Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Scotus Pocus

Here's the thing with the Supreme Court: any argument, any confirmation fight, any disagreement: if you switch the parties of everyone involved, you end up in the exact same argument.

Here's the thing with Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser: I believe her, not just because that's the decent thing to do in the 21st Century, but because it really stretches credibility to me that any woman would put themselves through a mountain and a half of undeserved bullshit for something they made up. ("But why wait so long to come forward?" Well, the culture has changed. People are far less likely to be silent about things like this these days than they were in times past. Again, I find it entirely credible that this woman kept her silence on the matter and moved forward with her life as best she could, because so many woman have undoubtedly done just that.)

At this point, I don't know of Kavanaugh's nomination is going to survive or not. The cynic in me probably thinks it will. After all, Clarence Thomas survived Anita Hill and has been comfortably ensconced on the court ever since. But maybe we're not that far gone. Maybe we're better than we used to be, but I doubt it. If his nomination does go down (and I think there's a decent chance it does) then I would expect President Trump to nominate a woman- to naturally, own the libs.

The current nominee aside (and when I say 'aside' I don't mean to diminish the accusations against him in anyway- far from it) I think it's time we face up to the fact that the process of confirming nominees to the Supreme Court is broken beyond repair. In fact, there's a serious case to be made that the Supreme Court itself is in need of serious structural reform. The stakes for the highest judiciary shouldn't be so apocalyptic with every vacancy on the court.

Politics is always going to be about winning to a certain degree- especially in the current system we have. My head is full of songs from Hamilton (which we saw this past weekend) and the warnings and fears the Founding Fathers had about factionalism and political parties seem to be very prescient given the current climate today. Our current system doesn't help either. A political binary is the worst of all possible worlds for the growth of a healthy democracy and a sane and civil discourse in our society. It's either/or. It's a/b. It's the knowledge that the pendulum might swing one way, but it will surely swing back your way at some point. Nothing about our system encourages consensus or coalition building and it's absolutely 100 percent about winning at this point. If you look at Washington through the lens of 'how do we own the [cons] or [libs]?' and 'how do we beat the other guys?' it explains so much about the dysfunction of our political system.

So while the press and the circus will focus on the accusation leveled against Kavanaugh, the larger structural problem won't be talked about. We're not about solutions anymore, just how to get the most mileage out of our problems so that one of the two parties can wring the most advantage of it. I'm in favor of structural solutions. But no one is offering those- at least not in any meaningful way in Washington.

This one was out there on Medium. I like it. It's relatively simple: increase the number of justices fron nine to eleven and then have them serve one twenty-two year term on the court and stagger their terms so that one new justice is appointed to the court every two years. This plan neuters many of the political advantages that currently surround appointments to the court- each President would be able to appointment at minimum two at most four justice over the course of either one to two terms- and by increasing the number of justices to the eleven, you also prevent any President of either party from appointing a majority to the court.

This one is slightly more radical, but makes equally good points. Go big or go home, it says. Keep the nine and add fifty more, appointed by each Governor and approved by the Senate. This plan might be a little too extreme for my tastes, but it sure as hell beats what we've got going on now. It's at least a solid proposal. It's something. A solution.

Whatever you think of Kavanaugh, it should be obvious to everyone that the way we appoint Justices to the Supreme Court is broken beyond repair. I hope we're better in 2018 than we were in 1991, but I doubt it. I'm sure he'll probably be confirmed. What that says about us as a country, I don't know. Probably nothing that good. If his nomination does go down, then I'd expect the circus to start right back up again.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Netflix & Chill #50: Molly's Game

Watched On: Redbox (DVD)
Released: 2017
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Camp
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Pick: Mine

I own every season of The West Wing, have seen every episode of Sports Night and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and The Newsroom and I went ahead and brought the Aaron Sorkin masterclass on screenwriting and I pretty much make it a point to eventually getting around to watching pretty much everything the man writes and/or creates, so when I heard that Molly's Game was going to be written and directed by him (his directorial debut, no less) I put it on the list of movies that I would eventually, maybe, hopefully get around to watching. Turns out I didn't have to wait too long and, even better: this was a really, really good movie.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is a world class mogul skier, who opens the movie about to qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics, but ends up severely injured instead, effectively ending her career. She originally had planned (at the advice/guidance/pressure from her overbearing father (Kevin Costner) to attend law school, but she takes a year off and moves to Los Angeles. She becomes a bottle-service waitress at a club and meets Dean (Jeremy Strong), who is an ostentatious and unsuccessful real estate developer. She becomes his officer manager and eventually helps him run his underground poker games which attract movie stars, investment bankers and sports players- she ends up earning large sums of money on tips alone.

