Friday, March 30, 2018

Big Buckled Freedom and Home on the Range, Why We Can Be Alone or Together But Not Both

This past week I met an amiable enough older man--- one can't get that much older than I am and still be ambulatory, so the impression of him being "older" was more than chronologically determined--- smartly dressed, white haired, bolo tied, big bucket belt, and cowboy boots, all he was missing was the hat, but we were inside, meeting under sad and tragic circumstances. I discovered he was from a small town in Wyoming and liked the "harsh weather" and the "independence." He went on to explain that "liberals had ruined" Colorado and that Wyoming "still had that Old West" feeling and values. He was glad that he could still live "without those people" and drive his truck, have breakfast with his friends. I took it in, one sentence at a time, using all of my restraint and composure to stare vacantly in reply.

This was not the situation for me to lace into him with sardonic criticism of his not so concealed racism or his privilege but whether or not he needed his Social Security check and Medicare I was certain without asking that he was collecting on both. Living the life, being alone and happily apart from we the rabble. I thought to myself too how much in common this man has with the yogi that the texts describe as "lonely like a rhinoceros," urging upon themselves the introversion and disengagement from the tedious and tawdry business of being citizens dependent upon other citizens in democratic experiment. After all, who doesn't just want to be left to their own devices? I count myself no exception to that privileged aspiration though it seems to me nothing more than a prescription for 21st century failure.

We are beings dependent upon matters beyond any individual control, woven into the fabric of social, economic, and political worlds that shape and provide, that determine us and even occasionally succeed. When we unravel ourselves ---often because the supporting structures and fact patterns fail to serve us--- our lives can quickly devolve, our immediate worlds can become near-dire. When the net that we hoped would grab us or the roof meant to shelter us simply isn't there, we become starkly aware of the consequences of individuation. 

Actions that address our most immediate needs--- healthcare, education, concomitant violence, inequity, and isolation--- addressing these situations demands seriousness, competence, and collective intentionality. Without the institutional structures and formats for collective response, however flawed, messy, and conflicted they may be, we will as a society collapse into mayhem. To subscribe to a governance of "personal freedom" above all other considerations risks the kind of isolation that throws us "into the wild" surrounded by everyone else doing as much. So we "need guns" to "protect our home and family" or we work ourselves into health crises because the alternative would prove even more desperate. Our problem is not wealth, not in America, it is how we have chosen wealthy and power over equity and more humanist values.

What prompts this morning's tirade is more than a chance encounter with an old cowboy living out his years.  It is growing fact that Trump does indeed intend to run America not only like the criminal enterprise of his businesses but as a reality TV-show in which the principals required to manage and steer the ship of government are so fundamentally incompetent, unqualified, and corrupt that it becomes all too real. The elevation of Ronny Jackson to the VA ---after 17 years of on-going war and immeasurable need--- is particularly heartbreaking. Structural needs cannot be met by impulse or by "draining the swamp" because it is deemed a "deep state" conspiracy. How do we penetrate the hearts and minds of those who cannot seem to grasp the gravity of the situation we all face under this kind of impulse of governance?

One last point. I think there is a far deeper connection between Trumpism ---the impulsive, inept reality TV survivalist game show that is him--- and Ryan, McConnell, and their patrons. American "conservatism" believes that there should be as little government and governance as possible, no matter the cost to human lives. This is a guiding principle that not only serves their kleptocratic fetishes but one whose appeal takes us deeply into American individualism, the wild west, the idea that freedom is just being left alone. There should be no VA, or at best no government VA; there should be no public schools, or at least none that aren't privately funded. In fact, there should be no money or resources spent that are "government" other than the military.

