Thursday, March 26, 2020

Born Free, Free as the Wind Blows

We went through this four decades ago, and I suppose we'll have to go through it again.

Yesterday I saw a Facebook ad from a struggling local business which said they were open and ready to serve, and "coronavirus free." I do sympathize with them, but I asked if they'd actually been tested. They answered that they didn't have any symptoms.

Sorry, everybody, but "symptom-free" is not "coronavirus-free." In this case they were probably right, I hope that they don't have the virus, and I don't believe they meant to be deceptive. They just really didn't, and don't, understand the difference.  We really need to understand the difference, though. You can go from apparently fine to very sick in a few hours.  So please, don't get this confused, and speak up when other people confuse it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fumigation Nation

We critics are often accused, rightly, of accentuating the negative and refusing to offer positive alternatives to the states of affairs we criticize.  I did that in the last post, and this morning I realized that if I didn't like crossing my heart, signaling namaste, and other salutations that others had offered to get us through the coronavirus crisis, I should come with something better.  Here it is:

There, doesn't that say it all?

This morning in a local group on Facebook, someone asked if anyone had seen "that" (no further detail) at 10:05 p.m.  When asked what "that" was, she posted a murky cellphone picture.  Someone else posted that she'd seen several helicopters in the air over my town last night.  No one knew anything, and all I could say was that I'd seen helicopters on their way to land at the local airport from my window.  Someone posted that he'd gotten this:

A couple of people asked where it came from; he eventually explained that someone he knew had sent it to him in Messenger, but he didn't post it right away because it had no source; but when he saw the question about lights in the air, "it made sense."

Except that it didn't.  If the first poster had seen a helicopter spraying a fumigant -- an hour and a half early, when people wouldn't have been inside even if they'd known about it! -- she would have heard it.  If such a procedure really had been planned, would it have been announced through private messages on Facebook?  Perhaps President Trump, Blessed Be He, only wanted to save his Elect, but if that were so, a lot of them had no idea what was coming.  Someone else pointed out that livestock and other animals would have been affected too.

Also, spraying disinfectant from helicopters probably would do very little to eliminate coronavirus, because it would miss all the people huddled indoors.  Whoever came up with this fantasy was probably thinking of spraying DDT to stop malaria, etc. That had some effect because it could kill mosquitoes and flies that carried disease. But insects are not the the main carriers of coronavirus; people are.

In other goodies, a video clip has been circulating on Facebook, shared by an old friend of mine among others, which shows an elderly Mexican woman showing how to make a face mask by accordion-folding a paper towel.  My friend thought it sounded cool, so pleased that she didn't mind it wasn't in English.  It's the kind of Hints-from-Heloise kind of "hack" that appeals to many, but it's not protective gear: if it were, hospitals would be doing it.  Someone shared it to a Facebook group for Bloomington, where I used to live, but added the warning "***This is not a protective measure against Coronavirus Covid-19!!! It will help you to not touch your face, which is an important safety precaution!!!***"  That's about it.  But that tiny positive is balanced by the certainty that many people will believe that the mask will protect them and others, and they'll be careless.  It's not as bad as telling the credulous and desperate that chloroquine will cure COVID-19, because these masks aren't poisonous, but that's small comfort.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Simeon Simian

WARNING: This post takes a somewhat raunchy turn a few paragraphs in.

I saw this tweet this weekend, and replied to it:

It's possible, I suppose, that Mr. Hussain was being sarcastic; the lighthearted tone of some other commenters on his tweet suggests that they might have taken it that way.  On the other hand, 408 likes and 80 retweets suggest that many people took it literally, and no one mocked me for having missed the joke, so I'll presume it was meant seriously.

We're already seeing the necessity of avoiding physical contact in this pandemic, and people have been exploring alternative greetings online and probably elsewhere.  Someone under Mr. Hussain's tweet posted a GIF of a black woman making the "Wakanda forever" salutation from the movie Black Panther.  The trouble with this one is that many African-Americans were dismayed when white fans began making the gesture, seeing it as cultural appropriation, though the fuss died down after awhile as people moved on to the next big Phenomenon.  But that raises the question of whether non-Muslims should put our hands over our hearts in a dignified manner and slightly bow, or non-Hindus make the Namaste sign, or any other salutation borrowed -- appropriated! -- from other cultures.  No matter in the long run, as far as I'm concerned; people will sort out what they're going to do.

The obnoxious thing about Mr. Hussain's tweet was his petty glee at the prospect of people being forced by the pandemic to give up a gesture that is meaningful to them, just to suit his personal hangup.  If shaking hands is unsanitary, so is copulation, so is a non-copulatory embrace, so are mothers using spit to clean their children's faces, so is human society generally.  Keeping six feet apart may be a necessary strategy in a pandemic, but it's not something human beings can live with forever.  Even now we have to find situations and people we can get closer to than that.

This reply was mildly funny, though:

I suppose English isn't this person's first language.  By "foreign" I suppose meant "non-Muslim." When I pointed out that Islam isn't a nationality, he replied "Islam for us extends beyond national boundaries and nation states. We are first Muslims and then citizens of different lands."  That's true, and different lands have different customs about greetings.  Embracing, holding hands, and kisses, though "simian," are not unknown in Muslim lands, as in many others.

I also couldn't help thinking of what the historian Richard Trexler wrote in his Sex and Conquest (Polity Press, 1995, p. 109: 
Various cultures have used sexual signs and gestures of subordination to express reverence toward their gods and lords. Indeed, only those ready to avoid the topic will be surprised that some corporal expressions of religious reverence, such as kneeling, bowing and prostration, remain formally close to certain sexual postures.
When I see Muslim men prostrated for prayer, I always think of this passage, and I'm not even an ass man.  Those postures are part of our simian heritage, along with kissing and holding hands.

A day or so later, someone posted this tweet, with a more obviously lighthearted tone.

Many of the comments were also playful, but they made clear how little people had thought through what COVID-19 is going to mean.  One person wrote:

Nope.  More like arranged marriages.  Courting involves prolonged physical proximity, and that leaves aside where you meet your love interest (church, dancin' parties, school - all unsafe; and what are you going to do when church, dancing venues, and schools are closed?).  Other people wrote about the erotic excitement of brushing elbows, holding hands, and the like, all of which are verboten under the six-feet-apart rule.  There was romanticization of the days when "ankles were sexy," forgetting how repressive those days were; I think we can guess that they'd been watching too many period films, and forget that people nevertheless broke the rules, with considerable human cost.  (Unwanted pregnancies, social ostracization, sexual harassment and rape, among others.... I forgot to add what used to be euphemistically called "social diseases.")  Also they're forgetting the terrible sanitation of those days, with resultant outbreaks of disease.

Probably this is mostly whistling in the shadow of a catastrophe.  Nobody knows how long we're going to have to stay apart from one another, so of course people joke nervously.  I'm probably taking these comments too seriously, but I don't know. 
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, brave people held hands, hugged, cuddled anyway, even before it was known that such behavior was safe, because they knew and felt how important physical comfort is to human beings.  Besides, from what I know of human nature, most of the people celebrating the end of unsanctified sexual practices are probably eating ass right now.

One other thing: what bothers me most is the suspicion that I'm seeing the germs of a new erotic prohibitionism being spread.  I don't think it comes from religion, I think it goes into and motivates religion.  I doubt that Rachel Sennett, for example, is a Christian fundamentalist, nor are the people who commented on her tweet, but she's ready to fall back to a sex-negative stance far too easily.  Someone tweeted elsewhere that he already flinches when he sees characters in pre-COVID-19 films or TV casually leaning in for a kiss.  That can be a useful habit to form, but it won't just go away when the virus is no longer a threat.

Damn - this took way too long to write.

