Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Apprentice Dictator's Progress

“Demagogues find it easier to gain control of societies that once enjoyed, but lost, a position of respect or power," wrote eminent psychologist Jerome Kagan in his book On Being Human: Why Mind Matters, published in 2016 months before the election. "The yearning for a return to the earlier period of greatness helps to explain why Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were able to gain despotic control of their societies, and why Putin enjoys popularity among Russians."

There's obvious application to the US election of 2016--and to the stated position of one of the candidates, the one now in power.  However there was always a problem--there is little real evidence that the United States had lost a position of respect or power, and plenty of evidence that it had not.  Indeed, the Obama administration restored at least some of the nation's standing, tarnished by the humiliating excesses of the Bush years.

Rather there are socioeconomic groups within the US that have lost their access to an identification with greatness as a mirror image of themselves, their values and projections.

Characters within the category of white male to begin with.  Then it breaks down into groups united by anger.  The rich who are always angry, perhaps a byproduct of greed and avarice. Then those with more actual grievances, like the industrial lower to middle middle class, joined by increasing numbers of small town and small city whites including those in clean-hands occupations who find themselves losing the ability to maintain a middle class life at all, victims of an increasing economic inequality in which fewer get more, and many get less.  This inequality affects other races and groups even more severely, but they as yet do not identify with this group, especially as they are regarded as the enemy.

 Then those with generations of twisted grievance, like southern white racists, like intolerant adherents of religious sects that mock the principles of their supposed object of worship.

All of these are ripe for demagoguery, and just enough apparently voted for the demagogue to bring him to power.  They are not looking to make America great again--in fact, everything that their hero has done has diminished America in the eyes of the world, and has begun to erode its actual power and resilience.  They are looking for someone to remake the world as they wish to see it.

Failing that--and this will always fail--they live in an entirely invented world, a virtual reality created and maintained by lies.  (That these are highly obvious lies adds to the cognitive dissonance, which our system is flummoxed by.)  Politically they are determined to impose that vision on the real world, blind to the disasters they are creating.


So how fares our apprentice dictator and his dictatorial dreams?  So far he has turned out to be politically weaker than feared.  And he has inspired a fierce resistance of an amazing proportion.  He is openly mocked and disbelieved by everyone and every institution except among his core supporters--no more than a quarter of the electorate--and the institutions (including and especially media) of the rabid right.

But the authoritarian danger is far from over.  He has more than three years left in his term, and for all the sound and fury of investigations, it remains likely he will remain there.  His defeat after that seems likely now but is not assured,  if only because there is a lot of time to the next election.

The nightmare scenario of the Mueller investigations is that after all the frenzy and the likely indictments of associates and underlings, the apprentice dictator himself is untouched.  This could suddenly make him stronger.

Apart from starting a war or declaring a national emergency because of a terrorist attack, his slower path to dictatorship lies with the erosion of the rule of law.  He's well on the way there.  His conflicts of interest and violations of the emolument clause are multiple and open, yet no one seems willing or able to do anything about them.

In addition to flouting application of the law to himself, his administration continues attacking laws by fiat and in the courts on everything from environmental law to immigration law to election law.  The courts have by and large stood firm so far, but it's a long game, and the Supreme Court stacked with perhaps just enough rabid right ideologues is at the end of it.  For example, as our stellar Member of Congress Jared Huffman predicted here in Arcata months ago, courts have ruled that the policy of punishing cities for sanctuary policies is unlawful.  But the Supremes have yet to rule.

In terms of law, the most important indication will be the courts' reaction to the repugnant abuse of power of the Arpaio pardon.  There are legal challenges to the pardon itself but the emboldened Arpaio is petitioning to get the actual court decision rescinded.  If a court reverses its own conclusion--especially on a matter this fraught with constitutional significance apart from the pardon--on the order of the chief executive, it would be the first brick in the edifice of legal dictatorship.


In terms of the resistance, it has yet to be truly tested.  It hasn't cost anybody anything and has apparently gotten some folks some awards (check the Emmys coverage anywhere.)  Those who resisted the Vietnam war paid a price, and some continue paying it to this day, as it is the one of the wounds of that war that hasn't healed.  (Another one, a truly unconscionable one, is the treatment of veterans.)

In terms of the great divide in America that everyone seems to be talking about (partly, apparently, because of the Ken Burns Vietnam docu) there are real grievances and real stories among those whose plight does not fall into easy categories of the oppressed.  But politically there is no equivalence, and it is dangerously muddled to think of them as equivalent.

Granted that progressive do not help themselves when their own approach to speech has a twisted Nineteen Eighty-Four quality.  There have always been authoritarians on the left, certainly in the antiwar movement era. They also exhibit inabilities to see their unconscious at work, as individuals and as groups.  But none of this contradicts the basic point that one side lives in a conspiracy of illusions, and the other still has some hold on respecting facts, which is the only basis for a functioning democratic society.

In this I side with Jonathan Chiat, countering a piece by political scientist Lee Drutman about the now fashionable division of Americans into two opposite and equal tribes.  A quote he isolates from Drutman and his rejoinder encapsulate my point:

Both fear each other will cheat to win and use their power to stack the voting deck. “If Republicans win in close elections, Democrats say it’s only because they cheated by making it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote; if Democrats win in close elections, Republicans say it’s only because they voted illegally.” But while it is not true that Democrats have allowed illegal voting in nontrivial levels, it is extremely true that Republicans have deliberately made voting inconvenient for Democratic-leaning constituencies. The psychology is parallel, but the underlying facts are not."

Chiat's piece is entitled "The Only Problem in American Politics is the Republican Party."  Of course it's not the only problem, but Chiat makes a solid case for why it is the major problem.

Here, too, the news has been mixed.  Congressional weakness has been the most recent theme, but again that could turn around with the latest last minute unhealthcare bill--worse than the last one--which is allegedly very close to having the votes to pass the Senate.  Any chaos in the states--as will eventually result if this bill becomes law--will add mightily and immediately to this administration's few effective efforts to warp us into a weaker, more divided and more volatile nation. By making America less great in reality, the dictator apprentice creates internal conditions ripe for his graduation to full dictatorship.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Emerson for the Day

"Objects are concealed from our view not so much because they are out of the course of our visual ray as because there is no intention of the mind and eye toward them...There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate, not a grain more."

Thoreau


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sad

This is the New Yorker's new cover, which it originally was going to use to mark the election of Hillary Clinton as the first woman to become U.S. President.

