Matt Taibbi on the Donald Trump Convention

Matt TaibbiIt wasn’t what we expected. We thought Donald Trump’s version of the Republican National Convention would be a brilliantly bawdy exercise in Nazistic excess.

We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of “New York, New York” while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed to the start of Donald’s acceptance speech…

But nah. What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird. The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.

—Matt Taibbi
Trump’s Appetite for Destruction: How Disastrous Convention Doomed GOP

America Demands Plagiarism — a Salute to Melania Trump

Melania Trump PlagiarismI know it is long past it’s sell-by date, but I wanted to talk about Melania Trump’s plagiarism scandal. I’m not really interested in it from a political standpoint. It was amusing, of course. But that was just because it was yet another example of the total incompetence of the Trump campaign. I’m interested in it from an editorial standpoint. How do these things happen?

But I do think it is interesting that the Trump campaign shows itself to be incompetent again and again. Despite this, the American people watched the RNC, with one mistake after another. And their response was, “More of that!” Apparently, eight years of George W Bush was not enough. They are looking for another administration with the defining characteristic of incompetence. Disagree with Obama all you want, but at least admit that has been competent. Oh well. Whatever.

Understandable Plagiarism

To me, the cause of Melania Trump’s plagiarism was pretty obvious. I know how it happened because I know how things get written. Imagine someone coming to you and asking that you write a speech for Donald Trump’s wife to give on the first night of the RNC. What you would do, if you were a professional writer, is find all the “wife” speeches from the last few decades. You would do that to give yourself some idea of what these speeches were like. Whether you were going to be conservative and do what was done before or radical and do something new, you would want to know what had been done before.

How an exact line gets into a speech is something I discussed before, Plagiarism and Publication Standards. It is a sign that the writer was a hack. I would certainly have read Michelle Obama’s speech. And I probably would have written down some notes. But I wouldn’t have copied parts of it unless my idea was to write something like, “And as Michelle Obama so eloquently put it…” Otherwise, you are probably planning to do a different kind of plagiarism.

Deeper Plagiarism

One doesn’t have to copy another’s writing word-for-word to plagiarize. Consider my first paragraph above in all its banality. The following would be plagiarism, even if it is harder to catch:

I am late in addressing the subject, but it still seems worth while to discuss Melania Trump’s plagiarism scandal. I’ll leave the political aspects of it to others. Sure: it was funny — but not because of the plagiarism. It was funny because it was another example of the Trump campaign’s lack of professionalism. My interest today is in how such plagiarism happens.

The funny thing is that had Melania Trump’s speech plagiarized in that way, no one would have noticed or cared. It would have been just the another political speech that said nothing. One of the plagiarized bits was, “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do…” Wow. It’s impressive only in how many cliches it managed to stuff into a single sentence.

America Wants Plagiarism

But had Michelle Obama said something interesting — something thoughtful — it would have been a controversy. Remember when Hillary Clinton got into trouble for saying she had better things to do than stay home and bake cookies? So that writer was smart to know what was said before. The people won’t stand for having their expectations challenged.

So when it comes to what is actually a much more serious form of plagiarism — the stealing of ideas — we aren’t against it. We do, in fact, demand it. I think we should embrace it. From now on, every spouse should just read the speech of Melania Trump. It was good enough. It said everything that needs to be said: nothing. And that’s what America wants.

Marissa Mayer and the Death Of Yahoo!

Yahoo! Sign on I-80

If you live in the Bay Area, you know this sign well. Since 1999, it decorated I-80 as you made your way to the Bay Bridge from the west. It was iconic. As a Bay Area nerd, I always felt a bit of pride seeing it. Yes: we were in Silicon Valley. Or close enough. But over the years, it came to seem a bit sad. Even when it was built, Google was on its way to ruling the world. It was put up when Excite passed up the offer to buy Google for just $750,000. And it was two years before Google turned down Yahoo!’s billion dollar offer to buy the search engine giant. But by the time the sign was taken down in 2011, it was more a cruel reminder of how the mighty could fall.

Back in 2008, Microsoft tried to take over Yahoo! with a $45 billion bid. Failing at that was probably the best business move in Microsoft’s long history. At the time, I was very ill — near death. My heart wasn’t functioning well and my brain was not getting enough oxygen. But even in that state, I could see that it was a terrible deal. Yahoo! was dying and there was nothing that was going to change that. Paying that amount of money for Yahoo! would have been on par to Excite’s decision that Google wasn’t worth three-quarter million dollars in 1999.

