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2017-10-10 02:13 pm

ABOLUTELY POSITIVELY MY ONLY POST ABOUT THE LAS VEGAS MASSACREE

Well, maybe not the only post. It depends if anything else worthy of comment develops, since there’s a lot we don’t know yet, but I may just go ahead and update this post rather than create a new one.

1. Obviously this changes nothing about the gun control debate, with the exception that the NRA has actually said, “Okay, maybe bump stocks are a little over the line for us, we’re not sure, but we’re open to discussion, maybe.”

Does it mean anything? Not really. Mass shootings will continue. And I guess if you follow Tomi Lahren’s logic, criminals and psychos won’t care if bump stocks are illegal anyway, so it won’t matter if you ban them. You can even go a step further and take the Tucker Carlson line that bump stocks actually save lives because if Stephen Paddock hadn’t used one, he might have killed a lot more people.

Anyway, it’s hard to take anything the NRA seriously when their current marketing campaign involves Dana Loesch shaking her Clenched Fist Of Truth™ at America’s two greatest enemies (i.e. liberals and the mainstream media).

2. That said, I think it’s worth passing on these two articles that add some good context to the gun debate: this one at FiveThirtyEight and this one from WaPo.

Both make points that have been made before but don’t get a lot of attention, especially in the wake of the latest record-setting mass shooting. In essence: America’s gun problem isn’t just a gun problem, it’s a series of problems (mental health, suicide, domestic violence, etc) requiring separate solutions for each.

3. One point of contention: many people I know are furious that the police and the media aren't describing it as a terrorist attack and are criticizing it as a double standard, evidence of white privilege, etc.

I disagree for a simple reason: to qualify as terrorism, an attack must have a political motivation and must be intended to create a state of fear in either the general population or the group being targeted. As far as we know, Paddock doesn’t fit that description. At least not yet.

I understand why these people are demanding it be classified as such – it’s mainly an extension of their frustration that past attacks by white American guys that actually do fit the description of terrorism weren’t initially treated as such precisely because the perps were white American guys and therefore couldn’t possibly be terrorists because as we all know terrorists are brown foreigners in turbans with funny names. Etc.

The problem is that we’ve reached a point where basically any attack even remotely like this is considered a terrorist attack. Granted, that’s in part because actual terrorists have lowered the bar to the point where you can't have a multiple-car collision without people wondering if it was terrorism-related.

I guess I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance because I grew up at a time when mass shootings were almost never motivated by political ideology – more often than not it was a guy with mental problems or a disgruntled ex-employee.

Then again, that was also a time when terrorism was still considered a crime to be prosecuted under the standard judicial system. The GW Bush admin changed that when it reclassified terrorism as a literal act of war (and therefore no different from Japan attacking Pearl Harbor) rather than a crime – which for their purposes meant you could torture them, kill them with drones or jail them without charge basically forever.

So I’m not comfortable with people redefining terrorism to fit their particular political viewpoint.

It is what it is,

This is dF 

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2017-09-30 11:58 pm

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

Truly I am.

The Little Sister (Philip Marlowe, #5)The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is possibly the only Chandler book I haven’t yet read (not including anthologies), and one that leverages his writing experience with Hollywood to great effect. PI Philip Marlowe is hired by prim, mousy small-town girl Orfamay Quest to find her older brother, who moved to LA a couple of years ago and has recently vanished without a trace. Naturally, what seems like a straightforward job turns out to be vastly more complicated as bodies start piling up with ice picks stuck in their necks and Marlowe crosses paths with gangsters and rising movie star Mavis Weld. It’s all classic Chandler – booze, broads, Hollywood, mobsters, double crosses, blackmail, murder, Marlowe giving the cops a hard time – it’s all here, and even if it gets a little convoluted by the end, Chandler delivers the goods. Of course, he also delivers the sexism and casual bigotry of the era, although there’s relatively little of the latter in this one and is arguably deployed just so Marlowe can needle a character. Still, Chandler’s writing is pure poetry – there’s lots of great lines here, as well as a brilliant opening chapter.


