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    • Making the Rich and Powerful Work for Everyone
      The philosopher John Rawls suggested that the only ethical society is one which we design before we know what position we will hold in it. If you don’t know whether you’ll be born the child of janitor or a billionaire, black or white, you may view social justice differently than when you know that your […]
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I’m about to say something controversial and there are probably lurkers who aren’t going to like it very much. Here goes:

If you are refusing to take the Covid vaccine for any other reason than your doctor told you it could cause fatal anaphylaxis or you have some other legit medical excuse (there are very few), I’m just telling you up front that I’m not interested in your reasoning anymore.

There are pediatricians out there who are trying to coach us on how to listen attentively to why these people either fear the vaccine or just flat out don’t think Covid will ever affect them. These doctors want us to be sensitive to refuseniks and not bombard them with information.

They’ve got a point about information. The hesitancy to get the vaccine is irrational and emotional at the bottom of it whether it’s based on fear or political identity. The science is out there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand it if you’re really motivated to know how a Pfizer vaccine works. But reasoning with refuseniks using information is a pointless exercise for people who cling to superstition, distrust, misinformation or politically generated oppositional defiance disorder.

And all I can say to that is f}#% that sh*#.

If you want to risk getting Covid or giving it to someone who is just patiently waiting their turn, if you can’t figure out that you could be a reservoir of a variant that could make the vaccine less effective in the future, if you buy into conspiracy theories about how the evil Democrats are trying to control you, and that you actually believe without any evidence that the vaccine will change your RNA or DNA (which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard) you’re on your own.

At this point, you present a danger to people I care about who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet and if you get it, now it will be one of the variants that spreads like wildfire to everyone in your immediate vicinity.

But you already know this and it is no longer my responsibility to coddle you. If I were an evangelical Christian, I would be satisfied that you had gotten The Word and would check you off my list assuming that you will spend eternity in perdition. I’ve got better things to do with my time and those are precious hours, days, weeks and months that I will never get back.

It could happen that being a refusenik may cause other people to behave differently towards those people who have no proof of vaccination. They might be excluded from restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes and family events. We might assume they are being pains in the ass and have attitudes we can’t respect. It could happen that nobody takes them seriously when they blame the governor for putting people out of work by closing small businesses since getting the vaccine is the quickest way of getting back to normal. These ladies protest way too much.

We vaccinated people may be concerned that they are harboring a deadly virus that could infect the not yet vaccinated or babies born without any protective antibodies. If that’s the case, the very predictable whining and tantrum throwing about personal freedom is going to fall on a country full of people with tiny violins playing tunes without pity.

Yes, yes, we’re all deluded. We’re all sheeple. We are letting fear control us. For some mysterious, unfathomable reason, we have relied on vaccines our whole lives to train and prime our immune systems to fight polio, measles, diphtheria, rubella, typhoid and influenza. But the refusenik knows that our immune systems do not need any additional help from a vaccine to combat Covid. Because Covid is a special virus? Or refuseniks have special magical powersi in their white blood cells that the rest of us don’t have?

Who knows? I don’t. And I don’t care anymore.

The message has been delivered. It’s up to every grown up who can read to decide for themselves what to do about it.

Just stop looking for a f}#^ing audience.

The Culture Wars

It is certainly not a term I made up. It probably caught on because of its assonant quality. And when phrases catch on, we get to hear them over and over.

Whatever you want to call it, the meaning is pretty clear, particularly to Republicans. They see it is as their ticket to winning the next elections, along with vote suppression, of course. Cut down the voting size; make cultural issues the focus, and they think they can win

To be very frank, and maybe presumptuous, I don’t think most voters have a deep understanding of economics. It is said that “people vote their pocketbooks,” and certainly most can figure out if they are doing okay financially. And maybe that is all they have to know, when they vote; except that it is more complex than that.

For example, many were thinking that Trump was doing well with the economy, at least before the pandemic. But all that he was really accomplishing with his removal of regulations on corporations, including restrictions on polluting or monopoly, was making more profits for them, virtually none of which got trickled down to anyone else. The major cuts on corporate taxes just allowed them more money to buy back their own stock, which pushed it up; but they didn’t give anything to their workers. The stocks went up, but the GDP went up very little, and the manufacturing numbers were also unimpressive, and the deficit skyrocketed.

The gap between the wealthiest Americans and everybody else, has gotten much larger. Trump didn’t even cut taxes for the poor, they went up slightly for the last tax year. But Trump and his people kept boasting about the stock market; and as usual, too many media showed their naivete, by thinking or saying that the market was a proxy for the economy, which it is not. I am sure that some of the voters bought this, too, or Trump would have been at Herbert Hoover and GW Bush favorability numbers.

So Republicans can try to push their economic agenda, except that more people are realizing that this agenda includes only one item, Cut Taxes on the Wealthy. If you want that, you will probably vote for them, but not that many do. What Republicans want to do instead, is to avoid discussing that, and concentrate on ramping up anger at Democrats by means of “culture issues.” The power of these, is that the Right Wing, and their attendant media amplifiers, are very good at saying simplistic and false things, which somehow resonate with voters. The term for this is “framing.” The first week of law school, one of the professors said that the key to any case, is how successful you are at framing the issue, convincing people that your way of presenting the issue at stake is the correct one.

I always remember a battle in California over a Proposition on the ballot, which simply raised the tax on cigarettes. Most people were for this in this state But the tobacco lobby poured in something like $90 million, running ads of the tenor of “”There they go again; they are trying to take away your right to spend money any way you want, and choose what products to buy.” These ads were of course successful, and the tobacco people managed to overcome a twenty-point or so deficit in the polls, to defeat the Proposition by a point or two

We all know what the power of immense corporate money can do to amplify their position. Republicans count on it. They also have managed to win on “cultural issues,” mostly because they lie about them, simplify them, and then have all those billions, all those media outlets, to keep pounding at them. Republicans almost never run on the economy, or any specific policy debates; they run on culture issues, vague yet powerful terms like “freedom,” “rights,” “personal liberty.” And then they try to show how the Democrats don’t value these things, or are trying to take them away.

