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Sexual Justice and Injustice

Today was a great day for celebrity defendants and the people who always want them to get the lightest sentences possible even if they are guilty. That’s about the only people whom it was great for.

Bill Cosby is released from prison by order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which found that the prior prosecuting attorney promised him he would not be prosecuted for the alleged drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004. As I understand it, the previous District Attorney made a deal with Cosby that he would not be tried criminally for the assault, if he would testify in a civil case Constand had brought against him. He did testify in a way that was damaging enough to him, that Constand won an award of $3.38 million against him. Then about ten years later, a new District Attorney, acting on what was found when the transcript of the civil trial was released, arrested Cosby, and he was found guilty of sexual assault, and received a prison sentence of 3-10 years.

Cosby has served three years of the sentence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court believed it had enough evidence, though there was no written document showing the prior agreement, to conclude that Cosby and his attorneys relied on the promise made by the former D.A., and that the later D.A. could not validly ignore that agreement, and then prosecute Cosby, who presumably only testified against himself in the civil case, because he was promised immunity from the criminal case.

On the face of it, this seems very unfortunate; but the higher courts, at least the better ones, do try to protect defendants’ rights. They felt that assuming there was indeed this promise by the D.A., which the defendant relied on, the future D.A.s were bound by it.

The legal principle relied on by the Court of course subsumes the individual case; it will be used by future defendants, though more likely, it will prevent other prosecutors from making such deals. It obviously helped Cosby that he has had top counsel from the outset of the various accusations against him for drugging and raping women. Actually, he was eligible for parole, but it was denied because he refused to participate in a therapy program for sex offenders. Otherwise, he might have already been out of prison, although only on parole. Now he is presumably free of all restrictions.

Then we have the sentencing of Allison Mack, an actor who was one of the stars of the show “Smallville.” She was very good and likeable in the role, and I was shocked to learn of the allegations against her, none of which have been denied or refuted, that she was one of the top assistants, if not the #2, to Keith Raniere,the leader of the very weird, even as cults go, cult known by various names, including NXIVM. This organization originally sold itself as focusing on female empowerment, and drew in the daughters of various wealthy people, and some celebrities themselves, including Mack.

The testimony at Raniere’s trial told about how the cult ultimately became a vehicle for Raniere to become wealthy, and to create a harem of women for him, who were in many cases blackmailed into following his wishes because of damaging personal information they were forced to reveal to join in the first place. Mack ended up recruiting the women in some cases, and then indoctrinating them into the sex slave role. One of the most shocking aspects involved the branding of women, which was something that at least some of the evidence showed that Mack had come up with on her own.

Eventually, the authorities went after Raniere, and Mack was trying to help him escape. But they caught him, and then Mack and some other subordinates were arrested. Raniere was tried and convicted, and sentenced to 120 years in prison. Meanwhile, Mack was allowed to live in the custody of her parents’ home, and then was only sentenced today, three years after her arrest.

The recommended sentencing guidelines were 14.5-17.5 years. But the prosecution recommended a lesser sentence, because of Mack’s help in giving evidence against Raniere and other defendants. She turned over tapes and other evidence to prosecutors. She apologized, for what she said was her greatest regret and mistake in her life. She said that she is “truly sorry.” Today, she was given a sentence of three years in prison by the judge.

My opinion is that this is appalling. I always contend that one has to respect the judicial system, because if people do not accept the verdicts, we have no system, and we are back to the days of lynchings and vigilante justice. However, this clearly seems a case where a woman semi-celebrity,, backed by a lot of money to hire top lawyers, managed to get off with almost a slap on the wrist for actions for which most people would have gotten at least 15 years in prison. Mack may get out in a year or so.

A couple of decades ago, there was this lurid case from Canada, I think, where a man and a woman kidnapped and tortured and sexually abused at least one other woman for an extended period The man got about 25 years in prison. The woman claimed that the man forced or frightened her into going along with it, and she got around six years.

There was an article which noted that in these cases, the women seemed to get consistently lighter sentences than the men. This may or may not be true, and there may be various factors even if true. But it may be that Mack was advantaged by her gender. The actress Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter India Oxenberg, was a member of the NXIVM cult, said that she forgave Mack, that “she has seen the light.” Another woman who was also apparently in the cult was quoted in a story today saying that the sentence was too light, that Mack is a good actress, and acted out a role in pleading for leniency. It does certainly seem that Mack was allowed to pivot on a dime, and turn from cold-hearted exploiter to sympathetic maker of mistakes.

The decisions have been made. Cosby is free. Mack will be released before long, and may well land herself more roles, or she will adopt a new persona, and write a book about how she “has turned over a new leaf,’ as one article said today. Raniere, who is a truly bad person, but not necessarily out of the range of other cult leaders of the past, from what I have read, may or may not turn over a new leaf but he will never do it outside the prison walls. I think that there is something very wrong with the way that justice has been dispensed, but we all know that in general. I always liked Allison Mack in her role as Chloe on “Smallville,’ but if she indeed did what the available evidence says she did, then she is probably as guilty as Cosby and Harvey Weinstein at the least, irrespective of her gender.

The Marketers and the Marketed

Remember when “rant’ was a term? Someone would write about something they didn’t like, or something that bothered them, and it was called a rant. Somehow that sounded pejorative, as if it implied that the person was going too far, being too loud, even becoming irrational. But I remember once chatting with an employee at Dutton’s Books, a bookstore where the people who worked there actually knew about books. And I was talking about some trend I didn’t like, and wondering if I should write about it, but maybe no one would want to hear it; and she said, “Oh, everybody likes a good rant!” And maybe they do, or maybe it has become passe’, but I will do a little rant now, about commercials.

