Media Quotes of the Day

  • Chris Cuomo in the Washington Post: “There is no division between politics and media.”
  • Goodman on the Cuomos (6 August 2021): ” What a family. Mario is turning over in his grave.”
  • Jeffrey Toobin (with apologies to Thomas Jefferson) :”Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.”
  • from Longboards, a Washington Post commenter: “Do you think CNN and MSNBC’s line up is a coincidence? Do you think their cellar ratings are also a mystery? Jeff Toobin, Don Lemon, Anderson Cooper? It’s a clown car.”
  • Jennifer Crumbley, the shooter’s mother: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
  • Megan McArdle in the WaPo: “Overruling ‘Roe’ likely wouldn’t generate the female backlash that feminists expect.”
  • Steve Wolf, firearms expert in the New York Post: “Guns don’t fire themselves. . . . If that scene required [Baldwin] to put the gun to his head and pull the trigger, I’m sure he would have taken a look inside the gun. Wouldn’t you?”
  • CDC Science Brief on Omicron: “Omicron has many concerning spike protein substitutions, some of which are known from other variants to be associated with reduced susceptibility to available monoclonal antibody therapeutics or reduced neutralization by convalescent and vaccinee sera.”

 

Bites That Itch to Be Scratched

I came home from a week’s vacation to find that cockroaches, at least four or five, had taken over my kitchen. Cursing and swatting them ultimately makes no difference, since they will thrive no matter what you do. Just stay out of the kitchen at five a.m.

Similarly, despite your insistent urge to scratch mosquito bites, you know that will only make them worse. The bugs continually remind us of our powerlessness over them. And of course they will be here long after we humans are swept away by climate change or another disaster.

For me and many of you, we now live in a world that seems driven by forces we can no longer control, if we ever did. Nature responds with unmistakable signals. So does Covid; so does our politics.

Trump, the biggest cockroach of all, has created a movement that will thrive even without him. His political opponents keep trying to find new kinds of bug sprays that won’t work. It’s like those who defend growing organic food by claiming they use organic bug sprays—a ridiculous contradiction in terms.

The planetary and political disasters we face are all man-made. They are a consequence of hubris—that is, trying to be godlike, flying too near the sun and, mostly, presuming that man’s law supersedes nature’s. We see it everywhere, from the proliferation of space and plastic junk to political movements denying the will of voters.

We are now in the process of committing one of mankind’s greatest acts of hubris ever in challenging the gods of nature. Climate change may be the final act in response to man’s defiance of the natural world. The punishment is going to be severe beyond our imagining. COVID-19 is a signal warning, its spread enabled by climate change.

I have been harping on this in the blog and referring to Amitav Ghosh frequently, as he is one of the few who sees the impending danger very broadly.

The hubris embodied in our myth of perpetual progress and growth has led modern capitalism to this state. Our myopic focus on extraction, deforestation, paving, overfishing, carbonizing (the list goes on) has made us blind to what we are doing to nature and what this disrespect will lead to. One who does understand this is Amitav Ghosh, whose book The Great Derangement I reviewed here last year.

Ghosh has a new one out, called The Nutmeg’s Curse, to be reviewed here when I finish it. Basically he argues that western colonialism through centuries of “omnicide” (murderous conquest and exploitation) has now brought us to a crisis not only of the environment but of our culture.

The same thing is true with the crisis in our politics and geopolitics. The recent ills that have come to beset us have a deep and complex history. The many racial, ethnic and religious conflicts, the flaws of capitalism—all comprehended in climate change—are confounded by the predilections of many who believe in lies, rumors and fantasies, and the propensity of tech and media to intensify them.

It would be nice to find a grand solution to all this confusion, but that doesn’t appear likely. Are the cockroaches really going to take over?

Comments on the Rittenhouse Verdict

I said I would eschew politics in this blog but events always confound our best intentions. By now most of you know that a jury exonerated Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges. House libertarian Megan McArdle of the Washington Post wrote a disgraceful pseudo-defense of that verdict with a number of preposterous claims.

