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      Colin Powell was the first black secretary of state. He was the consummate insider, who climbed the military bureaucracy with great skill and vigor. A man who always knew what had to be done to get ahead and get along. In Vietnam, for example, he understood his role perfectly: his time as a young U.S. Army Major posted in Saigon, when, after the My Lai Massa […]
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Is Kyrsten Sinema a Self-Indulgent Dilettante, or a Trojan Horse?

I have been thinking about this, and about Sinema, who may turn out to be the person who sinks the entire Build Back Better plan. As we know, there are the votes in the Senate to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the House “Progressives” do not want to vote for it until they are guaranteed that the rest of the plan, the Reconciliation package containing many important things, including legislation to help deal with climate change, will pass the Senate.

But Biden and Pelosi and Schumer cannot guarantee that the package will pass the Senate. We have 50 Democrats in the Senate, but do we have 50 votes? Probably not, with Manchin and Sinema being the barriers to that number.

I wanted to see a little bit about the negotiation yesterday, so I turned on Chris Hayes’ show, and coincidentally, he had a segment on Sinema, with former Democratic Congressperson Donna Edwards, who used to get on TV a good deal years ago, because she was a bit of a maverick Democrat, and then after leaving Congress, managed to parlay that into a regular guesting spot on panels.

Hayes did say something I had also felt, that while Manchin can be frustrating, at least he talks about what differences and objections he has regarding the bill, and he seems as if he is at least trying to get something done. Sinema has not voiced any specific objection or demand, so how does anyone know how to negotiate with her? He also mentioned that after meeting with President Biden today, she also held a meeting with several representatives of a business lobby which wants to defeat the bill. They have given money to her campaigns as well.

I wonder if there is anyone well versed in Arizona politics who can actually figure Sinema out? I read her Wikipedia page (not at all my preferred reference site, but useful for a quick review), and it is hard to know what to think. She started her political career as a member of the Green Party, and she decried capitalism. But later she turned into a Democratic candidate, who won elections that way, and yet now is considered one of the most “moderate,” pro-business, Democratic senators.

She recently very visibly voted against raising the minimum wage to $15, Manchin was the other Democrat voting against it. She did a little pirouette step before she put her finger down to signal a no vote. While doing it, she was carrying a cake in a bag which she was going to present to House staff. When asked recently about the possibility of getting rid of the filibuster, she laughed dismissively.

She had sided with the bogus “Problem Solvers Caucus” and the “Blue Dog Democrats” group when she was in the House. A very conservative rating group gave her something like a 35% rating there, which is almost certainly a good deal higher than most House Democrats

She has cast some positive votes; she voted for impeachment of Trump, and against Kavanaugh and Barrett on the Supreme Court. But those votes were guaranteed not to actually accomplish anything, since Republicans had enough votes to get their way; so was all this for show, like the movies where the corrupt cop in the pay of the mob, makes a few meaningless arrests? Maybe that is unfair, but it would fit into a possible theory. She does seem to be rather favorable toward corporate America, vastly different from her earlier statements when she was in the Green Party, and could not win elections.

None of us can read minds or psyches with certainty. But that doesn’t stop anyone from making an educated guess. I would agree with Hayes and Edwards that Sinema is the major impediment. I don’t know what her goal is here. If she wants reductions in some aspects of the Reconciliation bill, why doesn’t she voice them? She wants to keep it private? Possibly, but since she is a major focus on the vote, it would be helpful to everybody, to explain what it is she wants and doesn’t want.

Does she want to do what she did with the minimum wage bill, wait until the last minute to do a little dance to make her vote? People’s livelihoods, and the fate of the planet are at stake. Also, a defeat for the Democrats, or anything resembling one, would be spun by the Republicans and their media friends so as to seriously damage the Biden Presidency. Oh, I should note that in 2016, Sinema voted against Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker; and more recently, was against Charles Schumer being Majority Leader.

So that inclines one to perhaps not see Sinema as a serious-minded senator interested in helping the lives of her constituents, who are by a large majority in favor of the bill. Nor perhaps is she just a self-indulgent dilettante who likes to be the center of attention, and to be politically wined and dined by both sides.

Maybe she is a metaphorical Trojan Horse. We all know that term, and most know the story, which comes from Virgil’s Aeneid. The Greeks were being defeated in the Trojan War. (I rooted for the Trojans when I read that saga, even though I and my parents were UCLA fans). So they came up with a last-ditch plan to trick the Trojans, by appearing to leave by their boats. They had constructed a large wooden horse, which they left outside the gates. The Trojans thought it was an offering to them, the victors. But hidden inside the horse were Greek warriors.

The Trojan priest Laocoon warned against the Trojans letting the horse into the gates. He said, essentially, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” But he was killed by serpents who came out of the sea, and the Trojans took this as a sign that the gods were displeased with him, and they let the horse inside. That night, the soldiers came out of the horse, and along with the Greeks who sailed back, killed the Trojans, and won the war,

So the term “Trojan Horse” stands for that image and story. We all have seen movies or shows where somehow the idealistic people running the state or city government, or the police force, keep getting thwarted; and we start to realize that there might be a defector, a traitor, or a Trojan Horse, in their midst, who is working with the enemy. And the story gradually unearths who that person is.

Is it unfair to wonder if Sinema has been bought, or at least effectively appealed to, by the corporate elements who want to defeat the legislation? I read somewhere a few weeks ago that Sinema’s major goal is to move into a very remunerative lobbying position. That was just somebody’s opinion, but it is not inconceivable. Does she want to stay in the Senate? Her term ends in 2025. Is this stop just part of her saga, where she becomes a lobbyist, or a TV political talk host, well funded by the grateful corporations which manage to somehow always get their way?

Hayes and Edwards agreed that since the bill is very popular in Arizona, the voters of that state will react very negatively toward Sinema killing it. But they somehow did not realize that Sinema may not care, she has a much more lucrative career coming up. What good does it do us to defeat her in a primary in 2024, or if she does not run then; with this crucial bill, maybe the last chance to make such major accomplishments, having been defeated in 2021?

This whole story is becoming stranger, and more frustrating, as Bernie Sanders urges the House Progressive Caucus, headed by Pramilla Jayapal, to vote against the original infrastructure bill, until and if the Senate passes the Reconciliation bill. It is possible that Sanders, who cost the Democrats the election in 2016, with all the resultant and still occurring calamities, is going to ruin the Biden Administration, with the assistance of the Progressive Caucus, which wants to show that they are tired of being pushed around, as they see it.

And of course with the significant help of Sinema, whose political career is rather strange, who didn’t want Pelosi or Schumer in charge, who regularly meets with business lobbyists whose major goal is to defeat any Democratic bill which raises taxes on corporations or does anything to keep them from complete laissez-faire, “do whatever you want to do, we won’t stop you.” Is that why Sinema is in office, because some powerful interests put her there? Why won’t she speak up and state her positions on the bill? Today, I saw a quote from Congressman Ro Khanna: “The President keeps begging her, ‘tell us what you want. Put a proposal forward.’ One Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, is holding up the will of the entire Democratic Party.”

And would it be unlikely, that the Republicans, who plot out everything, who carefully construct barriers and land mines to keep themselves from losing power, would not have created, at least at some point, a Trojan Horse, someone who says they are a Democrat, and yet will seek to destroy the entire Democratic Administration, in a way that Republicans escape blame for it? Is that too fanciful a thought about what is going on here? One hopes so, but it increasingly seems possible that it is what we are seeing play out, just as planned by the villains of this particular non-fiction piece.

If that is not what is going on, then all this pressure from Sanders and the Progressive Caucus may not be helping. Somebody may be bluffing, but bluffers sometimes get called, and lose all their money. And moving away from the poker metaphor, people in powerful positions do not like to feel that they are being intimidated or forced into a vote, which is what it appears that Sanders and Jayapal seem to be trying to do.

If this all falls apart, Sinema and Manchin can blame the Progressives, and Sanders and Jayapal can blame Sinema and Manchin, and we all lose, as the Republicans take over the country, and the Democratic Left and Right endlessly complain about each other.

