Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Back to post-mortems

It's easy to be dyspeptic, as Neal Gabler puts it in Farewell America: “so many professed to hate both candidates. (But it turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate…. This country has survived a civil war, two world wars, and a great depression. Many say we will survive this, too. Maybe, but not unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal.”

Yipe! No, I won’t dive down that hole. Nor will I (this time) tally up the list of cartoon characters that each day Mr. Trump is seen packing into the new government of the United States. As I predicted, they are almost all former Bushite factotums. (Though at the crazy wing.) Despite DT's professed spite toward that clan, this is shaping up to be Bush III.  

Meanwhile, he hints that he’ll be living in Trump Tower, not the White House. Think about what that...

No. No. We’ll stay on-topic and continue post-morteming why the recent gut-punch just happened. So let’s resume by going back to the conservative punditocracy. 

Some of them take Donald Trump at his word. That he intends to aggressively reverse the only successful international order the world has ever seen, in which a (mostly) benign American pax oversaw and protected a mostly-calm world. The first world order since Sumeria in which most nations could peacefully develop without pouring half their wealth into armies.

Okay fire away, you mavens of the right.  Explain this.

== Maybe it was tactics? ==

Putting aside the stench of almost certain electoral “rigging,”  let's look at what happened according to the political wonks. To them, this election was a game, a sport in which the managers, coaches and players of opposing teams made crucial plays or errors. In How Trump Won, Carl Mannon at Pretty Clear Politics lists 31 of these factors.  

Among the most important (non-rigging) factors deciding this race was turnout. 
    “Democrats have worried about the problem that has dogged them throughout the Age of Obama: Unless Obama is on the ballot himself, Democrats have trouble turning out their voters. This hurt Clinton in all of the Rust Belt states she lost to Trump. The Obama political machine turns out to be non-transferrable…. Yes, she enjoyed a 54 percent-42 percent advantage over Trump among female voters, but this “gender gap” was about the same as Barack Obama’s advantage over John McCain and Mitt Romney. Hillary’s candidacy didn’t alter the equation.”

Oh, there’s plenty of blame to go around. If Beyonce and Michelle and Obama weren't enough to get the black vote out, then self-interest should have. But I heard a lot of "why bother?" and “They’re all the same!” bullshit from quite a number of African-Americans, interviewed on the air. Anecdotal, sure. But it prompts thoughts. 

Others point to tactical mistakes. Mark Anderson writes: “If there was a fatal flaw to the Clinton campaign, it was this strategy: she sold it as the chance to put the first woman in the White House. And while most women loved this, it turns out that this group (women for Clinton) comprises less than half of the country. Hillary's decision to make this about one gender over another had a predictable effect: it worked, leading to a gender-centric fight with Trump. It was a fight that, going simply by the numbers, she could not possibly win."

Also, she thought that ads portraying DT's outrageous craziness and falsehoods would sway those less-educated white male aging boomers, but I saw the reactions of many.  They laughed out loud, delighted by the effrontery and how it galled their college-grad, smartypants kids & cousins. It just made Trump look "strong."

Me?  You know I offered the dems dozens of polemical riffs that could have made a difference. Like challenging Donald Trump to name august Republican members of a bipartisan commission to:

-- investigate his accusations of rigging
-- provide a neutral, accepted fact-checking service
-- sift his tax records - confidentially - and assure us nothing much is there…
-- vet his “secret plans” to defeat ISIS and replace Obamacare and verify at least the plans aren’t smoke…
-- did I mention a fact-checking service? 

Here's the point I tried to make. You do not corner good-old-boys and their wives with facts or rebuttals. What works is dares! Challenges, wagers that only a wuss would refuse. In this case, if he balked, it would have looked terrible. Whiney and cowardly. ("What, you can't find any smart and respectable republicans to appoint?")

If he accepted, he’d risk ‘betrayal’ by his appointees.  A lose-lose situation for him.  The very  thing that DT did to her. It’s called judo, Hillary. And, clearly, we need politicians who know some. As Putin does.

The dems' best judo move for 2018? Nominate 250 retired colonels to run in every single "safe" Republican district. More on this, soon

== More unforced errors ==

Back to Mannon’s List of tactical blunders. One was Crony Capitalism. The grassroots in both parties have come to believe that corporate riches are increasingly dependent on political connections in Washington. Sanders criticized Clinton during the primary season that she was too cozy with Wall Street. She confirmed this perception by refusing to release transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street banks."