Marissa Mayer Cannot Fall

Yes, mighty companies like Yahoo! fall and disappear. Look at Excite: if you can find it. While the mighty companies fall, the mighty CEOs who run them into the ground do not fall. The current Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, will walk away with $55 million once she is finally thrown out of the company. But that’s not to say that she hasn’t suffered. Because of Yahoo!’s poor performance, she only made $25 million in 2014. And then last year, her compensation pancaked to a mere $14 million. How she’s surviving is anyone’s guess.

Marissa Mayer

I want to be fair, however. She isn’t responsible for the failure of Yahoo! In general, I think the company has been reasonably managed. For example, the acquisition of Overture in 2001 was a smart move. But it was also an obvious move. I’m no good at business, so when a company does something that I think is smart, it can’t have taken a brilliant business mind to come up with it. So by 2001, the Yahoo! management team saw the future as clearly as I did. Yippy! (Note: is much more popular than

Why Are CEOs So Important?

But it makes me wonder. By American standards, I’m roughly in the middle class. Yet we have people like Marissa Mayer (net worth: $430 million) and Terry Semel (net worth: $300 million). They never fall. They aren’t allowed to. But what is it that makes them worth so much? Semel ran the company from 2001 to 2007. And the company did about as well as you would expect. So why not just hire me? Or a trained monkey?

I suspect that it really is all a matter of appearances. The idea of a multi-billion dollar company being headed by someone who makes just a million dollars a year would look odd. And it would be seen as unfair to make a CEO’s pay truly dependent upon how well the company did. For example: imagine if instead of Marissa Mayer getting a pay cut of 44% in 2015, she had been required to pay Yahoo! $10 million dollars. Why not?! We hear so much about people being rewarded for taking risks. Getting your yearly pay cut from 10 times the average worker’s lifetime pay to five times it doesn’t seem like much of a risk to me.

Once a person reaches a certain level of success they become a kind of community charity. We all weep at the thought of them going without. In fact, I’ve heard much the same thing said on Fox News: it’s so much worse to go from rich to poor than to simply have been poor your whole life. To a normal person, such talk is rubbish, but it sounds quite reasonable to some people.

Companies Represent Nameless People

But there’s something much more nefarious in this. Marissa Mayer is a real person. The thousands of people who lose their jobs and pensions are nameless and faceless. They are allowed to suffer in their anonymity. They are but statistics. “Are there no prisons?” There must be something: some kind of system to take care of the nameless and faceless. But what would become of Marissa Mayer if not for her $55 million severance package? There are no government programs for her! No prisons to make sure she is kept fed.

Thus the once mighty Yahoo! is allowed to fall, because it only represents the destruction of the lives of the nameless masses. We would be monsters to allow real humans to suffer — the ones with names — the ones like Marissa Mayer. But as long as she and her ilk are taken care of, then Yahoo! can die because it won’t harm any real humans.

Why H P Lovecraft Couldn’t Write Dialog

Stephen King - Writing Is SeductionLovecraft was, by all acccounts, both snobbish and painfully shy (a galloping racist as well, his stories full of sinister Africans and the sort of scheming Jews my Uncle Oren always worried about after four or five beers), the kind of writer who maintains a voluminous correspondence but gets along poorly with others in person — were he alive today, he’d likely exist most vibrantly in various internet chatrooms. Dialogue is a skill best learned by people who enjoy talking and listening to others — particularly listening, picking up the accents, rhythms, dialect, and slang of various groups. Loners such as Lovecraft often write it badly, or with the care of someone who is composing in a language other than his or her native tongue.

—Stephen King
On Writing

A Personal Reaction to Hillary Clinton’s Speech

Hillary ClintonFrank asked me to write about how I feel now that Hillary Clinton is at last the first woman to head a major party presidential ticket. I don’t know exactly how to express it but I will try.

I am a woman who served in elected office. When I see Hillary Clinton, I don’t just see a woman who I have looked up to for over a decade, I see myself. I see someone who has had to fight against unreasoning prejudice because of the gender we both were born with. I see someone who has had to fight past people who don’t think much of you — who think you don’t have what it takes.

