Not Talking About Trump

We haven’t spent a lot of time on this blog talking about Trump. I can’t speak for Jamil, but in my case, there are plenty of reasons why I don’t write much about him. The primary reason is that I find Trump detestable and repulsive. I’d rather write about things I like than things I hate. I’m also not sure what I have to add to the conversation. Anyone who’s paying the least bit of attention knows that Trump’s a horrific president and a terrible excuse for a human being. I’d just be repeating the same things everyone else is saying. But I have this nagging feeling that I should be talking about him. I decided I should look into that and try to decide if the feeling is worth listening to.

What is it that happens if I talk about Trump and what happens if I don’t talk about Trump? Realistically there isn’t much of a difference. It’s not like I have a major platform or following. My best posts only reach a few dozen people. And I’m pretty positive that those people already agree with me on most issues. So it’s not like I’m changing anyone’s mind by talking. I suppose talking about Trump could be therapeutic on some level. Although that’s balanced by the trauma that is avoided by staying quiet. The one thing I’m sure talking does is signal to my in-group that I’m part of the club. Likewise, being quiet might leave it ambiguous what group I’m part of. I’m sure that’s not where my feeling comes from, though. I’ve always been comfortable being a loner and never really tried to fit in. So it’s not anything that my talking might do.

It might be peer pressure. People in progressive circles like to say things like, “Being silent is being complicit.” I think that’s where the feeling that I should be talking about Trump comes from. I’m constantly being told to speak up. I don’t want to be complicit. So I better say something. I’m not sure that line of reasoning holds up to scrutiny, though.

How does being silent make a person complicit? The only way that really makes sense is to mean that by being silent, you are allowing something bad to happen. And by allowing something bad to happen, you become at least partly responsible for that bad thing. That’s fine in and of itself, but it assumes that you have the power to prevent the bad thing from happening. That’s a problem. Most people do not have the kind of power, in most situations, that can stop bad things from happening just by speaking up.

In those few situations where a person has the power to speak up and change something, of course they ought to do it. But for most of us, those situations are confined to parenting or our jobs, not issues of national and international importance. I could talk for ages about how bad Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is, but it will have literally no impact as to whether he is approved by the Senate or not. How can I be complicit in something that I cannot affect? And how does saying something completely ineffectual clear my guilt? It’s like saying that those, “Don’t blame me, I voted for. . .” bumper stickers actually have the power of absolution.

After giving it some thought, the feeling that I should be talking about Trump probably isn’t a feeling I have to pay attention to. I’d rather do the things that can actually make a difference. Things like letting my Senators, Representatives, Governor and Mayor know what I think about the issues. Things like voting, in both the primaries and the regular election. Things like teaching my daughter right from wrong. These are things that are in my power, in most people’s power. Therefore, these are the things we ought to be doing.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why people do talk about Trump that have nothing to do with complicity. I think it’s mostly to make themselves feel better. If it works for you, then go for it. Just realize that those people who choose to keep quiet instead are not blameworthy. We all just have different ways of dealing with things. And I promise that if my situation changes, if my voice somehow gets amplified, if I become influential, I’ll get over my reticence and start talking about Trump. Until that happens, I might talk about him and I might not. We’ll have to see if the mood strikes me.

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If I Fell

Lyrics don’t normally matter to me. I barely even notice them. But one set of lyrics I find myself thinking about quite a bit is “If I Fell” by The Beatles:

If I fell in love with you
Would you promise to be true
And help me understand
‘Cause I’ve been in love before
And I found that love was more
Than just holding hands

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you would love me more than her

If I trust in you oh please
Don’t run and hide
If I love you too oh please
Don’t hurt my pride like her

‘Cause I couldn’t stand the pain
And I would be sad if our new love was in vain

So I hope you see that I
Would love to love you
And that she will cry
When she learns we are two
‘Cause I couldn’t stand the pain
And I would be sad if our new love was in vain

So I hope you see that I
Would love to love you
And that she will cry
When she learns we are two
If I fell in love with you

The reason I find it so fascinating is there are two possible interpretations.

The different possibilities arise from the use of the word “her” at the end of the second and third stanzas. The obvious interpretation is that the narrator is afraid that this relationship might end up like his last relationship. But that interpretation relies on bad grammar. “Her” is properly used as an object. “She” is properly used as a subject. So “she” acts and “her” is acted upon. Most people hear the line, “That you would love me more than her,” and assume that she would love him more than his ex loved him. It seems reasonable, but if that were the case, the line should be, “That you would love me more than she.” It happens again in the next stanza. “Don’t hurt my pride like her,” sounds like it should mean don’t hurt my pride like my ex hurt my pride. But, again, to be correct for that interpretation, the line would have to be, “Don’t hurt my pride like she.”

