Monthly Archives: April 2017

Back when I used to participate on left-wing sites more than I do today, I used to worry about tone trolling. I was tempted to do a lot of that. Let’s say that I appreciate calling a spade a spade rather than, oh, let’s say, Hitler. When to bother people about excesses in their rhetoric and when to let it slide was always a problem for me. Like many of the people who get accused of tone trolling, I was always worried about the boy who cried wolf. I do worry, and it’s a genuine worry, I don’t mean to troll, that if you insist on calling everyone who disagrees with you a racist then when you are actually confronted by real racism you will have a problem communicating that.

Democrats love to call Republicans racist. However, if we look at the historical origins of the Republican Party, we can see that racism is not integral at all. Republicans often call themselves “the party of Lincoln.” The corresponding phrase for the Democrats used to be “the party of Jefferson.”

The first statewide convention that formed a platform and nominated candidates under the name “Republican” was held near Jackson, Michigan on July 6, 1854. It declared their new party opposed to the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates.


The new party went well beyond the issue of slavery in the territories. It envisioned modernizing the United States—emphasizing giving free western land to farmers (“free soil”) as opposed to letting slave owners buy up the best lands, expanded banking, more railroads, and factories. They vigorously argued that free market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism—this was the “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” ideology. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, that was 150 years ago and one can argue how much of that remains in the Republican Party, but it must be said that there is nothing innately racist about the Republican Party.

The Front National, on the other hand, united several far right political movements in France during the 1970s.

In order to create a broad movement, the ON sought to model the new party (as it earlier had sought to model itself) on the more established Italian Social Movement (MSI), which at the time appeared to establish a broad coalition for the Italian right. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Italian Social Movement was a neo-fascist movement – I don’t mean that in an “everyone who disagrees with me is a fascist sort of way.

In 1946 a group of Fascist soldiers founded the Italian Social Movement to continue the idea of Benito Mussolini. (Source: Wikipedia)

Unsurprisingly, the party has been dogged by accusations of racism, xenophobia and, above all, antisemitism since its inception.

In 2011, longtime party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, stepped down and his daughter became the head of the party. His daughter has tried to make the party more mainstream and has tried to reduce the antisemitism. However, many people doubt whether or not she has been successful in that.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen conservatives in the U.S. express support for Le Pen. I can’t help wondering if the constant accusations of racism have led them to ignore them.

Of course, I blame the establishment parties for the rise of Le Pen. They seem to lack the will to face current problems.

I should have made predictions regarding Trump and Brexit. So, here is my predictions regarding the French elections. I think Le Pen will do well and has a high chance of making it into the run-off election. However, I think there is no way she can win a runoff. Both the left and the center right will vote against her. Really, now that I think about it, it’s a shame a doorknob isn’t running because a doorknob might be a better choice than any of the candidates.

This morning’s Telegraph says, “the world will be watching to see just how far the “populist wave” has travelled.” However I wouldn’t take a Le Pen loss as indication that the populist wave has slowed. The accusations of racism among members of the Front National are far more credible than similar accusations leveled at rank and file Republicans. The slogan “France for the French” has long been associated with the Front National.

Sometimes you read something and you are really taken aback by just how little you know. I came across this paragraph after following links on entirely different subjects:

I saw a slave ship — a dhow — in Dar-Es-Salaam harbour in 1955. Saudi Arabia only abolished slavery ten years later. I have a fury against any religion that justifies slavery. It is an abomination and still widespread.

That was a response to a question posed to John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. Here’s the source. I was looking up something totally unrelated and that just jumped out at me.

I wanted to take a little time to respond to Ruth’s comment from the other day and to elaborate a bit on my distinction between liberalism and leftism. Unfortunately, it’s not a quick answer and involved looking some things up to make sure I got them right and, as these thing often do for me, I’ve been putting that off for a couple of days. In the meantime, I see that the article that prompted my original post, which I originally read due to a link on Real Clear Politics, has been taken down by the Huffington Post because it has been discovered to be a hoax. It seems that the writer does not exist. Before writing my own post, I had clicked on the author’s page and saw only that one article. However, because she (or he) claimed to be a student, I just assumed it was the first thing that writer had had published. My opinion of the Huffington Post was never high and now it is even lower.

