Trump and Life in the Reality-Based Community

I’ve been thinking about a moment I think presaged the rise of Trump — whose latest non-reality-based utterance is here:

Ford says Trump’s right. That’s because the company had no plans to move the plant to Mexico.

I don’t think Trump’s thinking big enough here. There’s a lot more he could be taking credit for.

“Just got a call from the man in the moon. Since I won, he no longer plans to smash into Earth. Will join cabinet. Huge! #MAGA”

We here in the reality-based community mean that as an attempt at humor and comment — not a report of something that actually happened out there in the perceivable world. You know, suggesting something absurd as a way of casting light on someone else’s grandiosity and distortions.

That phrase “reality-based community” came to mind recently when thinking about our soon-to-be commander-in-chief’s frequent non-fact-based pronouncements. He’s got a talent, and many of us who thought we grasped what was going on underestimated its power and appeal.

Here’s the origin of that saying, “reality-based community,” which comes from a 2004 feature by journalist Ron Suskind in The New York Times Magazine. Suskind’s piece was examining how George W. Bush arrived at his instinctive certainty that the disastrous course along which he had launched the nation — the war in Iraq — was true and correct.

Along the way, Suskind reported, he met with a Bush aide who gave a glimpse into the president’s and the administration’s approach to governing:

“… Then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Of course, there’s an unspeakable arrogance to that dismissal of those imprisoned in the world of “discernible reality” — not least because of the implicit contempt for the hundreds of thousands of men and women deployed again and again to confront the deadly violence of that reality.

So now, we’re confronted with a similar but much more directly expressed arrogance and dismissal of discernible facts. I think the challenge is to keep your eyes open, to believe what you’re seeing, and to call out the illusions we’re encouraged to see as reality and the reality we’re urged to think is just talk.

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New Old Camera

An oak along Orr Springs Road, in Mendocino County west of Ukiah.

An oak along Orr Springs Road, in Mendocino County west of Ukiah.

OK — a break from post-election stuff.

For my birthday earlier this year, one of my kids gave me what probably qualifies as an antique film camera. It’s a Canonet — a little rangefinder camera made by Canon in the mid-1960s through the late ’70s.

I haven’t shot any film in years, and while the camera is fairly simple to use, I had no idea how pictures would come out. After ruining a couple rolls that I apparently failed to advance or rewind correctly, I finally managed to shoot some color slide film, extract it from the camera, and get it processed.

The results are fun and gratifying — here’s a Flickr slideshow of images that the lab digitized and transferred to a CD. I’m ready to go out and shoot more.

Pinot noir grapes, Toulouse Vineyards, Mendocino County.

Pinot noir grapes, Toulouse Vineyards, Mendocino County.

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Fighting Faiths and the Marketplace of Ideas, Redux

So, I’ve mentioned Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919) before. More than 11 years ago, in fact, not that I’m particularly proud of that.

Holmes’s dissent is to fans of the First Amendment as Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” is to opera buffs, except Holmes didn’t take his act on the road. It’s a brief, tour de force exposition of the idea that governments should only in the most exceptional circumstances interfere with speech and expression.

Why does it come to mind now? Maybe it’s a light in dark, uncertain times. Although these are times, too, when the central premise of Holmes’s dissent — that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” — is contradicted by the recent triumph of unashamed bullshit.

Anyway, here’s the oft-quoted passage from the dissent:

Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

One of Holmes’s coinages there — “fighting faiths” — has always thrown me a little. My own clarification, after a little reading: He’s referring to ideals — freedom, for instance — that one feels compelled to fight for.

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Our Little Houses on the Prairie

Here’s a story that made the rounds in the midst of this week’s unpleasantness: a piece from the CBC on a township in the southwestern corner of Manitoba that offers cheap house lots for those willing to build there.

Well, the story isn’t really about the township — the Rural Municipality of Pipestone. It’s about a half-dozen calls the municipality got from Americans in the days after the election asking about the lot purchase program.

