Archive for the ‘American Inquisition’ category

All Hail Acting President Mike Pence!

July 20, 2016

Francisco_Goya_-_Night_Scene_from_the_Inquisition_-_Google_Art_Project

From The New York Times:

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

Two obvious thoughts:

First:  the Trump folks can’t be bothered to hide the con, not even a little.

Every Trump voter out there, know this:

Remember:  in any good confidence game, most of the work is done by the sucker.  So you Trump voters?  You’re marks. Chumps. Just the latest in the long, long line of folks whom the ferret-headed Mussolini-of-Queens-County has played for losers.  You think you’re electing a tough guy who can get things done? He tells you himself that’s bullshit.

Second: as we confront the FSM-help-us-and-save-us possibility that Trump actually wins come November, who Pence is, what he thinks, and what he wants to do are much more important than they should be, more vital even than the Cheney history would remind us.

And that should scare the living piss out of us.  “Scare” isn’t the right word, actually.  Try “terrify.”  With Trumpismo as the public face of the United States and a theocratic, misogynist, bigoted incompetent administrator with zero effective knowledge/experience of the world beyond our borders in charge of domestic and foreign policy?….

Heed the words of Master Bruce:

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Image: Francisco de Goya, Night Scene from the Inquisition1810

The Lambs Still Scream…

August 7, 2014

…for the performance artist formerly known as Ann Coulter [via TPM]:

In the column, titled “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded To ‘Idiotic,’” Coulter called Dr. Kent Brantly’s humanitarian work in Liberia nothing more than the efforts of an ego-driven Christian and “the first real-world demonstration of the economics of Obamacare.”

…Coulter then said Brantly left the country to provide health insurance for Liberians because he wanted “his membership in the ‘Gold Humanism Honor Society.’”

“There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism,” she wrote.

I guess this is what you write when you hear that anguished sound inside your head, the one that asks “why aren’t they paying attention to MEEEEEE!!!???”

At least that’s what I hope.  Worse, by far, would be the thought that what Ann Coulter says does in fact reflect broader opinion; that within our great polity, a substantial number of people believe that the suffering of others merits no concern; that there are “right” people to care for, distinguished from those wrong ones — wrong by geography, class, color, what have you.

I’m no Christian myself, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, and in the tradition that I inherited we have a term “tikkun olam” — to heal the world.   From earliest Hebrew School — at least at the commie-liberal orthodox synagogue in Berkeley, California in which I was brought up and become bar-mitzvah — we were taught to view tikkun loam as the singular obligation (one most of us meet terribly imperfectly, of course — but it matters that it’s there as the challenge/demand).  I’ve spoken since with rabbis and other teachers who render the essential demand of Judaism on its adherents in almost-Christian terms, a formula in which the law secondary to action:  keep the Sabbath* and do tikkun olam.  That much, and there you have the sinews of a good life.**

571px-Gustave_Doré_-_Dante_Alighieri_-_Inferno_-_Plate_9_(Canto_III_-_Charon)

There is, of course, a Christian formulation of the same idea, one that comes to much the same point.  Matthew 25:34-40 puts it pretty plainly:

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Which leads me to a last thought.  If Ann Coulter thinks that the Jesus of Matthew 25 is a narcissistic Christian, and she does in fact speak for any recognizable segment of the American conservative movement, then you know all you need to know about the theology of those self-proclaimed guardians of values.  If there is in fact a Christian God, a Christian heaven, and especially, a Christian hell, then it would take a Dante to describe the destination for which Coulter and her ilk are bound. It’s beyond me.

*Which I also do most indifferently, though I find that creating what Abraham Joshua Heschel Abraham Joshua Heschel called sacred time is always restorative, on those rare occasions when I can actually bring it off, even for a couple of hours.

**And so it is, I believe; certainly, as an atheist Jew, that’s where my religious tradition retains its claim on my head and my heart.

Gustave Doré, illustration to Dante’s Inferno. Plate IX: Canto III: Arrival of Charon“And lo! towards us coming in a boat / An old man, hoary with the hair of eld, / Crying: ‘Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!'” (Longfellow’s translation), 1857

My New Favorite Judge

July 7, 2014

Would be Bush 41 appointee Richard Kopf*, a member of the Federal District Court bench for in Nebraska.

Why?

Because of this:

In the Hobby Lobby cases, five male Justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a President who hailed from the Republican party, decided that a huge corporation, with thousands of employees and gargantuan revenues, was a “person” entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because that corporation was “closely held” by family members. To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse.

