Sunday, October 25, 2020

I See You; I Hear You

It's a good thing the Average Voter doesn't pay attention to Twitter (so I'm told); the prospects keep looking worse by the day.

The attempts to reassure us aren't persuasive.  Today someone scoffed at Left Twitter's concern about reports that Obama's hand-picked candidate Joe Biden is considering (so we're told) numerous Republicans for his cabinet, for diversity's sake.  The scoffer declared confidently that Biden won't actually appoint Republicans (though Obama did), he's just vetting them, you big sillies. I can't see any reason to vet them in the first place.

Then Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered himself of this great gob of liberal compassion:

I was going to link to Schumer's original tweet, which included video of his statement, but it has mysteriously vanished.  Maybe Left Twitter is more effective than we're told?  But let me get into why it was so offensive, not just to me but to numerous other people who piled on. 

That Rochester veteran didn't kill himself because he lacked access to suicide prevention counseling; he killed himself because he'd lost his job, couldn't make his mortgage payments, and was probably going to end up on the street.  Counseling isn't going to help.

Schumer's clueless response is part of a pattern.  Joe Kennedy helped tank his own campaign against Ed Markey by tweeting "Not a single patient should be forced to fight off medical bankruptcy in the midst of a global health pandemic without a lawyer by their side."  That didn't go down well, so next day he backpedaled: "Let me be clear here: We need Medicare for all. We need an end to medical bankruptcy. Period. But until we get there, we need assurance that every patient will have access to legal counsel and aid if they are forced to fight their insurer in court."

Maybe Schumer is cobbling together a similar clarification.  And yes, I know, the lack of financial assistance to people like that veteran is not entirely Schumer's fault, it's due to McConnell's obstruction.  The proper response is to hammer the Republicans as hard as he can, not to thunder that not a single unemployed American should commit suicide without a professional suicide counselor by their side, with maybe a "Hang In There, Baby!" motivational poster thrown in at cost.  (I mean, how much could it cost? Ten dollars?)

A self-identified mental health professional weighed in too, chiding Schumer for insensitivity: we mental health professionals prefer "died by suicide" to "committed suicide," she told him.  I knew I should screencap it, because I expected her to block me for jeering at her; but she deleted hers instead.  Maybe she realized how close she'd come to Trump's claim that if we stopped testing, we'd have fewer COVID-19 cases.  Incidentally, her response was a reminder that the most laughable "PC" terminology comes not from activists but from mental health professionals; the rest comes from management consultants.  When my employer began downsizing, they preferred the euphemism RIF, Reduction In Force.  They offered professional counseling to those who might be upset about losing their jobs.

Our leaders and their enablers are making it very difficult to miss that they aren't competent to handle a crisis like the one we're in.  How it's going to play out, I don't know, but it doesn't look good.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Naptime with Joe and Kammy

I'm anticipating the upcoming election with dread, partly because there's a real danger that Donald Trump will be re-elected and partly because the alternative is that Obama's hand-picked candidate Joe Biden will be elected.  Apart from Biden's own liabilities, I'm concerned about the class of Democrats who are rapidly becoming known as Brunch Liberals.

For me it began when I saw this tweet:

See that?  335,400 likes, 58,400 shares.  The replies were a mix of agreement from people who wanted to be able to sleep at night, to be bored, instead of "doomscrolling" constantly for fear of "missing something," and disagreement from people like me who remember eight years of Obama bombing wedding parties and hospitals, deporting refugees by the millions, offering Social Security and Medicare as hostages to the GOP, trampling on civil liberties, blocking equal rights for LGBTQ people until the courts took that one out of his hands, and so on.  There's no reason I can see to believe that Biden will be any better, but these people will be able to sleep at night, which is all that matters.

Actually such tweets have been around for some time, but they hadn't crossed my path.  And I think they've been getting more common in the past few weeks.


Some people whined that they weren't saying they wanted to tune out, it wasn't so bad to want like an hour of peace now and then after four years of Drumpf, what's wrong with that?  But they made it clear that they did want to tune out, and not for an hour but for a lifetime.

