Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Jon Swift Roundup 2020

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

(A Jon Swift picture that captures the spirit of 2020.)

Welcome to the 2020 edition. This year was much, much more eventful than most of us would have liked.

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 2010–2019 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, and apologies to anyone I missed. (As always, my goal is to find the right balance between inclusive and manageable.) Special thanks to DougJ at Balloon Juice for hosting a submissions thread. 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 #jonswift2020.

This has been a rough year for many of us, and in addition to the usual political insights, this year's crop of posts features a number of personal reflections and remembrances. 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:

Mock, Paper, Scissors
"October Surprised"
Tengrain: "This post showed the intersection of the 2020 Election and pandemic news as the story was breaking fast that Prznint Stupid had caught the disease that he refused to deal with. Karma is a bitch."

You Might Notice a Trend
"What If: Think Of the Future Heading Into Bidenworld"
Paul Wartenberg: "Musing over what needs doing when Biden enters the Presidency, and the potential damage trump and McConnell will throw up to obstruct Biden's rebuilding efforts."

The Rude Pundit
"Oh, Fuck You, Trump Voters. Just Fuck You"
Lee Papa: "The stupidity of Trump voters is wrecking the country, and they should never be forgiven for that."

The Rectification of Names
"A Senate Trial"
Yastreblyansky: "It seems so long ago that Donald Trump was sort of tried for his crimes of attempted bribery and obstruction of Congress and sort of acquitted that we can look back on it almost with nostalgia. My reaction was a 1930s song parody ("A Fine Romance") that didn't get a lot of attention at the time, but I think it was pretty good, plus there's video of Ginger and Fred."

This Is So Gay
"Scripture and Karen Armstrong"
Duncan Mitchel: " Karen Armstrong is a best-selling popularizer of an ecumenical, pan-denominational American style of religion. It may be less socially harmful than some varieties, but it's still wrong."

Just an Earthbound Misfit, I
Comrade Misfit: "Musings on why I will never again vote for a Republican."

Brilliant at Breakfast Rebooted
"What will American society look like when this is over?"
Jill: " COVID first wave musings on what "new normal" will look like in post-pandemic America."

Poor Impulse Control
"Underneath A Red Moon"
Tata: "Get yourself some stamps and get in touch with the people who know you for the giant doofus you are: your actual friends."

The Way of Cats
"The Rescue Imperative"
Pamela Merritt: "A random event led to me adopting two feral kitten brothers. I explain it was because I followed a Law of the Universe: The Rescue Imperative."

his vorpal sword
"The Festival of Mendacity™ — Law & Order Edition"
Hart Williams: "Anti-intellectualism threatens the very soul of our democracy: describing (presciently, as it turns out) the fall campaign and the modern GOP by looking at their bizarro-world "convention" – including Matt Gaetz modeling for a DEVO album cover."

David E's Fablog
"The Biggest Loser and His Lawn Jockey Twins"
David Ehrenstein

Show Me Progress
" Edited for Accuracy*"
Michael Bersin: "Nine months later – nothing has changed."

"What I love about the Democratic Party"
bluzdude: "In response to a Republican meme intimating that the only thing Democrats have going for them is the hatred of Trump, I wrote a post listing the myriad of reasons I love the Democratic Party."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"Death in the time of COVID-19 is different"
Larry Erickson: "My usual pieces report on or analyze some public issue, but something happened in the spring that caused me to write something very personal. I don't know if it's my best of the year, but it's the one means the most to me."

[this space intentionally left blank]
"Shit Mountain Blues: Anti-masking, Open Carry, and the Right to Do Harm"
Dallas Taylor: "How is refusing to mask like open carrying a long gun? Both are assertions of a positive right to do harm, both an affirmation of hierarchical power and a desperate attempt to preserve it in the face of the long arc of history. Neither is doing anyone any good."

Strangely Blogged
We've Seen This Before
Vixen Strangely: "Trump and friends might find their little "coincidences" funny, but I'm not laughing."

The two nations and the new migratory politics
Infidel753: "The United States has become two mutually-hostile nations. The solution is not political separatism, but colonization."

Hysterical Raisins
Corned Beef and Cabbage
nonnie9999: "This is not the snark I usually write. Instead, it is a tribute to my mom and the post dearest to my heart."

"Why I See Kamala's Racial Attack on Joe as a Positive Seminal Moment for Our Country"
Annie: "Many people (myself included) were offended when Kamala Harris attacked Joe Biden during the first Presidential debate for his position on school integration decades earlier. I believe Biden's selecting her as his running mate—and her acceptance—demonstrate fine qualities about them both and bode well for our nation."

"The Songs Our Mothers Sang to Us"
Ellen O'Neill: " Yoko Ono told an extremely moving story on Desert Island Discs about her mother in crisis and a song she taught Yoko as a child. My mom taught me the same song, Seems unlikely, but music unites the world. Plus a fabulous rendition by Linda Rondstat and the Muppets.

First Draft
"If Life Were a Capra Movie"
Peter Adrastos Athas: "A Trump removal/impeachment trial reverie."

God's Spies
" '95% Effective' May Not Mean What You Think It Means"
Thomas Neuburger (Gaius Publius as was): " Excessive haste could have fatal consequences, since public trust and wide vaccination are the only ways any vaccine, even the best ones, can work."

World O' Crap
"The Masque of the Orange Death"
Scott Clevenger: "Meet Henry Tifft Gage, the wildly petty and incompetent California governor who showed Donald Trump how to bobble a plague."

"The Reagan Revolution at 40: Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!"
driftglass: "The ruin you see all around you is not because we're four years into the Trump administration. It's because we're 40 years into the Reagan Revolution."

The Professional Left Podcast
"Ep 577: Political University #6 – Define The 'Center' "
Blue Gal chose this episode of her podcast with Driftglass: "Just because Steve Schmidt registered as a Democrat (Welcome to the party, pal!) does NOT make him a "Centrist." We don't let the Right decide what is center, American, or reasonable any more after Donald Trump, period. Also, we are noted experts on the use of the eff bomb."

"You Can't Put a Mask on My Liberty"
Jon Perr: "My personal law firm of Mr. AR and Mr. Glock are all I need to know my constitutional rights. That means no waiting to get into your store, no keeping six feet away from anyone else and, for damn sure, no face mask."

Balloon Juice
"Pandemic Paranoia Open Thread: Presenting the 'New' Wuhan Coronovirus"
Balloon Juice readers nominated Anne Laurie's series of COVID-19 posts, which started with this one.

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Philip Williams 1926–2020"
Mustang Bobby: "A tribute to my father who died on May 25, 2020 at the age of 93, due to Covid-19. He loved his family and his four children, and as my mom wrote to us, 'please keep his memory enshrined by going forward as he would have you do... giving back and making sure that wherever you are you’re not just sitting, but marching.' "

The New World
"Randy Newman and the Golden Horde"
Gary Koutnik: " 'The New World' began in April as a project to give me something to do, and keep me writing, during what was shaping up to be a very long and strict quarantine (70 y.o., hypertension, etc.). It's thoughts and speculations about what the new world might be like – the world after the pandemic is all over. I began by comparing our journey through the pandemic to Columbus' journey in 1492, and came back to that analogy many times (but not in this post)."

