There Was an Election?

Boxing

Well, I guess we had an election? People keep telling me that anyway. I try to avoid thinking about it and so I’ve been watching even more horror films than usual. Of course, this is all a change.

The night of the election, I was very excited. I thought it would be a great night for the Democrats. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I was depressed. But eventually, I adjusted my expectations and saw that a win for Biden was a win for America.

Or maybe it’s better to say that a win for Biden gives America a chance. But it’s not a great one.

Republican Senate

We seem to be stuck with a Republican Senate despite the fact that there were far more votes for Democrats. And that means that there will be no stimulus for the economy for at least 2 years.

And that’s sad. Because a small number of people think it is to their advantage electorally, millions of people are forced to suffer.

It’s also a short-term strategy. Destroying the economy will probably work for the Republicans in 2022. But by 2024, the economy (despite the best efforts of Republicans) will be recovering. And that will be good for Democrats.

Why We Can’t All Get Along

I am very much in a “Why can’t we all just get along?” mood. The problem is, I know why: the Republicans. The truth is that any political party will be as extreme as it can get away with.

Because of the construction of our electoral system, the Republicans can be very conservative — far more conservative than the voters are — and still have power.

For my friends on the left who like to complain that most people agree with the left on policy, there’s your answer. The government is set up such that it does not reflect the will of the people. It reflects the will of people a good deal more conservative.

What We Know

As I right this, Biden is on the verge of taking the lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At the same time, he’s almost 4 million votes ahead of Trump nationally. I’ve heard estimates that when all the votes are counted, he will win by 5 million.

Think about that. This election isn’t even close. Yet 3 days out we still don’t know. We have razor-thin margins in a number of states. This is not how a democracy should work. (Yes, for the idiot conservatives: “democratic republic” — every time I hear someone talk about this it is clear they know very little about political systems.)

We’ve all gotten to the point where we just accept it. And we shouldn’t.

I’ll leave you with that. I hope to write another article over the weekend about Paula White’s speech. I have a different take on it than many others. See you then!


Boxing image via Pixy in the public domain.

Beware the Trade: Absentia and Loss

[I love this film and think everyone should see it. But Andrea’s overview is very interesting. Note that it contains a bunch of spoilers! -FM]

Absentia (2011)

Absentia is about loss and torment, elements that form a solid foundation for any horror film. Unfortunately, even with all the missing people, missing pets, and misplaced watches, Absentia is filled more with suspense than scares so if you’re looking for terror and gore, keep moving. However, if you enjoy more cerebral, psychological horror films, this could be your thing.

The opening sequence shows us Trish, a very pregnant young woman as she is replacing the weathered “Have You Seen Me?” flyers that she’d put up some time ago. You might be thinking, as I did, “Oh! That’s sad. She’s expecting a baby and its father is missing. This is going to get dark. Cool!” However, as with all horror/suspense films (good and bad) things are rarely as simple as they first appear.

We soon find out that Trish’s husband, Daniel, has actually been missing for more than just a few weeks. In fact, Trish has endured his loss to an unknown fate for seven years. She has but one small, agonizing step left between her and closure: filing for a certificate of “Death in Absentia.”

The Helpful but Unstable Sister

Fortunately for Trish, she has the support of her younger sister, Callie, who comes to stay after a long absence of her own, one that included a few stints in rehab. Hoping to be a good sister and aunt, Callie hands Trish a little Three Billy Goats Gruff storybook. An absolutely useless trifle to give an expectant mother, but does offer a bit of foreshadowing to the story.

As the sisters get reacquainted Trish talks about how, through the long years of waiting, wondering, and hoping, she has conjured up a multitude of possibilities to explain his disappearance; everything from amnesia to alien abduction. The most comforting of her imaginings is the “amnesiac scenario” in which Daniel was bonked on the head or some such thing, but is alive and well and happy somewhere, just not with her.

She coyly avoids spilling the identity of her mystery sperm donor. But why? Because, that’s why.

The Boyfriend

The detective assigned to Daniel’s missing person case, Ryan Mallory, stops over to check on Trish and it isn’t awkward at all. He is introduced to Callie, heartily agreeing with her that Trish should move to a safer neighborhood, something he’s been encouraging her to do for years.

Being pregnant and inexplicably alone adds leverage to Mallory’s professional concern for her well-being. By now you’ve had time to do the math and know that it is impossible for the little stranger Trish is incubating to belong to her presumably dead husband.

People! Hold back the judgment. She obviously waited at least five years before allowing herself the unprotected comfort of another man. Despite Trish’s adroit avoidance, Callie can clearly see the gun-carrying elephant in the room. Mystery date spotted and no fucks given.

Unfortunately, the closer Trish gets to closure, the weirder things get. Suddenly her dead and very angry husband starts popping up willy-nilly to abuse the shit out of her. Is he truly a vindictive ghost or merely the manifestation of her guilt for even thinking of moving on?

The Man in the Tunnel

Unaware of her sister’s silent suffering, Callie is having a little adventure of her own. During her daily jogs to a local park, she takes a shortcut through a nearby tunnel.

One morning she sees an unconscious man and his stylish pocket watch propped against the wall. Mistaking him for a fellow addict, she dismisses his request for a trade and pleading for her to get a message to his son, Jaime.

Not being a monster, Callie later returns with food for the emaciated man, but he’s moved on. Back at the apartment, she finds bits of old, rusty watches and whatnot on the doorstep of the apartment.

She concludes, as anyone would, that the deranged man had left her a gift in exchange for the meal. Callie heads back to the tunnel, intending to return his magpie treasure, but the man isn’t there.

