Archive - Aug 2015

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August 29th

Trump the Vulgarian

Can Trump keep it up? When will he implode? What explains his rise in the polls? How do we stop him? 

The pundits wring their hands. Josh Marshall thinks Trump is a doofus who uses sophisticated military strategy. Peggy Noonan, who penned the phrase "1000 points of light" for George H. W. Bush, declares Trump to be a sign of molecules in motion. Statistician-pundit Nate Silver assures us Trump will meet his doom. Charles Blow has had enough and will no longer mention Trump's name. George Will was moved to pen a glorious sentence which begins, "Every sulphurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon..."

Pity Ted Cruz, Todd Walker, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal--if you can. As they fight to out-evangelical each other, a heathen bursts through the back doors of the church and steals their "market segment," to use Cruz's phrase. Yes, Trump, despite his pro-choice recent past, despite his obvious lack of a personal faith, leads amongst evangelical voters, the most coveted alleged "bloc" of voters in the Republican primaries.  

FOX News pollster Frank Luntz, a dark genius who assembles focus groups to test out phrases designed to pull the wool over the eyes of voters (it was Luntz who proposed that the super-rich should be called "job creators," and that the estate tax should be renamed the "death tax"), tested a group of 29 Trump supporters, assuming he would find their support to be shallow. He was wrong. "My legs are shaking," Luntz said after the session, so impervious were Trump's supporters to negative truths about their favorite. 

Through it all, Trump blusters on, obscuring his last outrageous statement with the next, dominating the news each day. The country has several months to grow tired of him, but signs that the Trump phenomenon will be short-lived are scarce. 

Too all the theories explaining his rise, I will add mine:

Donald Trump has siezed the moment because he addresses one of the most powerful and prevalent human emotions: shame

A story: In 1986, I spent a summer at Cambridge, England studying history. Most of my fellow students were from the East Coast, a more diverse set than I had been exposed before. 

At dinner one night, I said with pride that I had "jewed down" a clerk who sold me a sweater. The table fell silent. On the opposite side sat Louis Cohen, as Jewish as can be, a gentle soul who was too kind to point out my use of a phrase which had long ago fell into disuse amongst educated folk due to its obvious anti-semitism. 

My face burned red with shame. In the next few moments, I felt several emotions, emotions which I think are key to understanding the Trump phenomenon. After the initial shame, I felt rage. Rage at being shamed. Rage at those educated enough not to make my mistake, rage at the sophisticated, rage at the elite, rage at the restrictions "political correctness" placed upon my free expression, my use of homey phrases, my expression of myself.

Finally, and briefly, my mind tried to feel pride. Pride that I spoke the unvarnished truth. I mean, aren't Jewish people known for being frugal? Pride that I wasn't one of those constipated souls afraid of offending anybody. 

Eventually, I just ate crow and apologized to Louis privately. But my shame lived on to the point where I still blush, 29 years later, at the thought of offending such a nice person, and for acting like such a boor. 

Fast forward to Trump.

Trump shows no shame. He follows each new boorish statement, not with a tortured, contrived apology, but with another even more boorish statement. He is boldly himself, political correctness be damned. He gleefully offends this grievance group, that grievance group--all those educated puff heads who shame people for what amounts to, at the very worst, a mere lack of manners. 

I mean, who doesn't occasionally imitate Asian immigrants? Is it really that bad to indulge in stereotypes? Aren't stereotypes the source of much of or humor, either at the bar or on late night television? Don't stereotypes contain a hint of truth? Am I really a bad person for hating rap music, for preferring hamburgers to beans and rice, for fearing the inner city due to all the black people there, or for using the term "gyp?"

To those who feel shame for being made to feel less because they aren't up on all the things they aren't supposed to say in polite company, Donald Trump's vulgar public persona is pure meth. As he bulldozes forward, they vicariously bask in a sense of deliverance from their shame. Justification of one's base, unfiltered impulses is a powerful drug. Those who enjoy its effects won't give it up easily. 

So, why does Trump lead amongst the white evangelical right? Because he shamelessly proclaims what they see as truth but which they have been made to feel ashamed to say out loud.

Successful evangelical ministers play the same game. "He preaches the truth," admirers say of their popular new minister. But now more now than ever before, "preaching the truth" doesn't mean that the minister bravely preaches a proper theology, or the need to convert, or the need to act decently. No, what they relish is when the ministers bash groups that the pew-sitters deeply despise and fear, people who make them feel shame. Liberals. Gay people. People with many degrees. People of exotic origin who won't give up their traditional food to eat hamburgers. People who talk in different languages so we can't know when they are making fun of us. 

The above is as kind a twist as I care to put on the Trump phenomenon. He is many other things besides shameless. He appeals in other ways. People who feel powerless crave a strong man to cut through the political mess. The frustrated gravitate towards simple explanations and simple solutions to complex problems.

Evangelicals, in particular, often drift towards solutions as efficient as their own conversion. "It changed my life," they say of the latest herbal supplement or multi-level marketing scheme, attributing to it the same powers they often attribute to the Lord.

In Trump, they see a quick fixer. I mean, the guy's a billionaire!

But the real root of Trump's surprising ascendance is his shamelessness. 

