I know that my atheist readers will probably look at that headline and think, “Because they believe in one irrational thing so why not another?” And okay. But we are all irrational even if many of us hide it better than those who believe in the zombie who made God forgive all our sins. I want to look at something a little different: the uselessness of right-wing Christianity in this country.
The Economist recently published an article, What Drives Belief in Conspiracy Theories, a Lack of Religion or Too Much? It looks that a YouGov poll that asked people about their religious beliefs and their support for different conspiracy theories. Here are the questions and the number of percentage points more likely the evangelicals were to believe them than the rest of us:
Millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 general election (34 pp)
The government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population (14 pp)
Vaccines have been shown to cause autism (15 pp)
NASA staged the Moon landing (5 pp).
As we go down the list, fewer people believe so the differences decrease. But 67% of white evangelicals believe that millions of illegal votes were cast last year’s election and 15% believe we didn’t land on the Moon. (They are also much more likely to believe in Qanon.)
Some have argued that religious people would be less inclined to believe this nonsense because they have a fulfilling belief system in their faith. The truth must be closer to the opposite.
What Do People Use Religion For?
Religion was not big in my house but I got to see it in the larger family. My father’s family were Catholics of the “We’ll Donate and Attend Occasionally but It Ain’t Getting in the Way of Our Lives” variety. This is probably why I have a higher opinion of Catholicism.
My mother’s family were White Evangelicals. They all had personal relationships with Jesus and were ostentatious in their belief yet seemed only to care about one issue: abortion. In word, they loved the sinner. In deed, they talked about how much they loved the sinner.
And from them, I got the idea that the purpose of their religion was simply to signal their inclusion in the group of Good People. Now, I understand: everyone does this. But you don’t need religion for that. It seems to me rather a waste of a religion.
What Is Theology Good For?
What continues to frustrate me about almost all religious people is that they aren’t much interested in theology. The closest they get to it is this childish belief in Heaven as if Jesus is The Great Pumpkin — come to give the good boys and girls eternal life if they just believe hard enough!
And this stunted form of religious belief does not provide believers with much in the way of meaning. All they get from their religion is that they’ll be one of the Cool Kids that gets into the Party at the End of Eternity. But you know God: he’ll probably let all those hippy Christians in too and that doesn’t make them feel very special.
So they are easy marks for other pseudo-religious scams like Qanon. God supposedly loves them for believing one ridiculous thing. Wouldn’t he love them more if they believed in a dozen similarly ridiculous things? Regardless, every new belief provides them with a dopamine rush that comes from believing they have found The Truth.
Where Does This Leave Us?
I knew when I was a kid as much as I do now: these were the people who burned “witches.” They are authoritarian by nature. Alone, they are harmless — nice, in fact. But they are easy marks for demagogues.
David Pakman was asking why it is the conservatives won’t get the vaccine when they give Trump credit for creating it. I have some thoughts on this.
To start with, that may be an overstatement. Not that much time was spent trying to convince the nation that Trump belched the vaccine out on to a grateful public. So I don’t think that is prominent in the Republican brain.
Regardless, Pakman isn’t taking into account people’s ability to hold two contradictory truths in their minds at the same time. Humans are great at cognitive dissonance but modern conservatives have brought it up to the level of art.
The Anti-Vax Pleasure
But I think the big issue here is that conservatives get a certain amount of pleasure by not getting the vaccine. It makes them feel good that they are depriving liberals of getting something they want.
It’s the same old thing. That’s the basis of modern conservatism. They don’t actually believe in anything except doing things they think will annoy the libtards. In fact, they spend a lot of energy convincing themselves that we liberals are offended even when we really don’t care most of the time.
This is a great example of a self-satisfied conservative thinking he’s offending the liberals and the liberals just not caring.
The (Nonexistent) Anti-Vax Pain
Normally there would be a trade-off. They would realize that by getting this small thrill of sticking it to the liberals, they were losing something. They weren’t getting the vaccine. And as a result, their lives are more limited. But that’s not the case!
