Saturday, June 30, 2018

You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline

I sometimes wonder about republicans like Flake and McCain and Collins and Murkowski who are always making feeble little anti-trump noises but then invariably fall into line when it actually matters in any way. I think: you guys could stop him cold if you really wanted to. You could fuck his shit up. But...obviously, you don't want to do that. So stop with the self-righteous mewling! You're sufficiently self-aware to know that history will not judge this president kindly; do you really think it's going to give any more credit to people who could have stopped him but didn't?

I think there's actually a dissonant feedback loop in these people's heads (not consciously, of course): ugh, this guy is embarrassing, he's grotesque and he constantly tells idiotic lies. I'll speak out against him! He's the worst! But...he's also letting us do whatever we want! But how can I reconcile that with the fact that he's awful? It can't just be that I object to him on aesthetic grounds; that would be embarrassing. I must object to him on substantive grounds? And yet he's doing exactly what I want on substantive grounds! ABORT RETRY FAIL.

So they try to square the circle in this most infuriatingly cowardly way: they say mean things about the president, but when it comes anything substantive, they support him anyway, in spite of whatever grade-school insults he flings at them on twitter. And they expect--and, in some cases, get, from our dumber commentators--praise for this shit. They're trying to have it both ways, but in the process they're just degrading themselves.

If they actually objected to trump in any serious way, this would be a simple calculation, especially if you're retiring like Flake or dying like McCain: caucus with Democrats to staunch the bleeding. This would win you genuine admiration. Sure, people like me might grumble things like "TOOK you long enough," but any such criticism would be drowned out my tidal waves of good will--and really, I shouldn't gripe; as much as it's the obvious ethical thing to do, it's not easy to turn your entire life around like that, so if you're able to, GREAT.

But if you're not interested in doing that or not able to: kindly shut the fuck up. You are worthy of nothing but contempt, and your dim self-awareness doesn't make this any less the case. More, if anything.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

José Esteban Muñoz

Muñoz is a Cuban-American queer theorist. I very heavily drew on his work--in particular his book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity--for my doctoral dissertation. It was interesting stuff with a lot of explanatory power, and it's influenced my thinking to this day (also, he and I share an alma mater, for what it's worth). I mean, I don't spend a lot of time reading critical theory just for kicks (although maybe I should), but I value it significantly. Recently, I had cause to call on Muñoz's work again for the final project of my MA in TESOL, so I googled him to find out what he'd been up to lately...only to find, to my dismay, that he'd died of heart failure at the age of forty-six, less than a year after I'd finished my doctorate. I think we can all agree that that's pretty much THE WORST.

His big thing--at least the big thing that I used--was "potentiality," which is a potent concept and one certainly valuable for our current times. "Unlike a possibility," he explains, "a thing that simply might happen, a potentiality is a certain mode of non-being that is eminent, a thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense." He posits that

queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness's domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present.

He's focused on sexuality here, obviously, but this concept doesn't have to be limited to that arena. You can think of the United States as it exists now--an absolute fucking shithole, ruled by sociopathic authoritarians and white supremacists. But, you can still, as it were "feel" a more hopeful future, and try to incorporate it into the present to the extent you're able. Live the future you want to see now. I know that may sound intolerably glib when people are suffering in real, concrete, non-theoretical-bullshit ways, right here right now, but regardless of what's happening, we still need to figure out how to survive as best we can, and I think potentiality is an important tool in that fight.

Anyway, a belated but sincere Rest In Peace to Muñoz.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mario Vargas Llosa, Conversation in the Cathedral (1969)

So it takes place in Peru in the 1950s (where and when Vargas Llosa himself was growing up), under the military dictatorship of Manuel A. Odría (Christ, there have been so goddamn many dictators in this world it's impossible to keep track of them all). The protagonists are Santiago Zavala, a senator's son working as a mediocre journalist for a middling newspaper; and Ambrosio, his father's former chauffeur and, at various times, hired goon. They meet at random and go to have drinks ("The Cathedral" is the name of a restaurant/bar, though the connotations with actual cathedrals and confessions is clearly not coincidental). They talk about their lives, the lives of related characters, and the life of the country, if you like. theory; this whole conceit is a bit inconsistent. There are places where Santiago and Ambrosio's "present-day" conversation drops out, and there are plenty of parts about things that neither of them could possibly have been privy to. Also, you have to wonder just how damn long this "conversation" would have to have been, for a six-hundred-page novel. I suppose it raises similar questions that you get in Conrad novels: just how long is this story that Marlow is supposed to be telling, anyway? Well, that's not really important.
Read more »

Friday, June 15, 2018

Night in the Woods (2017)

The first thing about Night in the is that I played through it, then immediately played through it again. That is NOT something I would normally do--not something I'd ever do, really--with a longish story game. But I was just that captivated.
Read more »

Thursday, June 14, 2018

I'm pretty sure Woody Allen is not a child rapist.

