The Thinker

Review: Girl on the Train

The whodunit is something of a Hollywood staple, something you can release pretty much anytime of year. They make good movie filler outside of the peak summer and holiday movie seasons. Case in point is Girl on the Train, now in theaters and starring Emily Blunt. Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a woman who lives her life in a deeply alcoholic haze. Rachel’s addiction is key to this whodunit because she becomes an unreliable narrator, making it a challenge for the viewer to parse through all the information presented and discern the truth.

One thing that is clear is that Rachel is wholly messed up. She commutes to and from New York on the train. Twice a day the train slowly passes a street where she used to live. She is glued to the window as the train slowly passes her old street. She becomes obsessed with a couple she sees in a house along the tracks and what she sees as their ideal loving relationship on display to passers by. This idealized relationship may be more of a draw than the bottle of spirits she discreetly sips from on the train. It was apparently a life she thought she had before her divorce broke her. She now awkwardly slums with her friend Cathy (Laura Prepon, who plays Alex Vause in Netflix’s series Orange is the New Black) while making a wreck of her post-divorce life.

Rachel is certainly haunted by the breakup of her marriage but also by her inability to have a child that Tom Watson (Justin Theroux) desperately wanted. Her inability to conceive led to the breakup of her marriage to Tom who started hitting on their realtor Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) instead. Rachel can’t seem to help herself and stalks her old neighborhood and her old house, pining for Anna’s new baby with Tom and the life she used to have. The couple two doors down the street seem to have that perfect marriage that because it eluded her now intrigues her. However, one afternoon from her window on the train she observes the woman in the arms of another man. This woman, Megan, inconveniently goes missing one evening after Rachel exits from the train. She sees her and her husband Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) in a tunnel. Megan is eventually found dead in the woods nearby.

Rachel seems pivotal to solving the unfolding mystery. Since she is angry with Megan for her observed infidelity, her being near the scene of the crime and an injury that happened in her deeply intoxicated state, she is under suspicion for the homicide. Even Rachel doesn’t know if she might be the murderer.

Based on the debut book last year by Paula Hawkins, the movie will keep you guessing. Figuring it out when a character is an unreliable narrator is challenging, but made more so by the way director Tate Taylor chooses to move back and forth in time. The movie is sad but compelling. Blunt’s portrayal of a deeply depressed and intoxicated woman is first rate and heartbreaking. Taylor takes us deeply into their intimate worlds, and does this with Steadicams and very intimate close up shots. The dark late autumn days in upstate New York also contribute to the movie’s pervasive gloom.

Still the movie will keep you engaged. You will have your hands full trying to piece together what’s actually going on, so in this sense it’s a very good whodunit. Rest assured that Rachel is not the only person with issues. Pretty much everyone in this story has issues and they are coping badly with them, making the surreal Stepford village Rachel inhabits more human as the movie progresses. Allison Janney has a nice minor part as Detective Riley, who gets to try to figure out who is responsible for Anna’s death. She will have her hands full.

So Girl on the Train is an intriguing filler movie while you wait for Hollywood’s more substantial offerings starting next month. Warning: there is a grisly ending scene that can be hard to stomach.

3.2 out of 4-stars.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

The Thinker

There is little about this election that is amusing, but there is Scott Adams

Scott Adams, the force behind the phenomenally popular comic strip Dilbert has a blog and too much time on his hands. One thing I like about Scott is his Machiavellian detachment, which comes across in his comic strip, principally in the character Dilbert. Dilbert sees the systems around him for what they are: full of chaotic forces that make little sense and are frequently evil. Dilbert is rarely shown with a mouth in the comic strip, but he sure has one. He feels free to say whatever is on his mind. These are usually thoughts that you would not utter in the workplace. They are also frequently contrary to conventional opinion.

Scott claims to be apolitical and doesn’t plan to vote in the upcoming election. However, this hasn’t kept him from “endorsing” candidates for president. First he endorsed Donald Trump, a man he obviously greatly admires. I suspect his admiration for Trump comes from (like Dilbert) Trump feeling free to tell people what he really thinks, even if it comes off as crazy and abrasive most of the time. When you have Trump’s fortune and lawyers you have pretty much free speech without consequence, as long as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scott’s fortune is smaller than Trump’s, but he is obviously very successful and likely has a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Scott can say what he thinks too without much fear of consequence.

Scott of course has a right to his opinions. If he wants to support Donald Trump, more power to him. He discovered in the Bay area where he lives that it has some downsides, as in he is losing friends. So some months back he unendorsed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton instead. He did so because (as he said) he fears for his personal safety, not because he actually likes Clinton or her policies. The Bay area is obviously a liberal hotbed. Maybe he imagines hordes of liberals coming at him with hot pitch and pitchforks. While he was “endorsing” Clinton though he continued to plug for Trump, praising him as a “master persuader”. Based on his attending a hypnosis course, he was noting what he perceived to be Trump’s meta-messages that were persuading our hidden brains somehow. He felt certain that Trump would win the election. At one point he gave Trump’s odds of winning at 99%.

