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Member since: Tue Nov 16, 2004, 02:14 PM
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Pink and brown--a new way of looking at people.

All my life I have been absorbing news about fellow Americans, including those called "Black". This was to distinguish them from being confused with "White" people. Finally, one day, it occurred to me that White people aren't white, and Black people are usually not black. And so I had the only original thought about race relations in this country that I've ever had. It is this:

It ought to be illegal to call a person white unless they actually are, and also to call a person black unless they actually are. Black and White are political terms, with the good connotations always going to the "Whites" and the bad connotations always going to the "Blacks." We should move instead to an aesthetic view of people, and describe them as the color they actually are. When we do that, we have, distributed about this globe, a number of pink people, and a whole lot of brown people. "White" people are actually pink, and 'Black" people are actually a wide and beautiful variety of shades of brown. You have Native Americans, who are a reddish brown, and Japanese, who are a yellowish pink, or plain pink. The advantages of disciplining ourselves to think in aesthetic terms are several. People used to look for what they called a "Great White Hope" -- somebody who could beat the great brown heavyweight boxers who kept beating all the pink boxers. We could only look for a Great Pink Hope. Sounds silly, doesn't it?

This is the same sort of mental discipline that feminists hoped would change male thinking about women. If men would just try to stop thinking of women as "broads", "c****", cows (still popular in the UK), and other derisive terms, and just think of them as women, these men might eventually examine their assumptions and prejudices about women. If we pink people start to think of others as various shades of brown, and describe them so, it would be a reminder to ourselves and others, that we all bleed red, and that everything essentially human is contained in skin shades that vary between ... pink and brown. If you thought you had actually found a black person, you would have to show that they didn't register on a light meter to actually call them that. There are also some albino people around, but I think they're a pale pink.

Everyone we meet would have to be judged on ... the content of their character (Thank you for the phrase, Dr. King.) "Black" and "White" are already judgments in our culture. We've got to change that. This is one small way to start.

Another way, of course, would be to read some of the great African American writers who have illuminated the condition of humans in this country. Feel free to ask for recommendations.

Dear Sen. Franken: resign from the Democratuc Party, not the Senate.

Dear Sen Franken:

I have been considerably bothered by the recent flurry of gossip about you, and the request of your fellow Congressional Democrats that you resign. Here's a solution I think will satisfy everybody: Resign from the Democratic Party, register as an Independent, caucus with the Democrats, and continue to vote your conscience. The Congressional Democrats are apparently embarrassed by your presence among them. Remove yourself from their presence and continue to do your job. Sen. Sanders has been able to function well as an Independent, and you're funnier than he is (although he has a beautiful smile when confronted by a small bird perched on his podium, comedy is not his forte). The Democrats would no longer be embarrassed by you but could presumably count on your vote if needed.

While all this is going on, the Ethics Committee could complete an investigation into the allegations against you and reach a conclusion of some sort. I am among the people who think that if all the allegations are proved true, that would still not be grounds for your resignation. If the allegations fall apart upon closer scrutiny, as many of us expect them to do, then everybody's happy--the voters of Minnesota, who wanted you as their Senator, the other Democrats in the country who are happy with your performance as as a Senator, and even the Congressional Democrats, who could hardly argue with the results of a fair and impartial investigation of all your accusers who can be induced to give their names. We are by default believing everyone who makes accusations of sexual harassment, which is certainly better than automatically disbelieving them. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere between those extremes. If you are cleared by an Ethics Investigation, perhaps Congressional Democrats would change their minds about your usefulness.

This is a time, I believe, for all good men and women not to panic. Retain your seat in the Senate, cooperate with the investigation of the allegations against you, and continue to be your usual competent self. Even Santa Ana winds eventually die down.

A possible future, or, is this progressive enough for you?

I have been following political discussions during the 2016 campaign, and realized that there was a bloc of people who thought of themselves as "progressive," even more liberal than your garden variety Democrats. So I thought it might me useful to outline a truly progressive vision for the future.

