Author Archives: dplaflamme

Game Without End?

Donald J. Trump just gave his first address to the United Nations General Assembly today.

I’ve always had a few different theories I can’t decide among about why Donald J. Trump ran for President. The political support for him, I understand: it’s pure, cynical opportunism. He won’t tell any nominal supporter, “No,” so all the crackpots who couldn’t advance their extreme ideas otherwise lined up behind him to push him up while whispering in his ear.

What about Trump himself? What’s in it for him?

One theory is that he craves publicity and fame, no matter how degrading. Money is just a way to keep score; what he wants are recognition and ratings! It doesn’t matter if it’s degrading or humiliating; if it gets great ratings, he’s in.

Another theory is an evil temperament, the kind that would have rental agents note the applications of people of color for his apartments, is now leavened with a layer of dementia, the illness in which people lose context and understanding. Sure, he’ll say wacky, racist things, because that’s part of his core personality, but does he really understand what he’s saying and how it plays in the world? Does he understand that his words matter? If the people around him keep telling him what he wants to hear, because they can also tell him what they want him to hear — and believe — would we know?

One theory I keep trying to disprove is that he never wanted to win the Presidency and kept — keeps — trying to things to sabotage his own campaign and then Presidency, only to find that nothing repulses his supporters and beneficiaries the way he’d expect. It’s as if, when he said he could shoot someone in broad daylight and his support would grow, not drop, he was complaining, not boasting. Sure, running for President was going to be fun, and he’d get some petty revenge for that White House Correspondents’ Dinner when he was so mercilessly mocked, but he wouldn’t have to give up his businesses or live in that tacky place in DC instead of his own tacky home in New York City in a building with his own name on it! Release his tax returns? It’d never get that far. Prove his worth? They’d never look closely enough to see through that facade. His financial shell games? They’d never look in the right places. Govern? As if!

He keeps upping the ante, trying to get someone behind him to say, “Enough! Pence, or Hillary, next, please!” Promise to build a wall? Assure us that Mexico would pay for it? Insult every ally? Insult the politicians with whom he’d have to govern? Lie shamelessly constantly? Make disaster relief appearances all about him? Deny the intelligence community conclusions everyone else accepts? Blurt out top secret intelligence to hostile foreigners? Threaten to incinerate 25 million Koreans in front of the UN?

At this point, I’m surprised he didn’t pull out the maps of his electoral college victory or counties he won, but then again, the UN has no power to override our sovereignty and impeach his sorry ass. While he was doing that, the Koch Brothers were trying once more time to destroy our safety net, so he’s still useful to them for a while longer.

Given his lack of attention to actual policy, I think we can rule out he’s doing this based on his principles. But that still leaves three other theories about why. Additional fame I tend to discount as a theory; he’s poisoning his own brand so much, no sane, rational person would do that. But both dementia and an insincere campaign he lost control of remain plausible.

I hope he finds an end game, or the help he may desperately need, soon. We can’t afford more of his thrashing around.

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For Paul Ryan (& Joel Osteen?)

He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Mt 25:33-40

Paul Ryan may wish to remember, Jesus didn’t give any credit to the tax collectors who gave the poor tax breaks and investment credits so they could start their own businesses with capital (that they didn’t have) to develop a business and eventually feed themselves or clothe themselves. He was much more about immediate results.

Remember that time thousands of followers came to a rally but forgot to bring food and drink? He gathered up what food and drink He and his staff had and used it to feed all of those gathered, despite their appalling lack of planning and self-sufficiency.

He cured the sick, of course, without worrying about co-pays and pre-existing conditions. Maybe that was because He was a carpenter, not a doctor. If He had thousands of dollars of student loans, would He have…. No, that probably wouldn’t have made a difference, would it? He didn’t qualify his teachings with such considerations. He was pretty much, “If you can do it, do it to help others.”

