Friday, December 13, 2019

YEARS AND YEARS.

It’s never easy seeing the wicked prevail but if you’re serious about saving what’s left of our democratic traditions you should get used to it. The game is longer than any of us knew.

How could we know? I recall Reagan’s first election, and knowing by instinct (for I barely had anything else in my youth) that this was worse than the usual Their Team versus Our Team. Still I couldn't then comprehend their method -- breaking the fisc with deficit spending while claiming a devotion to fiscal responsibility, then using the damage they caused as an excuse to hire their cronies as contractors to pretend to clean it up. They didn't advertise it in those days.

But I had to live in the world they were making, and couldn't bear (or, maybe better said, was not yet resigned) to be as angry and despairing as the occasion seemed to demand. I recall being laughed off when I questioned the new order -- for example, by a bunch of Wall Street kids for saying it was absurd that Chrysler workers had to take a cut while Lee Iacocca was not only unbothered but lionized for thinking of it. No one wanted to hear it or anything like it.

So I internalized to an extent their thinking: Who knows, I dimly thought, maybe we had been a little too focused on the apparent inequities of the system, a little too generous with benefits, a little too P.C.; maybe if we got lean and mean capitalism would bring the improvements we once hoped to get from government action. In other words, I was rather like one of those dreary trimmers you see gassing up social media now. (Not that bad, of course, but still.)

It took a while for me to completely shake that POV, as the system kept offering rewrites on the social contract that seemed reasonably generous (see Clinton, Bill); some social realities were acknowledged, albeit slowly, and some minor changes were allowed. But these could only be had on the terms of the market; that beast always had to be fed first. Since I was largely insulated from the worst impacts (I lived cheaply, I'm white, etc.) this seemed to be going the right way.

But over time I got disabused. By the top of the century I noticed the economy was not as hot as advertised. The war years were such a carnival of bad faith that I not only paid attention, I got interested. The run-up to the recession was a watershed for me; as Wall Street overheated I noticed conservatives trying to distract everyone from the smell. In the wreckage the whole thing became clear: lives had been destroyed and the bean-counters were hauling safe-deposit boxes out of the ruins -- social contract be damned.

It's all even clearer now, maybe because I got more observant but maybe just because of the id monster Trump's inability to even try and conceal it. They throw spoils to the rich like bandits looting a wagon, assign DeVoses and Rosses and Azars and other such scum to get what’s in the back; they don't even pretend to be doing anything patriotic.

What I'm saying is this problem is not new; that the slight relief from it offered by occasional Democratic administrations was not fundamental and couldn't last; and that if there's anything good about what's happening, it's that the stakes are plain. I doubt many people are confused about it now as I was forty years ago. That doesn't mean everyone else sees it the same way, but they see it; maybe some of them are so addled by racism, conspiracy theories, and vengeance fantasies that they don't care, but they're not fooled, though eventually they may find it convenient to say they had been. Whatever happens, howsoever it may be enabled by social media and malign foreign actors, is entirely up to the people.

You may trust your fellow citizens; you may doubt them. But you can't do much about them except show a good example and hope for the best. As Captain Shotover said in Shaw's Heartbreak House: Courage will not save you, but it will show that your own souls are still alive. If our country's beyond the reach of that, then it was never going to be saved. We'll soon find out. Hold fast and see you on the other side.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

A NEW LOW.

So Professor Karlan said this at the impeachment hearings:
When Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas asked Karlan, "What comparisons, Professor Karlan, can we make between kings that the framers were afraid of and the president's conduct today? she responded, "So, kings could do no wrong, because the king's word was law. And contrary to what President Trump has said, Article II does not give him the power to do anything he wants. And I’ll just give you one example that shows you the difference between him and a king, which is the Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So, while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron."
And as you no doubt have seen, a shitstorm has ensued in which all the major assholes have portrayed Karlan's innocuous statement as an attack on a child. "Major assholes" includes mainstream media suckers, of course (usually from an "unforced error"/"civility harrumph" perspective); wingnut propaganda farms like the Washington Examiner are even worse. ("Karlan's comment was largely derided for bringing a child into a discussion about impeachment" -- "largely" being the paper's version of "bigly," I guess.)

