led by a donkey

Okay, then. Let’s face it, when a Republican candidate can grab a reporter by the throat, throw him to the ground and punch him, and still get elected to Congress, it’s time for Republicans to officially change their name from the Republican Party to the Republican Horde. Or, if you prefer, the GOH — the Grand Old Horde.

It’s an appropriate term. horde. It comes from the Turkic and Mongolic term ordu, which originally referred to a nomadic encampment. Over time the term was applied to a roving patriarchal militaristic social system grounded in the concept of raiding for plunder. Raid other nations, raid other cities, raid other tribes, raid related tribes if necessary. Take what you can carry, burn the rest, move on. By the early 1600s, the term horde was used to describe any noisy, unruly, uncivilized gang.

Actual Mongol Horde

We have a president who has no political or religious ideology other than personal profit and self-aggrandizement. We have a president who doesn’t just lie, but whose lies are totally self-serving and are easily revealed as lies. He leads a Republican Horde intent on enriching themselves at the expense of others, with no long-term consideration for the future. Think of the Mongol Hordes, only instead of guys with long mustaches riding on ponies, drinking kumis and airag, and shooting at folks with little bows, it’s white guys in suits sneering at liberal snowflakes. Think of the Dothraki from the Game of Thrones, only instead of brawny, bare-chested warriors, it’s pasty white guys who brag about grabbing women by the pussy while denying them health care.

Republican Horde

Actually, I’m being unfair to Mongols (and probably to Dothraki). The Mongols may have been plunderers and pillagers, but they had some strict codes of behavior. For example, the Yasa forbade Mongols to eat anything in the presence of another without inviting that person to also partake in the food. It also forbade anybody from eating more than his comrades. It insisted any passing wayfarer who arrived during a meal should be allowed to join in the meal without asking permission. Of course, it also demanded that a hunter who let an animal escape during a hunt be beaten with sticks, and that anybody who urinated into a stream be put to death — which seems a wee bit harsh, but those things put the health and welfare of the community at risk.

Republican Horde

I’m inclined to think the folks who belong to the current Republican Horde wouldn’t hesitate to eat in front of the hungry. I think they’d casually deny wayfarers from joining a meal. I think they’d protect a member who let an animal escape during a hunt (so long as the Republican Elders had enough to eat) and they’d probably cheerfully piss in the river — not just because they don’t care who lives downstream, but because it would amuse them.

Republican Horde

There’s a saying often attributed to Genghis Khan:

An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.

He might have actually said that, I don’t know. I do know Chabrias, the Athenian general, said something very much like it some fifteen hundred years earlier. I wouldn’t put it past old Genghis to have stolen the line. I’ve no doubt modern Republicans would lift if without a moment of hesitation. It is a good line, after all; I might steal it myself some day. However, it doesn’t apply to the current Republican Horde.

They’ve become an army of donkeys led by another donkey.

what does that tell you?

I read the news every morning while I caffeinate myself. Since it’s the nature of ‘morning’ to arrive frightfully early, while I’m still in a stupor, I tend to follow a general pattern of news-reading. First, I run through my Google News thang, which allows me to rummage through a lot of different news sources. Then I usually read either the local newspaper or the Washington Post. I generally read them both, just not in any particular order. Finally I look at a couple of political blogs. By the time I’m done with those, my coffee is gone and I’m relatively alert.

“I say, I’ve noticed the most curious thing in today’s newspaper.”

I mention all that because of an odd thing I noticed this morning. Almost every news source had a unique headline story about Comrade Trump. Most often the major news venues simply offer a slightly different version of the same news story, but not this morning. The Post had an article suggesting Trump and Dana Rohrbacher were paid by the Russian government. The New York Times had a story claiming the Trump campaign was aware that General Michael Flynn was under investigation for his contacts with Russia even before he was named as Trump’s National Security Adviser. And Reuters had a piece about the frequency of Flynn’s meetings with various Russian diplomats and agents.