What else explains the cynical stupidity of their latest balanced budget amendment introduced this week, after their tax cut meant to redistribute wealth to their patrons? Their aim is to eliminate everything that is public ---but their means of authoritarian control. Because "freedom." From behind the dashboard, I see an America lost in a fog that can't find home, even if it's just a few hundred yards down the driveway. I hope those young people grow up to vote sooner than later. We need their voices and their commitment _now_.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

On Love of Country, God, and Our Fellow Americans, A Reply to Rick Saccone, Donald Trump, and MAGA America

This is about Rick Saccone's election night observation about we on "the left," why he's not wrong about me, and why we can't compromise.  Are you up for it?

Let's start with the idea that America is built on the constructive fiction of its Dream. I say "constructive" because the ideal expressed, well, it wouldn't be half bad if even half of it were true. And just for reminder's sake, let's define that Dream according to conventional fictions. To wit, "In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, 'life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement; regardless of social class or circumstances of birth." Freedom and equality, or perhaps equity, fairness guarantees the opportunity for prosperity, success, and upward mobility--- all without regard to barriers of race, gender, ethnicity, etc. Would Dr. King or Paul Ryan or Barack Obama or Rick Saccone disagree? See what I mean?

Fiction, like mythology, is a way of hinting at the truth beneath and betwixt facts and perceptions. We need stories that suggest what actually traverses on the bridge connecting the way things are with the way we say they are. We work with this disparity between what people say is true and what is true to sustain an appearance of sanity and even a modicum of decency.

However fashionable it has become to "say it like it is," this locates reality in desires that write over inconvenient truths. We shape our conversations to meet the terms we think will sustain us, no matter their tone or content. But few have the patience to enter that dangerous intellectual demilitarized zone in which we take seriously what we are doing to get along or have our say. We more often retreat into safe zones of identification with preferences. We prefer to tell stories that soothe, console, or by pass because these too serve important purposes: we want to make it through today and tomorrow. "He's in a better place..." "Do you like the picture of my smoothie?"

In this age of Trump in which _overt_ bigotries are emboldened by leadership and are in ascendency, we notice that they are still masked and encoded, more and less explicitly, in a ubiquitous media and political discourse. What is absent is a commentariat committed to unmasking and decoding, one that the majority of Americans finds entertaining enough that they will pay attention. We would need to presume efforts that challenge both intellectually and personally.  But of course the vast majority of humans prefer entertainment to education. Americans hate going to "school," or at least we hate that it's hard, tedious, or unpleasant. When we can't be entertained but need something a bit more, well, we're happy to reduce the serious and tendencious tasks of learning to religious explanations and spiritual "retreats," preferably somewhere warm in the winter of our discontent. "That's my belief..." "God will decide." "Go within."

(Don't mistake me, I'm not being personal yet. As we are want to disclaim, "The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. No person or entity associated with this film received payment or anything of value, or entered into any agreement, in connection with the depiction of tobacco products. No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture.")

Movies are supposed to be better than we are. And nowadays they are: those animals aren't _supposed_ to get hurt. We're not nearly as concerned with people, you know, the kind that are in the real world, being hurt. We see plenty of that, so we find ways to cope. A favorite strategy is assign blame or responsibility, which might even be real. Everyone has an interest and not everyone has a kind thing to say about people not just like themselves.

On the eve of this "special" election in Pennsylvania the Republican Rick Saccone said this:
“I’ve talked to so many of these on the left. And they have a hatred for our president. And I tell you, many of them have a hatred for our country. ... I’ll tell you some more — my wife and I saw it again today: They have a hatred for God. It’s amazing. You see it when I’m talking to them. It’s disturbing to me.”

I don't take offense at this comment. It might be fair to say that I do indeed "hate" President Trump ---and that I believe I have very good reasons to despise his politics (such as they are), his choices and values, his utterly despicable personal character. I would admit I am motivated to comment and to oppose Trump with every fiber of my being. That's a part of any well-reasoned "hate." I would also pity his mental illness and his family's situation were it not at the price of the republic. Clear enough? I'm admitting to Saccone's first observation. So let's move on to "hatred" of country before we get to God.

