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2017-08-18 02:33 pm

ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY MY ONLY BLOG POST ABOUT CHARLOTTESVILLE


Welp.

A lot of what I want to say about this, I’ve said before in some form or other, notably regarding free speech and Nazi-punching. But let me give this a shot so I can get this off my chest.

[Sorry it’s tl;dr, but you should have seen it before I whittled it down.]

1. To get the obvious out of the way, the whole thing – the protest, the violence and the terrorist attack – was terrible and awful and probably inevitable, if not predictable.

2. Trump’s trainwreck reaction to Charlottesville (lengthy silence, vague tweet, the “on many sides” speech, more silence, another statement that sounded like his advisers threatened to take away his golf clubs if he didn't read the goddamn thing out loud, the inevitable fake news tweet, the “Alt.Left” improv press conference) has undoubtedly made the situation worse in terms of neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacist/nationalist groups feeling empowered by the notion that the White House has their back.

3. Does that prove Trump is a true-blue Nazi or a white supremacist? Not in the strictest sense – it’s been pointed out that Trump said what he said (vis a vis Charlottesville and previous statements) in no small part because he thinks saying what he should have said would be a victory for the PC SJWs that he loathes so much. He hates the idea of being told by liberals and the media what he should say about issues like this, and he’d rather say what he really thinks and screw ya if you don’t like it, snowflake.

That said, the other issue is that based on everything we’ve heard Trump say over the last few years, it’s fair to assume that he’s sympathetic with the part of the Alt-Right™ that is more focused on white-identity politics and their irrational fear of being erased in the name of political correctness or whatever, and that it’s the black people (especially #BLM and ESPECIALLY Barack Hussein Obama) who are to blame for whatever racism problems might still exist.

4. Here’s where it gets tricky (and controversial) because the Alt-Right™ is – or has been up to now – distinct from the Nazis, KKK et al. I recommend reading these two articles – one about the different groups that comprise the Charlottesville protest, and the other about the White Identity ideology driving it. Yes, it’s all basically racist, but there’s a distinct difference – the Nazis, KKK et al acknowledge they’re racists. The Alt-Right™ people generally don’t. It doesn’t mean they’re not racist – it means they genuinely don’t see why they should be labeled as such simply because they identify themselves as white. “Blacks get to be proud of their racial heritage, why can’t we?” It's the same argument that affirmative action is reverse racism, or it’s so unfair that black people can use the n-word but white people can’t, etc.

It’s certainly not a defense for racism, and I fully understand that the distinction is of little importance to the racial and religious minorities who are the targets of their ire. I’m just saying it’s important to understand the difference if you’re going to label Trump a full-blown Nazi, which is a very serious charge (albeit one that’s been watered down by applying it indiscriminately over the years).

5. However, the plot twist is that, thanks to Charlottesville, the lines separating Nazis and KKKers from the rest of the Alt.Right™ – which were already getting blurry – have been almost completely erased. And the Alt.Right™ only has themselves to blame for that. When actual Nazis and the KKK got involved in the rally, that would have been the time for the Alt.Right™ to walk away and say, “Oh no, we’re not with these guys.” Which they didn’t. That speaks volumes about their priorities and values, even if it was only for the same reason that Trump tried to shift the blame around. Whatever the Alt.Right™ may have thought it was before, they’re honorary Nazis and KKKers now.

6. And arguably the same goes for Trump.

It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t go around repeating Nazi/KKK talking points on TV. Any fool knows what the Nazis and the KKK stand for, both historically and now, and both were large and in charge in Charlottesville. And one of them killed Heather Heyer (an American citizen) on American soil for daring to disagree with them. Literally any other previous post-WW2 POTUS would have understood the sheer gravity of that and the implications therein, and would have gone on national TV denouncing that specific act AND the Nazis and the KKK to show the American People™ that these things are immoral and wrong and contrary to the values of this society, etc. It’s entry level POTUS 101.

Yet Trump couldn’t bring himself to do that. All he could do was try to make it about his (and the Nazi/KKK’s) political enemies instead.

Sure, he may have had reasons unrelated to Nazi/KKK ideology, but he effectively aided and abetted their cause, which encourages them to carry on Nazi-ing. (Just ask David Duke and The Daily Stormer.)

Whether it’s due to his PC/fake news obsessions, his delusional perception of reality, or whatever – and whether he intended it or not – Trump basically positioned himself as a de facto Nazi/KKK sympathizer.

7. Some people will say “Oh, but what about antifa? They’re so violent, they’re just as bad, why don’t you complain about THEM?”

Well, I do complain about the antifa too – I don’t support their tactics. But there’s really no way you can compare the two groups in terms of where they sit on a moral compass. It’s also one of the dumbest and worst arguments in politics – “Hey if you think we’re bad, you should see the Other Guys!” It says a lot when yr response to an issue like this is to make sure yr political opponents get at least half the blame.

8. The big question, of course, is: is this going to be the final straw for Republicans who have backed Trump up to now?

Sadly, I don’t think so.

Leaving aside the fact that GOP policies over the last 25 years enabled Trump’s rise to power (even if they’d rather have had an insider), the problem is that Trump has provided them with sufficient political cover to downplay both Charlotteville and Trump’s response to it – Alt.Left! It’s Obama’s fault! Those Charlottesville Nazis were actually Jewish actors! It’s just another liberal Fake News lie to be countered with Dana Loesch’s Clenched Fist Of Truth In Yr Fucking Libtard Face!

You see the problem.

I think that’s the biggest challenge we face – not just the fact that white supremacy is on the rise and the POTUS supports it (wittingly or otherwise), but that it’s doing so because too many people buy into the alternate reality peddled by Trump and Fox News and the NRA in which they are right and YOU are wrong and anything that doesn’t conform to that worldview is a lie manufactured by the Deep State Liberal Media Axis to take over the country.

Put another way, the big problem isn't that American racism is on the rise (although it is on the rise, yes) but that a decent chunk of the country doesn’t know/believe that it is, and doesn’t know they’re part of the problem – and are inoculated against any attempt to persuade them otherwise.

I honestly don’t know how we get out of this. I take comfort in the fact that these people are a fraction of the population. But it seems that fraction is getting bigger – and one of them controls the White House.

Which is another thing – impeaching Trump won’t fix that. Not overnight, anyway. It's not everyone will suddenly snap out of it and say, “Man, I had the craziest dream …” That batshit reality voter base will remain, and the GOP – who helped to create them and have entertained and exploited them for years in order to attain power – will continue to pander to them.

That’s not an argument against impeaching Trump, mind. It’s just worth remembering the problem is so much bigger than that.

Nazi punks fuck off,

This is dF
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2017-08-13 04:26 pm

YR NEW FAVORITE NUCLEAR WAR


So Trump has declared war on North Korea. Sort of. Turns out he was improvising. Which is exactly the quality you want in a man who has possession of the nuclear launch codes.

So now there’s lots of a-dithering over the possibility of nuclear war. And as a child of the Cold War I feel in my element – we went through this in the 80s with Reagan, who had convinced the Left that not only was a nuclear war with Russia was inevitable during his admin, but that he was sort of looking forward to it because it meant he would personally get to greet Jesus on His return. (Which isn’t how it works, according to most Revelations scholars, but whatever.)

So here we are again. Maybe.

I admit it’s hard for me to take the threat too seriously, if only because I’ve heard it all before and we still haven’t seen so much as a single nuke go off since Nagasaki.

On the other hand, we are talking about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un – two demented egotistical man-children who care a lot more about looking weak than they do about the consequences of a nuclear exchange, and both of whom are dumb enough to assume that nuking a country is no big deal – it’s like a bomb, only bigger, right?

It's also possible that when Trump says “fire and fury”, he’s not thinking of nukes – he’s thinking maybe of the conventional Shock And Awe™ that GW Bush rained all over Iraq or something. Sort of like how when he says America’s nuke arsenal has been renovated and modernized since he took office seven months ago (which isn’t true), maybe he means “we gave them a good wash and polish and now they're so shiny”.

But who knows what the hell Trump is thinking, really?

That’s the big unknown that’s making people nervous – we KNOW that Trump and Kim are inhabiting their own personal alt-realities and think that being the toughest, loudest kid on the block is the way to solve all yr problems. What we DON’T know is (1) whether Kim really has the capability to nuke Guam and (2) whether he and Trump have the will to actually pull the trigger.

One of the complications here is, of course, that North Korea is decidedly a problem, and we need to think of a way to deal with them. It’s been argued that nuanced diplomacy hasn’t really worked, and we need another strategy. I don’t have any bright ideas as to what that might be. I’d prefer it to be something other than a military option, partly because I’m a pacifist and partly because I’m reasonably sure it will make a bad situation even worse – not just for the Korean peninsula but the whole Asian region (which is also where I happen tolive, so yes, I’m a little biased here).

Unfortunately, Trump seems to be interested in only two strategies: (1) pretend it’s China’s problem to fix because hey, yr closer and you know this guy, talk to him for Crissakes, and (2) “fire and fury”. And plenty of experts have said that while Kim Jong-un isn’t suicidal, he is the kind of guy who will do something stupid if he thinks he’s cornered and has no choice. Which is why you want to be careful about how you respond publicly to his exploits.

Unfortunately (again), Trump doesn’t know how to do “careful”. And he can’t delegate to America’s diplomats who know how to handle these things because, well, there aren't any.

Even so, I still can’t find the energy to get worked up over this, if only because (1) I’m used to it and (2) then as now, there’s really not a blessed thing I can do about it. I truly hope these two nincompoops are just waving their dicks around. But if not … welp, it’s been nice knowing you all.

