Sunday, December 31, 2023

Easy Sunday: The Donald Trump Body Odor Meme

Drop it. 

The Trump-body-odor meme is a bad idea.

People interested enough in politics to read this blog have probably heard it by now: Donald Trump stinks. 

If readers enter the world of Twitter-now-X, YouTube shorts, TikTok, or Lincoln Project advertising, they will encounter it. Google "Donald Trump stinks."

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger put it into the media ether. He says, with a straight face and no indication of trolling, that Trump has unpleasant body odor.

Question:  The odor, the stench, the stink. How bad is it?

Kinzinger: It's not good. The best way to describe it.  You take like armpits, ketchup, like a butt, you put it in a blender -- and make-up -- and put that all in a blender and bottle it up as a cologne, it's kind of that.

Partisans are passing around video of people standing next to Trump making the face one makes when encountering a surprise stink, along with a voice-over of people describing this odor. A former employee on the set of "The Apprentice" says that Trump has uncontrollable bowels. Trump would need to leave the set abruptly after having accidents that left a mess.

I see the temptation in all this for Democrats. Trump dishes out insults against opponents, and turn-about is fair play. Who better to insult than the guy who calls Jeb Bush "Low Energy," adds the name "Lying" to Ted Cruz, and who repeatedly calls Joe Biden "Sleepy," then "Demented," and now "Crooked Joe." I get it. It seems fair. And fun.

But Democrats shouldn't fall for it. For one thing, it might possibly be true. Maybe Trump does have a bowel incontinence problem. So do other people, which is why one can find adult diapers for sale in every grocery store. Democrats should not shame people for physical conditions like that. It is impolite. It is cruel. It is bad politics. Those people vote.

Or it might be wholly untrue, in which case Democrats are doing what Trump does, spreading lies for the delight of partisans. 

Either way, Democrats would be going off-brand. Trump owns the twin brands of lying about others and being nasty and vicious about it. Trump has trained GOP partisans to demand it. That is why MAGA is a mixed brand. Republican politicians want to be MAGA in the primary election but then pretend not to be MAGA in the general. They realize that MAGA now signifies destruction of both institutions and civility. 

There is a body of Americans who may not be thrilled with Biden, but who are disgusted by Trump. They are the body of people who will cast a reluctant vote for Biden because at least he seems normal and decent. He gets bipartisan legislation passed. He is civil. Whatever else, he is a clear notch or two better than Trump and partisans who display blue signs in front of their houses that show a middle finger with the text that spells out "F---k Joe Biden, and F--k you for voting for him." 

This is a moment of New Year's resolutions. It is a moment to decide not to eat a second dessert. It is a moment to resolve not to do the self-indulgent unhealthy thing that is against one's self-interest.  Resist the temptation to be like Trump.

Get clarity of who is who. Democrats want to be the party of good governance in a healthy democracy. Trump wants to lead a party of nasty insults. Let Trump have that space to himself.

Added: in response to multiple requests. Links like these: Meidas Touch.  Lincoln ProjectI think these hurt Democrats by muddling the party brand comparison. When they go low, don't join them. 

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Saturday, December 30, 2023

You ignore the Constitution, that's what.

The title to this blog post is the answer to a question facing the U.S. Supreme Court.

The question is: 

"What do you do when the plain text of the Constitution conflicts with political convenience?"

This blog post makes a prediction. The Supreme Court will reverse the decision by Colorado and Maine to keep Trump off the ballot. They will ditch the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has a dilemma.  So far two states say Trump is ineligible to be president under the terms of the 14th Amendment. The justices watched with their own eyes an organized attempt to overthrow an election that culminated in a violent attack on the Capitol at a pivotal moment.  It wasn't an idle tourist visit by some over-enthusiastic partisans. Trump didn't just give the attack aid and comfort. He coordinated it. He authorized it. He made phone calls. He gave speeches. Trump had a plan that nearly worked: Persuade partisans to sign false documents as alternative electors, and then a vice president would pretend to have the power to discard the legitimate electors in favor of the alternates. The president told people to go to the Capitol to intimidate the vice president and Congress, and people did as he urged. People died in the melee.

It nearly worked. Vice President Michael Pence was under intense pressure. He called it a close decision. 

It sure looks like an insurrection -- a failed one.

The complication for the Supreme Court is that several members of it -- probably six of the nine -- approved of the potential result of the insurrection had it worked, Trump staying in office. It is awkward for those six to rule that what they witnessed was part of something fundamentally wrong and illegal since the wife of a colleague took active part in the overall plot. She wrote state legislators urging them to ignore the election result in their state and submit an alternative slate of electors. Calling it an insurrection plot implicates her.

