Hartwell

He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not.  Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.

I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.

The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape.  Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell.  By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists.  Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate.  Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster.  But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential.  Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights.  (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.)  We spoke briefly.  I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time.  We talked a bit about the books and publishing.  A few minutes.  He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.”  He had won one over the corporates.  The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.

We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon.  I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there.  In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement.  By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.

A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book.  I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums.  We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward.  The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself.  At the last minute, David called Robin.  He had seen a notice for the event.  He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend.  Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel.  Rhetorical question.  We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel.  My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge.  His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.

After that he began soliciting work from me.  We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward.  He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.

Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties.  He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness.  He had been instrumental in many careers.

He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true.  For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.

Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.

David took me seriously.  I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.

 

Competency As Test For Civil Discourse

President Obama gave his last State of the Union address this week.  I did not watch it, but I read the transcript.  To my eye, to my mind, it was as fine a way to cap his presidency as one could hope.  He spoke to the future.  Make of that what you will.  Those who do not now or never have liked him, it was all hot air, empty rhetoric, posing for posterity.  For those who believe he has been the best president since the last great one, it was inspirational, an arrow aimed at the next horizon.  For anyone with the slightest grasp of history, how politics works, of even a grasp of the last 40 years, it was a gracious and generous invitation to Do Better.

In contrast, Governor Haley’s official Republican rebuttal was a tortured exercise in finding a way to be right in the cracks of a broken legacy, made nearly irrelevant by an evident lack of understanding and, apparently, knowledge of our country’s history.

Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, said in an interview after her rebuttal “we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion.”

Let me pause for a breath while I ponder the utter feckless ignorance in that statement.  This is the flip side of the Right’s insistence that this country was founded on Christianity, I suppose.  More to the point, if that’s your belief, and you did not notice how stupidly wrong that statement from Governor Haley was, then you do have to ask yourself how you square the contradiction.  If she’s right, then this country was never a “christian” nation.  If it was so founded, then she’s wrong and every single law ever passed has been based on religion.

As to race, please.  Have you never heard of the One Drop Rule?  Or Loving v. Virginia?  Or Plessy v. Ferguson?  No?  What a pristine place your mind must be, then, unsullied by the grimier legacies of this country.

Saying something like that is tantamount to saying “All that stuff we did—we never really did it, it’s only stuff in books we don’t read.”  Wishful thinking and frankly insulting, because for that to pass she has to believe her listeners are stupid and uneducated and ignorant.  She has to bet on you not knowing any better.

Nikki Haley is one of the more reasonable Republicans holding office currently, but it is this kind of tone-deaf, ahistorical, reality-denying rhetoric that makes it impossible for me to take her seriously.  Or any of them, really, so synced to their Party campaign to undo everything from the 1950s (at a minimum) till today just because their constituency will vote for them if they do.  A shrinking constituency, I think.  The louder they get, the smaller their numbers.  But, my word, they are loud.

By comparison, Obama has shown far more gracious tolerance than—well, than I could possibly have shown.

We seem not to teach civics in school anymore.  We should.  We should have a course on civics combined with American history, beginning in grade school (when I got it) and continue on until 12th grade.  No let up.  Cover this stuff in greater and greater detail, ad nauseum, until it sinks in and we no longer think someone knows what he or she is talking about just because they hold high office.

What I will miss most when Obama leaves office is not being talked to like I only have a 3rd grade education by my president.  I will miss his erudition.  Yes, I will miss his humor, his sophistication, even his syntax.

I suspect the rest of the world will, too.

Of Course This Is My Opinion

At the gym this morning, listening to the news while doing treadmill, I learned that, quote, it is official, the Rams have filed to move back to L.A., unquote.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I am fine with this.  Go, leave.  Aside from one season and a surprise upset, allowing St. Louis to claim a superbowl win for its archives, the Rams have been…problematic.  We built them a dome.  We have suffered through the hissy-fits of their owner(s).  We have been held hostage by Rams management over the issue of building yet another dome in order to keep a team that rarely (ever?) fills the seats at the stadium they already have.  They have been a drain on the emotional (and fiscal) resources of this city and to no purpose.

Do any fans really care about seeing them in a new arena?  Other than the ones with stock options involved?

Be that as it may, I understand.  This isn’t about money.  It’s about a devotion with which I have some understanding but no connection.  And it would not bother me in the least if the only money involved were private money.

But somehow these uber-rich owners keep demanding municipalities pony up a bribe to keep these teams local, as if they have a right to expect us to pay for their profits before, during, and after, so that a minority of people can go to a handful of games that could be watched on television—in which case it really wouldn’t matter where it was played, you could green-screen any venue you wanted—and task the resources which could well be spent on something vital, like schools or poverty programs or that aquarium proposed several years ago which keeps being ignored but would actually serve a purpose, namely education.

If the powers that be in St. Louis can come together to bypass the right of the citizens to vote on an issue and allocate many millions for a purpose which, as far as I can see, is nothing but the real world equivalent of an XBox thrill, then why can’t they do the same for something that actually benefits people?

The Rams matter to me not a bit.  Stay, go, I don’t care.  But the politics around this do matter because they are indicative of skewed priorities and a mindset that finds it easier to throw bread and circuses at people rather than do anything constructive that might improve lives.  The Board of Alderman and the local courts have demonstrated an ability to act on something relatively unimportant only because money is involved.  They can damn well do their jobs and act on things that pertain to the commonwealth and stop assuming our tax dollars are well-spent on distractions and short term diversions.

