Obama was a cockeyed optimist

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an extensive account of the Obama presidency I didn’t know I needed. It is well worth your time, even if, like me, you weren’t a big fan. He paints Obama as being, what i would regard as, naively optimistic vis-à-vis the inherent goodness of white people, and provides insight as to why this is. Some, me for example, might even say he was (and still is) a cockeyed optimist, who got caught up in the dirty game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.

I think Obama’s status among the Left roughly parallels what Bush Jr. was to the Right in the 2000’s. They were candidates whose respective constituents wanted to have a beer with, though obviously for far different reasons. Is it a sign of progress that we’ve moved on from such puerile tendencies and instead select candidates who we fucking hate, and would never under any circumstances want to spend any time with? Yeah, probably not.

The most illuminating insights, to me, were those that touched on subjects tangentially related to Obama, and expounded on by Coates’ incisive prose. Some highlights:

Pointing to citizens who voted for both Obama and Trump does not disprove racism; it evinces it. To secure the White House, Obama needed to be a Harvard-trained lawyer with a decade of political experience and an incredible gift for speaking to cross sections of the country; Donald Trump needed only money and white bluster.

And [emphasis added]:

Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to understand the Tea Party protests, and the 2016 presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, which ultimately emerged out of them. One theory popular among (primarily) white intellectuals of varying political persuasions held that this response was largely the discontented rumblings of a white working class threatened by the menace of globalization and crony capitalism. Dismissing these rumblings as racism was said to condescend to this proletariat, which had long suffered the slings and arrows of coastal elites, heartless technocrats, and reformist snobs. Racism was not something to be coolly and empirically assessed but a slander upon the working man. Deindustrialization, globalization, and broad income inequality are real. And they have landed with at least as great a force upon black and Latino people in our country as upon white people. And yet these groups were strangely unrepresented in this new populism.

Christopher S. Parker and Matt A. Barreto, political scientists at the University of Washington and UCLA, respectively, have found a relatively strong relationship between racism and Tea Party membership. “Whites are less likely to be drawn to the Tea Party for material reasons, suggesting that, relative to other groups, it’s really more about social prestige,” they say. The notion that the Tea Party represented the righteous, if unfocused, anger of an aggrieved class allowed everyone from leftists to neoliberals to white nationalists to avoid a horrifying and simple reality: A significant swath of this country did not like the fact that their president was black, and that swath was not composed of those most damaged by an unquestioned faith in the markets. Far better to imagine the grievance put upon the president as the ghost of shambling factories and defunct union halls, as opposed to what it really was—a movement inaugurated by ardent and frightened white capitalists, raging from the commodities-trading floor of one of the great financial centers of the world.

And finally [again, emphasis added]:

“We simply don’t yet know how much racism or misogyny motivated Trump voters,” David Brooks would write in The New York Times. “If you were stuck in a jobless town, watching your friends OD on opiates, scrambling every month to pay the electric bill, and then along came a guy who seemed able to fix your problems and hear your voice, maybe you would stomach some ugliness, too.” This strikes me as perfectly logical. Indeed, it could apply just as well to Louis Farrakhan’s appeal to the black poor and working class. But whereas the followers of an Islamophobic white nationalist enjoy the sympathy that must always greet the salt of the earth, the followers of an anti-Semitic black nationalist endure the scorn that must ever greet the children of the enslaved.

So maybe read it, or don’t. But fair warning: it’s really fucking long.

 

 

The American dream is becoming an American nightmare

I’m very proud of this blog title. Until now, surely no one has used such a way to describe the fabled American Dream. There’s really no need to confirm this via Google.

Stunning new research by very smart people finds that income inequality in America is not only bad, but getting much much worse. From The Atlantic (“Severe Inequality Is Incompatible With the American Dream“):

The idea that an unequal society allows the wealthy to dictate policies that help themselves has very troubling implications in a country that just elected a president who seems focused on putting the wealthy in charge. The wealthy have benefited from the system that has helped create their wealth: the private schools, the elite colleges, and the growing salaries for those at the top. And they have little incentive to change it.