The Grand Banks Caf (Maigret, #9)The Grand Banks Café by Georges Simenon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another early Maigret novel, and one that – like many of Simenon’s Maigret novels, it seems – takes place in a small town instead of Paris. This time, it’s the fishing village of Fécamp, where the captain of a fishing trawler has been killed upon returning from a disastrous three-month voyage. The accused killer, Le Clinche, is a former student of a professor who knows Maigret and who asks him to prove Le Clinche’s innocence. Maigret agrees, but the crew is uncooperative, and Le Clinche himself has something to hide, though it may not be what he’s accused of. I enjoyed this one – it’s full of vivid characters, and as always it’s fascinating to watch Maigret employ his method of getting to know the people involved to understand their motivations, which is often the missing piece of the puzzle. Simenon is generally brilliant at dissecting the human-nature element of crime, putting it at the center of the story in an economic style that doesn’t sacrifice pace for character insight.


The Tin AngelThe Tin Angel by Ron Goulart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another Goulart book I haven’t read before – and one that’s a bit oddball even by his standards. The story involves a talkative cyborg dog named Bowser who is a big Hollywood star (and acts like one) and his agent Bert. The two are sent on a road show in Mexico to entertain troops fighting a civil war, but Bert uses the opportunity to look for a friend, TV journalist Pierre Hock, who has gone missing in the area whilst working secretively on a big story involving a planned assassination attempt on the President of the Western United States. So basically it’s the usual Goulart template of Protagonist bouncing from location to location meeting oddball characters who provide the info he needs, only with a wisecracking egotistical talking dog (albeit one who is more than he appears to be). Which should work, but I felt Goulart didn’t really pull this one off – there are some good scenes, but the set-up doesn’t quite work for me and I found Bowser more annoying than funny.


Round the Moon (Extraordinary Voyages, #7)Round the Moon by Jules Verne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SLIGHT SPOILERS AHOY: This is the sequel to Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, which told the story of the Baltimore Gun Club’s attempt to literally shoot the moon with a bloody big cannon – initially with an artillery projectile, until French adventurer and poet Michel Ardan insists on riding inside it so he can explore the moon, after which it becomes a manned mission helmed by BGC president Barbican(e) and his rival Captain Nicholl. That novel left the fate of the three astronauts uncertain This novel basically ties up that loose end as we find out what happened to Barbican(e), Nicholl and Ardan, and – of course – their trip around the moon. Like most Verne novels, the storyline is basically an excuse for the main characters to discuss and do science, which Barbican(e), Nicholl and Ardan do plenty of, in order to figure out how the trip is going, why certain things go wrong, document what they see on the moon, and figure out a way back home. Like the first book, this one has the advantage of having a sense of humor thanks to Ardan, who serves as the romantic non-scientific counterpoint to Barbican(e) and Nicholl’s hardcore science chops (which is another way of saying he's there to ask the dumb questions so the scientists can talk science). And it’s also interesting to see just how ahead of his time Verne was in terms working out what a trip to the moon would involve (even if his 19th-century science turned out to understandably wrong on a few points). That said, it lacks some of the satirical aspects of its predecessor, and – I have to say – by its very existence ruins what was otherwise a brilliant ending to the first book. Still, I found it worth reading.

NOTE: I spelled it Barbican(e) because it’s spelled with an “e” in my edition of From The Earth To The Moon, and without the “e” in this one. I assume it’s a translation issue?


The Shockwave RiderThe Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve never read John Brunner before, and I confess the main motivation for starting here is the fact that this 1975 novel – in which Nickie Haflinger, an escapee from the mysterious Tarnover facility, uses a stolen code to hack computers and forge new IDs for himself to evade capture – is generally cited as an ancestor of the cyberpunk genre because it was one of the first SF novels to feature computer networks and hacking as a central concept. Obviously it’s hard to read this without comparing Brunner’s future vision with the internet as we know it today, but much of it is strikingly prophetic in terms of computer networks that provide an overload of mindless (and sometimes cruel) entertainment, gather information on people (personal details, bank info, medical records, work history, etc) and become so central to daily life as to make you vulnerable to attack (such as someone deciding to get petty revenge on you by going online and deleting your utility accounts, for example). That said, the book is more concerned with the kind of society such a system can (and should) enable, and whether the people who live the “plug-in” lifestyle have any real autonomy or are simply being manipulated. All of which is interesting – but Brunner’s future backdrop is somewhat jumbled and hard to follow at times, Haflinger is a bit too arrogant to be a likeable hero, and the bad guys (the govt) are of the typical one-dimensional type. Also, the story gets bogged down by Haflinger’s frequent intellectual arguments with his Tarnover interrogator, Paul Freeman, although admittedly they’re the most interesting part of the book. So all up, it’s okay but uneven. Credit where it’s due in terms of its place in SF genre history, but on its own merit, it didn’t make me want to read anything else by Brunner.

