Archive for the ‘Current events’ Category

Black Friday

November 28th, 2018

Suppose you are the manager of the biggest department store in town.  Black Friday is approaching.  From various sources, you hear that thousands of shoppers are going to converge on your doors at 8:00 that morning, drawn by the attractiveness of your wares and their inability to obtain similar merchandise in their home towns. Even now they are gathering in the suburbs and parks, hiring buses to come to your city, planning their approach and their strategies to take maximum advantage of the bargains on display in your windows.  What do you do?

Although you might hire some additional security to maintain order in the aisles, I am pretty sure that you will not employ armed forces to beat the shoppers away from your doors.  More likely, you will beef up your staff of checkout clerks and floor walkers to handle the increased traffic.

I have been watching our government’s response to the so-called “immigrant caravan” with horror and disgust.  A sane and humane government, confronted with the approach over weeks of a few thousand people fleeing terror and desperate for the benefits of life in our jurisdiction, would not greet them with tear gas and thousands of military personnel. These are not ravening hordes bent on pillage, rapine, and destruction.  These are people who, for the most part, want nothing better than to contribute to our society by giving it their labor, their intelligence, their imagination, their children, and themselves.  How sad that our response to people who want to give us precious gifts is to beat the shit out of them.  I am perfectly aware of the need to protect our borders and to maintain legal order with respect to immigration.  The way to do so, in this situation, was not to rush military units to the border. What our government should have done, and still could do if it were not headed by a psychopathic narcissistic sadist, would have been to send thousand of bureaucrats to the border, each with a briefcase, a computer terminal, a stack of forms, and the training to process asylum and other immigration claims in an accurate and expeditious manner.

Tree of Life

October 30th, 2018

Let me share a few thoughts I have as a Jewish person relating to last week’s massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg.  I don’t write as a representative of Jewry or of any of its rich, complex, mysterious lineages.  I write as a Jewish person, in a very personally Jewish spirit, the spirit, for example, of remembering that the first girl I kissed, some fifty-odd years ago at summer camp in Vermont, was from Squirrel Hill.  I hope she and her family are alive and well.  When the names of Mr. Bower’s victims became public, my first impulse was to scan the list for hers.

I am prompted to write, to add my pittance to the overwhelming babble of lament, analysis, and commentary, by some things I heard on the radio on Monday.  One was the claim by advocates for immigrants that this was an attack on all immigrants and minorities.  Another, coming from a diametrically opposite point on the political cow-pie, was Attorney General Sessions’ announcement that this was an attack on American values.  A third was a commentator’s statement that Jews are like “a canary in a coal mine,” with rising anti-Semitism indicating social disruption and dysfunction.

Well, no.  I’ll take up the “canary in a coal mine” later, but, with regard to the first two, it wasn’t either of those things.  What Mr. Bowers attacked was a Jewish person, and another Jewish person, and another, eleven times.  He previously had been known to the public, to the extent he was known at all, for virulent on-line statements directed at Jews as the alleged instigators of what he considered to be a campaign of genocide against whites. He went to a famous Jewish community. He entered a Jewish house of worship. He sought out the Jews inside.  He killed as many of them as he could. While he did so, he yelled anti-Semitic invective at them.  He told the officers who arrested him that Jews are committing genocide against his people and he wants to kill Jews.  In short, it would be hard to imagine how he could have been more narrowly specific in his motivation (hatred and fear of Jews), targeting (Jews), and execution (killing eleven Jews).

Despite which, people from both the left and the right converge on characterizing the event as something other than what it was.  It’s not “just” an attack on Jews; it threatens immigrants and other minorities and American values.  What is the reason, common to left and right, that creates this distortion?  I think it has to do with making the massacre relatable. We have an instinctive common humanity that makes us recoil from the kind of horror that Mr. Bowers perpetrated. But that is overlaid by the vast perceptual and conceptual apparatus with which we consciously apprehend the world; and that is where relatability comes in.  The gravity of the horror demands that we relate to it.  But how are we to do that?

Start with attitudes about Jews.  There is going to be an element of caricature in the next few paragraphs, for which I apologize.  My excuse is that it would take a book of several volumes to present a fully fleshed, nuanced vision.  I hope that what I depict here will bear a recognizable enough relation to reality so that it can be considered broadly accurate, if not entirely fair.

