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.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Be Specific, Sir, If You Please...?

I'm not going to go into today's attempted coup in Washington (but it wasn't only there) because events have been succeeding each other too rapidly and I prefer to wait until things are sorted out.  It may be worth noticing, however, that at least one Democratic Congressman is ready to forgive and forget and move on:

I just asked Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) about this:

“The idea of taking the time to try to impeach him, the idea of trying to expel members of the House of Senate for their efforts to protect the President and continue this fiction ... I just think we need to turn the page."
So, it emerges, is Nancy Pelosi; the list is bound to grow longer.  But for now, I'm going to finish the post I began this morning.  It was already fairly certain by then that Raphael Warnock had won the Georgia senatorial runoff against Kelly Loeffler, though the race between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue was still too close to call.  So NPR's Noel King got Warnock on the line and asked him some typical NPR questions, trying to get him to confess that he is a member of the Communist International and wants to nationalize white women.

KING: President Trump asked Georgia's secretary of state to change the results of the presidential election. Many Republicans, including your opponent, didn't criticize him for doing that. Do you think that part of the Republican Party has abandoned democracy?

WARNOCK: Listen. The four most powerful words in a democracy are the people have spoken. The people of Georgia spoke very clearly on November 3 when they elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, gave them our 16 electoral votes. We counted those votes three times. It is clear when you look at the swing states all across our country, Joe Biden is president-elect. And unfortunately, there are enablers of this nonsense in the United States Senate. And it's why the people who I'm running into all across Georgia are frustrated with politics. And quite frankly, it's why I got in - because we can't outsource our democracy to politicians. The people have to rise up, reclaim their own voice in their own democracy. And that's what happened last night right here in the state of Georgia.

I've never heard Warnock speaking before, and I recommend listening to the clip.  This interview was early in the morning after Election Night, and I imagine he was worn out from the intense campaign, which I hope explains his dull delivery and robotic soundbyte content.  (Since I wrote this I've seen a clip of Warnock delivering a sermon full of fire and prophetic fury, so I was probably right about his condition while talking to King.)  But maybe I expected too much after all the kvelling I saw about his Black Church eloquence.  King was obnoxious as she usually is with any interviewee who is or might be left of center: 

KING: What do you think Congress needs to do now to help Americans through the coronavirus pandemic and specific, sir, if you could, please?

WARNOCK: We ought to pass the $2,000 stimulus.

KING: OK.

WARNOCK: I mean, folks waited for months without getting any relief at all. And when we saw relief in the spring, too often, it centered large corporate businesses while small businesses were at the back of the line. It left workers out. And so people need immediate relief. And we've got to get this virus under control. We've got to get the vaccine safely and efficiently distributed so that we can safely reopen our economy, get our businesses roaring again, get our children back into school, but in a way that's safe and sustainable. These are big issues.

Warnock's responses weren't bad, exactly; again, I think he was exhausted.  What he said here, except for coming down firmly for a $2K stimulus payment, sounds like centrist boilerplate to me.

KING: Let me ask you lastly about the work. Where do you stand on the progressive or moderate scale? Let me put a direct question to you. Do you think the Senate should push for progressive climate legislation like the Green New Deal?

WARNOCK: I think that we need common-sense reform on a whole range of issues. There's no question that climate change is real. There's work we need to do on that front. And I'll be focused on getting that work done. I think too often, even in the places where there is agreement, at least among ordinary people, that we need movement, we get no movement. And that's quite frankly because someone other than the people own our democracy. And so one of the things that I'll be very focused on is the outsized influence of well-connected corporate interests in our politics. I think if the people can get their democracy back, we can get the reform that we need around issues of environmental justice, around health care and the whole range of concerns.

The "progressive or moderate scale" is hooey, of course - the question, as King phrased it, makes little sense.  In a way, Warnock tried to reframe it, but invoking "common-sense reform" isn't a good way to put it.  I'd have taken the stance that the Green New Deal, or government-run healthcare (which Warnock, like Ossoff, opposes), or a higher minimum wage, or higher taxes on the rich, let alone more and bigger stimulus payments, are favored by a solid majority of Americans.  That makes them moderate by definition, I would say, and I believe Warnock meant that by "common-sense."  Any politician (or radio personality) who opposes them is a marginal right-wing extremist -- definitely not a centrist.

