Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trump As Ingenue

Marx was a genius; in fact, he was a super-genius. He had a theory of economics, of sociology, of history, of revolution, and a moral idealistic theory. The whole shmear. So much of what he said 150 years ago is in common usage that, like Shakespeare, sometimes you read what he wrote and think, it's just a lot of old sayings. “Dictatorship of the proletariat”; “the first time as tragedy the second time as farce”, “ownership of the means of production.” In fact, there is so much, you can pick and choose what you use and what you believe, and who's to say whether or not you are a Marxist?

Is Putin a Marxist? Yes, I think he understands much of the world in terms of Marxism. You can't be trained for years on end in Marxism and not come to think in those terms as second nature. When he thinks of “capitalism,” reams and reams of material must bubble up inside him. He must accept much of Marxist thought, probably the labor theory of value and how capital is generated, relations between the classes, the inevitable conflicts that capitalism and imperialism generates in search of markets. All that.

But to understand the world in Marxist terms is not necessarily to accept Marxist ideals. Certainly Russian communism has incorporated nationalism since Stalin's time. Only an ultra-dedicated Marxist can look at Marx's predictions and say they are OK, that we just aren't there yet. He predicted conflicts and wars that wouldn't come, he predicted the rise of the proletariat that wouldn't come, he predicted a classless society that wouldn't come. And lots more. Part of the problem is that no one can predict the future, because it is just unknowable. But another part is what we ourselves bring to our predictions, which in the case of Marx was probably wishful thinking. Wouldn't it be nice if there were to be a heaven on earth? Wouldn't it be nice if everyone were treated fairly (ignoring that “fair” is not an objective terms, but a very subjective one.) Wouldn't that justify the wars and hardship and misery of the world, if there were a heaven at the end of it? And since God is obviously a myth, the heaven will need to be on earth.

Well, good luck with that. After enough time had elapsed to show that Marx was not a reliable guide to the future, but that his analysis of society often did indeed hold up, then the Russians who were supposed to continue to be “Marxists” could pick and choose what elements of belief would be enough for them to be so qualified. What Putin and his ilk have chosen not to believe is the heaven on earth part. He believes the analysis part, just not the idealism part. The masses will always be the masses, Russia will always have a vast peasantry in outlook, even if many of them are no longer down on the farm.

Meanwhile, while the masses are the continuing mass, what's so bad about capitalism? What's wrong with state capitalism? Who says we have to treat the masses to economic prosperity? With our understanding of economics and society, and with the understanding of power that we have achieved in the last 100 years thanks to the ascent of Lenin – what's wrong with our benefitting from it as a class ascendant? What is wrong with being rich and powerful? After all, we can get the traditional Orthodox Church – it was wrong to suppress them – to bless us and be complicit. “Opiate of the masses,” bah! It's good for them to believe, it makes them happy, and why should we stand in the way of that? Add in nationalism and patriotism, a history and expectation of authoritarianism, all of which can substitute for economic health, and you have a winning formula, as long as you have no ideals and no guilty conscience. Go forth and conquer, and if you can't conquer, at least get rich.

In other words, yes, Putin is a Marxist. If you put a check box next to all the elements of Marxism, he would check most of them. He just wouldn't check the idealistic part.

Which brings us to the subject of Donald Trump. What is Donald Trump seen through the Marxist filter? Not a stupid man, but a very narrow man, a classic caricature of a capitalist. Lenin's description of a capitalist fits him well: a man who “will sell us the rope with which we will hang him.” (Another old saying.)

Not a cultured man, not a man of taste, not a man of learning, not a man who understands government, and indeed, not a man who understands and reveres the American theory of democracy. He does not understand the long history of English polity, the rise of parliamentary government, the problems with royalty and aristocracy, the difficulties of finding the enlightened popular will. What he sees is the world of the capitalist. The reference group for Trump is businessmen. His idea of quality was and is to get the best businesspeople (as long as they will be loyal to him) in government, along with some generals. What a high it must be for Trump, the proprietor of a family business, to have the real major leaguers answering to him! The head of ExxonMobil, the guys who have made real money, the real corporatists.

“Where can we do business, and with whom can we do it?” That's Trump's world, which is easy for any student of Marxism-Leninism to understand. Like Putin, Trump doesn't have an ounce of idealism in him. Like Putin, he understands the power of lies, the importance of capturing the attention of the nation without the use of an independent filter of a press, the rapture of immediacy. Tell your story and don't let a counterstory emerge, that's the ticket. Putin likes his shirt off, Trump speaks Queens-ese. Think they can do business together? They think so.

So Vladimir and Donald have a business communality. Beyond that, however, and of course, are their vast differences. What strikes me most is the difference in global sophistication. Putin has been playing this game his whole life. He has seen the Cold War from the inside, he has experienced East Germany, the Stasi, the fall of the Wall, the fall of the Empire, the resurrection from the ashes to the new Empire, the new nationalism. So much, so much.

Trump has had bankruptcies and near bankruptcies, and a migration of his business to one of branding. Globally? He'll be winging it. Where Putin has Marxism, national eclipse and rejuvenation in his back pocket, Trump has … business. Just business. Forget all the personality and character deficiencies. What is his sense of Putin, of Russia, of the world? To Trump, he must see Putin as a businessman ascendant, just like himself. The questions of policy will resolve themselves into, where can we do business, and with whom? He is a realist in the sense that he rejects any concern with the welfare of people anywhere but in the US, and it's questionable how much he is concerned about the US. If he ever thinks about it, which he may not do seriously, he is a trickle down man. He admires Putin because Putin knows how to exercise power, he has succeeded in a crowded field, become very rich, divorced his wife to be with a flight attendant, and doesn't have to bother with public criticism. “What's wrong with that as an ideal?” thinks Donald.

And this is going to be a problem. Donald as ingenue, smiling as he comes on stage, snarling behind the stage and those who would keep him off stage, it's doubtful that he looks into Vladimir's eyes and sees KGB, as he should. If Donald thinks Ukraine is far, far away, and the “stans” not worth thinking about, in fact natural parts of the Russian Empire, Russia will simply regrow like a briar patch. Does that matter to anyone outside the briar patch? Many would say yes, that growth and influence of an inevitably antagonistic force, an autocracy that itself needs to feed off the labor of others, an anti-liberal societal force, a force historically dedicated to aggression under cover of defense – many would say that this is a problem, that you can't just say “shut your door so I can't hear what you're doing.”

Of course, that could be wrong. I'm frequently wrong – just ask my kids. Or just ask me, I'm my own most severe critic. Maybe being a non-interventionist friend will work after all. Maybe live and let live and let's make money together will work. Maybe the ingenue will be wily enough to escape with vital interests intact. Who knows?

But myself, I value the bourgeois virtues of what I see as freedom of thought, freedom of expression, the rule of law, the protection of the weak, the progress of fair competition, the steady increase in equality before the law and equality of opportunity, personal dignity, all those shibboleths. And I don't think that dancing with the big bad wolf is going to do us any good. I just wonder how and where Donald will lose his innocence. It could be bloody.

On the other hand, I take succor in thinking, you never know. You just never know. Hopefully.

Budd Shenkin

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sometimes It's Hard To See The Comedy

“The Human Comedy” escaped my understanding for a long time. I've never been the type to be removed from life, I'm always into it, reacting, being excited, fearing. “Comedy” is something you watch, and if you're nice and mature and secure, you watch yourself being part of it.

I mean, how can you view Trump as a part of a comedy? I do remember, though, going through the Reagan years. Ketchup is a vegetable, trees pollute, James Watt at Interior pretending to be a normal human being. Admiration of Reagan for his presentation skills and his anecdotary, surface over substance. Weinberger the hardliner, Meese the hardass. For that matter, I remember Nixon, all of which has been documented and was recalled regularly as each miscreant was released from jail. Martha Mitchell as a hero, that's how comedic it was.

