Where we are with Elvis

>> Thursday, September 14, 2017

He is thirteen, which nobody considers old for a cat but is nowhere near young. A wild tom wouldn't live to such a Methuselah age and housecats didn't either until Science. Sort of a lot like humans, then; thirty-five used to be middle age and I should get to the point.

My cat is dying, not too quickly (we think) but more quickly than he would be if he didn't have cancer in his belly that has spread into his lungs. We are beyond surgery or chemo, but his vet thinks he's got eight to twelve good months if we can get him eating again and holding down what he eats. So we have medicine and hope for that and no way of knowing if he will be our boy for six months or sixteen, days or years, a moment or a while. 

But probably not the while.

There's a cliché when you mention cancer that is the reason this will be a no-comments post; lots of people like to say, "Fuck cancer," and I have no criticism of that, it's just not something I feel like reading or hearing right now. I'm not angry that my cat has cancer, and to be honest I really just feel like cancer is a thing that happens because sometimes cells just gotta be cells. I'm not angry, I'm sad and impotent and grieving and not ready for the end of the story that was in some sense inevitable when I brought Elvis home; a human being's maximum lifespan is about eighty years longer than a cat's. 

If you're reading this, odds are you're feeling love and sympathy. Thank you.

It seems shallow, maybe, that the illness or death of an animal can be more devastating to me than a human's. I can only say that human beings have agency and sentience far above what most beasts possess. If I were told I had a year to live, I could cash out my retirement and drag Kat on a whirlwind world tour. Or blow all the money on bourbon instead and try to beat my own deadline. Or join a cult. Or go nuts over so-called "alternative medicine;" perhaps try to cure death with an all-smoothie diet blended from exclusively purple fruits and vegetables. Or give away all my material things and spend every waking hour in Buddhist temples. But my cat: he may have no idea he's dying, and the quality of his remaining life of whatever length is left to me and whatever wisdom I supposedly have.

So, you know, I've cried a lot today. To the best of my knowledge, Elvis doesn't know why. If he's noticed, even.



While we're here, I'd like to say I have some wonderful people in my life. Yes, of course you guys. But also. Doctor Hartge has been wonderful through this. (She's at South Point Pet Hospital in Belmont with Doctor Dobies, who has known Elvis longer than I have. Everybody at South Point has been wonderful.  They always are.)  She didn't want to tell me what the X-ray showed over the phone, an X-ray which she just sort of decided to do because his not-eating bugged her and so she had me sign a consent for it when I dropped him off for what was supposed to just be a steroid to boost his appetite), until I insisted because I needed to know.

I got her call while I was in court.  The D.A., Mark Warshawsky, and Judge Collins continued the case I had in that courtroom just as a matter of course when I came back in the courtroom, obviously upset.

I went from there back to my office, where my boss, Kellum Morris, didn't even wait for my entire blubbered explanation before telling me to give my files for today to Elizabeth Lutz, who pretty much runs everything, for him to cover.  Elizabeth was wonderful, too.

And my wife, of course.  I drove back to Charlotte to pick her up--Belmont, where SPPH actually is, is one-third of the way from Gastonia, where I actually work, and Charlotte, where I live--and drove back out to Belmont, two-thirds of the way back to my office, because I couldn't have gotten through the details of sitting down with the vet and everything else without her, just couldn't have.

And of course there's Elvis, who doesn't know what the big deal is, who only knows he had a very bad day of car rides and poking, without the least clue of how bad it really was for him.

I don't know if any of the folks mentioned in this section other than my wife would ever read this, but thank you, all of you, thank you.




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A Norm is just the guy sitting at the end of the bar

>> Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Commentary about Trump’s behavior has tended to assume that presidential norms, once broken, are hard if not impossible to restore. This can be true, but in Trump’s case isn’t. Presidents don’t embrace their predecessors’ norm entrepreneurship unless it brings political advantage, and Trump’s hasn’t. His successors are no more likely to replicate his self-destructive antics than they would be if he yelled at the first lady during a public dinner or gave a televised address from the White House Rose Garden in his bathrobe.

Another reason presidential norms will prove resilient is that Trump’s aberrant actions have been sweepingly condemned. He has been rebuked for his attacks on investigatory independence not just by his political opponents but by more-sympathetic voices in the Republican Party and on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and even, implicitly, by his own Justice Department appointees, who have continued the Russia investigation despite his pushback. Trump’s response to the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August produced a uniform outcry that will reinforce norms for future presidents about denouncing racism and racial violence. The majority of the other presidential norms that Trump has defied will similarly be strengthened by the reactions to his behavior, and will snap back in the next presidency.

The Atlantic, October, 2017.

Goldsmith's piece is worth reading in its entirety, and I think I agree with most of what he says.  But that passage bothered me and is one of the places where I don't quite agree.

I think he's right insofar as I don't expect the next president to contradict his own cabinet nearly as often, or to spend as much time on Twitter, or to be even half as dishonest, or to attempt to get loyalty oaths from Justice Department personnel, or to misbehave as much as Trump has.  But the problem isn't that the next President will act just as Trump has; the problem is that by establishing such a low bar, Trump has given future Presidents much greater latitude for misbehavior than they previously had, and that's what's hard to come back from.