Over the 230 years or so of the America republic, there have usually been enough sober-minded and concerned people in office to keep the proverbial train from going off the tracks. But do we have enough of those now, when the margins are so slim, that a few self-indulgent, or doctrinaire, or bought, people have the power to wreck it all by themselves?

What Are Republicans Trying to Do?

Do they even know? Are they now at a point where they are just motivated by spite, anger, the wish to destroy Democrats, no matter what the cost to the country and its citizens may be? A lust for power that is in some ways like Macbeth’s, where they feel that they have to keep eliminating anyone who could possibly threaten them? Or are they addicted to trying to inflict pain?

The refusal to raise the debt ceiling, something that was simply a matter of course every year, until the Tea Party, is now a feature of the Republican Party. Democrats always voted to raise the debt ceiling, which covered the bills accrued in the previous year. They did this in all administrations. Then the Tea Party came up in the 2010 elections, and every year after that, there were Republican threats not to raise it, something which would destroy the credit rating of the United States, and very likely cause a nationwide and perhaps global recession.

So Obama felt that he was forced to make deals with House Republicans every year simply to get something done which should always be done as a matter of minimal responsible governance. He called it “being held hostage,” which seems rather inappropriate for a President to view and deal with in that way, but that is what he said, and Speaker Boehner said that “he gave us 98% of what we wanted.” That emboldened them, of course. When Trump got elected, Republicans jumped in with their two trillion dollar tax cut which literally only benefited the top half of one percent of the population. They rammed it through, but even so, Democrats responsibly voted to raise the debt ceiling every year.

Now, the minute that a Democrat is elected President, Republicans not only threaten not to raise the debt ceiling, but simply refuse to vote for it. Every single Republican in the Senate–yes, including senators like Romney and Collins and Murkowski– refused to approve it. So now Democrats are scrambling around trying to find a way to keep the government running for more than just the next month or so. Because Republicans have lost any interest in maintaining the government, if they are not in power.

As I noted earlier, the media mostly describes this as a problem for Biden and Democrats, without focusing on the blatantly obvious fact that Republicans are solely responsible for causing it. For them, it is just another way to purvey the narrative that the Congress is broken and ineffective, that Democrats cannot run the country effectively, because, see, they can’t get the debt ceiling raised.

Some try to give credit to Mitch McConnell for being clever. They say that he and the Republicans want to be able to blame the Democrats for the budget costs, and attack them as being profligate in spending. This deliberately and pathetically ignores the fact that raising the debt ceiling almost completely relates to paying the debts accrued last year, when a Republican was President.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, it will be an economic catastrophe. Republicans don’t care. They really don’t. Oh, some of them might just figure that Democrats will find some unilateral way to take care of this, and then they can campaign against it, and win more power for themselves. But I think that most of them really don’t care.

This is because they are stupid, and they never learned anything about economics or anything much beyond how to lie to gain power. The Tea Party people were stunning in their absolute refusal to even try to understand how the government must be funded, and how defaulting on debts would potentially destroy the economic stability of the United States. Some of them are still in there, and the ones who came after, may almost be worse.

It is clear that the only thing motivating Republicans in office is finding a way to retake the Congress, and then win the Presidency in 2024. So in their very tiny brains, they think that if the economy is wrecked, it will be easier to run against Democrats. They also think that if the pandemic worsens, they can run against that. Anything bad that happens to the country while Democrats are in power, is a victory for them. The fact that lives are ruined, and people are in a constant state of fear and worry, is absolutely irrelevant to them.

This could be described as mass sociopathy. Or simply evil. One of the only two viable parties in this country, has no interest in anything but gaining and keeping power. And they want to set it up so that there is no way that they can ever lose it. So they are gerrymandering every day, they are passing election laws to make sure that Democrats cannot vote in sufficient numbers. They are trying to ruin the economy. They try to purvey a narrative that things are falling apart, because of Biden, when it is they who are causing the chaos. They are pretty certain that not enough people will figure it out. The media surely doesn’t, or maybe they do, but are happy about trying to help Republicans take over again.

Where will they stop? I don’t think there is any limit. They tried to cancel the last election, and keep Trump in power. A columnist today wrote that “The goal is fascism.” That is a logical conclusion. They want things to get so bad, that Americans are desperate, as were the people of much of Europe in the 1930’s, for a “strongman” to take charge; get the trains running on time, even if they have to take away human rights, and jail and execute anyone who does not do what they want.

Watching the devolution of the Republican Party does not make any of this surprising. The roots were there, from the McCarthy era, to Nixon trying to gain a third term, and use the FBI to destroy his political enemies. From Iran-Contra, where Republicans gleefully ignored an Act of Congress, to send money to a faction in a foreign country. From the lies to get us into a war in Iraq, and increasing the terror alerts before the 2004 election. From packing the Supreme Court with justices who would make sure that votes were not counted in Florida in 2000. Trump gave them their strongman, even a psychotic and totally crooked one, and they were fine with it. And they know very well what Trump and his people were doing on January 6, 2021, and they were rooting for it. And when it did not work, they dedicated themselves to making sure that no Democrat would ever hold the Presidency again.

Anything passed by Democrats is seen as bad for Republicans, so they try to block all of it. They have their tools in place: gerrymandering for the House, filibustering for the Senate. They have a Supreme Court full of partisan hacks, to use the term that one of them propagandized herself not to be. They are ready for battle, and it starts with trying to ruin the economy.

This should of course be the framing and the national narrative. Republicans are unfit to hold power of any kind. That seems dramatic, but how can one see it any other way? Give them majority power, and they will institute fascism. They already talk admiringly of Orban’s Hungary, and that is what they want here. Give them minority power, and they will use it to thwart the will of the majority, those in office, and the American people, and seek minority rule, until they can grab the majority again. Does anyone doubt that if the Republicans control the Congress, they will summarily get rid of the filibuster, and then blame it on the Democrats for having brought it up? That is right out of their playbook of projection and propaganda.

So we watch this play out, and hope that Democrats finally realize that Republican are not our friends, nor are they supporters of democracy, though they love to wave the flag and sing songs about it. They want a totalitarian state, and they are very willing and eager to destroy the democracy to obtain it. Know your enemy. Do not let a general feeling of good nature, or wish to get along, delude you as to their ultimate purpose. They count on that, and use it against you.

It is a virtue to be a nice person or group. But you cannot think that niceness and honor and responsibility just win the day, against an opposing group which is the antithesis of that, and is dedicated to trying to destroy you, and anything else which impedes them in their fanatical pursuit of absolute power.

I don’t think the insurrectionists thought it through.

I was on Twitter just now to see that “Alito” is trending. I had to see what’s up and the first tweet that came up was one featuring disgraced and soon to be disbarred lawyer, Sidney Powell. You know, the one who she said she didn’t expect the lies and lawsuits about election fraud would be taken seriously by some members of the general public? Yeah, her.

She was laying out the plan for the insurrection and what the role of the mob was supposed to be on January 6. Check it out:

I am not a lawyer and have no idea what procedures are required to get the Supreme Court to intervene but according to Sidney, Kevin McCarthy et al were supposed to petition the court to get the certification process halted. They were relying on Samuel Alito to put an emergency halt to it. Nancy Pelosi wasn’t taking the bait so she reconvened Congress as soon as possible to get the process finished.

I always wondered why Nancy got her s}#% together so soon and how she managed to get everyone back in the house chambers. Her office had been ransacked, one of her laptops was stolen, the boxes with the state certifications were hastily removed from the chambers and now had to be brought back, probably heavily guarded, her house members were rattled. Somehow, she had the composure and state of mind to get the band back together. It looks like she at least partially did it to avoid Alito getting involved.

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate what was going on here. The MAGA contingent was determined to circumvent the wishes of 84,000,000 enfranchised citizens who cast their ballots for Biden. The MAGA mob decided that THOSE votes did not count. All votes are equal but some votes are more equal than others. Somehow, they had got the idea in their heads that they could just do their best Conan the Barbarian imitations, overturn the election, and the rest of us were just going to shake in our Uggs and let them do it.

