Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick's Day 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I've used these two before, but they wrok quite well as a pair.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Not Silent Bystanders

It's International Holocaust Remembrance Day (one of several such memorial days worldwide). Last year, I quoted a piece about remembering by Holocaust survivor Gene Klein. He wrote a timely piece about intervention last November that I wanted to feature this year:

In the time preceding our deportation from our home in Hungary, my family experienced many acts of anti-Semitism. A brick was thrown through our living room window. A man spoke at an assembly at my school, shouting that the Jews were responsible for all of the country’s troubles. My sister’s high school prom was ruined by a group of local hooligans who burst in shouting anti-Semitic slogans. The street became a gauntlet of threats and taunts.

All of our assailants felt empowered by the Nazi party influence in Hungary, but none of these actions were officially sanctioned by the government. They were the result of people inspired by racial rhetoric to take matters into their own hands.

I am reminded of these affronts to my family’s freedom and safety as I read the news about the dramatic increase in racial hate crimes since the election (as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups). Some people now feel empowered to insult immigrants, African Americans and Muslims the way people in our town felt empowered to say hateful things to us. It felt terrible to be the target of such hatred, having done nothing to bring it about. And most of all, it felt incredibly lonely. The abuse that we experienced before we were deported took place in public, often in front of many onlookers. The failure of others to intervene—those who watched silently and then carried on with the business of their day—was socially isolating, and their silence dramatically increased our sense of fear and vulnerability.

It is critical in today’s climate that we not be silent bystanders who simply witness the victimization of others. Social psychologists have studied for decades the circumstances under which people will intervene when others need help. They find that three factors are critical. First, when we feel empathy for the victim, we are more likely to help. Second, when we feel that we have the ability to help, we will feel more confident about stepping in. And third, when we recognize that it is our responsibility to help, we are more likely to do so. When there are many onlookers, this responsibility can be diffused in a crowd: everyone thinks that someone else will help, and so no one does, and since no one is helping, it seems like the appropriate thing to do is just to watch or walk by.

What this means for all of us is that if we witness someone who is abused because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation, there are three things we can do:

1. Feel their pain. Imagine what it would feel like to be in their place. Even if you see that person as very different from you, we can all remember—or at least imagine—what it is like to be threatened, shouted at, or physically harmed. Act as if the victim is a family member or a close friend.

2. Feel confident, because it is not that hard to help. All you need is a few kind words for the victim. Simply walking up to the target of the attack and asking if he or she is okay can mean the world to that person, and this will likely encourage others to follow your example. Research on bystander intervention tells us that once one person helps, others follow. That first courageous helper sets the tone, makes clear that intervention is called for, and leads the way for others to join.

3. Recognize your responsibility. If you think that you can remain quiet because others will step up, the victim is likely to go unaided. Imagine you are the only witness—that unless you help, you are condemning someone else to suffer.


Klein provides a vivid example of this:

When my two sisters and my mother were in a concentration camp, they were marched through a German town every evening on their way to work the night shift in a munitions factory. They were often taunted by people on the street. Children would stick out their tongues. Passing soldiers would curse at them. On one occasion, Hitler youth wearing neatly pressed uniforms and ugly smiles shouted at them, and the women were surprised when an elderly German man shouted back at their persecutors: “Don’t laugh at them! There is nothing for them to be ashamed of. It is not their shame; it is our shame!” The boys stopped and stared at the old man, uncertain of what to do next, then straggled off. My sisters always remembered that German gentleman who stood out in contrast to the malice all around them.

My hope is that if a woman is yelled at today on the street of your hometown for wearing a headscarf, she will find herself surrounded by others defending her right to dress as she pleases, and the perpetrator will stand alone, shamed. I hope that if you see an immigrant being told to go back to where he came from, you will stand with him in support of his right to be here. We must all be ready, always, to demonstrate what this country truly stands for.


I normally avoid getting too topical with Holocaust posts, but the relevance of these issues is unavoidable. The sobering reality is that ugly incidents are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. As Klein notes, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations have been tracking an increase in hate crimes. And the national news continues to be troubling.

Consider: President Trump lied about the size of his inauguration crowd (size insecurity) and then had two surrogates aggressively attack the press for fact-checking his obvious lie. Trump compared the CIA to Nazis and then blamed the media for depicting a "feud with the intelligence community" by Trump. These are bullying, authoritarian moves, amounting to 'suck up to me, agreed with my lies or I'll hurt you.' Candidate Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the United States, lied about seeing thousands of American Muslims cheer the 9/11 attacks and has otherwise lied to incite racial tensions and violence (as Josh Marshall points out, "authoritarian figures require violence and disorder"). Candidate Trump repeatedly referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug dealers and rapists and has vowed to go ahead with his crazy plan to build an expensive wall on the Mexican border. He's ordered that a weekly list of crimes by undocumented workers be published, which is sure to stoke further racial tensions. Trump has claimed, without a shred of proof, that 3 to 5 million illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, has cited bizarre, illogical reasons for believing this and has announced he will investigate voter fraud, which is likely laying the groundwork for further conservative voter suppression efforts. Trump claims that he'll defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo on the issue of torture (officially, they don't endorse it), but he's a strong proponent of it, even though a mountain of evidence shows that torture is notoriously unreliable for producing accurate intelligence. This means Trump has accused Americans of being Nazis… while endorsing torture techniques used by the Nazis (among others). In terms of lessons learned from World War II and the Holocaust, so far Trump has shown he's learned all the wrong stuff. And Trump has only been president for a week. Things can get much, much worse.

Hatred and fear certainly don't need to reach the level of genocide to destroy a country, and many lives before that. We know how these stories can go. The United States has plenty of ugly history but also some great accomplishments. Right now, we're seeing shades of the same spiteful, hateful and fearful spirit that displaced and killed Native Americans, enslaved black people, held lynchings as public entertainment and perpetuated Jim Crow laws. We don't need to and dare not wait for those impulses to grow further to oppose them. Luckily, we're also seeing some of the same spirit that moved abolitionists, suffragettes and freedom riders and we can't encourage or support those impulses enough. As Klein says, we can "demonstrate what this country truly stands for." We don't need to be silent bystanders. The lessons to be learned from World War II and the Holocaust are many, but they include: The nation that held the Nazis accountable to the rule of law at Nuremberg should not throw away those principles every time some insecure bully with a megaphone shits his pants. Bigotry must be challenged. And we can empathize, intervene and support one another.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Of Kings and Presidents

Recently, civil rights icon John Lewis criticized Donald Trump, saying he wouldn't be a "legitimate president," and Trump, true to form, issued a factually challenged attack on Lewis for being "All talk, talk, talk - no action." For added irony, this occurred just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Lewis of course actually marched with King and was severely beaten in the course of fighting for voting rights. Meanwhile, Trump was elected in the first presidential election after John Roberts and other conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Lewis helped secure. Voting rights continue to be under attack and there's plenty of bad faith evident from conservatives and Republicans on the subject. Given MLK Day and Trump's looming inauguration, I found myself pondering these issues and some words by King.

