Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Magicians and Their Secrets

There are a few skills and faculties I've worked very hard on for decades (after having started out with natural aptitude), and I've gotten really good at them (though there are way more realms where I'm pathetically lousy; it takes all kinds!). Yet, most often when I find myself around people involved in those very same areas, they pay very little attention. Respect - or even admiration - might be expressed at the outset, but my process - which I never hide - is rarely observed.

I know that a lot of it's because I don't act like a pompous prick. As a low gravitas individual (LGI), I don't exactly compel hushed solicitation. But what I've learned is very surprising: even magicians who are loose and free with their secrets find themselves preserving their shroud of mystery due to sheer disinterest.


Similarly, it's a misconception that you must take great care to protect your creative ideas from being stolen. First, the very few human beings capable of exuecuting ideas into existence are already extremely busy executing ideas into existence, rather than fishing around trying to snatch your idea (unless you've got, like, a procedure for manufacturing a widget for 2¢ less per gross). The problem's never persistent over-interest. It's disinterest. Even those gifted with fantastic ideas and the eloquence to explain them are universally misunderstood and ignored until the big reveal (and even then, good luck with that better mouse trap!). Even the most brilliant innovations are invariably laughed at and undervalued in the beginning (even the iPhone) - and those are just the ones that we've heard of!

To digress from my digression, here's my standard reply when asked whether I've ever "ruined" a restaurant by over-publicizing it: "I've seen way, way, way more great places wither from disinterest than from over-attention."

That's why keeping great stuff secret is a mortal sin in my religion.


Pastor Jim Bakker wants to help you prepare for Trump's America

I've linked previously to Vic Berger's hilarious video edits, but the following exceeds all others in its terrifying hilarity ("hilarifying"?). I've heard people for months now using the phrase "beyond satire", but now, for the first time, I truly get it:



Follow Vic Berger here or on FB. Now that Owen Ellickson's stopped writing "The Trump Leaks", he's all we've got!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Black Friday Deals: Cooking Lessons and Instant Pot

Good tips from Paul Trapani, who doesn't pile onto this sort of stuff rashly....
I've been holding off on buying stuff this year for Black Friday-Cyber Monday, but found two things I couldn't resist:

Rouxbe Cooking School Sponsored Tuition
An online cooking school with really good lessons (knife skills, making stock etc.). Even stuff I knew about, I learned a lot on. It's got videos that show how stuff should be done. Makes a big difference in learning. Normally they have $299 tuition plus $4.95/month. The $299 had been a deal-breaker for me in the past, but a company is now sponsoring, with no strings attached (other than you see their logo when you log in). They cover the tuition, then you can subscribe for $4.99 for as long as you'd like. Well worth 5 bucks per month.

Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker
Instant Pot is one of the best-reviewed Electric Pressure Cookers (and does a bunch of other stuff too). On sale now for $68.00, normally around $120. I ordered one. I have a stove-top pressure cooker and love it, but this has the convenience factor of not needing to monitor as much. One thing though: this thing is a lot bigger than I thought from the picture. It fits on a counter, but it's bigger than a rice cooker.
Instant Pot was raved about on The SweetHome.
Follow-up Instant Pot tips from The SweetHome
Here's a particularly informative Amazon Instant Pot review.
Instant Pot has a great web site with great how-to-cook guides (and timings) like this one.

"Why Would Romney Even Want This Job?"

I didn't think of this. From the Washington Post's invaluable "The Daily 202":
A serious question: why would Romney even want this job? A diplomat tends to be most successful when allies and adversaries believe that he or she speaks directly for the president. This was the case for Condi Rice but not Colin Powell. Romney would be ineffective if foreign leaders did not think that his words carry much weight because they, hypothetically, could send intermediaries to appeal to Trump’s children who are overseeing his financial interests abroad.
Much as I'd love to see a sane, solid, pragmatist as Secretary of State, this is a good point. Anyone sane, solid, and pragmatic will be seen by foreign governments as distant from the capriciousness and drama of Trump and his inner circle. And a weak Secretary of State will indeed augment the corruption likely to flow through the kids (whether that channel "sticks" is irrelevant; even if the kids turn out to be moral paragons, what's important is how other countries see the incentive structure).