When George W. Bush came into office, he didn't have to be terribly scrupulous about tiny little technicalities like truth, he simply had to not allow an intern to perform fellatio upon him and then not lie about receiving oral sex from said intern while under oath.  I don't think we can separate the Bush administration's willingness--and ability--to lie about the casus belli for the Iraq War from the fact that the Bush administration could take cover behind Bill Clinton's lapses in integrity.  And, for better or worse, the Obama administration surely received less scrutiny over targeted killings and drone strikes than they would have received had their predecessor administration not been such a shitshow of martial incompetence that the ethics of an assassination program were subordinate to plastering over the excesses and errors the Bush administration made in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In both of the last two administrations, at least some criticism could be deflected by an implicit, "Well, hey, you don't really want to go back to the previous guys, d'ya?"  (This effect declined over time and was far less true for both administrations in their second terms than in their first, I think.)

The point is, there's a consequence to lowering expectations.  It is very possible, though by no means certain, that the next President receives some level of praise and congratulation merely for not pissing on his own shoes, in much the same way one we are still afflicted with stories and editorials about how Trump might finally be becoming "presidential" if he manages to get through a meeting with a foreign leader without burning an intelligence source or gets through a speech without going off on a mad tangent about how he really won 111% of the popular vote when you factor out all the dead illegal aliens who voted eight times each or whatever the latest version is.

I want to be clear that I don't think the damage is necessarily permanent, just that it might be more permanent and subtle than Goldsmith is allowing for, and this is one of the things that's upsetting about the Trump presidency.  (Because, y'know, we were suffering from such a shortage of things to be distressed about regarding the Trump presidency, right?)  Things tend to ratchet mostly in one direction, and when they get pulled back, they often don't get pulled back to the original baseline.  The way we pull them back, of course, is to demand a higher level of accountability and to stomp our little feet and wave our tiny fists and demand that things go back to the way they ought to have been; a problem, meanwhile, being that we may have little choice in what we settle for in retracting ourselves from this mess.  Mike Pence, for example, would be a vast improvement over the current sitting President, notwithstanding the fact that Mike Pence is a man who would face such difficulties being elected President in his own right, his easiest route to the office actually is to attach himself, shamelessly and lamprey-like, to an incompetent buffoon who freakishly beats the odds and is elected to the presidency only to get impeached eighteen months into the first term.



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Fa, fa, fa...

>> Friday, September 01, 2017

source: Wikipedia
The hillsides ring with "Free the people"
Or can I hear the echo from the days of '39?
With trenches full of poets
The ragged army, fixin' bayonets to fight the other line
- "Spanish Bombs" (Strummer, Jones)




I don't like violence.  I'm not sure if I'm still the pacifist I was when I was young, but I'm still not a fan of the real stuff.

But.  You know, I've seen a lot of folks, including folks on the left who probably mean well but should know better, drawing all these dubious equivalencies between fascists and Antifa, the leftists and anarchists who have been turning up at so-called "Alt-Right" (i.e. white nationalist) rallies to engage in the once-popular and revered hobby of Nazi-punching.  And if I can't quite, quite, quite condone throwing rocks and fists as a general proposition, I have to tell you that I cannot, will not, absolutely won't condemn anybody fighting fascists even if their methods hurt my heart on the general principle that there is already too much grief in the world.

Because.  Oh, for all sorts of reasons, because.  Because there is a noble and romantic American tradition of fighting fascists going back to the 1930s and Americans crossing the Atlantic Ocean to take up arms in Spain against Franco and his Nazi string-pullers years before the United States and Germany declared war on one another on December 11th, 1941.  And then, of course, when America and Germany did go to war, the United States went toe-to-toe with German and Italian fascists and handed them their asses before we hanged the ones who didn't conveniently off themselves first (well, the ones who didn't know any good dope about rocketry, anyway; we aren't perfect).  Because Captain America punched Hitler.  Because our grandparents crossed the waters to liberate Europe or stayed home saving cans and planting Victory Gardens.  Because our grandparents reunited and said, "Never again," and held trials in Nuremburg, signed treaties and enacted laws proscribing genocide and protecting human rights, and established the United Nations.  Because it's a national shame that even the smallest few of their grandchildren are shaving their heads like morons and spouting off rhetoric that we tried to carpet-bomb into oblivion, that we toiled and suffered and sweated and bled so that no one would hear it outside of movies about archaeologists and basterds and indestructible Brooklynites punching Nazi faces, carving Nazi faces, melting Nazi faces, throwing Nazis off of trucks and trains and out of airplanes for posterity.

Because.  Because I agree with whomever it was on social media who pointed out ever-so-aptly that if you ignore a fascist, he'll be recruiting and kicking in your doors and killing you as soon as he's able, but if you ignore an Antifa, he'd rather be eating chips and playing Pokemon GO.  Because I think it's really fucking stupid to compare somebody who is actively trying to create a dystopia with someone who would frankly rather be at home but there are fascists infesting his streets and parks.  Because if you really don't like Antifa, you can't actually have Antifa without "fa," so why don't we get rid of "fa" and then Antifa can go back to posting Myers-Briggs memes to tumblr or whatever would be a better use of not just their time but anybody's?