Moreover, if the Supreme Cort rules that Trump did what they saw him do, then the Constitution forces them to remove a popular choice for president. They don't want to be in the middle of this.  

The Court is hoist on its own petard of textualism. The Constitution repeatedly prohibits popular choices. It puts up boundaries against popular majorities to stop them from decisions that would destroy the republic and our freedom.  The Constitutions says that presidents must be 35, native-born, and cannot serve more than two terms -- even if such a person would be the popular choice. Obama was the most popular politician in America in 2016, but he was ineligible to run for a third term. The Constitution said so. Congress and the states might have clear majorities wishing to prohibit speech praising Nazis or communism, or prohibiting the practice of Islam, or banning Latter Day Saints from doing missionary work in the U.S., or prohibiting Americans from bearing arms. Sorry. Cannot do. The Constitution's text prohibits it. A majority of Americans thought that reproductive privacy was embedded in the Fourth Amendment. Sorry. It's implied, maybe, the Court said, but it's not in the text, so no. If people want outcomes that aren't in the text, change the text, not the outcome. That is textualism.

The Constitution says engaging in insurrections, or giving aid and comfort to them, is disqualifying, unless Congress by a two-thirds vote says otherwise. There is a constitutional procedure here, in the text.

I predict the Supreme Court will be rank hypocrites. The majority has a result they want and it is directly counter to the text. It lets the Court rule pretending to disclaim power, saying that the people, not the Supreme Court should decide who is president, at least in this case. They will say Trump was maybe involved in a protest, not an insurrection. That lets them avoid declaring that Justice Thomas' wife was involved in something dangerously wrong. Their hypocrisy on textualism will be an embarrassment, but if Trump wins in 2024, the GOP can whitewash the events surrounding January 6. Trump will pardon everyone and stop all prosecutions, and call the participants patriots. If Trump loses in 2024, the Court can say that the people chose, and it all worked out without them interfering.

The only long-term victim here is the Constitution.

Confirming the Colorado and Maine decisions would be a giant step toward re-establishing the Supreme Court's non-partisan legitimacy, but that is a long-term benefit with short-term pain. Trump will be outraged. Republicans in Congress will pretend to be outraged, even though in reality most will be relieved. But the Court won't do the smart thing. They will do the hypocritical thing. Short term, it is easier to enable Trump. That is the pattern. Officeholders do it. The Court will do it.

The U.S. won't lose our constitutional democracy because German, Japanese, or Russian troops occupy the Capitol. We will do it to ourselves. 

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Friday, December 29, 2023

Toddlers believe in Santa. Growm-ups believe in Trump

I didn't get this shirt for Christmas.

Santa could have bought it for me for $13.99, and Amazon would have delivered it free to my home.

I didn't ask Santa for it. I wouldn't wear it outside the house. It is too in-your-face. Too many people believe in Trump with the childlike faith we are told to bring to the Kingdom of God. These may be "fighting words" to people I would see at the supermarket, and I don't want a fight. I don't want an argument, either, because Trump believers have their own set of facts. Trump has cast a spell on a majority of American Republicans.  

Guest Post author Gerald Murphy likened Trump supporters to young children who believe in Santa Claus. Murphy is a retired high school English teacher. He has written dozens of plays and musicals with productions in over forty countries, mostly in schools and community theaters.

Guest Post by Gerald Murphy

I was lucky enough to have been born into a huge Irish Catholic family. I was the eighth of nine kids, which meant that I not only received presents from my parents, but also from older siblings. In short, life was good.

Gerald is the boy on the lower left.

Like most younger kids, I believed firmly in Santa Claus. At age six, I had never heard or seen one scrap of evidence to suggest that he might be a fantasy, a myth, a pleasant little white lie to add magic to the holiday season.

In my sixth Christmas, however, we had a visit from Santa at our house which shook my faith in the jolly fellow. My oldest brother Jimmy brought Santa to the house one night. Santa wore a cheap red costume and an even cheaper white beard, which kept sliding down his face, revealing the chubby cheeks of Red Harrington, a neighbor. I recognized him immediately. I remember running to my bedroom and crying to myself. How could I have been so naïve? Of course, Santa was made up. How could he do all this gift-giving in one night? And what about the reindeer? Reindeers can’t fly! And why did so many people join together to keep this myth alive?

