Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Prior Excursion Into Stupid

I've had a lot of friends on Facebook recently losing their minds at the prospect of a Trump presidency, and while I understand the disappointment and maybe even the anger, what bothers me more than anything is the perception that, somehow, this is sui generis. That somehow, this transition is historically fraught with difficulty and that the result of the election is illegitimate. I have news for you: we've been here before a lot, and as recently as 2001. And speaking personally, the 1980 election was an interesting exercise in losing friends.

At that time, I worked locally for the Reagan campaign, stuffing envelopes, moving boxes, randomly handing out signs and bumper stickers. Really small time stuff, but I wanted to be a part of the effort because another four of President Carter genuinely scared me, and I thought that Reagan was right on the big things, like the USSR and the economy.

I was doing a play at that time, and while the nature of it doesn't matter (it was original, quite bad, and I had a lead, which was worse), the fact that I had become friends with the director did. Good friends. We spent a lot of time talking about theatre, quaffing adult beverages, and talking about the future. And then, one evening about a week from opening, we lurched into electoral politics, and my friend ventured a remark about the backward nature of Idaho electoral results. I mildly noted that we had a Democratic governor, a Democratic legislature more often than not, and that Pocatello (where we were) had been known for a strong union presence due to the Union Pacific yards and Bucyrus Erie, which fell off in the late 70s/early 80s recession. He waved that aside, and expressed his fears that a Carter loss would result in the End of Western Civilization as We Knew It, and looked to me, sure of my swift confirmation of that obvious fact. I mildly replied that I had a problem with Carter, that his loss might change things for the better, and even if I knew they would stay about the same, I still couldn't support him. He asked if I was supporting John Anderson, the third party candidate that year. I shook my head and said I was supporting Reagan, and that I was, in fact, working for him.

The conversation died down and we talked of other things. In retrospect, I realize he was experiencing some cognitive dissonance, but since I knew what I knew and suspected what his politics were before, I was fine with it.

Fast forward to Monday's rehearsal. He was business-like but basically non-communicative otherwise. After rehearsal, unlike his previous behavior where he was talkative and sought conversation, he simply left. Tuesday was the same, if even more terse. Wednesday, things blew up, and the excuse was a belt.

I was supposed to be wearing a sword for this show, which was ridiculous, but there we are. We did not HAVE swords yet, and I did not normally wear a belt. He had asked me to bring one to use in rehearsal, but I had forgotten it because I had no use for it as yet. In the middle of the first act, he stopped the show and asked where my belt was. I replied that I had left it home, but would bring it the following night. He flew into a rage, saying that if that was the level of professionalism I was going to bring to the production, perhaps he should have thought better about casting me in the first place. My reply was something like "It would have been easier to remember if we had the swords to work with, seeing that we open on Saturday, but I'll bring it tomorrow." He wound up from there, saying the swords were on the way and telling me to stop changing the subject. I told him to get his panties out of his butt crack and calm down (or something similar), and in an instant, he was in my face, threatening to kick my ass. I told him he could try, which is where he threw a right that missed and I followed with a right that didn't and a left that knocked him backwards. Other castmates ran between us, and he screamed at me that I was fired from the show, and to get out. I screamed back that I wasn't being paid so I COULDN'T get fired, but that I could quit and did, so he could take his show, roll it up, and park it where things weren't quite so shiny. He kept screaming at me as I walked out the door and onto the parking lot.

It was snowing, and I started making snowballs and pelting his car. I was joined by two of the ladies in the show, who asked me to reconsider because the show opened in  a couple of days and there was no way to make it work otherwise because I had the most lines, etc. I said I'd consider it for their sake, but that if the director said anything to me other than please, thank you, and cross from there to there, I would be gone. One of them walked back in and I kept throwing snowballs, but at other things as well. About ten minutes later, she came back out and said he agreed the show Must Go On (in retrospect, the arts would have survived the shock), and that he would talk to me through her for the remainder of the production.

