President Jill Biden

The only way Joe Biden gets re-elected president is if his opponent is Donald Trump.

The only way Donald Trump gets elected president is if his opponent is Joe Biden.

The history of aging, increasingly feeble presidents with younger, more vigorous wives is not reassuring.  And it is reassuring.  In some cases, as with Nancy Reagan and Eleanor Roosevelt , the results may be anodyne.  In the case of Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the result may have been catastrophic.

Jill Biden is a medical doctor.  She seems pretty smart, pretty capable.  If Joe Biden becomes enfeebled while president, if he suffers a stroke, if he is barely capable of leaving his bed, it would not shock me to see a situation similar to the Woodrow Wilson situation in 1919 develop.  Jill Biden relates Biden’s “directives” to his senior staff and does not permit any of them to directly converse with the ailing president.  When questions are raised, the president’s own physician reports to the cabinet and the vice-president that he is perfectly mentally capable of issuing instructions, even if, perhaps, he is not, really.   In that situation, Jill Biden speaks with the presumed authority of her husband, and it would difficult for others to bypass her to determine directly if the president is actually capable of executing his office.

The government, of course, is, for all practical purposes, actually run by the hundreds of high-level officials, White House staff, and cabinet appointees.  The president sets his agenda by appointing like-minded people to positions of power.  They will know what to do.

When it might matter, of course, is in a situation that demands a military response.  China might very well consider an ailing president vulnerable to aggressive moves by competing powers.  China might make a move on Taiwan.  Putin might become more aggressive in Ukraine.   Cuba might finally invade Miami.

It could all turn out well.  Jill Biden might be a wise and effective leader.  But she would not have been elected to be president.  Constitutionally, the cabinet and vice-president should meet to determine if Biden continues to be fit for office.  They could demand, perhaps, that an independent physician examine the president.

Here’s the thing:  it will be in the interests of many in the top echelons of political power to maintain the illusion that Biden continues to execute his office.  They were appointed by him.  They derive their power and status from that appointment.  His replacement may replace them.   His replacement may be politically weaker than he is.   Even the opposition party may be reluctant to see the presidency handed over to a younger potentially more appealing candidate.  (Right now, the thinking is that Kamala Harris is not a strong potential candidate, but given a year or two in office, who knows?)

People love to imagine unlikely scenarios and play them out but this one is strikingly possible.  It appears that Trump will be Biden’s opponent in 2024 and it is not unlikely that Biden, despite current polling, prevails in the swing states, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona.  He probably only needs one of them to win, whereas Trump needs all four.

He is obviously already suffering from various age-related challenges, physically and mentally.  It is difficult to imagine him surviving a debate with Donald Trump except for the fact that Donald Trump (strikingly, today, in an interview with Kristen Welker of NBC) also appears to be showing age-related challenges.

Here’s a prediction: neither of them agrees to a debate.



Best Joke in Dr. Strangelove

The best joke in Stanley Kubrick’s insanely brilliant “Dr. Strangelove” is not, as is widely repeated, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here: this is The War Room”.  It’s not a bad joke.  I always thought it was a bit obvious given the pedigree of the rest of the movie, but it’s okay.

The best joke is when the President demands of General Turgidson how a mentally unfit General could possibly have launched a nuclear attack on Russia all by himself, without presidential authorization.  Turgidson responds  with this:

I think I’d like to hold off judgment on a thing like that, sir, until all the facts are in…I don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn the whole program because of a single slip up, sir.

The absolute brilliance of those lines lies in the allusion to standard business and political wisdom: don’t judge until you have all the facts.  This pedestrian axiom is familiar to everyone, widely accepted, and almost applicable to situations in which a “slip up” has relative anodyne consequences.