I chuckled reading the phrase “putting the wealthy in charge” as if this is something new. But I admit the incoming presidential administration will, in addition to countless other vile aspects, likely have the look of a kleptocracy, the likes of which haven’t been seen in recent memory. I’m only referring to America, of course. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Petro “The Chocolate King” Poroshenko in Ukraine are only two of many contemporary examples. At any rate, the notion that Trump will do anything substantive for the poor white dipshits who worship him is and always has been laughable.

And here’s FiveThirtyEight (“Inequality Is Killing The American Dream“):

‘There really is a dramatic change in what’s going on in the income distribution in the U.S.,’ said Nathaniel Hendren, an economist at Harvard and another of the latest paper’s authors. ‘The rungs of the ladder are growing further apart, so the difference in outcomes in being born to a rich family versus being born to a poor family is getting greater.’

Both articles discuss new research by, among others, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Their forthcoming paper can be found here. It’s nice that there is such robust analysis being performed, but it should be intuitive that governments of capitalist societies need to control for systemic inequalities. That is, if one idealizes egalitarianism rather than a cut-throat society based primarily on competition. For proponents of the latter, the Horatio Algers myth continues to reign supreme as the primary means of moving up the economic ladder. It’s basically a lottery the poor are forced to play, but with horrible consequences for the many who don’t win.

On a personal note, I am at best semi-literate economically. I’ve read Piketty’s The Economics of Inequality and while I understood the general message, there were large parts I could only barely comprehend (one day i hope to read his allegedly magisterial Capital). So, hat in hand, I’m asking for suggestions on fundamental books on economics for dummies like me. Thanks in advance!

Getting the most bang for your charity buck

The Life You Can Save and GiveWell recently released their lists of the most effective charities for 2016/2017. Both organizations use different methodologies to evaluate which charities do the best work.

TLYCS was founded by Peter Singer and revolves around the idea that

if we can provide immense benefit to someone at minimal cost to ourselves, we should do so. And since there are charities that dramatically improve, or even save, the lives of people living in extreme poverty (i.e. living on less than $1.90 USD/day) for relatively little cost, we should support those highly effective charities.

There’s a decent amount of information to wade through in regards to how TLYCS selects it’s charities, but the gist of it is:

The Life You Can Save’s charity recommendations are based on robust research on effectiveness. We use three criteria, which we call “the three E’s:”

  • Evidence: Why do we believe the charity produces good outcomes? We consider the size, quality, and relevance of the evidence base for the charity.
  • Efficiency: How cost-effective are the charity’s programs? We want to find charities offering the most “bang for the buck.”
  • Execution: Do we believe the charity can translate marginal donations into good outcomes? We consider whether the charity has good programs in need of funding and the capability to execute those programs.

GiveWell evaluates charities using four criteria: effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, transparency, and room for more funding. Their mission is to

find outstanding charities and to publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give. Our focus is on finding the most outstanding charities possible rather than completing an in-depth investigation for each organization we consider. In addition, we’re interested in identifying and supporting the study or growth of potential future top charities and programs.

There is also an organization that evaluates animal charities for effectiveness, Animal Charity Evaluators, and they too have released an end of the year list.


In light of the incoming Trump regime Charlie Bresler, the Executive Director of TLYCS, released a statement with regards to the idea of giving to causes that are in peril:

The election of Donald Trump has had a chilling effect on many of our subscribers, our recommended charities, our Team at The Life You Can Save, and people throughout the United States and the World. There is an understandable desire to do something to mitigate the damage that a Trump presidency can do to the environment, the social safety net, and to civil liberties. At a time when many people wanted to advance in these areas beyond what the Obama administration has done, there is concern that we are about to take a dramatic step backwards. How does this impact effective giving?

