Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is Donald Trump "The Magic Christian"?

The stare under the hair
The scene Friday night put an exclamation point on an extraordinary run in which the flamboyant mogul has thoroughly disrupted the presidential campaign and kindled a national discussion about not just politics but American culture itself. Washington Post
Like many of us, I have been trying to figure out what The Donald is all about, and most improbably it was none other than Glenn Beck, of all people, that lachrymose and venomous, conspiracy peddler, who put me on the track, with his FB question: "why are big name 'conservatives' supporting Trump?". 
(H)e was very pro abortion until very recently; he still says "don't defund planned parenthood"; he is pro "assault weapon ban"; he is in favor of a wealth tax that would just "take money out of people's bank accounts"; he is for boots on the ground in Iraq and 'taking the oil' from the Iraqi people; he is a progressive 'republican'; he says single payer health care works; he said he would give people more than just Obama care; the First Lady would be the first to have posed nude in lesbian porno shots; he said that he keeps all the bibles he is given in a "special place" outside the city - and he only goes to church on Christmas and Easter; he is generally not a likable guy; he has around 16% favorability with Hispanics and he has gone bankrupt 4 times. This is an honest question. I really want to understand: Why are big name "conservatives" supporting him? Glenn Beck - Facebook
I think it is logical to infer that Beck is insinuating that Trump is paying the "big name conservatives" to support him. I might also infer (Honi soit qui mal y pense) that Beck could be hinting that he'd like his cut too.

I was rolling this idea around in my mind and a tiny memory bell began tinkling at the back of my brain, something in all of this reminded me of a book or a film I had heard or seen or both, long, long ago, in my misspent youth... finally, (to mix metaphors) the penny dropped.

Of course! It was Terry Southern's 1959, comic novel, "The Magic Christian", which was (mixing metaphors again) tugging at my coat, this hilarious book was made into a hilarious film ten years later, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr and its main character, Guy Grand, the Magic Christian, was "my" Donald Trump.

Read this little description of Guy Grand, the eccentric billionaire and see if my "insight" makes any sense to you:
Guy Grand is an odd billionaire who spends most of his time playing elaborate practical jokes on people. A big spender, he does not mind losing large sums of money to complete strangers if he can have a good laugh. All his escapades are designed to prove his theory that everyone has their price—it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay them. Wikipedia
More than a practical joker, I would describe Guy Grand's actions as performance art and I am beginning to suspect/hope that Trump's are too.

Grand's most famous "practical joke" and the one that put me on the Donald's "scent" is the following:
Grand buys a huge downtown vacant lot in a major city. He then has a three foot brick wall built around the perimeter and fills it with feces and offal into which bills of all denominations have been mixed. He then takes pleasure watching immaculately dressed people defiling themselves by braving the stench, and ruining their clothing and dignity, by wading through the muck for the bills.Wikipedia
Here is how the pool of excrement plays in the 1969 film starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr:

Donald Trump is undressing the conservative movement, the Republican party and even the entire American political system.  I don't know if that is his intention, but in fact, that is exactly what he is doing.  That might be healthy... Unless he is actually serious, but how can  we know? 

Is he a real life Guy Grand or an American Mussolini?

I am not interested right now in Donald Trump's specific positions and policy proposals, because, as Beck points out, taken together they make very little sense. What I am more interested in hearing about now is Trump the person and I don't mean the famous wheeler-dealer Trump, the reality show Trump...

The child is the father of the man: I am interested in hearing from people who went to grammar school with  little Donny Trump, people who knew his family when he was a child, taught him at Sunday school... Did other kids pick on him? Did he bully the other children? I want to hear from people that went to high school with him or taught him there, was he good at sports, was he popular? Who did he date? Who kicked his ass, whose ass did he kick or lick.  all of that.

We know what Trump does, but things have gone far enough for us to urgently need to learn who Donald Trump is. DS

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sweet 2016 - Sanders + Warren? We can dream!

I wonder if America deserves such a good POTUS as Bernie Sanders would make. Watching his thorough, at length, interview with Ezra Klein, I found myself thinking that I had never heard such a lucid, sensible politician speaking in my entire life. 

Truth to tell, I can't remember ever finding myself in such total agreement with an American (or any other nationality) politician before... and I go back quite a bit by now. I kept thinking as I listened to him talk, "Bernie, where have you been all my life?"

Please take the trouble to watch this video with complete attention and mentally compare it with the steady, endless, diet of bullshit that you are normally being fed.

In my title line I indicate that if, God willing, Bernie Sanders does take the Democratic nomination his running mate should be Senator Elizabeth Warren. Normally the Vice Presidential nominee is chosen to "balance" the ticket, but Bernie is 73 years old, and as someone also in his 70s, let me be frank, people our age have a way of keeling over dead and in my opinion President Sanders' Vice President should be someone that could be trusted to carry out his program and that person has to be Elizabeth Warren.

