Monday, April 24, 2017

A SWEET, SAD MAN


I have a young male nurse who occasionally visits me. Why he comes is not important to this narrative. Only he is important. He's an immigrant from Russian Siberia who's been in the United States for a good long time. He speaks nearly unaccented English and is diligent about his care of me. He has a wife and a couple of children and, by all appearances, is a sweet and caring individual. He is also a religious fundamentalist, fierce anti-communist and Trump supporter.

For his part Benjamin does not believe that the King James translation of The Bible is the one, true and inerrant word of god. He does, however, believe that belief in miracles is a prerequisite for being a Christian. He believes that all dictatorships are left-wing which means that both Hitler and Stalin were socialists as were Mussolini, Mao, Peron, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Kim Il Sung, Franco, and Castro. Benjamin believes that there's no difference between any of those dictators. When I suggested to him that he might want to do some reading of major sources on that subject and offered to lend him my copy of William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Benjamin demurred because he needed to do some research first. He said that it's very hard to trust "the media" and the fact that Shirer was present reporting on Hitler's rise still meant that he needed to vet Shirer's book with some source. I do not know what that source might be but the most frightening moment of our conversation was that moment when he insisted that he could not accept a source without making sure that it is approved in some way by an authority that he accepts.

Benjamin still claims that he listens to and reads different sides of an argument without the least understanding that, if he reads only approved sources, he will be getting a skewed version of the sides in the argument. He doesn't understand that he's saying that his mind is open to anything to which his authority allows him to be open.

Benjamin knows that I am an atheist. He asked and I would not lie to him. I am sure that my inability to believe in anything supernatural colors all I say and certainly my recommendations. Many years ago I lived in a building in which my landlord was a member of some fundamentalist sect. His friend and pastor was also a contractor. My landlord, Joseph Butler, hired his pastor to do some extensive work in my apartment which resulted in long delays and great inconvenience until I had to call in the local health department and get an order for, among other things, a working toilet. But in the midst of this construction project the man whom I've always referred to as Pastor Plaster phoned me one night during supper to beg me to put away from me my many books on "satanic subjects" like Richard Cavendish's The Black Arts, books on Norse and Greek Mythology and the like. Had Pastor Plaster opened Cavendish's book he would have found that it explains and largely debunks much of occultism but the title on the spine of the book was enough for Pastor Plaster to be assured that I was meddling with the forces of satan. Similarly, I expect that Benjamin feels certain that anything I might offer him is meant to lead him astray.

As political Liberals we think that we can persuade people on the right-wing with rational arguments and, to a limited extent that is true. A segment of the right-wing is open to persuasion, usually on the basic issues of services and money that government provides to them. Yet a much more significant section of the right-wing, the true neo-Fascists, the evangelical fundamentalists cannot be persuaded at all. Like Benjamin they will filter any argument through the authorities they have been taught to examine first. That may be some political preacher masquerading as a religious authority, Fox News, some ultra-right-wing web sites maintained by the scum of the "alt right". The fact is that such people are no more susceptible to reason than a doorknob. They are even insulated from having the lies of their authorities exposed because such exposure they see as just an attack by the satanic forces of the opposition to their revealed truth.

Benjamin is a sweet man. The care he provides is informed and freely given. Benjamin, however, is locked in a ultra-right-wing room from which he will refuse any opportunity to escape because he's been told that any escape only brings him to satan, communism and the uncertainties of having to decide for himself.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SAD AND UNUSUAL


Aaron Hernandez is dead, a suicide hung in his jail cell. That is a great sadness for his family and those close to him. It is all but unique in the annals of murderous and criminal sports figures protected by jock privilege that often even trumps wealth and white skin.

I am not going to rehash the specifics of Mr. Hernandez's crimes here. Those specifics aren't the point. What is the point and what no one will ever hear in the postmortems for Hernandez's life and career is the privilege that allowed him to feel that he was above the law and, like O. J. Simpson, nothing, even murder, would have consequences for him.