Party at ground zero,

This is dF
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2017-08-09 04:44 pm

DANA LOESCH IS SO GOING TO PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE WITH TRUTH

I’d meant to post something about that NRA ad where Dana Loesch shakes her Clenched Fist Of Truth™ at America’s most dangerous adversary ever (libtards!). But I was in the midst moving house at the time, and by the time the dust settled it was old news.

But now Loesch is back in the headlines thanks to a new NRA ad in which she shakes her Clenched Fist Fisk Of Truth™ specifically at The New York Times.

Good gravy. Where to begin?

1. Vox has a good explanation as any as to what’s going on here – the NRA needs a bogeyman to sell moar gunz. Obama and his Big Fat Liberal Agenda To Pry Your Guns From Your Cold Dead Fingers served that purpose, but with Obama gone and the GOP controlling every major branch of govt (and many states), there’s zero chance of anyone passing gun-control laws for the foreseeable future. So the NRA is (evidently) going with the next best thing: carefully worded paranoid conspiracy theories about the Obama Deep State in cahoots with Fake News Media (formerly known as Liberal Media, LameStream Media™, etc and so on) and professional liberal anarchist protesters to destroy democracy somehow, and the only people who can stop them are Real Americans (i.e. conservatives and only conservatives) armed to the f***ing teeth with superior firepower.

2. Not that the NRA endorses violence. It never does, explicitly, if only because it’s illegal to do so even under the 1A. But the language and the tone are unmistakably (and intentionally) angry, militant and confrontational, and designed to portray anyone to the left of the NRA as dangerous anarchist creeps spoiling for a fight and out to smear Decent Honest Conservative Americans as evil racist homophobic Nazis.

3. The irony –and believe me I take no pleasure in typing this – is that Loesch isn't 100% wrong on that. There are plenty of far-left mouthpieces (some official, some just trolls) who routinely label everyone to the right of them as literal Nazis out to exterminate all non-white poor people and make The Handmaid’s Tale a reality, and who say the most effective way to counter conservative arguments is to punch them in the face and never allow them to speak in public ever. I don’t think that such people represent the majority of left-wingers (just as I don't think that Loesch represents most Republicans) – but they have the loudest megaphones, and they like to use them. And they’re essentially fueling Loesch and the NRA’s paranoid fantasy that The Left is out to silence them permanently.

4. That said, Loesch and the NRA are clearly either living in the same alternate reality as Trump, or exploiting it for personal gain. Or maybe both. It’s possible Loesch actually thinks what she’s saying is true. It’s also possible that she’s serious when she says the ads aren’t intended to be violent or threatening and she sees no possible way anyone could conclude that they are (unless they’re Fake News reporters, and see what she did there?). Sure – it’s like the Open Carry characters who can’t for the life of them understand why a group of guys walking into a Chipotles with AR-15s slung on their shoulders would make the customers nervous.

5. Regardless of sincerity, the Loesch ads are essentially dumb angry propaganda out to warn you of a reality that doesn’t really exist – and get you to do something about it (even if it's just buy lots more guns and give the NRA your money).

Will the ads encourage gun violence against “they”? Sooner or later, yes, although I think such incidents will be rare. We’re lucky that most conservatives who talk angry and loud tend not to escalate to physical violence (I assume this is because it's a lot easier to talk trash on radio or on Twitter than to someone’s face). 

That said, I’m less concerned about the prospect of violence as I am about the fact that (1) these ads are based on fundamentally false premises, (2) the choir they’re preaching to already believes those premises are true, and (3) there’s literally no way to convince them otherwise because one of those premises is that if the media (or anyone) says something that contradicts your sociopolitical worldview, you can rest assured they are deliberately lying as part of a conspiracy to advance their agenda against Decent Patriotic Americans like yourself.

I just don't see an upside to any of this. Maybe because I’m part of the conspiracy, I guess? I don’t know. But I’ve been watching the Professionally Angry Conservative Outrage Circus Train peddle its schtick for the better part of 25 years, and, well, look who’s POTUS now.

Unclenched,

This is dF
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2017-07-31 07:32 pm

I’M READING AS FAST AS I CAN (JULY 2017 EDITION)

As you can see, I only finished two books this month, and as it happens I have a great excuse this time – I moved to a new flat this month on rather short notice, which ate into most of my available reading time. It’s hard to get much reading done when you have to pack an entire house in a week, move it and then unpack to the point that you don’t have 80 boxes of stuff in the middle of yr living room.

Still, I hope to get back to a more or less normal pace from this point on. Then again, I’ve been hoping for that for most of the year. Also, it’s been that kind of year when I literally didn’t know I’d be moving until around ten days before the actual moving date. So who knows?

Anyway, here’s what I got.

The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At face value this isn’t the sort of story I usually read – man has affair with married woman, woman breaks it off suddenly with no explanation, man stews and obsesses, etc. But I like Grahame Greene a lot, and it was on sale at a book fair, so it seemed worth the risk. I needn’t have worried. Greene populates the story with vivid characters, and manages to build up suspense as the bitter narrator Bendrix becomes involved with ex-lover Sarah again, hires a detective to follow her, and inadvertently discovers the reason she dumped him. Greene makes it more interesting by exploring the duality of love and hate, not only between people but between humanity and God – a central theme here, as both Bendrix and Sarah try to convince themselves there’s no God, yet constantly petition Him and complain to Him, and receive indications that He is listening. It’s not nearly as mystical as all that, but it amounts to an interesting exploration of the difficulties of faith and why people resist it, or at least find it hard to reconcile faith with the broken world around us and our own desires. So there’s a lot more meat to it than yr typical love story, is what I’m saying.


Midnight RobberMidnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hopkinson’s Report from Planet Midnight convinced me to read some more of her work. This is her second novel, a blend of SF and Caribbean folklore, and one that turned out to be more challenging than I imagined, as it’s written entirely in a hybrid Creole vernacular, which isn’t impenetrable but does take some effort. That said, it serves the story well. The narrative follows Tan-Tan, a young girl on the planet Toussaint whose father Antonio escapes a murder trial by exiling himself to New Halfway Tree, a less civilized alternate-world version of Toussaint, and takes Tan-Tan with him, after which things get even worse when we find out just how monstrous Antonio really is. Tan-Tan copes with her ordeals by developing an alter-ego of sorts, the mythical Robber Queen, although that turns out not to be quite the set-up for a superhero-origin story that it sounds like on the book jacket. So the story didn't quite go the way I thought, but that’s not a bad thing. And Hopkinson’s vivid and complex characterization kept me locked in to the end.

View all my reviews

Midnight Special,

This is dF
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2017-07-29 10:48 pm

MITCH MCCONNELL IS THE WORST JAMES BOND SUPERVILLAIN EVER

The latest GOP attempt to repeal and (maybe) replace Obamacare has flopped yet again, for pretty much the same reason as every other attempt since the Trump Era – the GOP seems absolutely positively incapable of writing a replacement bill that won’t make things even worse, and their only solution to this dilemma seems to be drafting secret bills and rushing them out at the last minute.

I guess a few comments are in order:

1. Like a lot of people, I think this latest round confirms beyond all doubt that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan do not care about creating a “better” healthcare policy for America as much as they care about getting rid of the current one. They want to scrap the ACA so badly that they literally do not care what the replacement bill is. And the only reason they want to scrap the ACA is because (1) Obama gets credit for it, and (2) it’s an affront to their narrow ideology (as is everything to do with Obama in general).

2. That may or may not explain the constant procedural clusterfucks that every bill and subsequent vote went through. You have to wonder just what was going on in McConnell’s head – dead of night votes, closed-door sessions, asking Congresspeople to vote on something they haven’t even read, etc. Maybe we’ll never know. FiveThirtyEight’s take sheds a little light. But you know something’s gone horribly haywire when you have GOP senators on TV trying to get assurances from the House that the law they're voting for won’t actually become law. (Put another way: “We want to be on record as repealing Obamacare, but we want to do it without actually repealing it.”)

3. We have the GOP to thank that there is now such a term as “skinny repeal”.

4. As for good ol’ John McCain, it’s kind of funny to me that no one on the left wants to give him credit for killing the latest bill. I understand why – he’s not the only senator to vote against it, and sure, GOP senators Susan Collins and Linda Murkowski were more consistent in their opposition to it. And it has to be grating that McCain is getting the headlines for what was arguably a group effort.

On the other hand, we already knew how Collins, Murkowski and all of the Demos were going to vote – McCain was the wild card, which made him the one to ultimately determine its fate.

It doesn’t matter to me that Collins and Murkowski were consistently against Trumpcare. I’m fine with giving them recognition for it – not least because of all the bullying and crap they took from their own side. But keep in mind too that both of them (like McCain) would also very much like to dump Obamacare – just not to the point that they’ll vote for any crappy old useless bill that McConnell slaps on the table. So I wouldn’t get too carried away with celebrating them as heroes of Obamacare or anything.

5. Which is another thing to keep in mind – I seriously doubt that we’ve seen the last of Trumpcare. I don't see McConnell giving up on this (or Ryan, or Trump, for that matter). With any luck, the next attempt will see them taking their sweet time, doing it properly and crafting a bipartisan bill that actually makes some kind of sense. That seems unlikely, though – the GOP has major problems right now, and they can’t all be blamed on Trump. And thanks to the Ryan/McConnell Clusterfuck, Obamacare is more popular now than when the GOP first tried to repeal it.

So, yeah, good luck with that.

Back to the drawing board (again),

This is dF
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2017-07-28 03:41 pm

ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY MY ONLY POST ABOUT THE TRUMP TRANS MILITARY BAN

Yes, yes, I know.

Some quick comments:

1. It says a lot that the arguments now circulating on social media to support this ban are pretty much the exact same arguments we went through with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and women serving in combat units, with a bit of keyword substitution.

