Luck

A gentleman on Reddit– and everywhere else– posted that the New England Patriots, down 21-3 at one point, came back and won, proving that you should never give up, no matter how unlikely your success seems.

Kind of illogical really.  Everyone’s excited precisely because this kind of turnaround is incredibly rare.  It doesn’t actually “prove” you should never give up.  In the normal sense of “proof”, it only proves that there will be anomalies and there is always a dim hope that you will be one of them.  Would you want to make life decisions based on these odds?  I will quit my current job because there is a .4% chance I will get a better one?  I will break up with this lovely girl because there is 1.3% chance I can find a better one, who will also love me?  I will vote for this politician because he will prevent a terrorist attack in my home town, even though there was only ever a .002% chance of that occurring?

Don’t ignore the fact that there is a harm in obsessively following a course of action that has a only a microscopic chance of success.  The most obvious harm is the waste of time spent by someone who has virtually no chance of success.  Think of the hours and hours spent by marginal talents on trying to compete with far more talented athletes for a position on the varsity team.  Imagine all of that time spent enhancing other skills that were far more likely to provide real rewards, like learning a trade, or taking courses, or even reading worthwhile literature, or volunteering at a homeless shelter or a food bank, or at church or school, or your neighborhood.

There is another aspect to this: without the thousands and millions of wannabes, there would be no competitors, no infrastructure, no pool of adversaries that allow the top talents to eventually cash in on a mind boggling scale.  Without all those weaker competitors, there would be no competition, and yet there are almost no real rewards for those weaker competitors.

You get to be used.

 

 

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Losing the Feminist Religion

Here’s a story that makes me cringe and should make a lot progressive-minded people cringe.

Julie Ann Horvath worked at Github, a programming network, from 2012 to 2014.

It is very hard to determine what exactly happened at Github because Horvath’s own comments make no sense.  She claimed that she experienced some kind of awful oppression while working there.

Here’s one of her issues:  another Github employee “asked himself over” to talk and declared that he was romantically interested in her.  When she refused, he “hesitated” to leave.  That, my friends, is now regarded as oppression and harassment and “making me feel uncomfortable” so I ran into the bathroom and I cried.

And now I am suing them.

And it’s not about the money.  Oh no, it’s never about the money.

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Connundrum

This is an interesting legal problem.   Francis Rawls’ employers, the Philadelphia Police Department, had reason to believe he had been frequenting an online service that was known to traffic in child pornography.  They seized his computer and hard drives only to discover that they were encrypted by the Apple OS.  They demanded that Rawls un-encrypt them.  He refused on the grounds of self-incrimination.

There is, of course, a real legal principle that a person cannot be forced to incriminate himself.  The police– in kind of a weird twist– suggested that he type in the password without telling them what it is.  Why?  How is that different?  Because, they say, then he is not “incriminating” himself.  They will do the incrimination when they look at the hard drive.  Telling them the password, they claimed, could be “construed” as the forbidden self-incrimination.

I’m not sure if many people understand how weird this problem is.  President Obama himself thinks the police should simply be able to call Apple and demand that they facilitate access to the hard drives by providing them with an application or a key that will bypass the user’s encryption.   His analogy is a search warrant for a house: the police can look through your underwear drawer.  Why shouldn’t they be able to look through your hard drive?

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: your hard drive is not your underwear.  Your hard drive may contain the contents of your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, your interests, your fears, and even your beliefs.  In a sense, it could be argued, the government thinks that now that there is a way to “read your mind”, they must be allowed to use it.

I’m going to go sideways on the issue for just a second:  I don’t believe you can discount the fact that disclosures by Edward Snowden and others in the past few years have raised serious issues about whether or not the government is itself abiding by its own lawns in terms of accessing private information.  That is not a trivial issues.  Obama says, trust us, we’re law enforcement, we have integrity.  Snowden’s disclosures show that you don’t have the high road, and no, you cannot be trusted.  If you were given the power to access anyone’s private information, you have demonstrated that you will lie and violate the constitution to do it.

Back to the main track:  what if the government and the police started whining about the fact that they don’t have recordings of everyone’s private conversations in their homes that they could access– with a warrant, of course — to try to stop child molesters and drug dealers and terrorists?   In theory, they only look at the recordings when they have good reason to suspect a crime has been committed.