Because.  Because I hear liberals saying that you shouldn't throw rocks and punches at people who are peacefully protesting even if you disagree with them, and when you put it like that it certainly sounds terrible; except I don't believe for one moment that the fascists are peacefully assembling for anything.  Because even if it appears that the stories about weapons caches being found in Charlottesville have been debunked, I nevertheless see guys walking around with riot shields and their ARs, and I don't care if they have fucking permits to openly carry their God-given Second Amendment firearms, it looks to me like they're out to intimidate, minimum, and maybe shoot someone, maximum.  Because it wasn't Antifa that was posting videos about driving through crowds and then, lo and behold, will wonders ever cease, here's somebody--not Antifa--driving through a crowd and murdering a young woman.

Because.  Because I also hear some of those same hand-wringing liberals saying that if, if there are bad people showing up in the white supremacist throng, we ought to let the police handle that, etc.; and I agree with this in principle but I'll be damned in practice if I can see any reason anyone ought to think that law enforcement is prepared--or even, terrible honesty, willing--to take on armed white nationalist thugs in our streets.  Because it seems to me from recent incidents in which African-Americans were shot by cops for being lawfully armed with handguns while white guys are romping and rallying while bedecked from tip to toe with paramilitary hardware and cops are just quietly milling, you might reasonably wonder whose side the police are on.  Because I'm not a fan of people taking the law into their own hands and yet I can't really fault anyone who might be thinking the law isn't protecting anyone, or worse yet isn't there to protect them from people who are infatuated with treason and a betrayal of the bedrock American values of liberty, justice, and equality.

Because.  Because I think some of those hand-wringing conservatives aren't actually upset in principle by people arming themselves and claiming violence as a prerogative that isn't reserved to the state in a form of public trust.  Because I think what these hand-wringing conservatives, some of them, anyways, are really upset about is the unpleasant (for them) discovery that the mental image they'd assembled of the left being a bunch of faggy intellectuals obsessed with self-abasement and apologizing for their own existence turns out to be not so much.  That it turns out, you know, that some liberals are in fact willing to arm themselves and/or throw a punch or a brick, and indeed always have been.  That what really upsets them is they had this idea that they could strut around with their guns and body armor sneering at the quivering libtards and snowflake SJWs, it never having occurred to them that the reason we are so loath to resort to violence has nothing to do with incapacity or impotence, and everything to do with a deep philosophical belief that the last resort actually comes last.  That some of them never imagined, I think, that we might not be opposed to guns because we're cowards, but because we're actually opposed to guns, and we didn't want it to come to this, but if you're wanting to see how far you can push it.  That there are not just a few, but a few million of us, who could be stealing that famous old line from The Incredible Hulk TV show: don't make us angry... you wouldn't like us when we're angry.

And thus and so: no, I'm not sure I can approve.  Leastaways, I didn't want to approve.

But I'm not, I'm surely not, I'm truly not going to condemn.





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The Golgafrinchan Imperative

>> Thursday, August 24, 2017

Belatedly, it occurs to me that we could kill all of our birds with one great rock--the neo-secessionists, the Confederate statuary, the white nationalists, Trump, Trump's supporters, the evil ineptitude of Congressional Republicans who want to destroy any semblance of a social safety net without even knowing how to go about destroying it, the people who prefer guns to guaranteed healthcare, the border wall, the crazed libertarians who think they'd be missed if they went Galt (please, please, don't let us stop you), the nihilistic trolls who spout fascist idioms because they somehow think it's "fun," all of it--all of it in one swell foop.  I cannot take credit for the idea, honestly: it is stolen from one of the 20th Century's greatest minds.  But it hasn't been considered in a long while, and it absolutely should be.

You see, we could designate an area--Mars seems like a nice one, or better yet Venus... or maybe someplace with a nice ocean view, like Ceres.  And we call that the United States of America.

Okay, yes, you're right.  There's an obvious problem with this plan, which is that the rest of us are going to have to do a lot of paperwork and make a number of adjustments, and it's grossly unfair that we will have to call ourselves something else like "The United States of North America" or "The United Alt-States of Alt-America" or "New Sweden" or whatever.  And we'll have to swap out all our current currency, although if you're like me and do most of your shopping with your debit card and nearly never carry cash anymore, that one's a big "enh."  We could start calling our money "Wacky Credits!" and I probably wouldn't notice.

But anyway, we tell all these people that the United States is on Ceres, or we could go farther out if you really wanted.  I mean, there's no real reason to even stay in the Solar System if you think about it--we're now discovering other planets all over the place, and surely any of them could be the United States of America, dated retroactively to July 4, 1776 or December 25, 1, whatever makes our Real Americans happiest.  Sure; 's'all good.  We probably found a planet around Betelgeuse or Aldebaran or someplace, right, somebody look that up for me?  Point is, if you want to live in the United States, oops, somehow you ended up not in the United States and you need to chase that dream, right?  All aboard for America!

