THE MODAL MAN

Posted in Rants on February 6th, 2017 by Ed

(Title is part of my life quest to get people who mean "modal" to stop saying "average")

The Olympics would be much more interesting if each event included one randomly selected normal person in unexceptional physical condition. When ten of the world's fastest human beings race one another, no one ends up looking that fast. Oh, they look fast. But you can't get a sense of just how fast they are if you have no useful context in which to place what you're seeing. Everyone knows Usain Bolt is very fast. Watching him race a 41 year old truck driver from Omaha would drive that point home.

Obviously this will never happen; the International Olympic Committee realizes that athletics is best left to athletes. Us normal folk can barely manage to avoid hurting ourselves when we try to exert ourselves similarly. People (at least when sober) can look at high level athletes and recognize immediately, "That person is vastly better than me at this thing."

To a lesser extent we recognize that in other areas of our lives, too. We pay professionals for medical, financial, legal, and other kinds of advice. We pay other professionals for skills they have that we lack. And very few people go to a restaurant and demand to be allowed into the kitchen to bark orders at the chef. We might not always be happy with what we get, but generally we recognize that people working in a kitchen should have some vague idea how to cook. If a restaurant's pitch to customers was "No real chefs here – we staff our kitchen with ordinary Americans with common sense!" it is difficult to imagine many eaters taking them up on that offer-slash-challenge. Likewise, no one would submit themselves or a family member to surgery from "a real hard workin' guy" or "a woman of the highest moral character" unless those descriptions happened to accompany actual medical training. We may on occasion act or talk like we know better, but oddly enough people end up going to a real doctor or real lawyer when they're in trouble.

Despite this, Americans remain absolutely convinced in large numbers that the process of governing the third most populous and most economically and militarily powerful nation on Earth requires no particular skills of any kind. Anyone can do it! It's just like running a hardware store or balancing the family checkbook! Even more, many of us actively reject people who have skills or experience that might help them perform the tasks necessary to keep this unwieldy beast in working order. "I'm sick of politicians" is roughly similar to being unhappy with one's doctor and, instead of finding a different doctor, going to one's hairstylist for surgery.

This is not to say or even imply that everyone with skills and experience relevant to governing will succeed. Just as not all lawyers are actually good lawyers, elected officials and bureaucrats can be found at every level of ability and effort. But right now we are seeing the difference between public servants who may not be awesome at their job and a bunch of random people who don't understand even the basics of what they are supposed to be doing. This White House is a bunch of monkeys at typewriters randomly hitting keys in an attempt to produce the complete works of Shakespeare. These are people so clueless about the positions they've assumed that it never occurred to anyone to run Executive Orders past a real, JD-holding lawyer before issuing them. That this could have escaped the thought process of everyone involved is almost beyond comprehension. Then again, I'm at a severe disadvantage to them, given that I have a very basic understanding of the role of the Executive branch in our system.

Sure, politics and governing can be more forgiving than a lot of fields. A man off the street would do better as a Senator than as a surgeon or a bond trader. But that is only because there are institutions built up around these people to help them succeed. When one intentionally dismantles those institutions in favor of yet more people with zero relevant experience or skills, then we might as well give a toddler the job.

At least Americans can no longer wonder what it would look like to take someone who doesn't know anything about governing, politics, the law, or public service and putting them in charge of the country. It looks like this. It looks exactly like anyone who grasps that running the government is not in fact like running a business would expect.

EMOLUMENTS AHOY

Posted in Quick Hits on February 2nd, 2017 by Ed

I'm no expert on FEC regulations, but…it cannot possibly be legal for the President of the United States to use his Twitter account to direct people who want to read an official statement from the President to his personal Facebook page on which a large "SHOP NOW" button adorns the top of the page. The sales proceeds from the items all go directly to Donald J. Trump for President.


My Spider Sense is tingling.

CHARLIE BROWN AND THE FOOTBALL

Posted in Rants on February 1st, 2017 by Ed

Watching someone make the same mistake over and over again is difficult. First, you're alarmed. Then you pity them. Then you get angry. And finally, you grow to hate them. People proceed through these stages at different speeds. Really compassionate people linger in the first two stages for a long time. Most people get to the latter stages pretty rapidly.

The first time a family member comes to you and says, "I blew every penny I have on (let's say, Beanie Babies, just to keep it from getting too real)," it's natural to think, "Gosh, he really needs my help! How awful!" So you lend him money. Then he comes back a second time and think, hmm, that's odd. The third time, and the fourth time, and the fifth time, it begins to sink in that no matter how much you try to help, this problem will recur because the poor guy has a problem he can't beat. "Poor guy" is what you're still calling him at this point, anyway. So the next few times you give him the money, but without any expectation that 1) he will repay it, or 2) he will not return shortly asking again. This is pure pity. Eventually "poor guy" transitions to "idiot" or worse. You've sympathized with the fact that he has a problem, but what is he doing about it? Is he even trying to fix it or does he plan to let Beanie Babies ruin his life forever? The conversations get increasingly testy now; you still help him, but with stern lectures that, honestly, this is the last. time. and you better straighten up. When this runs its course, you stop taking his calls. You hate him for being weak, even though you know that's cruel and, on some level, wrong. You hate him for ruining his own life and trying to pull you down with him. You hate him for lying – to you and to himself – about trying to fix the problem. The part of you that feels badly for him is subsumed by the part that can't believe what kind of f'n moron would make the same mistake so many times.

Some of you read that and think, "No, my compassion is without limits." You're wrong. You, like me, are just lucky enough not to have experienced this first-hand to discover what that limit is.

At this point, I don't see how anyone is still in the shock or pity phase with the 2000s-era Democratic Party in Congress. It is impossible – or is possible for people who are of kinder heart than I – to do anything but hate them for their weakness. The way they make the same predictable mistakes over and over, the way the congressional Republicans openly bully them, and then mock them for rolling over every single time, was sad for a couple years. Maybe back during the W Bush era. Maybe it was still kind of pitiable to watch them all bow to hyperjingoism and decide to trust W on the Iraq War, even though anyone with half a brain – which includes most of them – knew that was going to go over like a lead balloon. But now it is long past being a sad sight. At this point, they know better. They've been through this process of getting boned dozens upon dozens of times. They "play nice" and act real Bipartisan-y and the GOP smiles and laughs and can't believe its luck, and then when the tables are turned the GOP response to literally everything is a middle finger extended in the face. There is no reason to expect it to turn out differently, ever. The sample size is large enough after nearly 20 years of this to conclude with confidence that, no, they have no interest in doing anything but using every last available tactic – hook or crook – to prevent a Democratic president or chamber majority from being able to get anything it wants.

They don't budge, ever. They are never going to. Had Hillary Clinton won, they would have refused to vote on her Supreme Court nominee indefinitely. For years, if necessary. Because that's how they operate, and anyone who does not understand that by now is not sad or pitiable. Anyone who does not get it by now is contemptible. Watch Lucy yank the football away from Charlie Brown once and it might seem funny. Then it's sad. Then you can't feel anything because you're too busy wondering why in god's name he keeps doing it over and over again and expecting a different result.