P.S. The World Health Organization currently recommends keeping at least a three-foot distance from others, which is certainly easier than six.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Voice of the Sheeple Is the Voice of God

To set the stage: I didn't really reckon with the difficulty of finding romantic partners when I moved to a small town last fall.  I had social networks of many years standing in Bloomington, and it will take a long time to build new ones here.  Those who are ignorant about gay life might be surprised to know that there are significant numbers of gay and bisexual men in and around a town of about 10,000 people; the difficult part is finding them.  So I've started exploring social media -- Grindr, if you must know, which I had never used until last month.  I haven't had much luck meeting partners yet, but it has been interesting, and I've been collecting material for a snarky/despairing post on my experience and observations so far.

The rising COVID-19 crisis threw a monkey wrench into my fine plans, however.  When I began hearing about self-isolation and social distancing, it occurred to me that sexual behavior was going to be affected, though I didn't see much about it at first.  But eventually I found information that confirmed my forebodings: an air- and contact-vectored virus could be spread by sexual contact.  Not directly through copulation as far as we know so far, but through saliva exchange and the shared breathing that intimate closeness - even just cuddling - involves.  Since I'm almost 70 years old, with diabetes and high blood pressure, I'm one of those vulnerable elders we've been hearing about.  I have better things to do than die, so I realized I was going to have to back off.

I'd been slowly negotiating to meet a local man since last week, when I still thought I could go on being sexually active.  I didn't hear from him for several days, and then last night he sent me a message moving the negotiations forward.  I explained that I was going to practice social distance for the foreseeable future.  I'm not sure what I expected, but his reply surprised me:
Um u really worried about that.  Man and people wonder why I don't have much faith in the human race as a whole. I would explain why u shouldn't give it and concern and give u reading recommendations if my word wasn't sufficient enough. But I've learned that people just follow the herd as long as there sot is comfortable and shields them from having to think for themselves.

But u do what u believe is best everyone should be vigilant and there's no such thing as too safe. Woot
I think the first sentence is supposed to be a question.  My initial reply was that people wonder why I don't have much faith in the human race as a whole, a backhanded putdown of him that I don't think registered; and that I remember similar dismissive talk from the 80s.  I wasn't interested in debating him via chat on Grindr, so I only added thanks to him for giving me an idea for a blog post.  It's my life and health, not his, and the word of a semi-literate person I know only through online chat is not "sufficient enough." 

Then, as I reflected, I realized that if I were going to follow the herd, I'd first have to decide which herd to follow.  We have the doctors and public health experts and the shortage of basic medical equipment and the near-total absence of tests for the virus in the US; but we also have the Trump administration denying that there is any problem, that COVID-19 is just like the flu, and we have crowds flocking to crowded bars and restaurants and Florida beaches for spring break, and elderly people going to their bingo games and book groups and Bob Evans, and various prominent dimwits declaring that they're going to stand up to the virus and not let it win, to eat wherever they like because this is America.  We have test kits mysteriously becoming available for entire sports teams and various celebrities, but not for frontline healthcare workers.  So which position is bold independent thought and which is just following the herd?  

Later today, after I began this post, the latter positions were undercut as Trump suddenly turned on a dime and began to treat the situation seriously.  I haven't asked my online buddy what he thinks about that.  After all, he himself seems to have flipflopped between the first and second paragraphs of his lecture to me -- unless that second paragraph is sarcastic, which seems likely to me.  I can't claim to think totally for myself; I'm not credulous about experts, and even the experts are struggling to make sense of the scattered data available to them.  As a non-expert I'm not in a position to come up with my own data.  But I had largely reached my own decision to close in over the weekend, before the official response had reached critical mass.  Not just for my own sake, but for solidarity with others, supporting my local businesses and public institutions.  I don't like it, but I also know how lucky I am: I'm retired with adequate pension income and health coverage, I have no responsibilities to pull me out of my home into riskier environments, and my town so far seems to be untouched by the coronavirus.  But no one knows for sure, because we don't have enough tests.

And that guy?  It's academic, because I can't foresee when I can go back into circulation, but after further chatting with him on other topics, I don't think I want to be in the same room with him.

Image credit: via Daniel Larison - I don't know where he found it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Moral Arc of the Universe Bends Towards Chaos

Like most of us, I imagine, I've thought of cutting back drastically on social media, or getting out of them altogether. But if I did, I wouldn't have seen this meme this morning:
Now, this is really, really, really stupid. If Sanders truly were the last vestige of decency, then no one would be working in his campaign, no one would have endorsed him, no one would vote for him.  Certainly no one younger would.  He's a very important figure, but he's not unique, there are plenty of other good people with the same principles out there working for them.  Sanders is not a unique genius who invented all those good policies by himself: he stands on the shoulders of generations of activists and politicians and writers and speakers who invented them or kept them alive during the Dark Age of the Reagan years and his successors.  Sanders deserves tremendous credit for sticking with his principles despite years of pressure and derision, but so do the people he represents, not just in Vermont but around the country and around the world.  This meme is (unintentionally perhaps, which doesn't make it less insulting) essentially, effectively, a slap in the face of all those people, because it erases them and says that they don't exist.

I was always nervous about the premature triumphalism I saw among Sanders fans -- not all of them, but not just the very young ones either.  I wondered how it would hold up under a loss or two.  I don't think whoever made this meme is representative of the campaign overall, but I do think it marks a weakness of the whole rah-rah circus party tone it allows and cultivates.  I've never liked pep rallies, and I don't remember the last time I ever went to one for a political candidate.  Probably I never did.  For whatever reason -- my introversion, my early reading of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, who knows? -- I don't trust cheering crowds.  They can't be relied on.

What part of "Not Me, Us," is so hard for even Sanders's adherents to understand?  This cult-of-personality stuff, this Great Man myth, is why we're in trouble now.  It isn't how we got the improvements we've seen in the past century and more.  FDR didn't haul himself from his wheelchair and give the US the New Deal, he had numerous movements supporting him and pushing him.  Neither Rosa Parks nor Martin Luther King created the Civil Rights Movement, it predated both of them, and King didn't elevate his people, they elevated him.  King was a great orator, and in an important sense a great politician, but the spotlight allowed too many people to overlook the equally courageous people behind the scenes, those who did the actual organizing, who registered voters, who risked being beaten (and often were), risked having their homes burned down (and sometimes did), risked being jailed and killed (and often were).  There were so many of them that it's not practical for anyone to remember all their names, but they were the heroes and King was their figurehead.

Some might argue that King represents the unknown heroes of the movement: we can't remember them all by name, but we can remember him.  If it worked that way, I'd be more tolerant of the tendency, but it doesn't.  Look at the way King's legacy has been distorted, and Rosa Parks's as well.  Every year we have to point out again that Parks wasn't a lone wolf who got tired one day and defied a white bus driver, she was an activist and part of a movement.  It's harder to teach the history of a movement than to teach the history of One Man or Woman, but so be it: it has to be done.

Of course I get it, we've suffered reverses and this person is feeling bad. If they want to give up, they may do so. But others won't. I'm with them. This brings to mind a story, which may even be true, about Harriet Tubman: she carried a gun with her to fight off slavehunters, but she also used it to threaten the fellow runaways she guided to freedom if they quailed and tried to turn back.  Who can blame them for being afraid, but she wasn't going to let them give information to the slavers when they were captured.  Even if they tried not to, they'd be tortured, and brutally punished in any case.  She wasn't concerned with sparing their feelings, however, rather with protecting the others she was guiding, and herself as well.  It's one thing to be frightened and disheartened, like the author of that meme: it's another to broadcast doom on Facebook, and it's not tolerable.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Just Trying to Clear Up a Few Things Here in the Augean Stables

I'll try to finish this before the Super Tuesday polls close.

Incidentally, a young woman of about 30 who works in my apartment building's rental office asked me yesterday what "Super Tuesday" is.  I explained it to her, and she really had no idea.  Not only about Super Tuesday, but what primaries are for, and some other basic parts of the electoral process.  I did my best.

