Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Bickering Fiddlers

I got into a heated discussion yesterday on my Facebook page with a couple of fiddlers I've known since the early '70s. One of 'em is also a medical doctor, the other is a noted Hebrew scholar. I think they both live in the Chicago area, long a hotbed of fiddling, medicine, and Hebrew scholarship. I've been reading quite a lot of political thinking during this election season, which for me ended its first phase on Thursday when I went to town and was among the first to vote in this eddy of furniture production and chicken processing, western Chatham County NC.

This is definitely Trump territory, and Jesus territory as well. I've written before about the plethora of “Thank You Jesus” signage that has been multiplying like a case of measles all around our little quadrant of rurality. Every week I spot a few more. “Ah ha,” I think driving past the next yard. “Them too.” A few of the yards also sport Trump signs as well, though I'd say it's no more than a 1 in 5 ratio. I've seen nary a Hillary sign on the way to town, and other Democratic state candidates are also lacking notice in these parts. As you drive east, towards Chapel Hill and Pittsboro and Raleigh and Durham, the signage transforms like the trees of late October are doing right now, and Trump supporters keep their opinions to themselves.

I didn't talk politics at all while I stood in line to vote. There was a tiny, elderly woman behind me. She said voting started in Pittsboro at 8 AM, but she didn't want to drive over there. I believe she was actually mistaken in her belief, as I read that all NC early voting stations opened at 10 AM. That was at any rate the case where I voted.

I voted for every Democrat available, except the Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler. I don't really know why I voted for Steve. My job, which ended with the closing of the company I worked for on April 1 past, involved sitting for most of the work day in front of a massive scale which weighed trucks full of scrap metal, coming and going. On the scale's floating bar was a certification stamp, renewed every year or so, by the Great State of North Carolina. Certification days were interesting, involving a big truck full of silver weights which were moved to various measured points on the truck platform. I was expected to obtain identical read-outs at each stopping point. If this didn't occur, people had to crawl under the platform and bang on things. It was usually wet under there, and one time a great toad lived under there too, and would mess up the weighings by sitting on a piece of the equipment and then hopping off. At any rate, at the end of the process the scale got a new stamp. On it, at the bottom, was the name “Troxler.” He was a friend, familiar. As far as I knew, he'd done a good job. (He also affixed his stamp to all the gas pumps, certifying that they indeed pumped out a gallon of climate-altering elixir at the moment the gallon marker crossed zero, and that the price wheel and the fuel amount wheels were truly in sync.) Why not vote for Troxler? If we happen to experience a Democratic landslide in North Carolina this time round, I'll bet that Mr. Troxler will keep his job. I think my voting logic is typical. There are many reasons to turn out our Governor, and our sitting Republican Senator. They don't apply to Steve. Troxler is doing what government is supposed to be doing—keeping her between the ditches. His stamp does not appear on public restrooms.

So on Facebook I said that it would be a good thing if Mrs. Clinton won a strong popular victory, because such a victory would aid her ability to have a successful tour of duty and help her get some good legislation passed, not to mention probably nudge Congress to go ahead and vote on items such as the currently vacant Supreme Court seat. I gave as examples of good legislation some repairs to the current Affordable Care Act, and some sort of improvements to our immigration law. Personally I think if we get a 9th Justice and those two legislative efforts in Clinton's first two years we'll have come some significant way towards better government.

I was surprised to find resistance and aplenty from my Facebook friends. There were various remarks, but the general drift was that a Clinton popular victory of note would achieve nothing but an enhancement of the power of the corporate elite that supports her, and that enhancing that would actually be a detriment to the goal of a more democratic union. It was also noted that Republicans don't give a damn about popular majorities and would continue to obstruct if she managed even such a landslide as a 60% victory.

I'm just presenting the facts here, at a moment where the future lies before us but is uncharted. Given that Republicans still have to run for election, it would seem to me that at least some of them might notice when large popular margins are arrayed against their party. Possibly some of them would alter their tack, at least to some extent. An example would be John McCain's public wavering just last week over the prospect of voting on a Supreme Court nominee. One day he said never, the next day he took that back.

