Deepfake Mythology

Yes, impeachment has become cheap. I think the Clinton impeachment set the tone. Mind you, he was a cretin, but still.

There’s an interesting trend in science fiction having to do with super-intelligence… in humans, not machines. The template was a wonderful novella (or novelette, no idea, not looking it up) called Understand. Highly recommended. His approach became the standard for movies like Limitless.

The premise is there’s a drug which increases the dendritic density of the brain. Blah blah blah. The end result is hyperintelligence.

In some of these stories, they end up running for office. Maybe that’s what we need. Someone who can play five moves ahead of everyone in the country.

But until then, anti-trust on FB. Break up the social media universe into many small bits. I believe that government needs a balance of anti-trust and regulation. You can have either one very heavily and the other light, or you can do both. I think that’s what it needs. It’s bad to do neither.

Also some kind of thought given to algorithm control. Same problem with facial recognition or any of those algorithmically driven businesses. One approach is to deny proprietary rights, like patents (I’m sure I’m using the words wrong) to algorithms. If they were totally open, we could break them apart and look inside… or pay someone to, anyway. We have as little insight into algorithms as we do into biology, which is why both of those things are lousy areas for Free Markets. You can’t have a free market if the thing being marketed is incomprehensible.

That’s why Hayek needed to come up with a Wisdom of Crowds philosophy. He knew that markets fail when the buyer is ignorant. So he figured out how the buyer wasn’t ignorant… in the aggregate.

Of course, I’m not an aggregate, I’m just me, so I’m fucked when shopping for medical care. Or algorithms.

Even if one buys the Wisdom of Crowds argument, which is perfectly good for things of which people have some understanding, like how many jelly beans are in that jar, it is also true that Crowds are cretinous. They can adopt a falsehood as quickly and easily as anything else. In fact, what a Crowd believes has more to do with how “sticky” the narrative is than with how “true” it is. Boring truths but exciting lies, is what drives the world.

Due to FB’s recent changes in its algorithm, someone can put out some crazy shit, get 10k followers or likes or whatever, right away. If they just did it for kicks and didn’t really believe it before, they believe it now. And they evangelize. Stickiest ideas win.

[Side Note: I believe Qanon started this way, by evolutionary algorithms. Plug in a few thousand notions into FB in robotically generated accounts, they get tried out and stickier ones proliferate. Less sticky one die out and are never heard of again. It’s like a deepfake mythology. If there’s a takeway from this whole email, it’s those words.]

As you know, our memories are faulty. We believe things that didn’t happen, remember things that we never saw. Our mind is a fucking mess, but perfectly functional on a day to day level.

You can’t sell a political platform on a premise of, You don’t know how to think right, people are taking advantage of that, we want to protect you. That would just be insulting.
So we need a government that is, to a degree, paternalistic, much like Behavioral Economics was, sort of. When Medicare Part D was set up, under Bush II, it gave citizens a choice of plans. It was totally clear which plans were better for whom, but we were given choices. Which choice would be first on the list? It’s well known that people preferentially pick the top choice. It would have been easy and fair and right to put the best choice first, but let people pick another one. Instead, the Bush II administration decided they should make it random. So, picking the way people are known to pick, most people would pick the wrong program for themselves. They couldn’t possibly be “educated consumers” unless they had medical degrees. And “experts”, those foul creatures, were not allowed to help; they were thwarted. It’s just not fair.

The Magic of Illusion!

We all think that what we experience during our waking hours is the World. This is called naive realism. I could link to Wikipedia for this, but I’ll let Googling be an exercise for the reader.

The gist is we see stuff, we think stuff, we don’t ask too many questions. In some corner cases, such as hallucinations, we may have good reason to question what we see, hear, and think. Other than that, it’s taken as given, and it works pretty well. We see a crack in the sidewalk, we avoid it because we might trip and hurt ourselves. We look at our plate and decide what we want to eat.

Our thoughts do interfere with our perceptions of things. We stereotype people and may see them in different ways depending on our preconceptions. We may cross the street to avoid a scary empty house, and have no good reason to do that but have a feeling in our gut. The house is just a house, but we have a network of thoughts and memories having to do with empty houses, with childhood stories, with imagining who might be in it, even if we don’t see anything.

That’s one level where our perception is not purely seeing and dealing with the fact of the material world in front of us, but is brightly colored and lit by our thoughts that might be completely wrong or inapt to the situation.

