How to Make America Great (An 8-Point Plan)

Make America Great

#MAG

My optimism stems largely from a belief in progress. Progress is the inevitable outcome of accumulated knowledge and enlightenment. As we understand the world better, understand ourselves better, we come to understand how to improve the world and our place in it.

The Progressive approach is guided by reason and virtue. In many regards (hunger, poverty, human rights) the world is in a better place than it’s ever been, and this is largely the result of people who utilize our scientific and intellectual advancements wisely.

At the same time, the world remains awash in fucked uppedness. With climate change, the cracks in the levy are rapidly becoming fissures, which promises to exacerbate all kinds of fucked uppedness unless we get somebody to stick their thumb in it, right quick.

Make America Suck Again

Here in the United States, we would only be so lucky if the Trump administration were merely fiddling while Rome burns (to mix metaphors slightly); instead, they’re throwing their fiddles and whatever else they can find onto the fire, whipping it into an inferno.

Long before Trump, though, the Regressives in this country, led by plutocrats, have been crapping on democracy. In addition to buying (or becoming) politicians, Regressives sow division, disinformation, and dysfunction, as they reap a bounty in the wake of discontent deflected away from their devious designs.

Put more concretely, certain Regressive elites in this country (present President included), primarily in an effort to entrench their power and wealth, have endeavored to:

  • Divide Americans:  From the Southern Strategy to welfare queens to Willie Horton to Donald Trump, Regressives (in this case, primarily Republicans) have been stoking white fear and anger toward people of color. Misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia are other tools in the divisiveness toolbox. And among whites, Regressives promote tribalism via Fox News (Liberal Elites vs. Real Americans), the NRA, religion, etc. Here it must be said that liberals and Democrats are also guilty of regressive tribalism when they ridicule and show disdain for poor and rural white folks.1
  • Spread Disinformation: There’s a certain element of my news feed that’s tragicomic. Stories from Fox News2 seem to focus on either the crookedness of Hillary Clinton, tabloidy bullshit, people of color and immigrants doing bad things, or female teachers having sex with their male students.3 When there are stories that make Regressives look bad, they are downplayed or ignored; when the stories make liberals look bad, they are pounced on. The tabloidy crap serves to distract people from real issues. Fox is a pusher of the Regressive ideology. Limbaugh, Breitbart, The Blaze, and InfoWars follow the same playbook (to varying degrees of insanity). It’s funny how people of this ilk rail against the mainstream media, claiming it has a liberal bias. Well, to the extent that some mainstream media believe in facts and reason, I guess that would make them appear more progressive – that said, in the interest of appearing balanced, I still think mainstream media give too much credence to regressive ideas. Fair and balanced, indeed!
  • Create Dysfunction: Defund public education, diminish access to health care, destroy unions, deter people from voting, drown government. Weaker public education leads to a less enlightened populace, and has the added bonus of empowering for-profit education, which primarily benefits the wealthy. Reduced access to health care, lack of unions, and poverty in general distract people from political engagement (and of course create more wealth for the elites). Voting restrictions and gerrymandering, combined with artificially divided Americans, disinformation, and ignorance, help keep Regressives in power, even though their interests are aligned with a tiny minority of the population. When they do attain power, they follow the advice of Grover Norquist and try to drown government in a bathtub. A shittily functioning government works perfectly for Regressives: See, told you government sucks! Discontent and ignorance breed yet more Regressives.
  • Promote Plutocracy: All of this division and disinformation and dysfunction is made possible by a government that is easily bought, thanks to Citizens United and other systemic failures that allow money to infiltrate our government. Since money equals free speech in this country, the loudest voices don’t belong to you or me. Thus we have the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, where the only “jobs” being given are to the Republicans’ wealthy pimps.

What could be more unpatriotic, more un-American, than the way these Regressives defile democracy?

What Do Americans Want?

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the doctrines of Epicurus (which he described “as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us”) included the moral that:

  • Happiness is the aim of life.
  • Virtue the foundation of happiness.
  • Utility the test of virtue.

From the Koch brothers to Rush Limbaugh to Donald Trump to Grover Norquist to my in-laws, what the Regressives have failed to grasp is that their own happiness is integrally tied to virtuous action.

Wealthy Americans (I include myself in this category) have been afforded, whether we realize it or not, enormous opportunity by virtue of living in this country. Isn’t it our patriotic duty to ensure that all Americans receive similar opportunities? Premium taxes in return for premium opportunities.

Ultimately, I believe most Americans, most people, want a system that provides opportunity and fosters happiness (in the fulfillment sense). While the system is necessarily quite complex, there is precedent for what works and what doesn’t to achieve happiness and prosperity.

The Regressive way seeks to destroy; the Progressive way seeks to build.

Make America Great

So now let my lamentations and railing give way to an optimistic, Progressive path forward. Here’s my 8-Point Plan to Make America Great:

1. Return Government to The People

  • Enact campaign finance and lobbying reform that gets big money out of politics
  • End gerrymandering
  • End voter suppression

At a time when politicians brazenly pander to their big donors rather than their constituents, we are in dire need of substantive Campaign Finance Reform. Other than the small minority of Regressives, who wouldn’t agree that politicians should be focused on the vast concerns of their constituents, not just the concerns of a few large donors? Something like the Fair Elections Now Act would address this.

Gerrymandering is some of the most Un-American bullshit out there. Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of drawing districts that favor them over the years, but Republicans have taken it to new lows of late, with state and federal houses across the country receiving disproportionate representation by Republicans due to partisan gerrymandering. Soon, the Supreme Court will decide Gill vs. Whitford,4 a case that could provide a metric for what constitutes partisan gerrymandering. If we believe in reason and virtue, districts should be drawn using a nonpartisan metric that most accurately reflects the will of the people, not partisan manipulators.

One other strategy that Regressives use to stay in power is voter suppression. If your interests only align with a few wealthy elite, then, aside from those you’ve duped into voting for you, you want to ensure that less people have access to vote. You do this through restrictive voting laws, making it onerous (or impossible) for people to register or vote. As people who believe in facts understand, voter fraud is negligible. Rather than extinguishing it in the gutter of voter suppression, we should light the beacon of democracy by making voting as simple and straightforward as possible.

2. E Pluribus Unum

  • End divisiveness and promote a vision of unity in which all Americans are working to attain the same goal: a happy and prosperous society
  • Re-establish that knowledge, science, facts, truth are attainable, and that they should guide policy
  • Reach out to different demographics (rural, urban, black, white, Latino, conservative, liberal) to better understand their concerns5
  • Work with local community leaders to disseminate information about the benefits of a Progressive platform
  • Spread the message that purveyors of divisiveness and hate are undermining American values

In case you didn’t know (and you’re not a true patriot!) E Pluribus Unum is a motto of the United States, meaning “out of many, one.” The Regressives seem bent on a mission that would change that to E Pluribus Pluribus. Here’s a real quote I found in the comments section of an anti-Obama piece after he won the 2012 election:

I seriously think dumbocraps have at least 50% less brain power than normal people. Otherwise how can they continiously over look the damage that he’s already done, not see it, and want MORE of it????

Aside from the comical placement of the “sics,” the troubling thing about this statement is how emblematic it is of the tribalism that has done, and is doing, so much damage in our country. I actually agree with the commenter that far too many people on the left aren’t informed consumers of media. But far more pervasive than this ignorance is the disinformation and divisiveness spread by Regressives,6 of which this guy is an eager adopter.

Dumbocraps is a new one to me, but we’ve all heard of libtards and snowflakes, and from the other side, rednecks, white trash, Bernie Bros; all of these are Regressive pejoratives meant to divide. And of course, playing on people’s fears via racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia further divides us. As mentioned above, it’s a Regressive tactic to pit people against each other who would actually benefit from working together. The Regressives will be shitting their slacks when the rest of us figure this out.

Conservative rural voters feel under siege by liberal elites, and I think they’re right to feel abandoned by Democrats, who have mostly ceded this bloc to Republicans (who pay lip service but not much else). A true Progressive platform (not all dumbocraps) encompasses the needs of rural whites as much as it does those of urban blacks, or liberal elites, or the working class, or poor folks. 

Not to get all kumbaya-y or anything, but Progressives need to make it abundantly clear that our policies are inclusive of all working class folks (defined as anybody who works for a living, wants to work for a living, can’t work for a living, is retired, or is a child). In other words, E Pluribus Unum.

3. Invest In Us

  • We are a big country – we need big government to administer equal opportunity
  • Ensure that our big government runs smoothly and efficiently
  • Enact fair regulations that ensure government, businesses, and individuals work for the benefit of society
  • Incentivize businesses to empower and reward employees
  • Establish that taxes are investments in the happiness and prosperity of our country and its citizens
  • Publicly account (via a simple website) for how our taxes are spent – our investments should pay dividends in the form of safety, security, education, health, convenience, and sustainability
  • Make filing taxes free and easy on a government website

According to the 2017 Happiness Report, Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world (#2 after Norway). Danes pay 41-56% income taxes. For this, they receive free health care, education, and a financial safety net. They work less than 40 hours a week and get at least four weeks of vacation a year. Between them, parents get over 50 weeks of parental leave when a child is born.

Among advanced economies, the United States ranks 2nd highest in net income inequality. Out of these same 30 countries, the U.S. is 13th in happiness. They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but with about 40% of the world’s total wealth, it seems like we could be doing better.

Wagner’s Law states: “The advent of modern industrial society will result in increasing political pressure for social progress and increased allowance for social consideration by industry.”

In other words, wealthy nations have a tendency to provide more opportunities for their citizens over time. So, why, while much of the rest of the wealthy world (including Denmark) moved toward greater opportunity, has the U.S. remained relatively flat in that regard? Why, it’s those pesky Regressives, convincing people that what we really need is smaller government and less regulation – meanwhile, even as production increases, the Regressives have concentrated more and more of the resultant wealth among themselves at the top.

4. Invest In Education

  • Provide equal opportunity for all public schools by increasing and equally distributing funding among schools
  • Promote excellence in education by properly valuing and incentivizing teachers
  • Reward innovative and effective curricula that energize students
  • Integrate schools and communities more closely – many learning projects (gardens, food, building, service, technology, research, etc.) can also benefit the community
  • Use evaluative procedures that aren’t one-size-fits-all and that don’t force schools to teach to the test
  • Provide free preschool and college
  • Institute a year or two of mandatory national service after high school in which students work on national or international projects (military or civilian)

Preach a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

This is Thomas Jefferson again. Note that one could substitute “Regressives” for “kings, priests and nobles.” Sadly, it seems that the Regressives have used this quote prescriptively: Hey, if we crusade for ignorance, we should be able to rise up among the people!

Of course, Jefferson didn’t mean for this to be a recipe for plutocracy, but rather against it. His prescription was that we must invest in education to enlighten the common people so that we may be informed participants in democracy.

