Sick of American tantrums? Blame Jimmy Connors.

Civil society in the U.S. started down the slippery slope towards today’s crazy town politics when the sporting world started tolerating outbursts that even a few years before no self-respecting athlete would have contemplated.

Had referees, supported by sports associations, drawn a line in the sand from the get go by rejecting such childish chicanery, we’d all be so much better off today. Instead, not just bad sportsmanship but the polar opposite of sportsmanship – lying, cheating, whatever-you-can-get-away-with – has become the norm.

We cannot be surprised by the assault on Congress last week or the fact that it was instigated and fuelled by Mr. Trump. He not only grew up amid deteriorating standards of decorum and civility, he learned to imitate petulant grandstanders like Connors and John McEnroe. Today, Americans believe that acting entitled is essential to winning; the smug will inherit the earth.

(Too stupid to be President? Perhaps, but if you convinced a nation of “losers and suckers” to elect you, wouldn’t you feel just a little bit smug too? Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images in https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/16/donald-trump-is-proving-too-stupid-to-be-president/)

I suppose the question might be asked whether the media and then ultimately we, the audience, aren’t to blame. Like fighting in hockey and happy dances in football, isn’t it all just about entertainment, and now an indispensible part of the game?

Let’s not let soul searching divert our attention from the ego-driven culprets. Pointing to causes and lowest common denominators does not help when it comes to morality and ethics. We need to expect more from public figures, not less. How about a little dignity? Or even some old fashioned class?

You are embarrassing your mom.

Doom Scrolling: No Way to Run a Newspaper (or news feed)

On the last day of 2020, in the evening, New Year’s Eve in fact, I found myself, like a bazillion other people, on my phone, scrolling.

24 screen grabs of the St. Catharine’s Standard from December 31, 2020 combined into one image. This doesn’t quite capture the dizzy-making effect, which is caused by text and ads jerking between top and bottom fixed in place advertising and also by the necessary focussing, scanning and re-focussing your eyes have to do because of the scrolling itself.

I screen-captured the whole thing, reproduced at right. Let’s see if I can keep writing to cover the space beside the image all the way to the bottom of the pic.

Searching for news online is crazy-making. If you subscribe to a “paper”, which one(s) do you choose? It’s hard to stick with just one, and if there are many, and there always are many, many moe, all equally accessible, or inaccessible, depending on how you look at it, nigh on impossible.

So I found myself, somewhat indifferently, reading the St. Catharine’s Standard, a modest publication from a smallish community in the Golden Triangle of southern Ontario.

I found an article and started reading and scrolling and reading and scrolling, and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.

The reading was challenging, incessantly interrupted by ads, top and bottom border ads that don’t move, ads that do move with the text, headlines of the paper itself.

It was, in a word, dizzying. This is no way to read.

I posted this story over on Medium, where I set up an account the other day, Medium wants to be different: ad free, available with minimal distractions across devices. The Atlantic thought this sounded pretty promising.

But Medium has taken hits. I don’t know if it’s turned a profit yet. It’s surviving, trying to set up a new, better reading experience.

Personally, I’m annoyed that they expect me to pay to become a “member”, meaning read it ($5/mo.) even though I’m a contributor. So I’m not joining, not for now. I’m looking for a soapbox, not news.

Perhaps they don’t know how to monitize me with big data. I’m fine with that. I left Facebook ages ago, after being an early adopter, because Zuk hasn’t figured out that he needs to pay people something for what he’s taking from them, i.e., data.

But I digress. What are we to do about online media?

Media itself is so broken content wise, one hardly cares, wishes they’d just go away, start over.

It’s too bad Donald Trump is a complete lunatic because he’s had quite a few  right intuitions, which is why he managed to become so popular. It certainly wasn’t his intelligence, or class.

Like about media. Without question, our mass media is biased. A Canadian Conservative was interviewed on CBC Radio the other day, only because he was calling on other Conservatives to jump off the Trump bandwagon. Otherwise we rarely if ever hear from them first hand.

He was cagey about his past support of Trump, and the interviewer, you could tell, did not want to let it go. It wasn’t enough to get a Conservative flipping over to a more liberal position, he had to be blamed for not being liberal in the first place.