[h/t Talking Points Memo]

William_Hogarth_004

Judge Kopf elaborates:

To most people, the decision looks stupid ’cause corporations are not persons, all the legal mumbo jumbo notwithstanding. The decision looks misogynist because the majority were all men. It looks partisan because all were appointed by a Republican. The decision looks religiously motivated because each member of the majority belongs to the Catholic church, and that religious organization is opposed to contraception.

Kopf adds both in a disclaimer both truthful and politic that he is not saying that the majority in the Hobby Lobby decision were actually driven by the considerations that it really really looks like they were. But the point is made — and he adds the equally valid observation that there was no actual necessity for the Supremes to take the case in the first place. Such judicial passivism, he says, would have been better than this result.

In that context, the good jurist has the temerity to offer advice to his betters:

Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent–this term and several past terms has proven that the Court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu**

To which I say, Amen and Amen.

*As the TPM piece linked above reports, Kopf achieved a measure of — fame is not quite the word — notice for an earlier blog post advising young women lawyers how to dress for court.

**I do love the link that Judge Kopf kindly provided for his less internet-meme-familiar readers to that last term.

Image: William Hogarth, The Court, c. 1758. You’ve seen this one before, I know. I generally try to find a new image for every post, but this one so perfectly captures the contempt I feel for the current Court that I just keep coming back to it. Sorry.

It’s Tough To Be A Man In This Woman’s World

May 20, 2014

A quick follow-on to Doug J’s post below.

To point out the obvious:  in the new narrative of sexual violence on college campuses, conservative writers, like the one Doug J cites, like Ross Douthat, like the richly informed social commentators he references (McArdle rising from her Bloomberg obscurity! The American Enterprise Institute’s Caroline Kitchens…) find the heart of the story clearly in the true victims of the rape crisis:  the accused.

The complainants?  The default in this new/old conservative commentary is that the accusation of rape is simply a tool — a way to get revenge for one slight or another, or simply to impose matriarchy on a society that has already abandoned its men.  Because universities are so cowed by feminist moral relativists, no accused male stands a chance.

GENTILESCHI_Judith

Ummm….no:

Sulkowicz [a student at Columbia] said that she didn’t want to report her attack to the police because she was embarrassed and ashamed of what had happened to her.

“When it first happened, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t even tell my parents. … I didn’t even want to talk to my best friend,” she said.

Sulkowicz decided to file a complaint against Nungesser through the University when she met two other women he allegedly assaulted. “I realized that if I didn’t report him he’d continue to attack women on this campus. I had to do it for those other women,” Sulkowicz said.

After Sulkowicz reported her assault to Columbia in April 2013, the University ultimately found him “not responsible”—the same decision it later gave the two other women who filed complaints against him, Sulkowicz said.

Sulkowicz has recently filed  a police report, and a DA is looking into the matter.  But the larger point is, I hope, obvious.

Rape is not a joke, a game, something that virtually everyone faced with the question of what to do after a sexual assault will bandy about.  (Sexual violence isn’t all rape, and rape doesn’t define the universe of such harm too, of course.)  Claims of rape are terribly hard on those who make them.  I’m stunned that I write these words at this late date, but folks on the right seem to have missed the bit where you talk to folks who actually know about sexual harm — so I guess we must.

I’m not saying an accusation is truth.  I’ve spoken with Title IX coordinators — and just received a briefing at MIT on my responsibilities as a graduate officer under that law — and there is no doubt that these are hard investigations to perform and difficult judgements (sometimes) to make.  Procedure is important; real commitment on the part of institutions to investigation is important; the establishment of a full suite of responses to help a victim of assault is vital and much more besides.

But the notion that the the risk of false accusation tops the list of concerns, and not paying due attention to sexual violence itself speaks volumes of the default to authority of the folks on the right.  Men deprived of power by an accusation are victims; the women who make up the vast majority of victims of sexual assault are the abusers for the act of talking out loud of the harm done to them.

This, friends, is how entrenched social power stays that way — or tries to.

Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1614-20.

Armageddon REALLY Sick of the Bush Family

November 7, 2013

Our accidental president, unfettered by office or responsibility, can now let his fundy freak flag fly:

According to a report from Sarah Posner in Mother Jones, George W. Bush is scheduled to give the keynote address at an upcoming fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, an organization devoted to converting Jews to Christianity in order to bring about the second coming of Christ.