View all my reviews

Future shock,

This is dF
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2017-09-28 12:20 am

ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY MY ONLY POST ABOUT COLIN KAEPERNICK

So we all know by now about Colin Kaepernick, what he’s been doing and why, and what happened on Sunday after the President of the United States publicly called him a son of a bitch for doing it.

Much is being said about it, most of it off-point and dumb enough to inspire me to post something on it.

1. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my lifetime – and possibly ever – I’ve ever heard the President of The United States use what Decent Society would call foul language in a public speech (as opposed to doing it on a secret surveillance tape or a mike he didn’t know was hot). It doesn’t bother me – it’s just another example of how Trump just keeps managing to break every single rule of decorum that politicians have generally been expected to follow.

2. #TakeAKnee does not offend me in the least. Kaepernick (and indeed anyone else) has a right to do so. Granted, I also support the point he’s trying to make. Even if I didn’t, I’d support his right to take a knee, or even burn the flag of if came to that.

3. Speaking of which, most of the conservative commentary about Kaepernick is exactly the same kind of thing such people used to make about flag burners – my country right or wrong, love it or leave it, respect the flag or else, yada yada yada. It’s the usual patriotic chest-beating, and it bores me.

4. It’s also irrelevant. Kaepernick isn’t protesting the flag or the national anthem – he’s protesting institutional racism and white police brutality against unarmed black people that the country represented by that flag and anthem seems unable or unwilling to address. The fact that conservative critics (many of whom hate #BlackLivesMatters) are trying to change the topic of conversation to the flag and patriotism proves his point.

5. Trump has said his comments are not about racism. That might be true, in the sense that lots of people who fancy themselves Real American Patriots™ tend to have kneejerk reactions to people who are not sufficiently and superficially patriotic to their taste – which is often just as much about showing off how patriotic they are by shaking their fists and screaming at the non-patriotic. People like that tend not to care too much about the racial background of the commie scumbag (which is another way of saying that, as a white dude AND an Army veteran, I’ve had my patriotism questioned plenty of times, like whenever I said that war was not a good thing).

Having said that, I have my doubts that Trump really cares all that much about the flag or the anthem, if only because there’s no meaningful evidence of it. Some reports suggest he’s intentionally milking it to throw easy red jingoist meat to his support base, which is likely true.

However, we’re also talking about the same base that has no problem with white cops shooting unarmed black people because Law & Order, Blue Lives Matter, and the only racism racism problem in America is all the minorities claiming there is one. Which is, you know, divisive.

Or, as Trump once called them, “very fine people”.

So … while Trump may not have had any specific racist intent in calling Kaepernick an SOB, the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to say the same thing about Nazis and the KKK give a good indication where his priorities lie – the best possible interpretation is that taking a knee during the national anthem is far more offensive to him than actual Nazis marching under a Nazi flag on US soil and killing a woman by running her over with a car.

6. A few conservatives I know have criticized #TakeAKnee for being a pointless form of protest because it has the inherent flaw of getting people to talk about The Wrong Thing (see Point 3).

Normally I would agree with this. On the other hand: (1) as I said, many critics know full well what the real issue is and are deliberately avoiding it by playing the patriot card, and (2) the same people have said similar things about #BlackLivesMatters protests on the streets, peaceful or otherwise. So … what, they’d perhaps prefer that #BLM, Kaepernick et al just stay home and post inaccurate Facebook memes like everyone else?

There’s a good quote from Barbara Jean Orton making the rounds that sums it up better than anything I could say:

"I know there are people who don't like the idea of protesting during the national anthem. But if you're going to protest, it seems to me that kneeling is literally THE most respectful, dignified, non-disruptive, and humble gesture you could choose. Historically, people knelt to beseech a favor from the crown. They still kneel, sometimes, to ask for someone's hand. But mostly they kneel to pray. To pray for some kind of change. Like, for instance, a change in the way our nation values black bodies and black lives.

I've heard people complain about boycotts, about public disruptions, about peaceful protesters blocking traffic. But I think if you're going to complain about kneeling silently, you need to admit that there is literally no form of protest you will accept."