Okay, okay, I can see this idea needs refinement.  Like, for instance, tech sector libertarians who made their ghost fortunes on getting investors to throw money into black holes labeled "the sharing economy" or "disruption" or "the cloud" or whatever's in these days, and who want to take all their Bitcoins somewhere tax-free where there are no restrictive government regulations like "Employees must be paid" and "Employees must be allowed to go to the bathroom" and "No, you can't hire six year olds no matter how conveniently small their hands are," those guys (and they're mostly guys, ever notice?), they may have to go on their own ship so we can tell them that their destination is one of those extraterritorial micronations, which would be technically true, you know.  "Oh sure, you never heard'a Fomalhaut?  Randian paradise.  Absolutely no feminists and SJWs within 15 trillion miles, you know."

It occurs to me that one or two of you who are raising your hands want to tell me that the necessary technology isn't in place; that we do not have sufficiently reliable rockets; that the distances involved are so vast that it would take millennia for these vessels to reach their destinations; that we do not know how to provide these travelers with conveniences like air and water for their journey; that the perils of deep space are unknown and unprepared for; that we don't know if any of these worlds are actually habitable (or that some of them obviously aren't) (or if some of them even exist at all); that only complete idiots would fall for pointing at the sky and yelling "Hey look, America is now in outer space, why are you still here?!"  I respectfully submit that such objections suggest you haven't really given this quite as much thought as I have.

Ah, yes.  I see hands going down.  Thank you for your time and consideration.






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Some thinks about the persistence of statuary

>> Thursday, August 17, 2017

So, this week it's Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
- Donald Trump and lots of other guys.

I.

So there's a perfectly practical matter here that's not inconsequential even if it's not a big moral or philosophical argument, and that would be that Washington and Jefferson, you know, won their war while Lee and Jackson didn't.  Which is important because if Washington and Jefferson had lost their war, and had fallen into the hands of the British, well, no doubt they would have been hanged as traitors and there wouldn't be any statues of them to speak of, and any commemoration of them would have been in the same vein as British celebrations of Guy Fawkes' night, i.e. a celebration of the preservation of the monarchy that gradually turns ironic; you'd probably have troublemaking artistes like Alan Moore going around saying, "Remember Jefferson!" and using this reference to a vaguely-remembered insurrectionist as a grand metaphor for the importance of repudiating Thatcherism or somesuch.

And so, also, we need to point out that treason, which in the United States is defined as "levying War against them [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort," (which is something Lee and Jackson totes did in front of literally thousands of witnesses, and not merely the two necessary to secure a conviction) has traditionally been punished throughout the world by death.  It's one of the primo capital crimes, partly because trying to destroy civilization is about as transgressive a crime against civilization as civilization can contemplate, and also because there's a long history of people who fail to overthrow the government the first time around coming back and trying again (and again and again and again) if given the opportunity.  It's probably only in the post-WWII era that countries like Britain and France that outlawed the death penalty switched to handing out life sentences for treason, because (obviously) it's hard to sentence someone to death for treason when you have no death sentences (duh).  Having pointed this out, to then point out that the United States exercised considerable forbearance after the Civil War in not hanging Confederates or lining them up in front of firing squads, as the main issue with how to deal with traitors up to that point had been whether to go with the traditional rope or the ease and convenience offered by contemporary firearms.

All of which leads us to a statement about just how crazy and screwed up the United States is, and how screwy the Civil War was, and how screwy all this stuff about Confederate statuary is: because there's actually a debate or discussion to have about how the leaders of the Confederacy were regarded after the war, and that debate or discussion is concerned with whether those guys should all have been killed or not, and was the decision not to do so moral or pragmatic, necessary or expedient, just or political, etc.?  And how crazy is it that we aren't having that debate or discussion, instead having a discussion or debate about how to honor these guys who in just about any other war in any other place at any other time would have been strung up and buried in unmarked graves with no fanfare?  Right?  I mean, that is really, really, really messed up, right there.  Just the fact these guys ended up being honored with marble or bronze instead of hemp is messed up, and then the rest of it?  Damn.


II.

Aside from the practical fact that Washington and Jefferson won, and winners typically don't get hanged for treason while losers do (or did until countries started outlawing capital punishment, anyway), we should talk about civic virtue and mythology and cultural aspiration and things like that.

The fact is that there is a necessary and important discussion to be had about Washington and Jefferson as slaveowners and, for that matter, as human beings, and how they went out and stood for one thing in public but often failed to live up to their mythic personas in messy reality.  It's kind of stupid that I have to write that sentence that way, as if that discussion isn't actually being had, because, actually, lots of people are having that frank discussion, mostly on university campuses and in academic papers and at various conferences.  These were complex guys who often failed to live up to the ideals they espoused, or to the implications of those ideals, and this isn't a shocking notion to anyone who has taken a college semester covering early American history at any time in the past, oh, fifty years or more.