So in the ’50’s, it was “anti-Communism.” I remember some kid in fourth grade asking me if I would rather be dead, or Red? I didn’t know what he was talking about, I did not know who was presenting this as a choice. I asked my parents, and they laughed, and explained this nonsense. Then it was fluoridated water. Again, I did not understand, why were people talking about that, as some kind of evil threat? And does anyone remember “Operation Water Moccasin” which was some lunatic right-wing idea that the Communists were going to go through Mexico, and invade California?

Then in the late ’60’s, it was “hippies and communist sympathizers and people who hate America” The anti-war protests were portrayed as a bunch of long-haired sexual libertines who burned flags, and wanted the North Vietnamese to win. This worked well for them in 1968 and 1972. “Law and Order” were the slogans of Nixon and George Wallace.

Then it returned in 1988, where Dukakis saying that he was a “proud card-carrying member of the ACLU,” was used to characterize him as a left-wing intellectual who does not connect with average Americans. Remember GHW Bush visiting flag factories every day? The three issues which Republicans used, and which the media slavishly echoed, were “flag burning,” “Willie Horton,” and “Boston Harbor.” Flag burning was front and center, even though the Supreme Court had consistently found it to be “protected symbolic speech,” and I think the last time they heard it, it was a 9-0 decision. But the Republicans did not care, they wanted to convince the voters that they were working hard to make flag burning a serious crime, and the media never bothered to point any of this out, went right along with it.

There was only one presidential debate, and the first question posed, was asking Dukakis, if his wife were raped and murdered, would he be against the death penalty for the murderer? What kind of inane question is that? The President does not make the laws regarding the death penalty, that is left to the states, per a Supreme Court decision. The goal of the questioner, who thought he was really asking something meaningful, was to put Dukakis in a kind of moral double bind: either he would be for the death penalty for this man, but against it in general, so thus a moral hypocrite; or he would show himself to be a milquetoast who puts legal abstractions above his wife. It was an unfair and irrelevant question, and it showed the extent to which the media not only loves to play “gotcha” with Democrats, bit also how they always buy into the Republican Party’s “culture” emphasis, relegating all other matters behind those.

Bill Clinton of course, was attacked unmercifully for trying to avoid the draft, like virtually every Republican officeholder in the country. Then there was the furor about marijuana, “did he inhale?” Then the sexual matters, the same kind of thing which Republicans always deny and blame on liberals for inventing against them. We also heard about Clinton stopping air traffic while he got a haircut, which was a total lie. We heard about “travelgate,” which actually sounded like something potentially important until I learned that it was just Hillary replacing the White House travel staff, which she had an absolute right to do. And then of course Vince Foster, and on and on.

And we can remember how they said that Gore was a serial liar who claimed that he invented the internet,; and that Kerry was a Frenchified wind surfer who shot himself in the foot on purpose, so as to get a medal in Vietnam. And all the lies and slanders and grotesque caricatures of Hillary as a person., both before and during 2016.

That is what passes for political arguments from Republicans, because they cannot effectively run on specific policy issues. And they are ready to do it again. Their underlying main argument is that Democrats are going to cancel everything they care about: TV shows, children’s books, holidays,; until they end up canceling them! They will take over every aspect of their lives; tell them what are good foods to eat, what they can watch, what they can say, whether they have to wear a mask or not. This is the irrational psychological fear that they have instilled in their base; the fear of not mattering, of having no freedoms, of being canceled out.

The truth is that the Republicans have gone about trying to cancel things for about 150 years. They pulled the troops out of the South, to cancel Reconstruction. They canceled Black voting rights in the 1880’s and beyond. They set the FBI and the Pinkertons to cancel the forming of labor unions. They burned books like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” “Forever Amber” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”

They blacklisted and effectively canceled the careers of many superb Hollywood writers, directors and actors. They kicked Charlie Chaplin out of the country. They would put FBI agents at anti-war rallies, to try to gather evidence against them, or to start violence which they could use major force to stop, and thus cancel that movement. Trump and his followers canceled the ability to read the transcribed interpreter notes of major international discussions. They canceled scientific data on global warming. They canceled the data on Covid fatalities in Florida and Texas. They tried to cancel the results of the last election. They stormed the capitol building to try to cancel the entire American political system on January 6. But they don’t see that as any form of “cancel culture,” because they are hypocrites who have no regard for science or facts or consistency, or anything which might impede their one goal, of winning elections and holding power.

That is why they focus on Dr. Seuss, and why Cruz and McCarthy lovingly read from his books on the floor of Congress. Of course, no one is canceling Dr. Seuss; the estate which handles his publishing decided not to republish a few of his lesser works, because some felt that they had some racist drawings. Mr. Potato Head was another major issue for the Right, to show people that just as he was ungendered, so they might be as well.

Republicans have no intention of changing their political or economic stances, such as they are. So they are left with trying to get their voters to become so angry and fearful that the Democratic Liberal Socialist Freethinkers are going to take all their childhood books and toys, and shows, and rights away, that they will rise up in fury to stop them. While of course, trying to stop Democrats from being able to exercise their freedom to vote at all.

We would like to discuss other matters, as an informed populace. The economy, women’s rights, minority rights, global warming, voting rights, workers’ rights, gun violence. But the Republicans do not want to. And the media loves the ratings they get from “culture wars,” because they are not the province of intellectuals, anyone can jump in and yell and declaim about them.

