Hillary’s victory speech (draft)

November 8, 2016

unknownTo: HRC

From: FSR

Re: Draft victory speech

Well, Hill, you didn’t use any of my drafts before. Though I bet you wish you had given that e-mail speech. Anyway, here’s what I think you should say tonight:

 

Gosh! From the bottom of my heart (I do have one), thank you, America. It’s customary on occasions like this to say one is “humbled.” But people who say it really mean the opposite. Humility is the last thing on their minds. I don’t feel humbled, I feel proud, to finally realize my great ambition.

Saying this reflects a new policy of mine: openness and honesty.

unknown-1I won’t be the first president who starts off distrusted by a majority of the country. Lincoln actually did too. Not that I’m another Lincoln. But I do realize that I won only because my opponent was The Bogeyman.

So you see I am trying to be honest. That was not always true in the past, sometimes it was a matter of what I thought I could get away with – which, in fact, I was often wrong about. I’ve learned from all that. And furthermore, being president entails a special burden of responsibility I didn’t have before. You may take that with a grain of salt – but for the good of the country, please give me a chance to prove that if I didn’t earn your trust before, I can earn it going forward.

Another characteristic I’ve unfortunately been known for is scorched-earth political partisanship. In fact, extreme partisan divisiveness lies at the heart of America’s problems, because it prevents action on all the others. And because of my history I know I’m not exactly the ideal person to remediate this. Yet precisely because of that, I feel a special obligation to try – to rise above that past. If I have personified the culture of political tribalism and recrimination, maybe I can be the one to break it.

imagesI may not succeed. But if not, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t do enough, or (unlike my predecessor) I talked the talk without walking the walk.

Now, a lot of my supporters believe those on the other side are not just wrong but wicked, actuated by bad motives. I’m guilty of saying things like that myself. And a lot of Republicans similarly believe Democrats are evil.

This must stop.

President Obama first gained fame with a speech saying there’s no white America or black America, just one America. But whatever our racial divisions may be, our partisan divisions are much worse. I want to say there’s not a progressive America and not a conservative America – but an awful lot of you will disagree. Yet we are indeed all Americans, and, with few exceptions, Americans are good people – even those you disagree with.

Donald Trump lost because he never understood that America is great because it is good.

unknown-2This is why we love America. And I love the American people – all of you – even Trump voters. Yes, I love you, Trump voters. I want to hug you. Though maybe we’ll send you to re-education camps. (Just kidding.)

But most Republicans are just as sincere as Democrats in wanting what’s best for America. You may oppose their policies, because you have different ideas of what is best. But Lyndon Johnson liked to say, “Come, let us reason together.” That will be my policy toward our Republican friends. I will meet with them regularly, respectfully, openly, sharing ideas, and doing my darndest to work with them to come up with solutions to America’s problems.

So while I am a Democrat, it will not be as a Democrat that I will govern; this may sound sappy, but I mean it seriously – it will be as everyone’s president that I intend to govern. The result will not be Democratic party programs; not Democratic “victories,” but American programs, American triumphs.

10f0a216cFinally: there was a famous Washington Post cartoonist, “Herblock,” who had always portrayed Richard Nixon with a sinister-looking five o’clock shadow. But when Nixon was elected president, Herblock’s cartoon said, “This shop gives every new president a free shave.”

I humbly – yes, humbly – ask my fellow Americans for a clean shave.

A Final Word – Snow White versus Voldemort

November 6, 2016

The Economist magazine is ideologically far from Clinton and the Democrats, yet endorsed her. Their editorial is well worth reading, because it puts things in proper perspective. It recognizes Clinton’s faults, but also her strengths. Trump has none.

unknownA lifelong Republican and libertarian, I too am ideologically as far from Clinton as one could get. I have harshly criticized her character. images-1And I’m still voting for Johnson. But this hasn’t deranged my objectivity – Clinton compared against Trump is like Snow White versus Voldemort.

