Intro

This is the blog and homepage of Mark R. Kelly, the founder of Locus Online in 1997 (for which I won a Hugo Award in 2002 — see the icon at right) and of an index to science fiction awards in 2000 that became sfadb.com in 2012. I’m retired from my day job of 30 years, from 1982 to 2012, as an aerospace software engineer, supporting the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Posts here are mostly about my reading, of science fiction and of books about science, history, philosophy, and religion; and comments to articles in newspapers that I link to. Movie reviews and pics from travels are posted on Facebook.

More on my About page, including a photo of the Hugo Winners the year I was among them, and links to an index of my columns and other writings, and to my earliest homepage with links to some of my work.

Posted in Personal history | Comments Off on Intro

Links and Comments: Bubbles and B.S.

Trump’s performance at the second vice-presidential debate indicated to numerous people that all he knows about the world are conspiracy-mongering talking points from Fox News and other right wing sites. In some cases all you have to do is read the headline.

Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley: Trump Complained That Biden Wants to Talk About Middle-Class Families Instead of Fox News Conspiracy Stuff

Slate, Aaron Mak and Molly Olmstead: A Guide to All the Nutty Things Trump Said That You’d Need Fox News Brain to Understand

And Washington Post: What was Trump talking about? How the language of Fox News invaded the final debate.

“You need an encyclopedia to understand what is going on because it’s a series of buzzwords that have meaning perhaps if you’ve been studying the Daily Caller,” said CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip. “But if you’re a regular person going about your life, you’re not going to understand what rabbit holes the president is going down.”

And Jennifer Rubin at WaPo: Trump’s three fatal flaws

Second, Trump has always been a conspiracy monger, a know-nothing and a non-reader. He grabs on to whatever garbage floats his way on the stream of right-wing blather. He now is entirely unintelligible to those who do not immerse themselves in the make-believe world of talk radio, Fox News fiction and Russian propaganda. (Disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor.) He has become the nutty neighbor in the tin-foil hat, the dotty relative who cannot see others scoffing at him. Only someone trapped in an alternate universe would think that babbling on about Hunter Biden would get him anywhere. It is fitting that the right-wing media that has done such a grave disservice to the country in spreading racism, undermining objective reality and assaulting democratic values is now an instrument of Trump’s downfall.

More generally: NY Times, Jamelle Bouie: This Is Why Republicans Fear Change, subtitled “The party’s survival depends on frozen politics.”

The Republican Party as currently constituted is a minority party representing a demographically narrow segment of the American electorate. It needs stasis — institutional and constitutional — to survive. Democrats do not. Just the opposite, they need a political system that can grow with and respond to change within our society. Progressive government is necessarily active government. And if we can speak of original intent, it was not the intent of the founders of this country to have a static government, a static constitutional order, or — for that matter — a static society.

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I think I was fortunate to grow up in a household where the evening network news was on every night (on NBC), where a daily newspaper (the LA Times) arrived every day, and how when in Advanced Placement English in the 12th grade, we students were obliged to read Time (or was it Newsweek?) every week and take a short quiz on the issue’s contents every Friday. So paying attention to the world became second-nature. These days I read several papers, in print or online, several news and opinion journals (The Week, Time, The New Yorker, The Atlantic), and listen to NPR most of the day unless I’m reading. (I’m not obsessed with politics or most political issues (most of which are trivial in the big scheme of things), so much as interested in spotting developments in the big issues that interest me: progressive social issues and resistance to them, issues of science vs. religion, long-term trends and society’s responses to them, etc etc.)

More and more I am coming to realize that most people’s encounters with news is far less systematic than mine have been, that in fact, most people don’t pay much attention to anything outside their daily concerns at all. (For parents raising small children, I completely understand.) If they pay attention it’s to sources that reinforce their preconceived notions, i.e. only sources within their Bubble. Newspapers are a dying breed; I’m fairly sure neither of my stepsons or their partners reads a daily paper. OTOH they seem reasonably well-informed on various national issues, and on who the politicians are, so they’re getting informed somehow.

On the perennial topic of conspiracy theories, in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum: You’re Not Supposed to Understand the Rumors About Biden, subtitled “To raise doubts about the Democratic nominee, right-wing-media smears don’t even need to make sense.”

The deception failed, according to The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, because James O’Keefe, the notoriously unprincipled leader of a group called Project Veritas, forgot to hang up the phone after calling the Open Society office. In a long voicemail, he inadvertently recorded himself plotting to embarrass Soros. These are people who think that smear campaigns are politics, harassment is journalism, and online stalking is something you do for fun.

More and more I am coming to understand that conspiracy theorists don’t have reasons to put forth their ideas, rather they just make stuff up at random, for purposes of thrilling some and trolling others, alluding only to the vaguest possibility that something *could* be true, with plausibility or evidence being completely beside the point. It’s analogous to a comment someone made about Trump: it’s not that he consciously lies all the time, exactly (though he certainly does lie a great deal), it’s that he’s a consummate B.S. artist. As Jennifer Rubin says above, grabbing on “to whatever garbage floats his way on the stream of right-wing blather.”

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Culture, Politics, Social Progress | Leave a comment

Rutger Bregman, UTOPIA FOR REALISTS: How We Can Build the Ideal World (2014/2017)

This is a breezy, fast-reading book that summarizes grand conclusions simply and directly, and then provides background references to support those conclusions in 40 pages of notes at the end.

The Dutch author is “one of the continent’s most prominent young thinkers”; the book was published in the Netherlands in 2014, and first translated into English in 2017.

The book starts out in Pinker/Rosling territory, alerting us to the fact that the world has improved greatly in recent decades and centuries, then moves through a constellation of ideas, some intersecting those in Harari’s HOMO DEUS, for improving the world, and ends with some insights from psychology about why people cling to old ideas and have trouble considering anything new. Reminding us in the final lines about how nevertheless – slavery, women’s suffrage, gay marriage – new ideas have changed society.

(I read this book a year and a half ago, and it’s one of a backlog of reading notes I mean to post here, for the benefit of anyone who might encounter this blog.)

