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President Biden’s Press Conference

I watched President Biden’s press conference, and I thought he did well. He is not President Kennedy or President Clinton, in ease of ability to respond to press questions, but he answered sincerely and intelligently. Sometimes he tried to hold down his anger, as in regard to the way that the Republicans are suppressing voting, but his determination is obvious and encouraging.

The media is another story. It is easy to criticize the media, and in many cases they deserve it. They are just people, but they are supposed to be trying to learn important things in press conferences, not just be hectoring or repetitive. There was not one question on the progress on fighting the pandemic. There were about ten questions on immigration, mostly asking the same thing: “When are you going to fix this, huh, huh?” “How about your promises, huh?”

Then Kaitlin Collins of CNN, who usually seems to be reasonable, asked him whether he is going to run again, and then if he is going to keep Harris as his VP. I am glad that he said he intends to run, but it really is not appropriate to ask him this in March of his first term. I think it was Collins who asked if he expected to run against Trump. What was the point of that?

The media largely seems more interested in either challenging Biden, or showing that since they questioned Trump in a contentious manner (at least some of them), they were going to make it clear to his supporters that they were equally as forceful with Biden. But it is one thing to ask something if you are wanting a careful and nuanced answer; it is another to ask it just to show how aggressive you are. It is as if they believe that asking an open-ended question would be sneered at by the right-wing echo chamber as a “softball,” and they want above all to avoid that.

Do they expect Biden to solve the immigration crisis of at least fifty years, in a few months? Is the press so intimidated by Fox News , that they jump on whatever propaganda point Fox is making at that time? Asking politely what Biden plans to do about immigration, or gun control, or the filibuster, is very valid. But acting like a nagging acquaintance or a relentless prosecuting attorney, is unseemly and immature, in my opinion.

One can be a good journalist and still ask a question intended to elicit a thoughtful response, not sound as if you are aggrieved, and trying to come up with the most challenging one, or most likely to get the sound bites on the nightly news. White House Press Corps are supposed to be informed, intelligent, and mature.

“The Ball”

USC Law School was fortunate enough to have a wonderful Dean when I went there, the first woman Dean of a major law school, Dorothy Nelson. She was a very bright and nice person. She also developed an elective part of the curriculum which had to be the most expansive of any law school. Usually, the first year courses are the requisite Bar Courses. There are a few more requisite courses in the second year,; and then the rest of the elective courses, not required to graduate and take the Bar Exam, are usually courses in Tax Law, Entertainment Law, Sports Law. There was a Torts II, which I should have taken, because it covered defamation and libel among other things, and I would like to have learned the nuances of those laws, they come up all the time in the political and entertainment world.

But USC Law School then had all sorts of courses which were more enjoyable to me, who had loved my undergraduate English major, than to many of the political science-based law students, who just wanted to learn about specific law. We had “Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and the Law,” where a couple of respected people in that field taught about Freudian theory, and how legal cases might deal with the insanity defense, or even motivation for crime. There was “Competency and Control of the Mentally Ill,” taught by a Criminal Law professor who was a libertarian, hated the way that the legal system dealt with the so-called mentally ill; even questioned the concept of mental illness. We read Thomas Szasz, who argued that there is no scientifically verifiable component to mental illness, it is just deduced from behavior; which is only seen through the prism of conventional morality,; and R.D. Laing, who said that so-called schizophrenia was actually an enlightened state. These are interesting concepts, at least.

One of my very favorite courses there was “Legal Philosophy,” taught by a really fun and stimulating professor, Franklin E. Jones, known to the students as “FEJ.,” pronounced as one word. He had played quarterback at Yale! He loved the questions of the origins of the legal system, and what decisions about human behavior they implied. We read philosophical essays going back to the Ancient Greeks and then England and America; some of which I was familiar with in my literature, history, and philosophy classes, but were new to some of the other law students. We had great discussions about what kind of laws were fair, and what were the negative implications of various laws, because there always are some. He had this imagined concept of a planet called “The Ball,” which was exactly like Earth, all the same aspects, and the same people, but it had no history, it was a tabula rasa when it came to laws and rules. The idea was that each student should imagine that he or she had the power to create the entire economic, political, and legal system for them.

What are the myriad of choices involved, if you get to start from square one, not being part of the world, just giving them their systems? These are matters which most people never consider, I think. What would be the best economic system? Free market capitalism? Socialism, where the major means of production are owned by the government? Variations of that? Communism in at least its Marxian theoretical form of a collective ownership of business? Something else? How would you set the tax codes? Would there be limits on wealth?

And then even more interestingly, what would be the political system you would set up? Something like what the Founders did in our Constitution? Would you even put in a Second Amendment? With the benefit of 230 years of hindsight, I would say definitely not. I read yesterday where former conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the misinterpretations of the Second Amendment were the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the public To quote him accurately, he said, “The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the Second :Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American People by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies–the militia–would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes the argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires,”

And of course one doesn’t need to have gone to law school to realize that the Second Amendment is the only one which has a precedent clause. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…,” Then it goes on to say, “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Any person who is not reading this through the lens of the NRA, whose original goal was simply to sell as many guns as possible; or the fanaticism of the gun lobby, would realize that the precedent clause was put in there for a specific reason, to allow the creation of state militias. Not to say that any citizen could go out and buy a hundred guns, or later, a thousand assault rifles, military grade weaponry, and the government could not stop it.

