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Friday, March 30, 2018

Hate the Sinner But Love the Sin?

I find myself thinking way too much about the "Roseanne" reboot.  This morning, I posted a tongue in cheek comment to the effect that "Will & Grace" vs. "Roseanne" is the equivalent of Mets vs. Yankees: You can be a fan of one or the other, but not both.  This generated quite a bit of negative feedback, and not only, as one would expect, from Red Sox fans.

The position of those who took exception to my comment seems to be that both shows are, generally, high quality and can be appreciated by a diverse audience.  Fair enough.  I'm willing to accept that both shows have things to recommend them.  Indeed, I have every reason to think that "Roseanne" is, as far as these things go, a high-quality sitcom: I enjoyed the original run of the show (although I didn't watch the last 2-3 seasons).  And essentially the entire creative staff of the first run has returned for the reboot.  But I'll have to take people's word for its overall quality, as I flat out refuse to watch "Roseanne."

As you might have guessed, if you've paid attention to anything I've ever said or written, my boycott is inspired by Roseanne Barr's unapologetic embrace of the racist moron currently occupying the Oval Office.  And while I know I'm not alone in my feelings about this, I've been doing some soul-searching about whether I'm being exactly the kind of judgmental, intolerant elitist so frequently caricatured by the right. Should I not be willing to overlook any political "shortcomings" of the show's creator and appreciate the show (or not) on its merits?

Indeed, to return to the comparison I started out with, my guess is that "Roseanne" (as opposed to Roseanne) is probably more sympathetic to the opposing (liberal) viewpoint than "Will & Grace" is to conservatives.  Jackie, Laurie Metcalf's character, represents liberalism on "Roseanne," and she has always been a fully-developed character.  The right-wing viewpoint on "Will & Grace," however, is represented by Megan Mullaly's Karen Walker--Karen is frequently hilarious, but she is a total cartoon character, none of whose opinions are presented for anything other than laughter.

I freely acknowledge, then, that "Roseanne" may be an "objectively" good show--to the extent that any judgment on this kind of thing can be objective. I may be depriving myself of a rewarding aesthetic experience by my small act of cultural protest.  But in this era when good liberals are apparently no longer allowed to watch "House of Cards" or the films of Woody Allen or the comedy of Louis CK, why should I give a pass to Roseanne Barr?  I know, I know: What those icons of the left did was loathsome and creepy--if not illegal--whereas "all" Roseanne Barr has done is express some unpopular political opinions.  They are not equivalent.  But that doesn't make Roseanne Barr OK.

So, will I never support the artistic endeavors of ANYONE who support(ed) Trump?  I don't know; I think I might. The problem is not, simply, that Roseanne Barr voted for Trump. If she simply supported Trump because she believed he spoke for the "forgotten" working class--a false belief, in my opinion, but that's another story--but she was also willing to call him out for his racist/misogynistic/homophobic words and actions, then I could accept that.  But when a woman who, for example, has historically been an ally of the LGBTQ community refuses in a recent New York Times article to condemn or even criticize Trump's blatantly homophobic words and actions, then she deserves scorn.

Even a liberal icon like Jon Stewart criticized Obama over things like drone warfare and Guantanamo Bay, but Roseanne Barr is apparently unwilling to say anything bad about Trump.  And this blind devotion to an unbalanced, immature, divisive demagogue is tearing this country apart.  I cannot support a project of someone who wants to normalize or rehabilitate--or perhaps celebrate--someone as destructive to the social fabric as Donald Trump.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This Bud's for Bud

I know it's been awhile, but this will take more than 140 characters, and I know that no one will pay attention to a Facebook status update that goes on longer than a line or two.

A friend posted the above image to his Facebook feed.  Once I wrapped my mind around the message. . . Well, I have to admit, I was still confused.

The gist of the meme seems to be that we should thank our lucky stars that we live in a free-market system that enables corporate benefactors to provide for the general welfare.  That because Anheuser-Busch has reaped the rewards of capitalism, they are now able to give back and provide aid and comfort to the beleaguered denizens of Texas now reeling at the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey.


My first response to this was to point out that, while we can give appropriate kudos to Anheuser for doing a good deed, this hardly qualifies as capitalism.  Indeed, giving away product that has a monetary value is kind of the exact OPPOSITE of capitalism.  Ayn Rand would not approve.

But, the libertarians will cry, who ELSE but a massively successful corporation could possibly provide clean drinking water to storm-tossed refugees?

Uh. . . the government?  That's what we pay taxes for: So we can have things like clean water and sewer systems and roads and dams.  It's nice that Anheuser Busch decided to forego some profits for the day and devote their resources to the public good, but I wonder how many lobbyists that selfsame company employs to make sure that they pay as little as possible in taxes?  How many loopholes do they exploit?  Hell, how much of a write-off are they going to claim for the good deed they're doing here?  If all companies paid their fair share of taxes, then perhaps our country's infrastructure would not be in such a calamitous state of disrepair that major weather events frequently wreak havoc on our cities and towns.

