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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Every village has an idiot. Some folks thought the nation needed one.

Trump supporters complain that Trump dislikers think they are stupid.  But when they offer reasons for supporting Trump, they cite false facts and are incoherent.  The only ones whose reasoning contains anything akin to veracity are the ones who say it was about time we had a dumb dolt for president; they are weary of those who act presidential.

That explains what many people see as the explanation for America's descent into a demented state.  Whether one liked Obama's politics or not, he was a scholar of Constitutional law, eloquent, a man of integrity and social grace.  Except to those who would apply the n-word to him, of course.  But the question is how could a nation go from electing a man of his decency and dignity to choosing a churlish ass like Trump?  However, H. L.Mencken predicted it:  " On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

There is no excuse for not knowing what a depraved person Donald Trump is.  As Trump closed in on the Republican nomination, the conservative establishment led the discussion about his deficiencies and disqualifications to be president.    In the minds of the mentally functioning conservative leaders, the choice facing America was not  a matter of partisanship.  It was a matter of recognizing a person whose depravity and gross defects of mind and character were well known and out there for all to see.  Trump represented a perversion of the principles on which our democracy is based.  People voted for Trump not because they were ignorant about the kind of person he is, but because he represents their values.  And those values have nothing to do with freedom, equality, and justice for all.  They are the values of greed, malice, and oppression.  America has a large contingent of the population who are grotesquely stupid and simply not decent people.  

The news cycle is organized around the daily question of what the nation's moron has done or said for the day.  His supporters will fawn in adulation over his latest affront to decency, while others will register how much closer it has moved America to being a "shithole country."  

It is a time of strident social protest, but the protests do not just make corrections in the symbols of our values, such as with the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy.  They also unleash the idiots.  A group recently demolished the statute of a soldier in Madison, Wisconsin, but it was the statue of an anti-slavery militant who was killed as an officer in the Union Army.  Such stupidity reduces protests to acts of mindless vandalism and simply adds to the general stupidity.

Anti-Trump people can be vocal and demonstrative, but they can also be stridently stupid.  And ultimately, Trump is not all we need to rid the country of.  He is merely the expression of a country caught in a struggle to see whose kind of stupidity will win.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Digital Age: "He stuck his finger in your what?"*

**A line from Support Your Local Sheriff starring James Garner

It's a false dilemma.  It arises from a slovenly use of language.  But a good portion of the nation will thrash around about it rather  than engage in some critical thinking and apply knowledge.  

It is the matter of accusations of sexual harassment or assault.  Women's complaints of sexual harassment in the past were ignored and dismissed.  In the early 1990s, feminists worked hard to establish that when women complained of sexual mistreatment, they should be believed.  The #Me Too movement created the slogan "Believe Women" to promote taking women seriously when they registered a complaint.  However the slogan morphed into "Believe All Women" which somehow was interpreted as "Believe Women Always." 

The Tara Reade accusation against Joe Biden has challenged that slogan.  There is much about her contention that is hard to believe.

If the idea of equality is taken seriously, women should be as free from diminishing and assaulting behavior as men are in regard to their gender.  When they say they have been sexually mistreated, their complaint should be acted upon through the procedures of due process.  But equal treatment also invites an examination of the credibility of the  accusation.  Men sometimes exaggerate and lie.  Women do, too.

As a matter of disclosure,   I was once the president and grievance officer of the faculty union whose job it was to ensure that due process was followed for both the accusers and the accused in sexual discrimination and harassment matters.  FortunateIy, I had few such cases to deal with.  On the campus where I worked, the president asked the college attorney to devise a special set of procedures to handle sexual harassment complaints that would protect the complainants from embarrassment and further harassment.  The process that was devised violated so many principles of due process that the university could have been sued out of existence if it applied them. Administrators fear nothing more than being sued.  So, the procedure  was scrapped.  The school had cases which involved the firing of a couple of horny deans.  And there were some verbal exchanges about which complaints were  registered, but they were matters of people objecting to coarse language, not sexual harassment per se.  There was a case in which a student was angered by a failing grade on a test and she ended up accusing the professor of sexual harassment.  He had been accepted for a better job at a more prestigious university and, fearing that his new job might be in jeopardy, he hired a high-powered law firm to handle the complaint.  The lawyers quickly obtained evidence that the student was acting in retaliation for a failing grade and was lying about the harassment,   and she and the university could not withdraw the complaint fast enough when they realized the matter was headed for court.