Not only would the Founders have been horrified by such a notion, they specifically wrote about states and well regulated militias. “The people” were the states, collective people, not individual people. But of course many decades of declining education and use of logic, have allowed the gun lobby to claim that every person has the right to buy as many guns as he wants. And less perceptive and reasonable judges than Burger, who were put on the bench by Presidents who owed much of their electoral success to the power or the NRA, enhanced this fraud.

Was our Constitution ideal for changing times? Was it supposed to have been? Many right-wing people view it as akin to their Bible, and if something is not literally contained in the Constitution, so-called “original intent,” it is not valid. This is absurd, of course, but that is what they argue, when it suits them. The Constitution is in many ways a wonderful document, but it obviously had its flaws, notably that only White male property owners could vote. But it is the Second Amendment which is the real Achilles heel, as we see more and more each day.

Back to “The Ball,” it is stimulating and expansive to imagine how you would set up the society if you had that power. It is easier to find flaws in any current system, than to even mentally create one which would not have its own flaws. The key would be to have mechanisms to fix them. Would we want our American electoral system? How would we want to modify that? Get rid of the Electoral College, for certain, it is a terrible idea, maybe not in 1791, but certainly as played out now.

Some people have argued that a benevolent monarchy is the best form of rule; but the obvious problem is that monarchies are familial, and so the son or brother of a decent king could be a cruel madman. Plato’s concept of philosopher kings is intriguing, but how do we find and trust those; and do we want one ruler or a board of rulers, or some kind of representative democracy? I do not know much about the Star Trek canon, but I think that the concept of the Federation was a noble idea of Gene Roddenberry. There has to be some collective of decent nations or even planets, to work together; and there has to be a fair justice system to administer it. The idea of the United Nations was supposed to have such an ideal behind it, but it rarely has worked out that way; and it mostly turned out to be a bloc led by authoritarian countries contesting with the free nations. And of course in our country, much of the right wing hates the United Nations, and wants America to go it alone in everything.

How does the world progress to more fairness, justice and humanity? People used to think it was possible, but not so many now have that optimism, though some still do. Is the fault simply with human nature? Is it with the inability of the decent people to deal with those who are not? Would an imagined new planet need to take better account of human nature, in order to protect human rights? What if the concept of human rights is not something that a bunch of well educated 18th Century people of mostly British background, are capable of determining for people who come from other cultures and histories? But then who is capable of determining it?

Obviously, these are mind-bending things to consider, and most do not have the time or inclination for it, particularly outside of a school environment! But it is still fascinating, even if one spends fifteen minutes imagining how you would want to set up a world just like Earth, but could start afresh, as it were, and try to give it the best chance to evolve in a positive fashion, whatever that might mean to you.

Questions For A Far Right Person

Does any adult American have the right to buy a gun if they can pass a background check? Can one buy an unlimited number of them?

Can a person buy any number of assault weapons, too? If not, how many can they buy? What is an assault weapon specifically made for? Why would any American citizen who is not in the military, want one of these weapons? To do what?

Does the government have any right whatsoever to block or limit the purchase of weapons and ammunition?

Can any woman classified as an adult, have an abortion, if she requests it? If your answer is, “no,” why not? And how would you differentiate the right to buy an assault rifle, from the right to have an abortion?

Should birth control information be readily available in every locale? Should any adult be able to buy birth control pills or devices over the counter? If not, why not? And if not, how does this differ from the assault weapons?

Should any citizen have the right to burn a replica of an American flag? To not stand for the national anthem at a sports or entertainment event? To talk to someone else while it is playing? If your answer to any of these is, “no,” should another person be allowed to shoot such persons? To sock them in the mouth? To have them arrested, or removed from the venue? And if someone somehow does not like the way you are standing for the anthem, or singing, should they have the same right to do that to yoU?

Should anyone be able to buy hand grenades? bazookas? cannons? napalm? What would be a reason that you would say no to any of those? How could you differentiate between the right to buy an assault weapon and the right to buy a cannon, in terms of freedoms?

Did you believe Trump attorney Sidney Powell when she repeatedly said that Dominion Voting Systems engaged in a massive scheme to rig the 2020 election, which included her claims that they bribed election officials, and flipped votes from Trump to Biden?

Did you agree with her when she said yesterday in a court filing, that “no reasonable person could conclude that (her) statements were truly statements of fact?” If you do agree with this , how do you account for believing them n the first place? You are thus not a reasonable person, because you believed something that her lawyers say that no reasonable person would believe, and you are instead stupid and gullible?

if someone gets on TV and says that you stole money from people, tried to bribe judges, plotted to blow up the mayor’s office, beat up your spouse on multiple occasions; and you sue them for defamation, and the defendant then says that they cannot be sued because no reasonable person would believe any of their claims, so your suit (and by extension, any such suits) must be immediately dismissed, what would you think about that?