There are scientists (here’s a link to an interesting presentation) who go further, and say that what we are not actually perceiving the world with our senses directly at all, but it all gets processed by our brain’s operating system, and that what we experience in our conscious minds is an artifact of that operating system. That it has much less to do with the actual world than we’d like to think.

Important note—None of this has anything to do with intelligence. You could have the most impressive ability to process data, to retain information, and also have your perceptions heavily colored by your mental life. Someone might be a brilliant and very successful businessman or lawyer and yet see the world through a scrim of illusion. They may see numbers on a spreadsheet with perfect accuracy, but see the reality behind those numbers in a way very different from someone else.

It is a truism that a lawyer’s job is to tell a story. They have many facts in front of them and, like a Tarot card reader, make up a story incorporating all the facts. If the story has narrative juice, that makes it compelling. Does it have a hero with believable motivations? Are the obstacles facing them shown in the evidence? Is there a satisfying resolution? All these make a story sticky where a list of facts would be nearly impossible to remember.

How do you remember the alphabet if you’re in pre-school? You sing it. A pattern of notes is imposed on it, you find rhymes, and that makes it memorizable. So the lawyer who crafts the better story wins the case. They may have to run the facts through a process like an audio equalizer, where you adjust all the various tones and pitches until you get just the sound you want. Anyone who has ever participated in a story-telling event, like The Moth, knows this process. Life doesn’t often present us with great stories. A story is a synthetic thing, crafted out of events in order to produce the desired effect in an audience. Great storytellers may do this intuitively; the rest of us work hard at it, with mixed effect. I’ve been to, and told stories at, a number of Moth events, and it is remarkable how some people—people with the most ordinary lives—manage to tell amazingly wonderful stories. And there are plenty of examples of people who have lived through amazing events, can only tell fairly boring stories about them.

This process of telling stories, and of running the facts of life through an equalizer in order to produce memorable stories, happens all the time in our brain. As we exist and move through our days, we hear a narrative in our head. That phenomenon is called the Left-Brain Interpreter (LBI). Here’s an article I could understand, and I’m no neuro-anything. Our LBI produces post-hoc rationalizations for our instinctive actions, and we seize on that narration as the “reason” we did something. I think we kid ourselves if we think that reason is at all real. Actually, I think consciousness is, if not a complete and total illusion, than an intermittent thing, only sparking up every once in a while, and when it is alive, feeding us lies.

I believe that what we do when we meditate is to quiet down the jabbering of our LBI and make an attempt (however feeble!) to perceive as best we can without mediation. Of course, what we might be perceiving (see above) is artifacts generated by our brain’s operating system, but still, the mental state we labor to invoke via meditation may be the closest we can get.

Okay, why is this interesting? Aside from, consciousness and thoughts and human behavior are interesting.

My prior post was about Kenin Spivak’s letter to Columbia Magazine. It caught my eye because he graduated from the same school (Columbia College) in the same year (1977) that I did. I didn’t know him—he graduated in three years (I took the usual four), he was pre-law (I was Physics with some Medieval Studies courses and a lot of theater), and he did law school and business school in three years, simultaneously (I think this was an actual program, so maybe not quite the miracle I thought at first… still, pretty impressive!).

So, you know, smart. Driven. Energetic. Ambitious. And smart, very very smart.

Yet this letter is borderline loony. See my previous post for details. And it made me wonder what’s going on in his head?

Here’s my thinking. He was, apparently, conservative back in 1977-80 in Law School. So he didn’t come to it as an adult. He is at home in that world. Friends, family, colleagues presumably. He (I’m guessing here but he does live in Beverly Hills) plays golf with conservatives. They smoke cigars and drink fantastic single-malt whisky at lavish private clubs (I’m not criticizing! Anytime they want to invite me I’ll go and have a whiskey and cigar with them… after I get my COVID vaccination).

Now let’s zoom out for a panoramic view. There was a time when Democrats had a firm hold on Congress, by historical alliance with racist Dixiecrats in the South. Then came LBJ and Civil Rights legislation and those Dixiecrats got angry. Republicans (Nixon) saw an opening and took it. Those Dixiecrats became Republican, and that created what we now see as the 50/50 government. It also removed any incentive for Republicans to cooperate with Democrats, which they used to do, and which older Democrats (Biden) recall as the good old days when you could reach across the aisle and get things done.