In other words, if people perceive an insanely stupid false equivalency, then it can still be effective.

On Mannon’s list is one that I think plumbs toward the core truth…  “Nobody votes for Trump or likes Trump on the basis of policy positions,” says alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. “That’s a misunderstanding of what the Trump phenomenon is.” Trump is "an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness.” 

Yes, we are getting closer now, to the heart of it. Talk to any member of the Fox Public and you will get this refrain. Resentment of patronization and blue guilt-tripping.  The endless nagging that they feel – whether intended or not – from those city-university folks. 

And sure, much of this is utter hype, since statistically the middle class always does better in every way, across the span of democratic administrations than republican ones.  Yet, bragging about that could have opposite effects, giving an impression you do not feel Middle America's very real pain. 

== The ‘gut’ of the matter ==

Writing on Vox, Emmett Rensin blames The smug style in American liberalism. “In 1948, in the immediate wake of Franklin Roosevelt, 66 percent of manual laborers voted for Democrats, along with 60 percent of farmers. In 1964, it was 55 percent of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35 percent.  By 2012 Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor white voters. Among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP has taken a 17-point lead.”

“The trouble is that stupid hicks don't know what's good for them. They're getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that've made them so wrong. They don't know any better. That's why they're voting against their own self-interest….. As anybody who has gone through a particularly nasty breakup knows, disdain cultivated in the aftermath of a divide quickly exceeds the original grievance… Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The problem with this Rensin assertion is that he cites no examples. We all know that he could, if he tried.  For example, radio raconteur Garrison Keillor recently opinedSo he won. The nation takes a deep breath. Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out, and a severely learning-disabled man with a real character problem will be president.” 

Keillor seems to justify Rensin: “We liberal elitists are wrecks. The Trumpers had a whale of a good time, waving their signs, jeering at the media, beating up protesters, chanting “Lock her up” — we elitists just stood and clapped. Nobody chanted “Stronger Together.” It just doesn’t chant.”

Staring at the fervid, Trumpist rallies, Keillor comments“It was pleasure enough for them just to know that they were driving us wild with dismay — by “us,” I mean librarians, children’s authors, yoga practitioners, Unitarians, bird-watchers, people who make their own pasta, opera-goers, the grammar police, people who keep books on their shelves, that bunch. The Trumpers exulted in knowing we were tearing our hair out. They had our number, like a bratty kid who knows exactly how to make you grit your teeth and froth at the mouth.”

Keillor fails to mention also scientists, teachers, doctors, economists, journalists, civil servants and every other American profession that deals in strange, mystical things called “knowledge and facts.” We have a right to be angry that Fox & Friends have waged war on all knowledge “elites” for decades, while never against the ripoff oligarchy.  

And yet, just by saying all that, am I, in turn, pushing our Trumpist brethren against a wall?

No. Rensin’s guilt trip – while pointing to a region where much work must be done – is intrinsically bullshit. Quoting one of the regular commenters, under this blog: If someone claims the moon landings were a hoax, and then gets angry when someone who knows different acts smug to them, what's to be done about it?”

(I've said the same thing about fanatics who believe - and fervently pray - that the world is about to end, in a spectacularly gruesome and sadistic revenge festival-apocalypse, in which nearly all of their neighbors, fellow citizens and their children will suffer eternal damnation and torture. Folks fervently desiring an end to all human freedom, ambition, accomplishment, diversity... and the United States of America. Sure, it is their right to wish all that. But the world needs for us to keep their hands off The Bomb.)

Keillor concludes:  America is still the land where the waitress’s kids can grow up to become physicists and novelists and pediatricians, but it helps a lot if the waitress and her husband encourage good habits and the ambition to use your God-given talents and the kids aren’t plugged into electronics day and night. Whooping it up for the candidate of cruelty and ignorance does less than nothing for your kids.”

Oh, but is this anything new? Indeed, one can feel for the rural(ish) trauma that happens every June, when the local High School -- center of all life in most towns -- holds graduation. The teens who are the pride of their community hug and cry... whereupon the best and brightest then streak out of town as fast as their legs can carry them, heading toward city lights and university strongholds of The Enemy. That implicit rebuke happens every single year and it must wear on the souls of those who stay behind, who thereupon create a mythology of the city-as-Mordor. A cesspit of iniquity, lacking all the wholesomeness of small town America...

...despite the real truth about which America has higher rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, divorce, STDs, unwed mothers, dropouts... and if you leave out a few truly dismal cities, higher crime rates.