As she’s leaving the little pile on the ground, a young man walks up with a garbage bag in his hand. He cryptically remarks, “Don’t leave that there” before leaving something there himself. Least helpful Good Samaritan ever.

Calling the Cops

Later, when Callie finds another, more generous stash of found objects under the covers of her perfectly made bed, she contacts the police because she didn’t have the number for the Ghostbusters.

The cops are not amused by being asked to check things out. In their umbrage, the baby-daddy detective and his loathsome, gum-chomping partner, Det Lonergan, accuse Callie of leaving the door unlocked, putting her pregnant sister at risk. How careless to provide a perfect opportunity for someone to enter and not steal anything!

The police remove the evidence, taking note and offense at her dilated pupils. Calling the cops while impaired is never a good idea.

Daniel Returns

Trish is finally ready to move on, willfully ignoring her maybe-ghost-husband who continues to bully her. The “Death in Absentia” certificate and wedding rings go in the drawer with the photo of her and Daniel.

Done and done. But not really.

Daniel suddenly reappears, literally out of nowhere, assaulted, abused, and severely traumatized. After a quick visit to the ER, the doctors discover, somehow, that his stomach is filled with small animal bones. He’s sent home to recover there. Nevermind the fact that he clearly needs a lengthy hospital stay, intense psychiatric treatment, and heavy pain meds. (Trish’s walk-it-off health plan is absolute shit so it’s a good thing he heals quickly.)

There’s no easy explanation for his disappearance or return. The “content amnesiac” hypothesis is out and even the alien-abduction theory is untenable since it’s well known that visitors from space are gentle probers and not given to beating the living hell out of their guests. Maybe when Daniel can speak again the matter will be cleared up.

In the meantime, rather than waiting for Daniel to heal well enough to call his parents, Trish decides she’ll give them the news that their son is alive, sparing them the “just barely” part. While his parents excitedly purchase plane tickets, Trish and Daniel try to reconnect. Not an easy thing to do after seven years, a boyfriend, and an impending birth. But the catharsis of slapping Daniel about the head and neck for putting her through that shit helped a lot.

Say Goodbye to Daniel

Callie is a well-meaning and kind sister-in-law, tending to Daniel while Trish is at work — and out in the garage making out with her cop boyfriend. Just as everyone starts calming the fuck down, Callie’s inadvertent trade deal escalates when the demon monster roach decides that, yes, in fact, take backs are allowed, and resnatches Daniel.

She hysterically explains that to Trish that it was a demon monster roach’s fault, not hers. This is where her one drug-induced hallucination about bugs under her skin comes back to haunt her. To make things worse, her relapse doesn’t go unnoticed and the gum-gnawing dick of a cop notices her dilated pupils. Again.

Daniel hasn’t come home and Trish is asked to file a second missing person report. She considers calling Daniel’s parents, but has no idea how to tell them their son is missing. Again. No. She decides to break the news in person, that way they might not notice the whole pregnancy thing because she can’t even right now.

When a pretzel of a dead man is found at the at the tunnel, conveniently within trotting distance for a pregnant woman, Trish and Callie rush to see if the corpse belongs to anyone they know. Trish is relieved it isn’t Daniel and Callie tells the police that she’d the mangled guy alive just the other day. Well, he’s dead now.

The police identify him as someone who’s been missing since 1995 and that he had a son named Jaime. The police promptly arrest Jaime, now a grown man, after he’s caught leaving an adorable puppy in one of his regular garbage bag deliveries at the tunnel. Missing pets explained, future serial killer pegged.

Callie the Sluth

Frustrated by the relentless incredulity of everyone involved, Callie turns sleuth. According to her thorough movie-Google search, every civilization has stories of unseen terrors, sneaky and quick like trapdoor spiders, pouncing from caves and holes to whisk away their oblivious prey.

These creatures from “underneath” are invisible when they aren’t visible, can pass through solid matter, and make a tidy bed when so inclined. Callie decides that one of these evil, and rather unctuous, demon monster roaches has been lurking underneath the concrete passthrough under the highway since the time it was a mere footpath.

But this particular entity is also quite clever, having adapted from snatching the occasional passerby to a renewable source of victims. Beware the trade! If only the Good Samaritan had said something sooner.

Bye Bye Trish

Daniel’s blissfully relieved parents arrive looking for their son. Trish tell them they’d just missed him and they leave. I suspect they never liked Trish anyway. They may have felt some comfort if they had known that Trish and her unborn baby would be dragged away by the demon monster roach later that night.

Callie had warned her, but once a victim of a mental health crisis always a liar. Distraught, Callie comes up with a plan to get her sister back. She prints out the results of her extensive online research, placing it in an envelope to be found by the boyfriend detective.

Trade!

In a final expression of sisterly love, Callie faces the tunnel and offers herself as a trade. Why she anticipates her sister and not a handful of buttons, there’s no telling. But the sound of previous victims screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” assures her that nothing could go wrong and her sacrifice will totally be worth it.

Breathlessly waiting for the fulfillment of the exchange, Callie is horrified to find that she hadn’t made her expectation of would be tossed back from underneath. It seems that demon monster roaches are devious fuckers. Rather than returning Trish, the demon monster roach bastard spits out her unborn child.

This is by far the best moment in the movie and not nearly enough time or effort was spent on it. It took a moment to even realize it was supposed to be a fetus and not a spleen. A truly impressive concept poorly executed.