Take-away key points:

  • The idea of free money, of universal income. Idea goes back to Thomas More’s Utopia.
    • From summary below: It’s been thought that poor people are lazy, or that free money would make people lazy. But it doesn’t, according to the evidence. Various examples show that giving poor people cash lets them invest and improve their lives—Kenya, Uganda. These programs reduce poverty and cost less that alternatives. Instead of outsiders deciding what poor people need, let them decide. Studies show they don’t spend the money on alcohol and tobacco.
    • And I’ve made this point recently: It’s not terribly expensive; people would find the work they want; and it’s less perverse than the army of welfare workers we have now that monitor all the recipients.
    • Examples; relative poverty; poverty is not about lack of character; it almost happened under Nixon.
  • Why GDP is outdated, a myth that it must always grow. It’s handy for journalists. What’s needed is a dashboard of indicators driven by a vision of what makes life worth living. Which entails asking, what is progress? [[ Rosling’s book speaks to this; I need to catch up on that summary too. ]]
  • People used to worry that leisure would be a problem, e.g. short work weeks, the Jetsons. But people are obsessed about having more stuff, and now there’s the cult of overwork.
  • People rage against the machine — how new machines take away job, e.g. the loss of job for draft horses in 1901. We have to get over the dogma that you have to work for a living. That means redistribution. As Piketty advocated.
    • [[ And this dovetails with Heinlein’s notions in his early novels, as I’ve described here. And of course matches Harari’s thoughts on a future in which people, becoming unemployed, need to find something to do. ]]
  • How to deal with poverty — a solution would be open borders. Only since WWI broke out did some countries seal their borders. Opening borders could double the “gross worldwide product.” Arguments against open borders are fallacies.
  • Leon Festinger and his study of cognitive dissonance, about the group who believed aliens would arrive. People search the internet for what they want to be the answer.
  • The Overton Window can shift. We need a conviction that change is possible. Cultivate a thicker skin: Be unrealistic, unreasonable, and impossible. “Remember, those who called for the abolition of slavery, for the suffrage of women, and for same-sex marriage were also once branded lunatics. Until history proved them right.”

Detailed Summary:

1, The Return of Utopia

  • In the past, everything was worse. Only in the last 200 years have most of us become rich, clean, healthy, etc. For centuries not much changed; the annual income in Italy in 1300 was about the same as 600 years later. Then things took off beginning around 1880. See chart p3.
  • Medieval people imagined “Cockaigne”, a place that’s pretty much like western Europe now. Now we worry about adverse effects like obesity and pollution. We can make biblical prophecies come true. And science fiction. Wealthy, hunger, disease; vaccines. Smarter; less crime.
  • We have a Land of Plenty. What’s left to do? New gadgets. What to do? We haven’t come up with any new dream.
  • This book is about unlocking the future. There have been two types of utopias: more familiar is the blueprint utopia, with rules about everything, e.g. 1602 The City of the Sun. The other is utopia as just a vague outline, finding the right questions to ask, and willingness to change. We’ve become cynical, with nothing but a technocracy, concerned about quantity, not quality. It’s all about personal freedom, but driven by the market. The welfare state focuses only on symptoms. The market and commercial interests have free reign. Thus the dystopia we have today.
  • Young people have it good, but they’re both narcissistic and fearful. Traditional guidelines from family, church, and country have been replaced… Capitalism brought about the Land of Plenty, but it’s insufficient to sustain it. The nostalgia for the past reveals a yearning for ideas that we can no longer achieve.
  • True progress is about wisdom about what it means to live well.
  • So we need alternate horizons to spark our thinking. There have been such dreamers for centuries, p21. B Russell quotes.

2, Why We Should Give Free Money to Everyone

  • In London in 2009 an experiment with 13 homeless men, costing L400,000 per year of government expenses, were given money directly instead, for a cost of L50,000/year. They were asked what they needed, and those things were supplied. A year and a half later seven of them had roofs over their heads.
  • It’s been thought that poor people are lazy, or that free money would make people lazy. But it doesn’t, according to the evidence. Various examples show that giving poor people cash lets them invest and improve their lives—Kenya, Uganda. These programs reduce poverty and cost less that alternatives. Instead of outsiders deciding what poor people need, let them decide. Studies show they don’t spend the money on alcohol and tobacco.
  • The idea of free money, or a universal basic income, goes back to More’s Utopia. A monthly allowance, no conditions.
  • In 1973 the Canadians tried it in a town in Winnepeg, a program called Mincome. The program worked well until a conservative government won the election and stopped it, even money to analyze the data. Later, Medicare archives showed the program had been a resounding success.
  • No, people didn’t stop working and start having large families; rather the opposite. School performance improved; hospitalizations dropped 8%.
  • Four other experiments were done in the US, back in LBJ’s day. The experiments worked—but were deemed politically unfeasible. In 1968 five economists, including Galbraith, wrote an open letter to congress advocating the idea. The idea was including in a bill put forth by Nixon. But the Senate was skeptical, and democrats were opposed because it didn’t go far enough. Later versions were shelved when the Seattle data showed a rise in divorces—basic income gave women too much independence. But even that turned out to be a statistical error.
  • Utopian ideas are generally dismissed as futile, dangerous, or perverse. Even democracy was, once. In 1967 80% of Americans supported gbi.
  • But the data show differently. It’s not terribly expensive; people would find the work they want; and it’s less perverse than the army of welfare workers we have now that monitor all the recipients. And so the right is afraid people will stop working; the left doesn’t trust them to make their own choices.
  • The welfare system is a vestige from an era when men were breadwinners and had the same job all their lives. But times are changing. “In the end, only a fraction of our prosperity is due to our own exertions. We, the inhabitants of the Land of Plenty, are rich thanks to the institutions, the knowledge, and the social capital amassed for us by our forebears.” P46-7.

3, The End of Poverty

  • In 1997 a new casino opened in North Carolina run by the Cherokee, despite the governor’s opposition. Income of the Cherokee to by $5500/year. It was known that poverty causes behavioral problems in children, but which was cause and which effect? The rise in income from the casino resulted in improvements among the children. Crime was reduced. The money helped parents to parent better. Both nature and nurture can cause mental-health problems, but genes can’t be undone, and poverty can.
  • But why is it poor people seem to have more problems, make bad decisions? It’s widely thought that poor people have to help themselves. A recent book claims it’s about context. There’s a psychology about scarcity. Scarcity narrows your focus. Poor people are preoccupied with many narrow decisions. Studies show the effects correspond to 13 and 14 IQ points. Studies show…
  • Reducing poverty would expand the gross domestic mental bandwidth. Reducing policy would reduce the costs of poverty. But the mindset of scarcity leads many who qualify for assistance programs to ignore them.
  • What is to be done? Nudges are cheap, but don’t solve anything. Free money is one thing, but scarcity is a perception based on what others have—thus inequality is a key problem.
  • Increasing income only increases happiness to a point. There’s no correlation between incomes and social problems, p64 chart. (The US has the highest index of social problems.) But there is a strong correlation of social problems to inequality, p65. It doesn’t matter that the poor are better off than anyone a couple centuries ago. It’s about relative poverty.
  • Poverty used to be a fact of life. The poor used to be required, to some thinking, to balance the wealthy, p68. We’ve learned better in the 20th century. Poverty is not about lack of character.
  • In 2005 Utah attacked the homelessness problem with free apartments. It got people off the streets, and benefitted the economy.
  • The same strategy worked in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities, p71. But then the financial crisis trimmed budgets and the problem returned. Despite studies that showed the investments in homelessness enjoyed double or triple returns. Still, some people merely fight the symptoms.