No. There must be real outreach! And hence, I'll soon expand upon my suggestion that the Dems recruit several hundred retired colonels and Navy captains to run in every GOP gerrymandered "safe" district down to the state assembly level. (Watch how many more members of the awesomely mature and responsible US military officer corps retire, during the Trump years.)

That is how to "reach out" to those aging, bitter, non-college white male boomers. Not by emulating Foxite pandering, but by sending them folks they will respect enough to listen-to.

Send them adults.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Weighing Options

"The law's totally on my side, the president can't have a conflict of interest."
            -- Donald Trump, November 2016, New York Times interview

"Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
            -- Richard Nixon, 1974

After a cleansing pause for Thanksgiving - reflecting on how much we still have, to be thankful for - let’s go back to more post-mortems on the election. Like why and how this happened. But first:

1) Last time I spoke of all the frenzied ravings about “Electoral College Gambits,” like urging enough GOP Electors not so much to vote for Clinton as to abstain and thus plop this mess into Paul Ryan’s lap. Make him take responsibility.

Or see my 2004 proposal that some electors vote for the other party's VP nominee, as a gesture toward coalition, conciliation and renewal. 

Look. I had been a defender of the Electoral College, calling for reform, not abolishment. But I am fed up. The College was designed exactly for a moment like this, when sages elected by the population of each state should protect us from unqualified demagogues. If not now, when?

My most original suggestion was for some billionaire to rent a resort hotel and invite the Electoral College to actually meet, all expenses paid, for the first time in 240 years, before going home to vote! Hey, it couldn’t hurt to ask them to actually deliberate, as intended at the beginning.

Only then might they discuss ideas like this: "Members of the Electoral College should not make Donald Trump the next president unless he sells his companies and puts the proceeds in a blind trust, according to the top ethics lawyers for the last two presidents."

Some of these ideas sound cool and fun to picture… but face it, they aren't gonna happen.

2) Last time I also suggested a billionaire offer giant whistle-blower awards for any henchmen who squeal about vote tampering. It’s a sub-type of my general call for an annual Henchman’s Prize, which could do the world more good than anyone can imagine. Seriously, we can’t imagine.  That’s the problem. 

3) As for electoral tampering, well…  this cogent article by Craig Wright explores how perhaps Donald Trump was entirely right, that the election was "rigged." 

Five separate sniff tests stink to high heaven. For example, did Russia meddle? Certainly in the realm of propaganda and social media dirty tricks, to a degree that's now well-documented. Our intelligence services know even more. And if President Trump orders them not to confront this act of war, then we'll know what "T" word his first initial stands for.

But rigging goes much farther. Take the fact that exit polls - which have a history of great accuracy -- only failed to correlate with outcome in states with Republican governors and Republican secretaries of state, with voting machines built by companies owned by Republican activists. In all other states, exit polls performed well, as they have historically. Indeed, these cheats have been going on since Gore-Bush, so it will take time… and boiling, righteous-wrathful determination… to root them out.

4) Still hoping for recounts? Well, okay. Jill Stein's Green Party has led that charge successfully, so far, in Wisconsin, and one hopes to catch the thieves red-handed. (Again, some zillionaire offering a whistleblower "henchman's prize" could make all the difference.) Still, don't get your hopes up.

== Assuming we’re in it ==

No, there will be no panacea, no quick fix. I promote all of those ideas (above) more to get Americans into practice for a long, long struggle to save the nation from the latest, of many phases of our national fever – confederate fury. We’ll have to look at tactics that sink – a little – toward their level. 

Take the matter of boycotts.

It was raised when VP-elect Mike Pence attended the hit Broadway show “Hamilton”, getting a mix of audience cheers and boos. After the final curtain call, a cast member appealed to the departing Pence for inclusiveness and tolerance in the coming administration. There was nothing offensive in timing or content. Still, the right tizzied with shouts for boycotting “Hamilton.” (How do you “boycott” a show whose tickets are notoriously expensive and difficult to obtain?)

Boycotts can be a powerful force, under narrow conditions, e.g. Donald Trump’s businesses are taking a hit… some are being renamed “Scion,” it seems, to avoid brand failure. (He may be saved by the emoluments of foreign governments, leasing at his hotels.) But that’s a sideshow. Let’s drill down into when economic politics can work.

In this era, you do not need a majority to like you, only a large enough minority. Fox News proved the profitability of this model, keeping one-third of the nation glued to its endless maelstrom of falsehoods, raking it in for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, while stoking an ongoing Riefenstahl-level Nuremberg rally. 

