Saturday, October 6, 2018

Trump, Kavanaugh, and Justice: A Minor Musing

Sometime today, the Senate will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a justice on the United States Supreme Court. His self-righteous outburst last week should have disqualified him because it demonstrated his lack of judicious restraint and sense of entitlement.  All Supreme Court justices ought to be judicious and restrained when their every word affects the course of history. No one should be entitled to a lifetime appointment. Apparently, a Wall Street Journal apology covers multitude of sins.

In the past few days, Donald Trump has taken to mocking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her decades ago. He has also mocked former Senator Al Franken for resigning from the United States Senate when Franken was accused of sexual impropriety.

It's impossible to know what cases will come before the Supreme Court two, five, or ten years from now. Three certainties exist, however. First, Republicans may have had cause to accuse the Democrats of falling prey to relativism and postmodernism over the past twenty or thirty years, but the events of the Kavanaugh hearings and the aftermath show Republicans, like all postmodernists, returning to the Sophists and giving full throat to relativistic arguments. The idea that justice is the rendering of due is no longer an operative principle for Republicans or this allegedly conservative court. Both are acting and will continue to act on Thrasymacus's argument that justice is "nothing else than the interest of the stronger." Only those with wealth and connections need seek relief in the courts or the legislatures.

Second, Trumpists will continue to confuse bellicosity with strength. President George H.W. Bush sought "a kinder, gentler nation." President Abraham Lincoln believed Americans would be governed "by the better angels of our nature." Trump throws tantrums and urges his base to throw them as well. Kavanaugh's contempt and anger was nothing but a tantrum without profanity. The fact that the tactic was successful presages more of the same

Third, public discourse will resemble Flint's water supply for the foreseeable future. Democrats are enraged at how Republicans treated Dr. Ford. Republicans are enraged at how Democrats treated Kavanaugh. Even if senators from both parties are merely posturing for the cameras and their respective bases, the rhetoric has reached a level where comity and reasoned political debate have become impossible at the national level.

Throughout the entire 2016 election season and on a weekly basis since, I have thought about the first stanza of Yeats's "The Second Coming." The following lines capture the current cultural climate:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats concluded by wondering
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, 
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Whatever curiosity I may have had about the answer to that question has given way to dread.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sound, Fury, And The Signifying Of Nothing

I had seriously considered voting for Dusty Johnson. People I deeply respect support him. Further, in the 2018 primary he did not appear to be a Trump sycophant.

Recently, Johnson seems to have lost his ability to exercise any sort of judgement and has veered toward being a Trump cultist. Johnson asserts that Trump came to Sioux Falls and seemed "well-versed . . . in the nuances of the issues." (HT Dakota Free Press)

Yeah, about that. Last night, Daniel Dale tweeted this image of a partial transcript of Trump's remarks in Sioux Falls.

Click to enlarge. No amount of enlarging will enable one to see nuance

Asserting that China and India are big doesn't reflect nuance. Neither does asserting that Japan and India "called." Conflating the size of a country's population with the size of it's economy is hardly nuanced analysis.

By far my favorite part of this "nuanced" analysis is Trump's view of the miraculous.
What's happened has been very much a miracle, but they haven't seen the miracle yet. The miracle is going to start , because now we're getting things ready.
So, there's a miracle that "has happened" but no one "has seen the miracle yet" because it "is going to start." That language may work for a cult leader but let's not call it nuanced.

We've all heard the silly question "If a tree falls in the forest, but there's no one who hears it, does it make any noise?" With Trump, one can adapt the question about noise to a statement: When Trump talks about miracles that have happened but are going to start, one can be certain it's only noise. In fact, one can adapt a famous Shakespearean quotation to all of Trump's utterances: they are "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Some Minor Musings About 2018 Election Season

It's been a bit since I posted. There are a couple of reasons. First, in July I transitioned from full time to retired. I am currently transitioning from retired to part time. I hope to get a regular schedule going again soon. Second, I have been musing a lot about the 2018 election season and have come to a couple of conclusions.

