Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Do This One Thing For Me

Do this for me: name me one example of black people protesting racism in the last five years that the right or the Trumpkins has regarded as legitimate.
BLM chanting in the streets? "They're terrorists!" 
NBA stars protesting the death of Eric Garner with "I can't breathe" t-shirts? "They should keep their mouths shut!"
Jemele Hill pointing out on her personal Twitter feed that Trump is a white supremacist? "a fireable offense!" 

Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem? "Fire the son of a bitch!" 

Stevie Wonder taking a knee at a concert? "Another ungrateful black millionaire!"

Face it, this isn't about the anthem, or the flag, or the military, or patriotism. This is fearful, guilt-wracked white people trying to win the argument about racism in America by the only way they can: making it illegitimate to have the discussion in the first place.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Review: THE BAT, by Jo Nesbo

The Bat (Harry Hole, #1)The Bat by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The trope of the tortured, alcoholic, obsessed homicide cop with a dark and terrible secret in his past has become so familiar as to elicit eye-rolling when I come across it again. But Jo Nesbo's first Harry Hole novel (although not the first released in the US) manages to rise above cliche. Harry is sent from the Oslo crime squad to sunny Australia to investigate the rape and murder of a Norwegian expatriate who was once a minor celebrity back home. There he encounters an Aboriginal police detective, a cross-dressing clown, and a winsome Swedish barmaid, among other interesting characters. Once revealed, the villain proves suitably chill-inducing, Harry battles the bottle as much as the killer, and all in all, it's a satisfying read. I've only read one other Hole novel, The Redbreast, which was frankly better than this. But this is still pretty good. Recommended.

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Review: THE SYMPATHIZER, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The SympathizerThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How many books do you know that win a Pulitzer Prize AND an Edgar Award for Best First Novel? I read about that and had to get this one. It did not disappoint.

On one level it's a spy story, but that's just one of the many layers to this book. It's also about national and racial identity, the warped reflection of those things in popular culture, The Vietnam War, love, loyalty, family...the list goes on and on, building to a tense climax that I found uncomfortably reminiscent of the darker passages that come late in Orwell's "1984." (There's even a rat, although not in a cage). Not sure I totally buy the book's denouement, but I'm still pondering that--which to me is the mark of a great book. It makes you think about it even when its done.

Highly recommended.

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Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805 by Alan Schom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating, if occasionally slow-moving, account of the political and military campaigns that led up to the famous battle that established British naval supremacy for generations. It does bog down a bit in detail sometimes, especially in the descriptions of Napoleon's preparation for an all out cross-Channel invasion of England. The descriptions of the personalities involved, however, are vivid, and the account of the climactic battle itself is one of the best I've ever read. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Press Conference That Wasn't

Aberdeen Times :

So I caught part of President Trump’s latest press conference while eating lunch Thursday. I’ve since watched the whole thing on video. I’ve reviewed the transcript of it online. And I have come to an inescapable conclusion: There is something seriously wrong inside the head of the President of the United States.  What began as an opportunity to introduce Mr. Trump’s new nominee for Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta, rapidly degenerated into the usual airing of the grievances, resentments, and narcissistic obsessions of one Donald J. Trump.
His favorite whipping boy, of course, was what he calls “the dishonest media,” a designation which might have been somewhat more compelling had Mr. Trump himself not told so many outright lies. He claimed “the biggest electoral college win since Reagan” (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all had greater margins).  He claimed to have given a news conference “every time I made a speech, which was like every day. OK?” (As the Toronto Star noted, this was “not even close to true. Trump indeed gave near-daily speeches during the campaign, but he did not do a single news conference over the last three months of the campaign”).  He claimed a “smooth rollout” of his Muslim travel ban  (the chaos and confusion caused by the ban is well-documented). He said his administration is running like “a fine-tuned machine” (except, one supposes, for the National Security Adviser forced to resign for lying to the Vice President; the freelancing “spokesperson” who’s been barred from both the usually friendly “Morning Joe” and from CNN; the labor secretary nominee even some Republicans couldn’t stomach; and so on).
To Trump, however, any fact that contradicts what he says is “fake news.” This is the case even if , for example,  said “fake news” led him to fire National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn for lying to the Vice President about his contacts with Russia--after which Trump griped about how unfairly Gen Flynn was treated.  
Supposedly it’s also “fake news” that his campaign was in contact with agents of Russian intelligence at about the time the Russians were hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee.  The leaks that led to those stories, however, are serious business, “so unfair,” according to Trump, and need to be investigated. When pressed on the apparent contradiction, Trump explained that leaks are real but the news that comes from them is fake, “because so much of the  news is fake.” Get it now?
See, here’s something Mr. Trump probably doesn’t get about this whole leak business. I’ve tried cases in criminal and domestic courts for over 25 years now, and “where did you get that?! You’re not supposed to have that!” when confronted with damning evidence is the cry of a guilty man.
Mr. Trump spent a lot of time complaining, as he always does, about how unfair everything is to him.  After all, he said, “I inherited a mess.” Funny, I seem to recall every time President Obama mentioned the mess he’d inherited, including the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the wingnuts shrieked “When is Obama going to stop blaming Bush for all his problems and show some leadership!?” 
A real low point (there were so many) was when Trump responded to a question from  April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks as to whether the Congressional Black Caucus was going to be included in meetings on Trump’s “urban agenda.” “Do you know them?” Trump said challengingly. “Do you want to set up the meeting?” When Ryan noted that she was only a reporter, Trump snapped “well then, set up the meeting.”
Oh, and he also rudely dismissed a Jewish reporter in a yarmulke for asking about rising anti-semitism in the country. “Not a fair question,” he snapped.  “Sit down.” This must have reassured his large and devoted neo-Nazi following that he’s still on their side.
All of this is just catnip,  of course, to Trump’s hard core supporters. Sure, the leader of the Free World sounded like an angry drunk at the end of the bar raging at the TV when the bartender flips it to CNN. But Trump could have done the conference in a clown nose and rubber duck hat, honking a bicycle horn and speaking in pig Latin, and his base would eat it up, so long as he attacked the press and put a black reporter—a woman, no less-- in her place. All it lacked to make it like the good old days of the campaign was some random old white dude smacking April Ryan in the face as she was led out.  
 In the end, this wasn’t a press conference. It was another rally for the troops, yet another campaign event for the man who’d rather keep campaigning than actually govern.

