Progress update on assorted things

Let’s have a look now that we are eight months into this year of 2019:

  • World peace: Could be better, could be worse. Trump is still president, so likely to get worse.
  • Measles: on the rise, thanks to anti-vax paranoids. Thank you, Luddites and irrational fearmongers!
  • Global warming: We are doomed, pretty much.
  • Politics: Authoritarianism and despots on the rise, democracy ailing, even in places where it should be strong. This could change–but it could also change for the worse. See the first bullet point.
  • BC politics: The minority NDP government has proven adept and sane, boding well for the next election, though the general insanity of voters is always a worrying factor. It’s helped that the BC Liberals elected an out-of-touch rich white guy as their leader.

And my own list:

  • Meditation: Thought about it, but have yet to meditate. Before I can even begin, Pocket has already offered an article on the sinister side of meditation, where you apparently think tranquil thoughts about murdering people or something.
  • Stretching: Not really. A little here and there, but no concerted effort. This needs to be a higher priority unless I actually reverse the aging process.
  • Writing: The less said, the better. Which is how I’ve approached writing this year.
  • Drawing: I think about doodling. Then I never do it. But the doodles in my mind are great.
  • Reading: My pace is picking up again. If I stay at it, I may end up matching last year, which will be good.
  • Blogging: Generally running to catch up, as is the case this month where I’m tapping last minute inspiration to get to 31 posts before midnight.
  • Running: Doing more, and the runs are going well. I have yet to tackle a 10K this year, but will try to before we get fully into the fall weather.
  • Losing weight: It’s actually going down now. Yay.
  • Losing hair: Yes. Shaved head mutes the impact.
  • Legs: Still sexy.

Book review: The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy

The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy

The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy by Brian Klaas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oof.

For historical reference, this review was posted in August 2019. The book in question came out in late 2017, a little less than a year into Trump’s term as president of the United States. That means there’s been more than a year and a half of further events and actions to either bolster the case Klaas makes on how Trump is undermining democracy in America, or to provide evidence that Trump has “become” presidential and changed course.

Anyone who knows anything about Trump will know, of course, that the latter was never and is not a realistic scenario. Trump has no experience in government and in the time he has been president has shown little inclination to learn or improve, unless you count improvements on being a terrible person and a terrible leader.

This book is exhausting. Reading it is like getting punched lightly but continuously. It hurts but you go on, because the punching is bound to stop. But it never does.

In the short time span covered, Klaas documents all the horrible things Trump has said and done, underlining how just a few things have essentially kept America’s democracy intact for now–mainly by the grace of Trump’s incompetence and inexperience, and the still relatively strong (but weakening) bedrock that forms the democratic government the U.S. has had since 1776.

The problem, as Klaas points out, is that much of what holds U.S. democracy together, takes the form of political norms and traditions. Presidential candidates always release their tax returns. Presidents don’t profit from their presidency. Presidents don’t mollify dictators while attacking allies. But Trump doesn’t care about norms–he bulldozes through them, showing how fragile democracy is when it relies on people being innately good, or at least respectful of what government should be.

Klaas makes it clear that Trump is not the first president to engage in lies and work at tearing down important government structures, citing Nixon as the obvious modern go-to equivalent, but in comprehensive detail, he lays out how Trump is so much worse–and therefore, more dangerous.

All of this is compounded by America’s troubled history, something Trump has taken advantage of, choosing to divide and turn Americans against each other and the rest of the world. Klaas repeatedly shows how Trump is emulating despots both old and current, by assaulting the free press, by perpetuating damaging lies, by undermining trust in government institutions. The list–and examples–go on and on. As I said, it’s an exhausting read.