These are the people who have claimed almost from the start that there should never have been any shutdown of the economy. There should never have been any mask mandates. Because it’s only the old and sickly who died anyway. Blah, blah, blah…
Also: it is widely believed that Covid-19 is just a hoax. It’s just something the liberals made up so that they could turn America into a communist state. Or whatever. Again that is totally contradicted by their belief that Trump is brilliant and he brought us the vaccine out of his gold-plated lab inside Trump Tower. But who cares?
So there you have it: in the minds of the Republican base, there’s an upside to not getting the vaccine. And there’s absolutely no downside to not getting the vaccine.
Now I know that some of you will counter that there are all these stories about anti-vaxxers not getting vaccinated and then getting very sick and even dying. But those are stories that only occur on the regular news.
If you’re watching Fox News and Newsmax and OAN News, you’re not seeing those! And if you happen to hear about them? Well: fake news!
It’s a mistake to think of anti-vax people the way you would others. It’s not that they are irrational. They are, in fact, very rational! They simply believe we live in a different world. The logic is the same; the facts are different!
Conservative Belief in Social Cohesion
It’s kind of funny really. Because for decades conservative intellectuals have made the argument that liberals were dividing the country. It was always liberals who didn’t care about social cohesion. We saw this in many books like a couple by Charles Murray.
Just as with conservative fears of relativism, it turns out that the mechanism was backward. A lack of social conservatism wasn’t tearing our society apart; authoritarianism was destroying social cohesion.
That’s because the people who follow conservative ideology are authoritarians. Why else would a poor person vote for a party that mostly just gives tax cuts to the rich? It’s because they believe in the authoritarian underpinnings of conservatism.
And all the rich people who kept the poor and middle classes wedded to this ideology were sowing authoritarianism. Because that is literally the only thing that conservative ideology offers regular people.
The Freedom to Die
And now we have a deeply divided country. We have people who will not get vaccinated because they claim it is about their freedom. Meanwhile, they are putting all the rest of us at risk. And the entire world at risk. It’s very sad.
And there will never be an accounting. The closest that we might get is that millions will die. But it will not be those great Freedom Fighters who wouldn’t get vaccinated. It will be everyone.
Joe the Plumber is a joke on the left. For those that don’t remember, he had a conversation with Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. He claimed that he was thinking of starting a plumbing business. As a result, he was very concerned about Obama’s plan to raise taxes on incomes over a quarter-million dollars. (Obviously, this shows the usual ignorance of how marginal taxes work.)
It was preposterous. For one thing, he wasn’t a plumber. For another thing, I don’t think he ever made anything close to that amount of money. So his entire argument was that he had a dream that someday he would make so much money that he would be affected by this tax.
In this way, he is the ultimate example of the Republican voter. He wasn’t thinking about what his actual interests were. He was thinking about what his interests were in his fantasy.
Voting Your Interests
I’ve been a strong critic of the notion the people should vote their own interests. I don’t vote my own interest. I vote the way that I consider to be morally right. But Joe the Plumber shows that this is not generally true of Republicans.
They generally do not vote their interests. But this is not because they are wedded to some higher calling. It is because they don’t even know what their interests are. They are, in a word, marks.
This is discussed in the movie 1776where John Dickinson says, “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor. And that is why they will follow us to the right!”
Small Business Delusions
You see this most distinctly with small business people. This is something I know a lot about because my parents were small business people and I have generally been one too. Most of them are extremely conservative. And they vote reliably Republican.
But why? The Republican Party is not good for small businesses. Sure, they talk about small businesses all the time. But their policies benefit multinational corporations. If you’re a small-business person, you’re screwed by the Republicans. And it is amazing that small business people so rarely see this reality.
They are all Joe the Plumber. The Republican Party may not help him today but just you wait! In a couple of years they will have a huge business too! And they will have an army of lobbyists and then all their support of the Republican party will pay off!
Small Business Flattery
But there is something that the Republicans give small business owners: all that smoke that gets blown up their asses.
Sure, the Republican Party may make it harder for them to run their businesses. But what is that compared to being told that you are a Little John Galt?! And that, I suppose, is worth something. We all have our delusions.
Of course, this is all on the margins. The elephant in the Elephant’s Room is racism. But that certainly isn’t the story The Republican voters tell themselves. They don’t see themselves as racist even if they are extremely so.
