The Great Housefly Massacre

House Fly Drenched in Water VaporHere in Northern California, it has been very hot the last couple of weeks. And with the heat has come the houseflies. Normally, I don’t notice them and I don’t really care. As long as there is not one buzzing past me and distracting me, what’s the big deal? But yesterday, I came into the kitchen and behind the blinds on the front window were a group of at least a dozen flies. I grabbed the fly swatter and went on a killing spree. It was terrible. It was like if the United States went to war with with Ghana.

I’m not proud of this. In fact, I feel very bad. The flies weren’t doing anything. They weren’t bugging me. They were just hanging out. But I don’t like flies. When seen outside, they are usually standing on a pile of dog feces, enjoying a banquet. I know: it’s the circle of life and every creature is special. But I can’t help but think that every time they land on me, they they are tracking feces all over me.

And this isn’t just some kind of germophobic fantasy of mine. Houseflies are known to transmit over a hundred diseases, including tuberculosis and cholera. And it isn’t as though we don’t have enough of them. They are everywhere. We now have confirmation that they’ve made it to Antarctica. So there is no reason to morn for the houseflies I destroyed yesterday.

Just the same: why? I mean, what’s the big deal? They were out of the way. There were none flying around my head. In fact, I had to lift the blinds to get at them. And it always makes me think that if some advanced civilization discovered earth, they would probably kill all of us humans with as little regard. And I could hardly blame them, because we are far more annoying than houseflies.

And then I think of the Jains and how they won’t even hurt a root vegetable. Meanwhile, I can’t live in peace with a dozen houseflies living in my window seal. What kind of a monster am I?!

Hidden Politics Fester: Speak Up!

Thomas PaineThere’s been something on my mind from a month and a half ago, and I thought I would address it. I have, what I think is a very friendly relationship with The Q-Filmcast guys. But when they did an episode of Dr Strangelove, there was a little unpleasantness—both on their blog and on Twitter. I was unhappy that they simply avoided the political content of the film. And as is my way, I am not one to use the soft sell. I wrote, “It amazes me that any of you could miss the fact that the same radical right-wing John Birch Society has come back in a big way within the Tea Party.” That was specifically in reference to how the film lampoons water fluoridation as a communist conspiracy.

They wrote back that they wanted to stay away from politics and focus on character and so on. If that’s the case, I can only wonder why they picked the film. Really. If they decided to watch Birth of a Nation, would they focus on Lillian Gish’s acting and avoid its explicit racism and Klan apologia? I don’t think so. My point is not to put these fine guys down, but just to point out that politics is politics. It is no longer acceptable to publicly claim that the Klan was just created to protect the purity of southern white woman. But we are (sadly) still arguing about American empire. And even more pointedly we still have people like Brigadier General Jack Ripper (the Fluoridation guy who starts the nuclear war). All you have to do is listen to Lieutenant Colonel Allen West (retired).

So to take no position on these matters is very much to take a position. One can’t, for example, be agnostic on the issue of torture. Being agnostic is being for it. But what really bothered me about the whole interaction was that facile disregard of my position. And then there was this tweet, “I go to the cinema to get away from socialists, or at least escape the endless political nonsense that’s tearing us apart.” They go to the cinema to get away from socialists? Really?! Because all you have to do to get away from socialists in America is to step outside your house, visit almost any website, watch any television program, or talk to anyone. And then, after implicitly vilifying socialists as a kind of pox on society, they provide an appeal to understanding. Apparently, the political nonsense that’s tearing us apart is that there are socialists who disagree with them.

This, I’m afraid is what is behind the “can’t we all just get along” chorus. It is really just a sneaky way of saying, “Shut up and get lost!” But I would much rather get the latter treatment. As regular readers know, I talk to a lot of conservatives and I find there is a lot of crossover in our beliefs. At least, there is a lot of crossover until Fox News and hate radio start telling them what all good conservatives ought to think. But if someone doesn’t want to discuss politics, that’s fine. But don’t pretend that you’re above it when my opinions offend you. All it really means is that your opinions either go along with the perspective of the nightly news, or you only listen to news sources that reinforce your prejudices. (Actually, that’s the same.)

