a roach in the spaghetti

Yeah, it’s not treason. This is treason: 18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Do you see the problem? Did Comrade Trump Jr. levy war against the U.S.? Nope. Did he adhere to any enemies? Nope. Adhere, in this context, basically means ‘join’. Did he give aid or comfort to the enemy? Nope, not really. Aid and comfort — that phrase doesn’t have any strict legal meaning, but in general it’s about giving (or even making an attempt to give) some sort of substantial assistance or material support. Trump the Lesser is a despicable creature, but he didn’t commit treason.

Nevertheless, you could make a solid argument that Comrade Trump Jr. is still a traitor. A traitor, after all, is just somebody who betrays their country. Colluding with Russia to influence the election makes him a traitor, even if he didn’t commit treason.

This oleaginous, French-cuffed fuckwit cannot be trusted.

I’ve heard some folks arguing that all Trump Jr. was doing was gathering opposition research. Balderdash (this is a wonderful word, by the way; it was originally an Elizabethan term for a jumbled mix of liquors — you know, like at a party when folks pour three kinds of wine, some beer, and half a bottle of gin into a bowl and call it ‘punch’ or something. When you drink balderdash, you speak balderdash).

Okay, I got distracted there. As I was saying, balderdash. I’ll even add an exclamation point here, because it’s warranted. Balderdash! Opposition research is a sleazy but common practice. What Comrade Trump the Lesser did was sleazy, but not at all common.

It’s important to remember that Putin wasn’t supporting Trump the Elder because he thought he’d be a good president. He wasn’t really supporting Trump at all. He was just fucking with the electoral system in order to destabilize the U.S. If Russia could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process, then that would weaken the authority of the next president, regardless of who got elected.

Let’s not forget, Russia didn’t just illegally obtain and distribute emails. They also invented and promoted false narratives. Like that Pizzagate bullshit. Like the bullshit about Hillary Clinton’s health, or her relationship with her aide. They flooded social media with bots that promoted bullshit stories. Putin-Russia deployed a LOT of different attacks. If one failed, there were a dozen others. None of them needed to succeed entirely in order for the plan to work. The combined effect was enough to cast doubt on the authenticity of the election.

I got a bowl of pasta for you, tremendous bowl, best ever, just for you. Don’t ask questions, just eat.

The lawyer with whom Comrade Trump the Lesser met — even if she was entirely innocent (which is exceedingly unlikely, but still possible) — is inextricably linked with the folks who DID do all that other stuff.

Right, time for an analogy. What do you do if you see a cockroach sitting in a bowl of spaghetti? Do you try to untangle the roach-touched noodles from the rest of the bowl? No. You chuck out the entire bowl of spaghetti.

That Russian lawyer is a noodle in a roach-tainted bowl of spaghetti. Trump Jr. knew the spaghetti was tainted. But he was willing — even eager — to serve it to the public.

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.

astonishing

These last few days have been astonishing. Literally astonishing. Astonishing in the oldest sense of the term. You know — stunned, made senseless by the crash of thunder. From the French estoner and the Latin tonare — to thunder. Astonish.

Last week we learned the newly elected President of These United States, who is under investigation for colluding with the government of Russia to disrupt and interfere with the presidential election, held a private meeting with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. In any other administration, that alone would be astonishing. But that’s not the most astonishing thing. In that meeting, Comrade Trump told the Russians that he’d just fired the Director of the FBI, who was heading the investigation into the campaign collusion. And no, even that isn’t the most astonishing thing. The most astonishing thing is he told them he’d fired the FBI chief because of the investigation.

Think about that for a moment. The target of what is essentially a conspiracy investigation tells the people with whom he’s accused of conspiring that he fired the investigator because he was investigating the conspiracy. And the target is the President of These United States.

That is just fucking astonishing. You’d be justified in thinking Clan Trump had fulfilled its monthly quota of astonishing things. But no. Trump went to Saudi Arabia. And he took his daughter. The tall, smart one with the long neck. And she spoke about women’s economic empowerment to a group of fifteen Saudi women described as “leaders in society, businesswomen and elected government officials”. Prepare to be astonished. This is part of what she told them:

“In every country around the world women and girls continue to face unique systematic, institutional, cultural barriers, which hinder us from fully engaging in and achieving true parity of opportunity within our communities. Each of you know this to be true. And yet the stories of Saudi women, such as yourselves, catalysing change, inspire me to believe in the possibility of global women’s empowerment.”