The musings began with this Tom Nichols tweet.
The Republicans are acting like a parliamentary party. So you have to vote as though they are a parliamentary party, by voting against the party to get rid of the leadership.
I have long blamed Newt Gingrich for moving the United States Congress in the direction of a parliament when he introduced his Contract With/On/For America campaign in the 1990s. Treating congress and the president like a parliament and prime minister distorts the American system that was designed to avoid factions and divide powers among the branches. Nichols makes the point in a September 4 Washington Post column:

. . . one of the great virtues of the American system of separated powers is that voters, usually, can ignore party affiliation if they feel a candidate is worth their support. Our model forces the legislative and executive branches to seek separate mandates from the electorate. In our system, voters can separate the party from its leader. They can split their tickets regionally, nationally and by party. They can even vote for divided government, and choose to place the executive and legislative power in opposing hands.

In the Post column, Nichols doubles down on his premise that the only way to cure the distortion that the Republican Cult of Trump has caused is to vote for the opposition as one does in a parliamentary system. As a ticket splitter of long standing, I am generally skeptical of the "break it worse in order to fix it" method, but I see few other avenues to reining in megalomaniac who has more in common with a Mafioso than he does with being a President of the United States. I will likely be voting straight Democrat in November.

The qualification "likely" comes from another series of musings about the changes that digital technology has caused. These widespread changes alter not only the ways in which people work and communicate; they also change how people view their neighborhoods and the wider world. More importantly, if my former students are any indication, the technologies change how people think.

Quite frankly, I am not certain that anyone older than I am can understand how to successfully navigate the world digital has created. Posting pictures on one's grandkids on Facebook or ranting on Twitter does not necessarily indicate the ability to navigate that world. It merely indicates that users have learned how to use an app and fooled themselves into believing they are able to keep up with the younger folk.

The belief that older folk may not be able to deal with results digital technology has produced has led me to conclude that I cannot vote for folks older than I am. In fact, I may not vote for anyone older than 55.

Finally, the United States's political season traditionally begins with the Labor Day weekend. Although Republicans have an edge among South Dakota's humans who vote, bovines seem rather displeased with Republican attorney general candidate Jason Ravnsborg. While travelling home from a visit to my mother, my wife and I witnessed a black bovine of unknown gender destroying one of his campaign signs in a pasture bordering I-90. That beast expressed more political certainty than I feel about the choices I will be forced to make in November

Sunday, August 19, 2018

If We Can't Fix Stupid, Are We Permanently Broken?

All should be well. It's Sunday morning; the cats have been fed, and coffee is being consumed. This John R. Schindler article entitled "‘Idiocracy’ Come True: Even Pentagon Says Morons Are Inheriting the Earth", however, has been sticking in my craw for a couple of days.

Schindler points to the Dunning-Kruger effect as a cause for the nation's declining intellect.
Over the last dozen years, evidence has mounted that Judge’s argument was grounded in a painful degree of reality. The dumb do seem to be inheriting the earth with distressing frequency of late. President Trump himself seems like a near-parody of psychology’s Dunning-Kruger effect, which in lay terms is dumb people thinking they are smarter than they actually are. Indeed, Trumpism itself may be a collective manifestation of Dunning-Kruger in action, with masses intentionally, gleefully spurning the counsel of experts.
While Trumpism may be a defining symptom of the decline into "idiocracy, the article's troubling conclusion points out that no part of the political spectrum is offering a solution.
But there’s a bigger issue here, namely that Idiocracy exposed a problem which needs public discussion, but which neither the Right nor the Left want a serious discussion of. All we can say for certain is that America is, in fact, getting dumber, and the future belongs to those who show up for it.
As troubling as the conclusion is, Schindler may be understating the near term consequences. First, stupidity exacerbates political and cultural divisions. No one should be debating whether social media platforms are mistreating Alex Jones because Jones should not have an audience unless he marketed himself as a irony challenged comedian who spouted illogical conspiracy rants and hyperbolic fear mongering with full knowledge that his audience knows his bleating is, to use Joe Biden's terminology, malarkey.