As a society we do some crazy things, few crazier than the way we treat exceptional athletes. We take young men, usually when they are still in elementary school, and begin grooming them for a possible professional career. We ignore the injuries they receive unless those injuries are "career ending" in that they impair the child's ability to move quickly and with great agility. If the injury is to the player's brain we don't care until and unless it manifests itself as physical impairment. Among the relative few with exceptional ability who make it out of high school, colleges recruit based on athletic ability and set up programs that keep athletes at an ostensible academic level that allows them to continue to play. Despite highly touted rules to that claim to prevent academic fraud, no college with a high level star player is going to allow him or her to fail courses regardless of how richly he deserves that failure. At the same time that the college is looking out for its star player the alumni and sports agents are looking out for him as well. That player gets perks that beggar anything afforded the greatest academic stars. Worse yet the local police and fans in business are there to coddle the player by overlooking his misbehavior. In protecting the player from consequences of infractions large and small both the academic institution's officers and local fans are complicit.

After a college career comes the draft for the professional sports teams. If this player has reached the highest level of performance agents and teams compete for his attentions by throwing money and perks at him or, far less frequently, her. So you have a person of age 21 or 22 lionized by all in his circle, protected from all negative consequences of his or her bad actions to whom suddenly fabulous amounts of money are offered. Toss 10 or 20 million dollars at a 21-year old and is it really so surprising that this person should get involved in drinking, drugs or even drug dealing? If the player has never had to face the consequences of his or her acts is it really surprising that he should molest children, commit murder or engage in horrific acts of domestic violence?

I have just listened to some people who know better pontificate about Aaron Hernandez's case claiming that, poor Aaron could never quite escape the bad influences in his life from Bristol, Connecticut where he grew up. I have some familiarity with Bristol, Connecticut. There are bad influences in Bristol but no more nor less than there are in any city of its size in any of the old industrial cities of the northeast and mid-west. Foisting the blame onto Bristol or Hernandez's friends from home is simply another way of avoiding the essential question of whether we are not creating the O. J. Simpsons. Aaron Hernandezs and Jerry Sanduskys along with a host of others by the essential way in which we treat sports stars. Until we address jock privilege and the institutionalized programs for creating it we will see many more such cases. What is unusual about Aaron Hernandez's case is that he had the decency to hang himself rather than loudly protest his unlikely innocence in the face of proven guilt.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

AHISTORICAL


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. - George Santayana

I play a game on line with people who are, for the most part, of the generations of my children and grandchildren. I am constantly surprised and appalled that my fellow gamers have no sense of the world before they reached the age of 8 to10-years old. Most of them know only what they have been told, not what they have read, especially not what they have read in an actual book as opposed to some on-line site. How much more appalling was the quintessence, the total lack of historical knowledge that White House spokesman Sean Spicer demonstrated when he claimed that Adolph Hitler never used poison gas and then compounded the ahistorical idiocy by insisting that Hitler never used gas against "his own people".

In the Orson Welles movie The Stranger (1946), Edward G. Robinson's Mr. Wilson, tracking a Martin Boorman-like Nazi war criminal is cued in to the fact that Welles' Professor Charles Rankin is the Nazi he's seeking when Rankin denies that Karl Marx was a German because he was a Jew. Spicer's statement that Hitler never used gas on "his own people" smacks of a statement that a significant part of the millions killed in the death camps weren't Germans because they were Jews. And, of course, Spicer had the exquisite timing to assert this right-wing nonsense on the day that Passover began.

However, Spicer's comsumate and and congenital ignorance is simply a function of the consumate and congenital ignorance of the entire administration from our Prevaricator-in-Chief through his whole family and closest advisors down to the lowliest White House gofer. And, moreover to the entire Republiscum Party.

One of the most important bits of context for Sean Spicer's idiot remarks comes from the neo-Fascists' attempts to distance themselves from their progenitors, the Nazis. There is a trope in right-wing circles that the Nazis, the National Socialist Party, was a left-wing party because it had the word "Socialist" in its name. That's like saying that Republiscum are patriots because they wear flag lapel pins. A party can call itself anything it wants. The actions of that party determine whether it is of the left or of the right better than any name created for public relations purposes especially when the creator is Roger Ailes hero, Josef Goebbles. When Hitler came to absolute power following the death of President Hindenberg and the Nazi orchestrated Reichstag fire the first people who were shuttled off to concentration camps were the actual socialists, communists, labor leaders and other leaders of left-wing parties. Our Republiscum would have us forget that so that they can artificially create a sliver of light between themselves and the Nazis. In that context Hitler never used poison gas against "his own people".

