October 2, 2016
With the death of Atilla the Hun, the sad passing of Napoleon, the last breath of Stalin, the strung-up wake of Mussolini, the suicide of Mien Kampf’s author, the passing of Mao, the croaking of Cambodia’s Pol Pot, the last noose of Sadam Hussein, a vacuum’s been left that needs filling and many Americans, ready for something old dressed as something new, big and flashy but void of substance, think they’ve found the dirt to fill it: the Hun of New York, Manhattan’s Lord Beeleevmee, he with small but ever grasping hands, purveyor of campaign violence, disser of constitutions, user of women, the one and only … Genghis Don!
As we’ve learned over the past year a man with no appropriate experience, little curiosity, with no real policies, short on empathy or understanding beyond his own needs, who stiffs people as a standard business practice, is a misogynist who’d demean any sister, daughter or wife he did not find attractive, is in a close contest to become president of the United States.
My father (blue collar as they come) would have referred to Big Don as a bull-slinger (though with a semantic twist). “Guys like him are a dime a dozen,” he would’ve said, “although with a slinger with that big a head the cost would be far greater.”
Dad could size up a fraud. His bull-slinger detector was well calibrated and though I think I’ve inherited some of his bull-slinger sensitivity it doesn’t take a genius to get at the working of Genghis Don’s primitive brain (the part that directs his streaming tweets and rally rants) you just have to listen to what he says.
First, regarding bull-slinging, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo recently recalled Trump’s interview with Matt Lauer. Lauer asked Trump about his plan for dealing with ISIS. Trump responded as he usually does by saying nothing (but redundantly and with as many nonsense words as possible) and ended with his stock assurance to everything, “Believe me.”
Marshall summed up Trump’s answer this way: “Here Trump has very little idea what he’s talking about, and when pressed on a clear contradiction he starts making up new nonsense to avoid addressing the question … I think this exchange is pretty obvious for people in a way that transcends politics and ideology. Trump is the kid telling the teacher the dog ate his homework. Then the teacher points out he has no dog. But he’s not going to apologize or come clean. He’s just going to keep talking.”
Donald Trump’s ascent may be a sign of our loss of a collective sense of reason and decency. Trump may be karmic payback for former national arrogance, conquest and moral mistakes. Maybe we’re fated to follow a leader who, at his rallies and in his late night tweets openly proposes, suggests and pushes authoritarianism, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and political violence outright as if to say, “Here I am with all my character dysfunction, what you see is what you get and, if you think otherwise you’re as naive as every business owner I’ve stiffed to make a killing.”
Trump makes no bones about what motivates him: money, sex and power. He lays it all out. As they say, he says what he thinks.
And so: a sampler of what he thinks (with some editorial comments):
—“Donald pulled me aside at his wedding. (and) said, ‘you know, I am getting remarried, but Howard, vagina is expensive.’ I will never forget those words. Those were the exact words!” —related by Howard Stern, one of Trump’s late night radio host buddies.
As testament to his fundamental view of women, Genghis could not be more… uh… fundamental.
—“You have to have the right genes. I have a certain gene, I’m a gene believer. I have great genes and all that stuff …I was born with a certain intellect. God helped me by giving me a certain brain. I mean, I am a smart person. You know I’m proud to have German blood. There’s no question about it, great stuff.” —transcribed from a video of Genghis’ self evaluation.
As a characteristic testimony to his greatness Genghis will not be less than a Narcissist-in- Chief.
—At a recent rally Trump bragged about his Christian conservative support and asked those audience members who were not Christian to identify themselves.
“Raise your hand if you’re not a Christian conservative, Trump said. “I want to see this, right? Oh there’s a couple people, that’s all right,” Trump said as he dismissively waved a hand. “I think we’ll keep them, right? Should we keep them in the room, yes? I think so.”
And if not, what? As an implicit threat to shred the 1st Amendment Genghis could not have been more clear.
These are just a few of Trump’s what-he-thinks revelations, but there are many more as illuminating. Trump’s only saving grace in the context of this campaign is that he has the mouth of a four-year-old: he says what he thinks even when it’s ignorant, false or absurd. Even his own forces spill the beans, of which I include one example:
—”One ally described Trump as the kind of guy who can’t simply be told a stove is hot — he has to touch it to see for himself.”
Or, in more pertinent terms: Genghis is the kind of guy who can’t simply be told nuclear war is more than hot– he has to start one to see for himself.
Many of us are fearful and angry, but there’s a price to pay for operating on the basis of those emotions. As Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes, “Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent—left or right.