My plan involves completely scrapping the notion that any human being can own land, which is the founding principle of capitalism. The most people could do in this progressive plan would be to rent land for a period of time for a specific purpose, like farming it, or building vehicles on it, or living on it. People cannot "own" land: if anything, the earth owns us, just like giraffes. The earth has been reminding us of this truth recently, as pollution generated in the U.S., or China, or India travels freely anywhere the winds blow. A "country" as we call it, has always been a hunk of land whose borders could be defended by a government or other ruler. The earth doesn't care who we imagine the ruler to be, it circulates storms and pollution everywhere. We won't actually have countries any more, but territories flavored by historical traditions, a Canadian territory, a U.S. one, and certainly a British one. Since everybody in the world would have enough to eat and a job, and since borders would have disappeared, the need to defend them would also disappear. On the whole, I think this plan gets reid of war, too.

In this vision, there would remain an economic system which would allow for exactly the same useful activities that capitalism allows: provision of food, medical care, trade, and the exchange of ideas and innovations. But this economy wouldn't be based on money as we know it, but on hours worked by real people. There would be two kinds of hours worked: community hours, and personal hours. The community hours would be owed to the community to sustain vital functions: grow food, cook and distribute it, care for the elderly, and providing transportation to people who need to get to and from their jobs. Community hours would take approximately half your work day, and the other half would be devoted to working for personal hours, the accumulation of which would enable the other side of the economy to function. With your personal hours, you could buy a nice guitar, or materials to make a beautiful hand-knit sweater, or lipsticks and volleyballs and toys for children. The community fours would guarantee that every adult would have useful work that obviously supported the community; personal hours would allow for the pursuit of personal dreams, like writing songs, playing in rock bands, designing your own clothing or a computer app to make the common life of your community function better. Rather than pieces of paper whose value everyone agrees on, the economy would be based on the value of the hours you've worked. It would be possible to become relatively "rich" in personal hours, but the tendency would be to save up to buy a particular good or service, which would plow your hours back into the economy.

This system doesn't so much tinker with capitalism, as replace it with something much more earth-friendly, and people friendly. I think we are all equipped with imaginations, and that we have gotten too used to imagining small changes to monolithic systems. Why not imagine something really new, really different, and seriously progressive?

Why is it so difficult for us to think the election was stolen?

We have: the Russian theory, the weak candidate theory, the sexism theory, the candidate's unbalanced message theory, the candidate's lack of pizzazz theory. We have theories out the kazoo to explain an election result that surprised *everybody*. Why is it so difficult to think, even for a moment, that somebody just stole the election? This time, it was not just the exit polls, but most of the opinion polls before the election. Nate Silver miscalled the election??? What if Nate, and the other poll readers, and the exit pollers all called the voters' intentions and actions RIGHT? Mr. Trump's victory hangs on razor thin margins in three (or more) states. Is electoral college arithmetic difficult? It can be mastered if you can add and subtract. Is it difficult to hack an optical scanner? It's easy. What is riding on the outcome of this election? An awful lot of tax payer money. Do we think our political opponents are such principled people and so scrupulous of our voting rights (stop laughing! ) that they*would never do such a thing*??? Republicans spend half their time between elections trying to minimize Democratic votes in the next election. By vote suppression measures of all kinds. Do we imagine that when voting day finally arrives, they cease all nefarious action and do their best to count every vote, including Democratic votes? What are we, crazy? In April of this year, Congressional Republicans refused to consider Pres. Obama's candidate for the Supreme Court vacancy until after the election. Mere recalcitrance? Or did they know the fix was in?

Dr. Stein's efforts to get recounts, or audits, or any confirmation at all of the accuracy of the announced vote totals were met by vigorous resistance from Republican lawyers, and those failed efforts made one thing clear. We CAN'T get a meaningful recount because of a maze of state laws, the Bush v. Gore decision, the antiquity of some voting machines, and the colossal expense of hand recounting ballots. Only a few blessed states could have responded adequately to a request for a recount because only a few are using paper ballots hand counted. ONLY those few states could have said: "Sure, it'll take us about a week." We are left to conclude, if we are honest, that our presidential elections are unverifiable. We have just spent 18 months of our lives spending hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigning, and often hanging on the results of every opinion poll that came out, and we CAN'T be sure of who was elected? Or, in other words, are we crazy?

