Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Jon Swift Roundup 2022

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

( A Jon Swift picture.)

Welcome to the 2022 edition! It's been an interesting year for elections and investigations, among other things.

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.

The late Lance Mannion provided the definitive description of our endeavor:

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 2010–2021 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.) 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 #jonswift2022.

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:

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Nancy Levis Williams – 1929-2022"
Mustang Bobby (aka Philip Middleton Williams): "My farewell to my mom."

Crazy Eddie's Motie News
"The story of Loving vs. Virginia on Loving Day"
Pinku-Sensei: "This post tells the story, real and dramatized, of the Lovings, on the 55th anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia, which struck down state laws against interracial marriage. This has been one of the most consistently popular posts I wrote this year, earning at least 250 page views every month since I posted it on June 12th, so my readers chose it as much as I did."

Show Me Progress
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D) and Trudy Busch Valentine (D) – Gladstone, Missouri – GOTV Rally – October 29, 2022"
Michael Bersin: "Immediately after the August 2022 primary and up through to the general election we covered Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Trudy Busch Valentine (D) at fourteen out of her many retail campaign events across the state. Conventional wisdom and old media mostly ignored this campaign, missing the human contact, empathy, and joy in the battle of the candidate and her campaign staff. Trudy Busch Valentine (D) received 42% of the vote, losing to Eric Schmitt (R) by 13 points.."

First Draft
The Puppetmaster?
Peter Adrastos Athas: "Donald Trump blames his legal problems on everyone but himself. There's one man he blames most of all, Andrew Weissmann: the Puppetmaster. Bow down before the Puppetmaster and his dog Innis."

his vorpal sword
"GOPaganda and the Civil War"
Hart Williams: "Why the Right has taken up the cry of 'Civil War!' and how off-kilter that actually is. I had reviewed this author on this subject once before: mendacity galore!"

Constant Commoner
"Joni Mitchell Left and Then She Came Back"
Ramona Grigg: "Joni Mitchell's triumphant return to the Newport Folk Festival after 53 years away got me thinking about our national treasures and what it is that makes them endure. They're not treasures by accident."

Mock Paper Scissors
"News That Will Drive You to Drink, Ken Starr Edition"
Tengrain: "The one in which we eulogize Ken Starr, because someone has to set the record straight."

"The End of Roe"
bluzdude: "Initial reaction to the leak about overturning Roe."

Strangely Blogged
"Jesus, Guns, Babies, and American Exceptionalism"
Vixen Strangely: "A simple political slogan gives insight into an entire Christian-right worldview."

The Rectification of Names
"Opinions We Never Finished Reading. I"
Yastreblyansky: "Cheating a little, this is part I of a six-part reaction to Justice Alito's leaked opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, in particular his view that a right to abortion is not "deeply rooted in the Nation's history and traditions", which turns out to be based on the questionable assumption that there have never been any women in our nation's history and traditions. The whole series takes you from an abortion performed in the 5th or 6th century by St. Bridget of Kildare to an effective recipe for a herbal abortion published by founding father Benjamin Franklin, and is more entertaining that most of this dismal year's stories."

You Might Notice a Trend
"Dreading The Oncoming Storm"
Paul Wartenberg: "One of my co-workers honestly asked me, 'Are we going to have another civil war?...' Given the nature of the partisan division there really is no safe place in America when (not if) the extremism of the Far Right – either in denial of a Democratic midterm victory or in vindication of a Republican one – triggers a series of violent acts..."

The Debate Link
" 'Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative' Will Always Decay into Fascism"
David Schraub: "One of the enduring mysteries of American politics is why no party occupies the supposedly popular "economically liberal, socially conservative" quadrant. The answer is simple: shorn of socially liberal commitments to egalitarianism, "economic liberalism" simply means that the coercive power of the state is deployed to redirect wealth, power, and resources towards preferred ingroups – i.e., fascism."

"The destruction of sex"
Infidel753: "Sexuality in America is being twisted into something ugly, disgusting, and painful. Pornography is the proximate cause, but we should also look at who stands to gain from this."

"I No Longer Recognize My Country"
Annie: "In these precarious times for our fragile democracy, I explore the expression so many of us feel—"I no longer recognize my country" and find a way to respond. I close with a remarkable July 4th video: a gift to US from the Ukrainian people."

The Rude Pundit
"Tucker Carlson Has an Orgasm: A Fantasia"
Lee Papa (the Rude Pundit): "Ever wonder what gets Tucker Carlson off? No? Well, I did. And it's not fun."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"Transgender youth know who they are"
Larry E (Whoviating): "Amid increasing attacks on the very right of trans youth to exist, research says trans youth know who they are."

Just an Earthbound Misfit, I
"Legitimacy and Why It Matters, or 'Nice Little Representative Democracy You Have Here. Pity If Something Were To Happen to It.' "
Comrade Misfit: "How Clarence and the Supremes are ruining a leg of the Federal government and why it matters."

Bluestem Prairie
"Scott Jensen to speak—again—at "vaccine awareness" Global Health Freedom Summit"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "Bluestem Prairie broke this story about MNGOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen ten days before the rest of Minnesota media sort of caught up. Unlike most other accounts, Bluestem reported that this scheduled speaking event was a repeat appearance and Jensen's anti-vaccine positions weren't confined to COVID-19 jabs, but all vaccines."

The Professional Left Podcast
"Ep 634: Maybe Joe Biden Is Simply A #@%^ing Democrat!"
Blue Gal (and Driftglass): "People in the media insisting Biden move to the center - wherever that is, punch a hippie or do a "Sista Soldja" moment - are just in the habit of hating plain ordinary progressive Democrats. We think their advice is wrong. [NOTE: F-words are used in this show.]"

"Charles Foster Kane and the Four-Quadrant Podcast"
driftglass: "Take if from your Unca driftglass kids, the key to political podcasting fame and fortune is to make damn sure check all four audience boxes!"

Mad Kane's Humor Blog
"Limerick Ode To Elon Musk"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "My two-verse limerick mocking Elon Musk's impressively fast-paced destruction of Twitter."

Self-Styled Siren
"John Wayne and the Six Security Men"
Farran Smith Nehme: "Did John Wayne attempt to assault Sacheen Littlefeather in 1973, only to be held back by six security men? An attempt to trace an old story."

"Aid & Comfort Conservatives"
Roy Edroso: "In the old-fashioned blog style I took down some evidence of how conservatives were trying to distort history at it happened – in this case, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which many of them applauded. If nothing else it's good to remember what they were trying when they thought they might get away with it."

