How do you want to live?

GMC trucks asks, “How do you want to live?”

How do you want to live? As a decent person?
A good husband?
Is that it?

Of course not.
King of the hill? Better.
Top of your game?
All powerful.
Like a boss.
“Like a pro” – [with caption].
We couldn’t agree more.

How do you want to live? As a decent person?
A fine human being?
A good friend?
Is that it?
[ Good? ]

Of course not.
Parent of the year? Better.
Making her heart skip a beat? Thump.
One of a kind.
Like a boss.
Like a standard bearer.
“Like a pro” – [with a caption].
We couldn’t agree more.

– A short-lived TV advertisement for GMC

GMC, you don’t get my seal of approval.

I almost got distracted

I was watching and rewatching U.S. President Donald Trump’s prepared remarks after the two mass shootings, in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The remarks were delivered on Monday morning, August 5, 2019. (See my abridgment – “Trump links gun violence to mental illness, social media, and violent videos.”)

The President set out several proposals aimed at reducing gun violence in the U.S. I got caught in the weeds of these specific recipes for public policy. I almost got distracted from focusing on what the President didn’t say.

But in his silence, the President failed two times over.

He didn’t make Latinos feel welcome and safe in their country.

Also, he didn’t call for a ban on assault-style weapons. There’s no evidence that civilians need these weapons. They’re tools of war – and used for mass murder.

A couple days later, the President would say that there’s no political appetite to enact a ban. This is to say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t bring a House bill to the Senate floor. And in the doubtful case that the Senate did vote for such a bill, President Trump would veto it.

So much for a speech of consolation and comfort from our president.


You can watch the President’s remarks on his Twitter channel.
(Tweets may be archived:
Some of the President’s remarks are available in the press secretary’s Twitter feed as broadcast by Fox News.

Trump links gun violence to mental illness, social media, and violent videos

I’ve been dwelling on the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio (during the weekend of August 3 and 4, 2019). There’s a tendency in some circles to call mass murderers mentally ill. Such was the judgment of U.S. President Donald Trump:

“If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness…. These are really people that are very, very seriously mentally ill.”
(Remarks delivered Monday morning, August 5, 2019.)

However, many or most terrorists and mass murderers aren’t mentally ill in the medical sense and probably not in the legal sense either. Besides this, mental illness does not predict violence of any sort.

These two mass murderers planned their attacks. The El Paso shooter drove across Texas. He published a screed to explain his actions. Both shooters already had their weapons at the ready. One probably modified his legally acquired gun. These actions are generally not what mentally ill people can do.

It does seem that the shooter in Dayton may have had psychiatric issues. He was allegedly taking illicit drugs before the shooting. In fact, taking drugs could have been evidence that he knew the difference between right and wrong and that he needed to numb himself before he could commit the shootings.

Regardless, the El Paso shooter showed no signs of mental illness. He made a moral decision.

Mr. Trump continued:

“We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts.”

The President continued to castigate the Internet and social media:

“The Internet likewise is used for human trafficking, illegal drug distribution, and so many other heinous crimes. The perils of the Internet and social media cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored.”

Trump’s speech then dwelt upon potential solutions, including dealing with mental illness, social media and violent video games. Supposedly, “troubled youth surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”

First, he called on the Department of Justice to act on early warning signs, to develop Internet tools to detect mass shooters before they strike. However, there’s no evidence that either shooter could have been detected. The El Paso shooter only published his screed shortly before his attack.

“Second, we must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace…. Each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life.”

A worthy goal “to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life.” But, I’m not aware that playing violent video games predicts acts of violence. It’s so easy to blame violent videos.

The President continued:

“Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get mental health treatment, even if necessary, involuntary confinement…. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

There’s a difference between being distressed and being mentally disturbed in the medical sense. Going through a psychological crisis is not mental illness. If there is a mental health crisis here, the sufferer is likely to be depressed and suicidal. Depression is deadly, and depression and guns don’t go together. Depression pulls the trigger. And often hatred pulls the trigger (so to speak), as hatred pulled on the shooters who pulled triggers to murder in Dayton and El Paso.