Battle Born Econ
"The Invisible Hand is Wearing PPE"
BattleBornEcon: "My goal as a blogger is to apply my economics background to help people who don't have that understanding grasp what's going on and why. This post is my best example of that. I break down the basics of game theory for a lay audience and relate that to our current COVID reality to explain exactly what we've been seeing since this post was published in May."

The Debate Link
"The Cycle of Republican Acquiescence to Authoritarianism"
David Schraub: "For every GOP lurch towards authoritarianism, a predictable pattern emerges. Prior to the fact, Republican apologists are appalled that anyone would suggest they'd do something so outrageous. Then Trump supports the authoritarian, and Republicans are put in a position of opposing their leader. Then it becomes plausible that the step would succeed, and Republicans are tempted by the allure of ill-gotten authoritarian power. Then they acquiesce. And then the cycle restarts."

Mark Painter
"Chadwick Boseman and Black Panther"
Mark Painter: "My thoughts on the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the meaning of Black Panther to white people."

Bluestem Prairie
"Baldurshof: Third Hof of the Asatru Folk Assembly setting up in Murdock, Minnesota"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "After a tip from a reader in tiny Murdock, Minnesota, I broke the story of a white supremacist pagan band, deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, establishing a little hof on the prairie. The ongoing saga drew national media attention."

Mad Kane's Political Madness
"Non-Deal-Maker-In-Chief (2-Verse Limerick)"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "My 2-verse limerick about Trump's belated interest in the Covid Relief Bill."

Lance Mannion
"Joe among the poets"
Lance Mannion: "Where Joe Biden, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Hardy, and I meet. "So we go back emptied,/ to nourish and resist/ the words of coming to rest:// "birthplace, roofbeam, whitewash,/ flagstone, hearth,/ like unstacked iron weights// afloat among galaxies."

Roy Edroso Breaks It Down
Hillbilly Effigy
Roy Edroso: "Sometimes a movie is so bad it can only be reviewed as a parody."

Vagabond Scholar
"Punishment Conservatives"
Batocchio: " 'Law and order' conservatives don't really support the law, due process or civil rights. They just want to see the people they hate punished."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging and everything else in 2021, which we can hope is a happier year.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

Happy Thanksgiving! Arlo Guthrie announced his retirement earlier this year for health reasons; you can read his statement on his website here. I saw him perform a few years back and at least half a dozen times over the years, most often with Pete Seeger. It's too bad he can't tour anymore, but he's currently 73 and started young, so he been performing for over 50 years, which is pretty impressive. His story/song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" starts with a real story about Thanksgiving and a closed garbage dump. Here's the original 1967 version, from Arlo's debut album, Alice's Restaurant:

Arlo performed the massacree on tours only every decade or so, and I was happy to hear it live. He added some funny stuff about Nixon, and later rerecorded his entire debut album, including his updated version, plus pretty arrangements of the other songs. From 1996:

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Armistice Day 11/11/20

(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. (No new post this year.)

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.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Punishment Conservatives

As far as this problem of law and order is concerned, I am for law and order.
– Richard Nixon, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.
I remember this guy, [reporter Ali] Velshi, he got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas, and he went down. He didn't, he was down. 'My knee, my knee.' [Crowd laughter] Nobody cared, these guys didn't care. They moved him aside. [Crowd laughter] And they just walk right through. It was like, it was the most beautiful thing. [Crowd hooting] No, because after we take all that crap, for weeks and weeks, they would take this crap, and then you finally see men get up there and go right to, didn't, wasn't it really a beautiful sight? [Crowd cheers] It's called law and order, law and order.
– Donald Trump, at a September 19th, 2020 rally.

Conservative claims often can't be taken at face value. Almost all of the time, when they say "freedom," they really mean privilege. And when they say "law and order," they likewise mean something else. They don't really support the law, because they don't support due process, and they certainly don't support the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters or reporters or anyone else they view as Other. They do care about "order," not in the sense of a fair, equal, just system, but meaning their preferred hierarchy, with themselves on top, and punishment enforced against anyone uppity enough to step out of line.

Possibly the only good thing about Donald Trump is that he sometimes says the quiet parts out loud. Digby covered the September Trump rally in more depth – including its blatant racism – but Velshi responded, "So, @realDonaldTrump, you call my getting hit by authorities in Minneapolis on 5/30/20 (by a rubber bullet, btw, not a tear gas cannister) a "beautiful thing" called "law and order". What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?" The footage of cops using tear gas and then rubber bullets on Velshi and others for no good reason is chilling. Velshi reflected, "I’ve since said to colleagues, if we were covering this somewhere else, we’d be saying, 'An authoritarian regime was silencing opposition and targeting media.' That’s what it felt like. That’s not the way it’s supposed to go here." Police brutality remains a serious problem on its own, but it also reveals a significant problem about the conservative base. The violence against Velshi and others was unnecessary and arguably unlawful. And Trump was reveling in it, as was the crowd, who he egged on. The conservative base views journalists reporting the news factually and doing their jobs as one of their many enemies. They might approve of Velshi or other being arrested, but what they really want to see is violence inflicted on the people they dislike. Whether that's legal or a good, sustainable system doesn't matter to them; they just want to know that the right people are being hurt and pushed around. Instead of being "law and order" conservatives, they can be more accurately described as punishment conservatives.

Punishment conservatives contrast strongly with the people who believe in due process, which does include some self-described conservatives, such as Alberto Mora and others who opposed the Bush torture regime. Due process conservatives stand with plenty of liberals and self-identified independents in believing in due process, the social contract, the Commons, voting rights, civilization in general, and respecting that representative government can make decisions even if they don't approve of all the actual decisions. But such people are a minority in the conservative movement and the Republican Party and have no real power in them. Many have fled and changed their political party or self-identification.

Conscientious citizens are left with the growing problem of what to do about the conservative base – movement conservatives – punishment conservatives – or whatever they should be called. Perhaps "punishment conservatives" is just another name for authoritarian conservatives or is a subset. But what they believe is more important than their label. They support violence against those they don't like, regardless of its legality. They oppose a free and accurate press. They oppose democracy and universal voting rights. They view any election result they don't like as inherently illegitimate and believe they get to veto any decision by a representative government they don't like. They believe in entrenched inequality and a hierarchy with themselves on top, and have an undying (and unjustified) faith in their own inherent superiority. They dogmatically believe in significant falsehoods and seek to make reality bend to their warped views. Trump is the most prominent and powerful current example of these punishment/authoritarian conservatives, but he's also just one part of a long and dangerous movement.