But as I noted back in June he seemed to have grasped the reality of Trump’s situation and conceded that Clinton was likely to win. And then there came the presidential debates. Most of us saw an unhinged Donald Trump but Scott saw a master persuader at work. Against conventional wisdom he said that Trump had “won” the first debate because of Trump’s master persuader power. It would be like a snowball going downhill and turn into a Trump avalanche at the end. Also around this time he decided that maybe he could endure the pitch and pitchforks and he decided to endorse Trump again. Those of us reading his blog breathed a sigh of relief. It was obvious that his endorsement of Clinton was insincere and that he was very much rooting for Trump, just not officially.

So Trump the master persuader continued to spin his magic by going completely off the rails by insulting pretty much anyone who was not a white male, leaving Scott to figure out whether to continue to support Trump’s losing campaign or unendorse him again before his face was completely covered in egg. Shortly after the first debate and particularly as the Alicia Machado debacle Scott’s Machiavellian brain reasserted himself. However much a “master persuader” Trump was, it apparently was only with his base. Trump obviously had no clue how to persuade the rest of us, plus he ran the most ineffective and unorthodox campaign ever, eclipsing even George Wallace’s veiled-racist 1968 campaign. Woken to cold reality again, Scott withdrew his endorsement and endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson instead. Yes, that Gary Johnson who when asked did not know what Aleppo was and could not think of any foreign leaders that he admired. (At least Trump knows and admires Vladimir Putin.)

And so it will go probably through the remainder of this strange campaign. But with Scott you never know for sure whom he will endorse next, not that it matters in the least because no one is persuaded by his arguments. You do know though whom he would vote for, if he elected to vote and it would be Donald Trump. It’s transparent to all of us.

Meanwhile, to get away from all the flack he is receiving, he had “temporarily disabled” comments on his blog. Scott is at least consistent in being unorthodox. It does come at a price though since his income from paid speeches is declining, even though he gets the occasional TV interview to talk about Trump and his “master persuader” thesis.

While I am not surprised by Scott’s choice, I do think he would be better served by staying away from politics altogether. It’s not easy to be taken seriously in this arena. Even the highly polarized ones are at least wonkish policy nerds steeped in this subject. He would be much more persuasive if he had a degree in political science.

Scott’s opinions don’t matter at all as he is persuading no one at all. He is needlessly pissing people off who might like other stuff he blogs about and undercutting his brand. Since he already made his fortune, maybe it doesn’t matter. Stepping so forcefully out in an area where his knowledge is keenly lacking though is kind of amusing and sometimes hilarious. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck so sometimes you just have to look away.

I hope Scott changes his mind and actually votes. If he does I’m sure he’ll be voting for Trump, not Johnson. As appalling as Trump is he is at least better informed than Gary Johnson, although not by much. Trump needs all the votes he can get in California, and it won’t be many. Meanwhile, I can at least take some schadenfreude observing the way Scott so badly and repeatedly misses the mark.

The Thinker

2016 Presidential Debate #3

Generally I look forward to presidential debates. They only happen every four years, they matter tremendously and you get to see candidates confront one another and try to respond coherently to questions live in front of millions. It’s very high stakes stuff and excellent theater. Not this year. The first debate made me nervous. The second debate made me physically sick. Last night’s debate made me glad they were over.

Perhaps it was something of an improvement over the second debate. Donald Trump was still nasty of course (at one point by calling Hillary Clinton “nasty”) but was kept behind a podium instead of wandering the stage and using his bulk to intimidate Clinton. For the first thirty minutes or so, Trump managed to look sober and didn’t interrupt. You knew though that it would not last, and as it winded on and as moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News got into the more inflammatory questions it quickly became pass the Pepto Bismol time.

What made the headlines of course was Trump’s assertion that he would not automatically accept the results of the election. Both Clinton and Chris Wallace called him out, citing numerous authorities that our election system worked well and accurately reported results. Of course Trump would not back down. He just said he’ll see. If he loses and does not concede defeat it would make him the first candidate since 1860 to question the results of a presidential election. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln’s election led to the Civil War. His remarks put Republican candidates in even bigger jeopardy, as everyone now wants to know if they agree with Trump.

Clinton was cool, confident and returned volley for volley, which likely triggered Trump’s “wicked” remark about Hillary. Mostly she smiled and looked great; doubtless the campaign is paying for an excellent makeup artist. Perhaps it was just her seemingly uppity attitude that set Trump off. Apparently in his mind women aren’t allowed to be uppity and he clearly doesn’t like being challenged.

Clinton was also coherent whereas Trump frequently made factual errors. Overall though he seemed better informed than the first debate, suggesting he at least did a little preparation. It was excruciatingly hard to parse through his thoughts as he rarely completed sentences. Rather they stretched on and on with miscellaneous thoughts coming in an ad hoc manner in the middle of them. And what debate with Donald Trump would be complete without packs of lies that are easily fact checked and in fact were reused from previous debates? In short he was hardly anymore convincing in this debate than he was during the other debates. If he convinced any new voters, they were likely only a handful. Instead, he catered to his core supporters and he can’t win an election with just them.

So basically no minds were changed which made the debate kind of pointless, unless you were there to hear more about what Hillary Clinton would do for the country. Chris Wallace asked her to talk about her husband’s infidelity but she deftly dodged the issue and used her two minutes to question Trump’s instead and to highlight his sexist attitudes toward women. She leaned left on many issues in the debate, particularly in the areas of abortion rights and supporting Planned Parenthood. She refused to be characterized as anti-gun, while supporting modest, common sense laws prohibiting or limiting gun purchases for narrowly targeted people. She knew all she really needed to do was show up, sound coherent and act presidential. She had to goof up to change the dynamics of the race, but did use opportunities to bait Trump so he would fall into his own traps.