2. One key difference between then and now is that attitudes have shifted considerably in the last 25 years. Back in 1993, the majority of people probably agreed that having LGBTs in the military (as if they weren’t already in it, which they totally were, but never mind) was bad for the morale, esprit de corps and mission focus of the straight guys trying to defend the country. This is a minority opinion in 2017, not least because – thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan – it’s generally been demonstrated that LGBT soldiers can fight wars as good as anyone else, and that most straight soldiers value that more than they care about their sex lives. Which is why the people still circulating the old 1993 arguments sound dumber now than they did back then.

3. The other key difference – and the more important one – is that those arguments were about giving LGBTs a right they didn’t have. Trump is proposing to take away a right that the “T”s in that equation already have. That’s a lot harder to justify – and it’s an eyebrow raiser when the POTUS wakes up one morning and decides that this group of people shouldn’t have the same rights as the rest of us anymore for reasons known only to him.

4. In fact, Trump being Trump, it’s hard to know how serious he is about it, or whether he truly believes it’s a problem that needs solving. The going theory is he intentionally picked a wedge topic out of nowhere to enrage liberals and get them raging about something else besides Russia and the GOP’s increasingly worse Obamacare replacement bills, and also to make the conservative evangelical base happy, because he could use some more support right about now. This is possible, but it also suggests Trump is clever, which seems far less possible.

5. In a way, that makes his push for a ban even worse than if he legitimately hated trans people – which he might, but there’s not much evidence to support that conclusion. Most everything he’s ever said and done regarding LGBTs since his inauguration have been directly connected to Obama policies that he rescinded – which, again, I believe he’s doing simply because they’re Obama policies. Whatever the case, it shows that at best he sees them as a faceless group he can sacrifice for political purposes – which is frankly sociopathic.

6. Luckily, he doesn't have the power to actually to institute such a ban, let alone enforce it. And military leaders have made that abundantly clear to the troops – which suggests that Trump didn’t really consult anyone in the military about this. Or anyone else, really. Maybe the GOP Congress will be happy to follow up, but something tells me they’re not really in the mood for more of Trump’s nonsense about now.

7. While Trump may not actually hate trans people, and may not be able to enforce the ban – and may not be able to convince either the brass or enough of Congress that the ban is necessary – the bigger problem is the people who do hate trans people and will be encouraged by this to be even meaner to any trans people they happen to come across than they already were. Which means it’s not a good time to be trans in America right now. That may not be exclusively Trump’s fault – but he just made himself a major part of the problem.

8. As someone who served in the US Army in a combat unit (peacetime) at a time when it was still illegal for LGBTs to serve openly in the armed forces, I can say with all certainty and conviction that I have no problem with them openly serving. Any proposed ban on military service is as pointless and dumb as the bans on trans people using gender-specific washrooms – which is to say, very pointless and dumb.

9. For those who will argue about the costs or reassignment surgery, sorry, no

Let ‘em in,

This is dF
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2017-06-30 01:46 pm

I’M READING AS FAST AS I CAN (JUNE 2017 EDITION)

And etc and so on and things of that nature generally.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the classic book by Neil Postman about the negative impact of television replacing print as the primary medium of public discourse, framed on the hook that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a more accurate prophecy of future Western dystopia than George Orwell’s 1984 – that is, the biggest threat to autonomy and free thought isn't totalitarian strongarm govt suppression, but enabling endless amusement that encourages us not to think at all. It’s not the usual anti-TV tirade some people might expect – Postman’s target isn’t “junk” TV shows but “serious” shows that claim to be informative, intellectual and educational but aren’t – nor can they be, because the medium of television simply isn't designed for it. TV transforms news, education, religion and elections into dumbed down entertainment that converts knowledge into non-contextual useless trivia.

Naturally it’s tricky to read this with 30+ years of hindsight since its publication in 1985, not least since on-demand TV, the internet, smartphones and social media have changed how people watch and interact with TV. Even discounting that, Postman sometimes overstates his case a little, and some of his examples don’t quite work for me – particularly his criticism of Sesame Street. And yet, overall, when you look at the multimedia landscape today, he wasn’t wrong in terms of entertainment value rather than substance becoming the chief prerequisite of TV news, religion and election campaigns. One wonders what he would make of blogs, Twitter, and “tl;dr”. Anyway, I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to understand what we sacrificed when we embraced television as a cultural centerpiece. Even if it doesn’t answer all yr questions, it’s a great conversation-starter. (Also recommended: How to Watch TV News)


After Things Fell ApartAfter Things Fell Apart by Ron Goulart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is another Ron Goulart novel that I read maybe 30 years ago and decided to re-read, and it’s one of his more acclaimed novels. The setting is a fragmented future America which, following a failed invasion by China, has devolved into packs of subcultures fighting for dominance – at least in California where the story takes place. This being Goulart, though, all of that is just a comic backdrop for a detective story in which Private Inquiry Office agent Jack Haley searches for Lady Day, a militant feminist outfit killing prominent officials in broad daylight. This book may be difficult for many people to like. It’s not serious, realistic speculative fiction, but rather the kind of oddball bare-bones 2D comic-book adventure that Goulart typically writes. Also, the story’s inclusion of casual racism, sexism and homophobia is going to put some people off, though it may help to know the book was published in 1970 when all three were prominent at a time when minorities, women and LGBTs were fighting for their civil liberties – Goulart’s America is a reflection of the social tensions at the time. Anyway, it’s a little different from Goulart’s usual stories in terms of setting, but otherwise for me it’s a typical Goulart romp – lightweight, but entertainingly madcap.


The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the WorldThe Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve been aware of the Stainless Steel Rat series for a long time, but I was never really motivated to try it. My motivation for trying this one was driven partly by it being a cheap used copy, and partly by recently reading and liking Make Room! Make Room!. This is the third installment of the life and times of Slippery Jim diGriz, a master thief in the far-flung future who is recruited by Special Corps, an intergalactic law enforcement agency that recruits criminals like him. In this episode, someone has gone back in time to erase the Special Corps from existence, and diGriz must go back 32,000 years to the planet Dirt (or Earth, or something) circa 1975 to stop them. The story is textbook romp as diGriz adapts to mid-70s Earth society, hunts down the culprits, and encounters one obstacle after another as his plans don’t exactly pan out. It sounds like fun, and it’s meant to be, but I confess I didn't get much out of it. The time travel bits are clunky, the villain speaks comic-book dialogue, and diGriz himself is a bit too flip about the whole thing – or maybe not flip enough. I realize none of this is meant to be taken seriously, but I just felt Harrison wasn’t having as much fun with this as he could be – or at least not as much fun as I’d hoped. Which is my problem, of course, not his. And I don’t know how it compares to other books in the series – maybe this wasn’t a good one to start out with. I’d like to try more Harrison, but I’ll skip the other SSR books for now.


Invisible ManInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember wanting to read this in high school – until I realized it wasn’t about the Invisible Man from the horror movies, after which I lost interest. It might be as well, since – like a lot of classic lit – I probably wouldn’t have appreciated this at the time. But I can appreciate it now. The narrator of the story is invisible in the social sense, in that people refuse to see not only his reality as an African-American, but the reality of all African-Americans. From his early youth in the racist South to his college years and his migration to New York City where he becomes the Harlem spokesperson of “The Brotherhood” – a left-wing activist group promoting sociopolitical change (basically Marxists all in but name) – the nameless narrator deals with the issue of identity (personal, racial and political) as his illusions and expectations are shattered one by one. It’s a very intense book with a sympathetic if flawed main character – you want him to succeed and it hurts when he doesn’t. It's also absurdly funny at times. What’s really striking about reading this for the first time in a post-Ferguson world is that the Ferguson story is nothing new. It’s very old, and there are still people who refuse to even acknowledge this reality – as if the Mike Browns of the world are still invisible to them. Which makes this novel as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1952. Essential reading.

View all my reviews

You can’t see me,

This is dF
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2017-06-30 12:04 pm

AHCA + BRCA = GOP (WTF)2

By now you know the GOP House finally came up with a bill to replace Obamacare, and everyone freaked out over it. Then the Senate came up with its own version, and now everyone is freaking out about that.

I’m hesitant to even post anything about it because Holy Cats, no one wants to have a rational conversation about healthcare in America. No one is interested in facts. I know this because even the fact-checkers are taking a beating from people on both sides for trying to put the AHCA and the BRCA in perspective. No one wants perspective – if yr not describing either bill as either the biggest most evil disaster ever or the end to the national nightmare known as Obamacare, FAKE NEWS!

Also, I’m not an expert on healthcare, and I generally don’t like to comment on things I don’t know that much about. But I do know a little about Congress and bills (thank you, Schoolhouse Rock), and I know a bit more about political grandstanding. So I do have a few thoughts on those.

1. Both the AHCA and BCRA are pretty clear evidence that the GOP has basically lost its collective shit over Obamacare to the point that they don’t really care what they replace it with, so long as it’s replaced. Secret drafts, fast votes, no CBO vetting – “There’s yr stupid bill, now vote! Don’t read it, YR WASTING TIME!”

I’m exaggerating, of course. But not by much. And it speaks volumes when yr party leadership is so eager to pass a bill that they don’t even care that they literally have no idea if it will work as promised or even improve the healthcare situation.

2. However, the more I think about it, the more this approach makes sense – especially now that we know the details of the BCRA/AHCA bills and their projected impact. It doesn’t matter if they’ll improve the healthcare system because they’re not designed to improve the healthcare system or make it affordable – they're designed to dump Obamacare, slash Medicaid, cut taxes on the wealthy and leave as much as possible to the free market. Any possible benefit to healthcare costs is incidental.