Try as I might, I can’t find details about the lot sizes or locations (yes, I’m curious). But the RM of Pipestone website lays out the deal: You put down $1,000 for a lot, with the promise to start building on it within 12 months, and you get $990 back when your dream house on the prairie is finished.

You get a little bit of the flavor of the community from one of the local papers, the Reston Recorder (the online edition is a little out of date).

You can get a little more from a virtual trip through Reston via Google Streetview (that’s Danny and Angie Vanderberghe’s place, with the Canada and Manitoba flags, on the right):

And here are a couple more nuggets:

This is oil country, just north of the North Dakota border. On the plus side, the Rural Municipality of Pipestone was in the news a few years back for using some of the oil revenue it’s getting to fund a annual $500 grants for residents. The municipality is also funding the $10 lot program with its oil windfall.

Some have seen a downside. In addition to the wear and tear on local infrastructure — shades of what’s been seen south of the border — there have been complaints in the area about oil spills and provincial regulators’ failure to take action.

Anyway, you would-be Trump exiles, that’s waiting for you north of the border.

I’ve got my own little Great Plains rural fantasy — Benkelman, Nebraska — and was wondering how the elections went there.

Among Benkelman’s many claims to attention, beyond the fact I drove by in 2007, is that it’s the birthplace of Ward Bond. You know — the actor. “Wagon Train.” Sergeant Tom Polhaus in “The Maltese Falcon,” the character who sets up Humphrey Bogart’s last line.

The town’s in southwestern Nebraska, in Dundy County along U.S. 34 near the Colorado line. So how did the county vote on Tuesday?

Of 949 votes counted in the presidential contest, Trump got 823, Clinton got 89, Gary Johnson 31, and Jill Stein 6. I would like to meet the Stein voters in Dundy County.

Also of interest in the county returns:

  • The region’s Republican congressman ran unopposed. He got 841 votes.
  • Tammy Buffington won the race for Benkelman’s East Ward City Council seat.
  • No one ran to represent Upper Republican Natural Resource Subdistrict #1.
  • The village of Haigler, which claims to have been the home of the first female postmaster in the United States, saw a dramatic contest for town board. Jolene Brunswig got 43 votes and Rick Starks 41.

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History Behind Us, Hatred in Front of Us

Reflecting a little on what’s happened this week, and on this very disturbing piece of business here — an interview with the most straightforward, thoughtful, well-spoken white supremacist you’ll ever encounter, and all the more disturbing for that — it occurred to me once more how eager our white society has been to put its grossest transgressions in the rear-view mirror and act as if, now that we’ve resolved that little problem to our own satisfaction, everyone should move on. Nothing to see here, folks, but lots of unpleasantness we can just leave behind.

Listening to Richard Spencer, the white “nationalist” referenced above, talk about his ideas for a white “ethnostate” and his belief that at bottom, the governing sentiment among those of different races is hate, I was struck by his unwillingness or inability to confront the toughest question his African-American interviewer threw at him:

What’s the difference between you and the racists that like, you know, hung people up from trees? What’s the difference between you and the Klansmen that burned crosses on peoples lawns? What’s the difference between you and you know, the people who don’t look at me, an African-American man, as a full human being?

After dodging and weaving a little and saying he would not engage with the notion of “a hypothetical Klansman,” Spencer said this:

I’m sure there is some commonality between these movements of the past and what I’m talking about. But you really have to judge me on my own terms. Like I am not those people and I don’t fully know, I don’t know in the specifics of what you’re referring to. Like I am who I am. And you, if you’re going to treat me with good faith, you have to listen to what I’m saying and listen to my ideas. I think someone who would go down the path of becoming a Klansman or something in 2016, I think that is, those people are very different than I am. It’s, it’s a it’s a non-starter. I think we need an idea. We need a movement that really resonates with where we are right now.

He and his ilk are different because — well, they are. You just have to trust him on that. And besides, it’s 2016 and we need to put that behind us and pursue a grander idea. (At one point in the interview, Spencer shares a few of the “values” he holds dear: “greatness and winning and dominance and beauty.” That list brought a name to mind: Leni Riefenstahl.)

