurrah.

I try to remain clear-headed, maintaining an unfashionable recognition that everything that disturbs me isn't The Worst Possible Thing....and that gestures smelling faintly of atrocity are not, themselves, atrocities. As a shades of grey person, I often feel quite alone.

But the larger question - are we cycling back to previous brutalism and ignorance we'd thought we'd outgrown? - is what matters in the long view. And, to me, all evidence points to a resounding NO. 

Can a last gasp of brutal ignorance do harm and make things very unpleasant? You bet. But I am now more, not less, convinced of MLK's arc of justice as well as of the propositions of Steven Pinker.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SCOTUS Pick: Two Wrongs Make Me Right

Last week, in my posting "Prediction re: SCOTUS Pick", I wrote:
Trump will pay zero heed to positions on abortion or immigration...the one and only qualification is some prior decision or writing demonstrating executive privilege maximalism. And he won't be content with private assurance (though he'll surely demand it); there will need to be a solid position statement already out there, preferably unsubtle and flagrant. That way he knows he can count on it.
So I was right. Even though I wasn't. The problem is that we're peering through two levels of stupidity: Trump's and the Left's.

Regarding the latter, read this excellent and very short Twitter thread from Andrew C Laufer, an anti-Trumper legal expert. It has infuriated the Left, which reserves its most visceral outrage for flat-out indisputable truth conflicting with their outrage ("How dare you tell me to be rational?").
I have already seen several misinterpretations on his President immunity opinion. [Kavanaugh] stated specifically that Congress has to change the law in order for POTUS to be immune from prosecution.
The furor over Kavanaugh's expressed distaste for the option of indicting a president is fog. He was urging Congress to change the law. This means the exact opposite of what the press has been bellowing all day. It means he strongly and demonstrably believes that, as the law stands, a president can be indicted. For Trump, that's bad.

Two more factors from Laufer:
We are dealing with very heavy criminal issues involving Trump. I don’t think he was contemplating a President facing possible racketeering, corruption, and treason type charges.
And, what's more,
CJ Roberts can force his recusal on any #TrumpRussia issues. I have been told that the CJ has already done this with Gorsuch. We need to take a breath and move one step at a time. He has to make it through senate confirmation first. Remember, Mueller isn’t going anywhere.
So that's how the press and the Left have lost their minds. Now here's the Trump stupidity: I think Trump made the same bone-headed error. Kavanaugh "seems" temperamentally in favor of executive maximalism because he doesn't want presidents to be indictable. To a cornered rat, this seems like his "heart is in the right place," and that's a straw to grasp at...even though he's actually saying the opposite thing. Even though he's on the record as conceding something not everyone (ask Dershowitz!) concedes: as present law now stands, a president can be indicted.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Derailed By Petty Mental Drama

I've concentrated hard on diet and exercise for three solid months, losing eight pounds and reaching the proud point where I could stride up a very steep hill without pausing to rest. But my regimen was derailed for a week, and last night I returned to it...and had to pause four times going up the damned hill.

It was exactly like this, the pivotal Slog posting. My first reaction was to moan in dismay. "I'm going backwards, giving back hard-won gains! I miss just a few exercise slots and quickly revert to being old and fat and wheezing. That's what I truly am; pathetic frailty is always right around the corner. I'm chasing a rapidly vanishing ideal. Woe = Me."

This, of course, was absolute nonsense. The feat of walking up the hill in one burst is worth less than a cup of coffee. It's no real victory at all, it's just that my mind's been conjuring up entertaining little dramas amid the grind of mindless hill walking, and I've pretended to take those trifling dramas seriously until the pretending froze into something more solid-seeming. What matters here - all that matters - is elevating heart rate and expending calories...period. If I had to stop a thousand times en route, I'd still be 100% successful in this enterprise. The rest is silly mental chatter. It's literally nothing.

Even at this late date, I still get caught! I do, however, notice quickly. That's the best one can hope for: snappy recovery!

This isn't really about exercise, any more than the above-linked posting was about Christmas. It's about mental illness; the habit of indulging empty whimsy - unreality! - to the point of emotional pain for no good reason whatsoever. This is what happens when, having expunged all the classical human blights and nemeses which would ordinarily galvanize our emotions, we make dire, weighty fake problems out of our petty dramatic yadda yadda.

I'm relatively impervious, but after missing a few meditation slots, the fake dramatic chatter starts feeling just a bit solid, and I can be self-trolled into a few moments of senseless anguish. Fortunately, we all have an innate mechanism for rebooting; for shedding useless and indulgent emotional weight.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Frets are Very, Very Far Apart

Like many of us, I'm saddled with a few awful people. Narcissistic, poisonous, resentful, uncompromising, and unreasonable, they are living embodiments of Dunning–Kruger's observation that dumb, incompetent people often feel super smart and extra-competent simply because they're too stupidly incompetent to recognize their own stupid incompetence. They condescend and manipulate, bolstered by the visceral conviction that the opinions, intuitions, and preferences amply gurgling from the pits of their minds are solid gold.