In later remarks on Wednesday, August 7, Mr. Trump said,

“These are sick people; these are really people who are mentally ill, who are disturbed. It’s a mental problem…. They’re mentally unstable.”

But, mental instability is not a diagnosis of mental illness. Again, the President has no evidence that mass shooters are sick in the colloquial sense of mentally ill. Furthermore, his new push for involuntary confinement is draconian. Confinement is not care. And people in straightforward distress don’t benefit from confinement.

If anything, the President is talking about confining me. When I was 25 years old, I was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. I’ve received effective treatment including medication, and, typical of other sufferers, I’ve never been violent.

Finally, the President suggested:

“Fourth, the Department of Justice sees to it that those who pose a great risk to public safety do not have access to guns.”

Laws to take guns away with due process are popularly called “red flag laws.” More properly, they are known as extreme risk protection orders.

So-called red-flag laws could allow family members to request that judges temporarily block individuals who are mentally ill or may pose a risk to themselves or others from having a firearm.

Hopefully, guns would be taken away from individuals who are suicidally depressed. Unfortunately, family members and friends don’t see suicidal intentions. So many suicides don’t usually cry out for help either.

And Mr. Trump added that, “mass murderers and hate crimes receive the death penalty.” (The awkward wording is his.) Never mind that they receive the death penalty in some states already. And never mind that there’s no evidence that the death penalty deters murder.

The President called for real bipartisan solutions to make America “safer and better for all.” But, he didn’t call for better background checks, though Not that these would help prevent guns from falling into the hands of mass shooters. The Dayton and El Paso shooters had never had serious brushes with the law.

The only part of the President’s remarks I agreed with is when he said,

“Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul.”

I firmly believe that hatred kills people, both the hater and the hated, but not mental illness or video games. Hatred has become an evil contagion.

Mass shootings are truly a “monstrous evil” – Mr. Trump’s words.


To view the President’s remarks after the mass murder go to his Twitter channel.
(Tweets may be archived:
Some of the President’s remarks are available in the press secretary’s Twitter feed.

White supremacy is not really a problem

Fox News’s pundit Tucker Carlson said on Tuesday evening, August 6, 2019, that white supremacy is “actually not a real problem in America.” He called concern about white supremacy “a hoax” and “a conspiracy theory used to divide the country.”

The combined membership of every white supremacist organization in this country would be able to fit inside a college football stadium.

That’s a dangerous stadium to be near if you’re not deemed “white.” I hope that they wouldn’t be armed with guns, not even knives and blackjacks.

Pull their fangs.


I refuse to link to the excerpt. I saw it, and now you don’t have to.

Palestinian resentment and narcissism

Let me level a broadside against Palestinian society’s spirit – its zeitgeist.

The tenor is narcissistic.

In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, scientist Steven Pinker presents the idea of a morbid national resentment — ressentiment in French. “Morbid national resentment” characterizes Palestinianism.

Palestinian nationalism expresses the conviction that its civilization has a historical right to greatness despite its lowly status. They feel that their lowly status is explained by the malevolence of an external foe, namely Israel.

According to Palestinians, if Israel would withdraw to the 1949 ceasefire lines (what are mistakenly called the 1967 borders), then Palestinians would be justly elevated into statehood.

Their group-equivalent of narcissism evidences a big but fragile ego with an unearned claim to preeminence. Their narcissism can trigger violence “when the narcissist is enraged by an insolent signal from reality.” (See p. 524)

The presence and visibility of Israeli troops is taken by Palestinians as an insolent signal from reality. In the case of Gaza, Israel maintains a visibly hard border like an international border but has otherwise withdrawn to the 1949 lines. What more is Israel supposed to do?

If Gazans were not to look outward – literally – they would mostly not see the fences and military patrols. The partial sea blockade is only visible to Gazan fisherman but not to most of the close to two million residents of the coastal strip. Within the enclave, they see self-rule. Due to their narcissism they remain mind-blind to their autonomy.

Both the Palestinian self-described victims and the alleged Israeli perpetrators distort their stories in opposite directions. “[E]ach omit[s] or embellish[es] details in a way that [makes] the actions of their character look more reasonable and the other’s less reasonable.” Diverging narratives are a psychological Moralization Gap. Who should we believe? (p. 490) (For me, Israeli narratives are more believable, but not entirely so.)

