Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Updated American institutions

I think this town's equivalent of a nineteenth-century New England town hall or a twentieth-century Midwestern community center is the high-end gym with therapy pools and complimentary straightening irons in the women's locker room and fruit-infused water. It is the place to run into everyone. (Today we ran into the rabbi.) Granted, it is in the center of town, but otherwise in no way resembles its institutional predecessors.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How can I get my child to eat vegetables?

For the first seven months of solid food consumption, Goomba was an indifferent human vacuum. Then, at around 13 months, she apparently discovered that she had numerous and complex preferences, and none of these preferences extended to anything green. She's a lot like my cat when we tried to hide his medicine inside his food - he ate exactly all the food and left exactly all the medicine behind in his bowl. If you feed Goomba a spoonful containing vegetables mixed with things she likes - cheese, fruit, meat, more cheese - she will chew the whole mass for a bit to get a sense of its contents, and then surgically remove the vegetables from her mouth and fling them to the ground. For a while after rejecting green food, she remained content with lower-grade orange food - carrots and yams - but now even these are out. (And for the record, I make the best mashed sweet potatoes (the accurate name of the recipe), so if she does not like my mashed sweet potatoes, her preferences are clearly defective.) What is to be done?

Ideas I have had include cooking peas and broccoli into pancakes or covering them in chocolate, but since we presently feed her neither pancakes nor chocolate, I suspect these efforts will simply result in the incorporation into her diet of more bad things that she will learn to want, and no good things that she presently does not want.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Can Trump be trolled?

A thought experiment. If we imagine that Trump really is a paradigmatic classical demagogue or tyrant, we are forced to ask, how was the classical tyrant controlled or at least influenced by his subjects to act in their interests? (Actually, one of my grad school classmates wrote his dissertation on this very question, but it has yet to be published and I don't know what his conclusion was, so we will have to carry on here without his wisdom.)

In ancient Greek, the word for tyrant does not exactly imply Very Mean Ruler Who Exploits His Subjects, so there are good and bad tyrants. All tyrants rule without law, but not all tyrants rule in their own interest and against that of their subjects. Another difference: good tyrants, like Pisistratus in the Constitution of Athens, are open to frank advice. Bad tyrants, like Herodotus' Croesus prior to his near-death epiphany, love flattery and reject good advice if it's not wrapped in praise for them.

Twitter amply informs us that Trump hates criticism but adores flattery. He retweets almost anything that praises him, even if it's from white supremacists, a point which I can believe goes entirely unnoticed by him. So far, the anti-Trump media has tried to discredit him by criticizing him, but has only succeeding in cementing the opposition of those who already opposed him, not in re-directing his own behavior. But what if it changed courses a bit?

Let's start with the ACA. Let's say we don't want him to repeal the ACA (which is not to say we do or don't, this is just a thought experiment). Instead of publishing a million articles about how good subsidized health insurance is for a whole catalogue of poor, sick people who did not vote for Trump, why not create a ploy like the following: a social media post by an attractive young-ish woman, late 20s-mid 30s, explaining that she was a yuge Trump supporter (with photographic evidence) during the campaign. She is a stay-at-home mom to three little kids (photos) married to a man who worked in manufacturing but was laid off and now works only part-time so can't get health insurance through his job. A month ago, she was diagnosed with a serious but also usually treatable form of cancer, and they had to buy health insurance through a state exchange. Without the ACA, she will not be able to continue cancer treatment (b/c of her pre-existing condition, private insurance will be either unavailable or unaffordable). She is not asking Trump to keep the ACA b/c she agrees that government-run health care is wrong. But she is asking him to help her somehow, because she really believes in him and him alone, so that she can get her cancer treatment, and so her three children can grow up with a mother (photo, tears).

Now let's imagine this woman's post goes viral (with a little help), and becomes a national news story. Trump keeps up with national news stories. Trump likes attractive women, and people who like him, and good photo-ops. Does he respond? He can do it the way he did Carrier, which is essentially like Pisistratus' "tax-free farm," a one-off show of his extravagant mercy that is simultaneously a show of lawlessness, by personally paying for her treatment while continuing to support Congress's repeal of the ACA. But that sets a precedent too - what if all his ailing supporters start appealing to him for medical expenses? He'd have to become a one-man replacement for the entire ACA. So maybe he pushes for some exceptions to the repeal, a "we're gonna keep the good parts and name them after me" kind of thing. That would still be a win for his opponents. Or, of course, he could just throw our Trump-supporting dying young mother under the bus while America watches, but would he?

This strategy could easily be applied to other instances when subjects might wish to direct their tyrant to their own ends through his. Do you think it would work?