On the dictatorial powers of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is probably a horrible person. But to think that one guy can ruin a system that is already so flawed is to give both him and the merits of our system too much credit. Compared to many places that style themselves as democracies, we have some strong traditions and institutions that limit how much damage a single poorly-intentioned person can do. Moreover, it’s already pretty flawed.
It’s true that we’re not some backwards failed state. In fact, we are one of the world’s most resilient and wealthy democracies. Relative to most countries, our institutions work like machines even when defective components are installed. The resiliency of our systems is especially clear to those of us who have lived for a time in a poorer country where governance and civic life is a little rougher around the edges.
Trump is no Jack Kennedy, but neither is he Trujillo, Pinochet, Hoxha, Videla, Hitler, Porfirio Diaz, Papa Doc, Jerry Rawlings, Hussein, Sese Seko, Pol Pot, Khadafi, Teodoro Obiang, Franco, Castro, Lenin, or Reza Shah. He doesn’t even rate a second-class Latin American dictator like Alfredo Stroessner. I know my dictators; I can say Trump doesn’t have the chops to truly win as a tyrant.

My favorite dictator. Collect them all– and win!

The other side of the coin is that no matter which candidate we selected, the US government would remain the same great threat to human dignity at home and abroad that it’s always been. Donald Trump does not have to organize the secret police, since the FBI has been going after political enemies of the state for a lifetime now. He does not have to invent a massive program of oppression against ethnic minorities, since we have the still-ongoing drug war. He doesn’t have to build any gulags since we already incarcerated more people per capita than pretty much any other country in the world, bar none.
Abroad, the reign of many of the tyrants I mentioned above was made possible or has been sustained by US foreign policy. At this very moment, under the executive leadership of the party that just lost the election, the US is an occupying force in several countries. We have currently deployed our forces to armed conflicts in no fewer than five countries.
And all this is what makes America great, kinda-sorta. We are a country that is strong enough to install dictators elsewhere, oppress millions at home, and still get to call ourselves a democracy and a beacon upon a hill. American hypocrisy is the basis for our imperialism everywhere; neither Clinton nor Trump would have changed this.
I know this is a scary time. If it really does come down to deportations of nonnative US people and campaigns of violence against sexual minorities, I will defend you with my life. Hold me to that, please.
But don’t deceive yourself. Donald Trump is not going to change the fundamental workings of the US system at home or abroad, and neither would Hillary. Expect the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. We’ll continue to invade other countries for the sheer hell of it and oil. It’s the same system, just a different day.
Tomorrow, we’ll have record highs way up here, record lows way down here, and record middles somewhere in between. The massive machinery of the US Federal Government will continue to bumble along, sometimes ineptly, sometimes helpfully, and sometimes with precision strikes. And we’ll still be free enough, or at least most of us will be, to push back against any self-important nimwit who tells us that we may not copulate with or mary whom we want, may not object to rape, may not control our reproductive destinies, and should not under any circumstance put taco stands on every corner. We’ll also continue to destroy the planet with our voracious thirst for petroleum, and fail to provide for the basic needs of the poorest among us. Unlike many other countries, we will continue to refrigerate our eggs and our cheese. For all its flaws, this is our American way, and Donald Trump is not going to change it.

“Stanford Prison Experiment” movie review: Prisoner 819 did a bad thing

Phil Zimbardo is one kinky motherfucker. Anyone who has taken an a first survey course in psychology or sociology within the past two decades could probably tell you he’s freaky-deeky. Maybe this impression comes from watching him narrate survey-course videos on a variety of subjects in now-outmoded clothing.

Probably a perv.

In my case, when I lived in the Bay Area, I did hear a rumor once that he was involved in the San Francisco BDSM scene, and it seemed credible. It’s more likely that we think he’s a fellow perv because he once locked up a bunch of Stanford undergraduate students in a basement, whereupon he coached another group of students to enforce petty rules meant to dominate and control the first group. He called this an “experiment.

