Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fish

Buddhist mandala meets Jackson Pollock: how one obsessive-compulsive fish gets another fish to notice him, bringing her under his spell. The Japanese puffer fish signals sexually by making art circles. The pattern tells the female: “Lay your eggs in the center of the fancy circle I’ve obsessively spent a week constructing for you”–and if she does this, he then Jackson Pollocks (Jackson Bollocks?) all over them (dashes his sperm all over them), fertilizing the eggs. Isn’t that crazy?

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Tony Blair vs. Donald Trump

In the link below, Tony Blair analyzes, clearly and succinctly, the Brexit fallout. What an indulgent, tragic, and self-inflicted wound the majority in Great Britain has inflicted on its country–and the world. Will this function as an object lesson for November with Trump? Or will it be yet another reason a majority will vote for him? (“For shits and giggles, let’s blow up our country too! Hand it over to a temperamental fascist–you know, just to see what happens. See whether it’s really so bad, after all.”) I’m thinking of Samson bringing the temple down on his own head. This is the politics of reckless abandon, where experience, reason, scientific and economic expertise, trade, and otherness are disdained, not just by the far right, but by the left (“Long live death!” was the nihilistic clarion call in fascist Spain in the 1930s).

(By the way, disdain without distinction for the rich is as bigoted as disdain without distinction for immigrants. It is the politics of segregation that divides the fates of Americans. We are all in the same boat. As are the people of the world, generally. We swim together, or sink together.)

So I pray, in their self-indulgent, simplistic, and casual hatreds–for Hillary, the rich, etc.–that Bernie’s voters don’t combine with Trump’s to bring down a similar nightmare on the head of our own country in November. This is a very dangerous moment for all of us; a moment when trust, multiculturalism, and global trade integration may start to unravel, replaced with new and revived forms of segregation, suspicion, xenophobia, protectionist and fanatic nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and economic contraction. Of these is concocted the witches’ brews of future wars.

We can stall this momentum, perhaps even reverse it–or feed it–by the way we vote in November.

And Bernie needs to learn from this as well. He needs to be a full-throated opponent of Trump in autumn. If he truly doesn’t want Trump, the lesson of the Brexit is that he better not send mixed signals to his followers on the left. Far-right populism needs left defectors–and the left disaffected, who vote third party or stay at home on election day–to win a majority. So he needs to say, in no uncertain terms, something to the effect of the following: “I’m voting for Hillary. Full stop. I’m voting for Hillary. And I’m eager to do so. I want you to vote for Hillary. You’re no follower of my movement if you vote for Trump.”

Unless the political center finds new resolve, populist movements of left and right will rush in to fill the power vacuum.
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The Clash of Fundamentalisms

As I see it, there are two very large megatrends that are crossing in the 21st century: the decline of religion (in terms of credibility and the number of serious practitioners it attracts) and the urbanization of humanity.

Demographers tell us that, by the end of this century, only 10% of all of humanity will live in rural/agricultural areas, and 90% will live in cities. 150 years ago, of course, these numbers were reversed. The traditional religions evolved out of the logic of patriarchal and agricultural low-tech societies. The feminist, urbanized, high-tech world is a shock to the traditional systems of meaning. It results in religious fundamentalism as reaction.

Fundamentalism is to religion what Trump is to politics: a simplifier in the midst of crisis.

The irony is that, in their emotional and intellectual narrowness and fear, religious fundamentalists don’t find solidarity with one another, but clash. The clash between fundamentalist forms of Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is a product of urbanization and globalization. They are ill-adapted to their new environments, and so they are eating one another in a zero-sum game, defaming and imploding their credibility even as the secular trends progress.

The broken wheels squeak loudest. That’s why I say there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the fundamentalist religions; that their fighting is a product of the narcissism of small differences. On the same grounds of irrationality and tribalism, they’ll go on demonizing, fighting, and cannibalizing each other. The rest of the world, meanwhile, will continue to evolve toward a more science-oriented, urban, and multiculturally tolerant future.