Of course, they had their reasons. In fact, any parent who refused to perpetuate the lie was considered a spoilsport and killjoy. And when it came to my own kids, I kept up the lie with the best of them.

But these are little white lies meant to delight children. They are not the dangerous kinds of lies that can cause actual harm. But when we have vast segments of our population falling for serious lies, our country can suffer greatly. When Fox News convinces almost half our population that there are “alternate” facts, that elections lies are in fact true, that only one side can win any election, and that Donald Trump is the magical Santa Claus hero we have all been waiting for, we are in deep trouble.

Jordan Klepper is an American comedian, writer, producer, and political commentator. For years he has shown up at Trump rallies throughout the country. He constantly rips the false beard from political liars, and he is a master at trapping Trump supporters into giving voice to their insane and inconsistent political convictions.

These are some of my favorite moments of Klepper interviewing Trump supporters at rallies in 2023:

The Two-Military Theory

KLEPPER: So who is our president?

MAGA PERSON: [Trump] is still president. There’s a lot of things this Biden person does not have, like the presidential seal and things like that, that are pretty obvious.

KLEPPER: Biden doesn’t have the presidential seal?


KLEPPER: When he speaks there’s the presidential seal in front of him.

MAGA PERSON: It’s not real.

KLEPPER: What is [Trump} doing as president?

MAGA PERSON: He’s in charge of the military.


MAGA PERSON: The military is in charge of the whole thing. The military were put in charge in 2018 when Donald Trump signed an executive order.

KLEPPER: And the American military arms that are going to Ukraine, we have Donald Trump to thank for that?

MAGA PERSON: No! No! There are two militaries!

KLEPPER: There are two militaries?

MAGA PERSON: Two militaries. The good and the bad.

KLEPPER: Donald Trump is in charge of the good one? Biden is in charge of the bad military?

MAGA PERSON: That’s exactly right.

How Donald Trump lost one MAGA man’s vote.

HALEY SUPPORTER: I voted for Trump, but I certainly will not be doing that again.

KLEPPER: When did Donald Trump lose your support?

HALEY SUPPORTER: The nail in the coffin for me for supporting Donald Trump….

KLEPPER: Let me guess! Charlottesville?

HALEY SUPPORTER: Nope. You’re not gonna guess it!

KLEPPER: Kids in cages?


KLEPPER: January sixth?


KLEPPER: Okay, okay! Let me try again. First impeachment?


KLEPPER: Second impeachment?


KLEPPER: How about inviting white supremacists over to Mar-a-Lago?


KLEPPER: I give up. What is it?

HALEY SUPPORTER: Criticizing DeSantis before the election.

KLEPPER: Wouldn’t have guessed it. So that’s the line right there.

HALEY SUPPORTER: There’s the nail in the coffin. I knew you wouldn’t have guessed it!

KLEPPER: That’s why I come out to talk to people. I’m constantly surprised.

Paying for Necessities

KLEPPER: Take me through your outfit.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: I bought the socks in town.

KLEPPER: And your socks have Trump’s head on them. How much did you pay for the sweatshirt?


KLEPPER: How much for the hat?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: $25. I think I get a new Maga hat at least once a month.

KLEPPER: How many do you have?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: I guess 40 or so.

KLEPPER: How do you feel we’re all doing under Biden?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: Economically, not good. I think inflation and the gas problem, everything is going up. Milk and eggs is just through the roof. You gotta have four jobs to pay the rent.

KLEPPER: How much money have you paid out for Trump swag?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: Couple thousand dollars.

KLEPPER: Wow, that’s a lot! But people are having a hard time paying for the necessities?


Trump’s Legal Problems

KLEPPER: How many indictments are we up to now?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: A lot. There’s Georgia.

KLEPPER: Yep, that’s Georgia.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: There’s New York City. That’s the bankruptcy.

KLEPPER: It’s hard to keep these straight!

TRUMP SUPPORTER: Right. He has a lot of them. I think they’re just trying to throw him in jail. It’s a witch hunt. Like what he said in New York.

KLEPPER: Was that pre or post the first indictment?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think that was right around the lady charges.

KLEPPER: Lady charges? Was that the Stormy Daniel charges or the sexual assault charges?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: The sexual assault charges.

KLEPPER: And he was found guilty of these charges, right?


KLEPPER: And you’re 100% sure you’re voting for Trump in the next election, right?


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Thursday, December 28, 2023

IYKYK What's that?????

"The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will."

There is a generation gap.