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice." (1955)

"No justice, no peace" is the rally version of this one. I've seen many pieces, often with a scolding tone, arguing how everyone who didn't vote for Trump should try to understand and sympathize with Trump voters, who are typified as white, working class and economically anxious (the working class part isn't entirely true). I've seen much less discussion of the economic anxieties of folks who aren't white and why their concerns matter less, or conversations about Trump's horribly plutocratic policies, a standard conservative/Republican approach that will not help anyone but the rich. (Republicans keep invoking the middle class and running against the predictable consequences of their own economic policies and then offer as their solution more extreme versions of the same.) Nor have I seen anyone who's complained about how mean liberals are to conservatives address the issue of Trump proposing to discriminate against Muslims (which was a planned statement, not one of his many crazy, off-the-cuff remarks). That wasn't a deal-breaker for Trump voters, and I've yet to hear from those complaining about social discomfort whether they approve of the loss of actual rights for a minority group or just don't consider it that big an issue. (The two concerns aren't equivalent.) We're not hearing honest and in-depth discussion of any of this stuff, and that prevents any kind of meaningful reconciliation. True peace can't be achieved through capitulating on essential rights or accepting a rigged system of justice and prosperity.

"The time is always right to do something right." (1964)

This one serves as a gut-check. It's not always hard to tell right from wrong; the kicker is whether we're willing to deal with the hassle. King championed some causes that were unpopular in his time and many still are – voting rights, racial equality, aid for the poor and opposition to war, to name a few. Activism isn't easy or quick or glamourous, nor is there any guarantee of success. All that work may never pay off in the material world, at least not in one's lifetime. And sometimes even when that work succeeds, it may be undone later and the same struggle will need to be refought.

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." (Often attributed to King, although I haven't been able to verify a source.)

It's easy to look at the current political climate and the year to come with dread, or feel overwhelmed by all the battles to come. It's easy to get burnt out as an activist. I like this line because it makes those challenges a bit more manageable. No one has the energy to fight every struggle. Realistically, with all three branches of government in Republican control, the destructive ideology of movement conservatism and the level of conscience demonstrated by elected officials and political operatives, plenty of good policies are likely to be shredded and many bad measures will be enacted. It may be possible to block some of them. But it’ll be important to call out wrongdoing, go on record and bring that up in future battles, especially elections. And although it may be possible to win over some of the people who voted for Obama and then Trump, it would be wise to register many new voters, motivate registered nonvoters and fight to make sure that more people who want to vote actually can do so. The long game for a healthy democracy depends a great deal on small things.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Jon Swift Roundup 2016

(The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

(Not one of Jon Swift's cat pictures, but appropriate for the year.)

Welcome to the 2016 edition! It's been a long and crazy year. This tradition was started by the late Jon Swift/Al Weisel, who left behind some excellent satire, but was also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. As Lance Mannion explains:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the "reasonable conservative" blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows . . .

One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

It may not have been the most heroic endeavor, but it was kind and generous and a lot of us owe our continued presence in the blogging biz to Al.

Here's Jon/Al's 2007 and 2008 editions. Meanwhile, here are the revivals from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

If you're not familiar with Al Weisel's work as Jon Swift, his site features a "best of" list in the left column.

Meanwhile, Blogroll Amnesty Day (cofounded by Jon Swift and skippy) is a celebration of small blogs coming up again the first weekend in February.

Thanks to all the participants, and apologies to anyone I missed. (As always, my goal is to find the right balance between inclusive and manageable.) You still can join in, by linking your post in the comments. Whether your post appears in the modest list below or not, feel free to tweet your best post with the hatchtag #jonswift2016.

A special thank you once again to DougJ and the crew at Balloon Juice for hosting an open thread to help folks self-nominate.

As in Jon/Al's 2008 roundup, submissions are listed roughly in the order they were received. As he wrote in that post:

I'm sure you'll be interested in seeing what your favorite bloggers think were their best posts of the year, but be sure to also visit some blogs you've never read before and leave a nice comment if you like what you see or, if you must, a polite demurral if you do not.

Without further ado:

World O' Crap
"Old Mutha Hubbard"
Scott Clevenger: "The Church of Scientology shuts down Hollywood Boulevard to stage a 21st Century Passion Play, starring Thor as Jesus, and featuring special guest villain Sasquatch."

[this space intentionally left blank]
"Confession"
Dallas Taylor: "In which I recount some of the worst things I've done to women and connect them to rape culture, in an attempt to make an opening for other men to do the same, as a way of confronting it on a larger, culture-wide scale. . . . Please include a trigger warning for survivors of sexual assault."

Infidel753
"Transformation and victory"
Infidel753: "America's turn against homophobia is one of the most dramatic cultural shifts in history – and this remains true despite the election result."

Tom Sullivan
"Outwit. Outlast. Outplay. Outorganize."
Tom Sullivan: "In July I argued that it is people with "energy and a fire in their guts that Democrats will need, not just for this coming election, but beyond...." Well, it's beyond, and we won't pull our fat out of the fire unless such people stay engaged, because you must be present to win."

Kathleen Maher's Pure Fiction
"Supercollider"
Kathleen Maher: "Jasper King, who's playing James Bond in a fictional reboot, visits Woodstock's alcoholic theater director to learn to mask his feelings for the 16-year-old nanny, Brooke Logan."

Strangely Blogged
"What if Facts Were True?"
Vixen Strangely: "We have been advised that the election of Donald Trump represents the initiation of a post-truth era, but I respectfully disagree and posit that facts matter."

The Way of Cats
"Do cats understand physics?"
Pamela Merritt: "A recent study records science being surprised that cats can demonstrate knowledge of physics principles. Cat Appreciators ask, 'Just where have you been?' "

David E's Fablog
"Special Victims Unit—Hold The Anchovies"
David E: "Looks like we’re not going to need Benson and Stabler to solve 'Pizzagate.' "

Show Me Progress
"Your $27.00 won’t get you into heaven anymore"
Michael Bersin: "The goings on at the Missouri Democratic Party Convention in Sedalia."

Zencomix
"Oh, A Weiss Guy, Eh?"
Dave Dugan: "A comic done in India ink and watercolor on handmade paper, 'The Personification and Assignation of an Egon Schiele Painting as Performed by The Inimitable David Bowie Under the Direction of the Marquis du Gan.' "

Pruning Shears
"Actually, make lots of noise. Make all the noise you can."
Dan: " 'Just shut up' is not good advice now, and it hasn't been in the past either."

M.A.Peel
" 'LA LA Land' Meets My Thomas Hardy's 'Lines on the Loss of the Titanic' "
Ellen O'Neill: "I had read that LA LA Land was a musical, but nothing more about it. Sometimes it's dangerous not knowing more about a film before you go and see it. . . . at least it led me back to a jazz arrangement of "Blackbird" I once recorded."

Kiko's House
"When Good Things Happen To Good People: How Tiny Eldred Beat Giant Nestlé"
Shaun D. Mullen: "We live in the age of the corporatocracy, and it is a strange time indeed. Corporations have gifted us an astonishing array of goods, but also have been agents for great harm. Often more powerful than the governments who are supposed to regulate them, corporations rule our lives in subtle but extraordinarily manipulative ways. While they can make our lives better, they also are able to destroy them."