I have heard many people say things like, “I want to give to the American Civil Liberties Union, or another domestic activist organization.” This is completely understandable, but if it means money will be diverted from the most effective organizations this movement of charitable donations could be very bad for the global poor…

I would suggest that we continue to support the recommended charities on our new list at the same level we have in the past, or even at an increased level. The value of $1 given to a recommended charity still trumps (forgive the pun) the value of a dollar given domestically — even under the current political environment. However, as citizens I urge everyone to get involved in social movements to which they resonate whether the movement targets the environment, civil rights, or protecting our social safety net. If one feels the understandable urge to give to political movements or organizations fighting the Trump agenda then please consider giving more money over the next four years so that you don’t diminish your gifts to fight global poverty.

It’s definitely something to consider.

There is truly no shortage of worthy causes one can support with their time and money, and figuring out which ones do the best work is pretty overwhelming . By selecting one or several, you’re neglecting thousands of others, some of whom do good and important work. Any organization can make claims about the good they do without providing evidence and I think it’s good that there are independent evaluators that attempt to provide independent verification.

Make humanity great again

I’ve long been uncomfortable with the high level of arrogance inherent in Western Civilization. Through the ages, humans have been inexorably downgraded in terms of cosmic importance, but it’s done little to stem our collective hubris. Every religion that’s ever existed provides no empirical reasons to believe in any of their metaphysical tenets, many of which place humans above the rest of Creation. Divorced from a providential sense of importance we are only special from a global perspective due to our canny abilities to take massive quantities of raw materials and turn them into massive amounts of manufactured eventual garbage, as well as the creation of technology that is capable of destroying tremendous amounts of human and nonhuman life.

This is admittedly a bleak and pessimistic overview. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that some of the “manufactured eventual garbage” has enabled us to, among other things, transport our bodies at fast speeds to faraway places; systematically investigate and understand the cosmos at the largest and smallest scales; share, store and transmit vast amounts of information; diagnose and treat diseases; and travel beyond our planetary confines. Not to mention other fun and awesome things like literature, music, the arts, and skateboards. More seriously, some of us have developed empathy and compassion for unrelated humans, and perhaps more notably nonhuman animals, which I think is one of our more admirable traits. [1] Unfortunately, empathy and compassion are often reactions to monstrosities perpetrated by other humans. On the whole, any and all positive characteristics need to be considered in light of our 8-12,000 year onslaught against each other and the rest of the biosphere.

We are destroying ecosystems and extirpating entire species and only recently beginning to grasp the true extent. [2] The only other biological comparison on par with our illustrious death march is Proterozoic oceanic cyanobacteria, which produced enough oxygen to wipe out much of earth’s anaerobic biota eons ago. The obvious difference is we are aware, though, I’m not sure that’s an entirely accurate way to phrase it. One can’t be certain to what extent the individual humans (not to mention humans in charge of other humans) participating in direct and indirect ecosystem disruptions are aware of the harm they are doing spatiotemporally. Did a Canadian fisherman trawling in the North Atlantic in the 1950’s necessarily know they were destroying the local cod population? Did a mining company CEO in the 1990’s know on some level the devastation that mountaintop removals cause, the cessation of which would hurt their company’s bottom line? Did they just not care?

Certainly there is a large difference between a working class fisherman in an industrialized nation and a CEO of a transnational mining company. The former does such work as part of their livelihood and likely noticed diminishing returns but still continued fishing, with the hope that the cod would return. The latter is, in my mind, more grotesque with regards to power and responsibility. They largely don’t give a shit, their transparently disingenuous corporate website environmental propaganda sections notwithstanding. The point is, in an age where information is widely available some of these individuals must know or have been made aware of the idea that their actions in some capacity have negative impacts. Those negative impacts aside, it’s patently obvious that extractive industries will eventually run out of things to extract in a discrete area, which necessitates the movement to a new area, be it fish or coal. On a finite planet with finite resources, eventually we’ll run out nonrenewable resources and are largely reliant on the ecological resilience of harvested wild animal and plant communities (not to mention the vagaries of agricultural systems and its associated environmental factors). [3]

Overall, those who derive the most profit off of organic life and abiotic phenomena care about the aforementioned in terms of how to best utilize it for their own narrow-minded ends. [4] We are a culture that richly rewards this type of behavior. If the Bramble cay melomys in Australasia goes extinct due to ecosystem mismanagement so fucking what? If there’s no monetary or utilitarian value for humanity, or something we don’t find to be cute or iconic, the vast majority of people won’t give it a passing thought in the unlikely event they are even made aware of it. This is summed up well by Paul Kingsnorth:

Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens [Latin: ‘wise man’], though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so.