Every day I feel inadequate to comment on this campaign season, compared to years past when I wrote quite a lot on the subject, because I don't think I know enough.  I haven't been following the process as closely this time because I'm old and tired and depressed by the raving ignorance (see the comments under that one) and irrationality (ditto) of so many people of "progressive" and "left" politics.  A lot of people are shooting off their mouths and keyboards about politics despite knowing not much more than the young woman I was talking to yesterday.  Yet I realized, and not for the first time, that despite my ignorance I am much better informed than many of my fellow citizens, and indeed better than many professional commentators whose job it is to inform themselves.  I'm not bragging here, understand, just pointing out how disturbingly low the bar is.

That realization is probably not going to open the floodgates of discourse around here.  But I just started watching a clip on Youtube from The Hill's Sunrise morning program.  I've been semi-following Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti for a couple of months now, and they are much better than most news commentators I've come across, despite some blind spots.  (I thought I'd already written here about some of those, but it seems not.)

As I hope everyone knows (though after yesterday's conversation I realize I could be wrong), both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the Democratic competition yesterday and endorsed Joe Biden. As someone remarked of Buttigieg, this represented perhaps the first time a rat has been observed boarding a sinking ship.  Today Beto O'Rourke chimed in for Biden too.  Krystal Ball commented, with her trademark snark: "Pete and Amy ... may hate each other, but not as much, apparently, as they hate universal health care."

Even I thought at first that this was somewhat unfair - I mean, Pete and Amy and Joe and Elizabeth and Beto are all nice Democrats, surely they don't hate universal healthcare?  That's so harsh.  And I'm sure many moderate, reasonable centrists would agree with me.  Pete and Amy and Joe and Elizabeth and Beto want us to have affordable, accessible universal healthcare that doesn't take away our freedom of choice to pay exorbitant premiums for policies with outrageous deductibles and still be turned down for treatment much of the time - that's America.  They don't disagree with Sanders's policies, they only oppose his stridency and loudness and ideological rigidity, and of course all his many privileged white-guy supporters who are so mean and alienating.  But then I remembered: if they really didn't object to universal healthcare, they wouldn't oppose it so firmly and dishonestly; they wouldn't have initially have made supportive noises and then backpedaled.  If their differences with Sanders really lay in matters of style rather than policy, nothing is stopping them from adopting his policies so that voters could choose based on the important things (his New Yawk accent, etc.) and not his many good and very popular ideas.

But they don't.  It's because they hate universal healthcare, an increased minimum wage, free public college, forgiveness of student loan debt, and all the other "divisive" (but very popular) policies that have one vital thing in common: they benefit most or all Americans, not just the rich.  So Krystal Ball was right on target.  Snarky, but right.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

I Have a Conspiracy Theory For That

What roused me from my luxurious sloth to start writing today is the apprehension that I may be blocked from seeing the tweet that set me off.  But my readers may be able to see it even if I can't.

I'm not a Buttigieg supporter or fan, and was criticizing him before a lot of people smarter than I am caught on to him.  My opinion of him has sunk ever lower as time has passed.  But I was skeptical of this tweet right away, and when I watched the video I saw that Carlo had transcribed Buttigieg's words inaccurately.  What he said was not "I'd take it" but "I woulda jumped on it."  That indicates that Buttigieg was not describing his feelings now, but how he felt before he came out.  There are other little problems I have with Carlo's version, but I do agree that Chasten looks less than enthused.  (But at least now I know how to pronounce his name.)  There are some truly weird aspects to Carlo's work that I'll return to presently, but let me concentrate for now on Buttigieg's statement.

There are many gay people who would have agreed with Buttigieg before they came out, and some still wish they could change (or be changed, magically) even now that they say they're Out and Proud. Allow me to quote a story I've told before:
I once asked another speaker on a GLB panel what he would do if it were proven, scientifically and unquestionably, that he had chosen to be gay. He thought for a moment, then said that in that case, some psychiatrist would make a lot of money helping him undo that choice. I was stunned, not least because earlier he had been talking about how he'd helped younger gay kids come out and feel good about being gay; yet he himself clearly felt quite bad about it. He was also wrong in assuming that all choices can be reversed. This doesn't mean he is a bad person; it does show how deeply miserable and wrong many of us have been made to feel about ourselves, our desires, and our loves. 
Ever since the early 1970s, when I first moved among gay people, I've encountered some of us who claimed that there was no need for activism, no need for debate, no need for Pride, because all gay people had their act together by then and bigotry was no longer a problem.  It was a dramatically clueless position at that time, but every so often someone still says it.  Sometimes the point is that pushing back against bigotry is unnecessary; sometimes it's that only the weak still feel bad about themselves, and we enlightened queers should just let these losers stew in their own juices.  I've been critical of gay people who claimed retrospectively that it was impossible to do other than hate yourself in 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002, or 2012 -- not because they hated themselves, but because they were distorting the very history they had lived through.  They're projecting their own unhappiness and isolation onto everyone else. 

But I don't blame people for wanting to change.  I did myself when I was in high school in the late 60s, and wanted to go to the main campus of Indiana University because I'd heard that the psychology clinic there did change therapy.  I failed to make the move, however, and went to a nearby regional campus instead, where I found more reading material and learned that change therapy doesn't work.  I also began encountering the ideas of the Gay Liberation movement - the Stonewall Riots took place just as I was graduating from high school -- and learned that change wasn't necessary or desirable even if it were possible.  I also learned that, contrary to the heterosexual  propaganda I'd imbibed, it was possible to be homosexual and have a fulfilling life.  By the time I made my way to IU's main campus in the fall of 1971, I'd forgotten about the psych clinic and was ready to join the gay student group there instead.

Most gay people I met, including many I met at GLF meetings, didn't feel the same way.  Any time their love life went awry, they blamed it on their homosexuality and spoke wistfully of going straight. As a young newly-militant homo, I probably saw this more negatively than I do now.  But I still saw it as the result of growing up and living in a homophobic society.

Nor do I imagine that homophobia and antigay bigotry are things of the past.  I'm not surprised in the least when they rear their heads, or when young gay people are affected and influenced by them.  I am a bit surprised when I find that they were able to block out the rapidly increasing counterimages, positive ideas, and resources available and feel sorry for themselves.  But who would I be to condemn others for feeling sorry for themselves?  My interest is to encourage them to feel better, and to help them if I can.

I don't know how Pete Buttigieg came to terms with his homosexuality, and have little interest in finding out; it's not really important.  For my purposes today, what matters is that he clearly has done so, and this Carlo person is lying, either deliberately or through agenda-driven laziness, about it.  There are many other, I think, more important reasons to despise and oppose him, so why make one up?  Many people seem to prefer made-up reasons to real ones, which I don't understand and hope to return to in another post sometime.

But it goes farther than that.  See Carlo's hashtags, #GayTrutherism and #PetesNotGay? I realized that I've seen seen the results of his "research" before, and one of his favorable commenters confirmed it.  Unfortunately, she has set her tweets to be invisible to non-followers without actually blocking me, so I can't link to her, but what she wrote was that Buttigieg doesn't set off her fine-tuned gaydar, and she was grateful to Carlo for confirming that he just isn't gay.  Gaydar is bullshit, and neither this person nor anyone else is authorized to decide who is or isn't gay.

Someone else commented: "I’ve heard 'gay for pay', but never 'gay for power'. You’ve stumbled across something here."  I've run into uncountable bigots who argued that people were claiming to be gay just to seem cool, to seem hip, to get attention, to be trendy.  (He replied: "Muncan Ditchel."  Oh my god what brilliant wit!  I am totally DESTROYED!!!! SCHOOLED!!!  YAS SLAY QUEAN!!!!)

