the latest news is not the last

Bah, the latest news, the latest news is not the last.”

I wake up and before I finish making the bed, I hear there’s “a mass murder incident” in Indianapolis. A mass murder incident. You know how the meaning of some terms change over time? Like ‘cheater’ used to refer to an officer appointed to look after the king’s escheats — property that reverted to the State or the King when somebody died without a legal heir — and now means a person who cheats? Well, in terms of mass murder, the original definition of ‘incident’ still applies. An incident is ‘something which occurs casually in connection with something else.’

There was a mass murder incident in Indianapolis this morning — the murder of at least eight people occurring casually in connection with…well, with going to work in a nation that has a small but powerful minority who worship firearms. The incident was described as “the country’s deadliest shooting since ten people were killed on March 22.” That was less than a month ago.

Last night in Indianapolis more people were murdered while casually going to work than were murdered three and a half weeks ago while casually shopping for groceries at a supermarket in Colorado. This is how we measure mass murder incidents now.

The authorities have said the mass murder “wasn’t precipitated by any kind of a disturbance or an argument.” As if ‘a disturbance or an argument’ would actually explain in any way why eight people were shot and killed. The authorities are also trying to “understand the motives” of the shooter. Because if we understood the murderer’s motives, we’d be able to…to what? Do something about it? Nobody, it seems, is bothering to understand the motives of legislators who continue to weaken and erode firearm safety legislation. That might be something we could actually do something about.

It could be anyplace. It could be everyplace.

This is just the latest news, and as Samuel Beckett says, it’s not the last. We’ll make the effort to pretend what happened is explainable, that it’s understandable — but it’s not. It never really is. People call it a tragedy — and it is, and it isn’t. It’s an incidental tragedy, a casual tragedy, a temporary tragedy that will eventually become a passing reference in a news story — ‘the country’s deadliest shooting since eight people were killed at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.’

“I know my eyes are open,” Beckett wrote, “because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly.” But the problem with unceasing tears is that after a while, they no longer indicate grief. It’s just crying. Some families and friends in Indianapolis will be grieving, but as a nation we’ll go on today and tomorrow as if this is all normal. Which it is. Our boy Beckett understood too.

To go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.

I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always. A FedEx facility in Indianapolis, a supermarket in Boulder, Asian spas in Atlanta, a brewery in Milwaukee — the same place as always. Murmuring the same stories as if it were the first time. The latest news is not the last.

forget it joe, it’s afghanistan

There are things you can fix, and things you can’t. There are things you have a moral obligation to try to fix even if you can’t possibly fix them. There are things you believe need to be fixed, but aren’t actually broken. There are fixable things you believe you understand, but you’re wrong. There are fixable things that are none of your fucking business regardless of what you think about them. And when you’re in the middle of things, it’s hard–probably impossible–to know which things are which.

There’s a movie about that. Chinatown. Released in 1974. (I’m going to ignore the legitimate issues about the director, Roman Polanski, because for once I’m going to try to stay tangent-free.) Here’s the backstory of one of the main characters, and a short precis of the film’s plot (and yes, that means there are spoilers).

The backstory–Jake Gittes has a small private investigator business in Los Angeles. He’s a former police detective who worked in the notoriously corrupt Chinatown neighborhood. He became disillusioned (all movie PIs are disillusioned; it’s the law) partly because he was working in a culture whose norms and rules he didn’t understand, partly because of the endemic corruption, and partly because the actions and motivations of the Powers That Be (in both the Chinese and political communities) were concealed from him and inscrutable to him. When his client, Evelyn Mulwray learns he’d been a detective in Chinatown, she asks:

Evelyn Mulwray: What were you doing there?
Jake Gittes: Working for the District Attorney.
Evelyn: Doing what?
Jake: As little as possible.
Evelyn: The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?
Jake: They do in Chinatown.

As little as possible. Jake’s disillusionment was compounded when he attempted to help a Chinese woman. He says, “I thought I was keeping someone from being hurt and actually I ended up making sure she was hurt.” That same scenario plays out in the main plot, much of which is taken up with a long, brilliant McGuffin. It draws Jake into a situation in which he feels an obligation to rescue his client, Evelyn, and her daughter from an ugly situation involving Evelyn’s father–a multimillionaire developer. Once again, Jake finds himself in a situation in which the rules/laws aren’t clear to him, in which he doesn’t understand the motives or actions of the people involved, and where his attempts to help result in more harm. Had he done ‘as little as possible’ things may have worked out better, even if the situation itself remained awful.