Now Hillary is on tour with her new book about the campaign, and interviews are appearing (including with the New Yorker.)  Again she is the center of controversies.  Everyone has an opinion on why she lost, most of them, in my view, being predictable ex post facto nonsense, each feeding on the other with false premises and lazy conclusions.

 A combination of coincidences and a nefarious plot by a foreign enemy state with the knowledge and collusion of the other candidate, fed currents deep in this country's collective unconscious, and too many American responded by doing something it takes very little intelligence to know was stupid to the point of crazy.

She was not the greatest candidate running the best campaign.  But that is essentially meaningless.  Everybody gets one vote, and they're supposed to figure it out.  My view today is the same that it was on election night: this is on you, America.  You broke it.  Now you're paying for it.  Along with the rest of the world and the future.

The same media system, the same culture that wants to apportion blame, deserves their own seldom acknowledged piece of it.  Did anybody learn anything?

Meanwhile, this country without question would be better off right now if she had won.  And so we can for a moment imagine what it would have meant to the present and the future if in 2016 America could have had the moment imagined in this cover.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Climate Change?


As Hurricane Irma spun through the sea towards Florida, writers Dexter Filkin (for the New Yorker) and Michael Grunwald (for Politico) wrote about the dangers that the state had created for itself.  The strikingly similar titles to these pieces (Elegy for the Sunshine State, A Requiem for Florida) suggested that Irma was going to be a turning point.  But neither offered evidence of that.

Nor did a New York Times piece by Ashley Dawson that concluded: "One way or another, Florida is due for a reckoning. We can only hope that it will not be too grievous, and that whatever happens it will help transform the political culture of a state whose governor is a climate-change denier despite Florida’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters, a place where solar power is essentially banned despite its fame as the Sunshine State."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, author of the climate crisis piece that broke readership records at New York Magazine, now apparently writing for the New Yorker, has an article called The Change Hurricane Irma Brings. "Across Florida this week, the stress of an approaching hurricane has been accompanied by a feeling that things will not simply reset afterward, that the storm is not a one-off," he asserts.

But he then quotes the Mayor of Miami saying, "This is a lesson that we need protection from nature....”  The author notes that nature may also need protection from Floridians, which is the major conclusion of the three pieces previously noted: the people of Florida (and Texas) have created more and longer-lasting dangers by destroying, subverting and ignoring "nature."  Including of course ignoring and denying the climate crisis.

Ignoring and denying the climate crisis is the state government of Florida's official stance, led by its governor Rick Scott, who famously said that Irma could "catastrophically devastate" Florida, along with the English language.

Will Florida and Texas change?  Will they stop overbuilding and building on flood plains, destroying protective marshland, and so on?  Will Florida embrace solar power instead of vulnerable nuclear power plants, or Texas regulate chemical plants for safety let alone pollution?  Will they take measures to protect themselves against the effects of the climate crisis, and join the planet in addressing the causes?

History says they won't.  Too much money yet to be made by people who've made enough money to buy politicians and government.  But maybe they will, to some degree.  Maybe the experiences of these storms will change people.  But not necessarily in the ways you think: by providing the horrific reality, and scaring them straight.

Here's one of the great failures of the climate crisis debate that has contributed to our current conflicts and confusion: we have not admitted and freely discussed that climate crisis deniers and climate crisis accepters have one important thing in common.  The climate crisis scares us all to death.

The two opposite reactions to fear are, at their extremes, panic and complete denial.  Yet people on both sides of the question experience fear for the future that can edge into at least momentary panic.  And while one side lives within a nervous and defensive culture of denial, the other lives in emotional denial most of the time to stay sane.

My thesis is controversial, for the deniers will forcefully deny that they are afraid, because there's nothing to be afraid of.  But those who have studied nuclear fear in the Cold War decades can see the signs.  Nobody denied the existence of atomic bombs, but plenty denied they were all that bad.

Strong denial in the face of so much evidence of all kinds is pretty clearly a product of strong fear.  Apocalyptic fears are everywhere, expressed in many forms of popular culture as well as religious beliefs.  Seeing the power of hurricanes and storm surges can open some eyes to the climate crisis as an apocalyptic source.  But like the reaction to the thermonuclear arms race, it induces a sense of helplessness.

But experience with these storms also shows that all life does not immediately end.  The storm results in a series of problems to be solved, from preparations to rescues to recovery.  The storm changes life dramatically.  Its effects become a way of life, at least for awhile.

That's what the climate crisis future will be like.  It will become a different way of life.  If that way of life includes addressing the causes of even worse climate change in the farther future, humanity may yet live through it.

We must govern our fear, not be governed by it.  What can we do? always has an answer.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Library Days: The Hardy Boys

This is one of a series of posts on childhood reading and the origins of my relationships with books, inspired by Larry McMurtry's reflections in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen.  Earlier posts are here (The Book House books) and here (Library Days.)

I was a little too old for The Mickey Mouse Club television program.  All that singing and dancing was girl stuff anyway.  But my younger sisters watched it on our only TV set, in the living room.  So one afternoon I chanced to see something that caught my eye: a filmed story about two young detectives, small town brothers investigating a mystery, the Hardy Boys.

It was the fall of 1956. The story was told in a series of fifteen minute segments every day.  I got involved enough to learn (and remember) the names of the actors: Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk (both of whom would show up in a number of Disney TV and film stories.)

I was 10, and had begun going to the Greensburg public library on my own.  Browsing books in the children's room I came upon this now familiar name: the Hardy Boys.  Soon I learned to look for the light brown volumes with dark brown titles, and the silhouette of two figures--one with a hat and a scarf--against a jagged background. They must have been among the first books from the library I read all the way through.

In the novels, Frank and Joe Hardy were in their mid to late teens--not early teens as in the Disney series.  They rode motorcycles, drove cars and boats and occasionally carried revolvers.  They got into fights with adult men, and didn't always win them.  But they mostly used their heads, and were old enough to act on their lines of inquiry.  They were in some ways the perfect age for me to read about--older boys at the barely imaginable threshold of adulthood, so old enough to be models but not too old to identify with.

Their father, Fenton Hardy, was a highly respected private detective, which also added to the appeal.  Their relationship to him and his work, and the way he treated them, were fascinating to boys whose fathers disappeared all day at their unromantic jobs and behind the newspaper in the evening.

The first three Hardy Boys novels were originally published in 1927.  The first ten books had been published by 1929, and they then were released at the rate of one a year--for the next 50 years.  The author's name emblazoned on all these books was Franklin W. Dixon, though the first 16 and several more later were written by Leslie McFarlane, with other writers between and afterwards.  They were writers for hire, with the premise and stories outlined by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who also came up with Nancy Drew and Tom Swift.  He probably also did some rewriting before publication.

