Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Blogrolling In Our Time for Wednesday, May 22

You think you know people, right?  Say hello to a relatively new blogger, Matt of Matt's Political Blog.  (Seriously dude, you need a better blog name. "Sane Resistance" would be fine.)  I know Matt from the job I held before being laid off when the grant money ran out in 2008 and I ended up at The Job That Ate My Life.  He's good people.  Go pay him a visit and read why he's now in favor of impeachment.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Snippets of Memory for Saturday, May 18, 2019

For some reason, I found myself thinking about The Drop Zone today.

The Drop Zone was a bizarre restaurant in Roselle, NJ during the 1980s that I used to frequent with Elayne in those days before I met Mr. Brilliant.  It was owned by a WWII fanatic.  It had decent-to-good red sauce Italian food and tables with red checkered tablecloths, but that's where any similarity to any other Italian restaurant ended.  The place was set up like an Army mess hall, and salads were served in metal bowls that may very well have been military surplus. There were WWII posters everywhere, including some shockingly racist anti-Japanese ones, and a life-size cutout of Frank Sinatra in the front of the place, which had a stage festooned with American flags.  And yes, Sinatra music played continuously.

Just for giggles, I did a Google search to see what I could find, and all I could find was this post from the late, great Bob Rixon, who also was known to pitch in at the old place.

You can have your Springsteen if you must, but for my money, no one ever wrote more poetically or elegiacally about life in that part of New Jersey north of the Cheesequake Service Area (and sometimes south) the way Bob did.  He was one of my many blog buddies that I never met in person, but I always envisioned him as one of those guys who lived surrounded by obscure books and vinyl records no one had ever heard of.  I was shocked in 2014 to hear from Tata that Bob had departed this level of reality, but The Rix Mix is still there as a lasting reminder of New Jersey's poet laureate manqué, as do the archives of his free-form radio show on WFMU.

Like many of the places I used to go, the Drop Zone is long gone.  I guess part of getting older is seeing the real-life manifestations of the things that live in our memories start to disappear.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Blogrolling In Our Time for Monday, May 13, 2019

Say hello to Mike the Mad Biologist.

It isn't as if she wasn't signaling this since the very beginning

Note:  I have not yet read the George R.R. Martin books on which "Game of Thrones" is based; so this is purely from the perspective of the series.

So....Dany did it after all.  She strafed Kings Landing with dragonfire, and today the real world is going to go nuts at the betrayal of someone who was perceived as a feminist hero; an avatar for the very real change that can happen when women run things.  And there will be much hue and cry that Dany's "tantrum" is a shot across the bow by the patriarchy that we'd better not elect a woman president, because look what can happen. 

On the other hand, Cersei has been monstrous for eight seasons and I don't recall anyone using her as a metaphor for female leadership.  Perhaps it's because we all cut our teeth on Grimm's fairy tales, where evil queens are just part and parcel of the mythology.

But I'm not here to geek out over Season 8 Episode 5, or to provide a recap.  There are plenty of them out there from which to choose, should you be so inclined.  No, I'm here to diagnose Daenerys Targaryen with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

BPD is believed to have a largely genetic component, but environmental factors do play a role.  Of those environmental factors, poor parenting is the most common.  Now we don't know what kind of a father Mad King Aerys was in the series, but he HAD wanted to burn Kings Landing to the ground rather than let Tywin Lannister sack the city, and was only stopped by Jaime Lannister from actually doing it. So it does appear that the genetic component is there.

BPD is generally recognized as being characterized by 9 symptoms:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
  • Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as "splitting."
  • Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
  • Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
  • Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
  • Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
  • Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
  • Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
  • Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes. 
  • Daenerys is an orphan, essentially raised in exile with her horrid brother Viserys after their father's death at the hands of his own Kingsguard and of her other, nicer brother Rhaegar in Robert's Rebellion.  In the first episode of the series, we see an allusion to possible sexual abuse by Viserys.  So I think we can safely check off the "poor parenting" box.