The Republiscum have long engaged in a project to rewrite history to their own satisfaction. That has accounted for morons like Ben Carson equating slaves with immigrants. It has led to text books that misrepresent slavery, the wars against the Native American population and completely fictional narratives of the founding of the United States and its fundamental laws. This fictionalizing of history tends to make history conform to John Wayne and other Hollywood movies or television shows as if they were history texts rather than fictional entertainments. The fictionalizing of history is an essential view of the farrago that claims that certain ultra-fundamentalist religious groups have a direct descent from the first Christain disciples without connection to the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches. Also, a denial of history informs the nonsense that the King James translation of the Bible is the one inerrant and authoritative translation despite all the huge fund of Biblical research that has happened in the last seventy-five years. Yet that fictionalizing of history comes easy because it is part and parcel of the efforts to deny science. Denying the plethora evidence for human evolution, the scientific evidence for human caused climate change, and any other facts that do not support their narrow, fictional, wishful view of the world.

On short one cannot deny historical facts with one hand without getting all historical facts wrong on the other. When the Texas Board of Education, the largest single purchaser of textbooks in the nation, demands history texts that assert the primacy of Jesus and Ronald Reagan, the whole of history is upset and turned into a relgio-political, neo-Fascist tract. The students who learn from such claptrap are doomed to a complete misunderstanding of history and, consequently, of their nation and its laws.

Let's take as another example one of the main lies spread by the fundamentalist neo-Fascists: that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. I think that a good topic for this Easter Sunday.

They point to the Jamestown Charter and the Mayflower Compact as evidence that the United States is a Christian nation forgetting that there was a little bit of time between 1606 and 1620 and the drafting of the U. S. Constitution in 1787. It may come as a surprise to those who prefer to torture history into knotty contortions but sometimes things change in 180 years. Just for the moment note that both the Jamestown Charter and the Mayflower Compact open with the invocation of "James, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith...." In the 180 years intervening there was some nastiness between James successor, George, third of that name, and his subjects in the American colonies. That nastiness removed the acknowledgment of a British sovereign from the new nation of the United States of America. Is it not possible that there might have been some rethinking of religious affiliations as well?

Consider, please that the people aboard the good ship Mayflower, one of whom was an ancestor of mine, came to the shores of what is now Massachusetts not so much to seek religious freedom as to flee from religious freedom. They were dissenters from the established Church of England who fled to Holland where they were guaranteed freedom of worship. The Pilgrims problem with Holland was that everyone else had religious freedom too. They knew for and absolute fact that they had the one true Christian faith and were sorely affronted by other who thought that they had the one true Christian faith too. To escape religious freedom they fled Holland for the wild coasts of America there to establish a colony in which they could persecute anyone who espoused a faith and creed dissimilar to their own. That's why Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were exiled from the Bay Colony some years later and why Quakers were hung as heretics on Boston Common.

The Puritans of England initiated the Civil Wars of the 1640s, beheaded King Charles I, exiled his son, held bloody campaigns against Roman Catholics in Ireland and then, following the death of Oliver Cromwell when their coalition fell apart, reverted to the rule of that son, Charles II. That reign also ended in a series of civil wars over the religious affiliation of British monarchs that resulted in bestowing the British crown on the Dutch Prince William of Orange and his wife, Queen Mary jointly. When their daughter, Queen Anne died without an heir the throne went to the German George of Hanover. Yet throughout the first half of the 18th Century wars between England and France continued in which one of the main objects was restoring the Stuart line of James and Charles to the throne of England. The British Parliament imposed much of the taxation to which American colonists so strongly objected to pay for those wars.

In the more than a century since the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth the intellectuals of the American colonies had seen their nation of origin torn asunder by religious wars both civil and foreign. They had also seen their colonies become a refuge for religious dissenters of many variations not all of them Christian.