Posted in atheism, david hume, donald trump, feminism, Politics, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Brexit and Trump

Who’s to blame for calling this idiotic up or down Brexit vote in the first place?

David Cameron.

He thought remain would be a slam dunk. Against the advice of professional economists everywhere, he wagered Britain’s long-term economic growth rate for short-term political gain (appeasing Trump-like conservative populists within his own party)–and he lost. He lost.

This is exactly what Republicans like Paul Ryan are doing, as we speak, with Donald Trump: by supporting him, they are recklessly exposing the United States to a needless hazard in the name of short-term political gain, appeasing the most extreme, right-wing elements within their own party.

So now the question has become the following: is Brexit the foreshadowing of an equivalent populist electoral folly in the United States in November?

The British leader promised an in-or-out referendum on the European Union to solve a short-term political problem. The consequences could be enormous.
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Islam vs. Christianity, and the Mark of the Beast

Some Christians claim that Allah represents the Mark of the Beast; that the Greek letters for 666 resemble the way Allah is written in Arabic.

I’m no fan of Islam, but demonizing Islam as Satanic and prophesied as the cipher for the Mark of the Beast is paranoid in the sense that it makes Islam’s appeal as a global religion greater than it is.

In Revelation 13, the Mark of the Beast is something everyone receives–but Islam has zero appeal to the Chinese; zero appeal to Christians; zero appeal to Jews; and zero appeal to atheists. It has no power (either financial or ideological) to force its way on others, however ambitious its mission project is.

If anything, Islam is a religion in crisis, struggling for relevance in a world that is rapidly leaving it behind. The broken wheel squeaks loudest.

Islam will always be a religion with more or less one to two billion adherents, at best, and as the 21st century progresses, its violent elements will increasingly peter out.

So one of the grave tragedies of the 21st century is that Christians, Muslims, and Jews demonize one another. Islam is, after all, a product of monotheism. It is yet another iteration on monotheism. In a sense, you can thank Judaism and Christianity for giving us Mohammad. He didn’t hit upon his ideas in a vacuum. They were all around him in his encounters with Judaism and Christianity.

So Islam is a form of fundamentalist and authoritarian monotheism stripped to bare bones for gentiles (God’s words are in a holy book; no image making; women must be under the thumb of men; there is one God, not a trinity; the names for God are the same as those found in other monotheistic holy books generally: Lord of Hosts, Protector, Righteous, etc.).

It was also Islam, it should be recalled, that saved Aristotle for Aquinas, thereby lending support to the intellectual foundations for traditional monotheism.

Thus, from the vantage of a secularist like myself, the clash between Christianity and Islam, aside from being spectacularly dangerous in a world with nuclear weapons, amounts to little more than the narcissism of small differences.


Posted in atheism, donald trump, Genesis, God, God, philosophy, Politics | 1 Comment

Radical Islamic Populism and Donald Trump

Follow this recent sequence of events in Pakistan: A Christian was accused of blasphemy; a Muslim governor defended her in the media; he was murdered; the man who murdered him was given the death penalty; 100,000 people came out to mourn.

Who did they mourn? The Christian terrorized by Sunni blasphemy laws? The governor who stood up for religious diversity? No, the governor’s killer.

What this suggests to me is that Trump, much as I loath him, has raised a fair issue as to whether, say, a Western democracy should ever want to admit for citizenship (or even just a visit) anyone attending this funeral. This isn’t a matter of a religious test for entry, but of whether one has broken the international social contract or not. If one went to a funeral of this nature, it would suggest that your values are simply not compatible with those of Thomas Jefferson or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see video below). It breaks the social contract between diverse people.

And yet how would you know, from an immigration standpoint, whether someone applying for entry into the West had been in this crowd?

Imagine, for instance, that, in the United States during the Civil War, the South had actually won its independence. Imagine further that, in the South, great crowds gleefully attended, a couple of times a year, the lynchings of black people as part of their affirmation of white Christian and Southern monoculture. Now imagine someone from the South seeking to immigrate to the secular and democratic North. Wouldn’t you want evidence that the Southerner didn’t participate in such grotesque displays–and, ideally, even actively opposed them?

