Archive for June, 2018

Luck and life

June 29, 2018

I’m a very lucky man, having (at 70) health, wealth, love, and wisdom.

WAMC radio’s Joe Donahue interviewed Janice Kaplan about her book, How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life. The word “luck” connotes randomness, what the ancients called “fate,” which many believed governs one’s life. Many still do; some cultures actually promote a philosophy of fatalism. It’s captured by the saying, “Man plans and God laughs.” In other words, don’t even bother.

Kaplan’s message is the opposite. While she recognizes the obvious, that random factors affect us — like accidents, illness, etc. — what we do, and our choices, are more important in how our lives go.

In short, we make our luck. In the main, good and bad things don’t just happen, they are consequences of our actions, which in turn are largely within our control. Kaplan discussed various ways in which how we act shapes our “luck.” One big factor is, plain and simple, hard work.

To be sure, virtue is not always rewarded, and crime often pays. Justice is not one of the principles governing the Universe. But still, our actions have consequences, for good or ill, and a lot of what happens to us does happen for reasons.

Lotteries epitomize the fatalist paradigm. Here people pin future hopes on literal randomness. Kaplan takes a dim view. And not just because of the astronomical odds against winning.* It’s even worse than that: most lottery “winners” wind up no happier, and often less happy, than before. Better to invest in productive efforts than lottery tickets.

Hearing Kaplan, naturally I reflected on my own life. Her thesis applies to all my “luck.” Meeting my wife illustrates this perfectly. It was supremely lucky our paths crossed on May 2, 1988, at SUNY Alumni House. But why was I there? Because, not content to just wait for luck, I was assiduously seeking it. That quest dragged me out of a sickbed to attend that singles event.

Having (what I think is) wisdom didn’t just happen either. One day my wife had casually suggested I write for our daughter everything I wanted her to know. Well, the project grew into an active exploration of everything I wanted myself to understand (and resulted in two books).

All the foregoing may sound self-congratulatory. I do feel I’ve earned my blessings through my efforts, and a character and personality that propelled those efforts. Yet whence came that character and personality? Did I create them myself out of some primordial personal virtue?

I’ve written before about the philosopher John Rawls and his book, A Theory of Justice. The essence of justice would seem to be people getting what they deserve. But the word “deserve” can be tricky. Regarding how one fares in life — mainly wealth versus poverty — Rawls doubts that that results from deservingness in any true sense, as opposed to luck. Even if someone gains wealth through perspicacity and hard work, aren’t those attributable to character traits they are lucky to possess? Handed to them by the great cosmic lottery rather than, again, created themselves out of some pre-existing virtue?

I am very cognizant that all my fortunate characteristics, which have been rewarded, were indeed handed to me by luck. I am the product of having been born into the circumstances I was born into, and feel grateful. Of course, many people born in favorable circumstances squander them through fecklessness. However, isn’t that very fecklessness itself part of their inheritance? So they really weren’t handed a golden chalice after all?

Yet I am no Rawlsian — no fatalist. The essence of my rational optimism is the belief that we can use our rationality to improve and advance ourselves. How we fare in the game of life does depend greatly on the cards we’re dealt — but how we play them matters too.

This begs the issue of free will, which I’ve written about as well. In a nutshell, yes, we are creatures of determinism, to a considerable extent; and the idea that there is a unitary “self” that controls the thoughts we have and the decisions and choices we make is very problematical. Yet our conscious minds are not nonexistent fictions. We not only have thoughts, we can think about our thoughts. We have impulses, deterministically instantiated, but can control them; we do it constantly. Nothing is more deterministic than a smoker’s impulse to light up. Yet smokers quit.

Kaplan was asked specifically about the notion of “lucky in love.” Her response was interesting, and wholly consistent with her basic theme that it’s always up to us and how we run our lives. People think “lucky in love” means finding the right partner. But Kaplan insisted that that actually isn’t so important. What matters more is the investment one makes in a relationship (not financial, of course, but psychic and emotional). Too many people are imbued with the romance of romance, expecting it to be magical. But “magic” is an illusion.

