Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Presidential Platform

I thought it might be an interesting exercise to stop bitching about how no candidate ever comes close to my preferences, and to set down exactly what those preferences are.

I'd bet a lot of people would agree with much of this (and tolerate, at least grudgingly, most all of it):

Fully-engaged, tough-minded realpolitik foreign policy, extremely circumspect re: military intervention - i.e. follow the Powell Doctrine (as Obama has).

Amnesty for illegal immigrants, ease immigration restrictions and accept refugees generously (with screening). Welcome - even incentivize - top foreign students staying after graduation.

Free trade, no protectionism.

Deep skepticism re: spending and regulation (per 1970s Republicanism), but never blind or pigheaded (per 2000s Republicanism). E.g. we should have passed Obama's Jobs bill, Zika virus research funding, etc., but no lefty utopian laundry lists.

New Gov agency: Office of Deregulation (proactively discarding useless and counterproductive laws). Must slash ten old laws for every new one.

Deep tax reform aiming for simplification and closure of loopholes, but preserving a progressive system to address income inequality. No trickle-down tax cuts.

I'm inclined to legalize drugs along with gambling, euthanasia, gay marriage, and the rest of the social Libertarian agenda....but I'm concerned about fast-escalating drug abuse, so would need to learn more before pushing drug legalization. Definitely legalize pot.

Extreme freedom of speech and press. Legalize hate speech (obviously not 'cuz I like it).

Annually adjust minimum wage for inflation (first adjustment retroactive to 2009, the year it was last raised).

Push back on creeping privatization of schools, jails, and city management, but also deter creeping municipalization a la Bernie Sanders.

Childhood and school nutrition a major priority (zero hunger; push against school cafeteria junk food and soda).

Guns and abortions always available but not necessarily easily conveniently so. Ban assault weapons and late term abortions. Background checks for guns.

Single-payer health insurance.

Eliminate death penalty.

Preserve a balanced Supreme Court (avoid politically-minded justices; optimally the yea/nay sides would be unpredictable).

Bring back Civil Rights Act, use it to thwart any effort of voter suppression (strengthen the law if necessary).

Work hard to find institutional ways to allow Republican party/Conservatism-in-general to remain politically viable in spite of shifting demographics, recognizing that its shrinking viability - and the increasing division and rhetoric it's prompted - has been disastrous. A sane right is vital for the country (even liberals should want that more than they want a perpetually dominant left, and should recognize that we can't have both a sane right and a perpetually dominant left).

If you agree with a lot of this, you, too, might want to splurge for a subscription to The Economist, which comes darned close (not sure where they stand on single-payer health insurance or on jail/school/city management privatization, though).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Our Appliances Rise Up to Kill Us

Donald Trump is a journalistic black hole - a singularity that inexorably draws all attention away from literally anything else.

The recent massive Internet outage was caused by frickin' toasters. Well, not quite, but it was networked appliances like CCTV video cameras and DVRs rather than bona fide computers (fine distinction; my rice cooker has more computing power than Apollo 11).

And they all were made by one Chinese company. You'd think this would get more attention, no?

Only the Assholes are Sane

I've never met a sane person.

I've met people who've learned to feign sanity in certain controlled circumstances. For example, consider an executive who exudes authority and solidity at work, where she's spent 20 years learning to seamlessly exhibit confidence and competence within a narrow and controlled set of circumstances and parameters. She may, for instance, turn into a dysfunctional lunatic outside that controlled environment, where she's forced to respond spontaneously to a noisy array of nuanced, unpredictable situations far beyond her minuscule comfort zone.

Or the dreamy, soulful well-liked dude with infectious swagger who displays perfect confidence and comfort in social circumstances, but who may spend 20 hours per day in bed, or host colonies of vermin amid piles of leftover food (I actually had a girlfriend like that, who, to the outside world, personified glamour and accomplishment). The super-mom who gets it all done may be addicted to pills, or cry herself to sleep every night. One or the other half of that happy, loving couple may, unbeknownst to anyone, be living a lie, but has learned to put on a face of sunny contentment.

