Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day 2017

Happy Independence Day! As usual, here's a mix of videos, with several reruns.

First up, here's a clip from the excellent John Adams miniseries:

Next, here's the full Declaration of Independence, read by an interesting and somewhat odd collection of actors:

Marvin Gaye provides the sublime:

The Muppets provide some silliness and enthusiasm:

Finally, Pete Seeger provides an undeniable spark, singing his pal Woody Guthrie's most famous song:

Have a good Fourth! Feel free to link any appropriate pieces in the comments (and I may update the post as well).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

Memorial Day is meant to remember those who died in military service. I watched the Memorial Day Concert from the U.S. Capitol on PBS, as I often do. I'm not a fan of schmaltzy stuff, and there's plenty of that, but I do appreciate that for the past several years the concert has told some not-rosy wartime stories and has covered subjects such as PTSD, suicide, and recovering from severe injuries and dealing with disabilities. This year was no exception – the concert told the dramatic tale of Colonel Richard Cole (101 years old, and the last surviving member of WWII's Doolittle Raid), paid tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen (with several surviving members attending), featured an announcement about a suicide hotline, and dramatized the story of a severely disabled serviceman and his grueling recovery (Luis Avila) before bringing him on stage. The presenters often said, "Please stand if you can, and stand for those who can't." The home page for the concert provides some familiar and useful resources, plus an intriguing page on musical therapy (last I featured The Telling Project, a theater project for veterans). Thanks to those who died in service, and let's also make sure we take care of those who make it home and need help.

Others' posts on Memorial Day:

Veteran Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station observes, "in reality, it’s not the soldiers we remember. It’s the endless war."

At Hullabaloo, Digby offers "Some words from that up and coming young man, Frederick Douglass" and Dennis Hartley provides "A Memorial Day Mixtape."

Balloon Juice hosted an open thread and also had two other posts for the day.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Poetry Month 2017

April is National Poetry Month, so I'd be remiss if I didn't feature at least one poem. This year, I'm going with one by Billy Collins, who I've featured before. I've attended one of his readings, and his knack for vivid imagery combined with wit makes him especially fun to hear live. Here's video of him reading "Litany" and giving some context for it:

The poem itself:

By Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
– Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow – the wine.

The speaker of the poem comes off as a bit egotistical and harsh, and this upending of convention in a supposed love poem makes it funny, but there's also an affection to the piece, along with some lovely images. Collins, who's been the National Poet Laureate, is well worh checking out.

I'll also link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project once again. Funding for it may be tight this year, but they're accepting donations (I sent one).

Feel free to link or post a favorite poem in the comments.

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]
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."

"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
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."

"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."

" '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"

"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."

"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!"

"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."

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

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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
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." )