On Gab before the proof came in about the hoax.

It used to be a joke. Old people would regale us with all the difficulties that they had had to endure when young: walking home from school, splitting firewood, etc. Some of this was funny because it was such a cliché, some because it spoke to real progress but was said with such fondness, and some because . . . well, I walked a ways away home from school, and with a French horn case; and I split, and threw and stacked firewood, too.

Nowadays it is the youngsters who regale us with the horrors of their lives, their ordeals. We “just do not know” what they go through. They now often tell us of all the racism and homophobia that gets directed to them.

Their lip-smacking glee in the telling, however, is less innocent than the oldsters’ old complaints, and their most obvious guilt is the fact that many of the worst, most celebrated instances of victimization turn out to be hoaxes. Ah, Jussie Smollett is just the latest.

There is, as Gad Saad often asserts, a sort of Münchhausen’s syndrome in play: get attention by malingering, by pretending to be sick; get attention by pretending to be a victim.

Note that the hoaxers are not pretending to any great heroism or achievement: that would be jejune! They pretend to be victims.

If you ask me, there is more honor in pretending to have achieved something one has not achieved than in pretending to having been victimized when one has not. At least the former promotes achievement; the latter promotes resentment.

These are the days of the Last Men. They are only grimly funny.

twv

The point being that you need moral leukocytes.

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Philosophy: the last thing Americans consider in public policy. Because it might be wisdom.

It was a joke when I was a child. It is an atrocity now.

The Army has carried the American ideal to its logical conclusion. Not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on ability.

Tom Lehrer, An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (recorded at Harvard’s Sanders Theater on March 20–21, 1959)

Ah, discrimination. People forget that it is a good thing. It is what makes us human.

But let us admit it, the normal run of humanity rarely bothers to do much in the way of careful thinking. A word gets associated, in common speech, with another word — and then the concept of the word pair leads, as if by an invisible hand, to impute meaning back up the two words’ separate semantic lines. Well, up at least one of them. Racial discrimination being bad, at least when done by the state or when engaged in privately with malice, so careless, slovenly speakers come to think “all discrimination is wrong.”

And it was not just about race. Sexual discrimination was said to be wrong by liberal folks. And religious discrimination, too. These are the three mentioned by Lehrer in his joke.

In 1984, the two major party candidates for the United States Presidency, when asked about gay rights, admitted, humbly and righteously both, that “all discrimination is wrong.” Walter Mondale insisted that he learned that outstive truth “on his daddy’s knee.” His father had misinformed him. Ronald Reagan answered the question with another question, if memory serves: “isn’t all discrimination wrong?” The answer is definitely “no.”

What is going on here? Well, a puzzled person might consult a dictionary.

from Merriam-Webster’s iPad app.

The root meaning can be found in the second and third listed defnitions, not the first. This is made more clear by consulting an older dictionary.

My copy of The New Century Dictionary (1927), D. Appleton-Century Co. (1933)

Discrimination is the act of recognizing differences, making distinctions and apt judgments. This is what makes man a rational animal.

The error comes down to a category problem.

Racial discrimination is bad when one identifies race as a relevant characteristic upon which to make a judgment or decision when race is not, in fact or by custom or morality, relevant.

We who support the idea of basic human rights insist that it is a person’s status as a human being and not as a member of a particular race that matters in advancing and defending his or her rights.

In employing someone, productivity is what matters, not race as such, so one would be a fool to hire or fire mainly on the grounds of race.

But in other domains of life it may indeed make sense to discriminate to some extent by race. If you are putting on a play about Martin Luther King and the best actor you can find is some white guy, it would be ill-advised to hire him and paint his face darker — better, I think, t limit your search to a population of actors from black African stock. And of course the reverse is true: when casting for the part of George Washington, you can rule out of hand right from the start all black, Asian and even short actors, no matter how good Denzel Washington, Naveen Andrews, and Danny DeVito may be.

Similarly, when choosing a mate, it may be high-minded of you to be open to members of all races, but it would hardly be wrong to discriminate for members of your own race, or members of a race you find most attractive.

The upshot is: equality before the law and doing good business indicate reasons to set up a taboo on discrimination on the basis of race, but there may be a few or even many areas of life where where racial discrimination is not wrong.

