A Sanders nomination will not destroy the left. It might actually organize it.

You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time they pretend to make them the depositories of all power.

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

I have been watching many conservatives speak about Bernie Sanders the way the establishment left spoke about President Trump during the last election cycle. They are giddy with delight that Democrats are likely going to nominate a bona fide socialist. There’s no way that Americans would vote for someone who is so consumed with hatred for the American experiment that he went to the USSR on his honeymoon, they say. They are hate-watching their own caricature.

Most conservatives think that a Sanders nomination represents the long-awaited Götterdämmerung of liberal elites. Moderate contempt for progressives and their increasingly bizarre ideals will finally cleave the party in two, and the two fractions will never be large enough to deprive conservatives of control. They think a Sanders nomination is something to celebrate, not fear.

Perhaps they are correct, but I am not sure this is the case. I do not think a Sanders nomination will destroy the left, even if he loses in the general election. In fact, I think it has the potential to unify the left in much the same way Trump has now unified the right. And I do not believe this involves ideology at all, so much as demographics.

When President Obama left office, he had not groomed any political heirs. This may have been a pragmatic move on his part. When you do not have an heir, you alone get to decide what your legacy looks like. I think Obama did not endorse Biden because Biden’s campaign would have ultimately become Obama’s legacy (and given the insane things Biden says on a daily basis, that would obviously be terrible for Obama). Obama also understood that his frenemy Hillary thought that it was “her turn” after he left office. And he probably knew she was going to lose and was fine with that. Politics is a story of changing tides.

Thus, Obama bought an estate on Martha’s Vineyard and checked out of politics, leaving an enormous vacuum in his party. This occurred at an opportune moment for Bernie Sanders, because something else was happening simultaneously: moderate-left Baby Boomer voters were being eclipsed by far-left Millennial and Generation Z voters within the Democratic Party. The kind of people who supported Obama and the Clintons have been permanently marginalized mathematically. Former hippies who are now playing croquet in sunny planned communities have been replaced by Lenin and avocado toast wages.

While the progressive-left had been stranded in the antechamber of power, they were training for this political moment. Although the outrage du jour mentality exhausts most sane people, for the progressive-left it has offered endless opportunities to build vast personal networks of like-minded individuals (and to radicalize others). Over time, they have created shadow institutions to reinforce strange new norms. They needed exactly the kind of vacuum Obama left behind to say, “Hey, look at all this chaos. We actually have a prescriptive structure, here it is.”

It helps the progressive-left that the moderate-left has put up candidates who stand for literally nothing. The nihilism of elites is on glorious display, and grassroots progressives don’t have to do anything crafty to coax it out. Bloomberg’s motto is “Get It Done” – which he clearly ripped off from Boris Johnson’s Brexit campaign. But unlike Johnson, Bloomberg doesn’t say what his “it” is. He doesn’t have any particular vision of government. All he cares about is having someone of his milieu in power. Instead of leadership, he offers rallies with buffets and open bars and pays anyone with more than a thousand followers on the Internet to pretend they like him. (But, hey, he’s stimulating the economy instead of hoarding cash?) Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar also have no vision for government. Biden’s been camped out in government longer than I have been alive, and I am middle-aged. Buttigieg is a PowerPoint presentation that accidentally became self-aware. And Klobuchar is the kind of politician who can sit on a committee related to border issues without knowing the name of the president of Mexico. She’s the Maxine Waters of the Midwest.

When Trump was running for office the first time, I told people that I did not trust polls because so many people were quietly confessing to me that they loved him. I have felt the same way about national polls in the Democratic primary and Bernie. Driving around Florida and other southern states, I have not once seen a Biden bumper sticker. But I have seen quite a few Bernie stickers. And Warren stickers. It was always obvious that he was the front-runner.

Conservatives assume that most normal people will understand that Bernie is full of shit. His policies amount to multiples of the United States’ gross domestic product (and that’s before you start extending any of his grand programs to undocumented immigrants). That is as close to the definition of mathematically impossible as one can get in public finance. Even if Sanders presided over a government that wanted to implement these initiatives, he couldn’t.

