Sunday, August 12, 2018

People Keep Using This Word, Etc.

David Sirota is a fine journalist, so I'm not picking on him specifically here.  I've seen a lot of other people do the same thing:
Modest proposal: if you took over a political party & then oversaw that party losing Congress & most statehouses, and then you additionally oversaw it losing the presidency to a reality TV star, you’re no longer in a position to lecture anyone about electability or effectiveness.
I agree completely with the substance of this remark.  It's the "Modest proposal" part that bugged me.  I take it to be an allusion to Jonathan Swift's satirical tract of that title, published in 1729, in which he proposed to fatten Irish babies for English tables. If you're following Swift's example, a "modest proposal" is sarcastic in the first instance -- you know it's outrageous -- and in the second, you do not actually mean that your recommendation should be followed.

I presume that Sirota, by contrast, is quite serious in proposing that the Democratic Party leadership STFU. So there's no sarcasm here, no satire.  It's as tone-deaf as Hillary Clinton's use of George Orwell's 1984 in her apologia pro snafu sua What Happened.  Yet Sirota is not a stupid man.  As I've said, I've seen other intelligent people announce modest proposals that they mean unironically.  How does this happen?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

First We Take Tahiti

I just reread Jack Douglas's The Adventures of Huckleberry Hashimoto (Dutton, 1964), for the first time in at least forty years.  Douglas (1908-1989) was a radio and TV comedy writer, a buddy of Jack Parr (who makes a cameo appearance in this book), and the author of numerous books that permanently warped my sense of humor when I was in middle school: such classics as My Brother Was an Only Child (1959), Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver (1960), and A Funny Thing Happened to Me on My Way to the Grave (1962).  All of which were in my small-town public library; they weren't obscure under-the-counter samizdat, they were published by a respectable house and went into mass-market paperback.

I don't remember at this remove in what order I read them.  It's possible I read Huckleberry Hashimoto first and then found the earlier books.  The first two were basically comedy routines that couldn't have been performed on TV; Huckleberry Hashimoto was an account of Douglas's 1963 trip to Japan with his (third) wife, Reiko and their rambunctious sixteen-month-old son Bobby.  They went by way of Tahiti and Hawaii, largely by ocean liner.  Bobby was, Douglas informs us,
sixteen months old when we started out.  Reiko was twenty-seven and I was forty-eight.  When we got back home he was nineteen months, Reiko was still twenty-seven, and I was a hundred and three [9-10].
In fact, Douglas seems to have told a little white lie here.  According to his Wikipedia entry, he was born in 1908, which would mean he was 55 in 1963.  (According to her obituary in the New York Times, Reiko was born in 1936, so she was 27 when they went on that fateful trip.)  But the marriage seems to have been successful -- they remained together for the rest of Douglas's life.

I enjoyed the book this time around, and was surprised by how many of the situations and gags had stayed with me.  What I noticed on this reading was the number of references to homosexuals.  It's been a frequent complaint of many homophobes that although we are a small minority, we still insist on talking about ourselves all the time - you know, the "the love that dared not speak its name" routine.  There is some truth about this, though we're not any more obsessed with our sex lives than heterosexuals are about theirs.  But what I find interesting is how obsessed with homosexuals many heterosexuals are.  Douglas is not terribly bad, really -- he doesn't fuss and fume hysterically, he sticks to the neutral term "homosexual" for the most part -- but he does keep mentioning us, more than our minuscule numbers would seem to justify.

For example, early in the voyage Douglas catalogues some of the characters he saw on board:
... I saw Miss Ethel Murdock and Mr. Peter Corbin enjoying a glass of beer (their eighteenth) under a rear table in the Outrigger Bar.  (Miss Murdock is a forty-five-year-old third-grade teacher, with more than just a suggestion of a moustache, in search of "new experiences."  Mr. Corbin is a homosexual who didn't realize that Miss Murdock wasn't Pancho Villa.) [27].
Then, on the way to Tahiti:
This particular deck steward also told me that if I was going to write anything about Tahiti in my new book, to check up on the stories concerning a certain movie actor, who had made a picture there.  The stories all pertained to the fact that he was a homosexual.  I told him that that's what they said about everybody in show business, that they were either homosexuals or communists.