They are everywhere, even more than they were when the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick wrote a short story in which the protagonist was in a world where people were inundated with commercials. They were on the television, of course, and on the radio, and in the newspapers. But now there were airborne vehicles, maybe like the drones of today, where ads were streaming on banners, or broadcasting to the people walking around who could not escape from therm. There were people who would knock on your door, and deliver a commercial message. Everywhere you went, or tried to hide, the commercials were there.

So finally the protagonist was able to convince his wife to take advantage of the new opportunities to escape the planet and go to Mars to live. That was the story, the best part of which was the way in which Dick portrayed a world where things had become so commercialized, that all of life seemed like an unending series of advertisements, where vast numbers of people would try to get you to buy their products.

That story was probably written around the 1970’s, and it was not one of Dick’s greatest stories, but it was memorable. And in many of his great novels, there were parts which were in the nature of rants, declamations against aspects of the world which he did not like.. Well, it seems as if we are getting closer to the reality of that story.

Where can we go as a haven from being marketed? Yes, a mountain cabin, perhaps, or a remote beach. But in the hurly-burly of the world, the place about which Wordsworth once wrote, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” it becomes increasingly difficult to evade it.

It used to be that something like twelve minutes out of every broadcasting television hour was allocated to commercials by the FCC. But then it increased, to where it is now something like 20 minutes of commercials each hour on some major networks, maybe fifteen minutes or so for some show. Now, one can of course mute them, or walk out of the room, or talk and share with a person you are watching with; but even so, it is disconcerting to have the show constantly interrupted by commercials.

It can break the flow so much, that it almost ruins the drama you might be watching, or the rhythm of the sporting event. Yes, there are these computer networks where you can stream shows, but though I do not use them, I imagine that they come with their bracketing commercials before and after the shows,, or maybe they even interrupt to put some in? Perhaps not, but of course they are pricey to subscribe to, sort of like the freeways where you can avoid most of the traffic, but you have to pay a substantial fee.

And the commercials seem increasingly invasive, as compared to the irritating but trivial jingles we grew up on. Many of them are by pharmaceutical companies. The ads are almost all the same: a person or a couple is shown looking very sad and concerned. Then the announcer tells about the pill or drug they are selling. The person or couple is then shown looking happy, playing with their children or grandchildren, the sun is shining. Then the announcer describes the possible side effects, which are numerous and often dire. This is not to say that people should not try a medication or drug, but the commercials are unsettling, and in some sense seem inappropriate, particularly insofar as versions of them run every hour of the day. And then there are the ones which try to bilk elderly people out of their home equity, or to pay large amounts for some extra and mostly worthless insurance. I would ban those, but we live in a free market society, we are told.

When we all used to go to movie theatres, we noted how commercials insinuated themselves into the experience. If you sat down fifteen minutes before the movie, you would be subjected to at least five minutes of ads, sometimes disguised as some kind of preview. One would like to think that you could escape the marketing in that milieu, but you cannot, not completely. At least they don’t show them over the closing credits.

And we now have what Philip Dick did not have, which is the internet. I am certainly not a master of internet browsing, but I know that everywhere you look, you see ads. YouTube used to be a place where you could watch some music videos or live performances, but now you must wade through commercials. They even throw them in several times during a longer performance. You can avoid these by subscribing to a plan where you pay a monthly fee, but that is like the toll road, once again. You can avoid at least some of the commercials flung at you, if you are willing to pay up. Those who cannot or do not want to, have to see the commercials.

And even in the few information sites I look at, the screen is filled with ads. In the upper right corner in the upper left corner, sometimes in the middle. You have to try to X them out, and at least for me, that is not always so easy, they block the screen. Yesterday, I just wanted to read a brief discography of the lesser known but very good British group Beaumont, and there must have been at least three ads for the site, or related sites, that you have to navigate through just to see a paragraph of background or list of songs.

Now, it is certainly true that most entities are not inclined, nor are they obliged, to provide things for you to read or watch, for free. They want or need to make some money to support what they do. So I am not demanding that all the internet ads go away, but I do note that the number of them are increasing, and that it can make it laborious and not very rewarding to want to read a few articles, or look up something. Maybe if I were more adept at “surfing,” I could avoid most of this, but perhaps not.

In a larger sense, do you share the feeling that increasingly, people are being viewed simply as marketing targets? You have money, they want some of it, and they are going to keep trying to find ways to get you to give it to them. It is not a pleasing concept. We do not want a world where everything comes down to marketing, and trying to get you to pay for any bit of information or entertainment, or to be subjected to incessant ads and slogans and enticements and unnerving messages, just to be able to read or watch something.

I had previously mentioned a short story by the British writer J.G. Ballard, “The Subliminal Man.” The story described a Britain where companies had created subliminal advertising, which the government had then banned, because of the pernicious aspects of it. But companies were losing money because of the increased need to keep selling products on a daily basis, so they were trying to return to the subliminal messages trying to induce people to keep buying, even if their product was working well. The drama was whether this could be stopped.

Is that where we are headed; not necessarily, but possibly, with subliminal advertising, but certainly the increasing inundation in every aspect of our lives, by marketers and their ads, searching for new ways to invade the rest of our lives? What we can do about any of this, is problematical, but we can turn some of it off, and look for things which offer calm and pleasure without the intrusive drumbeat, and without the sense that we are seen only as pockets from which other people want to extract our dollars and cents.

We are not cash machines; it is essential to maintain our humanity, and to interact with others in a way that does not become a solely mercantile exchange. Some pessimistic or cynical people see the entire world in that way, ,people engaged in various exchanges, where anything provided comes with a price. That is something that we must strongly resist; and value those who do not affix a price to what they give you, in any aspect of life.