Jefferson, in fact, if you want to be blunt about it, was a bit of a two-faced, lying, hypocritical cunt-dripping when you actually get down to it; I think you could make the case that the ugliness that entered into the bitter political fighting of the early Republic came not from the profound ideological, economic, and regional differences among the Founding Fathers, but from the fact that one of them, whose name rhymed with "Mommas Beffershun," was a backstabbing son-of-a-bitch who went around in public sanctimoniously announcing he was above mundane partisanship and self-interest while in private he conspired, betrayed, and hired people to slander his rivals, and if he'd dropped dead of a stroke after authoring the Declaration of Independence it's conceivable that the rest of the Founders would still have had bitter arguments about federalism, representation, slavery, and all the rest, but would have been much more polite about it.  Maybe not.  But Jefferson was a rat bastard.

A rat bastard who, you know, penned what is arguably the single greatest paean to the Rights of Man ever written, and there's the rub, that's the thing.  And this is one of the big reasons one expects statues of Jefferson to stick around despite the actual man's propensity for slandering his friends, fleeing his enemies after talking a lot of smack about "watering the tree of Liberty," owning human beings, screwing said human beings (I'm not going to even begin to touch the issue of whether having a complicated lifelong sexual relationship with your slave is rape, but I'm not saying it isn't and I want us to be clear that this is out there and we don't get to simply ignore it), and perennially defaulting on his debts.  It surely wasn't Jefferson's intention to pen the best argument ever penned for liberating the same people he enslaved, but he did it.  It may or may not have been his intention that revolutionaries from Haiti to Indochina would take up the Declaration of Independence and liberally quote him while announcing they weren't going to settle for anything less than determining their own destinies, but that's exactly what happened.

And Washington, you know... Washington.  Slave-owner, kind of a hypocrite, no, doesn't really get a pass for freeing his slaves after a lifetime of enslaving them (would have been nice to do that, you know, maybe decades earlier if it meant that much to you, guy); but also, first President of the United States, successfully prosecuted a war in the name of liberty and freedom and equality, refused to be crowned king, established the informal tradition that lasted until FDR of stepping down after two terms that was subsequently written into the Constitution after FDR broke with the conventional practice (had a good excuse, middle of WWII and all, but still).  These things matter, these things show up on the man's balance sheet.

A point that needs to be made here, with all the people saying absurd things about "whitewashing history" or "erasing history" is that we don't really put up statues to remember history, we put these things up to establish the civic mythology.  We remember that Jefferson was a slave-owner and a nasty guy; but we celebrate that he wrote that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," and this was such an amazingly clear and inspiring thing to have written down that slaves could subsequently go around saying, "What that guy said!" and quoting this self-evident truth back at the author's heirs for generations to come.  We remember that Washington was kind of not-that-great as a military leader and his presidential administration was kind of a mess, and that his war effort was salvaged by French and Prussian adventurers who thought it would be cool to join the Revolution and offer advice to its general and whip his irregulars into shape; but we celebrate that he did all he could to establish a political culture and tradition of citizenship, in which civilians would give themselves up to public life and duty so long as their nation needed their services, and then retire with grace and humility exactly as Cincinnatus was said to have done.

The superficial comparison one can make from this to Lee or Jackson falls apart like wet Kleenex, you know.  What is there to celebrate in a pair of oath-breakers who stood up against human freedom in support of... what?  Not a nation, but a region?  For a principle (anti-federalism or "state's rights") that was already faltering as the Republic's westward expansion and increasing global importance as a regional power and economic partner demanded a stronger centralized government with the authority to negotiate trade and military agreements with similarly powerful states?  I mean, what are we celebrating here, if we put a gloss on what so many of us know is actually being celebrated?

By which I mean: the answer to the question of "What are we celebrating?" with the Confederate statuary is readily answered by observing that most of them were erected in the era of counter-Reconstruction, alongside the enactment of Jim Crow laws, while a great revisionism of Civil War history was underway that re-framed the battle as a heroic effort to quash Federal overreach instead of a pathetic and desperate attempt by less than half of the country to undo the Constitution to preserve an immoral and unsustainable economic and social order dependent on racism and chattel slavery against the wishes of the remaining more than half of the country.  I just wanted to make the point that if you gloss this--which, really, you shouldn't, but let's do it as an intellectual exercise--what Lee and Jackson fought for was small and stupid, especially compared to what Washington and Jefferson were standing for.  Got it?

Like, Jefferson's out there saying, "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights," and Lee is out there saying, "I sure love Virginia a whole lot!"?  I mean, fuck that guy.  Seriously.  I'm from North Carolina.  We didn't betray our country until we were surrounded, which is a sad, small excuse, but I'd at least ask respectfully for an acknowledgement that we didn't wind up on the wrong side of history until being a Border State was no longer an option because, thanks Virginia.  So fuck Virginia, and fuck Robert E. Lee. At least in this context, because otherwise it's a lovely state and there are plenty of nice things you can say about it in other contexts.


III.

The thing with slippery slope arguments, besides being logical fallacies and all that, is that they don't really work if the threat... isn't all that threatening.  Like, remember when that Trump supporter went on TV and said that if you didn't elect Trump there would be taco trucks on every corner, and everybody who wasn't some kind of bug-eyed racist went, "Mmm, tacos, drool"?   The good old days, and I guess something else we can blame the President for is that it's lunchtime and I'm typing this and I can't just take five from it to run downstairs and outside and up to the corner and buy a delicious, delicious empanada?  Or better yet, two?  With that dipping sauce, not the chimichurri but the other kind that's, I guess, sour-cream based but it's orange?  What is that stuff?  That is just the best--

Sorry.