Jones is but the tip of the iceberg. Even if the United States had not descended into idiocracy, Russia and other hostile powers would likely have attempted to weaponize social media to deepen red/blue, urban/rural, economic, and racial divides. They would have been far less successful.

Closer to home, Kristi Noem won her 2012 race against Matt Varilek by painting him as an overeducated person who left the state, received an education, and lost touch with "real" South Dakotans. As a reminder,
Varilek has a master’s degree in environment and development from the University of Cambridge, England, where he was funded by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has a master’s degree in economic development from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he was funded by the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship established by Rotary International. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn....
In short, Noem played the "idiocracy" card and voters rewarded her.

I would like to forget that South Dakota's Constitution Party's respective dueling factions were led by a person who wonders if robotic bees are corporate threat to the food supply and a person who is an anti-vaxxer who believes jet contrails prove Americans are being sprayed by chemicals, experts' refutation be damned

I was a young'un during the height of the Cold War;  my father would tell me "the Russians are going to take over without firing a shot." Fifty years later, no one has to take over anything or worry about who's shooting at whom. Americans are on the verge of making themselves too stupid to matter.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Minor Musing On Governor Daugaard's Declaration Of Christian Heritage Week

Dakota Free Press points to Governor Daugaard's declaration of Christian Heritage Week. I have no problem with Christian Heritage Week as a principle, probably because today is National Relaxation Day. Also, the week doesn't conflict with Fountain Pen Day which is observed on November 2

That said, the proclamation's list of faith practitioners is heavily male and protestant. It includes only one woman, Abigail Adams. It contains no African Americans or Native Americans. One would hope that a religion predicated on the belief that ". . . God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" would not be practiced mostly by males of European descent.

There are a few other oddities. Given that Native Americans are approximately 10% of the South Dakota's population, including Andrew Jackson on the list seems particularly tone deaf. Jackson's treatment of Native Americans was nothing short of barbaric.

This is apparently the 24th celebration of the Christian Heritage Week. It might be time to add people from the 1970s and 1980s to the list of names. As it stands now, the last notable practicing Christians held office in the 1950s.

On a more entertaining note, including Harry S. Truman, a man well known for using salty language is a refreshing reminder that Christians retain their foibles. Dwight Eisenhower may well be my favorite member of this list. When a pastor began bragging that Eisenhower was a member of his church, the President told his press secretary, "You go tell that goddamn minister that if he gives out one more story about my religious faith I won't join his goddamn church."

That sentiment might be the best summation of the United States's combination of Christianity and individualism, but I doubt it's what Governor Daugaard was thinking of when he signed the proclamation.

Stolen from Dakota Free Press because downloading is faster than screenshoting

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Post-Truth America: A Minor Musing

Today's Argus Leader reports that several Sioux Falls residents have found plastic bags containing candy and a Klu Klux Klan recruitment flier. This tactic seems similar to one the Klan is apparently using in upstate New York. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists only one Klan group in South Dakota, the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan which is headquartered in Custer.

There was a time when I thought the best way to deal with groups like the Klan was to treat them like this tuba player treated some neo Nazis a few years back. Since then however, a man fired a gun inside a pizza restaurant because he was investigating whether the pizzeria was "the home of a Satanic child sex abuse ring involving top Democrats such as Hillary Clinton." Earlier this summer a man blocked  traffic on Hoover Dam demanding the release of a report that had already been released. His focus seems to have been Hillary Clinton's email server.

Meanwhile, the Holy fire  burning in California was allegedly set by Forrest Clark, Clark seems to share multiple versions of the truth that diverge from reality. This JJ MacNab tweetstorm gives the particulars, but the short version should suffice:
Based on his social media pages, Clark is a sovereign citizen who believes in just about every kooky conspiracy out there, including QAnon, Pizzagate, Jade Helm 15, flat earth theories, NESARA, Jesuit conservancies, shape-shifting lizard overlords. You name it, he believes it
It may be a long jump from candy on the end of the driveway to arson'', but the Klan denies the truth that all are created equal. If one denies what is essentially the nation's core creed because of some allegedly hidden, arcane knowledge it becomes easy to believe a high level official calling himself Q is using 4chan to send messages about an impending political storm that will destroy the "deep state," that the nation's elites use a public pizza parlor to perform Satanic rituals and abuse children, or that the American Republic ended in the 1870s.

