Monday, May 2, 2016
In my Junk mail today I get two letters marked “personal,” one from a woman named Joy West with the subject tag “Deep @nal invitation,” the other from Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Joy says she's eager to try some "$exy experiments" and that I should respond quickly because she “doesn’t invite strangers twice.” Debbie says they’re just “10 memberships away” from their goal and would I “dig deep” and make a donation.
Neither letter is really personal, and both, I suddenly realize, are just different versions of One Single Letter. The only difference: Joy writes the letter in a passive register, Debbie in a more active register.
Check out my book IDIOCY, LTD. at Amazon.com and begin the long, hard reckoning.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
“Grab me my nose-clips, would you? . . . No, not those, the stronger ones. With the locking springs. Yeah, those. Thanks.”
“What are you writing?”
“About the Clinton campaign.”
“Well, if you’re gonna write about her why not keep your nose clips by your computer?”
“Hm. Good idea.”
So after George and Amal Clooney hosted two fund-raising dinners for Hillary Clinton, one with seats going for $353,400 apiece to sit at a table with the candidate, George went and lamented to NBC’s Chuck Todd that it was “an obscene amount of money” they’d raised ($15,000,000) and that “it’s ridiculous we should have this kind of money in politics.”
The interview will be airing this morning.
“The Sanders campaign, when they talk about it, is absolutely right,” Clooney said. “I think that, you know, we had some protesters last night when we pulled up in San Francisco, and they’re right to protest. They’re absolutely right. It is an obscene amount of money.”
It’s like hosting a Cocaine is Life dinner where everyone gets a little mountain of coke to snort and then going on TV the next day to complain about how drugs ruin society.
Really, the level of hypocrisy tolerated in our mainstream Dem circles is becoming stratospheric. Honestly I don’t think the GOP has much on this crowd when it comes to sheer doubletalking bullshit.
Meanwhile Bernie Sanders was at the Vatican underlining, in a very well-crafted speech, how his thinking on economic policy agrees with Catholic Social Doctrine Teaching and the priority Pope Francis has given to fighting the evils inherent in unfettered capitalism. I guess when it comes to Sanders vs. Clinton we could talk about the difference between Francis’ Social Doctrine Teaching and Hollywood/Goldman Sachs Social Doctrine Teaching.
C'mon, New York. Do the right thing Tuesday. Use this primary to show the world you understand which of these candidates is a Democrat and which is a “Democrat”.
Check out my book Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com and begin the long, hard reckoning.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Martin Scorsese's fans are eagerly awaiting release this year of Silence, a film the director has dreamed of making for decades. At Bookish Asia: The East Asia Book Review, I've a review up of the extraordinary Japanese novel of religious persecution behind Scorsese's project. Considered by many the masterpiece of novelist Shusaku Endo, the book wrestles with the plight of Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan after the ban of Christianity.
Monday, April 4, 2016
For many years now I’ve thought the world would be a much better place if people were forced to take the slogans on their teeshirts seriously. Here in Asia, where English slogans on shirts and caps are often illogical or wildly inappropriate, this belief often entails added effort on my part. Some time I’ll tell you the story about the neighbor woman who sported a pink teeshirt reading “EAGER RESIDENT BEAVER”.
Yes, the challenges for teeshirt literalists like myself are many and varied. These local college boys, for instance, in their lame Adidas shirts with “IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING”--I’ve been compelled to coax them up to the roof of my building, 14th floor, to push them toward the edge and say: “OK then. See that 10th-floor roof across the street? Go.”
Sometimes they get around me and run back to the elevator. One kid I wouldn’t let leave until he either 1) proved that “impossible was nothing” by making the leap, or 2) gave me his shirt for proper disposal.
I moved to Taipei in 1996, where I work as a teacher. Back then I wasn’t yet a teeshirt literalist. Which is probably a good thing. In 1998 I remember teaching English to an 11-year-old girl who showed up to my class wearing a teeshirt that read “I play safe. Do you?”
It gets worse. The shirt was part of a promotion campaign for a new condom brand, and pasted onto the fabric next to the slogan, visible through a clear plastic panel, was an actual condom in its wrapper.
The girl’s mother brought her to class in this shirt at least three times. Did the woman not know what a condom was? And really: Who would produce shirts like this in a size small enough to fit a grade-school girl?