Do you believe that the 2020 election was stolen? If yes, based on what verified evidence? Do you believe that Trump stole the 2016 election? If not, why do you think that?

Do you believe that any election official in any locality should have the right to toss out a ballot because she or he did not think the signature of the voter sufficiently matched the signature on file? If you do, then are you happy to leave these decisions to each election official as she or he might make them?

If a person is walking down the street, and sees someone who looks suspicious to them, do they have the right to shoot that person so that he cannot shoot someone else? What if the person he sees is carrying a gun, but it is an open carry state? No right to shoot them, you just have to wait until they kill people before you can shoot them? Or what if you shoot them first, and they had no intention of shooting anyone? Shoot first and ask questions later?

If you believe that any American citizen who can pass the background check laws in that state, can buy one or more assault weapons and a great deal of ammunition, what is your opinion of how the increasing amount of mass shooting can be stopped or reduced? Yesterday, Ted Cruz said that the only way to do it is. “to stop the murderers.” How would you do that, before they have murdered people?

Do you believe that a moviemaker or author has the right to put anything he or she wants in his book or movie? If not, where do you draw the line, what should not be allowed?

If you believe that there should be some limits, does that mean that every person has the right to decide what the limits should be? If that would be unworkable, who gets to decide what can be in or out of the book or movie? You? The President at the time? The courts, for every single book or movie or show? If you get to decide, and you then remove books or movies because you think that they go over the line, are you engaging in “cancel culture?” Or if it is your position that nothing should be censored or expurgated or removed from circulation, should art of all genres be without limits for adult viewers or readers? And if that is not your position, does a publishing house which owns the rights to works have the right to not publish any more copies of some of them?

Do you believe that the earth is round or flat? How do you support your belief? If you think that the earth is round,, and someone else thinks it is flat, are both positions equally valid? If not, what would make one more valid than another, or is it just a matter of opinion? How do you know what you think you know? Who establishes the facts, or are there no facts at all? Does science play any role in this, or is science also just a matter of opinion which society should not rely on when making decisions about public health and safety?

Do you believe that all your ideas and opinions are right, and that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong? If you do, what do you attribute your superior understanding to? Should other people be allowed to express their opinions? As to who is right and who is wrong, do science, math, history, have any role to play in determining that or is it always just opinions and alternative facts; and you know what the truth is with regard to every matter? If you do, should you be the ruler of the universe, or will anyone who sees things exactly as you do, be sufficient?

Technicalities in service to a different outcome

Mitch McConnell is all a-flutter that them Yankees would dare to besmirch his honor because he is defending the filibuster. The latest controversy is about some of the Democrats saying that the filibuster was created by racists.

Technically this isn’t true. According to historians:

McConnell pointed to the rule’s origin as not being rooted in race-based laws. Historians have said the rule wasn’t created to protect discriminatory legislation, but that it was associated with segregationists for over a century.

“These talking points are an effort to use the terrible history of racism to justify a partisan power grab in the present,” McConnell said in his speech. McConnell, noting the times it has been used by Democrats, asked in his speech if it “magically became an offensive relic the instant Democrats came to have a majority?”

Oh lawdy, if there’s one person in the whole wide world who should never throw accusations of gratuitous power grabs around, it would have to be Mitch McConnell.

But I see his point. I was never under the impression that the filibuster was created to further the cause of racism. But the fact that it was actually used by segregationists to obstruct legislation makes that a distinction without a difference. Is that the right phrase? Must look it up.

I think we can all see that at work. Well, anyway, within my lifetime I’ve seen it at work. And it’s usually very pernicious. You don’t even realize a filibuster is going on most of the time. It’s done silently. So as to preserve the dignity of the initiator? So, bills die a quiet death in the Senate. It’s sort of like the hospice of legislation.

The last person I can recall who used the filibuster as intended was Bernie Sanders when he protested a tax cut bill I think. It was called the filibernie and you could buy copies of it as gifts for people who enjoy listening to Bernie making some fine arguments- for nine hours straight.

But I digress.

All I can say is this is 2021 and for some f{#*ed up reason beyond my personal comprehension, this nation’s laws are clearly, CLEARLY, shaped by a history of segregation. Oh yes they are. There is no legitimate, rational, fair or just reason why do little legislation has been passed in the last 40 years that positively influences so many people of black and brown skin. Come on, people, it’s a couple base pair differences in a gene for melanin generation in the skin. Are we really denying people justice, fairness and opportunity over a couple of genetic variations that don’t amount to a whole Hill of beans? Or are black people just surrogates for keeping working class people always struggling and permanently aggrieved? Is it really used to enforce an unacknowledged form of segregation or is it used to create a permanent underclass in general? Golly, who would benefit from that?

Is that what they mean by a distinction without a difference?

Racism, segregationism, sure seems to be popular among those who use the filibuster. It’s like they stomped around mad after the Civil War until one of them remembered they could hold everything up by using the filibuster. And to make it even more efficient, all they had to do was waft an eau de toilette of a filibuster around to shut down debate and euthanize legislation they did not like.

