Brits: Don’t Brexit!

June 18, 2016

Britain votes June 23 on leaving the European Union (“Brexit”). Don’t do it!

UnknownThis is a big deal. Prime Minister David Cameron called the vote to placate eurosceptic members of his Conservative party, and lance the boil. But more top Tories than expected have plumped for leaving, including London’s clownish ex-Mayor Boris Johnson, angling for Cameron’s job.

The opposition Labour party notionally supports staying. Unknown-1But after decisively losing the last election with a left-wing platform, Labour picked a new leader, the ridiculous Jeremy Corbyn – a veritable caricature of a loony lefty – whose pro-EU stance is lukewarm at best.

So the “remain” campaign is anemic while Brexiteers are energized. It’s easier to enthuse people for change than for the boring status quo. And while older voters back Brexit, younger ones don’t, but they’re less likely to vote. So Brexit could win.

This would be disastrous. Eurosceptics actually have some fair points; the EU has a big democratic deficit, with a penchant for intrusive, nitpicking regulations decreed by Brussels bureaucrats. Nevertheless, Brexit would be economically suicidal. And coming on top of the still simmering Euro crisis, it could contribute to the whole European integration project unraveling. For all its flaws, that integration has been a good thing, making Europe more prosperous and peaceful, with freer trade and freer movement of people. Its failure would be a sad reversion to dismal older paradigms. It would weaken Europe as a U.S. ally and counterweight to a bullying Russia. And even if the EU survives, it would be a worse EU without Britain’s good influence.

Unknown-2Further, Brits would in effect be voting to break up their own country. Only recently Scotland rejected an independence referendum; but the Scottish National Party has since strengthened, and Scotland being very pro-EU, Brexit would prompt calls for a fresh independence vote, which they’d likely win.

Brexitism reflects a baleful phenomenon afflicting much of the West nowadays: bloody-minded voters lashing out against what they see as a rotten status quo. There is indeed much to reform in the status quo, but unfortunately these kinds of populist responses tend to be exactly the wrong medicine, bound to make things worse. Such politics exploit voters’ unsophisticated knee-jerk emotions. We see it with the rise of misguided movements throughout Europe, like Spain’s “Podemos,” the “Alternative for Germany,” France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party; Poland recently elected a really nasty populist government, which many Poles are already rueing.

images-1Of course the biggest manifestation is Donald Trump, exactly that sort of candidate, attracting voters who simply don’t know any better.

Conventional pols do a poor job combating the nonsense. It’s easier to coddle it than to cogently explain why it’s wrong. Like Hillary, who does know better, going populist on trade. It’s Yeats’s old story: the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Yet it’s hard to see quite where all this voter stroppiness is coming from. For all the hand-wringing about middle class angst, Western societies are not actually in bad shape. Most of those voting trumpily live very comfortable lives compared to the not-so-distant past. How easily we forget what “the good old days” were really like.

A big part of happiness is a sense of gratitude for one’s blessings. Too many spoiled people have lost this.

Only the good

June 17, 2016
Jo Cox

Jo Cox

Only the likes of Jo Cox, British member of parliament, human rights worker, advocate for immigrants and refugees.

Never the likes of a Robert Mugabe.

Only 49 people innocently partying at an Orlando night spot.

Never people at a KKK rally.

Only peacemakers like Yitzhak Rabin.

Never monsters like Bashar Assad.

Always the Bhuttos. Never the Musharrafs.

Only the Sadats. Never the al-Sisis.

Always the Boris Nemtsovs. Never the Vladimir Putins.

Only the JFKs, RFKs, MLKs. Never the Erdogans, Maduros, Nkurunzizas.

Why? Hating the bad is characteristic of rationality. Hating the good, of irrationality.

Keep America Great: Gary Johnson for President

June 13, 2016
It tickled me to get this 1964 button to wear, since in '64 I backed Johnson's opponent

It tickled me to get this 1964 button to wear, since in ’64 I backed Johnson’s opponent

Recently an undecided voter, now I’m decided: for Gary Johnson, former New Mexico Governor, the newly nominated Libertarian candidate.