There were a couple of other news agencies that had stories about Trump himself or about his campaign, but I don’t recall offhand what they were. The odd thing was that at least half a dozen different news agencies or sources had half a dozen Trump headline stories. All different, but still all about Comrade Trump.

What does that tell you? I’d suggest it tells us there was an organized leak by somebody (or a few somebodies) from an investigative or intelligence agency. I don’t know who — maybe the FBI, maybe the CIA, maybe the NSA. But they gave each news agency a different story, all of which were negative about Comrade Trump.

“No, really? And then what happened?”

Not only that, they leaked all those different stories on the same day. What does that tell you? I’d suggest it tells us they’ve got more negative stories in their pocket. Otherwise they wouldn’t dump them all at once. (Although I suppose it could indicate a single news source who wants to unburden himself before he gets caught and fired.)

Because I try to be fair, I have to admit it’s possible that each of those news venues independently uncovered a different news story about a different facet of Trump-related scandal and coincidentally decided to publish them all on the same day. It’s possible. But I think it’s improbable.

I suspect we’ll see more whisperings in the next week or two.

bottom line

Over the weekend I heard somebody run with the ‘give the guy some time’ defense of Comrade Trump. You’ve surely heard this. “Sure, he’s made some dumb moves, but the bottom line is he’s only been on the job a few months. What do you expect?”

That’s a good question. No, wait…it’s a really stupid question. What do we expect? The guy is the goddamn President of These United States. We shouldn’t have to be concerned about whether he meets some minimal tolerable standard. This isn’t Pass/Fail, for fuck’s sake. But sadly, that’s where we are as a nation. We’re actually forced to ask if Donald J. Trump is capable of meeting the bottom line.

The bottom line. It’s about as perfect an expression of a concept as you could ever want. It literally refers to the final profit and loss figure of any enterprise, which is located on the bottom line on an accounting page. Even the term bottom is absolutely perfect. It’s derived from a Proto-Germanic root word, buthm, meaning the ground, earth, soil, the lowest level. There is nothing below the bottom. 

So, bottom line — what’s the very least we expect from the President of These United States? What are the minimal set of behaviors and beliefs we reckon are acceptable from the person who runs the United States government? A few things immediately come to mind.

Is it true? I dunno. Maybe. Probably. Who can say?

A certain degree of honesty. Nobody expects POTUS to be perfectly honest about everything. There are things that, for security reasons, need to be kept secret. We’re all adults; we know this. We may not always like it, but we understand the need for incidental presidential fibbing. Hell, most of us are even okay with the occasional bald-faced presidential lie IF it’s in the best interest of the nation. But at the same time we expect the president NOT to lie casually. Or frequently. Or blatantly.

Comrade Trump violates that expectation. He lies easily, he lies often, and he lies brazenly — even if the lie is obvious. The scope of the lie doesn’t seem to matter; he lies just as easily about issues of national importance as he does about trivial crap. He’s not just indifferent to the truth; he so indifferent to it that we’re forced to wonder if he’s even aware he’s lying.

That’s unacceptable. As citizens, we have a legitimate expectation that our president isn’t a habitual liar. The leaders of other nations share that expectation. When it comes to matters of trade or security — not to mention times of international crisis — other national leaders need to be able to trust that the U.S. president isn’t lying his ass off. At this point, nobody can fully trust Comrade Trump will deal honestly with…well, with anybody.

Whaddya mean, I got to listen to Congress? Who elected them to…oh. But still, c’mon.

A basic grasp of how the U.S. government functions. Yeah, government is complex. No single person can be expected to understand every facet of every organization and agency that comprises the U.S. government. But as citizens, we expect the president to have a working knowledge of how our government is supposed to operate.

