Monday, November 20, 2017

A Matter of Metaphor

In my previous blog post (“Up, Down, and Sideways”) I referenced an article by Peter Beinart on the Atlantic website a few days ago. The headline is “Trump Insults People From Afar, Then Praises Them in Person.”* Today I return to Beinart’s article to focus on a metaphor Trump used in his attack—from afar—on China’s economic challenge to the United States. 

“We can’t continue,” he proclaimed during a campaign stop in 2016 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, “to allow China to rape our country.” But on his recent trip to the Far East Trump told the Chinese: 
I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?
So, rape isn’t bad after all—and no blame can be heaped on the rapist, who is “able to take advantage” of his victim for his own benefit. The blame, though, lies with the victim: in the case of the US versus China, Trump told the Chinese, it lies not on China’s government but on Trump’s American predecessors: 
I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Trump’s sleight-of-hand in turning rape into something that’s positively praiseworthy—gaining an advantage over others. He himself has been accused by at least 16 women of a range of sexual assaults.***

In fairness, we must admit that he hasn’t defended himself by blaming his victims; instead, he and his flacks have claimed that all the accusations are “fake news”:
Trump has continued his denials in office, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly telling reporters every accusation against him is a flat-out lie. He’s also used a press conference in the White House Rose Garden to lambast his accusers, saying in October, "All I can say is it’s totally fake news." 
He added, "It's just fake. It's fake. It's made-up stuff.”****
We can take it, then, that he wasn’t taking advantage in order to gain some kind of benefit.


To get back to the China vs. US economic situation. Perhaps we can turn Donald against himself and declare that those alleged Chinese "rapists" were not raping any other country but harmlessly pursuing their own good and that Trump’s Indiana claim, therefore, was “totally fake news.” There are no predators out there—sexual or economic—and thus no victims being taken advantage of either. 

Don’t you feel better?

(Assuming you haven’t read the news recently.)


Monday, November 13, 2017

Up, Down, and Sideways

I was impressed by an article by Peter Beinart on the Atlantic website a few days ago. The headline is “Trump Insults People From Afar, Then Praises Them in Person.” The article itself starts off thus:
When Donald Trump addressed South Korea’s parliament earlier this week, The Associated Press noted his “striking shift in tone.” After Trump journeyed from Seoul to Beijing, The New York Times made a video entitled “Trump’s striking change in tone on China.”But the change isn’t all that striking. It’s predictable. Trump insults people from afar and then praises them in person. He demands they change their behavior, and then forgets those demands when they’re in the room. He’s been doing it consistently for at least a year.*
Beinart cites four examples, three foreign and one domestic, of Trump, after having launched a severe attack from afar, offering sweet words to the attackees in person. The foreign examples are the Chinese, the South Koreans, and the Mexicans; the domestic example is his making mellow sounds at a black church in Detroit after “accus[ing] Black Lives Matter of encouraging attacks on police and suggest[ing] that African Americans were prone to voter fraud.” Just as the Associated Press and The New York Times had observed about the foreign excursions, Beinart points out that The Washington Post noted Trump’s “jarring shift in tone and message.”

Beinart’s article brought to mind the expression “kiss up/kick down,” which came to prominence in 2005 during the Senate confirmation hearings of John Bolton for the post of United States ambassador to the United Nations. The assessment was made by Carl Ford, former chief at the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research.**

At that time Steve Inskeep interviewed on NPR Ken Lloyd, author of Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People, about “kiss up/ kick down people”:
INSKEEP: The word `bully' has been used sometimes to describe John Bolton. Again, without endorsing or decrying that, let's talk about bullies for a minute. What happens when you have a bully in the workplace?
Mr. LLOYD: When you have a bully in the workplace, it's almost like that same bully on the school yard. This is a person who stamps his feet, pushes people around, demands that everything be done his or her way. It's a very similar kind of behavior.***
People who “kiss up/kick down” have no internal strength of character, since they use force only against those weaker than themselves, while becoming smarmy ass-kissing, bootlickers to those superior to them. I identify this as a question of Verticality:
Trump’s actions, I perceived, were of a different order. They demonstrated what I named Horizontality: the farther away one stands (distance being what Shakespeare called “the region cloud”) the safer one is from retaliation when one launches attacks against other people.****  Move close to the person you attack and expect a blow to the mush—unless one suddenly becomes all strategically forgetful and mealy-mouthed. The person who attacks from afar can only be labeled a coward; the same person smarming up close exhibits his gutlessness.