American leftists, even including many Jews of that description, think about Jews, when they do so at all, mostly in terms of Team Israel v. Team Palestinian, with their sympathies tending towards the latter.  Otherwise they stereotype American Jews as Ashkenazi, quasi-white, economically successful, well educated, and liberal, all of which “privilege” tends to place us outside the sphere of leftist concerns.  Simply put, American leftists don’t tend to care about Jews as people who are Jewish, apart from the reflexively schematized issues of social and economic and political justice that are considered ideologically important.  So to describe a massacre of American Jews as “a massacre of American Jews” does not, for American leftists, make the event fully relatable.  But there is the undeniable horror, and the need to make sense of it.  How is this gap to be bridged?  This is done, I think, by using the same mental cantilever out of which the largely bogus concept of “intersectionality” is constructed.  As used on the left, this term largely seems to mean, “Whatever your issue or problem is, it’s actually all about me.”  Anyone who has gone to a rally about climate change and had to sit through speeches about LGBTQ rights, or vice versa, knows what I mean. Thus, a murderous assault directed at Jews can be made to appear to implicate whatever the cause du jour may be.

Non-Jewish, American right wingers have their own constellation of reasons why it has to be about something other than Jews if it’s going to be relatable. They mirror the attitudes of Jewish right wingers, but for different reasons. Jewish right wingers, like most Jews born in the post-WWII era and before, are afflicted by severe cultural post traumatic stress disorder, consequent upon the Holocaust.  Due to their proclivity for authoritarian, nationalistic “strength”, they cling to Israel as a sort of lethally capable security blanket.  Although they would consider me utterly absurd for saying so, I do not think that right wing Jews care that much about Jewish persons, as apart from the Jewish State and its institutions.  (Consider, for example, how the right wing Israeli government, which American right wing Jews adore, treats all strains of religious Judaism to the left of Orthodoxy.)  The non-Jewish right wingers come to their attitudes about Jews and Israel by a somewhat circuitous route.  There is an Evangelical Christian notion that Judgment cannot occur until all the Jews have gathered in Israel.  This makes Israel (a) eschatologically necessary and (b) the vehicle for getting rid of the Jews.  The latter component is congenial to right wing thinking, which has a long history of casual anti-Semitism and worse.  The Evangelicals’ electoral importance mandates the right wing’s adoption of their attachment to Israel.  The bottom line is that Israel matters, but Jewish persons, as such, don’t.  Confronted with an atrocity on American soil against American Jews of such a magnitude that some sort of response is unavoidable, a right wing Christian like Sessions automatically downplays the victims’ religion and ethnicity in favor of using a politically expedient label for the pigeon hole in which to bury them.

I recall an incident that occurred to me over forty years ago at Middlebury College, when I was a student there.  It is, I think, emotionally if not logically relevant.  It occurred after dinner in a lounge in one of the small dining halls on the south fringe of the campus.  My chair was backed up against one of the thick columns that supported the ceiling, invisible to a group on the other side of the column who were engaged in talking about their fellow students.  Said one of them, loudly and clearly, “He’s not a person.  He’s a Jew.”  To the credit of the others, there was a moment of silence.  Then the gay banter continued.

Here’s the point.  We live in a culture that does not care about Jewish people as people who are Jewish.  An assault on us is not relatable unless it can be characterized as an assault on something else – in which, case, of course, it no longer is an assault on us!  It cannot be seen and lamented just for being an attack on Jews, as such.  To the dominant culture, right and left, to the extent we are Jewish, we are not persons in the same sense they are.

When I was little, my mother told me something I have wrestled with ever since.  I don’t recall exactly what elicited it.  I must have come to her with some complaint about how the other kids treated me, or how they were treated.  She said, “You are different.  You always will be different.  You can deny it, but it always will be so, and they always will know.” I used to think about this mostly in relation to Christmas and Easter, Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, even after I went to Middlebury.  The Tree of Life massacre reminds me how deep it really goes.  Speaking of which, I listened to the radio all day Sunday and Monday and never heard that word, massacre.

Now for that third thing, fellow citizens.  I am not your fucking canary in a coal mine.  I am not an instrument with which you can diagnose your disease.  I am a person.  I am Jewish.  I am American.  And I don’t live in the same sick country as you.

Drill

October 26th, 2018

There were several ways they used to do it.  One depended on our being small enough, so I assume it was used only on younger kids, in the early grades.  The crackly voice would come on the school public address system and we would slide off our seats onto the floor, under our desks, where we would crouch in silence, the teacher standing silently in front of the room by her desk, until the crackly voice told us it was okay to emerge.  I wonder now what the teacher was thinking.  Unlike us, she did not hide under her desk.  How did she feel about that?