Anyhow, thank goodness it’s over. I’m hoping four years from now I can look forward to these debates again. I had to force myself to watch them, which is unusual to say the least. I noticed that for all his bravado after the debate Trump’s shoulders were slumped, a nonverbal admission perhaps that his denouement had already started and he knew he was beaten.

The Thinker

Making the nation your fall guy

It’s not often that I get requests for posts, but I actually got one from my daughter the other day. She wants me to write about psychological projection and Donald Trump.

Well, I sort of have been, just not explicitly. I’m sure that it won’t be news to any psychologists reading my blog that Donald Trump has a bad case of psychological projection. But first, let me define it. Wikipedia puts it this way:

Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.

I have discussed this before, principally in the context of whom we choose to marry. None of us come into life cast from a perfect mold. We stumble and fall repeatedly through life as we try to find what works in the relational chaos around us. We tend to marry people that force us to confront our own inadequacies, who ironically appear under the guise of our soul mate. When it works in addressing our imperfections, it’s good but not much fun. It helps us grow as human beings in ways we otherwise likely would not grow.

The best way to get through these issues is to live an engaged life, where situations periodically force you to tackle your less than admirable spots. What happens though when you grow up in an insular world? Suppose life is presented in a predominantly false way so you never have to learn to deal with people as they actually are? For perhaps the most egregious case possibly ever, I give you Donald J. Trump.

When one of these people is given a lot of power, this warped perspective can be very damaging. Years ago, I opined that this was the problem with our last president, George W. Bush as he was insulated by Poppy from taking the fall for most of his mistakes growing up. George W. though at least had a father somewhat grounded in the real world. Donald J. Trump’s case is much more extreme.

Trump was a child of privilege from birth. His father told him to not feel ashamed of his family wealth. He was told he was naturally better than other people because of his race, ethnicity and family status. He was told he could clear all obstacles in his path to success because that’s what Trumps do. Trump never had to endure a public school. He never had to scrape for a living or know a day of poverty. He got a generous endowment from his father to start out in business. At least once as an adult his father bailed him out when his financial mistakes caught up with him. He grew up believing that more wealth could be acquired through brand, and that came from image. So he projected the image of the person he wanted to be: rich, confident, successful and glamorous even while his behavior made him a wreck of a man to most of us paying attention and many who encountered him.

Obviously many people bought into his projection. Some of them who partnered with him or bought his overpriced products found out that he was happy to screw them out of their money for the illusion that he offered them something special. Others, principally a lot of white people, see something in Trump they admire. They like that he speaks his mind. They see his bullheadedness as a virtue. I call these Powerball people because I see them all the time at the local convenience stores buying reams of lottery tickets. (I saw one working class Joe drop $80 on lottery tickets at a local Pride store just the other day.) They see themselves as temporarily inconvenienced future millionaires and Trump as a model of what is possible, forgetting that he was born into privilege. While waiting for life to reward their talent they hope for unlikely riches by winning at Powerball. They believe that the right uber-male with the golden touch can change a system they feel is rigged against them and favoring the others. Trump is their spokesman and change agent.

In reality Trump has failed many times in life but at least was smart enough to cushion those failures by foisting it on others, including taxpayers like us. When he acquired enough wealth he was also able to throw lawyers at people who gave him grief, like his creditors. This let him develop a reputation of someone not to mess with, so a lot of people didn’t even though he shafted them. He seems to have tacitly conceded that he is not a successful businessman anymore, but he does see himself as a successful brander. He now sells illusion that he has the Midas touch. This part of his career, as well as his ceaseless self-promotion and stomping on those who question it has been successful, at least until now.

Trump’s enormous ego means he believes that he can succeed at anything he puts his mind to, so the presidency became his irresistible lure. The only problem is that he is spectacularly unqualified to actually be president. He never held political office, which requires learning the language of diplomacy, creating coalitions and true leadership. He doesn’t understand how winning campaigns are run and publicly flouted the rules. A wonkish president is good but he simply does not have the ability to absorb information, analyze it and reach logical decisions. He operates on impulse, gut instinct and the unquestioning belief in his own greatness. It’s not surprising then that his campaign never really caught on except for those who shared his perspective, which turned out to be a plurality of Republican primary voters. He doesn’t know how to seal the deal with the rest of us because he has no experience relating to us.

Losing the presidency will be an epic failure for him, but one he cannot acknowledge. It would be to admit his brand is worthless which means he is worthless. But worse, it would mean he would have to confront his own shame. And what is this shame? It’s not that he’s a bully or ran perhaps the most inept campaign ever. It’s the shame that he cannot succeed in selling himself to a majority of American voters.

So it has to be someone else’s fault because if he confronts the awful truth about himself, his house of psychic cards collapses. It would mean that instead of being an uber-male he’s a human being like the rest of us, and not a particularly likable one. It would mean that in spite of his fortune he is a failure because he could not meet his own impossibly high mark.

