Rules of Acquisition

Stephen Fry spoke in an opinion piece for the NYT  about the importance of a monarchy and how we in the US might attempt such a thing: “But ritual and pageant, costume and custom are to public life what metaphors are to language; they bring it to life and move it from the abstract to the real.” Fry suggests we elevate someone, anyone to the position of “Uncle Sam” or “Aunt Samantha” to be the US equivalent of the King or Queen in a monarchy. He says that putting on the “show” of a monarchy will make our shared ideals real in the way a metaphor does in language. That sounds interesting although I wonder what commonality we would use to identify the essential “Sam” of our nation.

I’m veering off from what Stephen said now (he also spoke of the need for leaders to explain their actions, etc.) by asking if any common ground exists between the ideology of the Obama era and Trump’s current amorality? My first thought, as elementary as it may be, is, ‘don’t kill other people,’ part of the law of reciprocity, it’s a shared value for everyone. The second item on my list of assumed fundamentally shared values was ‘don’t steal from other people’ but after a second or two I realized Trump doesn’t actually share that particular fundamental value. He doesn’t pay workers for work done. He lies (fundamental 3) and breaks promises (4). He cheats (5) but cheating and capitalism are practically synonyms anyway. He “grabs ‘em by the pussy,” (6) another form of theft that is also: assault, humiliation, demeaning, disrespect, belittlement, male entitlement, and violation. I could go on, but I stopped even numbering because the search for unifying values begins and ends with one – don’t kill! Wait, Mitch McConnell’s health care plan will kill people. That is the end of commonality.

Ladies and Gentlemen there is no value that we hold in common. 

This was too simple, I’m not ready to give up, let’s try a more established set of rules:

The Ten Commandments (modified to be inclusive),

1 Thou shall have no other ideologies before me. Obama’s ideology is to seek the greatest good for all, and Trump’s is self interest – money, ego and golf.

2 Thou shall not make any graven images. Obama preserved vast plots of land and historical locations as national parks; Trump builds gold plated hotels with his name on them.

3 Thou shalt not use the ideology’s name in vain. Obama protects our environment for humanity’s sake and Trump destroys it for monetary gain.

4 Remember to keep the holy days a time for ritual and reflection. Both men play golf but Obama prays introspectively. Trump plays in the temples that bear his name while banning the people whose rituals and reflections he doesn’t comprehend.

5 Honor and get along with thy father and mother. Trump constantly belittled Obama’s parentage as he does the heritage of all immigrants. How does that honor his own parents?

6 Thou shalt not kill people. Trump’s major go-to guys, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are seeing to this. The ACA attempted to prevent avoidable death. “Trumpcare” doesn’t care.

7 Thou shall not commit adultery – “grab them by the pussy.”

8 Thou shall not steal. Already covered that.

9 Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Tweeting Trump’s unTruths.

10 Thou shall not covet anything. Like money, attention and hot chicks, or walking into contestants’ dressing rooms?

Well, That was an exercise in futility.

Outside of the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition” (from TV’s Star Trek series) there is no known code or set of moral guidelines that fits Trump’s behavior. Trump plays by his own set of rules, none of which seem to fit with the ‘Golden Rule,’ the Law of Reciprocity in any way. Here’s a sampling of the Rules of Acquisition: 126 A lie isn’t a lie, it’s just the truth seen from a different point of view,  90 Mine is better than ours, and 144 There’s nothing wrong with charity … as long as it winds up in your pocket. See what I mean?

So, establishing Stephen Fry’s idea of a ‘Sam’ uncle or aunt monarchy would have been perfectly viable during Obama’s era while impossible now. The right wing back then held ‘Judeo-Christian’ values as the foundation of the country, however, now that Trump is almost a saint to the Evangelicals – Christians (in theory at least), God has been replaced with gold. The new Golden Rule is: “Screw thy neighbor and make them pay for it.” Take Mexico and the wall for example.

The right wing spent the eight years of Obama’s administration saying: ‘no’ without clarification of what they would do instead. Now that they have all three branches of government the best they can put forth is a SCI-FI TV show’s farcical metaphor of capitalism run amok? All hail the new Uncle Sam – Trump, the hairy-eared Grand Nagus of Ferenginar.

“But ritual and pageant, costume and custom are to public life what metaphors are to language; they bring it to life and move it from the abstract to the real.” If we did as Fry suggests it would give us a metaphor so ugly that it would force us see just how repulsive and distant from Judeo-Christian values we actually are. No amount of pageant, costume, custom or ritual can hide the vulgarity of the Evangelical hero, Trump. It is time to bring the metaphor to life, to make this abstract real enough for even a Christian to see.

The Family Bully & Trump

For some people the drive to dominate and control is so important that their life becomes a full time preoccupation with bullying. This sickness, a dominance drive, is so awkward that it manifests in some strange ways.