It is something that we need to be prepared for, and I hope that people on our side are able to figure out some effective counterpoints. That is hard, because we can’t just avoid these matters, but it is almost impossible to frame them in a way that the average person can understand. Rational argument based on philosophical and historical perspective, has a spotty record of success against pitchforks and flaming torches and witch burners. But ignoring them is not going to make them go away, because we are going to be hearing about this every day; they are going “all in” on it. That, combined with stopping Democrats from voting, is their last stand as a a political party, but they will fight to victory or demise under those banners.

Not so bad

In case any of you are apprehensive about getting the vaccine, you should know that not everyone has a bad reaction.

I got my second Pfizer shot at 12:15pm on Friday. At about 1:00am, I woke up and my arm felt a little sore. I sat up and moved it around and it felt better. I did feel a little like I was about to get sick. Mostly I was restless but not like my typical insomnia restlessness where my mind is overactive. This was definitely a physical feeling. After awhile I fell back asleep.

Saturday morning, there were a few instances of feeling a tad on the warmish but it wasn’t enough to make me take my temp. I didn’t do a whole lot of strenuous physical activity yesterday but it didn’t feel like I couldn’t. I just didn’t want to take the chance of popping any stitches that are still dissolving from my recent surgery.

My history with vaccines vary. Flu shots never make me ill, I didn’t usually feel any effects from boosters as a kid and the only immunization I can remember that made my arm really sore for weeks was a typhoid shot I got when I was 10. (Navy medicine. They made us get a typhoid shot before we moved to Hawaii. Still not sure what that was all about).

So, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that I had a gentle reaction. I’m pretty healthy and tend to tolerate discomfort better than most. From what I’ve read, you’re more likely to feel it strongly if you’ve already had Covid. That sounds consistent with what I’ve heard from other people who have gotten the shot.

The fact that I felt mild discomfort in my arm and other mild symptoms indicates that the shot is still working. I suspect my reaction, or lack of same, is more typical than we’ve been lead to believe.

Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along. Get the shot. You’ll be fine.

Monster Chiller Horror Theatre

Anyone who has ever watched the wonderful TV show “SCTV” will know the reference, and the brilliant and sometimes overlooked member of the best comedy ensemble ever, Joe Flaherty, as Count Floyd, but it is not necessary.

“Hi, kids, this is Count Floyd, for Monster Chiller Horror Theatre. Oh, tonight we’ve got a really scary film for you! Actually, two scary movies, one is about to come out, and the other has not been made yet! Isn’t that scary? All those budget overrides and bad reviews! Owooo!! Heh Heh Heh Heh Heh!! Owooo!”

A preview of some new movies coming out, includes this: “A thriller about a family on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach on which they are relaxing for a few hours, is somehow causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day. Release Date: July 23, 2021 (USA). Director: M. Night Shyamalan.”

Which motivated me to write this:

New Movie Preview “This Cannot Be Real, Oh, Yes, It Can!” This is the title of a new movie by M. Night Shyamalan which looks kinda exciting, and I might wanna see it, when I get paid my $5 for hyping it.

A family wants to rent a boat to go out on a big lake. They get in the boat, and are having a good time, when suddenly a man appears on a drifting raft. They let him on the boat, only to find that he is M. Night Shyamalan, who then tries to tell them about his latest script, that he would like to sell to them. They are not interested, at which point Shyamalan attacks then with his bulky script booklet.

They manage to push him off the boat, but he emerges from the water after a while, and climbs back on. He has another script this time, very similar to the last one. Every time they push him off, he climbs back on.

Then they see another boat, and they desperately wave to it so that they can get help. The boat pulls alongside, and to their horror, they see that M. Night Shyamalan is on that boat, too. They look around, and Shyamalan is also on their boat, waving his script around.

Suddenly, more boats appear, each with M. Night Shyamalans, and different scripts, all of which are essentially the same. They laugh maniacally, and say that their goal is to have a million Shyamalan scripts, so that every theatre can only show movies by him. The Shyamalans start climbing aboard the family’ boat, waving their arms in an impassioned fashion, and complaining about lack of funding. and being mistreated by critics.

Just when the family think that they are doomed, in more ways than one, they all wake up, and they realize that they fell asleep on the beach, and never went on the boat, and it is getting dark, and so they cannot take their boat out. They walk back to the car, fearing that like in a Shyamalan movie, he will be sitting in the front seat. But he is not.

Actually, he is in a room, watching a movie of them. They are not real, they are characters in another one of his inane scripts. Shyamalan rubs his hands together gleefully, thinking of the certain to be positive reviews of his new movie. Then the door opens, and the asylum attendant walks in. THE END.

Well, that amused me, at least. 🙂 Moving on from bad horror film writers, to actually talented ones. what are your favorite movies in the general “horror movie genre”? I like the genre, but I vastly prefer the non-violent kind. I never liked those Jason or Michael ones, though “Halloween” was certainly atmospheric. But a madman chasing people around, or jumping out of the darkness, while certainly scary, does not fit my idea of horror, which is haunting and psychological, sometimes ambiguous.

My favorite horror movie, though it is hard to pick one, is “The Innocents,” which came out in 1961, directed by Jack Clayton, from the highly regarded novella “The Turn of the Screw,” by Henry James. Deborah Kerr is superb as the highly strung governess who becomes convinced that the two young children she must take care of in their self-immersed father’s absence, are being tempted by the presence of an evil former servant who had died, and his former mistress. also dead. Whether they are, or whether she has imagined it, out of her own repressed sexuality, was deliberately left ambiguous by James, but may be a little more definitive in this adaptation. Pamela Franklin is wonderful in this as well.