To keep himself from confronting this awful truth, he will apparently do anything. This is exactly what people with bad cases of psychological projection do simply to mentally survive. And if that means encouraging his followers to harass voters he doesn’t like from voting or by claiming our electoral system is rigged when it isn’t, so be it. If that means breaking our democracy in a fundamental way and causing widespread civil insurrection, he’s good with that. That’s because it means he doesn’t have to confront himself. He never has and this won’t be an exception.

Perhaps by rejecting Trump the country can at least acknowledge its mistake in picking a similar but less-flawed piece of hubris: George W. Bush. Perhaps we are maturing at last. Don’t expect Donald Trump to do so.

The Thinker

No, our voting system is not rigged

As I mentioned yesterday, Donald Trump is busy looking for an excuse for his impending defeat. God forbid that he should blame himself and his unsalable positions. Anyhow, he has found one, claiming that the vote will be rigged.

To use one of Joe Biden’s favorite words, this is malarkey. His supporters will probably believe it but you should not. Our voting system is remarkable for its fairness in that it will faithfully and accurately report the votes of those who showed up to vote. The Russians, the DNC, the RNC and not even a bunch of evil Trump employees can do much to change its integrity. Checks and balances are built in.

Has Trump even voted in person? I have to think maybe not. Maybe to the extent that he has voted it’s been done with an absentee ballot. I’ve voted in four states over the years and it’s always been the same. I enter the precinct and go to a table to check in. Two people greet me and they sit amicably next to each other and eventually check my name off an official list. One is a Democrat and one is a Republican. I get my ballot and vote privately. When I check out I go to another table where two other people (a Democrat and a Republican) verify I exited the voting booth and check my name off their list. I then place my ballot into a scanner and it drops into a large and sealed container. The container is important because it allows all votes to be recounted and is evidence of the vote. A total recount based on auditing all results may not happen. However, at a minimum a week or so after the election there will be spot checks of votes at precincts to make sure the audited vote is consistent with the reported results. If there are errors, depending on how often it is found, a full recount may be ordered by the chief election official or a local judge.

If some Russian hackers managed to change the reported results, it would likely be caught, maybe not immediately but within a week or two afterward. Most vulnerable of course would be voting systems that do not leave a paper trail. These are relatively rare now. Issues like hanging chads that dogged the 2000 election in Florida are behind us. In any event a result that looks wildly at odds with traditional voting patterns will probably trigger a challenge and an audit could ensue. Audits are usually mandatory for any result where one candidate wins by less than one percent.

In addition there is no national system for voting. It’s delegated to the states, which is both good and bad. It’s bad because it would be great to have uniform standards. The extent to which federal law can influence this is limited, and for sure the U.S. constitution delegates to the states the administration of voting. The good of course is that if one state’s results can be hacked, that’s one out of 49. In practice though states push voting management down to counties and municipal governments, setting uniform standards perhaps but not controlling the process in your precinct. So don’t believe this malarkey.

Granted there is plenty that politicians do try to restrict those who can vote. To the extent this happens today it’s usually Republican legislatures that are making it harder for people they don’t like to vote. (Democrats can take blame in the past, particularly in cities like Chicago and New York.) These include voter ID laws, prohibiting ex-felons from voting, tightening up absentee voting periods and times, and putting fewer voting machines in minority and poorer neighborhoods. There are also blatantly illegal things that are routinely done in presidential years: intimidating or misleading robocalls or harassing voters as they enter their precincts.

Of course there are other tricks too, such creating highly gerrymandered districts, which is likely the only reason Republicans control two thirds of state legislatures and the House. As I noted recently, the whole Electoral College system is biased. It discounts votes for third party candidates because in 48 out of fifty states whoever gets a plurality of votes for president gets all the state’s electoral votes. It’s constitutional, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is because voters who do not vote for their state’s presidential pick effectively never have that vote count. How democratic is that?

It’s possible but unlikely that the press indirectly skews the election by reporting more stories about one candidate than another. In Trump’s case though he still gets a majority of the news stories compared to Clinton, they’re just usually not flattering. Maybe most of these stories are biased somehow but few openly lie like Trump does. They may highlight one candidate’s opinions over the other. It may seem unfair, but it’s freedom of the press. You have to deal with it.

And of course the whole business of persuading people to vote for a candidate can be less than uplifting. Trump is the poster child here too by pandering to racists, classists and the prejudices of whites without college degrees. It sure smells rotten to most of us, but it’s perfectly legal. It’s better than having the thought police deciding who will run for office and what they can say.

In short, Trump’s rationale for his impending loss has no currency and is the weakest possible tea from a candidate without a winning message.

The Thinker

Trump: pointlessly denying the obvious

I recently rewatched Titanic, the 1997 film about the doomed ship of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. My timing was curiously ironic, given Trump’s rapidly sinking campaign for president. Unlike the Titanic, the Trump campaign has struck many icebergs these last few months. It hit the fatal one eight days ago with the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording.

At least the Titanic grazed its iceberg. The crew did see it coming, just too late to avoid scraping it. Captain Smith’s error was strategic: traveling too far north for the season. The Trump campaign can’t claim their radars weren’t on. Its collisions were all easily avoidable. Then again Trump is an anomaly: a candidate who thinks running a campaign for president is like playing a game of bumper cars and the candidate that hits the most cars wins.

