Archive for June, 2018

Cynthia Nixon for Governor — What is wrong with “progressives”

June 8, 2018

I switched enrollment from Republican to Democrat when the GOP went off the rails, to the dark side; I wanted to use my primary vote to keep at least one party on the rails. And I was glad when actor Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”) challenged vile Governor Andrew Cuomo — even though from the left.

The other night Nixon was on The Daily Show.

At the start, the question was whether she’s really out to become governor, rather than just making a point.

Someone serious about the governorship might focus on the state’s real problems — like its weak economy beset by high taxes, a lousy business climate, and crumbling infrastructure. Instead, Nixon was all pet “progressive” memes. Such as inequality, $15 minimum wage, and “women’s issues.” Repeatedly chanting the word “progressive” as a talisman.

Cuomo himself has been doing the same, leaving little space to squeeze into on his left. But Nixon is trying, calling Cuomo insufficiently progressive. Like on the $15 minimum wage, being introduced gradually rather than immediately.

This kind of left-wing purity trial will kill the Democratic party for 2020. There’s already a big debate within the party over whether to countenance anyone not 100% for abortion. Are these people out of their minds?

Republicans have left vacant a vast territory in the American political center. But instead of moving briskly to seize that territory, Democrats like Nixon (and Cuomo) are fleeing it too.

Meantime, Andrew Cuomo is a very strong candidate, still basking in his father’s glow, with the party organization locked up, and a huge campaign war chest. How will Nixon compete with that?

I’m reminded how last year, a guy sought me out who wanted to run for Albany Mayor on the Republican line. The Democratic incumbent, Kathy Sheehan, had done reasonably well, and, mind you, the city is something like ten-to-one Democratic. No Republican had been elected to anything in almost a century. So this guy starts telling me all his nifty ideas for how Albany could be spruced up. One was something about bike paths.

Finally I stopped him and said, “All very nice. But is Sheehan going to lose to a Republican on the issue of bike paths?

The point being that to defeat a powerful incumbent you need a powerful issue. And Cynthia Nixon actually has one: public corruption. Andrew Cuomo is drenched in slime. His top honcho, Percoco (his “third brother”) was convicted of taking bribes, peddling his influence with the governor, and mis-using his position right under Cuomo’s nose. While another top Cuomo guy, Percoco’s partner in crime, pled guilty and testified against him while being revealed as a comic book sleazeball.

State government corruption was already so odoriferous in 2013 that Cuomo convened a special blue-ribbon “Moreland Act” commission to investigate and take action. Then he pulled the plug, disbanding the commission — when it started looking at the governor’s office. Eeewww. To her credit, Cynthia Nixon has pledged a new Moreland Act commission.

But did she mention any of this on The Daily Show? Not a word. The word “corruption” did not pass her lips. Instead she hammered the word “progressive” and stuff like “women’s issues.”

At the very end, Cuomo’s $31 million campaign kitty did come up. As something Nixon would have to overcome. I literally shouted at the TV: “Tell us how he got the money!”

She did not. Did not mention he got it by selling favors to contributors, paid for by taxpayers. Like the real estate developer who gave Cuomo’s campaign big bucks, and then was repaid many times over with a huge unnecessary public subsidy for a project which was already underway.

On all this Nixon was silent. She has one issue, and one issue only, that could conceivably elect her, and she ignored it — so wrapped up was she in her “progressive” shtick. Corruption isn’t an issue with a satisfying ideological thwack.

Last time around, Cuomo was similarly challenged from the left by Zephyr Teachout — who got a third of the vote. A lot of her votes, ironically, did not come from ideological “progressives” but rather upstaters angry over Cuomo’s gun control legislation. That’s why Teachout carried around 30 rural counties (while being crushed downstate).

Nixon will get all the votes Teachout got. And not one vote more.

Correction: one vote more. Mine.

Code Red: Guest column by Thomas Friedman

June 5, 2018

I’m not one for reblogging and sharing what others say, preferring my own words. But I’m making an exception for Thomas Friedman’s May 29 column, which expresses so well my thinking. I’ve taken the liberty of shortening it considerably (find the full text here). His title is Sounding Code Red: Electing the Trump Resistance:

This election is not about what you may think. Not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline.

No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Trump. Or are you in favor of another two years of unfettered control by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?


The worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

It is up to the Democrats to protect America from Trump’s worst impulses. To oust the most corrupt Republican lawmakers who lead key committees, to properly oversee the most reckless cabinet secretaries, like Scott Pruitt, and to protect the F.B.I., the Justice Department and Robert Mueller from Trump’s intimidation.

I don’t write this easily. On many issues, I’m not a card-carrying Democrat. I favor free trade, fiscal discipline, pro-business regulations, a democracy-expanding foreign policy, and I have an aversion to identity politics.

But all of that is on hold for me now, because something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.

So that’s why I have only one thought for this election: Get a lever of power that can curb Trump. Nothing else matters now.

Still, Democrats can’t count on winning by just showing up. They still have to connect with some centrist and conservative voters — and that means understanding that some things are true even if Trump believes them: We do have a trade issue with China that needs addressing; we cannot accept every immigrant, because so many people today want to escape the world of disorder into our world of order; people want a president who is going to grow the pie, not just redivide it; political correctness on some college campuses is out of control; people want to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country in an age where globalization can wash out those identities.