When Molly gets too independent for Dean's liking, he fires her and she sets up a game of her own. One of Dean's A-List players, Player X (Michael Cera) leaves with and soon Molly is making even more money- but when a skilled, conservative and very successful player by the name of Harlan Eustace (Bill Camp) joins the game and ends up losing to one of the worst players in the room and he becomes compulsive, suffering heavy losses. Molly finds out that Player X has been funding Harlan to keep him in the game and she berates him for his unethical actions and in turn, Player X changes the venue and the other players leave Molly's game to join him.

Molly moves to New York and after some efforts, starts up another game. She finds success again, but runs into a problem when she begins to have trouble covering her losses when payers can't play. She gets convinced to start taking a percentage of the larger pots, which does cover her losses but makes her game an illegal gambling operation. When one of her Los Angeles players is inducted for running a Ponzi scheme, Molly is investigated and questions about who was at her games. This sort of starts a downward spiral for her and she becomes increasingly addicted to drugs and unsavory and dangerous elements from the Mafia start becoming involved in her games, other members of the Mafia offer their services to extort money from her non-paying players. When Molly refuses, they attack her in her home, hold her at gunpoint and threaten her mother. But before anything further can come of this, the FBI rains the game, her assets are seized and she returns home to live with her mother.

Two years later, Molly has moved out and published a book where she names a few individuals who played in her games. She's arrested by the FBI for involvement with illegal gambling and the Mafia and enlists the help of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) a high profile lawyer in New York, who agrees to help her after he realizes that she's been protecting innocent people who were affected by her poke games.While she's waiting for her trial in New York, her father seeks her out and attempts to reconcile with her, admitting that he was overbearing and treated her differently because she knew about his affairs. Charlie negotiates a deal for her, but Molly declines, wanting to protect the identity of her players. She pleads guilty, but the judge decides that she had committed no serious crimes and gives her probation, community service and a $200,000 fine instead.

Overall: Here's the deal...  usually, Sorkin leaves his fingerprints on what he writes. If you watch enough of his stuff, you'll see the same lines and the same cadence to his dialogue. There's whole supercuts of it floating around the internet, which is what makes this movie so fascinating to me. It's got the cadence and the rhythm of his writing, but it's also just about fingerprint free. I think I bumped on maybe two moments in the entire movie. Sorkin's always been a great writer, but I feel like this movie might be his masterpiece. I loved it. My Grade: **** out of ****

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #269

Let's get down to business right away. We're still reaching to the bottom of the barrel of the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment and we're in the race to the finish line of the Lost Archives, so let's get to it.

This Week.

Back in Africa.

Double shot of the old Vitamin C with Chad and Cameroon.

First up, Chad:
No, I haven't made a mistake. This isn't the flag of Romania- it really, really is the flag of Chad. The shade of blue they use is darker than what Romania is rocking and here's the deal. Chad kind of got this tricolor going first- kind of. When the flag was adopted on November 6th, 1959, Romania's flag had a communist symbol in the center stripe which lasted until 1989 when their Communist government was overthrown. Then the symbol was removed and the flag reverted back to it's pre-war configuration which is pretty much the same flag that Chad had going on.

The Chadians kind of make noise about the similarities now and again, but Romania isn't gonna change and they don't seem to be in a hurry to change either, so for now, they're pretty much going to have the same flags.

So what does it all mean? Well, the original concept was supposed to be a combination of blue-white-red from the flag of France and the pan-African colors of green,  yellow and red. I don't know if they've managed to communicate that to anybody who looks at their flag, because while the idea is cool and historically worthy of consideration, the practical upshot of it is that you look at the flag and go, "hey, isn't that the flag of Romania?" So the original notion behind this sort of gets lost almost immediately to me. The colors have some meaning: the blue stands for sky and hope, the gold is the sun and the desert and the red signifies the bloodshed over independence.

If I'm Chad and looking to stand out, I've got two words for you: diagonal tricolor.

Next up, Cameroon:
Okay, here's a fun fact about Cameroon. It used to be plural, but now it's singular. No, really... over the years, there have been German Cameroons, French Cameroons and British Cameroon and at some point, they made the decision to make like Voltron and join forces to become one, greater, more awesome Cameroon and that's how we got where we got to where we are today.

