Saturday, December 3, 2016

Make Mordor Great Again

One of my bloggy heroes is Tengrain, who I often refer to as the 'Patron Saint of Small Bloggers'. He's been a great supporter of not only myself, but of other denizens of this bloggerhood. I have to note a bit of not-at-all acrimonious disagreement with him regarding this post, a disagreement which stems from my disagreement with the Washington Monthly post to which he links... the author posits that Hillary Clinton's campaign failed to point to a villain, but I think that's bunk... the real problem is that a bunch of bigots decided that fellow victims, people much more marginalized than themselves, were the villains. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in, for example, watching a bunch of Mexican immigrants laboring in a field and characterizing them as lazy moochers (a perennial calumny aimed at African-Americans who toiled without pay to enrich their masters since before this country existed), and there's a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in believing that a serial-prevaricator and kleptomaniac would do anything to stop the immiseration of the working and middle classes.

Tengrain comments on the post:

One of the great archetypes of literature and film is the little guy triumphing over evil. From David and Goliath to Frodo vs. Mordor, the best heroes are the everyday, average people, who find themselves in an extraordinary situation and somehow or other win.

The problem is that the Trump voters believed that Frodo is the villain, sneaking over the border of Mordor in order to commit terrorist acts against Barad-dûr and to put the Ringwraiths out of work by imposing burdensome regulations against Evil Sorcery. They voted for Sauron, and he’s going to Make Mordor Great Again.

Tengrain continues:

We on the left don’t tell stories, we recite facts. We believe (correctly) that the facts matter, but we don’t know how to give them context. So instead of telling a story, we implore our audience to listen to and study our earnest 200-slide Powerpoint presentation, and learn from their betters… and we end up wondering why we lost?

The problem here is that the stories, based on facts, are out there... We have facts about climate change, but the story is written in blood and wreckage in the 'reddest' region of the Heartland. We have facts about Obamacare, but the story is being written about the loss of benefits that accrued to impoverished Trump voters.

The problem with liberals 'telling stories' is that these stories, rooted in facts, cannot penetrate the bubble of epistemic closure (NY Times link, so ration those clicks). The potential audience for these stories has been pre-conditioned in their churches, their firing ranges, their right-wing media cocoon, to characterize any 'leftist' narratives as lies, facts to the contrary be damned. The typical Donald Trump voter could be hit over the head by a wind-borne Ford F-150 and still believe Dear Leader's lie about Anthropogenic Global Warming being a Chinese hoax.

I don't have any answers to this dilemma... I just don't know what sort of narratives could convince the typical Red State Trump voter. I am an uber-nerd who attends science lectures in a bar, I live in a neighborhood with a very high immigrant population, two of my dearest friends and mentors are Muslim men, I have friends and co-workers from a wide array of backgrounds, creeds, sexual orientations. There is no narrative I can communicate with a Trump loyalist which wouldn't be seen as suspect. I've spoken to these people, and they tend to reveal their true ugliness to me because I look a lot like the guy in my profile picture, and they tend to see me as simpatico.

Again, I wish to stress that I have nothing but love, respect, and admiration for Tengrain, but I just can't see this strategem working. Tragically, the aggrieved white bigots who supported Trump are going to have to hit rock bottom before they reconsider their support for a guy who is going to further immiserate them. Even more tragically, they are going to take the rest of us down with them, and I didn't sign up for a one-way trip down the caldera of Mt Doom.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Welcoming Committee

As recent readers will know, I am in the process of moving, but my new place is in the same neighborhood, about six blocks away from the old place. I've been moving stuff in a few boxes at a time (the main items, as longtime readers would probably guess, are books and booze), and getting rid of stuff- clothes I haven't worn in ages (there's a dropoff box for stuff not too far from work), old documents, antiquated electronics (I dropped off a bunch of e-waste this afternoon).

In the course of my move, I've met a couple of the neighbors, one of the upstairs tenants (my new arrangement is eerily similar to the old one- an apartment in a three-family house, I just have an entrance in the back of the place and better yard access), and a next-door neighbor who I took an instant liking to. Leo is originally from Westmeath, and he is exactly the sort of Irishman you'd want for a neighbor- quick with a laugh, eager to lend a helping hand to others, a hearty, good-natured fellow. I also met his yellow Labrador, Setanta, and immediately joked that it was a perfect name for a dog. Leo laughed and noted that his wife is from Ulster, so they named the dog in honor of her roots. He noted that most people that he meets aren't familiar with the name, and I told him that I have Roscommon antecedents, then quickly added that I have Italian, Swiss, and French antecedents as well, then joked, "You need two things in this world, roots and wings." Leo let out a good-natured chuckle at that and I gave Setanta a well-received scratch behind the ear.