    Dany's most obvious character arc is one of learning her own power, but she is plagued by self-doubt, anxiety, paranoia, and fear of abandonment, which results in "intense and uncontrollable" expressions of rage.  Throughout the series, especially after Khal Drogo's death, Dany has either threatened or resorted to violence when her will is thwarted or when she fears abandonment.  What the audience has perceived up to this point as Daenerys' badassery suddenly, in retrospect, no longer seems so badass, but is in fact a series-long cue that Dany is going to fly into a rage at the slightest perceived threat.  These episodes show the havoc that a damaged, paranoid person with a gnawing fear of abandonment armed with a deadly weapon can wreak on anyone in the orbit of those anywhere near her targets.

    In Episode 3 of this final season, Dany lost the only person who, with only one lapse for which he has more than atoned, has been unfailingly loyal to her since the series started.  Jorah Mormont may have been loyal because he was in love with her, but he was loyal.  And in Episode 4, she lost her one truly trusted confidant in the person of Missandei -- a casualty of Tyrion's miscalculation of the lengths his sister Cersei would go to retain power.  At the celebratory dinner after the living have defeated the dead, signs that Dany perceives as her inevitable abandonment are everywhere -- in Tormund's lauding of Jon's dragon riding; in the drinking game that unites her hand Tyrion with his untrustworthy brother Jaime along with Sansa allies Brienne and Podrick; and in Sansa's side-eye.  We see in her face her increasing unease as she convinces herself that no one can be trusted and that everyone will leave her.

    Later, and most devastatingly, there is the feeling of abandonment in Jon's rejection of her as a love interest and her perception that by telling his sisters his true identity, he has betrayed her.   People with BPD can be possessive of those close to them and have difficulty with the idea of those people having other, different relationships with others.  They make people choose between them and others. It's no wonder then, that Jorah, who's in love with her; Missandei, who owes her freedom to Dany, and Grey Worm, who after being freed CHOOSES to serve her, are the only people she trusts absolutely.  As we go into Episode 5, Jorah is dead, Missandei is dead, and only Grey Worm, who is now the equivalent of Ser Barristan Selmy as her enforcer, remains.  In Dany's eyes, everyone else is suspect. 

    Once a person with BPD feels threatened (and in the case of Varys, her feeling is actually justified), the reaction tends to be swift, loud, and often disproportionate.  And far from being out of character, the strafing of King's Landing by Dany and Drogon in S08E05 is an inevitable outcome. 

    As I write this on Monday, May 13, 2019 -- the day after the destruction of King's Landing --  there will be many keystrokes spent on how this episode was evidence of how much D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are part and parcel of the patriarchy that loathes powerful women.  We're going to hear about how a series spent building Dany into a powerful woman sells her out to female hyperemotionality.  We're going to hear about how it's a metaphor for Hillary Clinton, or any of the current female candidates for president. People will be appalled at how she ended up being just another psycho bitch from hell -- just like Cersei.  And we're going to read about the misogyny inherent in running -- on Mother's Day -- an episode that features the death of one woman whose only redeeming quality was loving her children and the rage of a childless woman who is essentially the dragon equivalent of a Crazy Cat Lady.  But I think that's the wrong takeaway. 

    There's a shot just before Dany heads toward the Red Keep where the grief over all of her losses, all those who have abandoned her, is all over her face.  Emilia Clarke really brings it here, letting out just a tiny sob (shown in the screenshot below) before going full-bore borderline rage on the Red Keep and pretty much everything else.  She's completely out of control at this point and there's no bringing her back until exhaustion sets in. 

    Now if this were real life, once the rage is spent, she'd be perfectly fine, and everyone around her would walk around wondering what the hell just happened and feeling as if a bit of their souls had been shredded.  Because people with BPD react to the fear or threat of abandonment with disproportionate rage, and when it's over, THEY feel so much better.  But everyone around them is damaged.  It remains to be seen if this dynamic will play out in the finale.  But for anyone with any knowledge about BPD, what happened last night wasn't just some out-of-the-blue, wrap-it-up-fast lousy writing.  Dany has been signaling all along that this is what she would do if she felt threatened and the fear of abandonment overwhelmed her.

    Give a person with BPD a fire-spewing dragon, and you're setting yourself up for serious trouble.

    Sunday, May 5, 2019

    Now WHAT was I saying again?