There would be new versions of the Hardy Boys over the years since, just as there have been other Hardy Boys on television.  There are more than 500 Hardy Boys stories now.  But the first 59 volumes are considered the classic series.

Some 36 titles had been published by the time I discovered them. In fact, the first Disney series I saw that adapted the first novel (The Tower Treasure) seems to have borrowed an element from the 36th (The Secret of Pirate Hill.)

I'm not sure how many volumes the Greensburg Library had.  I just know I read several, and would eagerly search through what was in the library when I visited. But there was competition--other boys were reading them (and perhaps girls, too, though I didn't know of any) and I knew only one school friend who claimed his older brother actually owned a number of these books.  They were only in hardback.

I don't remember which Hardy Boys books I read.  I do remember, however, which Hardy Boys book I started writing.

It was "The Creaking Stairs Mystery."  I wrote a couple of pages, and was working on them at school in fifth grade.  Our regular teacher wasn't there, and a parish priest, Father M., was more or less babysitting.  We were supposed to be "working silently" on our own at our desks.  He walked up and down the aisles.  I was startled when he stopped at my desk and picked up my notebook.  He read some of it to himself and then announced the title to the class (getting it wrong.) He also read out loud a sentence about someone driving a "roadster."  He mocked being impressed.

I was more than a little sensitive about that word, because in fact I did not know what "roadster" meant.  Not knowing precisely what a word meant was not uncommon, either in my reading or in listening to television, or to adults talking, etc.  I would know roughly what it meant from context.  In this case I knew it meant a kind of car.  To me it was a mysterious, romantic word, part of the mysterious world I entered in these books. But to have this ignorance possibly exposed and mocked was embarrassing.

Anyway, as a result of this exposure,  I became too self-conscious to continue writing my Hardy Boys story.  But I did keep on reading them.  I had followed stories told in serial form on television, and loosely so in our school readers, but the Hardy Boys were among the first books I read with a single story developed over its length.  These books were deliciously different because I was in charge of reading the story--I could stop at any point, or read chapter after chapter, and just stay in that world.  The books contained funny dialogue and characters, simple descriptions of a party or an afternoon at the beach, but mostly they were exciting, one event or clue, one question, leading to another.

I could linger over a scene and ponder it, or go back to something that happened earlier, or re-read something I didn't understand.  But as I absorbed the book's world, I read fervently, eager to know what happened next, and to test my impressions and guesses.  I sustained attention, and learned the particular delights of doing so.

In 1959, the publishers started revising and shortening the earlier titles, and these versions are the more easily available now.  In those books, the roadsters have become jalopies (though more technically roadsters were early two-door convertibles), the "touring cars" are sedans.  The revisions were made partly to update such references (and eliminate offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes) so new readers could recognize their world and identify with the young characters.  Later novels with entirely new stories would continue this updating, so in the more recent paperbacks, the Hardy Boys say things like "As if."

The irony of course is that by now a 1959 revision is almost as arcane and unfamiliar as the 1929 original. The later versions in turn will become obsolete.  Personally I wouldn't give up the magic that still adheres to the word "roadster."

In fact, I'm glad I read the unrevised originals for a number of reasons.  For one thing, in later books the Boys got increasingly sophisticated and unreal, acting more like combinations of Tom Swift and James Bond.  This trend started in the 1959 revisions.

According to the indispensable The Hardy Boys unofficial home page, these revisions to the originals are disappointing. "Although the stories were given the same titles and some of the plots remained basically the same, many books were given new plots and are unrecognizable from the originals. Unfortunately, the quality of the writing was nowhere near as high as in the unrevised versions and the resulting stories lost much of their original charm."

A little later, the opinion is more strongly stated: "The quality of the revised stories is generally so far below that of the originals that it can only be considered as an act of literary vandalism."

Strong words, so I compared a few volumes to their originals.  The originals were revised over 15 years beginning in 1959.  The HBUHP categorizes them as "slightly altered" (generally the later books, which often had been written by the same people doing the revisions) "altered," "drastically altered" and "completely different."   I read both versions of  The Tower Treasure (#1, marked Altered), The House on the Cliff (#2, Altered),The Shore Road Mystery (#6, Completely Different) and What Happened At Midnight (#10, Drastically Altered.)

The original Hardy Boy: Leslie McFarlane
I'll make some general remarks and conclusions here, and follow with more about each book for those who might be interested.  All four of these were written by the first Franklin W. Dixon: a newspaper reporter who later became a filmmaker, Leslie McFarlane.  He is generally considered the best writer who contributed to the series.

The literary quality of these books is not high, but McFarlane has a way with dialogue in several of these books, and a humorous and satirical Dickensian flair here and there.  The revisions get into action quicker, though those action sequences are often absurd.  Even given arcane language, cliches and some awkwardness, there is more life and interest in the originals.  The stories are generally more realistic, and better paced.

One notable difference (so others have noticed it, too) is that in the originals, the Hardys relationship to authority, particular to the official police, is strained and even hostile.  In the revisions they are much more respectful and the police are much more efficient and cooperative.  Maybe it was all that "juvenile delinquency" stuff in the 1950s, plus J. Edgar Hoover and commie subversion that scared the revisers.

The revisions vary in quality from not terrible (The Tower Treasure) to so carelessly written as to be insulting (What Happened At Midnight.)  Though I picked up a bunch of the revised novels in a picture cover format at a thrift store, my future reading wherever possible is going to be the originals, especially the McFarlane originals.  In that regard, I've found some used originals with something I never would have seen at the library: dust jackets.  (The above photo is not of my collection.  I have only two with dust jackets.  Needless to say, there are serious collectors.)

So here are my observations on the originals versus the revised:

The Tower Treasure (#1)

The original version of this first novel in the series begins with exposition, while the revised starts with an action scene.  This appears to be one item of the brief for the revisions--hook the reader with action.  This time it works, in others I read the action is absurd by the standards set in the original series--of realism, especially of the Hardy Boys as normal or at least believable boys.

Another item in the brief was to shorten the books to the same length of about 180 pages.  So what took two chapters and 17 pages in the original is reduced to one chapter and 8 pages in the revised.

Some arcane language in the original is a bit disruptive, though funny, cf. "I'm going to ask these chaps if they saw him pass."  But the revision goes further than updating words and eliding the story--it unaccountably adds incidents and characters, to no better effect than the originals.  Plus it doesn't actually eliminate all ethnic stereotypes--just the ones people were more sensitive to in 1959.

