Thursday, February 25, 2021

Is COVID-19 a Vegetable?

Life is just getting too weird.

Today NPR's Morning Edition did a segment interviewing a Republican member of Congress, Nancy Mace, from South Carolina, to get her take on President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.  Is it a spoiler to say that she doesn't like it, claims it's too expensive and wasteful, "a $1.9 trillion spending spree"?  Most of her complaint was standard right-wing boilerplate, and not very coherent. The host, Rachel Martin, pushed back some, but she didn't seem to have a much better grasp on reality than Mace did.  It would be nice if they had, or would have, an interview with a Democrat or a leftish journalist who could answer Mace better, but that is of course inconceivable.

Anyway, here's where Mace got weird:

I'm a single working mom. And when we talk about wanting to lift people out of poverty, when we talk about wanting to put food on the table, the very - one of the very top things that should be a priority for the administration is to, perhaps, allow parents to send their kids to school, particularly those who are in poverty, because the best thing we can do for those children is to help them get educated. These are children who rely on public school for their food, oftentimes, for their meals throughout the day. And the second thing that we could be doing is encouraging and making sure that democratic states allow companies to carefully and safely reopen their businesses and to operate. We're seeing successes in, like, my home state where - of South Carolina, where the unemployment rate is hovering just over 4% right now because we've been very cautious, putting precautions and safety mechanisms in place in our businesses. But we're still open. We're being safe. But this package, 1% of it's going to vaccinations.

I've quoted this at some length, but bolded the weird part that makes me wonder about everything else she said.  By all means, yes, public schools are important not just for education but for meals and other non-academic services.  But as I remember, Republicans and right-wing Democrats have been attacking such services for a long time as welfare, spoiling the Poors and taking away their initiative, and besides, they and public education in general are just a liberal socialist Big Government spending spree that we can't afford.

For someone of my generation, the starting point was in 1980, when the Reagan administration tried to undermine school lunches by relabeling condiments as servings of vegetables.  That led to mockery in the press and even in Congress, and to a quick, if temporary, retreat: Reagan still cut $1.46 billion from the program. Later administrations continued to squeeze the programs financially, through the 1995 "Contract With America," the 2016 GOP doublethink "Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act" (which didn't pass, but it's the thought that counts), down to the Trump years.

So what is going through Nancy Mace's mind?  I couldn't tell from her rambling whether Biden's bill will actually interfere with schoolchildren getting meals; I know that schools where I live were giving free meals for pickup during the lockdown, which is as it should be.  I doubt Mace was speaking in good faith.  And it's a safe bet that when the dust finally clears, she'll be voting for the next Republican bill to cut funding for school meals, because we just can't afford them.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Is the Gaze White?

Rush Limbaugh has assumed room temperature.  For years I've looked forward to using that term on his decease; it was one he used to be dismissive of the deaths of people he disapproved of.  (I learned while looking it up that it was also used by R. Emmett Tyrrell, another cigar-sucking, arch-rightist provocateur.)  I considered writing more on the topic, and maybe I will later.

But for now I want to discuss another media personality, generally regarded as a sort of anti-Limbaugh.  Dick Cavett became well-known as a more cultured, intellectual kind of talk-show host years before Limbaugh won notoriety. I watched his show in those days, and while I appreciated the range of people it featured, I was usually left unsatisfied.  I think some of this was due to the limits of spoken versus written discourse, but I also think it was due to Cavett's limitations.

This video, from 1972, confirmed my suspicions.

Jones is tremendously tactful with Cavett, resulting in a sort of jujitsu where Cavett keeps throwing himself in the dirt.  He knows that the conversation isn't going as he expected it to, but he keeps wading into the fray and falling on his face over and over.  Cavett saw himself as a liberal, superior to gross rednecks like Lester Maddox, but like many white liberals he assumed a chumminess with black people that he hadn't earned.  He fully expected Jones to agree with him that Ellen Holly's objections to Anthony Quinn's proposal to play a Haitian were merely "silly."  It's a safe bet that Cavett caricatured her letter, as liberals love to do to this day, but I should see if I can find it.  It doesn't appear that Quinn ever made that film in any case.

Anyway, Jones declines Cavett's invitation to play a round of "Ain't It Awful?", and throws several curveballs that leave Cavett confused.  He keeps insisting on nuance, for heaven's sake!  He might have pointed out -- he seems to hint at it, at least -- that a Hollywood historical epic costs a lot of money, and in 1972 there were few if any black stars that bankable.  Sidney Poitier, perhaps?  It's also hard for me to believe that a Hollywood script about a Haitian emperor in 1972 would have been any good at all; I wonder if Holly's script was ever produced.

Jones also mentions his own desire to play Beethoven, which gets a nervous laugh from the audience and silence from Cavett.  The points Jones mentions wouldn't be such obstacles: his hair (a wig could fix that), and as for his skin color, we now have a hit Broadway play, Hamilton, which plays with such casting issues very freely.  After that Cavett returns to insulting Ellen Holly, which Jones brushes aside more firmly.  I wonder if Cavett could watch this clip now without cringing.

He hadn't learned any better by 1985, when this interview with Richard Pryor aired.

It's the same damn thing all over again.  Pryor just sits there, staring steadily at Cavett, until the latter realizes how nonsensical he sounds; then tries again and again, he just won't let it go.  It's not just the question he's asking -- can white writers write for black performers? -- but the larger assumption that white people can expect to define black people in the arts and elsewhere.  Borrowing Laura Mulvey's speculations about the male gaze in film, the audience for Hollywood films -- which, remember, not only played to non-white customers in the multiracial US but were marketed around the world -- was assumed to be white.  In these clips, Dick Cavett finds black people gazing back at him, and he finds it very disorienting.

We've come a long way since then, though we haven't arrived.  I'm not sure what the ideal should be, but for me it includes a variety of Mulveyan gazes, with women looking back at men, people of color looking back at whites, and the rest of the world looking back at the United States - but also looking at themselves, unconcerned about how they might look to men, whites, America.  There's nothing wrong per se with the male gaze, the white gaze, the USAn gaze, only with the assumption that any of these is objective and should be the norm.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Neverending Story

 

I've been seeing a lot of postmortems on Trump's acquittal, and they don't seem to have anything to offer, so I'll just go with this evergreen tweet.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Social Media Is Forever

Maybe I've been wrong to defend the American school system, because I'm very much disturbed by many Americans' inability to read for comprehension on a rather basic level.

Today Neera Tanden, Biden's nominee for the White House Office of Management and Budget, had her confirmations before the Senate Budget Committee.  It seems that John Neely Kennedy, a Republican Senator from Louisiana, called Tanden out for her well-known history of intemperate tweets while she was head of the Center for American Progress.  "I mean, you called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut," Kennedy said.

"That is not true," Tanden protested, which in context indicated that she had called Sanders an ignorant slut.  I don't much blame her for being confused, because she hadn't expected that zinger, and spoken words go by so quickly that they're easy to get wrong.  The Hill post linked above concluded:

 As the hearing came to a close, Kennedy issued a humorous point of clarification to Sanders.

"I want the record to reflect that I did not call Sen. Sanders an ignorant slut," he said.

"I don't know how I should take that, Sen. Kennedy," Sanders responded.

(There's more context in this story.  Read it, if only for the pleasure of seeing Lindsey Graham assuring her that he didn't condemn her for taking big donations from corporate donors, because everybody does it.)

