This blog…is fun. I’m not sure I can keep it up, considering my more lucrative writing obligations. But let’s try. Let’s keep it going as long as we can. Hello 2015!

And…one last look back at 2014:

January 17: What Were We Thinking?

In this America where 95% of people never wear a military uniform, I doubt that my generation’s kids and grandkids will be taking us to task for failing to serve. That does not mean, however, that we won’t be taken to task.

As a society, as a 51%+, we like to think that we live in the best of times, and if we’re not doing the best we can about whatever lingering problems we face, well, we must be doing at least second- or third-best. We don’t think of ourselves, 50 years from now, getting caught up by a grandchild saying “What the hell were you thinking?” But that’s gonna happen. Our parents and grandparents who smoked cigarettes every day have an inkling of what I’m saying. At least they can fade into the dignity of old sepia-toned photographs. Our grandkids will be looking at videos from our spring breaks and summer barbeques and saying – “THIS is what you were doing instead of helping the world?”

February 7: Populism, Not Orange, Is The New Black

What most have forgotten since 2008 is that initially, there was agreement between the Left and Right that elite institutions, primarily those in the banking sector, were responsible for the mortgage crisis. In private polling that I conducted at that time for national elections, I found that 90% of Americans – at equal levels for Democrat and Republican voters – were against ‘the government bailout of Wall St. banks’ (that is how we worded the question). On the issue of the bailout and who was responsible, those divided in their support of Senator McCain or Obama for President, were united in their opposition to both government and elite market forces.

Great point! Much like 9/11, I don’t think the pain of witnessing that collapse really went away 5-6 years later. Helpfully, Muhammad goes on to explain the successes and failures of Democrats and Republicans in this context – sometimes they harness the populist energy appropriately, sometimes they don’t. (He didn’t say this, but I will: that Republican convention in 2012 was a clusterfrak. The Republicans saw the populism throughout America – very much including the Tea Party – and said: oh, ok, then, SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS. Which wasn’t utterly crazy. But no one told them that a room full of bosses starts to look like its own kind of elitism to the working stiffs back home. Get some paycheck-to-paycheck people there next time, GOP.) Mostly, they don’t, which is why a plurality of people now identify as Independent, instead of Democratic or Republican. That’s a change.

The one area where I part company with [Cedric] Muhammad is this idea, apparently descended from the French Revolution, that the populists must necessarily be “against” elite institutions, namely the government and bigger businesses. Krugman agrees and would have us perenially storming the Bastille. I’m closer to Douthat here: I doubt that most Americans, or say just my beloved 51%, really prefer a conflict with the companies whose ads they enjoy or even the groups represented by those pretty neo-classical buildings in Washington D.C. I think what people really hope for is an ever-expanding pie, where working people can make a better living – however slight – for their children. But if the pie can’t expand, if this is a zero-sum game, and frankly if the government and Wall Street is taking 10x more of the pie than it did 30 years ago…well, yeah, okay, “against” becomes part of populism. I just feel that in these moments of apparent populist rage, it’s good to remind the “best and the brightest” that the less-best and less-brightest don’t want to have to take anything away from you. But when you cage a tiger…

March 7: The Boys Who Cried Feckless

Has Obama’s feckless foreign policy encouraged Vladimir Putin to believe he could move troops into Crimea with impunity? Well, I don’t know. Did the Soviets invade Hungary in 1956 because Eisenhower looked weak during that Normandy invasion? Invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 because Johnson was so wimpy as to send a million troops to Vietnam? Did the Russians invade Georgia in 2008 because George W. Bush hadn’t sent a strong enough message? 2008, eh? I wonder, six years ago, did liberals and Democrats blame that invasion on Bush’s recklessness, fecklessness, or any other –ecklessness? They must have been just as obsessed with blaming everything on Bush, right? Because all this Obama-blame is just tit for tat, right? If only there was some way to search for articles from 2008…oh right, there is. I’ll wait.

The truth is, bad things happened in the world from 2001 to 2008 that liberals didn’t routinely blame on the sitting President. Like a US spy plane caught by Chinese authorities. Like A.Q. Khan opening up Pakistani nuclear technology to Iran. Like Bolivia going Communist. I suppose one strain of conservative thinking might react by saying, “Of course liberals didn’t blame Bush – it wasn’t his fault!” Not sure that’s helping.

