How Dare you Defend Yourself

The New York Review (of Books) is one of the best periodicals I have ever read.  It is up there with the long lost “American Film” and “Musician” magazines, couriers of superlative, thoughtful, original journalism unlike almost everything else out there.  Liked “Wired” for it’s first year before it immediately declined into commercial crap gadget marketing manual.  Or Byte Magazine before it got bought out and destroyed.

No– it is better than all of them ever were.

But in the past few years, a couple of missteps.  First, Editor Ian Buruma is fired because he had the shameless audacity to allow Jian Ghomeshi to defend himself after the women who charged him with abusive behavior were caught lying to the police and to the judge at his trial.  I repeat, for emphasis: the women who charged him with abuse and assault lied to the police, to the crown attorneys, and the judge.  The evidence of this was indisputable.  All of the charges were, as a result, dismissed.

But Mr. Buruma’s publisher decided that the lies did not matter.  The fact that some women made the charge against Ghomeshi is sufficient to determine his guilt.  Women never lie.  And if they do, the men they lie about are still guilty, because they are men.

And so we get to a deeply regrettable review by Joyce Carol Oates in the February 11, 2021 issue of New York Review, “Chronicle of a Death Ignored”.   Ms. Oates is discussing a book by Becky Cooper, “We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence”, about the murder of a Harvard graduate student, Jane Britton, in January, 1969.  Becky Cooper– to Ms. Oates pleasure– writes mostly, really, about herself, how she connected to the story, how she felt about it, and how important it is for us to know all about her.

She also spends considerable time and effort to condemn Harvard University for not finding the killer among their abusive or “callow” professors for surely they were– as men– abusive or callow or both– and must certainly answer for Ms.  Britton’s murder.   But Becky Cooper is on to them: she confronts them with courage and conviction and persistence and forces them to admit that they are abusive and callow.

She is selective, of course.  Some students felt that Jane was in an abusive relationship with a professor at the time.  That must surely be true.  Jane’s brother thought she was promiscuous, a drug abuser, and “a bitch”.  That must surely be false, since it came from a man.

There is a development that is incredibly inconvenient for Cooper, which explains the odd first three paragraphs of Oates’ review.  Cooper has developed her entire project around the assumption that it was a Harvard professor, most likely Professor Lamberg-Karlovsky, who raped and murdered Britton.   Thus she is shocked and horrified that Harvard University actively  provided legal support to Lamberg-Karlovsky and others.   So, having spent 10 years developing this thesis and marshalling all your rhetorical energy to condemn the Harvard patriarchy, what do you do when the murderer turns out to be someone who had absolutely nothing to do with Harvard University?  Well, Oates would have you believe that there is some kind of essential, magical truth that makes Cooper’s narrative “a brilliantly idiosyncratic variant of generic true crime, rather more a memoir than a conventional work of reportage”.    Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Harvard was indeed “silent”: but there was nothing to hide or disclose.  It didn’t know who murdered Jane Britton and, as it turns out, there was no reason to think it should have known.  Harvard didn’t “ignore” the death.   It’s just that Ms. Cooper and Ms. Oates think the Harvard patriarchy is complicit in some way regardless of the facts.

And they are not personally satisfied with the grandiosity of Harvard’s response, as if Harvard owed it to them, as women, to scale it all up.

Well, as in the case of Ghomeshi, it is sufficient to make the charge.  How dare they defend themselves!  If a woman says you did something wrong, you did something wrong, whether you did it or not.

 

 

The Bible on Abortion

From Reddit:

Quoting the bible to contradict a Christian almost never helps, but there is only one part that brushes against the value of an unborn life versus a fully formed human.

Exodus 21:22 –

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

We can extrapolate from this that the value of an unborn fetus is not equal to the value of the mother. As the passage says, cause a miscarriage and you’ll be fined, not put to death. There are pages and pages of research about this passage where pro-lifers try to twist and contort the meaning in the original Hebrew, but the context makes it quite easy to understand the message that was trying to be conveyed.

Biblical Scholars– the overwhelming majority of which are pro-life– argue that the verse refers only to live births.  But at least one admits that “in fact, it is never used for a miscarriage, though it is used of a still birth.”