I very much liked “The Others,” written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar, and starring Nicole Kidman, who was brilliant. Really a perfectly made movie. I decided to see this one afternoon, and whatever site I got the time from, was wrong, and I arrived 15 minutes in, which made the movie even more mysterious :). What in the world was going on? Why was she horrified when there were no shades on the windows? After the end, I asked an employee if I could just stay for the first fifteen minutes and he wouldn’t let me, so I had to come back another day to see that part again and the whole movie, which is well worth it. I read that they may be doing a remake of this with Kidman? I don’t think that this is a good idea, but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

“The Uninvited” A great ghost story movie from 1944, with Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Gail Russell. My mother liked this, with good reason. Virtually everything is implied, very haunting, and with an emotional power. The song “Stella By Starlight” debuted in this movie.

“The Awakening, ” a rather recent movie from 2011, directed and co-written by Nick Murphy, starring Rebecca Hall. This received somewhat mixed reviews, but I thought it was very atmospheric, and had a historical subtext, post World War I, and an England haunted by ghosts.

Those are a few. There are others which were scary, but perhaps too dark and unsettling. I think of “Skeleton Key” with Kate Hudson, and “The Ring,” with Naomi Watts. I thought that ‘Half Light,” with Demi Moore, was rather surprisingly good. “1408,” based on a Stephen King short story, starring John Cusack, was not too psychological, but was unquestionably visually unsettling .

I skipped mentioning the “horror classics,” which of course were well done, but which I never loved. And any modern horror which devolves into someone with a knife chasing people around, is not on my list. I also never wanted to see any devil-themed ones. My favorite horror films are actually where the protagonists are able to defeat the horror, to at least some extent, but they are not too common. I particularly do not like those where it looks like the good person has won, only to show the last shot where the evil entity has not been vanquished. To me, that is sort of a cheap and easy ending, though it is the staple of many horror films.

And no, I did not like “”The Sixth Sense,” though there was undoubtedly a jolting twist, which I had first seen done better, in an earlier short story with a different framing, “The Ghost Who Limped,” by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. That’s one thing about reading a lot of what they like to call Dark Fantasy stories, often in yearly “Best Of” collections which I would regularly buy. You realize that some of these scripts are derivative, though I concede that it is hard to be completely original in this field.

“Okay, kids, those two movie reviews just weren’t scary. Who booked those? Mrs. Prickley, huh? We’ll get a better one for you next time, or…I’ll eat a bat! And you know Count Floyd doesn’t want to do that! So until then, this is Count Floyd for Monster Chiller Horror Theatre. Don’t forget to send away for your Count Floyd Special 3D glasses! Only…$28.50. Plus three dollars for shipping. Owooo! Ow Ow Ow Owooo!”

Not a Royal watcher but, damn, Phillip was funny

Does anyone here watch The Crown? Yes, it’s fiction but it’s not tabloidy stuff. From all accounts, it gets the flavor of the individual royals about right.

My favorite characters have been Prince Phillip and Princess Anne. Each had a dry, snarky sense of humor. With Phillip especially, you get the sense of a restless admiral who doesn’t suffer fools lightly and is nonetheless frequently surrounded by them.

His early life was tragic in some ways. His parents were the king and queen of Greece who were deposed by a coup and in a nighttime getaway by boat, barely escaped with their lives. His father was a family bully. His mother, born a princess and descendent of Queen Victoria, was deaf, mentally unstable, incredibly intelligent, and ended up dedicating her life to the poor as a Greek Orthodox nun. His sisters married Nazis and his favorite sister died in a plane crash when she came to see him while he was in boarding school. He walked behind her funeral to be publicly humiliated by his father at the end of it.

He had the kind of early life that had the potential to make him not turn out well or have a substance abuse problem or be just a mad, bad and dangerous to know guy. But some of his British Royal relatives decided to foster him, paid for his education, and gave him a place to stay when his only alternative was to go back to his family in Nazi Germany.

Here you see Phillip grappling with a moment of decision as he walked behind his sister’s funeral cortège, to embrace the darkness or the light, to align with his English side, represented by his uncle, the lord Mountbatten who walked behind him during that 1937 event, or his father and sisters as they turned towards fascism:

Not all of us can see that decision with such clarity.

He turned out better than ok. When he married Elizabeth, he had distinguished himself in the Royal Navy in WWII, was a promising naval commander and expected his career to be of some long duration until his father in law King George died of lung cancer at a relatively young age. Then his restless, adventurous spirit got caged by his wife’s duty and responsibilities. His natural inclination for progress and modernity clashed with his wife’s more conventional, less intellectual nature. Both were incredibly hard working but he suffered with his reduced opportunities for command and action by becoming the master of gaffes.

I don’t think they were all unintentional. Like this one when he met with the dictator of a South American nation and said, “It’s a pleasure to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people.” In all of his gaffes, you get the sense of a very smart man surrounded by Lilliputians. Yes, he knew what he was saying and that it wasn’t always polite or politically correct. But many of them picked at a sort of ironic truth.

Anyway, he was 99 when he died yesterday. He’d seen quite a few revolutionary ideas in his life, not all of them good. Whatever his personal inclinations and abilities were, they were put in service to the nation and his Queen. He did it splendidly.

Here’s my favorite Phillip humor from The Crown that captures what he was up against with his conventional wife:

The Alternative

I got my second shot today. I went with one of my relatives and we celebrated by going to lunch afterwards. We’re both relieved we got the shot. After all, it’s better than the alternative, right?

Up until today, the serious effects of Covid were unknown to us. Our family has taken the CDC guidelines seriously. Elderly and medically vulnerable members locked themselves down, we wear masks and don’t take unnecessary risks. Isolation can be tough but some of my relatives have come up with ingenious ways of staying connected by taking online live safaris in Africa and star walks with astronomers. They’ve become zoom masters. We are dealing with it as best we can and that includes going to get our vaccines when it’s our turn. We’re just as concerned with spreading the disease to our relatives, some of whom should be bubble wrapped, as we are as getting it ourselves.