In line with this, the Chinese government — whose former one-child policy has created a worker shortage — now urges people to be less picky about marriage partners, and to settle for someone “more or less OK.” I myself — when single at forty — would have thusly settled. But I was lucky to find the perfect partner.

I also thought about the decade I spent investing with a previous partner, trying to make that relationship work. But that gal was meanwhile engaged in a different effort: escape. She ultimately succeeded.

Lucky for us both.

* It’s been said a lottery is a tax on those who don’t understand math.

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Are humans smarter than (other) animals?

June 27, 2018

Around 1900, “Clever Hans” was a famous German horse with seeming mathematical ability. Asked “what is four times three?” Hans would tap his hoof twelve times. He was usually right even when his owner wasn’t present; and even when given the questions in writing!

Animal intelligence — and consciousness — are age old puzzles to us. French philosopher Rene Descartes saw other animals as, in effect, mechanical contrivances. And even today many see all their behaviors as produced not by intelligent consciousness (like ours) but rather by instinct — pre-installed algorithms that dictate responses to stimuli — like computers running programs.

Clever Hans’s story is recapped in Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Homo Deus. It was eventually proven that Hans knew no math at all. Instead, he was cued to stop tapping his hoof by onlookers’ body language and facial expressions. But, Harari says, that didn’t debunk Hans’s intelligence, it did the opposite. His performance required far more brain power than simple math! You might have memorized 4×3=12 — but could you have gotten the answer the way Hans did?

This points up the difficulty of inferring animal mentation using human yardsticks. Harari explains Hans’s abilities by noting that horses, unequipped for verbal language, communicate instead through body language — so they get pretty good at it. Much better than us.

So if horses are so smart, why aren’t they sitting in the stands at Saratoga while humans run around the track? Well, for one thing, building that sort of facility would have been a lot harder for horses with hooves rather than our dextrous five-fingered hands. Our tool-making capability is a huge factor. And our intelligence, taken as a whole, probably does outstrip that of any other animal. It had to, because early humans faced far more complex survival challenges. Countless other species failed such tests and went extinct. We did not because an evolutionary fluke gave us, just in time, an extreme adaptation in our brains, unlike any other animal’s. Our equivalent of the narwhal’s huge tusk or the giraffe’s neck.

That happened around a couple of hundred thousand years ago. Yet for around 98% of those years, humans achieved little more than mere survival. Only in the last few thousand have we suddenly exploded into a force dominating the Earth as no creature before.

Why that delay? In fact, Harari notes, our stone age ancestors must have been even smarter than people today. After all, their lives were much tougher. One mistake and you’d be dead; your dumb genes would not make it into the next generation.

Harari thinks — I tend to agree — that cooperation proved to be humanity’s killer app. PBS TV’s recent “Civilizations” series illuminates how things really got going with the development of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. Arguably farmers were actually worse off in many ways; and maybe even humanity as a whole for about 9,800 of those years. But agriculture, and the production of food surpluses, did make possible the rise of cities, where people could specialize in particular enterprises, and interact and exchange ideas with large numbers of other people. That eventually paid off spectacularly, in terms of human material well-being, in modern times.

Harari notes that ants and bees too live in large cooperative communities. So why haven’t they developed computers and spaceships? Our super intelligent consciousness also gave us great flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. Insects have a far more limited repertoire of responses. As Harari writes, “If a hive faces a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot, for example, guillotine the queen and establish a republic.”

Modern life: the big challenge we face

June 23, 2018

Tom Friedman’s latest book made my head spin. It’s Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. He’s a bigger optimist than me.

The “accelerations” in question concern technology, globalization, and climate change, all transforming the world at breakneck speed. Faster, indeed, than human psychology and culture can keep up with.

Friedman

What spun my head was Friedman’s rundown of technology’s acceleration. He sees 2007 as an inflection point, with the iPhone and a host of other advances creating a newly powerful platform that he calls not the Cloud but the “Supernova.” For instance there’s Hadoop. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t. It’s a company, that also emerged in 2007, revolutionizing the storage and organization of “Big Data” (as best I understand it), making possible explosions in other technologies. And GitHub — 2007 again — blasting open the ability to create software.*

All this is great — for people able to swim in it. But that’s not everybody. A lot of people are thrown for a loop, disoriented, left behind. Bringing them up to speed is what Friedman says we must do. Otherwise, we’ll need a level of income redistribution that’s politically impossible.