That’s not too surprising to me, because the GOP never really wanted federal healthcare reform in the first place, unless by “reform” you meant “dumping Medicaid altogether”. It wasn’t until Obama made healthcare a major issue in his 2008 campaign that they sort of felt compelled to come up with a serious alternative plan. Meanwhile, the GOP has always wanted to ditch Medicaid and other federal entitlement programs for strictly ideological reasons (welfare state, givers and takers, austerity, etc). The only reason they haven’t gutted it already – not even in the 90s when they took control of Congress and in the early 2000s when they controlled all of Congress AND the White House – is because entitlement programs are so entrenched that voters get very angry when you try to take them away. Repubs always talked a big game but in the end, no one had the political nerve to touch Medicaid.

3. The fact that they’re doing it now suggests that either the political tide has turned in their favor, or Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan think it has, whether because of Trump or gerrymandering or they spend too much time watching Fox News or whatever. There’s the small matter that the BCRA/AHCA bills are massively unpopular in the polls – and the CBO score won’t fix that – but, you know, fake news? Or it’s not Obamacare and that’s really the important thing, right?

Or maybe McConnell knows full well that he’s taking a major political risk with BCRA but has decided, the hell with it, this is the best chance we’re going to get and it will not get this good again. It might also be that he intentionally put the worst, most extreme bill possible out there to make the subsequent compromise look like a good deal.

Or maybe it really is mass psychosis fuelled by insane visceral and irrational hatred of all things Obama, encouraged by Trump’s apparent mission to literally undo and erase every single thing that Obama ever did in office – especially his signature accomplishment.

Honestly, I don’t know what McConnell and Ryan are thinking. But I can say with certainty that the GOP would not be writing these cockamamie bills if they believed there was any serious risk of losing power.

4. One thing I’m pretty sure they are NOT thinking is, “Ha ha ha, this bill will kill millions of poor people!” Many critics on the Left would have me believe otherwise. Sorry, no. I’m sure that’s easy to believe when you’ve already bought the meme that the GOP are literally one-dimensional evil Nazis. But I don’t think it’s true.

That doesn’t mean the bills won’t result in people losing insurance they currently have and potentially dying as a result of being unable to afford either healthcare or insurance. But it doesn’t mean the GOP intentionally wrote the bills to specifically ensure that poor people will die – which is clearly what those memes are meant to imply. Like I said, the bills aren’t really about healthcare at all. GOP legislators have their eyes on the prize of ditching Obamacare and implementing ideological austerity measures (tax and entitlement cuts) in its place. That’s it.

The worst you can say is they don’t care about negative impacts like people losing healthcare and dying. And even then, they’ll just trot out the old “personal responsibility” meme (which sounds more noble than “every crumb for himself”). Or, if yr a Fox News contributor, you can deploy the old “c’mon, we all die someday” line (in which case let's just close all the hospitals, because why bother getting well when yr just gonna die eventually?).

That said, it’s kind of funny to see Repubs complain about liberals talking up that angle when the GOP and the Tea Party ran so hard with the “death panels” meme back when Obamacare was being crafted.

5. Anyway, we’ll see where this goes. The Senate vote has been delayed – undoubtedly to give McConnell some breathing room to put his vote-whipping skills to good use. And we may see some amendments to the current draft, although it’s possible they could make the bills even worse (like Mitch’s recent addition that if you don't buy the insurance you can no longer afford thanks to this bill, we get to penalize you for that).

But as far as I can tell, the BCRA and the AHCA are two sides of a terrible and stupid coin that create more problems than they solve.

6. But again, I don’t know much about healthcare, so I could be wrong.

7. In the interest of fairness (which no one cares about, but hey, whose blog is this?), here’s an interesting interview with conservative health care expert Avik Roy who is very much in love with the BCRA and explains why it’s a good idea. Basically, it comes down to whether the healthcare markets work the way pro-ACA people think or the pro-BCRA people think.

I’m not saying he’s right or wrong (and I do think he’s wrong on things like dismissing the polls) – and many of his fellow conservative wonks don't agree with him (mostly because they think it's just another version of Obamacare and not the full-on repeal they wanted) – but it’s a far better-worded defense of BCRA than any of the Senators or Fox News creatures actively pushing it.

It’s certainly better than the one I usually hear, which is usually “Obamacare is a disaster!”, followed by the explanation that the “disaster” is that it personally inconveniences them in some way – which is kind of the same as saying, “I don’t care how many people it helps – it’s not helping me, so I say we dump it entirely!”, which kind of makes them sound dickish.

I’m just saying.

Call the doctor,

This is dF
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2017-06-24 11:55 am

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT JAMES

Lots of high-profile shootings in the news recently. Or as we call it, another day in America. It says a lot when CNN has to break away from its coverage of a mass shooting to cover another mass shooting.

So let’s get the obvious out of the way:

1. I don’t have a lot to say about the Philandro Castle verdict that I haven’t already said about similar verdicts for similar cases. Executive summary: If you support the verdict (and yr not an immediate member of the officer’s family), you basically support the legal right of the police to shoot people dead on live video not for what they did, but what the officer thought they were going to do. You may not think that’s what you support. You may think yr sticking up for law enforcement or respecting court decisions, etc. And that’s fine. But the outcome of the verdict is justification for what Jeronimo Yanez did. So own it. Call it what it is. And if that’s the law enforcement you want, that’s the law enforcement yr going to get.

2. As for the UPS shooting and the GOP baseball shooting, I don’t expect either to change anyone’s attitudes about gun control. As the saying goes, if 20 dead schoolkids didn’t convince you, neither of these really raise the stakes.

3. For my money what’s more important about the GOP shooting is that thanks to James Hodgkinson, suddenly we’re having a discussion about the consequences of taking hateful political rhetoric too far. And it’s a discussion we need to have – although not necessarily for the reasons that conservatives now want to have it all of a sudden.

For them, of course, it’s a chance to play the victim about how liberals say all kinds of mean horrible awful things about conservatives, and between Kathy Griffin and Shakespeare In The Park, it was only a matter of time before people started getting hurt. Which is jaw-droppingly disingenuous, given the state of the GOP today and who they elected POTUS. Also, the dithering over Shakespeare In The Park’s current version of Julius Caesar is just stupid, not least because it shows they have no idea what the play is actually about.

On the bright side, it’s convinced Ted “I’d Totally Rape Hillary with an M-16” Nugent to tone it down. So there’s that.

4. While I would agree that now is as good a time as any to take a long hard look at the state of angry batshit political rhetoric and where that particular road leads, unfortunately the current “discussion” seems mired in the “But THEY started it” stage. 

(Or, if yr Erick Erickson, the “I want to tone down my rhetoric but the Left is so evil I have no choice but to double down SECESSION!” stage.)

That needs to change, because insane violent rhetoric isn’t exclusive to one side of the aisle. My FB and Twitter feeds illustrate this every day. We can’t address the problem until both sides admit it’s a problem in their own camp too. It doesn’t matter at this stage who started it or who does it more. This isn’t a 1st Grade playground.

Look, I get that people get passionate about politics and when they get angry, they say stuff they don’t really mean, etc. And most of the time that doesn’t result in a mass shooting. On the other hand, when you reduce the Other Side to demonic subhuman stereotypes who are evil and dangerous and must be defeated permanently at all costs, and on top of that you actively advocate punching people for simply expressing opinions you don’t like, you can't be too surprised when people who have psychological problems go extreme with that sentiment and decide, why stop at a sucker punch?

5. Does that mean the average Bernie Bro is directly responsible for Hodgkinson? Of course not. But I don’t think the proper response should be to shrug and say, “Well, he’s just a kook, nothing to do with us,” and carry on the angry hate rhetoric as though there’s no connection.

What I’m saying is that everyone on both sides needs to stop, take a breath, take a long hard look at themselves and how they talk about The Other Side, and give some serious thought as to how far they’re willing to take it and the consequences of letting it get out of control. Because once you demonize an entire group of people as being evil and subhuman, it gets easier to justify just about anything you decide to do to them.

6. Also, the violence is really just one of several consequences of the angry batshit rhetoric that dominates sociopolitical discourse. It doesn’t just result in the occasional crackpot shooting up a baseball field – it also fuels a winner-take-all attitude to the democratic process that replaces intellectual thought with raw dumb emotion, makes compromise impossible and rips apart families and communities. Put simply, there’s no real upside to it that I can see. And I don’t see how it leads to a better place from where we are now.

The downward spiral,

This is dF
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2017-06-19 09:41 pm

BATMAN IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE BATMAN

As you know, Adam West is gone.

Like a lot of people, West was a pop culture icon of my childhood thanks to the syndication of Batman. And whatever his qualities as an actor, he was perfect for the role – too perfect, perhaps, although West was able to reconcile himself with it. And that’s good.

Also, like a lot of people, he was my first Batman experience – in my case, it was the TV show that led me to read the comic books, rather than the other way round. And of course there will always be debate about how “authentic” West’s Batman was – after all, the whole show was meant to be ironic camp fun for 60s hipsters who laughed at Batman’s ultra-square demeanor.

And yet it wasn’t. While the show was essentially conceived as a sort of superhero sitcom, they were serious about Batman’s squareness, if only because he was meant to be the sane centerpiece of an insane crooked world of flamboyant supervillains, and a counterpoint to Robin’s youthful impulsiveness to do what feels right vs what is right – even if it’s a detail like pedestrian safety or being too young to legally enter a nightclub.

Here’s one way of looking at it – college-age hipsters watched it in the 1960s and laughed at Batman’s goody-two-shoes squareness. Primary school kids in the 1970s like me watched the reruns and saw Batman as the ultimate role model – the guy who stands for justice, defends the defenseless, obeys rules and laws (apart from the ones against vigilantism, of course, but who thinks of that when yr eight?), and generally does the right thing for the Greater Good of society.

In other words, we didn't see the irony – we saw the superhero we thought Batman was supposed to be. And we aspired to that. As you do when yr a kid.

