The Anatomy of Disruption


I’ve been doing some thinking recently about the life cycle of industries. “Industries” in this context means anything that you can make a living at. If you have an idea, a new idea, something that will genuinely change the world, what happens with it? It seems to follow the old adage about every political cause (probably because political causes qualify as industries in this regard.) Let’s take a walk through it:

It Begins as a Movement


Race Madness at Oberlin College


This past week an Ohio jury delivered an enormous verdict of $44.4 million against Oberlin College for the massive abuses that it and its students inflicted on Gibson’s Bakery, a small, family-owned business that has long operated in Oberlin, Ohio. The jury verdict required Oberlin to pay over $11 million in actual damages to Gibson’s and its owners. On top of that, the jury awarded punitive damages of $33 million, which, under Ohio law, will most likely be reduced to roughly $22 million, or double the actual damages awarded. And finally, the judge instructed the jury to award Gibson’s between $5 and $10 million in attorney’s fees. These numbers are no surprise in light of the seriousness of the charges of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trade libel, and more made by the College against the bakery.

The jury verdict in this case is instructive because it illustrates the massive transformation—all for the worse—in the civil rights movement over the past sixty years. When I was a college student, the Supreme Court waded into the law of defamation in a suit brought by L.B. Sullivan, an elected Commissioner of Montgomery County, Alabama, against the New York Times. The Times had published an advertisement—Heed their Rising Voices—which documented violent attacks on student groups in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Montgomery, Alabama, and elsewhere. The letter was signed by sixty-four leading civil rights leaders, all intent on exposing the systematic evils of segregation. They urged contributions to support the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. The statements about Montgomery talked about “truckloads of police armed with shot guns and tear-gas ringed the Alabama State College Campus.” No mention was made of Sullivan by name or by his office. Nonetheless, he claimed that the advertisement defamed him personally, given that there were some factual inaccuracies in the account.


ACF Critic Series #34 Alan Moore


This week, I’m joined again by my friend Peter Paik, Professor at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and at Yonsei University in Seoul, author of a book on pop-culture visions of radical political change that’s most timely: From Utopia To Apocalypse.

Peter and I talk about the comic books of Alan Moore, the main subject of his book: Watchmen, made into a movie by Zack Snyder and now about to become an HBO series; V for Vendetta, made into a movie by the Wachowskis, the Matrix creators; From Hell, made into a movie by the Hughes brothers, starring Johnny Depp; and Miracleman, a Cold-War-to-End-of-History story that has not yet been adapted.


Hot Arts


My father provides ideas for stories from time to time, or the core of the tale itself, upon occasion. Beyond the similarity of our speaking voices, our storytelling and argumentation resonate harmoniously, making for easy writing. The nub of this tale starts with an email from the senior Colonel, in which he offered two images of heat: a blacksmith and an angel standing on the sun. This prompted reflections on people working with heat to create things.

My father grew up in the countryside, outside of Philadelphia. Sure enough, in the 1940s there was still a blacksmith in the community. The blacksmith has lived on in my father’s childhood memories, like the inquisitive postmistress, and his favorite childhood toy. Blacksmiths create things both practical and aesthetically pleasing through the application of so much heat that iron or steel becomes malleable. For some great pictures and description of the process, you should read Scott Wilmot’s “Homesteading: 3 Days of Blacksmithing.” Blacksmiths work in close proximity to extreme heat and can only create with metal heated to such a temperature as could inflict devastating injuries in case of accidental contact. 


No Means No!


I think we should take the Palestinians at their word: they are saying “no” to peace and prosperity; we should say “no” to providing them any more help.

Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt should pack up their portfolios, hand-outs, graphs, easels, and charts and come home. The U.S. has spent far too much time trying to assuage a people that hates us, that is corrupt, and that holds the world hostage to their threats of violence and hand-wringing. It’s time for the U.S. to stop beating its head against the proverbial wall and let the Arab countries figure out what to do with the Palestinian people.


How the Nerds Took Revenge


We were all once nerds, or cool kids, jocks, bullies, dorks, AV cart-pushers, theater geeks, motorheads, preppies, break dancers, valley girls, wastoids, heshers, skaters, surfers, outcasts, and teacher’s pets. Microchip technology was nascent as we learned the term “hacker” from Matthew Broderick changing his grades via modem, while Anthony Michael Hall demonstrated how hyperactive geeks could end up with the Homecoming Queen.

We delighted in watching nerds take revenge. After all, those narcissistic jocks deserved it, which became an oft-repeated trope in many films of the 1980s. The smartest, but most socially awkward would exact vengeance on anyone who previously shunned them, both men and women. While comedic in tone and extremely satisfying to watch at the time, there’s no doubt that said retribution has since morphed into something darker; the entitled psyche of yesterday’s and today’s disenfranchised.