But it hardly matters. They vote Republican because they think the party supports people like them. The difference is that when it comes to racism that’s true. When it comes to small business policy it isn’t. And that makes the small business owner a bigger mark than the unrepentant bigot.
I think we have a problem when we talk about the lab leak theory. There is not one. The original theory was a full-out conspiracy: China had developed it as a biological weapon and then they released it on the world to harm us.
Now the same people who pushed that conspiracy theory want us to believe that the notion that the virus may have leaked from a lab proves them correct. Well, it doesn’t.
So let’s look at the theories here. The Chinese government:
Created a biological weapon that they knowingly released to the world.
Created a biological weapon that they accidentally released to the world.
Was doing work on viruses that was accidentally released to the world.
The first one is absolutely ridiculous. If the Chinese government wanted to release a biological weapon on the world, they wouldn’t do it to their own people much less to the people right outside the lab where they created it.
The second one is less ridiculous but still absurd. This is a really inefficient biological weapon. But more important there’s absolutely no evidence that this virus was created as a biological weapon. This is pure conjecture.
So this leaves us with the third possibility. Scientists were studying this virus and it got out of the lab. This kind of thing does happen. And we should be concerned about this regardless of whether or not it happened in this instance.
Lab safety is an important issue. I’ve heard people suggest things like locating these labs far away from populated areas and requiring quarantine periods for travel from the facilities.
But note that this is never been a concern of the loudest voices regarding the lab leak theory. The number one concern of these proponents is simply to blame China. Implicit in this is to exonerate the Trump administration.
(Note the absurdity here: as though the source of the virus justifies a terrible response. New Zealand was attacked as much as the United States and yet they did a good job of managing the pandemic. No origin story justifies the terrible governmental response to COVID-19.)
What bugs me about all this is not that Republican apologists are weaponizing it. What bugs me is that liberals are so quick to jump on board. They are so concerned about being seen as anti-science that they jump to the other side of this issue. And then they criticize the left for dismissing this theory in the first place.
In addition to this unfortunate tendency of liberals to attack their own side, there are major problems here. The first is that most people on the left always said that it was possible that COVID-19 came from a lab leak.
Second we still have no actual evidence that it was a lab leak. We are in exactly the same position we were a year ago. It’s possible it was a leak but it still looks unlikely.
The truth is if we get ironclad evidence that this was a naturally occurring virus, the usual suspects will never accept it. And decades from now, we will continue to hear about how the Chinese government released the virus to get rid of the Trump presidency.
Note that this would never happen if the sides were reversed. Conservatives never take the very possibility that they might have been wrong to turn on themselves. In fact, conservatives rarely take ironclad evidence that they were wrong to criticize themselves.
What actually happened was that there was no reason to believe that the source of COVID-19 was a lab leak so it was generally ignored. The theory was used on Facebook and other places to push absurd conspiracy theories. And a year later, we have liberal-ish commentators attacking the left.
That’s almost as absurd as the conservative conspiracy theories.
The idea of Trump Exceptionalism — that Donald Trump just rode in and blew up the whole system — I think ignores some really important continuities. George W Bush made some comments recently after his book came out that push this false narrative.
The 2000 election and the fight to declare victory, to stop the count in Florida, not just through the courts but through localized disruption — that was pretty anti-democratic. That was a really troubling moment. And the Bush v Gore decision is a really challenging one for people who want to embrace this idea of democracy and liberalism.
But there’s also the 2004 election and the decision to lean into the anti-marriage equality initiatives and referenda across the country as part of a campaign strategy to win that election. It modeled the way that you could mobilize resentment. And mobilize exclusionary politics in order to win an election. This is something that George W Bush did.
So when he talks now about this idea that the Republican Party won’t win elections if it plays the politics of exclusion, well, he played the politics of exclusion. And he won an election that way. He played minoritarian politics and he gained the presidency that way.
There have certainly been massive shifts in the Republican Party since the days of George W Bush. But he is not exempt from the story we’re telling about where the Republican Party is today.