It was like the shooter drills they subject kids to, these days, except we weren’t hiding from some potential random lunatic with a gun who might or might not exist and who might, if he or she existed, kill or wound some of us.  We were hiding from the mutual assured destruction that was the explicit policy of the great powers that ruled our world, from the universal total incineration of which only governments are capable.

Another way they did it, that I remember (and surely there were more, given the ingenuity of those who devise these systems of child abuse), was to march us in single file out into the hall.  It was colder there, the floor gleaming.  We’d curl up against the brown lockers on our knees, their metal doors cool against our foreheads, our hands clasped over our heads as if to shield us from something.  We weren’t allowed to look up, but I wondered, if I looked up would I see the acoustic tiles from the ceiling come crumbling down at me.  Would I see the light burning through.  Would I feel anything.

What I feel, now that Donald Trump and John Bolton have announced their intention to withdraw from the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty, one of the most successful arms control agreements in history, thus rekindling the arms race that blighted my childhood, is a level of loathing and anger that I never have experienced before for any politician.  It goes way beyond “may they rot in hell,” although that is included.  Am I alone in this?  I don’t like to say that anything is intolerable or unbearable, because after all, if you can say something was intolerable or unbearable, you tolerated it, you bore it.  But the thought of a world plunged back into that darkness for my children, for their children, is close to intolerable.  It is close to unbearable.  I know that millions of people of my generation shared my experience.  Am I alone in feeling that the wound, which I had thought long healed, has been ripped freshly open, and in feeling utter revulsion for those who would do it?

If I am not alone, this November may our collective anger at what we had to endure, at what he would have our children endure, scorch Donald Trump to the ground, reduce him to ash floating on the uncaring breeze, and erase him from any further ability to inflict his evil upon the world.

Blowing in the wind

September 30th, 2018

Oh my god, they are ugly, these aging, wealthy, powerful, white men: contorting their little faces, stomping their little feet, and flailing their little arms in synchronized tantrum because their hollow sham of a pretense of a proceeding, after all their efforts to put a good face on it, was not going their way; exploding with rage from their lack of the elementary self discipline to sit quietly and to allow the woman they had hired to continue to do the good job she was doing of what they had hired her for, because what they really wanted (destruction of another woman) was not the job they had hired her to do (elicit the truth); frothing at the mouth about vast nebulous conspiracies to hijack their sham and turn it to other ends, conspiracies to destroy them personally, conspiracies to use them as a proxy for avenging ancient grievances unrelated to the matter at hand; sniveling and beating their little chests and demanding our pity and demanding that we believe them and no one else because they had worked so hard and they had done some good and they have a right to our belief; denying denying denying; spinning spinning spinning; abandoning any pretense of respectful listening except to proclaim repeatedly, loudly and angrily that they had listened respectfully (in the face of their refusal to listen even to their own lawyer); yelling at and talking over and rudely mocking and refusing to answer those who dared to question them, at the same time complaining of being mistreated; lying openly and contemptuously about matters large and small.  These, the flower of our nation, the representatives of our people, the honorable members of our great deliberative body; these excrescences of a too-long dominant, too-slowly fading demographic.  Another generation will take them to the rubbish heap of history, but until then, they stink.

For the record

September 26th, 2018

Under the heading of “boys will be boys”, of which we are hearing so much lately from the ostrich wing of the Republican party, I would like to offer my testimony. In my teenage years, I did my share of stupid, impulsive things.  I drank and took drugs, often at the same time.  I behaved towards a few young women in ways of which I now feel ashamed.  But I never:

a) turned up the music, pinned a girl to the bed, put my hand over her mouth, and attempted to remove her clothing despite her resistance;

b) stuck my penis in a drunk girl’s face when she wasn’t expecting it, or, for that matter, even when she might have expected it;

c) or did anything remotely like either of the above;

d) or knew anyone who did.

Frankly, the idea that such actions may be considered in the light of normal boyhood indiscretions is offensive, and says more about the morally and spiritually impoverished milieu of the people who believe it, than about the nature of masculine youth in America.  We absorb a lot of toxic ideas and behavioral models when we are kids, no doubt about it.  But the notion that acts of sexual assault and rape are a normal part of the personal behavioral experience of young American males is false and obnoxious.  The perpetrators exist, but they are a small minority.  Their behavior is a distorted reflection of the mainstream, not normative for it.  Part of the tragically disjunctive experience of men and women growing up in this society is that the worst aspects of oppression impact a disproportionately large number of women – most of them – while being committed by a disproportionately small number of men.  I do not mean to excuse complicity with the evil, which is a thing most men do, in fact, have to answer for.  But there is a morally significant difference between passive complicity and overt action.