Before moving, I was reading a book called Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. It’s very enjoyable. It has a very light, amusing style, but there are lots of fascinating, mostly historical, tidbits. Now that I’m moved, I was able to take it out again and am almost done.

At one point, she talks about eye tracking studies and how men and women look at different parts of men and women’s bodies in pictures. Then she brings back her main subject of jewelry.

When both groups, male and female, are shown a picture of a man and a woman from the shoulders up, the eye tracking results for both groups are nearly identical. Both genders spend an equal, and extraordinarily long, amount of time looking at each and every piece of jewelry the subject is wearing – in most case, far longer than they spend looking at the faces.

Not sure why that tickled my funny bone, but it did.

The chapters don’t completely stand by themselves because she’ll refer to a gem mentioned in one chapter, like La Peregrina, a large pearl owned by Mary Tudor, in another chapter, so it’s best to read the book in order. Yet the chapters are very episodic, so it’s a good book for something like traveling when you expect to get interrupted regularly. I read part of it on a train, put it down, and was able to pick it up again a week later without feeling like I lost anything. It’s a fun book even if you aren’t into jewelry.

For the past several mornings, I’ve woken to find this little guy on my window sill. He hasn’t minded me banging around while making coffee too much, but he began to edge away when I tried to take a photo. Unfortunately, the auto focus on the phone focused on the screen. I haven’t seen his right foot. I’m not sure if it’s missing or if he’s just standing one one foot. What is it with me and critters with a maimed or missing limb?


I’ve said it so many times during the past couple of years, I must be starting to sound like a broken record to the few readers I have left. Although my major ideological commitments were towards things like freedom of speech and other individual rights associated with liberalism, I have generally found myself on the political left on most issues since I found first started paying much attention to politics around the age of twelve or thirteen. I think I was thirteen when I first called myself a feminist.

For the past couple of years, however, the left seems to be playing a dangerous game of who can say the craziest thing.

Once upon a time, I thought the left had some ideals that were universal and did not change with political expediency. I thought universal franchise was one of those things. When, in the wake of the Brexit vote I saw some people arguing that people over a certain age should not be allowed to vote, I dismissed it because emotions were running so high in the lead up to that vote people were saying all sorts of crazy things on both sides.

Today, I saw an article in the Huffington Post suggesting that the franchise be taken away from white men. Now, there’s no self-interest involved here for me, beyond the general sense of not wanting to have ideals that are so relativistic that what was a moral imperative today is to be fought against tomorrow. The rationale for this is a confused grab-bag of reasons. The first one the writer, one Shelley Garland, states:

Some of the biggest blows to the progressive cause in the past year have often been due to the votes of white men. If white men were not allowed to vote, it is unlikely that the United Kingdom would be leaving the European Union, it is unlikely that Donald Trump would now be the President of the United States, and it is unlikely that the Democratic Alliance would now be governing four of South Africa’s biggest cities.

If white men no longer had the vote, the progressive cause would be strengthened.

This is pretty clear. The writer would like to disenfranchise the demographic which was least likely to vote the way she wanted them to. Is anyone naive enough to think it would stop there? Who else would be disenfranchised after the white men? If you know what the ideal outcome is, why bother to hold votes on anything at all?

Besides the fact that white men, on average, don’t vote the way Garland likes, she also justifies this by invoking the 2008 financial crisis. The idea that people on the top in the financial sector, an infinitesimally small percentage of white men, are somehow representative of white men is so laughable it’s hard to believe anyone might even float this as an argument. Other white men don’t even like them, let alone feel any kinship with them. Then she just tosses out “toxic masculinity.” I guess she thinks only white men are masculine….?

Her next justification is at least something more serious than two votes in countries where Garland doesn’t even live that didn’t go the way she wanted.

At the same time, a denial of the franchise to white men, could see a redistribution of global assets to their rightful owners.

However, in the case of South Africa, where the writer appears to live, I’m not sure how the connection between voting and global assets works. Eighty percent of the population of South Africa is black, so voting should work in favor of blacks. I’m not sure what disenfranchising white men in South Africa would achieve in this regard. I’m not familiar with the details of how South African politics works, but I think the party in power at the moment is the African National Congress. In any case:

The Land Expropriation Bill was passed by Parliament in May last year – three months before the 2016 local government elections.