It took less than two hours to sink the Titanic. It will take November 8 to make this sinking official but of course the water is now well above the bow and only the smokestacks are still above the sea. While passengers tried to get into the few lifeboats on the Titanic, the fiddlers (a string quartet) literally played on and on. It didn’t do much to calm the nerve of the passengers, but it did perhaps help these musicians calmly meet their demise. So unsurprisingly there has been a lot of fiddling these last few days on the deck of the S. S. Trump.

More women came forward this week alleging that Trump sexually assaulted them. These reports are coming so quickly it’s hard to keep up with them all. Any campaign would deny them of course, but an astute campaign might make some general statement that these charges are baseless while attacking Clinton instead. It’s not like there aren’t stories out there they could use, such as some more scattered WikiLeaks emails from Clinton campaign officials. Of course with Captain Trump in charge, there was no such possibility. He had to bite back at these women: they are all without merit, they are out for publicity and some of them are really ugly so why would I even try? It’s his last point that took already furious women and made them even more so. In Trump’s mind women are objects for his pleasure, not human beings.

Trump probably understands he is destined to lose. This explains why he is already expressing bogus concerns about a “rigged” election and is asking his supporters to watch polling places. He also seems to be sanctioning violence if he loses; after all if it’s all “rigged” then civil unrest is justified. (Inciting violence is a crime, BTW.) It’s wholly unsurprising that Trump would stoop to such depths because he has a history of it. He is incapable of admitting that he is at fault for his sinking campaign.

Similarly, he can’t admit his own problems with the sexual harassment, sexual assault and the possible rape of a 13-year-old girl. Naturally, it’s all “locker room talk” (although I never heard any locker room talk like this, and he was on a bus when he made his remarks to Billy Bush.) His sexual harassment lawsuit was settled without an admission of liability. Women claiming he assaulted them are lying and even the friends they told the story to at the time are part of a great conspiracy against him.

Bill Clinton too was known to have played the field, although his field was much smaller and those that occurred fell more into the field of infidelity than sexual harassment. Like Trump, Bill Clinton did settle one lawsuit out of court. At the time Republicans went apoplectic at these murky allegations. Lying under oath about a consensual affair with Monica Lewinski was enough to get him impeached, but not convicted. The silence from today’s Republicans about what looks like a much larger problem with their chosen candidate is pretty deafening. Unlike Clinton, who could be discreet and cover his tracks, there is plenty of evidence that Trump’s mindset was that because he was rich and well known he was entitled to use a woman any way he wanted. After all, how could they deny his charismatic personality? He said pretty much this to Billy Bush: “I don’t even wait,” he told him.

His claims then that he never engaged in any of this behavior strains credulity at best and sounds wholly ludicrous at worst. Unfortunately for Trump these sexual assaults sound consistent with his character. It certainly is possible that a few of these women are lying but they can’t be all lying. There is too much corroborating evidence to seriously think none of these incidents ever happened. Moreover, Trump’s own “locker room talk” and his recording with Howard Stern say otherwise, not to mentioned documented incidents like his venturing into the Miss Teen USA dressing room while contestants were undressing.

We’ll see the magnitude of his loss on November 8. I feel a tsunami approaching. I think it will come mostly from women out to make a statement: we’re not going to take his kind of crap from any candidate anymore. It may turn Congress blue.

Trump’s defeat should be an accountability wake up call for the man, which would be a first. But it’s quite clear that when his ship is going down he wants the crew to be the ones that drown. Trump gets a lifeboat of course and it will be gold-plated.

The Thinker

It looks like the Republican Party looks might Bull Moose itself again

And so it has begun. The conventional wisdom was that following Donald Trump’s defeat November 9 along with the likely loss of the Senate and possibly the House, the Republican Party would thrash and moan as they tried and likely failed to pick up the pieces and become an effective political party again. If you read me regularly you will have read this post where I tried to figure out whether this election would cause the Republican Party to just buckle or fall apart altogether.

What I did not expect when I wrote that post was that this would happen well before the actual election. Yes, the Republican Party is already disintegrating and of course you can thank Donald J. Trump for this. He spent most of the day lashing out at establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain. Ryan won’t campaign with Trump anymore (while not rescinding his endorsement of him) but authorized any Republican member of the House to tack away from Trump where it makes sense. McCain is just one of the more prominent Republicans in Congress to say he won’t be voting for Trump. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the easily wounded and vainglorious Trump would lash out against these Republicans today. In his usual way-over-the-top tweets, he said these Republicans were actually worse than “Crooked Hillary”.

Ryan’s actions are entirely logical, at least for someone who is trying to maintain the Republican majority in the House. Ryan may be an ardent Republican but he knows how to add up the political math: Clinton will be the president elect, Democrats are likely to retake the Senate and if Clinton wins by seven percent or more the odds are Democrats will retake the House too. If Republicans lose the House, it means he won’t be speaker and given that the Tea Party will form the bulk of the diminished Republican minority he’ll be lucky to end up as minority leader. Being out of power really sucks so it makes complete sense for Republicans to cut their losses if it’s not too late.

Trump though does not operate logically. His feelings are hurt and he is in denial about his impending loss. People in denial go through predictable phases and he’s in the “lash out at anyone who dares to speak the truth” phase, which ironically will make not only his loss worse but aggravate it for all Republicans up for election.

