Monday, July 20, 2020

Th Pachyderm in the Room

The big news out of Washington this weekend was that the President of the United States was able to identify an elephant. Mr. Trump himself celebrated his accomplishment by claiming that he had “aced” a test. One is glad that he has earned his merit badge in animal naming, and that he announced his feat in—what was for him—a minimal over-the-top fashion. One suspects that if Junior, who likes to kill beasts that can’t shoot back at him, had conquered an elephant, he would have dragged the carcass onto the stage in front of cameras.

In truth, though, it must be admitted that not all Capital observers were buying the Trump story, for it has been whispered that Mr. Trump may have a slight penchant for telling porkies.*

Still, one might be inclined on this occasion to believe him. After all, the elephant is the symbol of the Republican party, so how could he fail to recognize one? 

And one ventures the guess that Mr. Trump also would have had no trouble identifying the symbol of the Democratic party—the donkey. Indeed, he is probably more familiar with its features than that of the elephant. For every morning, when he looks into the mirror to construct the yellow edifice on the top of his head, he sees an ass.


Incidentally, at this point in time, there has been no word on what other mammals or marsupials Mr. Trump is an ace at identifying.


* Cockney rhyming slang: “lies” = “pork pies,” or “porkies” for short. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

On The Road

I have just finished reading—back-to-back—two articles on the New Yorker website. The first is a report from Munich, Germany on the steps taken by the authorities to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The second is a chronicle of an automobile trip from California to New York during the virus crisis in the United States. I recommend reading both pieces, especially back-to back.

The first article, “How Munich Turned Its Coronavirus Outbreak Into a Scientific Study” by Elisabeth Zerofsky,* details how scientists and medical professionals, having received a million euros from the government implemented a wide-spread testing and tracing program. Scientists established a protocol for home visits:
careful precautions [were] taken to establish public trust: after the initial knock, the team members explained who they were and what they would be doing. Residents don’t have to immediately agree to participate, as a separate team would return to take the first blood samples. The study also attracted a great deal of press attention, so residents often already knew about it.
The program was welcomed. Someone exclaimed, “I was hoping so much that you guys would come to my door!” 


On June 23, Michael Specter, a scientist, professor, and writer, hustled his dog into his car for his biannual trip back to the east coast from Palo Alto, California. He recorded his journey in an article entitled “Driving Cross-Country: A Coronavirus Diary.”**

Considering the great number of virus-deniers, non-maskwearers, and crowds he encountered, it would have been astonishing if Specter would have been able to report that people across the country were welcoming PPE-clad testers into their homes. Even Specter’s mask was off-putting to people: “Oh, honey . . .You don’t have to wear that thing in here. It’s a bit much, don’t you think?” said a motel clerk to Specter, who, besides masks and gloves, had brought along on his journey “enough hand sanitizer to disinfect the nation.”

In Las Vegas, Specter “counted a hundred and thirty-seven people during my thirty-minute stroll, and only seventeen wore masks.” Not a very effective way to confront the pandemic. “[W]e were not born with masks on,” a woman accurately and stupidly informed him.

In Utah, Specter read in the newspaper that the state epidemiologist was quoted as saying, 
For three straight weeks now, our cases have been increasing at a rate that isn’t sustainable . . . .We are at risk for overwhelming our hospital capacity. 
And how did the politicians hop to it to see that the populace would be safe? 
Victor Iverson, the Washington County commissioner and a candidate for lieutenant governor at the time, declared that he “will never wear a mask.” He had had it with the pandemic talk. “I think it’s time to get back to normal,” he said. “Our citizens want to be free. And we’re done.”
Things did get better; Specter notes that as he drove east, “rules, in general, are stricter and compliance seemingly better.” But, overall, a very discouraging journey.

As part of his summing up, he says, 
I don’t know what I expected from this trip, but I was surprised at how little attention people seemed to pay to the virus. I once wrote a book called “Denialism,” but I could never have imagined that so many people could be so committed to ignoring reality. 


Bavaria is historically a conservative German state. But its efforts to use scientific and medical knowledge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 proves that to be politically conservative does not mean you have to be a flaming loonie.

Then again, there’s yesterday’s headline:
Trump administration seeking to block funding for CDC, contact tracing and testing in new relief bill: report***

Americans like to proclaim that they are living in the greatest country in the world. Our deluded northern neighbors, the Canadians, with their much lower per-capita coronavirus death toll and their free health care system, think that they are. Their dollar coin is called the “loonie.”

You don’t have to flip one to determine who’s right.


