the ire of mitt

Mitt Romney was angry. Very angry. His anger burned as hot as a thousand blazing suns. Well, okay, maybe a thousand cheap birthday candles. Well, maybe a couple dozen cheap birthday candles. But still, Mitt was ever so angry. You could tell he was angry because he frowned. Not the frown he gets when the époisses de bourgogne has been served before it reached room temperature, but still it was clearly a frown.

Why was Mitt so very angry? Because he felt President Uncle Joe had been mean to Republicans. Mitt said Biden had “accused a number of my good and principled colleagues in the Senate of having sinister, even racist inclinations.” (NOTE: there are “good and principled” Republicans?) He said Biden had “charged that voting against his bill allies us with Bull Connor, George Wallace and Jefferson Davis.” (NOTE: voting against even debating the voting rights bill allies the GOP with Bull Connor and George Wallace, but maybe not Jefferson Davis.)

“You call this ‘room temperature’?”

And then Mitt paused dramatically before delivering a crushing, devastating, soul-crushing blow to Uncle Joe. He said, “So much for unifying the country and working across the aisle.” (NOTE: the GOP has dug a moat between the aisles and filled it with meth-addicted Florida alligators.) And he said it with a sneer.

It seems unlikely the Biden administration will ever fully recover from the room temperature ire of Mitt Romney. There’s a reason Romney is known far and wide as ‘Mitt Vicious’. (NOTE: Romney isn’t known far and wide as anything, let alone ‘Mitt Vicious’. He IS known close and narrow as ‘Mittens the Peevish’.)

Pundits have declared the Biden administration–and Uncle Joe his ownself–a colossal failure based on his inability in his first year in office to get the GOP, whose political survival depends on their ability to shred voting rights, to support voting rights. It seems clear to the pundits that President Uncle Joe’s ONLY hope for a successful administration is to stop suggesting that the GOP’s racist policies are based on racism; he MUST begin to foster cooperation and compromise with the GOP by accepting the god-given right of the minority to rule.

And if Biden refuses, he’ll have to face the ire of Mitt, the Towering Pale Blancmange of the Senate.

more like jesus

A couple of days ago, passing by a church, I saw a sign (I wish I’d stopped and photographed it) that said something like: Try to be more like Jesus. My first thought was “Dude, it’s January; I’m NOT wearing sandals.” Which, I admit, is somewhat disrespectful.

For some reason that be-more-like-Jesus concept stuck in my mind. I can see some benefits from it.

  • Spend time talking to strangers
  • Tell stories
  • Spend time chilling with sinners
  • Drink wine (in moderation, of course)
  • Ride donkeys
  • Remind folks to be kind and gentle.
  • Hang out in boats
  • Piss off hypocrites
  • Bake bread and share it

I seem to recall a lot of paintings showing Jesus playing with kids, and I don’t think that would work out so well these days. Besides, kids are noisy. So I think we could safely skip all that. Also, I’m not sure where Jesus stood on napping; I suspect he was a fan, but that might just be wishful thinking.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

I’m not a Christian, but you can’t deny that the guy had some good ideas. Too bad so few Christians follow them. Seriously, the worst thing about Christianity is Christians.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The quotation in the photo is from the Gospel of The Wind in the Willows.

voting rights — how fucked are we?

Yesterday I was…let’s call it challenged…for not being sufficiently outraged by the Republican assault on voting rights. A Facebook friend suggested I wasn’t taking the threat of voter suppression seriously enough, that I didn’t fully comprehend the severity of the issue, that I was naive. Why? Because I disagreed with this:

Will Joe have the cajones to install voting rights / election law changes even if it takes declaring Martial Law?