The age-old fear (starting with the Luddites) is “automation” making people obsolete and killing jobs. It’s never happened — yet. Productivity improvements have always made society richer and created more jobs than those lost. But Friedman stresses that the new jobs are of a different sort now. No longer can routine capabilities produce a good income — those capabilities are being roboticized. However, what robots can’t substitute for is human social skills, which are increasingly what jobs require. AI programs can, for example, perform medical diagnoses better than human doctors, so the role of a doctor will become more oriented toward patient relations, where humans will continue to outperform machines.

But schools aren’t teaching that. Our education system is totally mismatched to the needs of the Twenty-first Century. And I can’t see it undergoing the kind of radical overhaul required.

I’ve often written how America’s true inequality is between the better educated and the less educated, which have become two separate cultures. Friedman says a college degree is now an almost indispensable requirement for the prosperous class, but it’s something children of the other class find ever harder to obtain. All the affirmative action to help them barely nibbles at the problem.

On NPR’s This American Life I heard a revealing profile of an apparently bright African-American kid who did make it into a good college, with a scholarship no less. But he had no idea how to navigate in that unfamiliar environment, and got no help there, left to sink or swim on his own. He sank.

Friedman talks up various exciting innovative tools available to such people not born into the privileged class, to close the gap. But to take advantage of them you have to be pretty smart and clued in. I keep thinking about all the people who aren’t, with no idea how they might thrive, or even just get by, in the new world whooshing up around them. I’ve written about them in discussing books like The End of Men and Hillbilly Elegy. It wasn’t just “hillbillies” Vance was talking about there, but a big swath of the U.S. population. A harsh observer might call them losers; throw-away people.

I’m enraged when charter schools are demonized as a threat to public education. That’s a Democrat/liberal counterpart to Republican magical thinking. These liberals who spout about inequality and concern for the disadvantaged are in denial about how the education system is part of the problem. Public schools do fine in leafy white suburbs; schools full of poor and minority kids do not. For those kids, charter school lotteries offer virtually the only hope.

Of course, the problem of people unfitted for modernity isn’t unique to America. There are billions more in other countries. Yet most of us don’t realize how fast an awful lot of those people are actually coming up to speed. But there’s still going to be a hard core who just cannot do it, and no conceivable government initiatives or other innovations will be a magic wand turning them into fairies. Instead it seems we’re headed toward one of those future-dystopia sci-fi films where humanity is riven between two virtually distinct species — the golden ones who live beautiful lives, forever, and the rest who sink into immiseration. I do think most people can be in the former group. And I hope they’ll be generous enough to carry the others at least partway to the Eden.

But what Friedman keeps stressing is the need for culture, especially in politics, to change along with the landscape. He applies what he says is the real lesson of biological evolution: it’s not the strongest that thrive, but the most adaptable. In many ways America does fulfill this criterion. Yet in other ways we’re doing the opposite, especially in the political realm where so much of the problem needs to be addressed. The mentioned need for radical education reform is just one example. Our constitution worked great for two centuries; now, not so much. Our political life has become sclerotic, frozen. Add to that our inhabiting a post-truth world where facts don’t matter. Can’t really address any problems that way.

Friedman enumerates an 18-point to-do list for American public policy. Mostly no-brainers. But almost none of it looks remotely do-able today. In fact, on a lot of the points — like opening up more to globalized trade — we’re going the wrong way.

He concludes with an extended look at the Minnesota community where he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. It echoed Robert Putnam’s describing his own childhood community in Our Kids. Both were indeed communities, full of broad-based community spirit. Friedman contrasts the poisonously fractious Middle East where he spent much of his reporting career. He also reported a lot about Washington — and sees U.S. politics increasingly resembling the Middle East with its intractable tribal conflicts.

