College, and a LOT of politics (ARA)

Do I say to him what he ought to do in order to try to save the relationship OR assume those facts to be immutable. and advise him how to survive it better?

My friend Mary wrote:


Hi Roger- Re: “Ask Roger Anything” – I’m helping [my son] plan his courses for next semester, and so these questions come to mind: What was your very favorite course taken as an undergrad? Most useful later in life (for any reason)? One you struggled to get through but was worth it? Etcetera…

Favorite course: American Government and Politics, the intro course, which has also been quite useful for me as a librarian in ascertaining which federal department might have jurisdiction over different issues. Given his proclivity for politics – I follow his Facebook page – it might be a good fit.

I also liked a music intro course where I got a little music theory, composed some little ditties, and had a lot of fun.

Most useful later: intro to psychology, and logic. Understanding how the human mind works.

Struggled with, but was worth it: intro to anthropology, which I must confess was a struggle because it was at 8 a.m. Understanding where we as a species came from.

Struggled with, worth it as an exercise: intro to calculus. I was failing, going into the final, crammed for two days, passed the final. Looked at the book two weeks later but didn’t understand a thing.

In general, I believe a broad liberal arts education can serve one well, especially with someone as bright as your son clearly is.

A whole bunch of questions about our political election year

Best described in this parody: Finnish News Team Reports On U.S. Elections

The evil Amy from Sharp Little Pencil muses:

Why is Donald Drumpf? (That’s the whole question, hee hee hee)

After I started writing this, my friend Dan wrote The Presidential Distraction Examined, which touches on all the candidates, and which you should read. Or The rise of American authoritarianism. Heck, you answered your own question with Greedy Bastard.

We Americans have always been attracted to the carnival barker. We know that he’s probably giving us a bunch of hooey, but we’ll still spend the quarter to see the half-boy/half-alligator, or the bearded lady.

Drumpf is a master of self-promotion. The fact that his businesses, his brands are probably not as successful as he would have you believe is irrelevant. In a society where facts are at a premium, and celebrity is king – is Robert Downey Jr. moving to Albany? Er, no – a guy with an unconvincing combover of an unnatural color can be perceived as “genuine”, the fact that he contradicts himself regularly notwithstanding.

His birther attack on President Obama, I’ve come to see, was a trial run. Without a shred of evidence, Drumpf kept alive the notion that Obama was born in Nigeria. Or Indonesia.

Now he runs for President, and right out of the gate, he insults Mexican immigrants, and John McCain, and Muslims, and intelligent women. The punditry is SURE that his campaign will be over before it begins. But he gains support, not IN SPITE of those remarks, but BECAUSE of them. “He’s unfiltered! He’s not politically correct!”

And people watch. The ratings of the summer 2015 GOP debates were at least FOUR TIMES as large as the ones in 2011. As Les Moonves said about CBS News’ overabundant coverage of the man: “Who would’ve thought this circus would come to town?… It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” On the Daily Show, Trevor Noah likened Moonves’ and the news media’s, attitude to that of a doctor who says, ‘I hate to see all these patients coming in with cancer, but I have to admit, it’s been really good for my practice.'”

Let me say a word in defense of political correctness. Saying whatever comes to mind is not the sign of maturity or bravery, but of the mindset of children, who used to say the darndest things to Art Linkletter on his daytime talk show many years ago. When grownups do the same things, they are often a$$@#^%! The fact that his speeches have been targeted to third- or fourth-graders intellect is, sadly, effective. Even when it’s crazy.

Maybe that comes from talking too much to himself. On Morning Joe (MSNBC), he said recently: “I know what I’m doing, and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people, and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But my primary consultant is myself.” To that end, here he is, consulting his campaign advisers.

And something else: none of his opponents are nearly as good as being contemptible as The Donald is. Marco Rubio started a riff suggesting the inferior size of Drumpf’s…er, genitalia. But Marco, not Donald, seemed the lesser person for this, as he admitted shortly before he dropped out of the race. The late-night comics had started referring to Rubio as Little Marco, just as the tycoon does.