Combined Chart:



**** Internet trolls are obviously cowards, as the Web provides infinite electronic distancing between attacker and attackee. Consider the famous cartoon by Peter Steiner in The New Yorker, July 5, 1993:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

God Damned (Again)

This post is a riff on an article by Osita Nwanevu entitled “Today in Conservative Media: The Texas Shooting Victims Were Praying to Be Killed,“ published earlier this week on ( 
All the quotations are taken from that article.


In my previous post (“God Damned”) I tried to offer a way for God to retire from the scene so as to avoid being blamed for the ills of the world. I’m afraid that the responses of the right-wing (actually we all know it’s the wrong-wing) media and their assorted pundits (as reported by Osita Nwanevu) have forced me back to the keyboard.*

Here, for instance, is David French’s call to prayer in the supposedly thoughtful (as distinct from the rabble-rousing Trumpmaniacs) Conservative rag The National Review:
It’s as simple as this: God is sovereign, and every good and perfect gift comes from Him. . . .If there’s one thing that’s clear from the spate of mass killings in the United States, it’s that we need God to move.
Let’s parse this:

Everything good comes from God. But there’s a hell of a lot of bad going on, witness this church mass slaughter that French’s response is all about. Now, the way to make things right is to pray to God “to move.” Which means, it seems, that the deity is sitting on his haunches letting all this bad stuff go down and needs a prayerful poke in the ribs to eliminate this killing madness from the world. 

That he has not done so up to now suggests to my mind, if French is correct, either an indifference to man’s suffering or an actual maleficent delight in the misery of his creatures. 

Poor God! As I wrote in my previous post, here he is getting the blame again from a supposed believer in him. (An atheist wouldn’t have written what French did.)

Let’s turn to Hans Fiene at the Federalist and his piece entitled “When The Saints of First Baptist Church Were Murdered, God Was Answering Their Prayers.” (We will leave aside the shaky usage here of the term “Saints.”) 

“It may seem,“ wrote Fiene,
on the surface, that God was refusing to give . . . protection [from worldly evil] to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.
OK, let’s parse this one:

So when the gunman opened fire and killed the Texas worshippers, he was the instrument by which God was answering the prayers of the faithful, who desired, above all else, to be heaven-bound and free from the very evil that was sending them there. Thus God works in mysterious ways to perform his good deeds, such as contracting with a mass murderer to riddle the “Saints” with rifle fire, sending, at random, some to their heavenly sanctuary, leaving others maimed in hospital, awaiting a new weapon-wielding deliverer.

There’s more in Nwanevu’s article, but that’s enough comment from me. My head hurts, and my heart goes out to God. What did he do to deserve such believers?


*Remember the unofficial motto of this website:

“Fools rush into my head, and so I write. (Alexander Pope)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

God Damned

It would not be correct to say, “The devil made me do it.” Rather, what moved me to write this post was the coincidence in my reading this week of three people who had a problem with God.

The first I came across was that flypaper for idiocy Bill O’Reilly:
As CNN notes, O’Reilly has previously blamed the reports of his alleged sexual misconduct on the media, but now it looks as though he’s decided to throw shade at a higher power as well. “You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at him,” O’Reilly said on Monday during the latest episode of his web series, No Spin News. “I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him.”*
So, mad because God wasn’t his wingman. 


The second person with a problem with God was alleged actor Mark Wahlberg. I discovered his problem with God in yesterday’s edition of the Guardian’s satirical question-and-answer feature “Pass Notes”:
Name: Mark Wahlberg.
Age: 46.
Appearance: Contrite potato.
Why contrite? The actor is seeking almighty God’s forgiveness.
For what? For being in a film.
He’s an actor. Does he do this every time? A specific film. Speaking recently at a Catholic conference in Chicago, Wahlberg said: “I just always hope that God is a movie fan and also forgiving, because I’ve made some poor choices in my past.” When asked to elaborate, he said: “Boogie Nights is up there at the top of the list.”
So, the problem here is that God might just be a hostile Rotten Tomatoes type (always assuming that the heavenly being finds time off to visit the local cinema).


We have to go back in time 500 years for the third person with a God problem—Martin Luther. 

In the October, 30, 2017 issue of The New Yorker Joan Acocella, reviewing several books about the reformer, wrote how “this passionately religious young man . . . discover[ed] his anger against God” [emphasis hers]:
Luther spoke of his rage at the description of God’s righteousness, and of his grief that, as he was certain, he would not be judged worthy: “I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.”***
So, because Luther was certain of his own unworthiness, it was fine to hate the “righteous God.” 


