EU’s Juncker hasn’t read his George Lakoff

Today’s topics: Brexit, poindexters, I am not a nerd, and yes we have no bananas. Oh, and Donald Tusk’s “special place in hell” comment.

In an impassioned (for him) but possibly counterproductive speech, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he had a message “for those who are saying that the Commission is composed by blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats…” What was his message? No one knows, because the audience quickly drowned him out with cries of “They’re right!”

Okay, maybe they didn’t, but the point is: This is a prime example of what George Lakoff might call “negative framing,” e.g. Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech, or Monty Python’s “There is no cannibalism in the British Navy.”

Once you plant the image in the mind of your audience that the EC might at least possibly consist of blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats, you then have to fight to overcome that image. I like President Juncker well enough, but this is a gaff which invites parody:

What Juncker should have done is open with a couple of jokes about bendy bananas, or perhaps a musical number entitled “Yes, We Have No Bendy Bananas.” Then, once the crowd was warmed up, he could have continued on a positive note: “I come to you today with good news! EC members have excellent eyesight and fare well on intelligence tests. They’re super flexible. They include sports jocks and passionate lovers. No, there are absolutely no poindexters in the EC. Oops! I did it again…”

Monty Python served up a prime example of intentional negative framing in “POLITICIANS – An Apology”:

We would like to apologize for the way in which politicians are represented in this programme. It was never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed, political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent. Nor to imply at any stage that they are squabbling little toadies without an ounce of concern for the vital social problems of today. Nor indeed do we intend that viewers should consider them as crabby ulcerous little self-seeking vermin with furry legs and an excessive addiction to alcohol and certain explicit sexual practices which some people might find offensive.

We are sorry if this impression has come across.

— Monty Python’s Flying Circus, s03e06

As for poindexters (a.k.a. nerds), this YouTube attempts to explain the derivation:

Props to Simon Whistler! (I’ve seen a lovely portrait of his mother.) But the video fails to note that the term “poindexter” was further popularized by The Simpsons TV show, which emerged in the late 1980s — the same period in which Admiral John Poindexter gave testimony to Congress about the Contragate scandal:

Note memorable examples of framing in the clip. There can be a cascade effect to memes. This one may include the Poindexter from Felix The Cat, the Poindexter from Revege of the Nerds, but also the Poindexter brought to you by the U.S. Navy — which like the British Navy, has no history of cannibalism. Or at least, very little.

Poindexter from Felix The Cat

Poindexter from Revenge of the Nerds

The King of Poindexters: Admiral John

Was there really an outbreak of “Poindex-teria” in 1987? The author of this Chicago Tribune piece seems to have tongue (rather than pipe) firmly planted in cheek:

The country loved it. Young men flocked to barber shops to get “Dexter-dome” haircuts. Young women made passes at men who wore glasses. There were T-shirts: “Poindexter: What a Way with Words!” There were buttons: “We Luv Ya, Dex!” There were even bumper stickers: “Pipesmokers Do It With Their Teeth.”

At Navy recruiting stations, the lines stretched into the street. And things were even better at tobacco shops.

“It’s been unbelievable,” exclaimed one happy pipe salesman, whose store had a life-size cardboard Poindexter propped in the window. “It was the way the TV showed every puff rising to the ceiling–just mesmerizing. People come in here–they’ve been listening to this guy’s testimony for days–and all they want to know is, ‘What’s he been smoking?'”

— Rick Horowitz, “I Wish I Could Hold A Pipe The Way He Does”

Anyway, there are limits to George Lakoff’s theories on framing. But in the most trivial case, it’s easy to see how we can communicate better by creating our own positive frame, rather than trying to rebut someone else’s negative frame (Juncker’s fatal and risible mistake). As Lakeoff says in “The Power of Positive Persistence”:

Framing is about reclaiming our power to decide what’s important. Framing is about making sure WE set the terms of the debate, using our language and our ideas. … There’s a place for angry response and outrage. That’s only human. But we also need strategic action to make sure every passing day fuels positive action towards progress.

Sadly, Brexiteers did a better job of framing the issue than Remainers: a big red bus with a baldfaced lie about giving £350 million a week to the NHS, plus appeals to World War II nationalism and fears of Turkish hordes invading Britain. Deceptive framing obscures the real issues, arousing people’s passions about non-issues, leading them to make bad decisions.