Isn’t that what Mitch intends to do with the filibuster and the voting rights bill that got passed by the house that would make harder for white guys to stand in the way of black people to vote in a quick, efficient and non threatened manner?

I think that is what Mitch intends.

Bless his heart.

Rate Limiting Steps

I was listening to Morning Joe on the way to my doctor’s appointment this am (don’t judge me), when Eugene Robinson started questioning a senior Biden admin official about migrant children at the border.

If I recall correctly, the Biden admin made tackling Covid its main priority. That doesn’t mean these other things aren’t also very important but it does mean that the scope of the Covid problem is so large that it might require a lot more attention – from everyone. It affects all aspects of government right now. Still, it’s possible to delegate. Presumably, you need to get your nominees approved by the senate. This takes time. I think Xavier Becerra, secretary of HHS, which has a lot of oversight and responsibility for migrant children at the border, was just approved last week and I’m betting that a lot of his time is wrapped up with Covid policies.

I worry about kids at the border too. I don’t like the fact that they might be sleeping in Mylar blankets in a less than comfortable shelter and that they have been there longer than they should have been. That’s disturbing. And I’m not going to say that there’s nothing Biden’s Homeland Security or CBP or HHS could have done to mitigate this problem.

BUT I’m not hearing “journalists” asking the right question. They come off as bored badgerers. They ask “how come they’re still there after 72 hours” and “why haven’t you done something by now?!” and “I thought you were going to be more humane but you haven’t fixed this problem right this minute”, all with a note of disappointment because naturally, every problem is THE MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM THAT HAS EVER FACED THE NATION.

I never get anything out of these exchanges. The hapless advisor is left saying “the situation is not ideal but we are doing the best we can in the time we have had”, which is very non-informative. It just devolves from there.

What journalists should be asking is:

  1. What is the process you inherited?
  2. What is the process you are trying to create to achieve your goal of humane treatment of child immigrants?
  3. What are your rate limiting steps?
  4. What do you need to do to remove those impediments?

I never went to journalism school and I don’t think I was born into the right class to get into one now. But if I were a journalist and I wanted to stop annoying my audience so she doesn’t shut the damn program off in frustration, I’d be trying some other strategy than the one that seems to be typical of journalism today.

Maybe everyone forgot how to do this because Trump news just wrote itself. Ok, well, those days are behind us.

Please do better.

Guns

I was watching NCAA tournament basketball today. I did not watch any news, and read nothing. Until I hit the wrong button, and a headline popped up, about a man with a gun who apparently killed ten people at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. One of the fatalities is a police officer, the rest were likely shoppers in the market..Propetius lives in Boulder, and I assume that he is all right.

No motive is yet known, blah, blah. There is no coherent motive that has any meaning, except insanity combined with guns to act upon it. Did we ever find out the motive of the person who killed dozens of people in Nevada a few years ago? Does it matter? The human mind searches for order and for reasons, but it is not going to help us to find out what this man’s particular madness was. Race? Religion? People had not been nice to him in his life? What matters is that he had a gun, we will find out which kind. He probably had a lot of guns, and other weapons, too. They usually do.

Guns are the problem. There have always been twisted people, or people who have been treated badly by parents, or maybe no one did anything to them, but they had grievances. The thing is, that now they can easily get one or many guns, and then kill many people at the same time. “People kill people,” is the stupid slogan the NRA tried to pound away with, but people who have no access to guns kill a lot less people. And you can’t fix the mental states of millions of people, but you an try to keep them from having assault weapons when they do pass their own breaking point, or when they think that they are doing something great by shooting as many people as they can.

Thoughts and prayers to the people and the families will not do it. All the tears and eulogies will not bring these people back. The only thing which we as a nation can do, is to try to prevent these mass killings, by enacting gun control legislation. When the assault weapons ban was passed under President Clinton, the number of gun killings dropped in a significant way. Then President George W. Bush let the legislation lapse, and the numbers rose again. Now each year is a new record level.

It does not take more than the barest degree of intelligence to figure out that we have a growing epidemic of sick and perverted people who for whatever reasons their mind gives them, want to make a major statement, and kill as many people as they can. And it is so very easy for them to get the weaponry to do it. But those politicians and their paid-for media people who are figuratively or literally owned by the gun lobby, would do anything to avoid gun control. They would take a thousand of these shootings, and make a bunch of utterly meaningless statements, to avoid anyone passing a ban on assault weapons, or more background checks, so that they can retain the one right which they value above all,, the right to buy and possess as many weapons as one wants.

It is so tempting to see gun legislation as a version of castration for them, because they will fight against it with just as much fervor. It did not use to be this awful, even fifty years ago, but somehow guns are now their religion and their salvation and the only way in which they can hold on to their fragmenting personalities, and the sense of chaos which envelops them.

Somehow this has to stop, but will it? Maybe with Democrats having at least nominal control of three branches of government, something can be passed, unless the Republicans, filibuster it. We cannot live in a country where this mayhem becomes an ever more frequent occurrence.