However, if you leave the word “her”, the song still makes sense. But instead of the narrator worrying that this relationship will wind up like his last relationship, it is the narrator wondering if his new girlfriend is going to treat him as badly as she treated her ex girlfriend. If “her” is left alone and assumed to be grammatically correct, the line, “That you would love me more than her,” is a way of saying that the narrator’s new girlfriend didn’t really love her ex girlfriend. And , “Don’t hurt my pride like her,” is the narrator asking his new girlfriend not to hurt his pride like she hurt her ex girlfriend’s pride. It works without any substitutions.

Which interpretation should we favor? I think that just comes down to personal preference. But I like the second, grammatically correct interpretation better. For one, it’s what the lyrics actually say, and that’s usually the best way to interpret a text. But, it also makes the song wildly progressive for 1964. Looked at this way, it is a song about a guy, his bisexual girlfriend and her lesbian ex. At that point in time, parents were afraid of The Beatles because of their long hair. Imagine if the parents knew what they were really singing about.

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Tennis is one of my favorite sports. It is also as international as a sport can get. Unfortunately, that means that most of the big tournaments are not played on the east coast of the United States, so it is hard for me to watch. I can usually watch part of the weekend matches, but I’m either at work or asleep during the week. This year, though, I was home sick on Friday, so I got to watch an extraordinary match. It was the men’s semifinal at Wimbledon between John Isner of the United States and Kevin Anderson of South Africa. The first three sets all went to tiebreakers. Anderson won the fourth set 6 to 4. So it came down to a decisive fifth set. There are no tiebreakers in the final set at Wimbledon (or at the French and Australian Opens). Anderson wound up winning the fifth set 26 to 24.

The match lasted six and a half hours. That’s more than double the typical length of a tennis match. It was riveting. It was some of the tensest, most exciting sports I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. As a fan, I was hoping it would keep going. I’m just lucky to have been able to see it.

I was able to watch most of the men’s and women’s finals over the weekend (Congratulations to Kerber and Djokovic, by the way). The announcers kept talking about the men’s semifinal. And all they kept talking about was how they had to change the rules to implement a tiebreaker in the fifth set at Wimbledon. Their big takeaway from one of the best matches I’ve ever seen was that we need to change the rules so that kind of match can’t happen again.

I was struck by the disconnect between the fans’ point of view and the professionals’ point of view. From the fans’ point of view, more of the thing they love is good. For the professionals, the players and commentators and coaches, it’s almost like being stuck working overtime. They just want to be home at a reasonable hour.

John McEnroe was probably the most vocal proponent of the rule change. And one of the things he kept saying was that it would be good for the fans if they implemented a fifth set tiebreaker. He just doesn’t get the fans at all. One of the biggest reasons we watch sports is because at any moment, you might see something that no one has ever seen before. The rule change would limit those possibilities. And tennis fans all over the world would be poorer for it.

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I’m Sorry, but I Love Led Zeppelin

A few days ago, my esteemed colleague Gene Glotzer wrote a post about his dislike for Led Zeppelin. We’d talked about it before, so it wasn’t news to me when he published it (what I actually learned was that none of you check the authors on these articles, based on how many people asked me how I could dislike Zeppelin). All of his reasons are completely valid, but I still can’t help it. I love Led Zeppelin. It may just be because Zeppelin was the first classic rock band I’d seriously listened to. I’d heard music from Journey and the Rolling Stones in commercials and stuff, but Physical Graffiti was the first classic rock album I listened to from beginning to end. I listened to Ten Year’s Gone when I was pining for high school crushes. I danced to Houses of the Holy.

The one critique that sticks with me the most are the charges of plagiarism. Those charges are 100% true, but I don’t really think about them. When I think about Robert Plant stealing Black people’s music, I think about Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley stealing Black people’s music, too. And I think about our music being stolen by clowns like Post Malone today. And I think about how white people have stolen from Black people in this land every single day for 399 years. So I conveniently forget those charges to spare myself that thought.

I openly admit that I don’t know enough about rock music to know if Zeppelin is objectively good- maybe the Ramones are more technically sound or something. But I like their music, and I think I’m overdue for another listening session of The Rain Song.

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Reputational Risk

I like to watch live sports. One of the drawbacks of watching live sports is you’re kinda stuck watching the ads. Two ads running a lot lately are for Wells Fargo and Facebook, and they are basically the same ad. They say, “We screwed up. We might have lost your trust. But, trust us, we’re better now. Please don’t leave.” That’s not an exact quote from either ad, but it gets the gist. Clearly these ads are an attempt by both companies to mitigate damage to their reputations. But, every time I see the ads, I can’t help but wonder why they bother.

