Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Jon Swift Roundup 2018

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

(A Jon Swift lolcat.)

Welcome to the 2018 edition! I hope this year ends on a hopeful note.

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 usual, I'll quote Lance Mannion, who nicely 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 massive 2007 and 2008 editions (via the Wayback Machine). Meanwhile, our more modest revivals from 2010–2017 can be found here.

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

Thanks to all the participants, to Balloon Juice for hosting a self-nomination thread again, 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 #jonswift2018.

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:

The Professional Left Podcast/Blue Gal
"Special Pre-Election 'Both Sides Don't' Podcast"
Blue Gal: "For our episode right before the midterms, we read out a list of the things "both sides don't" do. It's a really good introduction to our podcast for first-time listeners, too."

The Rectification of Names
"Literary Corner: Particular Vernacular"
Yastreblyansky: "A song about Donald Trump, using the rhyme scheme and meter (paeonic tetrameter!) of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General". Everybody sing along!"

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Sunday Reading – Allen’s Big Adventure"
Mustang Bobby: "A love note to my sweetheart."

Kiko's House
"What Will Trump Do When The Alternative To The White House Is The Big House?"
Shaun D. Mullen: "The Founding Fathers worried from the jump that there would be attempts to subvert the infant American democracy. What they did not foresee in their bewigged wisdom was a batshit crazy real estate developer and reality TV star with evil in his heart and nothing between his ears conspiring with America's greatest enemy to steal the presidency and then cement his primacy by installing nose rings in more-than-willing Republicans."

David E's Fablog
"The Second Amendment Solution"
David Ehrenstein: "I did this about the Parkland massacre."

Poor Impulse Control
"Hours In An Offhand Way"
Tata: "A region's disaster can be one person's art supplies."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"What's Left Special Report: Guns"
LarryE: "I largely took a break from political blogging in 2018, but did do one of significance at the request of the director of the community cable TV outlet where I work. He wanted something to address the issue of guns in the US and insisted I was the one to do it. So I did."

You Might Notice a Trend
Paul Wartenberg: "GODDAMMIT WE ARE KILLING INNOCENT CHILDREN IN THESE CONCENTRATION CAMPS ALONG THE BORDER. Thousands of children placed in baby jails, forced to live in tent cities in abysmal weather. WE SHOULD BE MARCHING EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY TO END THIS NIGHTMARE."

Strangely Blogged
"Die Geister, die ich rief"
Vixen Strangely: "This post examines the persistence of racism in American culture, the danger of employing racist tropes in political rhetoric, and how Donald Trump is unfit for calling up specters that encourage indefensible acts that he cannot wholly condemn, because he can not wholly own the damage of his words."

Mock, Paper, Scissors
"Unite the White and NPR"
Tengrain: "The press does not usually give valuable airtime to every racist crank from Possum Hollar who can fill out a National Park Service application for a rally, but for some reason, NPR decided to do exactly that."

"On Mike Pence's Destructive Ambition"
Melissa McEwan: "Vice-President Mike Pence is the proverbial one heartbeat away from the presidency, which he has ruthlessly pursued his entire adult life. And yet, even as Donald Trump's presidency is increasingly imperiled, Pence thrives in the inattention of a political press which continues to resist the close scrutiny of his corrupt past that it so urgently deserves."

Show Me Progress
"Be the badass on the right"
Michael Bersin: "In the late afternoon of June 29, 2018 at a Kansas City rally in support of Muslims, Immigrants, & Refugees a young woman with poster board and a marker took it upon herself to peacefully confront a right wingnut counter protester."

Darwinfish 2
"The GOP Playbook: A Study in Attaining and Maintaining Power"
Bluzdude: "How the GOP seized power and endeavors to keep it, and how The Resistance needs to use their own methods to seize it back."

his vorpal sword
"The Monster Tu Quoque Stalks the Land"
Hart Williams: "The common political "excuse" that drives policy that no mother who ever lived ever bought, or ...Donner party! Table for four! Donner party! Er ... table for three!"

The Brad Blog
"Indictment of Sitting President May Be 'Only' Means to Ensure 'Equal Justice Under Law' "
Ernest A. Canning: "Legal scholars find DoJ opinion fails to consider Constitutional measure for Executive Branch continuity during a President's criminal trial..."

"Inexorable evolution"
Infidel753: "Why are Trumpanzees so angry and resentful when they got their wish with Trump and the Republicans in power? It's because what really upsets them is cultural changes which are mostly immune from politics."

"Today In Both Sides Do It: Advice From The New York Times On The Proper Use Of 'Fuck' "
driftglass: "In the early days of Liberal blogging (when everything was made of wood and Haloscan walked the Earth) when the GOP got into extinction-level trouble and Liberal voices threatened to break through to the mainstream, the Beltway would dispatch a special enforcement squad known as the "Tone Police" to explain that the real problem was Liberals using intemperate language. Nothing has changed."

First Draft
"White Girl, White Lies"
Peter Adrastos Athas: "Hope Hicks leaves the White House. Hilarity ensues."

Brilliant at Breakfast Rebooted
"On being a secular Jew in neo-Nazi-ascendant America"
Jill: "The rise of neo-Naziism in the US in the age of Trump requires some soul-searching among secular Jews who are not Zionists and don't practice the religion of their forebears, but still strongly identify as Jewish."

"I pretty much never watch videos anymore, and this one sums up why"
Brendan Keefe: "Sums up a gripe of mine with today's Web: Please, don't make me watch. Let me read."

"The Budget Reform America Needs Most? Government Rate-Setting for Health Care"
Jon Perr: "The biggest driver of America’s long-term debt is the growing cost of health care. The remedy is for the United States—at long last—to join the vast majority of its economic competitors by having the government set the prices for drugs, tests, doctor's visits, hospitalization, surgical procedures, and just about every aspect of health care."

Spocko's Brain
"Watch The Sexy Spy, But Follow The Rubles To NRA’s GOP Campaigns"
Spocko: "There was a long-term, multimillion dollar plan by the Russians to interfere with our elections and the NRA was an eager and willful participant. But it was a boring story for the media until sexy Russian Maria Butina was arrested. Watch this short video to see all NRA execs and GOP politicians who should be in jail with her."