Mister Tristan
"A State of Permanent War"
Gary, A Relative of Mister Tristan: "Suppose your family was decimated by a drone stoke. If you're a survivor, wouldn't you bear hatred in your heart forever for the U.S? We are creating terrorists faster than we can kill them. It's a failed approach.

Make Common Sense Common Again
"Race, History, and Political Affiliation"
John Sheirer: "Republicans love to claim that Democrats are racist, but their claim depends on a warped view of American history. The next time someone rants that, "Republicans freed the slaves, and Democrats founded the KKK," send the confused soul here."

Poor Impulse Control
"To Have Fun With Anyone"
Tata: "The Everyone Wins! Method"

driftglass
"Sunday Morning Comin' Down: This Business We Call "Show" Edition"
driftglass: "After nearly twelve years of covering the Sunday Shows, I can say unequivocally the only thing that never changes is the indestructible Big Lie of Both Siderism: the Big Lie that makes all the little lies possible. Here is a pure, uncut, Walter White-grade sample."

Simply Left Behind
"A New Direction Home"
Carl (Actor212): "We need to raise an army to win the white working class vote. Top down won't cut it, we need trusted boots on the ground. Here's how."

First Draft
"Breitbart-Bannon-Bossie Man"
Peter Adrastos Athas: "A post I wrote kinda sorta channeling the spirit of Gore Vidal. B3 has become one of my catch phrases."

Mock Paper Scissors
"If Ifs and Ands Were Pots and Pans"
Tengrain: "After the election, a call to stop the circular firing squad and blaming each other, and to focus on the real problem: Trump in the White House."

bjkeefe
"Prepositional Pet Peeve"
Brendan Keefe: "Another year of light blogging for me, but I'm passing this along (a) to see how many of the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup participants agree or disagree, and (b) if it's mostly "agree," to rally the troops!"

Perrspectives
"An American President Paid a Ransom to Iran, But It Wasn't Barack Obama”
Jon Perr: "Some friendly advice for my Republican friends: If you want to criticize President Obama on anything having to do with Iran, don't waste your energy seething about "ransom" and "hostages" and what Ronald Reagan would do. It won't end well for you.

Another blog about school
"Dismantle the boxes"
Chris Liebig: "This year I got elected to the local school board and started a new blog (more boring, to outsiders, than my old blog) about local school issues. I chose this post, about our district's use of "seclusion enclosures" (a/k/a "time-out rooms" a/k/a "isolation boxes") as part of its behavior management repertoire, because I thought it might be relevant beyond just our district."

The Professional Left Podcast
"Episode 362: Recovering From the Shock"
Blue Gal/Fran: "Our podcast this week was released the day after the election. We need you listeners to hang in there and work! Love you! Stay strong. xoxo."

Gaius Publius
"America Meets Its Darkness: A Look at HBO's Westworld"
Gaius Publius: "America is having dark dreams about itself. Like Allen Ginsberg, we are watching, not just the best minds of this generation, but also the worst, "destroyed by madness," trapped in a world they can neither tolerate nor change. . . . Where do the American people go from here?"

Self-Styled Siren
"In Memoriam: The Ziegfeld Theater, 1969–2016"
Farran Nehme's memories of the Ziegfield and a theory about what killed it.

Empire of the Senseless
"Where's Your Fucking Apocalypse?"
Zombie Rotten McDonald: "Discussion of Trump visiting Wisconsin (not, as the media reported, Milwaukee where the rioting occurred about 40 minutes north) to sound off about Lawn Order and Those People."

Ramona's Voices
"When Maureen Dowd Lost Hillary Clinton"
Ramona Grigg "takes Maureen to task for creating a fictional character named Hillary Clinton, thus adding to the whole pre-election confusion. So far, no "my bad" from Mo."

The Rectification of Names
"Annals of derp: Is income inequality a deadly weapon?"
Yastreblyansky "tried to find something that was moderately punchy but not directly related to the presidential campaign, and came up with an Annals of Derp piece on economist James Pethokoukis getting all smug because he thought he had proof that income inequality doesn't raise the death rate. Spoiler: It does."

Mad Kane's Political Madness
"An Open 2-Verse Limerick To Donald Trump"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "My Open Limerick to Trump features behavior-improvement suggestions which he is sure to ignore."

Politics in the Zeros
"When Trump supporters become disillusioned, we should welcome them"
Bob Morris: "At the beginning of Watergate, few were openly opposed to Nixon. Many more thought he was a sleazy crook but that nothing could be done. Yet public opinion turned against and he was forced to resign.The same can happen to Trump."

A Little Rebellion
"Twas the Night Before a Trump Presidency"
Jean-Paul: "A little poem I wrote in my spare time."

The Debate Link
"Personal Responsibility and the Infantilization of the American Right"
David Schraub: "There has been one organizing feature of the American right's outlook towards this past election: It's not their fault. The infantilization of the American right allows them to shrug off responsibility and adopt a politics of ressentiment where they are only capable of reacting against this or that (real or imagined) progressive provocation."

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Then What?"
Mustang Bobby: "Trump is picking people for his cabinet and senior staff with the sole intent of pissing off the establishment. He said he would do that, so yip yah. But then what?"

"You Might Notice a Trend"
"What If: Day One of a Trump Presidency"
Paul Wartenberg: "I wrote way back in February what it would look like if Trump somehow pulled off – what seemed at the time like a Nightmare How-The-Hell-Could-THAT-Happen Scenario – an Electoral College win, and the likely results of Trump's victory (HINT: major disasters ahead). I didn't think it COULD happen, but I worried that it MIGHT... and damn us all that it did. And it's turning out WORSE than I predicted. I made updates to the original entry to cover the post-election nightmare."

Shakesville
"Photo of the Day"
Melissa McEwan : "In which I saw an entire world inside a single, unremarkable photo of Hillary Clinton."

Indomitable
"Let's Just State it Plainly and Directly: President-elect Donald Trump is a Traitor"
Chauncey DeVega: "Plain facts. Donald Trump is a fascist and an authoritarian. Russia's interference with the 2016 presidential election—and the GOP's complicity with Trump—shows that he and they are traitors to the United States and the country's democratic traditions."

Doctor Cleveland
"Trump vs Hamilton"
Doctor Cleveland AKA Jim Marino: "compares the Hamilton musical's vision of America to Trump's (written 8 or 9 months before the Mike Pence visit to Broadway)."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"RIP: Dan Berrigan"
LarryE: "A eulogy for Dan Berrigan led to a few thoughts on why I am a pacifist and the need for nonviolence."

This Is So Gay
"Racism As We Know It Today"
Duncan Mitchel: "I'm not sure this is my best post of the year, but it's one of the most important. It's about the vital difference between empathy and approval, and the way that liberal Democrats and others are vindictively abandoning concern for economic justice."

Fritinancy
"The Airing of Grievances: A Festivus wail"
Nancy Friedman: "An accounting of the ways in which advertising, marketing, and tech culture laid the groundwork for the disaster that was 2016."

