Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Curse of the National Anthem

Looks like Colin Kaepernick did Gabby Douglas one better by sitting down for the national anthem, but Gabby wasn't lodging any sort of protest.  Colin said the flag is an insult to black people and people of color, citing police brutality as his principal concern in this country.  He also took exception to the fact that Francis Scott Key was a slave owner and an ardent anti-abolitionist.  CNN offers some backstory, including the rarely-sung third verse in which Key apparently sees slaves as expendable in times of war.  Not like many Americans can make their way through the first verse without mumbling the lines more or less to the music.

There is no rule in the NFL or any professional sport that says a player has to stand for the national anthem, but players who choose not to honor the flag face the wrath of the public or in today's age -- social media.  Not one to let a golden opportunity go to waste, the Trumpster chimed in, "maybe he should find a country that works better for him."

Colin has had a difficult time the last couple years in San Francisco.  He showed great promise in leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, but came up a few yards short of victory and has never been quite the same player since.  Sports pundits will tell you his flaws became more apparent in subsequent years and last year a frustrated Jim Tomsula benched Kaepernick halfway through the season.

Turns out Colin had problems with his left shoulder and right hand and underwent surgery during the off season.  There was some talk last Spring he would be traded to Denver, but the general manager of San Francisco didn't feel the Broncos made the deal sweet enough and kept Kaepernick instead.  Colin didn't seem overly frustrated as there was a new coach at San Francisco who was ready to give him the starting role again, but Kaepernick hasn't looked that good in practice and now there's talk he will be cut.

Of course, this leads sports pundits to wonder if Kaepernick's protest is real or just some sort of play to be traded.  He is locked into a multi-year deal until 2020, with little in the way of options except to be traded.  Unfortunately for him, such a stunt is frowned upon by team owners.  No one wants to deal with a "head case" on their team, not to mention the nearly $12 million Colin is owed this season. It doth appear Kaepernick has shot himself in the foot.

Not that he is the first professional athlete to lodge such a protest.  Jackie Robinson felt pretty much the same way as Colin, but as Craig Calcaterra is quick to point out Kaepernick is no Jackie Robinson.  Other athletes have silently voiced their protests over the years as well, meeting pretty much the same fate as Colin.  You're free to voice your opinion but you better be ready to face the consequences.

If we assume Kaepernick's grievances are genuine, as many periodicals have done, then all power to him as a social advocate as his football career appears to be over.  Colin will have to do battle with the forces that oppress this country in the streets, not the locker room as he has stated.  There is the Canadian Football League, but his protest wouldn't carry the same weight there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hemingway's antlers

Hunter S. Thompson ventured up to Ketchum in 1964 to figure out why the old man would settle in such a remote place at the tale end of his life. Young Hunter took in the town, chatted with a few of its denizens, had a drink at the town watering hole and in the end took home the set of antlers that hung over the front door of Hem's chalet.  I could only find this complete copy of the article dated May 25.  

According to his wife, he didn't know what came over him and meant to return the elk horns, but the years passed and the antlers stayed with him.  This past summer, Anita decided to return the antlers.  The Nature Conservancy, which manages the site, didn't know what to do with them, and suggested she contact the family.  She tracked down one of Hemingway's grandsons in New York and arranged to have the antlers shipped to him, as he seemed to be the only one really interested in them.  I imagine there were plenty of other souvenirs from Hemingway's hunts that the antlers really didn't mean much, but it satisfied Anita's conscience.

Thompson seemed to struggle with the article, focusing a bit too much on Hemingway's "power of conviction" than what it was that drew him to Ketchum.  In the end, it appears that Hem preferred the anonymity of the place and the wild game to be had in the mountains.  He had come there off and on for years, but only chose to buy his place in 1960, and subsequently blow his brains out in 1961.  Thompson doesn't even mention the suicide, although he notes that Big Two-Hearted River would serve as his epitaph.

John Walsh chalks it up to depression.  The words ran out in 1960 and Hem couldn't fill that hole with hunting, with Walsh offering a few clinical references to back up his argument.  Hem also carried a number of aches and pains left from the past that no doubt reared their ugly head in cold weather.  It probably would have suited him better to stay in Cuba, or at least Key West, rather than seek refuge in Idaho, but maybe this was all planned out, and he wanted to go the same way as Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which just as easily could have served as an epitaph, with a coyote in place of a hyena.

Thompson felt Cuba lost its magic for Hem after the revolution.  Hemingway met with Castro on a fishing trip in May 1960, but according to Jacobo Timerman, the "revolutionaries" didn't feel Hem was one of them.  Thompson says that Hemingway never was a political man and saw this as a convenient way out, seeking the apolitical hole of Ketchum instead.  This still doesn't explain why he didn't go back to his home in Key West, which he still held title to.  Maybe it was all the memories the house evoked of an earlier time he didn't want to relive.

The sad part is that Hunter Thompson would wrestle with many of the same demons when he chose to make Woody Creek, Colorado, his home, although he would live much of his adult life in this town near Aspen before eventually blowing his brains out in 2005.  Thompson was dealing with a considerable amount of pain, so this is generally seen as a mercy killing, unlike Hemingway's shocking suicide.  Still, they both chose to end their lives looking down a barrel of a gun, leaving their young wives to pick up the pieces.  

I suppose both Mary and Anita saw it coming.  It must have been hell living with these two "frontier men" at the tale end of their lives.  The words had given out, and there wasn't much more to say other than to wallow in their own self pity and loathing.  Both cleaned up the mess their husbands left behind, leaving us with the legacies of these great writers to pour over in unfinished scripts, letters and other manuscripts.  

Both places serve as pilgrimage sites for devoted fans.  Anita will be personally managing the Thompson estate, even serving you Hunter's favorite breakfast at 2 in the afternoon.  I suppose she enjoys the company.  I think she should have kept the antlers as they would have made a great conversation piece.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Will the real Donald Trump please stand up

This was supposed to be "immigration week" for Donald Trump but it seems to have gotten off to a rocky start, cancelling rallies in Nevada, Colorado and Oregon, opting instead for Aspen and Lake Tahoe fund raisers.  Seems that the Donald wants to test his message on big money supporters first, who might be more receptive to his "really fair" plan.  It sounds suspiciously like the current immigration process, but hey Trump is good at putting his name on things that already exist.

The Donald is apparently anxious to lure back "moderate" Republicans behind the scenes while giving the illusion to his devoted masses that he is as tough as ever on immigration.  After all, he took on Stephen Bannon as his campaign CEO last week.  This kind of duplicity would usually undermine a candidate, but Donald seems particularly adept at playing an issue from both ends, largely because his devoted following simply doesn't read.

I'm not sure whether his base is illiterate or chooses to go through life with blinders on.  They've made up their minds and nothing is going to change it, not even Donald's mealy-mouthed own words on The O'Reilly Factor, where he unveiled his so-called plan.   However, I have to think that "moderate" Republicans will be more circumspect.

All this backpedaling should make any conscientious conservative wonder what Trump offers that Hillary hasn't already put on the table?  Is he re-re-branding himself as a "moderate" now that he realizes he doesn't have the numbers to win with the "Angry Patriot Movement?"  This looks like a desperation move on Trump's part to pull the Republican Party back together after being the one person who went out of his way to divide and conquer it.

