I cannot believe the media Mecca.
They’re only trying to peddle reality.
Catch it on prime-time, story at nine.
This whole world is going insane.
I cannot believe the media Mecca.
They’re only trying to peddle reality.
Catch it on prime-time, story at nine.
This whole world is going insane.
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
I thought about titling this post It Takes Two to Party, Too but then thought better of it.
It was going to be some follow-on thoughts to an article I wrote last fall. I wrote some ideas down, read some additional articles, and then moved on to other things.
That original article was about the two-party system and the implications of its health or the lack thereof. Most people, however, aren’t party operatives, who think of the health of government being tied to the health of parties. Most people, in fact, are turned off by language that implies that party should take priority; over policy, over governance, and over principle. This leads to a presumption that peace is around the corner if we could all just compromise a little more and come to a broad agreement.
First of all, there seems to be a miscalculation of who is the broad center and what it is that “we all” believe. I see a combination of two factors here. One is the (fairly) recent double occurrence of gaps between the nationwide popular vote and the electoral college. Add to that a (presumed*) gap between popular will and the majority in the Senate. Mix these perceived inequities with in-group confirmation bias and the result seems to be many Democrats** who genuinely believe that nearly every right-thinking person in America agrees with them. In reality, even the most popular ideas have trouble getting more than about 80% agreement, and many of our most contested ideas have fairly even splits. Elections are close and political controls swings back and forth because there is a split in the electorate – not because everything is corrupt and the will of the people are always perverted (even if that latter assertion is also true).
This exposes a moral and ethical problem. Suppose it really was true that Democrats could achieve a minimum of 50.01% of the vote in every district in the nation. Does that mean they have a “mandate” to run roughshod over the 49.99%? Our political system values, both in word and in structure, upholding the rights of the minority. That includes both the political favored minority and the politically unfavored minority. Of course, it is impossible to simultaneously to uphold the will of the majority and the will of the minority when those opinions are in conflict. The system resists change, allowing the status quo to be maintained by a less than a third of the seats and the right set of rules. This is frustrating to a reformer who feels he is not only right but has the will of the people on his side. Given time and the votes, the majority can generally get their way. It is for this reason that we feel a collective urge to protect the powerless. It is also for this reason that we feel the need to advocate for individual freedom when it conflicts the “needs of the many.”
Both of these are political questions, of different types. There is the electoral question of winning votes and what that implies and, particularly, what it means for the next time around when you’ve got to tally the votes all over again. It is also a political question when asking people to vote outside their immediate self-interest.The first of these falls apart when one side thinks they have a “permanent majority.” When that attitude begins to dominate the thinking, we are forced to rely on the second. Is it sufficient? Has it been historically?
I’m going to refer to two articles that were published about the same time as my earlier article. The first (in the order that I saw them) is a Wall St. Journal editorial. The article was about the political chaos ensuing preceding the Brexit resolution was to follow, but looked almost unattainable at the time. It was not the Brexit details that got me, but a subheading that accompanied the article.
Free states don’t act on small majorities. They ask what voters really want and build broad support.
Set aside the anthropomorphisaztion of the “Free state” and the reduction to a single mind of “the voters,” and it is essentially making my the same point as I have, above. A majority works for some questions – do we spend a million dollars more or less on program Z, for example – but on the big issues, success follows consensus.
A day later I read another article online, that makes a similar case in ever more persuasive language. The author likens laws to contracts established among willing adherents. Contracts should be mutually beneficial to their signatories and generally will be structured so as to emphasize the areas of agreements. Likewise laws, at their best, state to what society has agreed (maybe not universally, but preferably overwhelmingly).
Given that the author is correct (and he strikes me as being so), even if you are not worried about granting power which will fall into your opponents hands in a future election, even if you can’t empathize with the political minority, there is a certain stability that comes from creating laws that have broad support versus those that you can enforce by seizing the reins of power. That means it is, once again, in the self-interest of the politically-powerful and politically-self-righteous to seek consensus and cooperation in the service of stability.
Is this true? Is this borne out by historical example? The imposition and then repeal of prohibition might be a good example of where a law, created over widespread objection, first cause chaos and disruption before being defeated through the political system. To the contrary, there are definitely examples of social change from the late 1960s onward that were driven by first changing the law. Is this an aberration or the new norm? I hope the former, dread the latter, and worry that we may need to discover the truth the hard way.
*I say presumed because there has never been a national, at-large popular vote for Senate. You can run numbers and say if (for example) the voters who voted for Chuck Schumer were allowed, by virtue of their populousness, to elect a second Senator, they’d elect someone much like Chuck Schumer. While this is certainly a fair possibility, it is also possible that we’d see a very different outcome given a different system for electing Senators. Likewise, Hillary Clinton twice lost the delegate game (once to Obama and once to Trump) while winning the popular vote. To her supporters, this is proof that she shoulda/woulda won the election given a better system. However, it is absurd to think that both Obama and Trump would have followed the same electoral strategy if the path to winning didn’t involved delegates. Obama’s run, in particular, was marked by sophisticated optimization of campaigning efforts to target exactly the delegates he needed.