To insert this line in the middle of an intense discussion of actions that may, as a consequence, result in total war with the Russians and ultimately annihilation of the human race, is more than just schadenfreude.  It is profoundly revelatory about the nature of the nuclear arms race and politics.  It hammers home profoundly the fact that these incredibly powerful weapons, capable of wiping out all life on the planet, are the hands of mere men, and “Dr. Strangelove” reveals to us just how absurdly unqualified the men who control these systems are, how petty, and clumsy, and sometimes stupid, and how the consequences of their short-comings can actually result in the destruction of the world.

Let me say that, on the surface, these men, Muffley, Turgidson, Ripper, Mandrake, and the others, would appear to the public to be competent, intelligent, and rational.  But when Ripper talks about the threats to our bodily fluids and President Muffley argues with Premiere Kissov over just who is the most sorry about the turn of events, and Bat Guano tells Mandrake that he is going to have to answer to the Coca Cola Company, we realize that humans are just too wrapped up in our immediate concerns and perspectives to comprehend the majesty and might of nuclear weapons.

This motif resurfaces time and time again through-out the movie.

Another line that is far funnier than the war room quip.  Turgidson, after hearing a description of the new Soviet weapon that can destroy the entire world, says “Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday Machines, Stainsey”.

And this why “Dr. Strangelove” is, perhaps, the greatest film of all time, and the one that is most relevant to our current age.  You could substitute climate change, pandemics, massive bank failures, whatever you like for nuclear war and you would have same fundamental factors at play: foolish men with constricted perspectives making decisions of extreme consequence for the human race.

And the nuclear issue remains.




Hogeweyk for Elderly Politicians

What we need is a Hogeweyk for elderly politicians. We should recreate the White House and Capitol buildings on a smaller scale and let them wander around freely, negotiate treaties and pass legislation, without harming any real people. Paid staff would circulate around telling them all they still have it and only they could do what they do. They could even hire fake reporters to wander around so the elderly politicians could experience the excitement of hiding from them.

It will be tricky getting them in though: we’ll have to wait until they go to sleep and then move their beds into the village, like the head counsellor in “Meatballs”.

This could solve a lot of problems.

Little Richard’s Revisionism

Suppose a notorious prostitute gave up her profession, joined a church, went to seminary, became a preacher, established a church, built up it’s membership so that it was able to build a lovely new sanctuary, and then retired.  And suppose that after her retirement, a large group of former customers decided to give her an award for being the best prostitute in the business.

She would refuse, right?  She would prefer that people not even know about her past, but if they did, she would certainly renounce it.  She would publicly return all the money she earned from prostitution to a charity for unwed mothers (or something).

Suppose it was discovered that she financed her new church sanctuary with money she had earned as a prostitute?

Suppose that hundreds of young women read books and articles about her early career and announced that they wanted more than anything to become great prostitutes.

Yes, a very weird story, isn’t it?  It is the story of Little Richard.  Yes it is.

Let me make absolutely career: Little Richard’s rock’n’roll career was not in any manner really prostitution or like prostitution.  I am saying that Little Richard himself, by his own standards as a Christian preacher, came to regard it as such.  Insofar as it goes…

Little Richard was perhaps the greatest genius of the early rock’n’roll era.  If you have never seen a good video of one of his early performances– and I don’t mean just a clip– you must see it.  He is utterly remarkable.  Here’s another.   And another.  He was a whirling dervish of dance and vocals and whoops and hollers and piano, and absolutely mesmerizing.  He excited people so much they sometimes broke into a riot.

Watch Paul McCartney sing for the Beatles in the early years.  You are watching Little Richard.  Watch Mick Jagger, Elvis, David Bowie, Prince, Madonna– all owe an enormous debt to the original, Little Richard.  Even Bob Dylan, someone you would not immediately think of as influenced by Little Richard, listed, in his high school year book, the ambition of joining Little Richard’s band.

And then Little Richard got religion.

