The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Communism… The Trumbo Way

trumbo movie poster

So I watched Trumbo the other day. It’s about a blacklisted writer who stood up for what he believed in and used his writing to do that–right up my alley. But there’s a scene early on where he explains what communism is to his daughter, Niki.

NIKI: So, are you a Communist?
DALTON TRUMBO: I am.
NIKI: Is it against the law?
DALTON TRUMBO: It is not.
NIKI: That lady with the big hat said you’re a “dangerous radical.” Are you?
DALTON TRUMBO: Radical, maybe. Dangerous, only to men who fling Cokes.
NIKI: You don’t want to overthrow the government?
DALTON TRUMBO: No, we have a good government. But anything good can be better, don’t you think?
NIKI: Is Mom a Communist?
DALTON TRUMBO: No.
NIKI: Am I?
DALTON TRUMBO: Well, why don’t we give you the official test. Mom makes you your favorite lunch…
NIKI: Ham and cheese.
DALTON TRUMBO: Ham and cheese. And at school, you see someone with no lunch at all. What do you do?
NIKI: Share.
DALTON TRUMBO: Share? You don’t tell them to just go get a job?
NIKI: No.
DALTON TRUMBO: Ooh. You offer them a loan at six percent, ooh, that’s very clever.
NIKI: Dad.
DALTON TRUMBO: Ah, then you just ignore them.
NIKI: No.
DALTON TRUMBO: Well, well… you little commie.

But I’m here thinking “It can’t be that simple.” What happens the next day, when the kid doesn’t have his sandwich again? And the next day? And the next? What happens when the kid realizes he never has to make a sandwich again because someone else is always going to make it for him.

There are times where Trumbo seems to be a pro-communism movie. I guess that’s unavoidable when your protagonist’s story revolves around him standing up for his beliefs. There’s not much effort by the movie to truly define what Trumbo was fighting for vs. what America was fighting for. But maybe I’m asking for too much. That’s not what the film is about. It’s about a writer fighting for his rights, even if it’s a right to be wrong.

Jose Bardasano. Communist Propaganda. 1937

I can’t quite tell if the movie is portraying it so positively because A) it’s trying to show Trumbo’s optimistic view of communism B) the movie is trying to tell us why Communism is good or why people joined the USCPA. Either way, it unsettles me. My point here is, if this is how you define communism, I think it’s a gross oversimplification.

I asked my wife, who’s a social studies teacher, and she said Trumbo’s parable is pretty accurate, but that it’s not so much you giving the sandwich, but the teacher coming along and splitting your sandwich in half. It doesn’t address that one of the things communism needs to work is a super-strong government. And it’s hard to have a super-strong government that’s not fascist.

The fundamental flaw to communism is that when you get paid the same no matter what, nothing motivates you. If nothing motivates you, you don’t work hard. If no one works hard, you don’t produce anything of value. Which means the value of what you produce goes down. Without competition, there’s no self-enforcing quality control. That might be fine if you weren’t in a global market, but those days are long past. Everyone can make ovens. But can you make a good oven? The best oven?

In communism, I have no reason to work a crappy job, get money to get a degree, use that degree to become a scientist, spend countless years to make a discovery that changes the world to get prestige and riches. There’s no Pixar in a communist society–no one would sleep under their desk without Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and Disney offering opportunities.

The “communism craze” would have burned itself out after a few years. But it was certainly no reason to go after the writer of Sporadicus.

Pawlenty as Governor Part 2: What I Do Care About

government building icon

I talked before about things politicians keep bringing up that aren’t things I care about. Here’s what I do care about.

Education – this is, and always shall be, my number one priority. Because my biggest fear is living in a country of ignorant. Ignorant people are like play-doh–they have no substance and even a mediocre leader can mold them into zealots. Smart children grow up to be smart adults who make smart advances. They make life better. They make medicine and businesses and inventions and because I don’t want a world where being “ig’nant” is a symbol of pride, or you’re supposed to hate school, or be a slacker/disengaged like a Kevin Smith movie. We are better off with educated people in the world. It benefits everyone. The effect isn’t immediate, but the investment can never goes down in value. Plus it’s a huge turn-on.

Net Neutrality – I realize this is more on the national radar than local, but other states are bucking the trend. Why can’t we? Technology and IT is a staple of MN, so we should sign our own Net Neutrality treaty. Let’s leap over that novelty chattering teeth with legs. Don’t let him feed his greed or drench congress in a months-long trial over nothing.

money ajit pai meme

Gun reform – I don’t know if it’s a big deal in Minnesota, but it’s an my personal priority. I do not want my children shot. I do not want my children afraid that if they go to school, they could be shot. Let me elaborate.