Herlander-Walking
"The Jester Speaks – Can Winston Smith?"
Thomas Thompson IV: "An excellent rebuttal to an open letter sent to the University of Virginia (UoV) president that they were "deeply offended" by her continued use of quotes by Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia in 1819."

Lance Mannion
"The Republican Gospel of Enforced Virtue"
Lance Mannion: "Happiness, even comfort, are to be found in the next world. In this world, you accept the lot God apportioned to you and are grateful for that. That God has contracted out the job of apportionment to the rich and their political toadies and henchmen is his business."

Bluestem Prairie
"Gazelka can't write 'Vote Trump' or club was gay, but insists we say 'radical Islamic terrorism' "
Sally Jo Sorensen: "With the Minnesota state senate flipping to the Republicans, but with the loss of the seat held by the minority leader, Gazelka is now Minnesota Majority Leader."

his vorpal sword
"The War At Christmas"
Hart Williams: "And all of them knew exactly how much everyone had spent, because EVERYONE had shopped at the same store. And, as he knew how much THEY had all spent in their war of Christmas attrition (hundreds of dollars apiece), they all knew how much HE had spent."

alicublog
"The First Three Days of the Republican Convention"
Roy Edroso: "A prediction, and very close to reality in spirit, if more creative."

Balloon Juice
"Let Me Tell You Kids About the Legend of Shitmas 2016"
John Cole delivers a memorable tale that sums up 2016 pretty well.

Vagabond Scholar
"Spite"
Batocchio: "In one sense, Trump's nothing new in conservative and Republican politics – like many before him over the past 50-some years, he stands for bigotry and plutocracy – but he and his supporters have given an increased, starring role to spite."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging (and everything else) in 2017. (Vive la résistance!)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Blogiversary XI: This Blog Goes Up to Eleven

Earlier this year, this blog turned 11. Alas, a busy year in real life lead to a quiet year of blogging, despite plenty of material. (But some big posts are in the works.)

The most notable political post since last time was "Spite," about Donald Trump and his appeal to his supporters.

This year's post for International Holocaust Day was the unfortunately timely "None Thought of Themselves as Monsters."

The annual post-Oscar film roundup (this edition on 2015 films) comes in four parts – Part 1: The Oscars and the Year in Review, Part 2: The Top Four, Part 3: Noteworthy Films and Part 4: The Rest (The Good, the Bad and the Godawful).

There was also the 2015 edition of the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup. (The new edition is fast approaching!)

Most of my blogging this year (and for the past few years) has been at Crooks and Liars as part of the Mike's Blog Roundup crew.

Thanks for reading. There's more to come next year. (Alack that we will have so much material.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day 11/11/16

(Click on the comic strip for a larger view.)

In 1959, Pogo creator Walt Kelly wrote:

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.

You said it, brother.

Thanks to all who have served or are serving, on this Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.

This post is mostly a repeat I run every year, since I find it hard to top Kelly.

My latest post on these themes is "Forgiveness, Compassion and Generosity."

Seven years ago now, I wrote a series of six related posts for Armistice Day (and as part of an ongoing series on war). The starred posts are the most important, but the list is:

"Élan in The Guns of August"

"Demonizing of the Enemy"

"The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen"

***"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels"

"The Little Mother"

***"War and the Denial of Loss"

The most significant other entries in the series are:

"How to Hear a True War Story" (2007)

"Day of Shame" (2008)

"The Poetry of War" (2008)

"Armistice Day 2008" (featuring the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon).

"They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" (2011)

"The Dogs of War" (2013)

"The Courage to Make Others Suffer" (2015)

I generally update these posts later with links to appropriate pieces for 11/11 by other folks as I find them. If you've written one, feel free to link it in a comment. Thanks.

Forgiveness, Compassion and Generosity

Some thoughts for Armistice Day (or Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day).

How does one deal with a tragedy? Or a great injustice? Or persistent unfairness for years? How does one face violence, or conflict or hatred?

One of the most striking stories I've encountered this year is that of Terri Roberts and her Amish neighbors. Both The Washington Post and StoryCorps did excellent pieces about them. From The Post:

The simple, quiet rural life [Terri Roberts] knew shattered on Oct. 2, 2006, when her oldest son, Charles Carl Roberts IV, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse on a clear, unseasonably warm Monday morning. The 32-year-old husband and father of three young children ordered the boys and adults to leave, tied up 10 little girls between the ages of 6 and 13 and shot them, killing five and injuring the others, before killing himself.

Terri Roberts’s husband thought they’d have to move far away. He knew what people thought of parents of mass murderers. He believed they would be ostracized in their community, blamed for not knowing the evil their child was capable of.

But in the hours after the massacre, as Amish parents still waited in a nearby barn for word about whether their daughters had survived, an Amish man named Henry arrived at the Robertses’ home with a message: The families did not see the couple as an enemy. Rather, they saw them as parents who were grieving the loss of their child, too. Henry put his hand on the shoulder of Terri Roberts’s husband and called him a friend.

The world watched in amazement as, on the day of their son’s funeral, nearly 30 Amish men and women, some the parents of the victims, came to the cemetery and formed a wall to block out media cameras. Parents, whose daughters had died at the hand of their son, approached the couple after the burial and offered condolences for their loss.

Then, just four weeks after the shooting, the couple was invited to meet with all the families in a local fire hall. One mother held Roberts’s gaze as both women’s eyes blurred with tears, she said. They were all grieving; they were all struggling to make sense of the senseless.

Steven Nolt, a professor of Amish studies at Elizabethtown College, said that for most people, forgiveness and acceptance come at the end of a long emotional process. But the Amish forgive first and then every day work through the emotions of it. This “decisional forgiveness” opened a space for Roberts to offer her friendship, which normally in their situation would be uncomfortable, he said.

But the Amish did more than forgive the couple. They embraced them as part of their community. When Roberts underwent treatment for Stage 4 breast cancer in December, one of the girls who survived the massacre helped clean her home before she returned from the hospital. A large yellow bus arrived at her home around Christmas, and Amish children piled inside to sing her Christmas carols.

“The forgiveness is there; there’s no doubt they forgive,” Roberts said.


The relationship hasn't been one-sided; Terri Roberts began to spend time taking care of Rosanna, the most severely wounded survivor of her son's attack:

Several months later, Roberts had all the women back to her home for a tea — a gathering that’s now become an annual tradition. As she played again with Rosanna, she asked the girl’s mother if she might help care for her. In the intervening years, Roberts spent nearly every Thursday evening at the King family’s farm, bathing, reading and attending to Rosanna until her bedtime. After the first couple of visits, Roberts said, she would cry uncontrollably the entire drive home, overwhelmed by the reality that this little girl was severely handicapped because of her son.


This has been a rough path for all involved:

For [Rosanna's father, Christ] King, forgiveness has not come easy. Some parents have mourned the death of their daughters. Others have seen their daughters fully heal. His daughter survived, but he also lost her. Every day, he fights back his anger. Every day, he has to forgive again.

Sitting in a folding chair, with Rosanna’s hospital bed in view behind him, King speaks slowly, methodically, measuring each word. There are joy-filled moments with their daughter, like when she seems to perk up when he comes in from work. But then there are days when she has seizures or she’s up in the night and can’t be comforted.