The Debate Link
"What We Put There Ourselves"
David Schraub: "The great philosopher Richard Rorty taught us that there is nothing deep down inside us but what we put there ourselves. We can say that banning Muslims or caging refugees is not "who we are", but the fact is – it is who we are. We put it there ourselves. And if we don't like what is indeed inside us, then it is up to us to put something else there."

Self-Styled Siren
"Anecdote of the Week: 'She hated him.' "
The Siren offers an intriguing look at actress Jennifer Jones and her relationship with producer David O. Selznick.

Just an Earth-Bound Misfit, I
"His Bone Spurs Were Acting Up"
Comrade Misfit: "How Trump and Xi are marching the world into another major war."

Way of Cats
"Where the movie starts"
Pamela Merritt: "We don’t have to adopt our cat as a kitten to have a great relationship, any more than we have to meet all our future friends in kindergarten. We can adopt a cat at any age, get to know them, and love them just the same."

Doctor Cleveland
"I Am Part of the Resistance Inside King Lear's Court"
Doctor Cleveland AKA Jim Marino: "A parody mashing of the Washington Post's anonymous "Resistance Inside the Trump White House" op-ed with Shakespeare's King Lear."

Gaius Publius
"There Will Be No Chinese Century"
Gaius Publius: "I can't imagine why people who look into the future, seeing better smart phones, smarter door locks, driverless cars, the next big thing only bigger, don't see this, don't factor in the tsunami that even now wets their faces. But it's clear they don't."

[this space intentionally left blank]
"An Open Letter to David Meinert"
Dallas Taylor: "In the summer of 2018, Seattle impresario/person of consequence David Meinert had his #metoo moment, which he vigorously fought back against. In response, I wrote this open letter, hoping it might help him see past his reflexive defensiveness and engage thoughtfully with his past behavior and the present moment."

M.A. Peel
"The Centenary of the Armistice: A Personal Cycle Closes and a Gash that Never Heals"
Ellen O'Neill: "The world recognized the centenary of the end of World War l on November 11, 2018. I became interested in WW1 in high school through T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and felt connected to the centenary lo these decades later."

The Steel Pen
"Warrington & Co.: 1865–1885"
AAAndrew, aka Andrew Midkiff: "My blog captures the lost history of an American industry: the steel dip pen. In between quills and fountain pens, for almost 100 years the steel dip pen was the primary means of putting ink to paper, and no one has ever gathered the history of these manufacturers until now. This post is a good example post and captures one of the first makers to emerge out of the second industrial revolution in the US."

World O’ Crap
"Dungeons & Dragons"
Scott Clevenger: "Scott takes the Better Living Through Bad Movies approach to the this timely epic which eerily predicted both the George W. Bush and Trump administrations with its focus on slimey reptiles, overpriced real estate, do-nothing legislatures, ambitious Veeps, shameless thieves, bald henchmen, lazy Chosen Ones who seem to think the Elves owe him universal health care, and kick-ass ladies who can’t even with your shit."

"In No Position to Make Demands"
Roy Edroso: "I covered all the hot topics during the course of the year, but most of them, even when treated with humor, are at least somewhat depressing because they chronicle the decline of a once-great nation. So I choose to be represented instead by one of my rare moments of uplift, a moment when a lot of people realized they don’t have to tolerate jerks like Alex Jones on bogus “free speech” or any other grounds: “….[guys like Jones are] so accustomed to bullying cowards like the New York Times editorial board that they think, in any situation, all they have to do is yell YOU'RE DEPLATFORMING ME like Rudd yelling 'Diplomatic immunity' in Lethal Weapon 2 and they'll get what they want. Guess what, guys: Revoked."

Mad Kane's Political Madness
"Our Shocking News"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "A two-verse limerick summing up the latest in the Trump Horror Show. (It includes a short audio clip of me reading my limerick.)"

Lance Mannion
"Of Pop Mannion, Mrs M, spinach pasta, and the persistence of memory"
Lance Mannion: "A story from a very hard year with a sad part, a funny part, and a happy part."

This Is So Gay
"Kindness Is Not Enough"
Duncan Mitchel: " Inspired by the recent excellent documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" This is why I think that adult fans of Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood are misusing his program and dishonoring his legacy."

Bluestem Prairie
"On Labor Day, Wardlow promises to be ally for workers; in MNHouse authored right-to-work bill"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "While most of the media in Minnesota covering the state attorney general's race were still focused on Keith Ellison's past romantic breakup, I turned instead to scrutinizing the record of Republican opponent one-term state House wonder Doug Wardlow. Having just reviewed the bills he sponsored—topped by a bill to make Minnesota a right-to-work state, I was astonished to read Wardlow's pledge of support on Facebook: 'As Attorney General, I will always be an ally for Minnesota workers.' "

Schroedinger's Cat
"Happy 4th"
schroedinger's cat: "4th of July, 2017 was the anniversary of my first day as a citizen of the United States. In this post, I recount my memories of the citizenship ceremony at the Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts."

Vagabond Scholar
"What's to Be Done About Conservatives?"
Batocchio: "An attempt to assess American conservatives and the Republican Party in some depth. Spoiler: they're awful."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging (and everything else) in 2019. (Vive la résistance!)

What's to Be Done About Conservatives?

What's to be done about American conservatives and the Republican Party? For decades, they've stood for plutocracy and bigotry, and using the latter to achieve the former. Almost none of their policies help Americans as a whole; instead, their policies benefit a select few, most often those who are already rich and powerful. Conservatives and Republicans serve their donors, not the majority of their constituents. On the merits, their policies are awful, so they lie about them constantly. About their only true principle is acquiring more power and keeping it, by almost any means necessary – norms of governance, democratic representation and fair play be damned.

Their supporters come in different flavors, mostly unsavory. Many simply seek short-term personal gain, ignoring long-term harm, to their descendants if not themselves. Others, the dark money crowd and their eager servants, truly wish to further entrench the powerful as a ruling class. The most rabid members of the conservative base are frightening, cherishing spite more than their own children. (Who needs a decent wage when you can 'own the libs'? Who needs bread when you have the Fox News circus?) The remainder are mostly loyal Republican voters – "nearly 90 per cent of self-described Republicans voted for Trump, very similar to the proportion in previous elections." None of the horrible things Trump said or did prior to the 2016 election were dealbreakers for them. They rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse or simply voted their true values instead of their stated ones. To use the terms of an old post, conservatives are a mix of reckless addicts, stealthy extremists and proud zealots, with far too few sober adults to be found.