“It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ In a very short time — just over a decade — this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total — at the price of its soul.”

Anthropogenic climate change has finally been accepted on a large-scale, resulting in paltry global attempts at mitigating its effects. However, despite this newfound acceptance we have yet to collectively take meaningful actions to lessen our consumptive lifestyles. Fossil fuel extractions continue apace with no end in sight. The prospect of the imminent accessibility of the Arctic’s seabed has wealthy, powerful humans falling all over themselves for the privilege of plundering, environmental concerns be damned. There doesn’t appear to be much standing between them and their greed.

I often wonder how such blatantly harmful actions can be curtailed. As long as there’s money to be made, nonexistent or hard to enforce laws, and a dearth of options for a percentage of the world’s population to survive in a global economy, it’s hard to see things improving [5]. This is not to entirely disparage incremental progress, but in terms of environmental destruction and ongoing human caused extinctions, it’s fair to ponder the futility of conventional environmentalist tactics in the face of continuing and irreversible damage. [6]

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t express a sense of admiration of those fighting the good fight against the ongoing assault against nature, even if their methods haven’t had a lot of success historically. However, the power disparities appear insurmountable. No one, for the most part, is getting rich off of doing the dirty work of fighting the dominant culture, and many are content to blog, retweet and argue online as part of their armchair activism (like me!). It’s easy and requires little time, little effort and little danger to oneself. I am certainly not exempt from this criticism. On the other hand, there is a mass of humanity that couldn’t care less – they can be seen in shopping malls, on TV, in sports arenas, and soon, at rallies for the U.S.’s president-elect.

*****

Many nature/environmental/conservation writers spend the bulk of their writing describing the enormous problems we face and shoehorn a few reasons for hope into the conclusion. It’s hard not to perceive this as blatant wishful thinking, often in the form of “if we do x, y and z, with those variables being improbable pipe dreams, then maybe things won’t be so fucked up.” [7] The only solution my dumb brain can comprehend is a totalitarian world government that violently controls the world’s resources and severely punishes any opposition in the name of sustainability. In other words, we need to be stopped at gunpoint. Such a government would be highly repressive, and regardless of ideology breed a class of elites dominating the rest of society. This would obviously be a nightmare scenario. But as utterly ineffective as the UN is at preventing atrocities and the manifold failures of US hegemony, it’s hard to see the New World Order prophesied by conspiracy theorists coming to pass anytime soon. Perhaps, though, localized authoritarian regimes will materialize, as the depletion of nonrenewable resources continues. Or, I could be very wrong about all of this. I’m wrong a lot.

I think the hope that most have is for Science to generate magical solutions to wean us off fossil fuels while allowing the maintenance or slight decrease of our hyper-consumptive lifestyles (and just maybe, in the spirit of egalitarianism, allowing for the developing world to attain the Western standard of living). It would also be nice to develop technology to better recycle discarded metals and minerals. These solutions should be clean, cheap, safe, renewable and widely available to all. If Science isn’t able to do that, and if humans aren’t willing to stop destroying the environment, it’s hard for me to be optimistic about what the future brings.

Only by overcoming the severe and near innumerable issues we face environmentally, not to mention our vast array social problems, would conceivably make humanity great in my eyes. That is the essence of this overlong essay: we aren’t great, and we never really were [8]. I’d also add that during or after we tackle the aforementioned problems, we should maximize the possibility we can predict and survive cataclysmic events relatively unscathed. [9] Designing the means for enduring a gamma ray blast, impact event, or supervolcano eruption would be pretty damn impressive. We’d finally earn the translation from the Latin of our species name that we so humbly bestowed on ourselves. It’s too bad that, if any of it ever comes to pass, I’ll probably be long dead and unable to let my fellow humans know my very important opinions on the matter.