The grand idea is, as mentioned before, a “white ethnostate,” what he terms “a new type of society that would actually be a homeland for all white people. … All European people … [so] we would always have a safe space.”

This isn’t really a new idea, as he says. He points to Israel as such a state. But of course there’s an example much closer to home — in fact, a state founded on the very same principles of white supremacy that underlies the idea of white nationalism.

Many of us treat the Confederacy and the Civil War and the long siege of Jim Crow that followed as objects in the rear-view mirror; curious, glorious or shameful objects that have receded almost from view. Let them stay in the past.

Lincoln was one who understood the past has its claims, and that it’s not so casually left behind. In his Second Inaugural, delivered a little more than a month before the war’s end and his assassination, he spoke about how each side had called on divine support for its cause:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

And it was beyond humans, Lincoln said, to understand what price providence might demand for the crime of slavery. It was beyond us to know when the debt had been redeemed.

“‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

I think the first time I encountered the address was at the Lincoln Memorial, where it’s inscribed in marble. That passage — “until all the wealth piled … until every drop of blood drawn ” — has always stuck with me.

First, I think, because of Lincoln’s sober consideration of the magnitude of the “offense” that had led to the war.

Second, because of his suggestion that there was no way of knowing when the nation’s offense would be expiated — or even whether it could be expiated.

And third because, even though I am not one of Lincoln’s faith and I don’t imagine an omnipotent deity who wills human cruelty and then doles out punishment for it, the renewed encouragement of racial hatred we’re seeing now makes it clear that we’ve yet to really reckon with the worst chapters of our history — slavery, Native American genocide, the Klan’s reign of terror, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. And now, it seems, we’re listening to people who are eager to write the next dark chapter of history.

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Guest Observation: The Cubs

“I suppose I don’t really care why the Cubs have such a plethora of devotees, I know only that I am one and that I find it impossible — inconceivable — to give my heart to another, however talented or untalented, bunch of ballplayers performing in whatever city in this country or any other.”

–Barry Gifford, “The Neighborhood of Baseball,” 1981

(Having cited the above, I will freely confess to what some witnesses saw at the Oakland Coliseum in the summer of 2013. I cheered against the Cubs and their sloppy, incoherent play against an exciting, inspired Athletics squad. Then — go ahead and call me a front-runner — I was back in the stands this past season cheering for the Cubs against the not-quite-up-to-the-challenge A’s. I just need to say that for the completeness of the historical record.)

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Ali-Inoki and Clinton-Trump: Same Ring, Different Game

 
One of the weirder chapters of Muhammad Ali’s career was his embarrassing 1976 bout against Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki.

A 2009 retrospective on this blemish on the champ’s ring record describes what happened when the bell clanged to start the festivities:

Before the ringing had stopped, Inoki had sprinted the 16-feet gap between the two men, and thrown himself feet first at Ali in a deranged two-footed tackle. Ali sidestepped, Inoki missed. Before the two could square up, Inoki threw another lunging kick, missed again, and landed flat on his back.

And then things started to get really silly.

Inoki didn’t get up. He lay on his back at Ali’s feet and refused to stand.

As Ali circled him warily Inoki scooted around on his behind, like a hound trying to scratch its ass on the carpet. Occasionally he would kick viciously upwards at Ali’s knees. He stayed like this for all but the first 14 seconds of the three-minute round.

That was the template for the entire match, though at one point Inoki managed to drag Ali to the canvas and sit on his head. For his part, Ali threw six punches. In 15 rounds. The event was scored a draw.

Inoki’s reputation soared from his non-loss. Ali’s suffered from his participation in a farce. He also sustained significant leg injuries that some say hampered him in later fights.

I hadn’t thought of this piece of sports entertainment in a long time. But it came to mind last night watching two opponents sharing the same stage but playing completely different games — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

It’s not a perfect analogy. Hillary Clinton ain’t “The Greatest.” She’s not known for her jab. It’s Trump, not Clinton, who’s renowned for his lip and has shocked the world by becoming the Republican presidential nominee and pulling himself into a position to win the election just a few weeks from now.

