Saturday, December 31, 2022

December 31

For the last post of the year 2022, I want to wish you all a very happy, healthy and fulfilling new year,

Most of all I wish you and the world peace, an end to this terrible war, and all war.

З Новим роком

Monday, November 28, 2022

Copa Mundial MMXXII

Going through my previous posts on the game of soccer, most of them corresponding to the World Cup, I noticed a recurring theme. The theme is my assertion that despite all its problems and drawbacks, despite its lunacy, greed, violence and at times its sheer stupidity, the world of professional sports still has the ability to make the world a better place, when it wants to.

In this piece I mentioned how sports help connect us with our past and our departed loved ones.

In this piece I featured a beautiful story written by a Bosnian refugee living in Chicago, about soccer being a truly international language that brings people from all over the globe together who have nothing in common but their love of the game.

And in this piece, I used Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and the captain of the USA Women's 2019 World Cup Champion soccer team, Megan Rapinoe as examples of athletes who took advantage of their moment in the spotlight, to speak of injustice in our society. I don't believe it is at all an exaggeration to say that in their role as advocates for marginalized people, all three helped, and in Rapinoe's case, will continue to help the world change for the better.

That said, the vast majority of professional athletes are pointedly apolitical, which certainly makes their careers and lives as public figures much easier; just ask Colin Kaepernick. Two examples of local sprots heroes who stayed as far away from publicly speaking their minds as possible were Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan. That was their prerogative, and I don't believe any of us should judge these athletes harshly for that. They were after all paid to entertain us, not to tell us what to think.

Using Ernie Banks as an example, as the most beloved athlete to ever wear a Chicago uniform, Mr. Cub probably did more to bring Chicagoans of all races together, in very turbulent times I might add, just as he was, rather than had he been an outspoken advocate for civil rights or against the war in Vietnam or any other pressing issue of the late sixties.

Michael Jordan's stellar career took place in a much different era than Ernie Banks's. Where Banks had a great deal to lose had he gone out on a limb to speak his mind on the issues of his day, for Jordan, who practically owned this town during his tenure here, much less so. When he was asked to publicly support a senate candidate running in his home state of North Carolina against an openly racist Republican, Jordan, who famously moonlights as a promoter of athletic wear responded: "Republicans buy shoes too." 

Although it didn't seem to affect his playing career, Michael Jordan was excoriated for that remark. Years later he noted that the remark was said in a private conversation and in jest.

In the ESPN documentary about him called The Last Dance, Jordan addressed the comment as well as the issue of his being perceived as a role model by saying this:
...everybody has a preconceived idea for what I should do and what I shouldn't do.

The way I go about my life is I set examples. If it inspires you? Great, I will continue to do that. If it doesn't? Then maybe I'm not the person you should be following.
Makes sense to me. 

The funny thing is we are all perfectly OK with athletes and other celebrities making comments we agree with; we often encourage them to do so. But should a celebrity come out with a statement supporting an issue or a cause we don't like, look out. "Why doesn't that so and so just shut up and play (fill in the sport here)" we all say.

Nobody likes so called "cancel culture", especially when it's the other side doing the cancelling. But I'm afraid no matter which side of the fence we are on ideologically, we all cancel public figures in one way or other, whose public statements don't jibe with our own views. It's just human nature I guess. 

That's a pretty roundabout way to get to this year's World Cup, which is taking place at this writing. Specifically, this morning (Chicago time), two big upsets took place, Costa Rica beat Japan 1 - nil and highly rated Belgium just lost to Morocco 2-nil.

But by far the biggest story this year is the host country, Qatar, their human rights record, miserable, the manner in which the games were awarded to the country, corrupt, and the human toll it took to build the infrastructure for the event, unimaginable.

I won't go deeply into of any of these issues, you'll find plenty of details by just googling "Qatar World Cup Scandal".

Suffice it to say, there are many legitimate reasons to object to FIFA (the international governing body of soccer) choosing Qatar to host its games. Along with that come the inevitable cries to boycott the games. From a very unscientific survey, looking at the crowds in the stands, my guess is the boycott is not working. And from that statement of mine you can probably tell that I'm not boycotting them either.

Should I be?

I don't know. I do know that having a Muslim country in the Arabian Penninsula host a World Cup for the first time ever is a great source of pride for many people in that region. For much of my life, the hosts of the World Cup alternated between countries in Europe and the Americas. Only recently has that string been broken, with the selection of Japan and Korea in 2002, and South Africa in 2010. As soccer is truly THE international game, this only makes sense.

The drawback to diversifying the pool of host countries is that there inevitably will be countries whose cultures, values and ways of doing things, clash with the western values that like it or not, we espouse here in the Americas and in Western and Central Europe. A particularly salient value is acceptance of the LGTBQ community. We in the States and much of Europe are only now coming to terms with this issue, begrudgingly for the most part, still kicking and screaming at times.

But we are, granted slowly but surely, coming to terms with it.

This is NOT the case in many parts of the world where LGTBQ people are routinely persecuted as criminals.

I find that reprehensible. But I'm not sure how much my not watching this year's World Cup on TV would serve to change Qatar's policy on LGTBQ rights. Is that a copout? Perhaps.

There was a move afoot on the part of some players to wear rainbow-colored armbands in solidarity with the LGTBQ community of Qatar. That effort was squashed by FIFA who cowardly said the armbands would conflict with their strict dress code for players. Then they handed down a ruling that declared any player wearing such an armband would be met with a yellow card by the referee. Two such yellow cards for any infraction results in an automatic suspension for two games and a penalty to the team who would not be allowed to replace that player on the pitch. I did have a fantasy about all the players on all the teams sporting those armbands, Spartacus style, as they stepped onto the field. What would FIFA do, suspend every player in the World Cup? Then what? 

Not surprisingly my fantasy didn't take place; all the players acquiesced to FIFA's mandate. Had they not, would THAT have changed anything in Qatar in regard to LGTBQ rights? Probably not, but it would have sent a clear and positive message to LGTBQ people all over the world that they are valued human beings and their rights are worth fighting and sacrificing for. 

Alas it was only a dream about selflessness and courage which would have been the greatest act of civil disobedience international sports has seen since this:

American sprinters Tommy Smith, center, and John Carlos, right, raise their fists in protest on the podium as the band played The Star-Spangled Banner at their medal ceremony during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. On the left is Australian runner Peter Norman who wore an "Olympic Project for Human Rights" badge in solidarity with the two Americans. All three were ostracized for their efforts, Smith and Carlos were banned for life from the Olympic Games and despite qualifying many times over, Norman would never again compete for his country. 

The thing is, selflessness and courage are virtues we all respect, but can't expect. How many of us would have the guts to take an unpopular stand in public that could ruin our career and reputation, as it did for these three?

Simply put, that's why we tend not to punish people for not acting heroically. It would be blatant hypocrisy if we did.

That said, extreme, selfless courage on the part of some players did take place last week in Qatar. It may not have been an act of civil disobedience per se as it didn't break any official rules, perhaps an act of subversion would be a more apt description. 

Before their first match of the Cup, going against tradition, the 11 starters for the Iranian national team (pictured at the top of this post), with their arms around one another, refused to sing along as their country's national anthem played. The players did so in solidarity with the victims of their government's purge of protestors reacting to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old woman who died in police custody after she was arrested by the Morality Police (an ironic term if there ever was one), for not wearing her hijab correctly in public.

Apparently, Iran's morality police made their way to Qatar to have a few words with the team who seemed to grudgingly mumble the lyrics to their anthem in their following game against Wales. 

It will be interesting to see what they do tomorrow before their game against the U.S.A. If they win or tie that game, they get to move on to the elimination round while the U.S. team will head home after only being able to eek out ties against England and Wales. My guess is that all will be forgiven back home if the boys from Iran manage to knock the Great Satan United States out of the competition. After their win against Wales, Iran released several protestors who were in police custody.

Should they lose, it's anybody's guess what will happen to the team members in response to their affront to their authoritarian government. 

Given all that, it's a little hard to pick a team to root for, your home team, or a team representing a proud country with a tremendous history who happens to be under a despicable regime, whose players by taking a courageous, symbolic stand, may suffer grave consequences if they lose. 

And you thought sports didn't matter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Biggest Loser

He's back, not that he ever went away. In announcing his candidacy for president last week, the exPOTUS is putting himself in the position of being the Lar "America First" Daly of our time. 

Daly a Chicagoan, was a perennial candidate for every imaginable office from President of the United States, to dog catcher, none of which he ever won. OK that's the one glaring difference, Trump won once. 