Anyway, you get some people saying, "Well, what's next, taking down statues of Washington and Jefferson?"  Which is supposed to be a--I really hate that this country has turned this expression into an inexecrable pun by electing that man President--supposed to be a trump card?  Because this would be utterly terrible, for... reasons?  If this happened?

I don't see it happening, because of the things I rambled about in section II.  I think Washington and Jefferson, unlike Lee and Jackson, are integral to this nation's ideas about itself as a nation of citizens who serve the public and who stand for liberty and justice and freedom from tyranny.  And also because of the things I rambled about in section I, because maybe statues of Lee and Jackson could be justified if they'd successfully founded a nation based on, oh, whatever (slavery, but did I need to spell that out?), but they didn't, so there.

But what if it did?  What if some future generation of Americans decided that Washington and Jefferson were no longer sound symbols of what America represented?  Why would that be inherently bad?  I'm not saying I would be happy if they tore down the statues of Washington and replaced them with statues of George Lincoln Rockwell, because, yes, that would make me very sad and I hope I never live long enough to see something like that.  But assuming whatever went up in lieu was some other brighter, shininger symbol of an Enlightenment-values state founded on democratic and republican principles, dedicated to the establishment of a beacon to guide the world to embracing liberty, equality, and justice-for-all, so what if for some reason it's not specifically George Washington?  I expect it will be, because traditions, but so what if it isn't?

What if it was, say, Abraham Lincoln?  Would that be so terrible?  I don't know, it sounds like it could be kind of nice.  Lincoln was good people.  We should all revere and admire that guy.  Not perfect, none of them were, but we should all like Lincoln if we aren't fascist moron bastards.

To some extent, obviously, we erect statues and memorials to establish traditions, to encourage future generations to venerate the ideals we venerate now.  Geez, that's why the Daughters of the Confederacy came to buy in the first place all these goddamn statues we're trying to figure out how to dispose of now.  They wanted everybody to remember our treasonous progenitors as people who were dashing and good-looking and just as concerned with freedom as people who wrote an Emancipation Proclamation or who invested Vicksburg to make it harder for pro-slavery people to shoot abolitionists.  There's limits, though, to how much we can pass along or how they'll take it; if future generations decide Jefferson isn't really how they want to personify human rights, that's for them.

I get, I really do get, that the idea of future generations abandoning earlier generations' symbols (and perhaps values) is a thing that people understandably get worked up about.  I get it because I would like future generations to share my values, and get horribly depressed whenever I contemplate how few of my values seem to have real traction in the present era.  But, you know, things change unless we're all dead.  That's how things work.  Mostly, slowly, they change for the better despite occasional setbacks.  Living things, including cultures, grow or they die.  That's it.  That's the iron law.

Removing a statue of Robert E. Lee now is a big deal because the statue should never have been erected, the question should be why we didn't hang the man and not how he should be honored, it sends a dubious message to present generations at best and a hostile message to many of our citizens (and not just persons of color, mind you) at worst, and removal sends a positive message of hope and change to people who have been waiting for hope and change since January 1, 1863; they're due.  We're due.  Whether or not removing a statue of Thomas Jefferson is a big deal at some unspecified point in the future in the improbable event such a thing actually ever happens is... to be determined.  I'm not scared.  Are you?  For crying out loud, why would you ever be?




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August 14, 2017-- Thoughts that I tried to put together, nearly deleted, decided to publish, no answers, only doubt and grief

>> Monday, August 14, 2017

I find myself more sad than angry, somehow.  I find myself feeling an inarticulate to express pity for my country and my people.  I don't mean to say there's no anger.  There is.  But anger is exhausting, anger leaves you feeling brittle and impotent, and when the anger has burned itself out what is left standing are the brittle, flaking, ashen bones of sorrow.

There.  I went and tried to articulate it and wandered into a cheap stab at poetry.

What is new is old.  I know that; I'm not entirely stupid.  The people who went to Charlottesville with violence and rage are hardly distinguishable from the bastards who burned down Greenwood in 1921 or committed a municipal coup d'etat in Wilmington in 1898.  They've spent a hundred-fifty-years plus marching and shouting and lynching and shooting and burning.  They're on the Internet, now, but they used to have pamphlets and leaflets and fliers, you know, and books you could send for by mail.

What I am, I think, if I'm not stupid, is naive.  I grew up with an idea of a future in which the past was the past, where the great lesson of the Second World War was that the xenophobia and racial rage was a thing fading into the past.  The dreamers I suckled from throughout my childhood came from the generation that fought and won and was stricken by the horrors of that war, and they insisted that if we didn't learn from the horrors wreaked by fascism in places like Poland and Nanjing, we'd be bound to repeat them with the added convenience of atom bombs.  And, okay, you'd still see the odd Klansman, Jesse Helms was one of my state's Senators, the skinheads were packing up and moving to Idaho and collecting guns; but these were the lunatic fringe, weren't they?  These were the people who were dying.

