The Rube Goldberg Machine is Broken

Here’s a little something I learned this morning from watching the news with the sound off.

 

It’s just a theory, but it might help illustrate what the hell is going on.

 

The press is digging into the infamous Russia meeting – again – the way it digs into everything else – with little soundbites based on what an embattled and intellectually challenged president calls “leaks” as he vows to hunt down the “leakers” and defeat or humiliate them.

 

But at the heart of a lot of this research and investigative journalism is the same kind of slow, detailed methodical analysis that lawyers use to slowly tighten the snare on a subject or target.

 

Here’s an example from today’s news cycle – CNN reports on a tagline that Donald Trump Junior said, that his father “may have commented” on his June 8 statement “through Hope Hicks.”

 

Why is this little soundbite important? It’s of note to the public, at least marginally (and technically it’s news) which is why it’s plastered all over the television screen, and it could potentially be used as one more little tidbit for lawyers to try to catch out Trump or Trump Jr. or whoever in perjury.

 

However, thinking really hard about both of these adversarial strategies – the public shaming and the legal entrapment, you can see how the prey could wiggle out of both of them, or alternately, how either could spring the trap closed. It’s kind of the Schrödinger’s cat scenario – we just don’t know.

 

Let’s start with the legal strategy. A good lawyer might, at the end of some months and pages and pages of testimony, be able to hang some kind of perjury charge on Donald Trump Jr. for saying that somebody commented on something. However, I don’t think that lawyer could ever, in many months or hundreds of pages of testimony, ever entrap Trump Jr. for saying that his father “may have” commented through Hope Hicks. That simple three-letter word, “may,” is one of the hedge words that lawyers and copywriters and professional liars know so well – it automatically encapsulates the statement from use as perjury fodder. It’s like when the accused always says “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.”

 

So while some soundbites like the one I mentioned could be used to close the trap on someone who is under investigation, that specific comment, again because of that one word, is not useful.

 

It’s where we come to the second point that we understand that the machines that have always driven our public discourse have inherently changed – the machine is broken – it’s not working the way it should. Its ineffective machine arm keeps flapping back and forth.

 

The idea with public shaming and the revelation of new details every day is that a presidency or administration is supposed to collapse under the weight of them. In theory it would only take one, or two, or three for public opinion to shift. It would only take several of these shameful episodes for the public to turn against a public figure – and for the lawyers, emboldened by this public sentiment, to come forth and do their job.

 

But we have one or more of these every day – for a year and a half! – and it just doesn’t do what it used to do. Maybe the flap that holds up the machine arm of shaming and outrage has just broken off somehow during the 2016 election.

 

Maybe it was a little cheap plastic clasp that was supposed to hold the arm in place, and it had just been tugged on too many times. Maybe there’s a little plastic sliver laying on the ground showing us why the machine just isn’t working.

 

It’s aggravating. It infuriates us. The press and the legal community spend hours and hours of effort trying to make the machine work the way it always has. People talk about the networks and whether they’re fake and how they could improve and what they could do to make things be like they used to be.

 

You’ve seen the Rube Goldberg machine – the little ball drops into the groove and slides past the water glass, which tips over and makes the baby cry so his hand flips over a lever and tickles the cat, which drops the ball on the button which triggers whatever action you’re supposed to be initiating.

 

What do you do when a Rube Goldberg machine is stuck? Do you try to isolate the part that’s not working, the circuit break that’s preventing you from gaining the satisfaction of a job well done? Do you scratch the whole thing and start all over?

 

Our political physics are in turmoil. Our ideas about ourselves and others are under radically new analysis. (See Childish Gambino “This is America”)! We just can’t understand anymore how our personal lives correspond to the personal lives of the people at the very top of our food chain – those leaders of the free world that we’ve always had some kind of strange consensus about.

 

This is not an adversarial post. This is an analytical post. This is an idea about how to understand the ideas that are bombarding us every day. If you’ve read this far, please comment and let me know what you think – what’s up with this machine? What is the machine made of? How does it work? And what in God’s green earth can we do to fix it?

 

 

Why isn’t anybody listening to John McCain?

 

John McCain used to be a big deal. There was the idea that he would help guide the legislature on his side of the aisle – now he’s dying of cancer, and it doesn’t seem like he’s getting very much pull in his own party.

 

There’s been a lot of breaking news on John McCain – from his earlier standout votes on important issues of the past six months, to the more recent flurry of news suggesting that Trump is not welcome at his funeral. That’s a large symbolic gesture – to actually publicly uninvite a sitting president to an event that you really shouldn’t have to plan yourself – but there’s an even bigger indicator this week as news venues report that John McCain does not want Gina Haspel for CIA director.