It pretty much lays to rest any notion that Trump isn't in this election to win.  Thoughts had swirled the past month that his bombastic statements were actually a cry for help.  The Donald wanted out and was making himself as unsavory as possible so that the GOP would have no choice but to pull the plug on his campaign.  John Oliver even extended an invitation to come on his show to drop out, as it was the only way to save what was left of his dignity.  But, this "pivot" clearly shows that Trump is looking for a way to stay in the race, trying to convince big money conservatives that he is a serious candidate and help right his sinking ship before it is too late.

Rest assured, the wall will still go up, and Mexicans are still going to pay for it, but this came out like a sadly overused refrain in his interview with Baba O'Reilly.  Instead, Trump said he was going to "obey the existing laws" and "get rid of all the bad ones," in his aim to rid our country of all those "bad people" that sully our land.   Yet, he stopped short of evoking "Operation Wetback," again, offering a "kinder, gentler" approach to deportations.

Who in the "Angry Patriot Movement" is going to sit through a 40-minute interview?  They will wait to the next day to see the interview sliced and diced into 30 second chunks on their favorite blog to share on social media.  So, the Donald offers all the appropriate sound bites while making a plaintive appeal to "moderates" to stay with him in his time of need, and donate large sums of money if they can.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Back in the Saddle Again

On a lighter note, Mel Brooks is "Back in the Saddle," taking questions after a screening of Blazing Saddles at the Radio City Music Hall on September 1.  Clearly, this is his favorite movie, as he claims to have seen it at least 2000 times, but gives his 11-year-old grandson kudos for pulling up quotes at the perfect time, such as "somebody has gotta go back and get a shit load of dimes," at the supermarket check-out line.

It's one of those movies you simply don't forget, recalling scenes at odd times and having to stifle a guffaw, as it is too much trouble to try to explain.  You have to see Blazing Saddles to understand why it is so funny.

Brooks doesn't think he would be able to make the movie in today's PC-minded world, but is Trump really that much different from Hedley Lamarr?  The humor still rings true today, which is why people still turn up to watch it, especially if the King of Comedy is going to be there to answer questions afterward.

The story revolves around a black sheriff trying to defend a white town against an army of horse thieves, bull dikes, train robbers, chain robbers ...  so that Gov. William J. Le Petomane (played by Brooks) can run a railroad through the town.  The role fell to Cleavon Little when the studio rejected Richard Pryor because of a recent drug arrest.   Pryor would co-write the screenplay with Brooks.

The film fed off the racist and misogynistic stereotypes of Westerns.  Apparently, Brooks worried that they were saying "nigger" too much, but Pryor assured him it was fine as long as the racists and bad guys said it.

Gene Wilder was the perfect sidekick to Sheriff Bart as the "Waco Kid,"  keeping his dry humor as close to his hip as his gun.  Wilder was also a stand-in as Brooks initially wanted Gig Young, but Gig was too drunk to play the role and couldn't get out any of the lines.   Wilder had long been one of Brooks' favorites and for good reason.  He could always be counted on to deliver the lines.

Madeline Kahn proved to have a great pair of legs, reprising Marlene Dietrich's role from Destry Rides Again.  Many other familiar faces as well, but it was Alex Karras who stole the show by punching out a horse, which wouldn't sit too well today with PETA.

I never get tired of watching this movie.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The King of Debt

"I do love debt. I love debt. I love playing with it."

It looks like the Donald is in debt up to his ears, but I doubt that will stop his loyal following from believing what a great businessman he is.  New York Times ran an expose this weekend, estimating that Trump owes at least $650 million to a variety of lenders including the Bank of China.  It's not easy getting those big projects off the ground, but it turns out that Trump's share in these enterprises is largely in name only, including his signature Trump Tower, which he occupies on a long term lease.

No problem, says Mr. Trump, who describes himself as the King of Debt.  Interesting for a guy who has been deriding the federal government for running up so much debt.  Of course, in the real estate business debt isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The main thing is to keep ahead of that debt, which the Donald seems to do.  If nothing else, he can declare bankruptcy as he did on his Taj Mahal in Atlantic City to make room for other projects.

One would think it would send up red flags, but for the most part his friends at Fox are ignoring it.  Hannity and others continue to tell us what a great businessman their man Donald is.

It is really hard to figure how conservatives reconcile themselves with this guy.  He literally represents everything they abhor, yet here they are rationalizing his candidacy because the alternative is just too terrible for them to even consider.  No matter what new juicy bit of information is dug up on Trump's enterprises, Hillary is ten times worse in their minds.

They cry about Hillary's ties to the Saudis through the Clinton Foundation, yet it turns out Donald has been bailed out by a Saudi Prince twice.  Trump's debt is spread to all corners of the world.  Seems everyone wants a piece of the Donald, given his notoriety.   That may change come November.

His self-destructive campaign has already led many investors to pull the plug on him, starting with NBC last summer and the list continues to grow.  Little wonder Trump had to liquidate assets to give his campaign badly needed money during the primaries.  Mark Cuban and others have opined that he simply doesn't have the cash to fund a general election campaign because he is nowhere near as rich as he says he is.  This goes a long way toward explaining why he doesn't release his tax returns.

The Donald has built an aura of wealth with his name in gold lettering.  He loves to tell everyone how much his golf courses are worth until it comes time to pay the taxes.  He then tries to claim the lowest value possible.  This grand illusion is what is driving his campaign.

At some point you would think persons would tire of all this bluster and hold Trump accountable, as they do others who have committed far fewer sins on the campaign trail.  Trump was calling Ted Cruz's undisclosed Goldman Sachs loan a "very big thing," yet Goldman Sachs is one of his creditors as well.  He also turned to Steve Mnuchin, a former GS partner, to help him with his campaign finances.  Hard to be more hypocritical than that.

No matter, the Donald just keeps going, tossing out new salvos on the campaign trail, hoping no one pays too much attention to these latest "hit pieces"  by the New York Times and Washington Post.  However, these stories are trickling through all the newspapers and web blogs, making it harder to run away from them.  All he can do is get his friends at Fox to blame the whole thing on Hillary Clinton, who they insist is using these stories to deflect attention away from her own misdeeds.  But, Trump is looking more exposed every day.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What the hell have you got to lose?

After Trump's mad dash to Louisiana to assure flood victims he was there for them, he was in Michigan telling African Americans "what the hell have you got to lose?"   I'm not sure what audience Trump was trying to appeal to in these cases.  Obviously, not actual flood victims, as he spent less than a minute with a relief group, and certainly not Blacks, as he was making his plea in Diamondale, which is 93 per cent White.  As Sarah would so eloquently say, this is putting lipstick on a pitbull.

Trump was happy to present a set of alarming statistics on Blacks largely for the consumption of his White audience that already see Blacks as lazy.  This seemed less an appeal to draw in Black voters to him as to keep them at home on election day.  More cynically, it reinforces Black stereotypes with the aim of mobilizing White voters this Fall.  He tried to give his "message" a positive ending by saying that after four years he would have 95 per cent of the Black support, but failed to mention how, presuming he is even elected.

We've come to expect these bold pronouncements, but to be fair, his campaign has tried some public outreach.  He sat down with a handful of Hispanic leaders in the comfort of his Trump Tower before embarking on his multi-state "surge."  He met with conservative Black Sheriff David Clarke in Milwaukee, who told the Donald what it is like to be "in the trenches."  This is the same sheriff who urges anyone within earshot to stand up to Black Lives Matter, as if it is the cause of all this violence in the streets.  Even more amusing is that Trump named Omarosa the head of his African-American outreach effort. You might remember her from The Apprentice, where she was universally hated.  He may as well have Sheriff Dave for all the good she will do.