Tanden deleted a lot of older tweets, apparently, when she learned she had a shot at a position in the Biden administration; evidently no one ever warned her that bad behavior on social media would follow her forever and affect her career.  I never followed her, but many of her productions found their way into my feed via people I did follow.  Her Twitter history doesn't matter much.  What matters is that she's a nasty, corrupt person with a bad record running an organization, and I don't think she should get the OMB post, but that's not what concerns me right now.  What concerns me is the reactions Kennedy's remarks got in certain regions of Twitter.

Numerous people accused him of calling Tanden an ignorant slut. That's a really impressive misreading.  Unlike Tanden, they presumably were seeing Kennedy's words written out rather than having them whizzing past their ears; they were reading Twitter the way Donald Trump reportedly "watched" TV, with half his attention until a stray phrase made his ears perk up and he'd be keying a scrambled version onto Twitter.  So there was a lot of yowling about old white male patriarchs disrespecting Women Warriors of Color.  To be fair, these people might just have been trolls, hoping to stir up shit and not really meaning a word they wrote; but I think that like Trump, it was a combination: they half-believed it, but they also knew it would make people go berserk.

I'm still shaking my head over this one:

...so, to be clear, Senator Kennedy says that's something she *didn't* say? why, exactly, is that specific phrasing relevant then? Why introduce profanity into the record that isn't even part of the issue in question?

This guy has got to be an AI, unable to parse anything but the most direct statements, because Kennedy's rhetorical figure is a very simple one, like "everything but the kitchen sink."  But quite a few people couldn't grasp it.

"Ignorant slut" is of course an allusion to a notorious Saturday Night Live sketch from the 1970s: the "Weekend Update" fake news segment included a Point/Counterpoint "debate" between Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd, in which Curtin concluded her argument by insulting Aykroyd ("But you wouldn't know about that, Dan, because there's no old saying about what's behind a miserable failure") and Ackroyd responded with the iconic epithet: "Jane, you ignorant slut." 

Younger people can't be blamed for not recognizing the reference, though the skit remains famous to this day -- it has 3.6 million views on YouTube -- and I'm a bit surprised that I recognize it, but as it happens I saw it when it originally aired.  Even those who do know it probably remember it mainly for the abusive language, and Aykroyd's character's misogynist slur, and not for its mockery of broadcast "debates."  That, after all, is how most people think debates are supposed to go.  Also, though Aykroyd and Curtin used their own names, they were playing characters, reading a script.  (As I've said before, many people seem to believe that actors just go before the cameras and wing it.)

Some people did follow what was happening in the exchange between Kennedy and Tanden, but more didn't, and that's not counting the people who expressed their shock at it without going into detail.  Once again I found that though I thought I was hard to shock, I was stunned at literate people's inability to read a sentence.  Even if you don't know the TV source of "ignorant slut," it doesn't take a genius to see that Kennedy wasn't calling Tanden names, or calling Sanders names either -- which is more than can be said for Tanden.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Really Gives You Something to Think About

NPR's Weekend Edition did an item today on Fox News's cancellation of Lou Dobbs, which may or may not have something do with the $2.7 billion lawsuit SmartMatic filed against Fox. By way of illustration, the segment included a recording of Dobbs and Rudy Giuliani declaring that SmartMatic was founded by some Venezuelans seeking to undermine American democracy by tampering with our elections.

NPR's reporter declared that SmartMatic was not founded by Venezuelans, and that the company has nothing to do with Maduro or the late Venezuelan "dictator" Hugo Chavez.  I thought that the reporter hesitated very slightly before he bore down on the word "dictator," as though he might have been about to say "President" but remembered just in time that this is America.

Or maybe not, it might have been my imagination.  But Hugo Chavez was legally and democratically elected, and managed to stay in office until his premature death of cancer despite a US-supported military coup in 2002 and ongoing US monetary and other support for the Venezuelan opposition. The criteria for calling him a dictator are unclear, given the US' enthusiastic support for dictators elsewhere in the world, so I'll just assume that the reporter was conforming to American propaganda guidelines, as NPR and other corporate media normally do.

It's doubly ironic, because Chavez did not institute a reign of terror after the 2002 coup, which compares favorably with many US liberals' drive to pass new, draconian laws in the wake of our own January 6 insurrection. Democrats are now trying to claim that Russia and China were behind the insurrection.  Even now, the unelected US-designated leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, is still at large despite his calls for a US invasion to install him (Trump thought it would be "cool", Lindsey Graham said it was "too early"), for an uprising against the democratically elected President Maduro, and his utter lack of popular support.  That's what NPR considers "democracy" to be.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Right in Your Own Backyard

Just as people like to accuse their enemies of outrageous, fantasized sexual transgressions, we also like to accuse them of a lack of education.  It's the obverse of the way we overestimate the brilliance and competence of those we approve because they're on our team.  These are all what Patricia Roberts-Miller called "demagoguery,", also known as Othering, or among those who haven't fully expunged their inner racist, "tribalism."  What it's called is less important than what it is.

Maloney's statement is repellent in its contempt for the less-educated, but there's an even more serious problem with it: the Trump base, and a sizable number of those who stormed the Capitol on January 6, are.largely college-educated, and middle- or upper-middle-class.  It was hardly obscure to anyone who followed the arrests of the rioters, but Maloney and a disturbing number of liberal Democrats have chosen to ignore it.

A new article in The Atlantic bears this out:

Third, the demographic profile of the suspected Capitol rioters is different from that of past right-wing extremists. The average age of the arrestees we studied is 40. Two-thirds are 35 or older, and 40 percent are business owners or hold white-collar jobs. Unlike the stereotypical extremist, many of the alleged participants in the Capitol riot have a lot to lose. They work as CEOs, shop owners, doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, and accountants. Strikingly, court documents indicate that only 9 percent are unemployed. Of the earlier far-right-extremist suspects we studied, 61 percent were under 35, 25 percent were unemployed, and almost none worked in white-collar occupations...

Fourth, most of the insurrectionists do not come from deep-red strongholds. People familiar with America’s political geography might imagine the Capitol rioters as having marinated in places where they are unlikely to encounter anyone from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Yet of those arrested for their role in the Capitol riot, more than half came from counties that Biden won; one-sixth came from counties that Trump won with less than 60 percent of the vote.

Yet I keep seeing liberal Democrats on denouncing the Right as ignorant, uneducated, low-class trash.  No matter how much evidence to the contrary they're confronted with, they won't let go of the illusion.  (Much like the QAnon-brainwashed Trump cultists they deride.)  They don't believe it because it's true, but because it lets them feel comfortable.  Why that should be is difficult for me to understand, because the Trump Right is a serious threat to this country whether its members are educated or not.  I think their refusal to face reality is of a piece with the same Democrats' belief that with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in office, they can relax and go to sleep for the next four years.

That bit about "more than half [of arrested rioters] came from counties that Biden won" is important too.  Maybe living in a red state like Indiana spares me the sweet illusion that the bad guys are somewhere else.  Time and again liberals are shocked when they find that the menace was living next door, that the bigots were so much nearer and more numerous than they had ever guessed.  As a Hoosier queer I've never been able to have that false comfort.  But then I 've known other Hoosier queers who could.

This willed ignorance -- knowing so much that isn't so -- is why I don't trust liberals as a class, and why I refuse to indulge their complacent certainty that they are, in one of their favorite terms, "reality-based."  In that respect they're not much different from conservatives I've known, who fancied themselves more rational and realistic than woolly-minded, wishful-thinking liberals -- until I spelled out the atrocities and horrors their heroes supported and carried out.  They'd go green and sweaty and back down, but they'd forget it in a day or two.  Liberals are, I admit, made of somewhat sterner stuff: they simply get indignant and accuse me of wishing Bush or Trump was still president.  But the Right has learned from them and adopted their approach; don't let anyone tell you conservatives don't learn from experience!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Beating the Socialist with the Socialist's Shtick

Is anybody else old enough to remember when right-wingers were furiously circulating a meme that showed Barack Hussein Obama putting his dirty feet on the precious, sacred desk of the Oval Office?  The desk that was a gift from Queen Victoria of England, so it was like Barack "Not Their President" Obama was stomping on the Virgin Queen!  No?  Well, it was a long time ago, almost eight years, nobody can remember that far back.