He said, "Jesus -- I didn't know he was a communist, too!"

I said, "I didn't say that -- besides, what proof has anyone got that this actor is a homo?"

He said, because all the Tahitians called him a "mahu" which is Tahitian for "faggot" and also this actor in making this movie (which was about Tahiti) insisted that all of his "boys" be in it, and when he didn't get his way he stamped his sandaled foot and swished off the set into his thatched hut where he sat around in his muu-muu and sulked and pouted and moued for three days.  Something had to give, so finally the producer agreed that his "boys" could appear in the trailer for the film, if not in the film itself.  This seemed to satisfy the movie star and he emerged from his hut, his lip still a little Jackie Cooperish, but more or less ready to continue making the movie.  In all fairness to this movie actor, I did check up on him when I got to Tahiti and the consensus was unanimous -- he's a fag [47-48].
It's hard to sort out Douglas's commentary from the steward's in this story, so I'm not going to try.  I think Douglas was a bit more sophisticated than he let on, for once he got to Tahiti he reported
the penchant the Tahitians have for sensational gossip, one facet being that according to everybody on the island everybody else is queer.  Also, everybody that comes to the island is either queer or double-gaited -- or both.  (For those of you who are not familiar with the term "double-gaited," it means a homosexual who is happily married and the father of six children, but who is madly in love with the boy next door.)  [90]
I found this pretty funny, actually.  It reminded me of the stories Mark Padilla told in his book on male hustlers in the Dominican Republic, who would mention "to me that one or another of their peers was known to 'dar el culo' (give their ass) on occasion, which often produced much hilarity on the part of the storyteller."  Padilla didn't draw the connection himself, but he also reported that some of the same young men who told him that other guys would steal from their clients, turned out to be thieves themselves.  I suspect, then, that at least some of the Tahitians who gossiped -- no doubt with "much hilarity" -- about the predilections of their fellows and of tourists were sounding him out to see if he might be available and interested.  (The same might have been true of the steward.)  Douglas may even have realized it; who knows?

There were a couple of passing references to homosexuals later in the book (see page 122 if you ever read it), but you get the idea.  Douglas wasn't complaining about homosexuals everywhere, trying to take over, which puts him ahead of many his more highbrow peers in those days; he was just showing how worldly he was.  And to give him credit, he was also genuinely interested in Japan, got along with Reiko's family, and picked up more Japanese than most gaijin who married Japanese women seem to have troubled to do.  His account of staying with Reiko's family -- her father was a Buddhist priest, by the way -- in Hiroshima is pretty sensitive for the era.  He gets comedy out of their stay in Japan, but no more than he does of everything else, and I liked him overall.  There were other books by other writers that I read in those days that disturbed and frightened me by their handling of homosexuality; but Douglas' treatment made no impression on me, and I went on reading his books happily for years afterward.

So let me conclude with a story that I found rather charming:
The last thing I remembered as I drifted off that first night was the incident of the dignified little old Japanese gentleman and the electric-eye door at the hotel in Kyoto.  Every time he left the hotel or entered it, the electric eye would fling open the door for him.  And every time he would stop and bow to it [166].

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Price of Liberty



I watched this movie last night on DVD, and it was very good -- better than I expected, given Korean movies' increasing Hollywoodization. Which could mean that American audiences might like it! It's streaming on Amazon and Youtube and probably elsewhere, so chances are you can find it if you're interested. Korea has been in the US news more than usual lately, so Americans should take the opportunity to inform themselves. Besides, this is a good movie -- entertaining, well-made, and fairly accurate historically.

1987 is about the events that led to the fall of the military dictatorship in South Korea, set off by the murder by waterboarding of a student activist, Park Jong-chul.  A prosecutor blocked the coverup, the press ran with the story, and after huge protests all over the country, the government allowed open elections to take place. Still, it took several more years for something like democracy to be established, and as we saw with the recent plans by the military to save ex-President Park's regime by declaring martial law, it's still not safe. It never is, anywhere.