I’m not convinced that the willingness to invoke extraordinary military power to seize control of a civil election is a valid metric of my commitment to voting rights. I mean, the US military is brilliant at blowing shit up and killing people, and they’re really great at responding to humanitarian disasters. But martial law isn’t a remedy for our voting rights problems. It’s not the answer for any number of reasons, beginning with 1) the president doesn’t have any Constitutional power to substitute military authority for civilian control of the US election system, and moving through 2) the reality that no election could be considered valid if one candidate is the Commander-in-Chief of the military and the military is in charge of the election process, and ending with 3) an authoritarian act committed with good intentions by a POTUS I agree with is STILL an authoritarian act–and no authoritarian government in history has remained benevolent.

Martial law is just fucked up. I like Uncle Joe Biden, but he’s no Abe Lincoln. Look at what happened to Lincoln after he imposed martial law in some border states during the Civil War. Not only did SCOTUS spank him for violating the Constitution, but his military commanders became so accustomed to ruling without civilian interference that when Lincoln realized he’d made a mistake and tried to unwind martial law, his generals were reluctant–even actively resistant–to giving up their authority. It was so bad that Lincoln, a few months before he was assassinated, had to send General John Pope with another army to dismantle the martial law system.

Still, the fact remains that representative democracy in the US is in danger. It’s threatened by the Republican slide into authoritarianism and their concentrated assault on voting rights. It’s important to ask what’s being done to save democracy. What can be done about preserving our voting rights?

Ideally, the Senate would pass the pair of voting rights bills that have already passed in the House–the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The former is as dead as Dickens’ door-nail because of the Manchin and the Sinema issues (which are two totally different though equally fucked up issues). The latter, however, has support from Manchin (as well as at least one Republican–Lisa Murkowski), so it’s still a possibility.

The John Lewis bill basically restores the power to the Department of Justice that SCOTUS stripped away in the Shelby County v. Holder decision. It would require DOJ pre-clearance before states can change voting laws involving redistricting, voter ID requirements, changes to precinct locations, changes to early-voting access, or changes to how voter rolls are purged. It wouldn’t end gerrymandering, but it would seriously limit it. The John Lewis Act wouldn’t heal our wounds, but it would help stop the bleeding.

IF the John Lewis Act is passed, then it’s all up to Merrick Garland.

“Help us, Obi-wan, you’re our only hope.”

I fucking hate to trust government officials. Even the ones I like. I don’t entirely trust them because there’s always other shit going on. And let’s face it, every government official I’ve ever counted on has, in some way, let me down. And it’s always for the same reason (that ‘other shit going on’ I mentioned a moment ago). Merrick Garland, as the US Attorney General has SO MUCH other shit going on that you’d need an abacus the size of the St. Louis Gateway Arch to keep count of them. I mean, in addition to voting rights, he’s also got the matter of possibly prosecuting the former president to deal with. That’s a full plate, right there.

But in his speech last week, AG Garland said he was doubling the size of the staff of the Civil Rights Division “within the next thirty days.” They’re the folks who’d handle the voting rights cases. So that’s…promising? Even without John Lewis, a doubling of the staff suggests the DOJ is serious about voting rights.

So that, in my opinion, is where we are. Hovering in the null zone between Totally Fucked and Semi-Fucked. We will almost certainly remain Fucked In Some Fashion so long as the GOP continues to hold fast to authoritarianism and SCOTUS continues to be held hostage by unqualified conservative hacks. The degree to which we’re Fucked will depend a lot on the future of our voting rights.

goals

The first thing I saw on social media this morning was…no, wait, that’s not true. It wasn’t actually the first thing I saw, or even among the first 20-30 things I saw, but it was the first thing that caught me by surprise. The first thing that made me go “wait…what?” It was a question in a forum for readers. Two questions, really.

What are your reading goals and targets for the New Year? Do they include different genres?

That pretty much stopped me dead. People have reading goals and targets? What does that even mean? And what’s the difference between a reading goal and a reading target? What does genre have to do with it?

The responses to those questions helped clarify them, but some of them still left me confused. Here are a few sample responses. “I plan to read 100 books this year, with at least 5 hard scifi, 5 fantasy, 5 YA, and 5 historical fiction.” “I intend to read the entire Richard Bolitho British Navy novels by Alexander Kent.” “I’m going to reread the novels that were my favorites as a teen.” “This years book list challenge is set; I’ve already finished 2 books today that I started yesterday.” ” In 2021 I read 88 books; this year I want to get 100.”