Roy Edroso Breaks It Down
"Alex gets with it"
Roy Edroso: "Scenes from Family Ties if it had been transported from the Reagan era to today."

"Mitt Romney Is In Denial"
Jon Perr: "Mitt Romney never misses an opportunity to be an opportunist. So it is with his latest paean to both-siderism."

Jill Dennison
Jill Dennison: "Choices. We make decisions every day about how to spend our time, our energy, our money. We expect our elected government to do the same, to prioritize what is in the best interest of the people ... ALL the people. But do their priorities match ours?"

God's Spies
"Our Rolling Civil War"
Thomas Neuburger: "The civil war that's brewing in this country is a rolling affair, a badly led, mixed amalgam of many elements. It's a revolt against the way Big Money screws almost everyone else. The professional left has abandoned its leadership to serve the status quo. Fun times ahead."

Left Jabs
"The Dumbing Down of Russia Looks Painfully Familiar"
LeftJabber: "Written almost a month after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, this article points out the striking parallels between Putin’s brainwashing of the Russian people and Republicans’ similar efforts in the United States. Both rely heavily on the gullibility and ignorance of their constituents."

This Is So Gay
"Exchanging the Truth for a Lie"
Duncan Mitchel: "Conservative Christians are still trying to present themselves as reasonable and loving in their crusade against gay people and gender nonconformists; here's my discussion of a recent example. (Full disclosure: I have neglected my blog this year, and this post is a runner-up for my best of 2021; I hope to do better next year.)"

Vagabond Scholar
"The Worse Demons of Our Nature"
Batocchio: "The most popular political figures for the conservative base are those who give them permission to deny reality and to behave awfully toward their fellow Americans."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging and everything else in 2023.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Worse Demons of Our Nature

In calling for passage of the Voting Rights Act, LBJ was summoning what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. He was asking – no, he was demanding – that we transcend bigotry and make good at last upon the promises we made to each other in declaring our nationhood and professing our love of liberty. The political process responded, as it should when big ideas come along, to ride the current of history.
Gerald Ford, speaking at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in 1997.
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Donald Trump, announcing his run for president in 2015.

If progress sometimes depends on successfully appealing to "the better angels of our nature" of kindness, compassion and a sense of equality to extend rights, respect and aid to those less privileged, then regressive and oppressive forces often rely on the worse demons of our nature, appealing to fear, anxiety, greed, bigotry, jealousy, spite and the urge to domineer others. Unfortunately, for decades, U.S. conservatives and the Republican Party have stood for plutocracy and bigotry. Meanwhile, their authoritarian strain has grown stronger, to the point that a significant faction is threatening democracy itself in the United States. The most popular political figures for the conservative base are those who give them permission to deny reality and to behave awfully toward their fellow Americans.

Donald Trump remains a prime example. Although some conservatives and Republicans have tried to disown him, he's no aberration, and instead acts firmly in the conservative tradition. (See the post linked above for more, and also for "conservative" versus "Republican"; this post will treat the terms pretty interchangeably unless the distinction matters.) Trump is just less stealthy and more likely to say the quiet parts out loud, lumbering and lashing out as the monster from the conservative id. A bully and a bullshitter, he heavily traffics in spite, and the conservative base loves him for it. He stands for power and privilege over merit, in many noxious flavors – plutocracy, bigotry, self-aggrandizement, political party over country, and authoritarianism over empiricism. He wants to be praised even when he does a poor job, wants his ass kissed at all times, and denies any reality he doesn't like. A few key incidents exemplify his rotten character and the destructive traits he's encouraged in his supporters, from the rabid fans to the more quietly complicit.

Trump's 2015 announcement of his presidential run put his bigotry front and center, a longstanding personal trait and a central part of his appeal to his voters. Sean Spicer's first press conference for Trump occurred shortly after Trump's inauguration, which drew a much smaller crowd than Obama's. Spicer aggressively lied to please Trump's ego, falsely claiming that "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe." It was a bizarre performance. Trump wanted everyone to accept and repeat his obvious lie, kissing his ass as he was used to, and like other sycophants, Spicer was happy to feed Trump's vanity. That spectacle was appalling enough on its own, but it's particularly remarkable that Trump and Spicer apparently, delusionally, thought they could bully the press into playing along. (Afterward, Trump campaign strategist Kellyanne Conway infamously denied that Spicer was lying, but was instead offering "alternative facts.") Anyone who wasn't already alarmed by Trump and his cronies should have been by that incident. (Anyone who cheered it was troubling.)

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, causing billions of dollars in damage. The Trump administration's response was underwhelming, but Trump bragged about what a "great job" he had done, sought praise, blithely compared the disaster's death count to other disasters, and complained about any criticism. In 2019, Trump tweeted about Puerto Rico as if was another country instead of a territory of the United States, lied about the aid given to it, and fought against giving any more aid, even though it was sorely needed. In this case, Trump's fixation on vanity over reality had more dire consequences than the Spicer press conference. The same was certainly true about the Trump administration's abysmal response to the global COVID-19 pandemic; a Lancet study released in February 2021 concluded that the U.S. could have avoided a staggering 40% of its COVID-19 deaths.

Conservatives and Republicans largely haven't cared about Trump's broken promises and lack of accomplishments, and signaled this attitude even before the election. A June 2016 article in The Washington Post found that "Many of Trump’s fans don’t actually think he will build a wall — and they don’t care if he doesn’t." Trump's aspirations, and anger directed at people they hated, were enough for them. Trump himself might have wanted a wall, but was too lazy to actually do the work to get one. (One that didn't fall over or wasn't easily scalable, anyway.) His supporters apparently – shockingly – haven't even cared if Trump's negligence and the conservative noise machine's persistently anti-science, anti-vaccine messages have made them sick or even killed them. The data show that "pro-Trump counties continue to suffer far higher COVID death tolls." When the Republican Party was first being called an "authoritarian death cult," it might have been slight hyperbole, but sadly, the pandemic showed the label was dismayingly accurate. After seeing everything Trump and his administration did and failed to do, more Americans voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. The most accurate statement Trump has probably ever made was him bragging in 2016 that "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters."