I’ve seen this change too in my lifetime — remembering when, for all our serious political disagreements, adversaries respected each other and strove to solve problems in a spirit of goodwill. Most politicians (and their supporters) embodied civic-mindedness, sincerity, and a basic honesty. No longer. Especially, sadly, on the Republican side, which for decades I strongly supported. Now it’s dived to the dark side, the road to perdition.

Friedman wrote before the 2016 election — where America turned its back on all he’s saying. Can we repent, and veer toward a better road, before it’s too late?

*Microsoft has just bought GitHub.

Fear and loathing in the Sultan’s court: The Mapmaker’s Daughter

June 20, 2018

A twelve year old Venetian girl is grabbed as a slave, from her home island, and carried off to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, in the 1500s. The Mapmaker’s Daughter is her novelized memoir, by Katherine Nouri Hughes.*

And quite a tale it is — the girl Cecilia, renamed Nurbanu, rises to become a Sultan’s wife, effectively queen. If that sounds implausible, history actually offers other similar cases. Helena, Constantine I’s mother, started as what was perhaps euphemistically called a barmaid. She wound up not only an Augusta but a saint!

Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent

Cecilia/Nurbanu prospered because she wasn’t just another slave girl, but well educated, with a connection (albeit illegitimate) to Venetian nobility; and she caught the eye of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It was Suleiman’s son Selim II (“the Drunk”) she married. Selim was indeed a big drunk. But he’s consistently called a good man. This tells you something about the others. Life in “the good old days” wasn’t pretty.

As in, say, grabbing children as slaves. Nurbanu worried about the fate of the many others taken off that island with her, but it’s left vague. No doubt few of those others enjoyed her good fortune.

Sultan Mehmet II

But one particular bit of nastiness forms the story’s fulcrum. This part of the world had a long history of rulers’ sons contending among themselves for power, with often bloody results. So Sultan Mehmet II (“The Conqueror,” of Constantinople, in 1453) promulgated a law aimed at forestalling such rivalries and thereby protecting civic order. Each wife or concubine of a Sultan would be allowed only one son. And when a Sultan took power, any surplus male siblings would be . . . dispensed with.

The one-son-per-girl rule was hard to enforce. And there was another factor. Life in those times was precarious, even for the healthiest. So to ensure the dynasty’s continuation it was deemed vital for a Sultan to produce extra standby sons.

Sultan Selim II

On that score, Selim the Drunk was slacking off. He didn’t want any woman but Nurbanu and had only one son. So finally his dad Suleiman ordered him to get with the program. Selim then obediently sired a bunch more sons. And soon thereafter died.

Meantime, when he himself was dying, Suleiman had also given Nurbanu a command — to be the enforcer of Mehmet II’s grisly law. For years, while Selim lived, she wrestled with the moral dimensions, seemingly resolved to disobey. But when Selim died, and the time arrived, she wound up giving the order. All Selim’s small sons were killed.

They were half-brothers of Nurbanu’s own son, who became the new Sultan Murad III. He hated what she had done.

While the author had to imagine a lot about Nurbanu, the book appears to stick closely to known historical facts, based on a little checking I did — prompted by one episode I found scarcely believable. Murad III built a very advanced astronomical observatory, aimed at putting Islamic science in the vanguard, outdoing all European efforts. Then, just a few years later, Murad ordered it demolished. (The book implies this was to spite Nurbanu, over the killings; but it seems the quest to penetrate God’s secrets was ultimately deemed un-Islamic.)

Sultan Murad III

It’s often pointed out that, at one time, Islamic science and scholarship were indeed in the forefront of human progress. And the question is often posed — what happened?

One great thing evolution endowed us with is changeability. It’s often forgotten, or even denied, but societies and cultures can and do change. In 1983, Ireland voted two-to-one to outlaw all abortions. In 2018 they voted two-to-one to repeal that. The Economist commented: “In 35 years, Ireland has changed utterly.”

So too did Muslim society change. But change is not always positive. Demolishing Murad’s observatory may have signaled an epochal inflection point for Muslim society.

America’s culture of democracy, freedom, openness, and tolerance can change too. And we seem to be undertaking our own demolition.