So, the flag of Cameroon: the flag was adopted on May 20th, 1975. It's rockin' the pan-African colors of green, red and yellow. It's got a five pointed star in the center stripe, which can apparently vary in size (but it always stays in the center stripe.) The green in the flag stands for the forests in the south of the country, yellow stands for the sun and the savannas in the northern part of the country. The star in the center is known as 'the star of unity' and red is the color of unity.

I like the whole Voltron thing that Cameroon has going on. (Our national motto of 'Out of many, one' surely applies here.) Their flag is... pretty good. It doesn't make me jump up and down with excitement and it uses the same old color scheme we see all over the place in Africa- and that's also fine. The star is a nice touch, as well.

Two more countries to cross off the list! Closer to clearing out the Lost Archives! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Squawk Box: Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan

I wanted to watch this show for a couple of reasons. First, Amazon has been promoting the shit out of it since like March, which seemed ridiculous to me, but for months now, you couldn't go anywhere on Amazon without seeing some trailer or banner ad for it. So if you're going to hype a show at me that much, I'm going to want to tune into to see if it lives up to the hype.

Second, I love this character. Growing up, I read pretty much every Tom Clancy book I could get my hands on- great, thick tomes, all of them. So the idea of Jack Ryan moving to the small screen intrigued me greatly. I didn't like Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. I didn't even bother with Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. So I was more than willing to give John Krasinski a shot in the role occupied by the latter two as well as Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin.

The great part: it all works really, really well. The first season is only eight episodes, which I think helps immensely, because there's no filler here. They know what story they want to tell and they don't waste time telling it- but it's also not so jam packed that they don't allow for character development and nuance either. When the series of opens, Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) is a low-level financial analyst in the Terror, Finance and Arms Division (T-FAD) of the CIA. He's been tracking financial transactions that he believes are connected to an emerging terrorist named Suleiman whom he belives is operating out of Yemen. He has a hard time convincing his new boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce) of this and eventually heads out to a cocktail party where he meets Cathy Mueller (Abby Cornish) the daughter of his former boss from the financial firm he used to work at on Wall Street.

Greer realizes that Ryan is onto something and sends a helicopter to the party to whisk him away and soon Jack is away from the comfort of his desk job and out in the field. They had to Yemen, where they interrogate the man supposedly responsible for the payments and his bodyguard when the camp comes under attack and they realize that the bodyguard is none other than Suleiman (Ali Suliman). He's rescued and Jack and Greer are left with the realization that a new and dangerous player has joined the terrorist game.

Back in the states, Jack reconnects with Cathy and keeps following the phone records and other intelligence they had gleaned from the Yemen incident which leads them an apartment outside of Paris where Suleiman's brother, Ali (Haaz Sleiman) is transferring the funds. Greer, Ryan and French Intelligence raid the apartment, but Ali escapes in the chaos and the raid ends in a suicide bombing. Greer and Ryan track Ali to a hideout they believe is his rendezvous point in Southern France, but in their attempt to take him into custody, he's killed.

Meanwhile, Suleiman's wife Hanin (Dina Shihabi) becomes increasingly concerned with the armed terrorists that her husband is bringing into their home and begins to realize that her husband has another, darker side that she's never seen before. She flees with her daughters, but Suleiman sends someone after her.

While Hanin is being pursued, Suleiman starts an insurrection against ISIS and effectively takes control of the organization. His terrorist cell stages a sarin gas attack on the funeral of a well-known French priest. In the aftermath, Jack makes contact with Suleiman using the messaging board on a video game, posing as his brother Ali- but Suleiman detects the ruse and Jack confirms that Ali is dead and manages also to confirm that Suleiman's wife, Hanin has fled before Suleiman disconnects, which sends Greer and Ryan racing to the Middle East to find and extract her.

Cathy, meanwhile, is investigating a case of Ebola in Liberia where a man has been infected with a strain they believed was eradicated. It is then revealed that six months earlier Suleiman and Ali dug up a body infected with that strain. Greer and Ryan catch up with Hanin and her children and extract them safely. Ryan and Greer investigate the Ebola case, which reveals Jack's true job to Cathy who isn't exactly happy at the news, but eventually forgives him. Ryan and Greer also convince their superior to launch a ground assault on Suleiman's compound when they discover the existence of a dozen or so western hostages. All hostages are rescued, but the compound is empty and neither Ryan nor Greer can figure out why at first, until they realize that the hostages (including an old army buddy of the President's) have all been exposed to Ebola.