In its current form, the bill requires the state to exhaust efforts to purchase property on reasonable terms in the open market before being allowed to consider expropriating it.

The ANC however has in recent months hardened its stance on economic transformation, calling for de-racialising over-concentrated sectors of the economy and transferring ownership from white people to the black majority among other matters. At its annual birthday celebrations, the ANC said the economy will be overhauled radically to allow for meaningful black participation.

She mixes up land ownership and ownership of assets and broadens it to include the whole world, which is necessary because linking assets to democratic representation doesn’t make sense in the case of South Africa.

This redistribution of the world’s wealth is long overdue, and it is not just South Africa where white males own a disproportionate amount of wealth. While in South Africa 90 percent of the country’s land is in the hands of whites (it is safe to assume these are mainly men), along with 97 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, this is also the norm in the rest of the world. Namibia has similar statistics with regard to land distribution and one can assume this holds for other assets too. As Oxfam notes eight men control as much as wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population. In the United States ten percent of the population (nearly all white) own 90 percent of all assets – it is likely that these assets are largely in the hands of males. Although statistics by race are difficult to find from other parts of the world, it is very likely that the majority of the world’s assets are in the hands of white males, despite them making up less than 10 percent of the world’s population.

Sticking to land for the moment, since white people are the indigenous people of Europe, it would only be expected that they would own most of the land there. In China, “most land is owned by collectivities or by the state.” (Strangely, a search for “land ownership India” came back with a result for the Dawes Act.) I wasn’t able to find quickly a racial breakdown of land ownership in India. The articles on land reform I came across focused more on economic factors than racial ones. So, basically, it seems to me that we’re talking about Africa, the Americas and Australia.

Anyway, I was about to go on a rant regarding white guilt (which I don’t believe really exists) but that would take some time and I have to get other things done today, so let me return to where I started.

Either you have principles or you don’t. Either I believe in universal suffrage or I don’t. My views on this have not changed. Apparently the view on the left is changing. If I had found this on a personal blog like my own, I would just ignore it, however it was in the Huffington Post and I fear that this is the way the left might be heading.

Sorry this is garbled and all over the place. Although I don’t feel like my own politics have changed much, it is clear that the political terrain around me has changed greatly. I’d like to try to articulate my positions, but it’s such a big job and I don’t have the leisure at the moment to do it full-time, which is what it would take.

A number of years ago, my family went on vacation and we stayed near the ocean. Every night, I slept soundly and woke up the following day with the sunrise. My family remarked on it because I was a little bit notorious for staying up late and waking equally late. It puzzled me too, at first. What I came to realize that it was the darkness. It never really occurred to me that I had spent most of my life sleeping in places with quite a bit of ambient light. I thought my room was dark when I shut out the light, but it turned out that it wasn’t dark enough. Ever since then, I’ve made a point wherever I’ve lived of trying to get my bedroom as dark as possible. This is one of the reasons I’m so obsessed with making drapes.

My new apartment is great but there’s one little catch. My bedroom window faces what appears to be an assisted living facility and the rooms directly across from mine seem to be nurses stations or something similar. There appears to be three rooms in a row on each floor, with a pair of window to each and banks of florescent lights on the ceilings. Most of the time, most of the blinds on those windows are open and the lights stay on all night. There are about fifteen floors and all those lights make my bedroom quite bright at night. So, I am in the process of making drapes with blackout linings.

From talking to people I know, it seems to me that people underestimate how much light can disturb one’s sleep. If you have difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep, I highly suggest that you try making your room darker.

Well, I haven’t written my post for April 5th even though it’s well past midnight and therefore, technically, April 6th. So, now I feel like I have to hammer something, anything, out, but my mind is occupied by an incredibly stupid article. It’s stupid enough that it feels too trivial to take the time to refute it. Unfortunately, it’s what’s on my mind at the moment so I guess I’ll have to tackle it. There are so many things wrong with it that I will probably take only one or two points.

It’s currently on the website of the Federalist and the title is “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends.'” As a woman who has had about the same number of close male friends in my life as female friends, I of course clicked on it.

I was actually surprised to see that this whine about “the friend zone” was prompted by declining fertility rates. It linked to an article in Real Clear Politics titled, “The Coming Demographic Crisis: What to Expect When No One Is Expecting.” I haven’t considered the subject presented in that article seriously enough to have an opinion, but at least it sounds like it was written by an adult.