I wonder if the Republicans will somehow try to politically profit from this, it would not be beyond them. They try to profit from anything,, even horrible tragedies. They will blame Biden, or immigrants, or liberals. What they most want is for this to dissipate, and then they can go back to talking about Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. We must stand up as a country, because if we do not, it will get worse and worse. I wish I could say more, but it has all been said before, and it will all be said again and again, if no changes are made. I am sorry for even feeling compelled to write this, but we cannot just hope it goes away by itself, or just try to live as best we can in a shooting gallery.

On Books

The other day, I wrote that it would be nice if more people read novels and saw plays; because in addition to the important entertainment value, one can learn from and be enriched by them.

I grew up with books. I loved to play with balls, and to swim, but my favorite childhood hours were spent stretched out on the rug, reading books. My parents had great taste in childhood books. I learned to read at a young age, and devoured Uncle Wiggily stories, and the Thornton W. Burgess animal stories, and Winnie-The-Pooh. And my father read “Treasure Island” to me at bedtime, and then “Kidnapped,” and “The Jungle Book,” and “Robinson Crusoe,” and sometimes my mother came in to listen.

“Treasure Island” may still be my favorite book of all time, even though the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, intended it for young adults. I would say, “boys.” but female readers have loved the book, too. What an amazing adventure, with a treasure map, a sea voyage, pirates, a treasure in gold doubloons and pieces of eight, battles, drama and excitement throughout! I don’t know that I could say that this book changed my life, but every time I went to the beach with my parents, I brought my pail and shovel, and I was not digging to get to China, but in the hope of finding buried treasure. I actually buried some pennies in my back yard, just so I could dig them up years later, but somehow I could not find them, maybe they are still there?

I was thinking about the concept of “Books that changed one’s life.” And although that phrase is used, I don’t know that one book can do that, although it can certainly have a powerful effect, and stay with one forever. Not so much in “telling you how to live your life,” but in a greater perception of things, an understanding of humanity, and an emotional catharsis.

It is interesting that at one period in our cultural history, many people might have listed Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge’ as a book which impelled them to abandon the rat race, and search for inner fulfillment. I read it, but I did not like it too much; and apparently the various movie versions of it were also rather tedious. And of course there was “Catcher in the Rye,” which had a great effect on a generation of young adult readers, though it doesn’t seem to be read as much much today.

I was thinking of some books (besides “Treasure Island”!) which have stayed with me. And maybe you will think of those books which meant a great deal to you. One of those, is actually a play, but I read a lot of plays, which is actually very rewarding, though not as good as actually seeing them, which of course I have always tried to do. There was a whole series of volumes edited by John Gassner, which each contained, fully reprinted, his choice of the best American plays of a certain era; as early as about 1908-1920 or so, and then going on to a least the 1970’s. It was fascinating to see how popular taste in drama changed over the years, and to be introduced to plays which I had never seen nor read.

The play which is my favorite American drama, is Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” Men inhabit a bar in New York City in 1912. They have variously given up on life or cannot cope with it, so spend their days getting drunk and sleeping it off, while they talk about an enhanced past or an imagined future of greatness. The proprietor, Harry Hope, is kind enough to put them up and give them some food, but he also depends on them for some kind of meaning, and he is also afraid to leave the bar and go back into the real world, where he once was a ward heeler and knew people, but had lost his job, perhaps for drinking or a scandal.

So these people talk and tell their stories, over and over. They are excitedly waiting for Hickey, a jovial salesman who always comes in on his birthday for a week-long bender, where they all celebrate and drink. The Iceman of the title initially refers to an old joke which he loves to tell, which I will not repeat here, but one could look it up. The other meaning of the title “The Iceman Cometh,” implied by the older formal phrasing, is a play on the joke, and also a symbol of death.

I would love to tell the whole story of the play, but it seems that O’Neill is saying that one can either try to escape life, and imagine oneself as being heroic in it, or actually go out there in the world, and get crushed. It may not be as hopeless as that, because O’Neill had a romantic aspect, and gave a poetry to most of his characters, no matter how downtrodden or doomed they might have been. If you ever want to see this, and it is rarely done on stage, although Kevin Spacey was supposedly very good in a Broadway version of about 15 years ago, see the AFI film staged version. There was also a live TV version done in 1960, with the supreme O’Neill actor Jason Robards playing Hickey. I don’t know why he did not do the AFI version, but Lee Marvin did pretty well in the role. And Robert Ryan at his very best as Larry, and a very young Jeff Bridges, absolutely amazing as Don Parritt, are unforgettable.

Now, as to novels which have stayed with me since I first read them, there is “The Great Gatsby,” which is short, perfectly written, and open to so much worthwhile analysis, about the the nature of people, and what critics love to refer to as “The American Dream.” Then there is “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner,who should be read much more. That novel I carried around in my head for days after reading it, It is complex and emotionally wrenching. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte, full of passion and intensity, and a haunted quality.