There's a great deal about America worth "hating" much the way we need to lament our history of "compromise." Everyday some well-meaning person proposes compromise or meeting in the middle. Governor Kasich claims this as both personal conviction and politics. But when we look at his choices and policies, well, we see again what "compromise" means to him. We are not a nation built on our ideals but on the compromise of ideals meant to suit the interests of dominant political interests: white men, business and capitalism, people who have had all the power since the founding.

Not every outcome of this domination has failed if by that we mean a measure of prosperity in comparison to the rest of a very sorry world of exploitation and oppression. I don't hate being white or male but a deliberated measure of "self-hate" (n.b., hate quotes) strikes me as another serious way to ask very difficult questions about one's self. You may not like the word "hate" here, so if "criticism" feels more comforting, go for it. America's history of opportunities have as much to do with privilege and exploitation as they do with any constructive fiction of our "Dream." So let's pause there for a moment and talk about more about why compromise needs to fail.

A brief history of compromise required, if you can stand the tedium.

White Supremacy is the principal feature of America's "compromise" identity: slavery is legal in the Constitution, then the important "Compromises" that "preserved" the Union (Missouri, Nebraska, 1850, etc.), then the great Failure of 1877 that once again guaranteed white domination and stood fast until the brief shining moments of 1965. We need not deny some progress from the emergence of an America after wars that have "brought us together." War seems to make America deal with being America, though its costs can never justify any of its outcomes. Not one.

But let's remind ourselves _who_ we are before we celebrate our unions. How are post-Nixon Republicans not the explicit legacy of Dixiecrats and pre-Civil War Democrats? How many Americans can even follow that course of history with the slightest familiarity of the facts? Current day Democrats have, at best, a mixed record of "compromising" with these bigotries and interests of privilege. We are so woefully ignorant of the basics of our history and so intractably inured to the racist false narratives of the American Dream, nothing can really change until we decide upon an honest national conversation. Chances of that? Zero. Here's why.

Rick Saccone says that we on the "left" hate America but I ask you, what is there to love about that history of abuse, exploitation, and dissimulation? If trying to be aware, critical, and involved in telling the truth about our history is "hate," then count me in. Trying to understand our history, make amends, and move forward requires confronting the facts. Those who want to "Make America Great Again" have time and again rejected facts of history, created their alternative narrative, and decided that we hate them because we take seriously our collective factual history. Just as Trump, Kelly, admit no mistakes, offer no apologies, or seek to take these greivences of history seirously, there is little to "compromise" about. That's because there really is no conversation, just our differing values, attitudes, and objectives.

We will have a "new" America once the white majority becomes the minority that inevitably demographics promise. White Americans should pray ---this being their typical fantasy solution to real problems--- that the new majority treats them better than they have treated everyone but themselves. America is a failure wrapped in war, capitalist exploitation, and now a dying planet. But the few--- white and male--- they've done pretty well in comparison to the rest.

That America is a better place to live than others depends on what we mean by "better" but we can say that rural white Americans are indeed suffering. And so are many, many others. And the rest of nearly all of us? (n.b., not the Mnuchins and their friends.)  Most of us are working with little hope of retirement, in fear of catastrophic health needs, unaffordable education, the lists go on. But if you haven't seen my neighborhood, I recommend a tour of MAGA World. Much of America looks like Greene, Westmoreland, and Washington counties in Pennsylvania's current 18th District. It's not a pretty sight. Why and how we got there involves matters that must address our history's successes and failures. Doesn't every American deserve the narrative of the Dream? Is there the slightest chance that the current Trumpist Party that governs MAGA America will take that conversation seriously? Watch the Trump rally for Saccone. I dare you.

Do I hate God? Can we be more specific? I'm positive I hate any God that uses God to project hate on other people and causes people to hate others. So, for sure, I hate Rick Saccone's God.  I would agree with the late Stephen Hawking that "God" is a sometimes useful metaphor and otherwise fiction that can work within a humanist framework.  This likely does nothing to endear me to any faction of MAGA crowd, or even the current Pope who strikes me rather unlike the MAGAmericans who can't seem to find room in their Christian hearts for we, the well-wishing less aggressive atheists.

