A gentleman on Reddit– and everywhere else– posted that the New England Patriots, down 21-3 at one point, came back and won, proving that you should never give up, no matter how unlikely your success seems.

Kind of illogical really.  Everyone’s excited precisely because this kind of turnaround is incredibly rare.  It doesn’t actually “prove” you should never give up.  In the normal sense of “proof”, it only proves that there will be anomalies and there is always a dim hope that you will be one of them.  Would you want to make life decisions based on these odds?  I will quit my current job because there is a .4% chance I will get a better one?  I will break up with this lovely girl because there is 1.3% chance I can find a better one, who will also love me?  I will vote for this politician because he will prevent a terrorist attack in my home town, even though there was only ever a .002% chance of that occurring?

Don’t ignore the fact that there is a harm in obsessively following a course of action that has a only a microscopic chance of success.  The most obvious harm is the waste of time spent by someone who has virtually no chance of success.  Think of the hours and hours spent by marginal talents on trying to compete with far more talented athletes for a position on the varsity team.  Imagine all of that time spent enhancing other skills that were far more likely to provide real rewards, like learning a trade, or taking courses, or even reading worthwhile literature, or volunteering at a homeless shelter or a food bank, or at church or school, or your neighborhood.  But there is also the harm of repetitively absorbing failure and subservience and inferiority.  It is not for no reason that we sometimes tell people to stop subjecting themselves to inevitable failure and learn to accept things the way they are.

There is another aspect to this: without the thousands and millions of wannabes, there would be no competitors, no infrastructure, no pool of adversaries that allow the top talents to eventually cash in on a mind boggling scale.  Go to the Little League games, the skating and gymnastics competitions, the track and field events: before anyone gets to the big public crowd, most of your audience consists of parents or friends or relatives or classmates of your competitors.  Without them, you would have been nothing.  Without them, no coaches or infrastructure, or training equipment, or fields or gyms or rinks.  And without all those weaker competitors, there would be no competition.  Yet there are almost no real rewards for those weaker competitors.

Unless they learn to accept the con job offered by the sports establishment: keep trying.  Never give up.  Work hard, and some day you too can win.  It isn’t true.  Without the gifts, you will never win.

You get to be used.


[whohit]Luck and the New England Patriots[/whohit]

Losing the Feminist Religion

Here’s a story that makes me cringe and should make a lot progressive-minded people cringe.

Julie Ann Horvath worked at Github, a programming network, from 2012 to 2014.

It is very hard to determine what exactly happened at Github because Horvath’s own comments make no sense.  She claimed that she experienced some kind of awful oppression while working there.

Here’s one of her issues:  another Github employee “asked himself over” to talk and declared that he was romantically interested in her.  When she refused, he “hesitated” to leave.

That, my friends, is now regarded as oppression and harassment and “making me feel uncomfortable” so I ran into the bathroom and I cried.

And now I am suing them.

And it’s not about the money.  Oh no, it’s never about the money.

[whohit]Losing My (Feminist) Religion[/whohit]


This is an interesting legal problem.   Francis Rawls’ employers, the Philadelphia Police Department, had reason to believe he had been frequenting an online service that was known to traffic in child pornography.  They seized his computer and hard drives only to discover that they were encrypted by the Apple OS.  They demanded that Rawls un-encrypt them.  He refused on the grounds of self-incrimination.

There is, of course, a real legal principle that a person cannot be forced to incriminate himself.  The police– in kind of a weird twist– suggested that he type in the password without telling them what it is.  Why?  How is that different?  Because, they say, then he is not “incriminating” himself.  They will do the incrimination when they look at the hard drive.  Telling them the password, they claimed, could be “construed” as the forbidden self-incrimination.

I’m not sure if many people understand how weird this problem is.  President Obama himself thinks the police should simply be able to call Apple and demand that they facilitate access to the hard drives by providing them with an application or a key that will bypass the user’s encryption.   His analogy is a search warrant for a house: if the police think you committed a crime, and can convince a Judge that they have good reason for that suspicion, they can get a warrant and enter your house and look through your underwear drawer.  Why shouldn’t they be able to look through your hard drive?

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: your hard drive is not your underwear.  Your hard drive may contain the contents of your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, your interests, your fears, your imagination, your dreams, and even your beliefs.  In a sense, it could be argued, the government thinks that now that there is a way to “read your mind”, they must be allowed to do it.

Would it be hard, given any average person’s computer, to find something incriminating among the thousands and thousands of files, images, tags, visited websites, that would be there?