By virtue of a person cooperating with and supporting slavery and lynching, the social contract with the people of the North would have already been broken. That applier for immigration shouldn’t get in. It isn’t a matter of Southern Christian values vs. secular values; it’s not a religious test. Religion is beside the point. It’s whether the applier for immigration shares the baseline values of fundamental tolerance on which the social contract in a diverse and secular democracy is based.

If you attend a lynching, burn a cross on somebody’s lawn, walk through a Jewish neighborhood denying the Holocaust, jack-booting, and hailing Hitler–or march in a funeral procession for the assassin of a governor defending social tolerance for a Christian, you’ve broken the social contract of the secular democracies. You want the benefits, but not the obligations, entailed in that contract. Your inclination is to seek rights, but not extend them. And if you live outside of the West, and can do that–if you can toy with intolerant ideologies in a callous manner–or worse, embrace them publicly and enthusiastically–then you shouldn’t get to enter the United States, or any other Western country.

But how do we know absent evidence? That’s Trump’s question. When such large numbers in a foreign country appear to be enthusiastic for reactionary values that break the international social contract among groups of people, what can we do to really know who we’re letting in?

Trump says shut down all immigration from those parts of the world where 100,000 people can come out and enthusiastically embrace the murder of dissidents.

But I say: let’s try something calmer. How about something less blanket, like this: let’s put the existential onus on the immigration applicant, and how he or she has lived his or her life heretofor. That is, require evidence from immigration applicants that they actually stand-up for values of tolerance; evidence that an immigration officer can verify before proceeding with any application. Evidence before entry.

That might well spur democracy and diversity globally, for people contemplating Western immigration would then have to ask themselves: what am I doing for democracy and diversity where I live now? What evidence can I provide, on the days of such funeral processions, that I was elsewhere–or spoke against them? Maybe aspiring immigrants could keep freedom journals to show immigration officials their embrace of tolerant values.

Yes, evidence can be falsified, but officials would no doubt develop skills for discerning the quality of the evidence presented, and a paper trail would thereby be generated on the applicant’s life.

Good idea?


Tens of thousands turned out in the streets of Pakistan to mourn the radical Islamist who assassinated my father.
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Donald Trump Is Going Nowhere Because The Missing White Voter Doesn’t Exist

I think of Donald Trump as a hamster on a wheel; a bicyclist on a stationary bike. (Pick your metaphor.) There’s lots of feverish spinning, but he’s actually going nowhere. It’s like the plane image laid on the ground by a cargo cult. It looks like a plane, it’s trying to signal to planes overhead, it has lots of passengers around it ready to go, but it doesn’t actually fly.

Trump doesn’t actually fly. For all the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) of Trump’s neo-white power movement, with its high-energy mass rallies, Trump is probably playing a zero-sum game with the white vote.

For every non-college educated white voter Trump energizes beyond the white vote that Romney got in 2012 (57% to Obama’s 40%), Trump probably turns-off a college educated white voter. So he’s peddling or running–or cargo cult signalling (again, choose your metaphor)–in place.

And that means that if Hillary can get roughly the same (not better, just the same) percentage of the black, Hispanic, and Asian vote as Obama did in 2012, it stands to reason that she’ll win.

So we need to break the spell here. What we’re witnessing in Trump is a cult of personality that has emerged out of (white) Republican despair. It is premised on a false idea: that the Republican Party doesn’t need to become more gender balanced, multicultural, and multiracial; that there’s room for growth in the white vote if a Republican nominee just goes harder white and harder right. Trump is a dream-candidate for the Limbaugh, Hannity, and alt-right wings of the party–and it’s a false dream. Call it the Trump delusion.

Trump has probably reached a ceiling with the white vote. Like Romney, Trump can no-doubt get to about 57% of the white vote–but that won’t be enough. (Trump is so offensive and idiotic, he might even manage to get less of the white vote than Romney.)