The book ends with four possible scenarios (remembering that this came out before the 2018 midterms in which a glimmer of hope was raised when the Democrats won back the House of Representatives), three of which result in things getting worse. The first suggests a slow decay of democracy, as people grow numb and then indifferent to Trump’s actions. The second offers the chilling scenario of a Trump 2.0 coming along and picking up from where Trump left off–but imagines the successor being much more intelligent, savvy, and able to appeal to a broad audience in a way Trump simply can’t, making this person far more dangerous. The third scenario offers Trump the opportunity to use some kind of large scale disaster or terrorist attack to provide cover for further draconian actions under the pretext of national security. George W. Bush’s popularity soared into the 90s following the 9/11 attacks. Trump’s popularity could hit the lofty heights of fifty percent! More seriously, a country under attack or ailing is more vulnerable, and a person like Trump could easily take advantage of that to peel away rights and freedoms.

The fourth scenario offers Trump as a virus, with people banding together to make a vaccine to fight back. This did come to pass in the 2018 midterms, and there is some evidence that it is still a process that is advancing and not retreating. Trump, through it all, has not changed.

In the end this book didn’t really offer me any new insights, but it did lay bare and in explicit detail just how thoroughly, through malice and incompetence, Donald Trump has carried on the work of chipping away democracy in America. Even if he does not get re-elected in 2020, the U.S. is looking at years or even decades to undo the damage already done.

It’s hard to recommend a book like this, but Klaas makes his points clearly. The only fault I can offer is the idea he has of working alongside your political adversaries to keep government functioning and healthy. Klaas states what seems obvious–the Democrats and Republicans can disagree on specific policies, but must work together to keep the institutions of government strong and healthy. In an ideal world this could happen, but the current incarnation of the Republican party has been taken over by extremists who are of much the same mind as Trump. Those who oppose Trump’s actions ineffectively offer criticism from the sidelines or say (and do) nothing at all, making them complicit and helping to enable Trump’s behavior.

If you still hanker for a primer on how Trump’s first year in power emulates the worst sort of authoritarian leader, The Despot’s Apprentice will provide everything you might need. You might want to start by choosing a palette cleanser to read after, though.

View all my reviews

WTF America

I would never discuss politics on Facebook.

I shouldn’t say never, actually. Probably never is more accurate. I might do it by accident or during a momentary lapse in judgment.

Why would I never discuss politics on Facebook? Because it’s like rolling over a big rock and discovering all the yucky bugs underneath, except the bugs are your FB pals and you never before realized they had political views you find daffy, baffling or downright infuriating. You wished you’d have just left that big rock alone.

But here on my blog I have my own peaceful little echo chamber. I almost never disagree with myself. Every big rock I roll over has  nothing more than rich, nutrient-filled earth under it, the stuff life happily springs from.

When I post on my blog I don’t have to face disappointment from yucky bugs or be tempted into fruitless arguments with people who I had previously found to be nice or sane.

Today’s topic is the U.S. election held on November 8, 2016. That was four days ago. American voters did a silly thing–they elected Donald Trump to be their next president. Just when I was ready to forgive them re-electing George W. Bush after they re-elected Obama, they go and do this.

Trump is a narcissistic bully, thin-skinned, sexist, racist, xenophobic and ignorant on basic facts about the world and his own country. He ran on a campaign of fear and hate, filled with ideas that were vague or terrible or unworkable or all of these things. He acted like a vulgar clown. He demonstrated over the course of a typically drawn-out campaign that he was singularly unfit for the office of the president. And yet he beat out 16 other Republicans to win their nomination. He beat Hillary Clinton (though not in the popular vote) and won it all.

The silver lining is that the vagaries of the loopy Electoral College meant that his victory was extremely narrow and tapped into a unique and fortuitous (for him) set of circumstances. He benefited from low voter turnout: only 50% of eligible voters cast ballots and of those, about 25% voted for Trump.

But these things are inconsequential to the fact that he did win.

Americans have made a venal manchild their next president and already we are seeing emboldened white men attacking minorities. The Ku Klux Klan is celebrating. This is happening because Trump’s hateful, racist rally cries have been legitimized by his victory.

Americans should be ashamed at what they have done to themselves–and to the world. The American people are better than this–or so we had imagined and hoped. The apathy of the tens of millions who didn’t vote must also be held up as shameful in a country that has always prided itself on the strength of its democratic institutions. They have, through their inaction, helped elect a person who doesn’t even know how many amendments the U.S. Constitution has. What sane person would find it to be a good thing to have such ignorance in a president?