And other forms of discrimination — on basis of talent, taste, concepts, efficacy, etc. — remain central to what it means to be human.

I shake my head at this now, and wonder how anyone could be so dunderheaded as to think otherwise. But I remember Reagan and Mondale, and I see why the error of believing that all discrimination is wrong could be made.

Especially by those who are over-vigilant, for whatever reason, in the fight against racism. Over-compensation is a strategy.

But it can lead to bizarre and horrific consequences, as seen in an article that was just published on Quillette, “Public Education’s Dirty Secret.” In this revelatory memoir, schoolteacher Mary Hudson describes why New York City’s schools are so bad. And “bad” is an understatement:

The school always teetered on the verge of chaos. The previous principal had just been dismissed and shunted to another school district. Although it was never stated, all that was expected of teachers was to keep students in their seats and the volume down. This was an enormous school on five floors, with students cordoned off into separate programs. There was even a short-lived International Baccalaureate Program, but it quickly failed. Whatever the program, however, the atmosphere of the school was one of danger and deceit. Guards patrolled the hallways, sometimes the police had to intervene. Even though the security guards carefully screened the students at the metal detectors posted at every entrance, occasionally arms crept in. Girls sometimes managed to get razors in, the weapon of choice against rivals for boys’ attention. Although I don’t know of other arms found in the school (teachers were kept in the dark as much as possible), one particularly disruptive and dangerous boy was stabbed one afternoon right outside school. It appears he came to a violent death a few years later. What a tragic waste of human potential.

As the weeks dragged painfully into months, it became apparent that the students wouldn’t learn anything. It was dumbfounding. It was all I could do to keep them quiet; that is, seated and talking among themselves. Sometimes I had to stop girls from grooming themselves or each other. A few brave souls tried to keep up with instruction. A particularly good history teacher once told me that she interrupted a conversation between two girls, asking them to pay attention to the lesson. One of them looked up at her scornfully and sneered, “I don’t talk to teachers,” turning her back to resume their chat. She told me that the best school she ever worked at was in Texas, where her principal managed not only to suspend the most disruptive students for long periods, he also made sure they were not admitted during that time to any other school in the district. It worked; they got good results.

But this was not done. Suspending the violent and the disruptive was considered by administrators to be . . . wait for it . . . “discriminatory.”

It would be “discriminatory” to keep the students at home. The appropriate paperwork being filed, the most outrageously disruptive students went for a day or two to a room with other serious offenders. The anti-discrimination laws under which we worked took all power away from the teachers and put it in the hands of the students.

This is of course a recipe for chaos. No learning can occur when violent students disrupt classrooms and receive protection from the authorities.

I tried everything imaginable to overcome student resistance. Nothing worked. At one point I rearranged the seating to enable the students who wanted to engage to come to the front of the classroom. The principal was informed and I was reprimanded. This was “discriminatory.” The students went back to their chosen seats near their friends. Aside from imposing order, the only thing I succeeded at was getting the students to stand silently during the Pledge of Allegiance and mumble a few songs in French. But it was a constant struggle as I tried to balance going through the motions of teaching with keeping them quiet.

The abuse from students never let up. We were trained to absorb it. By the time I left, however, I had a large folder full of the complaint forms I’d filled out documenting the most egregious insults and harassment. There was a long process to go through each time. The student had a parent or other representative to state their case at the eventual hearing and I had my union rep. I lost every case.

The sheer craziness of this policy is dystopian in its extremity. And note that excuse: being “against discrimination.”

And let us not fool ourselves. We know where the abuse of the word “discriminatory” comes from: progressivism.

And lawyers.

Over-vigilance against racial discrimination has led to the anathemization of all forms of discrimination, including those forms noticed by Tom Lehrer, discrimination on the grounds of ability. And it is white guilt that is the main trouble — coupled with the moral corruption of inner-city black parents and their lawyers and advocates. Progressive white folks have been so afraid to think carefully about — and criticize, judge — “the marginalized”* when they do wrong that they defend bad behavior and thereby nurture evil and self-destructive vice.

This is a grand example of moral and intellectual cowardice.