So after he loses in November, then what?

Then we’re in Leon Festinger territory; the territory of cognitive dissonance, rationalization, and recriminations. Like a cult that predicts the end of the world, and it doesn’t happen, the issue for Republicans after the election will be the following: Hannity, Limbaugh, Alex Jones, et al. have long claimed that a candidate like Trump could bring out untapped reserves of white voters–a new silent majority–and win in a landslide, returning America to a more familiar, white dominated past. When this doesn’t happen, what next?

If the Republican Party is in the realm of the rational (which it appears not to be at this moment, but might be after November), the vast majority of Republicans will draw the following conclusion: The missing white voter is like the missing or absent messiah who never actually shows up. He is a fantasy. The Republican Party expects this Great White Hope–anticipates him, longs for him to come and save it–yet he never comes. The party obviously needs to diversify.

But what actually tends to happen to prophets when their prophecies prove false? The movement just keeps on going, but slowly drifts ever further to the margins of society. “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Trump is Wallace 2.0. Wallace never went away, and when Trump fails, there will probably be a Wallace 3.0, just weaker next time.

walden books closes lancaster ca feb 2010


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Turn That (Jerry) Brown Upside Down

Correlation isn’t causation, but something at least appears to be up. Conservative economic theory doesn’t seem to be matching the real world right now.

Under liberal Governor Jerry Brown, California’s economy grew 4.1% in 2015, tying Oregon for the highest growth rate in the nation. Kansas, by contrast, ran through the wish list of the contemporary conservative agenda (tax cuts for the rich, no minimum wage hikes, no extension of Obamacare to the poor, etc.), and its economy is now in recession. Way to go, Trump-supporting Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback!

And for all ye wall-building Trumpeters out there who think the multicultural and multiracial Californication of the US population foreshadows long-term economic decline, kindly explain why heavily white states like Kansas aren’t “naturally” whooping crap, economically, out of those states (California, Florida, Texas, and New York, etc.) that are browner, more inclusive, and more diverse.

Might 21st century trust, cooperation, and openness trump whiteness, walls, and isolation?

These two states must seem really bizarre to conservatives.
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“Thump That Bitch” is Now “Trump That Bitch”

Instead of “Thump that bitch!”, we have “Trump that bitch!”–the new, unofficial rallying cry of the Trump right. Trump, as when he disavowed knowledge of David Duke’s support, is pretending he doesn’t even know the phrase is coursing through his rallies–most visibly, on t-shirts. But here’s The Washington Post: “The word [bitch] is often shouted from the audience as Trump attacks her, murmured in pre-rally conversations and typed on Twitter….At most of Trump’s rallies, there is a palpable hatred of Clinton in the air,…In an interview last month, Trump said he was unaware that his fans were using the word.”

The implicit echoes of violence against women in the phrase (hump, thump, dump on, throw away, roughly manhandle, mock etc.) are especially jarring.

What does it mean, after all, to “Trump” somebody, other than to demean and humiliate them?

Inside their rallies, when they were running against Barack Obama, would John McCain or Mitt Romney have let the n-word be shouted from the crowd or worn on t-shirts?

Hatred of Clinton is in the air — and on the T-shirts — at the GOP candidate’s rallies.
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Trump, the Confederate Flag, and Cleveland

Will Donald Trump let Confederate flags wave among American flags on the Republican party’s convention floor in Cleveland? Imagine the optics of that.


Back in July of 2015, Trump signaled his support for sending the Confederate flag to museums, no longer to fly over courthouses, but now he’s shifting again. Here’s Politico: “[I]n contrast to his remarks about the [Confederate] flag a year ago, Trump has shifted rightward; many of those in the bizarre coalition of racists, anti-government radicals and states’ rights activists who’ve led the battle charge for restoration of the rebel flag believe the GOP presumptive nominee is dog-whistling encouragement to them.”