Let the Rams go.  Now, can we have a serious discussion about that aquarium?

A Long Time Ago…

Yesterday, in fact.

Somehow, seeing the new Star Wars film on January 1st was the perfect thing to do. We went to the Moolah Theater on Lindell and had popcorn and sat back and became 12-year-olds for over two hours and it was…wonderful.

I have seen much back-and-forthing over this film the last few weeks, including some ill-advised and unwelcome splenetic blathering from George Lucas himself over how he disliked the direction J.J. Abrams has taken.  I have also seen for myself the new action figure set at Target which failed to include the key character in what must be considered one of the most blatant examples of denial in industry marketing since…I don’t know.  What?  You really don’t think little girls will buy these even with such a full-on kick-ass role model as Rey?  Or are you afraid they will buy them and we’ll have another round of how de-feminized the character is and how she’s a bad example for little girls who might opt out of the whole cute-girl-whose-brains-are-secondary track of socialization?

To get this out of the way right now, I think Rey is possibly the best thing about the new Star Wars.  Vertently  or otherwise, something significant has been achieved in her and I applaud it.  Take note, ye unwitting crafters of the female entity for screen and page, this is how you do it.  Simply put, she is her own self.  She does not define herself by the men in her life, she not trade herself for favors, she does not bow to fashion conventions that depend on genitalia.  She has her own concerns, her own goals, and runs her life on her own, the only constraints on any of that being the same exact constraints put on every other being in the world she inhabits.

And she is a deeply, deeply ethical and empathetic person.  One who is not afraid to act on her own judgment, consequences be damned.

And she pays for it with doubt and fear and the agon of the compassionate.

As if she were a real person.

Person.

(Why does he go on about this?  Why is he getting loud?  What’s the deal?)

The deal is, so seldom in something like this do we get to see a woman as Person First, self-consistent, competent, and heroic, who does the rescuing, fights (and wins) against the bad guy, and can remain herself as a human being.  She also has friendships.  Not lovers, there’s no suggestion of that, not even as foreshadowing. Friends.  They didn’t even try to dress her up in some form-accentuating bit of impractical gauzy revealing nonsense so we’d all see that while she’s running around kicking ass and being amazing she has cleavage and nice thigh.  She’s dressed for work, for survival, for movement, for function.  Her hair is even done practically.

By accident or intent, they did Rey right.

So how come she’s not in the action figure collection?

I have my opinions and they are not charitable.  But it may turn out to be beside the point.

As to all the other dross being spake about how it stacks up to the rest of the films…

Sure, it’s a broad retread of the very first film.  So what?  This is myth, which is cyclic, and the value is in reaffirmation and validation.  It is a Hero’s Journey and going all the way back to Gilgamesh certain forms remain constant.  There are tests and trials and the plot matters much less than the manner of challenge and the quality of its confrontation.  George Lucas forgot that when he made episodes 1, 2, and 3.  He tried to turn a quest fantasy into science fiction, he tried to interject politics, he tried to justify things in a way that didn’t so much subvert what he had done before as crack the road in front of the calabash.  J.J. Abrams, or whoever was principally responsible for the storyline here, went back to the Campbellian mythic underpinnings (Joseph not John W.) and brought back what mattered and made the first couple so compelling.  Certain mythic forms reoccur, time and again, and Joseph Campbell understood this and Lucas sort of did, we think, at least in the beginning, but it went off the rails when a certain gravitic pull to compete with Star Trek seemed to drag everything off in an inauspicious direction.  In spite of the superb craft of those later films, the genuinely well-executed action, and even the plot logic of much of it, they were curiously empty.  One thing after another, with only a few moments of transcendence that failed to rescue them from essentially tales about bureaucratic failure.  Lucas can be as snarky as he likes, but Episode VII has gone back to what made the first three films work.

And did it very well.

Episode IV and V were all about Becoming.  Episode VI was about coming to terms with what you have Become.

Episodes I, II, and III were all about breaking things.

Episode VII is about Becoming.

And Rey?  Pay attention, fellas.  This is how it’s done. This is what a human being looks like.  This is a hero.

Bang!

We’ve had a banner year of in terms of bizarre homicides.  I could say that all homicide is bizarre, but somehow when it involves people who actually know each other it seems more…expected, I suppose.  Tragic, shocking, but after a little thought you can see how it happened.

So-called mass shootings are another matter. These are exercises in mindless spleen-venting on the part of people who are then portrayed as mentally ill, “radicalized,” or some variation of misanthropic moron, either an ideologue or a racist or sometimes just someone who has reached the end of the apparently short string by which life was hanging.  Collectively we try to make sense of them.  For most of us, this is like making bricks without straw: work the material all you want, it’s just mud in the end and nothing that holds up. We just don’t know.

Into this once more we have another round of what has since 1968 been a cyclic iteration of the Gun Control Debate. The question arose on the federal level during Prohibition when gangsters were running around with Thompson machine guns.  The police argued that the ownership and use of such weapons outside the military represented a public danger, and limitations were duly enacted, but this was by no means the first instance within the borders of the United States when possession of firearms by private citizens was an issue of law.  And to be sure after the Civil War the question had teeth in the face of Reconstruction policies and the subsequent reaction of the defeated South to the condition of free blacks.  There is ample in our history to make a case that the idea of restricting access to personal firearms is a matter of oppression.  Hence these arguments cannot be quietly put to rest.