And that's how that went, until the show closed. The director did not come to the cast party, and I never saw him again. Which is sad, actually, since we had LOTS in common...until we started talking politics. And then, from his perspective, it was over. I had stepped Beyond the Pale, and that was that.

For myself, I resolved from that point that I would never let politics be the sole determinant of whether I liked someone - or would talk to someone - or not. And I have tried to let that guide my behavior.

During this election cycle, I've been attacked, disrespectfully contradicted, and directly abused by "friends," one of whom I defriended. One wonders how things might have gone had I advocated for either Clinton or Trump instead of the Libertarian. Probably not a lot differently. 

The point is that is actually quite easy to disagree without being disagreeable. I recommend it highly. It can make your life...and your online experience...much more enjoyable and far less stressful.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Most Qualified?" Not Hardly.

One of the most ridiculous, historically inane, and preposterously wrong statements in this election season is the contention that Secretary Clinton is the most qualified individual ever to run for this office. Of the 25 individuals clearly more qualified than the Democratic Nominee, one is still with us...George H.W. Bush. Before he was elected president, he served as Vice-President, Director of Central Intelligence, RNC Chair, Ambassador to the UN, US Chief Liaison (effectively Ambassador) to China, and as a member of the U.S. House. Additionally, he was a pilot in WWII, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. And he managed to accomplish all of these things without being investigated, indicted, or impeached.

Picking another at random...say, John Quincy Adams...Ambassador to the Netherlands, to Prussia, to Russia, and to the Court of St. James. He declined a nomination to the US Supreme Court. He served as Secretary of State under James Monroe, writing what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. He is generally considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, Secretary of State in US history. Additionally, he was a US Senator, and after his presidency, Adams served as a US Congressman until 1846, a tenure that ended with his death in the US Capitol building. During his seventeen years in the US House post-presidency, he was one of the great voices for abolition, and he won the Amistad case before the US Supreme Court in 1841.

I think it is fair to say that were either man available for a presidential draft during this election cycle, he would have been far preferable to either of the chosen nominees.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Just a quick note.

Former President Clinton met Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her plane in Phoenix, AZ, for a conversation described as personal in nature. For the record, this is the same Attorney General who will be making the decision at some point this summer whether to prosecute the former president's spouse and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her email imbroglio. At the very least, one might wonder how anyone associated with either the Justice Department or the Clinton presidential campaign could have thought this to be a good idea at this time.

There are insufficient words to describe how inappropriate this meeting was, and if the Obama Administration had any sense of shame or justice or propriety at all, it would move immediately to turn the decision to prosecute over to an Independent Counsel at once. But I do not expect that to happen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In the Shadow of Bubba

When examining the candidacy of Hillary Clinton for the presidency, what people need to keep in mind is that she is the end product of forty years of marriage and political symbiosis with Bill Clinton, a man who is simultaneously one of the most talented politicians this country has yet seen, and one of the most self-destructive people ever to hold high office. She knew him through law school, married him shortly after graduation, and returned with him to Arkansas, which, at that time, was both rural and still under control of the old Southern Democratic Party. 

At that time and within that party, the Good Ol’ Boy network was a real thing; so long as politicians like Bill Clinton stroked the right people, stayed quiet, and kept to their word, they could go to the state capital to do good and end up doing really well. Being politically talented and having been raised in the state, Bill understood the rules and made a rapid ascent to the top of the Arkansas food chain, becoming governor before he was thirty. He lost the job two years later, having made the mistake of thinking that because he was governor, he was actually in charge of the state. This was a valuable early lesson, because when he regained the governorship in 1980, he had learned the value of political alliances, the usefulness of political centrism, and the employment of issue triangulation, which consists of finding ways to straddle the most popular of your opponent’s arguments with your own policies, thereby neutralizing the opposition and stealing credit for the idea. This was something he perfected during his presidency.

