Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New Gilded Age



Has arrived.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision (= every dollar has an equal voice) paved the way for the oligarchy which is now developing in the United States.  We might soon be openly ruled by a handful of very rich families, pulling the strings of their politician marionettes.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. Second Take.



(This series will run during November, whenever I feel like writing about my blogoversary.  Presents are welcome, of course.)

The writer's block is an interesting condition.  I sometimes think that it has similar functions to my (now rarer) migraines:  The body decides that the mind needs a rest, and when the stubborn mind refuses to rest, the body makes sure that it will happen.  Slam.  I have the ability to sleep through migraines, which means that I do get a lot of rest when struck by one.

The writer's block doesn't work quite the same way, and based on my past experiences the reasons for mine vary.  Right now, for instance, I am blocked even though I have many topics more or less thought out and ready to be written in my fevered brain, except that seeing the empty screen suddenly makes writing quite impossible.*

And I am usually an efficient writer.  This time, I think, the block is about political writing.  I can write this post, after all.  The current political clamors are chaotic, and the more I read the more chaotic they look.

Consider how the recent revelations about sexual harassment by famous men are going.  From the very beginning of the wave of new allegations I felt both optimistic and fearful,  the latter because I have been a political blogger long enough to know how these pendulum shifts happen:

The pendulum begins at one end point, starts shifting, the speed of its swing increases, the pendulum is at full swing, but then nears the other end point, the swing slows down, slows down, stops, and then it begins to reverse. 

Yes, it is wonderful that this extra tax levied on many women (and some men, too) is now spoken about, that women are taken seriously when there are enough women behind the accusations, that perhaps, just perhaps, this is a change which will become more permanent, resulting in a more just society, where not only the victims of harassment are punished.

But all through reading about the new allegations I have feared the turn of the pendulum, the publication of one accusation which is clearly false, or, more likely the publication of several cases which are borderline.  Such case or cases are then used by some who have an axe to grind to negate the previous evidence, to taint it all with the same flavor of iffiness. 

There's the flavor of a fad** in much American political debating, and this topic is no different.  We debate gun control after each new atrocity.  We debate hurricane responses after hurricanes.  And we debate sexual harassment mores when famous harassment cases are in the news.  But just like fads fade, the intensity of these debates fades when something else becomes the flavor of the day.  Often nothing else has changed.

I want to see the institutional changes in all the topics mentioned in the above paragraph, but I fear my wishes will not be fulfilled.

----------

The thoughts go like this, while the eyes stare at the blank screen:

Is that a spiderweb in the ceiling?  Do I need coffee?   Let's see what x is writing.  I should clean the screen...  What's in my Twitter feed? 

Oh, the usual sadness and anger and rage and a thousand topics piled up in the time order they come, with no rhyme or reason about their contents. 

Should I cut my bangs with nail scissors?   Should I publish one more rant about the madness that is Trump?  What's the point?  Those who love him love his very madness and will never repent. 

This room really needs vacuuming (the one English word with two u's in a row).

And Finnish does have lots of words for snow.  Take snow in the air.  There's pyry which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but mostly vertically.  Then there's tuisku which is snow coming down pretty rapidly, but sometimes sideways.  But no word that would mean "to snow."  Finns must do with "it rains snow."  Which is weird.

** I don't mean to belittle the importance of the topics, so I am not using the term in that sense.  But I can't think of a good synonym for the fierce word fights we have right after something important is publicized, their patterns of widening, intensifying and then diminishing,  and the way those fights and their contents fall into the memory hole so very rapidly when something else important happens.

All this is natural for humans, I think.  But it's seldom the case that the debates result in any greater clarity or in policy changes, either.  They stand in their place, and important topics simply turn into yesterday's news.
  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore



Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Famous And Not-So-Famous Flashers


We read that the famous comedian Louis C.K. had a habit of masturbating in front of women, that the famous political analyst Mark Halperin shared that habit and that the famous film producer, Harvey Weinstein,  got a kick out of that kind of masturbation, too.

But not all flashers are famous.  I have seen many stranger penises in my life, appearing from behind a tree in a park, from behind a parked car at a railway station or from around a dark street corner at night.  They have all wanted me to look at them, insisted on it, while shaking and shivering.

Louis C.K. defended his masturbation habit by stating that he did ask the women if using their bodies as a visual aid for his masturbation was AOK with them.  But most flashers do not ask for permission.  It is for those of us who are used as visual masturbation aids to adjust, to accommodate.