As for the media, good journalists still exist and always deserve support, but many corporate media outlets aren't truly focused on creating a more informed citizenry. Instead, they churn out a thin, news-like substance to try to fill their never-ending news cycle – they need volume, and high quality isn't cost-effective. Conscientious citizens might want good, better government, and the fact-checking and other essential information to help achieve that – and some journalists really do work hard to provide it – but media company owners need sales and profits. Stories deemed too complex aren't covered – for example, explaining the abuse of Senate procedures and contextualizing them. More importantly, calling out one political side is simply not good business, especially when one side is consistently worse about lying, violating political norms and screwing over the citizenry. One of our national political discourse's key scourges is false equivalence, or "both siderism," claiming both sides are just as bad even when evidence to the contrary stands overwhelming. (For much more on this, see the archives of Digby, driftglass, alicublog, Balloon Juice, LGM or my own archives.)

Related to this, in our current mainstream national political discourse, we generally do not discuss policy in any meaningful way. That's not to say everyone needs to read policy papers, which will always be done by a more niche group – but we do not discuss policies and their proven or likely effects. We do not talk about their effect on actual human beings and their lives. We do not accurately assign praise or blame to politicians and political parties, or engage in more nuanced analysis and discussion. For instance, who did this tax bill benefit, and who did it benefit the most? How successful was this antipoverty measure? What effects did providing more health care have on this community? Maybe we could provide some statistics, but also talk to some people, and put a human face on these issues? Coverage on the 2016 presidential race almost entirely ignored policy issues and focused on shallow issues with false balance. Obviously, this approach gives a tremendous, unfair advantage to the candidates with worse policies, nebulous positions or a vaguer grasp of important issues. It makes it much easier for them to bullshit, which really doesn't help for the whole informed citizenry, better government thing.

For all their faults, though, mainstream corporate media outlets normally get basic facts correct. Some media outlets are little more than propaganda operations. Dodgy left-leaning outlets do exist, but don't have nearly the influence of conservative outlets, most of all Fox News. Rank-and-file conservatives believe false things and are fearful in part because they have been lied to and fed fear. Several studies have shown that Fox News viewers score less accurately on basic news tests than people who don't watch the news, yet Fox News viewers are also more likely to believe that they're better-informed than their fellow citizens. Stewing in Fox News makes them both less informed and more certain. (That's a feature, not a bug, of course.)

Ideally, policies would be discussed on their merits, and praise and blame (or measured, nuanced assessments) would be accurately assigned. In actual practice, due to all the factors discussed above, conservatives and Republicans are rarely held accountable for their policies and decisions. The conservative movement works to prevent any such reckoning.

(It might help to look at some specific policies. but before that, a brief segue.)

Conservative Versus Republican

Anyone's who criticized conservatives in some depth has probably encountered pushback that, for example, George W. Bush wasn't a true conservative, or Trump isn't, or neither of them is emblematic of the true Republican Party (never mind those pesky votes and other support).

It's true that "conservative" and "Republican" aren't always synonymous, but since the two major political parties realigned in the 1960s, the Republican Party has been more conservative on almost every issue, and the majority of Republicans consistently identify themselves as conservative. As Digby's observed, conservatives like to pretend that conservatism cannot fail; it can only be failed. (Self-described libertarians love this "no true Scotsman" game, too.) Every time conservatives are discredited, it's common to see a disowning of key figures, plus conservative rebranding efforts. We'll also see pundits yearning for the more reasonable, decent conservatives and Republicans of yesteryear, and not just for, say, Eisenhower (for whom some good arguments can be made), but Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes, among others. Although those individuals may indeed have been better than the current crop in some particulars, an honest, fair assessment would judge that many of their policies stunk and quite a few of them had pretty crazy views. The Democratic Party has become more liberal over time, and the Republican Party more conservative, but the Republican drift has been more extreme. The Republican Party Platform of 1956 would be denounced as socialist by the conservatives and Republicans of today. In contrast, the Democratic Party Platform of 1972 is quite similar to recent platforms on many issues, except that contemporary platforms are much stronger on LGBT rights and other social issues. The Democratic Party does have an establishmentarian, corporatist faction, but also a more liberal one. The Republican Party is not a mirror image; it's purged almost all nonconservatives from office. Republican officials are more conservative and extreme than many members of their own party, and much more conservative and extreme than their constituents as a whole. Voters may have more variety, but when it comes to political figures, for practical purposes, "conservative" and "Republican" are generally effectively the same. Accordingly, in this piece I'm using the terms fairly interchangeably unless the distinction matters (for instance, discussing conservative Democrats).

As for Trump specifically, occasionally, we'll see some bullshit arguments that he's some sort of aberration, but some style differences aside, Trump is firmly in the conservative tradition. Some conservatives effectively admit this – they might criticize Trump's style, but support his policies nonetheless. Neither major political party is entirely pure or evil, but comparisons are both possible and essential. The truth is, Republicans are primarily to blame for the political problems in Washington, D.C. and the nation, and that definitely includes the rise of Trump.

Conservative Policies

Conservative policies almost always benefit the rich and powerful – the donor class – rather than average constituents and the country. That's no accident. Although sincerely held ideology might drive some conservatives and Republicans, in many cases, their motivation amounts to simple corruption. For the horrendous Republican tax bill of December 2017, Republican representative Chris Collins flat-out admitted, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don’t ever call me again.' " (And sure enough, after the bill passed, the donors were pleased.) Let's take a look at some policies.