I cannot give Hillary my sacred vote, and hence endorsement. After all her scandals (I haven’t forgotten “Travelgate,” smearing honest civil servants to replace them with her toadies), her latest response on the e-mail stuff is appalling. images5Pity she wouldn’t give “The Speech Hillary Won’t Give,” that I wrote for her. And her recent swerve left is both dishonest and wrong.

Republicans justify rallying behind Trump by casting Hillary as the Devil. But she’s an angel compared to him. I’ve criticized demonizing political foes, but make an exception for Trump. He’s a bad man. Vile. A monster.  Unknown-1With an ego already out of control, giving him the presidency would be disastrous. To thwart the Devil, Republicans would unleash Godzilla. At least Satan has some human characteristics. Thomas Friedman, in a great recent column, rightly says the GOP should declare moral bankruptcy.

But enough negativity. Fortunately there is a third option. Gary Johnson offers a positive vision that I’m proud to support – the vision of America’s founding ideals – personal liberty and responsibility, an economy based not on crony capitalism but free competition, and inclusiveness and openness, to people and to global commerce. imagesThis has made America great. Shutting our borders to people and trade would wreck it.

Johnson’s libertarianism isn’t actually radical; to the contrary, he’s in fact the most centrist candidate, with policies that generally are serious, responsible, and reasonable. I don’t agree with every detail, but it’s a welcome contrast to Hillary’s pandering populism and Trump’s ignorant vileness. Johnson is the thinking person’s candidate. If only people would think enough.Unknown-1

One point I did not discuss in my “undecided” blog post is the Kantian challenge in any moral quandary: what if everyone did the same as you? Well, if everyone voted for Johnson, the outcome would be great. But more realistically, the question is what if a lot of people vote for him?

Conventional wisdom says he’ll take votes from Trump, because libertarianism is closer to traditional Republican principles. But those principles have nothing to do with Trump’s candidacy, so conventional wisdom is out the window. The real divide now is between civic sanity and brainless yahooism. By splitting the sane vote, Johnson could help Trump.

Yet one shouldn’t be swayed by what other voters might do. That’s unpredictable; and the point of voting is not to win, but to register one’s views. Johnson is a great candidate who stands for the right things. And voting for Johnson is being true to myself.

Unknown

With the GOP hopelessly broken, Friedman yearns for the emergence of a “New Republican party,” a responsible and principled center-right party. It would actually represent the electorate’s biggest segment. The institutional obstacles are great. But maybe, just maybe, Trump will manage to finally burn down the old house, in an electoral cataclysm, so something new can rise from the ashes. Gary Johnson’s Libertarian party might be its embryo.

 

Renaming America

June 8, 2016

“America” is the most important name on Earth. It belongs to not just one continent but two, as well as the nation that is the world’s most important geopolitically, economically, and culturally.

And where did this name come from? We all remember learning in grade school that it’s from Amerigo Vespucci – but has it ever struck you how utterly bizarre and ludicrous that is?

imagesVespucci (1454-1512) was an insignificant personage. He made some early trips to the “New World” and published an account of them. Though there’s a question whether he actually wrote it. Anyhow, it misled mapmaker Martin Waldseemuller into thinking Amerigo Vespucci was the discoverer. So in 1507, on the first map showing those realms as actual continents, Waldseemuller used  a version of Amerigo’s name as a label. That map gained wide circulation and the name stuck. Thus did America get its monicker through a blunder.

Not a U.S. coin

Not a U.S. coin

The absurdity is highlighted by the fact that Amerigo Vespucci, our country’s namesake, has never even been honored on one of its coins or stamps. There is no statue of him anywhere in the land bearing his name.

But must we be stuck with this dumb name for all time? We can change it. After all, America is quintessentially the land of reinvention. And countries do change their names. Dahomey became Benin; Upper Volta changed to Burkina Faso; Congo was called Zaire for a while; and now the Czech Republic is turning into Czechia.