But they would do well to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. Bernie has credibility with many people because he seems principled and most people have a powerful bias toward truth. He legitimately seems to believe what he’s saying, and even if his policy ideas are terrible, his criticism of elites is not all that different than Trump’s. The ubiquitous greed and careerism of his fellow candidates only reinforces his message. It’s like free advertising for him. And like Trump, Bernie lives is a world of “we” and “us.” No one thinks Bernie is running for president to improve his resume, a la Buttigieg or Clinton. Not even his worst critics believe that.

Bernie’s not ever going to get up on stage and lay out the technical aspects of any of his plans. But he will get up on stage and explain to people in a most paternal and loving tone that he wants to eliminate every source of financial anxiety they have in their households. Many people will find that compelling. And they will justify it to themselves thus: Maybe he can’t accomplish all of what he’s saying… But if we give him a chance, he might make our lives incrementally better. This is a sentiment that has broad appeal – much broader than the media lets on.

Last year, when I still had a Facebook account, I made some snarky comment about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez along the lines that she did not care what what her policies cost, she just wants the government to make them happen. I was surprised when many of my liberal friends started bombing that remark with hearts and telling me that they were thankful that someone finally gets it. Here I was making fun of her childlike innumeracy and ignorance of basic economics, and they thought that my paraphrasing of her was reasonable. We are seriously about to have a Common Core election, and I find that absolutely terrifying.

Right now, Trump has given the country an economy on steroids. People feel comfortable and systemic risk seems worlds away. They are in a psychological position to make bad decisions in the service of incremental improvements from the perceived safety of a transformed financial landscape. The idea that a billionaire founder of a company with a trillion-dollar market cap might be cut down to size doesn’t bother them. They see these people as public cost centers rather than major employers and major players in the financial markets. They have been trained by both the traditional media and social media to regard capitalism in terms of personalities rather than herds.

And unlike President Obama, Sanders is cultivating political heirs.

Bird matins (and vespers) and manatees

I have left the eagle cam for the bald eagles nesting in our neighborhood running on my computer for several days now. Most of the birds in our area (the only exception are owls) are most active in the very early morning hours. Around 6 a.m. every morning, the birds get quite loud. They are a natural alarm clock. I woke up yesterday and walked into the office to check on the eaglet, and my husband said that he had been listening to the eagles squawking and screaming as he worked. (Judging by his tone, it was rather distracting.) It had never occurred to me that bald eagles had been included in our sunrise chorus. And I’ve only been worried about an osprey making off with our Jack Russell terrier…. Fortunately, the eagles seem to prefer sea food above everything else, and they have plenty of it available.

Birds have a hilariously reverent relationship with the Sun. One time, as we were walking on the beach in Sarasota (on the Gulf side of Florida, south of Tampa), we saw an enormous flock of shorebirds sitting in the dunes. The birds had all gathered to watch the sunset. No kidding. There were hundreds – maybe even thousands – of them, sitting in neat rows gazing westward. As the Sun ducked behind the water, the birdsong became deafening. Then they all scattered.

Of course, birds use the stars for navigation, and the Sun is the most important star for all life on Earth. From a recent study:

When Alerstam and his colleagues plotted the routes taken by shorebirds, they found that migrating plovers and sandpipers were curving ever more southward as they flew east. The researchers ruled out other orientation cues and discovered the birds were using a sun compass, they report in the 12 January issue of Science. But the birds’ internal clocks can’t keep up with their nonstop movement, apparently, and they become out of phase with local time. By failing to compensate for their movement across time zones, they misread the sun’s position and veer increasingly southward. But this fortuitous mistake allows the birds to fly south in trajectories approximating the great circle routes that minimize travel distance, saving them valuable energy

Anyway, in addition to the eagle cam, I have also discovered that there are manatee cams to track the manatees that gather at Blue Springs State Park, which is about an hour away from here. I am trying to decide if it is worth driving out there this weekend (assuming work projects allow us to get away) or if there will not be many manatees.