Ch4, The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon and His Basic Income Bill

  • How the past is a foreign country.
  • None other than President Nixon almost got a guaranteed annual income, of $1600, into law, despite conservative fealty to Ayn Rand. But then Nixon was sent a report – based on a particular book—about a town in England, Speenhamland, in the 1830s, that supposedly ruined the competitive labor market, etc. Nixon was stunned, and shifted his position to require people to register for work with the Dept of Labor, to address the (myth) of the lazy poor. Welfare became workfare.
  • But what really happened in Speenhamland? History shows plans for aiding the poor were criticized by, among others, Malthus, who worried that an expanding population would cause famine etc., and assisting the poor would just enable them to have even more children. After an uprising in 1830, the British government did a study on Speenhamland, which concluded it had been a disaster, and when repealed, the poor became more industrious and improved their conditions. The study influenced Karl Marx and others—Bentham, de Tocqueville, et al, p87.
  • But a later study showed that report completely flawed—largely written without analyzing the data, because funding was cut for doing so. Later analysis showed it had been a success. Malthus was wrong; people had children for the child labor, which was in high demand. Similarly, Marx and Engels were misguided, p89.
  • After that laws were changed that created the poor houses that Dickens wrote about—people locked up or given menial work for being poor, as remedies against sloth and depravity. The myth of Speenhamland persisted—among conservatives, among them Charles Murray—and ultimately led to the dismantling the welfare system by Clinton in 1996.
  • Orwell knew poverty. And problem with the nanny state is that it’s like a surveillance state, having unintended consequences, p96.

Ch5, New Figure for a New Era

  • The Japanese tsunami in 2011, ironically, boosted the Japanese economy, i.e. its GDP. But the GDP is outdated; it doesn’t measure many things – free stuff, the black market, advances in knowledge—treating society like a production line, and benefiting from activity that’s actually harmful. 105b: “If you were the GDP, your ideal citizen would be a compulsive gambler with cancer who’s going through a drawn-out divorce that he copes with by popping fistfuls of Prozac and going berserk on Black Friday.” Another problem is that the financial sector is included.
  • And it’s a problem, a myth, that the GDP must always grow. Certainly it’s handy for journalists.
  • Measures of society go back to 1665 and we preoccupied with financing wars. The modern GDP was developed by Simon Kuzmets for Herbert Hoover. It works well in times of war. But it’s full of subjective elements.
  • But how else to measure the quality of society? Simple happiness isn’t enough; you need some unhappiness to drive people. Other measures include the GPI and the ISEW, p118. A key issue is that some things can’t be expanded or made more efficient—a performance of Mozart, for example. And considering that manufacturing has gotten more efficient, so that products are cheaper, you’d expect things like education and health care to be relatively more expensive. Being obsessed with productivity means having no vision.
  • So what’s needed perhaps is a dashboard of indicators driven by a vision of what makes life worth living. And that entails answering the question, what is progress?

Ch6, A Fifteen-Hour Workweek

  • Keynes in 1930 predicted such a thing by 2030, and worried that leisure would be the biggest challenge to overcome. Similar predictions, or worries, were made by Benjamin Franklin, by John Stuart Mill, by Asimov in 1964—“a race of machine tenders”, p132. Henry Ford cut back the work week to 5 days, to allow his employees time to drive his cars!
  • The Jetsons portrayed such a future, where work involved pushing a single button, for a couple hours a day.
  • Why hasn’t this happened? Instead, we got more stuff. And feminism, and increased time parenting. Others tried cutting back, e.g. Kellogg, but eventually those tries faded. And now there’s a cult of overwork.
  • But working less would solve many problems: reduce stress, climate change, accidents, unemployment, and benefit women, old people, and relieve inequality. And most people agree they could use more leisure time. But getting there would require careful planning.

Ch7, Why It Doesn’t Pay to Be a Banker

  • A 1968 garbageman strike in New York City showed that it does pay to strike.
  • At least for some professions, not many—lobbyists, media consultants. Some people create wealth, others just shift it around. And ironically the latter professions are the ones that are the best paid. Farms and factories have grown more efficient, so they employ fewer people.
  • In 1970 a bankers strike in Ireland last six months, and had little effect. People created their own currency, exchanged at pubs, where they were known.
  • Bankers get rich by taxing their customers, in effect.
  • Another cause of overwork are what are called “bullshit jobs,” those that are nearly superfluous. And some of these pay very well.
  • You can shift the economy so that innovation and creativity pay off, e.g. with taxes on the financial sector to reduce their profits. The Reagan tax cuts led to more people working as bankers and accountants. Higher taxes get more people to do work that’s useful.
  • Education is too focused on predicting needed skills in tomorrow’s job market. Instead ask, what knowledge and skills do we want children to have? We want to use that extra leisure time doing things that are meaningful.
  • And now garbage collectors in NY are well paid.

Ch8, Race Against the Machine

  • One million jobs for draft horses in 1901 were taken away by machines. And now robots may take away many other jobs.
  • Moore’s law, from 1965, seems to still be in effect.
  • Shipping containers reduced time in port from 50% to 10%.
  • A ‘fact’ of economic growth in 1957, that the share of national income that goes to labor was two-thirds, has shifted to just 58%, due to technology gains. Products like iPhone and Nutella are international. Big players drive out hundreds of smaller players. We have a ‘winner-take-all’ society. This increases inequality.
  • Asimov’s prediction about machine tenders was optimistic—we may not even need the tenders. It’s estimated that 50% or so of jobs might be usurped by machines. In the past, new jobs have appeared to replace ones removed by automation. But beginning around 2000, productivity increased while jobs decreased, p187. Consider how quickly computers have learned to play chess, and win game shows. Kurzweil predicts as intelligent as people by 2029.
  • So what do we do? We face a new generation of Luddites. Recall 1812, an attack on a mill with a new type of power-loom. The Luddite rebellion peaked in 1811, and was crushed.
  • What can be done? Not much. The gap between high earners and lower classes will increase. There are calls for greater education.
  • And shorter work weeks and universal income. We have to get over the dogma that you have to work for a living. That means redistribution. As Piketty advocated.

Ch9, Beyond the Gates of the Land of Plenty

  • What about people who are still in poverty? The West has spent a lot on foreign aid, and we don’t really know if it’s helped. We have theories and surveys and gut feelings. It’s like bloodletting. Then in 2003 MIT created a Poverty Action Lab.
  • Recall the story of Daniel and his experiment about eating vegetables. In 1836 this was done for bloodletting. In 1998 it was done for foreign aid, for distribution of free textbooks. They didn’t help at all. These researchers are named ‘randomistas,’ and they set up RCTs, random control groups, e.g. about free nets vs. nets for sale. The randomistas realize that humans aren’t rational actors. One RCT debunked the idea of microcredits. Others have shown that cash works just fine. Others show that deworming works as well as free meals to raise school attendance.
  • It’s about evaluating Ideology, Ignorance, and Inertia, to see what works.
  • One that would work is: open borders. It’s estimated that could double the “gross worldwide product.” AS they effectively were, a century ago. Only when WWI broke out did some countries seal their borders. Goods and services cross borders, but not people. Opening borders would boost wealth by $65 trillion. Because borders stop people from finding better work, or markets. Only a few countries in the world are very rich—p218.
  • The arguments against open borders are fallacies: they’re not terrorists, they’re not all criminals (look at the data). They don’t undermine social cohesion—a study by Putnam in 2007 was debunked. They’re not taking our jobs. They don’t force wages down. They’re not too lazy to work. And open borders make it easier for immigrants to go back.
  • We know migration fights poverty—the Irish in the 1850s and Italians in the 1880s came to America. And now the world is building more barriers than ever.
  • Perhaps someday we’ll look back on boundaries at the borders the way think of slavery and apartheid today.