I can't express how deeply I loathe Giuliani, but if he was to convey something to a foreign government, they'd certainly believe he had the full weight of his administration behind him. Romney would not only find his assurances cuckolded from above, but foreign leaders would expect that from day one, even if it never happened (and, oh, it certainly would). There is nothing more useless than an impotent diplomat.


WaPo's Daily 202 arrives every morning in my email, just the right length and density for a quick scan, and there's always something enlightening. It's free; sign up here or read online here.

Also: whether you're opposed to Trump or warily voted for him hoping for the best, consider supporting the Washington Post's excellent reporting (which has been the strongest out there on Trump for months) with a $99 digital subscription. Help keep what's left of independent journalism alive during these scary times and be part of "the solution"!
I never read straight down their front page (the way I sometimes do with NYT), but I keep bumping into their articles (via referrals from Twitter or Google News), and it's great having an automatic sign-on and no pesky reading limits. And whenever I read those articles, I find myself thanking heavens above for Washington Post. Really, they're doing the best non-strident Trump investigation and push-back.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hypocrisy

Jon Stewart on today's Charlie Rose show:
"There is now this idea that anyone who voted for [Trump] has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. But there are guys I love and respect, who I think I have incredible qualities, and who are not afraid of Mexicans and not afraid of Muslims and not afraid of blacks. They're afraid of their insurance premiums!

In the liberal community you hate this idea of painting people as a monolith. "Don't look at Muslims as a monolith! They are individuals and it would be ignorant!" But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith...is a racist."



As I wrote last week: "Liberals work very hard to advocate for tolerance and respect for people who look differently, or love differently, or pray differently. If I had an extra genie wish, I'd use it to help liberals invest some of that same passion into tolerating and respecting people who think differently."

Is Trump's Infrastructure Plan a "Trap"?

I'm not sure of what to make of this article, which describes Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan as "a trap."
"[It's] not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects."
Worse,
"Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway"
And, worse yet,
"because there is no proposed funding mechanism for Trump’s tax breaks, they will add to the deficit — perhaps as much as $137 billion. Yes, some economists think more deficit spending will boost growth. But you can be sure of this: In Trump’s hands, rising deficits will be weaponized to justify future cuts in health care, education and social programs. Just as David Stockman used deficits caused by the Reagan tax cuts as a rationale to slash social programs three decades ago (the “starve the beast” theory), the deficits caused by Trump’s infrastructure tax cuts will be used to justify cuts in programs."
The writer's fourth point seems entirely speculative (and weaselly so, if you'll read the whole piece):
"Buried inside the plan will be provisions to weaken prevailing wage protections on construction projects, undermining unions and ultimately eroding workers’ earnings. Environmental rules are almost certain to be gutted in the name of accelerating projects."
My reactions:

1. The writer, Ronald A. Klain, is, according to the history I was able to find for him, more of a political guy than a policy guy. He does have policy experience, but he's drawn fire for being a political messaging operative known for wading into policy work without real qualifications (e.g. his gig as Obama's "Ebola response coordinator", without prior public health experience). I may be wrong, and I don't doubt that he's a very intelligent and astute observer. But there's an awful lot of conjecture in this article which strikes me, as a writer, as artfully inserted to push buttons.

2. The article keeps singling out "contractors" as the primary fat-cat recipients of the plan's largesse. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I'm pretty sure most contractors aren't plutocrats or moguls. So what's wrong with supporting middle-class contractors? I realize they're the dudes who vote Trump, but they only support Trump because the Dems neglected them.

3. I supported Obama's Jobs Bill because the extraordinary conditions of the Great Recession warranted Keynesian spending. A consensus of non-extreme economists consider conservative's beloved austerity an outmoded countermeasure to severe economic distress, so I'm persuaded that governmental spending is good to do when economic cycles crater. But while I still think we need jobs, and that we need infrastructure repair, I would not support Obama's original approach at this time. You don't do New Deal-style undertakings at non-dire moments; that's similarly discredited liberal thinking. So I'd actually lean, at this point, toward an approach using tax credits, incentives, and one-notch trickle down (contractors-to-workers, rather than billionaires-to-everyone). That said, I'd certainly want to ensure that an infrastructure bill really does improve infrastructure, and, of course, that this isn't just "starving the beast" toward some nefarious end.

But here's the thing. Beyond my broad viewpoints, I'm beyond my competence. I'm not experienced enough to study policy first-hand; to grok the language and see clearly through to repercussions and consequences. I'm stuck here! But who do I go to for convincing explanation in such a bifurcated society, where absolutely everyone's angry, everyone's spinning, and where even the most sincere, sober analysis can't help but be colored by assumption and emotion?