April 18: 4 Guns to the Head, or How the Early 90s Became the Late 90s during 1994 / Part 3 of 4: The Domestic Politics

Let’s not over-state Bill Clinton’s claim to more groundedness; the campaign was most famous for a theme song (“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”) and the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” But in longer conversations, Clinton and Perot both made it clear that the end of the Cold War didn’t mean the end of America’s problems. Bush was treating the L.A. riots and the economy’s issues like ignorable speed bumps. At that point, even over-gated, over-suburbanized America was sick of speed bumps. Basically, 1992 was a populist moment: people wanted the problems of the 51% to get some attention. They wanted more women in office, more action on AIDS, more than lip service on schools and the environment, and more paying down our deficit – Bush wasn’t working toward any of these.

But if “Poppy” Bush misread America in 1992, Bill Clinton misread it in 1993. People were sick of Republicans, but that didn’t mean they wanted the government overreach that was the “Health Security Act,” or as we now call it, Hillarycare. The Democrats assumed that the end of 12 years outside the Oval Office meant the end of the repression of all their governing priorities, universal health care being their north star. But the 57% of the 1992 vote that Clinton didn’t get was real; the country’s rightward shift during the Reagan years was real. Essentially – and this is quite comparable to our current moment – by over-committing to health care, the Democrats mistook the country’s actual populism for unactual liberalism. Besides tinkering on the edges with things like gays in the military, Clinton should have only tried for either a tax increase ora health care overhaul with his first Congress, not both. (Thank God for the first, or we’d never have seen a deficit surplus in our lifetimes.) The consequences would be severe for Democrats: the 1994 midterms that created the first Republican-led House in 40 years.

May 9: Benghazi There, Done That

Actually, the liberal press misread and obscured another, more consequential story that occurred during that same late summer of ’12. They cackled with laughter when the speakers at the Republican convention seemed to be promoting themselves – like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio and Rand Paul – and almost uninterested in Mitt Romney. They ignored the obvious corollary: that the Democrats’ convention didn’t have a lot of 2016-campaigning speakers because that party doesn’t have a Rubio-Paul-like bench waiting in the wings. If Hillary stumbles for whatever reason, who’s next? Elizabeth Warren? Doesn’t want it, probably too liberal for the general election. Cory Booker? A little early.

When the Democrats paint themselves as the party of diversity, don’t they paint themselves into a corner? After all of their rhetoric of the last few years, can they really run a white guy in 2016? Who, John Hickenlooper? I mean, heck, maybe the party is full of geniuses and they’re currently grooming an Asian woman to take over after the 2017-2024 Clinton and 2025-2032 Richardson presidencies. (Richardson was the Latino governor of New Mexico.) Just saying…that’s a lot of eggs in the Clinton basket. I mean, what’s their slogan for 2016, we’ll work with the Republicans just a little bit better? Wow, inspiring.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure Fox News knows how transparently partisan they’re being when they talk about a story – say, Ukraine – as “a convenient distraction from Benghazi.” When they come out against climate change or welfare subsidies, that can at least be seen as defending conservative principles. But this story? If it had happened under a Republican administration? To call it “naked partisanship” is an insult to naked parts at my grandpa’s sauna. And where goes Fox, so go elected Republicans.

To put it another way: has any administration in anyone’s memory failed to have something at least as impeachable as Benghazi? I have read recent articles in Politico and the Wall Street Journal about the GOP getting ready to impeach Obama over Benghazi, but no one seems ready to look two moves ahead: whether or not Obama is pushed out of office, the GOP becomes the Party of Impeachment, period, end of story. 42 and44? Basically, the GOP will impeach any Democrat America elects President? Is this Ted Cruz’s plan, either to proudly make the GOP the Party of Extreme Measures, or just to make moderate Americans reluctant to vote for any new Democrat knowing that they’ll be voting for years of useless impeachment proceedings? (Hm, maybe he’s thinking three moves ahead.)

