Friday, September 25, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#7)

The Donald seems, more or less, out of control. RBG dies, not able, unfortunately, to hang on till January. Today (or yesterday) Trump is heckled in the politist way, “Vote Him Out,” by bystanders waiting to pay homage to Ginsberg’s coffin and corpse. The Prez was bemasked, at least, offering up that small bit of respect. But that won’t last long. We will learn Saturday if our local girl, ACB – couldn’t get the alphabet right there – is truly the nominee for the Supreme Court, though her house’s lawn is outfitted with the newest 21st century electronic gear and a guy in a black car watching. It made me wonder if other circuit court judges get that sort of treatment, protection, or just likely SC nominees. Trump, to stoop to cliche, is the most appropriate bull in a china shop, if anyone thinks, or still thinks, of the White House and the Presidency as a china shop. But it turns out that the Presidency is: norms more easily broken than most would have thought. American Carnage, Trump’s Inaugural address’s title, keeps proving itself prophetic, with The Donald causing the most carnage. These days Trump continues to do his Mussolini imitation, chin up, bombast forward. The spoiled child won’t leave the house, stamping his foot and anything else he can find to stomp. Somehow my mind turns to the crucifixion – it’s probably Amy Semple McPherson’s fault, or her new incarnation, Amy Coney Barrett (why couldn’t she have hyphenated her married name as Amy Barrett-Coney, then I would have had ABC, one two three, you and me, etc.? Oh, I forgot, the People of Praise.) Another morbid spectacle ahead, the Golgotha of Senate confirmation. Speaking of the People of Praise, I know it well, or well enough, since they lived, modestly, in the neighborhood some time ago, where I owned my first house in South Bend. A few modest one story houses, they. South Bend was, is, a magnet for all sorts of extreme Catholic cults. A large Opus Dei house was down the block from my lesser dwelling. Tell it to that other dead, now long dead, Supreme Court justice, or the sitting AG. I arrived to teach at Notre Dame in 1981. People of Praise had started there about ten years earlier, given that its founder, or cofounder, was a PhD candidate in the theology department. He had published a book in 1969 called Catholic Pentecostals. When I moved into South Bend People of Praise seemed harmless enough. I knew the Catholic Left well, not so much the Catholic Right, though it took off right at the same time the CL peaked. The Harrisburg trial did sully the Catholic Left’s reputation and, in a way, mobilized the right. The Berrigan brothers had always been a thorn in the side, so to speak, of devout Catholics. In South Bend the most prominent feature of the People of Praise was their school, the Trinity School at Greenlawn (however modest the professants are, they do lean toward highfalutin titles), housed in a former robber baron’s mansion and grounds. It came about the same year I started teaching at ND. It taught 6-12 grades and I toured it some years later when my son was about to enter highschool. That’s another story. Speaking of titles, PoP have scuttled some of their original vocabulary. I was sorry to see “handmaiden” go. Blame Margaret Atwood. They have the common cult interconnected relationships, used to knit followers together and the women members (ACB!) were given, or assigned, handmaidens as, let’s say, watchdogs. Given PoP’s sanctities, if you put them on one end of the smallish cult spectrum, the religious end – forget the Mormons – the other end would have something like Nxivm perched there. American culture was is, riddled, with such groups. One could even make the case that it was founded by them. Or, at least, joining became and remains an American virtue. Mayor Pete has put South Bend on the political map and now Amy the judge may set the bar for lawyers. She does have somewhat local competition, insofar as the Chief Justice is from down the road, and went to a small school, a basketball power, La Lumiere, another Catholic school. Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh are all Catholic. And, one associate justice, Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, was raised Catholic, but in his high falutin’ way became Episcopalian, even though he attended the same tony Jesuit high school that Kavanaugh did. More civilized, I suppose. Now there looms Amy, who knows how to talk in tongues, which should help in a few cases to come. She would make the number of Catholics, according to my count, 6 and a half – the half being Gorsuch. This may or may not seem excessive to some people. I have written about this, all the Court Catholics, etc., in one of my books, opining, as the annoying say, that the right wing finds Catholics more Court friendly than wild-eyed, right-wing Protestants. Maybe. So, we’ll see Saturday. I could be wrong. There’s still that Cuban-American-Floridian (Barbara Lagoa) in the running. Isn’t she Catholic? Doesn’t she have blonde hair highlights (dyed?)? The Donald likes blondes. Doesn’t he need to win Florida? But isn’t the Cuban vote already in his pocket? The old, yes, but perhaps not the young. And if South Bend’s Amy gets it, will they take offense?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#6)

