Archive for the ‘The Way We Live Now’ category

Moral Action in Trump’s America

December 7, 2016

I’m way deep in a big project, and rather significantly behind on it too, so my blogging for the next few months is going to be quick-hit stuff rather than anything thought through.  I’ll try to make up for that by making it as regular a practice as I can to toss good reads your way.

Todays comes from Masha Gessen, someone y’all know I greatly admire.  About a week ago she posted a piece on The New York Review of Books site.  In it, she asks if the realist stance in politics can function in the context of Trump.  To find out, she looks to her own family history — including choices she made — to answer no.  She takes no prisoners:

In Bialystok ghetto, my great-grandfather’s responsibility in the Judenrat was to ensure that the ghetto was supplied with food. He ran the trucks that brought food in and took garbage out, he ran the canteen and supervised the community gardens that a group of young socialists planted. He also discouraged the young socialists from trying to organize a resistance movement: it would be of no use and would only jeopardize the ghetto’s inhabitants. It took him almost two years to change his mind about the resistance efforts, as he slowly lost hope that the Judenrat, by generally following the rules and keeping the ghetto inhabitants in line, would be able to save at least some of them.

As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was ultimately given the task of compiling the lists of Jews to be “liquidated.” The Bialystok Judenrat accepted the job, and there is every indication that my great-grandfather took part in the process. The arguments in defense of producing the list, in Bialystok and elsewhere, were pragmatic: the killing was going to occur anyway; by cooperating, the Judenrat could try to reduce the number of people the Nazis were planning to kill (in Bialystok, this worked, though in the end the ghetto, like all other ghettos, was “liquidated”); by compiling the lists, the Judenrat could prevent random killing, instead choosing to sacrifice those who were already near death from disease or starvation. These were strong arguments. There is always a strong argument.

But what if the Jews had refused to cooperate?

640px-le_brun_charles_-_horatius_cocles_defending_the_bridge_-_google_art_project

Was Arendt right that fewer people might have died? Was Trunk right that Judenrat activities had no effect on the final outcome? Or would mass murder of Jews have occurred earlier if Jews had refused to manage their own existence in the ghetto? We cannot know for certain, any more than we can know now whether a scorched-earth strategy or the strategy of compromise would more effectively mitigate Trumpism. But that does not mean that a choice—the right choice—is impossible. It only means that we are asking the wrong question.

The right question…or better, the right stance, the right scale on which to weigh any choice of action?

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge….

Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice while advancing (or at least defending) the cause will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Read the whole thing.

Image: Charles Le Brun, Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridgec. 1642/3 (I know it’s not dead on point, but it’s close, and I always loved the story, so there.)

Lou Knew

November 29, 2016

Contemplating the pain Trump’s going to lay on the most vulnerable among us (and yeah, some of them voted for him, but hurt is hurt), I found this song, imagined as being addressed directly to the Shitgibbon, a perfect expression of my mood:

Buried deep in the lyrics Reed talks of the Trumps being ordained.  But the real tell is when he sings “They say the President’s dead/But no one can find his head.” That last line is truer than he ever knew.  Man was a prophet.

OK. I Laughed

November 1, 2016

The Reddit MeIRL crowd produces some of my son’s favorite internet snark — and provides a bridge between 16 y.o. consummate savvy and [mumble mumble mumble] technological cluelessness.

Here’s what he shared with me today:

snek

May your day be one in which all your sneks are garters.

(And no, not that way. This is a family blog).

Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

July 22, 2016

Josh Marshall has a tweet stream going talking about the Trump-Russia alliance.  As he sees it, the Manchurian-by-way-of-Queens Candidate isn’t even trying to hide his alliance with/subservience to Putin.

I’m not sure I wholly believe it, but I can’t come close to ruling it out, and that cranks the dangers of this election up to eleven.  Which is why I found this story a welcome bit of comic relief:

Sargent_MadameX

@IvankaTrump

Shop Ivanka’s look from her #RNC speech: http://bit.ly/29Qj7dE #RNCinCLE

  • 271271 Retweets
  • 748748 likes

This isn’t Ivanka Trump tweeting, technically. It’s @IvankaTrump, but that’s the Twitter handle forIvankaTrump.com. If one has one’s own clothing line, it seems natural that you’d wear pieces from it; perhaps the marketing folks saw an unplanned opportunity to plug the outfit on Twitter. It’s $138 at Macy’s; apparently her father’s boycott of the chain doesn’t apply to her. The garment is described as a “sophisticated sheath dress” that “works wonders at both social and professional occasions” — and, clearly, political ones.

Oh, also? The dress is “imported,” according to its description.