However, like the famous recipe for stewed rabbit begins... "first catch your rabbit".
In trying to move beyond his white liberal base, Sanders faces a huge challenge, but it would be folly to underestimate him. Thanks to the groundswell of support among progressive activists, young Democrats, and small donors, he has the money, the manpower, and the social-media presence to expand his footprint. And with televised Democratic debates starting in the fall, he will have the opportunity to introduce himself to a broader audience. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems likely that more potential Democratic voters will warm to his message. John Cassidy - The New Yorker
But we can dream, because for the first time in a long, long, time a person of truly remarkable lucidity, consistency and seasoning has a slim, but real, chance of being elected President of the United States. DS

Friday, August 07, 2015

Cecil, the dentist and the "Global Village"

Cecil (RIP)
Before going any further, I want to make it clear that Cecil the lion was truly "the king of the beasts" and that I hope his murderer spends a few years filling and extracting his fellow prisoners' teeth deep in the infirmary of some Zimbabwe jail.

Having said that and as much as the hideous, sadistic death of Cecil has shocked and appalled me, I confess to being just as horrified by the social media lynching that the rich, cruel, idiot who murdered him, has undergone. 

I think that the lynching is as, or even more important, than the hideous crime that provoked it because anyone in our society is much more likely to become the victim of similar electronic, mob-violence, than to ever be laid low by some malignant dentist's bow and arrow.

What has happened?

We now live in the "Global Village", whose birth Marshall McLuhan clairvoyantly prophesied way back in the 1960s, long before the Internet existed.
Today, the term "Global Village" can be used to describe the Internet and World Wide Web. On the Internet, physical distance is even less of a hindrance to the real-time communicative activities of people, and therefore social spheres are greatly expanded by the openness of the web and the ease at which people can search for online communities and interact with others who share the same interests and concerns. Wikipedia
The word, "village", has a generally positive ring, suggesting a rich community life, yet somehow, in most developed countries, the villagers have fled their villages in droves for the "soulless" anonymity of large urban centers.

Many people, never having experienced village life are puzzled by this flight, however, I might be able to clarify this question for them, as I  spent a lot of my childhood in a traditional 1950s, midwestern village, where only a rich neighbor's 100ft antenna could pick up the Chicago TV signals. A time capsule of classic American village life.

My grandmother had been raised in this wide place in the road by her grandfather, a Glaswegian Scots marble carver (tombstones, marble angels and tiny stone lambs). The town was founded by the rock-ribbed, New England diaspora in the 1820s. Anchored on the Illinois side of the Mississippi valley it lies about forty five minutes away from Tom Sawyer's, Hannibal Missouri...

Top that for a deep-American-traditional-village if you can.

For most of my childhood, when summer came, I left Chicago's North Shore to spend at least a month of my school vacation in a red brick house that my great, great, grandfather had built with his own skillful, hands, long years before the American Civil War.

Google Streets has finally gotten around to patrolling the place, and not long ago, through them I was able to revisit my grandmother's hometown and discover that, like so much of the Middle West, the idyllic, Disneyesque, village I knew as a child had been destroyed.

The once vibrant main street, in those days filled with charming, ornate, 19th century, brick store fronts was now a boarded-up, ruin, with weed-filled, gaping vacant lots like so many missing teeth... Devastated and hollowed out.

And with the main street, I imagine, the town's entire shopkeeper middle class has gone too, (the people who always funded and chaired the excellent public school, the churches and the library). Probably all the victims of some nearby, but not too nearby, big-box store that supplies the only (minimum wage) jobs left in the whole county.

I also discovered that the large, lovely, but hard to heat, 19th century houses, that had once lined the quiet streets under the leafy shade of  massive centenarian elm trees, including my great-great-grandfather's, had all been replaced with tacky, little, aluminum-sided horrors... and of course all the elm trees were long gone too.

All the continuity with its past had been broken and as memory is perhaps the most important quality that defines a true village and it is memory itself, or really the desire to leave memory behind that has driven more people to leave their charming home towns than anything else... probably even more than better job opportunities in the cities.

I'll give you some personal examples of traditional villager's memory.

Old men and women in the village, my grandmother's childhood friends, would laugh and tell me that my highly respectable, strait-laced, Victorian grandmother, had once been a spoiled brat who used to ride her big chestnut horse bareback (ladies rode side saddle in those days) and jump it over neighbors' fences with her long red hair flowing in the breeze... like some Maureen O'Hara. Fortunately they couldn't come up with anything worse... But not for want of trying, be sure of that.