“Lolita” by Nabokov, which some have misunderstood, and which is a dazzling tour de force of wordplay, commentary on America of the 1950’s, and a strange love story despite its apparent theme. “The Brothers Karamazov,” by Doestoevsky, which I was pleased to hear was Hillary Clinton’s favorite novel. “The Heart of the Matter,” by Graham Greene. “Riddley Walker,” by Russell Hoban. “American Pastoral” by Philip “Roth one of the few more recent novels which I have thought was great. It “explains” the political nature of the ’60’s, at least from his very intelligent perspective.

The mystery novels of Ross Macdonald, which indelibly capture Los Angeles in the ‘period of the ’50’s to the ’70’s, and are immensely entertaining stories of a variety of human characters. Thinking of mysteries, so many of the Agatha Christie novels, very rewarding for their plots and incisive psychological analysis. And of course as a young adult, all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I have always loved his theory, as explained to Dr. Watson, that, “If you list all the possibilities, and eliminate all of those which are impossible, the one which remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Many of the novels of Philip K. Dick, whom I finally started treading about 10-15 years ago. So much of what the world is today, he sensed; but his books are not at all just worthwhile as prophecies or even cautionary tales, but as existential problems for his characters to deal with as best they can. And Shakespeare’s plays, it should go without saying.

There are others, of course, but these stand out as I write this. Fiction which made me think and consider the human condition. Nothing that called out to me, “You must do this!”, or “Live or don’t live this way!” But stories which were enhancing, and which I can remember so well, because I always remember the emotional content of things, even conversations or events from fourth grade.

I wonder how many people read novels today. Obviously some sell in great numbers, but how many actually great books and plays are there now? When I would recently go to bookstores before the pandemic, I would rarely find a novel that I wanted to pick up and buy. Earlier, there were a great pair of independent bookstores here, Dutton’s Books, owned by each of two brothers. The store in Brentwood was very nicely ordered, and the employees all read a great deal, and had many suggestions for me, some of which were great. The other Dutton’s, in North Hollywood, was wonderfully cluttered, with books piled up everywhere and little in the way of employees, though the owner was very affable and obviously loved literature, like his brother. Both of these stores closed, apparently because of rents charged by the people who owned the mall in the one case, and the street property in the other. As you know, there are very few independent bookstores now, and that is a great loss, for literacy, the communal sharing of books, and a general cultural aspect.

Other people will of course have different tastes, and different favorite books. But as one reads more, hopefully starting at a young age, one gains something from almost every book or play, even the ones we don’t like as much, because that can tell us something about what is missing, or necessary in great fiction, and what touches and stimulates us more than something else. I do worry that as literacy declines; as more people choose to read junk (there is room for junk fiction, but not as a constant diet!), or political propaganda designed to cement the reader in his or her already formed opinions, much is lost. And I am not as sure as Tennyson’s “Ulysses” how much still abides.

Pfirst Pfizer

I got my pfirst Pfizer vaccine today. Went with my aunt, who for a variety of reasons, only wanted to get the Pfizer vaccine. As far as effectiveness, well, any one of them will do but she did her research (good for her! Everyone should do that) and felt most comfortable with Pfizer. Fortunately for us, there has been a sudden increase in vaccines available in our region so with a little online hunting, we saw that we weren’t limited to just one vaccine. We had a choice, depending on the mass vax venue and date.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t old enough to get one through Allegheny county this week but Butler county was accepting pre-existing condition recipients 16-64 so I got us both vaccines there.

It’s about 45 minutes to Butler and back from where I live in Pittsburgh. The company I work for is giving employees two hours off to go to their vaccine appointments. But since there were two of us and we needed to sit for 15 minutes afterwards, I took a vacation day and we had a nice lunch afterwards

The only thing I could ding Butler Memorial Hospital for was the signage. As in, there was none for the vaccine clinic. But once we got into the visitor parking lot, we just followed the other confused people to the door and some helpful hospital staff directed traffic.

If you go, make sure to take a hard copy of your insurance card. The vaccine is free to people who don’t have insurance but for everyone else, your insurance company will get billed. I only had ecopies of my insurance card. Allegheny county’s site let me upload a digital copy but Butler was still using a copier to print off a hard copy for their records and it wouldn’t copy from my iPhone. So, now I have to call the billing department and figure out how to send them a copy of my card. It would be nice to figure out a more uniform registration system. Still not too late, Andy Slavitt. I can write you the user stories, acceptance criteria and UI prototype. 🤙

Anyway, Butler is fond of hard copies. So we registered in paper and the vaccine helpers checked our paper work, waved us to the next room and told us where to stand. We were taken almost immediately.

Swab, steady, pinch, swab, bandaid, back to the waiting area. Set timer for 15 minutes, then we were done!

We were so excited. On the way out, we realized that we had scheduled our appointments at just the right time. There was a line waaaay out the door. No waiting for us. But anyone who scheduled after 12:30 was going to have to wait.

So, that’s the story, people. We both go back on April 9 for our pfollowup Pfizer vaccine.

Go ahead, do it. All your friends are doing it. And it feels like a huge weight off your shoulders when you’re done.

Thanks Pfizer, scientists, manufacturing techs, FDA, CDC, Butler Memorial Hospital, healthcare workers, volunteer staff and Joe Biden!

