Anti-fascism is not mutually exclusive from homophobia

1. It’s homophobic and deserving of criticism.

2. Those calling for a boycott are doing it cynically from the right, and don’t actually care about LGBTQ rights.

3. Those sincerely critical of it are not calling for a boycott or Stephen Colbert to be fired.

4. Colbert has consistent homophobic and transphobic sensibilities and has often used gay and trans people as punchlines. The reason (sincere) criticism of this sort of humor is important is not to censor it but to make the comedians involved aware of it, question their own reasons and biases, and hopefully correct it in the future.

5. This isn’t the left ‘tearing itself apart’. This is the right upset that Trump and Putin were targets of criticism and trying to use progressive language for an incredibly narrow purpose, and, short of that, to try to use their own facetious overreactions as evidence of something the matter with people whose ideas and values they disdain. This is the equivalent of a 4chan prank where all of the prank posts and twitter accounts are retroactively taken at face value and pointed to as evidence Justin Bieber fans are stupid or feminists widely support free bleeding. Continue reading Anti-fascism is not mutually exclusive from homophobia

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Things are only unprecedented once, so what rhymes with ‘Trump’?

After the physicist Richard Feynman helped to create the atom bomb, he spent a period of dazed depression wondering why anyone bothered to build anything when it was all going to be destroyed soon anyway.

That’s what most liberal Americans feel like right now, and have for the better part of a week.

It’s common for losing parties to behave like it’s the end of the world, and Democrats told conservatives to suck it up after 2008 and 2012. The republic didn’t come undone in 2004 or 2000, either. It’s good to remember that history is a long time, and sometimes you lose elections. Even acknowledging that, this time it is different.
 
Things are only unprecedented once. After that, it gets easier.

No future presidential candidate is ever going to be compelled to release their tax returns. If asked they can always say, ‘President Donald J. Trump didn’t, and look: no one cared.’ After two or three elections go by, that transparency won’t even be an expectation.

At a minimum, the next four years will be like that but with virtually every aspect of the presidency and elected office.

Continue reading Things are only unprecedented once, so what rhymes with ‘Trump’?

Elvis liked little girls, or ‘How do you enjoy music played on an ivory piano?’

The other day my somewhat young friend shared some of the things they’d been turning over in their mind and in the process, infected me with a word virus that left me turning it over in my own mind.

Continue reading Elvis liked little girls, or ‘How do you enjoy music played on an ivory piano?’

Urinating on the dead is a victimless war crime

The other day some U.S. Marines got into trouble when a video of them peeing on three dead men leaked onto the Internet, pun intended.

In itself, I don’t think this is an especially big deal, as you may have guessed.

Continue reading Urinating on the dead is a victimless war crime

Well, none of us are getting any younger

I often hear people, especially in their mid- and late-20s, say, “I’m getting old.” Well, on Friday, Japan’s oldest woman died at age 115.

Chiyono Hasegawa was born Nov. 20, 1896, in Japan, or 17 days after U.S. President William McKinley was elected to his first term.

Continue reading Well, none of us are getting any younger

As Billy said, ‘Brevity is … wit.’

The other day, Ralph Fiennes, the famous British film actor who also loves stage acting, said he does not so much love the current direction of language.

“We’re in a world of truncated sentences, soundbites and Twitter,’ Fiennes said, being quoted for a soundbite.  “(Language) is being eroded — it’s changing. Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.”

And he’s worried about the relevancy of Shakespeare going forward now that he says he sees young drama students are having more trouble with the Bard than those a few generations ago would have (one wonders if Fiennes really remembers how well those young students did generations ago). He’s worried about how you perform plays with a lot of words with multiple syllables when the direction of language is more Hemingway than Faulkner, read, spoken and understood.

I used to be with Mr. Fiennes on this, and in college, was really worried that that kind of written language would be the equivalent of Newspeak from George Orwell’s 1984. For example, the text, “I love you,” is soul-baring, while “luv u ;)” is common, casual, and expresses nothing. It’s not even “double-plus ungood,” as a character from Orwell’s novel would be expected to say, it’s “++ungud.”

It’s not that you’d have to censor people anymore; they wouldn’t be able to articulate anything meaningful, let alone seditious. (That was my thinking.)

But, that’s a very college sort of thought to have. And you see writers who have just graduated, even journalists supposedly trained to be concise, want to write using the biggest word that comes to mind, maybe even because it’s the first. School trains you to prove that you’re intelligent and educated more than that you’re actually a good writer or know what you’re talking about. “First thought, best thought,” — but only if your first thought is actually good at communicating.

Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “Never make use of a sesquipedalian word when a diminutive one will suffice”?