Such objectivity seems nonexistent in Trumpland. Likewise truth and facts. The attacks on Clinton over the e-mails and other such issues are ludicrously overblown. The latest FBI letter was a disgraceful interference by that agency in the election – there is no “there” there, no actual new information, nothing added to what was already known. And none of it remotely compares with Trump’s well-documented turpitude hurting so many real people, like the victims of his Trump University fraud, his bankruptcies, refusal to pay bills, sexual assaults, and on and on.

unknown-1Wall Street has also given its verdict: falling for an almost unprecedented nine straight days over fear of Trump winning. Market investors understand what a disaster that would be for the economy. People voting for him out of economic anxiety are sadly deluded – his idiotic program if actually implemented (as The Economist explains) would hurt them most of all.

Since 1964, many elections have gone against my choice. Alternation of power is a strength of our democracy, making me love America all the more. But this time is different. I’ve never been so worried about an election and the nation’s future.

images-2My final plea to Trump voters, quoting Oliver Cromwell (1650):

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”


What this election is about: America’s soul

November 2, 2016

This election is not about issues or policies. It’s about character – America’s character.

unknownTrump’s America would be a different country from the one I’ve known and loved. It will have lost its way; lost the great thread of high ideals that made it a shining city on a hill. No longer a country of openness, optimism, and goodwill, but a mean, closed, fearful one. Not the land of the brave, of can-do spirit, but blaming others for its problems.

images-1A country not of love but hate, spreading a virus that used to slink in the shadows: of white supremacy, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, and contempt for democratic values.

Not a country that stands up against a murderous foreign despot (Putin), but fawns on him and throws its allies to his mercies.

And one that doesn’t punish lying and cheating, but rewards them. Clinton is no angel — but her personal defects* beside Trump’s are as molehills to mountains. Only partisan tribalism blinds his supporters to this.

unknownHis lies are gigantic, pathological, constant. Lying about New Jerseyites celebrating 9/11. Lying about his discussion with Mexico’s president. Lying about his past lies, like asinine “birtherism.” Lying about the sexual assaults he’s bragged about. And lying about why he wouldn’t reveal his tax returns. Only a fool would trust this psychopath about anything.

His fortune was built on rip-offs and pillage, shirking debts, leaving a scorched earth of financial ruin, embodied in thousands of lawsuits. His bankruptcies have victims – everyone whose bills were not paid, or investments wiped out. He never pays anyone what he owes. He’s on trial for fraud and racketeering regarding the Trump University scam. He’s even skimmed money contributed to his campaign!

He has incited violence, encouraging followers to punch people, promising to pay their legal bills. He has threatened to jail his opponent, emulating the worst dictators. He undermines democracy with baseless claims that the election is rigged, and refusing to accept the results.

unknown-2America has been a noble nation. Everything about this man is ignoble. Everything.

I am a lifelong Republican. But how can anyone with self-respect, civic responsibility, and a grain of moral common sense, vote for Donald “Grab them by the pussy” Trump? Where is Republican talk about “family values” now? As leading author Thomas Friedman wrote, he “is a disgusting human being. His children should be ashamed of him.” And that was before the sexual assault revelations. What would it say about America’s soul if this vile creep wins?

unknown-1Could you still sing “God bless America” with a straight face? His invoking God’s name is blasphemous. God will not bless a nation that votes for such a monster.

* The latest e-mail stuff adds nothing to what we already knew. But I have endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Voting for the candidate best representing one’s views is not a “wasted” vote. This is not a game where the objective is to guess the winner.

Green-Weak: poems by Therese L. Broderick

November 1, 2016

13613373_10154473211057176_4122053389679591205_oI like the idea of being married to a poet. She takes it seriously; went back to school in her forties to get a master’s degree. When our daughter left, I’d feared some empty nest syndrome, but my wife’s poetry involvement keeps her well occupied and fulfilled.