But still. . .  Still. . .  Let's give credit where credit is due.  Thank you, Anheuser-Busch, you are good. . . Good. . .

And then it hit me: Look at the cans.  These are not simply cans of drinking water.  These are cans of drinking water emblazoned with the Anheuser Busch logo.  This is not (just) charity; this is advertising.

Well, so what, you'll say?  After all, the point is that thirsty people will get clean drinking water.  If Anheuser-Busch wants to claim credit for this service, that's their right.

And, again, yes. . . but.  I mean, think about it: These cans must have been lying around, right?  Obviously, Anheuser didn't JUST (in the last few days) get them printed up since Harvey made landfall.  So this got me thinking about what the company actually did: They made a decision--and I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they decided with the best of intentions--to help out Harvey's victims and turn their production facilities from beer to water.  But then what?  They must have thought about how much water to distribute.  So what drove that decision?  What led them to the number 500,000?  Is that the number of cans of beer that would have been produced in a day?  If so, OK.


Is 500,000 the number of water cans the company had ready to go?  Because, if that's the case, then capitalism--far from inspiring virtue--in fact deprived people.  Because Anheuser, rather than producing as much water as it possibly could, limited its supply to that which could be marketed, to that which could serve as a platform for advertising.  Because Anheuser chose not to fill plain unmarked aluminum cans with water or--heaven forfend!--cans that had already been printed with Budweiser labels!  Because better to let some people go thirsty than risk that someone would open up a can of Bud and get water!  Think about the damage to the company's reputation!

(The fact that I personally find a can of Bud to be virtually indistinguishable from water is a whole different issue.)

Capitalism may do some things quite well, but when it comes to helping people--to altruism--a few cans of water are truly just a drop in the bucket.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Petition Edition

In the wake of last Tuesday's debacle, a couple of petitions are making their way around the internet.  One calls on President Obama to immediately appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  Assuming he has the power to do this, he absolutely should.  The Senate had ample time to perform its constitutional duties, and, out of pure partisan spite, chose not to.  Garland is an eminently qualified, slightly left-of-center judge, and there is no reason for him not to have received due consideration--and presumably approval--by the Senate.  President Obama should use whatever authority he has to get that man seated immediately.

The second petition, however, is far more dangerous: It calls on voters in the Electoral College who have pledged to vote for Trump to go rogue and cast their votes for Clinton.  The petition itself is purely symbolic: Electors can already vote for whomever they want.  If they are currently "bound" to Trump, they can vote for him--or Clinton or Gary Johnson or whomever.  The same holds true for those pledged to Clinton.  And this is true regardless of a state's popular vote totals--and regardless of any petition.  But here's the thing: Even if enough "faithless electors" could "do the right thing" and hand the presidency to Clinton, doing so would be an absolute disaster--a bigger disaster even than a Trump presidency, and that's saying a lot.  Bear with me.

First, the disclaimers: I am terrified about the prospect of Trump in the White House.  The man has shown himself to be a willfully ignorant, race-baiting bully with absolutely no qualifications for the office he is about to enter.  Even more frightening are the people he inspires--racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and assorted other members of the alt-right.  In a sane world, Trump would not be elected dogcatcher, much less President of the United States.

I also agree that the Electoral College should be abolished.  It is an arcane remnant of the early days of this country, which no longer serves any purpose--assuming it ever did.  It gives vastly disproportionate power to small states and can override the will of the majority of US citizens.  Indeed, a major reason this petition has gained steam is the fact that Hillary Clinton actually "won" (yes, in quotes--I'll get to that) the popular vote, and people feel that the will of the majority must be honored.  They're not wrong, but this is not the way to do it.

Throughout much of the endgame of his campaign, Trump--no doubt seeing polls that suggested he was heading to a massive defeat--would rally his troops with cries that the election was rigged--that the powers that be were simply going to thwart the will of the people and hand the White House to Hillary Clinton.  He was wrong about that (and of course I would say that even if Hillary had prevailed).  But what happens if 40 or so faithless electors switch their votes to Hillary next month?  Of course, as mentioned above, this is their right.  And if, say, in the next month or so, some new scandal erupts that proves Trump even more unfit to be President (the man does have a couple of court dates coming up), then maybe they should switch their votes.  But imagine what will happen in the country immediately afterwards?  Every Trump supporter would cry that Trump was right, that the system WAS rigged, that there was no way they--his voters--were ever going to have their voices heard.

And. They. Would. Be. Right.