Posted in donald trump, hillary clinton, Politics, Ted Cruz | 4 Comments

Donald Trump’s Orlando Speech, June 13, 2016

I watched Trump’s full speech on Orlando just now. Hillary is going to have problems responding. His speech has its demagogic parts, and there are two moments along the way where he teeters into an emotional place where you can see his mercurial mental instability and hysterical side coming dangerously close to the surface, but on balance it’s a very strong speech (and by that, I don’t mean I share Trump’s point-of-view; I mean it’s politically effective).

I can see how Trump could give Hillary more than a run for her money if he sticks with a teleprompter and keeps his cool like this for the rest of the general election campaign. I can see the content of the speech readily appealing to a majority of Americans, as well as the way he delivered it.

Trump just showed his potential for coming across as caring, protective, inclusive, and strong in ways that could capture for him a lot of votes. His desire to defend Jews, Christians, women, and the LGBT community from radical Islamists is clearly sincere, and even moving. When he talks inclusively, keeping everybody, including moderate Muslims, in the same boat, he sounds–dare I say it?–inspiring. He definitely wants to be the good father to those who love America, and that comes across.

As a Hillary supporter, and as someone who thinks Hillary’s general demeanor and approach to terrorism is superior to Trump’s, I’m frankly worried about her ability to fend off this speech. Policy-wise, the speech is incoherent on many levels. But I also think Trump has found his general election sea legs here, much as Hillary did with her foreign policy speech in San Diego last week.

It should be watched carefully by liberals who might be complacent, thinking Hillary’s got this in the bag.

Posted in donald trump, hillary clinton, Politics | 8 Comments

Orlando, Gun Control, and the AR-15 Rifle

How could this happen? How is one lone wolf able to kill fifty people so quickly? AR-15 rifles are not hunting rifles. They’re military rifles. They put out thirty rounds in less than a minute. They’re easy to get, they’re easy to get, they’re easy to get. And easy to shoot. And easy to reload. The Orlando shooter used the same 1950s military rifle that the Newton shooter did; that the 2012 theatre shooter did; that the San Bernardino shooter did.
What about Islam? Yes, Islamic fundamentalism is a serious global problem. It’s a threat to rational, moderate people everywhere–including rational, moderate Muslims. It’s not just the kufar (outsiders, infidels) who are under threat from Islamic terrorism, but moderate Muslims who are considered by their fundamentalist and radicalized counterparts to be not Muslim at all. So there’s no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism needs to be resisted everywhere. But it’s also the lack of sensible gun control laws in the United States that makes mass shootings possible again and again. It keeps happening, in part, because there is not simply motive, but opportunity.
Motive and opportunity. The Republican-controlled Congress could begin to shut this down tomorrow with gun control legislation, and President Obama would obviously sign it, but instead they’re focused on only one side of the opportunity equation: new immigration from Muslim countries, and locking down the southern border (rationalized in part as keeping international terrorists from sneaking in). So on the opportunity side of the equation, there’s a spigot issue: Democrats want to stop the flow of armament trafficking and Republicans want to stop the flow of immigration. But what about the motive side? If a person gets radicalized by religion or politics, or wants to commit a mass hate crime, or is unhinged psychologically, there’s just not much that can be done. An individual’s motives are an individual’s motives. But, at minimum, you can make it difficult for a person with a motive to kill to get hands on military assault rifles.
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Hillary is Running as a Feminist

Below is the YouTube link to Hillary Clinton’s full speech to Planned Parenthood, larded with pro-women policy proposals and juicy take-downs of Donald Trump. She is running, not just as a woman, but as a feminist; a take-no-prisoners, bad-ass, unapologetic feminist. Donald Trump doesn’t like her feminism? Tough. Say it loud, she’s feminist and she’s proud. She’s going to win by not closeting her feminism.

And I notice that her demeanor in her speeches has, of late, been extremely effective. She is cool, calm, collected, rational, serious. She enunciates her words clearly and slowly, inviting audiences to really think about what she’s saying. It’s the perfect tone to place into contrast with Mr. Trump.