I was young when I learned the rules for that accommodation:  Avoid, ignore and rationalize.

Avoid:  Don't cross the park on your way to school!  Don't linger around the bus station or railway station!  Don't choose a poorly lit street on your way home from a late night college class!

Ignore  Pay no attention to the flasher!  Pretend that you haven't seen him!  He wants attention so deprive him of it.

Rationalize: The flashers have a mental illness.  Besides, they are only asking that you watch, they are not going to rape you.  They are nothing, a minor annoyance, something easily ignored in a world where most of the avoidance advice is really meant to stop someone from raping you.  So the flashers are not making you change your life that much.  Poor damaged men, they are very lonely and have no other outlet for their desires.  Besides, we all see people urinating and defecating outside in the public space.  This is not really any different.

So it went.  And of course much of the advice I was given was correct.  It wasn't just because of the flashers that crossing the park at night was not a good idea, and having to accommodate public masturbators didn't turn out to be the worst case of sexual harassment or assault I had yet to experience.  But thinking of this particular type of sexual harassment can be enlightening:

I was an undergraduate, eating an omelet for lunch at a cafe near the university, seated by a window that looked over a backyard.  Suddenly I saw a man standing behind that window, in that yard, masturbating, hard, while watching the fork entering my mouth.  He ejaculated.

For some reason I saw red, entered the kind of red rage I have felt only three times in my life.  I chased the man down the street.  Luckily I didn't catch him, because I had no idea what I might have done.   I returned to my lunch and couldn't eat any more of it.

What caused that red rage?  Perhaps the fact that I had followed all the rules, taken all the advice, and yet I was exposed to someone else's masturbation. I was used as a pornographic aid for wanking off, while eating lunch in bright daylight,  and nobody had asked for my permission.  And this was just how things were, pretty much, a minor inconvenience, while others had much worse to endure.

Speaking of rage, the Rolling Stones writes:

Alexandra Katehakis, sex therapist and clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex, tells Rolling Stone that pressuring someone to watch you masturbate is not about sex. "It's not so much a sexual act as it is an act of violence," she says. "What the person is getting off on is the humiliation of their target. It's eroticized rage, expressed in a way that's really sadistic. And the reaction they're getting is arousing to them because it's all about power and control."
Why someone would commit a non-violent sexual assault such as flashing, rather than a physically violent act like groping or rape, is largely because of self-imposed boundaries. "Typically, a non-violent offender won't cross that line. Rape is a more pathological act and more criminal. Exhibitionism is a lewd conduct charge; rape is a felony," she says. "We could say the exhibitionist has more impulse control."

More impulse control.  That is good, right?  It's about power and control and eroticized rage and turning another human being into an object, but at least there is no physical violence.

And so it goes.













Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. First Take.


I have been writing this miserable blog for fourteen years now!  I should get my head checked.  The problem with the anniversary (which was yesterday) is that it is also very close to the one-year-anniversary of the Turd Reich and follows a year of Very Bad News.

That coincidence is uncomfortable and cannot but help to affect how I view these years and their puny harvest.

I am planning to have several anniversary posts in a row.  That lets me express some Deep Thoughts and lets you give me presents if you are so inclined.  If not, thanks for reading here anyway.



Gary Cohn, Trump's Economic Advisor, on the Unavoidable Tax Cuts For The Rich


Gary Cohn's arguments about the Republican "tax reform" plan are worth thinking about, because he is hilarious.  He is Trump's economic advisor, and in a recent interview explains why most of the goodies from the Republican tax plan would fall in the laps of the wealthy.

At first he states that the warped outcome of how much various income groups would benefit is just an accident:  Somehow all the money just slipped into a few pockets:

Among other bloopers, the National Economic Council director explained that CEOs of big corporations were “the most excited group out there” about a proposal that would ultimately raise taxes on a good chunk of the middle class. He also said that while the administration hadn’t “set out” to lower taxes on the wealthy, he’s “not upset” about it, as if its massive rate cuts for business owners were merely some form of serendipity.
I'm sure Gary is not upset about getting a lot out of the Republicans' plan, of course.

Then he gives a different excuse for why the middle class will not benefit that much:

Cohn: Yup. But, John, if you look at what we’re doing for middle-class taxpayers, the reality is kind of simple. The median-income family in the United States, the family that earns about $60,000 in the United States, the Speaker [Paul Ryan] talked about them getting a $1,182 tax cut. That family is now paying a marginal tax rate of less than 1 percent. They’re paying less than $500 of total taxes in the system. So a $60,000 earner, family of four, is paying less than $500. We have cut their taxes significantly. You can’t go much further in the tax system.
Harwood: You’re saying you can’t give middle-class taxpayers more of a tax break than you’ve done?
Cohn: Unless you want to start going negative tax rates and go into the negative world. So, when people score this, you’re scoring against the bound of zero.