Meanwhile, Hillary was learning the same lessons, as well as others having to do with forging alliances with politically useful non-profits and making sure that that, at the end of the day, the bank account was full. She worked as a private attorney and as a rainmaker within her firm, and found ways to take advantage of her husband’s position by implication, managing to avoid leaving evidence trails to administration policy positions and changes that could invite corruption charges. In Arkansas, the appearance of impropriety was beside the point so long as nothing could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The reality of small state politics in the 1970s and 1980s was that unless there was a riot, a natural disaster, an octogenarian House committee chairman indicted and/or dead, or something large caught fire and burned to the ground, there was an almost total lack of national attention. Even the news, either on paper or television, tended to be light on investigation and heavy on stories about process. Reporters and politicians were all aware of who had deals with whom, of course, and the general outlines of the various agreements between industry and government were widely known as well, but because everything was handshake sealed and nothing was on paper, little could be done about insider politics or actual corruption. Indeed, much later on during the Clinton presidency, a more stringent examination of the Clintons’ investments in Whitewater and Tyson became a big deal because the political back scratching was so transparent, but, ultimately, nothing was indictable because nothing damning was written down and, in any event, no one was talking. 

Both Clintons learned from how that played out and spun the results shamelessly, thereby deflecting the “appearance of corruption” stories, and carefully, grudgingly parsing their words to avoid definitive statements on their various controversies that either could be proven or disproven. Simultaneously, they alleged that their political enemies, as well as what came to be known as the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” was using these unproven allegations in a cynical attempt to destroy them politically. This spin has proven to be astonishingly effective and remains useful so long as the center-left establishment needs (or fears) the Clintons. 

The results of these lessons can be seen in the email controversy and in both the organization and general behavior of the Clinton Foundation, where an air of “not quite aboveboard but not, by definition, illegal” pervades much of what they do and how they go about their business. And, paradoxically, the fact that they have been under suspicion of corruption and malfeasance seemingly forever inoculates them against the sort of charges that would absolutely devastate other candidates whose reputation is built on honesty and clarity. Certainly, no other current politicians in America receive a similar benefit of the doubt when “the smoking gun,” the documented evidence of a scandal, cannot be produced. 

Equally as influenced by her husband’s political adaptability and larger than life persona are Hillary’s demeanor and tactics as a candidate. In nearly everything she does while campaigning publicly, you can see echoes of her far more talented husband. When Bill speaks to primarily African-American audiences, he often thickens his Southern accent appreciably and talks in a colloquial manner; Hillary has been known to adopt a “Southern” accent and less formal speech in front of similar groups. Conversely, when in front of sympathetic Democratic crowds, Bill has been known to speak in an almost metronomic cadence when he seeks to drive home a point, which is something that Hillary often does, and both tend to sarcastically mock the opposition while carefully sidestepping any actual points they are making. And when Bill is in trouble, he parses his words precisely and carefully like the lawyer he is: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Likewise, Hillary is a lawyer and is also strategic with her words. Returning to her email difficulties, for example, the Secretary has offered multiple explanations, each more carefully parsed than the previous version, adopting language that appears straightforward but remains full of room to adjust in the event that evidence moves in a different direction. And finally, when pushed to extremis, Bill will simply bald-face lie about a subject and adopt his very best “you have to believe me” face, which was largely the reason the House voted to impeach him. Even at the time, there was little expectation in Washington that the Senate would vote to convict, but the lies were so apparent, so absolutely without question, that the House leadership moved ahead. However, when Speaker Gingrich’s affairs surfaced and Speaker-Apparent Livingston resigned for similar reasons, the game shifted ground abruptly to “everyone lies about sex,” and “that’s all this is about” when it manifestly was not. But by that point, it did not matter. Employing a hoarse voice and demanding to go back to doing the business of the American people, Bill Clinton survived in the presidency and Hillary learned the most important lesson of all: when caught well and true, you delay. Delay is your friend. Delay and get your supporters and allies to call into question the motives of those who seek the truth behind your actions. Then delay even more, and with any luck at all, the clock will run out, the public will tire of the story, and the prosecution or the opposition or the special investigator or whomever will either let it go or have it taken from them. 