How can “we survived” be a rallying cry? We did make progress, it's true, but how much of it was due to government is debatable. Look at the women. Disappointed as so many are – although look at the white women's vote for Trump to see how un-monolithic it is – look how many women are making it, even in Trumpland with the hateful Kellyanne and pathetic Hope Hicks. Still, they're there. And look at all the learned, skillful, intelligent African-Americans we see as journalists and academics on TV. Look at the protection people and cities offer to the immigrants among us – I remember who harbored the Jews and I'm ready to give back, as are so many of us. The power of the people, the movements, and I wonder if stupid Ava Duverney admits that LBJ had a point to him, looking back?

But again, look at how many didn't avail themselves of the Voting Act to actually vote. Look at the “left out” white working class who once again successfully voted against their interests. I doubt that many of them were sentimentally voting for their Russian heritage. Look at the ridiculous stooges parading to the Cabinet – what strategy will the Democrats adopt with too many targets in the range? Pick out one or two? Keep laying the record out and then vote them in by two votes or a tie broken by Pence who hopes to replicate the Cheney presidency? Talk about a swamp, here's one with bodies floating to the top.

It's pretty amazing that progress is made at all since, as I've become fond of quoting since the election, fully half of Americans have intelligence that is below the median. And paint them as victims as much as we like, and reluctant as we are to blame victims, it is those in the hinterlands, those who didn't leave, those who haven't had the ability to do much with themselves, those who don't even see what is being done to them, those who continue to elect jerks, those who don't understand that those who wrap themselves in the flag are deserving of immolation – they are the ones who just contributed to their own continued cultural and financial penury. I think I heard that it was those just above the median incomes voted most heavily for Trump – that's so typical, there is the real Republican heartland, keep those just below me down! But still, they wouldn't carry the day if … if … if only....

Give credit where credit is due – the Republicans are good businesspeople, in the narrow sense of the word. They keep their eye on their prize, they use money and organization to full effect, focusing on governorships and the House. They cringe at nothing. Russian influence? Big deal, let it play out. False implications by my nominee for Asshole of the Year, James (Hotshot) Comey? Just reporting to Congress. Think of Turtle McConnell's place in history, if history will still be written. It will have to be a day far from our own when treachery and treason are played as comedy.

But, God willing, that day will come. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and then for the rest of our lives, we will look back and remember, this is what we were faced with, and this is how we acted. Not rashly, not over the top, not hysterically, but thoughtfully, with appeals to reason, with appeals to the better emotions – what a phrase, “the better angels of our nature!” That is our challenge.

As Krugman says, “Personally, I’m still figuring out how to keep my anger simmering — letting it boil over won’t do any good, but it shouldn’t be allowed to cool. This election was an outrage, and we should never forget it.”

Don't worry, Paul. Thanks for continuing to lead. You will have no dearth of followers.

Budd Shenkin

Saturday, December 10, 2016

And So It Goes

Hanging out at the body repair shop isn't usually a rollicking affair. But up at the corner of Ashby and Claremont at Cook's Collision, it's been pretty nice. The reception area there has some humanity to it. Maybe it's because body work is usually an insured transaction, so hard bargaining and tension are absent; it's more like we are all on the same side, especially because there is significant competition in the body repair business which makes customer service a priority, unlike the local drawing station of Quest Diagnostics the other day where the officious clerk used her hand to motion me to sit down over and to the side while she continued her phone conversation, and maybe because Cook's, even though they have multiple offices, is a family business. Maybe it's like when I ran Bayside and understood the importance of personal connections, and the importance of being on the same side, the importance of customer service. Or maybe it's just the people who work there at Cook's, and maybe because it's in Berkeley. Maybe everything.

So when an unaccounted for major indentation of the my left rear fender occasioned a visit to Cook's in the late afternoon of Tuesday, November 15, I heard the chatty staff person over in the corner say, “It's my birthday, and I'm going out!” “Really?” I said. “It's my birthday, too!” Which it was.

Matt, the Berkeley branch manager, is a 6'3”, 140 pound extroverted friendly guy with a dark little beard. He was out front handling me and my case at that moment, so he turned to me and said, “How old are you?”

I have to admit to a little bit of vanity on this – I stay in some semblance of shape with lifelong exercise and have favorable genetics. So I said, “How old do you think I am?” Matt and the birthday lady looked at me, made some calculations I guess, and pondered. Matt said, “Well, my Dad's 63, and you're younger than he is.”

“You're way off, “ I said. He looked at me, she looked at me, and I said, “I'm 75.”

“Wow!” they said. The lady said, “I thought maybe 50's or early 60's!” I felt great, we made our arrangements and I went home to prepare to go to Hawaii the next day. Even though it was the ¾ mark of a birthday, no festivities were planned, and off we went.

I renewed my acquaintance with the Cook's office as I kept the agreed upon repair appointment last Monday, with no fuss and bother but renewed helpfulness, and at 5:30 Thursday I was back in the rain to reclaim it, hoping to make it on time for my 6:30 book club meeting – 22 years and counting! – at the French Club in San Francisco (actually, Cercle de l'Union, on Mason Street, but known to one and all as “the French Club.”) A spirited, slim dark haired lady in her 40's was there, too, picking up her car; we told our receptionist that our cars were a 2011 Infiniti (mine) and a 2007 Prius (hers). The receptionist called over the loudspeaker, with brio, “Bring out the gray Infinity M56S and the red Prius!”
And then here came Matt, renewing our acquaintance with his now immortal first words, “Happy birthday!” Mrs. Prius looked on interestedly with a little smile. I thought Matt was pretty funny, so nice, spirited. And the lady behind the desk was also spirited, happy, engaging. Matt unpromptedly told us his history – here at Cook's for 11 years, rising to be manager and making pretty good money, ever since graduating college (unspoken: “I'm a college graduate!”) where he majored in “Women's Studies.” “Wow,” I said, “Women's Studies! That's great!”

Mrs. Prius joined in, agreeing how great it was. I said how I had come to appreciate the oppression of women much more seriously in the past few years, especially since granddaughter Lola appeared, and especially after seeing the emotions of women to Hillary, and how I looked back and realized the barriers to my mother's generation and my own generation, and how younger women don't appreciate enough what others had done for them. Mrs. Prius agreed, and said she was the main bread winner in her family, had two kids, worked full time, sometimes was torn between work and kids, etc. “Wow,” we said. “That's not easy. I don't know how women do it,” I added. Also, “But sometimes you get to work, look around and say, I'm free!” Smiles and agreement.

Mrs. Prius said how happy she was that people were understanding it now, although she said, here we are in Berkeley, and around here conversations are probably different from the rest of the country. “Probably so,” we agreed. She said we were lucky to live here, silently acknowledging the bubble phenomenon.

Then Matt caught sight of the bottle of white wine I had on the counter. “What's with that?” he asked. I said I was going to book club after I got the car.

Everyone lit up. “Hey,” said the receptionist, “Can I come to 'book club'?” with air parentheses and a big laugh. “Yeah,” said Matt, “sounds like 'book club' is a good deal!” More air parentheses. Mrs. Prius was a full participant. “'Book club'!”

What a wonderful collection of strangers. And then when I told Matt I've have to come back to get my wife's car fixed – unaccounted for damage of the right front headlight area – he said, “Just call and come in and I'll see if we can do it cheap, parts at cost, and you don't have to call insurance.” I told him he could work for me anytime. I was sorry I wouldn't see Mrs. Prius again. She was really a doll, so engaging and fun.