One thread is the presumed constitutionality of the matter.  The 2nd Amendment is seen by many to guarantee unrestricted access to firearms.  Strict Constructions line up in odd combinations with Survivalists, militant preservationists, and others to claim the Founders meant exactly this.  On the other side are those who argue they did not.  The fact is, it’s an open question.  A good deal of American law was based on English Law and Blackstone’s Commentaries served as an often unacknowledged guide to the writing of local and state ordinances as well as hovering in the back of all the conventionists’ minds while drafting the various state constitutions and the federal constitution.  This is one reason so many early state constitutions look so much alike, even in language.

What did Blackstone has to say about possession of arms?

5. The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defense, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute . . . and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765

Right there we see the basis of our legal understanding and the problem with clarification.  Under due restrictions.  Blackstone—and presumably most if not all the Founders—understood that some regulation was necessary.  But by pairing it with a right both Blackstone and the Founders left the issue vague enough to result in precisely the argument we now have.  I wrote a piece about my interpretation of what the Founders were thinking here.

Recently I saw this debate once again where the minds of the Founders was being analyzed for both pro and con.  I thought to chime in, then held back.  I realized suddenly that it simply doesn’t matter what they had in mind.

People will take what they want from the Constitution, just as they do from the Bible, and use it in any way that serves their personal view of how the world ought to be.  The vagueness—assumed vagueness—of the 2nd Amendment in this regard allows for the evolution of civil construction to suit a changing situation.  The whole Constitution is like that.  “What does it mean?” is open to interpretation as long as the issue is recognized as fundamentally important.

(Scalia is simply wrong in his view that the Constitution is not a living document, that it is somehow set in stone and inviolate.  If true, that makes it all but worthless.)

The intent of the Founders, however one wishes to construe it in practice, was to guarantee that the armed power of the state came from the express consent of the people.  That the “king” was not to hold that power exclusively to the detriment of his subjects, but they would hold it to keep the king in check.

How they held it was and is open to debate and certainly open to reformulation.

In that regard, we should also remember that the United States has traditionally been a state opposed to the idea of standing armies and until WWII, when our current arrangement of maintaining a large federal armed force came into acceptance, we raised armies at need.  Consider this from Teddy Roosevelt’s Sixth State of the Union address:

“Our Regular Army is so small that in any great war we should have to trust mainly to volunteers; and in such event these volunteers should already know how to shoot; for if a soldier has the fighting edge, and ability to take care of himself in the open, his efficiency on the line of battle is almost directly Proportionate to excellence in marksmanship. We should establish shooting galleries in all the large public and military schools, should maintain national target ranges in different parts of the country, and should in every way encourage the formation of rifle clubs throughout all parts of the land. The little Republic of Switzerland offers us an excellent example in all matters connected with building up an efficient citizen soldiery.”

And by the way this was one of the primary functions of the NRA before its lobbying arm expanded to dominate the entire machinery of it.

But the fact is, the situation has changed and we are not talking about abstract political philosophy but about with access to military style weapons and head’s full of junk going out and popping off at targets of opportunity because they think their world is ending.  Or they want their 15 minutes.  Or they didn’t take their meds.  Or they overdosed on paranoid social media and Fox News.  Or they think—

And we have a multi-billion dollar arms industry that thrives on this stuff, because every time it happens people run out and buy more guns.  Naturally they don’t want to see restrictions.

But to argue that restrictions are in some way a violation of the Founders  intent is not only a narrow and self-serving view but beside the point, because for the most part the people making that argument wouldn’t change their mind if they could be proved wrong.  This is religion for them and like people who insist that Leviticus supports their view of the present world and its ills they will interpret it as they want.

Just as those who find the 2nd Amendment a vestigial piece of antiquated nonsense that perhaps ought to be expunged.

The Founders certainly never intended us to be hamstrung by what they did.  The world is a different place—technologically if not politically—and refusing to sit down and try to find a solution to a problem because “the Constitution says” would likely strike them as absurd.

And childish.

I don’t believe any rational person feels the guy who shot up the Planned Parenthood clinic  is mentally or morally qualified to have had unrestricted access to weapons.  To defend his ability to have them because you think it means you can’t have the same access to the same weapons is a troubling and frankly myopic attitude.  We have a real problem in this country with firearms in the hands of people who, with just a little thought, we know shouldn’t have them.

The people who shot up San Bernardino are a different matter. Sane but definitely operating out of a different playbook than the rest of us, one built on self-justifications, paranoia, and perhaps a bit of political vulgarity that made them feel outside the scope of ordinary avenues of communication.  The fact is, anyone could do this and we have no way of knowing who might or when or why. It would be nice to think we could predict with certainty, but we can’t, so other solutions should be sought.

However, the debate must be had before we can come to any solution.  But stop using the Founders as an excuse.  Be honest—this isn’t about them.  It’s about us.

Crackpottery

As promised, more words.

I haven’t done very much about the political season of late. I’ve been watching it in utter dismay. I am astounded at the circus antics of those who would style themselves as America’s saviors. It’s just possible their intent is to save us from them.

Ben Carson melted down recently, bellowing that Obama didn’t get treated this way. His memory, like everything else, is deficient. But to be fair, Obama gave the sharks less to attack. He behaved like a serious-minded person, offered content, policy ideas, and a grasp of reality that did not lend itself to easy assault unless those mounting the assault intended to do so on the basis of his politics.

So they made shit up. He was born in Kenya. He’s a Muslim. He’s a communist. A variety of lesser things. With an evident lack of ability to attack him on the grounds of political position, they concocted ephemeral bullshit and hoped some of it would stick—as they have continued to do.