The end of the movie brings us back to where we started, except now it’s the mourning detective who is stapling up flyers, asking anyone to call with information about Trish and Callie. When he sees a broken Callie standing in the entrance of the tunnel, his cop instincts kick in. No point in getting close enough to see her dilated pupils, so he walks away.


Absentia poster taken under Fair use.

Odds and Ends Vol 32: Psychotronic Review Edition

Odds and Ends

I’m on vacation and I feel like I’ve already done my civic duty by watching the final presidential debate. And that was some major pain!

The more I see of Biden, the more that I like him. Just the same, it is very clear what the argument for him is: normalcy.

A lot of people are applauding moderator Kristen Welker. I didn’t think she did a good job. But really: no one could do a good job. With someone who is willing to break all norms and lie constantly, pretty much every part of society breaks down.

The fact that 40 percent of the nation still likes Trump shows that 40 percent of the nation is made up of authoritarian followers. I admit: Trump comes off in these debates as more dominant in the way that one dog might dominate another. But does that matter when it comes to being the president?

He plays second-fiddle to most world leaders — as he does to Mitch McConnell at home. It’s all fake. In his bluster we see all of his insecurities. And people with even a modest amount of cunning use it against him.

So let’s forget all that and talk about all the cool stuff that’s been happening at Psychotronic Review!

Christopher R Mihm

There’s a writer-director of direct-to-video films made primarily in the style of 1950s science fiction and horror. They are often amusing but that isn’t so much the point of them. They are more loving tributes of these earlier films — generally better than the originals.

Mihm is a prolific guy. He’s made one film each year since 2016. (The film for this year has been delayed due to the pandemic.) And I watched them all and wrote a 4,000-word discussion of each with stuff about his work in general and specific actors (he has something of a stable).

At this time, all but two of his films are available on Amazon Prime for free. I recommend checking them out!

Diani & Devine

About a year ago, Elizabeth and I began looking for ways to watch films together. Eventually, we settled on a great service, Watch2gether. Lots of services allow you to watch and text. But W2G allows you to talk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with things like Amazon Prime. So now we combine services when necessary: using W2G for voice and Amazon with its Watch Party.

This has also allowed me to watch films with Andrea, which we haven’t been able to do much in recent years. And since our relationship is heavily film-oriented, this is great. She suggested that we watch a 2011 horror-comedy, The Selling.

It introduced us to a really good comedy team, Diani & Devine. They remind me a bit of Nichols and May with Etta Devine getting the more outrageous parts and Gabriel Diani usually playing the reasonably normal man in an insane world.

Check out my article, Diani & Devine, How Hollywood Sucks, and One Reason to Be Hopeful. They’ve made two excellent films and they are both on Amazon Prime for free!

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I saw John Carpenter’s Vampires in the theater. And I liked it. I noticed that it didn’t do well and that a lot of critics didn’t much like it so I bought the Blu-ray and created a complete review of it. (One thing that annoys me is when people review a DVD or Blu-ray as a straight film review. Read my review and you will see the difference.) It also includes overviews of all the other releases of this film (there are a lot).

I could have written about Vampires on Frankly Curious. Although I admire the film in most ways, it is filled with toxic masculinity. The main character Jack (played by James Woods) is just awful. It wouldn’t be hard to say the same thing about Snake Plissken. But he abuses bad guys. Jack treats everyone badly.

Now I understand: apologists would say, “He’s just kidding!” But if you’ve spent any time around bullies, you know that “just kidding around” is one of the most common claims made by bullies. “Why are you hitting yourself?” is supposed to be a joke.

The Gates of Hell Trilogy

Lucio Fulci was one of the greatest Italian horror directors. From 1980 through 1981, he released three Lovecraft-style horror films known as The Gates of Hell trilogy.

It’s interesting what my love of these films shows about my evolving tastes. I suspect that 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have cared that much for them. But over time, I have come to appreciate what I would call “pure horror.” It doesn’t matter to me if things make sense. In fact, it is often the attempt to explain that ruins films.

This was seen a lot in 1950s science fiction films where the writers went out of their way to provide preposterous explanations for what was going on. It’s so common that I rather like it the way you might come to appreciate a horrible scar on a lover. I’m happy every time I learn that Glenn Manning is going to die because his heart is only increasing in size at half the rate of the rest of his body.

The Gates of Hell films aren’t like that. But they also don’t exactly explain anything. For example, in City of the Living Dead, the four main characters are discussing what to do next. Suddenly, the doors fly open and a wind of thousands of maggots are blown all over them. Why? I don’t know! But it’s creepy, disgusting, and effective!

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust

Let me leave you with another nice discovering: I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. It’s a New Zealand film about people making a zombie film when there is a zombie outbreak and they are attacked. It’s not as good as The Selling, but it’s a lot of fun and very funny throughout the first hour.

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust is playing over at Psychotronic Review. Watch it now!

Until Next Time

This is my last day of vacation. I may be really busy when I get back. Then again, I may be looking for anything to avoid paying work. So maybe I’ll do something here.

Trump Is Bad at Politics

Donald Trump
Fakest smile ever!

Before I get to it, here’s the disclaimer: Trump may still win re-election. But I stand by everything that I write below.

Even after Trump won the presidency in 2016, I think most people understood that he simply got lucky. It wasn’t brilliant strategy and tactics that brought that result to light. It was only later that a narrative started indicating that it wasn’t dumb luck.

How could it be that?! The reporters of the nation weren’t bested by random chance. All that reporting on “Hillary’s emails!” was wrong only because they were defeated by the brilliance of Trump Inc!