It went on, getting worse.

When was this, exactly?  Lurie didn't reply, but several commenters chimed in; it was apparently during the Obama years, and one person was more specific: "I totally checked out from 2013 till the 2015 primary-it was bliss."  Not for people being shot in the back by cops, or children being shredded by US bombs we'd thoughtfully supplied to Saudi Arabia, or kids being poisoned by lead in their drinking water; but who cares about them?

And so on, right down to the past week:

It takes some serious stupidity to believe that your crazy Trump-loving aunt and uncle will suddenly shut up if Biden becomes President.  Did they hold their tongues while Obama was in office?

I've been trying to look on the bright side: If Biden tucks these people into bed, gently puts a teddy bear into their chubby little arms, and tenderly sniffs their hair before he tiptoes away, maybe they'll stay out of the way while good people hold his feet to the fire, and yell bloody murder when he does wrong.  But I doubt it: they'll wake up, furious at being disturbed, and curse us out for ruining their peace.  Think of the midterms!  You're just helping the Rethugs!  Think of 2024!  Surely, comrades, you do not wish Trump back?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Why We Didn't Wait

There's been a lot of excitement this week after reports that a new documentary shows Pope Francis telling an interviewer that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples.  As usual when a Pope says something vaguely humane, many people exaggerated its significance, but for once they were roughly in the ballpark.  The interview was evidently snipped from a 2019 television interview that never aired in its entirety, but it appears that the pontiff did actually say it.

There are, as usual, some minor complications.  For example, Francis had spoken in favor of civil unions in 2010 while he was still a cardinal in Argentina, though this seems to have been partly a bargaining chip, a compromise to ward off legalization of same-sex marriage there.

Before he was elected pope, Francis served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in that role, he advocated for same-sex civil unions in an attempt to block a same-sex marriage law. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, which then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio called a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” But in meetings with other Argentine bishops, Cardinal Bergoglio urged them to support civil unions as a way to keep marriage distinctly heterosexual. Bishops rejected the idea, but an L.G.B.T. activist in Argentina said the cardinal called him to say he personally supported the idea of civil unions.

As you can see, the effort to prevent same-sex marriage in Argentina failed.  It's hard to tell whether Bergoglio "advocated for same-sex civil unions" publicly, or in conference with other princes of the Church.  I don't entirely trust the activist who claims the cardinal called him personally; people have a tendency to hear what they want to hear in these situations.

Anyway, the documentary shows Francis saying "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."  This is much clearer than his previous statements.  But here in the US, as in numerous other countries, we already have same-sex marriage; civil unions are beside the point.  And "we"?  The Pope isn't a legislator, and in any country where Catholicism isn't the state religion, his opinions should have no weight, any more than any other religious leader.

Francis also said in the film, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

This is nice, I suppose, but I don't need the Pope's permission to have a family.  And typically, it's ambiguous enough that some people got ahead of themselves. Did he mean that Catholic adoption agencies will have to place children with same-sex couples?  It's hard to say for sure, but probably not:

While the pope did not elaborate on the meaning of those remarks in the video, Pope Francis has spoken before to encourage parents and relatives not to ostracize or shun children who have identified as LGBT. This seems to be the sense in which the pope spoke about the right of people to be a part of the family.

Some have suggested that when Pope Francis spoke about a “right to a family,” the pope was offering a kind of tacit endorsement of adoption by same-sex couples. But the pope has previously spoken against such adoptions, saying that through them children are “deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God,” and saying that “every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.” 

The first thing I wondered was what Francis thinks civil unions entail.  Francis said in the same interview that gay people "have a right to a family," before adding: "That does not mean approving of homosexual acts, not in the least." The Catholic hierarchy aren't known for their knowledge of the real world, so I would bet he thinks that civilly united couples won't do the nasty.  Marriage, whether civil or religious, is supposed to be consummated, but civil unions may not be.  However, it's reasonably certain that they usually will be, and the Catholic position that you can be homosexual as long as you abstain from any genital contact isn't binding in such unions.  Some same-sex Catholic couples may choose abstinence, but I don't believe most will, any more than most heterosexual Catholic couples eschew contraception or abortion.