It is worth recalling at this point one important difference between the Clintons that is going to have an effect throughout the summer and fall; she is not the president yet. For Bill, it was the chief means to his long-term political survival, simply the fact that however much his enemies had on him and however much they wanted him gone, getting rid of presidents is fiendishly difficult and on purpose. The Secretary has no such backstop; for her, delay for the sake of the delay is the defense she has remaining to her, and she will employ that and the tendency of the media and the public to eventually tire of a story that has no new chapters. She has to hope it remains that way.

We’ve seen all of the foregoing throughout her campaign, and we will certainly see more of the same should she be elected to the presidency this fall. But in one of the most interesting paradoxes of this current cycle, she finds herself matched against an opponent whose political abilities rival her husband’s, and whose tactics and talents for disarming or dismissing the established truth resembles their own. The fact that she understands government and policy much better than he does almost seems beside the point. And when Bill inevitably moves to campaign for her this summer and fall, directly, as he will have to, the differences will move into starker contrast and likely not to her benefit.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hollywood is Moneyist, Not Racist.

I understand that Chris Rock went off on Hollywood about the White People's Choice Awards and how the place is small "r" racist. Maybe. His opinion, of course, but maybe.

I have a different theory. Check with anyone you know about how auditions there work; you are a type, not an individual; possibly an ethnicity, depending on what they are seeking for the role in question. You go to an audition, and are met with a room full of people who resemble you, waiting to be seen. But even this, problematic as it is, really isn't the issue.

Hollywood is moneyist. It doesn't care about stories, or races, or individuals, or social commentary or anything...on the top level, anyway...more than it cares about turning a profit. And if one kind of movie makes money, expect to see the same movie, remade in many different ways, until it stops making money. Then they go with the next thing. Now, do smaller, socially conscious projects get made? Yes. As cheaply as possible, and usually at SAG scale. And if they make back costs, everyone is thrilled because they got to Make A Statement. And the they make the next Iron Man movie. Because anymore, it's all about foreign distribution, too, and Iron Man (and movies of its ilk) sell abroad.

I guess what I am saying is this: Hollywood is the purest example of a capitalist endeavor in America today. Movies are basically unregulated, except for content ratings, and you can make pretty much anything, spending whatever you desire up front in hopes of recouping later, and (depending on your contract and cut) if it hits big, your take can be enormous. Robert Downey, Jr made $50 million from one Iron Man movie, and they reason he made so much is because the studio killed with the first two and wanted the gravy train to keep rolling. He got paid, they made more money, and the moneyist system rolled on.

It really isn't about race. Eddie Murphy had a long run where he made popular movies. He got paid, the studios and investors got paid, everyone was happy, and no one gave a crap that he was black. When he stopped making them money, he stopped making movies, for the most part.

So here's the thing: find a way to make movies that will make money, and I guarantee that Hollywood will hire your type in preference to anyone else for as long as the cash flows. After that, all bets are off. But won't it be grand to cash in for awhile? And think of all of those industry awards!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sorry, Not Sorry

I've been thinking about this a lot, and fully expect some of you to be unhappy when you run across it. So do what you have to do; unfriend me on Facebook or say rude things in the comments or unfollow my silly ass on Twitter or chant and wave incense. Whatever blows your hair back.

