Two movies about politicians and politics


The playlist above includes seven clips from two movies: Frank Capra’s 1939 classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Jimmy Steward, jean Arthur, Claude Rains); and Dave (Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella and the brilliant Charles Grodin). I’ve posted all of these clips but thought they’d make a nice, tidy playlist.

PS: the tiny horizontal lines with the pointer in the top-left corner, indicates a playlist of several videos.

Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever

From Matt Taibbi’s beautiful tribute to the founder of Fox news.

“Ailes made this the hate-filled, moronic country it is today. We are a paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.”

TMZ: “Ailes fell at his Florida home 8 days ago and hit his head. We’re told Ailes fell unconscious and his condition went downhill. Our sources say he was put into an induced coma and died Thursday morning.”

When every conversation is recorded

You might have seen a story about an embarrassing recording from 2016:

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.

I don’t care much about the exchange but I would like to know more about how the recording was made. Surreptitiously, one would think. Perhaps a smartphone in a jacket or shirt pocket? Doesn’t sound like the sort of gab-fest reporters would be invited to so it was one of The Boys. Did he know something embarrassing would be discussed? Did he record every such discussion… just in case? And if one guy is doing this, doesn’t it follow others would as well? Every question spawns three more.

Are there meetings where the Alpha Dog demands everyone put their phones in a basket which is placed in another room? Does everyone get a pat-down?

I started the recording app on my iPhone and put it in my pocket (mic up), to see what kind of audio quality I could get. Not bad. Good enough to end a career.

Let’s say I turn on a small jamming device that prevents recording within a 10 foot radius. Could someone on the other side of the room capture so

The “useless class” and a new quest for purpose

I was so impressed by Yuval Harari’s latest book it took me three blog posts to event touch on a few of his big ideas. In an article in The Guardian, he expands on a couple of (related) ideas: Basic Income and religion-as-virtual reality. He wrote at length about both of these in Homo Deus but I think the Guardian piece is new (not excerpts from his book).

I agree with Professor Harari that some kind of Basic Income is inevitable. It’ll happen because the wealthy will see it as the best (only?) way to protect all their shit. And what will we all do when we don’t have to have a job? One possibility is virtual reality.

For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions.” […] What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions such as Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender” and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas, and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka heaven).

I really can’t see a flaw in that comparison. Unless you count, “Yeah, but Heaven and Hell are real and Grand Theft Auto Six is not.”

When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and the Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.

Whoa. The two big holy books as VR devices. And how about a game we all play?

Consumerism too is a virtual reality game. You gain points by acquiring new cars, buying expensive brands and taking vacations abroad, and if you have more points than everybody else, you tell yourself you won the game. You might object that people really enjoy their cars and vacations. That’s certainly true. But the religious really enjoy praying and performing ceremonies, and my nephew really enjoys hunting Pokémon. In the end, the real action always takes place inside the human brain.

What does it all mean?

The end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles.

As one who has not worked for the the last four-and-a-half years, I’m here to tell you it is not necessary to give your life meaning.

William Gibson Reimagines World After 2016 Election

“Agency,” Mr. Gibson’s next novel, which Berkley will publish in January. The story unfolds in two timelines: San Francisco in 2017, in an alternate time track where Hillary Clinton won the election and Mr. Trump’s political ambitions were thwarted, and London in the 22nd century, after decades of cataclysmic events have killed 80 percent of humanity. In the present-day San Francisco setting, a shadowy start-up hires a young woman named Verity to test a new product: a “cross-platform personal avatar” that was developed by the military as a form of artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, characters in the distant future are interfering with the events unfolding in 2017, through technological time travel that allows them to send digital communications to the past.”

New York Times book review »

“The whole world is on disability”

“Between 1996 and 2015, the number of working-age adults receiving disability climbed from 7.7 million to 13 million. The federal government this year will spend an estimated $192 billion on disability payments, more than the combined total for food stamps, welfare, housing subsidies and unemployment assistance.”

The percentage of people on disability in Dunklin County, Missouri (where I grew up) increased 33.7 percent since 2004. In Cole County, MO — where I now live — the increase was 40%.

“Disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults live on monthly disability checks, according to a Washington Post analysis of Social Security Administration statistics.”

Washington Post

CSPAN meets YouTube


(Business Insider) “A new site called Digital Democracy aims to help voters hold their elected officials accountable by making local government hearings searchable by speaker and subject. You can think of the platform like CSPAN meets YouTube. […] A bot makes daily transcripts of state senate and assembly hearings. It uses facial recognition to monitor who’s talking. Users can see legislators’ financial ties on the platform, and easily share video clips on social media. […] Users can look up hearings by date, topic, speaker, or committee. Or if you want to hear a specific speaker, the video will automatically jump to the point when that person starts talking.”

“Digital Democracy only posts footage from hearings in New York and California right now (the nonprofit launched the platform in California in 2015, and it became available in New York in February). But Blakeslee says that his team hopes to eventually expand the platform nationwide.”