The film was directed by Jang Joon-hwan, whose Save the Green Planet! (2003) was a sort of science-fiction allegory of the persistence of South Korea's repressive past.  1987 is only his third feature. (I haven't yet seen his second, Hwayi: A Monster Boy [2013].)  It's a much more mainstream work than Green Planet, though still tricky in its structure -- not in ways that would confuse an audience, necessarily, but in the way the narrative keeps adding on characters who turn out to be surprisingly significant.  (According to Darcy Paquet of Koreanfilm.org, only one of the characters is entirely fictional.)  It's like watching a juggler keep adding objects to keep in the air.  For Korean audiences, it probably helped that numerous well-known actors played cameos; this was a prestige project, after all.  The screenwriter, Kim Kyung-chan, has one previous credit, Cart (2014), about a strike at a Korean big-box chain store, so he has experience handling political content involving a big cast of characters; I should watch Cart again to see how it compares.

The narrative circles back on itself, rhyming the killing of another student activist whose death galvanized the democracy movement even more, with Park Jong-chul's death, and culminates in a recreation of the huge protest marches that took place all over the country. This must have been a big budget production, given the thousands of extras who participated, the need to get costumes and hairstyles right, to find locations that looked like the 1980s in the 2010s. 1987 is a spectacular logistical achievement as well as good entertainment and a powerful history lesson.


My favorite scene, by the way, is when a young woman, played by Kim Tae-ri, gets caught up in a demonstration near her university, though she herself wasn't one of the activists. The police grab her, punch and club her, and start to drag her away -- but a handsome (of course) young activist rescues her. They run through the alleys trying to escape, and manage to frustrate the cops, one of whom is knocked out. The young woman starts to run, but then turns around to kick him in the head before she escapes with her new friend. (The cop she kicks is one of those who hit her earlier, by the way: he deserves it.)

Once again I'm impressed by the ability of South Korean filmmakers to make brave political movies about the recent past.  I can't think of any US films that come close, though I admit I've probably missed some, and I hear Rob Reiner's Shock and Awe, about the propaganda campaign legitimizing the US invasion of Iraq, is good.  The most famous US example might be Salt of the Earth, the 1954 independent film about striking miners that was suppressed by a McCarthyist campaign.  But could Hollywood make such a movie?  The usual Hollywood approach is to reduce political struggle to One Man (sometimes One Woman) who Makes a Stand, while ignoring the many people who actually make a movement.  It's a very American blind spot.  One reason I love South Korean cinema is that it shows that you can make exciting, entertaining movies and TV dramas that don't scant the importance of solidarity and collective action.  But you don't have to think about that when you watch 1987.  Just be shocked (by the brutality of the repression), awed (by the courage of the people who resisted it), and moved.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Sometimes the Truth Is Somewhere In Between

Alfie Kohn linked to this opinion piece on TED Talks, and while I'm sympathetic, I have some complaints.

"Picture this," Julie Bindel begins. "A darkened auditorium, an attentive, cult-like audience staring ahead expectantly, hardly daring to breathe; a huge screen on which there is an image no one can decipher."  Excuse me -- "cult-like"?  The rest of the article is written in the same lazy style, which is unfortunate for Bindel's complaint that TED "style appears to be given a hundred times more thought than content" and that "the style puts me off devouring the content."  Style is pretty much all there is to Bindel's piece; there's not much thought in it at all.  And I'm basically sympathetic to her position, which is why I clicked through in the first place.

She builds up to her smashing conclusion thusly:
I often give talks to both small and large audiences, and always feel nervous beforehand. This used to bother me, after decades of public speaking, but I then realised that being nervous is respectful of those who are there to hear me. Why would anyone wish to listen to some overconfident, over-rehearsed guru? Why would I want to subject them to a performance?
Um, well, maybe because giving a talk is a performance.  I wonder if Bindel has defined "performance" tendentiously to mean "something other than what I do" -- she doesn't specify.  If that's what she's doing, it's disingenuous and therefore disrespectful to her readers; if not, then she's merely wrong.