I know of a man who began worshiping money at an early age. He gave his nephews each a golden ring on their 16th birthday. He found this rewarding and even gave his older brothers a similar ring too. This act of, well, let’s not call it generosity because no recipient believed that is what it was, let’s just say, ‘gift giving’ was more about him than the recipients. The act of giving a gift of such value to only the male offspring of his siblings harkens to an antiquated value system. One of male dominance and loyalty to an ideal based in a presumed family heritage. It is also a way of taking ownership while creating an expectation of allegiance.

J. R. R. Tolkien fans may already have already drawn the parallel to The Lord Of The Rings, but that takes it a little bit too far. These rings were given with no explanation. He started his own tradition that only he could explain. He never provided an answer as to why he did this. At one point he chose a favorite young nephew to manipulate using money and favors as carrot and stick; he began molding his favorite’s future with demands, and rewards, and punished by withholding promises when his wishes for the child were not granted. His favorite rebelled, so he chose another more compliant nephew to focus on.

All the while he celebrated the family name and gave gifts with emblems of an ancient family with the same name supposing, never proving, a connection between the two. It was a Catholic bit of heraldry not his own Protestant heritage. As giver of the rings and user of the supposed family seal he expected loyalty and respect. But, he wasn’t a warm or friendly person. His allegiance was to the ideals he valued, not the people in the family. He’d replace wedding pictures of his relatives with copies of the family seal because he liked the frame. His metaphoric message was that the Catholic logo, an idealized concept of identity, was more important than the real Protestant people in the family.

The true family history was of mere hard-working farmers scratching the earth for sustenance, but his fantasy standards became the expectation for the whole family. He rewarded those who shared his ideals and ignored those who did not. He grew accustomed to the carrot and stick manipulations and used them in work and at home. He became a powerful member of his profession until a malign secret from his economic dealings was revealed. It was his downfall, but his bullying days were not over. The imagined fantasy of his identity continued to guide his behavior until he died.

This was not the Death Of A Salesman decline of a poor sucker with false ideals of success, this was the Success of a Bully at least until close to his death. His social climbing, money grubbing, manipulating strategies worked for him in business, but mostly failed him with family. His downfall came when a long-abandoned family property, through inheritance, came to be shared by the bully, the new favored nephew, and one of the nephews that had been deemed unworthy. This unworthy nephew chose to resist the bully uncle. He got fed up with having been bullied since infancy. He changed the rules the bully imposed, he studied the strategies of his and other bullies, he made strategic use of non-traditional and unexpected absurdity, he made himself vulnerable and persisted even to his own detriment. He brought to light the economic malfeasance that destroyed the bully’s reputation. It was a heavy price he paid to defend his own integrity.

Now some may observe that physical violence was not part of this bully’s repertoire, so what’s the big deal? The greatest representation of bullying ever to appear in literature is the character Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello. The stage is littered with bodies at the end of the play, all as a direct result of Iago’s actions. The bully’s behavior caused those deaths, his attitude, his harmful nature, his desire for control, his entitlement, his choice to manipulate, his strategic interference in other’s lives caused damage. The fact that no one was physically harmed in this example does not negate the damage done.

The whole world is seeing the ill effects of a bully by watching Trump’s misbehaviors. He becomes a role model for family bullies like the one above. He excuses their behaviors and illustrates better strategies. He sets new low standards and destroys moral codes. A bully relative could create even more fantasy-based damage and declare a more-false heritage. He wouldn’t be bound by the normal constraints of common decency and would abuse his economic authority even more. Bullies are already a devastating challenge for the family, now a greater evil is challenging family integrity with even lower moral standards. It’s hard to be hopeful under this sort of leadership.

Trump And The Three-Point-Stance

A three-point-stance is vital to successful urination for the canine male.  I don’t know why ‘cause my yellow lab, Yogi, always sets his foot down in the puddle he’s just made. It gives me a chuckle. I’ve been trying to figure out why he does it, but only a few thoughts have come to mind. I’ve started paying attention to other dogs who do the same thing. The oddity of this behavior had me ask Siri, who says a vertical surface keeps the scent around longer. (I doubt the dog has though this through, it’s instinct.) It could be a message declaring ownership of the vertical object, or a territorial boundary. I think it is more of a pride thing, or a pride of his thing, thing. They proudly lift their leg to call attention while waving their hooter-parts around for all to see. Then, they step in it and leave little stamp marks of their paw prints down the road. This makes it easier for the next dog to follow the prints and obliterate that message with their own.

Trump does that. He calls attention to himself, makes a mess, steps in his mess, then walks away. Those staffers who follow behind will say, “Smells like Trump has been here.” We’d better obliterate his mess with alternate facts and other such hoo-ha.

My female Basset Hound, Molly, doesn’t seem to have the same braggadocious needs in her peeing habits. Although sometimes a certain smell will make her squat in her version of a dainty feminine manner; she stops, splays her hind legs, and lets loose. If she happens to do this behind me on a walk it can be a wrenching experience for my back. Suddenly, without notice, my travel companion will turn into a fifty-five pound dead weight with claws in the ground. If she is in front, I trip; if she is behind me my shoulder gets jerked out of place. Either way, it doesn’t help the sciatica, and once I tore my calf muscle and was laid up on the couch for two weeks.

