Showing posts with label Ruh-Roh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ruh-Roh. Show all posts

Monday, August 10, 2020

Random Barking: You Know That

Everybody Knows

...And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows
         -- Leonard Cohen

We live in an anthropocentric world of social and political constructs, dominating the natural biosphere. That structure is composed of more layers than we can imagine, constantly interacting: a terrible beauty. 

We can't know how those layers interrelate with each other. Data and technology can reveal, even predict cause-and-effect interactions between some layers in the constructed world. But no one can have a god-view of the entire system. This makes a definite future difficult to predict.

As animals, we're hardwired for sensory input; every waking minute we navigate our constructed world, we take in information. We consider what we see as fact; or we reject it as false (it's not either/or; more a spectrum of relative value judgments). 

How we determine that is affected by our personal histories and emotional drivers -- and it's happening, for the most part, unconsciously, moment-to-moment.  And those emotional levers are notoriously easy to manipulate. Advertisers, social media oligarchs, megachurch 'pastors' and politicians know this.

Factually, all this is as much as we can know about how we are as thinking animals and the world we are living in. It's an intentionally simplified description, but stops here -- where a pitch by carny barkers, cults, social media platforms or political parties normally begins.

There are religious and metaphysical perspectives, too. I make a joke out of having once met the Dalai Lama (asking if he'd seen Caddyshack), but I was able to pose another question: Was there one passage or observation which he felt summarized the teachings and the way of the Buddha? The Lama -- who never stopped smiling -- considered for a moment, then said, "Do your best."


None of our basic assumptions about America are complete or correct. We've mostly been content to live as resources and participants in a materialist culture, having The Good Life that the Promise Of America is supposed to provide. We've been drifting along on assumptions about what America is, what our national priorities are, where we as a society we should go. Not even the 2008 Recession shook us out of our complacency.

Before Covid, most Americans assumed America wasn't perfect, but things are way better than they were in the past. Economic and racial inequality takes a long time to address! 2008? Well, we came back from that (or, most did). As long as people could pay their way, America appeared to be a progressive society. 

Unless you're Black. Or Latino. Or Native American. Or Poor. Or an Immigrant. Or 'Other'. If so, then they already understood the High School Civics Class View of America was not based on their lives. They already understood what the knee on the back of George Floyd's neck felt like.

All of the metrics of the Pandemic have already been reported: the unemployed, the shuttered businesses; the evictions; the dead, the populations at risk. The Great Recession wasn't a mortal blow to America. But the Pandemic might be


When not talking about SARS-CoV2, my friends in America are focused on the November election. They see it in traditional terms: Either / Or.  They're the "Democrats" (or 'Progressive Independents'; or 'Left', anyway),  in opposition to "Republicans" or 'The Right'. They see the result of this contest as pivotal, a critical juncture; I agree. But the unspoken assumption is, Once Biden is elected, everything can go back to the way it was

This is based on the ideal that American society and culture really are progressive, egalitarian. My friends -- some of whom have children -- want a good outcome for our collective future. So do I... but I realize we're looking at our current state through different lenses.

They believe the fundamental layers of America -- our collective assumptions -- are real. That they are strong enough to see us through this crisis. That the rise of an armed, delusional Right, the revelations of bottomless greed and vulpine mendacity of The Wealthy; the absolutely chilling, child-sacrificing heartlessness of right-wing politicians, over just the past seven months, will disappear, swept away by a 'Blue Wave'. I feel those assumptions are laughably naive. 


America is everything in our memory and our lives tomorrow; but what we were taught are a fiction. This isn't a new revelation -- but for generations, only marginalized, ignored Americans have been saying it: that our national history is incomplete. It ignores and marginalizes Slaves; Native Americans; Women; Non-Christians; Immigrants; Commerce and War; Wealth and Inequality. 

But the most incomplete part of our national history is that there really is a One-One-Hundredth, a One-One-Thousandth of the One Per Cent who own the majority of everything worth having. With the exception of noveau riche newcomers like a Bezos or Gates, a Musk or Ellison or Zuckerberg, you never hear about the truly Rich.  They are behind a curtain, living and playing in places you will never hear about or see in photographs, let alone be allowed to enter. 

The history of politics has always been a struggle between the representatives of Our Wealthy, and those speaking for The People, to wrest concessions from the Rich on behalf of the rest of us.  Everybody knows there is one system for Them, and another for us. Since the Gilded Age, 150 years ago, this has never been made clearer in America as now. 

They care about their families first, then those in their class. Everyone else is only important relative to our usefulness to Their interests. Politicians, the judicial system; even laws are inconveniences, things to be manipulated. 

They view society not as a structure of cooperation, but a mechanisim created to satisfy their desires and further their interests. To Them, the notion of 'Freedom' does not include the visions of a John Lewis, Dr Martin Luther King, a Dietrich Bonhoffer or Mahatma Gandhi. It does not apply to you and me.

And, they absolutely do not care at all what happens to you.  When a Covid-19 vaccine is developed, it will be provided to Them, first, because they are The Best, and Our Owners. The rest of us will wait; some will die. 

If you say all this makes the wealthy sound like monsters, I won't disagree. They are.


An opinion piece in today's WaPo notes that we are in a 'Pandemic Depression': Covid-19 has stressed all the fractures in our society at once -- racial, economic, gender; generational; political. But our past seven months of terror, suffering and cruelty were the result of the last four years of corrupt, incompetent authoritarian rule. 

And the Past four years were led by a Prologue: thirty-five years of right-wing talk radio and 'news': Limbaugh, Weiner, Murdoch; Sinclair, Mercer. Corporate media. The unbridled, savage expansion of personal wealth and societal power in the hands of the wealthy and conservative politicians, conservative judges. It will not vanish with a Democratic president. 

This is the malignancy which America's political right and Trump have bequeathed the country. It can't be walked back. We don't have the political cohesion to accomplish it. Republicans have shown themselves openly to be craven, ruinous opportunistic liars and toadies, and they will resist any change just to protect their bloodstained reputations. They are scum; no mistake.

But, let's be clear: Democrats are almost as corrupt as the Rethugs. Their campaigns are financed by the same wealth that pays the Right: it's equal-opportunity bribery. If our society isn't cohesive enough to heal our most serious divisions, the Democratic National Committee doesn't have the political will or desire. 

Many in the DNC want a return to Obama-era neoliberalism, the continuing march of globalism. Everything the way it was, with vaccines. Don't believe it? Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is being denied a speaking slot at the Democratic Convention. But, She Who Will Not Be Denied, Hillary, will speak. So will her shiny Bill-O. They will be the Voices Of Our Hopes.

At least the Republicans are more open about what they are.


This is what Covid has done for us. It's made it easier to see and feel the weight of our collective cognitive dissonance around what America is. That the notion of race and social equality, getting better all the time, is a fiction. That what truly matters in America is how much money and influence you have, the color of your skin. 

For someone who's served, in more ways than one; taken oaths; to finally come to an understanding of what it is you'd been in love with is difficult. I'm not talking about some popularized 'woke' meme, adopting a perspective because it's Trending. It's a gut-level understanding that you've been wrong. My grandfather would have said: Du hast die Realität falsch verstanden; you have misjudged the reality around you. You're not sure where that takes you, but you're going to have to let it settle and live with it

Dashiel Hammett used to say that, when he came into a city, all he wanted to know was 'Who runs the cops?' Who are the real bosses? This is what we need to ask ourselves, going forward. It's the same question people ask in Putin's Russia, or Lukashenko's Belarus, Bolsonaro's Brazil, Orban's Hungary or Jinping's China. Who do we need to avoid, or bow to, just to keep living our lives?

The polite fiction of our country as egalitarian, a nation of laws, with two separate and different political parties offering a free choice of different perspectives, will continue until it becomes an encumbrance. Those of us who still have jobs will hang on to a vision of America as the freest place on earth, while watching Federal 'police' on the streets, rounding up the angry and the unruly and the hungry. 

Do Your Best.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Reprint Heaven: Oh; So *That's* What They Call It

(This, from January Of 2010. We already knew what it was that was killing us.) 

In order to make decisions, human beings need information -- as clear, reliable, and precise as we can get; in other words, the Truth. Without it, complex decisions involving a consensus, or even something as simple as meeting someone for a movie, is almost impossible.

[A log time] ago (on the day of Barack Obama's Inauguration as the 44th President of the United States, in fact), Clive Thompson of Wired Magazine posted an article about the work of Robert Proctor, a Historian of Science at Stanford University.

Cover Of Wired, January, 2009 (Photo: Wired Magazine)

Proctor has said that, ordinarily, the more information we have about a subject, the clearer it becomes. However, when contentious subjects are involved, our usual relationship to information is reversed -- ignorance increases.