Another commented: "He came out when Indiana was getting blasted globally for their anti-LGBT discrimination bill. Not saying that he only came out after it polled well, but it sure is interesting!"  We've made a lot of gains since 1969, but opportunistically hitching one's star to LGBT identity doesn't look like easy money to me.  Also, I came out largely after and because of the post-Stonewall explosion of the gay movement; such events do have a tendency to give closeted people the boost of encouragement they need.  It doesn't count against them.  Buttigieg's willingness to run as an openly gay candidate is probably the only thing I respect about him.  These people are the queer equivalents of aging right-wing wunderkind Ben Shapiro, who just declared that Bernie Sanders isn't a real Jew.

What Carlo has stumbled on is something much less positive than he thinks.  Trutherism isn't a flag I'd care to march under: to adopt it voluntarily is basically to declare yourself a crank.  I don't think Carlo's going to do Buttigieg any harm -- he's doing it to himself abundantly, without Carlo's help --but I hate being reminded yet again what bloated and inflamed, lying assholes many gay people are.  I already know that about Buttigieg, and now I get to/have to put Carlo on the list.  Forbear, girlene!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Uh, What?

I was in the library this morning, trying vainly to get anything constructive done, when a middle-aged couple came into the Fireplace Room with their son, who was in a powered wheelchair, and began talking to an older woman they evidently knew.  First they talked about the boy, and then switched to politics.  The younger woman said that she objected to people who say that Trump isn't their president, she didn't like Obama but she never trash-talked him like some people did, and Trump is the president so he should be respected, he's the president.  I share her distaste for the Not My President Resistance, but that never stopped me from criticizing Obama or his predecessors, and it doesn't stop me from criticizing Trump.  Her husband remarked quietly that Obama was a "puppet of Congress" (what?). 

Next she said how glad she was that Trump had killed "that terrorist" (presumably Soleimani) - when Obama killed "that terrorist" (presumably Bin Laden) everybody thought it was great, and it's not fair.  We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists, we kill them.  Perhaps she's just too young to remember Ronald Reagan negotiating with Iran to free American hostages, or again to get money for Nicaraguan terrorists.  It was a long time ago.  Frankly it's a stretch to claim that Trump's critics thought it was bad to kill Soleimani.  The objections from corporate media and the Beltway were not to killing Soleimani per se, everyone agreed that he was a Bad Man and a Terrorist who deserved to die in fire and fury, but because Trump didn't say "Mother May I" to Congress first.  There was also concern -- well, panic -- that the assassination might lead to war with Iran, which was not a consideration in the execution of Bin Laden as I recall.

But then I saw the video clip I embedded above, which reminded me that the Trump administration has been openly negotiating with the Taliban, the Evil Terrorists Responsible for 9/11, which drove America to invade Afghanistan to defend America against terrorism.  We did remove the Taliban for awhile, but they are back, and now we have to negotiate with them.  This will have no more impact on true Trumpians than Reagan's negotiations with Iran hurt him with true Reaganites, of course.  I wished I could have asked this woman about these little matters, but I stayed in my corner and held my peace.  Sometimes I romanticize my new/old town, and an episode like this is a bracing reminder. These people were perfectly nice, they didn't froth at the mouth, they were equable and mild, but they were still scary.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

I Don't Know How You Were Introverted

I like and agree with this meme, which a Facebook friend passed along the other day.  I've been critical before of the discourse around introversion and extraversion, which goes back to Carl Jung and that's not a recommendation.  It turns out that there's a lot of variation if not disagreement about the concepts among professionals, and the popular discourse is predictably even worse.  My only reservation about radicarian's suggestion is that it seems to assume that the maximum and minimum amounts of social interaction are fixed in each individual, as if we were measuring cups with limited capacity, which seems unlikely.  I think it's important to notice that "introverts" may crave quite a lot of social interaction until we reach our limit and need some solitude to recover, and I'd bet that even the most "extraverted" also have their limits and need to rest.

Some people commented that the concepts are meant to be a continuum, not a dichotomy, and while that may be true, I don't believe most people see it that way, or frame it that way when they talk about it.  Many people don't like the idea of a continuum and refuse to understand it -- compare the Kinsey continuum, a popular focus of misunderstanding -- and even those who like it and appeal to it tend to get it wrong.  Jung himself admitted that gendering his concepts of "anima" and "animus" was misleading, since those constructs are present in every person, but he evidently couldn't resist gendering them, and characterized traits as masculine or feminine anyway.  (Another reminder that "essentialism" doesn't have to refer to supposedly physical or biological traits: essences can be psychological or spiritual.)

Another person climbed onto her hobbyhorse and commented:
I think the difference is still worth talking about as long as we live in a capitalist culture that celebrates and rewards only particular orientations. Who gets to have their introverted/extroverted needs met is also deeply bound up with class, race, gender, disability. Like all identities, these labels are political, and can help us describe and change the societies we live.
I don't see any reason to bring capitalism into it (let alone "orientations").  Pre-capitalist societies also categorized people, rationing rewards and punishments according to their ability or willingness to conform.  I don't agree that introversion and extraversion are identities, but when a trait or label becomes an "identity" it becomes problematic for other reasons.  Labels and identities are political, all right, but they didn't start to be with the rise of capitalism -- another label that is political, and difficult if not impossible to define.

Someone else chimed in:
Margaret had a great response to this! I would just like to add, being an introvert is a positive identity for me. I have shared characteristics with other people who consider themselves to be introverted. And, frankly, I'm not concerned if other people think that identity is a negative or a positive.
Maybe I should have replied that I'm not concerned if this other person thinks that identity is a negative or a positive.  I'm not going to tell them that they shouldn't regard introversion as a positive identity, but they can't legislate for other people.  The bit about "shared characteristics with other people who consider themselves to be introverted" shows the problem with adopting identities.  What are those shared characteristics?  Are they inherent to introversion, or are they accidental, like, say, diva worship or cross-dressing among gay men, which encourages people to regard them as essential parts of the identity and promotes the imposition and policing of irrelevant boundaries?  I vote for the latter, and I consider it negative because not only does it promote groupthink (also known as "tribalism") but promotes ignoring that people outside the granfaloon share those supposedly gay, male, or introverted characteristics.  Such mischaracterization is not just false but harmful and counterproductive.

Someone else remarked,
I think the terms are efficient ways to identify those thresholds without having to say that entire sentence to describe yourself.
A chacun son gout, but efficiency in such matters tends to be oversimple.  To get any precision, you need ever more complicated classifications to describe yourself.  People will hear your term as they understand it, which may be very different from how you understand it.  If you realize the confusion, it will probably take more just one sentence to clear it up.

But you don't have to repeat that entire sentence.  You don't even need a label to do it.  You can just say something like, "Sorry, I'm burnt out on people right now and need some time to myself."  Yes, that's a longish sentence too, but it has the virtue of being accurate without relying on confusing and inadequate labels.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander

The composer, diarist, and critic Ned Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana, a few months before my father was born in 1923.  At 96 and counting, Rorem has outlived my father by fourteen years.  He was still composing as late as 2010.  I've never been able to get much from Rorem's music, though I keep trying; but his books have given me a lot of pleasure, from the notorious Paris and New York diaries, down to Facing the Night: A Diary (1999-2005) and Musical Writings (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006).

Raised a Quaker, Rorem later became an atheist, but he is still a pacifist, and I was intrigued by these remarks in Facing the Night, dated 13 June 2000 (17):
With those feminists of yore [?] who claimed that men have it better than women, one must agree, but for this crucial disclaimer: Women are not subject to the draft.  The draft eats up young males, whether they will or not, forcing them to learn how to kill their brothers in ignorance of whatever they're fighting for.  Indeed, if their male superiors - inevitably above draft age - find women so dispensable, why not form our armies from exclusively female combatants?
No, "intrigued" is the wrong word; more like "mildly offended."  Rorem is annoyingly glib and simplistic here.  Biologically speaking, men are much more dispensable than women, since human females usually bear only one child at a time, and are tied up by gestation for nine months and by early child care for several years.  Men, by contrast, can inseminate many women in a short time.  A cultural materialist like the anthropologist Marvin Harris could argue that this fact explains the male near-monopoly on military activity.