Of course we grew up, and in my case I did see the goofy, hokey side of it all (and as Mark Hamill has pointed out, it says a lot that West was able to play the role for laughs and seriously at the same time).

By that time, too, we had The Dark Knight and characters like Wolverine, the first of many bad-ass superheroes who were perfectly fine with killing bad guys and delivering snappy one-liners while doing it – which Adam West’s Batman would never have done in a million years.

Don't get me wrong – gritty realism and graphic violence has its place in comics. I liked Frank Miller’s take on the Dark Knight, and it’s an aspect of the character worthy of exploration, and one that has been explored well, possibly to the point of ad nauseum. But it’s just one aspect of a multifaceted and contradictory character. And West’s Batman is arguably at the core of the character – he may be an orphan who dresses up like a bat to punch the crap out of criminals, but he is also grounded in a very clear sense of right and wrong, and there are lines he will not cross.

Naïve and oversimplistic? Probably. But why not? For my money, superhero stories don’t have to be “realistic” in order to be entertaining or meaningful. They also work as basic good vs evil stories where good generally wins, eventually – and does so on its own terms rather than stooping to the level of evil. And the “terms” can be generally defined as what we think of as ideals of morality, citizenship and justice – where crime never pays and the bad guys never get away with it, but ensuring that without breaking the confines of a fair and impartial justice system. The fact that the real justice system is neither fair nor impartial – to say nothing of the fact that vigilantism technically is by definition extrajudicial – is beside the point. Classic superheroes tended to operate according to the principles of that system regardless of whether the system itself did or not.

We need stories like that, just as we need stories that focus on what happens when the system fails us. Because I don’t think you can really appreciate the significance of the latter without appreciating the aspirations of the former.

Also, as Neil Gaiman intimated in a Riddler story, the former is just more fun. And it’s evident we’re starting to see a backlash at least in DC films that have gone for gritty realism vs Marvel’s lighter approach. I personally love the Nolan Batman films, but that was a specific cycle of films. There’s no need to make the whole universe like that. Anyway, you know you’ve gone too far with the Dark Knight angle when the Lego films are making fun of you.

I suppose some might point to Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin as proof that light-hearted cartoony Batman doesn’t work. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, partly because Schumacher went against the expectations of franchise fans at the time who expected Tim Burton’s version, but also because the problem with Batman and Robin wasn’t the one-liners, overacting villains and cartoon sound effects – it was a bad story, too many supervillains, a very clumsy and forced attempt to shoehorn Batgirl into the franchise and Robin basically acting like a petulant jerk.

So, anyway, respect to Adam West for helping create a square, straight-edge Batman that we could look up to and yet not take too seriously, all at once.

Go West,

This is dF
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2017-06-10 11:45 am

COMEY ON DOWN

I considered writing something about the UK elections, but what is there to say that hasn’t already been said here?


That article was written before the election, but it’s great explanation as to where it all went wrong for Theresa May. Or, if it’s tl;dr for you, there’s always this tweet:




Speaking of tweets, there’s the James Comey mini-series that everyone’s been talking about, which can also be summed up in a tweet:


I didn’t watch, of course. The highlights are good enough for me.

The big question for everyone is, of course, what will the outcome be? A lot of people are hoping the answer will be “IMPEACH THE F***ER!”

Ha ha. No. Not with Paul “Hey, go easy on the new guy” Ryan leading the House. And not with all those GOP senators apparently more interested in Loretta Lynch and the Hillary Clinton email case than what Trump may or may not have said about Russia and obstruction of justice blah blah blah.

As I’ve said, impeachment is about politics, not law and order, and the GOP is simply not going to impeach one of its own. Sure, it won’t cost them the White House – Mike Pence will get the job – but that’s not the point. No party wants it on record that one of their guys was a bad enough POTUS that impeachment was the only option. And Trump has been proving over and over the old political axiom that when YOUR guy does it, it’s at worst an honest mistake that’s being overblown in the press, and when the OTHER guy does it, it’s basically treason. “Obstruction of justice? C’mon, he didn’t order Comey to do anything, he made a simple request and he didn’t know it might be taken as inappropriate, I mean he’s only been President for a few months, you can’t expect him to know everything …”

Put bluntly, the GOP ain't impeaching Trump until he's hurting their reelection chances. And we're not there yet. 

So was Comey’s testimony a complete waste of time?

It depends. If your sole desired outcome was locking Trump and his entire family away in Gitmo forever (or deported to Siberia), then yes, probably.

For me, I think it’s good to have on the official Congressional record that Trump actively tried to convince Comey to back off on the Russia investigation – whether he has something to hide or he simply can’t stand people thinking that the only reason he won is because Russia gamed the election on his behalf (or quite likely both). It may also spell trouble for General Jeff Sessions, who has his own Russia problems, and who at this stage seems far more likely to leave the stage than Trump.

Result!

Of course, all this assumes that (1) Comey told the truth and (2) you believe what he says. And if yr a Trump apologist, you probably don’t. But that’s where we are now – completely separate politically defined alternate realities. Everyone I know – liberals and conservatives – is convinced that Comey’s testimony absolutely vindicated their side and decimated the opposition.

Which may not make Comey’s testimony pointless, but it probably makes this whole post pointless. But the same could be said for this entire blog, so I’ve learned not to worry too much about that.

Testify,

This is dF
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2017-06-04 03:42 pm

I LOVE PARIS IN THE SUMMER WHEN IT SIZZLES

As you know, D.Trump is pulling the US out of the Paris Accord.

Official reason: he wants to renegotiate a better deal that suits America’s interests and protects Americans.

Unofficial reason: climate change is a Chinese hoax and admitting anything else would be tantamount to admitting that Al Gore was right about something, and frankly most of the GOP would rather let the world roast than do that.

(Okay, I may have made some of that up. Except for the part about the Chinese hoax, although Nikki Haley claims Trump doesn’t really believe that, like that’s supposed to make me feel better about him.)

So I have thoughts, sure. And I have links for most of them.

1. The best starting place, for my money, is the basic fact that almost everything Trump said to justify his decision is inaccurate, misleading (intentionally or otherwise) and just plain wrong.

2. The renegotiation angle is typical of Trump, who basically views the world in terms of business deals – not the kinds of deals where both sides get what they want, but where the other side gets what they think they want while your side gets the far better end of the deal and basically just screwed the other guy and he’s too stupid to know it, ha ha loser. Which is also why Trump and some of his staffers – like the head of the EPA, for example – are convinced the only reason the rest of the world applauded when the US joined the Paris Accord was because it gives them an economic advantage over us.

3. That said, I suspect Trump cares a lot more about the political act of withdrawing from the accord than he does about renegotiating better terms. In his own words: “We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.”

Which suggests to me that Trump doesn’t really care one way or the other what happens because he figures the US is better off out of the accord anyway, so if he can’t have it his way, who cares? It’s not like we need those other losers. The US – as leader of the free world – is the center of the universe and the rest of the world can accomplish nothing without our participation.

4. He’s wrong about that, too. Trump and the GOP may think climate change is bogus. The rest of the world doesn’t see it that way, and is determined to get together and do something about climate change, and if they have to do it without the US, so be it. Many have already resigned themselves to the fact that the Trump admin is going to treat them at best like business rivals in a zero-sum game rather than allies and partners, and more are deciding that it’s better to keep working together without the US than play the game Trump’s way – not least because his policy decisions are based on how he thinks the world works as opposed to how it actually works.

5. Some people are responding with the usual hyperbole: OMG THE PLANET IS FUCKED NOW! Well, no, not really. By many accounts, the US dropping out of the Paris Accord won’t make a huge difference in terms of the overall effort to reduce greenhouse gases and keep the Earth’s temperature from rising, etc. It won’t help, but it won’t make the accord completely pointless, either.

What it could do is put the US at a tremendous disadvantage as the rest of the world invests in clean, renewable green energy technologies that are going to be the future of the global energy industry. Europe and Asia – and in particular China – are going to be leading that growth wave, while the US under Trump will still be futzing around with coal mines and Arctic drilling.

6. On the other hand, it seems we unexpectedly have a Plan B – namely, all these US states and cities stepping up to say, “We’ll back the Paris Accord ourselves” – to include, amusingly, the mayor of Pittsburgh.

That’s an interesting aspect in itself – the idea that states and cities will uphold an accord that the federal govt has rejected. It’s not unanimous, of course, but maybe that’s the antidote to all of Trump’s antics. I love the idea of state and municipal governments deciding that if the federal govt is going to reject progress in favor of some alt-reality, there’s no reason why they have to go along with it. States Rights, indeed!

7. Another bright side is that, legally, the US can’t actually start the withdrawal process officially until 2019, and it will take until 2020 to complete the withdrawal. So it’s reversible – at least for now.

But yes, overall, it’s the latest in a distressingly long list of terrible and badly informed decisions by this admin.

8. One other point worth mentioning – one of the long-standing criticisms of the Paris Accord from Trump and the GOP is that it won’t work anyway. All it does is punish the US economically and we won’t even get cleaner air or climate stability in return.

I smirk at such statements, not least because they’re basically criticizing the accord for failing to fix a problem that they firmly deny exists in the first place. And it’s hard to take that criticism seriously when conservatives not only have no alternative plan to tackle climate change, but have shown zero interest in proposing one (again, because that would contradict the talking point that there is no problem to fix).

Is it hot in here or is it just me,

This is dF
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2017-05-30 03:08 pm

SHAKESPEARE IN THE WHITE HOUSE

ITEM: Ron Charles, editor of WaPo’s Book World, has written an interesting column that argues that if you’re going to go with a literary analogy to describe the Trump era, forget 1984 – it’s really a lot more like King Lear.

It’s a good argument, and one we perhaps need, if only because it’s kind of lazy – not to mention inaccurate – to compare the Trump Dynasty to 1984, or The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Man In The High Castle, which are the usual analogies I see.