Like the environmental writers referenced above, I too will attempt to end on a positive note. It’s an appropriate encapsulation of how I mentally confront the enormity of what we face. From Derrick Jensen, who is admittedly a douche:

I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.” [10]


[1] It’s worth noting that we do not have a monopoly on empathetic and altruistic behavior. For example, humpback whales have been observed rescuing seals from killer whales, thought the degree of intentionality is uncertain. For more: Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce.

[2] Not that anyone is unaware of this sentiment, but the most illuminating book I’ve read on this from a historical perspective is A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations by Clive Ponting.

[3] The following article on our dwindling resources is behind a paywall at Scientific American but here is a link to that issue as a pdf, pg. 56-63: http://elibrary.bsu.az/jurnallar/Scientific%20American_201009.pdf.

[4] I’m referring more to large corporations, and not the global poor and working class, as the latter groups harm the environment in order to obtain the bare necessities of life. A stark account of how this struggle is manifested can be seen in a recent article in Roads and Kingdoms that describes contemporary fishing villages in South Asia.

[5] And note I wrote the bulk of this BEFORE Trump won the election.

[6] It feels shitty writing things like that. Just to pick one example, there are good, courageous people fighting against DAPL. I really hope they win, but I’m skeptical. Oil and gas companies rarely lose. And even under the Obama administration, the state is decidedly on their side, as it always has been. At best, the pipeline will be moved from Native lands, but it’s still, in all likelihood, getting built.

[7] A brief example from the excellent Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina:

So to embrace a sea ethic we need not idealize or distort the ocean’s creatures. Indeed, up to now our view of the sea’s living inhabitants can hardly be more distorted. Instead, we have the opportunity to see them fully for the first time, as wild animals in their habitats, confronted with needs and dangers, equipped by evolution with the capacity and drive to manage and adapt and survive.

“Such a perspective frees the mind and opens door: to a lifetime of boundless inquiry, to a wealth of enriching insights and reflections, to the chance to be more fully human, to manage and adapt and survive.”

This was after 400 or so pages of some pretty depressing shit. It’s a nice sentiment but frustratingly abstract, though concrete solutions and techniques were dotted throughout the text. That book was written in 1998. Here’s a quote Safina gave to National Geographic this past summer:

Over my lifetime I’ve seen big changes; far fewer fish and terribly deteriorated coral reefs worldwide. More mercury in seafood.”

I should point out that the article does highlight success stories, but the referenced quote speaks volumes, as does another recent article of his with the optimistic title of “As salmon dwindle, whales die.” His comments would obviously be far different if his research and activism resulted in evidence that things have gotten better in the two decades since the publication of the book.

[8] Unless one counts our pre-civilized hunter-gatherer ancestors, whose existence encompassed around 90-99% of our time as a species, and didn’t trash the planet.

[9] It’s possible we’ve already done it once

[10] Endgame, Volume 1:The Problem of Civilization

My atheist story

Lately, due to various personal reasons I haven’t felt like writing about much that requires discerning thought. But writing about my atheist story is easy. Moreover, I have written little about atheism on this blog.

I was raised Catholic and had to attend church every Sunday from birth until around age 17. That included CCD classes once per week in the fall/winter. I fucking hated all of it. I didn’t care for school in general, and church represented more time that I had to be bored out of my skull. Despite this, during my childhood and early adolescence, I recall having a vague acceptance that God was real, and so was the Jesus story. I remember wearing a cross necklace or two because I thought it looked cool. [1] I also wore a WWJD bracelet because it seemed like Jesus was a good dude. This was probably around age 13 or 14.

I was not the type that interrupted church classes with pointed questions and attempts to expose hypocrisy or things that didn’t make sense. No, I paid next to no attention, doing the bare minimum in terms of participation and watching the clock miserably (oh what I would have given for a smart-phone back in those days).