Last week seemed to be a family affair. The Trump family set the tone. And the many family units displayed in bits and pieces during the Republican convention – how about that lovely St. Louis couple toting guns waving at the passing Parade? Then there was the cute mom and son duo, Wendy Lewis Rittenhouse and her pudgy son, Kyle, shooter of three, killer of two, and the random children shot in various yards and houses, homicides that are more perennial than seasonal. The First Family first. The Trump show was more of an extravaganza than the Biden show. More circus than circumspection, more “spectacular” than specific, more Fox than PBS. Though hard to do, setting aside the use of the White House and other government buildings, the Trump week had two or three events that were somewhat grounded in reality, though the four days that encased them was a mountain hard to overlook. We were in Never Never Land most of the time. The final piece de resistance, the last night climax of a sort, the super spreader evening on the White House lawn, below the grand staircases of the Evita side of the building, folding chairs full of Republicans, most mask-less, all disreputable (behind every fortune there is a crime, etc.), of self-satisfied citizens, sprinkled with a few plants of ordinary folk to be used as pawns (echoing the balcony victims often alluded to in State of the Union speeches), showing their mettle, daring Covid to cloud their lives. The event, more or less, was as ephemeral as the fireworks display in front of the Washington monument, that Egyptian inspired obelisk, beloved by many, that spelled out TRUMP 2020. It was there and then not there. But, Trump, who must be descending into his dumbest dotage, didn’t leave the stage, but made the participants turn to face the balcony (no Evita!) and made everyone one listen to semi-operatic renditions of various tunes, including “Hallelujah”, the Leonard Cohen dirge. An overworked tenor, tie-less, sweaty, crooned on – and using opera “stars” to sing pop tunes is a bad choice always – till everyone was about to go crazy – Trump really knows how to step on his endings. Hallelujah, indeed. The tenor is named Christopher Macchio. God knows Trump might have been attracted to him by his name, Macho Macho Man, etc. Macchio did perform at Trump’s 2015 New Year’s Eve bash in Florida. And he seems to be an upscale lounge singer, one to wow the rubes with arias, though I couldn’t detect the usual opera star’s resume in his past. No Met debut, etc. I didn’t know any of this as I watched him, but without a tie, the open shirt, his sweating, he did seem a bit Las Vegas to me. I have had a long history with opera, working, starting when a teenager, in 1964 at the Santa Fe Opera. But, Macchio wasn’t the problem, just the coda to a very strange day, week, first term, and so on. It’s not so much these days what Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (as I knew her when I described her TV appearances in my ‘96 Campaign book, before her marriage to George Conway) called alternate facts early on in the Trump administration, as an alternate world that has been created. It was on full display for four days, with two or three exceptions, one striking one being the appearance of the unhappy parents of a young woman (Kayla Mueller) who strayed into Syria, was “captured” by ISIS in 2013 and tormented by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and doubtless others. Their testimony was effective, given its tone and content. They were obviously unhappy with Obama and Biden, who did not manage to free their daughter (she was killed, it was reported, in 2015). Of course, neither did Trump, but soldiers in late ‘19 launched an attack on Al-Baghdadi’s compound and, cornered, he blew himself up. The raid was named after Kayla. Her body has never been found. Her dad said, "The Trump team gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration...the Obama administration said it was doing everything it could. The Trump administration actually is...." Hard to counter aggrieved parents, however tragedy has distorted their vision. One other trip in the real world, at greater length, was from my distant relative – very distant – Melania, the Slovenian immigrant and First Lady. My maternal grandfather was Slovenian and was born in a village over the hill from Melania’s home town. Hence my claim to connection, however bogus. Melania is attempting to claim a transformation of sorts, one usually accomplished by older worldly women, who, after a lively life, retreat to the nunnery in old age. Melania is still too young for such metamorphosis, but in her Evita military uniform, marching alone – Trump had wandered out all by his lonesome before her speech – to the microphone, she was a picture of remorse, or, perhaps, seriousness. No easy smiles in this performance. Serious, earnest and measured, a mother’s speech. Empathy heavy. "My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone...." Right on, Melania. She seemed alone. Her immigrant accent, her olive drab outfit, her frozen head looking forward, her serpentine, or, rather, lizard-like eyes locked for a few minutes on one clear prompter, then they would slide over for the same amount of time to the other, a back and forth that became decidedly discomforting as she went on, my phantom relative. She does have my grandfather’s cheekbones; or, rather, he has hers. Well, at least she seemed to occupy planet earth, or a recognizable populated one. Her audience was the typical Trump mask-less crowd, highlighted by the extravagance of the last night to follow, Trump’s own low-energy hour long rehash of his far too many speeches. Melania has never sounded more like an immigrant in her address. Jackie Kennedy had a distinctive voice, cosmopolitan in its way, worldly, but its undertones were American, the Marilyn Monroe breathy-ness, but not Melania’s static discourse. Her outfit was telling. Its slightly authoritarian cut was, is, echoed, in her voice. Somewhere from beyond, not the rainbow, but the Iron Curtain. That semi-oxymoron, Iron Curtain, seems to capture Melania. I wouldn’t ever refer to her as soft. Melania seems to be open game these days, given a new “tell-all” book just published that contains transcripts of her phone calls, catching her in her catty glory, talking to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a friend, author of Melania and Me. Perhaps Melania will get herself to a nunnery quicker than I thought. With friends like these.... Wendy Lewis Wittenhouse, another mother with a young boy, remains at large, a mystery of sorts, given the limited info floating around. Her son reminds me of another killer, the child killer of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, though Adam Lanza was at least 20. His mother, who came to an unfortunate end, shall we say, encouraged Adam’s eccentricities, as Wendy has obviously promoted Kyle’s enthusiasms, the burden, I suppose, of a lot of “single” mothers. We do have one cute picture, Wendy beaming next to her officer be-suited, besotted, son, Kyle’s youthful face betraying the absence of much lived experience. WE BACK THE BLUE festoons a bunting stripe defacing the photo. But Kyle was going to catch up and Wendy was there at his side. Now Adam was convincingly out of his mind and grandiose in his actions, whereas Kyle was, is, much more modest; his fellow gun lovers are attempting to make a right-wing hero out of him. There aren’t many teenage young men ready for such an honor and they jumped at the chance, perhaps prematurely, but since Kyle is very premature, they have a lot to work with. Since a large percentage of protestors in Kenosha seem to be from out of town, especially those who prowl the streets around midnight, it’s hard to tell who’s who without a scorecard. If Kenosha was Beijing the Chinese would doubtless be able to identify every face through the ubiquitous cameras available. But our computer geeks are working on it. Trump, of course, showed up a couple of days ago in the daylight, attempting and succeeding at setting the news, directing the cameras in his direction. Biden came and went, too, with a speech in Pennsylvania, trying to be the reasonable guy compared to the red-tied lunatic. This is thankless position to be in, the Republicans always getting to be pro, the Democrats con. Television tends toward spectacle, not reason. The moderate has no place on the tube, or flat screen. If you arrive at the correct answer, the question is over. Biden is moderation personified, except when he goes off the rails. Trump has abandoned moderation in all its forms, except for his curious fear of alcohol, from which he abstains, replacing it with pharmaceuticals. Biden finally made it to Kenosha on mission to do the opposite of Trump, talking with the victims. The longer Biden talks the more one holds one’s breath, waiting for him to go off the rails. In a church lecture going on at length about taxes, he did, saying if he didn’t stop talking his host would shoot him. Oh, well. It’s not so much age-related, since Biden has always done this. But his handlers should give the hook after a half hour. Here at home we have seven year olds shot in the head at birthday parties. There has always been kids killing kids, playing with guns, but this was a drive-by, a big crowd outside, shots fired. We’re some ninety miles from Chicago, where, for many years, even before I became a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, back in the last of that paper’s heyday, I would read the Chicago Tribune, which seemed to exist to report the number of children who had been killed one way or another in the city the day before. But, slowly, over the decades, South Bend has become a suburb of Chicago and its bad habits have come this way. A couple of kids were killed the last two weeks, one the usual way, one child shooting another after having latched on to some adult’s gun. But, more recently, less than a week ago, there has been the drive-by, the party murder, a Chicago staple. It, too, was a weekend killing, a popular time of recreational activity. The seventy or so people at the party would lead one to believe that some reveler might have recognized the car and occupants. It was still light out. But the See No Evil crowd still exists. In any case, all the family activity of last week was exhausting and much of it disgusting. [To be continued.] I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#5)