Then it was off to “book club.” It took me about 1 ½ hours to drive in the rain to the French Club and I was late, but the meal hadn't yet been served and there was a seat ready for me at the head of the table next to Jeff. Everyone agreed that we avoid driving into the city as much as we can, now that traffic is such a killer. The dinner was fabulous, butter nut squash soup, trout, bison steaks, three cheeses, Busch de Noël, and my wine and others' wines, too. I ate too much. I was pleased that my wine was good. We discussed our dual assignment, Candide and L'Étranger, both of which I had read in French as well as English – my French isn't good enough to go without the translation by my side. Reading them slowly let me think more about them. We try to get something French for our annual trip to the French Club and Norman had just pulled these out of the air, adding the latter because the former is pretty short.

Even though Norman picked them out of the air, it seemed, I congratulated him on his inspiration – warranted, especially since many of his suggestions are anything but, which I reminded him of, of course – 22 years with ex-neighbor Norwegian Norman leads to some teasing, of course, mais naturellement. Both books were heavy on anti-clericalism, somewhat distressing to Jeff, who is a committed Catholic. More substantially, though, at least to this American reader, both of them, in their way, look for the truth of things. Candide is so funny, the ridiculous assertions of Pangloss that this is the best of all possible worlds and the deadpan recitation of acts betraying the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. Each cleric worse than the last. Spirituality is one thing, religion and churches another. Larry, the professor of drama at SF State and an increasingly committed Jew, didn't like or respect Candide, but I liked Candide, and I sympathized with Meursault. Jeff, a committed Catholic, was distressed as well and didn't like L'Étranger, understandably. It's possible that no one resonated to my comparison but Tom, my fellow physician who I recruited for the group years ago and who treasures and reveres the book club and whose wife died last year and who is still grieving and to whom we all raised a glass and dedicated it to Ida Jean. My comparison was that scientists look to distinguish pattern from noise, but that in the world of searching for meaning, what you mostly find is noise, unless it is the World War II enemy sending code to its ships and overseas commanders. But when Pangloss looks to understand everything as the best it can ever be, imposing a pattern where clearly it doesn't exist, and when Meursault's priest similarly tries to evoke the religious best from Meursault, the authors are depicting noise misunderstood as message.

Meursault isn't so different from Candide, just more passive, less passionate, and more removed from his feelings. He's resistant to the made up stories of convention; what happens if we just tell the truth? I wonder if that isn't just a rationalization, however, ex post facto explanation of why we do what we do. Isn't he depressed? With that opening sentence, his mother isn't just incidental. Wasn't that a disappointment, that they didn't have much to say to each other, and his recitation of the funeral is full of details of who did what and said what, and the sun, and that's pretty much it, then back to work? She comes up now and again, kind of like Holden Caulfield's dead brother Allie comes up recurrently here and there, never making too fine a point on it, and Holden finally gets hospitalized while Meursault gets guillotined. Not to put too fine a point to it. Beware of non-conformity, and beware of depression behind it.

We could have continued this exploration if the guys had accepted my nomination for the next book as Danny Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, a study of errors of cognition among other things, but they opted for Hillbilly Elegy instead, which won't be a bad book although it's pretty trendy.

I've never cottoned to “What is the meaning of life?” which I have always found pretty meaningless. Instead, I think, who cares? When I said that, Jeff, who had orchestrated a little applause for me when I came late because everyone knew I had just had dental surgery two days before but was still determined to come, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “We care, Budd.” And he does, and they do. It's an amazing group, put together by Norman who just ups and does things because it's the right thing to do. He also collects warm jackets for charity at Christmas.

I had said the same thing to my friend Bob, when he took me to lunch on Monday, the day before the surgery, the day I took my car in. I asked him if he remembered how we had started taking each other out in celebration of our birthdays and he said no. I told him it was his idea, that he had said, this is what women do for each other, why shouldn't we? He didn't remember. But I did. I've got a very good memory, it seems. Good hippocampus.

My Dad observed late in life that love, or real caring for, flows downward. He meant that you never feel about anyone the way you feel about your kids. Not that kids don't love their parents, they do, but it's just different, that's all. He put it in a way that he would generally do it, with a hook, not exactly a complaint, but there was some of the “who will take care of me?” in it. Especially for someone like him who was raised by a mother who always wondered who would take care of her. He got himself off to a good retirement home, prematurely perhaps, and said in defense of this decision, “You all don't want to be stuck with me, do you?” A preemptive act of love, or defense?

So when I think who cares about me, I think about my parents, and how they care about me. To some extent it's a straightjacket, you can't give up on yourself, but that's not a bad thing, unless you wind up living their lives instead of your own.

I told Bob this: “I say, when I come down to it, I know my parents love me. But then people will say, 'Your parents are dead.' I'll tell them, 'Not to me, they're not!'” Bob laughed. Call it introjected love of self if you want, but I don't need to bow to the dictates of time and decay and death, do I, really? They can still live in me, and I'm hoping the best feelings of me will live in my kids, and my granddaughter, and other descendants if I get to be with them, not the bad parts hopefully, but the good ones, predominantly, anyway.

Besides our memory of being cared for and loved as children, there is the love and company of spouse, so important and precious. Taking care of others is an underrated benefit; they need to allow you to do it, for your own benefit. And of family, the company of friends, and come to think of it, the company of strangers. Let people decry the segmentation of society into groups who feel the same and live with each other and encounter each other only to find common feelings and beliefs, even at the body shop, but I'm not sure that's so bad a thing. I wish I could have taken the three of them – receptionist, Matt, and Mrs. Prius – to “book club” with me. They would have enjoyed it.  I definitely think they wanted to sample my white wine.

Budd Shenkin

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Five Senses, Plus At Least One

The day of the amateur scientist is gone. Everything is professionalized, even sports! Bigger and better, everything!

So, when I start to think I have something in mind that is new, I know that can't be correct. It isn't correct, it can't be.

But anyway, I thought I'd check it out. Here's the thing: traditionally, we recognize five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Fair enough, but this is a small and restrictive list. There is always talk about a Sixth Sense, often in sci-fi mode. It's mystical. ESP – like a ghost sense. I don't believe in that – even though I've thought from time to time that I've had something, like the time I played 20 questions and got to “German composer starting with the letter 'h'” without missing one question (it turned out to be Hindemith). But I don't believe in voices of the dead or ghosts or crap like that. Or the vague sense that he's no longer there.

It's true that other animals have senses we don't have – like radar or magnetism. We might have some of that that we're not quite conscious of. Certainly other animals perceive the world around them differently from the way we do because of their different balancing of their senses – imagine how a sense of smell orients a fish, for instance, think what their world is like. Our book club read a book that sought to explore that – what would it be like to be an otter, or a swift? (Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster – my advice, do not read.) We are primarily vision and hands, and then big forebrain, I think.

But what struck me was something that we use all the time but somehow has not been described as a sense. That is this: the Sense of Time. We have it, we all know that, but somehow it may not have been described as a sense. It's kind of mysterious because it is one of those things that pops up, that isn't under our conscious control or even our conscious supervision. And time itself is always mysterious.

There is the straightforward sense of “How long has it been? It seems like it's been 20 minutes, doesn't it?” Check on your watch and it's been 19 minutes. Somewhere we have a sense of time, click click click.

It's also somehow different because it gets distorted, depending on what we're doing. If I'm on the computer writing something, time passes “quickly,” and it's time to go before I know it. So, there is some lack of precision depending on circumstances. But that variability also shows that it's there.

Then there's time at night – how do we know how long we have been asleep? Somehow, I tend to know, but I don't know how I know.

Also, what about the phenomenon of awakening just before the alarm goes off? Who hasn't that happened to? How does that work, exactly? I sure don't know, but I know it does. There is the same wonder as when something pops into our head we've been looking for, or even what we weren't looking for. Pop, pop, click, click.

