Monthly Archives: September 2015

Kim Davis

The best things about the Kim Davis story have been the memes. Kim Davis, in case you were busy discovering water on Mars, is the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples because, she says, of her deeply held religious convictions. Anyway, the memes have been terrific. A few favorites: Harrison Ford, holding up a sign reading ‘didn’t much care for Star Wars, did his job anyway.’ Freddy Mercury: ‘did not in fact like fat-bottomed girls, did his job anyway.’ And one featuring Congress, reading ‘US Congress, didn’t want to do their job, did . . . oh, wait, shoot, this one doesn’t work at all.’

Still, mock-worthy though Davis’ refusal has been, it’s not entirely risible. Religious liberty is an important constitutional principle. Marriage is an important institution. I wasn’t going to write about her at all, frankly, but after her visit with Pope Francis was confirmed, I thought I would toss a few random thoughts into the old Blog-Generator 2000©. With no particular coherence, and in no particular order, then:

1) Neither her physical appearance or the redneck-cliché look sported by her husband are fair game, or deserving of commentary. But her marriage history is relevant, though not for reasons often presented by our fellow lefties. Her personal story needs to be seen in the context of a conversion narrative. Once lost, now found; once a sinner, now repentant, right? Of course, there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs, and I think her history makes her stance more coherent; she’s been saved, in her mind, in both a spiritual and secular sense. Her life really has changed for the better, in measurable ways, because of her conversion. We should respect that.

2) I wish I could believe that Pope Francis’ visit with her was in the spirit of Jesus ministering to sinners and publicans. (While there has been some dispute about whether this visit actually happened, the Vatican has now confirmed it). This is an exceptionally cool pope; pro-science, deeply concerned with poverty and an opponent of capitalist greed. But he’s still a Pope, however progressive he may seem on a range of issues. On gay marriage, though? Not so much. This is who Francis is, this is what he stands for. Like every other pope ever, he’s infallibly fallible.

3) Let’s be very clear about what the SCOTUS decision in Obergefell did and what it did not do. It did not create new federal law. It did not ‘legislate from the bench.’ It was not a case of ‘five lawyers in Washington redefining marriage.’ The Supreme Court did exactly what it’s supposed to do: judicial review. It found laws banning same sex marriage unconstitutional, violative of the Fourteenth Amendment. That decision did have the effect of legalizing gay marriage across the country, that’s true. But there’s a small but significant between saying ‘you have to stop preventing’ these sorts of marriages and saying ‘you have to allow’ them. They add up to the same optics; deliriously happy folks celebrating their mutual, and now official, commitment. Those optics are also the main reason that public opinion on this issue has shifted so dramatically. I mean, come on.

4) But precisely because SCOTUS did find preventing gay couples from marrying unconstitutional, Ms. Davis was absolutely obligated not to unilaterally overrule their decision. Which, by denying licenses to gay couples who showed up in her office, she was attempting to do.

5) It’s perfectly obvious that Judge Bunning, the guy who jailed her for contempt, absolutely didn’t want to do that. He gave her every opportunity to comply with the Court’s decision. He made every effort to accommodate her beliefs. Her recent actions, which are to provide gay couples with marriage licenses with her name removed, are probably also illegal. This case is not over; she could easily find herself in jail again, for contempt.

6) Can we agree that the footage of Mike Huckabee’s aide physically preventing Ted Cruz from going up on stage and sharing in the ‘solidarity with Kim Davis’ photo-op love is one of the funniest takeaways so far from this political season?

7) I’m setting the over/under on how long before Kim Davis is a Jeopardy question at 18 months.


The Intern: Movie Review

Nancy Meyer’s The Intern is an agreeable enough entertainment, low key and charming. My wife and I enjoyed it, especially the first two-thirds of the movie, before it got all squishy. What’s odd about it, though, is that it’s just about the most conservative movie I’ve seen in a good long while. It’s not conservative politically, particularly; it’s not really a political movie, at least not overtly. It’s not contentiously political, in any kind of partisan sense. It’s conservative in this sense: the unmistakable message of the movie is that old guys rule.

So, Robert De Niro plays Ben, a 70-year-old former executive, now retired, who finds that time weighs heavily when you don’t have a job to go to. He sees a flyer for a elder-intern program, and on a whim, applies for it, getting his nine-year-old granddaughter to help him with the required video job application. It’s at an on-line fashion website, founded and run by Jules, played by Anne Hathaway.

Hathaway’s company looks like a fun place to work. It’s one of those e-commerce start-ups where the employees are all 24, and there aren’t any offices, and the boss gets from meeting to meeting by riding her bicycle, weaving in and out of people’s workstations. Jules herself seems sort of insanely hand-on, as a boss. Characters talk about how ‘tough’ and ‘difficult’ she is, but she never seems anything but kind of sweet and supportive, if a trifle scattered. She does dump a lot on her personal assistant, Becky (Christina Sherer), who was otherwise winsome and charming.

Anyway, Ben shows up, the new intern, and initially fits in like a Mormon at a wine tasting. He can barely use a computer, he’s forty-plus years older than everyone else, and he wears a suit and tie in a shop where casual hardly begins to describe the dress code. But he’s smart, and hard-working, and he begins to find jobs that need doing, and does them briskly and efficiently, and Jules begins to notice that that desk where everyone just piled all their crap has been neatly organized and that memos that once just disappeared seem to show up when she needs them. And it freaks her out, and she fires Ben. He’s just so . . . observant, she says.

He stays fired for one day, as she realizes how indispensable he’s become. A key moment arises when she realizes that she sent an overly-frank email to her Mom. Ben puts a team of geeks together, they break into her Mom’s home and delete the email. So that maybe goes outside the usual duties of an intern at a start-up, but it was a funny moment. It solidifies Ben’s value for Jules and for her company, and she realizes just how special and important he is to her. And love blossoms.

No, it doesn’t. No love, no romance, no rom-com nonsense. Actually, Ben hooks up with the company masseuse (Rene Russo). (Of course, they have a company masseuse). To the extent that the film is a rom-com, it’s not a May/December romance; more like a November/December one. I would have hated the movie if a De Niro/Hathaway romance had happened, and there are numerous moments in the film where it looked like it might. I applaud the movie for not going there. I mean, Rene Russo is eleven years younger than Robert De Niro (she’s 61, he’s 72), but that’s at least plausible. No, it turns out that Jules doesn’t need, or want, a septuagenarian lover. What she wants is a Dad.