Obviously, "outreach" is the least of his interests.  He, like his fellow Republicans, are trying to turn Blacks and Hispanics against the Democratic Party by blaming the glaring economic and social inequalities on Democratic programs.  This is a strategy designed more to keep minorities at home than it is turn them out in favor of Trump or down ticket Republicans.

Trump is using every opportunity he gets to highlight these inequalities, calling attention to the giant welfare state that has been created but has not benefited minorities in his mind.   It is the welfare mothers and Willie Horton campaigns all over again, meant to show what a failure the Democratic system has been these past 50 years, if 59 per cent of Black youth is unemployed.  It doesn't matter if these figures are terribly misleading, it is what people "feel" that counts.

These kinds of manufactured statistics feed the main part of his campaign, which is to ignite the angry White voters in this country, who feel they are paying for all these free meal tickets.  This is made all the more clear in his recent decision to name former Breitbart director Stephen Bannon his campaign CEO, bumping Paul Manafort who had failed to bring Trump on message with the Republican National Committee.

Bannon is a pro and sowing seeds of hate, and promises not to hold back Trump in anyway.  Throughout his campaign, Trump has used Breitbart to great effect, and the web news site has become one of conservative voters' prime sources.  Many of the misleading charts Trump uses can be found on Breitbart, which is a troll net for all the conservative blogs that peddle racial stereotypes and bogus conspiracy theories.

This symbiotic relationship served him well in the primaries, but I don't see how it is going to work in the general election.  Seems that Trump's campaign advisers are counting on a massive groundswell of angry white disaffected voters to tip the November elections.  Kind of like what happened with the Brexit vote in the UK.

Trump has even called himself Mr. Brexit, as though he is going to go through the federal budget and expunge the programs he doesn't like as he did contestants on The Apprentice, while throwing candy to disaffected voters in the form of more tax cuts.   The funny thing is no one talks about Brexit anymore. The British and European economies quickly stabilized because the rabble-rousers like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were thrown to the curb and Theresa May is busy negotiating an equitable exit strategy in Brussels.  As poor Boris found out, it's not enough to call yourself Mr. Brexit, you actually have to do something about it.

This is why Trump's latest appeals ring hollow, not only to Louisiana flood victims but African-Americans in Michigan.  This isn't a single issue election, and Trump has meandered back and forth on too many issues to gain voters' trust beyond a core of disgruntled white Americans, who aren't going to turn the vote in November.  He can try to undermine Democratic minority support, but his baseless accusations seem to be doing more to mobilize minorities against him rather than the Democratic Party.

I'm sure we will see more desperate gestures in the weeks ahead as his poll numbers continue to slump, but the answer to your question Donald is everything!

Friday, August 19, 2016

It Smells like Olympic Spirit, Part II

The only thing I can think of is that Donald Trump was determined not to be upstaged by the Olympics, flying off the handle in public so that the media would continue to focus on him during this long fortnight.  Thank God Usain Bolt came along to steal the thunder!

Even more absurd is all this attention being given Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers who were apparently robbed at gunpoint, which led to Lochte "sneaking" out of Brazil to avoid questioning by the Rio police.  I suppose it was the part where the swimmers claimed the robbers were dressed as police officers that pissed off the Rio police.  Can't say that I blame them.  A rather ignominious end for Lochte, who came up well short of expectations in the pool and out.

It's been a weird Olympics with so much focus on all the wrong things, like Al Trautwig questioning Simon Biles relations, and all that faux controversy over Gabby Douglas not properly saluting the flag when the gymnastics girls won gold in the team competition.  Not to mention the endless sniping of Russian athletes over doping, when America's own Justin Gatlin was allowed to compete despite past doping suspensions himself.  Like Efimova, Gatlin had to settle for silver in his premier event.  So, obviously drugs failed.

Then came the infamous "dive" in the 400 meter race.  If it had been six-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix diving across the line for gold, everyone would have been saying how she sacrificed her body for a victory, but because it was first-time medalist Bahamian Shaunae Miller, she somehow cheated.

There were also the charges of sexism, where women athletes were not given the respect they deserved.  This was most apparent in all the attention given the women beach volleyball players for either wearing too little or too much clothes.

What makes the Olympics great is that it brings the world together for two weeks in a spirit of fellowship and competition.  But, rather than suppress our nationalistic urges and our petty conceits, we put them on full display.  You see this fellowship among the athletes, like that great picture of Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse crossing the semi-final of the 200 meter race with big smiles on their faces.  This to me personifies what the Olympics are all about.

What's also lost is that Rio pulled off the Olympics when everyone thought Brazil was going to fail "bigly."  Sure, there were some strange moments like the green diving pool, but this turned out to be a simple matter of chemistry not dirty water.  On the whole, this has been a great Olympics and Rio should be proud of itself, as we should be proud of all the great accomplishments at these Games, not just those of our athletes.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bitch I'm Madonna

I suppose when you haven't had a hit in three years, you try to win over the young audience with what might be described as the pop music version of agitprop, bringing in Nicki Minaj and a host of other celebs to give the video some bling.  Nicki gets co-writing credits.  For a woman who wants the music world to take her seriously, this isn't the way to go about it, but bitch this is Madonna!

Granted, Madonna has tried her hand at respectability in the past with mixed results.  Probably her shining moment was as Evita, in the cinematic version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's pop opera.  But, she is best remembered for masturbating on stage at MTV's video music awards in 1984, which launched her prodigious career.  It's a mixed bag to say the least.

There is no doubt Madonna has changed the way we look at pop music.  She has been the role model for the young talent featured in Bitch I'm Madonna.  Miley Cyrus, took her ' 84 VMA performance and did it one better in 2013, giving Sean Hannity a hard on.  No one has been able to look at Miley the same way since.  But, Madonna would tell us that singers like Miley have it soft in this day of social media, saying how easy it is to be distracted or consumed with fame, not that this was the case on her part.

It is tough growing old, especially when your calling card has always been the way you flaunt your body.  Madonna still looks good in her videos, thanks to a physical conditioning program that would leave us mere mortals gasping for air.  But, her catchy song from her Rebel Heart album only managed to peak at #84 in the Billboard Hot 100, making one wonder if she is any longer relevant in today's pop world.  She's become a relic like Paul McCartney, someone today's pop divas work with out of respect.  Kind of like helping your grandparents around the house.

The sad part about the song is she lifted the title from Dave Chappelle's great sketch, I'm Rick James Bitch.  Add to that she looks suspiciously like Kylie Minogue in the video, and these "artists" might have grounds to sue her for plagiarism.

Madonna has never been afraid to borrow from others, whether it was the in-your-face attitude of Wendy O. Williams or the sultry qualities of Debbie Harry, not to particularly great effect.  This was especially true of her tepid rendition of American Pie.  The music world was hers for the taking and she took it by storm in the mid 80s.  I guess you might call this artistic license, but artistry would be quite a stretch.  However, it is hard to argue with the slough of pop hits and film credits to her name.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bob Dole at 93

The former senator and presidential candidate was initially reticent to endorse Donald Trump, but has become quite a vocal supporter.  Not surprising since Paul Manafort was a top strategist in his '96 campaign.  However, Uncle Bob seems to have a bad memory.  Republican operatives, with the help of Manafort, decided to cut loose the floundering presidential candidate and focus on Congressional seats, which they were determined to maintain control of.