#5 I once had dinner with Kamala’s (Senator Harris, sorry) father – by the way, my spelling autocorrect wants to change her name to “Kabala” – at a pleasant restaurant called The Carriage House on the outskirts of South Bend, IN, about three decades ago. Donald Harris, Don. He was up for a Chair, as I recall, in the Economics department. He had been at Stanford since the early ‘70s. Why I was there is a long story. Nonetheless, he seemed charming enough, and I don’t recollect him mentioning either of his daughters, or wife. None of that is supposed to matter, in any case, in a hiring situation, though, of course, it always does. There were around ten professors feasting on the restaurant’s rarefied fare. Harris was, more or less, what was then short-handed as a “Marxist” economist (or, less prejudicially, Post-Keynesian),though he was in South Bend because ND had very few professors “of color,” as it is now called, though not back then, a quarter of a century or more ago. He had gotten his PhD at UC Berkeley, a school I was familiar with. A good time was had by all. Harris was trim, conversational, and, as Candidate Biden would have said, “clean”. Harris was also familiar with the Midwest, having had positions at three universities in shouting distance of South Bend. He didn’t join the faculty. The Dome balked at the Marxist part, however misguided. And his divorce, though not recent, wasn’t a plus. But professors well situated often use these hiring forays as leverage at their home schools. The English Department, though, if not the Economics Dept., was able to steal a professor from California (UC Berkeley). One reason our candidate came was to avoid all the service work he had been hijacked to do, Berkeley at the time not overrun with professors of color. Though, over time, ND saddled him with such work, but it wasn’t quite the same. He died here. But, I’m not intending to speak of Black professors’ careers at largely white universities. Harris’s daughter, though, will be speaking, not so much about her father, I suspect, who is still alive, but of people of color in America. Even the media is currently attempting to right wrongs. The New York Times has spent more than a month featuring black artists in its Arts section. In the Times’ case, it seems to be an act of reparations. President Dumbo (I guess I’m slandering the actual Disney Dumbo) continues his yammering harangues. The corona year has pushed our president over the edge, given that he had been skirting it for the first three years, to a new level of incoherence, and, though hard to believe, his vocabulary has even decreased. Don Harris has a much larger vocabulary, but anyone, especially any public figure, has a larger vocabulary, even television’s talking horse of yore. But I’m not likely to be asked to share a meal with Donald Trump. The presidency is said to age most, if not all, those men who have ascended to it. Especially eight years. Gray hair, etc., at the very least. Though it would be Dorian Gray if the Donald got eight years. His hair, obviously, is impervious to change, as most of his aspect, but he does seem to be losing his mind, his gait, his physical prowess. Mostly micro at this point, but the unfriendly press makes a big deal of it. One wonders if Indiana’s former governor is sleeping soundly these days, fearing he might be snatched from his bed during the night and replaced by another, the looming Nikki Haley, former UN maven, former governor, former former. Pence, though, I think only has to worry about some sort of unforeseen “accident”, one that would render him replaceable sometime before Nov. 3. No one ever claimed politics was risk free. Joe and Kamala appeared on stage together this Wednesday. Kamala has always been comfortable with older men and it showed. Since the venue, some highschool that wouldn’t have allowed Kamala to be a student up until the ‘70s (so a commentator claimed). Shocking, but to me just an unsettling reminder that 1970 was fifty years ago, the year I finished graduate school. I kept waiting for Biden to lose his way during the unveiling, but he didn’t. It was still fairly early in the day, before the sun sets. He’s becoming an afternoon sort of guy. So, as they say, it went well. Spouses appeared at the end. I would say a strange sight, those, but these days nothing is a strange sight. Trump, most everyone is saying, is floundering. I think of fish flopping, but he’s lashing out, blurting out – the post office is against me, but I fixed them! – behaving badly, one enduring trait. But I was happy to see all the white guys behind him when he announced the UAE would be sending tourists to Jerusalem. Tourists, just what the Wailing Wall needs. The last time I was there it was hard to get close to the massive stones, but one can persist, and eventually smell the dust. I was in Israel right before the start of the second Intifada. And a lot has happened in twenty plus years. Netanyahu was out of power, in something like disgrace back then; Sharon, though, had been causing mischief. He would purchase homes of Old City Palestinians sotto voce, and constantly championed settlements everywhere. The Arabs weren’t happy at all and though I had wanted to I never got to the Temple Mount. Crowds kept nonreligious visitors out. Corona still rules the day in the lower 48. Schools have attempted to open, with limited success. Other organized events have pushed forward, coping, some becoming electronic only, such as the Democratic convention, which started last night. My favorites were the Republicans, especially the former governor of Ohio, John Kasich. He was standing at the fork of a road not taken. One way to look at it, a single still photo from it (NYTimes web version)makes it seem that the sight (site) was some sort of modern scenic art, out in the wild, a green woman with white gravel legs. One sees what one wants to see. He and the preceding three Republican women did create a frisson of excitement of some sort, and an explosion of memory of what Democrats criticized way back when. Susan Molinari, of all people! The three women GOP stalwarts are doubtless what led me to see the grass and gravel female art work Kasich was standing on. The whole show was curious, but successful. Can’t wait for the Republicans’ updated American Carnage revue. Bernie and Michelle were swell Monday night. Sports lumber on, without “live” audiences, except for workers and owners, and those few looker-ons well connected. The Indy 500! The Post Office (USPS) brouhaha seems to be the only thing penetrating the public non-politically. It’s a service, Stupid, as James Carville could have said. The Donald couldn’t have found a better villain to head the PO. It takes real talent to have all the anti-PO credentials the new head – since June! – has amassed. Louis DeJoy – another nomen est omen; he’s certainly taking the joy out of a lot of people’s lives. He de-joys everything. Another example of The Donald’s negative genius, if you want to call it that. Today, the Washington Post announced the USPS “will halt its controversial cost-cutting initiatives...” until after the election. Hooray! All those stolen dark blue mailboxes in trucks. He and Trump must have forgotten that Republicans occasionally mail things, too. [To be continued.] I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#4)