But she didn’t like showing me her work, tending not to agree with my “constructive criticism.” Not that I’m any poetry expert; though that didn’t stop me from having opinions. However, she finally did share with me an ensemble of poems she’d been working very hard on. And this time my response was an enthusiastic “Bravo!” Expert or not, I could see she’d really raised her game.

rwj-green-weak-1-coverThis poetry collection is titled “Green-Weak,” referring to the type of color-blindness her artist father had. The central theme is her relationship with him and his illness; he died of a lung ailment when she was 21. The poems are also a meditation on the color green.

The book has now been published by Red Wolf Journal, at their website (click here) – with an extremely laudatory introduction by their editor! (Printed copies will become available at some future time.)

Local election endorsements

October 30, 2016

I have always normally voted against incumbent office-holders, as a matter of principle, because power corrupts, and rotation in office is democratically healthy. This has generally meant voting against liberal Democrats (for me, an added reason).

I made an exception for Daniel Patrick Moynihan – one of the last exemplars of true statesmanship.

Fahy

Fahy

Now, another rare exception: Assembly member Patricia Fahy. Not a product of the old Albany machine (I wrote the 1973 book about it), nor ideological, but an independent person who actually seems to be in it to do good. I did check out her Republican opponent’s website, which mentions his participation in an anti-Monsanto demonstration. A sufficient disqualification, for me.

Merced

Merced

In other races, the Trump factor mangles my usual calculus. Democratic U.S. Senator Schumer is highly partisan and ideological, and a shameless publicity hound; but his GOP opponent is a crass Trump enthusiast. Thankfully, there’s a Libertarian alternative I can vote for, Alex Merced.

Mouse

Mouse

Congressman Paul Tonko is also very partisan and ideological. His face often appears in that Friday newspaper page with photos of high-tone local social shindigs. His GOP opponent, in their debate, nattered on with Trumpist garbage about jailing Hillary. Feh. No endorsement. Maybe I’ll write in Mickey Mouse.

Davis

Davis

There is one Republican challenger I gladly support: Christopher Davis, running against longtime State Senator Neil Breslin, a textbook example of the kind of old pol I always vote against on principle. Davis has an impressive background as a healthcare industry professional. And his website notes he participated in Gary Johnson’s 2012 Libertarian presidential campaign!

There’s also a ballot question on county charter revisions. Once again this is a self-serving deal by county legislators to avoid needed reforms — including refusing to allow voters to reduce their ridiculous overstaffing. Vote no.

City Court Judge William Carter is running for County Judge, unopposed. Nevertheless, I recommend against him. After the “99%” protests, he tried to force the District Attorney to prosecute protesters. Even I knew a judge cannot do that. It was completely inappropriate and just plain stupid. Carter was slapped down by higher courts. I cannot fathom this guy being promoted.

Faso

Faso

In the neighboring 19th Congressional District, John Faso is the Republican candidate. Watching him for decades, I was impressed with his upstanding manner of politics. He has squirmed about Trump, with obvious distaste, without being willing to explicitly disendorse him. I will give Faso a pass on that, based on his long prior record, and the fact that now, more than ever, we’ll really need some sane and responsible Republicans in Congress. Yet I must say this campaign, by both sides, is deplorable, dominated by attack ads having only a tenuous relationship with truth. Increasingly common, this pollutes our civic environment and turns people off about politics. Indeed, it’s part of why so many Americans have become so disaffected. But the ultimate blame for such campaign tactics lies with voters, who fall for them.

Melania Trump targets bullying

October 28, 2016

Melania Trump says that as First Lady, she’d focus on combating bullying.

I know where she could start.

 

images-1

 

The turd artist: David Foster Wallace revisited

October 27, 2016
Wallace

Wallace

“But it’s s**t.”

So begins The Suffering Channel. Its author, David Foster Wallace (who committed suicide in 2008), is an epic American literary figure. I previously reviewed his huge masterwork, Infinite Jest – I found it unreadable and gave up after about 100 pages.