One of the most telling incidents about Trump, conservatives and the Republican Party was the October 2016 leaking of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape with Trump bragging about his fame allowing him to sexually assault women and get away with it. ("When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . . . Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.") The tape should have sunk his campaign, and some conservatives and Republicans condemned Trump, but the majority of them (including some critics) still voted for him in 2016. (Conservative claims of higher moral values than their political opponents have always been bullshit, of course.) Trump apologized when the tape came out, but by November 2017, he started pretending that the tape was a fake and it wasn't him. This is batshit crazy stuff (as several people pointed out), or more to the point, it's authoritarian behavior – Trump once again telling those surrounding him that he wants them to kiss his ass, deny objective reality, and agree with a lie favoring him.

One of Trump's favorite terms is "fake news" – which, of course, means true stories that Trump doesn't like. It's hard to quantify to what degree Trump's fans believe him when he claims news is "fake," just as it was hard to tell how many of Rush Limbaugh's listeners believed the constant lies he told, or to what degree Fox News viewers or other heavy consumers of conservative media believe its coordinated propaganda. Many obviously do believe whatever lies they're told, including lies about accurate reporting. But Trump, Limbaugh, and many other conservative figures have always sold both a sense of superiority and one of persecution to their followers; their pitch is that they're much better than their chosen political opponents, who not only treat them terribly unfairly but are a grave threat to the righteous conservative faithful and thus the country. Limbaugh's legacy wasn't just lies, it was his nastiness, an approach that Ann Coulter, Trump, Tucker Carlson and countless conservative commentators and grifters have used for decades. When Trump calls something "fake news," it's not an empirical assessment of accuracy; it's the assertion of an authoritarian leader. He's not simply lying or bullshitting; he's essentially saying "I know you hate these people and I do, too." He's giving his followers permission to hate others, and to reject reality. The professional conservative operatives know that Trump's "fake news" attacks are bullshit, but view them as useful. Within the conservative base, some of them likely know deep down if not consciously that Trump is lying but don't really care. He lets them pretend; he lets them wallow in gleeful spite. To quote a 2020 post:

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.

The white supremacist group the Proud Boys was excited after the first 2020 presidential debate when Trump wouldn't outright condemn them and instead told them to "stand back and stand by." They viewed it as an endorsement and encouragement. More mainstream Trump supporters hold less extreme views, but the core dynamic and Trump's primary appeal remains similar: he encourages the worse demons of their nature, giving them permission to behave horribly toward their fellow Americans and to deny any realities they don't like.

These dynamics became the most dangerous to date with Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him, and with the resulting insurrection attempt on January 6th, 2021. It's not possible to discuss the insurrection in depth here (check out Digby's extensive archives on the subject), but the House select committee hearings and other reports have established (among other things) that Trump planned to declare victory regardless of the election outcome long before his actual loss, plotted ways to overturn the election, knew that he had lost, collected roughly a quarter of billion dollars to fight the election results, encouraged his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol, approved of their violence, and didn't care if people died, including his own vice president. (Of course, people did die as a result of the insurrection.) If ever the actions of a president were cause for removal from office and other consequences, this was it – trying by multiple means, including violence, to overturn a fair election. Likewise, if ever there was a political morality test "gimme," this was it – condemn the insurrection, stand for democracy, put the country's well-being above other interests, and hold the transgressors responsible. This was a moment for even hyperpartisan hacks to drop their habitual bullshit and heed the better angels of their nature.

Americans as a whole responded better than Republicans. A 2021 Monmouth poll found that 72% of respondents thought "riot" was an appropriate description of the January 6th events, and 56% thought that "insurrection" was appropriate. But 33% also felt it was a "legitimate protest." That's a minority, thankfully, but a significant, disturbing minority. Many conservative commentators have tried to downplay the extremism and danger of the insurrection. A December 2021 Washington Post/University of Maryland poll showed that Republicans as a whole likewise downplayed the violence and danger of the insurrection compared to their fellow Americans. Congressional Democrats impeached Donald Trump for a second time for his "incitement of insurrection," but despite all the evidence, only 10 House Republicans voted for impeachment and 197 voted against. In the Senate, only 7 Republicans voted for conviction and 43 voted for acquittal, so the two-thirds majority required for conviction was not reached. As they often have for decades, Republicans put their party before their country. Adding to those damning actions, in early 2022, the Republican National Committee censured Republican U.S. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the House's January 6th committee, claiming that they had (emphasis added) "been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic." (Some Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, did object to the censure.) Not content with that degree of Orwellian doublespeak, the RNC also declared that the January 6th insurrection represented "legitimate political discourse." Trump loyalist and Republican Senator Josh Hawley defended the RNC, saying, "Listen, whatever you think about the RNC vote, it reflects the view of most Republican voters." If so, we need to question if the majority of Republican voters support democracy and accountability for trying to overthrow it – and if the answer to the second part is "no," then the answer to the first part is realistically "no" as well, despite any lip service to the contrary. The overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans have failed their country on both counts.

The recent midterm elections offered concerning developments, but also some bright spots. It bears mentioning that good people do exist who identify as conservatives, whether we call them due process conservatives or something else, even if they're significantly outnumbered in the U.S. conservative movement and in the Republican Party. It's heartening that in the midterm elections, Republican candidates who were election deniers, touting Donald Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was somehow stolen from him, often did not do well. 'Election deniers running for secretary of state were the election's biggest losers,' and election denial hurt the Republican Party overall. Those losses were aided by self-described conservatives and Republicans.

Still, it's very troubling that the Republicans ran 291 election deniers, and 170 of them won. And roughly 70% or Republicans believe Trump's Big Lie. A huge portion of one of America's two major political parties believes a significant, dangerous falsehood (or pretends to). Republicans were building an "army" to overturn election results by "challeng[ing] voters at Democratic-majority polling places," which in actual practice has often meant harassment. In Cochise County, Arizona, Republican officials refused to certify the 2022 midterm election results "despite no evidence of anything wrong with the count" simply because they didn't like Democrats winning some top races. Interestingly, holding out had the potential to backfire on them, because if all 47,000 plus county votes were thrown out, some elections would flip to Democrats. Weeks later, the officials finally complied with a court order and certified the election. (The Republicans might still face criminal charges for their breach of duty.) This is sore loser behavior, childish, petulant, entitled and dangerous.

