Tag Archives: Pessimism

Garbage Time

I have thought a time or two, recently, of the “first they ignore you…” bit, and how failing systems of authority may experience it in reverse. First people respect and feel part of the system, then people bump up against unworkable features of the system, then people laugh at its continued pretense of authority, then people just ignore it.

This is as close as I can get to a theme for what’s going on now.

Steady rot, maddening slowness of even attempts at constructive response, and more opting out.

Of the steady rot, well, good grief. This post’s featured image is of a protester in February 2017, and I suspect her sign could actually be more true now, not less. I wrote this post almost 29 months ago, and could just about repeat every word of it today. The big picture is dismal, and while one may find bright spots in the darkness here and there, from a perch next to Cleveland, Ohio, it’s just awful.

Yet leaders and institutions mostly seem, perhaps inevitably, deeply attached to accepting the system’s limits no matter how ridiculous they become. Pick an example. Congress is almost too obvious, yet it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it should be obviously unthinkable that about 50% of a legislature with vast responsibilities is permanently committed to blockade any and everything, even policies which are genuinely very good as well as wildly popular with the public. Yet this is just normalized. Working around the bad sectors and “out-organizing” them, accepting that impossibly bad rules and what they are, aw just try harder, is broadly accepted by leaders and institutions.

Liberal democracy, certainly in America, just seems to have no idea whatsoever what to do about an organized enemy which is inter-weaved with a traditional political party. It is just not done, apparently, for liberalism to actually fight to shut down a political party no matter how toxic it becomes. Instead liberal leaders and institutions just endlessly monitor the bad behavior and point at it, waiting for some other authority to take responsibility. The courts, which are too slow at best, or the voters, who pour votes into systems which just throw them out because those systems are already corrupted. Liberalism is forever determined to win the argument; even if it conclusively wins the argument and systems don’t respond, the answer is always to try winning it even more.

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Redistricting Minority Reports

I had an idea this week, which I’m sketching out just for whatever. Please note, this is not a recommendation, just a thought-experiment. The best approach for redistricting, short of reconsidering the whole concept of geography-based democracy, is probably still very independent commissions kept as far away from politicians as possible.

But, what if the backstop for legislative district maps supported by only the party in power was a kind of “official minority report” along these lines:

In Ohio, for example, current redistricting rules call for maps to be supported by at least half of the second-largest party in government (i.e. Democrats), but allow the party in power (i.e. Republicans) to enact four-year maps on a party-line basis, subject to antigerrymandering rules. In practice, Ohio Republicans are just ramming more gerrymandering right through the rules, and it seems to me like any real solution must involve taking the map-drawing pen away from the gerrymanderers at some point.

So how about, instead, if (when) Ohio Republicans ram through gerrymandered districts on a party-line vote, Ohio Democrats get to re-draw part of the map, say 40%.

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Getting a grip when nothing works

I was mentally drafting a post this morning about how nothing seems to work, then this afternoon the irrepressibly optimistic Amy Hanauer shared this Prospect article with a different perspective. Robert Kuttner makes enough good points, therein, that for now I feel like examining them instead.

In general, I consider “Get a Grip: There Will Be a Budget Resolution” a very sound response to two, related, current problems:

  1. I have refused to pay attention to regular updates from the budget standoff in Congress. I think the whole thing is not only a fiasco which was practically manufactured by Democratic leadership—as I wrote months ago, dumb schemes like the “two-track approach” always do the opposite of defusing brinkmanship—it’s also a perfect example of how I just can’t take all this shit literally. Kuttner writes a good explanation of why there’s no reason to make an exception here.
  2. Although I still go through the motions of sending messages to Congress and the White House, what do I even say? So many things are crisis-level all at once and I do not want to get swept up in “this is what’s heating up this week so direct your comments there.” Kuttner writes a shortlist which I think addresses the biggest big-picture issues with as few items as possible.

I’m not really convinced of various details, though, or of the conclusion that we have the enemies of democracy and justice on the ropes, so “Enough defeatism! We can do this.”