It’s not too hard to predict what will happen the day after Election Day too. Trump is unlikely to concede but he is likely to call the election fraudulent. There may be civil unrest from Trump supporters, as I also blogged about. I do expect on Election Day that Trump “observers” will try to prevent voting or harass voters, at least in precincts with heavily minority communities. While Trump is unlikely to accept defeat, he can’t change the outcome. But what he can do instead is lash out at the Republican Party for not sufficiently falling in behind him. He will make establishment Republicans take the blame for his loss. Why is this not only likely but also almost certain? It’s because Trump never takes the blame for anything.

Clearly Trump commands a lot of loyal followers. They shout themselves hoarse at his rallies when they are not beating up on journalists and Trump protestors. He is the poster child for non-college educated whites. Since he lives for attention he’ll have every incentive in the world to become their champion. And since the Republican Party has failed him, he is likely to “fix” the Republican Party by taking his followers with him. In short, I think he’s likely to go full Bull Moose on Republicans after the election.

If so, this won’t be the first time the Republican Party has nearly cracked up. In 1912 former president Teddy Roosevelt (a Republican) joined the then relatively nascent Progressive Party. His endorsed Republican successor (and running mate) William Howard Taft proved insufficiently progressive after winning the presidency. The Progressive Party became the Bull Moose Party and Teddy became its nominee for president. The result 104 years ago was that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won instead, with Teddy a distant second and Republican Taft getting just eight electoral votes. Teddy got even with Taft, but lost the election in the process.

If this scenario plays out again after this election, Democrats will get yet another gift. It’s not hard to see Trump running again in 2020 but under his own party label, leaving whatever traditional Republicans are left to nominate their own candidate. If this happens Republicans will be in the trenches fighting other former Republicans instead of opposing Democrats, making Democrats hands on favorites in most races to win. The 2020 election might result in a Congress that would look familiar to Tip O’Neill when he was speaker in the 1980s; he commanded a huge majority of House Democrats. It also bodes well for Democrats in 2020 senate races too. This would be good for them because they will be defending more seats than Republicans that year.

The likely outcome of all this probably won’t fatally fracture the Republican Party. New parties face daunting odds and Republicans will still have an infrastructure in place for nominating, supporting and winning races, which is what the Bull Moose Party eventually figured out when they slowly came back to the Republican Party. This infrastructure is not easily duplicated. Given Trump’s poor management skills he would be uniquely ill suited to try to create a winning party under his own brand. While Republican chaos reigns, and particularly if Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Congress can institute real change, Democrats have the opportunity to profit handsomely from the chaos. Given the Democratic Party’s history, their odds are slim, but Democrats now lean far more to the left than they did eight years ago. It’s not out of the question.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The next few years could be glorious ones for Democrats, reset the rules of Washington and actually bring about the end to gridlock that Americans want. If so, it will be the Republican Party’s implosion that will make it possible.

Thanks in advance, Donald.

The Thinker

2016 Presidential Debate #2

I want my money back.

Oh wait, I didn’t actually pay any money to watch this second presidential “town hall” debate from St. Louis last night. But I was hoping there might at least be something of a debate, you know where issues are discussed and we voters might be able to contrast the positions of the candidates and make an informed decision. Granted that in this case anyone truly informed is running away from Donald Trump and is likely voting for Hillary Clinton instead, but still! Why did this debate have to be Clash of the Titans instead? Why does it have to be so puerile, nasty and pointy fingery?

Watchers can be forgiven if they decided to quickly turn the channel because it was virtually all smoke and no light. Even Hillary Clinton couldn’t feign a smile at this debate and I can’t say I blame her. It was ninety minutes of fingernails on a chalkboard. So if you missed it, then good for you. Who won? Well, I’d say everyone lost. Most importantly the public lost an opportunity to see a real debate. This wasn’t a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s for sure.

The so-called “town hall” format was anything but. Moderators found it hard not to let their own questions overtake those from uncommitted voters invited onto the debate stage. There was no back and forth between the questioner and the candidate; they had to read their question from a card. Issues like our policy toward Syria were discussed and answers were muddled at best. Donald Trump seems to think that Mosul is in Syria and had no idea that we were supporting coalition troops on the grounds there who make the decisions, not waging the war. Syria is a huge mess and it’s everyone’s fault and the United States can take some of the blame. When you have a bunch of actors who are immovable, the wreckage there is wholly understandable.

Sadly, it’s not that (for the most part) the American people care about Syria. To the extent anyone “scored” on the issue it was Clinton who said she would not introduce American ground troops in the conflict. Syria makes Americans’ eyes glaze over. Could we debate a domestic issue please? The moderators tried with the Affordable Care Act. Clinton said she would improve it. Trump said it needed to be wholly replaced but could not articulate how he would replace it or what would happen to the twenty million people covered by the law. Clinton certainly won this one on points but it was perhaps the only issue discussed.

What we saw turned out to be far more important than what we heard. We heard Trump dismiss his 2005 off the record chat with Brian Bush as locker room talk and claimed he never engaged in any of those actions, although his history of sexual harassment lawsuits against him says otherwise. He then said Bill Clinton was guilty of far worse, although we have only one out of court settlement in his case plus Bill is not running, it’s Hillary so why is this germane? As rocky as the Clinton’s marriage got in the 1990s they are still together. Can’t say that about Trump who is on marriage #3 and who we know has cheated on spouses #1 and #2. Just ask spouses #2 and #3, who were willing participants.