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Pocahontas: Trump Tells Warren Who She Is

Pure domination. Disrespectful of a woman. When I read yesterday Donald Trump’s tweet mocking Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage–calling her “Pocahontas”–I thought of the following lines of a James Fenton poem: “The laughter from the armored car. / This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.”

Here’s the stanza in which the lines appear. It comes from Fenton’s poem, “Jerusalem”:

It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin.
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.

Especially powerful, in my view, is the line, “This is the cistern where all wars begin.” Trump’s disqualification for being an American president of a multiracial and multicultural society is in that line, for he divides Americans into warring factions: “My history is proud. / Mine is not allowed.” This is the sort of exchange you hear when two people are no longer in the same boat with one another; when their destinies have separated; when the social contract between them has been severed.

Trump’s new birtherism: Warren birtherism. Trump’s mockery of Warren extends to his wanting documentation that she really is part Native American. But it’s an uncivil and rude question–akin to Trump’s birtherism: Was Obama really born where he says he was?

Regarding her heritage, in 2012 Elizabeth Warren said this:

As a kid, I never asked my mom for documentation when she talked about our Native American heritage. What kid would? But I knew my father’s family didn’t like that she was part Cherokee and part Delaware — so my parents had to elope.

That ought to be enough. For any decent person, that is enough. But to get a feel for how Trump intends to use the Pocahontas jab at Warren for the duration of the campaign–especially if she becomes Hillary’s VP–this was in The Washington Post last night:

A half-full coli­seum erupted into Indian war whoops as Donald Trump called a U.S. senator “Pocahontas” Friday at a rally here [in Richmond, Virginia],…

In other words, the racist incivility of a mocking war whoop chant could turn into this year’s version of Sarah Palin’s mocking of climate science and global warming in 2008 with “Drill, baby, drill.”

Who defines you? In a multiracial and multicultural society like ours, it’s not right to intrude on other people’s narrative autonomy in a way that takes it over. I go back to the last line of the “Jerusalem” poem above, “This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.” In a multiracial and multicultural world, it breaks the bond of civility.

And this relates to other issues, like gay marriage and women’s equality. The far-right wants to tell others what their marriages are, what gender they obviously belong to, what roles they must naturally play, whether they can use contraceptives. Trump is tapping into this dark, domineering side of the far-right where self-definition yields to our definition. They tell you who you are, you don’t tell them who you are.

Blonde hair and high cheekbones. One reason Trump won’t believe Warren is who she says she is has to do with her blonde hair. Native Americans aren’t supposed to have blonde hair. But a moment’s reflection reveals this to be, from an evolutionary point-of-view, an illegitimate line of attack. Male and female genes do not melt into their offspring, but remain distinctly identifiable. Half of one’s genes come from one parent, and half come from the other. That means that a trait like hair color could be an expression of a European parent, and a hint of, say, high cheekbones, could be a trait going back to a great grandmother who was half-Cherokee. And please recall that a grandparent or great-grandparent brings to the mix an ever decreasing expression in offspring (1/4 and 1/8, etc.).

So what genes are actually expressed in an offspring are up for grabs and make for human variation.

Thus it’s not reasonable to say that Warren is obviously European in her ancestry. To the contrary, she has people in her own immediate family who were quite certain that non-Europeans were in her family line and told her so–and in a civil multiracial and multicultural society, that should be enough.

Warren, by the way, has gotten this ugly treatment from the right before–in her first run for the Senate against Scott Brown. If she becomes Hillary’s VP pick, we can expect more of this.


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Trump Calls Warren Pocahontas–Again!

After all the idiocy and racism that Trump has already spewed at the “Mexican” judge, I felt reasonably certain that the Republican Party leaders had finally gotten through to him: he needs to use a teleprompter and stop the racist Twittering and mercurial, unpredictable impromptu.

Yet here he is, just two hours ago (it’s Friday morning, June 10th), after a disastrous couple of weeks for his campaign, calling Elizabeth Warren, mockingly, “Pocahontas” yet again, implicitly disrespecting, disregarding, and blowing-off her claim of having some Native American ancestry:

“Pocahontas describing Crooked Hillary Clinton as a Corporate Donor Puppet.”