Little Richard, who had been brought up in the church, of course, always believed in scripture, in Jesus, in the Ten Commandments and the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t care at first.  He was flamboyant, charismatic, and absolutely homosexual.  He lived the way he wanted.  But in the early 1960’s, he embraced the religion of his upbringing and repudiated rock’n’roll.  He refused to sing any of his hits.  He sang gospel tunes, spirituals.  Sometimes he would spice them up with a performance that suggested if not replicated his early career, but mostly he stood on stage in a suit and sang into a microphone while barely moving his body.

He says he gave up homosexual relationships.  I’m not sure I believe him.  He was still surrounded by gay men at times.  It’s very hard to tell because Little Richard was not known for his honesty or candor when it came to his personal history.

The point is, Little Richard believed that his early career was a sinful expression of a sinful lifestyle– like the prostitute in my fable above.  He begged God to forgive him.  He tried to go straight and reform.


As the documentary, “Little Richard: I am Everything” makes clear, unlike the prostitute of my fable, he wants it both ways.  He demands recognition for the very things he repudiated in his later life.  He demands honors and money for behaviors he now condemns, in his earlier self, and, by implication if not directly, in others.

He complains bitterly about not being paid for his sinful expressions.

I found the last half hour of the documentary a bit offensive because of that.  That, and the the rather clumsy attempt to blame everything that was denied to Little Richard on homophobia, as if the Beatles, and Elvis, and Tom Petty, and Joni Mitchell, and everyone else go their due, except for poor old gay, black Little Richard.  It’s simply not true.  Little Richard did not get compensated fairly for his work because the music industry systematically rips off every young artist whatever their color, religion, or sexual orientation.

Do you think there’s a whole lot of straight male artists out there who were paid fairly and who feel that the industry treated them well?  Or contemporary female country artists?

Leonard Cohen, incidentally, did the smart thing and retained control of his publishing rights… until his agent talked him into selling the entire catalogue to Sony Music and then pilfered the money forcing him to resume touring again.

More on the Music Industry

And on Excessive Demands from Copyright Owners

On How the Music Industry Brilliantly Extended Ripping off the Artist into the Napster Era

On Ani Di Franco’s lovely resistance.

On the unfortunate delusion embraced by Little Richard’s that authentic sexuality is in conflict with his religious faith and Jesus would never love him as the gay man that he is and always will be.

The Gerontocracy

Obviously, most voters don’t want an incapacitated leader to remain in office. But in a district or state in which one party will always prevail because it has an unassailable majority, voters don’t get to choose. A minority– a tiny minority– of party officials and managers ensure that the incumbent stays as long as he likes, because they benefit from his patronage and influence. Kentucky won’t vote out Mitch McConnell and California won’t vote out Diane Feinstein because their parties have solid majorities among the voters. Their parties won’t remove them because of deeply embedded patronage. They won’t remove themselves because of deeply embedded egos (when Biden said he would only run for one term, I laughed). And the Senate won’t vote for term limits on themselves for obvious reasons. The Supreme Court?

The U.S. is ruled by a gerontocracy. Not much choice about that but it would be less distasteful if these people would at least stop insisting that some kind of invisible popular will actually wants them to stay in office no matter how old.

If, in some fantastical sequence of events, Ramaswamy ends up the nominee and has a debate with Biden, I’ll tune in. It would be wonderfully weird.

I also note that neither party is in a good position to argue that their opponents are too old. Maybe they could at least stop insisting that they are going to “clean up” Washington.

The First Republican Debate

Just some  off-the-cuff notes:

  1.  Vivek Ramaswamy is a shrill twerp. But he’ll do well with the young segment of the Republican base who really believe the federal government can improve education by abolishing the education department. I like the fact that he thinks his first job in government should be as president. Like Reagan, on his first day on the job he’ll ask where the “War Room” is because he watched “Dr. Strangelove” once.
  2. Pence did better than I thought he would– but it won’t help him because he torpedoed Trump on January 6 and the MAGA base will never forgive him.
  3. Haley is aiming for the general election. She was rational, thoughtful, smart, and astute. Doomed in the primaries, but, curiously, not setting herself up for VP as I thought she would.
  4. Christie fell flat because Trump, his main target, wasn’t there, and attacking Ramaswamy puts him in “shoot the messenger” territory. He didn’t charm or even amuse anybody.
  5.  Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum might as well pack up and go home.
  6.  DeSantis shut down Florida just like everyone else did at the start of the pandemic. Forget that, please. Those in the audience with short memories cheered his claim that he never did. He was probably the most brazen liar in the bunch. His abrasive style didn’t fool anybody: he’s also a nerd.
  7.  Republicans are counting on voters to not know– as they surely do– that the vast proportion of illegal drugs come right through the ports of entry in many of the millions of vehicles that cross every day, and not in the pockets of illegal migrants.
  8.  The idea of “defunding the police” has never had traction within the Democratic party but the Republican base loves to think it has.
  9.  It is absolutely stunning to me that Mike Pence, of all people, has abandoned a position on abortion he has always declared to be inviolate and now advocates a 15-week limit. Absolutely stunning, and that tells you how worried Republicans are about that issue in the upcoming election. His problem is that the state legislatures aren’t listening to him. It also reflects poorly on his sincerity as the most forward Christian in the group.
  10.  I keep reading that Tim Scott is supposed to be the sunshine candidate in this group. He was the one that sounded like ChatGPT mindlessly trotting out those stale Republican tropes about “weaponization of the Justice Department”, blah, blah, blah. I think he blew his one chance to make himself stand out.
  11.  Where was “woke”? Where was CRT? LGBQ issues? Nobody picked up DeSantis’ favorite whipping boys. Worried about the general election, gentlemen? Not much about Hunter Biden either.
  12.  Haley did Biden a favor with her very forthright endorsement of U.S. support for Zelensky and Ukraine.

I’m puzzled about where this is all heading. Trump’s lead is kind of insurmountable so conventional wisdom is that most of these candidates are lobbying for the now vacant VP nomination. Ramaswamy is going to be too toxic. Hutchinson and Burgum bring nothing to the table. Pence and Christie are obviously right out. Haley would seem well-positioned as long as she is careful about what she says about Trump. She’s a woman, a minority, and she has some appeal to independent voters and soft Democrats. Tim Scott is in the right position– sucking up to Trump enthusiastically– and he is more in the Pence mode which Trump might prefer to the sometimes electrifying Haley. Trump will not have anything to do with a candidate that might upstage him.

How does it all end? Ramaswamy picks up support in Iowa, as does Haley. Hutchinson and Burgum go home. Christie runs out of money. Pence and Scott hang in there for the first few primaries then drop out. DeSantis slowly, painfully, mercilessly fades out as primary voters discover that they just don’t like him very much. Then, if Trump really is as smart as his fans think he is, he makes Nikki Haley his running mate and she starts quietly laying the groundwork for a run in 2028. If Biden stays reasonably healthy and inflation continues to drop, Trump loses the election; Haley is president in 2028.

I’d lay equal money on Trump signing up Scott as his running mate. I don’t think that will play well and I doubt the two would have the slightest genuine rapport.

A Bill Jamesian Analysis of Voter Suppression

This fascinating article in the New York Times gives a surprisingly anodyne perspective on voter suppression efforts by Republican (and some Democrat) State Legislatures.

The key takeaway is that, for all the fuss, most of the Republican efforts to reduce voter turnout among perceived Democratic constituencies have little overall effect on the outcome.

Why?  Partly because many of the legislative changes don’t work.  Voters continue to turn out, even if voting times and locations are reduced, and voter id is required.  Partly because some of the policies also impact Republican voters.  Partly because the numbers involved are actually quite small.