He didn’t even go in for that, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats forever,” type of teaching. He gave people fish and wine. He healed them instead of opening a healing school to teach others how to heal as He did. He was very much about immediate results, not about establishing the conditions for long-term economic recovery in Galilee. Despite that short-sightedness, His teachings persisted, and eventually a movement followed; others learned to help and love based on his examples, not because he gave seminars at Jesus University on how to help and love.

Reminder: sometimes I say the obvious, in case it’s not obvious. For Paul Ryan, and possibly for Joel Osteen in flood-ravaged Houston, apparently it’s not obvious.

Living in the Future

Did Star Trek‘s communicators have app stores so McCoy and Sulu could download Words With Klingons? If not, Gene Roddenberry underestimated the future.

When I go to a restaurant, the host assumes I have a personal communicator on which she can beam me a message when my table is ready. She’ll also tell me which app to download so I can track my place in line. 

I can buy movie tickets at my restaurant table and show the ticket taker my communicator two hours later that I have a ticket — but that’s old news. 

Ten years ago, smart phones with web browsers were rare and clunky. Twenty years ago, cell phones were rare and clunky. Thirty years ago, we’d stay up late so our long distance phone calls were cheaper — on land lines! 

Yeah, living in the future!

It’s Our Country; What Do We Want?

I realize this title only applies to 300 million people out of the seven billion people of this world. Among my readership, such as Facebook friends and Twitter followers, the percentage is probably higher. I can live with that. (Wow, what a lousy way to start this essay.)


Two hundred and forty years ago, British colonists in North America declared independence for thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America. (I’m sure there’s a good, historic reason we didn’t include British colonies in what’s now Canada, but researching that might well delay this essay until the next American national holiday, a cost I’m not willing to pay. But, I digress.) The colonists were united by their anger at King George III and their desire to determine their own course and their own laws, and this anger had been fermenting for more than a decade, in differing levels in different colonies. There are reminders that the writing of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t a quick, conflict-free process, but there was enough common ground to reach consensus on that, and later the Articles of Confederation and eventually the Constitution.

There has always been conflict about our form of government. That it should be a democratic republic hasn’t been too much challenged, but after that, the details get tricky. That there are the Articles of Confederation in between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution speaks to the perennial debate about how strong the Federal government should be. The government allowed by the Articles of Confederation clearly was too weak, but ever since, there has been a tug-of-war about how much power we should allow or grant to the Federal government. That we would be thirteen or more distinct states with their own governments united by one overarching government has never really been questioned; never to my knowledge has the idea of dissolving states in favor of one uniform government ever gained substantial traction, even after the Civil War less than a century after our declaration of independence — and of common cause as well. However, only slowly have we transformed from a nation led by white men to a nation voted upon by men and women of all races and social statuses.

Somehow, these conflicts about the nature of the governments of the United States of America have crystalized sharply over the past decade, even more than they have crystalized over the Civil Rights movement sixty years ago. After a decade of fighting about the premise that we have a collective obligation to make sure everyone can afford health care through health insurance regulations and subsidies, we seem to be fighting about the fundamental purpose of the Federal and even state governments.

Scott Pruitt represents those who would roll back regulations protecting the environment and the health of Americans from the effects of pollution and other abuses of the environment. He, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, would dismantle the protections afforded by the agency since its inception almost fifty years ago, consistent with the goals of the fossil fuels industry and other corporate interests who have funded so much of Pruitt’s political career. Nominally, they might state they wish to let states regulate the environment, but that premise is a fiction covering two truths. First, environmental issues quickly cross state — and national — borders. For example, it was well established twenty years ago that power plant emissions in the Midwest caused acid rain in the Northeast that decimated plant life there. The second truth is, many state governments are already beholden to corporate issues due to deliberate efforts to take over those legislatures with corporate allies through gerrymandering and political contributions. This parallels the history of the effects of race on civil rights: in the South, many states clearly and blatantly discriminated upon racial grounds, while in the rest of the country, any such discrimination was less blatant and had fewer effects upon racial minorities.