More alarming, as of May 2022, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, "nearly 400 [voter-]restrictive bills had been introduced in legislatures nationwide," and the chief cause seems to be "white racial resentment." And the conservative-dominated Supreme Court recently heard arguments for Moore v. Harper, a North Carolina gerrymandering case. Conservatives – backed by plenty of dark money – are pushing an "independent state legislature theory,” which means state legislatures could ignore state courts and their own state constitutions, allowing them to rig elections in their favor. It's a batshit theory with "exceedingly thin" evidence, but the North Carolina state legislature is controlled by Republicans, so they think this will solidify their domination even further. They're far from alone; Pennsylvania Republicans have worked to rig the courts to bypass judges who might uphold fair elections instead of favoring Republicans. Similarly, Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor, Tim Michels, vowed that if he won in the 2022 midterms, Republicans would "never lose another election." Michels thankfully lost, but democracy itself shouldn't be imperiled every election.

Conservative opposition to fair play is nothing new. To look just at this past decade, after Barack Obama's re-election in 2012, some Republicans discussed changing their approach, given that demographic trends did not favor them. Any such renouncing of the evils of plutocracy, bigotry or unfair play was thrown out, however, when a perfect storm of factors and an outdated, idiotic electoral system allowed Donald Trump to be elected president in 2016 over Hillary Clinton despite losing the popular vote. Republicans, who had engaged in unprecedented obstructionism in blocking judicial nominees under Obama, were happy to turn around and appoint as many conservative and far-right judges as they could, including stealing two supreme court seats. (They also came up with self-congratulatory, alternative realities of those events to justify their actions.)

This general, dishonorable approach is not likely to change, regardless of the Republican leadership. Now that Trump apparently cost Republicans victories in the midterms, some Republicans have suggested moving past him, but we've seen this dance before; they're sure to embrace him again if he wins the nomination for 2024, or happily go with Ron DeSantis and his similarly awful policies and comparable cult of personality. (On the PBS NewsHour on 12/16/22, conservative commentator David Brooks cited a USA Today poll saying that, "by 2-1 margins, [Republican voters] want Trumpism, his approach, but they don't want Donald Trump." Notice Brooks trying to distance Trump from conservatism, too.) Trump is horrible, but he's symptomatic of a much deeper rot in American conservatism and the Republican Party. If current trends continue, any candidate who promises power and sells spite is likely to do well.

If major Republican nominees for the 2024 elections aren't reality-deniers, bigots or authoritarians, it'll be a relief, albeit clearing an awfully low bar. Even when conservatives and Republicans don't directly imperil democracy, when they get in power, unfortunately, things typically get much worse for the vast majority of Americans; the system is increasingly rigged against them. The George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 primarily benefitted the most wealthy Americans, as intended, just as Ronald Reagan's tax cuts in the 1980s were. The Trump tax cuts were similarly plutocratic, funneling even more money to the wealthiest Americans to please rich donors. Contrary to Republican claims, the corporate tax cuts did not trickle down and the tax plan did not pay for itself; they just gave rich people more money. Conservative economic policies, whether they're called supply-side, trickle-down, Reaganomics or something else, have never delivered, as decades of evidence show. It strains credulity to pretend that conservatives actually believe that their policies work for anyone other than the rich. (It also would be nice if mainstream political coverage more prominently covered the actual consequences of policies, considered the corruption angle, and didn't pretend that conservatives really believe the bullshit they spout.) But on this subject and many others, conservatives and Republicans publicly deny reality. It's rarely as blatant as denying an election, but it's still harmful.

It's not as if conservatives' awful economic and fiscal policies are an outlier, either, or that their echo chamber is something new. In 2010, self-described libertarian Julian Sanchez wrote several posts bemoaning "epistemic closure" in conservative discourse, for example, sticking with Fox News and rejecting information from mainstream, credible outlets like The New York Times, even among supposed conservative elites. A few conservatives agreed with Sanchez whereas many others didn't, and either didn't really understand or truly engage with the critique. Sanchez' take was welcome but utterly unsurprising for anyone who followed conservative media (including the blogosphere) in previous years. (For a more detailed look at conservative policies, see a 2018 post, "What's to Be Done About Conservatives?") Trump supporters merely continued the epistemic closure trend, living in "an alternative universe" and loving his rage and rejection of any media outlet he didn't like.

So where do we go from here? Although it's heartening that American democracy has survived the 2020 elections, the 2021 insurrection, and the 2022 midterm elections, it shouldn't be at risk in every election. And the country's well-being shouldn't be imperiled every time conservatives gain power, even if they abide by election results. We can always expect conservatives to try to rebrand themselves as they've done frequently, and trying to call mainstream American conservatism "Trumpism" as if it's some new aberration and not the continuation of past awfulness is just the latest example. The Democratic Party has plenty of problems we've discussed before and will again, but the Republican Party is almost completely toxic and corrupt, and now often explicitly antidemocratic. It needs to lose for about 20 years before its leaders consider changing their approach. Unfortunately, even that won't be sufficient, because conservative billionaires, think tanks and dark money organizations are always playing a long game to make the U.S. more conservative, including overturning laws and principles that most citizens quite reasonably believe long settled. The conservative-dominated Supreme Court's decision to ignore precedent and sound medical practice to overturn Roe v. Wade after nearly 50 years is the most glaring recent example, but it's hardly the only one, nor is it likely to be the last one.

I'm not sure a conservatism exists that is truly beneficent, helping the majority of people, and better than other political philosophies, but it does seem that as an ideology, or as actually practiced by real people, conservatism has less harmful strains than the current ascendant one. The people critiqued in this post don't need to be this horrible; it's a choice. U.S. conservatism focuses on fighting for power and privilege; it believes in bullying to defeat merit, and sometimes democracy itself. It is almost always plutocratic, often bigoted, and sometimes authoritarian (which intertwines quite naturally and toxically with the first two). To reference two older posts, in terms of "The Four Types of Conservatives," the Sober Adults are in ever shorter supply, and the Reckless Addicts, Proud Zealots, and Stealthy Extremists have even more power. Conjunctions of stupid, evil and crazy have become increasingly common. Meanwhile, liberals and other nonconservatives cannot directly fix conservatism or the Republican Party, either (despite occasional pundit whining that somehow they should). Conservatives have to do that themselves. In the meantime, it's the job of everyone else to hold conservatives accountable, keep them out of power (through democratic means, naturally), and work for a fairer and more functional system.