As Proctor argues [notes Thompson], when society doesn’t know something, it’s often because special interests work hard to create confusion. Anti-Obama groups likely spent millions insisting he’s a Muslim; church groups have shelled out even more pushing creationism. The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before.

“People always assume that if someone doesn’t know something, it’s because they haven’t paid attention or haven’t yet figured it out,” Proctor says. “But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what’s true and what’s not.”
 (emphasis added)

Proctor has also coined a term to describe this condition -- Agnotology: Culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working hard to create confusion and suppress the truth. Proctor coined it from the Greek, agnōsis, "not knowing"; the condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.

Daily, second by second, we take in millions of bits of information about the world around us. Matrix-like, that shifting curtain of input shapes our sense of consciousness about that world -- and while most of it has to do with events happening to us, personally, what we listen to, see and read through culturally-designated sources for information is also part of that input.

United Press' Newsroom, In New York City, 1960's (Photo: UPI)

The job of a news reporter, on network television or in the pages of newspaper, was once to determine facts -- Who, What, Where, When, and Why; the Truth -- about events, and no matter where the chips fell, to accurately inform viewers and readers. Even the opportunistic, abrasive, nosy reporter (a character in our culture from plays and movies like The Front Page in the 30's, to All The President's Men in the 70's) was driven by a search for those facts, and the truth.

News and issues reported in the mainstream media, years ago, were certainly being spun on occasion by special interests, or the government. But those were exceptional interventions rather than the rule -- America's Media consisted of journalists who considered themselves professionals, and their level of success in their work was based on their accuracy. Their tradition really did believe in reporting fact, not cant. And (with some exceptions; Hearst's and McCormick's newspapers in the 30's are a good example), so did their editors.

Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Redford as Bob Woodward In

All The President's Men (1976): For A Little Longer, American

Journalism's Primary Role Would Be Accurate, Reliable News

Whether we picked it up on the radio, in the New York Times or on the 'The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite', information our Press provided to us and the rest of the 'Free' world was trusted as accurate and uncensored. We believed, as the journalists did, that the Media had an obligation to report the truth, independent of the government, the interests of a specific class on Left or Right, or the interests of business. These were American traditions; so we were told.

But the "news industry", and journalists, in the 21st Century aren't like that now, and haven't been for at least twenty years. The three major networks, ABC (owned by Disney), CBS (owned by Westinghouse), and NBC / MSNBC (about to be bought by Comcast from General Electric); cable news channels like CNN (excepting Fox, which is an unabashed propaganda channel); even PBS, through The News Hour -- and even with various Net sites and Blogs, teevee is now the primary venue for disseminating what passes for news in the United States.

Shields And Brooks On PBS' News Hour With Jim Lehrer:

Two Points Of View, And Both Are Just As Accurate; So PBS Says...

In 2010, we believe the immediacy of an image in the same way that people once listened to and trusted what they heard on radio. Our belief in the accuracy of what we watch on television is a basic assumption that our Media wouldn't lie to us -- Christ; this is America, not some Banana Republic!

News and information are now commodities; just points of view, packaged and presented using the same tools 'n tricks of network episodic television. It's fast food, not a meal -- like Cafe Mocchas, or 'flame-broiled' hamburgers. News is less and less about any commitment to accuracy and real impartiality.

Fox: No News, Please; Just Insults And Screaming;

O'Reilly's Usual Behavior With Guests,

["Shut Up! Shut Up! Shut Up!])

The format in providing information about the "contentious issues" Proctor mentions is always the same -- two or more advocates for sides of an issue answer questions put to them by a journalist, who isn't there to uncover basic truths about the issue; they're only a moderator. When solid facts are presented by any side, they're treated as points of contention rather than the truth, and lost in the adversarial nature of the process.

Viewers are left to decide who "won" what amounts to a debate between the Talking Heads. We're left feeling that no one is right; no one is wrong; gosh, reality is just a point of view, isn't it? Small wonder many people watching might fall back on emotional, rather than reasoning, responses to an issue (unless people are watching Fox, whose programming is slanted to evoke such emotional, and one-sided, responses).

Whatever either side claims is given equal weight in this format. If one advocate spouts an obvious lie, the journalist's job isn't to point that out, or emphasize the facts to show they're wrong. They simply nod, and toss softball questions so that "all sides of the topic is covered for viewers" (PBS' News Hour is famous for this kind of pap). And, the 'news' program can't be accused of biased reporting by either side, can they?

The 1984 Film Version Of Orwell's Book, 1984: Don't Expect This

Soon; But Radicals Always Seize Radio And Teevee Stations, First

We may not know the exact nature of the World we find ourselves in; there is more in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in all your philosophies, Horatio. But, misdirection and manipulation of news information is a common feature of the dictatorships and Failed States, and Banana Republics of the world -- so we've been told -- and not part of life in These United States.

So we've been told.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Random Barking Sunday: Cognitive Dissonance Division

How We Live Now

I'm the product of a middle-class white family from a small town, born not very long after the end of WW2; college-educated, male. This past January, in my small, lower-mid-tier level in my occupation, I went off to work daily as I have most of my life, and put up with whatever was necessary to pay for basic expenses; to get the pension, to maintain the healthcare. I dutifully set aspects of things aside for someday, and in the meantime for everything else, it's SITFU, and I enjoyed living as best I could. This has been my daily frame of reference for a long time.

Observing the world beyond, I generally tuned out politicians (politics = ultimately, lies and compromise, limited benefit to people), external wars (an obscenity; and I've had mine, thank you), domestic violence; mass shootings (no end), police shootings.

And no matter how Left my views might be, I did little beyond donations, attending the occasional march, to show my solidarity in the political stream: and I did these things, not out of anger or desperation or necessity, but because I could afford to.

And I understood my participation did little to acknowledge, and nothing to change, the disproportionate agony of people below me in the food chain -- mostly people of color, still taking the blunt end of the culture, 400 years after the arrival of America's first African slaves.

The High School Civics Class view of America: myths which, when assimilated, were reflected all around us in the culture, ensuring we grew up as compliant members of society, good consumers.  We accept a consensus view that things aren't perfect, but I'm getting by. But we know it doesn't reflect reality.

And we understand -- questioning the difference between what we've experienced and observed to be true, versus reality-as-consensus, is a Red Pill / Blue Pill situation that most people explore at their peril. Supporting the consensus model has been the chief feature of stability in America for as long as I can remember. Everything about our culture -- particularly corporate media -- echoed that.

In the mid-1990's, that changed. The FCC under Reagan had eliminated the 'Fairness Doctrine' in 1984; broadcasters were no longer required to provide equal time for opposing political viewpoints. Over the next twelve years, Limbaugh, Wiener, and thousand wannabes sprung up on radio in the U.S., and built a public vomatorium.

Limbaugh -- just a bully, but now with a megaphone -- spewed his hate and mockery into the air, to be eagerly lapped up by right-wing listeners. They, in turn, vomited the same hate to others around them. And, 'hate radio' caught on as an organizing tool for not only mainline, GOP conservatism, but a wide spectrum of Rightist causes. Limbaugh, Wiener and other hate hosts didn't care what damage they were doing to the culture; suddenly, they were popular. And they were getting rich.

Rupert Murdoch, whose tabloid newspapers in Australia, the UK and America used a 'tits-n-tattle' formula that treated its consumers like children, saw the trends in the U.S. A cynical, opportunistic right-wing type himself, Murdoch believed there was plenty of money to be made in television, pushing right-wing conspiracy theories to a disaffected, conservative audience. Lil' Rupert saw an ocean of 'Joe Six-Pack' Rubes in America that advertisers would pay handsomely to reach.

Murdoch launched Fox as a cable channel in 1996 as part of a broader business model -- to coordinate his media as the propaganda arm of the English-speaking political Right. Helping elect more Rightist politicians would mean favorable treatment to expand operations when the Right came to power. It worked in the UK, the US, Australia; and eventually, the model would make his family empire indispensable to the racists, white nationalists and neo-nazis growing in the heart of American conservatism.

We've suffered 35 years in an America where truth and facts are whatever The Murdochs -- speaking through Hannity and Carlson, and an endless stream of blondebots -- say they are. The Murdochs have done more to divide America, to make it easier to exploit and weaken us into tribes over three decades than any other aspect of America's recent history.

They have made America a place where they, and the political Right wing, literally just make shit up -- and there are no repercussions. In Steve Bannon's quip, the Murdochs "flood the Zone with shit", and facts are lost in a sea of confusing half-truths and outright lies.

It's easier to lead the Rubes that way. And the Murdochs have personally benefited from it; they're very rich; and they do not care what damage they've caused to actual human beings in the process of that enrichment. Ask the family of Milly Dowler.

Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Ogg Ogg

Comes Trump: The endless parade of MAGA, the triumphant apotheosis of stupid. Fox broadcast it all, like an endless Leni Reifenstahl film; flags and chanting (Lock her up! Lock her up!). There was nothing Trump could do or say that wasn't allowed. And he lied; constantly, daily, about everything. The right-wing media and its talking faces amplified Trump's lies, and presented them as facts.

People were stunned at his brazen racism, his craven love of authoritarian figures like Putin, his dog-whistling to white nationalists and 'christian' dominionists.  We watched America disintegrate in the international community as a result of Trump's personal statements and incoherent political decisions; Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller laughed and laughed -- destroying America has been their goal, and they feel proud.

We were horrified, and laughing. There seemed to be no end to it, and no repercussions -- not even impeachment; the fix in the Senate was always in. The intelligence community as much as declared Trump an active asset of the Russian government -- but it all meant nothing; Trump doubled down, tripled down. He laughed at us. He strutted and preened and capered, and just kept on: Teflon Don.

Additional Cute Animal Photo For Right-Wing Media

It requires a significant amount of cognitive dissonance -- between the facts we know, truth, our experience; and myths we accept -- in order to be American. To live and work in this culture. How much cognitive dissonance you deal with depends where you are, and who you are, in America.

Then, two things happened that couldn't be spun, dismissed, or lied about -- although the entire political Right, and Murdoch's propaganda, have tried:  The Covid-19 Pandemic, and the murder of George Floyd.

Trump, aided by the Right's media, ignored Covid, dismissed it. He ignored it for six weeks -- then, even after suppressing testing for infection, when the case rates and deaths began climbing; when Trump showed no leadership whatsoever and threw everything in the faces of state governors -- when the Republicans could see their political repercussions in a collapsed economy and 200,000 dead by July... they did an about-face.

They used the Joseph Goebbels - Murdoch formula. They simply lied.  They said they had too cared, they had too been prepared and taken decisive action, all along. They asked us to believe whatever they said, even though it was utterly false. Because they made it up, and said it was 'true'.

And they pushed for America to Reopen Again! The Leader said everything would be back to normal in no time. Inconvenient medical spokespersons who said it was too soon, that it invited another spike in Covid cases; that there would be a likely 'second wave' of the pandemic in the Fall and Winter several magnitudes worse than the February-May wave we'd just experienced... Trump ignored them, too. He suggested people drink bleach.

And, America went back to work. Beaches were opened; the summer weather began in many places. And Covid cases are beginning to rise -- but there was another reason for that.

A black man was arrested by four police officers on a street in Minneapolis, Minnesota, apparently for using a counterfeit $20 bill. One, a white officer, put his knee on the man's neck to restrain him. And, despite consistent protests from the man that he could not breathe, the officer (aided by the three others) did not relent and asphyxiated, murdered, the man, George Floyd. This took roughly twelve minutes, during eight of which the officer's knee was pressed down on Floyd's neck. And all of it captured on multiple cellphone videos.

If you were trying to find a metaphorical image for the black experience in America, an image of a prone black man with a white man's knee on his neck seemed brutally apt. That it was a white police officer was an added layer of metaphorical irony.

Weeks of marches and demonstration -- including rioting and civil disobedience and looting, but primarily peaceful -- followed. Their focus has been on violent actions by militarized police departments, primarily against people of color.

Videos from those demonstrations showed scores of examples of violent and brutal behavior, by police against those ... ironically, protesting brutal police tactics. As if many individual officers and departments didn't care what those optics would do, or the repercussions of their behavior in the broader context of This Historical Time.

It's a defining, fork-in-the-road, Moment In America.  It's a national consideration of Race in America -- and everything connected with it around the distribution of wealth, power, and privilege. Where all this goes, and what actually happens, is hazy -- but the moment has started. Each of us, as individuals, have some responsibility for where it ends up.

The single takeaway I hope for in all this is, that the burden of maintaining conflicting perceptions about our society and culture has finally become too much for the majority of us. That we can't tolerate the cognitive dissonance any longer, reject 'alternate facts' and demand truth -- in public affairs, in science, in our relations with each other. That we can't suppress our lived experience and accept lies in its place.

I hope that people reject being so grossly lied to and manipulated, treated like children, Rubes and Marks. I'd hope Murdoch's media, and its business model based on brazen lies and manipulation, is finished in America and around the world.

And a part of this Moment has to mean confronting automatic assumptions about people of other races, gender and identification; the assumptions of white or heterosexual superiority, or of wealth and ownership. Is it the truth that all persons are equal, or are some more so than others?

Because this is all intimately connected to the distribution of power, and inequality of wealth in America, I don't have any illusions of how quickly this dialogue can result in meaningful change. Or that what's been triggered by George Floyd's death is anything more than a single step; others will have to follow.

James Fallows of the Atlantic recently noted that the story of America is about getting out of trouble, of facing and overcoming crises. America's current crisis has both a Leader utterly unfit to lead, supported by an entire political party in the Republicans; this, he agreed was unprecedented in our history. The question, Fallows went on, was whether our country had a sufficient counterbalance to the harm caused by Trump and the political Right -- that the sum of all things positive in America would be enough to overcome the damage, allow us to find a better resolution than division, exploitation, despair and death.

I'd like to think this moment is a wild card in that equation. That the sum of our best intentions as people will contain the weight needed to swing us in a different direction. I'm not often positive about the future; quite the opposite. But I'm willing to suggest that hope is not a bad thing.

We'll see what does happen. Hang on.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Quo Vadis?

What Digby and Elie Said

"Depravity, Inc."Digsby's Hullabaloo, June 2, 2020 )

"[Trump] and his Republican enablers have shown us for decades neither the spirit nor the letter of the law is an impediment their designs. This is how the extremist Republican Party rolls:

"1. Find the line
 2. Step over it
 3. Dare anyone to push you back
 4. If no one does, that’s the new line
 5. Repeat

"Trump has repeatedly suggested violence against opponents. He may be a coward, but by instincts a violent one. The man who swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States to the best of his ability has demonstrated none. His oath is as much an inconvenience as the laws for which his entire life he’s flaunted his contempt, save for those he can use to flog opponents.

"Republican 'invertebrates' such as the 'bottomlessly loathsome Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida' are abetting Trump’s efforts to turn the world’s oldest democracy into a dictatorship. They will not stop him. Indeed, from Watergate to Iran-Contra to state-sponsored torture to targeting “African Americans with almost surgical precision,” they have proven their disdain for democratic processes for decades.

" 'History is written by the winners,' Trump’s attorney general declared recently. Principles be damned. Might makes right. Trump and his enablers have no interest in governing. They mean to rule. They mean to dominate.

"The unanswered question now is whether the country will survive until November, much less next January. A party that has demonstrated by its unwavering support for Donald Trump it will say anything, do anything, to maintain power by any means necessary. 

"Trump means to win [by] keeping fooled the faction he can fool all the time into thinking this is still a democratic republic. His enablers at Fox News and in conservative media are content to remain fooled. Their paychecks depend on it. Their audience will wave flags and Bibles all the way to fascism if need be."

( "The Question Isn’t Whether Trump Will Go Full Authoritarian—It’s How We’ll Respond" );

"There is only one truth left to wrestle with: It does not matter if what Trump is doing is legal. It does not matter if what he’s doing is constitutional. It doesn’t matter, because nobody is going to stop him.

"We had our chance to prosecute him, but Robert Mueller decided that the Office of Legal Counsel’s suggestion that the president could not be prosecuted while in office was an ironclad principle... We had our chance to remove Trump from office, but 52 Republican senators refused to convict him or even call witnesses during their “trial.” ...

"Trump has been told that he can’t be prosecuted and won’t be removed... And nobody has stopped him. Nobody is even really trying to stop him anymore. Those who want him stopped are just kind of waiting and hoping he goes away. Maybe on January 20, 2021, he’ll just leave, and we can get back to having a society.

"He won’t just leave. He won’t leave unless the men with guns—the armed agents of the federal government—make him leave. And this upcoming week of protests is going to tell us if there is any hope of those men doing the right thing.

"Trump is beyond the rule of law now. Republicans have placed him there, and armed men keep him there. People have to think through what that means, about how to stop a man who is above the law...

"If history is any guide, there’s no simple option. The only way to stop a brutish demagogue like Trump, the only way men like that have ever been stopped, is by people who are willing to lay down their lives to do so. 

"Who is going to be our Hero of Tiananmen, our Unknown Rebel who stands in front of the tanks when they come rolling through Times Square? Who is going to be our John Lewis and get their skull fractured as Trump Troopers hurl projectiles at peace? Who wants to be Thich Quang Duc? Lots of people are willing to fight this administration; how many are willing to sacrifice their lives opposing it?