And I am telling them now so there is no ambiguity about this: they would have unleashed a very dangerous backlash against them. They did not think it through. The rest of us wouldn’t have put up with that for a nanosecond.

We need to keep that in the forefront of our minds. I hope the January 6 Committee impresses that on every subpoenaed witness that is forced to come before them kicking and screaming to tell us all about their adolescent fantasies about invading and subduing their enemies. That kind of outcome would have brought out the Union soldiers in every one of the rest of us.

You do not want to stir that pot.

Also, Alito needs to come forward with what he knew. Let’s dispense with this fantasy that the Supreme Court is above the political fray. This Supreme Court is at the very heart of it.

The “Tragedy” of Superficial Movie Reviewers Trying to Understand Classic Plays

This kind of thing probably does not bother very many people, but it upsets me, so I will indulge myself a little, you might find it amusing.

I am not a cineaste; that is, I appreciate good movies, particularly when they are well written, have depth to them; and after you see one of those, you are apt to think about it, at least the emotional effect, if not the story itself. But I am not someone who has a great appreciation for visual style or camera angles. I want a good story, compellingly done.

So there are the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen. I know that they are popular, and some of their films have gotten praise. They are considered to be masters of film technique, at least by a few reviewers. Some people, from what I have read, cannot wait for another Coen Brothers film to come out. But I cannot stand their films. I have seen a few, and I have found them to be self-indulgent, smirkingly silly; style without substance.

I don’t think that I have ever gone to one of their films, but I have seen all or parts of them on television.. I watched about an hour of “Blood Simple,” until it became so inane as to be unwatchable. I watched about forty minutes of “Barton Fink,” with the same result. I never saw “Raising Arizona,” but my brother, who has different tastes, and is probably more tolerant in that regard, said that it was the worst film he had ever seen. I tried to watch “No Country For Old Men, ” but turned it off after the Coen Brothers indulged themselves with a graphic thirty second strangling scene.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, that I now assiduously avoid anything to do with the Coen Brothers films. That is pretty easy to do. But now I see that Joel Coen, working separately from his brother Ethan, has directed a new movie. And unfortunately, it is his version of Shakespeare’s immortal play “Macbeth.”

That play was of course one of Shakespeare’s five Tragedy Plays, the other four being, “Hamlet,,” “Romeo and Juliet,,” “Othello,” and ‘King Lear.” “Macbeth,” and all of those plays, have been performed for 500 years, with the greatest actors on stage, or more recently and occasionally, on film. I have read “Macbeth,” several times, have studied it in school, and seen it in various movie forms, including stage to screen, where they film the play performed at an English theatre, and then show it as a film to a wider audience.

Not that long ago, I saw a version starring Kenneth Branagh; he was solid, though rather workmanlike, as usual. I saw one with Christopher Eccleston, who I thought was very good in “Doctor Who,” but not very good here, at least in the 40 minutes or so I saw, before deciding to leave. He said, “Is this a dagger that I see before me?,” as if he were studying an eye chart. And, while this was not crucial, they had an interview with the actor playing Lady Macbeth, shown before the performance, and she wanted to tell us that she thought that Lady Macbeth had possibly had four miscarriages, and that she was by no means a villain; which is ridiculous, because of course she is, though Shakespeare always gives almost all of his prinicipal characters, including the villains, some sympathetic aspects. There is no one definitive interpretation or analysis of any great work of art, but imposing one’s own political sensibilities onto it, is not warranted, when the text is clear.

So now we have Joel Coen with his particular interpretation of the play. I would not see anything by him, on principle, but it is an interesting juxtaposition. He has cast Denzel Washington as Macbeth, and his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth. It seems that he has taken the three witches and made them one character, though that was just from my reading of the review I am going to write about.

I am usually a purist when it comes to literature. I like the films or theatre versions to be very close to the sense of the work, if not literally exact. They can make them in modern dress , if they want; not my favorite thing, but understandable. They can do “color blind casting,” which I do not favor, but is pretty much the norm now. But don’t change the text or the characters in the play, to suit the director’s ego, or political position.

So I will not see this, because it is by Coen, but maybe I am missing something, and I have already seen some positive review headlines. I do think that reviewing of movies is coming closer to “hyping,” than writing an intelligent and nuanced critique. And I wonder if there are very many discerning and literate reviewers. I rarely read one, the kind that can even add to one’s appreciation of a work, point out the favorable aspects and the flaws; and only give a glowing review if something is really great.

That brings me to the real subject of my little rant, which is a review of this movie done at a site called “Deadline,” which I think is a place where various movies and TV shows are reviewed. Before that, I will just review Shakepeare’s actual play “Macbeth.” It is not as psychologically complex as “Hamlet.” Its power comes from the intensity of emotions, and the dramatic and vivid story which is told.

Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is a military leader and warrior of high renown in medieval Scotland. He has just come from a triumphant victory in a climactic battle. He is traveling home with his fellow general and friend Banquo. They come upon three entities who we have learned are waiting for Macbeth. They are females, variously described as witches or “the Weird Sisters.” We know that they are bad, because one of them tells the others how when some woman refused to share the nuts she was munching on, with her, she now will destroy the ship captained by the woman’s husband, and of course kill him as well.

So these witches, variously portrayed in different productions (Roman Polanski had them played by children), greet Macbeth and Banquo, and hail Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor, and “King to be.”They tell Banquo that he will never be king, but that his heirs will be. The two are amazed at these prophecies, Banquo urges his friend not to think any more about them.

But then Macbeth learns that the former Thane of Cawdor has been executed as a traitor ,and Macbeth is given his title. He is now convinced that the witches are telling him his future. He shares this with his wife, Lady Macbeth. She, having the determination and cleverness which Macbeth does not, essentially urges him to kill King Duncan when he comes to visit their castle for a celebration. He does not want to do this, and urges her to forget such thoughts. But she insists, tells him he must screw his courage to the sticking point, and, that it would be cowardly not to go forward.

Eventually, Macbeth accedes, though he has frightening visions warning him not to do it. But he does kill the king while he is sleeping; and Lady Macbeth, not liking the way he has described the scene, goes in and makes it look as if a drunken groom has committed the murder.

The rest of the play develops the implications of what the couple has done. Macbeth, who we were to see as a previously admirable character, albeit with ambition, develops into a monster, wanting to kill everyone and their heirs who might threaten his kingship.He ultimately realizes that the witches have deceived and seduced him. They told him to fear Macduff, and he avoids him, but has his children killed. They tell him to fear no man of woman born, and he thinks that means he is impregnable, but he later learns that Macduff was born through caesarean section, not from the womb. And he is told that he is safe “until Birnam Wood doth come to Dunsinane,” which he assumes is impossible, until Macduff’s army is seen to be carrying limbs of trees from Birnam Wood, as a strategical trick to make it look as if their forces are greater. At that point, he realizes that he is doomed.

He learns that Lady Macbeth is dead. The messenger does not tell him how she died, though later it is said that it is thought that she took her own life. He then says, in his hopelessness and futility, “She should have died hereafter.” I read that as “should” meaning “would have.” She died on that day, she would have died sooner or later. Then he says perhaps the most famous lines in Shakespeares’s unparalleled writing history. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

“Macbeth” is a story of a man with some admirable qualities, who is seduced and then destroyed by the evil spirits, but of course only because his own flaws of character, and those of his wife, lead him into it. And once he starts down that road, he cannot turn back, and ultimately becomes dreadful. The play has some of the most intensely powerful language in all of Shakespeare. It can be seen as providing a metaphor for the human character, and how it can be warped into something evil,, if the tendency is already there. We see that in this era, of course.