Betsy DeVos represents those who would do to public education what Pruitt’s supporters would do to environmental protections. They would replace locally-controlled public schools with government subsidies for private schools, both secular and religious. This in turn would let conservative social forces funnel children into schools that reject progressive ideas such as racial equality, gender equality, and the tolerance of non-conformists and minorities, be they the LGBTQ community, the pro-choice movement, non-Christians, immigrants and refugees in general, or anyone else. This movement, of course, would also roll back Federal regulations requiring schools at all levels that receive Federal funding to follow certain regulations about, yes, gender equality, religious neutrality, and these other same social issues that so motivate some of these forces. Again, they would return power to the states, knowing that they’ve already captured so many states’ education departments and legislatures so they may return their schools to academies of conformity and privilege out of the Forties and Fifties.

Dr. Tom Price leads the Department of Health and Human services, ready to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its effects as soon as Congress allows him after years of his vocal attempts to repeal the ACA while he himself was in the House of Representatives, and if he can dismantle or neuter Medicaid, too, he’ll take that opportunity. Dr. Ben Carson leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development because of his public skepticism for that department’s programs and purpose. Rick Perry leads the Department of Energy despite his apathy about nuclear energy in this country and his hostility to Energy’s more recent programs to promote alternative energy forms, such as solar and wind. Our Secretary of State, a recent oil company chief executive, oversees a department with almost no leadership of the diplomatic corps due to vacancies among so many appointment positions. Only scandal prevented a corporate CEO with a history of labor law violations at his companies from becoming the Secretary of Labor.

Behind it all, Steve Bannon is the President’s “Chief Strategist,” a minister without portfolio who has in his past made clear in interviews a desire to “destroy the state.”

Forget GIFs of a TV reality show star beating up a wrestling villain, now labeled as a cable TV news network. Forget the history of misogyny of the TV reality show star who is now our elected President.

Ask yourself:

Do you want a government that deliberately forfeits its powers to establish a minimum standard of health and well-being for all residents, that deliberately reverses of decades of inclusiveness and generosity in favor of implementing an attitude of, “I’ve got mine; screw you!” that lets corporations run free without regard for individual citizens from whom governments derive their power?

It’s easy for liberals, progressives, and others with mere shreds of common decency to be outraged by the daily acts and rants of our elected President. It’s shocking when we find people who aren’t outraged, who can find some fig leaf to hide behind while defending him. What we have to remember is, Our President is just an empty figureheadbeing manipulated by those who would reverse the government’s course over the past six decades for their own selfish purposes.

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others don’t like Donald J. Trump and wouldn’t have chosen him, but they can use him. They are using him! Steve Bannon is using Donald J. Trump. Tom Price accepted his appointment of Secretary of Health and Human Services not to serve Trump but to implement his his own agenda, shared by those who whispered his name in Trump’s ear.

Is this what you want?

Do you want to roll back six decades of social and environmental progress?

If you want this, own it! Don’t hide behind “states rights” or the alleged faults of the ACA. Own it! Tell us that’s what you want! Tell us that your Christianity (or other religion) lets you reject refugees out of fear of strangers and takes away health care from the poor because you think your Jesus would somehow judge them “undeserving.”

If you don’t want this, Resist! Continue to call your Senators and Representatives. Find and support candidates in gerrymandered House districts and in polarized states. Work to make Trump and all that hides behind him a one-term embarrassment as hard as those same forces worked to oppose all that Obama did and steal a Supreme Court seat from him.

Own it, or resist it! It’s our country; what do you want?

If I Had….

Years ago, as a Boy Scout, I’d get in the mail regularly a catalog of Boy Scout-branded merchandise, from camping gear to very-Scout specific materials, such as merit badge guides. Sometimes, I’d leaf through the catalog wondering what I’d buy if I had $100 in credits for gear in the catalog. One day, when asked what I was doing, I explained this to one of my parents, who asked in return why I didn’t just earn $100 by doing odd jobs so I could really do that?