Consider the conservative response to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year old who traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin with guns to confront protestors for racial justice and is "accused of fatally shooting two demonstrators and injuring a third"; he has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide. He acted as a vigilante, but quickly became a martyr figure for some conservatives. His mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, received a standing ovation in Wisconsin at a Waukesha County Republican Party event, as relayed by conservative Michelle Malkin, who added that she "was able to talk to Kyle by phone & THANK HIM for his courage!" Other conservatives started fundraisers for Kyle Rittenhouse, and some conservative politicians praised or defended him, including Donald Trump, who could muster condemnation for an anti-fascist accused of a shooting but none for Rittenhouse. Worse than that, "federal law enforcement officials were directed to make public comments sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse." Rittenhouse might not have acted lawfully, but that hasn't mattered to his conservatives fans, because he inflicted violence on people they fear and hate.

Consider as well the case of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who, like many other governors, issued stay-at-home guidelines earlier in the year to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. In response, angry conservative activists, overwhelmingly white and many of them with guns, swarmed the state capitol on multiple occasions. Many conservatives have refused to wear masks or follow other safety guidelines to help halt the pandemic, continuing a conservative trend of denying science and fighting ferociously for the bedrock conservative principle that anything I don't like is unconstitutional. Trump, as always making things worse, tweeted in all caps, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and repeated the pattern for other states.

In early October, the FBI announced that it had prevented a frightening plot by conservative "militia" groups to kidnap Whitmer, put her on "trial," and murder her. The general national reaction was shock, but conservative media outlets tried to deny that the criminals were conservative, and Michigan Republican candidate Paul M Smith claimed the plot was a "totally bogus sham," a "pre-election stunt" and that "these citizens never did anything illegal." (To its credit, the state party disowned Smith.) Other conservative conspiracy theorists, including Alex Jones, claimed the plot was a false flag operation to make conservatives look bad yet simultaneously approved of the terrorists' alleged actions. Conservative Rick Wiles similarly blamed Whitmer for provoking the plot.

In Whitmer's address on the plot and the crazy situation in Michigan, she condemned "hatred, bigotry and violence" and also public figures who didn't call it out or even encouraged it, including Trump. Rather than tamping things down, Trump responded with another set of angry tweets and then attacked Whitmer again at a Michigan rally. At a subsequent Michigan rally, petulant manchild Trump mused that maybe the kidnapping and murder plot against Whitmer wasn't a bad thing. As usual, the crowd approved of Trump's irresponsible, vindictive attitude. As Digby observed, Trump is openly excusing terrorism now, and she further quipped, "Very fine people can disagree whether it’s a problem to kidnap and execute a sitting Governor because she closed gyms for a couple of weeks and asked people to wear masks. I mean, she probably deserves it, amirite?" The problem is not just Trump, because his many supporters agree. And Trump and his supporters have shown that they approve of cops assaulting protesters, cops assaulting journalists, vigilantes killing protesters, and vigilantes kidnapping and killing duly elected officials doing their jobs trying to protect the public. (On a related note, Dr. Fauci and other health officials have unconscionably received death threats merely for advocating for public health.) We shouldn't make excuses for Trump and his supporters and should assume that they're completely serious about all their authoritarian, violent rhetoric. They should be held to account.

Conservative hostility toward the press goes back decades, at least. Trump has put the press in pens at his rallies and verbally attacked them, leading the conservative faithful in booing the press or otherwise harassing them. It brings to mind the less dangerous but still troubling and illegal "free speech zones" used by the George W. Bush administration for protesters. Timothy McVeigh, 1995's Oklahoma City bomber, killed 168 people and injured at least 680 others, yet in 2002, Ann Coulter said, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to The New York Times building." Coulter reiterated her remarks several times and also accused The New York Times of treason for coverage she didn't like. Coulter tries to be shocking, of course, but she has largely gotten a pass throughout her career, and more importantly, she expresses an entitled hatred endemic among the conservative base. At a Trump rally in 2016, a photo made the rounds due to a Trump supporter's t-shirt, which said, "Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required." Such shirts date back to the Bush era at the very least. Such eliminationist rhetoric is common among conservatives, whereas it's pretty rare among liberals and other nonconservatives. As John Dickerson observed in 2006, the left-wing blogosphere wants the press to do a better job, because "when the press gets it wrong, left-wing bloggers believe, the people are ill-informed and democracy suffers." In contrast, "At some level, the right doesn't much like that the press exists. They don't want to fix it, they want to drive a stake through its heart." Authoritarian conservatives don't want the truth – they want the party line. And they'd like to see anyone who doesn't toe that line punished.

Conservatism has always had an antidemocratic strain. Authoritarian conservatives tend to view any election they lose as inherently illegitimate, and approve of conservative voter suppression efforts, other election cheating and any other tactics to undermine outcomes they don't like. (The people's will be damned, unless it happens to match their own.) In 1980, Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the right-wing Heritage Foundation, the so-called Moral Majority and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told his fellow conservatives, "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."

In 1994, ultraconservative, Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, member of the Foreign Relations Committee, threatened President Bill Clinton, saying in the context of visiting military bases, "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard." Helms later said he didn't mean to be taken seriously, but the Secret Service felt otherwise. To their credit, other Republicans criticized Helms, but his remarks were telling; Helms went on to say Clinton was not up to the job of commander-in-chief and that he had "serious problems with his record of draft avoidance, with his stand on homosexuals in the military and with the declining defense capability of America's armed forces." Helms further complained that Clinton should not be "immune from criticism," but apparently criticizing Clinton without suggesting that military personnel would or should assault or even kill the president of another party was beyond Helms' moral capabilities.

In 2009, when President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress, Republican South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shockingly interrupted Obama, shouting "You lie!" In point of fact, Obama was telling the truth that his health care plan would not insure illegal immigrants. Wilson later called the White House to apologize, but refused to apologize on the House floor. He was admonished by the House of Representatives, but the vote was mostly along party lines, so his fellow Republicans sided with Wilson. Wilson received a huge surge in donations after the incident (as did his Democratic challenger at the time), showing that other conservatives and Republicans outside Congress also approved of Joe Wilson's actions. Wilson has had his words used against him by protesters since, but he's still in Congress and the overwhelming favorite to win reelection in 2020. Wilson's interruption was an unprecedented, stunning show of disrespect, and given the subject and speaker, there was a strong undercurrent of bigotry: a white, conservative Southerner putting an uppity black man in his place, to the approval of his party and other conservatives.

On October 7th, 2020, conservative, Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee tweeted, "We’re not a democracy" and "Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that." Vox provided the most charitable reading of Lee's comments, placing them in a conservative tradition of selective reading of the founding fathers, which still leaves Lee's claims as utter bullshit on both historical and moral grounds. Mike Lee is not an outlier, and was merely more open than usual about expressing the authoritarianism deeply woven into U.S. conservatism, a dynamic that has become increasingly troubling. The New York Times account of Mike Lee's remarks included a key passage:

The New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat called his comments an "escalation of GOP and WH rhetoric about protestors being a mob and Dems being 'too dangerous to rule,' " adding, "Such talk often precedes ‘exceptional’ and authoritarian gov’t actions. Look for more of this in future."