But that's the least of it.  As I just indicated, men have fiercely maintained war as a male preserve.  A popular rationale is that women are what men are defending by killing each other, either directly by keeping their opponents physically away from them or, more piously by casting women as a holy good, like the Nation itself.  (I don't know if all countries are regarded as feminine, but the US definitely is.)  It's not very convincing.  First, women (and children) have never been exempt from the horrors of war: massacred, enslaved, or raped, they have been regarded as prizes.  (The word "rape" originally meant the carrying away of women, not their forcible use by their captors, though the distinction was notional: soldiers abducted enemy women in order to fuck them.)  This reality is all over the Hebrew Bible (and indeed world literature in general), which regulates the sexual use of female captives from areas where Israel had not been ordered simply to kill every living thing.  There's also the phenomenon of military prostitution: the US military requires the nations in which Our Boys are Protecting Democracy to provide them with comfort women, among other vital services.

Second, like male-homosocial spaces in general, the military has traditionally been regarded as a refuge from women who might nag men to wipe their butts, pick up their underwear, take out the garbage, or refrain from blowing their noses on the floor.  Ironically, perhaps, joining the army is just going from the frying pan to the fire in this respect, from the demands of nagging moms to abusive drill sergeants and endless chickenshit barracks policing.  I suppose that the deadly masochism of the male is a factor here; women express their version of this syndrome through heterosexual marriage.  So I don't take the claim of "defending our women" very seriously: military men and organizations view women as more dispensable even than men.

One reason I like the term and concept of "patriarchy" is that, as someone has defined it, it arranges people of both sexes by their relationship to older men.  Do the Fathers care about the young men they send to war?  Not very much, and they manfully subdue their care in the service of Higher Values like power and profit.  Do they care about the young women they claim to be defending and protecting against the buck Negro, the Mexican, the Hun, the Gook, the Hajji?  Oh, my dear, possibly even less than that.  Male supremacy might be the last survival of feudalism and its forerunners.  But Enlightenment values have not managed to improve things much in this area.

I also noticed that at the time Rorem wrote those words, the United States hadn't had a draft for decades.  (Though, true, young men were and are required to register in case the draft is reinstated.) And of course, increasing numbers of women have been going into combat to defend Our Oil Companies (which really are sacred), where they too can be maimed and killed, or maim and kill others.  Equality, yay!  Maybe I shouldn't expect even a gay man of Rorem's vintage to have a very nuanced grasp of sexual politics, but his view of war and the military also leaves a lot to be desired.

Men have been whining that they have it rough too at least since the advent of Second Wave feminism ("feminists of yore"?).   They tend to ignore the fact that feminists have been vocal about the harm done to men by patriarchy all along, and have tried to engage them in the effort to eradicate sexism.  I suppose the problem is that feminism is run by, y'know, girls, and they want their own show; even collaboration as equals seems unacceptable.  A men's movement against sexism is fine with me, but what we've had always ends up blaming women for men's disadvantages, perhaps because blaming other men is so much scarier.  Dorothy Dinnerstein wrote a lot about this problem in The Mermaid and the Minotaur (Harper, 1976).  I've quoted her before, but today I'll add this observation; rereading it reminds me just why I found Rorem's remarks so faulty.
I have seen on the faces of some men who are on the whole quite likable a certain smile that I confess I find deeply unattractive: a helpless smile of self-congratulation when some female disadvantage is referred to. And I have heard in their voices a tone that (in the context of what women put up with) is equally unattractive: a tone of self-righteous, self-pitying aggrievement when some male disadvantage becomes obvious. This sense of being put upon that many men feel in the fact of evidence that the adult balance of power is not at every point by a safe margin in their favor seems based on the implicit axiom that to make life minimally bearable, to keep their very chins above water, to offset some outrageous burden that they carry, they must at least feel that they are clearly luckier and mightier than women are [215ff].
"Self-righteous, self-pitying aggrievement" says it very exactly.  If I were like many people, I'd call Dinnerstein prophetic; but she was describing a problem of her own time, and much older.  I'm not putting Rorem down, however; I enjoyed Facing the Night very much overall, and it gave me more than just this bit to write about here.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Pursuit of Happiness

This morning I was browsing through a listing of discounted e-books I don't need, when I noticed this review excerpt, quoted to tout B. F.'s Daughter by J. P. Marquand:
“No one can write more engagingly of their search for happiness. Or of their sulks when they discover—too late, alas—that happiness must be earned.” —The New York Times Book Review
Wait a minute, I thought, since when does happiness have to be earned?  For that matter, how do you earn it?

There's no agreement about what happiness is, but I think most people recognize that it's elusive.  You can be unhappy despite having all the conventional advantages -- wealth, comfort, a loving family, etc.  You can be happy despite the lack of such advantages.  People work hard, dutifully, all their lives hoping to achieve or earn happiness, either in livelihood or in personal relationships, and then find themselves wondering why it didn't work.

In English, at least, "happy" and "happiness" originally meant "good fortune" or luck.  But it also meant "a pleasant and contented mental state."  The first sense, which I often encountered in English literature from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, hadn't completely died out by the time B. F.'s Daughter was first published in 1946, but I suspect most Americans have forgotten it by now.  I suspect that the second sense, though, derives from the first: if you are content and feel pleasant, it's not something you've achieved, it's something that happened (same root) to you, by luck or good fortune. So the idea that happiness "must be earned" is, it seems to me, obviously ridiculous. Perhaps (same root) you can improve your chances by judicious action, but happiness is ultimately beyond your control: in the hands of the goddess Fortune, who like all gods will knock you over just to hear the splat.  (Read the book of Job sometime, if you haven't already: the malignant whimsicality of gods is not specifically a 'pagan' idea.  Nor is it limited to Job: doesn't Yahweh say somewhere else, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy"?  [Yep: Exodus 33:19, quoted by Paul in Romans 9:15.])  I'm almost tempted to find the original review to learn who wrote such a silly thing.  Maybe I will.

What makes that second sentence not merely silly but pernicious is the implication that if you aren't happy, it's your fault.  You didn't work hard enough. You were lazy.  You thought the world owes you a living.  Or Catch-22: You must have done something wrong, or you wouldn't be sad.  Or a theological version: You thought you could compel God to give you happiness through your own efforts, so you deserve to be miserable; the beatings will continue until your morale improves.  Stop whining or God will give you something to cry about!

I'm not blaming Marquand for the foolishness of his reviewer, mind you.  But I do wonder why this vendor, seventy-odd years after the book was published, chose to highlight this quotation to recommend it.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

I Believe in Scientists, I Just Don't Trust Them

I recently read Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club (Beacon Press, 2015), which is mostly a memoir of the author's struggle to become a physicist -- she
got as far as a BS, summa cum laude, at Yale before she switched to the humanities -- but also discusses the exclusionary tactics that still keep women out of the sciences.  I didn't know what to expect when I picked it up, expecting a less personal book like Julie Des Jardins's The Madame Curie Complex (Feminist Press, 2010) or Margaret Wertheim's Pythagoras' Trousers (Norton, 1997), but I ended up enjoying and respecting Pollack's work.  For one thing, she was able to contact and interview most of her high-school science teachers and college professors, which provides an interesting perspective on how the field has changed -- or not.