Drop the mike,

This is dF
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2017-09-25 04:58 pm

YR NEW FAVORITE TERRIBLE HEALTHCARE BILL

Here we go again.

The GOP is giving the Big Repeal another go with the Graham-Cassidy bill, and by most reliable accounts it’s even worse than the last few.

Which is saying something.

As usual, most people are only interested in the hyperpartisan batshit rhetoric that supports their side. For the rest of you, here’s a couple of possibly useful links:

A good summation of what the bill is trying to accomplish (as opposed to what will actually happen if it passes).

Another good summation of why the GOP is desperate to repeal Obamacare.

A fine collection of GOP senators trying to explain why the Graham-Cassidy bill is great, and generally failing.

All I can add is:

1. It’s stunning just how bad the GOP is at this, not least because they don’t seem to have learned anything from their previous experience. It’s as if they think the problem with badly written healthcare bills and rushing them through by any chicanery necessary before anyone has a chance to evaluate or debate them is that they weren’t fast enough.

Little wonder their bills are so unpopular. You’d think the message to Congress was blindingly obvious: “Look, if you really think Obamacare is so awful (and there’s no convincing evidence that it is, but let’s say there is) that you need to get rid of it, okay, but replace it with something as good or better. It’s complicated, so take all the time you need, vet it, debate it, and come up with something solid and workable.”

The fact that they’re doing the OPPOSITE of that suggests strongly to me that they don’t have a better idea for doing what Obamacare does, apart from “leave it to the states and the free market and it’ll be fine”. Which by all accounts it won’t be – not under this bill, anyway.

Not that it matters, since I’m reasonably sure many Republicans want to ditch Obamacare for the same reason Trump does – it’s a product of the Obama admin. They’re made it clear they are far more interested in repealing than replacing.

2. It’s kind of amusing that most of the debate about Graham-Cassidy is being led by late-night talk-show hosts.

Naturally conservatives are trotting out the old “celebrities shouldn’t express political opinions, they should stick to entertainment” meme. Which is disingenuous, considering how many of them voted for the current POTUS. See also: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ted Nugent, Chuck Norris, James Woods, Kid Rock, etc. So I can’t take people who pull the “stay in your lane” argument seriously – let’s admit, they only object to celebrity political opinions when they disagree with them.

Anyway, I don’t have a problem with Jimmy Kimmel making an issue of it. Given his family situation, I don’t blame him.

3. Bernie Sanders is using this as an opportunity to revive his single-payer universal healthcare idea – which of course has zero chance of passing now, but I assume he’s warming it up now in case the Democrats take back Congress in 2018, in which case it still won’t pass because Trump will veto it. Unless Bernie is also banking on Trump getting impeached by then, but I don’t see President Pence being any more willing to sign something I’m sure he feels is probably the only thing worse than Obamacare.

Anyway, you can read the details here, but if you felt the Bern last year, odds are you already know what he has in mind. For me, the chief problem with Berniecare – then and now – is that it’s really difficult and expensive to implement, and Bernie tends to get really vague on the details on just how we would go about funding Berniecare apart from “we’ll tax the rich enough until it’s paid for”. Which personally I don’t find particularly convincing.

Incurable,

This is dF
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2017-08-31 01:57 pm

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

Reading teh books, writin’ teh reports yo.

I Sing The Body ElectricI Sing The Body Electric by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another classic Bradbury anthology I haven't read before. It's one of his more famous books, perhaps in part because the title track – about a widower whose family decides to purchase an electric grandmother – was originally written as an episode of The Twilight Zone. Actually, almost all of the stories here would have been at home with that TV series in some form or other, as Bradbury covers his usual territory – a time traveler looking for Ernest Hemingway, a couple whose child is a blue tentacled pyramid, a man who claims to be Charles Dickens, the last man on Mars who gets a phone call from himself, a clairvoyant chicken, a robot Abraham Lincoln, a house that doesn’t want to be inhabited, etc. A few of them are duds (by Bradbury standards, anyway), but even ones that tread old ground (like “The Lost City Of Mars”, where a group of people find said city, which traps them by appearing to be their own personal idea of paradise) are told so well that it’s hard to be too critical – although Bradbury’s tendency to wax lyrical occasionally overwhelms the narrative. And when he nails it, boy does he.