Luckily, as I say, that happened before I discovered my new calling: To compel people to live up to the slogans on their shirts. Had I been a committed literalist back in 1998, I’d have been faced with a serious moral dilemma. In the end I know I’d have betrayed my calling. There are some boundaries even a committed literalist can’t cross.
But even now, 2016, I’ve plenty on my plate that’s causing me headaches. What about the feeble old Chinese man I see down my lane every week inching along on his walker? He wears a black Malcolm X baseball cap. Do Chinese octogenarians really have anything to offer American blacks? I’m not sure, but we’re going to find out.
And then there’s Angela, the rosy-cheeked 19-year-old student of mine who is a starry-eyed fan of K-pop but sometimes wears a jean jacket with Che Guevara stenciled on the back. If I’m to stick to principles, Angela will have to be bundled onto a small truck and taken to the mountains of central Taiwan, where she’ll spend a few months learning to smoke cigars and organizing the indigenous tribes to rise up against the evils of capitalism. Central among such evils being, of course, K-pop.
I plan to deal with Angela later. I’m still making out the list of young people I know who wear Che shirts or carry Che-logo accessories. Today I’ve got a more pressing project. Because here in the subway car next to me is a tall woman with lovely long legs shouldering a parti-colored backpack that reads “LOVE NEVER GIVES UP”. I’ve seen her before, though without the new backpack.
If I remember right, this particular subway-rider usually gets off three stops before mine. Today I’ll exit with her, find out where she lives, set up a rough stalking schedule. Taipei women are quite friendly, so getting a Facebook link isn’t difficult, though it’s true this one is on the knockout side, and they tend to be more defensive. But a Facebook link will help me figure out her usual haunts, and then I’m set to go. Facebook really is a godsend for stalkers. It saves you so much time.
Yes, love never gives up. I will show her what that looks like.
In fact we all need to take language more seriously. Not just here in Asia either--this is even truer in the States. Were we to take language seriously, the benefits would rain down like manna. For one, if we forced slogans and ads to mean what they say, if we really pushed the issue and didn’t give in, capitalism itself would crumble before the decade was out. And a lousy decade it’s been if you ask me. And the next one looks to be even worse.
Write more later. Gotta go. It’s our stop.
Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. at Amazon.com, and begin the long, hard reckoning.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
I know you are a Trump supporter, and I know in our conversations that I’ve pointed out aspects of Trump’s approach that I like. I’m writing now to say that I’ve pretty much vetted Trump to my satisfaction, and have come to the conclusion: He should not be in the White House.
The final straw was my review of his foreign policy positions. They don't make sense. They'd sound alright if US foreign policy were a direct business transaction, but it is not.
The benefits the US has gotten from its political and military clout in Asia and the West are immense. Trump's plan, abandoning long-held policies, would create power vacuums in key regions. He talks as if these power vacuums would not be taken advantage of by our enemies. They would. That's the point about power vacuums: the enemy moves in immediately and begins reaping advantages where previously you did.
From a US foreign policy perspective, the main enemies are three: radical Islam, China, Russia.
We cannot afford to let whole regions fall further under the sway of these serious strategic competitors.
The problem with Trump's thinking is that it is based on his life as a businessman. In a large-scale real estate project, you fight for the best prices, bribe the right people, strong-arm the local authorities to bend zoning ordinances, build and promote the building--AND THEN, TAKING YOUR PROFIT, YOU LEAVE.
Trump talks as if American foreign policy is a kind of real estate project. The blindness in this is clear. With foreign policy, you can never do that last part of the deal: LEAVE.
In other words, Trump's whole perspective is not suited to the long game that is statesmanship. Once things get messed up on one part of the picture (as has often happened with Trump's individual business ventures) he cannot just move on to the next big project. No--the world is the whole world; there’s no next project to move on to.
I imagine Trump in the Oval Office fuming that he cannot just let some particular project go bust so he can get up and running on the next: Trump University; Trump Steaks, etc. But he will not be able to. In the White House, when one project goes bust, it just keeps going bust, and you can't really extricate yourself. Because you are in charge of managing America's relations in all of these regions, and unlike casinos, or steak brands, regions can’t be sold off.