The first article about this nonsense, that I saw, was at Forbes, How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House. Have you heard?! They had computers and analysts to determine where Trump should campaign! That was unheard of! In 1952.

But here we are in 2020. And it’s not like people are saying that Trump is good at the whole politics thing. But there is a subtext that maybe there’s a method to his madness.

There isn’t. Trump is very clearly losing. And his response is to flail around and make things worse.

Trump’s Bad by the Numbers

Let’s start with the numbers. Remember that in 2016, the polls were by and large not wrong. Some of the state polling was weak. But the biggest issue is that the undecided voters broke heavily for Trump.

This is not surprising. People who are undecided late in an election are low-information voters. They vote with their guts. As Rob says in High Fidelity, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

I do not think this will happen in 2020. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. Biden is consistently polling over 50 percent nationally. And in the states, he is near to that or over it. Here are the critical states that Clinton lost:

StateBiden (Undecided)Biden Lower Bound
Michigan49.8% (7.6)52.3%
Pennsylvania50.2% (6.1)52.2%
Wisconsin49.9%(6.5)52.1%

In 2016, Trump got about two-thirds of the undecided voters. So if Biden does only as well as Clinton did with undecided voters, he wins these states handily. If he does this nationally, he will get 53.7 percent of the vote — almost a percentage point more than Obama got in 2008 against McCain.

Trump’s Bad Over Time

Trump has had ups and downs since the short peak he had in mid-March when Americans (typically but bizarrely) gave him a boost because of the pandemic he was doing such a bad job on. But since then, it’s mostly been downhill.

What’s remarkable is that the mainstream media would have been falling all over themselves to crown him Greatest Leader Ever had he done even the most basic job fighting this pandemic. But Trump couldn’t do it. He just denied there was a problem, I guess figuring he could bluff his way to re-election.

The real problem is that no one believes Trump’s bullshit like Trump himself. Part of the reason there is a narrative that Trump is a political genius is because Trump pushes it. And by that theory, Trump saying stupid and vile things was not an error. It was what made him president! (Never mind that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.)

Trump’s Bad by the Focus Group

But to get the ultimate indication of just how bad Trump is doing, listen to Our Man of the Focus Group, Frank “Say ‘Democrat’ because it sounds like ‘rat'” Luntz:

But sure: Trump might win re-election. It might be that all the crazy and stupid stuff he’s doing is what allows him to win. But Trump isn’t doing that because he thinks it will work. He’s doing it because it’s the only thing he can do.

He isn’t good at this. We have a lot of people in the US who will vote for any man who beats his chest enough. And I expect that the next demagogue who comes along will be good at politics. But Trump is not.

Trump image cropped from Donald Trump Official White House Portrait by Shealah Craighead in the public domain.

Mike Pence Shows Trump Isn’t the Problem

Mike Pence

I appear to be in the small minority of people who found the vice-presidential debate even harder to watch than last week’s presidential debate. But I don’t think I should be. Most people just have a high tolerance for bad behavior when it comes in a soft-spoken package.

For the most part, Trump can’t help who he is. He’s clearly a man of limited intellect who has had anger problems since he was a child. And he’s lived in a culture that has mostly rewarded him for his instinctual bad behavior.

Pence’s Assembly Line of Bullshit

One of the most common ways that people described Trump’s debate performance was “feral.” That certainly isn’t a word anyone would use to describe what Pence did. Instead, he did a few things over and over:

  1. Talked way over his allotted time
  2. Ignored the question
  3. Engaged in an argument already finished
  4. Asked Kamala questions
  5. Shook his head and rolled his eyes
  6. Lied.

And he did this over and over again like it was a fucking assembly line.

Talking Over Women

What was most annoying was him continuing to speak after moderator Susan Page had asked him to stop. At times he seemed to go on well past a minute. And I would be totally understanding of this if it happened a few times. But it was clearly the plan to just keep talking.

And that gets to an important issue: this is sexism. Being a short and (until recently) painfully skinny man, I know the experience of being talked over in meetings and literally having men repeat what I said minutes before and get congratulated for their brilliance.

So I don’t react well when a man calmly talks over women and generally treats them as “little ladies” who don’t need to be taken seriously. Especially when the reaction to either Harris or Page had they lost their tempers would be to attack them as “nasty” and other gender-coded slights.

Other Annoyances

Like Trump, Pence also asked Harris questions. This is just ridiculous — and not just because neither of them did much question answering. The implication is that they are the arbiters of truth. They have nothing to answer for. But by God, they are going to get the answers for the American people from these interlopers!

Similarly, Pence consistently mischaracterized what Harris had said. For example, Harris attacked Trump for his response to COVID-19 and Pence went through all kind of contortions to claim that he would not stand by while she insulted the American people’s response to the virus!

I wouldn’t mind this stuff so much if I didn’t know that it works really well for most viewers. That’s why we need the moderators to be able to cut mics. We can’t have a situation where a total lack of regard to the rules of the debate comes off as them being “strong.”

Lies

In general, I don’t care much for Glenn Kessler. But if you read his stuff, he does get the details right. And he and his crew did a good job here, Fact-Checking the Vice-Presidential Debate Between Pence and Harris.

He did, of course, have to find two instances where Harris was wrong — even though in both cases its more of a matter of opinion. But the 13 Pence cases were devastating. Most of them were flat-out lies. And they are the kinds of things that Pence must know are not true. But he’s more than happy to push them.

