The senator from truthiness

As of late August 2018, American politics has become so debased that people fall over themselves praising the integrity, civility and honor of someone who:

  1. attempted to bring an aggressively know-nothing, say-anything internet troll into the White House before deciding to occasionally criticize another one who actually made it there;
  2. made much fuss about the senate and “regular order” before voting to approve a massive betrayal of serious policymaking;
  3. chuckled at his own “joke” of singing “bomb bomb, bomb bomb-Iran” in response to a serious question about policy.

This isn’t really a record of decency or any of those other things; it’s a record of “decenciness.” As with “truthiness,” it provokes an emotional feeling of genuineness, which large numbers of people happily embrace as being just as good as a substantive, reasoned case, if not better.

Whither Brexit

Answer… it’s ongoing.

Hard to believe two years have passed since the first big shock result of 2016. Especially since little seems to have happened, in this case.

The main reason I feel like revisiting this topic is its useful lessons for national plebiscites, a concept which has been on my mind lately.

It’s increasingly tempting to believe that America’s national politics might benefit from some element of direct democracy. The reasons are mostly variations on the theme of current practices not working very well…

Comparing surveys on issues, and the outcome of votes for elected officials, it seems like there is definitely a disparity, and seems to me like people are less bad at choosing broad policies than they are at choosing leaders to empower. Both my own observations and some studies suggest that contests for elected office have devolved into mindless seesaws of partisan intensity, whereas facts and argument have at least some chance in initiative and referendum campaigns. On certain issues, meanwhile, ideas seem to have hardened and yet there is no apparent hope of settling e.g. the issue of abortion, because on this issue there is no real overlap between the two parties between which government is, over time, divided in America.

I believe that there are issues in which resort to a nationwide plebiscite would offer some hope of an America that is less ungovernable.

Mainly because, at this point, national politics are basically a kind of bastardized pseudo-direct-democracy anyway. In practice, we elect people to make decisions… in reality, ideological party “sorting” is now substantial, and elections are at least as much arguments about known issues as they are about trying to select wise and honorable people to deal with undefined “new business.” At some point, it seems like we need either a better mechanism for resolving long-term disputes… or else we need to admit that we’re in a civil war and respond accordingly.

Plebiscites seem like a possible solution. Yet even setting aside the inevitable constitutional roadblock, just for discussion’s sake, there are reasons for concern. I think the story of Brexit demonstrates some interesting ones besides the obvious.

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Clarity on conservatism

Early this year, I read this remark from occasionally interesting neocon David Frum:

“Conservatives will always be with us. If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”

It has stuck with me, since, mainly for the implication which he goes on to make explicit: “The stability of American society depends on conservatives’ ability to find a way forward from the Trump dead end, toward a conservatism that cannot only win elections but also govern responsibly…”

That’s very persuasive, and very troubling since so-called conservatives seem to be packing themselves into that dead end, gleefully elevating “owning the libs” over governing responsibly.

This morning, though, I had a moment of clarity: no.

Conservatives may always be with us. But if they reject democracy, then they become illegitimate. Odds are very good that, in a nation of democratic institutions, they will also become criminals. At which point they should be prosecuted, convicted and placed in time out.

Simple.

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Iron Man & the “Camelot Trilogy”

Let’s explore some more old, odd and/or obscure comics.

Even though published by Marvel and featuring two of its best known characters, I believe that various parts of the Iron Man “Camelot Trilogy” meet all three criteria.

The publication history alone supplies some novelty:

  • Part One, Iron Man (volume I) Issues 149-150. 1981.
  • Part Two, Iron Man (volume I) Issues 249-250. 1989.
  • Part Three, Iron Man: Legacy of Doom 4-issue limited series. 2008.

No surprise, this was never planned as a trilogy, or even a story that would extend beyond the original two-parter in 1981. I believe it was only ever referred to as a trilogy within the past decade, when Marvel approved publication of a third installment in the form of its own, standalone four-issue serial almost 20 years after part two. (I presume the company was simply flooding stores with Iron Man projects, in hopes of capturing some halo sales from the character’s feature film.)

Cover of Iron Man (vol. I) #150

The beginning of a story three decades (or 15 centuries) in the making

Granted that I like this story. I enjoy the characters, it’s a work (or works) of good basic craft; it isn’t terribly deep but does a good job of what it aspires to do.

But the gradual expansion from a two-issue story fascinates me.