“For The Most Part”

I do not watch any of the Sunday news shows on TV. My parents liked to watch them, but they were better then, though I still did not like them much. The hosts at least were reasonably fair, though David Brinkley became even more acerbically conservative, and kept complaining about his taxes. Even so, the Sunday shows were better than what they have now, at least judging from what I read, because in trying to keep up, I do read about some of what is discussed on these programs.

It has been my opinion for years that these shows are slanted toward the Right Wing side (calling it “Conservative” Is giving it a veneer of respectability it does not deserve). It seems standard that the guests of Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” usually include one Very Far Right Republican, one Moderately Far Right Republican, one Moderate, and one Polite Semi-Liberal. The other shows may be a bit more balanced, but the stories which come out of them are always skewed to Republican talking points.

This is why, if anyone peruses the political stories of the day coming out on Sunday, they are always in the nature of themes created on Fox News, and then slightly reframed, and reiterated on the other networks. So we then see stories in the press or online media of, “Democrats under fire for…” “Republicans claim that Democrats are misleading the public about…” “Is the Democrats’ agenda in danger of failing because…” It is invariable. And it is misleading, unbalanced, irritating and frustrating, so I do not watch it. They still go on, of course, whether I watch them or not.

So yesterday, on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on ABC, they had Sarah Isgur and Donna Brazile. I have not liked Stephanopoulos since he was the major source for Bob Woodward’s slanted book about the Clinton presidency. Isgur is a Republican who recently worked as a spokesperson for the Trump Justice Department. She then was given a position as director of political coverage for CNN during the last campaign, and she continues to have a title at that network which is comparable to that.

Brazile ran the 2000 Gore campaign, which she almost lost singlehandedly, by insisting that Gore not let Clinton campaign for him. She then moved to a position in the DNC, where in 2008 she did everything she could to fix the nominating process for Obama, by disqualifying primaries in Florida and Michigan, then restoring only half the Florida delegate votes, and giving Obama some of Hillary’s Michigan delegates.

She then moved to CNN as an “analyst,’ and the internet says that she leaked debate questions to Hillary in 2016, which is ridiculous, because Hillary was the most informed debater I have ever seen, and she certainly did not need Brazile giving her questions; in addition to which, the questions were general, anyway. So after attempting to damage Hillary again, she moved to Fox news as an “analyst.’

She then wrote a book saying that the 2016 primary process was fixed by the DNC in favor of Hillary, which is ludicrous, because Hillary won 57% of the vote, and about 90% of the actual primaries. She then moved to Fox as an “analyst’ for two years, before recently leaving to work for ABC. Her career has left a trail of Democratic defeats, and scandals, all of which she somehow seems to blame on one or both of the Clintons. Do you think that Fox would have hired her as an “analyst,’ if she were not enhancing that network’s propaganda? Do a cursory internet search of “Donna Brazile,” and you will see numerous citations by radical right sites, saying, “Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile, accuses the DNC; blames Hillary Clinton.” She is one of the Far Right’s best assets, whatever her motivations might be for that.

So then, but of course, there they both were on the ABC Sunday news show. How did ABC think that they would contribute any fair and rational insight? Or do they not want that? And Isgur said that, “For the most part, the Mueller report exonerated Trump.” And Brazile nodded her head in apparent agreement. Of course Isgur, who worked at the Justice Department where Attorney General Barr lied about and misrepresented the Mueller Report, was going to also lie about what was in that report. Brazile being there and nodding, just gave the lie more credence.

There is nothing that we can do about this dreadfully biased and inaccurate reporting and so-called analysis, which repeats itself on virtually every Sunday news show. However, it did cause me to consider the idea of “mostly,’ and “for the most part,” and think about some other examples. which Isgur or others might want to use.

For the most part, the Hindenburg blimp had a safe trip.

For the most part, the Manson Family cult did not spend their time killing people.

The stock market mostly was up for the day during the sessions in 1929.

For the most part, the White Sox played to win during the 1919 season.

Bernie Madoff, and Justice Wargrave in “And Then There Were None,” for the most part had honorable careers.

Sam Spade and Brigid O’Shaughnessy mostly had a good time together.

The hare mostly led the tortoise in the race.

For the most part, the Borgias did not poison people at their dinners.

The 1950’s quiz shows were mostly not fixed.

Trump is mostly a sane and caring person. Actually, that is a complete lie, as he is not sane, and he cares about nothing but himself. But since Isgur calmly and completely lied about the Mueller report, she might as well go all the way and lie about everything else. After all, no one on the shows is going to stop her.Turn them off, go home, it’s just Sunday news programs, Jake.

We should have let them secede.

Michael Fanone, the DC Metropolitan police officer who was dragged, beaten and tasered during the January 6 Insurrection has been trying to meet with congressmen about the investigations, special committees and general recognition about what actually occurred.

Yesterday, he met with Rep. Kevin McCarthy to ask him not to appoint obstructionists to the House special committee that Pelosi is creating. He also asked McCarthy to publicly disavow the lies about the insurrection. McCarthy said he would think about the first request and that he would speak privately to his coalition on the second. Which means Kevin will do nothing of the sort and will never admit to any other version of the January 6 Insurrection except under oath.

Cue fighting the subpoenas and dragging it out indefinitely.

But that’s not the only attitude Fanone has encountered. There was also the time he met with Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) who described January 6 as a “typical tour” and voted against giving those police who defended the Capitol a Congressional Medal of Honor.