CONTROVERSIAL OPINION TIME, though it's dumb as hell that it should actually be so controversial. #metoo is important, and not marginalizing victims is important, but good lord, people. That doesn't mean that you need to completely lose your critical faculties. You DO remember the daycare workers in the eighties whose lives were ruined by self-evidently spurious claims that they were involved in Satanic rape rituals? Obviously, Allen is not suffering in that way, but STILL: let's consider that this entire case is based on ONE (1) incident, that allegedly happened while Mia Farrow was SUPER pissed off (justifiably) at him for the Soon-Yi Previn business. And consider that he has NEVER been the subject of similar accusations from anyone. And consider that there were extensive investigations that found absolutely NO evidence of this having happened. And while you're at it, consider Moses Farrow's extremely convincing testament. For the record, I don't suppose that Dylan Farrow is lying; we know how strong false memories can be. And at this point, who knows if Mia is either. I mean, we naturally recoil at the idea of accusing people of being wrong about things like this, which obviously HAVE caused a lot of pain whether or not they're true, but fercrissake, there's shitloads of evidence that such things do HAPPEN, and the fact that you're primed to believe victims, while laudable, doesn't mean you should just lose your fucking mind.

I'm not saying it's outside the realm of possibility that this did in fact happen, but I do think that possibility is pretty damned remote, and it's just bizarre to me how many people just assume that it definitely happened, Allen's a monster, end of story. The train of thought--whether or not it's articulated--seems to go "Allen's kinda skeezy, therefore IT STANDS TO REASON that he's also a child rapist!" Do I need to go into to detail about why that's so insane? I mean, I'll agree with the skeezy part, but come the fuck on. At the very least, admit that you could be wrong and get down off your high horse about how horrible it is that actors are still willing to work with him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Things I say elsewhere

Comments on blogs really do just disappear into the mists of something, so here's what I said in response to this post, which was about the, uh, enthusiastic wingnut response to Trump's play-treaty with North Korea (including plenty of actual factual quotes if you want to gaze into the hellmouth):

It really is extraordinary how their policy positions (if you want to call them that) are very explicitly based on Owning Teh Libz and basically nothing else. I've certainly gloated a little in the wake of blue-wave elections, but I can honestly say that I have never evaluated a Democratic policy position based on how much it would piss off my perceived enemies. I guess hate is a drug that isn't immediately addictive, but when you have a huge line of pushers--fox, brietbart, infowars, et al--just lining up, it's super-easy to let it happen.
Still, even by those standards this is some weak tea. I'm REALLY supposed to feel owned by a ridiculous pretend treaty? As far as Trump enormities goes, this barely registers. Free pro-tip to any wingnuts reading this: if you REALLY want to trigger me like the safe-space-needing SJW snowflake I am, you should spend more time gloating about terrified children being ripped away from their parents. I have to admit, you really Owned me with that one. And just think: all you had to do was sacrifice any vestige of basic humanity!

This shit really is amazing and horrifying.  They really do live to hate.  I'm trying to conceive of the hell that is the inside of their heads, but I can't do it, my friends.  Any more than I can Our Great and Mighty President's.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Three Trapped Tigers (1967)

Cuban. 1929-2005. The back cover copy of the Dalkey edition says that "this novel has been praised as a more modern, sexier, funnier, Cuban Ulysses." Overlooking for a moment the peculiar lack of agency in claims like this--who praised it thus?--I always think, dude, are you SURE you want to say that? Because you're just setting yourself up for failure: your book may be good, but it just seems unlikely that it's Ulysses-level. You come at the king you best not miss, is all I'm saying.
Read more »

Friday, June 08, 2018

Dialogue on Trump Supporters

"Trump is in favor of ripping screaming children from their parents' arms and separating them indefinitely.  Eighty-seven percent of Republicans support him, and therefore support this. The party is massively dominated by huge sociopaths."

"Oh yeah? Did you support Obama?"

"More or less."

"Right, so in that case, you support--just for instance--the ongoing atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia against Yemen, which he aided and abetted. See how that works?"

"Obama did bad things, but he also did good things. It's not pretty, but when you're deciding who to support in politics, you have to exercise a certain degree of pragmatism. That's just the way it is."

"Uh...and you realize that a Trump supporter could say the exact same thing?"

"But they don't, do they? Instead, they show up in facebook threads on the subject to piously opine that the people being ripped away from their parents deserve it because their parents should've worked harder to become legal. You know--like a sociopath would do. And if there are people saying this, you know there are a shitload more thinking it."

"Yes, there is some percentage of republicans who are truly bad people in that way. But you haven't demonstrated that it's all of them."

"No, it's not all of them. It's eighty-seven percent of them. The remaining thirteen percent are overrepresented in the media because outlets want to be seen as letting conservative viewpoints be heard but don't want to put the basic savagery of Trump supporters on display, but the ones who like Trump--yup!"

" have to admit, as inconceivable as it seems, there are people who are so monumentally myopic that they either aren't even aware of these things or look at them so glancingly that they don't make any impression on them."

"Doesn't exactly shower them in glory."

"No, but that's not what we're arguing about here."

"So...these hypothetical Trump supporters who don't like racism; they just like the other things he's doing. Can you, like, give me some examples of things they support about him?"

"Well, there's the tax-cutting and the regulation-slashing and the trying-to-get-rid-of-the-affordable-care-act and the general he-tells-it-like-it-is bellicosity."