It doesn’t take a degree in game theory to see how that was no longer a necessary strategy for Republicans in Congress. Now that they could win more elections and take over Congress, thanks to their co-opting of the Southern vote, incentive to cooperate vanished like the snows of yesteryear. That cooperation Biden remembers fondly was not due to some wonderful nostalgic comity, but rather it was their only route to getting anything they wanted. Now they have another, better route, they’re taking it. Perfectly reasonable.

But there were other potential voters on the table. For starters, there were Black voters, Hispanic voters, women, young people. These had traditionally been low-turnout voters, but natural Democratic constituents. Obama’s election turned out many who had no or sporadic history of voting. This gave an edge, a small one and maybe one totally dependent on Obama, to Democrats.

But they, it seems were not the only voters available. There were the famous Working-Class White voters. Not to mention disaffected groups who never saw the Government doing anything that benefited them (even, of course, as they and their parents received Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits… well, never mind) because there were people out there they didn’t like and the Government wasn’t doing anything about that! And the American myth of the majestic individual has a powerful draw.

Among those disaffected groups were the classic American Racists—John Birchers, Klansfolk, neo-Nazis, and all their brethren and sistern.

Now, here’s a puzzler—If you’re an old-line Republican, devoted to the cult of the Tax Cut and lower regulation and the myth that your contract with your workers is an agreement reached by equals after a fair negotiation, and suddenly you look to your left and your right and you see Nazis and Klansmen, what do you do?

You could jump up in horror and say, This isn’t for me anymore. Any club that would have these monsters isn’t a club I want to be in! But it’s hard—all your friends and family are still there, and there’s a tremendous social cost to leaving the tribe. We see this with young people who leave the Satmar Hasidic sect. They lose everything and they’re barely trained to deal with the modern world.

So you don’t leave. What else can you do? You can fight to exclude them. That’s hard, too, because now you depend on their votes. And the longer you do nothing, the harder it is to do anything. After all, why did you tolerate them for so long?

You could just ignore them. Whatever…

But if you’re a thinking person, that’s hard too. So you make excuses. You put them through your Mental Equalizer. You tweak them subtly so they’re just harmless clowns. If one of them is actually violent, well, they’re mentally ill.

You also need to balance it out. After all, if all the horrible people are on your side, what does that say about you? So if you don’t fight to get rid of them and you don’t ignore them, you need equally terrible people on the other side so you can engage in whataboutism and distraction.

It’s about turning beams into motes and motes into beams, basically.

If you’re on the right, and sitting with Nazis, who can you point to on the Left? Don’t ask me, I don’t know. But if you’re Kenin Spivak, esq., it’s “anarchists.” I find this a particularly inapt scare term, because Republicans also consider Democrats the party of Big Government. Anarchists, of course, want to do away with government altogether, at least if you go by the name. But you have to find a scary enough word. I would have thought Communists would do it, because I suppose there are actual Communists out there in the wild, but they want nothing to do with Democrats either. So he says the Democrats “appease” anarchists.

It’s very weird. On the other hand, he’s a storyteller, though not a great one. He has credit for co-writing a book, a thriller (fictional) about, I believe, Canadian pharma being sent to the US? Something like that… I believe (I haven’t read it, I did read a couple of reviews) it was intended to scare people away from cheaper Canadian pharmacies and rely instead on the wildly overpriced American drugs. Anyway, I never heard of it until I looked it up.

I actually believe that he believes, on some level, in scary anarchists who want to destroy the nuclear family, rather than just people who have alternative family structures and don’t want to be denigrated or denied benefits available to other, more standard, families.

Or maybe it’s not a firm belief but a narrative that he has found useful at the Beverly Hills Country Club bar. I don’t know, I’ve never met him. I hope to, one day, and have a cigar and a whiskey while we talk about Alma Mater. And scary anarchists.

Smart guy, nutty letter…

So I get my new issue of Columbia (Winter 20/21) and took a look at the letters. There was an article in the previous issue that was pretty lame, actually, along the lines of “why can’t we get along” with the Red/Blue divide. I skimmed it, but thought I’d look at the letters it engendered. Okay, the usual… wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along, we can’t possibly get along… that kind of thing.

Then I get to a quite long letter from the Right flank, from a certain Kenin Spivak, from my school and my year (CC77). He finished his BA in three years, and then got his business and law degrees at the same time over the next three years! Very impressive. Also, his address is Beverly Hills, and I rather doubt we’re talking about the flats of Beverly Hills (i.e., the cheap part… well, relatively cheap) or a Beverly Hills post office box. I expect we’re talking about the Good Parts. The parts where you don’t want to be a pedestrian because you’ll be stopped by the police… or a brown-colored driver in any kind of car.