With the President a numerous other officials quarantined, the next stage of Suleiman's plan- detonating a cesium dirty bomb inside the hospital is revealed and is almost successful, but Ryan and Greer make one last timely intervention which culminates in Ryan shooting Suleiman before he can detonate the device. As rewards for preventing the attack, Greer is promoted to Deputy Station Chief, Moscow Station and Ryan takes over as the head of T-FAD.

Overall, there is so so so much to like about this. The characters are complicated and nuanced and all of them felt fully realized and three dimensional. This series gets right what a lot of the movie adaptations don't: it's possible to update a lot of Clancy's source material to a contemporary setting and they get it absolutely right. Ryan worked in finance, Cathy's Dad was his boss. He had been in the Marines and was gravely injured in a  helicopter crash- though in Afghanistan this time. Greer is almost perfectly cast with Wendell Pierce assuming the role that James Earl Jones played so well in the movies. A nice twist though is the reveal that his character converted to Islam for his now ex-wife. I didn't see that coming at all and the fact that he converted adds an unusual and fresh dimension to the character. All in all, this is taut, thrilling, crackling with suspense and the complexity that made Clancy's novels so great to read.

The problem with Clancy's source material is that a lot of it was written in a Cold War context that's incredibly dated now. Jack Ryan proves that the best of the source material can be updated to a contemporary setting while staying true to what made the originals works so great. I can't wait to see more. My Grade: **** out of ****

Sunday, September 9, 2018

35 Random Observations about Turning 35

1. If one trip around the sun is roughly 584 million miles, then 35 trips around the sun is 20,440,000,000 miles. I feel like there should be some frequent flier miles for that much travel.

2. In my lifetime, I'm only on my third Pope.

3. Additionally, there's only ever been one British monarch.

4. There have been six US Presidents and six British Prime Minister since I've been alive.

5. In 1983, there were 158 members of the United Nations, today there are 193.

6. The Cubs, White Sox and Red Sox all broke their respective 'curses' in my lifetime.

7. The Triple Crown of Horse Racing has been won twice in my lifetime.

8. It struck me when I was in line at Hy-Vee the other night. I remember when food stamps were actually bills/stamps and not on electronic cards.

9. The Euro didn't exist when I was born. Neither did the Channel Tunnel.

10. We've never landed on the Moon in my lifetime. (Or Mars for that matter.)

11. Six countries have won the World Cup in my lifetime: Argentina, Germany, Brazil, France, Italy and Spain.

12. Liverpool won the old First Division four times, Everton twice, Arsenal twice and Leeds United once in my lifetime.

13. Manchester United won the Premier League thirteen times, Arsenal three times, Chelsea five times, Manchester City three times, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers once.

14. The Iowa Hawkeyes have been to the Rose Bowl three times in my lifetime and have yet to win the darn thing.

15. The Minnesota Vikings have yet to win a Super Bowl in my lifetime.

16. Technically, ARPANET adopted TCP/IP on January 1st, 1983 and began assembling what would become in the internet but it really didn't come into existence in the form we think of it today until 1990. So I was born before the internet was a thing.

17. The Soviet Union was still a country when I was born and barely two months after I was born we had a brush with actual nuclear war during the Able Archer incident.

18. STS-9, a flight of the Space Shuttle Colombia was the first space shuttle launch after I was born. I saw the end of the space shuttle program with STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

19. The Mir was launched, operated and abandoned over the course of my lifetime.

20. The International Space Station was launched and is still going strong.

21. James Michener's Poland, Stephen King's Pet Semetary, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, John Le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl, James Michener's Space and Judith Krantz's Mistral's Daughter all appeared on the New York Times best seller list the year I was born.

22. William Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature the year I was born. Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize.

23. The Berlin Wall was still up when I was born.

24. Cell phones were the size of large bricks when I was born. Now the sum of all human knowledge is on your phone and can fit in your pocket.

25. Bitcoin was not a thing when I was born. It is now though.

26. South Africa was still under apartheid when I was born. Namibia wasn't a country. Burkina Faso was still called Upper Volta and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was still called Zaire.

27. Less than 50% of the US population was covered by 911 when I was born.

28. The US Interstate Highway system was still under construction when I was born- I-80 was completed coast-to-coast three years after I was born and the I-70 stretch through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado was only completed when I was 9.

29. This seems like an obvious thing, but might be somewhat mind blowing to the younger generations: social media wasn't around when I was a kid. Like, at all.