This isn't the cheeriest post, but hope still exists. The midterm election presented some encouraging results. And in August in conservative Kansas, 59% of voters "rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment . . . that would have said there was no right to an abortion in the state," in a sharp rebuke of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The pandemic exposed how many workplace practices and other rules are bullshit, even if many labor and human rights fights still need to be won. It's also easy to forget about some lasting social progress. Support for same-sex marriage now stands at 71%, up from a mere 27% in 1996. That is truly extraordinary. Some of that is the result of positive peer pressure, but it also shows how people's fears can evaporate when they're shown to be ridiculous, and how powerful it can be to recognize others' humanity. Conservatives are attacking LGBTQ rights and need to be defeated, but U.S. society as a whole is increasingly not with them.

Abraham Lincoln ended his 1861 first inaugural address, after several states had seceded from the Union but before the Civil War officially started, on a conciliatory, optimistic note. He soon faced a more open and much more deadly conflict than we currently do. But it still seems that the best way to fight our worse demons as a nation is by investing in our better angels.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Last Call for the Jon Swift Roundup (2022 Edition)

It's time once again to continue a tradition started by Jon Swift/Al Weisel, the "Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves." Jon/Al was a fine writer, but also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. He was known for his satirical pieces, and his annual roundups primarily consisted of political (mostly left-leaning), cultural or personal blogs. (Thoughtful, insightful or funny posts of any flavor play well, though.)

Here are Jon/Al's massive 2007 and 2008 editions. Our smaller revivals from 2010 through 2021 can be found here.

If you'd like to participate, just write to me (Batocchio9 AT yahoo DOT com) with your best post of the year before 12/25:

Blog Name
Title of Post
Author of Post
Brief Description/Pitch of the Post (1–2 sentences)

(Adding "best post" in the subject line would also help.)

To modify Jon Swift's 2008 solicitation:

I would be very honored if you would participate and send me a link to what you think was your best post of [2022], along with a short description of it. Please make the hard choice and send me only one link. I would like to post it before the end of the year, so if you could get it to me before Christmas, I would really appreciate it.

One submission per blog, please, otherwise things can get messy. Group bloggers can pick a piece among themselves, but are also welcome to submit their work via their individual blogs, if they have them.

As usual, I'm aiming to find the right balance between "inclusive" and "manageable." If you know a few excellent blogs (preferably on the smaller side) that you suspect might not be on my radar, feel free to send me their website address (and contact info, if you have it). Thanks.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Armistice Day 11/11/22

(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.

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)

"The Graveyard of Democracy" (2021)

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.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Banned Book Week 2022

We're at the tail end of Banned Books Week, which celebrates banned and challenged books. My archive in this category is here. This year witnesses some familiar trends and some troubling new escalations. The familiar are bans and challenges to books that deal with sexuality or race. What's newer is a more coordinated effort to ban books from conservative groups and politicians, and the level of harassment of librarians, teachers and students.

The American Library Association keeps a list of frequently challenged books and updates the top 10 most challenged books every year. In 2021:

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021. Of the 1597 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images

2. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

3. All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

4. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, violence, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda

6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term

7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women

8. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit

9. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content.

10. Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

It's not surprising to see that many books were challenged for LGBTQIA+ issues; that's been a trend for many years. Meanwhile, nationally in the past few years, conservatives have been coordinating more in their opposition to LGBTQ rights and acceptance. This year, Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, heavily pushed what's been dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law, which:

. . . bans lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade as well as material that is not deemed age-appropriate.

Most educators do not expect a major change in lesson plans — one of the key reasons critics cited in saying the law was unnecessary was that teachers do not cover such subjects in early grades anyway.

But some worry it sets a tone that will leave LGBTQ teachers and kids feeling ostracized.

"The messaging of this law is horrible. It's toxic, it's discriminatory," said Gretchen Robinson, a lesbian high school teacher in Orange County. "It targets, very obviously, LGBTQ students, it 'others' them, and that is not OK."

These threats aren't theoretical. A recent PBS NewsHour segment interviewed two Florida student LGBTQ activists. One of them, Will Larkins, related that since the law passed:

I have noticed an uptick in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and general attitude toward people.

I have always dealt with homophobia at high school. I have always been called slurs and stuff, but it has gotten worse since the school year started. A lot of things have happened. Most recently, my sister and I were followed home after a football game by 15 guys, who called us slurs, told us to kill ourselves.

It was really scary. They said they were going to beat us up. They chased us. We got lost in the trees.

The other thing I have noticed really — really that I know for a fact came from this is more of the rhetoric that's coming from the state legislature and our governor, such as the grooming rhetoric, calling queer people pedophiles, has now trickled down to the high school level, and high school bullies are using the same language as our politicians, who are pushing for this bill and other anti-LGBTQ laws.

Larkins also identifies the backlash factor:

I think it's interesting, because, most recently, for the first time ever, queer people have become mainstream. This is a new thing. This is 2010s onward.

And we have gotten to a point where we're being generally accepted by society. So now homophobic and anti-queer legislators and lawmakers are put pushing back against it. And when they're pushing back against it, it is dignifying and it is backing up these bullies. It is telling them that you are right in being homophobic, when, before, we were at a point where these people knew that they were wrong.

But now they're being backed up by Ron DeSantis.

This harassment and bullying has real consequences. As Larkins also points out:

Queer teens are four times more likely to die by suicide than their straight counterparts, and 52 percent of trans youth last year said they seriously considered suicide.

So where's that coming from? That is coming from these laws. That is coming from this rhetoric, and that is coming from the bullies who see it on TV, see it on FOX News and, pick it up, and use it to harm people like us.

On the book-banning and challenging front, Florida is hardly alone. As The Texas Tribune covers:

Texas banned more books from school libraries this past year than any other state in the nation, targeting titles centering on race, racism, abortion and LGBTQ representation and issues, according to a new analysis by PEN America, a nonprofit organization advocating for free speech.

The report released on Monday found that school administrators in Texas have banned 801 books across 22 school districts, and 174 titles were banned at least twice between July 2021 through June 2022. PEN America defines a ban as any action taken against a book based on its content after challenges from parents or lawmakers.

The most frequent books removed included "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe, which depicts Kobabe's journey of gender identity and sexual orientation; "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison; "Roe v. Wade: A Woman's Choice?" by Susan Dudley Gold; "Out of Darkness" by Ashley Hope Pérez, which follows a love story between a Mexican American teenage girl and a Black teen boy in 1930s East Texas; and "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson, a personal account of growing up black and queer in Plainfield, New Jersey.