As to the corporate elites running everything, and gaining power by a Clinton victory. Well, surely they will. Here in my household some view the whole deal as having been rigged, but not in the way Mr. Trump asserts. A theory exists that the Clinton “machine,” in league with said corporate interests (see, e.g., all those lucrative speeches to Wall Street, and the mysterious decimation of progressive thought on the MSNBC (GE) television network), did indeed rig the whole spectacle in favor not only of Mrs. Clinton, but more importantly, of Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump was viewed by Clinton forces as the worst candidate in the Republican field who might also be a plausible primary winner. So, indeed, as Trump whines daily, the “system” was rigged. But what he doesn't say is, it was rigged for him! Ain't that a nasty bitch. Trump is a chump.

There was no real conclusion to the Facebook conversation. It got late in the day and I logged off. Then we went over to see the old vet, and assured him that he'd been living there in his same room for a few months now, and all would be well in the morning. We got him a new bag of M&Ms, a treat he's come to enjoy. We treated ourselves to barbeque sandwiches, a night on the town. Libby warmed her dad's socks in the drier down the hall so his feet would get warm for the night. When we got home, DCI Banks was just coming on, as was Nashville. We retired to our separate viewing stations. It was cold enough to start the first fire of the season, but too late to actually do it. The kivvers were sufficient when combined with snuggles, and the night passed to a sparkling new day, with Talladega in the offing.

My view is, we reside, as we always have, in the belly of the beast.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

On the Question of Consent

Mr. Limbaugh brought up a curious hair ball the other day in the form of an argument that is, in analysis, too cute by at least half. Here's what he said, via a transcript from Media Matters, and copied and pasted here from Crooks and Liars:

RUSH LIMBAUGH: You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it's perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.

Of course what he's trying to attack is the allegedly "liberal" tendency to live and let live, to be nonjudgmental in the domain of the private and personal. This is part and parcel of the general right wing pushback against expanding marriage to include people of the same sex, and of decriminalizing various sex acts that once were not only taboo, but actually criminalized. See, e.g., the criminal state destruction of Oscar Wilde's life, and the tragic suicide of the genius mathematician who broke the German coding machine in World War II. There was a time not long ago when discovery of one's homosexuality would end careers in government, and in many other public spheres of endeavor. The constitutional acceptance of same sex marriage confers legitimacy on a whole class of formerly closeted American citizens. It also, as a small but not insignificant benefit, makes the fact of homosexuality less subject to the kind of blackmail that, in turn, rendered government workers possible security risks.

Part of the current Republican platform includes rolling back these rights. A thin end of this wedge, in North Carolina, is the odious HB2 legislation. Hundreds of right wing lawyers toil without rest to find any number of potential chinks in the armor of obvious righteousness that surrounds the final Supreme Court judgment that, indeed, a gay person is still simply a person, and a first-class citizen. But to the right, and to Mr. Limbaugh obviously, it is a galling bit of sand, and generates apparently pearl after pearl.

But as with much on the right, underlying this issue is a deeper and more existential one: power, and authority. It is indeed true that consent is a hallmark of legitimacy for liberal morality. But there is a deep reason for this. Consent is not a magic incantation. Consent can only exist in a relationship of equality. If someone is ordered, at the point of a gun, say, or the point of a legal writ, or the point of community censure, or the point of divine and eternal damnation, to do or say something that they would otherwise abjure, how is such a recantation anything more than coercion. Oh yes, for sure, a person can still choose to be a martyr. It's brave, courageous, and a great movie moment, to say "fuck you, do your worst," in the face of coercion. In that very narrow sense there is still a kind of choice. But when a person acquiesces to rape, this is not the same as consent, but a transaction acknowledging power and the lack of it. For the right, physical power is the ultimate test of moral authority. A rape is an affirmation of physical power. Just lie back and enjoy it they used to say with a smile.

It's odd, by the way, this unholy alliance between Trump's male dominating world view and the NRA, now running ads featuring female victims. In one ad a woman reaches into her bedside gun case only to find it empty as the thumps in the night grow ever closer. Hillary has supposedly taken her gun. In another ad a young woman tells the camera that she successfully fought off a knife-wielding male attacker with her own gun. So how does that jibe with Trump's assertions and obviously beliefs that his wealth and power are aphrodisiacs to the women he finds worthy of his brief physical company, his hand under their skirt or blouse. How enraged would Mr. Trump or Mr. Limbaugh be if the cute little lady whipped out her purse pistol and said "Make my day, mofo." For that matter, how does a gun aid in fighting off an attacker armed with the aphrodisiac of money and power. The problem in that case is that aphrodisiacs alter the mental state of the victim, like roofies.