It isn't long before the losses become obvious.  The original has a comic set piece involving a group of farmers; the human comedy is entirely lost in the revision. Similarly a scene involving the small town police chief and his detective is derisively funny.  That such scenes reminded me of Dickens is reinforced a few pages later by a reference to a character habitually carrying Dickens' novels (naming three.)  (The original also throws in a sly Hamlet reference.)

But the loss of a certain literary quality is more telling in a line Fenton Hardy says to his sons on page 76 of the original, when he tells them they can help "by keeping your eyes and ears open, and by using your wits.  That's all there is to detective work."  Later, when the boys accidentally find themselves in a location no one had considered and realize it may be the key to the mystery that has puzzled everyone (including their father), they solve it by finding the treasure.  Afterwards they conclude that "The main thing is that we've proved to dad that we know how to keep our eyes and ears open." (209)

 The symmetry of these lines more than anything else starts off this series of books.  They are entirely absent from the revision.

The revision has the good sense to keep the subplot of the father of one of the Hardy Boys' school friends who is unjustly accused of a crime (a similar situation will be repeated in a subsequent book), even keeping most of the dialogue.  But for every arcane line the revision eliminates ("Brace up, old chap," he advised; p67) it seems to lose one of delicate feeling or meaning: "Frank and Joe, their hearts too full for utterance, withdrew softly from the room." (68)

This being the first novel, it has the first instances of official police incompetence, and Fenton Hardy's disdain for the local police.  In the revision this is gone, though the comic futility of the chief and his detective Snuff is replaced by a comic Snuff, now an aspiring private detective, and his self-importance, ambition and incompetence.

The climactic scene in the revision suddenly adds a character to increase threat and action (the Disney teleplay has its own version of this character though he appears early, and interestingly represents a seeming friendly but ultimately untrustworthy and violent adult) but it adds little to the scene.  The ending of the original is longer and more satisfying.    

The House on the Cliff (#2)

The original story begins with the Hardy Boys and their pals (or "chums") exploring a haunted house (which is also the beginning of the second and final Hardy Boys adventure on Mickey Mouse Club, though that story quickly diverged. It notably took place in mostly one location.)  Frank and Joe Hardy discover tools were stolen from their motorcycles, and then witness an attempted murder and rescue the victim from drowning.

The revised version begins with Fenton Hardy letting the boys in on a case in progress.  This is another odd trend in the revisions: the boys are less independent.

The original story involves Fenton Hardy kidnapped by drug smugglers, the boys putting together the pieces of the puzzle involving the "haunted" house on the cliff and hidden tunnels.  They rescue their father, though they are almost immediately captured. There's a lot of action, including fist fights but they are believable.  Some believe this is the best written novel in the series.

The revision has some sloppy writing and makes inexplicable changes in scenes but basically follows the same story.

The Shore Road Mystery (#6)


The HBUHP calls the revision "completely different" but it basically reassembles elements of the original plot in a less coherent way.

The original is more vivid in its scene-setting, and is pretty good at the effect on the town as a series of car thefts continue without a clue. There a nice school scene that's a kind of interlude.  Scenes of the Boys in the caves where the thieves have hidden the cars are exciting, even if their handling of "revolvers" comes out of nowhere.

The revision again starts with a big action scene--the Hardys have more technology now, like police radios on their motorcycles--but the plot seems more contrived.

 In both stories, it's a school friend who is unjustly arrested for the thefts, but the revision adds a buried treasure mystery for some reason.  Also the thieves aren't just stealing cars but smuggling in "foreign" arms for "subversives" in the US.  Hello, 1950s!

In the original, the Hardy Boys solve the mystery, and catch the bad guys in the act.  But in the revision, they gets their butts saved by Dad, who incidentally has "an iron fist."  What's up with that? as the Hardys wouldn't say.  Also the revision suggests that the Boys' hometown of Bayport is in New England.  Which, as we will now see, contradicts one of the originals.

What Happened At Midnight (#10)


This is my favorite of the originals I've read as an adult, but I don't think that's entirely why I'm contemptuous of the revision, which HBUHP calls "drastically altered."

The original is well-paced and balanced, as each increment of the mystery is pursued with activity, such as the Boys trip to New York City.  But most of all, it has a real sense of high school boys doing the investigating, their normal life integrated with the mystery.

It's also a great 1930s story, starting with the opening scene at Bayport's newest innovation, the Automat.  Joe is kidnapped,  Frank and his chums find him, but that's just the beginning. The brothers impulsively follow a suspect on the train to New York, lose their money to a pickpocket, sleep on park benches safely, prepare to hitchhike back to Bayport and earn a meal by washing dishes at a diner. (The diner owner is right out of a movie by Frank Capra or Preston Sturges.) They get a key clue overhearing a hotel switchboard operator, and learn of the existence of the collect call!

As obsolete and therefore nostalgic as all this seems now, none of it was so arcane in the 1950s when I might have first read this book. The telephone system was basically the same, and I remember going to an automat restaurant in Manhattan in the 1960s.  But the revision dumps pretty much all of it anyway. (Though I thought for sure the revision would drop a key scene of the boys in a biplane that loses power- they have parachutes and go out on a wing to bail out.  But the revision makes the plane an antique reconstruction, and the scene happens in a different part of the story.)

Bayport, by the way, in this novel is about 200 miles south of New York City, which suggests New Jersey.

The mystery is solved through a combination of legwork, deduction, serendipity and coincidence. (Which fulfills Fenton Hardy's definition of a detective as someone who basically pays attention.)   Some may object to the coincidences, such as the clues supplied by the clueless Aunt Gertrude.  But it sure makes for a good story that keeps moving forward.

A coincidence puts the Boys in touch with a couple of FBI agents, and so the big finish is more believable with the adult agents doing the shooting and fighting during the capture, though Frank manages to chase and wrestle down the ringleader of the diamond thieves gang.  (The Boys relationship with the local police is also better than in previous originals.)

Other elements of the story are kept, but there are inexplicable changes.  This time the gang is stealing diamonds and "electronics." (What kind of electronics?  Why are they valuable?  It doesn't say.)  Again another needless and basically useless if not confusing plot element is added, a secret invention.

 The revision begins with a completely outlandish fight between the brothers and adult thieves.  In general, the revision is haphazard and careless--literally in the sense that it seems to be written by someone who doesn't care. For dialogue that sounds somewhat formal, it substitutes dialogue that sounds entirely wooden.  As for updating arcane expressions etc., the revision actually has one of the boys say "Gadzooks!"--a word from the 17th century that barely made it into the 19th, mostly in genre fiction.