I've done a fair amount of public speaking over the years, though rarely on preset topics: usually, as with the GLB Speakers Bureau, I'm up there to answer questions, so what I say depends partly on the questions I'm asked.  But most of the questions we're asked are the same, on issues and topics that I've been thinking about for decades.  When I'm formulating an answer, I'm also conscious that I'm communicating with an audience, and I hope to be memorable, maybe funny, to say my say so as to make an impression that will stay with them.  That's a performance.  Am I nervous?  Not in the panel context.  But I don't think I'm "over-rehearsed" either. 

"Over-rehearsed" might be disrespectful to the audience, but then so would under-rehearsed be.  I doubt that Bindel simply stands up and wings it with no preparation at all.  Nor, I hope, does she stand up and draw a blank, gaping open-mouthed at her audience.  That would be spontaneous, natural, "real."  It would also probably generate some complaint from the people who'd shown up hoping to hear her say something substantial.  Spontaneity is, in this context, an illusion.  A performer plans and prepares so as to seem natural and spontaneous; it takes a lot of work and talent to create that illusion.  So for once, it seems to me, the truth lies somewhere between "over-rehearsed" and "under-rehearsed."  The sweet spot can't be specified in advance.

I agree with some of Bindel's objections to TED Talks, but she hasn't thought her position through.  I find myself wondering, for example, about that standard TED Talk style, which I imagine is indeed the result not only of rehearsal but of guidance by the organization.  I find it annoying too, but evidently many people don't.  It reminds me of the conventions of stage acting and indeed of public speaking a century ago, where hopefuls were taught the proper gestures to go with and convey emotions.  The survival of elements of this style is what makes it difficult for me to watch early silent movies.  But that didn't bother most of their original audiences, apparently.  I suspect that the same applies to TED talks, and it's as absurd to speak of their audiences as "cult-like" as it would be to apply that epithet to early 20th century movie or stage or Chatauqua audiences.

Yeah, the TED style annoys me too.  But when I do listen to or watch a TED Talk, it's usually the content that bothers me.  Good content is always hard to find.  In Julie Bindel's case, it's both style and content that bother me.  First pluck the beam out of thine own eye, Ms. Bindel.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

This Is Fine; or, Mnyeh - It's a Living



Roy Edroso's alicublog is still a useful resource for keeping up with the antics of the American Right, and I admire Roy's fortitude in following their media, performers, and apologists so that I don't have to.  I don't condemn him for avoiding whataboutism with respect to what is laughingly known (or should be) as the center.  He's got his mission statement, it keeps him busy, gives him an audience; nobody can cover everything.  Whataboutism with respect to the center, the right, and the left is, or should be, part of my mission statement.  But now and then he drifts close to the precipice of Demon Doubt, as he did yesterday:
Conservatives have been asked to believe nonsense for a long time -- that tax cuts for the rich trickle down and pay for themselves, that we'll be greeted as liberators, that there's no more racism, etc. These were tough lifts, but they had the help of intellectuals, or magazine writers who passed for them, to give them a line of gab that made these things sound reasonable, at least to themselves.

Recent years have not been kind to these beliefs, and Trumpism kind of blew the whole scene -- not just by being so mind-bendingly, outlandishly at variance with observable reality, but also by  presenting them with unitary Republican control of the government, thus making American politics a perfect playground for their fantasies.
True enough; I don't dispute his analysis.  But that little Duncan with horns, pitchfork, and red suit on my shoulder whispered in my ear: Not meaning to make trouble, you know, but suppose you substituted a few terms for Roy's in there?
Liberals have been asked to believe nonsense for a long time -- that Barack ended the wars, that Hillary was the most qualified, progressive candidate in human history, that when Bill Clinton lied nobody died, that Barack's election dealt a death blow to racism, that voting will bring about change, etc. These were tough lifts, but they had the help of intellectuals, or magazine writers who passed for them, to give them a line of gab that made these things sound reasonable, at least to themselves.

Recent years have not been kind to these beliefs, and Obamamania kind of blew the whole scene -- not just by being so mind-bendingly, outlandishly at variance with observable reality, but also by presenting them with unitary Republican control of the government, thus making American politics a perfect playground for their fantasies.
Make some substitutions of your own; it's fun.