 I’ll give you a few of the comments outraged readers made (8,000 and counting) about her piece instead of writing mine. Readers sometimes have more sense than writers.

    •  An almost all white jury picked in a day by a judge who insisted that the dead men could be called “rioters” and “looters” but not “victims.” That’s your benefit of the doubt, extended almost unilaterally to white men with guns, and no one else.
    • This is the sort of grandiose self deception that always leads to tragedy. Just like George Zimmerman playing cop killed Trayvon Martin, in the same way Rittenhouse wanted to play militiaman, and when it turned out that he was not invincible, as soon as he felt threatened, he panicked and shot over and over. Privelged White boys with deadly toys.
    • Bottom line: open carry vigilantism is now the law of the land.
    • What a delusional piece of garbage. This gives license to all the little Nazis out there to declare open season on protests.
    • Let’s not candy coat this. He should not have been there at all. He should not been allowed by police to roam around armed. When it looked like he might be in over his head he chose to use that weapon and shot to death two people severely injuring another. Why isn’t he accountable for at least something, anything? What a travesty.
    • McArdle really should have waited awhile before penning this post trial assessment. What this trial reveals is a clear example of white privilege, that’s what the article writer refers to as the “benefit of the doubt.” . . . The minute the foolish young man decided to grab his gun before leaving home for a protest out of state was the moment his fate and his victim’s fate were sealed.
    • Left or right, it doesn’t matter. The fact is two people died, and one was injured. The fact that these people couldn’t defend themselves, (they didn’t have a gun, Rittenhouse did) , they never made it to court, because a 17 year old boy decided to take a gun into a dangerous situation and decided to shoot. I didn’t buy his display of tears, all good defense attorneys coach such performances. Make him look like a choir boy, and the jury will forgive him. They did. But what message does that send to other 17 year old boys, who think carrying a loaded AR-15 rifle is “cool,” and are not trained to handle intense situations. Where were this boy’s parents? Who in their right mind would allow their kid to carry a loaded weapon into an inflammatory situation? If Rittenhouse wanted to give aid and put out fires, why did he bring the gun with him? Guns are only used for one reason, to kill. This verdict doesn’t surprise me, considering the behavior of the judge, who bent over backwards to help the defendant. Juries are keenly aware of when a judge consistently dresses down a lawyer, justified or not. Justice was not served today.

The Mad Craziness

Ralph Steadman, Police Convention 1971

To honor the memory of Hunter S. Thompson we’ve assembled some factoids regarding the mental health of the U.S. population. As one who follows such things, I’ll note that it has gotten considerably more hopeless since Hunter’s time.

    • Thirty-nine percent of them believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Forty percent trust far-right news.
    • “In the hours following the Arizona call [for Biden], a paranoid conspiracy theory spread rapidly on Parler and in other right-wing online forums: Voters in conservative counties had been given felt-tip pens that supposedly made vote-counting machines reject the ballots that they marked for Trump.”
    • “It was at a Turning Point USA event at Boise State University Monday that a member of the audience asked organizer Charlie Kirk, ‘How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?’”
    • A US senator [Ted Cruz] loudly defended a man who gave a Nazi salute as a protest at a school board meeting.
    • The unconstitutional Texas law that effectively bans all abortions is now being heard by the Supreme Court. The Court has agreed to duck the constitutional issue and to decide only procedural questions.
  • And we could go on—about Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and the other loonies—but you get the drift, and it’s all historical, of course. Hunter Thompson was our political harbinger, and what he had to say about Nixon goes double for Trump:

Writing about the final days as president of his nemesis Richard Nixon, Mr. Thompson observed, “The slow-rising central horror of ‘Watergate’ is not that it might grind down to the reluctant impeachment of a vengeful thug of a president whose entire political career has been a monument to the same kind of cheap shots and treachery he finally got nailed for, but that we might somehow fail to learn something from it.”