Ben’s old-school values (standing when women enter a room, keeping a handkerchief handy for those inevitable female crying jags, politeness and discretion) transform, not only the company (all the guys there start dressing better), but also Jules’ life. Her marriage is on the rocks; Ben becomes her sounding board and confidante. He babysits her daughter.

The central conflict in the film is an odd one; should Jules hire an experienced businessman as CEO of the company, letting him (it’s inevitably a guy) run the company, so she can spend more time at home, fixing her marriage. In fact, from a business sense, a CEO makes sense. Jules is perhaps a trifle too hands-on and scattered to be an effective boss, and as business has increased, things have been falling through the cracks. Her investors have been pressing her to hire someone, and much of the film involves her interviews with prospective . . . bosses? Because she’ll report to whoever she hires? Not sure how that works, since it’s her company–there’s no suggestion of a board, or that the company is beholden to stockholders. But I’m not a businessman; maybe this makes business-world sense.

Except Ben thinks this hire is a bad idea, and that means that it is a bad idea, because, in the world of this film, Ben is always, always right. Because he’s an old guy, experienced, with the wisdom of his years. It turns out that Jules company does probably need better management. Which Ben is perfectly capable of providing. As an intern. And as Jules’ surrogate Daddy. (No problem, either, with Jules and Ben working together–she’ll just do everything he says).

Now, Ben isn’t some fossil. He’s a self-described feminist. His late wife, we hear, was a jr. high principal, which suggests a woman with some force to her personality. And De Niro has a lot of fun with the role. He’s charming and funny, and carries an otherwise rather limp picture. Still, we can’t escape what seems to be the film’s essential premise. Old guys rock. Old is the new Young. Old people have hard-earned wisdom and an understanding of how the world works, and should therefore be listened to.

Well, I’m getting older, and I certainly don’t think I have an special insight into the world. And I look around at old guys, and I think a lot of us are cranky and have to take a lot of pills, and watch Fox News and intend to vote for Donald Trump. And some old guys really are awesome. It depends on the old guy, is what I’m saying. Which is, of course, really what this film is saying too; that it’s Ben that rules, not just older people. Except that this film has something else going on too.

It’s a film in which every real-life serious conflict basically disappears. It’s a film in which the ugliness and scarring pain of real life are simply . . . dispensed with, waved away by magic Ben and his unerring advice. And that’s another thing about older folks that I’ve noticed, that a lot of them, even while dealing with genuine difficulties incident to age, nonetheless want to offer advice that neatens up life’s essential messiness. I mean, isn’t there also just this kind of reality-denial at the heart of contemporary conservatism? There are two main conflicts in this film, both involving Jules, Hathaway’s character, and both just sort of . . . disappear. Because: Ben.

I understand, of course, that Hollywood is selling fantasy, just as Jules is on her website. But Nancy Meyers takes some shortcuts here, making her film more palatable. Ben’s health is never an issue, and neither are the other actual issues the film pretends to deal with–infidelity, marriage communication. The resolution of these issues is way less interesting than the way they’re all initially raised. I liked The Intern just fine. But there’s a better movie here, wishing it could emerge.


Everest: Movie Review

Everest is a terrific movie, with a single major handicap it never quite succeeds in overcoming. The movie is very exciting, builds genuine tension, was very moving, and was superbly acted. It’s also a beautiful film to watch, though I really think just pointing a camera at the Himalayas would make for a lovely film viewing experience. (I didn’t see it on IMAX, but I suspect it would be spectacular in that format).  But it’s also about a number of people wealthy enough to indulge their whims, people who choose to spend their leisure time and disposable income recklessly putting themselves in harm’s way. And about the loss of life among those tasked with rescuing them.

The movie does not claim to be based on Jon Krakauer’s best-seller Into Thin Air, a book I know well, but a controversial one. Surely, though, the screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, were familiar with it, and the movie is about the same 1996 episode as Krakauer’s book. On a big May climb, in 1996, an unanticipated storm hit a number of groups attempting to climb Mount Everest, and 8 climbers died. Krakauer’s book was very controversial, though in all fairness, he’s unsparing about his own ineffectual efforts to help with the rescue, which the movie also shows. Krakauer is also a character in the movie, played by the wonderful Michael Kelly as a bit of a self-promoting schmuck.

But Krakauer is right about this main point: climbing Everest has become an industry, with hundreds of amateur climbers attempting the ascent annually, and so many people try it that the safety of all of them is compromised. It continues, though, because the sale of climbing permits is a significant revenue source for the government of Nepal, and dozens of guiding organizations are able to charge up to $100,000 per climber. This film primarily focuses on two such outfits: Adventure Consultants, led by renowned climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), and its main competitor, Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). Hall is the film’s protagonist, in a film that deals generously with the stories of many characters.

So the film isn’t so much an expose of various calculations of greed that lead a whole lot of unqualified climbers up one of the world’s most dangerous mountains. It’s not really a celebration of the human spirit that leads all those people up that peak. It’s sort of an tribute to the blue-collar types, the hard-core mountaineering pros who lead all those amateurs to the summit, and the risks they run on behalf of their clients, and of the Sherpa natives who find lucrative employment making Everest climbs feasible. Above all, though, the title nails it; it’s a tribute to one magnificent, stark, dangerous, treacherous mountain, gloriously and lethally beautiful. The gifted young Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur paces the film beautifully. Above all, though, he manages to capture shots that seem impossible. Drone cameras? CGI? I don’t know. It’s a magnificent looking film, though, and the loveliness of the cinematography contrasts with the tragedy of the story. This time, the mountain wins. The human cost is heart-breaking. And so the central dramatic question of the film becomes this: why?

The first half of the film deals with preparations for the trip by Hall and his associates; the second half, with the ill-fated climb on May 10, 1996. We establish a number of characters: Andy Harris (Martin Henderson), Guy Cotter (Sam Worthington), and Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), as Hall’s associates, and also the amateur climbers, especially an older Texan, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a mailman, Doug Hanson (John Hawkes), and a Japanese woman Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has climbed the highest peaks on the other continents, and wants to finish it off with Everest.  We also meet a third group of people; the climbers’ families, most especially Rob Hall’s wife Jan Arnold (Keira Knightley), and Beck Weathers’ wife, Peach (Robin Wright).

I should also mention two other crucial climbers, Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), and Ang Dorjee (Ang Phula Sherpa). Boukreev’s portrayal was one of the more controversial characterizations in Krakauer’s book. Krakauer called him irresponsible for not using oxygen, but other climbers insisted that Boukreev was extraordinarily heroic, and that without his efforts, other amateurs would have died. The movie leans in that direction. Also, Dorjee stands in for the many Sherpa climbers without whom any Everest ascent would much more difficult than it already is, if not, in fact, impossible.