"Wow, great. So the argument is that they like him because he tries to do things that will hurt people--but it's not racism per se."


"And in any case, I fucking doubt that. Apart from the billionaires themselves, who the fuck wants tax cuts for billionaires? And who wants their kids to be able to inhale more pesticide? This is the shit that people put up with or hand-wave away because they like police brutality and raging against kneeling NFL players. Is there any evidence that that's how it works?"

"Well, you must remember that friend-of-a-friend on facebook who was convinced that Trump was providing lots of help to veterans."

"Yes, and she didn't seem very smart, did she?"

"Not the point."

"So our argument is that some Trump supporters are racist and some are dumb-as-rocks? Is that it?"

"Not mutually exclusive categories."

"Right, but those are the two?"

"Looks like it."

"Okay, I'll concede that not all of his support is predicated on racism. But it's more than a little, I'll tell you that much."


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

You got to lie to me baby

People often say things like "Trump is a BIG LIAR. Look, I'm a fact-checking organization, and I've found that he tells 14.7 billion lies per second! It's all meticulously recorded!"  But...does he? Don't get me wrong; I'm sure he makes that many untrue statements. But that's not quite the same as lying. Because I'm actually pretty sure he's so fundamentally broken that--among other things--he doesn't conceptualize "truth" and "lie" the way other people do. For him, something is true if it's advantageous to him at the moment he says it, and vice versa. Nothing any more complicated than that. This perfectly explains the whole "fake news" thing. It would be a fool's errand to ask what specific truth value he objects to in any given newspaper or late-night talk show he so labels: that ain't what he's talking about.

Does this absolve him of charges of being THE WORST? Yes and no. No because he's still, self-evidently, The Worst, but...well, I always used to use a formulation when talking about other horrible public figures along the lines of "is Ben Shapiro the single worst person in public life today? Well, no, obviously, not in a world with Trump, but he's still pretty darned vile." But it really depends how you're defining terms, dunnit? Does the president, who is thoroughly incapable of being other than he is, get the number one spot...or are people who theoretically have the cognitive ability to know better but nonetheless are all-in Trump defenders and apologists actually worse? The world may never know.

I really want to understand the mental processes of vilely dishonest creeps like Shapiro or D'Souza, but I can't. People always say things like "well, people are capable of deluding themselves to an almost endless degree." YEAH COOL. But that doesn't tell me how it actually feels. Like for instance, to pick maybe the easiest example, D'Souza talking about how the Democrats are the Real Racists because, of course, the polarity of the parties has remained unchanged since the Civil War. This is obvious, specious nonsense, and it's extremely easy to explain how it's nonsense. I'm sure people have tried that before on him. AND YET, it sure hasn't worked. I don't think he thinks he's being intentionally deceptive, or if he does, it's so mixed up in believing what he wants to believe that it's impossible to disentangle the strands, but there you are. I want to know how, when presented with really unambiguous facts, people are able to dismiss them. DON'T TELL ME that people are capable of endless self-deception. I know that! That's a tautology! "People fool themselves because they're able to fool themselves," brilliant. But that's not what I'm asking! The unanswerable question that I'm asking is: how, specifically, does it feel to be a lying, propagandist piece of shit? To be able to look clear, easy-to-understand evidence that your worldview is based on poisonous lies square in the face, and not even blink. I mean, I try to be as self-aware as possible, but are there unambiguously false things that I nonetheless believe? I'd like to at least think that if there were, and I was presented with clear evidence of this, I'd change my mind. But hell, I don't know. Still, please lock me up in an asylum if I'm ever this fucked up.

Monday, June 04, 2018

"Don't be a dick" seems like such a simple rule

So...yes. Gay wedding cakes. Now, here's the thing: this isn't really analogous to refusing to provide gay people essential services. And you could easily say something convincing-sounding like "would you require a Jewish bookstore to stock Protocols of the Elders of Zion?"

But here's the other thing: if someone goes around comparing gay marriage to nazi propaganda, you would be entirely justified in punching them hard in the genitals and shouting WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

This isn't a legal argument. Obviously. But I think people often get stuck in this legalistic morass while ignoring the potent moral and emotional points. How do you think someone's going to feel to go into a store to make preparations for what's supposed to be a joyful day and have the clerk go "nope, sorry, I think you're not fully human, so pound sand?" People glibly say "oh, just go somewhere else," but you think that isn't going to be the most awful feeling? Where's your empathy?

People have the right to be cruel, I guess. But let's not countenance the impression that legal=ethical/moral/humane set in. At the very least, I think homophobic bakeries should be required to put big ol' NO HOMOS signs out front. See how the sacred Free Market likes your smallness.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Augusto Roa Bastos, I the Supreme (1974)

So I keep hearing variations of the story of how this came to be written, but let us eschew epistemological uncertainty and just say that three writers got together and swore a Terrible Oath that they would each write a novel about a Latin American dictator, the results being Garcia Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, Alejo Carpentier's Reasons of State (which I haven't read yet) and...this. Which is best? Difficult to say, but what's inarguably true is that this is the only one of the three novels that is its author's best-known work.
Read more »