Right now, my main concern is for my daughters who are becoming more vulnerable while our older relatives and those of us with pre-existing conditions are getting vaccinated.

For the most part, no one I know who has gotten Covid among my coworkers has been severely ill, although one relatively young coworker seems to have a long haul version. She was recently vaccinated and had a reaction after her first shot. That’s a potentially good sign that her body is going to be able to fight the lingering effects off.

Until today, I didn’t know anyone who had it bad. Then I got a ping from a friend I hadn’t heard from for awhile. She had been in the hospital. She had Covid and was hospitalized for a month in January. She was on a ventilator. They didn’t think she was going to make it but she did. Then she had to go to rehab for another month – to learn how to walk again. She’s now at home, using a rollator to get around. She’s younger than I am and she has a very long recovery ahead for her. I’m hoping to see her next week once I get over whatever reaction comes my way.

So, that’s the alternative. That’s what we are trying to avoid by getting the shot. We don’t want to get it and we don’t want to give it. And the conspiracy theories and scare tactics aren’t anywhere near as concerning as ending up on a ventilator and having to learn to walk again. Or having neurological damage and memory problems. Or a whole host of other maladies that make your life miserable.

I didn’t really understand sickness until two years ago. I had been ridiculously healthy all my life. And even with my diagnosis, I can truthfully say that the treatment was worse than the ailment. I never really suffered any illness because it was caught early. But what the body has to go through by taking what amounts to gallons of weed killer followed by amputation and Chernobyl makes me appreciate how vulnerable our bodies really are. The worst parts of that experience was the feeling of the loss of control and depending on someone else to get you into the car when you threaten to collapse in the grocery store. It was walking to work with blistered feet, a reaction to my chemo, and knowing that I couldn’t take too many days off without losing my health insurance. If you’ve never had a serious illness, you may not take the threat of Covid very seriously. For most people, it’s just not that bad and we don’t know those people who have gotten truly ill.

The rest of us can’t wait to get the shot.

Bad Reactions

I’m getting shot #2 today! My coworker told me to get my Tylenol handy but that it only takes the edge off. I’m prepared for a miserable weekend. Then I’ll be freeeeee! FREEEEEE, I say!! Under my mask.

And it’s the beginning of allergy season when the entire natural world outside seems to be dragging us into an airborne orgy. yay.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is having a bad reaction this week. Just look at Mitch McConnell telling his corporate campaign donors to stuff a sock in it and then doing a “baby, I didn’t mean it” walk back the very next day. He’s blubbering about how if the Democrats eliminate the filibuster, he’ll go nuclear! But it sounds like all he can do is return the senate to regular rules of debate. No more hiding anonymously behind a filibuster to highjack legislation.

Eliminating the filibuster hasn’t happened yet but it’s funny to watch him flopping around like a fish out of water. Just the idea of releasing the flood gates on legislation has him scared silly. What’s even funnier is the reactions of his opponents. {{smirk}}

I love it.

And I suspect there are millions of proud boy fans who are reacting badly to the senate parliamentarian’s ruling on reconciliation. Looks like a whole lot of legislation is going to be passed – *popular* legislation – without any Republican help. Lips that touch reconciliation shall never touch theirs.

It’s almost like the money flow that typically goes to the top is being turned off. But that might be ok because businesses might not suffer too badly if more people have discretionary income to spend. I can almost hear the “Curses! Foiled again!” from the oil barons and the predators at the top of the food chain. They appear to be reacting in confusion to the prey getting smarter.

That’s really what’s happening here. We’ve been studying them and cracking the code. We had 4 years to prepare for D-day and now the allies are here. The battle is on.

Not every battle will be won and there will be variants that will cause some setbacks. But it looks like the body isn’t going to take this crap laying down anymore.

Rest up. There are going to be some very bad reactions.

That’s how you know it’s working.

“Better Voters”

You have probably heard about this. A couple of days ago, a writer for the National Review, Kevin Williamson, wrote an article entitled, “Voting Law Debate: Why Not Fewer Voters?” Yes, he actually wrote that, with the faux erudite style perfected in that journal founded by William F. Buckley. A kind of pseudo-intellectual musing, posing as going deeper than what Williamson views as the ploddingly simplistic view of the other side, that the goal of voting laws is to increase the amount of registered voters who can easily and legally vote.

Williamson propounds the question that maybe what we need is not more voters, but better voters. Ah, yes, why didn’t we consider that obvious point? The goal is not more voters, but better voters! Williamson then goes on to make what he apparently thinks are pointed arguments ,the kind that Buckley would make on PBS, though I don’t think that Buckley would have gone this far. He says that we have requirements for being able to drive a car, or practicing medicine, so why not for voting?

Let that sink in. He not only says this, but thinks he has run rings around us logically, to quote a Monty Python skit. He queries, why do we require medical practitioners to have gone to medical school, and to have obtained a valid license to practice medicine, but do not require something similar of voters? Why do would-be drivers have to take a driving test?

Well, because having the right to practice medicine or drive a car is not guaranteed in the Constitution. Also, because they both require specialized skills, one obviously more complex than the other. If you try to practice medicine without proof that you have at least some background and facility at it, you are not just breaking the law, that isn’t the crux of it. You are endangering people’s lives. If you have no experience with a car, and you just jump in and start trying to drive, you can kill people, including yourself. A car is a powerful machine, and very dangerous if not driven correctly. And of course there are drivers with licenses who do not drive well, and some doctors who are bad at what they do. But at least one has a reasonable chance to expect that someone who has a medical license has some expertise in their field. That is the point of it.