 
Militant leftists from Medium to Snopes.com took delight in finding pictures of Obama's predecessors, from Nixon to Dubya, kicking back with their feet on the sacred desk, and soon the fuss died down.  It was recalled when Donald Trump's advisor Kellyanne Conway was photographed with her feet on an Oval Office couch.  
 

The two cases were obviously completely different, of course: Conway, unlike Obama, is white.  Besides, it wasn't clear from the photo whether Conway was wearing shoes, though her pose inadvertently revealed that she is actually a male homosexual.

I remembered this today when I learned that the San Francisco Chronicle had published an op-ed attacking Bernie Sanders for exhibiting white privilege when he appeared at the Biden inauguration wearing the now-notorious coat and mittens, instead of a custom Schiaparelli gown.

The author, Ingrid Seyer-Ochi, began with a salad of culture-of-therapy jargon that reads like an outtake from the Onion:

Three weeks ago I processed the Capitol insurrection with my high school students. Rallying our inquiry skills, we analyzed the images of that historic day, images of white men storming through the Capitol, fearless and with no forces to stop them. “This,” I said, “is white supremacy, this is white privilege. It can be hard to pinpoint, but when we see, it, we know it.”

Across our Zoom screen, they affirmed, with nods, thumbs-ups, and emojis of anger and frustration. Fast-forward two weeks as we analyzed images from the inauguration, asking again, “What do we see?” We saw diversity, creativity and humanity, and a nation embracing all of this and more. On the day of the inauguration, Bernie Sanders was barely on our radar. The next day, he was everywhere.

... wearing, as Ms. Seyer-Ochi put it, "a puffy jacket and huge mittens."  This indicates that she doesn't "see" very well:

That's not what I'd call "puffy.".  I'll return to that presently.

Seyer-Ochi continues:

We talked about gender and the possible meanings of the attire chosen by Vice President Kamala Harris, Dr. Jill Biden, the Biden grandchildren, Michelle Obama, Amanda Gorman and others. We referenced the female warriors inspiring these women, the colors of their educational degrees and their monochromatic ensembles of pure power.

One of the markers of privilege is wearing outfits that give little or no protection against cold weather, especially for women.  It signifies that they will be whisked out of their heated carriages for a few minutes, then whisked back into shelter.  Such women aren't "warriors," they are clotheshorses, whose costumes bespeak the wealth of the men who pay for them.  Anyway, after listening for years to Barack and Michelle attacking poor and working-class black people for being unworthy of them, I'm not interested in this kind of discourse.  

And why should Bernie Sanders, who is definitely not part of Biden's inner circle, dress as though he were?  He was up in the cheap seats on a working day, dressed for warmth by Vermont standards.  But all Seyer-Ochi could see was a "a wealthy, incredibly well-educated and -privileged white man, showing up for perhaps the most important ritual of the decade, in a puffy jacket and huge mittens."  What (as the poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote) do we see? What do we not see?

Seyer-Ochi is nothing if not fair and balanced: "I mean in no way to overstate the parallels. Sen. Sanders is no white supremacist insurrectionist. But he manifests privilege, white privilege, male privilege and class privilege, in ways that my students could see and feel." 

I think Sanders knows quite well the privilege he has, given his working-class parents and childhood, the Brooklyn accent that infuriates so many people, and his left-wing politics.  He also knows that as a senior US Senator he has tremendous privilege.  (There is a large literature on the conflict, even guilt, many working-class people feel about the gulf an education and a profession opens between them and their parents; it's been a big help to me personally.  If Seyer-Ochi is unaware of it, she should check it out, for the sake of her students.)  Seyer-Ochi also has a lot of privilege, as "a former UC Berkeley and Mills College professor, ex-Oakland Unified School District principal and current San Francisco Unified School District high school teacher."  Perhaps she thinks she can atone for her privilege by writing an empty-headed screed like this.  As analysis of a politician's sartorial choices, it ranks down there with the Great Tan Suit Scandal of 2014.

She bears down on the "blindness I see, of so many (Bernie included), to the privileges Bernie represents. I don’t know many poor, or working class, or female, or struggling-to-be-taken-seriously folk who would show up at the inauguration of our 46th president dressed like Bernie. Unless those same folk had privilege. Which they don’t."  So is Seyer-Ochi saying that if poor, working-class, etc., people showed up for the inauguration in anything but their Sunday best, she'd shame them, or nod approvingly while others did? 

The best reply to Seyer-Ochi, I think, is the reply given to frothers who countered the pictures of Obama using his desk as a footstool with pictures of other Presidents doing the same.  In Sanders'x case, there are two.  There's this one, of the context:

Of course all those other people are just showing white privilege too, maybe they'd been assigned to the White Privilege section.

And then there's this one, of the new Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, desecrating the holiest day of the past decade with her white privilege.

C'mon, would it kill her to smile a little?

I understand why Seyer-Ochi's students might be confused by the way Sanders dressed on that day, just as I understand the confusion of late 20th-century American Indian students who enter graduate school armed with 19th-century essentialist concepts of race and culture, only to discover that the discourse has changed.  I don't understand (well, okay, I do) why a teacher would let them stew in their assumptions instead of encouraging them to think about the meaning of the norms of dress and deportment that had shaped their lives and those of their parents and grandparents.  The class assumptions in African-American culture, the Talented-Tenth arrogance of those who managed to get an education and a profession against brutal odds, the Paper Bag Test which valued light skin over dark, are also understandable, and they're tragic, but they shouldn't be treated uncritically.  It doesn't mean that Seyer-Ochi's students should dress like Bernie Sanders if they go to an inauguration, but they do need to know what their choices mean, no less than Sanders'.  As Virginia Woolf may or may not have said, the real trouble with privilege is that everybody doesn't have it.

Monday, February 1, 2021

After Awhile, Pedophile

There's been something of a fixation lately on QAnon's conspiracy theories about pedophilic cannibals, especially since a lapsed member of the cult declared to CNN's Anderson Cooper that he no longer believes that Cooper eats babies. I'm glad that guy no longer believes Anderson Cooper eats babies, but I was struck by the "shocked! shocked!" energy liberals were putting out: How could people believe that their fellow Americans are cannibals?  Because my magpie memory began bringing up other cases of similar beliefs, until I realized that they're normal.  That doesn't mean that they're true, of course, only that normal, reasonably sane people keep reinventing such beliefs, and it's very hard to pry them loose from those beliefs. 

First I remembered that the early Christians were accused by outsiders of having nocturnal orgies, which climaxed in the ritual killing and eating of babies. I don't know how widespread the accusation was, and I find it somewhat suspicious, because the sources for it seem to be Christian apologists, answering heathens' lies, and I don't consider the apologists to be reliable sources on anything.  I also recall reading somewhere that when Tertullian, a notable Church Father of the same period, switched from the Catholic Party to Montanism, he accused the Catholics of ritual cannibalism, but insisted on the innocence of his own sect.  In any case, the fantasy that the hated Other rapes or eats children is clearly ancient, whether pagan or Christian writers harbored it. Probably both did.

Later, Christians accused Jews of ritually murdering Christian children and using their blood to make Passover Matzohs.  But the Satanic Ritual Abuse witchhunt of the 1980s and 1990s seems closer to the QAnon scare, and it was recent enough that it ought to be surprising that people have forgotten it.  I dug out my copy of Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker's book Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt (Basic Books, 1995; quoted here from the Kindle edition).