You can read about Daly and his antics here

Lar Daly did make one lasting contribution to American politics. Running for president in 1960, the fringe candidate demanded equal time on the national television networks after the famous series of televised debates between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Because of Daly's circus, Congress amended section 315 of the Communications Act to state that fringe candidates needn't always be granted equal time. 

While it's true that Donald Trump did get elected president in 2016, in every election since that he has been a part of, directly or as an influencer, he lost bigly, both for himself and his party.

The first loss was the 2018 mid-term elections where the Republican Party lost control of the House of Representatives as the Democrats gained 41 seats in that body. Maybe that shouldn't count because mid-term elections are usually won in a rout for the party not in control of the White House. This loss was no exception to the rule. On the other hand, in 2018 as the Republican president never failed to correctly mention, the economy was robust and for the most part, except for him, things were relatively stable in the U.S. Given that, the loss of 41 seats in the House very likely was a referendum on the Trump circus and nothing more.

Incumbent presidents rarely fail to be re-elected. Trump did. He lost his bid to be a two-term president in 2020, despite doing his utmost to invalidate the results of a free election and destroy one of the most sacred traditions of our government, the peaceful transfer of power. 

It was a remarkably stupid loss as well because Trump was at the helm during a global crisis, the COVID pandemic. Had he shown only a modicum of competence in handling the crisis, and an ounce of compassion for its victims, he would have won re-election by a landslide, as presidents in power during crises not of their own making almost always do. Instead, he politicized the pandemic, as he did everything else, convincing his foolish supporters there was nothing to fear, that it was all a "Democrat (sic) hoax" designed to discredit him. As a result, more people in the United States died from COVID than in any other country in the world. Well, he did make America First in that category.

Compounding that loss as far as the Republican Party is concerned, the distrust he had sewn of the American election system among his supporters, caused many Republican Georgians one month later, to stay home during two important run-off elections for Senate in that state, which put the U.S. Senate back in the hands of the Democrats. 

Finally, there was the mid-term election earlier this month. Politicians and pundits of all stripes predicted gloom and doom for the Democrats after missteps of the current administration as well as an increase of violent crime around the country and inflation the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1970s. Under normal circumstances, a "red wave" of Republicans winning back control of Congress in massive numbers would have been all but a certainty. But again, Trump stuck his big butt into elections all over the country, publicly endorsing candidates whose only credentials were that they professed their fealty to him. You can say all you want about the ethics of Democrats putting much of their resources into Republican primaries to help defeat viable candidates in favor of Trump endorsed stooges, but you can't argue with success. Race after race, Trump-supported election deniers lost in the all-important state gubernatorial and secretary of state races to Democrats, as well as some highly publicized House and Senate races. 

In the end, the House of Representatives is back in control of the Republicans, but only by a razor thin margin, far from the veto-proof mandate they expected. There will be another runoff election for Senate in Georgia but this time the outcome will not affect the control of the Senate as the Democrats are assured to hold on to control of that body. Not that we shouldn't care who wins that election; should the incumbent senator Raphael Warnock be re-elected, not only will the Peachtree State continue to be represented by a respected, competent senator, but it will have avoided the embarrassment of electing the most unqualified candidate to run for public office since, well since Donald Trump. 

Given his woeful track record at the polls since 2018, one would think that Republicans would get the message and unceremoniously dump Trump as their de facto leader. There are public rumblings of discontent with him in the GOP, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Republican primaries of 2016. But there were similar rumblings after the January 6th insurrection and like good little children, most Republican lawmakers fell back into line with their dear leader. 

I've learned my lesson to never count Trump out. I'm on record in this space saying in 2016 that I didn't think he stood a chance to be nominated, let alone elected president. This time, if enough Republicans grow some balls and challenge him for their party's nomination, he'd easily get the most votes as everyone else would likely split the votes of Republicans who are sick and tired of the Trump shit show. He'd probably have a much harder time in a head-to-head race against Ron DeSantis, who seems to be the odds-on favorite at the moment to be the Republican with the best chance of beating the exPOTUS. 

Come to think of it, maybe another shot at the ring for the exPOTUS as the Republican nominee wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Bad as Trump is, in many ways, DeSantis is worse, and he might have a serious chance of being elected president in 2024. On the other hand, Trump has proven four times in a row since being elected president that he is now a perpetual loser. There's little chance much will happen between now and November 2024 to change that. As we've seen in the last four national elections, Trump, certainly the most divisive president in history, will very likely turn out the vote against him in greater numbers than votes for him. 

I may be eating my words in 2024, but at least right now, through Trump, Lar Daly lives. 

All I can say is this:

Long Live Lar.

Monday, October 31, 2022

In His Own Words

Back in the day, when I thought it was worth my time arguing with people over social media about Donald Trump, I was accused of not thinking for myself, being deeply under the influence of "Mainstream Media" (MSM) and the "Deep State". According to my now former "friends", I was little more than a pawn under their spell. 

It mattered little to them that the real estate mogul turned TV game show host had been on my radar for at least thirty years before he became president, and I would never have voted for him for as much as the proverbial dog catcher, even back when he claimed to be a liberal Democrat. 

My assurances that my opinion of Donald Trump was formed not by the pundits, but by the words coming out of his mouth, fell upon deaf ears. 

While I never liked Donald Trump, his comments during the 2016 campaign only solidified my distaste for him. For instance:

  • Speaking of John McCain in an interview, Trump who did everything in his daddy's power to avoid service to this country, said he did not like POWs because they got captured.
  • At a campaign rally in Sioux Center, IA he claimed that he would not lose any supporters even if he committed cold-blooded murder.
  • In a secretly taped interview with a reporter he spoke of his fondness for grabbing women by the pussy and...
  • The most cynical of all, made during his acceptance speech at the RNC in Cleveland in 2016, he said that as a businessman who knew how to "fix" things with politicians, he alone could fix the problems of this country. 

All of these comments would have been deal breakers for me if they had come out of the mouth of a candidate whom I greatly admired, let alone someone I didn't. 

When I pointed these statements out to my former friends, they just brushed them aside and reiterated their point made over and over again by Trump and Fox News, that it wasn't Trump himself that was turning people off to him, but the MSM and the rest. Apparently according to my friends, their man, and the media empire who took it upon themselves to be his mouthpiece, knew more about me than I did.

Such is life in the age of Trump, which we are still sadly living in for the unforeseeable future.

Now we have more of his words to contemplate, courtesy of the journalist Bob Woodward in what is now his fourth, yes fourth publication on the exPOTUS.

This time it's strictly an audio book called, "The Trump Tapes: Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump." In publicizing the book, excerpts were played that exposed in detail things we knew already such as the exPOTUS's extremely high opinion of himself, his criminal malfeasance during the Coronavirus, and his love and devotion to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

One might say that a good view into his misdeeds as president and psychological study to boot can be had from listening to these tapes in their entirely. But honestly, Trump is not particularly hard to figure out; it wouldn't take more than five minutes of listening to one of his rally speeches (if you can stomach it), to get a pretty clear picture of what makes the guy tick. 

But one thing did stand out to me that proved once and for all that the man should never again be allowed within a thousand miles of the White House. In the summer of 2020, a few months before the election that would unseat him, Woodward asked Trump if should he lose the election, would he leave the White House. First of all, the need for such a question should raise eyebrows. It is a question that has only one acceptable answer: "of course I would", perhaps followed by "why would you even ask such a question?" 

Instead, Trump said he wouldn't comment on that and abruptly but politely ended the conversation.

Much to Woodward's chagrin, he didn't press him on the matter as he rightfully should have in perfect 20-20 hindsight.

The rest is history and if there were any doubt that the "Big Lie" perpetrated about 2020 election fraud was in the works long before the election, those doubts should be put to rest by Trump's failure to answer that softball question. 

Unfortunately, as they have proven time and again, Trump supporters will believe what they want to believe and in the end, Woodward's latest work is not going to change one single mind.

In one week, we will have national elections which if all goes as predicted, will return Congress into the hands of Republicans. Even more serious, several states' elections feature  candidates who are on record as election deniers who could be put in positions such as governor and secretary of state, with the power to cast grave doubt, if not thoroughly reject the outcome of a free and fair election in which they don't like the results. 

If and when that happens, we can kiss our democracy goodbye.

With him or without him, Donald Trump it seems, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Heaven help us.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Did You Hear Me?