**It’s not just Democrats. Republicans do the same, but we’re talking about Democrats here.
Some prayers never reach the sky.
Some wounds never heal.
They still say someday the South will rise.
Man, I want to see that deal.
Looking back through history, there are a lot more men who thought they were Alexander the Great then men who actually were.
It is catch-up time for some of my long-running shows. Over the past week or two, I finished up the final season of the Game of Thrones TV series. At more-or-less the same time I’ve been watching Season 4 of The Expanse. This time, however, I decided to lead with the book version of the story, reading Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games so as to stay ahead of the TV version of the story.
I compare these two experiences because both of these shows started out in the most promising way possible. After watching Season 1 of Game of Thrones, I was of the opinion that this was perhaps the best conversions of a novel I had ever seen. After a single season of The Expanse, I thought it was possibly the best science fiction TV series I had seen. Recall, I had yet to read any of the books at that point, but my positive opinion of the television series held up well after reading the source material.
In both of these cases, however, they could not fulfill the promise of their first impression. At first, HBO’s problem was more of a cumulative effects of small changes. The first season alternations seemed well chosen to aid the conversion from book to screen and, as I pointed out, many I didn’t even catch until a second viewing. As the seasons progressed, changes began to impact the story. An altered character or event could no longer contribute to the narrative in future episodes and seasons. Finally, the story begin to run up against the end of the source material, meaning the screenwriters were on their own. As a result, the final seasons depart from both the word and the spirit of the novels in many ways. The last season* of Game of Thrones, when the screenwriters were entirely on their own and under pressure to wrap up the story, nearly fell apart altogether.
One kudo I’ll give to both of these series as they’ve aged is their lesser reliance on T&A. For the HBO series, weekly, gratuitous sex was almost a hallmark of the program and yet it has been all but omitted from the final season. The Expanse, if you’ve never seen it or don’t remember so far back, opened up with a zero-G sex scene. Come to think of it, maybe that wasn’t quite as gratuitous as I initially thought. I still miss Kristen Hager’s character despite only a few fleeting minutes of screen time in a single, opening episode. Maybe that was the point.
Other than that, though, the quality of the TV versions relative to the written material seems to go steadily downhill. The Game of Thrones final season has been thrashed around plenty, and I’m not sure if I can really add to the pile-on. If you take out the ponderous shots of each of the main characters emoting and the stock “epic battle” footage, I’m not sure if there is all that much left to make up a season*. It’s better than the ending from the internet joke, “Everybody dies. The end.” But not by much.
The Expanse hasn’t quite dug the hole that Game of Thrones found itself in and it could still go either way. Like with Game of Thrones, changes that seemed reasonable and clever in Season 1 didn’t look so good as the books developed. I’m guessing the writers had no idea Dmitri Havelock (Miller’s partner) was going to be Cibola Burn‘s major protagonist when they decided to have him die rather than just ship-off midway through the first season. My biggest gripes with Season 4 perhaps are similar decisions, ones that perhaps were necessary to compress the book into a TV series and make it suitable for the screen. For example, mid-Season 4, Amos Burton goes all weepy and suicidal when his eyesight starts to fail. For me, this is entirely contrary to the character of Amos, a man who isn’t afraid of death but will be the last one to go. I realize, though, that this is the equivalent of the books’ Burton feeling pangs of remorse, guilt, and sorrow and being unable to understand what is happening to him. It’s an exploration of character that can only work in a novel. Screenwriters needed to substitute something that could be seen rather than explained. I still don’t like their choice, but it is a solution.
Similarly, the choices being made to compress Season 4 may turn out looking reasonable or stupid, once I’ve read a few more novels. Some of the alterations bother me but many of them, I acknowledge, needed some kind of adaptation. Beyond that, though, I feel that (these days) I’m always in danger of being manipulated by writers with a PC agenda. One change is to transform reluctant terrorist Basia Merton** into a simpering milquetoast. Instead his wife, who in the book was the key character of Dr. Lucia Merton, assumes his role. Lucia also needs to fill the shoes of Naomi and the implications of Naomi being captured and then liberated from Havelock and the corporate security – all of which was removed in the TV story. So instead of a natural tension between husband and wife, rebel and physician (Basia kills Earthers and Lucia saves them), we merely have a pitifully weak husband who doesn’t appreciate his wife’s boldness. Part of the reason it bothers me is I suspect a reason for the change is, with the removal of Naomi’s heroics, the writers felt they had a gender imbalance. Lucia is transformed into a tough, blue-collar freedom fighter to show that women can be spunky and fierce. It doesn’t help, though, that she doesn’t show much of either. Except for reluctant role in blowing the landing pad, she mostly seems to whine about how she wants to die. I feel cheated.