Some ex-Jeb Bush operative said a Drumpf presidency would be like a chimp driving a tractor. Seems petty. Whereas The Donald is an EXCELLENT mudslinger.

One cannot underestimate, though, how much Americans HAVE been ripped off by the rich and powerful, the stuff that Bernie Sanders has been talking about. That anger and frustration are real, but Drumpf as the solution is surreal.

This, naturally, leads to Buffalo-area book scribe Jaquandor

Do you think Bernie Sanders would be an effective President, in terms of furthering a liberal agenda?

I chose to believe that, on the off chance Bernie Sanders gets elected – hey, he won the overseas vote – that his win would represent such a seminal shift in the body electoral that he would have actually a chance to enact some of his reforms. This would be especially true if some of those Senate seats in marginal states go to the Democrats.

And if he DOESN’T win, perhaps he’s started a movement that will prevail in 2020, when, presumably the country will, by then, realize that supporting a Nordic-style approach is not an act of altruism but of self-promotion.

Of course, I can only see this happening if, in addition to him making a miraculous comeback on the Democratic side against Hillary Clinton, that either 1) Drumpf gets the GOP nomination or 2) he is denied the nomination by some GOP machinations and goes third party.
BTW, I find it hysterical that the Republican establishment is now largely supporting Ted Cruz since they pretty much HATE Ted Cruz. Naturally, Cruz has called on US police to patrol Muslim neighborhoods in the wake of the Brussels attack.

You may have seen former GOP Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham say, less than a month ago, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” And now Graham is fundraising for Cruz.

It’s not that they’ve changed their minds about the obstructionist who is Rafael Cruz. Samantha Bee illustrates how unlikeable Ted Cruz really is—his whole life. It’s that the GOP establishment finds Drumpf the greater existential threat to the party, and perhaps the nation. Ruth Marcus, in the Washington Post back in December 2015, said that Drumpf was a better choice than Cruz because one could work with the former, but three months later, she changed her mind.

Both GOP candidates were criticized, though not by name, in this CBS Sunday Morning piece by a combat veteran this past week. “For too many Americans in 2016, war isn’t a dire act turned to once all other options have been exhausted. It’s a narcotic, a quick fix, something that happens in strange, faraway lands, where other people’s sons and daughters do violent things for country.”

The most eclectic Dustbury wonders:

What would be the one change you’d most like to see in the governance of the State of New York?

It appears that the sense of entitlement has brought forth all those indictments of our state legislators, including, in the last year or so, the Speaker of the Assembly AND the head of the State Senate, continues to run rampant.

Generally, I disdain term limits, because I believe philosophically the people should be able to elect who they want. But I also recognize that the state legislature gets to pick the gerrymandered boundaries of the state legislature.

I like the idea of a truly independent board that would redraw the lines every ten years, pretty much ignoring the previous boundaries, and primarily paying attention to finding the population balance, still with some consideration of neighborhoods, would be nice. I just don’t know what that looks like.

Coincidentally there will be a seminar this Friday at the Albany Law School, “Can a NYS Constitutional Convention Strengthen Government Ethics?”

“With so much talk about the erosion of integrity in government, can the problems with elected officials that so frequently dominate our headlines be fixed statutorily or are they more appropriately addressed through constitutional change? As November 2017 and a statewide referendum on whether or not to call a constitutional convention near, this and other questions will be increasingly on the minds of the voters. This forum will address these important issues.”


How is Andrew Cuomo doing, six years in?

He’s a strange egg. He’s been pushing the $15/hour minimum wage, and much of the literature shows him with his late father, the former governor Mario Cuomo. Mario, I liked; Andrew, not so much.

I remain convinced, with the fall of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both on corruption charges, that Andrew could be next. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.