Democrats need to connect with some voters on those issues but then take them in a constructive direction, in contrast with Trump’s destructive direction.

I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.

Again, this is Code Red: American democracy is truly threatened today — by the man sitting in the Oval Office and the lawmakers giving him a free pass.

Are smartphones bad for kids?

June 3, 2018

One of the earliest ancient inscriptions has been translated as reading, “Kids today don’t behave well or respect their elders like they used to.”

This essay may sound like that. And I’m one of those dinosaurs who doesn’t use a smartphone. So either I don’t know what I’m talking about, or can discuss smartphones with detached objectivity.

The word “addiction” often comes up here. And while these devices obviously entail vast benefits, many people feel they’re a curse, enslaving them. Kids’ use is a particular concern.

I’ve seen data showing American children aged 8-12 use their phones, on average, six hours a day. Teenagers: nine hours. Even if these numbers are inflated, clearly the phenomenon is huge. For these kids, school must be a very secondary activity.

What do they actually do, on their phones, for all those hours? I researched this question. (Yes, my blog posts are carefully researched.) Well, research is not what they use their phones for. The main things are gaming and social media; for boys it’s more the former, for girls more the latter. Regarding social media, Facebook is rather passe; the place to be is Instagram (a more simplified alternative that emphasizes photo sharing). Kids also use their phones to watch shows and other video, and listen to music.

Much of this they do while doing other things — like school, or homework, or even several of those phone activities simultaneously. It’s called “multitasking,” and people think it’s an efficient use of time. But studies show we greatly over-rate our multitasking ability. Generally, doing two things at once means doing neither of them efficiently or well. We perform far better when concentrating attention on one thing at a time.

The music, video, and gaming kids enjoy; the social media not so much. Despite its engendering very mixed emotions, kids, especially girls, feel they can’t opt out, that’s social death. But the problem is that social media puts their fragile self-regard on the line pretty much continuously. They live for “likes.” The main reason they post things is to elicit “likes” from their peers; they give “likes” to others to court reciprocity. A posting that doesn’t get enough response signals personal failure. You’re nobody without a lot of Instagram likes.

Neuroscience is relevant here. The amygdala is a primitive part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety, the flight-or-fight response. The amygdala activates when one feels social exclusion. The prefrontal cortex, a more advanced brain area, responsible for rational thought, talks you down from the amygdala’s going ballistic. That’s how it works for adults. But for teenagers, while the amygdala is fully developed, the prefrontal cortex is not (until the mid-twenties in fact). That makes teenagers’ online social lives a particularly explosive emotional minefield.

At least phones keep kids from ever being bored. Formerly a staple of childhood, the very concept of boredom seems to have disappeared. Not necessarily a good thing. Our brains may need some down time, to just wander. If they’re on and stimulated constantly without let-up, something important, developmentally, could be lost.

Helicopter parenting probably doesn’t help. The obsession to keep kids safe, from the terrors of the outside world, keeps them locked in their homes; they don’t much hang out in the streets, socializing, like we used to in my own Pleistocene childhood. Smartphones at least offer a way to connect to that outside world.

Unfortunately they also make it easier to act badly. The nature of the medium, its impersonalness, where you don’t have to confront someone face-to-face, virtually encourages snarkiness. A lot of bullying and personal destruction results.

Phones are also used a lot for sexting. But hormones and smartphones are not a good fit. While youngsters seem to be sexualizing earlier, actual sex among teenagers is actually trending downward. That might sound like a good thing, but their sexuality may be channeled in less healthy ways that don’t put them on a path toward mature, fulfilling relationships. I think this shows up in the steep decline in marriage rates, and corresponding rise in single parenthood. For kids especially, the whole smartphone thing makes what we used to call “dating” more fraught. I put “dating” in quotes because that whole social construct — where one could gradually get to know a person and develop a bond — is largely a thing of the past.

The bottom line is that, according to (more) research, today’s youngsters seem less happy, lonelier, more anxiety-ridden, more likely to be clinically depressed, and more likely to commit or attempt suicide. Factors other than phone fixation may of course be at work, it’s hard to disentangle all the ways in which modern life is changing, and their effects. The mentioned over-protective parenting is, in many additional ways, counter-productive for kids’ emotional development and true well-being.

However, what really strikes me about the smartphone activity is that so much is just plain trivial. In all those “likes” being bandied back and forth, where is the meaningfulness? In fact, a lot of what kids do they do less for the sake of the activities themselves than to generate photos for Instagram. And never mind the triviality of “liking” a picture of someone doing something that’s basically trivial in itself — it’s not even genuine liking, but just a ploy to elicit reciprocal stroking. What a cat’s cradle of inauthenticity. And for a lot of kids, this is the hollow center of their lives.

Human relationships are a key to life, and much fulfillment comes from interacting with others who mean something to us. But it seems a lot of kids are trapped in cycles of interactions with people with whom they don’t have real relationships or intimacy. I feel fortunate to have realized pretty early that how I am seen in the eyes of people who matter to me is something that should matter to me; but how I’m seen (if at all) in the eyes of people who don’t matter to me is not.

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Cat picture

June 2, 2018

My wife said I should put this picture of our cat (yes, it is one cat) on my blog. I always obey my wife. Though it does seem a bit weird. I mean, who ever thought of putting a cat picture on the internet? Well, maybe it will become a thing!