Forget the Russians, who certainly seem to have played a role in yet more anti-Clinton propaganda. Why look at the Kremlin's hackers when we have perfectly competent hackers at home?

Please, I beg of you, stop whipping yourselves for one moment, and think aloud: "But what if they just stole it? Again?"

Dr. Krugman, the Russians are convenient, but not the only explanation.

Dear Dr. Krugman:

In your column in today's Times (12/16/16), you explain why you think the Russians hacked the 2016 election. You ask rhetorically: "Does anyone really doubt that [the steady drumbeat of Russian contrived leaks, and the last-minute intervention of the F.B.I.] moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent?"

Yes, Dr. Krugman, I really doubt that for two reasons. First, are not-quite-decided voters concentrated in swing states? Are there more easily swayed voters in electorally important states than red and blue states? What the announced election outcome looks like is a precise shift of just enough votes in swing states to move the election from one candidate to the other. Assuming, as I do, that for a good programmer it's easy to interfere with our vote counting equipment, it is the simpler explanation to suspect that vote tampering happened that that 80,000 wooly-headed voters changed their minds at the last minute in swing states, thus evading all the pre-election polls and the exit polls. No doubt Wiwileaked fluff is of great interest to the pundit class and the press, but I doubt it made that much impression on voters who: a) want to see Hillary Clinton arrested or b) find Donald Trump deplorable. If these email innuendos convinced voters to switch candidates, why was the effect so small, and so strategically located?

The second reason I doubt that Russian influence changed the election outcome is that this is not the first time American elections have seen "enormous changes at the last minute." Florida in 2000 was crucial to George W. Bush's election and Ohio in 2004 for his re-election. Vote tampering is not a new phenomenon in American politics, since the days of Tammany Hall and Mayor Daley's Machine. The electronic theft of elections is possible, according to the statisticians, programmers, and election integrity activists who have looked into the matter since 2000. I have no idea who has been tampering with our elections, but it seems reasonable to suppose that it would be easier to do from an American keyboard than a Russian one. I do not have proof of exactly who has been tampering, but it does seem unlikely that the Democratic Party would vigorously raise money to run a presidential candidate for a year in order to hand the election to his or her opponent. Election tampering would give you much greater control over the outcome than simply trying to influence voters, especially since the late email revelations had the excitement and substance of unbuttered popcorn. As long as you despise the voting public, i.e., democracy, election theft is the way to go.

It seems time for the NYTimes to consider election theft as a real possibility, rather than a wild conspiracy theory. As a theory, it explains more than the Russian influence, which is so hard to pin down. It explains why all the polls, pre-election and exit, were wrong. Perhaps there is actual science behind polling in general, and statistically sound prediction in particular. Perhaps if we could bring ourselves to accept polls as real science, especially since we spend increasing amounts of time before elections discussing their findings, we would be forced to the conclusion that someone might have taken a shortcut to election victory. If major journalistic voices are going to take this seriously, now would be the time, before we inaugurate someone we cannot prove was elected.

Thank you for your call, Mr. President. I had already finished voting when you rang.

Dear Pres. Obama's robocall machine:

Thank you for pointing out that I should vote for Mr. Farther-Down-The-Ballot. I had already voted for him too, as he was on the straight Democratic line. I was a little late getting to my polling place at 7:25, as I can't drive in the dark any more, and the car had to be scraped before I could drive it anywhere. I did have to use my first backup parking place--when I found the lot at the polling place full, I drove right on to the senior housing lot next door. I had a second backup in mind, but it wasn't needed. (The Dunkin Donuts lot is also very close, but I wouldn't want to take up a space needed by all the donut-addicted semi drivers and police persons.)

I was interested to note that you didn't even mention Mrs. Clinton. The Party must have decided, finally, that you could count on that vote. The local party called three times before the primary election, and on the third call, I summarized the other two: I knew where to vote, had a backup parking place in mind, in lieu of attending the evening meeting, had submitted a letter to the editor, and in case of early snow, could walk to the polling place. Leaving today, a lady offered me an "I voted." sticker. Noting that it wouldn't stick to my jacket, I took one anyway because "it was an historic election". Sipping on her Dunkin Donuts latte, she agreed.