I can understand folks wanting to read favorite childhood novels. That makes sense to me. I do that occasionally. Just a few weeks ago I re-read The Prisoner of Zenda. I can also understand wanting to read a certain series of books–or at least start to read them. But what if you discover you don’t enjoy them? Or what if you enjoy the first couple, but them find the rest repetitive? If you’ve publicly committed to reading the entire series, do you keep reading…or do you stop?

And yeah, I understand the value of reading a variety of genres, They all have something to offer. But I do NOT understand the intention to read X number of books in a given time frame. I don’t understand that at all. What’s the point? What’s the purpose? Why does the number of books you read matter? It makes no sense to me.

The cat naps; I read. Simple goal, simple plan.

I guess I’m just a disorganized, unstructured reader. I read a book, then when I’m done, I buy another book and read it. I DO have a Google Keep list of books called ‘Books I Might Want to Consider Reading‘ which, now I think of it, is a shamefully wishy-washy title for a list. It probably doesn’t really qualify as a list; it’s just notes on books folks have recommended or books I’ve heard about. Sometimes I’ll consult it before buying a new book, but I’m just as likely to rummage through the online bookstore and buy whatever strikes my fancy at that moment. I don’t have anything remotely like a plan for what I’m going to read next. It depends on…hell, I don’t even know what it depends on.

Every four or five years (or three years or six years) I decide to re-read one of Dorothy Dunnett’s historical novel series. Does that count as a plan? I’m still two novels away from finishing The Expanse series. Or maybe it’s three novels; I’m not sure how many novels are in the series. Eight? Nine? I’m sure I’ll buy and read those novels at some point–but I haven’t yet and I’m not sure when I will. Does that count as a plan? Maybe it’s a goal?

What is a plan, really? It’s just a roadmap pointing toward a goal. But if you don’t have a goal–and I don’t–then what use is a plan? Or maybe I DO have a goal. Just a very simple, easily attainable goal. To read another book when I’ve finished the one I’m reading now. My plan, then, would be to buy another book. Piece of cake.

#

I wrote this yesterday morning, then got distracted. I had a point to make, but I’ve forgotten what it was. I’m pretty sure it was clever, though.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a comfortable chair reading, a blanket on my lap, and the cat on the blanket. When the sun came through the transom, the cat got off my lap and laid in the sun. Every so often I looked up from my tablet and saw that the sunny spot and the cat had moved. It occurred to me that my reading goals and plans were similar to the cat’s napping goals and plans. Her goal is to nap in a sunny spot. When that sunny spot moves, she moves with it. My goal is to finish one book and start another.

The cat is content with her goal and plan; I’m content with mine. But I rather doubt my plan and goal will impress the other members of that reader forum.

new year bullshit

Okay, look, this whole New Year bidness? It’s bullshit. I mean, sure, we live in a culture that requires us to establish metrics for Time. But basically, I’m with Thomas Mann on this: Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. The objective differences between December 31, 2021 and January 1, 2022 are trifling.

Even if we agree that there are valid reasons to demarcate one year from another, the only reason January 1–a date right in the middle of the fucking winter–is considered the first day of a new year is because Julius Caesar yanked the old 10 month Roman calendar and imposed a new, improved 12 month one. He added a couple of months, clever boy, one of which was January–named for Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and endings, the god of gates and doorways, the god of transitions. Caesar made the imperial decision that the first day of the new month would be the first day of the new Roman year. I’m not saying he deserved to be stabbed to death for that, but c’mon, what an arrogant prick.

Generally, folks living in the Roman Empire at that time (which was seriously huge, by the way) felt a new year began at some point around the Vernal Equinox. Which totally makes sense. It’s around the end of March, winter is over, the land begins to come alive again, leaves grow on trees, plants bloom, days are longer, everything is new. So when Caesar imposed this new calendar on the empire, common folks mostly ignored it. They continued to celebrate a seasonal new year rather than a calendar-based one.

