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What would people say if Trump accidentally said, “God created the world six days ago”:

Press Corps: Did he really say that?

Pence: No, he didn’t say that.

Kellyanne Conway: His alternative God is the one true God.

The Religious Right: All our memories before six days ago are a test of our faith in the one true God.

Mika Brzezinski: Oh, not my God.

Joe Scarborough: This might be a superficial interpretation of events, but where the hell was his staff?

Trump: FAKE NEWS SO SAD

Sean Spicer: This has been blown way out of proportion. Sometimes it’s okay to disagree with the Bible.

Sean Hannity: Proof that Trump has been a powerful leader his entire life.

Man on the street wearing a Trump hat made in China: I love how he is sticking it to liberal theology professors.

Pro-Trump Troll: You elitist so called “smart” liberals can’t wrap your minds around Trump’s existentialist theology without your eggheads cracking.

Trevor Noah: (manic laughter) The way things are going, the end of the world will come just as quick.

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“Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader”

Matthew Qvortrup’s biography can get bogged down in the details of political gamesmanship, but is generally interesting. The key to Merkel’s successes seemed to be her tendency towards being pragmatic, incremental, and calm even during, perhaps especially during, a crisis. She rose incredibly fast after the reunification of East and West Germany, from a science professor fluent in Russian to Chancellor fluid in diplomacy. Her favorite tactic was apparently to let blustering men show their hand and then wait for the moment to counter punch (and sometimes sucker punch). While Bush was focused on the Middle East, she was the primary resistance leader against Putin.

She nearly ran her career aground when she took a stand on immigration based upon Christian principles, for she wasn’t just a scientist but grew up as the daughter of a pastor in an officially atheist East Germany. She believed in allowing in Syrian refugees despite the fear of the Other because “it is not masses that arrive but individuals. For every human being has the dignity which is given to him by God.” She may have had the support of business leaders dealing with a labor shortage, but the far right obviously rose against her and the far left had lost too many elections to her to be supportive.

In the background of her life were some interesting lessons. West Germany had reached the top of countries in per capita income, but when they absorbed East Germany dropped to eleventh, a lesson that the EU should have considered before bringing in Greece, Spain, and other less well developed nations. East Germany was poor because of ideological decisions and Greece was poor because of irresponsible decisions, but either way it had ramifications. Sharing a common currency without a stronger common government is very unwieldy.

Another interesting parallel between the Cold War and our times I discovered concerned how often the East German secret police intervened in West German elections. They liked digging out nasty secrets and releasing them at just the right time. The East German spies preferred to use these tactics in favor of conservative politicians; the louder the Cold Warrior the better as far as they were concerned. The more anti-Communist a West German politician was, the more the East German politicians could use their words for propaganda, showing to their own people that the West was a threat. But despite the shenanigans, West Germany survived to absorb East Germany because a capitalist democracy is a superior system even if individual leaders might be corrupt, morons, or both.

And so those are the lessons I’ve drawn from the life of the second most powerful German woman in the history of the world, after Princess Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, of course, better known by her widowed name Catherine the Great.

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The Legacy of Barack Obama

Michael D’Antonio’s book about the Obama Administration is an easy primer for anyone who wants to go into more detail when arguing with trolls about why Obama was a great President. He has separate chapters on all the big issues, explaining why Obama’s achievements were the best liberals could expect in the face of the GOP’s closed ranks and minds. He compares Obama’s promises to his successes, asserting that Obama kept as many promises as he could.

He also addresses two of the big beefs liberals have with Obama, that he didn’t do enough for gay rights and he didn’t close Guantanamo Bay. D’Antonio shows that Obama was vocal enough about gay rights to lose votes and worked behind scenes to support the gay rights case in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex equality. And while Obama was unable to close Guantanamo Bay, he did get the wheels of military justice rolling fast enough that each detainee had their day in court.