What are the spoils of Brexit victory? Bendy bananas and faux sovereignty:

Brexiteers will poo-poo the prospect of a bananaless Britain as Project Fear. Meanwhile, unemployment is expected to rise, and The Guardian cites a new study claiming that Brexit is already costing the UK £500 million a week.

Jean-Claude Juncker seems like a good enough fellow, and the EU is an essential organisation for maintaining peace in Europe, as well as planning for economic prosperity and environmental responsibility. It does have its nerdish, technocratic aspects, but that’s no reason for the UK to up and leave it. A recent (fairly rude) comedy sketch on the German heute-show had a brilliant sugggestion, which was for Britain to stay in the EU while blowing off its rules whenever it suits them, just as Germany does. Quoting mock correspondent Birte Schneider, “English people, you can still stay in the EU and be an egotistical a-hole.”


Sidebar: Tusk comment spurs row in House of Commons – Bercow in top form

While quite funny, this clip is an example of dueling frames: The first MP (Peter Bone) frames Tusk’s comment more or less as “To hell with Brexiteers!” while the second MP (Joanna Cherry, who quotes Tusk more accurately) frames it as “Those who promoted Brexit with no plan for safely implementing it are deserving of blame.” Speaker John Bercow adds a note of levity by referring to Bone as a “delicate flower” easily wounded. The clip is a mini insight into UK politics, with Tory Brexiteers trash-talking the EU, and rebel Scots defending it. The trash talk got more toxic on Twitter, accompanied by the ritual burning of the EU flag:

Two of the more over-the-top responses to Donald Tusk’s (understandable) expression of exasperation at some who promoted #Brexit

What was it Monty Python said in their apology? “…never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed, political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent.”

Oh well. Maybe some right-wingers can do without fruit, veg, and jobs. They can live on hate alone.

Let’s go out on a cheery note with Bananarama singing “Cruel Summer” and throwing bits of ‘nanas at police:

Michael Howard

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

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‘Twas The Night Before Brexit – GROUP READING! (YouTube)

I really like making things. After all, life can be so routine and boring. But when you make something, you never quite know how it’ll turn out. With any luck, the result may surprise you.

I had written a poem parody called ‘Twas The Night Before Brexit, and encouraged by the kind response from fellow bloggers (thank you!), I decided to turn it into a video:

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I know technology can be incredibly useful, and I do use it; but I also hate the way our society is becoming so digitised. If you have a problem with a company, good luck reaching a human! And I hate getting calls from sooper friendly chat bots who are apparently programmed to sound like 18-year old girls, so happy they finally reached you, trying to keep you on the line until a real salesperson can take over and scam you with a credit card deal or Microsoft Support nonsense. Is that not the pits?

In the 80s, I was heavily into making music with synthesisers, and even eked out a minor living creating “patches” that other musicians could use. I still remember when synthesisers first emerged as expressive musical instruments with Switched-On-Bach, the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, and Chick Corea’s blazing synth leads on Where Have I Known You Before. But gradually, synthesisers became a cheap substitute for real musicians, and no low-budget production was complete without a fakey-sounding ensemble — a canned, frozen orchestra playing lifeless, soulless music.

I also used to write pop songs, which was fun even though I never really got anywhere. Back in the 80s I penned this lyric:

Computer bars where
Machines go to dance
Flashing their software
They pivot and prance

Time was humans
Could congregate too
I think of days…
Me and Susie Q would boogaloo

CHORUS:
Now it’s early to bed
And likewise early to rise
We serve the circuitry
We’ve gown to despise
We’re turning over
In graves we have dug
Machine is ruler
We can’t pull the plug.

Won’t someone save us
From this terrible fate?
Calling all aliens,
Please don’t get here too late.

Please send advisers
Who are licensed to kill
Destroy all silicon
And send us the bill.

CHORUS:
Now it’s early to bed
And early to rise
We serve the circuitry
We’ve gown to despise
We’re turning over
In graves we have dug
Machine is ruler
We can’t pull the plug.

We’ve heard that Mercury
Has creatures for hire
We’ll give them anything
They need or desire.

Please send advisers
Who are licensed to kill
Destroy all silicon
And send us the bill.

CHORUS:
Now it’s early to bed
And early to rise
We serve the circuitry
We’ve gown to despise
We’re turning over
In graves we have dug
Machine is ruler
We can’t pull the plug.