By the Time I Retrieved My Fly Swatter,
the Fly Had Flown Off

Our concept of time constrains, to one degree or another, everything we do. Delay frustrates the best-laid plans, stresses every outcome, and makes for bad decisions. Look at the climate crisis. We still can’t comprehend the magnitude of its unfolding. The remedies proposed are insufficient and politically impossible, even if we had the time and will to impose them.

Democrats keep struggling to agree on their social spending plan, and the results look worse and worse. Biden wants an agreement before he goes to the Glasgow conference to avoid looking like a climate blowhard. But the pressure of time won’t make for a better deal. To link an event like Glasgow to drafting major legislation is typical of how we lock ourselves into political and social deceptions.

And yet I think we all function better with deadlines. Channeling the pressure of time to an agreed-upon outcome produces results, especially when dodging the deadline has serious consequences. But this only works on the mundane level of things to do. How does Nancy Pelosi enforce her legislative deadlines? Out of necessity she fudges them.

Political impotence is the result and has been for years. Anything short of major political reform won’t change things, and so we’ll keep trying to swat flies like Sinema and Manchin because we’re not going to see major political reform, are we?

My outlook is gloomy because real political reform seems more than ever a pipedream, and the world is enmeshed in a capitalistic system with deep historical and social roots. Amitav Ghosh has written a new book about this which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

Our concept of time has led to the great divorce from nature that has finally resulted in massive climate change. We still see time as something linear, progressing, moving always forward. But in fact, as I’ve said before, “progress is the spurious idea behind modernity, which fostered the separation of mankind from nature.”

The way we perceive time is basically an illusion. So says physicist Carlo Rovelli in a wonderful book, The Order of Time, which I’ve read. “Perhaps, therefore, the flow of time is not a characteristic of the universe: like the rotation of the heavens, it is due to the particular perspective that we have from our corner of it.”

Still, our awareness of time passing “contains all the ambrosia and all the gall of life.”

The Obsession with Sinema

Well, to put it simply, she violates a lot of norms.

She will not negotiate on Biden’s most important legislation. She jets off to Paris while her party experiences a legislative crisis. She fundraises and runs marathons when she should be working. She upholds the filibuster. She won’t talk with her supporters. She dresses like a tart, offending effete Washington standards. She wears a ring that says “Fuck off.”

One could go on, but the media have covered all of this. Let me offer some cheap analysis.

Sinema seems drunk with the power of her position. She has the pride of a person with no fixed values, like a character out of Dostoevsky. This can only end badly. Republicans like McConnell profess to love her, while progressives are organizing against her. Politically she has burned her bridges.

She and Joe Manchin, another egotist, may well torpedo the Biden agenda approved by a majority of the public. That might just end their political careers. Party loyalty has now been transformed into partisanship, and partisans brook no apostasy. A Yale study “found that just 3.5% of respondents would vote against their partisan interests to protect democratic principles.” Biden’s unforced errors won’t torpedo his program, but partisanship surely could.

If she continues to offend Democratic (and indeed democratic) values, Sinema will either have to become an Independent or find a new career as a lobbyist. She seems to be positioning for the latter. In 2003 she ran a campaign against the hawkish and waspish Joe Lieberman. Now she’s become a Lieberman and he defends her.

Sinema appears to have become a product of her own periodic whims, which is maybe why she refuses to explain herself. She’s in danger of becoming a rebel without a cause.

A Warning to the Sheep

If you were thinking Trumpism was a passing phenomenon, the work of a nitwit showman, then you thought wrong. The strongest indictment came Thursday in a Washington Post opinion piece, “Our constitutional crisis is already here.” I urge you to read the full piece. For those without a subscription I’ll give some excerpts below.