That it has led to a form of philosophical corruption, where a word central to the whole moral and intellectual project — discrimination — has become a word to defend bad behavior and the corruption of the young.

The story is not just horrific, though. It is also darkly comic:

Sometimes you just have had enough. One day a girl sitting towards the back of the classroom shouted at some boy up front, “Yo! Nigga! Stop that!” I stood up as tall as I could and said in my most supercilious voice, “I don’t know which particular nigga the young lady is referring to, but whoever it is, would you please stop it.” The kids couldn’t believe their ears:

“Yo, miss!  You can’t say that!”
“Why not? You say it all the time.”
“Uhh . . .  Because you’re old.”
“That’s not why. Come on, tell the truth.” 

This went on for a bit, until one brave lad piped up: “Because you’re white.” “Okay,” I said, “because I’m white. Well what if I said to you, ‘You’re not allowed to say some word because you’re black.’ Would that be okay?” They admitted that it wouldn’t. No one seemed to report it. To this day, it’s puzzling that I didn’t lose my job over that incident. I put it down to basic human decency.

Decency? Maybe. More likely it was a philosophical moment. For one instance the students learned something. What? That the normative order thst they relied upon was itself evil. One can hope that their momentary glimpse of the truth came to serve them later in life. And speaking of life — what kind did they have?

Students came to school for their social life. The system had to be resisted. It was never made explicit that it was a “white” system that was being rejected, but it was implicit in oft-made remarks. Youngsters would say things like, “You can’t say that word, that be a WHITE word!” It did no good to remind students that some of the finest oratory in America came from black leaders like Martin Luther King and some of the best writing from authors like James Baldwin. I would tell them that there was nothing wrong with speaking one’s own dialect; dialects in whatever language tend to be colorful and expressive, but it was important to learn standard English as well. It opens minds and doors. Every new word learned adds to one’s wealth, and there’s nothing like grammar for organizing one’s thoughts. 

It all fell on deaf ears. It was impossible to dispel the students’ delusions. Astonishingly, they believed that they would do just fine and have great futures once they got to college! They didn’t seem to know that they had very little chance of getting into anything but a community college, if that. Sadly, the kids were convinced of one thing: As one girl put it, “I don’t need an 85 average to get into Hunter; I’m black, I can get in with a 75.” They were actually encouraged to be intellectually lazy.

The adults responsible for this system, black and white, should be ashamed of themselves. And repent. Reform the schools. Get rid of the insane “anti-discrimination” rules — at the very least.

But how likely is that? To do that, after all, they would have to discriminate.

twv


* This term of art, “the marginalized,” is especially inartful, hardly an accurate descriptor, since it misidentifies nearly all the problems noted in this memoir.

Sea level rise has been ongoing . . . for a long time. And steadily. Why?

The standard story, in recent times, has been anthropogenic global warming (AGW): increasing levels of greenhouse gases produced by human civilization warms the planet and melts the polar glaciers, thus raising the sea level. A very common answer. But it hardly seems like the right answer.

Though I have never denied that this standard story seemed a plausible explanation for climate change, on the face of it, in this particular case there is an obvious and grave reason for doubt.

We are coming out of the Little Ice Age, which has been the most significant glaciation period in the Holocene epoch so far. Humanity almost certainly had little to do with either the onset or the ebb of that cooling event. The warming since then has constituted a long trend.

But remember something: continents tend to sink and those that are not offset by countervailing geological forces are indeed sinking. Some apparent sea level rise is not the result of “global warming.”

And, if you have been listening to Jim Hansen and Al Gore and the politicians of a few tropical island nations, the summer Arctic ice sheet was supposed to be gone already, and our lowest-lying beach property under water.*

Why do the prophets of doom keep having to postpone and re-date their doomsday scenarios? Well, could it be because their science is bad? Maybe, even, that their data have not been honestly presented?

To those who have been paying attention, it has become clear that AGW shills have perpetrated a number of data frauds in recent hears. Their reporting on sea level increases sure looks to me like one of them. The trend line was on its way up before the dramatic increase in greenhouse gases by the introduction of widespread internal combustion engines, and so attributing later oceanic trends to a new and separate cause hardly seems honest.