I was very young when I won my first office and I had to prove myself again and again. And I had to do it in various capacities. I had to prove myself to the other judges. To the lawyers I worked with. To the public. I did that by doing what Hillary always does: I put my head down and I got to work. I wasn’t and am not perfect. But I eventually won the respect of my colleagues and the people who came before me.

Personal Connection

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was shortly after my re-election. A lawyer who I greatly admired was having a hearing on some issue and thought I had lost. He asked me when I was going to leave office. The prosecutor hissed, “She won you dummy!” The lawyer responded, “You what? You won?!” He continued, “Judge Rogers, when I come in your courtroom I have to take off the jester’s hat I generally use for this level. I put on my lawyer’s hat, because when I come in here I know you will be at least as prepared as I am. In addition to that, you treat my clients with fairness and respect. I appreciate all of this.”

From Seneca Falls to tonight, from the fact that women were once little more than property to the woman who stood on that stage in suffragist white, the night was about all of us little girls who became women watching Clinton’s career and seeing in her ourselves.

Hillary Clinton is like me — only at a far higher level. She knows the rules, the law, the cases, the studies. She makes the effort to not just hear what we have to say, she makes an effort to find out more information and to do something about it. I trust her absolutely to implement the progressive platform that we Democrats put together. (For the record: I expect us all to send her a Congress to help!)

Hillary Clinton’s Long Battle

Like me she has known the joys of winning a hard fought race and the joy of re-election. She has also known the bitterness of defeat. While she probably cried before she had to say she conceded to President Obama, she picked herself up and kept going. She knows what it is like to be called some pretty awful names to her face. To have to smile even when you are being insulted directly. And she can still find common ground with those determined to dehumanize her. She is way, way, way more gracious then I ever could be.

Her speech last night was absolutely brilliant. But it was simply seeing her walk out on that stage that brought tears to my eyes. From Seneca Falls to tonight, from the fact that women were once little more (and often nothing more) than property to the woman who stood on that stage in suffragist white, the night was about all of us little girls who became women watching Clinton’s career and seeing in her ourselves. The women who came before her who suffered, starved, and bled to ensure that one day, one of their descendants would be able to walk into the Oval Office as Madam President.

I am sure others will more eloquently state what this means for themselves and other women. For me though, it is about seeing myself in my President in a way I never could before.

Thank you Hillary Clinton. From the bottom of my heart. #ImWithHer

The X-Files And Conspiracy Irresponsibility

The X-FilesThe sci-fi geeks among you are probably aware that The X-Files returned recently, for a limited-miniseries run on Fox. I loathe the current sequel trend, but not on general principle. It’s because the sequels tend to be enormously lazy cash grabs. It’s perfectly fine to redo or add to existing material, if you have something worth adding. (The first few seasons of Sherlock are true to the original in spirit, and well-liked by Holmes nerds even though the stories differ wildly from Doyle’s originals.)

Like many people, I enjoyed The X-Files when it first aired in 1993. Its leads, as FBI agents investigating UFOs, Bigfoot, and such, played their encounters with monsters so dryly they seemed more like accountants than law enforcement. Or: DMV meets Dracula. While the show’s hints of an overarching, the sinister plot to cover up “The Truth” about UFOs was fun, suggesting that kooks everywhere were right all along. Although this had been stolen from, and done better in, Close Encounters, it was enjoyable transposed into scary-show format.

X-Files Loses Its Spark

Also like many people, I drifted away as the Sinister Plot became more labyrinthine. It lost its air of spooky silliness and drifted into a tedious mix of pretension and sloppiness. The show’s creator, Chris Carter, seemed not to realize he was pulling together bits from earlier popular successes (Twilight Zone, Close Encounters) and believed viewers tuned in for his “vision.”

“If the conspiracy is really as powerful as Mulder thinks it is, only collective action can change it. Only some version of democracy can stand up against it.” —James Surowiecki

The Sinister Plot got away from poking (not entirely harmless) fun at UFO and Bigfoot conspiracy buffs (at times, the show’s depiction of such could be downright mean-spirited). And it moved into much more irresponsible territory. In addition to covering up Roswell, and lying about abductions, the Bad Guys also assassinated JFK. And Dr King. Seriously. That’s really reprehensible.