NPR's anchors are almost always uncomfortable with, even hostile to, anyone outside that extreme-right Beltway consensus.  If you listen to the audio you can hear King trying to keep Warnock at a safe distance.  I know I'm not the only person who gets impatient with their clumsy questions, typical of the Washington press corps.  Maybe they're too busy, and don't have time to inform themselves properly?  I don't believe so, but even if that's the case, they need to demand more time, asserting the need to maintain professional standards.  The real trouble is that they see themselves as gatekeepers, the responsible objective moderates between the extremes of left and right. They aren't -- as I said, they're really far right -- but even if they were, fetishizing the middle is a guarantee of getting things wrong.

And Warnock?  I'll wait and see, but I'm not happy with having another religious nut in national office.  Remember how Barack Obama's deeply-held religious beliefs made him oppose same-sex marriage - though not letting torturers and war criminals escape legal penalties, or murdering teenagers with drones?  Even if Warnock turns out to agree with me on many or most issues, I don't care what he thinks his god wants, and it's irrelevant to the job he now has to do.  The best I can say is that a successful minister also has to be something of a politician, balancing different interests in his or her congregation.  I saw a lot of giggly excitement from liberals and leftists about how Warnock is a real Christian who follows Christ's teaching.  Nobody follows Christ's teaching, and Christ's teaching is not the law of this land.  Funny how liberals flipflop on whether America is a Christian nation as the winds change. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Higgledy Piggledy, Radical Liberals

Today the Washington Post published a piece by its media columnist Margaret Sullivan, setting forth a case that no matter what you may think, Donald Trump and his "enablers" are not conservatives.  They are, she declares fiercely, "members of the radical right."  She lists the bad guys by name with the bad things they're doing (and they are bad), and sums up: 

The radicalism of the right has been normalized. It’s been going on, and building, for decades. Don’t worry, this mind-set reassures, it’s all fine. There are different ways of looking at the world, liberal and conservative, and they are about equal. ... Too much of the reality-based media has gone along for the ride, worried about accusations of leftist bias, wanting desperately to be seen as neutral, unwilling to be clear about how lopsided these sides are.

Sullivan goes all vague here, naming no names, so let me help: Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley ... pretty much every well-known "conservative" since the middle of the last century.  I wonder if Sullivan would want to recognize that, since such figures have a lot of prestige even among liberals.  The Post, like the Times, largely went along with their normalization.

In the mid-1950s the historian Richard Hofstadter called such people "pseudo-conservatives": he recognized that real conservatism, in the sense of hanging on to good things from the past, was represented by New Deal Democrats.

The change did not escape [Adlai] Stevenson himself. “The strange alchemy of time,” he said in a speech at Columbus, “has somehow converted the Democrats into the truly conservative party of this country—the party dedicated to conserving all that is best, and building solidly and safely on these foundations.” What most liberals now hope for is not to carry on with some ambitious new program, but simply to defend as much as possible of the old achievements and to try to keep traditional liberties of expression that are threatened. *

It's important to remember that "conservative," like "skeptic," "agnostic," and similar words, has no real content.  It refers to a person's relation to the passage of time, and it doesn't even require that what they want to hang on to is good.  In the US, conservatism has meant preserving class distinctions and privilege, white supremacy, male supremacy, and the like. And in that regard, liberals have hidden behind the far Right at least since Ronald Reagan: you know, he has a point (about crime, about women, about race, about the homosexuals, about big-spending government, about regulating business).  As the Republican Party moved farther and farther right, liberals followed discreetly, always insisting that they were much better than those awful right-wingers.

This tendency reached its summit with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom admired Reagan and continued his assault on the New Deal.  By then the New Deal was so old hat, and Democratic loyalists, still posing as liberals.  I recall one columnist, either Ellen Goodman or another liberal woman writer (there were only a couple with a national platform back then), exulting that the New Deal had finally been laid to rest by the latest (1996? 2000?) Democratic National Convention, while the minions of the far left raged impotently in the streets.  Neither Clinton nor Obama was able to get rid of Social Security, but they tried

At least Sullivan seems not to buy into the popular myth that the GOP was still reasonable before Trump came along and made it crazy.  But the admission comes late in her column, and barely nods at what happened.  Could be worse, could definitely be better.  I'm not sure she realizes just how bad the GOP was before Trump.

Long before Trump.  One minor point: Sullivan gently mocks "Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Georgia Republican, [who] rarely utters her challenger’s name without branding him as 'radical liberal Raphael Warnock.'”  I was suddenly struck by a memory of Martha Mitchell, the wife of First Criminal Richard Nixon's criminal Attorney General John Mitchell, who as the Watergate scandal came to a boil in 1972, made late-night phone calls to various reporters to vent her discontents.  Among the people she couldn't stand were "those radical liberals."  That's the first time I recall seeing that weird combination of epithets.  This 1998 New York Daily News article quotes a line I recall -- "Some of the liberals in this country, [her husband would] like to take them and exchange them for the Russian Communists" -- that I remember as "radical liberals."  Maybe I'm wrong, I'm going by memory after half a century, but that's how it stuck in my mind.  I'm pretty sure that oral tradition preserved the phrase over generations and implanted it in the empty head of Kelly Loeffler.