Trumping Middle East Hands: Iran [Updated]


Start from the position that the Iranian people are hostages in their own country to a regime based on an idea, perhaps an ideology, concocted in the 1970s and propounded clearly only after Khomeini’s faction had control in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Consider that there has been popular unrest against the regime. Factor in that the rulers are savvy and ruthless, with an elite military force keeping the regular military and the populace in check, while extending regime influence regionally and globally. The Khomeinists seem to have a strong hand, with some high cards, so how do we set about trumping their hand? Moving towards answers that are feasible takes more than hand-waving and posturing.

The U.S. military has long recognized that it was only one instrument in Uncle Sam’s tool belt, and that military strategy needed to be integrated with plans and actions by the rest of the government. This became called a “whole of government” approach. For many years, military officers, in their advanced schooling, were instructed in consideration of four “instruments of national power:” Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economy (DIME).


“Make America Great Again”


I never much cared for the slogan, mostly for the obvious reason that I think America remains great and has never not been great. I never much cared for the hat, either: I don’t wear hats, and I’m not a big fan of Trump the man, however much I like his performance in office.

But it seems to me that there’s a serious problem in need of a serious solution, and wearing the iconic orange red cap is, oddly enough, a useful tool for solving it.


Uncommon Knowledge: How Public Policy Became War


David Davenport, Hoover fellow and coauthor of How Public Policy Became War, analyzes how presidents have too readily declared war (on terror, drugs, poverty, you name it) and called the nation into crisis, partly to tackle the problem and partly to increase their own power.


Buddhism, Secularism, and Socialism


Two weeks ago, I decided it was time to give away the meditation mats and cushions that I had originally purchased for the meditation group I led. (As many of you know, I practiced Buddhism for over 20 years, and broke with my teacher several years ago. I also re-discovered my love for Judaism, and that is where I find myself now.)

I remembered that there was a Zen center about an hour away from here, and wrote them an email, asking if they would like my cushions and mats. They were delighted. When the representative came to pick them up, he asked if I knew a fellow at their center. As it happens, this fellow, a very nice man, had practiced at the same center in San Diego where I had practiced. We’ve agreed to have a phone conversation.


Middle East Players: Iran


The latest news about “Iran” comes across as more irritation from a region that seems to always be in conflict. Moreover, the news and commentary tend to be divorced from actual history, allowing vague hand-waving, finger-pointing, and shoulder-shrugging. What follows is an attempt at a bit more definite hand-waving over the map, placing Iran briefly in their own historic context, touching on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey as the other centers of power over the centuries.

It is not “those people.” It is not “that place.” It is not even “Islam.” Don’t take my word for it:


Hat Talk: The Rest of the Story


While my night on the town began, as related here, at Starbucks, it didn’t end there — nor did it continue in precisely the same vein of tolerance and understanding.

A few hours after I left the iconic cafe with my bag of free coffee and attended a family dinner, I ended up in a local bar doing what I do in bars: acting as designated driver and herder of tipsy friends. I am widely valued for my public temperance, my modestly imposing physical presence, and my capacious vehicle. (I drink, but only moderately and always at home. )


Taking Things for Granted


Today I was reminded of how lazy I am about paying attention to life. The ordinary falls into a morass of the mundane, and I take many things for granted, even though at some level I know what a gift life is. Still, it’s so easy to trudge through a day, not noticing or enjoying those events and relationships that bless our lives. When I gave my life a bit more thought, I found I could divide my existence into two categories: the everyday and the sacred.

What everyday conditions do I take for granted?


I’m not saying it’s the hat, but…


I ran out of coffee at home yesterday, so last night while I was in town I stopped at the local Starbucks to pick up a bag of dark roast. As I pulled into my parking spot, I noticed an Obama-Biden sticker on the car next to me. I figured that meant overt displays of political affiliation were allowed, so I grabbed my Make America Great Again cap from the dash where it lives, popped it on my head, and went inside.

My favorite gay bartender/barista was on duty, so after nodding a quick hello to him, I grabbed a bag of Verona and walked up to the counter, where a young fellow I didn’t recognize, a bearded college-age kid, was waiting to take my order.


How to Build a Computer 33: Atomic Force Microscopy!


Atomic Force Microscopy is a refinement of that long and hallowed scientific tradition: poke it with a stick and see what happens. Picture, if you will, a blind man walking across the street. He taps the ground with his cane, profiling the height of the surface. That tells him where the curbs are; he doesn’t trip because he knows when to step up and step down. Now picture that blind man in a skate park, full of ramps and contours. He could, by painstaking effort, tap his cane up and down the entire area of the skate park and build up a picture in his mind where all the half-pipes lay, even though he can’t see ’em himself. Now picture him in that same skate park, doing kick-flips and grinding like a pro. Because that sounds awesome.

Three square microns of (highly ordered pyrolitic) graphite. A friend of mine measured this as part of a school project we worked on. This is after a metaphorical baseball bat to the head of mathematical smoothing.