(The episode where this is revealed mentions actual historical facts about Hoover’s attempts to smear King, and how hard-right elements considered him a communist threat. Maybe in Carter’s mind this information justified working such a tragedy into his monster serial. If so, Carter’s mind is unhinged.)

Giving X-Files Another Try

But, I have high admiration for Gillian Anderson as a performer, and some nostalgia over seeing her recreate the role which started her fine career. Plus, I like miniseries. American TV shows tend to have seasons which are way too long (cable has begun figuring this out.) So, I thought I’d give it a try.

Oh, boy.

Our FBI agents and now retired from the UFO biz. They had a kid who’d been genetically altered with alien DNA, whom they had to give up and never see again for the kid’s own safety or something. They are contacted by a Glenn Beck type, who wants their input on a big story he’s planning to break. They’re hesitant, being good liberals, but the Beck fellow knows his UFO lore, so maybe he’s not entirely an opportunistic TV liar.

Turns out Beck has an honest-to-God alien spaceship (or working copy, anyway), stashed in a hangar. Why? Oh, herein lies a tale. Brace yourselves. This is Scientology, Story of Xenu-worthy stuff.

When we started exploding A-bombs, it attracted the notice of space aliens, who came to save us from destroying ourselves. But the Big Mean Earth Bad Guys kept shooting down alien ships and learning from their technology. They built replicas of those ships to abduct people and perform genetic experiments involving, again, alien DNA. Also, stories of alien abduction helped distract the public from these Mean Bad Guys’ master scheme, which involves environmental devastation, obesity, consumerism run amok, sparking wars, and blowing up skyscrapers. This is all to justify the buildup of a surveillance/police state which will finally be unleashed after the next manufactured catastrophe to take over the world. Starting with America. Bwahahaha!

Where to start with this? Wouldn’t any aliens who mastered FTL travel to stop us from using atomic warfare realize we were pretty violent primates and, I dunno, keep their ships from being shot down? But the illogic isn’t worth going into.

The Same Old Thing — But Newer

What I do find bizarre is how this equates both right-wing fantasies (the Beck type moans about gun confiscation), left-wing reality talking points (global warming, the military/industrial/security complex), and conspiracy stuff (JFK again, UFOs, the World Trade Center), mashing them into a giant pile of equal Woes Upon Ours.

And I guarantee you, as usual, our FBI heroes will never be able to solve. One more layer upon one more layer to uncover… The Beck character is shut down. The Great Truth can never be revealed. “They” won’t allow it.

What the hell does Chris Carter think he’s doing with The X-Files? Making some profound statement about our troubled times? I suspect he’s a reasonably left-leaning guy with a very large bank account from his overpaid cinematic work, who thinks he’s providing “fun entertainment” with “a little meaning to it.” I suspect this because this is what Hollywood types with slightly leftist sympathies who enjoy their comfortable lifestyles very often say they think. You know, the new Star Wars has an anti-Mean War message! In there somewhere. Amidst all the explosions.

Collective Action and Conspiracy

As to the annoying persistence in our culture of how people with marginalized positions believe “if only I could make people understand this one truth, they’d realize I’m totally right,” let me refer you to almost every chat thread on the internet. (Not here! We’re quite civil when we disagree. Mostly…) Or The Atlantic review of The X-Files from 1997 by James Surowiecki, from which I take this fine quote: “If the conspiracy is really as powerful as Mulder thinks it is, only collective action can change it. Only some version of democracy can stand up against it.”

Exactly. And by turning real fears, genuine abuses of power, into plot material for a monster show, Chris Carter mocks the very notion of democracy. He says, in effect, “It’s all just another form of entertainment… but that’s OK, since it has a little meaning to it.” So, too, did Indiana Jones defeating the Nazis.

Star Trek and Doctor Who have more bite. And Terry Pratchett would eat this weak social commentary for breakfast.

But I still love Gillian Anderson.

USA Freedom Kids vs the Übermensch

USA Freedom KidsYou have probably heard about the USA Freedom Kids and the dispute that they are having with Donald Trump. In case you haven’t, the USA Freedom Kids is a group made up of five rather white girls who dress up in the red, white, and blue and sing (or lip-sync) very up-beat songs about how great America is. They performed at one event for Donald Trump. They wanted $2,500, but the campaign offered them instead a table where they could sell their music and related junk. Except that the campaign didn’t even do that.