5. Invest In Health

  • Enact universal health care
  • Establish a network of health advisers who work with individuals to promote preventive health care through healthy lifestyles and preemptive diagnoses
  • Regulate standard rates for various procedures and prescriptions
  • Regulate the ability of pharmaceutical, hospital, and other medical institutions to influence research, doctors, and hospitals
  • Provide adequate funding for impartial scientific research on health, medical procedures, and pharmaceuticals
  • Create a national database that tracks health issues to provide researchers with data to establish cause and effect for both illnesses and their cures (or prevention)
  • Include DNA, microbiota, and environmental information in this database
  • Focus more resources on determining the causes, prevention, and cures of mental illness, as well as creating more opportunities and better care for the mentally ill
  • Provide better detection, education, counseling, care, and monitoring for people with unhealthy or dangerous sexual or violent tendencies
  • End the war on drugs and utilize the resources saved (as well as taxes from alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana) to regulate dangerous drugs, and provide education, counseling, and care (not punishment and prison) for those who are addicted
  • Educate people better about diet and exercise, and properly regulate and tax unhealthy foods
  • Promote measures that will reduce traffic deaths – such as less reliance on vehicles, better urban design, and self-driving vehicles
  • Recognize that guns, like vehicles, can be much better regulated to promote safety

6. Invest In America

  • Rebuild infrastructure to make it smart infrastructure, geared toward a sustainable and lower-impact 21st century America
  • Design urban space that promotes community, civic pride, safety, enjoyment, and of course happiness and prosperity
  • Create nationwide, public internet access
  • Research and reward smart and sustainable agricultural practices
  • Regulate and reward businesses and cooperatives that foster positive community and societal ideals
  • Provide amnesty for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in this country
  • Establish fair and effective immigration laws, and work with Mexico and other countries to establish worker exchange programs that benefit both those countries and the United States
  • Maintain and create more open space and wilderness
  • Recognize that equality of opportunity makes a stronger society

7. Invest In The World

  • Recognize that the United States has had a huge, often negative, impact on the rest of the world, especially through our outsized use of resources, but that we can also have an outsized positive impact
  • Invest in developing countries to help them develop in a sustainable manner – more than just altruism, these investments are repaid in the form of greater security, climate change mitigation, and ultimately more prosperous nations with which to cooperate
  • Work with the United Nations to strengthen its mission of maintaining world peace and security
  • Change the Department of Defense to the Department of Global Development, with the primary mission of advancing peace around the world7 – the vast resources afforded to our military could be better spent by fostering goodwill toward the United States
  • Create a leaner, smarter, stealthier military, ready to step in when power is needed
  • Work with countries to establish fair trade

8. The Environmental Moonshot

None of the above will ultimately matter much if we don’t address climate change now. Luckily, there are multiple economic factors involving renewable energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, lighting technology, agricultural practices, and other innovations that are increasingly making it more feasible for the world to drastically reduce its carbon footprint.

What we need now is the moral leadership and vision to accelerate into this new sustainable age. This could also be an effort that galvanizes our country around an existential cause (similar to the war effort during World War II, but with some of the energy and excitement surrounding the Apollo Mission). This environmental moonshot can and should be a massive jobs creator, and a boon to the U.S. economy as a whole.

  • End subsidies for fossil fuel and other polluting industries
  • Provide training to help people in these industries shift to new ones
  • Enact a carbon tax, with proceeds going toward sustainable energy innovation and endeavors
  • Become the world leader in green energy technology and goods
  • Shift to primarily electric transportation
  • Shift to an integrated and sustainable agricultural system
  • Work to restore and preserve biodiversity nationally and internationally
  • Work with impoverished, environmentally degraded communities to rebuild sustainably
  • Become a zero-waste nation by 2035
  • The Moonshot: become a 100% renewable energy nation by 2035

America, Fuck Yeah

I can hear all the naysayers laughing at my idealism, calling me Pollyanna. But this is ‘Merica, dadgummit, and when we want something, we take it! Many of the above ideas are already underway, if not here, then in other nations. We can see the success that they’re having – we can emulate and improve upon it.

Who would’ve thought in 2010 that, in just a few years, the Supreme Court would find that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Constitution, or that pot would be legalized in multiple states? When there’s a good Progressive idea, the dominoes often fall pretty quickly. And, of course, many of the above ideas work synergistically, amplifying the domino effect.

Maybe it’s time to throw down the gauntlet to the rest of the world and show them what American exceptionalism is really about. Instead of internecine fighting, Americans need a common enemy we can unite against… the Danes, of course – fuck the Danes! We need to knock their shiny happy asses down a peg or two. Too tribal? Fine, then let’s just unite against Regressive thinking and fight for a Progressive America.

 

Virtue and Reason Trump Hate

The Letter

hate mail

This is a letter that was sent to friends in our neighborhood in Longmont, Colorado (postmarked from Denver). D is brown, a 2nd generation Mexican/Spanish American (his father was born in Mexico, his mother’s ancestry is Spanish, he was born in Texas). S is white, with ancestry in the United Kingdom. And their three brown boys vary in age from four to 11 (all born in Longmont).[1] D and S are teachers in our local public schools and leaders in our community, volunteering their time on many worthy projects (including herculean efforts in the aftermath of the flooding in 2013). In short, they’re great people and model citizens.

But that doesn’t matter.

Even if they were first generation immigrants, and not pillars of our community, nobody should be subjected to this kind of hate and harassment. I asked D if part of the fear that this letter instills is that he must now feel like he has to keep looking over his shoulder. Being a brown man, he said, he’s always had that feeling – but now it involves his family, too. If attacking someone based solely on the color of his skin isn’t egregious enough, the nefariousness of bringing his children into it is unconscionable. If this letter doesn’t enrage you, maybe you should check where you stand on Poppa’s Humanity Scale.

White People

And there is a lot of rage, and sadness, and shock, and empathy surrounding this incidentamerican values in our mostly white, mostly liberal, mostly middle class part of town. Across the tracks, a much higher proportion of people are Latino, many of their children bused into the elementary school in my neighborhood. What kind of degradations do they face on a regular basis?

White liberals like me are shocked when something like this occurs in our community. It is our privilege that affords us our outrage and indignation. We will not go to jail for it, or be deported, or be harassed. We are amazed that this could even happen in today’s society. People of color are not so shocked.[2]

In addition to being shocked and angry when hearing about a racist incident, this is a time for white people to look within – what kind of privilege does our white skin afford us? For men, what does our male-ness afford us? For straight people, what advantages does that give us? What does our class standing, or our American-ness, or our health, or our education do for us?

White Christian conservatives purport to be even less convinced that this kind of discrimination persists (at least against people of color). In a recent poll, 43% of Republicans feel that whites face a lot of discrimination, whereas 27% feel that blacks face a lot of discrimination. In contrast, 87% of blacks feel that blacks face a lot of discrimination, while only 19% feel that whites face a lot of discrimination. Interestingly, among Democrats, 82% feel that blacks experience a lot of discrimination, whereas only 19% feel that whites face a lot of discrimination (similar percentages to how blacks feel).

The Great Divide

Why is there such a yawning gap between how those on the right and left see the issues of racism and discrimination? Is it because white Christians, now a minority in the United States, feel threatened? Most Republicans (about three-quarters of whom are white Christians) believe that it is extremely or very important that U.S. culture be grounded in Christian religious beliefs. Most Democrats (only 29% of whom are white Christians), on the other hand, believe that mixing cultures and values from around the world is extremelylove thy neighbor or very important to American identity. In 2008, 54% of Americans described themselves as white Christians; today, that number has dropped to 43%.

What are Christian religious beliefs? The United States may have been founded by a group of white male Christian elite slaveholders, but they had the foresight, in the First Amendment to the Constitution, to write “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg…. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.” – Thomas Jefferson

“For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens…. May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants.” – George Washington

“You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous Life without the Assistance afforded by Religion; you having a clear Perception of the Advantages of Virtue and the Disadvantages of Vice, and possessing a Strength of Resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common Temptations.” – Benjamin Franklin

science is trueToday, many Christian conservatives are fond of pointing out that this country was founded on Christian values. If these quotes are any indication, though, the Founding Fathers believed that reason and virtue were the most important values, regardless of, and perhaps superseding, one’s faith. (Which isn’t to say that these guys had it all figured out because, of course, they were racist, and there is a legacy of racism in our culture that is centuries in the healing, but continues to fester.)

Reason and Virtue

I propose that, fundamentally, what really ought to matter to white Christians, and to white non-Christians and black people and brown people, is virtue and reason. To the extent that these are threatened, either from without or from within, we should resist together. All cultures harbor, to varying degrees, elements that attenuate virtue and reason, but I believe that any threats that immigrants or people of color may (or, more often, may not) present in this regard pale in comparison to the threats posed by American economic elites bent on keeping America divided for their own gain.

open mindedIf more white Christians came to see virtue and reason, rather than religion itself (or, more nefariously, their white skin), as the primary bases of what we should value in our culture, I believe they would take a much different view of the direction that our culture is heading. Given the inexorable growth of knowledge in society, virtue and reason become an unstoppable force (as long as people don’t become complacent).

The United States, for all its faults, is the most diverse nation the world has ever seen. As a nation our values, our identity, are shaped by this diversity, and that’s part of our strength.[3] This may be getting a little platitudinous, but when we compromise our virtue or when we lose sight of reason (these are, after all, our American values), we lose some of our American-ness.

The Regressive Strategy

In a recent post I posited that Regressives are distinct from everyday Republicans or conservatives. Most Republican voters and conservative thinkers actually want a better world. But Regressives are much more self-interested – they are the economic elites (the plutocrats) who work to undermine societal progress for their own benefit.[4] Regressives have largely appropriated the national Republican Party.

It is no accident that large swaths of white America blame their ills on people of color. The Southern Strategy was a deliberate attempt by Republicans, beginning in the 1960s, to enlist white people to their cause by fomenting hate toward black people. That strategy all hearts the samehas continued in various iterations to this day, as President Trump stokes resentment against immigrants and Muslims, while at the same time proposing legislation that will further erode the fortunes of his white base.

Conservative evangelicals present a perfect opportunity for manipulation. Going back to the Scopes trial, American Christians have been taught to distrust science and the media. Regressives saw this as an opportunity; they built upon this distrust of reason, and coupled it with the fear, anger, and hate exacerbated by the Southern Strategy. Eventually, “alternative” media outlets like Fox News played upon this fear and distrust, creating an army of angry white people.

Charlie Sykes, a conservative radio talk show host in Wisconsin for 25 years, summed it up this way in a recent New York Times op-ed:

[A]s we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether — all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited…. We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.