Florida has over a thousand natural springs that form beautiful, clear rivers. The manatees swim up to these springs in the cold months because they have stable temperatures in the 70s. Like most Floridians, manatees cannot survive for very long once their environment ducks into the 60s or below. We have had some chilly days recently, but not that chilly.

Living on the Intracoastal Waterway, it is not unusual to see manatees from time to time year-round. But it would be neat to see them in these numbers, all in one place sometime.

Horseback riding and a new place for pho

I haven’t posted any pictures of the wee equestrienne lately, so here you go. Tacking up Chewy for a ride.

Walking Chewy in the ring before practice.

We have a long tradition of going out for pho on especially cold days. After a couple years in Florida, anything in the 60s now feels insufferably cold. It’s kind of difficult to believe I am the product of Finnish and Dutch immigrants.

When we moved here, there were not any Vietnamese places nearby. But this month, Tram’s Cafe opened. We are so excited to have a place walking distance away for pho. I also discovered that I really love Vietnamese coffee, which tastes a lot like Cuban coffee (and thus will probably be very popular here). The cultural fusion in Florida is always impressive. There’s nothing like sitting in a Vietnamese cafe and listening to Vietnamese, Latin, and American pop music in rotation.

I feel like I am the last person on the planet to discover bubble tea. Elise is absolutely in love with it. On the odd chance that any readers here are similarly uninitiated:

Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s. Recipes contain tea of some kind, flavors of milk, and sugar (optional). Toppings, known as “pearls”, such as chewy tapioca balls (also known as pearls or boba), popping boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, agar jelly, alovera jelly, sago and puddings are often added. Ice-blended versions are frozen and put into a blender, resulting in a slushy consistency. There are many varieties of the drink with a wide range of flavors. The two most popular varieties are black pearl milk tea and green pearl milk tea.

This will be a fun place to hang out with a book.

And the second eagle egg now has a pip. So we will have another eaglet in our neighborhood hopefully tomorrow morning. Happy days.

Matanzas Inlet before sunset

We drove up the A1A to Matanzas Inlet to determine whether it would be a good place for the maiden voyage of our new kayak. (And I think it will.) Matanzas Inlet is a channel that passes between two barrier islands and the mainland, just south of St. Augustine.

I could not believe the volume of shells remaining on this beach at the end of the day.

Matanzas Inlet has a fun (albeit gory) history:

Historic maps made by Spanish military engineers in the 18th century show that the inlet today has moved many hundreds of yards south of its location during the time of the Spanish Empire. In 1740, a British invasion force from Fort Frederica, Georgia blockaded this inlet, the southernmost access for boat travel between St. Augustine and Havana, Cuba. Shortly thereafter, in 1742, a coquina stone tower 50 feet (15 m) square by 30 feet (9.1 m) high, now called Fort Matanzas, was built by the Spanish authorities in Florida to safeguard this strategic inlet.

René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, in 1564, as a haven for Huguenot settlers. In response to the French encroachment on what Spain regarded as its territory, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine in 1565. Menéndez de Avilés quickly set out to attack Fort Caroline, traveling overland from St. Augustine. At the same time, the French sailed from Fort Caroline, intending to attack St. Augustine from the sea. The Spanish overwhelmed the lightly defended Fort Caroline, sparing only the women and children, although some 25 men were able to escape. The French fleet was driven off course by a storm, and many of the ships wrecked on the coast south of St. Augustine. When the Spanish found the main group of the French shipwreck survivors, Menéndez de Avilés ordered all of the Huguenots executed. The location became known as Matanzas (Spanish for “slaughters”).

So the part of the Intracoastal Waterway known as Matanzas River translates to Slaughter River. See also the Spanish assault on French Florida.

We did not stay for the full sunset, but this would certainly be a brilliant place to watch it. In the summertime, this area is one giant party thanks to all of the sandbars. (Floridians really put the “bar” in sandbar.) But it is calm enough now to take the kayak out, I think.

More eaglet pictures

The pictures of the eaglet I posted earlier were of the eaglet with its mother. These are with the father. Eagles form nuclear families. They mate for life and both parents have major roles in raising their offspring. Eaglets, once they mature, will return to the areas where they were born to mate and rear their young. Sea turtles do the same thing, which is why it is crucial that we protect the habitats of these threatened species.