"Nobody has stopped Trump. I don’t think any single person can. But the question is no longer whether Trump “can” do something; the only relevant question is what we are prepared to do when he does it. How much of ourselves are we willing to give?

"It’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s the one authoritarians always get around to asking. It is the question Trump keeps asking the country..."

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Probably Shouldn't Have Shown Yourself To Be Lovin' You Some Nazis In The Middle Of A Pandemic With 40,000,000 Unemployed, Huh

Remember: No One Is Coming To Save Us

1.)  "Everything Can Be Like It Was Again": America somehow calms down, the insurrection (because that's what it is) tapers off, and everyone on the 'Left' concentrates on organizing to elect Joe Biden in November. 
  • Covid-19 remains more-or-less quiescent through the summer (people still die, just not so visibly or rapidly). Another Covid support package rolls out of Congress, more money for struggling private-jet charter LLC's and Friends of Jared, and -- Oh Yes; enough trickle-down to keep 40,000,000 unemployed afloat and their children from starving, through the election.
  • On November 3, Biden wins by a large plurality: a wave of euphoria, a belief that Happy Days Are Here Again! send people into the streets -- not to scream rage, but to party. And in January, 2021, an addled, drugged Leader appears at Biden's inauguration; maybe there's an incident, maybe not. No one really cares, because Ding Dong; Th' Bitch Be [redacted]
This path is a re-affirmation of basic American principles, rejecting Trump as an aberration. It also relies on a general acceptance by black communities and People Of Color that more change can be gained under a Biden presidency, than four more years of proto-fascist criminals.

Somehow, America stumbles forward. Some 'social gains' are made, checks and balances are introduced. The Biden presidency spends more time trying to fix the damage wrought by Trumpism than actually governing. Things appear to be "getting back to normal".

The American Openly Fascist party criticizes Biden's lack of progress, taking no responsibility for enabling and supporting Trump. They demand austerity, an end to social safety nets as 'unsupportable', due to America's huge national debt in light of Covid. The virus, meanwhile, is tamed, even all-but-eliminated. Until the next one appears.

But most important, the structures of ownership of America by the 0.001%, are intact -- necessary to provide jobs, it is said. Some people say the inequalities laid bare in the spring of 2020 have only been painted over; but in the rush to Be Like It Was, few notice they are poorer, their social mobility, choices for employment and education, more restricted than before. That social surveillance and national security laws created since 2001 are still in place, and enhanced. Because Pandemic, it is said.

Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Thing

2.)  "Business As Usual" : America simmers into the summer. Governors in multiple states call out their National Guard; as in Minnesota, Humvees and troops in Camo hold spot checks at strategic intersections and enforce curfews (Note: civil unrest in poor 'minority' neighborhoods; cities on fire; National Guard troops in the streets -- was a routine occurrence in America, every summer, from 1965 to 1971).  
  • The unrest drops in intensity but never completely disappears. The National Guard is replaced by municipal police in some areas. Neo-nazis and militias make some attempts -- some, spectacular and disturbing, as in May -- to spark their dreamt-of Boogaloo, but the incidents are defused.
  • Trump continues to rage-Tweet, bellowing on 'Fox'n Friends', but more people recognize he is profoundly disturbed, unfit for office, than before. Biden is elected in November -- not by a landslide, and it's clear some Right-wing attempts to suppress or even falsify voting occurred. Trump claims the election is a fake for weeks until, abruptly, he says he will not contest the results. In a tense inauguration, Biden assumes office. 
  • Trump announces a 'joint venture' with the Murdochs: a new cable channel, broadcasting the Trump message alongside News Corporation's media. Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are executive producers and partners, along with Jared and Ivanka.
  • America stumbles forward, but the euphoria of Biden's election is muted. Republicans in Congress, eager to see Biden fail, remain obstructions to legislation: gridlock, partisan politics continue. Voters are frustrated, and whatever coalition the Democrats created for 2020 begins to slip. 
  • The Democrats may do what they've done before, and give the Thugs what they most want -- reductions to Social Security and Medicare, erosions to reproductive rights; more emphasis on religion through law -- just to move legislative packages through both houses. The Rethugs refuse to entertain any legislation to rebuild America's infrastructure. FDR's New Deal comes to an end.
America is uneasy. Armed militias and far-right groups, 'christian' leaders of megachurches, are now political fixtures calling openly for white power and preaching for a theocratic government. While most people dismiss them as fringe groups, local and regional politicians and legislatures are careful not to provoke them. Their spokespersons are interviewed on the PBS News Hour and Face The Nation. They are legitimized, part of the American mainstream. 

The social issues that sparked civil unrest in 2020 are not fully addressed, leaving communities of people marginalized, under-represented and still angry.  A disproportionate number of black men are still shot by police. There are fewer corporations; billionaires are still billionaires, but they're mentioned in the media less frequently. 

Unemployment finally stabilizes between 7 and 10%, but jobs being created are primarily in the 'service economy'.  Covid still appears in hot spots every winter; people still die, just not as many.

2023 comes to an end. For voters, the euphoria over being liberated from the rule of Trump has mostly dissipated. It isn't clear whether Biden has enough popular support for a second term. And a new Rethug challenger, a young, little-known Senator, from a second-generation immigrant family, appears -- sounding very much like a more reasonable, folksy, easy-to-like version of Donald J. Trump.

An unashamed 'christian', with a populist message of 'hard work' and America resurgent, he begins polling with likely voters in the high 40's, against Biden's low 30's, in campaign match-up polls. People respond to his open smile and gracious manner in television interviews. "I believe I've been chosen for a purpose," he says.

However, there are rumors that in private he is much less friendly -- vicious, in fact; that his smile never reaches his eyes; it's reported he once remarked privately that 'we ought to put these godless leftist sons of bitches in the ground'.

But many voters supporting him, and his GOP colleagues, don't care about the rumors: "He just seems like a leader." 

Additional Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo In Blog Rant

3.)  "When You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss":  Unrest over the death of George Floyd, a trigger for an ocean of anger over deep and unhealed currents in American culture and society, spreads.  Trump carries out threats made on Twitter to send Regular Army troops into the cities to restore order. 
  • The military may establish curfews, checkpoints. This doesn't end the protests. There are escalating incidents; more protesters are injured or killed.
  • Armed militias may appear, to provoke demonstrators and spark their fabled Boogaloo. If they end up in a hot confrontation with Regular Army forces, that is a significant and separate level of escalation.
Past a certain point in this extreme scenario, the fabled 8-Ball Of The Future says "All Bets Are Off". Trump could declare a State of Emergency and effectively lock the country down -- it could also muzzle Biden, while Trumpo dominates the media through press 'briefings' a la Covid for hours each day. The election could be 'postponed'. 

The Democrats would be left scrambling -- while the Thugs support Trump to the hilt, not knowing where The Leader is taking them, their party, or the country -- and they won't care; as long as their personal interests are served. The country can step into actual fascism and collapse, and like it.

If things reached this level of chaos (or, if someone saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity), it's probable some group would step forward -- with Trump as figurehead, or not -- to 'take control'.  There are very few layers in American society with the resources, or the absolute inner certainty that committing treason is a necessity. If you believed you were being directed to do so by god, for example. 

The country wouldn't know anything had happened until, suddenly, major media was disrupted (Fox, in all probability, would be given an exclusive to broadcast the Good News). Cellular and broadband service might become unpredictable. Banks might close, and restrict ATM withdrawls. Democratic members of Congress and the government might find themselves detained, or worse. The Army, already restricting travel and enforcing curfews, would execute last orders given until new ones came down. 

It wouldn't matter who the players were, or which figureheads would be chosen among the Rethugs to act as mouthpieces -- if their move to seize power succeeded, then the United States of America would end. Something else would begin.

The civil war in Syria started with the arrest of some teenagers, spray-painting anti-Al-Assad graffiti on a wall; protests over their arrests a few days later, which were really about the inequalities and authoritarian rule of Al-Assad's regime, ended with police opening fire and killing some in the crowd. This led to a rapid spiral of more protests and deadlier reaction by the government. Some anti-Assad group began using weapons, firing back, and the civil war began.

I'm not suggesting that any of these three views plays out, the civil war scenario particularly -- only to note that this seems a fork in the road. 

A disease, and events triggered by it,  have pushed America to a point where we can't go back to where we were. There are different groups, for different reasons, who see where we are, right now, as their chance to tear down the old structure and rebuild it. To what degree you would like to do that, and what means you feel are necessary and permissible, depend upon whose lens you view it through.