And we witness this in other intellectual areas — especially regarding a great number of issues where partisans for the dirigiste state proclaim great success for their programs. What these advocates do is cite trends after the introduction of their favored nostrums, to “prove” how well they work, ignoring that the favorable trend lines they identify had been running in their direction before their programs were put in place. The classic case is workplace fatalities, which decreased after the introduction of OSHA. But of course workplace fatalities had been trending downwards for some time.

An even more startling case is poverty reduction, which leveled off after the introduction of LBJ’s War on Poverty. America would probably have seen greater alleviations of the conditions of America’s poor if the federal government had done nothing. And if you wonder why that would be the case, contemplate, at length, the Cloward-Piven Strategy.

Those of us who doubt the nature, extent and popularly identified causes of climate change get called “climate deniers,” of course. It is a typically idiotic charge. I have my usual response:

From my memevigilante.com pages.

But, when it comes to climate trends, today’s “climate science consensus” seems to be suffering, itself, from denial. Today’s “hockey stick” pushers play down not only the Little Ice Age but also, more infamously yet, the Medieval Warming Period.

But it is worse than that. They ignore the even bigger picture, the events at the beginning of our own Holocene epoch: the end of the last Ice Age.

It was catastrophic. Sea levels rose hundreds of feet in very short periods of time. The piddling secular incline in sea levels in the last century or so is nothing compared to that deluge.

So I demand of AGW-obsessed climate scientists a great many explanations. Until they can explain how Ice Ages start and end, I cannot trust them about our recent climate trends.

They are, embarrassingly and monomaniacally focused on greenhouse gas emissions and the feedback effects of warming on oceans and their consequent, heat-induced emission of carbon dioxide. And, by the way, they never seem to explain how Ice Ages have not spiralled to total global freeze and warming periods have not spiralled to hothouse infernos. Their fondness for simple models that show positive feedback loops after a “tipping point” — that they almost invariably say would be “irreversible” — is bizarre. They seem immune to recognizing factors leading to homeostasis. Climate is determined by multipe causes, and the limited models of the AGW pseudo-consensus strike me as not merely notoriously bad predictors, but absurd on the face of it.

So, I have a lot of questions. Many, many questions. And these questions — only one set of which I ask here — seem rather obvious to me, but which I never encounter from the over-ballyhooed “climate consensus.” I guess I should ask Tony Heller of RealClimateScience.com (whose recent videos inspired some of my ruminations here), since he recognizes the complexity of climate processes and the importance of a geological perspective on climate — recognition of the Big Picture. (In full disclosure, I have been following popular climatology since The Coming Ice Age was a thing, and helped edit a magazine that published one of the first scholarly critiques of the then-new AGW craze, back in the 1980s.)

Sticking to recent trends allows many AGW advocates — usually and suspiciously pushing for ever-more intrusive government — to engage in cultic behavior. Anyone trying to win an argument about science who resorts to the “overwhelming consensus” canard loses his Science Card. Science is about public testing — conjectures and refutations — and, as Richard Feynman astutely suggested, distrusting “the experts.”

I would add one heuristic we non-scientists must keep in mind: the reasoned distrust of those whose public “checks and balances” — vanishingly small in an age when the peer review process has been shown to be in crisis — can be so easily swamped by grant checks and their own bank balances. And let us apply some caution here. Government funding can be as corrupting as corporate funding, and is likely more so, since much greater, and is far more prone to political capture and the prejudice elicited by the public-interest halo. Alas, that halo is ever-present, with most folks giving governments the presumption of efficacy, authority and good will. This prejudice is rank bigotry, of course, almost certainly the result of an evolutionary programming to favor in-group hierarchies.

In fine, I remain confident in saying that mainstream of climatology is now addicted not only to cultism but, specifically, to Ice Age Denialism.

twv

Trying to make sense of the world, one book at a time.

* Of course, there is a major caveat here: melting Arctic sea ice cannot cause a sea level rise. Melting glacial ice on the land masses of Greenland and Antarctica would be the almost sole sources of any future sea rise by melting.

Being Hercule, so to speak; publicity photo from The Hollywood Reporter, June 21, 2018.