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17 Nov 2001 Journal entry discussion: Peace Corps site selection

In my recent posting of a journal from 17 Nov 2001, there is some context that needs discussing. I am doing my best not to edit or censor my 15-year-ago self, but if someone actually reads any of this, s/he’s going to want to know a little bit about a few things.

I wrote this long list of why Peace Corps wouldn’t work out for me after a couple of really shitty things had happened to me. First off, I had a nasty fight with another trainee during training, and managed in the process to alienate most of the other trainees in my group. Then, I was sent to a site that wasn’t really ready for me, but which was perhaps the most hellish piece-of-crap placement that Peace Corps could have come up with in all of the island.

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Licol the burgeoning bigamist

Licol is married to two women. Or perhaps he was married to two women.

First there was the woman he moved in with 13 yeas ago, Nuerky. She has a gaggle of kids, but none of them are biologically Licol’s. Licol wanted a family, so he pursued Eliza. Eliza is 19 or so, and has a boy child, Eduard, by a previous relationship. I found Eliza to be attractive and even considered coming on to her myself once upon a time.

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Born ugly

On Sunday, 2 February at a few minutes before six in the morning, a very ugly man arrived on foot at my door. Out of the darkness, he called my name. I was expecting him and I yelled from where I had been sleeping “Bonjour! M’ale!” I ignited the propane lamp and opened the door. The ugly man on my doorstep chose not to come in. I invited him, in my best Haitian Kreyol, to eat breakfast, but he declined, stating that he only drinks coffee in the morning. I gave him a piece of bread with egg inside, which I wrapped in a newspaper.
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Scared shitless Peace Corps isn’t gonna be a good way to spend two years


17 November 2001
Mierna’s House

Today I feel genuinely doubtful about my career as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

  1. These people in the bateyes are like slaves but only poorer. What can I do about such oppression, exactly?
  2. I don’t see how it is that I can integrate into such a poor community when I want a house to myself– a house with a loveseat, a comfortable bed, perhaps a music system
  3. There ain’t much beautiful about a batey, just flat, no trees, hot in winter, hotter in summer.
  4. The people are not native Spanish speakers. I’ll be surprised if they understand even a word I say.
  5. What is it about us weird white people/imperialists that makes us think that somehow we can provide for the people we’ve fucked over for years any sort of genuine help? Who exactly died and made us God?
  6. For that matter, who let these fucking sugar companies off the hook? Aren’t they at least supposed to pay a decent wage?
  7. If I can’t get along with my own fellow US people, isn’t it ridiculous to imagine I could get along or befriend someone from another culture entirely?
  8. Why don’t I have any buddies out of all the Peace Corps Volunteers? Can I really survive two years all by myself if not a single one of them are genuinely interested in developing a relationship with me?
  9. I thought Peace Corps would attract smart, progressive, practical sorts of people. But the folks I meet seem actually quite conservative, at least culturally. Blergh.
  10. People are supposed to integrate into their community by introduction of a community leader. By contrast, I am to be thrust into a community by an outside organization, perhaps even kicking someone out of his or her housing in the process. Who even said that the community wanted me?

So I think I’m scared shitless that this really might not be the best way to spend two years.

On the balance, though, I don’t have anything else to do, so it’s pretty useless even considering quitting. I’m pretty much stuck. The risks of quitting are much greater than the risks of staying, or at best a toss up.

Today I woke up at 7AM. Ate toast with salami. For a long time, sat around the house reading All The King’s Men  and feeling bored. Eventually, Mierna set Julio to show me around town, which he did. I called my parents and wrote some email from the Codatel office. The prices were ripoffs given the slow Internet connection and the noise that made talking on the phone quite difficult.

Julio talked of playing in a mountain of granulated sugar. He showed me the sugar factory, which he believes is owned by a Mexican firm. Lunch was arroz, runny habichuela that was not cooked enough, salad, and steak. I skipped the salad and steak and tried to make up an excuse.