Friday, July 10, 2020

It Ain't Me, Babe

This blog post draws upon the following article for the facts of the case:


Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee was incredulous:
I find that hard to believe. I’m sorry, but it’s like a pretty big decision, a lot of people there, everyone’s there, and it just sort of happened? 
Smith was reacting to testimony by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who told Congress on Thursday that he did not know 
who gave the widely denounced order to clear peaceful antiracism protesters from Lafayette Park, across the White House, early last month.
       “It’s still unclear to me who gave the direction to clear the park at       that moment in time” . . .
Esper acknowledged to the House Armed Services Committee that the National Guard was present on the scene, but said that it played only “a static role” and did not take part in the controversial clearing. "The Guard did not advance on the crowd,” he told lawmakers.  
But under questioning, Esper could not say who had given the order for the National Guard to take even that limited role. 
Maybe it was Attorney General William Barr (who is so far up Trump’s ass that he won’t see daylight for at least ten years) who was the instigator of the riotous clearance of peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square. “I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” claimed Barr. 

Well then, perhaps it was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who trooped in his combat fatigues behind Trump to St. John’s church, where the narcissicist-in-chief posed with a Bible (as he pointed out, not “his” Bible, just “a” Bible). Milley said, “I don’t know with certainty,” who did what, claiming that there had been a planning session earlier in the day at FBI headquarters at which “they divided up who was gonna do what to whom.” 

But who were the “they?” Milley “seemed to suggest, as Barr did to the AP, that a commander of the Park Police was responsible.”

One somehow doubts that a Park policeman could deploy National Guard troops and helicopters.

Of course, this whole denial business fits the MO of the Trump administration, led as it is by Mr. “I-Take-No-Responsibility” himself. 

Speaking of whom, did Trump play no role in wanting the plaza cleared of peaceful demonstrators so that he could have his photo op?

And an even better question: what efficacy could 
And Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad,
And Zabad begat Ephlal, and Ephlal begat Obed,
And Obed begat Jehu, and Jehu begat Azariah,
And Azariah begat Helez, and Helez begat Eleasah,
And Eleasah begat Sisamai, and Sisamai begat Shallum,
And Shallum begat Jekamiah, and Jekamiah begat Elishama.
have as a riposte to “Black Lives Matter”?


No one was driving, officer. We were all in the back seat.

Peter Lind Hayes


No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

Bob Dylan


And the theme of the day: "I know nothing."

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Funny--You Don't Look Jewish

In an interview on Friday, the head of the Church of England said the west in general needed to question the prevailing mindset that depicted Christ as a white man in traditional Christian imagery.*
Thus, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He went on to say that if you go into churches around the world,
You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle-Eastern Jesus – which is of course the most accurate – you see a Fijian Jesus.
Did you notice who was missing from this litany of Jesuses?

That’s right—a Jewish Jesus.

Some of you might claim that “Middle-Eastern Jesus” includes a Jewish Jesus. However, a little effort would winkle the Jews from the Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis, et al. But, more important, I see the submerging of Jewishness into the general mire of Middle-Easternness as another example of the centuries-old attempt to ahistoricize Christianity’s relationship to Judaism. Consider one other example, cited by Diarmaid MacCulloch in his massive (and brilliant) biography of Thomas Cromwell: In 1535, parish clergy were enlisted
in a campaign of sermons and addresses to get families to teach their children the first building-blocks of the Christian faith—Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed and Ten Commandments.**
Would that be the same Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai for the Jewish people?

To use a very contemporary phrase, aren’t we seeing here examples of cultural/religious appropriation?


Anyway, to get back to iconography, I do wonder about the idea that Christians have that any of their portrayals of Jesus—in painting, sculpture, or some other weird  medium***—are really portrayals of the historical personage. Unless I’ve been sleeping at the switch, I have not heard of any itinerant Polaroid photographers snapping pictures of random Nazarenes during the first century. Thus, nobody can claim to know what Jesus looked like. Certainly, the standard portrait has no historical claim to validity; according to Wikipedia, “there is no physical description of Jesus contained in any of the canonical gospels."****

With nothing to contradict us, therefore, I would hope we can all agree on one thing: that he almost certainly looked Jewish.


** Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Confession

I suppose that some of you dear readers who have been following this blog for a while have come to believe that I, normalvision, am the nicest, sweetest creature to have trod this planet’s turf since the days of Tyrannosaurus rex. But I have to confess that I have moments when I slip down the niceness slope, usually because the good angel sitting on my left shoulder is out-argued by the bad angel on my right. Today is one of those times.