Yeah. Those 15 Saudi women leaders? The ones who inspire Ivanka as catalysts of change? They can now vote in local elections. Local elections. Of course, they need their husband’s permission to vote. No, wait — that’s not fair. They don’t need their husband’s permission to vote; they only need their husband’s permission to travel to the voting site. Women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive. As you almost certainly know, they can’t go anywhere outside the home unless they have the permission of a male family member — husband, father, brother, uncle, son (yes, that’s right — if no other male family member is available, a woman would have to get permission from her son). Oh, and they need to be accompanied by a male family member too. They also need a male family member’s permission to go to school. Or get a job. Or open a bank account.

The Saudis wore black, Ivanka wore powder blue.

And if they go out in public, those 15 women leaders have to abide by a strict dress code. At the very least, they have to wear a head scarf and a long cloak. But hey, they’re no longer required to cover their faces. Progress! Of course, most of the places these Saudi women can visit are gender segregated — public buildings, universities, parks, even amusement parks. If they go shopping, they’re generally not allowed to try on the clothes, because that would require getting undressed. In a private dressing room. In a gender-segregated shop. You can’t be too careful.

But hey, if they want to buy the clothes they can’t try on? They can use their own credit card! The one they received from the bank when they opened their account. Which they were allowed to open with the permission of their husband or father.

“Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to be done and freedoms and opportunities to continue to fight for.”

Oh, Ivanka. She’s so right. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s so very encouraging. And yes, there are so many opportunities to fight for. Ivanka knows an opportunity when she sees one.

Speaking of opportunities, did I mention that after Ivanka spoke about the encouraging progress made by Saudi women, she announced that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had contributed US$100 million to a women’s empowerment fund? Oh, and did I mention that the fund was spearheaded by Ivanka Trump?

After Ivanka’s speech on empowerment and the announcement of the $100,000,000 donation, the fifteen Saudi women leaders left through the separate women’s entrance and, with the permission of their husbands or fathers, were driven home, where they’re allowed to remove their cloaks and head scarves.

Astonishing, isn’t it.

tip your little hat

Jackanapes (noun) 1 (obsolete) A monkey. 2. (dated, pejorative) a : an impudent or conceited fellow, an absurd fop, b : a saucy or mischievous child.

mid-15c., from ‘Jack of Naples‘, with ‘of Naples’ rendered ‘a Napes‘ in vernacular. Orig., a man who exhibited performing apes; an organ grinder and his tame monkey. Usage note: originally in the singular form: jackanape, Later ref. pertained primarily to the ape. Farmer & Henley say ‘originally, no doubt, a gaudy-suited and performing ape.’

Many people are saying the J. in Donald J. Trump stands for Jackanapes. I don’t know; I’m not saying it, but many people are. Many tremendous people. Maybe it’s the Chinese, or it could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds, nobody knows. Probably not Russia. But many people are saying it.

organ-grinder

A little advice for Mr. Trump. If you hear the music of a hand organ, look around. If you can’t immediately see the monkey at the end of the leash, it’s because you’re the monkey. Hold out the cup and tip your little hat. And don’t forget, Putin the Organ Grinder owns that little hat, and the cup. And the leash.

the black death, cheap pans, and trump

So last week Donald Trump promised to make a ‘big announcement’ about President Barack Obama’s…no, wait. First, we should probably talk about the social and economic upheaval that followed the Black Plague in the 14th century, because…no, wait. It might make more sense to explain the Dutch language spoken from about 1100-1500 CE is known as Middle Dutch. That’s only important because…no, wait.

Okay, let’s try that again. The Black Plague killed off a hefty chunk of the population of Europe, right? Right. One result of that was the loss of village merchants. Before the plague if you needed a pan, you’d walk into the village and buy a pan. No big deal, easy peasy lemon squeezy. But then the plague comes and your local pan dealer goes toes up, and suddenly there’s no place to buy a pan. And you need a pan, right? What are you going to do — cook your porridge in a boot?

Business opportunity! There was a surge of wandering pedlars who traveled from village to village in the Low Countries selling and repairing cheap wares: pots and pans, knives and scissors, cheap jugs and pitchers. These wares were known as hoken and the men who sold and repaired them were called hokesters. They not only sold and repaired pans, the best hokesters regaled their customers with news and gossip from other villages.

You need a pan? I got a pan. Such a pan, shiny, best ever, people tell me.

You need a pan? I got a pan. Such a pan, shiny, best ever, people tell me. People love my pans, I can tell you that. 