We can scarcely imagine the desperation, depravity, and delusion experienced by everyday people when they're not squarely upon their most well-traveled roads. If someone strikes you as sane, that's just someone you haven't gotten to know. You've seen that person operating within their zones of comfort and competence, and/or faking it. But if you watch carefully, everyone's batshit crazy; it's just that some of us hide it better than others.

Although, come to think of it, do you know who's sane? The selfish, nasty bastard who spits venom and lives in unremitting contention with his world. That guy demonstrates absolute consistency and stability. No private life, no crippling doubts, no existential issues. He's never not that person. He makes it happen, with nary a waver, every moment of ever day. Also, the loudmouthed conspiracy theorist is rock solid; never destined to be felled by gluten sensitivities or knocked off-kilter via errant remarks or petty indignities. His shtick - his mask - serves perfectly well in every aspect of his life. He's utterly immersed in his role.

Unhesitant about their places in the universe, these folks are each a single solid thing, anchored to the ground so solidly that the universe appears to spin around them. They are never not functional. Unless some chemical imbalance arises in their brains, they'll be resolutely grounded to the bitter end, never once dropping out of character.

Only the assholes are sane.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Myth of Judeo-Christian Monotheism and Indian Polytheism

Interesting reply to my previous posting from a friend who's a religious scholar:
The conversation around the old Religious Studies coffee pot usually gets around to blaming monotheism for most religious violence, although our Hindu friends have often provided many counterexamples. It's fine to say that there's only one God, and any Gods you worship are really that God (a belief that characterizes the Hellenistic period, 3rd C BC- ?), but the worshippers of the one God in any particular form are usually pretty grumpy about people who worship the one God in a different form, or, horrors, not at all. Bahai tried to create a structure for multiple-monotheism, with some success, as well as some good architecture, whole-grain bakeries, and an unfortunate ban on alcohol.
I've got to laugh at Judeo-Christianity being considered monotheistic, while Indian religion is considered polytheistic.

Mankind has never devised a more unity-based view than the ancient Indians did. To them, God isn't a one-off thing "out there" among things. God is awareness, consciousness, and love. It's the underlying, all-encompassing everything, and the world arises within that, as a capricious entertainment that's never a separate thing. All the rest - including you and I - is a mere show of separation, mounted for shits and giggles. There's nothing but God, so the idea of "multiple gods" would be patently ridiculous.

It's true that some of the more reverential Hindu sects use different manifestations to help remember the indivisible godhead of which we're all a part via image/reminders to suit different facets of life. Driving to work? GOD! Experiencing loss? GOD! It's hard to remember we're in a show unfolding within unceasing unity, so customized signposts are created to remind us in every circumstance; to draw us back to the unceasing unity that's so difficult for human beings to unceasingly bear in mind.

The notion that Indians worship a panoply of different-gods-for-different-purposes is the sort of ridiculous, uncomprehending conclusion only a clueless medieval western academic would reach. Indian religion is about oneness. It's so devoted to this, in fact, that it's concocted the phrase "one without a second" to undermine any impulse to make all-encompassing-unity just another "thing" in a world of things. There's nothing "poly" about Indian religion (Polly is the cracker!).

Meanwhile, Judeo-Christianity deems itself monotheistic against all evidence. We offhandedly traffic in the very same contradiction the swami pointed out, a la:
"The worshippers of the one God in any particular form are usually pretty grumpy about people who worship the one God in a different form"
The cheat, of course, is stashed in the phrase "different form." But I don't buy it. If God is God and there's only one, and form is a trivial distinction, then the "grumpiness" (euphemism, I suppose, for persecution, hegemony, and murder) makes little sense. The "grumpiness" between the supposedly monotheistic religions certainly hasn't seemed like collegial squabbling between fine shades of interpretations. To everyone but scholars (who tread carefully to avoid intellectual self-contradiction), all three of the major "monotheistic" religions obviously assume they're worshipping Someone else. And hating other gods is every bit as polytheistic as worshipping multiple ones! Remember the point where the pretext unravels: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Monotheism isn't about choosing a favorite!

