“Nothing human is alien to me.” On the Passing of Anthony Bourdain

Shortly after the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death spread, a tweet from Robert Wright came across my feed containing a quote from a play by the Roman playwright Terence. The slightly fuller version of the quote is, “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.” (Originally, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, if Wikipedia isn’t betraying me.)

Though Robert tweeted it better (and shorter) than anything I could likely type here, and I didn’t originally think I’d type anything on this subject, a couple of thoughts have coalesced that I want to share regarding Anthony Bourdain. This post also concludes what will have become an informal trilogy of posts about him. Please feel free to read part one and part two as you like.

I want to set the scene with a blockquote from part one:

[…] I’ve long thought it must require a considerable ego to be a public personality of any sort, and Bourdain has made remarks concerning notions that his television career may constitute a monument to his. Yes, an ego is required to do what he does. Yes, Bourdain can be abrasive in his expression of some opinions. But to make an assessment of Bourdain purely a matter of ego is to miss the essential and sincere humility he displays when in the presence of those who don’t merely lack his good fortune, but lack the good fortune to live lives free of war, poverty, contempt and disregard. […] And though Bourdain’s journalism may seem soft compared to more conventional—or more adversarial—content, it’s precisely this soft journalism, this elevation and expansion of what might otherwise be the typical, possibly tawdry, two-minute human interest story tacked onto the end of the nightly news, that can be some of the most important and revealing journalism about the human condition.

Though the description above is, I think, a largely accurate one, it occurred to me I was missing something important. I struck me a day or two ago that what we who’ve followed Bourdain’s TV career from his first show to his last have witnessed is a man becoming a better human being. We watched Bourdain grow and evolve from a chain-smoking vessel for the restaurant industry’s spare machismo to a man whose ever-growing empathy and drive to seek out new experiences enabled him to make connections with people all over the world. (A certain talent for wordsmithy didn’t hurt, either.)

And those connections weren’t just between him and who he sat with at a dinner table or bar or campfire. Bourdain shared those connections with us, and through him we became better connected. I can think of no better gift to give than that of meaningful connection, the kind of connection that dispels indifference and bigotry, bringing us all a bit closer together even when thousands of miles apart. Anthony Bourdain gave this gift repeatedly and with gusto.

A Poem By Charles Bukowski That Seems Apt This Night


The Genius of the Crowd by Charles Bukowski

there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average
human being to supply any given army on any given day

and the best at murder are those who preach against it
and the best at hate are those who preach love
and the best at war finally are those who preach peace

those who preach god, need god
those who preach peace do not have peace
those who preach peace do not have love

beware the preachers
beware the knowers
beware those who are always reading books
beware those who either detest poverty
or are proud of it
beware those quick to praise
for they need praise in return
beware those who are quick to censor
they are afraid of what they do not know
beware those who seek constant crowds for
they are nothing alone
beware the average man the average woman
beware their love, their love is average
seeks average

but there is genius in their hatred
there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you
to kill anybody
not wanting solitude
not understanding solitude
they will attempt to destroy anything
that differs from their own
not being able to create art
they will not understand art
they will consider their failure as creators
only as a failure of the world
not being able to love fully
they will believe your love incomplete
and then they will hate you
and their hatred will be perfect

like a shining diamond
like a knife
like a mountain
like a tiger
like hemlock

their finest art

American Horror Story: Election Night 2016

Election Night In America is well underway and I find myself writing the third post in what’s turned out to be an informal trilogy of electoral blather. Feel free to look in on parts one and two if it strikes your fancy.

I live in the largely excellent State of Oregon, where we have voting by mail. I dropped off my filled-in ballot at a voting box the same day it came in the post.

I voted Green wherever possible, including for the Presidency, and where it wasn’t possible to vote Green I voted for whoever seemed the most legitimately left. If this troubles you, don’t worry. I live in a State that’s not a battleground. Also, Joy Ann Reid says my vote didn’t count (to which I took exception).


This is strange since according to a tweet from Ms. Reid that’s pinned at the present moment, she thinks voting is very important.


I mean, I’d like my vote to do the same things her vote would do, but since my vote doesn’t count…

I’ve typed earlier about what I think of voting. I think it’s an often-hyperbolically overrated activity that doesn’t work the way most people are conditioned to think it works. (See part two for details.) This doesn’t mean I think voting is unimportant. The problem is that at the same time we are propagandized to about how important voting is, we are forced to participate in an electoral system so thoroughly buggered by a host of ills that our participation is ultimately bent to the wills of a class who, if they could get away with it, would disenfranchise us entirely.