Unknown-3Maybe we could do it democratically – with a public naming contest, like the British recently did to christen an important new naval vessel. Though apparently the Brits didn’t approach this with due seriousness – by popular acclaim, the winning name was Boaty McBoatface.

wuxOr perhaps we could hire one of those corporate management consulting outfits to do market research, with focus groups, etc., to devise a really trendy rebranding. These seem to favor meaningless letter sequences – like Philip Morris becoming Altria. America could wind up named something like Wuxibaf.

Speaking of corporate rebranding, our local supermarket chain, after decades promoting the name Price Chopper (carrying an obvious message) is switching to “Market 32.” Because it was founded in 1932. A brilliant move. Maybe America should change to Country 76. Or how about something with a little more attitude: Country #1. Instead of “Americans,” we’d be known as “Onesies.”

Unknown-4Or meantime, a certain presidential candidate has a penchant for putting his own name on everything. We could become the United States of Trump.

Well, maybe the name “America” isn’t so bad after all.

The nanny state meets political correctness: pregnant women in bars

June 4, 2016

As a nanny state critic and libertarian, I believe government shouldn’t tell us what we can or can’t do, without a very good reason (mainly, harm to others).

UnknownSo you might think I welcomed a recent New York City Human Rights Commission ruling that pregnant women can’t be refused service in bars. The Commission said, “Judgments and stereotypes about how pregnant individuals should behave, their physical capabilities and what is or is not healthy for a fetus are pervasive in our society and cannot be used as a pretext for unlawful discriminatory decisions.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Unknown-1“Pervasive in our society,” “pretext,” and, especially, “stereotype,” are dog-whistle words, signaling that we’re enlightened and we’re talking about improperly categorizing people and unjustified prejudice. But in this case, those are all irrelevant red herrings.

Because the idea that alcohol harms fetuses is not a “stereotype.” Unknown-2It’s scientific fact. Indeed, the City also requires bars to post warnings that alcohol can cause birth defects! Yet now it decrees women have a right to thusly endanger their babies. I’m all for freedom – but its first rule is that my right to swing my fist stops at your nose.

Or your fetus’s. Pro-choicers have spent decades trying to deny human status to fetuses. A political correctness the Human Rights Commission may be bending to. But to any reasonable person, in what circumstances a fetus merits protection is a highly fraught moral conundrum. And it’s pretty extreme to deem fetuses unworthy of any societal concern whatsoever.

Unknown-3Here the concern is real and proper: alcohol can damage a fetal brain. Surely the fist-at-nose test is met. Remember, this is not about abortion or the unborn, but about protecting children expected to be born. If you were born with fetal alcohol syndrome, you would rightly feel as though your nose had been punched. Indeed, all our noses are punched considering the loss to society (and expense) when someone is born unable to become a fully functioning and productive citizen. Protecting society and children against that is legitimate.

This might, at least arguably, have justified a nanny-state edict barring pregnant women from bars. But instead, the Wrong Way Corrigan Commission directed its nanny-state impulse in the opposite direction, at bartenders, disallowing them from exercising judgment and responsibility in deciding for themselves whether to serve mothers-to-be. The Commission chose protecting drinkers over protecting children.

images-1This seems especially bizarre and perverse given that bartenders have been held accountable for serving drunks who then drive and injure people. Victims have sued bartenders in such circumstances.

Should a fetal alcohol victim be able to sue the bartender who served his pregnant mother?

Or sue the City Human Rights Commission?

Gottagetgon

May 30, 2016

images-1We went to the annual Gottagetgon (“Got to get gone”) folk music festival during Memorial Day weekend. The first time was 1988. I drove up and was told, “That’ll be $26 – unless your boy is under 13.” It was actually my new, slim, short-haired girlfriend, over twice that age. Now she’s my wife, twice again that age, with longer hair, but retaining her boyish figure (and lovelier than ever).

We attended quite a few times afterward, bringing along our kid. It’s a low-key, informal event. Held at the Saratoga fairgrounds, an attraction for children was a giant sand mountain, that mysteriously remained for years. Anyway, our daughter Elizabeth endured these outings with good cheer, and even was captivated once by one of the bands (called “Western Omelette”).