Ch10, How Ideas Change the World

  • In 1954 psychologist Leon Festinger followed a group who believed aliens would come rescue them from a flood that would destroy Lake City. How would they react when it didn’t happen? AS they sit through the fatal night, they get more ‘messages’ and update their predictions. His book, 1956, made points [exactly like we read about today]. Cognitive dissonance. Note 236b, “position in social circles”. Not about intelligence. The internet makes it worse. They search for what they want to be the answer.
  • For example, author’s encounter with evidence against his 15-hour work week idea. And author has become so attached to the idea of a universal basic income, what would happen if counter evidence came along?
  • Does this mean new ideas can’t change the world? We know that ideas have changed over time. Shocks work. How the world works, p240t. Group pressure can overcome our own senses. But sometimes a single opposing voice can make the difference.
  • In 2008 the financial crisis seemed to overthrow economic dogma. Alan Greenspan was shocked. But a few years later, his confidence was restored, and fundamental reform never happened.
  • Consider neoliberals Milton Friedman and Freidrich Hayek. They challenged their archrival, John Maynard Keynes. They were anti-government and pro free market. Their predictions seems to come true with the oil crisis in 1973, p247. Over the years Reagan and Thatcher carried the ideas on. Thus a once radical idea came to rule the world.
  • These ideas have become establishment thinking—despite the financial crisis. But we need new ideas, even if right now they’re crazy dreams.

Epilogue

  • So how do we implement these ideas?
  • Consider the Overton Window—how only ideas considered acceptable at the moment get considered. But the window can shift. You proclaim an idea so shocking that anything less radical sounds sensible. Trump and others have mastered this art. It’s been moving to the right for decades. Left-wingers are stepping back, becoming ‘underdog socialists,’ caving in on taking radical actions. They side with society’s unfortunates, but they are dull, they have no story to tell. They’re more concerned with identity than achieving results. It should be a narrative of hope and progress, told in simple language. Reform, meritocracy, innovation, efficiency, cutting the nanny state, freedom. Redefine the concept of work, to be concerned about what matters.
  • First, we need a conviction that change is possible, that utopia is within reach. See how the idea of basic income is now widespread.
  • Two final pieces of advice: first, there are more people out there like you. Second: cultivate a thicker skin. Be unrealistic, unreasonable, and impossible. “Remember, those who called for the abolition of slavery, for the suffrage of women, and for same-sex marriage were also once branded lunatics. Until history proved them right.”
Posted in Book Notes, Social Progress | Comments Off on Rutger Bregman, UTOPIA FOR REALISTS: How We Can Build the Ideal World (2014/2017)

Link and Comments: Social Health is more than Endless Growth

Recalling this post, about the US rank in social progress, and thoughts by the writer Rutger Bregman (via this NYT profile and his book Utopia for Realists), about how the GDP is a poor measure of social healthy, and the endless focus on growth of the stock market really matters only to a very few.

Here’s a post by popular Facebook writer and blogger (and retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer) Jim Wright, today, spelling this point out:

Trump: “Stock Markets will hit new highs if President Trump wins. Tremendous growth like never before. If Biden wins, it’s strangulation. Not good.”

This is everything wrong with the modern Republican Party, with what the Conservative mindset has evolved into.

Profit hits a new high. Yay!

You never see a modern day Republican crowing about how WAGES hit a new high.

Or how the standard of living for the middle class is growing like never before.

They never talk about how more people have healthcare or enough to eat or a decent place to live.

The president never tweets about how poor people are getting a quality education to help lift the next generation out of poverty.

They never tell you how we saved a species from extinction or lowered the increasing temperatures which are driving more and more powerful storms and destroying croplands and giving rise to new and virulent diseases. They never talk about how they’ve balanced the budget or just passed a sustainable energy policy or achieved Peace In Our Time.

Nope.

It’s ALWAYS profit.

That’s the only thing which matters to them. Money. Rich people get richer. Wealthy companies get richer. The stock market is up like never before. Nothing else matters. Nothing.

“Stock Markets will hit new highs if President Trump wins. Tremendous growth like never before. If Biden wins, it’s strangulation. Not good.”

If Trump wins, rich people get richer like never before.

If Biden wins, they don’t.

Not good.

For them.

That’s what he saying here.

Posted in Social Progress | Comments Off on Link and Comments: Social Health is more than Endless Growth

Links and Comments: Against Trump; Roe v. Wade and Personal Choices; Scientists and Stories

Sunday’s NYT Opinion section — typically 10 or 12 pages — was devoted entirely to spelling out (yet again!) why Trump is such an awful president: End Our National Crisis, subtitled “The Case Against Donald Trump.” One section of which tries to answer (yet again) Why They Loved Him.

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The Week: If Roe Falls

As I was saying.

Would the number of abortions fall?
Yes, but not dramatically. A study from Middlebury College in Vermont found that states most likely to criminalize abortion already have the lowest abortion rates, because there are already so many restrictions.


The Middlebury study found that repealing Roe would result in a 32.8 percent reduction in the abortion rate in conservative states, but nationally, America would only experience a 12.8 percent reduction. “Even if the pro-life legal movement locates its Holy Grail,” said pro-life conservative writer David French, “almost 90 percent of the American abortion regime would remain intact.”

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Guardian US, Robert Reich: Trump and Barrett’s threat to abortion and LGBTQ rights is simply un-American

Trump and many Republicans insist that whether to wear a mask or to go to work during a pandemic should be personal choices. Yet what a woman does with her own body, or whether same-sex couples can marry, should be decided by government.

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David Gerrold today on Facebook:

Trump says that Joe Biden is going to listen to the scientists.

He says that like it’s a bad thing.

But for his cult-members, science is the enemy. These are people who went to too many movies where science was the reason why things went wrong and dinosaurs ended up eating people. Science is that unknowable power that only super-villains have, therefore it’s something to be feared.

Religious fanatics, especially cult members, hate science — because science is about evidence. Religion is about belief — and if the evidence challenges belief…? Well, there are people who would (literally) die rather than admit they were wrong.

Or to put it in the bluntest possible terms: Science flies to the moon. Religion flies into buildings.

Joe is going to listen to the scientists? Damn right. The thinking that got us into this mess is not the thinking that will get us out of it.

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This dovetails with Cory Doctorow’s comments recently (see several posts ago), and also a thesis by David Brin about why Hollywood usually makes scientists the bad guys. (Related is an essay by Brin, Our Favorite Cliché — A World Filled With Idiots…, or,Why Films and Novels Routinely Depict Society and its Citizens as Fools, an essay I posted at Locus Online back in the days when I was in charge of that site.)

All of these are reasons to understand that Hollywood mass entertainment tells stories that are much closer to conspiracy theories than they are to the complexities of the real world.