By the way, let’s take a moment to replay that typical tour, shall we? Let’s review what happened to officer Fanone. Pick it up at about the 1:25 minute mark:

When Fanone went to the Capitol to speak with the Republicans obstructing the special committee bill, Clyde ducked into an elevator. Fanone jumped in with him, introduced himself and extended his hand. Clyde tried desperately to ignore him.

But Clyde isn’t the only representative who is rude and disrespectful. It seems to be commonplace among the Republican representatives and their staffs that Fanone has met with.

It seems to go against the normal rules of self-preservation to treat the people who are responsible for saving your life like dirt. But there’s something deeper and uglier at work here. These representatives will go to their graves defending their right to follow the previous Oval Office resident off a cliff. They’ll also fight like hell to keep their part of the country in the 19th century. They’ll move heaven and earth to preserve all of that isolationism and anti-immigrant, anti-labor, tariff loving behavior that we learned were “Problems of Democracy” in high school.

Since so many of these congressmen live in the south, I’m beginning to think that lincoln won the battle but lost the war. He should have freed the slaves, moved them all north, and then let the South secede. A Cuba style generational blockade would have been a nice touch so they couldn’t get any additional slaves in or cotton out.

Sure, there will still be rural areas that will always resist the irresistible pull of progress. But there would be a lot fewer electoral college states to try to integrate into a country they have no respect for or any intention of preserving the Constitution they have vowed to protect.

People like Clyde and Margery Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz have used their free speech to undermine the US. They’ll never overturn this country without a “to the death” fight from the rest of us. And we will outnumber them over and over again. They know this. All they can do is be massive pains in our asses. Do we really need that?? We should have cut them free.

Surfside residents are just looking for a handout, amirite?

Ron DeSantis, so-called “governor” of Florida is refusing to call for a state of emergency to deal with the collapse of a condo building in Miami where approximately 159 people are buried under rubble. Some of those people might still be alive. We will probably never know for sure because… well… we don’t really know.

Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis is taking time to pose for the cameras and talk to Fox News in the wake of the stunning partial building collapse that more than 12 hours later has left 99 people missing, and feared dead.

DeSantis reportedly added an interview with far right Fox News host Mark Levin to his calendar for Thursday.

Biden has urged DeSantis to break the glass and declare a state of emergency but De Santis had a super important interview to go to on the TV so he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe he doesn’t think there’s a point. They’re probably all dead anyway.

FEMA is going to check it out under Biden’s orders but it can’t do anything until DeSantis declares a state of emergency. But what’s the rush?

The residents knew when they bought those condos that there is no guarantee that human stupidity or acts of nature won’t happen. Presumably, that’s why they bought insurance. Or something. C’mon, are we supposed to get a rescue squad together every time some citizen in Florida gets crushed by their apartment? S{}% happens.

People have got to start taking care of themselves and stop counting on the federal government to step in and provide housing and food and assistance. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. So some dogs just got eaten. The world still goes on and there are interviews to do.


Update: DeSantis finally got around to declaring a state of emergency after Miami’s mayor did it earlier in the day on Thursday.

DeSantis did it at around late last night. So, you know, Ronny on the Spot!

Then there’s this:

DeSantis also said displaced residents can utilize the Florida Housing and Finance Corporation rental locator at FloridaHousingSearch.org or call 877-428-8844.

Message: “I care. But come on, people, do I have to do everything for you freeloaders??”

How Low Have They Gone?

I never watch the dark place known as Fox News, but occasionally hearing what is going on there is unavoidable. I thought it was awful enough in the days of Ailes and O’Reilly, but it is apparently even worse now, to the point that one wonders what their long-term goal is.

One of their immediate goals is to create and embellish various stories designed to keep their viewers in a constant state of insurrectionary anger. They find something someone said, talk about it all day, attack the person relentlessly, no matter who he or she is. Every institution which most Americans once valued, are their targets. It is like there is this world that we observe, and then the one distorted through the prism of this network, which sends out propaganda every minute of the day.

Well, we all know this. But even so, it goes to beyond belief now. The new target is the American Armed Forces, the entity that the Right Wing always lauded, always said that the liberals were not supporting, because they wanted us to get out of Vietnam, or because they quoted President Eisenhower’s warning in his farewell address about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” We’ve had decades of people going around holding signs saying how much they support the troops. Which is not a bad thing, except that it was used as a propaganda wedge to paint liberals, Democrats, as against the armed forces, veritable traitors who wanted the Communists to win.

But now, Fox is leading the charge against the military. They don’t like that Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wants to study the issue of “White anger” among the military. They don’t like gays or transsexuals in the military. They think that “critical race theory,” whatever that is, is going to be taught there. So Laura Ingraham, who I somehow used to think was at least a reasonably intelligent Right-wing propagandist, actually said on TV that ‘unless this is fixed,” Congress should not appropriate one cent to the military.

Can you imagine if anybody on the liberal side said something like this in the last hundred years? What happened to “America, Love it or Leave it”? I don’t care if Ingraham is just putting on a show, or if she is actually serious, because she said it, to the several million people who watch Fox News every day. Either they stop the whatever it is; the self-assessment, the investigations into racism or other prejudices among the troops, or we must cut off all military funding.

That would of course mean that the military could not protect the country. We might be invaded by Honduras or Bolivia, and they could march right in and take over. Of course, there are all those ‘patriots’ with assault weapons, the kind of people who stormed our capitol last January, trying to overturn the results of the election, and kill elected officials. They could fight the Honduran troops, but somehow I do not think that they would. We would become a large satellite country under Honduran, or Bolivian, or Luxembourgian rule. But we would sure show those “woke’ military people!