Which isn’t to say that the people who buy into this false narrative don’t have any culpability. Meanwhile, Regressive policies on everything from health care to taxes to worker protections to education made life worse for white Christians (and pretty much everybody else).[5]all welcome

Hate

Whites without a college degree have seen an increase in mortality rates since 2000, largely as a result of drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver disease (termed “deaths of despair”). There is a tendency among liberals to discount the suffering of this group – oh, you poor white people, you are so oppressed. The fact is, a growing proportion of poor white people are beginning to experience the economic hardship that many people of color have always faced.fear and hope

Regressives, while aggravating the desperation of many white people, have sought to channel the resultant depression, fear, and anger into hate for other groups (again, the people who practice hate share the responsibility). If Donald Trump is good at one thing, it is stirring up anger and hate in his base; hate crimes are on the rise under President Trump.

Hate may be an evolutionary adaptation to help protect complex communities against outside threats. Aside from helping to combat direct threats to a society (like invasion or war), hate may also play a role in curbing perceived internal threats, like changing demographics and growing inequality. Hate can empower the powerless, giving them a tool to eliminate perceived threats, but it comes at the cost of empathy and rational thinking. Taken to an extreme, hate extinguishes any hope of living a fulfilling life.

loveProgressives and especially Democrats have devoted less and less attention to poor, white, rural voters, and also to middle-class white suburban voters. Most of the attention these demographics receive is from Regressives (even if it is for sinister purposes). It’s time for Democrats to remember that they were once the party of the working class and the poor. Progressives need to reach out to suburban and rural areas and remind people that Progressive policies are their best hope, and that it is not immigrants and people of color and liberals that pose the threat – it is the very Regressives who have pretended to listen. Rather than give in to Regressive tendencies toward hate, a Progressive vision channels sadness, fear, and anger into action for positive change.

Conclusion

I’ve had a number of great conversations with D and S since the letter. One thing D said tolove neighbors me is that he’d like it if more white people were aware of what people of color have to endure, and that he wished we white people would be less complacent about it. We are working within our community to start a foundation (LongmontLoves.org) that will help distribute yard signs, set up community-wide block parties, and contribute to Progressive causes.

S, in a post after they received the letter, wrote:

To all who say that nothing has changed since Trump took office, I respectfully request that you read the hashtag at the close of this letter (and obviously the content). There is no denying that his hateful and fear-based rhetoric has far-reaching negative effects. He has given permission to those who hold racist views to voice their hatred. My family and I are certainly not the only ones to be on the receiving end of this, and there are countless others who have received far worse. But this is our home. And our neighborhood. And our country. And this is an unacceptable letter.

Here is my request. Be kind to each other. Treat others with even more compassion than ever before. Go out of your way to make friendly eye contact with strangers, with people who appear to be different than you (but who are truly, as fellow members of our human race, very much the same), and to quickly and firmly speak up against any hate based speech or act.

we love our neighbors

The photos in this post are from a gathering to support the values we care about in our community.

Further Reading (recommended by a good friend who is Iranian American)

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
The Heart of Whiteness by Robert Jensen
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Notes

[1] The letter that D and S received is primarily racist, but it also contains the xenophobic cliché “go back where you came from.” Despite the somber mood, D joked about where he was supposed to “go back to.” Texas? His boys are from Longmont, so where should they “go back to”? When you start telling 2nd and 3rd generation Americans to go back where they came from, it begs the question, how many generations does it take to become an American? I would guess that the letter writer has nothing on D, who likely has ancestry in the Americas going back about 14,000 years.

A long long time ago, there was a group of Americans who were justifiably worried about immigrants pouring into their land. I believe it was Sitting Bull who said, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing smallpox, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” White people sure did have a devastating impact on the way of life of the first Real Americans. [Back]

[2]Saturday Night Live summed it up nicely in a skit after Donald Trump was elected:

[Back]

[3]I think there’s a parallel with the English language, which contains vastly more words than any other language. This is because English is not xenophobic – English, a germanic language – incorporates multitudinous words from the Romance languages, as well as any other word that makes our language more robust: pajama (Farsi), boomerang (Australian aboriginal), jumbo (Swahili), ketchup (Cantonese?), taboo (Hawaiian), jungle (Hindi), behemoth (Hebrew), barbecue (Arawakan). [Back]

[4]This study indicates that economic elites have substantial impacts on U.S. government policy. [Back]

[5]Democrats (with far fewer, but perhaps with growing numbers of, Regressives in their ranks) may have come to see many of these rural, white Christians as no longer part of their base, and thus have further exacerbated their woes. [Back]

Save The World: Eat Insects

A few years ago I worked with some colleagues to write a paper about the potential for entomophagy to address undernutrition. We titled it, fittingly enough, “The potential for entomophagy to address undernutrition,” and it was published in the Ecology of Food and Nutrition journal. Entomophagy is the fancy word for insect eating.

My brother and I had been doing research on entomophagy and I came across a paper in which somebody surmised that we could feed all of the world’s hungry people using insects produced in just a few buildings. I did some calculations of my own and brought this up in a phone conversation with Dr. Florence Dunkel, one of the world’s preeminent entomophagists. She was intrigued, and enlisted my brother and me and another professor, Dr. Frank Franklin, to collaborate on a paper based on our calculations of how much land it would take to grow enough insects to meet the food deficit of all of the world’s undernourished people.

While not quite as optimistic as those first estimates I had read, our calculations indicate that insects could represent a radically more efficient source of calories, protein, and other nutrients, as compared with conventional Western livestock.

Here’s a brief summary of our findings:

  • There are almost 800 million undernourished people in the world (undernutrition is “the result of prolonged low levels of food intake and/or low absorption of food consumed.”)
  • As of 2014, the average food deficit is 84 calories per person per day. Food deficit describes “how many calories would be needed to lift the undernourished from their status.” Some areas, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, experience much higher average food deficits.
  • Increasing population and food consumption patterns, coupled with pressures from climate change and overutilized resources, may cause more food shortages.
  • Humans knowingly and willingly eat over 1900 species of insects worldwide.
  • More than 2 billion people eat insects on a regular basis, in spite of centuries of Western pressure against it.
  • Many insects have similar nutrient profiles to conventional Western livestock meat and products.
  • Yet farming insects uses far fewer resources, less energy, less water, less land, creates less waste, and reduces global warming potential, as compared with conventional livestock.
  • Many insects can utilize organic side streams for feed. Organic side streams are biowaste from agriculture, forestry, and household processes. Insects also have huge potential as recyclers of organic side streams, in turn becoming feed for conventional livestock (see Mad Agriculture for more information).
  • On less than 50,000 acres, one could raise enough mealworms (in a light industrial operation utilizing organic side streams for feed) to erase the world’s food deficit. That’s about 0.0004% of the world’s 12 billion or so acres devoted to agriculture.
  • On less than 250,000 acres, one could raise enough crickets (in a small farming operation utilizing organic side streams for feed) to erase the world’s food deficit.

Our calculations were meant to illustrate the enormous potential for entomophagy to help reduce hunger while reducing pressure on our resources, but, clearly, increased entomophagy represents only one component in a complex approach to combating hunger (including reduced poverty, better education, better food distribution, less wasted food, better agricultural yields, and less environmental degradation).

Just for fun, though, how much land would it take if we derived all of our calories from mealworms? There are about 7.5 billion people in 2017. If we should eat an average of about 2000 calories per day (2400 for men, 2000 for women, less for children), that’s a mere 15 trillion calories a day. Since one could theoretically grow about 10.7 million calories of mealworms per acre per day (not including the feed for the mealworms), it would take about 14 million acres to feed the entire world all-mealworms, all the time (that’s less than one-thousandth the agricultural land we have in production today).

“What’s for breakfast, dad?” “Mealworms!” “Again? We always have mealworms….” “Yes, that’s all we eat.”

Getting back to the present situation, I’ll draw your attention to the first bullet point above. There are 800 million undernourished people in the world today. Let that sink in for a second. While that number has fallen fairly significantly over the past few decades (from close to a billion in 1990), that’s about one in nine people in the world that are going hungry. Most of us are so far removed from this tragedy that it can be hard to connect to the very real suffering. This recent New York Times video by Nicholas Kristof helped make that connection again for me – we are living in a world where we let children die in a dystopian climate change-induced landscape. These kinds of stories will become more common if we don’t work on solutions.*

One part of the solution, as detailed in the 2013 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security, is entomophagy. This report came out before our paper, and did not include detailed calculations about the land and other resources needed for farming insects, but it establishes entomophagy as a very real component of the FAO’s approach to combating hunger.

Wageningen University in the Netherlands is where the rock stars of entomophagy research reside. There is some skepticism there that insect calorie production will be as efficient as our calculations indicate. But, on the one hand, even if our numbers were off by a factor of ten (or a hundred), insect farming is still far more efficient than farming conventional livestock. On the other hand, I believe that our numbers could be too conservative, if anything. Consider that insect farming is currently very primitive relative to much conventional agriculture. As insect farming technologies improve, I believe we will see leaps and bounds in its efficiency, which could far surpass what we suggest is possible in our paper.

Of course there are a lot of unknowns, but that’s where organizations like MightI and Aspire come in. MightI is a nonprofit working with local communities in Sub-Saharan Africa to study the feasibility of implementing insect farming there. They are also doing research into how different feeds affect insect nutrient profiles, as well as the health impacts of insect consumption. Aspire is a for-profit that is using higher tech farming to create cricket flour in the U.S., and is also working with local communities in Africa to farm insects.

In the U.S., meat-eating is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Entomophagy represents one way to curb the amount of conventional meat we eat. Culturally, most Americans are averse to eating insects, but are generally open to new culinary experiences (witness the explosion in sushi eating over the past few decades). And flours made from some insects can provide a protein boost in things like soups, shakes, baked goods, protein bars, etc. that, if anything, adds to the flavor. I could envision a time when we add a little mealworm or cricket powder to almost everything we eat, allowing us to cut back significantly on more expensive and wasteful (and some would say unethical**) proteins.

 

Where do we go from here? My plan is to keep evangelizing entomophagy. Practicing a little of what I preach, I’ve been growing mealworms in the basement now for over a year. My next move will be to see if I can grow enough to meet my protein needs for a week. I’ll also do some experimenting with organic side streams (mostly our erstwhile compost) as feed, to see if I can get decent mealworm growth with nary an ounce of high-grade feed. In agriculture, I see a lot of potential in indoor vertical farming, especially with advances in solar power, LED lighting, lithium battery, and other technologies); entomophagy fits right in with this (imagine taking old abandoned warehouses in places like Detroit and Baltimore and turning them into beautiful farms).

Want to grow your own mealworms (GYOM)? Or start your own insect factory? Or maybe travel to developing countries to see how you can help with entomophagy projects there? If you’re interested in getting involved in entomophagy in any capacity, check out the great resources below.