“I’ve always said and continue to say we have a lot of hard work to be what the people brag about us to be,” he said.


Honestly, I'm not sure I'd be capable of that level of forgiveness – some people might call it emotional maturity or spiritual maturity or perhaps grace – but I admire the people who are capable, who work to achieve it and practice it.

I generally think that true forgiveness is impossible – or at least undeserved – unless the offending party regrets the offense. I also don't believe in enabling or excusing destructive, abusive behavior. I definitely don't believe true forgiveness can be commanded or cajoled, and that it's obnoxious to try. Some people prefer the framing, "Forgive but not forget," but it's really just a semantic difference from "not forgiving or condoning, but not stewing on things to a self-destructive degree, either." (Although in some cases such stewing may be perfectly understandable.)

I'm still in partial shock from this week's events. Donald Trump explicitly ran on bigotry and spite, was judged unqualified and temperamentally unfit for office by significant portions of the population, yet still was narrowly elected. There's plenty of analysis left to be done. But hate crimes over the past days reveal the escalation of a disturbing trend this year. I fear we're entering an era threatening the ascent of gleeful bullying, shameless hatred, cruel and reckless policies at home and belligerence abroad. It won't matter if people are wrong or even know they're wrong, because they'll have the power to enforce their will, and they're eager to use it. I hope I'm incorrect. I fear we already possess plenty of evidence (and too many people forget the Bush years and older history), but the coming months and years will provide plenty of opportunities for the Republican Party and conservatives to show their true character.

(Perhaps the worst won't happen – and we can hope for that – but if there's one thing our most recent election shows, it's that it's folly to count on a decent outcome and that things can always get worse.)

So how can one respond?

One way is with strength and resolve. In a political context, or maybe just a personal one, civil disobedience is nonviolent, but it is not passive. It is often confrontational – not aggressive, but steadfast. Conscientious dissent is crucial, especially against bullies.

Another way is with compassion and generosity. I can't pretend I'll reach the level of forgiveness Roberts and King have achieved in the story above. But I can make an increased effort to be kind to others, especially the most vulnerable, most especially those targeted and scapegoated by Trump and his supporters. People make worse decisions when they're scared. Every generous deed and act of connection helps ameliorate the effects of hatred and just might diminish the hatred itself a bit. (I'm also reminded of a story told by Arun Manilal Gandhi about his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, winning over with sheer kindness a white South African who had supported apartheid.)

I've seen some memes and personal offers of aid this week that give me hope. Several schools have posted some version of this:

Dear undocumented students, in this classroom, there are no walls.

Dear black students, in this classroom, your life matters.

Dear Mexican students, you are not rapists or drug dealers.

Dear female students, men cannot grab you.

Dear Muslim students, you are not terrorists.


I've also seen this one:

If you wear a hijab, I'll sit with you on the train.

If you're trans, I'll go to the bathroom with you.

If you're a person of color, I'll stand with you if the cops stop you.

If you're a person with disabilities, I'll hand you my megaphone.

If you're an immigrant, I'll help you find resources..

If you're a survivor, I'll believe you.

If you're a refugee, I'll make sure you're welcome.

If you're a veteran, I'll take up your fight.

If you're LGBTQ, I won't let anyone tell you you're broken.

If you're a woman, I'll make sure you get home ok.

If you're tired, me too.

If you need a hug, I've got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I'll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me, too.


These might seem a bit hokey, but not to someone in genuine need. Facing discouragement is often draining, and confronting actual hatred all the more so. It's easy to get burnt out as an activist, and finding a way to recuperate and support each other is important. Jared Bernstein has characterized conservatism as YOLO, "You're on your own," whereas liberalism is WITT, "We're in this together." This week, I've seen many people genuinely upset, or scared or grieving – and occasionally some nasty taunting in response – but also plenty of compassion, kindness and support. I'll be making my annual food bank donation soon, and I'm reflecting on what else to do in the months ahead. Developing a long-term political strategy is crucial, and specific, concrete activism is as well, but another key way to face down inhumanity and make America better is simply to be better to one another.

(I normally focus more on war on 11/11, but violence certainly isn't limited to war. My most relevant related posts are probably 2011's "They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" and 2009's "War and the Denial of Loss." )

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Spite

Donald Trump is a bully and a bullshitter. His fans love him for the first part and don't recognize or don't care about the second. They love him because he hates the people they hate and vows to inflict pain on those other people, who aren't real Americans or full citizens in one way or another, due to their skin color, national origin, religion, gender, sexuality, or just beliefs slightly more moderate than those of the conservative base. In one sense, Trump's nothing new in conservative and Republican politics – like many before him over the past 50-some years, he stands for bigotry and plutocracy – but he's made the past subtext more explicit and harder to deny. In this election, Trump and his supporters have given an increased, starring role to spite.

Republican hopefuls Scott Walker and Chris Christie also sold themselves as bullies, but Walker's working style is stealth to achieve right-wing aims without providing the reassuring hatred of angry speeches for the base. Christie, although unquestionably a bully, was damaged by the bridge closure scandal and couldn't compete with the appeal of Trump's explicit bigotry. Ted Cruz, although undoubtedly right-wing and favored by some religious conservatives, was extremely disliked by others on the right. Ben Carson was both right-wing and clueless enough for the gig, but his somnambulist, soporific style didn't really fire up the base. Carly Fiorina showed she could be vicious, but not in the league of Trump. John Kasich's actual positions are pretty right-wing, but during the primaries, he chose to portray himself as reasonable, practical and comparatively moderate, which contrasted him with Trump, but didn't win over a majority of Republican primary voters in most states. Sure, all the 16-some candidates could be counted on to preach "small government" and push for even more tax cuts to the rich (the chief goal of the Republican establishment), and most were game to throw in some racist dog-whistles per usual, but they couldn't match Trump's belligerence, nastiness and complete lack of shame. Trump knew what the conservative base wanted, and was determined that he would be the last, biggest asshole standing.

Trump lies much, much more often than Clinton, and over five days, "averaged about one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds over nearly five hours of remarks." Using Harry Frankfurt's definition, Trump is a bullshitter more than a liar, because he simply doesn't care if what he says is true or not. Unfortunately, many of his supporters are unconcerned, too – as The Washington Post reported in June:

Many of Trump’s fans don’t actually think he will build a wall — and they don’t care if he doesn’t.

Many also don’t think that Trump as president would really ban foreign Muslims from entering the country, seize oil controlled by terrorists or deport 11 million illegal immigrants. They view Trump’s pledges more as malleable symbols than concrete promises, reflecting a willingness to shake things up and to be bold. . . .

Perhaps more than any other presidential candidate in history, Trump has mastered the art of putting forth a platform that is so vague — and so outlandish — that supporters can believe what they want to believe about his plans, even when it comes to something such as a concrete wall on the southern border.