Did you see Matt Gaetz, and why is he not arrested and being tried for sexual trafficking of minors, sneering at General Milley at a hearing? It is so tempting to dismiss all of it as just a show that the Radical Right puts on, to get donations, and rile up the anger among their people. And that would be bad enough, but I think it is worse. I think that these people have become addicted to being able to get people angry, and that they have within them a nihilism which makes anyone or anything that is not them, expendable.

I remember when the Tea Party people newly elected to Congress in the Obama Administration, said that they would not vote to raise the debt ceiling, unless Obama agreed to their demands. No Congress had ever refused to approve a raise in the debt ceiling, but they did. And most pundits thought that it was just some kind of new hard line negotiating tactic, but then they began to realize that it was not that they were serious. They were too stupid or too scorched earth to understand that not raising the debt ceiling would destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, and wreck the economy. Or they simply did not care.

“Burn it all down’ is a phrase we have heard over the years, but these people really mean it. I doubt that they have a vision of the kind of America they want, they just want to destroy all of the institutions, from the military, to the judiciary, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Center for Disease Control, the media that is not part of the Far Right. They are all “enemies of the people,’ the term that they appropriated from Hitler and Goebbels. They are engaged in “hoaxes” and “witch hunts,” i.e., telling them something they don’t want to hear or think about. So they are out to destroy them.

Now, it would seem obvious that Democrats should keep the tapes of Ingraham and Gaetz, and use them widely in their campaigning. “The Republicans want to defund our military!” “Republicans want to leave the United States and the American people undefended!” That’s what Ingraham said, after all. Let people know exactly what is coming out of their mouths and pens. They are the traitors, they are the fifth column, if you want to be dramatic about it, as they always are. Do not let them get away with tossing off these lines for ratings or rabble-rousing, hold them to the implications of what they say.

I actually don’t know what their goal is, or maybe they don’t think of it, they are just drunk on the power of propaganda, getting the masses to take up their weapons and do more insurrections, kill more people. I think that there is some vague notion they have of a religious-fascist state, where everything is controlled, people are told only what the state wants them to hear, and any deviation from the orthodoxy is met with severe punishment. Ron DeSantis is even now trying to investigate the teaching in Florida schools, eliminating any material which he and his forces deem objectionable. He also hid and lied about the numbers of fatalities due to Covid. He is a fascist; a well-dressed sometimes affable fascist, but no less dangerous for that. And he may well be the nominee of the Republicans in 2024.

The people who love to declaim about “liberty,” and “individual freedom,” actually want an authoritarian regime, because they think that it will let them do what they want to do, it would be on their side. They do not even have a first-grader’s understanding of how government works, they think that whatever person or body thwarts their desires, should just be eliminated, like they wanted the teachers to go away and let them have recess all day.

The deliberate diminishing of education in America, is having an effect; but it is ostensibly educated people like Ingraham and DeSantis who are leading the charge against rationality. Hopefully, the good guys can take advantage of this in the hoped-for free elections, but it is disconcerting, at the very least. And that is why they don’t want free elections, because they see them as just another inconvenient barrier to them getting their way all the time. Just like the military is to them now, so let’s get rid of them, too, and no one can stop them the next time they want to overrun the capitol building, and shoot and hang people. They must not have watched enough Westerns, or they actually identified with the outlaws and marauders. They thought that Will Kane should have run away before high noon, and let Frank Miller and his brothers shoot up the town.


No, It Is Not “Four-Dimensional Chess”

This morning, I briefly turned on the television to MSNBC, and I saw that Chris Jansing was sitting in for Craig Melvin. And the first topic was voting rights; and the “pundit” was MSNBC’s favorite guest, Michael Steele, the former chairman of the RNC, a favorite simply because he is distinguished from most other Republicans by not being a hater, being Black, and not liking what Trump has done to the Republican Party, a party which he still wants to do well in the long term

I like Chris Jansing a lot, as she is bright, knowledgeable, and has those rare commodities in the broadcast news media, charm and class. But I was disappointed that after Steele basically mocked the Democrats for being “outplayed’ by Mitch McConnell on voting rights, she agreed with his statement that while the Democrats might be playing chess, McConnell is playing some kind of four-dimensional chess. She said that he is like a Spassky or Kasparov, who were legendary figures in chess.

In my opinion, this theme, that the Democrats keep being outplayed by McConnell and the Republicans, is much too simplistic. All McConnell did here was to keep his caucus in line. He may be good at that, may be able to use threats and inducements to get them to stay as a voting bloc. But beyond that, how did he outplay the Democrats in filibustering even debate on the H.R.1?

Steele said that McConnell was four to six steps ahead of the Democrats. In what sense? He used the Senate as a filibuster machine in the Obama Administration. He and all Republicans in Congress repeatedly use any tool at their disposal to keep Democratic presidents from being able to enact legislation. They just did it again. What were Democrats supposed to do, when they need 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate, or alternatively, hold a solid 50 votes to get rid of the filibuster, at least selectively.?

Steele said that what the Democrats should have done was to have pared down H.R.1, and put in things that moderate Republicans could get on board with. I agree that the bill was probably too broad, had too many parts which were not essential to what the bill needed to do, which was to override the Republicans’ voter suppression state bills. But firstly, there are no moderate Republicans in the Senate, although maybe there are one or two who are sometimes reasonable, but not nearly enough to get to 60. And there is no way that Republicans are going to vote to eliminate or effectively vitiate the filibuster. So Steele, and he is not alone among pundits on either side in this, takes the easy shot at blaming Democrats for blowing a game that they really had no chance to win.