My wife must have remembered that, because for my birthday she (slyly smiling) gave me The David Foster Wallace Reader, another fat doorstop of a book.

sufferI’m glad she did. There’s some amazing stuff here. Forget Infinite Jest; read this instead.

It includes The Suffering Channel, a novella, whose title refers to a (fictional) TV channel showing exactly that: photos and videos of people suffering, in every conceivable way. Ewww.

But the novella is actually mainly about something else: the tribulations and machinations among staffers at a slick (fictional) magazine, Styles, over how to handle one particular story, about an artist.

images-1It’s set in July, 2001; looking toward the publication’s September 10 issue. Its offices are at New York’s World Trade Center. So there’s a dark cloud hanging over the whole narrative. To which Wallace never explicitly alludes, except once. Near the end, after a lengthy sequence focusing on one young character, he appends the spare words, “She had ten weeks to live.”

The magazine’s culture, and the dynamics among its staffers, are portrayed with an incisive dead-on realism. So far, so serious. (Though there is a weird, quasi-comedic sexual thing going on between the runty chief reporter on the story and the artist’s super-plus-sized wife.)

images-2But all the novella’s seriousness is anchored upon a premise that’s utterly silly. The “artist” works in excrement. Now, admittedly, we’ve had some art contretemps involving excreta – Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” and Ofili’s painting incorporating dung – however, Wallace goes one better. His “artist,” Brint Moltke, produces small sculptures replicating iconic images (like the Winged Victory of Samothrace). By “produces” I mean he sits on the toilet and they come out. And Moltke is a non-intellect who probably doesn’t actually know the Winged Victory of Samothrace from Rodin’s Thinker (just to make the premise all the more preposterous).

unknown-1Yet Wallace depicts how a slick magazine would wrestle with all the issues that this subject matter would entail, and the concerns of the people who work there (one of whom speaks the quoted opening line). How will its readers react? How should the story be presented – if at all? And the implications regarding the pecking order and careerist jockeying among the staffers.

Call this “magical realism?” Perhaps Wallace was giving us a send-up of that genre: marrying uber-realistic portrayal with uber-ridiculous magicalism. The result is wickedly delicious.

How to reduce crime

October 23, 2016

unknownOur prisons are called “correctional facilities.” Social science writer Daniel Goleman says this is “a tragic misnomer: nothing gets corrected.”

Indeed, prisons are crime schools. Rather than being “corrected,” young inmates learn to emulate more hardened ones, their antisocial psychology is reinforced, and their criminal skills enhanced. No wonder most, after release, soon return.

Crime is stupendously costly to society. What criminals rip off is only the start. The damage to victims tends to vastly exceed their monetary loss; some never shake off the trauma. We lose what criminals could contribute were they instead productive citizens. The whole criminal justice system is another gigantic cost. As is running the prison system.

images-1People who work in the system like the status quo. And justifying their existence requires a constant supply of inmates. Turning minor offenders into hardened criminals is a good way to assure that.

But what if prisons truly were places of “correction?” Of course, that concept does encompass the idea of punishment; but also the idea of changing the behavior that incurred the punishment. Our prisons do the former but not the latter.

Goleman’s book Social Intelligence discusses a special pilot program to fill this gap. “Brad” was in prison for injuring a college classmate during a drunken binge. “Basically all the guys are in here because of a bad temper,” Brad said – “easily pissed off” and ruled by their anger and an “us-versus-them paranoia.” The special program sought to change that mentality, giving inmates daily seminars on topics like “telling the difference between actions based on ‘creative thinking, stinking thinking, or no thinking.’”

unknown-1Goleman explains that this actually isn’t naïve utopianism, because the brain circuits for empathy and regulating emotional impulses – “perhaps the two most glaring deficiencies among the prison population” – are the last parts of the brain to mature. So the brains of inmates about 25 or younger can still be, well, corrected, into more socially desirable patterns.