Finally, let me point out something else that's apparently obsolete.  Especially in the originals, I did not find a typo or a grammatical error.  These boys books, written quickly and expected to be read by teenagers or younger and then to disappear, are immaculately edited, copyedited and proofread.  So 20th century, right?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Storm and Consequences

Hurricane Irma just after achieving maximum category 5, the most powerful storm to form in the Atlantic Ocean proper (excluding the Gulf) since the beginning of satellite observation.  It is heading for Puerto Rico, and areas of Florida are organizing evacuations in the likely event that it heads there this weekend.  Two of the three currently projected paths affect the Florida coast, and one is a direct hit on Miami.

Meanwhile, with the news cameras and Washington politicians gone, Texans face a long list of  Harvey's consequences, including multiple threats to public health. The Atlantic reports "Physicians and other professionals are scrambling to contain a multitude of epidemics that might arise after the flood."  This article is instructive for anyone who wants to know the challenges in the organization of medical care and public health that will continue to arise as the climate crisis effects accelerate.

Look at that eye and recall the Ashbery line: "What you see will be held against you."

Reelin in the Years in a Convex Mirror

John Ashbery received a National Humanities Medal in 2012
The coincidences in the work of John Ashbery and Steely Dan (words, sounds, lines) are always fortunate, and therefore more than coincidence.  They become convergence, even when they jangle.  Sometimes they confuse, often they delight.  Come back in a few years and try them again.

That poet John Ashbery and Walter Becker, the songwriter/musician who was half of Steely Dan, died within a day or two of each other is coincidence, but they cohere in an odd way, and not just because they coincided in my life, a modest thing but mine own.

When I arrived at Knox College in the mid-60s, the bookstore was in the basement of Alumni Hall.  You walked down a couple of steps into a foyer, with student mailboxes opposite the bookstore entrance.  I seem to remember a display case on the outside of the building, but perhaps it was just outside the bookstore--anyway, that's where I first saw a book of poems called The Tennis Court Oath by John Ashbery.

I secretly liked the poems in it, their cadences and seeming chaos, the possibilities they permitted, but I wouldn't dare say so at the time.  I'd just left Catholic school and I knew the dangers of heresy.

I didn't understand them of course, but some had a sustained power for me, while almost all of them had some insightful surprise, juxtaposed images and phrases that lit up and therefore lit up the world for a moment.  They had a peculiar rhythm that resonated with me.  For one reason or another or more, they made me laugh.

 I followed Ashbery's work through the 60s and 70s (through The Double Dream of Spring, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Houseboat Days, As We Know.)  I especially liked Three Poems ( prose poems) and I quoted from them in The Malling of America. (When I was writing it, I also had read the comic novel he wrote with James Schuyler about suburbia, A Nest of Ninnies.)   In a way I was returning the favor, for his poems often quoted from pop culture and the latest zeitgeist.  That the poems' voice seemed to be trying to make sense of it and not quite succeeding (but in an amusing way) was a rueful and reassuring reflection of my own earnest and scattered efforts.  Ashbery also knew and expressed with flourish and sudden, memorable exactness (like a rock song hook) how these are new keys to both our exterior and interior realities.

Ashbery also suggested to me intuitions about worlds of which I have little or no experience.  We had at least a somewhat similar childhood in small town, slightly pastoral America, and his parents were only a little above mine on the socioeconomic scale.  But he went to Harvard (in a class with an astonishing array of well-known American poets) and after a stint as a copywriter, he lived in Paris and New York and wrote about art for art magazines, eventually becoming an editor. He was also homosexual, which provided yet another network within the art and literary world.  I've read those poets from Harvard, read about Paris and for awhile read about and observed contemporary art enough to write a few published pieces for outsiders like me.  I also shared with him an omnivorous interest in old movies, though he apparently was even more obsessive.

In more recent years, I've guiltily purchased a few of his many subsequent books when I came upon them at embarrassingly low prices.  Most recently Planisphere which I've had near my bedside.  Among its gems is "Partial Clearing" which ends:
Looking out the window reveals
that the weather is or isn't about to change.
Forelocks will be tugged in a fortnight
and other appraisers add to the already vehement
heap of misunderstood and eagerly approved evaluations:
a coming out into spring after a winter of
carefully worded captions.  A love like self-love
upgraded to "pastoral."  Yes, easy does it,
always.  What you see will be held against you.

 Even though Ashbery is considered one of the most important poets of his lifetime--which was 90 years--he didn't take himself too seriously, as the editors of London Review of Books note. (Still, he accepted all his many awards.) For an informed view on his later work, try Dan Chiasson at the New Yorker. Among many other appreciations out there, there's Katy Waldman at Slate.

I reviewed Steely Dan's first album for Boston After Dark/Boston Phoenix in 1972: Can't Buy A Thrill.  I liked it, but then I reviewed and liked groups like the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils and Audience.  When I reviewed Bonnie Raitt's first album for Creem--her first national review--I knew she was a keeper.  Steely Dan however could have been a one album wonder.

They weren't though.  The sound they created on their first album, the energy and above all the unique songwriting--sharply witty, allusive lyrics and great hooks--developed even more in subsequent albums, and they became an essential element of the soundtrack of surviving the 70s.

Steely Dan was Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, and they soon became known as such studio perfectionists that they never played live, didn't give interviews...I don't recall even seeing a photo of them.  So when they reemerged in the 90s as a live band, it just did not compute.  I never heard them live, never tried.

Jon Pareles, who goes back almost as far as me in rock alt. journalism but stuck with it in the big time, has the NY Times obit of Walter Becker.  Becker dropped out of sight in the early 80s, a victim of heroin addiction, at about the time that Fagen released his Steely Dan-like album The Nightfly, which has a couple of songs I cherish with childhood references, the hit "I.G.Y." and "The New Frontier."  Fagen's voice was out front on Steely Dan, so Becker's contribution has to be explained by Pareles and others.

Pareles describes the music as using "richly ambiguous harmonies rooted in Debussy, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, giving the songs a sophisticated core that would be widely influential across jazz and pop."  The lyrics are narrative and impressionistic at the same time--many seem to be about an underworld or a street world that may be more of the imagination, though perhaps the references to drugs and dealers are informed.  The William Burroughs meets Bob Dylan references in that first album help suggest that world.  (The group's name comes from Burroughs, the album title from Dylan.)