If you combine this short-term real estate developer's approach with Trump's erratic flip-flopping, and his nearly pathological narcissism, you will see what I see. A formula for disaster.
And it's no small disaster either. You need to keep in mind, when you think of supporting Trump, that this guy will personally be in charge of the system that keeps your finances in order. In short: When Trump fails on foreign or trade policy, which are closely interlinked, America's economic well-being will take the hit. The market will drop, companies will lay people off, home values will suffer, etc.
You have to try to imagine this guy not as what he's been so far, the loudspeaker in which you hear your justified grievances against the system, but as the one in charge of keeping our whole egg cart from tipping over.
Trump's approach so far is not one to inspire confidence in his skill as a careful egg cart driver.
I don't completely support any of the candidates on offer, as I've said, but I'm hoping the GOP ends up with someone else. You personally don't like Kasich, his demeanor, but he's the most stable of the three who are left. And he has a lot of experience in government.
We'll see what happens. I'm also furious at all the corruption, both cultural and political, in America. But Trump is not the answer. Yes, he has done the country a service by underlining some of the worst aspects of the problem. But we need a calmer, cooler head, with a better sense of political complexities, to actually fix the problems.
We've discussed Trump several times, and I wanted to send you my current thinking. Hope you’ll reconsider supporting Trump in the Wisconsin primary.
My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now available through Amazon.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
There are many scary things about Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. But in my mind the scariest is that Trump seems sincerely not to get a fundamental insight most of the rest of us hold to--that laws and principles are what keep any society, including our own, from sinking into barbarity.
If you’re paying attention, you’ve noted that this blindness of Trump’s, this basic contempt for law and principle, structures his talking points on nearly every topic. Whether it’s trade or ISIS or libel laws, Trump’s speech shows him almost uniformly hostile to any kind of overarching norms--the norms we consult when seeking sound policy. Worse, I suspect it’s this very aspect of Trump that’s made him so infectious. We’ve all been in grade school before, and we can relate. Trump appeals to the 3rd grader in us.
“Timmy kicked my dog, so of course I can kick his sister. What . . . I can’t even kick his sister? It’s not FAIR!”
Listen to Trump on whatever subject and you will see a deeply frustrated kid itching to drag everything down to tit for tat. Here he is again after the Brussels attacks:
I think we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing, where they can chop off heads, and they can drown people in steel cages, in heavy steel cages, and we can’t waterboard. So we have to change our laws, and we have to be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis. We have laws that we have to obey in terms of torture, and they have no laws whatsoever that they have to obey.
With Trump it’s always the “they can” but “we can’t”. And for him the problem, bizarrely, is somehow our own respect for laws and principles.
For Trump, principles are little more than troublesome barriers that keep him from getting his meaty hands on the world and doing whatever he wants with it. (Meaty but smallish hands, I should say.)
And his sense of the world is really quite odd. Consider just this sentence: “So we have to change our laws, and we have to be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis.” Are you f***ing kidding me? There is nothing even remotely equal about the basis from which we fight ISIS. We fight from a vastly superior position. And we’ve earned this position because, through long struggle, we’ve developed a civilization that makes this position possible: one grounded in law and principle; one grounded in the rough-and-tumble need, through lawful institutions, to develop a broad consensus.
But note the degrading affect Trump’s rhetoric has on this whole process. Because is his rhetoric is that of a grade-schooler trying to justify himself, the political context into which he projects himself, in the minds of his followers, itself becomes something like a huge classroom. A global-sized classroom in which Trump is standing on a desk making his case.
And in our International Classroom, if student Donny can’t do whatever he wants when angered, then who is it that’s stopping him?
Who else but Teacher.
Trump clearly doesn’t like it that we “can’t torture”. As Trump might say, pointing his finger toward the blackboard: “Teacher doesn’t let us torture. It’s NOT FAIR. They can torture, but we can’t.”
Obviously “Teacher” in this grade-school struggle is everything and everybody that would hold us Americans back from behaving like our gut instincts tell us to. Teacher is the one, for instance, who would prevent us from hunting down and killing the family members of suspected terrorists. Teacher is the one who says torture is always wrong. Teacher is the one who would remind us that bombing whole regions into the Stone Age is genocide.