So: a large cast. A lot of characters to keep track of, though it frankly helps that a few of them are movie stars. Honestly, though, I thought all the characters were distinctive and interesting. I never found the large cast confusing, not remotely. It helps that these are all wonderful actors–Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, John Hawkes, Ingvar Siggurdsson, Emily Watson. Clarke nails his Kiwi accent, and he’s otherwise terrific. Hall is conscientious and compassionate; he comes across as the one tour guide who probably should be up there, actually. The others come across, uh, less well, especially Gyllenhaal, who plays Fischer as a guy with a serious substance abuse problem, leading to carelessness and endangering lives.

The fact is, for an amateur climber to summit Everest is only possible because dozens of more experienced climbers lay down rope lines and build camps and cache oxygen along the way. And when too many people are on the mountain, those preparations are compromised. The ’96 climbers who died were let down by previous groups that removed rope lines, or drained oxygen bottles. And Rob Hall’s group doesn’t discover any of that (and therefore can’t fix problems) until it’s very late in the day; later than is safe, given Everest’s propensity for sudden, lethal storms.

And Hall is also let down by his own compassion, his very occasional reluctant willingness to compromise his own standards, to help a client he likes and respects; specifically, in this case, Doug Hanson, the mountain climbing postman, so memorably played by Hawkes.

I knew what was going to happen, of course. I’m something of an Everest freak, and I’ve read Krakauer’s book, and Graham Ratcliffe’s book, and Galen Rowell’s account and all the rest of them. I knew going in what happened, and I knew who died, and who, miraculously, did not die.

It didn’t matter. I was still powerfully moved by it all, by the scenes in which climbers used sat phones to call their loved ones across the world to say goodbye, by scenes in which we see characters we care a lot about fall off the tallest mountain in the world. Human beings are not meant to climb a mountain the same height as the cruising altitude of a 747. Human beings are not meant to go that high. People die up there. They begin dying the moment they set foot at certain altitudes.


So yes, to some extent, it’s also a movie about race, and class, and rich white Americans indulging a whim, scratching an itch, crossing off another item on a bucket list. And the deaths of those trying to protect them, indulge them, and the human tragedy of those deaths. Still, we climb.  We see why people climb; why they feel like they have to do it. There is something magnificent about that, too.


Why I don’t think we’re in the Last Days

Wars and rumors of wars. Nation against nation. Famines, pestilences, earthquakes. Iniquity abounding, love waxing cold. False prophets, false Christs. Matthew 24 is terrifying. And there has never been a time in human history when decent, thoughtful people haven’t read Jesus’ great sermon on the abomination of desolation, looked at their world, their time, their society, and nodded their heads sadly. And thought, ‘yep. Now. Us. Right now.’

And thought as well, with the Revelator, “Even so, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.”

Except that we also know it already happened. Matthew 24 is a private sermon, Jesus to his disciples, warning them of events they would see in their lifetime. It happened. The references to this Abomination of Desolation are generally thought, by most Bible scholars, to have prophesied the invasion of Palestine by the Roman Emperor Titus, in 70 CE. There are many other theories of course, but in context, it’s clear enough: he’s saying ‘you guys living in Judea, horrible things are going to happen. Flee to the mountains.’

Of course, prophesies can have multiple applications, and multiple fulfillments. It’s likewise true, though, that some parts of the Bible are meant to be taken literally and specifically (‘love thy enemies’) and other parts of the Bible are likely meant more metaphorically (Noah’s Ark, for example: not a literal event, but a general reminder: ‘when natural disasters occur, God still loves you’). I don’t know which category the Last Days fit in. As a Mormon, I’m a Latter-day Saint; not a Last Days Saint. We’re here, now, two millennia after Christ’s ministry. A latter time. Not necessarily in the End of Days.

And certainly our day is a time filled with war, with violence, terrible tragedies and violence and hatred and rage. Absolutely true. Always been true. But consider these facts.

In the 1981, the best estimates were that 51 percent of the people of the world lived in deep poverty. In 2015, the best estimate is that 20 percent of the world is in abject poverty. Hugh Evans of the Global Poverty Project believes that it will be possible to end world-wide poverty by 2030, through sustainable development.  Of course, that’s an insane goal. It may also be achievable.

Smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, has been eradicated. Guinea worm disease afflicted 3.5 million people, in 21 countries, in 1986. Last year, there were 126 cases world-wide. Malaria remains a terrible scourge, but incidences have been cut in half, and are declining, due to the wide-spread dissemination of mosquito nets, an effort that is on-going. Diseases that once killed millions have been essentially eliminated.

Of course war remains the great enemy of mankind. And certainly there are many vicious wars being fought in the world today, But a smaller percentage of the earth’s population dies violently today than at any other time in the history of mankind. Last Days prophecies, found in both Old and New Testaments, come from the same tortured corner of the globe where unrest and violence most seem to prevail today. That can lead us to overreact to current events a bit. But wars and rumors of wars? They exist today, certainly. So have they always done.

We always like to compare the difficulties and problems of our epoch with rosy-colored projections of how much better things supposedly were in the past. (Better for everyone? Better for women? For racial minorities? For our gay brothers and sisters?)  But I ask this: in what possible sense is the world today so very wicked? Yes, war is terrible, no question, and the technology of our day has sadly, managed to perfect the savage art of killing people in large numbers. But there are at least fewer wars, than ever before in history. Women have rights never previously contemplated, and race-hatred is surely greatly diminished. Violent crimes occur, but with much less frequency than ever in history, and we see, to our astonishment, unimaginable advances in transportation, communication, medicine, agriculture. Fewer children starve, fewer suffer from abuse, fewer are forced into labor, than ever before. Of course, we have a long way to go before we can say we have eradicated poverty, despair, disease and violence, but can’t you see how unimaginably far we’ve come?

I do not claim to be a prophet, or anything like one. No one knows the hour or the day. I would add this: no one knows how literally we’re to understand scriptures referring to the destruction of the Last Days. But at the very least, the Biblical use of the word ‘soon’ has come to mean, ‘at least 2000 years, and probably a lot longer.’ Is it possible that the millennium is something we’re supposed to make happen, that peace on earth is something we’re supposed to work towards, with hope and faith and determination? Is it possible that the Second Coming refers to an attitude, an approach, a mindset we’re supposed to internalize, love for our enemies as well as our friends, a general sense of forgiveness and cooperation? Is it possible that we’re supposed to make it happen?