Inequality: Wealth and income inequality in the U.S. are at their worst since the gilded age, and are likely to become more extreme. This neofeudal model stands in sharp contrast to the New Deal and post-WWII policies aimed at helping the nation as a whole. Those policies gave the U.S. the "great compression," a period of enormous economic growth, decreased inequality, an expansion of the middle class and shared prosperity (with some important caveats about denied opportunities based on race, gender, etc.). A model of hoarding power and prosperity versus sharing it is probably the defining difference between conservatives and nonconservatives (liberals and so-called moderates). The aforementioned 2017 Republican tax bill was designed – like Reagan's and all major Republican tax proposals since Bush's twin tax cuts – to massively benefit the already wealthy. It remains bad fiscal, economic and social policy. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summarizes, "The major tax legislation enacted last December will cost approximately $1.5 trillion over the next decade and deliver windfall gains to wealthy households and profitable corporations, further widening the gap between those at the top of the income ladder and the rest of the nation." (As the report continues, wage stagnation certainly doesn't help.) Those are features, not bugs, as are decades of conservatives yelling that any effort to lessen massive inequality is communism. Americans as a whole want a more fair system, but Republicans are more likely to think the current system is already fair and that poverty is due a lack of effort instead of circumstances beyond one's control. (They are wrong.) However, Americans really have no idea how bad inequality is, and even rank-and-file Republicans favor a more equitable distribution when it's presented as a choice. Inequality remains a major issue beyond economic matters – conservatives and Republicans stand for acquiring more power and keeping it, even if it hurts the country at large.

Climate Change: The Trump administration, true to Republican form, has decided to ignore climate change, including the government's own National Climate Assessment. Meanwhile, an alarming new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of potentially terrible consequences as soon as 2040. Some Democrats are also beholden to the fossil fuel industry, but industry donations heavily favor Republicans, and conservative Republicans are the group most opposed to acknowledging climate change and to doing anything about it. That position is one of many conservative shibboleths to affirm tribal identity. Climate change is arguably the single most important issue we face, because human life on the planet could significantly, negatively change if it's not addressed. Yet the Republican Party is just about the only major political party in the world to deny climate change and oppose universal health care. Speaking of which…

Health Care: The Affordable Care Act is about the most conservative health care plan possible that can actually work – it doesn't dismantle private, for-profit health insurance, and uses that mechanism to provide health care for the majority of Americans. It's a far cry from the better, universal health care systems that most other industrialized nations have, and that liberals favor, but the ACA has had a positive effect: "In 2016, there were 28.6 million Americans without health insurance, down from more than 48 million in 2010." Rather than addressing that remaining gap, Republicans voted to repeal the ACA over 70 times as of July 2017. Republicans had promised for several years to produce an alternative to the ACA, but never offered a coherent, workable plan. When Republicans finally did produce something, their plan allowed states to waive the provision that prevents insurance companies from refusing to cover or to charge more to people with pre-existing conditions. Such a move would save for-profit insurance companies money, of course, but would be absolutely horrible for citizens. Naturally, conservatives lied about this. It's important to note how much bad faith has featured in conservative arguments about health care, captured by Jonathan Chait's "Heritage uncertainty principle": "Conservative health-care-policy ideas reside in an uncertain state of quasi-existence. You can describe the policies in the abstract, sometimes even in detail, but any attempt to reproduce them in physical form will cause such proposals to disappear instantly."

The Social Safety Net: The usual Republican pattern since Reagan has been to pass tax cuts heavily favoring the rich, increase military spending (optional), create a deficit, and then claim the shortfall has to been made up by cutting the social safety net, especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Sure enough, the Republican "starve the beast" gambit is right on time, with Republicans calling to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even blamed the deficit on social spending and not the obvious culprit, his own tax bill, because he has no shame. It's crucial to notice that rank-and-file conservatives will publicly rail against social spending, but they're in favor of it when it benefits themselves – they just don't want it going to Those Other People. As Matt Taibbi concluded after interviewing supposedly anti-government conservatives, "they're full of shit."

Norms of Process and Governance: It would be hard to overstate just how much Newt Gingrich did to destroy Congress as a functioning institution in the 1990s, making the Republican Party far more tribal, vicious and dysfunctional to this day. More recently, in 2016, Mitch McConnell refused to grant a hearing to then-President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. It was a stunning abuse of power and violation of norms, but McConnell's bragged about it (because again, he has no shame). Meanwhile, Republican state legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, after losing the governorship to Democrats, have moved to limit the powers of the governor that were just fine when in Republican hands. Conservatives have an attitude that any election they don't win is inherently illegitimate, because the other guys aren't supposed to win and any abuse of power or change of the rules is thus justified. They'll argue for the power of the majority when in the majority, but will fight ruthlessly for minority rule when they're not. They do not want a fair system. They simply do not care about the will of the people if it doesn't align with their goals.

Democracy and Representative Government: Related to the norms above, the majority of conservative Republicans oppose making voting easier for everyone. Conservatives keep working to suppress voting , and this has a strong racial component. (Before the parties realigned in the 1960s, some of those anti-voting social conservatives were Southern Democrats.) Both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering, but after the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans have been worse and gerrymandering is likely to become more pronounced. Conservatism has always had an anti-democratic streak. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, cofounder of the conservative Heritage Foundation and also the so-called Moral Majority, said:

Now many of our Christians have what I call the "goo-goo" syndrome – good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people – they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

It'd be remiss not to also mention the racist Southern Strategy that's been key to most Republican presidential runs since Goldwater. It hasn't always worked, luckily, but winning elections through bigotry is not something to be proud of.

Wall Street and Consumer Protections: Both major parties are pretty beholden to Wall Street and the financial industry. Still, to quote a 2016 post:

. . . the Republican Party is demonstratively worse, opposing and trying to water down the Dodd-Frank Act (rather than seeing it as not going far enough), trying to block the creation and staffing of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (and then trying to weaken or eliminate it) and generally supporting plutocracy. Liberal activists aren't shy about criticizing the Democrats on this issue.

Predictably, the Trump administration has moved to curtail the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau even more. Financial companies make a killing as it is, but why protect average constituents when you can serve wealthy donors instead?

Attending and Affording College: Without going into depth on this issue, conservatives consistently work against the interests of students and for rich lenders instead.