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Narrative, Politics, Science | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Against Trump; Roe v. Wade and Personal Choices; Scientists and Stories

Film Notes: Summer Stock and others

Lately our evening TV has trended toward checking the movie channels around 8pm (after watching the TV game shows Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, the former my favorite and the latter Y’s) to see what’s on. We subscribe to a set of HBO channels and a set of Starz channels and TCM, Turner Classic Movies. Usually I’m enough of a purist to see movies only from the beginning, and then watch them to the very end, all the way through the credits, as I always do in theaters. Recently I’ve become more relaxed on the first point, especially for movies I hadn’t been motivated to see when they came out.

(Yet I was fascinated to read an article somewhere recently about how common it was for families in the 1950s to show up at the theater in the middle of the movie, then stay for the next showing until they got to the point where they walked in, and then leave the theater. This strikes me as barbaric. Yet it happened to me once: when my father took me to see 2001 for a second time, back there in Glen Ellyn in late 1968, he got home from work late and so we didn’t get to the movie on time. So we watched the movie as we arrived, I think during the Blue Danube space waltz scenes, and then stayed for the next showing…and so left the theater during the Blue Danube space waltz scenes.

There’s also the point that in those days the theater managers didn’t clear the theaters between showings. You could sit there and watch the movie again and again, without paying more than once. My pals at the time and I did this with Star Wars, in 1977, at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. We stood in line to get in, and once seated, stayed for two showings. [And then I didn’t bother to watch it again for… 40 years. I thought it was simplistic, juvenile, comic book sci-fi.])

So for example, recently,

  • We saw the last hour of “Cats,” the recent film version of that musical that was ridiculed for its weirdly anthropomorphic cat costumes. I’ve never seen the musical, but of course I know of it. Sub-points:
    • I didn’t know that the grand finale song, “Memory,” is about an aged cat about to go off to cat-heaven, the “heavy-side layer.”
    • I also thought that song was entirely an invention of the musical’s composers, but Wikipedia advises it was based on an Eliot poem not included in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
    • There have been at least two times in my life when, the first time I heard a song, it so arrested my attention that I knew I was listening to a future classic. The first was hearing “Memory”, IIFC while visiting my parents in Tullahoma around 1979 or 1980, seeing it on TV. The second was hearing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the car radio, driving home from work. Those chord progressions.
  • We saw the last hour of “Titanic” and I was enraged when, as soon as the credits began, Starz moved the image into a box in the corner in order to play a commercial or two, with their own sound. I wanted to hear the song! (Which I know many people hate, presumably from overexposure, but I actually quite like it.)
  • We saw most of “Sense and Sensibility,” the 1995 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. Austen wrote what could now be considered super-high-end soap operas, though informed by English class consciousness. I never remember the details of her stories. This one, in Emma Thompson’s screenplay and Ang Lee’s direction, builds to an amazing emotional release I wasn’t expecting.
  • We saw the original “True Grit” a while back, with John Wayne, who won an Oscar for the performance, in the typical award win for a perennial candidate who hadn’t won it for anything else. He was OK, quite good in some scenes, but so was Kim Darby, who wasn’t nominated for anything.
  • Others recently: “Blackboard Jungle,” a 1950s message movie about juvenile delinquency, with a young Sidney Poitier (a movie I’d never previously seen); the last half of “Field of Dreams” (which I saw when it came out); almost all of “Mrs. Doubtfire” (which we’ve both watched a couple times before); most of the Elton John biopic “Rocket Man” (never seen til now); some of “Crash” and some of “La La Land” (both seen on release), and so on.
  • And earlier: the animated “The Lion King,” which I’d never seen before. Some of “Doubt” and “A Simple Plan” which Y didn’t like. The “Psycho” remake (the original a film I can watch over and over, as with many Hitchcock films). Most of “The Remains of the Day” (another film I can watch over and over). “Michael Clayton.” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” That’s back to June.

And last night, perhaps most significantly — a 1950s musical called “Summer Stock,” with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_Stock. It’s pretty good —

And so my thought was, that for every classic movie (or novel), there are 5 or 10 others, on similar themes or with similar actors or by the same writer, that are nearly as good (or perhaps just as good or better depending on your personal criteria) but that are not as well-remembered as that classic.

In “Summer Stock” Gene Kelly’s and Judy Garland’s acting and singing is as good as in any other movie. So why is this film not as well-remembered as, say, “A Star Is Born” or “Singin’ in the Rain”? Perhaps the story, rather more cliched here, or the score, which is mostly just OK yet which has one classic song — “Get Happy”. Gene Kelly does a brilliant dance number in which he improvises a routine from a squeaky floorboard, and a loose rug.

So my thought is that a too tight focus on lists of “all time best” movies or novels or whatever might lead you to miss those many others nearly as good ones. And I’m going to apply this lesson to my own currently in-work project.

Posted in Films | Comments Off on Film Notes: Summer Stock and others

Links and Comments: Religion and Government; Sophisticated Believers; Religious Indoctrination of Children

NY Times, Wajahat Ali: If Amy Coney Barrett Were Muslim, subtitled “It’s not hard to imagine how conservatives would smear her religious beliefs.”

For all that Christians complain that they are oppressed or victimized, in fact their religion so saturates American culture that they can’t see it, like fish being unaware of water. Case in point: Republican defenders of their latest Supreme Court justice nominee, a Catholic who has said the purpose of the law is to create the Kingdom of God, see nothing at all wrong with that. Yet suppose a candidate who was a devout Muslim claimed that Sharia was the ultimate goal of American jurisprudence. What would Republicans think of that, in this supposedly religiously neutral nation? I would think the two situations are equivalent; we should be equally worried by both.

Ali:

I can’t help wondering: How would Republicans behave if Judge Barrett were a Democrat whose strongly held religious beliefs came from Islam instead of Catholicism?

… Like most Americans, I am worried that Judge Barrett will use her seat to advance an extreme agenda that will be detrimental to the interests of a majority of people in this country. We fear that, if confirmed, she’ll help the religious right drag equal rights and progress back 50 years.

One thing is certain: If the Notre Dame law professor and darling of the religious right were Muslim, she would have had a much harder time becoming a judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice.

A PolitiFact check about Coney Barrett’s comment tries to soften it by placing it in context. Well, maybe. But everyone knows the reason Amy Coney Barrett is getting confirmed as a justice, while Merrick Garland never got his chance, is precisely because Republicans want to role back Roe v. Wade, and are increasingly confidant that will get done.

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Recalling my post of 30 Sept., Notes for the Book: Magical Thinking, Cognitive Dissonance, Group-Thinking, here is Jerry Coyne wondering along similar lines, What do “sophisticated” believers really believe?.

Why won’t scientists, for example, who claim to be Catholic, flat out say they believe in the literal Resurrection (or any of a number of other things)?

Coyne:

Now I have my theory about this, which is mine. It’s that this person really truly believed in the Resurrection, but wouldn’t admit it in public because it would make him look credulous and superstitious. It didn’t comport with his evidence-based attitude towards his scientific beliefs. And in that sense I take religious scientists’ frequent refusal to specify their beliefs as prima facie evidence of the incompatibility between science and religion. In other words, their taking the Theological Fifth is a sign of cognitive dissonance.  And this wasn’t the first religious scientist I’ve seen refuse to be specific about their beliefs.