A number of years ago, I found myself feeling sorry for God. “Poor God,” I said to myself. How he was being blamed for all the disasters in the world, for the murder of humans created in his own image no less. A destructive hurricane or earthquake, with thousands of people killed? It was God’s doing, prophets and preachers, rabbis and imams exclaimed, because of man’s sinfulness (usually nowadays due to gay marriage). 

A secondary thought I had was how chutzpahdic those prophets and preachers, rabbis and imams were to assume that they could read the mind, to know the reasoning, of the entity that was grand enough to create the heavens and the earth. 


I have found a way to free “Poor God” from the hatred, blame, and scorn that has unfairly come his way over time. I have decided to assume that the universe was not his creation (hence not his to be blamed for), but was created in an enormous explosion some five-billion years ago (although I haven’t exactly figured out the small details—I do have my scientists working on them).

And so now God can proclaim: “Free at last! Thank God Almighty (oops, sorry about that). I’m free at last!”



Friday, October 20, 2017

"And the Winner is . . ."

The Man Booker literary award has just been announced. The Nobel and the MacArthur “genius” award winners were named just a few weeks ago. If you haven’t pocketed one or another, don’t despair; by the time the 2018 autumnal equinox rolls around, there will be the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, BAFTAs, Pulitzers, Pritzkers, Giller, Golden Globes, Golden Boots, Golden Gloves, MVPs, Vezina, Lady Byng and so on and so forth. With so many prizes up for grabs each year, one might think the whole business was fashioned by Lewis Carroll’s Dodo, who proclaimed: “EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.”

Despite this plethora of prizes, I would ask your indulgence as I sneak one more into the mix. I hereby announce: The Cain Award. Named after that Biblical fellow, who famously asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The winner of the inaugural Cain Award (and winner by ten lengths over all other runners in the field) is Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin.
When asked by a high school student in Wisconsin whether he considered health care a right or a privilege, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) compared access to health care to access to food and shelter, arguing that all three should be considered “privileges” for those who can afford them.
“I think it’s probably more of a privilege,” Johnson said in response to the question. “Do you consider food a right? Do you consider clothing a right? Do you consider shelter a right?”*
Johnson has been a staunch proponent of removing the requirement that health insurers not discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. He has defended his position with the analogy that 
people with pre-existing conditions [are like] drivers that have been in a car accident, [and] that the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions is tantamount to requiring auto insurers to sell insurance to people that have crashed their car.
So, what can the unprivileged—those without food or shelter or clothes or health care—do when Senator un-Good Samaritan walks on down the road, ignoring them—the beaten and naked—lying in the ditch. Perhaps they can resort to prayer. Remember the envelope I mentioned in an earlier post, the one containing the Tibetan prayer flags?**

Well, maybe we can mail a set to each of them—but wait, they have no right to shelter, so they probably have no mailbox to receive the flags. Sorry, folks, you don't have a prayer.


Monday, October 16, 2017

R.I.P. Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur, American poet, died two days ago. He was 96 years old. 

I first became aware of Wilbur’s poetry about six decades ago when I read his “Epistemology” in a paperback anthology of new American verse. 
Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones: 
But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.

We milk the cow of the world, and as we do
We whisper in her ear, 'You are not true.' 
I didn’t (couldn’t, perhaps) at the time articulate why I liked the poem; it was, I assume, its wittiness and its concreteness, however, that made me intuit its philosophical underpinnings (which would become clearer in time). 

A few years later, in graduate school, we used an anthology of classical French plays which included Wilbur’s translation of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. The French alexandrines rendered into English rhymed couplets, Wilbur’s translation became my standard text whenever I taught that play in a drama or satire course.

I also regularly taught Wilbur’s poem “Place Pigalle” in my freshman English course.


About two decades ago I was fortunate to meet Wilbur after he gave a reading at my university. It was an opportunity that I relished, for there was in my mind one sticking point in “Place Pigalle” that I couldn’t work out. But here, I hoped, was the poet himself to help me. The poet was a tall, well-dressed man and very friendly when I approached him. I told him of my affection for his Misanthrope and then explained that I couldn’t work out the phrase “with Arden ease” in “Place Pigalle.” (I had always wondered whether, as the setting was indoors, the reference was to some kind of furniture. Certainly not Elizabeth Arden—and so I toyed with that Arden for years, but what was it? I could not contextualize it.)

Wilbur hesitated for just a moment. “I think,” he replied, “that I was referring to the Forest of Arden.”

Of course! Of course! I shriveled inside my clothes and glanced at the poet, hoping he was not tilting his head to one side with his eyes searching for the heavens and thinking, “What kind of moron have we here?”