I wondered if I ever met him. I was a Physics major and never had the most impressive work ethic (I think I pulled two all-nighters in four years; I still regret them), so I’m sure I never hung out with a driven, ambitious pre-law student. I doubt he was in the Columbia Players or Barnard Gilbert & Sullivan, which was my social circle. He probably was in the Sachems and the Nacoms, the group of high-achieving strivers. Basically, Columbia’s version of Skull and Bones, I guess, though I was never in either one so who knows. For all I know, they had a soup kitchen. Doubt it, though.

What struck me as odd were his many references to anarchists; he says it 4 or 5 times. Anarchists who want to destroy the nuclear family. Anarchists who seek the violent overthrow of the government (ironic, now). Anarchists who oppose Democracy (also kind of ironic at this point). Anarchists who are appeased by the Democrats, so Democrats become terrorists-by-proxy, of course.

I’m looking around and thinking, Anarchists? Really? Where? Terrifying! Is it like anarchists at the turn of the 20th century, who were scruffy and unshaven and carried bombs that were shaped like cannonballs, with fuses? Interestingly, those anarchists were branded as being predominantly Jewish. Like Mr. Spivak, esq.

I see he also goes on about the specter of cancel culture, which “…directly threaten(s) the safety and welfare of nearly every American.” I think he should really have a chat with Ross Douthat, a fellow (not to me, to Spivak) conservative, who wrote a really cogent editorial about cancel culture. I recommend it.

Spivak sounds batty to me, and I really have to wonder about the specter of these unnamed anarchists. Like many, primarily on the Right, he seems to have created a Fantasy Enemy. This Enemy’s existence is vital, because it allows Spivak to vote to, say, lower his own taxes and regulations on his business, but feel like he’s voting to Save Civilization. Much more satisfying! But it also provides a tool to rebut those who accuse Republicans of cozying up to White Supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other disreputable and frankly actually dangerous sorts. You need scary, unnamed “anarchists” if you want to say, No, YOU!

I try to think statistically, that all kinds of things are possible if not probably, and of course there are folk who consider themselves lefty who are murderous assholes. I’m sure there are Stalinists around. But, honestly, at this point in history, with the left in America being what it is, they are the party that wants to provide services. They are the party that is horrified at COVID going through nursing homes. Republicans, at this point in history, are the party that says, so what? They were old anyway. Republicans now are the people who can’t admit COVID is real or dangerous because they want to protect the Trump that lives inside them, like an organ. So if you’re looking for murderous assholes, I think you’ll have a much better chance finding them over there, on the Right.

At this point in history. Who can speak for the future.

Does anyone know this guy? I assume he’s alright, since he’s in Beverly Hills and all… Maybe a family member could call him and speak in a soothing voice. Tell him that they’ve checked, and there are no anarchists in Beverly Hills today.

(That we know of! Bwah-hah-hah!)

Putsch up or Shut up

In light of yesterday’s putsch. I generally feel perfectly comfortable ignoring Tablet, but a friend reminded me of this: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/trump-and-the-joys-of-hatred

That’s a good analysis (i.e., I agree with it, which makes it “good”).

There is something very deep going on, brainwise, with people so invested in a public personality. Similar to Elvis, the Beatles, Hitler, anyone else who could command an adoring crowd. What is happening in the audience member’s brain? They’re focused intently on the person, and something something mirror neurons, and they start to imitate them and internalize them. Protect them as an element of their own identity; when people feel their identity attacked, they feel the same as if their body were being threatened by wild animals. With rock/pop stars, young women are the most vulnerable (they group-bond very readily), and this might be related to mass hysteria phenomena, as in Salem et alibi (just learned that from a crossword — it means “and other places”! Sweeeet…).

I’ve always believed that all of us have an opera in our headwe’re the hero, of course, and there are villains and all the other stock characters of opera. And the emotions are ridiculously heightened. Of course, it might be an action movie or a comic book—they’re all closely related. High emotions, high stakes, unmistakable heroes and villains.