The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, #2)The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book in the Earthsea series, and while the protagonist of the first book (Sparrowhawk, a.k.a. Ged) plays a key part of the story, the focus is on Arha, who is taken while still a child (age 5) to be the high priestess to the "Nameless Ones" at the Tombs of Atuan. The first half of the story follows Arha as she grows up, learns her role and duties, learns about the vast underground labyrinth that is her domain and hers alone, and slowly starts to realize how isolated she is by her power (both in terms of getting along with other girls and dealing with the priestess Kossil who is jealous of her power) and how little she knows about the outside world, particularly wizards and magic. After she comes of age and assumes her full responsibilities, her world is shaken when she discovers a strange man (Ged) in the labyrinth attempting to steal one of its treasures. I confess the first half seemed to drag a bit, and it only gets interesting when Ged turns up, but only because the story really comes alive for me when Arha is forced to question what she’s been taught and what she believes, which wouldn't work if her early life had been glossed over quickly. It helps that Le Guin, as always, is a great writer who keeps things moving, and knows when to take a worn fantasy-genre trope and turn it on its ear – especially the ending. I would still rate Le Guin’s SF books higher, but I’m liking this series, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.


Modesty Blaise: The Lady Killers (Modesty Blaise (Graphic Novels))Modesty Blaise: The Lady Killers (Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another collection of Modesty Blaise strips (Volume 15 of the Titan reprints), this batch containing three story arcs from 1980-81, which also happen to be the first stories drawn by artist Neville Colvin. I admit jumping from Volume 1 (the previous collection I read) to Volume 15 invites some interesting contrasts – two of these stories are bit more whimsical than I’ve come to expect from Modesty Blaise (one involves dolphins, another features mad Commie scientists trying to convince Willie Garvin and British agent Maude Tiller that they’ve been shrunk to Lilliputian size). Still, it’s all good fun. Another interesting contrast: the strips got a lot racier by 1980, with the kind of gratuitous nudity and swearing you couldn’t get away with in an American daily strip. My only real complaint is Colvin’s art, which feels a bit loose at times, as if he was rushing to beat the deadline. Also included in this volume are all of the MB strips that appeared only in the Glasgow Evening Citizen newspaper in the UK and not the London Evening Standard (the strip was supposed to run in both papers simultaneously but it didn't always work out that way). Which is interesting, but the strips themselves are kind of pointless to read since they’re basically out-of-context excerpts from various story arcs across the strip’s 38-year run.


The Fire EaterThe Fire Eater by Ron Goulart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I’ve been revisiting Ron Goulart, here’s one of his novels I actually haven’t read before – what I believe is the first Barnum System novel, in which John Raker of Soldiers Of Fortune Inc is hired to investigate a series of strange assassinations taking place on Esmerelda, a backward planet where sorcery and magic are real. Someone is killing officials of the ruling League Of Statesmen by remotely setting them on fire. Raker’s mission: find the assassin(s), stop them, and if possible find out how they’re doing it. This one is a little different as Goulart plays around with the fantasy-world gimmick. That said, as with all of his novels, Goulart sticks to his basic narrative template: laconic hero carries out his mission and plays straight man to the eccentric and talkative secondary characters he encounters. And like most Goulart novels I’ve read, it’s fun, light entertainment – which is what I come to Goulart for, so it met my expectations.


What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of MarketsWhat Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In which Harvard professor Michael Sandel posits that the US (and much of the world, really) has evolved from a market economy to a market society under which, increasingly, many aspects of our lives are for sale: paying to jump a queue, paying children to read books or get good grades, prisoners paying for a cell upgrade, patients paying for a doctor’s cell phone number, buying a terminal patient’s life insurance policy, paying for the right to shoot an endangered black rhino, selling ad space on your forehead – the list goes on. And all of this is happening without any serious discussion about the moral implications of putting a price tag on everything, whether it’s a question of inequality and fairness (i.e. ability to pay) or corruption (i.e. diminished value). Sandel raises more questions than answers here, but they’re good questions, and that’s really the point – his argument is that despite what modern economists may claim, there are moral tradeoffs to becoming a market society, and we should stop and ask ourselves: are the tradeoffs worth it? Should we draw a line as to what is or isn't for sale, and if so, where should the line be? If nothing else, this book is a handy compendium of examples of what people are already buying and selling. I’d also recommend it for being a calm and well-reasoned (if slightly repetitive) argument rather than a typical and predictable anti-capitalist polemic.