Mike Lee's statements should be viewed in the context of decades of voter suppression by conservatives. We should also consider Donald Trump's repeated threats about not leaving office even if he loses the election, as if he has a choice. Charles P. Pierce correctly links the Whitmer kidnapping plot to the power grabs of Wisconsin and North Carolina Republican legislators, and observes, "Republicans no longer accept the results of any election they didn't win, nor do they accept the legitimacy of any elected official except their own. That is the one abiding principle left to this listing hulk of a political party, and it's frankly terrifying." In "Trump’s Voter-Suppression Strategy Is a Crisis (Even If It Backfires)," Eric Levitz notes attempts by the Republican Party nationwide to suppress the vote, and points out that even if Biden and the Democrats win, "there is no contradiction between acknowledging that the 2020 election is likely to witness historically high turnout and believing that the election will be tainted by voter suppression. What qualifies as a historically high turnout rate in the United States is just mediocre by international standards." Conservative acceptance of elections and the basic tenets of modern democracy and representative government is conditional at best.

This hostility toward a fair system is by no means a new development – it's definitional for a major strain of conservatism if not the whole movement and ideology. As Steve Benen observed in 2010, when conservatives say "freedom," they don't mean freedom for everyone. As Matt Taibbi observed the same year, conservatives strongly support social spending for themselves but oppose it for Those Other People – in other words, conservatives are "full of shit." They believe in their own inherent superiority and that the people they hate and fear should be treated as second-class citizens, even if they do not explicitly use such language. These attitudes don't necessarily include racism, but unsurprisingly, they often do. Increasingly, American conservatives can be viewed in the European tradition of Herrenvolk republicanism, which reserves social democracy for the white majority. White conservatives have grown increasingly nasty in the belief that their political, financial and cultural power is slipping away.

Conservative policies are completely awful on the merits. But conservatives also want an unfair power structure. These two factors are deeply interwoven – conservatives lie and cheat because they're unlikely to win in an honest discussion of competing policies. But they'd be especially unlikely to succeed in convincing the general public of their core dogma that they should always win; they should always rule; they should always get their own way. Conservative arguments such as Mike Lee's ahistorical claims against democracy, Cheney and Addington's unitary executive theory, the sovereign citizen movement, Ammon Bundy's claims that he can seize public lands and not pay taxes, the theocrats claiming United States was founded as a Christian nation, Mitch McConnell's fabricated and shifting rules for judicial appointments, and hollering that it's unconstitutional to be asked to wear a mask – all of these claims are counterfactual and complete bullshit, but in addition to that, the common thread is the underlying tenet: we can do whatever the hell we want, with no accountability.

It does bear mentioning that American conservatives are constantly lied to, with decades of conservative dark money shaping political discourse, and major conservative media outlets increasingly becoming sheer propaganda. But those lies and propaganda work in large part because conservatives already firmly believe in significant falsehoods. They believe that if they succeed, it's due to their own merits, and if Those Other People succeed, it's because they were given an unfair advantage, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Liberals are concerned with fairness, whereas conservatives focus on power, so they can use the same terms yet mean radically different things. Conservatives also typically believe that life and politics are a zero-sum game, so they fight for personal or tribal group advantage, not for a fair system for everyone. This brings us to a crucial point:

The conservative base does not hate many of their fellow Americans because they believe false things. They believe false things because they hate many of their fellow Americans. This is one of many reasons conventional fact-checking does not work on them. They have no real commitment to the truth or learning. They believe they already know the truth and have little interest in changing their views.

One of the most telling statements about American conservatism was made in 2019 by a woman who was negatively affected by Trump and the Republican Party shutting down the government for political leverage: "I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this. . . . I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting." She said the quiet part out loud. The conservative base, authoritarian conservatives, punishment conservatives, are driven by spite, and this sums up their toxic mix of entitlement and resentment – they want to see their many perceived enemies hurt or put in their place.

How should we think of conservatives? Some self-identified conservatives believe in due process and democracy and civilization and all those good things, and liberals and other nonconservatives can work with them. We share a common foundation in reality and a commitment to building, maintaining and improving a system for everyone (even if some improvements lag woefully behind). Alas, such conservatives are a minority in the movement and have no meaningful power in the Republican Party.

Other conservatives can be thought of decent people with redeeming qualities in other parts of their lives, but bad citizens. Treating other Americans as second-class or being antidemocratic is simply not compatible with being a good citizen. These people may be devoted to their families, for example, but because they view politics as a zero-sum game, they will often fight for their families or insular groups at the expense of larger communities, and thus a normally positive trait fuels negative actions politically. Some of us may be friends with such people, and they can be reached, but it often takes greater life experiences, education, travel, or a labor-intensive, one-on-one approach from a trusted friend or family member.

Some conservatives are pretty awful as people in addition to being bad citizens, unfortunately. And professional political hacks and politicians are generally a lost cause.

Calling out the ills of conservatism is important, but it's been hampered for decades by conservative shouting, as well as the press giving conservatives unearned respectability and trafficking in false equivalences, or "both siderism." Likewise, people who think of themselves as moderates, or centrists, but certainly as reasonable and fair-minded, are often loath to call out their conservative family and friends for their bigotry or extremism. This problem is particularly acute for white people who, say, have fond childhood memories of their Uncle Jim, who's now raving about Pizzagate and other batshit crazy QAnon conspiracy theories. (For more on false equivalencies, check out past posts from Digby, driftglass, Roy Edroso, Balloon Juice, LGM and my own archives.)

Looking at the 2020 general election, if nothing else, it could provide some useful data. Donald Trump is clearly unfit for office. His incompetence has been deadly and glaring, and his corruption has been blatant. Supporting him requires some mix of stupid, evil and crazy.

Trump's conduct raised plenty of red flags before the 2016 election, too, yet close to 92% of self-identified Republicans voted for him anyway. At this point, no one can credibly claim ignorance of his nature or his performance. What percentage of Republicans will vote for him this time, and how many total? What percentage of self-identified conservatives will vote for him, and how many total? What percentage of the electorate will vote for him, and how many people total? Authoritarian conservatives will support almost anything– how many does America have, and how many of them regularly vote? How big is the challenge we face, not just with oligarchs and authoritarian leaders, but their supporters in the general population?