This so-called "blank check" strategy wasn't unleashed until October, blindsiding poor old Bob who was drubbed in the national election, losing by nearly 10 per cent of the popular vote and over 200 electoral votes, pretty much bringing to an end any influence he had in the GOP.   Looks like we can expect to see this strategy again, but the situation is different now, according to Andrew Romano.  Dole may not have been very popular among voters, but he wasn't a drain on the GOP.  Trump threatens to bring everyone down around him.

Why Bob would even get involved in this election is beyond me.  Sit back, watch it from the sidelines as your contemporary George H.W. Bush is doing.  But, no, Uncle Bob feels a need to give his two-cents worth, not that anyone really cares, least of all Donald Trump.

It seems Uncle Bob still harbors a grudge against the Clintons for robbing him of his political moment.  It wasn't a particularly nasty election as I recall.  Bob was 73 at the time, clearly on the downside of a long political career.  He had tried to push his WWII creds, but no one was much interested.  The economy was rebounding thanks to the burgeoning dot-com bubble, and Bob was simply too old to have any idea what was going on.  Kind of like Mackie in 2008.

His wife Elizabeth, 13 years his junior, would have been a better candidate than him.  She was a rising star in the GOP, having served in both the Reagan and Bush cabinets, and excited the crowd much more at the 96 convention than did her husband.  She had a sharp sense of humor and I think could have given Bill a run for his money.  She would run in 2000, but her campaign never got off the ground.  She did win the retired seat of Jesse Helms in 2002, serving one term in the Senate.  Ironically, she was in the same chamber with Hillary and Barack Obama. Unfortunately, she was a victim of the 2008 blowback against Republicans and lost her seat to Democrat Kay Hagan.

It seems Liddy has no horse in this race.  She hasn't spoken out like her husband, content to see this election play out as it will.  Gone are most of the strong women in the GOP, replaced by shrill Teabaggers like Joni Ernst and Kelly Ayotte.  One has to think she is none too happy about the direction the Republican Party has taken, but being a good trooper has opted for silence.

Not Bob.  I suppose every four years his political spirit awakens, and regardless of who the Republican nominee is, he wants to play a part in the campaign.  It doesn't seem like Trump is interested in Uncle Bob's unsolicited advice, as I don't recall any mention of Dole on the campaign trail.  Still, he got a shout out at the Republican Convention.  He also got a seat next to Amber Smith.  That must have made him feel good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Is there a doctor in the room?

Last week, Sean Hannity put on his best Dr. House impersonation by calling together a team of doctors to do a differential diagnosis on Hillary Clinton.  He was feeding off the numerous images and reports on conservative blogs that were questioning Hillary's health, largely over a photograph from February when she slipped on some icy steps while campaigning in New Hampshire.

As the Washington Post reported, it was a pile of nonsense even if Dr. Hannity tried hard to make it sound like a serious medical investigation, "But watch the video," said Hannity, playing back the bobble-head clip, "it almost seems seizure-esque to me."  Media Matters offers a slightly different telling, along with a montage of clips that Hannity used to try to make his case that we need to see Hillary's medical records.  To her credit, Fiona Gupta, a neurologist, didn't play along, saying that Hillary's strange movements were probably mostly the result of stress.  But, Marc Siegel, a urologist, reinforced Hannity's opinion, playing Wilson in this case.

After years of drubbing Hillary on Benghazi and her missing e-mails, conservative pundits are now going after her health record.  I suppose this is a way to deflect attention away from Donald Trump not releasing his tax record.  After all, he did release a medical report last December, calling his health "extraordinary."  I'm not so sure that Trump's physician isn't Dr. Spaceman.

This type of medical speculation is certainly nothing new.  Any presidential candidate pushing 70 is cause for concern.  Just ask Dr. Ben.  But, the absurd level to which Dr. Hannity has made an issue of Hillary's health has led some to question Sean's mental health.

We all know he is nothing more than a shill for Trump. If Hannity wasn't making so much money, you would even think Donald was paying for all this.  But, Sean has a strange history of embracing fringe figures.  He gave Cliven Bundy an unprecedented amount of air time back in 2014, so little wonder he has devoted so much time to Donald this election cycle.  There is an obsessive-compulsive pattern to his behavior that maybe he should ask Dr. Gupta about.

It is doubtful Dr. Hannity will let Hillary's health go, especially now that the conservative blogosphere has kicked into overdrive on the story.  This is all part of the circle jerk the conservative news media has become.  Sean has been given free rein at Fox to promote such stories, dragging in so-called experts to lend them credibility.  Unfortunately, it doesn't make these stories true.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is History Dead?

As far as many conservatives are concerned the Bushes have been obliterated from history.  As we heard from Katy Pierson, Obama is now responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  No longer do we hear any mention of George Bush, much less his father, who got us into this mess to begin with the Persian Gulf War back in 1991.

For the past 20 years there has been a thorough cleansing of history thanks to Fox News and the rise of conservative websites and blogs on the Internet.  I suppose we should thank Newt Gingrich for his Contract with America, as it ushered in this brave new conservative world, designed largely to repudiate the liberal past.  Bill Clinton had only been in office two years, but that was more than enough time for Newt to have determined Bill would undo everything the great Ronald Reagan had started, and was determined to render Clinton "irrelevant."

Fox News, established in 1996, became the propaganda arm of this brazen vision.  By this point, Newt was already struggling to hold his troops together on Capitol Hill as Bill Clinton proved to be a tougher match than he expected, having won re-election.  He needed a full media onslaught to counter "liberal" mainstream networks.  Roger Ailes, a long-time conservative media consultant was more than glad to oblige.  Fox would become the incubator of radical conservative thought, a Heritage Foundation on steroids.

The advent of social media expanded the range exponentially, allowing persons to share stories, memes and snarky comments anywhere and everywhere. Facebook has become a support network for these radicals who feel America has been undone by the liberal establishment.  They will buy into virtually any story first appearing on conservative websites and blogs, giving them a validity in the number of "likes" and "shares."  No longer are viewers expected to form opinions of their own, but rather distribute manufactured opinions, often in the form of convenient memes that support their staunchly held beliefs.

Still, this conservative media revolution needed some weight.  Nothing like books to give the impression of learned opinion.  It also helped counteract the liberal writers who had been influencing college campuses far too long with their "revisionist history."  Bill Bennett, the Education Czar under Ronald Reagan, had warned us way back in 1986 when the liberals had the audacity to revise the Stanford University humanities reading list to include authors of different color and gender.  This was affirmative action at its worst, and we were told by many conservatives at the time that this was the end of Western civilization as we knew it.

Yes, I've beaten this drum before, but I don't think people realize how pervasive this counter-revolution has become.  What seemed like a few innocuous conservative screeds in the 80s has grown into a multi-billion dollar book industry that has major publishers like Simon and Schuster and Penguin establishing imprints exclusively devoted to conservative literature.  This is no longer the sole domain of Regnery Publishing, which regards itself as the leader in conservative books.  These publishers have turned news pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity into bestselling authors.

History has always been subjective.  To the victors belong their right to interpret history how they see it.  Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, first published in 1980, more or less represented the end of liberal revisionist history and its misanthropic view of America.  Reagan ushered in an optimistic vision that would make Americans feel proud of their country once again, not guilty for its past indiscretions.  A Puritan faith would be stressed, or as St. Ronnie called it "a shining city on a hill," in his 1989 farewell speech.