We've got it backwards. Judeo-Christianity is polytheistic, and Indian religion is monotheistic. So long as some of us conceive of "god as dude" - as just another (albeit higher-powered) thing among things, there will always be alternative powerful things to swap in to (or defend against slipping in to) the God role. To transcend this quagmire (the splintering of unity into thingness), the time-honored means of transcendence - of re-experiencing unity - is Indian spirituality. And that's the stuff we deem polytheist? Seriously??

Friday, October 21, 2016

Indian Swami on Christianity

A wise Indian swami with whom I once studied Vedanta (the nerdiest branch of Indian philosophy) loved to share the thing he loved most about Christianity, and the thing he liked least. He adored what some might consider a treacly cliché of contemporary evangelical Christianity: "Let go, let God." He'd repeat it several times, with great relish. It was, he believed, up to the standards of the ancient Vedic sages (my version's much clumsier, but perhaps has its charms).

The part that bugged him was a clever bit of theological analysis; he'd precisely pinpointed where it all had gone wrong. There's a fundamental contradiction:
There's only one God (e.g. ""The LORD he is God; there is none else beside him," among similar statements).
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
If there's no other God besides God, then everyone's worshipping just right, regardless of the name they do it under. If there's only one God, there's no "wrong God". We're all brothers. Recognition of this would have prevented centuries of intolerance, persecution, bloodshed, and genocide. But someone had to throw in that gratuitous bit of loopy scolding: Don't you dare worship other Gods! All those other Gods are horrible! Oh, and, technically there are no other gods....

From this contradiction have flowed numerable murders and unimaginable suffering. The scold seems like something which was off-handedly thrown in. But as they sowed, so did we reap…

Jefferson was right!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Russian Thinking Vs American Thinking

I was talking with a Russian immigrant on Sunday who made the point that lying is so deeply engrained in Russians that it must always be accepted as a given, especially in the realm of politics. I asked whether this was a cultural issue, or the natural result of living under great deprivation. He wagged his head, and offered an analogy:
In Russia, the subway stations are gorgeous; like museums, with sculptures, paintings and jewels. The trains, however, are total crap, and haven't been replaced since the 1970s.
He sat back sheepishly, as the rest of us scratched our heads and cleared our throats. Unable to drive home his metaphor, he'd conked out. The conversation moved on to other topics.

But this was like pure catnip to my brain, so I spent the next hour trying to complete the metaphor, finally managing it (to his satisfaction). I recount it here not to share the conclusion - which is clever but not particularly interesting - but as an illustration that sometimes it takes two to construct an ambitious insight. This is new for me - two people struggling together to connect the ends of a tenuous bridge across a daunting chasm. Hmm.
Trains are software, stations are hardware. The trains are the moving part, and the station is the solid part - the frame of reference. Americans focus on the dynamic portion. The software. Russians concentrate on the solid ground. The hardware. That's the key cultural difference.

Effecting political change (in order to inject your creativity, your vision) is easy for an American. We simply tweak the moving part; the software, and mass attention pivots to adapt to the change. Our mindset is earnestly can-do/matter-of-fact. But for Russians to effect meaningful change, they are compelled to tweak the underlying fabric; the hardware. And changing the unchangeable requires blatant disregard for what's plainly true.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Frickin' Bob Dylan

Yesterday, I posted what I thought was a particularly insightful contribution to an online forum (under pseudonym). No one noticed. As an experiment, I asked a friend to upvote my posting. One lousy upvote. Immediately, people started piling on and paying all sorts of attention.

This illustrates a larger problem with the world - a problem I tried (unsuccessfully) to solve via Chowhound. Everyone assumes cream floats, but it totally doesn't. Billions of metric tons of quality are overlooked every nanosecond. People only notice what has previously been noticed, and we foolishly assume it's an "efficient market." Most of us only want to eat in crowded restaurants.

Bob Dylan is terrific. But he certainly does not need more recognition or another million bucks.