Comrade Trump violates those expectations. If you google Trump doesn’t you get the following predictive searches:

understand executive orders
understand checks and balances
understand separation of powers

Okay, executive orders are maybe a tad confusing, but the concepts of checks and balances and separation of powers? That’s basic stuff. The first three articles of the U.S. Constitution are devoted to it. You know — three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, the judiciary. None of them is superior to the others, each operates independently, but are held in check by the other two. For example, POTUS can negotiate treaties, but the Senate has to approve them. Congress can make laws, but the courts determine if those laws are constitutional. The courts can send folks to jail, but POTUS has the power to pardon them. POTUS can propose a budget, but Congress decides whether to fund it. Basic stuff, like I said. American kids learn this in middle school or earlier. But they’re a mystery to Comrade Trump.

That’s unacceptable. As citizens, we have a legitimate expectation that the president should be as familiar with this stuff as your average fifteen year old kid. It’s ridiculous that Comrade Trump has to be periodically reminded what the president can and cannot do. He’s NOT the king — he’s not even the CEO of America Inc. — he’s just the guy who temporarily occupies the office.

Go fuck yourself. Go. And then fuck yourself. In that order.

An elementary notion of decorum. I’m not talking about whether he knows what fork is for the salad. I’m talking about preserving and maintaining the dignity of the office of the President of These United States. In the words of Joe Biden (who, let’s face it, wasn’t always the most decorous and dignified person in the room), it’s a big fucking deal. We expect our president NOT to be a jerk in public. When the president is out and about with his wife, he should be polite to her. It’s none of our business whether or not he loves his wife, but it IS our business that he treats her with respect. When visiting officials and dignitaries arrive at the White House, he should be polite to them. It doesn’t matter if he likes or dislikes Angela Merkel. She’s the Chancellor of Germany — shake her damned hand. As citizens, we have a legitimate expectation that our president doesn’t disgrace the nation, doesn’t embarrass the citizenry, doesn’t wantonly insult others. It’s not asking too much to expect the president to comport himself a degree of restraint and a certain amount of grace.

Comrade Trump violates those expectations. He’s consistently rude and boorish — to his wife, to his staff, to visiting dignitaries and diplomats, to his predecessors, and to others in general. He’s quick to ridicule folks he disagrees with, to insult his detractors, to disparage anyone he feels is in any way inferior, and to malign anybody he sees as any sort of threat. At the same time, he compliments authoritarian figures and tyrants. He praises Russia’s Putin, Duterte of the Philippines, Turkey’s Erdogan — but he calls President Obama “a bad (or sick) guy” and accused him of “trying to destroy Israel” and being “the worst president in U.S. history” as well as being “weak” and “insane”.

That’s unacceptable. As citizens we deserve a president who isn’t a continuous source of shame and embarrassment. We deserve to be represented by a person who treats others with a modicum of respect. We deserve a president who is self-confident and mature enough to respond to slights and insults with restraint and sensibility. We deserve a president who isn’t a flaming asshole.

Bottom line: he can’t get any lower.

So, here’s the bottom line then. We expect the president to be moderately honest, to be as conversant with the basic functions of the government as a middle school student, and not to be a jerk. We expect him not to pout, not to whine, not to blame others, and not to have tantrums. We expect him NOT to behave like a spoiled child acting out at the Burger King.

Bottom line — we expect the President of These United States to act like a fucking adult.