Unknown-1Now she’s working in Afghanistan. Time marches on. For various reasons we hadn’t been to Gottagetgon for several years – probably more years than I realize. Going again was indeed a reminder of time’s passage. Some familiar faces were there, a little older and greyer. (A certain once-fetching lass I pursued back in the Pleistocene – I doubt she remembers – now is a dumpy old woman.)

One song began with, “Did you ever fall in love with a man that was no good?” There were several shouts of “Yeah!” from the audience. (See my disquisition on women and bad boys.)

I’m no music buff. But like any human I respond to the emotive content. And I’m awed by the artistry. Indeed, it’s fascinating how fingering and blowing on wood and metal contraptions can produce such, well, music – that stirs the soul no less. You’ve got to love an animal that came up with such a thing.

imagesAt Gottagetgon I got a good dose of my favorite kind of music – Scots/Irish/Celtic/pipes-and-fiddle music. The Miller-MacDonald band was great, as was Atwater-Donnelly. Some of this music really gets you in the heart. Nothing like “Danny Boy” for that. But my favorite is “The Star of the County Down.” The title alone feels musical to me; the melody is elegiac. I used to go to contra dances (trying to pick up girls, like the one mentioned), and they’d often do a waltz-like “Star of the County Down” as a fitting finale. Killed me every time.

And I especially love the pieces that start off kind of slow, and build, then flip to a faster, higher energy intensity level, maybe even a couple of times. You can just feel when that’s coming – a delicious tension – like when an orgasm is coming. (I learned at the festival that this sort of thing typically joins an opening “Strathspey” to a reel or jig or two.)

UnknownI love the joyfulness, the celebratory quality of this music. That’s the emotive kick. When listening to it, in my mind I map it onto human events, as though it’s a soundtrack for a story – for the progression of the great human project – or even for the trajectory of my own life. People aren’t grateful enough. There is much to be thrilled about. This music makes me feel that thrill.

Is Trump a nascent Hitler?

May 25, 2016

Just recently I opined that Trump probably can’t win. Already I’m less sure. Republicans are drinking the Kool-Aid en masse, trying to sanitize him, or at least sweep under the rug all his repellent points. imagesI’d been thinking, he’s getting killed with blacks, with Hispanics, with women – how could enough white male votes compensate? But it seems I’m becoming the odd man out not just in my political party, but even in my gender group.

Part of it is Hillary’s negatives. I always thought her vulnerable; now she’s being shredded from within her own party. UnknownBernie seems to have drunk his own Kool-Aid, intoxicated with his campaign and adulation. Likewise his supporters, with breathtaking ferocity. It resembles a religion whose believers torture logic to convince themselves of untruths. Here it’s the belief that Bernie still could – should! – win the nomination. This truly puts reality to the torture, inasmuch as Hillary has gotten millions more primary votes than him.

images-1The Daily Show had a great send-up of Bernie-ite shrillness, exaggerating only modestly. It shows how polarized America has become, when most Republicans embrace a vile fraud because they consider Hillary too left-wing, while much of the Democratic party condemns her as not left-wing enough.

At a recent social gathering, someone read from his phone what he deemed a very reasoned appeal to Trump backers, to embrace a totally different narrative. I finally stopped him, saying, “This is preaching to the choir.” Trumpites would reject it as just the kind of thinking they despise. Unknown-1Too many Americans live in echo-chambers of confirmation bias, impervious to facts, let alone arguments, contradicting what they already think. (The phone-reader himself has a great appetite for online screeds mirroring his views. Discordant views, not so much.)

Voter bloody-mindedness isn’t uniquely American. That’s what made Dutch voters recently say no, in a referendum on the Ukraine-EU trade deal – bizarrrely playing into the hands of the pro-Russians who, remember, shot down a Dutch passenger plane. And British voters might opt out of the EU – not for any good reasons so much as sheer bloody-mindedness, to stick it to the political elites.

Hitler comparisons should always be avoided. But regarding Trump, we’re hearing, “They thought at first Hitler was a clown too.” (Alan Chartock, head of the local NPR station, loves this trope.) And Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, has fresh cachet.* We’re reminded that Hitler was democratically elected. images-2It’s not true. He lost the 1932 presidential vote, and Nazis never got an electoral majority. But once appointed chancellor, Hitler mounted a coup, ditched the constitution, and literally burned down the parliament.

