Monday, 21 March 2016

The Smell of Fear

Sunday marked the official first day of spring on the calendar here in the northern hemisphere. It's also the beginning of Easter Week. Typically it's a time of hope. Of rebirth.

2016 is also an election year in the US, and this fall, Americans will elect a new president following eight decidedly mixed years under the Obama administration. We have spent the last few years living abroad in France, so this will be our first election here for a couple of cycles.

I would say that spring, 2016 is a time not of hope, but rather one of fear.  There is a lot of fear in the air. A lot of recrimination. A lot of anger.

Much of the fear and anger is swirling around Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Some of the noise of course comes from his likely opponents in the fall on the Democratic party side; this is of course not surprising. What is more unexpected has been the tone of the attacks, which have been less about policy differences between the Democrats and Republicans, and have instead focused on how Donald Trump is an existential threat to American values themselves; how Donald Trump is unfit to be president.  Indeed, on how Mr Trump is practically the verbum caro factum of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic ideas that previously have been confined to the darkest corners of the political zoo. 

Equally surprising, these cries have been joined from an increasingly panicked chorus from Trump's fellow Republicans.

Things have gotten even uglier, with "protestors" who have begun to show in numbers and strength at Trump rallies with a thinly-veiled agenda simply to make it impossible for him to speak.

Let me state in advance that 
  1. I voted for Mr Obama eight years ago during a similar time of chaos and fear, in part because he promised to be something of a uniter who would try to end the foreign wars
  2. I am not a supporter or fan of Donald Trump, who I think at the least lacks practical experience to be president (CEO of the country is not an entry-level job), and who has thus not articulated any sort of specific, workable plan
That said, looking at screaming protestors on the one hand who make it impossible for Trump to speak, and on the other, to the increasingly ridiculous, paranoid attacks on him and his supporters from the Democrats and Republicans, I'm left more with a set of questions rather than serious thoughts.

Trump's campaign was first greeted with incredulity and jokes - the New York Daily News ran cover stories with Trump caricatured in clown makeup, and his candidacy was mostly covered as a sort of running joke.

Which it was.

Well, the joke thus far has been on the leadership of the crumbling Republican party, who now face the real challenge of whether to accept the likelihood that Trump will be their party banner carrier in November or to continue the quixotic battle to unite behind Ted Cruz or John Kasich as the only two opponents left on the battlefield.

The current Republican leadership have only themselves to blame - the party fielded a pretty poor group of warmed-over candidates (Jeb Bush?), for years have said that tax cuts are the solution to every problem, have more or less ignored the problem of illegal immigration - which has been terrific for their big businesses backers - while talking tough about the border, and have supported a disastrous policy of invade the world/invite the world that has squandered billions of dollars on hopeless foreign wars.

Reince Priebus deserves Donald Trump.

In the end, it looks like it is going to be Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton; Hillary's backers, having survived the scare of Bernard Sanders, are turning their focus now on Trump.

Now, Trump has made some pretty risible claims about Mexican immigrants (whatever one thinks about illegal immigration, the idea that the bulk of illegals in the US are drug  mules or rapists is simply ridiculous); his plans to look at a ban of ALL immigration from Islamic countries is poorly considered.  His signature proposal to build a wall along the border is not practical.

But I suggest that if one looks at the facts, the anger and vitriol against Trump is misguided.

Mrs Clinton says she wants at the centre of her campaign to help the middle class and to level the economic playing field.  Inequality is the root of all evils.  

Mrs Clinton has late in life, apparently, discovered religion.

Donald Trump may not be the terrific businessman he clains, but I would ask, for the past 25 years, has it been Donald Trump who, first in the White House, then the Senate, who helped shape public policies that led to the 2008 financial crisis?  Was Donald Trump the Senator from New York who was taking millions of dollars from Wall Street firms?  

Who is to blame for the alleged inequality in our system?

Donald Trump is attacked because he says impolitic things about Muslims, and wants to ban them.  He's an Islamophobic bigot.

OK.  Which person - Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton - voted to support the war in Iraq?  

Trump doesn't like refugees, and would block their entry.  

OK.  Who - Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State - helped topple the government in Egypt, helped foment the civil war in Syria, and supported the efforts to overthrow Muamar Gaddafi?  Was it Donald Trump who read (and foolishly) believed stories about liberal-minded revolutionaries in the Arab Spring, believed to be "liberal" for the incredibly shallow reason that they used Twitter and Facebook?  

Donald Trump may speak poorly of refugees; Hillary Clinton through her policy choices creates refugees.

The popular press - most recently this weekend, the Los Angeles Time- have run editorials that claim Trump is unfit to be president. He may be. The Times think so, because of the tone of his words.

I suggest that because of the record of her choices, Hillary Clinton is unfit for public service. Period.

Trump says ugly things.  Clinton votes for to make them happen.

One of the most horrible images I've experienced is the infamous photo of little Alan Kurdi, a tiny three year old boy who lost his life on a Turkish beach in September, 2015. It's a horrifying image. A haunting one. A lifeless little body in a red tee shirt and tiny sneakers.

Donald Trump's words did not kill that little boy.  Hillary Clinton and Samantha Powers and other people in the US State department who pushed the Arab Spring lie on the world, I'm less convinced. Hillary, at the time describing the US intervention in Libya, quipped "We came, we saw he (Gaddafi) died."

Whatever Donald Trump's shortcomings, one simply must think of this incredibly shallow, callow statement alongside the images of little Alan Kurdi and ask is it Donald Trump who is unfit to be president?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

People, Get Ready

But There's a Warning Sign on the Road Ahead....
Another day, another round of primaries. Yesterday, the big prize was the post-industrial state of Michigan.