I’m going to go sideways on the issue for just a second:  I don’t believe you can discount the fact that disclosures by Edward Snowden and others in the past few years have raised serious issues about whether or not the government is itself abiding by its own laws in terms of accessing private information.  This is not a trivial issue.  Obama says, trust us, we’re law enforcement, we have integrity.  Snowden’s disclosures show that you don’t have the high road, and no, you cannot be trusted.  If you were given the power to access anyone’s private information, you have demonstrated that you will lie and violate the constitution to do it.

Back to the main track:  what if the government and the police started whining about the fact that they don’t have recordings of everyone’s private conversations in their homes that they could access– with a warrant, of course — to try to stop child molesters and drug dealers and terrorists?   Why can’t they install listening devices in everyone’s home (they could already just use your phone, with the right access)?  They promise they would only listen to the recordings when they have good reason to suspect a crime has been committed.

The courts have been very, very clear that the police cannot try to obtain such recordings without a warrant.  They can’t just pick out a house and put a recording device in it to see if you are committing a crime.   Why not, they would argue?   If you are not committing a crime, what do you have to fear?  And what if the police say, we will install the recording device but we will never examine the recordings unless we have reason to believe, in the future, that you have committed a crime.

That’s the big difference between a wiretap in the past and what the government is now doing.  In the past, if the police obtained a warrant, they could install listening devices to record any conversations taking place from that moment forward.  But if the police acquire the ability to search your computer without your authorization, they are, in essence, compelling your testimony.  They are forcing you to incriminate yourself.

What the government now wants is the right to go into your past.

As an aside, suppose the government proposed to give itself the authority to do this, to plant listening devices in every home?  Suppose a courageous Senator or Representative amended the bill to require that every government official and politician must also allow all of their private conversations to be recorded?   Do you think it would pass?

Never.  If the government ever considered such legislation, I can guarantee you they would give themselves, and the police, exceptions– for “national security” reasons, no doubt.


[whohit]The Retro Warrant[/whohit]


What Next, Trump?

There is a tendency to greet the cynical view of the prospects for Donald Trump’s presidency with the comment, “well, nobody thought he would get elected either”.   It is not new information that unlikely things sometimes happen.   Trump might turn out to be a great president.  In four years, we might all be looking back at millions of new, high-paying, union jobs, better and cheaper health care for more people, peace in the Middle East, and our inner cities, and a world that fears and respects America.

Maybe, at that point, Ivanka will run and succeed his father.  It’s unlikely so… it could happen.

I personally think it is far more likely that the Trump presidency will end in chaos and disgrace and the Democrats will recover and run a competitive candidate in 2020.

Here’s why.

Firstly, Donald Trump is so ideologically incoherent and random that he may end up having more conflicts with the Republicans in Congress than with the Democrats.  Trump appears to be a pragmatist with populist attitudes on many issues, while people like Paul Ryan and Mike Pence are hard-core ideologues who wish to ram their programs through regardless of the consequences.  They are hoping to use Trump, the way Cheney and Rumsfeld used George Bush Jr.  But Trump really believes in his own genius and he is unpredictable.   He is also a spendthrift by nature, with delusions of his own competence.  If he really wants a big building program funded by the government, to create some of those high-paying jobs he promised, he may have a fight on his hands.

Are these people clever enough to do what most governments do when they over-promise?  Come up with a plausible counterfeit that costs a lot less, accomplishes nothing, but let’s you claim that you kept your promise?

I would expect that Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee may be a conventional conservative preferred by the Republican establishment, because he promised he would, and because he will be replacing Scalia.  Will the next appointee after that be as conventional?  One of Trump’s closest advisers is his daughter, Ivanka, who appears to have differing views on women’s issues and who may well have an influence on the selection of any possible candidate who might upset Roe vs. Wade (which a second appointee could do) and who might set back women’s rights significantly, like equal pay for equal work, and family leave.  She is also someone who may be more conscious of the impact on the historical record if her father’s administration turns out to be the one that makes a mess of Roe vs. Wade.  (I say “makes a mess of” rather than “ends”, because if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, it does not assert a new law: that will be up to the states, and each state will craft their own response. )

The biggest potential boondoggle is health care.  Trump has made a very, very large point of repealing Obama care, and the hyenas in Congress will gladly proceed to divest 20 million people of their health care insurance.  But will the sane Republican establishment go along?  If they simply repeal Obamacare, they may end up with a very, very large pool of incensed voters in the next election.  (It is clear that many people who voted for Trump don’t believe he’s really going to take away their health care.)  More likely, Republicans in Congress will try to draft something that actually resembles Obamacare, and then maneuver to do something, anything that looks like repeal, so they can claim to have kept their campaign promise (a promise many of their voters probably wish they would forget).