If so, easy to forget that a dying animal can turn mad and stupid.

Too often these days I find myself thinking that the intelligentsia made a terrible mistake in the 1980s when we didn't take the reactionaries at their word when they declared a culture war was in progress.  It seems to me that too many of us shook our heads and tried to be conciliatory; "What are these people thinking?" we asked.  "Nobody is declaring a war on faith, on Jesus, on American values, on Christmas, on their way of life," we said.  Not realizing that we had, indeed, declared war on their values inadvertently, accidentally, with good intent and largeness of heart, because we misunderstood and misconstrued those values; because we believed that all people are good at heart and all humans are rational creatures at some fundamental root of intellect; because we believed that the bright shining future would be one that was ultimately, inherently virtuous and good because it promised more equality, more justice, more peace, more fairness; not understanding at all that what some people wanted was the security of the familiar order even when the familiar order preyed upon them and theirs, even when the familiar order bloomed in a bed of iniquity from wicked seed.

We ought to have just said, "You're absolutely right," and damned them in every way we could.

But writing this brings me grief.  This is the part that may be hardest to explain.  This may even be why we may lose, why we don't even have a future, much less the postwar dream.  I do not know how to destroy my enemy.  I do not want to burn his churches, I do not want to run him down in the street.  I would let him go off somewhere he could do no more harm and have his little church and his little pride in his own righteousness and wait for him to die, recklessly confident his children will abandon him because I want to believe in their goodness at heart and fundamental rationalism.  I do not know or want to know how to use his weapons: the guns and sticks and fire and animal rage.  I do not want to learn how to fight on his terms--the thought makes me ill and brings me tears.


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A new theory of Trump

>> Friday, July 21, 2017

Lately, my junk e-mail folder has been accruing conservative spam.  I have a couple of non-exclusive hypotheses for this.  One explanation is that I seem to get a lot of junk e-mail that appears to be directed to a digital doppelganger whose name could be compressed and truncated into something that would produce my e-mail address if he'd registered for it before I did; this gentleman (yes, he appears to be male) would, based on how some of my spam is addressed, be an elderly, conservative African-American who resides or previously resided in Pennsylvania.  The other likely explanation is that somebody, a friend, acquaintance, or nemesis who had my e-mail address has signed me up for spam from certain websites as a joke or prank or annoyance.

You find yourself conflicted by this kind of thing: on the one hand, it's annoying to get some of these mailings even if they go straight to a spam folder and can be deleted en masse and unread.  On the other hand, they are an insight into the Other America, and frankly some of them are pretty funny (although they surely don't mean to be).  And then there's the skepticism I have about clicking on any de-registration links, seeing as how telling them not to send something to my e-mail would confirm they had a live one, not to mention the risk of exposing yourself to some kind of cyberattack if the source site is actually phishing.

Plus, on top of all else?  The possibility, as unbelievable as it may seem, that one of these random junk mailings, should you open it and read it, will give you the insight you've been missing the entire time, the insight that may very well explain the true hidden agenda of the Trump administration and things like the President's recent New York Times interview.

The e-mail I received this week is a spam flier from something called... well, merely naming them doesn't quite do things justice, so here's their masthead:


An anxiety aggregator clickbait site for conservatives, in short.  All the news that's misfit to print.  Discover the truth, read about the world going to hell in a handbasket, click on this headline, no, click on this one, click the headlines, all the headlines, click like the fate of the world depends upon it, which it does!  Also, advertisements.  And it was the advertising, not the headline, "Thousands of Mink Dead After Activists Release 38,000 From Fur Farm," that opened my eyes.  I was blind, and now I see.  No, not because they wanted to sell me glasses.  Because they wanted to sell me this:





Now, my first reaction to this was exactly what I anticipate yours to be: inarticulate laughter, seeing as how it seems improbable that Dr. Ben Carson could research his way out of a paper bag if you left one end of it open for him.  But that ad was only the advert at the top of the e-mail for the product they want to sell the elderly right-wing paranoids of America.  No, the big reveal came down at the bottom of the mailer, with the follow-up advert-disguised-as-a-headline:



Now, my first reaction was... well, I don't know if it was your first reaction or not; your first reaction may have been identical to your reaction to the first ad--what kind of research, etc.; but my first reaction was to wonder why Dr. Carson was trying to snort a brain.  Is he smelling it for freshness?  Kissing it?  Is there some kind of taste-testing that brain surgeons perform as part of their work, the way a chef or bartender might check to see if a dish or glass needs something?  Salt, maybe?  That is an extremely strange photograph.  I am not sure what is happening in that image.  Maybe it is just a kiss: maybe Dr. Ben Carson really, really loves brains, and I don't mean in a Return of the Living Dead sort of brain-loving sense, but maybe more in the Hugo the Abominable Snowman will name him "George" sense.  Though, in which case, maybe you should... I don't know how hugging and petting and squeezing and patting and petting and rubbing and caressing a brain fits in with modern surgical sterilization procedures, but... forgive me, I'm not a doctor and I do not at all mean to overstep professional boundaries and expertise, but maybe the brain stays in the head?  Usually?

