Archive for the ‘Current events’ Category

Sanctions

August 7th, 2018

Listening to the radio while doing my morning exercises, I just heard an apologist for Trump describe his reimposition of sanctions on Iran as part of a reasonably coherent strategy to achieve regime change there by the means of economic pressure.  He went on to characterize this as a program to promote democracy.  To me, it was astonishing that nobody immediately called bullshit on this.  Yes, I am incurably naive and such things do astonish me.  But then again, this was NPR, where it is an article of journalistic faith never to challenge a right wing bullshitter.   How it promotes democracy to attempt, by use of our economic force majeure, to immiserate the people of a foreign, sovereign nation in the hopes that they will rise up and overthrow their government, was not explained.  Nor was it explained why it is considered reasonable to expect that such people, driven by poverty and oppression to destroy forcibly the existing governmental institutions of their country, would replace what they had jettisoned with something more Jeffersonian.  The man promoting this arrogant idiocy, in  almost complete albeit probably willful ignorance of history (Libya? France?  Russia?  China? Germany? etc.), spoke with great confidence, fluency, and truthiness.  Judging by recent polls showing GOP support for der Gropenfuhrer holding firm, not to mention his continuing enthusiastic reception by the Republican faithful at campaign rallies, there is no shortage of American Barnaby Rudges who can be fooled by this kind of thing.  It is a salutary reminder that even if the President were to choke on a pretzel, he is only the gross tip of a sizeable iceberg.

The Key

July 18th, 2018

It all makes sense once you accept that absolutely nothing he says has any substantive meaning.  Everything he says is purely transactional, responsive only to the situation and whatever he considers will advantage him in that situation.  He behaves in public in such a way as to reveal this, because he does not understand fully that other people use language differently.  He thinks we all are like him.

ICE Evil

July 6th, 2018

It has been reported recently, by credible sources, that ICE is forcing toddlers – yes, children as young as three years old! – to appear in immigration hearings alone and unrepresented. (See https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/27/immigrant-toddlers-ordered-appear-court-alone/). It seems incredible that our system of justice, in any of its branches, would lend itself to such a barbarous perversion, but that apparently is precisely what this administration is doing. Talk about kangaroo courts! I want whoever is responsible for this shameful practice to be exposed and punished. I want every “judge” or “magistrate” who allowed his or her courtroom to be degraded in this manner to be stripped of his or her position and cast into the gutter. I want every government attorney who colluded in such a sham proceeding to be disbarred. I am so utterly disgusted! The so-called ‘family separation” policy was bad enough, but this stinks in another way; it is a fundamental corruption and perversion of the law and the legal system. The Trump administration is not merely another ideological faction with whom we happen to disagree. It is radically evil and must be opposed and fought until it is uprooted and destroyed root and branch.

Himmler in the White House

June 20th, 2018

“The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect.  Men may hate us.  But, we don’t ask for their love, only for their fear.”  So said Heinrich Himmler.  I thought of this quote today when I heard Trump today explain his decision to reverse his family separation policy, which he had attempted earlier to sell as a deterrent to illegal immigration; that is, as a weapon of terror.  He talked about the choice between being weak, pathetically weak, on the one hand, and being called heartless for being strong, on the other, and said, “I would rather be strong.”

It seems increasingly likely that the target of the family separation policy was not, in fact, immigrants so much as it was the United States Congress.  That is why Trump and his minions insisted, against all reality, that only Congress could change the policy.  The idea seems to have been to ram through the “Four Pillars” of Trump’s immigration policy (the Wall, etc.) as a necessary adjunct to any immigration reform that he would support.  Thus Congress would be compelled by public outrage to move  against the family separation policy, and the Four Pillars would be smuggled through Congress in connection with addressing that policy.  Since Trump is in fact heartless, he miscalculated the level of outrage that would be directed against him for ripping babies from the arms of their mothers.  The gambit having failed, Trump now reneges on his claim that only Congress could change the policy, and pledges to do it by executive order.  We will see if this promise is any more credible than anything else he says.

Himmler on some level seems to have been a true believer in Nazi racism.  One may debate whether he and Trump exercise a similar level of cynicism.  What seems incontestable is that, as with Himmler, the one constant guiding star of Trump’s political life, apart from self aggrandizement, is xenophobic, racist animus and that, like Himmler, he is not only expressly willing to sacrifice the most basic humane values in the service of that cause, he regards basic humanity as a source of weakness and brutality as strength.