Besides politics, one of the great points of contention in human existence is this question:
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It's interesting because the question has philosophical implications as well as scientific ones. For centuries philosophers have questioned the very existence of an event that has not been observed. To me this is puzzling. The argument that an event exists only if it has been observed seems to deny almost fourteen billion years of the known universe before human beings. It seems reasonable to me that if all the stuff that took place in the universe before we came along didn't actually happen, or even happened in a slightly different way, we ourselves wouldn't exist. Yet to this day there is still no definitive, empirical proof that there is existence in the absence of an observer. It's a little like me saying that since I have not observed the perspective of a human being other than myself, I cannot prove their existence. In other words, maybe I just dreamed you and everybody else up.

Just sayin'.

The scientific answer to the tree question is a little more straight-forward. I would say it all depends upon your definition of the word "sound." 

My definition of sound is the physiological perception of disturbances of air pressure. For me, perception is the key, it is the difference between the mere propagation of acoustic waves and a Beethoven sonata. There is no question that a tree falling (or a player piano playing Beethoven) in the forest, creates the air pressure disturbances necessary to create sound waves that organisms, human and otherwise perceive as "sound".  However, without any of those organisms around to perceive it, there is no perception. Therefore sound waves, a purely physical phenomenon, certainly are formed, but sound, a physiological phenomenon, is not.

That's my humble opinion.

On the other hand, if you define sound as nothing more than the physical production of sound waves, our poor, solitary tree does indeed go crash, boom, bang, and whatever other sound a falling tree makes. 

All this is enough to give me a headache but I'm about to make it worse. Where does vision play in all this? How would you even pose the question? In other words: if a tree falls in the forest without anyone around to see it, then what?

If you conclude that question with: "would it be seen?" the answer should be self-evident.

Perhaps a more salient ending to the question might be: "would there be an image of it?"

The perception of vision, like the perception of hearing, depends upon specific physical requirements in the outside world. To put it simply, in the case of hearing, we need an atmosphere, and something to disturb it like a falling tree. Conversely, like the slogan for the old sci-fi movie: "In space, no one can hear you scream." 

In the case of vision, we need light, and something to reflect it. We do not "see" objects by coming in direct contact with them, but rather with the light that reflects off them. We're able to differentiate one object from another visually because every object reflects light differently. Some objects reflect more light and conversely, absorb less light than others. Others absorb more light and reflect less. Therefore brighter objects reflect more light than dark objects. In addition, most objects reflect certain wavelengths of light more than others. Since wavelength defines the color of light, a red object for example reflects mostly red light and absorbs mostly green and blue light. *

To complicate matters, we see details in objects because each tiny piece of an object reflects light differently. To further complicate it, some object parts may receive direct light, while others are in shadow, illuminated by a secondary light source, quite often, more reflected light.

Every object part reflects rays of light in all directions in front of it. That's a lot of light rays. Now multiply all those rays by every minute detail of everything we see in front of us, which by themselves could number in the millions, and we realize that the number of light rays buzzing by us in every conceivable direction at any given moment of illumination is truly staggering.  One might call that chaos. 

So out of all that, how do we manage to cut through all the chaos and see anything?

Well for starters, we only see light if we look directly at the source of the light, which often isn't a good idea, or when it reflects off something. Fortunately, we don't see light as it zips through space. If we did, all we'd ever see would be a constant cloud of white light, even at nighttime where we'd see rays of sunlight as they pass by us into space. The light from the stars would do the same but their effect would be negligible, drowned out by the light of our own star, light years closer to us, just as they are during daytime.

In order for anything to be "seen", an image first has to be created. Nature has given us a splendid image creating device, our eyes. The chaos of all those billions of light rays bouncing about before our eyes is minimized by the fact that only a small handful of rays from each detail we're looking at, actually lands upon our eyes. It is the job of the cornea and the lens of our eye, to converge the rays of light from each tiny detail into one spot. If all is working properly, the rays reflected off of each object that pass through the iris of the eye, meet the retina at the place where they converge into one spot, and each of those spots are arranged upon the retina depending upon the unique angle in which they entered the eye. Put all these spots together and you have a faithful image projected upon your retina of the world in front of you, only upside down and backwards.
That image is then transmitted via the optic nerves to our personal image processor in our brain which performs its magic nearly instantaneously.
So there's our answer, without eyes to create them, again, human and otherwise, there would be no images, case closed.
But not so fast...

Nature has provided other much simpler image creating devices, tiny holes. We've all seen images created by these "pinholes" as photographers call them, but probably few of us have realized it. If you're outside on a cloudless day in summer, when foliage is at its fullest, you'll see shadows of tree branches and leaves strongly defined on the ground. Sometimes however, the leaves overlap in such a way that they only allow a tiny amount of sunlight to pass through. When that happens, we see disks of light dancing around on the ground which is often called "dappled light". We may assume these are ordinary shadows until we realize that the openings provided by the leaves are of many different shapes but are hardly ever perfect ellipses. What we are looking at in fact are not shadows, but images of the surface of the sun projected onto the ground courtesy of these "pinhole" apertures in the small gaps between the leaves.

Then there is the camera which most people don't realize was a discovery rather than an invention. The first discovery of the camera obscura (literally dark room) probably occurred in prehistoric times when our cave dwelling ancestors noticed in their otherwise dark caves, that a tiny opening to the outside on a sunny day created an image of the outside world on the wall opposite the opening. Who knows, perhaps these images were the inspiration of the first works of art, cave paintings.

Obviously, these camera obscura and tree pinhole images existed long before people and non-human animals existed, so yes, an image of our tree falling in the empty woods may have been created. But probably not as these images require a very specific set of circumstances. If, however, the light conditions were just right and an image was made by a well-placed pinhole, then comes the inevitable question: what if no one was around to observe the image?

I give up.


*This brings up an interesting point. The leaves of most plants are green, meaning they reflect green light while absorbing other types of light. We know that the function of leaves is to convert the energy transmitted by light into food for the parent plant. Therefore, the plant is deriving its sustenance from the light it is absorbing, such as red and blue light, while the light it is reflecting, green light, is more or less useless to the plant. Funny isn't it, that the color most associated with life, is green. Nature is a funny thing. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Two Giants

In the past month we lost two people who in my estimation were among the most influential world leaders of my lifetime. 

Both presided over enormous changes that took place in their respective countries. 

Both saw the vast empires they ruled over, diminish greatly during their watch.

One represents a bygone era, the other, a seemingly anachronistic institution still going strong. 

The death of one caused the world to stop in its tracks, while the other was barely noticed. 

I can honestly think of no world leader who single-handedly brought about as much change during my life as did Mikhail  Gorbachev. Gorbachev did not set out to destroy the Soviet Union, nor did he aim to bring about an end to Communism. Much like Alexander Dubček, the President of Czechoslovakia during the brief period of reform in 1968 known as Prague Spring, Gorbachev was a devoted Communist who also happened to believe in human rights, especially the right of people to choose their destiny. Given the unprecedented opportunity thanks to Gorbachev, the people of the Soviet Union overwhelmingly chose to not be under the sphere of influence of Moscow anymore, And just like that, the Soviet Union came down like a house of cards. The current dictator of Russia, himself not a believer in Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, would describe the breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century. Like all the king's horses and all the king's men, Putin is doing his damndest to put his Humpty Dumpty empire back together again, to little success. Where he'll stop, nobody knows, even if it means destroying his own country and its people in the process, The only thing certain is there will be much more needless bloodshed before he's finished with his evil work. 

You can read about Gorbachev. through the lens of the Czech and Slovak people here.

And here I wrote about Queen Elizabeth II, through the lens of her parents and what they passed on to their daughter, the commitment of service to their people. 

I was about to say something I thought was profound on the Queen's passing this month but thought the better of it after I read the following, written by one of her "subjects".