So, as I say, this is not the time for us to simply appear at the Royal Academy of Science and make a short address to the learned ones in attendance and have observations and thoughts recorded in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy by the secretary, to be noted years later when the functional MRI depicts exactly where and how such calculations are made in the brain, and how they come not to be sensed directly by the executive function. If one wants to establish precedence, one can't be an amateur off the street. One needs to be established to be famous.

So, time as a sense must have been thought of before, right? Of course it has been! Of course.

So I looked it up on Google and found this: The Five Senses -- Great little discussion. Talks about some other senses that might be described, which I had thought about myself. The interoceptive senses that perceive states within the body – you feel hot. What about feeling thirsty? The author says: “Humans have other senses that they are aware of, outside of the Traditional Senses. Senses like Balance, Temperature, Kinesthetic sense, and Pain.” GREAT! No sense of time listed!

So, I'm not looking any further. I figure, it's now in the Proceedings of Budd's Blog, as of today. Forget being first to the pole, that's so passé.

Actually, to be serious, I bet that functional MRI's are going to chart a whole bunch of neuron complexes firing off, and they'll chart what set them off, and where the firing went, and get all our known senses charted, and then some we don't know about will be discovered – what was it that set that firing off? Ah-hah, it was … what? Something. And they'll trace to where the firing landed, and maybe even see unconscious adjustments made by the human being. And some will remain a mystery for a long time. They will also compare species, and see just how different we all are. The problem of the brain will go on for a long time.

What a great mystery.

Budd Shenkin

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Shock Election -- The Perfect Storm

Poor Hillary! She wanted it so much, for herself, and for women. Poor us! We wanted it so much for ourselves, for women, for not Trump. Poor us, into the morass, where we will need every ounce of determined optimism we can muster.

This is an election that takes some getting used to. They all do, but this one especially. A decent woman lost to a man who has said terrible things repeatedly, a man with heinous associates. I'm confident of the basic strength of our democratic institutions and our culture – Hitler rose because of German weakness, not necessarily because of the strength of his own thugs – but it is scary, no question. And who knows, maybe Trump will grow in office. It's possible, and believe it or not, I'm hopeful.

It's tempting to be mad at Hillary. She brought on so much of it on herself. But then, so do we all. It is hard to escape oneself. She waged a deficient campaign in 2008, and voilá! – here we were again, misreading, mishearing herself and others with a tin ear. For a pro, you have to wonder – missing the importance of the caucuses in 2008, and not foreseeing the fenestrations of her Blue Wall in 2016. Reproducing the Romney 47% phenomenon with her own Basket of Deplorables, thus cementing the impression of her bubble existence. But as I say, she clearly couldn't help herself. If she coulda, she woulda. Her effort was unrelenting, and she surely got better and better. She did, after all, win a strong plurality of the popular vote.

Of course the explanation for her loss is multifactorial, from misogyny to the Electoral College to Comey to poor messaging to fake news from Macedonian teenagers, etc. I think it could be called a Political Perfect Storm, with every break going the wrong way. And Trump in his way was surprisingly effective.

Now, two weeks out from the Shock Election, the interesting question for me is not not only why it broke for Trump, why the perfect storm happened, but why it got to be so close that it could break for him. I'm looking at two things here – technical analysis of our electoral process, and psychological analysis of the Democratic candidate.

Constitutional Minority Protections

One of the known evils of democracy that the Constitution was careful to avoid is the Tyranny of the Majority (TOM). While we worry currently about minority rights according to identity, the Founders worried about the size of states: Delaware and Rhode Island didn't want to be bullied by larger Virginia and Massachusetts. We are all familiar with the solution of two Senators from every state, the Electoral College, and voting by state if the Presidential election gets to the House of Representatives.

But there is another protection against TOM built into the Constitution which I don't think the Founders thought about. That protection derives from the fact that voting is voluntary and not compelled, as it is today in Australia, for instance. This protection works against a well recognized flaw in straight democracy, the Problem of Intensity. The POI is this: what if 51% of an electorate is kind of against something, but 49% is strongly for it? Wouldn't it be fair for the intense minority to prevail over the shrugging majority? With non-mandatory voting, enthusiasm and turnout is a partial answer to the Problem of Intensity.

Both these protections worked to Trump's advantage in this election; both minorities – small rural states and intense and aggrieved believers – exerted their protections fully. Without them, Trump would not have come close, for as we know, Hillary outpolled Trump by over 2 million, or 1.5% of the popular vote. Hillary piled up votes where they didn't make a difference, and just barely lost in swing states. Trump's combined margin of victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania appears to be about 107,000, giving him the Electoral College win. Vanity candidate Jill Stein received 131,000 votes in those same states. What a wonderful result for the virtuous ultra-left, delivering the election to Trump. As I say, it really was a perfect storm.

When the EC was formed, Virginia was 11 times as populous as Delaware. Today, California is 65 times as populous as Wyoming. Unfortunately, it was a couple of bridges too far for the framers to propose a sliding scale for the future, and now it is unrealistic to foresee small states voting themselves less power. If that were indeed possible, however, I would propose a rebalance by stealing a Republican idea for tax simplification and establishing three levels of states depending on population: one Senator, two Senators, or three Senators, which would reform the Senate. For the EC I'd propose a formula that would put a lid at 5 to 1 as the maximum difference allowable in population represented by an Elector. Yes, Wyoming would still be over-represented and California under-represented, but it would be closer. Nice idea. Let's move on.

Non-mandatory voting will also be with us forever. In political theory, voting is the final verdict on policy conflicts, and voting settles who gets what. In fact, though that might be the result, voters hardly think through their votes on that basis. Instead, they vote for visions, hopes, dreams, fears, resentments, delusions, and their own projections and hopes of being taken care of. Or you could say, they vote a feeling of “who gets you,” and “who do you get.”

Because of non-mandatory voting, the key to a Presidential election is turnout, and a key component of turnout is enthusiasm. There are other factors that weight the scales – political machines turn out votes, voter suppression laws are often judged to be legal and are effective, untrammeled political contributions favor the moneyed interests, and older and wealthier citizens are more reliable voters. In effect, non-mandatory voting also helps to protect the interests of the moneyed minority.

But it sure ain't simple. It is by now an American tradition to vote (or choose not to vote) against your economic interest – as in What's the Matter with Kansas (Thomas Frank), where socially conservative voters consistently deny themselves their economic interests in favor of some half-thought out ideology. On the other side, more educated voters vote in favor of raising their taxes (although a case can be made that this is in their enlightened interest.)

In this election, however, the difference of enthusiasm between supporters of each candidate was large, possibly decisive, and enthusiasm turns on the irrational factors cited above. Trump voters in key close states and some key counties decided to come out and vote this time because of the intensity of their feelings, largely that they were being systematically overlooked by the Establishment, and that Trump “got them.” Trump was a hot-button candidate, while Hillary, who would have governed well in prose, could not mount a campaign with sufficient poetry (and a smart enough economic message) to bring out her voters enough in key states and key counties.

Technically, then, this election went to Trump because of minority protections – for smaller states, and for more intense voters. If these minorities were not protected, Hillary would have won handily. Unfortunately, among other characteristics, the protected minority areas that elected Trump have a view of the rightful place for women that would be endorsed by Archie Bunker.

The Election and Hillary's Psychology

It might seem churlish to criticize the campaign of a candidate who won the popular vote handily. Achieving this was no mean task, given the difficulty of any party retaining the Presidency after two terms, and a problematic economy that was poorly explained by Obama – fireside chats would have helped a lot, and would have provided a platform for Hillary to expand on economic efforts, and pivot to rustbelt solutions.

On the other hand, a Democratic victory was there for the taking. Trump certainly seemed to be a weak candidate in so many respects – a boor with very bad manners and hateful things to say, uncivil, with awful taste, unread, self-obsessed, someone who would probably fail a test on basic American government. Who couldn't beat him??