And if there is a literal Second Coming, isn’t peaceful cooperation the thing we want to be caught doing when He comes?

Soft voices, saying awful things

To the shock and awe of the pundit class, this election cycle has been dominated by The Donald, the Last Trump, the man the Deseret News columnist Sven Wilson calls “a human whoopee cushion; apply some pressure, and disgusting noises come out.”  Trump is bombastic, egocentric, and rude. He’s also either racist, or perfectly capable of saying racist things without embarrassment. And he’s ahead, by a lot, in all major polls. He also holds, on a few issues, policy positions that are (you have no idea how much it hurts to say this, but it’s true), reasonable and moderate. Meanwhile, much more mild-mannered, quiet, personally pleasant-seeming candidates in the race have been, quietly and politely saying awful, and untrue things. And getting away with it, because they’re not Donald Trump.

Case in point: Dr. Ben Carson:

I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I would absolutely not agree with that.

Just for the record, the Constitution that Dr. Carson holds so dear states, in Article VI, that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Even if they’re (gasp, shudder!) Muslims.

To be fair, Dr. Carson has walked that back, a little. And I’m going to let go the fact that he’s a creationist, or that he once called the Affordable Care Act the “worst thing to happen to this country since slavery.” Or that he once seriously suggested that the 2016 election might be called off, due to anarchy. Or his suggestion that homosexuality is a choice, because people “go into prison straight – and when they come out, they’re gay.” In fact, Dr. Carson does sometimes walk back his more controversial comments; he’s a master of those ‘if anyone was offended, I’m sorry’ apologies. The point is that Dr. Carson, though ostensibly a very nice man, holds extreme views on almost every major political issue of this season.

Let’s turn to Carly Fiorina. She was widely perceived as having won the last Republican debate. And in a sense, she probably did. She is articulate, smart and a superb debater. And honestly, I enjoyed watching her perfect response to Donald Trump’s insults about her appearance. Her star is rising among Republican voters, and for good reason. She’s an excellent communicator.

But then there’s this. Describing those horrific Planned Parenthood videos, she said this:

Anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’

Wow. That’s powerful stuff. And so we think, inevitably, ‘those Planned Parenthood doctors are moral monsters.’ Except for one little problem; the image she so memorably describes never happened. It’s not on the video. Those videos are misleadingly edited anyway, and we do see a very brief shot of a still-born infant. But the image, and text she describes never happened.

She’s essentially accusing doctors of murder. The doctors in that video, and Planned Parenthood itself, could well sue her for malicious prosecution, a lawsuit they would win. I understand that conservatives are morally opposed to abortion, and that the Planned Parenthood videos are offensive to the sensibilities of many good religious people. They were intentionally edited to provoke precisely that response. Just consider this: shutting down Planned Parenthood will certainly increase, not decrease, the numbers of elective abortions performed in this country.

Ms. Fiorina was recently interviewed by Katie Couric, and they ended up talking at length about global climate change. Kudos to Ms. Fiorina! That’s an important issue, and one that most Republican candidates would rather not address. Again, she came across as reasonable and moderate. Again, she’s very impressive in interviews; well spoken and smart.

Except that essentially everything she said was dead wrong. called her on it. My favorite moment was when Fiorina said that California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations.” California does indeed have stringent environmental regulations. California also created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, and is fifth in GDP growth. And a lot of that growth is in, wait for it, yes, clean energy.

But my favorite is still Ted Cruz. And he was on Stephen Colbert last night, and he said this:

From 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than 1 percent a year. There’s only one other four year period where that’s true. From 2008 to 2012, and what Reagan did was, he cut taxes, he cut regulations, unchained small businesses, and economic growth boomed, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. . .  As I travel the country, I haven’t seen anyone saying, the thing we want from Republicans is to give in more to Barack Obama and the direction we’re going.

Sounds reasonable, sounds principled. And Cruz’s manner is, again, fairly mild. Except that what he said is complete horsefeathers. Politifact checked this out recently. During Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, the number of Americans ‘raised from poverty’ was 294,000. By instructive contrast, during Bill Clinton’s Presidency, the number of Americans in poverty declined by 6.5 million.

It’s certainly true that poverty has increased during President Obama’s time in office. The numbers of Americans in poverty did go up from 2008-2012. The poverty rate has been in rapid decline since 2012, however.

And we all know why. Everyone in America knows why. The Great Recession hit in 2008. The economy nearly collapsed, not just here, but also in most of the developed world. Of course poverty has been high during Obama’s Presidency. He inherited an American economy in free-fall. And he’s done a splendid job of reversing it. Obama’s stimulus, so lamented on the right, created millions of new jobs. The benefits far outweighed the costs.

The simple-minded narrative would be that George W. Bush wrecked the economy, and Barack Obama has saved it. But the root cause of the Great Recession, the deregulation of the financial sector, was signed into law by Bill Clinton. But Clinton was a moderate Democrat, who occasionally embraced conservative principles. In reality, conservatism destroyed our economy, and Keynesian economics saved it. And Ronald Reagan did not lift millions of Americans from poverty, and what people really want is for the Obama recovery to continue. Ted Cruz’s comments, on Colbert, were really very silly.

Someone who speaks quietly will always seem reasonable, even if he is saying horrific things softly. Someone who speaks in full, grammatical sentences, with vivid examples to illustrate her point, will always come across as informed and sensible. Even if nothing she says can survive the most rudimentary fact-checking. Ted Cruz may seem like the Dad in a fifties sitcom, but Ward Cleaver would never stoop to vitriolic and untrue attacks on a sitting President. Style matters. Content matters a good deal more.

Julie Rowe: what’s the harm?

Yesterday, I wrote about Julie Rowe, the woman who claims to have seen visions persuading her that we live in the End of Days. I’m afraid that my post was, uh, skeptical of her claims. I have received a lot of responses to that post–most agree with me, a few do not. That’s fine. There is one type of response, however, that I think is worth responding to.  It goes like this: what does it matter? Let’s suppose she got it wrong. Let’s suppose that the destruction of the Last Days does not begin this September 28. So what? People may have been motivated to add to their personal preparation supplies. That’s all to the good. She’s a nice lady; who has she harmed?What’s the big deal?

Well, to begin with, let’s talk about this matter of people stocking up on emergency supplies. With these kinds of apocalyptic announcements comes a sense of urgency, possibly even a sense of panic and fear. Isn’t it possible that people, driven by desperation might spend a whole lot of money they don’t have and can’t afford? Are people maxing out credit cards, blowing through savings, even taking out second mortgages? I’ve heard of each of these things. I remember during a previous scare a good friend telling me that he was cashing in all his savings bonds, money he had set aside for college for his kids. It didn’t matter, because his kids were just teenagers and in the Last Days, nobody was going to college, that was certain. Buy supplies, by all means. Budget for it, look for bargains, take your time. Don’t panic-buy. And yet, that is precisely what some people are doing, according to friends at Emergency Essentials.