View all my reviews

I'll buy that for a dollar,

This is dF
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2017-08-26 12:18 am

SHEETCAKES, COMEDY, MONUMENTS, HISTORY AND OTHER LIBERAL CONSPIRACIES

A few bits and bobs in the aftermath of the Charlottesville Massacree:

1. I enjoyed Tina Fey’s sheetcaking bit. I especially enjoyed it because it offended conservatives (because you know, Teh Liberal Hollywoods) and liberals who thought she was giving bad advice by telling people to respond to Evil Conservative Fascism by staying home and binge-eating cake.

My own thought is: it wasn’t advice, it was a comedy sketch.

Yes, racism is terrible and Nazis suck, but it’s not Tina Fey’s job to tell us that or to mobilize us all into action to fight Nazis. It’s her job to use comedy as a satirical commentary of current events, ideally to provoke discussion of the topic in question. You could easily interpret the bit as a satire of people who respond to the spectacle of Charlottesville by eating cake – there’s so much metaphor to work with there. Or you can interpret it the way I did – a humorous way of expressing the frustration we all feel that the NaziS and KKK etc feel empowered by the current POTUS and most of us hate to be put in position where we have to scream and yell at such people. And I think that’s a valid a thing to say because believe it or not, some of are just sick of people screaming and yelling at each other in lieu of rational discussion with no end in sight.

You can argue that her message is an example of white-girl privilege, being able to opt out of a debate that non-whites can’t because they have more at stake, etc. That’s a valid point, and look – it’s now a discussion point thanks to Tina Fey and her comedy sheetcake!

Which is fine by me, because political comedy has always been better at provoking discussion and getting people to question things than it is at providing answers to the questions it raises.

2. That said, sometimes comedy can be a solution in itself, or at least a tool. As this article points out, if you are going to show up at the Alt.Right™ Nazi KKKoalition rally, yr best weapon is humor and satire – it's arguably way more effective than punching Nazis or getting into a pointless atavistic screaming match. A lot of the Nazi KKK guys welcome violence and screaming – they’d be more than pleased for you to start something (though yes, many of them apparently welcome it more when they outnumber you and Open Carry is legal). Make fun of them and refuse to take them seriously, and they will go ballistic. And they’ll come away looking far worse than you.

3. On the bright side, the Boston protests were a lot more peaceful than Charlottesville, and evidently more effective – not only were the Alt.Right™ embarrassingly outnumbered, the same organizers decided to cancel 67 planned rallies in 36 states and take them online instead.

Result! Chalk one for the “you gotta show up” camp.

4. Naturally, the Alt.Right™ and people who defend them are complaining that their free speech rights were violated by all the counterprotesters raining on their parade. I don’t see how. No one prevented them from having their rally or saying whatever they wanted to say. I suppose you can argue an intimidation factor, but that seems to be more the product of the Alt.Right™ apparently buying the meme that all counterprotesters are literally violent ISIS terrorists out to beat them up. Which is of course not true (mostly).

5. Regarding all the dithering over Confederate statues, I think it’s mostly a debate recycled from the same dithering over flying Confederate flags.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, most of these statues were only erected in the 20th Century, and it wasn’t just about celebrating Southern heritage. Unless by “heritage” you mean “slavery” and “racism”.

Which, to be fair, many Confederate flag/statue defenders don’t mean, because they don’t know their own history that they claim to celebrate. A lot of people still roll out the old chestnut that the Civil War was about economics and states’ rights. Sorry, but it wasn’t. It was about preserving slavery and – in the event that more states joined the CFA – forcing new member states to drop abolition laws. The CFA constitution was pretty explicit about that.

So many of today’s Confederate flag/statue defenders may not be pro-slavery racists in the strictest sense, but they’re arguably ignorant about their own “heritage”. The problem, as I’ve said before, is that their current reality bubble allows them to dismiss any facts contrary to their beliefs as Fake News.

Some people argue the statues should stay up as a reminder that a bunch of states committed treason against the US over slavery. Maybe. I like the idea from one person that we take down the statues but leave the pedestals.

Otherwise there’s no real reason to keep them up. And the argument that taking them down is revising or erasing history is nonsense – as if we would have no idea there was ever such a thing as slavery in America or a Civil War fought over it unless there was a statue of Robert E Lee in the local city park.

Then again, some people still believe the Earth is flat, so what do I know?

And so on,

This is dF
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Better homes and gardeners,

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