Now, if the Democratic caucus were unified in getting rid of the filibuster, they would have the votes. But they are not unified. Manchin seems a lot more willing to consider some steps in that direction than does Sinema, who now strikes me as a prima donna, who first started out in the Green Party, then moved to running as a moderate Democrat, now seems to want to take the role of proud maverick; or as some have suggested, is setting herself up for as very lucrative lobbying job when she leaves office. Who knows? But she seems absolutely opposed to doing anything to modify the filibuster, which means that all voting rights bills are dead, no great “credit” due to McConnell’s “four-dimensional chess,,” which is no more complex than what the Southern secessionists did in the 1840’s, or the segregationists did in the 1950’s.

The truth is that the American electoral system was flawed from the outset, with every state getting two senators, in what is believed to have been an inducement to the Southern slave states to stay in the Union. Somehow the country survived that disproportionate imbalance, until the filibuster, and then the Southern states almost all becoming Far Right in their politics; and the Republican Party’s adoption of a scorched earth, win at any costs strategy. while the Democrats were mostly still playing by Marquis of Queensberry rules.

Who would ever have thought that the Senate Majority Leader of one party would simply refuse to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee chosen by the President from the other party? Is that brilliant strategy? Or is it the willingness to destroy all the norms, and stifle the government when the other party is running the Executive Branch? If you are willing to use any device to win, you can win some victories, but at the cost of eventually destroying what the idea was behind the democracy, which is, a group of reasonable people who might have differences, arguing and debating and contending, until some decent laws come out of it. Refusing to participate unless you get your way every time, wins the battles, and destroys the country.

Now, Democrats are being infuriatingly foolish in continuing to believe; or maybe it is that they just want to believe, that the Republicans are not what they are, which is radicals who will never relent, compromise, or care whether people get to vote or have any rights at all, as long as the outcome is that Republicans endlessly keep power.

I read something on this theme, which is pathetic in what it shows about the two parties. We know that the last census will lead to redistricting. And we know that this used to lead to gerrymandering by the party which held control in in a particular state. But apparently, while Republicans in states they run, are eagerly figuring out ways to game the redistricting so that they will gain more seats, Democrats are “trying to be fair.” In Oregon, where they control the state legislature the Speaker of the House made a deal with Republicans to have an independent commission draw the districts, in exchange for which the Republicans would stop stymieing legislation.

One Democrat, maybe in the legislature, said that this was “like shooting yourself in the head.” There were many upset people, because the Speaker gave away the right to draw the districts in their favor. But is it more honorable to have a commission draw them? Well, yes, in abstract theory; no, if Republicans are relentlessly gerrymandering in every state they control. How many Congressional seats will this, played out all across the country, cost us? Ten to fifteen, at least? That is enough to control the House for a decade. California, which could probably gerrymander out ten Republicans on its own, has districts drawn by a commission, as does Michigan. So we play by Queensberry rules, and Republicans play by the law of the street; all low blows and sucker punches allowed. How is that going to come out?

If you are in a poker game, and every time you have a strong hand, and another player bets into you, you tell them that you have him beat, but you will only call; and every time he has the better hand, he raises you a large amount, who is going to end up with all the money, assuming that the players are within some range of equal in ability? “It’s simple arithmetic,” as Jean Gilles said in the strange but great low-budget noir “Decoy.”

This is not McConnell and the Republicans being brilliant chess players. It is about a system that is terribly flawed; and a Republican Party that figured out where the weak spots are, and keeps pounding away at them, while Democrats keep hoping that they will not. I would agree that the Democrats have made many mistakes over the years, and this has led us to where we are now. Most of the mistakes were a combination of trying to be “decent,” or “fair,” or being somehow guilty about using power, or even about winning. It is also because Democrats are generally better people who want to help Americans, while Republicans are single-minded Social Darwinists who only want to enrich themselves, and will do anything to achieve it.

We are in a difficult spot, and we underestimated our opponents’ lack of decency and ethics, which somehow are more visible to us on the outside, than to many of the Democrats holding office. I think that they are probably more aware than before, when we had a two-term president who thought that because he was able to get along with people and keep rising upward, he had a magic gift that would work when the game got rough. But he did not, though he probably still believes it. Or maybe he doesn’t, but it doesn’t really matter now, because he has no power; and so we are where we are, and we have to find a way out of it.

My Thoughts on Paying College Student-Athletes

I think that in the eagerness to turn this controversial issue, now decided at a smaller level for now, by the Supreme Court, but sure to be expanded by more cases, into an employer vs. wage slaves issue, the realities are being passed over.

I know that some people (even here!) have no interest in sports in general; and there are some sports fans who do not care about college sports. I grew up following college football and basketball, and I have always liked those sports much more than their pro equivalents, the NFL and the NBA. So I have a fan’s bias here. But I think that I can understand the arguments, even though it is my opinion that paying college athletes could destroy college sports, which I realize that some people would be in favor of, though I would certainly miss it, as would millions of fans, students, and alumni.

I am under no illusion that college sports is this idealized realm. The best athletes have often gotten all sorts of perquisites at the schools where winning is very important. The NCAA, which is far from a paragon of virtue, has tried to protect the amateurism of college sports; sometimes they even sanction schools which are found to have offered illegal inducements, mostly money, to recruits. But some schools ignore this, and find ways to get around it . College football, never a level playing field, is in danger of being mostly dominated by Southern schools, where football is king, more important than academics, or even the job security of the school president, many of whom have gotten fired for their teams not winning big.

Those schools will do almost anything to win, it is a way of life to them. They spend millions for head coaches, assistant coaches, and training facilities. And the athletes there are treated almost like kings, except that they are not allowed to be directly paid. The universities often make millions from their sports revenue, mostly in football, some in basketball; and so there are many who see this as a totally unfair, exploitation of the athletes. That the university heads are mostly White, and the players mostly, though certainly not all, Black, is part of the political nature of the outcries to “start paying the players.’