I only recall a few what-the-fuck style memories about religion in my early years:

  1. In 3rd or 4th grade I gave some money during the solicitation portion of mass, thinking that the money would go to the poor. I was informed afterwards that that wasn’t the case; instead, the money went directly to the church. Fuck that, I thought, the church doesn’t need another stupid fountain.
  2. During my freshman year in high school, I made it to state for wrestling. By this point it had been drilled in my head that God was responsible for good things happening, while receiving none of the blame for the bad. For as long as I remember I thought this unfair. Anyways, I was told I should be thankful to God for my success. Fuck that, I thought, I’m the one that did this shit, why should I give credit to God?
  3. What the fuck happened to people who died before Jesus’ time? Or peoples who lived in places free of Christianity and had to wait hundreds of years to receive the means for salvation? Seems kinda shitty, Jesus.
  4. I didn’t get how people decided they could pick and choose what parts to believe/follow from the Bible. It seemed to me that either ALL of it was true and needed to be followed or it was flawed, and thus imperfect and definitely not divinely inspired.

By freshman year of high school, I was already a year or so into my chosen rebellion of punk and hardcore music. It was through this that I was introduced to radical politics and to a lesser extent atheism. The latter was manifested primarily via blasphemous lyrics and imagery. Some of the best were Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Propagandhi, Integrity, Overcast, Converge, Disembodied, Bloodlet and Catharsis. There were also some good Christian punk/hardcore bands in those days (Zao, Slick Shoes, Living Sacrifice, Strongarm): “See mom? This band is Christian so it’s not bad that I listen to this type of music!” Here are some awesome songs:

By junior year I self-identified as agnostic. Despite this, I was still Confirmed. I had skipped classes, finagled my way out of the overnight retreat, and my mom had to convince the priest to do it. Even during this time, I played the sulking teenager, paying no attention and participating only when necessary. In retrospect, it’s too bad I didn’t play the bad-ass punk contrarian. At any rate, I went through with it out of love for my mom, though getting money from the subsequent Confirmation party certainly sweetened the deal.

In 2006 or 2007, I finally decided I was an atheist. Dawkins’ “spectrum of theistic probability” as described in The God Delusion was the pivotal factor and I rather liked this way to categorize belief. On that scale I wholeheartedly identified with the “De facto atheist” definition of “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.” Moreover, the agnostic label never was able to adequately convey my disdain and repudiation of organized religions and their hypothetical deities.

Atheism is a foundational aspect of who I am, though it doesn’t figure too prominently in my day-to-day life. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded socially by other non-believers, as well as respectful believers that don’t give me any shit (#blessed). I enjoy coming to FtB to consume stories from an atheist perspective, and the writers here do a very good job at addressing the insidious, the absurd and the infuriating. It’s so well-covered that I rarely feel I have anything substantive to contribute. Perhaps that will continue, perhaps not.


[1] I was wrong. It was not cool.

 

 

Noam was right

In 2010, Noam Chomsky, last seen in these parts dunking on Sam Harris, predicted the rise of a Donald Trump-like figure. From an interview with Chris Hedges, he says:

The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen…Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

Silly Noam, he was off by one election. Sad!

Our luck has apparently run out. It’s pretty obvious he’s referring to the “telling it like it is” brand of honesty, and charisma is being used in a relativistic manner – I, for one, do NOT find Trump to be charismatic or honest. Qualifying what we’re soon to face as “more dangerous than Germany” is legitimately terrifying, considering the source.

Hedges wrote a piece on Friday which references Chomsky’s prior comments and outlines the fun times he sees in store:

The repression of dissents will soon resemble the repression under past totalitarian regimes. State security will become an invasive and palpable presence. The most benign forms of opposition will be treated as if they are a threat to national security. Many, hoping to avoid the wrath of the state, will become compliant and passive. We, however, must fight back. We must carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as many have done in streets around the country since the election. But we must also be aware that the democratic space allotted to us in our system of inverted totalitarianism has become much, much smaller.”

But sure Kumbaya singing motherfuckers on the left, let’s give him a chance.

Check out this nice fox!