What the university and I learned from that incident was that accusations have to be intensely but confidentially examined.  The young professor's family had connections with powerful lawyers and the money to pay for them,  and they were able to gather hard evidence that the accusation was false.  His case demonstrated that accusations were sometimes false and vindictive.   But the young professor's case was unusual in that there was documentation and witnesses for every interaction that he had with the irate student.  For most sexual harassment cases, there is little specific evidence recorded about what actually took place.  They are usually "he said, she said" matters for which no objective evidence can be found.

Tara Reade has made changing, inconsistent contentions.   The circumstances she describes do not fit the incident.  Fellow employees recall that she did not do her job competently.  She describes an incident that took place in a remote, isolated hallway.  All the hallways in the building she refers to are open and bustling.  She claims she was asked to serve drinks at a fundraiser, but that would be against the rules that apply to Senate employees.  And longtime employees on Biden's staff cannot recall any reports made about him, and the accusation is contradictory to the character they know.  Reade has been found to be so mendacious that court cases at which she testified as an expert witness are now under review for possible appeals. Finally, her lawyer withdrew from her case.   Her own account of her experience on Biden's staff contains comments that suggest that she was not considered competent and urged to find another job for that reason.  The tone of her account is typical of a retaliatory tale told for vengeance.

Some enterprising reporters attempted to recreate the incident with Biden as Reade has told it.  Her story is that she was told to deliver a gym  bag to Biden so that he could work out.  When she delivered the bag, according to her story, they were in remote hallway where he grabbed her, tried to kiss her, and vaginally penetrated her with his fingers.   The reporters found no out-of-the-way corridors on the route to the gym, but a hallway well-traveled  by senators and their staffs.  Reade can't remember what happened to the gym bag during the scuffle she portrays.  The press says three people corroborate her story.  They don't corroborate the facts; they corroborate  that she told them that story.  But she told different, conflicting versions to other people.  Joe Biden has emphatically declared that the incident never happened.

Ultimately, the accusation against Joe Biden is a symptom of politics which have sunk to stupidly malicious personal attacks.  Even some Democrats are caught up in the pandemic of malice.  A disappointed Bernie Sanders supporter picked up the Reade story and dismissed Joe Biden on the social media as just another old, white rapist.   Trump's puerile malice is infectious.  The fact that the president tweets false accusations seems to be taken by some people as license for them to do so, also.

When the politicians have been asked about the Reade accusation, they tend to respond that they believe  her, but will vote for Biden.  They dare not say that they have doubts about her story.  They are caught in  the contending ire of misogyny and misandry and the fear of offending opposing bigotries.   The fact is that the stories told by Reade and her corroborators are incoherent.  When asked about the contradictions and inconsistencies, they reply that is the way the story came out for them.  Whatever that is supposed to convey.  

The story has preposterous aspects.  Its reporters are suggesting that both Reade and Biden should be believed.  But before they ask us to believe anything, we should ask them to check the facts and explain the contradictions, inconsistencies, and improbabilities.  That's what reporters are supposed to do.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Ode to the Chicago red hot. Never say ketchup.

The dill spear should be carefully aligned along the dog

A variation.
I lived and worked in Chicago at times when I was a college student.  At the time, the farm equipment industry at which college students in our community, 160 miles to the west, sought summer jobs was going through some lean cycles.  The factories weren't hiring some years.  During those slow times, I went to Chicago to find work.

That was long before student loans were available. For those of us who had to work to come up with tuition and college fees, work was not always easy to find.  There were jobs that didn't pay enough to save some aside for  college. When I did find a job in a factory, the pay from one summer could cover a year's tuition and fees as long as I lived at home with my parents.   But when there were no jobs, I went to Chicago, found some day jobs, and took classes at night to keep the education moving.  Living expenses took most of my wages, so I had to learn to scrimp to put away any money at all.  I learned the value of the Chicago hot dog.

Some of the best Chicago hot dogs were sold from carts.  My brothers and I lived in an apartment that was a half a
A Lake Michigan breakwater in Chicago known as
The Rocks
block from the lake.  The lakefront did not have a beach at that place, but consisted of a stairway-like breakwater of huge stones.  A man parked his hotdog cart on the grass behind the breakwater and did a brisk business with people who came to sun and swim at The Rocks.  I learned that the frankfurters were made by a company near the Chicago stockyards and were Kosher, made of beef, so that Jewish people would buy and eat them.  The dogs were served on a poppyseed bun with an array of garnishes:  mustard, pickle relish, dill pickle, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and onions.  Putting ketchup on a Chicago hotdog was considered akin to drinking a single malt Scotch with 7 Up.  

One could subsist on Chicago hotdogs.  And many of us did.   They were a way of surviving hard times with a kind of elan.

At nights, the hotdog vendor parked his cart a few blocks away on Broadway outside of some jazz clubs.  Their customers and the musicians came out between sets and lined up for hotdogs to energize for the night.