Eagerly, MSNBC tried to imitate that successful Fox business model, catering to a lefty-Bolshevik echo chamber, but failed, tumbling almost into bankruptcy because – it appears – liberals are too fickle to stay glued to a single news source. They wander off – a difference in character. (In fact, liberals are not “leftists” in any meaningful way. See addendum below.)

Hence, any attempt to boycott must offer real leverage. You’ll never sway Fox, for example, by refusing to watch their channel. That just puts you in the other two-thirds and they’ll shrug. One third is more than enough to draw in advertisers, eager to buy time in order to reach tens of millions.

Far more effective would be to boycott those advertisers. But web sites urging this have been up for years, and Rupert Murdoch has merely chuckled. 

Only now, our attention is roused. This is no longer a boutique interest. We’ll know daily that the Trump Administration is a direct product of fact-allergic habits taught on Rupert Murdoch’s personal propaganda network. So perhaps this old idea can yet gain some real bite. 

Anyway, give a scan of the Fox advertisers. Calendar a reminder to skim it every quarter, or so. Tell your friends. Don’t let supposed ‘bad blood’ between Fox & Trump fool you. Murdoch is the heart and brains of this thing. 

Just look at Donald's appointments. Rupert Murdoch is still the puppeteer. 

== A “Scary New World” ==

So, is The U.S. Abandoning The World Order It Created? 

For example, the same NATO that Ronald Reagan loved and that leaped to our aid, after 9/11, is despised by both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, as well as Trump's top security appointees.

Right wing pundit Peter Zeihan isn’t exactly crowing about a Trump presidency.  In his latest posting, Scared New World, he glowers cynically: 

* The World Trade Organization has less than a year to respond to what will undoubtedly be a tidal wave of U.S. cases. Should those cases not be dealt with in adjudication at a pace and in the way the new White House desires, the United States will start taking unilateral moves which will, in essence, obviate the global trade order.

*  One of those first moves -- which might not even wait for the WTO to try and act -- will be to declare China a currency manipulator as well as revoke its status as a free market economy. … This could throw China into its first recession in 30 years.

*  NATO is for all intents and purposes dead. Russia’s moves into Ukraine will increase, and broadscale Russian plans for its entire western periphery -- everything from Latvia to Poland to Romania to Azerbaijan -- will accelerate. The only way forward for Europe is for Sweden and Germany to massively rearm.  

* Almost everything from the Obama presidency will be undone by the end of January 2017. Obama has shown next to no ability/interest in having conversations with Congress, even with members of his own party. The only large law passed during his entire tenure is Obamacare, so only it cannot be undone without a few strokes of a pen. How that law is modified or unwound requires Congressional involvement, and since Congress remains in the hands of the Republicans, that too is on deck -- it will just take a bit more time. Any international treaties negotiated by Obama -- whether they be the Paris Climate Accords or the TransPacific Partnership -- are dead.

Phew!  Although it is nothing short of lunacy to blame Barack Obama for recent political gridlock. That resulted from the openly avowed Republican treason called the Hastert Rule, which barred any GOP officeholder from negotiating with a democrat, ever, over anything at all. Moreover, No one mentions the reason for Putin's grudge against democrats, blaming Obama and Clinton for "stealing" Ukraine from the Russian orbit.

Also, Republicans are in a tight spot, since Obamacare was originally their own damned plan.  All of their alternatives are variations on it. So expect extensive tweaking and cosmetic changes in nomenclature.  And "health savings plans" that no one will buy. So much for 7 years of hysterical, no compromise screaming.

Still, Zeihan certainly paints a vivid image, and there is little to prevent DT from doing any of this.

== More scary bits ==

Last time I offered reasons why Trump may listen to cooler heads – a hope also envisioned by Michael Dorf of Newsweek. Those reasons will work for us… and yet will probably fail. Especially if Trump keeps up the damned rallies. Which he's sure to do when he feels besieged.

Re foreign affairs: The most plausible prediction is that Vladimir Putin will bolster his friend by rapidly negotiating a deal in Syria, in order to cement Trump’s “art of the deal” mastery.  Perhaps “federating” the state, locking Assad’s grip on the country’s western third - the valuable bits - and letting go of the rest.  This would make Trump look strong while giving the Russians everything they truly want.

Trump is then liberated to eviscerate NATO -- Putin’s central goal. Bad news for Estonia and the other Baltic States.  If NATO is no longer drawing a hard red line before them, then Russian speaking populations could serve as an intervention lure/excuse, as others were in the Donbas. Think Sudetenland.