Children caught up in this maelstrom often reported that they had been molested by people dressed as clowns, in Halloween masks, or in uniforms. In many cases, they talked of being taken to cemeteries or funeral homes, of having to touch or eat feces and urine, and of excrement covered in chocolate. Incongruous people, like movie actor Chuck Norris, prosecutors, social workers, and television anchormen, were named as perpetrators. Abuse was said to have occurred underground or in airplanes, and animals were usually involved, occasionally as sex objects but most often as victims of sacrifices. Nude picture-taking sessions, rituals, and sex acts were almost always reported, as was blasphemous behavior and language, as well as murder, either for religious reasons or to make snuff films. All these themes—pornography, masks, rituals, uniforms, excrement, blasphemy, and murder—appeared in the checklists, guides, and questionnaires that investigators used when they questioned children.

All this was the work, not of a bunch of extremist weirdos, but of mainstream figures.  As Nathan and Snedeker point out, feminists played a significant role in the craze, but so did fundamentalist Christians, police departments, psychologists,  A professor of sociology at the Big Ten university where I worked was a vocal proponent and defender of the witchhunt.  I also knew people who didn't believe every detail of the stories, but still insisted that an international network of Satanists was plausible.  In that period of more than a decade, Nathan and Snedeker recall,

It was also possible to turn on the radio and hear Joan Baez performing “Play Me Backwards,” her song about a youngster who witnesses a diabolic ceremony in which adults dressed as Mexicans slaughter a baby, remove its organs, and make other children play with them. One could stand in a supermarket checkout line and read the women’s magazine Redbook, with its survey indicating that 70 percent of Americans believed in the existence of sexually abusive satanic cults, and almost a third thought the groups were being deliberately ignored by the FBI and police. If one sought out a psychotherapist, the chances were good that he or she believed these cults were organized into a vast conspiracy whose crimes were responsible for many patients’ emotional problems4 And if one were to examine the files of district attorneys’ offices throughout the country, there was a considerable likelihood that some would contain allegations of ritual sex abuse.

Baez was still performing "Play Me Backwards" as late as 2000, when the witchhunt had largely subsided and been debunked, sometimes by the same media that had promoted it a decade earlier.  Many of the people who'd been convicted and jailed for non-existent crimes had been exonerated and released; I don't know how many weren't. Judging by the comments under various YouTube videos of Baez' song, not to mention hostile reviews on Amazon of Satan's Silence, there are still numerous people who believe in the original stories.

I don't know why many people are so eager to believe that their neighbors eat babies in secret nocturnal orgies, but I'm not at all surprised by QAnon's fantasies.  I suspect that many of the people who believe QAnon are diehards from the Satanic abuse witch hunt, which as you can see was much more ecumenical and inclusive than QAnon: millions of Americans were willing to believe that their neighbors were Satan-worshiping cannibals.

Another curious thing: though many people will jump to embrace fantasies of imaginary horrors perpetrated on innocent little children, they will resist doing anything about actual child abuse, and will protect abusers, even when the abuse happens before their eyes. The Penn State scandal was a striking example of this, but belief in "seductive" children leading sex-starved adult men to their doom seems to be as common as belief in lizard-people Illuminati predators.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

My God, How the Money Stays In!

The "next post" I promised on Friday was going to be about Joe Biden's January 4 pledge to voters in the Georgia runoff election that

you can make an immediate difference in your own lives, the lives of people all across this country because their election will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check, that money that will go out the door immediately to people who are in real trouble.

That pledge has not been kept, and while there may be valid reasons for the delay, such as Republican obstructionism, Biden and Congressional Democrats are walking back the promise themselves.  As David Sirota reported on January 25,

Biden is pushing $1,400 checks, rather than using his election mandate to demand new, full $2,000 checks.

Democrats are now suggesting that it could take at least until March to even pass the legislation, even as the economic crisis worsens.

Biden is now responding to threats of Republican obstructionism by floating the idea of reducing the number of people who would even get the checks. Reuters reports that “he is open to negotiating the eligibility requirements of his proposed $1,400 COVID stimulus check, a nod to lawmakers who have said they should be more targeted.”

The signals of retreat are happening even as new polling data show that the original promise for a full $2,000 survival check is wildly popular.

I temporized for a day before writing about this because there were signs of (much as I hate to use the word) hope.  Bernie Sanders has been talking about using "reconciliation" to push Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill through, which requires only 51 votes rather than the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.  (Indeed, Minority Leader McConnell backed down on his demand that the Democrats promise not to abolish the filibuster - Majority Leader Schumer, almost incredibly, stood firm against him.)   Biden himself told reporters that the bill had to go through whether Republicans liked it or not.  Josh Marshall keeps comparing the Republicans to Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown, but it's really Democrats who have a long history of promising progressive action and then backing away from it at the last minute.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have offered their version of compromise, a $600-billion-dollar bill that I'm sure they're willing to lower even more in the interests of bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility.  Numerous commenters have seen this as surrender, effectively telling the Dems "You guys go on without me."  I have no doubt that President Obama would have accepted their compromise, but we live in unprecedented times.

The reason the stimulus payment matters is not only the necessity of the assistance will give to people who are on the ropes financially, but the political price of breaking a high-profile promise to the majority of Americans.  Biden and the Democrats have a very small majority in Congress, and they can't afford to lose a single seat in 2022, especially in the Senate.  I've seen a number of Very Smart liberals/progressives saying that the dumb voters won't remember such a broken promise, but I think it's obvious they're wrong.  Voters in 1994 and 2010 remembered Bill Clinton's and Barack Obama's decisions to side with the rich against working people, and yet those wise men learned nothing from those consequences.  My concern is not with them or Biden, or with Democratic elites, but with the millions of non-elites who are suffering and will continue to suffer if meaningful action isn't taken.  It's the Very Smart Brunch Liberals who have short memories.

Naturally, Biden/Harris trolls are busy attacking anyone who criticizes Biden on the stimulus payment.  They say it should have been obvious to the stupid voters that by "immediately" Biden meant by summer of 2021, and by $2000 he meant $1400 or less, means-tested to create more jobs for the means-testers. And don't forget the Republican obstructionism -- if only the dumb voters understood how government works!  Maybe it should have been obvious, but Biden's statement was not likely phrased without trying it out on focus groups in advance: he and his team knew exactly how voters would understand it.  If anyone was ignoring Republican obstructionism, it was Biden.  It's been suggested that Biden didn't expect Ossoff and Warnock to win the runoffs, so he wouldn't have to deliver, but it's not the voters' fault if Biden stepped on his dick again.

It's also worth remembering that, as Sirota's article reminded me, the House of Representatives not only wrote and passed a clean and simple $2000 stimulus bill immediately after Trump endorsed the idea.  The GOP blocked it in the Senate, of course, but now that the GOP no longer controls the Senate, it should be easy enough to get the same bill through.  (Maybe through reconciliation?)  Make the Senate GOP oppose it, including the majority who are still loyal to Trump.  Yell it to the press every damn day until it passes and is signed and the money goes out.

I might be wrong about this, but bear with me: So far I haven't seen anyone post that they spend hours each weekend in a line for a food bank, that they haven't been able to pay their rent or utilities for six months, and they still haven't received the last $600 stimulus -- but they nevertheless understand why POTUS can't deliver on his promise of $2K and will be happy to wait until the end of March for $1400 or whatever he decides is good enough for them.  The Democrats presently defending the delay are not those who are suffering.  I'm not suffering for lack of another payment either, but it's not about me, it's about us.