Now most scientists, when asked if the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are true, will say no, it’s all a metaphor. But that’s because science has disproved those bits of scripture, and scripture that’s disproven isn’t discarded but simply changes into metaphor.


I’ll add here that if they’re not willing to discuss their faith at all, even if you’re non-judgmental, it’s often a sign that they regard it as something shameful, like carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot. After all, two centuries ago no religionist was reticent to aver what they believed. Now, in the age of science, religions ask you to believe so much nonsense that, when you take it aboard, you have to keep it a secret.

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Jerry Coyne also brings attention to a 1997 talk by neuropsychologist Nicholas Humphrey (by whom I’ve read a couple books: A History of the Mind, and Leaps of Faith, both read in 1996). The talk is about the religious indoctrination of children.

Coyne: A superb article against the religious indoctrination of children

Humphrey: WHAT SHALL WE TELL THE CHILDREN?
Amnesty Lecture, Oxford, 21st February 1997

Humphrey:

Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas—no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.

In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.

That’s the negative side of what I want to say. But there will be a positive side as well. If children have a right to be protected from false ideas, they have too a right to be succoured [sic] by the truth. And we as a society have a duty to provide it. Therefore we should feel as much obliged to pass on to our children the best scientific and philosophical understanding of the natural world—to teach, for example, the truths of evolution and cosmology, or the methods of rational analysis—as we already feel obliged to feed and shelter them.

Coyne comments:

Humphrey’s lecture is especially good because (like Dawkins’s books) it anticipates and answers counterarguments. Don’t parents have a right to teach their children their own faith? Even if religion is based on false tenets, isn’t it good to teach children those tenets if it makes them happier? And so on. Humphrey then explains that religious indoctrination deprives the child of the right to hear about alternative beliefs and lifestyles, a form of learning that, if imparted, could give them richer and fuller lives. In other words, religious indoctrination is like a mental jail in which children don’t ever get out, never breathing the fresh air of Freedom to Explore.


At the end of his piece, Humphreys offers one solution: make sure that all children are given a thorough grounding in science in school. Learning to think scientifically, he avers, and learning how to give reasons for what one believes, and think critically, will inevitably make children question all beliefs and, if they decide to be religious, will at least expose them to a variety of religions rather than the one they would have been forced to adopt.

Of course, this will never happen. Preserving the faith is exactly why many parents shield their children from science, critical thinking, and other religions. Faith is a meme whose function results in its reproducing itself.

(Whereas, if any particular faith were true, and could be demonstrated to be true, why surely it could survive any amount of exposure to rival ideas.)

Posted in Culture, Religion | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Religion and Government; Sophisticated Believers; Religious Indoctrination of Children

Links and Comments: Sides of History; Myths and Lies; Voting Inequities

Washington Post: Trump brought data from the Fox News universe to a debate centered in reality

How Trump, and Fox News (in particular Laura Ingraham), lie with statistics, as the article explains in great detail.

It’s all spin, aimed at precisely what Ingraham outlined at the outset: undermining Biden’s insistence on following expert advice and, therefore, bolstering Trump’s seat-of-his-pants approach.

Trump has at his disposal decades of experience in battling public health crises and aggregated data that could provide an accurate sense of how the country’s effort to contain the virus is faring. But that’s not the sort of thing in which Trump immerses himself, preferring the friendlier and more supportive universe of Fox punditry.

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NYT, Nicholas Kistof: Will We Choose the Right Side of History?, subtitled “In Amy Coney Barrett, Republicans are once again backing a Supreme Court nominee who could take us backward.”

It’s not as if the two American political parties are apples and oranges, different but equivalent; actually (it seems to me) one side actively tries to improve the world, making it (or at least America) a better place to live for more people, while the other side tries to suppress such progress for the sake of tradition, fear, or the retention of privilege. As Kristof puts it:

We sometimes distinguish between “liberal judges” and “conservative judges.” Perhaps the divide instead is between forward-thinking judges and backward-thinking judges.

Partly because of paralysis by legislators, partly because of racist political systems, forward-thinking judges sometimes had to step up over the last 70 years to tug the United States ahead. Those judges chipped away at Jim Crow and overturned laws against interracial marriage, against contraception, and fought racial and sexual discrimination.

And

That brings us to another historical area where conservatives, Barrett included, have also been on the wrong side of history — access to health care.

Over the last hundred years, advanced countries have, one by one, adopted universal health care systems, with one notable exception: the United States. That’s one reason next month’s election is such a milestone, for one political party in America is trying to join the rest of the civilized world and provide universal health care, and the other is doing its best to take away what we have.

(Adjacent to this thought is the strain of American arrogance that disregards anything that happens in any other country, in particular how so many mostly Europeans nations have higher standards of living, measured in numerous ways, than does the US. Americans are exceptional, and therefore can’t possible have anything to learn from anyone else.)

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Scientific American: Eight Persistent COVID-19 Myths and Why People Believe Them, subtitled “From a human-made virus to vaccine conspiracy theories, we rounded up the most insidious false claims about the pandemic.”

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NYT, Farhad Manjoo: California’s 40 Million People Are Sick of Being Ignored, subtitled “In America’s bizarre electoral system, some votes are more equal than others.”

There is the Senate, which gives all states equal representation regardless of population, so voters in Wyoming, the least populous state, effectively enjoy almost 70 times more voting power than us chopped-liver Californians. And there is the winner-takes-all Electoral College, in which a tiny margin of victory pays off, with the whole pot of electoral votes going to the winner. This means that millions of presidential votes, from both Republicans and Democrats, are effectively wasted — all the votes cast for the loser in each state and all the excess ones cast for the winner.

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More on Mayor Pete, from The New Yorker: The Remarkable Effectiveness of Pete Buttigieg on Fox News.

Fox News has always been a good venue for Buttigieg, for reasons that don’t have much to do with the dimness of its morning hosts. Last spring, a Fox audience stood at the end of a town hall with Buttigieg. “Wow! A standing ovation!” the Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said, apparently surprised by it. The network’s orientation, on both the hyperbolic evening shows and the Doocified morning ones, borrows the spirit, if not the prudity, of religious conservatives: the heartland is virtuous, and the liberal city sinful. Beamed in from Indiana, Buttigieg has a way of inverting all of that.

Posted in Conservative Resistance, Human Progress, Politics | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Sides of History; Myths and Lies; Voting Inequities

Link and Comments: Cory Doctorow on Story

Slate: Cory Doctorow: The Dangers of Cynical Sci-Fi Disaster Stories, subtitled, I’m changing how I write fiction—for the benefit of the real world.