The last and shortest chapter is an amusing collection of false prophecies and accusations made by GOP politicians and conservative shock jocks desperately trying to slander the most scandal free President since Ike. At least they are funny until you consider how the conservative media convinced so many people that they are true despite reality to the contrary.

Louis Brandeis

The book I’m reading is more hagiography than biography, but Brandeis was a progressive lawyer and Supreme Court Justice and yet an opponent of FDR on several economic issues. Brandeis’ ideas about democracy are Jeffersonian, but it did not lead him in the direction of the Jacksonians.

His basic ideas are about sustainable democracy, and focus on two ideas. The first is that big corporations and big government are equally bad. Democracy and capitalism both need to be grounded in the local or lose touch with their voters, consumers, and workers. Big organizations can overwhelm individuals with brute force (no matter the form of force), so for democracy to continue there has to be equal bargaining positions. Unions allow workers to bargain as equals with managers, and NGOs like the ACLU allow individuals to stand up to their government. Yet, I would conclude, if a union is too big and powerful, its own management can lose touch with its members. So again, big is bad. “Too big to fail” could be a more recent example of why we shouldn’t allow particular corporations to be so big they become black holes for our economy, swallowing up investors’ money and government bailouts alike.

If someone reading this is a fan of Ayn Rand, I know she would argue that a worker and a manager should be able to argue as equal individuals without unions. However, Rand made two assumptions that have not panned out. The first is that employers would want to pay better workers more money, which has only turned out to be generally true in high stakes fields with a shortage of experts. The second is that employers are willing to use reason instead of power in their negotiations, which, as it turns out, also has severe limitations. In “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand was not describing how business people do behave, she was describing how she thought they should behave. That doesn’t mean they always do.

Brandeis other big idea is that education is vital to democracy. If people do not understand their own history, and I would argue many Americans do not, how can they avoid making the same mistakes? If people do not understand science, and I would argue many Americans do not, how can they cope with our changing future and shrug off the superstitions that promote discrimination against gays, women, and minorities?

Brandeis believes education is as much a private duty of citizenship as it is a public duty to children. If you have not educated yourself on the topics of the day, you have failed in your first obligation as a voter. A healthy democracy is also a meritocracy because the voters are well read.

I know many people are promoting the idea of schools simply as training facilities, where all students should learn is what they need to get a job, but reading William Du Bois’ essays I’ve learned that this educational philosophy is what the pre-Civil Rights South tried to impose upon African American schools. The whites only wanted blacks to know enough to be workers, and forget Latin, Greek, and advanced math, because if blacks became great lawyers, scholars, and politicians, those educated blacks would become the core of the resistance. In slavery days it was the death penalty in many states to teach blacks how to read, even if the book in question was “The Bible.”

Now I know that thousands of people only go to college so they can get a job as a lawyer, doctor, or engineer, but if their minds are not opened by exposure to the humanities and the history of oppression, they will have little more understanding of the need for civil rights, gay rights, or women’s rights than a high school dropout, and in many cases less because the higher you rise in our society the more you are protected by money. If you don’t believe me, just look at our voting statistics. Closing our minds from new ideas means closing us off from wider possibilities.

The full title of Jeffrey Rosen’s book is “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet,” which becomes a bit of a stretch as one reads. Brandeis predicted the Great Depression within two years and for reasons that also explain the Great Recession; unfortunately those reasons include standard conservative policies of excessive deregulation and tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class and corporate consolidation which is even worse now than then. Brandeis also predicted that technology would expand the government’s ability to spy on our lives, but sometimes he was just lucky because he’d misunderstood the science. He was also a Zionist, but he had hoped a future Israel would an agrarian, Jeffersonian democracy with full rights accorded to the Palestinians. He had read Hebrew history through the lens of the Enlightenment and thus misunderstood both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism.

In any event, he is one of the Justices most often referenced in later Supreme Courts on both sides of the ideological divide, so his influence is undeniable.