Well, Hillary couldn't, apparently. Trump identified her core weakness and dubbed her “crooked Hillary.” She just didn't have it in her to make a good enough counter-case. Why she couldn't is very interesting to look at, I think.

Besides the Clinton team's obvious campaign malpractice – 2008 redux – I think two personal factors hold the key. The first one is congenital – her personality type. In Myers-Briggs typology, she would probably test out as ISTJ (introverted, sensation, thinking, judging – as opposed to extroverted, intuitive, feeling, perceptive.) The second personal factor is an acquired trait – her apparent cupidity. These long-standing factors were elements of the perfect storm.


Yes, she is not a natural politician, as Bill is, for instance. Natural politicians are generally extroverted feeling types rather than her introverted thinking type. That was probably Al Gore's downfall, too; he came home from parties exhausted from all the people and feelings, while Bill came home energized (and got on the horn to Monica, but that's another story.) Why was it that Hillary, at the exemplary Democratic Convention, gave the weakest speech? She couldn't do otherwise, it was her best effort, but unfortunately voters do not vote for teammates, they vote for the captain. Alas.

She did as well as she did because she is hella smart and works her butt off. In private they say she is nice, even warm, and has a refreshingly ribald sense of humor. But Carl Bernstein sketched cogently in Woman in Charge how she puts up the barricades and protects herself in Hillaryland, just as an introvert tends to do, even one who hadn't been attacked and vilified through the years, producing a protected territory where it seems Cheryl Mills advised her on the email server without outside advice. Insulation breeds trouble.

M-B element two is sensation – a preference for details, the trees – as opposed to intuition – the patterns, the forest. Hillary loves lists – it's just too bad she forgot to add “whites” to her list of the oppressed whom she would “fight for,” a terrible image for a President who needs to be comforting to everyone, by the way. But overall images don't emerge well from lists. Images come from topic sentences, and from feelings, too. But there she was with her “check my website” for her list of thought-through programs. She needed a quick two minute economic plan as well as the policy papers, but she could never trot one out. She needed forest rather than trees, or weeds.

She did her best, and improved steadily, but there is only so much anyone can do with oneself. I'm very impressed by her details and her lethally lawyerly skewering of Trump in the debates, which was delightful, but I don't think I'm typical. People look for image, the overall, and Trump did a better job of this to people who would come out for him, even if the image was at base a Potemkin Village.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but “Stronger Together,” in addition to be clunky, was such a misnomer. By listing all those who she thought were left out and pledging unending battle, she was inadvertently emphasizing divisions. “Fighting for” implies an opponent. Who was the excluded opponent, the inhabitants of Iowa, Ohio, Lakawanna County? It just didn't work. It would have been better to emphasize the better angels of our nature in everyone – and list some ways that white working class people could find some outdoor work, and not be retrained to sit behind a computer, and find some reason to believe in it this time. That's the pivot from the Obama economy she couldn't make.

Hillary is stronger with thinking than feeling. Since both extroversion and feelings are her inferior functions, she finds it hard to convey feelings to crowds. Her tendency is to shout and to urge on rather than to persuade. What she needed to convey to her listeners was,“She gets me.” If only she had read my blog! I suggested a Ron Burgundy strategy, where after or before she hung out with rich donors, she would have dropped in on local news anchors the way Stephen Colbert did in Minnesota. While Trump was tweeting – his feelings rather than his thoughts – she could have taken a new format to connect, and excited people in the process – where will she turn up next? Shoulda coulda woulda. 

Hillary and her crew never really got Trump. They saw crudeness and impudence, but Trump voters thought – I get him! He sounds like us, he's Queens, he's construction yard, he's borscht belt. Doesn't read? Neither do we. Makes stuff up? Creative! Marries a sexy lady? Why not? Grabs pussy – hey, someone in his place can do that. We women in Lakawanna County don't worry about that – if he grabbed my pussy, it wouldn't bother me so much. I know how to protect myself if I have to, and I know what men are like. I'm not highty-tighty like those fancy college ladies who think they're above all that and demand protection. Big shots. They want to compete, we just want to get along. Melania moves up from Slovenia and translates her good looks and big breasts into wealth? Well, I don't resent that – she uses what she's got. If I had what she's got, I'd do the same. I mean, look at her! We can't aspire to what Trump has, but we don't resent it, we are where we are, we just want not to lose ground and to do a little better, and not have those Ivy League tech twits and finance twits flit around and fuck us over. They are assholes; we want people who sound like us. We want our work back.

I wish Hillary had gone back to the Pennsylvania bars where she traded shots with locals during the 2008 campaign – probably would have done her a world of good. Maybe cooling down from that shot session with the local news anchor. Good press! Would have been fun. A little joie de vivre never hurt, did it?


Personality is something we're born with. We can work hard to improve, but we work with what we were born with. On the other hand, there are characteristics we acquire. What Hillary seems to have acquired, with Bill's help perhaps, is cupidity.

On a public policy basis, Hillary did not sell out. She was a reasonable politician seeking a reasonable way to achieve better equality and fairness, and she meant it. She wasn't really hypocritical, I don't think, although it's arguable, and certainly arguable about her supporting cast, all the hangers-on in DC and NYC. But you can't keep going back to what you did in your 20's to prove it. After all, when he was young Joe Lieberman went to Mississippi.

When I was in high school back in the 50's, I used to hang out after school with my friend John at his house and talk to him and his mother over the kitchen table. Née Anna Kleinfelder, his mom grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country – which would now be Trump country. A nice lady, with the point of view that reflected her girlhood. She told me once that she thought was OK to be a Communist, but if you were one, then you ought to live like a Communist. I guess she meant to live modestly. My thought, although I was too young to express it properly, was that it's not really a moral issue, is it, but a conviction of a just form of government? But that's the way people think. From Anna's point of view, Hillary would have looked like a hypocrite. I always liked Anna.

It's hard to deny Hillary's cupidity, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that some of it was connected to Slick Willy, the rascal too smart and too undisciplined for his own good, or ours. Or maybe not – I've read about her money worries in Arkansas, worries that he didn't seem to share. But wherever it comes from, people see it, and Republicans make sure that people see it. People understand if in the post-presidency period, they will want to make some money. Not a problem, make some money, make $10 or even $30 million from books and talks and some directorships, and no one will object. But we're talking hundreds of millions with the Clintons. We're talking “that's what they offered” as an excuse, a $17 million sinecure for Bill on some for-profit education company, grabbing money from the King of Morocco, and the Foundation's employing Doug Band the money man (who was a friend of my stepson Brian, who was a White House intern with Doug and Monica.) We're talking about a $650,000 salary for Chelsea at NBC, and a $9.5 million condo for her in New York City. Over the line, gang, over the line. Or if not over, right up there within a couple of millimeters. Hanging out with the like-minded gang in gilded New York charity balls, pictures of hanging out with Trump at his third wedding. And then for the campaign flying from fund raiser to fund raiser with rich people cordoned off from the public. C'mon, Man! Nothing says “You don't get me!” as much as these private actions. Pretty far away from the Obama standard.

To me, the trust issue is right there upfront with cupidity. I'm for the downtrodden, but don't ask me where my money is coming from. Who can trust that? What she could have done, what she should have done, was to head it all off, by taking my advice. She should have given a big speech on her and money, the way Kennedy did with Catholicism in Houston. Bob Reich on the Left thought it was a good idea, and Dan Henninger of the WSJ on the Right thought it was a good idea, but also that she couldn't do it. He was probably right, she is too self-protective. But she should have tried. It really beats me why she didn't read my blog and act on it.

When I bring this up, people object that “Trump is worse.” Of course he is, he is execrable. His business practices are exploitative, he wouldn't show his tax returns, etc. Couldn't be worse. But no one could say he was a hypocrite. He just said, I did it for me, and now I'll do it for you. People don't think deeper than that, many of them. It's the image. And don't forget, a lot of people are trying to decide not between them, but whether or not to vote at all.