Then three hundred years or so later, Christianity came along and sort of fucked things up. When the Roman emperor Constantine decided that Christianity was the Official Religion of Rome (which is a whole nother story), all his generals and high ranking officials had to become Christian if they wanted to advance their careers. That meant supporting the nascent Church, and supporting the Church meant adapting pagan holy days to Christian holy days AND marking them on the Roman calendar.

Still, hardly anybody celebrated January 1 as New Year’s Day. It was celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. You may be asking yourself how Romans decided that Jesus was circumcised on January 1, which is a reasonable thing to ask yourself. What happened was a Roman historian named Sextus Julius Africanus, after some serious consideration, decided Jesus was probably conceived around the Vernal Equinox. That’s why Christmas is mostly celebrated on December 25, nine months later. And according to Jewish law and tradition, eight days after a boy is born his parents hold a bris. What’s a bris? It’s a ceremony in which a mohel comes to the family’s home, snips the foreskin off the boy’s penis, then everybody has a nice meal. Eight days after December 25 is January 1.

Now, there’s a whole weird, uncomfortable history dealing with early Christianity and circumcision which isn’t worth going into (so much of history has been shaped by the relationship men have with their dicks). There’s a whole sub-genre of art devoted to Jesus getting snipped. The important thing, though, is that over time the Christian discomfort over the celebration of Jesus being separated from his Holy Foreskin morphed the event into a celebration of the New Year.

This is why folks are putting on pointy party hats and blowing horns and getting high school drunk tonight. Because Yahweh decided Abraham should be circumcised and Julius Caesar wanted a better calendar and a Roman historian made a wild guess about when Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and Constantine decided to become a Christian and early Christians became awkward and uncertain about circumcision so instead of celebrating a bit of foreskin-snipping they fell back onto celebrating Caesar’s arbitrary decision to start a new year in the middle of the fucking winter.

It’s all bullshit. The sun rises, the sun sets, the earth orbits the Sun, tilts on its axis, we have seasons. And basically, that’s it. Some folks just need an excuse for a party.

that’s right, it’s a movie review

I sporadically read movie and/or television reviews. I don’t necessarily trust entertainment reviewers, but I tend to assume they get it approximately right. Maybe they don’t point to true north, but they wave in a general northish direction. The reviews of Don’t Look Up were harsh; I saw it described as glib, as disastrous, as unamusing, as obvious and without subtlety, as over-the-top, as trivializing an actual social problem, as cynical and mocking. Reviewers said Don’t Look Up failed both as satire and as comedy.

But sometimes all I want is mindless, distracting entertainment–something glib and trivial and obvious. Besides, there were a lot of really fine actors in it, so how bad could it be?

I won’t say Don’t Look Up is a great movie; it’s not. But it’s not at all what the reviewers claimed it was. It’s not mindless entertainment; it’s not glib or trivializing or without subtlety. It’s a damned fine movie. It IS over-the-top, but considering the last few years, it’s only over the top by inches.

With only the tiniest possible SPOILER, I’m going to tell you what the movie is about. I’m not going to relate the entire plot; I’m only going to reveal one plot element (which you probably already know). But I’m going to describe what I think is the pivotal scene. It takes place fairly early in the film, and it establishes the theme on which the movie depends.

Three people–a grad student who discovers a comet heading directly toward earth, the professor who oversees her research, and a government official who heads some obscure agency devoted to protecting Earth from comets and/or other space stuff–are at the White House with a high-ranking military escort. They’re there to warn the president of the impending extinction level event. POTUS is busy doing political bullshit, so they’re left idling in a hallway. The escort leaves briefly and returns with bottled water and some snacks. He complains about how expensive the snacks were. The others reimburse him–US$20. He keeps the change. Later, the grad student (played by Jennifer Lawrence with unfortunate hair) discovers the snacks and water were free. Periodically through the rest of the film, she talks about how astonished she was that this guy screwed them for a few bucks when they were at the White House trying to warn humanity that all life on the planet is likely going to be extinguished. She just can’t understand people who act that way.