In those Eisenhowerland, rural American days,  I was the only kid with divorced parents for leagues around and once when I was about six years old an old crone took me into her kitchen and plying me with homemade peach pie and ice cream got me to spill everything I knew about my parents... That's when my granny took me aside, sat me down and explained what villages were all about.

She told me that gossip is the passion of villages and "old-wives" are its practitioners... that villages are places where neighbors walk right into your house without knocking, where they know everything about you, from your birth (and any rumors connected to it) to your dying day, and everything about your family and your ancestors, is known to everyone and you in turn know everything about all of them too... The flipside to this being that there is a "balance of terror": anonymous, poison pen defamation is practically impossible and consequently the strongest, "everybody is watching", social repression and group conformity is essential and the only way to survive is to be discreet and on polite, even friendly terms, with everyone, all the time.

And now with the Global Village we have "Global Old-Wives"...  But the big difference with our new electronic Global Village and my granny's traditional one is that although some of the global old wives know everything about us, we now know precious little, almost nothing, about most of them. This is perhaps, in many ways, the worst of both worlds: a cruel village of intimate, encyclopedic and mostly anonymous gossip... and now there is no longer any faceless "big city" to run away to.

The moral of the story boys and girls is that there is nowhere to hide anymore... the world is a small town, but unlike a real village our global village is a paradise for anonymous defamation.

What to do?

Just like in my grandmother's village the only way to survive online today is to be discreet and on polite, even friendly terms, with everyone, all the time. Be careful what photos (nudity, dead lions, etc.) you put up in facebook, what you tweet, what you blog, what you comment... Remember, the Internet's memory is even longer than that of the old crones in my granny's home town. DS

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ayn, The Donald and the devil's dung

“Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich.”
Donald Trump  

I'm really smart." 
Donald Trump

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns--or dollars. Take your choice--there is no other.  Ayn Rand 
My father used to tell me, "Watch the immigrants son, they will teach you your own country, because where you only see shit, they can see gold"... I can't think of a better example of my old man's dictum than Ayn Rand. Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1905, Rand emigrated to the USA at the age of 21 and probably no one, native or foreign, has ever understood, and exploited, the dark side of the American soul so quickly and as well as Ayn Rand.

From colonial times America was split between the hard scrabble, small farm and workshop, Puritan spirit of the New England colonies, where the ultra-Calvinist Pilgrim Fathers had fled religious persecution in England to found a "shining city on the hill", this in contrast to the "get rich", exploitative ethic of the slavery-based southern colonies, with their lucrative cash crops: tobacco, indigo and cotton.

I'm making no great discovery to note that being inhabited simultaneously by both of these conflicting spirits is what constitutes the roots of the uniquely American personality. The war of these spirits with each other, along with racism, is what constitutes the core of the American malaise.

The conflict is often resolved by a sort of money-grubbing sanctimoniousness which many people (especially the British) consider America's trademark.

To give you an idea of how welcome a liberating relief Ayn Rand's message that money is the "root of all good" has been to many wealth-obsessed Americans raised in our Bible-beating traditions, let's have a quick refresher of the foundational texts:
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.    1 Timothy 6:10

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24
This train of thought has been recently brought up to date, by none other than Pope Francis:
The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.  Pope Francis: Speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements
His Holiness's reference to "the dung of the devil" brings us to Donald Trump.

The Donald seems almost beyond caricature. Looking for one word to describe him, I came up empty in English, but there is a Spanish word that fits him perfectly: "esperpento".

Originally an esperpento meant something grotesque, an object which you might frighten children or marauding crows with, but esperpento was converted into a term of high art by one of Spain's greatest dramatists, Ramón de la Valle-Inclan

Here is a workmanlike definition of what he created:
Esperpento is a type of theatre developed by Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1869-1936) focusing on characters whose physical and psychological characteristics have been deliberately deformed and warped to the point where they become grotesque caricatures. Valle-Inclán used this esperpento as a vehicle for social and political satire. Span¡shD!ct
To give you an idea how The Donald might fit into all this, let us consider one of Valle-Inclan's most famous characters, the aristocratic, Marqués de Bradomín, who considered that humanity, indeed creation itself, was divided into two different parts, one of them being the Marqués de Bradomín and the other part everything and everyone else.

You can see what fun Valle-Inclan could have had with Donald Trump.

I think that the best way of viewing Donald Trump is to see him as a Rorschach Test  of the American personality, which, if you are American, means your own personality...

Scrutinize (with an intense scrute) the things Trump says and does that resonate with you. What offends you? What amuses you? And why.