And though, looking at the duopoly, one choice is qualitatively worse than the other, either party’s candidate for President will bring considerable woe to much of both the US and the rest of the planet.

I do not look forward to the next four years.

On the Fatal Synergy of ‘lesser of two evils’ Voting

A common refrain from liberals and some leftists during a Presidential election cycle is that even if we don’t like the Democratic candidate for President we should vote for that candidate because he (or in the present case, she) is the lesser of two evils when compared to the Republican candidate. What I’m not sure has occurred to liberals and leftists who think this is that conservatives make precisely the same argument to their peers. In 2012 I listened in on a conversation where a co-worker of mine was arguing vehemently in favor of voting for Mitt Romney, in spite of the fact that no one listening, including the person making the argument, liked Romney. My co-worker asserted that Romney was the lesser of two evils when compared to President Obama.

That last statement will undoubtedly sound preposterous to any liberal. This represents a failure on the part of liberals and leftists to imagine that the arguments we use to support voting for a Democratic candidate are often identical (excepting ideological components) to the arguments conservatives make to support a Republican candidate.

As the Republican party has shifted further right over the past few decades, the Democratic party has always been able to make this lesser of two evils claim even while the Democratic party itself shifts to the right.

By the same token, the Republican party can always represent the Democratic party to their constituents as being too left-leaning even when the Republicans abandon ideological space which is subsequently occupied by the Democrats. How else does one explain Republicans attacking Democrats as ‘socialist’ when the Democratic party’s current platform may be reasonably described as Reagan-era Republican…

This is the fatal synergy of lesser of two evils voting. Regardless of one’s party affiliation, the strategy of painting the other party’s candidate as worse that your own party’s poor candidate keeps everyone trapped in a two-party system that effectively functions as two sides of a single party, trading power across a narrowing ideological space that consistently moves to the right.

I’m neither a statistician nor a psychologist, but something I find consistently troubling about the lesser of two evils mindset in voting is that it both seems to greatly overemphasize the value of a single person’s vote while at the same time reinforcing the perceived necessity of playing on the winning team.

It seems to me that, statistically-speaking, one individual vote is entirely inconsequential on any scale much larger than that of a town. Votes are meaningful only in aggregate. The lesser of two evils mindset will always propose that votes should go to one of the two major parties, but consider, as Dr. Jill Stein has, what could be achieved if an alternative voting bloc could be formed.

Dr. Stein has just described one possible version of the winning team. Pity so few can imagine playing on it.

Perhaps the most fundamental thing to recognize in our current election cycle is that Donald Trump’s candidacy didn’t not rise out of a vacuum. Decades worth of conditions which have been contributed to, in part, by lesser of two evils voting, have brought us to a point in time where a classic Republican disguised as a Democrat (Hillary Clinton) is going to run for President against a fascist disguised as a Republican (Trump) who will be able to run to the left of the Democratic candidate on specific issues (like favorability toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership) while simultaneously proposing some of the most openly racist policies presently imaginable. Most think a Trump win will be horrific, as it’s likely to be. It’s not, however, unreasonable to be concerned about the different set of horrors we will likely experience should a) Clinton become President, and b) another more brazen fascist come along to challenge Clinton in 2020. The thread starting with the tweet below proposes a dire scenario.

If we’re really going to change the direction of politics in the US, and assuming the ballot box is the place to do it, we need to drop the lesser of two evils voting method, abandon the two-party duopoly and find the alternatives that best speak to our principles and beliefs, whatever they may be.

Related links:

Reflecting on Pride Philosophy and Movements in the #BlackLivesMatter Era

A little over two decades ago, some time after having taken some philosophy courses at Mt. Hood Community College, (from an instructor who referred to himself on handouts as Spade Cooley, for reasons which remain a mystery) I distilled some of what I’d learned from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics into this statement: “Don’t be proud of who you are; be proud of what you do.” A variant upon this theme turned up in pop culture when Christian Bale’s Batman said, in Batman Begins, “It’s not who I am on the inside, but what I do that defines me.”

In the early 2000’s I found myself in a deep conversation with a new (at the time) friend of mine who happens to be gay. I spoke about my previously mentioned philosophical distillation and asked him how it might relate to the gay pride movement. I can’t recall his exact words, (and wish I could) but he countered my assertion that pride in an inherent property (in this case, being gay) didn’t make sense by noting, rather brilliantly, that pride movements develop out of persecution.