Let’s, for a moment, put aside the difficult question of whether or not we are having a demographic crisis. In order to have an opinion worth sharing on that, I’d probably have to go read quite a few books and I wouldn’t expect to even be able to discuss this intelligently for at least a couple of months. So, since I’ll give the writer that the birth rate is declining and it would be desirable to see it rise again. (To be clear, I am far from convinced.)

I have a few rules of thumb when thinking about political things. One is the famous saying, attributed to Bismark, that “Politics is the art of the possible.”

A second rule of thumb is that people will generally act in their own interest and getting them to act against their interest is very difficult. It requires a lot of resources and often doesn’t work quite the way you intend anyway.

A third one is that finger wagging almost never works. I’ve yet to see a situation in which finger wagging alone was effective. How many decades of finger wagging about dietary choices, exercise, work ethic and whatever else have I heard which has amounted to so much nothing. If you want to jump up on your soap-box and excoriate the general public about their execrable television viewing habits, you are perfectly welcome to do so, but know that you will be preaching to the choir and are not likely to change the habits of more than one or two people if that.

So what did the writer in The Federalist, Hans Fiene, identify as the source of the problem, “The Friend Zone.”

Every year, countless young men find themselves trapped in the Friend Zone, a prison where women place any man they deem worthy of their time but not their hearts, men they’d love to have dinner with but, for whatever reason, don’t want to kiss goodnight.

Being caught in the Friend Zone is an inarguable drag on fertility rates, as a man who spends several years pledging his heart to a woman who will never have his children is also a man who most likely won’t procreate with anyone else during that time of incarceration. Free him to find a woman who actually wants to marry him, however, and he’ll have several more years to sire children who will laugh, create, sing, fill the world with love and, most importantly, pay into Social Security.

This is actually so bizarre, as I said at the beginning of the post I really wouldn’t be wasting my time arguing about this but its very stupidity draws attention to itself.

So, what is Fiene’s solution? Yes, to wag his finger at women and try to convince them to do what they clearly don’t want to do. Needless to say, I’ve heard men, or perhaps I should say boys, ragging on about the friend zone since I was in college. That was thirty-five years ago. That’s longer than I’ve heard people ragging on about other people not eating as they would like to see them eat. And why is the article directed at women anyway? Aren’t men participating in this? Fiene might at least have half a chance of convincing men that it’s not in their own interest to pretend to be friends with a woman if that’s not really what they want.

A few of the commenters underneath pointed out that it was hyperbole meant to be humorous, but there’s nothing to indicate that Fiene believes the opposite, that men and women’s conformity to their gender varies and some men and women can in fact be good friends. And if it was meant to be purely humor, with no point intended whatsoever, it failed miserably because it wasn’t funny. Despite some of the exaggerated examples he gives I’m left with the distinct impression that he believes his essential points.

The article he originally referenced, however, had some more serious suggestions:

Solving such a complex problem as declining fertility is not going to be easy. Last at least tells us what doesn’t work. As with many social problems, government intervention isn’t very successful. Bonus payments to expectant mothers, paid paternity leave, public holidays, “Motherhood Medals,” and tax incentives and subsidies have barely moved the needle in Russia, Japan, and Singapore. “People cannot be bribed into making babies,” Last concludes.

The best governments can do is “help people have the children they do want.” Since low fertility correlates with education, we could stop the government-subsidized promotion of a university education for all. A college degree doesn’t prepare people for specific jobs, but rather gives employers an idea of their intelligence and work habits, something that can be done more cheaply and efficiently. Making child-friendly housing more affordable, letting workers telecommute to lessen the career-costs of having children, welcoming more fecund immigrants, and ending the hostility to religion and the faithful, “if for no other reason than they’re the ones who create most of the future taxpayers,” are some of Last’s solutions. Unfortunately, they are as unlikely as they are sensible.

That first paragraph gets back to my original point: exhortations alone are not enough.

One off-topic point before I go: I’ve mentioned several times in the past year feeling like the left in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere as well, has gone off in a direction in which I can’t follow. At the same time, when I read articles like the one I just mentioned in conservative sources, I feel that there is not place for me on that side either.