These are the words of Simon Watney, a Facebook friend of a friend, by far the most eloquent, thoughtful and powerful comments I've read or heard on the Queen since her death a few weeks ago. In between all the hagiographic biographies and the tiresome critiques of the evils of colonialism we've been subject to in the past few weeks, Mr. Watney's words ring honest and true:

The old queen is dying and in spite of all the groveling and gushing of banal television commentators, it strikes me as an immensely moving moment, temporarily frozen between two eras, as time moves into an altogether different, symbolic gear, and ancient protocols obtain which mark the passing of monarchs, which have happily not been exercised since the death of her father back in 1952. The butt of countless jokes and parodies, the woman’s true dignity now emerges with touching clarity, as she was seen only last week visiting a bleak hospice and cheerfully dispensing her own inimitable brand of what one might simply term “life-joy” to its fortunate recipients. This I take to be the sense of being valued by someone who matters, of being close to some immensely powerful spring of energy, which is what remains of the royal healing touch, and the most atavistic and shamanic core of monarchy. Societies live by symbols as much as anything else, and as we reach the end of this long Elizabethan age, it is difficult not to wish that it could continue indefinitely, since it ties us in to far more glorious times than ours, to the post-war optimism which gave us the NHS and our membership of the European Union, to an England where altruism was the norm, rather than the incomprehensible and indeed reprehensible nonsense that it so clearly seems to our current national leadership. Indeed, nothing could provide more contrast than the crudely individualistic selfishness, which is celebrated in the toxic cult of Mrs Thatcher, and the endearingly dotty, dog-loving aura of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. At this moment of her passing, how could one not think of her great Tudor sister and noble predecessor, whose memory remains warm and vital with a popularity which she took the greatest care to fuel in her lifetime, just as I expect the memory of our Elizabeth will remain, as long as anything worth cherishing remains of our sadly dented national identity? Now is the appropriate time to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings, and queens. Our Elizabeth was the queen who moved the monarchy out from its castles. Whether it can survive the move is an open question. Soon the bells will start to ring, appropriately muffled.

Not much more to say so I''ll just leave it at that.


Thursday, September 8, 2022

Culture Wars

As if he weren't already the most despised human being in Washington, D.C., Texas senator Ted Cancún Cruz has added a few more groups of people to his mutual aversion society.

In response to President Biden's recent executive order on the government helping to relieve college debt, Cruz said this on his podcast:
If you are that slacker barista who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless things, now has loans and can't get a job—Joe Biden just gave you 20 grand. Like, holy cow! 20 grand. 
I'll give him credit for one thing, "Slacker Barista" or better yet, "The Slacker Baristas" is one heck of a name for a rock band. But I do question the wisdom of a politician dumping one particular group of American workers down the toilet.

I get what Cruz was trying to accomplish: perpetuate the culture wars that are all the rage now in this country. The term barista evokes high-end coffee establishments whose clientele is often associated with well-educated urban dwellers, the perceived "elite", particularly despised by the MAGA crowd Cruz is pandering to. 

But by slamming baristas, the people who work behind the counters of those establishments, Cruz by extension is berating all workers in the service industry. While he didn't cite wait staff at other food establishments, retail workers, or any other American whose job it is to serve the public, he may as well have. Many people who work in the service industry are college graduates with school debt. By further extension, Cruz is slamming all Americans with college degrees who are working in jobs that don't necessarily require college degrees. 

Perhaps these folks are not working the job of their dreams at the moment, perhaps they are working their way up to it, perhaps they are going through hard times or best of all, perhaps they are perfectly happy with what they are doing. My response to Cruz on the matter is this:

Who the fuck are you to judge these people, asswipe?

I'd be more explicit but perhaps children are reading this. 

How dare he call baristas "slackers", a term appropriate for folks who habitually short-change their portion of the bill at a restaurant, deadbeat dads, and save for a small handful of them, Republican legislators, but certainly not for gainfully employed, hard-working Americans. 

After all, what could define slacker behavior more than a Princeton and Harvard graduate with a distinguished record at both prestigious schools, engaging in sophomoric rants against his fellow citizens who have done him no harm? What could define a slacker more than a highly educated man, a lawyer who has argued cases before the Supreme Court no less, publicly buying into the obvious lie that the last election was stolen from the previous president?  And what could define a slacker more than a senator going on vacation to a resort in Mexico in the middle of a dire crisis faced by his constituents?

OK maybe slacker isn't the best term to describe Ted Cruz, perhaps scumbag is more on target. 

Cruz wasn't done slamming constituencies from whom he could have at one time garnered at least a few votes:
You know, maybe you weren't gonna vote in November. And suddenly you just got 20 grand. And you know, if you can get off the bong for a minute and head down to the voting station, or just send in your mail-in ballot that the Democrats have helpfully sent you—it could drive up turnout, particularly among young people.
It seems particularly foolish to me anyway, for a politician to insult an entire generation of Americans, especially those who will be around for a long time and will very likely remember you and your idiotic comments about them, especially at "the voting station" at election time. I had no idea how old Cruz was until I looked it up the other day, for all I knew, he could have been in his eighties. It turns out Cruz was born in 1970, placing him squarely within the group known as "Generation X".

I'm not going to get into making value judgements of different generations as obviously no one has control over when they were born. But the times in which someone grows up certainly has a tremendous influence on an individual in terms of personal experience and one's outlook on the world. I have to say that I am privileged to be part of the "Baby Boomer" generation (the tail end of it to be specific), the one just previous to GenX. As such I'm old enough to remember the tumultuous era of the sixties and early seventies, both its highs and its lows:
  • I saw the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show live on TV. 
  • I remember Martin Luther King being very much alive, marching here in Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement before and after his assassination. 
  • I remember the devastation the Vietnam War wrought on that country and ours as well. 
  • I lived through two major 1968 riots that took place a few miles away from my home, one on the West Side of Chicago after Dr. King was killed, and one downtown during the Democratic National Convention. 
  • I saw my Czech father, tears in his eyes reporting to us that troops of the Warsaw Pact under the control of the Soviet Union had just invaded Czechoslovakia.  
  • I vividly remember Watergate and the only resignation of an American president to date.
  • And I watched live as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.
The era in which I grew up was both exhilarating and terrifying, and I wouldn't trade my experiences of having experienced that time for the world. 

So many in-your-face current events brought right into your living room courtesy of the TV, in the days when everyone was watching more or less the same broadcast, made people my age very aware of the greater world outside of our own little private worlds. You simply could not avoid it.
Yet long after those days, I'm afraid there is little of substance to distinguish my generation from previous or subsequent ones. For example, I can't say the passionate, idealistic Baby Boomers of the sixties and early seventies have done a particularly good job at running our country or our world when it became our turn; we seem to have repeated the mistakes of our elders, and even created new ones that later generations will have to deal with. 
While we may have become complacent in our old age, one thing my generation has going for us is we do tend to vote, which does distinguish us from Ted Cruz's generation as well as the subsequent ones. I for one have only missed voting in one election since I became eligible to do so, a school board election in suburban Oak Park, Illinois about forty years ago. Yea me. 

One thing that my generation definitely shares with subsequent ones, is our fondness for getting high. 

Where exactly Cruz comes off blasting a generation not his own for skipping voting because they're too busy getting stoned is a mystery to me. Perhaps it's his own experience of doing just that. 

In his comments, Cruz implies that the president's executive order is a cynical attempt to get more votes for Democrats in the upcoming November elections. Now I get that college debt forgiveness is a controversial subject and that people have valid arguments against it. However, Cruz seems to ignore the fact that Joe Biden ran on a platform of removing college debt; in fact, many on the other side claim that the president didn't go far enough this time. Whether it results in more Democratic votes in November or not, there is absolutely nothing cynical about Biden's act. Having grown up during the heyday of the Chicago political machine when our Department of Streets and Sanitation always did a superlative job cleaning the streets and alleys the week before an election, I happen to know a thing or two about cynical acts designed to get votes. Sorry Ted but the president here is merely fulfilling a campaign promise. 

Then there is something more insidious in Cruz's comments apart from their nastiness, partisanship and old-fogeyism. 

In his comments, education itself is under attack. 

In much of the civilized world, education is a prized asset, not just because it enables a person to get a fancy job and make lots of money, but because those "useless things" students study in college tend to open them up to a whole new world, ideally anyway, and help create well-rounded people who can think effectively and critically on their own.
Of course, opening up a whole new world doesn't resonate with the MAGA crowd. Look at their pathological obsession with the issue of immigration, or their stance on LBGTQ rights.

As has been abundantly clear since the exPOTUS began his run for office in 2015, independent, critical thinking is not valued in the MAGA world either. It was Kellyanne Conway early on in the Trump administration, who put it in the most Orwellian of terms when she said: "there are facts, and then there are alternate facts." In other words, there is no difference between facts and opinions. As everybody is entitled to his or her opinion, everyone according to the MAGA crowd should believe whatever "facts" he or she wants to believe, verifiable fact or alternate fact; to them they are the same in terms of validity. 

But it's education itself that is most under attack from the MAGA right. Republican state legislatures in red states have inserted themselves into the role of arbiters over what children should and should not be taught and allowed and not allowed to read in school. 