I rather like how religion provides the fictions that allow people to cope and explain their lives and whether they empower awareness or enable delusion, I hold in contempt only the kind of religion that gets too involved in other people's business, particularly my own. But religion, and God for that matter, is always a political matter. A more honest effort to insist the First Amendment keeps the law wholly secular would help us all. That too is something that belies compromise when we take seriously the kinds of religion that inform our fellow MAGA citizens. So if Saccone thinks I "hate" his "God" he's probably right.

I'm not prepared to compromise with Saccone or Trump or the Republican Party that has decided to cast its lots with MAGAism. That would be tantamount to 1850 and 1877 and all the rest all over again. I am prepared to do everything I can to make the MAGA-hood a better place to live and work, no matter what they think about how I hate them, their President, their country, and their God. In my country there is room for them. But they may not govern (or pretend to) if I can help it because the way things have been must not be where we are going together. If they continue to govern as the majority after November 2018, well, America will only continue suffer no matter our irreconcilable differences.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

They Call it Stormy Twitter, Is Wednesday Just as Bad?

Having resisted Twitter for its reductive abuse of a complex world, I find myself fascinated by its sutra-esque qualities that imply everything from finely tossed shade to revelatory stupidities made explicit by the spelling and punctuation challenged. Trump's followers are, sad to say, actually worse than he is ---likely because he went to "the best school" while they have apparently had little opportunity for any schooling. You don't know whether to pity them or just revile the more.

The key to Twitter success, as far as I can tell, is a sort of shamelessness, the kind that demands followers to write their own commentary on the sutra. India taught us that sutras don't mean _anything_ without commentary and Twitter resolutely refuses to give us that kind of space. But Trump has actually demanded from us the need for considered Twitter commentary, just to understand our own version of collective decline and fall. Gibbon reminded us, "The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators." Tell Odysseus that.

But since I'm now following the Trump Twitter feed, I feel remiss, like I should have been doing this since the very beginning. I'm pretty sure that I would not have believed the polls when right before my eyes I saw the truth painted in lawn signs and 140...umm, 280 characters. I mean, we could reduce Trump to a fascinating case study in specious casuistry melded to mental illness and self-delusion were it not so plainly a threat to the existence of the republic. Alas, the fate of the world may come to an announcement that thermonuclear war has commenced as the President roams the White House living quarters terribly alone in his bathrobe. That's not even funny, is it?

So what can be done but write our commentaries and occasionally respond in kind? Of course, we cannot be sanguine that a Republican Congress will act even if Mueller documents his indictable crimes and Democrats will squander their every claim to governing should they make an impeachment case that they can't win in the Senate. And if they _could_ (they can't) then Pence? That's an appearance of normalcy that should scare the veritable bejeezuses out of all of us who see his claim to be with Jesus as a just as real threat.

But what's so interesting about Trump is that he either really does think he's got this or he's as hip to his fraud, insecurity, chaos, and competent narcissism as we are. That seems an obvious call. But I recommend a tune in to this Worst Ever form of social media because when he's not insulting people, he's claiming victory after victory amidst confusion, lies, misrepresentations, and obvious facts to the contrary. There's enough here to rewrite the entire DSM 5.

Just how long will his Loyal Following of Old Rural White People go along with this eidolon, cooling themselves with the shade of Fox handlers? I think the answer to that is forever. What remains to be seen is if women in those same demographics abandon Their Hero and, sadly, what it says when they don't. Just how much abuse can one country take? Let me know in 140 characters or less on Twitter, @profdbrk, @rajanaka, #dbrk #profdbrk #rajanaka and stuff like that, or just write here, preferably in complete sentences*. (*optional)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

World War Z in the House, Another Day at the Office

Thursday, March 1st 2018
Sayeth The Lord, Another Year, Another Midterm
Or Why Lamentations is my Favorite Book