I’ve long known that the Republican party is disingenuous. That was clear long before the negotiations for Obamacare in 2009. But now we have such a clear example of this in the negotiations for the January 6th investigation.
Republican Representative John Katko managed to make a deal with the Democrats. But once it was made all the Republicans turned against it. The most absurd was Marco Rubio.
At first, Rubio was against the commission because there could be partisan subpoenas. When he was told that couldn’t happen because Republicans would effectively have veto power, he simply changed his position to be that the Democrats would leak the fact that Republicans used their power.
Of course, Rubio was just the guy who got caught most obviously. Strangely, there hasn’t been much reporting on the fact that Rubio was against the bill for one reason before reading it and then against it for a different reason after reading it. But this is what’s going on with the vast majority of the Republican caucus.
They are against the commission because they are against it. Any reasons they give are just bullshit post hoc rationalizations. This was also true of the American Rescue Plan. And it is true of the infrastructure bill.
Bad Faith Infrastructure “Negotiations”
Look at how that’s gone. The Democrats offered a $2.3 trillion bill. The Republicans “countered” with $568 billion. Before going on, I want to point out how ridiculous this is.
Imagine that you were selling your car for $5,000 and someone offered you $1,000. Would you negotiate with them? Or would you tell them to come back when they were serious? Obviously, you’d send them away. (I saw someone on Twitter point this out but I can’t find the source.)
The $568 billion was not a good-faith offer. But Biden negotiated and revised his offer down to $1.7 trillion — a 26% cut. And the Republican response? No thank you!
We know what would have happened if Biden had said, “Great! Let’s do $568 billion!” McCarthy and McConnell would have come out against it for some reason. It doesn’t matter what! These negotiations are just PR. They want the press to report that Republicans are negotiating and that any problems are just the result of good-faith disagreements. (The media, as they have for decades, reward them for this obvious game!)
No Bipartisanship to Be Found
So let’s just move on. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema need to get past their fantasies about bipartisanship. And we need to get on with the infrastructure bill. And if this isn’t a clear sign that the filibuster must be eliminated, I don’t know what is.
Democrats have wasted decades trying to work with Republicans. There is nothing Republicans want to do other than lower taxes on the rich and gut the regulatory state. It’s not even a question of what they think they can do. They literally have no ideas for broader policy.
Sure if someone presses them on how we’ll deal with our broken healthcare system, they’ll trot out the same old ideas that we know won’t work. They’ll talk about buying insurance across state lines. They’ll talk about catastrophic policies. And, of course, bring up those wonderful health savings accounts!
But the truth is then unless they’re asked about it, they won’t bring it up. Because they don’t care about it. The way things are is just fine with them except that the rich have to pay any taxes at all and that they are ever held accountable for their antisocial acts.
Time to Move On
So it is time to move on. The Biden administration must take the Republicans actions on the January 6th Commission as the final nail in the coffin of bipartisanship. It was always a bullshit idea but I guess it polls well.
No reasonable person can look at the Republicans and say that they are honest brokers in any matter that faces the American people.
Image of Marco Rubio is his official government portrait and in the public domain.
Liz Cheney has been removed from Republican leadership in the House. And it was very telling. But I’m not talking about the Big Lie. There has been enough discussion of that. It’s horrible. But I want to discuss what it says about the Republican idea of identity politics.
Cheney was replaced by Elise Stefanik. Cheney is, of course, far more conservative than Stefanik. Big surprise there! Who would have thought that the Republicans don’t actually believe all the conservative bullshit they preach. The main thing is that Stefanik is a woman.
To the Republican leadership, the only thing that mattered was her gender. They did not want to take the heat of having a leadership team that was just a bunch of white men. Despite what they say, they get embarrassed when major American newspapers report that their party is so unrepresentative of the nation.
But this is also the alpha and omega of what Republicans think of identity politics. It is as crude as that. Women are interchangeable. Blacks are interchangeable. The only people who are individuals are old white guys.
Any Old Trans Woman ‘ll Do!
We see this all the time where conservatives offer up some terrible candidate who is female or Black or otherwise part of a marginalized group. We’ve seen it most recently in Caitlin Jenner being put forward for governor of California. She has vile beliefs and no experience whatsoever in politics. But Republicans think that Democrats will vote for anyone of the right oppressed group. Because they have such a limited understanding of identity politics.