a very short conversation about health care

My friend: “I can’t believe what the Republicans did. They hate poor people.”
Me: “I dunno. Seems like it, doesn’t it.”
My friend: “Oh c’mon, they despise poor people.”
Me: “Naw, it’s more like the Republicans are Rick Blaine and poor folks are Signor Ugarte.”
My friend: “What?”
Me: “You know, like in the movie Casablanca.”
My friend: Casablanca? What the hell are you talking about?”
Me: “You’ve never seen Casablanca?”
My friend: “Well, yeah, of course I’ve seen it. But what’s Casablanca got to do with Republicans passing a hateful health care bill?”
Me: “Remember that scene? The one with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre?”
My friend: “Oh, yeah, right. He wants to search Bogart’s office, and he pulls a gun, but Bogie knocks him out and takes his gun and searches him, and when Peter Lorre wakes up, Bogart gives him back the gun, and Peter Lorre points it at him again and demands to search his office. Great scene.”
Me: “That’s from The Maltese Falcon.”
My friend: “Oh. Right. Sam Spade and…Peter Lorre.”
Me: “Joel Cairo.”
My friend: “What?”
Me: “Peter Lorre played Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon. In Casablanca he plays a guy named Signor Ugarte.”
My friend: “Okay. I’m still confused.”
Me: “What I’m saying…or trying to say…is that Republicans would probably despise poor people if they gave them any thought.”
My friend: “Okay. Wait, what?”
Me: “Congressional Republicans…and this is just my opinion…don’t care enough about poor people to think about them enough to actually despise them.”
My friend: “But if they did, they would.”
Me: “Exactly.”

comrade trump will leave his hat on

You know what’s disheartening? I’ll tell you. The recently published Reuters interview with Comrade Trump. Wait, let me amend that. Any interview with Comrade Trump. Hell, let me amend that again — any interview with almost anybody about Comrade Trump. They’re all disheartening, and they’re disheartening for the same reason.

Here’s the reason: Trump is a fuckwit. An arrogant fuckwit. An arrogant fuckwit who is unaware of his own arrogance and fuckwittery. There’s not even a word to describe the staggering degree of arrogant fuckwittery the man exhibits.

For example, this from the Reuters interview:

“This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

He thought it would be easier. He thought being President of These United States would be easier than running a branding chop shop from Trump Tower. He’s surprised to find running an entire nation is more work than his previous gig. Jeebus Pericles, that is just so completely fucking astonishing. And what makes it even worse is the undeniable fact that Trump’s doing a shitty goddamn job of it. The job is harder than he thought and he’s not even doing it well. It’s not just that Comrade Trump is fumbling around in the dark without a flashlight. It’s that he’s so woefully unprepared that he doesn’t even know flashlights exist.

Not sure why it’s so dark in here.

Worse still, Trump can’t be bothered to listen to the folks who know anything about flashlights. Six days — six days — after he took office he dismissed entire senior staff of the State Department. Almost none of them have been replaced. In March he fired about half of the 93 U.S. Attorneys — the chief federal law enforcement officers within a particular jurisdiction. None of them have been replaced.

Every so often Comrade Trump acknowledges that he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. Health care? “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Nobody except anybody who’d spent five minutes thinking about health care. North Korea? “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy.” Imagine what he might have learned if he’d managed to listen for fifteen minutes. NATO? “They asked me about NATO and I said ‘NATO is obsolete’ not knowing much about NATO. Now I know a lot about NATO.” No. No, you do NOT know a lot about NATO. You only know a little bit more about NATO than you did before, because before you knew nothing at all. A little bit more just seems like a lot when you’re completely fucking ignorant.

Tomorrow is Comrade Trump’s hundredth day in office. It takes about a hundred days for most presidents (not counting William Henry Harrison, who died after 32 days in office) to gain their footing and develop their stride. Not Trump. Trump’s still stumbling. In the dark, sans flashlight. All he’s really succeeded in doing in these hundred days is to scatter glass all over the floor. Because he likes the sound it makes when it shatters.

Pretty soon he’ll probably decide to take off his shoes.

seriously, the guy has a point

I got metaphorically spanked a couple of days ago. Folks have been talking about the Fearless Girl statue ever since it was dropped in Manhattan’s Financial District some five weeks ago. I have occasionally added a comment or two to some of the online discussions about the statue.

Recently most of the Fearless Girl discussions have focused on the complaints by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who created Charging Bull. He wants Fearless Girl removed, and that boy is taking a metric ton of shit for saying that. Here’s what I said that got me spanked:

The guy has a point.

