Primaries and Caucuses


In the United States presidential elections, a primary is a statewide voting process in which voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates; a caucus is a system of local gatherings where voters decide which candidate to support. Both systems culminate in the selection of delegates who will vote on behalf of the electorate at a party’s national convention.

On closer inspection, the system is incredibly convoluted and even undemocratic. Consider the following news report:

“We’re putting up right now a graphic Bernie Sanders wins 56 to 44 percent in Wyoming the delegates rewarded Hillary Clinton 11 Bernie Sanders 7. Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths? This system is so rigged!” – MSNBC

And it is not just the Democrats, when Donald Trump won Louisiana beating Ted Cruz by more than 3 percent he was upset to discover Ted Cruz could potentially get as many as 10 more delegates or as he put it:

“I end up winning in Louisiana, and then when everything is done I find out I get less delegates and this guy that got his ass kicked, OK. Give me a break!” – Donald Trump

There is no clearer piece of evidence that this system is broken than when Donald Trump is actually making sense. Confronted with results like these, the process appears counter-intuitive. Continue reading

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There was such a thing as HUAC


Established in 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that conducted investigations through the 1940s and 1950s into alleged communist activities.

Its actions resulted in several contempt-of-Congress convictions and the blacklisting of many who refused to answer its questions. Highly controversial for its tactics, it was criticized for violating First Amendment rights.

The following transcript of an excerpt from the interrogation of screenwriter John Howard Lawson by HUAC chairman J. Parnell Thomas gives an example of an alternative wording of the question and a sense of the tenor of some of the exchanges: Continue reading

Phrygian Cap


The Phrygian cap is a soft felt or wool headdress fitting closely around the head and characterized by a pointed crown that curls forward. It originated in the ancient country of Phrygia in Asia Minor and is represented in ancient Greek art as the type of headdress worn by Orientals. In Rome the Phrygian cap was worn by emancipated slaves as a symbol of their freedom. During the 11th and 12th centuries, it was again extensively used.

The Phrygian cap once more became the emblem of liberty in the 18th century during the French Revolution, when it was adopted by the Revolutionaries as “the red cap of liberty.” Until this day it is closely associated with the French Republic, as it is the headdress worn by Marianne, the allegorical personification of France.

On the Capacity for Doubt


“The press and the public like certainty and affirmation of popular biases. But real science thrives on the capacity for doubt.”

– Wendy Kaminer

Orwellian and Huxleyan Dystopias


Journalist Christopher Hitchens, who himself published several articles on Huxley and a book on Orwell, noted the difference between the two texts in the introduction to his 1999 article “Why Americans Are Not Taught History”:

We dwell in a present-tense culture that somehow, significantly, decided to employ the telling expression “You’re history” as a choice reprobation or insult, and thus elected to speak forgotten volumes about itself.

By that standard, the forbidding dystopia of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four already belongs, both as a text and as a date, with Urand Mycenae, while the hedonist nihilism of Huxley still beckons toward a painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus.

Orwell’s was a house of horrors. He seemed to strain credulity because he posited a regime that would go to any lengths to own and possess history, to rewrite and construct it, and to inculcate it by means of coercion. Whereas Huxley rightly foresaw that any such regime could break because it could not bend. In 1988, four years after 1984, the Soviet Union scrapped its official history curriculum and announced that a newly authorized version was somewhere in the works.

This was the precise moment when the regime conceded its own extinction. For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.

Some years before that, the social critic Neil Postman had contrasted the worlds of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death:

  • What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
  • Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.
  • Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
  • Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
  • In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

Plutocracy versus Oligarchy


In both a plutocracy and an oligarchy a relatively very small group of people wields all the power; majority rule, if it exists, occurs only in token form. Furthermore, both governmental systems do not require a parliament nor a constitution, although these are not obstacles either. There are, however, a few nuanced differences between the two governmental systems:

Oligarchy is the system in which a nation is governed by a few powerful people. The basis of this power is unspecified but sticky; it can be passed on by means of elections as well as inheritance.

“A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors.”  ― George Orwell

Plutocracy is the government of the wealthy, who are powerful because of their wealth. As opposed to oligarchies, plutocracies usually enjoy elective successions – in one way or another.

‘Reagan’s story of freedom superficially alludes to the Founding Fathers, but its substance comes from the Gilded Age, devised by apologists for the robber barons. It is posed abstractly as the freedom of the individual from government control — a Jeffersonian ideal at the roots of our Bill of Rights, to be sure. But what it meant in politics a century later, and still means today, is the freedom to accumulate wealth without social or democratic responsibilities and license to buy the political system right out from everyone else.’ ― Bill Moyers, in his “For America’s Sake” speech (12 December 2006), as quoted in Moyers on Democracy (2008), p. 17