Gun Safety: It's possible to support both gun ownership and reasonable restrictions for public safety, but the National Rifle Association, which once was a more moderate "sportsman" group, has for decades opposed almost every and any measure restricting firearms. Just this year, the NRA has issued rabid, apocalyptic, hyperpartisan ads, and has tried to bully doctors into silence: "Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves." (Yes, why hasn't the medical community consulted non-doctors about a health issue? How unfair! Trauma surgeons have responded to this ludicrousness, of course.) It's no surprise the NRA heavily favors donations to Republicans. Conservative arguments about gun safety often ignore the history of the Second Amendment, and the U.S. has an odd, destructive gun culture that complicates most discussions. Perhaps most galling is how the NRA and conservatives have worked to block research into gun violence. They're not arguing for better policies. They're actively preventing a more informed discussion, probably because they know enough to fear accurate conclusions.

Reproductive Freedom: Little has changed in decades, sadly – conservatives continue to attack reproductive freedom and women's rights, and the Trump administration has predictably done the same.

LGBT Issues: Some conservatives have gotten better on these, but as usual for conservatives on social issues, improvement is more the result of being dragged along by the culture than leading the cause. Opposing gay rights is a socially conservative movement, and it's no secret that homophobes overwhelmingly identify as conservatives and/or Republicans. Some try to use the patina of religion to justify their attitudes, but it's still bigotry. During his presidential campaign, Trump unconvincingly promised to protect gay rights, but of course he has been horrible.

Immigration Reform: Back during an 1980 debate, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were asked about how "illegal" immigrants and their children should be treated. Both candidates spoke about treating immigrants well, about how they were good people and should be made citizens. Both men would be booed by their party today. A recent study estimates the number of undocumented immigrants at 10.7 million. That number may be decreasing, but it's still far too high to make any kind of arrest-and-deportation scheme practical; a road-to-citizenship plan would be far more realistic and also much more humane. Trump's proposal to build a physical wall on the border is likewise ridiculously unrealistic and ignores glaring practical issues. Back in 2012, then-presidential-candidate Mitt Romney suggested a ludicrous self-deportation policy. The Trump administration has done the same, but also crafted a broader, crueler immigration policy. Indeed, it's hard to keep up with all the horrific stories from the border. Trump launched his presidential campaign with racist statements, and that approach remains central to his pitch and appeal.

Other Issues: I still haven't covered foreign policy, military spending, due process, torture, supporting the arts, and many other issues, but I've done that at some length in other pieces. Briefly: There's broad bipartisan agreement on general imperialism and military spending, although Republican presidential candidates always agitate for greater military expenditures, even though the U.S. military budget dwarfs that of the rest of the world. Many conservatives show a juvenile hostility toward the State Department, the United Nations and the value of diplomacy in general. Republicans were unwilling to hold the Bush administration accountable for lying the U.S. into the Iraq War and starting a torture regime. Democrats deserve some credit for leading a detailed torture investigation, but it's still classified, and real accountability remains unlikely. Obama's "look forward" policy was a mistake, because torture is more likely to come back. Just witness Trump's imbecilic, macho bragging about torture, Mike Pence refusing to disown it and Trump appointing a CIA head complicit in the torture regime who refused to condemn torture as immoral. Finally, in a sharply different vein, conservatives routinely threaten the relatively meager federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and PBS as an affirmation of tribal identity and just to be assholes.

Conservative policies are awful on the merits. That also means their positions leave little room for common ground, which doesn't have value if the ideas stink, no matter how much some pundits fetishize bipartisanship.

It wouldn't be right to abandon political outreach completely, but it's wise to identify who can actually be reached and who's a lost cause, at least in the short run. It's folly to expect conservative and Republican leaders to develop a conscience. It's dangerous to believe that their donors, who have invested in a long game of increased and hoarded power, want a democracy and a fair system. It's madness to think that rank-and-file conservatives and Republicans will abandon spite or party loyalty. And it's wishful thinking that mainstream corporate media outlets will abandon bothsiderism bullshit and other shallow analysis, no matter how much it hurts the nation. For now and the foreseeable future, the key thing to do about American conservatives and the Republican Party is to vigorously oppose them. It's up to the rest of us who care about good policy and responsible governance to talk, learn from each other, support each other and mobilize.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day 11/11/18

(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 "The War to End All Wars," because it's the 100th anniversary of the Great War's end, the armistice.

Back in 2009, 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)

"The Battle of the Somme" (2017)

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.

The War to End All Wars

Today, 11/11/18, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Great War, the supposed War to End All Wars that unfortunately didn't. I've always been struck by how eager nations were to go to war at the start and how horrific the reality often was. By the end, by most estimates, about 8.5 million soldiers were dead and the total casualty count was about 37.5 million. Add in a couple million civilian deaths from fighting and several million more indirectly from disease and hunger, and the toll is just staggering. The death count would be exceeded in World War II, but it's hard to overstate how devastating the "Great War" was to the world, especially Europe.

The Imperial War Museums (a set of five museums in Britain) has posted an excellent collection of first-hand British accounts on the armistice 100 years ago. Follow the link for the audio, but I've copied some key accounts below. Not everyone got the news about the armistice, and even for those who did, the final hours could be tense:

The news travelled at different speeds, and was delayed in getting to some places. George Jameson’s unit read about it.

When the war actually ended, we didn't even know about it. We knew that things were getting pretty critical, we knew that we were doing well and nobody wanted to cop out on one when the war might be ending tomorrow, sort of thing. It was the wrong time to get wounded or hit or anything, you see! So we were pretty careful. But we were moving forward with the idea of taking another position when one of the drivers shouted up to somebody, ‘There's a sign on that,’ it was an entrance to some house. He said, ‘There's a sign on that thing marking somebody’s headquarters and it says the wars over.’ Don’t believe it. Nobody would believe it. The war couldn't be over; it had been on for years, nobody would believe it could finish! It’s a fact; it says there the war was over. So somebody rode back and read this thing that said, as from 11 o'clock this morning, hostilities have ceased. And we then realised the war was over.

Fighting continued in some places as the news made its way along the Western Front, and men still lost their lives on the final day of the war. Jim Fox of the Durham Light Infantry remembered one such incident.