That should have been enough, right? I mean, when a client doesn’t pay me, that’s the end of our relationship. But later, the Trump campaign offered for the five dears to come and perform again for a big event where they would get lots of media attention. The manager of USA Freedom Kinds, Jeff Popick, is a Trump supporter and thus gullible. You know the old saying: fool me once, please give me another opportunity to fool me again! So the group paid their own way to go to the second event, where they weren’t even allowed to perform.

USA Freedom Kids Sue

Now Popick is suing Trump and isn’t certain whether he will be voting for Trump in November. You know the old saying: fool me twice and I still might vote for you for president because I’m a total idiot.

None of this will matter for the Trump campaign, of course. As I noted yesterday, people just want to vote for an authoritarian. The USA Freedom Kids really are from another time. Don’t get me wrong: they scream authoritarianism. But it’s a more subtle kind that apparently can only be heard by people who know a bit of history. You know: roughly 10% of the country.

In a battle between a horrible strongman who has nothing to offer but chest pounding and five little girls singing a “modern” version of “Over There,” the strongman wins. That’s one of the the most important things about authoritarianism is that it is a kind of death cult — the death of the individual. This is why libertarians are so silly: they focus on theoretical threats to liberty while allowing the rise of real threats. If Donald Trump becomes president, it will be because libertarians and “reasonable” Republicans have defined the centrist Democratic Party as something akin to Stalin.

Nothing New for Trump

But this story of Donald Trump not paying the USA Freedom Kids is typical of him. Trump doesn’t think he should have to pay for anything just like Kim Jong-un. And the people are fine with that. Trump is literally the Übermensch: he defines his own moral universe. Sure, America loves the pathetic “patriotic” girls, but only so long as they know their place. They don’t define their own moral universe. None of us do; only Donald Trump.

Donald Trump isn’t expected to pay his bills and he doesn’t. And this is the man that Americans want for their president.

I’m terrified.

Convention Compare: A-List vs C-List Speakers

Brian Beutler: Convention SpeechSenator Cory Booker’s pre-primetime speech was the first to overpower the Sanders holdouts. Michelle Obama’s, by universal acclaim, will join the pantheon of great convention addresses. And Sanders himself spoke well past the 11 pm network TV cutoff point, in part because the delegates of both candidates interrupted his remarks with standing ovations over and over again. The range of talent on display was such that the keynote address, by Senator Elizabeth Warren — one of Hillary Clinton’s most effective surrogates and a trusted figure among Sanders supporters — largely disappeared behind the others. And it was a good speech, too.

In a different climate, clustering so many big draws into one night, when they could have been spread out more evenly, would have been an error. But in this case it was a matter of necessity. The coming three days will feature headline speeches by Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine, Barack Obama, and Hillary herself. Packing the lineup on Monday night was simply a matter of necessity…

Clinton’s convention lineup wasn’t designed to contrast with Trump’s brigade of C-list celebrities and agitators, though it did do that. It was instead meant to serve as a demonstration that Clinton is widely respected in the Democratic Party, which is much less divided than a handful of Sanders delegates would have you believe. Where Trump insists to the public that Republicans are unified, Clinton and her supporters showed that they are.

—Brian Beutler
The Democrats Just Showed Republicans How It’s Done

The Authoritarian Vote

Donald Trump: AuthoritarianAmericans love a good authoritarian!

Last night, I spoke to my father about the presidential campaign. He indicated that he was going to vote for Trump. He didn’t say it explicitly, but I got the idea. It really isn’t about Trump, of course. It is about Hillary Clinton. She just can’t be trusted! Or something. I asked him to name something that she had lied about. He said, “Benghazi.” I asked for clarification. He mentioned the stand down order that stopped the military from rescuing the people at the embassy. The fact that this assertion has been refuted by three different Republican investigations means nothing.

I gave him information about this, but it doesn’t matter. The truth is that since 1992, the right wing has been piling so much garbage on Hillary Clinton that now people like my father simply have a generalized notion that she is not trustworthy. Where there’s smoke, there must be fire. Somewhere. If 25 years of investigations have not turned anything up, it just means that we haven’t looked thoroughly enough.