In the end, it was very close, could have gone either way. Trump benefitted from enthusiasm, Hillary had trouble ginning it up. I was surprised that in the final days she continued to run the ads that were supposed to be embarrassing for Trump, rather than ads about her vision for the country – but then what was it? As a splitter rather than a lumper, she didn't have the message. She didn't have a two minute economic plan, only long position papers. And so many voters didn't see the Trump crudity as so embarrassing after all.

Maybe the arguably treasonous act of Comey was responsible for the last week, but her whole campaign had given up on much of her upside. I thought she was becoming more and more likable, but maybe that's just me. I always thought that although poetry escaped her, she would govern very well in prose.

I feel so bad for the women. I had dismissed so many women's pleas for Hillary in 2008, preferring Obama. But this year I got it more. My little granddaughter Lola cried on Wednesday morning when she heard. I urged my friend Lynn Sherr, news correspondent, author and long time women's advocate, to write a book called “Tomorrow Is Still Coming, It's Just Going To Be A Little Longer Than We Thought.” But she didn't think it would sell. It's too soon to reignite hope, I guess.

Where do we go from here? Well, let's hope the USA doesn't implode. Among other worries, I'm concerned that Trump's business background will work against him as W's did. If you take risks in business, you just move on, sometimes after declaring bankruptcy. Can't do that with the USA so easily. The experiment in Iraq has proved pretty hard to walk away from.

Other than that, it's goodbye, Clintons, goodbye. I for one will not miss you – too much rubbish with the goods. I hear that the Clintons suppressed the emergence of a viable bench for the Democrats, so the next people in line are still around the corner. All one can say, here's hoping. Maybe the new crop will make common cause with reasonable Republicans (or former Republicans) and form the long sought middle party of America.

So we plunge forward – time runs only one way. Let's hope it is kind to us, if we do our part - which is watching, defending, proposing, and most importantly, learning. Learn, people – don't complain about the lack of solemnity as he builds suspense by parading possibilities into Trump Tower – it's showbiz, people, learn. And new people who rise to the top, please, live nice, but let's keep it within reason. People Magazine will be watching. And so will we, the voters.

Budd Shenkin

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Doing Business On Maui, Philly Style

Doing business in Hawaii can be difficult. Not showing up at the house happens all the time, even calling about the cancellation is spotty. Personally, I don't find it charming, I find it lazy, unorganized, and disrespectful. Call me a hardass – I am, I admit it. When people talk about preserving Hawaiian culture, that's a good thing, to a point. Not working to educate yourself and not giving a shit, not so charming.

Not that it's just Hawaii – after all, this is the fight of business, isn't it? I was in the business of pediatrics, and I tried to run an office with customer service. That meant fighting the instincts of staff and managers in many cases. I remember I arrived early one day to our Walnut Creek office and I found our patients sitting on the steps in the hall outside the office waiting room because the staff had kept the front door locked until the first appointment at 9 AM. They thought they were working at Macy's, I guess, with shoppers waiting for the doors to open.

Hey, I said, let them in! If they're early, treat them well, get them in chairs, get them registered, etc. Seemed like a new idea for the staff. You mean we have to be nice to people? Jesus.

I remember an OB whose receptionist resigned and was working for a few weeks until her last day. Max noticed that his schedule started to get lighter. He inquired and found that the soon to be ex-staffer was giving everyone appointments for after she would be gone, to lighten her load. Jesus.

So here we are on Maui and we had to get a document notarized. The Kihei UPS store where we have a mailbox did well by us last time, so yesterday we went there again. The staff seemed to have changed. “Sorry,” said the clerk, “we do notarization by appointment.” I'm not sure she actually said sorry. I think she just went straight to you don't have an appointment.

“Appointment?” I said. This was new. “We're here now, can't you do it now? It takes five minutes.”

“We have an appointment coming in in ten minutes,” she said.

“Come on,” I said. “It doesn't take very long.” I knew that if this happened in our pediatrics office, and if I were there or our best staffers were there, we would please the customer, not a problem.

“I'll check,” she said, and reluctantly looked around the curtain to the cubby hole where the notary was hanging out. She came back and said, “You'll have to make an appointment.” The next one was an hour later. Couldn't interfere with the notary's nails, I guess.

“You people run a great business here,” I said. I wasn't nice. We got our mail and left. I observed to Ann that you could tell they didn't own the business. I don't think I said it to the clerk. Should have.

We went across the street to Bank of Hawaii where we have an account. It was hard to find someone to talk to, but I went up to someone at a desk and said, “Do you have a notary here?”

“You'll have to make and appointment. The next one is in three hours.” Could have looked around to see what they could do, but officiousness won the day. Hawaii. We put it off for a day.

So today we were going to the airport to pick up Sara and Lola. I figured that even though it was Saturday and good ol' Kihei UPS didn't have weekend notary service – I wouldn't have gone there anyway, I remain pissed – somebody in Kahalui would, and I remembered hearing a good thing about Maui Pack and Ship at the corner of Hana Highway and Dairy Road. We had needed something at FedEx across the street some months ago, maybe a notary, and they referred us to Maui Pack and Ship with some respect in their voice. Also, they got five stars on Yelp with a note about great service. I called to see what they could do for us. The lady who answered told me that they had notary service today open from 10 to 4. Great, I said, we'll be there. Then I turned to Ann and said, “I think this lady is from Philadelphia.” There was that accent. Maybe not Philly, but somewhere nearby.

We got to Maui Pack and Ship and there she was manning the store. She took us right away, got the document ready, did the business in nothing flat, and was super friendly. I said, “Where are you from?”

She said, “Philadelphia!”

“I thought so,” I said. “Where in Philadelphia?”

“Ardmore,” she said.

“Did you go to Lower Merion High?” I asked.

“No, we were military and I was away by then. I went to Penn Valley Elementary.”

“So did my sisters,” I said. “I went to Ardmore Junior High and then to Lower Merion.”

“That was the progression,” she said. “So did my older sister.”

Some more talk, introductions, she took the document and our envelope and stamp, weighed it and said she'd send it out. I hadn't asked anything, she just saw the envelope and stamps in the folder.

We left with smiles all around. In the car I said, “I forgot to pay her! I better go back.” Which I did.

“I forgot to pay you,” I said. In that short time that we had gone to our car, she had finished with someone else and was helping the next person. With such efficiency no lines were forming.

“Why?” she said. “You already had your stamp.”

I said, “Well, you notarized it. I owe you.”

She reached out and touched my arm and said, “It's on me. You're a homey.”

Philly service on Maui. That's just what the doctor ordered.

Budd Shenkin

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reflections 50 (!) Years Out

I have a medical school anniversary coming up – 50th! Never thought this would come. I specialize in denial; it's my primary defense, and I'm sticking to it. As my classmate Bob Ruberg observed many moons ago, walking around the old school, “We have now become the old farts!” Indeed, now we are the even older farts.

Looking forward to our reunion next June, perhaps, the old question has arisen on the class listserve: do you honor or regret your choice of medicine as a career? One of our classmates observed:

We have lived through the end of medicine's conversion from an art to a science. We are now seeing the conversion to a business. … I've been asking older physicians (65 yo and greater) whether they would become physicians in this time setting. Less than 1/4 of them would.  What say you, HMS 67?  What career would you select if you were in college today?”

So far, everyone has responded that he or she would choose medicine again, what a great profession it is, and that their careers have been fulfilling. Here is my response, amended by some reflection since I jotted it down, more discursive than most responses, not unexpectedly.