Reputational Risk is something companies spend a lot of time worrying about. And that’s mostly a good thing. It’s what got Roseanne taken off the air and Kevin Spacey fired from his show. Wikipedia defines Reputational Risk as, “a risk of loss resulting from damages to a firm’s reputation, in lost revenue; increased operating, capital or regulatory costs; or destruction of shareholder value, consequent to an adverse or potentially criminal event even if the company is not found guilty.” But how often does a company actually suffer losses due to a bad reputation?

Do you remember a company called Exxon? They were an oil company who had a tanker crash, causing one of the most public environmental disasters in history. Of course you remember them, because they simply found the loose change to pay the fines in their couch cushions and went on to become the world’s richest company for a while. Think that’s a fluke? Try looking up BP.

How about AIG? They were the largest insurance company in the world. Then, they took a huge chunk of the blame for the 2008 financial crisis. Then, they continued being the largest insurance company in the world.

Volkswagen is my favorite. Never mind the fact that this company was Hitler’s brainchild. And after World War II, they didn’t even feel the need to change their name. More recently they developed a way to cheat the sensors on emissions tests. They then marketed the cars with this cheat as “clean diesel” to try to appeal to green minded people. They sold a lot of cars before it was exposed. Yet they are still vying with Toyota to be the world’s largest automaker.

Google was stealing private data from people’s home Wi-Fi. They claimed it was an accident, which doesn’t even make any sense. Then, they continued to be the most visited website in the world generating billions in ad revenue.

It would be easy to blame the people for not caring. If ruining the world economy isn’t enough to get people to change insurers, what is? But I don’t actually blame people. I think it is a failure of the regulators. We need some good old fashion trust busters. Reputational Risk is actually a big deal for small companies. Bad word of mouth can ruin them. But being too big to fail makes a company’s reputation irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how upset we get at these companies. Only governments have the power to do anything to them that will hurt. And governments just don’t seem to care.



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The Best Weekend of the Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s ConnectiCon!

Today, I’m going to put aside all the stress and anxiety, all the worries about politics and the future, all the concerns about money and dating, and nerd all the way out. I’m going to panels. I’m buying merchandise. I’m meeting up with friends I haven’t seen since last year’s ConnectiCon. I’m going to veg out in front of videogames for hours on end.

Then I’m going over to the Food Truck Festival and eating the fattiest, greasiest, least healthy food I can find. I want to eat something that will literally take minutes off my life. I don’t care if it drips down my chin and onto my shirt and makes a total mess. I’ll be pigging out on the waterfront several times today. I’ll try to work some of it off with a Lime Bike ride with Gabe, but I’m doing that because he’s interested, not because I want to burn calories. No worries today.

And THEN I’m going to watch the fireworks tonight. This is the way that we celebrate Gabriel’s birthday- ConnectiCon is always the weekend after his birthday, and this year he has tons of money to spend on whatever he wants. Why am I writing this? I need to go get ready!

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A Summer Cold

I already wrote about how much I hate the summer. Now I have a cold in the summer. It makes everything I already hate about summer even worse. Since I promised a post a day for the month of July, but I feel really crappy, I figured I cop out and just write myself a sick note. I’m going to bed now. Of course, it sure would be easier to sleep if it were winter.

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Whatever happened to Generation X?

Remember all those awesome Pepsi commercials from the 90’s about Generation Next? Some were definitely better than others, but they all had the cumulative effect of making me think that Generation X was the coolest group of hip twentysomethings to ever walk the planet.

Believe it or not, that was twenty years ago. All of those twentysomethings are now fortysomethings. I’m friends with a bunch of them- regular ass people going to work, paying bills, and not drinking all that much Pepsi honestly. Of course, our media’s obsession with youth meant that eventually they would age out of the spotlight (and it’s even beginning to happen to us millennials now that we’re creeping up the thirtysomething ladder). But even in the midst of America trying to figure out why millennials are such homicidal maniacs, there’s a lot of attention that still gets paid to Baby Boomers. We talk about their retirement, their voting patterns, and they seem to simply not want to go away. Meanwhile, we almost never talk about Gen X.

I don’t have any data to back this up, because data collection takes time and money (read: someone fund me to post half-baked ideas on my blog), but I think Gen Xers got caught in a really awkward time. The recessions of the 2000’s have basically destroyed the hopes of most millennials to ever have anything but work and crushing debt for the rest of our lives. While that realization sucks, we were fortunate that those events happened right at the beginning of our adult lives. We could come to terms with the darkening landscape and our future as contract employees forever.

Gen Xers were right in the middle of their adult lives when the world they were promised began to unravel. They looked at their parents and their homes, cars and 401Ks, and built their lives under the assumption that those things would be theirs too. And they were on track until the dot-com bubble burst, and then the housing bubble burst, and we all learned the truth: nothing rises forever, and eventually someone had to pay for all of the outrageous wealth generated during the 80’s and 90’s. That burden is falling on us.