I would like to hold out hope here but the best I can manage is that maybe Trump won’t be as terrible as feared. But even in that I see a downside, in that it would help normalize his awfulness and make it that much easier for him to win re-election.

In conclusion: WTF America.

 

Recap of the 2015 Federal Election at the 500 week mark

Summary: After the first 500 weeks of the 2015 federal election campaign, the race has tightened, with all three major parties nearly running neck and neck (and neck). I can only assume the crazification factor is behind the continued support for the Conservatives (the crowds at his campaign events may not be helping, either).

With another 600 or so weeks before election day there is plenty of time for one of these parties to move to the front of the pack and claim victory. Remember, Canada, don’t be stupid!

The highlight of the last week is probably Stephen Harper using the drowning death of a Syrian child refugee to underscore how important it is that we continue to bomb the hell out of everything because bombs fix things.

Other than that it was another week of candidates from various parties forced to drop out because they can’t stop saying appallingly stupid and/or offensive things on social media. I’m normally not that enthused about Facebook, Twitter et al but they have proven their worth by continuing to weed out those who should not be seeking public office.

Also, Trudeau keeps trying to make hay about the NDP and their policies toward Quebec/possible secession. Hint: NO ONE CARES. The Quebecois themselves do not care–look at the moribund support for the BQ, even with the return of party favorite Gilles Duceppe (the Firefox spelling checker wants to replace “Duceppe” with “Produce.” My browser is now offering political commentary).

Anyway, I’ll have another exciting summary somewhere around Week 900 or so.

Federal Election 2015: Long, terrible and depressing

I’m not going to offer incisive analysis of the ongoing federal election campaign. Here’s all you need to know:

  • It’s really long. Most Canadian federal election campaigns are five or six weeks long. This one goes on for an interminable eleven weeks because the Conservatives have lots of money to spend and, I don’t know, I guess maybe they figure the NDP, Liberals, Green Party and others will run out of money and the last three weeks will feature nothing but glorious, shining Conservative ads extolling the bright future of Harper’s Canada.
  • The Conservatives are horrible. Anyone knowingly, willingly voting for them is a fool. Don’t vote, fools. Stay at home and shout angrily at the TV instead. Speaking of which, this is my favorite wish-it-was-a-campaign-ad so far:

Context of angry Conservative supporter can be found here: Stephen Harper supporter hurls profanity at journalists over Duffy questions (The image I first saw in the Canadian politics discussion thread on Broken Forum).

I’ll report back with the results on October 19. Don’t make me an angry not-Conservative supporter, Canada!

Federal election 2011: Unclear on the concept

The two most striking things about the federal election so far are:

1) The strange surge in popular support for the NDP, especially in Quebec (see this poll as one example; note: for your own personal safety/sanity do not read the user comments)
2) The uniformly awful ads, which seem to be almost exclusively negative and regardless of affiliation, insulting to the intelligence

And speaking of ads (segue ahoy!) here’s an example of what I can only consider to be someone unclear on the concept. In general, I dislike businesses putting political ads in their windows. I don’t want nor need to know your politics if I’m just buying a loaf of bread or a pack of gum or whatever — even if we agree politically. But along Kingsway I have noticed a number of stores and restaurants with political ads slapped up for all to see. My favorite is featured in the window of Wing Shing, which is a fun name to say out loud, if nothing else:

On the left is a poster for the local Conservative candidate. To the right is a photo of the local Liberal candidate. The two parties aren’t exactly clones of each other in terms of platform so this seems a bit odd. Maybe both candidates shop there. Money is money, after all. I’d say the shopkeeper was trying to be inclusive but there are seven candidates running and I’m not seeing any posters for the NDP, Green, Libertarian, Communist or Marxist-Leninist party candidates (talk about splitting your [in some cases ultra] left wing vote). Maybe the Conservative and Liberal candidates have nice hair and the shopkeeper votes based on the niceness of hair. That may explain Don Davies’ absence. While he has done a fine job as the MP for Vancouver-Kingsway, his hair does weird me out a little.