Maybe I'll have to retract this later on.  If Biden & Co. deliver meaningful relief to Americans, I'll be happy to acknowledge it.  They have to prove they can be trusted, however.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Surely, Comrades, You Do Not Want Trump Back?

So, where to begin?  I haven't had any ill effects from the COVID-19 vaccine shot I received last Friday.  I meant to post sooner, if only because going silent so soon after getting the vaccine felt a bit irresponsible, but I couldn't bring myself to sit down and focus on our depressing politics.  The next post I write will clarify that, if it isn't obvious.

Anyway, I just watched this clip:

I think Ball and Enjeti made some good points here.  I side more with Ball on the quality of the Times' cavilling about Biden.  Enjeti is right that the complaint was entirely predictable: the elite media always urge Presidents to move to the "center," meaning the right, so who in their right mind would pay attention to them?  That question answers itself: nobody, but the op-ed writers of the Times, the Post, the Wall Street Journal, and those who read them aren't in their right minds.  Ball is right that Biden is the kind of politician who would take them seriously and feel stung by them.

Ball argued that it's absurd to set the Trump administration as the bar the Biden administration must clear.  That's true, but absurdity is the name of centrist politics.  Establishment Democrats have been creeping rightward ever since the death of FDR, and they've only gotten worse since Ronald Reagan was elected.  Trump is a godsend to them, and they've been celebrating his usefulness since Biden won the election.  There was an outpouring of delight when Biden began announcing his cabinet picks, for example: Finally! Dems exulted. Finally we have intelligent, competent people in government again!  This was pure fantasy, since these people had no idea who Biden's nominees were, or anything about their backgrounds.  That was even clearer with regard to people like Pete Buttigieg, whom we do know enough about to know that he's terrible.  Any reservations about him were met with the insistence that he was smart and competent, and anyway, he's better than Trump's appointees.  After four years of the Donald Trump regime, the world doesn't need politicians who are merely "better" than Trump's people.  It needs people who really are competent.  And from what I can tell, based on reporting by people who don't just jerk their knees, some of Biden's nominees are competent and intelligent.  But party loyalists neither know nor care.

"Better than Trump" is going to be Democrats' main line of defense for the next four years.  It's almost ironic, since one of their refrains during the primary period was that literally anyone would be better than Trump: their two-year-old grandchild, their dog, their pet turtle, a dead bat, that sort of thing. They didn't really mean it, of course. Bernie Sanders, especially, wasn't literally anyone: he made their skin crawl, he had bad body language, he was loud and obnoxious, nobody liked him, nobody wanted to work with him.  

Biden's ignorant armies are already in action online.  Biden could shoot someone in Brooklyn, and they would cry, "At least he didn't shoot them on Fifth Avenue!"  Naomi Klein answered such people four years in advance -- not really, since the pattern was already obvious.

The danger of Trump is, everybody looks good by comparison, everybody can stand up and look like a hero, I mean, I live in Canada, right? So I know.  So I think the logic needs to be, we're not gonna give you a pass because you're better than Trump. We're gonna demand so much more of you, because of Trump...

Friday, January 22, 2021

How I Spent My Friday Morning

There aren't many advantages to turning 70, as I did three weeks ago, but one is that I am now eligible to try to get the coronavirus vaccine in the state of Indiana, and I did today.  I say "try" because it wasn't as easy as it should have been.  I spent most of the past week beating my head against the reservation website, which was simple enough but didn't work: I would find a nearby location (there are two in my small town), find what the site said was an available date, type in the requested information, click on "confirm reservation" -- and get an error message telling me that there were no openings on that date.  I called the 211 information and referral number and talked to two very nice and helpful workers, but all they could do was enter my information on the same website -- it didn't work for them either -- and then suggest I try again early the next day.

Then this morning I noticed some differences on the local page.  The county department of health, which had offered reservations starting in mid-February, suddenly reported that no reservations were available. The local hospital, which previously had no open reservations, suddenly had them today.  I grabbed one, the site confirmed it, I rode my bicycle over (about two miles - the department of health was much nearer), walked in, answered some basic questions, got jabbed with the Pfizer vaccine, made an appointment for a second dose in mid-February, waited fifteen minutes to make sure I had no immediate adverse reactions, and walked out again.

It all went very smoothly.  I've been to the hospital a few times since I moved up here, for lab work and other diagnostics, and the staff have always been great -- professional in the best sense of the word.  I wouldn't have guessed, to observe them today, that they'd been dealing with a major pandemic for the past year.  One of them explained that they'd starting out using both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but had decided to phase out the Moderna except for second doses because they had the facilities to handle the ultra-cold storage the Pfizer vaccine needs -- not bad for a hospital in a town of about ten thousand people; supplies of the Moderna are now going to smaller, more rural locations.

I also wouldn't have supposed, from the numbers of people they were processing, that there's any great resistance to the vaccine around here.  Maybe there isn't, but this is Trump country.  As Jake Bacharach tweeted a few days ago, though, "I'm sure there will be some genuine refusals, but as with abortion, many of the loudest moral and political opponents will rush to the clinic the minute they need one for themselves or their families."  If every spot on the schedule hadn't been filled, it was probably because of the flaws in the website, not lack of demand.

Twelve hours later I have a slight ache in my upper arm where I got the injection; it's no worse than the flu shot I got in November.  But then I've always been lucky with shots -- never had an allergic reaction, for example, or significant side issues other than a sore arm.

I'm writing about this partly for the same reason I write most of my posts: to process what is happening to me and around me.  But it's also because I wrote a post at the end of December posing some questions and expressing concerns about the vaccines.  I said explicitly that I am not anti-vaccine, and that I would probably get vaccinated when it became available.  At the time I didn't think that would be before spring or summer.  When I learned that I could get it now, I decided to go with it for two main reasons: it takes time to build full immunity, so the sooner I begin the process, the better; I hope I might be able to visit friends this summer with less worry.  The other is that the sooner we all start building immunity, the sooner we can see what result it will have on the advance of the virus.

Recently I got a daily New York Times e-mail newsletter dealing with the vaccine, and to my surprise and pleasure it backed up many of my concerns.  Here's hoping the link works.  The writer argues that the lack of honesty about the virus has not only hindered the struggle against it, but contributed to people's skepticism about all authoritative pronouncements (except those of the authorities they like, of course).

Early in the pandemic, many health experts — in the U.S. and around the world — decided that the public could not be trusted to hear the truth about masks. Instead, the experts spread a misleading message, discouraging the use of masks.

Their motivation was mostly good. It sprung from a concern that people would rush to buy high-grade medical masks, leaving too few for doctors and nurses. The experts were also unsure how much ordinary masks would help.

But the message was still a mistake.

It confused people. (If masks weren’t effective, why did doctors and nurses need them?) It delayed the widespread use of masks (even though there was good reason to believe they could help). And it damaged the credibility of public health experts.

This is basically what I wrote in December, as well as in previous posts about science, expertise, and the myth of meritocracy.  You can't really complain that the public doesn't trust you if you've been lying to them, but that's what experts in many fields have been doing all along.

Right now, public discussion of the vaccines is full of warnings about their limitations: They’re not 100 percent effective. Even vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus. And people shouldn’t change their behavior once they get their shots.