(And I suspect the latter two are more because of the recent TV adaptations than the books on which they’re based – I can’t prove this but I’d bet five bucks that at least half the people who watch those shows and apply them to current events haven’t read the books.)

I realize many of these people are not saying that America has been literally transformed into the worlds described in those books – it’s a metaphor, a literary term which here means “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them”. When people point to books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Man In The High Castle, they’re usually referring more to the mentality they perceive within the Trump admin and the GOP in general than any literal establishment of actual functioning totalitarianism (although some will argue that too, and they’re wrong, of course).

And sure, the books themselves are metaphors for the same mentalities that the authors were encountering at the time. But that doesn’t mean the metaphors translate seamlessly from one era to another. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Man In The High Castle take those metaphors to extremes as a way of saying, “Beware – this is how far these attitudes will take us if we let them.” And frankly, as bad as the Trump admin is, and as awful as some of his biggest fans are, we’re just not anywhere close to those worlds.

As for 1984, that’s been the go-to comparison for fascism probably since the book was first published. Yes, sure, as Ron Charles writes, we have Kellyanne Conway’s alternative facts and Sean Spicer’s Ministry of Truth, perpetual war with an invisible overseas enemy that we are required to hate, etc. The key difference is that Oceania made it work through strict and absolute order. Look at the shambling chaos of Trump’s first few months in office – and the fact that at least half the country is perfectly aware of this – and the analogy falls apart.

King Lear, on the other hand, seems a much better fit:

The most prominent characteristic of our era is not the monolithic power of one party, but the erratic personality of one man. Every morning, all sides of the political establishment — his family and friends, along with “the haters and losers” — must contend with Trump’s zigzagging proclamations, his grandiose promises, his spasmodic attachments.

It's a good argument – so good you wonder why more people didn’t think of it.

The most likely answer, I would guess, is that far more people in the US have read 1984 than King Lear, or indeed anything by Shakespeare.

(DISCLAIMER: I’m not pointing fingers here – I’m guilty of that too. I have read Shakespeare and liked him, but I'm not a huge fan, and I generally preferred his comedies to his tragedies. And Lear is a tragedy. Much like the Trump admin. Forsooth!)

While we're at it, if you want a better non-Shakespearian literary metaphor for the Trump era, I would recommend It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which also gets mentioned from time to time, though not nearly as much as the others, possibly because there’s no TV series or Hollywood film version of it. There, you’ve got Buzz Windrip, an authoritarian candidate and con man who wins the presidency on a campaign of fearmongering, xenophobia and a return to traditional American values and prosperity, and proceeds to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship – not in the name of ideological purity but simply to secure the power he desires to run the country the way he wants.

Obviously Trump hasn’t done that, and two reasons It Can’t Happen Here couldn’t happen today – not the way Lewis wrote it, anyway – is that (1) Trump has no paramilitary force to suppress dissent (sorry, white supremacist groups don’t count – they’re not paramilitary, they’re a bunch of yokels with guns, which is not the same thing by a long shot, no matter how much they may fantasize otherwise), and (2) the prevalence of mass media (to include social media) makes it impossible for Trump to fool the majority of people the majority of the time. Both of these were key ingredients to Windrip’s initial success – Trump has neither. All he has is the people who share his particular reality bubble, and reportedly that number is shrinking.

But anyway, I think It Can’t Happen Here is a better literary metaphor for current events than 1984 and the others listed above.

That said, an even better alt-metaphor to 1984 would be Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World, which – as Neil Postman argued in Amusing Ourselves To Death – argues that the dystopian future won’t be Big Brother cracking down on dissent but pervasive mass media entertainment and trivia dumbing us down into passive egotists who care a lot more about celebrity gossip than, say, how the healthcare system works.

I’d say we’re a lot closer to Huxley than Orwell right about now. But that’s not Trump-specific, of course – we’ve been on that road for decades.

Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides,

This is dF
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2017-05-30 02:51 pm

I’M READING AS FAST AS I CAN (MAY 2017 EDITION)

Plodding along, but still reading.

Thieves' Carnival/the Jewel of Bas (Science Fiction Double, #22)Thieves' Carnival/the Jewel of Bas by Karen Haber

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a variant on Tor’s old Doubles idea (two short novels by different authors in one volume), in which they publish one classic SF story along with a new story featuring the same characters or world. In this case, Karen Haber wrote a prequel to a famed Leigh Brackett novella about Ciaran and Mouse, a minstrel and a thief who find out the legends of the sleeping god Bas aren’t just legends. I picked this up mainly because of Leigh Brackett, who I’ve wanted to read more of since I read The Long Tomorrow, which I liked a lot (and yes, she wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back). Rather than read them in chronological order, I read Brackett’s novella first because I wanted to see how it held up on its own without Haber setting it up for me. And … well, it’s not really for me. It’s basically that particular genre of SF that’s actually more like a fantasy story with a few tech-like elements, with a married couple that snipe wittily at each other a lot – neither of which is really my thing. (Neither are stories featuring minstrels, for that matter.) The Haber story – which is about how Ciaran and Mouse met after being paired up in a contest to steal a mysterious MacGuffin – is a bit more modern in style and fleshes out the characters a bit more than Brackett was able to do writing for the pulp magazines, but still. It’s not dreadful, but I wouldn’t recommend it, either.


The Gabriel Set-Up (Modesty Blaise Graphic Novel Titan #1)The Gabriel Set-Up by Peter O'Donnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read many of the Modesty Blaise novels, but never the original comic strips, so coming across this was a treat. This is the first of a series of collections reprinting the original strips. This volume includes the first three Blaise adventures from 1963, as well as an origin story that appeared in 1966. The stories are pretty much what I’d expected – international espionage/adventure tales with former international crime lord Modesty and her lieutenant Willie Garvin coaxed out of retirement by British intelligence to fight bad guys. It’s good pulp fun that defies more clichés than it employs, and the art from Jim Holdaway really brings Modesty and her world to life quite well given the limited format of a daily strip. There’s also some nice bonus material on the origin of the strip, and a fascinating, rather moving essay from Peter O’Donnell about a 12-year-old Balkan refugee he encountered in Persia while serving in World War 2 that became the inspiration for the Modesty Blaise character.


The Gardener's Son: a screenplayThe Gardener's Son: a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cormac McCarthy rarely writes screenplays, but this was his first, commissioned in 1976 for a PBS TV movie that aired in 1977. It’s a Southern Gothic take about a rich family that owns a mill (the Greggs) and a poor family employed at the mill (the McAvoys). At the center of the story is young Robert McAvoy, who lost a leg at the mill after an accident rumored to be caused by James Gregg, the ruthless son of the kindly mill owner. The story ultimately builds up to a confrontation between the two. I don’t normally read screenplays – as Warren Ellis has remarked here
(quoting someone else), screenplays are usually considered to be half a piece of art, so yr not reading a finished product, and yet screenplays can take on a literary form that stand on their own. I’m not sure this is the case here. Even taking into account McCarthy’s talent as a writer and the fact that this was his first attempt at a screenplay, this didn’t quite work for me – I haven't seen the film, but I suspect it works better as a completed work of art than the half a piece published here.

View all my reviews

Better homes and gardeners,

This is dF
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2017-05-20 09:51 pm

I COME IMPEACH

Well I was going to post something about the revelation that Your POTUS apparently decided on the fly to declassify some intelligence to Russian officials and whether it would increase his impeachment chances, but it seems like we’re getting news bombshells about Trump practically every 12 hours now, and that’s a bloggery pace I can’t keep up, because I’m busy and I’m not as young as I used to be.

John Scalzi knows how I feel.

Anyway, since gambling sites are now taking bets on if and when Trump will be impeached, here’s a few things to keep in mind whenever talk of impeachment comes up:

1. Only Congress can impeach Trump, which means it’s an act of political will. And historically, no POTUS has ever faced impeachment while his own party controlled Congress.

Certainly Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have made it fairly clear they’ll put up with Trump for as long as it takes for them to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes for rich people and whatever other GOP wet dreams they weren’t able to get past Obama. My guess is that once Obama’s legacy has been erased to their satisfaction, then – and only then – they might consider dealing with Trump. But not before then – unless Trump finally does something so unbelievably stupid and/or dangerous that it endangers their ability to retain control of Congress. If they DO lose control of Congress in 2018, then yr more likely to see some action. Maybe.

2. Most Trump supporters – like Trump himself, and much of the GOP at this stage – will reject the idea of impeachment because they don’t think he’s done anything wrong. And that’s because their perception of the sociopolitical universe is completely different from the rest of us. They’re getting their information almost exclusively from the likes of Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars and conservative Facebook memes, all of which are spinning the basic narrative that Trump is doing a great job and anyone who says otherwise is fake news.

I’ve talked about this elsewhere – the idea that the Left and Right are so caught up in their own hyperpartisan media echo chambers that their perceptions of political reality are literally alternate worlds. This is why Trump gets away with so much among his fan base – they all occupy the same reality in which Obama was the Worst President Ever, America is in the absolute worst shape it’s ever been exclusively because of him, Hillary Clinton is a criminal mastermind, Trump is doing a great job and the Mainstream Liberal Fake News Media is actively lying about it because they’re all out to get him because he called them on their fake news and they don't like it.

Most if not all of that isn’t true in the universe I happen to occupy. But they don’t know that.

Donald Trump and his supporters are essentially a more paranoid and demented version of Cliff Clavin from Cheers – someone who considers himself knowledgeable about everything and is keen to share his knowledge with anyone who will listen, even though most of his knowledge is apocryphal (which he is blissfully unaware of), and if he doesn't know anything about a particular topic, he’ll bluff his way through it by applying his worldview and/or folk logic (“Why do squirrels eat nuts? At a guess I’d say it keeps their teeth from getting too sharp so they don’t bite their own tongues off in their sleep when they hibernate – seems reasonable”) because he figures if his audience doesn’t know the answer either, he won’t get called on it.