There's not a lot to say about it beyond the usual: This is all bullshit, and to the extent anyone enables or accommodates it (and this includes Professor Karlan and whoever squeezed her to apologize) they are doing the devil's work.

Nonetheless it's an ill wind that blows no one some good and the incident has inspired me to a cracker-jack Oval Office scene starring Trump, Barron, and Melania, with a supporting role for Mick "Sad Sack" Mulvaney. Enjoy!

Monday, December 02, 2019

THE PUSSIES THAT GOT GRABBED.

Man, this particular Rod Dreher "reader mailbag" -- the latest in a series of highly suspect alleged third-party transmissions Dreher publishes that, remarkably, always sound like Rod Dreher -- is a corker; it goes on so long that Dreher even has to start it in his own voice before cutting to the correspondent's, just for the sake of variety.

I have to admit, when I saw the title art --


-- I was expecting big drama, like maybe a gang of trans thugs beating up a wispy Dreherite. But instead I got acres of this:
He studied education in college, and said that many of the materials they studied were preoccupied with “white privilege” and woke ideology. He didn’t think it was a problem, because it conformed to the view of the world that he’d been raised with. He ended up in the social work field, which was ideologically the same. 
In college, he converted to Christianity, which radically changed some of his values. He now identifies as a conservative, though he has never voted Republican in a presidential race. He says he’s “kind of confused politically” because of all this.
Less talk more rock, buddy! Get to the bigot-bashing!
He says that he’s growing increasingly angry by the relentless wokeness in popular culture. He gave a couple of recent examples of having a strong reaction at the overt liberal messaging in TV shows he and his wife watched.
???!!!???
He says they talked about it, and she convinced him that the liberal messaging was based somewhat in reality (e.g., racism and sexism really do exist). What surprised him was how “black and white” his thinking has become on these topics, as a result of being on the defensive all the time against the overwhelming progressive messaging he sees.
So... the guy sees "liberal messaging in TV shows" (unnamed, probably because Dreher doesn't want to be laughed at even more than he already is), and he and his wife talked about it? Doesn't seem so Stalinist to me -- hold on, Dreher's switching to the Voice Of The Correspondent, maybe there'll be some hot stuff here:
I certainly feel like the progressive ideology is being forced down my throat at every turn. I have unfollowed basically everyone on social media and stopped using it except for work purposes because the stuff people posted made me like them less (both on the left and right).
Wait, so you've had something forced down your throat -- boy, if I had a dollar for every time a theocon told me that! And it's so bad that you had to block nearly everyone you know on social media. Wow, must be something terrible -- lay it on us, bro, and don't spare the lurid details!
I can’t count how many times I have heard people make flippant comments about the taint white men and the patriarchy have left on our society. I don’t feel like I can express my thoughts about any polarizing topic because I will be dismissed due to my sex and skin color.
Blink. Blink.

Flippant comments?
Of course, I recognize I don’t have to let that happen to me, and I don’t want to just sit here and say I’m helplessly being polarized by the rhetoric coming from the left.
Great, maybe he'll snap out of this now!
I won’t ever go down the alt-right road. I don’t want to watch shows and movies and feel so sensitive to what seems like a political agenda or start disliking friends who are left leaning and that I may even agree with about a lot of things! Even if they aren’t militant, I still feel threatened. I have a friend who is letting her 8 year old present as the opposite gender...
AAAARRGH I've stood all I can stand and I can't stand no more! To cut to the chase, nothing happened to this guy but the presence of conflicting views and lifestyles, and he talks about it as if it's Kristallnacht. There follows a lot of traditional Dreher you'll-be-sorry I'll-show-you-all snowflake gush ("Woke cultural politics are crow-barred into any and all areas of news and entertainment. And it’s radicalizing to the Right people who don’t want to be"). But all I can think to say in response is the words of Billy Sol Hurok:


May the Good Lord take a liking to you and blow you up real good.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

HAVE BEEF FOR THANKSGIVING!