You don’t sound black

It’s that mindset that gives political correctness a bad name.

race card.kk
The cartoonist Keith Knight, a/k/a Keef is “the creator of three popular comic strips: the Knight Life, (th)ink, and the K Chronicles.” I haven’t followed (th)ink, which is a one-panel editorial strip, but The Knight Life is syndicated in several daily newspapers, including the local Times Union; you can read it HERE.

Arguably his best strip is K Chronicles. Keef says: “K Chronicles is like an indie film and the Knight Life is like a (good) network sit-com. Read his September 2015 strip Not Black. (I’ll wait.) I so relate!

When I was first working in my current job, we provided library services not just for New York State, but all around the country. In those largely pre-Internet, and even pre-email days, I would talk with SBDC counselors on the telephone, taking their questions. Then we would go to the national conference to tout our services. Invariably, I’d see white people, shocked that I was black. And black people, PLEASED that I was black.

More than once, I’ve gotten into debates with people about whether I “sound” black. My argument: I’m black, this is what I sound like. Ipso facto, I sound black.

Oh, the picture above is from a 2009 K Chronicles that created a kerfuffle. Students at Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvanian school were “outraged” that “the black cartoonist Keith Knight dared to draw a black guy in a noose.” The objection is “extraordinarily stupid… once you read the actual comic strip in question.”

It’s that mindset that gives political correctness – whatever that means – a bad name, especially at colleges. In fact, The Atlantic had a lengthy article in September 2015, The Coddling of the American Mind. “In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.” So the idea of lynching is so offensive that when Keef is making an anti-lynching point in the drawing, the greater truth is lost.

Political correctness, and Donald Trump

“When people say things that are non-normative, unexpected, or non-self-serving, those things are seen as more likely to be true.”

Donald TrumpIt has occurred to me that I don’t know what the term “politically correct” really means. Of course, I’m aware of the dictionary definition: “Conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” That’s pretty vague.

Thus I was excited by the prospect of reading a three-part series in the Scientific American Blog Network called Decoding Trump-Mania: The Psychological Allure of Hating Political Correctness, by Melanie Tannenbaum.

In Part 1, posted August 14, 2015, she posits: “The research showing that people high in ambiguity intolerance feel so profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of uncertainty, they will often prefer a slightly negative yet certain outcome to a potentially-more-positive, uncertain one. In other words, people may find Donald Trump to be disagreeable, abrasive, or downright unlikeable. But because of his reputation for ‘telling it like it is’ and ‘being honest to a fault,’ they also feel certain that they can believe Trump when he says he’s telling the truth.”

In Part 2, posted August 15, 2015, she asks, “Given obvious flip-flops like Trump’s shifting stance on abortion” and taxing the rich, why does he still resonate? “When people say things that are non-normative, unexpected, or non-self-serving, those things are seen as more likely to be true, and outside observers are more likely to think they have a good chance of really knowing the authentic, deep-down, true personality of the person saying them. It doesn’t matter what those statements objectively are.”

In other words, if he insults Hispanics, blacks, John McCain and veterans, and Carly Fiorina and other women, and suggests he’d marry his daughter if she weren’t, well, his daughter, NO ONE would say these outrageous things if he didn’t believe them to be true.

Part 3 was supposed to come out the following day, but didn’t appear until September 8. Tannenbaum gets to the heart of my question: “When something [such as being PC] is this ambiguous, it leaves a lot of room for different subjective interpretations — what social psychologists refer to as construals. B 13Construals, broadly, are the different ways that people perceive and understand the world around them — and these interpretations are subject to bias from anything ranging from the stimulus’s local context and environment to personal ideological biases and political affiliations.”

For instance, what is the character to the right? Seen with other letters, it’s the letter B. In a roster of numbers, it’s the number 13.