But this anecdote, from her account of a summer job at Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee while she was in college in the late 1970s, cast a valuable light on the culture of scientists:
I also grew disillusioned with the us-versus-them mentality of the lab’s employees. “We” were solving the energy problem; “they” didn’t have a clue what a neutron cross-section was. “We” knew nuclear power plants were safe; “they” staged emotional protests, holding up the construction of new facilities. I grew tired of hearing the engineers ridicule the “morons” who thought it possible that a reactor might go critical (this, a year before Three Mile Island), even as they told stories about the janitor whose rubber boot had slipped off and gotten sucked into a pipe that fed a cooling tank, or the guys who had shielded a new reactor, only to run a Geiger counter along the road and find a spot so hot they scratched their heads in bewilderment—until someone pointed out they had neglected to shield the roof.

Our first week, we were required to attend a safety session where someone from Health Physics demonstrated how to detect radiation spills. As he passed his Geiger counter over the “suspected surface,” the machine chattered a warning. But the demonstration was far from over. “Several radiation sources have purposely been hidden around this room,” the man told us. “I want each of you to take a counter and see how many spills you can locate.”

I said I would rather not play the game.

“Why?” he asked. “Are you afraid of the radiation? You don’t honestly think we would expose you to harmful levels, do you?”

As a child, I had undergone a lot of unnecessary X-rays, and I didn’t want to absorb even one millirem more than needed. But with everyone watching, I gave in and agreed to play the Huckle Buckle Beanstalk Radiation Game. I am sure the exercise added little to the level of radiation I received that summer. But I am equally sure it added little to my ability to detect a spill.
This reminded me of the biologist and Nobel laureate Peter Medawar, who dismissed concerns about genetic engineering in very similar terms.  He assumed that critics of the field feared 'mad scientists' driven by a lust for power and a fondness for destruction, and assured his readers that scientists were sane - quite sane - and only sought knowledge in order to serve humanity.  It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that sane scientists might also fuck up through ignorance (which is always greater than knowledge) or carelessness.  I mean, "Oops, we forgot to shield the roof? Sorry 'bout that"?

Some of that arrogant carelessness seems related to Boy Culture, fortified by youthful fantasies of invulnerability, though I'm also reminded of the stories Dave Barry likes to pass along, of guys who do stupid things on dares, usually under the influence of many beers, and end up impaled on various implements of destruction.  Famous Last Words: "Hey - Watch this!"

If you want to focus on scientists, remember the male nuclear physicists at Los Alamos who let off steam while building atomic bombs by playing with conventional explosives, a pastime that continues to the present day.
This is not the first time that Los Alamos has fallen short when it comes to safety and security matters. In early 2009, it emerged that the nation’s major nuclear weapons lab had misplaced at least 67 computers sensitive information, and others had been stolen from a lab employee. The facility has also come under fire in recent years for, among other things, failing to properly protect nuclear materials and shipping a deadly radioactive package by Fedex.
'You don't honestly think we would expose you to harmful levels, do you?"  Why, yes, I honestly do.  Not deliberately or maliciously, maybe, but just for shits and giggles, out of sheer boyish high spirits. And bear in mind that I'm not writing about cranks here but about credentialed professionals with advanced degrees, who know so much more than we excitable proles.  The philosopher (and physicist by training) Paul Feyerabend argued for scientific democracy, more input and supervision of scientists by the public.  (Whose tax dollars, remember, pay for these diversions.)  This of course infuriated his critics, and I admit I sometimes thought myself that his recommendations were more theoretical and principled than real.  But he knew firsthand what he was talking about.  I would rather not play the game either.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Inappropriate Appropriation

I'm not sure why this cheered me up, but it did.

It seems that Elizabeth Warren's campaign recently announced an "Interfaith Advisory Council" made up of religious leaders of various stripes, and almost immediately took it down.  Even the Wayback Machine can't seem to find the original tweet, but the press release yet lives.  It drew criticism and mockery because the list included fourteen Christian clergy, a rabbi, and a partridge in -- no, a Zen Buddhist teacher from North Carolina.

The thread I found on Twitter included a lot of boyish tittering because the Buddhist sensei is an apparently white American woman.

I don't know if that reply is accurate or just a snarky allusion to Warren's now-abandoned claim of Cherokee ancestry, but it doesn't matter, because Buddhism, like most religions, is not a race or even an ethnicity.  (Guess what, guys - Roman Catholics are not all, or even mostly, Roman!)  Buddhism isn't racially homogeneous even in Asia, and though it originally came to the United States with Asian immigrants in the 1800s, by the twentieth century Buddhist missionaries were coming here to bring enlightenment and salvation, yea, even to white people.  Before long they were ordaining clergy among the "natives."  (Just as Christian clergy in Asia are now usually Asian.)  The assumption that Buddhists aren't white is racist to the core.

This one too:

So, Matt, how about those Korean and Japanese Catholic bishops?  Are they "appropriating" Western culture?  (Of course not: they're just dupes of the imperialists!)  How about "Asian" Americans who speak English?  One person had the sense to point out: "I don't know who she is, but if she was legit ordained by a Zen master she has more right to wear those clothes than the average Japanese person."  This led to more discussion among people who don't know that "Christian name" used to, and sometimes still does refer to the new name converts adopted on baptism.

Or think of Malcolm Little, who first changed his surname to X when he joined the Nation of Islam, then adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz after his pilgrimage to Mecca.  Adopting a new name for religious reasons is not exactly an obscure practice, even in the US.  Of course a atheist like Matt LP may not feel it important to know such superstitious drivel, but I think that an atheist who wants to comment on religion should be at least as knowledgeable as his targets - especially an atheist who claims that "Constructive criticism and knowledge is my forte. A better world is possible if we fight for it. #NotMeUs".  (Notice: not his aspiration, but his "forte.")  It would also be good not be bluntly racist, but that's probably too much to ask of an American.

Yes, it is hilarious that Warren's campaign rolled out such a half-assed initiative.  One would think that a little more thought would have gone into a project by a well-funded, professional organization made up of educated people; I thought white liberals had tokenism down to a science.  Instead Warren got something like Pete Buttigieg's ill-starred attempt to inflate his support among African-Americans in North Carolina without bothering to consult the people whose names he, um, appropriated.  But then some of Warren's critics made equally big fools of themselves.

P.S. This was yesterday, but it fits:

As Jake and several commenters chortled, quite a few of those canonical Western artists were not straight.  (Many of the names named are 'known' to have been gay by gossip, not history, but never mind.)  Nor were the famous Eyetalians, at least, white by modern scientific-racist standards.  But aside from that, even as a canon-revisionist myself, it occurs to me that much of the attitude alluded to in that quotation is wrong-headed.  Yes, students should be exposed to and instructed about art from outside the Western traditions, and an introductory survey is one good place to do it.  But would they criticize, say, a class on Japanese art history for being overwhelmingly Japanese, let alone male?  As the Feminist Press found when they assembled textbooks on writing by women outside the West, they encountered not just resistance but outright denial that Chinese, Indian, or East Asian .women had ever written anything.  And I don't think it was only because the indigenous academics involved had often been trained in the West.  A lot of culturally-sensitive discourse turns out to be as knee-jerk uninformed and blinkered as the traditions it opposes.

The Bach Door

The Netherlands Bach Society has a whole bunch of videos of performances of Bach's music on Youtube, and I put one on now and then when I'm in the mood for that old-time rock and roll.  This one came up in my recommendations today, and since I like the Cello Suites I clicked through.

I like the design of the video, the small audience sitting impassively in the darkened background, the cellist's concentration under the light.  But then I noticed the cello itself: I obscurely expected it to be shiny, new-looking, but it looks old, much-used, perhaps antique.  It's not important - I was only half-watching it as I listened - but it pleased me.