I suspect this is why Melania Trump slaps away Donald’s hand on vacations. She is a slight girl, in contrast to him, who doesn’t want her shoulder jared when her hefty husband suddenly stops. This has probably happened in the past and unlike Molly who is close to the ground with wide paws and stubby legs, she is perched up on those dagger-like pointy heels. A sudden stop by the big orange gorilla would instantly knock her off those precarious things.

Molly loves going on walks with her brother. On the left is a picture of my two dogs on a walk. We are just passing the spot where that ten-foot boa-constrictor surprised us from the tall grass. Now, if you look closely you will notice there is only one leash with a y-connector for the dogs. With Yogi’s sudden bursts of dog-brained, scattered energy and Molly’s propensity for sudden stops, the use of two leashes was literally tearing me apart; I had to put them together so they would jerk each other’s sciatica instead of mine.

This becomes particularly dangerous, however, when both dogs decide to go in the same direction at the same time. Suddenly there is 110 pounds and eight legs pulling me forward with determination. I’m more than twice their combined weight but that becomes a meaningless factor given the physics involved. All their force is applied to my shoulders which makes me top-heavy, leaving my legs to do most of the resistance or start running.

I imagine the White House staff feels like I do in that situation, too. There they are, running the country, when out of nowhere an invented word on an unfinished, published text pulls them off course and out of balance. Y’know, one has to wonder how he got all those cell phones through his own security to give away to other leaders in order to bypass our own security?

I don’t think anyone is holding his leash because he’s got to have collaborators programing those security-violating phones for him. Can you imagine him up all night with a tiny screwdriver and a box of new cell phones?

I’d become quite worried if my dogs got off their leash.

Dual-Fact Nation Part 2

Adam & Eve have no lower bodies and conveniently draped hair.

Dismediation is a new word for me I found it in a Religion Dispatches Newsletter article by Christopher Douglas. I should have mentioned the article in my last post since I divided the whole topic into two posts . Dismediation is a process using a medium to tear down that very same medium. So, if you use the TV news to complain about TV news coverage you are dissing the media covering you which academic folks label dismediation. It is a rhetorical technique similar to the one where you begin your speech by saying you are not going to talk about a particular topic; which you have obviously just done by mentioning the topic. “I refuse to discuss my opponent’s vile policies on strawberry flavored toothpaste, I will, however discuss the joys of mint toothpaste which I support wholeheartedly.”

Dismediation is not like those cartoons where the bridge falls apart piece by piece just as the last wheel of the caboose passes by. The bridge must remain an essential carrier. It’s more like complaining about the medium of news for doing what the speaker relies upon it to do, report the message. Trump constantly portrays the news media as being liars thereby discrediting the medium he needs to get his message out. He expects the bridge to remain available after his caboose has passed by so he can use and abuse it repeatedly. The news becomes a straw man that can be attacked repeatedly while whittling away at its viability. If you can convince enough people that the tracks are unsafe then fewer people will travel on the tracks ultimately destroying the effectiveness of the railway system.

The goal of “fake news” and “alternative facts” goes beyond providing different data. Their purpose is actually to destroy the notion that there could be impartial news and objective facts. Maria Bustillos calls this endgame “dismediation,” “a form of propaganda that seeks to undermine the medium by which it travels.”

The people most vulnerable to this rhetorical trap happen to be Fundamental Christians. They have been conditioned to do so by a lifetime process of indoctrination. It begins with an attitude of dislike for the elite, know-it-all, educated class that comes from family influences as well as social interaction with fundamentalist churches. Here, they learn of the inerrancy of the Bible, a blind obedience to its teachings and dis-trust of those who don’t share the same belief. There was little infrastructure to support this back in the late seventies when the fundamentalist evangelicals began their forays into politics through one particular luminary, Anita Bryant and her anti-gay campaign to Save the Family. Anita was not afraid to call gay folks names. Pick any, or all, of these descriptive terms found in The Anita Bryant Story:

Evil, sinners, perverted, an abomination, those with vile affections, reprobate minds, unnatural, deviant, flaunting, afflicted, regrettable, sad, tragic, apart, distorted, abominable, effeminate, ashamed, reproof, abhorrent, disgusting, licentious, lacking legal or moral restraint, marked by disregard of the rules.

If you want a complete list you will have to dig up her book because all this came from just one small part of one short chapter.I had to stop writing them down, it was too stressful.