Why don’t they whine about it?  Because the courts have been very, very clear that the police cannot try to obtain such recordings without a warrant.  They can’t just pick out a house and put a recording device in it to see if you are committing a crime.   Why not, they would argue?   If you are not committing a crime, what do you have to fear?  And what if the police say, we will install the recording device but we will never examine the recordings unless we have reason to believe, in the future, that you have committed a crime.

That’s the big difference between a wiretap in the past and what the government is now doing.  In the past, if the police obtained a warrant, they could install listening devices to record any conversations taking place from that moment forward.

What the government now wants is the right to go into your past.

 

 

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What Next, Trump?

There is a tendency to greet the cynical view of the prospects for Donald Trump’s presidency with the comment, “well, nobody thought he would get elected either”.   It is not new information that unlikely things sometimes happen.   Trump might turn out to be a great president.  In four years, we might all be looking back at millions of new, high-paying, union jobs, better and cheaper health care for more people, peace in the Middle East, and our inner cities, and a world that fears and respects America.

Maybe, at that point, Ivanka will run and succeed his father.  It’s unlikely so… it could happen.

I personally think it is far more likely that the Trump presidency will end in chaos and disgrace and the Democrats will recover and run a competitive candidate in 2020.

Here’s why.

Firstly, Donald Trump is so ideologically incoherent and random that he may end up having more conflicts with the Republicans in Congress than with the Democrats.  Trump appears to be a pragmatist with populist attitudes on many issues, while people like Paul Ryan and Mike Pence are hard-core ideologues who wish to ram their programs through regardless of the consequences.  They are hoping to use Trump, the way Cheney and Rumsfeld used George Bush Jr.  But Trump really believes in his own genius and he is unpredictable.   He is also a spendthrift by nature, with delusions of his own competence.  If he really wants a big building program funded by the government, to create some of those high-paying jobs he promised, he may have a fight on his hands.

Are these people clever enough to do what most governments do when they over-promise?  Come up with a plausible counterfeit that costs a lot less, accomplishes nothing, but let’s you claim that you kept your promise?

I would expect that Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee may be a conventional conservative preferred by the Republican establishment, because he promised he would, and because he will be replacing Scalia.  Will the next appointee after that be as conventional?  One of Trump’s closest advisers is his daughter, Ivanka, who appears to have differing views on women’s issues and who may well have an influence on the selection of any possible candidate who might upset Roe vs. Wade (which a second appointee could do) and who might set back women’s rights significantly, like equal pay for equal work, and family leave.  She is also someone who may be more conscious of the impact on the historical record if her father’s administration turns out to be the one that makes a mess of Roe vs. Wade.  (I say “makes a mess of” rather than “ends”, because if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, it does not assert a new law: that will be up to the states, and each state will craft their own response. )

The biggest potential boondoggle is health care.  Trump has made a very, very large point of repealing Obama care, and the hyenas in Congress will gladly proceed to divest 20 million people of their health care insurance.  But will the sane Republican establishment go along?  If they simply repeal Obamacare, they may end up with a very, very large pool of incensed voters in the next election.  (It is clear that many people who voted for Trump don’t believe he’s really going to take away their health care.)  More likely, Republicans in Congress will try to draft something that actually resembles Obamacare, and then maneuver to do something, anything that looks like repeal, so they can claim to have kept their campaign promise (a promise many of their voters probably wish they would forget).

This is not a foolish idea.  After Obamacare was passed, both parties became aware of adjustments that were needed to make the program work properly– not unusual for large pieces of legislation.  But the Republicans– hoping to make it fail– refused to allow any of these changes to be made.   Now they have a chance, and then claim that they invented the program and take credit for it.  The irony is that they did invent the program, as a wholly inadequate and disappointing substitute for a single-payer, universal health-care system.  Obama adopted it thinking some Republicans would support their own idea making it “bipartisan”.

In some election down the road, they will claim that the Democrats will harm the program and only they can be trusted to preserve it: that will complete this cycle of political evolution.

Paul Ryan and his acolytes– who really believe this man is smart because he talks in complete sentences– really want to get rid of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security entirely.  Because America is such a great country that it alone among the developed nations can’t afford such lavish social spending.  But Trump wants to be popular, maybe even as the man who saved Medicare.   And he doesn’t care about debt– it was never a major theme of his campaign.