In the final scene, his client is dead, the bad guys win, and Jake is not only helpless, he’s also partly responsible. He sees her body, mutters “…as little as possible” and is ordered away from the scene by his former Chinatown detective partner. As he’s being led away, one of Jake’s current employees tells him, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

This scenario is being played out with President Uncle Joe and the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. It’s a culture–actually, a number of inter-related ancient tribal cultures–we don’t understand, cultures that operate on traditional rules and norms unknown to us, with values and ethics that are often alien to us, with goals that are foreign to us. The US and our Western allies have been attempting to resolve our involvement relying on OUR cultural norms and OUR values to achieve OUR goals. Forget it, Joe. It’s Afghanistan.

We had a valid reason (at least in my opinion) to intrude militarily in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda had used that nation as a training ground and recruitment center for the 9/11 attacks. We had a legit reason to go after al Qaeda. After that, things got…loose.

The fact is, no foreign adventure has ever succeeded in Afghanistan. Alexander the Great, whose Macedonian army basically walked over every army they’d fought, got caught up in a long guerrilla-style war in Afghanistan. He never fully succeeded in pacifying the various Afghan tribes. Before he died, Alexander said, “May God keep you away from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger, and the revenge of the Afghans.” Various Muslim invasions succeeded in converting most Afghan tribes to Islam, but never completely controlled the area. The Mongols, under Genghis Khan, occupied much of the area for quite a long time, but their empire also fell apart. Nobody held the area as long as Timur the Great–but it’s worth noting that Timur was known as Timur the Lame (or ‘Tamerlane’ as he was called by Europeans) because of wounds he received fighting Afghan tribes. After Timur’s empire failed, the Sikhs attempt to invade Afghan territories several times without much success. The British invaded three times in the 19th and early 20th centuries–and got their asses kicked each time. Russia invaded three times–in 1929, 1930, and finally in 1979–and got their asses kicked each time.

And, of course, the US (and NATO) invaded in 2001. We know how that worked out.

But here’s the thing the Afghan tribes have always known and the thing foreign invaders never seem to figure out: the Afghans don’t have to win any wars; they only have to keep fighting at some level, and eventually the invaders–no matter who they are, or where they’re from, and how powerful they are–will leave. The various Afghan tribes are unconcerned about foreign military deadlines or the domestic political necessities of foreign powers or the costs those powers incur; they’re operating on God’s time, and they measure cost on a different scale.

President Uncle Joe’s decision to pull out troops is just an acknowledgment that Afghanistan is Chinatown. Doesn’t matter if we had a legit reason for being there, doesn’t matter if our long low-level war of occupation was a genuine attempt to help the Afghan peoples (and I’m not convinced it was), doesn’t matter what our motives were. Like every other invasion force in Afghan history, we’ve almost certainly done more harm than good.

There’s a scene in Chinatown in which Jake Gittes speaks with Noah Cross, the millionaire developer behind all the misery that’s taking place. Cross inhabits a world where laws and rules of ordinary decency don’t seem to apply–a world that’s as ambiguous and perplexing to Jake as that of Chinatown, a world that’s just as baffling and complex as our involvement in Afghanistan.

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake: I just wanna know what you’re worth. More than 10 million?
Noah: Oh my, yes!
Jake: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?
Noah: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

That’s why we’re in Afghanistan. The future. Their future, our future–we think we can make it better. We think we have the means and the power and the right to make it better. We think we know what ‘better’ means.

We don’t. We just don’t.

Forget it, Joe. It’s Afghanistan.

potzer

Years ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I was noodling around Washington Square Park and saw a couple of chess hustlers nearly come to blows. Not over a game of chess exactly, but because–wait. Yes, there are actual chess hustlers in NYC. Anything that can be hustled is being hustled in NYC. A good chess hustler can make a couple hundred dollars a day, playing tourists and chess enthusiasts for, say, three to five bucks a match. Mostly you’ll find them hustling in the parks–Washington Square Park, Central Park, Union Park.

Okay, back to the almost-fight. It wasn’t over a chess match. It was almost a fight because one chess hustler had called another a potzer. A small crowd had gathered; I turned to the guy next to me–another chess hustler–and asked him, “What’s a potzer?” He gave me a look that basically said, “If you have to ask….” Another told me a potzer was “a wood-pusher,” which I interpreted as an incompetent chess player. A third guy said, in a growly Eastern European accent, “Is Yiddish. Or German. An insult.”