Of course, if this led to actual harm to Estonia, then it could embolden some House members toward impeachment.  Ooog. Interesting times. (Will Trump revoke the Iran nuclear deal?)

In fact, there may be an immature satisfaction or silver lining to be seen, when a Trump-led U.S. abruptly drops its 70 year burden that saved the world, and stomps off the stage. The new anti-western axis – extending from Ankara through Moscow and Iran and Beijing to Manilla – will surge and make some short term gains…

…and not keep them. Not so long as Russian women refuse to have babies. Especially as internal fractures erupt that seem not to be on anyone’s horizon, quite yet. For example, the Siberian vacuum will draw in a powerful and assertive China, turning its gaze northward.

Scary stuff, and Donald Trump’s crew is not up to these challenges. Still, we’ll at least get to ask the rest of the world “do you miss us, yet?”

== Final Note ==

All right, ‘the rules” don’t require that the office go to the winner of the popular vote, even by the immense margin we just saw.  Still, there is something honor demands, and the dishonorable ignore such things.

It was behooved upon G.W. Bush, in 2000, to say: 

"I know a majority of Americans didn't want me, so I will offer compromises and even appoint some people who will remind me to heed what the people clearly wanted."

Bush didn't do that -- (despite my urging it, at the time, go figure!) -- and may his entire corrupt clan squat in shame for it. (Yes, and the shame of knowing that their own party did not even mention them, at the RNC this august. What party has ever slunk and turned its back so, upon its last two presidents?)

But Trump's negative-margin - the large majority of his fellow citizens who voted zealously against him - is far more vast. Indeed, DT's biggest crime - so far - is making his appointments from the standard list of Bushite factotums, including a long series of fellow billionaires. So much for the Trump "Revolution." 

He could have at least tried the ecumenical approach

Alas. The fact that he has made no such outreach is proof of what kind of man he is.

Ft. Sumter has fallen, boys and girls. We need to remember what we’re made of.




Addendum.  NPR tracked down the young creator of one of the non-Russian Fake News sites that fed a firehose of false stories into the alt.right-o-sphere, during the election. He claims to have been boggled by the eager gullibility that sucked in even the craziest conspiracy stories. "Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait." Entirely consistent with what I said about MSNBC.  This is not about left-right. It is about sane-insane.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Science marches on.... mostly good medical news.

Girding myself for the long-haul, I will try to punctuate political missives with reminders that we are a scientific civilization, still. And that the whole American Experiment has been about moving forward mostly ourselves.  And hence, getting across this week...
== Medical advances ==

A 25-year-old student has just come up with a way to fight drug-resistant superbugs using a star-shaped polymer that can kill six different superbug strains without antibiotics, simply by ripping apart their cell walls.  

In the most finely-parsed brain mapping to date, researchers put a donor brain through MRI and diffusion tensor imaging and then sliced it up by specific regions. The end result is a map of 862 annotated structures at a resolution of roughly a hundredth the width of a human hair.  

A unique brain 'fingerprint' method that involves mapping the human brain with diffusion MRI can identify an individual with excellent accuracy.

Intriguing line of research: could Alzheimer's disease be a diabetic disorder of the brain?

A low oxygen environment may help stimulate heart regeneration in mice.

IBM's Watson recommends the same cancer treatment as doctors 99% of the time, but offered options missed by doctors in 30% of cases.

Read about ProTactile ASL, a language for the DeafBlind that doesn't rely on sight or sound. 

Fighting against dengue and zika around the globe: a visual guide to modified mosquitos. 

Larry Brilliant’s new book, autobiographical on a most-interesting life (!) is now available. Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physicist Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History. Okay, if I had a name like that… 

Larry writes: “In the middle of the Cold War, Russians and Americans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists—people of all races and creeds—joined together to conquer the worst disease in history. I was living in a Himalayan monastery when my teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, sent me to be a foot soldier to help eradicate smallpox. I stayed in India for a decade. We did eradicate this terrible disease, and I saw the very last case of variola major.”  See it reviewed on Electric Review

== Forever young? ==

Rejuvenation? Oh, this is simultaneously hopeful and creepy — evidence that injecting young human blood into older bodies does seem to offer powers of rejuvenation – even if those old bodies aren't human themselves. Researchers took blood samples from a group of healthy, young 18-year-old human participants and injected them into 12-month-old mice – late middle age in mice years, or the equivalent of being about 50 years old in human terms. And there were effects on memory and other functions, as if they had been made younger.