Some of my readers will see the quotation above and recognize it from Shakespeare's famous "To be or not to be" speech spoken by Hamlet.  I have it wrong. In Shakespeare the undiscovered country is death, not youth.  But no one returns to youth, either, and I find youth remote and puzzling, so I used it instead of song lyrics from the 1960s.

Bits of Shakespeare are part of the common culture of most Americans. The Bible, too, is part of common culture, although Trump showed the limitations of that when he claimed to love "Two Corinthians." Shakespeare and the Bible are unifying fragments of the American canon -- the common core of our culture. Slang language is the changing frontier of it. It isn't the 1960s anymore, but I am trying to understand young people. This is a political blog and young people vote.

I read something by Moni
ca Lewinsky this week. She is 50 years old now. Fifty!  She wrote "IYKYK" as if people would know what that meant.

Do you know what IYKYK means? I didn't. It means "If you know, you know." It is used the way I have used the phrase "You had to be there." IYKYK means that one needs to be inside the loop to understand. 

Even my oldest readers know that FYI means For Your Information and FAQ means Frequently Asked Questions. Those initials are part of common culture. We are all in that loop.

The following are less common but still likely to be written without explanation in the mainstream media. 

MSN  That is the abbreviation for that mainstream media, e.g. New York Times.

SEO means search engine optimization.

ETF means exchange traded fund. Investors know what it means.

YOLO  That means you only live once, so so take the risk. The financial media used this abbreviation to explain why people were making wildly speculative investments in bitcoin and NFTs. 

NFTs are non-fungible tokens, i.e. unique copies of images.

UX means User Experience in a computer setting.

The next group of abbreviations are part of the half-secret language of a generation. It is code that defines and congeals its tribe members. They are in the loop.

The all-digital generation

TL;DR means "Too Long; Didn't Read."

LOL means Laugh Out Loud.  LMAO means Laughing My Ass Off. ROFLMAO means Rolling On The Floor Laughing My Ass Off.

IMHO means In My Humble Opinion.

WTF means What the Fuck.

DK means Don't Know.

K means OK.

HMU means Hit Me Up.

IRL means In Real Life.

BRB means Be Right Back

OMW means On My Way.

F2F means Face to Face.

MOS means Mom Over Shoulder. It is a head's up to the recipient that the person they are texting doesn't have privacy.

I have discovered some words used in a way new to me. "Boojie" is slang for something bourgeois. "Cringe" means something embarrassing or cringeworthy. "Rizz" is short for charisma, meaning one has "game," i.e. confidence and attractiveness.

Americans vote largely because of political party, overlaid with identity of social class, ethnicity, gender, education level, and neighborhood. It is a matter of affiliation and connection to one's tribe, not policy congruence. On policy grounds of student loans, abortion, and good employment prospects, Joe Biden has a lot to offer young people. Democrats think it should move the political needle his way, but it doesn't very much. It's frustrating for them.

Age isn't "just a number." Age is a tribe and a tribe has a language. Age cohorts want to define themselves. It is inconvenient for Democrats but it is reality. Trump doesn't connect well with young people, but neither does Biden. Trump can win without the youth vote, but Biden cannot.

Note: If a reader my age needs to look up these and other definitions, it confirms that this is a kind of "foreign language." That is my point. A special half-secret language is a way to define one's generation as separate and different. Here are some links:

1.  SlickText

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Jackson County Oregon: An update on the update.

Denise Krause, co-petitioner, Jackson County For All:
                   "We're over 7,500!"

As of Christmas Eve: Facebook site for Jackson County For All 

The petition drive to update the Jackson County, Oregon governing charter is ahead of schedule.

Signature-gathering is going so quickly the drive may qualify for the May ballot. 

The original plan assumed it would take eight months or more to get to 10,500 signatures, and the goal was to have them in time to qualify for the November ballot. Under state law a group has two years to gather petitions to get onto a ballot. Jackson County reduced that to one year. Petitioners need 8,351 valid signatures from Jackson County registered voters. The local committee began collecting signatures in September. Their 10,500 goal was to provide ample extra signatures to account for duplicates and signatures by people ineligible to vote in Jackson County.

The group has three separate proposals. Oregon requires that any initiative address only a single subject.

Number One: Change the office from partisan to non-partisan. This would bring the Commissioner office into line with the other elected officials including County Clerk, Sheriff, District Attorney, Assessor, and Judges. This would allow the fastest-growing segment of voters -- non-affiliated -- to participate in choosing the finalist candidates.