I love a good insult. Potzer, it turns out, is a great insult. It doesn’t mean somebody who’s merely incompetent. It doesn’t mean somebody who is simply an amateur. It means a bungler, somebody who’s not as good as they think they are, a wanna-be who’s really a never-can-be but doesn’t recognize it. A potzer may have a rudimentary understanding of a particular skill set, but is ill-informed, clumsy at the actual skills necessary, and confused about the point.

It’s an insult usually restricted to chess players, but I think it can be applied to almost anything. Like politics. Matt Gaetz is a potzer. Comrade Trump, a potzer. Gym Jordan, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene–hell, the entire Republican Party in Congress, all potzers.

These people are NOT in Congress to legislate. They’re there to perform. They’re not there to work for the common good; they’re there to draw an audience and keep their attention. While they may have the rudimentary understanding of governance, they lack both the skills necessary to accomplish it and the desire to follow through. Mainly, they’re in Congress to seize the public’s attention by creating wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades. Gaetz actually described his political ‘agenda’ as elevating his profile. He said:

“The way that you’re able to elevate your profile in Washington is to drive conflict, because conflict is interesting. And I think that the really powerful people in this town are the ones that can go on television and make an argument, and that’s power that leadership can never take away from you.”

Matt Gaetz, potzer.

Go on television, get power. That’s why he’s in Congress. Gaetz and his ilk (ooh, a tangent…ilk is derived from the Proto-Germanic ilīkaz, meaning ‘a body’. And ilīkaz is also the root term for lich, which refers to a re-animated corpse, which somehow seems appropriate when speaking about the modern GOP) operate on the belief that somehow power and authority are a product of the number of people who are paying attention to you. That’s why they rarely address actual legislative issues (which tend to be rather dull and unexciting) and focus instead on flashy distractions. Like ‘radical libs attacking Dr. Suess’ or ‘male perverts dressing and identifying as women in order to watch young girls pee in the women’s toilet at Walmart’.

These people are poseurs. They think they’re playing chess because they can identify the pieces and recognize the board. They know the basic moves, but they’re not serious players. They don’t ‘get it’ at a fundamental level.

In one sense, it matters what happens to Matt Gaetz. It matters because he’s corrupt and a colossal asshole–and corrupt assholes should never be allowed to get away with it. But in another sense, it doesn’t matter at all, because Gaetz is, and always will be, a wood-pusher. A potzer. And like all potzers, he doesn’t even know it.

covid on the floor

February 12, 2021 — HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s statewide mask mandate that had been in place since July was lifted Friday by Gov. Greg Gianforte. Gianforte, a Republican, promised the day after assuming office in January that he would lift the state’s mask mandate once there were liability protections in place for businesses and health care providers. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Gregory Holzman, resigned from his post Thursday, the day after Gianforte announced he would lift the mask mandate.

April 6, 2021 — BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has tested positive for COVID-19. The Republican governor’s office released a statement Monday evening saying that after experiencing mild symptoms a day earlier, Gianforte was tested “out of an abundance of caution.” All of the governor’s in-person events have been canceled, and he plans to work from his home in Bozeman. His staff will be be tested for the virus Tuesday.

Moron

Dr. Gregory Holzman: There are multiple reports across the nation of people stepping on Legos and hurting their bare feet.
Gov. Gianforte: Fake news. I’ve never stepped on a Lego. I’ve never seen a Lego.
Dr. H: Legos are real. People are dropping them on both coasts. It’s only a matter of time before Legos get dropped here in Montana. We should consider a boot mandate until we can isolate the people who are dropping Legos.
Gov. G: A boot mandate? That would be an infringement on the freedom of Montanans. Besides, only a few people in Montana have stepped on Legos.
Dr. H: Until we can identify who is dropping Legos, a boot mandate will prevent widespread foot injuries. We need to stay ahead of the problem.
Gov. G: I’m not going to issue a boot mandate when only a hundred or so Montanans have stepped on a Lego.
Dr. H: But the number of instances of people stepping on Legos is increasing. Happily, recent research indicates boots may not be necessary; shoes will be equally effective.
Gov. G: First you say boots, now you say shoes. Maybe you’re wrong about shoes too. Besides, most people who step on Legos recover.
Dr. H: Thousands of Legos…probably tens of thousands…are on the floor in Montana now. People are stepping on them at an unprecedented rate. A shoe mandate is vital.
Gov. G: Okay, I’ll suggest people should start wearing shoes, but I’m not going to make it mandatory.
Dr. H: The hospitals are being overwhelmed with foot injuries from people stepping on Legos.
Gov. G: Okay, I’ll issue a shoe mandate. Happy now?
Dr. H: Foot injuries are leveling off. There are fewer reports of Legos being dropped on the floor.
Gov. G: I’ll remove the shoe mandate.
Dr. H: No, it’s too early. Some of your own staff may have stepped on a Lego. We need to keep the shoe mandate in place a little bit…
Gov. G: I’ve removed the shoe mandate.
Dr. H: I quit.
Gov. G: Ouch. What the hell did I just step on?
Dr. H (muttering): Moron.