Many of us were terrified at the prospect of armed militias taking to the streets in the face of a Trump loss, spurred on by his delusional (or tactical) claims of election rigging.  Those fears were probably overblown, but NOT if the election results are "overturned" by a small handful of unelected elites (electors are chosen by state political parties).  Even if the country doesn't descend into violent revolution, how much legitimacy would President Clinton have?  You think people resisted Obama?  We would see a level of obstructionism that would make the last eight years look like the Summer of Love.

But, you say, Hillary won the popular vote!  More Americans want her than want Trump!  The will of the people SHOULD be honored!  It should--and going forward, if we get rid of the Electoral College, it will be.  But the fact remains: You cannot change the rules in the middle of the game simply because you hate the outcome--and, again, I cannot stress this enough, I HATE the outcome. 

Furthermore, this is not--I sincerely hope--the last US presidential election.  Once we validate the idea of mass defections by electors, we have effectively eliminated any kind of certainty in the political process.  Best case scenario, this adds momentum to the calls for election by national popular vote; worst case scenario, this leads to anarchy.

And about that national popular vote: Yes, Hillary received more votes than Trump nationwide.  However, the last time I checked, her lead was about 200,000 votes. . .out of well over 100 million cast.  In other words, her margin is less than 0.2%.  A win is a win, you will say--and, again, you're not wrong.  But a margin of 200,000 out of a pool of 100 million-plus is not exactly a "win"--it's a statistical tie.

If the popular vote did decide the winner, we would right now have a massive recount going on: People across the country looking for the 2016 equivalent of dangling chads--Florida 2000 writ large.  This is, of course, not a reason NOT to choose the president by popular vote--but it is a caution: A relative handful of votes recounted differently could very easily hand Trump the presidency that way, too.

Those of us who loathe the thought of a Trump presidency should do everything we can to temper its worst effects.  We should also advocate for changes to our voting systems before the next election.  But like it or not, under the system we have now, Trump won the election.  We don't have to like it--but we do have to accept its reality.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


If the FBI is so interested in irrelevant emails, perhaps they'd like to look at my inbox? It's eminently  possible that my emails contain information as incriminating to Hillary Clinton--moreso!--as whatever they're likely to find on Anthony Weiner's (ick) hard drive.  

Look, ever since I made a small donation to the Clinton campaign, the woman will. Not. Leave. Me. Alone! Every day I get at least one email from her, promising all manner of swag in exchange for just another small contribution: a Hillary Clinton "Woman Card"! The chance to win tickets to "Hamilton"! (OK, that one was tempting, but if I'd won, I think I would have had to go see it with Hillary Clinton, so, y'know, hashtag #mixed blessing.) I'm pretty sure she offered me the ambassadorship to Malawi if I'd pony up $25!

What I'm saying is, have at it, Director Comey! If it takes an FBI probe to get her to stop, I'm with you!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Or Maybe We Find Out She's a Fan of Nickelback

As far as I can tell, the gist of FBI director James Comey's letter to Congress--the letter that has reignited the ever-smoldering controversy around Hillary Clinton's email practices--is that the FBI has found a bunch of emails in the course of an investigation into an unrelated case, and that these emails may or may not contain additional evidence against Hillary.  But no one has actually read all these emails, so, in fact, they may also contain nothing more than copies of emails previously released--or nothing at all.  Of course, they may also contain receipts to Kim Jong-Il for nuclear weapons diagrams, but I kind of doubt it--and at any rate, we're apparently not going to find out until well after the election is over.

People of various political persuasions are outraged that Comey would send such a letter less than two weeks before the election.  I'm frustrated myself, but I am also slightly sympathetic.  After all, the man is truly in a no-win situation: If he doesn't report the existence of the emails to Congress, and then after the election he finds damning information in the emails (even though he won't), he would be "exposed" as a Hillary hack.  Still, I think Comey could have more strongly emphasized in his letter that the existence of this investigation indicates absolutely nothing about Hillary's guilt or innocence.

Ultimately, though, I'm not even sure this matters: While Trump supporters are gleeful about the revelations, these are people who already considered Hillary Clinton a criminal--guilty of illegal self-enrichment at the very least and being a murderous incarnation of Satan at the worst.  At the same time, those who have already decided to support Clinton have probably taken her email "crimes" into account already and decided that they amount to nothing--or at any rate not enough to convince them to vote for Trump.  Considering that Hillary herself called for the FBI to make the contents of the emails public immediately, one can assume that she herself is unconcerned about any new revelations.  And in the meantime, assuming he doesn't release the emails (which he probably won't), the Democrats can spend the next week and a half blasting Comey as a partisan hack for the Republican Party (of which he is a member).  Bottom line: I don't see this harming Clinton in any appreciable way.