I think I'll do just fine in the new place. Here's one for my new doggy friend:

POSTSCRIPT: The one bummer in this move is that Katy, my letter carrier for the past decade, won't be delivering my mail at the new address. She's a really great person, and she knows everything that goes on in the neighborhood. Luckily, I will probably run into her now and again during my strolls through the neighborhood... it's not like I'm going far away.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Happy Birthday, Vincenzo

As is traditional on this day, I am taking time out to wish my brother Vincenzo a happy birthday. Vin is one of those erudite guys who is well-versed in history and current events, possesses a knack for languages and an anthropologist's discernment when it comes to interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. He's a devoted husband, a doting father, and an all-around great guy. Did I also mention that he has an encyclopedic understanding of punk rock? Here's an appropriate number from the Lurkers, a band which Vin always jokes makes the Ramones look sophisticated:

I don't need to tell ya, Vin's a super fella. Happy birthday, fratello!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Realizing I'm Not Getting a Nablopomo This Year

Checking over this month's posts, I realized that I didn't put up a post on the 5th, so I won't be eligible for a NABLOPOMO like I was in 2011... so close. It's no biggie, though, I did once write 24 posts in 24 hours in the course of a long, bizarre day on the job during which I worked a 12-8, 4-12 split-double shift. Ah, those were the days- thanks to Jennifer for putting that idea into my head.

At any rate, I don't have to put up a blog post tonight just to get a NABLOPOMO in this year.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Shy-ber Monday

I make it a point to avoid the 'Black Friday' orgy of consumption like the plague... I've never been that materialistic to begin with, and the idea of joining a scrum and trampling some poor $8/hour retail serf into pulp to get a flatscreen television is utterly repulsive. Same thing with this whole Cyber Monday thing... I prefer brick-and-mortar stores to purchasing online. I work for an organization which depends on visitors' dollars, so I make it a point to have a cashier ring my purchases up- my motto is 'the job you save just might be your own'.

I'm not saying I've never purchased anything from Amazon- all of the independent bookstores within fifty miles of me, with the exception of The Strand, have pretty much gone the way of the dodo, though there is still a really neat independent bookstore in Hastings-on-Hudson, not too far from a funky falafel shack. I miss the slightly grotty used book dens where a patient biblio-hunter could track down weird Science Fiction or Fantasy paperbacks which cost less than a buck. I typically have to wait until I visit mom's house to get my used paperback fix. Every so often, I will break down and use Amazon to find a particular obscure item that I absolutely must have.

Listening to the news radio coverage of Cyber Monday, I was struck by the reporting about possible security threats to online shoppers. While I wouldn't consider myself a Luddite (a ridiculous assertion by a blogger), I do admit to being a little squirrely about using credit cards online... on those rare occasions on which I purchase something over the intert00bz, I tend to use prepaid gift-cards purchased at a brick-and-mortar store. I'm a little cybershy when it comes to purchasing things- I want to deal with a cashier even when I succumb to the e-commerce siren.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Because Snark is Never Out of Place

Via Tengrain, we have a bizarre conflation of obituaries:

Funny, whatever happened to the beard and the fatigues? Of course, this set my smart ass to poetizing:

Here’s the story, of an angry Cuban.
Who was fed up with the bad, oppressing rich.
And chased them all to Miami,
Now ain’t that just a bitch?

Here’s the story, of a man named Castro,
Who was cooking up a Workers’ Paradise.
But he had to go be a mini-Stalin.
Couldn’t he be nice?

Then the one day when this angry Mr Castro,
Had to indulge in all of his vices,
And the shitstorm that ensued, sucked in the great powers.
And we know it as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Missile Crisis, The Missile Crisis,
It’s the shitstorm that we call The Missile Crisis.

For those who are unaware of all sitcom traditions...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The End of an Era

As Joe Biden would say, "This is a big fucking deal"... Fidel Castro is dead at 90. Castro was one of the most interesting figures of the second half of the 20th century, half monster, half hero- the bête noire of many an American presidential regime but the popular tweaker of Uncle Sam's beard to countless denizens of the developing world who had no reason to love the United States.

Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle of this tragic mishegas- Fulgencio Batista, the military dictator overthrown by Castro, was a monster himself. More tragically, before he threw in his lot with the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro made overtures to the Eisenhower administration and was rebuffed. Despite portrayals of Eisenhower as the 'last noble Republican', Ike made some serious, far-reaching errors in his term as president (Iran, the Congo, and Vietnam being particularly tragic examples). The major American sins of the Post WW2 era involved propping up dying colonial interests instead of engaging with newly freed colonies as equals to support. I would chalk much of this up to racism, but most of it can be laid at the feet of the Dulles Brothers.

At any rate, the idea of an Eisenhower-backed Castro is an even more interesting counterfactual than a Major League baseballer Castro... sadly for the world, we were stuck with the Castro we ended up with, the central figure in a tragedy with grotesque elements of farce, including such outré assassination methods as exploding cigars and infected wetsuits. With Fidel safely dead of old age, the President-Elect is probably going to take credit. My favorite take on Castro's death is deptfordx' comment at Lawyers, Guns & Money:

“Can’t….. Rest….. Till. America Destroyed.”

*Sees Trump Elected*

“Well my work here is done.”

At any rate, Fidel is finished, one of the last few relics from the not-so-good old days of the Cold War has passed. To the extent that he was a monster, he was merely one in an age of monsters, among the Trujillos and the Duvaliers. His rise, and the rise of other strongmen of his ilk, can be chalked up to failures of the United States to live up to its lofty ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and the choice not to implement the Monroe Doctrine as a force for extending democracy and self-determination to Latin Americans. If only we had been a better nation all along, maybe Fidel Castro could have developed into a truly transformative politician, rather than a miniaturized Stalin.