There was but a short line coming out the door as I entered, but a woman exiting the place said that if we knew what district we were in, we could jump the line and go straight to the table. I excused my way in, and was soon clutching my ballot. I have been waiting for 18 months to cast this ballot, and have been very annoyed by our (Democratic) governor, who doesn't think voters deserve nice things, like mail-in ballots or early voting, or anything FUN! Oh well, he could be worse. He could be Republican.

So thanks for your call, Mr. Obama, and thanks to Mrs. Obama too. I can't wait to see what your next feat will be.


A Democratic voter

Thanks for the heart, and HAIR!

All right, I feel strongly that this issue needs to be addressed, and both sides, or all sides (Hi, MOM supporters!) have been ignoring it. And that issue is Hair! I do feel sorry for Bernie fans, but if the question were: who's got the best hair in the field, the hands-down winner is Hillary. The justification for this apparently frivolous point is that I have given up hope that this board, or any board that allows political discussion, will ever again develop a sense of humor. About anything.

For humor to work, you need to be inhabiting the same society, need to share the same set of values, and we no longer have one society, but two or three, or a dozen. About the only value we still share is that kicking puppies is wrong. I share this value, but it's not enough to base a fully-functioning society on. I believe that some of the points being argued here have the same substance and weight as hair. And I think a hairnalysis is a little funny. So I shall conduct one. And lastly, if we're going to elect someone based on misconceptions and gut feelings and hopes and dreams, why not include a consideration of hair? It's at least out there for our inspection all the time.

So, Democratic hair:

Bernie Sanders: He's got pretty good hair for a man his age the top of whose brow is disappearing into a white mist. His hair is a fringe, but it's a vigorous fringe, and it's clearly very clean hair, because it collects so much static electricity. Dirty, oily hair would just hang there. Unfortunately for Bernie, it's John Kerry whose hair sets the standard for Democratic guys. I don't think anyone here will argue that the man has excellent hair, so strong it looks as though it could carry the world on top of it, or at least a full field pack. Now, Bernie has great teeth, too--strong and white without overdoing it and blinding you, but not quite good enough to cancel out his very high forehead. Yes, it's a good thing that Bernie has such vigorous ideas, because he can't make it on hair alone.

Martin O'Malley: It's not too late to save his hair. Right now, he's going with a textured aluminum helmet with some brown paint on top, but his forehead is still visible from the front, and he could go with a longer look, and see if it made him look more like a young James Taylor. Nowhere near too late for him, and O'Malley has very good ears, too. So I recommend that Mr. O'Malley consult with a more adventurous barber, and mention that he has always admired John Kerry, especially if he has.

And, of course, Hillary Clinton: Frankly, it's great hair. It doesn't matter what color it really is because women are allowed to dye. It has body, and an excellent cut. Mrs. C. clearly has a great little stylist, and gets in to see him or her on schedule. A demonstration of her respect for detail and ability to delegate. Among Democratic women, she's the clear leader. Gloria Steinem also has splendid hair, but she's not running. If Sen. Warren gets into another race, her hair has good body, but she might consider a style that's a little less utilitarian. Hillary's teeth are also fine, and her ears are probably okay, too, but she cunningly wears earrings a lot, so any deficiencies are concealed. A woman, indeed, any human, has a right to earlobe insecurity.

All, right, that's the Democratic side. Now that you all have the hang of hairnalysis, it will be blindingly obvious that Mr. Trump cannot be elected to anything. He and his hair long ago sank beneath the sea of giggles from the political cartoonist class. and it's Trump's own fault. It's okay to have a disappearing forehead, but it's fatal to lie about it, and pretend it's just behind this little sideways ripple of glistening blond. American voters are a fickle, indeed sometimes a frivolous, lot, but they will see through the Trump hair to the vain head it covers, before it's too late. I really don't think we need to worry about Trump. What about Carly Fiorina? you might ask. Indeed, her hair's all right now, but a google search for Carly's hair brings up five photos, EACH with a different style and color. She hasn't got a chance. At least The Donald is consistent.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion into alternative political analysis. And I would stick in an irony emoticon if there is one, and if I could get any emoticon to work on this mac. You may now resume your normal careful attention to the great issues of the day.