I understand how they got this way. They never left behind the cognitive error we're supposed to outgrow after adolescence, continuing to assume that spotting other people's stupidity makes them smart. Over the decades, they've grown expert at spotting stupidity (never their own), to the point where they feel very smart, indeed. They never grew or learned because whereas smart people are driven to correct their own stupidity, they see only other people's stupidity, in endless supply. Smart people become smart via fixation on their own foolishness. Dumb people stay dumb by fixating on other people's foolishness (here are some other topsy-turvy shifts).

Even now, they continue to disappoint me, which is puzzling. It means I've never stopped overestimating them - hard to believe given my jaundiced assessment. My puzzlement reveals my own miscalibration. I've failed to recognize the non-linearity of human awfulness.

Extreme brutality is very different from, say, blithe insensitivity, but we compress and conflate all bad things into indistinct blobs of badness (BoB). Not only are the levels distinct, but they are more widely spaced at the extremes, like guitar frets becoming steeply wider. This is why we prematurely resort to Nazi comparisons. The frets are very, very far apart, yet we misconstrue a light year for an inch (we do the same in judging food).

I only recently realized that none of these awful people is actually evil. None would go out of their way to purposefully hurt anyone. There's no proactive malice. They might well maim or murder you via thoughtless stupidity and selfishness, and could easily justify self-serving behavior which incidentally brought you harm. But they'd never do so intentionally, just for sport...though this world is full of sportsmen.

So, as awful as they are, these people, being incapable of evil, rate no worse than 5 out of 10 on the human scale of depravity. And, in a way, that's downright noble. A person who's sunk to depths of selfishness is an eyelash away from evil. To steadfastly resist this boundary requires a moral commitment exceeding my own. These most-awful-people-in-the-world, who spew such poison and misery, turn out to be "5s": essentially principled and admirable. 

So what, you ask, does this have to do with Donald Trump?

As many have declared over the past two years, George W Bush wasn't so bad after all. An honorable man, even a mensch, albeit a misguided pinhead. Going even further, one must concede that even bona fide villains like Cheney and Rumsfeld were at least patriots, however we may disapprove of their blinkered, bitter attempts to serve a country they genuinely loved. Neither would ever be spotted humping the leg of a Vladimir Putin, or undermining the American judicial system to save their own ass.

GWB was a downright decent guy, and Cheney and Rumsfeld were "5"s. They committed atrocities, sure, but never just for kicks. They believed they were helping. Trump doesn't imagine he's helping. "Helping" to Donald Trump is like impressionist painting to a gnat. It's not even a Thing.

Yet even Trump is no serial murderer or a despot. His inclinations might point toward the latter - he may be despotic-adjacent, and even despot-enabling - but this shmuck, who's descended us to basement levels we'd have preferred never to explore, is in a whole separate league from a Putin, much less a Kim or a Hitler. Taunting journalists is different from cold-bloodedly murdering them. Persecuting minorities is different from slaughtering them. Rebuffing NATO is different from making war with them. We have dipped our toes into a fetid, poisonous pool, and feel we've drowned.

The Left - never ones for subtle distinctions - see only a BoB encompassing the entire swathe from Trump voters who merely craved a shake-up to those who dare use terms like "illegal aliens" to earnest, befuddled GWB to villainous-but-principled Dick Cheney to Trump to Hitler.

The frets are much, much, much further apart. If we were better able to parse the gradations and to recognize the non-linearity of it all, then Godwin's Law would be unnecessary. My awful people - and GWB - felt like full-on oppression, though they're actually okay human beings. Trump is by no means "okay", but just because he's off the curve of our accustomed existence in the immense freedom, joy and plenty of First World 21st century life doesn't make him The Worst Thing Ever. Or anything close to it. Or close to close. The frets are very, very far apart.

But you'd never know it from the whining. For those convinced that we're the most suffering sufferers who've ever suffered, and that Trump is the biggest Big Bad ever, I have good news and bad. The good news is that we've been spoiled rotten, which explains why we gnash our teeth at the lower end of a spectrum of unprecedented prosperity, tolerance, and high-mindedness - as if someone's snatched away some tiny morsel of our towering portion of astoundingly delicious lasagna. The bad news is that when you've lost all sense of proportion, you curse yourself to apocalyptic pain whenever the floor drops further. And it can and will, because the frets are so far apart, and it's non-linear, and Trump represents not The Bottom of Everything but the bottom of the very tippy top (i.e. the un-self-aware assholes’ last hurrah).

The next demagogic populist president with authoritarian instincts won't arrive with an impeachable portfolio of traitorous Russian collusion and mobbed-up money laundering....and won't shoot himself in the foot a dozen times per day. We may one day miss Donald Trump, just as we currently miss GWB. And even then we won't be anywhere near the sort of utter horribleness witnessed even as recently as the previous century.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Hot Days with A.C., etc.

Regarding yesterday's posting, which cataloged some similar-seeming and mysterious observations...I hoped it would all lead somewhere more interesting than to a picking-apart of my observations. But you've always got to question assumptions before leaping to weirdo conclusions!
Lifting 150 pounds feels heavier for a strong person than lifting 50 pounds does for someone 1/3 as strong....