How do we distinguish between the very compelling detailed, emotional story being told in the opera in our heads from the real world? At one extreme, there are true paranoid or schizophrenic delusions (I’m sure I’m using the terms wrong… sorry) and at the other end… I don’t know where the other end is, though I bet a lot of people (everyone?) thinks that’s where they’re at—everyone believes they are perfectly rational and that they can distinguish reality from illusion instantly and intuitively. I think at our absolute best and most rational (for whatever value of that word) we float in and out of our delusions, and maybe for some the delusions are like John Nash’s voices in his head that he learned to identify as hallucinations, couldn’t get rid of, but learned to ignore. To some degree we can probably switch back and forth, when we’re engaged in an activity that doesn’t bear much emotional freight. But as soon as our identity/emotion hair-trigger is touched, all bets are off. When you hear about subconscious or implicit bias, that’s what is happening. The continual noise in our head includes noises from the actual world and noises generated inside. In the rough and tumble of everyday existence, we’re lousy at distinguishing them. One tool for training that skill is meditation—mindfulness training. I’ve let it slide, I should get back to it.

Our perception is always mediated by what’s actually out there and our brain’s internal sound and light show. And what’s out there is cobbled together from the various bits and pieces retrieved by our senses to give us the comforting illusion of continuity and uniformity. Dreams are a great example of when the information from the world is very muted and attenuated and the noise inside is more vivid in comparison. During the day, it flips around. But it’s never, I think, all one or all the other.

Religion interacts with this system. Hence the conundrum of whose voice that is in your head: your own everyday voice, memory of important voices, or a supernatural entity? The notion that we can hear the voice in our head and interpret it as our own thoughts is sometimes considered a recent (in the history of humanity) innovation. Before that, thoughts were always someone’s voice.

Here’s a great article on how we fool ourselves into thinking we’re conscious (for our naive definition of consciousness, as a unitary mind making conscious decisions based on real-world observations, and then acting on those conscious decisions): https://fs.blog/2017/02/michael-gazzaniga-the-interpreter/

That pesky left-brain interpreter!

The Crown – Liberalism and Conservatism Defined

I don’t think I’ve seen a better short definition of Liberalism and Conservatism than in the episode of The Crown, Fagan (Season 4, Episode 5). This is the one where this guy, Michael Fagan, sneaks into Buckingham Palace not once but twice, and has a short audience with the Queen before he is arrested.

I wish I had the script, because it is brilliant (as is the performance by Tom Brooke!). In the scene, he says that Thatcher took away England’s sense of community, where you could fail, get sick, get old, and not face ruin. In the scene after, where Thatcher speaks to the Queen and says this is outdated. That there is no such thing as “society”, that all we are are individuals and families, and that the threat of ruin is what keeps us going.

Should really find the text. I asked for the script and was denied.

I don’t even know

Just read an article about how in San Francisco nobody says hi in the street. Interesting.

I’m a native New Yorker, so I am very much part of the culture where you don’t greet strangers for no reason in passing on the street. Now I live in Los Angeles where you rarely pass people on the street, so it doesn’t come up. But I grew up in an apartment building where you certainly did say hello and converse briefly with neighbors, and I do greet my neighbors where I live now, in a neighborhood which seems very suburban to me (though my kids bridle at that description; I tell them, if it’s single family homes with lawns in front, it’s a suburb! Reasonable people can disagree).

I have spent time in, and love, San Francisco. Maybe real estate will drop and rents will become more affordable and interesting people for whom making money is not driving impulse of their life will move in again. Also New York, which is a shell of its former self, thanks to all the rich people and their unholy spawn.

What made San Francisco and New York so interesting in the 60s and 70s were the people who were in the counterculture. Not much money, but lots of creative vision. They could afford the rents, and they wanted to make music, do theater, paint, write, and create something. They were so exciting and fun to be around that they boosted the value of their towns until they were priced out and along with them, the small businesses that also could only exist because of reasonable rents. I remember when the last wrought iron company in SoHo closed down because their building was so valuable they couldn’t afford to stay in business. That must have been an interesting family discussion.

Part of this is, of course, boring things like interest rates. Without a reasonable return on T-notes, everything else in the world became an object of speculation. Computers accelerated this trend, so that hedge funds can invest in, say, 100,000 rental units. Used to be the overhead of managing those would make mass speculation a losing proposition. But now with software tools, it’s a pretty good investment.