That’s fine if yr an otherwise genial postal worker in a bar. It’s less than fine if yr the leader of the biggest superpower in the world and have access to nuclear launch codes.

Anyway, between these two factors, I think a Trump impeachment is a long shot – it only seems like a slam dunk to people who already hate him.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s impossible, either. And based on the current trajectory, it seems every day is just bringing something new to add to the Trump Dumpster Fire, and it’s fair to speculate that eventually, somehow, someone’s going to produce a memo or tape or video or SOMETHING that is finally going to break through that reality schism so even his supporters will say, “Okay, fine, let’s try Pence.”

And then of course there’s the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor, which is fun. Personally I predict a repeat of the Starr/Clinton investigation – it’ll go on for a few years and if they come up with anything before he leaves office, it will be for something completely unrelated to the Russia thing.

But even if he’s impeached by the House, he could be acquitted in the Senate, which has also been the result of every successful impeachment (both of them).

So yeah. I think the only way Trump doesn’t finish his term will be if he resigns, or if his health fails, or if something horrible happens.

That said, I guess the one comfort to be had is that he’s likely going to be a one-term president. I doubt he’d want to run again, and I doubt the GOP wants him to.

Common ground!

As for a Pence presidency … well, have you noticed how absolutely invisible he’s managed to make himself? I’m sure he’s doing his best to make sure he doesn’t get any Trump on him in case he does have to step up.

Will it help? No idea. Will he be better than Trump? I think so, in the sense that he won’t be a completely unqualified egotistical man-child who seems to see the White House as a ticket to enrich his business, employ his family and punish his enemies. Other than that, I don’t have high hopes for the guy, but I’m reasonably sure that he could get us to 2020 without a tactical nuclear conflict.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We got a long way to go here.

Impeachy keen,

This is dF
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2017-05-19 12:33 am

HIS LOVE WAS LOUD

Chris Cornell is gone.

And of course I have to blog about that because the very first time I heard Soundgarden … I wasn’t that impressed.

Not that I thought they sucked. Far from it. I just didn’t quite get what they were doing.

This was 100% my problem. I was writing album reviews for the college newspaper at the time, and I was very heavily into punk and underground music at the time. The way it worked was, the local mall record store would let me take a couple of new records home to listen to, and then I would choose which one I thought made enough of an impression (good or bad) to write about, then bring them back.

One week, one of the options was Soundgarden’s Loud Love. I forget what the other album was, but I wrote about it instead, because I could at least get a handle on it. I really didn’t know what to make of Soundgarden – they were long-haired guys with no shirts on and they sounded (to me) like a heavy Led Zeppelin tribute band. I suppose they didn’t fit within my narrow punk aesthetic so I kind of blew them off.

Less than a year later, some friends turned me on to Nirvana’s first album, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone from someplace called Seattle. I liked them a lot. Then someone else reintroduced me to Loud Love again, and I gave it another chance and THEN it clicked. I got it. And I was both amazed at the music, at Cornell’s vocals, and at myself for being so thick as to not like it on first listen.

I tended to do this a lot when I was younger. (Heck, I probably still do it now.) There was a long list of bands I didn’t really “get” the first time I heard them, but give it a year and I’d hear them again and go, “Wow, this is great, what was I thinking?”

Anyway.

Here’s a true story: I saw Soundgarden live when they were promoting the Badmotorfinger album. My best friend and I drove from Clarksville, TN to Nashville to watch them open for Skid Row. The played for something like 40 minutes and absolutely blew the roof off the dump. We danced in the aisle and as soon as Soundgarden finished their set, we got out of the building before Skid Row could get anywhere near the stage.

It’s probably the only time in my life I ever paid full price for a concert ticket just to see the opening band.



That’s Soundgarden, of course. As for Cornell himself, I admit I didn’t buy his solo stuff, but I did like the first Audioslave album – it was basically Rage Against The Machine with a new lead singer, but it blended perfectly.

Even his James Bond theme song was pretty decent. That was a surreal pop culture moment for me as well, having grown up with Bond films, where one of the big deals about any new film was who would they get to sing the theme song – at one time, it was a sort of a career signpost signaling you’d finally made it. That arguably stopped being true by the time The Living Daylights came out. Still, they didn’t give the job of singing the latest Bond theme song to just anyone. Anyway, Cornell wasn’t an obvious choice – if you were going to go with “former grunge singer does Bond theme” atall, I’d have thought Eddie Vedder would be yr go-to guy.

In any case, admit it – “You Know My Name” was arguably the best Bond song since Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill”.

Anyway, he was one of the iconic singers of my college years, and I’m saddened and shocked to hear he’s gone so soon.

Say hello 2 heaven,

This is dF
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2017-05-13 12:17 pm

CELEBRITY APPRENTICE EPISODE 7: JAMES COMEY IS VOTED OFF THE ISLAND


Or, “Comey Don’t Play That”

Poor old James Comey.

I know it’s not socially acceptable to say this in any given political circle, but I’ve always felt a little sorry for Comey. I get that people are upset with him because he essentially contributed to Hillary losing the election and now look who we’re stuck with, etc.

On the other hand, I can appreciate the basic political dilemma he was in. If he tells everyone he’s investigating Hillary’s emails in the middle of the election – and that new potential evidence has arisen just a few days before the election – he’ll be accused of trying to influence the election in favor of Trump. If he doesn’t go public – and if Hillary wins, and then it turns out the FBI finds she did break the law – he’ll be accused of covering up for Crooked Hillary to help her win. No matter what he did, he was going to get pilloried as the villain in this election.

So on that score, I’ve never really blamed him for going public with it. Even if the outcome of a close and crucial POTUS election hangs in the balance, if the choice is transparency vs cover-up, I think transparency is the better option.

Now, if yr talking about how Comey handled that transparency, that’s another matter. It’s fair to say he didn’t handle it properly, and it’s also fair to say that – wittingly or not – he contributed to Hillary’s loss (although as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out, he had help from the way the media chose to cover the story – and to be clear, it’s not the only reason she lost).

But then all of this is academic, because that’s not why he was fired, was it?

Sure, it’s the official reason. Unless you ask Trump, who now says it was because of Comey’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign – not that there’s anything to investigate because it’s a totally made up fake news story, so why not fire the guy in charge of the investigation that would actually prove it was made up if that is in fact the case? I mean, who in their right mind would mistake that for a cover-up?

Of everything Trump has done so far, this is by far the most serious and the most politically stupid, although some have pointed out that it’s not necessarily a major political miscalculation if yr factoring in the likelihood that the current GOP-led Congress will back Trump on this like they have almost everything else he’s done after the usual modicum of protest, plus the likelihood that the Demos won’t bother doing anything because they don’t have the votes anyway so why bother?

Put another way, for all the comparisons to Nixon and Watergate – and for once, they’re pretty decent comparisons – I would be very surprised if anyone made a move to impeach Trump over this.

I’d be equally surprised if Congress appointed a special prosecutor. Even if they do, I’m a bit wary of that because of what we went through with Ken Starr. I don’t really want an independent counsel with an open-ended mandate to keep digging until they find something to hang the guy with.

On the other hand, when you have a situation where the POTUS fires the guy who happens to be in charge of an investigation into his campaign over ties to a foreign power, what else can you do? Especially when the POTUS’ Attorney General not only has similar ties bit lied about them under oath? What are we to think? And what if, as Matthew Yglesias has suggested, the real motive was that Trump was afraid Comey might uncover something completely unrelated? 

We don't know, of course. But that's really the point.

As much as I hate to resort to alternate timelines as an argument, think of it this way – if Obama had fired Comey when Hillary’s emails were first under investigation last year, the GOP would have gone absolutely ballistic – and understandably so.

Then again, the Demos (and probably a lot of Obama’s fans) would have made excuses for it. It all really comes down to the same tired old line – it’s only a felony when the opposition does it. Or, as Hunter Thompson put it, “He may be a swine, but he’s OUR swine!”

We’ll see what happens. But the bottom line is that it’s ultimately up to the GOP-led Congress to investigate Trump or begin impeachment proceedings. I don’t see this Congress doing that – not even if the payoff is President Pence – until they have absolutely no choice. Because it is ultimately a political decision, not a law-and-order decision, and at this rate it’s going to take a smoking gun (perhaps literally) to convince them that Trump is a bigger political liability to them than doing something that would please Democrats (which is arguably the only reason they continue to back Trump).

Developing …

You can’t fire me I quit,

This is dF
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2017-05-13 11:23 am
Entry tags:

QUOTE QUIZ TIME!

Who said it: Donald Trump or Cliff Clavin from Cheers?

1. Cows were domesticated in Mesopotamia and were also used in China as guard animals for the forbidden city.

2. The smartest animal is a pig. Scientists say if pigs had thumbs and a language, they could be trained to do simple manual labor. They give you 20-30 years of loyal service and then at their retirement dinner you can eat them.

3. I wonder if you know that the harp is a predecessor of the modern day guitar. Early minstrels were much larger people. In fact, they had hands the size of small dogs.

4. Everyone is the Swiss Army owns a Swiss Army Knife. That's why no one messes with Switzerland.

5. If you were to go back in history and take every president, you'll find that the numerical value of each letter in their name was equally divisible into the year in which they were elected. By my calculations, our next president has to be named Yellnick McWawa.

6. The umbilical chord is 90% postassium.

7. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine; which is why you always feel smarter after a few beers."

8. Due to the shape of the North American elk's esophagus, even if it could speak, it could not pronounce the word lasagna.