The Dark Side

Yesterday, Riverdaughter wrote about how the ignorance of and disdain for science among what we can call the Right Wing, derives from the dichotomy which they are either taught, or prefer; that there are two sides: them and their “friends,” and their enemies. Thus they believe that the scientists are their enemies, along with liberals in general, intellectuals, social scientists, rationalists, and everyone else who says things that they don’t like or don’t want to believe. And then she wrote, “The question is, what do you do about it?”

It is an unsettling and perilous situation. There are millions of people out there who simply refuse to follow good science, or use logic, or try to gain knowledge about things. This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree on this or that; but that we would want to think that most people will listen to facts, and seek to learn about the things they don’t know. How can anyone be persuaded, if they won’t admit the existence of virtually irrefutable facts? Or if they have chosen a belief system which conveniently rejects anything they don’t want to hear? You can’t get through to them, obviously; it is as if they are putting their fingers over their ears, and yelling loudly to drown you out.

Obviously, books should be written about this, and RD has recommended one by Jason Stanley. The bitter irony, of course, is that the people we are looking at, have no interest whatsoever in reading such a book, and have little self-knowledge. They are what they are, and that’s all that they are, to paraphrase Popeye the Sailor. They have made a virtue out of ignorance.

What some analysts call “tribalism” has grown in America, and undoubtedly around the world. The phrase “My country, right or wrong,” was always bemusing to consider. Now we have people who just make up their own reality, and are proud of it. There is no doubt that they were helped along by Donald Trump, who is not only completely intellectually incurious, but is also a consummate con man. And con men need to convince their marks that they should ignore all outside evidence, and listen only to them. Totalitarians also do this, and there is surely an overlap between the characteristics of those two types of people.

There is no way that Trump caused all of this, this was already in existence. I remember that in 2012, I think, the early leading Republican presidential primary candidate in polls was Herman Cain, which astounded me. Clearly there was a large group of Republicans who gravitated to nonsense, simplistic arguments devoid of knowledge or facts. Barry Goldwater back in his 1964 campaign, complained about a certain group of what we might call Evangelical Republicans, who were so rigid and fervent in their beliefs, that he couldn’t even talk to them. And Goldwater was on the Far Right then, but even he could not deal with those people.

So how indeed can we change this? I suppose we could try for a situation where we have 55% of the voters, and just give up on the other 45%. But that is risky, as we saw in 2016, when just enough of “our people” were brainwashed by social media, or simply reveled in their own doctrinaire philosophies or personal biases, so that they would not vote for Hillary Clinton, who is the exemplification of intelligence, rationality and humanity.

55% does not give much room for error, not when a Biden popular vote win of seven million only yields a 42,000 vote margin to swing the electoral college. And the thing about the 45% or so, is that they are rigid. 65% of Republicans say that they believe that the last election was stolen by Biden. This is absurd on so many levels, including that every credible person who studies elections has said that the last election was the most free and fair in history here. But no, they wanted Trump to win, and he did not; and he said that he was cheated, so they believe it. They came very near to dismantling the entire government because of their belief that it was stolen from him and them. So they are very dangerous, not just people to study and analyze.

Education might be an answer, but it is extremely optimistic to think that “we” can fix the declining state of textbooks in the red states, and the teachers who don’t know much, and all those people who violently reject hearing anything which doesn’t suit them. And of course the pandemic has damaged the state of schools even further.

One used to think that decent newspeople like Murrow and Cronkite would convey the truth to the populace, but the classic half-hour of national news has been supplanted by 24 hours of propaganda from Fox, OANN and Newsmax, and then this inane “both sidesing” of every single story, as if we have Alabama fans on one side, and LSU fans on the other side, and never the twain shall meet; and what fun it is to have them battle. Someone recently wrote that the media doesn’t know how to handle the massive efforts to suppress voting rights being conducted by the totalitarian Right, and that they simply fall back to their default, which is to “both sides” it, which is completely inappropriate in this crisis situation. But the right-wing networks want to propagandize you, and the other ones just want you to watch for the drama of it.

We can reflect on the period in modern civilization known as the Dark Ages. The ancient Greeks had done wondrous things in the sciences, mathematics, philosophy. The world of the Dark Ages in Europe bore no resemblance to that; it was a time where the Church controlled most thought, where superstition and illiteracy reigned. How humanity crawled out of that, towards the Renaissance, and then the Age of Reason, and the Age of Enlightenment, is a a thrilling story, a testament to the power of human curiosity and quest for learning and knowledge. Not that those eras were close to perfect, of course, but a belief in evidence grew, leading to scientific knowledge, medicine, a rational legal system; and the capacity of people to discuss things based on known facts, or logical argument. Human progress has depended on that. But now it very much looks as if the pendulum has swung backward. The poet Yeats believed in a cyclic theory of history; and that underlies his unforgettable poem. “The Second Coming.”

We’ve got to hope that there are still enough people who will put aside instantaneous reflexive reactions to every story which the broadcast and social media purveys, and try to wait for verifiable facts, and also try to reason things out. Social media has this dangerous collective power, where people of like mind gravitate to each other and reinforce each other’s instantaneous reaction to events. I wish that more people would read books; that is a more solitary pursuit, and requires more patience and self-reflection than the communal fervor of the social media. Theatre is good, too, but of course we have had none of that recently. In Cromwell’s Puritan England of the 1650’s, the theatres were all closed down.