Carson has apparently opted to make things up for himself instead of letting others do it for him, and complains when he gets attacked for it. From my perspective, that he has now become the front-runner for the GOP nomination suggests the media has gone easy on him till now, otherwise how could he have reached this point?  When they failed to attack him and focused instead on his chief rival, Donald, he started shoveling out more nonsense to attract the detractors and gain some traction.

As a campaign strategy it may have worked too well.

Really, there are only a couple of things he has said which should have eliminated him from serious consideration long before now.

His comparison of Obamacare to slavery.

No, he did not say slavery was the best thing that ever happened to black people, that was a comment from a satirical website.  But he did suggest Obamacare was akin to slavery because “in a way, it is slavery, because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

By that thinking, traffic laws make us all slaves.

One might put this down to the hyperbole of political campaigning, and I’m willing to concede that.  In this case, I don’t care, because it is an abuse of language and an insult to morality.  “In a way” nothing is like slavery except slavery, and we need to step back from this kind of comparison.  It’s as bad as labeling any policy you don’t like fascism just because you don’t like it. Or comparing someone to Hitler simply because you disagree with him.  It bends the meanings of those words so out of shape as to render them meaningless.

Besides, the longer the ACA  (Affordable Care Act, not “Obamacare”—this was a law written by congress, not the president, so use the correct labels, please) stands, the more actual citizens like it.  This is not a guess, this is born out by surveys. Oh, and the gargantuan economic meltdown attributed to it hasn’t happened.

It also shows a blatant insensitivity for history, but Carson isn’t the only one who indulges in that.

No, “Obamacare” is not like slavery and by saying that he exhibits a willingness to indulge the basest sort of demagoguery.  And for a doctor to take that line bothers me, since it also shows a disconnect with the realities of his profession.  Now, had he then said “We should go to single payer” then I might listen closer and give him a bit more consideration.

The other thing is this whole magilla about evolution.  He said: “I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary.”

The adversary being Satan.

If you believe in that sort of thing, I can’t argue with you.  It’s bullshit, but belief is one of those non-negotiable things that thrives on disagreement.  The more people tell you you’re wrong, the more noble it is to dig in and believe.  So there is no profit in trying to argue about it.

But that non-negotiable part is worrisome in someone who wants to lead a powerful nation and might be called upon to compromise over fundamental disconnects in ideology in order to preserve, like, the world.  One of the things Obama is continually criticized on by people who think adherence to immovable ideologies is noble is his seeming willingness to compromise. It is seen as weak, poor leadership, etc. It happens to be one of the things I like about him and in that job the ability to listen and accept sometimes uncomfortable differences in pursuit of mutuality and peace is a talent I suspect Ben Carson, if he means this stuff, lacks.

He has made similarly idiotic statements about the Big Bang.

Now, he’s a brain surgeon, which is suppose to be, in certain contexts, code for “really smart.”  I’m not seeing the smart.  He keeps making shit up to gain some kind of street cred among the Party faithful.  That whole thing about being confronted in a fast food restaurant?  True or not, he said of the encounter “Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'”  I’m having a hard time seeing how this is any indication of presumed bravery.  He just admitted to telling a robber not to hold him up but hold somebody else up.  Point the gun at the minimum wage worker behind the counter.  Aim that thing at someone else.

He’s a doctor.  What happened to “Above all, do no harm”?  Why not, “This is between you and me, let’s go out to the parking lot” and get the assailant away from others who might be hurt?

I get it, this is supposed to be his Clint Eastwood moment.  But think about it.  He was figuratively and, if he is to be believed, literally stepping behind someone else in the face of personal harm.

Then, we have his recent problems over—wait for it—the pyramids of Giza.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big — when you stop and think about it, and I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time — to store that much grain.”

To be fair, he said that in 1998, it is not part of his current campaign strategy to undermine archaeology.  But still, it makes one wonder if he has ever read a book outside of his course studies in medical school. There’s a term for this kind of thing:  pseudoscience.

Now he’s bellyaching about media scrutiny.  What did he expect?  He’s running for president.  There is one school of thought that suggests that personal beliefs should be off-limits in considerations of who should serve in that office.  As far as it goes, I accept that.  But when one opens one’s mouth and reveals it to the world, it kind of stops being only a personal belief, it becomes part of what you want the public to perceive, and an indication of what you think is important for the public to make a choice.

Now we come to the West Point thing.  He claims to have been offered a full scholarship.  What does that mean?

Here are the  admissions requirements . Note, one of the requirements is a nomination from a senator, a representative, or a president.  He would have had to apply.  A “recommendation” from a general would not have been enough.

As for his attitude toward the Black Lives Matter movement, well, it may be a question of style, but it seems perverse.  “I hate political correctness” has become akin to those who claim to hate feminism but without actually understanding what it means.

But he has supporters.  More, it seems, than Trump, which may not be saying much.

There is a deep admiration in this country for so-called plain-speaking, especially when it seems to be in service to challenging the establishment.  But such speech ought first and foremost be linked to intelligence and a bit of knowledge about what windmills you think you’re charging.  The flush of shocked cheering at the presumed independence of someone like Ben Carson should give way to a reasoned apprehension that he also seems to be independent of actual reason in too many areas.  On top of his Party consistent adherence to the standard issue GOP platform, this causes me some amusement and a bit of nervousness that people who would vote for him could be so stump gullible.

And the clown car rolls on.