Robert E. Lee

I read a book called "The Making of Robert E. Lee" by Michael Fellman. I thought it would be about how Lee became a great general, but it was really about the making of Lee the icon. Lee became a paragon of Southern virtue because his father and grandfather had blown all their family's money and being the perfect gentleman and a talented military officer was how Lee maintained his social status. It was a hard effort, requiring lots of self control while his wealthier peers ran around doing what people usually do when they are born with too much money.

Then after the Civil War ended, the South needed a symbol to feel better about their defeat and to distract themselves from the moral contradictions and weaknesses of their society. So while Lee withdrew from society, the southern states put up statues of him everywhere, a daily reminder of how the South saw itself, while at night the KKK did the dirty work.

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I've been alternating between researching and writing an alternative history novel these last few weeks. An agent said she liked the broad scope and imagination, but I was making mistakes about people's daily lives. I've always focused on the big picture of history myself, not really caring if people wrote with pens or pencils, if they drank tea or coffee, but if it sells a book I'm willing.

I find myself torn about my life. I feel if I stay in America I can make more money, but I'll never find that special someone to have a family, but in Asia I could meet someone special, but probably won't make enough money to marry her.

“Death’s End” by Cixin Liu

I have no idea if Cixin Liu has ever seen an episode of “Star Trek,” but his “Death’s End” is quite the rebuttal of some basic philosophical premises of the show.

The physics premise of his novel is that the explanation for dark matter is that the reasons for the shortage of matter in the universe are the results of continuous interstellar warfare. This warfare has been so lethal on an evolutionary scale that species in the know keep the locations of their home worlds secret. Now there is warfare in “Star Trek,” but everyone knows where Earth, Vulcan, Romulus, etc., are, and in the end the premises of reason and peace allow the Federation to expand.

In “Death’s End,” there is no reasoning with the enemy, no quarter given, for everyone has weapons that make the Death Star look like amateur hour. The heroine, Cheng Xin, would be very comfortable on Picard’s “Enterprise,” but every time she makes a decision based upon peace or compassion the story proves her wrong. Love in her world is a beautiful mistake, while ambition and will to power are the stars to steer by.

Another difference between these two universes has to do with gender. In the “Trek” world, economic liberation has led to sexual liberation and women have become as strong as men, willing to die for the safety of Earth and honor of the Federation. In the “Death’s End” universe, the same technological prosperity has led to men becoming more effeminate, and when danger lurks people complain about the shortage of “real men” to defend humanity. Now I grant that Star Fleet might not be representative of humanity, since we meet very few Federation civilians in the shows, but I can only interpret the works in front of me.

In “Star Trek,” the truth usually wins out. Revealing the truth of any given matter usually leads to a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of conflicts. In “Death’s End,” major decisions are made without all the information, which is often not available until it is too late, and while there is truth available to the readers, the people in the book usually interpret events through the distorting lens of their emotional needs.

“Death’s End” plot is stretched out by Cixin Liu’s loyalty to physics. Since there is no faster than light travel, for Xin to remain our point of view character, she keeps going in and out of hibernation to see later stages in this warlike future history for which she is so emotionally unsuited. I shared her unease with the story’s events, but for different reasons. I suspect that the universe would be even more peaceful than “Star Trek,” since any civilization advanced enough for interstellar warfare wouldn’t need to go to war and that cooperation is as powerful an evolutionary engine as conflict. But it would be hard to create SF drama in a world with fewer problems than we have instead of more.

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Ode to A1C

by Paulliver

Chatting at a party
I have to pass on the brie
Because my A1C
Warns my blood is too sugary.

I’m staring at a menu
Passing on anything with bread.
I’m learning to like fish
Thanks to my A1C.

I sweat it out at the gym
So I don’t have to starve.
Carbs are worse than calories
So says my A1C.

I’m in the kitchen
Measuring out pasta
By the 1/3 cups
Thanks to my A1C.

Stores never offer coupons
For the food I should eat.
Thank God fruit
Is still guilt free.