But in the debate, we got to see Clinton operating, for better or worse, by the rules of conventional politics. She spent time preparing. She maintained her composure when things got heated. She made a point of appearing presidential in the traditional sense.

Trump played a different game altogether, the one that got him the nomination. He bluffed, he bragged, he interrupted, he contradicted, and he interrupted again. His version of looking presidential was to cite his income for last year — a figure he put at $694 million — as “the kind of thinking that our country needs.”

You might judge who managed to stay on their feet for this round of the Clinton-Trump match and who was scrabbling around on their back kicking at their opponent’s legs by the candidates’ post-event reactions. Or one reaction, anyway:

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Oakland’s Homicide Rate vs. Chicago’s

So here I am on vacation. I slept late; or more accurately, went back to bed after my spouse/best friend went off to work. I got up, microwaved the early-morning coffee, and sat down at the computer.

I happened across a headline about a fatal shooting over the weekend in Oakland — the city’s 52nd homicide this year. That brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend last week during which I rashly said that though Chicago has gotten lots of media attention this year over its shocking wave of killings, Oakland’s rate was still actually many times that of Chicago. Yes — I said “many times.” But doing the arithmetic in my head as I spoke, I corrected myself — Oakland’s rate is higher than Chicago’s, though not “many times.”

Seeing the story about the weekend murder, I decided to quickly run the numbers to see whether my assertion was true. (Reminder for the next time this impulse hits me: When I run the numbers, it’s never “quickly.”)

What I’ve done in each case is to “annualize” the number of homicides by taking the current toll, dividing by 9 to get a monthly average, then multiplying the result by 12 to project a 2016 total based on that monthly total. To get a rate of homicides per 100,000 population, I divided the projected 2016 totals by the city population — or actually, by the number of 100,000s in each city’s population. Oakland’s population is currently estimated at about 420,000 (divisor used in my arithmetic=4.2) and Chicago’s is 2,720,000 (divisor=27.2).

So, as of Monday, September 26, with 52 homicides reported so far in Oakland and 545 reported in Chicago, here are the annualized rates:

Oakland’s 2016 homicide rate per 100,000 residents: 16.39
Chicago’s 2016 homicide rate per 100,000 residents: 26.72

Regard those as rough (but good ballpark) numbers. Each includes a few “justifiable” killings — those committed in self-defense, for instance — that the FBI won’t count in its annual tally of homicides and cases of non-negligent manslaughter.

How much have things changed in the last few years?

In 2012, Oakland experienced a spike in homicides: 127, excluding a handful of killings that were ruled to be justifiable. Chicago had a total of 500 homicides, excluding a half-dozen “justifiable” killings. Using the same method, here are the rates:

Oakland: 31.75
Chicago: 18.45

The FBI calculated the national homicide rate in 2012 at 4.7 per 100,000 population. Chicago’s number was four times the national rate; Oakland’s was more than seven times the national rate.

The limited takeaways from the Oakland vs. Chicago rates:

Oakland’s decline is historic, in a sense: Barring a sudden surge in killings, the city is headed to its lowest annual homicide toll since 1999, when 60 were recorded, and would be the second lowest since 1985, which is as far back as the FBI numbers go. (Yes, I could hunt down the earlier numbers and perhaps will on some future vacation or workday.)

One also observes that 1999 was at the height of the dot-com boom, when employment was high and the regional economy was generally robust. Right now, we’re in the midst of an even bigger boom — characterized by home prices that are out of reach for many. Coincidence or correlation?

Chicago’s murder surge is also historic in a sense, with the projected number representing about a 50 percent increase in homicides in one calendar year. Though the overall total is still far below the terrible years of the early ’90s, when the city’s homicide toll topped 900 in 1991, 1992 and 1994, the city hasn’t seen anything like that year-over-year jump in the past 30 years (and maybe ever).

