Choose Your Leaders

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“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents

Please Use Mute

The country would be better served if we allow both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you to do that.

Chris Wallace, Moderator 2020 Presidential Debate, 9/29/2020
USA Presidential Debate, 9/29/2020

The problem with the first presidential debate can be solved with technology. This is a rare moment when a distinctly human communication problem can be effectively solved through technological solutions.

The problem: Constant interruptions of both the moderator and the opponent during a live broadcast debate.

The solution:

Step 1: Place candidates in separate rooms or in clear glass, soundproof boxes on the same physical stage. Separate rooms requires reliable video and audio and clear boxes require reliable audio, thereby allowing the participants to hear both questions and responses.

Step 2: Make it clear at the outset that microphones will be muted when questions are asked and when the opponent has the floor.

Step 3: When it is their turn to speak open the microphone. When they are out of time mute them.

Step 4: If a live mic is in the room recording everything said but not broadcast during the debate, then those recordings may be released and commented on the following day. It must not be made available during the debate itself.

Eliminating Inconvenient People

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What happened to Maria Halpin next was a cruel injustice straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. Cleveland arranged to have the child forcibly removed from his mother and placed in the Buffalo Orphan Asylum. Maria Halpin was thrown into the Providence Lunatic Asylum, although the facility’s medical director quickly released her after an evaluation, concluding (correctly) that she was not insane and that her incarceration was the result of an abuse of power by political elites.

-Charles Lachman, Grover Cleveland’s Sex Scandal: The Most Despicable in American Political History, The Daily Beast (Jul. 13, 2017)

Irish Democrat

Uncle Steve was an esteemed member of the Democratic Party and held numerous political offices in Lafayette . His saloon , conveniently located across the street from the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, was his bailiwick for the various offices that he held. Many children of Irish immigrants, like Uncle Steve, climbed the ladder of success within the friendly climes and ward healing of the Democratic Party. The party helped these descendants of Ireland escape the anti – Irish prejudice that had confined the hated “ Micks ” to Irish ghettos like Bloody Plank Road. The Democratic Party granted the perquisites of political power to Irish-Americans because the close-knit Irish families reliably delivered the necessary votes keeping the party in power. As a favored member of the party , Uncle Steve found jobs for his family and their children, giving them a lift up the ladder. In one instance , Uncle Steve arranged for his nephew Harry Hannagan, blind since childhood, to hold the job of supervisor of weights and measures for the city. Sometimes in politics , the holding of the job was more important than doing the job!

Steve Hannagan: Prince of the Press Agents and Titan of Modern Public Relations by Michael K. Townsley

 

Marketing War

Not answering him at all, Sarason demanded that, in order to bring and hold all elements in the country together by that useful Patriotism which always appears upon threat of an outside attack, the government immediately arrange to be insulted and menaced in a well-planned series of deplorable “incidents” on the Mexican border, and declare war on Mexico as soon as America showed that it was getting hot and patriotic enough.

Secretary of the Treasury Skittle and Attorney General Porkwood shook their heads, but Secretary of War Haik and Secretary of Education Macgoblin agreed with Sarason high-mindedly. Once, pointed out the learned Macgoblin, governments had merely let themselves slide into a war, thanking Providence for having provided a conflict as a febrifuge against internal discontent, but of course, in this age of deliberate, planned propaganda, a really modern government like theirs must figure out what brand of war they had to sell and plan the selling-campaign consciously. Now, as for him, he would be willing to leave the whole set-up to the advertising genius of Brother Sarason.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

A Free, Inquiring, Critical Spirit

He was afraid that the world struggle today was not of Communism against Fascism, but of tolerance against the bigotry that was preached equally by Communism and Fascism. But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word “Fascism” and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty. For they were thieves not only of wages but of honor. To their purpose they could quote not only Scripture but Jefferson.

“More and more, as I think about history,” he pondered, “I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Earthy Dictators

Constantly, in the Informer, he criticized the government but not too acidly. The hysteria can’t last; be patient, and wait and see, he counseled his readers. It was not that he was afraid of the authorities. He simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure. It can’t happen here, said even Doremus—even now.

The one thing that most perplexed him was that there could be a dictator seemingly so different from the fervent Hitlers and gesticulating Fascists and the Cæsars with laurels round bald domes; a dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain, a George Ade, a Will Rogers, an Artemus Ward. Windrip could be ever so funny about solemn jaw-drooping opponents, and about the best method of training what he called “a Siamese flea  hound.” Did that, puzzled Doremus, make him less or more dangerous?