If I were a liberal or a conservative, I'd have my cozy nest of experts who speak my language and stoke my confirmation bias. Sometimes I feel like the last American not wanting his assumptions stroked and his anger justified. Going it alone means losing certain perqs of tribal membership.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Appalled By His Unexpected Moderation

I watched Rachel Maddow last night rave disgustedly over how Trump's people are denying he ever advocated many of the extreme anti-immigrant measures he clearly campaigned on. And he's disavowed the extremist xenophobe from the transition team who'd been parading around the media all week crowing about the awful things they're about to do.

What? How could he do this? It's just crazy! What the hell's wrong with this guy? Maddow was, strangely, shocked and annoyed by the turnaround. It was hard not to get the impression she's disappointed; that she actually wanted him to be exactly the lunatic she (and I) feared and hated.

I just sat on my couch, slowly wagging my head. Every moderate gesture from Trump's camp feels like relief to me (though I'm fully prepared to scream my head off if he ever indulges his basest instincts). But the Left. My god, the Left.

The Right, when it's scared, gets brutally xenophobic and hawkish. Appalling, but at least there's some internal logic. But the Left just completely loses its shit.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Rant About Reciprocal Extremism

Republicans made clear their plan in 2008: oppose everything Obama does, period. It soon became clear this would include policies Republicans had themselves proposed (e.g. the Affordable Care Act), and actions the country direly needed (e.g. the Jobs bill). Their hatred for the guy and their extreme partisan gamesmanship outweighed their rationality, their patriotism, and their sanity. Mitch McConnell publicly stated his prime goal (above all other goals!): to make Obama's presidency a failure.

The rest of us watched in confused horror. Really? You'd tank the country just because you hate this guy? And, what's worse, Obama was (if any of them stopped to really take a look) clearly trying to rule from the center; taking pains to be everyone's president (though naturally also pushing some progressive policies - the perquisite, after all, of winning). Not one person on the right appeared to acknowledge this (if they did, they'd have been seen as traitorous collaborators; as cavers-in). Indeed, they just stiffened their opposition. They actually seemed provoked by his overtures!

I concluded that these Republicans were uniquely stupid and evil.

Red flag there. The notion that some group is uniquely stupid and evil is always wrong. No one group, no matter how terribly they're behaving, is uniquely bad-behaved. Every human is capable of anything (including Nazi death camp management); we all contain behavioral stem cells for the full gamut, just waiting for circumstances to trigger them. If you assume some specific group is unique, that's just the incomplete registration of a perfectly appropriate misanthropy.
We study the Other...and we don't like what we see. Men rue the cruelty of women; women rue the cruelty of men. Both are quite correct, really.
Sure enough, anyone with a dab of clarity is seeing now that this is not special shit Republicans do. As always, it's shit humans do.

Trump has made one of his first priorities a bill to restore our crumbling infrastructure. It's sorely needed, it's squarely in his wheelhouse (as a builder), and it's a Democratic agenda. But the left is stridently gearing up to oppose. Here's the line, in a (literal) nutshell:


We are completely disregarding his actual post-election words and gestures, because we hate and we're scared (believe me, I do understand both impulses), and that's paramount. Above rationality, above patriotism, and above sanity.

If this Slog were more widely read, I'd be reviled as an appeaser; a facilitator of evil, for saying any of this (the counterargument could be broken down thusly: "But OUR hatred is CORRECT in this case."). The right, which hate/hate/hated Obama even to their own detriment, enforced their ranks with similar tactics and language. "Appeasement". "Collaboration". "Caving". This is shit humans say, not just Republicans. We never learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. There are billions of followers of Christ, and millions of professed admirers of Gandhi and MLK, yet the moment stakes raise or we get frightened, we lose our character, our values, our intelligence, our self-awareness and our shit. We operate like babies. We Trump right back at Trump.

And the guy hasn't done anything yet! (If he bans Muslims or launches unprecedented deportation - Obama deported plenty, btw - or institutes torture, or nuclear war, or disbands NATO, I'll scream my head off, but what's the point of pre-suffering?) What's wrong with hoping he doesn't totally suck, or with offering positive feedback for conciliatory gestures? For not forcing him, unreasonably, to be an Obama - freakishly able to maintain noble consistency of principle in spite of impenetrable negativity - even if he tries to elevate to being his best self?