Anita Bryant capitalized on her orange-juice spokeswoman fame and wrote several “Christian” books. She became both the beacon of her movement and its lightning rod. Jerry Falwell joined her and it became a launch point for truthiness and faux-scholarship of the bigoted religious. You see, she wrote a best selling book. A BOOK. If its in a book its got to be true! If it quotes the Bible a lot then its even more true. So, a whole slew of other anti-gay people started quoting her books as a credible source. They learned about footnotes and endnotes and citations and all those other image-enhancing rip-offs of credible writing. That lead to other bigot’s books quoting this “highly credible” authority (she wrote books you know); one who uses language that would make the Ku Klux Klan folks blush. Once this body of scholar-less-ship dismediation came to pass, evangelicals and fundamentalists started to realize there’s gold in them there books. If the Bible is quoted enough, then academic scholarship is not required. They would, of course reference one another’s work and soon there was a whole library of this stuff. In Christian schools a homogenization process of real and faux scholarship, religious ideology, and the Creation Museum hoopla all merged into “alt-reality” as we call it today.

Christian fundamentalist Bible colleges and universities, publishers and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, radio and then television shows, museums and campus ministries, together formed a set of institutions that resisted elite, secular expert knowledge. Recognizing the power of expertise’s infrastructure, Christian fundamentalists created this counter-infrastructure to cultivate and curate its alternative forms of knowledge. This alternative knowledge—the forerunner of today’s alternative facts— took the form of creationism and an alternative Bible scholarship demonstrating the Bible’s inerrancy and traditional authorship.

I’ve watched the Anita effect influence society in negative ways. Once, I took my students from the Gay Student Club I helped create at Bloomsburg University back in the ‘80s to hear a highly publicized Campus Crusade for Christ anti-gay speaker. We had a stake in this game but were naive as to the effect it would have on all of us. The speaker used a new rhetorical trick to enhance his credibility; it was the unkindest cut of all. He knew his audience would already be on his side, but just to foil the opposition, us, he made a big deal about how all his facts were well supported by references and documentation. He had a three-page list of those references available for all to see if we needed proof. His speech was as evil as Anita’s book and included all sorts of “studies” proving his points. We asked to see his references at the end, but he had unfortunately (read conveniently) left them at home while on his speaking tour. Was there credence to what he said in the speech? Well, it didn’t matter since it had already been given.  There was nothing he could prove and nothing we could do but disagree. We didn’t bring our list of actual studies and scholarship either so nothing we said would have convinced the audience who came with preconceived opinions at the start. It was despicable and cowardly and dishonest and oh-so-typical of the alt-mindset theology: “a lie for God’s side is not a sin.”

TrumpFace, the Musical

I’ve had the most unusual idea for a new musical. Well, it will seem like a musical for the first fifteen minutes or so until a sudden shift occurs. Things will turn scary and the audience will experience fear. They’ll be magically transported to potential future events with dire outcomes if something isn’t done to fix the problems, just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The second act demonstrates how to get things done.

By first getting the audience on my side with the musical introduction, frightening them with a sample of totalitarian violence, explaining the consequences of increasing xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and hostility toward others, then finally giving them a plan for a solution through thoughtful civil disobedience, they ought to be motivated to do something themselves, not just laugh at clever, humorous, frivolity. I mean, John Stewart really helped me get through the Bush years, but we’re in a much deeper pile of crap this time and it will take action from everyday people to get out from under Trump’s authoritarian proclivities.

The play begins as if it is a Minstrel Show.

The star will be Doxie Trump; sort of like Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago. Doxie will be the Donald Trump character in our show, get it, Donnie – Doxie? Ostensibly, each song will be about one of Donald Trump’s biggly lies. The performers will all wear “TrumpFace” instead of black face and have orange and yellow wigs.

minstrels copy

Trumpified Minstrel

It’ll start out fairly simple: Mr. Bones Trump, playing dried up rib bones on stage right and Mr. Tambo Trump, on tambourine stage left with a collection of Trump’s wives and daughters sitting on a row of bentwood chairs playing banjos and so forth. Mr. Interlocutor will be just like the shyster lawyer from Chicago, Billy Flynn, but his name will be Vlady Flynn and look just like Putin in TrumpFace.  He tries to rap his song, but he doesn’t quite get it. His jokes are awful.

The second number introduces the Velma Kelly character of our production, but we’ll just call him Vannon. This will be the only character not wearing TrumpFace; he’ll appear just like the real Steve Bannon who kind of looks like an alcoholic version of Trump anyway. Every time someone says ‘Vannon’ there’ll be a funny kettle drum hit quickly raised in pitch to remind us of his droopy drawers approach to life. This just seems appropriate, kind of like the horses and Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.

The third number will be just like the “Nowadays” number in Chicago with a Doxie and Vannon duet as they reminisce about the campaign. The song brings us up to the Inaugural Address. Before the speech begins we see the audience enter in their alt-right clothing, nazi tattoos, and red ball caps; a live mic picks up lines like, “ Finally, we can call ‘em fags again” and “fucking jews”.

Doxie gives a revised, Hitler-like version of Trump’s actual speech which leaves the theatre audience stunned and depressed. (Minstrels often had a malaprop filled “stump speech” bit in the third act.) The onstage audience of actors will gradually alter their clothing to become a uniformed “Springtime for Hitler” kind of high-kicking chorus line of Trump-faced Soldiers lined up down stage.