First, results in mice don’t always translate to humans, especially when it comes to matters of aging. I explain why in my article: Do We Really Want Immortality?

Second, the cheap sci fi movie plots spin out, in the mind.  One envisions a dystopian hell in which young people are hooked up to the vampiric rich — the flick becomes even more bankable because vampire flicks always correlate with Republican administrations. (During democratic administrations, it’s zombies, all the way down. I explain why, elsewhere.) 

A much better film would start with a reasonable premise… all young people are expected to donate blood at reasonable intervals — say the three month cycle that is how I got up to donating 84 pints. Only the schedule keeps getting tightened as kids get tired all the time. A more plausibly chilling hell.

Our Orwellian fear is that secretive elites will hoard and monopolize new technological powers and manipulate the state into protecting their monopoly. But technology often stymies this trend, by spreading more democratically, as happened with the supercomputers we carry in our pockets.  And hence, rejuvenation results have drawn focus on blood components that change with age, opening the possibility that some factors might be provided industrially, en masse, without having to clamp onto the veins of the young.

Oh and look up the good news about Aspirin, which just keeps coming. But, update your notions of maximum dose for Tylenol. And don't mix it with Aspirin... which appears to be gaining cred as a wonder supplement.

== Curiosities ==

The ancient shipwreck at Antikythera has been enriching us with insights to the Roman era world for 100 years… including the wonder called the Antikythera Device.  Now, archaeologists have found a human skeleton which might reveal even more secrets… of… the… past!  

The world's deepest underwater cave in the Czech Republic - Hranick√° Propast - reaches a dizzying depth of 1,325 feet (404 meters). 
This year’s Ig-Nobel Prizes for scientific studies that… well… some were foolish and others wise, but all make you smile.  

Don't swear at Siri: on average, ten to fifty percent of our interactions with our technological devices are abusive. And... .what are we going to say when our machines begin to ask why they're here?

U.S. dementia rates are dropping, even as the population ages. Perhaps as a result of higher education levels?

Why does Elon name his sea and space ships after those in sci fi books? Why? Because he can!  

Okay, how'd that taste? The troglodytes have decided to grab our ankles, kicking and screaming how much they hate the future.  But we can keep moving forward, and take them - despite their howls - to Star Trek.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Explaining the Gut Punch

Okay… cue background music. Robert Palmer’s “Women are smarter in every way.” Our anthem for tonight. And perhaps for four years.

And so let us continue with more unconventional and alternative perspectives on the election.  But first, just a few words on the frenzied protests in our cities. 

Oh, I’m sympathetic to the revulsion, and appreciate raw passion. (Crisis hotlines are helping people cope.) Still: “Did all you folks in the street vote? Did you precinct walk and knock on doors? Did you try to engage (and even listen to) a few of your red neighbors, this round? What is it you expect raucous demonstrations to accomplish? Other than give opportunities for street trolls (learn the French term agents provocateurs) to draw camera attention, by burning flags? I’m curious.

Oh, I can dig the sense of desperation. Among those clasping for straws, one fellow begs Warren Buffett to offer to pay any fines incurred by any members of the Electoral College who cannot stomach the duty before themOver 4 million have signed the petition on Change.org for the Electoral College to make Clinton president on December 19, using the excuse that she won two million more votes than Mr. Trump.

Hm. Not impossible, in theory, but that ‘salvation’ ain’t gonna happen, and indeed probably shouldn’t. Though the glimmering possibility could help explain why Donald Trump is keeping mum and making pleasant sounds, wanting no scandals till after the Electoral College vote. 

A more tasty fantasy... For the electors to pick Tim Kaine as Vice President. To serve as a caution, always lurking at DT’s elbow. But also to deter Paul Ryan from ever betraying Trump by trying this trick. Yeah, right. 

The least implausible and most eloquently argued Electoral College Gambit is this one put forward by E. J. Xavier. Force House Republicans to Elect Trump.” 

Huh?  Read that again. It’s not a fantasy about reversing the election results. That’s not happening, folks. But getting enough electors to abstain, so that no candidate gets a majority? That would throw the choice to the U.S. House of Representatives. And what would that accomplish? Paul Ryan’s majority-of-states there would then choose a Republican, and it would be Trump. So what’s the deal? It would force them to take full responsibility for Trump. Read Xavier’s essay. It is persuasive enough that thirty or so Republican electors might… well…

Nah. Sci Fi can be fun and we’ll return to fantasy politics later. But now it’s time to dive into that turbid sea of rationalizations for what actually happened. How did we get punched in the gut?