 

Texas Theresienstadt

June 17th, 2018

One begins to run out of adjectives to describe the depths to which this administration is dragging our nation. Trump’s concentration camps for children are an abomination. They are evil. They are, or should be, intolerable. They are completely unjustifiable. They are an exercise in the crudest sadistic depravity, of helpless and innocent people being punished for no reason other than that they are helpless and innocent and vulnerable to the whims of those in power. This must be stopped, and stopped now.

Having said which, I am tempted to throw up my hands.  How to influence the policy of a psychopath so that it takes humane directions?  I am reminded of that scene in the movie Schindler’s List when Schindler prevails upon the concentration camp commandant to spare the lives of his inmates for a day, as an exercise in the allegedly transcendent power of mercy.  The commandant tries it for a while, enjoys some mild satisfaction, and then picks up his rifle.  Trump is cut from this cloth.

Some of us look to Mueller for succor, forgetting that he has power only to indict and prosecute, not to remove from office.  That latter power is confided to a Congress controlled by a party so abysmally corrupted by fear of its own authoritarian wing, like a giant cowering at the sight of its own shadow, and so riddled with ideologues, fools, and self-serving conscienceless hacks, that nothing good can be expected from it.  Some of us look to the 2018 elections for relief.  Some of us wake up every morning hoping to discover that a beneficent god, in whom we do not really believe, has sent St. Infarction to intervene, or caused the Malefactor In Chief to choke on a peanut.  (I confess I am one of these latter.)

The problem with all of these fantasies is that they give no room for me to act, and the crux of the matter is that to retain my self respect I must act.  Oh, I will vote for anybody or anything other than a Republican in the elections this year; and then the matter is out of my hands and depends on the political calculations of some 400+ ego-driven careerists, who in any event will take months or years to do anything and may well in the end do nothing at all.  (Viz. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and trial.  Speaking of which, those who think Trump is unprecedented in our history should look a little more closely at Mr. Johnson.)  Meanwhile, I must do something, I can’t depend on them.

My particular gift, if such it is, for action in the world is through words; so I write these things and fling them up on the screen, hoping to inspire someone else to do whatever it is they are given to do.  We, individually and collectively, survive such times with decency only by refusing to surrender our integrity.  Please take the time today to use whatever gift you have been given to inject some good into the world.  Paint a poster.  Sing a song.  Speak to a friend.  Write letters to your representatives.  Howl with rage and sorrow.

 

National Pravda Radio

May 18th, 2018

I want to know how NPR can claim to be a credible news source, when its talk show hosts, journalistic commentators, and reporters continue to use the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe such things as waterboarding, when even the New York Times calls them what they are, which is torture.  Is it because powerful people prefer the euphemism?  But isn’t that why we have a free press, to counter the lies of powerful people?  Language matters.  Euphemism elides the truth.  It may be that NPR presents a less distorted mirror than do Breitbart and Infowars and Fox News, in that NPR doesn’t engage in just making things up and presenting them as fact.  But what NPR does is more insidious, if less extreme.  It paints a factually plausible picture of the events it covers, but with the highlights softened and the shadows shifted until the picture no longer matches the reality.  An enhanced interrogation technique is a bureaucratic quibble.  Torture is an atrocity and a crime against humanity.

Why Not Let’s Just Kill A Buncha Folks

April 10th, 2018

In the ongoing media yakkety-yak concerning the recent Syrian/Russian chemical attacks on civilians in Douma, reference is made frequently to the media’s hazy recollection that Trump ordered missile strikes on an airfield a year ago in response to something like such an atrocity.  Will he or won’t he do it again?  One of the things that seems to be forgotten is that the missile strikes did minimal damage, and the airfield was in use again almost immediately.  The missile strikes were a public relations display of ire at human suffering, ordered by a man who is indifferent to the sufferings of others but is fairly sensitive to public relations.

I mention the above in order to emphasize the point that this story is not really about Donald Trump and whatever he may or may not do, although the American media, speaking to and representative of a supremely narcissistic nation, persists in presenting it that way.  The story is about Bashar al Assad.  When you think about it that way, one thing becomes glaringly obvious.  Assad is fighting an existential threat to his regime; and not just to his regime.  For him, one may be reasonably sure, the existential threat is personal.  From that perspective, any action, including the use of chemical weapons, is measured by whether it makes his survival more or less likely.  And by that yardstick, the chemical attack on Douma has been a success, in that it helped secure the battlefield from his enemies.