The eaglet is up and inching around the nest now. Its giant head seems to be a little heavy. I think it is begging Dad for some fish. The eagles are so gentle with the baby.

Two more fantastic audio books

I wrote earlier about how I have been listening to audio books while on the treadmill each morning. This has been an interesting development in my world, believe it or not.

I have been somewhat surprised by (1) how quickly I move through books consuming them this way, and (2) the difference in the books I choose to listen to versus read.

I have been an enthusiastic reader all of my life. Our house is filled with thousands of books. But I’ve noticed that when I buy a physical book, either online or in a store, I pick a book that I want to keep and revisit. So my shelves are loaded with history, philosophy, languages, science, mathematics, all that. But when I buy books in electronic form, for my Kindle or on Audible, I am more willing to consume bestsellers and even content that I would consider treacle. It oddly does feel more like consuming something – like watching television or going to a theater – rather than reading. I’m not sure what to think about that. But listening to things that are more treacly than what I normally read does make my time on the treadmill more enjoyable, so there’s that. I definitely look forward to my workouts more than I did listening to Pitbull for the millionth time.

Someone recommended that I listen to a specific audio version of Anna Karenina next, so we’ll see if audio books still feel more like content than literature after listening to actual literature. (I haven’t revisited that book since high school. Certainly not proud of that.)

I have noticed that audio books have pretty much taken over homeschooling circles, as they are a seemingly effortless way to expose children to a large amount of great literature. Just yesterday, I saw a homeschooling mother brag about how her six-year-old had listened to the entirety of The Chronicles of Narnia and was walking around saying adorably pretentious things like “I have a queer feeling.” I honestly think this is a big mistake, at least for children (who are not adults with a long commute to elevate with great literature). Kids are still developing grammar, spelling, and vocabulary skills. They don’t only need to be exposed to brilliant language… They need to see how it is accomplished. Your kid is not going to come across as literate if they can’t spell all of the big words they regularly use, even if they use them correctly. And that, sadly, takes a hell of a lot of work.

Anyway, I thought I would pass along recommendations for two new audio books, and the above was perhaps more of a prelude than is useful.

The first is Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know. I confess I have not read much of Gladwell’s work, beyond what he wrote in The New Yorker. (And I haven’t read The New Yorker in a very long time, as most of what it has printed in recent years is garbage leftist politics that any random troll on Twitter could produce.) After listening to this book, however, I will probably go back and try to listen to his podcasts.

This book is about the various ways we judge whether someone is credible and how people can be duped or driven to the wrong conclusions in high-stakes events. It’s a book about how people who are considered authorities can be anything but. What makes it absolutely marvelous to listen to, however, are the stories Gladwell tells about history and current events, where people got some fraud or bad actor wrong. He talks about how Fidel Castro successfully planted spies in the highest levels of American government, how Neville Chamberlain misread Hitler, how pedophiles manipulate children, their parents, and entire institutions, the Amanda Knox case. He talks about how judges are more likely to grant bail after they’ve had lunch. He talks about forces that create unnecessarily violent cops. And this all comes down to our biases and defense mechanisms related to gauging credibility.

If you are like me and you started off with a negative view of the mainstream media, the intelligence community, and the justice system, this book is going to make you want to break things. He gets into a lot of details which simply were not covered by the media that totally sway the way you would have looked at a situation. How the construction of a narrative from certain prejudices can cause massive chaos and human cost that is hard and even impossible to correct.

As Gladwell suggests, “The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.”

The second book is Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants. I love Bryson and have read several of his books. I share his joie de vivre and look for the same sort of obscure details about the world as he does. But I can’t say I have ever heard his voice before. It took some getting used to, because he has such a professorial or grandfatherly voice, especially after listening to Gladwell, who at times sounds like he might be standing on the table as he’s speaking.