June 13: 2 of 2: the itinerary

So…as I was saying…this was a fun procrastination device for me about two years ago…so fun that I figured out all the travel times online. Like gadventures and the other groups that do things like this (but as I said, they don’t do anything close to 12 months), there would have to be room for flexibility in case injury or weather or political instability became a problem. But I think about 15 to 20 people could do this, perhaps as a web series, whatever. This itinerary has changed many, many times since I first made it. I welcome suggestions, but the most welcome suggestions are the ones that also suggest what to cut. Don’t forget that THIS is a high priority: The UNESCO World Heritage List. “You have to do Oktoberfest in Munich!” isn’t much of a suggestion…I’d rather see Germany in summer and Diwali in October. Trade-offs, people. There are also certain oddities, like ferries that don’t run every day, or the fact that you can’t visit Arab countries after Israel (so you visit them before)…lot of weird stuff to account for.

It’s funny, for the last twelve months I’ve been “following” my own fictional itinerary online, checking the weather (usually great, though early December 2013 in SE Asia got a lot more rain than usual) and political headlines (we got lucky, everywhere has been safe). If this ever is a novel, there will be old characters (senior citizens!) and younger. I sort of love that it “ended” (fictionally, anyway) yesterday, the first day of the World Cup. Perhaps some of my “characters” will stay just long enough for Mexico’s first match (today, June 13).

I have NOT created this itinerary for 2014-15, and I don’t know when I’ll do it again. Maybe when I plan it for real life? If anyone reading actually believes that this is a viable business strategy, ping me. I won’t hold my breath. Though…I stand steadfast in believing that this itinerary would be more educational than any year at any university. I even believe that such an itinerary may become a standard option for university students in, say, 100 years. Bookmark this link, people. You read it here first.

July 11: June 28, 1914 versus June 6, 1944

I mean, when have you ever heard of a 70-year anniversary of anything? Really. Name another one without googling. I didn’t think so. (75, maybe.) On the other hand, we have always paid attention to important centennials, from the American Revolution (they made a World’s Expo for it, today’s equivalent of one week of all internet traffic going to the same site) to the Civil War (hello, civil rights) to the Statue of Liberty to Titanic. Perhaps all the big 100-year commemorations of World War I are coming, when we look back on the Battle of the Somme, or the first V-Day, but let’s face it: this was the First World War’s big chance for a Normandy-like splash. The media blew it.

Is there a problem with the different natures of the century’s two World Wars? As Bill Maher was joking on his most recent show, The Great War is the only war he knows whose conflict can’t be stated in a single, Hollywood-pitch-like phrase. Compared to the Manichean good and evil and sweeping battles of The Big One, memories of World War (The Small?) One are of needless battles, frustration, inertia, entropy, waste: the minute you see those trenches and barbed wire and too-big helmets, you know no one’s going to make any kind of leap forward, metaphoric or otherwise. Beyond ending empires, beyond ending the power of royalty, WWI ended faith: events were so absurd as to make their survivors look to Freud, Marx, Darwin, surrealism, modernism, any –ism other than deism. Looking back on an all-too-ironic war, historians have concluded the most bitter irony of all: Germany and Austria could have controlled the continent and had everything they wanted, economically, if they had not risen to the calls for war. As The New Yorker recently pointed out, the problem for us now, comparing current rising conflicts to the two World Wars, is which lesson we learn: restraint and diplomacy, which could have prevented WWI, or force and non-compromise, which could have prevented WWII. Perhaps it’s not all that surprising which one Americans prefer to remember. Perhaps the dates could have been switched, and CNN would still prefer to warn us of another Munich than lament a treaty breakdown in Croatia. We’d rather learn from fighters than fools, right?

August 7: Puff Piece For Paul Passes Over Populism

What [Draper] is not saying is that Gallup’s 42% is just as likely to consider themselves “populist” as “libertarian.” Google “Hillary Clinton” and “populis” and you’ll see that the commentariat thinks Clinton has to change her rhetoric to sound more populist than she ever did before. (As in this article.) Frankly, you can say that about any politician these days. Populism is on the rise, rise, rise, particularly because of Tea Party-identified sites’ open skepticism about previous Republican policies which tilted so much power to the wealthy. But Draper wants to make it sound like after being betrayed by both parties, the reasonable, grass-roots middle is on a highway straight to libertarianism – without noticing that there’s an equally appealing road called populism.

If you listen to Draper and ignore Chris Christie, you might assume that populism and libertarianism are the same thing. In fact, Draper’s choice of issues is rather telling, because it shows so much overlap with the populist position. Draper talks at length about libertarians supporting: isolationism in foreign affairs, same-sex marriage, marijuana decriminalization, abortion rights, Edward Snowden-style revelations, and reigning in government surveillance. Generally, populists and libertarians agree on these issues.