The essay is on occasion of the publication of Doctorow’s latest novel, Attack Surface, a follow-up to his earlier YA novels Little Brother (2008) and Homeland (2013). It begins (I believe he lives in Burbank now):

When I moved to California from Toronto (by way of London), I was shocked by the prevalence of gun stores and, by their implication, that so many of my reasonable-seeming neighbors were doubtless in possession of lethal weapons. Gradually the shock wore off—until the plague struck. When the lockdown went into effect, the mysterious gun stores on the main street near my house sprouted around-the-block lines of poorly distanced people lining up to buy handguns. I used to joke that they were planning to shoot the virus and that their marksmanship was not likely to be up to the task, but I knew what it was all about. They were buying guns because they’d told themselves a story: As soon as things went wrong, order would collapse, and their neighbors would turn on them.

He goes on to discuss cliches of disaster stories, which assume that when disaster hits everyone will turn on each other—and thus prime people to expect the worst. Doctorow invokes Daniel Dennett’s notion of “intuition pumps,” after the title of his 2013 book that I blogged about here.

Made-up stories, even stories of impossible things, are ways for us to mentally rehearse our responses to different social outcomes. Philosopher Daniel Dennett’s conception of an intuition pump—“a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use their intuition to develop an answer to a problem”—suggests that fiction (which is, after all, an elaborate thought experiment) isn’t merely entertainment.

Then follow examples of mayhem when people turn brutal.

But according to Dennett, this isn’t just fiction—it is the stuff we’ve fueled our intuition pumps with. The problem is, it’s wrong. It makes for good stories, but those stories don’t reflect the truth of the world as I see it. Humanity is, on balance, good. We have done remarkable things. The fact that we remain here today, after so many disasters in our species’ history, is a reminder that we are a species of self-rescuing princesses—characters who save one another in crisis, rather than turning on ourselves.

As evidence suggests; as I’ve discussed recently here and here.

This leads to the paradoxical usefulness and danger of stories. Stories are ways to “mentally rehearse our responses to different social outcomes” as Doctorow says, whether they are about social manners in Jane Austen novel, or how people respond when the plague strikes. Stories are also simplifications of the real world, in which the most popular stories “explain” things in basic terms of black and white, good and evil. Stories imagine that the complex world can be understood in simplex terms.

That’s why the most basic, simple (and most popular) stories are virtually always wrong, in some crucial way, and therefore potentially dangerous. The prime example, I would suggest, are superhero and superspy movies (like James Bond) in which a single evil force wreaks havoc across the world, and it’s up to our hero to save the day. Watch too many of these, and the idea that a single conniving person, or group of evil people working in conspiracy, can fool the world into doing their bidding (like Plandemic and QAnon) seem completely plausible.

They’re nonsense. There are no superheros, and there are no super-villains plotting against the world until Superman or James Bond takes them down.

There are very occasional verified conspiracies, but they tend to be along the lines of corporate conniving to hide evidence of malpractice, e.g. the scandal in recent years with auto-makers faking emissions data. And these conspiracies were uncovered by the mainstream media — not promoted by the fringe media. And such malpractice is what regulations are for, the kinds of regulations conservatives insist are hostile to business and are always trying to repeal.

What about stories, fiction, in general?

To simplify grossly, I’m sure: for the past century, or so, modern “mainstream” fiction has been about the individual experience. The prototypical story, one is taught in school, is about an individual who confronts a challenge, overcomes it (or not) and is changed by the experience. The personal change, the personal experience, is what matters. (This why most literary critics who read science fiction, in the 1950s and ’60s, disregarded it, even when well-written, as irrelevant.)

Centuries ago, such fiction would have been incomprehensible. Stories were epics about a hero who went out into the world, defeated the monster, challenged himself, and returned to tell the tale. (Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces [the basis for Star Wars].)

So what about science fiction? Well, SF stories are ways to “mentally rehearse” the human response to change, whether change is technological innovation or new revelations about the nature of reality. At their best. There are SF stories that reflect the simplistic good vs. evil narratives that are always the most popular. (Notes for the Book: Hierarchy of Science Fiction.) But the best, most ambitious, SF addresses issues bigger than personal concerns, issues about humanity’s place in the universe. This is the usefulness of the best SF: it challenges us to expand our perspectives, and it doesn’t pander to the simplistic dualistic take on the world that most people take for granted.

Posted in Narrative, Psychology | Comments Off on Link and Comments: Cory Doctorow on Story

Links and Comments: Make-Believe worlds and Donald Trump and his supporters

As evidence for my thoughts, in this post Notes for the Book: Magical Thinking, Cognitive Dissonance, Group-Thinking, about how many people live in a kind of make-believe world, for reasons of group solidarity, and despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance with reminders of how the world really works, consider Donald Trump and his supporters.

Washington Post, Max Boot: How can 42 percent of Americans still support the worst president in our history?.

Some of the answers (preserving the source links):

A Pew Research Center survey makes clear the extent of the problem. Among those who get their election news primarily from Fox “News,” 86 percent say Trump is delivering the “completely right” or “mostly right” message about the pandemic, 78 percent that “the U.S. has controlled the outbreak as much as it could have” and 61 percent that Trump and his administration get the facts right about the coronavirus “almost all” or “most of the time.” Perhaps the most disturbing finding of all: 39 percent of Fox News viewers say that QAnon — an insane conspiracy theory that posits that Trump’s opponents are satanic child-molesters — is “somewhat good” or “very good” for the country.

I’m sorry, these are not issues on which rational people can legitimately disagree. Trump’s covid-19 message — that, as he said Saturday, “it is disappearing” — is objectively false. In the past week, daily confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States have increased by 13.3 percent and hospitalizations by 9.8 percent. Trump’s claims to the contrary, we have done far worse during the pandemic than most wealthy countries. If we had the same death rate as Canada, 132,000 victims of covid-19 would still be alive. And it should go without saying that QAnon, whose adherents have been linked to numerous acts of violence, is a bane, not a boon.

It’s bad enough that the president lies so much; what’s worse is that so many think he is telling the truth.

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Trump supporters simply don’t understand why everyone doesn’t agree that he’s the best ever; why do those lib’rals disapprove of him? Here are two early summaries of why so many people feel he’s a despicable person — both published several years ago, originally.

A British writer, Nate White, answered the question, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” His response was reposted today in the London Daily.

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read

A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

It goes on.

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Another is a Facebook post by SF writer Adam-Troy Castro, a long post that has apparently been copied around the web, often without attribution. I can’t find the original post, but here’s a copy on Quora, that credits Castro.

Quora: An anguished question from a Trump supporter: “Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?”

The serious answer: Here’s what we really think about Trump supporters – the rich, the poor, the malignant and the innocently well-meaning, the ones who think and the ones who don’t…

That when you saw a man who had owned a fraudulent University, intent on scamming poor people, you thought “Fine.”

That when you saw a man who had made it his business practice to stiff his creditors, you said, “Okay.”

That when you heard him proudly brag about his own history of sexual abuse, you said, “No problem.”

That when he made up stories about seeing Muslim-Americans in the thousands cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center, you said, “Not an issue.”

That when you saw him brag that he could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and you wouldn’t care, you chirped, “He sure knows me.”

It goes on with 15 more examples, similarly phrased. It ends with:

What you don’t get, Trump supporters in 2019, is that succumbing to frustration and thinking of you as stupid may be wrong and unhelpful, but it’s also…hear me…charitable.