Mania and the Resignation of Reason

Speaker of the House John Boehner is stepping down.  Old news by now, I know, but I’ve been looking at some of the responses and his own statements in the wake of the decision and while this is not a new opinion on my part I have come to the conclusion that a sizable element of the GOP, especially in the House, are simply batshit crazy.  I no longer believe they have an agenda.  As long as it’s not The Other Guy’s program.  When they announced back in 2009 that they intended to do anything to obstruct Obama, regardless, it was annoying but easy to assume that the more rational members of their party would temper their zeal and business would get done as it should.  And that’s been more or less true.  There are procedural tactics that have always been used by the opposition to appear to reject a policy while allowing that policy to proceed.  The GOP has been relying on them more and more so that the People’s Business can get done even while they must look to their base and present a facade of uncompromising opposition.

Boehner has been wrangling this circus now for almost 5 years.  His rhetoric has often made it seem he is one with the BSC contingent (Bat Shit Crazy people) while his deft handling of floor votes, positions, and other alignments of planets has seen more accomplished than one might expect.  But it’s a shell game and he knows it and it must be wearying to have to continually lead with a false face.

Mind you, I am no fan of Mr. Boehner’s policy stances, but he is far more a mainstream politician than appearances suggest, and he is fed up.

Such has been clear to anyone paying attention for a long time.  He has been undercut, encircled, compromised, and used by the BSC contingent and he has from time to time let it show.  Personally, I think he should have taken the high road and called bullshit on these people while he still held the gavel, but who knows what else he has had to deal with that is not public knowledge which may have stayed his hand.  Certainly he’s talking about them now.

The question I have, and have had for some time, is: what is it the BSC faction wants?  What is it they think they’re going after?

The end of welfare?

The privatization of everything the government does?

The cessation of taxation?  All of it?

The building of a military on par with the levels of World War II?

Complete return of all internal policy to the individual states, regardless of constitutionality?

The establishment of a state religion?

The end of any discussions about things that seem to impede the headlong rush toward American hegemony and domination?  (Including climate science, minority and women’s rights, economic justice, environmental science, and judicial reform?  This list could go on and includes just about everything that constitutes a criticism of business as usual.)

I look at the list, by no means complete, and all I see is a lot of flag waving in the wrong direction and rejection of reality.

No wonder the rest of the world is looking at us in dismay, wondering what ever happened to the Wise America that seemed imminent in the post WWII era.

Boehner is calling bullshit now on his colleagues who, by his assessment, seem to have no clue what this country is all about.  Of course he’s not saying it quite that way, but that’s what it amounts to.  They are living in a land of fever dreams and non sequiturs, refusing to compromise over the simplest things because they believe compromise leads to—

What?  I see vague, indistinct fears voiced.  Socialism?  They don’t appear to know what that is.  If they actually believe Obama is a socialist, they clearly have no idea.  But even so, they seem unaware that we’ve been using socialist tools since the 1930s and what do you know, our spines are still straight, our knuckles do not drag on the pavement, and a good number of us can think.  We have become the largest economy on the planet (whether you believe that’s a good thing is another matter, but the point is they think it is, so how has socialism been a problem?), the most powerful military force in history (again, mileage varies on how one feels about that, but they see this as a positive), and until we started enabling the top 1% to suck all the money out of the economy, we had the highest standard of living on the planet, even while incorporating those evil socialist programs.  Of course, they (the BSC faction) believe that if we’ve slipped on that a little it’s because of those socialist programs, not because they’ve been doing everything they can to enable the pillage of our national treasure, but the problem is they still talk about things as if we still had that position in the world and that we’re about to lose it.

Causation is one of those scientificky concepts they seem not to grasp.

But I don’t know what kind of country they think they’ll have when and if they get their wishes.  From the evidence, I don’t think most of us—including them—would like it very much.  They have no vision that I can see.

What I see is a lot of nativist warmongers who think by handing over the keys to the kingdom to the top 1% everything will be marvelous for them.  They remind me of Grima Wormtongue.

But I believe they are caught up in a mania.  They have no program, because that requires reasoned deliberation, and that has become an enemy to them.  They are headlong rushing toward the eradication of the institutions and people they think are their natural enemies, but it’s panic-driven.  It’s like some dark, twisted form of Beatlemania.  Reasonless and ultimately empty, but in this case even the music sucks.  They are a mob.  You speak reason to them and they do not understand.

They have been told so often and for so long that America needs to be great again and they seem never once to stop and ask what that would look like.

A job for everyone?

No divorce?

Minorities in distinctly small numbers who are nothing but grateful just to be here?

Men calling all the shots and women reduced to sex toys and brood mares?

God plastered all over everything, especially those things that should exist unquestioned?

Industry and invention but no actual science?

And what about all those people who simply don’t fit that kind of construct?

Well, that’s what prisons are for, I suppose…

A large part of the problem is that too many of us, even those of us not charter members of the BSC contingent, live too much by labels.  Even when we seem to be on the “right side” of an issue, very often we don’t know what’s in that issue.  This makes it difficult to argue effectively against people who don’t care about any of that but just want to win.  Win at all costs.

We have some serious issues that don’t get any real air-time.  The presidential debate was a demonstration of how little any of these people  are even aware of them.

For instance, whatever your feelings about the causes of climate change may be, the fact is we’re seeing it, and one of the consequences will be a dramatic redistribution of potable water.  This is already happening.  None of those people even raised the issue.  Of course, we’ve been told our real concern is oil, and consequently we’ve seen this horrible practice of fracking take off, to the quick benefit of  certain shareholders, but also to the gradual detriment of water.  Now, there may well be a lot to be discussed on either side of that issue, but it doesn’t even raise a blip on the radar of presidential campaigning!