This is not a foolish idea.  After Obamacare was passed, both parties became aware of adjustments that were needed to make the program work properly– not unusual for large pieces of legislation.  But the Republicans– hoping to make it fail– refused to allow any of these changes to be made.   Now they have a chance, and then claim that they invented the program and take credit for it.  The irony is that they did invent the program, as a wholly inadequate and disappointing substitute for a single-payer, universal health-care system.  Obama adopted it thinking some Republicans would support their own idea making it “bipartisan”.

In some election down the road, they will claim that the Democrats will harm the program and only they can be trusted to preserve it: that will complete this cycle of political evolution.

Paul Ryan and his acolytes– who really believe this man is smart because he talks in complete sentences– really want to get rid of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security entirely.  Because America is such a great country that it alone among the developed nations can’t afford such lavish social spending.  But Trump wants to be popular, maybe even as the man who saved Medicare.   And he doesn’t care about debt– it was never a major theme of his campaign.

Here’s another thing: it is clear that many of his cabinet picks and advisers really have no idea of what a conflict of interest is, or don’t really care.  The courts are not controlled by either the Executive or Legislative branches of government.  There will be lawsuits and hearings and investigations and I’m not sure Trump’s appointees in general are smart enough to know when not to give in to temptation.

These are not team-players.  Many of Trump’s appointees will be delighted to see other appointees fail and lose influence.  They might even help.



[whohit]The Trump Dump[/whohit]


The Unthreatening Male Lead

I just watched “Silence”, Martin Scorcese’s new film about the horrendous persecution suffered by Roman Catholic converts in Japan in the 17th century.   The artistic success of this film is almost entirely dependent on the slender shoulders of it’s lead, Andrew McCarthy, as Father Rodrigues.  (The story is written by former film critic Jay Cocks and director Martin Scorcese; nothing in it should encourage either of them to dispense with a real writer in the future.)

Rodrigues is tormented by his conscience as he becomes aware of the suffering of the Christian converts on his behalf (they are hiding him), and because of the faith his church has taught them.  Some of them die excruciating deaths rather than betray him.  Others do betray him.  He himself endures terrible trials which lead him to profound questions about his faith, his God, and his own morality.

I find it hard to believe that Scorcese really wants Andrew McCarthy as the star of this film, any more than I believed he wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead in “The Departed” or “The Aviator”.   Andrew McCarthy is there for a reason and anyone who understands Hollywood knows what it is.  If you are an ambitious director like Scorcese and you want the kind of budget that affords you monumental and expensive location shoots and effects and costumes and extras– you need to assure your investors that your film will make money.  And to do that, you need a bankable star, no matter how unsuitable, to play the lead in your film.  If Andrew McCarthy, or Leonardo DiCaprio, or Toby McGuire has agreed to star in your film, a studio will guarantee you tens of millions of dollars.

For some bizarre reason, the sexually unthreatening male child actor has become the box-office dominatrix of Hollywood.  Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Andrew McCarthy, Tobey McGuire, and others convey boyish charm and callow manners and have huge appeal for a segment of the movie-going public. Their most distinctive quality is their de-sexualized boyishness.  When Kate Winslet makes out with Leonardo in “Titanic”, it reminded me of an older sister teaching her little step-brother how to French kiss.  Creepy and antiseptic.  It was impossible to imagine Jack going any further than sketching.  It was impossible to imagine that he knew what further was.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the popularity of these boy-men figures is largely to do with the female movie-going public.  Movies are filled with intimate scenes of interactions between women and men.  These scenes are comfortable for women to watch as long as they don’t contain a hint of genuine sexuality.  The unconscious ideal of this audience is warm, safe cuddle in a comfy bed, with a puppy of “man” who adores you and is inexorably compliant with your wishes.  They will fetch you an aspirin tablet and sit on the couch and watch Oprah and Ellen and Dr. Oz with you.  Just as they are comfortable with a black man who looks as innocuous as Will Smith or Denzel Washington, or as funny as Eddie Murphy.

An actor like Heath Ledger, Michael Fassbender or Christian Bale, on the other hand, would scare you, because you know he isn’t going to stop with the snuggle and he isn’t going to be compliant. Scorcese may have learned his lessons from “The Last Temptation of Christ”, which starred Willem DeFoe– a real actor without the boy-man appeal– and for which he was unable to raise the money required for crowd scenes, which he staged with trickery instead, and which were embarrassing to watch.