 

The Haspel thing has been going back-and-forth for a while – the confirmation hearing was Wednesday, and it went about as you’d expect it to go. A lot of questions, but nothing to indicate that Haspel wouldn’t ultimately received in confirmation.

 

Of course, you have all of the usual suspects plus a few more arguing that confirmation for Haspel is implicit condoning of the terrible, despicable torture acts that happened during the Iraq war era, with the collaboration of shady lawyers.

 

Haspel says she wouldn’t do it again – but that’s pretty weak tea for an issue that really involves very explicit and macabre human suffering. A litmus test for the base and their individual values is how each person feels when he or she reads the narrative of these humans being tortured beyond anything we can imagine happening to ourselves.

 

But the litmus test in the legislature is whether or not Republican leaders and moderates can take a cue from someone who is considered in some ways the lion of today’s legislature – a man who used to be honored for his status as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

 

Sadly, the referendum on John McCain happened early on in this administration when Republicans and their ilk were forced to choose between a man widely considered a war hero and a draft dodging gasbag of a politician who was mostly known for shady  business dealing and really anything other than civic leadership.

 

The base largely chose Trump over McCain and the fallout has been happening ever since. But this isn’t just a question of whether to let the maverick guide his party. This is a question of either rejecting or tacitly accepting by dog whistle some of the worst acts that can be done to a human being by another. In trying to imagine these black site operators like medieval inquisitors racking their victims day to day, the mind just fails to really build a realistic picture. How do these individuals perform these sadistic acts time after time and how are they not brought to heel by the general values of a democracy that claims to have some measure of empathy for human life? It’s disgusting and degrading to our senses and John McCain is putting an olive branch out to his own party that there is another way- there is a choice.

 

Unfortunately, none of the media reports suggest that other than Rand Paul, who has cast his lot in the right direction, any other moderates or fence sitters are considering following McCain’s lead.

 

What this likely means is that we’ll have yet another ‘close result’ that’s a victory for the hard right base and those forces that seek to overcome moderate consensus – those forces that failed to hold to the line of giving John McCain, and basic human empathy, their due.

 

For center-left voters and others who have traditionally viewed John McCain with suspicion, there’s a different change going on. In an environment where so much of one’s political support is eroding, it’s only natural to take refuge in the kinds of options that John McCain represents. It’s a move toward the center in an effort to build some kind of consensus and some kind of bulwark against the far right …

 

But then we see that even this move is met with a corresponding evacuation of some of the moderate right’s traditional moral standing. It’s like “ok liberals like John McCain? We don’t like him anymore, then.” Nevermind his military service. They’re throwing him under the bus. Just look at this!!

 

 

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/387132-fox-military-analyst-says-torture-worked-on-mccain-they-call

https://www.vox.com/2018/5/10/17340906/fox-news-mccain-torture-work-songbird-general

 

It’s insidious – and yet it’s right out in the open. Politics has become so nasty, we can’t even manage to uphold our reverence for people like McCain who were supposed to be part of the glue holding the unholy mess in Washington together.

 

So lots of prior McCain fans aren’t really listening to him anymore. But humanity and the Geneva convention really need a win here. We need to send the right message to the world. So maybe it’s time to listen to John McCain. If you have a moral compass, listen to him because he’s right. Otherwise, listen to him because he was a war hero. John McCain is throwing the moderate right a life line. He’s saying, there is an option, There is a choice.

Scary Robots

Concerned about the coming robot apocalypse, my son has come up with several solutions for making sure that new technologies do not run amok.

 

( may have been too frank about some of my recent research into artificial intelligence…)

 

His first idea was that we need to keep public schools opened through every weekend, and the summer, in order to allow students to get ‘smarter than robots.’

 

I explained that humans need breaks to function well.

 

His next idea has actually had application in numerous books and television shows where the evil robot trope has been foiled by simply running the thing out of power.

 

“Then that’s good if my iPad dies,” he said, “then if it has no power it can be dead … It’s like if you run the car until it runs out of gas.”

 

The next solution was inspired by his love of martial arts.

 

“You could get really good at tae kwon do,” he said “and break the metal.”

 

However, he conceded, this strategy might come with unintended consequences.

 

“You could get electrocuted,” he said.

 

Having run through these options, he also had some commentary on which hapless human victims would get destroyed first by wild robots.

 

If you do too much screen time, then your brain gets mushy, then the robots would catch you because you’re not smart,” he said.

Reunion

It was inevitable. After all, she was the ‘female Jesus.’ They were the two witnesses. So it stood to reason that, after all of the boiling arguments about the nature of Islam, bickering over who would run to the store for cigarettes or alcohol, and even after over a month in the Albemarle jail, Ken just couldn’t stay away.