So my take is that while Francis' remarks are a small advance, they also lag behind the real world -- even much of the Catholic world.  They are already infuriating reactionary Catholics who already hate him.  How much and what kind of effect they'll have will have to be seen, but I don't expect much.

This morning NPR's Morning Edition featured an "openly gay" Catholic priest named Bryan Massingale who was predictably "excited and even jubilant" about the news.  He asserted -- probably incorrectly, as we've seen -- that "I think what the pope is saying is that he is not opposed to the legal recognition of family life and the right for gay and lesbian persons to raise and have families."  And:

He has not changed church teaching regarding behavior or conduct. He still would see that as being morally problematic. However, he goes back to his question, do we focus on behavior, or do we focus on persons? And even sinful persons still have human rights that we're all called to respect and to protect.

This is really reaching, and "morally problematic" is the understatement of the day.  But he was on a roll:

I think for queer Catholics, it's a sign of hope that the church can change. It can grow. It can evolve. I think it's also a sign of hope that especially in places where LGBTQ persons are more actively persecuted, this is a sign of hope that that kind of persecution cannot be reconciled with the Christian faith.

Ah, hope.  That might be more salient for queer people who are "more actively persecuted"; in America and elsewhere, it's too little too late. As I wrote on a similar occasion a few years ago, "You can hope for anything you like, regardless of what the Vatican says, and you can make up whatever fanciful tales you like about what the pope says or believes, but that doesn't guarantee you'll get what you want."

Another thing that annoys me is the way many people scour Francis's statements for what they "hint" or may "imply" or "suggest," as if he were the Delphic Oracle and no one has any business pressing him to make himself clear.  Part of the problem of course is that even when he is reasonably clear, they still overinterpret him to suit their own fantasies.  Maybe that's it: if they got him to clarify, they wouldn't like what he'd tell them.

I kept thinking of the Southern Baptist Convention's very tardy abandonment of slavery and Jim Crow in the 1990s.  The excuses many people -- not only Catholics, to my surprise -- made and continue to make for Francis' footdragging are ironic, really: I recognize that you aren't going to move a dead dinosaur easily or quickly, but the Church claims to be a moral leader, not a follower.  Instead it shambles along in the wake of wiser people, many of them not even religious, and expects to be applauded when the Pope makes a half-assed concession to a better moral stance. Those who want to may do so, but if they expect me to join in, they'll find me with my arms crossed, tapping my foot: What took the Church so long, and why is it still clinging to bigoted positions on so many issues?  I'm glad the gay movement around the world didn't refuse to wait for the Vatican to come around: we not only challenged churches, we attacked them when they tried to interfere with progress.

Remember when John Paul II tried to prevent a gay pride celebration in Rome in 2000?  He delivered a diatribe against it, but it took place anyway, "amid heavy police security after threats by neo-Fascists to disrupt the proceedings."  There were reports, as I recall, of collusion between the Vatican and the neo-Fascists, but in the end nothing happened.  I had some online exchanges with some gay Catholics who asked why the homosexuals decided to have the parade when they did, during a Holy Year?  I reminded them that the celebration was scheduled for the end of Pride Week, commemorating the Stonewall Riots, a very holy day for the gay movement.  (For an entertainingly overwrought paleo-Catholic denunciation of that celebration, see this.)  And that was only one less-effective attempt by the Church to impose its will on people over whom it had real authority.

I don't get why so many gay non-Catholics invest so much emotion in Francis and other Popes.  Those I've talked to try to put in terms of their sympathy for others, but they take Francis' pronouncements too personally for me to believe them.  I think they're authoritarians at heart.  They love authority so much they'll welcome the yoke of people who have no authority over them at all.  It's like Americans who follow the British royal family, except that the Queen isn't telling Americans how to govern ourselves.  It's especially ironic at a time when so many Americans are having conniptions over alleged or (occasionally) real foreign interference in our political affairs.  Francis isn't likely to have much impact on us, but it's the thought that counts.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Dirtbag Left You Will Always Have With You

Someone tweeted this today in reply to the question "Why do Democrats hate democracy so much?"