They are also music of a generation.  Later on "Hey Nineteen" would drive a stake into our 40s, but on that first album there was "Reelin' in the Years,"  one of those classic songs about aging which was written by someone feeling old in their 20s (cf. "Yesterday," "Bookends," etc.) but that resonate when age is actually attained.

I remember that my music editor Ben Gerson was particularly fond of the lines: "You been tellin' me you're a genius/Since you were seventeen/ In all the time I've known you/ I still don't know what you mean."  Because, come on, this was Boston and we were all geniuses, and time was running out.

But now it's the chorus that sings to us: Are you reelin' in the years/ Stowin' away the time/Are you gatherin' up the tears/ Have you had enough of mine?

Saturday, September 02, 2017

A Transformative Truth for Labor Day

Many of the jobs Americans did fifty years ago don't exist anymore, and for somewhat different reasons, many jobs that Americans do today won't exist in 50 or even 10 or 20 years.

A lot of that has to do with technology.  But that may not turn out to be the main reason, and certainly not the only one, for why there may be a radical change in the jobs people do in the future.

Jack Ohman in Sacramento Bee via Politico
This Labor Day is a good time to take a good long hard look at Houston and the rest of Texas that's been affected by Hurricane Harvey.

This is one set of effects of the climate crisis that are going to recur more often.
Other effects will also.
More and more people are going to be occupied in dealing with these effects: in responding as well as planning and implementing plans to respond to them and to soften their blows with preventive measures, design and strategies.  The climate crisis is a job creator.

Further effects will make more changes in the kinds of jobs society needs and demands.  Eventually climate change will be a major determinant.  But year by year the pace and extent will increase, and today might be a good day to take a good look at what is needed, and what you can do.

For the climate crisis is no longer an inconvenient truth.  The climate crisis is a transformative truth.

This has been argued by writers like David Orr (Down to the Wire, 2009), Bill McKibben (Eaarth, 2010) Mark Hertsgaard (in Hot, 2011) and Naomi Klein (This Changes Everything, 2014.)  It is argued partly to motivate people to address the causes of climate crisis, to ensure that things don't get even worse.  But there are--even more clearly now--effects that are coming that also must be addressed.  Because of the time lag between cause (greenhouse gas pollution) and effects, a near future of accelerating worsening is highly likely.

But it's not all about politics, and it's certainly not all about being victims.  It is also about the active work that will need to be done, and the people who will do it.

When today's children are young adults, their choice of occupations and careers will necessarily be influenced by the climate crisis and its ongoing effects.  But today's young adults, in their 30s and 40s, have the opportunity to start responding to this crisis in the work they choose to do.

People in the social media field right now might look closely at how social media is being used to deal with the crisis in Texas, and how it could serve the situation better.  People in technology might look at Texas with an eye on how their specific field or even a modification of their job could help deal with such a crisis.

Young people in their last years of education who are interested in management, or managers considering a change, might take a hard look at what emergency management entails, and the work they could do.

Those interested in medicine could look at the public health challenges, and what jobs there are or should be that respond.  And so on.  Many people in many careers can look at how their skills might apply.

Meanwhile, people will be looking for new ways to address the causes of global heating.  Jobs in clean energy are already transforming industry.

Eventually, people are probably going to specialize less, or at least many are going to have to know how to do more than one thing, and they will be practical things. Making things and growing food will no longer be outsourced quite so much. Careers in moving digital money around may not be so well-paid and appealing.

And it wouldn't be a bad idea for some people to learn some trades that are fast disappearing, like how to repair things (those things, that is, that are still not so foolishly complex that no one can fix them.)  Sewing and tailoring, shoemaking and repair, are probably good solid jobs for a few right now, but may well be important trades in the future.

Nobody really knows, but I do think many don't take into account that technology requires reliable power grids and global access to raw materials that remain relatively cheap.  All of that is likely to be up for grabs.  So I wouldn't necessarily count on AI drones and an internet of things.

The transformed world won't be easy, but at least these jobs are meaningful.  Jobs might be hard but they might be fulfilling, though it seems unlikely that word would be used much.  Maybe if people in position to do so started now to change, they could make the future a little easier for the next generations.

Update: As if to emphasize the changes underway, Saturday in Arcata was the hottest day we've experienced since we arrived here 21 years ago.  And not by a little.  I can count the number of 80+F days since then, but the temps hit the mid 90s.  Plus I've never experienced the density of smoke from forest fires over several days, leading to respiratory irritation and worse.  There are going to be effects of the climate crisis here, notably the sea level rise that could turn Arcata into an island.  But excessive heat isn't one of the predicted features.  Of course, it wasn't nearly as bad as the 100F+ temps in the Bay Area, or the temps in the 115 range east of us up here.  But this was a taste of what it would be like here. Temps are going down now, but the smoke is predicted to be with us into midweek. For a day or a weekend the heat and always present humidity were miserable, but also a chance for a more classic beach scene.  Long term however it could easily become dangerous.  And already, forecasters suggest the hot temps may return by next weekend.

And there's another hurricane headed for land.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Are We Ready to Hear This Yet?


Are we ready to hear this yet?  David J. Phillip in Politico:

"In all of U.S. history, there’s never been a storm like Hurricane Harvey. That fact is increasingly clear, even though the rains are still falling and the water levels in Houston are still rising.

But there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care. Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously."

Jack Ohman Sacramento Bee via Politico
There are other specific contributions to, for example, Houston's plight--its unregulated sprawl and environmental disdain.  There are the contributions of institutions and laws, like the bureaucratic Army Corps of Engineers and the way federal flood insurance does not penalize for building in flood-prone areas, so that 2% of those insured are responsible for 40% of the claims, including a home flooded 16 times in 18 years.

But the universal fact, no matter where, is climate change.  Its role in the hurricane itself and its behavior.  Its role in the rainfall and flooding.

The climate crisis has drowned all the old numbers.  Houston has experienced three "five hundred year floods" in the past three years.  Storms like Harvey are getting more powerful, more damaging, and more frequent.  And these are just one set of effects of global heating.

This week's news is an opportunity to see in detail what such a crisis can do to a very large, complex city, especially one with petrochemical industries.  Though effects of this storm will continue making news, attention will waver.  Is the climate crisis fact sinking in?

It's become commonplace now to say that Houston will never be the same.  But that's not a given.  Powerful forces created this unregulated sprawl and they will be back, relentlessly forcing their vision.  They will want to rebuild in that old image.

It will take political courage to fight this fight in Houston and other affected areas of Texas.  And it will take political courage beyond any we've actually seen to bring this lesson home to the country.  It will never be obvious.  It must be said, and it must be faced.