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

 

Blame My Timid Soul

“A few months ago I thought the slaughter of the Civil War, and the agitation of the violent Abolitionists who helped bring it on, were evil. But possibly they had to be violent, because easy-going citizens like me couldn’t be stirred up otherwise. If our grandfathers had had the alertness and courage to see the evils of slavery and of a government conducted by gentlemen for gentlemen only, there wouldn’t have been any need of agitators and war and blood.

“It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt ourselves superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’ who brought on the Civil War, the French Revolution, and now the Fascist Dictatorship. It’s I who murdered Rabbi de Verez. It’s I who persecuted the Jews and the Negroes. I can blame no Aras Dilley, no Shad Ledue, no Buzz Windrip, but only my own timid soul and drowsy mind. Forgive, O Lord!

“Is it too late?”

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Technology Is Not Politically Neutral

The proposed laws were impossible to obey, patently unconstitutional, and unenforceable, but that’s not the point. This is performative politics. The legislation was not intended to work; it was intended to heap stigma on social programs and reinforce the cultural narrative that those who access public assistance are criminal, lazy, spendthrift addicts…Technologies of poverty management are not neutral. They are shaped by our nation’s fear of economic insecurity and hatred of the poor; they in turn shape the politics and experience of poverty.

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks

Book Review: Trump Is a Nasty Knight

Amazon.com

Nick and the Nasty Knight by Ute Krause was published in 2012. The book is not anti-Trump protest literature. It’s just a story about a boy who lives in an impoverished town where the political power (the nasty knight) uses taxes, sleazy political (legal) maneuvers and physical violence to drain every last penny out of the residents.

This knight lives in an enormous castle where he keeps all of the gold locked up, forces people to carry him around because he will not be bothered with walking and…get this…he uses a golden toilet.

Much like Maurizio Cattelan’s “America“, the similarities and political applicability are almost eerie. While it’s important to note that Trump’s golden toilet is an internet myth, it’s symbolism is very much a political reality.

When I first read this book to the children in my life, I was hoping for an anti-bullying or a problem solving story. Every once in a while I will come across a kids book with excellent pictures and some good hard advice for dealing with people – this is not that book.

The story is about Nick, a child who is taken from his family, by the nasty knight, as a slave (yes, he is actually taken as a slave) because his family is poor and had no more money to give to the knight when he came pounding on their door during one of the all-to-frequent tax-collecting tours. Nick is trapped in a never-ending cycle of work, the reality of which is well illustrated without being excessively scary.

He decides to escape his indentured bondage by climbing out a castle window and accidentally stumbles across the knight’s secret room full of (stolen) gold. Nick steals one coin and successfully escapes. Once in the woods beyond the city, he encounters a group of bandits and thieves who are just as horrible as the nasty knight – possibly worse.

At this point in the story I’m feeling both impressed by the realism and a bit disappointed in the lack of proactive resolution. The main character just can’t get a break.

The bandits find the single gold coin and Nick tricks them into returning to the castle. He leads them to the secret room filled with gold and sounds the alarm, causing an enormous brawl between the knight, his soldiers and all of the bandits.

Side note: the knight won’t walk to his golden toilet but he’ll jump into a potential bloodbath of a battle to protect his gold…interesting.

Ok, that was pretty good. Tricking bad guys into fighting bad guys is an impressive maneuver.

But then it turns out that the coin the boy stole was a magic coin, which ultimately transforms all of the bad guys into alligators. This saves the town and returns peace and prosperity to all. Here’s a quote:

When the people up in the castle saw what had happened, they began to cheer. Without the Nasty Knight, they were once again free!…From that day on, Nick made sure that at last his poor mother and his family had enough to eat every day.”

(sigh)

It’s a good story for kids. The ending to the plot is pretty standard in literature and film but…

I really wish the resolution hadn’t been reliant on a magic coin or the elimination of a handful of bad guys. Neither scenario is real and there are other ways to resolve the story.

Even so, this book remains on the family bookshelf and is pulled out from time to time because acts of bravery and defiance in the face of corrupt powers and politicians is a good place to begin. It’s an excellent story to enjoy and to talk about; because, sometimes, the flaws in stories lay the groundwork for excellent discussions about what is fun fiction vs effective in real life.

In this case, the symbolism is fitting and powerful: It’s a story about using money to take down a corrupt politician with a golden toilet.

There may be a few adults in your life who would appreciate listening to this story over the holiday break.