HRC is NOT a member of a dynasty (Jeb Bush is, of course)

Sec. Clinton, I just want to remind everybody, is not related by blood to Bill Clinton. If she had been too closely related, it would have been illegal for them to have married. She is not Bill's daughter or mother. She shares no DNA with Bill. So, until Chelsea announces her intention to run, there ain't no Clinton dynasties.

Sec. Clinton took her husband's name when she married, which is not required by law, even as she kept a reference to her maiden name (Hillary Rodham Clinton) as part of that name. Presumably even then, she wanted people to know she was a separate person, her own person professionally, and was not simply her husband's wife. Her career has demonstrated that although her loyalty to her husband has been admirable, she is quite prepared to make her own mark, speak for herself, and try to fulfill her own ambitions.

Gov. Bush, on the other hand, is the son of one president and the brother of another. He is certainly a dynast. And it would be good to remember here that his brother twice had a presidential election stolen for him. Al Gore was elected to the presidency in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004. But the man sworn in was George W. Bush. Not only is it a dynasty, it's a thoroughly undemocratic dynasty.

Therefore, if they try to tell you you're tired of dynasties, tell them you are, and vote for Hillary if she's the nominee.

Ferguson: an alternative narrative

Having read the grand jury testimony given by both Dorian Johnson and Darren Wilson, I have considered the narrative of events given by both men, and found that there are numerous questions remaining which Mr. Wilson's narrative does not address. I would like to offer an alternative account of the "altercation" that makes more sense to me. This account will make use of parts of both Johnson's and Wilson's testimony.

Johnson and Brown first come to the attention of Ofr. Wilson when they are walking down the middle of Canfield Dr. If Wilson had suspected them of involvement in the incident at the quick mart, he would not have greeted them by ordering them to "Get the fuck on the sidewalk," as Mr. Johnson reports. Wilson emphasizes several important points in his narrative, but never says he was planning to arrest them on suspicion of robbery or shoplifting. He simply didn't know about the events at the quick mart when he observed them jaywalking. So, according to Johnson, he ordered them onto the sidewalk vulgarly, and it appears Wilson expected instant obedience. Because as Johnson reports, after driving on, he stopped, reversed the car, and backed up so close to them that he nearly hit both of them, He then attempted to exit the car, only to find that he was too close to Brown to get the car door open far enough to get out. Wilson was annoyed to find them in the street to begin with, and he was getting angry when they did not instantly remove themselves to the sidewalk. I suggest that when he found he could not exit his own car, he got seriously ticked off.

It is at this point that the two men's accounts begin to diverge. Wilson says Brown reaches into his cruiser, punches him a couple of times, and makes an attempt to turn Wilson's gun (which has suddenly appeared in his right hand) upon Wilson himself. Johnson says Wilson reached out of the car with at least one hand, his left, grabs Brown by the shirt and arm, and attempts to pull Brown's head inside the car. Brown then, according to Johnson, plants both hands on the door frame, one at the front of the window, and one on the top of the door where it meets the roof. One of Brown's hands is still gripping a handful of cigarillos, according to both Johnson and Wilson. And also according Johnson, the struggle was inconclusive--Wilson couldn't get Brown's head into the car and Brown couldn't pull himself away from Wilson's grip on his shirt. Johnson reports curses flying during this struggle, but quotes neither of the combatants directly.

I would like to suggest that Ofr. Wilson started annoyed, got really irritated, got really angry, escalated the emotional level of the encounter right into rage, and that perhaps at that point he drew his gun. In grand jury testimony, he recounts his decisions not to use his night stick or his mace, but he is never asked why he doesn't simply put his car in drive and idle a few feet forward. This would have dislodged Mr. Brown quickly, and Wilson could have followed up by driving off to a secure location and requesting backup in arresting Brown for assaulting an officer.

Of course, Wilson would be reluctant to do that if Johnson's account is accurate and it was Wilson who picked the fight, threatened both Brown and Johnson, and then assaulted Brown. After he had his gun out, he shot Mr. Brown, and perhaps his own car. There is an account of a bullet going through the door of the police cruiser and shattering the window glass inside the door, causing a shower of glass to exit the gap. Now, I have a vague impression that it may be procedurally forbidden for an officer to discharge a firearm in his own car. Whether that's true or not, Ofr. Wilson, once he had shot Mr. Brown, is in a bad place, as regards his career. He has shot a person who was certainly jaywalking, but both Brown and Johnson can testify as to who started the physical tussle that followed. I suggest that Ofr. Wilson may see his career going down the tubes as he tries to decide what to do next.