Whatever the outcome of the election, conscientious citizens are left with a significant problem: what is to done about the conservative base – authoritarian conservatives – punishment conservatives? It's important to note that conservatives seek to suppress the vote and rig the system to keep and increase power, whereas the liberal ideal is to have honest, factual discussions, increase voting rights, and provide public education. It is inclusive. None of that's to say that actual liberals are perfect or America wouldn't have a ton of challenges even if it wasn't imperiled by authoritarian conservatism, but the liberal and conservative approaches to democracy and how to make the country better remain radically different. Liberals and nonconservatives are not trying to disenfranchise conservatives, and that's all the more reason that it's critical to show up, speak out, vote, govern responsibly, and keep authoritarian conservatives out of power, regardless of how much they complain. (Characteristically, they're gleeful bullies in power and insufferable whiners out of it.) Voting is a critical tool of democracy, but even if Trump, conservatives and Republicans lose in the 2020 general election, a tremendous amount of sustained work remains to be done.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Banned Books Week 2020

We're at the tail end of Banned Books Week. I have much more extensive posts in this category in my archives, but I always find it interesting to see the latest lists of banned and challenged books. The site linked above tends not to keep old content, so I prefer to link the American Library Association's main site instead for specific lists. On the frequently challenged books page, the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019 unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly deal with issues of sexuality:

1. George by Alex Gino
Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content

The list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019 features many familiar favorites:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  2. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  5. George by Alex Gino
  6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  9. Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle
  10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  12. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  13. I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
  14. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  16. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
  17. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  18. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
  19. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
  20. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
  21. Alice McKinley (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  22. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
  23. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  24. Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
  25. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  26. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  27. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  28. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  29. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  30. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  31. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  32. It's a Book by Lane Smith
  33. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  34. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  35. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
  36. A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer
  37. Bad Kitty (series) by Nick Bruel
  38. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  39. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  40. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  41. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
  42. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
  43. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
  44. A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  45. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  46. Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
  47. In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco
  48. Lush by Natasha Friend
  49. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  50. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  51. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  52. The Holy Bible
  53. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
  54. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  55. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  56. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar
  57. House of Night (series) by P.C. Cast
  58. My Mom's Having A Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler
  59. Neonomicon by Alan Moore
  60. The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake
  61. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  62. Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  63. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  64. Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle
  65. Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia
  66. Fade by Lisa McMann
  67. The Family Book by Todd Parr
  68. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  69. Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
  70. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  71. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  72. Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  73. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  74. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  75. Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
  76. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
  77. Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag
  78. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
  79. 1984 by George Orwell
  80. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  81. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
  82. Awakening by Kate Chopin
  83. Burned by Ellen Hopkins
  84. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  85. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  86. Glass by Ellen Hopkins
  87. Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesle´a Newman
  88. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  89. Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans
  90. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  91. Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack
  92. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology by Amy Sonnie
  93. Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judith Schachner
  94. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
  95. The Color of Earth (series) by Tong-hwa Kim
  96. The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
  97. The Walking Dead (series) by Robert Kirkman
  98. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  99. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen
  100. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Happy reading!

Monday, September 07, 2020

Labor Day 2020

Happy Labor Day! Sarah Lee Guthrie performed her grandfather Woody Guthrie's song, "Union Maid," for a rally this weekend. Here's a 2007 performance of the song by her and her father, Arlo, with the bonus song, "The Ladies' Auxiliary."

My most in-depth post for Labor Day was this 2011 post.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Ennio Morricone (1929–2020)

The great film composer Maestro Ennio Morricone has died. He was prolific, with 520 composing credits on IMDb. Here are obituaries from The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Hollywood Reporter and The Guardian.

My favorite film score (after Alexander Nevsky) is Morricone's score for Sergio Leone's film, Once Upon a Time in the West. It's probably my favorite western and I've listened to the score countless times. Similar to Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Eisenstein's great collaboration on Nevsky, Morricone's music matches Leone's images so well that hearing it instantly conjures scenes from the five westerns and six films total they collaborated on, and it's all but impossible to imagine Leone's movies without Morricone's music. Morricone had range, too. He wrote some stunningly lovely pieces, but could also deliver menace, express grief or create creeping unease. His iconic main theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly let us know we were in for a fun ride. I used to look through used and bargain film score CDs and I'd buy anything by Morricone, even if I didn't like the movie, or hadn't seen it, or hadn't even heard of it. (That's how I discovered State of Grace below, which I eventually saw.) Ennio Morricone's music elevated the material and was transformative.

Nothing speaks better for Morricone than his own music. Here's the main theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is mostly closely related to the character Jill (Claudia Cardinale), who gets a more subdued version in "Jill's America":

The other major theme is "The Man with a Harmonica," which appears in several versions. It's haunting, unsettling and used to great effect in the climactic scene:

"As a Judgment" is a subtly menacing piece. I had a friend who particularly liked the build from 1:26 to 1:47, which hangs unresolved in delicious tension until the horns come in, methodical and somber:

All the five main characters have a theme of sorts, with "The Man with a Harmonica" really a blend of riffs for Harmonica and Frank, which is appropriate if you've seen the movie. "Farewell To Cheyenne" is the more casual, slightly comical-but-not-really theme for Jason Robards' character. It's used to more ominous effect in a track called "First Tavern" for Cheyenne's entrance.

(I do have a "remastered" CD of the score where some idiotic mixer added a fade through the ending of this track starting before the false stop, which just stuns me. It's the equivalent of fading out before a key dialogue exchange, obscuring a critical moment. How could anyone be so comatose as to miss what the cue sounds like in the movie and why the music pauses? How could anyone think, "Morricone clearly made a mistake here – I know better and I'll fix it"?)

Sticking with westerns, here's the iconic and rollicking main theme from The Good, the Bad and Ugly:

Here's Morricone conducting the score's other signature piece, "The Ecstasy of Gold":

If you want to see Morricone's music in context, here's the film's finale, which of course you've seen before:

I think Morricone's score for The Mission is his second best. The music for "Gabriel's Oboe" may be the prettiest thing he ever wrote and is one of the loveliest pieces I've ever heard:

Here's Morricone conducting a suite of The Mission, which is quite moving:

Morricone also wrote the music for Leone's film, Once Upon a Time in America. The prettiest piece is "Deborah's Theme":

Here's the wistful theme theme from Malena:

The State of Grace main theme is moody and unsettling:

To close things out, here's music from Cinema Paradiso:

Finally, let's hear from Yo-Ya Ma, who recorded a CD of Morricone music:

Thanks for all the lovely and evocative music, Maestro.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

What to the Slave Is the Fourth Of July?

NPR asked descendants of Frederick Douglass to deliver excerpts from his speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” It's pretty fantastic:

You can read the full speech here. The descendants' names and ages are listed on the YouTube page here. NPR notes that "this video was inspired by Jennifer Crandall's documentary project" Whitman, Alabama.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

National Poetry Month 2020

April is National Poetry Month, so I wanted to post a poem before the month was out, and as usual, I'll link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project. I encountered the poem below earlier this year and thought it was especially apt for the times.

blessing the boats
By Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


My archive on poetry is here. Feel free to mention or link a favorite poem in the comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Emperor's New Mutiny

This is extraordinary. Just a few days ago, I posted a piece mentioning that Trump was "trying to out-crazy Onion stories" and comparing him to "an imbecilic Captain Ahab – obsessive and prone to reckless decisions that endanger those he is supposed to lead, but without any redeeming qualities like, oh, basic knowledge of his chosen profession." Now he is choosing to compare himself to Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, which he claims "was one of my all-time favorite movies." But apparently Trump has never seen it, or completely misunderstood it, because Bligh is the villain, and does not fare well. (Or maybe Trump identifies with the villain and is so delusional he thinks others share his worldview… or can be bullied into accepting it.) Trump also brings to mind the obsessive, unstable Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. (Pick your favorite unfit captain, or combine them all!) This episode is reminiscent of Trump retweeting a meme of him playing the violin that was originally posted by his social media director Dan Scavino. It instantly drew comparisons to the tale of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and apparently neither Scavino nor Trump got the reference.