 

It was the dead of winter, true, and having been driven outside by his companion during one of the coldest snaps of the year, it was indisputably true that Ken could get “three hots and a cot” in the correctional facility. But those comforts were not sufficient to make the jail an attractive option, because jail is not a hotel.

 

In deliberately calling the police to come pick up her errant knight, Joanie chose an unfortunate time – a time when the landlord had become tired of promises to pay the back rent, and the utilities companies were knocking on the door for money to pay the light bill.

 

In response to Joanie’s aggravated wailings after Ken’s incarceration, we conceded that she was correct in arguing that Ken was some kind of functioning alcoholic and tended to say the same annoying things over and over again. However, we questioned her use of the phrase “emotional abuse” and used Ken’s own description of Thomas Jefferson :  “the man’s got his sins behind him” – but was repetitive alcoholism, we argued, not more of a petty sin than a venal one? And was it not in itself an abuse of the right of a restraining order, so necessary for an abused or battered partner, to use this legal tool to put Kenny in “the clink?” – all that clinking and clanking had an effect on his nerves and caused him to miss quite a few carpentry shifts that could have put money into the pot – money to go toward the rent, money to buy food and beer and cigarettes.

 

Instead, after over a fortnight of residence in a place where the doors make quite a bit of noise, Ken was presented with a bill from the state, a bill from the storage company, and various other bills all of which were apparently paid by his boss Andy.

 

After-the-fact, Ken admitted that the romance had soured and that all of the chaos was having a negative effect on his well-being, culminating in his prison stay where he sort of had a love-hate relationship with the Charlottesville clapper, Michael Jones, a man facing draconian grand jury charges for possession of illegal substances. Ken scrupulously abided by the terms of that still existent restraining order and refused to pick up his belongings from the house he had shared with Joanie. He abstained from calling her on his cell phone, although he explained that once in a while his fingers slipped a little bit.

 

But it is a small town. At the end of one month, Ken was calling everybody breathlessly and talking about how he had made peace with his woman, … and the fun started all over again.

Macron’s Dandruff Problem

Anticipating an appointment with his probation officer, Ken West took time to share some of his entrepreneurial visions and comment on current affairs.

 

First, West said, he is hard at work promoting his idea of conditional uses for abandoned shopping malls and other commercial facilities.

 

“People don’t want junk in their houses,” West said. “They want to get it out.”

 

West’s model proposes that municipalities host large homeless populations in abandoned malls to sort through the detritus of America’s consumptive lifestyle – items that would typically end up at Goodwill or Salvation Army or even in the dump.

 

Conceding that an investor is necessary, West suggests that with a little research and networking, he may be able to reach local government leaders to try to get this idea made into reality.

 

Having made this proposal to Leading the Horse and suggesting some collaborative research, West segued into news of recent interactions between president Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron.

 

“Why did he brush stuff off his shoulder?” West said “Trump and Macron are in cahoots for the next big event.”

 

If an EMP or nuclear event goes down, West said, it will be good for America to be on France’s side – and it may benefit the French, too.

 

The Viking Jesus

 

 

 

 

In light of the social and religious atmosphere around here, particularly in the last few years, many of us have started to examine the Christian doctrine a little more closely.

 

One thing that has struck me is the disconnect between the actual teachings of Christ and the preferences of large swaths of the self-identifying Christian electorate – you can start just about anywhere in the Gospels looking at the Nazarene’s philosophies, instructions and bits of wisdom, and point out glaring contradictions between these and the way that Christian philosophy has popularly emerged and evolved in America.

 

Where Christ preached assistance for the poor, American Christianity seems aligned with a mean-spirited attack on low-income individuals and families. Where Christ preached humility, American Christianity worships power. Where Christ preached radical inclusion, American Christianity tends to promote exclusion of the non-conformist, the outlier, the foreigner.

And perhaps most importantly, where Christ preached nonviolence, the brand of Christianity endorsed by many of the most devout American Christians tends specifically towards state violence, especially an appalling degeneration from post-modernity back toward a new anti-Islamic world crusade.

 

I could go into a tangent about how disconnected all of this is, but maybe it’s not until you really examine the sources that you get a better understanding of why these two ends of Christianity don’t match, and how one would go about on tethering them from each other.

 

A few months back I was thinking that you could say that while the left end of the political spectrum seems to embrace the values and teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, the right end of the political spectrum, which again is where many of the most devout American Christians identify, tends more to embrace the teachings of the tribal God Yahweh (or Elohim) in the Old Testament.

The problem is that in orthodox Christianity, it’s extremely clear that the Messiah has come to bring the new covenant and disassociate us from the ancient Israelites. So how can the right deal with this assessment? How can they make themselves whole again, philosophically speaking, and regain some of the credibility that they have lost?