Well, here is how I see it, and some will certainly disagree. The athletes, who must be in good standing at the university to participate (I know that can be circumvented, though the NCAA does try to monitor it), are getting benefits. Tuition, otherwise almost prohibitive, is free. Books and supplies are free. Tutoring is usually offered. A student-athlete usually gets the choice of paid-for on-campus housing, or an amount of money to be paid directly for near-campus apartment housing. At a typical college, a regular student who is not good enough or interested enough to play sports, or who needs to concentrate on academics, graduates with maybe $150,000 in student loan debt, while the four-year scholarship athlete has close to none. This is not an inconsiderable advantage, and it goes to anyone who is given a scholarship in any sport.

And of course those athletes who are good enough to play in the pros, can make tens of millions of dollars. They are not being forced to go to college and play sports. They do it either because they love to play, and they enjoy the competition; or they do not expect to play pro ball, but they want the free education and its benefits; or they do expect to have a pro career, and make hundreds of millions if they are very good, or tens of millions if they are a reserve. So it is hardly a wage slave proposition. Again, they could skip college, but the pro leagues use college ball as almost a training ground for young athletes, and they have no interest in spending a lot of money on developmental leagues, though there is now one for basketball players

Back to the crux of it; how would student-athletes be paid? Do note that football brings in the big money; basketball programs mostly break even, if that, though the highest level men’s basketball programs do well.The other sports, men’s and women’s athletics, all lose money, except in the rarest of programs, like maybe University of Connecticut women’s basketball, or Oklahoma State men’s wrestling. So football subsidizes all the other sports. If college football with its big crowds disappeared, the other sports would become intramural sports, no scholarships could be afforded by universities, which unfortunately have grown to depend for their literal survival on the money that football brings. There are exceptions, like the Ivy League, which does not give out sports scholarships, or the posh private schools, but most college donors care about the success of the football team.

Then we have the issue of Title IX, part of the Educational Act of 1972, which forbid gender discrimination in federally funded college programs. This certainly seems unassailable as to its need, but it has had some unfortunate effects. Women do not play college football, or any form of tackle football. Title IX requires that the amount of money allocated to men’s and women’s college sports be the same. This means as many scholarships for women athletes as for male athletes. But the many schools which field men’s football programs, may give out up to 85 football scholarships, as you need full squads because of the number of football injuries. So how does a school comply with Title IX, and make up the disparity? By cutting men’s sports Many schools, including UCLA and USC, which along with Stanford, have won the most titles, because of the warm-weather sports advantage they have, were forced to cut out men’s programs which were Olympic quality. There are several sports where UCLA fields only women’s teams now.

We can debate this, but it also impacts the concept of paying student-athletes. How would universities do that? Bidding for the best players out of high school? This would of course turn “college sports” into minor league pro sports. The universities with the most money, and the greatest wish to win big, would offer millions, where a school like UCLA, which is under the mantle of the University of California system, would not be allowed to do that. A private school like USC, with a devoted alumni football base, might. There would probably be twenty schools or so which would get all the top players, which might seem like the case now, but is not, though they get many of them. The schools without the massive resources would not be able to field teams to compete with the best programs, and wouldn’t even try.

And how would the players be paid? Negotiating with the Athletic Directors? What if they had a really good freshman season, could they then negotiate for more? Could they leave for a school which would double their salary? This would of course produce chaos. And there would be a lot of regular students who would be infuriated to have to go along counting their dollars to pay for things, while a few top athletes, fellow students, were living in fancy houses, with multiple cars to drive around.

Or would the rule be that every scholarship athlete, in any sport, gets the same amount? There are a number of college sports, so that would vastly reduce the amount of each scholarship. And women athletes would certainly be entitled to claim that they should be paid the same as men. So would a member of the women’s golf team be paid as much as the star quarterback of the football team which brings in millions, while the golf team always loses money? And on that football team, does the quarterback get more money than the second-string tackle, or should they all be paid the same? Who decides that, the free market?

I hope we can see that these issues are a lot more difficult than some proponents of “pay the athletes!” would admit. I think that it might lead to the end of all scholarships for college sports, which would end up hurting many students and their families, not at all what the people who see only one side of it, intended. There are more important issues to deal with, but it is important to note that turning such issues into emotionally charged arguments about “plantation mentality” and “slave labor” mostly come from those who really have no plan of how to implement any of it. Maybe somebody will be able to , but it is going to be far from easy.

The Animal Stories of Thornton W. Burgess

In addition to the Uncle Wiggily stories which I reminisced about the other day, I read many of the animal stories of Thornton W. Burgess, which my parents got for me. If I were not reading one of the Wiggilys, I would be reading a Burgess story, or maybe one of the Oz books. I do remember telling one of the girls who were riding in our car pool to school, that I had a crush, or whatever I called it, on Ozma, the lovely princess of Oz, so I must have been reading them at six or seven, too.

I did not know anything about Burgess, though on the back cover of the books, it might say that he had wanted to be a naturalist, and then turned to writing stories about various animals and birds, with a background of having known more about their natures than most children’s writers. The stories were very entertaining, though sometimes with an unsettling part, as I will elaborate below.

There were so many of the stories, each named for one of the woodland or water creatures. The book were all listed in one of the title pages, so I could ask my parents if they would get me this or that one. They always looked, but some were just not available in the bookstores or department stores where they would buy them for me. This was of course before computers, and before online sales, and I think that it was more fun that way.