Before making theories about things like skeletal loads and soft tissue strain, let's look at some other phenomena....
On the contrary, I should have stuck right there with skeletal loads and soft tissue strain. That nicely explains the phenomenon. If you could train your muscles to bench press 2500 pounds - which I suppose is theoretically possible - you'd be stressing tendons and bones to the point where you'd likely do them harm. Muscles can be trained, but the other structures not so much. Hence the sensation of greater load even as training makes the hoisting easier.

The same is true for smarter people doing trickier calculations, or more creative people solving harder problems. Ease scales proportionally, yet the absolute difficulty still fully registers - and even weighs, in an undefinable way - above/beyond relative levels of capacity/ability.
A more powerful computer will solve a difficult problem more quickly, but it generates the same heat to do so, regardless of hardware power. So while a task might be accomplished with greater relative ease, the absolute difficulty remains easily measurable. While the mind's obviously not a computer, there are surely analogs - unavoidable side-effects and overheads which accompany increased neurological loads. As with the weight lifting observation (See? I knew they were related!), certain capacities scale, while others don't, and the latter account for the spidey sense re: absolute exertion.
If you're in a lot of pain and taking a lot of painkillers, and the pain even slightly exceeds the medicine, that slight marginal pain seems somehow more burdensome - even if not more quantifiably severe - than moderate pain seems without painkillers.
If you're experiencing enough pain to be on painkillers, you're surely sensitized to that particular pain, making even a mere twinge quite unpleasant.
If you have great equanimity, and something enormously irritating punctures it to just barely tick you off, the full magnitude registers despite the mild triggering.
As you develop equanimity (e.g. via meditation), you lose some stoic backbone, simply from disuse. Wafting in a state of graceful serenity, when stress does poke through, it feels more distressing than the everyday plume of strife experienced by less composed folks. So this is another matter of sensitization. See this interesting posting explaining how habitually warm people suffer when they catch a rare chill, and how highly creative/resourceful people can be paralyzed by obstruction, and how "I have no facility whatsoever for operating talentlessly in realms in which I'm talented."
The heat of a 95 degree day in a 70 degree air conditioned environment is more onerous than the heat of a 80 degree day without air conditioning.
The air conditioning itself - yielding unnatural humidity and recirculated staleness - probably accounts for this.

Well, the whole thing didn't exactly crumble to nothing. There were still a couple interesting insights to be gained...

Friday, June 29, 2018

Why Do Hot Days in Air-Conditioned Buildings Feel Different?

I'm pretty sure the the following observations are true, and related, but I can't connect them, much less explain them. There's no logic to any of this; at least I don't think so. In any case, this is seriously half-baked stuff, even by Slog standards, but here goes...

Lifting 150 pounds feels heavier for a strong person than lifting 50 pounds does for someone 1/3 as strong. It doesn't require more muscular or caloric exertion, of course. So the expected proportionality is indeed there, and the laws of physics work. Yet increasingly heavy weight does feel obviously heavier, independent of exertion. For example, someone who can bench press 400 lbs can lift 200 with ease, yet the load doesn't feel trivial, the way a 50 lb load might for someone who can press 100. More weight feels heavier, even though exertion is the same (you moan not from exertion but from burden; a different class of moan!). But if exertion's the same, relatively, why should the absolute weight make any difference? It should feel the same, as you adjust for strength.

Before making theories about things like skeletal loads and soft tissue strain, let's look at some other phenomena....

The same is true for smarter people doing trickier calculations, or more creative people solving harder problems. Ease scales proportionally, yet the absolute difficulty still fully registers - and even weighs, in an undefinable way - above/beyond relative levels of capacity/ability.

If you're in a lot of pain and taking a lot of painkillers, and the pain even slightly exceeds the medicine, that slight marginal pain seems somehow more burdensome - even if not more quantifiably severe - than moderate pain seems without painkillers. Similarly, if you have great equanimity, and something enormously irritating punctures it to just barely tick you off, the full magnitude registers despite the mild triggering.

The heat of a 95 degree day in a 70 degree air conditioned environment is more onerous than the heat of a 80 degree day without air conditioning. The 70 degree cooled air won't leave you sweaty or flushed, and you'll experience the expected subjective feeling of coolness, yet can you deny that an August day in a 70 degree office is an entirely different sensation (and leaves you in an entirely different condition) than an April day at the same indoor temperature? Even if you don't go outside all day?

These things make no sense. They're unexplainable, yet undeniable. I can't say how it works. In each case, the relative proportionality is there as expected - easier feels easier, cooler feels cooler, etc. - yet a deeper-baked faculty paradoxically detects - and is affected by - the absolute via means unknown.

I'm honestly unsure whether I've uncovered something interesting, or if I'm making a big deal about nothing. If the latter, it wouldn't be the first time! But my suspicion is that this may be akin to stuff like bird flock synchronization - mundane-seeming phenomena which, upon examination, present deep mysteries not easily solved.

Follow-up here.

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