So, the future is not set.  For perspective, I do suggest looking at this, and then this.

MEHR, MIT WIR KOMMT, U. HIER WIR SIND:  James Fallows, staff writer at The Atlantic Monthly, quoted by Digby, echoing something I'd been thinking about:
I’ll give you my voice-of-history overview here. I did a piece for The Atlantic a couple of years ago where I said that I realized that every article or book I’d ever written had really been about just one question: Is America going to make it? The story of the U.S. is trouble and the response to trouble.
But one thing that’s particular to this moment is that national leadership is the worst in my lifetime, and arguably the worst in our history. We’ve never had a head of federal government as unmatched to the duties of that role as we currently do. 
The question is how all the other sources of resilience and health in the country balance that singular but very important point of dysfunction, and the party that supports him too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Reprint Heaven: Twilight At Noon

Misery Does Not Require Acts, Only Conditions
(From November, 2019. As true today as it was in the Olden Days)

Vanished World: Ours Will Also Seem As Remote
While from a Proud Tower in the town / Death looked gigantically down
-- Edgar Allan Poe, "City In The Sea" (1845)
The ... great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark reliance... The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.” 
-- Barbara Tuchman (1966)

In The Proud Tower, popular historian Barbara Tuchman focused on describing Western culture in the decades leading up to the Great War -- a huge, red line of demarcation that finally separated the generations of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.

Her story is a chronicle of human folly (one of Tuchman's favorite themes), and because we know how the story will end, a leitmotif of nostalgia we sense in the background is really the collective despair of survivors who had lost everything familiar, an entire frame of reference for living.

Edward VII's Sendoff: Royal Procession Of Mourners, 1910

She opened her book with a spectacle: the funeral of King Edward VII of England, who had been on the throne for less than a decade after the death of his mother, Victoria. Tuchman described the brilliant funeral cortege, royal houses and empires in uniform. As Edward's coffin rolled along London streets, "The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock ... but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again." One of the last displays of presence and power of the Elite of the Gilded Age.

Tuchman closed the book with another funeral: this one for Jean Jaures, Socialist member of the French Chamber of Deputies, and a  principal, seminal Left political agitator of the age. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary had been assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, and with the interwoven alliances in that era, major European powers began slow-walking into war.

Jaures Speaking At A Socialist Rally, Paris; 1914

A general war had been building for the better part of a decade, and the Socialists in Europe knew working people in all countries would be the disposable cannon-fodder for nationalist politicians and industrial plutocrats. Jaures believed only a pan-European worker's strike, united under the banner of each country's Socialist party, could prevent the continent from being dragged into a catastrophe.

Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia, whose assassin had killed the Archduke, then mobilized to invade. On July 30, Russia declared a general mobilization; Jaures was pushing to organize the strike action with other Socialist leaders. While eating at a Paris cafe on the night of July 31, he was assassinated by a right-wing nationalist who had been stalking him. Jaures died at roughly the same time Germany's ambassadors were delivering messages in European capitals, advising it had declared war on Russia.

The Great War had just begun as Jaures' funeral took place in Paris on August 4, 1914. As the funeral cortege moved through Paris streets, Tuchman described a muffled bell of Notre Dame tolling, thinking of a poem by Schiller: "I summon the living / I mourn the dead."

Four years, three months, and the deaths of ~10,000,000 soldiers and civilians later, the war ended.

We know we're living in a time of extremity. Everyone is figuratively holding their breath, waiting for ... something.  Tuchman's story led to a streetcorner in Sarajevo, and a few weeks in the high summer of 1914 -- and we read it with dread because we know where it ends. No one knows where our American story is leading.

Tuchman's story closed in 1914, 105 years ago. In 2019, there's no one reason to assume bad things are coming, in America -- because there seem to be an overwhelming preponderance of reasons. No one can be blamed for feeling the present moment is portentous, that we're approaching something, a Sarajevo moment, that will trigger a cataclysm. It's a continuous, negative feedback loop, difficult to shake off.

America has ignored critical, obvious things for generations: contributing to climate disintegration; the inequality in wealth. We've ignored our real history of class, race and gender. We became an Empire, and behaved like one. We became a center to develop technology out of desire for novelty and profit, while reducing personal privacy and allowing our opinions, desires, habits to be harvested and exploited.

We ignored the rise of weapons availability and gun violence. We ignored evangelical christian religious extremism. We ignored right-wing domestic terrorists and white supremacists. We ignored a malignant right-wing media -- whose lies and distortion have created a separate, alternate reality, tailored for a specific segment of America's population.

Our great national weaknesses have been chronicled and discussed for decades. Then, we had 9/11, and the Forever War; the 2008 financial crisis; an internal struggle in the GOP (won by the Alt-Right); and a loss of focus or purpose by our political Left (ostensibly, the Democratic Party).

In the new Millennium, America became progressively more tribal, split along every fault line you can imagine -- Left vs. Right; Rich vs. Poor; Young vs. Old; Urban vs. Rural; christian vs. non-christian; White vs. Anybody Else; LGTBQ vs. homophobe; Men vs. Women. Into the mix, throw gun ownership, militias, private armies and private intelligence groups, and the daily drumbeat of lies, conspiracies, taunts and threats pouring out of the great echo chamber of the Right.

Never before have the 'deplorables', the Base, felt so empowered, so justified, so ready to take back what they have been told is theirs from a rag-tag crowd of liberals, hippies, immigrants, minorities, and devil-worshiping pagans.

And, I can't shake the feeling that there are too many 'responsible' conservatives who want some final, showdown battle with everything they hate in life, personified by liberals, women, and anyone different from them.

Sad Vlad's Pal.

Against that background, Trump was almost inevitable -- "I can drain the swamp"; the allegedly rich mogul with the blow-up doll trophy wife; America's Silvio Berlusconi. He is the personification of everything we've collectively ignored, the would-be Clown Emperor. Everything about his presidency is a symptom of the rot at the heart of America, and on constant display -- selfishness, arrogance; narcissism and misogyny; nationalism; religious extremism; racism and sexism.

If you were trying to find a political leader who, if elected, would blow America apart along those developed fault-lines -- someone who would subordinate the needs of a democratic nation-state to feed a bottomless, life-sucking pathological need -- Trump is precisely who you would pick.

I don't have any great expectations for the impeachment process. The hearings are important, historic. There will be moments everyone will recall with relish or anger. Generations will remember them, as  Watergate is remembered. From a legal perspective,  and for the historical record, they're essential.

Whether a majority of Americans understand this impeachment is about limits of Executive authority is an open question. The GOP will continue to push a conspiracy-fueled, barely coherent defense of Trump, designed to confuse and obfuscate, because that's what liars do.

Another part of that defense is the yet-to-be-released Barr report, which will attack America's intelligence agencies and federal law enforcement, claiming to document a titanic conspiracy by The Deep State to thwart a victorious, glorious Trump presidency. It's a lie, of course; a projection of Trump's distorted interior landscape, tailored by Barr and others to please and curry favor with The Leader -- and on that basis alone, it'll be astounding.

Barr intends people will go to jail because of The Leader's whims; that one cannot act against The Leader, lest they suffer. And Republicans in Congress, the huge megaphone of right-wing media, are eager to dominate any impeachment coverage with a constant smoke screen of lies.

The GOP will not walk away from Trump. He is their chance to roll back generations of Liberal political change, social programs, and legal precedents. That great work, blessed by evangelical pastors, is more important than anything. But they've gone all-in.

Last night on Amanpour & Co., journalists Jeff Greenfield of Politico and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame were asked about the current impeachment hearings, compared with those 46 years ago. Greenfield noted Americans seemed to be more involved and informed about the issues at stake, during Watergate -- and that they seemed to understand readily how Nixon had abused his office. More of an effort will be needed to 'sell' impeachment to Americans in 2019, Greenfield thought.

I'm certain the hearings will lead to Articles of Impeachment in the Democratically-controlled House, but (my opinion) they will die in the Senate -- probably after an abbreviated trial; McConnell has already indicated what the result will be. After, there will be protests and civil disobedience (watch carefully how Trump and the government he owns will respond, as a preview of what may happen after the 2020 election).

Then, we'll head to the election. If the Republican attempts to confuse and obfuscate are successful; if the Democrats can't coalesce, and field a strong candidate; if our voting isn't secure against tampering; if voter suppression in key districts is successful... short of an act of god, America could end up with another 1,640 Days Of Trump.

There won't be a second attempt at Impeachment; the majority of Americans will be stunned, dispirited, and "sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science." (Winston Churchill; June, 1940)

I'm also reminded of a quote by lawyer and philosopher, Joseph De Maistre, in 1811: "In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve."

Let's put on our tinfoil hats.