Could Trump do likewise? There’s no comparison between 1933 Germany and 2016 America. Germany was in the throes of the Depression, having also, just nine years before, experienced a total currency collapse. Today’s U.S. economic problems are nothing like that. And Germany’s institutions were far shakier, the age-old monarchy gone, replaced by a weak new government inspiring no loyalty. In contrast, America’s constitution is an icon of veneration, guaranteeing free speech and press, with a strong system of checks-and-balances, rule-of-law, due process rights, and an independent judiciary.

Yet God did not decree we must have all this forever. Its continuation depends upon a citizenry that understands and truly values it. Such a citizenry would not elect a Trump.

That even 45% would even consider it reflects a collapse in norms of civic responsibility and seriousness. Make America great again? Trump voters are shitting on what makes America great.

* I’ve read it; it’s plausible; with some Trumpian parallels.

Big buttocks

May 23, 2016

Striving to maintain for this blog an elevated standard of excellence and seriousness, I don’t normally comment about buttocks.

(OK, I did write about overhearing a gal say she wanted Frida Kahlo tattooed there.)

imagesHowever, a line in a local newspaper story got my attention: “police say they caught him with 69 bags of heroin hidden in his buttocks.”

A reasonable person naturally wonders: how big were they? The bags. And the buttocks. Inquiring minds want to know.

The newspaper did not specify any dimensions. But, hypothesizing the smallest bags one can plausibly envision, it’s still a log of bags. Unknown-1And so we come to the size of the buttocks. Need I say more?

And what, pray tell, was this guy’s comeuppance, for being busted with 69 bags of heroin up his rear? The City of Schenectady is paying him $25,000. To settle his lawsuit claiming illegal search.

Only in America.

(He was a passenger in a car stopped because of a warrant for the driver. Courts ruled the cop needed another warrant to search the passenger; so drug charges against him were thrown out. Was his lawsuit against the City cheeky?)

The agony of an undecided voter

May 18, 2016

UnknownA person of strong views, in half a century of voting I have never before been “undecided.” But this time it’s an agonizing choice.

Not voting is unthinkable. Voting is, for me, a sacrament.

In some past elections, where I was not enthused about either major candidate (well, the Republican), I’ve voted Libertarian. It’s wrong to think such a vote is wasted. Elections are not games where the aim is to pick a winner. And one vote won’t change the outcome. Instead, the purpose is to express one’s civic opinion, which has value even if few others share it. Maybe especially so.

images-1Actually there’s no party that totally reflects my own politics: I’m a classical liberal (not to be confused with contemporary U.S. “liberalism”). In a nutshell, it’s laissez faire both in economics and personal life. (It’s the editorial stance of The Economist magazine, one of the world’s most respected journals.)

Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson

America’s Libertarian party does not embody that stance perfectly, but comes close. (Its foreign isolationism is my main sticking point.) Its candidate hasn’t been named yet, but will likely be, again, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.* And he seems a great guy, with views close enough to mine that I could gladly support him. (It’s still possible, though unlikely, that another good third party candidate will run.)

And this, if ever, should be the time for such a vote. I’m sure “not enthused about either major candidate.” Both, indeed, are awful. However, one is more so. A lot more.

So we come to the proverbial “lesser of two evils.” For a quarter century I’ve loathed Hillary Clinton. (Sorry, Berners, it’s over.) There’s not room enough here to itemize her indictment. But – to quote P. J. O’Rourke (on the radio show, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”) – while Hillary is wrong about everything, she’s wrong within normal parameters. She would not be an existential threat to the America I love. Trump would be. The Economist has explained why: click here.

The Republicans drinking the Kool-Aid and falling into line for the sake of party unity and winning the election are not thinking. They’re treating this like normal politics. It isn’t. Winning isn’t everything. If (God forbid) Trump wins, they’ll regret it even more than if he loses. (See this Michael Gerson column on the GOP ship of fools.)**

I’m pretty sure Trump can’t win (though like so many I was mistaken about his getting the nomination; and a major terrorist episode before the election could spook voters into doing something dumb). However, I want him not just defeated, but crushed, humiliated, annihilated, with all his “winning, winning, winning” talk shoved down his throat. Because I want it proven, finally, that Trumpery is wrong and is not, and never can be, a route to political power in America.