30. I still remember old rotary style telephones.

31. This was a better fountain than whatever they have on the Ped Mall today. I miss this fountain.

32. Betamax, VHS and Laser Discs were still around. I purchased my first album in a Sam Goody. It was on a cassette.

33. We rented VHS tapes to watch o the weekend.

34. The Hubble telescope was launched.

35. Oldsmobile Supreme, Ford Escort and Ford LTD were top selling cars the year I was born. The Chevrolet Equinox took the top crown for the front half of 2018.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

40 For 40: Year 5

When I wrote this list five years ago, part of the criteria I set was that I could revise this list when I turned 35. The way I figure it, people's priorities change. People change. Life changes. I listened to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience a few months back, where he interviewed Kevin Smith not long after he had survived a massive heart attack. I was struck at home changed Smith seemed to be by the experience- I don't know him personally, but it was... moving almost, to listen to him talk about being so serene about it. Accepting the fact that he might well have reached the finish line of the great race that is life that night really made me think.

The average life expectancy for US Males as of 2015 was 78.84 years. That means in five years, I'll be officially at the halfway point, according to the statistics anyway. The older I get, the less I seem to care about acquiring 'stuff.' I'm more interested in accumulating experiences now- and, of course, making sure I last as long as I can in my own great race of life. So, yeah, there are some changes this year. Changes are noted in red.

1. Publish my novel.
2. Get another tattoo
3. Finish all 4,532 pages and 12 volumes of Winston Churchill's 'The Second World War.'
4. Run a 5k
5. Visit All 50 States
6. Lose 50 lbs (this is a more specific, attainable goal than just 'get ripped, yo')
7. Pay off every single dime of my student loans.
8. Write more novels, publish them.
9. I would like to ride a mechanical bull.
10. Go on a Caribbean Cruise with the Missus.
11. Drive to Alaska.
12. Find out if St. Louis and Kansas City are pretty cool, since people keep insisting that they are.
13. Have at least one culinary adventure a year.
14. Vikings/Packers at Lambeau. 'Nuff said.
15. Read one fiction book a year that's well outside my usual genre preferences.
16. Work on my backlog of non-fiction and history books, my Fraser biographies of Charles II and Cromwell, The Steel Bonnets and my Jenkins bios of Churchill and Gladstone are at the top of the list.
17. Read Wuthering Heights and understand/appreciate it.
18. Re-read and finish The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire
19. Read Pride and Prejudice and understand it/appreciate it.
20. Master my ukulele!
21. I would like to shoot a gun. Because I've never done that before.
22. Be the best Father I can be.
23. Be able to buy a really rare bottle of whiskey for my 40th Birthday.
24. I'd like to visit Kentucky and check out the Bourbon Trail.
25. I'd like to visit NYC.
26. Ride a day of RAGBRAI.
27. Ride the whole week of RAGBRAI.
28.  Learn how to make bread from scratch.
29. World Travel Wishlist: Brazil, India, China, Europe.
30. Brush up my foreign language skills. I've invested a lot of time of the years into learning French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Arabic and Hindi. I'd like to maximize my knowledge of all six languages. (Wrapping up Duolingo courses on all languages is my preferred benchmark for this.)
31. Get something pierced again.
32. Go skydiving.
33. Go to Trekfest.
34. We've got family in Texas, Georgia and the UK. Be nice to take vacations to at least two out three of those destinations.
35. Make our house perfect (or move to a bigger and better house.)
36. Be able to afford subscription to The Economist.
37. Road trip it up to Winnipeg for Jets game.
38. I'd like to see an Iowa away game somewhere. (Football and Basketball.)
39. Go to a Major League Soccer Game
40. Go to a Cubs game at Wrigley

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Let's Talk About Socialism, Because Everyone Else Is

I suppose we should talk about socialism. Everyone else seems to be these days- but here's the kicker that's sort of starting to annoy me. All these people running around talking about the glories of socialism and how socialist they are and how we should all be socialist? I'm not sure they really understand what the hell socialism actually is. (And for that matter, not having lived in a socialist country for the majority of my life, I'm not quite sure what it is either, but I'm willing to take a whack at it.)

So, let's start with a definition. This is what the Googles delivers:
1. a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
2. policy or practice based on the political and economic theory of socialism
3. (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.
Well, there's a lot to unpack with this definition, but for the sake of argument, let's limit our scope somewhat and throw out number 2. It's probably the most abstract definition of the bunch, anyway. This leaves us with #1 and #3. The problem is that when people right now are talking about 'socialism' neither of those two definitions really fit either.