So perhaps this was a just a smart move by the site’s marketing team to capitalize on the moment. Possible. Or perhaps Ivanka Trump has been doing this for the entire convention, posting a series of photos from the event at her website with personalized captions to each — and links to where you can buy all of the things she’s wearing or carrying.

So yeah, maybe the Trump campaign is Putin’s Hail Mary attempt to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.  And maybe it’s just one long grift, the true family business now being carrie on by the smart child.

Of course, there’s no reason that what we’re seeing couldn’t be both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Madam X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)1883

Stupid/Evil Venn Diagram

July 17, 2016

Not sure how complete the overlap would be on this one, but if we took a solar eclipse as our diagram generator, I’m pretty sure you’d see a corona around this guy:*

The shooting in Baton Rouge took place as protesters and Republicans were arriving in Cleveland for the party’s national convention. Steve Thacker, 57, of Westlake, Ohio, stood in Cleveland’s Public Square on Sunday holding a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle as news broke that several officers had been killed in Baton Rouge.

After the shooting in Dallas, Stephen Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, urged people not to take their guns anywhere near Cleveland’s downtown during the convention because officers were already in a “heightened state.”

When asked about Mr. Loomis’s comments and the Baton Rouge shooting, Mr. Thacker said despite the shooting, he wanted to make a statement and show that people can continue to openly carry their weapons.

“I pose no threat to anyone. I’m an American citizen. I’ve never been in trouble for anything,” Mr. Thacker, an information technology engineer, said. “This is my time to come out and put my two cents worth in, albeit that it is a very strong statement.”

Schuttersstuk_Ferdinand_Bol

Dear Mr. Thacker,

Let me see if I can explain this in words which even an information technology engineer can understand.

Just because you say you are not a threat doesn’t make it so.  To everyone but you, you are a guy with a tool for mass murder standing in the street for no apparent reason…which makes you, as seen from outside the eternal sunshine of the inside of your head, a threat to every person in your line of sight.  That you think you are a good person puts you alongside just about every self-justifiying shooter.

We do know is that the best possible gloss on your actions is that you’re a bully. Guns are tools of intimidation as well as physical violence. That you would show up heavily armed in public spaces suggests you think it’s part of civic life to scare your neighbors.  There’s a word for people like that, or rather many, of which the most mild is “asshole.”

And, forgive me for being so blunt, but you’re not just an asshole.  You’re an imbecile too.  Guns are, of course, both weapons and target designators.Anything goes wrong during the convention  — anything — and you’re a man with a gun in a chaotic situation.  How is the federal sniper on the rooftop to know who you might be aiming at?  Dumb is as dumb does.

Here’s the kindest advice I can muster: go home.  Put your freedom-wand penis-extension away.  With rights come responsibilities, and one of the most often ignored is the duty not to be a putz.

Try it.

*Yeah, that’s a ridiculously tortured metaphor, but it’s that kind of day.

Image: Ferdinand Bol, Archer Unit, militia led by Colonel Govert Suys, 1653

Today In Unsolicited E-Mails

May 26, 2016

I get mail.  This one came today, unsought, unanticipated, and unctuous, from some placement/staffing guy who clearly understands the extensive personnel needs of a writing teacher and sometime scribe:

I am representing the below talented professionals passively seeking their next permanent position.

“Passively seeking…”

A Maid Asleep *oil on canvas *87.6 x 76.5 cm *signed c.l.: I·VMeer·

I’m so using that one as soon and as often as I can.  “I’m passively seeking my Nobel Prize in procrastination…”

(Actually, it made me think of Zombie Eyed Granny Starver Paul Ryan’s non-candidacy for president this year, but that’s another story.)

Consider this a safe-zone thread, with nothing to do with anyone whose initials are DT, BS or HC.  Just take this as a glimpse of the more comfy* domestic absurdities that attend us every day.

*My fingers sped past my brain in my first attempt at that word:  confit.  Almost left it that way — I like the idea of confit absurdities.

Image:  Johannes Vermeer, A Maid Asleep c. 1656-1657

 

 

They Are Who We Thought They Were, Part Deux

May 16, 2016

The CIA really, really doesn’t want us to know just how badly it can f**k up:

The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

Das_Geheimnis_-_Le_secret

Although other copies of the report exist, the erasure of the controversial document by the CIA office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident. [Via the esteemable Charles Pierce.]

As the aforementioned Mr. Pierce writes

A democracy cannot survive if its people believe they are being played for marks. It can survive for even less time if they turn out to have been right.

Shitty cops are bad enough.  Shitty secret police…

Feh.

Image: Felix Nussbaum, The Secret, 1939