Of course Trump is ready with his answers: “But they hit us first.” “But they are cutting off heads.” “But they are getting away with murder.”
They are getting away with murder, the logic goes, so we should be able to get away with murder too.
I remember back during the lead up to the Iraq war listening to the Fox News crowd trying to justify our going in. “Look what they did to us on 9/11. We need a Strong Response.”
Never mind that the 9/11 attacks weren’t orchestrated by Iraq, which considered al Qaeda an enemy. Never mind that there was zero evidence of active jihadist cells in Iraq. No. To hear the way some Americans talked in those fateful years, it seemed any Muslim power was ripe for attack because, don’t you see, “They did this.”
Of course the danger in this kind of thinking was clear to many of us back in 2002. But by now, after all the mayhem the Iraq war unleashed, the danger in this thinking should be clear to any moron who can add 2 + 2.
Somehow it still isn’t clear.
In fact we’re no longer in a grade school classroom, where basic rules of behavior, rules of engagement, are first taught. We can no longer afford to pretend these rules are irrelevant--as I believe most Trump supporters are pretending. Like it or not, we’re now in an adult world. And we face ever graver challenges. In such a world there’s simply no room for this “It’s NOT FAIR” brand of pleading and whining. We need to do decide what will work, what will succeed, not what will make our gut instinct feel better.
Oddly, if you listen to Trump’s words carefully, the thing that seems to make him maddest about ISIS is that we aren’t allowed to behave like they do. Clearly, Trump and his followers, to make themselves feel better, are pretending to believe ISIS would dwindle if we just followed our gut instinct and gave them tit for tat.
Recent history proves how delusional this is. The jihadists, as everyone knows, want us to sink to their level. When we sink to their level, they grow.
But my main point here is not just about the fight against terrorism. It’s rather more about Trump as a social being. Because if you listen to him, you’ll hear this same approach of his repeated in almost every context. And so it’s not only: “They can torture and kill civilians, but we can’t.” It’s also: “They can say nasty things about me, but I can’t ruin their careers by suing them for libel.” And: “They can disrupt my rallies, but we can’t beat them up in response.” And: “They can say things about my small hands, but if I talk about my dick being just fine during a debate, they blame me for not being presidential.” And now: “They can post things about my wife, but I can’t post things about how ugly Cruz’s wife is.”
It’s all just NOT FAIR, Donald, is it? And when you become president of the United States, you’re going to make it all “fair” again, right? Fair on the battlefield, fair in the press, fair to your sense of the grandeur of your own ego.
The Trump campaign is in fact making a grand contribution to America’s collective reversion to childhood. It’s working, sadly, because Americans do have legitimate grievances, and because, again, all these millions of aggrieved people have been to grade school.
“I wanna kick his sister, I wanna, I wanna, and if you don’t let me, it’s NOT FAIR. He kicked my dog first.”
What would policies formulated through Trump’s 3rd-grade lens do to America’s standing in the world? I don’t know about you, but I kind of strongly doubt they would work. As I’ve hinted already, I think Trump’s supporters mostly know this too. They know one can’t really solve complex problems with such policies. But somehow they’re just itching to pursue these policies even so.
Why? Just because. Because otherwise it’s JUST NOT FAIR.
My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now available through Amazon.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Feeling anxious and strung-out? Worried about where America’s headed? Worried about where’s America’s gotten? Feel like you’ve no good choice in this drawn-out campaign nightmare?
Me too. Election 2016 has put me on edge. I’m pulled this way and that. I’m convinced, like many, that we've been pushed to a precipice, and there’s no way back.
“But which precipice will it be?” the Fates seem to be asking. “You don’t know now, do you? Just wait and see.”
And the Fates wink mischievously. And their mischief is more menacing than playful.
One thing I’m sure of in this mess is that Americans are no longer fooled by the political class. These recent months have proved it. More than anything, the election battles we’re watching are about a single glaring fact:
A corporate-controlled government and democracy are mutually exclusive.
Yes, it’s finally out in the open. The corporate-sponsored puppet show we’ve been watching the past couple decades is not in fact democracy. What’s more, it can no longer even impersonate democracy.
Though I’m glad to see Americans are finally wise to Washington, I’m not so glad about where they take it from there.