Atomic Force Microscopy builds up a portrait of the surface of a thing by rubbing a tiny, tiny needle across it, and reading it like you’d read the grooves on a record. Heck, you could probably play it like a record too, only it’d sound all staticky because nobody bothered to lay down music on that spot to begin with. (Although…)


Holocaust Survivors Speak to AOC


A staggering thing:


The Jussie Smollett Show Lives On


Jussie Smollett /

Jussie Smollett’s acting career may not have ended after all. No, he will not be appearing in the final season of Empire, the show whose cancellation is due at least in part to his misbehavior. And no, he has not been cast in any new productions coming to screens large or small. But, owing to a Friday ruling by a Cook County judge, the Jussie Smollett Reality Show, which was far more compelling and widely watched than Empire on its best day, and which came to an abrupt and bizarre conclusion with the dismissing of all charges against him, will continue.

Recall that the saga began last January when Smollett, who in the small hours of a frigid Chicago night was walking home after purchasing a sandwich, was set upon by two men, both wearing MAGA hats, who beat and poured noxious liquid on him, verbally assaulted him with racist and homophobic epithets, and, in a final gratuitous insult, placed a noose around his head.

Or so he claimed.


Draining the Swamp: An Impossible Task?


The administrative state, also known as the Deep State and The Swamp, has been with us for a long time. Recently, however, I heard Professor John Marini talk about his work in “unmasking” the administrative state and I realized the future of the Republic is precarious, if not endangered. I learned about his work when he appeared on Mark Levin’s Sunday night Fox News show, Life, Liberty & Levin.

Professor Marini is one of the few writers who talk about the attack on our constitutional system by the workings of the administrative state:


Quote of the Day: Mucking About


A recent podcast from “The Mark Davis Show” quoted one of the founders of the Dallas Cowboys:

“Money is like manure. If you spread it around it does a lot of good, but if you pile it up in one place it stinks like hell.” — Clint Murchison, Jr.,
(As quoted in: Time, Volume 124, 1984, p. 96)


The Rent Is Too Damn Low


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the grandly titled “The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019” into law last week. Its extensive amendments to the earlier law passed with lopsided majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly after progressive lobbyists stormed the legislative beaches in Albany. They pitched their campaign as a fight between good and evil—between rich landlords and strapped tenants. They emphasized the precarious position of some tenants facing eviction, but ignored the huge windfalls given to those fortunate tenants who occupy stabilized units that rent for only a fraction of their market value.

The implicit economic assumption behind the reforms was that the protection of tenants under the Act would result in a simple wealth transfer from rich (or undeserving) landlords to poor (or deserving) tenants, with no collateral consequences to the quality of housing stock or the rate of new investment in rent-stabilized units.


ACF Critic Series #33: Citizen Kane, Part 2


This week, Telly Davidson and I wrap up our conversation on Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane–the tyrannic soul who wants to be loved by everyone, erotic longings that slip the bounds of nature, and the failure of friendship to limit madness. We talk about the problems of love and friendship, but also about politics and media, or how tyranny shows up in the age of Progress.


AOC: The Holocaust Is Not a Prop for Your Trump Hate


The argument holds that personal attacks against New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are a terrible idea. On policy and commentary, however, she’s fair game. Her continued love of the Green New Deal, her irrational view of the minimum wage and belief in the mythology of the living wage, her horrific associations with world-renowned anti-semites like UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – and then bragging about it! – and her defense of antisemitic up-and-comer Rep. Ilhan Omar: all fair game. All worthy of comment and, yes, derision.

Just six months ago, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was Teflon to criticism. Six months later, the slick coating has worn thin. Everything sticks now. And it’s all her fault.


The Americans Finale and Input from Herbert Meyer


(Author’s note: I wrote most of this article last year, but events interrupted its publication, as I will detail)

It’s been just over a year since the series finale of FX’s excellent Cold War drama, The Americans. I’ve written about it here before and sung its praises at length, but a brief recounting of the show’s gist is worthwhile: Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, deep-cover KGB agents who pose as red-blooded Americans while committing espionage for their nation. As much as I would like to talk about it, the finale of the show brought me to a different place, which I think is far more interesting.


Juneteenth: Emancipation Day


On June 19, 1865, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger read General Orders, Number 3, to the people of Galveston, Texas. It was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but at last the words of freedom came to African-American slaves in Texas. This day became known as Juneteenth, and eventually became first an unofficial holiday and then a holiday recognized by some states.

General Granger wrote, in part:


Still Cooking with Fire After All These Years


Happy Birthday to Ann Wilson of Heart, born 19 June 1950. She and her younger sister, Nancy, are the heart of Heart, a band that burst onto the world stage from the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1970s. They were part of the soundtrack of my youth. Wait a minute. 2019-1950= . . . 69. That just can’t be right.

Ann Wilson was the distinctive lead vocalist, while Nancy provided great harmony and kicking guitar licks. Their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, was released in America our bicentennial year, with “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You” propelling them up the radio play charts. They struck while the iron was hot, releasing Little Queen in 1977 and Dog & Butterfly in 1978. These women did their own thing, playing neither the tough girl nor the pop tart. They did not need an image manager, as they actually had musical and songwriting talent.