But then my eyes re-read the lines beneath the weird check-the-brain-for-freshness photo (I wonder of they're like eggplants and you can tell the gender from the shape of where the root connec--never mind), and it took me another re-read and maybe even a third to be the charm, and something connected--

"Ben Carson's Newest Research Triples Memory In 21 Days!"  [emphasis added and all that]

"Memory," did it say?  "Memory"?!  They're claiming, as improbable as it may seem, that Dr. Carson is researching memory?

And that's when I understood.  Or, maybe that's overstating, insofar as I have no evidence for what I am about to propose other than a snake-oil advertisement disguised as a news headline in a spam e-blast sent out in the hope it will reach somebody dumb enough to buy unprescribed non-FDA-approved memory enhancement pills online from persons unknown.

What if... what if the reason for the Trump Administration's behavior to date is... that Ben Carson has the entire Administration on drugs?!

I mean, think about it: you're Dr. Ben Carson, brain specialist extraordinaire, a scientific maverick who has licked things no other researcher would dare to lick.  They called you mad, mad, MAD!!!, M@DDFSFDDFSD! in medical school, but you persisted, guided by a unique vision and the knowledge that you, and you alone, could find a cure for memory.  Lapses.  Memory lapses.  You should probably clarify that in a future draft.  Yes, memory, that elusive quality of the mind that has eluded philosophers and scientists alike for millions of years, and you could be the one to solve the great enigmatic mystery!  You!

But you need test subjects, and test subjects are expensive and hard to get.  You can advertise for them, but then you get that weirdo in a diaper knocking at your door at 3 a.m. again.  You can hire them, but that's expensive and RFP paperwork is confusing and eats up time from the all-too-brief mortal span during which you should be sciencing all the science you can science.  Lab rats are sort of traditional, but their brains are small and tend to get stuck on the end of your tongue and you always end up either messing up the brain trying to get it out of your mouth or you end up having to swallow it, destroying years of valuable research.

And then you get this opportunity to work in Washington DC as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, hobnobbing with all these folks who, as it happens, have lots of stuff to remember, stuff like having secret meetings with Russian agents is wrong, and whether you promised to get rid of healthcare for people or give everybody all the healthcare, and that you're not supposed to tell everybody you meet about the cool spy stuff you learned yesterday, and where your tax returns are, and who Napoleon was, and just, just, just so much stuff.  And these folks, they'll help a buddy out, right?  There's a pill, you say?  To cure memory?  Sign me up for ten bottles!  No, wait, double that, make it twelve bottles!

And now you're really fracking with gas!  Everybody in the Administration is now taking your not-yet-patented memory pills, why, Attorney General Jeff Sessions just ordered six more jars of Doctor Carson's Memory Magic (trademark pending) and is snorting them... from a Pez dispenser... which is actually a problem and kind of disturbing, because, I dunno, probably shouldn't do that but if you're gonna, maybe you ought to grind them up or something?  Jared and Steve don't want to say anything that might be taken as a slight, so they're just slipping them to each other in one another's meatloaf and ice cream (only one scoop apiece, sad) and wowee, they are rememorizing the hell out of everything--why, Bannon didn't even realize he spent six hours standing in front of Albert Bierstadt's "Rocky Mountain Landscape," memorizing every last detail of it (obviously) to the point that he knew so much about the painting he couldn't even answer any questions about it because he didn't know where to begin describing it!

It all makes sense, doesn't it!  I mean, maybe it makes sense.  It could make sense.  Okay, okay, fine, a mix of stupidity, cupidity, profound ignorance, and maybe just a smidge of incipient senile dementia (seriously, did you read this week's NYT interview?!) would, possibly, maybe, maaaaaybe satisfy Occam's Razor's demand for parsimony better than my new theory that Dr. Ben Carson has the entire upper levels of the Administration tanked to the gills on a really ineffective memory enhancement treatment.  I mean, "ineffective" in the sense of, "Dear God, you're only making it worse" sense, obviously.  And there's the rebuttal, admittedly, that a lot of the people we're discussing seemed pretty stupid even before they started grabbing Dr. Carson's hand and aggressively jerking it towards them under the pretense of a civil handshake.  So that's two strikes against my explanation.  Fine.  Go on and win with your... "logic," and your... "evidence."

But, and give me this much: you have to admit that Ben Carson going around the White House giving everybody he meets his new "memory enhancer"--you have to admit that it's a pretty great theory on the merits, if not on the actual, you know, evidence side of things.  My theory, which is mine, that is to say, this theory that belongs to me--you know, either you already got that reference or you didn't, and I'm too lazy to link because I'm really just trying to wrap up here; as I was saying, my theory ought to be true, and I'm going to embrace it periodically and suggest you do the same even if you don't really believe, even if I have utterly failed to convince you, because in the years of sorrow and frustration ahead it may be a small spark in the darkness to imagine Ben Carson bursting into the Oval Office to announce that he's here to make sure nobody suffers from memory aga--MEMORY DEFICITS, YOU KNOW, FORGETTING STUFF, IS WHAT HE MEANT TO SAY--as he was starting to say in your imagination before you closed your eyes to sleep, he's here to cure the evil scourge of memory forever.



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