-------------------------------------------------------------

*  "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt - 1954", reprinted in The Paranoid Style in American Politics (Knopf, 1965), p. 42-3.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Yellen at the Top of My Lungs

Politico just reported that numerous Biden Cabinet appointees are beneficiaries of the "revolving door" pattern whereby people go from business to government to business and back again.  In particular his Treasury nominee, Janet Yellen, has been paid $7.2 million to speak to Wall Street and other large corporations in just the past two years.  The report also mentioned Anthony Blinken and Avril Haines, but Yellen took in the most, and was featured in the lede.  So of course numerous Democratic trolls are attacking Politico for objecting to a woman's being paid fairly for her "intellectual property."  Would you pick on a man for doing it? they demanded.  Well, yes, I would: the left has criticized past presidents for cashing in after they left office, and not just presidents.

I think my favorite is Ronald Reagan, who was paid $2 million for a one-week junket to Japan in 1989, $1 million of that sum for just one speech.  But you know that killjoy leftists picked on a poor old retired man trying to earn some pin money with his "intellectual property" (a contradiction in terms where Reagan was concerned).  The Washington Post sympathized at the time:

And yet, for those who remembered Reagan in the White House, it was strange to see him so stripped of the powers of the presidency. There was no Air Force One, no phalanx of Secret Service, no Baker, Deaver and Meese, no White House spin doctors to tell the press what the president really meant to say. Reagan arrived at one banquet with a trumpet fanfare but no "Hail to the Chief," and left to the bittersweet strains of a Mozart string quartet. He was more on his own than he had been in eight years.

What a guy.  Makes you cry.  And I did.

Jon Schwarz made a typically good point

Democrats always say this about their favs — sure, they've cashed in *out of office*, but it will have no effect on their actions. So...why shouldn't Wall Street be able to give bags of cash to Yellen & co while they're *in office*? They're incorruptible!
Might as well.

My favorite take on the Yellen story, though, comes from David J. Rothkopf, a writer who I think blocked me on Twitter some time ago, but now that my account has been suspended I can see him again:

Would you rather she'd taken a vow of poverty and spent her non-government work time sitting in a convent scribbling formulas with a quill pen?  Is she, a woman who devoted her life to an incredibly distinguished career in academia & public service, not entitled to earn a living?

This is like the Catholics who try to rebut criticisms of papal ostentation by accusing you of wanting the Holy Father to starve in the gutter.  The idea that Yellen might earn a living by working -- say, two minimum-age jobs with no benefits, as so many Americans must do these days.  A year or two spent living paycheck to paycheck would give her lived experience that would make her a better Treasury Secretary.  Speaking to big corporations isn't earning money, and it's absurd for Rothkopf to pretend it is.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

In the Service of a Higher Truthiness

The next book I'm going to read will probably be Alan B. Spitzer's Historical Truth and Lies About the Past: Reflections on Dewey, Dreyfus, de Man, and Reagan (North Carolina, 2000).  I'm about half a dozen pages in, and so far it looks promising, as an examination of debates about objectivity in the writing of history, engaging with "postmodernist" critiques without panicking. Very likely I'll be writing more about it. 

What hooked me was this sentence in the publisher's blurb, which quotes part of the book's introduction: "The higher the political stakes, the more likely the antagonists are to appeal to generally warranted standards of relevant evidence and rational inference."  I don't think I quite agree.  At some point in most debates, antagonists are likely to appeal to generally warranted standards of relevant evidence and rational inference, but especially where the political stakes are high, those standards quickly get in the way and have to be set aside in service to a Higher Truthiness.  

Ronald Reagan comes into the discussion because of his 1985 visit to a German World War II cemetery where numerous SS-Waffen dead were buried.  Anything about Reagan would be fun because Reagan was a virtuoso practitioner of what are now often called "alternative facts."  It's not quite fair to call him the first "post-truth" president, but he took recreational lying to new heights, and as an exemplar of the most delusional factions of the American Right, he paved the way for Donald Trump.  Conservatives like to present themselves as opponents of post-modernist relativism, the only adherents of objective reality and Truth, but when the rubber meets the road they side with thinkers like Karen Armstrong, who prefer Higher Truth to mere grubby left-brained factual Truth.  In context, Spitzer was saying that disputants invoke evidence and rationality to hide (even from themselves) the political loyalties that guide their selection and interpretation of the evidence.