And so my search for enlightenment was successful. But to this day I—who taught As You Like It approximately every other semester in my Shakespeare course—occasionally look in the mirror and remember a big dummy who couldn’t put two obvious pieces of information together, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say, “Couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Dead

Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge
In my previous blogpost, “Re-enter the Loons,” I quoted Bill O’Reilly as saying that the upside of the murder of 58 people at the Las Vegas country music concert was that that was “the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.” Allowed to roam free with assault weaponry at their disposal. The dead, thus, had their use; they brought freedom for nuts and gun nuts. 
In the November 2017 issue of The Atlantic* Caitlin Flanagan investigates the death of Tim Piazza, a freshman at Penn State University, after a night of horrendous hazing by the brothers of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. In her article Ms Flanagan relates a conversation with Jud Horras, a former assistant secretary of the fraternity’s national organization and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association for social fraternities. 
I knew [Flanagan writes] he was not prepared for the hardest question I had for him, which I would return to over and over again: Why hadn’t Beta Theta Pi taken the simple, obvious steps that would have saved Tim Piazza’s life?
Horras defended the fraternity saying that 
at some point, you have to trust young men to make the right decisions. . . .  Giving members the freedom to [make poor decisions] was part of what the fraternity was about. If they screwed up and got caught—well, that was on them. 
But what about the death of Tim Piazza? 

Horras acknowledged that it was “a tragedy for him and his family.”  BUT
it would provide the industry with the impetus needed to make some necessary reforms. In fact, his death was a “golden opportunity.”
Ecclesiates tells us, 
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.
Apparently, when it is one’s time to die, others will find a purpose in one’s death—an opportunity to use it for their own ends. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Re-enter the Loons

Now I don’t know whether you’d want to chalk it up to pure coincidence or to some super power in the universe with a sense of appropriateness, but today I received in the mail the following:

Coming just days after the mass murder of concert-goers in Las Vegas by a gunman wielding a high-powered automatic attack weapon, the gift of “Prayer Flags” will allow me to indulge—together with so many politicos—in a round of after-the-fact thoughts-and-prayersing. 

I have not yet opened the envelope to determine what these “Prayer Flags” will actually do. Perhaps, unlike the hollow prayers of gun-moneyed politicians, these Tibetan artifacts will promise to be intercessory, which is
holy, believing, persevering prayer whereby someone pleads with God on behalf of another or others who desperately need God's intervention.*
Certainly, when someone is firing off round after round of ammunition your way, you would hope for a good samaritan’s prayer to make the lead arc harmlessly away or to impose itself—like Wonder Woman’s bracelets**—between you and the bullets.
Responding to the massacre in Vegas, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin tweeted:
Governor Matt Bevin ✔@GovMattBevinTo all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs...You can't regulate evil...10:38 AM - Oct 2, 2017

But then again he knows how to combat gun violence:
"Almost all were there, I think, because they genuinely want to be part of a solution," Gov. Matt Bevin said of a meeting he held in Louisville to call for prayer groups to help combat gun violence in Louisville on June 1, 2017.***
Frankly, I’d prefer Wonder Woman.
And then there’s Bill O’Reilly (you thought he’d vanish from the face of the earth after being ousted from Fox News?):
The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned. This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are. The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.**** 
Think of all those Las Vegas martyrs to freedom—the involuntary Nathan Hales who gave up their lives so that more Americans in future can be blasted away in other venues by other weapon-toting freedom fighters.

All those Las Vegas dead who gave the “freedom” spouters the opportunity—once again—to drain the reservoir of thoughts-and-prayers, thereby mocking the wounds of the survivors and the tears of the loved ones of the murdered. 

**"These bracelets have thus far proven indestructible and able to absorb the impact of incoming attacks, allowing Wonder Woman to not only deflect automatic weapon fire, energy blasts and other projectile weaponry, but also to absorb forces from a long fall."  Wikipedia

Friday, September 1, 2017

Anti (Generalization, Part Two)

          It ain’t no use a-talking to me
          It’s just the same as talking to you
          Bob Dylan

At some time between two and three decades ago I read an op-ed article in the New York Times that caused me to gape in wonder.* The author, who was said to be in his twenties, was critical of a recent report about the attitude toward advertising of people in their twenties or so. The specific conclusions of the report and the objections of the op-ed writer are irrelevant here, none of the former or the latter being what I was taken up short by. What got me talking to myself were the terms used by the writer in his protest:
[Paraphrasing here] 
My generation feels that . . .
We believe that .  .  .
(and so forth).