More accurately, a big part of America is doing that. Another part is fighting them, but somewhat ineffectually, with its own head partly up its rear. Right now, the former lot is on top (arguably illegitimately, by dint of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other manipulation). Can this be overcome? America’s soul hangs in the balance.

But back to the book:

Sultan Mehmed III

Nurbanu (in Hughes’s telling at least), after years of defending the executions of Selim’s sons, eventually repented, and on her deathbed seemingly persuaded her son Sultan Murad to change the law. Yet the genealogy helpfully prefacing the story has already informed the reader that after Murad came his son Mehmed III — with “19 sons executed.” The author, in an afterword, says Mehmed’s 19 half-brothers (not sons) were executed. I checked; it is the genealogy that’s incorrect.**

Anyhow, the law was never abolished, but those 19 were the last such killings. Subsequent sultans satisfied themselves with putting half-brothers under confinement.

The Ottoman sultanate itself was abolished in 1923, followed by more or less democratic governance, interspersed by occasional military regimes, until President Erdogan made himself sultan in all but name.

Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan

* Note, there are at least six other books, by six other authors, with the same title!

**Another error I spotted: Cecilia/Nurbanu keeps in touch with her Venetian grandfather (perhaps implausibly till her death at 58). When her grandson (later Mehmed III) becomes a father, her grandfather writes to ask the name of his great-great-grandson. Of course it would have been a great-great-great-grandson!

Breath Debt — Poems by Therese L. Broderick

June 18, 2018

(Page Publishing, 91 pages, $12.95 + 2.50 shipping; order from author, Box 8600, Albany, NY 12208 or Paypal to frank@fsrcoin.com; also purchasable from Amazon (click here) or Barnes & Noble (click here); e-book format will be available soon.)

Note, Therese will appear at Albany Library, 161 Washington Ave, Tues., July 3, 12 noon; light refreshments

I love being able to say my wife is a poet. Now, a lot of people write poems. But that’s not the same as being a poet. For Therese, poetry is her life. She went back to school in her forties and got a master’s degree in it, and she dedicates herself to her craft with total commitment.

She has published numerous poems and a few “chapbooks,” and won awards and prizes; this full-length collection, Breath Debt, is the culmination of years of intensive effort.

Here Therese deeply mines her own personal experience of life. Of course, such sharing enhances our insight into, and feeling for, the human condition. Isn’t that what poetry is (or should be) mainly about?

A powerful presence in the book is her father. Despite color-blindness, he served in WWII, and then — despite color-blindness! — had a career as a commercial artist. He also long suffered from lung disease, and died of it at 61, when Therese was 21. Thus the title, Breath Debt, as his struggles for breath figure in several of the poems. (The term also relates to breathing while singing.)

Therese and I often have conversations about poetics; our perspectives differ; of course mine are those of a layperson while she has devoted herself to studying the subject and developing her own distinctive voice. This is real poetry, in the truest sense of that word. I admit that much is “above my (literary) pay grade.” (That, in poetry, is what’s called a metaphor. I think.) You will not find here chirpy banalities about sunsets and moonrises (though one poem does play cleverly with the orthography of the word “moon”).

But that’s not to say it’s highfalutin. “Death in Yellowstone” delightfully recounts our young daughter’s fascination with a book so titled, during our Yellowstone tour. (A dip in its boiling pools is not recommended.) Another charming poem poignantly recounts her mother’s valiant weekly effort to get three small daughters’ hair washed before church. And one is about her cutting the lawn with scissors. (Therese is an unusual person in many ways.)

Again, lots of people write poems. But not like this. I salute my wife for a tremendous achievement.

Concentration camps. In 2018. In America. For children.

June 16, 2018

“First they came for the Jews . . . “

Eighty years ago, on the deck of ship passing the Statue of Liberty, stood my mother, a refugee from the Nazis.

Two days ago I stood, for a second time, in a protest about children taken away from parents at the border. The night before, watching a program including something about Auschwitz, I heard the line, “upon arrival, children ripped from their mothers’ arms.”

That was a Nazi crime. Now it’s America ripping children from mothers’ arms. And, literally, putting them in concentration camps.* Some in cages there. I used to loathe America-haters accusing my beloved country of crimes. Now it brought tears to my eyes to be standing there myself protesting a crime against humanity by America.