Author Robert Kagan is one of those pundits who has walked both sides of the street. He’s been both a prominent neoconservative and a vigorous opponent of Trump. He was a longtime advocate for global intervention, yet in 2016 he endorsed Hillary Clinton and loudly called Trump a fascist. Here he has outlined a fearsome yet possible scenario, beginning this way:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.

Trump will no doubt be the candidate in 2024, says Kagan, and the majority of Republicans will try to “ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.” They will do this by controlling state and local officials who certify elections. The stage is “being set for chaos” and partisan warfare.

The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way—if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

The framers of the constitution never imagined such a breakdown of the three branches of government or the rise of such power in a national political party.

Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world, especially Europe, and its insidious influence in subverting American freedom—such views and attitudes have been part of the fabric of U.S. politics since the anti-Federalists, the Whiskey Rebellion and Thomas Jefferson.

What makes the Trump movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, Trump himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements. . . . His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity. . . .

For Trump supporters, the “error” is that Trump was cheated out of reelection by what he has told them is an oppressive, communist, Democrat regime. While the defeat of a sitting president normally leads to a struggle to claim the party’s mantle, so far no Republican has been able to challenge Trump’s grip on Republican voters: not Sen. Josh Hawley, not Sen. Tom Cotton, not Tucker Carlson, not Gov. Ron DeSantis. It is still all about Trump.

 . . . Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms.

 . . . To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche.

 . . . This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party—out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear—falling into line behind him.

More on this issue:  “What If 2020 Was Just a Rehearsal?”

Tolerance Is Out, Drinking Is In

I recently took the position with a friend that what we call tolerance has pretty much gone out the window. The political scene is simply rank with intolerance (i.e., partisanship), and most Democrats still act as if the milk of human kindness will win out. How far has tolerance gotten them with Joe Manchin? Or Mitch McConnell for that matter. In Mexico we tolerate López Obrador, who campaigned as a liberal, while some make excuses for his authoritarian behavior.

Practicing tolerance requires coming to terms with a lot of conflict: setting aside your strong moralistic opinions (or beliefs) to respect and permit other viewpoints. Morally, we are motivated by the values we’ve learned and grown up with. That’s one reason why racial bias and hatred is so hard to overcome. Turning the other cheek has continually gotten the tolerators kicked in the ass. You don’t fight wildfires with fire extinguishers.

So it seems that people are drinking a lot more since Covid. My theory is that it’s not just about the dysfunction and disorder that the disease occasioned. For years now the U.S. has been forcibly pulled apart politically—and to a large degree socially. I had dinner the other night with three of my best high-tolerant friends. We had two martinis each before the food came. Conversation was lubricated; we even got through a few disagreements. No wonder booze consumption is increasing dramatically: “In 2020, beverage alcohol consumption in the US saw the largest volume gain in nearly 20 years.”

America was supposedly built on tolerance. We should buy Joe Manchin a drink and ask him what happened to that notion.

Obama as Cool?

This was the title of a piece I published in jazzinsideandout.com in December 2013. There was some confusion about what “cool” means, both in Ishmael Reed’s article and my own comments on it. One problem is that as a personality descriptor cool means unruffled, detached; while in jazz it refers to a style of playing.

In looser, more recent terms, cool means something like fashionable, hip. That’s how Maureen Dowd used it in a recent putdown of Obama’s 60th birthday bash. She observes how this Marie Antoinette-style event included numerous celebrities but disinvited those who were responsible for his success.

Obama was a cool cat as a candidate in 2008, but after he won, he grew increasingly lofty. Now he’s so far above the ground, he doesn’t know what’s cool. You can’t be cool if you diss the people who took risks for you when you were a junior senator. . . .  Many of those who helped Obama achieve the moonshot, becoming the first African American president and then becoming uber-rich, were disinvited.

Well, here’s my 2013 attempt to disentangle at least some of the musical confusion.