John Malkovich stars as Hercule Poirot in a 2018 BBC rendition of Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders, now streaming on Amazon Prime. And his performance bookends a clever thriller just out on Netflix in a film called Velvet Buzzsaw.

I saw the latter, which stars Jake Gyllenhall and Rene Russo (see below) and a few other familiar faces. Think of the movie Final Destination crossed with the old TV show Friday the 13th, but with a satirical twist. Jake G’s performance is . . . odd. He plays a bisexual art critic but with gay mannerisms. Probably perfect for a satire . . . not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Very well done. I greatly enjoyed it.

Haven’t watched the Poirot miniseries yet, since Tony Randall’s performance in the same story lingers in memory. From the first few scenes it looks like they have taken the story in a very different direction than was taken in the film starring Randall.

Velvet Buzzsaw; see this weekend’s review in the Chicago Tribune.

Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

I grew up taught to believe that the stories of my religion were true. But as I grew older, certain inconsistencies and antinomies weighed upon my mind, and I found myself incredulous about the whole matter, so I gave up on the beliefs and the rites.

But, if not literally true, is religion — or all religions, or some — figuratively true? Supremely useful? Something else?

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

I was taught to regard the religion I was born into as true, literally so, and all others as false, with a faint chance that shadow meaning sometimes figuratively refracting the truth — but more likely “of the Devil.” Converting out of the religion, it was easy to treat my youthful theological stance as Atheism With One Exception, making actual atheism merely a final step.

But I did understand a discordant note to this secular triumphalism: henotheism. It was clear that Judaism began with a polytheism-in-fact but monotheism-in-practice: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” more than implied a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh was good, all others were bad — or, even less strong a position: Yahweh was ours and all others were theirs. The Chosen People idea seemed to imply one of many gods choosing and nurturing a bloodline of people to serve His agenda. But this idea, while clear in my head, I somehow never took all that seriously.

What did I take seriously? The “ghost theory” and exaptation. These ideas can be found in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, and the latter has been greatly expanded by contemporary evolutionary psychology. Beliefs in the gods arose from memories of dead leaders echoing in human brains and showing up in dreams. And hallucinations. That is the irritant that starts the pearl that is religion. But then something else happens: religious belief and practice is discovered to be useful.

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

But one use we fell into. It turns out that when we less-than-well-tempered hominids — Hominoids — even contemplate a putatively divine being or concept, or even any “transcendent object” or priniple, we think and behave less like selfish, short-sighted apes. We begin to behave morally.

And thus the transcendent notion, whatever it is, can serve as a social signal that can encourage others to see our intent to coöperate, not engage in harm. Whatever religious idea we hold can gain a lot of traction when folks come to rely on such signalling.

Thus, the gods.

A simple story, this secular account, and it can be filed under the heading Exaptation — a thing that originated for one reason surviving for other reasons. It was as if adapted for a new purpose, but as naturally selected, sort of adapting itself.

A meme — a replicable habit — spread for reasons independent of its explicit rationale.

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

But it is not the whole story: we still have that initial irritant. The “ghosts.” Which though inconvenient after the religion becomes a memetic hit, still persist.

And there is an outside possibility that some of those irritants in the oyster of our imaginations are, themselves, Not What They Seem.

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

In a fascinating dcumentary about a man who paints his alleged encounters with aliens, some of whom with which he engages in sexual acts, Love and Saucers, we learn about an odd variety of religious experience, the sexual extraterrestrial encounter. Philosopher Jeffrey Kripal, quoted in the movie, tells us that religious experiences with a sexual component are common in the literature. He also sees alien encounter and abduction stories as not dissimilar from past religious tales. What they interpreted as angels we, in a more scientific age, interpret as extraterrestrials.

And such experiences are not uncommon.

So, do we have these experiences because of some quirk of our psychologies, as evolved from the distant past?

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

I have never had an encounter as described by the painter in Love and Saucers. It would be easy to mock him. That is something I am sure my “skeptic” friends online would be inclined to do.

But I no longer do such things. If David Huggins, the subject of the documentary, is conjuring these “memories” by confabulation, that is almost as astounding as the events he describes.