So now here is Joel Coen, with his movie version of the play, starring Denzel Washington, who is a fine actor, but was not good in the movie by Kenneth Branagh of Shakespeare’s play “Measure for Measure.” There is a cadence to the reading of the iambic pentameter, and some are much better at it than others. Washington is probably better now at it than he was then, but he is pretty obviously a box-office choice, which hardly would have been the first time in movie casting, but there likely would have been better choices, if someone were actually trying to do a great rendition of the play. Some reviewer’s blurb said, “a stellar cast”: well, yes, Shakespeare is usually performed with a great cast, big names or not.

Okay, finally I will get to this Deadline “review.” I will not quote extensively from it, so as not to infringe on copyright, but a few lines are acceptable; after all, the movie ads always contain such lines from reviews, often excerpted to make the review look better than it is. See if you can decide if this reviewer, who is named, or called, Valerie Complex, actually knows anything about the play, or Shakespeare, or if she is a person who likes movies and writes about celebrities, and then saw this movie, and tried to figure it out. My reactions to the lines of this review are in parentheses.

“Director Joel Coen explores the consequences of war and loss through a fantastical, almost surrealistic-like lens…” (??? This movie sounds pretentious and wrong from the start). “He executes Shakespeare’s work in a way that takes inspiration from other adaptations of the play, while creating a version that is all his own.” (what adaptations is she referring to? “A version all its own? She has seen the other adaptations, or is this just fluff?).

“The soon to be king writes a letter to his wife, and with all the excitement of a little kid in Chuck E. Cheese, the lady is ready to make prophecy reality.” (The thing I hate the most about this growing style of online “reviewing”: the juvenile attempts to be clever or hip. The writers mostly lack much in the way of descriptive phrases, so have to use metaphors like this–for a Shakespeare play, no less). “He kills Duncan, is given the crown, and all hell breaks loose. (Ah, that is what happens? Thanks for summing it up. Actually, it doesn’t “break loose,” Macbeth causes it).

“Lord and Lady Macbeth are two severely mentally ill individuals suffering from more than thoughtless ambition.” (This is what she takes from this story, that they are severely mentally ill individuals?) “Macbeth is a general who has served in two back to back wars without a break, and possibly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.” (???? That is never implied. PTSD was only diagnosed as a disorder in the 20th century, although one could say that the symptoms of it long pre-existed that era. But there is nothing in the text to indicate that Macbeth is suffering from battle fatigue. Try to read literature on the terms the writer sets, not throw modern jargon or conceptions in, when there is no text to support them).

Okay, one more, and I will stop. “Lady Macbeth is a childless wife who just lost another child and is rendered infertile. With a chance to make themselves royalty, to distract from their _______ lot in life, why not seize the moment? Unfortunately, that did not turn out too well for the duo. ” (Yes, let us minimize this play by turning it into an episode of a bad TV show).

Well, just one more. “Coen’s work in the Tragedy of Macbeth is otherworldly. Every aspect of the production works in unison to execute his masterful vision of the Scottish play.” “Coen is doing fantastic work here. His version of this story is one of the few that zeroes in on the fantasy and brings this to the foreground.” (What fantasy to zero in on? What is she trying to express in that sentence? Why does she think that is is important to zero in on some fantasy, whatever that means?).

Well, she liked it, and that is fine. Others will, too. Many people want some razzle-dazzle in films of plays. But the essence of a great play, which Macbeth is, is the story and the characters and the language. Tricking it up with special effects is superficial. The reviewer didn’t learn much about it, if she comes away thinking that the Macbeths are severely mentally ill. That would cover any protagonist in any of the Revenge Plays of the Middle Ages, or the Greek Tragedies. Regicide was not uncommon back then.

I will not see the movie, so that is the last I will read or hear about it, except that it will likely win Academy Awards. Coen, Washington, McDormand; it often seems that this is how the voting goes in the celebrity awards, they are honoring the “name actors,” often the same ones again and again.

There is nothing I can do about it, nor about the Coens, nor about what people like in art. But I value the classics, and the timeless plays, and I want to see them done with respect and understanding, not self-indulgence. And it would be nice if there were more than a very few reviewers who actually knew the source material, particularly when it is one of the greatest plays ever written; and who could somehow refrain from making cutesy comparisons to kids at Chuck. E. Cheese. Does everything now reduce itself to banal cultural references or slang?

Okay, end of rant, for now. Thank you for indulging me. Did you know that “Macbeth” is the one play whose title must, by accepted convention, never be named by anyone in the cast or crew performing it, as it is considered to cause very bad luck? It must always be referred to as “The Scottish Play.”



Here is an Encouraging Headline

“Swedish millionaire John Eliasch purchased 400,000 acres of the Amazon Rainforest for $14,000,000 from a logging company, for the sole purpose of its preservation.”

I should read more about it, but this morning I am just happy enough to see the headline, without seeing if there is any catch or caveat to it. Probably there is not. I will even try not to dwell on the evil of Brazilian President Jair Bolsinaro, who may even outdo Trump in his efforts to destroy the planet so that he and his business cronies can make some more money. And that the people in Brazil voted for him.

I will focus on the fact that there are some people out there, perhaps even some rich ones, who care about the environment, and are trying to save it. Seven hosts of various late night talk shows all focused on climate change on their shows Wednesday night. I didn’t see any of them, but I am happy that they did it.

Prince William of England is making major efforts to help organize support to deal with climate change. Last October, he launched the Earthshot Competition, in which a prize of a million pounds will be awarded to each of the five winners, for innovative ideas that have “a significant positive impact on the problems facing the world.” Charged with selecting the winners, will be members of the Earthshot Prize Council, including Prince William, Sir David Attenborough, Cate Blanchett, Queen Raina of Jordan, and former U.N. climate chief Chrstiana Figueres

When announcing this effort in October, 2020, Prince William said, “Over half a century ago, President Kennedy’s “Moonshot” program united millions of people around the goal of reaching the moon. Inspired by this, the Earthshot Prize aims to mobilize collective action around our unique ability to rise to the greatest challenges in human history.” The categories include protecting and restoring nature; cleaning the air; reviving oceans; and arresting climate change.

It is good to see that there are people with influence, dedicated to trying to deal with climate change, which as any sane person knows, is a terrible threat to every living creature on this planet. The horror is that decades of people, mostly corporations (“Corporations are people, my friend!!” Mitt Romney in a presidential debate), wealthy profligates, Republican politicians owned by them; and millions of unperceptive and foolish individuals who would prefer it not to be true, have done everything they could to ignore, scoff at, and work against any efforts to combat global warming, and even to bring the issue up.

But more are waking up to it. The major problem is that the levers of power have been so taken over by the corporate tycoons who do not want anything to stand in the way of them making the most profits they can; and then the masses whom they help to indoctrinate, that it is so far impossible for this government to pass desperately needed laws to combat climate change. The Build Back Better bill has some important elements in that regard, but of course the Republicans have no intention of voting for any of the House Reconciliation Bill which contains them. So we have to hope that the Democrats, all by themselves, can pass this.

It would all seem to be the most obvious truth, even one as inconvenient as Al Gore described it as being. We see temperature records being broken everywhere. Droughts. Fires. So-called “one in a century” hurricanes. Do people think this will stop? Some try to invent theories to disprove this data and the evidence of their own eyes. I think that much of it is the relentless brainwashing that “they are trying to take away your liberties.” The same fury and stubbornness which keeps them from wearing masks and getting vaccinated, makes them not want to do anything which might heal the hole in the ozone layer. And they won’t be convinced, no matter what facts there are.

But polls show that most Americans believe that climate change exists, and want those in office to do something about it. And we see that many “celebrities” try to help, and also world leaders in other countries. So when a very rich person buys part of the Amazon Rainforest to prevent it from being destroyed, and further accelerating climate change, we should applaud.

One hopes that other people with the wealth to afford it, do similar things. It is a lot more important than going on space flights. Elon Musk, who I think is a world class megalomaniac, says he wants to live on Mars. I hope he can do so, and leave the rest of us who actually care about this planet, to work on it. He’s already got his car circling in orbit for the next hundred years or so, space junk to blight the rest of the universe, when he is no longer trying to get headlines devoted to him.