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, the same guys who complained about my political nonsense that was “tearing us apart” tweeted out this image for Independence Day:

No Tyranny

And it went along with the text, “1st rule of America… No tyranny.” Now there is so much wrong here it makes me weep. I hate that it turns Washington into a guy in a Tareyton Cigarettes ad. I hate the depiction of the founding fathers as though they were toughs rather than the Enlightenment thinkers that they were. I hate that of all pictures to post on Independence Day, this is the one they chose. But most of all, I hate the caption. That’s the first rule of America? No tyranny? Well, I’m against tyranny, but the tyranny that the Declaration of Independence refers to is nothing compared to the tyranny that was suffered by the African slaves held by the white ruling elite. And the man pushing hardest against this English tyranny (John Adams) was eager to set up his own tyranny against the lower classes in the new country. And what about Gerald Horne’s contention that many of the delegates were not interested in tyranny but the thought that England was soon going to outlaw slavery in its colonies? But none of this matters. These are arguments that we could have.

But promoting a slogan like “First rule of America… No tyranny” shows that the filmcast guys do have a political ax to grind. If you had asked me what the first thing that the Declaration of Independence brings to mind, I would have said, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I just don’t see the 1765 Stamp Act as the definition of tyranny. But again, that’s an argument that we can have. But we can’t have it when people who clearly disagree with you pretend to be disinterested.

So does Dr Strangelove work today as an indictment of the Tea Party? Most certainly. Does it lampoon people who think that international relations are about how hard various leaders can beat their chests? You bet. And is it scornful of the idea that we live in anything like a tyranny today? Absolutely.


The only founding father I have a great deal of respect for is Thomas Paine who has largely been written out of our history books, other than noting the importance of Common Sense. What is not widely known is that his 1797 pamphlet Agrarian Justice called for property and estate taxes to pay for old age pensions. Sound familiar? Sound like an idea that was almost a century and a half before its time? Sound like an idea that conservatives today want to destroy? (Actually, it would already be destroyed, it if weren’t funded by a ridiculously regressive payroll tax.) It has also been suggested that the reason Paine was pushed to the side by the big founding fathers was his abhorrence of slavery. It’s interesting that all the founding fathers in that picture were slave owners. What a joke political discourse has become in this country.

Obama Is a Typical New Democrat

ObamaJonathan Bernstein and Jonathan Chait have had a little fight. Bernstein started it by writing, Barack Obama Is a Generic Brand. Basically, all he’s saying is this, “[A]lmost everything about Obama’s presidency can be explained by saying he’s a Democratic president.” In other words, Obama has acted the way any Democratic president would have acted. Bernstein gives him credit for perhaps being a better manager and even (although I think it’s laughable) a better negotiator. But otherwise, he’s a Democratic president—full stop.

I would go further. I would say that Barack Obama is a generic New Democrat. His brilliant idea coming into office was that if he offered the Republicans policies that they claimed to support, they would support those policies. For example, Obama offered the Republicans the exact same healthcare law that John McCain campaigned on. But the Republicans were never going to allow a Democrat—a black Democrat—to usher in a new era of politics where the two parties worked together on things they could agree on. So I think the difference between a Hillary Clinton administration and an Obama administration is only that she wouldn’t have been so naive. In terms of policy, Bernstein is right: no difference.

But Chait begs to differ, How Barack Obama Saved the Obama Administration. He says that there are two issues on which Obama really stuck his neck out. The first is the EPA regulation of existing power plants. And as proof that this was a gutsy move that most Democratic presidents wouldn’t have done, he notes that some pundits said he wouldn’t do it. Well, the fact that Matt Yglesias laid out the fact that it could be done and then covered himself from being criticized for being naive by saying that Obama wouldn’t do it, doesn’t mean very much. I’m sure that what actually happened was that Obama asked his advisers, “What can we do about global warming?” They mentioned coal-fired power plants and he said yes. Unless Chait’s memory is getting a little weak, a lot of people have been talking about this for years.

The second issue was pushing forward with Obamacare after Ted Kennedy died and it looked like the whole thing was going to fall apart. This one is hilarious. Chait wrote, “In late August of 2009… Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel wanted to pull the plug on comprehensive reform, but Obama overruled them.” Oh my! The Republican who claims to be a Democrat Rahm Emanuel wanted to pull back and Obama overruled him?! Maybe Chait is right, but not in the way he thinks. Your average Democrat wouldn’t have allowed Rahm Emanuel anywhere near his inner circle. Remember: he’s the guy who said that we liberals were “fucking retarded.”