    Oh yeah.  You know how the punditocracy is always saying how the Democrats shouldn't "go too far", lest it rile up an already-riled Trump base? NYT:

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not believe President Trump can be removed through impeachment — the only way to do it, she said this week, is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so “big” he cannot challenge the legitimacy of a Democratic victory.
    That is something she worries about. 
    “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Ms. Pelosi said during an interview at the Capitol on Wednesday as she discussed her concern that Mr. Trump would not give up power voluntarily if he lost re-election by a slim margin next year. 
    Sitting in her office with its panoramic view of the National Mall, Ms. Pelosi — the de facto head of the Democratic Party until a presidential nominee is selected in 2020 — offered Democrats her “coldblooded” plan for decisively ridding themselves of Mr. Trump: Do not get dragged into a protracted impeachment bid that will ultimately get crushed in the Republican-controlled Senate, and do not risk alienating the moderate voters who flocked to the party in 2018 by drifting too far to the left.

    If those "centrist" voters are so squishy that they cannot see the clusterfuck that is the Trump administration, perhaps they are not worth going after.  Because they can't be relied on.

    The other part of this that's disturbing is the idea that the Democrats are guraranteed to win the presidency in 2020.  That is no sure thing.  The ratfckery has already begun, masterminded by Russians with the help of outlets like the very New York Times that printed this article, by running thinly-sourced, gossipy Russian innuendo about Hunter Biden.

    One thing is clear already:  The media WANT a permanent Trump family dictatorship.  It is our job to prevent it.

    Friday, May 3, 2019

    The only measure of "electability" is actually getting elected

    Alex Pareene, at The New Republic:

    “Electability” is a crock of shit. It is defined, like political “moderation,” only in terms of opposition to things people want, but are told they can’t have, ranging from antiwar politics to left-wing economic populism to even the “cultural liberalism” that is seemingly the cornerstone of the modern Democratic Party. (Back in 2004, supporting civil unions, not even marriage, for same-sex couples was a threat to a Democrat’s perceived “electability.”) While the impulse to vote according to how you think a candidate would appeal to people who don’t share your priorities might make sense in theory, practice has revealed time and time again that no one involved in electoral politics—from the pundits down to the caucus-goers—has a clue who or what Americans will actually vote for. That was supposed to be, as the political scientist Masket says, the main lesson of Trump’s election
    But Democratic voters did not teach themselves to prioritize electability over their own actual concerns. They were trained to, over many years, by party figures who over-interpreted the loss of George McGovern, or who wanted to use the fear of McGovern to maintain their power over the Democratic candidate pipeline and nomination process. “Electability” is a way to get voters to carry out a contrary agenda—not their own—while convincing them they’re being “responsible.” 
    And now Democratic candidates and their most loyal voters are stuck in an absurd feedback loop. The politicians campaign and govern as if they themselves don’t believe a majority of voters prefer their agenda, signaling to their most loyal voters that they must vote not for what they want, but for what they imagine their more-conservative neighbors might want. But when voters in 2016 did exactly that, and nominated the candidate they were repeatedly told was most qualified to defeat Trump in the general election, they chose a person who went on to lose to him.

    I'm kind of surprised to see this at "The New Republic", but then again, Alex Pareene cut his political reporting teeth at Salon back when Salon was an actual force in progressive journalism rather than a compendium of "promoted content." 

    Every time I see the word "electable" used, I know it's code for some candidate who isn't going to rock the boat, but is palatable to the moneyed pundit class whose jobs can't be outsourced and who rarely set foot outside the Washington cocktail weenie circuit.  Most of them are concern trolls, the most prominent of which is David Brooks, who for my money, will never live down The Great "salad bar at Applebee's" Fracas of 2008 -- the archetype of cluelessness about real lives that pundits cover up with a thin veneer of empathy.

    The concern troll class doesn't want anyone rocking the boat -- at least if that boat means they might have to pay more taxes, or be proven wrong in their conventional wisdom.  Most of them own a couple of houses, send their kids to tony private schools, and generally live far better than the working-to-middle class they purport to represent. So whenever I see one of these people on the teevee talking about electability, or how the Democrats have to be careful not to "go too far" in holding the Trump administration to account by,  you know, actually DOING THEIR JOBS, I wonder why, after seeing an "electable" candidate lose to a carnival barker in 2016, anyone at all thinks these people should be taken seriously ever again.