She Persisted

Aberdeen Times:

Looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t think his cunning plan to silence Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren all the way through.
  In case you missed it, this past Tuesday, Senator Warren was engaging in the debate over the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. As part of the debate, she was reading a letter written by the late Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and a formidable civil rights crusader in her own right. King’s letter was written in opposition to Sessions’ nomination for federal judge. It said, in regards to his tenure as U.S. Attorney for Alabama, that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
All this was just too much for the delicate shell-like ears of Senator McConnell, who invoked a rule of the Senate that forbids any Senator from using “any form of words” to impute “conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Apparently, you’re free to oppose a sitting Senator up for a cabinet post, but you can't say anything negative about him while you’re doing it. No mean trick, that. Apparently, the Republican majority in the Senate is still so insecure about their position that they feel as if the only way to win a debate is not to have it.
In any case, McConnell, hereinafter referred to as “Sen. Snowflake,” made a motion to censure Warren which barred her from any further debate on this nomination, which passed along party lines. This was bad enough, but then Snowflake really stepped in it. In defending his use of Senate rules to muzzle a female Senator, he issued a statement:  “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
There are some things said by politicians that are just so ham-fisted, so clearly ill-advised, so just plain wrong that they make you go “oh, dude, you are totally going to regret that.”  That was one of them.  Within hours, “She persisted” became a Twitter hashtag, an Internet meme, and a general rallying cry, which only grew louder when several male members of the Senate (Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) were allowed to read the whole letter.
Sessions was eventually approved, as everyone knew he would be, which made this action by the Senate GOP even more pointless and unnecessary.  Had they not chosen to intervene, the letter, read to a mostly empty Senate chamber, would not have attracted much, if any, notice.  I suppose Sen. Snowflake felt like he needed to smack down a potential Democratic presidential nominee. But defending the action with the sort of language an abuser would use after blackening his partner’s eye (“Hey, what could I do? I warned her, I explained why she was wrong, but she kept flappin’ her gums”) just served to rally people behind Warren and make her an overnight sensation, the face of the resistance.  You want to crush a movement, you don’t hand it a slogan and a flag. These are not very bright people.
Because here’s the thing: an election is not a war. When it’s over, the people you defeated are still around. That’s how it works in America, at least for now.  Recently, I read one of those gloating, chest-beating online opinions claiming that the Democratic Party and liberalism are “dead.” Hmmm, I thought. This sounds familiar. And I was right. It’s what the same people were saying the day after George Dubbya Bush was re-elected. Four years later, Barack Obama became the first black president. And then, some were saying that the GOP was dead. But after President Obama’s election, what did the right do? The Tea Party held rallies, turned out for town halls, carried signs--some with truly comical spelling and a few that were outright racist, but they were out there. They persisted. And now the pendulum’s swung the other way. But no pendulum stays swung in one direction for ever.
If you believe in voting rights for all,  if you believe in equality before the law for all people, if you believe the environment is worth saving for all of us, and if you believe that access to healthcare should be for everyone, not just those with money—in short, if you believe that “liberty and justice for all” isn’t just an empty slogan, then you might think these are some dark days, what with the vain, greedy, childish wannabe dictator Orange Julius Caesar in the White House and a compliant Congress willing to roll over for him. But that’s when, more than ever, you need to persist.