Here’s another thing: it is clear that many of his cabinet picks and advisers really have no idea of what a conflict of interest is, or don’t really care.  The courts are not controlled by either the Executive or Legislative branches of government.  There will be lawsuits and hearings and investigations and I’m not sure Trump’s appointees in general are smart enough to know when not to give in to temptation.

These are not team-players.  Many of Trump’s appointees will be delighted to see other appointees fail and lose influence.  They might even help.

 

 

 

 

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The Unthreatening Male Lead

I just watched “Silence”, Martin Scorcese’s new film about the horrendous persecution suffered by Roman Catholic converts in Japan in the 17th century.   The artistic success of this film is almost entirely dependent on the slender shoulders of it’s lead, Andrew McCarthy, as Father Rodrigues.  (The story is written by former film critic Jay Cocks and director Martin Scorcese; nothing in it should encourage either of them to dispense with a writer in the future.)

Rodrigues is tormented by his conscience as he becomes aware of the suffering of the Christian converts on his behalf (they are hiding him), and because of the faith his church has taught them.  Some of them die excruciating deaths rather than betray him.  Others do betray him.  He himself endures terrible trials which lead him to profound questions about his faith, his God, and his own morality.

I find it hard to believe that Scorcese really wants Andrew McCarthy as the star of this film, any more than I believed he wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead in “The Departed” or “The Aviator”.   Andrew McCarthy is there for a reason and anyone who understands Hollywood knows what it is.  If you are an ambitious director like Scorcese and you want the kind of budget that affords you monumental and expensive location shoots and effects and costumes and extras– you need to assure your investors that your film will make money.  And to do that, you need a bankable star, no matter how unsuitable, to play the lead in your film.  If Andrew McCarthy, or Leonardo DiCaprio, or Toby McGuire has agreed to star in your film, a studio will guarantee you tens of millions of dollars.

For some bizarre reason, the sexually unthreatening male child actor has become the box-office dominatrix of Hollywood.  Tom Hanks, Leonard DiCaprio, Andrew McCarthy, Tobey McGuire, and others convey boyish charm and callow manners and have huge appeal for a segment of the movie-going public. Their most distinctive quality is their de-sexualized boyishness.  When Kate Winslet makes out with Leonardo in “Titanic”, it reminded me of an older sister teaching her little step-brother how to French kiss.  Creepy and antiseptic.  It was impossible to imagine Jack going any further than sketching.  It was impossible to imagine that he knew what further was.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the popularity of these boy-men figures is largely to do with the female movie-going public.  Movies are filled with intimate scenes of interactions between women and men.  These scenes are comfortable for women to watch as long as they don’t contain a hint of genuine sexuality.  The unconscious ideal of this audience is warm, safe cuddle in a comfy bed, with a puppy of “man” who adores you and is inexorably compliant with your wishes.  They will fetch you an aspirin tablet and sit on the couch and watch Oprah and Ellen and Dr. Oz with you.  Just as they are comfortable with a black man who looks as innocuous as Will Smith or Denzel Washington, or as funny as Eddie Murphy.

An actor like Heath Ledger, Michael Fassbender or Christian Bale, on the other hand, would scare you, because you know he isn’t going to stop with the snuggle and he isn’t going to be compliant. Scorcese may have learned his lessons from “The Last Temptation of Christ”, which starred Willem DeFoe– a real actor without the boy-man appeal– and for which he was unable to raise the money required for crowd scenes, which he staged with trickery instead, and which were embarrassing to watch.

The role of Rodrigues calls out for an actor with genuine talent.  The two essential characteristics of Rodrigues that are missing in McCarthy are these:  firstly, a 17th century Portuguese priest would have been a powerful man with considerable status in his community and extraordinary confidence in his training and convictions.  He doesn’t say “our religion thinks” this or that, as if some other religion might have a valid viewpoint.  He knows.  This is the way it is; God commanded it and I am the conduit of his grace and power.  You people are all going to burn in hell if you don’t acknowledge the intercessory role of the church, and it’s priests, in your lives.  We bring God to you.  Without us, you are condemned to eternal perdition.  When you sacrifice your freedom and your worldly goods and even your lives on behalf of the church, you are doing God’s work.  McCarthy makes it feel like his trying to get you to join his boys club. Eventually, of course, Rodrigues does begin to have doubts about this transaction.  But you can’t tell us the dramatic story of the rise of those doubts without first establishing the miraculous certitude and arrogance of 17th century Jesuit missionaries.  Or there is no drama.