Of course, when the armistice was to be signed at 11 o'clock on the 11th of November, as from 6 o'clock that morning there was only the occasional shell that was sent either by us over the German lines or the German over at our lines. Maybe there was one an hour. And then, about 10am, one came down and killed a sergeant of ours who'd been out since 1915. He was killed with shrapnel, you know. Thought that was very unlucky. To think he’d served since 1915, three years until 1918, nearly four years and then to be killed within an hour of armistice…

William Collins clearly remembered conditions on the morning of the 11 November, and noted the significance of where he was that day.

On armistice morning, I remember the fog was – it was a Monday morning, November the 11th. The fog was so thick that visibility was down to 10 yards. And as we moved and moved on, we found ourselves at about 10 o'clock that morning we were up with the infantry patrols. And of course, when we found out that they were the closest to the Germans, we stopped and we stood in that place until… must have been oh, half past 12, one o'clock before the order was given to retire. A silence came over the whole place that you could almost feel, you know, after four and a half years of war, not a shot was being fired, not a sound was heard because the fog blanketed everything, you see, and hung really thickly over… We were north-east of Mons, whereas I'd started the battle four and a half years before, south-east of Mons. So there I was, back where the war started after nearly four and a half years of it.

For an exhibit, the Imperial War Museum in London recreated "the last few minutes of World War I when the guns finally fell silent at the River Moselle on the American Front" using WWI seismic data that the Smithsonian explains well. Take a listen:

(It seems the birds were added as an artistic choice, and I think they come in too early and too loudly, but it's still a fascinating piece.)

( Paris.)

In the field, some soldiers celebrated the armistice with gusto, while others were simply exhausted:

Charles Wilson of the Gloucestershire Regiment was delighted when he heard of the armistice.

Well of course there was tremendous jubilation, I can remember. We had just come out of this battle and the armistice was on the 11th of November. We were doing battalion drill back in some village in France when we formed up and the commanding officer made the announcement: an armistice was signed at 11 o'clock today. Of course there was a swell of excitement amongst the men and our only interest then was to find something to drink to celebrate it and there was nothing to be had, not a bottle of wine or anything else! However we soon put that right…

But Clifford Lane was just too physically and mentally shattered to celebrate.

Then as far as the armistice itself was concerned, it was an anti-climax. We were too far gone, too exhausted, really to enjoy it. All we could do was just go back to our billets; there was no cheering, no singing, we had no alcohol – that particular day we had no alcohol at all – and we simply celebrated the armistice in silence and thankfulness that it was all over. And I believe that happened quite a lot in France. There was such a sense of anti-climax; there was such a… We were drained of all emotion really – that’s what it amounted to, you see. Then it was a question of when we were going to get home…

( Trafalgar Square, London.)

More reactions:

Mary Lees, who worked for the Air Ministry, was caught up in the scenes of jubilation that day.

But of course, I mean, Armistice Day was fantastic. You see, you visualise every single office in Kingsway pouring down the Strand. I should think there must have been about 10,000 people. There was no traffic of course. It was solid, like that. And you see, when they got to the end of the Strand of course it opened up, like that, into Trafalgar Square. And still Trafalgar Square was packed. Well, we didn’t get back to the office, to our work, till about half past three, four. And, when I came to get my bus back in the evening, the people had been careering all round London on the buses. But nobody would go inside because they all wanted to go on top and cheer. I forget how many it was in the papers the next morning, fifty or sixty buses had all their railings broken, going up the stairs on the top.
For many, the moment of the armistice was a time to reflect on all the lives that had been lost during the war. Ruby Ord was serving in France with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.

I think it was a bit of an anti-climax. Suddenly you thought about, you see, all the people you had known who were killed, etc. They were just in the war zone, and they could come home in your imagination. But the Armistice brought the realisation to you that they weren’t coming back, that it was the end. I think that it was not such a time of rejoicing as it might have been. You were glad the fighting was over and that not more men would be killed. But I do think it was dampened down very much, in France. I think they had all the enthusiasm probably in England, but I think we were too near reality to feel that way. I didn’t, certainly. I did not go out of camp on Armistice Day.

This remembrance seems the best to end on:
After the long years of hardship, suffering and loss, it was no surprise that the news the war had finally ended was received with such a mixture of emotions by those who were immediately affected by it. From shock and disbelief, to relief and jubilation, men and women around the world had their own reactions to the armistice. Basil Farrer served on the Western Front during the war. He was in Nottingham on 11 November 1918 but found he couldn't join the cheering crowds in the city that day.

I remember Armistice Day and I didn't know at the time but in every city, everybody went mad. In London, they were dancing in the streets, the crowds, in all the cities, in Paris and in Nottingham too. In Market Square, it was one mass of people dancing and singing. I did not go there. I do remember – for some reason or other – inexplicable, especially in so young a chap as myself, I felt sad. I did – I had a feeling of sadness. And I did remember all those chaps who'd never come back, because there was quite a lot, nearly a million – not quite a million. As a matter of fact, in Paris I remember the Prince of Wales inaugurating a plaque in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris to the million dead of Great Britain and the British Empire. And I did have a feeling of sadness that day.

Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing, Belgium.)

(Notre Dame de Lorette, also known as Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery, France.)

(Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, France.)

(Poppy on a Canadian grave.)

Saturday, November 03, 2018

California and Los Angeles Voting 2018

Get out and vote on Tuesday, if you haven't already! This post will collate some California and Los Angeles County resources.

California voters should already have received the official voter information guide in the mail, but it's also online and available in multiple languages. Unfortunately, some candidates don't include statements, but the guide is particularly useful for seeing who's supporting and opposing the ballot propositions.

Local NPR station KPCC (89.3) has a great Voter's Edge feature that allows you to look up your ballot and compare candidates and positions on the ballot measures. (It seems to be specific to the Los Angeles area.) Another local NPR station, KCRW (89.9), hosts the same feature and has a good page collating all their interviews with candidates and other election coverage.

The Public Policy Institute of California hosted conversations between U.S. Senate candidates Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de León and between State Superintendent of School Supervision Candidates Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond.

The nonpartisan California Choices site collates the ballot proposition positions of state newspapers, the political parties, not-for-profit organizations and unions. It's useful to see them

For endorsements, here's the Los Angeles Times, the California Democratic Party, Los Angeles County Democratic Party, and if you're curious, the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. (The Green Party made no endorsements for statewide candidates, but did make recommendations on ballot propositions.)