Statistically, you are not likely to be caught in a school shooting. Or a victim of gun violence at all. They’re declining, Since Columbine, 200 people have been shot in a school shooting. That’s a 1 in 614,000,000 chance. It’s not zero, and Minnesota is not an exception, but juvenile crime rates are dropping. It’s the phenomenon of a single huge news event looking like it’s a rampant problem (like airplane crashes). My daughters have a better chance of getting an STD or a lifelong sports injury than shot in a school shooting. Out of all the classrooms in all the schools in all the states in all the country, if you look at the numbers, it’s not going to happen. (source)

However…

The psychology of it all takes a toll on the psyche. You’re not likely to be shot but you are guaranteed to see all the measures to prevent those shots. The constant state of fear and paranoia. Carefree days that kids should be experiencing are gone, and that results messed-up grown-ups.

school security metal detectors

Imagine your own elementary school. Little lockers, weird art on the walls, and crappy paper crafts hanging from the ceiling. The lunchroom, the classroom, the bathrooms. All those memories. The smells of corn dogs and breadtangles of pizza. Snicking scissors. Papers shuffling. The smell of glue and crayons.

Now add metal detectors. Now add police in your hall, monitoring everybody. Add monthly lockdown drills, doors that auto-lock at the start of class, and cameras in every corner. Now add clear backpacks and fencing that corrals you down a single path like cows in a stockyard. Now add teachers with gun holsters, students with bulletproof vests, and crisis conduct class instead of music. How does that affect your personality for the next thirteen years of your life? You thought schools were like prison before…

Like they say in the military — it’s not that you could die, it’s that you will see your friends die.

I’m also looking at the police. They have guns too, and their indiscriminate use does nothing to assuage fear of firearms or law enforcement. Minnesota isn’t an exception to Black Lives Matter. I’ve blogged before about my outrage at the Philando Castile verdict after the video was made public. It made me sick that it happened so close to my old house, like a desecration. Which segues to my number three…

Accountability – We are no longer in the era where we can allow consequence-free conduct. This is the era of #timesup. Actions cannot be brushed off or ignored. Truth has outvalued thousands of dollars of NDA settlement money. Those blind eyes are what let everything get out of control in the first place. So much suffering, and we let it happen. How did we let it get so bad, letting the spin doctors and armchair psychologists brush off sociopathic behavior? It should not be this hard to act like a decent human being.

So when Tim Pawlenty says that Trump is unfit to be president but still votes for him, my nose wrinkles. In IT we have a thing called “code smell“, where certain patterns or structures correspond to negative impact on the application. This is “rhetoric smell”. Is he interested in improving the quality of life for his constituents or his own party? From that action alone, how can you trust a leader who’s philosophy is “do as I say, not as I do”? That is not acceptable. We must demand better.

So Mr. Pawlenty starts, in my eyes, with a hill to climb. He’s starting at the back tees. He better have a good drive to get back into good standing (I don’t know why I’m using a golf metaphor, I don’t even like golf).

So Pawlenty as Governor…

minnesota blue

So I used to ignore politics. But in my state, the governor race has begun. This is going to be interesting because, for the first time in my life, I’m scrutinizing candidates and vetting policies. I even sent in a ballot for my Homeowner’s Association election. So revel in the bantling thoughts of a guy coming to government as unsteady and moist as a newborn calf.

In my state, Tim Pawlenty is running for governor as a Republican.This is noteworthy because he already served from 2003-2011 (and then took six years off to go backpacking in Europe?). I don’t know why he wants to run now. Is he afraid the backlash during midterm elections will eclipse the GOP? Maybe he thinks he’s got a strong chance because the current governor, a democrat, won’t be running again. Which means they’re going to have a fresh candidate, while people already know Pawlenty’s name. (Better the devil you know?)

Sorry, I don’t mean to rag on the Republican party, though their actions in the White House have left a sour taste in my mouth. But there is no reason I wouldn’t vote for a Republican candidate… as long as I agree with that candidate. It’s just that I rarely ever agree with Republican behavior.

calvin tantrum

Democrats seem to focus on people (civil rights, economic equality, focus on domestic policy over international etc.) while Republicans focus on business and money. And don’t get me wrong, I like businesses. I look at all the empty land between the Mississippi and Rocky Mountains and think “Build something there! Make some cities!” But I’d rather my friends be able to get married or emigrate to the US than if one of the tiny coffee shops or banks near me gets a tax break.