 

In short, the right needs a new Jesus.

 

These Christians who do not espouse those teachings of Christ enshrined in the Gospels as we receive them from history need a Jesus in word and action, in image, and possibly even in name.

You can think of him as “Jesus with muscles” and that would be a start. Really, to get to the root of the actual philosophies and thoughts behind this new Jesus, it seems like it would make sense for this figure to be rooted directly in Teutonic race origins.

 

In other words, the Viking God.

 

The Viking God is strong where Jesus Christ was weak. The Viking God does not call his followers to mercy, especially for those who are considered their enemies, or those who are less fortunate and might need something from them. The Viking God understands that by taking away resources from these hard-working individuals, the opposite philosophy is essentially robbing them – of their honor, of their rights and of their essential humanity. As for the enemies, the philosophy of the pre-emptive strike speaks clearly to a venal mean-spiritedness that is more 15th century Catholic than apostolic.

 

You couldn’t really go very far in this type of theoretical construct without talking about Friedrich Nietzsche and his essential rejection of Christian ideas and doctrines much earlier in the middle of the 20th century.

 

In my opinion, Nietzschian analysis makes all of the difference here. Nietzsche has already gone and detailed many of the reasons why the Judeo-Christian outlook disgusted him, and what should replace it. The Viking God will hew very strongly toward any number of Nietzschian ideals – the primacy of the individual, the need of society to be fair, and the rejection of the various weaknesses that are supposed to be so prized in New Testament religion.

 

The supreme irony here is that the parts of the American electorate who would warmly embrace the Viking God do not as a rule read Nietzsche or have a real affinity for his philosophies. The best way I can explain that is that in a truly nationalistic environment, a foreign philosopher is not American enough. So in the end, the American Viking Jesus will really be “supremacy-light” and not a total, naked disavowal of Judeochristian principles like what the Germans saw.

 

In the end, this could actually be the supremely ironic saving grace that stops us from running full-bore down the road to the types of Judeo-Christian rejections that led to a fascist and nihilistic German government.

 

That these ideas are somehow tarred as ‘German ideas’ and not embraced by an America that otherwise runs toward them is a great safety for all of those millions of people who fear a resurgence towards global fascism. In other words, America is not Germany and never will be. Its ability to insulate itself from German ideas may well be its eventual salvation.

 

And even if the American Viking Jesus exists – even if he emerges from the aftermath of this decadent age, he will not likely be the kind of raw glorious Teutonic figure so loved by those Germans of yesterday. He will instead be some strange facsimile combining those old Teutonic ideas with modern American ones – the American appetite for gluttony and indulgence, and American appreciation for strength that is much more innocent and naïve than that of Nietzsche, that is much more optimistic and sanguine then those of Nietzsche’s followers, and that does not appreciate art and culture enough to follow the likes of Richard Wagner into a political abyss shaped by music.

 

The American Viking Jesus will live in a world of first-class steaks and big shiny engines, in a world of abundance and denigration of want. A world of every man for himself and every woman following along….

 

The Viking Jesus will also be a God of conquest, but unlike some of those darker tribal gods, it’s likely that his conquest will be fairly innocent and unburdened by specific intent. As we understand the conquest of the Vikings, our Viking God would be. When we talk about it after reading our history books, we see it as a somewhat unmeditated and uncalculated conquest – it’s done out of raw aggression and desire, and not calculated satanism.

Of course, that doesn’t make it okay, and it doesn’t diminish the real danger and frightening exclusive figure like this. It’s important to be able to understand that although things could be worse, they are already quite bad for the poor, the disenfranchised, the minority, the foreigner, the non-conformist, the outlier, and all who resist the slide towards national aggression.

SON’s NOTES: TRIPTYCH

The following are three minor fragments of conversations with the kiddo that I wrote down and recently discovered.

TV IN CAVEMAN TIMES

“In caveman times, when they watched TV, it wouldn’t be bad for them – they could use spider webs.”

“For what?”

“To watch TV. There would only be dangerous shows – like the spider getting the bug.”

 

DIMENSIONALITY AND TIME TRAVEL

“Your brain could be the fifth dimension – if you went to the past, and you weren’t born, and you didn’t have a mom, you would be in your brain forever.”

(draws a picture of “adoring a baby to help the second dimension”)

 

UFOs

(picks up a book on UFOs)

“I think this is non-fiction.”

(reads first page)

“See, I told you this was non-fiction. They come from another planet. They are discoverers.”

 

 

ADDENDUM

I was really surprised to come see this amazing ring of treasures laid out so carefully – it just goes to show that if there isn’t a big neat swingset in the yard, or a backyard pool, kids will come up with interesting ways to have fun. At least, mine will.