If you are foolish enough, as I am, to look at The New York Times every morning, today you probably saw Ishmael Reed’s op-ed, “The President of the Cool.” With Mr. Obama getting whacked in the polls and Democrats disaffecting in droves, it’s not surprising that the president’s defenders are coming on strong.

I’ve been a strong critic of Obama but I enjoyed the piece. There are two problems, one of definition and one of rhetoric. Reed says:

Democrats have more of an affinity for jazz than Republicans. Even Jimmy Carter, not everybody’s idea of a hipster, invited Dizzy Gillespie to the White House. But among the Democrats, President Obama is the one who comes closest to the style of bebop called “the Cool.”

The Cool School, as embodied in players he cites like Miles Davis and Hampton Hawes (Hawes overrated by Reed, I think) was not really a style of bebop but a reaction to it. The fiery music of Dizzy, Bird and Bud drove many people out the door. Taking after Miles, West-Coasters like Hawes and Shorty Rogers concocted a blander kind of modern jazz that stressed very different chordal and harmonic structures, slower tempos, simpler rhythms—a quieter, much more detached music. It got more popular than bebop for a while.

As a defense of Mr. Obama, Reed’s piece identifies him with the intensity and spirit of jazz. I just don’t get that. I find the president all too aloof and detached in his actions, though his words can often be inspiring. He’s just too cool—but not in the complimentary hip sense that Reed means it. One may define his style as cool, but many find his leadership lacking and without substance. He is anything but a bebop player.

As to the jazz greats, one of the commenters on the piece (Joel Parkes) put it this way: ” To compare Obama in any way to Lester Young is, in my opinion, incorrect. He’s much more like Chris Botti. Jazz in Name Only.”

Coming to Grips

After 98 people died in the Champlain Towers collapse, you’d think that many condo boards in Florida would be on edge—about their long-deferred repairs, faulty inspections, costs, accountability for insurance, and their failures to act. A board finally gets estimates from qualified people, and its members scream bloody murder about the costs. So essential maintenance is put off and nothing gets done.

For far too long, condominium owners have, in essence, eaten at the table and then left the restaurant, moving on and leaving subsequent owners to pay the bill for maintenance that should have been carried out long ago. That’s why crucial decisions about structural, fire and electrical problems must always be made by professionals, not members of condo boards. . . . [Their] general attitude has often been, “Why pay today for what you can put off until tomorrow?”

At Champlain Towers, its condo association “took two and a half years, after much internal strife, to pass a special $15 million assessment. For years, the association had not set aside enough money to deal with the problems, forcing the large special assessment to pay for them.” Those members who wanted to face the issues instead faced resignations of frustrated or intransigent board members.

One could compare this to the same impulse that keeps people from getting vaccinated. It’s another kind of denial and, like the condo boards, the unvaccinated claim ultimately bogus reasons for not acting. Some 93 million people “are eligible for shots but have chosen not to get them.” A thorough NY Times article breaks down the refusers into two groups: those who adamantly trash the vaccines (will never get it) and those who are persuadable.

That is, they either deny the reality and threat of the disease, or they offer a multitude of excuses for their hesitation. Among the latter: presumed side effects, waiting to see if it’s safe, not trusting the vaccines, not trusting the government, assuming they can repel the disease, and so on.

I think many can’t face the idea of possible death. It’s hubris, finally, this thinking that the virus will somehow pass them by, that the condo maintenance can be postponed, that you can beat the devil.

Nor can some Americans come to grips with the notion that Trump over and again demonstrates: that he is a mentally incompetent swindler, a threat to democracy. As to climate change, they are acting like the condo boards—grudgingly acknowledging the reality but failing to act. Racism is recognized if not tolerated. Denial is the agenda of the Republican party.

Ibram X. Kendi in The Atlantic writes that “Denial Is the Heartbeat of America.” He cites a number of political leaders who all claimed that January 6th “is just not who we are,” that it was un-American. But their kind of blind denial has always been central to American history and American politics, as Kendi shows. Our time is no different.