Under the guise of "parental control", they are banning discussion and materials on human sexuality and alternative lifestyles in the school setting.

Using the red herring of "Critical Race Theory", they are decreeing that schools limit or even eliminate entirely the discussion of race in schools.

And rallying the troops around the curious battle cry "We Ain't Woke!!!", they are eliminating curriculum which dares to go beyond the laudatory praise of all things American. 

It seems that the only guiding principle of these surrogate "educators" is to turn students into those "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys you see at giftshops, hardly a useful method to encourage children to become well-rounded, creative, thoughtful, critical thinking adults. 

This is not surprising because as they say: "an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." That catchy aphorism is often incorrectly attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but I believe it is spot on just the same. The contrary is also true, totalitarianism thrives on an uneducated citizenry.

As we saw, Ted Cruz himself is far from uneducated. Yet he's more than happy to demonize people who like himself, sought out higher education, simply because it fits like a glove into his and MAGA's game plan of trashing the well-educated elite, further fueling the culture wars and dividing our already bitterly divided country. Despite being himself in the elite to the elite category as far as education goes, Cruz talks to the Trumplican base as if he were a second grader, to disguise his own provenance as an Ivy Leaguer two times over.

They say that Cruz is hands down the smartest person in Congress. One of his Harvard professors, Alan Dershowitz, called him "off-the-charts brilliant." So what is one to make of the fact that moments after the insurrection of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol Building, Cruz among several of his Republican colleagues, without a shred of evidence, gave credence to Donald Trump's lie about a stolen election, and voted to reject the vote count of two states in an attempt to block the results of a free and fair American election? 

Here's what I make of it:

Either Cruz is not as smart as people give him credit for, or he is a fraud. Well I've seen him in action several times when he's not trying to portray himself as just a Good 'Ol Boy, a "Red Neck, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer" kind of guy. I can attest to the fact that he is indeed pretty smart. You can make of that whatever you please. 

Sad isn't it that all the brains in the world and the best education money can buy, still can't afford the guy a trace of integrity nor a touch of decency.


If I were you, I'd be careful with that cup of java Teddy.


Friday, August 26, 2022

Profiles of Cowardice

It turns out I share something with the likes of Mitch McConnell, Ron DeSantis, Kevin McCarthy, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz and a whole slew of other Republican blowhards. What we all share is our mutual disdain of Donald Trump. 

For the past forty years or so, there have been precious few times that I have agreed with the exPOTUS about anything. But he hit the nail on the head when sometime in the middle of the congressional hearings focused on the events of January 6, 2021, he blasted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for not having any Republicans, except the much-despised Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, present on the committee to defend him in the proceedings.

On that matter he is absolutely correct. Without Trump-supporting Republican congressmen on the panel asking witnesses pointed questions aimed at challenging their credibility or using their time to distract from the proceedings by pontificating on matters ranging from the legitimacy of the hearings to their own belly button lint, these hearings have taken on a focus and sense of urgency almost unheard of in Congressional proceedings these days. Needless to say, that is not good news for Donald Trump. 

On the eve of the hearings, McCarthy selected five Republicans to sit on the committee. Three of them, Jim Banks of Indiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Troy Nehils of Texas, had publicly accepted the lie that a fraudulent election deprived the exPOTUS of a second term. So, on the evening of January 6th, 2021, shortly after the insurrection, the three voted, along with several other members of their party, against certifying the 2020 presidential election and to overturn the election results in Arizona, and Pennsylvania, two states won narrowly by Joe Biden. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who has the final word on the January 6th hearings, understandably rejected two of McCarthy's picks, Nehils, and Jordan, the latter of whom proved to be an effective fly-in-the-ointment during Trump's unprecedented two impeachment trials, turning them into three-ring circuses. In response to Pelosi, McCarthy took his toys and went home. He withdrew the names of the other three, declared that he was shocked, shocked, that Pelosi was "playing politics" with the hearings, and insisted that Republicans (in good standing with him), boycott these obviously "biased" hearings.

It was one of the most cynical acts by a politician in a very long time, and that's saying a lot. By keeping his people out of the fray, McCarthy is covering all the bases. 

If any serious damage comes to Trump as a result of the hearings, and that still remains to be determined, McCarthy and the Republicans will claim that without their presence, the hearings were a sham due to the lack of diversity on the panel (which of course was their own doing). Furthermore, they can wash their hands, Pontius Pilate style, of any damage that may befall Trump as they didn't participate in what they will no doubt label, mimicking the words of the exPOTUS, a "witch hunt." 

As a bonus, by staying out of the hearings, House Republicans didn't have to put themselves through the humiliating process of being on record defending the indefensible, as witness after witness, most of whom card carrying Republicans once members of the president's inner sanctum, testified about the obvious fact that Trump was behind and cheered along the insurrection. If you couldn't see that on the day of the insurrection, you were either not paying attention or watching FOX News.

In the scenario of Trump getting his well-earned comeuppance, which would be the best of all possible worlds for most Republican legislators, they will have ridded themselves for good of Donald Trump who has served his purpose for them and is now becoming an ever more serious liability to the Party. If that happens, Republicans in public will be ranting and raving, huffing and puffing about the unfairness of it all, citing the "Democrat (sic) regime's banana republic style persecution of a political opponent". But in private they'll be dancing the Horah and re-enacting this famous scene from the Wizard of Oz. 

If however, in what has become an all too familiar occurrence, Trump comes away unscathed from the hearings, the Republicans who kept quiet will have remained for the time being anyway, in the exPOTUS's good graces and will have avoided their biggest fear in the world, having Trump say something bad about them, which could cost them votes and maybe their jobs.   

No, you won't find any profiles in courage among that group.

McCarthy knew from the outset that at least some of his picks, especially Jordan who from all indications, was closely tied to the insurrection himself, would be flat out rejected by Pelosi. And he knew that his party, and especially HE would be better served by not having to participate in the proceedings. So he used Pelosi's move as a pretext to bolt. 

It was and still is a win/win for McCarthy and his followers.

I have no doubt that all of the individuals I mentioned in the first sentence above, would love to see Trump's neck at the business end of a rope, with the rest of him dangling slowly in the wind, metaphorically at least if not literally. They just don't want to be seen as the ones doing it.

McCarthy knows full well that the exPOTUS was behind the insurrection and deserves a special place in hell for it. During that event he made several frustrating calls to the White House, trying in vain to get the then president to call off the rioters. The president of course was much too busy to talk to him. He was sitting in front of the television cheering on the rioters down Pennsylvania Avenue as if they were his favorite team playing in the Super Bowl. The job to talk to McCarthy and others in Trump's inner circle trying to convince their leader that supporting a violent overthrow of the country may not have been in his best interest, fell to the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who tried to convey the concerns of McCarthy, several FOX News on air personalities, and even Donald Trump Jr. to the insurrectionist-in-chief, all to no avail. Of McCarthy that day, Trump Sr. was quoted as saying that the rioters at the Capitol Building cared more about the results of the election than he did.

Nevertheless, McCarthy and many of the others who pleaded with the president to call off the rioters that day, have spent the subsequent year and a half, downplaying the incident claiming, despite the presence of a gallows intended for Vice President Pence and dead and seriously wounded members of the Capitol Police, that it was merely an exercise of political discourse and free speech.

Despite their desperate pleas to the president, telling him that he was ruining his legacy, FOX reporters Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram went on TV that night suggesting to their viewers that the rioters at the Capitol that day were actually members of ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter., not MAGA.

And Texas senator Ted "Cancun" Cruz, groveled at the feet of Tucker Carlson after the Fox troll chastised the senator for his referring to the January 6 attack on the Capitol as a "terrorist act."

Clearly there is no sense of shame in this group.

The latest episode to date in the saga of the exPOTUS's misdeeds is the FBI search of his Florida home for highly classified, top-secret documents that are the property of the United States Government. The operation of the Department of Justice proved to be a golden opportunity for Republican leaders to get their mugs on TV to dial up the rhetoric and huff and puff even more about the unfairness of it all. 

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, chief proponent of HB 1577, better known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, and other reprehensible pieces of legislation in his state, was perhaps the most vocal of the cabal of Republican hypocrites when he tweeted this: 

The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic.