The on-stage lights will snap out while house lights come up revealing two soldiers at each theatre exit putting chains around the door handles. The real audience will start to get anxious. An elderly audience member attempts to go to the bathroom, but is knocked down by a guard. Everyone gasps! Is that part of the show? The onstage show stops, the lights become stark harsh white and the chorus stares at the audience while big shit-eating grins grow on their faces. They move up stage revealing Doxie, center stage. She takes off the wig, the TrumpFace and the Trump suit, revealing ‘him’ to be a black woman wearing blackface outlined with fluorescent colors. She comes forward to address the audience.

So, you think this is funny, don’t you? You are wrong. You’re trapped! [all the lights go out with a ‘ker-chunk’ type noise] You’re blind, [spot on Doxie’s head] and you have no choice but to listen to me! [as volume increases and her voice echoes harshly]. You paid to be here, you asked for it and now, you are not so sure what to do next. Am I right?

[Sarcastic] So, you thought humor would make Trump go away. Watch a little Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, or Samantha Bee and life becomes tolerable again. You’re pacified, you’re complacent and then you’re docile enough to go to work for one more day. [shouts] Well, that’s not going to happen here.

You. All of you, have just volunteered for the biggest challenge of ALL our lives. When you, and I, leave here, and, yes, you will leave here. [lights on guards removing chains] You will not be complacent or the least bit docile. You will be determined and you will be serious. You will have no need for pacification because you will commit yourself to the task at hand. You will be an active member of the Resistance. You will be the solution!

To drive home the stakes at play in this circumstance, the second part of act one will involve Doxie, the black-faced black woman, magically guiding the audience through dark and dramatic ‘future’ scenarios revealing Trump’s religious bigotry, anti-environment policies, and hostility. It will be like the audience is Scrooge and she is the ghost of things to come. The Tiny Tims of tomorrow will provoke the passions and anger of the audience.

Intermission allows time to process the weirdness of the first act. The second act brings us to our current reality where we constantly hear the rumor of unnecessary deportations, bigotry and religious exclusions. The scene will be a community center’s meeting room, It is filling up with folks from the neighborhood.  Doxie enters in regular street make-up this time, no longer the ghost of a scary future, but her clothes have hints of the fluorescent colors of her mask in act one. She’s a somewhat plain average person. She is the present day leader of this small group of neighbors. She has brought them together to solve the problem of Trump. This will be the first meeting of the local Resistance. The everyday folks who attend this meeting will work collaboratively to create a goal and build a plan of action. This act will be modeled somewhat on Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty where, at the end, the whole audience stands and chants: Strike, Strike, Strike” with fists raised in defiance! Except that, we’ll be shouting: Resist, Resist, Resist! The spirit of shared purpose and possibility will cause our spirits to soar!

(We would do a big splashy production number for a curtain call except that the audience will have moved too far beyond the artificial pretense of musicals. The entertainment is over; now it is time to do something.)


 

P.S. The Minstrel Show was the most vile, racist propaganda our country has ever experienced. The most horrible stereotypes were presented on stage. Many of those images remain today. Some performers continue to perpetrate the minstrel mentality, especially in the music business. At first, all the minstrel performers were whites in blackface. Black actors were eventually allowed on stage years later, but they still had to wear blackface. Think about the mental dissonance required to perform absurd parodies of your own culture while wearing a mask that ridicules your very own being! Doxie takes that mask and makes it something else by trimming it with fluorescent colors – she becomes a magical guide warning us of possibilities. Remember, she removes the minstrel mask of TrumpFace in order to guide us to the future. In act two she is a normal person, but she still carries with her the strength of her cultural  heritage and the knowledge that going back can never happen again. The metaphor of removing masks to allow our true selves to take action presents a powerful lesson in personal growth leading to communal strength.

Feeling Daffy Duck-ish

The animator’s pencil comes into the frame, eraser first, as it starts to remove the black and yellow duck known as Daffy from the screen. The duck continues a conversation with the unseen animator complaining about being erased. It’s a surreal, existentialist cartoon from Warner Brothers that plays with the conventions of the dramatic art of cartooning.

To enjoy a cartoon, you, the audience, must first accept the illusion of reality as presented in the animator’s product. Once you realize the conventions of the illusion: bright colors, stylized scenery, animation, funny voices, sound effects etc. you can choose to go along with it or not. The natural inclination is to disbelieve things that are so blatantly artificial, so you must temporarily suspend your disbelief to give the artist the opportunity to present his art. Duck Amuck, pokes fun at the cartoonist’s own rules through a number of techniques calling into question what reality is, and other existential dilemmas. The image of a god-like pencil and unseen power controlling it could be frightening in another circumstance.

I’m feeling a little Daffy Duck-ish today, speaking of other circumstances. The omni-twitter-present power controlling our government’s pencil is erasing me. After fighting my whole lifetime for the opportunity to be recognized in society and especially by the government, Trump is erasing me from the picture. I know it’s not personal, he is erasing a whole category of which I am apart. I am old, gay, disabled, and I have no children. This category of individual is being erased from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP). The love that dare not speak its name from my youth is being told to shut up again. Well, not exactly told so much as the questions about us have disappeared from the questionnaire. We won’t statistically exist any longer. Poof, gone!