The more savvy Republicans like such candidates because they think it makes Democrats squirm. I’m not sure why they think this, however. They go on TV and argue that Democrats are hypocritical because Democrats don’t jump at vile Republican candidates from marginalized groups. Clearly, Democrats are doing identity politics wrong!
Today, conservatives’ favorite MLK quote is, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (When he said it in 1963, of course, conservatives hated it and thought it meant King was a communist.)
They are angry that liberals do not (explicitly) judge political candidates on the color of their skin. This is because they think that identity politics is just that: judging people from the color of their skin. It’s not about policy and opportunity.
If this gambit were one that Republicans tried a few times and then abandoned, I’d understand. You try to highlight the hypocrisy of your opponents. But when it doesn’t work over and over, you should stop. When you don’t, it means you judge people on the color of their skin. Conservatives can’t see past skin color to even hear what people from disadvantaged groups are saying.
I didn’t follow the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. And I managed to never watch the video of the murder. The truth is that I find these things very upsetting and I don’t think they do me any good. I already know that American policing is irredeemably broken. But I think Derek Chauvin shows us a lot about the problems in our society.
I am glad that Derek Chauvin was found guilty. And second-degree murder sounds about right. I think it is a mistake to vilify him too much. I do not believe that he wanted to kill George Floyd. But I think he is a terrible person because he doesn’t seem to have cared whether Floyd lived or died.
An analogy has occurred to me recently. It’s like holding a beetle down on the ground so it can’t crawl away. Doing so presses on its back. You don’t mean to kill it. But you realize that it might. It’s just a beetle. If you do kill it, who cares? Certainly not you.
Yes, I’m saying that Chauvin thought of Floyd like an insect. He should never have been allowed in a position of power. And he deserves harsh punishment.
Police Hide Villainy
But let’s be clear. The initial report told a very different story — one that Chauvin assumed would be the final word. The press release from the Minneapolis Police Department was titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” It stated:
Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
If there had not been video of the incident, Derek Chauvin would not have been held accountable in any way for this. And that’s even true if there had been a dozen eyewitnesses. He is in jail now entirely because of the video.
Men like him should never be put in any situation where they have power over other people. They lack fundamental empathy for other people.
Derek Chauvin is also a victim. But in saying that, I do not mean that we should show him sympathy. I just mean that the environment in which he existed made him a worse man than he could have been.
Chauvin’s actions indicate a long history of him thinking that this kind of behavior is acceptable. We know there had been many complaints against him. And they were never acted upon in a substantial way. It was completely rational for Chauvin to think that he would not be held accountable for this killing.
But the fact that this crime was particularly egregious speaks to a larger problem with police culture. I don’t think that Chauvin would have kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for so long had there not been a crowd there. The fact that there was a crowd pointing out his misbehavior made Chauvin act like a spoiled child, “You can’t tell me what to do!”
And, of course, that’s what he did! We see this again and again. Police officers are far more concerned about getting the respect that they think they deserve than they are about doing their jobs. If you are rude to a barista, they might spit in your coffee. If you are rude to a cop, they might kill you. And if no one is around to record it, they will face no consequences.
And it’s that way that Derek Chauvin is a symbol for modern American policing. I don’t care what kind of a cop it is — good, bad, or indifferent — they all act this way. I know a few cops who are friends of the family. They all have this same personality.
I think they are deeply insecure people. Certainly I don’t need other people constantly kissing my ass to know that I have value. Anywhere someone does need that is the source of untold problems — whether it is from cops or grammar school bullies.
The irony is that our society does kiss the asses of cops. Except for rare cases like this, society goes out of its way to claim that these under-educated, over-paid mediocrities are heroes right out of Homer. (And even in this case, most conservative outlets are treating Chauvin like a wronged hero.) Yet it’s never enough. How could it be? Self-worth is something that comes from the inside. Flattery is just a band-aid.
I’m not hopeful. I do hope that we can make systemic changes to policing. But even with them, we will have major problems until we stop allowing cops to think that they are anything but paid workers who do not deserve our respect.