I'm having so much fun with that.  Remember the many Trump tweets about BIG LEAGUE tax cuts for the middle classes?  Here's one example from the time of the campaigns:



But now his economic advisor says that This Cannot Be Done.

Never mind.  Let's take one more step backward and ask why the Republicans are spending all their remaining energy on trying to get those tax cuts passed, if there's really no way to give the middle class families any kind of "big league" income tax cuts.

The only answer must be that the goal indeed was to return a lot of money into the pockets of the super-rich.  That this money must come from reducing government expenditure (on the poor and on the elderly, it seems) is just an unfortunate and unintended side-effect, too, I guess.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Virginia Elections


Wow.  I went out to get the flu shot, and this happened?  Maybe I should get one every day.

That was a bad joke and a good example of the way some fake news are created.  More importantly, having paper ballots is important, and all states should return to them, even if they are machine scanned, because paper ballots, kept by the voting districts as separate copies, allow for transparent elections. 

That and stopping voter suppression are the way to go right now, in the fight for democracy. 

The latter can be battled in several ways, of course,  but one would be to call the Republicans' bluff by creating an organization which argues that if certain types of IDs are necessary for voting, then the state is responsible for providing them in some cheap and easily managed way, perhaps at local post offices.  While that process is ongoing, the imaginary organization could pay for such IDs wherever poor or elderly voters can't get hold of them.

My congratulations to the winners in Virginia and, in particular, to Tom Perillo who worked very hard for his erstwhile primary opponent.  I sincerely hope that Virginia is a good omen for the 2018 elections.

The Proud Boys


Are proud.  Of being boyz. They are also an extreme right society for men, and only men, who believe in the superiority of the Western Civilization.  Here's a picture from their magazine (1):


And here's a short summary of the goals of Proud Boys (2):

McInnes calls the Proud Boys a “fraternal order” dedicated to a concept he calls “Western chauvinism,” which is roughly spelled out in the Proud Boys’ list of “tenets,” published in the official Proud Boys magazine.
They include closed borders, free speech, gun rights, and “venerating the housewife.” Proud Boys also abide by a “no wanks” rule, which is a loose prohibition on masturbation, because, they say, it is better to have sex and produce babies.
“Though these are our central tenets, all that is required to become a Proud Boy is that a man declare he is ‘a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world’,” according to the Proud Boy Magazine.

A closer examination of those rules suggests that Proud Boys are a society of men (you have to be declared biologically male at birth to be allowed in) who want, among other things,  a certain kind of patriarchy to return.


Friday, November 03, 2017

Short Friday Posts, 11.3.17: Isabelle Karle, U of Notre Dame, Tax Reform, and Endurance Running



1.  An interesting obituary of Isabella L. Karle, a chemist who worked with her husband to reveal the structure of molecules.  Her husband, Jerome Karle,  received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1985, together with mathematician Herbert A. Hauptman.

2.  University of Notre Dame  ends covering birth control in the health insurance policies of its staff and students.  Thanks, Donald!  The university's decision is based on the doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Thanks, celibate guys, running that institution!

The decision also reflects something which I find troubling:  Institutions now have the right to impose their religion on other people, so that Notre Dame (Our Lady!) can refuse to cover birth control even for those employees and students who are not Catholics.

3.  The tax reform plan of the Republicans is tailor-made to cut the taxes of one Donald Trump.  That's perhaps really not such a great surprise.  After all, Trump recently stated that he is the only person who matters.

Heh.  That's from the popcorn section of those watching this stuff.

But even in reality the so-called tax reform plan is aimed at benefiting the very rich, and much of the money needed for that would come from government expenditure cuts on the poor and/or the elderly.  It's a type of "trickle-up" theory the Republicans use:  Taxes are made so much easier if even more of the country's wealth is safely stored in the back pockets of the 0.01 percent at the very top of the distribution.

If the Republicans truly wanted to simplify the way Americans report and pay their taxes, they could copy the policies of several other countries.

4.  Courtney Dauwalter finished the Moab 240 race in 2 days, 9 hours, and 59   minutes.  A great achievement, though I really posted it in answer to some trollish comment about women deserving to be paid less at work because they have less staying power.