As you can see, ANTIFA Jeb didn't even bother to answer the original question, just robotically spewed out a typically elitist meme about the American voter.  Significantly, it's one that the establishments of both major parties would agree with.

Not "the average American," I'd say, but elite commentators.  Rich pundits say elections are all about which candidate you'd like to have a beer or dinner with, and they do love the framing of politics as a spectator sport - bread and circuses, without the bread.  Ordinary voters favor M4A and other "left" policies, but there's usually no candidate they can vote for, hence the low turnout we usually see. 

This isn't news, so why do I see nominal leftists claiming falsely that 'the voters' don't care about the issues?  This year we seem to have real alternatives to vote for in many downticket races, and that should be a positive development.  There are already numerous such people in office at all levels in the US, right up to Congress; isn't that grounds for cautious optimism, and further action to get more such people running and elected?  People like ANTIFA Jeb, who are quite common on the left, seem to prefer the status quo.  Maybe they'd like to be put in charge, so they could tell the ignorant rabble what to think.

Then I remembered something I've quoted before, from the economist Amartya Sen.  Sen was arguing against the common claim that people in poor countries don't care about political and democratic rights, a claim made without evidence by ruling elites in those countries.  Of course they ensure that their claim can't be tested, by having elections for example.

It is thus of some interest to note that when the Indian government, under Indira Gandhi’s leadership, tried out a similar argument in India, to justify the “emergency” she had misguidedly declared in the mid-1970s, an election was called that divided the voters precisely on this issue. In that fateful election, fought largely on the acceptability of the “emergency,” the suppression of basic political and civil rights was firmly rejected, and the Indian electorate—one of the poorest in the world—showed itself to be no less keen on protesting against the denial of basic liberties and rights than it was in complaining about economic poverty. To the extent that there has been any testing of the proposition that poor people in general do not care about civil and political rights, the evidence is entirely against that claim. Similar points can be made by observing the struggle for democratic freedoms in South Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma (or Myanmar) and elsewhere in Asia. Similarly, while political freedom is widely denied in Africa, there have been movements and protests about that fact whenever circumstances have permitted, even though military dictators have given few opportunities in this respect.*

To the countries Sen lists, we can now add the people of Bolivia, who just confirmed in a landslide that they prefer democratic socialism to a coup regime.  If only the average American were offered such a choice!  This year our only alternative to Trump is Obama's hand-picked candidate Joe Biden, who is the most minimal alternative and offers nothing to the average voter.  It appears to me that ANTIFA Jeb likes it that way, which means he or she is much closer to our ruling corporatist elites than he or she pretends.

Of course it's possible that most Americans really don't want that kind of freedom; but we won't know until it has actually been tried, and when anyone sneers about our ignorance and persistence in voting against our interests without acknowledging that our interests are not on the ballot, I know they're pontificating in bad faith.


* In Development as Freedom, Knopf, 1999), page 151.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Both Sides Now

There's a Saturday-night radio program out of Chicago that I listened to when I was in high school.  It featured a range of music I hadn't heard before, from show tunes to cabaret to folk to blues to jazz, and occasional standup.  Rock was the only genre it excluded, because there were plenty of other outlets for that.  I first heard Tom Lehrer on this show, Tom Paxton, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and many other performers.  When I moved to Bloomington it was too far out of range to listen to, though I'm surprised I never looked for it when streaming became an option. When I moved back to northern Indiana last year, I tracked the station down on the Internet.  The host I remembered was long dead, but it continues in the same format.

I find it less fascinating than I did fifty years ago, probably because other stations and programs offer the same kind of musical variety, and the rock press and Bloomington record stores had encouraged me to range even further.  If anything, the program now seems parochial to me, with too many sanctimonious folkies preaching love and brotherhood and too many cabaret artists serving up toothless satire.