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Annals of Fine Writing: Craigslist Ads Remembered

Every once in a while, we have recourse to Craigslist to unencumber ourselves of some surplus piece of furniture (“What’s that futon still doing here?”) or other once-loved possession (“When’s the last time you rode that bike?”).

For me, the best part of the Craigslist experience is writing the ad. I’m not sure the writing really matters — I think an item’s three top characteristics are price, price and price — but it’s a challenge to try to turns something recently ruled to be terminally unwanted into an attractive must-have.

I’m getting ready to write an ad for a chicken coop and run we want to sell. In the process, I read a couple of my old ads. Here’s one that was fun to write. The item moved right quick, though the buyer failed to comment on the quality of my prose:

Ikea Henrik student desk, $60

An Ikea classic that may or may not have been named after a famous Scandinavian literary figure. This desk played a prominent role in a student’s career at Berkeley High School and may even be partly responsible for his successful completion of studies at the University of Oregon.

Features:

–Classic Ikea design: a Scandinavian thought this up. ‘Nuff said.
–Classic Ikea construction: manufacture of this item caused minimal rain forest destruction
–Conforms fully to U.S. and international safety standards, including Newton’s laws of motion

And check out these extras:
–Recently dusted
–Family friendly
–Desk chair may be comfortable for hours on end

Plus: We will consider delivering this item right to your home.

(And we’ll note one flaw in this stunning piece: The computer keyboard tray lacks a stop and may slide all the way out if you’re unwary.)

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Solar Eclipse Countdown: Out There in Flyover Country

2017 EclipseLike many another skywatcher who has never seen a total solar eclipse, I’m scouting places to see the big event that will, failing a world-ending electoral event in the interim, occur a year from now.

For Californians, Oregon is the natural eclipse-watching destination. The path of totality will cross the Beaver State just north of Bend, east of the Cascades and an area that’s reliably sunny.

Lots of people have figured out that this part of Oregon is strategically located. The owner of a 72-room motel in Madras, along the line where totality will be longest in the area — 2 minutes and 3 seconds — says his place has been booked for more than three years.

I admit I can imagine a crowd descending on the area and the roads resembling something like rush hour here in the Bay Area. It’s not an inspiring thought. Still, we’re checking to see what lodging alternatives there might be up there.

My thoughts also tend further east. Maybe to the High Plains. It’s a different world out there. In noodling around looking for places one might stay out in flyover country, I happened across the following description of a tiny hostelry in a very small town. It’s one of the best things I’ve read today. Here it is:

There is a very slim chance that you are going to visit the Longhorn Motel in Tryon Nebraska. There are several reasons for this, chief among them that almost no one lives in Tryon, and it is not on the road to anywhere. The Longhorn’s primary mission in life is to serve as an overflow bedroom when more than one relative comes to visit a resident of Tryon at the same time.

You will not break down in or near Tryon because, as noted above, it is not on the road to anywhere.

Should you need to visit in Tryon, the Longhorn is the ONLY place to stay. That is literally the truth. The rooms are quite small but very clean. Your hosts, Mr. and Mrs Pyzer, are without a doubt the friendliest motel hosts in the business, There is a small TV in each room connected to the satellite system, so there is a wide range of programing available. If you want coffee in the morning the Pyzers will give you the fixins before you turn in. Even though they have a bona fide monopoly on rooms to rent, $40 will get you the finest room in the place.

Sadly there is not WIFI hook up, but all is not lost. One block west on the other side of highway 92/97 sits the McPherson County public school. The school has a nice strong signal to which you can connect if you park near the handicapped parking spots along the highway in front of the school.

The Longhorn does not provide breakfast but just a block and a half west you will find Aunt Bea’s Restaurant. Aunt Bea is a middle aged gentleman who fires up the grill about 9 each morning and can whip you up a sausage breakfast that should make Ronald MacDonald hide his head in shame.

As I said before, you are probably not going to be in or near Tryon, but if you are, you will experience first hand the friendly nature of the folks who live in Nebraska’s fabulous Sandhills. If you do not know what the Sandhills are – you do need to get out more.

Room Tip: All the rooms are good but #3 is the best among equals!

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