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Elite decline

This past week, I saw the phrase “elite decline” on Twitter, in these comments on Amy Chua’s testimonial for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and how she basically ratted on her own conflict of interest:

Just two days later, I happened upon another remarkably similar example:

Set aside all the other baggage accompanying this particular disgrace and with Mr. Musk in general. Set aside also his claim to “humanitarian” reasons. Here is a very rich person explaining that he gives money to politicians to buy himself priority access which the rest of us don’t get. He apparently did not consider this anything to be ashamed of.

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The US Supreme Court in the 21st Century

The phrase “Save SCOTUS” began appearing in my inbox and Twitter feed fairly regularly within a few days of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

I realize that it’s just a hashtag, probably grasped at in the same embarrassing, unplanned haste that has characterized most liberal response to a circumstance for which concerned parties should have had plans ready long before now.

Yet I believe that the phrase does, if only by accident, frame the related events much more aptly than most of its promoters have even considered.

We are in fact confronting the end of the US Supreme Court as it has existed for as long as I can recall. For those who wish that kind of institution to persist, the very last opportunity to save it is indeed quickly expiring.

Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court of the late 20th century is beyond saving, no matter who replaces Kennedy. Although that institution’s fundamental conservatism has resisted the changes around it for nearly two decades, a different Supreme Court is emerging in the 21st century, like it or not.

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NBA profits are not the result of “the market”

A few years ago it occurred to me that the absurd profits that flood the world of “marquee sports” are not the product of market forces so much as they are the product of ongoing, active distortion of market forces.

I happened to bury this minor epiphany in an offhand post speculating on Dwayne Wade’s work/life satisfaction, but since no one takes notice wherever I publish my work anyway, it seemed as well to just leave it there.

But, yesterday Vox saw fit to publish a work that basically dwells at length within this forest yet only sees the trees, so I suppose this is as good an occasion as any to raise my lone counterproposition to its own headline placement.

Briefly: Market distortions enrich the entire world of major league sports, on a fundamental level, to an extent that probably far exceeds the effect that smaller distortions have upon how the resultant “pie” is divided up.

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Electropolis: “Murder & The Internette”

For anyone else out there who remembers Dean Motter’s early 00s comic book story Electropolis, and may have wondered about the “Murder & The Internette” online serial promoted on the first issue’s back cover…

…after 17 years I have an answer.

"Electropolis" Issue #1 back cover

“Electropolis” Issue #1 back cover

It never appeared online, anywhere, and most of it was never produced.

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“Cleveland’s 2030 movement”

I have lived in northeast Ohio long enough to get the sense that outbreaks of coordinated handwringing by the region’s elites are just a periodic ritual. I wrote about a previous handwringing episode three years ago, and in a sense there is little to add…

…except that somehow, the Plain Dealer editorial board’s contribution to this show actually seems to get substantially worse.

Yesterday’s editorial “Let’s launch inclusively, collectively, our 2030 movement for Cleveland’s future” begs the question: what city are these people living in?

Very possibly nothing has ever better demonstrated this editorial board’s complete detachment from reality, than their continued insistence that hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention was “a success.”

The blinkered perception that somehow “a big convention is a big convention,” and the purpose and consequences are simply abstract concepts of no importance, was appalling from the outset. Cleveland elites might as well have been holding their own Know-Nothing convention, so doggedly have they stuck to the premise that RNC2016 was some kind of apolitical Cleveland Expo, rather than a working assembly of people with a specific agenda directly harmful to the values and communities which Cleveland elites purport to cherish.

But set that aside, and even then, RNC2016 was still no more than another boondoggle exercise of local elites’ vanity.

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Teaching leadership: more things we missed

Looking back on whether or not the 1990s were really a missed opportunity, I have concluded that it’s difficult to say that such was more true of that period than of others.

Which doesn’t mean that reexamination offers no lessons. Among those which it suggests, to me, hollowness in our society’s political leadership lessons seems prominent.

In my late 30s, it seems like I’m engaged in a self-study course in political leadership theory and practice, covering a lot of material that should be basic but which I just have not encountered before. It seems also like I’m not alone in this.

Two pieces of personal context also suggest that there is indeed a hole in what our culture teaches: First, I actually paid attention to most of the curriculum throughout my years in school. Second, in this area I even showed interest; in high school I spent a week immersed in something called the National Young Leaders Conference.*

Yet looking back, I nonetheless reached my 30s with an understanding of how democracy works that can’t be called complete even in outline form. If this was the case even for me, is it any wonder that America’s politics seem to have broken down?

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