#4


The Corona virus is everywhere, everywhere in every sense of the word everywhere: geographically, locally, mentally, physically, in our dreams, Covid-19 spins its Dance of Death. As the 20th century cliche goes, it covers the waterfront. It controls the news, only allowing subsets of dying or death’s handmaidens, mayhem and remorse. The upper west coast was one of the first centers of attention, the early cases in Seattle, and boisterous Portland has taken over, conducting its long-running, uninterrupted nights of protest. President Trump has chosen Portland to test out some of his fantasies, deploying his version of the privatized military to provoke the provoke-able. The evenings are filled with glowing white clouds, shooting-star projectiles, noise and confusion.

During the daylight hours we have notable deaths and all their attendant pomp and circumstance. Given Covid at the helm we can’t stray far from death worship. By circumstance and/or coincidence, since a Black death (George Floyd, death becomes him) was a trigger, the recent passing of Rep. John Lewis, retains the governing principle, Black Lives Matter, especially if they are in Congress. Pick the other notables who have gotten less play and reverence, those who are no longer with us. Monday and Tuesday's NY Times (7/27 and 7/28) finally spared us – at least in its national edition sent to the rubes in the Midwest – a host of pandemic deaths. Monday’s paper did devote a page (along with two other entertainers and a wine merchant) to a former star of Gone With the Wind. Gone with the wind, indeed. (Alas, spared only to Wednesday.)

Trump is attempting to turn his ship of state in the Hudson River, an arduous task, given its size, rivaling the largest aircraft carrier the US has, christened the USS Gerald R. Ford, of all people. Trump the new mask booster (though remaining, in that regard, very low key), Trump the soother of the populace, resuming his “daily” briefings, brief indeed, petulant and bored reading, mostly, from a script. The first was him alone, the second added a human or two as props on the stage, and, who knows, if they continue someone else maybe allowed to talk. Or not.

Trump’s Wall Street types have now taken over the government, it seems, though not quite as steadily as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, managed to do(who, in DC back then, was often referred to as President Rubin), but we have been seeing a lot of Steve Mnuchin lately. Less of his wife, though, thank God.

Various pandemic storms are on the horizon: the start of “schools”, of all stripes, elementary, “middle”, high school, college. The young are poised on the edge of various precipices, willing to jump off into the Covid pools and see how things go. It is the older teachers who are, in the main, balking.