That statement is packed with invectives pointing at two new conspiracy theories (as well as an old one), in the Republican playbook designed to piss off and scare the bejeesus out of their followers. The IRS line is referring to the Biden administration's recent announcement that there will be a new initiative to target wealthy Americans who don't pay their fair share of taxes. Not so say the Republicans, "they are coming after YOU, the hardworking middle-class American, and armed with AR-15s no less." And the Republicans have been using the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago as a pretext to claim that if the FBI can "raid the private home of a former president, imagine what they can do to you."

What they fail to mention is that the Justice Department in conducting this search, went through all the legal channels and then some before arriving at Trump's door a couple weeks ago. Searches like this happen all the time to private Americans when there is cause to believe a crime has been committed, as in this case.

It's funny but I don't remember Republicans expressing outrage like this over the death of Breonna Taylor, an American citizen who was shot and killed in her apartment by Louisville police who were executing a search warrant but broke into the wrong residence.

DeSantis has reason to be upset by the goings on at Trump's palatial estate, but not because of the any so-called injustice to the exPOTUS. DeSantis himself has aspirations for Trump's old job. Trump of course, is still toying with the possibility of running for president again and it is said the "raid" on Mar-a-Lago has boosted Trump's standing significantly in the polls over DeSantis.

Even though DeSantis has no personal use for Trump as he once did, he has to tread lightly as any perceived slight of the exPOTUS could damage his wet dream of becoming president one day.

Speaking of wet dreams, McCarthy has one of his own which could become a real possibility in November, becoming the next Speaker of the House. 

Here's a statement he posted on Facebook after the Mar-a-Lago search:
If you are an elected Republican, and you are staying quiet while Democrats in Washington are abusing their power — you are the very reason they think they can get away with it. NOW is the time to speak up and be LOUD!

McCarthy fails to mention that the FBI director, Christopher Wray, who had to sign off on the search, is a Trump appointee. He is implying without a shred of evidence, that the current Justice Department is not acting as an independent body as it is meant to be, but rather as it did under the Trump administration, as the president's own police force. Worst of all, McCarthy as most Americans, is not privy to what exactly the FBI took from Trump's residence, therefore has no clue as to the seriousness of the potential charges against the exPOTUS and is interfering, "playing politics" if you will, with a legitimate criminal investigation.

Without a hint of evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Justice Department, McCarthy has openly threatened Attorney General Merrick Garland, via tweet:

Attorney General Garland: Preserve your documents and clear your calendar, When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned.

All this nonsense is directed at an audience of one, making it crystal clear that Donald Trump is still the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. Until members of that party can turn their backs on him, they will continue to be under his influence and by extension, be complicit in his crimes.

Ironic isn't it that the Republicans claim to be the party of law and order, except where it applies to themselves. 

The Republicans, save for a tiny handful, won't turn their backs on Trump because they are focused on holding on to their own power and cushy jobs, rather than preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution, democracy, and the rule of law in the United States.

Simply put, they are scared to death of the exPOTUS and what his nasty words can do to them. Sadly, those words from one delusional individual terrify these people more than the destruction of our democracy.

Unless Republicans can break free of Trump's spell, like their dear leader, there will be a special place in hell reserved for these profiles of cowardice. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Profiles In Courage

In the fifties, then Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy published a book chronicling the lives and actions of eight United States senators from John Quincy Adams to Robert A. Taft, who took unpopular stands. How much of the book Profiles in Courage was the work of Kennedy, and how much was the work of the man who would become the 35th president's head speech writer, Theodore Sorenson is still up for debate. Nevertheless, in 1990, in honor of the slain president, the Kennedy family created the Profile in Courage Award, given annually to public figures, the majority of them politicians, who risked their careers and sometimes much more by pursuing objectives based upon their merit rather than pressure from public opinion or political expedience.

The Profile in Courage Award is bi-partisan, Republicans as well as Democrats have been recipients of the award, as well as a handful of international figures. 

If you have been following the current events at the time of this writing, you can probably see where this is going. There are two current members of Congress who if there is any justice in the world, are surefire future recipients of this prestigious honor. 

Republican U.S. Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are both on the right ideologically, espousing what one might call traditional Republican values. For her part, in Congress, Cheney famously voted on bills supported by former president Donald Trump, 93 percent of the time. In Trump's first two years of office, Kinzinger voted along with the then president 99 percent of the time. After the brutal murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the government of Saudi Arabia, Kinzinger twice voted against barring sales of arms to that country. Sounding very much like the exPOTUS, Kinzinger said: 

... to completely realign our interests in the Middle East as a result of this, (Khashoggi's murder) when for instance, the Russians kill journalists... Turkey imprisons journalists?... It’s not a sinless world out there.

Given this, I am all but diametrically opposed to Cheney and Kinzinger ideologically and would probably not vote for either in a general election. Yet the three of us have at least a few things in common: a love of this country, its constitution, and a profound respect for and belief in our Democratic-Republican form of government. 

Because of that, both Cheney and Kinzinger rejected Donald Trump's lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. Both Cheney and Kinzinger, along with eight other House Republicans, voted to impeach the soon-to-be exPOTUS for his part in inciting the insurrection on the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. 

Both Cheney and Kinzinger are currently members of the congressional committee investigating the acts of January 6 and the involvement of the exPOTUS, the only Republicans to serve on that panel. 

Unfortunately, these actions supporting the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution and our very democracy over a man who would destroy all of that in order to remain in power, have made Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger both persona-non-grata in their party.

Apparently, there is no room in the Republican Party for diverse opinions, especially not for people who tell inconvenient truths. By rejecting Donald Trump and his lies, by putting their country before their party and its dear leader, neither Cheney nor Kinzinger will remain in Congress after the upcoming November election. Months ago, Kinzinger announced his intention not to run for re-election and Cheney, who in previous elections in the same Wyoming congressional district won by landslides, was trounced by a Trump endorsed candidate in the primary election last week. 

Far beyond that, both Cheney and Kinzinger have received death threats by members of the Trump base, resulting from a constant barrage of vitriol leveled at them by the exPOTUS and his sycophants. Kinsinger has even reported that his infant son has been the target of death threats. 

Yet both Cheney and Kinsinger endeavor to fight in order to save our democracy, despite paying a dear price for it.

Are Cheney and Kinzinger true examples profiles in courage? In my book, they are the very personification of courage, there may have never been more deserving recipients of that honor since the inception of the award. It is truly an easy choice.

On the other hand, if there were an inverse award, a Profiles of Cowardice Award, I'm afraid narrowing the field down to two candidates would be quite difficult, due to the relentless hypocrisy of the GOP. 

More on that in the next post, stay tuned.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

All Gone

Now something from the day late and dollar short file:

Back in 2017, I wrote about the plans to build the Barack Obama Presidential Library smack dab in one of Chicago's most important treasures, Jackson Park. On a lovely summer day, I took my daughter to the proposed site and my heart broke as we encountered a lovely urban landscape filled with rolling berms and an extensive variety of mature trees, some well over a century old, all marked with little orange dots, signifying they were slated for destruction. 

I didn't realize it at the time, as there were no little orange dots present, but just to the north of the landscape, one of the loveliest formal settings in the park, the Perennial Garden, which featured a circular sunken lawn surrounded by flowering crab apple trees and the eponymous perennial plants, was also to be destroyed. 

The landscape, creation of the estimable landscape architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, who restored the site back to a park after the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Garden, the work of May E. McAdams in the 1930s, were not destroyed right away, as a lawsuit challenging the wanton destruction of public park land delayed the inevitable for a couple of years. 

In 2019 a judge threw out the suit and the Obamas, shovels in hand, ceremoniously broke ground in 2021, officially sealing the fate of this portion of Chicago history. 

According to this Op-Ed piece in the Chicago Sun Times, published in 2020, citing an inventory of the site, said the 640 trees on that site alone:

store 203.8 tons of carbon, remove 5.8 tons of carbon from the air per year, remove 341.5 pounds of air pollution per year,...and have an avoided rainwater runoff amount of 9,591 cubic feet per year...

In addition, according to the piece: 

The planned tree destruction and Obama Presidential Center construction will evict small wildlife, including resident birds. Its 23-story tower will occupy a currently building-free migratory bird flight path, which inevitably will become a new source of migratory bird deaths.

A magnificent White Oak that almost certainly was present during the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, dominates the landscape that stood in the way of the site of the future Barack Obama Presidential Library.
Everything in this photo has been destroyed. 

In my 2017 piece I quoted Barack Obama defending the construction of his monument in Jackson Park:

It's not just a building. It's not just a park. Hopefully it's a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side,

I have no qualms with the Obamas' claims for the value of the presidential library and all the potential good it will do for the city and especially for the South Side which has been neglected far too long. But I take strong issue with the former president's careless "not just a building, not just a park" remark. 