Ask yourself this crucial question: if things turn out ok during his presidency (aside from some corruption, some scandal, some stupidity, and a bunch of standard conservative initiatives - his perquisite for winning); if he turns out to be just a typical Republican POTUS (or perhaps even a bit more centrist) would you still be fully outraged and opposed? I believe most people I know would be. And that's just not rational. In fact, it scares me even more than Trump does (and he scares me plenty).

Again:
I always surprise and upset foodies when I tell them that if MacDonald's made terrific hamburgers, I'd be the happiest guy on Earth. Who wouldn't want quality delivered with that convenience, efficiency, and price? I'd be very very pro-MacDonald's if their food was great. Why the hell wouldn't I be??


I understand the politics. "Give him a mandate by helping him succeed, and he'll use that mandate to do terrible things." That's exactly what Republicans said about Obama, in spite of metric tons of evidence that - regardless of the fist-bumping, social-justice crusading, left-wing sanctimonious heart he was presumed, not without evidence, to possess - he was trying his darnedest (despite some genuinely progressive initiatives) to please everyone.

This stance can be (and often is) adopted by any opposing force at any time or place. This stance is the opposite of conciliation. This is the stance that we started out with, as cavemen. This is the stance we revert to when we get angry or afraid, or when stakes rise. This is the stance that stalemated the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and that will destroy the country and the world in time. This is the stance that makes it unlikely extraterrestrial civilizations (also likely arising via evolution, and thus selected for aggressiveness and blinkered selfishness) ever get very far. Most awful of all (fuck extraterrestrial civilization!), this is EXACTLY the stance of Donald J. Trump, himself. Which he at least appears to be, for now, resisting...while the rest of us lean in to it.

I understand people are afraid, and angry. I am too. But in the presence of fear, we don’t need to 1. get stupid, and 2. willfully take steps to block and punish positivity from the thing we’re afraid of. We don’t need to react to extremism with reciprocal extremism.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Apple's New Touch Bar

If you follow Apple news, you've heard about the Touch Bar they're putting in the new line of MacBook Pros. A lot of people of been complaining about this being nothing but flash, mostly for accommodating the non-burning need of efficiently adding emoji's to one's writing.  💩

But finally, someone's made a video nicely showing how it actually works, and it seems super useful and quite Mac-like. 


Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Public Declaration

I'd like to publicly declare that I am a Muslim. I will continue to state this unequivocally even if we reach a point where it is no longer cute and facile to do so. I will not only submit to persecution and deportation, but I will avidly seek it out if that becomes federal policy. Do me first. 

Maybe instead of marching and kvelling, more of you might want to  put some actual skin in the game. Give the guy space to surprise us with moderate rule (fully expecting the standard conservative policies, which he's certainly earned the right to enact), but put yourselves on the line for in case he doesn't.


Want!

Here's the hardest-won lesson I learned from managing a community with nearly a million participants:

Most of the time, the angry, screaming, aggrieved people simply want. They're not considering any larger picture considerations. They're not thoughtfully parsing the explanation you've already offered. They don't even care whether their strident pique might, in fact, make it much harder for you to give them precisely what they'd like. They just want. It's that simple.

If a baby's hungry, it will scream until it is fed. You can inform the baby about the flat tire you had en route to the grocery, and assure it that you're taking every measure to procure food as soon as possible, but the baby won't cease screaming and crying until it is fed. Baby wants!

It's like that.

Four Ways a Trump Presidency Could Make Us Happy

1. He won't create his media empire, which would've been a vermin-breeding cesspool in the American landscape for decades, pressured by media necessity to take the most extreme positions on everything. Instead, he'll be president for four years, with immense institutional pressure to moderate (it's an entirely different incentive structure). Trump's administration will most likely not normalize the extreme Alt Right folks who'd have been fueled by the media channel. They will recede rather than be further stoked.

2. He's a builder; that's his passion. And the nation grievously needs infrastructure improvements; the can's been kicked down the road since forever. A Democratic president would never get the funding, but a Republican maverick with lots of momentum and a stunned, scared Republican Congress pressured to go his way maybe can get it done.

3. Similarly, no Democrat could persuade Congress to make urgent, critical tweaks to the Affordable Care Act. Trump can - and it even looks like he may.