Warning: A lot of insects are great to eat, but don’t just go out grabbing insects willy nilly and eating them. Some insects are poisonous. Some insects carry pathogens. And some insects may contain pesticides.  

Entomophagy Resources

Organizations Working With Entomophagy in Developing Countries:

  • MightI: “Aims to use robust, multidisciplinary research to investigate ways edible insects can contribute to sustainable food security and improved health and well-being globally. Our vision is to generate applied research on edible insects that has the potential to improve lives and protect our precious environmental resources.”
  • Flying Food Project: “Aims at rearing and eating crickets as a delicious, affordable and healthy solution for malnutrition.”
  • Aspire: “To celebrate, innovate, and advance responsible farming and healthy eating of insects. We will continue to research and invest in sustainable insect farming practices to bring this protein alternative to market.”

A Small Sampling of Companies Raising Insects or Selling Insect Products in the United States and Canada:

  • Aspire: “We raise food-grade crickets on a commercial scale, and are actively working to normalize the consumption of insects in the western world.”
  • Tiny Farms: “To enable adoption of insects as a source of sustainable alternative protein, Tiny Farms Inc. applies designs thinking, IoT, and automation to build smart, easily scalable farming systems.”
  • Mad Agriculture: “We harness the nutrient recycling abilities of insects to turn food waste into a protein rich feed supplement so we can be less dependent on unsustainable ingredients like fishmeal and soy.”
  • C-fu Foods: “A new approach to protein that comes from a more sustainable source, insects. Through our innovative process we’ve created a healthy meat replacement that helps you create culinary staples like burgers, schnitzel, or nuggets.

DIY Insect Farming:

  • A series of videos detailing how to start a mealworm farm
  • Third Millennium Farming: Small-scale cricket farms
  • Open Bug Farm: From the Tiny Farms folks, open source instructions for building mealworm farms
  • Livin Farms: Countertop mealworm farms. Looks sleek and high tech, but fairly spendy at $649. Harvest over a pound of mealworms a week.

Articles, Books, and Videos on Entomophagy:

 

*I’m hopeful that, just as with the Millennium Development Goals, we can work together to achieve the even more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, which call for ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030.

**We know pigs and cows and chickens experience consciousness and pain and suffering. Do insects feel? Here’s an interesting disquisition on that. Insects may have a form of consciousness, but probably do not feel pain as we define it.

Donald Trump Is My President: An Analysis of What the Fuck Just Happened

trump analysisHere at the Cottage, my family and I, like most of the world, were shocked/stunned/surprised (dumbfounded, flabbergasted, stupefied, blindsided, bewildered, nutpunched?) that Donald Trump was elected president earlier this month. As what was supposed to be celebratory wine turned to bitter anodyne, a tumultuous fracas erupted in my head. My id, assholish as always, battled with my schoolmarmish superego, while my ego tried to find reconciliation. The battle raged for days, and continues to this day, although the three parties are moving toward détente. Following is our analysis of the election and what it portends.

The Election

Id: What the fuck just happened? We The People just elected a narcissist/psychopath/fascist/liar, not to mention misogynist/racist/xenophobic/anti-intellectual bully. Donal Trump is NOT my fucking president. I’m moving to Canada. Orange Qadhafi is not going to tell me what to do. Fuck it, I’m just going to shut out the outside world and focus on me and my family, maybe do some gardening. Fuck fuck fuck. I want to burn something. Fuck.

make america grateful, dump trump

Yes, those are narcissus flowers

Superego: Hold on a sec, it’s not that bad, it’s not the end of the world. We need to give this guy a chance. Maybe he will do the opposite of everything he said during the campaign. Maybe he actually cares about women and Mexicans and Muslims and black people and working class folk and the environment and the good old U.S. of A. Maybe he wants to cancel the Paris climate change agreement so he can enact something even more fantastic, like a carbon tax. Maybe he didn’t release his taxes because he’s so humble that he didn’t want people to see the gobs of money he’s been giving to malnourished children around the world. Maybe he’s just stringing along Giuliani and Gingrich and Christie and Bannon (the real deplorables) as part of a master plan to mortally embarrass them for all their cheating and lying and underhandedness and vitriol. Maybe he meant he likes to grab kittens, to save them when they get stuck in trees. In fact, maybe this whole thing was just an act and Trump is secretly a progressive in the vein of Bernie Sanders. Regardless, we need to give him our full support, because he’s OUR president now.

Ego: Id, I totally agree with your first sentiment, but then you go off the deep end (which I guess is kind of your thing). As much as I hate to say it, Donald Trump IS my president. He won according to our rules (although I think some of those rules are flawed). But, when I say he’s my president, that doesn’t mean I’m going to get all Stockholm Syndrome-y and fall in love with the guy who kidnapped my country and is about to resume torture (figuratively and literally, if he himself is to be believed). I can already see the normalization of Trump going on in the mainstream media.

Trump may try to do some good things, like invest in infrastructure projects – that will create jobs and spur the economy. That’s something Obama tried to do, but was, as usual, stymied by Republicans. Maybe Trump can make some headway where Obama failed. Hey, maybe he will just rebrand Obamacare as Trumpcare – it was based on a Republican plan anyway (then all those people that hate it but need it might realize they love it).

But Trump is also planning to do some terrible things, according to his 100-day plan. Will he be able to follow through on all his crazy campaign vomitus? No, thank God/Allah/Flying Spaghetti Monster (trying to be inclusive here). But, in addition to the potential civil rights catastrophe that could occur under Trump, I’m most worried about the setback this represents to efforts to curb climate change; delays at this point could have disastrous consequences for billions of people and the planet.[1] Make no mistake, Superego, some bad things are coming down the pipeline.

I am a white guy, so I can only imagine the anxiety that many people of color, immigrants, American Indians, and women feel.

Incidentally, Superego, about 40% of working class folks are people of color. And, to all working class folks, including all those white ones that voted for Trump, I fear that most of Trump’s policies will set you back even further[2] – we’ve tried trickle down, but all that cash only tends to trickle up.

trump i don't want you

So, Id and Superego, we’re not moving to Canada – this isn’t a time for complacency. It’s a time to stand against terrible regressive ideas and policies. And it’s a time to redouble progressive efforts to stand with the working class and the poor and women and people of color and LGBT folks and immigrants and the environment and, yes, white guys.

What The Fuck Happened?

Id: I hate white people. Why are we so dumb? Why do we vote against our own fucking interests all the time, and then get mad when things don’t get better for us? Why do we think that anything that helps other groups is automatically bad for us? Hey, white trash redneck hillbillies, wake the fuck up and realize that Republicans tricked you into trading your livelihoods for automatic weapons without background checks. They are tricking you into thinking that the bad guys are immigrants and black people and brown people and women and gays and, yes, liberals, when really those are the people you should be in league with to fight the real bad guys: greedy regressive oligarchs… like Trump. I’m with Bill Maher: “White men [are] weeping like they just won some long, hard-fought civil rights battle: ‘Move over women and gays and minorities, it’s our turn now!’” Whatever happened to “Ask not what your country can do for you?”

White women, what the fuck?

And black people, did you not see this guy during the campaign?

This is the guy that continually turned away potential black tenants from his properties; now he’s hanging the “No Vacancy” sign on American prosperity. Where were you when it was time to vote? Milwaukee, if you had come out to vote like you did for Obama, Hillary would’ve won Wisconsin. Same deal in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which would’ve given her the election. And Latinos, remember this fun moment?

Yet about 30% of you voted for this guy.

orange trump

Well, at least we can say we now have our first Orange-American President

James Comey, what the fuck?

Electoral College, what the fuck?

The media is a giant pile of crap. While systematically dismantling the real change candidate, Bernie Sanders, in favor of their establishment darling, Hillary Clinton, they continually treated the Trump candidacy as a funny joke (but, hey, it was great for ratings):

Where was the substantive talk about the actual policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? You know things are fucked when the most substantive debate was hosted by Fox. Actually looking at their policies might’ve revealed Trump as the snake oil salesman he is. Donald Trump won’t be able to bring back coal mining jobs and he won’t give a fuck about miners once they’re out of work – Hillary Clinton’s proposals would go a lot further toward helping those miners find new jobs (this is a real fucking plan – did you ever hear about it from the media?).

But, Hillary Clinton, you suck. You are uninspiring and you are too beholden to Wall Street and all those other establishment elites. Barack Obama, you suck too – why didn’t you fight harder for real universal health care and other progressive policies that would have done so much more to lift up America’s poor and working class families? When it comes to the working class and poor, Democratic policies from the Bill Clinton era to the Obama era were Republican Lite establishment blowjobs; would Clinton II have been any different? If we really wanted to blast the shit out of the glass ceiling, we needed a firebrand like Elizabeth Warren. Still, Hillary, you were a million times better than the orange hemorrhoid that now resides on our collective asshole. Fuck.

Superego: What is with all the fucking swearing, Id? You’re going to have an aneurysm. First, I think we need to have some empathy for white folks who feel like they haven’t been heard. Republicans have used them, and Democrats seem to have forgotten that they exist. Republicans realized in the 1960s that they were going to start losing the demographic battle for votes if they didn’t do something drastic. Starting with the Southern strategy, which stoked white resentment about black people gaining civil rights, Republicans began a movement that tied a number of social issues (the whole God/Guns/Gays thing) together with their economic policies that help only the wealthy elite. When these policies go into effect, they make conditions even worse for those at the bottom, which creates more resentment and, perversely, redounds to the benefit of Republican politicians.

Democrats, on the other hand, realized that the Republican strategy was starting to falter, because the demographics are changing: there are less white rural voters out there compared to the Democratic urban base. With that in mind, Democrats could just say “fuck ’em” regarding the white rural folks, since they didn’t really need their votes anyway. Meanwhile, Democrats got people of color and white liberals so locked up that they could, kind of like the Republicans (but not nearly as insidious), stop paying attention to many of their constituents’ wants and needs. Why should Democrats care about unions if they no longer need union voters? And as unions have waned, so too has the voice of Labor (in the form of campaign contributions). Democrats, who used to get much of their support from Labor and non-business interest groups, are increasingly being funded by the same big business that funds Republican campaigns.

Michael Lerner in a recent NY Times op-ed, said: “Democrats need to become as conscious and articulate about the suffering caused by classism as we are about other forms of suffering. We need to reach out to Trump voters in a spirit of empathy and contrition. Only then can we help working people understand that they do not live in a meritocracy, that their intuition that the system is rigged is correct (but it is not by those whom they had been taught to blame) and that their pain and rage is legitimate.”

There are a lot of smart, hard-working white folks out there, but they no longer have a true champion in government. Admittedly, though, choosing Trump over even an establishment Democrat is like choosing to eat a dead rat you found in the street because you didn’t like the stale bread alternative.