And then there is the wider context. Do we have certainty that encounters with “aliens” do not happen? I do not have that certainty of conviction, of dismissive incredulity. I do not have enough faith to dismiss out of hand the UFO context.

Now, I understand, that wider context and the evidence for it may be peculiar in the extreme, sure — but it is vast. The number of documents leaked from governments, and the hundreds — the thousands — of seemingly earnest testimonies from military personnel and government contractors, airline passengers, and workers about encounters with bizarre flying and submersible crafts is huge. And these crafts — in government documents and reports as well as in reams of testimony, apparently run according to principles nothing like the technology we know, which is based on aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, and on the many types of internal combustion engines . . . well, the number and weight of the testimony is almost disturbing.

Further, there appears to be an ongoing government disclosure of information about these encounters, around the world, and even — belatedly, with a great lag — from the biggest, most UFOey government of them all, the United States of Military Industrial Complex.

I do not know what to make of all this. Not with anything approaching certainty. And were it not for the Cato Institute, I might not be thinking about it at all.

A number of years ago the libertaran think tank fired one of its consulting scholars, economist Dom Armentano — removed him from their honor roll, so to speak. Why? Because he had come out for UFO disclosure.

Think about this. The retired professor merely expressed a support for transparency in government on an issue of public interest. But the “heroic” Cato management could not even be associated with something as tame as that.

When I heard this, I experienced something like shock. I had thought I understood the cultism of the cultural center, its proneness to shaming and shunning and marginalization . . . perpetrated to keep the hierarchy of the in-group secure against all comers. But Cato is libertarian. Do Cato-ites think their propinquity to power, geographically, makes them in the in-group? If any tribe on the planet has reason to understand the corrosive nature of in-group intellectual regimentation, it would be libertarians. And if any group should be prone to resist such nonsense, then it must be libertarians, right?

Apparently not. Cato was so eager for respectability, and so unimaginative that an illustrious economist had to be purged.

This is when I realized the astounding extent of ideological cultism in America, and its corrupting powers. And, once you realize how powerful that propensity is, then you can see how it could be manipulated.

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

For, alas, it seems likely that some conspiracy is involved. Either a cabal within the Deep State is conspiring to keep some dread secret from the world and from the citizens that the government putatively serves, or a big if ragtag group of military personel, domestic pilots, seamen, and a great number of civilians are perpetrating and perhaps coördinating a huge fraud.

About two years ago, I began to think the latter the less likely.

Further, I surmise, if I were in the Deep State and saw all these rumors swirl around me, I would regard them as a destabilizing force, as undermining governance by decreasing trust in basic institutions. I would earnestly support public research into and educational efforts about the phenomena, the better to thoroughly explain and debunk paranormal accounts and tall tales about UFOs and “aliens.” But, on the other hand, had I a secret to keep, a big one, letting the testimonies and photographs and rumors and urban legends spread while giving lukewarm and even preposterous counter-explanations might just work — to keep the secret. After all, I could count on all the little Catos out there, doing my work for me, keeping “the nuts” marginalized.

This does not mean that painter David Huggins is not some kind of a nut. There is room for psychological confabulation along the margins. But it sure looks like something strange is going on. The planet and its history may be stranger than we thought.

Indeed, “the gods” at the start of religions may not have been mere mirages and dreams and “visions.” Perhaps the Anunnaki and Quinametzin and Viracocha and that crowd really did help start our civilization, and that they seemed “gods” to us barely higher apes. And maybe they had some connection to the phenomena that we call “religious” — and maybe they have something to do with “aliens.”

In any case, Love and Saucers is a fascinating documentary.

And religion remains something of a mystery.

twv

Bill Weld, 2016 Libertarian Candidate for the U.S. Vice Presidency

After years of following Weld’s political career, there is only one thing about him I’m sure of: He regards politics as a form of intellectual entertainment, and nothing he says on the subject should be mistaken for conviction. . . .

There is no point seeking the philosophical thread that connects [his] meanderings. Weld has no fixed political or electoral outlook; he isn’t consistently conservative or liberal, and he’s certainly no diehard Republican. He has claimed since 2016 to be “Libertarian for life,” raising money, endorsing candidates, and assuring Libertarian Party leaders: “I’m going to stay L.P.” Yet if recent news reports are accurate, Weld is telling confidants that he might challenge Trump in the Republican primaries. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. 