Pop culture sensations

I’m going to talk about Gabby Petito. If this subject triggers you into a frenzy about missing white women and how women of color don’t get this kind of coverage, well, you aren’t telling me anything new. But in a way, you are the target audience because you just might be a dinosaur. Allow me to explain.

I’m not a true crime aficionado. I don’t watch whatever the most popular true crime shows are and don’t even know where to find them on TV. In fact, I don’t watch a lot of TV. I stopped watching it for the most part about 7-8 years ago. Content creators on YouTube and podcasts are getting so good that TV just doesn’t interest me any more unless there’s a good bingeable series. Then I stream. I watch about an hour of cable news a day. The rest of my news I read or listen to. And I’m deliberate about avoiding video news programs on TV because it’s very easy to manipulate perception about current events in a visual format.

So maybe that’s why I had no idea who Casey Anthony was until about 24 hours before her verdict. I only heard barely snippets about Natalie Holloway. Indeed, there’s a whole population of missing white women and children and murders that I am not aware of. Maybe that’s because the times I have been forced to watch Fox News always featured them prominently. You definitely get the feeling from watching Fox that there are pedophiles and homocidal maniacs behind every tree just waiting to snatch your kids or bludgeon you to death.

I’m just too cold and analytical to fall for that stuff. Yes, their cases are tragic. But the risk to ones safety is greatly GREATLY exaggerated. So, I just tune that fearmongering out. There’s enough actual fear inducing material in real life.

I’m also aware that women of color and indigenous women don’t get the same kind of coverage. Rent the movie Wind River if you want to see what that’s all about. It’s heartbreaking. But there’s something disturbing about the reaction to Gabby’s disappearance and coverage. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

All of this is to say that when it comes to this case of Gabby Petito, I have gotten exactly zero information from any news programming. I have no idea how much time CNN has spent on it or CBS or John Walsh or the latest true crime program or Nancy Grace or anything like that.

All of the information, first degree video, accounts, search area data, all of that stuff on Gabby’s disappearance, has come directly from the internet. Her disappearance went viral because 1.) she had social media presence including an Instagram account with 50,000 followers and 2.) she was vlogging about a very popular lifestyle among young women and that is van life. It’s a spin off of cottagecore. It’s all about independence, minimalism, do it yourself and the great outdoors. Gabby was a bit unusual in the genre in that she took her boyfriend with her in her van. Van life for young women is viral to begin with. Everyone is buying an old white van, converting it, and digital nomading it in Wyoming or Colorado or Yosemite. Gabby was just following the crowd.

When she disappeared, it was her followers who spread the word. It is no exaggeration to say that the FBI was greatly helped by the crowdsourcing of the internet. We are still getting reports by people who saw Gabby and Brian on their road trip. Just yesterday, two people said Brian caused a scene at a restaurant in Jackson and Gabby was crying on the sidewalk. That might have been the last time anyone but Brian saw her alive. That kind of information is crucial to estimating the time of death.

The news about Gabby may be on every channel now. I wouldn’t know. But it started on Instagram, Youtube and Twitter. You can watch the Sarasota Sheriff’s helicopter circling over swamps in real time online. You can get throughout the day updates from your favorite pop culture YouTube channels.

This is not a case of missing white woman syndrome or at least it didn’t start out that way. This started as a mystery on the internet and people became intrigued by the footage they shot while on their trip and the incident with the police in Utah and the weird behavior of her boyfriend and his parents. People are just trying to figure it out, put all the pieces together. This time, they seem to be trying to clamp down on conspiracy theories and misreading clues. There is a lot of examination of the evidence by youtubers who know how to use video editing tools, people who share online applications, discussion of body language, the psychology of domestic abuse. It’s not just a narrative dramatized for true crime. It’s actual crime and thousands of amateur detectives sharing bits of the puzzle pieces.

If you only got your information about gabby from TV, it’s probably more the case that a narrative has been shaped in order to wring out every bit of emotion, pathos and concern from you. That might be the thing that people like Joy Reid is responding to. Everyone is beatifying Gabby. She was beautiful, young, kind to animals, wholesome, sweet, had a lot of friends who miss her. Have there been candlelight vigils yet? It’s the standard tragic young life cut short story and it’s yet another white woman.

So the pushback narrative is that nobody cares about women of color or indigenous women and it’s not fair and everyone should feel ashamed of caring so much about this one white woman and that implies those of us who are invested in this case must be latent racists.

You know what, Joy? Please stop trying to tell the rest of us how we think and feel. If this happened to a black woman on a road trip in a white converted Ford van and she had a growing fan base and a weird boyfriend who is behaving bizarrely, there’s a pretty good chance we’d be all over that too. That’s not to say that cable news is not sensationalizing that missing white girl angle for its target audience. Cable news is trying to get ratings.

But there is another audience out there that just likes to solve problems and help. Gabby Petito’s disappearance is an interesting problem to solve and working on it gives us satisfaction.

Nobody I’ve been following is in it for the big bucks or the fame. They’re just trying to figure it out. If it were a woman of color with a set of unique circumstances and internet accessible evidence, they’d be all over that too. Maybe it’s up to Joy to find that person and promote the story. Bashing her audience over the head with accusations of implied racism is really missing the story.

And that story is, TV programming, whether network or cable, is now in our evolutionary past. We are writing our own narratives now.

It’s All Biden’s Fault–According to the Media

That seems to be their narrative. Everything that was wrong with the country when Biden took office, is now his fault, not just his responsibility. And anything that has gone wrong, or not perfectly, no matter from what area of the government, is Biden’s fault as well.

When it is a Republican Administration, this is not the narrative. Oh, the media may point out some problems, but they do not reflexively blame them on the Republican President. And it is invariably described as a “both sides” thing; the previous Democratic President always comes in for his share of the blaming. Not so with Democrats, at least not in the media’s pervasive narrative.

We know all this, but it is still worthwhile to at least point to the narratives which seem to fill the cable news shows, at least MSNBC, which is the only one I watch, at least since Brianna Keilar of CNN moved to early morning. And one cannot even tentatively want to imagine what it is like on Fox or the other Far Right-Wing propaganda networks, it is unquestionably far worse there.

Here are some of the things which the media blames on Biden, who has been in office for eight months, taking over in the midst of a horrifying pandemic, and with the economy suffering from unemployment, women having left the workplace, businesses struggling to stay afloat; and the effects of now rampant climate change affecting every area of the country and the world.

Afghanistan: It was botched by Biden, is the narrative. What was botched is not certain. Did the media hope that the war would continue? Certainly some of the people whom the media loves to interview, are part of what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. They always think they know best. They supported all of our incursions. They do not like us having pulled all our troops from Afghanistan.

Others admit that, well, maybe it was good to end the war, but we did it badly. They must have read arcane books about “How to successfully leave a war in another country that your side lost, in a very orderly fashion, even though the enemy is filled with terrorists” Maybe Lao Tzu or Von Clausewitz wrote that, but I have never heard of it. So the leaving had chaotic elements, though we got our troops out in a couple of weeks, plus about 120,000 Afghans. Some respected people in the military or in international matters, thought that this was a remarkable achievement, but not the media.

The terrorist attack at the airport was horrific, though there have been others of these during America’s forays into nation-building in the Middle East, and those were treated as very unfortunate, but the cost of war. And of course Trump had already negotiated the surrender of forces for months earlier, and would undoubtedly have just pulled out, leaving the Afghans to deal with it, like the people he threw paper towels to in Puerto Rico. The media didn’t make much of that absolute show of contempt and cruelty.

The pandemic: Well, they don’t blame Biden for it, but they’ve got polls showing a majority of people are giving Biden unfavorable ratings, “because of the handling of the pandemic.” And what is it that they wanted him to do? And the ratings are of course cumulative; the Far Right is programmed and eager to hate anything that Biden does. The anti-vaxxers, who overlap, but not completely, don’t want the mask mandates.