Trump’s modus operandi is to give women who stand-up to him a name (“Bimbo” for Megyn Kelly, for instance, “Pocahontas” for Warren, “Crooked” for Hillary). The purpose of this, of course, is to change the subject: he doesn’t have to listen to what they have to say if they are silly or wicked–and neither do his voters. He can treat them trivially and disrespectfully, as not really his equal.

For Trump, women should be seen, not heard–and this is also true of “Mexicans” and other non-whites. “Pocahontas” directed as an epithet at Elizabeth Warren is thus Trump’s way of managing to be both racist and sexist at the same time. The racism and sexism function as a way to deflect his Twitter followers away from reason and toward passion (the passion, in this case, of hatred toward women in politics and contempt for the embrace of multicultural identity).

“2004 VIDEO: Pocahontas describing Crooked Hillary Clinton as a Corporate Donor Puppet. Time for change!”
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Obama’s Cool Head vs. Trump’s Hot Head

He has overcome–with a cool head. What a contrast with Trump. Below is a great paragraph, written by David Maraniss in the Durango Herald, describing President Obama’s cool-headed temperament. I especially like how Maraniss concludes his paragraph by noting Obama’s attraction to critical thinking. It plays a big part in accounting for Obama’s success. His cool head, combined with patient and rational thought, has definitely prevailed. He knows how to play intellectual chess–and in politics, the long game.

“His coolness as president can best be understood by the sociological forces that shaped him before he reached the White House. There is a saying among native Hawaiians that goes: Cool head, main thing. This was the culture in which Obama reached adolescence on the island of Oahu, and before that during the four years he lived with his mother in Jakarta. Never show too much. Never rush into things. Maintain a personal reserve and live by your own sense of time. This sensibility was heightened when he developed an affection for jazz, the coolest mode of music, as part of his self-tutorial on black society that he undertook while living with white grandparents in a place where there were very few African Americans. As he entered the political world, the predominantly white society made it clear to him the dangers of coming across as an angry black man. As a community organizer, he refined the skill of leading without being overt about it, making the dispossessed citizens he was organizing feel their own sense of empowerment. As a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, he developed an affinity for rational thought.”

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The Simulation Argument: The Probability of Wetware vs. Dry Wire in Light of What You Think Will Happen in the Future

If you think it’s highly likely we’ll be able to simulate reality to the point where it’s completely indistinguishable from actual reality (say, 400 years from now), then we’re probably already living in a simulation.


Just as a matter of probability, convincingly simulated realities, if they ever come into existence at all in the future, will massively outnumber the singular ground reality.

So it’s not just plausible, but seriously probable–indeed, overwhelmingly likely–that the eighty years you experience subjectively is actually a month (or less!–minutes? seconds?) of data crunching in a computer in the ground reality. What you take to be wetware (neurons firing electrically and chemically over eighty years in your meat computer, generating consciousness and experience) is more likely dry wire in a computer existing in the singular ground reality, a thousand years beyond where you think you actually exist in history right now. It may be, say, the year 3016, not 2016.

Again, if you take simulated reality indistinguishable from actual reality to be an inevitable part of the human future, then this conclusion seems inescapable.

Here’s Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker:

[S]imulated human consciousnesses could vastly outnumber non-simulated ones, in which case we are far more likely to be living inside a simulation right now than to be living outside of one.

Superficially, the simulation argument bears some resemblance to the one made by René Descartes, in the seventeenth century, that there could be an undetectable “evil demon” shaping our perceptions. But, where Descartes’s argument was essentially about skepticism—How do you know you’re not living in the Matrix?—the simulation argument is about how we envision the future.

Here’s the link at YouTube of Elon Musk’s recent discussion of simulated reality. It’s what stimulated Rothman’s reflections in The New Yorker.
The posthuman future has never been easier to imagine—especially for those who work at the forefront of technology.
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Is The New Tarzan Movie Racist?