But there were also shady hokesters. They were basically con men who charmed their customers, played on their vanity, fed into their prejudices, encouraged their desire to win a bargain through haggling, said whatever they needed to say in order to sell them some cheap-ass, shoddy hoken that soon needed to be repaired or replaced. These asshole hokesters effectively created a revolving market. They’d sell you a shiny cheap-ass pan that dented easily or broke because it was good for business. They could either charge you to repair it or sell you another cheap-ass pan, which would also break soon.

Over time, the population of Europe recovered from the Black Plague. Honest pedlars set up shops in town, and you could buy a damned pan without much fuss again. Only the shifty hokesters continued to travel the pan circuit. The Middle Dutch word hokester morphed into the modern term huckster.

Which brings us to Donald J. Trump.

The news media is constantly baffled by Trump’s willingness to say completely different things to different audiences, without any regard to consistency. They continue to view him as a person running for political office — but he’s not. He’s just a huckster selling his product. Everything he says and does is said and done to move a product — and Trump’s product is his name. Not Trump as a person; Trump as a product. Here’s what’s important to remember: a huckster says whatever he thinks will entice the customers in front of him right now to buy his product. He’s not interested in what he said to a different set of customers yesterday. It doesn’t matter. He’s already sold them a shiny cheap-ass pan, and he’s moved on. A huckster shifts his pitch to entice the customer at hand.

What, your pan broke? It happens, pans break. Pans break. They break, trust me. If you want, I can sell you a better pan.

What, your pan broke? It happens, pans break. Pans break. They break, trust me. If you want, I can sell you a better pan.

Trump isn’t driven by ideology, or principle, or religion, or concern for the public, or any of the other motivations that drive politicians. He’s driven by the desire to move the product.

Is Trump a racist? Maybe, I don’t know. He may not give a shit about race. But he’ll play along with racists if he can sell them a shiny pan. Is he anti-Muslim? Maybe. Maybe he’s go no interest in religion at all. But if it helps him unload some cheap-ass scissors, he’ll say anti-Muslim shit all day long. Is he a patriot? Don’t know, but there’s product to be moved and if waving a flag will help move it, then he’ll be Betsy fucking Ross for a couple of hours.

Trump is a huckster, plain and simple. A huckster on a very big stage, but still a huckster. He’s selling shiny, cheap-ass pots and pans to chumps. There’s always somebody who’ll buy that shit.

 

trump, the slayer

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Well, okay — that’s it then.

Now the Republican party can drop all pretense of being serious about governance. Or diplomacy. Or hell, pick something. The GOP just isn’t a serious political party. They’ve become a frat house for assholes.

They’re pretty ecumenical when it comes to assholes, I’ll give them that. Assholes of all stripes are welcome. Religious assholes (“I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven!”), economic assholes (“Tax breaks for the rich, fuck the poor!”), militaristic assholes (“Carpet bomb mosques, build more Hobby Lobbys!”), racist assholes (“Hey, somebody has to mow the lawns!”), stupid assholes (“Why can’t we make the Second Amendment the First Amendment?”), sexist assholes (“That was a compliment! What’re you, a lesbian?”), and free range raging assholes of all sorts. If you’re an asshole, Trump wants your vote.

Like I should care what sort of asshole you are? Just vote already.

Like I should care what sort of asshole you are? Just vote already.

Of course they picked Trump. He’s the distillation of the Republican party. There’s nothing surprising about it. Nothing strange about it. It’s not weird; it’s wyrd.

Okay, today’s etymology lesson. The modern term weird is derived from the Anglo-Saxon wyrd, which means something like destiny or fate — but more complex. Wyrd doesn’t refer to something preordained, something that is meant happen. It’s more a constantly evolving and shifting nexus of individual choices and decisions melded with the necessities of the universe. The wyrd brings various elements together, then riffs on whatever crazy-ass stuff happens next. It’s a sort of Viking jazz improv version of fate or destiny.

It’s like this: fate didn’t bring Buffy Summers to Sunnydale, home of the Hellmouth. It was the wyrd. There was a pool of potential Vampire Slayers out there in the world, and the universe needed a Vampire Slayer parked at the Hellmouth. The universe didn’t care who the Vampire Slayer was, or what supernatural lottery ticket had to be cashed in to become the Slayer. The universe didn’t care what actions and decisions (like, say, burning down a high school in Los Angeles) would bring the Slayer to Sunnydale. A Slayer was needed in Sunnydale; the wyrd got one there. It happened to be Buffy.

Wait, what? They're nominating who?

Wait, what? They’re nominating who?