(Times-Union photo)

It’s not just “illegal immigrants” who are victims of this atrocity. Also asylum seekers, who do not arrive illegally. Their right to come here to apply for asylum is clear under international law supposedly subscribed to by America. There was a time when the U.S. respected — even promoted — international human rights norms. Trump’s border policy blatantly violates them.

Now Attorney General Sessions furthermore says we will no longer recognize claims for asylum based on domestic or gang violence, abrogating longstanding principles relating to asylum. And no other country separates children from parents at their border. None. 

For most of these migrants, the journey is extremely hard and dangerous even before reaching the border. Anyone who brings their children through such peril must be trying to escape some truly horrific conditions. They are human beings who have already suffered greatly and deserve, at the very least, compassion and charity. Instead we treat them as criminals, indeed meting out the harshest punishment imaginable. Taking away their children. Many of these parents will never again see children disappearing into the bureaucratic chaos of America’s overwhelmed concentration camp system (and foster care system). This vile crime, against innocent children as well as their parents, is an indelible black stain upon this country and upon every government functionary guilty of participating in it.

That includes Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who continue trying to defend this monstrous policy. And it mainly includes the occupant of the desk where the buck stops. Who weaseled that it’s because of a “horrible law” allegedly passed by Democrats. That is nonsense. The law in question was passed in the George W. Bush administration — and does not require child separation. It was never so interpreted before. Trump is doubly criminal: presiding over this cruel travesty, and lying to blame political opponents for it.

These shameless creeps dare to call themselves Christians and even, to defend their inhumanity, invoke the Bible. What would Jesus do?

Trump fantasizes going to Stockholm for a Nobel Prize. Instead it should be the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

How low America has sunk. The words engraved on the Statue of Liberty — the high ideals of a great and good nation — have been made a cruel mockery. I had actually long feared America was heading for decline. But I never imagined the bottom falling out with such a swift bang.

* Some are falsely told their children are being taken for baths — an eerie echo of Auschwitz victims told they were going to showers, not gas chambers.

BLOG TERMINATION RESCINDED

June 15, 2018

 

DONALD J. TRUMP

@RealDonald Trump

 

Frank Robinson and myself had a very good meeting, really really terrific. We showed him a video how great it could be for him and his people if he’d just be nicer and got a better haircut, like mine. I think he wants to, he’s very talented and sincere (not like that backstabbing Canuck liar Trudeu), Frank swore he would totally cut his hair, which I believe is going to happen very very quickly! So now we’re BFFs and lifting sanctions on his blog. Americans can sleep soundly now!

5:12 AM – 15 June 2018

BLOG TERMINATION NOTICE

June 14, 2018

Notice: Pursuant to Executive Order #9038672, this blog (“The Rational Optimist”) is determined to be a threat to national security, very dishonest, an enemy of the people, and very very unfair, and accordingly is hereby terminated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ordered and Decreed                                       DONALD J. TRUMP

June 14, 2018                                        President of the United States

 

(satire)

 

 

Reader Poll: Trump’s Top-100 Hit Parade

June 11, 2018

What is Trump’s greatest hit (upon America)? Find below a top-100 list. Vote for your selection, in the comments section. Feel free to add other items, since of course it would be humanly impossible to compile a full list. This one I just threw together quickly, in no particular order:

1. “Grab them by the pussy”

2. His “spygate” lie, falsely smearing the FBI and Department of Justice and undermining America’s institutions of accountability and rule of law

3. His “Obama wiretapped me” lie

4. His inauguration crowd size lie

5. His racism (“very fine people on both sides”) — aggravating America’s racial tensions and divisions

6. Refusal to release tax returns

7. Lying about the reason for not releasing tax returns. (“Can’t believe I got away with that,” he reportedly said)

8. His conflicts of interest

9. The show he put on faking resolution of his conflicts of interest — with a table full of document folders — filled with blank paper