Your Republican Party

The main thing is that Pence shows you what Trump really means to America: damned little. Yes, Trump is ignorant and stupid and he combines that with peak-level coarseness and villainy. And if he died, the country would be led by a man who speaks calmly. But he offers only average intelligence. He is incurious. And most important of all: he is a villain.

I really worry about this. Too many people in this country think that Trump is the problem. Trump is only important in that he pulled the mask off conservatism in this country. He showed what Republican voters really want it to be. Forget the nonsense about fiscal conservatism. Forget social conservatism! They want one thing from their party: to anger the people who care about making this country more accepting, more caring, and (Dare I say it?) more liberal.

Once Trump is gone, the party remains. The rest of America needs to see that. And at Wednesday’s debate, it was on full display with Mike Pence.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party!


Mike Pence by Gage Skidmore (Who else?!) under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Who Was Fooled by Melania Trump?

Melania Trump

A tape of Melania Trump from 2018 was released Thursday by her former senior adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff to publicize her new book, Melania and Me. On the tape, Melania shows that she agrees with her husband on policy and that she has the same childish entitled temperament too.

It doesn’t really matter except for this: over the years, I’ve see a lot of people claim that she was secretly disgusted by her husband. There was the ridiculous #FreeMelania hashtag. Yet there was plenty of reporting that showed who she was.

In particular, far from not liking Trump, she actively helps him. She provides him to reviews and pointers for his talks. Frankly, they seem to have a pretty good relationship. As you would think, right?

Women Are Vile Too!

But I’ve been hearing the same thing about the wives of conservatives for years. It’s actually really sexist — as though these women are being held captive. Now that was doubtless the case in the past. But today, among the rich at least, if a woman is married to a vile man, you can bet she is vile too.

If none of that was clear enough, the “I really don’t care. Do U?” jacket incident should have clarified it. First Ladies don’t just put on whatever. She was making a statement. And that statement was clear: fuck the kids in cages!

I’m glad this tape came out, though. It certainly means that for a time liberals will stop pretending that Melania Trump is anything another privileged sociopath. In fact, I’ve seen #FreeMelania used in reference to her having COVID-19. That’s not nice and I wouldn’t celebrate her death. But that’s a better use of the hashtag than before.

Of course, after Trump is out of office or dead, I’m sure Melania will do the media rounds and rehabilitate her image. And liberals will forgive all and pretend that she’s a Good Person™. “Remember that Be Best campaign!” As for me, I’ll take a hint from Anonymous. I will not forget; I will not forgive.

Afterword

I find Melania Trump a distinctly unattractive woman. I only mention it because, as usual for the women that surround Donald Trump, they are held up as beautiful women. They are all of a type. Maybe without make-up, Melania would be attractive. To me, she looks like a space alien who’s about a probe me anally.


Image of Melania Trump taken from a larger image in the public domain.

Trump’s Got COVID-19 — That’s Not Good

Donald Trump

The big news last night was that Donald Trump has COVID-19. I know it’s easy to rejoice. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!” But it’s actually bad for a couple of reasons.

First, I don’t want Trump to get sick and die. And I don’t just say that because I think he should live long enough to be punished for his crimes. I don’t wish death and disease on him. I hope he’s okay.

(If he manages to win re-election or stage a coup, I am open to changing my mind about this.)

But I really think Trump is not the issue in this country. Roughly half of us voted for him in 2016. Everything that’s come out about him has only proven what was already well established. The worst things about him — his racism, bullying, and laziness — were not things that people didn’t know. They were reasons that so many Americans voted for him.

Beyond that, without the entire Republican Party protecting him, he wouldn’t have been able to do one-tenth the damage that he’s done. But they care more about tax cuts and destroying the regulatory state than they care about preserving at least a hint of democracy in this country.

Why Trump’s Condition Is Bad

But the biggest reason that it is bad that Trump has COVID-19 is because he is losing this election badly. The other day, David Pakman reported that the presidential election polls were tightening. He actually got me a little concerned.

So I went and checked out the Real Clear Politics averages. And yes, they are tightening — but exactly as we expect them to. Trump’s numbers have risen a small amount. Biden’s are rock solid. And most important: Biden is averaging about 50 percent in polls. That means there isn’t the possibility that Biden could lose because the undecided voters break heavily for Trump. (This is what happened in 2016.)

As a result of Trump doing so badly, chaos is his only hope. That’s what explained his absolutely disgraceful performance at the debate on Tuesday. It’s like the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. After it falls into molten steel, it transforms into various forms, looking for something that will work.

And in a presidential campaign, you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t really think that Trump getting sick is going to cause Biden voters to feel sorry and change their votes. But Trump could get a political advantage from this. Anything that upsets expectations can do this.

Other Fears

Another concern is that Trump will not get symptoms. If that’s the case then there will be more bloviating about how there is nothing to the disease. Because obviously: if it doesn’t harm Trump, what does it matter?

This isn’t a big concern however because I’m not sure that there is anything else Trump can do along these lines that would make matters worse. It would just be annoying. But there is another thing that would be bad…

If Trump were to die of COVID-19, it would be terrible for the country. His base would develop a conspiracy delusion that he was murdered by the “deep state.” This would not only turn him into a martyr; it would add fuel to the dangerous QAnon conspiracy delusion. And I’m already worried what these people are going to do if Trump is defeated next month.

In a Better America

There was a time when you could depend upon Republicans. They lacked empathy. But if a Republican learned that their son was gay, they would suddenly learn the importance of gay rights. But we don’t live in that world that existed just 20 years ago.