The Lying Double Standard

On the other hand, Trump has been caught lying again and again and again. But apparently, while smoke implies fire, actual fire does not. Or rather, actual lying does not matter because we know about it. Having a general idea that there might be lying causes conservatives to obsess about it the way they might a clever magic trick. Trump’s obviousness makes him immune.

Hillary ClintonOf course, it doesn’t matter. If it weren’t this, it would be something else that made Hillary Clinton unacceptable. The truth is that Trump is the man that many conservatives have been waiting their whole lives to vote for. As I watched some of the DNC last night, I was struck by how soft it appeared to be. It was totally lacking in the one thing that the RNC had in abundance: authoritarian chest pounding.

Americans Want an Authoritarian

There are a lot of Americans who want nothing more than a tough guy as president. And sad to say, my father is one of them. There is nothing to discuss. My father, for example, thinks the economy is terrible and that it is the Democrats’ fault. He mentioned that our infrastructure is crumbling. There is much truth in all of this. But the reason for it is the Republicans. And voting for an authoritarian is not going to fix it.

My father has a certain fondness for Bernie Sanders. This is probably more because he isn’t Hillary Clinton than anything else. Yet he asked how Sanders was planning to pay for his plan for free college. I told him how and we had a nice discussion of financial transaction taxes. He approves of them — at least until Charles Krauthammer tells him not to. But I was struck by the fact that my father is not interested in how Donald Trump is going to pay for his hugely regressive tax cut. That’s the great thing about authoritarians: all you have to do is put your trust in them and all will be well.

Things Look Bad at the Moment

After seeing the most recent polls that have Trump tied or leading Clinton, talking to my father was helpful. How is it that Trump could even be close in this election, much less potentially winning? Well, there you are! Elections are not about ideas. They are about gut feelings. They are about a country desperate for any authoritarian who comes along and tells them he is the one weird trick for national happiness.

I find it exhausting. It really makes me wonder why I follow politics and why I write about it. Over the last six months, I’ve thought a lot about Leonard Peikoff’s book, The Ominous Parallels. It’s filled with a lot of Randian nonsense, of course. But the truth is that Americans really do have a profound attraction toward strongmen. And there isn’t much the rest of us can do about it.

This is not fun.

Ian Millhiser and the FADA

Ian Millhiser - FADAThough the bill’s title, the “First Amendment Defense Act” [FADA], suggests that it would preserve values enshrined in the First Amendment, nothing in that amendment permits religion to be used as a shield for discrimination, and the Supreme Court has consistently rejected claims to the contrary.

Maurice Bessinger was a bigot who owned a chain of barbecue restaurants in South Carolina. He believed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its ban on whites-only lunch counters, “contravenes the will of God,” and he brought a lawsuit seeking a religious exemption from this law. The Supreme Court disagreed in Newman v Piggie Park, ruling unanimously that Bessinger’s claim was “patently frivolous.”

Similarly, when Fremont Christian School claimed a right to give inferior compensation to many of its women employees because of its religious belief that “in any marriage, the husband is the head of the household and is required to provide for that household,” a federal appeals court rejected the school’s request for an exemption from anti-discrimination law.

Additionally, in a case that is strikingly similar to the kind of benefits FADA would give to religious objectors who engage in discrimination, Bob Jones University claimed that it should continue to receive tax subsidies despite its religiously motivated policy that “students who date outside of their own race will be expelled.” The Supreme Court rejected this claim as well, explaining that “the Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education.”

FADA would authorize a different kind of discrimination — primarily anti-LGBT discrimination as opposed to race or gender discrimination — but the overarching principle remains the same. The First Amendment simply does not give religious objectors a license to violate civil rights laws.

—Ian Millhiser
Congress’ Response To Orlando Shooting Is To Try To Legalize Discrimination

Creation as a Spiritual Act

Pillars of Creation - NASAAfter some wait, I got Carmine Rocco Linsalata’s Smollett’s Hoax. It it an academic treatise from the 1950s by a professor at Stanford. And it is about — What else?! — something that most people would think incredibly minor: an 18th century translation of Don Quixote, which was actually just a rewrite of an earlier translation. But I’m not here to discuss the book. (That will come later!) I’m here to talk about creation for its own sake.