Donald Trump, the quixotic leading contender for the Republican Party easily took the Wolverine State. But the real interest was on the Democratic side, where upstart Bernie Sanders topped rival Hillary Clinton, who had lead in polls by upwards of 20% prior to the actual vote.

Mrs Clinton still has a large lead, the support of her party leadership, a huge number of 'super delegates," and, most importantly in Democratic primaries, the overwhelming support of black voters.

Without the support of blacks, it is impossible for a Democrat to win his party's nomination, let alone the general election. This fact and this fact alone point to an eventual victory for the Senator from New York.


Hillary's failure to take Michigan has to be seen as a gathering storm for the Democratic Party. I'm reminded of the famous poem of Thomas Hardy about the sinking of the Titanic, entitled The Convergence of the Twain.

Well: while was fashioning 
This creature of cleaving wing, 
The imminent will that stirs and urges everything 
Prepared a sinister mate 
For her — so gaily great 
A shape of ice, for the time 
far and dissociate. 

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue 
In shadowy silent distance 
grew the Iceberg too. 
Alien they seemed to be; 
No mortal eye could see 
The intimate welding of their later history

Michigan - like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are former industrial states that have seen key industries more or less wiped out due to competition from abroad, crushing regulation, and corporate greed and incompetence. 

These are voters who are less likely to overlook Mrs Clinton's cozy, Wall Street relations, her flip-flopping on the trans-Pacific trade agreement, or her casual flexibility on the Keystone Pipeline.

Mrs Clinton won all three in 2008, but eventually, she lost the race to Barack Obama. President Obama won all three states.

The popular press, the Democratic Party, and even the Republicans themselves have gone from laughing about Donald Trump to a mixture of fear and hostility. Trump right now seems very likely to get the nomination.

There is a very real possibility that Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton's iceberg. 

Trump's messages are resonating with down-market, blue collar voters who used to be the core of the Democratic party. And therein lies the threat to the good ship Clinton.

Much has been made over the months of how Trump is insulting Latinos and turning of Muslims.  This may be true. Recently, a lot of noise was made when David Duke, the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan "endorsed" Trump, and Trump fumbled in repudiating Duke with sufficient speed.

There has been a lot of ink spilt writing about the growth of Latino power at the ballot box, but the simple fact is, Latinos punch way below their weight in federal elections. For one, despite their numbers as the second largest ethnic group in the US, because many are immigrants, they are not eligible to vote.  Latinos make up nearly 20% of the population, but less than 10% of the electorate.

Second, and more important, Latinos are heavily concentrated in states like California, Texas, and New York.  These states are all "safe" states - California and New York solidly blue; Texas, reliably red.  In the states of Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania - the big "swing" states - they are not 5% of the voting population in any one.

The Democrats' maths count in their column Michigan and Pennsylvania, and Ohio is perhaps the swing state.  Latino voters are likely to make up less than two per cent of the vote in each.  Their vote is unlikely to have any significant impact.

Which brings us back to last night.  Hillary Clinton failed to connect with Michiganders. It was close, but her exposed weakness with blue collar white voters should scare Democrats, and Trump's appeal should not be treated as a punchline for elitist jokes about the uneducated.

This is not to say that Donald Trump is going to win the nomination of his party -or- the general election.  But the unsinkable Hillary Clinton is showing signs of leaks.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

You. Are. A. Programmer.

Last night before bed, I took our dog out for a walk.  As I do almost every night.  I wish I had the card above, for I surely would have been a winner.  Now that Donald Trump is looking more and more like he is going to be the Republican nominee to run for Oompa Loompa in Chief, winning is important. Winning a lot.

Anyhow, as we made our way down the street, I came across a "hipster" who ticked most of the boxes above.

Note, I live in San Francisco, California, in the neighbourhood locally called "South Beach."  It - along with perhaps the Mission District - is close to the epi-centre of local hipsterism.  I'm surrounded by earnest young adults, the sort who frequent the notorious "Google Buses" and work for companies like Yo dot Com (motto: Twitter? Pffffft.  140 characters is too many).

Ridiculous, oversized-glasses?  Check.  Ill-fitting "slim fit" pants? Check.  Tee shirt sporting a product that has been defunct longer than the guy wearing it has been alive, trying too hard to be "ironic?"  Check.  Backpack with company logo prominently displayed?  Check.

What caught my attention was not his cadre of hipster tokens alerting the other members of the tribe that he belongs, but his earnest attempt to chat up the girl he was with.

About his work as a "coder."


Maybe I am getting old, but when did boasting about how you "code" (when did "code" become a verb?) become a strategy to attract the attention of women?  Add to the mix, he mentioned how his *mom* put him on the path to computer nirvana by signing him up for computer camp back in the early '00s.

That is the sort of thing that we would try to obscure from social interactions, right after not bragging about our comic book collection abd before our dedication to our level 8 druid in Dungeons and Dragons.

So this guy "codes" all day (and apparently, well into the night - it was 10.30 PM), fuelled by Red Bull in his skinny jeans and Tab tee.  He was (as many of these hipsters do) describing his thrilling life "disrupting the paradigm in the cloud," or something like that.

Some advice:

Dude; you don't "code."  You are a programmer.  You write computer programmes.  At least until your job finds itself in the way of Infosys consultants.

You have a degree in computer "science." An old friend commented once that any discipline that has to put the word "science" in its title probably isn't.  Chemists typically discuss their degrees in "chemistry," not "chemical science."  Adding "science" is the sort of bullshit neologism that years ago magically transformed garbage men into sanitation engineers faster than you could say Ed Norton.

There is nothing wrong with programming.  It's a useful, often productive job.  

But please.

Backpacks are for college students.  Wearing a faux vintage tee shirt doesn't make you Indiana Jones.

Put on your big boy pants and grow up.