That question made no sense to me, but I had no answer for it, either. The short answer is, if I had had $100, I probably wouldn’t have spent it on Boy Scout-branded gear. If I wanted a tent, I’d look at manufacturers like North Face and stores like REI or Eastern Mountain Sports. Or, going a different direction, I might spend $40 on music, $20 on movies, and save $40 for a rainy day.

I still play meaningless hypothetical games. If someone told me to book a room at Disneyworld for the week of my birthday, what would be available? Never mind that I have no plans to go to Disneyworld any time soon, and if I did, I’d look for the least expensive rooms, not “the best deal.” Some people have their fantasy sports teams; I have my fantasy shopping preparations.

It’s not just shopping. What route would I take from Spokane to Douglas, AZ? OK, the fleeting chance that I’d ever take that trip vanished in a puff of sibling envy, but for a couple of days, I researched central Nevada and why there’s a road rally on some highway there every year. It wasn’t wasted time; it was a nice problem to work on.

Good computer programmers and good computer administrators spend a lot of time on hypothetical questions. What if this program I call returns an error? What kind of error? Is it worth retrying? Would I have to roll back prior work? Do I need to notify a human to intervene? The more hypotheticals we consider, the less likely we are to be surprised by something we hadn’t considered. That sounds trite, but my sleep at night directly corresponds to how complete my instructions are for my Operations staff.

Sometimes irrelevant questions help us figure out who we are. Betty or Veronica? Your choice says something about your preferences. It doesn’t matter that neither exist; both represent something, and knowing how we feel helps us sort out of the more concrete issues of our lives.

Answer the Correct Question

Last night, three men killed seven others in London using a van and then knives. Coming so soon after an explosive attack in Manchester and an earlier vehicle-vs.-pedestrians on another London bridge, people, including Islamophobic politicians, are asking, “How can we prevent such attacks?”

That has to be the wrong question. Attackers who are willing to die are nearly impossible to stop. You can’t outlaw vehicles that can be driven into crowds. Regulating larger knives and other blades might be good public relations, but smaller blades can kill, too. Explosives are so easy to create from everyday chemicals, you can’t prevent them.

Don’t stop the supply of murderous weapons; stop the demand for them. That’s the answer to “the war on drugs,” and it’s the answer to “the war on terror,” too.

The correct question may be, “Why is it so easy to motivate so many people to commit those atrocious attacks?”

I refuse to accept the premise that Islam simply has a inherent hatred against non-(Islamic)-believers. I have two reasons for rejecting that premise. First of all, it’s exactly analogous to the accusation that Christianity wants to overwhelm non-Christians by might. Secondly, if it were true, there would be a billion people or more conspiring to kill “us,” not mere thousands.

It is true that in the past, Islam has sometimes expanded by conquest, not by persuasion. The same is equally true of Christianity. If one side cites the Moors’ spread across northern Africa and into the Iberian peninsula, the other side can cite the Crusades — and later the Inquisition as well. Both religions have at time been led (or coopted by) fanatics who use religion to justify violence, and both have scripture readings that can be read as justifying conversion by almost any means. Just as Christianity no longer acts upon some of its more embarrassing verses, so, too, can many Muslims reject some of the teachings cited as proof that Islam must hate us.

It is also true that both religions have outliers who would use violence under the cover of religion even in these modern times. ISIS may be dramatic currently than the KKK or the extremists who burn the Koran or paint pictures of Mohammed explicitly to provoke outrage in the Islamic world, but ISIS no more represents the Muslims I know than the provocateurs represent me and my classmates from Catholic schools I attended growing up.


We in the West seem to have an instinctive inability to admit that our actions and philosophies might give cause to legitimate grievances. In the aftermath of almost any attack in the name of Islam against Christian or secular targets, it is heresy to ask if we in the West have done anything to earn their ire. My Google-fu isn’t strong enough to even find shreds of attempts to raise the question in late 2001, apart from a “readers’ responses” article from The Nation. I remember academics trying to ask, “Have we done anything to provoke this,” and being shouted down by, “Nothing can justify this!” I am deliberate in asking about provocation versus justification; people quickly dismissed questions about provocations by declaring that there could be no justification for such a level of hatred and violence.