The liberal Democratic fantasies that are most current today are Russia Russia Russia, all Trump all  the time, Trump is Putin's boyfriend, and so on and on.  I long ago recognized the absurdity of the liberal claim to be reality based, but it used to be a little funnier.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

But What About the Whataboutism, Huh?

Here's my position at the moment.  (If you don't like it, I have others.)

I take it for granted that Russia (the whole country, every dang one of 'em!) meddled in the 2016 US elections.  Probably all states meddle in other states' affairs, and the US is no exception.  It's like spying: every country does it.  When they catch another country's spies, they expel or punish them, which is fair enough; it's the pretense of violated innocence that I find insufferable.

What effect, if any, Russian meddling had on the outcome of the election is another question, which most commentators, professional and amateur alike, seem not to recognize; they evidently assume that if not for Russian interference, Clinton would have beaten Trump. On that question I'm agnostic.  Given the myriad of factors that affect electoral results, I don't think it's possible to isolate just one -- if you're really interested in understanding why Clinton lost and Trump won, that is, or in preventing such interference in the future.  I don't believe that most of those who are presently obsessed with Russia and Putin are interested.  As Seth Ackerman wrote recently at Jacobin:
Despite ubiquitous demands to “take the threat seriously,” none of these voices has plausibly explained what the US ought to do about it. Democratic senator Chuck Schumer demanded that Trump “cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections.” And how exactly would that work? ...

It seems clear that the current Beltway panic isn’t really a reflection of the magnitude of the perceived threat from Moscow. It reflects panic that someone like Trump could win an election in the United States. If Russia’s actions did, in fact, shape the outcome — and I doubt they did — it was by changing a tiny, marginal number of votes in what would have been a close election anyway. Russian meddling is not the reason Trump was a viable presidential candidate.
Ackerman also wrote:
Think of it as “the expressive function of the Russia freakout.” Just as there is what Cass Sunstein called “the expressive function of law” — “the function of law in ‘making statements’ as opposed to controlling behavior” — there’s a purpose served by the constant keening over Putin. It conveys liberals’ sense of bewilderment and disorientation at a country they no longer recognize — a feeling not so different from that which motivated the Right’s manifold freakouts in the Obama era.

On both sides there’s a sense of loss about a bygone America that no longer exists: for the Right, the white, middle-class utopia of the Eisenhower years. For liberals, the upright decency of the Jed Bartlet administration. The problem with these fantasies is neither of them ever existed.
So it's easy enough to see why the most popular riposte to criticism of the Russia Freakout is an accusation of "whataboutism."  I've been seeing it used more lately -- which does not mean that it's absolutely more common, of course, only that I am seeing it more.  It's bipartisan, too: my Never-Trump Right Wing Acquaintance uses it just as Democratic loyalists do.  Of course, he's engaged in whatboutism himself many times, just as they have; indeed, many accusations of whataboutism are accompanied by more whataboutism.  Whataboutism is only bad when the wrong people use it. 

The first time I remember encountering whataboutism online was in the late 1980s, when a College Republican, defending the Reagan/Bush support for death squads in Central America asked me Whatabout the Sandinistas' human rights violations in Nicaragua?  (Which were, though real, much less severe than those in El Salvador or Guatemala.)  I don't think I missed a beat; I replied that the US should cut off all military aid to the Sandinistas.  I was being snotty, of course, because the US wasn't giving military aid to the Sandinistas: we were waging a vicious proxy war against Nicaragua, killing and wounding thousands of civilians.  I don't recall that my interlocutor had an answer to that; the home office hadn't provided one.

Whataboutism is much older than that, for reasons I'll get to presently.  It was a common response to US propaganda against the Soviet Union, both by the USSR and by apologists in the West. But the US propaganda was itself whataboutist: sure, things aren't perfect in the US or in our client states, but whatabout the terrible conditions behind the Iron Curtain?  (It's related to the popular parental response to kids who won't eat their spinach: Whatabout the starving children in India who'd love to have that spinach?)