Now, what Mr. Williamson either doesn’t understand, or thinks that he is so clever that he has passed into a higher plane of logic, is that voting is not using a potential weapon, or risking the lives of people. It is exercising a constitutional right, to be able to choose your leaders, or at least people who will supposedly carry out programs you support. You have that right as an American, as you would in any democracy or republic, just to cover both of those, since Republicans love to expound on what they see is a crucial difference between them.

Clearly, the perceptiveness and knowledge of voters widely differs. But this is a democracy, and the Constitution says that all men are created equal. That was much too narrow, and it took over a century for women and minorities to obtain the same right to vote that White male property owners had at the outset. That was an inexcusable failing, but at least it finally was fixed, at least legally. Now we are going to hear arguments from the patrician Right, that maybe this is a bad idea? Well, perhaps they are in the wrong country, then.

A democracy desperately needs as large a voting participation as it can obtain. Does Williamson know that in France, every citizen over the age of 18 is automatically registered to vote? France wants you to vote, to exercise your plebiscite, and it makes it as easy as possible. There are many countries where voting is mandatory. These include Australia, Greece, the birthplace of democracy, Costa Rica, Belgium, Luxembourg, Mexico, Singapore. People can be fined or worse for not voting. I think that this may go too far, but it is an interesting contrast to what Williamson is proposing.

What is he proposing? Well, he does not say, because if he did, he would be supporting restrictions which have been found to be unconstitutional. These include the Jim Crow laws in the postbellum South. The poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses which were designed to make sure that virtually no Black people could vote.

What tests would the National Review propose, to obtain “better voters”? Proof of a graduate degree? A high score on the SAT or GRE? Employer reports on you from the last ten years? Proof of income over $500,000? Knowing the right people? A letter from a high-ranking Republican, attesting to your abilities to cast a proper vote?

This is beyond idiotic. But Williamson is not really going to argue this at length. He is just going to propound, in classic National Review style, that Democrats who contend that we must expand the right to vote, are extreme populists who are urging the rabble to go out and vote, while Republicans’ efforts to winnow down the voting rolls, are judicious and proper. All he wants is to toss out some kind of flimsy argument behind which the racists and the would-be aristocrats and the fascists can hide, by saying that “we are not suppressing the vote, we are simply showing that trying to add voters is not a virtue, or a constitutional right, but simply the Democrats trying to win by any means including voting.”

All the Right needs, all the media which are their mouthpieces need, is some argument on the other side, no matter how ludicrous. They always come up with one. Trump’s phone calls were not violative of laws, he had that right. Trump never said that, he was misquoted or joking or sarcastic. That was not an insurrection at the the capitol building, it was a peaceful and loving event. Gaetz may have done this or that, but so did other people. Just throw something out there, so that the illusion of a contested argument, a reasonable debate, is presented. “Well, Democrats argue that the Georgia voting laws are specifically designed to limit the voting of Democrats, particularly Black people. But Republicans contend that they do no such thing; and additionally, that maybe it will improve the voting pool in a socially darwinian way. So who is right here?”

The Far Right (and the National Review would never call themselves that, they posture as “principled conservatives”) are not hiding any longer. They are desperate. They will lose control of the country unless they manage to diminish the votes of the poor and minorities. So they pass every possible law that they can which is specifically intended to do just that, never mind the phony Orwellian phrasing “Protect the Vote,” or “Insuring the Rights of All.” They want to stop Democrats from voting, as much as possible. They’re achieving that, unless something major is done to overturn these new laws. Then they need people like Kevin Williamson to cover for them, either by saying that these draconian laws are actually good for the country, or that we need a new conception of voting; it is not how many vote, but how many of them are the “better voters.”

I think that we need a better class of political writers and journals, and I would propose in a gentlemanly way, that we start by banning Williamson, and closing down the National Review. A modest proposal, to be sure.

Various Media Reflections

I saw the second part of “Hemingway,” he loved to shoot wild animals, he loved bullfights. Something very strange about him. Of course, he greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt, and he hunted as well. I find it abhorrent, I could not dream of shooting an animal. What kind of arrogance and contempt for other lives that shows. F. Scott FItzgerald had his flaws, but I don’t think he ever shot other living creatures,, and he was a better writer than Hemingway, too.

I saw “The Trial of the Chicago Seven.” It is well done; and has an emotional effect. Aaron Sorkin wrote an excellent script. Apparently he took some liberties with the facts of the actual trial, which I am not much in favor of, though of course sometimes things can be slightly altered for dramatic effect. The essence of the trial; and that the Republicans, Nixon and John Mitchell, wanted to make a show of it, and throw anti-war leaders into jail for ten years or so, is very important. And of course it has its echoes in the Trump Administration, which had it gone on another four years, would have taken away the rights of just about everybody that was not part of Trump’s mafia. I am pretty sure that this was the backdrop for Sorkin wanting to make this movie. I recommend it.

The Derek Chauvin trial continues, wall to wall on television. I do not remember any other trials shown for so long on TV, unless it was O.J. Simpson, and I was not home much, so I don’t know how much they showed of it. It is interesting that the cable networks have decided to show weeks of the Chauvin trial, which is unquestionably significant, but of course essentially about the same set of facts repeated from different perspectives.

Not to say that they shouldn’t be showing all of this, but I have mused that the cable networks seem to need the drama of live events. Trump impeachments, the Congress questioning various witnesses on a matter. Are people now bored with the usual pattern of news, and crave real-life drama, with arguments and stunts and contesting perceptions by the two sides? If so, the news stations will have to find more of it, to keep their audience.

Is twenty-four hour cable news a good thing? Well, it’s there, whether we think so or not. And of course there is a profit aspect to it, it is not a public service, as the nightly news used to be. The ownership of the stations want you to watch them,. So they need to make it entertaining, as best they can, with arguments and vitriol, and “both sides,” and “stay tuned!”