For God's sake Mr. President, you as a former Chicagoan of all people should know that landmarked buildings and parks are an important part of this city's cultural legacy. They were designed and built by some of the most significant artists this country has had to offer, and we have every right to be proud defenders of them. The loss of any of these should never be taken lightly as they are irreplaceable elements of our public, civic, and cultural landscape. 

Sometimes there may be no alternatives and serious choices must be made, even for ones on the National Register of Historic Places as Jackson Park is. 

But it is ridiculous to assume that there were no reasonable alternatives to the wholesale destruction of twenty contiguous acres of a landmark public park. Perhaps the designers could have worked with the existing landscape architecture of the park, or better yet, build somewhere else. It's a pretty hard sell to say there is simply no available land in that part of town. 

In both cases, perhaps scaling down the massive size of the project may have been necessary. I'm not sure but I don't think that idea would fly with the principal characters in this story, especially in a day and age where public monuments are becoming more and more imposing with each one trying to "one up" the previous one. Maybe we should be happy the Obamas didn't insist on having their monument occupy all of Jackson Park. 

Anyway, it's all water under the bridge now, the deed is done. A massive construction site today has replaced the landscape and perhaps the most beautiful formal garden that once graced the city.

It's all gone now and perhaps even worse than its loss is the dangerous precedent it sets. 

Our city's parks, a precious public trust, are no longer safe, even from people from whom we should expect much more.

What a shame. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Ghost Signs

I read an article yesterday about the frescoes of Ancient Rome. It turns out that the majority of the extant works of art of this type are to be found in the Campania region of Italy which includes the city of Naples, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. That should be a clue as if you know anything about the history of that area, it should dawn on you that these frescoes must be in the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and smaller towns that were destroyed by the massive eruption of that famous volcano in the year 79AD (or CE if you prefer). 

What struck me was the somewhat indelicate way in which the writer of the article described the condition of the frescoes. She said rather matter-of-factly: "they were preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius." This  is true, had those cities not been destroyed, buried by 20 feet of volcanic pumice and ash and left untouched for nearly two millennia, the frescoes would certainly have been destroyed over the ages by perhaps the greatest threat to historical preservation there is, both then and now, development. 

So it turns out the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was very good news for the archaeologists and art historians, not to mention the tourist industry, but still very bad news for the roughly two thousand people who died in that catastrophe.

What made the excavations of the buried cities at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius so important, was that they uncovered a portion of an ancient civilization that had never been seen before. We knew scads about Roman politics, their religion, their art, language and literature (the rarified kind that is), their philosophy, and their rich and famous. But before the excavations which began in earnest in the 18th century, we knew very little about the vernacular, the lives of everyday people. 

This is understandable because in normal situations, civilizations preserve what they deem important enough to leave behind for future generations, and discard the trite, the banal, and the embarrassing. With the 79AD eruption, the poor people of Pompeii, Herculaneum and the surrounding region didn't get the chance to curate their legacy. Rather, time stood still and everything from the humblest graffiti, to the great temples, were preserved for eternity. Even their pornography survived, so much intact that today, minors need a permission form signed by their parents in order to see it.

Archaeology takes on many forms and isn't only applied to distant history. About one month ago there was an archaeological discovery of sorts in the city of Chicago. Granted it was not in any stretch of the imagination as momentous, profound nor dramatic as the discovery of Pompeii and its neighbors. But it did, as these things often do, crack open a window into our city's past.

On the north side of Chicago at the intersection of Addison and Ravenswood Streets to be exact, the siding of a late nineteenth century frame building was removed, revealing several signs painted on the original sides of the building. One of the signs, an ad for a brand of sliced bread, is in remarkable condition, a tad ironic since it is on the south elevation of the building meaning before the siding was installed, it would have been exposed to hours of direct sunlight every day. The signs on the north side of the building are much more faded, suggesting they were painted much earlier than the bread sign, that could have very well been covered up by the new siding shortly after it was painted. 

Partially covered by building in the foreground, an old ad for soft serve, sliced bread recently uncovered and a shout out to the archaeologists, er, masonry company that uncovered them.

The bread ad in all its glory from below. The best view no doubt would be from a drone, trying to convince my wife to let me buy one. 

A little context, the building that has been getting a lot of attention of late around town.

A particularly beautiful old sign for the Shell Oil Company. Judging from the design of the logo and the graphics, I'd guess it was painted in the 1920s.

A more humble treatment for a local concern.

Unlike the ruins of Pompeii, these ghost signs will not be visible for long as they are likely to be covered up again by new siding. The good news is the siding will preserve these relics of the past for the delight of a future generation when that siding in turn will be removed.  


That last sentence is both right and wrong. The signs are today no longer visible but not for the reason mentioned above. Last week I visited the site, as it is blocks from my mother's current residence, and sadly discovered that the signs were gone. Happily, the signs have been saved, the wood paneling having been removed from the building just in the nick of time before demolition of the building.

The gaps where the siding supporting the ghost signs were removed to be preserved. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Logical Fallacies

In my last post I brought up something that has been irking me for quite some time, people who use Chicago's high murder rate to make the point that relatively strict gun control laws, which this city also has, do little if anything to prevent murder. I mentioned that were there any credence to the conclusion , I'd support it, but pointed out that the argument is flawed in many ways and is not at all credible. 

For starters, the argument uses a single piece of evidence to draw its conclusion. In this case, using only the data of murder rates and gun laws in one city is insufficient because many other examples (those of other cities), need to be studied in order to come closer to a valid conclusion. Using only one example to draw a conclusion is known as an anecdotal fallacy. Every high school freshman learns in science class that you cannot make a conclusion based upon the evidence gathered in one solitary experiment.

The term cherry picking is also relevant here because data in the form of crime statistics for every city in this country, are readily available and not all of it backs up this particular conclusion. Instead, advocates of this theory select Chicago's anecdotal evidence of a high murder rate combined with strict gun laws specifically because it fits into their theory, while purposefully not bringing up comparable cities with strict gun laws and low murder rates or cities with high murder rates and lax gun laws. 

Another logical fallacy which often goes hand-in-hand with the anecdotal fallacy has a fancy Latin name: "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", in English: "after this, therefore because of this." It's the classic cause and effect question, assuming that if one event precedes another, it must be related to the subsequent event. In this particular case it is assumed the first event, strict gun laws, do not affect the murder rate, which is high despite them. This is a like a student who does poorly on a test despite studying for it, concluding that studying for all tests is useless. Never mind that there may have been dozens of reasons why the student didn't do well on the test, or the proposition that had he not studied at all, he may have done even worse on the test. 

I became interested in the subject of logical fallacies while writing that post. I looked it up and found hundreds of websites devoted to the subject, (no, I didn't look at them all). My philosophy class in college over forty years ago probably covered much of this material, but like the subject of how to factor a quadratic equation, the Spanish subjunctive and many other things I learned in school, I forgot. 

Yet another popular fallacy is the strawman fallacy. The premise of the SF is that someone making an argument misconstrues or exaggerates the opposing position, then uses arguments based upon those  faulty assumptions. This exaggerated position is designed to be easy to take down rhetorically, hence the term "strawman."

A classic example of the Strawman Fallacy can be found in my penultimate post where I talked about Tucker Carlson's evaluation of Joe Biden's address to the nation on the importance of gun control a couple weeks ago. In his rant, Carlson accused Biden of wanting to "disarm" Americans, which the president took great pains in his speech to make clear was not true.  Carlson went on to use the fallacious idea of "disarming Americans" (in this case, the strawman) to go in several directions, including portraying Biden as a tyrant who wants to take guns away from the American people in order to gain total control of them, as disarming the public has been the first act of tyrants throughout history. That last part is an example of another logical fallacy, the slippery slope. More on that one later. 

The point of this exercise is not to find more "gotcha" moments in the news to criticize a certain sector of our population which I've done a lot of lately if you hadn't noticed. Rather, I'm trying to clean up my own act, hoping to be aware of logical mistakes in my own arguments. 

Turns out I make them all the time. Here's a doozy from the last post:

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that (Texas governor Greg Abbott) would bring up Chicago while blocks away, grieving parents were in the process of receiving the remains of their murdered children who had to be identified the night before by DNA samples as the bullets from a high-powered military grade weapon ripped apart their bodies and destroyed their faces.