Today, I like how some people use technology in a knowing, ironic way — sometimes even to counteract or engage in open warfare with tech’s dehumanizing aspects, going up against the people who send armies of chat bots and sales bots to invade our lives. There’s even one fellow, Roger Anderson, who creates chat bots to interact with telemarketers and waste their time — with hilarious results. His theory, in essence, is that the more time scammers spend interacting with bots, the less time they’ll spend bilking seniors out of their life savings.

So, given how much I hate things that are fakey, the challenge in creating the “Night Before Brexit” video was to try and use technology in a knowing, ironic, and humourous way. Yes, I used synthetic voices, but I tried to make them as expressive as possible. I hope I succeeded, but that’s up to viewers/listeners to judge.

There were innumerable technical challenges. The Scottish lass has oodles of personality, so I gave her some of the best lines. But she tends to speak much faster than the others, so I sometimes had to slow her down by as much as 15%, which does produce artifacts. Still, I was very happy with her performance!

As for the poem itself, it’s only one of many Brexit parodies based on Clark Clement Moore’s “A Visit From St Nick”. Some are quite funny, and some have gone viral. In my version, I wanted to do things a little differently. My two main criticisms of other versions making the rounds are that the authors don’t bother to make the lines scan properly as poetry, and often the language is too steeped in political rhetoric and doesn’t create a proper tableau, or pictures in the mind.

Now, if you write poetry, you might have had the experience that some verses are workmanlike and help establish the setting, but there’s a particular verse you like because of the pictures it creates:

As I blinked in the moonlight, there appeared a fine elf
Playing ‘Scotland The Brave’ — it was Nicola herself!
Her colours were grand, and crocheted on her nightie
Was “Bollocks to Brexit, and a new vote for Blighty”.

Call me vain (and I am), but I like that verse so much! I admire Nicola Sturgeon’s rebel stance, and the way the Scottish National Party holds mini-insurrections during debates in the House of Commons (usually beginning with “It’s an insult to Scotland…”). The poem as a whole takes easy shots at right-wingers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, portraying them as drunken, lecherous, toffee-nosed windbags who exploit Santa’s helpers (who are likeable SNP elves). Not the most nuanced take on UK politics, but in a parody you go for stark contrasts.

As a satirist, I insist on being politically incorrect in a variety of ways, so no need to tally them up. I intend no offence whatsoever, and am simply going for cheap laughs wherever I can get them. The views expressed by the (fictitious) Duchess of Ducks and Duke of North Prickly are not my views, and Santa’s (shall we say unique?) way of dispatching the Johnson is not meant to encourage any enterprising kidnappers at large in the Kingdom.

I’ve always been an odd duck. What interests, amuses, or enlightens me may not have the same effect on others. But I can say with gratitude that the way the video turned out has managed to surprise me.

I’m good at creating things, but not so good at promoting them. So if you find this video a helpful bit of agitprop in the anti-Brexit campaign, please reblog it, tweet a link to it, add it to your Facebook, or otherwise publicise it. The music is from YouTube’s royalty-free Audio Library. Thank you.

Michael Howard

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

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‘Twas The Night Before Brexit

 

‘Twas the night before Brexit, when out in the Kingdom
Some wanker shot Boris, but the git only winged ‘im.
The Maybot was placed on her chill pad with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
She had spent the whole week giving Corbyn a ragging;
Now she’d spend the whole night helping Santa with tagging.
Gifts for the gentry and gifts for relations,
For Labour MPs and for Tory Alsatians.
She had waited for Santa through elevens and twelves,
But began to despair the appearance of elves.
Then the clock struck out one with a note of revival,
As if presaging tidings of Santa’s arrival.
The Downing Street crowd, from toffs to plebeians
Beheld Santa’s sleigh, pulled by East Europeans!
“The Labour Exchange must be notified quickly”,
Said the Duchess of Ducks to the Duke of North Prickly.
“They’ve been fishing in Scotland, as is plain by the smell;
“And they’ve prob’ly been bonking the Sturgeon as well”.
But St Nick took no note of these tossers and yelpers;
He was flanked by a bus filled with SNP helpers!
As I blinked in the moonlight, there appeared a fine elf
Playing ‘Scotland The Brave’ — it was Nicola herself!
Her colours were grand, and crocheted on her nightie
Was “Bollocks to Brexit, and a new vote for Blighty”.
Then Nigel Farage arrived, driving a hearse;
He was stewed to the gills, and what made matters worse,
I could tell by the groans which emerged from the casket
He had Boris in tow, who had quite blown a gasket.
The two of them tried to take over the party;
Farage all too posh, and the Johnson all farty.
Between them they had only one sticky wicket,
But they tried to pull down Santa’s elves — was that cricket?
It’s an insult to Scotland, how these two carry on
On the holiest night, until well past the dawn.
So May in her ‘kerchief and I in my hoodie
Asked Johnson to leave — but do you think, would he?
His bellowed refusal resounded for miles,
But good old St Nick was all chuckles and smiles.
He bundled the Johnson up into his sleigh,
He sacked him and fracked him and took him away.
He shouted to May, before making his exit–
“Merry Yule, stupid woman! And to all a good Brexit”.