"This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy," Suzanne Nossel, PEN America's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Across the country, PEN America found that 1,648 unique titles had been banned by schools. Of these titles, 41% address LGBTQ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ. Another 40% of these books contains protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color.

Summer Lopez, the chief program officer of free expression at PEN America, said what's notable about these book bans is that most are on books that families and children can elect to read, not any required reading.

Florida and Pennsylvania followed Texas as the states with the most bans, respectively. Florida banned 566 books, and 457 titles were banned in Pennsylvania, where a majority of books were removed from one school district in York County, which is known as being more conservative.

Lopez said her organization could not recall a previous year with as many reported book bans.

These bans and challenges often aren't due to individual parents. As NPR highlights, citing the same PEN report and also the ALA:

According to the report, the surge in book bans is a result of a network of local political and advocacy groups targeting books with LGBTQ+ characters and storylines, and books involving characters of color.

"While we think of book bans as the work of individual concerned citizens, our report demonstrates that today's wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to banish books being waged by sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organizations," said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America. . . .

PEN America has identified at least 50 groups working at local, state and national levels advocating for books to be removed from school curriculums and school library shelves. According to the report, this is a relatively recent occurrence. Many of the groups, such as Moms for Liberty, began in 2021.

The American Library Association also put out a report late last week that indicates challenges to books continue to rise. Based on their records, 1,651 unique titles were targeted between January and August this year — in 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources. The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom counted 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials in all of 2021 — which rose four fold from the prior year.

The ALA also points to more conservative political groups pushing to ban books in schools and libraries across the country. According to the ALA report, the actions from these groups are mostly focused on YA books involving race, gender, and sexual identity — echoing the findings from the PEN America study.

It's also important to point out that these conservative groups almost always argue in bad faith. In August, the PBS NewsHour had a good segment about parental rights and censorship, which featured an interview with Tina Descovich, the founder of the aforementioned Moms for Liberty, who claimed:

We do not stand by or believe that we are banning books. We want to make sure books are age-appropriate for our children.

And we're looking for solutions together, like I mentioned. There's options to put books in a place where you need parental permission or a practical opt-out or parental opt-in, whatever each local district decides, but there is no hard ban. . . .

Even educators aren't necessarily checking what's, what's in every one of these books. A lot of times, I have talked to school librarians that order books through lists that they have depended on historically.

And so they haven't read every single book that they have allowed into the library. It takes kind of all hands on deck. And when it comes to what our children, especially our youngest children, are being exposed to, parents need to have a voice in that conversation.

This is disingenuous. The NewsHour also interviewed Kelly Jensen, a former librarian and editor at the website Book Riot, which makes book recommendations. As Jensen points out:

Parents have always had a say in their education. They have always had the right to opt their children out of lessons, out of readings that they don't feel appropriate for the students. It's always been a right that they have had.

What the argument that they're trying to make now is that professionals who use professional tools to determine materials that are appropriate for students are not useful tools for determining what should or should not be in a library or a classroom.

And the argument is that librarians and educators can't rely on these tools that are created and sustained by professionals in education, in librarianship, in child develop development, and should instead listen to parents who are trying to undermine the professionals and the professional institutions of education and librarianship.

Jensen also points out that these book-banning groups are more extreme than most conservative and Republican parents:

So they have been successful in getting a number of books pulled from school libraries. And they have had a lot of pull in the legislation that we have seen come out of Florida in particular.

In Florida, here's a good example. To showcase just how small a group this is speaking on behalf of parents more broadly, in Polk County, which is the seventh largest district in Florida, reliably Republican, there are about 110,000 students. And Polk County just implemented a system where parents could opt their students out of a number of books that have come under fire.

And of all of those students, less than 160 kids have had their parents opt them out of access to these books. So, really, truly, it's a very small number. And so what they're trying to do is revoke access to this material for all students, and not just their students.

This is far from the first time we've seen a conservative minority try to impose its will on the majority when it comes to book access or otherwise. My 2011 post for Banned Books Week covered a Georgia school board that banned well-regarded books Brave New World, Of Mice and Men and Native Son due to objections from a local church minister, ignoring the recommendations of twenty educators but also ignoring that school parents gave permission to read the books. My 2015 post on Banned Books Week covered an Iowa school district that banned Sherman Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, due to objections by a single parent, "in blatant violation of the district's own policies regarding challenged materials." These conservative groups and individuals reject the expertise of educators and librarians, and despite their claims to be fighting for parents, ignore parents' actual input in any sort of fair, democratic process.

We've explored these dynamics many times for Banned Books Week, but parents already have the right to opt-out their children from reading particular books on the school curriculum. For public libraries, parents can prevent their children from checking out certain books if they object. What book banning is really about is preventing anyone else from reading those books. To quote from my 2010 post:

These are important distinctions. There's nothing wrong with criticizing a book on aesthetic or other grounds, but it's quite another thing to try to deny other people the right to read it. Parents can choose that their child can't check out a book from the library, but they don't get to decide that for every other child, and certainly not for every other adult. For school curriculums, it can get a bit trickier, but such things as age-appropriateness are typically discussed at length. Parents (the most common objectors) have a voice, and while the specific laws and guidelines vary by state, county or school system, parental opt-outs are commonly available.

Perhaps more importantly, when a book is taught in the curriculum, it is discussed in class with students. Parents can also discuss it with their kids. The same goes for books checked out of the library - parents can discuss it with their kids, or not let their kids check a book out. Art is capable of saying more than one thing at a time, and stories often contain ambiguity and room for interpretation. These factors make literal or authoritarian-minded people uncomfortable, but they're pretty unavoidable if you study literature and poetry. It's common for English curriculums in secondary education to try to foster critical thinking skills and a tolerance for ambiguity. Parents who think of education as indoctrination - or who favor indoctrination, only the type they want – tend not to understand or like that.

I'm not dismissive of parental anxieties, but as with questions brought up by students in class, normally they can be addressed. Racial slurs in Huck Finn, The Elephant Man and Invisible Man can and are discussed in the classroom, and that's usually a better, safer place to do so. The reality is that parental discomfort generally emerges when a parent doesn't want to discuss something with their kid. Age and maturity are legitimate issues, of course, but teenagers are often more mature or informed than their parents admit. It's that same maturity, not the lack of it, that can further unnerve an anxious parent. Navigating all this is an important part of growing up for students, and a crucial part of good parenting for the parents. Challenging a book is often just a proxy for deeper issues . . .