Secondly, early on in “Silence”, Rodrigues is anguished over the suffering and sacrifices made by the Japanese believers on his behalf.  But he questions himself in an anachronistic, 20th century way, with an implied 20th century belief in the fundamental equality of man.  The 17th century Jesuit believed that the glories of eternal salvation far outshone the comparatively brief agonies of their persecution.  Martyrdom is glorious!  Your reward is beyond measure.  Rodrigues never alludes to this belief.  Fair enough if Scorcese is trying to suggest that he never believed it– but he doesn’t suggest it.  He just dumps Rodrigues into the middle of this circumstance and has him react with a modern sensibility.  Although, one often senses McCarthy, the inept actor, possibly creating his own lines (some of them are that bad!) and gestures to attempt it.

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Our Town Hillsdale College

Hillsdale College

I adore the play “Our Town” by Thorton Wilder.  It’s brilliant, imaginative, and heart-rending.  But if the citizens of “Our Town” had a college it would be Hillsdale, and it would be quaint and precious and adorable and white and privileged and impossible.

If you look closely at Hillsdale and find yourself strangely attracted to it, don’t fight it.  It’s a beautiful world that could function quite well in the kind of social and economic conditions of early 20th century small-town North-Eastern United States.  Prosperous, homogeneous, safe, with an astonishing degree of social equality.  The richest person in Hillsdale would have been a doctor, with a large house, and maybe a stable.  And the poorest drunk in Hillsdale would still have been kindly cared for by a few of the citizens who would want to make sure that, no matter how little he deserved it, he didn’t end up too badly off, or frozen to death in a ditch some January morning.  Maybe, as in the Andy Griffith Show, he’d be invited to sleep it off in jail one or two nights a week.

In this world, we all do our share.  All of the able-bodied do their tasks, the women in the home, the men in the fields and offices and factories.  And it works, because that man earns enough to support an entire family– all by himself!  The teachers– those guys are pretty smart, so we teach our children to respect them.  And we respect them.

In this era of American history, city government sometimes took over utilities to ensure that private gain did not come at the expense of public good.  Boston took over their public transit; many cities built their own hydro stations.  Nobody worried about whether or not it was “socialism”: it was just good common sense.

And an executive who paid himself more than 200 times what his average employee earned?  Never!  He’d hear no end of it from the church ladies.

It’s a wonderful world.  From each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs.  And if you could take his group of people, all of the residents of this town, and transplant them all to a planet where they could live in isolation from the rest of the needy, greedy, violent world–and keep them from producing too many offspring–they would all live happily ever after.

And Hillsdale would happily produce all their pastors and doctors and teachers.

Lest you begin to think this is about race, consider this: any community around the world, given the prosperity and space and safety of early 19th century North-Eastern United States and Canada, would probably do as well.  Given adequate space and food and supplies and wood and water and wildlife– we all would do pretty well, and we are all relatively peaceful and humble.

But take away all their property and force them all to take menial jobs and live in wretched poverty for a generation or two, and see what you get instead.

So what does happen when large numbers of people begin competing for a diminishing portion of these things?  Conflict, crime, violence.  War, of course.  Hillsdale won’t produce the kind of leaders who can avoid it because their entire culture only works when there is more than enough for all of us.  In conflict, Hillsdale can’t just assert that our culture is better than your culture; it must dominate.

Hillsdale is a quaint little gated-community of a college that has wonders and magic for all of its residents, and no relevance for the real world.

 

 

 

 

 

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I Will Be Like Your Husband

If you have young children in the house, keep them away from the computer: the following details may disturb them and cause them to have traumatic stress disorder, some day.

On November 17, 2015 a Discipline Committee panel of the Ontario College of Teachers held a solemn meeting to discuss an onerous offense by one of their own.

Mr. George Bohdan Kolos (OCT since May 1976), represented by Legal Counsel, was charged with the following serious offenses.

Noticing that the tag on a shirt worn by a female staff member was outside of the shirt, he tucked it in.

Another time, he offered a colleague some chocolate.

 She said, “no thanks– I’m good”.  He said, “oh, I know you are good”.

For penalty and repentance, Mr. Kolos was slapped with a very, very stern reprimand.  This is after the School Board, after it’s own investigation, suspended him for one day, and then transferred him to a different school.