And there’s no counterculture now. Thanks to tech, we are atomised and suffer anomie. But that trend predates tech — small towns have seen neighbor turn against neighbor in favor of big box stores and megachurches before anyone had a smartphone. My neighbor Larry’s hardware store? I can get a Chinese hammer for half the price at the Walmart! No wonder the small-town right wing is so emotionally messed up, heavily armed and on the constant verge of tears with anger and resentment. They stopped buying their local paper (again, turning against their neighbor to save a nickel*) and instead are feeding off hypercharged vicious rumors thanks to social media. The only newspapers left are national chains. Where before, some bright kid could get a job in local media, bringing much needed variety into the ranks of journalism and media, now those local jobs are just the fading memory of a dream, and only big city papers and chains remain, and they hire who they’re used to hire.

The culture of individuality has crushed the skull of the small town, leaving what amounts to an anthill after the passage of a mean child kicks it over. Eating each other and attacking anything in sight.

I don’t know where this goes, and maybe it doesn’t matter whether I know or not. Certainly COVID is increasing the sense of isolation. We are, after all, beasts evolved to live in extended clans of about 100, and if we’re forced to live only in groups of five, the results can’t be good.

* You could argue that this behavior is driven by downward pressure on wages. Also, that reluctance to fight that downward pressure is due to racial solidarity with bosses in the face of perceived threats by other ethnic racial groups. Pathetic forelock-tugging, I call it. But yes, I’m aware of these arguments. I suspect there’s a lot to them.

Anxiety driven ideation

Anxiety driven follow up.

It just takes corruption in five states; FL, NC, and GA are super easy. Then there would be lawsuits which the Supreme Court would shut down to Protect a Divided Nation, much like Scalia did in 2000. We just can’t keep counting! Yes, that decision was explicitly said not to be a precedent, but, hey! Now it could be! Why not! And they’ve already shown their hand with Wisconsin. Counting votes? We can’t just “count” “votes”! Who even knows what “count” and “votes” even mean! Originalists can cherry pick whatever 18th cent text they want to write a decision they don’t even need, frankly, except for form’s sake. What’s anyone going to do? Disapprove?

And if one conservative justice clutches their pearls, they have enough anyway. Gorsuch and Roberts would have to team up with the liberals, which they’re not likely to do. Play ball, your kids get jobs. Look at Scalia’s son.

Patriotism

I think a lot about patriotism. In the way a blind person might muse about colors or an autistic person might wonder about facial expressions.

I find anthems stirring and flags have an effect on me. So do cathedrals and organ music, but they don’t make me believe in a god. What I conclude from that is that there are feelings that can be induced by certain visual and aural stimuli. There, that’s the lesson, the whole lesson.

I remember an old acting teacher of mine, John Stix. He said that dialog, the words we speak, are the ruffle on the edge of the dancer’s skirt. A minor side effect of the main action. So if someone does something heroic or incredibly generous, or something horrible and murderous and selfish, the fact that they utter religious or patriotic words as they do it is of little interest—the action is the thing. If you see a nature show with seals on the beach, all cavorting and barking and squealing, you can tell which are courting or competing or fighting — you don’t need to understand what the barking means. Same with us. Religion and patriotism are the noises we make as we follow our subconscious urges and do what we wanted to do anyway. We just make noises as we do things—big deal.

Likewise, I don’t think any country has a monopoly on … well, anything. I’m safe and can prosper in some countries at some times, but not at other times. And certain ethno/religious/national groups may be more comfortable in some places at some times than in others. The trick is not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is a museum in Paris, the Musée Nissim de Camondo, which is some dead rich guy’s house; a Jewish banker, as it happens. He had great taste and was a collector of nice things. He had been a banker in Turkey. Things got dicey there for all the reasons things can get dicey for rich Jews (some gentile wanting their money is the usual thing), and he left. If I remember, he basically bought himself and his family Italian passports, and then French. They settled in this grand mansion in 1911. His children ended up rounded up by the Vichy regime. I think they died in the camps.

We thought we were going to see nice furniture and china, and ended up weeping. Now, that’s a museum. Highly recommended.

So if I moved to France or Germany, I would certainly worry about the Front National or Alternativ für Deutschland. Actually, more the latter than the former. The FN has learned the Republican trick of making nice with Jews as partners against a) atheist Communists and b) insufficiently atheist Muslims to inoculate themselves against claims of religious intolerance (though they haven’t learned the next trick of referring to “Judeo-Christian” values; I guess laïcité makes that awkward). AfD seems to be keeping its anti-semitic powder dry for now, but they tolerate it in their followers, much like the Republicans do.