If only the mainstream media did not feel so compelled to seek out and interview the know-nothings. But they do it every day, it is virtually laughable, but of course is deadly serious. Say things which are devoid of actual facts or logic, and you will surely get air time. And as the movie “Network” prophesied, everyone wants air time of one sort or another.

So obviously there is no comforting answer to any of this, except that humans should try to do the right thing, and that each person trying to add intelligence and facts to the discussion, at least has some influence, and perhaps can build a larger effect. I don’t think that we will get to many of the members of this willing cult of ignorance, anti-science, and anti-logic, but maybe a few. And maybe general decency will get through to some of them. Of course, it is not that “the Left” isn’t susceptible to some of the same dangers of rigid thought, personal spite, and lack of historical and political perspective. It is a never-ending battle, but what is the other choice? Not “tune in, turn on, drop out.” We have to keep trying.

The Anti-Sciencers

Why are certain members of the Far Right media so committed to trying to convince people not to get vaccinated? Tucker Carlson, from clips I have seen, is constantly casting doubt on the president and the scientists who keep urging people to get the vaccine shots. I don’t think that Carlson actually says, “Don’t take it.” He is too slippery for that, and he has lawyers. So he says, ‘There is a lot about the vaccines that we don’t know,’ and “We know that Biden wants everybody to get the vaccines,” as he looks up as if to say, “What is behind that?” Sean Hannity says that he is really not sure if he will get the vaccines, he just doesn’t know, there is so much conflicting information.

Now, are they that stupid? Well, in general, yes, but probably not on this issue. Trump got vaccinated, and hid that fact. Why is that? What is the goal here? If I had to guess, I would say that Carlson and Hannity have both gotten vaccinated, just like all the Radical Right Republicans in Congress. But they don’t want their followers to know that.

The Republican Party has become an anti-science party. They want their followers to reject any scientific theories or findings. Maybe this started with evolutionary theory, which most of them rejected at the outset, as was evidenced in the Scopes Trial in 1925. They essentially lost that battle, but never gave up. They saw evolution as a theory which rejected their interpretation of the Bible; and as something which a bunch of pointy-headed Northern liberals were trying to jam down their throats. They have fought back to the extent that some schools are now required to teach religious belief in the same books that discuss evolution, as equally valid explanations of natural history. This encroachment continues in several states, where a textbook, when setting out a scientific theory, is required to juxtapose it with a religious explanation.

It was the precursor of this “both sides” nonsense. Some people believe the earth is round, but some believe it is flat. The scientists believe that smoking is very dangerous, but the tobacco people say that it is not all that bad. Every credible medical professional in the country says that people must wear masks, and get vaccinated, but the hosts on Fox and OANN say that this just their opinion; and many Republican governors say that people should do what they like regarding masks, there will be no mandate, that would be a limitation on their freedom. Whatever you say, they say the opposite. Sometimes I think it is just for spite, part of this “owning the libs” battle cry.

And some of this is just disdain for everyone who knows more than they do. They won’t let any scientists or professors or doctors tell them how to live their lives. They have been fearful for decades about government telling them what to do, although the irony is that their side is trying to create a fascist state which has permanent control, and makes it impossible for there to be free elections. But they don’t see that, because their idea of freedom is that it means that no one can tell them anything about what to do, but they can tell everyone else.

So it’s a combination of things. Fear that science is going to take away that old-time religion. Fear that medical science, which they don’t understand, and don’t care to, is made up of people who are going to mandate that they wear masks, or get vaccinated, or wear seat belts, or not smoke. General hatred for everyone who acts like they know more than they themselves do, who talk in big words, and use graphs and charts. And then a psychological need to stand out, by not being part of the general majority. If they get vaccinated, then somehow it means that their side lost, that they are giving in. So they are proud to not wear masks, and carry their signs around, and get on TV, as if they are the Sons of Liberty standing up against the monarchy. It makes them feel special.

And the Republican leaders, and the propaganda machines which they use, need a voting bloc which is proudly uneducated and unknowledgeable. Trump obviously never wanted people to know that he got vaccinated, because they would see it as a betrayal of “their side.” And they need “their side,’ a group, or you could call it, a large cult, which stands together, will never relent, never cede an iota of ground on anything, no matter what the facts or consequences. They hide the science, they misrepresent it, they search for a few renegade scientists like Scott Atlas to propound ridiculous theories to combat 99% of the scientists, and they put them in positions where they can fight the tide of information.

And as they risk becoming an electoral minority, they need to hold the line, and pander to the illiterates, or those who love to act out, or gain a sense of power from being contrary. Because they know that if those people believe that they are being abandoned, they will furiously, and maybe even violently, turn against them, too. So they are “all-in,” as the poker term goes, they are “pot-committed.” They have already pushed their chips in, and they are locked into a general position which they cannot possibly move away from, either strategically, or intellectually.