And that’s today’s lesson.

still trash

Back in October of 2019 I wrote that the GOP is a trash party. I wrote that what made the Republican Party trash wasn’t because they “…abandoned an internally consistent conservative ideology (or anything resembling an internally consistent ideology), or that they’ve completely abdicated any interest in governance, or even that they have no respect at all for truth, decency, law, compassion, science, or the U.S. Constitution.” They had done all that, of course. But what made them trash was “the joy they seem to take in pissing all over the traditions and norms they claim to represent” and their perverse reasoning that ‘owning the libs’ is a legit substitute for ethics and morality.

Since then, the Republican Party has solidified their reputation as a trash party. They seem to revel in it, and apparently believe that by openly acting like trash, they’re immune to consequences. Sadly, there’s some basis in reality for that belief. Why would Florida’s weasel-in-a-suit Matt Gaetz be concerned about consequences of sleeping with teen-aged girls, getting them fake IDs, transporting them across state lines, and showing naked photos of them to fellow GOP members of Congress when the head of their party–former President Comrade Trump–could brag about grabbing women by the pussy, ogling naked Miss Teen USA contestants, paying off porn stars to hide his sexual affairs (not to mention protecting murderous foreign tyrants and fomenting a violent insurrection in his own nation) without losing any support from his voters?

What Gaetz is accused of is small beans compared to Trump. Gaetz is essentially Trump in the larval stage. Gaetz is Trump evolved. It took Trump a long time to realize that politics could be a lucrative grift; Gaetz learned that lesson at a much earlier stage. Despite all the recent ugly revelations about Gaetz, not a single Republican has suggested he should resign–or even chastised him. After the January 6th insurrection, Gaetz gave a speech on the floor of Congress claiming the violence was caused by ‘antifa’ and was applauded. Compare that to the GOP response to Biden nominee for OMB Neera Tanden, who was forced to withdraw her nomination because she’d tweeted some ‘mean’ comments about Republicans.

The modern Republican Party has traded in its conservative ideology for a simple hyper-partisan political strategy:

  • Abandon shame
  • Lie and distract
  • Treat accusations of immoral/unethical/illegal conduct as partisan political attacks
  • Lie and distract
  • Treat accusations of immoral/unethical/illegal conduct as proof Democrats are targeting you for being a Christian/conservative
  • Lie and distract
  • Treat accusations of immoral/unethical/illegal conduct as a badge of honor
  • Lie and distract

And hey, it seems to work for them. So far. But surely, eventually it’ll catch up to them. Won’t it? I mean, the Republican Party used to have statesmen. They used to have principled conservatives, thoughtful patriots acting for what they believed to be the common good of the people. I disagreed with them, but for the most part I felt they were acting in what they believed was the best interests of the nation.

Not anymore. Now the GOP is a party of grifters, knuckleheads, yahoos, vindictive fuckwits, self-serving seditionists, vacuous privileged frat boys, judgmental bone-brained pseudo-Christians, hateful sadists, and proud anti-intellectual obstructionists.

Trash, in other words.

Gaetz may eventually be invited to leave Congress, sacrificed by his own party because he’s too inconvenient. He may eventually find himself in legal trouble. If that happens, he’ll be treated as a martyr by Republicans. But the real risk is that Democrats will consider it a victory. In fact, IF that happens, it’ll be like swatting an annoying gnat while ignoring a Congress filled with cabbage maggots, venomous spiders, voracious locusts, and fire ants. The larger problem of the GOP will still exist.

Until the Republican Party is either obliterated or somehow reformed back into a legit political party, it’ll remain trash.