Further to that, does this passage make sense if it only refers to live births?    Where is the harm, exactly, if the woman is struck and then gives birth?  If it is the harm of being struck, then why the reference to “miscarriage” or “birth”– your choice?  It really does not make much sense unless it refers to a miscarriage.

The pro-life partisans argue that the particular Hebrew word is not used elsewhere to refer to still-births, but, of course, the Bible isn’t a comprehensive list of all possible eventualities.  The argument has some currency, but not very much, in my view.

My Liberty Your Liberty

“By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix,” they wrote, noting that the ruling “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss.”  From NY Times

 

This is from the dissenting opinion by Justices Thomas and Alito in Obergefell v. Hodges.  Did you notice that they said “believe that” and did not say “discriminate against” as if a dissenting view could actually oppress a majority through the sheer power of its dissentingness (my word).

It is so offensive to Christians that a same-sex couple could be recognized as married that the Supreme Court — according to justices Alito and Thomas (and, probably, Barrett, soon)– must spare them this indignity.

What if you substituted race for sexual orientation?  So a restaurant owner with a “whites only” sign should perhaps be spared the indignity of having to allow minorities into his restaurant because it is an infringement on his “religious liberty”?

The most obvious problem here is that it really doesn’t cost these bigots anything to allow gay couples to marry.  Their right to marriage is not diminished in the slightest, except in the deep corners of their tiny imaginations where they might have to admit to their own bigotry.   What is the difference between refusing to serve blacks or Jews or Italians, and refusing to serve gay men and women?   We all recognize that bigotry is at the heart of the former.

And it is of the latter as well.

Amy Barrett

Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a ‘head’ for men and a ‘handmaid’ for women,” the report read. “The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.

This is a group that potential Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett belongs to.

This Supreme Court (with Ginsburg writing a stinging dissent) once ruled that a woman employee who had been paid less, for years, secretly, than a male in the same job, could not sue for back pay because she “waited” too long. Sometimes “Supreme” doesn’t really apply. No, I”m not making that up. Think the court would ever allow you to not pay a bill because a company “waited” too long to collect it? Ha ha.

The last time I heard a bunch of conservatives bragging about the intellectual acumen of one of their own, it was for Paul Ryan; so when they say the same thing about Barrett… yeah, let’s wait and see. They also said that about Chief Justice Roberts, who once ruled that there was nothing wrong with a white police officer taking down and hand-cuffing a 13-year-old girl because she was eating a french fry on a subway platform (I am not making this up).

Do you need to ask what race the girl was? I didn’t think so.

Barrett argued, in one of her speeches, that a justice should recuse herself from any case that conflicts with a personal religious belief. So the “pro-life” party may be very disappointed to find her recusing herself from death penalty cases. Or will she simply be selective about which religious beliefs actually “conflict”– like supporting immigration polices that separate children from their parents?

That said, I really think the Democrats should stop arguing that a president can’t appoint a Supreme Court Justice in an election year: we shouldn’t all be hypocrites. (Ginsburg really should have retired in 2012 like Obama wanted. And Breyer as well.) But they should at least acknowledge (unlike the Republicans who seem to have completely forgot about the process) that there should be hearings first.

Let’s all note here that the Republicans are trying to do what they have always bitterly complained the Democrats try to do: legislate through the courts.  The Republicans have come to realize that their agenda is so unpopular that they could never ram it through the legislature anymore without destroying their chances of ever winning another election.  On wage disparity, climate change, gun law, health care, and a host of other issues, they are on the losing end of popular support.  Their solution is to do nothing (this Republican Party literally does just about nothing except re-brand trade agreements and rescind worker protections and environmental law) and appoint extremist conservatives to the courts.  And it is working.  The Roberts Court will soon be prepared to overturn Obama-care and Roe vs. Wade.

These will be the most activist actions by a court since Brown vs. Board of Education.

It’s also a bit depressing that her record is so consistent. Consistent with the Republican Party platform, not with anything remotely “conservative” or “Catholic” and certainly not “pro-life” in any real sense. It’s political and ideological.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Idiots

“Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work, among other ordinarily lawful activities?” Justice Rebecca Bradley asked.

This is from a justice of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.  I am not making this up.  This is one of the questions this justice, Rebecca Bradley, a Republican appointee, asked when considering whether or not a State Governor should have the authority to take emergency measures in the face of a pandemic.

