Archive for March, 2016

Look Out! Petard!


So in his careless way, Donald Trump inadvertently exposes the endpoint of the conservative position on abortion.

Following an argument to its logical conclusion, for once, Trump said that women who have abortions need to be punished–fined, put in jail, killed–whatever the godbotherers can get.

Thus exposing the entire point of the conservative position: sluts can only have sex when WE SAY. Otherwise–Phhht!

Let’s hope Trump sank his own ship in the process.



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All possible puns intended.

Two southern state legislatures have recently passed bills that please conservative Christians. In Georgia, a so-called “religious liberty” bill now rests on the governor’s desk. You can read a balanced review of the bill at the Atlanta Constitution‘s webpage, which will also inform you that a number of film companies, including Disney(!), and sports franchises, including the NFL, have threatened to boycott if Deal (great name for a governor) signs the bill.

Balance is not required on this yere blog, so here’s what I think: the bill allows Christian bigots to discriminate against anyone or any action that they define as violating their religious beliefs. That is, business owners can refuse service to gay patrons or refuse to allow transgender folks to use their restrooms. It remains to be seen (in court) whether or not the bill permits them to fire anyone of whose lifestyle they disapprove. For example:  can an evangelical business owner fire or refuse to hire an atheist?

In North Carolina the legislature passed a nasty piece of work in the dead of night after Democrats walked out in protest (shades of Wisconsin). The governor stayed up late in order to sign it as soon as the ink was dry, thus catching potential opponents off-guard. The bill effectively guts any non-discrimination laws passed by NC cities and towns. So it’s no longer safe in North Carolina to express opinions or adopt lifestyles that are not approved by Christians.

Don’t these fools see the irony in their historic opposition to federal legislation (ie during the Civil War) while they enact state laws that disenfranchise legislation passed in their own towns and cities? The only people who will profit from passage of these bills are lawyers.

The religious right has become more and more hysterical as more Americans have decided we get along just fine without your nonsense, thank you very much. Both of these pieces of legislation represent last-gasp attempts to preserve the authority of the patriarchal family. These folks have visceral reactions to any blurring of traditional sex roles. First they yowled against feminism and women’s rights;  then their ire centered on gays, and now transgender folks provoke them.

Hey, bigots:  Jesus isn’t coming back to rapture you. And if he does, won’t his first question be: “and did you love your neighbor?”

UPDATE:  Yikes! The North Carolina bill also says that cities cannot raise minimum wages higher than those of the state, nor can cities any longer regulate benefits and hours for workers. Nor can they determine the limits and terms of their contracts. Are these clowns trying to force Dread Justice Roberts to revisit the Civil Rights bill he once gutted?




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You know, back in the old days when we liked a TV show, we had to show up on time each and every week when it aired. If “Wagon Train” aired on Sunday night at seven, butts had to be in chairs on Sunday night at seven, popcorn already popped and readily to hand. We had to stay with each episode until the end–no pausing for bathroom breaks or fast forwarding through commercials. And if we missed an episode, we had to wait until summer reruns to see it. Once. There was no such thing as recording a TV episode until some 25 years after Ward Bond had shuffled off this mortal coil.



Robert Horton and Ward Bond in costume for “Wagon Train”

Today, though, if I want to see Robert Horton in his tightey buckskins, I can flip over to the Westerns channel, and there he is–every day. And if that isn’t enough, he and Ward Bond are no doubt available on disc or somewhere in the ether–streamed or downloadable, whatever.

But those improvements are definitely NOT the best part of contemporary video technology. No, the best part is the possibility of binge-watching. Today I can watch ALL of “Wagon Train” in as many sittings as my schedule (and my butt) will allow, start to finish. For those of us who are readers, this new possibility is to be relished. Now developments in plot and characterization can be installed in a series by its writers and savored over time by its fans, just as they can in a novel.

If you’ve ever binge-watched an old series like “Wagon Train” (1957-1965) you can readily see how the scripting differs from that of a contemporary series; those old episodes were written to be enjoyed in an hour’s time. Hence the relationship between, say, Bond’s and Horton’s characters did not change much over the  course of a season or the series, so much so that when Bond died in 1960, the series replaced him with John McIntire without offering so much as a narrative explanation.

“The Fugitive” (1963-1967) was the first TV series to attempt a running story, but that story was limited to Richard Kimball’s recurring attempts to find the murderer of his wife and prove his innocence. But that’s not much on which to hang a storyline–if you binge-watch that series today, what you get is a series of riffs on a basic narrative pattern:  the fugitive moves to a new town, gets work, is discovered and must flee. In each episode new  actors fill tried and true roles–the woman who becomes interested in the handsome stranger in town, the suspicious sheriff, the child who befriends the fugitive, and so on.