Ressentiment whips up the emotions of thwarted dominance – humiliation, envy, and rage – to which narcissists are prone. (p. 524)

Several things determine whether ethnic groups can coexist without bloodshed…. One important emollient is the way a group treats a loose cannon who attacks a member of the other group. If the malefactor is reeled in and punished by his own community, the victimized group can classify the incident as a one-on-one crime rather than as the first strike in a group-against-group war…. [A]n even bigger factor is ideology. Things get ugly when intermingled ethnic groups long for states of their own, hope to unite with their diasporas in other countries, keep long memories of harms committed by their neighbors’ ancestors while being unrepentant for harms committed by their own, and live under crappy governments * that mythologize one group’s glorious history while excluding others from the social contract. (p. 525)

Among the Palestinians, a cohort of young men and teenage males periodically comes of age and begins to riot – an Intifada. Palestinians don’t regard these stone-throwers and tire-burners as loose cannons. The riots are a rite of passage. Fathers and older brothers fought, and now time has come for the younger cohort to test its mettle and gain esteem and status. These riots begin after “an insolent signal from reality,” but they are way out of proportion to the igniting spark. And the fuel for flames has been there all along.

The Palestinian ideology circles around the unrealistic idea that all Palestinians in their diaspora should have a right to return to live where their ancestors originated. In fact, most members of the diaspora are considered to be refugees even though they were born elsewhere, even though they have never set foot in historical Palestine.

The U.N. has enabled this. In no other case of refugees has the refugee status been granted to all descendants of verifiable refugees. Palestinian refugees by ordinary standards are those who were displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The youngest refugee is seventy-one years old, and the total number of genuine refugees alive today is about ten thousand. Yet, upwards of a million Palestinians receive assistance from the U.N. These men, women, and children and something like 5 million Palestinians of the diaspora are all deemed to have the right to return. Palestinian ideology keeps alive the long memory of the harm from 1948.

The Palestinian Authority, founded in 1993 by the Oslo Accords, is a crappy government. It has been a kleptocracy, actually an anocracy.* It squandered international aid that flowed in during the heady days after the Oslo agreements. More recently, though, international concerns have invested prudently.

Palestinian infrastructure is antiquated. It dates back to Jordanian rule if not to British rule. The Palestinian police force is brutal.

Many peaceable countries today are in the process of redefining the nation-state by purging it of tribalist psychology. The government no longer defines itself as a crystallization of the yearning of the soul of a particular ethnic group, but as a compact that embraces all the people and groups that happen to find themselves on a contiguous plot of land. (p. 525)

A Palestinian state represents such a crystallization of yearning, so it would not embrace Jews who live in the West Bank. A Palestinian state is not symmetrical to the state of Israel, where Arabs live as a tolerated minority. (Israel itself is still a crystallization of the yearning of the Jewish soul.)

Is there a cure for narcissism? I think not. Is there therapy for the narcissist to learn to engage with other people in healthy, productive ways? I believe so. What therapy is available for the Palestinians?

Pinker does suggest using game theory in peace negotiations. When both sides lay down their arms, they immediately garner a peace dividend. What dividend would Israelis see? Not much, though. Their economy is doing well. The tourism sector is doing well. Israel enjoys one of the best road systems in the world. Mass transit keeps improving. The Israeli economy has a large knowledge-based sector. Israel is one of the 36 members of the exclusive Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This puts Israel on par with the United States and most of the English-speaking world as well as with the European Union and Japan.

Where would there be a peace dividend? A heavily militarized Hezbollah sits perched over Israel’s border with Lebanon. They have rockets aimed at Israel’s population centers. The peace dividend for Israel would be enormous as would the peace dividend for Hezbollah. However, ideology stands in the way. Hezbollah’s jihadi doctrines label Israel a Satan – the little one alongside the U.S. as the Great Satan, “Zionists” and “Crusaders.” With such an ideology, they will not negotiate with Israel. (Perhaps Hezbollah is suffused with group-level narcissism themselves.)