I’m open to respecting individual police officers — just as soon as one of them earns it.
There’s a big reason why the Democrats can’t do anything bipartisan at this point. And that’s because Republicans don’t have any ideas. We saw this most clearly with the rescue package. The big compromise offered by the 10 Republicans headed by Susan Collins was just: “What the Democrats want — but less.”
It’s what we’ve heard from them for years about wanting a smaller government. They don’t want smaller government for any reason. They want smaller government as an end in itself. And that makes no sense!
What is the right size of government? The size that allows it to do what we want it to do. Smaller government is just a talking point for Republicans. So if Republicans get together and come up with a compromise on infrastructure it will be the same thing. It will be about a quarter of the size that the Democrats want. And there will be no rhyme or reason for it.
If the Democrats want a hundred billion dollars for roads and bridges, the Republicans will want $50 billion. Why? Will there be a reason why we need less infrastructure spending? Of course not!
It’s really more a branding exercise than anything else. Jonathan Chait cleverly pointed out how this worked with “moderate” Republican Olympia Snowe (who, you may recall, was even more “moderate” than Susan Collins) on her retirement:
When George W Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day.
If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100-foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.
Let’s all stop believing that the Democrats have anyone to negotiate with. The most “reasonable” Republicans only have this to offer: “What the Democrats want — but less.”
My father was a cruel, unkind man. I say “was,” because I haven’t had anything to do with him for decades, but the last I heard, he’s still alive. Of us four brothers, one after another decided “screw this guy,” and, each time, the next youngest would declare, “You monster! How can you be so awful to Dad!” Okay, your turn! The youngest brother tried hardest, and ended up changing his last name in disgust.
There were, needless to say, some mental illness issues with Dad, and that’s putting it quite mildly. Most of that stuff he had no control over. However, many people with mental illness struggles aren’t mean to their kids. I think it’s why all of us brothers tried maintaining a grownup relationship with him — to try and figure out what parts of his cruelty were due to illness, and what parts were “he’s just an asshole.” This turns out to be an unsolvable mystery.
A Horrible Teacher at Anything Else
Dad tried to get me into golf — it was sort of his dream as a kid to be a professional golfer. But with me, it just didn’t take. Believe me, I tried my prepubescent ass off. I read golf magazines, I practiced hitting little golf whiffle balls in the backyard. I was just annoyed by real golf. It’s too frustrating. The thing doesn’t go where you want it to. And if I want to walk around for hours chasing some shit in the trees, well, there’s free nature trails for that. (I was reasonably decent at putting.) Dad was hugely critical of every bad swing.
Even baseball “catch-and-throw with the old man” was terrible! If I made a bad throw he couldn’t reach, he’d intone horribly, “Go pick it up.” (I should note, here, that he never hit us kids, so far as I know. His used more of a menacing, give and withdraw approval approach.) And forget about underhand-toss batting practice. Miss a pitch, get yelled at. Fun! At least pros get paid for this.
So I Got A Car
At age 13, 14, or so, I got whomped on my bicycle by a car running a red light. I saw pictures later; the car was absolutely thrashed. Hood, windshield, roof, totally mangled. And I didn’t have one bone broken!
I got some pretty severe road rash, though. That’s when you skid on pavement for 20 feet. That shit’ll rip the hell outta your skin. It’s not life-threatening, but they do have to clean the asphalt bits out of your skin at the hospital. They use, essentially, a surgical Brillo pad. Does that hurt on bleeding, grated-off skin? Take. A. Guess. (Oh, I do have one asphalt bit still embedded in that leg. It’s not coming out until the worms get to it.)
I screamed my lungs out. Yet, they have to do it. At one point, they brought in a doctor from another part of the hospital. He yelled, “I’ve got a guy who got stabbed! You need to quiet down!” So I did. Pretty awful, though.
After this, the car driver’s insurance company sent a person over to our house to offer a “pain and suffering” settlement. And, being a teenage idiot, I took the first offer: $1300 or so. Now, of course, I’d say “add some zeroes.” But I didn’t know.