The role of Rodrigues calls out for an actor with genuine talent.  The two essential characteristics of Rodrigues that are missing in McCarthy are these:  firstly, a 17th century Portuguese priest would have been a powerful man with considerable status in his community and extraordinary confidence in his training and convictions.  He doesn’t say “our religion thinks” this or that, as if some other religion might have a valid viewpoint.  He knows.  This is the way it is; God commanded it and I am the conduit of his grace and power.  You people are all going to burn in hell if you don’t acknowledge the intercessory role of the church, and it’s priests, in your lives.  We bring God to you.  Without us, you are condemned to eternal perdition.  When you sacrifice your freedom and your worldly goods and even your lives on behalf of the church, you are doing God’s work.  McCarthy makes it feel like his trying to get you to join his boys club. Eventually, of course, Rodrigues does begin to have doubts about this transaction.  But you can’t tell us the dramatic story of the rise of those doubts without first establishing the miraculous certitude and arrogance of 17th century Jesuit missionaries.  Or there is no drama.

Secondly, early on in “Silence”, Rodrigues is anguished over the suffering and sacrifices made by the Japanese believers on his behalf.  But he questions himself in an anachronistic, 20th century way, with an implied 20th century belief in the fundamental equality of man.  The 17th century Jesuit believed that the glories of eternal salvation far outshone the comparatively brief agonies of their persecution.  Martyrdom is glorious!  Your reward is beyond measure.  Rodrigues never alludes to this belief.  Fair enough if Scorcese is trying to suggest that he never believed it– but he doesn’t suggest it.  He just dumps Rodrigues into the middle of this circumstance and has him react with a modern sensibility.  Although, one often senses McCarthy, the inept actor, possibly creating his own lines (some of them are that bad!) and gestures to attempt it.


[whohit]The Unthreatening Male Lead[/whohit]

Our Town Hillsdale College

Hillsdale College

I adore the play “Our Town” by Thorton Wilder.  It’s brilliant, imaginative, and heart-rending.  But if the citizens of “Our Town” had a college it would be Hillsdale, and it would be quaint and precious and adorable and white and privileged and impossible.

If you look closely at Hillsdale and find yourself strangely attracted to it, don’t fight it.  It’s a beautiful world that could function quite well in the kind of social and economic conditions of early 20th century small-town North-Eastern United States.  Prosperous, homogeneous, safe, with an astonishing degree of social equality.  The richest person in Hillsdale would have been a doctor, with a large house, and maybe a stable.  And the poorest drunk in Hillsdale would still have been kindly cared for by a few of the citizens who would want to make sure that, no matter how little he deserved it, he didn’t end up too badly off, or frozen to death in a ditch some January morning.  Maybe, as in the Andy Griffith Show, he’d be invited to sleep it off in jail one or two nights a week.

In this world, we all do our share.  All of the able-bodied do their tasks, the women in the home, the men in the fields and offices and factories, the kids in the schools.  And it works, because that man earns enough to support an entire family– all by himself!  The teachers– those guys are pretty smart, so we teach our children to respect them.  And we respect them.  Crime?  Not necessary because almost everyone is able to get by.

Except– there would be a drunk or two.  But they wouldn’t be dealing whiskey or sneaking it in from Mexico.  They’d steal it out of your kitchen cupboard while you were out hanging the wash.  On the line.

In this era of American history, city government sometimes took over utilities to ensure that private gain did not come at the expense of public good.  Boston took over their public transit; many cities built their own hydro stations.  Nobody worried about whether or not it was “socialism”: it was just good common sense.

And an executive who paid himself more than 200 times what his average employee earned?  Never!  He’d hear no end of it from the church ladies.

It’s a wonderful world.  From each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs.  And if you could take his group of people, all of the residents of this town, and transplant them all to a planet where they could live in isolation from the rest of the needy, greedy, violent world–and keep them from producing too many offspring–they would all live happily ever after.

And Hillsdale would happily produce all their pastors and doctors and teachers.

Lest you begin to think this is about race, consider this: any community around the world, given the prosperity and space and safety of early 19th century North-Eastern United States and Canada, would probably do as well.  Given adequate space and food and supplies and wood and water and wildlife– we all would do pretty well, and we would all be relatively peaceful and humble.  Look at Rosewood.

Look at Greenwood, Tulsa.

But take away all their property and force them all to take menial jobs and live in wretched poverty for a generation or two, and see what you get instead.

So what does happen when large numbers of people begin competing for a diminishing portion of these things?  Conflict, crime, violence.  War, of course.  Hillsdale won’t produce the kind of leaders who can avoid it because their entire culture only works when there is more than enough for all of us.  In conflict, Hillsdale can’t just assert that our culture is better than your culture; it must dominate.

Hillsdale is a quaint little gated-community of a college that has wonders and magic for all of its residents, and no relevance for the real world.



[whohit]Our Town: Hillsdale[/whohit]