4. Many parties figure they'll manipulate Trump to advance their policy agendas (few of them good, from my perspective). But if he chooses to be moderate, these people won't budge him an inch, not even his freakish, appalling inner circle of scarecrows: Bannon, Gingrich, Giuliani, Flynn, etc. His stubbornness, in present circumstances, is a fantastic thing. It's possible (if he restrains many of the impulses we saw in the campaign) that we'll get a truly moderate conservative administration; something we haven't seen in ages. And if the entire time he's thinking to himself "I hate hate hate Mexicans," you know what? I don't give a crap. I just care how he rules, period. It's not like Nixon enacted anti-Jewish policies.


This all falls apart if we Obama him - if we subject him to four years of unceasing strident protest and attack even if he does his earnest best to be moderate and measured and be everyone's president. He is, by nature, unable to maintain a steady course through such treatment, as Obama so nobly has (shoot, I'm not sure you or I could!). See my next posting for more.

Friday, November 11, 2016

"Voting for a Bigot is Complicit with Bigotry"

It wasn't skinheads and KKK members who voted Trump into office. Not folks who fell for the con and eagerly bought the bombast. Not belligerants in gimme caps raving about immigrants and demanding their country back. It was moderate conservatives, who believed they were averting disaster by voting against Hillary. They deeply dislike Trump, and never drank his lemonade. Many of them further believed that the status quo could use a shake-up, even by someone damaged.

A number of my friends held this position, and they're lovely people, so I'm taking some of the current invective against them a bit personally. Very few liberals pronouncing on these people actually know any Trump voters. They just see the extremists on TV, and extrapolate. They are engaging in the same faulty reasoning as those who see jihadi lunatics on TV and conclude Moslems are all trying to kill us.

The line I hear again and again is that "voting for a bigot is complicit with bigotry, regardless of other factors".

I staunchly reject that. Bigotry has always been a flaw, but only recently deemed an unpardonable sin, and only among certain idealogical tribes. Failure to deem it an unpardonable sin is neither tantamount to nor condoning of that flaw. It's rigid and unconciliatory to imagine it so. In fact, it is itself an example of bigotry.


Perhaps you share my view that the left is reacting deplorably (and counterproductively) with the flag burning and carrying on, when Trump hasn't actually done anything yet (and has even settled down into behaving like some semblance of a mensch for at least the time being). If so, bear in mind that when we find flaw with the actions of the left or the right; of men or women; or of either side of any other dichotomy, we are always finding flaw with greater humanity; incompletely registering a perfectly appropriate misanthropy. The stupid things groups do are the things humans do.

We were blessed with Obama for eight years, and that was way better than we deserved. This isn't us dropping into a pit. This is just the normalizing descent from that freakish peak. The world boasts 2.5 billion professed followers of Christ and millions of professed admirers of Gandhi and MLK. But - especially when the stakes rise a tad and we get our dander up - the message still hasn't sunk in.


Tips, Tools and How-tos for Safer Online Communications

Much more info on cyber security, per yesterday's posting:


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trust but Encrypt

As I've said, I'm appalled by the pre-judging, the vows to blindly obstruct, and all the rest (I'm not marching; I already voted! That was my marching! My side lost! That happens, and it's okay! That's Democracy!).

Now, more than ever, I ask myself whether we human beings will ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism.

I always surprise and upset foodies when I tell them that if MacDonald's made terrific hamburgers, I'd be the happiest guy on Earth. Who wouldn't want quality delivered with that convenience, efficiency, and price? I'd be very very pro-MacDonald's if their food was great. Why the hell wouldn't I be??

Similarly, if Trump turns out to be even a pretty good president (Obama himself wasn't perfect, and he was great!), I'll be a happy camper. The campaign's over. I'm not longer judging character. I care about what he actually does in his official duties, period. And I'm willing to keep the open mind Clinton and Obama sincerely and appropriately urged me to.

So I'm feeling much more conciliatory than most. With that in mind, I believe the following suggestion is prudent, warranted, and by no means paranoid:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Second Biggest Shock

My second biggest shock today is that I don't hear any liberals or moderates expressing hope that Trump will rise to the occasion, that he'll do better than expected, and that he will abide by the bright promise he made this morning ("I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans").

All I see is granite, clenched-jaw antagonism. That's how Obama was forced to launch his presidency, and we've been much the worse for it. The moment compels our best wishes, as much conciliation as we can muster, and our keeping (per Hillary Clinton's request this morning) an open mind.