And that’s the movie. Good, decent people trying to do what’s right, trying to do what’s best for everybody, trying to deal with a system designed for–and occupied by–people primarily concerned with themselves and their own gain, people who are willing to lie, mislead, and manipulate others to achieve their short term goals. It’s not just that they have incompatible value systems; it’s that they don’t even share the same definition of values.

It’s a comedy. Sort of. It’s satire. Sort of. Actually, I’m damned if I know what genre it falls into. It’s a critique of the politico-corporate culture we live in, where maximizing profits and shareholder value have priority over human concerns. It’s a critique of the social media driven culture in which celebrity is valued over knowledge and manipulated opinion trumps science. All of that sounds very dull, doesn’t it; but this is not a dull movie.

In the end, I found Don’t Look Up to be weirdly hopeful. It suggests that trying to do good, trying to do the right thing, is in itself a worthy goal, even if you don’t believe you can succeed. It suggests a person’s sincere attempt to do what’s right confers a sort of grace on the person. I like to think that’s true.

Don’t Look Up is worth watching.

EDITORIAL NOTE: By the way, this is one of the few films in which scientists are depicted as normal people who are simply devoted to science. Nerdy, perhaps, but ordinary.

Melanie Lynskey

Also? The cast includes Melanie Lynskey, who has a brilliantly quiet career playing strong, soft-spoken women; she deserves a lot more attention than she gets. It’s a small role, but she’s perfect in it. She knows how to throw a pill bottle and make it sting.

accountability, not vengeance

Let’s talk about Kimberly Potter, the Minnesota police officer who was recently convicted of manslaughter. This case has been badly reported in the news media; it’s both more simple and more complex than the news reports.

Potter, who’d been a police officer for 26 years, was acting as a Field Training Officer at the time. Here’s a true thing about training: the stuff you learn in a classroom doesn’t always translate well in real life. I’ve done OJT (on the job training) as a medic, as a counselor in the Psych/Security unit of a prison for women, and as a criminal defense investigator. You can learn initial treatment of a traumatic amputation in a classroom, you can practice on an actor wearing a moulage, but it’s not the same as being confronted with a screaming, bleeding, panicked person who’s just had his arm torn off. You can teach somebody various interview techniques, but it’s not the same as finding a witness in a bar and trying to get them to talk to you. Real life is a lot weirder and slipperier. The only way to really learn to do a job is to do the job.

Potter was a passenger in the police squad car driven by her trainee. While they were on patrol, he saw a white 2011 Buick signal a right turn while it was in a left turning lane. He also noticed the vehicle’s registration tag on the licence plate was expired. There was also an air freshener hanging from the car’s rear view mirror, which technically could be considered an obstruction which might impair the driver’s vision. The news media focused almost exclusively on the air freshener, but the reality is that there were legal justifications for stopping the vehicle.

To be clear, they were all bullshit justifications–they’re the sort of things police officers often use to stop black/minority drivers. But, again, the only way to really learn to do a job is to do the job. Even if it was a bullshit justification, it was a legit teaching opportunity–a way for Potter to see how her trainee would handle a real life traffic stop. And also again, real life is a lot weirder and slipperier.

They stopped the car, did the usual “License and registration, please” business. This is what they learned: 1) Daunte Wright, the driver, didn’t have a driver’s license, 2) the car wasn’t registered to him or the woman passenger, 3) there was no proof-of-insurance, 4) a records check showed there was an open arrest warrant on Wright for failing to appear in court on weapons violation, 5) and a protective order had been filed against him by an unnamed woman. Even though it was a bullshit traffic stop, Potter and her trainee had probable cause to arrest Wright. In fact, until they determined whether or not the woman passenger Potter was the same woman who had the protective order against him, they’d have been negligent not to arrest him.