We know it is a planned effort on the part of the administration for a number of reasons:

  1. They are doing the same thing on the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living which evaluates services that help people with disabilities to live independently. No statistics specific to the gay population will be collected this time.
  2. They lied about the changes made in the surveys. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) oversees the surveys.  They give a new reason for the dismissal of questions while contradictory statements about these issues remain on their own website. They describe the current questionnaire as not being any different from the last one.
  3. “An anonymous administration official confirmed to the AP that the agency targeted LGBT questions in the surveys” according to Zach Ford’s post in Think Progress yesterday.
  4. The LGBT rights web page disappeared from the WhiteHouse site on Trump’s inauguration day.
  5. A HUD survey on LGBT homeless was dropped completely. No data there!
  6. And of course, all the pull back on transgender issues in education and in North Carolina.
  7. This is a continuation of the homogenization of our culture. I have mentioned it before. No attempts to recognize diversity are being made. We are all the same – worker bees. Our distinctive characteristics are diminished while our commonality is reinforced.  There is no point in recognizing any sub-group because Trump, really doesn’t want any identity to define Americans other than American. Ignore the “Special Interest” to remove its power as a sub-group. He spelled this out in his inaugural address.

Those of us of a certain age are quite familiar with a closet. We know it when we see it. This is the database version of the closet. If there is nothing to find in the database then it doesn’t exist. If the questions aren’t asked in the research then there is no data to report. When there is no search information to find, the query provides no answer, so a default answer is applied. Our society is so reliant upon searchable data that even our religious institutions have trouble relating to the humanity of their belief system. Take, for example, the Pope’s recent Apostolic Exhortation on love, it is designed to fit into a database. Lawyers must have written it given the legalistic nature of statements defining the rules of Catholic love. It is a forceful anti-LGBT document dressed up in the flowery language of condescension.

There are clear edges on each rule starting with the first sentence. “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” This says what they mean it to say, but further explanation of the fine points is necessary. It’s a declaration that the church and the family are inseparable, making love impossible without the church and its database of rules. There can be no love in a family unless it follows the rules in his book. My reaction to this is one of eww yuck – I don’t want the church in bed with me. I envision a creepy priest peeking under the covers of each bed while the family is asleep.  The Exhortation is a long list of rules that fit in the database and become absolute criteria for love to exist. I was never a Catholic, but once I had read this manual for love I was appalled at the audacity of those pompous men in robes for demanding this from human beings. I’ve never read anything so pretentiously cruel. You see, a database has no way to turn emotion into data. The church disregards, denies or ignores the feelings of the humans it overlords.

Trump is formulating his own exhortation on being a subject under his rule. His first criteria is that every commoner will be regarded in the same way unless they are rich. Money is the deciding factor in whether distinctiveness shall be noticed. Are the rules for belonging to Mara Lago that different in their exclusivity than the Pope’s Exhortation? In the Pope’s realm the excluded masses go to hell; in Trump’s realm the excluded masses become the homogenous 99% citizens of America. The only distinction that matters has already been made. No need to gather the data of distinction.

So, the end of Duck Amuck reveals the unseen hand of God controlling the eraser to be Bugs Bunny. Who knew Bugs, the Pope and Trump have so much in common? The final line in the cartoon is Bugs’: “Ain’t I a stinker?” The answer is three times yes.

Thats all folks!trio

Still willing to suspend your disbelief?

 

Ceremonial Deism and Alternate Facts

God, so prominently mentioned on our currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance, is an ambiguous term. It is so devoid of spiritual significance in either context as to be absolutely meaningless. But that doesn’t stop the atheist community from being upset by its omnipresence in society, nor does it keep the evangelical community from going ballistic when people try to take it away. Maybe we should relax about this. Maybe the degradation of this particular word is a good thing – let them make God bland.

A word looses its original meaning when it becomes overly commonplace, mundane and familiar; in this case the god we purport to trust on our pennies and quarters is just a slogan – “God” becomes routine, not special, just a word. It looses significance because of rote repetition. Ceremonial Deism is the legal word-of-art that excuses this phenomenon. The legal system invokes this theory to justify the use of a generic god in secular public life, thereby, bypassing the constitutional establishment of government religion. The courts created what Trump’s folks call an alternate fact version of God. When god is mentioned in public it doesn’t mean the God of any particular religion. It is ceremonial. It refers to whatever supernatural entity an individual subscribes to, and that is up to the individual, no one else. The alternate god no longer means anything specific so why ban it?