Because if you’re NOT stupid, we must turn to other explanations and most of them are less flattering.

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Seen on Facebook today, this, from a deliberately anonymous blogger, posted in August:

The Case Against Trump (and why some of your friends and family no longer want to speak to you)

I generally avoid “just-some-guy-on-the-Internet” posts, since this guy is anonymous and I don’t know his credibility, but his analysis and list of Trump’s performance on various issues — the economy, Christian values, political ethics, and so on — is exhaustive, and more to the point, entirely familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention the past four plus years.

The way I see it, there are two types of Trump voter. There is the hardcore MAGA fanatic, who attends the rallies, wears the red hat, and maybe even follows the Qanon boards. They follow Trump with a level of devotion that is implacable. They will never believe that Donald Trump is anything other than the savior of our country, sent by God to deliver us from a multitude of politically correct and liberal attacks. They cannot be reasoned with, nor would I try.

The other type of voter, the ones I am appealing to with this article, are not like that at all. These are good people, moral people, who simply voted for Trump because they believed he was the best choice for the values they hold. They don’t think he’s the greatest president to sit in the White House, but they believe he was a better choice than Clinton. Or perhaps they are just dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who always vote red, no matter whom.

Are you one of those people? If so, I have just one question. Are you planning on voting for him again in November? If the answer is yes, then I have another question.

Why?

I would really like to understand. Is it an economic issue? Are you fearful of paying higher taxes? Are you worried about having to pay for someone else’s health insurance? Or benefits to those you consider undeserving? Okay, I understand. I don’t agree, but I understand. But let me ask you a question. Do you not think that we might be beyond that now? Can you consider the possibility that there is a bigger picture, and the choice can no longer be pared down to tax breaks or welfare spending?

He ends, after nearly 18,000 words, with

We’re not okay with that. And we are really not okay with another four years of this horror show. If that is what you vote for, we cannot overlook it in the future. At best, we will not be able to forgive you. At worst, you will find, in the years to come, that you will not be able to forgive yourself.

And a list of sources.

The Washington Post
The New York Times
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
The Cato Institute
trumpgolfcount.com
NPR
The Independent
AOL
Rueters
mcsweeneys.net
Politifact
NBC
Snopes
Axios
Brookings Institute
Chicago Tribune
commondreams.org
opensecrets.org
Rolling Stone
Boston Globe
The Guardian
americanbar.org

Which Trump supporters will presumably dismiss as a conspiracy by the “fake news” media. All of them! Everything is a conspiracy to them; only Fox News is true.

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One more.

Washington Post: New research explores authoritarian mind-set of Trump’s core supporters. Subtitle: “Data reveal high levels of anti-democratic beliefs among many of the president’s backers, who stand to be a potent voting bloc for years to come”

The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a catastrophic failure, with researchers at Oxford University estimating that its mismanagement of the crisis resulted in nearly 60,000 preventable deaths.

And yet, despite the tumult of the past eight months, President Trump’s favorability numbers have barely budged: His approval rating hovers in the low 40s, just as it has most of his presidency. As the economy cratered and covid-19 mortality skyrocketed, the Trump faithful stuck with him, lending credence to his infamous 2016 campaign boast that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose any support.

Why is that?

A new book by a psychology professor and a former lawyer in the Nixon White House argues that Trump has tapped into a current of authoritarianism in the American electorate, one that’s bubbled just below the surface for years. In “Authoritarian Nightmare,” Bob Altemeyer and John W. Dean marshal data from a previously unpublished nationwide survey showing a striking desire for strong authoritarian leadership among Republican voters.

Some people just *want* to be told what to do and think. Which is to say, it’s not about policy; it’s about psychology. It doesn’t matter what the policy is, even, though appealing to voters’ fears and prejudices always seems to work.

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History will look back on this era of American history — whether or not America survives it — and analyze it, as they analyze the rise of other authoritarians throughout history. And will not be kind the supporters of those authoritarians. They will understand them, psychologically, as aberrations to the ideals of democracy and rationality.

Posted in Politics, Psychology | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Make-Believe worlds and Donald Trump and his supporters

Links and Comments: Abortion, and Mayor Pete

Here’s a transcript of a portion of an interview with Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president earlier this year. This transcript has been floating around for months, and when I saw it today on Facebook I decided to capture it and link it here. This is an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

https://www.facebook.com/OccupyDemocrats/posts/4383535188406168

Conservatives on abortion (as on so much else) are always black and white – simplex. (Womb to tomb, as if a just-fertilized zygote is the equivalent of a full-grown human being.) Reality is almost always more complex. Mayor Pete is a smart guy and seems to be good at skewering the simplex claims of his political opponents, as here:

The Guardian: ‘Slayer Pete’: Buttigieg emerges as Biden’s unlikely Fox News fighter

This has several more examples of Buttigieg responding to conservative arguments. I’ll quote just one.

When Fox host Steve Doocy tried to hit Biden for declining to debate Trump in person in the aftermath of Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, Buttigieg deftly turned the tables.

“It’s too bad,” he said. “I don’t know why the president’s afraid to debate. All of us have had to get used to a virtual format. Parents are having to deal with e-learning, which is not what we’re used to. We’re having to take meetings over Zoom. It’s not something I think most of us enjoy, but it’s a safety measure.

“I think part of why the US is badly behind the rest of the developed world on dealing with the pandemic is because every time there’s been a choice between doing something in a way that’s more safe or less safe, this president seems to push for less safe.”

As I alluded in a previous post, I think even if Republicans get their way, installing another conservative justice on the Supreme Court, and rushing to do so because all the evangelicals who’ve supported Trump have done so for a primary reason of packing the Supreme Court with conservatives who will overturn Roe v. Wade (they feign innocence in these hearings —

Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing is a disgusting spectacle of GOP dishonesty

Every Republican in that room shares a determination to pack the courts with as many far-right judges as possible, to move American law in a radically more conservative direction. Yet they pretend that they find the very idea of politics coming into play in any judicial decision terribly offensive to their high-minded ideals about the proper role of the judiciary.

Is it any wonder that a party so spectacularly dishonest from top to bottom chose President Trump as its champion?

— even though it’s obvious that they nominated this judge, and not, say, letting Merrick Garland proceed to hearings, precisely to overturn Roe v Wade, not to mention Obergefell v. Hodges and any number of other progressive decisions) it will actually not matter much.

You can’t turn back the pages of history. (The moral arc.) Repealing Roe v. Wade wouldn’t actually change much. The red states have already reduced access to abortions to the point of non-existence. If Roe falls, it remains for the states to allow or disallow the procedure, and the blue states will continue to allow it. Pregnant women, including those in dire straits as described by Pete, will simply need to travel to blue states to get the procedure when they feel it’s necessary. Those who can’t, poor women in the red states, will be obliged to bear the children and live in poverty, because, again, conservatives resist social service programs, and sex education, and contraception, all of which might reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies, and thus abortions, in the first place.

But when unwanted pregnancies occur, women throughout history have always found ways to take care of them. The issue is whether it’s done in back alleys, or in clean clinics.

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