I am the type of person that watches animal videos and immediately melts into a pile of goo. I wasn’t sure if that sort of thing was frowned upon in this corner of the interwebs. But yesterday Caine posted a great video about an elephant with a prosthetic leg, and it has emboldened me.

In these shitty times, I propose that nice animal videos are good.

Via The Dodo:

 

I could probably post something like this every day, but I won’t! Once a week perhaps?

Donald Trump is bad

I’m not good at coming up with good blog titles.

I never really thought Trump would win. Surely there weren’t enough angry, bigoted white voters to outnumber the various other voting blocs. I was eager to marinate in the schadenfreude of his imminent defeat, and then for him and his ilk to fade away into the shadows where they belong. Such innocent times.

One of the reasons I was never able to believe in the God of Christianity is the existence of terrible humans who have good things happen to them. Roughly speaking, the problem of evil has never been satisfactorily addressed by the Abrahamic religions. The Eastern traditions posit the karmic cycle of samsara, which I think is a rather elegant philosophical solution: shitty people will get what’s coming to them in the next life. It’s nice to think of Trump reaping the reward he’s so justly earned in his next life. How about as an insect preyed upon by parasitoid wasps? But alas, only the emptiness of nonexistence awaits us all. Bummer. Maybe he’ll die soon? Like next week? A boy can dream.

Here are some kind of positive things:

  • Trump appears to not be a fan of continuing America’s role as world police. That’s probably good, right? US hegemony has been an abject failure. But really, he’s changed his mind so often and is so thin-skinned, it’s easy to see ISIS goading him into their desired apocalyptic war with the west.
  • Ummm… Hmm. I guess having someone so odious in the White House that has the backing of the House, Senate, and SCOTUS could galvanize opposition of all kinds, from those working within the system, to more radical anti-state/anti-capitalist types (full disclosure, I was a teenage anarchist).
  • That’s all I got. This is a bad list.

In adulthood, I haven’t been able to transition philosophically into the, in my eyes, benign ideologies of liberalism/progressivism. I voted for Hillary, but I did so feeling that performing my “civic duty” made me complicit in a sociopolitical system I think is shit. Historically, America has been irredeemably racist and sexist (in addition to other bigotries), and works best for the wealthy. Profound, heady stuff, I know. If you voted, you played the game and the end result, instead of being merely not great, is catastrophically bad. But that’s our hallowed democracy, right? Incremental progress has been made, but that progress, hated by the now fully de-closeted bigots, is being confronted with vengeance.

This is not to boil this year’s election to the very familiar “lesser of two evils” refrain. Nor is it to focus on my insipidly heart-wrenching complicity in that which I do not condone: Trump is far worse than Hillary. I am a straight, white, cisgender male. And I wish the worst for those among that wide swath of privilege that enabled that waste in human form’s rise to power.

I’ll end with two things from two friends. First:

I am scared for our country, for minorities, and for my family, my kids. My young kids watched the election all night because they were afraid of trump winning. Over the last year, they have been told because they are “brown”, when trump is president they have to leave. (They are 2nd generation American born citizens) My kids do not deserve to live in fear. They deserve better than trump.”

Infuriating and heartbreaking. I’ll never know what that feels like, due to my privilege. Second, from my good friend and proprietor of the fantastic metal label/distro Gilead Media:

I will protect women, people of color, immigrants, those of non binary gender identity, and non Christians, and by force if required. Be ready to do the same. If you see someone being harassed, you must act in some way.

“Those with unjust hate in their hearts think it’s open season on us and the ones we love. But this is when we see the faces of those that would oppress us. They will crawl out of the shadows and reveal their true face. Remember every face.”

“They will crawl out of the shadows and reveal their true face,” indeed. This is a good thing. Add that to list above.

School segregation and the liberal elite

Last night I got around to watching the most recent John Oliver piece on school segregation. As par for the course, it was equal parts funny, informative, and depressing. While it covered ground i was aware of, I didn’t know that the South was far more integrated educationally than NYC. I was also unaware of Malcolm X’s sadly still extremely prescient commentary about the hypocrisy of the Northeast’s liberal elite.