So they did. And then it all got weird and slippery. Wright decided to escape. In her 26 years as a police officer, Potter had never used either her pistol or her taser. When Wright broke away and got back in the car, she drew her pistol instead of her taser. Instead of tasing him, she shot and killed him.

Potter was just doing her job. But had what’s known in tort law as ‘a duty of care’. She had a legal obligation requiring her to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any act that could foreseeably harm others. She had an obligation to know whether she was holding a pistol or a taser. And even though she clearly didn’t intend to kill Daunte Wright, he’s still dead. And Potter had to be held accountable for that.

This is exactly how the justice system should work. This is how it should work for every officer-involved incident. It’s about accountability, not revenge. It’s about a professional being held to a standard of behavior.

If a surgeon makes a mistake during an appendectomy, they have to be accountable for that. If the pilot of a commercial fishing vessel misjudges their speed and crashes the ship into a marina dock, they have to be accountable. If a bartender serves a clearly intoxicated person and that person dies in a traffic accident (or kills somebody else in a traffic accident), they have to be accountable. If a landscaper accidentally kills your lawn, they have to be accountable. And if a police officer kills a person in the line of duty–even if it’s unintentional–they have to be held accountable.

Kimberly Potter was almost certainly a good, solid police officer. She made a terrible mistake and Daunte Wright died as a result. It doesn’t matter that Wright was complicit in his own death, she remains responsible and accountable. I hope she gets a relatively light sentence, but at the heel of the hunt, she has to be accountable for it.

It’s about accountability, not vengeance.

This also applies to presidents.

devil’s scorecard

The Devil appears to Comrade Donald Trump the morning after the 2016 election. He says, “Comrade, I have three suggestions for you as president. First, you should undermine and destroy representative democracy. Second, you should downplay the severity of a deadly epidemic. Third, you should stop wearing lifts in your shoes.” Trump asks, “Why should I stop wearing lifts in my shoes?” The Devil grins. “Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t object to the first two.”

I’ve been on something of a social media holiday the last week or two. I haven’t been actively avoiding it; I’ve just spent less time fiddling with social media and engaging in or responding to it. But this morning I read some reporting about Comrade Trump and found myself imagining Trump in conversation with the devil.

The reporting this morning suggests Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who has been investigating whether the Trump Organization deliberately misled lenders and/or tax authorities about the value of its properties, is going to indict Trump personally for racketeering. It may be true. If so, it will be a tiny (but very welcome) step toward holding Trump accountable for some small fraction of the harm he’s done to the United States.

It’s difficult to describe…hell, it’s difficult to even comprehend…the scope of Trump’s corrosive effect on US society. His casual, reflexive lying about almost anything has become a common aspect of GOP political rhetoric. His nonchalant petty corruption–using the office of POTUS to enrich himself–has tarnished the office itself; perhaps not beyond repair, but the Trump stink lingers. His vindictiveness against anybody or anything he believes has slighted him has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in governance. His indifference to public health has not only contributed to the death of more than 800,000 US citizens, but sparked an unhinged conspiratorial view of the medical profession. His unthinking automatic racism has fueled racial violence against almost every racial, ethnic, and religious minority group in the country. His cheap, performative imitation of patriotism has degraded the national capacity to be truly proud of the nation. His perpetual insecurity has turned conservatism into a whiny, grievance-oriented, resentful group of fear-biters.

Hold this feculent sumbitch accountable.

Combine all that with Trump’s deliberate, willful undermining of the norms of representative democracy, and you end up with a bitterly divided nation in which a third of the population is willing–even eager–to scrap nearly 250 years of semi-cooperative governance and replace it with an authoritarian regime grounded in white resentment and free-floating rage.

I don’t know that indicting–and, it’s to be hoped, convicting–Trump for ordinary crimes like racketeering or tax evasion (rather than the political crimes he’s certainly committed) is the most effective method for undoing the damage he’s done. But it’s a good start.

That assumes the reporting is accurate. Which reminds me–Trump’s manipulation of the news media had warped the very notion of responsible journalism. One more black mark on his Devil’s scorecard.