What this seems to boil down to (if you’ll forgive a distillation metaphor) is that taking pride in an inherent property makes sense when the purpose of feeling that pride is to elevate one’s self and the group one is in to a state of parity, both in terms of self-esteem and esteem in the broader community, with the privileged majority.

It will come as no surprise then, that #BlackLivesMatter may be easily understood as a (profoundly necessary) pride movement.

In a much more recent conversation, a different friend of mine asserted that the statement, “Black lives matter,” is inherently racist. I didn’t argue the point out of a desire to avoid our conversation becoming heated, but the wrongness of what my friend said is plain to me. Hari Kondabolu puts it most succinctly:

Or there’s this longer, more metaphorical explanation of what “Black lives matter” does and doesn’t mean.

Of course, there are full-on racists out there who will assert nonsense like #BlueLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter. I think a false sense of persecution must be at least partly a driver for such vile absurdity.

When I reflect once more upon my original statement concerning pride, it occurs to me I thought of it largely in a personal context. I’ve never felt any pride over being white, male, heterosexual, American, or for any other inherent or inherited property of my being. It always struck me as silly. (Almost as silly as that shitpile of a song by Lee Greenwood, which is apparently achieving renewed popularity.) I’ve come over the years to recognize that when others express pride over related sorts of things, like Blackness, homosexuality, alternative gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc., it’s not silly at all. It’s vital in the struggle for survival and equality in a nation whose privileged majority has little to be proud of in its ongoing failure to live up to the ideals we claim to hold dear.

I thought I might dedicate this post to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but I don’t think this post is the right way to honor their memories (or those of Tamir, Sandra, Michael, and a host of others). I would rather dedicate this post and other, better future efforts, to all the names I don’t know and hope never to see in the form of a hashtag. We can best honor the dead by working to achieve justice for the living.

Feeling Like You Have a Choice: the 2016 Democratic Primary in South Carolina


I lean strongly Bernie, but I don’t #FeelTheBern as others do. There are reasons for this which don’t qualify as content for this post since I’m not going to talk about why I support Senator Sanders. Whatever my rationale may be for favoring Sanders, (in spite of some misgivings) the point of what I’m about to type isn’t to say that because the issues are some such way, you should vote this way or that. The point is to not say that, especially when I don’t know, and cannot know, the minds of people whose experiences differ from my own.

Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary by a wide margin, and most of the credit for that margin goes to Black voters. The result was expected and Sanders’ concession speech was given not from a location in South Carolina, but in southeast Minnesota, where he’s warming up for Super Tuesday. According to the article linked above, Sanders said, “There’s no way we are going to lose Minnesota. I can see that. You are just too smart.”

While I have no reason to believe Sanders has any ill will toward voters in South Carolina, that statement reads poorly in its presumably unintended implication that voters in South Carolina are, shall we say, not smart.

As I read through my Twitter timeline I found Sana Saeed had asked a most pertinent question, (though not phrased as such) the source for this post.

I was able to respond to this tweet with something useful, having read moments before an editorial in the New York Times written by Charles M. Blow. Though the editorial predates last night’s primary by two-and-a-half weeks, it contains good insight into why Black voters might choose Clinton over Sanders. Blow makes a reference to condescension which, were such directed at me, I would want to resist too:

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood — now and over their lifetimes — they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

The remark by Sanders about how smart he thinks the voters in Minnesota are strikes me as a more positively spun version of the same condescension.

The rest of the editorial by Blow is excellent, but I found in another respondent to Saeed’s tweet a more direct and concise explanation (paralleling Blow’s) for why Black voters in South Carolina were so overwhelmingly pro-Clinton. From Glen Ford and the Black Agenda Report:

Blacks are drawn into the jaws of the Democratic Party, not by ideological affinity, but in search of protection from the Republicans. This is an entirely different dynamic than an alignment based on thoughtful examination of political platforms. It’s not about picking a candidate or party that sees the world as most Black people do, from the left side of the spectrum, on matters of social justice and peace. Rather, the overarching objective is to choose a candidate from the Democratic wing of the Rich Man’s duopoly who is best equipped to defeat his or her Republican counterpart. Under these stilted circumstances, the Democratic candidate’s actual political positions become near-irrelevant to the Black primary voter, compared to the candidate’s perceived ability to win a national election. The question becomes, is the Democrat strong enough to beat back the latest offensive from the GOP? – which Black people perceive as an existential threat. In the grip of that mindset, the contestant that is richer, better connected to the party apparatus and more acceptable to masses of white voters is the better Black choice.