Golf may be the only professional sport that endures, given it is a lone man (predominantly) and a small ball and a club, instruments that go way back, to the cave man era, at least. Hard to kill off. And even if it becomes a “team” sport, there is little to no interaction. Baseball has aspects of individuality, though proximity and glad-handing often make it a crowd. It can be a contact sport. Tagging, etc. Ask the Marlins. Baseball may be on its last legs. B-ball, football, hardly need to be explained. Perhaps tennis can be spared.

The election looms, another cloud over the country as a whole. Biden largely stays in the basement, a good strategy. He did emerge to talk at a safe distance with the former President, Barack Obama. That encounter was somewhat surreal, partly because it looked like a theater experience, a new play opening, two men talking on a stage. I found it highly ironic, two people who certainly know how to act, who have learned the rhetoric of the world. Something by a witty Brit, say, the late Harold Pinter, or Caryl Churchill. A one act. We’re in an upside-down world. Obama, unfortunately, has a history of misjudgment. A pertinent example, thinking Hillary would make a better candidate than Joe. Imagine, for a moment, what might have been, if Biden had been the candidate four years ago – and had he the sense then to choose a Black woman as vice president, what might we have been spared.

But, it shouldn’t be ignored, the presidency has largely become a figurehead position, beginning with Reagan, who was the far more acceptable version of Trump, a public figure who could, at least, approximate, play, the role. Recall, Reagan had been an actor and an effective shill for the right-wing’s favorite hobby horses. Today, Republicans put up with The Donald’s shortcomings, because they have gotten, mostly, what they’ve wanted. The trouble is when King Kong gets loose from his cage and wants to climb up the Empire State building holding Lady Liberty in his mitt. If it wasn’t for that pesky virus he might have been easily reelected.

Hillary, evidently, believed the ubiquitous guff that the Veep doesn’t matter in a Presidential campaign. I differ. I could make a list: take Dan Quayle, for one, a seeming loser all around, but, no, he made the Presidency possible for George W., Quayle being the “veteran” who plowed the hard ground of the Vietnam war hangover, softening it up for the home-based slacker W, who went on to defeat a vet who actually was in Vietnam. (And, at the time, I wanted John Kerry to be Gore’s Veep – two actual in-country vets – but no one was listening to me.) The vice president selection always matters. Take note of Hillary’s running mate, if you can remember him.

The less populated states, down South and the Southwest, have taken the brunt of the plague the last month or so. They were ripe for the picking after Trump-minions loosened restrictions. Covid has taken on a polio aspect: mysterious deficits even if “cured”. The young at the cusp of “school” aren’t succumbing at the same high rate, but they are being turned into human experiments. For possible effects long term. We shall see what we shall see.

The spirit of the protests have altered, become largely events of the night. Darkness prevails. Violence ensues. Early on they were held in the daylight. Name changing has been fetish-ized. In that way, the early in-the-daylight protests have “won” – monuments toppled, brands rebranded, more words made taboo by the vocabulary vigilantes.

Now, especially in Portlandia, in the dark of night the protests are turning into anti-Trump fests, with Fed rent-a-cops outfitted splendidly. We’re practically in August. When September comes we will all be enduring, on top of everything else, the campaign plague to come.



[To be continued.]

I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#3)

#3.

I have a long history with Roger Stone – at least in a literary way, insofar as I wrote about him in my 1997 book (Campaign America ‘96: The View From the Couch) about the 1996 Presidential campaign. Just a paragraph or two. It was a fairly long book, over 500 pages. Though I am struck by this bemusing fact quite a bit, no one seems to consult my remarks, however superficial they may have seemed back then. Not superficial to me – I was deliberately writing about the surface: in the book I wrote Stone looked a bit like John Dean, if Dean had taken a lot of steroids, and that Stone had a cafĂ© con leche tan that appeared to have been applied with a paintbrush. And that the estimable publication, the National Enquirer, had a story with the headline: “Top Dole Aide in Sex Orgies Scandal” (poor Bob Dole) and Stone was taking to TV to defend himself. He was, as I wrote, El supremo tacky, and shared the suspect aura of the California GOP swinger set, epitomized by Alfred Bloomingdale and his consort Vicki Morgan. There were tabloid pictures of Stone and his buxom wife, charmingly outfitted, offering themselves as play-pals, etc.

Now we move on to the Trump era – not that Stone vanished, no sir; he showed up in Florida during the Bush/Gore count-the-votes saga – but he had now arrived full flower with The Donald. Since I had written a book on the ‘96 campaign, I was still paying attention. But it shocks me how little attention the present crop of, mainly, news-people pay. Where is the collective memory of the press? I wonder. Why can’t they add at least a sentence about Stone’s colorful history in all the recent copy expended upon him? Well, one reason, I suppose, is that times have changed and Stone’s past has become superfluous, given the President’s colorful past, most everyone’s past, shared by most all of those who have survived the last few decades.

I think that Stone still has the same frisky wife (his second) when I catch a glimpse of her and him in short clips on TV, usually coming or going from a courtroom. Her outfits have changed, but she still favors black. Stone, well, Stone looks like our 21st century take on Dorian Gray: he is the portrait itself, not the air-brushed simulacrum.