An equally obvious corollary is that any “punishment” child Trump may, in his “wrath”, mete out, is entirely beside the point unless it is directed tellingly and personally at Assad himself, with sufficient impact to threaten to reverse whatever gains he may have accrued toward his own survival by virtue of releasing the chlorine gas in the first place.  Otherwise, it is just a cost of doing business.  One may surmise with reasonable confidence that Assad and Putin made this calculation for themselves long ago; literally scores of such attacks have taken place since Obama drew his red line.

Take it a step further.  Suppose Trump blows some stuff up.  Suppose he even kills some people.  Suppose some of them are Russians.  Suppose, finally, that Assad and Putin are not the only people playing this game who know the score well enough to understand that every bomb not dropped directly on Assad’s head is a mere public relations gesture.

I am not advocating anything here, much less that high explosives be deployed by the U.S. in the cause of regime change.  I am just pointing out who is getting played for dupes in media coverage that breathlessly enquires, over and over, “What will he do?  Will he do what he did before?”  The deaths likely to result from the imminently forthcoming “punishment,” since that punishment almost certainly will not reach to Mr. Assad, will serve no purpose but public relations; it is hard to believe that Mr. Trump, Mr. Assad, and Mr. Putin do not understand this.  It occurs to me that ISIS was universally reviled in these parts for lopping off people’s heads in order to make a statement.  Tell me how we’re different.  I’m listening.

 

UPDATE 4/14/18:

Well, the good news, if it is not premature to say so, appears to be that they didn’t kill anybody.  So, for only tens of millions of dollars in expended munitions, it seems the following results have been achieved:

  1. Trump enjoyed a catharsis.
  2. Macron and May picked up potentially valuable IOUs against the United States.  You don’t think their participation came free, do you?  I say “potentially” valuable because the debtor-in-chief is Trump, and we all know what his word is worth.  This may explain why Merkel decided the game wasn’t worth the candle.
  3. Trump, May and Macron got to look tough in defense of “international norms”.
  4. Putin got to look tough in standing up to the US, and loyal in standing by his ally, Assad.
  5. Trump got to look tough on the Russians.
  6. Trump got to commit an act of war against a foreign sovereign nation without getting congressional approval, thus striking another blow for the fuhrerprinzip.
  7. U.S. weapons manufacturers will get to build replacements for the expended munitions.  Jobs jobs jobs!
  8. Some empty buildings in Syria got blown up.
  9. Assad got to use chemical weapons on “his” people, again, without paying anything much for it.  Sure, see #8, above.  But this doesn’t amount to much, given the stakes he is playing for.

I’d call this a win-win, wouldn’t you?

Mass action

April 7th, 2018

Now that Trump is sending National Guard troops to the southern border to fend off a threatening caravan of mostly women and children fleeing from gang violence, thereby showing just exactly how tough he is, we are being reminded from various media platforms that his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor took similar measures, albeit they were acting against drug traffickers and not against noncombatants fleeing for their lives.  I thought it might be relevant to quote some lines from To Join the Lost (which book, coincidentally, you may purchase at this website), describing a certain European head of state of seventy or eighty years ago:

Thousands of tiny

human forms composed his mass,

an assemblage of rococo subtlety

and power, limbs and torsos wrestling,

clenching, leaning, bending, stretching, grasping.

A muscle in his jaw twitched:

committees leaped.  He waved his arm: armies

marched.  Backs impossibly bent to

hitch his belt.  His stomach rumbled: they wept.  He

shrugged his shoulders: hundreds slumped with

relief – contortions Rodin might have sculpted.

On Legalization

December 11th, 2017

(This is an essay I wrote in the form of testimony to a legislative committee.  the Vermont legislature will be reconsidering legalization of marijuana in the coming session.  I hope they eighty-six forty-two.)

 

This is testimony based on my personal experience about what the people advocating marijuana legalization are trying to sell you.

 

I was sixteen and new to the high school, but I knew what to do with the fat hand rolled cigarette my new friend had given me.  Even though I never had seen one before, I had heard about such things.  So I went to the second floor bathroom in my house, opened the window, put a towel under the door, and smoked it.  By contrast with the harsh tobacco I had tried, I could keep the smoke from this one down.  When I went outside on that sunny summer day, it seemed sunnier than sunny, and I felt happy and relaxed and at ease.  I had not felt so relaxed and at ease for a long time.