    It all goes back to the Grand Unifying Theory of Clintonian Centrism, in which every pundit still sucking air took the wrong lesson away from the success of Bill Clinton. These people seem to have forgotten that in 1992, everyone had forgotten Clinton's endless 1988 Democratic National Convention speech and embraced him as the most charismatic American politician since Bobby Kennedy met his end on a hotel floor in 1968. They hailed his "Sister Souljah" moment, when he chastised a black female rapper.  But think about where progressives were in 1992.  As Pareene notes, the Democratic Party was still traumatized by the 1972 Watergate-fueled loss of George McGovern to Richard Nixon; and yet the one term of Jimmy Carter (who in retirement has turned out to be more of a progressive and Christian than anyone currently in power in the Democratic Party hackocracy but at the time was regarded as hopelessly inept) didn't show them that centrism wasn't a magic bullet. 

    And so began the kowtowing to the punditocracy that continues to this day; a deep-seated terror within the breast of the national Democratic Party that Chris Matthews or Joe Scarborough or Chuck Todd or Michael Smerconish or David Brooks or the Pamela Des Barres of the Reagan administration Peggy Noonan,  or some other self-styled "expert" will say mean things about them.  Al Gore had to run away from the Clinton record, lest he be tarred with the Blowjob Brush.  Howard Dean had to be branded as crazy so that an "electable" war hero like John Kerry, who did NOTHING when he was slandered, could be the nominee.   And when irregularities were found in Democratic strongholds in Ohio in 2004, John Kerry didn't rock the boat and risk the pundits calling him a sore loser.  No, he tucked his tail between his legs, took his $14 million in leftover campaign cash and went home without a peep, leaving Barbara Boxer and Stephanie Tubbs-Jones on the floor of the Senate without backup, trying desperately to stop the certification of the Ohio vote.

    And then in strode the skinny black freshman Senator with the Oh-He-Can't-Get-Elected-With-That-Middle-Name, who promptly chose Joe Lieberman as his Senate mentor and voted with everyone in his party except Barbara Boxer to certify Ohio.

    Yes, he was black and virtually unknown, and a great many people on the left ascribed to him a leftishness that he never really had.  The left blogosphere, then at its peak of influence, turned him in 2008 into what they wanted him to be.  Meanwhile, the only other candidate, John Edwards, who WAS running to the left by talking about income inequality, ran off the rails by being stupid enough to have an affair while his publicly-beloved wife was enduring a cancer recurrence. 

    When you look at the Obama record, it is a triumph of pundit-endorsed incrementalism and war hawkery.  Guantanamo was NOT closed.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan went on with no concrete mission and no exit strategy.  The banks were bailed out.  The auto industry was bailed out.  Obamacare had no public option.  Merrick Garland was allowed to wither on the vine instead of being seated in a recess appointment in the last year of the Obama Administration.  In fact, the Obama years were a pundit wet dream, for all that they weren't happy with him either.  And it all could have been predicted when he refused to stand up for black voters in Ohio and buck his party's hackocracy.  And still, the press was brutal on him for eight years.  So why the Democrats still try to appease this giant maw of idiocy is a head-scratcher.

    And that brings us to 2016.  Now I'm not a Bernie die-hard insisting that Bernie could have defeated Donald Trump, because I'm not sure in 2016 that ANY Democrat could have.  Rage makes people irrational, after all.  But at a time when the system is broken, and far too many people are angry at the system -- angry enough that Trump was a viable candidate at all, never mind picking off establishment figures one by one, only the Democratic hackocracy and the pundit class could decide that a woman who had been a lightning rod for white male rage for 25 years, and who had a bad enough sense of optics to think that having a private email server wouldn't be a problem, should be granted the nomination without any kind of primary challenge. And then once she had the nomination, they proceeded to eviscerate her just the way they did 25 years earlier.  Why did this surprise anyone? 

    So here we are, with a veritable "A Night At The Opera" stateroom of Democratic candidates for the presidency.  They're a pretty impressive bunch, most of them.  Some of them even have some concrete policies for actually making people's lives better.  But every day on the teevee, the same pundit class that has been wrong for the last 25 years is out there preaching caution.  Don't rock the boat.  Don't offer anything to make people's lives better. Don't have any ideas.  Don't piss off Wall Street.  And above all, don't pay ANY attention to, say, the Senate or to keeping the House.  Because like fans of the New York Yankees, the pundits ONLY care about the big series at the end of the season.

    Photographic representation of the 2020 presidential field.  Which one is "electable"?