I have it easy. I’m a white guy with a decent job living in the Pacific Northwest. Who the next President is will have very little effect on me as a personal matter. My life will go on much as it has, and the fact I can have some confidence in that speaks to a characteristic of privilege I suspect may not be well understood. I’m not going to vote for Clinton in the Democratic primary when it happens in Oregon. I’m damn sure not going to vote for any Republican Presidential nominee when the general election finally arrives. But the fact I can choose among a variety of candidates—in either of the two major parties or from other parties—without much sense of having been backed into a corner where only one possibility may be conceived of, is surely a luxury which, if Blow and Ford are to be believed, many feel they cannot afford.

There’s an ideal world existing only in my head where people vote their conscience and principles. We don’t live in that world, but if we did it might look, from the perspective of a Sanders supporter, like this.

When Justice Prevails the Victory Is Always Pyrrhic

Yesterday evening a jury found Daniel Holtzclaw guilty of 18 out of 36 counts of rape, sexual battery and other charges. I got the news via Twitter, as I know many did given the lack of coverage by the mainstream media. In the wake of the verdict there was a lot of celebrating: happy emojis in high concentration and tweets full of schadenfreude. And yeah, the thought of Holtzclaw rotting in prison for the rest of his life doesn’t come without some pleasure. He needs to be locked away from society, if only to prevent him from raping more black women. The punishment aspect of his imprisonment, and the fact the verdict was handed down by an all-white jury, are bonuses.

But after reading a lot of enthusiasm regarding the verdict, my thoughts started to sober a bit. Of course, Deray Mckesson beat me to the punch:

What he typed in a tweet I’m going to type at somewhat greater length. (If brevity is the soul of wit, Deray has already pwned me.)

Our desire to see justice done when someone commits a wrong is a desire worth having. Seeing that desire brought to fruition, it’s only natural we would celebrate it. It is also good, I think, for us to temper our celebration with the knowledge that the justice we sought could only be sought after the fact of crimes having occurred. It’s why a victory for the prosecution in the Holtzclaw trial is Pyrrhic. I live in world where Daniel Holtzclaw raped and sexually assaulted many black women, and was held to account for it. I can’t help but think I would rather be living in a world where Holtzclaw was merely a mediocre cop who never raped anyone, and the women who suffered his depredations didn’t.

In a world where justice has truly, fully prevailed, there will be no need enact justice on anyone. Justice will be an inherent property of our lives and not something to gather around, whether in courts or on the streets of places like Ferguson, Baltimore, or Oklahoma City.

But that world is a utopia. The best we can do in our world is to strive for that unreachable ideal. The Holtzclaw verdict was a step in the right direction.

Addendum 21 January 2016: Daniel Holtzclaw has been sentenced to 263 years in prison, specific sentences to be served consecutively.

An Adventure In Twitter Debate: Totally Biased Edition Featuring W. Kamau Bell

Earlier today W. Kamau Bell posted the following to his Facebook page, sharing it on Twitter as a screenshot soon after.

Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race, Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.” Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, I don’t care if you had no plans to vote for Trump or anybody, if you are white, he is your problem above all else. Simply put, white people, come get your boy.

I wanted very badly to agree with all of the above because I do think Donald Trump is a problem, and a symptom (and symbol) of a much larger and ultimately more dangerous problem. I cannot, however, fully agree with Kamau on this, and when I tweeted my disagreement, hijinks ensued.

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A Layman’s Evaluation of Risk: Likelihood vs. Magnitude

I woke up this morning to a Twitter feed that got the juices flowing regarding ubiquity. Nassim Nicholas Taleb quoted a tweet containing a link to a Washington Post editorial titled “You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist“. The text of Taleb’s tweet suggested he wasn’t too impressed with the article’s content.

More from Taleb…

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Race Is a Social Construct, and It’s Built With Language

Every time I read the statement, “Race is a social construct,” in a blog post or editorial, I can’t help but think the unwritten assumption being made by the author is that race and racism are highly malleable, subject to easy disassembly. We might be led to believe race is merely a social construct and if we talk about it enough we can undo its very existence. I don’t think this is true. I think talking about race instead reinforces its existence and, by extension, strengthens racism. Our only language to talk about race is a language filled with words which only have meaning in relation to the construct of race itself. That we have no choice but to talk about race in this way seems only to make matters worse.

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