This is a very valuable exercise for any American, because an American archetype like Donald Trump to work with doesn't come along every day. DS

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Greece is the horse's head in the left's bed

The best thing that can be said of the weekend is the brutal honesty of those perpetrating this regime change. Wolfgang Münchau - Financial Times
You may ask yourself why Germany, and those who follow her, are publicly torturing and humiliating tiny Greece in such a brutally inflexible and ugly fashion, ignoring contemptuously the democratically expressed will of the Greek people and much of European and even world opinion.

The reason behind it is simple... and to be effective it would have to be.

Frank and open brutality is never subtle, that is the whole point: its message must be clear to all.

The following is an excellent exposition of the message, "to whom it may concern" that has been sent  far and wide, using the misery of the Greek people as its vehicle:
One cannot pursue an even moderate left-wing policy in a system of global capitalism. Syriza never got a chance to apply any of the leftist policies that it says it favors, because it was busy negotiating with the creditors and because it had no genuine freedom of economic decision-making, since basically all its policies were dictated by the troika. Even if it had a margin for maneuver, it is hard to see how its moderately leftist policies (halt to privatization, higher taxation, greater role for the public sector) could be implemented. Notice that we are talking here not of some radical anti-capitalist program but of just broadly leftist policies that try to limit somewhat the unimpeded invasion of the market and private interest into all social spheres. Such policies are obviously unacceptable not only to the mainstream EU but also to many individual governments, which fear Syriza-like movements in their countries. Branko Milanovic - Al Jazeera
However brutality is often a sign of weakness, not of strength. The heartless, tone deaf response of Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble to the suffering of the Greek people reminds me and many others of the Soviet Union's response to the timid Czechoslovakian liberalization of the "Prague Spring" of 1968.  That was 1968 and "something was in the air", something contagious and the USSR wanted to make sure that no one under their rule "got any ideas" .

Paris - 1968
Today there is also "something in the air". Probably the most influential public figure to speak clearly about that "something" is Pope Francis.
The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home. Pope Francis: Speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements
The public humiliation of Greece, its government and its people may have exactly the opposite effect to the one Merkel and Schäuble desire. It is certainly a lesson to be learned, but the lesson people take away from this "class" may be one of greater political consciousness, one of unity and resistance, and not one of fear and submission. DS

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Po' white racists are burning the American flag?

A white supremacist burning the American flag?

There are times when an expatriate says to himself, "maybe I've been away too long". This is one of those times.

The Charleston massacre shocked me and horrified me, but unfortunately it didn't surprise me... Billy Holiday's classic, "Strange Fruit" is as valid today as the day it was written. Racism is part of America's DNA and will be as long as there is system/culture that divides humanity into winners and losers holds "losers" in contempt and though marketing, celebrity worship and mainstream media makes most people feel deep down like losers. 

In such a system feeling superior to someone, anyone, somehow, is an irreplaceable, psychological crutch. And po' whites need that crutch more than anyone. A person of color that is struggling to stay afloat can feel that her color is holding her back and she is probably right, but "po' white trash", descended many of them from the settlers of pre-revolutionary, colonial times, white, Anglo-saxon, Protestansts of literally Mayflower vintage; those creatures that Cris Rock describes as "Broke-ass mothafuckas, livin in trailer homes, eating mayonnaise sandwiches, fuckin' their sista, listening to John Melloncamp records!" have no such "excuse", they have to take their failure, their loser-hood straight in the vein. "Even" black people hold them in contempt.

So, Roof's murdering a group of peaceable African-Americans gathered for Bible study doesn't surprise me, but seeing a photo of such a white supremacist burning an American flag does surprise me.

Talk about cognitive dissonance: I am of the 1968/Vietnam generation and this image of Dylann Storm Roof burning the American flag is one that I find very striking. Something very important has changed.

Way back in the 1960s, rednecks like Roof made up a large percentage of the draftees that were sent off to fight that war and they were the ones who attacked the middle class boys who were the ones with student deferments, who were the ones that burned the American flag and their draft cards back then as a protest in demonstrations against the war.

In fact, the traditional backbone of the US Army: America's military "caste," has always been white Scotch-Irish southerners, some aristocrats, most of them poor.

What can this burning the symbol of America's military power by one of their number mean?

Reading about him it is obvious that he has had a life and upbringing that is identical to millions of other poor, white, southern boys... This one went around the bend.

Here, I have to quote myself on Dylann Roof, as I believe that, precisely because he is crazy, he is a peek into the darker areas of  an important part of the American subconscious:
They live in their dream world and perhaps their dream world is not so different from ours, differing mostly in that we only visit that world in our sleep or under the influence of drugs and they spend their tortured lives inhabiting it. Their life is a “daymare,” so to speak. Perhaps we could learn about our own hidden darkness by studying his visible darkness.
I am sure his burning the Stars and Stripes is an important signal from the depths of the American subconscious, but I am not yet sure of how to interpret it. DS