But once you start to pay attention, you'll find whataboutism everywhere.  When American racists threw tantrums because the Kenyan Usurper was putting his big dirty feet on the sacred Oval Office Desk (a gift to America from Queen Victoria!), the usual and entirely proper rebuttal was to point out that his predecessors had done the same thing, and more.  When I pointed this out in a whataboutism thread on Twitter, one person indignantly replied that those rebuttals were just stating facts, they weren't meant to insult and mock the people they were rebutting (as the case we were debating allegedly did).  It must take quite a bit of determined effort to miss the scorn and mockery in the article I'd linked, but a partisan will make that effort.

Another classic example of whataboutism I've been citing comes from Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech (emphasis added):
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
When someone accuses me (usually accurately) of whataboutism, I reply demurely that if whataboutism was good enough for Dr. King, it's good enough for me.

As this example indicates, whataboutism is really a basic component of critical thinking.  That emerges in Walter Kaufmann's formula for his canon, quoted here:
Confronted with a proposition, view, belief, hypothesis, conviction -- one's own or another person's -- those with high standards of honesty apply the canon, which commands us to ask seven questions: (1) What does this mean? (2) What speaks for it and (3) against it?  (4) What alternatives are available?  (5) What speaks for and (6) against each?  And (7) what alternatives are most plausible in the light of these considerations?

Now it may be objected that doing all this is rather difficult.  But has it ever been a condition of virtue that it required no great exertion?  On the contrary.

Patricia Miller-Roberts' discussion of demagoguery and debate is also helpful, if only to show that Kaufmann's formulation of critical thinking isn't unique to him.

Another entertaining example of whataboutism went viral recently when a young Anglo-Asian journalist yelled "I'm a communist, you idiot!" at Piers Morgan on a British talk show.  Morgan had been hectoring her about the protests greeting Donald Trump's visit to the UK, asking why there hadn't been any protests when Barack Obama came to call.  Now, in fact, there were protests during Obama's visits to the UK; it's hard to tell under the cross-yelling, but I think Ash Sarkar tried to say so.  Morgan finally referred to Obama as Sarkar's "hero," which prompted her now-famous reply.

Morgan did have a point, one that Obama's critics on the left made repeatedly during his time in office: people who objected to George W. Bush's policies and actions suddenly tolerated or celebrated them when they became Obama's policies.  Antiwar activism diminished during Obama's presidency, for example.  But not all activism disappeared: protests against Obama's immigration policies were big and troublesome enough to push him to try to disarm or appease his critics.  It doesn't matter what Morgan's intentions were, he raised a valid question, and Sarkar tried to answer it.

Whataboutism criers claim that whataboutism is intended to stop debate.  It can be, but so is the accusation of whataboutism.  (More whataboutism -- whatever shall we do, wherever shall we go?)  One reply to this objection would be that whataboutism can also be intended to start debate.  The trouble seems to be, as I've noticed before, that most people have no idea how debate works, what to do once their opponent make a first rebuttal.  They know their talking point, which they got from a meme on Facebook, but it stops there.  They've seen that this or that liberal hero/ine EVISCERATED or DESTROYED the Rethugs with a single well-chosen word, and they think they can do it too.  But those Rethug targets, far from being destroyed or eviscerated, are still in good health and at large.

The proper use of whataboutism is to find out how consistent someone's position is.  If they are outraged by Obama's feet on his desk, did they object (or even notice) Bush's feet on the desk?  If Bush's surveillance of American citizens was outrageous, did it stop being outrageous when Obama did it?  Remember, though: a responsible critical thinker will ask him or herself such questions before an opponent raises them: not to win debating points, but to test whether he or she has a sound position.  As Nietzsche said, "A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!!!"

When I point out the US' record of interfering in other countries' elections, I'm not trying to stop debate: I want to start it.  I have some relevant and important questions for the Russiagaters.  For example, should other countries respond to US interference as they want the US to respond to Russian interference?  One difficulty is that it's not at all clear, as Seth Ackerman and Lyle Jeremy Rubin pointed out, how they want the US to respond.  As with liberals' vaunted concern over Syrian atrocities, they are upset and want everybody to know they're upset, but they don't know and don't much care what should be done.  Concrete suggestions, on the rare occasions when they were offered, consisted mainly of a US war against Syria.  As Ackerman pointed out, there's similar vagueness about what we should do about Russia.  There's a lot of posturing and xenophobic grandstanding, but little substance. Some measures for better cybersecurity have been enacted, but they are mostly not being implemented; Ackerman linked to a Politico story which reported that although millions of dollars had been appropriated to help states improve voting security, little of that money has been used.  But, I suppose, it's whataboutism to bring that up.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