In the afternoon, Julio to a motorconcho ride with me over to C’s house. C has the built up accumulation of several generations of Consuelo-based volunteers.

E was there as well. We conversed about a wide variety of things. E strongly rebuked me for being self-deprecative about my language skills, reminding me how wearing it is to listen to someone with a poor opinion of his or herself. She also reminded me how hard it is to give me a compliment when I don’t accept them. Both are points well-taken.

When I think about it now, I’m not so sure that E enjoys my company, and there’s a lot of things she does that set me on edge. Somehow or another, I don’t really meet her face to face. There’s people I converse with, and there’s a genuine understanding. Sometimes, when I speak to E, though, I feel like I am speaking a different language. Her level of incredulity and mistrust puts me on edge. She’s not a soft, welcoming person, but a guarded castle. I just have to be patient and try to gain her trust. I hope I don’t say anything awfully offensive to her before in the meanwhile.

I returned to Mierna’s house by moto. Inside, a conspiracy was brewing. Mirielli wanted to go meet her beau at the basketball game, but needed me to cover her by saying I would pay. In fact, beau was going to pay. They didn’t let her go.

An article explaining some of the context to this entry is available.

This is a review of my personal journal from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic in 2001-2003. Even if I feel differently now or found out later that I what I wrote was factually incorrect, I haven’t changed what I wrote then. Part of the joy of reading old journals is seeing a story arc where I’ve learned new things.

Names have been shortened to initials to provide some privacy. Even though those who were there may be able to use these initials to figure out who it is I wrote about, please remember that my journaling is not about other people or their experience.

The beach empty, expansive, and gorgeous

[no date]

I will go back to study Zen. The image that has been repeating in my head is this grand beach that expands in every direction. The beach is empty and absolutely gorgeous. Everything on the beach represents something in my mind– every grain of sand.

I want to run through the beach forever, enjoying the beauty and perfect thusness of it all. The beach and I are the same thing. At my best, I feel like a wide open space where there is no one else.

There has to be a compromise between self-hate and arrogance, also aggressiveness and martyrdom. I should find that middle place, already.

Thinking about Trungpa, Cutting through spiritual materialism. On page 124, he writes:

“Surrender also means acknowledging the raw, rugged, clumsy, and shocking qualities of one’s ego, acknowledging them and surrendering them as well. Generally, we find it very difficult to give up and surrender our raw and rugged qualities of ego. Although we may hate ourselves, at the same time, we find our self-hatred a kind of occupation.

In spite of the fact that we may dislike what we are and find that self-condemnation [is] painful, we can’t give it up completely— it’d be like losing a job.”

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Benediction for an omniverous ex-housemate

dear person
who ties knots in plastic bags
who blames me for the messes
who did not appreciate the furniture i bought
who did not like my friends
who did not like my music
who looked at my food with great suspicion
who invited me to live here on the basis of friendship —

you were not very friendly in what you did to me.
you were graceful like a bagel that lands on its jelly-parts,
you were kind like a mosquito,
you were compassionate like a bureaucrat,
you have now asked me to leave.

God may grant that you are happy,
that you prosper,
and live a fulfilling and long life.

I, on the other hand, would grant you something entirely different that you should hope not to find out about.

I find
that I do not wear long flowing robes
did not create the world in a week (or thereabouts)
am neither omniscient nor omnipotent
and cannot forgive all your shortcomings.
Perhaps it's good that I am not an all loving force who forgives all you sins. 
The list of things I would do to you were I omnipotent
is too long
to list
May hordes of animal rights protesters
descend on your kitchen
remove all the dead cow parts
from the neatly knotted plastic bags
forcing you to eat roughage!

May what good friends you have declare themselves
to be no friends at all!

May the ghosts of the effort I put into making a home here keep you from sleep!

May your future housemates forever remind you of me.