Trump wins re-election. That would be enough to trigger mass social unrest. His response could end in a national state of emergency.

Or, before the election -- if his poll numbers indicate he's in serious jeopardy, an "event" might occur serious enough to trigger a state of emergency. The election is disrupted or delayed.

Or, Trump loses, and refuses to concede, saying the results are "fake news". He asks "very good people" to bring their guns and come to Washington DC to "protect your president". The result would look very much like the confusion in a banana, or central African, republic as the government disintegrates.

Another possibility: if Trump loses the 2020 election and is replaced by a Democrat, the current "Cold Civil War" in America could turn hot:  asymmetrical warfare by rightist, white supremacist militias demanding -- something -- would likewise end in a state of emergency, a quasi-guerrilla war, endless paranoia and heightened surveillance.

If these circumstances become dire enough, other actors may step in. The military is one possibility, but more likely is a cabal of 'christians', backed by elements of a private corporate militia, might decide that god has called them to take control of America, end the sin, and bring the nation to His judgement and the path of righteousness. These actors are the best organized, best resourced group to commit treason on the scale necessary to succeed -- and, they believe they answer only to god.

There are scenarios, of course, where the Good Guys win, and America appears to have been 'saved'. Unfortunately, Fox and the rest of the Rightist echo chamber will continue pumping sewage; a Trump loss will make 'The Base' apoplectic, and right-wing violence will increase.

Any Left political leader elected to the Presidency will find it hard to govern in as fractured a nation as America is in the second decade of the 21st century.

Before you completely laugh off the possibility of a Republic of Gilead option for America's future, please consider these two news items:

1.)  The Ohio State Legislature has passed House Bill 164, the “Student Religious Liberties Act.” Under this law, students can’t be penalized if their work is scientifically inaccurate, as long as their reasoning is based on their religious beliefs.

If a public school student turns in a class assignment stating the earth is only 10,000 years old, if it's based on their religious belief, the student cannot be given a failing grade for the question.

The Bill also requires:
  • Public schools to give students the same access to facilities as provided to secular groups, if they wish to meet for religious expression;
  • Removing a provision that allows school districts to limit religious expression to lunch periods or other non-instructional times;
  • Allowing students to engage in religious expression before, during and after school hours to the same extent as any student in secular activities or expression;
  • Prohibiting schools from restricting a student from engaging in religious expression in homework, artwork or other assignments.
2.)  Former Time and Los Angeles Times journalist Joel Stein appeared on the PBS News Hour on Thursday, November 14, to discuss his new book, "In Defense Of Elitism".

Stein spoke about visiting the town of Miami, Texas, and his observations that Americans there were not uninformed or ignorant, but very determined that their point of view was true and correct:
...They [residents of Miami, Texas] were very white, and they were very christian.... And their anger about what is going on was different from what I thought it would be. And I found out that what they're upset about is, they feel really discriminated against. These are the people that, if you asked, 'are christians discriminated against more than black people', they will say yes. 
...So what they have noticed is that white christians have less power than they did 10, 20, 30 years ago. And they're panicked about that kind of change. ...These people are voting for what they want for the country. I think it's a dangerous vision they have, in my opinion, but it's not ignorant.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Reprint Heaven: This Way, America

No, Over Here.  What The Hell Is Wrong with You?
(From October, 2016)

 Joseph Beuys / 1974 Performance Art, I Like America; America Likes Me (aka, "Coyote")

The Why Of Dog
It was a typisch day here in Downtown America.  Over at the Soul Of America, I was directed to a story about David Bowie, which contained a photo of what appeared to be a Dog dragging a leper / vagrant / symbolically-wrapped human around. We worked it through Skynet the Googlegerät. One thing led to another. And here we are in the Future, as always happens in America.
Beuys flew to New York, picked up by an ambulance, and swathed in felt, was transported to a room in the Rene Block Gallery. The room was also occupied by a wild coyote, and for a period of 8 hours a day for the next three days, Beuys spent his time with the coyote in the small room, with little more than a felt blanket and a pile of straw. While in the room, the artist engaged in symbolist gestures, such as striking a triangle and tossing his gloves to the coyote. At the end of the three days, the coyote, who had become quite tolerant of Beuys, allowed a hug from the artist, who was transported back to the airport via ambulance. He never set foot on outside American soil nor saw anything of America other than the coyote and the inside of the gallery.

Gentlemen, the people at home cannot understand either of you...
-- Elaine Quijano, CBS News, to Kaine and Pence

2016 Election Forecast:  Clinton 75.3%,  Trump 24.7%
-- fivethirtyeightdotcom

My friend; clear your mind of Cant.
-- Samuel Johnson

 I AM PART OF YOUUU !!!! (rabbitandmouse, 2006)

The First Whorehouse In Space Will Be Built By The Bold
During his hour-long announcement of the SpaceX Mars colonization plan, CEO Elon Musk didn’t say where exactly Martian colonists will live once they arrive on the planet — and how exactly they’ll survive given the harsh environment. Musk seemed particularly unconcerned about solar radiation. “The radiation thing is often brought up, but it’s not too big of a deal,” he says...

SpaceX’s goal is to build [its] transport system [to Mars], like building the Union Pacific Railroad. “Once that transport system is built,” Musk says, “there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.” People will be able to go to the planet and build “anything from iron refineries to the first pizza joint.”
--  Alessandra Potenza and Loren Grush, The Verge, September 27, 2016

Ironically, this is also International Space Week.

Not With A Bang But A Food Fight
As most everyone knows, the ending to Stanley Kubrick's 1964 anti-war black comedy, Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb has Strangelove (Peter Sellers) emerging from his wheelchair and taking a few steps, then a montage of atomic bombs going off.

However, that wasn't the original ending. Kubrick initially envisioned 'Strangelove' as a drama, based on a British novel, "Two Hours To Doom", about an accidental nuclear war.  He was introduced (oddly enough, by by Peter Sellers) to Terry Southern, an American expat writer living in London; Southern saw Kubrick's project as a vehicle for dark comedy about the end of the world, and the two co-authored the script ("I intended to make a dark comedy", Kubrick later said of his film). Sellers, a friend of both Southern and Kubrick, was cast to play three separate, believable characters (originally, four -- spraining an ankle kept Sellers from playing Major "King" Kong, and Slim Pickens was offered the role). 

In the original ending of the film, Dr. Strangelove stood up from his wheelchair, only to fall flat on his face. Meanwhile, General 'Buck' Turgidson (George C. Scott) noticed Russian Ambassador de Sadesky (Peter Bull) taking pictures of "the big board", and tackled him -- only to have the Ambassador throw a cream pie at him from a nearby buffet table.

Turgidson ducked; the pie hits President Muffley (also played by Peter Sellers) instead -- and the entire War Room erupted in a gigantic food fight. Finally, as nuclear war engulfs the world, Muffley and the Russian Ambassador, having lost their reason, end up sitting on the floor and playing with the litter of thrown food like children.

Ironically, Strangelove was being edited around November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. In the scene as filmed, President Muffley is struck with a pie and Turgidson announced, "Our President has been struck down in his prime!" Because Kubrick considered the action too close to actual events (and the actors appeared to be enjoying themselves a bit too obviously), that ending had to change, and Kubrick was in a bit of a fix. As the legend goes, Spike Milligan (He of the UK's famous Goon Show) was talking at the same time with former fellow Goonie Peter Sellers and learned about Stanley's dilemma. 

Milligan is supposed to have suggested the ending we're all familiar with: Strangelove standing up from his wheelchair ("Mein Führer -- I can walk !!"), followed by footage of one nuclear weapons test after another, accompanied by a soundtrack of British singer Vera Lynn singing the WW2 ballad well-known in the UK, "We'll Meet Again." Kubrick's film editor, Anthony Harvey, put the footage of the original food-fight ending with other cut scenes, which were afterwards misplaced and lost to history.

George C. Scott In The Lost Ending To Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964)

( One of my favorite things about Strangelove is Peter Sellers' ability (as Strangelove) to crack up Peter Bull, who played the Russian ambassador. The next time you see this classic, during scenes with a medium or long shot of Strangelove declaiming from his wheelchair, keep your eye on Bull.

The Two Peters: Peter Bull (Left) As Ambassador de Sadesky,
and Peter Sellers As Herr Dr. Unwirklichlieber, In The War Room

Do Hold It Together, Old Man.

(Sellers was a genius at creating characters, and Bull can't help but be affected. He tries, but at some point just can't hold it in any longer -- again, the film's editor, Anthony Harvey, managed to save the take and splice in the next shot just as Bull is about to lose it.  According to film lore, Sellers was even able to get the redoubtable Sterling Hayden to crack up.)