Draper spends conspicuously less time discussing this tiny little point: libertarians want as few taxes as possible. Populists like low taxes, but recognize that corporations and wealthy individuals should be paying their fair share. Libertarians would let the Fortune 500 create 500 tax-free islands in the Caribbean and let Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow just try to come pirate them. Populists demand that if companies are getting rich from American labor and from protection by America’s military and copyright laws, then they need to pay just like normal Americans are paying. Libertarians hear the statistic that 93% of post-recession gains have gone to the top 1% of Americans and say, “Good.” Populists say there’s something wrong with that, and we have to do something, whether it means changing the tax code, repealing wealth-friendly laws, or something else.

September 19: Populists Triumph in Britain and California!

Results in both Britain and California, actually, show that anti-elitist populism is thriving in the world’s two largest English-speaking countries. It’s true that Scotland didn’t win independence yesterday, but the mere fact that if 50%+1 of Scottish people had voted to leave, the U.K. was (probably) ready to let them go, represents an incredible triumph of populist principles. And though the English elites may have won yesterday, the closeness of the result prompted a lot of scrambling and new promises from those same elites, as this suggests. Populism means shifting power from the 1% downward, and Scottish leader Alex Salmond can be proud that that seems to have happened in Britain (probably) despite the final tally. (Who knows how different this referendum would have gone if David Cameron had been at the helm during the 2008 financial crisis; having already thrown out the 2008 bum, the Scots had a bit less incentive to break away.) There’s an important freedom in being able to sing along to that Clash (British) song, “Should I stay or should I go?” Despite the result, “Scot Free” now has a new meaning. Perhaps fear did win out over hope; perhaps pocketbooks beat pride. But if that’s true, we have no better way to express that than through the ballot box. It’s not hard to imagine the result in the U.K. being applied to other problems in other places; when anti-populists say, well, we can’t just let go of Catalan or whatever, we’ll say what about Britain? Why are you so afraid of a region voting amongst themselves?

Others have already written about the spectacular failure of the Six Californias campaign (last week it failed to garner sufficient signatures for this November’s ballot, though even a Yes vote would have been only symbolic), but not everyone cited the main reason for that failure: the campaign looked like an absolute power grab by the 1%, and specifically the venture capitalist who funded it, Tim Draper. Prior to his existence, no one had ever thought to divide California like a group of friends dividing a restaurant tab. At least Northern California and Southern California, a.k.a. NorCal and SoCal, have an organic separation in terms of weather, lifestyle, and hostility to each other that goes back at least 100 years. If Draper had offered a division in half – or maybe even three parts, since his Jefferson idea has some history, though I doubt the Eureka-Redding area really wants to sever ties with the Bay Area – perhaps he would have received a few more signatures. Perhaps six was just his opening offer, and he was ready to compromise to three or two – if so, what a dick one-percenter move.

More importantly, Draper was clearly trying to section off the richer and more conservative parts of the state into voting blocs that would help the 1% more long-term. Sectioning off Central California (and not even giving them Tahoe!) was just trying to create a ghetto. You have to at least try to respect history. I mean, who separates the historically bound, same-radio-station-listening Los Angeles and Orange Counties? You only put Orange County with San Diego to try to make a red state. Same issue with the historical Bay Area splitting into so-called North California and Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley! What state is named after an industry? Idaho isn’t named “Potato.” Michigan isn’t named “Auto.” That’s when you knew you were dealing with a short-term-thinking, get-rich-quick-talking 1% douchebag. (I know Draper said that the borders and names were flexible, but why begin with something so objectionable?) Tim’s presumed brother Don Draper would have been at least been smarter about the optics.

October 10: Why We Are Malala

As of the release of the show Transparent on Amazon, transsexuals are officially better represented than Muslims on our screens. Adam Sandler has his flaws, but he blazed a trail with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan – about an Israeli-Palestinian romance – that no one else seems to have gone down. With the very rare exception of a Tony Shalhoub or two, if you see a Muslim on TV, you can pretty much guarantee that s/he will be speaking with a foreign accent – that guarantee just isn’t true of any other onscreen ethnicity. Shows and movies use Muslims as angry or decadent terrorist men, or ululating, burka-clad terrorist women (or belly dancers). Even stories set in the future – try The Hunger Games or Divergent – don’t bother to have Muslims even in the supporting cast. We need more role models, more Malalas – in the world and on screen fiction. History shows that one follows the other.