On the one hand we’ve tens of millions opting for something like a fascist solution.
“What we need is a strong leader who tells it like it is and puts everyone back in place!” they cry.
Strong leaders can sometimes do great things, indeed. I just wish the strong leader they chose wasn’t such a moron. Conviction grounded in principle is one thing. A buffoon aping conviction is something else. And racist convictions--well, they shouldn’t be tolerated.
But is this buffoon we now see cavorting across the media really a racist? Or is he just being labeled one unfairly?
Before offering my own answer, I should point out that I don’t go along with the hyper-sensitive current PC definition of racism. I think one can say all manner of things these days that will be called out as racist, but that aren’t actually so.
And yet, even given my pretty thick skin regarding what is and isn’t racism, I’d have to say that, yes, Donald Trump is a racist. The things he’s allowed to happen at his rallies prove it. For America’s sake, I wish it weren’t true. It is. Trump is not to be trusted to lead a multiracial society.
But in opposition to this Fascist Clown Solution on offer, we’ve also a European-style socialist running, a man driven by true convictions rather than just aping conviction.
Bernie Sanders seems to me the only contender who’d actually fight to loosen the corporate stranglehold on our polity. Whether or not he’d succeed is a different question. But I can understand people’s strong belief that Sanders offers the best blueprint for the coming years. I largely agree with them.
Yet there are caveats in my support for Sanders. These have to do with the rise of political correctness.
I'm sympathetic to many organizations fighting injustice in America, and I recognize that the black community especially has valid grievances. Nonetheless in recent years I’ve become convinced that PC as a general phenomenon is a serious threat to our culture. On many crucial issues, and especially in their strategies for addressing issues, our social justice warriors are dead wrong. On campuses across the country, they’re destroying what little is left of American liberal education. Which is no small loss. Liberal education and pluralist liberal principles are necessary to our democracy. Speech codes, “safe spaces” and trigger warnings are not. Not to mention the nonstop demonization of all things European that passes for Humanities these days.
This SJW crowd largely backs Sanders, and they’re probably right to do so. I suspect Bernie himself never met a social justice warrior he didn’t like. Which leads me to question my own support for him. I’m a strong pluralist and Catholic, an avid believer in both Western cultural traditions and religious liberty protections, both of which have taken a beating under the PC onslaught. I’ve every reason to fear the justices Sanders would nominate to the Supreme Court. Bernie is not, by any means, my ideal candidate.
Then there’s Hillary Clinton. I’ll acknowledge straight off: Even a Trump nomination would not induce me to vote for Hillary. They don’t currently market nose clips reliable enough to allow me to vote for her. Hillary is, in my reading, something like the worst of both worlds. She will empower and pander to the SJW crowd even as she cheerleads the ongoing corporate dismemberment of our economy. She will do the bidding of the military industrial complex and the abortion industry with equal glee. Hillary is one of the few things I’m sure of in this election year. She is no good.
Many fellow Democrats point out to me that Hillary agrees with Bernie on nearly all the issues, then they ask: “Why would anyone who supports Bernie as you do not also support Hillary if she were the nominee?”
I have an answer: “Because while Hillary may agree with Bernie on a whole range of things during the campaign, this does not at all reflect what she would actually do once in the White House.”
Good Democrats refuse to hear this answer.
Would a Hillary administration be better than a Trump administration? I suspect it would. In the way that being slowly worn down into nihilism and despair is better than being beaten up by a drunk clown.
I hope you see my point.
If in the end America pushes its voters to choose between a fake Democrat and a fake Strongman--between, in short, a Total Sellout and a Fascist Clown--I will be very tempted to say: “Sorry, friends, I’m not going to dignify this election with my vote. Or rather: I’m going to write in the imperfect candidate who at least seems to me a viable candidate.”
If things keep going as they are, many Americans may end up doing something like this, and the candidate they write it may be Bernie, or John Kasich, or who knows. Bernie is more what a Democrat was before the 1990s. And Kasich is more what a Republican was before Fox News and friends dumbed the party down to what it has become today.
Admittedly, none of the above offers much help given the precipice we face as a country. And that is why I, along with so many others, am worried about what the Fates have in store.
My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now available at Amazon.