Nobody likes the smartest kid in the class…

 

Notre Dame burned yesterday. It’s a beautiful place, that I’ve only seen from the outside, but even if you’ve only seen pictures its beauty is impressive. The President of the United States responded with a tweet. A mind-numbingly dumb tweet.

In contrast, Pete Buttigieg (the democrat running for president) issued a statement in French (one of EIGHT languages he speaks: English, Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, Dari, and French).

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How far from Bartlet we’ve fallen…

I know Josiah (“Jed”) Bartlet is a fictional character, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to use him as a role model, as an ideal version of what we could have. I am a Bartlet Democrat (not to be confused with anybody who idolizes the real Josiah Bartlett, with three t’s in his last name — a member of the New Hampshire delegation to the Congressional Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence). In the same way that kids use superheros as role models, I think it’s healthy to imagine what Barlet would do under real-life situations. Of course, this isn’t always possible and the situations we (or a president) encounter will be vastly different from those Bartlet would have faced. And, of course, this is all up for interpretation because nobody (except maybe the writers of the show) would know for sure what Bartlet would do. But there are some scenarios that are easier to imagine than others. His reaction to President Trump’s tweets fall into that category. Let’s play.

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Give him the money for his stupid wall…

Yes, you heard that. I think the democrats should give Trump the $5 billion he requested for the wall. I think the wall is a dumb idea. I think we already have physical (natural and man-made) barriers that do good where they’re needed. I think the eminent domain issues will be tied up in court for the better part of a decade, at least. I don’t think it’s a good use of our funds, but it’s about 0.13% of the proposed FY2019 budget, it’s a fraction of important things like the $39 billion budget for the National Institutes of Health, and I just don’t care enough about it to advocate keeping federal workers from getting their paychecks.

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So much happening, so little to say (another grab bag)

I’ve been neglecting this outlet in favor of Facebook and Twitter these days. I think it’s mostly because I’m spread so thin on my outrage about things, that I can’t decide which of the many things bothering me deserves a whole entry here. Like before, it’s deserving of a Grab Bag kind of post, just to get it all out there.

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Fuzzy memories

My memory for some things is awful. It’s a running joke at work, and my graduate students have teased me by admitting their strategy of coming back to me with a research idea that I dismissed weeks ago, with the hopes that I will have forgotten dismissing it, and will get excited about it the second or third time. I can’t say that this strategy hasn’t worked…largely because my memory can be pretty rotten at times. I don’t think it’s pathological, or a sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I think some things are salient, and stick, and others are easily dismissed, and forgotten. I also know that memories are quite flexible, and often we remember things very differently from how they actually happened. An article in Vox reminded me of this, and there are other excellent examples out there.

Fair warning, there’s a spoiler below, so if you haven’t listened to the episode of Radiolab called “Reasonable Doubt” and want to/plan to, you might not want to read below the fold just yet.

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Some thoughts on jobs

Once again, I have to start with a disclosure: I am not an economist and these thoughts likely shouldn’t be taken seriously by anybody. Of course a lack of expertise hasn’t stopped me from bloviating about ways to fix the world, and not being an expert certainly hasn’t even stopped Donald Trump from becoming president. With that in mind, I have a dream about a program to help get people to work. It has two main ingredients, and I don’t know if it would work, but it’s fun to imagine anyway.

To think about how to fix the jobs problem in the United States, we have to first think about what the problem is, and who is affected. And then it leads me to the solution that’s been in my dreams lately. It’s a great dream, of a bold initiative, with a practical solution to a pressing problem. Something I could imagine being a crux of the Bartlet Democrat platform.

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What would Bartlet do?

I have a tendency to think of the world in a two-type model. Of course I know this isn’t true, and I’ve spent plenty of time explaining false dichotomies to people, both in my personal and professional lives, but in a non-literal, knowingly unrealistic way, I like to do it anyway. My wife and I have a long-standing view, for instance, that there are two types of people in the world: people who would lick the plate if it were socially acceptable, and people who wouldn’t. “Lick the plate” is, in many ways, a statement of passion for food, but also for life. The “plate-licker” gestalt reveals a person with a zest not just for food, but for life. Somebody who wants to get every last drop out of the good stuff, and lick the plate. We’ve recognized this (false) dichotomy since early in our life together (we’ve been together for almost a quarter of a century, married for a fifth of a century), although it seems to have become an unspoken thing in the last few years.
I’m certainly not alone in my dichotomization of the world. Others have different splits, cat people and dog people, organized inbox people and those like me with thousands of unread emails, Coke vs Pepsi…we’ve seen these all.
So here’s my false dichotomy of the day: there are people who seek a label, and people who shun them. I’m one who seeks a label, and I think one has finally dawned on me. I’m a “Bartlet Democrat,” and proud of it.

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