So, if we're going to unpack this a little more I think we've got to throw another definition into the mix: social democracy. Wikipedia leads off that entry with this:
"a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy."
THIS is far closer to the mark of what a lot of Progressives are talking about these days. A lot of Conservatives when they talk about the evil boogeyperson of socialism always go to Venezuela. The pathway that a lot of Progressives talk about when they talk about socialism is closer (at least in theory) to Denmark. The hitch is this, from the second 'graph from the Wikipedia entry:
"Social democracy originated as a political ideology that advocated an evolutionary and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism using established political processes in contrast to the revolutionary approach to transition associated with orthodox Marxism."
In other words, the destination may be Denmark initially, but the idea is to transition (at least on paper) to a fully socialist system. Hence, the Conservative paranoia about the evil boogeyperson of socialism and Venezuela. (As we can see here, trying to compare Denmark to Venezuela didn't go so well for a Fox News anchor lately- and it was a slipshod comparison that collapsed like a flan in an oven when you pushed on it even slightly.)

I have several things about this whole 'ooooooooh, scaaaary socialism' versus 'socialism, hurray!' thing that's going on.

First: why do we have to be constantly stuck in the 19th century? I mean, our government and (somewhat) our educational system are rooted in the 19th century. Why do we have to default back to a binary that's as old and sclerotic as people from that century at this point? The answer isn't going to be: "If not A, then B" all the damn time. Why can't we come up with something new? I would argue that there's a mountain of data out there for the shortcomings of socialism and it's becoming increasingly obvious that whatever the hell we've got going on in this country, it's not really laissez-faire capitalism. It's more like 'let us pass a tax break to help you with that and oh, we'll get rid of some pesky regulations while we're at it,' which is very much governmental interference in the market. (I type this sitting in an ag state awash in what now? Oh that's right: farm subsidies.)

Second: I have real doubts that moving to a socialist model on a Federal level is going to work. One of the reasons that social democracy worked so well in Europe for as long as it did is that the populations were relatively small and homogeneous and the strains on a lot of European welfare states at the moment are probably incredibly complex in many ways, but to me, the changing nature of that population combined with declining birth rates have to be a factor in the strains that are being put on those societies. That's one thing.

The other thing is money. Money is the great super glue of American life today. We spend $3 trillion on health care today- which seems ludicrous to a lot of people, which is why they're pushing for a socialized, single payer model (for reasons both ideological and fairly sensible- $3 trillion is a hell of a lot of money and a lot of people would argue that they're not getting all that much out of it.) But here's the kicker. In 2016, the Health Insurance industry made an estimated $13.1 billion. That's a health insurance industry with jobs and salaries many of which would go bye-bye if we went to single payer. That's what makes a lot of these major radical changes so unlikely to me... there's industries with a not inconsiderable amount of money that will be invested in maintaining the status quo and I don't care how many laws you pass or taxes you raise. At the end of the day, $13.1 billion is a huge investment in the status quo. Until you provide incentives to change that, ain't nothing gonna change.

Third: I think we're both closer and further away than we think to 'socialism.' In many ways a lot of the structure of the welfare state that we take for granted has been in place for decades now, thanks to the New Deal. Radical transformations seem somewhat unlikely, given our current politics, but a renewal of the New Deal or even a New New Deal of some kind (though I wouldn't brand it as such) could well be feasible to sell to the American people. Medical bankruptcy shouldn't be a thing. People shouldn't worry about securing access to world class medical care. Also, the price of health insurance for individuals should be cheaper. There should be more distance and carefully constructed boundaries between business and government. There should be more regulation of business from government- not necessarily a bureaucratic avalanche of red tape, but effective regulation. Anti-corruption and draining the swamp may have been a rallying cry for President Trump, but anti-corruption efforts are fast becoming a serious policy plank for the Progressive left- and they're not unreasonable things either. Senator Warren's plans for the economy may well make economists and policy wonks shudder, but she's not that far off the mark when it comes to the corruption stuff.

In short, I'm leery of all this ideological talk. I prefer concrete policy proposals that lead to real solutions to problems. Too often, our political system prefers to keep problems around because they can soak them up for votes instead of actually solving them. If I come down on the side of anything, it's probably pragmatic utilitarianism. Take what's possible to do and use it to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people and actually do something and I'll be right behind it.

In short, the people screaming about socialism and what it all means seem to be more wedded to their pet ideology that concrete results. I'm vastly more interested in the latter than the former.