Even in the most subjective of liberal history there is usually a grain of truth to be found.  Zinn had studied under the giants of American history at Columbia University, namely Henry Steele Commager, David Donald and Richard Hofstadter.  You might take exception to Zinn's conclusions but it was hard to question his sources.

Today, we get "armchair historians" like David Barton, an Oral Roberts graduate, who has taken it upon himself to rewrite the biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and tell us the true meaning of the Constitution.  Barton, being an Evangelical Christian, offers a unique spin on the early Deists, proclaiming them to be Evangelicals themselves, basing the Constitution on The Bible, despite no direct references.  When other Evangelical historians questioned his sources, he cried foul, especially when his publisher stopped printing his Jefferson book because of these objections.  Barton grew so livid that he lumped his Evangelical fellows into the liberal academic conspiracy that was determined to silence him, using Glenn Beck's The Blaze to launch his rebuttals.

Howard Zinn took a few hard knocks along the way too.  Pier review can be a nasty thing.  However, he was eventually vindicated in his view that people's stories should be told, as ugly as they might be, providing multiple perspectives, not just a single deterministic perspective that he believed stifled American history.

What we see today is a return to this deterministic view, with writers like Barton insisting on one overriding arc in American History, that being Christian faith.  Little wonder he often cites Parson Weems, who wrote the first biography, or rather hagiography of George Washington, giving us the cherry tree anecdote and other nonsense in his exaltation of our first president.

The problem is that most Americans accept the cherry tree story as fact.  It has been inculcated into us since elementary school and takes some effort to excise.  Barton is a shrewd manipulator of history, using these old anecdotes and folk stories to cultivate new myths that are much easier to digest than are actual historical events.

Our Founding Fathers were copious journal writers, essayists, amateur historians and scientists.  There are literally mountains of manuscripts to sort through, which takes a devotion that in many cases lasts a lifetime.  It is much easier to excise little tidbits and build the character of a man around them, turning a complex figure into a simple political tool.  This is what Glenn Beck did with Being George Washington, published by Simon and Schuster.

In this ever-expanding media age, it becomes harder to distinguish what is real and what is contrived, and that is precisely what guys like Barton and Beck want.  History is no longer something of the past, but rather something that can be bent and shaped and ultimately transformed into new myths that suit a religious and/or political agenda.

To a certain degree, Howard Zinn was guilty of this too.  Even more so are his proteges Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, who gave us The Untold History of the United States in serialized form.  Ditto, Michael Moore, who would prefer we don't forget George W. Bush.  While there are companion books to these documentaries, their thoughts are meant to be seen and heard, not read, because it makes a much stronger impression that way.

These interpretations of history leave little to the imagination.  We are expected to buy into them, literally since these documentaries are usually first presented on cable television and in cinemas, not use them as a point of reference to form our own opinions.  Of course, we can always fact-check them, but as is all too often the case these views are accepted at face value, processed into bite-sized memes in the social media or presented in truncated forms by talking heads on television, which is usually about as much energy anyone wants to give to the subject.

When challenged, Katy Pierson stuck to her guns because she knew that the audience she was addressing would accept her view, as this is a view widely promulgated in the conservative media, with anyone of a number of conservative books to back her up.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Jon Who?

One of the most unlikely supporters of Donald Trump is Jon Huntsman.  It may not be a name you recall, but ever so briefly he was pitched as the GOP candidate most feared by Obama, as he was considered someone who could appeal to a broad spectrum of voters in a general election.  As it turns out, he couldn't even get past New Hampshire because of the "Populist faction," as he called it, within his own party.  While this "tribe" didn't get its man in 2012, presumably Rick Santorum, it got Trump in 2016.

Huntsman skips over his relationship with Obama.  He served as the administration's Ambassador to China for two years.  However, the bitter partisan divide of 2010, which spawned the Tea Party, apparently led Huntsman to reconsider his position within the State Department and he opted out to co-chair a political action group known as No Labels with Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh.  They managed to draw a few other former mainstream politicians like Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill Richardson, who faded from the scene during the hotly contested 2012 election.

This idea of a "middle way" goes back to Henry Adams, who tried to mount a similar movement in the early 20th century to influence politics.  He wasn't a great fan of Teddy Roosevelt and couldn't quite bring himself to accept the Democratic alternatives, so he tried to promote candidates that fell in between on the political spectrum.

No Labels tries to influence policy decisions on Capitol Hill, and claims "two victories." They have also been pushing a Problem-Solver initiative that has included none other than Donald Trump at their conventions.  When they say "it's a movement that's not going anywhere," they couldn't be more correct, especially if they think Trump is going to be their Problem-Solver in Chief.

However, there is no longer much unity within the ranks as Lieberman has come out in support of Hillary, as had Bill Richardson previously, and Evan Bayh was on the shortlist for Clinton's VP.  For all the talk of reaching across party lines, the members of No Labels have pretty much split along party lines when it comes to this election.  Despite his "concerns," Huntsman hasn't pulled his endorsement of Trump, citing that the real estate mogul has a "unique opportunity to bring together constituents under the Republican Banner."  It is this kind of empty rhetoric that doomed No Labels before it even got off the ground.

Part of the problem, as E.J. Dionne wrote back in 2010, is that No Labels set up a "false equivalence," claiming the two major parties were equally to blame for the current political impasse.  The group seems to forget that this whole Tea Party thing arose from Boehner's regurgitated Pledge to America.  It was a nice piece of showmanship, but its only purpose was to unite the Republican Party against Barack Obama, literally putting up a brick wall in Congress when the Republicans regained the House.

Unfortunately for Republicans, they failed to kill the Affordable Care Act, which had been the key mandate of the Pledge.  Much of the current anger within their ranks arises from this, which is why Congressional leaders now find themselves part of the dwindling "Establishment faction" within the GOP.

I would have thought better of Huntsman.  It's not like I expected him to endorse Hillary Clinton, although he worked under her for two years and has complimented her.  He could have always taken the middle road with Gary Johnson, who is running a second time as Libertarian, which I would have thought more in line with his world view than Donald Trump.

Ironically, there is still a Crowdpac page set up for Huntsman, which makes you wonder why he and Lieberman didn't team up to form a third party run at the White House.  This would have called more attention to their No Labels than would splitting over major party candidates.  However, if I read his page correctly his supporters only managed to raise $110, not an overwhelming show of confidence.

It's hard to age gracefully when you are a politician

Bill Clinton in his Golden Days

I woke up to a meme on facebook that showed a sickly Bill Clinton alongside a virile Sammy Haggar, apparently intended to illustrate what politics does to the man.  It doesn't matter that Bill went through bypass surgery in 2004 or the health problems that limit him on the campaign trail, someone was determined to present Bill in the worst possible light.  Yet, when you stand Bill alongside Keith Richards he no longer looks so bad.

Bill is considered to be a huge asset for Hillary.  He enjoys high favorable ratings, is widely regarded as having been a good president, despite his sexual indiscretions, and still comes across as very affable in interviews.  GQ recently offered this profile on Bill, showing that he is still cool if not as energetic as once before.  Yet, somehow Bill looks subdued, one might even say "cowed" in the presence of Hillary.  