However, it was enough money for me to, a few years later, buy a car! What kid doesn’t want a car! Okay, they can smash you on your bike, but cars are awesome!
The car was a broke-ass old VW Bug; bright orange, with a heating system that had essentially one setting, “on.” It took forever to warm up inside, then got so hot you would have to strategically crack open the windows. Yet, it still worked. Good enough for me.
Dad the Great Driving Teacher
Then, though, having bought a car, I needed to learn how to drive it. Mom, who was kind, had never driven a car. (Dad knew that allowing her to get a license would mean she could get a job and flee the marriage, which is precisely what happened later.) So it’d have to be Dad. I figured it would be hell.
Surprise! He was an outstanding driving instructor. The Bug was a stick shift, which is a really tricky thing to learn. At the start, I couldn’t even get it into first gear. (Cars have gears; computer brains mostly shift them now; before that, shifting was a challenge.) Dad was, astonishingly, super-patient. “You’re getting better! Just a little bit less on the clutch, a little bit more on the gas, you can do it.”
Blew my mind. Where’d this guy been my entire damn life?
Years later, when my youngest brother was dealing with Dad, well, he didn’t have a license. And I told him, “Get Dad to teach you. He’s a monster at most things but he’s a really nice driving instructor.” The brother wouldn’t go there. I don’t fault him for one second. He’s 34 now, and I think he’s still never gotten a driver’s license.
A while back, me and Mrs James were shopping for a used car, and the dealer was trying to pawn off some really terrible lemons. As dealers will do. I pointed at one and said, “what’s the problem with this thing? For the years and mileage, it’s hugely underpriced.”
The dealer replied, “Oh, it’s a stick. And nobody knows how to drive a stick anymore.” Well, I do! Thanks, Dad!
Stick Shift On A Cliff
The minute after I passed my driver’s license test at 16, I asked Dad, “Can I drive the car?” His response was “You’re licensed to do so, of course you can.”
We took the whole family in that little Bug to various Oregon scenic places. Ocean, desert, whole bit. Also Mount Hood.
If you don’t know Mount Hood, it’s a quite pretty mountain maybe 75 minutes outside Portland. It has an old, elegant ski lodge, built with New Deal funding way back when. If you’ve seen the movie The Shining, you’ve seen that lodge and mountain. (The story’s placed in Colorado, and the interiors are a studio set wherever, but the lodge and mountain are Oregon.)
Well, the parking lot (back then, at least) had spots with no barrier right on a cliff. Not much of a cliff, 20 feet or so, and more of a very steep hill. (This is what it looks like.) Still, don’t want to drop a car over it with your parents and kid brothers inside.
And I thoroughly panicked. I couldn’t get the damn Bug into reverse. Every time I thought I had, it was actually in neutral. So I’d ease off the brake and clutch, push on the gas pedal, and the car would just inch forward towards the cliff. Slam the brake, try it again. A few more inches in the wrong direction.
At this point, Mom and my brothers were screaming bloody murder. But Dad? Completely calm. “You can do it, son.” And, right! We did not drive off a cliff at a Stephen King movie location! Yaaay!
Dad Stole My Car
Mom booted Dad’s butt to the pavement when I was 17. Happiest moment in my life to that point. I was walking home from the school bus stop, saw the reflections of police lights, and fantasized, “Oh, wow! What if that was Dad?!” Just a dream. Then, it was real.
He was handcuffed and being put in the cop car. Screaming, “You can’t take my first-born son away from me!” Maybe not, asshole; but they can sure take you away from me.
Anyhoo, that VW Bug was bought in Dad’s name, to lower insurance costs. And, once the whole divorce mess settled out, he grabbed it. Nothing I could do.
I was ticked off at this for a few years. “Dude, that’s my car! I didn’t see you in no hospital room getting ripped-up skin scoured with a Brillo pad!” But, after a while, I let it slide. The guy has enough problems. And at least he was no longer one of mine.
Dad’s Explosive Visitation
One time, though, when I was home from college, he drove the Bug over. (Mom was very careful about visitation; it was only allowed when she could keep an eye on things.) Dad came in and started chatting with my kid brothers. The Bug starts beeping its horn. I turn to Dad, ask him, “Since when has this car started spontaneously honking its horn? Did you leave the keys in the steering wheel?”