The Los Angeles County Bar Association rates all the judicial candidates on how qualified they are. I find it quite useful, in conjunction with checking out the endorsements. (Finding good information on the judicial candidates is often the hardest.)

The progressive Courage Campaign has a voter guide in a slightly interactive format and a PDF.

Meanwhile, local pal David Dayen has inaugurated The Every Other Year Political Podcast, a funny, hour-long discussion with a former comedy partner, stand-up comedian Mark Champagne. They go through the ballot together, from state races all the way down to local county and city issues.

We'll give the last word to Willie – vote!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Labor Day 2018

Happy Labor Day! These videos are repeats, but they're good.

Here's Robert Reich from 2013, about celebrating labor on Labor Day.

This a Woody Guthrie classic, performed at the Pete Seeger 90th birthday concert:

Given the latest pushes from conservatives to further concentrate wealth and power with the wealthy, to let wages stagnate, and to slash the social safety net, it's a good time to think about labor and the quality of life for the majority of Americans versus a select few.

My most in-depth post to date for Labor Day and related issues remains this 2011 one. Feel free to link good pro-labor posts in the comments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Capitals Win the Stanley Cup

The Washington Capitals have finally won their first championship, in their forty-third season! It's also the first championship for DC in one of the four major sports since 1992 (although soccer team DC United has won four times in that span). I do most of my sports posting and commenting on fan blogs and social media, and I'm not going to post the 50 plus links I've collected, but I felt obliged to post something here. (The celebration parade was today in DC.)

Sports fandom can be a bit of a silly thing. Most of us inherit our favorite teams from parents or other relatives. Maybe we develop fandom from where we live or once lived. And dedicated fans feel excitement and disappointment, sometimes significant amounts of it, all based on the actions of a person or group of people we can't control. Fans can pour enormous time, energy and money into following sports, which might be better spent elsewhere. It's pretty irrational, really.

But fandom can still be glorious. The main reason we watch sports is because it can be entertaining and thrilling – watching two teams (or people) in opposition, with set rules, but an uncertain outcome, makes for good drama. (Brecht once observed, essentially, that bad theater wasn't as gripping as good sports, and theater should strive to be at least as engaging.) And some athletic feats are just impressive. There's a beauty to a good pass in football, soccer, basketball or hockey. Fandom is often communal – gathering with friends and family, celebrating and commiserating with fellow fans in a bar or in online communities during games. And surely sports are a healthier form of competition or even aggression than, say, war or other actual fighting.

As a lifelong Packers fan, I was thrilled to see the Packers win the Super Bowl in 1997 after a 29-year drought and several years of serious contention. Their underdog run in 2011, winning six games in a row just to make the playoffs and then winning the championship, was also amazing. Likewise, as a lifelong, masochist Cubs fan, seeing the Cubs win the World Series after over 100 years was astounding. Both fandoms have entailed considerable heartache due to playoff losses. (I never fully celebrate a Packers game until it's done, having seen some heroic finishes but also last-second defeats.)

But the Capitals' championship is particularly special because it's their first. And they are – or were – serious contenders for heartbreak kings. The Caps have been really good for a significant amount of time without winning a championship, facing epically bad luck or just not pulling it off. As The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell puts it:

In the past decade, the Caps lead the NHL in regular season points with 1,019, ahead of the Penguins (1,008) and the Chicago Blackhawks (988). Nobody else is close. In those 10 years, the Penguins and Blackhawks have won six Cups — three each. In the NHL’s luck-laced playoffs, no one team, no matter how good, is assured of winning a title in any particular year. But sustained excellence for so long, as Pittsburgh and Chicago illustrate, is usually rewarded.

(The rest of the column, explaining more Capitals mishaps and how this season was different, is well worth the read.)

The Stanley Cup is easily the coolest and most storied trophy in sports (at least in North America), and it's arguably the hardest to win, with luck playing a significant role in addition to the usual skill and grit and all the sports clichés one can summon.

I first started following the Caps in 1998 or 1999, after their first Finals appearance. I didn't follow them at all as a kid; their TV ads in the DC area were cheaply made, the team didn't seem to be that good (I know now they did make some playoff runs), it seemed a bit silly to me that hockey was being played in a fairly Southern city, and I played soccer as a kid. But one day during a brief return stint in DC, I read a piece in The Washington Post about the Capitals making the Finals – and being swept – but how they had exceeded expectations and were actually pretty good now. I thought it'd be interesting to finally check out a game. The next season, I went down to the then-MCI Center and got the cheapest seat possible – a $10 or $12 "Eagle's Nest" seat, which meant the last one or two nosebleed rows at the ends of the arena. In theory, they're the worst seats possible, but you can see the action developing pretty well, especially odd-man rushes. I saw the Capitals play their arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing 4-3 in overtime. But the game was exciting and amazing. It had the gorgeous passing and weaving I loved in soccer, but it was accelerated, in a condensed space, and with the potential for sudden reversals when one team pressed and missed and the other team could potentially break out the other way. I was hooked. I dragged some family members to a game, and even though I was moving out of town, I got a partial season subscription that year, picking games when I could be in town and the most interesting matchups otherwise, and gave those game tickets to my father. (He kindly repaid me for those tickets, although I told him he didn't have to.)

Some years I was so busy I couldn't follow the Caps well, or they were so bad I didn't have the heart to check in constantly. But for the past several years, I've followed every single one of the 82 regular-season games, listening to most of them on the radio app on weekdays, possibly catching the end of the games when just getting home, watching recaps, and celebrating and commiserating on fan sites. I've attended a game or two every time I've been back in DC during hockey season, and for a few years have attended the Caps-Kings game here in Los Angeles (which makes me feel slightly bad, because the Kings are my second or third favorite team). The Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy for most points/best record in the regular season the previous two seasons, and have done that three times in the past 10 years. In those seasons especially, it seemed like they would finally break through and win a championship. But they kept on getting bumped out, in the past 10 years by the Flyers, Canadiens, and Lightning once apiece, the Rangers three times, and the Penguins three times. The screwy playoff system of the past few years, which eliminated reseeding after rounds, meant the Caps and Penguins kept meeting in the second round instead of the conference finals, even though they were arguably the best two teams in the Eastern Conference (possibly in the league, but certainly in the top four or so). As a fan, you can tell yourself that, statistically, your team should win eventually (hey, the Cubs finally did it again after more than a century), but life as a Caps fan has meant plenty of thrills during the regular season, and excitement and agony during the playoffs, finishing with crushing disappointment and despair at the injustice of the universe (or as head coach Barry Trotz might put it, "the Hockey Gods").