Not so with contemporary TV narrative, which has adapted to technological developments. The first show I binge-watched was “The X-files” (1993-2002), but I did so season by season because it was then available only on disc. But I loved those discs as they were issued each year because they made it possible to appreciate the skill with which the show’s writers picked up themes and reworked them over time. The X-files is, in fact, a combination of new and old narrative TV structures–there are stand-alone episodes, usually “monsters of the week” as well as an overarching storyline called “the mythology.” And there was also the deepening relationship between the lead players, which became more compelling when episodes could be watched back-to-back.

Today, of course, one can binge-watch just about any show that was, or remains, popular. The dictionary defines “binge” as “indulgence in an activity to excess.” Fittingly, I just finished a two-week binge watching the six seasons of Downton Abbey–which is itself a tribute to Edwardian excess.


Downton Abbey

Here is the Downton Abbey of the series, which is an actual castle called Highclere. As you can see, the building is itself a paeon to excess. Its interiors are no less glamorous, as are the series’ cast:


The premise of the show is, ostensibly, that both upper and working classes had difficulty adapting to modern times. Nevertheless its author, Julian Fellowes, is clearly more enamored of upper-class Edwardian manners and possessions (and they are undeniably gorgeous) than he is with treating the downstairs “family” members with equal sympathy. (This photo, for example, shows only four members of the downstairs staff, symbolically standing at the margins)

OTOH, Fellowes is a good-enough narrative artist to keep me hooked over a two-week period (when I should have been reading Akhil Amar’s book on the Constitution, for reasons that are made apparent on the nightly news, or writing a review of an essay on memory, which failure has an ironic overtone all by itself).

Mention of these tasks has reminded me that while I did not set out to write a review of Downton, I am dangerously close to doing so. So here I take my leave, my narrative left inartfully dangling.


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Other possibilities?

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Two interesting theories have been posited to explain why so many people support Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Both are useful for those of us who are bewildered by the adoration that Trump supporters display.

The first appeared at Vox, where Amanda Taub argues persuasively that Trump’s supporters are authoritarians, that is, they are people who are afraid of change and who are, as a consequence, looking for a strong leader (http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism). The second theory appeared in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/upshot/the-geography-of-trumpism.html?smtyp=cur&_r=1). There Neil Irwin and Josh Katz rely on demography to isolate the features that shape a preference for Trump.

The Times study showed that the following traits correlated most powerfully with a preference for Trump:  his supporters are white;  they have no education beyond high school (which they likely didn’t finish);  they identify their heritage as “American” (rather than “Irish” or “German” or the like);  and they live in mobile homes.

There is no need to brace yourself: unlike the Rethugs who write for the National Review this is not a rant about the stupid folks who live in trailer parks. To the contrary:  I want to praise members of this demographic who used to be the backbone of America. They were the people I grew up with–farm families, women who ran offices as secretaries and assistants, people who built and staffed the railroads, those who worked in factories and post offices. Along about 1980 or so (maybe even earlier), though, jobs like these were made to disappear by globalization, corporatization, and the digital revolution. People whose parents and grandparents lived fairly comfortable lives and expected to retire with dignity are now denied those benefits.

And these people know who was complicit in these larger changes: the rich dicks who run the Rethug party, a party that promised all but delivered nothing–at least not to them. So now they are trapped in those trailer parks, unable to find steady work, and killing themselves slowly with meth and heroin.

So why aren’t they Democrats? They were, once. As LBJ famously said, his signature on the Civil Rights Act of 1965 insured that Dems would not win the presidency again for at least a generation (it was more like two generations, in the event). On the other hand, thanks to efforts like affirmative action and larger changes such as globalization, people of color have gained social and economic purchase since, say, the 1970s. And the digital revolution has made them more visible, even to white people who live in mobile homes.

According to the research described by Taub, authoritarians are made fearful by social change. So whether you call it “racism,” or “a sense of disenfranchisement” a powerful motive has attracted a lot of people to Trump’s proto-fascism. And as I learned the hard way while growing up (I became an adult at around 40), it’s damned difficult to wean yourself away from racism, sexism, and all those other prejudices that are woven into the fabric of American thought when your family and your neighbors and your friends and your employees and co-workers all accept them.

But we have to try. I suspect there is no hope for Rethugs, who can’t seem to bring themselves to admit their culpability in Trump’s rise to power. So the rest of us have to work harder to convince people that there are better, more fulfilling ways to live together. Elsewise, Goddess help us.



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Happy Pi Day!


If you are into detail, you can celebrate at 1:59 this afternoon. Or perhaps you woke yourself up last night in order to do so?

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The Poetry Has Gone


calvin snow

Calvin Johnson has announced his retirement from football.  Good for him–he is only 30, and hence he may have spared himself and his family the horrors that attend on more lengthy stays in the NFL.

But I will miss watching him. He moved like a dancer.


He was so fast that he was often able to sneak behind defenders, catching them, literally, off guard. He was a joy to watch.


Bye, Calvin.



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