I didn’t mention this in my last post, but according to Julie Rowe, America’s currency is going to be rendered worthless. We should stock up on gold, which will retain value in a barter economy. I don’t know what to say about that; it’s also a popular Glen Beck trope, I know. But it’s the worst kind of nonsense. Gold is just another commodity, priced the way all commodities are priced, according to the immutable laws of supply and demand. It has no inherent value. To say ‘we’ll be fine if our economy collapses, because we’ll have lots of gold stockpiled’ really only makes sense if we assume that the people with all the food and water will be dentists, in need of a metal to use in fillings. The idea that gold will always be of value is just magical thinking at its worst. The idea that a whole bunch of people will waste their time and money investing in gold is quite frightening.

Of course, Julie Rowe also urges people to buy guns. Just what we need, even more firearms in circulation. Add panic and fear and desperation, and I see a potentially combustible mix.

In addition, I can’t emphasize strongly enough how dangerous I find Julie Rowe’s claim that the 2008 election was stolen. Again, she offers no evidence for it; she saw it in a vision. This isn’t just dangerous because it isn’t true, and didn’t happen. There is literally no evidence suggesting that the election was stolen, and several hundred thousands of pieces of evidence proving that it didn’t happen. (Every exit poll, every election machine in America). This assertion feeds the worst kind of conspiracy theories. It de-legitimizes the election of the sitting President of the United States.

I understand that conservatives don’t like President Obama. I didn’t like President Bush. It’s as American as apple pie to disagree, on partisan grounds, with the policies of the President. But when President Bush was in the White House, post-9/11, some liberals began to circulate the conspiracy theory that the buildings of the World Trade Center had not collapsed because they were hit by jetliners, but that they were destroyed by explosives smuggled into the buildings by members of the Bush administration. Essentially, some liberals accused President Bush of having murdered thousands of Americans on 9/11. I spoke out against that accusation at the time, and have continued to so repeatedly. That kind of thinking genuinely does endanger our democracy.

By the same token, the notion that President Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, that he is secretly in league with Muslim terrorists, that he is an evil and designing man deliberately trying to destroy America, all the conspiracy theories regarding his Presidency, they’re equally pernicious, equally dangerous, equally damaging to American democracy.

Disagree with his policies. That’s fine. Argue with all the eloquence you can muster for different, in your mind better policies. Go wild. But don’t question the legitimacy of his Presidency. That way leads nowhere constructive. We will never solve our nation’s problems until we can agree on this central notion: that our political opponents are patriotic men and women, with whom we disagree on matters of policy. Period.

When asked to do so by the Church, Julie Rowe has disavowed any claims to prophetic status. That is to her credit. I’ve heard that she’s a very nice lady. I don’t doubt it. In my previous post, I suggested that she might be a charlatan; I withdraw that accusation. But I do not believe in her visions, I don’t think anything special’s going to happen within the next couple of weeks. I don’t even doubt that she had a near-death experience, and that she believes herself to have had visions. But she saw things that aren’t true. Make of that what you will.



Julie Rowe

This week, I have been listening to Julie Rowe’s first two interviews on the Mills Crenshaw radio show, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Julie Rowe, for those of you don’t know her, is a Mormon woman from Tucson who had a near-death experience in 2004. As part of that experience, she says she met a guardian angel, John, who let her read from the Book of Life, leading to a series of visions about the Earth’s past, present, and future. In other words, she claims to have seen the End of Days. It’s going to start soon. Specifically, it’s going to start on September 28. And this prophecy has been a boon for the good folks at Emergency Essentials, let me tell you, who are doing a brisk business of late.

I had never heard of Mills Crenshaw prior to listening to these interviews on Youtube. He’s apparently a Utah conservative radio talk show host of some renown. Listening to his interview with Rowe, the word I would use to describe him is ‘credulous.’ (Also ‘unhurried’; the two interviews each lasted two hours, and there are four more hours worth on Youtube). He accepts her visions uncritically. And why wouldn’t he? Everything she says fits with a certain conservative Mormon world-view.

Rowe has gotten a lot of notoriety because of her Last Days prophecies, but listening to her radio interviews, those prophesies are in fact a very small part of her message. Mostly, she talks about seeing, well, the characters and narratives of the Bible and Book of Mormon. She describes encounters with Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses. She sees the construction of the Ark and the Tower of Babel. While she’s at it, she name-drops Columbus and George Washington. Every one of these personages is described with a kind of fan-girl enthusiasm. Adam is ‘so great.’ It’s like that for everyone; they’re all great men, all powerful leaders. We never hear a physical description of anyone, until she gushes about Jesus’ beautiful blue eyes. A middle-eastern semitic Jew with blue eyes? But she’s insistent on the point, and Mills Crenshaw never once expresses the tiniest skepticism.

Finally, though, we do get to our day, now, and that’s where her message moves from LDS-cultural conservative to full-on wingnut. She insists that the 2008 election was stolen. So was 2012. We have a wicked and designing man, intent on destroying America, in the White House. And it’s likely the next election will bring someone even more evil. And that’s where we’re going to see foreign troops invading America unopposed. And we’ll all have to gather. To Missouri, presumably, though Independence and Jackson County are already pretty heavily populated.

The heavens will let loose and the powers of darkness will rage. There will be natural disasters on a massive scale unlike anything the earth has experienced before.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, plagues, droughts, famines, pestilence and all manner of disasters will be upon the earth in such a deep and broadened scale that mankind cannot even imagine what it will be like.The world as we know it will cease to exist.

She describes international catastrophes as well. She has seen a nuclear weapon launched from Syria. And Iran. And the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. No wonder folks are stocking up on water, buying foodstuffs, survival gear, gold, and of course, guns.

Look, my tone’s probably given away my lack of enthusiasm for Julie Rowe and her message. One difficulty is that she doesn’t really talk about any of these catastrophes in any detail. Her narrative is interrupted by this frequent coyness: ‘I’ve seen that, but I’ve been instructed not to tell people much detail.’ I couldn’t help but notice that the details she’s unable to provide tend to coincide with testable facts. To give just one example, she insists that President Obama rigged the election of 2008. Well, all right, how exactly did he rig it? What specifically was done? Her inevitable reply ‘I do know that. I’ve seen it in a vision. But I’ve been forbidden to share it.’