 

That was 1968, when pot was a lot weaker than the 10% or more THC content it is purposely bred to now, and thus began the next seventeen years of my life.  By the time I got to college, I was smoking every day, if I possibly could.  I smoked my way through law shcool, rarely attending classes, barely graduating, and then I failed to use my law degree for another eleven years, until after I had stopped smoking.  In the meantime, living in Boston on a near-poverty level stipend from VISTA, I bought pot with whatever money I had left over after paying rent and food, and when I couldn’t afford to buy a lid I stole it from my housemates, sneaking into their rooms when they weren’t there and stealing small amounts, taking roaches out of ashtrays and garbage cans, scraping hash pipes for residue, making sure I could get high every day.

 

I will leave it to others to quibble over whether to call this addiction.  You may say people have the right to make choices, even bad ones.  I did not sign up to spend a quarter of my life in dull stagnation, but that’s what happened.

 

When I say got high every day, I do not mean that pleasant, relaxed, aesthetically heightened state that I found at the beginning, when the birds’ singing was more musical than music and music itself was a transcendental experience – the drum solo in Inna Gadda Da Vida, man! The sound of a zilch bomb dripping into a bucket in a friend’s apartment at 3 a.m.!  Although it is bad enough, in retrospect, to have been so absorbed for so many hours by such meaningless stupidity.

 

Even those experiences eventually were beside the point.  When you’re high all the time, what was intense to begin with gradually greys and dulls to the stuff of quotidian routine.  The point of getting high becomes not the heightened aesthetics, not the jollies, which in any event are no longer so heightened nor so jolly, and in fact now are tinged with numbness and paranoia.  I just passively let stuff happen around me.  I watched a lot of TV.  I felt empty, so I ate a lot of lousy food.  We laugh about munchies, but poisoning yourself with junk food isn’t really funny.  Why are those people are looking at me?  Am I behaving oddly?  How should I know?  No, the point of getting high becomes simply that, to get high.  Furtively digging that little lump of crumpled, browned, saliva stained paper out of a housemate’s wastebasket, unfolding it, and finding a crumb of vegetable matter inside – oh good it’s not a seed – to add to the other little bits of vegetable matter I’ve scrounged and burn them and suck it into my lungs so I can get to that place that is somehow different from the place I would be if I hadn’t done this.

 

Seventeen years of putting my brain on hold, of putting my emotional development on hold.  A pothead might do startling or clever things, but he’s not growing, and although he might feel he is being creative, his ability to create is hampered because his ability to deal with life is impaired.  That impairment is the other point of being high.  Pot makes you stupid, but in a particular way.  It provides a rug and a broom and you can use that  broom to sweep under that rug all the stuff you should be dealing with.  In my case, that included the death of someone I loved and a history of early childhood sexual abuse.  Being high all the time put that stuff so far away from me I couldn’t see it.

 

When you’re high, it’s difficult to sustain a thought or develop an image.  Mental processes may begin with a whoosh of energy, but they soon dissipate into curly digressive tangles.  Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a writer.  But writing is hard, particularly the part where you have to make yourself sit down and do it.  I look back at my marijuana years, and see a lot of time spent away from the typewriter, a lot of fitful starts, a lot of crumpled paper and unfinished work, and what little I produced was stunted and shallow.  Because I was.

 

Dealing with the painful stuff of growth and development, and of overcoming trauma, requires sustained effort, a willingness to gaze steadily on ugliness and to accept pain in order to move through it.  But the stoner is hedged off from that mental space by a thicket of distractions and diversions.  Avoiding all that discomfort can help you function, but at a minimal level, and at the cost of stagnation.  You sacrifice your capacity for joy.

 

Listen to the language we use and what it tells you.  Ripped, baked, fried, stoned, blasted, wasted, f-ed up.  These are the words that our culture has grown organically, as it were, out of the experience itself.  They’re more honest and truly descriptive than any of the carefully chosen language you’ll hear from a marketer or advocate.

 

When I stopped smoking pot, I had to play a lot of psychological catch-up, years of therapy for which I am grateful the state employees’ health insurance plan paid.  If I hadn’t had access to that, I might still be struggling merely to function.  Of course this service didn’t come free: thanks to all those state employees and taxpayers for funding it.  Maybe if I’d addressed the stuff I needed to address earlier than I did, I would have addressed it quicker and more cheaply.  I might have written more and better, contributed more to the community as a lawyer,  learned what I needed to become a better husband and parent.  But I smoked pot instead.