For another instance, we have a growing number of displaced workers and a shrinking pool of traditional jobs to absorb them.  If anything gets said at all, it is couched in terms of entitlements and lazy people without a single nod to the fact that we are building our own replacements and jobs are simply not there.  No discussion of it at all on the level of local communities devastated by standard Big Business practices that often obliterate local economies.

Oh, can’t talk about that!  That implies a need for Regulation and we all know that regulation is inimical to growth.

Bullshit.

But my point is, these kinds of things, which are real and current and need to be dealt with do not get a reasonable public debate because we’re so damn caught up about someone’s fucking email account or whether angels are real.

I did not side with Mr. Boehner, but he has my sympathy.  He has probably felt like the only rational person in the room most of the time.  He has been bludgeoned by stupidity.

The problem, however, is that the GOP is losing its reasonable members.  They are becoming increasingly shrill because the BSC faction thinks it’s winning because people like Boehner throw up their hands and walk away.  You can only be in the same room with idiocy for so long before you begin to doubt your own sanity.  But it is that shrill, loud whine of lunacy that most people hear and it has the unfortunate attribute of overwhelming everything else.

It would be nice for a change if the quiet, thoughtful ones would stop demurring in the face of what is becoming criminal irrationality.  I kind of like a two-party system, but in order for it to function properly both parties must have credibility.  Right now, judging by the rhetoric and who they have running for the top position, the GOP has no credibility.  Not with me, anyway.  And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 

Bernie and the Clown Car

Scott Walker has dropped out of the presidential race. Given another month, all that will remain will be Kasich, Fiorino, and Trump.  Maybe Bush, but even he’s been resorting to hired audiences.  Maybe not Kasich, either, he seems not be doing well, but I’ll address that below.

I thought I’d seen the bottom of the barrel in national politics, but this election cycle is so far bottomless in terms of pointless rhetoric, jeremiads, lies, and crappy spectacle.  I would like to say something serious about the GOP but they haven’t given us anything serious since the season premiered. I felt a bit sorry for Governor Kasich, who in the Grand Debate kept trying to bring the discussion back to policy and serious issues.  Unfortunately, he was upstaged by the Trump Train that kept running over the other clowns tied to the tracks.

What can be said of a roster of candidates who seem so dedicated to being on the wrong side of so much?

When Jeb Bush proposed Margaret Thatcher for the face of the ten dollar bill, it was indicative of so many levels of disconnect from American reality that I believed it could not get worse.  (He called her Ronald Reagan’s “partner.”  This is so revealing of so much that it’s difficult to unpack in one sitting.  In truth, I doubt Jeb really understands just how meaningful that gaff was.)  At least Trump is doing what he’s doing on purpose.

It is difficult to see much merit in the choices.

Bobby Jindal wants to be white (or so it would seem—just look at the official portrait he commissioned recently) and denies that race is an issue.  At a time in this country of surging racial tension, I can only imagine what kind of a message he thinks he’s sending.  (Did you know he took his name from the Brady Bunch?  His real name is Piyush)  This is a new level of misrepresentation, but of what I’m not sure I want to say. On policy he’s demonstrated an anti-immigration bias, but that’s in the news a lot.  Of course he’s an antichoice candidate, he couldn’t run on the GOP ticket if he weren’t, but he also backs a Constitutional amendment for a balanced federal budget.  This issue has come up from time to time.  It’s stupid.  It shows a profound misunderstanding of how government funding works.  A state can have such a law and get by because in times of catastrophe a state can depend on the federal government, but only because the federal government is not prohibited from spending outside its budgetary limits.  Put this in the Constitution and see what happens next time a flood or hurricane produces a disaster that requires federal help.  More than that, though, it would produce serious impediments to our international agreements, treaties, foreign aide programs, and all those ships, planes, and soldiers we keep at the ready in case we need to invade another country or intervene between two other powers for the benefit of the world.  Now, Jindal is actually a Rhodes Scholar, which suggests he’s smart enough to know better—know better about a lot of things—so why doesn’t he seem to get this?  I think he does, which means he misrepresenting the issues, which means he doesn’t think the voters aere smart enough to see through this nonsense, but it also means he’s relying on a base that just might be that uninformed.  And,hell, he’s been given the Duck Dynasty Seal of Approval,so maybe that’s the case.  But its disingenuous.  He’s playing to his base at the expense of the truth, which is pretty much what passes for politics in this country, regardless of party, but it appears this year the GOP has distilled itself down to the true essence of nonsense.

Then there’s the usual roster of absurdities—christians are under attack and he wants laws passed to protect them; he’s opposed t gay marriage; another one who thinks corporations are people and pay too much in taxes, despite the growing evidence that corporations of a certain size are really vampires; and he’s a climate change denier.

Of course, he’s polling at 4%, along with Rand Paul, so why pick on him?

No reason other than he, in one person, exemplifies so much that is wrong with the GOP.

Chris Christie is a vindictive man who has nothing but a gruff manner to recommend him, which is wearing thin finally.

Ted Cruz, for all his anti-immigration rhetoric, has had his own oops moment with the question of nationality.  This wouldn’t be an issue if Cruz hadn’t stoked the fires of the Birthers during his tenure in the senate.  And then that gaff where he mixed up “Keynesian” with “Kenyan.”  Cruz also, along with several of the others, wants to make the Patriot Act permanent.  I’ve already stated how this is one of my biggest disappointments with Obama.  What I will not support is another president who can’t see his (or her) way past this kind of fearmongering and sees something “necessary” in violating the Constitution and our civil rights.