These warnings have a basis in truth, just as it’s true that masks are imperfect. But the sum total of the warnings is misleading, as I heard from multiple doctors and epidemiologists last week.
The uptake is that our guiding experts should be upbeat, and accentuate the positives about the vaccine.  Which I agree with, as long as the positives are true.  So, the writer goes on to explain that the 95% protection rate is "on par with the vaccines for chickenpox and measles. And a vaccine doesn’t even need to be so effective to reduce cases sharply and crush a pandemic."  As it happens, it's very unlikely that vaccinated people will spread the virus.  And so on: read the rest of the article.  The comparison to other vaccines was something I'd been wondering about, and now I wonder why it hasn't been stressed more.  It seems to me that the same public health experts whom we're supposed to rely on to inform and guide us are mostly not very good communicators, and that they don't trust their audience with accurate information.  But communication and accuracy are their job, and if they aren't going to do their job, what use are they?  I'm reminded of the days when doctors routinely lied to patients with cancer or other serious illnesses, which made those conditions even scarier than they needed to be.  Some of them, like Anthony Fauci (remember his fairy tale about vaccinating Santa Claus?), seem to enjoy lying to the public because it makes them feel powerful.  That's an occupational hazard of experts.

I'd already figured out on my own that it will still be necessary to wear masks and continue other existing precautions when I heard a doctor reluctantly say it on NPR a couple of weeks ago.  My heart sank at first, but it was important to know.  Reading this article made me feel better, almost hopeful for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.  Sometimes the truth hurts, sometimes it helps.  So I'm writing here about why I got the vaccine, and how I'm getting along afterwards.  I'll follow up later if there's anything to tell.  Other people's stories have always fascinated and helped me; here's mine.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I'm Gonna Have to Potty-Train the Chairman Mao

(This 1984 [1985?] song is a prophecy.  The Butthole Surfers were in tune with the universe in a way that no other band has ever been.)

A quickie: Just as a matter of tactics, I don't think we should accept any Trump supporter's claim that Trump got 74 million votes in the election.  Trump was an unpopular president even before his coup attempt, and when you think about it, is it really plausible that he got as many votes as that?  And isn't the only evidence for that number the same electoral system that Trump and his supporters say was crooked, rigged, fake?  We've seen numerous Republican attempts to disenfranchise Democratic voters, so it's reasonable to suppose that the results in the states they control would have been manipulated to give Trump the victory.

It might seem that this is not really an issue now, on the eve of Joe Biden's inauguration, but remember that though Trump is resentfully moving out of the White House, he has still not conceded to Biden, nor has he admitted that the election was not stolen from him.  Trump's fans have backed off slightly, but they haven't changed their minds.  Debating them is hopeless, but I want to hear them try to prove that Trump didn't win more than, say, 30 million votes.

Monday, January 18, 2021

One, Two, Three Times a Lady...

It seems that liberals can only go for so long before they have to break out the homophobic insults.  A law professor named Josh Chafetz called foul on it today.

The responses were predictably stupid.  One I hadn't seen before was that "Lady G" is a nickname Graham himself asked the male escorts he uses to call him.  

I don't know whether it's true, but after decades of hearing gossip about possibly gay celebrities and public figures, I figure it's false.  And if it's true, it's irrelevant.

I don't want him to be exempt from name-calling. There are plenty of true and proper names to call Graham for voting against LGBTQ+ rights.  "Bigot," for one.  "Hypocrite" for another.  "Liar."  Even "coward."  Throwing homophobic abuse at him, or any closet case, means you're on the side of the bigots, and that you feel good there.  Isn't it funny, though, that when liberal homophobes get called out, they suddenly claim that calling their targets queer isn't really an insult?

And then there's the claim that it's okay to side with the bigots if we're gay, epitomized here:

I have little respect for George Takei anymore, but here's the thing about this one.  In my day (and though I'm younger than he is, I was out years before Takei crept out of his own closet), we queens called everybody by femme names. Singling out one hypocrite, in a time when every gay celebrity was closeted, would have been absurd (not that that would have stopped us).  We were partly engaged in a repressed form of resistance, but it also involved a lot of self-hatred.

It's one thing to play this gay parlor game among ourselves, but once you post it on social media, you're letting insecure straight boys think that they can get away with it too, like white kids who figure that listening to hiphop gives them a day pass to throw around n****r.  

Then came this familiar move:

I can easily believe that Graham is gay, though as Tallulah Bankhead apocryphally said when asked about someone else, "I don't know, darling -- he never sucked my cock!"  Numerous right-wing figures, including politicians, have come forward to be themselves over the years, and they remained terrible people without exception.  Some, like Andrew Sullivan, were already out when they burst onto the scene; same story.  Being a right-wing scumbag is who Graham is: racist, bigoted, dishonest, hypocritical, beholden to wealthy donors.

There were numerous variations on this:

Equating homosexuality to submissiveness (and vice versa) is the quintessence of homophobia.  In this case it's obviously ridiculous, because Graham is far from the only male Republican pol who has submitted to Trump.  Are they all closet cases?  Not impossible, but not likely either.

Which brings me to a curious paradox: In patriarchy if a male submits -- socially, erotically, whatever -- to another male, he is stigmatized as a faggot. On the other hand, patriarchy requires manly men to submit to the authority of other men.  It's not only acceptable, it's praiseworthy.  Even being penetrated sexually endows the recipient with the masculine power of the penetrator: for example, an ancient Roman dream-interpretation manual had it that a man's dream of being fucked by a social superior was a good omen, despite the normal Roman contempt for sexual passives.  In religion, men prostrate themselves before a male god.

And then there's the military.  Ah, yes.  Men prove their manhood through the trial-by-ordeal of basic training, called "ladies" by their drill sergeants, stripped of their individuality and generally abjected and abused.  I can't think of a better example than this segment from Stephen Colbert's 2009 visit to entertain US troops in Iraq.  Dressed in a camouflage suit, Colbert engaged in scripted banter with a general, who told him that if he really wanted to be a soldier, he would have to cut his hair.  Colbert pretended to demur, until President Obama appeared on a video screen and gave him a direct order.  In front of an audience of cheering grunts, the general administered a military buzz cut, which Colbert sported for the rest of his stay in Iraq. 

The sadomasochistic aspects of this scene are hard to miss; the comedy just enhances them.  Much of S&M is theatrics and ritual anyway.  Colbert was still playing his "conservative" persona at this time, but he still submitted to the authority of a "liberal" president.  That it was in the cause of Supporting the Troops ensured that Colbert wasn't unmanned by his abasement.  Context is very important: in another situation, or merely to hostile eyes, he'd have been feminized by it.  It's the ambiguity, the fact that a man can never be sure whether his submission is safe or not, that fuels male anxiety and homosexual panic.

One last comment in this vein: one guy tweeted "Just maybe, if and when Melanie drops trump, Donald & Lindsey may end up been [sic] a pair".  I noted that his bio IDs him as an ex-marine and retorted, "I bet you have your eye on Lindsey yourself.  But he's [also] a bottom, so you two wouldn't be compatible."  In my day, Marines were notorious among military trade queens -- gay men seeking to be penetrated by manly guys in uniform -- for flinging their legs in the air when one got them into bed.  I don't know how true this gossip is; but stereotypes have a way of backfiring, so I wanted to remind "The Captain" to handle them with care.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

"This Is Against My Civil Rights, I Have a Right to Be Serviced!"

This is how I, an anti-masker, think I look:

This is how I, an anti-masker, really look:

You're watching, and I hope listening to, Cindy Falco-DiCorrado, a 61-year-old Floridian warrior for God. (The entire video can be seen here.) She's apparently a well-known character in her neighborhood:

Falco-DiCorrado, a staunch Trump supporter, was forced to resign from her volunteer seat on the County's Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board in 2017, following controversial remarks made during a meeting to designate Boynton Beach a sanctuary city.

Falco-DiCorrado allegedly told Black residents at the meeting, "You're lucky we brought you over as slaves, or else you'd be deported too." She later told the Palm Beach Post her comments were misinterpreted and she didn’t mean any harm.
Of course she meant no harm, she did nothing wrong, and her comments were misinterpreted.