I do know I’ve had an assful of people like Bill and Bob and all the other conservative PSAs around me. Since I’m on the rural border, I gotta see all those anti-abortion billboards. At this point I know all the phases of fetal development when the fingerprints form, when the heartbeat starts), but it’s such a shallow tug, meant to appeal to emotion and not reason.

I have to drive by one every day that says “trashing an egg is the equivalent of wasting 55 gallons of water”. Is egg-wasting really such a problem you had to spend money on a billboard about it? What is this supposed to stop? All those people throwing eggs into the river? You really think this is going to have ANY effect whatsoever? But I’m digressing.

egg trash billboard
Whoooooooooo cares?

Okay, let’s try starting over. According to his introduction video, Pawlenty says he’s going to focus on a few things, but the basic “slogan” is loosening the squeeze on the “middle”. I don’t know what that means. I’m middle class and I don’t feel any squeeze. (BTW, I checked, according to this, I’m middle class, though on the high end of the range). I’m fine. I have plenty of taxes to pay and I don’t mind paying them.

han solo we're all fine up here control room
“We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?”

Sometimes I owe taxes. Some years they owe me. Seems balanced enough. I never worry about my financial situation because I don’t spend stupidly. (That might change when the kids go to college, but chickens and counting). My health care premiums don’t seem excessive, but I gotta believe he’s talking about MNCare, and I don’t have insight into that. I work for the largest health care company in the U.S. and after 5+ jobs and different health care plans, it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve even grown to like the HSA.

I do mind living in the wrong area. The county lines are drawn so that everything I do is in another county–schools, stores, etc. But my taxes and votes go to the Minneapolis one. I don’t know if this counts as someone gerrymandering boundary lines per se but it sure doesn’t feel right.

And tangentially, Pawlenty drops a line about us “trying to afford a decent life”. Is that a problem here? The unemployment rate is 3.1% in Minnesota right now (compare to 4.1% nationally). That’s five points below what it was eight years ago. Even industrial labor (I don’t like the term “blue collar”) wages are increasing nationally. Is there increased poverty? Well, in 2017, the number was 533,000. In 2011, almost 600,000. Again we have a drop (of 11% — and we went from 10th place to 5th [source]). It doesn’t mean poverty should be ignored, but when Minnesota has the second lowest poverty rate in the United States, it’s hard to see it as a priority issue. His closing sentence (the one that’s most important because it’s what lingers in the mind) is that he’s “finally going to put those in the middle first.” … implying he wasn’t doing that before?

political cartoon healthcare bills

Here’s another: “Working-class Minnesotans are sick and tired of politics-as-usual”. NO. I want politics as usual. Please, take us back to politics as usual. Take me back to the times when I didn’t have to attend two separate marches to feel like I’m doing something about this maniacal tyranny. When white supremacists were ashamed of their beliefs and had to hide. When I didn’t want to punch Facebook in the face and I didn’t have to pay attention to Russia and there wasn’t a jaw-dropping news story every Friday. Take me back to when I wasn’t worried nuclear war could start with a tweet.

And lastly–immigration. It’s a “no-brainer” to make sure illegal immigrants aren’t getting government benefits. Well, sure, no one would argue with that. No one likes freeloaders. But is it actually a problem in Minnesota? We don’t have people sneaking across a border, so the immigrants we have here are legal. We’ve got a nice Hmong and Somalian population, two very different cultures that help us expand our horizons and increase perspective and empathy. This isn’t like Arizona or New Mexico. We’re not worried about the invasion of Canadians.

You know what I think? I think he’s just jumping on the GOP’s immigration platform because that’s the only issue to get a reaction out of anyone. It’s what Trump rode into the White House on.

donald trump political cartoon

Here’s how it sounds overall: he’s trying to imply there’s a problem where none exists (and that he’s the one to fix it). This sounds like how door-to-door salesmen did their thing back in the 1950s. Still exploiting the cult of personality. Focused on money, economy, and taxes. Not about advancing the human race, improving quality of life, or society as a whole. Immigration, a “middle-class squeeze”, and poverty are non-issues right now (in this state).

I’m not saying none of these issues aren’t problems. I’m saying there are bigger fish to fry. The mice in the kitchen aren’t as important as the stove on fire.