Others seem very upset that the FDA, led by what I think is that very questionable doctor from Tufts, who seems always on the wrong side of such matters, did not approve the third shot for any but a limited number of people. “Biden promised to have the rollout of the third shot by September,” they complain. Well, that is certainly disappointing to many people, but Biden doesn’t control the FDA, nor did he appoint many of its members, maybe not any. So did he overpromise? I was surprised and disappointed in the decision, and Dr. Fauci was very surprised. Biden is doing all he can do, but he is not a dictator, the FDA makes these decisions right now. They could change before too long, as Fauci thinks they will.

The economy: Each time the “jobs numbers” are disappointing (based on Wall Street estimates, and how did they ever have the mark of great insight?), it is bad for Biden. Then, since the graphs are not linear, they may well improve the next month, but somehow that gets lost if they are disappointing the month after that. It is as if Biden is supposed to have the power to completely fix the economy, and in his first nine months in office; and if he does not, he is failing.

The nuclear submarine agreement with England and Australia: France was miffed that they did not know about it. Maybe that was a misstep, but I do trust Blinken and Austin and Sullivan. I don’t know why New Zealand was not included; I like Jacinda Ardern a great deal as a leader. I know that she and the leader of Australia differ on many things, and I like her side of them better. But I am pretty confident that any of this can be ironed out.

The Climate Problem: The Republicans have done absolutely nothing about it, ever. And their big donors from the largest corporations have known about it for decades, and done nothing, once again sacrificing the lives of humans, animals and plants, to add some more billions to their coffers. But this is not “just’ about cars rolling over, or millions dying from cigarette-caused lung disease, this is about every person on the planet; and still they do not care. So Republicans listen to them, and their own rapaciousness, and do nothing to try to fix any of it–and it is said to be another failure for Biden.

The debt ceiling: Yes, even though it is Republicans who are maliciously trying to destroy the economy by not raising the debt ceiling, something which had been done for over a century, this is another area where the media purveys that Biden is falling short. They incredibly frame it as, “Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, leaving Biden and the Democrats in a very bad situation.” The fact that it is the Republicans deliberately refusing to live up to any responsibility to steward the country, is just seen as, “Well, there it is, now try to deal with it, Biden,”rather than something to explain to the viewers as to just how insidiously irresponsible the Republicans actions are.

The infrastructure bill: “Biden promised during the campaign to work together with the other party to pass this bill,” turns into an attack on him for not passing it yet. As if everything he honestly vowed to do or try to do, is something that if he cannot, or it takes some time, is a terrible stain on him; as if the brutal lies of Trump are now no worse than Biden running into problems trying to bring this bill across the wire, with Republicans almost all trying to stop him from doing it.

I’ve heard the term “Biden promised” many times, and I really watch very little of the shows. Last night, I sort of inadvertently turned to MSNBC the Brian Williams show, and he had a female guest, somebody who writes for some publication, whom I’ve seen before, always seeming to spin things negatively for the Democrats. Her first comment was, “Biden’s agenda is hanging by a thread.” I turned it off. So the media now is so anxious to write the end of the Biden presidency in nine months? If it hangs by a thread, and Republicans block all of it, he has ignominiously failed, and it’s time for everyone to stock up supplies for the second Trump term, or breathlessly wait to see which of his clones will take over?

I was never a great Biden fan, not many were. But he is certainly a decent and caring man, and he is on the right side of most issues. He has appointed some highly qualified people, at least from what I have read, or simply knowing of them. I would tend to trust them on most matters, a lot more than the hacks which populate the other side, and more than the self-styled “pundits” who fill up the political sites, and seem always to be owned by the Far Right, but pass themselves off as neutral.

He has worked very hard to deal with many issues, often ones caused by the neglect and disdain of Republicans. Every time there is a flood or fire, he must address it, as he should, even though Republicans only want their states to get money to help, but have no intention of fixing any of the underlying and worsening conditions. How is this Biden’s fault? And of course it limits the time which he can spend on all of these other exigent problems which the Republicans have played the major part in causing or accelerating.

Why does the media unceasingly do this? We have discussed it, and it will continue to be warranted. I certainly agree with IBW here and others, that the media is almost completely owned by the Far Right, which wants Republicans to win. But I think there is more to it. There is a laziness, a desire to be able to glibly spin the preferred narrative, rather than taking more time to tell a deeper story, which looks at the history and the antecedents of these issues as they currently exist.

There never stops being this obsessive need on the part of the media which is not clearly propagandistic, to do this “both sides” nonsense. They criticized Trump, so they lost no time in criticizing Biden They dropped his ratings ten points with their nonstop outrage over Afghanistan. Also, many of these people really are not very knowledgeable about government, and the effects of policies. They are far more comfortable with the “horse race narrative”: how does it hurt Biden’s ratings (” a lot!); will Democrats lose the House “(it looks likely!”); will Biden get a second term? (“it is in serious trouble; and even if he were to win, the Republicans would control the Congress, so he couldn’t get anything done, so his agenda has failed!”).

If you ever watch any of those daily sports shows on ESPN (and I avoid them, but sometimes hear a few minutes when waiting to take out some food), you would see a great similarity in approach. Some loud people, mostly men, making the most hyperbolic comments possible, and being anxious for “action!,” coaches being fired, trades, dissension in the clubhouse or locker room. They get to host or guest on these shows, and they think they have to be as controversial as possible, to keep the viewers from turning on something else.

The news media is becoming more like this. Maybe not as loud, or as much haw-hawing as they do on the sports shows, but with this apparent need for an easy narrative, which they are always invested in being proved right about; and the desire to gin up the excitement, as they and their bosses figure that people are not going to watch complex discussions of policy matters.

It seems as if the media, which has as short an attention span as the viewing public, has become bored with Biden, and wants someone new, or some different configuration. That may be fun for them, but it is immensely irresponsible. This is not the Olympics, or Dancing With the Stars , it is about the fate of America and the world. They need to somehow grasp this, and treat it with the nuance and depth it deserves. Otherwise, they are no different from all the various people who are sacrificing our democracy, and people’s lives, at the altar of their own desire for the coins of their realm, whether those are money, or fame, or just being “cool” and “important,” and recognized on the street, but only when you want to be, of course,

Doxxing by PA Republicans?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Fresh off a crushing defeat of the California recall that cost $300 million to advertise, organize and lose, Republicans have decided to waste time and taxpayer dollars in another state in order to distract, cause havoc and prep for whatever they’ve got planned for elections in 2022.

I’m referring to the subpoena by Pennsylvania Republicans for personal identifying information (PII) of EVERY voter in the state who cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election.

These “lawmakers”, who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than sow fear, uncertainty and dread about “election integrity” and have caused the disqualification of all voting machines in one PA county already, are asking for the name, address, social security number, driver’s license number and voting record of every voter in the state. What they intend to do with this information is anybody’s guess.

The Democrats in the PA legislature are suing their Republican colleagues. Yes, this is how we spend our time now. We rehash the 2020 election looking for something that isn’t there. Well, it worked so well with Hillary’s emails. Just keep looking and looking even the target hands over absolutely everything and you never find anything. Keep insisting that they’re holding back important information even when there’s nothing more to give. Create an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.

(Note that this is not the case with The Big Orange who hasn’t turned over anything without a Supreme Court ruling and has obstructed justice every step of the way and has actually had members of his staff and campaign go to jail for him. You know, the witch hunt actually found witches. You can’t say that about Hillary’s emails.)

But I digress.

So, the PA Republicans will have enough personal information in their hot little hands to cause all kinds of mischief against people whose votes they do not like. I don’t know why they have to do this. We have already told them how we voted. I’m not hiding anything. I voted for Biden/Harris and I did it because I did not want Trump/Pence to win. It’s that simple. Then the PA Secretary of State got all the paper ballots and counted them and the pile of votes for Biden/Harris was higher than the pile of votes for Trump/Pence.

The ballots were recounted and audited and certified. Ta-da!