A peace dividend with the Palestinians is a pittance in Israel’s calculus.

Pinker refers to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and calls a centralized nation-state that holds a monopoly on violence a Leviathan. Pinker credits such states with bringing down the level of violence in the world. The Leviathan’s ruler tries to keep his subjects from “cycles of raiding and feuding that just shuffle resources or settle scores among them but from his point of view are a dead loss” (p. 42).

Israel is now the Leviathan over Palestinians to prevent and punish them for suicide raids and other aggression against Israelis, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), under the Oslo Accords, is supposed to enforce the social contract for security and public order among Palestinians themselves. What does Israel now want? It wants the PA to force the Palestinian population to refrain from offenses against Israelis so that Israel does not have to be the Leviathan. The PA has been unwilling to do this and even promotes violence by granting stipends to the families of so-called martyrs. To the extent that the Oslo peace process died, this flaunting of terrorist activities killed it.

Palestinians, like other indigenous people, resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. But, Hamas in Gaza (and other Palestinians) deludes itself that the Little Satan will pack up and leave. They recall the glory of when the Crusaders decamped back to Europe.

Palestinians will be ready to yield to coexistence only when they have given up all hope of getting rid of the alien Jewish settlers, even in Israel itself.


crappy governments – Pinker’s term; see my previous post.

anocracy – see my previous post.

Reference: Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking.

Palestinian anocracy

Before I can write about Palestinian pathology (next post), I’d like to introduce scientist and author Steven Pinker’s description of a state ruled as an anocracy. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is such an administration.

Pinker writes that anocracy is

a form of rule that is neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. Anocracies are also known among political scientist as semidemocracies, praetorian regimes, and (my favorite, overheard at a conference) crappy governments. These are administrations that don’t do anything well. (310)

Unlike autocratic police states, they don’t intimidate their populations into quiescence, but nor do they have the more-or-less fair systems of law enforcement of a decent democracy. Instead they often respond to local crime with indiscriminate retaliation on entire communities. [This is not a feature of the PA.] (310)

They retain the kleptocratic habits of the autocracies from which they evolved, doling out tax revenues and patronage jobs to their clansmen, who then extort bribes for police protection, favorable verdicts in court, or access to the endless permits needed to get anything done. A government job is the only ticket out of squalor, and having a clansman in power is the only ticket to a government job.
When control of government is periodically up for grabs in a “democratic election,” the stakes are as high as in any contest over precious and indivisible spoils. (310)

Foreign aid, so beloved of crusading celebrities, can be another poison chalice, because it can enrich and empower the leaders through whom it is funneled rather than building a sustaining economic infrastructure. (311)

All these are characteristics of the Palestinian Authority, albeit with some local nuance.

The last election in the PA, in 2006, saw the Hamas faction win the majority vote. The opposing political party Fatah refused to join a proposed coalition. The Palestinian Authority instituted a non-Hamas government in the West Bank while Hamas formed a government on its own in Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza have virtually remained two separate entities since 2007.

To repeat Pinker,

When control of government is periodically up for grabs in a “democratic election,” the stakes are as high as in any contest over precious and indivisible spoils.

The PA evolved from the autocratic administration of the West Bank by the Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan is still an autocracy with a component of a police state.

While the PA’s rule in the West Bank is an anocracy, Hamas’s rule in Gaza is that of a police state.


Reference: Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking.

Some healthcare talking points for presidential candidates

More Americans have health insurance than ever before, but we’ve got a long way to go.

We need to expand Medicaid to reach all needy Americans and to reach Americans who are above the official poverty line but are barely making it. These are the working poor. They’re doing everything right but are struggling to make it.

We need to fix healthcare in rural America. We can’t allow any more hospitals to close. We need a health corps — young professionals to rotate through rural areas to bring them America’s fantastic treatments.

And we need more drug rehab facilities. So let’s start sending young Americans to school to become social workers, for instance, and let’s pay their tuition.

Of course, it’s long been time to bring down the costs of medication. Americans shouldn’t be rationing prescription drugs because they can’t afford it.

America is the greatest country on Earth, and we can have the best healthcare in the world again.