As I was reading through the book, I was taken by a sidetrack that Linsalata made into The Works of Alexander Pope. It was related to what he was writing about, but a minor point. And in that capacity, he had read a 600 page book. He must have read many other such books that he never found a use for. And I find that so inspiring. Why am I reading all that Pope? Oh, it’s just part of my work. Now go away!

Slowing Down

I’ve always seen myself as the human equivalent of a terrier: smart and hyper. But as I’ve gotten older, how I long for the leisure of working slowly — just letting the thoughts accumulate — taking whatever course is necessary for the creation process. What a glorious luxury that is in this time where we always know what we are going to produce: a commodity.

If Linsalata were working today, his book would likely have been quite different. The story he has to tell is quite sensational. But he would have written it rather differently. He would not have assumed, as he did in 1956, that his readers would be fluent in English, French, and Spanish. And I haven’t finished the book; he’ll probably get to Latin and Greek soon enough. Clearly, he was writing only for intimates — and total freaks like me who will take the time to work out the other languages. (Thank Google!) But mostly, he was just writing for himself — for the pure pleasure of the creation itself.

A Forgotten Act of Creation

It’s interesting because a couple of days ago, I moved my office/living-quarters/life. And I came upon a play I had written, “MP3.” I had no memory of writing it. I remember thinking about doing it. The basic idea is that a dog is angry at his owner for using MP3s. You see, a big part of MP3 compression is the removal of stuff humans can’t hear. But dogs hear well. So MP3s would sound terrible to them. I had thought of it as a 5 minute play to be part of a collection of plays. But no, there it was, all neatly typed — about a half hour running time.

As I read through it, I was struck by how idiosyncratic it was. It made me laugh, of course. (I find myself hilarious. Really!) It is clearly something I wrote just for myself, however. Creation for creation’s sake.

In it, the dog recites a poem he wrote. The owner doesn’t understand it. The dog replies:

I thought it was very clear, but maybe you have to be a dog. I sent it to those pricks at Exquisite Corpse. Laura Rosenthal gave me a No Mas! And if I ever run into that pretentious Romanian no-talent Andrei Codrescu, I’m gonna bite him in a place he probably has nothing to bite.

My Bizarre Mind

So let’s see: a puppet ranting about getting turned down from an old poetry magazine, with reference to two little-known poets and a dick joke thrown in. But if that isn’t bad enough, it gets more and more crazy throughout. There’s a sequence on the wooing of women with a Shakespeare parody. Then, there is a mini rock concert. Then, the chorus begins a technical interview with Dr Knowitall — son of Mr Knowitall. (“My first name is ‘Doctor,’ just as my father’s first name was ‘Mister’.”) But the actors are informed that he is actually doing the wrong character — it should be Dr Whoopee (son of Mr Whoopee). A long discussion of cartoons follows, but eventually, Dr Knowitall (who turns out only to have read a Wikipedia page on MP3s that he didn’t understand) interviews the chorus who explains MP3s.

I can’t imagine that an audience would know what to make of it. It is utter chaos. The material jumps from high culture to science to low culture and back. The only thing that would be clear is the Abbott and Costello style word play throughout it. But why shouldn’t I write something just for me — creation for the pure pleasure of it? It is ultimately a spiritual question. After we pay the rent and buy the groceries, what are we to do? It is creation or spiritual death. And that may explain why I find such a religious country as the US to be so lacking in spirituality.

Digby on Clinton’s VP Pick: Tim Kaine

Digby on Tim Kaine for VPTim Kaine has a somewhat centrist history on banking and trade which is worrisome to progressives for whom these issues are their litmus tests. So, in these particulars, Kaine isn’t a particularly progressive choice.

But he’s very good on war, civil liberties, gun proliferation, criminal justice, healthcare, civil rights, and immigration among other things. The fact that he speaks perfect Spanish, which he learned serving in Honduras, is meaningful to Latinos.

Clinton is trying to run as an experienced, competent, rational, decent mainstream leader of a team of experienced, competent, rational, decent mainstream public servant in contrast to Donald Trump: the con artist who wants to blow up the world. I don’t know that policy is even the point, but to the extent it is, they are running under the most progressive platform in history (thank you Bernie), which just shows how far the coalition has come since the day Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman, one of the most depressing days of my life.

—Heather Digby Parton
So, Tim Kaine