 First from fabulators of the right.

== The Bushite Establishment Rationalizes ==

Those who concocted this mess, who egged on the lobotomization of the Republican Party – especially Glen Beck and George F. Will – have been seen moaning imprecations in every direction except toward the nearest mirror. They, along with Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Dennis Hastert and the Fox Elite, created the frothing creature we all witnessed at those rallies. DT merely leaped into the saddle, toppled the appointed jockeys, and expertly grabbed the reins. But you did this, fellahs. We aren’t interested in your fairy tale excuses, boys. Or Megyn Kelly’s.

A more interesting conservative source is John Mauldin’s newsletter, which offers up some choice justifications. For example, international financier Charles Gave targets the globalist “Davos Men,” citing Trump as a reversion to basic nationalism: “Trump’s election victory is a clear indication that the majority of people are not interested in a world government, but want to return to a classical, local democracy.”  

Good try, Charles. As if ‘world government’ was even remotely on the minds of the Trump electorate. And as if ‘democracy’ was the visceral goal of a putsch whose principal outcomes - every policy goal shared by Trump and the GOP -- will favor oligarchy, all the way down till we reach 1789.

His father, legendary money-mover Louis Gave, starts out much wiser by citing Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote the following of American democracy:

“The election becomes the greatest and, as it were, the only matter which occupies people’s minds. Then political factions redouble their enthusiasm; every possible phony passion that the imagination can conceive in a contented and peaceful country comes out into the light of day… As the election draws near, intrigues multiply and turmoil spreads. Citizens divide up between several camps each of which adopts the name of its candidate. The whole nation descends into a feverish state; the election becomes the daily theme of newspapers, the subject of private conversations, the object of every maneuver and every thought, the only concern of the present moment. It is true that as soon as the result has been announced, this passion is dispelled, all returns to calm, and the river which momentarily overflowed its banks returns peacefully to its bed.”

Perspective, indeed.  Alas, Louis doubts things will settle down this time. Far more on target than his son, he writes:

“Back in 2004, John Kerry had made the theme of his campaign the problem with the “Two Americas”. And of course, back then Kerry referred to the rich and the poor. But this vote illustrates that the US really is dividing into two countries as the gulf in voting patterns widens along income, education, gender, class, and urban/rural divides. Increasingly, Americans seem to live in self-reinforcing echo-chambers where they solely interact with people who hold the same beliefs and values. Combine this new reality with the news filtering capacity provided by social media algorithms and it is clear that growing parts of the country will never have to confront uncomfortable facts, or opinions.”

And yes, I predicted this Echo Chamber Effect long ago, in Earth (1989). And its possible, catastrophic outcome, in The Postman.

John Pavley, Sr. Vice President at Viacom, takes this thought farther, talking about how these new media are causing social breakdowns. moreover, this lobotomization is familiar, from history.

Remember, the first effect of the printing press was to exacerbate intolerance... till printed books later empowered people to fight against it. Or ponder the way 1930s radio first wrought fanaticism and horror before it fostered empathy. Likewise, Pavley talks about how monsters are using the new media more effectively, before they can increase our reasoning ability and empathy:

“The broadcast technologies of the pre-social media world coerced us into consensus. We had to share them because they were mass media, one-to-many communications where the line between audience and broadcaster was clear and seldom crossed. Then came the public internet and the World Wide Web of decentralized distribution. Then came super computers in our pockets with fully equipped media studios in our hands. Then came user generated content, blogging and tweeting such that there were as many authors as there were audience members.

“Here the troll was born…. Every time you share a link to a news article you didn’t read (which is something like 75% of the time), every time you like a post without critically thinking about it (which is almost always), and every time you rant in anger or in anxiety in your social media of choice, you are the troll.”

Max Read argues in New York Magazine that our ‘echo chamber’ mentality, to gather in likeminded swarms online, may have been a crucial factor this year. Polemically fervid-uniform ’nuremberg rallies”... and there are (yes) some on the left, too.

“All throughout the election, these fake stories, sometimes papered over with flimsy “parody site” disclosures somewhere in small type, circulated throughout Facebook: The Pope endorses Trump. Hillary Clinton bought $137 million in illegal arms. The Clintons bought a $200 million house in the Maldives. Many got hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shares, likes, and comments; enough people clicked through to the posts to generate significant profits for their creators. The valiant efforts of Snopes and other debunking organizations were insufficient; Facebook’s labyrinthine sharing and privacy settings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuffle.”  