9. Speaking of sweat, here's a little known fact: women have fewer sweat glands than men, but they're larger and more active. Consequently they sweat more.

10. Early cavemen, they went out and hunted for the very food that graced their simple table. The women stayed in the cave and developed art, culture, what-have-you. Men down through the centuries have always been hunters, doers, adventurers. Cogito, it is not in man's nature to sit alone and be passive and docile.

11. With the recent strides in genetic engineering, I mean, we'll soon be faced with the possibility of producing enormous farm animals to feed the hungry millions. Now imagine one cow to feed an entire city, one egg making an omelette for an entire family. Yeah, I mean with the advances we're making today, the future is unlimited.

12. There are many theories as to why the Florida orange is far superior to it's California counterpart. I personally think it's the trace mineral elements in the Floridian water. That's obviously due to the frequency of typhoons in the nitrogen rich alligator guano.

13. Well, it's not really later in Florida. It's a popular misconception. It's Eastern Standard Daylight Time down there too. Speaking of time, boy it really stops still when you're in the Everglades. They've got huge gators, you know gators are, what we who are familiar with Florida call alligators. Yeah, they got huge gators and giant crocs. You all know what a croc is? Well, the first morning there was crystalline as I was stepping onto the hydrofoil. The captain, Bill Bob Dupree, I think his name was, asked me not to bring the beach umbrella, well, cause it got caught in the prop on the way out.

14. The word Florida comes from the language of the Okie Canokie Indians and it means, literally, place where the old people come to sweat.

15. Many scientists believe that the little finger, that's the pinky, léger de main, will one day, like the tail, disappear, you know, because it serves no purpose.

16. It's a common belief that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the king of the dinosaurs, you know, as indicated by the palativesaurus. The smartest of the spiny reptiles was actually the Peapatroid.

17. Billiards was invented by the ancient Venetians, and it gained popularity after a group of Benedictine Monks invented felt.

18. Well, you know however, this much is true, you know there's been recent sightings of human beings being shot up into the underbelly of alien spacecraft. You know, and speaking of the Bermuda Triangle, it's not technically a triangle. It's a trapazeedarhomboid, perfect for attracting Martian spacecraft.

19. Topless waitresses – scientific fact – they can deliver drinks faster than their clothed counterparts.

20. Yorkshire Pudding was invented in the late 1770's during a beef shortage. A person could be given a little bit of beef and soak up the gravy with the pudding thereby fooling his stomach into thinking he was having a fuller dinner than he actually was.

Think before you answer,

This is dF
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2017-05-10 03:46 pm

THAT JOKE ISN’T FUNNY ANYMORE, PART 3,569


As some of you know, I don’t really buy into the meme that Donald Trump is a fascist dictator. However, I’ll admit he – or at least the people he surrounds himself with – has a tendency to hand a lot of free ammo to people trying to make the case that he is.

Two recent examples:

1. The DOJ – headed by General Jeff Sessions – prosecuted Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz for laughing at Jeff Sessions (or, more accurately, laughing at an introductory description about Sessions during his confirmation hearing while he was in the room).


2. The FCC is pondering an obscenity charge against CBS after Stephen Colbert said “cock holster” on air in reference to President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

FCC obscenity law is one of my pet hobbies, and I find this one the least worrying of the two – pending a result, at least – for a couple of reasons.

One: I don’t think there’s any direct evidence the FCC opened the investigation because of who Colbert was talking about. The FCC generally will investigate obscenity if enough people file complaints – and between conservatives who are furious that Colbert said that about the President (an office for which they demand everyone respect as long as there’s a conservative holding the office) and liberals who are furious that Colbert said something they consider homophobic, I’m sure the FCC got enough of an earful over it that it decided to check it out. I seriously doubt Ajit Pai got a phone call from Trump telling him, “Get Colbert.”

Two: I also seriously doubt the FCC will be able to put together a case. The FCC’s own rules make obscenity very hard to prove. They might have a stronger case for indecency, except that the broadcast in question happened during safe harbor hours (under which indecency is allowed), and CBS bleeped out the offending word.

So under normal FCC procedures, I would be very surprised if the FCC found a case for obscenity. Granted, these are not normal times, and this particular FCC could potentially come up with an off-the-cuff interpretation of what counts as obscenity that suits the purpose of penalizing Colbert via CBS. But again, I think it's more likely that the FCC will decide there’s no case.

The Sessions/Fairooz case is more troublesome.

It’s worth stating a few facts about the case up front:
  • Fairooz was officially charged with disorderly conduct and “parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds”
  • That included the laughing bit, as well as her allegedly shouting a few slogans and holding up a sign while she was being escorted out by the police
  • Fairooz was convicted, but not for laughing – a couple of jurors have said anonymously that they did not accept the argument that her laughing constituted disorderly conduct. But as she was charged with the other actions as well, they had little choice but to convict her.
So technically, if Fairooz goes to jail (and she hasn’t been sentenced yet), it won’t be for laughing at Sessions.

However, the fact remains that it was her laughing that got her arrested in the first place – and the prosecutor argued that the laugh counted as disorderly conduct, even though by most accounts (including actual video of the hearing) her laugh didn’t interrupt or disrupt the hearing in any meaningful way. So she may not have been convicted for laughing, but she was certainly arrested for it. And rather than just settling for escorting her out of the room – which essentially solved the alleged disruption problem – the DOJ opted to spend taxpayer money charging and prosecuting her to the fullest extent of the law.

Just think of it.

Of course, we don’t know for a fact to what extent Sessions personally had to do with any of this. We know he didn’t have her arrested because he wasn’t AG at the time. We don’t know whose idea it was to prosecute her, but clearly by then Sessions was AG, and surely he at least was aware of the case. If so, he could have ordered the case dropped, if only because any idiot could see that prosecuting a case like this wouldn’t look good. Maybe he figured the law is the law and we can’t let politics or appearances influence how we carry out law and order. And he’d technically be right. Or maybe he knew who Fairooz was – and her political activities – and decided to make an example of pinko protesters who hate America, and if it takes the equivalent of jailing Al Capone for spitting on the sidewalk, then so be it.

I don’t know.

Still, the fact remains that Fairooz is facing a jail sentence because she LOLed at a speech praising the guy who was about to become AG.

Which is perhaps a significant development in the context of a POTUS administration that is reportedly looking at ways to alter libel laws as a way to deal with “fake news”and holding media accountable for reporting fake news. Let’s remember that libel laws already protect public figures from false statements about them – the problem is that you have to prove they’re false, which presents a problem for Trump since his operational definition of “fake news” is “anything that questions anything Trump says or makes Trump, his cabinet, his family and friends look bad in any way whatsoever”.  Also, Trump tends to make all kinds of accusations without offering a shred of evidence to back it up. That's not going to cut it in a libel suit. 

Some people will tell you that all this is evidence that the fascist crackdown on dissent has begun. But most of the same people have been saying that since Trump won – heck, some have been saying that since Reagan won – so I don’t take them too seriously. I don’t think the Colbert case is that serious (yet), and the Fairooz case may be a one-off. It’s not like we’re seeing liberals rounded up and stuck in re-education camps or anything. As Reason points out, whatever designs Team Trump may have on the 1A, there’s a huge (YUGE) gap between WANTING to alter/abolish the 1A and actually doing it. It’s not a unilateral action, and the courts have already demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they will not stand for the POTUS telling them what they can and cannot decide.

And, as Reason also points out, the desire to unilaterally decide what counts as free speech and enforcing it with laws, constitutional amendments, overturning court decisions or – in extreme cases – a sucker punch to the face isn't exclusive to right-wing fascists (see: Citizens United, hate speech, whistleblowers, speaking gigs at UC Berkeley, Richard Spencer, etc).

In fact, coming back to Colbert, the cock-holster joke is an interesting example of both conservatives and liberals getting bent out of shape over the same speech for entirely different self-serving reasons: liberals think Colbert should lose his job because he said something homophobic (which is debatable, but I’m running out of space here), and conservatives think he should lose it because he disrespected the President (also debatable, not to mention disingenuous given the respect many of the same conservatives afforded Obama).

Of course, criticism is not censorship, no matter how often Fox News commentators claim it is. But when the criticism includes the proposition that you should not be legally allowed to say what you just said, then yr basically endorsing the same principle that Team Trump is pushing with the whole fake news/libel laws meme – you just have different criteria.

So while I don't think Trump ordered the FCC to punish Colbert, there are an awful lot of people who would fully support such a notion. That’s important. One of the biggest dangers to the legal concept of free speech isn't chumps like Trump who want to change the law so they can suppress speech they don’t like, but ordinary schmoes who cheerfully support such efforts under the delusion that it will only be used against their enemies and not themselves.

One other point – it’s interesting that both the Colbert/Fairooz cases have one key element in common: humor.

So maybe Patton Oswalt was right.

Don’t make me laugh,

This is dF
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2017-05-01 09:34 pm

HAPPY LOYALTY DAY, AMERICA




DISCLAIMER: Satire.

PRODUCTION NOTE 1: BTW, for everyone having a cow over D.Trump declaring Loyalty Day as if he came up with the idea? He didn’t. May 1 has legally been Loyalty Day since 1958, and every POTUS from then to now has recognized it as such.

Still …


PRODUCTION NOTE 2: If yr wondering, that video is meant to demo the fact that there were two soundtracks recorded for Flash Gordon – one by Queen and a more traditional one by Howard Blake. This one shows a scene with the Blake version.

PRODUCTION NOTE 3: In case yr thinking George Harris’ voice sounds different than on the Queen soundtrack album, yr right – the album version is Harris’ real voice. This is the overdubbed version. Contrast and compare here.

BONUS TRACK: Everywhere else in the world (i.e. outside of America) it’s Labor Day. So here’s yr Labor Day song.



Possibly topical!

Without measure,

This is dF