The American Historical Review called Historical Truth and Lies About the Past "a hard-hitting defense of objectivity."  So it's fascinating that the three negative reviews (out of five) of the book on Amazon agree that Spitzer is a pointy-head perfessor "more concerned with impressing his post-structuralist colleagues with his familiarity with the latest in literary theory than in doing serious history. I was expecting a serious grappling with misrepresentation of truth in history, and instead got the tired academic canard of truth as not really existing in the first place", as one said.  This, I'm afraid, is an alternative fact: Spitzer does not subscribe to that "canard."  No doubt the reviewer was gesturing toward a higher truth.  Another titled his review "Transcends the issue of politico-historical falsification by hermeneuticizing it," then confessed that he didn't know what it meant, he was just quoting Spitzer, but that the passage "reflects the essential character of the book: unwieldy jargon-heavy prose without much in the way of clear meaning or importance."  These reviewers had to read the book for class; one describes himself as "a senior undergraduate history student."  I'm always bemused when people tout their inability to read for comprehension as a sign of their intellectual superiority.

I'm pretty sure I understand the clause that begins "transcends the issue" well enough.  In context, Spitzer is mocking commentators who tried to find deeper meaning in Reagan's lies about his visit to Bitburg, by leapfrogging the issue of telling the truth in political history by (over)interpreting it.  But hell, I'm a college dropout, not a senior undergraduate history major, what do I know?  True, academic writing can be challenging to read, but if you're going to study these subjects you have to get used to it.  For what it's worth, though, looking through the book I can say pretty confidently that it is not overloaded with post-structuralist jargon.  It must contain some, because Spitzer is discussing post-structuralist writers, among others. There are plenty of abstractions, because Spitzer is writing historiography, the theory or philosophy of history writing: big words, even jargon, go with the territory.  But so far I'm struck by the relative clarity of Spitzer's writing.

The reviewer who declared Spitzer's position to be the exact opposite of the one he holds is more blatant: though he purports to reject "misrepresentation of truth in history," he misrepresents truth in his account of Spitzer's book.  It could be that he's just a shallow undergrad, but the tactic is common among professional scholars and writers too.  (I'm thinking of Noam Chomsky and the historian Morton Smith here, but there are many other examples of thinkers it's safe to lie about because everybody knows they're crazy.)  To paraphrase Orwell's description of Ingsoc in Nineteen Eighty-Four, they defend truth by telling lies, and they do so in the name of truth.  I mean, how many people are going to read Spitzer's book anyway?  Nobody will notice.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Top 25 of 2020

Do I remember correctly that many people welcomed the advent of 2020?  Mostly, as I recall, it had to do with the number of celebrities who'd died in 2019, though some of it was the anticipation that Donald Trump wouldn't be re-elected.  This would have been too optimistic even if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn't come along.  Plenty of famous people died, as could have been foreseen.  Trump was defeated, but it was a close thing, and we aren't out of the woods yet.  I won't feel sure until Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, and with a majority of Congressional Republicans planning to overthrow not just the popular vote but the Electoral College, I'm not making any assumptions.

Anyway, traffic on this blog was again down this year.  I presume that's partly because I've been posting less since the middle of the Obama administration, though I've improved.  Who knows?  Here are the posts that got the most views this year.

25. Inappropriate Appropriation (142 views).  Some people on Twitter were amused by a Caucasian woman who was a Zen teacher, on the apparent assumption that world religions like Buddhism are limited to one "race" or nationality.  I was amused by their ignorant racism.

24. Don't Bite the Hand That Feeds You Propaganda (142 views).  National Public Radio has been a significant annoyance to me this year.  This post criticized an NPR reporter who asked softball questions on foreign policy to Trump's National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien; the reporter took a noticeably harder line when he interviewed an Iranian ambassador the day before.

23. Born Free, Free As the Wind Blows (143 views).  Early in the pandemic, when tests were still hard to get, I encountered people who claimed that they were "COVID-free," though they hadn't been tested. I haven't talked to many such lately, but I suppose many people who think they're safe because they're asymptomatic are making the same assumption.

22.  Circling the Wagons; or, All These People Who Aren't My Boss (146 views).  On the freedom to disagree with Noam Chomsky and Bernie Sanders, which a surprising number of people on the left seem to think is being denied them.