Yes to much of that. Fretful over how social media are being blamed for the Echo Chamber Effect, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a response to accusations that “fake news” on Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election, and helped Donald Trump to win. Oh, if only he were interested in simple ways to make this a win-win.

== An amputation we cannot afford ==

Of course this relates to the decline of professional journalism, which endangers us all. Each year, we train thousands of ambitiously dedicated young people -- some of our very best -- overflowing with curiosity, to go forth and ask questions of the widest variety of sources. The profession has many lapses and can fail at times, but it happens to be one of the three dozen or so that deal most avidly in those things called facts. And hence, journalism -- along with science, teaching, medicine, civil service, economics, diplomats... and let me repeat, above all science... have all been declared enemies by Fox, the alt-right and trumpism. They share this, down to the marrow.

But journalism is being undermined even more powerfully by one flaw in today's internet! By the Net/web's astonishing over-reliance on advertising to pay the bills. A business model that has worked far longer than I ever expected it to. But by sucking away the revenue source of old fashioned, fact-centered investigative news media, this business model has harmed us all.

In this series of articles at the bold Evonomics website, I make the case for micropayment systems for online content, offering the "secret sauce" that could make them (at last) work.  And possibly save professional journalism. And possibly thereby... all of us.

(Advertising Cannot Maintain the Internet -- Here’s the “Secret Sauce” Solution and Beyond Advertising: Will Micropayments Sustain the New Internet?)

Alas, even as we discuss the Internet's real design problems – recalling that every new medium since glass lenses and movable type has rocked society and done harm, till we learned to use it well -- Louis Gave and John Pavley and the others are still pointing to a surface phenomenon. 

An exacerbating tool or symptom, rather than the disease.

What disease? Alas, Americans know no history, or the context for all of this should be blatantly obvious -- that this patterned illness has struck before! Many times. In its most violent manifestation it was called the Civil War – lately “culture war.” 

And – manifestly - it’s been deliberately re-ignited

Moreover, we’ll see that this is the only model for recent events that actually fits every single thing that happened.

== A pause for the Sci Fi perspective ==

More of these rationalizations in a moment. But let’s pause, at intervals, to try striking a lighter – if cynical – tone.

The most compellingly science fictional interpretation? If Nate Silver was our Hari Seldon, then Donald Trump is the Mule.” Some of you get exactly what that means. If not? Then save it for another time.  (Late addendum: This fellow took the same comparison and put it to lyrics: ‘The Mule’ — An Anti-Trump Power Ballad'.)

Or take this from my blog’s comment section, where A.F. Rey related... ‘My wife said first the Cubs win the World Series, now Biff is in charge. It's Back to the Future coming true.’

Oops. And we left Jennifer sleeping on the porch swing. Biff. Oh sweet lord. Are there any differences?

Ah, but now we’ll never know if Bill Clinton would have been called “First Laddy.” Or if she’d have given him a cabinet appointment, to keep him both busy and close… or an ambassadorship to keep him far. (Sweden, if she still liked him; Afghanistan, if not.)  Now? We can only speculate.

Enough comedy. Back to work.

== Finally… more chillingly plausible sci fi ==

There’s so much material.  So let’s put it aside for now and post what we’ve got.  Except for this final thought.

The ‘Prediction professor’ who called Trump’s big win also made another forecast: Trump will be impeached. 

Allan J. Lichtman’s book, “Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House 2016,” was among the few that forecast successfully the results of this election.

Lichtman also puts forward a forecast that’s similar to a “what-if” that I issued, months ago, based on a obvious fact — that the Republican establishment “don't want Trump as president, because they can't control him. He's unpredictable. They'd love to have Pence — an absolutely down-the-line, conservative, controllable Republican. And I'm quite certain Trump will give someone grounds for impeachment, either by doing something that endangers national security or because it helps his pocketbook.”

Adds Lichtman: “The Democrats cannot rebuild by pointing fingers at Hillary Clinton and her campaign, which as the Keys demonstrated, were not the root cause of her defeat,” he said. “The Democrats can rehabilitate themselves only by offering an inspiring progressive alternative to Republican policies and building a grass-roots movement.”

Oh, I will talk about that. As if anyone listens.


-- return to Part I: We are in it, all right, but "figuratively" or "literally"?
or continue to Part III: Might some zillionaire save us?