I’m not sure I don’t like her logic.  Let’s think about it.  How about this:

Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to join the military, learn to kill people, and travel overseas to participate in mass killings?

Absolutely.   Or:

Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for smoking weed in the privacy of his own home, at no inconvenience to other citizens?

Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for driving on one side of the road and not the other?

Case dismissed.

Capitalist Socialism

A company produces a product that causes permanent damage to the environment.  In a free enterprise-capitalist economy, that should be no problem: the shareholders of this company, who stand to profit from the sales of the product, obviously have to pay the cost of manufacturing the product as well.   If the product cannot be produced in a profitable manner after these costs are included, in our free enterprise-capitalist economy, the investor money goes elsewhere.

Because it would be utterly contrary to the principles of Free Enterprise to assign to taxpayers and citizens the costs of environmental damage caused by the process of manufacturing ring a product that produces profits for private individuals who have invested in a corporation.  That is a subsidy.  That is the government putting its finger on the scale.  That is socialistic.

That is what we are sold: free enterprise.  But what we are sold is far from the truth.  As innocently described here as something almost reasonable, corporations that wish to make a profit by eliminating the cost of cleaning up the mess they produce while taking our money want taxpayers to cover part of the cost of production.  Don’t forget that tax cuts to high-income earners is almost always part of the package of governance advocated by the politicians who support this scam.  “Tax breaks” are invariably camouflage for “government subsidy”.  If you are buying a car for $40,000 and the dealership gives you a “price break” of $10,000 so that you only pay $30,000, it is exactly the same as if he had given you $10,000 cash and you paid him $40,000.  They are both “hand-outs”.

But it’s clever.  In the same sense, most Americans probably really have no clue what a “marginal” tax rate is.  They assume that once you cross a certain threshold, like $100,000 of income, the higher tax rate applies to the entire $100,000.  Can’t have that.  Vote Trump.  (The marginal tax rate only applies to the income above the threshold.)

Working class individuals subsidize the investment returns of the rich investors and fund managers.  Cleverly camouflaged as “tax breaks”, your politicians– your congressmen and senators and presidents– are diligently working to transfer your money to rich people, one way or another.   Since 1980, the trend has been perfectly obvious: the investor class has received fabulous returns on their investments; the worker class has been trapped in ever decreasing buying power and discretionary income.

And Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wants you to be very alarmed because Bernie Sanders would actually do what Obama and Clinton promised but never even dared to consider: stop the government from exclusively serving the interests of the rich.

The sense of panic in the Democratic Party establishment is palpable.

And no surprise that in the face of overwhelming evidence that the New York Times really, fundamentally, supports the established capitalist order, Trump supporters will continue to regard it as a bastion of unfettered progressive socialism.

Because it was never about the politics; it was about you people think you’re smarter than me, don’t you?  You look down on me.  You think I don’t get it.

You don’t.

How to Ruin a Great Story

Miss Saigon has received criticism for what some have perceived as its racist or sexist overtones, including protests regarding its portrayal of Asians and women in general.[34] Originally, Pryce and Burns, white actors playing Eurasian/Asian characters, wore eye prostheses and bronzing cream to make themselves look more Asian,[35] which outraged some who drew comparisons to a “minstrel show”.[36]

Yes, it’s hard to argue with the idea that using makeup and prostheses to make an actor look more like an Asian character is unnecessary and insulting.  There are Asian actors.  Why not use one?  If you needed in a dog in a scene, would you cast a cat?  A hamster?

Well, only if the hamster badly wanted to star in this show as a dog.  Because the hamster wanted the challenge.  The hamster wants to be famous and adored by the public.

See “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for a notorious example (Mickey Rooney).  If a black actor were to play Hamlet (as many have), would we want to make him look Danish?  Why not?  how come you don’t see black comedians or politicians in whiteface?  Ever?

In the London production of Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga originally starred as Kim, with Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer. When the production transferred from London to New York City, the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) refused to allow Pryce, a white actor, to recreate the role of the Eurasian pimp in America. As Alan Eisenberg, executive secretary of Actors’ Equity explained, “The casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community. The casting choice is especially disturbing when the casting of an Asian actor, in the role, would be an important and significant opportunity to break the usual pattern of casting Asians in minor roles.”[36] This ruling led to criticism from many, including the British Equity, citing violations of the principles of artistic integrity and freedom. Producer Cameron Mackintosh threatened to cancel the show, despite massive advance ticket sales.[37]

Ah– the collision of two liberal principles!  No. 1, respect ethnicity enough to use actors belonging to that ethnicity.  No. 2, respect “artistic integrity and freedom”.