They also don't care about his many scandals, or that he's a horrible businessman who screws over nearly everyone who works for or with him. Nor do they care that he'd cut taxes for the wealthy and explode the national deficit and debt. (To be fair, the tax cuts for the rich are Trump's main appeal for the Paul Ryan crowd, but they wouldn't help most Americans, including most Republican voters.) Alas, political coverage spends little time on actual candidate policy positions, a dynamic that has helped out Trump tremendously – he gives few specifics about his policies, but as he himself has pointed out, his voters don't really care. His standard approach is to bluff and bullshit his way through any question – bragging that he's great, he knows everybody, he'll hire the best people; his opponents are awful, idiots, the worst ever. This approach works well enough for short interviews, especially with friendly or nonconfrontational outlets, but exposes him as an ignoramus when a more in-depth answer is required or follow-up questions are allowed, as in the three presidential debates (although the moderators still could have spent more time on policy). Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton's policies, she actually has some – policy papers on her website amounting to 112,735 words compared to just over 9,000 for Trump's site. For that matter, other Republican candidates offered more substantial policies than Trump, too, that conservatives might like more than Clinton's – but Trump's appeal is mostly image and little substance, all swagger, viciousness, a game of dominance.

Lying isn't new to politics, even if the depth and breadth of it from Trump is significant. (Although let's not forget the 917 falsehoods from Romney that Steve Benen documented, especially as some folks are pining for Romney as so much better than Trump – he was, but when judged fairly, still awful.) The lying is a serious problem, but even more troubling is that conservative political figures don't stop telling specific lies after being directly called on it. This disdain for fact-checking and truth didn't start with Trump. Back in 2008, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin kept claiming “I told Congress thanks but no thanks to that Bridge to Nowhere" even after fact-checkers had shown it wasn't true and their work was widely reported. In 2009, Palin, Betsy McCaughey and other conservatives were hawking lies about the Affordable Care Act creating "death panels," a falsehood that was debunked, but they keep on saying it. In 2015, during the Republican primary debates, Carly Fiorina told a despicable falsehood about a supposed undercover video of Planned Parenthood: "Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ " Fiorina was referring to fake footage, and was fact-checked on her statements, but when directly pressed on the issue, she insisted on repeating what by then she had to know was a lie, and a monstrous lie at that – one that demonized her political opponents for political gain. Fiorina simply didn't give a damn, effectively saying "screw you" to the press and anyone who cared about the truth. She knew how the lie would play with the conservative base; its members would take her statements as further proof that the people they already hated were monsters. These dynamics also describe what Rush Limbaugh has been doing since his career started in the 80s – some of his listeners will even admit he exaggerates, but don't much care. As I've written before, Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and their ilk "aren't selling facts, they're selling grievance, cultural solidarity, an emotional truth, and the Two-Minutes Hate. Right-wing audiences simply do not care if their leaders are corrupt, incompetent and lie to their faces – as long as they get their scapegoat." (Tom Sullivan and others have made similar observations.) Lying on this level, especially from a politician running for national office, is a power play, authoritarian and antidemocratic – it says, essentially, I can tell bald-faced, horrible lies and you can even call me on it and it still won't matter, because it'll fire up the base and win me votes and give me power – and then we'll see what you say about me, huh?

This brings us to Trump himself and his good pal and campaign surrogate, Rudy Giuliani. More than any other figures in this election, they've adopted the belligerent smear as a key campaign tool, and tried to bully any critics into silence. Trump has threatened to make it easier for him to sue reporters, revoked the credentials of The Washington Post because he didn't like their (accurate) coverage and has encouraged his crowds to boo the media. (His supporters issued death threats against a reporter who tweeted about the atmosphere of hatred at a Trump rally. That proved him right, but their driving impulse isn't persuasion – it's intimidation.)

Bigotry and spite has been central to Trump's campaign from the beginning (and let's not forget his earlier racist birther bullshit). When Trump announced his run for president on 6/16/15, he attacked undocumented Mexican workers by saying, "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists." In late November 2015, he repeatedly claimed that "thousands" of Muslims and Arabs in New Jersey cheered during the 9/11 attacks when the Twin Towers fell, but such cheering never happened. On 12/7/16, he announced that "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." (One doesn't have to be a lawyer to know that's unconstitutional, but I'd add it's clearly immoral – we know how discriminating against a group based on their religion can go, and it's not just ugly, it can be deadly.) In June 2016, he claimed that American Muslims knew who potential terrorists were but weren't turning them in. (Muslims aren't real, full Americans, you see, and can't be trusted.) In July 2016, Trump pulled something similar. I'll quote Josh Marshall at length, who wrote (his emphasis):

Trump claimed that people – "some people" – called for a moment of silence for mass killer Micah Johnson, the now deceased mass shooter who killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. There is no evidence this ever happened. Searches of the web and social media showed no evidence. Even Trump's campaign co-chair said today that he can't come up with any evidence that it happened. As in the case of the celebrations over the fall of the twin towers, even to say there's 'no evidence' understates the matter. This didn't happen. Trump made it up.

The language is important: “When somebody called for a moment of silence to this maniac that shot the five police, you just see what's going on. It's a very, very sad situation.”

Then later at the Indiana rally: “The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage. Marches all over the United States—and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!”

A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn't just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d'etre, it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve. The point bears repeating: authoritarian figures require violence and disorder. Look at the language. "11 cities potentially in a blow up stage" .. "Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!" ... "And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer."

At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, if you translate the German, the febrile and agitated language of 'hatred', 'anger', 'maniac' ... this is the kind of florid and incendiary language Adolf Hitler used in many of his speeches. Note too the actual progression of what Trump said: "Marches all over the United States - and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!" (emphasis added).

The clear import of this fusillade of words is that the country is awash in militant protests that were inspired by Micah Johnson. "Started by ..."

We're used to so much nonsense and so many combustible tirades from Trump that we become partly inured to them. We also don't slow down and look at precisely what he's saying. What he's saying here is that millions of African-Americans are on the streets inspired by and protesting on behalf of a mass murderer of white cops.

This is not simply false. It is the kind of wild racist incitement that puts whole societies in danger. And this man wants to be president. . . .

These are the words – the big lies rumbling the ground for some sort of apocalyptic race war – of a dangerous authoritarian personality who is either personally deeply imbued with racist rage or cynically uses that animus and race hatred to achieve political ends. In either case, they are the words of a deeply dangerous individual the likes of whom has seldom been so close to achieving executive power in America.


As for Giuliani, who's always been an authoritarian, he claimed in early July that he had softened Trump somewhat on the "ban on Muslims," but by the end of the month, "said he would be in favor of forcing Muslims on the federal government's terrorism watch list to wear electronic monitoring tags or bracelets for authorities to track their whereabouts." In mid-July, Giuliani gave a screaming speech at the Republican National Convention (video here). As he has at past conventions, Giuliani trotted out his beloved 'the Democrats didn't use the magic words' bullshit argument, but it was his combination of bigotry, apocalyptic framing and shameless demagoguery that really struck me. (Honestly, I found the speech chilling, and not in the way Giuliani intended – the first word that came to mind was "Nuremberg," same as for Blue Gal. By the way, Godwin's law doesn't apply if the analogy is valid, and Mike Godwin himself has weighed in on this in relation to Trump.) Trump and other speakers at the convention took a page from Nixon's book (really, it's a conservative staple) and talked a great deal about "law and order." But the truth is, they don't truly care about "law and order"; they certainly don't care about due process. They only care about punishment of the people they hate. That has always been the scared and spiteful essence of their pitch. Trump and at least some of his surrogates are willing to lie, fear-monger and stir up racial anxiety and hatred for political gain. On some level, beneath any denial or self-delusion, they know what they are doing. They are consciously choosing to do this. It's sadly nothing new, but it remains despicable and even evil.