I could not comprehend this—for I flashed back across the decades to when I was in my twenties, and practically screamed out loud that not only would I have not attempted to speak as a representative of “my generation,” I most assuredly would not have wanted to. 

I hate all of this generation nonsense (Gen-X, Gen-Y, and now the Millennials). As if the waters of time flow straight down a chute instead of heaving like the ocean’s waters, breaking one way, falling back with an undertow, spinning in eddies, and splashing and separating against the rocks. 

OK, I will admit that people of my age were given a name: “The Silent Generation.” My high school and college years were clouded by the maleficent specters of Senator Joseph McCarthy, HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee), and their outriders. Most undergraduates, even members of the most historically political of student bodies, kept their heads low and eyes peeled to the ground. It was also a world, culturally, of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave it to Beaver”—antiseptic wholesomeness.

I could not—and did not--accept this culture. Politically, on campus I worked for academic freedom and civil liberties (when I ran—in a losing cause--for vice-president of Student Government, one of the campus papers called me “a hyper-militant civil libertarian,” a title I accepted as a badge of honor). When the odious Roy Cohn** (henchman of McCarthy and, years later, tutor of Trump) gave a speech on campus in April, 1955, I put it to him during the question period that like Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, New York Senator Herbert Lehman, and one other person I name-checked but can’t remember, one could be a loyal American but opposed to McCarthy and his tactics, I was told off by the odious RC that that was “an anti-anti-communist” statement. I accepted that too as a badge of honor.

That was political. Culturally I also swam against the tide. Nothing could be more outside the mainstream than modern jazz (as Hamlet said, it was “caviare to the general”). I was a member of the Modern Jazz Society (what did we have, a dozen members?), and spent weekend nights at Birdland or Basin Street. 

If ever I had been asked for how many of my contemporaries I could claim to speak, I would probably have stopped at two.

Ah, but today a tidal wave of generational generalization is engulfing us. Here are just the first few hits on one magazine’s (The Atlantic) “millennials” search page:

The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials? - The ...
Apr 26, 2013 ... Coming of age in a recession has set back Millennials for decades. The good news? In the age of abundance, they could turn out to be pretty ...
Millennials' Political Views Don't Make Any Sense - The Atlantic
Jul 15, 2014 ... Millennial politics is simple, really. Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They're for smaller government, ...
Millennials' Influence Is Growing—Can They Save the Democratic ...
Mar 4, 2017 ... The stakes in the parties' struggle for Millennials' allegiance are steadily rising as their numbers in the electorate increase. In 2000, the first ...
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? - The Atlantic
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they're on the brink of a mental-health ...
The Cheapest Generation - The Atlantic
Why Millennials aren't buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.
Millennials: The Greatest Generation or the Most Narcissistic? - The ...
May 2, 2012 ... Many books and articles celebrate Millennials (born, roughly, 1982 to 1999) as helpful, civically oriented young people who want to save the ...
Gifts, Debts, and Inheritances: Why So Many Minority Millennials ...
Nov 29, 2015 ... For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren't an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, ...
Why Millennials Aren't Buying Houses - The Atlantic
Aug 24, 2016 ... In the aftermath of the recession and weak recovery, the share of 18- to- 34 year olds—a.k.a.: Millennials—who own a home has fallen to a ...
Why Do Millennials Hate Groceries? - The Atlantic
Nov 2, 2016 ... First, many cultural changes for which Millennials are initially blamed really reflect broader trends affecting even the oldest consumers. Second ...

Enough already!

And apparently everything is done en masse. Crowds line up for a crack at the latest street fashion (assuming they’re not dancing around with bottles held aloft in beer or rum commercials). They scheme to get into sold-out concerts, and watch the same blockbuster streams online. They fall for the same food-craze-of-the-month and pack (or wait on line to pack) the restaurant du jour

If I were in my twenties now, what I would say is this: When arenas and stadiums and restaurants are full, and queueing up for hours is necessary, then it’s all covered; I don’t have to go—there’s no need for one more person. 

And I would look to ancient sages for enlightenment:

Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Samuel Goldwyn: “Include me out.” 


*I have tried most diligently in the intervening years to hunt down the piece but have had no luck. Therefore, since I can’t quote directly, I am resorting to paraphrase. 

**Many years later, when my daughter, during her high school summer break, was a volunteer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, she overheard that a certain patient was suffering from AIDS. “Who is Roy Cohn? she asked me.
Heavens preserve all fathers from having to answer that question!