‘In God We Trust’ is a powerful sentiment for those who already have a clear idea of a god, but those with a secular perspective find it pointless. That’s the beauty and the intent of this shared delusion – everyone takes from it what he or she already believes. Franklin Graham believes the government publicly supports his version of a god, so he defiantly mentioned Jesus in the closing of his prayer at Trump’s inauguration. This had the effect of making Jesus generic!! Jesus was formally neutered of Christian significance by Graham’s act and made ‘ceremonial’ if the logic of the courts holds true. I am sure Franklin had the opposite intention, but that is the trap of alternate facts, if we put it on our money and in our pledge and justify its use through the removal of its meaning, then we are left with a shell. Christians can believe in this alternate shell of their faith and the followers of Zeus (if any exist) can believe the same thing. Everybody comes away happy. Well, maybe not the Hindus who might prefer the plural: In Gods We Trust.

Still the shared delusion is maintained. Humanity’s natural tendency to seek comfort in groups of like-minded people while avoiding the use of reason, is the order of the day. Nobody’s gonna look foolish due to a supernatural “belief” if everybody else is affirming their own irrational belief. The only people who don’t fit into this scheme are the people who don’t have an irrational belief, those who prefer rational exploration. But, their numbers are small and they think too much, so don’t worry about that complaint. At least, that is what the courts, the legislature and our president want. So lets give it to them!

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Let them create their semantic utopia. Let posters adorn each classroom with the milk-toast pabulum of trust in god. Let them force this word into the daily life of all of us so that we give it no more notice than a crack in the sidewalk. The more commonplace the aphorism the less significant is its message. Bumper sticker moralizing turns God into a greeting card message – all sentiment, no substance, and totally impersonal.

Look how willingly evangelicals abandoned their principals to get Trump elected. He hooked them into believing he shared the minimum, a ceremonial deist’s faith. “See, he’s just like a penny: in God he trusts.” (Although, he may not even capitalize the ‘g’in god, we don’t really know.) “He’s one of us. Let’s place our faith in him.”

Perhaps we could surreptitiously sponsor a new ‘religious’ cover for secular humanism – Ceremonial Deism. Its sole purpose would be to homogenize theology into a pasty-sweet, mind-numbing form of the narcotic: soma as Aldous Huxley presents in Brave New World. Appease the masses with the comfort of a shared illusion. Alternate facts taken to a theo- logical conclusion. ‘God’ officially becomes significance-neutral when anyone can interpret it as they see fit.

Where are the adults?

Remember back in school when the teacher lefty the room for a few moments and all hell broke loose? The girls started talking, the bullies started picking on the nerds and guys would start telling dirty jokes. I was the nerd in that scenario. I really didn’t want to get in trouble so I was probably the only kid there hoping the teacher would come back right away.

I’ve been re-living that same sensation during the whole presidential campaign. When is an adult going to come and restore order? The teacher has been gone so long now that the bully is in charge, the guys are acting out their dirty jokes and the girls have made one another cry so often that they’ve started doing it all over again.

Seriously, the adult has to come back and tell the bully that working with the Russians is bad, then make him sit in the corner until he gets it. Tell him to stop lying. Use the dictionary. Be polite to guests, immigrants and German Chancellors. Stop killing the poor, young, sick, old and disabled by taking away their health care and polluting the environment. Don’t start any wars or threaten nuclear nations with leaders wackier than you are. Finally, take him off Twitter.

Alpaca Rhetoric

Words are meant to lead. The mother of a baby alpaca will repeatedly click her tongue and make a noise similar to, but quieter than an alpaca’s alarm call. The baby, or cria, learns the mother’s voice first, and knows what and who to pay attention to within moments of birth. The cria will be able toalpaca copy walk within the first hour or so; those noises from the mother must be understood in case the herd happens to move to a different spot. The kid must find her mother during the journey. A newborn straggler would become an easy lunch for predators.

The ‘words’ of the alpaca mother are, “come here kid” and “stay with me”.  Words that command the cria to follow. While a baby will take months to learn the human version of this same communication, the alpaca will pick up just a few more ‘words’ before reaching the limits of its lifetime vocabulary. Humans have a much more complicated relationship with language.

Rhetoric, the use of language to persuade, is a primary component of daily life. We place most of our trust in leaders who use the language well. I recall the opened-mouth fascination of watching Mario Cuomo’s speech from the 1984 Democratic Convention, or Reagan’s ‘Shinning City on a Hill’ Speech. Barack Obama wrote and delivered superior speeches that moved the soul on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Lets take a side track for a moment and talk about Theatre of the Absurd. It ties in with the topic at hand. So, if your family were farmers in certain parts of Europe it is possible that during both WWI and WWII your farm was destroyed by the fighting in the wars. After facing the reconstruction of your property for a second time you start to wonder – What’s life all about? Each bloodied soldier sitting on your crops could tell you their version of truth but none of it matters because you still have to bury the bodies, rebuild the fields and the fences and regrow the garden from scratch. Trying to make sense of this puts you in a state of existential shock. Your existence seems to be without purpose, illogical, out of harmony, useless, devoid of reason, meaningless, hopeless, chaotic, lacking order, and uncertain. Playwrights try to illustrate this frustration on stage through the use of Theatre of the Absurd.

