Wednesday, June 1, 2016

We are choosing a president, not a friend

Several of my close friends are still Feeling the Bern. That's awesome. Bernie's great. If he somehow pulls a Leicester and gets the nomination, I will campaign for him and vote for him.

However, many Bernie supporters also hate on Hillary to such a degree that they say they would refuse to vote for her if she gets the nomination. They just won't vote, or they'll write in Bernie, or vote for that Libertarian guy, or even vote for Donald Trump.  As recently as March, only 9% of Bernie supporters said they'd consider voting for Trump over Hilary. At last count, it's 20%.

Do I really think most of those people will all actually vote for Trump? No, I don't. He's too much of an ass-hat to win and keep their support through November.

But let's be clear: If you're a progressive / liberal / historically Democratic voter, and you do any of those things, you are effectively voting for Trump. (Remember Ralph Nader in 2000? I do.)

So here's my question to all the Bernie supporters out there: What kind of future do you want for this country? 

 I suggest that we should all vote based on that question. I further suggest the following criteria:
  1. Demonstrated political competence (e.g. results).
  2. Articulated policies and priorities (both foreign and domestic).
  3. Stated positions on issues that matter to you. (For me, those are climate change, the economy and job creation, immigration and civil rights, and healthcare including reproductive rights.)
  4. Likely cabinet and judicial appointments.
  5. Probability of issuing effective or dangerous executive orders.
You can make a reasoned argument that Bernie beats Hillary on those criteria, but the margins are pretty small. But the gap between either Bernie or Hillary and Trump is massive on every one. And that's my point.

Trump fails on #1 and #2 either because he has no political track record to examine, or because he's failed to offer any substance within the rhetoric. #3 is a mixed bag. (You can dig in here or here or here or a thousand other places.) #4 and #5 scare the shit out of me.

(Keep in mind... I'm not even mentioning Trump's general sleazy bully persona, or his specific statements about women, minorities, veterans - including P.O.W.'s in his own party - or our allies and adversaries abroad. I hope that would be enough to convince people not to vote for him.) 

When you elect a president, you also elect a cabinet and other high level policy functionaries, and with political newbie Trump, early evidence suggests that you'll get an equally unqualified cast of supporters.

Meanwhile, Bernie and Hilary both have long careers in public office. Plenty of track record to examine there for both. Hilary is far from perfect, as the long list of scandals associated with the Clinton family would suggest. But when it comes to understanding policy, arguing a position, moving legislation forward, and just doing the daily blocking and tackling of political office, we don't have to wonder. Her record demonstrates considerable political competence.

Notice that my criteria does not include the following:
  1. Superior moral and ethical character. (Bernie's the clear winner.)
  2. Personally likeable, aka "I'd like to have a beer with him/her." (Bernie again.)
I don't know about you, but I've never had a beer with Barack Obama. And I have no secret window into his soul. But I have consistently been impressed with his political competence, policy priorities, appointments, and his use of the pen on executive orders and in signing or veto'ing legislation. Has he been a perfect president? No. Has he been a good president? Absolutely. And I say so because of the results on the first list, not the second. Those are the things that matter.

One more thing: Are you SURE you're not the unwitting victim of a decades-long, well-funded conservative campaign to tear down Hilary Clinton? Or have you made up your own mind, entirely and consciously, on direct evidence? I guess the answer doesn't really matter, but it's good to think about.

So when it comes time to vote in November, ask yourself: Which of the two major party candidates will be more aggressive on climate change, more progressive on social issues, will maintain better relations with our allies and keep us safe while avoiding senseless military conflicts? And which one will act in a manner consistent with your values when making appointments and signing legislation? Bernie and Hillary are pretty well aligned, for the most part. (Yes, Hilary's been far more hawkish, but she's also shown a willingness to revise her position based on evidence. That's not flip-flopping in my book; that's pragmatism.)

Meanwhile, Trump would use the power of the Presidency to push very a different - and at this point, pretty mysterious - agenda. (We don't really know what he'd do. He's been pretty light on policy positions and tactical details so far. We just know it'll be crazy and dangerous and sad.)