For There Is More Joy Over One Sinner Who Repents

Someone recently recommended Janina Bauman's A Dream of Belonging: My Years in Postwar Poland (Virago, 1988) in a way that piqued my interest, so I checked it out of the library.  Bauman was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust; she and her husband, the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, moved to England from Poland in 1971.  A Dream of Belonging is a sequel to a previous memoir, Winter in the Morning: A Young Girl's Life in the Warsaw Ghetto and Beyond; as the subtitle indicates, the newer book recounts her life in Poland after the war ended.

Bauman worked for several years in the Polish film industry.  She tells of one of her coworkers, who, although he was (like Bauman) a member of the Communist Party, was not trusted by his superiors.  Eventually he told her why. During the war he had risen in the Polish army through distinguished action:
After two years or so, he was suddenly demoted, deprived of his rank, and discharged from the army  The reason for such a severe punishment seemed unbelievably trivial.  Before the war Marek had as a child belonged to the Polish Scouts.  After the war this organization was blacklisted by the new regime.  Marek had never thought of mentioning his youthful involvement to his superiors.  So, when they somehow dug it out, he was accused of concealing his political past.  And this was a very serious sin.  This was the skeleton in Marek's cupboard for which he was to be punished till the end of his life, it seemed [112].
This mirrors the purges of premature anti-Fascists and other leftists in the West after the war ended.  But the last sentence I quoted reminded me of some defenses I've seen of George W. Bush by liberals, such as "So I guess we have to hate him for the rest of our lives. No one gets a break at the Intercept right?"  This refers to criticism of Bush by people who aren't impressed by his recitation of anti-Trump boilerplate, which, accompanied by his appearance on Ellen DeGeneres's TV show and a hug from Michelle Obama, signaled Dubya's rehabilitation in the eyes of the Party.  (The Democratic Party, you understand, which puts a whole other color on the phenomenon.)

I shouldn't make too much of this (just try to stop me, though), but it seems to me that at least some Democrats are unconsciously echoing stories like Marek's, the lament that it's just not fair that some poor guy should be punished and hated for ever just for a little mistake in his youth.  In Marek's case, I agree, but I lived through eight years of Bush's presidency, and Bush is no Marek.  Marek's "offense" was buried in his personal past, and more than balanced by his heroism during the war.  Bush's offenses were committed in the public eye, with worldwide publicity.  Marek belonged to an organization that was not proscribed at the time he belonged to it.  Bush committed terrible crimes (aggressive war, torture) that were known to be crimes, which he celebrated publicly.

Nor has Bush ever expressed any contrition for his crimes -- let alone been held accountable for them.  He didn't even suffer the minimal accountability of being voted out of office: he served two terms and retired to Texas to paint pictures in comfort.  Just attacking Trump for doing much the same things he himself did (while never acknowledging the continuity) is not contrition.  I might be too strict, but I wouldn't take him seriously unless he presented himself to the International Criminal Court as a war criminal, ready to stand trial; but needless to say, he hasn't even begun to acknowledge his crimes, let alone accept responsibility for them.  And I think it's significant that so many liberal Democrats are willing to forgive and forget, even though Bush has never bothered to ask for forgiveness -- and really, it's not for them to forgive him anyway.

(Notice, by the way, that in the interview I linked to above, Nancy Pelosi theatrically begged Bush's pardon for confusing him and Trump.  I'm sure a Christian man like Dubya would graciously grant her pardon for the blasphemy.)

It's as if they don't realize just how serious his crimes are.  Starting two wars on false pretenses, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the injuring of many more, and the turning of millions into refugees -- and that's only a partial list -- are not petty traffic offenses to be wiped from his record lightly after he undergoes probation and counseling.  But then most Americans never consider such peccadilloes to be serious crimes, as long as American presidents commit them.