While I was looking for an image of Joan of Arc for this post, I noticed that many of the contemporary pictures were devotional, and almost all of those show her with long hair. The one above shows her wearing a long skirt. But Joan was burned partly for her refusal to conform to the gender norms of her day: she cut her hair short, and wore "men's clothes."  It's odd, because her gender nonconformity is a very well-known part of her legend, of her brand.  Yet those who adore her as a saint seem to need to femme her up; why, I wonder?

I think the answer is that she's a saint, so they believe they're honoring her and glorifying her by falsifying her image to suit their prejudices; which means they are actually shrinking her to their own size. It's not just saints: people tend to do this to anyone they admire: artists, politicians, athletes, Messiahs.

Friday, January 15, 2021

What Would Jesus Coup?

Last week's insurrection at the US Capitol has brought American ambivalence about political violence to the forefront in all its quivering glory.  This meme is several years old, but that makes it all the more interesting, because it was spread around by liberals and leftists -- many of the same people who are furiously indignant now that the "sacred" space of the Capitol, the People's House, was defiled by dirty rioters.

There has been a lot of disagreement about the meaning of Jesus' cleansing the Temple Court, and I'm not going to resolve the question, because it can't be resolved.  There's something to be learned, however, from the issues it raises.

As with most episodes in Jesus' story, if you've read or heard only one explanation of the cleansing of the Temple Court, you need to know that there are many others, and no one knows which one is correct.  To start with the easiest one, if Jesus didn't exist, he didn't act up in the Temple court either; but that wouldn't explain why his inventors made up this story, so we should examine its implications as story.

The next possibility is to take the story at face value: that the uproar took place as the gospels describe it.  (The gospels disagree hopelessly as to when in Jesus' career it happened, but I'll come back to that later.)  The gospels agree that Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover, a time of year when the city was packed with pilgrims.  The Roman occupiers were nervous about the possibilities of mob violence, even an uprising, so they stationed plenty of soldiers overlooking the Temple court to watch for signs of trouble.  If, as the gospels say, Jesus blocked access to the area, it would have been hard to miss, and it was exactly the kind of thing the guards were watching for. The gospels don't mention this, only that the Jewish authorities were afraid to arrest Jesus then because of the crowds; but the Romans would have been interested in this troublemaker too.  Would all the crowds in the court have been on Jesus' side when he wouldn't let them get through to worship?  I doubt that too.  How would he have stopped them, by the force of his personality?  The evangelists don't seem to be aware of the difficulty.  Modern scholars are aware of it, and have tried to explain it.

One popular explanation is that the action was an "acted parable," intended to illustrate something or other.  Maybe, but no one told the Roman soldiers that.  I always imagine one of them saying, "Hey, Fred, look at what that guy is doing down there!  Should we move in on him?"  His buddy looks, then replies, "Not to worry, Al, it's obviously an acted parable, with no political significance whatsoever."  Even if it were an acted parable, the Temple was sacred both as a place of worship and as a national symbol; Jesus' action had an inescapable political dimension.  The rhetoric surrounding the Capitol today shows the same thing: it's both sacred to American civil religion, and a secular symbol of American Democracy, which is also sacred.  Anyway, the distinction between religion and politics is anachronistic: it didn't exist in Jesus' day or for hundreds of years afterward.  What you have here is apologetic invention, in which a scholar or preacher gets rid of a troublesome part of the Bible by making something up.

So is another claim, which comes from conservative scholars, surprisingly enough.  It takes the "acted parable" move further, by asserting that the cleansing of the Temple never happened.  It was a parable invented by the evangelists, perhaps to literalize something Jesus said that everybody misunderstood.  This has the advantage that it's impossible to disprove, but it's an odd tactic for scholars who assume the historical reliability of the gospels (except for troublesome parts like this one).

Remember that according to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), one of the main charges at Jesus' trial was that he had threatened to destroy the Temple.  Maybe "threatened" isn't the right word, because he also promised to raise it miraculously up again, a Temple not made by human hands.  Mark claims that "false witnesses" made the accusation, but even though they'd been suborned by the Jerusalem authorities, their testimony didn't agree.  John says that when Jesus cleansed the Temple, he was challenged as to his right to do it.  "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again," Jesus replied (John 2:19).  "But he spoke of the Temple of his body," the evangelist explains.  None of this makes much sense: what did disrupting the Temple court have to do with his resurrection?  

John's version is all the more confusing because his Jesus cleanses the Temple and then waltzes off scot-free, two or three years before his arrest and execution; the other gospels put the event a week before his death, implying that it led to his arrest.  The other three gospels also have various Jewish teachers asking Jesus by what authority he disrupted the Temple, and Jesus asks them a trick question: what was John the Baptist's authority.  They decline to answer for fear of the mob; but why would Jesus refuse to answer them?  It isn't as if he was afraid of them: he was in Jerusalem to be arrested and executed for the sins of the world.

Now, the gospels are not reliable historical sources: they almost certainly weren't written by Jesus' original followers, and there's no way to know if any of these events happened.  My aim here is to investigate why they're so confused. I think their inventions were constrained by the need, first, to establish Jesus as a holy and innocent man who was executed by wicked, illicit authorities; and second, to show him demonstrating his power and authority by stomping on their institutions and teaching.  But Jesus agreed with them that those institutions and teachings were instituted by Yahweh. Much of the authority claimed by the early Christians depended on the validity of the Torah and the Prophets, which they appropriated for themselves at the same time they attacked it.  (The apostle Paul, for example, called the Ten Commandments "the ministry of death" [2 Corinthians 3:7] but also insisted that the Torah was holy and good.)  Similarly, there was no doubt that the Romans had executed Jesus as a criminal, an insurgent against Rome: hence the label "King of the Jews" on his cross.  So Jesus had to be simultaneously innocent and a criminal, which helps to explain the evasive way he responded to Pilate's interrogation.  The evangelists probably had no reliable information about the scene, so they had to wing it.  Jesus, like any hero, could have proven his innocence to Pilate with one hand tied behind his back, but then he wouldn't have been crucified, and he had to be crucified for historical and theological reasons.

Christians maintained this conflict ever after, as they clashed with authority both secular and religious,  though remember again that the distinction didn't exist for over a thousand years into the Christian era: the Emperor of Rome was not just a political leader but a priest serving the Roman Gods, and a god in his own person.  After Rome was Christianized (or Christianity romanized), the emperors continued to have religious roles.  Christians obeyed or disobeyed imperial authority as it suited them, merrily terrorizing "pagans" and their temples, Jews and their synagogues, and each other.  (See Michael Gaddis's There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire [California, 2005].)  While these Christian terrorists were a minority among Christians, the Church regarded them highly and made saints of quite a few of them.  Eventually the Church schismed into Western and Eastern factions, and of course into Catholic and Protestant.  

Which brings me to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.  The insurrectionists rejected some authority (Congress, the electoral process, the courts) while adhering to others (Trump, Trump, and Trump).  They extolled the police until the latter blocked them, so Blue Lives Matter was tossed aside.  Mike Pence had been a good Christian man until he failed to do Trump's bidding, and then they were ready to hang him.  Like Jesus, they flipped from open defiance of the law to insisting they had done nothing wrong or illegal, even as they smashed windows, broke down doors, and clubbed police officers with flagpoles still attached to Old Glory.  The only thing that mattered was that they were servants of the Truth, and therefore innocent no matter what they did.  If only Jesus had had access to smartphone video recordings and social media, so we could know what he thought he was doing!