One point of my '96 campaign book is that the inside has now become the outside. Sort of like the museum in Paris (the Pompidou Center), the one that’s all pipes and beams and exposed structure on the outside, looking more like an oil refinery operation than a building housing art. It’s architecture that resembles a genre of horror films, where and when some “human” is turned inside out. Anyway, Stone looks corrupt. And is. That face! Mouth! But who cares?, seems to be the modern take. Look at the President, etc.... Look at Lindsey Graham, whomever. But, the idea of the damning portrait still lives. Stone had Nixon’s head tattooed on his back. Doubtless, Stone has willed his sketched flesh to some museum (in Paris?) for a lampshade to come. The long abused George Orwell once wrote that, more or less, after 50 every man has the face he deserves. Stone deserves his face. I suppose that’s why, especially in Washington, DC, so much money is spent on men’s clothes, to distract from the bodies within.

In addition to the inside/outside phenomena, the bit players around Trump have become the main actors. Trump’s crowd, rustling up all the former bit B-players in his orbit, hence Stone, hence all those Tea Party pols who are running the show in the Trump administration. My 1997 campaign book first captured Stone’s essence in print, but he was elevated in the public mind by Jeffrey Toobin (who is nothing if not prolific), at least the selective public that reads high-end journalism. He rolls out books almost yearly on the scandalous, boys and girls, pols and performers. This summer we will be treated to his Trump book and I am sure we will revisit Roger and The Donald. Toobin wrote about Stone in 2008 (recall, for a minute, 2008) for the New Yorker (Yes, the New Yorker). Rereading the piece now, Toobin makes Stone seems positively wholesome, practically a Democrat (though of the Libertarian bent [and I mean bent]), a guy to contend with. Perhaps it’s the New Yorker’s style. Trump makes a brief cameo in the piece, criticizing, mildly, Stone. I would say times change, but they do and they don’t.

Disease is a metaphor often employed. Except these days it’s literal, not figurative, and has the entire world paying some sort of obeisance to its power. The deadly and infectious virus is everywhere. Trump has always been, at least in the last three and a half years, a master of distraction. And, since he can make gold out of offal, he treats the pandemic as the coin of his realm, more distraction.


[To be continued.]

I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#2)

#2.

Poor Hillary. She has had, doubtless, a number of shocks in her life, though the ones I would catalogue might be different from her own list. But losing to Donald Trump! Jill Stein getting so many lefty votes! The Russians! All the African Americans who stayed at home! Etc! No Lurleen Wallace, she. A bit too much of noblesse oblige at work. Oh, to be hated by so many. It could have been averted, but her Brooklyn boys were far too boyish and she ran a lousy campaign. Where to begin? Everyone has their own list.

It was clear to me by October of the election year that she would likely lose, though I continued to hope despite the evidence of my own eyes. I had an old, old friend who was on his last legs in Pennsylvania whom I visited a number of times that Fall. Driving through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania is sobering in the best of times, but it was clear those three states would not be voting for Hillary. I worried, too, about Wisconsin, given its futile fights with the terrible governor, the college dropout, Mr. I Won the Recall!, the wise young man of the Republican party, who knew something about nothing. And Michigan seemed hollowed out, tap water full of lead, empty lots, poverty, damaged businesses of the old sort, manufacturing, cars, etc. And that was after eight years of a Democratic president. Did Hillary ever go to Michigan? I’d have to look it up. She did come to South Bend, when she first ran eight years earlier, against Barack, the Great Black Hope. I stood three feet from her, but didn’t introduce myself. (“Hey, I wrote a book about you!”) But, in 2008, she seemed more...distant, slightly stunned to be in a minor league baseball field in Indiana. She did go to Mishawaka, a neighboring (white) town in '16, in May, when she also went to Michigan! (I looked it up).

Other than the always nettlesome Bernie and his boys she had a certain path to the nomination. What deal had she made with Barack? I suppose it had to do with money, since both the Clintons and the Obamas seem so interested in it. Donald Trump turned out to be the two-edged sword: obviously beatable, though as famous as Hillary. Her Brooklyn crowd, and more so the heartland version of Hillary supporters, actually didn’t know that much about The Donald. Clowns only require so much thought. But, the inverse was not true. America’s bottom feeders of whatever geographical location knew a lot about Hillary, all bad, and so did the rest of the demographic ladder. TV has a lot of effects, though the one-of-the-crowd aspect really made Trump seem, well, all too familiar.

The evangelicals had a history with the fallen, the TV preachers, especially. Televangelist, is the coinage. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker, that lovely couple. The list continues. Today’s crop a bit less gaudy. Donald Trump fell into that category. The Religious Right is all for redemption, the celebrants crazy as they are. Say Mike Pence. I, more than other commentators, have always favored vice presidents’ influence on campaigns. They do help. The counter examples (Dan Quayle) usually just point out the weaknesses of the opposing presidential candidate. See Michael Dukakis. In any case, Pence is his zombie way added his celestial, other worldly, help to the thoroughly damnable Trump.

But even I, me, would have never predicted the denouement taking place. Covid-19. Never, never, never. Though the disease swamping the world does have a Biblical ring: Plague, damnation, etc. Sunny warm days, full ICUs, the Southwest teeming with contagion. Not quite apocalyptic, but close, closer.