 

I am a lucky one.  I did not have a psychotic break, although a pot smoker is 2.6 times more likely to suffer this outcome. I know a few people this happened to.  I’ve known a number of drug casualties, people whose mentation, shall we say, is of the vague and wandering sort.  Don’t we all know people like that?  Nobody got injured in any of my car accidents.  I scrupulously stuck to my self-imposed rule about never using a needle, so I escaped that kind of addiction. Studies now show that opiate addiction is more likely for pot smokers.  Sure, my memories of those seventeen years are haphazard and spotty.  So a quarter of my life is mostly lost to me.  That’s the kind of price the lucky ones pay.

 

Pot is not the safe and innocent pleasure I thought it was, back in the sixties, despite what adults and the government wanted me to believe.  The adults’ standards regarding everything else, from sexuality to religion to the meaning of success, were suspect and crumbling, and the government was lying to me about matters of life and death such as war, and there wasn’t any science to back up their hysterical overreaction to this seemingly benevolent drug.

 

Now there is plenty of science.  Listen to the doctors.

 

Don’t legalize it.  You may ask, what difference would that make?  Criminalization didn’t stop you, Mr. Steinzor, from abusing it.  But legalization would do several things.  It would make it more available, and it would feed into the misperception that this is a harmless recreational activity.  People who want to believe that would seize on this as an authoritative statement.  It’s called confirmation bias.  We tend to focus on information that supports what we want to believe, and we dismiss the rest.  Listen to the doctors.

 

Don’t support legalization unless you really think it would be fine for your kids to spend a substantial portion of their lives grubbing around among the dust bunnies under the couch for a few grains of weed.

 

I am not calling for criminalization – what a disaster that was!  But I’m not saying the status quo is acceptable, either.  Get real about substance abuse.  Get over the notion that a rich person’s God-given right to have lots of money is more important than what I’m talking about.  Raise taxes if you need to.  Fund the mental health system adequately – our so-called “system” of services for adolescents is a sick joke.  Give kids healthy things to do in school and especially out of school – sports, outdoor education, art education, music, theatre, community service.  Invest in programs that support and strengthen families.  Invest in community, in making our villages and towns places where people can have daily encounters with beauty, where they can expect to live creative, productive, happy lives, where the strength of neighborhood supports them.

 

Or, you can give all that money to the marijuana industry.  You’ll never get it back.  Your choice.

Psychopath Trump

October 20th, 2017

I think it is unfair to criticize Trump for attempting to console a fallen soldier’s widow by telling her, “he knew what he signed up for,” or words to that effect. Trump is a psychopath. He no more can comprehend another person’s feelings, or express genuine empathy with them, than a shark can play the flute. It is not within his ken. To him, shit happens, and if you knowingly walk into a situation where shit happens and indeed shit happens to you, well, you had it coming. That makes you weak and a loser, like John McCain, who got caught. Unless, of course, you are Trump, in which case whatever shit happens is somebody else’s fault. To ask him to comprehend another’s grieving or to express heartfelt sympathy for anything whatever is to make a demand he is not equipped to meet. If I am right, his occasional clumsy simulations of compassion represent somewhat grudging moments of forced obedience to social norms he neither shares nor understands (this is a guy who boasted on a national radio show of refusing assistance to someone he thought was dying), and mask a deep contempt for people (all of us) who have not mastered the arts of survival and personal aggrandizement as he thinks he has. It is sad that people persist in the delusion that he is a more or less normal but flawed person who cares about at least some of them. White men, coal miners, unemployed factory hands, etc. He cares about them only in that they feed his ego and otherwise can be used by him. There is a theory that psychopaths are not fully human, that they are something like a predatory subspecies for which we are prey. If so, then how ironic it is that our first black president, eminently human, should have been succeeded by our first nonhuman president, who campaigned on the promise of walling out aliens! I revile Donald Trump, and wish him a short, unhappy, and unsuccessful time in office. I do not make the mistake of expecting him to be able to counterfeit humanity convincingly. Calling him “insensitive” is like calling a brick hard. Of course it is. To those who would reproach the brick for not being permeable to their emotions, my warm condolences.