Gen X is now forced to work endlessly to maintain the things they had right before the downturn began. It’s hard to be cool and hip and loud when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and you’re embarrassed about your struggles. Gen X is especially torn between the expectations of their parents to succeed in exactly the same way they did, and the economic reality of millennials where such success is basically impossible.

Those Pepsi commercials remain burned in my memory, so I’ll always look up to Gen X as this cutting edge group of people who were going to change the world, even as it’s apparent that they weren’t really given the opportunity to. The Boomers have refused to let go of the reigns, and the millennials are trying to wrest control away from them. And in the middle are the Pepsi drinkers, too burdened to make any noise.

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I’m Sorry, But I Just Don’t Like Led Zeppelin

This is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while now. I don’t like Led Zeppelin. I never have. This shouldn’t be noteworthy. There are tons of bands I don’t like. But, for some reason, everyone assumes I do like Led Zeppelin. People who find out that I love music as much as I do are regularly starting conversations about Led Zeppelin with me. I’m polite, but I always wish we could be talking about something else. So, I thought maybe I should get out in front and publicly state my feelings and maybe people will stop talking to me about them.

I should start by saying that I am aware that all four members of the band are technically proficient. That’s not saying much, though. Virtually all records that get released on real labels are technically proficient. While they are technically proficient, I don’t enjoy the way they play. Robert Plant’s voice is whiney and annoying. I don’t like John Bonham’s and Jimmy Page’s feel. John Paul Jones is fine, I guess.

What it mostly comes down to is that Led Zeppelin is the whitest band I’ve ever heard. They have no funk and they have no soul. It makes what they do dull. The last thing I want out of music is boring, but they bore me.

Then there are all the non-musical reasons I don’t like them. The biggest of which is that they stole almost their entire repertoire. And I don’t mean that they covered a bunch of songs. I like cover songs. I mean that they claim to have written all these songs that were clearly written by other people. Other British acts, like the Beatles, Stones and Clapton, did a ton of covers, but they always credited the originals. They wouldn’t shut up about how much they loved Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Motown. Zeppelin acts like they invented music and nothing that came before impacted them in any way. Then, when they do these covers that are not acknowledged as covers, they are invariably worse than the originals.

Anyway, I just wanted to get that out there. I’d be happy to talk about music with anyone. Just please, can we talk about anyone other than Zeppelin? I’d really appreciate it.

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The Press Is Really Bad

A free press is supposed to be one of the necessary ingredients in a free society. It is how the citizens can make informed choices and hold the elected officials accountable. That sounds nice, but a free press only gets us part way there. We are currently experiencing a lot of the problems that a free press is supposed to protect us from. The thing is, the problems aren’t happening because the press isn’t free. They are happening because the press isn’t good at their job. I don’t want to single out any specific press outlets. These are problems with the press as a whole. Some might be better and some might be worse, but none of them are good.

The problems can be narrowed to a few broad categories. First, there is too much news. This problem started with the beginning of CNN and has continued to get worse. One of the functions of a good press is to act as a filter. No one has the capacity to know everything that happens. The press has to make judgements about what is important and what isn’t. They don’t make judgements anymore. They just report everything. And I mean everything. Every news source has stories about everything from Hollywood to Sports to Local Stories to National Politics to Science and anything else you can think of. It’s not prioritized in any way, it’s all just vomited out there. No one can take it all in, so people revert to consuming what they always consume and ignore most of what’s out there. The press needs to start exercising judgement so that as many people as possible see the important stories.

Next, there is no real interpretation happening. There are two types of new organizations out there. One is partisan and one tries to be objective. The partisan ones are just cheerleaders for whichever side they prefer. There’s only one interpretation possible for them. Our guys are good and their guys are bad. It’s not helpful. The ones that try to be objective might be even worse, though. In the interest of being fair, they just report what each side says about a news item. But, not everything has two or more legitimate sides. Climate change is real. Including a climate change denier in a report on climate change isn’t being fair to anyone. It’s misleading and confusing. The press has to realize that most people are not experts in science or law or tax codes or most of the things the press is reporting on. If we don’t get some interpretation, we don’t know what to think. Hearing opposing sides argue with each other doesn’t help.

Third is the thing that gets talked about the most, money. The press is no longer looked at as a noble profession with standards and ethics. It’s just a cash cow. The end goal is to generate revenue. There has always been a tension in the press between telling the stories that need to be told and making money, but we have swung way to the making money side of things. It changes the stories we hear and makes us all less informed.

There are no easy answers for how to fix things. It is a free press after all. They can do what they want. But we have to stop settling for a free press and demand a good press.

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