It's this. I am tired of hearing about how horrible this country is and how dreadfully the US has treated its citizens and others over time. Yep, we have a checkered history, and things haven't always been wonderful for a whole lot of people, but for the most part, the blame claiming and victimization pointing begins at least a generation or more back from where we are now; in most cases, a great deal longer than that. And the thing is, we can't change a note of it. It's done. It is what it is. And for that reason, because it cannot be changed, I frankly do not care who you are or what your family's backstory is, and I'm really not interested in hearing about the trials and tribulations that your grandparents, parents, or neighbors have gone through. In the greater scheme of existence, it simply doesn't have a lot of relevance to anyone who is currently drawing breath. Because if you go back far enough, everyone can absolutely find something to use as an excuse to be horrible to other people. So rather than play tit for tat, let's just stipulate that life is NOT FAIR and get on with it,

Because here's the thing: If you spend your time trying to MAKE life fair or chant, march, and inveigh against the people who have managed to hurt your precious feels, you will waste both your life and your time. Seriously. Get on with whatever it is that you want to do with your life and stop worrying about someone else's opinion, because the only way someone can hurt your precious feelings is if you allow them that privilege inside of your own head.

We can change today. We can change RIGHT NOW. The past is what the past is, but the future can be what we choose to make of it. But the first step, the essential first step, is that we have to be willing to forgive the events of the past and stop using them to justify our own behavior today. We have to be willing to let go, let stuff slide, and move on with our lives, trusting that others are doing the same. And if we can manage that, even a little, the world will be a much better place.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ok. The Cure For Gun Violence: What Do You Have?

Over the past couple of days, I've watched our president call out gun owners and 2nd Amendment advocates for getting in the way of "sensible" gun laws, notwithstanding the fact that the sorts of laws he talks about and the sort that are commonly mooted usually would have had NO effect on the ability of shooters to procure guns for their purpose. I have run across a plethora of others, online and elsewhere, who have called us out as a society on how hideously we treat our citizens, the mentally healthy and otherwise, and how well other countries treat their own, suggesting that this sort of thing doesn't happen elsewhere, neatly forgetting the horrible massacre in Norway and the recent killings in Australia. I have also noticed the sense of smug superiority and condescension from the "we have to do something" crowd toward anyone who points out the complications.
Walk me through this. There is the "too many guns" argument. We have some 300 to 350 million guns presently within the bounds of the United States, and we have a 2nd Amendment that (however you want to parse it) has been interpreted to allow for private ownership. The courts have struck down gun controls in Washington, DC, Chicago and the like, and have placed strictures on the sorts of actions the states, cities, and the federal government can take to "solve" this problem. Far too many people are willing to call out responsible gun owners and other people of reasonable character who, generally, disagree with them about gun control and, probably, everything else, suggesting that if they just get out of the way, the problem can be solved. But consider: in a country of over 300 million people, where there are more than enough guns to outfit every man, woman, and child, actual statistics on violent acts like Sandy Hook, Umpqua and the like reflect a vanishingly small likelihood of occurrence. And yet they continue to happen every so often to the same sorts of reactions.
Then there's the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument. Part of the issue is that violent people who want to kill people will find a way, guns or no guns, like Timothy McVeigh and, quite likely, the recent Charleston shooter. But for the most part, shooters have been mentally disturbed and seeking to take out their aggressions and their failures on others. And in the face of that sort of problem, we have fallen amazingly short of any reasonable response. A significant part of the difficulty is that we chose, in the 1960s, to de-institutionalize the mentally ill and offer them pills and panaceas instead of concerted care. As far back as 1984, the New York Times was noting that part of the price of de-institutionalization was a ramping up of state resources to take care of the mentally ill through out patient clinics and the like. And to be blunt, this did not happen. For example, the Virginia Tech shooter was repeatedly brought to the attention of authorities for being mentally ill, and yet legally got guns and managed his attack with frightening ease. (One of the loopholes in how he acquired guns was closed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System - NICS.) But nevertheless, the problem of the mentally ill going untreated and getting their hands on weapons persists.
So, with these two issues in juxtaposition, I ask you this: what do you propose? Do you actually have an idea of how to solve this problem, or will you simply slander everyone who disagrees with you and your more comprehensive view of government by slyly suggesting that they are perfectly fine with seeing periodic gun violence as the price of gun ownership? I will admire to see honest responses.