 By 1775 the American colonists had had enough of religious wars. The men who lead our Revolution read Descartes and Spinoza, Rousseau and Voltaire. For them the worship of god in any form was less important than the rights of man, than being human and humane. It is that context that the diverse men who met in Philadelphia in 1787 drafted a Constitution for the United States of America, not in the context of the first quarter of the 17th Century. Yet the religious wrong would have you believe that their selective view of our nation is correct if you conveniently know a little history as Sean Spicer. For the neo-Fascists who currently run our nation selective, "alternative facts" tortured into conformity to their ideology are all that matter. They just hope that no one notices or. that when someone does notice that their "alternative facts" are really lies, the populace is too stupid or distracted to notice



Friday, April 7, 2017

THE MORONS


I think that all of the agonizing over how the utterly unqualified Donald Trump managed to rise to the United States presidency we have missed one essential factor. Trump is a moron and speaks like a moron. He knows nothing and sounds like he knows nothing. In every venue and on every topic he speaks like a 4th Grader trying to deliver a book report on a book he's never read. I believe that this manifest stupidity is comforting to a majority of Americans who, themselves, are 4th Graders who never read that book for the report.

We saw a similar factor with Dubya who also is a moron. Then it was described as Dubya being someone that a voter "could have a beer with". Yet the truth of the situation was that voters thought that Al Gore was the smart guy around whom they never felt comfortable. He was the guy in elementary school who'd read the book and, when the teacher said that he or she would postpone the reports to the following Monday if no one was prepared, Al Gore was the guy who said he was prepared putting the morons in the class in a deep hole. In short, Al Gore was the guy the morons had hated since they were in elementary school while Dubya was the guy who was dropping cherry bombs in the toilets with them. The same was true of Hillary Clinton and, worse yet, she was the girl so smart that it threatened the insecure little boys' developing sense of manhood.

Yes, I know that Hillary won more popular votes. We have the fact that nerd culture has reached a thin level of supremacy thanks to computers and the attendant information technology. However, let us not discount the many refuges for morons: right-wing evangelical Christian religiosity, right-wing talk radio, Fox News, Breitbart, the Drudge Report, and the pernicious neo-fascist "think tanks" that feed those down-scale flacks like The Heritage Foundation, The Federalist Society, Cato and Manhattan Institutes and their like.

I am reminded of a story about Adlai Stevenson that I may have related in an earlier entry of this Blog. When he ran for the presidency in 1952 against Dwight Eisenhower a woman stopped Stevenson following a speech he'd delivered. She said to him, "Governor Stevenson, you are the choice of every thinking American." Stevenson answered, "Thank you, ma'm, but I'd rather have a majority."

We may well have a thinking majority at the moment as evidenced by Clinton's popular vote tally but we still have a Congress skewed toward rural states and an electorate that doesn't like or trust people who are too well educated. Consider the opposition to Barak Obama. He was a Constitutional law professor constantly under attack for "violating the Constitution", violations that seemed to vanish like morning fog the moment that the moron Donald Trump became president. Where are the suits by Congress over Trump's governing by executive order? Hint: They are gathering dust with all the Benghazi reports that found that there was no malfeasance in that matter.

The point is that Trump is a moron. Dubya is a moron. They both became President of the United States because stupid people heard in them a reflection of their own stupidity and felt comfortable with that.

If you want to make the case that I am an "elitist", go right ahead. If being an "elitist" means being a person who knows actual history rather than Hollywood dramatizations, John Wayne movies and other fiction, I cheerfully admit to it. If being an "elitist" means thinking opinions through and questioning one's own opinions constantly in the view of verifiable evidence rather than simply reacting on a visceral level, I cheerfully admit to it. If being an "elitist" means being educated and valuing others with education and verifiable knowledge, I cheerfully admit to it. If being an "elitist" means questioning everything, especially religion and even more so the interpretation of religion by people with fantastical pronouncements and questionable motives, I cheerfully admit to it. If being an "elitist" means that I am not a moron and reject the narrow, pusillanimous, uninformed, beastial, mindlessness of morons, I enthusiastically admit to it.

As "elitist" as my argument may be, I place myself in good company. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were elitists who wrote The Federalist Papers arguing for the United States Constitution that they had just written. They are just three in a long line of elitists who have done their best to lead a herd of morons toward a higher level of existence and understanding. Unfortunately today the morons are triumphant. We watch and listen to them twist themselves into bizarre rationalizations to justify the imbecilic decision they have made in putting our Prevaricator in Chief into the White House. We nod and commiserate with the poor morons as it slowly dawns on them that they have been had in the most egregious way possible. We have some compassion for the morons because that is the responsibility of the elitist: to forgive and succor the morons because anything else would be both inhumane and inhuman.