Whether you like it or not it’ll be Trump or Hillary. It comes down to a case of risk assessment.
Assess well, my friend.
September 24, 2016
I’ve felt I’ve been in a fog lately but just realized the problem was I’d actually time-jumped to 2020 instead — 2020 where vision is especially clear even if too late.
What snapped me out of it was a message from a friend pointing out that I’d mis-dated a poem I posted, one I’d written a year ago (this one). Its date read 4/19/20. I was about to fix it when I had a odd sense of having just been there, four years from now, in 2020. So I wrote this to my friend, ML:
To 2020 and back in two-shakes of a Trump’s tale, thanks for the heads up on the date.
Yes, I was there, and let me tell you, you think it’s getting bad here? You have no idea, brothers are still killing brothers there, but with much less baggage of guilt or regret. And it gets great ratings.
It’s the Jerry Springer Show meets The Apprentice meets The Walking Dead but really, really live. And very, very chaotic no one knows who to trust. Civilians with many, many guns, police with many, many guns and tasers and pepper spray. Everywhere you turn it’s Trump Trump Trump (kind of like marching booties thudding), believe me.
Ted Cruz is Chief Justice, Rick Santorum’s head of the Department of Religion, Sarah Palin’s running the Department of Dumb-down, Anne Coulter’s The Head Forked-Tongue of the Federal Propaganda Agency, David Duke’s the Imperial Wizard of the Department of Whiteness, Vladimir Putin is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Stiffs (he be running the military while moonlighting from his regular job as Supreme Dick-taker of Russia), and the Department of Bullshit is being personally overseen, overwritten and overwrought by the Big Emperor His-self whose comb-over, nested in very very small hands, is the central motif of the official Seal of the Monarch (formerly the presidential seal).
But many, many, many people (many experts I know tell me) are blissfully content not having to think about anything except being very, very careful of what they say and even verier and verier of what they think given the universal issue of thinking caps everyone must wear —a new technology that automatically Instant Messages all thoughts to the Directors of Control run jointly by Rudy Giulliani and Chris “Shut-up” Christie who both still live in the Cloud —a very, very dark one.
Well, gotta go. I’d stay, but I only came back to fix the date-typo of my poem (thanks again, ML, for the heads up). I have to get back to see if I can undo the done with a new poem.
Everyone’s delusional in 2020. It’s catching.
2016, or 2020 …whatever.
August 21, 2016
Excerpt from The Gift of the Good Land; Native Grasses and What They Mean
The most moving and memorable place…was a stony roadside we came to…too infertile a place to support a thick stand of grasses…but it had the richest broad-leafed plants. It had survived by the care of a farm family…a short way up the road. They mow this every year to keep the highway department from spraying it. The wife thinks the flowers are beautiful (and said) “I don’t know what they are, but I don’t want anyone fooling with them.”
What is the importance or value of these…ephemeral relics of a long-vanished prairie? What do they signify?
As we felled and burned the forests, so we burned, plowed, and overgrazed the prairies. We came with visions, but not with sight. We did not see or understand where we were or what was there, but destroyed what was there for the sake of what we desired. And the desire was always native to the place we had left behind.
The forest could not survive because we did not see it; we saw cleared fields. The prairies could not survive because in their place we saw corn fields and pastures sowed to the cool-season grasses of the Old World. And this habit of assigning a higher value to what might be than to what is has stayed with us, so that we have continued to sacrifice the health of our land and of our communities to the abstract values of money-making industrialism. Or to “recreation”; it is because we have so insulted and despoiled Creation that we need recreation. In the last generation huge areas have been laid waste by strip mining. And it is no mere coincidence that the spread of surface mining has been paralleled by the spread of extractive agriculture.
To see and respect what is there is the first duty of stewardship. “I don’t know what they are,” the farm wife said, “but I don’t want anyone fooling with them.” That is an ecological principle, and a religious one. If you don’t know what it is don’t fool with it. Don’t use it carelessly. Don’t destroy it. And who knows in any ultimate or final sense what any creature is? The biochemist Erwin Chargraff has written that “Even the most exact of our exact sciences float above…abysses that cannot be explored.”