This kind of poisonous mind-set must be rooted out, of course.  Mr. Kolos was also instructed to take a course– at his own expense!– on “boundaries and boundary violation issues”.

Your children may now re-enter the room.

What do you mean that these incidents do not sound all that serious?  Did you know what he said, as he tucked the clothing tag back in?  He said, “I will be like your husband and tuck your tag in”!  The cad!

You may think I’m being sarcastic.  I assure you I am.  I can assure you that there is also some feminist-consultant-psychologist-herbal-vegetarian-puritanical-zealot who will be paid a small fortune to run the course on “boundaries and boundary violation issues” to repair Mr. Kolos’ mind.   And Mr. Kolos– if he ever wants to teach again– would be wise to nod sportingly and purse his lips and gaze in awe at the splendor of her wisdom and good judgement and the majestic edifice of her imperial sanctimony.  Or else.

Mr. Kolos retired June 30, 2014, after teaching for 38 “unblemished” years (according to the Disciplinary Committee’s own report).  Nevertheless, no sexist offense is too small or insignificant for the tiny minds of the Ontario College of Teachers to consider them to have a “negative impact on the work environment”.

No one, indeed, should have to tell someone who has been teaching — without blemish– for almost 40 years– “I don’t enjoy it when you say things that are so mildly provocative that one can barely discern the provocation”.   Mr. Kolos should have known it.

Okay.  I know some of my loyal readers– perhaps both of them– are thinking, “there must have been more to it than that”.  That is not likely since the report on the offense is far more likely to enumerate only the most serious particulars.   The report (in Professionally Speaking – The Magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers, September 2016) does make mention of the fact that he committed other similar offenses.  His conduct was “serious, repeated and directed at numerous colleagues”.   I believe it is very safe to assume that the two incidents described would not be the least serious but, likely, typical, or among the most serious.

Incidentally, these disciplinary reports in Professionally Speaking, make fascinating reading.  I was surprised by the number of female teachers who were charged with “inappropriate” contact with male students.

 

 

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Tragically Vague

I should like the Tragically Hip.  They are Canadian– though that’s really not relevant to me in that regard.  They are fairly authentic: no factory beat, no synthesis.  They are honest and hardworking and true and they ignored the temptations of American pop stardom and stayed here.  They actually refer to Canadian things in their songs: hockey and Newfoundland and the CBC.  The band itself is musically decent– far better than, for example, than Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s awful backup band for several albums.  They can crack a beat. I respect them.  But I’m not a fan.  I tried.  I loaded up four of their albums on my music player and listened to them on my walk.  It only reminded me of why I never cared enough about them to have a collection of their albums.  It’s their lyrics, mainly.  Here’s a sample, picked at random:

I’ll be short and brief And to the point
The fighting has resumed
In that tone of voice
The plague is exhumed
He said “What I’m going through
Is essentially all true
Made no less amazing
By the fact that it’s see through”

And here’s another:

You triumphed over will
You had immunity to kill
You had your dreams fulfilled
And I love you still
But there's a power beyond control
There's a fire in the hole
Ah the nights are getting cold
All your secrets will be told
Turn your lanterns low

As long as you can dig up proof
As cold as water through the roof
Brutal as depicted truth
That kid's a fuckin' goof
Turn your lanterns low
But there's a power beyond control
There's a fire in the hole
Yeah the nights are getting cold
All his secrets will be told
Turn your lanterns low
Alright

What’s it about?  The Hip’s lyrics, mostly by Gord Downie, are allegedly “poetic”.   But the artist they remind me the most of is not Dylan, or Lightfoot, or Cohen– not by the wildest stretch of the imagination– but more like those pretenders, Mumford and Sons.  Downie’s lyrics are not really about any particular idea or emotion or situation or insight or perception.  They are not.  They have no particularity to them at all: they are snatched out of the air, fragments of isolated half-baked disconnected images without any weight or adherence.  “There’s a fire in the hole/Yeah the nights are getting cold”?  Wait a minute– are you suggesting something about heat and light here, or something about a cold winter night.  Maybe the next line will tell us: “All his secrets will be told”.  Whose secrets?  In the cold or in the hole with the fire in it?  “Turn your lanterns low”.  Why?  Who doesn’t want the secrets to get out?