This happened in maybe three different discussions over the last week or so. In each case I explained briefly why I believe Di Modica has a point (and I’ll explain it again in a bit), and for the most part folks either accepted my comments or ignored them. Which is pretty common for online discussions. But in one discussion my comment sparked this:

Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.

Which — and this doesn’t need to be said, but I’m okay with saying the obvious — is a perfectly valid response. It’s also one I agree with. As far as that goes, it’s one NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees with, since he said it first (although, to be fair, probably one of his public relations people first said it first).

But here’s the thing: you can completely agree with the woman who responded to my comment AND you can still acknowledge that Arturo Di Modica has a point. Those aren’t mutually exclusive or contradictory points of view.

Let me apologize here, because I have to do some history — and for reasons I’ve never understood, some folks actively dislike history. It’s necessary though. So here we go. Back in 1987 there was a global stock market crash. Doesn’t matter why (at least not for this discussion), but stock markets everywhere — everywhere — tanked. Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant who became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., responded by creating Charging Bull — a bronze sculpture of a…well, a charging bull. It took him two years to make it. The thing weighs more than 7000 pounds, and cost Di Modica some US$350,000 of his own money. He said he wanted the bull to represent “the strength and power of the American people”. He had it trucked into the Financial District and set it up, completely without permission. It’s maybe the only significant work of guerrilla capitalist art in existence.

People loved it. The assholes who ran the New York Stock Exchange, for some reason, didn’t. They called the police, and pretty soon the statue was removed and impounded. A fuss was raised, the city agreed to temporarily install it, and the public was pleased. It’s been almost thirty years, and Charging Bull is still owned by Di Modica, still on temporary loan to the city, still one of the most recognizable symbols of New York City.

Arturo Di Modica (the one in the beret)

And that brings us to March 7th of this year, the day before International Women’s Day. Fearless Girl appeared, standing in front of Charging Bull. On the surface, it appears to be another work of guerrilla art — but it’s not. Unlike Di Modica’s work, Fearless Girl was commissioned. Commissioned not by an individual, but by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. That’s serious money. It was commissioned as part of an advertising campaign developed by McCann, a global advertising corporation. And it was commissioned to be presented on the first anniversary of State Street Global’s “Gender Diversity Index” fund, which has the following NASDAQ ticker symbol: SHE. And finally, along with Fearless Girl is a bronze plaque that reads:

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

Note it’s not She makes a difference, it’s SHE makes a difference. It’s not referring to the girl; it’s referring to the NASDAQ symbol. It’s not a work of guerrilla art; it’s an extremely clever advertising scheme. This is what makes it clever: Fearless Girl derives its power almost entirely from Di Modica’s statue. The sculptor, Kristen Visbal, sort of acknowledges this. She’s said this about her statue:

“She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note.”

It’s all about the bull. If it were placed anywhere else, Fearless Girl would still be a very fine statue — but without facing Charging Bull the Fearless Girl has nothing to be fearless to. Or about. Whatever. Fearless Girl, without Di Modica’s bull, without the context provided by the bull, becomes Really Confident Girl.

Fearless Girl also changes the meaning of Charging Bull. Instead of being a symbol of “the strength and power of the American people” as Di Modica intended, it’s now seen as an aggressive threat to women and girls — a symbol of patriarchal oppression.

In effect, Fearless Girl has appropriated the strength and power of Charging Bull. Of course Di Modica is outraged by that. A global investment firm has used a global advertising firm to create a faux work of guerrilla art to subvert and change the meaning of his actual work of guerrilla art. That would piss off any artist.

See? It’s not as simple as it seems on the surface. It’s especially complicated for somebody (like me, for example) who appreciates the notion of appropriation in art. I’ve engaged in a wee bit of appropriation my ownself. Appropriation art is, almost by definition, subversive — and subversion is (also almost by definition) usually the province of marginalized populations attempting to undermine the social order maintained by tradition and the establishments of power. In the case of Fearless Girl, however, the subversion is being done by global corporatists as part of a marketing campaign. That makes it hard to cheer them on. There’s some serious irony here.