Number Two: Increase the number of Commissioners from three to five. The number three was set back in 1853 when the county population was below 4,000. The intent is to increase representation and address the internal communication problem on a three-person board. Under the public meetings law, two commissioners cannot speak to one another about county business unless it is in an advertised public setting. It means that a third person -- the County Administrator or someone who reports to him -- must participate in any substantive communication including one about the Administrator, making it difficult to do their primary job of supervising that Administrator.

Number Three: Cut in about half the Commissioner salaries from the current $145,000 level. They are currently by far the highest paid County Commissioners in the state. Their own salaries are set by the Budget Committee, whose members they themselves appoint. 

December was an active month for the 100-plus petition-carrying volunteers. The group had petitions to sign at holiday events around the county. Their website stays updated with times and locations of upcoming events.

May or December: The Jackson County For All Committee has a strategic decision to make. Should they turn in the ballots in time for the Primary Election in May? Or should they wait until November's general election.  Some of the appeal of the three proposals is that they empower independent, non-party-affiliated voters. Under the current primary system, those voters normally have little reason to get involved in May elections, in which most of the highly-visible contests are intra-party primary elections, where they cannot vote. Non-affiliated voters have little to vote on -- so why bother? Or, it could work the other way, as a motivator for non-affiliated voters to vote if they realize and remember that their future ability to choose a Commissioner candidate is on the ballot.

The current Jackson County Commissioners could have placed these issues on the ballot on their own, but they refused to do so. They are on record opposing the proposals. That is what necessitated this initiative petition effort. Petition-carriers I have questioned tell me the public response has been near-universally positive. This does not surprise me. Now that the county has become in practice a strong-Administrator form of government, the presence of three Commissioners, paid as if they were hands-on managers, is a hold-over from an earlier era. It is the sweetest deal in Oregon government. Jackson County Commissioners are not only paid far more than Commissioners in any other Oregon county, they are paid more than the Oregon Governor, the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, and many times more than are our State Representatives and Senators. Commissioners are the beneficiaries of salary creep, inertia, and the disappearance of local media coverage that might otherwise have brought more attention to the issues of these initiatives. So citizens went around the log jam and taking action.

I am one of the many former County Commissioners who  publicly support the charter update. Others include: John Rachor 2011-2015, Dave Gilmour 2003-2011, Sue Kupillas 1988-2004, Jeff Golden 1987-1991​​​, Carol N. Doty 1977-1979, and Jon Deason 1973-1977 and 1979-1983.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

"Collapsing into a cesspool of ruin"

Melancholy music. A tone of hopeless wandering. Despair.

Readers who are disgusted by Donald Trump tend to underestimate him. 

Music is a form of body language.

Trump rallies experimented last summer with turning on a musical underscore for the final minutes of a Trump rally. Rally-goers responded by holding up the index finger of an outstretched arm -- a salute. 
It was a Q-Anon gesture. It appeared reminiscent of a crowd at a 1940 Hitler speech or perhaps religious devotees of a Jim Jones or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

Oregonians had direct exposure to cultists in the early 1980s when a religious group attempted to take over the government in the town of Antelope in tiny Wasco County, using among other things, mass poisoning of the town's citizens to suppress the vote.

Trump has grown bolder. His campaign returned to playing a musical underscore to Trump's voice in the closing minutes of his speeches. Here are 38 seconds of it, from a CSPAN clip: 



Russia and China are holding summits to carve up the world, and perhaps most importantly we are a nation that is no longer respected or listened to on the world stage. No respect. They think we are run by fools. We are a nation that in many ways has become a joke. and we are a nation that is hostile to liberty, freedom, and faith. We are a nation whose economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin. . . .

Trump is a skilled performer in front of an audience. His 2016 rally on a spring evening in Boca Raton drove that home to me. He arrived in a helicopter which circled overhead. Upbeat music pounded out of giant speakers. A huge flag. A speech crescendoing in "win and win and win and win." And then the music theme to the movie The American President.

In my March 15, 2016 post I warned that Trump understood stagecraft. I warned that he was formidable and might win, something widely thought laughable at the time.

 Trump's message is simple and clear and Hillary is complicated and boring. The problems and solutions posited by Trump are memorable--build the wall; foreigners take advantage of us; don't take lobbyist money; America for Americans;  win win win win. Hillary lists policies and disadvantaged groups and legislative solutions that will be slow and difficult. Trump is a better salesman and showman. He made the grandest of Grand Entrances. All hail the great man. It was show biz great theater and it worked, because it was very good show biz and very good theater.