Read the rest of the lyrics in vain for enlightenment: they are random images with no overall cohesion or purpose.  The Tragically Hip’s lyrics suck. Tell me what this means:

yeah that's awful close
but that's not why
I'm so hard done by

It was true cinema a clef
you should see it before there's nothing left
in an epic too small to be tragic
you'll have to wait a minute
cause it's an instamatic

Not only are Downie’s lyrics disappointing to me.  I think they are just about the worst lyrics of any major band I can think of.  Even Mumford and Son’s sound more coherent, with their ridiculous…

‘Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

Now, I don’t object to the idea of discordant or absurd images or sequences of images, but I do object to random images that have just one connection to any over-all artistic entity: that they happen to be sung in sequence.

I suspect that some of these writers have heard Dylan songs that struck them as random sequences of jarring images and ideas.  They are seriously mistaken.  Dylan is always either telling a story or commenting on the world in parody and creating a set of images that tell you something about the players in the story, or the narrator, or the object of desire, or whatever he’s thinking about:

They are selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tightrope walker
The other is in his pants.

Above all,  Dylan’s images are almost always striking, funny, and memorable.  Downie’s are not: “Hairbird plucks a hair from a sleeping dog/To build her nest, she said I’ve looked around and I like your hair best”.  These lines really are incredibly lame and incomprehensible– not because they are difficult to understand, but because they really don’t hold anything to be understood.   They really don’t belong to an idea or an impression or a narrative or even an emotion.

Does Downie believe there really is a deeper meaning to his lyrics?  Quite probably.  I would guess that Downie would not see a whole lot of difference between the quality of his lyrics and some of Dylan’s.

The mistake here is not unusual.  Some great poetry is allusive and obscure, but not everything that is allusive and obscure is poetry.

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Emasculating Spock

One of the most unique, fresh, and compelling characters ever created in science fiction television or movies is Mr. Spock.  Mr. Spock was an alien whose planet had joined the Federation, thus making him eligible to serve in Star Fleet.  He was the “science officer” on the Enterprise.

Think about that: “science” officer.  Think about that when you hear someone mock the idea of “global warming” and “climate change” and vaccinations.  You can’t believe that crap, they’ll tell you.  Why?  They don’t know.  They just feel it, because Donald Trump and Exxon and Fox News tells them it’s a hoax and they just feel that they’re right.  They are going by their emotions.

Spock rationally analyzed the facts of any given situation, calculated the odds of success when necessary, and made a decision based on the best information available.

But even the original Star Trek couldn’t quite bear to not pull their punches.  If Captain Kirk was in the shuttle caught in some meteor storm or something and the only way to rescue him was by risking the lives of 400 crew members even though the odds of success were ridiculously small– Spock would do it.  Spock would do it not because it made sense on any level, but because everyone wants to have sex with a virgin.

You heard me right.  Spock is the virgin of Star Trek.  Over the years, he has become the most admired character in the original series because of his amazing intelligence, rationality, and integrity.  What is the first thing we want to do to a character like that?  Yes, we do.  Spock is Hans Blix.  He’s Al Gore.  He’s Jimmy Carter.  In real life, we hate them all.  Because they tell us what we don’t want to hear.  And they are right.

But in fiction, we can fantasize that the elusive, rational, respected Spock loves us.  That the one character whose judgement is not self-serving or petty or biased, loves us.

In the whorehouse of American television, occupied almost exclusively by whores, we had one virgin: Spock.  And the more virginal he was, the more people want to take that virginity, the one thing that makes him unique as a character, and thus more desirable, more elusive, more of an affront to their own thinking: I want to be like an admired character.  But I can’t.  So, instead, I want the admired character to be like me: throw facts and information out the window and go with your fucking intuition, no matter how absurd.

So, astonishingly, in a recent installment of the Star Trek franchise, the old Spock actually advises the young Spock to “go with your feelings”.  WTF!  What idiot came up with that idea?  J. J. Abrams?  And the idiots who always felt a little threatened by the judgement of a rational person can jump up and hoot and holler and shout, “See!  See!  Even Spock knows that it’s okay if I do something stupid because it just felt right!”

Aside from some other stupid plot developments– why, oh why, does Kirk– the captain, for heaven’s sake– have to be the one to climb into the engine chambers to restore some kind of energy spout thereby almost dying in the process?  This is stupid.  A child thinks it’s heroic: his favorite character is the bravest and suffers the most!  But if a military commander did that in real life, every smart person would be appalled:  all of our leaders are dead because they wanted to be the most courageous?  You are a fool.