Piero_della_Francesca_-_6._Torture_of_the_Jew_-_WGA17528

Speaking as an aging Bar-Mitzvah-boy-card-carrying-atheist-Jew, I am not going to indulge in profanity, hyperbolic insult, or the ridicule and public shaming that should attend any such gob-smackingly  awesome arrogance and ignorance.  I’ll simply invite the man who is currently to be found in position one, two, or three on the Worst President Ever tables to kindly self-copulate with an oxidized farm implement.

I’ll add just this.  You can tell a great deal about someone from the company he keeps:

Bush will follow last year’s keynote speaker, Glenn Beck.

Well — one more thing.  Glenn Beck?  F**k him too.  Or rather — when the need arises, may he be attended by urologists who failed mohel class.

And (“Our weapons are…Three!) really the last one. I can’t leave this story without noting that the grift is strong on this one.  Hearing the man Charles Pierce has forever dubbed our C+ Augustus speak will set the rubes back from a C-note to $100,000.  That’s a lot of simoleons, enough so that I am inevitably reminded of my co-religionist Jesus’s almost Elizabeth-Warren-like view of the banksters.  But I suppose I just lack that necessary faith that would turn handing over that kind of cash to those kinds of people.

(PS — our weapons are 4! — how’s that “why don’t Jews vote Republican” inquiry going, guys?)

Image:  Piero della Francesca, The Torture of the Jew between 1452 and 1466

I’m All For The Rule Of Law. It’s The Judges I Can’t Stand

July 7, 2013

Via today’s The New York Times,* some big-time journalism on how the FISA court is creating an alternate judiciary — at least potentially more powerful, than the already compromised public one by which we thought American citizens encountered the law:

In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say

….

“We’ve seen a growing body of law from the court,” a former intelligence official said. “What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets.”

In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

Pedro_Berruguete_-_Saint_Dominic_Presiding_over_an_Auto-da-fe_(1475)

The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.

That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”

I’m once again crashing deadlines, so I’ll leave off trying to write (n) words on a subject in which I have no particular expertise (the sound you hear is the peanut gallery cheering).  The only thing I can say both quickly and with a reasonable shot at validity is that we already know how this kind of thing, unchecked, plays out.  Secret courts trump even secret police as a threat  to both democracy and freedom of thought and expression.

We’ve seen how this works in plenty of prior examples — and not just in the bad decades of the 20th century either.  This isn’t where we should be now.

Over to you…

*This kind of piece is the reason I maintain my (Sunday) subscription to the Grey Lady.  The opinion pages may be a howling desert of intellectual mediocrity (w. the Krugman exception and a few others worthy of honorable mention) and outright mendacity (looking at you BoBo)¹.  But there is no substitute for the quality of journalism backed by real resources that the Times is capable of when it chooses.  I know it doesn’t always do so (Judith Miller, anyone).  But it still is the home of more of this kind of stuff than any other MSM outlet (that I can think of).  So, yeah, we still need the place, much as we need it do a whole lot better a lot of the time.

¹I’m not even going to go into the “It’s not nice, child, to point and laugh” division populated entirely by Master Ross Douthat.

Image:  Pedro Berruguete, Saint Dominic Presiding over an Auto-da-fe, 1475.

It Is What The Holy One Did For Me When We Came Out Of Egypt

March 28, 2013

It’s Passover, as I’m sure y’all know, and tonight we’ll be heading over to a friend’s house for a distinctly unorthodox (and late) second seder.

The seder — the ritual Passover meal — actually follows a Hellenistic form:  it’s a symposium, a feast in which the gathering converses into the night on some topic of interest or importance.

Tiepolo_Last_Supper

When a symposium is a seder the focus is on liberation, on justice, on the meaning of freedom and on the obligations that such a transformation imposes on those who are no longer slaves.  Most important, by long tradition and, in the best of my family’s customs, the Passover story is one to be told and re-imagined in the present tense.  That’s the meaning of the phrase in the traditional text (the Haggadah) cited in the title to this post.  Every year we are enjoined to tell the tale and to discuss its meaning understanding that we ourselves took part in the exodus.  We talk through the ritual of getting up on our own hind legs and moving (fitfully, incompletely) along that long arc that bends towards justice — us, ourselves — with no “as if” caveats involved.

I thought of all this reading Tom Junod’s post over at Charles Pierce’s shop on the gay marriage battle.  In it, he writes of his 28 year marriage, and his understanding that no one else’s nuptials constrain his own.  He writes, rightly, “like anyone who has ever been married, I understood that whatever threat there was to my marriage came from within rather than from without.”