21. My Decree (147 views).  You're free to disagree with Noam and Bernie, but not with me.  Respect mah authoritah.

20. The Amnesia Is the Point (148 views).  More on the weird Democratic desire to sanctify George W. Bush.

19. Smarter Than a Box of Rocks (152 views).  Madison Cawthorn is a newly-elected Republican Congressman, viewed hopefully by the Right and the corporate media as part of an "anti-Squad" who'll stymie Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and several newly elected left Representatives.  Since I wrote this post he's jumped on the bandwagon to overturn the presidential election.  To steal another line from the late Molly Ivins, if his IQ drops any lower we'll have to water him; but that's not a disqualification for Republican politicians.

18.  I Don't Know How You Were Introverted (154 views).  Some ruminations on the categories of introversion and extraversion.

17. Women and the Blood Tax (154 views).  A review of Emma Donoghue's excellent new novel The Pull of the Stars, set in a Dublin hospital during the 1918 influenza pandemic, with many parallels to today's COVID pandemic.

16. Abiden with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide (154 views).  More on the Democratic cult of George W. Bush, now being supplemented by the cult of Grandpa Joe Biden.

15. The Twitterverse of Hysteria (156 views).   Liberal and left Twitter continued to go through wild mood swings during the election year.

14. Ah Yes! I Remember It Well (157 views).  This was a quickie, very brief, but it encapsulated Democratic willed amnesia and some people noticed it.

13. Uh, What? (162 views).  If I was ever in danger of forgetting that Trump supporters were as amnesiac as Democrats, it was never for long.  It's not as if any of this was ancient history.

12. Stuart Middle (163 views).  E. B. White's Stuart Little had a tremendous effect on me when I read it in third grade: it introduced me to the complex, ambivalent emotions that stories can evoke.  I happened on a New Yorker essay by a writer who didn't like that complexity, and reflected on it here.  Come to think of it, the Korean film Sopyonje also has a bittersweet ending that upset many (but not all) viewers.

11. The Pursuit of Happiness (165 views).  Reflections on the nature of happiness.

10. Just Trying to Clear Up a Few Things Here in the Augean Stables (166 views).  Hatred of Universal Healthcare for Those Who Want it.

9. Surely, Comrades, You Want Obama Back? (175 views).  There's been no need to rehabilitate Barack Obama, since Democrats have never stopped loving him.  I've noticed that many people are pushing back this year, rubbing Democratic noses in Obama's terrible record, and his fans seem to find it harder to dismiss.  Mostly they limit themselves to fantasizing about cuddling with him.  Between his intrusions into the electoral campaign and his promotional tour for his new memoir, he's been hard to ignore.  How can I miss him if he won't go away?

8. The Ministry of Truth Explains It All to Iran (180 views).  See number 24, above.

7. Our Childlike, Emotional Leaders: The Latest Episode (183 views).  The Democratic Senator Chris Murphy let slip that he and other Senators had planned a coup against the elected government of Venezuela, to install the unelected Juan Guaidó.  Murphy was furious that the Trump administration had balled it up.  Liberals tended to miss that acknowledgment, but as the sociopathic Tesla billionaire Elon Musk said of Bolivia, "We'll coup whoever we want to": interfering in another country's electoral politics is fine when we do it, intolerable if someone does it to us.

6. Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander (184 views).  The nonagenarian composer Ned Rorem, a gay man (and fellow Hoosier by origin), expressed some retrograde views about gender.

5. I Believe in Scientists, I Just Don't Trust Them (187 views).  Another post on Boy Culture and the Hard (giggle) Sciences.

4.  Rage of Consent (198 views).  I've long been perplexed by liberal/left hostility to what Foucault called "bodies and pleasures."  This post came from a young queer woman who was being pressured by older feminist friends to abstain from sexual activity until she was at least 25, on very dubious grounds.

3. "Cancel Culture": "Political Correctness" for 2020 (214 views).  Talk about the intolerant left, summed up recently in the term "cancel culture," came to a head this year, especially when Harper's published an open letter denouncing it.  For me it was all depressingly familiar: as Huck Finn said, I been there before. 

2. I Have a Conspiracy Theory for That (220 views).  I wrote several posts on the gay presidential candidate (and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which was once my stomping ground) Pete Buttigieg, but only this one got much attention.  It was inspired by a queer writer who hinted darkly that Buttigieg wasn't really gay, but was pretending to be to capitalize on it.  His evidence was non-existent, and his approach indicates that if all else fails, he could get a job testifying that Joe Biden stole the election.  Just when I think I've seen it all!

1. Scripture and Karen Armstrong (303 views).  I chose this post as my best of the year for Vagabond Scholar's 2020 bloggers' roundup, and the views more than doubled in a couple of days.  I don't know how many people read all of it, let alone agreed with it, but I'm still pleased it got the attention I think it deserves.

I'm not especially optimistic about 2021, but I'll try to be more productive.  Happy New Year and best wishes to all!