What infuriates me about this is the same thing that infuriates me when a bunch of yahoos driving ATVs and motorcycles and off-road vehicles beg the government to give them some areas of wilderness where they can be allowed to destroy and despoil and strip bare everything with impunity and then, demand that the one area set aside for people who just want to enjoy nature, be given to them as well.  It’s so unfair: why should hikers and photographers and painters be allowed to enjoy that view, but not us on our dirt bikes, or us hunters with our guns?  And look at the beautiful, unspoiled wilderness area!  Exactly where we want to rip the hills and dump our beer cans!

All of us who love science and facts and rationality only had the one character: Spock, who represented those ideals in science fiction.  There was one virgin, and all the sluts are determined to prove that he is just as corruptible as the rest of us.  He must be destroyed.  He must be discredited.  Even Spock must acknowledge that it is more important to go with your feelings, no matter how illogical or stupid.

I dream of this scene: Captain Kirk is in the space shuttle again, and once again, he is in peril, due to some ridiculous astral threat: aliens, meteors, plasma storms, Klingons, whatever– and the only way to rescue him is for some maneuver that would imperil the Enterprise and all of its crew.  Scotty and Bones are begging Spock: you must save the captain!  He’s your friend!  You must be loyal and true!  And Spock says, “that would be irrational.  Among the senior officers here, the Captain is actually quite replaceable– the odds of finding a suitable replacement are quite good.   But the odds of losing the entire ship and all of the crew is extremely high.  I will not do it.”  And what should happen next: Kirk heroically– if he really is all that heroic– tells Scotty and Bones, “he’s right”.  Then we can have that fond emotional farewell and Kirk should die and Star Trek should introduce a new, interesting, original character who will become the next captain.

This is something “Game of Thrones” got mostly right, though they are now (Season 6) in danger of abrogating that most distinctive virtue: Snow wasn’t really dead.  It will be a great pity if they now begin to confer that tasteless shell of invincibility on their most bankable stars– like every other TV series (except the illustrious, the greatest of all,  “The Wire”.

Oh wonderful– so now whenever a major character is threatened we can relax.  He’s not going to die.

 

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The Expression on Sanders’ Face

I watched Hillary Clinton give the biggest speech of her life tonight, on the final day of the Democratic Convention.   I am stunned that all the talent in Ms. Clinton’s campaign staff could not persuade her to give even a moderately good speech.  It was dull, predictable, and unbelievable.  In a year in which voters seem to crave a politics that feels fresh and authentic and daring, she sounded like one of those bombastic, old-school politicians glibly promising everything on the platform knowing full well that the whole point is to get elected and then do whatever you want.

Occasionally, the cameras showed us Bernie Sanders’ face.  I was fascinated by it.  I have no idea what he was thinking but I know what I would have been thinking.  I would have been thinking, “she has co-opted my movement and she’s not going to enact any of those policies I managed to wrangle into the platform”.  Philadelphia was already infested with the big donors and special interest groups, bankers, pharmaceutical executives, lobbyists, that Bernie was fighting against.  He had that look: the system won again.  It is rigged.

Some of the lobbyists were already at the Clintons’ side, sitting in their exclusive box at the– get this– Wells Fargo Center.

She is not going to do any of the things Bernie Sanders campaigned for.   She is going to start another war or escalate the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She’s going to step into the quagmire that awaits her in Syria.  She’s not going to be able to pass the free tuition legislation even if she did really believe in it.  She’s going to make marginal improvements in some social programs in exchange for the usual sell-out of tax bites, exemptions, military increases, education programs that cost nothing and accomplish nothing, and symbolic gestures.

If Obama found Congress hard to work with, I don’t imagine Clinton will find it any more cooperative.  She may have an advantage though.  It is conceivable that Trump will lose so badly and take so many Republicans down with him that she may have more of a mandate, and more cooperation from a Democratic majority than Obama has had in the last two years.  And Clinton has demonstrated a greater ability to negotiate with Republicans than Obama has.  She might be able to peel off a few votes here and there.

And she will likely be able to appoint two or maybe three new Supreme Court Justices.  And perhaps she’ll follow the Republican template and appoint them young, and thereby influence the direction of the court for decades.

She will be immeasurably better than the alternative but still, that sad expression on Sanders’ face, is the look of recognition: the system is rigged.

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