Unfortunately, Trump and his surrogates haven't been pushed nearly hard enough on this. Nor have their followers. I'd occasionally see Fox News segments in which people endorsed Trump, saying they liked him because he said what was on his mind and wasn't "politically correct," but tellingly, the hosts never really pressed such guests on what exactly they meant by that. It'd be nice if we could have an honest conversation, where such people would say outright, "I want to treat Muslim-, Arab- and Mexican-Americans as second-class citizens," but of course they won't, nor will they admit to being scared of Muslims but knowing very little about them. As soon as Trump proposed banning Muslims – which was a campaign statement, not an off-the-cuff remark – every single interview should have pressed him on it (or any of his other bigoted statements). He and his supporters have the right to express their views, but I've been dismayed that haven't been challenged nearly enough. ("Do you realize what you're saying? Do you realize what this would entail?") At least a few folks have pressed Trump on how he'd deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants or how he'd build a border wall, but he's never given convincing answers. Of course, the conservative base doesn't care if such things are impossible, because a promise of hostility from Trump against their chosen foes is enough. But it's important that such insanity and extremity be put on display, front and center, for the rest of the electorate.

Any number of Trump's positions, statements and actions are disqualifying, and I've barely touched on some of them. His economic plans are horrible. His personal character is atrocious –he doesn't pay people who do work for him. He's a rampant misogynist who's bragged about sexually assaulting women. Trump's also endorsed torture repeatedly: "I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." His attitude is driven, as usual, by his machismo and his ignorance – as Rear Admiral John Hutson put it, "Torture is the method of choice of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough." There's virtually no admirable position or trait Trump possesses – yet he was the Republicans' choice for president. And despite efforts to disown him, Trump's ascent is a feature, not a bug, of movement conservatism and the choices the Republican Party has made over 50-some years (much more on that in a future post).

The Washington Post has an editorial titled, "History will remember which Republicans failed the Trump test," and The New York Times has an ongoing feature titled, "More than 160 Republican Leaders Don’t Support Donald Trump. Here’s When They Reached Their Breaking Point." (The number went up throughout the campaign season.) These are valuable pieces, but Brad De Long did something similar with George W. Bush back in 2007 – it would be a grave mistake to forget how horrendous Bush and other Republicans and conservatives were and are, even if Trump weren't in the picture. It is Republican dogma never to raise taxes and to cut them on the rich; conservatives have been fighting against a sustainable fiscal and economic model since Reagan, and have likewise been fighting against a responsible model of governance. Liberals criticize the Democratic Party all the time, and there's certainly room for improvement there, but Republicans have become much more conservative over the years, have enacted unprecedented obstructionism in the modern era and simply are the major problem in American politics. Unfortunately, many Republicans and conservatives will deny this, as will the many shallow "both sides" political commentators around (see Digby, driftglass or my archives for much more).

Step one is defeating Trump, but efforts can't stop there. I'm always in favor of outreach and discussion, but it's important to acknowledge that they might not work – some people will never be persuadable – especially if they're primarily driven by spite. We can't count on 'cooler heads to prevail' or 'the better angels of their nature' to hold sway for everyone. The conservative base hates many of their fellow Americans and will not be dissuaded. So while we're trying to convince the crowd charmed by the season's latest bigot or snake oil salesman to reconsider, it's essential to get out the vote in case such outreach fails. Voting is crucial, and sustained activism is even more so. Even if Trump loses this election, there's much more work to be done.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The Cubs Win the World Series

I can't claim to be the most diehard Cubs fan, living and dying with every game and season, but I have been a lifelong and loyal fan since visiting family in Chicago as a kid and attending Wrigley Field for my first-ever baseball game. I used to joke that I was a Cubs fan because I was a masochist, and I think many Cubs fans have approached their fandom with loyalty, fatalism and a sense of humor. I'd root for them every time they made the playoffs and catch the games. More often, when they stunk, I'd check in periodically during the season and sigh. In 2003, it looked like teams with two of the longest championship droughts at the time, the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, could meet in the World Series, which I joked would cause a black hole that would engulf the entire universe. The Red Sox won the next year and twice again since, the Chicago White Sox broke their long drought in 2005, and now the Cubs finally got their turn, after a mere 108 years.

The playoffs this season were entertaining but left me slightly conflicted because after the Cubs, I root for the Nationals, and after them the Dodgers – and all three teams were in. I'd have rooted for whichever team won the pennant, but naturally I was pulling for the Cubs. The World Series itself was thrilling and stressful, especially that amazing game 7, definitely one of the best games I've ever seen. The Cubs being the Cubs, they had to make their fans despair several times before the end, but finally, they won.

I'll won't link all of what I have elsewhere on social media, but I was impressed by Indians manager Tony Francona's gracious post-game interview: "It was an honor to be part of that." Hardcore Cubs fan Bill Murray said, "We became such good losers – I hope we're good winners." (Agreed.) Rob Arthur wrote a good piece about Cubs fandom at 538:
As my dad realized in the ’50s, there’s something liberating about knowing your team is going to lose. With the outcome sealed, you become free to enjoy the game and the experience of the ballpark for whatever it is. Sometime in the middle of the incredible, marathon, rain-delayed epic that was Game 7, I came to that conclusion myself.

I think my two favorite stories, though, are about elderly Cubs fans celebrating and people writing the names of departed loved ones in chalk on the brick walls at Wrigley. Oh, and the Chicago cast of Hamilton sang "Go Cubs, Go" at curtain call.

Yeah, it's just sports, but it's been nice to see all the joy this has generated.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Banned Books Week 2016

(One of the neater images about banned books to date.)

Banned Books Week is coming to a close. My archives have more extensive posts on the subject, but the American Library Association (ALA) has a neat piece based on a 2012 Library of Congress exhibit. It's a list titled Banned Books That Shaped America. I wish more dates were included for context, but it's still an interesting read, with many familiar titles from Banned Books Weeks past:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, 1884
The first ban of Mark Twain’s American classic in Concord, MA in 1885 called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Objections to the book have evolved, but only marginally. Twain’s book is one of the most-challenged of all time and is frequently challenged even today because of its frequent use of the word “nigger.” Otherwise it is alleged the book is “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965
Objectors have called this seminal work a “how-to-manual” for crime and decried because of “anti-white statements” present in the book. The book presents the life story of Malcolm Little, also known as Malcolm X, who was a human rights activist and who has been called one of the most influential Americans in recent history.

Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987
Again and again, this Pulitzer-prize winning novel by perhaps the most influential African-American writer of all time is assigned to high school English students. And again and again, parental complaints are lodged against the book because of its violence, sexual content and discussion of bestiality.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, 1970
Subtitled “An Indian History of the American West,” this book tells the history of United States growth and expansion into the West from the point of view of Native Americans. This book was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be polemical and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. “If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it,” the official stated.