In baseball, many fans have the impression that the 50-home run hitting first baseman is irreplaceable, because they don’t take into account the fact that his replacement will also hit a lot of home runs.  You don’t lose 50– you lose maybe 10, maybe 15.  And the intentional walk– yes, you reduced the chances of a good-hitter driving in a run, but you also increase the chance that that hitter who is now a baserunner will also score.   It’s a wash and now most astute baseball commentators and managers recognize it.

So take the actual number of voters who don’t turn out and subtract the number of them who vote for the other party and then calculate that as a percentage of the total number of voters– and you have a marginal effect.

I admit, I was a bit surprised.  What do critics of this analysis say?  They don’t say it’s wrong.  They say that the principle of voting rights is more important than the actual effect, and I agree with that.


What Normal Americans Think

In an interview, Mr. Schmidt said his goal was to show Dr. Journey “what normal Americans think.”

A student at the University of Chicago named Daniel Schmidt found out that there was a course being offered called “The Problem of Whiteness”.  The course was described as an exploration of how the racial category of “white” has evolved over time.

Students explore how white people are treated as the norm, affecting, among other things, wealth and political power.

Dr. Journey’s syllabus included readings like, “How Did Jews Become White Folks?” by Karen Brodkin and “The Souls of White Folk,” a lesser-known essay by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Sounds pretty harmless to me.  I’m not sure I would have agreed with Dr. Journey’s perspective, but I would certainly have attended the course before criticizing it.  If she’s into tagging “white privilege” at every opportunity, I won’t be a fan.  If she believes the U.S. is fundamentally founded on racists beliefs, I don’t believe you can really dispute it.  Nor can you dispute the evidence of, yes, “systemic racism” in the U.S.

But let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and suppose that there was something in this course that you disagreed with.  Say you think that it doesn’t give enough credit to the achievements of white civilizations like Sweden and Finland and Scarborough.  Or the ineluctable charms of tap-dancing.  Or why “Gone With the Wind” is the greatest film ever made.  At the University of Chicago, you are free to disagree— assertively so.

Even Mr. Schmidt admits that the University of Chicago has an admirable policy on free speech.  If Anne Coulter wants to come and perform some witchcraft and spew her toxic white nationalism– let her.  If Noam Chomsky wants to come and spew his toxic progressivism– let him.  I’m being sardonic here, but I vehemently agree with the policy.  Nobody should ever ban Anne Coulter from speaking anywhere.  Nobody should ever invite her either, but, if you really want to, go ahead.  Her character and vitriol speaks for itself.  Does she speak for you?  Own it.

But Mr. Schmidt, like so many of his ilk, didn’t choose to simply exercise his freedom to disagree.  He didn’t even take the fucking course to find out what was actually in it and what the professor, Rebecca Journey, had to say about white culture.  I repeat– like so many of his ilk.  What he did was tweet ignorant comments along with Ms.  Journey’s email address and photo obviously intending that she would be harassed.  Not debated.  Not disputed.  Not argued with: simply harassed.  That’s the way assholes like Schmidt and his party do it.  And it worked, exactly as he hoped: hundreds of his “followers”– his sheep– sent her harassing messages, letters, and emails.

I would invite Ms. Journey to have thicker skin.  She postponed the course.  She should not have, and the University, which did back her up, should have taken modest if necessary steps to ensure that she was safe from any idiots out there who regarded Mr. Schmidt as something other than a moron.  But she should perhaps accept that some hate mail — in today’s culture– is the inevitable byproduct of political polarization right now and the worst thing one can do is let them win.

Does she really want Schmidt to crow in triumph that he stopped the woke mob in its tracks?





“I Don’t Give a Fuck if You’re Innocent: The Perverse Judicial Philosophy of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas”

A man is convicted of rape and murder of a child.  He is sentenced to death.  He appeals and appeals, and the execution is delayed.  He ends up sitting in prison for 30 years.