Regarding voter turnout, you can’t blame it on African Americans. In conjunction with their Southern Strategy, Republican politicians have made a concerted effort to disenfranchise voters, culminating in the Supreme Court decision in 2013 that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Voter suppression is targeted at minorities and the poor, and gerrymandering has turned our country into a kaleidoscopic nightmare that favors Republicans in federal and state legislatures.[3] Voter fraud is statistically zero, but voter ID laws and the like that are purported to stop fraud instead end up disenfranchising hundreds of thousands. Yes, voters in Milwaukee didn’t come out like they did for Obama, but Wisconsin’s voter ID law had a lot to do with that. The huge voter suppression efforts of the last few decades, almost solely perpetrated by leaders on the right, will be seen by history as one of the most shamefully anti-democratic agendas of this era (second only to the unfettered access corporations and wealthy individuals have to buy our politicians). Shame on anyone who tries to silence the voice of the American people.

Ego: I hear you, Superego, and agree that Id needs to ease up on the vitriol. Do you think that calling white rural folks rednecks and hillbillies and white trash is a good way to convince them we’re on the same team? Personally, I’m going to put a moratorium on those words.[4] When it comes to poor white folks, liberals generally still find it acceptable to paint an entire group with the same brush. Yes, certain demographics may be more prone to misogyny, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, but we become classists if we accuse everybody in a certain group of those ills.

As near as I can tell, from reading lots and lots of articles, Hillary lost the election because of disaffected white people… or misogyny… or racism… or voter turnout… or the media… or conservatives without a conscience… or her own suckiness… or James Comey… or voter suppression… or the electoral college… or a repudiation of the establishment… or the Russians… or because Democrats suck… or because people want a Pussy Grabber in Chief…

trump grope

The Audacity of Grope

In truth, I think it’s some of all of the above (except for maybe the last thing). But I think the primary takeaway is that there were a lot of angry white voters out there who didn’t feel like they were being heard, and this was their Fuck You to the establishment. Thanks for your input, Id and Superego; I’ve taken that into account in coming up with this list of reasons that Donald Trump was elected our 45th president:

  1. Republicans Voted Republican: We can talk about all the things that tipped the scales this way or that way in the election, but the Republican base pretty much did what they always do, which is vote for a Republican.
  2. White Working Class Voters: In hundreds of counties throughout the so-called Rust Belt, white working class voters switched from Democrat to Republican between 2012 and 2016. trump vs romneyIn many of the rural midwestern counties that went more heavily for Trump, voter turnout was higher (a much higher proportion of nonvoters from 2012 became Trump voters in 2016). Previous nonvoter turnout for Trump, combined with hundreds of thousands switching parties, is, I think, the big story of the election. Some of this undoubtedly had to do with Trump’s message; Chris Offutt, in a recent Harper’s Article, wrote that Trump’s “real achievement is tapping into the frustration of people who feel ignored.” Another reason for the shift is the natural cycle of change – many of these people voted for change when they voted for Obama, and now they’re voting for change with Trump. And maybe part of the reason these people keep hoping for change is because they keep getting the shaft. Robert Reich argues that this vote was not a vote for hatefulness, but a vote to repudiate the American power structure. I largely agree, although I do believe that misogyny (and xenophobia and racism) played a role for many voters. But it’s hard to separate that from Hillary Clinton’s lack of engagement (how would Elizabeth Warren have fared with these voters?). To be sure, Clinton and the Democrats’ platform[5] is far more friendly to these voters than the Republican Platform. But lip service only goes so far, and there wasn’t even much of that from Democrats. Unions used to hold some authority with the white working class, so of course their votes went to the party that fought for workers. But unions aren’t what they used to be, and white workers sure don’t want to be told what to do by the urban liberal elite (which includes the mainstream media), who seem to ridicule them as bumpkins at every turn. To quote Chris Offutt again, on angry white rural voters: “The only good thing to come out of Trump’s candidacy may be an increased national awareness of this population.”[6]
  3. Voter Suppression: If the Voting Rights Act hadn’t been gutted, if Republican politicians hadn’t actively worked to deny people the right to vote, and if voting were easier, might the outcome have been different? We probably won’t know, but restrictive laws in some swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina deterred many potential voters.
  4. The Media: A lot of people are up in arms about how the polls flat out missed the mark. I’m less concerned about that and more concerned with the fact that, as Superego mentioned, the media forgot to cover the actual news; in an election, doesn’t the media have a responsibility to provide citizens with facts about the candidates and their stances so we can make an informed decision? That isn’t to say that information about a candidate’s temperament or personality or improprieties isn’t relevant, but it shouldn’t be the only thing on the table. That said, citizens also have a responsibility to inform themselves, and Facebook and Infowars (and Fox) might not be the best sources.
  5. The Electoral College: If Trump had won the popular vote and Clinton had won the Electoral College, guess who would be having a fit about the riggedness of the Electoral College? Trump and his supporters would be going batshit. Depending on which side you’re on, it doesn’t seem fair. But, the way things are going in places like Texas and Arizona, the Electoral College will soon be a huge boon to Democrats – what will Republicans do when not only New York and California and Illinois are solid blue, but Texas tips that way? I think the Electoral College is flawed, but what kind of unintended consequences would ensue under a popular vote? Wouldn’t the concerns of people in less populous states instantly be wiped out? I think we need to do some detailed analysis before we go there; maybe we need some sort of a hybrid system similar to the way Representatives are proportional to a state’s population but each state gets two Senators, no matter how small (the state, not the senator).
  6. Other Stuff: Maybe James Comey and the Russians and Wikileaks played a role in the outcome, but I think they’re far outweighed by the other issues listed above. Which isn’t to dismiss their actions out-of-hand.

What Now?

Id: Every day brings more revelations about how shitty this guy’s going to be. If his Cabinet picks are any indication, we’re in for a long ride on the Crazy Train. It’s a very diverse group: you’ve got your racists, your misogynists, your anti-semites, your nationalists… oh wait, that’s just Bannon… aside from him, you have your racists, your misogynists, your xenophobes, your nut jobs – altogether, a well-rounded group of old white guys.

What we have to do is what the Republicans do every time a Democrat gets in office: obstruct, delay, sabotage, cheat, lie, destroy by any means necessary.

No matter how good their policy is, we attack it. No matter how good their nominees are, we reject them (or refuse to hold hearings). Any chance we get, tie them up in legal red tape. Put a noose around Trump’s balls so tight that any move he makes is filled with excruciating pain. Make our whole country feel this pain to ensure they’re so sick of Trump after four years that they’re begging for change (literally and literally).

Another thing we can do is call Trump what he is: a shill. He’s a shill for moneyed interests, a shill for big oil. If we accuse him of that enough, his fragile psyche will react so defensively, he might even back off on some of his stances. “Don’t call me a shill, it hurts my feelings! Waaa, waaa.” Shill, baby, shill!

Superego: I agree that Trump’s picks thus far look pretty bad on paper, but again I think we need to give them a chance, wait and see what actions they take. I still have hope that the gravity of their positions will lead them to make much more rational decisions.

What would have happened if Clinton had won? The Democrats probably would have continued down the same establishment path, the anger would’ve continued to boil over in half the country (if they didn’t foment a coup in the meantime), and Paul Ryan would’ve become our next President in four years, bringing a plan that in some ways is more dangerous than Trump’s disjointed jackassery. Eight years of Ryan could have ushered in another major recession and might’ve tolled the death knell for measures to stop climate change. Maybe we’ll squeak through the Trump years without too much damage and we’ll end up with a true progressive to shine the light of never-ending prosperity on our beautiful country.

But if the Trump years do get pretty grim, at least it won’t affect me personally that much. I mean, maybe all those people that voted for him will get what they deserve.

Ego: That’s the kind of liberal elitism that alienates everybody outside of our bubble, Superego. What about all those people that didn’t vote for Trump that are going to be hurt immensely by his plans? What about the planet? And, even for those that did vote for him, we want their lives to be better, too. Going into a shell isn’t going to move us forward.

As for you, Id, you kind of sound like Trump (maybe he’s all id). What a cynical way to behave, to basically shut down government to the detriment of all, simply for political gain. What could be more unpatriotic? I’d go so far as to say it verges on being traitorous. That is truly going low, and that is not the path for progressives.

In fact, I think we need to come up with some new terminology here. We’ve mentioned the word regressive a few times. I’d like to distinguish between conservatives/Republicans and Regressives. I think it’s fair to say that most conservatives/Republicans want what they think is best for our country and the world. In contrast, Regressives want a world that is better for them personally, and if that gain is at the expense of the world as a whole, they’re OK with that. The average Republican voter is not a Regressive, but when it comes to their party, it has been hijacked by Regressives. Power and money corrupt, and although it may not be as overt as it is in some countries, corruption is rampant in Washington. Lest Democrats think they’re off the hook here, the Democratic Party is also being hijacked by Regressives, as money from greedy oligarchs pours in… oligarchs like Trump, for instance, as revealed in The National Review (not exactly a liberal rag). In fact, Trump even bragged about how he was able to buy politicians, outlined in another National Review article: “I give to everybody. When they call, I give.” Trump is, in fact, the quintessential Regressive – a guy that has always put himself first, ahead of other people, ahead of his country, ahead of the world. Will it be different now that he’s the head of the world?

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think, in contrast to Regressive thinking, fundamentally most of us want a Progressive world – one where we have more opportunities, better schools, better health care, more security. We may differ on the best path forward, but we can mostly agree on where we want to go.

Regressives are like Sisyphus in reverse, rolling boulders down the hill, destroying whatever gets in the way. Regressives are masters of entropy, chaos. Sowing division and hate makes it easy to distract people from the path forward. It’s a lot harder to push that rock uphill, but that’s what Progressives do. Progressives can empathize with anger and fear, but don’t accept hate as the logical outcome to this anger and fear.

Id: If I could just interject, Ego, you’re getting a little platitudinous.

Ego: Sorry, the point is that most of us want the same things, so we should be able to form a broad coalition to fight against Regressive thinking. This coalition includes the poor, the entire working class (white, brown, black; women, men; immigrants, American-born), the middle class (who, incidentally, also work, right?), and anybody from the upper classes who isn’t solely interested in adding to their own wealth. It includes liberals and conservatives, urban elites and rural farmers, gay and straight and transgender folks, seniors and children, cowboys and Indians, homeless and blue bloods, cops and Crips, Muslims and Christians, atheists and Mormons, veterans and fraternity brothers, gun owners and kale shake drinkers, Packers fans and Bears fans.

Progressives need to stand up to Regressives in places like Standing Rock and Flint and Cleveland, but also in Appalachia and Mississippi and rural Michigan. We need to recognize that our systemic failures are affecting all Americans.