Gun sales, it is reported, are increasing. Some percentage of the population is planning for things getting worse. Trump is still trying to get rid of “Obamacare”, wanting to extinguish its name, if nothing else. Though it is hard to tell the difference, Trump does appear more addled than usual. I found it curious his admission (if true, hardly a given) that he had never slept overnight in Washington, DC, till he was elected President. Memories of his shallow life seem to be haunting him. His AG, William Barr, came out to Notre Dame last year and spouted Eighth-grade theology in a speech to a restricted audience at the law school – Notre Dame, where the Catholic Church does its thinking. Barr, too, seems to have regressed, gone back to his younger days, before he became Trump’s tool. Barr shares with Mary Gordon the odd fact that his father was born Jewish, but jumped the Ark, became a Catholic, and a creature as far right wing as one could, also blessed with the same dollop of craziness he shared with Gordon’s dad. Both married cradle Catholics. Sins of fathers aren’t necessarily embraced by their offspring, but some traits do seem to get passed down with a too frequent regularity. Coincidentally, all three of us, Gordon, Barr, myself, were wandering around the same few upper-west-side blocks back in the late ‘60s, though we never met back then, attending Columbia and Barnard.

Death and disease and the old men of Washington, DC, have taken up a lot of the news. Long in the tooth was the dominant image in ‘16, now again in ‘20. Including the titular Democrat nominee, Joe Biden. If only he could stay in the basement till after the election. The turnabout that so suddenly happened – after it appeared that Bernie would actually capture the nomination – astounded me then and astounds me now. Its swiftness and finality, its one two three. My personal favorites, Amy and Pete, turned on a dime and Black Voters Matter worked its will.

Hard to believe that happened the end of February, right before the world changed. Super Tuesday came next and it was a sweep for Biden, more or less, after every Democrat except the Bernie Bros threw their weight for the former veep.

Bernie gone. It happened overnight, so to speak. And then History stopped and the new virus took over. At least current history as it used to be known, reported. The mass media became truly the mass media. Reporters, commentators, politicians, etc., sitting in their homes in front of their computers, laptops, whatever, Dell, Apple, and Microsoft sell and the Chinese make, giving opinions, reports, in mildly irritating visuals, garbled language transmission, amateur hour all around. Bookcases galore, some “authors” featuring their latest publication face front out. A lot of the upper-middle-class-favored decor on display. As noted before, three months seems to be the limit on restricted behavior. We are seasonal animals. George Floyd let the doors open and spilling out on the streets became the new norm. Weirdly, it gave the government(s) cover to do the same: let my people go, sort of.

Rallies of various sorts continue: Floyd’s death blossoming into a thousand flowers, giving people the semi-sanctioned excuses to come out during the night and day. Similar previous killings have been unearthed. And July 4th is on the way. The Covid-19 contagion continues, “spiking” here and there – befitting plagues the vocabulary used is often medieval. The two great American scourges – a medical one, and a long-nurtured one, racism – continue to be on parade and it is not so strange at this stage of history they have become yoked.


[To be continued.]

I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Corona Jottings: Intermittent Speculations (#1)


#1.

As Dickens might have said, you have to be 74 and retired to be fully amazed by the paradoxical Corona virus world. To be among the high-risk group and to be minimally affected, at least in ways that matter. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

My life certainly has been affected, both in superficial and fundamental ways. Yet I do what I have been doing. What has been stripped away is mostly the serendipitous, the new, the throng one never gave much thought to, those people semi-known, the well-known, the unknown.

When I was in my twenties and lived in New York City I was often surprised by how alone one could be in such a highly and densely populated city. This, most obviously, was at night, late at night, largely before dawn. Walking down Fifth Avenue at two in the morning, being on the Brooklyn Promenade viewing the Bridge by oneself after midnight. The streets that could be so crowded, were often empty in many a neighborhood.

As a kid I was always struck by the easy opposites: full, empty, high, low, etc. I considered myself an introvert and was never bothered by being alone, since that was a common condition for me, though I often overcame it, and as I aged I certainly pursued women when I could. When in my early twenties, that avocation only became a busy one after I acquired some notoriety. If you intend to write, you’d better being equipped with the ability to be alone. I certainly had that ability.

But, at 74, after what some would consider a “full” life, it comes as a shock to have it all pulled out from under you, the proverbial rug swept away, by, bats, rats, whatever vile delicacies you can eat, buy, at a Chinese wet market.

One would have thought – this one, at least – that you may have not seen everything, but enough at my age. Certainly, you wouldn’t think that after three-quarters of a century you and the rest of the world would have a new experience, a pandemic affecting the entire globe, taking place almost all at once, the speed of light practically, or by flight, airlines linking the cities of the globe, in mere months.

I write fiction, but I tend toward realism, so the fantasy and science fiction world may have put such a circumstance forward, and movies may have foretold such calamities, but I had never contemplated actually experiencing it. Nor given it much thought at all. Though, doubtless, some, many, have, evidently. I’ve contemplated nuclear war, though, thankfully, never experienced it. All sorts of things. But not a global pandemic visited upon everyone in such a short time.

The ironies pile up: when we reached the nadir in our national politics – President Trump! The Clown in Chief! – we get to experience something brand new (in its rapid spread), a hybrid virus, animal to human, with a multiplicity of effects, affecting many, all, millions.

But, if you are in, say, a quiet place, a small Midwestern town, the strangeness doubles. Big cities are always strange, new, chaotic, rituals disrupted daily. But after three months, where everything has slowly shut down – and now, even after the so-called “phased” reopening – this town still hesitates and, with the largest employer, the University of Notre Dame, still shut now, during the summer, now upon us, remains eerily quiet. The atmosphere is not so much the one found in the Matt Damon movie, “Contagion” (2011), directed by Steven Soderbergh, but an older film, the 1959 black and white “On the Beach,” directed by, who else?, Stanley Kramer. For the hinterlands that movie captures the mood more accurately than “Contagion”: San Francisco’s empty streets, the way the invisible "fallout" spreads around the globe, invisible, capricious, etc.