If you won't listen to me, listen to Moby: 

"Neither Hilary nor Bernie will save us… Because they are politicians. But I do believe that either one of them would make a perfectly fine president and would be about 1 million times better than president Donald Trump. This election should not be about personalities, it should be exclusively about the issues." [Moby's full post]

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A love letter to Isla Vista

I lived in Isla Vista for a couple of memorable years in the mid-1980’s. Most people just called it “IV”.

IV is a small, densely populated village next to the UCSB campus, isolated by geography, demographics and culture from the nearby cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara, and more importantly, from all the harsh realities of adult life.

Photo from Pinterest

My IV, in the ‘80s, was jam-packed with young, mostly happy, mostly healthy, very decent people.  And so many people. Three to a bedroom in apartments. Two or even three balanced on beach cruisers wobbling down Pardall Rd. Dudes carrying surfboards down Embarcadero del Mar. Crowds of people chatting and studying at Espresso Roma, or drinking beer at picnic tables at Pizza Bob’s. People everywhere, and always dressed as if we had just come back from the beach.

Jim and Andy at the flea market.

The IV fashion sense was a result of the nearby beaches, and the gentle weather, but also an expression of how safe we felt. Being in IV was not quite like being out in public. The whole place felt so comfortable, so intimate.

Mornings in IV were never rushed. Since most of our classes were a 5 minute bike ride away, we never had the stress of carpooling, or fighting for parking spaces on campus. We hopped on our crappy bikes and headed over to Roma for some coffee and maybe a cinnamon twist. And then to class, eventually. Maybe.

If mornings were slow and lovely, afternoons were quietly electric. Everyone walking or on bikes or skateboards. People laughed, flirted, made plans and scrounged for food. We were the world’s most relaxed people, getting even more relaxed as the sun settled down into the Pacific.

My Isla Vista was infused with an easy, subdued joy. You never had very far to go, and never had much to do. There was no Internet, no cell phones, no shopping mall, and no multiplex. We had the Magic Lantern movie theater, which showed art films and old classics. We had a couple of book stores, the world’s first Kinko’s, and Borsodi’s coffee house, which had live music and open-mic poetry in the evening. But mostly, we just hung out at home, in the yard, or on the patio. We talked, studied, played volleyball or hacky-sack, ate, drank, listened to music, obsessed over girls, and soaked up the gentle sunshine.

The Shells, an IV band, at Borsodi’s.

Isla Vista is an historic place. It had been a flash point for political activism in the late 60’s, culminating in riots and the torching of the Bank of America building in 1970. In a perfect expression of our generation’s happy complacency, the rebuilt Bank of America was decommissioned and converted into a dance club. It was actually a pretty fun place, for a while. Despite being big and crowded, there were few fights, no parading of high fashion, no rope lines or bottle service, and no raves. Just preppy/hippy college kids getting drunk on Long Island Ice Teas and dancing to the KROQ-inspired song list.

Truth be told, I was a terrible student in high school. I always took the easiest possible classes and still managed only a C average. Then in my Junior year, I attended UCSB's Summer Juniors Program, which lets about 200 high school students attend the six week summer session while living in Santa Cruz dorm (the one next to the beach).

Jim and Paul at UCSB, Summer of 1981.

After the summer session, I went back to high school motivated as hell to get into UCSB for real. I raised my GPA just enough to get accepted. I didn’t even apply anywhere else. It was going to be UCSB or nothing. As a new freshman, I moved into Santa Rosa dorm, my home for two fantastic years. Paul, my best friend from the Summer Juniors, also ended up in Santa Rosa, and we were roommates our second year.

And then in 1984, Paul and I moved to an apartment on El Greco with our across-the-hall neighbors and new friends Chris and Chuck.

Chuck, blowing bubbles from our apartment balcony on El Greco.

We all really blossomed in IV. There was something so insular and safe and encouraging about the place. Chuck and Chris both had cars, but we hardly ever drove anywhere. You could walk, bike or skateboard wherever you needed to go.