Anyhow, the images were bad for Trump, particularly those images of him towering and lurking just behind Clinton in the camera’s frame when she replied to questions (not to mention more of his sniffing, like in the last debate). It’s a classic bullying tactic, as were his interruptions (18 for him, 1 for Hillary). His sole change from the first debate was to sound less shrill; he really worked on speaking calmly. But body language was everything and he looked like The Hulk instantly ready to start beating heads.

Unable to smile much, Hillary looked like she really wanted to be somewhere else. If she was rattled by the presence of some of her husband’s ex-paramours that Trump had invited (solely to rattle her of course, a classic bullying tactic) it was not evident but certainly spoke to the vile human being that he is.

Neither Trump nor Clinton changed any minds in this debate but it was successful in that Trump probably slowed the exit of his supporters. While I found the lack of debate annoying, Trump’s supporters got the red meat they wanted. He said he would put Hillary in jail, something a president can’t do. Okay, he said he’d have a special prosecutor look into her emails and he’d put her in jail, as if this hasn’t already been looked into in excruciating detail. Can’t do that either. He clearly slept through civics class and demonstrated yet again how appallingly ignorant he is about what the job of president entails.

At best the debate was a draw but as I said it was all smoke and no light. If you missed it, consider yourself lucky. In retrospect, I wish I had. It left a bad feeling in my stomach that deterred sleep and made me restless all night.

November 9 can’t come soon enough for me.

The Thinker

Now Trump is really toast

This was supposed to be the October Surprise month when we learn something new and nefarious about Hillary Clinton that makes us pull the lever for Donald Trump instead. Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) though failed to deliver on Tuesday. I wasn’t surprised. Hillary’s political sins were always of the venial variety and to the extent they happen you kind of know where they will fall.

October’s real surprise turned out to be the spectacular way that Donald Trump’s campaign has imploded over his own missteps, hubris and past. Trump’s first debate against Clinton was a disaster and he spent the rest of that week making it more of a disaster. By calling a former Miss Universe fat, he pissed off all fat Americans (which are most of us) for his body shaming and most women as well. Since the debate we also learned that he probably hasn’t paid federal taxes in twenty years. This is because Trump took a nearly billion dollar write off on his 1995 taxes, which were mostly paper losses related to his various failing casino projects in Atlantic City. Wonks like me also learned that Trump spent years petitioning and then ultimately getting Congress to allow him to deduct his kind of losses.

Trump is rarely truthful but he was when he claimed to be the “King of Debt”. We now know that Trump’s success is due mainly to shifting his business failings on his partners while paying himself handsome salaries and bonuses as these businesses failed. Ultimately his success as a businessman comes not from acumen but from brand. He convinces his investors that his gold-plated towers and resorts will be profitable but they only discover much later that it’s all fools gold, and they are the fools. Like his father, he mines every possible government subsidy to allow his projects to “succeed”, mainly by foisting off much of its costs on taxpayers.

Trump’s campaign though totally collapsed yesterday when the Washington Post posted a surreptitious audio conversation from 2005 with “Access Hollywood” host Brian Bush (ironically, a cousin to former President George W. Bush). It was full of lewd comments by Trump bragging about actions he took that would constitute sexual assault if true. These included remarks that he felt he had license to kiss women uninvited and “grab them by pussy”. He also admitted to going after a married woman (and not succeeding in this case). Ironically, it was Post reporter David Fahrenthold (whose investigative journalism earlier untangled his financial dealings for the world to see) who posted the recording. He may win a Pulitzer Prize next year for his reporting.

When I read this report, I knew at once that it would be fatal to his campaign. In June I proclaimed that Trump was toast but at the time it seemed pretty far-fetched. Even I was a nervous Nellie during the first debate until it got going. Seriously: put a fork in his campaign. It’s done. His campaign immediately went into damage control mode but even Republicans who had supported him decried the recording. Speaker Paul Ryan decided he couldn’t be seen with Trump today at a rally in Wisconsin; vice presidential candidate Mike Pence will appear instead. Some Republicans are now calling for Trump to withdraw from the race, but it’s too late to substitute another name as ballots are already printed and early voting has started in many states.

To me the only curious aspect is why it was this story that did him in, as if all those other stories don’t count. It’s probably because many whites give pass to things he says about the others. This recording though shows that he not only objectifies women but that he is okay with it and (in his own words) has likely repeatedly committed sexual assault. Given his history of infidelity, an admission he repeatedly went after a married woman that spurned his advances was not surprising, but certainly reinforced the narrative about him.

Virtually every woman knows feeling like an object in men’s eyes. Now it is clear that’s how Trump perceives women, at least the beautiful ones. It’s also clear that he feels entitled to behave this way because of his status and either doesn’t know or care that doing so is sexual assault. Add this to the various sexual harassment lawsuits he has already settled and the recent reports that his charity may be running illegally and it presents a complete portrait of a man wholly unfit to be president of the United States.