Here’s the thing. If, say, Mills Crenshaw were to say ‘I think Barack Obama stole the election in 2008,’ well fine. We could ask what his evidence is, we could research that evidence, we could fact-check his assertions. But that’s not possible with Julie Rowe, of course, because it’s not her idea, not her opinion, not a conclusion she reasoned her way to; it came to her in a vision. This is important because, the notion that a national election was stolen recently is exactly the kind of opinion that we experienced political science types tend to call ‘wackadoodle.’

There simply aren’t any facts to support that particular conclusion. So, you know, we basically know she’s wrong on that one. As for all the rest of it, we do have one testable hypothesis. She claims that seriously bad things are going to happen in the world beginning September 28. That’s eleven days from now. Of course, it’s always possible that, coincidentally, a tsunami or something might hit in a week and a half. Boy, won’t skeptics like me look stupid then!

But I’ll chance it.

Sadly, there really are only two possible ways of understanding Julie Rowe, both of them unkind and uncharitable. She might be a charlatan, a fraud. Or she might be sincerely deluded. She might just be nuts. On that point, we have no real basis for judgment; we don’t have enough evidence to support either theory.

I suppose it’s also possible that she’s right. If so, we’ll find out soon enough.

Defining the Baseball Hall of Fame

It’s mid-September. Football season has begun, and basketball season is a couple of months away. The baseball playoffs haven’t yet begun, but the teams who will compete for the World Series have essentially been determined. Which makes this a perfect time to talk about the baseball Hall of Fame.

Rob Manfred, the new Commissioner of Baseball, recently made an announcement that got no publicity and surprised essentially no one. He wrote the officials of the Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville South Carolina, to tell them that he would not reconsider the long-standing decision to ban “Shoeless” Joe Jackson from the baseball Hall of Fame.

For the sake of you who aren’t baseball fans, Joe Jackson was one of the best players in baseball from 1908-1920. But in the 1919 World Series, he was one of several players for the Chicago White Sox who conspired with gamblers to throw the series–to lose on purpose. After a year’s investigation, Jackson, and his fellow ‘Black Sox’ were banned for life from the game. That ban included induction into the American Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. Jackson was, by any statistical measure, a genuine great player. And that subset of baseball fans who continue to agitate for his induction point out that ‘Black Sox’ case was adjudicated in federal court, and Jackson and his teammates were exonerated. Still, he’s out.

I’m not going to argue for or against Joe Jackson. This recent decision by Commissioner Manfred, however, points up a serious problem that the baseball Hall of Fame continues to have, which is growing exponentially worse.  It’s a problem of definition.

What is the Baseball Hall of Fame? Here are two possible answers. One is this: it’s essentially a pantheon. It’s intended to honor the greatest players who have ever played the game. You visit the Hall of Fame primarily to see the room where they keep all the plaques.

But ‘greatest’ is a contested term. It would easy enough to construct a statistical measure of everyone who has played, induct the guys who are above some line of achievement, and not induct the guys who fall short. But the pantheon is about human beings, not stat lines; there are other accomplishments besides hitting or pitching stats that can provide a larger context. Character should also count. So a guy like Joe Jackson, who accepted money from gamblers, who threw games, committed the ultimate sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost, kind of. Not that he was a bad guy generally; by all accounts, he was a genial companion and a generous and kindly individual. But for a sport to survive as a commercial enterprise requires, at the very least, for fans to believe that the players are honestly competing. When the Dodgers play the Giants, our emotional investment in that game depends on our sense that the players on both teams are really trying to win. The Black Sox scandal had to be contained, and the players punished. The continued survival of baseball as a sport depended on it.

That leads me to the second definition of the Hall of Fame; it’s a museum. It’s the principal museum for the sport of professional baseball. When you go to the Hall of Fame, you spend most of your time looking at the various exhibits there, the artifacts and the displays. And it has a library with an unparalleled collection of materials. Anyone doing genuine historical research would have to spend considerable time there.

And that’s also true. I’ve been to the Hall of Fame, and yes, you do spend some time in the plaque room. But mostly, you look at the exhibits. The history of baseball is, certainly, about Willie Mays and Babe Ruth and Mickie Mantle–the great players. But it’s also about Moe Berg, and “Super” Joe Charboneau, and Bob Uecker and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. It’s about ‘Casey at the Bat,’ and Major League, and John Fogerty singing ‘Centerfield.’ It’s about the quirks and oddities of a sport that thrives on them. It’s a museum.

So which is it, first and foremost? A pantheon or a museum? Well, for decades, the HOF got along perfectly well without deciding. The pantheon function attracted visitors (which isn’t all that easy, considering its location–tiny town, upstate New York), and then the museum part entertained them. (And then the gift shop sucked their wallets empty). It was a pantheon, minus one guy who should probably be there, but honestly, who really cares that much about Joe Jackson?

And then the Joe Jackson omission (which happened for good reasons), became the precedent by which Pete Rose could also be kept out. And at one level, omitting Pete Rose makes all kinds of sense. He bet on baseball. Against the rules–rules established in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. Of course, to create a pantheon of the Greatest Players Ever that didn’t include Pete Rose is absurd. He was a great and unique and tremendous player. But, still, fine: it’s a Hall of Fame of everyone except two guys. And Pete set up a booth outside the Hall in Cooperstown, and did a brisk business signing his autograph. Reminding us of who he was.

But then came the home run binge of the late ’90s, and rumors, now proven true, of wide-spread steroid use by most of the best players in the game. And the ‘Pantheon’ function of the Hall of Fame is rapidly becoming completely absurd.

The greatest hitter I ever saw play, and statistically, the great offensive force in the history of the game, was Barry Bonds. He isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and won’t be, because he took steroids.

The greatest power pitcher of the last forty years was either Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens. You could make a strong case for either guy. Johnson was just inducted. Clemens won’t be, because he took steroids.

Sammy Sosa. Mark McGwire. Their home run race, in 1998, was the most exciting thing in the sport, and may have saved it, because so many fans had tuned out after a labor dispute caused the ’94 World Series to be cancelled. Sosa and McGwire have credentials that should make them automatic Hall of Famers. Neither will be inducted, because they juiced.

They aren’t the only ones, but they’re the biggest names. We’ve reached a point where the greatest hitters and pitchers in the history of baseball aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Why? Because “they cheated.”