As I muse about patriotism, I think about the Good German–the unimpeachably ‘Aryan’ person who had no particular beef with Jews (some of their best friends…), but was in no personal danger (if a guy, might have been drafted… let’s say he’s too old or has a club foot). What should they do? Keep their head down and wait for better times as they think about Eternal German Values and how they’ve been distorted This One Time? Should they emigrate? Should they join the Resistance and sabotage the war effort at tremendous personal risk? We might have mild contempt for the first, understand the second, and admire the third. What would you do? I like to think I’d be the cunning resistance fighter, but I’d probably be the coward who does the easy thing. If family history gave me a second passport, I certainly might leave, even if I weren’t in personal danger.

These are tough questions. I can send money to various movements, BLM and such. I might even protest were it not for Covid and my and my wife’s age and vulnerability.

Or I could leave, if it were not for family and the weight of property.

Consider the odds

Yes, there are many imponderables. People kept away at the polls at the last minute, mail-in ballots diverted, maybe a Black person shot by police in Philadelphia to provoke unrest and drive more iffy Republicans to the polls to protect Their Way of Life™, which, apparently, requires streets paved with dead Black bodies.

Oh, wait. That last thing just happened. I can check that box. The bloody cherry on top.

I’m reading a book called The Drunkard’s Walk about probability and statistics, which I find soothing. The writer is Leonard Mlodinow, who co-wrote A Brief History of Time. So he’s, you know, Good. If you ever thought you should know more about prob and stat, but thought it would be too boring to bear, this is the book. He’s a sparkling writer. And I find having a dispassionate take on the odds can have a calming effect. Combine that with the 538 Politics Podcast, where Nate Silver talks in his very slightly Aspergerish way about odds, what they tell us and what they don’t.

Of all the things that scare me, such as heavily armed gangs of excited goyim, I think I was most frightened by the redefinition of “elite” to mean people with education, rather than people with money and influence. So an adjunct professor of history who makes $40k is elite, while the owner of a chain of exterminators who makes $500k and plays golf with your congressman is not. That takes us one more step toward Pol Pot and putting people with eyeglasses into work camps.

Oh well. Living in earthquake country, it’s always been a good idea to have a Go Box, with important documents in it. Of course, when they give a Proud Boys lieutenant my house and paintings, I don’t think showing my deed to the house to the authorities will have any effect. Deepfake!

Rootless Cosmopolitans

When I was working in Lyon, the team would have lunch together and talk politics and religion. One dude was complaining about immigrants or hijabs or something, and I said something like, Did you enjoy your empire? This is the flip side. You liked the parades and the military dudes with medals and tanks? Congratulations, they’ve brought you les banlieues. Getting rich off of Africa means that Africans are going to be your neighbors.

French cultural note — that was perfectly OK office lunchtime banter.

I feel the same way about the US and Central America. Those people are fleeing chaos we created. Not that chaos doesn’t happen for many other reasons, Zinn and Chomsky notwithstanding, but this particular chaos, in Guatemala and Honduras for instance, we own that. We should take their refugees, no questions asked, until the end of time.

I suspect that it’s hard to have been an empire, even if the empire was in the year 900. Faded memories of greatness are a burden we are not intended to carry. We just don’t do it well… it makes us mean and stupid. I think France carries it off a little better than many, and I give La Revolution credit for that—an awareness that the villain is the rich guy and the cleric. That probably-not-Diderot quote is salutary: La Révolution n’est pas fini jusqu’à ce que le dernier roi est étouffé avec les boyaux du dernier prêtre. Or something like that. And if Jews have any advantage in their culture, it’s that, if they had an Empire, it was thousands of years ago under David. But still, Jews all over the world read about that every day. And now they have control of a nation again.

My family is the ultimate “blood and soil” bugaboo; we are all proud rootless cosmopolitans. I don’t think any of us ever came to America for “liberty”. My great grandfather came to San Francisco for the gold rush, my grandparents went to Hollywood for showbiz, my father went to New York for publishing. My mother, too, came to New York, specifically. Not Sioux City, where, presumably, there’s just as much Liberty™ as NY. But she was fleeing the small town for the big city, not Canada for the US.

And if my grandparents had given up on Hollywood dreams, they could have stayed in London instead of getting on that next boat. Or they could have gone to South Africa where, as Jews, they would have been considered conditionally quasi-White and had plenty of Liberty (and cheap domestic help). Or Palestine where they would have had Liberty, but the kaffee mit schlag would have sucked. But Hollywood was where the action was.