Michael Howard

Links

The Twelve Days of Trumpster
Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful
Jesus is Born – in a World of Many Faiths
Simple Gifts, the Christmas Truce, and Benjamin Bowmaneer
Christmas, Childhood, and Cable Spaghetti

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Bad, BAD Federal Reserve Chairman (according to Trump)

Are small rises in interest rates always bad? Should the stock market keep going up forever as long as Trump is president?

Amidst a torrent of news signaling a president in meltdown mode came reports that Donald Trump wants to fire Fed Chairman Jerome Powell for raising interest rates. This confirms the “president with fifth grade understanding” meme which has become so prevalent.

After the financial crisis (or depression) of 2008, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates artificially low for nearly a decade in order to stimulate economic growth. This was medicine for a badly ailing economy, but it came with side effects: Artificially low interest rates inflate the price of assets such as stocks. Speculators borrow money at super low rates and invest it in the stock market. As a result, the market soars to dizzying heights, from which it must inevitably fall because these heights are out of kilter with reality. By the end of a long bull market run fueled by low interest rates, stocks are simply not worth what people are paying for them. It’s like a game of musical chairs where no one wants to be the last one to sit down, or the last one left holding a basket of stocks bought at prices which far exceed the underlying worth of the companies whose shares they represent.

At Dow 25,000 and above, the stock market was a balloon inflated to the point that merely glancing at it might have burst the bubble. After a period of low interest rates, it’s the Fed’s job to gradually raise rates to reasonable levels to restore order to the marketplace. Stock market speculators may suffer. But do you know who was suffering during the extended period of low interest rates? Seniors who hoped to live off the meager interest from their savings. Now, as interest rates move toward historic norms, the stock market may come down, but there will be a better, more realistic balance between different asset classes — less “funny money” and a return to investing based on sound valuation.

Trump seems to have no clue about economic cycles. He thinks the stock market should just keep going up as long as he’s president (and the sun should always shine on days when he wants to play golf). Policy experts warned him not to take credit for a rising market, lest he own a market crash — but did he listen? No.

Michael Howard

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

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Shutdown over border wall – Would you believe…

Just in time for Christmas, the government has shut down again. If the EPA is affected, that means NO coal in your Christmas stocking! (and any canaries stuffed therein won’t keel over).

Last week, President Trump took full credit for the shutdown, claiming he was proud to own it in the name of border security. But now he’s trying to blame the democrats:

Okay, Mr. Hi-Tech. Nothing from the ancient world better than the wheel? How about the rack? It’s cutting edge technology! Plus, scientists are testing a new invention called the loincloth.

Lately, Trump’s big, beautiful wall paid for by Mexico is turning into a slat fence funded by taxpayers. This raises several questions, uppermost in my mind being: Just how slatternly does this fence need to be to satisfy the Donald?

For those who remember the old Get Smart series, there’s also a retro “Would you believe?” meme being played out right before our eyes. Get Smart was a comedy about a bumbling secret agent named Maxwell Smart (played by the late Don Adams), and his reserved, sensible boss known as The Chief (played by the late Edward Platt). Max and The Chief worked for CONTROL, which stood for goodness and niceness. Their enemy was KAOS, which didn’t.

Get Smart has already given us one memorable Trump Administration meme: the Cone of Silence. This was a running gag about a super secret listening booth which muffled voices so effectively that even those enveloped in it could barely hear each other:

When the original gag wore thin, they came up with the portable cone of silence, which was even funnier:

Not to be confused with “The Silence of a Candle,” which was a lovely piece of music by The Winter Consort:

Anyway, when now dethroned EPA chief Scott Pruitt lavished tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on an ultra secure phone booth, this was quickly dubbed the Cone of Silence by the press. Another running Get Smart gag was “Would You Believe…”:

As applied to Trump’s border wall, I think it would go something like this…

Max: Chief, we need a 30-foot high concrete wall to keep out illegal aliens.