If we did, the Republican President getting sick with COVID-19 would make the whole party stand up and take this pandemic seriously. But I’m sure they won’t. Trump himself will continue to minimize this.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope this causes a sea change. Regardless of who’s in power, we need to shape up when it comes to COVID-19. It’s killing large numbers of people. And it makes our country a joke on the world stage. And our economy continues to limp along, economically.

But all that will likely come out of this is more of the same. And that’s not so bad as long as Trump doesn’t benefit from a disease he most certainly deserves to get.


Trump image cropped from Donald Trump Official White House Portrait by Shealah Craighead in the public domain.

Democrats Have a Path Forward If They Take It

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

When I heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, I reacted better than most of my liberal friends. I was sad, of course. She was not only a brilliant liberal jurist. She was also the end of a generation. She was the last liberal to be put on the Supreme Court.

But I didn’t freak out at the news. Part of it was just that I’ve been checking the news each morning looking for this since the start of the year. There was nothing surprising. It would have been a miracle if she had made it to next year.

But more than that, I had a very pleasant thought. “Now the Democrats have no choice but to do what I’ve been begging them for years.” Those things are:

  • End the filibuster
  • Expand the Supreme Court
  • Add Washington DC and Puerto Rico as states.

Let’s go over these.

Filibuster

I’ve been on this forever. A lot of liberals don’t like the idea of getting rid of the filibuster. They say, “But what happens when the Republicans are in control?!” There are two issues here.

First, it is ridiculous to think that the Republicans have maintained the filibuster out of a sense of fairness or commitment to norms. They have cut back on the filibuster exactly as much as has been necessary.

They don’t need to worry about the filibuster for tax cuts. Sure, they are limited to ten years. But they know they won’t be in power that long anyway. And that brings us to the second issue.

The filibuster hurts the Democrats more because they want to govern. It isn’t like the Republicans want to pass any other legislation. (This may change after the Court strikes down Roe v Wade. Then they will be quick to pass a law outlawing abortion nationwide because it turns out that state and local control really doesn’t matter to them.)

If this isn’t enough for you, consider this: if we don’t get rid of the filibuster, the Democrats will not be able to do anything. The Republicans will have established minority rule for a decade or more.

Expand the Court

The Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat in 2016. As a result, for the last 4 years, we have had a conservative court when it should have been liberal. (Actually, there are no liberals on the court. There are only centrists now. But I’ll refer to it as liberal because it’s easier.)

The death of Ginsburg should now realign the court to be conservative. As a result, we should increase the size of the court to 11 members. Or 13. The truth is, the Republicans should be punished for their behavior.

But I understand: if the Democrats do this, the Republicans will just expand the court when they get in. I know! It will help change attitudes about the court. It will allow people to see that the Supreme Court is just another partisan branch of the government.

Liberals need to understand that historically, the Supreme Court has been aggressively conservative. Ian Millhiser discusses this at length in his excellent book, Injustices. The Court’s main use over the years has been to stop social progress. And we are going to see that in a big way if the current situation stands.

It’s not just that Roe v Wade is dead. Obamacare could be dead within a few months. And the woman we are looking at on the Court is a real loon. And young so she’ll have lots of time to “build the Kingdom of God.”

Add New States

Republicans are saying that the addition of states for DC and Puerto Rico is unfair. Well, the mainstream media can pretend that this is anything but disingenuous, but we don’t have to.

The truth is that if these two areas had leaned Republican, they would have been made states decades ago. I’ve been for making them states for years without even considering it from a partisan perspective.

But the truth of the matter is that the Senate is a highly undemocratic institution. It leans heavily Republican despite the fact that the nation votes heavily Democratic. And if we add these two states, the Senate will become less ridiculously unfair. But it will still provide a major advantage to Republicans.

Reality Sets In

I was actually feeling good that maybe this horrible event would lead to something good. But then reality set in. Dianne Feinstein set in. She said:

I don’t believe in doing that. I think the filibuster serves a purpose. It is not often used, it’s often less used now than when I first came, and I think it’s part of the Senate that differentiates itself.

This is the problem. For all the complaining about Joe Biden and other supposed centrists, the real problem with the party are these supposed institutionalists who have somehow missed the last three decades of Republican behavior.

I’ve been told that if it comes to it, Feinstein will fall in line. And she may well. But there are others. There are too many people who would rather install permanent Republican minority rule than give up the moral high ground.

They remind me of the cosplay socialists who can’t soil their moral purity by voting for a Clinton or a Biden. Except these Democrats are potentially far more harmful. I’m just hoping that they will bend to pressure. We will need to press hard.


Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the public domain.

Town Halls: Trump vs Biden

Joe Biden 2019

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden attended cable news town halls this week. And the difference was stark.

Trump

Trump’s town hall was pretty bad. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but in his press conferences, Trump relies a whole bunch on yelling at reporters. If he gets a difficult question, he just calls the reporter “nasty” (especially if it’s a woman) or “fake news.” Then he moves on.

But with the town hall, he couldn’t really do that. And the fact that he didn’t shows that he’s more together than he often appears. So he was left with his other weapon: bold-faced lies. And he used it a lot.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Donald Trump

Daniel Dale has been documenting Trump’s lies for a long time. After the town hall, he said, “There was just so much lying, Don. I’m going to go quickly here so literally just stop me whenever you need to.” Over a minute and a half later, he said, “Don, this is a preliminary list. I have hours of fact-checking to do today because there is even more of this. This was just a fire-hose of lying, again, from the president.”