I myself am so entrenched in liberalism, having spontaneously leapt to the ‘left’ as soon as I was old enough to vote, that I find conservatism just creepy. I really can’t understand how people can espouse values without empathy or even a simple sense of fairness towards others.

But as I get older, I am getting more conservative. Now I like to hear them out before castigating them.

Still, a lot of people consider themselves decent people and yet cleave to the ‘right.’ And as long as that’s a choice that’s available to them, shouldn’t they also have the right to talk their particular kind of talk without being assaulted at every turn?

This is what Donald Trump, albeit in his appallingly ignorant, muddled way, means to attack when he invented the term “fake news.” It isn’t that the news is factually wrong or intentionally misleading. (That would be more Donald Trump’s style.)

What “fake” means to Donald Trump and his troll army is “bias against conservative values.”

Of this there can be no doubt, the New York Times and The Washington Post being the worst offenders.

Liberal, educated ‘elites’, are part of the critique that is also well-founded. Elites are essential to the fourth estate. Without elite families, elite schools and elite businesses, there would be no ‘mass’ media. It has always been the children of privilege who make their way into ‘the arts,’ having fortunes to fritter away in the dubious enterprise of ‘speaking truth to power.’

Of course, it is not as if there aren’t elites on the right. Indeed, those elites are, if we go by our liberal intuitions alone, worse. More secretive, richer and without scruples of any sort. Dangerous.

But conservatives are not about to get all analytical and self-critical on us any more than the liberal media are going to start coming clean about their own biases.

News is “fake” (in the metaphorical sense” for other reasons too. The media are addicted to trauma. Thy seek out disaster and promote fear. A forecast of grey skies tomorrow becomes “Deadly storm threatens civilization.”

For Donald Trump, it must’ve been so obvious. Not a good thing to say about him, no matter what he did. It struck me as odd that he continued to do press conferences and hire press spokespersons who could not deal with issues and reporters questions in an intelligent and fair way.

It was as if, and perhaps this is obvious to all and sundry already, he wanted the press to be against him. Driving a wedge between truth reporters (as biased as they may be) and the public, opens the way for laying down your own truth. And we know how much Mr. Trump is dedicated to making his own reality, no matter how preposterous, offensive or dangerous to others.

But here’s the kicker.

Usually I am hyper-sensitive to the bad news hyperbole of the media, and hyper-critical, but lately I’m finding that instead of putting my phone away and watching/listening to less news, I’m actually doing more and more.

What did somebody call it the other day on the radio? I think it was Jill Lepore on The Current, talking very fast, very intense, I had to turn it off. Anyway, she confessed to what was it? Doom trolling? Or doom scrolling?

Ya, been there… Am there.

Anyway, let’s just say the reading experience online is so dissatisfactory, we are literally dying from distraction. And longing for something, anything better to come along.

Paper.

Love it.

Can’t get it where I live. Not anything of substance anyway. None of the ‘big’ papers, even the ones not that big that are not so so far away (Winnipeg, Thunder Bay) don’t deliver here.

Forget about the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette, the Vancouver Sun.

Are they so broke they can’t afford to throw a few copies into a baggage compartment to get them out our way?

Could someone not create a social enterprise to ship newspapers to us lost souls up here?

Which brings me, on the size of screen I am currently working on, to the end of my screen-grab compilation.

If we have to scroll, perhaps this is the way to do it. Woodblock print by Utamaro (1750–1806) ”Wakatsuru of the Wakamatsuya”. Retrieved from https://www.fujiarts.com/cgi-bin/item.pl?item=903496#top 14 January 2021.

Bad applies: Republican supporters of Donald Trump must go.

Article I, Section 5, of the United States Constitution provides that “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” Since 1789, the Senate has expelled only fifteen of its entire membership. https://www.senate.gov/reference/index_sub_items/Expulsion_vrd.htm

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Americans should not have to wait until Donald Trump supporters build an army and open warfare breaks out. The Senate must firmly and decisively act now to get rid of the bad apples.

From the above linked page of senate.gov:

When the Senate expelled William Blount in 1797 by a nearly unanimous vote, it had reason to believe he was involved in a conspiracy against the United States.