The Chief: I’m sorry Max, that’s totally impractical.

Max: Really? Well, how about a picket fence painted by friends of Tom Sawyer?

The Chief: No, Max.

Max: Would you believe a ‘Keep Out’ sign and a really ferocious poodle?

I’m afraid that’s what Trump will be reduced to in the end. As for stand-up comedy memes, take this one out for a walk:

Potent Quote

“Another government shutdown? I asked you not to tell me that!

More Videos

The West Wing – Shutdown episode:

Police: “Canary In A Coal Mine”:

Edward Platt in The Rebel Set (Mystery Science Theater version), where he plays a criminal mastermind who masquerades as both a beatnik and a priest:

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Brexit and the Bells of Rhymney

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and MEP Ska Keller make a persuasive case for a second referendum, and why the U.K. will always be welcome in the E.U. Theresa May and Rupa Huq take Prime Minister’s Questions to a new level. Plus, we listen to (and discuss) the Welsh mining song ‘Bells of Rhymney’. (Yes, there is a connection!)

In my previous magnum opus on Brexit, much of my focus was on how E.U. membership benefits the U.K. After all, the nature of politics at the populist level is all about self-interest. (‘And what will you give me?/ Say the sad bells of Rhymney’.)

Yet, there’s a quite different way of exploring the Brexit question, based less on self-interest and more on the visionary aspect. In a representative democracy, one ideally tries to elect leaders who have vision, who understand the direction in which the world is headed, and who try to align their nation with the right tide of history. Despite many practical problems with E.U. membership which need ironing out, the E.U. represents a noble effort at cooperation between nations who had previously engaged in open warfare. It’s also a response to the burgeoning awareness that many pressing problems, including climate change, can only be tackled at a global level.

Aside from practical benefits, the E.U. offers each member nation an opportunity to come together with other nations and contribute its unique qualities, while not losing its individuality. This coming together of nations and peoples, which may be described as ‘oneness in diversity’, is the right tide of history, the good direction in which the world is moving post-World War II. In this visionary understanding of what the E.U. represents, Britain is a beloved member nation which has many good friends among other nations, and which has something most meaningful and special to contribute to the mix.

From this point of view, Brexit represents a retreat into the past, a rejection of the sometimes challenging, but ultimately fulfilling promise of the future, in which cooperation between nations is understood to be the highest political good, and a necessity for survival of the planet. If Remainers are sometimes tearful and angry, it’s because they love their country and know that Britain has a big heart, a heart which has the capacity to identify with broader Europe and not cordon itself off. From the point of view of Remainers, the Brexiteers have fooled the people into making a retrograde decision which is bad for Britain, bad for the E.U., and bad for the world. The result will be salt and vinegar, not any kind of cake feast or champagne breakfast.

When did Brexit (which was supposed to be such a lovely idea) take on the character of an unstoppable juggernaut to which we are all chained? As Tony Blair recently noted, “Things do not need to be like this. We’re not in a state of hypnosis to do this. We can assume consciousness. We have free will, and it’s past time to exercise it”.

Between working and raising a family, the average citizen may not have time to ponder these deep matters. That’s why it’s so important that political leaders elected to do the job bring out the best in themselves, respond dynamically to the changing situation, and not be afraid to admit mistakes while there is still time to rectify them. When government economists considered the worst-case scenario of a no deal Brexit, even then they did not look into the future and weigh the possibility of new troubles in Northern Ireland, or a second referendum in Scotland which might result in that nation leaving the U.K. In a chess game one must look several moves ahead, but too many in government are only playing ‘Chequers’.

I admire Prime Minister May, but she has a deeply bureaucratic streak in her nature such that she will not deviate from plan. The ‘Maybot’ sobriquet has stuck because she keeps delivering the same speech over and over again, and during PMQs often gives the equivalent of ‘I am not programmed to respond in that area’. Her lack of creativity and flexibility in a time of crisis naturally causes other leaders to step in to fill the void.