We've also seen conservative attempts to fire librarians before (a 2008 post, which links a follow-up piece, covers Sarah Palin's book-banning efforts as Wasilla mayor). But I don't remember seeing the degree of harassment librarians have been facing, as reported in an August Washington Post article, "A Mich. library refused to remove an LGBTQ book. The town defunded it."

Two librarians had quit since the trouble began, and Kaitlin McLaughlin didn't want to be the third.

But the same term kept coming up in board meetings and on yard signs, making her feel awkward and wrongly accused: grooming.

People in this western Michigan farming town said the Patmos Library was "grooming" children and, according to fliers that one group printed, promoting an "LGBTQ ideology." They said bookshelves meant for young readers featured same-sex pornography. They called the staff pedophiles, McLaughlin said. Then one August morning, they voted to defund Jamestown's only public library, jeopardizing the institution's future as neighbors clashed over who gets to decide free speech in this deep-red corner of America. . . .

Jamestown, with a population of nearly 10,000, has Christian conservative roots. Dutch last names are common — a legacy of the Calvinists who split from the Netherlands in the mid-1800s to settle here and practice a stricter form of Christianity. The county celebrates this heritage each spring with a tulip festival.

The 22-year-old library hosts birthday parties, bridal showers, HOA meetings and blood drives. Residents praised it as a haven for all ages until controversy ignited with an award for the best teen books.

The problems started when the library director at the time, Amber McLain, ordered copies of all 10 young adult books named winners by the National Library Association, which included:

. . . a memoir about growing up nonbinary called "Gender Queer."

Pink-haired and openly queer, the 30-year-old [Amber McLain] stood out in a county that hadn't backed a Democrat for president since 1864. Yet people embraced McLain, her former colleagues and patrons said.

"She helped bring my son out of his shell," said one mother, Sara Crockett, checking out a STEM toy kit on a recent afternoon. "He'd light up when he saw her."

"I miss Miss Amber," 5-year-old Cecil said, clutching her hand.

Nobody complained about McLain until last November, after video of a Virginia mother condemning "Gender Queer" as "pornographic" took off on social media and protests against the memoir spread nationwide.

The 239-page graphic novel contains illustrations of masturbation, a sex toy and oral sex, as well as depictions of menstrual blood. Fans saw the scenes as part of the author's coming-of-age experience, while critics blasted them as sabotage to developing minds. "Gender Queer" became the most banned book of 2021.

Some parents found a copy in the Patmos Library and created a Facebook group called "Jamestown Conservatives" pushing for its removal. One of the organizers, Lauren Nykamp, declined to be interviewed but responded to some of The Washington Post's questions over text. "This is not about LGBTQ material," she said. "It is about sexualized material."

Nothing would dissuade the conservative activists, some of whom got pretty aggressive:

McLain countered that 90 out of their roughly 67,000 books had an LGBTQ keyword. She said they spent the most money on Christian fiction. . . .

A lawyer had reviewed the book and determined it wasn't pornographic, McLain replied. Still, given the mature content, she'd initially placed it in the adult section — near novels with heterosexual sex scenes. As the objections mounted, though, she moved "Gender Queer" behind the counter, making it available only upon request.

"We have to represent every segment of the population," McLain said, "not just the vast majority."

The backlash grew from there. One March day, staffers said, a woman showed up at the library, recording a video and yelling: "Where is she? Where is the pink-haired freak? Where is the pedophile librarian?"

McLain hadn't been there. The library board president told her about the incident, saying she could work remotely if she'd like. (McLain declined to be interviewed for this story but confirmed the sequence of events to The Post.) Citing harassment, she opted to quit.

So did her replacement, Matthew Lawrence, 25, who transferred to a library in another town — he doesn't feel comfortable saying where — after a tense encounter in June. A patron had demanded to know if he was gay, he said, and insisted he remove a rainbow-hued sign that said: "Please use the other door."

The environment had grown hostile, Lawrence said, but seeing the local official join the protest against "Gender Queer" ultimately motivated him to leave.

"The complaint is that kids are going to pick it up and see things they can't unsee," he said. "The easiest way to avoid that is to parent your children."

Lawrence is absolutely correct, but parenting their own children never seems to be a popular solution for conservative activists. Instead, "On Election Day in August, about a third of the town's voters turned out. A slim majority chose to defund the library." (The library has since received enough donations to stay open, but the vote doesn't speak well for the community.)

The problem isn't limited to rural Michigan. Amanda Jones, an award-winning librarian in Louisiana, has faced similar harassment and is fighting back, but she's far from alone in dealing with such attacks:

Nationwide, school districts have been bombarded by conservative activists and parents over the past year demanding that books with sexual references or that discuss racial conflict, often by authors of color or those who are LGBTQ, be purged from campuses. Those demands have slowly moved toward public libraries in recent months.

Many conservative activists have referred to people who defend the books as “groomers,” comparing them to child molesters. The Proud Boys, an extremist hate group, has barged into LGBTQ-themed reading events in several libraries, insisting they need to protect children. Some librarians have said they no longer feel safe serving in their roles.

Jones, the 2021 Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators Middle School Teacher of the Year and the 2021 School Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year, said more than 200 librarians have reached out to her as the insults on Facebook spread. Many claimed they had been victims of similar verbal and online abuse in the past two years. More than 600 people donated a combined $20,000 for Jones on GoFundMe so she could respond with legal action.

Challenging and banning books is nothing new, but such efforts should always be fought. The increased scope and coordination of these censorship efforts is troubling, as is the sheer nastiness and sometimes outright delusion of some of these attacks. They reflect dangerous authoritarianism and bigotry in many areas of the country, dynamics we've witnessed in far too many other political arenas. Legitimate parental concerns have already been heard. But fear, bigotry and open hostility toward students, teachers and librarians – as well as toward public schools and libraries – have no value and do great harm.

(Earlier this year, I wrote about efforts to ban Maus.)

Sunday, June 05, 2022

L.A. Primary Elections 2022

The California primary elections are rapidly coming up on Tuesday, 6/7. Many Angelenos might have voted already by mail or in person, but the following resources may prove useful for the general election in November as well, even if they're more useful for the primary.

First up, one of Los Angeles' local NPR stations, KCRW, teamed up with the Los Angeles Times to a debate on homelessness/houselessness solutions for mayoral candidates.