It is not to his credit. In a civilized society, we should be polite. We should seek to understand others. We should see things from different perspective. We should learn Spanish. We should eat other foods and not view love for hamburgers as a sign of righteousness. 

But it is work. And you always run the risk of offending somebody along the way--and feeling your face burn with shame. 

Those moments of revelation when you realize that what you were yesterday isn't what you want to be tomorrow have another name: 

Education.

True education hurts. That is why we avoid it and seek refuge in proud ignorance. 

 

 

August 23rd

The Twins secret weapon

The Twins salvaged their season by sweeping the Orioles. Their offense is still stagnant, but their pitching seems to be gaining steam.

On September 1, the rosters expand from 25 to 40. In the past, the Twins have been conservative about bringing up prospects for the month of September. This year should be different.

With one of the richest farm systems in baseball, the Twins could make a September push by filling their bench with some very strong players, many of whom already have some major league experience. A pinch hit here and there could make the difference in a few games, as could an extra couple of arms in the bullpen. 

No team stands to benefit more from September call-ups than the Twins. 

Other thoughts: 

•Sano needs to play defense. He has a presence on the field. Heck, put him at shortstop. He played first base for a while yesterday and even there showed some flair. At bat, Sano has been a force. In the past few games, his home runs have just so barely cleared the fence--he really didn't get ahold of any one of them. But his base hits! Scorched. And he walks. He seems to be in the middle of everything, even as a base runner. Sano is going to create a lot of joy in Mudville. The phrase "not since Killebrew" keeps rattling around my head. 

•Torii Hunter needs to sit on the bench until the end of this season, and then retire. He has no future, and the Twins are a team of the future. Kepler languishes down in the minors hitting .340. He could be getting major league at bats. But no, the Twins give starts to Hunter and Shane Robinson!

•Buxton is in over his head. He needs to quit being a mentoree of Torii Hunter and come into his own. I am sick and tired of Hunter's alleged mentoring. Hunter seems to enjoy his profound wisdom more than anybody. 

•Something's wrong with Mauer. Lingering concussion issues? 

•This kid Tyler Duffy throws a curve almost worthy of Blyleven. 

•Opposing pitchers finally figured out that you can't throw Dozier high fastballs. With that settled, Dozier's bat has cooled. 

•TV announcer Dick Bremer's constant tone of utter amazement is wearing me out. So is his prattle about mentoring. Or his tiresome questions about how one prepares differently if you are batting third as opposed to second. Apparently, adjusting to a new spot in the batting order requires that one run to Torii Hunter for some mentoring. I would turn on Prebus and Gladden on the radio, but as soon as I do, Prebus says "eye-ther" instead of "eee-ther" (for "either") and makes me want to run for the hills plugging my ears. 

•Is it really worth it to chase the wild-card spot when it only gains you a one-game do-or-die playoff, essentially a 50-50 crap shoot? So you lose the game due to one bad pitch and go home. Suddenly you realize that you hung on to Torii Hunter for his playoff experience for two months past his expiration date for no reason. 

•The one failure of Paul Molitor's in-game managing this year has been base stealing. Molitor wants to steal bases, but the players don't execute. Yet he keeps sending them. Inning over. 

•I really enjoy the defensive shifts used by Molitor. Some people hate the strategy and think there should be a rule against moving defensive players around in such a radical manner. Bosh! Shifts bring fan awareness to defensive placement, a facet of the game given short shrift by television. You don't realize until you get to an actual game just how far in the infielders play when they are "drawn in," for example. (Thought: any manager who draws his infield in with Sano at bat should be prosecuted for reckless endangerment of innocent infielders.)

August 15th

Norway

Lance and I are still shaking off jet lag after a week-long trip to Norway. The excuse for the trip was a wedding of two of Lance's friends, one from Norway and the other from Russia. However, we added a few days to the trip to tour a bit.

Norway is utterly beautiful. We toured the Lysafjord on a boat. Spectacular. However, everything we saw in our short stay was wonderful.

Oslo is a quiet capital. In fact, the whole country was quiet. At breakfast each morning in the hotel people went about their business in utter quietude. Very calming Nordic music played on the sound system as we sipped Norwegoian coffee made to wake up the dead.

Norwegians are very tall. Norway is a land of gentle giants. Norwegians are also very good looking. Walking around Oslo was a bit like trapsing through a photo shoot for some fashion magazine.

The wedding was quite a party. It was good to have a chance to visit with some Norwegians. The proceedings were performed in English.

We then went to Stavanger, a city of 130,000 on the southwest coast. That is the area where the Bergesons came from. In fact, there are statues of people we Bergesons like to think of as relatives all over the city--and the cemetery. There is some doubt as to whether we are actually related to Sigval Bergesen, the billionaire ship builder, but we'll assume the best--and wait for a check. 

Norway is wealthy. However, the myth that they can only support their impressive health care system and transportation infrastructure due to oil is just that--a myth. Although the state does own the oil in the North Sea, only 2% of the annual budget is directly from oil profits. The rest comes from heavy taxation, which nobody seems to mind. They see the benefits. 

 

August 1st

Vidor and Chopin

Here is the best version of this old chestnut for organ I have heard in a while.  

And my present favorite piece by Chopin.