The Call of the Wild, Jack London, 1903
Generally hailed as Jack London’s best work, The Call of the Wild is commonly challenged for its dark tone and bloody violence. Because it is seen as a man-and-his-dog story, it is sometimes read by adolescents and subsequently challenged for age-inappropriateness. Not only have objections been raised here, the book was banned in Italy, Yugoslavia and burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany in the late 1920s and early 30s because it was considered “too radical.”

Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961
A school board in Strongsville, OH refused to allow the book to be taught in high school English classrooms in 1972. It also refused to consider Cat’s Cradle as a substitute text and removed both books from the school library. The issue eventually led to a 1976 District Court ruling overturning the ban in Minarcini v. Strongsville.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951
Young Holden, favorite child of the censor. Frequently removed from classrooms and school libraries because it is “unacceptable,” “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” “filthy,” and “undermines morality.” And to think Holden always thought “people never notice anything.”

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953
Rather than ban the book about book-banning outright, Venado Middle school in Irvine, CA utilized an expurgated version of the text in which all the “hells” and “damns” were blacked out. Other complaints have said the book went against objectors religious beliefs. The book’s author, Ray Bradbury, died this year.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, 1940
Shortly after its publication the U.S. Post Office, which purpose was in part to monitor and censor distribution of media and texts, declared the book nonmailable. In the 1970s, eight Turkish booksellers were tried for “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state” because they had published and distributed the text. This wasn’t Hemingway’s only banned book – A Farewell to Arms and Across the River and Into the Trees were also censored domestically and abroad in Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Italy.

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936
The Pulitzer-prize winning novel (which three years after its publication became an Academy-Award Winning film) follows the life of the spoiled daughter of a southern plantation owner just before and then after the fall of the Confederacy and decline of the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. Critically praised for its thought-provoking and realistic depiction of ante- and postbellum life in the South, it has also been banned for more or less the same reasons. Its realism has come under fire, specifically its realistic portrayal – though at times perhaps tending toward optimistic -- of slavery and use of the words “nigger” and “darkies.”

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939
Kern County, California has the great honor both of being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel and being the first place where it was banned (1939). Objections to profanity—especially goddamn and the like—and sexual references continued from then into the 1990s. It is a work with international banning appeal: the book was barred in Ireland in the 50s and a group of booksellers in Turkey were taken to court for “spreading propaganda” in 1973.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
Perhaps the first great American novel that comes to the mind of the average person, this book chronicles the booze-infused and decadent lives of East Hampton socialites. It was challenged at the Baptist College in South Carolina because of the book’s language and mere references to sex.

Howl, Allen Ginsberg, 1956
Following in the footsteps of other “Shaping America” book Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg’s boundary-pushing poetic works were challenged because of descriptions of homosexual acts.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1966
The subject of controversy in an AP English class in Savannah, GA after a parent complained about sex, violence and profanity. Banned but brought back.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952
Ellison’s book won the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction because it expertly dealt with issues of black nationalism, Marxism and identity in the twentieth century. Considered to be too expert in its ruminations for some high schools, the book was banned from high school reading lists and schools in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington state.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 1906
For decades, American students have studied muckraking and yellow journalism in social studies lessons about the industrial revolution, with The Jungle headlining the unit. And yet, the dangerous and purportedly socialist views expressed in the book and Sinclair’s Oil led to its being banned in Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Korea and Boston.

Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 1855
If they don’t understand you, sometimes they ban you. This was the case when the great American poem Leaves of Grass was first published and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice found the sensuality of the text disturbing. Caving to pressure, booksellers in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania conceded to advising their patrons not to buy the “filthy” book.

Moby-Dick; or The Whale, Herman Melville,1851
In a real head-scratcher of a case, a Texas school district banned the book from its Advanced English class lists because it “conflicted with their community values” in 1996. Community values are frequently cited in discussions over challenged books by those who wish to censor them.

Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940
Richard Wright’s landmark work of literary naturalism follows the life of young Bigger Thomas, a poor Black man living on the South Side of Chicago. Bigger is faced with numerous awkward and frustrating situations when he begins working for a rich white family as their chauffer. After he unintentionally kills a member of the family, he flees but is eventually caught, tried and sentenced to death. The book has been challenged or removed in at least eight different states because of objections to “violent and sexually graphic” content.

Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1971
Challenges of this book about the female anatomy and sexuality ran from the book’s publication into the mid-1980s. One Public Library lodged it “promotes homosexuality and perversion.” Not surprising in a country where some legislators want to keep others from saying the word “vagina.”

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, 1895
Restricting access and refusing to allow teachers to teach books is still a form of censorship in many cases. Crane’s book was among many on a list compiled by the Bay District School board in 1986 after parents began lodging informal complaints about books in an English classroom library.

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
According to many critics, Hawthorne should have been less friendly toward his main character, Hester Prynne (in fairness, so should have minister Arthur Dimmesdale). One isn’t surprised by the moralist outrage the book caused in 1852. But when, one hundred and forty years later, the book is still being banned because it is sinful and conflicts with community values, you have to raise your eyebrows. Parents in one school district called the book “pornographic and obscene” in 1977. Clearly this was before the days of the World Wide Web.

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred C. Kinsey, 1948
How dare Alfred Kinsey ask men and women questions about their sex lives! The groundbreaking study, truly the first of its scope and kind, was banned from publication abroad and highly criticized at home.

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein, 1961
The book was actually retained after a 2003 challenge in Mercedes, TX to the book’s adult themes. However, parents were subsequently given more control over what their child was assigned to read in class, a common school board response to a challenge.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams, 1947
The sexual content of this play, which later became a popular and critically acclaimed film, raised eyebrows and led to self-censorship when the film was being made. The director left a number of scenes on the cutting room floor to get an adequate rating and protect against complaints of the play’s immorality.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
Parents of students in Advanced English classes in a Virginia high school objected to language and sexual content in this book, which made TIME magazine’s list of top 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
Harper Lee’s great American tome stands as proof positive that the censorious impulse is alive and well in our country, even today. For some educators, the Pulitzer-prize winning book is one of the greatest texts teens can study in an American literature class. Others have called it a degrading, profane and racist work that “promotes white supremacy.”

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
Like Huck Finn, Of Mice and Men and Gone With the Wind, the contextual, historically and culturally accurate depiction of the treatment of Black slaves in the United States has rankled would-be censors.

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, 1963
Sendak’s work is beloved by children in the generations since its publication and has captured the collective imagination. Many parents and librarians, however, did much hand-wringing over the dark and disturbing nature of the story. They also wrung their hands over the baby’s penis drawn in In the Night Kitchen.

The Words of Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez, 2002
The works of Chavez were among the many books banned in the dissolution of the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Unified School District disbanded the program so as to accord with a piece of legislation which outlawed Ethnic Studies classes in the state. To read more about this egregious case of censorship, click here.

If you've got a post celebrating banned or challenged books, feel free to link it in the comments.