The book also has some hints of the political coming to the fore in Nemesis Games that I hadn’t picked up on before. Burton’s encounter with a “prepper” ends so badly for the latter that I can’t help but take it as a commentary on the pointlessness of the survival movement. I’m not sure it is necessarily political, though. There is a thoughtful discussion to be had about the value of organization, official or otherwise, in the face of disaster. Even preppers, themselves, ridicule the idea that to prepare is to buy lots of “gear.” It reminds me of a story (with that point) about how possessing a single, 9mm bullet would be sufficient “preparation” given the skill and attitude to act. Amos’ character prefers to be well armed and armored but we read how his ability to survive is independent of all that.
Another political commentary of sorts pops up in that same book. As Fred Johnson (the ex-military head of the Outer Planets Alliance) and Jim Holden (pivotal hero) attempt to analyze the threat posed by Naomi’s baby-daddy (see how good writing weaves this all together?), Johnson explains that he thought him unlikely to have committed a rogue surprise attack on, well, pretty much everyone. Johnson goes on that Marco Inaros leads a “group of high-poverty Belters. The kind of people who live in leaky ships and post screeds about taxation being theft.” Although Naomi was, at least in her younger days, one of those “kind of people,” from the context it is clear that these are the villains of the story. More allegory?
Returning to the quote at the top of this page, this spoken to Holden by Fred Johnson commenting on Inaros as a leader. He compares the recent attack to Alexander’s charge in the Battle of Guagamela, a defining battle for Western Civilization and, in the future world of The Expanse, of Earth itself (at least to a military-trained mind). Holden is not familiar with the battle, and Johnson describes it to him. Part of Johnson’s insight is that while Alexander’s audacity, leadership, and bold attack did win him the battle and the war, it was also Darius’ decision to flee the field of battle rather than fight that lost it. In other words, even if you are facing a true Alexander, you should at least try not to be Darius.
*Season? Its six [expletive deleted] episodes!!! Remember when a season used to mean 22 shows, intended to fill one-half of a year, followed by a second “seasons” of reruns? I do, and I’m not pleased with the new normal.
**Basia is also connected to the events of earlier novels. The connecting tissue was deemed superfluous when paring down Season 2. It is an important part of what holds the narrative of the novels together. Important for the TV show? Maybe not.
Fall on your knees. O hear the angels’ voices.
Perhaps Roman historians should be grateful for [the film Gladiator‘s] valid general insights and overlook its many factual errors. The artiste will say that concern with such details merely reflects the overly punctilious quibbles of pettifogging pedants who cannot appreciate the forest for the trees. Certainly creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction and costume dramas.
Allen Ward, Professor Emeritus, University of Connecticut
Youtube’s algorithms are starting to get really good at picking out content that is unknown to me, but that I really will appreciate. A week or two ago, they recommended the 2012 award-winning (Grand Jury Prize at South by Southwest) documentary Beware of Mr. Baker.
How right they were.
The event occasioning their suggestion was the passing of Ginger Baker on October 6th of this year at the age of age of 80. He is best known as the drummer for Cream, the (arguably) first rock ‘n’ roll “supergroup.” In that role, he was considered one of rock’s greatest drummers, a pioneer, innovator, and role model for rock musicians to follow. His caustic personality and heroin addiction meant he made and lost several fortunes in a career in bands whose lifetimes measured in months rather than years.
He was originally a jazz drummer and possibly considered himself as such throughout his career. He was fascinated with the complex rhythms of African drumming and brought that style to American and European rock. In an ad he took out (in L.A.’s Music Connection) looking for work in the late 1980’s, he described himself as being “[a]cknowledged worldwide as the top DRUMMER ALIVE!” Maybe so.
I am reminded, watching this summary of his life, about the current fashion for rejecting artists who have committed crimes, moral transgressions, or political-correctness heresy. This film reminds me that requiring that good art also come from good artists limits the supply of good art, which would seem to be a net loss to our culture. Ginger Baker was kind of an awful person. He was an incredible musician.
Mr. Baker [likes to exemplify his life’s experiences in music]. If that makes him an unpleasant person socially, well, that’s exactly what is required for the music from him to be so superb. And I cannot question anyone with end results that perfect.
Johnny Rotten, who worked with Baker on the PiL album, Album.
Nothing great can be accomplished politically, and nothing can last, without the presence of men whose brilliance, character and determination inspire, rally and channel the energies of a people.
Everything falls apart when weak protagonists succeed one another at the head of the State. Unity breaks down when greatness falls away.
from the prologue of Quand un Roi perd la France.