Trump's strategy, before he went off the rails, was to link Hillary to Bill in the most unflattering of terms.  Donald even went so far as to call Hillary an "enabler" in the sex scandals, spelling it out in no uncertain terms, which is rare for him.   He's picked up the drumbeat again, telling his devoted audience that Bill Clinton "was impeached for lying!"

The real estate mogul appears to consider lying the worst possible trait a human can have, yet has been caught lying many times himself, often within a span of 24 hours.  When confronted, he simply says he was being sarcastic, although for some dumb reason stuck with his story that Barack Obama founded ISIS, even when Hugh Hewitt tried to give him a way out.  

I'm surprised Trump didn't blame Bill Clinton for ISIS, after all it was the former president who enforced the "no fly zones" in Iraq following the Persian Gulf War.  Some conservative blogs refer to it as Clinton's "Quiet War," omitting the fact that it was George H.W. Bush who put those no fly zones in place.

Trump doesn't know when to attack Bill or Obama or Hillary.  In his mind, they are one in the same, part of a tarnished Democratic legacy that he hopes to unseat.  This is the way the conservative blogosphere has been presenting it for years.  I'm surprised these right-wing kooks didn't concoct some story where Hillary is the teen mother or Bill the father of this illegitimate child, but then I guess that would go against the "closet Muslim" narrative they have pitched for years.

It's like nothing happened between the terms of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  George Bush has been surprisingly absent from this campaign, and his father virtually forgotten.  Trump dispensed with Dubya in the primaries when he knocked Jeb out of the race, and no longer feels the need to invoke George 43's failed administration on the campaign trail.  What we get instead is an almost seamless transition between the Clinton and Obama administrations, to the point that Trump's surrogates are blaming Obama for the Afghanistan War as well as the surge in Iraq in their feeble attempt to link the President to ISIS.  

History is literally being rewritten before our eyes.  Fortunately, there are those on hand to call out Trump and surrogates like Katy Pierson, but in the minds of Trump's devoted following all these statements ring true because they have heard it many times before on the conservative blogosphere.  Anything that is bad in this world is because of either Clinton or Obama.

We heard similar calls when the housing market collapsed in 2008.  It wasn't Bush's fault, who was President at the time, but rather Clinton's fault because he had allegedly freed up the Federal National Mortgage Association, aka Fannie Mae, back in the 90s.  It just took ten years for the bubble to burst.  No mention of Bush's "Ownership Society," which used artificially low interest rates to lure persons into buying houses at an unprecedented rate, creating the most speculative real estate market since the 1920's.  Nope, Big Bill was to blame, along with his Democratic cronies in Congress who wouldn't let Bush take full control of Fannie Mae.

Bill Clinton isn't the victim of age or sex scandals, but of denial.  The GOP is a Party of Denial, and Trump is the standard bearer, proudly denying every favorable thing he ever said of the Clintons and now presenting them as Francis and Claire Underwood in the flesh.  This isn't him, this is the GOP.  This is exactly the way radical conservatives have been presenting the Clintons since Campaign Trail '92, long before House of Cards.  Trump even dredged up the Vince Foster story at one point, which by the way was used in the first season of House of Cards.

One can accuse Trump of many things, but Clinton bashing is a national sport among Republicans.  Nothing is too crude, too over-the-top in the constant attempt to portray them as the most dastardly American political couple in history.  Where Beau Willimon and David Fincher meant their fictional characters as dark satirical figures, the GOP literally sees the Clintons this way, and has done everything it could these past four years to kill a Hillary Clinton presidency out of fear it would perpetuate this horrible Democratic legacy.

What's particularly odd about this is that back in 2008 they didn't feel the same way.  Many conservative figures actually stood behind Hillary in her run against Barack Obama, crossing over to vote for her in open primaries.  Ann Coulter went so far to say she would back Hillary over John McCain in the general election.  This was in February mind you, when Hillary led Obama in the delegate count.

Maybe if Hillary hadn't served Obama, feelings would be different now?  As we have seen repeatedly, any Republican who embraced Obama was horsewhipped by the conservative media, starting with poor Charlie Crist, who had the temerity to accept Obama's stimulus package with a hug.  Promising GOP candidate Jon Huntsman was run out of the race in 2012 because he had served as Obama's Ambassador to China, yet is now "Stumpin' for Trump."  So much for No Labels.

But, Hillary was always seen as reckless, an enabler, someone who could not be trusted. For a brief moment, conservatives flirted with her because she seemed a better choice than Obama or McCain, but when presented with a "true conservative" like Donald Trump, these same persons want to wash the taste of Hillary out of their mouth, dredging up whatever story they can find to make her look bad.  

Even Trump has turned 180 degrees on the many complimentary things he had to say of Hillary before he chose to be the GOP mantel head.  As we see in this 2013 video clip, Trump loquaciously praised Hillary's record as Secretary of State, which he now denounces at every turn.  This extends to Bill Clinton as well, who he had previously felt got a bum rap for the Monica Lewinsky affair, but now describes as a serial rapist.

I imagine if Sammy Haggar had gone into politics, he would have aged just as badly.  It's not like you can get your blood periodically filtered as Keith Richards has done, and be clear of the taint.  It sticks to you long after you have left office, forcing politicians to continually address the same questions whether they want to or not.  Bill will never be able to live down that stained dress, and Donald Trump is going to use what ever he can find to besmirch his opponents.  Sadly, this is the nature of politics.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mr. Irrelevant

After garnering quite a bit of attention in 2008 by endorsing John McCain over Barack Obama, some were curious who Joe Lieberman would endorse this time around.  Apparently, he actually had a hard time deciding, telling Fox a couple days ago that he was thinking about supporting Trump.  It seems the "second amendment" threat tipped him the other way, as he has now come out in favor of Hillary Clinton.

As you might recall, Joe traveled all around the country with Mackie 8 years ago, and there was some speculation McCain would pick him as his VP, but Joe didn't have enough clout among the religious conservatives, so we got Sarah Palin instead.  No matter, Joe still gave his full-throated support to his Senate buddy, while everyone else was questioning such an absurd choice.

Despite being one of the featured speakers at the Republican convention, the Democrats still let Lieberman caucus with them in the next Senate session.   Nonetheless, Joe couldn't bring himself to endorse Obama in 2012 either, choosing instead to sit that election out.  He also chose to retire from politics, and has quietly assumed a role in a group that goes by the name of No Labels, promoting a "middle way" in politics.  It seems to be the place has-been politicians end up when they have no clout left in their own parties.

It would have been surprising if Lieberman had supported Trump, who has been the most deeply divisive political candidate in decades, but Joe likes to keep people guessing with the hope they will seek his political advice.

Joe's moment of glory was finding himself on the same ticket with Al Gore in 2000.  It was perhaps the most boring presidential ticket since Harding and Coolidge.  They managed to garner more votes than Bush/Cheney nationwide, but failed to win the key electoral state of Florida by a paltry 500 votes.   I never understood what Gore thought he gained by putting Lieberman on the ticket.  It was probably the first time many persons ever heard of him.  Usually, you pick someone from a swing state, like Florida, to be your running mate.  Senator Bob Graham would have been a great choice, but Gore did just about everything a presidential candidate could do to lose that election.