But he has always maintained his innocence.  Many people believe him.  After considerable efforts by outside groups, his case is re-examined by the same District Attorney’s office that convicted him and they discover that the evidence used to convict him was false, was presented to the jury inaccurately, and that in all probability he did not commit the crime.   They find that he had a remarkably incompetent lawyer and they assert that a reasonably competent attorney could, with some assurance, have persuaded a jury of their client’s innocence.

The key evidence against him consisted of an “expert’s” conclusion that internal injuries suffered by the child could only have occurred during a window of opportunity when the man had exclusive custody of the child and, presumably, may have been caused by rape.  A reexamination of that evidence by competent experts concluded, with certainty, that the injuries had, in fact, occurred before that window of opportunity.  The other charges against him all depended on that original medical evidence.

The man was innocent though it was believed he should have sought medical care for the child sooner than he did.

Quiz question:  would the legal system in the United States then do the right thing and release the man, and expunge his record?

I bet you think so.  I bet any decent, rational human being would think so.  But you are not Clarence Thomas.  Here is Clarence Thomas’ judgement:

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that a federal court considering a habeas corpus petition, or a petition challenging the validity of a prisoner’s conviction or sentence, “may not conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise consider evidence beyond the state-court record based on ineffective assistance of state post-conviction counsel.”

In other words, nah nah nah nah.  In other words, we don’t give a damn if he’s innocent: lock him up.  This is a Supreme Court Justice speaking.  He has god-like powers of the judicial system in the United States.  He openly declared that even if a man can be proven innocent, once a court has found him guilty, he stays guilty.

We made a huge mistake, a massive judicial error, but because you didn’t catch us, you have to die.  (Barry Jones was sentenced to death: I’m not sure why it was not carried out.)

“The idea that Mr. Jones had committed the fatal injury — the evidence was no longer there,” she concluded, adding, “The original theory of the state was flawed.”  Laura Conover

Laura Conover is the country attorney for Pima County which prosecuted the original case in 1995.  It is quite unusual for officials in the same office that prosecuted an innocent man to man up and admit they made a mistake.  It is rare.  Bravo for Laura Conover.  One wishes she was on the Supreme Court instead of Clarence fucking Thomas.

Thomas isn’t alone on this: the other five Republican appointees think it’s perfectly swell to not want to hear anything that contradicts a guilty conviction once the sucker has been convicted.   This is a legal system that knowingly denies poor litigants adequate counsel.  Public Defenders, as every knows, are almost all overwhelmed with the volume of cases they handle, which is also why so many plea deals are made.  This is why many, many innocent people plead guilty to reduced charges– because they know that their chances of being convicted no matter what the evidence is very high.

I use the word “fuck” in my title because this attitude by fucking Clarence Thomas and his asshole colleagues is utterly, monstrously, categorically evil.  There are those who agree with my conclusion but feel it is counterproductive to resort to name-calling and invective.  I’m not involved in U.S. politics so I feel free to say what I think about Clarence Fucking Thomas.  He should be impeached.  And all of the Republican Senators who voted to confirm him should resign their seats in craven remorse because they all declare loudly and vociferously how much they love freedom and liberty and justice for all.




Farting on Sacred Scripture

I don’t think politics can get much more stupid than this.

A Democratic politician has been taking bibles from tables in the lounge and hiding them under the seat cushions.  In one case, he put one in the fridge.  Some Republicans were horrified to discover that their asses actually rested on holy scripture.  Some of them may even have farted.  As we know, hell is full of miscreants who farted on holy scripture.

The Republicans apparently believe the Bible has some kind of weird voodoo power that can be transmitted up through the anus and into the larynx and cause otherwise rational politicians to defecate on Reason and Rationality and Intelligence and try to expel a Presbyterian Minister (Stahl Hamilton) who likes to play mild practical jokes.  The vote was 30-28, a majority, but not enough. A two-thirds majority is required to expel a member.

Hamilton was apparently trying to make the point that religion and politics should be kept separate.  The fact that the Republicans almost voted him out of office for tampering with their totemic texts tells you that he is absolutely right.