I think Mr. Limbaugh, like Mr. Trump, sneers at "consent" because the authoritarian right generally refuses to acknowledge that there is ever an equal relationship between men and women, just as much of the authoritarian right rejects the possibility of an equal relationship between white people and any other race. In the authoritarian right, white males are by stipulation the dominant force. If a black man becomes President that is proof, by definition, of some sort of malfeasance. This is the same if it comes to pass that a woman is elected President. For Trump, Mrs. Clinton must, by definition, be broken, weak, using drugs, on her last legs. She cannot legitimately win against a man. As long as a woman accepts the true "nature" of male/female order (see, e.g., the Southern Baptist Church's creed concerning wifely submission), of course Mr. Trump can "respect" such a woman. But Mr. Trump, in his own mind and in Mr. Limbaugh's, needs no "consent." His power is greater, like it or not. All the right wing male patriarch need do is confer or withhold. "I'll treat her nicely if she treats me nicely." "She wasn't beautiful enough to warrant my unwanted advances."

For Limbaugh, and for Trump, and unfortunately for millions of Republican voters, consent implies too much. But in historical fact, we do here in the US continue to struggle towards a day when consent is the true test of legitimacy. Black people did not consent to be slaves. Women did not consent to be male property. As long as the spell of subjugation was strong enough, subjugated groups acquiesced. When they didn't, the lesson was historical, generational. The earth was salted. There is a reason, for example, why Haiti is the poorest, most wretched nation in the western hemisphere. It was the seat of the first successful black slave rebellion. The United States punished the little island nation of Cuba for nearly six decades for accepting leadership which fundamentally rejected our hegemony. Even now, should a Republican administration return after November, expect an immediate cancellation of Mr. Obama's efforts to at last normalize relations with Cuba. The authoritarian lesson is clear--we confer, we do not need your consent.

To quote David Byrne, "same as it ever was." Or, to quote Leonard Cohen, "Everybody knows... old black Joe's still pickin' cotton, for your ribbons and your bows."

[John McCutcheon took the photo some years back.]


Further reading:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I Shall Be Released

Next week North Carolina finally starts early voting. I'm planning on voting the first day, assuming there are no tricky aspects, such as making early votes "provisional" or something. Our current state government adopted the national GOP strategy in place since Mr. Obama was first elected: oppose by any means necessary, obstruct by any available method, and in general suppress any voting blocks that might reasonably be predicted to vote Democratic. I intend, on that grounds alone, to do my tiny part to vote all of the rascals out. We're seeing at the moment polls which show our Republican Governor slightly behind the Democratic candidate, Roy Cooper, who is at present Attorney General. The Democrat running against incumbent senator Richard Burr is also leading. The appalling Trump campaign is surely not helping the NC GOP hopes, nor is the transparent manufacturing of phony wedge issues such as HB-2, which is costing the state economy millions and millions of dollars for no good reason at all. How many fearful parents of teen girls will breathe a sigh of relief that the public bathroom is "safe" from something or other as they stand in the reception line at a Trump rally with their daughter. The dissonance is so bad a pit stop on green is in order. Even Dana Perino yesterday called discretely for a barf bag.