Though there had been a large, well-publicised international search among Asian actresses to play Kim, there had been no equivalent search for Asian actors to play the major Asian male roles—specifically, those of the Engineer (Pryce) and Thuy (Keith Burns). However, others pointed out that since the Engineer’s character was Eurasian (French-Vietnamese), they argued that Pryce was being discriminated against on the basis that he was Caucasian.  [Wow!!] Also, Pryce was considered by many in Britain to have “star status,” a clause that allows a well-known foreign actor to recreate a role on Broadway without an American casting call.[36] After pressure from Mackintosh, the general public, and many of its own members, Actors’ Equity was forced to reverse its decision. Pryce starred alongside Salonga and Willy Falk (as Chris) when the show opened on Broadway.[38][39][40]  From Wikipedia

And here we get the pretzel: Jonathan Pryce is being discriminated against because he is a Caucasian!  Would anyone pose this argument against someone re-making “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and replacing Mickey Rooney with an actual Japanese actor?   But that would be discriminating against annoying, short, white actors!

All this over an actor playing the role of a pimp.

Now, will no one object to a Eurasian actor being cast in the role of a pimp?  What an insult!  We are all outraged!  Everyone?

 

The Christian Non-Charities

By embracing Donald Trump, it is now clear that evangelical Christian churches in the U.S. are not charities.  Their primary purpose is to rally support for self-centred, self-aggrandizing Republican politicians and provide opportunities for photographs of themselves with the President in the Oval Office.

They no longer– if they ever did– have a “charitable” purpose.

The question is, does Christianity itself have a charitable purpose?  You might argue that genuine believers still have a real spiritual commitment to the words and ministry of Jesus Christ.  I would point out that that is exactly what the church continues to claim while they really support Donald Trump.  It is what they claimed all along.  Now we know the truth: they never meant any of it.   Not the “blessed are the meek” or “thou shalt not commit adultery” or the imprecations to treat kindly widows and orphans, and, especially, the “strangers at your gate”.   Read through this list and consider Trump’s policies toward migrants.

The evidence is overwhelming: it is a lie, plain and simple.

There is almost nothing in any Trump policy that could legitimately be said to be charitable or spiritual or religious.   He promotes guns.  He promotes abuse of the environment.  He promotes ignorance and irresponsibility.  He is a pathological, chronic liar.  Yes, he appoints anti-abortion judges, but that is a patriarchal interest, not a genuinely Christian one– because the only time Christians assert that they are pro-life, is when it comes to the consequences of sex, and only while it is still in the womb.  As far as war or guns or the military or capital punishment goes, they are enthusiastically pro-death.

When it comes to defending soldiers accused of war crimes, they spare no effort to pardon them, even if they murdered prisoners in cold blood.

The Constitution clearly forbids any effort by the State to “establish” a religion.  By granting charitable status to churches affiliated with the church of  Trump, the IRS is complicit with violations of the relevant statues.

Be Careful Little Eyes What you See

In the category of “you couldn’t make this stuff up” is the story about a North Carolina police department that arrested a 17-year-old boy for having nude pictures of himself on his cell phone.

This is in a country in which 3/4 of the population will admit they don’t know what the 3 branches of government are.  They certainly don’t know what a marginal tax rate is.  And they will never know what common sense really is; they will think they have it, but they will be wrong.  Sense is anything but common in America.  And they will never, ever be able to independently assess the question of what is terrible about a teenager having nude pictures of himself on his smart phone.  You just have to say “nude”, and “pictures”, and “teenager”, they will howl with outrage.

We live in a world in which we can be surrounded by morons who say, “but that’s what the law says” or “it may seem strange, but that’s what the law says”, or “we are complete morons so we only do what the law says”.

Are you telling me there would have been serious consequences for a sergeant or a detective who said, “I don’t care what the law says, no, we are not going to prosecute a teenager for taking pictures of himself”?

A young mother in Utah who took her shirt off in front of her family has been charged with lewdness.  Her husband took his shirt off too, but he is not being prosecuted.