Ain't We Got Fun
Global debt has hit a record high of $152 trillion, weighing down economic growth and adding to risks that recovery could turn into stagnation or even recession, the International Monetary Fund has warned.

In a worst-case scenario the IMF also fears that a wave of populist politics across the US and Europe could send globalisation into reverse with protectionist policies hitting international trade, investment and migration, sending the world plunging into a prolonged period of stagnation...

“At 225% of world GDP, the global debt …is currently at an all-time high. Two-thirds, amounting to about $100 trillion, consists of liabilities of the private sector which can carry great risks when they reach excessive levels,” the IMF said in its fiscal monitor.
--  Tim Wallace, Business Writer; UK Telegraph Online October 5, 2016

"Among 'developed' nations, the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty on the planet...  Only Romania has a higher rate than the U.S. ...  More children live in poverty -- grinding, soul-destroying poverty -- in America than in Latvia or Bulgaria, two nations few Americans can even find on a map."
--  Motivational Screensaver

Wealthiest ZIP Codes In America (Clicky For Ubernormous Graphic! Spass! Nett!)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Forty-Five Days In The Hole

A Long Rant

Everyone's Favorite Moment In The Action-Packed Rallies Briefings

Healthcare resource allocation is the easiest way to describe what I do, when I'm not speaking through the persona of a smart-assed white dog online. It involves Physical Space and infrastructure capabilities; Resources (human beings), Durable and Disposable Medical Equipment (beds; ventilators; swabs; masks; PPE gowns and gloves), medications -- requirements versus availability. It's logistics and negotiation. The past few months have been busy, preparing additional overflow sites for the kind of New York City-level surge of CoVID-19 cases in the Bay Area.

That hasn't developed. It's a relief. But, with the demands of the bloated Child-Leader, we could see another spike in cases as America is forced back to work, the Leader determined to have his moment of fantasy validation though many may die. Well... we could get lucky. I hope so, but it's a hope that only extends through the Summer. Then comes Fall and Winter.

I sit in multiple videoconferences; we talk about the Winter of this year. We use words like 'anticipated'  'likely probability', and when we look at potential effects to healthcare system capacity, the numbers are frightening. If the CoVID-19 virus is seasonal (and no one knows if it is), the end of 2020 could be bad. Wuhan-bad; Northern Italy-bad; New York City bad.

I don't say this to raise anyone's already elevated fears. My way of dealing with things is Whole Sight: straight on, for the most realistic appreciation of whatever comes. We need to do everything in our power, now, to prepare the System for a New York-level of shock, for months on end. As individuals, we need to plan how best to cooperate, for our collective sakes, and for the future.

There is some (relative) good news. In a presentation I saw yesterday, the data seems clear that all the effort to ramp up for a surge which never came helped develop slack capacity that will be essential going forward. Time has been made, but we need to increase capacity to continue preparing for Winter, and after. Eventually, there will be a vaccine; we just need to get through the next eleven months and be waiting in line when it's distributed.

We could be better prepared -- but the lack of coordination from the federal government is astounding (It's been detailed in the press; I don't have to repeat it here). And the politicization of whatever efforts that government does make is staggering: a CDC alert I saw just this morning started with the phrase, "The Trump administration is taking aggressive actions..." As if He were guiding, watching everything, the master of all phraseology and human destiny; the Good Daddy.

But when he is the Angry Daddy, the Bad Daddy -- He must be appeased in the smallest ways by the sycophants he gathers around him. There is an obvious requirement that medical professionals at the national level kiss Trump's ass just to stay in the room, and be allowed to offer informed opinions they hope can counter the ignorance, the bias against 'know-everything types'.

The disconnection from reality that we all brush aside with Trump, just to keep from having our heads explode; the hours-long 'briefings' replacing Trump's 'rallies'; the lying and vicious small-minded pursuit of More by himself, his family, his satraps and toadies, while people are dying -- all of it is magnified, now.

Hopefully, it will be a stain he can't wash. The portrait of Dorian Grey, failing to contain the rotten core of this person and so revealing him, failure and bully, as he does his drunkard's weaving while standing behind the podium.

Every day we waste on this sociopath's spewings, on the ranting and insane bullshit of conservative politicians and social leaders, when we could be preparing for the coming Fall, is time we will not get back. Time literally means lives, now.

Every three days, I go into different medical centers operated by the Behemoth corporation which employs me and do things there I cannot do via Skype. I've always considered that, as jobs go, at least I could say I did things with a social benefit; now, they are one set of actions in a chain of events that matter, tangibly, to specific people.

Every time I go into a facility, the risk of contracting a disease (referred to by the younger set on Twitter as "Boomer Remover") that could kill me -- an Old with an underlying health condition -- increases by approximately 40%.

I'm in no way a hero -- my job is administrative, logistics; the real heroes are floors below, wearing full PPE garb, trying to adhere to protocols in biologically hot environments, for hours. Rarely, I see them in common spaces, outdoors, and we're well-separated. They're the kind of exhausted you get when you push your adrenaline levels to meet calls to action over and over for long periods.

I've been in situations in bad places in my long-ago; real life-and-death situations. You do things in those situations, and only in the silences afterwards does it become clear exactly how dangerous it was; that's what PTSD is about. I will tell you: it takes a special level of consciousness to go into situations with high risk -- and then do it again, and again, daily, having had moments in the times between to understand exactly what you're getting into.

This is what thousands of physicians, nurses, and support personnel are doing around the world, right now, over and over, and have been. For months.

They do the most critical caregiving tasks, and the most humble. They are there for others when they are dying, alone and isolated from everything familiar and loved, drifting away. They watch this and they perform that last connection with light and earth and all that we know, over and over and over. My respect for them is clear and unambiguous. There are few times in life when I could say I felt that, unreservedly, towards other human beings.

Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Thing

When I come home to my small apartment on a hill in The City, I leave my Outside Shoes by the door, remove and bag clothing for separate laundering; I shower, and I scrub. The other five days in the week, I only leave my building a few times to walk at dusk, to stand on the steps of Grace Cathedral with the sun going down, surrounded by the condominiums and co-ops of the Wealthy, the huge landmark hotels, the brownstone Beaux Arts Pacific-Union Club.

In the handful of times I walk every week, I'm in the street, facing oncoming traffic, but there is very little. SFMTA buses whine past with only a few riders, as they have for weeks now: no one wants to risk public transit. Other people are out, runners and walkers, none of them masked; couples in their twenties amble slowly on the sidewalks, laughing. Knowing what I know about CoVID, I stay well clear. I walk in the street.

On my every-two-week walk to a neighborhood market, there are people lined up, waiting to enter. It isn't a tiny business: in mid-March it was packed with panic-buying, unmasked people in thick lines waiting for checkout. Since March 19, the owners instituted a policy of allowing fifteen people inside at a time -- one person leaves, one allowed in -- but until they painted lines six feet apart on the sidewalk, few people seemed in a hurry to keep social distance. For weeks, I was nearly the only person in line wearing a mask.

Today, inside, there are plenty of people without masks, even the cloth variety, or those wearing them only over an upper lip, nose fully exposed. They ignore social distancing to lean in front of you and peer at a half-empty shelf -- as if it were just another day before CoVID.

I wear an N95 mask because I've been issued them. When I ask people to watch themselves or please step back, they turn their heads to look up at me and frown. "Sorry," their voices say, but they don't move. They want you to move; they want that last can of kidney beans.

The market owners also set up plexiglass screens at the registers early on, and found enough N95 masks and nitrile gloves for their staff. Early on, they began refusing to accept cash -- paper money being a transmission vector; credit/debit only. They found a local manufacturer willing to make and provide hand sanitizer. I pass the small shopping cart I use to an employee, who immediately disinfects it.

I check out and walk home. The market's paper bags will stand by themselves for the next two or three days, untouched. When I noted the first reports in early January of a novel virus appearing in China, which appeared to be respiratory with a good probability of human-to-human transmission, I began slowly buying whatever I thought might be needed. I'm not a Prepper, and not a tinfoil hat person. But when panic buying began in early - mid March, it was one more aspect of the situation I didn't need to feel anxiety over.

Everything purchased is sanitized with wipes bought three months ago; hard to find them, now. I don't buy produce or fruits -- I take vitamins, which also seem in short supply. I have gallons of frozen milk, frozen gluten-free bread (likewise, hard to find) and GF-pizza (I refuse to give up my comfort foods). Rice and beans are a staple (with Pesto, or Tomato paste), and so is Norwegian Kippered Herring.

And the obligatory wine and Single Malt: yes, I find myself self-medicating more frequently in, as Bill Burr would say, "the current environment" (I can even 'drink at work'; bwa ha ha ha ha ha).