I drink so much water
That I always have to pee.
But at least I’m finally taking care of me
Thanks to my A1C.

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Two for the Road

Last night I saw “Two for the Road,” one of the most interesting Aubrey Hepburn movies. It shows primarily four road trips across France by two people: the one in which they met, the one they took as newlyweds, the one they took with another middle class couple, and one they took as a rich couple. Cutting up, transposing, and alternating clips of the different trips allowed the director to show the ironies of how their relationship evolved in attitudes, economics, and desires. They have a rocky marriage, of course, or it wouldn’t be a dramatic movie, but the other marriages in the movie have issues of their own. The man is generally but not always a jerk and the woman is generally but not always sensible, but he did warn her that he would be a hard man to live with and she didn’t listen.

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Clinton v Trump Round Three

A remarkably civilized debate, during which I kept wondering, why do dissatisfied Republicans think Trump is a catalyst for change? The more he “stays on message” the more he sounds like an ordinary Republican politician. Same economic policies, same gun policies, same anti-feminist policies, same law and order policies. He leans towards isolationism concerning immigration and foreign policy, but lots of conservatives have. He only sounds different to liberals when he’s running off at the mouth with foul comments. So during most of the debate, Clinton defended standard liberal positions and Trump defended standard conservative positions, but I have a few points I’d like to make.

In the very first question, the moderator asked if we should treat the Constitution as a living document that changes or just accept what it says. I would have said, “Yes,” because I believe the writers of the Constitution did mean it to be a living document. The means of changing the Constitution are in the Constitution itself. The Ninth Amendment specifically says that there are more human rights that should be defended constitutionally than are listed in the Bill of Rights. The letters of the Founding Fathers show that they expected slavery to be democratically eliminated. Thus I deny the validity of the moderator’s question.

I agree with Trump that we don’t have the money to remain the world’s police without help from our allies, but Trump’s ideas sound too reckless. I am something of a fatalist on this issue. As long as American corporations are investing in China and American consumers are buying Chinese products, there is going to be a slow shifting of economic and thus political power from Washington to Beijing, just as there was from London to New York in the 19th Century. I don’t think we have the political will to do much other than soft land into a new balance of power in the Pacific, and it will take more diplomacy than Trump has shown. Of course, Beijing has problems of its own, with its pollution and corruption a growing drag on its own economy. Like my uncle has said, sometimes the winner is the person who makes the fewest mistakes.

Trump claims that tax cuts on the rich will lead to more jobs and more tax revenues. It was wrong when Reagan tried it and it was wrong when Bush tried it. This is because when the rich get a tax cut, there are lots of things they can do with it. They could buy bonds, loaning the money they didn’t pay in taxes back to the government for a profit. They could invest in foreign countries. They could invest in labor saving machines or invest in high tech industries that don’t employ very many people. All of these are, from their point of view, rational decisions to make, but they also mean “voodoo economics” doesn’t work.

I do think Trump was right that the big winner in Iraq is going to be Iran, but that was a risk the Bush Administration took throwing out Saddam’s secular dictatorship. The majority of Iraqis are in the same branch of Islam as Iran, so a democratic Iraq would be more sympathetic to Iran than they would be to the Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia. The Bush Administration wanted a “pro-American democracy,” but that desire has been a contradiction in American foreign policy for decades. A democracy’s duty is to its own people, so an Iraqi democracy is going to be pro-Iraqi. Ironically, our best chance for a friendly Iraq is to be more supportive of the democratic side of the equation, because then we will be earning their trust.

I think the funniest moment was when Trump said he would run America like our businesses, and I instantly thought of the 3500 lawsuits against him for shoddy business practices. He also accused the media of being dishonest but mostly what they do is just play his words and show video of him, which is damning enough.

Clinton’s best moment was comparing her last thirty years to Trump’s. Trump’s best punch was talking about money from Saudi Arabia, which probably has the worst human rights record of our allies.

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Paulliver

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