I saw it coming. 

The musical underscore he is using is easy to mock. It is over-the-top exaggerated. It is too much. The Spotify app immediately links the music to Richard Feelgood's site where he has musical clips with different moods. This one is titled Wwg1wga, which stands for "Where We Go One We Go All." Surely the Q-Anon tie is a mistake. Right? Isn't this too much? 

I remember getting coaching in a drama class I took in high school. Gesture big, the teacher said. You are on stage. An opera singer needs to project all the way to the people in the back rows. Be unmistakable.

Trump gestures big. Trump isn't just saying America is a cesspool of ruin. This is operatic. He is performing it. Words, tone, setting, staging, and music. He has a message: America is a cesspool and he will fix it.

Biden, like Hillary, is competent, complicated, and compared to Trump, unexciting. If people are restless for change -- and I think they are -- this bodes ill. Trump is crazy and vile, but he knows how to project his message.

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Monday, December 25, 2023

All I want for Christmas

 "I don't want a lot for ChristmasThere is just one thing I needI don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas treeI just want you for my ownMore than you could ever knowMake my wish come trueAll I want for Christmas is youYeah"


YouTube: Official Music Video

The song is about longing. Most popular Christmas songs are.

Maria Carey and Walter Afanasieff produced a holiday themed studio album in 1995. "All I want for Christmas is you" was an immediate hit. It is the number one song on the music charts in late November for the past five years.

The song is a mix of upbeat seasonal joy plus longing and heartache -- the magical combination for a Christmas song. As the Hallmark people know well, there is deep sentiment about Christmas. Be home for Christmas, if only in one's dreams. In Hallmark Christmas movies, the dream comes true.

Irving Berlin's White Christmas won the Academy Award for best song in 1942. Bing Crosby released the song as a single in 1947 and it became the largest selling single record ever sold. World War Two separated people from home and family. Crosby dreamed of a Christmas "just like the ones I used to know."

As a young child I learned the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and sang the song Gene Autry made popular in 1949, when it was a number one hit. Playmates can be cruel. They might not appreciate a reindeer child. But then Christmas magic: When others discover the little reindeer is special after all.  

Robert Wells and Mel Torme wrote The Christmas Song in 1945. The song is better known as "Chestnuts Roasting over an Open Fire."  Nat King Cole sang it in 1946. His versions remain the gold standard. It is a list of sentimental touchstones: Chestnuts, yuletide carols, turkey, Santa, mistletoe, and tiny tots with eyes all aglow.

YouTube: Nat King Cole

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is not a Christmas story, but he captured Christmas sentiment of longing for a remembered past. Christmas is a happy time for children. But then we grow up and realize that the past is unrecoverable. That longed-for past of real and imagined Christmases elude us, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther, until, maybe, one fine morning -- one fine Christmas morning. 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 

As Maria Carey sings: Make my wish come true. . . .

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Sunday, December 24, 2023

Easy Sunday: Nativity Scene

Christmas Eve:

The artist John Trumbull painted a nativity scene. It was the birth of a republic.

It depicts the peaceful transfer of power.

I wrote about this painting a year ago on Christmas Eve. The painting depicts Washington returning to civilian authority his letters of commission. An empty throne is behind him. He congratulates Congress for its leadership and bids "an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted."

He reaffirmed that he worked for them. The legitimate power was theirs

Americans got complacent in the two centuries since this event. We took the peaceful transfer of power for granted. 

We got a warning back in November, 2000 when the "Brooks Brothers Riot" intimidated vote-counters in Florida into stoping their work. George W. Bush's campaign and Republican Party staffers organized a protest. A crowd dressed in casual business attire entered the vote-counting area in Miami-Dade county and began shouting that the counters were stealing the election.

Authorities stopped counting the stacks of questionable, not-machine-countable ballots, primarily ones in which the perforated punch card holes were incompletely detached. Candidate Bush was ahead at that moment. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that counting could stop. That meant Bush won Florida and therefore the presidency.  Al Gore conceded.

The tactic worked. Vote counters are clerks. They expect order. They aren't psychologically or physically prepared for intimidation. Trump tried the same tactic in the 2020 election. It was no secret. He and his campaign announced the plan. Get an early lead in the vote count. Then stop the count when Trump is ahead. Say he won. Get an angry stirred-up crowd together. Get them to accuse vote counters of stealing the election. Officeholders will cave under the threat. 