Next time: what I do care about.

How Do You Convince Someone Not to Vote for Trump

political protest silhouette

Allow me to get political for a second. I haven’t done so in over 900 posts, so I think I’m permitted one. And believe me, I don’t like to do this.

I’m not politically minded. I don’t care much about politics or governmental elections. I care about policy, but the system to create that policy has succumbed to corruption – lobbying, partisanship, etc. When it comes to presidents, there are candidates I like and candidates I don’t.

When George W. Bush was first elected, I was disappointed – the election was controversial to begin with, but also he was not very intelligent and didn’t understand consequences for his actions. He passed the “No Child Left Behind” act that punished schools with good students and encouraged teaching the test. He vetoed stem cell research, got unnecessarily involved with the Terry Schiavo case, and didn’t make many friends overseas. When he was re-elected, I was angry — he based his platform on fear and paranoia and exploiting the emotions of 9/11. And let’s not forget the 2008 recession/bailout. But I thought, let’s just get through the next four years, and then we’ll have to have someone new.

When Obama ran, I supported him. But I knew, despite the slogan, not much would change. He’s just one man amid 12 Supreme Court Justices, 435 representatives, 100 senators, and however many people work under them all (see “How Much Does the President Really Matter?” ). It would be a presidency much the same as the last. Maybe with a little more optimism and edging towards progress. But otherwise, same-old same-old.

But right now, I am terrified of Donald Trump becoming president.

I can’t find anything in either his campaign or personality that’s redeemable. He is a narcissistic sociopath, like many Type A businessmen. Someone who always believes he’s right and won’t listen to countering opinions. If you are not a white male, Trump is not going to defend you. He won’t support you. He’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, anti-Mexican, anti-LGBT. He’s more interested in building walls than bridges, stopping things instead of starting them.

Even other Republicans are trying to find ways not to vote for him. Prominent officials are refusing to endorse him, which NEVER happens. You never break party loyalty, especially if you’re a GOP. Trump is not a leader, he is a brand. He’s spent his life building his brand. And it’s not a reliable one. I grew up while Trump was forming his empire (on his small loan of one million dollars). I was a kid when he was the mascot for eighties yuppies and “New York business”. I saw him make headlines with casinos and beauty pageants and multiple ex-wives.

But he’s strong in the polls. A man with no political experience, who’s spent more time with TV shows and failed businesses than on the congress floor, is tied with someone who has the political history of a Kennedy. Granted, it’s also as spotty as a Kennedy, but she plays the game. She knows the players, knows the rules, and has the experience. She can hit the ground running. The American people as a collective believe she’s on the same level as someone who marketed his name on a board game and steaks.

And now there’s this shitstorm of the RNC. In a single day, the potential first lady plagiarized her speech, a congressman said that “whites have done more for civilization than non-whites”, a soap opera star called Barack Obama a “Muslim”, a lieutenant-general led a chant of “lock her up” (referring to Hillary Clinton), and the opening prayer referred to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party as “the enemy” as if this were a war. Not people who, although they have different ideologies, need to work together. I’ve seen what happens when people elect a showman instead of a politician. I live in the state that elected Jesse Ventura.

After all that, there are still people who believe he is the best figurehead for the country. For American ideals. To “make America great again” (was it so bad in the first place?). If they are still supporting him after the plagiarism, the Mexican wall, the birther controversy, the violence at the rallies, the anti-immigration (and I’m just listing his political snafus), then nothing’s going to change their minds.

They’re zealots, following a charismatic leader. One who makes promises he can’t keep. Someone who appeals to emotions rather than reason. I don’t see how you can convince someone like that to change their mind. My technical writing teacher said there are only two ways to get someone to do something. Either hold a gun to their head or persuade them. But persuasion doesn’t work if you don’t think rationally. Because they’re not thinking with reason in the first place. And if you use emotion, you’re entering the same dangerous game.

I feel like a large part of the world is on some kind of glacial retreat. We’re rejecting globalization. International sports result in corrupt officials and Olympic ghost towns. England removes itself from the European Union because they don’t want to harbor Syrian refugees. It’s an ideal that encourages fear and ignorance.

My only hope is that, if Trump is elected, the same pattern applies — that he’s only one man and not much will change.

But my bigger wish is that there was a presidential candidate whom I could say “I really want THIS person to be president!” instead of “oh God, please don’t let THIS person be president.”