This is a beautiful book that dwells in microscopic detail (literally) about what a miracle life is. This is a book that will make you want to pray at points. Here are some samples:

The most remarkable part of all is your DNA. You have a metre of it packed into every cell, and so many cells that if you formed all the DNA in your body into a single fine strand it would stretch ten billion miles, to beyond Pluto. Think of it: there is enough of you to leave the solar system. You are in the most literal sense cosmic.

Just sitting quietly, doing nothing at all, your brain churns through more information in thirty seconds than the Hubble Space Telescope has processed in thirty years. A morsel of cortex one cubic millimeter in size—about the size of a grain of sand—could hold two thousand terabytes of information, enough to store all the movies ever made, trailers included, or about 1.2 billion copies of this book

For each visual input, it takes a tiny but perceptible amount of time—about two hundred milliseconds, one-fifth of a second—for the information to travel along the optic nerves and into the brain to be processed and interpreted. One-fifth of a second is not a trivial span of time when a rapid response is required—to step back from an oncoming car, say, or to avoid a blow to the head. To help us deal better with this fractional lag, the brain does a truly extraordinary thing: it continuously forecasts what the world will be like a fifth of a second from now, and that is what it gives us as the present. That means that we never see the world as it is at this very instant, but rather as it will be a fraction of a moment in the future. We spend our whole lives, in other words, living in a world that doesn’t quite exist yet.

In breathing, as in everything in life, the numbers are staggering – indeed fantastical. Every time you breathe, you exhale some 25 sextillion (that’s 2.5 × 1022) molecules of oxygen – so many that with a day’s breathing you will in all likelihood inhale at least one molecule from the breaths of every person who has ever lived.1 And every person who lives from now until the sun burns out will from time to time breathe in a bit of you. At the atomic level, we are in a sense eternal.

Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turn cancerous, and your immune system captures and kills them.

But there is also a lot of discussion that is plain weird, in a fascinating way:

Almost three-quarters of the forty million antibiotic prescriptions written each year in the United States are for conditions that cannot be cured with antibiotics.

The history of epilepsy can be summarised as 4,000 years of ignorance, superstition and stigma followed by 100 years of knowledge, superstition and stigma.

The greatest choking authority of all time was almost certainly a dour American doctor with the luxuriant name of Chevalier Quixote Jackson, who lived from 1865 to 1958. Jackson has been called (by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons) “the father of American bronchoesophagoscopy,” and he was most assuredly that, though it must also be said there were not a lot of other contenders. His specialty—his obsession—was with foreign objects that had been swallowed or inhaled. Over a career that lasted almost seventy-five years, Jackson specialized in designing instruments and refining methods for retrieving such objects, and in the process he built up an extraordinary collection of 2,374 imprudently ingested items. Today the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection is housed in a cabinet in the basement of the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Each object is fastidiously cataloged by age and sex of the swallower; type of object; whether it lodged in the trachea, larynx, esophagus, bronchus, stomach, pleural cavity, or elsewhere; whether it proved fatal or not; and by what means it was removed. It is presumed to be the world’s largest assemblage of the extraordinary things people have put down their throats, whether by accident or bizarre design. Among the objects Jackson retrieved from the gullets of the living or dead were a wristwatch, a crucifix with rosary beads, miniature binoculars, a small padlock, a toy trumpet, a full-sized meat skewer, a radiator key, several spoons, a poker chip, and a medallion that said (perhaps just a touch ironically) “Carry Me for Good Luck.”

The first eaglet is born!

That little ball of fluff next to the broken shell is a baby eagle. A brother or sister should also be arriving any day now. It takes eaglets about 35 days to hatch and they are born covered in soft, grey down. After four or five weeks, the eaglet starts to get proper feathers. But it takes 4 to 6 years for eagles to have all of their adult feathers. The adult eagles in this nest – named Samson and Gabrielle – are, I think, 6 years old. This is their first round of babies, and they are having them in a nest originally constructed by their parents (who, unfortunately, seem to have met a tragic end).

It has been fun watching mama trying to feed the eaglet some fish caught from the nearby Intracoastal Waterway.

Hopefully, I can get some better pictures of the fluff ball soon. You can follow along here.