And when cornered, he just blamed Obama. Remember back in June 2009 when Republicans were outraged that Obama occasionally mentioned Bush? Republicans really are a postmodern party that believes in nothing other than that it is good if they do something and bad if the Democrats do it.

“I Don’t Feel Your Pain”

But it’s more than just the lying. It’s also that Trump seems to be unable to empathize with other people. When he was asked if he understood that the MAGA slogan was tone deaf for African Americans, Trump responded that things were better for blacks under his administration.

It went so poorly that Laura Ingraham called the town hall an “ambush.” It doesn’t make any sense to call it that. Trump must have known what he was getting into. And frankly, it wasn’t all that hard a venue. It’s just that Trump is really, really bad at this stuff.

Biden

The only bad thing I can say about Biden’s town hall was that he’s showing his age. But he’s still the same old Joe. And one thing I thought while watching it was that he was standing throughout it. Yeah, I know Trump will be standing in the debates. But he sat for his town hall and that’s how I always think of him: sitting. Or wandering around on the grass.

Biden was really focused at the town hall. Again and again, he showed himself to be really informed about policy and related minutia. I guess that’s what comes from dedicating your life to this stuff.

Biden Is Good at Politics

Check out the following clip of Biden answering a question from a woman whose mother has cancer. Biden engages with her. He even manages to remember that the woman said “multiple myeloma” in her question (a feat I could not accomplish). And he still manages to use it to attack Trump.

During part of the answer, he veers off to talk about his son and attack Trump’s comments about soldiers being “losers.” I’m sure that’s something that Biden cares deeply about. But it was still a brilliant piece of political theater. His son died of cancer so it was related. And I’m sure Biden has no problem getting choked up when thinking about his son.

Watch this; it really is brilliant.

Republicans Respond

Of course, just as the right-wing came to the defense of Trump’s horrible town hall, they had to trash Biden’s. And the best idea they came up with was from Bill O’Reilly.

The truth is that Bill O’Reilly knows better than this. But it doesn’t matter. They have to come up with some reason to claim that Trump is right and true and Biden is not.

Dean Baker responded, “Yeah, someone must have told Biden there would be questions on the pandemic and the economy. Otherwise, how could he be so well prepared.”

But most of the better responses were like BrooklynDad Defiant! who said, “Hilarious that Joe Biden is supposed to be Sleepy and Slow, but guys like Bill O’Reilly think he has the mental acuity to memorize a ton of questions AND answers.”

Final Analysis

I’ve become far more pragmatic in my politics over the last year or two. I think Trump does that to people. This isn’t to say my goals for politics have changed — just that I’m more risk averse and focused on the short-term.

I like Biden and I think he’s a decent guy. If he becomes president, I won’t be thrilled with his foreign policy, but it will be far better than Trump’s. And I’ll generally find his domestic policies to be less bold than they should be. But I fully expect to be significantly more pleased than I was with Obama.

And Biden showed that he is rather good at this whole politics thing. Who would have thought?! I mean, he’s only been doing it for 50 years. But it’s more than that. I’ve said before: Joe Biden is the best retail politician of my lifetime — with the possible exception of Bill Clinton.

Trump is a bad retail politician. He’s at his best in front of big adoring crowds. He will struggle in the debates. His only hope is that the media grade him on a curve. And they have so far.


Image cropped from Joe Biden by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Ben Shapiro Hates BLM’s Goals, Not Its Tactics

Ben Shapiro

Recently Ben Shapiro was on Joe Rogan’s podcast. And he made this very nuanced argument that when it comes to protest, Colin Kaepernick was wrong but Martin Luther King Jr was right.

His argument was that King said that “In the name of the flag you should stop racism” but that Kaepernick is saying that America is racist.

But really: this is a distinction developed to justify a predetermined conclusion. And Shapiro’s conclusion is based upon his visceral dislike of Black Lives Matter and all modern social justice movements.

Shapiro could as easily argue that King was right because he showed respect by wearing a suit. Or that Kaepernick is disrespectful because his hair is too long. Or that we should listen to religious leaders but not sports figures. It does not matter!

If Ben Shapiro Had Been Alive in 1963

As I’ve noted in the past, conservative beliefs only has a shelf-life of a generation or two. After that, the beliefs’ naked racism and general villainy is clear even to present-day conservatives.

If Ben Shapiro been around in the 1960s, he would have been like William F Buckley Jr was. In his 1963 book, Rumbles Left and Right: A Book About Troublesome People and Ideas (1963), Buckley wrote:

Dr Martin Luther King is more sensitive, and so more bitter, than the average Southern Negro, and hence unqualified as a litmus of the Southern Negro’s discontent.

You see, conservatives always have a reason to explain being against the justice movements of the moment. In fact, when NBA players recently staged a walk-out over police shootings, Jared Kushner responded condescendingly, “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.”

The subtext is clear: what are all these rich guys whining about! This is what Buckley was saying: they don’t have the right to speak for ordinary blacks. The only thing that distinguishes Ben Shapiro is his specific justification for discounting what Colin Kaepernick says.

Ben Shapiro Can’t Admit What He Thinks

The problem for people like Shapiro is that they can’t come out and say what they believe: that all the struggles of the past were great but all the modern ones are wrong and are tearing this country apart. Saying that would make it clear that they are hateful, clueless, or both.

No modern conservative would say that a poll tax is okay. That is a relic of the racist past! If, however, you propose a poll tax in the form of new ID requirements that black people disproportionately don’t have, well, that’s just common sense. And, of course, that’s just what Ben Shapiro believes.