Tannenbaum takes on the conservative and liberal biases of the term, and if you read nothing else, peruse those sections. She concludes:

In the end, the fervor over political correctness seems to stem from the fact that we’re all using this phrase completely differently. But hopefully, with a little more understanding of where the “other side” is coming from — and with a little more insight into the flaws in our own logic — we can start to figure out a way to move forwards.

Which I can only hope involves removing the phrase “politically correct” from our vocabularies forever. I’m just about sick to death of it, and now we have all the proof we need that it’s too vague and subject-to-interpretation to be helpful anyway. Who’s with me?

I’m not sure she’s “proved” it, but I DO agree with her conclusion that it’s a meaningless term.
Back in June, Bill Maher predicted Donald Trump’s success.

PC, LGBT, 8-tracks, malls and dystopia

If you were beamed down from the USS Enterprise into most malls, you’d be hard pressed to know where you were geographically.

7.21.08 Blitt Obama.inddUthaclena, who I know in terrestrial life, asks:

Okay: at what point does Political Correctness become absurd? Do public facilities need to be sanitized of all things religious to ensure separation of church and state? On Halloween can you only wear costumes of your own race/ethnicity/religion?

Okay. Here’s the thing; I don’t know what different people’s boiling points are, because I’m not them. For instance, it is the groups of Native Americans who have complained about the name of the Washington Redskins NFL team that makes me believe in the rightness of the complaint.

Too often, people wear the badge of political incorrectness, to show how much cooler they are than the “hung up” other people, and it ends up being a way for them to justify their racist and/or sexist and or/homophobic behavior.

Dan Van Riper noted: “As far back in the 1990s, Dan Clowes predicted the rise of this cultural phenomenon in David Boring (one of the last Eightballs.) If you complain about this kind of racist reference, then ‘you just don’t get it.’ Is it a way of depowering racism by appropriating it for entertainment, or is it providing a new kind of refuge for racist tendencies?” Or it’s framed as “you just don’t have a sense of humor,” and I do, but it’s STILL not funny.

Thom Wade would call it Bigotedly Correct. The general term is hipster racism.

See, e.g., this article about the Minneapolis area theater scene that Dan sent me, which I subsequently saw in BoingBoing. Referring to a purported talk-back session, in which a Native American woman protester was supposedly given an opportunity to speak, but she wasn’t:

“That’s the thing about privilege. It shows itself in many ways. This time, it just happened to pop up as a group of authoritative white people publicly tag-teaming a lone woman of color, and being so oblivious to the prevailing power dynamic that it never occurred to them that this was a problem, or that the reporter in the room might notice.”

And to that end, I thought this was rather entertaining: ‘Columbusing’: When White People Think They Discovered Something They Didn’t.

However, I DID think this July 2008 New Yorker cover was funny, because, I thought, it was making a commentary about how the Obamas were perceived, not as they actually were. Still, Colin Powell spoke well about the lie.

We don’t need to remove the Ten Commandments from the Supreme Court building. But I think those public, mostly Christian, prayers recently allowed by the Supreme Court suggest the establishment of religion. That’s not about being PC; that’s about following the Constitution.

I don’t believe white people should wear blackface for Halloween. But that doesn’t mean that blackface should NEVER happen, in an educational setting explaining why it’s so offensive to some people.

Occasionally, I see these stories about a teacher going “too far” in an educational demonstration showing racism or Antisemitism, e.g. About 2/3 of the time, I think the teachers have it right, and about 1/3 of the time, the proper context is not related, and it becomes a humiliation to those participating.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s attacks on large sodas annoyed me. But is that a PC argument or a nanny state argument?

I think the elimination of Halloween, in favor of a “fall festival”, is a bit silly, yet I’m good with celebrating “the holidays,” because there are several of them (Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa). Still, “Merry Christmas” is pretty innocuous, to me, because Christmas in America is not a particularly Christian holiday.

Did I ever tell you that I wished someone visiting my current church on Christmas Eve “Merry Christmas, and he said, “I don’t celebrate Christmas”? I stifled a laugh.