These days I'm starting to believe that nothing dramatic will change until one candidate--for Senator, for Mayor of a big city, for Governor--runs relentlessly on the issue of the climate crisis, and wins decisively in a state that is not deep blue.

California is a model of a state that takes the climate crisis seriously, yet even here there is much work to be done.  Such work has started in many places, but often almost furtively.  To address the causes and prepare for the effects requires facing them together.  Civilization depends on this.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Eye of the Hurricane

President Obama comforting a victim of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey in 2012
The test that the present White House incumbent must pass, according to many media stories, is Katrina, but that is a tragically low bar.  Between Katrina and Harvey there was Sandy, the model, by many measures, of optimal response to a disaster by the federal government.

That response by the Obama administration was on an immensely large scale in a number of states, in both immediate and sustained ways.  But then there are the individuals and what they go through, as well as the collective feelings of those affected, and an anxious, watching nation.

Many problems arise, perhaps fatal problems, with the role of father of the country that the presidency imposes.  But the nation needs the binding and consoling sense that in a time like this, the president understands.  His response as a person translates into a sense that the nation understands. The people most affected and the nation gain confidence from this, and confidence works wonders.  President Obama was always there to provide it.

The current incumbent has not expressed gratitude to those who have responded to the horrific challenges of Harvey.  Nor has he expressed sympathy for the families of those who died (including a police officer) and those suffering from its effects. On his visit he met none of them. He sat behind a desk and stood in front of a crowd.  That impersonal response is not really surprising.  He cannot express empathy because he has never shown the capacity to experience it.

The lack of gratitude and empathy in his words during this crisis and especially during his Texas visit have been noted by, among others, the press secretary for the prior president of his party. Instead he praised the size of the crowd to hear him speak (about a thousand, including protesters.)

These expressions of sympathy are expected (and as basic as being against Nazis), so one writer calls his response "tonally peculiar."  It is more than that.  It is one more heavy sadness, for an isolated, unengaged president leaves everyone feeling isolated.  He is another emptiness where there is only the anti-president.

Moreover it does not bode well for sustained efforts at relief, recovering and planning, which due to the nature of this catastrophe and the places it is happening, will be unprecedented.  The worst may be ahead, and the effects will be felt by the entire country and beyond.  Those effects may be especially harsh if this hapless White House screws up.

 They say the eye of a hurricane is silent and empty.  At the center of authority for future response is this egomaniacal robot, this emptiness.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Dunkirk in Texas


As the effects of Hurricane Harvey continue to unfold in Texas,  and as attention focuses on saving lives, we are also thinking about what it means for the future.

The unnecessary vulnerabilities in Houston, almost always as a result of greed, are again exposed, and as usual the costs are paid more often in the suffering of the most vulnerable people.

While first responders do their jobs with distinction, the failure of government--including the federal government--to engage in preventive measures in a time when such storms and related events are more frequent and ferocious, due especially to the climate crisis, is not a good sign for the future.

We have yet to face the enormity of the tasks, when huge catastrophes hit huge population centers with complex infrastructure. It's bad enough when it occurs in one place. But what happens when--and not if, but when--such catastrophic events occur in more than one place at one time?  This is the cost of denying reality.

But while this event is happening, this is a human story, and an article in the New Yorker ask those human questions that will recur in future disasters, and I'm sure already echo somewhere inside most of us:

"But if we now know more about how the climate will behave, we know less about how humans will react. The experience of frequent storms is one of incredible stress...There is now, too, a double anxiety that greets storms like this. There is the fear about the damage done by wind and rain. And then there is a fear, made stark by the memory of Katrina, about how we will treat each other."

The first news I saw out of Texas, which this piece references in the very next sentence, named one such fear: a homeowner, as the storm began. who saw someone he believed was trying to enter his house, and shot him in the head.

We fear this now especially because we are told we are a severely divided nation, and the politically opposed are often violent in their rhetoric, and vivid in their disdain and especially their suspicions.  That we have a chief executive who is actively inflaming disdain and suspicion, and setting race against race for political gain, only adds to these fears.

The other element of this story is the gun.  The valorization of guns, the encouragement to use a gun as a first resort, can turn a misunderstanding into a mortal wound or death.  Who would want to hold out a hand to a hand holding a gun?

But since Harvey made landfall, the New Yorker has published two new articles, one from a Houston neighborhood which tells how people on a single street--many who have never met--are selflessly helping each other, and the other which focuses on the efforts of  individuals using small boats to rescue those about to be inundated by rapidly rising floodwaters.  Learning of people needing rescue from social media, they coordinate the ferrying of people away from their own rooftops, as well as the forgotten (often elderly and handicapped) in group housing.

This citizen navy is conducting a computerized Dunkirk.  Notably, many of those involved are from Louisiana, who remember the help they got from people in Houston during Katrina and the more recent flooding in New Orleans.

This reciprocity makes literal the ethical rule that I regard as the most basic: "You'd do the same for me."  That's the essential faith of a civilized society, and as long as it prevails, there is hope for the future.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Abyss: Weekend Update

It was the epic Friday night news dump of all time, culminating in the just-past-9 p.m. pardoning of convicted criminal, ace birther and former Sheriff Joe Apieceofwork.  With the possible exception of the "I quit/ no you're fired!" termination of Nazi Lite Sebastian Gorka from his nebulous White House post (with a quick slink back to Brietbart, natch), all of that dumped news has impeachment implications, new and old.  Oh, and it was all done as the worst hurricane to make US landfall in a decade was closing in on Texas.

Let us begin with the most likely to be lost in the explosion: earlier on Friday: the public rebuke of Homegrown Hitler's remarks on Charlottesville by his chief financial advisor Gary Cohn in an interview with the Financial Times.  As the WAPost reports, HH was "furious" but Cohn is so essential (Wall Street panicked when his resignation was rumored--a well-founded rumor, it turns out, because he drafted a resignation letter) that the official response from the White House was much more tepid.

Also the first subpoenas from Robert Mueller's DC grand jury for testimony about Paul Manafort and his tangled webs of deception.   There was also the little matter of North Korea firing missiles into the ocean near Japan, though initial reports claim they all failed.

But the superstar of the news dump was the pardon.  Two responses to it so far are notable:  A quick statement of "disagreement" with the decision from the usually mealy-mouthed Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose statement continues:“Law-enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”  Ryan of course would be a key figure in any future impeachment proceeding.