The “We” in We The People has never included all of us, but I think, now more than ever, we can all be We. One way to bring all these disparate groups together is by coalescing around the idea that we need to get money out of politics.

Follow The Money

Id: Lobbyist pigs in Washington are already jostling for room at the Trumpian slop trough. With Republicans in control of all three branches of government, this could represent a power grab by the moneyed elite such that we’ve never seen before. The pigs will rejoice with the foxes, who Trump will appoint to guard the henhouse. It’s always good to have the guardians of our democracy come from the very industry they’re supposed to be regulating: “Let’s see, head of the EPA, how about a good strong oil man who doesn’t believe in climate change? For the SEC, how about one of those old fuckers from the banking industry who thought sub-prime mortgages were a good idea?” Yes, our henhouse will be well-guarded – and guess who the hens are?

Superego: Hold on, Id, in Trump’s 100-day plan, he talks about cleaning up some of this lobbying mess. Trump, despite having utilized the system to his advantage, recognizes that it is flawed. Members and candidates for Congress spend 30-70% of their time raising money. Less than .03% of Americans gave the maximum contribution to candidates in 2012. Almost half the money donated to presidential candidates in 2016 came from 158 families (138 of whom support Republicans). The Koch brothers alone promised to spend $900 million on the 2016 election.

Ego: In 2016, Clinton actually raised a shit-ton more money than Trump did.[7] But overall, most business funding goes to Republicans. What can we do about it? Trump has discussed “draining the swamp” in Washington, so changing lobbying and campaign finance rules may be one area where Progressives could make some inroads under a Trump administration. We should support Trump’s proposals to limit lobbying, and push for even stricter limits. Progressives can also fight to overturn Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo, two Supreme Court decisions that have allowed corporate money to influence our elections. Given that many of his primary opponents, as well as Hillary Clinton, received much more of this outside money than he did, Trump may be amenable to changing the system. One proposal that could have an impact is the Government by the People Act, which could effectively close some corporate tax loopholes. Need some more motivation about changing our corrupt system? Watch this:

If we want a system that benefits 300 million-plus people, we can’t let 158 of them decide who will represent us.

Make America Great

Ego: When was America Great? Nobody really thought to ask Donald Trump this question, or what this Greatness entailed. My theory is that, for Trump and his followers, the post-World War II era was when America was Great. Income inequality was relatively low, prosperity seemed imminently attainable, and white Americans felt safe and secure. Then came all the unruliness of Civil Rights and Vietnam War protesters and scary naked hippies dancing in the mud. The world became a much more complicated place when, on paper at least, everybody was supposed to have equal opportunity. Meanwhile, in the background, more and more of the wealth created was flowing to those at the top.

The myth of this golden era is that America was Great for everyone. In most ways for most people, it’s better today than it was in 1950. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, but that prosperity isn’t accruing to everyone, and by many metrics (income and wealth inequality, health, education, poverty, life satisfaction) we are falling behind much of the developed (and in some cases, developing) world. As the wealthiest nation, shouldn’t we be leading the world in most of these areas? Shouldn’t we be showing the rest of the world the way forward?

If Donald Trump really wants to fix America, he needs to move our government toward a system that is not beholden to the wealthy few, and invests in equal opportunity for all. He needs to recognize that division and hatred aren’t the way forward. I don’t have high hopes that he will suddenly have this revelation. But I do believe that We The People will continue to recognize more and more that together we can all prosper.

Id: Kind of cheesy, Ego, but hear! hear!

Superegosigh

love trumps hate

 

[1]If nothing else, maybe Trump will realize that climate change is going to affect him personally, since his Mar-a-Lago resort is likely to be inundated by rising sea levels if he doesn’t continue efforts to curb climate change. My last post, though, was about how the new president needs to be open to science – Trump is anything but. [Back]

[2]According to Wall Street executive Steven Rattner, if Trump “follows through on his ideas, we could face higher prices on imported goods, rising interest rates, substantial inflation and a further shift of wealth to the upper classes.”

According to the Tax Policy Center, Trump’s tax cuts would go primarily to those at the top. By 2025, the bottom 20% would see 0.8% of the tax cuts, or about $120, whereas the top 20% would see 82.8% of the tax cuts, or about $24,440. Within the top 20%, the top 1% would get 50.8% of the tax cut ($317,100 each) and the top 0.1% would get 24.5% of the tax cut (almost $1.5 million each). Trump’s tax cuts would also precipitate a ballooning national debt, adding almost $1.5 trillion to our current debt by 2025 – now that’s fiscal conservatism for you. Finally, by doing away with many of the regulations that protect non-elite Americans and the environment, there’s a good chance Trump will usher in another Bushian recession (remember that, remember when Bush did all the tax cutting and all the war spending and all the deregulating that brought us the Great Recession, the one that put all those people out of work, the one that made all those poor out-of-work white people angry and scared, scared enough to vote for a crazy person who will make their lives even worse?). [Back]

[3]In encouraging news, a panel of federal judges recently found Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting unconstitutional. In a measure of how bad it is there, in 2012 Wisconsin Republicans won 48.6% of the vote, but ended up taking 61% of Assembly seats. Using a new measure called the efficiency gap, it is now fairly straightforward to see the level of gerrymandering. If the Supreme Court upholds this ruling, it could spell the end of partisan gerrymandering. In fact, when districts are redrawn in 2021, they should be required to use the efficiency gap metric to ensure fairness. [Back]

[4]Really, I’m going to banish those words from my lexicon. There’s no utility to calling a whole group of people something derogatory. If an individual is racist or misogynist or ignorant, I’ll call them out on that. [Back]

[5]Note that the first item of the Democratic Platform is raising workers’ wages. The Republican Platform, in contrast, begins with a vague idea of creating jobs that seems to rely primarily on the premise that people just need to work harder. [Back]

[6]This article provides more in-depth analysis on why white voters are leaving the Democratic Party. [Back]

[7]According to Open Secrets, the total amount raised by presidential candidates was $1.3 billion. Of this, Hillary Clinton raised $687.3 million ($497.8 directly to her campaign plus $189.5 million to outside groups supporting her), and Donald Trump raised $306.9 million ($247.5 million for his campaign plus $59.4 million to outside groups). Clinton raised more money from almost all industry sectors than Trump, as well as from Labor and Single Issue groups. Notably, though, Republican presidential candidates as a whole (Trump and the primary candidates) dominated fundraising from most business sectors, whereas Democrats received the majority of funding from Communications/Electronics, Defense, Health, Lawyer/Lobbyists, Labor, and Ideology/Single Issue groups. [Back]

Scientific Policy

science president

One of these guys is doing his own thing (i.e. ignoring facts and science) – OK, maybe two of these guys are…

What kind of world would we live in if politics were largely guided by science rather than greed or special interests? Under new prime minister Justin Trudeau, Canada is revamping its environmental policy to “ensure that decisions on major projects are based on science, facts, and evidence.” Funny that this is, in the words of Science magazine, likely to fuel fierce debate: “What’s with all the facts and science when we’re trying to make policy decisions, eh?”

In the U.S., where money is far more entrenched in politics than it is for our friendly northern neighbors, facts often take a back seat to feelings. If you believe something enough, it must be true. John Oliver thought this was the main theme of the Republican Convention in July.

Facts, science, and knowledge are routinely ridiculed on the far right. Which isn’t to say that people on the left don’t fall victim to fantastic thinking as well. But in order to push a conservative agenda that is almost entirely beholden to big-money special interests and in no way helps the vast majority of those whose votes they need, the conservative demagogues must push an agenda that requires the suspension of disbelief.

It is one week from the U.S. presidential election, and Science magazine has compiled a list of six areas of science in which the new president will need to be well-versed in order to lead our country down the right path.

  1. Pathogens: In the U.S., 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. Globally, drug resistance is increasing for a number of deadly diseases. And new pathogens have the potential to reach epidemic or even pandemic proportions. Policy needs to fund tracking and safe research on these pathogens, fund new drugs and approaches to combat them (these drugs are not very lucrative, so free-market capitalism will not fill the void), and regulate the overuse of antibiotics that leads to resistance.
  2. Gene Editing: Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats – that’s what it’s all about. CRISPR, as it’s called (because nobody can remember what it stands for (I will forget by the end of this paragraph)), is a new innovation for editing genes that has vast implications, from creating higher yielding crops to combating genetic diseases to resurrecting extinct animals to making super-human genetic freaks that can fly and breathe underwater. Regulations will be needed to harness what is allowed, both ethically and pragmatically (e.g., curtailing the production of flying humans). And funding will be needed to realize the enormous potential of this technology. Imagine a world without cystic fibrosis and other genetic diseases.
  3. Sea Level Rise: I know I’m not supposed to call climate change deniers idiots (because they will stop listening to me), but can I call them something more endearing, like nincompoops? Climate change isn’t theoretical; it’s here. Sea level has already risen a few inches in the last two decades, and if current emissions trends continue, it could rise another couple feet or more by century’s end. In the U.S., the rate of sea level rise on the East Coast is double the average. This is already threatening communities and ecosystems. Globally, displacement from sea level rise will lead to civil unrest and increased immigration (we will have a lot more wall-building to do to keep these tired, poor, huddled masses from breathing free on our shores*). If a president refuses to believe in climate change, will he also refuse to believe it when his people are being inundated by yet another flood? Policy-wise, we need a president who will act globally for prevention and locally for mitigation. The president will need to act to strengthen climate agreements like the Paris Agreement (not “cancel” it), while simultaneously coordinating and funding local and regional efforts to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels.
  4. Brain Health: Most of us use our brains a fair amount, so it’s a tragedy when they’re affected by things like autism, mental illness, and dementia. In 2016, treatment for people with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia cost $236 billion, two-thirds of which was paid for by government health programs. Mental illness is a major factor in homelessness, drug addiction, and crime. One in 68 kids has autism, which costs an average of $60,000 per family per year (which, if my math is correct, means families spend over $65 billion per year in the U.S. on autism). In short, hundreds of billions of dollars is spent on treatment, law enforcement, prison, and other programs each year because of problems with people’s brains. This doesn’t even take into account all the suffering and lost productivity because of these issues. So putting more funding into understanding the causes of brain maladies could ultimately lead to cures that enrich our whole society immensely (or should I say “bigly”?). Many brain diseases also have a genetic component, so, using CRISPR, we may one day stop them before they start.
  5. Artificial Intelligence: Advances in AI, and technology in general, are moving so fast these days that it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. As someone who worked in the electric vehicle industry for a few years beginning in 2008, I witnessed firsthand the dizzying rise of battery technology. In addition to electric vehicles and lithium batteries, solar power has undergone amazing innovation and price drops, and LED lights have revolutionized that field. Self-driving cars and trucks are here now, and will soon be much more widespread. More automation in production has already led to increased productivity (far outpacing the rise in workers’ wages) and the loss of many jobs; as this automation increases, many workers will become more and more obsolete. And, if many of the smartest people in the world are to be believed, artificial intelligence will soon reach a point where computers are much much smarter than humans, which has the potential for unlimited unintended consequences (for a fun, and slightly terrifying, disquisition on this, see Wait But Why’s post “The AI Revolution”). So, the next president will have to be adaptable and willing to listen to a team of nerds that can keep her apprised of what’s going on in the tech world. As innovation effects rapid change, policy will have to keep up to avoid becoming outdated. What will we do when much of our workforce is replaced by machines? As production increases due to automation, most of the extra rewards flow to the owners of production, and this trickle up economy has already begun to increase inequality in the U.S. One way to stem this is to tax the beneficiaries of this automation so that we can spread the bounty among the general population; some have even proposed a universal basic income of, say, $1000 a month, which would allow people to pursue their interests rather than driving a Budweiser truck around the country (see self-driving truck above).**
  6. Gut Instinct: And this is kind of what this whole post is about. Our guts are often not the best place to do our thinking (even if they do have some neurons). We often miss when we shoot from the hip. Risk assessment isn’t about how you feel, it’s about what actually is. For example, immigrants pose very little, if any, risk to American jobs. Violent crime is down significantly over the past 20 years. Terrorism deaths are a tiny fraction of those due to heart disease. We may feel that immigrants and violent criminals and terrorists pose an increasing risk, but the fact is there are other concerns that are much more pressing; which isn’t to say that immigration and violent crime and terrorism shouldn’t be addressed at all, but we should address issues based on actual risks. If special interest groups and their puppet politicians do enough fear mongering about smaller issues (or non-issues), it’s easier to dupe people into ignoring the giant, flatulent elephants in the room: elephants with names like climate change and big money that have major negative impacts on public health, happiness, and the environment.