Why all this talk about medicine losing its luster? It's not a simple question, I think. The most disappointed and even bitter critics come generally from the private practice realm, often rugged individualists, people who didn't want bosses, people who wanted to do what they wanted to do, people who enjoyed being king of the hill in their towns, often people who made a fair amount of money. Or some subset of those. Or from doctors who ruled the roost in their hospitals and have been taken down by corporatization.

Academics, on the other hand, usually don't bemoan the older days. In academia things haven't changed a great deal. There always was some bureaucracy, there always were groups, there always was the three-legged stool, and academics aren't making any less money. At least that's what I understand; I may be wrong.

For practitioners, there has been a great deal of change, starting with insurance and government and pressure to conform one way or another and then yet another, the need to form groups, pressure from hospitals, Medicare crap, pressure on fees, etc. And the rising tide of administrators, fueled by hospital consolidation, governmental mandates, etc. If you just wanted to practice medicine and do the right thing and be true to yourself and do well by doing good, it became harder. A lot of nonsense came into existence, having to listen to “marketers,” prove that what you were doing was the right thing when it always was the right thing to begin with, and other kinds of crap. Last year I read Henry Marsh's book Do No Harm – he's an English neurosurgeon – really good book. What he has had to put up with in the NHS! Well, a lot of it has come here.

For myself, I wound up being an entrepreneurial pediatrician who built a big group, and instead of feeling oppressed by the new forces, I found happiness in fighting them and going with the flow of emerging larger groups and doing well by doing good in building the group, taking care of my people, and as an owner-administrator building systems of care and helping to direct people so that the docs in my group could “just practice medicine.” Mostly, my docs were very happy, and I was happy for that. The practice staff also appreciated being in a place that treated them with respect, and most importantly, consistently put the patient first. Staff join a medical practice with some respect for the place of medicine in people's lives, and when they find their mission honored, they feel some fulfillment. I myself have found it all very fulfilling and interesting. I was also able to publish along the way, so I did my own academic stuff without academia. I've always done a lot of stuff alone.

Medicine is a great profession and always will be. The great advances in what we can do for people, and being able to do good for people off the street from all walks of life, is all very fulfilling. It's true that when you help others you are helping yourself even more. I didn't know that before I did it. Yes, there is lots of crap. I wish docs would get together better and fight the crap, and make sure the administrators and business people, whose ethics often don't match ours, don't call the shots. My view might be influenced here by our local conditions, but when I talk with colleagues across the country, there is some agreement.

My stepdaughter worked for me, then became a pediatrician, worked for me again, and is now Associate Professor at UCSF, head of the eating disorders program, and unlike so many of her academic colleagues, knows how to see patients and not mess around. She is a wonderful doctor and the most productive in the department and a great teacher. Her 6 and 1/2 old daughter, with whom I have an ongoing love affair, was going to be a doctor until she started taking a course on animals and now wants to be a vet. We'll see.

It was hard for me to become a doctor, ironically, because my dad was a doctor, and I found it hard to follow in his footsteps. But with every passing year I am more grateful that I became one, and even now when I just see patients a half day a week, and very few patients at that, I still hope that I'm becoming a better doctor every year. Frankly, I've always found it hard to measure up, to really be good enough. But I guess there's nothing wrong with having high ideals. In freshman year in college a guy in our dorm was so excited about his paper, “The Relevance of an Impossible Ethical Ideal.” I struggled to think about it as he raved on. That was in 1959. I think I'm seeing what he meant.

Budd Shenkin

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Post-Election: The Moral Imperative of Optimism

In the wake of the election, here is what I posted on Facebook:

My friends: The election is a shock, the people we will be hearing from will not be congenial to us. What I will try to keep in mind is this: We have a moral imperative to be optimistic. No one knows what the future holds; it's too complex to offer predictions that will hold water. If we are optimistic, our chances for positive outcomes increase. We need to take joy and hope where we can find it, be it in little things or in big things. We need to take care of each other as best we can. I believe in the moral imperative of optimism!

By way of explanation, there are many. Hillary did get the popular majority – just – so the technical explanation of the skew of the Electoral College toward small, rural states is significant. It's the second time in five elections that this has happened, and the last time it happened prior to that was in 1888. This skew also biases the Senate, and is a major reason we have had gridlock for so many years, and why we have had consistent conservative politics as well. Even in the New Deal, FDR had to accept segregation as the price of progress. Let the working man (sic) advance – not so fast there, African-Americans.

Hillary also failed to turn out enough of the Obama coalition – Nelson Polsby, the great American political scientist at Cal once sat on the couch and told me, elections turn on turnout. She couldn't do it. She got youth, but not enough of them. My brother blames Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, and he has some truth there, they definitely damped Hillary enthusiasm. I blame Jill Stein, whom I revile as Ralph Nader without the charm (snark, in case you missed it.) Special place in Hell for her, she who prevented the first woman president this year, perhaps – I'd have to see where her turnout was, and if those voters would have gone for Hillary instead if Stein were not on the ticket. Or as my brother Bob says, self-righteousness might not be all it's cracked up to be. Or you could say, Hillary's lack of charisma took its toll.

But beyond all that, although there are many explanations, and this might just be me, I think the biggest thing that sunk Hillary was her taste for money, her cupidity.  I don't think she is a hypocrite, I think she is sincere, but the optics of making all that money makes her suspect.  The Obama's stayed far away from the ethical line, way inside it.  The Clinton's stood on the very edge.  I don't think they did illegal things.  But avidity for money is a funny thing.  When you're out of the White House, OK, make some money.  Make $10 million, $20 million, write books and give speeches.  Fair enough.  But hundreds of millions?  Goldman Sachs?  The King of Morocco??? Bill's $17 million deal for being Honorary Chairman of some for-profit education company? Hanging out with people you shouldn't be hanging out with?

To me, that conflict in word and deed could be the deepest explanation. It could have killed enthusiasm of the Hillary voters and fueled deep resentment among opponents. People don't look at policies, they don't think things through, they process images through the filter of their hopes and their resentments.  The image of the Clinton's just couldn't square with what their policies would be. They became super-rich while espousing the causes of the poor, and minorities.    Chelsea - what the hell has she ever done, although she was probably a competent member of the Foundation? - lives in a $9 million very large apartment in Manhattan.  She seems like a nice person in public, but living large and espousing the causes of the poor – well, I understand it, but it's bad optics. Or, as Obama would say, “C'mon, Man!”

I guess I should also mention Hillary's fractionating of the electorate, which I always found irritating as well. Even in her graceful – and for once persuasive concession speech with emotional closeness rather than distance, Hillary continued with her list of the put-upon, and still did not list the millions of the working class who were the ones she lost! The stitching together had a missed spot that wasn't small.

But, as I said, through it all, I cling to the moral imperative of optimism. Who knows what the future holds? I am deeply suspicious of the comfortable Establishment, I was very impressed by Gretchen Morganson's book on the housing bubble and how the Democrats fixed themselves a nice money stew over at Fanny Mae. I'm impressed also by my new Eisenhowerish depiction of health care would-be reformers as the academic-institutional-corporate-governmental faction, all of whose prescriptions for change incidentally benefit themselves. The mantra of Trumpism could be, away with all that!

Maybe something good will come of it all. If only.

Budd Shenkin

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Love and the Single First Grader

I'm involved in a lot of important things. There's politics, there's the medical care system, there's the Warriors (think new team, not just updated old team), and this year I'm even following the Raiders with great interest (think easy schedule.) But above all of this, I'm tuned in to 6 ¾ (don't forget that “3/4,” we're micromanaging age these days) years old Lola. Lola. What a character is Lola. When she is introduced to someone new, she knows what's coming, so she has started to mutter, “Whatever Lola wants....” Ah, Lola.