I'm unlocking today's newsletter story (Subscribe! Cheap!™). It's holiday-themed! The subject is all the yap about liberals trying to destroy Thanksgiving, and the related yap that liberals are to blame for political fights over the holidays -- not by provoking them so much as by talking about their existence (which conforms I guess to conservative attitudes toward, for example, homosexuality -- everything was better before you had the bad taste to mention it!).

For example, Brittany M. Hughes at Brent Bozell's Media Research Center tells readers:
Happy Holidays! Liberals Rant About Having to Spend Thanksgiving With 'MAGA Relatives' 
Welcome back to that time of year when progressives have to consider facing their No. 1 fear: how to interact with someone who disagrees with them.
Because if you don't want to fight during a family gathering, that means you're not open to a free and frank exchange of ideas with Uncle MAGA as to whether immigrants are human.
Liberals, particularly of the vehement anti-Trump variety, have taken to social media in droves to stress, joke, and lament about having to share a meal with their “MAGA relatives"...
"Stress, joke, and lament" is the tell there; even if you take a fuck-'em attitude toward your asshole kinfolk, you're still a loser because you won't sit there and listen to Grandpa recite "The Snake" instead of grace before dinner.

At the same time, we've got this from Donald Trump's smellier adult son:
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s oldest son announced this very specific — and almost certainly trolling — holiday giveaway: His supporters should “trigger a liberal” by discussing politics around the Thanksgiving table and whoever shared the best photo or video of the ensuing conflict would win a signed copy of Don Jr.’s new book and a “Make America Great Again” hat.
These people seem to think that conflict will always benefit them, just like in their tweets about how they'll kill us all in a civil war because they have lots of guns. Well, I say in my newsletter story that if your family is a family worth the name, and someone wants beef, you should give it to them:
However: One thing the mainstream press is too busy filling columns inches to consider, and the conservative press is too busy feeding resentments to consider, is that some of us like to argue. In many families, a heated discussion takes the place of a touch football game or a bonfire, or is enjoyed in addition to. Some may even end in drunken brawls or fist-shaking family ruptures. 
I remember when that sort of thing was taken as one of America’s leisure traditions. Remember Errol Flynn fighting his brothers in Gentleman Jim? (“The Corbetts are at it again!”) This obstreperousness was often laid to the Irish, but as with many our antique American bigotries I think it was a back-door way for the rest of the nation to celebrate the tendency...
Anyway go read, and have a beautiful holiday, whether it's a Quaker meeting or a slugfest. And if you have to work today, well I've been there, brother, and I sympathize; steal something nice from your boss.

UPDATE. Speaking of which:
A liberal ex-governor walks into a bar, followed by a conservative Trump administration official.
Instead of a punchline, what followed, one witness said, was a “shame-invoking tirade” by Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic governor of Maryland, directed atKen Cuccinelli II, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. 
The two political polar opposites crossed paths Wednesday night at the Dubliner, a Capitol Hill Irish pub popular on Thanksgiving Eve with Gonzaga High School graduates. Both men attended the school, graduating five years apart in the 1980s.
Siobhan Arnold, who was visiting from Philadelphia, had just met O’Malley at the bar when Cuccinelli walked in. Soon the two men were face-to-face, she said, with O’Malley excoriating Cuccinelli over the Trump administration’s immigration policies. 
O’Malley said “something about his [Cuccinelli’s] grandparents,” Arnold said in an interview. Cuccinelli said little if anything in reply, she added, quickly leaving the pub.
If you think it's tewwibly unfaiw for O'Malley to give grief to this immigrant-hunting asshole in a fucking Irish bar, I don't know what to tell you.