So, why should anyone take Lieberman's advice?  He didn't help Gore in 2000 or McCain in 2008, but here he is hoping to play a role in the Clinton campaign.  If I were Hillary, I would keep Joe at a distance, as he appears to be bad luck.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Gold makes the man

Michael Phelps may have won three times more gold medals than Mark Spitz, but he still doesn't cut as dashing a figure as Mark did after amassing a 7-medal tally at Munich in 1972.  For decades, this record stood until Michael won 8 gold medals at Beijing in 2008, adding to his previous 6 from Athens, and the 7 more he has won in Olympic Games since, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Spitz had a total of 9 golds, including the 2 he had won previously in Mexico City, where he had promised to win 6 golds.  Everyone was anxious to see if he would fulfill his promise in Munich, joining the 4x100 medley relay team at the last minute to win a total of 7 medals, all in world record times.  Even that sparked a bit of a controversy as he bumped another American swimmer for that spot, with accusations that Spitz was being greedy.  Just the same, the poster of Spitz sporting his 7 gold medals was even more popular than Burt Reynolds famous Cosmo centerfold from the same year.  They bore more than a passing resemblance with their moustaches.

Whereas Spitz hung up his speedos after the '72 games, Phelps has swam in an unprecedented 4 Olympics, and who knows may still have it in him for one more.  Bodies have changed considerably since 1972.  Phelps towers over Spitz by 4 inches, giving him an impressive wing span that helped him regain the butterfly title from Chad de Clos yesterday, a full 7 seconds faster than Spitz in Munich.  If nothing else, Phelps can switch to water polo.

There were some sour grapes when Phelps broke Spitz's record, but not as much as Michael Johnson, who seems notably upset by all the attention Usain Bolt has gotten over the years.  Michael says he could take Usain if he was still in his prime.  It would be a close race, as Bolt has only managed to shave 0.13 seconds off Johnson's 200 m time from 1996.  Johnson still owns the world record in the 400, but Bolt doesn't race the 400 so we could only speculate on such a match up.  It's tough to let go of those Olympic moments.

In many ways, Spitz paved the way for such Olympic superstars as there wasn't really anyone before who had capitalized as richly as he did off his success.  Spitz credits his good looks as much as anything else for his fame.  No one looks at a "magazine of uglies," as he put it.  He also amusingly noted that he told a Russian coach his moustache helped reduce drag in the pool, and the next Olympics every Russian male swimmer and maybe a few females were sporting moustaches.  Just pulling our leg, I imagine.

Is Trump looking for an exit strategy or has he simply gone off the deep end?  Charles Krauthammer had a hard time rationalizing Trump's latest comments in which the Donald appeared to imply the only way to stop Hillary from nominating liberal judges is to take her out.  Of course, Krauthammer still left a little wiggle room for doubt, but noted that this latest gaffe is entirely self-inflicted.  He doesn't believe Trump is going to suddenly become responsible.

Whatever the case, Trump remains in the race despite his plummeting poll numbers, which threaten to take the Republican Party down as a whole in November.  Some Republicans are already abandoning ship, looking to create as much distance between them and Trump as possible.  Susan Collins is the latest to state she cannot bring herself to support Trump.  However, that didn't stop George Prescott Bush from offering his endorsement, breaking the Bush ranks by saying that Republicans should stand behind Trump.

As the rift in the Republican Party grows wider, it forces conservatives to make tough choices.  One would like to think Collins represents Mainers, or whatever they call themselves.  However, this is a state that elected Paul LePage, deemed "America's Craziest Governor," and an avid Trump supporter.  He was apparently considered as VP, but too crazy even for Trump.

George P throwing his hat into the Trump ring makes sense, even if it goes against the grain of his family's interests.  Jeb's son currently serves as the 28th Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.  This is a deep red state vs. the purplish hue of Maine, and if George P has any political future he has to stay on the Tea Party bandwagon.

Trump has become a serious liability.  While his name helps some raise cash, like "America's Craziest Sheriff" Joe Arpaio, who has hauled in $10 million in his re-election bid, it hurts others like John McCain, who finds himself in the toughest re-election bid he has had to face in his long illustrious career.  While the arch-conservative wing of the Republican Party rallies around Trump, the so-called moderates try to run away from him.  But, that's a pretty hard thing to do when your party nominated him.

If Trump was going to "pivot" toward becoming more responsible, or at least be more "PC" as he once said he would do if nominated, he would have done so after the convention.  This is the time to show party unity.  Instead, he petulantly came out against McCain and Paul Ryan when they criticized him for his comments on the Khan family, and then was forced to read a prepared speech offering his tepid endorsement of their Congressional bids when the Khan fiasco blew up in his face.  He also lashed out at a baby for disrupting his campaign speech, mused that the little knowledge he has of NATO is an asset, and has now urged the "second amendment people" to take matters into their own hands regarding Hillary.

Whether intentional or not, Trump has a way of bringing the worst out of people, not just among his supporters but among those vehemently opposed to him.  He has managed to drag this election down to his level, making us all wallow in the mud with him.  Maybe it was not meant to be anything more than a reality show on his part, one he thought we would get at some point and abandon this lunacy.  Instead, the media reacts to every word he says, magnifying it ten times, which makes him look larger than life.

It seems that winning the Republican nomination was never part of the plan, and if he could he would pass the baton to Mike Pence and say take it from here.  This was apparently the deal that was offered John Kasich in the week leading up to the convention, an early warning sign that Trump wanted out.

All those campaign stops have been a long grind, much tougher than hosting The Apprentice.  I don't think he bargained for such a grueling process, throwing his hands up several times during the primaries and gasping, "isn't it over yet!"  There are three months still to go, which must feel like an eternity for a guy who has ad libbed his campaign from the start.  He simply doesn't have that much material, nor is it funny anymore.

Trump's caustic humor is what has buoyed his campaign to this point.  His "sarcasm," as he calls it, only goes so far, and now the FBI is apparently investigating whether his latest comment about Hillary constitutes a death threat, albeit at the behest of a Pro-Clinton Super PAC.  After all, Sarah Palin had put Gabby Giffords on her "target list," and we saw what happened to Gabby.  Trump's brand of humor is no longer so easy to dismiss.

What had started essentially as a Borat routine has snowballed into a full-blown presidential bid.  This would be unimaginable even in Kazakhstan, but here we are 14 months into Trump's campaign and you still get the feeling it's not over.  That somehow this guy will find a way to flip the polls once again, as he has done throughout his campaign. As Borat might say, only in America!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

It smells like Olympic spirit

Once again the Olympics are upon us, and the Games seem to be going smoothly despite all the worries whether Brazil could pull it off.  Still, there was some turbulence in the water, as Yulia Efimova squared off against Lilly King in the first controversial event of the long fortnight.

Efimova shouldn't have even been in the pool, but was granted an 11th hour reprieve when the sports body FINA couldn't conclusively prove how long melodonium stays in the blood system.  Efimova claims she stopped taking the performance enhancing drug last year before it was banned, even though she tested positive in April.  Her appearance in the 100-meter breaststroke heats led to a chorus of boos from the audience, but Yulia embraced her "bad girl" image, wagging her finger at the crowd when she won her semi-final race over the previous Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte.  Lilly King was having none of it, winning her semi-final race with a time 0.02 seconds faster than Efimova and so she wagged her finger in turn.  This set up the most anticipated race so far, as the two would finally be in the pool together.

The media loved it.  Here was the United States presented as the clean, virtuous Lilly King and Russia as the brazen, dirty Yulia Efimova.  All we needed was Michael Buffer to announce the final race.  The event lived up to its billing with King pulling away from Efimova in the last ten meters to set a new Olympic record and win the gold medal.