by Wendell Berry
from The Gift of Good Land
August 12, 2016
August 4, 2016
A Facebook friend, David, made a reference to Moby Dick’s Ahab, suggesting Trump. I wrote back:
I like the white whale ref
I hadn’t thought of that
but it’s apt
Ahump or Trumphab
Melville spelled it out
for common consumption
and many eat
June 15, 2016
More bodies have piled up due to the glut of lunatics on the American scene. Following the latest mass shooting (and in a feeble attempt to address the certain anti-Islamic hysteria that typically follows a mass shooting by Muslims) I did a simple search of mass gun deaths from 2008 to the present I came up with this:
50 dead Orlando- Muslim lunatic
14 dead San Bernardino- two Muslim lunatics
3 dead Colorado Springs- White lunatic
9 dead Roseburg Oregon- White lunatic
5 dead Chatanooga- Palestinian/Jordanian lunatic
9 dead Charleston- White lunatic
6 dead Isla Vista CA- White lunatic
3 dead Fort Hood- Muslim American lunatic
12 dead Washington- Black American Navy lunatic
5 dead Santa Monica American/Lebanese lunatic
27 dead Newtown- White lunatic
3 dead Brookfield WI- Black lunatic
6 dead Minneapolis- White lunatic
6 dead Oak Creek- White lunatic
12 dead-Aurora- White lunatic
7 dead Oakland- Korean Christian lunatic
8 dead Seal Beach- White lunatic
6 dead Tucson- White lunatic
8 dead Manchester CT- Black lunatic
3 dead Huntsville AL- White lunatic
13 dead Binghamton NY- Vietnamese lunatic
5 dead Dekalb- White lunatic
8 dead Omaha- White lunatic
32 dead Blacksburg VA- Korean lunatic
Total dead 260 (and that’s only back to 2008).
Now if you crunch those numbers of gun-dead corpses, in terms of melanin or faith you get this (note: it’s possible some of those white lunatics were also Christian lunatics):
108 dead by white lunatics
77 dead by certain and possible Muslim lunatics
23 dead by black lunatics
52 dead by miscellaneous other lunatics
or: 42% dead by white lunatics, 30% by certain and possible Muslim lunatics, 9% by black lunatics, 20% by miscellaneous other lunatics
The most common element here is not ethnicity or religion, but guns. So you might argue that the 260 dead are the responsibility of NRA lunatics. And, if you insist upon adding the 3000 (more or less) 9/11 dead by Muslim lunatics, you’d have to fairly add the tens-of-thousands dead by American lunatics going to war in Iraq chasing the wrong perpetrators.
Editor’s note: Should we be concerned about faith-based lunacy? Yes, but across the board. Lunatics love their religions; after all, in what other sphere of human thought and activity can you acceptably justify your personal hate as the will of God?
June 5, 2016
OF all the students preparing to go to college this fall, perhaps none have faced a more hazardous journey than a young woman named Sultana. One measure of the hazard is that I’m not disclosing her last name or hometown for fear that she might be shot.
Sultana lives in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in the fifth grade a delegation visited her home to warn her father to pull her out of school, or else she would have acid flung in her face. Ever since, she has been largely confined to her high-walled family compound — in which she has secretly, and perilously, educated herself.
“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in conjunction with a Pashto-English dictionary that she pretty much inhaled. When her businessman father connected the house to the internet, she was able to vault over her compound walls.
“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.
Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, then geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and proceeds to devour calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even read about string theory.
Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home only about five times a year — each time, she must wear a burqa and be escorted by a close male relative — but online she has been reading books on physics and taking courses on edX and Coursera. I can’t independently verify everything Sultana says, but her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown away when this Afghan elementary school dropout began asking him penetrating questions about astrophysics.
“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked very intelligent questions about dark matter.”
Krauss has become one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate at the University of Iowa who signed up for a language program called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.
By Skype, Emily and Sultana became fast friends, and soon they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s seemingly unattainable dream of becoming a physics professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to study in the United States.
With Emily’s help, Sultana has been accepted by a community college in Iowa, with a commitment by Arizona State University to take her as a transfer student a year later. Emily started a website to raise money for Sultana’s university education.
Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.
Sultana’s family is wary of her passion for education but surrenders to her determination. “My mom said a lot of mouths will be open, a single girl going to the Christian world,” she said. “But I will die if they stop me.”
Unfortunately, the United States isn’t helping. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul rejected her application for a student visa. That happens all the time: Brilliant young men and women are accepted by American universities and then denied visas because, under U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.
(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. I asked her what she thought of Trump, and all she would say, with quiet dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)
Michelle Obama has pushed an impressive campaign called Let Girls Learn, yet her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America routinely denies visas that would actually let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by blowing things up; I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.
The Taliban understand this: That’s why their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.
Sultana now spends her days working on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing household chores while listening to the BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now working her way through more serious reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”
Sultana has set up another appointment for a visa, for June 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested but American policy itself. I’ll let you know what happens.