But again, Cruz isn’t polling very strongly.

Carly Fiorino is another of those baffling chimeras the GOP seems to love—a former CEO who cost her companies market share and recovered by firing thousands of people and somehow has made this a virtue.  A business “leader” who is actually rather bad at what she does—unless what she think it’s all about is filling her own coffers, then, yeah, she’s great.  But also, this affection they have for business people, as if that’s any kind of recommendation for high office.  Details aside, there is one fundamental difference between government and business that puts the lie to this idea.  Business, at its base, is about beating the competition.  Governance is about accommodating competing factions.  In practice, the two things couldn’t be more different.  So every time I hear a Ross Perot or a Mitt Romney blow smoke about how their business experience has made them fit for the presidency, I first want to ask How?  And then I realize that they have the wrong idea about what government is all about.  Probably they think that once they get in office they can do something about all those annoying rules and regulations that frustrated them in business and then make it easier for businesses to siphon off resources from the public trough.  Which is pretty much what’s been happening since St. Ronnie and the era of deregulation.  I think it’s fair to say we have subsequently found ourselves in deep doo-doo because of it.

No, if Carly does well with the GOP at all it’s because of another fundamental disconnect—they think because the mood of the country seems to favor a woman for president, any woman will do.  They made that mistake with Sarah Palin and that scotched their last chance of electing a serious politician to the White House.

And what can be said of Ben Carson, who seems to think African Americans didn’t have it so bad as slaves?  No, I don’t really think he believes that, but it fell out of his mouth, so I have to wonder at the filters he has in place or what really goes on in that skull of his.  Here is a doctor, at least putatively a man of science, who thinks evolution and the Big Bang are inventions of Satan.

Trump is doing well in all this because he is an honest clown.  So far I have not heard one thing he has said that did not come first from the mouth of another GOP face, although couched in more arcane and abstruse rhetoric. He has stripped away the Newspeak  and is simply reporting what, for many people, the GOP has come to stand for.  His misogyny is in line with the voting records and speeches made in opposition to women’s rights we’ve been listening to for decades now.  His immigration remarks reflect the growing nativist sentiment of the party.  His view on the economy is completely in the fold as are his views on taxation.  He is a vulgar, selfish ideologue shouting his message in catchy phrases not quite but almost at the level of what one could find on lavatory walls in truck stops across the country.  He is an outsized, tasteless, gauche demagogue who cannot be argued with by the others on the debate platform because they believe that stuff, too, they just don’t want to say it like that.

Trump is, if he keeps going, handing the next presidency to the Democrats.

The only solution for the GOP is to clean house of all the mean-spirited, small-minded, myopic idiocy that keeps shouting down reason and common sense and find a candidate that speaks to the issues as if he or she actually has a grasp.  I mentioned Kasich.  Not my favorite guy, but he is more reasonable than the rest.  But like past also-rans (I know, he hasn’t dropped out yet, but he can’t compete with the ones fighting for the steering wheel of the clown car, he will) the one GOP candidate that might save the Party and possibly begin to steer it back toward some semblance of rationality has no chance because the screaming hordes cheering on Trump and who would have preferred a Cruz won’t—possibly can’t—listen.  They have been told for decades that the evil Democrats will destroy their country and they just can’t seem to get past that.

And the Democrats?  Most of them seem to be stuck in the “let’s just keep the ship on course and worry about where we’re going once the storm is past” mode.  They will do less damage.  They might, if there is a thorough turn-over in congress, do something worthwhile.

Right now I’m backing Bernie.  I’m too cynical to believe he win the nomination—tricks and deals and smoke-filled rooms have a way with people like him—but so far he’s saying things I find more relevant to the world than any of the others.  And who knows, he could be this century’s Andrew Jackson in terms of a populist revolution.  (No, I do not think Bernie Sanders is in any way like Jackson, just in case any of you who read this might decide I’m making any kind of policy comparison—as far as I’m concerned, the only thing Jackson did came before he took office in terms of expanding the franchise.)

And, really, I think the business-as-usual crowd should be worried—Bernie got applause at Liberty University, of all places, even while maintaining his convictions on an issue which there, of all places, one would think would get him nothing but boos.

As for the GOP, I’m watching the retrenchment of stupidity and ignorance, all because they hate—-I can think of no more accurate word—hate President Obama.  I do not understand.  These are the people who are supposed, by virtue of their election to high office, be above that, but after seven years I can conclude nothing less.  They hate him.  Institutionally.  When he’s gone, I worry that they will do something with that hate other than shed it.  What will be their next target?

Well, there are already several they seem ready to go after.  Some they already have.

Dear Anonymous

Sir (or Madam, as it was not clear from the lack of signature which you may be),

Thank you for your note of the Nth instant concerning your feelings about our organization’s position regarding the current crisis in our community.  The strength and sincerity of your position are well represented in the brevity of your declaration that you will cease to do business with us due to our public stance.  As you may know, the open exchange of ideas is central not only to our own philosophy but to the very identity of our community and country.  Unless we know, unless we can discuss and debate, unless we can openly disagree and engage with each other and, in time, find common ground based on such free exchanges, we cannot move forward, we cannot improve, we cannot redress grievances or attend to injustices.

Which makes it all the more puzzling that you chose to send your note anonymously.