I think that the first of these Burgess books was “Mother West Wind and Her Children.’ That was a simpler book, with little tales in each chapter. The children of Mother West Wind, were the Merry Little Breezes, and they would have a little role in some of the stories, being able to tell the animals what important news they had learned in traveling around the various locales. Then Burgess began to write each novel about a different animal or bird, with the various other characters often being in the story as well, and then having their own book about them.

The books came with lovely illustrations, most I think done by Harrison Cady, who drew wonderful pictures. There was a colored cover, and then various drawings inside. As I recall, most of the animals and birds were almost always wearing a little outfit, maybe a top hat, or overalls. Granny Fox, my favorite character, wore a bonnet and a pair of spectacles, but do not be misled, she was very smart; and she lived with young Reddy Fox, whom she tried to impart her wisdom to.

Other animals who inhabited these stories, as I remember them, included Unc’ Billy Possum, Jimmy Skunk, Prickly Porky the Porcupine (my brother thought it was porkypine, which was cute in itself), Johnny Chuck (he met a nice girl chuck named Polly, and later on, when their friends had not seen him for a while, they found them together with some shy baby chucks peering out of a safe place they had built for them, with a very cute illustration accompanying). There was Jerry Muskrat (that was a good book), and Paddy the Beaver. Billy Mink, and Bobby Coon, and Little Joe Otter, who was drawn wearing a pair of overalls, and carrying a fishing pole. Peter Rabbit (I was surprised that he had the same name as the rabbit in the Beatrix Potter stories).

Old Man Coyote, who was very smart. Buster Bear. Danny Meadow Mouse. Grandfather Frog and Old Mr. Toad, who were usually at the Smiling Pool or the Laughing Brook. Longlegs the Heron, which was the book which I always asked for, but my parents could not find, but my girlfriend found for me as an adult. Lightfoot the Deer. And then one of my favorites, Blacky the Crow, and then his cousin Sammy Jay. There were also various birds, such as Mr. Redwing, Mr. Goshawk, Jenny Wren, and then Ol’ Mistah Buzzard, who had traveled up from Virginia, and surveyed the scene, but was never an unsettling figure, he was actually rather wise.

The wood animals lived in the Green Forest or the Green Meadows, and sometimes traveled to the Old Pasture. They interacted with others, in a way that seemed to evince their animal personalities. The little ones, like Danny Meadow Mouse and Peter Rabbit, might say hello to Reddy Fox or Granny Fox, but they would be careful to stay near their home in the bramble, or a convenient hole to dive into.

Nothing really bad ever happened to the animals in a Burgess stories, but there of course was the danger of being a smaller animal. And Burgess, I suppose like Felix Salten, who wrote the Bambi stories, wanted to teach children about the evils of hunting. That was a lesson I did not need; I never had any desire to hunt or shoot an animal, so I did not like those parts, which were not that frequent, but disconcerting to an impressionable child. Poor Lightfoot the Deer, in a story which I was looking forward to, spent most of the chapters trying to evade hunters, and a hunting season which seemed to keep returning. He was okay, but it was traumatic. Eventually, Burgess left that theme, and Lightfoot met a cute and shy doe, and they were happy together

In another story, Blacky the Crow, who mostly looked out for himself, was impelled to save some ducks from being shot by hunters who had set up a duck blind, something I did not know anything about. Blacky realized what was going on, and at the last minute, he cawed loudly enough to get the ducks to fly away to safety.

But the most unsettling chapter involved one of my favorites, Reddy Fox. For some reason, Burgess was rather critical of Reddy, referring to him at times as “boastful.” Foxes are one of my favorite animals, so I always rooted for him. There was a farmer around there, Farmer Brown, who never played a role, but his son, Farmer Brown’s boy, did, and he would sometimes carry a gun.

Reddy Fox had kept stealing eggs, I think, so Farmer Brown’s boy went hunting after him. Reddy Fox was not as alert as he should have been. Drummer the Woodpecker saw the boy with his gun, and tried to warn Reddy, by pecking loudly. The chapter, with the absolutely ominous title which I have never forgotten, and which disconcerted my brother, too, was “Drummer the Woodpecker Drums in Vain.’ Well, Farmer Brown’s boy shot him, in the leg. Reddy had to go off with Granny Fox to stay in the Old Pasture, until he could recover. That whole set of chapters was so upsetting to me, and I imagine to the other readers of the Burgess stories.

There was a much nicer moment in the book titled “Old Granny Fox.’ It had been a hard winter, and there was little food around. Granny Fox was losing strength. Reddy Fox promised to try to get them some food. He looked everywhere, but could not find anything for them to eat, and he was was very weak, too.

Finally he caught one fish in an almost frozen pond. He started to eat it before he realized, and then dropped it out of his mouth and took it home, minus the one bite, to Granny Fox. She immediately realized what had happened, and was touched that Reddy, who sometimes was not too responsible a young fox, had thought of her more than himself. That was the end of that little section, and things were all right. The lesson was beautifully rendered by Burgess. If you can find a picture of Granny Fox and Reddy Fox, or any of the cover drawings, you will get a sense of the charm of the stories, and how Harrison Cady’s illustrations so greatly enhanced them.

So despite the occasional upsetting parts, most of the stories were filled with charm, and entertaining and sometimes poetic writing. There were a few moral lessons, but not heavy-handed. I remember a chapter entitled “A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed.’ And another one, “All’s Well That Ends Well.’ I pondered both of those aphorisms. For a five or six year old boy, stretched out comfortably on the floor, or on the lounge chair outside, eagerly turning to the next chapter to find out what happens next, and to learn all about the various animals and their environs, and their personalities, reading the Burgess novels was mostly a very enjoyable experience, which is why I remember all of those details today. I guess that some children still read them, as at least most of them have been reprinted in large paperback editions.