Category Archives: Politics

A couple of thoughts on political discourse

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Any data that do not fit the solution or theory we have already clung to are ignored or discarded. Merim Bilalić and Peter McLeod, “Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones” in Scientific American. 

“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King

Persuasion may play a part in a man’s conversion; but only the part of bringing to its full and conscious climax a process which has been maturing in regions where no persuasion can penetrate. A faith is not acquired; it grows like a tree. Its crown points to the sky, its roots grow downward into the past and are nourished by the dark sap of the ancestral hummus. Arthur Koestler, The God That Failed

A couple of days ago – maybe a week depending on how long it takes to write this – an old friend that I haven’t seen anywhere but on facebook asked me, “What is it that concerns you about a lack of dialogue between “liberals” and people who disagree with them? That if they talked to each other more it would change things? I think that until willfully ignorant people start educating themselves about reality, we have to just do the best we can to limit the damage they’re doing.”, and I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know the answer and I’m not sure I still do; still, those are the best questions so I’ll give it a try.

Every one of the following sentences should start with I think, or, In my opinion, so consider that included. The answer to the first question is implied in the second question, as corny as it sounds. Yes, if we did talk to each other, it would change things. But the third sentence highlights the problem; if it is only the other person who is willfully ignorant and needs to start educating themselves before we even have a conversation, then the conversation is probably not going anywhere. If we define the problem as “We are right and they are wrong and the only answer is for the other guy to change”, we have done two things that are sort of contradictory: we say your opinion is worthless, so worthless that you are not worth even listening to, and we give them all the power by saying that we can do nothing to bring change, they are the only ones that can bring change.

Our beloved country has been drifting in the wrong direction for several decades and Trump is a giant leap in that wrong direction. Still, I understand why some people voted for him; what I do not understand is why most of those people would still vote for him and the only way I am going to find out is to listen to them. I have learned a couple of things by listening. One is that different Trump voters have different reasons they voted the way they did, the Trump voter block is not monolithic. Some voted for Trump because they expect they will pay less taxes and they will probably be right. I don’t think that is a good reason, not even a moral one, but it is rational. Some voted for Trump because they think the country is such a mess of vested interests that throwing a grenade in the works is the only way to stop it from getting worse. They might be right, the country might get better under Trump but that is unlikely and there is a real possibility that Trump might make the situation much worse. I’m sure that some people voted for Trump because they are bigots – although I have never talked to anybody who has said they voted for Trump because they don’t like black people or Jews – and lots of people voted for Trump because he isn’t Hillary.

I have no data to prove that listening to the other, honoring that the other has a point of view worth considering, actually works to calm the turbulent waters of conflict, but I do have lots of anecdotal evidence that yelling or mocking the other doesn’t work.

Explain to me why North Korea is an existential problem

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Across 25 years and five administrations, we have kicked the North Korean can down the road. We are now out of road. National Review

The threat, dubbed “the worst problem on earth,” has persisted across U.S. administrations and only grown more alarming over time. Outgoing President Barack Obama warned Trump during the transition that North Korea was the most urgent and vexing problem to confront. NPR

Across the political spectrum, all the news reports on North Korea act as if North Korea is an existential threat to the World and, especially, the United States. I don’t understand it. Nobody seems to have an explanation of why North Korea is such a big threat (I’m guessing somebody must have but if so, I missed it). We are told that Kim Jong-un is crazy and while he does seem to have a crazy haircut, he doesn’t seem to do crazy stuff. Except for the Kim Jong-uh is crazy stuff, nobody explains why North Korea is such a big problem, they just assume that you know, or everybody knows, that it is obvious.

What I do know, or think I know, at least is that North Korea is a country of about 25 million people ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the dictator appointed by and backed by the, then, Soviet Union. North Korea is next to China in the north – and China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and, theoretically, its biggest external influence – and South Korea in the south (duh!). Its people are starving poor and it still has a larger standing army than we do with (although it is considered to be ill-equipped by modern standards). What it does have is a limited nuclear capacity and an increasingly sophisticated ICBM program which North Korea is trying to parlay into an operational nuclear missile fleet – that’s probably the wrong word – capable of hitting anywhere in the United States. The treat of this program has scared the shit out of us going all the way back to the first Bush. The mainstream media have fanned these fears for over twenty-five years alternating between mocking Kim Jong-un – and he does seem easy to mock – and screaming “The sky is falling!” with no explanation of why this is such an existential problem.

What I think, or know I think, at least is that all this hysteria is made up, there is no real danger, North Korea is like a spoiled kid trying to get the world’s attention. Let’s just imagine, for a minute, that North Korea is fabulously successful in their schemes and they have a hundred nuclear-tipped ICBM ready to go. What are they going to do with them? Nothing, the same as Pakistan or Russia (Russia has about 7,300 nuclear warheads, with about 1800 ready to fire, by the way). If they use them on us or South Korea or Japan, the retaliation would annihilate North Korea along with the Kim Jong-un regime. The only thing a nuclear weapon does is prevent an attack. I read that North Korea is irrational to want nuclear weapon, I think it is irrational to not want them, just ask Moammar Kadafi. We have demonized North Korea since Jun 25, 1950, and we do have a record of attacking countries that we demonize. I think what North Korea wants is attention and the Kim Jong-un regime wants recognition as legitimate.