To recap, Trump has said "I don't take responsibility at all" about a key pandemic response failure and also claimed, We're a backup. We're not an ordering clerk," meaning he has no responsibility to all the states lacking critical supplies.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps insisting he can command governors to reopen their states, when that pesky Constitution and case law say otherwise. The Washington Post covered one of these incidents in "Trump's propaganda-laden, off-the-rails coronavirus briefing":

Trump also used the briefing to repeatedly suggest he had absolute power to deal with the situation, despite the Constitution and centuries of Supreme Court precedent. He said he had "ultimate authority," adding: "The president of the United States has the authority to do what the president has the authority to do, which is very powerful. The president of the United States calls the shots." He said later that "when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that's the way it's going to be."

In other words, in his usual angry, incoherent style, Trump is simultaneously refusing any responsibility but insisting he has absolute power. It's characteristically lazy, clueless and dickish.

Speaking of which, Trump is especially vicious to women (and people of color, and particularly women of color) and here's a news segment on Trump's propaganda that also shows him being petulant and remarkably nasty to CBS' Paula Reid:

Needless to say, governors, many constitutional lawyers and everyone who remembers basic civics disagreed with Trump's tantrum assertions. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out:

"We don't have a king," Cuomo said on NBC's Today. "We have a president. That was a big decision. We ran away from having a king, and George Washington was president, not King Washington. So the president doesn't have total authority."

(Dick Cheney and David Addington, with their batshit, authoritarian, unitary executive theory might agree with Trump if they were still in power, but even the loathsome Liz Cheney chimed in to criticize Trump at least this once, and Trump has backpedaled somewhat.)

Trump likes to pretend he's an absolute monarch, attacking career officials doing their jobs and serving their country instead of Trump as "the deep state"; he stands exposed as a buffoon like the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's tale; he is railing against a nonexistent mutiny because on this and many matters he doesn't actually possesses authority to overthrow; he's an oversized brat throwing a tantrum for not getting his own way.

It bears mentioning, though, that as much as Trump deserves mockery, he deserves scorn much more. His staggering incompetence and corruption have made the pandemic crisis shockingly worse, and many people will die or suffer because of it.


That's the political part of this post. I did want to spend a little time on the films.

The historical Captain William Bligh was a complex figure and not a straightforward villain; some accounts have painted him much more favorably. The general consensus seems to be that Bligh was a superb navigator (and the Bounty tale includes a striking example of this), but not a natural leader or good manager of his crew.

The 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty is the most famous film version of the story, directed by Frank Lloyd, starring Charles Laughton in a great performance as Bligh, and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won Best Picture. It's well worth a look; I find Laughton a particularly interesting actor. (Incidentally, he played Nero in Cecil B. DeMille's film The Sign of the Cross.) The one part that feels odd is the moment of Fletcher Christian's rebellion – several incidents occur that stir him but don't clinch the decision to mutiny, which comes rather suddenly after a lull. It's a great film of the era, though, and clips along despite being a bit over two hours.

The 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, directed by Lewis Milestone, stars Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh, and clocks in just under three hours. Richard Harris and Hugh Griffith have supporting roles. This version is handsomely filmed, but it feels slower and lower energy to me and I've never really gotten into it. I also prefer Brando in many other films. But it certainly has its fans, and you may be one of them.

I do like the somewhat underrated 1984 film The Bounty directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh (doing a proper Cornish accent) and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. Bligh comes off as harsh but not entirely without cause, and is sympathetic and even admirable at points. Fletcher Christian comes off as popular and charismatic, but also an immature dilettante. The film also has Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Bernard Hill and Edward Fox in supporting roles, plus a screenplay by Robert Bolt, some pretty scenery and a score by Vangelis.

Finally, The Caine Mutiny is a very good film set during WWII directed by editor-turned-director Edward Dmytryk. It boasts a superb performance by Humphrey Bogart as the prickly, paranoid, slowly unraveling Captain Queeg. Even when Queeg is outwardly calm, he fidgets with some metal balls in his hand, one of the great character-prop choices in acting and directing. The supporting cast includes José Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, E.G. Marshall and Lee Marvin.

(Naturally, film buff Digby posted on this story as well and includes a key scene from The Caine Mutiny.)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

From Fox News' Heart I Stab at Thee

It's hard to keep up with all stories of Donald Trump showing he's unfit for office, whether due to incompetence, idiocy, corruption, nepotism, trying to out-crazy Onion stories, or some deadly mix. That extends to his decision to put his equally incompetent son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of key portions of the pandemic response, when the unqualified dolt shouldn't be running anything. Several stories over the past couple of weeks have particularly stuck with me.

The Disaster I Caused Is All Over the News

On 3/29/20, Trump went on a crazier-than-usual bragging stint about how great the "ratings" were for the pandemic briefings, taunted the media, and bragged about how Republicans didn't trust the news:

Even for Trump, this is astounding. People are dying, and in alarming numbers, but Trump only cares about his ratings and "beating" his chosen foes. And as covered in more depth in a previous post, Trump bears significant responsibility for how bad the COVID-19 pandemic is in the United States by downplaying the coronavirus threat for months, dismantling or trying to underfund the agencies built to fight pandemics, lying and giving misinformation constantly, failing to coordinate national efforts and often actively interfering with those trying to bring some competency to bear on the crisis, and cheering on the reality-denying habits of his adoring, authoritarian followers. COVID-19 was going to be a grave challenge no matter who was in charge, but Trump's incompetence has been disastrous.

I'll leave formal diagnoses to mental health professionals, but in general layperson terms, Trump is a narcissist, a megalomaniac, a sociopath, and a soulless, cruel, self-absorbed asshole. Trump is like an imbecilic Captain Ahab – obsessive and prone to reckless decisions that endanger those he is supposed to lead, but without any redeeming qualities like, oh, basic knowledge of his chosen profession. As covered in that previous post, Trump cares much, much more about public adulation than human lives. He will sink and doom everyone around him, and unfortunately, he can adversely affect most of the country (and interfere with other nations as well). Yet most Republican politicians and voters don't care, and many continue to cheer him on, perhaps most of all the professional dissemblers and sycophants at Fox News.

I'm Not a Doctor or Expert and I Can't Play One on TV, Either

Trump seems extremely fond of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, perhaps because, like Trump, he's an incompetent rich kid who's advanced mostly if not entirely due to his family connections. Both of them frequently sound like the kid who didn't read the book trying to bullshit his way through a presentation. Reportedly, Trump has heeded Kushner for some of Trump's most idiotic and dangerous statements, and for some reason, Trump gave Kushner (or allowed Kushner to take) a key role in shaping the already-chaotic White House's pandemic response – a "senior official described the Kushner team as a "frat party" that descended from a U.F.O. and invaded the federal government." Kushner quickly showed how out of his depth he was when, on 4/2/20, he complained petulantly and incorrectly to reporters about the Strategic National Stockpile:

The notion of the federal stockpile was, it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use.