A few weeks ago, I went to the American Museum of Natural History. I never downloaded the photos from my camera. In the meantime, I’ve forgotten the subjects of most of the photos. They’re mostly minerals and butterflies and I suppose I could spend some time looking them up, but I wouldn’t be getting that post up anytime soon. So, I’ve picked photos based purely on their visual appeal.

The Priestess squealed with delight when I asked if I could kinda maybe sorta play D&D with them. She hugged me with a strength that lifted my feet off the floor. Then she told me that she’d ask her boyfriend, who acted as the dungeon master for their group.

I haven’t played D&D since this period of my life, so I hope enthusiasts will pardon me if I get the details wrong.

They played the games mostly on the weekend when several people who had gone to our school but who had graduated could drive up to play. That was part of an ongoing campaign and the Dungeon Master didn’t think that it would be possible for me to join in that. However, alongside that they occasionally played much shorter adventures the DM had written that didn’t fit into the ongoing game they played on the weekends. He told me that I could play for the first time with one of those. Those were typically done during the week and, as a matter of practicality, only people who were currently on campus played. I was actually counting on this because it wasn’t the game I was interested in.

They agreed to meet on one of the common rooms in one of the dormitories. I don’t think any of us lived in that dorm, but it was chosen because it was liable to be empty.

The other players all had characters they had played before. I showed up slightly early to create a character. While I rolled the die and wrote the numbers down on a piece of paper, some of the other players came in. With each entrance, I glanced up only to be mildly disappointed. I had an ulterior motive.

Finally, she came in. She didn’t walk so much as swagger. She wore her faded, loose fitting jeans low on her hips, which wasn’t the style for women in the early eighties. They were belted with a heavy black belt. T-shirt. Black leather jacket. Converse high-tops. Her dark hair was cut short in a mannish style by a barber in town. In retrospect, I guess she dressed like a cliché, but I had never known a woman like that before. Perhaps I’d seen someone like that on the street, in Provincetown or Greenwich Village, but never someone my own age who I actually knew. In any case, nothing she wore seemed like a costume or put on. It all looked very natural on her. These days, we’d call her butch, but back then it was a forbidden word.

She told stories about how, when she’d go into town, she might be mistaken for a man. Rather than being offended, she seemed to be delighted by this and the stories usually ended with her bursting into a high pitched giggle. Still, it always seemed odd to me because underneath it all she always seemed female to me. In fact, it was just that odd mix of masculine and feminine that made her so compelling.

Let’s call her Trouble. The girl your mother didn’t think she had to warn you about.

The game got underway and, if my memory serves, it didn’t take very long until someone noticed the lack of snacks. I confess, I was betting on this.

Well, Trouble, as I anticipated, was the only one with a car. She had barely gotten the words, “Who wants to come….” out of her mouth when I eagerly volunteered. The nearest grocery that was still open at that hour was two towns over, about a ten or fifteen minute drive away.

I slid into the passenger side of her old Dodge Dart. It looked like the sort of car one of my father’s friends might drive. Large American cars like that were rapidly disappearing. The front seat was continuous, more like a sofa – much better for what we used to call “making out.”

Trouble and I had been friendly, but not friends. We had friends in common, but had spent little time together that wasn’t in the company of other people. She made some attempts as small-talk.

I slid my hand across the seat and onto her thigh. This was even more awkward than it sounds because the seat was quite wide and reaching her thigh involved more leaning than I anticipated and any hope for grace or subtlety was lost. Still, I think if fell short of clumsy.

“You!” She said with genuine surprise. “My gaydar must be broken. I never suspected.”

By then I had taken my hand away because leaning over like that was getting a bit awkward.

“Come on,” she said. “Slide on over a little bit closer.”

I said I was going to write every day, didn’t I. Why did I say that? Now it’s eleven o’clock, well, past eleven now, and I haven’t written anything.

So, this probably would be better as a TIL post on Reddit, but, since I need to write something to fulfill my little promise to myself, I’m putting it here.

What is the country with the cleanest air in the world? According to the World Health Organization, it is Kenya.

I know this is a throwaway post. Perhaps I’ve been a little burned out from moving, but I’ve been doing things like surfing the internet aimlessly. I chose this little factoid because it seemed cheerful.