Monday, November 25, 2019

JOHN SIMON, 1925-2019.

True, he was a misogynist and a racist. He famously insisted on cataloguing what he saw as actresses' physical shortcomings (he wrote with evident distaste, for example, that Vanessa Redgrave had "no breasts to speak of") on the grounds that female beauty as judged by John Simon was an important attribute of their performances, however little it mattered in those of male actors. And he criticized the vocal and physical training of African-American actors on stage, which was both racist and canny of him, as only people who had actually attended the plays could dispute his judgment. I had that experience with a 1979 Public Theater production of Coriolanus starring Morgan Freeman, in which the cast moved gracefully and spoke beautifully. Simon:
To have a group of black and Hispanic actors, almost totally untrained in Shakespearean acting, do Julius Caesar (at the Public Theater) was rashness and folly; to have them do Coriolanus ranks as advanced dementia... the consummate, uncompromising patrician is a figure far removed from the ken of most white Americans; to black and Hispanic Americans, actors or otherwise, he is through historical and economic circumstances even more remote and inconceivable, Morgan Freeman, who plays Coriolanus, cannot even approximate the part in sound, look, or demeanor; but, for one reason or another, no one in the company begins to approach what is required of them.
I saw the show and Simon was full of shit.

It may seem absurd to even say "on the other hand" after that, but when Simon was engaged by the material and unencumbered by his prejudices, he could be a highly perceptive critic with a lively, illuminating style. Here he is, excerpted, on the Mike Nichols 1988 production of Waiting for Godot with Robin Williams and Steve Martin:
Beckett's Waiting for Godot is the tragedy of man comically told. Mike Nichols's Godot at Lincoln Center is the tragedy of an American theater turned  into shtick. With this fractured Godot, Nichols proves yet again (as if it were necessary) that he is one of the greatest directors of mediocre material. Not content with finding mediocrity where it so plentifully exists, he must create it where it isn't: in the heart of a masterpiece.

The reason Beckett is execrated in Communist countries and trivialized in capitalist ones is that neither ideology can accept his stance: a heroic negation  of any kind of salvation, so monumental  as to dwarf the myths of redemption according to Marx, Mammon, or the Judeo-Christian God. The only way man can endure his mortality and assorted miseries is with an epic vaudeville act: You only laugh when it hurts — and it hurts all the time. The sole surcease is death, the classic case of a cure worse than the malady. This is a laugh, all right, but not one that leaves the throat unlacerated...

Anyone who can have the barren tree, which in Act II sprouts "four or five leaves" and  prompts Vladimir's "It's covered with leaves," display only one leaf — thus changing a pathetically hopeful remark into an imbecile one — has no feeling or understanding for the play.
Now, I did not see this production and can't tell if its creators were slandered, but Simon's description of the play is not only sound but eloquent, and his criticisms of the production, while full of that lofty contempt that was really what made him famous ("if theatergoers are really so benighted that only this kind of Godot can reach them, they are not worth reaching. Beckett's God, or Godot, is absent; Nichols's Godot is dead"), at least provide negative examples that illuminate his description of the play's qualities. Click through the link to see his criticisms of the actors, which have nothing to do with their technique and everything to do with how Simon saw the characters and the play. All these years later we may have forgotten or never seen the production, but we do have, though limned for better or worse with Simon's acid, a good little essay on Beckett's drama in the form of a review. That's why his criticism is still worth reading.

I will add that Simon's Movies Into Film was a very helpful book when I was a teenage film freak, and that his film reviews in National Review during those years were, his faults once taken into account, well-balanced and had nothing to do with the loathsome politics among which they were set.

Excellent obituary by Robert D. McFadden at the New York Times here.

UPDATE. Kenneth Mars' performance in What's Up, Doc is clearly a John Simon rip, and very funny.