This is the answer of a high school student who's completely failed basic civics. Who does Kushner think the Strategic National Stockpile is for? Obviously it should be used to help U.S. citizens, who live in, what are they called, oh yeah… states. He was justifiably savaged for this dangerously ignorant response. It's hard to guess what Kushner was even thinking. Maybe he meant that he thought that the Strategic National Stockpile was for him and Trump to dispense to their pals as political favors like cut-rate Mafioso wannabes and, like Trump, he was dumb enough to say the quiet parts out loud? Or does that give him too much credit for actual thought? Why is someone with so little basic knowledge of an essential job during a major crisis being given power? Coordinating a response to a deadly pandemic is not a nepotistic patronage gig – it requires actual experience and competence.

Predictably, Trump lashed out at a reporter for asking about Kushner's inaccurate remarks and gave a nonsensical defense. And Trump has made similarly ludicrous claims that individual states are responsible for their own disaster relief and the federal government is supposed to serve only as a backup – "We're a backup. We're not an ordering clerk" – which isn't true and makes little sense. Trump also clearly doesn't actually believe that, otherwise he wouldn't keep stealing supply orders from the states. As usual, Trump is asserting both that he can do whatever he wants but that he's not responsible for the consequences.

On top of that, as was widely reported, the Trump administration made the Orwellian move of changing the stockpile website description to better match Kushner's incorrect remarks. It bears remembering that one of Trump's first actions as president was directing his then-press secretary Sean Spicier to yell at reporters for not accepting obvious, Trump-flattering lies about the crowd size at Trump's inauguration, which was clearly much smaller than Obama's. Apparently, Trump, who believes whatever reality suits him in that particular moment and expects everyone around him to kiss his ass, also expects the same treatment for his idiot son-in-law.

Michelle Goldberg summed up the concerns about Kushner nicely in a 4/2/20 column titled, "Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness" (originally titled "Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed"):

Reporting on the White House's herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. "I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity," Kushner reportedly said. "I'm doing my own projections, and I've gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn't need all the ventilators." (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo's estimate.)

Even now, it's hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House's daily coronavirus briefing: "People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections." . . .

The journalist Andrea Bernstein looked closely at Kushner's business record for her recent book "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power," speaking to people on all sides of his real estate deals as well as those who worked with him at The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper he bought in 2006.

Kushner, Bernstein told me, "really sees himself as a disrupter." Again and again, she said, people who'd dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he "believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn't know what he was talking about."

It's hard to overstate the extent to which this confidence is unearned. Kushner was a reportedly mediocre student whose billionaire father appears to have bought him a place at Harvard. Taking over the family real estate company after his father was sent to prison, Kushner paid $1.8 billion — a record, at the time — for a Manhattan skyscraper at the very top of the real estate market in 2007. The debt from that project became a crushing burden for the family business. (Kushner was able to restructure the debt in 2011, and in 2018 the project was bailed out by a Canadian asset management company with links to the government of Qatar.) He gutted the once-great New York Observer, then made a failed attempt to create a national network of local politics websites.

No wonder Trump likes Kushner – he's his spitting image, inept and arrogant. As The Washington Post has reported, "The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged." The article features several chilling passages, including this:

Other officials have emerged during the crisis to help right the United States' course, and at times, the statements of the president. But even as Fauci, Azar and others sought to assert themselves, Trump was behind the scenes turning to others with no credentials, experience or discernible insight in navigating a pandemic.

Foremost among them was his adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. A team reporting to Kushner commandeered space on the seventh floor of the HHS building to pursue a series of inchoate initiatives. . . .

This isn't a game – Kushner's heavy involvement has pushed out more competent leadership, and like Trump, he appears to be actively interfering with positive efforts to mitigate the pandemic crisis. As covered by Vanity Fair's article, "Lawmakers Want to Know: WTF Is Jared Kushner Doing?," congressional Democrats have pressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to explain why supplies to the states have been delayed or hijacked by the Trump administration and what Kusher's role is. (" 'It would be like high school cafeteria drama if it weren't life or death,' political consultant Jared Leopold, the former communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, told the [New York] Times.") The buck should stop with Trump, not that he will ever accept responsibility. As The Washington Post piece sums up:

If the coronavirus has exposed the country's misplaced confidence in its ability to handle a crisis, it also has cast harsh light on the limits of Trump's approach to the presidency — his disdain for facts, science and experience.

He has survived other challenges to his presidency — including the Russia investigation and impeachment — by fiercely contesting the facts arrayed against him and trying to control the public's understanding of events with streams of falsehoods.

The coronavirus may be the first crisis Trump has faced in office where the facts — the thousands of mounting deaths and infections — are so devastatingly evident that they defy these tactics.

More Lunacy

What else? Well, where to begin?

Protective gear in the national stockpile is nearly depleted. FEMA is not operating well; Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, the FEMA supply chain task force lead, has made remarks that suggest the U.S. is flying in supplies but then giving them to private companies and letting the states bid on them competitively, which has driven up prices. That's an unnecessarily bad system, and "some governors and critics say the White House distribution approach of mixing federal and state entities with private health care companies continues to create confusion, anger and state bidding wars that waste time and money." Adding to the mess, only 3,200 of the 100,000 new coronavirus ventilators FEMA is sourcing will be ready in time for the peak of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a Department of Defense agency that is well-positioned to handle supply chain issues, is not being used. Even some Republicans have criticized Defense Secretary Mark Esper for a lack of leadership. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer asked Trump to appoint a military czar to coordinate supplies and suggested some candidates, but Trump defended his current team and immaturely made personal attacks against Schumer. (No crisis is ever more important than Trump's wounded ego.) A recent New Yorker article by Susan B. Glasser asks and answers, "How Did the U.S. End Up with Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags?" It starts with Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley CEO approached by the White House to help with the pandemic response:

What [Ries and others] did not foresee was that the federal government might never come to the rescue. They did not realize this was a government failure by design—not a problem to be fixed but a policy choice by President Trump that either would not or could not be undone. "No one can believe it. That's the No. 1 problem with the whole situation: the facts are known, but they are inconceivable," Ries told me. "So we are just in denial."

Independent reporting has corroborated what Ries and other volunteers saw for themselves: "a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos," as the Associated Press put it. The news agency found that not a single shipment of medical-grade N95 masks arrived at U.S. ports during the month of March. The federal government was not only disorganized; it was absent. Federal agencies waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders for the urgently needed supplies, the A.P. found. The first large U.S. government order to the big U.S. producer 3M, for a hundred and seventy-three million dollars' worth of N95 masks, was not placed until March 21st—the same day that Ries got his first phone call about the Kushner effort. The order, according to the A.P., did not even require the supplies to be delivered until the end of April, far too late to help with the thousands of cases already overwhelming hospitals.