There is no legitimate reason for PA Republicans to collect my PII or anyone else’s PII in the state for any innocent reason that I can think of and there’s a very good chance that a database with this information could be hacked and distributed to persons with bad intentions who will engage in identity theft. Like maybe someone who is not you will order a mail in ballot on your behalf and cast your ballot for you. You won’t know it until your ballot doesn’t show up in the mail and you check the voter ballot services website to find that your ballot has been cast already. Or maybe someone will send their men around to assess your worldly goods because it would be a shame if something “happened” to them. Or I don’t know, fill in the blanks. I’m seriously not talented in the proactive skullduggery and voter intimidation tactics. My mind doesn’t work that way because if it did, I’d have my retaining wall fixed and be planning my luxury vacations by now.

But you can be sure that they have a plan for all that personal data if for no other reason than it costs taxpayer money and causes havoc, anger and draws attention to itself.

The question is, will the Republicans be required to give a copy of all that data the state will be forced to gather to the Democrats?

Oooooo, *scary*.

Priorities

It has become customary for the major media to write or voice pieces which start by telling us that “President Biden has many issues to deal with in a short time.” Many times they will employ the beyond trite metaphor, “He has a lot on his plate.” The essence of these stories is to show Biden desperately struggling to plug up all the holes in the dike. We know that when Republicans hold the presidency, they never run such stories.

Republicans have very few policy proposals. Cut taxes on the wealthy, is the major one. Remove all impediments to businesses making profits, is another. That’s about it, outside of the cultural matters, and they do those through Executive Action, or more likely, by having states write laws to take away rights which polls show most people do not want them to do, but they do it anyway, because they are a party which represents a decided minority, rich White males who do not care what anyone else wants, and angry know-nothings of both genders. And the removing of any barriers to business doing whatever it wants, is usually a matter of letting provisions lapse, or using Executive Action to strike them out. So their only real legislative priority is tax breaks for the wealthy, and then can pass that one time during a Republican Administration, and then just leave them there for the duration.

So, very little for them to have to deal with. They don’t want to deal with any domestic issues. They don’t want to do anything about climate. Nothing about guns. No spending on anything but the military. No social assistance or protection of voting rights. They want the federal government to stay away from everything but military spending. They thus have no items on their “plate.” We saw this very clearly during the last sixty years of Republican Administrations.

It is Democrats which try to do something about serious domestic and global programs. And this is very difficult, because they get no help from Republicans, whose basic goal is to try to block them, as in some perpetual and enervating game of tic-tac-toe. Democrats write a bill, Republicans say it is too much money, and filibuster it. If Republicans control the Senate, they don’t even bring the bill to the floor. If they control the House, the bills never get out of there.

It is really a pretty easy thing under our very flawed legislative system, to just block all the bills, if that is the ultimate goal .For anything significant to get through, the Democrats have to control the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. Control even two, and it does no good. The only exception is with regard to spending bills, which can pass through Reconciliation, but only if the Democrats can get them through both Houses. At this stage, with a three vote majority in the House, and an ostensible 50-50 Senate, they can’t afford to lose one vote. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema seem determined to block all the bills on their own, or just rely on the filibuster, which they are determined to protect, to block them.

Republicans do not even pretend any longer. They are actually preparing to try to keep the government from raising the debt ceiling. This was not even considered by anybody in the past, but then the Tea Party vowed to stop Obama from raising it, which would destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, with various attendant calamities. So Obama, not knowing what to do, felt compelled to give the Republicans all sorts of things just to get them to raise the debt ceiling. Then when they got into office, of course they raised it. They then piled up two trillion dollars in additional debt, by passing a tax cut for the top half of one percent. They said, “it would pay for itself,” which was, and has always been, ridiculous. They had of course piled up immense debt under Reagan and GHW Bush, and then Clinton came in, did a small tax raise, which they said would wreck the economy, and all voted against, but of course it helped, and the deficit was gone.

Then GW Bush passed another large tax cut for the rich, which blew up the deficit again. Then Obama got the deficit halved. Then Trump and the Republicans engineered the two trillion dollar tax cut. Now McConnell, who used to mock anyone who would ever suggest that they would not raise the debt ceiling, is preparing to try to do just that.

Why? Because the Republicans want to destroy the entire Biden Administration, even if they have to wreck the economy, cause a major recession, destroy the credit of the country. They just want to ruin Biden and his agenda, render him politically impotent, win majorities in both chambers, and then put Trump or DeSantis or Pence, or Tucker Carlson in charge, and wreak havoc.

America, and its two-party system, cannot work, when one of the parties is only intent on destroying the other one. There is no longer any sense of working together, common goals with differing ideas of how to get there. The Republicans are waging war. You would think that after the debt ceiling business under Obama, the voters would never put them back in power, but I guess that they are easily misdirected, over and over again. You would think that the heads of major corporations would never want the Republicans in charge, but perhaps they don’t understand macroeconomics, or maybe they are planing to go to Mars with Musk, Bezos, and Branson. “Clean Cups!,” as the Mad Hatter and March Hare exulted at the Tea Party. Do nothing to help Planet Earth, let the people destroy it, so you gain unparalleled wealth, and then leave it forever. The ultimate in social darwinism.

Meanwhile, Biden and the Democrats, who do care about the Earth, have to try to somehow do something to ameliorate at least some of its problems. The “Build Back Better” infrastructure bill seems stalled (what else?) with “moderates” wanting to pass the Senate bill, and House liberals saying that they won’t pass it if the reconciliation package is not passed. And then we have Manchin saying that the $3.5 trillion over years is just too much, and of course he wants to protect West Virginia’s dying coal industry, even though it accelerates climate change.

There is the Voting Rights Act, but there is the filibuster. McConnell guarantees that it will not get any Republican votes. A large majority of voters are for these two bills, but the system gives the Republicans the power to ignore the popular will. Most people want Roe v. Wade’s delineations to be kept, but the radical minority works on perfecting ways to make the popular majority completely impotent insofar as making laws.

So where do we focus? We’ll never get all of it. If we passed the Voting Rights Bill, we might be able to win enough elections to get some of the rest of it passed, but Republicans know that, and not one has the decency or regard for democracy to vote for it. That obviously means overriding the filibuster. I hope the people of Maine, who could have done something about this, are happy that they re-elected Susan Collins, instead of a perfectly acceptable Democrat who would vote for the policies of the person they voted for as President, rather than block them all.

How foolish are these voters? It is not a complex assessment. If you want policies favored by Democrats, then you have to vote for Senators and Congresspeople who are Democrats. But no, they let themselves be convinced that “their” Senator is different, and somehow cares about them, even if he or she votes against their priorities. “What fools these mortals be,” or “There’s a sucker born every minute” would cover that kind of disastrous irrationality.

Can Biden and Schumer “arm twist,” so to speak? Doubtful, because West Virginia is just waiting to elect a Trumpist as Senator to replace Manchin, who would probably retire anyway. And Sinema, I really don’t know what she is about, other than her own ego. Now, it seems as if both of them might actually vote for the new pared-down voting righta bill, but they have to vote to override the filibuster. How deliberately or pathetically obtuse they must be, to think that keeping the filibuster is somehow going to help Democrats in the future, when Republicans would have taken over all the federal and state mechanisms of power, by trampling on the right to vote. Plus, the Republicans would blow up the filibuster if they needed.

The only plays are to pass the infrastructure bill and the voting rights bill. Supposedly, there are enough votes in the Senate for the first one. Then Pelosi has to get the more liberal wing in the House to understand that 80% of a loaf is far better than none, plus letting McCarthy take over the Speakership if this bill fails. As to Voting Rights, if they can get Manchin and Sinema to support the bill, then they have to convince them that letting the bill fall to filibuster will turn the Democrats into a permanent minority party, do they want that? If they don’t understand, or don’t care, then use whatever hardball tactics they have, even if it goes against Biden’s nature. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” is another old saying. So is, “Always keep your eye on the ball.”

As to the debt ceiling, there are ways around it, including using the 14th Amendment, something Bill Clinton urged Obama to do in 2011. Drastic situations call for drastic measures., as they say. Also in poker, “If you can call, you can raise” Hold the Republicans responsible for everything they do, or do not do, and never relent or let them slide away from it. “Republicans are ready to destroy the American economy, out of spite,” is a good initial raise.