That’s true — or rather, it’s a commonplace, obvious, the baseline of a humane understanding of love, connection and commitment.  But Junod is after more than a well-spoken penetrating glimpse of the obvious.  The meat of his piece lies with his account of the way in which his straight family is, in the eyes of those fighting the bad fight against same-sex marriage, gay as the day is long:

 

…my wife and I are not of the same sex; I am a man and she is a woman. But we are infertile. We did not procreate. For the past nine years, we have been the adoptive parents of our daughter; we are legally her mother and father, but not biologically, and since Tuesday have been surprised and saddened to be reminded that for a sizable minority of the American public our lack of biological capacity makes all the difference — and dooms our marriage and our family to second-class status.

…..before long I started hearing an argument based on biology or, as groups such as the National Organization for Marriage would have it, “nature.” For all its philosophical window dressing — for all its invocation of natural law, teleological destiny, and the “complementary” nature of man and woman — this argument ultimately rested on a schoolyard-level obsession with private parts, and with what did, or did not, “fit.” There was “natural marriage” and “unnatural” marriage, and it was easy to tell the difference between them by how many children they produced. A natural marriage not only produced children; it existed for the purpose of producing children. An unnatural marriage not only failed to produce children; it resorted to procuring children through unnatural means, from artificial insemination to surrogacy to, yes, adoption.

To be clear:  Junod is not pulling a Portman.  He makes it plain that his conviction in favor of gay civil rights derives not from his personal skin in the game as discovered in the “gayness” of his family, but from the idea limned above, that one’s marriage is one’s own business, and the opportunity to experience marriage is a universal right.

No, the point Junod makes here is that the recent arguments have distilled the anti-civil-rights position to its most craven and ugly core. To those seeking to bar same-sex civil equality, the only acceptable form of marriage is one in which children emerge the old fashioned way.  It is one in which the core function for the woman involved is as an incubator.  It is one which denies every other possibility that two people could form a lasting commitment to each other centered on affection, on daily business of making a life across all the dimensions we traverse in this world.  As Junod re-articulates, the campaign against gay marriage is not mere selective disdain for one class of people.  It is (as all civil rights battles are at the root) an affront to everyone‘s claim to full humanity.

 

Mademoiselle_de_Clermont_en_Sultane

Again, that’s the nature of civil rights:  when you deprive people of rights to their own labor, their own person, those slaves suffer the worst of the damage by far — but no one gets out of that relationship unscathed.  Masters and indifferent bystanders suffer diminuition too.  When you deny access to the vote, and hence to power, and hence to practical autonomy…well, hell.  It’s not as if Jim Crow brought the south a dynamic economy or cultural life.

And, as Junod writes, when you demand that some among us must do without the full emotional, spiritual and public benefits and obligations of marriage because only baby factories need apply?  The contraction of human possibility is obvious, and universal.

This all struck home the more because like Junod, my wife and I are adoptive parents.  I try never to discuss personal matters on the ‘tubes unless they belong to me exclusively.  My wife’s life and that of my son are theirs; I try not to trespass there in any matter of substance.  So I’m not going to provide any context, any further information, nothing, except that one fact, and it’s bearing on this issue.

I confess, I hadn’t been paying close attention to the “marriage-must-produce-children” nonsense until reading Junod just now.  First — it seemed purely risible, just monumentally stupid.  Menopausal women and low sperm-count-men shouldn’t marry?–and so on.  The claim reduces itself to absurdity without any external effort.  And second, who needed that deep foolishness to be persuaded of the case for marriage equality?  If I had a damascene moment, it came years ago, in the nineties, when I was working on a book in Berlin, and passed every day the unobtrusive triangular plaque on the side of the Nollendorfplatz U-bahn station, memorializing the 25,000 gay men transported to the camps under the Nazis.  If anything can wake one to the implications of any denial of full civil status, that one does. And there’s always the my-enemy’s-enemies test to fall back on too.

But Junod’s post reminded me of the deeper point.  It’s not that by virtue of being an adoptive parent I share in the stigma that anti-marriage-equality are trying to paint on my gay friends, neighbors, fellow-citizens. Rather, this is what the Hagadah said to me this Monday; what it will say again (eccentrically) tonight.  The fact that my son came to me from beyond the walls of biology is my joy, and it reminds me that this is happening right now — to me as I leave Egypt.

Try to deny that, try to diminish me to some fraction of myself, my procreative possibility or whatever, and I need to demand justice for me and my family.  And, as always, it can’t be justice unless it is not for me alone.  To paraphrase again the words of the old text:

This year we may all be slaves.

Next year may we all be free.

Images:  Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, The Last Supperc.1750

Jean-Marc Nettier, Madame de Clermont as a Sultana, 1733.