And seriously, assuming the new "evidence" shows anything at all about Clinton, what new revelations are people expecting to find?  Unless you show me an email from Hillary claiming that "Breaking Bad" is overrated, I can literally think of nothing--nothing--that would dissuade me from voting for her.  And, yes, that includes a receipt made out to Kim Jong-Il for nuclear weapons diagrams: Heck, if she were guilty of high crimes or misdemeanors (she isn't), then go ahead and impeach her.  I can think of worse fates than a President Tim Kaine, and two of them are named Trump and Pence.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Unbearable Weight of Stubbornness

So Bernie has endorsed Hillary, and now Democrats can happily shake hands, mend fences, and turn our attention completely to defeating the Great Orange Dumpster Fire that is Donald Drumpf.

Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

Immediately after Bernie Sanders announced his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the internet was predictably aflame with diehard Sandernistas, proclaiming Bernie a sellout--apparently even Bernie has it in for Bernie!  Apparently, passionate leftists are just as allergic to compromise as Tea Partiers, and would rather just watch the world burn than embrace a candidate who could, if her track record is any indication, actually get something done.  Sure, she won't address all of Bernie's priorities, but she could actually get Sanders' followers a decent portion of the things they claim to want.  Which is more than they'll get with a Drumpf presidency.  (It's probably more than they would have gotten from a Bernie presidency, too, considering that Hillary has demonstrated a greater ability to work with her political antagonists than Bernie ever has--but don't expect the Bernie Bros to admit to that any time soon.)

Many of Bernie's most vocal supporters have loudly proclaimed that they will never vote for Hillary.  When you point out that not voting for Hillary is at least passively supporting Drumpf, they wipe their hands of any responsibility, excusing their (in)action by saying it won't be their fault if Trump wins--it will be the fault of everybody who hurt their feelings by voting for Hillary over Bernie.

As a sports fan, I kind of understand: It's like people who hate Lebron James being upset about Cleveland winning the championship. "See, Oklahoma City was a better team than Golden State," they say.  "If the Thunder had gone up against Cleveland, no WAY the Cavaliers would have won."  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But the point is, Golden State went head to head against Oklahoma City, and Golden State won.  And where the sports analogy breaks down is this: Bernie Sanders supporters can actually do something to ensure that Donald Trump doesn't win: They could swallow their pride and vote for Hillary--the man their own hero has asked them to vote for!

It has been pointed out that many of the It'll-serve-'em-right-if-Trump-wins crowd are actually relatively affluent white people.  That these people, while not welcoming a Drumpf presidency, will likely not suffer overly much under such a regime--at least not directly.  They don't rely on the social services that will likely be gutted under a Republican regime, and their rights will not be directly threatened by an extreme rightward tilt of the Supreme Court.  And worst case, they have the means to follow through on their probably idle threats to pack up and move to Canada.

While I agree with this analysis, it loses some of its persuasive force when one considers that a huge proportion (perhaps a majority) of Trump's most passionate supporters actually are the people--low-income, poorly educated--whose lives will be decimated by a Drumpf presidency.  You look at the people attending Trump rallies, cheering his racist bullshit, and you can sympathize with the attitude of those who say, "You idiots want Trump so much.  Fine! You can have him, and you deserve whatever you get."

But then you have to remember that the vast majority of the country--the people who most need America to be the country that the likes of Trump will destroy--is not at these rallies, and that in many ways their very lives depend upon this country making the right choice.  Call it "the lesser of two evils" if it makes you feel better, but remember that the "worser" of two evils is really, really worse.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Open Carry Query

Texas is an "open-carry" state, meaning people can walk around freely with their beloved rifles and machine guns and other weapons of mass destruction without fear of being persecuted for their fetishistic attachment to firearms.  At last week's protest march in Dallas--the one that ended in mayhem as a sniper opened fire on police and marchers, killing five police officers and wounding several others--"20 to 30" of the marchers showed up at the protests carrying assault rifles, and several of them were further wearing fatigues and gas masks and bulletproof vests.  Because 'MURRICA!  When the shooting started, these people--correctly--ran for cover, but their presence predictably caused confusion for the police, who were trying to determine who was shooting and from where.

Now, these "patriots" exercising their constitutional rights, were presumably examples of the semi-mythical beast that the NRA and its enablers keep telling us about: "good guys with guns."  You know, the ones who are supposed to prevent mass casualties by coolly and calmly using deadly force against the enemies of law and order.  Now, as I say, these people undoubtedly did the right thing in running away--the last thing anybody needed at that time and place was even more bullets flying in random directions.  But my question is: If these passionate devotees of gun-culture had absolutely no intention of using their weapons for self-defense or defense of others--the very thing gun fetishists insist they need their weapons for--then why were they carrying them?  And why in God's name should any of us listen when the NRA insists that that is that the guns are for?