The moderators, KCRW’s Anna Scott and Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, know their stuff. The participating candidates are U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D), L.A. City Council member Keven de León (D), and Gina Viola, a community organizer and business owner, officially nonpartisan but on the liberal/progressive side of things. Candidates Mike Feuer (D) and Joe Buscaino (D) accepted the invitation to the debate, but dropped out of the race beforehand. The most notable omission is Rick Caruso, a billionaire Republican officially running as a Democrat in this election. He's bought TV ads around the clock and has sent out a ton of campaign mail, sometimes two pieces a day. Caruso has spent a record-breaking, insane $34 million and counting, more than twice what the entire field of candidates has spent in the last competitive mayoral primary. Count me among the many who think Caruso's trying to buy the election. Caruso has claimed he'll fix the homelessness situation in Los Angeles, but he ducked this debate on that very issue and has dodged and other candidate fora. As you'll hear if you listen to the debate, glib campaign slogans only take a candidate so far, and bullshitters are likely to squirm.

If the debate doesn't play for you, use the first link above or find it on the Press Play podcast.

I was somewhat familiar with Bass and de León before the debate, and they have some decent things to say, but I was quite interested to hear Gina Viola's perspective, especially her advocacy for hearing from homeless/unhoused people themselves.

Meanwhile, as usual, local NPR station KPCC has put together useful voter resources, including guides to the candidates and ballot measures. This time, there's even a neat meet your mayor quiz, which lets you see which candidates most closely match your own positions.

As usual, I also find the Los Angeles County Bar Association's evaluations of judicial candidates quite valuable. LACBA does not endorse any candidates, but rates whether they are qualified on a four-point scale: not qualified, qualified, well qualified, and exceptionally well qualified. (The last rating is bestowed sparingly.)

Happy voting!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

National Poetry Month 2022

National Poetry Month is almost over, but as usual, I wanted to link the Favorite Poem Project and feature a poem. I was looking for good choices and came upon this one, a lovely piece I hadn't read in a long while:
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
by e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Saturday, April 02, 2022

2021 Film Roundup: The Oscars and the Year in Review

I was able to see a handful of the nominees this year, but still not that many. Going to the movies is safer than it was before a COVID-19 vaccine was available, but it's still a bit daunting. Many of the nominees are not on disc yet and some of them are only available on a single streaming service. I did see Dune on the big screen, and it definitely benefits from it. I also managed to see Belfast, The Power of the Dog, Don't Look Up and No Time to Die. I expect to see Licorice Pizza, Encanto, West Side Story, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings later this year. I also hope to see Coda, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Drive My Car, The Worst Person in the World, Parallel Mothers, The Lost Daughter, Being the Ricardos, Summer of Soul, Flee, tick, tick..BOOM! and Raya and the Last Dragon, among others.

The Oscars this year had two big scandals. The first was the decision not to include several "craft" awards during the live broadcast, and instead record them earlier and edit the footage into the live show. The decision was widely criticized by industry professionals, and led to some Academy members resigning. The slighted awards were the three short film categories, film editing, music (original score), sound, production design, and makeup and hairstyling, as well as all the honorary Oscars. The segments were at least edited in fairly well, but excluding the categories from the live event was a horrible choice. It showed a lack of respect for the art and craft of filmmaking. And the Academy once again chose to fruitlessly chase a larger audience while alienating the core audience of film lovers. The show could have been made shorter by not adding an un-nominated Encanto musical number, for example, but it's a Disney film and Disney owns ABC. The ratings did jump up significantly from the previous year, but given the pandemic, that's hardly surprising; ratings were still the second-worst ever.

The second scandal, which obviously got much more attention, was Will Smith storming the stage and smacking comedian Chris Rock over a joke: "Jada, love ya – G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see it." The joke fell flat in the room and it took me a minute to figure out what the intended gag was – a reference to Jada's bald head. (G.I. Jane came out way back in 1997, and pop-culture-wise, it's mostly known for Demi Moore shaving her head.) Like the audience in the theater, when Will Smith went on stage, I thought it was a planned bit, until the audio cut out and the camera showed Smith angrily yelling without sound. (You can see the footage here.) I've seen umpteen takes on this, and at least one sympathetically condemns Smith's actions while contextualizing it within his tough, even abusive upbringing, and theorizing that Smith still needs to come to terms with it. I thought Smith's actions set a horrible precedent – assaulting a comedian because you don't like a joke, or any performer because you don't like their act. I also thought it completely undercut what should have been Smith's biggest night, because he was the favorite to win Best Actor, and did indeed win it. I understand the audience being shocked and not sure what to do, but I thought it was gutless to give Smith a standing ovation after what he did. There's some disagreement over whether Smith was asked to leave and whether he refused, or if he was told to stay. Although Smith's PR team put out a well-written, contrite statement the next day, Smith himself was partying that night as if nothing had happened. He's since resigned his Academy membership and been banned from attending the Oscars for 10 years.

I can't say I'm a big Will Smith fan but don't dislike him, either – I think he's become a pretty good actor and was quite good in The Pursuit of Happyness. And his reputation had been getting steadily better over the years. I understand getting upset over a personal joke against one's self or a family member, but it's par for the course for these events, public figures should be used to it, the joke was pretty tame, and it fell flat with the audience. No one was really laughing at Jada Pinkett Smith, and most viewers probably thought, like me, that she had shaved her head and didn't know she had alopecia. The Oscar after-parties can get pretty wild, but many attendees also show up drunk or high before the ceremony, and I have to wonder if that contributed to Will Smith's astonishingly poor judgment and lack of restraint and maturity. The way to deal with a joke you don't like is to talk to the comedian afterward, or make a joke back, or to call it out in the press as a cheap shot, not assault and battery on live television… especially when you're a featured guest favored to get a big award. My sympathies are strongly with the performers for all such incidents.

Although Will Smith's actions overshadowed most of the night, it's worth checking out some of the award speeches if you missed them, particularly Ariana DeBose for Best Supporting Actress, who gave a shout-out to queer youth and the power of the arts, and Troy Kotsur for Best Supporting Actor, who hailed the deaf community. I was also personally happy to see the multitalented Kenneth Branagh finally win an Oscar, in this case for Best Original Screenplay. As for the rest of the ceremony, I thought the triple hosts of Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes were pretty good. The song-and-dance number during the Montage of Death was rousing and fine on its own merits, but a pretty bad choice in context, because it completely distracted from the images of the deceased.

In any case, I'm going to try to see all the films mentioned earlier, and I hope 2022 turns out to be a good year for film.