You place me at a disadvantage, since obviously you know how to directly communicate your sentiments to me but I have no recourse to reply other than by public pronouncement.  I can only conclude that you have no interest in my response, and so also conclude that this was not the sincere offer to engage that it might seem at first brush.

Why is that?

Well, perhaps there is a clue in what you chose to say to me.

You have declared that you find my—and my organization’s—position partisan, that I have failed to see a “bigger picture” by not including irrelevancies in my stated position, and that I am therefore “fueling hatred” by supporting only one side of the issue.  You claim that by not opening out a larger umbrella that includes so many factors that the basic point of my argument would be lost in the muddle that I am an agent of chaos.

You finish by declaring that you will never do business with us again.

Since I don’t know whether you have ever done business with us in the first place, as you failed to identify yourself, I have no way of knowing how much of a loss this may (or may not) be.

However, I’m sure you have your reasons for remaining anonymous.  Possibly many reasons.  So, be that as it may, I will address myself to your detailed charge that I and my organization may be  “fueling hatred.”

The hatred is already there.

Let me see if I can explain this by an analogy.  “Fuel” suggests a fire, which seems apt in this case, so—

If a particular house is on fire and the fire department has yet to be called, if I start a campaign pointing out that a house is on fire in order to bring the firefighting strength of the community to the scene and put it out, then why would you try to undermine that by pointing to all the other houses that are not burning and complaining that the blazing house is getting preferential treatment when everyone knows “All Houses Matter”?  If you’re successful, then the fire department will spray water all over everywhere and likely fail to put the fire out in the one house that is burning.

Of course, the problem with that is, since the fire will not then be out, it will likely spread to all those other houses which received a then-unnecessary dousing.

My declaration that “This House Matters” on the other hand points to the problem and it can, hopefully, be dealt with directly and thoroughly, before all those other houses are engulfed.

There is no logic in your opposition to my campaign.

Unless you don’t want the fire in that house extinguished.  Unless you want it burned to the ground so you don’t ever have to think about it again.  Unless you don’t regard the people living in that house as worth the same consideration as the residents of all those other houses.

Surely not.  That would be cruel.  That would be—how shall I say this?—discriminatory.  That would be the position of…

But, surely not.  Surely you are not so bereft of human sentiment as to wish ill upon people you probably don’t know.  You would have to not know them to think that way, because surely if you did know them then you would be even less endowed with the compassion necessary to live profitably in a community.

Ah, not your community?  Well, that’s just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  Perspective and border grids?

But, as I say, surely not.

Maybe you simply object to someone interrupting your tranquility by summoning a gaggle of loud firefighters into your neighborhood.  After, your house isn’t on fire, why should you have to put up with the noise and inconvenience of saving someone else’s house?  And, really, shouldn’t they have paid closer attention to their house so that it didn’t catch fire in the first place?  Obviously, it’s their fault, otherwise the house wouldn’t be on fire.

And me?  You object to me calling attention to the fire?  Because it may spoil your weekend plans?

Logically, then, there are two conclusions.  Either you don’t believe you should sacrifice your peace of mind in the cause of putting out the fire…or you want the fire to run its course.

I suppose it’s possible that you don’t believe there actually is a fire.  That’s possible.  But then why object when someone points out to you that there is?

Is it possible you could feel responsible for that fire?

This analogy has run its course.  Obviously we’re not talking about houses on fire—although that has been a part of this—but people who are living in conditions less than ideal.  And through no fault of their own, are being abused for having to live in those conditions.  Or, even less comfortably for you, abused simply for being who they are.

Which is sort of similar to what you’re doing to me and my organization.  I—we—have taken a position of conscience.  Because this is who we are.  You are objecting to that and threatening us as a result.  Just because of who we are.

What is more, a part of you knows you’re wrong.  Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any of this anonymous nonsense.  You want me to know how very strongly you disapprove of what I do but not strongly enough to sign your name to the disapproval.

Another possibility is that you feel compelled to take part in this debate but you don’t have anything useful to say.  You resent that, you resent being made aware of problems you’ve probably been ignoring all your life—or never believed were problems—but now that there is an argument, you really want to take part in it, but there is nothing—nothing—in your background, your lived experience, your education, or among your family or friends that would provide you with one constructive thing to contribute.  Saying nothing is not an option, because then you wouldn’t be in on the action, so…

That would be kind of juvenile, though, don’t you think?  Not knowing how to build something and feeling left out, you do the one thing you know how to do—throw a brick at someone else’s building.

No, surely not.  Surely you aren’t that bereft of options or compassion.

But you felt the urge to threaten.  Why?  You felt the need to try to obscure a problem and make it seem not so important.  Why?  You felt the need to get angry at the people calling in the fire department instead of taking your place in line at the bucket brigade.  Why?

I am left finally with the one conclusion that makes any sense to me, given the paucity of clues with which I have to work because you have chosen not to engage in a dialogue but instead throw a brick—a paper one with words on it, but a brick nonetheless.  That, in it’s simplest terms, you have caught yourself looking into the mirror I’ve helped hold up and you don’t like what you see.  You hate me now for showing you a glimpse of yourself you thought long buried and forgotten.

To once more use the house analogy, while you may not have set the fire, you probably stood on the sidelines with a bag of marshmallows and a long stick.

I’d rather not think that of you but there’s no way for me to know otherwise, because you’ve chosen to show me this and nothing more.  I can’t discuss it with you.  I don’t know you.

You don’t know me, either.  And evidently, you don’t want to.

And that is where the problem begins and finally ends.

Sincerely yours…

….but you already know who I am.