Many did cave, but enough did not. Credit Mike Pence. Credit the Secretaries of Defense and generals who signaled that the military would not assist a coup d' état. Credit career lawyers at the Justice Department. Credit Brad Raffensperger and Brian Kemp in Georgia and Doug Ducey in Arizona. Credit the two Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Elections who certified the election results in the face of pressure not to.

Heather Cox Richardson reminded me of this event in her post yesterday. I had forgotten my own post about it. This great event in American history took place on December 22, 1783, not Christmas Eve. Richardson quoted Trumbull telling President Madison:

I have thought that one of the highest moral lessons ever given to the world, was that presented by the conduct of the commander-in-chief, in resigning his power and commission as he did, when the army, perhaps, would have been unanimously with him. . . .

George Washington gave us a gift. Our job, as Americans, is to be worthy of it.

My gift to readers is to recommend Heather Cox Richardson's blog become a part of your daily routine. She is a professor of history at Boston College. She writes a superb history and politics blog, published on Substack: Letters from an American

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Saturday, December 23, 2023

We hold these truths to be self evident

Seek truth. Seek justice.

What concerns me most here are the ways in which contemporary voices considered to be leftist have abandoned . . . commitment to universalism over tribalism, a firm distinction between justice and power, and a belief in the possibility of progress.” —  
Susan Neiman, “Left Is Not Woke,” quoted by Herb Rothschild.

Today's Guest Post author, Herb Rothschild, was active in the civil rights struggle in the deepest part of the Deep South, Louisiana. He observed progress toward justice there when that universal ideal -- justice -- was the goal. He writes today that the American left changed its focus in recent decades toward an understanding that all social relations are better understood as a struggle for power, not justice. The idea has an appealing patina of cynical realism, stripping off the pretty subterfuges to get at the hard truth of self-interest and dog-eat-dog competition. Such thinking changes "progress" into a zero-sum game. It defines segments of people as oppressors and victims. That mode of thinking is tribal. It is divisive. And it is impeding the goal of justice for all, Rothschild writes.

Rothschild taught at Louisiana State University. His memoir, The Bad Old Days, describes his "decade of struggle for justice in Louisiana." In retirement he remains an advocate for peace, justice, and the environment. He was a founder of, a nonprofit community newspaper in Ashland, Oregon. This column was published there earlier this week. 

Guest Post by Herbert Rothschild

Jules Feiffer, who was a staff cartoonist for the Village Voice from 1956 to 1997, may have been the most widely read satirist in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. His was sophisticated satire, and his most frequent targets were aspects of the liberalism that dominated politics and East Coast culture from the end of World War II until the advent of Ronald Reagan. I want to share a Feiffer strip I remember well.

As with many of Feiffer’s strips, each panel depicts a single person talking. In this case it’s a conservatively dressed Black male, and he’s speaking about a party he had recently attended in the expensive Manhattan apartment of a white couple.  
He says that other guests kept coming up to him to talk about the Civil Rights movement, how it is so inspiring that freedom and equality are being championed. He would reply that he doesn’t think about the movement that way. Rather, he thinks that it’s been a long time and he just wants his. Upon hearing this, the guests would drift away. In the last frame, though, the speaker argues that he did his part to advance the movement. Because of him, such hosts now invite two Blacks in case the first one doesn’t work out. 

That’s sophisticated humor. First, Feiffer assumes that all his readers favor the civil rights movement, which wasn’t true nationwide at the time. But second, he punctures the self-delusion of those among his readers who live at a privileged distance that they are aligned with those in struggle. Third, it assumes that many of his readers are sufficiently comfortable in interracial relations that they (unlike the party guests) don’t require Black people to present themselves to whites as “credits to their race.”

What I don’t think is an object of satire in that cartoon, however, is the very ideas of universal freedom and justice. It can be interpreted that way, and had Feiffer been infected by woke theory, I might be inclined to agree. Fortunately, he wasn’t. His critique of liberalism wasn’t an attack on the Enlightenment values on which liberalism drew so heavily, even if those values can sound vapid when referenced by his cartoon liberals.

For those who believe that theorists like Michel Foucault successfully pulled back the veil of Enlightenment values to expose the fundamental self-interest behind them, the encounter in that Manhattan apartment would confirm his view that all social interaction is a jockeying for power. 

Understood this way, the white guests are framing the civil rights movement as an affirmation of ideals, not as a quest for shared wealth and control, so they can preserve their control. Once practical accommodation is demanded — once a call for Black power replaces the call for universal brotherhood — their support quickly wanes. There’s some truth in that reading, but it becomes dangerous if it’s taken as the entire truth.