(We do not know how many players in the ’90s used steroids. The pitcher Eric Gagne says over 80% of the guys he played with during his years in baseball were users. Jose Canseco says over 80%. Other estimates range from 40-60%)

But see, that’s exactly the kind of thing a museum is very good at; providing context and historical perspective. Yes, the steroids era happened. Let’s talk about that. Let’s also talk about the widespread use of amphetimines (uppers), in the ’50s and ’60s, and cocaine in the ’70s and ’80s. Let’s create a super informative display, right there in the museum.

And in the meantime, let’s put the game’s greatest players ever in the pantheon. And yes, that includes Pete Rose and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. And yes, it probably also includes Joe Jackson.

So how do we beat Trump?

I don’t know that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. Nate Silver, at, thinks he won’t be. It would be essentially unprecedented for a Presidential candidate with so few important endorsements from opinion-makers and party leaders to win the nomination. It would be similarly unprecedented, however, for a candidate who has held a lead in the polls as big as Trump’s for as long as he’s held it to not win the nomination. So it could happen.

It could happen. Take a second, and wrap your head around that amazing possibility. Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination for President of the United States. A guy whose basic stump speech consists of the rawest immigrant-bashing, braggadocio, attacks on his critics, and open dissing of the personalities of the opposing candidates. He could be the nominee.

So I went to the movies the other night with my wife, and, being an old guy, hit the restroom on the way into the theater. In the men’s room, these two middle-aged guys were talking about the Trump phenomenon. Bright guys; from the context of their conversation, I think they were both attorneys, possibly even law partners. I followed them out of the facility, eavesdropping. And as they went into their theater, one of them said, “The bottom line is, he’s a truth-teller. People like that.”

No. Donald Trump is not a truth-teller. In order to be a truth-teller, you have to tell the truth. Donald Trump does not tell the truth. On many issues, maybe even most issues, he says things that are factually inaccurate. I don’t doubt the sincerity with which he holds his views. I am, most emphatically, not calling him a liar. I am saying that there are such things as facts, as provable objective realities. The authenticity with which a person holds to views does not convey truthfulness on those views.

What Trump is, is authentic. He is who is, unvarnished and unapologetic. He brags all the time, because that’s what narcissists do, but also because he really, genuinely, authentically thinks his plan to defeat ISIS (for example) is going to be awesome. And when he says he’s going to ‘make America great again,’ and says it with his characteristic brio, it’s an appealing idea.

But let’s talk about truth. If I were to say to you, with great confidence, that I think the Earth is flat, I would be saying something untrue. It wouldn’t matter how genuinely I believe the Earth is flat. It isn’t.

In other words, the opposite of ‘truth’ isn’t necessarily ‘a lie.’ It might just be ‘ignorance.’ It might just be ‘factual confusion.’ It might be ‘ideology.’ It’s in that sense that I say that Trump is not a truth teller. I don’t think he’s actively trying to deceive people. I think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

So when he suggests (and I’m paraphrasing here), that America is being flooded with illegal immigrants, that those immigrants represent a major crisis for our country, that the Mexican government is sending those immigrants our way and that the ones they’re sending have a propensity for violent crime, and that our nation’s economic difficulties are largely due to illegal immigration, he is saying things that are not true. I’m not saying this because my opinions differ from his. I say this because all these issues have been carefully studied, published in peer-reviewed journals. And for the most part, the facts are not really in dispute. I mean, we don’t know exactly, precisely, how many undocumented workers there are in the US, in part because one of them died while I was writing this paragraph, but researchers from a number of disciplines, using different approaches to estimate the totals, all come up with figures within a few thousand of each other. I do not believe that Donald Trump is familiar with that research. I don’t think he cares.

I also have opinions about Donald Trump’s opinions. I think his opinions are, at best, based on gut impressions, or prejudices, or are simply made up on the spot. He’s a businessman. When he needs to know something for a project he’s working on, he does just as much research as he needs to do to enable the deal to go through. But I don’t know the man. I’m not in his head.

The poll numbers for Donald Trump, and Dr. Ben Carson suggest that the Republican electorate is fed up with traditional politicians, and with politics as usual. But the poll numbers on the Democratic side are even more interesting. Because right now, Hillary Clinton is floundering, and Bernie Sanders is surging.

I think the way to defeat authenticity is with equal authenticity. And if the electorate really is fed up with traditional politicians, that bodes ill for Hillary Clinton. I admire the woman, and think she’s easily the most qualified candidate in the race. I like her recent speeches. I would very much like for her to be President. But she comes across as, well, inauthentic. She seems like a politician. The ridiculous email non-scandal is hurting her immensely, not because there’s anything there, but because her response to it has seemed lawyerly. If this election is about authenticity, I have this suspicion that her reaction would be ‘I can fake that!’ Her candidacy is massively successful by traditional standards–she has wads of money, endorsements from every shaker-and-mover in the Democratic party, an excellent organization. But she’s floundering.

And she’s about to make a major miscalculation. She’s been attacking Sanders. She might even run ads against him. Bad bad bad idea. Double-plus un-good. Because that’s what politicians do.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, seems cranky, seems impatient, isn’t terribly charismatic. But tens of thousands of young people flock to his events, driven there mostly through social media and word-of-mouth. He says, over and over, exactly what he plans to do as President. That’s incredibly appealing.

I’m not actually much of a Bernie Sanders fan. He’s skeptical of free trade, and I like free trade. He’s squishy on immigration, because unions are. And he’s indiscriminate in his criticism of big corporations. I’m no fan of corporate malfeasance. But not all big corporations are evil. I mean, if the choices are Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, that’s the easiest call in the history of American politics. If that’s the choice, I’m voting for Sanders. But he’s not the candidate of my dreams.

But there’s one other viable choice. Vice-President Biden hasn’t yet announced his intentions. It’s not surprising that he’s waited this long; after all, his son Beau, who he loved and who he called his ‘best friend’ died just a few weeks ago, a devastating personal blow for a man who has suffered more personal tragedies than most people. But I desperately hope Joe Biden runs.

If you didn’t see it, go on and see Stephen Colbert’s interview with Vice-President Biden. It’s just extraordinary. An astonishing moment of personal connection, between two men whose lives have been shaped by personal tragedy, in which both men talk about faith and love and family and how one recovers from the worst blows human beings ever have to bear.

If Joe Biden runs for President, runs while still consumed with grief and pain, if he stands before the American people, here’s what he will say. This will be his message:

“I have suffered personal tragedies, as have so many of you, my fellow Americans. And what I have learned is this: we have to help each other. We have to respond to pain and fear with courage and with generosity. My son’s death has taught me, more than anything else, one lesson: the purpose of life is to serve others. And I am running for President, because the purpose of government is to help the least fortunate among us.”