Contrast this clip from the same source, of a young man - a boy, really - playing the Third Cello Suite on a different but still banged-up-looking instrument.  There's no audience, the room he's in has large windows overlooking today's Amsterdam so you can't forget that you're in the twenty-first century.  Also interesting, not just a recitation of Bach's music but a comment on it.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Stuart Middle

The blogger Ampersand, aka the artist Barry Deutsch, linked to this New Yorker article on E. B. White's Stuart Little last week.  The article is even older than last week -- it was published in 2008 -- but I hadn't seen it before, it's about one of my all-time favorite books, and I learned a lot about the writing of the book, the state of children's literature in the mid-twentieth century, and other matters of interest to me.  It's well worth reading.

One thing bothered me, though.  Jill Lepore, the author of the article, doesn't like the ending of Stuart Little, and she boosts her dislike as if it were an objective fact about the book:
“Stuart Little” leaves you in doubt, a good deal of doubt, really; it doesn’t exactly end so much as it’s just, abruptly, over.  In Chapter VIII, Stuart falls in love with a bird named Margalo, and when she flies away he goes on a quest. In the book’s last chapter, he stops his coupe at a filling station and buys five drops of gas. In a ditch alongside the road, he meets a repairman, preparing to climb a telephone pole. “I wish you fair skies and a tight grip,” Stuart says, thoughtfully. “I hope you find that bird,” the repairman says. Then come the book’s final, distressing lines:
Stuart rose from the ditch, climbed into his car, and started up the road that led toward the north. The sun was just coming up over the hills on his right. As he peered ahead into the great land that stretched before him, the way seemed long. But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.
Stuart Little isn’t Gregor Samsa. He’s Don Quixote, turning into Holden Caulfield.
Lepore mentions Gregor Samsa because the critic Edmund Wilson told White that he "was disappointed that you didn’t develop the theme more in the manner of Kafka."  (Samsa is a man who turns into a giant insect in Franz Kafka's tale "The Metamorphosis.")  But Stuart isn't Don Quixote or Holden Caulfield either; I think Lepore is as deaf to nuance as Wilson or the librarians who objected to the book's blurring of fantasy and reality.

Lepore found the ending of Stuart Little "distressing," and I wouldn't be surprised if many child readers agreed.  Lepore quotes with delight the 'happy' ending written by a fifth-grade girl in 1946, which is well-done for a child that age but just as wrong for the book as Wilson's suggestion.  I can only report my own reaction when I first Stuart Little, on my own, in third grade, around 1960: I loved the ending.  It was, I suspect, the first unresolved ending I'd ever encountered, and it taught me something about what stories could do that I never would have learned if White had chosen for Stuart and Margalo to be "married back in New York and [raise] a family of half mice and half birds."  Lepore loves this; I don't; many people hate unresolved endings, it's a matter of taste.  But millions of copies of Stuart Little have been sold, and I don't believe that all of its young readers rejected White's ending.  Lepore is entitled to her distress, but I for one am glad that White ended the story as he did.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Twitterverse of Hysteria

On Friday Donald Trump delivered himself of another rambling word salad to CNBC's fawning Joe Kernen.  As usual, there was little substance in his remarks, but the closing upset a lot of people, particularly people who hadn't read it.  Or people who can't read; take your pick.

Kernen approached his quarry cautiously:
JOE KERNEN: Do I dare-- one last question.


JOE KERNEN: Entitlements ever be on your plate?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: At some point they will be. We have tremendous growth. We’re going to have tremendous growth. This next year I-- it’ll be toward the end of the year. The growth is going to be incredible. And at the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look, cause it’s such a--

JOE KERNEN: If you’re willing--

PRESIDENT TRUMP: --big percentage.

JOE KERNEN: --to do some of the things that you said you wouldn’t do in the past, though, in terms of Medicare--

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, we’re going-- we’re going[,] look. We also have-- assets that we’ve never had. I mean we’ve never had growth like this. We never had a consumer that was taking in, through-- different means, over $10,000 a family. We never had the kind of-- the kind of things that we have. Look, our country is the hottest in the world. We have the hottest economy in the world....
Some people on Twitter have suggested that Trump doesn't know what "entitlements" are.  That's plausible, but it seems more likely to me that he just wasn't listening, and he didn't let himself be diverted by Kernen's attempt to drive him the way he wanted him to go.  Trump didn't take up the subject of entitlements, and Kernen gave up on it.

However, some on Twitter panicked; I'm not sure why.  One business journalist, Pedro Nicolasi da Costa, said flatly "Trump told CNBC he wants to cut Social Security."  I imagine he does want to, but he didn't say so to Kernen.  For backup he retweeted a tweet from something called The Bridge Project: "realDonaldTrump admitted he’s coming for your Medicare and SocialSecurity at the 'end of the year.'"  No, he didn't, but who cares?  We've got an endless election campaign going on here, and there can be no lily-livered white-feather conscientious objectors.

Two main themes emerged in replies.  One was that Trump and the GOP want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare, and his base of old white people are stupid to support him because he's taking away their money and OMFG we have to vote Democrat in November!  It's true that the GOP wants to get rid of Social Security, Medicare, and your little Medicaid too, but so do elite Democrats.  The current Democratic favorite among older voters, Joe Biden, has been trying to cut these programs for forty years.  How will voting for Biden benefit me on this issue?  I spent some time pointing this out, and the few people who answered me said that Trump must go and they will Vote Blue No Matter Who so don't bother me with this trivia.  

They simply ignored the little problem of Biden, though I liked the person who wrote: "Interesting some claim Joe Biden is for cutting Social Security but ignore that Trump AND [McConnell]have been saying it for months and ARE CUTTING SSDI & EBT now. They openly say they will cut SS if they win the 2020 election. It should be a major scandal but is ignored!"  "Some claim" - that's funny, because Biden's record on cutting Social Security is well-documented, but his campaign claims that the videos have been misleadingly edited and are Fake News.  Even such Trumpian tactics are acceptable when Democrats use them.

Not only that, but Barack Obama wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare, blaming them for the deficitHe failed because the Congressional GOP was so determined to block him that they wouldn't accept a gift they'd long wanted.  (One person answered me, claiming that yes, Obama wanted to, but he failed and he realized he was wrong, so it doesn't count.  First, it's not true, Obama never changed his position; and second, this is exactly the argument Trump's defenders have made: that yes, he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine, but he didn't get the investigation he asked for, and he released the aid in the end, so it doesn't count.  Again, it's okay to use such a worthless defense for Obama, but not for Trump.)  Trump's willfully blind base have nothing on these people.

The other theme was the familiar one about how Social Security and Medicare are not "entitlements," they're "earned benefits," and anyway, it's our money that we worked for and paid, so they are entitlements and we are entitled, so there, too!  If you don't like it, I want my money back!  You'll remember the suggestion that Trump doesn't know what "entitlement" means?  Well, neither do Democrats.  (To be quite honest, I'm not sure it's only Democrats who say this; pro-Trump Republicans do too, if they think a Democrat wants to put his government hands on their Medicare and Social Security.)

But really, the worst part -- both hilarious and terrifying -- is the claim that Democrats will protect our Social Security and Medicare so Vote Blue No Matter Who.  What Obama tried to do is down the memory hole, if they ever noticed it -- and it's not as if Obama weren't open about it and it weren't covered in the mainstream media.  Bill Clinton also tried, but was blocked by his impeachment.  But what must not be cannot be. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Cute War Criminal Pictures

I'd already seen these pictures online when a friend posted them on Facebook, gushing that you should leave politics out of it, they are just beautiful HUMAN BEINGS!  A couple of her friends gushed along with her.  I mentioned that Obama is a war criminal, and pointed out that Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was a human being too, but my comment has disappeared, along perhaps (I haven't checked) with the photos.  I'm impressed that my friend didn't unfriend me, but I think I was moderate to a fault.

After all, the people in the wedding parties Obama droned were human beings too.  So were the people in the hospitals he bombed.  So were the people in Libya killed by his NATO bombing campaign.  So were the Yemeni adults and children killed by the weapons and support Obama gave Saudi Arabia to wage war against them.  So were people in various countries on which he imposed sanctions.  So were the Central American refugee kids he callously sent back to danger and death in the countries they fled.  But their humanity doesn't begin to balance the sublime beauty of Barack and Michelle, and it's "politics" to remember it.