One picture that emerges here is that we need BIG government – we need big government because we need an institution that coordinates massive efforts. We need to pool our money to invest in things that don’t fit in to the supply-and-demand scheme of free-market capitalism (hey, maybe we could call this pooling of money “taxation”). We need smart regulation because, without it, laissez-faire might as well mean “let us be assholes.”

Looking at the list above, which of our presidential candidates is least likely to turn the Oval Office into an utter shit show***? Of course, science can’t answer all our ethical questions. But being armed with facts helps guide us as we make ethical decisions that lead to policy. If we know the direction we want to go (a cleaner environment, a healthier society, more freedom, more prosperity, fewer abortions, less violence, happier people, a Greater America), applying science and knowledge is the best way to help us get there.

 

*To continue the metaphor from The New Colossus sonnet that graces the Statue of Liberty, many of these people will be literally “tempest-tost” from their homes. Rather than raising a lamp to them, too many of us want to get out the torches and pitchforks.

**To many, this will sound far-fetched, but in a way it’s not unprecedented. If we think of technology as a resource that belongs to us all, it could be compared to a physical resource, like oil, that exists in the ground beneath our feet. When we tap it and sell it, the profits can be shared. This has been occurring for decades in Alaska, as Alaskans receive distributions each year for their shared oil riches. And this is why Alaskans are of course so sympathetic to socialist and left-wing politicians like Sarah Palin and Don Young (bunch o’ commies!).

***Many of you will be reading this after the election has taken place, so perhaps the shit show is already underway? [Update 11/10/16: The shit show is underway]

Sugar Conspiracy

sugar conspiracyI’m in my fourth month of time-restricted intermittent fasting – primarily eating in a six-hour window between 2 and 8 p.m. Along the way, I’ve been getting my cholesterol tested (results forthcoming). In addition to intermittent fasting, I’ve instituted three different diet phases. After the initial whatever/whenever diet (not so good for my cholesterol or weight), I began with a month and a half of intermittent fasting without any restrictions on what I ate: the whatever/not whenever diet. Then I did about a month where I kept my carbohydrate intake to about 200g per day. And I’m currently in the final phase, wherein I’m limiting my carbs to an average of 100g per day.

I’ve briefly discussed the benefits of fasting and intermittent fasting, and there is growing evidence that intermittent fasting could have a number of positive health benefits. I’ll delve into this more deeply once my study of one is done. I’ve also discussed the benefits of eating fewer carbs. Thus far on the intermittent fasting diet, I’ve lost over ten pounds, and my genetically shitty cholesterol numbers have been moving in a positive direction.

Obesity is up there with tobacco as one of the predominant killers in the United States (obesity and tobacco laugh in the face of those puny, ineffectual terrorists). These scourges kill hundreds of thousands of people a year. And, just as with tobacco, it turns out there were people pulling the trigger of the big fat obesity gun. Way back in the 60s, the sugar lobby (then the Sugar Research Foundation, now the Sugar Association) paid some Harvard scientists to promote the idea that saturated fats were the primary culprit in heart disease, and to downplay the role of sugar. These ideas were published in no less than the New England Journal of Medicine. One of the shills (er, scientists), D. Mark Hegsted, went on to become the head of nutrition at the USDA, and helped draft what would become the U.S. dietary guidelines, which, surprise, promoted the low-fat diet (i.e. high carb, high sugar, highly processed).

This information was recently brought to light in JAMA Internal Medicine, another well-respected medical journal. The researchers found evidence that the sugar industry had conspired with scientists to get sugar off the hook for its role in heart disease. There is a lot of smoke coming from this gun, but presumably that gun was fired numerous times before and after. In fact, as recently as last year, Coca Cola was hitting us with a nuclear blast of bullshit about how we don’t really need to worry about what we eat, just about how much exercise we get. Poor health, obesity, heart disease, early death: Coke Is It!

The good news is that we are finally starting to realize that sugars (simple carbs, high glycemic foods) are much more pernicious than we were led to believe. Those scientists who would sell their souls for a few bucks (Hegsted and two others received the equivalent of about $50,000 for that one incident) do a huge disservice for truth and science.

But, of course there will always be people willing to sell out, and as long as big money is allowed to infiltrate research, the outcomes will be questionable. There may be more transparency when it comes to disclosing research funding than there was in the 60s, but, because public funding for research has waned, industry funding has filled that gap with a vengeance. Journals like the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA publish research that has largely been funded by big pharma, big ag, and big medical. And our health guidelines continue to be written by many folks who are on the boards of these giant special-interest corporations. Which isn’t to say that all the science is bad, only that it’s less good than it could or should be.

In the case of the promotion of the low-fat diet, the result has been devastating: hundreds of millions of people have had their health compromised, and millions of people have died prematurely.

Me, I’m slightly hangry at the moment, given that it’s 11 a.m. and I still have three hours before breakfast. I won’t be eating much in the way of sugars, but I will have a teaspoon of honey in my decaf. I do loves me some sugar, though, so as soon as this intermittent fasting dealio is done, I’ll permit myself a few instances of excess. Ultimately, though, all of my wacky dieting and monitoring has taught me that I would do best to moderate my excess when it comes to sugars.

I’ll leave you with this little tidbit; after all, sugar’s really only bad for our teeth, right?

 

More Reading On This Subject
“How the sugar industry shifted blame to fat” by Anahad O’Connor. The New York Times article that precipitated this post.

Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine by John Abramson, M.D. A highly informative book about how American medicine has been compromised by big business.

“Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against It” by Anahad O’Connor. What better way to get organizations to drop opposition to things like soda taxes than to give them a few million dollars?

“The shady history of Big Sugar” by David Singerman. Another Times article that exposes a long history of the sugar industry working against our well-being.

 

Donald Trump is a Narcissist… and a Psychopath… and a Fascist… and a Liar

trump narcissusI spent the morning channeling Donald Trump. I feel for the guy – he just doesn’t get much media play. So I figured, via the huge readership of this blog, maybe we can garner some much-needed attention for The Donald.

Donald Trump has been variously described as a narcissist, a fascist, and a psychopath. Of course, it’s easy to see some of these qualities in ourselves and in all people. But there’s a difference between having some qualities of a narcissist and being a diagnosable narcissist.

So I channeled Trump and took a few tests: to wit, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory test, the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, and the CelebrityTypes.com Fascism Test (I also looked at Dr. Lawrence Britt’s Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism and asked myself (as Trump) whether I had those characteristics). One issue I have with these tests is that they’re easy to manipulate, and guess who’s good at manipulation? So rather than answering how I thought Trump might answer, I answered how I thought Trump truly feels.

One thing that struck me about the Narcissistic Personality Inventory is that is seems like it was written as a description of Donald Trump, almost as if Trump were the platonic ideal of narcissism. Based on my findings, Trump is highly narcissistic (39 out of 40), probably psychopathic (higher than 93% of people in both primary and secondary psychopathy), and crypto-fascist (57%). I may be slightly biased, though, so I encourage you to channel your inner Trump (or Hillary), take the tests, and let me know what you come up with in the comments below? (Just be sure to check the box that says that your answers are not true and cannot be used in their research, lest the researchers start to think that everyone has suddenly become a narcissist.)

What Hath We Wrought?
So we have a possible psychopathic cryptofascist narcissist running for president. That may be par for the course when it comes to the Libertarians, but this is (was?) one of the major parties. How is The Donald garnering over 40% of the vote in some polls? The world is shaking its head in bemusement.

There’s a tendency among the media and many on the left to jump on our high horses and dismiss all Trump supporters as batshit crazy. Undoubtedly, like the fringe element of the Tea Party, there is some batshittitude among Trump supporters. There is racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and a disdain for science….* And there’s a whole hell of a lot of ignorance, but that’s not something Trump supporters have a monopoly on – there’s plenty of that on the left as well, and along the whole political spectrum. How many of us could intelligently discuss the difference between Trump’s and Hillary’s economic plans? How many of us know what Article I of the U.S. Constitution outlines, or even how many articles are in the Constitution (Trump didn’t)?

We are emotional beings, and sometimes these emotions are easily manipulated. We want strong, forceful leaders, sometimes regardless of what they believe.** Research shows that charisma is more about demeanor than substance. One of the foremost experts on income inequality, Branko Milanovic, states in his 2016 book Global Inequality that in a plutocracy, the plutocrats have two primary strategies to maintain their hegemony: suppress the votes of the poor, and create a false consciousness among the lower middle class and the poor. In other words, if you can’t dissuade people from voting, dupe them into voting against their own self-interest. And this has been a conscious strategy, especially of the Republican Party, over the past 50-60 years.***

Reminds me of a political cartoon I drew when GWB was president. If you hammer the bush, black is whitesame point home long enough, people start to believe it. Trump supporters like that he says it like it is – or is it more that he just keeps saying black is white over and over, or maybe it’s just what certain people want to hear?**** Why do some people see this as charisma and authority, while others see it as bombast, buffoonery, and bluster?