In short, yesterday a cluster bomb hit his campaign effectively ending it. It’s unclear if Trump understands this but watch actions in the coming days. I give nearly 100% odds that he skips the last debate. He may throw in the towel but it’s unclear if he is self-aware enough to do so, but regardless he will remain on the ballot. Any woman that still votes for him must do so against their instinctively revolting feelings for men who behave this way. Any men that still vote for him do so while tacitly sanctioning this sort of behavior.

What’s unclear though is whether this straw that has broken Trump’s back will also break the backs of Republican candidates nationwide. That depends on turnout but things look very good for Democrats. This should demoralize Republicans from showing up and further enthuse Democrats to vote. In short this may well turn into a wave election, not just electing Hillary Clinton but also ushering in a Democratic House and Senate. If so it will demonstrate how catastrophically bad a choice Trump was as their candidate. By choosing him Republicans have likely tarnished their brand forever.

Here’s hoping. This remnant of the proud party of Lincoln deserves to die and Trump is the ideal candidate to extinguish it.

The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: October 2016 edition

I tried to think of some other topic to write about, like the Pence-Kaine vice presidential debate. While I watched it, it frankly didn’t merit a post in part because it truly doesn’t matter. I’ve done a lot of political posts lately, as they are topical. At the moment there is not much to say except that it sure looks like Clinton has this thing wrapped up. Rather than be a win by a few percentage points it looks like it will be by five or more points.

So instead and a day earlier than usual I will post my monthly Craigslist casual encounters review. I will default to Hartford, Connecticut from now on and change the title only when looking at a different locale. As usual my Craigslist postings were good to me last month: at least 297 web page hits in September, 195 of them for this May 2015 review. That was about 12% of total traffic, which has gone up the last couple of months for reasons that are unclear. It may be due to tediously removing all the web errors reported in Google Webmaster Tools.

On the first page of posts this month I see:

  • 39 men looking for a woman
  • 37 men looking for a man
  • 10 men looking for a couple
  • 8 men looking for a transgender person
  • 2 women looking for a man
  • 0 women looking for a woman
  • 0 couples looking for anyone
  • 2 transgender people looking for a man

So mostly it’s a bunch of horny men looking to get off. Of course it’s the peculiar way that posters want to get off that tickle my funny bone. Time to dig for those nuggets of gold:

  • He’s 28, black, massively endowed with ten inches below the waist and has plenty of pictures to prove it plus plenty of himself in action, including one with him smoking so I guess you have to deal with that. Considering the average vagina is no more than five inches or so and last I heard the cervix was not an erogenous zone, I’m not sure what all that extra length is good for. Perhaps some woman will explain it to me. I’m also not sure why he wants a man to be there too. Maybe he just likes making them look puny by comparison.
  • There are few ways for a man to attract a woman on Craigslist and actually score, but I think this 42-year-old man will score. Why? Because he’s a dominant “sugar daddy”, i.e. he’s willing to lavish money on a woman, at least for a casual encounter. I doubt he looks like Richard Gere but at least he’s single. This 57-year-old sugar daddy may score also.
  • It looks like Roleplay from last month is back and he is still looking for a woman into kinky playacting. The list looks a lot like last month’s, so I’m guessing he had no success in September.
  • If you are a guy from Newington that wants a massage from an Asian or white woman, no sex but are willing to pay for it, why post for it? Check out massage parlor reviews on Yelp and go to a decent local joint instead. Most of them have attractive Asian women and even if they are not attractive, does it matter?
  • If you are a couple and looking for a fat 42-year-old stogie-chomping black man for your fat wife to give head to, he’s available and has a suggestive illustration that if it is truthful probably won’t help in his quest.
  • She’s 21, slinky and from Hartford, looks very cute and is looking for a woman to be her friend with benefits (FWB). She likes the juicy titties though, so does this mean you have to be lactating?
  • It’s not unusual to see “dads” looking for “daughters” or “sons” on Craigslist, and I’ve documented more than a few of these over the years. But this 43-year-old woman is looking for a legal age young woman to be her “mother”. Here’s another “mother” but she’s only 28! It looks like a “daughter” is available, so which mommy will she choose?
  • Hartford’s XXX Art Cinema is still in business and has stimulated the curiosity of a married white BBW but presumably not her hubby. She’s too shy to go to an adult cinema alone but she will go with an escort this Saturday night, providing you are black and well endowed, perhaps like that stogie-chomping black man. Maybe they can give everyone a show. BTW, she’s not the only woman posting for an escort to this cinema.
  • Men, she’s 25 and if you call now you can make a reservation with her G-spot.
  • Also men, if you are craving a good spanking this 40 DD endowed “chocolate skin” woman will provide it, as well as have your crawling on your knees.
  • What is your personal best? This 22-year-old woman from East Hartford is going for her personal best daily blowjob record so she needs plenty of men … under age 40.
  • This “classy” girl from Hartford (probably attached) doesn’t need or want to make love in a hotel room but instead wants to make love with a professional guy in his office. I hope the office at least provides a nice leather couch and you can close the blinds. If I were the guy I’d make sure the door locks and kept a gag in the drawer.
  • At 24 your biological clock should not be “running short” but this young woman definitely wants a man to “seed me”. If you succeed I expect a paternity suit will follow.
  • If you are a man who never finds happiness at the mall, this 22-year-old woman from Westfarms will provide it to a sexy young man with a discreet mall blowjob. I’d avoid areas near the security cams.

More in November.


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