I learned from neighborhood residents that the hotdog vendor made enough money during the warm months that he could afford to spend the winter in Florida fishing and lounging about on sand beaches.  

Those hotdogs were a way of life.

Friday, June 5, 2020

When... it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another

The death of George Floyd, the ravages of Covid-19, and the betrayal of American ideals  through the election of Donald Trump are evidence that the USA has failed.  Protests and riots have been building since the day Trump was elected president.  A man who has not one redeeming quality of character has assumed the leadership of the nation, and even some dedicated conservatives are speaking out against him.  World leaders are openly disparaging him and letting the world know they don't want to be in the same room with him.  The focus on Trump's human vileness and the revulsion with which he is perceived, however, diverts attention from the real problem, of which Trump is a symptom.

If Trump is removed from office, as he should be, those who elected and enabled him will still be here to be dealt with.  The causes of America's abject failures will still be here to fester and burgeon into another huge malignancy that leeches away what  health the nation has.  

Trump is justifiably berated for making no effort to bring a sense of unity to the nation.  Instead, he sends out his juvenile tweets with accusations, insults, and abuse that exacerbates the divisions within the nation.  He threatens to sic the troops on the protesters and looters.  Like most Americans, he has no clue as to what the trashing and looting is all about.

We've been here before.  In 1991, a video was circulated of the Los Angeles police beating Rodney King after a traffic chase with their batons.  Four officers were charged and tried, but were acquitted.  After the acquittal, the black community of Watts erupted with riots and was set afire.  Whites bemoaned the violence and constantly asked why people would loot their merchants and burn down their own neighborhood.   That question is  endemic to America.  It occurs when the brain pan takes up permanent residence in the lower colon.  It can be fatal to the country.

When a nation betrays and fails its citizens, it has become dysfunctional.   It is like a house that is infested with vermin and fallen into disrepair.  The house is best burned down and the land under it restored for rebuilding or put to some other use. The question of why people demolish their communities is an incredibly stupid one.  They do it because their country oppresses them and is in a failed state.  It is better to have no country than to live in one which oppresses and kills them.  

The Declaration of Independence grew out of such a circumstance and, therefore, anticipates that it can occur again.  The ultra-right is expressing fears that the looting actually is a cover for breaking into gun stores to arm a revolutionary force.  Even if that were so, the number of weapons obtained would be trivial.  But the fact that the contention is circulating shows the mindless hysteria of the alt-right at the thought of liberal resistance to the malice their leader,  Trump, exudes with each tweet.

There is much imploring for people to reconcile and unite, but   what people of decency really want to have anything to do with the obscene belligerence of the Trump base?  Does his base even possess a benign element which makes any rational communication possible?   At the time the Declaration of Independence was being framed, Thomas Paine noted those who spurned the intellectual fundaments of a democracy: "To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."  And we face that kind with Trump and his followers.

The Declaration of Independence not only lays out the principles of action for its time, but supplies the rationale for meeting future crises.  The American nation is based upon the principles that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  
And, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."  Donald Trump and the events of our time has revealed what a massive intellectual and moral failure America has been in supplying those rights for a large portion of its citizens.

The Declaration eschews talk of compromising with oppressors.  It states, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it."  The list of unarmed black men killed by representatives of the government is an irrefutable statement that the government is destructive of those ends.

Those dead people make the case:  "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government."

George Floyd died from a policeman cutting off his air with knee pressing down on his neck.  That act supplied the image of what conditions black people have lived under in America for 400 years.  When Barrack Obama became our first black president, we assumed that racial oppression was at last on the wane.  But he was supplanted by Trump, who defiles every American ideal of equality and decency.  Oppression and nefariousness is evident not only in the death roster of the black people killed.  It is evident in the way politics is conducted.  The most blatant violation of democratic principle was when Mitch McConnell refused to let the Senate vote on Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.  But the Republicans hustled Trump's nominees through, and we must assume that they are partners in his degenerate whims of governance.

Joe Biden, in contrast, has established a record of decency, although some people will find fault with some of his political decisions.   If elected president, he might hold the Trump predators at bay for a time, but they have tasted power and will be circling like a pack of hyenas to prey on America whenever they find a chance.

At this writing, protests have been going on for eleven days.  But one must wonder if peaceable protests are effective against people who have no interest in peace or equal rights.  If protesters persist, they might succeed in altering our government to genuinely serve all the nation's people.  However, if it can't be changed, it might well be time to abolish it.  And start over.

Whatever happens, the people who put Trump in office are out there.  And trying to negotiate with them is like administering medicine to a dead person.  People who believe in the liberal freedoms of democracy are not such fools.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States