I watched a fine documentary biography of Howard Zinn last night. It reminded me of the longer view, something almost all media coverage ignores entirely these days. The basic truth is that relatively speaking, power in the US and the world is mostly in the hands of the vested. When good things do manage to happen with the aid of government, it is a breath of fresh air in a claustrophobic mine shaft. The Vietnam War was a project of both Democrats and Republicans, both Johnson and Nixon. Jimmy Carter was brought low by his naive support of the puppet prince of Iran, who had been installed with the aid of the CIA to thwart a perceived "leftist" but duly elected Iranian President. Bill Clinton sat by while the Rwanda genocide took place, possibly savoring a cigar dipped in the elixir of Monica, and Mrs. Clinton's ambition subjected the nation to Bill's randy itch, and indeed, subjects all of us to the whole queasy ferry crossing yet again this year, after she and her husband had been rejected by the country in 2008. The reason why Hillary Clinton's vote supporting George W. Bush's profoundly immoral war against Iraq is important is because it shows a deep lack of political and even moral courage on her part. It is yet another item in the list ad infinitum of the methodology of triangulation which is the hallmark, start to finish, of Clintonian politics. There are many speculations that Trump was goaded to run by the Clintons in the first place, as being the most easily defeated Republican. There is no doubt that whole cable networks cleared the decks for the Clintons during this election season: hey, I'm talking to you, MSNBC. But most of Trump's problems are in the end the result of Trump himself, and his shocking incompetence obviously translates on the presidential stage to an utter inability to do diplomacy at every level: in his own party, with Democrats, or with the family of nations. As President, Mr. Trump's tendency to self-destruction becomes a tendency that affects all of us and the life of the United States. There might well be no opportunity to repair the kind of damage Mr. Trump might initiate. We have a system of either A or B. Picking the unicorn is a fantasy, and the argument that the better Clinton does in the popular vote can matter is a significant argument in a situation where the Trump side is already claiming that the whole system is "rigged."

The bottom line remains what it is. Mr. Trump is so grandly unqualified that a vote for him is a leap into the abyss. His remarkable percentage of supporters, given the appalling litany of his own campaign oratory, is a testimony to the psychology of hate and brand loyalty worthy of scholarly treatises, which will surely follow his defeat in November. I read today that even the sad, brainwashed students at Liberty Bible College in Lynchburg, VA, are rejecting their college president's call to vote Trump or risk eternal damnation. Perhaps I should revise my ideas about Liberty University: they must be teaching some good thinking habits up there.

I want to just get 'er done! The Nationals lost, a wonderful team I grew very fond of over the past season. I'm hopeful that the team owners will leave everything in place, including their great manager. The 5th game was lost on the field. Daniel Murphy was at the plate. He popped up. End of story. Time to rent some more movies, and watch the fall progress. The hurricane forced the Greenville, NC dance we were to play today to be cancelled. Too many roads flooded. But as one door closed another opened, and Libby and I are now set to play a dance in Morehead City on December 3. By then the waters will surely have receded to their more typical levels.

Onward and Upwards with the Arts. Don't drive through the flood waters.

[Photo from, of Highway 58 in Nashville, NC. We used to stop in Nashville to pick up some barbeque on the way to see the old vet in Tarboro, just downstream on the mighty Tar River.]

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stuck Inside of Mobile

Hell Yes!

The lyrics are well worth reading, since they are certainly literature:

Oh, the ragman draws circles
Up and down the block
I'd ask him what the matter was
But I know that he don't talk
And the ladies treat me kindly
And they furnish me with tape
But deep inside my heart
I know I can't escape
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile with the
Memphis blues again
Well, Shakespeare, he's in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
And I would send a message
To find out if she's talked
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine
An' I said, "Oh, I didn't know that
But then again, there's only one I've met
An' he just smoked my eyelids
An' punched my cigarette"
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
Grandpa died last week
And now he's buried in the rocks
But everybody still talks about how
Badly they were shocked
But me, I expected it to happen
I knew he'd lost control
When I speed built a fire on Main Street
And shot it full of holes
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
Now the senator came down here
Showing ev'ryone his gun
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son
An' me, I nearly got busted
An' wouldn't it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck
Oh, Mama, is this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
Now the tea preacher looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of headlines
Stapled to his chest
But he cursed me when I proved it to him
Then I whispered and said, "Not even you can hide
You see, you're just like me
I hope you're satisfied"
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
Now the rainman gave me two cures
Then he said, "Jump right in"
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin
An' like a fool I mixed them
An' it strangled up my mind
An' now people just get uglier
An' I have no sense of time
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
And when Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
'neath her Panamanian moon
An' I say, "Aw come on now
You know you knew about my debutante"
An' she says, "Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want"
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again
Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb
They all fall there so perfectly
It all seems so well timed
An' here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again

(c) Bob Dylan, first recorded on Blonde on Blonde, which I listened to over and over again as soon as I could buy a copy, way way back when. I think about the idea of the bricks on Grand Street being "so well timed" nearly every day.