The way to fight authentic bombast is with equally authentic humility. The way to fight untruth is with truth. I am praying that Joe Biden runs for President. If he does, I will vote for him, and will work for his success. And he will win.

What I think Donald Trump means by political correctness

Donald Trump is way ahead in all the national polls, in the race for the Presidency. And this unlikely fact is driving the professional political class crazy. Things weren’t supposed to happen this way. In the leadup to the 2012 election, the list of announced Republican candidates had a similar clown car vibe, and unlikely front runners did keep popping up–Herman Cain, anyone?–but eventually order was restored, and the putative favorite, Mitt Romney, did in fact become the nominee. That isn’t happening now. And various pith-helmeted politico/anthropologists have been jungle-safariing for an explanation.

The most recent of these was the respected conservative pollster, Frank Luntz, who declared “my legs are shaking” after meeting with a focus group of Trump supporters:

The focus group watched taped instances on a television of Trump’s apparent misogyny, political flip flops and awe-inspiring braggadocio. They watched the Donald say Rosie O’Donnell has a “fat, ugly face.” They saw that Trump once supported a single-payer health system, and they heard him say, “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created.” But the group—which included 23 white people, 3 African-Americans and three Hispanics and consisted of a plurality of college-educated, financially comfortably Donald devotees—was undeterred.

At the end of the session, the vast majority said they liked Trump more than when they walked in.

The same night, Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace, who is working for the Jeb! Bush campaign, reported similar encounters with one particular Trump supporter: her father. She was on Rachel Maddow’s show a couple of nights ago, and she declared herself similarly baffled and appalled. Trump supporters don’t care: that Trump called Mexicans rapists and insulted Megyn Kelly and holds heterodox views (for a supposed Republican) on a whole range of issues. None of that matters. He says things that would permanently end most political careers, and his poll numbers go up. Then he’s called on it, refuses to apologize, refuses to back down. And his poll numbers go . . . up.

Here’s what I think is going on.

Remember, early on, when he said “I don’t have time for political correctness.” I don’t think he meant ‘political correctness’ as I generally understand the term. Political correctness usually refers to super-persnickity sensitivity to un-or-sub conscious sexism or racism in commonly used language. It relates to, among other things, the dismaying fact that English, unlike other languages, does not have a gender-neutral personal pronoun. Take this sentence: “when your child asks for chocolate, what he’s really asking for is. . . .” That’s sexist. It assumes that ‘your child’ is male. One unsatisfying solution would be to use the feminine pronoun ‘your child . . . she’s.’ Another, equally unsatisfying, would be ‘your child . . . he or she.’ My inner grammar finniken recoils at the increasingly popular compromise ‘they.’ Fact is, there’s not really an elegant way to de-genderize our personal pronouns. Well, the political correctness police don’t care about syntactical elegance. They want sexism gone from our language. They’re fine with ‘your child . . . he or she.’ Or worse, ‘your child . . . your child.’  Now I’m depressed. . . .

Sorry. Back to it. That’s not the kind of political correctness Mr. Trump seems to be referring to. Essentially, he’s saying ‘I’ll be rude if I want to.’ My beloved schoolmarm mother is, properly, horrified.

Digging deeper. I just finished reading a fascinating book, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson describes a woman, Justine Sacco, who, as she passed through Heathrow Airport in London, sent out a tweet about the trip she was taking to Africa. A dumb joke, she thought. She got on the plane, shut off her phone, fell asleep. When the plane landed, and she turned her phone back on, she discovered that her life was essentially over. Her tweet had gone viral, and was widely condemned as racist. She lost her job. She couldn’t get another one, because prospective employers would google her, see the tweet and the reaction to it, and decide she was toxic. 30 years old, and unemployable. Terrifying.

So Ronson’s book is about public humiliation, the ferocity of the cyberworld, the way we judge others based on a single tweet or comment or incident. And he cites several other examples of people whose lives were ruined, as Sacco’s was. But his book also includes a fascinating, and rather Trumpian, counter-example.

Formula One racing mogul, Max Mosley is not just prominent in his own right, he’s also the son of a prominent man–Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader during WWII.  Max Mosley was filmed by the British tabloid News of the World having a spectacular sado-masochistic sex orgy with five prostitutes, in a torture dungeon filled with German memorabilia. And he survived it, reputation and employment intact. He survived by going on a national news program and saying ‘yes, that’s me in those videos. I have a kinky sex life. So what? Lots of people do. I’m not ashamed, or embarrassed, any more than anyone else should be about their sex lives.’ And it worked. If anything, he was more popular afterwards.

I’m not saying that Donald Trump has Nazi-themed sex orgies, or anything like it. But there’s a certain game that somehow attaches to politics more than other endeavors. It’s a cycle of mistake-scandal-contrition-forgiveness that all politicians, when they say or do something embarrassing, are supposed to engage in. When Donald Trump says he rejects political correctness, he’s saying that he’s not playing. He’s unashamed.

Look at Facebook. If your Facebook newsfeed is like mine, it includes dozens, hundreds even, of politically-themed memes. And a lot of them show some prominent political figure, and a quotation of something offensive they said on some subject or other. And we’re supposed to recoil in horror. We’re supposed to take that particular quotation as indicative of the program or platform or personality of that political figure. We’re supposed to conclude that anyone who could say something like that must be either a monster or a moron. Certainly, having said that awful thing disqualifies him or her for public office.

Well, Trump’s not having it. He’s not playing that game. He’s not apologizing. He’s running for President because he thinks America’s on the wrong path. He wants to ‘make America great again.’ And a lot of people agree with him, and love how unabashed he is about it. And one of the things they like about him is that he’s not acting like a politician, carefully parsing every statement and focus-group-testing every stance. I get it; I get why he’s popular.

We all say dumb things all the time. And our mistakes don’t define us. We all have blind spots and we all have cockamamie ideas and we all have irrational and foolish prejudices. Trump just doesn’t apologize for his. Part of his personality is that he says rude things about people sometimes. Part of his personality is that he brags all the time about how great he is. That’s who he is; that’s the package. If you don’t like it, vote for someone else.

And that humiliating search for ‘gotcha’ quotations and past policy preferences, and the perceived necessity of groveling before the media when you get caught; it really does seem demeaning and unnecessary and self-righteous. That’s what Trump’s not interested in. He won’t apologize and he won’t back down. And that’s what he means by rejecting ‘political correctness.’ It is, I’ll admit, kind of refreshing.

(There’s still zero chance I’m going to vote for him. He’s just wrong on too many issues. But I am starting to get his appeal.)