Sixty-four years later, at the start of the Civil War, senators again turned to this constitutional safeguard. Between December 1860 and June 1861, 11 of the nation’s 34 states had voted to withdraw from the Union. What was the status of their 22 senators at the beginning of the 37th Congress? Some were no longer senators because their terms had expired. Others sent a letter of resignation. Still others, believing their seats no longer existed, simply left without formal notice. Several remained, despite their states’ departure.

During a brief special session in March 1861, weeks before the start of hostilities, the Senate decided to consider these seats as vacant to avoid officially recognizing that it was possible for a state to leave the Union.

On the Fourth of July 1861, with open warfare in progress, President Abraham Lincoln convened Congress to deal with the emergency. With all hope of reconciliation gone, the Senate took up a resolution of expulsion against its 10 missing members.

When Mr. Trump yesterday misspoke hisstupidself: “Be careful what you wish for”, what he meant was much simpler and (typically) meaner: that there will be consequences for actions against him. That’s the way he has run his entire life, with threats substituting for talent.

Mr. Trump would not understand a metaphor if it bit him on the behind. “Be careful what you wish for”is about things like winning the lottery, which can bring avalanches of misfortune along with the mountains of cash.

There is no double edge benefit/risk to getting rid of Mr. Trump. He’s a bad apple spoiling everything he touches. And there is no consequence to getting rid of him. The problem is how far the infection has spread.

Congress and the Senate must be purged of insurrection-supporting, White-Supremist Republicans. Do not let them use their positions and offices, paid for by law-abiding tax payers, to dismantle the Constitution, the electoral process and democracy itself.

Postscript

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “bad apple” was popularized by sermons during the 19th century, claiming “As one bad apple spoils the others, so you must show no quarter to sin or sinners.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_apples

Illustration: a water colour drawing by Shull, James Marion, 1872–1948 — http://usdawatercolors.nal.usda.gov/pom/catalog.xhtml?id=POM00003995, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42986484

America will never stop paying for Donald Trump

As if it is not insulting enough to the American people to have been duped, lied to and then threatened by Donald Trump, they (all of them) will be paying for the one grievous error (some of them) made by voting for him in 2016. Not only will he receive a salary of over $200,000/yr. and top of the line military style health care but also Secret Service protection for him and his family for the rest of his life.

Paul Noth cartoon, wolf and sheep, from the New Yorker
Cartoonist Paul Noth tells it like it is in the New Yorker

One imagines that Barack Obama is ruing the day he restored the lifetime pension by passing the Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012.[3]Previously, pensions under the Presidents Protection Act were limited (in 1994) to cover only 10 years after a President serves office.

Actually, it doesn’t matter anyway. According to this source: “No president has ever been denied these benefits, and a government legal opinion in 1974 found that even Richard Nixon, who resigned but was not removed, was eligible.”

According to that article in Mother Jones (citing the Washington Post): “While in office, Trump has billed taxpayers more than $1.1. million for Secret Service personnel to stay at his properties, including renting the agency a cottage at his Bedminster golf course for $21,000 per month.

Perhaps some smart young politician in Washington could take it upon themselves to draft a bill stopping this outrageous practice.

If capitalism is the model for the U.S., and the state is some kind of side  project thereof, people who serve in highest office in the land should have made their money already, or inherited it, so they can devote their “free” time to the philanthropic work of making things work better for the rest of us. Perhaps they should even pay for the privilege.

Watch for these fun future stories from this author:

Melania Dumps Trump: “Who wants to be seen with that loser?”

On Inauguration Day, police will be at the Whitehouse with handcuffs.

 

 

Reconciliation is the word, consideration for the viewpoints of others is the way forward for America

America needs to reconcile its ideological differences. The balance sheet is completely out of wack, a view that has been systematically made worse by Donald Trump.

Why anyone would do that we’ll come to, but the fact is, it isn’t just him. A lot of Americans prefer to see themselves as having a strong, righteous, ideological position compared to which, all others are simply wrong. Narrow-mindedness is being confused with what it means to be American.

This has to stop.

The only way it will stop if both sides start to sound like the other side. They need to start listening to each other. A pro-police social justice advocate? A conservative who supports Antifa? Are these so hard to imagine?

Everybody wants safe streets. Fear is the common enemy. Nobody wants to be afraid of getting mugged when they go out. Nobody wants to be afraid of a routine police check during which, if you’re black, you could end up dead.

Watchers of the right wing are not surprised by the mayhem in the U.S. capitol this week. It has been a long time coming, they say. Authorities did or should have seen it coming. It was all over social media, which fans flames of hate like pure oxygen. CBC’s Matt Galloway talked to Jen Schradie, a digital sociologist at Sciences Po in Paris, and Seyward Darby, opinion writer at the New York Times and the editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine. At some point in the conversation, Schradie described the root of far-right mob action as being in a rift in understanding between “equality” and “freedom.”. – www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-jan-8-2020-1.5865942

Turns out this is well-known debate. The Web is chock-a-block with information about it.

A short but excellent summary of the evolving definitions of “equality” and “freedom” in the US can be found here:
www.rentonreporter.com/opinion/equality-versus-freedom/

George Will in the run up to the 2004 US election spoke out with concern about this divide:
www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2004/02/01/freedom-vs-equality/63bddf0b-6089-4bab-8663-f61571578e57/

How interesting. It is possible to soberly appreciate the point of view of both sides, no matter where you, yourself falls in the equality/freedom spectrum.
But today, the debate is not just polarized, it has gone beyond logic, fairness or reasonableness. Differences are cartoon-like, each side painting the other as ‘evil’ and itself as ‘righteous.’ Wars have been fought for less.

The problem today is reactionary liberalism vs. reactionary conservatism, so starkly different, it seems impossible to reconcile differences, when really, liberalism and conservatism are two sides of the same coin, neither could exist without the other.

No champion of freedom wants to live without governing authority that has the power to keep things organized, support businesses and individuals and   have some checks against bullying and rampant exploitation. Restraint of government overreach is one thing, no government at all another: anarchy.

At the same time, no champion of equality wants a State that is so big and so dominant that there is no room for personal differences, opportunity to find and exercise your talents, and have your achievements rewarded.

Neither side wants an oppressive “socialist” State that threatens its people with banishment to the Gulag if they do not conform.

How long will it take before the sides really start to talk to each other? This is a question that brings us to the matter of Mr. Trump, the dejected and now rejected cheeseburger.

Pundits have been saying he  is just a warm up act for the radical or alt-right: a Mussolini or Hitler is waiting in the wings to take centre stage and take over. This is the worst kind of “fake news” Mr. T has rightly taken to task. It is scare mongering and contributes nothing to our understanding of the issues.

Isn’t it just as likely that a God-like advocate for democratic processes and social justice will arise out of ranks of the Democrats, capture the public imagination and be swept into power?

Which maybe is what this is all about: myth making. America’s been telling itself hair raising tales of demented heroes for quite a few decades now. The shocking thing is how surprised everyone is when these characters leap off the page into reality.

What if everything that we consider “social” is actually held together by the spiritual?

…including politics.

Religious folks, ministers, pastors, etc., are suffering a lot these days. The novelty and sense of accomplishment of making Zoom and Youtube work for church services wore off very quickly.

At the same time, I noticed anxiety levels rising among people I know who live alone, especially if they are older. Again, some enthusiasm initially for having people pitch in to do grocery shopping or run errands wore thin quickly. Self-isolation as a preventive standard-of-care turned into just plain old depressing isolation.

What we unexpectedly miss the most in these difficult times is physical contact.

It’s not necessarily the hugs or touching even. It’s just being in the same room as another person that we seem to need more than anything.
It is virtually impossible to quantify or measure this effect. Which leads me to wonder, is this what religion is getting at? Mythical beings with super powers are entertaining for sure, perhaps the best way to justify that inexplicable something we all need, just to be with others.

In his book Being and Nothingness, Sartre explored the idea of the being that causes itself. Perhaps it would be more useful to look at how we cause each other.

A good article on the importance of physical presence: www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/physical-presence-spiritual-gift/

But what means “presence” exactly? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysics_of_presence

Exile is the only way to handle a despot

It would be below degrading to Napoleon Bonaparte to be compared to the outgoing U.S. President and beyond flattering to Mr. Trump, however both invoke the gnarly problem of what to do with an irrepressible charismatic megalomaniac.