It worked for Brad. Once released, he was a new man, returned to college, got a job, and detached from his previous loutish pals. Goleman also cites similar (and similarly rare) programs for social and emotional learning in schools that have likewise achieved big reductions in antisocial behavior.

(I’ve previously discussed Goleman’s writing about the “marshmallow test” for self-control and deferring gratification, so helpful for of adult life success, and how such positive traits can be taught.)

Programs like Brad’s would cost a tiny fraction (probably under 1%) of our huge prison budgets. Given the enormous cost of crime to society and the vast sums we spend locking people up, shouldn’t we be willing to spend 1% to keep them out of prison.*

images-2A proposal in New York to give inmates college educations was shot down by public outrage. It did seem unfair to give criminals for free what poor, law-abiding folks struggle to achieve. But surely it makes sense to do something to re-educate prisoners and make them responsible citizens, to head off more crimes and all their associated costs. Currently we don’t even try.

images-3*Another example of such lateral thinking: asked to review plans to spend billions on rail facilities to speed up trains, an economist proposed instead hiring super-models to go through trains handing out champagne and other treats. Most of the billions would be saved, and riders would not mind the slow trips – they’d want them longer!

Trump descends deeper into the heart of darkness

October 20, 2016

images-1He’s the gift that keeps on giving. In the debate, Trump was asked a question that can have only one answer. His running mate had given that answer. So had daughter Ivanka. But Donald shockingly refused. He refused to say he would accept the election result.

You know it’s an extraordinary moment when a newspaper begins its debate reporting with the words, “Threatening a fundamental pillar of American democracy . . . . “

Peaceful transfer of power has been just that, a crucial element of our democratic culture. It’s the acceptance of pluralistic legitimacy – acceptance that people other than you may have a right to participate and even to exercise power. (We see, in today’s Middle East, what happens when this concept is not part of the culture.) Trump shows yet again he does not understand our democracy, does not honor it, and would wreck it.

Past presidential losers not only accepted the results, but always did so with exemplary graciousness. Even Richard Nixon, in 1960, rejected advice to challenge the close outcome, knowing that would damage the country. Even Al Gore, who many believed was cheated of the presidency in 2000, refused to pursue his claim and instead conceded in a very gracious speech.

Why did Trump say something so repellently different? He can’t think it will attract votes, to actually win the election. No, this is about after. Cynically fueling his supporters’ sense of grievance, to carry his “movement” and plague our politics for years beyond.

unknownPreviously, channeling the worst dictators, he had threatened to jail his opponent. Last night, compounding it, he said she should not even be allowed to run. That’s how things work in dictatorships (like Iran’s). They hold elections but pesky regime opponents are not allowed to run. Trump is the banana republican candidate.

unknown-1His insistence that the election is being rigged against him, with massive voter fraud, is itself a massive fraud. American voting fraud is actually about as rare as people with two heads.* (And in a majority of states, elections are overseen by Republican officials.)

But the huge irony is that if the election is rigged, it is actually rigged against the Democrats. Because many Republican state legislatures – on a phony pretext of preventing nonexistent voter fraud – have enacted all sorts of restrictions, like onerous ID requirements, whose naked real aim is to prevent voting by minorities who favor Democrats.

I’m a Republican. Republicans should be trying to attract minority votes – not to suppress them. And should not be whining about election outcomes – let alone beforehand.

UPDATE: Trump now says he WILL accept the election result, on one condition: if he wins.

* True, voter rolls are filled with ineligible names – people who’ve moved away, or died, etc. But how many of them try to vote?

David Gelernter and the ideology trap

October 19, 2016

unknownDavid Gelernter is a well-known computer scientist, whose talk I wrote about previously. Afterwards, I wanted to speak with him, but didn’t want to buy the new book he was promoting. So instead I bought a previous one, America-Lite, which looked more fun.

America-Lite actually argues a serious point, but is aptly titled, being, well, lite. This is no weighty Closing of the American Mind (which he mentions). Indeed, given my general sympathy with much of what it says, I found the book annoyingly supercilious and off-putting.