He hadn’t. It was just a terrible electrical glitch with the car battery. This led to the whole car catching on fire, almost immediately afterward. There was a huge ball of flame — the entire vehicle burned hard. (No, metal won’t burn at those temperatures, but seats and carpets sure will!)
Firefighters came and immediately threw flame retardant on it. This impressed me, as I wouldn’t have gone near the thing. Believe me, the entire apartment complex emptied out to watch that fire. It was the best show since Mount St Helens exploded.
Well, that’s good ol’ Dad. Car thief and car blower-upper. Terrible sports teacher. Excellent driving teacher.
Last I heard, he was in a Southern Oregon hemp commune signing over Post Office retirement checks to super-liberals so he can tell their kids how Satanic super-liberals are. He’s utterly insensible, so those kids have no clue what he’s rambling about. And this is, certainly, for the best.
On my walks, there’s a house that has American, Army, Navy, and Marine flags displayed over its garage. They are out 24-hours per day in all weather. It’s a classic case of easy patriotism. Or to put it in a way that my conservative friends might understand: virtue signaling.
But what really struck me was the bumper sticker on their very big and very clean truck. (Read: it is not used for anything a truck is normally needed for.) The bumper sticker is shown above. It says, “United States Marine Corps: When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed.”
The most obvious thing about this is that the bumper sticker is a mistake. The original read, “When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed Overnight.” You know, like the old FedEx slogan, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
But the more important thing about the bumper sticker is how it shows the lie of Marine branding. Clearly, this bumper sticker does not come from the USMC. In fact, I’m sure that as an institution, they hate it.
All the branches of the military push a brand that they are just out in the world trying to help people. And they only kill and destroy when there is absolutely, positively no other option.
But the people who admire the Marine Corps (and this very much includes a lot if not most if not the vast majority of Marines themselves) love this stuff. And regardless what conservatives will tell you, it is also what they love about the Marines and all the other military outfits.
The idea is that they are badasses. They don’t go along with Clausewitz, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” They like war in the same way that a gorilla likes beating its chest.
I obviously have my own opinions about what our military should be used for. But everyone should be in favor of being honest about what they think the military is for. Secretly liking the military because it allows us to bully the rest of the world while claiming to only care about preserving peace? That is bullshit. Even Trump was more honest than that.
People of my age well remember the freak out over crack babies. Crack users were having babies and they were supposedly destroyed for life. It turns out that it wasn’t true. Cocaine-using mothers gave birth to babies with low weights. That’s it. But I think we should always remember crack babies because the truth is we repeat this same error over and over again.
And it’s not a coincidence the things like this so often are associated with black people. Society at large loves things like crack because they provide a quick-fix for inequality. Dealing with America’s past and ongoing systemic racism is hard. Even worse, it’s something that all of us white folks will be required to change to facilitate.
It is super easy to assume that the problem is really black women doing cocaine. Then it’s a simple matter of passing some laws and paying more cops to lock them up. Then we’ll have equality! Or rather, we’ll have an excuse for doing nothing for a decade or two before we find out that we destroyed a bunch of lives for no reason and we’re faced with the same problems as ever.
Assume the Newest Outrage Is False
Whenever I hear of an outrage in the news I always remember the crack babies. I remember that at worst whatever people are hysterical about is a much smaller problem than is claimed. And it’s most likely not to be a problem at all. Admittedly, it does kind of suck being the person always throwing cold water on everyone’s dopamine highs.
As mythical as these outrages may be, they result in very real consequences. Today there are laws on the books all over the nation that allow the government to prosecute women if they don’t treat their pregnancies well enough. These were laws that came onto the books, at least in part, to fight the mythical problem of crack babies. Today, people mostly know there were no crack babies, but the laws remain.
Note how absurd this is. Although I think it is often overstated, fetal alcohol syndrome is an actual problem. But it was never associated specifically with blacks and so it didn’t result in mass hysteria. And it didn’t result in new laws penalizing women.
Scratch an outbreak of hysteria and you are more likely than not to uncover yet more systemic racism.