Ben Shapiro Isn’t Against Racism

Let’s be clear here. Ben Shapiro isn’t against Colin Kaepernick for the way he makes his argument. He is against Kaepernick’s goals. And Shapiro is not acting out of ignorance. He will not admit the existence of systemic racism. But it isn’t just an opinion he repeats.

He has lots of cherry-picked research (usually also distorted) to back up his position. And the only way you can cherry-pick is to go through the orchard. So Ben Shapiro is well aware that the arguments he’s making are not well-supported by the data. Yet he makes them anyway.

I cannot say why it is that conservatives are determined to find that the world is right and just — however it happens to be at the moment and regardless of how often their previous claims are shown to be wrong. But that is what this is all about: pushing a particular narrative of the world.

Ben Shapiro Is Disingenuous

That requires that you discount any evidence the pushes against your utopian narrative. And we all do this to one extent or another. So I don’t exactly blame Shapiro for that.

But I do blame him for not being honest: for not simply saying that he doesn’t believe in what Colin Kaepernick is protesting. Instead, Ben Shapiro tries to sound high-minded. Like he disagrees with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it!

But he’s not willing to do that. So he wants to shut down the conversation. He knows that ultimately the facts are not on his side. So in order to stop people talking about the stuff that makes him feel uncomfortable, Shapiro must distinguish between the good black protest of MLK and the bad black protest of Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.

That makes Ben Shapiro an evil man. He’s nothing even in the realm of an honest broker. It’s no wonder he’s so beloved on the right. It’s no wonder the rich shovel so much money at him.


Ben Shapiroby Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jay Leno and Monica Lewinsky

Jay Leno Is a Dick

I didn’t pay much attention to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At that point in my life, I didn’t pay much attention to politics. But I remember the time. I considered myself a libertarian, but I couldn’t believe all the nonsense that the right-wing did to the Clintons.

And that was all the Monica Lewinsky scandal was: an opportunity for the right-wing to further attack Bill Clinton. It’s kind of hard to imagine now. I mean, Bill Clinton had an affair. It was improper. He didn’t have an open relationship with his wife. And Lewinsky was a subordinate.

But the great wrong done to her way by the right-wing with the fawning help and approval of the mainstream media. Ultimately, it didn’t really affect Clinton all that much. But Lewinsky became an object of public shame. She was only 22 when the affair started. But that hardly mattered. She was a woman so it was open season.

I didn’t know quite how bad it was until I watched this excellent segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Public Shaming.”

Jay Leno

According to Oliver, the comedian who was the worst when it came to attacking Monica Lewinsky was Jay Leno. On one level, that’s not at all surprising. Although I thought Leno was pretty good early on in this career, his work on The Tonight Show was very much like the meals I always imagine him eating: large and poorly prepared.

Monica Lewinsky jokes are not hard to write. You can see upwards of a dozen groaners in the video. So of course Leno dipped into that well deep and often.

What does surprise me is who the consumers for this material were. For example, my mother used to watch his show. I remember Leno was seen as the middle-of-the-road comedian who didn’t offend anyone.

But I probably should have known. Whenever something is held up as an ideal for middle-America, it usually means that it is overflowing with the prejudices of the time.

John Oliver’s Response

In the image above, you can see that Jay Leno presented a Dr Seuss parody to go after Lewinsky. It’s called, “The Slut in the Hat.”

So John Oliver offered up the following Dr Seuss parody: “Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!”

But I will give Leno this: he has largely gone away. But I’m sure we can count on him to turn up every now and then to complain about how people are doing things that he doesn’t like. You know: things he used to do.

Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!

Images taken from the John Oliver video under Fair Use.

Letters From Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’ll try to post something later. I’m super busy at the moment so I don’t have time for a regular article.

But I got a letter posted to my business partner, William, at our business address. It had handwriting on the envelope. I opened it to see if there was a check inside. There wasn’t.

But there was a handwritten letter. It was in rather bad cursive and I couldn’t easily read it. So I contacted Will and rather than come over, he had me read it to him, which I did with some effort.

Jehovah's Witnesses Letter

Jehovah’s Witnesses COVID-19 Waste

Will figured it out long before I did. In fact, he might have known from the start. The letter says it is from one of his neighbors, Janell, and that if he is looking for meaning in this crazy world, he is in luck! It ends by mentioning that there is a website that will answer all the big questions like:

What is the purpose of life and many more answers [to] the questions that you can ask and search out. Something for everyone including cartoons for the little one. The website is J.W.Org [sic] and I hope you will take time to check it out.

It’s clear that this is a pre-written letter. So the Jehovah’s Witnesses are now limited in terms of going door-to-door. So they are having their members sit at home and hand-write these things. And they are apparently going to people in databases because I can’t imagine how else this letter would have found its way to our business address.

Will tells me this is nothing new. The church has people do this who can’t normally go door-to-door. So even if you are confined at home, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a way for your to waste your time annoying the wider world!

Witnessing Is Nonsense

Many years ago, I read an article by Bible scholar Robert M Price about this idea that all Christians should be out witnessing to the rest of us. He argued that the books that make up the Bible were meant for the priest class. So when the Bible talks about witnessing, it means the priests, not the ordinary followers.

I think it is horrible that any group does this. And it is only because we are all extra gentle to religious people that we don’t meet them on the porch with our guns. What they are doing is not just useless; it is rude.

It also involves child abuse. They always use the “little ones” because they are great calling cards.

Truly, I say to you: any church that must depend upon indoctrinating children worships a false god.

The only thing that is good about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they don’t vote. I assure you, if they did, they would be all-in for Donald Trump.