(The Glasser article is disturbing and should be read in full; you'll be shocked to learn that Trump attacked government officials who reported problems and accused them of being politically motived. As Glasser summarizes, "There was a window for action. It wasn't just closed. It was slammed shut.)

Meanwhile, Trump keeps shilling the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, astonishingly telling people to try it, because "What have you got to lose?" Although hydroxychloroquine is being tested, its efficacy for COVID-19 remains unproven, and obviously Trump should not be dispensing medical advice or silencing Dr. Fauci, an actual expert, as Trump did when a reporter tried to ask Fauci about the drug. To be fair, hydroxychloroquine has actual value for malaria treatment and might have other uses, but Trump isn't making his statements based on facts, careful thought, or expert advice, and simply doesn't care about such things, including the potentially dangerous side effects of the medication. Even if hydroxychloroquine proves to be a wonder drug, what Trump is doing should be seen as part of a long conservative tradition of shilling snake oil. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised some guidance from its website about hydroxychloroquine and other drugs for COVID-19 on its website. The earlier, pro-hydroxychloroquine "was crafted for doctors at the request of a White House coronavirus task force, which had urged prompt action." So unlike the Strategic National Stockpile website change, the CDC site became more accurate, but in both cases, the Trump administration interfered with a government agency and peddled misinformation for political purposes.

If that weren't enough, Trump recently fired inspector general Glenn Fine, who was the chairman of the panel that would have overseen the $2 trillion stimulus package. As The Washington Post reports, "In just the past four days, Trump has ousted two inspectors general and expressed displeasure with a third, a pattern that critics say is a direct assault on one of the pillars of good governance." Nancy Pelosi called Trump's actions "part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the president against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people." The other inspector general Trump fired was Michael Atkinson, apparently in retaliation for heeding the whistleblower in Trump's Ukraine scandal. In a statement, Atkinson wrote, "The American people deserve an honest and effective government. . . . Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices." Atkinson's firing continues a pattern of retaliation by the obsessive Trump, and congressional Democrats are "seeking legislative proposals that could restrict Trump's ability to remove or demote inspectors general for political reasons." It's important to remember that the Trump administration isn't just incompetent; it's deeply corrupt.

The Trump administration's incompetence is so staggering, so jaw-dropping, it would have been rejected as implausible in fiction not long ago. Science fiction author Ted Chiang observed:

While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there's no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn't be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what's known as an "idiot plot," a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren't an idiot. What we're living through is only partly a disaster novel; it's also—and perhaps mostly—a grotesque political satire.

Scott Z. Burns, the screenwriter for the quite good movie Contagion (2011), made similar observations:

I never contemplated a federal response that was so ignorant, misguided and full of dangerous information. I thought our leaders were sworn to protect us. . . .

I would have never imagined that the movie needed a "bad guy" beyond the virus itself. It seems pretty basic that the plot should be humans united against the virus. If you were writing it now, you would have to take into account the blunders of a dishonest president and the political party that supports him. But any good studio executive would have probably told us that such a character was unbelievable and made the script more of a dark comedy than a thriller. . . .

The virus doesn't care what TV network you watch or newspaper you read. We now have more sick people in this country than anywhere else in the world. And even with a three-month head start, we find ourselves scrambling to provide protective gear for our doctors and tests for our neighbors. That is not the fault of the virus. That is something everyone who called it a hoax has to answer for. . . .

I never thought in a million years that the scientists and public health people would be questioned and doubted and defunded and, in many cases, dismissed from their posts. That was something as a screenwriter and storyteller I would have never anticipated, because the threat is so obvious.

The problems aren't limited to the Trump administration, either. Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, tried to delay the 4/7/20 state primary and expand voting-by-mail due to increased COVID-19 concerns, but was blocked by state Republicans, a Republican-controlled state supreme court, and the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissenting opinion said, "the court's order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement." Voter suppression is a diabolical conservative tradition, and it's been noticeably bad in Wisconsin for several years at least. These latest voter suppression efforts by Republicans were mainly to try to keep control of the state supreme court. The scene on election day was appalling, with voters unnecessarily endangered, especially due to moves like reducing Milwaukee's polling places from 180 to a mere 5; other cities also had reductions, if not as drastic. On top of that, thousands of requested absentee ballots were never delivered. To be fair, some of those issues weren't due to Republicans, but unfortunately far too many problems in the state are –Republicans keep trying unprincipled power grabs in Wisconsin. (Nor has it been the only state so afflicted, unfortunately.) The insanity and hypocrisy of the Republican position was perfectly captured by Republican Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, dressed in protective mask, gown, and gloves, telling voters, "You are incredibly safe to go out."

We could keep going; the crazy and disturbing news keeps coming. But what do we know from all this?

As the saying goes, conservatives say government doesn't work, and when in charge, they set out to prove it. As Digby has often pointed out, incompetence is a feature, not a bug, of corruption.

Conservatives want their chosen political foes to die.

Conservatives don't care if their own constituents and supporters die.

Conservatives don't care that they are risking death and great harm themselves.

So what do we do now?

Ideally, Republicans would not have voted for Trump. Ideally, congressional Republicans would have voted to impeach and convict Trump to remove him from office.

Congressional Republicans could still do the right thing and ask for a new vote. The House and Senate could vote unanimously to impeach and remove Trump. (But that ain't gonna happen.)

Trump's cabinet could also invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office. (But that's extremely unlikely, too.)

Trump and many other conservatives and Republicans can be voted out of office in November. But registering people to vote and making sure they actually can vote is essential – Trump's admitted several times that greater turnout and making voting easier would hurt Republicans – "You'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." (Shades of Paul Weyrich.) Trump, ever shameless and incoherent, has also simultaneously argued without evidence that voting by mail is corrupt and defended voting by mail himself. Voter suppression is a serious issue for the general election.

Meanwhile, considerable harm can be done to the American populace by horrible governance before a new administration could take office, should one be elected. Residents of states with sane governors and decent resources can count themselves lucky; that's mostly been Democratic governors but fortunately some Republican ones as well. So far, the worst responses have been from conservative Republican governors, especially in the South.

Governors could bypass the Trump administration as much as possible, make deals to benefit their states and coordinate among themselves. Some of them are already doing this. Oregon is lending 140 ventilators to New York. California was reportedly lending 500 ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile, and in theory they're being shipped to four states and two territories. Given the chronic corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration, however, it may prove wiser for state leadership to manage such transactions directly unless trustworthy federal leadership emerges.

Sadly, that seems unlikely. Good federal leadership coordinating a national response, purchasing supplies and distributing them to the states, would be invaluable and could significantly reduce unnecessary death and suffering. Letting experts and other qualified people lead the way would help immensely, and should be a no-brainer. But the Trump White House is drowning in incompetence and threatens to sink America with it. We need national leaders who work to serve their fellow citizens rather than elevating the inept, acting on whims or pursuing personal obsessions.

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!

– Captain Ahab in Moby Dick

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)