Today is the day scheduled for Donald Trump’s latest lie-fest, to be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. About 19,000 drinkers of the Kool-Aid will be in attendance. In all probability most of these shoulder-to-shoulder idiots will emulate their duce and not wear a face mask. Why listen to the scientists about the dangers of the coronavirus? 

Why not, instead, create a perfect storm for the pandemic to spread? Even Trump, who understands little, understood enough to have all attendees sign a waiver that neither Trump (Mr. "I am not responsible") nor his campaign will be held responsible for any corona illnesses that will undoubtedly arise from attendance at his love-in.

Now, my good angel is whispering in my ear that one should sympathize with anyone who falls ill (with any malady) and hope, humanely, for their sake that their affliction is mild and soon recovered from.

But my bad angel is spurring me to a feeling of schadenfreude (or, Schadenfreude).* After all, those who catch the virus at the rally will have brought it on themselves, by their own determined ignoring of social distancing and mask wearing. And, unfortunately, after they leave the premises of the arena, many of them will be bringing the virus to other—innocent—contacts. They, therefore, should not be viewed as victims, but as creators of their own (and others') misery, and we should, therefore, like Hamlet feel it’s “sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his own petard.”


* Pedantry Note: My personal stylesheet hasn’t yet decided whether to treat the word as an English loanword from German (thus, “schadenfreude”) or as a German word still (thus, “Schadenfreude,” and capitalized as are all German nouns—both common and proper).

Saturday, June 13, 2020



To Donald J. Trump

President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces

Whereas you have recently expressed your opposition to the removal of the names of Confederate generals from military bases, which are, in your words, part of a history of “Winning, Victory, and Freedom,”

And whereas you have expressed your admiration for the same generals, despite their having lost a major war in defense of non-freedom,

And whereas it is admirable to side with those who have opposed and even taken up arms against their own country or turned on their heels when faced with the challenge of having to fight under its flag, as in Viet Nam,

And whereas it is necessary to remember the history of all turncoats, cowards, and traitors, 

Be it hereby resolved that the list of honored traitors to the United States of America, besides those who fought a Civil War against the nation, be augmented by celebratory recognition of Benedict Arnold. 

While Arnold’s actions may be pedantically dismissed by some as having occurred before the United States was established as a nation, we are sure that Attorney General William Barr and his coterie of shysters can find a way to counter that argument and allow the enshrinement of Benedict Arnold to proceed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Pop Goes the Weasel

I don’t know how the gods contrived it, but they got it right when they decided that it was my brother who should become the lawyer in the family. They must have searched deeply into my soul and determined that I did not have the requisite character traits to become a member of the bar.

To prove the correctness of what I am saying here, consider my reaction (see below) to a Trumpian event of the day, the news of which has just been posted on line. 
Donald Trump’s Campaign Fires Off Cease-And-Desist Letter To CNN Over Poll That Shows Joe Biden With Wide Lead(1)
That follows what Trump tweeted earlier in the week:
CNN Polls are as Fake as their Reporting(2)
The cease-and-desist letter claimed that the CNN poll was “designed to mislead American voters.” As we all know, anything reported that is negative about Trump is dismissed—without proof—as “fake news.” Thus, a poll that came up with figures showing that Joe Biden is well ahead of the incumbent (at least at this point) could hardly survive a few hours without the typical Trumpian attack. 

Now, since the MO is by now as ancient as the hills, I wouldn’t ordinarily bother wasting my time writing about this latest whine. But—at the same time, Trump has been tweeting about the 75-year-old protester in Buffalo, NY who was assaulted by one of that city’s finest, lay bleeding and ignored in the street, and still lies today in the hospital:
Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN  I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?(3)
“Fake News,” anybody? The master at it again and (this is beyond self-satire) at the same time his flacks call on CNN to take down a First-Amendment-protected report from their news site for being allegedly misleading.

But it gets even better.

Instead of defending the truth of the President’s allegations against Mr. Gugino (which they can’t because there are no facts to support them), Trump’s defenders retreat to the old weasel trick. You know, using words like “could” or “maybe” or the new standard of weaseldom, “only raising (or “asking”) questions.” Here’s what the White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, had to say:
The president was raising questions based on a report that he saw, there are questions that need to be asked, and every case we can't jump on one side without looking at all of the facts at play.(4)


As I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t have the right character traits to be a lawyer. If I were one for CNN, I would respond to the crazy cease-and-desist letter: “Go soak your head” (and that’s only because I decided to be euphemistic).

But as a non-lawyer who wishes to practice his weaseling skills, I raise a question in the name of fair play:
Is Trump a special specie of fecal matter? 
Only asking.