WASPs

WASPs

It concerns America’s cultural revolution since the 1960s. Gelernter basically doesn’t like it. He attributes it to two related phenomena. First, “the Great Reform” in higher education. Key here was the breakdown of old efforts to limit Jews on campuses, which changed their WASP culture, as mainly social institutions, to mainly intellectual ones. And shoved them leftward. Meantime, secondly, there emerged “Imperial Academia” – an enlarged influence of the university world upon the broader American culture. This was largely down to sheer heft – a much bigger percentage of today’s population has been through higher education than in past epochs.

unknown-2Gelernter says the old WASP elite has thus been replaced by post-religious globalist intellectuals – “PORGIs” – who now run the country. Not everyone in academia buys this intellectual stance, but its influence is leveraged by the fact that non-subscribers care much less about politics and just go along with the flow, taking on board the indoctrination, while nonconforming viewpoints are cudgeled into silence and delegitimized by the PORGIs’ political correctness policing.

unknown-3The result is what Gelernter relentlessly labels PORGI Airheads (always with a capital A) – people full of received wisdom but empty of factual knowledge. Indeed, he sees much of PORGI-ism as contrary to fact, but uninterested in learning as much. After all, it’s far easier to reach judgments from preconceived ideas than from factual analysis.

For Gelernter, President Obama exemplifies the PORGI Airhead. He denies Obama is an ideologue – saying the President’s thinking doesn’t even rise to that level, being instead a zombie-like slavishness to the PORGI theories about the world that, like so many other students of his era, Obama had installed in his brain while at Columbia and Harvard.

I’m no Obama fan; but willing to give the Devil his due. Gelernter’s book itself epitomizes a lamentable trend in American political discourse: the notion that our side thinks and the other does not. Indeed, the left is inordinately fond of this gambit too, always casting itself as coolly rational whereas the right is a bunch of unthinking automatons. Al Gore even wrote a book titled Assault on Reason with that exact theme.

unknownNo. You may disagree with how the other guy thinks. But don’t imagine that you are thinking while he is not – a grossly arrogant self-delusion. While I am certain anti-evolutionists are wrong, I never forget they are equally certain I am wrong.

That said, it is true most people seem to view the world through pre-shaped lenses of bias. I have written about trying to base my beliefs upon what I see to be facts – my “ideology of reality” – whereas most people do it the other way around, letting their beliefs dictate what they see as facts.

Gelernter is right that many have beliefs about the world because those beliefs fit ideas they like, not because they’re actually factually true. A perfect example is GM food. It must be bad, on principle, a certain mindset holds; so the science must support that view. The Albany Times-Union recently editorialized that the issue remains open and some scientists see dangers. False! The newspaper commits exactly the sin for which it repeatedly pillories climate change deniers. They too see that issue as scientifically unsettled – because that fits their preferred picture.

unknown-4And like small children, bedazzled by shiny objects, the left in particular is bedazzled by labels – like “socialist.” It’s like putting lipstick on a pig, convincing them of its beauty – like Venezuela’s vile regime, or Mugabe’s.

In all these cases, the idea trumps the reality. The left sees itself as holding lofty ideals. They’ll burble on about inequality and the 1% making people poor – which is factually untrue – while failing to notice how “socialist” regimes do make people poor. Or how their prejudice against GM food, factually baseless, condemns millions of poor people to malnutrition and starvation.

They just think differently than me.

Meantime, Gelernter’s whole shtick about “Airheads” seeing the world through a veil of theory uncontaminated by facts was hard to take seriously – when one perspective whose waning he laments is the religious one. Gelernter, an observant Jew, doesn’t see how people can figure out moral issues without religion. unknown-5Well, I can. In fact, atheists without religion’s prepackaged answers are forced to think that much harder about moral issues. And if ever there was a belief system impervious to factual realities, surely it’s religious faith!