Last night the problem started with the song above, and I nearly shut off the station.  It's intolerably dishonest. What's wrong is summed up by a comment under another video of the song posted to Youtube: "i really wish people on both sides of the argument would listen to this song. if we want change, we MUST be that change".  It's a paradigmatic example of "both-sidesism": the song puts George Floyd on one side, and Derek Chauvin on the other, and blames them both equally.  It puts Andrew Jackson on one side, and the Cherokees trudging along the Trail of Tears on the other, and blames them both equally.  It puts Harriet Tubman walking to freedom on one side, and her former owner, deprived of his lawful property, on the other.  It puts Richard Speck on one side, and the eight student nurses he murdered on the other.  It puts the Klan on one side and the NAACP on the other side.  It's reminiscent of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's infamous duet "Accidental Racist" with its iconic rhyme "If you don't judge my do rag, I won't judge your red flag" -- "that whole let bygones be bygones" thing, as Paisley put it.

Now, I admit that there is a problem with some people on the left (for lack of a better word) stereotyping people who may or may not be their antagonists, by assuming that all West Virginians are Donald Trump supporters, ignoring West Virginia's tradition of left-wing activism; or gloating that poor whites are suffering under Trump's destructive policies.  This is what Patricia Roberts-Miller calls "demagoguery", the radical division of people into mutually exclusive groups, with all humanity on one side and none on the other.  But rejection of these tendencies in no way obliges me to postulate that the racist and the anti-racist are equally at fault, equally intolerant in the same way.  Bigots have been pushing that false equivalence for decades, and it's not only fair, it's necessary to reject their tactic.  I don't quite know how to contend with someone who thinks that black people demanding to vote is as intolerant as white people refusing to let them vote, but if you grant them that claim, you've already lost.

Copeland didn't write "Uncivil War," as you can see if you last till the video's end credits: it was written by her producer.  But she chose to record it.  I think perhaps she didn't really listen to the word, didn't think through what she was singing.  That itself would be a moral failure.  The song itself certainly is.

Friday, October 16, 2020

He's Not the Boss of Me

It's a venerable political tradition by now:

I can remember seeing people -- not only celebrities -- saying that they'd move to Canada or Australia or the UK if they didn't like who was elected president, since 2004 at least.  They always pick the wrong countries, too: Australia's current Prime Minister is a Christian fascist, and Republicans wanting to flee Obama's socialist Obamacare chose Australia (which has universal healthcare, like most developed countries) or Canada (Obama's bugbear too).  Or they threaten to shut down their businesses, like the Atlas Shrugged Guy of blessed memory.

As some people pointed out, moving to another country doesn't fit very well with Springsteen's blue-collar persona; nice for the rich, not really an option for real working-class paycheck-to-paycheck shlubs.  It's all just talk, like a child threatening to run away from home.  They never actually make the move; I don't expect Springsteen to be an exception.

Nor will this guy, at least not voluntarily.  He might need to flee to someplace like Riyadh; they owe him.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Get Your Park Geun-hye Tote Bag with Your Pledge

Recently YouTube has been sending a trove of vintage Korean TV music programs my way, from the 60s through the 80s.  They offer a whole extra perspective on Korean society and entertainment in the darkest years of the Park and Chun dictatorships.

This one is different, but it especially delighted me: it reminds me of PBS pledge drives that put elderly classic rock stars up there to bring in the bucks.  I remember when WTIU first showed Woodstock during pledge drive: the hosts were very apologetic, and looked terrified that their regulars would burn the station down.  They got record donations instead. The fall of Western culture followed immediately.

I recognize the first song in this clip, but I don't remember where I heard it. In a movie, I think, but which one: Waikiki Brothers? GoGo 70? Miss Granny?

And why does the singer, Ham Chung Ah, look like former South Korean president Park Geun-hye?  (A Korean friend agreed with me on this.)  Old Korean men often dye their hair black -- I was planning to do it myself on my next trip -- but I think we're looking at hairpieces here.