10. Saying John McCain was not a war hero

11. Refusing to apologize for an aide who said McCain doesn’t matter because he’s dying

12. Sliming Khizr Khan (whose soldier son was killed in Iraq) and Khan’s family

13. Encouraging fans at his rallies to beat people up

14. His speech to the Suffolk County police, encouraging them to beat people up

15. Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and thereby handing China a huge geopolitical/trade victory while outraging our allies

16. Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and thereby hastening Iran’s getting the bomb while outraging our allies

17. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, outraging our allies

18. His comprehensive ignorance of history, world affairs, and economics

19. His severe narcissistic personality disorder

20. Canceling DACA

21. Falsely saying he hoped Congress would undo the damage of canceling DACA

22. Rejecting every Congressional effort to undo the damage of canceling DACA

23. Blaming Democrats for the DACA mess

24. Demanding to build a useless white elephant border wall

25. Lying that Mexico will pay for the border wall

26. Calling Mexicans rapists, etc. (And repeating it lately)

27. Saying a U.S. judge cannot be fair because of his Mexican ancestry

28. His Muslim travel ban

29. Denying it is a Muslim travel ban

30. Proposing to slash legal immigration (and lying about how the existing system works)

31. Questioning why we take immigrants from “shit hole countries”

32. Taking away children from asylum seekers— a vicious crime against humanity, violating internationally recognized rights

33. Falsely blaming Democrats for it

34. Supporting pedophile Roy Moore

35. Pardoning racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying court orders

36. Otherwise abusing his pardon power to favor political allies, like slimeball Dinesh D’Souza, an extremist Obama-hater convicted of an illegal campaign finance scheme

37. His rants against leakers

38. His leaking sensitive classified intelligence to the Russians

39. His infatuation with dictators like Putin, Erdogan, and Al Sisi

40. Congratulating Putin on his phony re-election after his staff told him not to

41. Congratulating Turkish strongman Erdogan for a referendum giving him virtually unchecked power

42. Congratulating Philippine President Duterte for his handling of the drug problem — by having thousands of people murdered

43. Calling the press “the enemy of the American people”

44. His Trump University fraud (case settled for $25 million)

45. Getting rich by consistently refusing to pay contractors and workers on his projects

46. His mocking Republican members of Congress for their obeisance to the NRA

47. His obeisance to the NRA

48. His starting an idiotic self-defeating trade war. Several of them in fact. Against our closest allies

49. His being prosecuted by the Feds in the 1970s for racial discrimination in 39 housing sites

50. Falsifying the height of his buildings

51. Employing 200 illegal immigrants in constructing Trump Tower

52. Found guilty by a federal judge in 1991 for conspiring to avoid payment of union pension contributions for those workers

53. Four bankruptcies, walking away with millions while investors got screwed

54. Siphoning money contributed to his own campaign, into his own pocket. (One example: the campaign spent $55,000 to buy, from Trump, copies of one of his own books)

55. A “charity” he founded illegally diverting donated money to pay for a painting of Trump

56. Lying to Canada’s prime minister about America’s trade deficit with Canada

57. Lying about lying to Canada’s prime minister

58.  Justifying hitting Canada with tariffs because Canadians burned down the White House. (They didn’t)

59. Saying he’d accept the 2016 election results only if he won

60. Falsely claiming he lost the popular vote only because millions voted fraudulently

61. Setting up a commission to investigate supposed voter fraud as a pretext for harsher vote suppression measures to keep poor and black people from voting

62. Denying Russian meddling had anything to do with the 2016 election outcome

63. Saying President Obama didn’t do enough about Russian election meddling

64. Doing nothing about forthcoming Russian election meddling

65. Firing FBI Director Comey to squelch the investigation of Russian election meddling

66. Denying that’s why he fired Comey (though he’d previously said it was)

67. Calling the investigation of Russian election meddling a “witch hunt”

68. Refusing to implement sanctions against Russia voted by Congress

69. Convening the cabinet for the purpose of showering praise on him

70. Falsely saying America is the highest taxed nation in the world (far from true)

71. Passing a tax bill giving the great bulk of benefits to the rich and corporations, worsening inequality

72. Lying that he would not personally benefit from the tax bill

73. Re-tweeting phony videos posted by a British hate group

74. Insulting the British prime minister when she upbraided him for that

75. Failing to provide adequate help to our Puerto Rican citizens after the hurricane

76. His disgraceful political speech to the Boy Scout convention

77. Spending most of his time in the White House watching television; while refusing to read briefing papers, or anything else