The term post-truth seems frequently applied to Donald Trump who has as of this writing said 2291 false things as President. Philosopher Simon Blackburn contends that the phrase post-truth may be problematic because no one doubts that bus in bearing down him or her. Blackburn does, however, admit a danger in the political and realm:

It’s a bit like conspiracy theorists, who actually thrive on the fact that all the evidence points against their theory, because that just shows that the establishment is clever enough to conceal what’s really going on. People get attached to certain ideas and nothing will shake them. And when convictions start to live in opposition to reason or truth, that’s a very dangerous thing.

He offers a solution that may work at an individual level:

. . . I’m very cautious in matters of truth. If there is no evidence for a belief and lots of evidence against it, it should not matter what you would like to be true or hope or wish to be true. Follow the probabilities and put up with the inconvenience.

That’s an academic or a scholar speaking, but it has always been the only hope for human progress.

But Blackburn also tempers that optimism:

Of course, people are good at shirking the facts and threatening and bullying anyone who challenges them; this has always been the case. But I believe that all decent people eventually reject this kind of behavior, and want to see liars held responsible for their lies. 

I can’t say whether or not this will happen ... but I sure hope it does.

I too hope will happen, but I have more dread than hope. Too many are claiming a special truth that only they or their confederates can share, and too many are unwilling to look at the evidence that conflicts with their worldview. I hope we won't see more candy mixed with Klan fliers but I fear we're just seeing constitutes the beginning a long battle with dangerous lies.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Plains Pops: Potpourri Edition #101*

The following are brief points that don't seem to deserve a full post, but the subject seems worthy of mention.

The Constitution Party of South Dakota: They're doing nearly everything wrong. It's not just the dueling factions that can't seem to decide who's in charge or who should run a state convention. The idea that people who have lost statewide elections or legislative races can somehow come together to challenge the Republican monopoly from the right is ludicrous.

I know some CPSD members, if not all, are Bible believing folks but none look like the Old Testament's Gideon. He routed a few thousand with 300; no one is going to rout 200,000 Republicans with 500, no matter how hard one blows on the party favors or how many flashlights with a strobe function one has. Put some folks on county commissions. Win some legislative races. Pass a popular bill or two. Voters will choose the devil they know over the lesser imps and demons they don't.

Finally, history is replete with colorful politicians; the Longs in Louisiana and Wild Bill Langer of North Dakota spring immediately to mind, but most people find conspiracy theorists something less than colorful.

The New Coke new Lance Russell legislative candidacy:  For those using their summer wisely and waiting until after Labor Day to start thinking about politics, Lance Russell won a legislative primary, and resigned his candidacy to run for attorney general at the Republican Convention. He was then  renominated by the District 30 Republicans even though state law makes the second nomination more than a little questionable.

The Democrats need to get a precedent established. They may well face an identical situation in the near future, and the mere fact that Russell was on the ballot, then off the ballot, and then on the ballot would not have established that precedent.  No matter what happens in this situation, precedent is established unless the courts rule that Heather Boche, the voter bringing the suit, lacks standing. Were one a complete cynic who believes that South Dakota's Republican appointed judiciary is less than impartial on political matters, that might be the outcome one would expect.

The spy who loved someone in South Dakota or who worked hard for her money: South Dakota novelists who specialize in the mystery and political thriller genres are probably still recovering from the bacchanalia they organized after the story broke. While the South Dakota literary world has a whole new direction, the South Dakota political world will remain unchanged.

*I really don't know what number it is but if Marvel and DC comics can renumber issues at will, then I can number blog posts however I desire.