Or was he the one who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with great-big words, and they are often good to know, especially when not to use them. Twitter, in common usage, may be a gift for people to concisely say stupid and empty things. But that’s what most people say anyway. The longshoreman philosopher of the mid-20th century, Eric Hoffer, said there wasn’t an idea that could be expressed in 200 words.

“But the writer must know precisely what he wants to say,” Hoffer cautioned. “If you have nothing to say and want badly to say it, then all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice.”

You may need more than one tweet of 140 characters to get the full thing across, but you’re also going to make every letter count. You’re going to spill over the limit and go back and look at what you’ve written. Have I expressed this in the most effective way possible? Why am I wasting space on adjectives when I could use a more inherently evocative word (“walked without hurry” vs. “sauntered”). If someone reads only this message, how can I make this memorable and impactful on its own?

Writing has always been easy; so too chatting and tweeting. But good writing is always heavy labor, it’s just the form has changed now.

The future belongs to the aphorist. And I’m OK with that.

Liberators: The truth, or some of it

I was browsing wikipedia the other day (several years ago) and happened across this picture. I don’t remember exactly how I got there, really. These things happen. Immediately, I fell in love with it.

liberators

On one level it’s not hard to see why. It’s 50-freaking-stories-tall, wields a tommy gun, and has a bomb for a foot. Suck on that Optimus Prime.

On another, on the level of my political sensibilities, it may not. I’m not a fascist, leftist radical, or even anti-American. I rather like us. But, I like the picture and what it has to say about us as a nation, at that time certainly, but very much now as well.

It is racist, Nazi (well, basically Nazi) propaganda, and like all good propaganda, tells half of one truth and none of another. In this example, the United States is destroying the good Ol’ World by bombing the crap out of it. Oh it’s true, but the other half is that Germany conquered and looted it first (and declared war on America). That completes the picture. And of course the poster says nothing at all about the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews, Romani, and other undesirables. I think it neglects that state’s activities altogether.

By the standard of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it does not do well, but is it a lie, except in the literal sense that America did not possess a 50-story-tall monster? No. And that’s why I’m so fond of it.

The Second World War is widely seen as “the last good war” for a lot of Americans, probably as much for the totality of our victory than the moral clarity of the situation. But what moral clarity there was! Japan bombed us, Germany immediately declared war on us, and from Abyssinia to Nanjing to Auschwitz, the Axis powers proved themselves very bad folk. The Allies were clearly the good guys. Well, except for the Soviet Union. But they were on good behavior during the war. Except for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russo-Finnish War, mass rape of German women… Anyway, the French and the British didn’t do any of that stuff. Besides, they were democracies. Okay, yeah, they were also empires with vast colonial holdings that exploited millions kept in grinding poverty to maintain the homeland’s standard of living. But those citizens at home could vote.

America, though, didn’t have an empire then, or at least not a substantial one, anyhow. There weren’t many Hawaiians still around, and the Philippines had settled down. And hey, the vast majority of the population lived in the continental U.S., and we’d achieved universal suffrage there. Even in the South, black people could vote, they just didn’t for some reason. Or hold any elected offices. Or go to the same schools. Or drink from the same water fountains.

I don’t need to mention Dresden or Hiroshima or internment camps; those get thrown around enough, and I’ve made my point, I think. It is the same point I take from, although not intended by, that poster.

As George Orwell (I like George Orwell) said way back in 1940 and of England, “If I side with Britain and France, it is because I would sooner side with the older imperialisms — decadent, as Hitler rightly calls them — than with the new ones which are completely sure of themselves and therefore completely merciless. Only, for Heaven’s sake let us not pretend we go into this war with clean hands. It is only while we cling to the consciousness that our hands are not clean that we retain the right to defend ourselves.”

The United States then was the Klan and the gangster, the jitterbug and the banker, and the bomber and the war profiteer, and the vain woman and lecherous man, and the Zionist Jew, too. A melting pot of crime and corruption and “mongrelization” and ulterior motives. The Nazis were right to poke fun at calling a war bomber, a machine designed to rain down indiscriminate destruction on what’s below it, “a Liberator.” Sure. But that’s not all we are. We are many good and laudatory things we like to remember, and so they’re easier to remember. It’s just dangerous to forget and deceive the self. Better, better, a thousand times better to deceive yourself and believe you’re something better than what you are than to cease striving and revel in your failure, but better than both beyond compare to be honest and continue striving.

So it’s not as though the Holocaust and Jim Crow have moral equivalence or are so similar we can’t judge Germany poorly for their actions. Obviously, we must. But there is no one good, no not one, and it’s just as important to remember the concentration camps we liberated as we do the ships full of Jews fleeing the Nazis we turned away. Not because that makes us just the same as the Nazis but because by recognizing we have fallen short, rather than staying content as we are, we can be sure to get closer to the ideal.