Even if he keeps his worst impulses in check, we still won't love all his policies. That's okay, he won; his policies will reign for a while! But pre-hating out of fear and expectation, before he's even entered office, is what they did to Obama. Can't we be better?

I'll say to you what I once said to Mitch McConnell (on my TV screen!): if this president fails, that means we all fail. And if we want Trump to consider his better angels, why on earth would we solidify against him from the get-go, engaging his most transactional and self-serving impulses?

As an American, I want Trump on my side. So I will be on his side until he crosses a line - a truly actionable one, not just some vindictive tweet, or some policy I happen to disagree with (I didn't agree with Obama on all his policies, either, and I think he was a great president).

Look, Love, Think

Liberals work very hard to advocate for tolerance and respect for people who look differently, or love differently, or pray differently.

If I had an extra genie wish, I'd use it to help liberals invest some of that same passion into tolerating and respecting people who think differently.


Read



White People Voting Trump

It's not that White People were in cahoots to keep the others down (well, at least it's not MOSTLY that). It's that working class white people are less sensitized to racist-raving lunatics, even if they are not themselves racist. They hear that shit all the time, even if they dislike it, so it's less of a deal-killer. I'm shocked by some of Malcolm X's tone, and it surprises me when kind-hearted black people - who don't agree with that stuff - let it slide. They're simply paying attention to the bigger points, hardly registering the bellicose yadda-yadda that leaves me horrified.

So these white people can recoil, however uncomfortably, to a Trump - who they dislike and mistrust - when confronted with a candidate they REALLY dislike and mistrust.

If Joe Biden had run, only the beady-eyed knuckle-draggers would have gone Trump.

Distilling the Essential Impasse

Liberals only rarely encounter lunatics spewing hateful ignorance. It's a deeply traumatic experience. Moderate conservatives see that type much more often, so they abide it more easily, even if they disagree.

Opposite's true, as well. Here in the NYC area, there's some liberal extreme/fringe I disagree with. I abide it easily, because I'm used to it. It feels like family.

This is how many kind-hearted, non-racist, non-awful people manage to not be totally put off by Trump's deplorable side. They see what we see, and disagree like we do, but they're less sensitized.


....and they're recoiling from Hillary. Biden would have drawn massive bipartisan votes.

Election Night with My Trump Friends

Forgive the poor writing. Like many of you, I'm feeling a bit foggy/numb. But I have a takeaway I think you might find helpful. Skip to the final paragraph (above the italicized postscript) if you'd like.


I spent last night in one of my favorite watering holes, out of state, where lots of Trump supporters hang out, some of them friends of mine, and all really nice, non-racist/sexist/monstrous people.

The bartender is a youngish guy, way nicer and more sympathetic and respectful to a wider range of people than I am. He admitted he'd voted for Trump, but he couldn't stand the guy. I asked whether he recognized what a shallow narcissist he was, and he frowned back at me, offended. "Duh!" He'd voted Trump because 1. he's in the habit of mostly voting Republican from the old days, and 2. he absolutely can't stand Hillary. That's it. He hadn't been conned by The Wall or any of the rest of it.

Hearing him say this - a real live person rather than a thought experiment - I saw the parallel more clearly than ever before. The vast majority of Clinton voters - including me - voted for Hillary fully aware of her flaws, because they absolutely couldn't stand Trump. It was a recoil. And the other side, like a passing train on the other track, did likewise.

It was an edge case election of reciprocal recoil voting. We find it tough to empathize with the recoilers on the other side - "But she/he's so AWFUL!" we protest. We angrily dispute any assertion of symmetry. But the symmetry wasn't in the candidates, it was in the sentiment. That's how to understand this, and that's how to re-normalize your neighbors.

A reciprocal-recoil election is a dangerous, volatile pit of gurgling emotional irrationality. If Biden had run, he'd have wiped the floor with Trump. The problem with Clinton wasn't with Clinton, it was with Clinton sentiment. On the other side, Jeb probably would have wiped the floor with her.

We imagine that Trump supporters bought into his bullshit. And while some surely did, most were simply recoiling. That's all. And, by this point, every American knows a lot about recoil. The daffy surprise this morning, as the smoke clears, is that we're more alike than we imagine. And the other daffy surprise is that now that the recoiling's over, a big chunk of the other side shares our worry (if not our terror) about what's to follow.