Demonizing North Korea sells newspapers and magazines, it gets people to watch the nightly news, and it gives the American regime in power a useful distraction. It does not contribute to a better world.

A couple of pics from the Angeles Crest Highway with totally unconnected thoughts

Rules-00751I am not a big rule follower. One of the things that really bugs me is being told to do something only because it is the rule rather than being given a reason. But there are rules, conformities really, that just make life smoother; walking on the right side of a path for example or answering a question when you are the one who brought it up. Trump is one of those people that say – by their actions – “It’s my path, I’ll walk on any side I want” or “There might be tapes of my conversation with Comey.” and then, FORTY-ONE days later, says “I was only kidding.”. Everybody thinks that Trump must have had a good – as in real – reason for saying it in the first place, but I’m not sure, I think it is more likely that he is just a dick with no social graces. He is doing it just because he can. If theree is a reason, it is just of seeing how long he can keep people looking at him. He is the kind of guy that never gets invited back after a “get to know you invite”. He is sad…and a dick.

Rules LA-00738

Baldy-00753Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump’ headline in the New York Times

What most pisses me off about the Democratic Establishment is their complete cluelessness about the Nation they say they should be ruling. Until Trump won, they – they being everybody from the New York Times to Hillary Clinton who was already picking out her cabinet – didn’t have any idea that Trump was actually going to win. Sure, the Polls were off, but only the Liberal Polls, some of the Conservative Polls said Trump was going to win but they were dismissed as Fake News. What was really Fake News, it turns out, were the news sources we want to trust. That is also sad.

Bloomberg Businessweek on Trump, “Would You Let This Man Run Your Company?”

Blomberg-01174But in many ways the more appropriate perspective [to judge Trump] is through a  business lens: The immediate issue is whether a boss tried to halt embarrassing revelations about his company; the underlying one is whether he knows how to run it. Bloomberg Businessweek

Several months ago, I got a complimentary copy of Bloomberg Businessweek and really liked it. Several weeks ago, I got one of those cut-rate subscriptions – something like a year for eight bucks – and subscribed. I’m glad I did. This article, in this issue, is especially fascinating. Almost all my usual news sources – except, most of the time, The News Hour on NPR – are slightly to massively hysterical about Trump (although most haven’t sunk to the level of many of my facebook friends who have just given up any pretense of thinking about Trump rationally). So, when The New Yorker has an article on impeachment, say, I have a hard time judging its accuracy.

The Bloomberg article is refreshingly dispassionate. So when Bloomberg says, Behind this list of individual transgressions sit four larger failings: This CEO-in-chief has failed to get things done; he has failed to build a strong team, especially in domestic policy; he hasn’t dealt with conflicts of interest; and his communications is in shambles. it packs a more devastating punch than, say, The New York Times saying the same thing.

Check it out: if you are a Trump fan,  you might find a couple of things that will give you pause and if you think Trump is evil, you might find some things that will give you a more reasonable perspective (as well as getting some good arguments for The Cause).

Portraits and Signs at the March for Science

Portraits-00531The March for Science was not what I expected and yet, somehow it was not surprising. I don’t think I have ever been to a March for something before. I have been to campaign rallies, I’ve been to protests, but never a march for something. In some ways, this didn’t seem to be a March for Science as a March against Anti-science – ahhh, Trump. Although everybody at the March seemed to be having a good time, there was also a lot of anger under the surface. Portraits-00515

Still, there were also lots of pro-science people and a surprising number of young women.

Portraits-00513-2 Portraits-00525Portraits-00520 Portraits-00545

The following are Michele’s images…

March for Science, LA; By Michele Stern
Seen at the March for Science, LA; By Michele Stern
Trump Supporters at the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
Trump Supporters at the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
I was wishing I had a lab coat myself. I thought that was the perfect thing to wear to the March for Science, by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
“If I were 21 I’d vote for Kennedy,” by Michele Stern
The back of his shirt says "I don't care what you believe," by Michele Stern
The back of his shirt says “I don’t care what you believe,” by Michele Stern
At the March for Science in LA, by Michele Stern
Love that Hello Kitty riding a unicorn hat, by Michele Stern
Not everyone at the March for Science in LA, was marching for science. This woman was promoting something to do with the Mexican President and our immigration policies. Given the language barrier, I was not quite sure what or who it was; by Michele Stern
Not everyone at the March for Science in LA, was marching for science. This woman was promoting something to do with the Mexican President and our immigration policies. Given the language barrier, I was not quite sure what or who it was; by Michele Stern

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I ran into the guy above fairly early in the day and it made me realize what is at stake here. Trump may be the poster child for ignoring Global Warming but the list of politicians – who either don’t believe in Global Warming or, if they say they do, are not really doing anything about the problem – is a long one, Sad.