This is, like so many other points in modern Western debate, a false dichotomy. Proving your opponent wrong does not prove that you are right. That a response is disproportional in magnitude does not mean that there was no provocation to begin with.

Why do people become radicalized? Why do people accept and adopt hostility and conflict while rejecting accommodation and existence? I can ask the question about violence under the banner of nominal Islam, and I can ask the question about Donald Trump’s supporters. Journalists have been writing for two years about “economic anxieties,” only to be mocked by others after displays of open racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other non-economic sins perpetrated members of the same class of people. This mocking, too, is a sign of a false dichotomy. Who says that some Trump supporters can’t be reacting to losses of jobs and industries while others are simply horrible people feeling emboldened by nationalist, xenophobic, homophobic, and other extremist forms of rhetoric?

The world has become a lot more homogenous in the past 100 or 150 years. It was more homogenous 150 years ago than it was 300 years ago, and that was more homogenous than 200 years before that. Social structures that existed in vacuums of isolation are challenged when faced with other social structures that deny assumptions present in the vacuums. Monarchies are challenged by democracies. Patriarchies are challenged by women’s rights. Slavery is challenged by the premise that slaves are people with fundamental human rights. Notions of inherent superiority (of any group or trait!) are challenged by actual experiences with the nominally inferior. And, yes, domestic industries are challenged by exports from countries with lower standards of living or fewer environmental protections.

Oligarchs of all varieties rise to power by presenting themselves as saviors of a group that doesn’t even know it’s a victim. “Men subjugate women!” “Femi-Nazis want to exterminate men!” “Straights have no tolerance of diversity!” “Freaks want to recruit your children to be like them!” “Christians want to exterminate Muslims!” “Muslims want to exterminate Christians!” “Vaccines are a plot to kill our people!” “Savages who don’t know any better will try to kill us!”

The question isn’t whether any of these statements are true. The question is, are there seeds of despair or oppression that give these lies and hyperbole soil to germinate in? Why are Muslims in Europe and America so vulnerable to radicalization? Why are poor whites so vulnerable to Trump’s brand of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and victimization?

Why are there pockets of people ready to hear and accept calls to violence and confrontation? 

That, I say, is the question we have to ask in the wave of Yet Another Act of Extremist Violence.

&some. Lives Matter

There’s a story going viral now, in the spring of 2017, about a waitress who paid for the meals for a table of policemen she served who had just been at the funeral of a murdered colleague. Some versions of the story include a picture of her note on the back of the receipt, including the line, “#policelivesmatter”.

This is clearly a response to the “Black Lives Matter,” movement, whose theme might be summarized as, police shouldn’t get away unchallenged with so many shootings of African-Americans. It suggests that African-American lives don’t matter, that too many people believe that so many African-Americans are criminals and dangerous that almost any police shooting of an African-American can be justified.

The implication of #policelivesmatter, or #alllivesmatter, for that matter, is that police lives, like African-American aren’t valued and that some class of people in America shoot law enforcement officials with impunity routinely. “All Lives Matter” would imply that anyone in America can be shot with impunity, that African-Americas aren’t more likely to be killed by people not prosecuted than others.

People who shoot police offices are routinely found, arrested, and tried for their acts. The man accused of killing the officer in Columbus faces (faced? I can’t find anything about an outcome) the death penalty.

It’s much less common for officers who kill African-Americans to face criminal charges, let alone convictions.

Our legal system values highly law enforcement lives. It doesn’t hold the same value for African-American lives.

I don’t mind a waitress’s act of kindness toward police officers mourning one of their own. I mind her telling them she supports them, doubly so when she herself is the daughter of a retired office.

What I mind is the coopting of the construction, “<adjective> Lives Matter”. Get over it. Stop it. Admit there’s a problem and stop making every social issue about yourself.