We used to have a half hour of news at night. Cronkite on CBS, Huntley and Brinkley on NBC, and Howard K. Smith on ABC. My parents would try to watch them all, though at least two of them were on at the same time. They would quickly change stations; if there were a particular political story; they would want to see how each dealt with it, if one of them had s slant which they did not appreciate. And then the news was over for the day, unless of course there was a momentous or tragic event being covered. Now, it is shown all day, if one wants to watch it. Is this a good thing? Probably not, if just for the reason that while the big three stations used to do news as a half-hour public service, now the cable stations need eyeballs and ratings, and they have to try to make it entertaining for their audience which of course has implications for how they cover things.

I certainly admit to having watched a good deal of cable news over the last couple of years, hoping that Trump would be convicted, or that various House or Senate hearings would unearth something which would destroy his presidency. It never did, of course; it took the election to remove him, and barely then, considering the armed insurrection.

Actually, in retrospect we see that much of the stuff that Trump;s people were leaking to the media, as “scoops” were just lies or deliberate misdirection. Remember how right after the election, the “Trump whisperers ” on cable first said that Trump was very upset and depressed with the results; and then, that he had come to terms with it? That sounded promising, but we would also hear that he was meeting or calling election officials in various states, which did not seem to comport with the narrative of a defeated person who was just readying himself to go back to private life. And we learned to our horror that the “coming to terms with it” narrative was untrue; that he was spending every waking hour plotting to stay in office, by either overturning state results, or blocking the certification of votes, or even fomenting terrible violence against elected officials, leading to the declaring of martial law.

I am convinced that four years of “sources close to the President say…” was essentially “Trump called me and told me.” As Trump had always done in his career, he would feed stories to media people who would trade their credibility and impartiality for the career enhancements that these “scoops” would give them. It was bad enough when he was doing it for business and celebrity publicity. As President, he was dong it to shape a narrative, and get his way. There are media people out there who greatly contributed to the series of lies which were dispensed throughout the four years. They would never admit this, even to themselves, but I see them as enablers, and very dangerous ones, who did inestimable damage.

Along that line, do you notice that Jen Psaki’s press briefings are not covered live? She is wonderful; very bright, very quick, good-natured but firm, and never letting the media get away with a false or skewed narrative. But they don’t show her, whereas they showed virtually every second of the Trump press secretary briefings, on and on, full of rancor, lies, disparagement of media in general. Why was that? Those were more entertaining, and hence provided higher ratings? The media was in Trump’s pocket, and wanted to cover him 24 hours a day? This kind of thing is not to be passed over, with, “Well, it’s over, let’s focus on the present.” It is indicative of a rot at the center of much of the media. Not all of the media of course, but enough to cause serious damage to our institutions.

We remember with sadness and anger, how the media skewed its coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. I won’t recount the details, but it was not covered as a crucial news event, it was covered as an entertainment spectacle, with Trump being the main attraction, and thus getting all the space and time. Add that to the right-wing corporate bias of most of the large media, and you have the debacle of the campaign coverage, where Hillary was essentially portrayed as a foil to Trump, the TV show character who got a few requisite scenes, but with the audience craving the reappearance of the fascinating and unpredictable star.

“Do better,” yes, indeed. I wonder why my two favorite cable news anchors, Chris Jansing and Brooke Baldwin, are basically gone. Jansing got taken off the election coverage, perhaps after Sanders supporters reacted angrily to what they saw as her sighing when Sanders was shown winning the Nevada caucus. Now she just does news reporter stories. Baldwin was also taken off election coverage, which she said was not her choice. Then her show went from two hours to one; and then she announced that she was leaving the station. I liked both of them, because they were thoroughly professional, intelligent, and displayed a warmth and concern which was a welcome respite from the usual bland, full-of-themselves news anchors. They will be missed. I will be watching much less of cable news, maybe almost none of it, as a result of CNN and MSNBC opting tor Jake Tapper over Baldwin, and a variety of insipid anchors over Jansing. And of course, the welcome relief of having a competent and sane Joe Biden as President, makes it easier to not keep turning on the TV to see what new horror Trump had unleashed.

The news must go on, and there is always something for them to show. What the effects are, is not their concern, obviously. We want to keep informed, it is important to a democracy that the people know what is going on. But we will have to always be alert to filter it through the prism of realizing what the networks’ computer algorithms tell them are the most ratings-enhancing, and profitable to present.

“Isn’t It Pretty To Think So?”

That is the famous last line of Ernest Hemingway’s first, and undoubtedly best, novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Lady Brett Ashley says to Jake Barnes, the protagonist, “Oh, Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together.” “Yes,” I said, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

I knew that there was a special on PBS about Hemingway, but I thought it was a Ken Burns one; and although I admire Burns for his general decency, I do not really enjoy his documentaries. But I was turning channels a bit after my vaccine shot yesterday, and I saw that this was on; and it was done by Burns and Lynn Novick, but not narrated by him, by Peter Coyote, and it was very good, I think. I only caught the last hour, then I tried to tape the replay, and I somehow set the wrong PBS channel, so I missed that, too, but it is on again next week, and the Parts 2 and 3 will be on tonight and tomorrow.

The famous line culminates the novel, about Barnes, who fought in WWI, and suffered some kind of injury, never specified, which has left him literally impotent, and figuratively, as well. It is perhaps the most famous of the “Lost Generation” novels. It follows Jake and his friends as they travel to various European locales, drinking, having affairs, trying to gain some sustenance from natural beauty, and what Hemingway himself saw as statements of courage and beauty, including fishing, running with the bulls, going to bullfights.