I hope there will be a day when the Industrial Awards Complex devotes its energy, capital, and publicity to singling out people who actually could use a boost, rather than lazily congratulating the highly-acclaimed and rewarding the wealthy.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


The word "respect" means so many things to so many people that it's lost nearly all meaning. Worse, it's often used as a cudgel (which is a shame for such a lovely word). I'm not normally a fan of twee Tumblr-ish ponderings, but the following, from this Tmblr, transcends the genre:
Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Summing Up The Donald Trump Episode

Donald Trump was not a great evil. Not a fearsome bogeyman. He was a cautionary tale of the potential for one badly-damaged little dude to project his psychological issues on the world at large. None of the historical conquistadors and tyrants were great. They were all the same deal: small, damaged, insecure people externalizing their fragile egos. Please remember this, citizens of the 28th century and beyond: it's always just some damaged asshole channeling deep negativity to project their petty, sad, inadequate internal issues. The ease with which this can occur is extremely disconcerting.

As I said earlier, we are privileged to experience this deep truth - to learn it viscerally from right there, right now, rather than reading about it from a distance - even though this up-close view has curled our souls a bit.

We know things about the world that succeeding generations might not.

Required viewing: A Face in the Crowd. A classic film about a small, damaged, insecure person externalizing his fragile ego.

In fact, I'd make the case that there is no such thing as "evil"; it's all just the toxic repercussions of banal insecurity. The country - the entire world! - has been traumatized by the silly, transparent ravings of some random failure of a garden variety wacko. This isn't anything as awesome as Evil. It's just some guy as messed up as your brother-in-law or the dude who plows your driveway who arose at the right time, saying the right things to the right people.

A Historic Moment of Free-Falling Dread

In fall and winter of 2001, venturing into Manhattan required some fortitude (I'd pack a transistor radio to stay informed in case of emergency). We New Yorkers, in our weakened state, were deeply rattled by the subsequent anthrax attacks. We had no idea what was coming next. Would wrecked urban landscapes and burly dudes pulling bodies through smoking mounds be our new normal?

At that time, I thought to myself: "History won't note any of this. It will be remembered that there was an attack, and we were all sad. No one will record the lingering anxiety, the not-knowing, the wrenched feeling in our stomachs - not from missing a couple towers few of us ever loved in the first place, but from the disorienting feeling of being unable to touch bottom - the not knowing how different it would all be. It was months, perhaps years, before we consensually decided New York was a city rather than a war zone.

Fifteen years later, I see that I was correct about history. The upshot is, indeed, that there were was an attack, and we were all sad. Tight and concretely clear. This happened, and that happened. Historians record only tangible actions.

I'm having that same feeling this week. And, as in 2001, I don't need to ask around to know that I'm definitely not the only one. We know now that Donald Trump won't win. That horrifying prospect is gone. What's more, we haven't learned anything significantly new about Trump in months. Absolutely nothing in the past month has been a surprise. Yet, even though I'm no sensitive snowflake, I find myself consumed with sadness. It's that old feeling again, deeper than our personal emotions; this is the visceral etching of history on our spirits in real time.

It will be recorded that a fascistic narcissist came dangerously close to the US presidency, and was rebuked. But this feeling I'm feeling (and I know without asking that many of you are feeling, as well) of free-falling dread that's not the least bit mitigated by the meteoric rising of Clinton's poll numbers - even in safely red states - and the avoidance of our most feared outcome, is not lifting. It won't be recorded in history. This is only for us. We need to remember.

I noted the turning point on Monday, saying that "if you're going to pay attention to politics once in your lifetime, now's the time. It's a privilege to live through history - even unpleasant history. I don't want to just read the synopsis later. This is not a moment to hit the fast-forward button; this is a moment to hit "play" and pay full attention." I'm indeed paying full attention. I haven't done much else this week. I don't want to spend decades trying to process my feelings and adjusting to tectonic changes that happened in my peripheral vision. I want to live straight through this with eyes wide open and the clearest possible perspective.

Several friends got flu shots this week, and report feeling even crappier than they usually do afterward. My suspicion is it's not the flu shots.

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