Today while a grifting carnival barking evangelical charlatan lies in state in our nation's capital being eulogized by a president who just paid off a pornstar, my students will suffer their own reckoning with The Truth. They are taking their midterm examination. Vengence is mine, sayeth the Lord, so it's a good thing that they have only me to deal with. The Lord obviously is having his way with me too since this is the THIRTY-FIRST time I have given THIS midterm. Joke's on me and lest too we fail to cite Matthew 11:24, "Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you." Your thoughts and prayers are most welcome. For me, for the students, not necessarily for those other two other guys who deserve, you know, only more of the same.

May Robert Mueller channel the Prophet Jeremiah, "The one who flees from the terror will fall into the pit, And the one who climbs up out of the pit will be caught in the snare; For I shall bring upon her, even upon Moab, The year of their punishment," declares the LORD." (48:44) May this be HIS year, if ya'know what I mean. And as for the Reverend Billy, I am sure he is getting his too. Right now. Still dead. But before I cast any more stones*, I know fersure I'll get mine too: "For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up, That he may be abased." Now it's been awhile since I've been formally abased but unlike Keith Richards (*now I cast Stones not stones), I may in fact not LIVE FOREVER. (Don't you love it when Bible translators use arbitrary capital letters?)

If YOU had to read these midterms, you wouldn't choose eternal life either. More like Groundhog Day. So I lament and, yes, I will have cheese with that whine too,
"They have heard that I groan; There is no one to comfort me; All my enemies have heard of my calamity; They are glad that You have done it Oh, that You would bring the day which You have proclaimed, That they may become like me." Lamentations,1:21


These Guys Need YOU*. Not Even Kidding.
(*really not kidding)

Mick is going to be a father again at 73 and Keith had something, you know, to say about that. But what REALLY upset me was this, "I AIN’T GONNA BE around forever—not even me!” That I will not abide. We live without John and George and David and Lou and it's been forever since Jimi and Janice and Morrison. But Keith is the PROOF, the LIVING PROOF of the rāsayana vamācāra---alchemical lefty--- Tantra: ingest heroin, cigarettes, do whatever the fuck you want, and never die. Never.

Now as for those children, Keith really was way outta' line, "“It’s time for the snip — you can’t be a father at that age. Those poor kids!” Mick the Stay At Home Dad, Mrs Doubtfire the Sequel, ME? Well, it _was_ me. A long time ago now.* (*not really that long ago but thank goodness it feels that way...) My own father would have had 10 kids past me ---he was 52 when I was born but for my mom. Why? He was ever frisky, never home, and incapable of denying the urges of his DNA* (*insert proper Dawkins footnote here). I think my real father is likely Mick. But that's another story.

As for the two eating each other alive in public. THIS is why I NEED YOU. What these two guys need is YOU. I'm not even half kidding. If they both had a bigger band---just slightly bigger than, say, JUST EACH OTHER---it wouldn't get to the public. Case in point. EVERY time I am about to do something REALLY stupid, SOMEONE OF YOU intervenes and says to some other one of you, "don't you think we should tell Ji that his fly is open..." And I listen because I know better than not to be ALL OF US as far as that is possible. Men left to their singular devices are never better than Trump. Always make sure that there are enough folks in the band for at least two keyboards and a percussionist in addition to the second guitar and the drummer.* (*drummers...need we say more?) What Keith REALLY meant to do was quote Tenneyson to the Wall Street Journal, 'cause, you know, never tell anyone but an Ayyappa what you are really thinking.* (*ummm, no shit)
"If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever..." Thank you, Lord Alfred.

Scariest Thought of the Day

THIS guy could well be the next Senator from Arizona. NOW, insert Rod Serling, watching from behind, "There is nothing in the dark that isn't there when the lights are on." And NOW THIS:

“I can read his mind without even talking to him. I think he may be reading mine,” said the former Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio. “Is there something that goes through the airwaves? Mental telepathy?”