A key theme in this genre is the futility of language. When language doesn’t convey commonly understood meanings, communication becomes futile. Illustrating that on stage is baffling and frustrating to the audience who search for meaning in the words. The characters proceed on to the next event whether the communication is clear to the audience or not. It’s like the farmer watching the soldiers destroy the family farm again. No explanation is provided that answers the question, Why? Or, What is life about? Or, How can God exist in this horror?

7738585Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker is an example. The audience watches domination and submission games played by the characters who engage in somewhat mundane conversations.  One of its main themes is about family bonding without the help of dialogue between the two brothers. They speak, but what is spoken is not understood, resulting in isolation. There are long moments of silence in the play which create a menacing feeling. The characters deceive one another and themselves. Self deceptions are repeated throughout the play, creating an artful motif. The menace, lies and solitude suggest a world where the foundations of co-existence: time, place, and identity are as ambiguous and as fluid as is the language.

So, now we have a President and Republican Congress invading our farm. When Trump speaks, the futility of language is exposed. He deceives everyone along with himself, mostly with lies and delusions. Consequently, he feels isolated, even from his wife. He communicates through incomplete thoughts tweeted to the world in the middle of the night. His un-indicted and soon to be indicted co-conspirators pretend like it all makes sense. They proceed on to the next event as if nothing odd has happened. It’s like one big improvisational absurd theatre piece playing out for the world right in our own back yard.

A playwright gives a play structure, there are themes and metaphors and plot. The play may be enigmatic in meaning, but at least there is a structure to the story telling process. Events occur throughout the play in some sort of formalized manner, following at least some of the basic conventions of the theatre. Meanwhile, on Trump’s stage, the conventions of leadership have been torn asunder to such a degree that even a fairly conventional speech to congress can’t be taken at face value, or any value for that matter. He has teased the audience way too much with lies and misdirection. He has reached a point where his shtick no longer represents an artful tale of existential questioning. The time has come for the director of the production to say: We stopped being credible a long time ago, let’s go back and fix it. The essential function of Trump’s absurd communication is not sufficient to lead anyone anywhere, not even a cria to her mother.

Bureaucracy, the Lesser Bully

Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gates and asked Mr. ronald-reagan-brandenburg-gate-west-berlin-june-12-1987-pictureGorbachev to “Tear down this wall”. It was an act of bravery. The risk he took was less than it may have seemed. The Soviet Union was ripe for collapse. A key bit of evidence for this was found in the products made by this cumbersome bureaucracy. A tractor was worth more in raw materials than it was fresh off the assembly line. There was no motivation for quality control in the massive State Committee for Planning’s centralized control system due to a lack of competition and overwhelming bureaucratic inertia. At the time I was predicting the same thing would happen here in the United States, except that it may take longer.

Bureaucracy – the structural processes of organizational operations – becomes entrenched and grows into mammoth entities with an insatiable need to expand. For example, when I started teaching in 1982, Universities employed mostly professors along with minimal administrative support. Now, professors are almost an afterthought to the management bureaucracies that have taken over. The priorities have ballooned to include satisfying the ‘customer experience’ and ‘job training,’ all of which can be done by staff or adjunct professors to lower the cost of running the school’s ever-growing bureaucracy. Students and faculty alike are intimidated by the intractability of the systemic bully.

When I think of a new start to a clogged up, non-functional system, I’d start with the goal first. What is this system meant to do? Then I’d look at what it actually is doing, then I’d start digging to find the obvious clog points, identify them and collect my observations. I’d study what I have found and then research the ways the same thing is being done elsewhere. A plan would be created for addressing the goals. I wouldn’t destroy the old system until the new plan is ready. The solution could call for anything, from a small patch job to total reconstruction, but destruction first and ask questions later is foolish.

Trump has brought in bulldozers to deconstruct the ‘administrative state’ as Bannon said at CPAC. Cabinet heads were chosen to dismantle the government bureaucracy. We have yet to learn how it will happen in each area but given the haphazard behavior of Trump, I doubt they will do due diligence first. There is no attempt at hand to make things better, at least no one is talking about ‘improvement,’ they talk about ‘change.’ They talk about elimination of burdensome regulations and compliance checks. They talk about privatization and freedom for business. They talk about making it the ‘best’ without defining best. Remember Trump promised us: “the ‘best’ people will be in my cabinet” and look who we got.

greedI can see how people whose singular concern is making money would prefer the anarchy of the Robber Baron era, where each person fends for themselves.  Why not disregard the safety and security of the worker and her health and his family, and their ability to breathe and drink clean water and endure radical weather changes? The Trumpian moral god is me-first GREED. Humanity is what they exploit and consume to make money; it’s a necessary inconvenience on the path to wealth and dominance by the 1%.

Now, I hate the bully, bureaucracy, but the government’s is a necessary inconvenience I happily choose over being consumed by rich people. It is my preferred bully. It’s not perfect, but it is not meant to be malicious. A component element of greed is the damage it does to other humans. Greed is purposefully malicious.