As Trump's victory became clear, my bartender friend didn't celebrate. Rather, he tightened into a fearful thoughtfulness I'm not sure he himself noticed (though it'll likely blossom as the week progresses). I asked if he was experiencing buyer's remorse, and he chuckled nervously. I think he, and a lot of American Brexit voters, are feeling as free-fallish this morning as I am.

The main thing I want to say is that none of the Trump people were celebrating. Seeing avid Trumpies cheering and rejoicing on TV last night was like watching Middle Eastern radicals burning American flags on TV: it's a mistake to assume you're viewing the widespread sentiment. There's a whole lot of Brexit hangover, though the loudest, most strident voices will be seen in media for a while. I'm awfully glad to have a diverse set of friends for a truer picture.


For the third time, I highly recommend "The March of Folly" by Barbara W. Tuchman, a beautiful analysis of how successful, stable societies every once in a while go insane and poison their own water.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Adrenalin in the Voter Booth

A confession: I haven't voted in years. Not due to apathy, or lack of viable candidates. It's that I live in a state that always votes Democratic in major elections, and I've backed major Democratic candidates for the past while (if I'd liked a Republican, I'd have voted, to register my protest). As for local offices, I prefer to see them careen back and forth, one side compensating for the excesses of the other, and that will happen naturally without me.

The nation's leftward demographic shift has suited me pretty well for the most part (since the Republicans dropped into the abyss a while ago), but I'm not inclined to push my weight into it. There will come a time when the pendulum overswings, as it always does, so it's time to coast, not accelerate. I think of my non-voting as an act of engine braking.

But this morning I put on a button-down shirt and belt (after two years creating an ambitious project, having invested everything I've got into making it true and lovable and shiny, I've been slumping around in sweatshirt and droopy corduroys) and headed to my local polling place.

I strode into the booth and I shoved the lever down hard for Hillary Clinton. In my imagination, the click was a crash - alarming, even deafening. I Michael Bayed the motherfucker. And I voted straight down the Dem line, because anyone running on a ticket beneath that guy is too shameless to earn my vote.

I've proudly pushed my weight into this one, contributing to a foregone conclusion. For once, I've fully signed on.


Full disclosure: the preceding account was heightened for dramatic effect. Actually, they gave me a paper ballot and felt-tip marker. But I darkened that circle with absolutely savage intensity.

News flash: my car will survive!


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Toots and the Camry

I've driven my Camry for twelve years. I bought it at 46,000 miles, and it now has over 163,000, and has always been flawless. Literally nothing has ever broken. It does have one quirk, however. My Toyota is super into Toots and the Maytals.

Anytime anyone plugs an iPhone into the stereo system, it opens the Pandora app and chooses the Toots and the Maytals channel. It seems annoying, but the funny thing is that the Toots and the Maytals channel is so great (it's not just Toots; they cover a wide range of soul and reggae) that whatever you were trying to play quickly fades from your mind. You sit contentedly back in your seat, realizing the car knew better. You just can't beat its great musical taste.

Toots is currently touring, for the first time in years, and I went to see him Wednesday night in Williamsburg with my friend John. As he got in my car, John forgetfully attached his phone to play some music. As usual, the car ignored him and went straight to Toots. John, in turn, raised a worrisome point.

"Do you think it's gonna be pissed off that we're seeing Toots live?" he asked. "Jesus, yes, it might refuse to start," I answered. We plotted for a while about how we might back up to the stage door and ask them to prop it open a little so it could hear.

We caught the concert, it was amazing, and on the way home, I noticed the pickup wasn't quite right. The six cylinder monster of an engine hesitated when I hit the gas. I asked whether John had gained weight.

We finally made it back, and the next day I drove back to the city, where the car refused to re-start. I had to have it towed, and eventually learned that the starter was fried.

The new starter did not improve the power problem, though. It just got worse and worse. I'll know for certain on Monday, but at this point I'm pretty sure the engine's blown. Again, it was riding as good as new two days ago. It's been meticulously cared for, the engine is shiny and strong, and has never consumed even a drop of oil.


I do have an idea. Toots plays Boston tomorrow night. If I can get the car up there, and somehow move it close enough to enjoy the show, I feel my Camry might regain the will to drive.


See also the tale of my supremely high-maintenance television.

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