It is uncharitable of her to savage Tony Blair for stating what is becoming increasingly obvious, even to some of May’s own allies: After two years of discussion in which Brexit reality has gradually come to replace Brexit fantasy, the people deserve a final say on a decision which will impact their lives for generations to come. It’s not a ‘do-over’ or mere repeat of the first referendum. History is not static, and neither is democracy. It turns out that the Brexit which can be delivered is much different than what the people were promised. Those who led them down the garden path should at least give them a final say before plunging them over the abyss.

Adding ‘Bells of Rhymney’ to the mix

Welsh miner turned poet Idris Davies penned ‘The Bells of Rhymney” in 1938. It was later revived by fellow countryman Dylan Thomas. American folksinger Pete Seeger set the words to music circa 1959, and his tune is the one used for numerous cover versions:

There’s also a version by Bob Dylan and the Band from 1967, but I’m guessing it’s pretty well locked down by copyright Nazis. 😉

As for the poem itself, it is perhaps best understood as an impassioned response to a Welsh mining disaster, with the church bells in different cities pealing out different reactions to the tragedy. These responses are variously political, legal, metaphysical, and so forth, creating a kind of geographic tableau which also reflects the poet’s inner dialogue. ‘Even God is uneasy, sang the moist bells of Swansea’.

‘Is there hope for the future?’ This is a question oft asked in times of crisis, bringing us back to Tony Blair’s speech defining Brexit as such a time. There is always hope, and as Ska Keller said when interviewed by Channel 4:

Of course, [a second referendum] is up to the people in Great Britain to decide. But if they were to decide to change their minds, then they need to be welcomed back. There should be open doors for the people of Great Britain. Absolutely! But that is up to Great Britain to decide. If the people of Britain were to change their minds, then our doors and our hearts and arms are very welcoming, very open to them. For me, the Brexit is a real tragedy. We have so many great friends there, but also Great Britain is not going to move away. It’s very close to the rest of us, and we’re linked in a partnership, we’re linked together in geography, and for creating a better future we need each other. That’s why I think it’s such a tragedy. [If nationalism rises in Europe] I wouldn’t blame the Brits. I would still think it’s a tragedy that they have left, and I would always want them to come back.

In her comments we can see much of what’s good about the E.U. Where there is love, forgiveness, and oneness in diversity, eventually practical problems can be overcome.

This is Michael Howard ringing in the Christmas season, and hoping that the bells which ring for you are joyful ones.


Sidebar: The Bells of Rhymney – Further Reflections

When I first heard the song performed by Pete Seeger, I was about 14 years old and he was a guest artist on WBAI radio, helping them out during one of their interminable fund drives. I liked it for its poetic images — the bells of different colours sounding out different messages, and picturesque town names like Caerphilly and Swansea — but I didn’t really understand it. Or, let us say, I understood it at a surface level (which is not always bad). Some singers have beautiful voices, but don’t know the history or meaning of what they’re singing. Here are two more cover versions of ‘The Bells of Rhymney’:

The Cher version is rather insipid, but no need to dwell. The John Denver version strikes me as somewhat prettified, and his introduction fortifies misimpressions about the song: that it was written by Pete Seeger (no mention of Idris Davies), and that it’s primarily about local colour. You can easily picture him crooning ‘They were buried alive/ Said a Belgian endive…’ without batting an eyelash. Still, the bell-like guitar harmonics are a nice touch. Some fancy fingerpicking, but I wonder if it doesn’t detract from the meaning.

For me the song imparts a rare dual memory — of what it sounded like when I was 14, and what it sounds like now. Having learned more about poetry, I now know that the speech of bells can be a stand-in for the speech of men and women who might gather at churches in different towns the first Sunday after a mining disaster, and speak out in a myriad of voices. As with church bells, these voices might not exactly harmonise. Some might trail off or speak at cross-purposes, but their collective clanging would signify that some momentous event has taken place. Fire! Flood! Or Mrs Cropley putting anchovy paste in her lemon curd tartlets.

Maybe on some deep level, that’s why I thought to connect the song with Brexit. After all, Brexit is a slow motion political disaster, and is typically accompanied by a school of porpoises from the University of Wales banging on about this or that option on the BBC. “I prefer Norway Plus Plus, but without the Norwegians, and a side order of Canadian bacon gently sautéed in a litre of Glenfiddich Gran Reserva.” Ding-dong.