As a result, in recent years, my Caps devotion has probably been my most intense or at least tumultuous fandom. I do follow every Packers game, and can get engaged enough to live and die with every play, especially come playoff time. But there are only 16 games in a season, plus the playoffs. And the Packers lead the league with 13 championships, and won one in the past 10 years, all of which honestly has taken the sting out of some pretty brutal playoff disappointments, at least for me. It's unrealistic and greedy to expect a championship every year, and healthy fandom necessitates enjoying the ride. Meanwhile, for the Cubs, I periodically check in on the standings, look at the scores, and will put a game on in the background in the rare event it's on, but I don't study in detail every recap of their 162 regular-season games and typically save following closely until the playoffs loom and if the Cubs have a chance. I've been diehard with the Caps, and this Stanley Cup run and win will probably be the zenith of my fan experience with sports, because it's the Caps' very first championship, and for both players and fans, it represents a host of demons slain. (I'm reminded of a good friend who's a lifelong Angels fan and finally got to see them win the World Series in 2002. Likewise, unless I have other rooting interests, I always cheer for the team that hasn't won a championship or has the longest drought.)

Most NHL pundits and fans thought the Caps would compete for a playoff spot, but few thought they would win the division. This Caps team was not as talented or deep as were the teams of the previous two seasons, but somehow, it was the one to win the championship. Why? Lower expectations? More youth and speed? More adversity and working through it? So much was improbable. Defenseman Brooks Orpik scoring a game-winning goal in the Finals after last scoring on February 26th, 2016 (yes, 2016). Jakub Vrana and Andrei Burakovsky both being scratched in games and then each coming back and scoring two goals in later games. Devante Smith-Pelly scoring only seven goals in the regular season and then scoring seven clutch goals in the playoffs, including a game-tying goal in what wound up being the series finale while being tripped and falling down. Beating the Penguins on the road with Backstrom and Wilson out and playing a bunch of rookies. Evgeny Kuznetsov leading all players in the playoffs with 32 points and scoring gorgeous, silky-smooth goals, including winning the series against the arch-rival Penguins in overtime. Goalie Braden Holtby shutting out the excellent Tampa Bay Lightning in two successive elimination games, and in the Finals making a jaw-dropping stop known as The Save. Backstrom being quietly productive as usual. Ovechkin scoring through skill and persistence and being a force of nature. The Caps winning all four series after being behind, and winning all four on the road, and winning all four games when they could eliminate an opponent. Ovechkin winning the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP (both Kuznetsov and Holtby also would have deserved it), and more importantly, winning the Stanley Cup, silencing the largely inane, idiotic criticism he and the Caps have been subjected to for years. This postseason was nerve-wracking and thrilling and magical.

Here's the official NHL recap of Game 5:

The Capitals put together a nice video from their perspective on the game, including "backstage" footage, "We Are the Champions":

Here's the handshake line, one of the great traditions in the sport:

Then there's the presentation of the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin accepts the Conn Smythe, but watch the footage and you can see that this is one he really wants. Just look at Ovechkin's unbridled joy. And the first person who gets the Cup after him, of course, is Nicklas Backstrom:

Video of the team photo, with two late but important additions:

Now that the season's over, it'll be nice to have more time back for other pursuits, and less stress, but I'm glad to have gone through all of it. The St. Louis Blues are probably now the most overdue team for a championship in hockey, but I hope every devoted fan in every sport gets an experience like this.

Monday, May 28, 2018

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Blowing Things Up

Today is Memorial Day, which is meant for remembering those who died in military service. It's also a good day to reflect on war in general.

Back in May 2017, John Quiggin of Crooked Timber made a good observation about Trump bombing Syria and the pundits this impressed. Quiggin:

Blowing things and people up is seen as a demonstration of clarity and resolve, unless someone is doing it to us, in which case it's correctly recognised as cowardly and evil. The most striking recent example (on "our" side) was the instant and near-universal approval of Trump's bombing of an airfield in Syria, which had no effect at all on events there.

Last month, Quiggin wrote a follow-up about "another round of bombing from Trump, and yet more instant applause." These dynamics aren't limited to Trump, of course; they have a long history in the U.S. and other nations.

Some wars may be necessary. Others definitely aren't. In theory, every pundit or government official and most citizens should have heard the saying that "war is hell" and should know the truth behind it, thanks to schooling, listening to veterans, and all the good documentaries, feature films and books on the subject. Anyone who wants a war is an idiot or a scoundrel. Yet even when military action is pretty clearly a bad idea or at least pointless, some people who should know better will still cheer it. They'll hail it as a sign of leadership or being decisive or tough or manly, while virtues like wisdom and careful thought are ignored if not vilified. (And many in this crowd will try to claim patriotism while they do it.) Surely one of the points of Memorial Day is that we shouldn't add to the numbers of the dead unnecessarily. But our national political discourse, on matters of war as with most everything else, is too heavily influenced by idiots and scoundrels.

It makes sense for Memorial Day to be a day of reflection or getting together with friends. But maybe it can also spur some civil engagement later in the year, whether it's working for veterans or food banks or some other worthy cause, such as registering people to vote and getting them to the polls. It's relatively easy to blow something up, and generally both harder and more worthwhile to build and sustain something positive with others.

People talk about Iwo Jima as the most glorious amphibious operation in history. I've had Iwo veterans tell me it was more similar to Peleliu than any other battle they read about. What in the hell was glorious about it?...

My parents taught me the value of history. Both my grandfathers were in the Confederate Army. They didn't talk about the glory of war. They talked about how terrible it was.
– WWII veteran E.B. "Sledgehammer" Sledge (1923–2001)