Let me finish by giving you an example. Exactly two years ago, a Taliban asshole got on a school bus and shouted “Who is Malala?” He wanted to kill the blogger who’d been pointing out the suppression of girls’ education. You’d like to think of the famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Yousefzai standing up, taking the attention away from everyone else. Sometimes real life isn’t like movies. Sometimes it’s more profound for not being part of the hero-playbook. The other kids turned their heads to the one child not wearing a hijab (head cover), and Yousefzai got a bullet to her brain. However, you might say that Yousefzai emulated Spartacus a year later, when, a year after a somewhat miraculous recovery in the U.K., her book hit stores with the title “I Am Malala.” What an amazing declaration of identity, what a reminder that in these post-modern times, there are still such things as heroes and causes worth fighting for. Now that the Nobel Prize has put her in the canon, there’s one bit of emulation left to do. That’s for the rest of us to stand up, a little like the others did in the Kubrick movie, and shout it loud and proud: “We Are Malala.”

November 7: Being a Feminist Man, 2014

The Fappening and Gamergate have revealed the persistence of a certain sort of misogynist asshole who throws cyber-bombs from behind a veil of internet anonymity, disguising himself as a defender of free speech. Uh, douchenozzle? Free speech is for people who admit who they are, not people who make up dumb avatar names. Did you think free speech entitles you to destroy someone’s reputation, to libel and slander them, while sitting back in your own hidden black hole of singularity? That’s not free speech; that’s Joe McCarthy tactics. Back in the 1950s, Senator McCarthy would appear before committees claiming to have the names of several people who could vouchsafe that X Y and Z were Communists; X Y and Z would suffer, while McCarthy never had to reveal his names. Douchenozzle: you are those names. And like McCarthy, you need to stop pretending you’re such a defender of freedom.

Get a grip, men. No matter how much women #leanforward, we’re not losing anything. Instead we’re gaining a better society to live in. Thank you, sisters, and let me know what else you’d like me to say.

December 19: The Week Millennials Went “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

The sound you’re hearing from people under 30 right now is the sound of mass millennial confusion, for the first time in more than ten years. It’s true that some of them, like some older people, are ready to pivot to war, to shout “Remember the Alamo!” (Namely the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas, a theater that reacted to Sony’s yanking of The Interview by programming Team America: World Police, only to see Paramount yank that away, too.) Anyone who wants to go to war over the Sony Hack spent this last week one of two ways: 1) “100 dead children in Peshawar? Let’s go to war! A Muslim extremist killed two hostages in Sydney? Let’s go to war! Sony cancelled The Interview? Let’s go to war!” or 2) “100 dead children in Peshawar? Meh. A Muslim extremist killed two hostages in Sydney? Meh. Sony cancelled The Interview? Let’s go to war!” Either one is faintly ridiculous, and millennials well know that, so for now, they’re not exactly enlisting in the service. Most of Generation Snowden-Rogen, including most of its veterans, are sick of war, and would have laughed at how “sick” The Interview was only if it showed war as sick.

So far, millennials have reacted to Sony pulling The Interview with blustering, blubbering reddit threads and endless suggestions to put the movie on VOD (video on demand). Tom Petty once sang that corporations “want to see how much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free,” and the millennial solution is always to turn that on its head: post online what used to be protected. This was the first week that the Snowdenesque pro-transparency narrative ran into real problems. This was the first week that cyber-terrorism really worked, because it used technology and our pro-transparency impulses to pit us against ourselves. Does anyone think that any studio is going to cancel a movie if you tweet a note tomorrow that says “9/11 will happen if this movie comes out!”? Of course not. Sony’s abandonment of The Interviewwas the result of weeks of most citizens shrugging off malicious, criminal doxing (making public the private information of at least 12,000 Sony employees and their spouses and kids) and a threat of worse to come if the movie wasn’t cancelled. Today, George Clooney said that people turned against Sony chief Amy Pascal when a few mildly racist emails were revealed by hackers. The worst part is that North Korea treated the media like Hans Gruber in Die Hard treated the FBI; he knew that if he lobbed a ball over the net, they’d work to smash it and wind up doing his terror-work for him. 13 years after 9/11, an entire country was played like saps over a period of weeks…not unlike some less comedic Hollywood movies.