He could still, at this point, have put his car in gear, driven to a secure location, and sent for backup to arrest Mr. Brown for assaulting a police officer. Brown was wounded but able to run almost 150 feet before turning to face his assailant. But at that point Wilson has two witnesses still alive, Brown and Johnson, who may tell a different story from Wilson's. In Ferguson, who knows whether they will be believed, but it seems at least possible that Wilson was trying to save his career when he decided to finish Brown off with his remaining bullets. Johnson was hiding behind a car by then, and there were two people in the car, who drove off soon after Johnson asked for a lift to a safer location.

If this scenario has credibility, it would indicate that Wilson was both fearful and angry. I question whether Wilson feared Brown at the end of the encounter, or his own superiors, who would cover for him, but could not really change the fact that a stop of two citizens for jaywalking had resulted in one of the jaywalkers dead of six bullet wounds. At the start of the altercation, Ofr. Wilson had a police cruiser, a night stick, a radio, a can of mace, and a service weapon. He ended it with the cruiser, somewhat wounded, the mace and club unused, the radio unused, and the gun empty. And one of the jaywalkers dead.

As Frank Serpico has been telling us since the 1970s, police departments function behind a blue wall of absolute solidarity with each other. In the Ferguson case, Ofr. Wilson was protected from close scrutiny of his actions by the police-AG team. The fact that he resigned soon after the grand jury verdict without retirement benefits may indicate his department's attitude as to how much protection they wanted to give him.

Justice is not possible for Michael Brown, nor his parents, nor his fellow citizens

Justice is an abstraction, which is to say it is not found in nature. It does not flower on a stem, or carpet a field, or sink roots and grow branches. When we speak about justice in human affairs, we mean some degree of fairness -- if a company or person has stolen our money or our health, a fair trial of the matter can compensate us for the money, and offer some compensation for the loss of our health. But in a case of murder, compensation is not possible. We cannot give life back to its owner. The life of a human being is gone, we know not where. The Christian religions believe in a life after death, of course, but its existence is unproven. As far as human knowledge reaches, this life is what we certainly have, and it may be all we have. If we bring a charge of murder against Officer Wilson, we can deprive him of liberty, and in some states deprive him of life. But none of this replaces or compensates Michael Brown, or his family or his fellow citizens.

We can all easily imagine the deprivation his family feels: all the attention and love of raising him through high school is now wasted. He will not complete a technical course in college and become a plumber or electrician. He will never decide that he needs a business course to go with his plumbing experience and start his own business, which will employ several more plumbers. He will never marry and become the father of adorable grandchildren (although I have none, I'm reliably informed that all grandchildren are adorable). He will pay no more sales tax, no income tax or corporate tax. He will cast no votes. He will never become a backyard barbecue expert or learn enough carpentry so that he can add a room to his house to accommodate a growing family. He will never sing in his church's choir or a barbershop quartet or take up needlepoint. All that he might have done is gone with him. No justice is possible.

So Michael's parents can't hope for justice. They will settle, as Trayvon Martin's parents have, for working to reduce the chances that other boys' parents will suffer what they have. It's good of them. Very good of them. But it's not justice.

Something has to be done about the way Michael Johnson died. Officer Wilson recognized some of the implications of what he had done very soon after he did it. Hence his absence from the scene at the moment. But he will have to come back. He might have started with a moment of temper, during which he made a mistake. But somewhere between the second and the sixth shots, it stopped being a mistake and became, under the law of our land, murder. Clearly America's police forces aren't accustomed to thinking of themselves as capable of crimes, much less capital crimes. It is good that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General are taking an interest in the case, and I hope their efforts will produce some semblance of accountability. But that won't be justice for Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, or the hundreds or thousands of other black citizens whose lives have been cut short because of America's endemic racism.

The only objective that even exists in the same universe as justice is to make damn good and sure it never happens again.

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