Like any good disaster, Brexit also has its share of junkies tuning in to the news every five minutes, hoping against hope that someone will insert a new punch card into the Maybot, and maybe she’ll say something genuinely new for a change. You can make better book on the 3:30 at Ascot, though now and then she does surprise:

As for ‘The Bells of Rhymney’, I’m convinced there’s a Gordon Lightfoot version stashed somewhere in the compilation Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written:

I’m avidly rummaging through all 379 discs, but oh wait! There’s an interview with Nyle Hogg-Filth on ITV. Apparently, he’s found a new solution to the Brexit problem which involves nuclear physics and buggery. I just have to watch…

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Brexit Drama, Brexit Humour

Catching up on the latest Brexit developments, with talk, videos, and a bit of a laff

What does BREXIT stand for? Those who follow the news closely know it stands for ‘Brazen Revolt Eliminates Xylophones In Tasmania’, a story originally aired on ABC Australia. Sometime later, people realised it could also stand for Britain exiting the European Union. That’s when the acronym really took off.

An old TV commercial used to go ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye’.

Likewise, you don’t have to be British to love watching how the Brexit drama is unfolding. It’s a ‘seedy’ occupation for Americans who may not feel the results directly in their breadbaskets, but are fascinated to observe all the twists and turns. (Maybe bagels would have been a better analogy.)

Lest I be accused of chuntering from a sedentary position, I should explain that I do have friends in the U.K. who are affected by Brexit, and I always hope the nation as a whole will listen to its better angels.

I admire Theresa May for her perspicacity and determination, but being both American and sympathetic to Labour (though not a big Corbyn fan), I could never vote for her. Still, I suppose the essence of my reason for liking her is her perseverance in attempting The Thing That Couldn’t Be Done:

That’s the thing about Brexit: More and more it comes to resemble the thing that couldn’t be done, the carpet that couldn’t be laid. You tack it down in one place, it just sticks up in another. You try to backstop Northern Ireland, and the Scots get skittish and want to depart the Kingdom again.

No good compromise between the various factions can be found, and the British people (eminently practical) are beginning to realise that proposed solutions are typically worse than the (much exaggerated) problems of simply remaining in the E.U. and getting on with daily life, working toward reforms (where needed) within the existing structure.

Yes, E.U. membership has its share of problems (which must be taken seriously), but also many benefits — including the huge benefit of avoiding the world wars which used to break out between European nations before they developed a comprehensive strategy of cooperation. The value of this ‘peace dividend’ is inestimable, as is the progress made in human rights:

There is, moreover, a point at which Leavers’ determination becomes mere foolish obstinacy. America spent years fighting the Vietnam War because politicians were too stubborn to admit it had been a grievous error. The historical lesson is clearly ‘Cut your losses’.

Even fellow Tories stare at May’s Brexit deal with icy disapproval. Some have grown quite red-faced over her alleged ‘betrayal’ of their vision of a Brexit in which Britain calls the shots, rather than being like fish to the fryer. (No Nicola Sturgeon jokes, please!)

As an outsider, I’m gobsmacked that there’s still no new referendum on Brexit, as this seems the best way forward. I’m convinced a second referendum would result in a vote to remain. Why?

– The first vote had something of an air of the madness of crowds about it. It was a mania for a novel idea whose downside had yet to be fully grasped. Two years later, that downside is far more apparent.

– Many people voted Leave as a kind of protest vote or middle finger to Brussels, without really believing Leave would win the day. No one was more surprised than Boris Johnson, who adopted Leave as a means to stoke his political career, but was left looking rather sheepish the day after.

– Brexit was sold by rock star conservatives with no real plan for implementation. After the sugar high of excessive nationalism came the inevitable crash: into the harsh reality that Brexit may mean economic stagnation for Britain (as the latest Treasury report would indicate).

– In retrospect, it appears that some pro-Brexit propaganda crossed the line into psychological manipulation covertly funded by non-U.K. sources, thus flouting British campaign-finance laws. There seems to have been an international campaign to misinform voters about what Brexit would actually entail, and to inflame jingoistic passions rather than rely on neutral facts. In hindsight, Leave looks more like a ‘grassroots’ movement funded by eccentric millionaires.

– It is also claimed that a number of supposedly independent pro-Brexit groups (Vote Leave, BeLeave, the D.U.P., and Veterans for Britain) pooled their resources illegally, spending a collective £3.5 million to hire a Canadian political consultancy and data research firm, AggregateIQ, to leverage the outcome. See ‘How a tiny Canadian IT company helped swing the Brexit vote for Leave’ in The Telegraph.