I think it is more likely that Obama pushed ahead with the ACA because by that time he had figured out what a less naive president would have known all along: even if he dropped the ACA and gone with some minor healthcare reform, the Republicans would have killed it too. It doesn’t matter how minor it was, just as with the ACA, there would have been not a single Republican in Congress willing to vote for it.

I have no problem with Obama. He’s about as good a president as we are likely to get as long as half the country doesn’t vote. But there is nothing especially great about him either. He’s certainly not bold. If it weren’t for Joe Biden shooting his mouth off, Obama still would be against same sex marriage. He is an entirely typical New Democrat. That’s what we got last time and that’s probably what we’ll get next time. And there’s nothing especially terrible about that. But don’t let’s think that Obama stands out in terms of his leadership.

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester StalloneAs you may have noticed, I’m not writing as much as usual. It isn’t that I am busy. I just don’t feel well. And it is a strange thing because I’m not sure if it is physical or mental. Of course, there really isn’t much difference. The whole endorphin system in the body is there to help in the management of pain. So when one is depressed, one does necessarily feel physical pain. But I don’t especially feel depressed. I feel more exhausted and uninterested in much of anything. Still, I come here each day and grind out a birthday post and a few more things. And I can’t say the work suffers especially; yesterday I wrote something I think is rather good, Anthony Cumia and How Racism Works. But it feels like a lot of work—like I’m grinding it all out. And then this morning I noticed that last year’s birthday post gave me very few options for what to write about today. Oh well. Do you hear the grinding? Well, that’s because I haven’t started yet.

If the world were fair, I would write many words about and show many pictures of Marc Chagall, because I do love his work. In fact, I think it’s kind of weird that I am a very strong analyst with an unfortunate tendency toward over-intellectualizing, yet I am strongly drawn to the sentimental, silly, and colorful. So maybe next year, I’ll feel up to the task of writing about him. As for this year, I’m just going to rant a bit.

Today Sylvester Stallone is 68. In some ways I admire him. He is a reasonably good writer. And as far as genre writing goes (it’s all he writes), Rocky was great. He developed a number of very interesting and real characters. And there are wonderful scenes. In particular, the scene where Mickey comes to ask Rocky to be his manager. And, of course, pretty much every scene between Rock and Adrian. The whole thing works because Stallone understands structure and he knows how to pander.

But as great as the film is, and I still really enjoy it, it is hard not to think that it was so successful because it gave white American audiences the chance to see something they didn’t much see in boxing: a white guy hold his own against a black guy. This isn’t to suggest that Stallone is some kind of racist. I don’t think that at all. For one thing, Apollo Creed was original supposed to be played by Chuck Norris, who backed out very late to be on some television reality series. (As I recall; I know it was some white guy.) What’s more, the script does a great job of showing that Creed doesn’t take the fight seriously because at this point he’s more interested in managing Apollo Creed, LLC. The later films flirt with racism and of course the fourth film is total nationalistic garbage.

I don’t mind that Stallone panders to audiences. That’s a given. But he’s a stereotypical stupid conservative. He believes a lot of things that just aren’t so. In First Blood, he pushes the ideas that the troops weren’t “allowed” to win and that there are all kinds of soldiers who were left behind. The real story of John Rambo is that of a man who has real psychological trouble. If we were to make an honest movie about him, it should be about his difficult getting help from the under-funded VA.

Of late, he makes watchable action films. He’s certainly aged better than Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Stallone has the luxury of writing his own parts, but still. I’ve never especially seen the appeal of Schwarzenegger. How is it that one of the great American action heroes can’t speak without a strong Austrian accent? Regardless, 16 year old boys want to see the kind of films these guys make, so they make them. Stallone is not the cause of our cultural decline, just a symptom of it. And above all, we must keep his taxes low so he will continue to make formulaic action films. Sadly, had he not have become a star, he might have turned into a fine writer instead of the hack that he is.

Happy birthday Sylvester Stallone!

See Also

Innumeracy in Rocky
Evil Myths
American Myth and Escape Plan