And second, the response from Dem Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who said it "violates his [HH's] oath of office."  That a Dem Senator opposed it isn't the significance--it is positioning it as a violation of the oath of office.  Without saying so, that makes it grounds for an article of impeachment.

The predominant--if not universal--view is that the pardon is constitutional, though its extraordinary, really unprecedented nature qualifies it for court challenge.  Although Christian Farias in New York Magazine opines that it won't lead to impeachment, he also quotes Justice Breyer from last year: “There’s no blank check, even for the president,” he said during the hearing. “And if there’s no blank check, that means sometimes they can go too far. And if they have gone too far, it is our job to say that.”  As a constitutional issue, the Supreme Court could examine a pardon power case for the first time in its history.

If they do, they will look at the intent and the history.  Its intent, say scholars, was to keep the peace in a time of upheaval, such as the first pardon of miscreants convicted in the Whiskey Rebellion--that is, for the common good.  This pardon is obviously divisive, and plays only to HH's political base.

But a court case on the pardon itself, or an article of impeachment, aren't the only places it could turn up.  If it demonstrates to those that Robert Mueller prosecutes that they need not worry about it, it subverts justice from the get go, and becomes another Obstruction of Justice count.  If it impedes the investigation itself, as Rep. Adam Schiff charges, by signaling that targets or witnesses can get away with even not cooperating, then again it's obstruction.

The political base motive was clear in HH's campaign speech in Phoenix in which he asked the audience if they liked "Sheriff Joe" and promised him that he would be all right.  Further, he offered the opinion that Arpaio was wrongfully convicted, ("convicted for doing his job") and therefore the pardon is a clear case of the maybe no longer apprentice but functioning dictator substituting his judgment for the court and for the legislature that passed the law.

These two political motives: to reward a loyalist and their common political base, and to foul up the Mueller investigation,  are given further credence by the Washington Post story that last spring, the apprentice dictator asked the attorney-general to drop the federal case against Arpaio.

Add them altogether and it's called Abuse of Power, right up their with Obstruction of Justice as primary grounds for impeachment.

The other of the twin stars of the dump was the White House announcement banning the armed services from accepting transgender recruits.  Let the law suits begin!

  "As Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed reports, this memo is expected to receive significant legal challenges in the months ahead. Multiple LGBT advocacy organizations are seeking injunctions against the implementation of Trump’s transgender ban. The American Civil Liberties Union made no secret of its legal intentions, either, tweeting simply: “We’ll see you in court.”

The issues have become constitutional ones and it seems likely to end up, in fairly short order, in the Supreme Court.  When articles of impeachment are drawn up, the attempt to abrogate a constitutional right of equality as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court, could be among them.  In fact, because the Arpaio conviction was for persistent discrimination against Latinos, that could go into such a count as well.

Of the immediate responses to this decision, one stands out, partly because it came from the daughter of a cabinet member in the current regime, who is also an armed forces vet.  That a child of a prominent pol publicly disagrees is not entirely new.  But the terms used by Jen Detlefsen, the daughter of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in her social media post were notably harsh:

This man is a disgrace. I've tried to keep politics out of my social media feed as much as possible, but this is inexcusable,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

This veteran says sit down and shut the f--- up, you know-nothing, never-served piece of s---. #itmfa #wtf”

Friday, August 25, 2017

This Week in the Abyss: The Anti-President and R v R

1. The Anti-President

After all the initial emotion, political and otherwise, related to Charlottesville, there is this specific sadness: the young woman who died there as a victim of political violence while peacefully demonstrating, was buried without a consoling word by the President of the United States.

 Her funeral received almost no coverage nationally, because no President was there.  That it wasn't covered is a failing of the media, which has a very bad record in remaining so fixated on Homegrown Hitler that other important stories are obscured, but it is much more a failing of the current White House incumbent.

When David Axelrod stated absolutely that President Obama would have given the eulogy for Heather Heyer, no one could contradict him.   But the current incumbent is more than absent as president, the un-president.  The words he did speak were all but opposite to what all the living presidents would have said and in fact did say. He is the anti-President.

When sailors died on the John McCain, the current incumbent--their ultimate commander as commander-in-chief-- offered no words, said nothing.  On other occasions when any other president would have spoken, he has not.

The White House is no longer a welcoming place where artists and scientists feel valued and heard.  No longer does it celebrate and demonstrate diversity or inspire children to learn and achieve.  It is not even a moral vacuum.  It is the ever tightening, shrinking home of lying words and evil deeds.

So we get Frank Bruni's New York Times column entitled The Week When President Trump Resigned:

"Trump resigned the presidency already — if we regard the job as one of moral stewardship, if we assume that an iota of civic concern must joust with self-regard, if we expect a president’s interest in legislation to rise above vacuous theatrics, if we consider a certain baseline of diplomatic etiquette to be part of the equation.

...his presidency ended in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon, when he chose — yes, chose — to litigate rather than lead, to attend to his wounded pride instead of his wounded nation and to debate the supposed fine points of white supremacy.

He abdicated his responsibilities so thoroughly and recklessly that it amounted to a letter of resignation. Then he whored for his Virginia winery on the way out the door."

And another NYTimes oped by young author Caroline Randall Williams entitled: President Obama, Where Are You?  She lamented the loss of Obama's "gravity, good sense and honesty" as President.  She spoke for her generation that graduated from college, got their first jobs and became adults during his administration:

We learned to experience politics through the lens of your eloquent presence in the White House. In this respect, you raised us. So we are unaccustomed to all of this wildness. Just because we’re grown doesn’t mean we don’t need to hear from the man who brought us up."


2. R v R

Controversies rage over our apprentice dictator in the White House.  He screams at his most vocal critics, insults them and threatens their jobs.  They question his moral judgments, stability, fitness for office and his sanity.  Their arguments fill the media space.

Yet they all have one interesting thing in common.  They are all Republicans.

I think it was Rachel who pointed this out Wednesday.  On Thursday, it didn't stop. For example, The Hill: GOP taken aback by Trump’s verbal bombs and White House calls GOP senator's remark about Trump's competence 'outrageous'

 Politico headline: Trump takes potshots at GOP leaders as fiscal crisis looms.  Another:Trump clashed with multiple GOP senators over Russia.

The preponderance of coverage was about these intra-party conflicts.  So it is perhaps not surprising that the most recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showed that Homegrown Hitler hit a new low in that poll of 39%, a drop of 5 points, and "Much of the decline in Trump’s approval rating appears to have come from self-identified Republican voters."  

It's a large one week drop while the overall R support is still 75%.  But it could be a harbinger of things to come.