Russia has been under a cloud ever since The World Anti-Doping Agency determined that there was a systemic cover-up of doping violations by Russian authorities dating back to 2008.  The whistleblower was one of the Russian officials.  WADA only had time to investigate the track and field team prior to the Rio Games, issuing a damning verdict that the entire team should be banned.  Russia appealed to the IOC, which decided not to go with the blanket ban, but instead ban those athletes specifically charged with doping.  This list extended beyond the track and field team and included seven swimmers, Efimova among them.

This was a chance to head off state-sanctioned doping at the pass.  As we all might recall, doping was prevalent in the days of the Soviet Union, as the country was determined to beat the United States on the international level.  East Germany also became notorious for performance enhancing drugs, quickly becoming one of the top sports countries of the world.  Doping was also widely seen throughout the Eastern European satellite nations.

Vladimir Putin has vowed to restore this former glory, bringing back the Soviet-style program replete with heavy-handed tactics to get the most out of his country's athletes.  It worked for Russia at Sochi, where they won the most gold medals in a Winter Olympics since 1994.  Putin is now determined to restore Russia's summer potential by investing heavily in sports across the country.

The WADA report was damning, as it showed just how far Russian officials go to get their desired results.  Yulia Efimova is Russia's most visible face, as she is a four-time world champion since she was last suspended for doping charges in 2013.  The country would have sent a clear message it was cleaning up its act if it had accepted her suspension, but Yulia had the potential to win three gold medals.  When every medal counts, you go out of your way to get her reinstated, which is exactly what Russian officials did.

It is not to say that other countries don't engage in similar tactics.  The Olympics are big business.  For swimmers and track and field athletes this is their moment of glory.  Very few people follow their sports between Olympic Games, so this is their opportunity to strike lucrative advertising deals that will carry them through the long four years between games.  In the past, we have seen athletes stripped of their gold medals, like Ben Johnson who tested positive following his record-breaking performance in the 1988 Games, but it had been a long time since a country had been singled out for systemic doping violations.

The worst apart is that this is essentially an extortion racket where athletes are expected to use drugs and then pay officials to cover it up.  Putin has said he will bring the officials involved to justice, but like so many things in Russia, this doesn't happen without tacit state approval.

You really can't take it out on Yulia.  She is just part of this labyrinthine scheme that also involves Olympic officials from other countries to turn a blind eye.  Obviously, the IOC didn't want to end up in a similar scandal that rocked FIFA and so went soft on Russia for fear a broader cover-up might get exposed.   For the most part, the IOC has chosen to accentuate the positive this Olympics, sneaking banned Russian swimmers into the heats, hoping that no one is looking.   But, it was hard to miss Yulia, the golden girl of the Russian swimming team.

Efimova will get another shot at a gold in the 200 m breaststroke, where she will meet Lilly King again, and may also compete in the 400 m medley relay.  There will probably be more boos, but now that she is in the water the other swimmers have to deal with her.  This is the way it goes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

When feelings count more than facts

or why it is so hard to win an argument against conservatives

Rather telling article on why it is pointless to argue with Trumpkins or any conservatives for that matter.  Newt Gingrich adroitly pointed out, it is perception that matters, not facts.  The report notes that persons only want "facts" that reinforce their beliefs, and trying to argue the contrary serves no purpose other than to reinforce their beliefs, as they dig their heels in even more.  Worth knowing the next time you get into an argument with someone on facebook.

Bill Nye learned this the hard way when he tried to refute Ken Ham's position on Creationism.  Not only did Nye lose the debate, but Ham got so much public and private funding in the wake of that faux debate that he was able to build his dream of a full-size replica of Noah's Ark to add to his Creationist Museum in Kentucky.  The Ark has cost over $100 million and will be open soon for all too see.  It comes with a hefty price tag however.  The so-called "Ark Encounter" will cost a family of four $136.

If scientists have failed to convince Creationists of the fallacy of their beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, how on earth can one expect to change another's political beliefs?  It seems a person has to go through some personal trauma or epiphany to see the errors in his ways.  Like most "dumb" animals we only learn from experience.  The human race for the most part has a difficult time conceptualizing things other than God.  This helps explain why there are so many climate-change deniers.  Unless you live next to a melting glacier or a fast encroaching shoreline, global warming is too distant to admit being real.

Part of the problem is that Creationists work from a very simple premise that is hard to refute -- God created the earth.  The explanation is concise and easy to swallow if you don't think very hard about it.  Science requires much more effort to digest and make sense of things.  Most persons simply won't make that effort.  Fundamentalists prefer the comfort of the Bible to science classes, which I suppose is why they are so keen to have the Bible made the main teaching text not just of Sunday School, but the school system as a whole.

However, when confronted by some of the more glaring contradictions in the Bible, these "scholars" will go out of their way to prove the verses in question.  There are "Biblical Archaeologists" who travel the world to find evidence that a flood took place roughly 4000 years ago.  According to Biblical paleontologists this helps explain dinosaurs, as these were pre-flood creatures who roamed the earth but for whatever reason God chose not to save.  Obviously, Ken Ham has a soft spot for these extinct creatures, as he has included them in his Creationist Museum.  It seems bones, unlike carbon dating, is hard to discount.

This is also why Newt Gingrich blithely refutes FBI crime statistics, preferring instead to play off people's feelings that the crime rate is worse in America since Obama came to Washington.   One would be tempted to call it a cognitive disorder, but Newt is a smart man.  He knows exactly what he is doing.  By playing on emotions, he strikes to the core of many Americans' beliefs, knowing that we are essentially slaves to our preconceived notions, and that reason is easily trumped in this case.

Getting back to Noah, the exact location where the ark came to rest has been questioned within the religious community.  For centuries it was believed to be Mt. Ararat.  Ronald Hendel, in the link above, argues that we should be looking in Iraq, not Turkey.  He has expanded his search to include other religious sources, notably Mesopotamian creation myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh, as apparently there was more than one flood.  Hendel also pays deference to marine biologists who have discounted a massive Black Sea flood that had long supported the Mt. Ararat theory.  Like a good "scientist" he is willing to look elsewhere, so there is a thought process at work here that one can exploit, even if Hendel is unwilling to give up his core belief that the ark actually existed.

This does give us a ray of hope in that religious conservatives are not so close-minded that we can't communicate with them.  The only difficulty is that we have to communicate with them on their level.  We have to at least pretend to accept their core beliefs and then offer some "what ifs" to get them thinking along possible different lines of thought.  Maybe then they will discover some fallacy in their thinking, albeit if only to look for new locations.

A closer reading of the Bible will help us in constructing such arguments, as Maimonides did long ago.  Everyone can respect Maimonides, a Hebrew scholar who warned us in the 12th century not to read the Bible too explicitly, but rather absorb lessons from it.  One lesson is to "beware of false prophets."  Trump doesn't hide the fact he is a "ravening wolf."  He extols it as a virtue, which feeds into the current prosperity theology that dominates evangelical television. but any good Christian knows the verse about the camel and the eye of the needle.

Of course, you will need more than the Book of Matthew to go on.  Most Fundamentalists are Old Testament Christians, so I wouldn't spend too much time in the New Testament.  They are the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" sort of persons, which you will find in Exodus.  Of course, Jesus reinterpreted this passage in Matthew, telling us that we should have sympathy for our (political) enemies and go the extra mile in trying to understand them.  Easier said than done, but it is important to at least know where they are coming from, even if they don't hold to much that was actually said in the Bible.