A few weeks back I was on a website that posted about Samantha Bee. In the comments there was a snarky post about how Bee and her husband Jason Jones were full of shit because they opposed a desegregation measure in their local school district. I didn’t give much credence to some random internet commenter and put it out of mind. At any rate, it had nothing to do with the article.

After I watched the segment on John Oliver I decided to head over to the Google to locate the origin of the Bee and Jones story. I found it on Chalkbeat, a website I was unfamiliar with (“Education news. In Context.”):

This week marked the second time in less than a year that parents on the sharply segregated Upper West Side gathered in droves to protest a rezoning plan with the potential to make their schools more diverse.

This round, it was parents from P.S. 452 opposing a plan to move their school into a building 16 blocks south, where it would have more space and a new zone that could potentially include more low-income families. The school’s population is 74 percent white and Asian and 9 percent low-income, in a district that is 43 percent white and Asian and 48 percent poor.”

Bee and Jones were present and oppose the plan:

‘Painting any opposition as classist or racist is as bad as it can get,’ said Jason Jones, the former “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” comedian, near the end of Monday’s nearly three-hour meeting.”

Really Jason? Getting morons to display their various bigotries consists of the vast majority of the Daily Show’s field pieces. And you were great at it! Easily in my top 5 (in no particular order: Bee, Jones, Colbert, Corddry, Williams).

From another parent:

‘Why do we have to fix that issue for the whole district?’ one woman asked…While many said that segregation was a serious problem in the district, they found it unfair that their school should have to shoulder the burden of integration”

Fuck. You. Although, I have to say I like it when people, both on the right and left, fail to couch their opinions within the safe confines of politically correct PR-speech. Let your bigotry and hypocrisy flags fly high, I say! It’s little wonder that, per WNYC, Jones urged his community to “stop talking to the press.” Sage advice.

Aside from Slate, the left-leaning media didn’t really cover the story. For the Slate article, the non-liberal commentariat were predictably delighted. An example:

Samantha Bee is a liberal, right up until she thinks about her children having to go to school with black kids. Then, she turns into Strom Thurmond.”

I wouldn’t go that far. And to be fair, I have no idea if Bee or Jones have done any pieces on school segregation. But it certainly seems like a topic that wouldn’t fall outside their oeuvre.

I wonder where Oliver will send his child in a few years. And I wonder about those whom rapturously share and consume the media of the Daily Show and its spin-offs. Do their progressive beliefs end where their children’s perceived well-being begins? And where do I send my kids to school? Nowhere, because my wife and I are deliberately childless. I’d like to think that we’d be compassionate enough to be on board with integration measures, but who knows? People understandably want what’s best for their kids. But I guess the societal benefits of school desegregation are too abstract for most to endanger their precious offspring possibly *gasp* not getting each and every privilege they’ve “earned.”

Fortunately my wife and I will never have to make any decisions in regard to this topic. I can sit on my high horse and look down on well-to-do liberals who fight tooth and nail to ensure their kids can attend the best schools without the poor fucking everything up. And those kids will grow up, have kids and probably work toward the same end, ad infinitum. Fuck.

DAPL activists kept in dog kennels

Not sure if someone else posted about this already. From the LA Times:

Protesters said that those arrested in the confrontation had numbers written on their arms and were housed in what appeared to be dog kennels, without bedding or furniture. Others said advancing officers sprayed mace and pelted them with rubber bullets.

“It goes back to concentration camp days,” said Mekasi Camp-Horinek, a protest coordinator who said authorities wrote a number on his arm when he was housed in one of the mesh enclosures with his mother, Casey.”

Meanwhile, the State is very proud of their magnanimity:

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kerchmeier said he was coordinating with Standing Rock officials to assist protesters in recovering teepees and other belongings, calling it a “a great example of communication, collaboration and cooperation.”  He added:  “I am very proud of our officers” who “responded with patience and professionalism and showed continuous restraint throughout the entire event.”

This happened in 2016 in America.