A Weld run would enliven the 2020 campaign with erudition and quirky wit. That alone might be reason to hope he jumps in. Remember, however, that when it comes to politics, Weld will say and do just about anything to keep from being bored. He’s not likely to take a Weld candidacy too seriously. We shouldn’t, either.

Jeff Jacoby, “Bill Weld’s true north is that he has no true north,” Boston Globe (January 31, 2019)

But maybe “true north” isn’t the right metaphor…

The magnetic north pole moves towards Russia!

The north magnetic pole is restless.

Distinct from the geographic North Pole, where all the lines of longitude meet at the top of the world, the magnetic pole is the point that a compass recognizes as north. At the moment, it’s located four degrees south of the geographic North Pole, which lies in the Arctic Ocean at 90 degrees north. 

But that wasn’t always the case.

In the mid-19th century, the north magnetic pole floated much further south, roaming around Canada. For the past 150 years, however, the pole has been sprinting away from Canada and toward Siberia.

Shannon Hall, “The North Magnetic Pole’s Mysterious Journey Across the Arctic,” The
New York Times
(February 4, 2019)


Bill Weld, like most politicians, is attuned to the attractions of the masses and of the moment and of the most “meaningful” memes. But we are going through an ideological pole shift right now. So, if his moral compass has gone wild, and he cannot be trusted to remain true, that may be because he is most sensitive to the great ideological shift.

That doesn’t make him a leader, of course. It just explains his gyrations, especially near anomalies.

And nothing is more anomalous than libertarianism. Not even Trump.

Oh, and also: the Democrats are, like our planet’s magnetic north, speeding towards Russia.

My old-fashioned compasses. I have others.

twv


Rachel Brosnahan plays Midge Maisel.

It took me at least a month to get through the first episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Watching Mr. Maisel go through his excruciatingly bad comedy routines, as the viewer had to do repeatedly early in the show, was hard to endure. And a host of other small problems plagued the comedy-drama. The whole emprise, for example, made Woody Allen seem WASP. But it was a Sherman-Palladino production, friends said they loved it, and the lead actress is fun to watch. So I plodded through, a few minutes every other day or so. And got to the end, where it got good.

And then I binged all the way through the two seasons up on Amazon Prime.

The show is fun, but has . . . “issues.” As notes Rachel Lu:

There’s a scene in Season Two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that perfectly encapsulates the show’s central conundrum. Margaret (Midge) Maisel, our 1950’s-Jewish-housewife-turned-comedian, has finally gotten a gig at a semi-respectable New York City club, somewhere on the way to midtown. She shows up in her trademark black cocktail dress, fresh and beautiful and raring to go. Unfortunately, her act gets pushed back repeatedly as confident male comedians breeze in to claim her spot. By the time Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) takes the stage, it’s late and the audience is drunk, while she herself has completely lost her feminine charm. She’s sweaty, angry, and mildly intoxicated, sporting mustard stains on her sexy dress. Storming the stage, she abandons her prepared act and launches into a meta-discourse on comedy, and the suitability of women to participate in it. Comedy, she says, is about pain and rejection. Who understands these things better than women?

“Mrs. Maisel’s Mixed Messages,” by Rachel Lu, Law and Liberty (February 8, 2019)

Everybody understands pain, at least as it pertains to them. Telling other people that you know pain more than they do must be demonstrated. And made funny. The breakout rant described above is not comedy, and funny only because filled with invective. It is also not quite believable, because both too defensive and offensive. It is a manifesto Mrs. Maisel delivers. Or “womanifesto,” if you must. But it is only funny for the insults.

The story of the show is this incredibly peppy, “privileged” woman, married with two children, who almost never takes care of her children. Her parents and her wayward husband and a series of nannies do that. Her parents are wealthy. How they got this way is never quite explained. Her father, played by Tony Shaloub, is a college professor of mathematics. This was not a lucrative career path then or now, not without a government grant (which actually occurs as the story develops). Her mother dresses to the nines in every scene, and comes across as an heiress. But that information, if imparted to the viewer, missed me. Her husband (who leaves her in the first episode) works for his own father in the family clothing factory. Yet the young couple and the old live in vast, multi-room apartments elegantly decorated and filled with books and bric-a-bracs and elegant, 50s-era appliances.