The Harry Potter director, David Yates, has a Tarzan film coming out July 1st, and I’m guessing I’ll see it, but I’m also thinking about race with regard to it: why is Tarzan always white? The recently departed Muhammad Ali asked this very question in the 1960s, and has a thoughtful clip at YouTube reflecting on this (see below).

I wonder what sorts of nods to 21st century sensibilities the director incorporates into this film. At various points in the trailer, for example, I see a white Tarzan, the embodiment of individual persona, and tribal black men virtually indistinguishable from each other. How might the director play against genre type (and stereotype) in the context of the full film itself? And if he doesn’t bother–if he lets racist assumptions play out with a shrug as being “just action entertainment”–what does that say about this cultural moment, and with Donald Trump looming like a heavy cloud over our collective cultural life?


I have a similar question as to what it means for our cultural moment with regard to the new Ghostbusters film in which women, rather than men, play the lead characters. Here we have a nod to feminism–and yet the reaction from the chauvinist right has been sharp–much like the right’s reaction to Hillary Clinton. I wonder if a black Tarzan was contemplated by the director–then dropped as an idea for the controversy it would entail, perhaps sinking the film at the box office.

For instance, one could imagine an African American or African Brit family coming to Africa and falling into similar circumstances as the white family in the film, leaving behind an orphaned child raised by apes–and then letting the genre play out without the uncomfortable racist overlay of a clever and superior white man battling scores of cookie-cutter black men. But then maybe white audiences in Europe and America wouldn’t go see it in sufficient numbers to make the film a blockbuster. Hmm.

I like Tony Warner’s reflections on learning of a 2016 version of Tarzan coming to theaters:

“This is the house of Tarzan, the killer of beasts and many black men”. This is how Tarzan introduces himself to Jane in Tarzan of the Apes (1914). Later in the book he rescues her from a “black ape rapist”. Tarzan started off as a character written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) in the 1912 All-Story Magazine before being edited into a series of books and films….

Racism permeates all the Tarzan spin offs as they always portray black people in a negative manner. The only possible exception is George of the Jungle (1997) starring Brendan Fraser, where black people were given some of the best lines and turned the stereotypes upside down….

The most recent [2016] version of Tarzan is a German production but it would be naïve to think there will be an authentic black presence in it. Given the source material one wonders why there is such a sustained interest in resurrecting this colonial figure of white supremacy in the 21st century.


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Trump Mocks A Disabled Man–And Children Notice

When Donald Trump mocked a reporter with disabilities, it was ugly. But now the ads are coming like the one below. It’s karma time. How does one vote for a racist who shows contempt for a man with the same disability as the little girl has in this ad? All her classmates know, and have talked about, how Trump mocks disabled people. They see him on television. What signal is Trump sending children about bullying? And if he wins? Well, the President bullies the disabled, so it’s my turn. Is this the man we want to put forward to our children as a model for our collective aspirations as a people?

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Trump Hearts Racists–And Alex Jones

Who will be cheering for Trump on the convention floor in Cleveland? According to Dana Milbank at The Washington Post, Trump’s racist and alt-right signalling (Trump is a fan of Alex Jones, for instance) has infected his delegate list, which includes some rather unsavory characters:

[T]he Trump campaign chose prominent white nationalist William Johnson to be one of its delegates. The campaign blamed a “database error” and Johnson resigned, but the racist American Freedom Party claims it has “more delegates” on Trump’s list. Another Trump delegate was indicted recently on federal child-pornography and weapons charges, and Mother Jones magazine, which discovered Johnson’s selection, on Friday reported that another Trump delegate, David Riden, has said that U.S. leaders who abuse the Constitution should be “killed by American citizens with weapons.” And the Chicago Tribune reported that Illinois Trump delegate Lori Gayne uses the social-media handle “whitepride” and said: “I’m so angry I don’t even feel like I live in America. You can call me a racist.”

The presidential candidate wasn’t just putting on a show for the primaries.
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