Partly, it has to do with just such movement, the regions affected. There hasn’t been a true pandemic in America for a century, and, certainly, nothing like this one in my lifetime, the swiftness of its spread. “On the Beach” posits a dying world without much destruction of property, and it came before the general knowledge of the neutron bomb. The flow of air around the world dictates the victims. Again, the cast, besides being filled with stars, is a group of the mainly educated, worldly types. The mood is discussion and despair, masked with attempts at coping with the inevitable. "Contagion" is riots, mayhem, finally success. There is no success in “On the Beach.” (Kramer wasn’t “into” happy endings.) That matches the more pessimistic view of the current situation: No cure, more to die.

Death seems to be the governing metaphor for our pandemic, along with the attendant social injustice. The death of jobs, the death of social life, the death of the poor, the disenfranchised. We have the Charlie Chaplin figure in the White House, playing any number of slapstick roles that Chaplin became famous for: “The Great Dictator,” in particular. Trump has managed to atomize the country, more so that it had been in the late 20th century. Obama brought it together for a brief period, somewhat, but Trump became the trigger for, once again, blowing apart the world Obama – or at least his true believers – hoped would come about.

The one percent, the most comprehensive phrase of the last ten years, has profited from atomization, pitting, as it does, the one against the many, making solitary individuals the winner, in this case, a relatively few individuals. Well, the ninety-nine percent soldiers, so to speak, on. But it remains a numbers game. One of the many contrarian effects of the pandemic is that so many citizens have abided by the new “rules”, aping each other's behavior, when they can and many have. One for all, all for one, so to speak. But there is a limit and three months seems to be it.

People were on the streets, at least in Minneapolis. Not everyone was sheltering in place, only the compliant, the old, professionals working from home, retirees, the middle and upper-middle class. And certainly not the police. The authorities could dispatch four officers to a down-at-the-heels neighborhood store to check on a reported malfeasance. A counterfeit bill. I was once in a Kansas City, Mo. Panera (a long story) and a woman, a slight so-called African-American (how many generations could she be from Africa? Obama was, is, only one: the formerly downtrodden are often stuck with the hyphen. When was the last time you heard Anglo-American used?), was attempting to pay for her lunch with a twenty dollar bill, apparently a fake, and the clerk, a white woman, ancestral derivation unclear, objected. The patron was short, thin, oddly dressed, insofar as some sort of elegance had been achieved, but everything seemed threadbare, not quite right. There was some repartee about the bill and the woman retrieved it, leaving the meal behind, sauntering out retaining as much joie de vivre as the encounter allowed. I, the somewhat Irish American at a nearby table, eating my sad lunch, observed the playlet. The clerk rolled her eyes, and said something to a coworker, and the lunch crowd never stopped eating.

But, in Minneapolis, the teenage clerk at its corner store, hailing from some other ethnic group, called the police, but only after the six-foot-six male customer had departed with the purchased cigarettes. And that clerk had taken the bogus bill and had not objected, given the size of the person who gave it to him. George Floyd didn’t go far. He was lingering outside the corner store, smoking doubtless. Minneapolis never sleeps, obviously, or has an abundance of law enforcement, since they sent four officers to the scene. And since there were people going to and fro (three months of quarantine having sprung leaks) and equipped as they were with the newer phones, with cameras better than the ones that went up with the earliest satellites, caught the denouement, the last nine minutes or so. The world got to see one of the last shows of the now canceled COPS, the snuff film version. The weird look of Officer Chauvin (nomen est omen, Officer Chauvinistic) peering at the onlookers with George Floyd passed out under the cop’s knee to neck.

Speaking of knee to neck, we’ll turn to The Donald, our president. Nothing about him has been a surprise. More was known about Trump’s personal life, public life, than any other previous commander in chief. The Right Wing had tried to make Bill Clinton’s personal life known wide and far before he was elected, but those revelations paled compared to what those paying attention knew about Trump. He strove to be a public figure all his life. The more notoriety the better. Tabloids obliged over the decades. The American electorate is more than fickle – it is hugely ignorant, or, more gently, not over educated when it comes to picking its national (or even local) leaders. It prefers to forget. Let bygones be bygones. There’s always the over informed minority, which is a category I sometimes occupy. Americans are good at what I have called “remembering to forget.” It has helped the country move along over a couple of centuries.

Since his election Trump has had his knee on the neck of the government, and it, at least all the GOP has obliged. The Imperial Presidency was denounced during the late Nixon years (recall the guards’ ridiculous Gilbert & Sullivan uniforms), but in our present time it is clear that the Senate runs the world. So we have the epicene Kentuckian running our political world, enhanced by his dominatrix-seeming spouse. I suppose, over time, the three branches of our government are a shell game, each branch having its way for some period of time. The Senate, though, given Obama’s sorry lack of experience and fight, has been in control for a while.

Nonetheless, the pandemic was a gift horse that Trump looked in the mouth for too long a time. It was a gift. It could have been his redemption, of a minor sort. Something he didn’t start, bring about, a world event he would be swept up into, the Wizard of Oz’s tornado, Dorothy in the sky. But, Trump doesn’t change, has no instinct for salvation. He does what he does, mainly fail, all those bankruptcies trailing behind him. So he continued to botch and bluster. And we are where we are.

[To be continued.]

I am not bothering with links. I might supply them eventually.