Donald Trump wasn’t preordained to destroy the Republican party, and the Republican party wasn’t preordained to be destroyed. But the wyrd is at work. In a couple of months the GOP national convention will meet in Cleveland (city of light, city of magic — as Randy Newman says) and not even the wyrd knows what will happen. Maybe Trump will be given the nomination, maybe establishment Republicans will somehow nominate some other poor bastard, maybe the sun will turn black and Trump will transform into a giant snake who will be killed with a mystical knife wielded by Elizabeth Warren. Who knows?

Regardless, it looks like the GOP — the frat house of assholes — is about to die. Not even the wyrd can say what will happen. But we know where and we know when, and I know I’ll be watching. Because, to paraphrase Hunter Thompson, when the going gets weird, the wyrd turns pro.

Burn on, big river, burn on.

 

applause for the chain reaction

I watched the early part of last night’s debate between the Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination. I watched and applauded.

Why did I applaud? I’ll tell you.

In 1913 a German chemist named Max Bodenstein had an epiphany. He was doing some research on the mechanisms of the chemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine, and he…okay, wait.

You probably read the mechanisms of the chemical reaction between hydrogen and chlorine and immediately began thinking “Dude, I thought this was about the debate; maybe I should see if there are any new videos of koala bears playing bocce ball on Buzzfeed.” A little patience, please. There’s an actual point to this. I’m not just tossing German chemists around willy nilly. Honest.

Max Bodenstein

Max Bodenstein

Right, so Max Bodenstein was noodling around with some hydrogen and chlorine molecules and he noticed something interesting. That shit exploded. Now, you don’t have to be a German chemist to know that explosions are cool, but Max wanted to understand why that shit exploded. What he discovered was that — and okay, this is going to get a wee bit sciencey here — the reaction of the parent hydrogen and chlorine molecules created some new unstable molecules. Those unstable molecules interacted with the parent molecules in ways that were a LOT more energetic than the original reaction — and that created MORE unstable molecules, which reacted again with the parent molecules and dot dot dot hey, bingo, that shit explodes.

Max Bodenstein was the first guy to describe a chain reaction. Any time you hear the phrase chain reaction, you have Max to thank for it.

Why am I talking about obscure German chemists? Because what we’re seeing in the current campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination is the explosion that comes at the end of a slow series of chain reactions that began in the 1980s. And that chain reaction began in 1978 when an obscure Georgia politician named Newt Gingrich read James Clavell’s potboiler Shōgun.

shogun

Okay, now you’re saying to yourself “Dude…the fuck? First German chemists and now this? What?” I know this sounds like I’m going off on another tangent. Again, patience.

The novel is grounded in the rise to power of a crafty, patient, manipulative leader of a Japanese samurai faction. Newt Gingrich modeled himself after the character, and it changed his approach to politics. To that point, modern US politics was primarily about policy differences. Gingrich made the usual claims that his opponent’s policies were ineffective and possibly harmful, but he also began to accuse his opponents of actively and intentionally trying to destroy everything that is and was good about the nation. His opponents weren’t merely wrong in their policy positions, they were traitorous. He began to depict Democrats as an actual threat that needed to be stopped in order to save the nation. There was no more ‘loyal opposition.’ There were only enemies to be defeated.

And hey, it worked. Republicans began to get elected in greater numbers. It’s worked for about 35 years now. They stopped proposing serious policies and relied on talking points and accusations. They stopped practicing governance, and focused instead on expanding and maintaining their power. They turned Republican politics into mummery.

Mummers

Mummers

The problem, though, was that the Republicans were confident they could control the toxic chain reaction of their politics. And at first, it seemed like they could But each successive election created more unstable molecules, which interacted with the existing unstable molecules, creating still more unstable molecules and dot dot dot hey, bingo, that shit explodes.

We’re talking about a sudden, violent increase in pressure generating large amounts of heat and destructive shock waves that travel outward from the point of explosion and produce a loud bang. Like this:

A chemical explosion -- thanks, Max Bodenstein.

Trump!

The Republican party is exploding in fairly slow motion right in front of us. It’s kind of sad, really. Inevitable and necessary, but still sad because they mixed the hydrogen and chlorine together without any thought that it would explode in their faces.

Sad, but also sort of funny and completely appropriate. Why? Because etymology! The term explode comes from the Latin explodere — the prefix ex– meaning ‘out’ and plaudere meaning ‘to clap one’s hands’ (the same Latin root gives us the term applaud). That’s right, folks — originally explode meant to make a loud noise to drive demons away or actors off the stage.

This is why I applauded last night’s Republican debate. The sooner these fuckwits get off the stage, the better.