Unknown-2So will I hold my nose and vote for Hillary – piling mine onto, hopefully, a mountain of votes burying Trump? If my top wish in this election is Trump’s repudiation, isn’t it logical to vote for Hillary? And thereby also slap my own party’s face for the mess it’s made?

Still – a vote for a candidate is a positive act, an endorsement. In voting for someone, I feel I take some responsibility for that person in office. And I keep saying that ultimately it’s voters who are responsible for our wretched politics, through their ballot box choices. That’s why a third party vote can be justified. (What a pity so few voters are even aware of Johnson as an excellent alternative choice.) I do not support Hillary’s positions. And if I withhold my vote from her, then later I can criticize her freely, saying, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for her.”

Unknown-3But is that a kind of cop-out, a refusal to exercise responsibility as a citizen? Detaching myself from the battleground and climbing into an ivory tower? Wouldn’t it be the adult thing to face up to the true choice, which is between Trump and Clinton?

And I actually have hopes that Clinton might not be so bad after all. Fortunately I think she’s being (typically) dishonest about all the left-wing rubbish she’s felt compelled to spout, to fend off Bernie, like protectionism. Her foreign policy hand will be a lot stronger and steadier than Obama’s, a welcome change. And dare I imagine she’d have the strength to force Democrats into desperately needed entitlement reform? And might even – unlike Obama – seriously seek detente with a chastened Republican opposition?

So – should I just bite the bullet for Hillary?

Or should I stop overthinking this, and simply vote for policies I actually believe in, and hence for Gary Johnson?

images

I have not made up my mind. Count me “undecided.”

* My daughter in 2012 tortured me by refusing to say who she voted for, letting me suspect it was Obama rather than Romney (my choice). Finally, months later, she blew me away by revealing, “I voted for Johnson.”

** Climbing on board for example is Rick Perry, who once denounced Trump as a “cancer,” but now angles for the VP slot. Democrats would surely run ads featuring Perry’s scathing condemnation.

The bathroom battle: what am I missing?

May 14, 2016
Transgender female

Transgender female

Scenario 1: A transgender woman – who looks female – enters a women’s room. Nobody notices.

Scenario 2: A transgender male – who looks male – enters a women’s room. The women there freak out.

Transgender male

Transgender male

The controversial North Carolina law requires Scenario 2. That is, using the bathroom of your birth certificate gender. Transgender males must use the girls’ room. How in God’s name does this protect the women who use it? Or prevent freak-outs? Doesn’t it do exactly the opposite?

So why the law? Because some people freak out at the very idea of changing one’s sex. They’re totally confuzzled and put off by it. Trying to find some way to vent this feeling, they came up with the bathroom law. Which actually, if enforced, would do the opposite of what they profess to want. That is how confused these people are.

Unknown-1Of course it can’t be enforced. Will they post guards by toilets to check birth certificates? If men’s rooms are used by people who look male, and women’s rooms by those who look female, how will anybody know there’s a problem?

And of course there never was one. Transgender people are a fraction of one percent of the population, and before this nonsense blew up, nobody ever noticed anything amiss in our restrooms. Besides, women do their business there privately, in stalls; and in men’s rooms guys mind their own business too. In literally thousands of visits I can’t recall ever seeing a penis not my own.

The law’s proponents might say they’re worried about men putting on dresses to go into women’s rooms to molest females. Do we know of a single case of this? (Molesting anyone was always illegal.) And what does it have to do with transgender anyway? Unknown-2Transgender women are not men wearing dresses. They are women.

Admittedly some rare individuals are in-between, mostly in a transition process. But surely it makes sense for them to use whichever facility they prefer at the time.

This is merely the latest example of a typical American phenomenon – periodically getting all worked up over a totally trivial, meaningless issue. A nation facing huge fiscal and economic challenges, huge overseas challenges, huge environmental challenges, is arguing instead about who can use what bathroom.


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