I’m in the Potter Stewart school; I know the PC line when I see it.

Arthur the AmeriNZ notes:

Yes, I did steal borrow the idea from you, but I do it far less regularly. Here’s a query for you: Tell us about the first time you realised that someone you knew was LGBT, like, how you came to realise that, consequences, that sort of thing. I’m thinking about someone you actually knew, though it could be someone in pop culture or whatever.

Well, the first person I knew to be gay was my late friend Vito Mastrogiovanni, who my sister had a crush on in high school. He was out to his friends, but not everyone at the time, I believe. Frankly, it wasn’t a big deal, and there were no “consequences.” He and I were part of that oddball intellectual, politically aware clique that opposed the Vietnam war, fought racism, and the like.

Now that you ask it, maybe I SHOULD have been more reactive, but I just wasn’t.

Now my freshman year in college, the guy next door was hostile, and as I’ve noted, he was possibly being preemptively nasty before I could be nasty to him; I thought it was sad.

But I knew a lot more lesbians, starting at that same time frame. Alice was the roommate of my future wife, the Okie. She fought the war with me, hitchhiked with me. Not sure what consequences I really discovered except this: with straight people, I generally preferred the company of women. With gay people, I generally preferred the company of women. This was informative because I realized that I wasn’t friends with them just so I could hit on them. Did I ever mention I went skinny-dipping with six lesbians back in the late 1970s?

In fact, most of the gay people I knew were women until I got to my current church in this century, which, I believe, has more openly gay men than lesbians, though I haven’t done a formal count.

Amy, with her Sharp Little Pencil, wants to know:

Why did cassette tapes overtake the 8-track market?

Because the eight-track was a stupid technology. I remember exactly when I realized this. I was in a car listening to someone’s Beatles Again/Hey Jude 8-track. The song Rain came on, and IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SONG, it did that weird grinding noise in the middle of it. I should note that Rain is a three-minute song.

I NEVER owned an eight-track machine.

Jaquandor over at Byzantium Shores, wonders:

1. Are there any topics that you’re surprised don’t come up more often during your Ask Me Anything’s?

Yes. Some REALLY embarrassing stuff. But if no one’s gonna bring it up, why should I?

2. I’ve heard your hometown of Binghamton described rather unfavorably at times. Do you LIKE Binghamton, or has it gone downhill?

I like Binghamton, and yes, it’s gone downhill. It had 75,000 in 1960, about 47,000 now. They built Route 17 so one can get through there more quickly. Like a lot of Rust Belt cities, it’s struggling economically; I always want it to do well.

3. I read an article the other day about the death of the shopping mall in America. Did you ever like malls, and if so, do you mourn their passing at all?

There was a place in Binghamton that had what we’d now consider a large strip mall when I was growing up. Had one anchor store, and I liked it well enough.

But, no I would not mourn their passing. I think attention to the malls have starved the downtown areas, which need to grow for a city, and its surroundings, to be socially and economically healthy. Moreover, malls are private property, so their presence had dampened the public square.

For the most part, the stores in a mall are the same, so the homogenization suffocates local personality and culture. If you were beamed down from the USS Enterprise into most malls, you’d be hard-pressed to know where you were geographically.

4. I’ve expressed dismay on my own blog and elsewhere about the dominant tropes in popular culture today being dystopian settings and a HUGE focus on anti-heroes — what I call “Awful People At Work And Play”. What are your thoughts on the tone of popular culture right now?

Not only am I uncomfortable with dystopian culture, but I’m also bored with it. Bored with the word “dystopian.”

Initially, I thought I was just getting older, but I now realize that these antiheroes just don’t interest me, don’t inspire me, but, rather, irritate me. I don’t need to identify with schmucks. I think a lot of people do, and they end up going online, emulating their schmuck heroes’ behavior. Yes, I’m pretty tuned out of most of it.

You can still Ask Roger Anything.

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