Rather than trying to vilify the millions of Trump supporters out there, maybe we should be trying to understand their grievances. Ultimately, most of these folks are among those who have been left behind as the U.S. pushes toward plutocracy. Given what Trump says his economic policies are, he will only exacerbate their grievances. But is Hillary really the champion of the poor and middle class? Our catch-22 is to find politicians who will enact campaign finance reform, so we can get money out of politics.

Sound the Trumpets
Meanwhile, our narcissistic nominee could still become President, although current polling suggests it’s unlikely.***** Many, including a growing number of Republicans, say Trump will endanger our country if he becomes President. The Washington Post took the unprecedented step of denouncing Trump as a “unique threat to American democracy.” Trump is obviously full of a lot of bile and bullshit. He may usher in a new era of McCarthyist witch-hunting. His would undoubtedly be a disastrous presidency. But is it correct to say he represents a “unique threat”? We aren’t even sure what Trump believes in, and if he tries to put some of his more extreme rhetoric into action, even the least sane representatives and senators will have to oppose him. If nothing else, Trump is the lone loony shooter in the clock tower – he has no semblance of the backing and organization of presidents past.

The regime of George W. Bush ushered in a group of hawks who had been determined to intervene in the Middle East for decades. 9/11 gave them an opening, and they embarked on a truly disastrous war that left thousands of Americans dead, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and displaced, cost trillions of dollars, and whose repercussions are still being felt today in continuing conflicts. Deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy under Bush contributed to the Great Recession, from which many are still reeling (and among whom, strangely, many see Trump as the savior). Is Trump more of a threat than that?

Going back a little further, Harry Truman conducted two of the most devastating attacks on civilians in modern history when he dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantly killing perhaps 200,000 innocent people. Would Trump top that?

Make America Great Again
When was America so Great? In the 1800s, during slavery? In 1910, when women couldn’t vote? In the 1920s, when we couldn’t (God forbid) drink alcohol? In the 1930s, during the Great Depression? On August 6th and 9th, 1945? In the 1950s, during segregation? In the 1960s, when we fought in Vietnam? Maybe Trump thinks America was Great under Jimmy Carter, in the ’70s. Oh, of course, the ’80s, under Reagan, when Reagan was busy gutting the middle class, and when crime rates peaked at about twice what they are now.

There are great things about America, some things that might even be exceptionally great. But there are also terrible and shameful things in our history. As an unrelenting (naïve?) optimist, I think America is mostly moving in a positive direction. There is potential for America to be Great, but it involves continued vigilance and action from those of us who don’t want the dystopian nightmare that Trump envisions.

 

As an aside, almost every NY Times headline I get in my email subscription these days is about Trump. The media will be sad to see him go. Another group whose stock price will tumble should Trump lose the election is comedians – poor folks. I even had to purchase a Donald wig and try my hand at it – check out the vid page for some examples. I am a sucky impersonator, but we sure had a lot of fun making the vids.

 

*Y’know, “family values.”

**And Trump has apparently believed a lot of things, like he probably leans more Democratic, and that Hillary would be a good person to negotiate with the Iranians because she surrounds herself with good people.

***Which isn’t to absolve the Democrats, who are also largely beholden to economic elites.

****According to Politifact, 71% of Trump’s statements are Mostly False (15%), False (37%), or Pants on Fire (19%). Is that telling it like it is? For comparison, Hillary Clinton is at 27%: 14% Mostly False, 11% False, 2% Pants on Fire. So she’s a liar, too, just not as compulsively.

*****Then again, watch as George Stephanopoulos and other pundits laugh down Representative Keith Ellison as he suggests that Trump could win the nomination.

Changing Evolution

mothsIt’s well known that humans have had a huge impact on the world’s biodiversity, with some suggesting that we have precipitated the sixth major extinction event in the Earth’s history. This may also be the worst sin perpetrated in Earth’s history. And it will only be accelerated and perpetuated via climate change. Shitty job, us.

A lesser known phenomenon occurring via humans is that we have changed the path of evolution for countless critters. There is the textbook example of the peppered moth, which evolved darker strains after the industrial revolution, resulting in better camouflage on polluted surfaces. Newer studies have found that swallows that spend more time around highways have evolved shorter wings, the better to dodge and dart around traffic. A new study, also with moths, finds that city variants of ermine moths are less attracted to light than their bumpkin cousins – thus avoiding the pitfalls of porch lights.

A few dozen millennia ago, wolves that capitalized on leftovers from human camps started developing traits that endeared them to humans – and bingo bango, we got chihuahuas.* After the hunter-gatherers and their dogs started planting stuff and settling down, we started to manipulate plant and animal life to an even greater degree. Did you know that cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts are the same species, Brassica oleracea? Or, rather, they were all cultivated from that wild plant. Carrots used to be mostly purple. Corn cobs used to look a lot more like grass stalks before humans got their hands on them.

Way before Darwin and Mendel figured out what the hell was going on, humans were intentionally changing evolution. And by changing our environment, as in the moth and swallow examples above, we’ve also made unintentional alterations to the fabric of our world. Unlike the moth and swallow examples, some of these alterations will have lasting negative repercussions.

As a small example, I was in my yard yesterday ostensibly destroying some dandelions (sans chemicals), and it occurred to me that these little em-effers are probably evolving adaptations to work around human attempts to eradicate them. I noticed that some of the dandelion flowers grow very close to the ground – is this an adaptation brought about by the dreaded lawnmower? What other ways have they evolved to continue to blight our attempts at perfect green carpets of grass?

On a larger scale (and with more than just aesthetic implications), pesticides are leading to resistant pests, which leads to increased pesticide use and new chemicals – great for Monsanto, shitty for the rest of us.

On a microscale, antibiotic overuse results in super bacteria evolving resistance, which leads to an arms race – great for big pharmaceutical companies, shitty for us. Antibiotics have also, in a sense, changed human evolution in that they have changed our microbiomes, which is partly responsible for a number of modern ailments.

Speaking of which, modern medicine has changed the course of human evolution in other ways. One side effect of the amazing advances of modern medicine is allowing many genes that used to be weeded out through natural selection to remain in the gene pool. Eventually, this problem may be solved via gene therapy, which will ultimately be a form of human-directed evolution (but that’s a story for another post).

In a sense, we are GMO’ing (GM’ing is probably more accurate) ourselves and the world – or the world is GM’ing itself, in an adapt-to-human-changes-or-die scenario. This has, of course, been part of the game since the incipient primordial soup, when microorganisms reacted and evolved to adapt to changes wrought by other microorganisms. The relationship between flowering plants and insects is one of the most fascinating examples of this. Consider the bee orchid, which, in what could be considered trans-species sexual selection, mimics a female solitary bee, inducing male bees to pseudocopulate** with the flower, thus transferring pollen (if they’d stop fucking flowers, maybe they wouldn’t be such solitary bees).

But never has the course of evolution been so affected by one species: humans. Human-caused extinction has to be up there as one of our worst irredeemable acts, but we shouldn’t overlook the other ways in which we’re altering our big blue marble.

 

*One of my favorite disses on the creationist dupes was in the movie “Jesus Camp,” when the mom says “Creationism… it’s the only possible answer to all the questions” and the camera briefly pans to her chihuahua-ish wolf (1:51 in this clip):

**I admit it, this whole post was just an excuse for me to use the word “pseudocopulate.”

Cretaceous Copulation and Primate Promiscuity

Ah, it has been a long time since I’ve had occasion to write a post. I’m still plugging away on the fun but time-consuming 125-year-old house remodel – almost done with the interior, and it’s rented beginning in March. We’re already well into 2016, yet I feel like the year has barely begun. There are so many projects piling up that I want to get to. One is getting back to the blog. So many serious and important matters to attend to. But first there’s this:

Jason Dunlop/MfN Berlin

Jason Dunlop/MfN Berlin

Coitus Interruptus on Cretaceous Copulation
Harvestmen, colloquially called daddy longlegs, normally keep their penises tucked inside, a bane for arachnologists, who use penises to help identify harvestmen species. But 99 million years ago, some harvestmen were about to do the nasty when a dollop of sap produced a permanent cockblock, perfectly preserving the perpetrator’s penis in perpetuity. Based partially on this dude’s junk, researchers have placed these harvestmen in a new, extinct family. And now we have a dual meaning for the term daddy longlegs.

Primate Promiscuity
Modern humans evolved about 200,000 years ago and occasionally got busy doing it with other hominins, who were busy doing it with other hominins. Which makes our whole human lineage fairly complicated. Europeans and Asians have about 1-3% neanderthal genes, from hooking up about 50,000-65,000 years ago. Some Neanderthals, though, had also hooked up with a group of modern humans that left Africa 100,000 years ago and later died out. To complicate matters further, another group of archaic humans, the Denisovans, were hooking up with modern humans, Neanderthals, and even Homo erectus. With newer, faster DNA-sequencing techniques, the muddy, braided stream that is modern human evolution will become clearer and clearer.

Primate Proficiency
I used to be a decent dart player. In the early days of dating my now-wife, we would hit the bars on State Street in Madison and occasionally destroy some overconfident frat boys at cricket. When I was in the zone, I could aim for the individual hole at the center of the double bullseye – not that I would always hit it, but I did manage to pull out a six-bull round every so often. When I was focused, the bullseye became a bigger target. As it turns out, I was probably perceiving the bullseye as bigger than it was. A series of studies has shown that how we perceive the world is affected by our physical traits and abilities. So a softball seems bigger to a good hitter, a field goal seems smaller to a crappy kicker, wearing a heavy backpack makes hills seem steeper, and distances seem farther to obese people. Evolutionarily, you can see why seeing a bigger target would be a good trait. Now, if I could only make that golf hole look like the size of a dinner plate.

 

Gut Reaction

bariatricBariatric surgery often helps people lose weight – just ask Al Roker. But it turns out the weight loss associated with bariatric surgery may have less to do with having a smaller stomach and more to do with how the surgery permanently changes one’s gut microbiota. A new study found that people who have undergone bariatric surgery have different gut microbiota from obese people who haven’t undergone the surgery. When these microbiota were introduced to germ-free mice, the mice that received microbiota from people who had had bariatric surgery gained less weight than mice who had received microbiota from people who hadn’t had the surgery.

As we’ve mentioned here before, once they start figuring out which microbes promote healthier weights and which don’t, it will revolutionize how we approach weight loss. What the current study portends is that risky bariatric procedures may soon be unnecessary for helping people lose weight.

Or, if you’re really desperate, you can undergo some extreme stress to lose weight. Another recent study has shown that extreme stress can induce white fat cells to turn into higher-energy-burning brown fat cells. Um, don’t try this – wait until they figure out the gut microbiota thing.