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Bluster’s Last Stand?

November 9, 2016

Waking after the long election night… What, is the world still here? There are people who still dare to go out on the street? They’re, like, heading to work or something? Really?

So I manage to walk the dog, make breakfast and pick up the paper. There I find a column by Helen Ubiñas headlined “Stunned at the Victory of Self-Destruction.” (An updated version of the printed column is here.) Her take on the election corresponds to what I wrote on June 3 about a national death wish. She talks about “the xenophobia and sexism and hatred and racism Americans either embrace or are willing to overlook to send a message. And that message,” she adds,

is one of self-destruction, because although Hillary Clinton has her flaws, her many, many flaws, the message we are sending by being so willing to make a carrot-colored caricature the president of the United States is that we are willing to throw our country under the bus, that we are willing to be the world’s punchline, that we are willing to make a man with zero political experience and less global respect the 45th president of the United States.

Yeah, that says it. My image was a flaming explosion, an Armageddon, but the bus metaphor is good too. I am feeling rather squashed right now, and some of my friends seem to be having trouble breathing.

Wasn’t it ironic to hear that this election was about “change”? When it simply reversed the previous change? How many more times will voters be able to feel like conservatives simply by choosing the candidate who’s sane and competent?

By IProspectIE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

photo by IProspectIE, via Wikimedia Commons

Dreading the possibility of a morning like this, I’ve been toying with the idea of moving back to the land of my ancestors (some of them), and living quietly in a stone cottage, enjoying the fruits of the land (see picture) around a wee turf fire. I won’t really do that, of course, but it’s a consolation to have a refuge in mind.

More consoling is the fact that a large majority of those who are not white males voted for Hillary. So did a huge percentage of voters 18–29, and a smaller but clear majority of those 30–44.

These people are the dominant electorate of the future, folks. And they showed their disgust for the vile orange pussy-grabbing dictator-worshiping sexist racist fascist charlatan. (Oops, I was trying to be less polemical than Ms. Ubiñas.)

Trump voters in the near future

So what I’m saying is: there’s a good chance this is Bluster’s Last Stand.

Another, less direct comfort comes from nearly a century ago, in a passage by the English writer Ford Madox Ford. In his novel Some Do Not…, the first of the Parade’s End trilogy, set in the years surrounding World War I, protagonist Christopher Tietjens is accused of hating his own country because he detests virtually everyone in charge. His accuser is the young woman he cares for more than anyone else, so he replies honestly:

Don’t say it! Don’t believe it! Don’t even for a moment think it! I love every inch of its fields and every plant in the hedgerows: comfrey, mullein, paigles, long red purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name … and all the rest of the rubbish … and we have always been boodlers and robbers and reivers and pirates and cattle thieves, and so we’ve built up the great tradition that we love … But, for the moment, it’s painful. Our present crowd is not more corrupt than Walpole’s. But one’s too near them.

Maybe it’s the same now. Are we just too near the current boodlers to see things in perspective? Maybe Donald Trump is no worse than George Wallace (who wasn’t, however, nominated by a major party) or Huey Long (who got shot before he could be nominated). Maybe Sean Hannity is no crazier than Father Coughlin. Maybe the Alt-Right media are no more scurrilous than Marcus Pomeroy, who wrote of Abraham Lincoln in 1864: “The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer.… And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good” (quoted in Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Anti-Lincoln Tradition”).

I hope those maybes are true. I hope.

In an unexpected development, The News from Gridleyville has been named an official outlet for TrikiLeaks, the supernal hacker group. We are greatly honored by this distinction, and we promise to exercise our responsibilities responsibly.

As you may know, TrikiLeaks specializes in secret documents involving Higher Powers, in particular communications sent through s-mail, the spiritual equivalent of e-mail. The instance presented here is a recent message between foreign ministers of the eternal kingdoms: Beelzebub, the secretary of state for The Depths, writing to Archangel Michael, his counterpart in The Lofts. The two grew up together before Bubbie, as he was known in his youth, joined the Dark One in rebellion against the Universal Authority. Their long friendship presumably accounts for the chummy tone of the missive.

We publish this now, not in an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election, but as a possible means of allaying the world’s heartburn.

To: His Lightness Arch. Michael

From: His Darkness Beelzebub

Subject: A Little Favor?

Yo, Mikey,

It’s been ages, I know, I been meaning to write, but we been awful busy down here. The crowds you send us get kind of rambunctious sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining, it’s so much fun torturing these ass-monkeys it don’t hardly seem like a job, but it’s an organizational nightmare, if you get my drift. Gotta keep track of who’s been waterboarded, who’s been burned on the eyeball with the Boss’s cigars, who’s had fingernails or toenails yanked, etc. etc. We’re still using these old Power Macs that’ve never been upgraded. When I heard that Steve Jobs geek was comin’, I thought he’d bring some newer gizmos, but your boys in the Property Department musta stripped him on the way. You better check for sticky fingers up there. Just sayin’.

Anyways, geeks like Jobs ain’t the problem, they just walk around twiddling with their thumbs. It’s the other types of sinners that get bored and restless. See, the whole principle of torture—I figure you’re too high-minded to think about this stuff, so I’ll explain it to you—is you gotta give the bums a break between times. If it’s all pain all the time, they get burnt out, their minds blown, their ghostbodies wasted, so when you give ’em another, say, electric zap to the privates, they hardly notice. Which is no fun for us. So the point is, let ’em have a decent life when we aren’t working ’em over, enough that when we grab ’em up for the next session, they get the shakes and the terrors and start pissin’ their ghostpants all over again.

Now, them Lethe waters are a big help, making them forget what they been through. In fact, we’ve been mixing Lethe drops into the waterboarding, so every round’s like a fresh torture ’cause the poor suckers don’t remember what’s coming.

Still, when it’s time for their R&R, we gotta keep ’em amused. Which is hard because they ain’t allowed their former enjoyments like murder, embezzlement, fornication or political campaigns. So what do we have for their entertainment? Mostly old TV shows—and your Big Guy won’t let us have the good ones, will He? No, we gotta make do with trash like Jerry Springer, Jay Leno and Hee Haw Honeys. The ladies down here, even lots of the guys, would kill for one episode of Mary Tyler Moore. True, our audience is pretty cynical, so they get into the so-bad-it’s-hilarious shtick, but that wears thin after a while. They get mopey and grouchy, which is not the right buildup for their next turn in the Iron Maiden. As I said, they should be happy, at least content, before we work ’em over again.

So what I’m writin’ to ask, and I know you’ll wanta help me with this, pal, is maybe havin’ a top entertainer come down to us a little early. No, I don’t mean Madonna, I know the Big Guy’s got a crush on her. (Which I don’t understand. I mean, really?)

What I’m talkin’ about is that Trump dude. You know we’re gettin’ him sooner or later, and if you can make it a little sooner, I’d really appreciate it, ’cause we’ve made some great plans for him.

It’s a show called Devil’s Apprentice. He’s gonna be the host, see, along with one of my cute little acolytes—you know, the one with the honkers? He’ll love her.

Here’s the bit: Contestants will think they’re competing for a full-time job managing the Grue Crew, our pitchfork guys that stab unsuspecting people in the ass and toss ’em in the pit for their next torment. Our huge TV audience will see the apprentices run around like crazy and bust their tails to please The Donald and then get fired anyway. But then the kicker is, at the end of the show, all the ones he’s fired will get to use their pitchforks on The Donald himself.

They’ll plunk him in the pit for a special persecution—watching hours and hours of documentaries—of Hillary’s whole career!

We’ll televise that too, to show him making faces and spitting insults at the screen. Then we’ll give everybody some Lethe drops and start over with a new season.

Ain’t that genius? Talk about entertainment—our restless masses will love it!

So think about it, will you Mikey? I mean, Trump’s already old and fat, it’s not like I’m askin’ for a major speedup. Just a little before his time, so to speak.

If you need to clear this with the Big Guy, give him my best, wouldya? Him and my Boss really oughta get together sometime, clear the air, y’know, discuss new ways to cooperate in this business of processing souls.

Okay, Mikey, gotta sign off now and go sharpen my pitchfork, heh-heh.

Keep that flaming sword of yours polished, boyo.

Yours 4ever & ever & ever,

Your pal,

Bubbie

Lesser and Greater Evils

August 10, 2016

Image from O’Hehir’s article in SALON

A short post to offer some informative links (the phrases in red) about Trumpageddon:

Back in June I surmised that Americans might have, in essence, a national death wish, a desire to just blow up the system out of spite, frustration and boredom. Now Andrew O’Hehir has offered a similar, though more complicated, argument in Salon. “As I see it,” he writes, “Trump is on a suicide mission, acting out a deep-seated national desire for self-destruction that runs alongside America’s more optimistic self-image and interacts with it in unpredictable ways” (my boldface). Definitely worth reading.

To that I’ll add a link to an On the Media radio show/podcast in which host Bob Garfield interviews Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs. (The linked page contains a transcript as well as the audio clip.) For those who refuse to vote for either Trump or Clinton, Robinson provides a strong argument for choosing one or the other to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election, when progressives’ votes for Ralph Nader led to the victory of George W. Bush (who, to this point, may be the worst president in U.S. history—a record Trump would have no difficulty in toppling).

“The basic premise” of Robinson’s argument “is that we should think about voting differently. The way I think of voting is that you should think about the potential consequences of your vote. That’s the most important thing. Voting isn’t necessarily a way to say who you are and what you care about. It’s something that has consequences” (my boldface).

Robinson continues, “If 500 Nader voters in Florida had changed their minds we probably wouldn’t have had the Iraq war, so I think those consequences are the most important thing. You know, people are critical of the term ‘lesser evil’—well, you just want us to vote for the lesser evil. Of course we do, because you want less evil in the world.”

My take on the issue is simple: If you’re a grownup, and not suicidal, you should face the fact that the election is not about you or your ideological or moral purity. It’s about who will run the United States and possibly, or not, blow up the whole effing planet.

To kick off the Democratic convention, Michelle Goldberg wrote a long, thoughtful piece in Slate about why so many people hate Hillary. It’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it already.

Studying polls and interviews, Goldberg finds that people’s disdain and distaste for the pantsuited whipping-girl have remained constant for decades even as the reasons for those emotions have changed. For some people, for instance, it’s policy: Hillary was too liberal in the 1990s and she’s too conservative now—and she has never, apparently, passed through a stage of being just right. For others it’s a character issue: because Hillary has changed her positions over the years, we can’t trust her, even though other politicians do the swivel-dance daily.

“In other words,” Goldberg says, “people hated Hillary for being one sort of person, and in response to that she became another sort of person, who people hated for different reasons. But this doesn’t explain why the emotional tenor of the hatred seems so consistent, even as the rationale for it has turned inside out. Perhaps that’s because anti-Hillary animus is only partly about what she does. It’s also driven by some ineffable quality of charisma, or the lack of it.”

As Goldberg goes on to point out, people who meet Hillary in person tend to like her a lot. But in public she fails to convey the warm, mischievous, funny and charming qualities that her acquaintances know and love.

Of course, she’s not the only political figure whose public persona fails to reflect her private attractiveness. But a wooden, artificial Mitt Romney attracts less vitriol (and more bored sighs), so again we’re left wondering, “Why Hillary? What makes her so abhorrent?”

Ultimately, Goldberg decides, the answer is “gendered”: “Americans tend not to like ambitious women with loud voices.” I think that’s true, and I would add the adjective smart—we especially don’t like an ambitious woman who seems to know uncomfortably more than we do on just about every topic except the state of our own toothbrushes.

Hillary at a Planned Parenthood event, Washington, DC, June 2016 (photo by Lorie Shaull from Wikimedia Commons)

Hillary at a Planned Parenthood event, Washington, DC, June 2016 (photo by Lorie Shaull from Wikimedia Commons)

My explanation, then, expands on Goldberg’s to focus on the aura of superiority Hillary manages to convey. When she ramps up her public persona, trying her best to be cool, authoritative, masterful—to stand up to the alpha politicomales she must challenge—she comes off, to me, as smug. Look at that facial expression, that little smirk. Even if you admire her, isn’t it a bit annoying? Don’t you feel slightly put down?

We Americans, famously, and stupidly, want our president to be someone we can have a beer with. I bet that, in private, Hillary can swill a brew as well as her Bubba—maybe better because her heart is stronger. But she gives the impression of sipping an expensive white wine—one of those Coche-Dury Grand Cru thingies?—whose name we can’t even pronounce.

Admittedly, it’s probably “gendered”—nay, sexist—to care about the way a woman grins. After all, George W. Bush had the stupidest grin ever, and THAT wasn’t what we denounced him for.

Tzapping the Borders

August 31, 2015

I’ve never before used this blog to endorse a commercial product—other than my own books, of course—but a special case has arisen concerning the very integrity of our country, and I feel I must alert my fellow Americans to what I’ve discovered.

We’ve all listened to the proposals from presidential candidates to build a wall along the Mexican border to stem illegal immigration, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has logically extended the proposal to the Canadian line as well. There is nothing hysterical or paranoid about these concerns. Just pause a moment to think what would become of this country if we allowed the Mexican-Canadian rapist-murdering-drug-dealers to steal the lawn-care jobs of American workers!

There is a major problem, however, that none of the candidates has addressed. The barriers would be enormously expensive to construct, possibly requiring a rise in taxes that no patriotic American would support. (Those who suggest that cinder block and labor could be imported cheaply from Mexico miss the point entirely.)

Moreover, the Great Wall advocates have overlooked thousands of miles of other entry points: the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Who knows when Mediterranean people-smugglers will invest in better boats so they can drop off Syrian refugees on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City? There’s also the possibility, remote at this time but certainly a concern for the future, that alien shark-creatures might swarm ashore and apply for work cooking fish fillets at McDonald’s. And what about mutant penguins? Has anyone considered the mutant penguins?

Thus it’s apparent that the political debate has been riddled with gaps in logic as huge as the holes in Carly Fiorina’s resume. Luckily, technology—American technology, best in the world!—can again save our butts as well as our souls. A leading innovator in the security industry, Pharr Integrated Security Solutions of southern Texas, is now marketing the Tzapp Total Border System, and this is the product I’m compelled to tell you about.

Based on the groundbreaking work of legendary physicist Seymour Tzapp, the laser-based system is both efficient and economical. One relatively inexpensive laser weapon, adjusted properly, can protect 425 miles of border or coastline; hence a complete system would cost a fraction of a Great Wall.

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS system

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS

How does it work? When any object larger than a hare begins to move across the secured line, the Tzapp Total BS delivers a pulsed, narrow-beam wallop strong enough to enforce immediate retreat. In tests conducted in the Rio Grande Valley, the system has scattered deer, terrified ocelots and caused skunks to spray themselves uncontrollably. The Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri), once Tzapped, has been timed at 30 mph, outrunning a raccoon.

One additional feature: The Total BS leaves a prominent raised scar, curved like a Nike swoosh in bright orange. This will prove as embarrassing to a Mexo-Canadian rapist-murderer as to a nefarious opossum, and a single Tzapp will be enough to discourage future transgressions, especially if the lasers are aimed to strike a delicate part of the anatomy. During the beta test, the tortoise was so mortified he never came out of his shell again.

I would supply a link to further information about the Tzapp system, but in its haste to bring this amazing product to the American public, the company has not yet developed an online presence. However, all interested parties—politicians, military officers, gun freaks and ordinary citizens—are invited to visit corporate headquarters in Pharr, a lovely community just a few miles from the McAllen Miller International Airport. Although it’s a small and unprepossessing city, you can’t miss the signal that you’ve arrived: a sign at the border tells you that you’ve gone to Pharr.

A Very Tender Topic

October 5, 2012

Nobody HomeHaving ignored the political conventions this year, I felt a tiny obligation to subject my ears to the first presidential debate. To build motivation, I set up a project: jot down phrases from the candidates and use them to make a sort of “found” poem, like a sculpture of found objects. Of course I’m not a poet, but incompetence never stopped any writer worth his pint of lager.

As I arranged the phrases yesterday, drawing more or less equally from Obama and Romney, a couple of things surprised me. Almost by chance, the poem came out with each stanza one line longer than the previous—kind of like the way politicians grow windier as they ramble on. (Is there a name for that poetic structure?) More important, some nonsensical sense seemed to emerge from the jabberwocky, and maybe—dare I say it?—an element of hope.

I’m curious to know what anyone else makes of it. Here it is:

A Very Tender Topic

A very tender topic, it’s on the brink of collapse,
and the reason is, is because
there’s a reason that indicates the degree
to which there may not be as much of
a focus on the fact that the path
we’re on has been unsuccessful.

See, there is no better way of dealing with
a fight we needed to have
and this is an example of where
those people who are less fortunate
can make a difference because
to promote and protect those principles
occasionally you gotta say no.

The proof of that is that
you can look at the record,
people are really hurting today,
and what ends up happening
is some people end up not,
and if the determination of the American people
has not displayed that willingness to say no,
that’s how we’re gonna wind down.

The question here tonight is not
where we’ve been but where we’re going.
So let’s get all the doctors together at once,
because we’ve seen progress even when
we were fighting about whether or not
to create frameworks where
we care for those that have difficulties,
at a time when it’s vitally important
to pursue their dreams.

Math, common sense, and our history,
we all know that that doesn’t get the job done.
What’s happening is, America
may not be the place to clear up
the record, where everybody’s playing
by the same rules. Let’s grade them,
I propose we grade the creativity and innovation
that exists in the American people, picking
winners and losers, the vitality we can
step in and see, a whole different way of life.

Thank you for tuning in, I have no idea
what you’re talking about, but there’s
still a problem as Abraham Lincoln
understood, endowed by our Creator.
Let me give you an example: Gas in the U.S.
is up under any circumstances, the biggest kiss
that’s been given to a baby out of work
since May. Can you help us? At the mercy
of your policies, it’s simply not moral—
the course of America, the great experience,
the burden paid, the bottom line.