And yet, there she is, the Fearless Girl. I love the little statue of the girl in the Peter Pan pose. And I resent that she’s a marketing tool. I love that she actually IS inspiring to young women and girls. And I resent that she’s a fraud. I love that she exists. And I resent the reasons she was created.

I love the Fearless Girl and I resent her. She’s an example of how commercialization can take something important and meaningful — something about which everybody should agree — and shit all over it by turning it into a commodity. Fearless Girl is beautiful, but she is selling SHE; that’s why she’s there.

Should Fearless Girl be removed as Di Modica wants? I don’t know. It would be sad if she was. Should Di Modica simply take his Charging Bull and go home? I mean, it’s his statue. He can do what he wants with it. I couldn’t blame him if he did that, since the Fearless Girl has basically hijacked the meaning of his work. But that would be a shame. I’m not a fan of capitalism, but that’s a damned fine work of art.

I don’t know what should be done here. But I know this: Arturo Di Modica has a point. And I know a lot of folks aren’t willing to acknowledge that.




the news — it ain’t for sissies

See, here’s the problem: there’s just too much shit happening. I have some very simple and very general criteria for selecting topics for this blog. They include (but are most certainly not limited to) the following:

  • shit I find amusing
  • shit I find infuriating
  • shit that alarms me
  • shit engages my interest or curiosity
  • shit that makes no sense
  • shit I think people ought to be thinking about but aren’t
  • shit that usually makes sense but doesn’t in this particular instance
  • shit that’s hilarious
  • shit that makes me want to punch somebody in the throat
  • shit that ought to be in the news but isn’t

It used to be I could read the news in the morning and it was usually fairly easy to pick out one or two things that fit several of those criteria. And then I’d think about that thing for a bit, then start banging out words in a row. Easy peasy Socrates-y. It was all blue sky and fair winds.

But then Comrade Trump got sort of elected. Now everything is happening all at once, and all the time. Shit has got out of hand, so to speak. Now I read the news and I’m screaming “Bank left! Bank left! Don’t turn this corner, Rick!” Now I read the news and what I see is this:

  • shit I find interesting, but alarming and infuriating, that makes no sense, but is somehow hilarious and yet makes me want to punch somebody in the throat.

Shit has become complicated. I’m talking about shit like this: Devin Nunes steps down from simultaneously leading and deliberately undermining the House investigation into Comrade Trump’s multitudinous connections with Russian agents who actively engaged in dozens of covert and illegal operations designed to subvert the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump after it is revealed he (and we’re back to Nunes here) willfully misled the public and the members of his investigative committee about information he secretly obtained that he claimed supported Trump’s unfounded claim that he’d been illegally wiretapped by President Obama (but which didn’t actually support that claim at all), said information which came from White House operatives (one of whom apparently used to work for Nunes) whose names he refused to release.

And that’s just Nunes. Hell, that’s just Nunes on one particular day. Toss in similar news items about Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and just about every venal sumbitch on Trump’s Cabinet of Nazgûl PLUS the fact that Comrade Trump can’t seem to go for more than about 75 minutes without doing or saying something that’s so profoundly ridiculous/incompetent/offensive it makes your eyes water — and hey, it’s sort of paralyzing.

It used to be that I read the news in the morning and I felt informed. Now I read the news and I feel like I’ve escaped after taking fire from all directions. I feel like plucky Flying Officer Terry Waine — I’ve made it through today’s bombing run, but the fuselage is rapidly shredding around me and flames have erupted in the cockpit. And I still have to turn back and try to rescue Boots.

And then, after I crash-land back at base, I’ll have to do it all again tomorrow. It’s exhausting, is what it is.