Will we see a day when I can tell my personal AI to find everything my state rep says on topic XYZ? (Sound of thousand of tiny cockroach feet scurrying from kitchen light)

What does a successful transition to a digital government look like?

Well, it looks like Estonia. In the 20 minute interview above, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former President of Estonia talks about how that country made the transition from Soviet satellite to one — if not THE — most tech savvy countries on the planet. They are sooo far ahead of the US.

At one point in the interview he makes reference to the “borderless world” in which we live. Build all the walls you want, double the TSA goons… but we’re all connected now and more so every day. Put the cap on the toothpaste. Since I first heard the sweet screech of a modem, my sense of place and geography has been fading. I’ve never thought of myself as a “Missourian” and “American exceptionalism” has always seemed like something a shirtless Packers fan would scream at the other team.

Corny as it sounds, I’ve long felt like a citizen of the world. Even though I haven’t seen most of it. So to hear how countries like Estonia and Finland are using technology to better serve their citizens feels like a win for “our team.” Listen to the interview for a glimpse of what can be.

One other point: the person doing the interview (if he even said his name I missed it) was excellent. Short, concise questions. Allowed Ilves time to answer, without interruption.

A boy’s idea of a man

Washington Post political columnist Richard Cohen (February 6, 2017):

“My friend has a teenage son. He’s a good kid, well-behaved, impeccably mannered and exasperatingly unpredictable, as many teenagers are — a man one minute, a boy the next. My friend has schooled his son in the verities of life — be truthful, be reliable, be civil, be patient and, above all, be humble. Now, though, my friend does not know what to say. Donald Trump has left him silent.

There are many reasons to loathe Trump. His policies are mostly wrong, and even those that are right have been chaotically announced or implemented. He prescribes barroom oaths for an economy that needs thought and creativity. He would let the Earth bake rather than take the most rudimentary of steps to moderate global warming. He alienates allies and friends, embraces enemies and indulges in a noxious moral relativism in which, somehow, Russia and America are on the same level.

But it is my friend’s dilemma that best evokes what is so repellent about Trump. He is the winner who was supposed to lose. He is the bully in the fourth grade who never meets his match. He is the liar whose lies somehow don’t matter. He is the braggart who is never humbled. He refutes what Johnny Tremain was told and every child once instructed: “Pride goeth before a fall.” No, with Trump pride goeth before everything .

Donald Trump is the most un-American of presidents. Think of Abraham Lincoln — “Honest Abe.” Will anyone ever call Trump “Honest Don”? Will he be known for his humility or for his lust for knowledge? Will tales be told about his industrious work habits or, as with Lyndon Johnson, his furious desire to end racial discrimination? What will Trump overcome?

Or George Washington. Could there ever be an equivalent of the Parson Weems tale about Trump’s honesty: “Father, I cannot tell a lie”? No, it would have to be “Father, some Mexican cut down the cherry tree.” Or Dwight Eisenhower and his chain-smoking determination on the eve of D-Day, or Ronald Reagan and his affable demeanor with a bullet in him, or George H.W. Bush, who left his cushy country club life and volunteered for war at the age of 18, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, standing on atrophied legs, the braces digging into his flesh, or Barack Obama, whose dignity in the face of Trump’s revolting “birther” taunts is now so sorely missed. Trump repudiates them all. He will leave no myth, just an odor.

Myths have a certain staying power because, really, they are aspirational — not always who we are, but always who we want to be. We see ourselves as good and generous. We believe we are a virtuous nation. There is no monarchy or dictatorship in our past. We have always been a democracy, and even our presidential palace is sometimes called “the people’s house.” I am aware, of course, of slavery and Jim Crow and enduring racism. I am aware, too, of the near-extirpation of the American Indians and the raw anti-Semitism that doomed many Jews fleeing Hitler. All of this is unforgivable, unforgettable too.

As a kid, I was a paperboy, and the walls of the place where we picked up our papers were plastered with pictures of former paperboys — some sports figures, some presidents, some military officers. Ike was one. Roy Campanella, the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, was another and so was the “G.I.’s General,” Omar Bradley, the last of the five-stars. I used to study that wall, wonder about those men and whether I could ever be like them. I envision it now. There is no room for Trump there. He does not qualify. Never mind that he was never a paperboy. More important, he is no role model.

A father instructs. He raises a child to be good, to be honest, to tell the truth, to be humble, to be fair, not to be petty, to respect women, to accept fair criticism, to protect the weak and not to injure the injured, such as the bereaved parents of a son who died heroically in Iraq and a reporter with a physical disability. Trump teaches otherwise. He shows a boy that the manly virtues are for suckers, that the narcissism of youth should be cherished and that angry impulses have to be honored. Lots of men have failed as presidents, as Trump surely will, but few fail so dismally as role models. He’s a boy’s idea of a man. He’s a man’s idea of a boy.”