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

I am going to try to write about this brilliant poem, I hope it will be entertaining enough. I majored in English, and concentrated on 19th and 20th Century American and British literature, mostly reading novels, some British poetry, not that much American poetry, as there were not many classes on it. Perhaps there are not considered to have been nearly as many great poets from America, as from England, but of course they have a much longer history.

“The Raven” may actually be our country’s most famous poem, though that is of course open to debate. It is not considered to be a deep poem about the human character. It is not a social commentary. It is not opaque or abstruse, though it is complex. But it is wonderfully dramatic and unique and haunting. So, at least when they used to teach the arts in school, and what was called the literary canon, virtually every student read, and probably heard read, “The Raven.”

It is unforgettable for its language and meter, at the very least. Of course, it sounds as if it is from another time, as it is meant to do. Its language is ornate and baroque. Some think that Poe was mostly about love of language, assonance in rhymes, where the repetition comes from the vowel sounds inside the words. “Once upon a midnight dreary/ While I pondered, weak and weary.” Everyone knows that line. There have been literate cartoons where the narrator reads parts of “The Raven,,” and then the seriousness of the poem is cheerfully mocked by the antics of the characters playing it out, but the audience still gets to hear the vivid descriptions.

But Poe’s poems and stories are about much more than their language. “The Raven” is one of the greatest poems to read aloud. It is dramatic, intense, and evocative. I will presume to say that I read poetry aloud very well, and have gotten compliments. It is fun to do. I took an Extension class at UCLA just for fun, from one of my former literature professors there, and we did read poetry. Mostly the professor would read it, but one day he asked someone to read Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” and I did, and got applause. I had an English teacher in high school, whom I didn’t get along with that well, but who asked me to read a few lines of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” one of the longest great poems ever written, and she liked it so much that she had me read the entire poem, taking up the entire class time, hooray. I have read “The Raven” aloud, but only to one person at a time. and it is wonderful to vocalize. The last day of the Extension class, everyone was invited to come if they wanted, to read a poem aloud. I had a busy week, and so I did not come, which I regret, because I could have read “The Raven.” The wonderful reading aloud quality which the poem has, is enough by itself to make it great, but there is much more.

I saw John Astin do a one-man show on Poe, and he read “The Raven.” He was pretty good, not great, not close to the level of Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight,” or a show my family all saw with Emlyn Williams doing Charles Dickens. I also saw an actor playing Ambrose Bierce, and that was also good. Astin’s show was enjoyable, I thought, but I can read “The Raven” better than he did, though you would have to take my word for it. 🙂 Okay, on to the actual poem. As most of you would know, it is a poem told by a narrator, who recounts an event in an unspecific past. “”Once upon a midnight dreary.” “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December.” The narrator has been “poring over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.”

That line is not just for effect, we learn what he is looking to try to find. “Vainly I had sought to borrow/ From my books surcease of sorrow–Sorrow for the lost Lenore/ For that rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore/ Nameless here forevermore.”

He has lost a woman whom he, or the angels, call Lenore, but that is not her real name, nor will he say it. The theme of the tragedy of a lost love suffuses some of Poe’s major works, from “Annabel Lee,” to “Ulalume,” to the short story “Ligeia.” All are strange and desolate and haunting.

Poe lost his first wife Virginia Clemm, to tuberculosis, she died at the age of 24. She was married to Poe when she was 13 and he was 27. The actual nature of the marriage is not certain, some said that they viewed each other as brother and sister. In general, I do not much like the autobiographical interpretation of works of literature; I think they are too often used as shorthand for a deeper analysis of a work, or even an entire career.

Yes, Fitzgerald was an alcoholic, and yes he and Zelda had a difficult relationship, and yes, some of that shows up in the short stories and novels. But he, and any truly great writer, transcends that, to create works which of course have some of the writer’s background and perceptions from their experience in them, but are not nearly as clear, or even existent, as some might like to think. I like to read literature on its own terms, much like one can view visual art without needing to know what the painter was like as a person.. So knowing biographical background can help enhance, but can also mislead and greatly diminish, if one relies on it for quick “oh, that is because he or she had this experience” explanations.

All that said, of course the death of Virginia Clemm has to be part of the writing by Poe which expresses the loss of a great love, although do note that other great Romantic poets wrote about this as well. Focusing again on the poem, the narrator desperately searches for something that will help relieve his sorrow, “Respite–respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore.” We also learn, in his increasingly more desperate entreaties and demands to the raven, that he is hoping to learn if he will ever see her again. “Is there-is there balm in Gilead?” “Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within the distant Aidenn/ It shall clasp a radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore/ Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Can he, will he, ever see her and be with her again?

The entity to whom the narrator addresses all this to, is a raven, who has first tapped his beak against the narrator’s chamber door, and then when let in, immediately flies in to perch upon a bust of the Pallas Athena, the sculpture of the Greek goddess of wisdom, sitting on a shelf in his apartment. Before he opens the window, he dares to think that somehow the entity gently tapping might somehow be the lost Lenore, perhaps brought back by his invoking her through his readings and his thoughts. But apparently it is not, though the mystery is always there as to what the raven is, or represents, if indeed he is more than a raven.

The narrator first finds the raven to be both quaint and drolly amusing, something to take him away from his brooding obsession and despair. He asks it what it its name is. The raven replies, “Nevermore.” The narrator tells himself lightly that no one has ever been named “Nevermore.” Then he thinks aloud that the raven will leave, as “other friends have flown before.” The raven says “Nevermore.”

He tries to rationalize, he thinks that it must be that the raven’s previous abode had a person whose life was so filled with loss and hopelessness, that he must have uttered the word many times, and the raven just learned it from him. What other explanation could there be which would not cause the rise in him of unknowingness, desperate hoping, and terror?

He senses a perfume in the air; he thinks that it must be sent by angels to give him some respite and provide nepenthe, the drug which was supposed to relieve sorrow in Greek mythology. He cries to the raven, and himself, “Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore.”/ Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.'”

Whatever the narrator asks the Raven, or muses aloud, the raven only utters one word, which to the narrator each time seems more portentous and agonizing. “Prophet!” said I, “Thing of evil!–Prophet still, if bird or devil!/ By that Heaven that bends above us–by that God we both adore/ Tell this soul with sorrow laden if within the distant Aidenn/ It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore/ Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting! Bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting/ “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore/ Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken/ Leave my loneliness unbroken! Quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“And the raven, never flitting still is sitting, still is sitting/ On that pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door/ And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming/ And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor/ And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ Shall be lifted–Nevermore!”

“The Raven” was published in 1845. In 1853, the great American novelist Herman Melville wrote a story entitled “Bartleby the Scrivener.” It told of a quiet and rather shabby clerk who is hired by a decent man on Wall Street. Things are fine for a while, until Bartleby tells him in response to an ordinary request, “I would prefer not to.” And thereafter, he politely responds to every request he makes, with that same phrase. One of my prouder moments as an undergraduate student was asking the professor in a class where we were discussing the Melville short story, about the similarity between it and “The Raven”: the narrator asks questions to the other entity, who always replies in the exact same way, and each time the narrator gives the words more profound import. I scarcely thought that I could be the first person to have thought of it, and I am sure that it can be found in the criticism regarding that great period in American literary history.

“The Raven” can be lightly criticized for its baroque style or deliberately enhanced vocal quality. But that is trivial, compared to the fact that it is a brilliantly written poem with amazing rhyming, and a story and images which always stay with one. One could ask, is there really a raven? Is he a figment of the narrator’s tormented imagination? Does he stand for an image of the universe which throws our own most profound questions back at us to answer? Are we left with our own emotions, our desires and fears, which nothing can answer? I don’t think that Poe was philosophizing in his poem. But the power of the words and images, and the solipsism evoked, makes it remarkably more than a spooky horror tale, as indeed many of Poe’s best poems and stories are.