That's an example of the appealing to emotions fallacy. It's debatable whether or not my statement itself constitutes a fallacy as nothing in it is untrue, in fact I may have even downplayed the gruesome nature of the aftermath of the Uvalde tragedy. Nor was any of what I said not relevant to my argument as the slaughter of innocent people, in this case children, is precisely why I believe we need more gun control. Yet the statement obviously is manipulative. I could have left out the gore and just said the governor brought up the Chicago fallacy while he was in Uvalde attempting to lend support to the people of that community in their time of need, then left the judgement of the appropriateness of the governor's words up to my readers. 

Just one paragraph earlier, I brought up Governor Abbott's blaming wind energy for the crippling Texas power grid crisis of last year, despite the fact that wind accounts for a very small amount of the energy produced in Texas. 

I originally led the paragraph quoted above with: "I guess it shouldn't be surprising that such a great mind, this modern-day Don Quixote..." (going after windmills, get it?), "would bring up Chicago..."

This is a good example of the ad homiem fallacy, or an attack not against the argument, but "against the man" making the argument. In this case, the subject of Abbott's statement about energy last year had nothing to do with his statement in Uvalde, and my ironic "great mind" line attacks the governor's intelligence (really his sincerity), rather than the argument at hand.

A couple weeks ago I was reading the comments section of an article about the highly publicized mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. The comments were predictable, many of them pro-gun control, many of them anti. After one fairly strident comment emphasizing the need to keep our children safe from being killed in their schools, someone commented to that remark by saying this: "But you have no problem with abortion?"

I was partially appalled and partially stymied by that one as I had no good response for it. OK yes, they are two separate issues, but they are both issues concerning life and death and I can understand that some people see an inconsistency with people who are concerned about preserving the lives of school children but unconcerned about preserving the lives of unborn children. Conversely, I've read comments from the other side that say anti-abortion people are only concerned about children's lives if they are not born yet. I've made that argument myself on numerous occasions.

These are both examples of another logical fallacy with a fancy Latin name, tu quoque, or the "you too" fallacy. It's also referred to as the "look who's talking" or my personal favorite: "the pot calling the kettle black" fallacy. Tu quoque is avoiding an argument by turning it around on the opponent by pointing out his or her inconsistency or flat-out hypocrisy. In recent years it has become so common in political discourse that a new word has been coined to describe it, "whataboutism." 

Whataboutism is a favorite tool of Vladimir Putin, who descends from a long line of Russian dictator whatabouters. He has used it consistently during his war against Ukraine, excusing his actions by saying other nations, especially the United States have invaded countries as well. Another great whatabouter is Donald Trump whose most infamous use of the fallacy concerned none other than Putin. In a 2017 interview with Bill O'Reilly, the former FOX News personality questioned the new president about his admiration of the Russian dictator, referring to him as a "killer." Trump's response was chilling: 
There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?

 That line prompted this astute response from the current U.S. National Security advisor Jake Sullivan:

The American president is taking Putin’s 'what about you' tactic and turning it into 'what about us?'

Supporters of the exPOTUS are famous for using whataboutism in their defense of 45, saying things like: "yeah he may be a crook with no moral or ethical compass, but so are all politicians."

Logical fallacies are not the exclusive domain of one political ideology. Case in point, in one of the web sites I checked out dealing with the subject, the author used this quote from Barak Obama to illustrate the false dilemma fallacy:

What choices are we going to make to reach that goal? (a balanced budget). Either we ask the wealthiest Americas to pay their fair share of taxes, or we are going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.

As we saw above, logical fallacies needn't be limited to one category; here Obama is clearly guilty of appealing to the emotions, after all, who doesn't have more compassion for seniors on a fixed income than for the "wealthiest Americans"? But the false dilemma fallacy which this quote also illustrates, poses one of only two possible outcomes to an action, one very bad, and the other good or at least, not as bad. There is no middle ground.

The slippery slope fallacy mentioned above, is related to the false dilemma in that it is poses an exaggerated assumption of the outcome to an action. The slippery slope argues that one thing inevitably leads to another, that is, if a particular action is taken, it will cause another action that will result in a bad outcome which will in turn result in another action resulting in a worse outcome, and so on. The classic example of this is a parent warning a child that if he doesn't do well in school, he'll end up being homeless because if he gets bad grades, he won't into a good college, then won't get a good job, etc.

I used the slippery slope in a piece I wrote about abortion. I posed the hypothetical suggestion that banning abortion in selected states may lead to a situation where an act that is perfectly legal in some states may land someone on death row in another. While there have been rumblings of a few people who say they might support the death penalty as punishment for those who perform abortions, there is no evidence to suggest that is a real possibility. Yet. So my statement would fall into the slippery slope category. 

Perhaps one of the most insidious of fallacies is the appeal to common sense fallacy. Anyone who has successfully lived through years of life on this planet has learned through personal experience certain things that will greatly improve their quality of life, things like knowing if you go out into the rain without an umbrella or protective clothing, you will get wet. We call the kind of knowledge that does not have to be taught, common sense. Of course, not everybody's personal experience is the same, someone who grew up in an arid zone may actually welcome getting wet in the rain because it is so rare where they come from and would never consider covering up to stay dry. 

Sometimes we see our own experience as transferrable to everybody else and don't even consider the possibility that other's may see things from a different perspective. 

Appealing to common sense is a way of avoiding an argument by saying the argument is so obvious it needn't be elaborated upon, and anyone who isn't on board with it is either unreasonable or stupid. A hypothetical example would be saying it is common sense that the combination of Chicago's strict gun laws and high crime rate is proof that gun laws don't work. How could any reasonable person not see that?

I am guilty of abusing the appeal to common sense fallacy in my own arguments, in fact there's a good example in this very post, see below.

It's important to remember that some arguments may technically fall into one of the categories of logical fallacies, but still constitute reasonable arguments. A borderline example is the appeal to authority fallacy. In this one, the committer of the fallacy uses the statements or beliefs of a third party, "the authority", to make an argument. 

A relevant example of this one is the use of Dr. Anthony Fauci as an authority figure on the subject of infectious diseases. An argument may go something like this: 

  • Person one: How do you know that wearing masks helps prevent the spread of COVID?
  • Person two: Because Dr. Fauci says it does and Dr. Fauci says...

Here person two is letting Dr. Fauci's expertise make the argument rather than making the argument himself. Is this a fallacious argument as it is clearly an appeal to authority?

Well, Dr. Fauci has spent an entire career, over fifty years, studying infectious diseases so he should know something about the subject. 

  • Does this mean his opinions on the subject are infallible? No. 
  • Is he immune from making errors of judgement? No.
  • Is his the only credible opinion on the subject? Certainly not. 
  • Is his opinion on the subject more valid than that of a layperson who has spent a couple hours reading articles on the web questioning the efficacy of wearing masks? YES, IT CERTAINLY IS!!!

So while saying: "Because Dr. Fauci says so" may not be a particularly elegant, well thought out argument, as far as the subject of infectious diseases goes, it is a reasonable argument.

If on the other hand the argument at hand is who is the most valuable player in the National League this year or what is the best wine to serve with Weiner Schnitzel, Dr. Fauci's opinion may not carry much weight, and the appeal to the authority of Dr. Fauci on those subjects would indeed be fallacious. 

The fallacy that usually wraps up discussions on logical fallacies is the fallacy fallacy, which assumes that because a person uses fallacious logic to make an argument, the argument itself is wrong.

It is possible that strict gun control laws don't affect crime very much, despite the fact that the evidence supporters of that theory promote is flimsy. If we really wanted to prove that gun laws don't affect crime here in Chicago, there is a straightforward experiment we could conduct to see if that has any merit. 

Get rid of our gun laws and see where that takes us. 

In an ideal world, I think few reasonable people would be willing to conduct that experiment. But we're living in a less than ideal world with fewer and fewer reasonable people (a whopper of an appeal to common sense fallacy), and as of this week in its infinite wisdom (ooh an ironic comment that could be considered an ad hominem attack), the Supreme Court has shown it is willing to conduct that dangerous experiment as reflected in its overruling New York State laws preventing people from carrying guns in public. 

Yes, there was another notorious ruling released by the court this week also promising horrendous consequences for our nation (do I detect a slippery slope here?), but that's an issue for another day. 

I don't want to get involved in yet another logical fallacy by comparing the two, although I'm not exactly sure which category it would fall into. 

Or by simply bringing it up, maybe I already have.

Oh well, so be it.