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Ups, downs, hypernormalization

Within little more than 36 hours I was wrenched between highs and lows, this week.

Tuesday morning, I got up, grabbed a campaign sign, and walked up the street to the neighborhood polling place to fly the flag for City Councilperson Tristan Rader‘s reelection. I was already anxious, and as the day wore on, I began sinking toward downright despondence. Mostly because I have just been traumatized by too many crushing election results over the past several years. I know that this pessimism is a bias on my part, but I also know that it isn’t so much of a bias that I can just dismiss it.

So, it was a great relief when the Board of Elections posted early-vote totals with Tristan leading all others in an eight-candidate primary. Even better, election-day numbers later boosted my neighbor Laura Rodriguez-Carbone to third place. The top six candidates will all appear on November’s ballot, but the top three in that election will be elected to city council at-large; astonishingly the exact three candidates I voted for are now presumptive favorites.

That was exciting. Not every Tuesday result was great, but a number of interest to me were positive. I was e.g. rather relieved that the “knife-edge” warnings were completely off and California’s recall election came nowhere near deposing the state’s Democratic governor, even if he is personally mediocre at best.

By Wednesday evening, however, I was back to dread, and I unplugged rather than follow the showdown on Ohio’s Redistricting Commission from which poor results seemed likely and which I would be entirely unable to influence at that point. In this case, I was correct.

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The Crisis of Confidence

When the rigged high court, this week, ignored the precedent of Roe v. Wade, I realized that a blog post I wrote exactly two months earlier seemed word-perfect. Post-Democracy America is taking shape right in front of us.

As with a lot of events, now, I’m still making some attempt to analyze and process, yet I also keep finding that a lot of what happens is compatible with conclusions I reached and wrote about previously, some times years ago. It was right around three years ago that I went through intense anguish at the corrupt, evil takeover of America’s high court. Watching it play out, now, is sad and bad, but can I say that I really expected anything else?

I have been writing explicitly for some time that I think America is beyond repair, certainly in terms of a representative democracy. The proposition that the system can be repaired within the system is beyond farfetched, at this point.

Yet I still expect that zombie systems and concepts will shamble along, because that’s human behavior.

I am again re-reading Stokesbury’s Short History of World War I, and again the book and current events provide fascinating perspective on one another. Particularly how absolutely unprepared European leaders were for what war of that era was going to be like, even though there were warnings. The Russo-Japanese War was a warning, but they ignored it. “…early in 1915, Allied intelligence heard rumors that the Germans might conceivably be going to use gas. Not knowing exactly what to do about it, the Allied commanders decided to do nothing.” By later on in 1915, the war had ground up lives for an entire year, and still the nations of Europe continued to feed more lives into the same meat-grinder battles for multiple additional years before some new ideas managed to force themselves into use, often through some degree of accident.

America has had warnings, plenty of warnings, and we have even been living through plenty of nightmarish consequences of our culture becoming badly unsuited to new challenges. But most of those in authority (who are not actively part of the destruction) don’t know exactly what to do about it, and are instead doing nothing, at least nothing besides the same ineffective things which they have been doing.

I think this might be thought of as a Crisis of Confidence, partly at least a disastrous surplus of confidence as was very much the case in World War I.

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Fighting over the wrong infrastructure

Four years ago, Bruce Gibney wrote that “I think the choices might become so difficult that even fairly good people will get wrapped up in short-term self-interest” within the near future.

It seems like this is already manifesting in the much-greater energy going toward a progressive budget than toward reforming the political system. I observe this pretty much daily, in the messages from members of Congress, and from advocacy groups*; even America’s progressive leadership is pretty much all-in on making pocketbook assistance the priority.

I understand the desire to provide first aid ASAP to people suffering injury, but if that comes at the expense of fixing dangerous equipment which will continue causing injury, then this is the wrong choice to make.

America’s oppressive economic systems are downstream from oppressive political systems.

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COVID Summer 2021

The sense that a Theory Of The Case is generally missing, including from purported leaders, is thriving lately.