There are moments of beauty and clarity that Jake experiences, but it is a novel of incomplete and ineffectual people. Brett, a titled British woman, was Jake’s nurse, they fell in love, but could not consummate the relationship. So Jake, out of whatever psychological needs the reader might contemplate, goes along and witnesses, not literally, her many affairs with other men. The last line is too perfect to require analysis, but it is obviously spoken with a kind of bitter regret, and a view that imagining a perfect happiness, or even “a damned fine time,” is presumptuous and childish.

I was never a big Hemingway fan, but I loved this book. In the first episode of the documentary, the part I missed, they described the beginning of his writing career, and his short stories, which were largely superb. Then this great first novel. After that, he wrote other well known ones, but I do not think nearly as good as “The Sun Also Rises.” Actually, I only read parts of the other ones, except that I read the entire novella “The Old Man and the Sea.”

I bought a book on tape of one of the others, but stopped after a few chapters, it seemed so similar to the style and descriptions of his first novel Maybe Hemingway repeated himself thematically, or maybe his style, which was remarkable when he first wrote, somewhat became the stuff of parody, with the short, clipped, direct sentences, from which the reader must discern the inner state of the narrator and the other characters.

Hemingway was handsome, athletic, very intelligent. He also had a strange competitive side, which seemed to lead him to try to derogate other writers. Fitzgerald championed him, and wanted to be his friend, but Hemingway berated him for his drinking, and not doing enough writing. He also wrote a novella, “The Torrents of Spring,” which cruelly parodied a work by his early mentor, Sherwood Anderson, the author of the brilliant set of connected short stories, “Winesburg, Ohio.”

In “The Sun Also Rises,” the characters were very much patterned after people Hemingway had gone around with in Europe. Robert Cohn was a Jewish character, taken after his supposed friend Harold Loeb. But Hemingway made Cohn into a rather despicable character who did not follow the “code” that was supposed to be essential to properly get through the essential meaninglessness of existence. Cohn sleeps with Brett, but he is possessive of her, not comme il faut. When Jake essentially sets her up with the young bullfighter Pedro Romero, Cohn is jealous and fights him. Cohn was an Ivy League boxing champion, and keeps knocking him down, but Romero keeps getting up, which Hemingway sees as the true grace under fire, and Cohn as a hopelessly graceless bully. Loeb was apparently very upset at this character, and could not understand why Hemingway would do that. It does diminish the book.

So we will learn more about Hemingway, and the reaction to his later novels, and his various romantic episodes. There is a story I remember from a baseball book, “Bums,” by Peter Golenbock, which is an oral history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. A Dodgers player of the late ’30’s and ’40’s, Kirby Higbe, recounted a story where he and Hemingway had met and were friendly. He came over to his house, and Hemingway wanted to box with him, which was something he liked to do. Higbe, taller and athletic, knocked Hemingway down a couple of times. The next morning, Hemingway wanted to fight a duel with Higbe, with pistols. Higbe quickly demurred, and got out of there.

We will hear about the period of “Papa Hemingway,” in Florida and Cuba. I saw a one-man play about that period, quite good, with the actor speaking lines from various pieces that Hemingway had written. It portrayed a man who was having some kind of writer’s block; who called one of his earlier wives for moral support, which she always tried to give via telephone. The actor read a somewhat strange passage he wrote about writing being like boxing; you got into the ring with Tolstoy or some other writer and battled to see if you could stand up to him. And we will of course hear about Hemingway’s suicide in Idaho in 1961, just before he turned 62 years old.

The legend or the mythology of Hemingway has perhaps overshadowed his writing. But he did write at least the one great book, with the unforgettable closing line. Hearing it again, caused me to reflect on its import. Most of us imagine some halcyon time, and spool it out in our minds so that it becomes idyllic. We could have been a contender, or even more. We should have asked out that girl in high school who was both very pretty and nice, and who would stare at us during Government class, and whose best friend told us after she had graduated early, “Susan is going to really miss you.”

We could have been a writer, or a singer, or made our way in the publishing world, going to parties full of erudite people who would debate Shaw and Dostoevsky–and Hemingway. There are lots of things we might have done; and of course we rarely imagine it not going that well; the dreariness of fighting your way down the tenure track; or having critics mock your acting or singing or writing; or even being very successful, and then somehow losing the ability to get your ideas down on paper.

There is a song I like from a late ’70’s Los Angeles group called The Last. It is “Every Summer Day.” It hearkens back to “Southern California, 1963.” The words are, “Baby, do you want to take a ride with me/Down to the sand and the waves and the surf and the sea/The sun is out, the waves are breaking big/Baby, baby, say you’ll take a ride with me/And we’ll run/Under the summer sun/Ride the Summer waves/Every summer day.”

And then later in the song, “‘Now I’m right here where I want to be/You know this kind of life is looking good to me/Don’t want to grow up, I never want to leave/Growing old is only gonna bring me misery/Let me stay/Right here with all my friends/The world is ours today/ I hope it never ends.” Then, “I’m gonna keep on following that sun/And I’m never going to stop having fun/And nothing’s ever gonna change my world/And I’m never gonna lose that girl/Oh, Baby do you want to take a ride with me….”

It’s a catchy surf-pop song, which carries with it that unforgettable poignancy. I never surfed; and I do not pine for my high school days. But I do have empathy and understanding for the theme of, “We could have had a damned fine time,” doing or being this or that. But as one of the literary critics quoted on the documentary said, that is the nature of life. You can’t do everything, every choice you make precludes another one. Hemingway was actually involved with two women at the same time, married to one, and almost as if married to the other. But of course that could not continue. Hemingway dramatically referred to it as almost like death. Even so, there is a part of human nature which is drawn to the possibilities of what for one reason or another, could not be.

I wonder what the world would be like had Hillary gotten the nomination in 2008 when she got the most votes and even won almost all of the primaries. Or even if she had won in 2016 as she would have, if not for things we well know about. Would the world have been perfect now? Of course not, but better. How much better, we can only imagine.