Of course not.

That would be stupid.

Do you have a mirror in your bathroom?

 

 

The #Metoo Crucible

“Stratford Festival decided to put on a sure-fire crowd-pleaser this year: “The Crucible”, one of the greatest, and certainly the most powerful, American drama.

“The Crucible” is about a group of young girls in a small town in Massachusetts in the 1690’s who are caught dancing naked in a woods.  Think about the cultural climate– puritanical New England.  The upstanding leaders of the devout community are beyond horrified, and this is immediately apparent to the girls so they connive to persuade the town elders that they were, in fact, bewitched.  Their deception is helped by a particular girl who seems to be having fits and hysterics and claims to see apparitions.

Who bewitched them?

They begin to name names, including upstanding members of the community.

One of the girls, named Abigail, was a handmaid to a couple, John and Elizabeth Proctor.  John had an affair with her, which Elizabeth knows about.  John and Elizabeth reconciled and evicted Abigail but are terrified that the community will find out about the affair and disgrace John.

Abigail is convinced that John really loves her.  What were the girls doing in the woods?  Abigail had persuaded Tituba, a black slave, to show them how to cast spells, so she could curse Elizabeth Proctor and win John back.  With the community in hysterics, and her own position in the community under threat, she seizes the opportunity to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft.

When some in the community become suspicious of the girls’ motives, they too are named.  Eventually, 20 citizens are hanged, and one is “pressed” to death because he refused to enter a plea.  Yes, this really happened– the historical record is unmistakable.

Years later, the magistrates who condemned them would– astonishingly– come to the realization that they had been in error and issue an apology.  How often does that happen?

Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1952 and he clearly intended to draw a parallel between the Salem witch-hunts and the McCarthy communist witch-hunt that was taking place at that moment, and which had snared Miller himself.  Miller was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and admitted that he had been a communist at one time in his life.  That was not enough for them.  They demanded that he identify fellow-travelers.  He refused and was black-listed.

In the play, as in real life, a man named Giles Corey discovered that some of the accusers stood to benefit by acquiring the land of the accused (if convicted of witchcraft, a citizen’s possessions were forfeit).  He is then accused of witchcraft himself.  He refuses to plea because doing so would result in a conviction and the land he hoped to pass on to his sons would be forfeit.  He is sentenced to be “pressed”: placed under a board with the weight on it increased gradually with rocks.  He dies under the torment, mocking his accusers.

Do you see a problem with this play?  I don’t see a problem.  The play is historically accurate.  More importantly, it is psychologically accurate: I find the portrait of a community that is fearful and cowardly and not really virtuous in the sense that they all believe it of themselves to be quite convincing even today.  (Think of how we symbolically recycle, and conserve, and care for the environment, while doing absolutely nothing that will have any real impact on global warming.   Think of how women go on national television to tell the world how ashamed they are of having been sexually assaulted.)

But the #metoo movement saw a big problem.  You see, a credo of the #metoo movement is that girls are ALWAYS to be believed.  They never lie about abuse or rape or assault, even if it is assault by the devil himself, as in the case of Salem.  (I am not exaggerating: I heard three women on the CBC discussing the issue and they all insisted that women never lie about abuse and there is never any “collateral damage” (ie. innocent men accused).  Do women ever lie about rape?  Judge for yourself.

And the play makes it clear that the girls are sly, conniving, convincing liars, and that they are responsible the deaths of 20 innocent victims.

So the #metoo movement demands an adjustment.   And the Stratford Festival Theatre made it.  Here is their description of the play from their website:

His (John Proctor’s) refusal to take responsibility for his actions leads to an epidemic of fear and suspicion that engulfs the guilty and the innocent alike. Inspired by historical events but no less pertinent to our own times, this American classic stands as a timeless tragedy of abusive behaviour and its all-consuming consequences.

This is worse than a distortion of the play.  It is an obscenely malicious reversal of it’s meaning.  It is all John Proctor’s fault.  The girls are innocent.  Abigail was forced to lie because she was oppressed by the patriarchy.  They were justified in causing 19 innocent individuals to be hanged to death.

Abigail didn’t enjoy seeing those people hanged.  Not at all.

Or maybe the girls were telling the truth after all: maybe there really were witches.

No young woman or girl would ever lie about that.