I continue to think back on one of the earliest COVID prognoses that caught my eye as one of the best. I wish I had clipped a source URL. But I recall back near the start of all this, someone advising that eventually everyone would be exposed to COVID and (this being way before vaccines) most people exposed would get infected. This was, as far as I can tell, always the theory of “flatten the curve”—even if that escaped people—i.e. don’t all get COVID at once and thereby overload the hospitals, not do this so that you don’t get COVID ever.

With vaccines’ arrival, some theoretical possibility seemed to exist that thoroughly vaccinated societies could achieve that so-much-abused concept, herd immunity.

That’s just no longer even within reach at this point.

As someone else forecast fairly early on, COVID is endemic now. There is no credible scenario for how this worldwide, extremely transmissible virus gets removed from circulation. This is not so much because it’s “mutating around the vaccines,” as ongoing lurid speculation anticipates, as it is because there are a lot of people who will never get vaccinated. Vaccines are available in America. It isn’t really an access problem other than for children or the immunocompromised. For millions of people in this country and many more in other countries, it’s basically just a Bartleby the Scrivener situation.

Few people seem even to be confronting this reality, honestly.

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Jan. 6 Committee, Day One

The realization, starting in my late thirties, that “responsible adults in charge” is mostly a myth no matter how high up you go—this is one of those realizations which always remains difficult to believe.

Day One of the US House Select Committee on January 6 2021 has provided another dismaying booster for that realization, though.

I have gone back and forth on the whole idea of this House investigation. There are meaningful questions which ought to be answered. A professional investigative agency seems much better qualified to pursue most of them. The Department of Justice seems like in practice it is going to stay far away from many “politicized” areas. The politicians’ fixation on a “bipartisan” investigation is just lunacy. Republicans are so in thrall to sabotage that they turned an offer of 50/50 membership into a mostly Democratic committee.

Day One of the Committee seemed mostly to be a lot of weeping for the cameras, on behalf of the ruined virtue of America’s wonderful institutions, rather than investigation. Some allowance can be made for Opening Day, and I’m aware that politics and really all culture involves some degree of playacting.

But the whole premise which this Committee is making into the theme of its pageant is fundamentally, childishly, misguided. A violent putsch assaulted America’s Capitol on January 6, and an assault on America’s democracy needs our urgent response, but they are not the same things.

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Hyundai Ioniq Plugin Hybrid

So I have purchased a different car, and it’s my first car-purchase in 14+ years, only the second time in my life I have made a car-purchase on my own, as well as the most expensive purchase of any kind that I have ever made and the most expensive thing I own, by a lot.

So I have thoughts and feelings.

Where to begin. So much is new with this. I’m going from a 2000 Toyota Camry to a 2018 plug-in hybrid. Just in terms of the technology and interface, it feels comparable to going directly from Pagemaker 6.5 to the 2018 release of Adobe InDesign. In all honesty, I don’t think such a leap would be completely baffling. But it would be quite a big adjustment. The 2000 Camry had a substantially analogue dashboard; the 2018 Ioniq is like most modern vehicles, i.e. basically a computer on wheels.

The Ioniq is considered a hatchback (and it amuses me that “five-door” is an alternative term). Typical vehicle styling however blurs most of the difference between this and other sedans, now.

My new car can plug in to “fuel up” from electric current. Public charging stations, even if they are free, hardly seem usable at all without a smartphone. It was only two years ago that I upgraded from an old flipphone to a modern magic rectangle.

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System design matters

Early this morning I came across a twitter thread summarizing the “theory of now” of Professor Jason Stanley, who endorses the summary. While not exactly my own phrasing or choice emphases, it seems generally accurate to me also.

The main difference in my own “theory of now” may be that I think system design—omitted from Stanley’s theory or at least from a 20-tweet summary he just promoted—plays a critical role.

My own “theory of now” might in fact be summarized in six words that I scribbled down earlier this year:

  • rabid right
  • flabby left
  • bad rules

The summarized Stanley addresses effectively the first two, which are both important. I believe that the third is also essential to understanding the sabotage of America.

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