– Brexit was arguably a product of the same sort of nationalist sentiment which served to install Donald Trump in the White House. There may be those in Russia who would rather see Britain, America, and the E.U. all bitterly divided, rather than cooperating to build a world which is peaceful, free, and poised to deal with the very real problem of climate change (and is unified against Russian military expansion).

– One ought to get past the view that ‘the people voted for Brexit, therefore it must be the Will of the People.’ Serious questions have arisen as to whether the people were badly misinformed, and whether the policy can be successfully implemented. A second referendum two years later (in light of all the revealed facts) is entirely appropriate, and is the best way to honour the Will of the People.

– Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… If we count all the plans advanced by warring factions, we’re probably up to Plan 9 by now:

– It’s easy to say ‘We don’t like all them foreigners, so we’ll take our puddings and go home!’ But it turns out it’s much harder to actually do it. In a second referendum, cooler (and better-informed) heads may prevail — always assuming dark money can be kept from buying the results (or buying the marketing and advertising which determines the results).

Quoting from a Washington Post article:

‘What was always an illusion on the Brexiteer side was that the kind of world you could return to was when Britain had an empire and was a global superpower in the world economy’, said Fabian Zuleeg, the chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank with close ties to the E.U.

In short, Brexit was a pipe dream — well-intentioned perhaps; sentimental, nationalistic, but not geared to practical economic reality. Globalisation is no unalloyed joy, but the challenge for Britain (as for all nations) is to compete as effectively as possible, rather than pretending one is still living in the old world. The retro quality of Brexiteers is underscored in this interview from Fox Business where the tune being hummed is ‘What would Maggie do?’

Those nostalgic for the Thatcher years might want to watch this video:

No, not even the ghost of Maggie Thatcher (or her imitators) can rescue the British people from the throes of Brexit. What’s needed is a new referendum.

In the face of enormous, throbbing problems with the Brexit deal, some cabinet members are voting with their feet:

An unusual resignation speech delivered by a member of the May cabinet

For singalong purposes, let us recap the essential points:

You need feet to be a Tory,
You need feet to kick your friends;
You need feet to pull your socks up,
And stop the deal from fraying at the ends.
You need feet to switch positions,
You need feet to dance the hoochie-koo;
You need quite big feet to cast your vote for Brexit,
And I need feet (are you listening, Theresa?)
To run away from you.

What some people’s feet are running away from is a logical inconsistency known as “having our cake and eating it” — a Boris Johnsonism regarding Brexit. This is where I feel a tinge of sympathy for Mrs May. She’s been dispatched to Brussels to extract all the benefits of being in the E.U., while simultaneously up and leaving it — a two-step which no one, no matter how blessed by the Terpsichorean Muse, can manage to perform. How does cheery Donald Tusk respond to all this cake-eating?

Or if the The Donald leaves you unpersuaded, consider this helpful puppet demonstration courtesy the ever-helpful Germans:

How many Britons were sold on Leave through false assurances that they could still reap the benefits of E.U. membership? Five percent? Ten percent? And how many of those now see the reality more clearly? Democracy is not just about choice, but about informed choice. That’s why a second referendum is the best way forward.

Suppose I order an item from Freemans, based on an advert which promises a certain size, colour, and style. Then the merchant contacts me and says, ‘Well, we don’t actually have that size, colour, and style. Can we send you something else instead?’ If the original item is undeliverable, I want that second chance to choose.

What if the Brexit people voted for is undeliverable? Should they be given some substitute made of tofu, toffee and pigswill, or should they at least be given some final say in the matter? A second referendum is not anti-democratic. It respects the right of the people to choose from available options, rather than the pie-in-sky Brexit that was promised them.

Michael Howard

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


Next time: The Fishy Commoners Policy – Can It Work?

‘There are no Thatcherites in foxholes’. –old Ojibwa proverb

Links

Greenspan Bobblehead Shocks Nervous Britons – UPDATE
David Tennant Reacts To Brexit Vote
British MPs Need Stronger Passwords
Queen Elizabeth Plans for Trump Visit

* * *

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 the Trumpistas who watch Fox News:

Firstly, liberals thought it must be a parody or hoax cleverly put over to make Fox News look like an even 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 notion (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 etc., 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.

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.

* * *

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.

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.