To better understand what’s at stake for us here, let’s consider a more familiar text: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

As a schoolboy, I found that those truths did seem self-evident. So did many other universal statements about life and how it should be lived. I wasn’t a cynic as a child and I’m not a cynic now.

Which is not to say that I think as a child. Of course I know that many signers of that document, including its author, were slaveholders and had no intention of treating African Americans as equals or recognizing their unalienable right to liberty. Of course I know that it would be hard to find one of the signers who believed that, in practice, “men” stood for both men and women, so normal was the subordination of women in the world they knew.

But what should we do with such historical knowledge? One possibility is to say that our Founding Fathers’ declaration was window dressing for their power play against King George. They believed their economic self-interests would best be served if they could legislate for themselves. One doesn’t even have to argue that they knew their appeal to universal values was window dressing. Self-deception is no obstacle to deceiving others.

From such a starting point, U.S. history is not a story of the gradual although still incomplete realization of its ideals but a continual contest for power among distinct groups. That is a woke way to view and to teach our history.

It was not Martin Luther King Jr.’s way, although he was clear about how long and how woefully those who held power had betrayed the values they professed. Here is how he put the matter at the 1963 March on Washington: “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

Cynicism isn’t synonymous with realism. As I’ve argued before, leftist identity politics is a mirror image of rightist identity politics. In no regard is this truer than their cynicism. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may be the most cynical person now prominent in U.S. politics. “Florida is where woke comes to die” has been an immensely successful power play, disguising in principled terms his appeals to white and straight supremacy. DeSantis is both wrong and right about Florida — wrong because he has lent confirmation to the woke assertion that all discourses are discourses of power, right because he has diminished the power of those the woke left presumes to champion — peoples of color, women and non-heterosexuals.


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Friday, December 22, 2023

Years to live

"Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live
And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive
I will survive, hey, hey."

        Gloria Gaynor "I will survive,” 1978 disco hit.

Mick Jagger, age 80

Good news on life expectancy in the U.S. We are living longer again. 

Mick Jagger got Covid, then got well. He says he feels great.

In 2020 and 2021 life expectancy dropped in the U.S. The CDC reported that in 2020 we experienced 528,891 more deaths than in 2019. Some people argue it wasn't Covid, but something killed a half million people. Something lowered the U.S. life expectancy by 1.8 years compared to pre-Covid 2019. I think it was Covid. So does the CDC.

Covid was still a leading cause of death in 2022, at number three according to WebMD: 

Heart disease (695,547)
Cancer (605,213)
COVID-19 (416,893)
Accidents (224,935)
Stroke (162,890)
Chronic lower respiratory diseases (142,342)
Alzheimer’s disease (119,399)
Diabetes (103,294)
Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (56,585)
Kidney disease (54,358)

A constant challenge in my work as a Financial Advisor was disabusing clients of two powerful presumptions. One was stated repeatedly: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. People heard it and largely ignored that. They assumed the future would be pretty much a continuation of the past. 

The second was to warn them about averages. "You don't get average," I would say. "You get what you get."  Clients would have an idea of an average of 10% nominal return for owning stocks. They would imagine a sequence of returns of 12%, then 8%, then 13%, then 9% -- investment returns tightly clustered around 10%.  In real life, an historical return of 10% average came from averaging an annual loss of 15%, followed by a gain of 26%, a gain of 5%, then a loss of 9%, then a gain of 20%, and loss of 10%, and so forth. 

So I present this chart with a warning for my readers, a group that is skewed toward boomers. On average, our life expectancy has gone back up. We survived Covid. But past performance is no guarantee.  We get what we get.

Click: Chart and tables

The tables show that a man of 74, having survived the diseases and accidents that might have shortened his life, now has a life expectancy of another 11 years -- on average. If a woman survives to age 85, she has another 6.44 years of life -- on average.

Readers can explore this Social Security Administration table. It starts with 100,000 lives and then charts the expected deaths at every age starting at birth. Nearly all Americans survive early childhood. At my age of 74 a quarter of us have died. Then deaths happen more frequently.  


FYI: Trump is 77. Biden is 81. Cher is 77. Dolly Parton is 77. Chuck Schumer is 73. Paul McCartney is 81. Wolf Blitzer is 81. Bob Woodward is 80. James Carville is 79. Meryl Streep is 74. Michael Bloomberg is 81.

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