The pain she experiences is not poverty.

The rejection she experiences is from her hapless hubbie alone.

And of course, only barely mentioned in one scene, there is a background pain — giving birth to her children, whom she almost never sees or touches.

This is all some weird sort of fantasy. And some of the fantasy is feminist.

One thing not quite confronted is why male comics were then and are now more common than female ones. We see two “famous” comics in the show: Lenny Bruce, who was a real man and most people say was funny, but whose work has not made me laugh in the past, but which isn’t bad re-created here; and “Midge’s female nemesis, Sophie Lennon . . . a crude hack recycling years-old material.” Neither of them strikes me as especially driven by pain or rejection.

A decade ago, the “gender” issue in comedy became a hot topic. The upshot from the men, whom I believe (and not the feminists, whom I do not), was that men are funnier than women, on average, because men need to amuse women while women do not need to amuse men — men like women even if they are not funny.

Rachel Lu, in the review I link to above, notes the theme of comedy and pain, and Midge Maisel’s insistence that does she know both. Neither seem plausible.

Her lips say “I belong on this stage,” but the show’s creators seem to be signaling something else. Before the lady comic was permitted to claim her microphone, she was forced to morph into a smelly, angry, drunken slob. In other words, she had to be un-womaned before practicing the comic arts. Was it freak happenstance? Or is there some deeper truth here? Can a good woman also be a great comedian?

This re-gendering is perhaps dramatically necessary because men understand the function of comedy, and, well, maybe women do not. Or, more likely, feminists do not. As in the old joke: “‘How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?’ ‘That’s not funny!’” The point is, it is men who understand rejection on the receiving end. The evolutionary setup is fairly clear: women find advantage in making themselves as attractive as possible to as many men as possible, and rejecting all but the very best of those that want them. Men tend not to reject women as routinely. This basic truth undergirds all comedy. The comedy landscape in the show seems a tad misleading. We are being misled. We are being Mrs. Misled (sorry about that).

Of course it is not that women cannot be funny. It is that they have less incentive to be. There are good female comedians. Just like there are good male models. But the evolutionarily stable strategies do not stack the deck in either favor, and aren’t most male models gay?

So, what of the men in Mrs. Maisel’s world?

As in previous Sherman-Palladino creations (The Gilmore Girls and Bunheads), the men on this show share one possibly-unrealistic quality: they reliably take notice of witty and talented women, and find these qualities sexy and alluring. In general, Sherman-Palladino’s men are judged by two criteria. First, can they handle their manly business, as professionals and members of society? Second, can they handle their women? Sherman-Palladino dramas have no mercy on men who are too weak to match the objects of their affections.

This is very much a fantasy, but, alas, with no unicorns.

Or, one — our unicorn, Midge, a funny Jewish woman who claims to that pain and rejection feed her art but whose experience is quite different: a charmed life right up until the first, almost-unwatchable episode. But her magic seems more plausible as we get sucked in, as the fantasy picture show does its magic.

twv

Holding an Aristotle collection open with another Aristotle collection.

The good is not made more real by being eternal, any more than a white thing becomes more truly white by reason of lasting a long time.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
The new U.S. Representative from the Bronx.

How much of a socialist is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

We have a metric: the length of time she allots to remake America and “save the planet.”

Her ridiculous “Green New Deal” is a ten-year plan. Stalin, a socialist of the now-defunct Soviet Republics, promoted a series of five-year plans.

Do the math. A serious socialist like Stalin set time for five-year socialistic remakes, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez takes twice as long. So is half as serious.

How much of a socialist is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Half a Stalin!

Stalin/2 = AOC

That is the formula.

Socialism with a divided face.
More socialist math.
Detail of Death of Sardanapalus by Eugène Delacroix. Oil on canvas. Louvre.

The ‘mass of men’ reveal their utter servility by preferring a life fit only for cattle; yet their views gain a degree of plausibility from the fact that many of those in high places share the taste of Sardanapalus.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics