Trumpy Bear

When writing “Remembering Teddy Roosevelt in the Era of Trump” almost two years ago, I made mention of a certain, ahem… item:

The Trump teddy bear, only $79.95 from vermontteddybear.com. Vomitorium not included.

I assumed it was the worst piece of kitsch that Trumpists could come up with. Boy, was I wrong! What is kitsch, anyway? Google’s quick retort:

Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

This definition helps explain why Trumpy Bear is so popular with liberals, despite being marketed to Trumpistas who watch Fox News:

Firstly, liberals thought it must be a parody or hoax cleverly put over to make Fox News look like a stupider platform than it already is. Surely this can’t be for real!

Secondly, once it turned out to indeed be a real product marketed to Trump TV viewers, it reaffirmed the view (widely held by Eastern liberals) that Trump supporters simply have no taste whatsoever! Thus, it (ironically) manages to please both camps in wholly different ways. As a prospective Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa gift, it definitely has crossover appeal. It’s also cheaper by half than the Vermont teddy bear, while packing twice the kitsch.

To paraphrase an old saw attributed to actor Edmund Kean: Dying is easy, satire is hard. In fact, it’s almost impossible now, because Trump is arguably the first American Dada president (though Nixon came close). The Guardian’s Australia columnist Van Badham says it best: “A thousand satirists with a thousand typewriters could not invent this in a thousand years.”

Nevertheless, see “Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer,” in which Kirstjen Nielson has disappeared, Trump has resorted to cannibalism, and Sarah Sanders defends him to the bitter (too much mustard?) end. Also featured: “Sheriff” Sean Hannity as Trump’s new Chief of Staff.

The commentariat class keeps getting hoodwinked by Trump’s tweets, convinced they must be from The Onion, but turning out to be real Trump comments claiming that people who buy cereal need to show ID. (Not usually true, except for R. J. Reynolds branded cereals, or certain communities where there are large concentrations of cereal abusers.)

No teddy bear jollity in Paris, though, where leaders of European nations were met by a broody Trump having a bad makeup day. (Melania applied too many coats to the left cheekbone.)

Angela Merkel channels Chandler Bing: “Could I BE any more uncomfortable?”

Only one question remains: How could Trumpy Bear be made into an even more over-the-top expression of right wing kitsch? Maybe it could come with a free AK-47 and a self-burning cross that doubles as a nite lite. What’s your opinion?

The elderly gent billed as Corporal Frank Warholic lends himself to the obligatory MST3K riffing:

“My name is Frank, and I’m a warholic.”
“Hi Frank!”

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

Advertisements

Vote For Number 6

An election day screening of The Prisoner: Free For All

As an artist (or at least an artistic type), I prefer not to reduce the world to simple binaries. Still, in the current political landscape many choices come down to whether we want to be kind and loving, or mean and selfish:

Both major parties tend to act out stereotypes of themselves, and neither party is perfect (greed being a nearly universal constant — something we learn at our mother’s knee, so to speak). Still, there’s a difference between bad and worse. Politics in general is a cutthroat business, but there’s more kindness and compassion among the democrats. Whatever their faults, they recognize that affordable health care, an inclusive society, and concern for the environment are ideals worth fighting for. That’s why I personally tend to support democratic candidates.

Of course, the political world can look rather surreal, and one can reasonably question the extent to which our votes make a difference. They do make a difference, though perhaps not as much as good government types would lead us to believe. All that said, get out and vote!


Sidebar: Doctor Who – The Beast Below

In the annals of televisual speculative fiction, perhaps ranking equally with The Prisoner: Free For All is Doctor Who: The Beast Below:

It’s arguably about the exploitation of labour, or exploitation of Third World resources by First World powers. It’s also about repressive tolerance. You are free to protest, but those hitting the “protest” button are quickly whisked to Starship UK’s dank lower extremities. For those who care to see it, there’s even a spiritual lesson at the end about those who would torture the boatman who is carrying them in his spiritual vessel. Someone so old, so kind (and the very last of his kind) that he could not bear to hear the children crying.

One of the best New Who’s, with a fine balance between political commentary, emotional intensity, a great sense of style, and splendid dashes of humour.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Of Further Interest

Survival, Friday The 13th, Doctor Who, and Black Cats
The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant
Donald Trump vs. Ferris Fremont
Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?
Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer

* * *

Operation Faithful Patriot – Genesis of a Name


[The White House.]

Secretary Mattis: Mr. President, I have the preliminary list you ordered, of names for the military operation on the Mexican border.

President Trump: Good! Pull up a seat, but first get me a Diet Coke.

Secretary Mattis: I’m not a vending machine, sir.

President Trump: Let’s hope you’re at least a fighting machine. Otherwise, well — you know the drill.

[Together in unison]: YOU’RE FIRED!!!

Secretary Mattis [forcing a chuckle]: I’m glad we can laugh about it like this, sir.

President Trump: Then let’s get down to business. What names have they come up with over at the Pentagon?

Secretary Mattis: Comprising the A-list, we have Operation Godless Narcissist, Operation Sniveling Demagogue, and Operation Orange Splunkhead.

Trump [frowning]: You know Jim, I had the most successful show on television for over 20 years. I have a sixth sense about marketing that’s allowed me to sell everything from steaks to Supreme Court justices. Your boys are good boys. Boys and girls, men and women, and a few in-betweeners we haven’t managed to kick out yet…

Mattis: Sir, what’s your point?

Trump: My point is they’re good boys, but they don’t have an ear for marketing. Those names you just gave me might be good enough for small cleanup operations in a non-election year. But they don’t say Donald Trump, they don’t inspire brand recognition, they don’t have that quality of hugeness and tremendousness which people associate with the Trump brand. In short, these are not bigly names.

Mattis: So you want something biglier? [pronouncing this last word with obvious distaste]

Trump: Biglier, and infused with the spirit of this nation. Give me something that speaks to me of big cars and dead Indians. Jack LaLanne and Lana Turner. Wisconsin takes the field. Pretzels with mustard on a hot day.

Mattis: You’re losing me, sir. And there’s still the B-list to get through.

Trump [skeptically]: Does it come with mustard?

Mattis: Not as such. But some of the names are slightly, uh, biglier.

Trump: Fire away, then.

Mattis: For the B-list we have Operation Shirking Leader, Operation Lying Viper, and Operation Xenophobic Idiot.

Trump: Hmmn… Some of those are biglier, but not in a good way. To energize the base, I’m looking for a name that conjures up images of Christian Minutemen beating brown-skinned invaders over the head with bibles while humming The Star-Spangled Banner. I’ve got it! Operation Faithful Patriot!

Mattis: Do we really want to bring religion into this? After all, you’re not known as a particularly religious man.

Trump: I get the basic plot. Boy meets girl meets snake. Fire and floods. Like Puerto Rico, but without the welfare.

Mattis: [with a look of quiet exasperation]: Very well, Operation Faithful Patriot it is. Anything else?

Trump: Have you looked into my plan to bring tactical nuclear weapons to the Mexican border?

Mattis: I’m afraid the Joint Chiefs consider it impractical.

Trump: What impractical? Use it or lose it. You hire a crane. Put some nukes where they’ll do a lot of people a lot of good. The American people have never felt so protected as under Donald Trump. After all, if you laid all the Geraldo Riveras in the world from end to end, you’d have… Well, a lot of Geraldo Riveras!

Mattis: No offense, sir, but you seem to be wandering again. And there’s only one Geraldo Rivera.

Trump: I was speaking metaphorically. You could have like a river of Geraldo Riveras, all of them voting for me.

Mattis: An interesting thought experiment, but how do you know they’d vote as a bloc?

Trump: They’d have to. Otherwise I’d deport them.

Mattis: I should have seen that coming. Anyway, we can’t send nuclear weapons to the Mexican border. It’s just not done.

Trump: They told Christopher Columbus to go back to making pizza, no one sails over the edge of the earth. But he did it anyway. That’s what I want to do. Not the same thing, but the same thing in a different way. More modern, less Italian.

Mattis [humoring him]: Uh-huh.

Trump: Different flavors of nuclear weapons for different days of the week. All pointed at Mexico saying give us your rapists, your murderers, your drug dealers, and we’ll give you our nukes. This one’s called Rocky Road. It has little marshmallows and packs a hundred megaton blast.

Mattis: Mr. President, you’re flat-out crazy.

Trump: They say Trump is crazy. Crazy like a fox. He knows how to bring home the bacon. Millions of jobs that weren’t there before. Jobs in meat-packing, jobs in sheetrock, jobs carrying things to and fro. Today it must be a camel. But tomorrow it could be hot rats. Desert rats in jeeps stationed on the Mexican border, eating American food. They say La Choy makes Chinese food the American way. But I say America makes nukes the Chinese way. To eat in or take out. Nukes delivered by moped. No one will spot them going in. Believe me, no one.

Mattis: Mr. President, you can’t deliver tactical nuclear weapons by moped, and this whole line of thinking is completely unhinged.

Trump: I hear the Fake News say [imitating announcer’s voice] “Donald Trump has become unhinged.” But the truth is, I was never hinged. I was always a swinger.

Mattis: Your point being?

Trump: Before you say no to nuclear weapons, remember what happened to Fidel Castro.

Mattis: What happened to Fidel Castro?

Trump: He’s dead, Jim.

Mattis: I walked right into that one. Okay, let’s say we manage to deliver tactical nuclear weapons to the Mexican border by moped, or camel, or a contingent of harnessed rats. We still can’t use them without irradiating our own people.

Trump: I thought of that. What we do is get a really big fan, put it on high, and just blow all that radiation over the border to Mexico, like Christopher Cross.

Mattis: I’m afraid nature has a bigger fan. It’s called “The Wind,” and it’s quite unpredictable. It could turn in an instant, and all our people would get dosed. They call the wind Mariah. The rain is Tess, I believe.

Trump: Funny, I’ve groped women named Mariah and Tess. Do they have a name for fire? Maybe I could make it a trifecta.

Mattis: In their native wisdom, they call the fire Joe.

Trump: Oh well, never mind then. You just get the word out about Operation Faithful Patriot. And rustle up some nukes. Have them delivered in shopping carts by CIA agents dressed as homeless people. Make sure they know how to rap. And don’t talk to any newspapers, either.

Mattis: Yes sir, I’ll get right on it. No sir, I won’t.

* * *

Sidebar: Windsongs

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant

A science fiction podcast from Lightspeed Magazine

UPDATED! Having known many vegetarians — including some who worked in or even owned vegetarian restaurants — I thought I would post this podcast of a story called “The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant,” by Rachael K. Jones. You might say it’s about the difficulties of the restaurant business, and the problems caused by meat. 😉 [Click to listen:]

 

More specifically, it’s about a bunch of cyborgs who are fleeing human beings; only their stolen spaceship is a food service vehicle, so they keep getting pinged by human ships wanting to place takeout orders.

To buy time, the cyborgs try and fill these orders. Despite having no experience as cooks, they eventually manage to flesh out a menu and expand their customer base. This leads them to the cusp of a momentous decision: Should they really lam it back to the cyborg factory, henceforth to live only among their own kind? Or should they continue to perfect their culinary skills and scoop out a place for themselves in the restaurant biz, catering to the hopelessly illogical tastes of humans? It’s really something of a head-scratcher…

In the meantime, they must wrestle with problems of low morale and scanty resources. The personality conflicts so common among kitchen staff inevitably arise.

Despite my deadpan synopsis, this is a laugh-out-loud funny story made even better by narrator Claire Benedek’s masterful voice acting. She creates a convincing contrast between Friendly — the most human of the cyborgs — and Engineer, who becomes most obsessed with cooking.

Rachael K. Jones is a gifted storyteller with an ear for dialogue and an unflagging sense of craft. She knows how to mix it up, too. Perhaps funniest are the restaurant reviews which trickle in, helping the cyborgs tweak their recipes:

Like the chefs closed their eyes and dumped handfuls of ingredients onto the grill. But they didn’t charge me anything, so I’m giving it two stars instead of one.

This impressive audio offering is brought to you by Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams. Click on their link to find out more about them, including their podcasts produced by Skyboat Media. Audio intro and outro by Jim Freund of Hour of the Wolf fame. Illustration by Christopher Park.

“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” is from Lightspeed #91, where you can also read the story in text format.


Sidebar: Unusual Foods and Dinners from Hell

Movie & TV buffs have already made numerous lists comprising this category, leaving me very little, ahem — meat on the bone. But here are a couple of items which seem to have escaped the going lists:

Michael Howard

Justice Kavanaugh: Private Swearing-In Ceremony

The swearing-in or “making” ceremony installing Brett M. Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States was held in private. Nevertheless, some details have emerged. One person present may have had their iPhone on record.

As often noted, this was the first time a sitting Justice (Justice Kennedy) was to swear in an attorney who had previously clerked for him. Of greater significance is the new language inserted into the ceremony by Donald Trump.

What follows is a rough transcript reconstructed from the unverified recording and from personal recollections. It appears the private ceremony differed markedly from the second, public ceremony held later for the cameras.

Present and participating were Judge Kavanaugh, Justice Kennedy, and President Trump.

Judge Kavanaugh’s wife and children were also present, but were bound and gagged and wearing red pyjamas, in keeping with tradition.

Selected guests were also present, but were camouflaged as eggplants and led in through a secret passageway.

Trump [to Kavanaugh]: You’ve passed through many trials and tribulations, my friend. And while your breasts are not particularly large, your intellect is massive. I’m attracted to you as a jurist. That’s why I ultimately appointed you to the Supreme Court. I have faith that you will reach fair decisions, reciprocal decisions.

Kavanaugh: Thank you, Mr. President. I couldn’t ask for a higher honor.

Trump: You know that, right? You know I could have appointed others — those who I call my captains, those who share my blood. The Rooster wanted me to choose someone with a shorter paper trail — but I said: “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best.”

Kavanaugh: A profound sentiment, sir. I am greatly indebted to you.

Trump: You are indebted to me. I’m the Master of this Show, the Brander-In-Chief. I took one look at you and said, “This is something we can sell.”

Kavanaugh: I appreciate your confidence in me, sir.

Trump: And sell we did, and found a lot of buyers among Senators. Tremendous Senators.

Kavanaugh: Some of them were quite tremendous, yes, Mr. President.

Trump: I personally made Susan Collins an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Mrs. Kavanaugh: Argle. Mmph.

Kavanaugh: What’s that?

Mrs. Kavanaugh: Argle. Mmph. Ahbah. Rzzzzle…

Kavanaugh: You’ll tell me later, dear.

Trump: As I was saying, you’re my brand of Supreme Court justice, the kind I can work with, the kind who remembers who his friends are. The kind who knows that 90% of success is having a rap and being provocative.

Kennedy [interrupting]: Mr. President, if I may quote a line from It’s A Wonderful Life: Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?

Trump: You have a point. Fat Tony wants us to get on with the ceremony, and he has a point.

[Trump adjusts the lighting so that the room is suffused in a soft orange glow. Kennedy walks over to Kavanaugh and addresses him pointedly.]

Kennedy: Raise your right hand. Do you swear, promise and pledge debenture, declenture, accenture to blambify the rheostat in oleosis cum ultimatum? Say “what.”

Kavanaugh: What?

Trump: Now Brett, if you have any doubts or reservations, this is the time to say so. No one’ll think any less of you. Because once you enter this Supreme Court family, there’s no getting out. This family comes before everything else. Everything. Before your wife and your children and your mother and your father. It’s a thing of honor. Then, God forbid if you get lawyer’s block and can’t write opinions, we’ll take care of you, ’cause that’s part of it. If you got a problem, you just gotta let somebody know.

[Kavanaugh nods silently.]

Kennedy: This man right here, he’s like your father, except he’s orange. You got a problem with somebody here or on the outside, you bring it to him, he’ll solve it. You stay within the family.

[Kavanaugh once again nods his assent. Trump produces a sewing needle from his jacket and proceeds to heat it over a candle flame. He pricks himself, then turns to Kavanaugh.]

Trump: Alright, give me your hand.

[Trump pricks Kavanaugh’s finger and presses it against his own. The two are bonded in blood.]

Trump: Okay. It’s done.

[Trump next produces a card which he holds by the edges and sets ablaze.]

Trump: This is Saint Peter, my family saint. Now, as that card burns, so may your soul burn in hell if you betray your President.

[He passes the card to Kavanaugh.]

Trump: Now rub your hands together like this and repeat after me. May I burn in hell…

Kavanaugh: May I burn in hell…

Trump: If I betray my President.

Kavanaugh: If I betray my President.

Kennedy: Congratulations! Welcome to the family.

Trump: And on it goes, this thing of ours…

Mrs. Kavanaugh: Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” Ark!

[Exeunt omnes]

* * *

Acknowledgements: Some portions of the dialogue were adapted from The Sopranos, Season 3, Episode 3, “Fortunate Son,” written by Todd A. Kessler.

Brett Kavanaugh and the Calendar of Evil

One of the more absurd aspects of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings was the calendar he produced to “prove” he hadn’t done anything bad. “Oh, I was much too busy hanging out with Timmy and Lassie and Sandy and Flipper. No sexual assaults on my calendar. See? Not a one!”

Ah, but suppose he had used the “Evil Event Days” calendar created by the mad scientists at Deep 13:

Dating from 1993, it looks a lot like Kavanaugh’s own calendar, with the same lime green trim:

Other parallels? Well, metaphorically speaking the Democrats were loudly tooting their slide whistles, but the Republicans just donned their brass knucks and used brute force to put Kavanaugh on the court. And Mitch McConnell does resemble a colorless, odorless toxic gas.

Apparently, Georgetown preppies were heavily into drinking and throwing up, but perhaps not shooting up; so maybe Used Syringe Night wouldn’t make their calendar.

WANTED BY THE FBI for interfering in an official investigation: The dreaded Alzheimer gang:

They should be viewed as armed (with pacemakers) and considered dangerous.

* * *

Brett Kavanaugh: Through A Shotglass Darkly 2

UPDATE 2 In Part 1, I began exploring the issues raised by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. I keep writing on these issues in the hope of finding the right tone, persuading those with an open mind how we can make progress, so that women are satisfied their voices are being heard and changes being made, and men are satisfied they’re not being unfairly targeted. No one in either camp has asked me to be a negotiator, but as an essayist I’m free to offer suggestions and look for things we can all agree on.

The idea strikes me with some force that women could spread the word among themselves, and help to educate the next generation, that if you’re sexually assaulted you need to report it promptly to the proper authorities, such as the police or a rape crisis center. You need to be interviewed immediately.

There may be many reasons why women don’t report sexual assault, or wait years to do so, and even then don’t report it to a body having some legal authority to act, but rather to the media (including social media) or to a partisan political figure. But such failure to report in timely fashion or to the proper authorities poses serious problems for the complainant, for the accused, for investigators, and for society at large.

Sexual assault is a serious crime. The main way to ensure that it is taken seriously is to report it promptly to the appropriate authorities. However difficult this may be, it’s one way to make a major dent in the incidence of such crime — a way that most people (both women and men) can agree upon, because it’s consistent with principles of fairness and due process.

There’s a lot of shoddy thinking coming from extreme camps on both sides — that is, from man-haters among women and woman-haters among men. Solutions will be found mainly by people in the middle — by women and men who love and respect each other, who share a sense of outrage at sexual violence, and who want to see a society where women and girls feel safe from such violence.

The very existence of sexual violence is something which drives a wedge between men and women, causing them to retreat into their separate camps. So, lessening actual (undisputed) incidents of sexual violence should be a major goal. Obviously, for men this means not engaging in sexual violence! For women, it means making use of social control mechanisms meant to curb sexual violence, (again) through prompt reporting.

This is not to suggest that the available mechanisms are perfect. They are not. Still, many police departments have revised their procedures so that a woman with a sexual assault complaint can speak to a female officer who has training in this field, and will treat the complainant with sensitivity.

Sexual assault is not pleasant, and neither is speaking about it with strangers; but filing complaints and seeing the process through is one sure-fire way to reduce the incidence of sexual assault. If women who are victims of sexual assault make a point of reporting it promptly, those men who still haven’t gotten the message that sexual assault is wrong and illegal will find themselves being prosecuted for it. This will send a strong message of deterrence.

At the same time that women need to up the statistics for reporting clear incidents of sexual assault, I think they also need to be very clear about what isn’t sexual assault. Bad dates are not sexual assault. Clumsy (but utterly nonviolent) attempts at courtship are not sexual assault. Consensual sex about which you later feel regret or have recriminations is not sexual assault, even if decades later you feel you’re a completely different person who would not consent today, and should not have consented at the time.

There are gray areas having to do with relationship dynamics, the consensual use of drugs and alcohol, and parties at which both men and women know in advance what type of activities to expect. But my main point here is that there are many clear instances of sexual assault which go unreported. Focusing on creating a culture where women and girls know they need to report such instances promptly is a positive step we can all agree on.

There’s a backlash against certain excesses of #MeToo. This backlash is felt by people who value rationality and due process, and don’t feel that everything can be upended on the basis of the raw emotion of the moment, and the demands which raw emotion makes.

Some women have implied that names, dates and places don’t matter, only the feeling that abuse happened. In what sense is this true or not true? It may be true emotionally, but it’s obviously not true legally. That’s why one of the best things we can do is encourage women to file complaints promptly so that they’re interviewed by someone who will get names, dates and places which can be used as evidence in a court of law.

Why is this important? There’s an underlying problem in society of sexual abuse of women and girls. But there are also cycles in which this problem escalates into a moral panic, with frantic finger-pointing and abandonment of due process. The periods of moral panic lead to backlash and are actually counterproductive to the larger goal of ending sexual abuse. So are false reports, which do happen.

To understand these issues we need to study their history, at a minimum going back to the 1990s and the whole repressed memory movement. This was spawned in part by books like Courage To Heal, which said in essence that if you feel abused or have certain psychological symptoms, then you probably were abused. You have to rifle through your past, locate an abuser, and ultimately name and confront him. This psychological fad led to a high incidence of false claims based on feelings rather than facts. “Abuse survivor” became a ready-made identity with its own culture, support system, and a sign on the door saying Join us, sister!

People who lived through that era understand the dangers of moral panics and psychological fads. People who temper emotion with intellect recognize the parallels between the current period and that period in the 90s when it became a social, political, and therapeutic necessity to “come out” as an “abuse survivor.” To respawn that era will not be of genuine benefit to women.

We can help curb sexual assault by making sure women and girls know they need to report it promptly to police and provide details. Unfortunately, Christine Blasey Ford is a polarizing figure because her type of claim is one which many people find troubling. It conforms to a particular M.O. where there’s an above average incidence of false, inflated, or confabulated claims — sometimes sincerely conveyed, but still inaccurate. Factors which can make claims of sexual assault appear less credible include:

– Not reported until years after the alleged event.

– Never reported to police, but only to the media or to a partisan political figure in connection with advocacy on a hot-button issue.

– Place/date/time absent from report.

– No corroboration.

– Therapists and/or attorneys involved in shaping client’s account of past events.

It may be statistically true that some women who are genuine victims of sexual assault don’t report it until years later. Unfortunately, this tends to create a non-falsifiable proposition. In addition, the long delay makes it difficult to gather evidence and arrive at a true reckoning.

Some advocacy groups and media personalities are making the emotional demand that complaints which are problematic for the above reasons must be believed unquestioningly. This is an example of overreaching, and leads to backlash. Sadly, there are plenty of provable examples of sexual assault which are reported contemporaneously, with checkable details and no obvious political overtones. These make a much better rallying cry for activists than Christine Blasey Ford’s more problematic account.

At the time of the UVA rape hoax which was published (and later retracted) by Rolling Stone, I remember reading a message from a father who loved his daughters very much. He felt he needed to explain to them that just because you feel something doesn’t make it true. Feelings are important, but they’re not true north indicators. If daily life tends to trivialize our feelings, therapy culture can sometimes go to the opposite extreme, placing feelings on a pedestal. There needs to be a good balance between emotion and rationality.

Placing one’s feelings on a pedestal or assuming they are paramount in any situation is not always a sign of emotional health. It can be a sign of immaturity, narcissism, and self-indulgence. Not all therapy is good therapy. In some types of bad therapy, clients are conditioned to obsess on feelings, rather than handle the natural ebb and flow of feelings in a mature way, and temper feelings with facts and intellect. The combination of survivor-oriented therapy with victim-oriented politics can make for a witches’ brew.

I certainly don’t mean to come on like Joe Rational here. I can see the weaknesses of excessive rationalism. Back in the 1960s, U.S. foreign policy “experts” sat around smoking pipes, asking each other “How much napalm should we order this week? How many Vietnamese villages filled with women and children do we want to incinerate?” This was based on a “logical” foreign policy doctrine called the “domino theory.” There was no empathy for the living, breathing human beings who were being targeted. The same might be said of the Trump administration’s family separation policies, which are a “logical” way to discourage people from crossing the border, but are cruel and inhumane. (What’s next, strafing them with Agent Orange?)

Excessive rationality can excuse grave injustice happening right under its nose. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, this includes the harassment of religious and spiritual minorities by so-called “deprogrammers” and “exit counselors” who likewise feel a false sense of entitlement to impose their (largely secular) world view on populations with whom they disagree. There is some overlap here, because various types of operatives with a social, political, or personal agenda tend to use atrocity stories as an emotional fulcrum to leverage their objectives. But where the atrocity stories are false, atypical, or delivered in a demagogic manner, we should rightly cry foul.

To sum up: An objective which reasonable men and women can agree upon is to reduce incidents of sexual assault by encouraging prompt reporting, followed by thorough investigation of timely claims. That’s not the only thing which can be done, but it’s a high percentage move. By cooperating on that, we could forge alliances which would eventually make it easier to tackle thornier issues.

The nature of our world is that people often have to fight for their rights — to organize and make demands. The demands of Dr. Martin Luther King’s movement, based on Gandhian non-violence, were eminently reasonable: the right to vote, and equal access to education. It’s so important when going up against a “system” which can be unfair and unreasonable not to mirror that unfairness and unreasonableness. An end to sexual violence against women and girls is an absolutely reasonable demand and something worth fighting for. But I don’t think it can be accomplished by upending the justice system to the point where accusation equals guilt. To quote Cathy Young from a Slate.com article written at the time of the UVA rape hoax:

Rape is a repugnant crime — and one for which the evidence often relies on one person’s word against another’s. Moreover, in the not-so-distant past, the belief that women routinely make up rape charges often led to appalling treatment of victims. However, in challenging what author and law professor Susan Estrich has called “the myth of the lying woman,” feminists have been creating their own counter-myth: that of the woman who never lies.

A de facto presumption of guilt in alleged sexual offenses is as dangerous as a presumption of guilt in any crime, and for the same reasons: It upends the foundations on which our system of justice rests and creates a risk of ruining innocent lives.

Our focus on getting justice for women who are sexually assaulted is necessary and right. We are still far from the day when every woman who makes a rape accusation gets a proper police investigation and a fair hearing. But seeking justice for female victims should make us more sensitive, not less, to justice for unfairly accused men. In practical terms, that means finding ways to show support for victims of sexual violence without equating accusation and guilt, and recognizing that the wrongly accused are real victims too.

— Cathy Young

As for the Kavanaugh nomination itself, I’m very disappointed he seems to have squeaked through. There was enough to disqualify him without the sexual allegations, and in retrospect it may be that the Democrats erred by focusing on those allegations, which came to dominate the hearings.

When Mitch McConnell flatly refused to give Barack Obama’s eminently reasonable Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland so much as a hearing, this took politicization of the Court to a new level. It was perhaps inevitable that a later Republican pick would run into a political buzz saw powered by the injustice of the Garland snub. The Republicans also erred by presenting Kavanaugh as an abstinent choir boy.

The lesson for Democrats is to continue to work toward a more just, compassionate, and inclusive society, while not pandering to victim feminism, identity politics, and not practicing the politics of personal destruction.

The lesson for the Trump administration? Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Breaking: Run on chemical mace at Supreme Court gift shop. RBG buys five cans…

* * *

Brett Kavanaugh: Through A Shotglass Darkly

I’ve been tempted to weigh in on the Brett Kavanaugh spectacle, but have largely restrained myself, being content to revisit my previous postings on essentially the same issues. In the present tribal atmosphere, it can be difficult to speak a word of sense on these issues and not be pumelled by one side or another.

I am not a conservative and am not responsible for what conservatives say — so their (often woman-hating) rants don’t interest me much as a point of rebuttal. I am a liberal (though not a knee-jerk one), so I find myself more incensed at what my fellow liberals say when it’s not informed by careful analysis and amounts to little more than pandering or meme proliferation.

To state what should be obvious, there’s a massive political overlay to the human drama between Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford. The fact that it’s become a political dogfight further complicates an already complicated matter: namely, how to deal with an incident which allegedly took place 36 years ago?

The more hysterical the atmosphere becomes, the more cool, detached, and even non-empathetic I become, as if recoiling from the shout-my-rape-story-in-an-elevator mentality which seems to have taken over.

In a society, a marriage, or even the individual human psyche, there is perhaps an ideal balance between reason and emotion. I am pro feminist, and support the goal of creating a society where women have equal opportunity, equal rights, equal choice, and can thrive and prosper in whatever roles they choose for themselves. I would even agree that tempering rationalism with more feminine emotion can be a good thing. Rationalism often explains away injustice, while emotion feels it and responds to it in a dynamic way. That is very good! We need a more compassionate society where we identify with each other’s pain, and respond to it with caring.

I was very moved by Rachel Maddow’s spontaneous response to incoming reports about the Trump administration’s family separation policies, which I also oppose. Props to Rachel for being a thinking, feeling, caring human being!

That being said, I can see the downside of emotionalism when taken to greater extremes, to the point where it threatens to overthrow reason. Emotions can be choreographed and orchestrated, raised to fever pitch and used to justify wholesale attacks on individuals and groups. That’s what happens in a moral panic.

Having seen moral panics before and having studied them, I tend to stand back from the fray and stubbornly refuse to endorse political slogans like “believe the women.” I think “believe the women” is as unworthy a slogan as “believe the men,” “believe the transgender people, “believe the Albanians,” “believe the Rastafarians,” or “believe the Evangelicals.” As human beings, we are simply not that trustworthy. Membership in a certain demographic fails to remedy this problem.

During a moral panic, partisans employ so-called “atrocity stories” to construct a political narrative which seems to justify their policies or actions. Take the case of Donald Trump and his VOICE program, which (I kid you not) stands for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. (For a satirical look at the VOICE acronym, see here.)

Statistics suggest that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans. But in creating VOICE as a platform for highlighting atrocity stories concerning immigrant crime as told by “survivors,” Trump is trying to manipulate the emotions of the public, to the point where they’ll support his often irrational and draconian policies targeting immigrants. This includes kidnapping immigrant children and whisking them off to remote locations in the dead of night. (See CNN video.)

Trump’s use of VOICE constitutes base demagoguery, and bears the fallacy of seeking to define a phenomenon solely through anecdotes which are not representative and don’t lead to sound public policy. Unfortunately, the left does this also.

“I’m a rape victim, so Christine Blasey Ford MUST be telling the truth!” is a cry heard often, or at least a variation on it: “Such-and-such victims’ rights group says that x percentage of women are victims of sexual assault, therefore Christine Blasey Ford MUST be one of them!”

Our justice system stinks, but at least during a trial some effort is made to avoid these particular fallacies and stick to the facts of the case, not blur the facts by bringing in someone else’s experience which is understandably meaningful to them, but has no bearing on the instant matter. If trying a defendant for an alleged street mugging, a prosecutor is not allowed call witnesses who were victims of other unrelated street muggings, just to work the jury into an emotional lather where they’re more likely to convict.

Identity politics is a problem on the left, as is its close cousin: presumed victimhood. Yes, racism exists, sexism exists, homophobia exists, religious intolerance exists. These are real problems, but so is a victim mentality and all the baggage (both political and psychological) which gets dragged in with it. We on the left need the courage to cry b.s. whenever people retreat into victim mode when challenged on the accuracy of their accounts or the clarity of their thinking. (The politically correct response is that when asking alleged victims to speak accurately and think clearly, we are “revictimizing” them.)

The rise of victimhood as an identity choice or by-product of bad therapy has led to the acceptance of a host of memes which excuse or even glorify the would-be victim. This flies in the face of the oft-repeated platitude that women who “come forward” have “everything to lose and nothing to gain.” In truth, they walk into a ready-made identity with numerous rewards, including attention, sympathy, and even monetary rewards down the line. In some nether regions of the vast feminist universe (which I generally support) victim feminism remains the rage, and “coming out” as an “abuse survivor” is more or less de rigueur in those circles — how you get your ticket punched.

It’s politically taboo to talk about this, but we’ve all met people who are constantly in victim mode, and show not the least interest in putting negative experiences behind them. Indeed, this is the symptom pattern for people who have been exposed to a certain type of bad therapy (hopefully rare). In this type of therapy, people are persuaded to focus obsessively on an incident from their past, to bring it into the present, and to turn it into their entire raison d’être for being, their all-consuming passion.

I’m embarrassed to say this because it’s so politically incorrect, but I admit that when listening to Christine Blasey Ford testify, my first reaction was “Here is someone who’s operating 100% in victim mode, and has been doing so for many years.” Is this a result of bad therapy? The kind of therapy which fails to help the client live joyfully in the present, but instead keeps them reliving (and obsessing over) an incident from their past?

I have no idea what happened 36 years ago. Dr. Ford’s story could be, quite simply, the truth. Brett Kavanaugh may have sexually assaulted her. Or he may not have. Or the truth may lie somewhere in the uncomfortable gray zone whose boundaries we are still actively negotiating, having to do with what goes on at teen drinking parties, and what participants of both genders expect from the experience going in.

Sexual assault is NEVER okay, even at a teenage drinking party. It’s a crime. Waiting 36 years to report an alleged instance of sexual assault is not a crime, but it is ethically questionable, especially when the first report to anything resembling a judicatory body comes on the eve of a political dogfight, and is sprung (to mix animal metaphors) like a rabbit out of a hat. No politics involved? Really?

The memes surrounding victimhood create what’s called a non-falsifiable proposition. Victims of sexual assault supposedly don’t report it. Non-victims of sexual assault also don’t report it. But if someone doesn’t report it for 36 years, that’s somehow interpreted as corroborating evidence, because that’s said to be what victims do. A little crazy, no?

Speaking of corroboration, hearsay is not corroboration! Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I make a false claim. If I make that false claim to ten people, those ten people do not corroborate the underlying claim. They only confirm that at some point in time, I began making that claim. This says little about the truth or falsity of the claim itself.

The Kavanaugh confirmation fight raises many troubling issues. The only easy answers come from demagogues on both the left and right. I don’t support his confirmation, but then I never did. His conservative views and prior judicial decisions were enough to disqualify him in my mind. And now, since his eccentric performance on September 27, he may also be considered unsuitable by reason of temperament, having appeared alternatively mawkish or rude and belligerent to questioners.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Happy 87th Birthday, Sri Chinmoy!

Remembering the beloved spiritual teacher, musician and artist with a joyful music mix and slideshow

Sri Chinmoy’s birthday was always a joyful occasion, a perfect opportunity to celebrate. The celebrations continue, although he passed away in 2007. He lit a bright torch, carried it for many years, and taught others to hold it aloft. So many people around the world are celebrating on August 27, 2018, the day when Sri Chinmoy would have turned 87.

My way of celebrating was to make this video as an introduction to Sri Chinmoy’s music world:

I say “music world” because Sri Chinmoy is a world unto himself, and his music is best understood by listening with an open heart, rather than theorizing with a critical mind. Listening brings its own rewards and leads to understanding.

I say “music world” because inside Sri Chinmoy’s music is his art — his painting and drawing. All his creations emanate from a deep spiritual well, and one can approach that well from many directions, like a circular fountain which has a myriad of little footpaths leading up to it.

Music, art, concert posters, and photographs are all ways of making inroads to reach that centre of consciousness from which Sri Chinmoy always acted. But the divine secret is that this centre of consciousness does not belong to any individual, but is our collective consciousness, to be realized. It is the Supreme’s consciousness of Light and Delight.

It is fitting, then, that the music mix begins with “Supreme Chant” — a melody which Sri Chinmoy composed to the word “Supreme” — and that it ends with Sri Chinmoy chanting the word “Supreme.”

In between, we can begin to glean something of the vastness of Sri Chinmoy’s musical oeuvre from the main selection, which is a medley of his songs performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra, culminating in a magnificent counterpoint. Truly, his music is “vaster than the sky,” and a thunderous pipe organ improvisation from Riverside Church punctuates this point.

There are many facets to Sri Chinmoy’s musical manifestation — so many that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse in the 38 minutes of this video. I hope to create other videos which bring out different aspects. A great wealth of Sri Chinmoy’s music is available online at Radio Sri Chinmoy. Special thanks to them, and to the musicians, photographers and videographers who made this non-commercial production possible.

A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy! Wishing peace and joy to everyone around the world who is celebrating this day!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Scotland The Brave vs. Jamaica The Hot

(Photos to follow.) No, it’s not a World Cup playoff, but there’s still an international flavor to the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. Known as the longest certified footrace in the world, it pits stellar ultrarunners against daunting distance, as well as brutal heat and drenching downpours. It all takes place around a half-mile loop in Jamaica, Queens, but runners travel from as far away as Russia, Israel, Slovakia, and Scotland to compete.

The 2018 winner in the Men’s Division was Vasu Duzhiy of St. Petersburg, Russia, who finished Tuesday night, July 31st. He ran a distance of 3,100 miles in just under 45 days — not the first win for this solid competitor who’s nearly as consistent as Roger Federer.

The only American among this year’s starters was Yolanda Holder — a pedestrienne or race walker who was the surprise sensation of 2017’s race. With her unique style, she’s known as the Walking Diva; but this year, Ms. Holder had to retire after 1,200 miles due to foot problems.

In a field of many talented athletes, one standout is William Sichel, who hails from Sanday — a tiny island with a population of 550 located in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The busy streets of Queens are a far cry from the quiet, pastoral setting of his home.

With Viking determination, Mr. Sichel is challenging not just heat and thunderstorms, but also the rigors of advancing age. 64 and a cancer survivor, Sichel’s the dark horse hero of 2018, unable to beat the frontrunners, but turning in an inspiring performance, and likely to set numerous records, including one for oldest competitor to run all 52 days.

In 2014, Mr. Sichel successfully completed the Sri Chinmoy 3100 in 50 1/2 days at age 60. This year, he’s been averaging 56.5 miles per day — less than the 59.6 needed to finish in the allotted time. He would need to up his average to 70 miles a day for the final 10 days of the race — an almost superhuman task, but not impossible for a competitor who’s shown superhuman toughness and come-from-behind prowess in the past. He ran 70.8 miles on Day 1, so no one counts him out!

Sometimes dubbed the “Scottish pocket rocket” and credited with “a mind of iron” (but a kindly disposition), Sichel is competing against 5 remaining runners who are members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team — likened to the running monks of Japan for their combination of spiritual and athletic discipline.

The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race was conceived by Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), a spiritual teacher who was active in many fields, including athletics. Since its inception over two decades ago, the race has attracted mostly students of Sri Chinmoy, but other exceptional athletes are invited annually. In addition to Sichel and Holder, this year’s invitees included Kobi Oren, the noted Israeli ultramarathoner who came to a searing second place finish on Thursday, August 2nd with a time of 46:03:24:48.

The competition is friendly, and runners are urged to view the race as a competition with themselves, to transcend their previous capacity and gain spiritual insights, drawing on untapped inner depths to achieve the seemingly impossible. Race co-director Sahishnu Szczesiul says of the 3100:

In multi-day races there are fluctuations in performance, feelings of highs and low, abject despair, and undiscovered elation. These races reflect the struggle to survive another day, to assess effort but not to associate with the pain and sweat, but rather, conserve the energy for the next group of laps, or hours, or even stretches of days. Take a power nap, or stretch the stiff legs, and try again.

Interviewed in 2015 by RunUltra.co.uk, William Sichel emphasized the mental discipline needed to run such a long race:

My body adapted very well and I started running further and further each day as the race progressed. But mentally I found it to be the most enormous struggle especially when things were going against me and it looked like I wouldn’t finish in time. To regain mental control I had to narrow my focus right down to just being aware of my breathing, only thinking of the next lap and never, ever thinking past the current day! Simple as that.

Perhaps this explains why ultramarathoners are more likely to be in their forties or fifties than their twenties. Physical strength is important, but is not the only factor. To run 3,100 miles requires special qualities of mind and heart which must be cultivated over decades.

One-pointed concentration on a goal is also the point of intersection between the athlete’s world and the spiritual world. The total commitment needed to run the equivalent of two marathons a day for 52 days seems to demand coping skills not acquired until middle age.

William Sichel has above average coping skills. In 1997, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two months after surgery he was back in training, soon setting distance records for Great Britain and Scotland.

His second bid for the Sri Chinmoy 3100 was scheduled for 2017. But on June 12th, the day before he was due to leave for New York, his wife Elizabeth received news that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He withdrew from the race and cared for her until her death 24 days later. Now, in 2018 he’s back facing the ultimate running challenge.

Though Sichel’s temperament is cool, he runs best when the mercury stays below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The long, excruciating heat wave which ushered in July affected his time, and the volley of thunderstorms which closed out the month further dampened his performance. According to race updates, he has now completed 2,830 miles in 50 days, but can’t reach 3,100 miles by the deadline. Still, no bookmaker would give odds that Sichel will quit before Day 52. His many fans in Orkney (and throughout the running world) would be sorely disappointed!

If the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is a hero’s journey, William Sichel is a torchbearer of the life-affirming aspect. He remains a hero whether or not he manages the full distance this second time around.

The race ends on the evening of August 7th.

More about William Sichel on Perfection Journey.

UPDATE 1: William Sichel continued to run, and by Day 52 achieved a total of 2,904 miles.

Sidebar: Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race – Women’s Division

Surasa Mairer of Austria and Kaneenika Janakova of Slovakia are duking it out for first and second place in the Women’s Division, with less than 25 miles separating them.

In 2015, Mairer broke the long-standing women’s record set by Suprabha Beckjord in 1998. Beckjord’s time back then was 49:14:30:54, but 18 years later Mairer topped it with a time of 49:07:52:24 (6 hours and 38 minutes faster).

Surasa Mairer crosses the finish line of the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, August 2015. Photo courtesy Perfection Journey http://perfectionjourney.org/2015/08/02/august-2-it-is-all-grace/

Mairer’s record was not nearly as long-lived as Beckjord’s. Two years later, Kaneenika Janakova raised the bar for women’s times by acing the Sri Chinmoy 3100 in 48:14:24:10. Now, in 2018 these two record-setters are competing for top spots. Indeed, after Yolanda Holder had to withdraw, they’re the sole remaining women. But due in part to adverse weather conditions, neither are challenging their personal bests. Both are expected to finish on Day 52.

Interviewed in 2017, Kaneenika Janakova echoed William Sichel’s view of the need for mental toughness:

It can be very challenging to control the mind and the thoughts during this race. What I do not want to think about is the distance and the number of days or weeks I have to spend on the course. If I do that it gets very hard because all my mind wants to do is to find the reasons why I should not be doing this race. In order to avoid this I have to trick my mind.

In Janakova’s case, she relies on meditation and going “inside the heart”:

As much as the physical preparation is important, for me it is equally important to devote time to practice meditation. Meditation helps me tremendously to calm and control my mind and also helps me to be more aware of my abilities and believe in my true potential coming from inside. Running and meditation complement each other in my life. I try to quiet the mind and go inside the heart. The heart doesn’t calculate or plan anything. It is just full of joy and eagerness.

What will the 2019 pilgrimage of 3,100 miles bring? Better weather, we hope, and another year of auspicious good fortune for those who dare to challenge impossibility.

UPDATE 2: Both Surasa Mairer and Kaneenika Janakova reached their goal of 3,100 miles on Day 52, at times running through heavy rain and thunderstorms. They were the only female finishers this year, placing 4th and 6th overall in a field of ten starters.

* * *