After graduation, I decided to stick around for one last Summer in Isla Vista. I rented a room in a house on Del Playa and bought a sky blue ‘66 VW Squareback. I got a job at a roadside produce stand on an organic farm in Goleta. After work, my preferred activity was to grab a book and take a little inflatable life raft down to the beach, paddle out past the surf, tie a piece of kelp to one of the oar locks to keep from drifting, and read. I’d often fall asleep. Once, I woke to find my paperback copy of Anthony Trollope’s “The Spotted Dog and Other Stories” floating in the ocean just a few feet away. I fished it out of the water with an oar. I still have it. It is wrinkled and faded and stiff with dry sea water.

When I think of Isla Vista, the first thing I see is the quality of the light itself - quite literally the atmosphere of the place. In the morning, it was always somewhere between clear and cloudy, a high ceiling of less than fog and more than haze. When that lifted, what remained was “cool sunshine” if that's even a thing. Such contradictions are only possible in magic places.

My Isla Vista was a world unto itself. It was our place, and I loved it. It was calm, and sweet, and completely, utterly safe.

I hope it feels that way again someday.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I have been thinking about this kind of shit a lot lately... About how fragile and lovely and surprising and annoyingly, amazingly uncertain life really is. About how old I'm getting. And about how cool the world actually is...

Yes, yes, there are far too many flag-waving reactionaries, and too much horrid commercialism, and the fact that genetically modified chickens with huge breasts actually exist... gah. Also, far too many kids go to bed hungry. (Why can't we give THOSE kids gigantic chicken breasts? Wait... dammit.)

But I'm hopeful. We are slowly evolving away from our superstitions, I *think*. I actually like our president, most of the time. We're beginning to realize that gay people are not the enemy; they are just people, and deserve our love and respect. And we are - at the moment, anyway - ending more wars than we're starting (though to be honest, if that weren't true I probably wouldn't know).

And tonight I discovered that cole slaw is really good in a spicy chicken burrito. This is news.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

GoGo is a NoGo

So I did a bit of business travel on Virgin America in September, and I signed up for in-flight wi-fi from Gogo. I had a choice of $15 per day or $35 for the month, so I signed up for the month, knowing I'd be on a return flight two days later.

Thing is, the monthly service auto-renews, and (here's the part that bites) GoGo does not send monthly statements, via email or paper, when the recurring charges occur. Every other recurring service I use - Spotify, Amazon Prime, Flickr, DropBox - sends me a statement on each billing cycle. I DID receive an email confirmation when I first signed up, with a very poorly worded statement about automatic renewal in faint grey text. See for yourself...

Another co-worker who traveled with me was likewise misled / fooled, and we each ended up with $139.80 in charges for a service we only used two times, over two days, in September.

In late December, I received a notice that GoGo was raising my monthly rates. ("What monthly rates?") I contacted GoGo to cancel the service and requested a refund for all but the September charge. The CSR I spoke to said it would take 7-10 business days to process my request. When I checked back with them yesterday, they said they had refunded one month's service on Dec 31 (which doesn't yet show on my AMEX statement),  but they won't refund any other charges.

Too bad. Apparently, my $139.90 is worth more than their reputation. Live and learn. Two things I take away from this: Never buy anything from GoGo Internet, and review your monthly credit card statements religiously.


Two hours after posting this blog (and linking from Facebook and Twitter), I received the following response from GoGo:
01/03/2013 05:27 PM
Hello James, 
We chatted yesterday and I've been tracking your refund so I could give you some updates. Today, your two refunds were approved. You'll see two refunds of $34.95 on your statement in about 3 business days. 
If you have any further questions, we can be reached 24/7 at 877-350-XXXX. You can also contact us via Live Chat by clicking while you're in the air or on the ground. 
Fly classy,
Your Friends at Gogo Customer Care
Coincidence? Probably. Still... I'm glad to see that now two of the four months are getting refunded, instead of just one. That seems fair.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's too damn easy

I was on Scribd.

I saw this advertisement:

I Googled "UN Small Arms Treaty" which led me to this summary on Snopes.

I read the summary, which presents irrefutable evidence that the above advertisement is false and misleading.

All of the above took me less than five minutes.

So why are so many people incapable of, or unwilling to, do the same? Why do people accept such bullshit? Because... They want it to be true.

Never underestimate the power of self-delusion.