The solution for those allied against Napoleon in the early 1800s, whose wars resulted in millions of deaths and untold economic losses across Europe, was exile.

Indefatigably confident and ambitious Napoleon spawned conflicts throughout Europe and ignored treaties and conventions alike. He plundered museums, installed his own people to rule other countries and reinstated slavery in France’s overseas colonies. Sound familiar?

When finally defeated, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean, where he was allowed to keep his title of Emperor and rule the island, supported by a generous stipend. He soon escaped, returned to Europe, amassed an army and regained power for the notorious 100 Days, until two allied armies forced his retreat to Paris where the people had turned against him.

painting of Napoleon staring out to sea on the island of Saint Helena
Napoleon on Saint Helena, watercolor by Franz Josef Sandmann, c. 1820 Ref: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon

He abdicated and the British put him again into exile, this time on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, 1,870 km (1,162 mi) from the west coast of Africa. They also took the precaution of sending a garrison of soldiers to uninhabited Ascension Island, which lay between St. Helena and Europe. He died 5 years later.

2021? Really? Who cares?

Perhaps it is the intended effect of crazy people like the Dejected Cheeseburger to drive the rest of us to apathy.

It really is impossible to respond to the inane patter coming from the Whitehouse. One just throws up one’s hands.

Two conversations over the holidays had such effect, both reported to me by relatives after their conversations with other relatives, one in the US and the other in Alberta (no surprise). During both conversations a relative invoked Mr. Trump in  a reverential tone, as if he were a saviour from the corrupt, lying Democrats determined to steal the election and plunge civilization into Soviet-style socialism.

Wow. Breathtaking.

This madness is not going to end anytime soon. Between the wilful blindness, hysteria or brainwashing of so many people and the media’s complete failure to get a credible grip on reality, I’d say we are doomed to more ‘crazy town’ for the rest of 2021.

Which means we need to take real steps to protect ourselves.

 

 

Life through “Windows”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates might never have expected that within 40 years of founding Microsoft and its groundbreaking interface, Windows, that the entire world would be partitioned behind “windows” both virtual and real.

Today, as never before, something stands between us and reality, whether it is the screens of our various devices; tablets, laptops, desktops, phones, or the windshields of cars for curb-side pick up, or the barriers found everywhere in stores, libraries and banks, or simply the windows behind which we remain indoors, inside, cut off from the world.

Bill Gates might have hoped that software would serve as a window where otherwise there was a wall, opening up the world to us. Arguably, it has come to have the opposite effect, becoming a barrier to real experience.

Windows are everywhere and one must ask what effect they are having.

There are a lot of reasons why we might be feeling shaky; our sense of groundedness, reality, truth even, is based on direct experience. Second hand news, things seen online through so-called “social” media, are a poor substitute. In a doubtful world, self-doubt runs rampant.

One is reminded of the phrase, “though a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), which has inspired so much creative work, including a rather dark film by Igmar Berman.

It isn’t as if we haven’t been wrestling with the idea of mediated experience since Plato’s cave, whose chained dwellers know only what they can infer from the shadows cast on the cave walls. The windowless room and prison cell have long been condemned for their inhumane sensory deprivation. Today, the confines of prisons are no better than long-term care homes, both acting like petri-dishes for growing deadly virus. Windows, which promise relief by way of visual access to “the outside,” are in fact no solution at all.

If today feels worse than yesterday, which felt worse than the day before, and that day also worse than the day before it, one has to ask what accounts for that, including whether the tools we are leaning on to help us see and and better understand what is going on around us are not part of the problem.

What we need are doors not windows.

2020, a remarkable year?

2020 was shit is almost every way.

And yet, we learned some things and did some things. E.g. I discovered the Oxford University Press blog, which will happily send you a daily email with the day’s blog post. Short, interesting articles. Always referring to a book OUP has published, and my my, but they publish a lot of books! They better; according to Wikipedia they have 6000 employees. That is a lot of mouths to feed.

A Christmassy example of their posts: The Qur’an on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Nativity | OUPblog
blog.oup.com/2020/12/the-quran-on-mary-the-mother-of-jesus-and-the-nativity/