That said, if Kavanaugh did what he is alleged to have done, I am not sure that automatically disqualifies him.  The allegations concern things that happened decades ago, and there does not seem to be a pattern continuing into the present.  Maybe he no longer is that person.  No: if he did what he is alleged to have done, he is disqualified not by the acts he committed, but by his denial of them.  Do we want to hire a judge who lies to get the job?  Of course not!

This is a job interview, not a court proceeding.  We are not dealing with burdens and standards of proof, we are dealing with the decision whether to hire a person for a lifetime appointment as the nation’s highest authority on what the law says.  So perform a thought experiment.  Say you’re hiring a babysitter.  You’ve got a nice middle aged person who wants the job, a little strict perhaps, maybe with some ideas that don’t jibe entirely with yours about child-rearing, but overall seemingly someone who likes kids and could do the job.  (I’m purposely slanting this in favor of the candidate.)  You check this person’s references, most of which are glowing; but then you hear from someone not listed on the candidate’s resume, a person by all appearances disinterested and credible, who hired them as a babysitter many years ago and came home from the movies to discover bruises on the kid.  You confront the candidate with this.  The candidate denies it.  I don’t know about you, but I’d thank them for their time and look to hire somebody else.  Why take a chance, if you don’t have to?

 

Gag me with a Grassley

September 19th, 2018

A few thoughts on the farce now playing out around the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh:

It’s a job interview, not a prosecution.  Regardless whether there’s enough evidence to convict, would you hire the guy against whom there is a credible allegation that he assaulted somebody sexually a long time ago, or would you thank him for applying and then broaden the search?

Is it possible that there exists a professionally qualified Republican conservative (those being the minimum requirements for an applicant, at present) who is not subject to credible accusations of serious wrong-doing?

What is the point of setting up a he-said/she-said confrontation between Kavanaugh and his accuser, as quickly as possible, without any effort to investigate independently or to hear from other witnesses?

All of the above questions are entirely beside the point, since the sole objective is to appoint someone hostile to Roe v. Wade before the midterms.

At last Clarence Thomas will have a kindred spirit sitting beside him on the bench.

Xenophobia: or, your tax dollars at work

September 12th, 2018

The Trump administration’s transfer of $10,000,000 from FEMA to ICE, at a time when FEMA still is struggling to catch up with last year’s disaster in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Florence is bearing down upon the Carolinas, brings to mind the Hitler administration’s prioritization of using rolling stock to transport prisoners to concentration camps at a time when its army was in desperate need of trains.

Who will rid me of this troublesome president?

September 11th, 2018

There is only one question that needs to be answered about any candidate for federal office this year. I hasten to add that in the past I have approached voting as the result of a multifactorial analysis including the candidates’ personalities and histories, their views on a variety of issues, their qualities of character, the various and often conflicting exigencies of the historical moment, and so on.  I’ve voted for Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, and Independents. Now, however it boils down to one thing. Who will rid me of this troublesome president?

The simplicity of the choice is due to the radical evil Trump and his GOP represent.  I could go on about threats to democracy, the rule of law, constitutional order, humane values, blah blah blah.  It includes but goes beyond all these things.  It requires no extensive reasoning or great historical knowledge to arrive at this conclusion.  Consider the following recent news items, and connect the dots. (1) The United Nations Secretary General says that continued dependence on fossil fuels is a direct existential threat to our species.  (2) The torrential rains that flooded Houston from Hurricane Harvey were linked to climate change.  (3) Rainier, slower moving storms like Harvey and Florence, about to devastate the Carolinas, are examples of the new normal.  (4) Trump’s EPA is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies intentionally to release methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere in the course of their drilling operations.

Whereas in the Sixties we called the military industrial complex a death machine aimed at soldiers and certain foreign nationals, Trump’s administration is a death machine aimed at everyone.  Republicans have proven that they don’t care.  Mueller may accuse, but he won’t indict and he can’t remove.  Third parties are mostly chimerical at the best of times and are almost entirely irrelevant to the present moment, unless you are absolutely sure your “alternative” hero really is another Angus King or Bernie Sanders.  Only by putting Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and, one hopes, the Senate, creating at least the possibility of impeachment or a forced resignation, do we have any chance of stopping or at least slowing down the death machine before 2020.  If, in addition to being an American citizen, you are a human being, you should vote for whatever Democrats are running for the House and Senate in your district this fall.  There are no other, more important issues.  A difference of even a year in the downfall of this regime could avoid incalculable death and destruction.

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.