Lola and I just hang out, totally at our ease. She can be on her iPad (Cookie Swirl C! Shopkins!) and I can be on my laptop (emails! SOAPM listserve!), or we can be walking down to Star Market together holding hands, or we can be driving home from her school together. I can put on my classical station while we drive and she can kind of listen and say, “That's like the Nutcracker.” Or I can put on the kids station and we can sing along with it. We tune in together.

One thing about Lola, “demure” does not and will never describe Lola. Lola is, in the immortal words of her grandmother Ann, a native born shitkicker. She is really so funny. We were driving home from school and I thought I'd put in some education. I said, “Lol, remember how we talked about the physical states of matter? (OK, big vocabulary there, but we had talked about this.) So, what's the solid state of water?”

She thought a minute and said, “Frozen water?”

“No, not quite. Think about it. You go into a cave, or you are in the mountains and it's cold, and you look around you, and what does water look like?”


“Right! Now you got it. Now, what's liquid water?”

No pause at all, “Water!”

“Right. Now, what is water when it's a gas?”

Small pause. Then, “Fart!”


She's a shitkicker. How can you not laugh?

Typical for her age, in the last few years poop has been a recurrent source of raucous laughter. Nothing wrong with that, I figure. In fact, truthfully, I've heard more than once, “Stop encouraging her, Budd.” She's actually pretty funny, IMHO.

She has now, however, evolved from poop. She is now not unlikely to come out with “butt crack.” Butt crack. Where did that come from? It's a little more personal than poop, I guess, in a way. A little more … what? Incisive, maybe, both literally and figuratively. We wince a little, chortle maybe, and let it go, and make sure she knows it's not for the public to hear.

So Lola and I, we hang out – two field trips last week! On Tuesday she had off and we drove into the California Academy of Sciences in SF – the aquarium, the rain forest. After we parked we went out a back exit and scurried up the earthen bank leading up to the aquarium as a short cut. Lola hauled herself up by clinging to a grate. Climbing up a slope in the middle of the city. Later, we agreed this was the most fun of a very fun day. Unfortunately, one of Lola's less desirable inheritances from her mother Sara is car sickness. So on this trip she puked going in, and she puked coming home. The last time she said observationally, not upset but a scientist, “It's brown.” She was soaked. She got out of the car at home, put her arms out like a scarecrow and said, near tearfully, “I don't want to touch me!” Into the house and Grandma's specialty, the bath. Fifteen minutes later I ventured into the bathroom to find her supine and at ease, body out and head back with mouth just under the surface, calmly blowing bubbles in the water, observing the results. She loves her bath, and clean clothes.

Then on Sunday we went to the Oakland Zoo. Ann passed – she said she's gone once this year, and that's her quota. So off we went a little late, because Lola wanted us to play school first, with all her stuffed animals lined up under the window on the stairs as students, with me – Baba – as teacher's assistant. We got the farthest parking place in the lot but it was a nice day, we scurried down an embankment, got our hands stamped for reentry, and settled in by the flamingos for a little. Lola stood back and looked around and said, “Grandma doesn't know what she's missing.” Actually, she did know what she was missing, but it's a good point.

When we go to the aquarium and the zoo, I just kind of hold back and follow what she wants to do. At the zoo she has it mapped out in her head. Actually, she has added something to her repertoire on Sunday, looking at the actual handout map of the zoo. She opens it up, looks at it closely, says “Where are we?” and looks closely again and charts our course confidently. Since the map seems a little impressionistic to me and it isn't rectilinear, I have trouble with it. I'm not sure she actually connects her assuredness to results, and she's been here a lot so she knows the territory, but off she goes according to her map and intuition and I follow enthusiastically, knowing there are no precipices over which to topple.

On Sunday she had a set agenda. She told me, four rides and five animals. She said, “I told Grandma two rides, but I'm going to do four.” When I'm out with Lola and she wants things, I remember my mother when she had terminal cancer, although devotee to denial that I am, I never called it that, and we took my brother's daughter Emily and my son Peter out to the toy store, where they trolled the aisles. My mother had always been vigilant with limits, but as they came back with their choices, instead of a limit, she looked at me askance and said, “What does it matter?” Right, a little strange, but I got it. Kind of, I've done what I can do, now I'm just letting it go for someone else to do, I'm going to just let it go. I was just there to support.

I'm older now than my Mom was then, and although I know that limits are important, but I invoke them judiciously. Excellent mother that she is, Sara has set them very well, so I really don't have anything to add, just make sure I don't undercut. If she wants four rides, why the hell not? What's so virtuous about making the animals come first? Let her call the tune, I figure. I did negotiate her down from a $18 long snake stuffed animal to two little plastic figures for a buck apiece that she could play with imaginatively in the back seat on the way home – she is very firm with them. I told her the prices of the toys were ridiculous, and she accepted that well. It was something we did together. But as many rides as she wanted.

We took the Sky Ride chair lift first, which is her favorite. We sit side by side and schmooze. One thing Lola doesn't excel at is nicknames. A stuffed bear is “beary.” “Pelicany” is another. The first animals we see on the Sky Ride are giraffes. “Look at the baby,' said Lola. “We should give him a name.”

“Spotty,” she said. Good enough! Then the tigers, and the camels – the grounds are big enough that you have to look for them and discover where they are. “What's a camel with three humps called?” she quizzed me.

“I don't know.” Strange question.

“Pregnant,” she answered herself.

Wow, I thought. That's new! Where did she hear that? Up to now her only joke was the one I taught her, the old “why did the moron tiptoe past the medicine cabinet,” every kid's proverbial first joke, which she struggles to remember but is very fond of, because the other kids don't have any joke at all. Except for the knock-knock jokes which is her friend Felix's specialty.

Then she said, “What are those animals up there? Where are they?” That's the buffalos, and she wanted the story, which I was happy to tell her, how they used to be in the millions and how the Native Americans (that's what we say, “Native Americans,” and she doesn't think about the term for one minute, except when I slip into “Indians”) took one or two for food and clothing and then how the European hunters shot them nearly to extinction. “Just for target practice?” she asked.

“Yup,” I answered. She knows the story, and wonders at it. Then we talked about extinction, and she posited a way that a species could be reborn. “Nope, “ I said, once they're gone, they're gone. Harsh reality.

Then we were on the way down, the same animals in reverse. “They're going to have new animals over there” she said. Right, they are, in 2018, the California Trail.

And then I saw a tree that had fallen with branches all akimbo. “Look,” I said. I remembered a book we read about Fancy Nancy who wanted to be the lead ballerina of her ballet class but was disappointed and became a tree, and the teacher assuaged her disappointment by urging her to be a very graceful weeping willow. It's a book about disappointment and how to handle it. I had asked Lola how she was going to handle disappointment. She said that her solution was that she wouldn't ever be disappointed, and when I said everyone got disappointed sometimes, she wouldn't discuss it further. Maybe that lesson wasn't fully absorbed.

So I said, “Look at those branches. They're just like the branches of the other trees, but they go out instead of up.” I was really going on it. “Maybe you could be a tree like Nancy. You could reach out and be a weeping willow.”

She hardly looked at me. She just was looking around and said out of the corner of her mouth, “And you could be a butt crack.”

We had a wonderful time hanging out at the zoo, petting the goats, eating slushies, enjoying the gibbons twice. Sara had to call us to see when we were coming home. We got to their house and Lola told me she didn't want me to come up the stairs with her, she could do it herself, which she did, knocking on the door just loud enough for Sara to hear her and come to the door. So grown up! Before I left I told Sara the butt crack story, and she almost couldn't believe it and then laughed wondrously. I remembered every part of the day so I could repeat it and savor it with Ann. I wrote my friend Lynn about her the other day and told her that Lola and I were in love. I'm not sure that's what you would call it, but my hope is she'll know what it is to be relaxed and have fun with a good friend who is a man, and she will look for this and not accept less.

I'd say we love each other. Butt crack notwithstanding.

Budd Shenkin