This is how we -- or, at least how I, live now. And have done, for forty-five days. Part of me is proud of being resourceful. The rest of me wants to weep and beat all conservatives with a shovel and launch their corpses into the sun. But, that's just me.

Current Coronavirus Cases, FLA: 25,576   Deaths: 976
All that personal nonsense wasn't what I wanted to talk about.

Indeed, if [Nassim Nicholas] Taleb is chronically irritated, it is by those economists, officials, journalists, and executives—the “naïve empiricists”—who think that our tomorrows are likely to be pretty much like our yesterdays.  
(-- Bernard Avashai, "The Pandemic Isn't A Black Swan, But A Portent Of A More Fragile Global System," The New Yorker, April 21, 2020)

There is an assumption: once we just get a handle on this virus, by brute force, everything will revert to some pre-CoVID default. That electing Biden will erase four years of something unprintable and degrading. That by magic, all will be as it was.

What that assumption ignores is the massive (and that isn't enough adjective to describe what's happened) disruption to the global economy which CoVID has produced, the societal and political changes already set in motion.

Recently, the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Robert Barr (R-Stock 'n Property), unanimously announced it supported the combined U.S. Intelligence Community's earlier report that the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin, had intervened in the 2016 presidential election to ensure the election of Donald J. Trump.

On Twitter, some commenters assumed this was significant -- that the Old-Boy Network had delivered a message to Trump: they had finally had enough, and the 25th Amendment was waiting to be invoked. I didn't believe this was even remotely possible, but had five minutes of fantasy enjoyment thinking about it (One, really, because we would immediately have President Pence).

At almost the same time, Fat Billy Barr announced that he might prosecute governors who went against the wishes of The Leader (whose mottled ass Barr tenderly kisses), and defy his order to Put America Back To Work! There were other assumptions, there -- about Barr's authority as Attorney General, and that threatening state Governors could make them toe the line and kiss Trump's ass, too.

But I also thought: let's play this out -- the Players in each situation acted as they did because they assumed the structure of things -- America's government, its finances, its society (as  F. Scott Fitzgerald said, a framework of "religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and exact relations ... between the classes") was operating exactly as it always has.

But -- what if, as Nassim Taleb noted, the structure is no longer that way? For me, the image that comes up is the old, fat Russian officer, marching new recruits to the front in Doctor Zhivago; they encounter a mob of deserters, who entreat the recruits to defect; the old officer orders them from the saddle, "Form ranks! Get back in ranks!" He assumed his authority and everything that supported it was the 'local reality'; the soldiers pulled him off his horse and beat him to death.

Roughly 30,000,000 Americans are out of work. In my neighborhood, I overheard several managers of apartment buildings (not the wealthy co-ops, of course) saying half their residents or more couldn't pay April rent, and likely can't pay in May.

The $1,200, one-time "Donny Trump Fun Bucks" check with The Leader's heavy, spiky signature will probably be spent on food. Mortgages are going unpaid. Business rent. Insurance coverage. Car payments. Student loans. Credit Card debt. Wireless bills. Medical bills. Cable bills. 

Trump and his Republican toadies are making their own assumptions -- even about something as stupid, at a time like this, as insisting The Leader's signature be on each check. The right-wing thug strategists assume people will make positive associations between 'Getting Fun Bucks', and The Leader: Free political advertising. 

It's an assumption that we're still living in the world where politics as usual is the shared reality. In truth, people getting the checks will deposit them and not give Leader's EKG arrhythmia-shaped handwriting more than a moment's notice. By the time Winter comes, businesses -- who also assume we're living in a world ruled by the same ideas of obligation, debt, creditworthiness -- will expect what they're owed. So will landlords, property owners, finance companies and banks.

As someone on Twitter noted, TeeVee commercials are appearing now, showing America's big corporations as empathetic, "understanding and compassionate; they will be happy to 'discuss arrangements' for payments. There's nice piano music playing behind these images. Just don't expect soft music and compassion when they send your account for collection".

This isn't a Civ102 class, where you spend one session skimming over 1929 and its aftermath, just as a way to segue into the Second World War.  The media notes this CoVID-fueled effect to the economies of the planet will be "Worse than the Great Depression of the 1930's" -- not having the least notion what that means. No one does.

If you read the article on Taleb, his main point is, the CoVID disaster exposes all the stress points, the assumptions we've made about interconnected global finance and supply chains, our dependence on fossil fuels (not to mention the politics of oil), and just how vulnerable we are as a species.

CoVID-19 is bad enough -- but if it had been more like Ebola, we might be looking at global deaths in the millions, now, and a global heath system which could not cope with it. And, nature isn't through with us. This was just our first pandemic in 102 years. It isn't over.

Yes, there was an immense relief bill passed, to show that the Congress "Did So Care!" about the Little People, and of course the Bundist Billionaires and Oligarchs. And, it was done to show that no one need panic: money was on the way.  Only, it was trickle-down, again; same at it ever was. As  Ian Welsh notes,
Virtually all the relief money has flowed to the top, not the bottom. Landlords and tenants are in crisis. Unemployment is going over 30% and in many places higher. A vast swathe of American small business will be destroyed, and is unlikely to recover in a generation.  
Firms which borrowed money to do stock buy-backs, or to give money to their private equity purchasers are slopping at the trough, but many of the actual businesses on the ground (like Nieman Marcus) will go under. 
PPE can’t be found for hospital workers or logistics workers. Important pieces of the logistics hubs like meat packing plants are shutting down. Warehouse workers are protesting, truckers are scared... 
America is unable to make or procure an adequate number of masks or prioritize who gets them (though, really, everyone should). The ventilators made by GM are inadequate, because Trump wanted to keep the price down. Hospitals not only don’t have enough PPE, they’re going bankrupt because they haven’t been given enough money.
All the assumptions Republican Senators, Billy Barr, Trump -- even you, and me -- are making about how things are supposed to work in America and the world doesn't address the reality of what's just happened. Its effects are so big, we can't put our arms around it and can't know how it will affect us.

We can say all our assumptions about the future will change. Not that it will be so radically different -- but just as Fitzgerald saw the old assumptions about his world before WW1 dissolve, the same will happen to us. And the domino effects of CoVID, and continuing Climate Deterioration, will drive it.

Some observers believe America is headed towards regional dissolution, food riots once transport and supply chains break down, and who knows what political structure will emerge -- maybe a semi-United States; maybe the Republic of Gilead, run by evangelical 'christians'.

But, maybe not. Maybe when the chickens finally finish coming home to roost (as they have been since Trump was granted power), our future doesn't have to be exploitation by Neoliberal politicians and rat-faced corporate leaders, or domination by christian fascists. I like to think human beings -- even Americans -- have better imaginations than that.

When we leave our assumptions behind, perhaps they'll be about fossil-fuel dependency. Or healthcare. Or ideas that lies and propaganda are just 'alternate facts'. That income inequality, and throwing children into cages at immigration stations, are just part of the fabric of our country; just one of those things. That we can't fight City Hall. Or climate change. Or even a housing crisis. Perhaps we can abandon the assumption that the fix is in, and no solutions are possible.

There's a long road with CoVID ahead -- it won't end until treatment therapies that mitigate the worst effects of this organism are proven, or an effective vaccine is created. These are months, even years, away. When we come out the other side: what kind of culture and political realities do we want for each other? Our tomorrows do not have to look like our yesterdays.

MEHR, MIT EIN ANDERN MEINUNG: (Repeating myself, but...)

...We're living through history. When we read about events in Europe during the Interwar Years (1918 - 1939), there's a feeling of inevitability, of being slowly sucked down a drain -- the revolving-door failures of parliamentary governments in France; Britain's declining empire; the manic Totentanz of global capital leading to 1929 and the Great Depression; the rise and fall of Weimar; the apotheosis of Italian and Japanese, and finally German, fascism. Regional war and civil war. 

... and we know where the story is going. ... But we always read about the years leading up to [WW2] with a mounting sense of horror precisely because we all know how it ends. 

And we have the same feeling, looking at major global currents in our own time. ...  America, ruled by Babbitry, greed and illusion, retreats from the world stage. Its leader is Bloated, Raving, delegating the running of a government to corrupt, car-wash dilettantes. Other nation-state players are happy to rush into the vacuum we leave behind. The balances in the old alliances we created after WWII have been squandered, all but unraveled. 

A regional conflict -- between India and Pakistan; Kim Jong Fat Boy's Fun Republic Of Chuckles and South Korea; Iran and Saudi Arabia, almost seems like a sure thing -- 'of course that's where all this is going'; no one would be truly surprised if one started tomorrow. What we wouldn't be prepared for is what would happen the day after, and the day after that.

Kleiner Mann; Was Nun?