Remember that the Temple court, and Jerusalem generally, was packed with pilgrim tourists for Passover.  For Jesus to stage a disruption in a crowded space, with nervous soldiers looking on, meant he was ready to put other people's lives in danger from a panicked melee and a violent response to it.  That the evangelists don't mention such an outcome is one reason why some scholars deny that the Cleansing of the Temple happened at all, though it's also possible that it did, and that was what led to Jesus' arrest, and to the arrest of the two men who were crucified with him.  But the people who celebrate Jesus' action in memes like the one above believe that Jesus did do it, and they like it as long as they can fantasize that he would be on their side.

Some of the insurrectionists pointed out that the United States was founded in insurrection, and they had a valid point there.  Much of their moral incoherence echoed that of the Left, and some of them were aware of it.  Aren't riots the language of the unheard?  Is it all right to denounce and even attack the police?  The rioters erected a gallows outside the Capitol.  Leftists had mostly confined themselves to posting memes of guillotines, but they pretended they were in earnest.  And who can forget the journalist Reza Aslan's bold declaration after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg?

That aged well, didn't it?  Aslan was ruthlessly mocked for the tweet as Amy Coney Barrett was quickly confirmed without anything being burned down, and he never responded to the criticism as far as I know, but that tweet is still there.  Sometimes I think of it as an acted parable, though its true interpretation escapes me.

I've been moving toward something like pacifism for some time now, as my dissatisfaction with Left rhetoric about killing fascists has grown. (I also have reservations about the effectiveness of nonviolent action, however.)  If I do ultimately adopt the label, it won't be for religious reasons (obviously, I hope), or for any kind of "higher" principles (there aren't any), but because the burden of argument lies on the person who advocates the use of violence.  Will it achieve its ends, and how do they know that?  Who will direct it?  How do I know that the advocate of violence isn't a police or FBI agent provocateur?  The bar of proof should be high, which advocates of violence hate, and I think that discredits them.  Whether they're on the left or the right, they're the spiritual descendants of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who incited the burning down of synagogues, preferably with congregants inside, so that there would be no place where Christ was denied. 

How, then, should people of good will resist the forces of Trump?  I admit I don't have a good answer, but the first thing to bear in mind is that But we've got to do something! is not an argument and should simply be dismissed out of hand.  It has corollaries, like Oh, I suppose you think we should just let literal Nazis run wild, then; this also should be dismissed with contempt.  (What pushes me close to despair is that so many people who are nominally on my side are just as irrational, and almost as malignant, as their right-wing counterparts.)  Nor do I believe that the Trumpian hordes can be persuaded by sweet reason, nor can they be "deprogrammed" (a popular proposal on liberal Twitter), nor will Love turn aside their wrath.  I'm not aware of any good ideas about this, certainly no simple ones.

I think we should be aware of what we're up against.  There seems to me good reason to believe that a hard core of people on the Right -- about 25 percent of the adult population -- are intransigent, who will not be persuaded by evidence. I'm hostile to Mitt Romney, but he was absolutely right to say that this hard core will not accept that Trump lost the election fairly, no matter how many audits or recounts are done.  It doesn't look like they are a majority of citizens or voters, so they have no democratic claim on getting their way, but that doesn't faze them.  (What we're seeing isn't new.  I remember that many such people refused to believe that Barack Obama really won in 2008 or 2012, and they demanded that Obama govern as they wanted him to, because Democrats were not allowed to win elections. I also remember some young College Republicans throwing similar tantrums about Bill Clinton in 1996: when I asked one if he really thought the victory should go to the candidate who got the least votes, he said of course not, he was just venting.  I don't think he was telling the truth about that.  But what he surely did mean was that his candidate should win no matter what.)

There's much more to say on this subject, and I'll return to it.  I am sure, though, that posting more guillotine memes will not be effective at all.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

This Is Not Who I and I Are

I've never had much use for John Oliver, the former Comedy Central and later HBO liberal Limbaugh wannabe.  I quote the following material with the caveat that it's a fan paraphrasing him.

I really like the way John Oliver put it. We elected Barack Obama and put Kamala Harris in the VP office, but in between we put a hateful white supremacist in office. All of that is who we are.

"We" elected Obama & Kamala the cop. Barack Obama bombed hospitals, droned weddings, imprisoned whistleblowers, let torturers & war criminals go unpunished, tried to prolong the US occupation of Iraq, tried to cut Social Security & Medicare, deported record numbers, turned Libya into a slave market, etc., etc.  Yet liberals still see his administration as a brief shining moment of hope and change between Dubya and Drumpf.  (To say nothing of their whitewashing of Dubya.)  Yes, it's who "we" are. 

P.S. And by the way -- seeing Obama's and Harris's skin color as a positive detail that overrides everything else about them and their political records is racist.

Friday, January 8, 2021

I'm With Stupid

There's so much going on, so quickly, that I can't decide where to begin, so here are a couple of quick takes.

Although Donald Trump is obviously a clear and present danger to the Republic, many high-placed people are trying to block his removal.  Mike Pence, for one, by refusing to invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment;  but also those in both parties who are whining that there isn't time to impeach Trump.  I looked it up to be sure, and the United States declared war on Japan one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  That's at least as large and weighty an action as impeaching a would-be tyrant before he can do any more damage.  Where there's a political will, there's a way.  Those who pretend there isn't time are trying to obstruct justice, and should be regarded in that light.

Then there are the people arguing that Trump should just go to Mar-a-Lago, do nothing, and wait out the time until Biden is inaugurated.  That assumes that Trump would go in the first place, and that he would do nothing for two weeks.  Or that Trump should just "be shunned."  It would be hard for me to believe that anyone could seriously make such idiotic suggestions if I hadn't seen it so many times before.  In order for shunning to work, you need a cohesive community united in the resolution to shun, and the US is not such a community, to put it gently.  Aside from Trump's millions of supporters, there are many rich corporatists, national GOP politicians, and others just waiting for the dust to settle so they can meet with him privately and conspire some more.  Nothing improper, you understand, just a friendly discussion.  Remember how many vehement Never-Trump Republicans quietly went to work for him after he took office?  

And then there's the media, who'll be champing at the bit to get just one more little interview with him: "Mr. Trump, do you have any regrets?  What do you think you might have done differently?"  (They'd probably even call him "Mr. President" -- decorum is such a vital norm, especially in these troubled times.)  That wouldn't be a break in the shunning, it would be journalism!  The American people have a right to know these things!  They deserve answers to these questions!

On the question of failed security at the Capitol, here's a good beginning.  But someone posted this, "Cipolli's Fifth Law," as a comment.  I'm not going to bother finding out who Cipolli is or what his other laws are, because I don't give a damn:

Jeez, only a really stupid person would come up with that.  People who like to think they aren't stupid do tend to underestimate the danger from people they think are stupid, but that is because they are stupid.  One easy example: gay people and allies who were shocked by the virulence of antigay bigots in the antigay initiatives of the 70s through the 90s: they had no idea that people could be so awful! This was echoed by the Obama administration's shock that the GOP weren't going to play nice, despite ample evidence and overt declarations. These people aren't smart. Mostly they're privileged twits who've led very sheltered lives.  As in Obama's case, their stupidity does most harm to other people, the people at the bottom, whom they despise, while they coast serenely along in their $14M Martha's Vineyard mansions.

That said, it's fun to see reports of members of the Capitol mob who took selfies and videos of their antics and posted them to social media, confident of their impunity -- only to find themselves greeted by police when they returned home.  Several have lost their jobs.  Schadenfreude is a dangerous drug, but I'm in complete control!  I can quit anytime!

More to come, but meanwhile remember: it isn't over yet.