78. After having criticized Obama for too much golfing, golfing way more himself

79. Birtherism Lie

80. Blaming birtherism on Hillary and claiming he was the one who ended it (yes, he actually did that)

81. Claiming he saw New Jersey Muslims celebrate 9/11

82. Going on whacko conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s radio show and saying Jones has a “great reputation”

83. Extramarital affair with porn star

84. Paying hush money to porn star

85. Falsely saying he knew nothing about the hush money

86. Falsely denying the affair

87. Calling liars all the numerous women who say he took unwanted sexual liberties with them; and calling some of their accounts implausible because those women were ugly

88. Buying ownership of a beauty pageant so he could invade dressing rooms to ogle undressed women

89. Insulting journalist Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her wherever”)

90. Insulting Mika Brzezinski, Justin Trudeau, Kristen Stewart, Arianna Huffington, Rosie O’Donnell, Gail Collins, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katy Tur, Carly Fiorina, Meryl Streep, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Anna Wintour, hero John Lewis, beauty pageant contestant Alicia Machado, Congressman Adam Schiff, Senators Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, and all women journalists saying “it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

91. Wasting millions so he can preen at a vainglorious military parade

92. Appointing liar and criminal Michael Flynn national security advisor

93. Firing Michael Flynn for his lies, and then saying Flynn was treated very unfairly

94. Health care — “repeal and replace” — with what?

95. Calling America’s murder rate the highest in 47 years when in fact it’s gone down pretty much steadily since 1980

96. Repeatedly falsely claiming that the N.Y. Times apologized for incorrect reporting about him

97. Steve Bannon; Roy Cohn; Michael Cohen

98. In numerous additional ways degrading America’s dignity and political and civic culture, enflaming people’s worst instincts and tribal divisiveness, undermining our global leadership and network of international alliances, as well as the cooperative rules-based world order America hugely invested in building since World War II, which has been a bulwark of our national security and prosperity, and shredding the principles, ideals, and values America used to stand for

99. Forty percent of Americans nevertheless still support him

100. His hair

My own vote: #99

And remember, his term isn’t even half over.

Trump has responded in a tweet: “All fake news, folks. Very unfair. Lying Frank Robinson is a very ugly, short, old, very stupid has-been loser (failed writer — and only one wife!!). Weak on crime, weak on the border, weak on the military. But we’ll see what happens.”

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

June 10, 2018

Envy is something deeply embedded in the human condition. It comes from the kinds of minds evolution endowed us with. Alone among animals, we are able to contemplate hypotheticals — “what ifs” — and imagine non-existent things. We are also capable of modeling, in our minds, what goes on in other minds, and to project ourselves into them. It’s great for helping us negotiate life among other people. But it also creates the substrate for feelings of envy.

I make it a principle in my own life to envy no one; and when other (good) people enjoy successes, to be glad for them. It’s actually easy for me, because I’m very lucky to have a great life. When someone else has something I might wish for, I remind myself that other parts of their life I’d feel differently about. Would I trade mine for theirs? The answer is always no.

Then there was Anthony Bourdain.

Appropriately enough, we only ever caught his show, “Parts Unknown,” while traveling ourselves; in hotel rooms we’d turn on CNN, and there was always Anthony Bourdain. Now here was a guy who really seemed to be having a great life. If I had to switch with anyone, what better candidate? Tall, handsome, going on cool adventures in exotic places. The food was fantastic! And the human connections were integral; Anthony Bourdain brought people together and made the world more intimate. For doing all this, he got paid handsomely! And had a beautiful girlfriend besides.

Then he hanged himself.

His show’s title, “Parts Unknown,” may have had a double meaning — with parts of Anthony Bourdain himself unknown to viewers. What we didn’t see on TV was his history of out of control alcohol and drug use; and he was broken up over a past marital break-up. Anthony Bourdain shows us that a human life has many sides; the human heart and soul are very deep.

Envy no one.