Friday, November 22, 2019

FRIDAY 'ROUND-THE-HORN.




I've loved this song since I first heard it.
It's a classic specimen of getting to the universal by way of the specific.


Jonah Goldberg has still got that newsletter thing going and it's no Roy Edroso Breaks It Down, lemme tell ya. But he keeps a hand in at National Review, and today has something called
Opponents of ‘Unfettered Capitalism’ Are Fighting a Phantom
It's a big deal because not only Democrats and Socialists but also rightwing assholes Tucker Carlson and Josh Hawley are bitching about capitalism and Jonah's here to even the odds (fart).

The simple version: There are lots of reguatory agencies, what are you guys talking about, "unfettered capitalism"? Goldberg does not address what happens when the regualtory mechanisms are put in the hands of, for example, a Ryan Zinke or a Wilbur Ross, who take said mechanisms to a bridge and throw them into the river. Also Republicans tend to deregulate processes they think don't need oversight -- like food safety.
My frustration stems from the fact that we “fetter” the market constantly. And whenever the fetters yield an undesirable result — such as, say, the financial crisis of 2008 — the blame always lands on eternally unfettered capitalism.
Overregulation is an interesting diagnosis of the financial crisis, given that the many of the financial instruments that pumped hot gas into the bubble suffered no regulation at all. I assume Goldberg referred only to an index card that read "Blck ppl got houses no fair BIG GOVERMENT."

Closing farts:
Just to be clear: I’m not an advocate for unfettered capitalism.
[querulous balloon-fondling noise]
But I am sick and tired of hearing people advocate unfettered government to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist.
[SUDDENLY-UNCLOGGED-GEOTHERMAL-VENT NOISE, SIZZLE OF FLAMING METHANE GEYSER

In conclusion, Jonah declares himself against this non-existent thing, and further stipulates that he has smelt it, but most assuredly has not dealt it.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

THE NIGHT THEY DROVE CHICK-FIL-A DOWN.

I'm opening to the general public (that's you guys!) the latest issue of my newsletter, about Rod Dreher's extended shitfit over Chick-fil-A's disinvestments. Longtime readers may recall my writing at the Village Voice in 2012 about how a couple of colleges booted the fast food chain for its president's homophobic sentiments and conservatives went nuts, making special "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" trips (or saying they did) to gorge on waffle fries and show the gays and gay-lovers that nobody out-grievances the Right. Sample:
“Tastes Like Liberty,” said Doug Ross. “Tasted like freedom,” said Mollie Hemingway. They must have changed the formula since we ate there. 
“80% of the folks at the tables [at the food court] were sporting Chick-fil-A bags. Taco Bell and Sbarro’s shared the rest of the tables, it seemed, with Five Guys, a very popular Washington area burger chain,” reported Robert Morrison of the Family Research Council. “‘I’ve had enough of those ‘gaystapo tactics,’ we heard one diner say.” 
“The Chick-fil-A controversy has no doubt been polarizing in some corners of the country,” said Mark Hemingway of the Weekly Standard, “but the undeniable success of yesterday’s nationwide rally to support the fast food chain means we’re likely to remember August 1, 2012 as Silent Majority Day.” 
It was a watershed (or a Diet-Mr.-Pibbshed) for late-stage homo-haters, and the news that CfA had removed some investments in gay-averse charities hit several of them hard, though few as hard as Rod.

Astonishingly, Dreher is not the author of the stupidest thing written on the subject. This is from John Hinderaker of Power Line:
I won’t stop eating at Chick-fil-A on account of this retreat, but I won’t do it with the same enthusiasm, either.
And some people think John McCain was a hero!

UPDATE. Yikes, Dreher's got a third Chick-fil-A post:
About Chick-fil-A, I know you liberals are laughing at us, drawing comparisons between Thomas More and a chicken shack.
Yep! Bye!