It would be one thing if Obama's cult acknowledged his murderous record but honestly declared their support for it.  It would still be heinous, but it could be engaged with.  But accurately describing a politician's (a Democratic politician's, anyway) record is a smear, racist, sexist, whatever.  What most appalls me is that they are unaware of his record.  Even when the stories were covered in the corporate media, they just slid harmlessly off the teflon brains of Obama loyalists and went down the memory hole.

Noam Chomsky has used the analogy of ants: when he (or anyone) walks down the street, he probably steps on and kills numerous small insects.  This isn't because he hates ants; they just aren't important enough to him to impel him to watch out for them.  Similarly, my friend and other Obama fans don't hate Afghan wedding parties or hospital patients or Yemeni children: their lives simply don't matter to them.  They might care a little more about Yemeni children now that it's Donald Trump helping Saudi Arabia to kill them, but not much more from what I see, and they didn't care at all when Obama was in charge.  It's like the "When Clinton Lied Nobody Died" bumper stickers I saw for a few years during the George W. Bush regime: many innocent people died because of Bill Clinton, but they were nobody, and Clinton's defenders easily brush aside any attempt to remind them of what happened to nobody.  Another friend was surprised when I recounted Clinton's record to her at length.  She didn't remember any of it, though she is my age and was sentient and conscious between 1992 and 2000.  I fear she's forgotten it again since then, and we haven't discussed Obama.

Are the lives of nobody "politics"?  I'm not sure.  I don't think one can or should separate politics, whatever that means, from recently-former Presidents.  Now that Dubya himself has been taken under the shelter of the Obamas' wings, his crimes forgiven and forgotten, so that liberal Democrats consider it unfair to bring them up, what are we allowed to remember?  I doubt that they'll grant the same amnesty to Trump when he's out of office, however he leaves.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Rage of Consent

I stumbled on a strange sex-advice column at Slate the other day.  A "22-year-old autistic queer woman who has never been sexually active" reported that she's periodically told by
friends—even progressive, feminist friends—who are older than me and try to take on a bit of a “mom friend” vibe, about whether women and gay men under 25 are able to consent to sex. I am told, at least once every couple weeks, that if you’re under 25, you’re incapable of consent because your “frontal lobes are still developing.” When I point out they suspiciously only apply the argument to women and gay men, they either tell me I am too young to understand, too inexperienced to understand, or too autistic to understand. 
The columnists - a man and a woman who write the column together - came down on what I consider the right side of the question: the friends are condescending and flat wrong.  They consulted various experts who confirmed that while some parts of the brain may continue to develop until the age of 25 (though women usually mature faster than men), there's no evidence that those parts have anything to do with a capacity to give consent to sexual interaction.

It's hard to see how they could, because "consent" is such a muddy, muddled concept in the first place.  As a legal concept it's a fiction: remember that in the not very distant past, American white women of any age couldn't consent to have sex with black males; men of any age could not consent to anal sex with other males in the US; at various times, no one of any age could consent to oral sex with anyone, and so on, no matter how developed their frontal lobes were.  Contrariwise, women who had once given consent, especially in marriage, could never withdraw it afterward. "Marital rape" was a hotly contested concept for just that reason: a husband might respect his wife's reluctance to let him exercise his marital rights, but he wasn't obliged to.  A good many people confuse the legal definitions of consent with what might be called the 'common-sense' definition (and you know what I think of 'common sense'), partly out of ignorance, partly because they find it convenient to do so.

I suspect that Underage's older, progressive, feminist friends set the bar at 25 for "women and gay men" because of penetration, which Andrea Dworkin hinted was inherently violent in her 1987 book Intercourse.  When this notion was challenged, Dworkin's defenders denied that she had actually said so, because she'd cannily relied on innuendo and rhetorical questions.  Plausible deniability, in other words, which was odd because Dworkin was not renowned for indirection.  But see this essay by Nona Willis Aronowitz (Ellen Willis's daughter), which I might give more extended attention sometime.  Aronowitz is, in my opinion, wrong about numerous matters, especially when she claims that "the pro-sex side had won" the war for the soul of feminism.  That's an oversimplification at best, as Underage's complaint shows.  But then, unlike Aronowitz, I actually read Dworkin's work from Woman Hating through Intercourse, and to a lesser extent beyond.

I also suspect that if Underage's friends got their way -- suppose that the legal age of consent for women was raised to 25 -- they'd soon find reasons why it should be even higher.  And then they'd argue that because the brain, having finished developing, promptly begins to deteriorate, no one over 25, or 30, is competent to give consent either.  Since their strictures aren't based on any actual evidence, but just their personal (and yet shared, which is the disturbing part) hangups, it's fair to suppose that they don't want anyone to seek erotic pleasure: so much can go wrong.  Except themselves, I presume.

It would be interesting to ask them at what age straight men and lesbians become capable of consent.  What are straight men under 25 supposed to do for sexual partners?  Older women?  Older gay men?  What about erotic play between children of more or less the same age?  I suppose that 'progressive, feminist' women of a certain age would simply consider that to be abuse.  My late Tabloid Friend on Facebook declared dogmatically that any child who is interested in playing with another child's body must have been abused already, and was simply continuing the cycle of abuse.

I don't think that Dworkin led feminists astray: she spoke for many women - feminist, non-feminist, anti-feminist.  From what I've seen, many women, often but not always older, white, and educated, shared her disgust for sex.  Aronowitz quotes Dworkin to the effect that men must "forgo their 'precious erections' and 'make love as women do together.'"  This is disingenuous, because Dworkin also wrote about lovemaking between women as grinding misery.  (Again, I have the advantage over Aronowitz of having read a lot more than the one-volume selection of Dworkin's work that she reviewed.)  Dworkin liked to walk both sides of the street, as it were, in a way that later came to be known as "triangulation."

I want to stress that I'm not telling women, or anyone, of any age, that they must enjoy sex, or engage in it at all if they don't want to.  Erotic/sexual freedom means the freedom to say no, to abstain, to set limits.  It's the traditionalists, actually, who reject nuance and the right to say Yes to this person or at this time, and No to another person or at another time: if you say Yes once, you can never say No again, and if you say Yes but have a bad time, you brought it on yourself and deserve no sympathy.    I don't know how far Underage's older, progressive feminist friends would go in that direction, but I bet they'd go pretty far. When ostensible progressives take traditionalist positions, they need to be challenged and shut down.  Like Dworkin, who was apt to vilify women who claimed to enjoy intercourse as (Aronowitz quoting her again) "'left-wing whores' and 'collectivized cunts'".  I'm old enough to remember the lesbian/feminist sex wars of the 1980s, where such epithets and more were hurled by older, progressive feminists at other women.

Underage's story stuck with me because it fits with other symptoms of reaction I've noticed: panic about nudity, panic about touching.  I realize that my Sixties-generational optimism about a better, freer, less screwed-up sexual world was naive, but I couldn't understand why anyone would want to police other people's sex lives.  I later realized, and learned, that sex is scary.  Especially for heterosexual women, for reasons that are well-known.  But for men too.  Dorothy Dinnerstein's The Mermaid and the Minotaur (1976) taught me so much about why people distrust, even hate the body: it can't be relied on to feel pleasure or give it; it fails us, it breaks down, it disappoints, eventually it sickens and dies.  So I don't blame religion, or feminism, for what looks to me like resurgent prudery in many corners of society; I see it as part of our human nature and heritage, which needs to be examined and criticized and resisted, especially when people mobilize bad science to try to frighten and restrict the sexual lives of other people.  If freedom means anything, it means the right to say No, but also to say Yes; and clearly many people don't think we should say Yes.