This breaks my brain

So this was on the Twittermaschine just now (#HoldTheLine was the trending topic), and I just…

Look, I know these people do not have a full command of logical thought, but this is just… I don’t know, velcro that doesn’t stick anymore? Brainworms? Unfortunate result of too much glue-sniffing?

Apparently #HoldTheLine is being used by those brave, brave souls who see mandates for vaccines as what they truly are: SUPPRESSION, KENNETH, OF OUR PRECIOUS BODILY AUTONOMY NOT NOT YOU LADY WHO WANTS AN ABORTION JUST US WITH OUR PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDS.

Free — as we say — dumb.

Let me say up front that the Toronto Star probably shouldn’t have gone with this approach. Even though I agree 100% with the sentiments expressed, it nonetheless seems antagonistic.

However, Mr. Changizi the Unvaccinated’s reaction is stupid. The rest of us are indeed exasperated by the unvaccinated’s refusal to protect themselves and those around them, and yet somehow Mr. Changizi the Unvaccinated sees this as some kind of purge that we are doing to them.

Dude, no. It’s the other thing, the reverse of that. We’re doing everything we can to keep you from catching Covid-19 and dying from it, which is significantly more likely if you are unvaccinated.

He is not alone. Here is one of the responses to his tweet:

“Mass genocides.” “Never again.” Jebus H. Cthulhu. And brave, brave Winston Smith, standing up to Big Brother, who is even as we speak hunting down the unvaxxed in the streets of Toronto and hauling them off to the labor camps and crematoria of Saskatchewan I guess. Nor is he the only one who responded like this. There were dozens of people shaking their little fists in anger against this Holocaust they definitely didn’t make up in their heads.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

Let me say it again for the hard-of-thinking: WE ARE NOT TRYING TO PURGE YOU IDIOTS. WE’RE TRYING GET RID OF THE VIRUS, and we can’t do that if y’all insist on refusing the vaccine because [reasons]. The more y’all get sick, the more likely it becomes that those of us who are vaccinated will suffer a breakthrough infection. Not only that, but the longer y’all remain unvaccinated, the more likely the virus will use its free access to your precious bodily fluids to mutate into yet another variant. You’re plague dogs.

Has our empathy for the willfully unvaccinated who are sick with this pernicious virus worn thin? You better believe it. At least we had empathy to start with, unlike your obvious lack of empathy for those who cannot get vaccinated because of health issues. But do we wish death on you? No. We wish you’d get vaccinated.

And maybe some mental health counseling.

Also too: The Sociopathic Style in American Politics

Satanic Milton

Let me tell you a story.

Years and years ago, when I was media specialist at East Coweta High School, the assistant principal in charge of curriculum bustled in, needing my assistance.  A mother had come in to complain that her son was being taught Satanic literature in his college-bound senior English lit class, and they wanted my recommendations for an alternative assignment.

I raised my eyebrows and pursed my lips and inquired as to exactly what Satanic literature this woman could possibly be objecting to in the British Lit textbook.  The asst. principal turned to the page and showed me.

Satan being cast down from heaven, from Milton's Paradise LostIt was Paradise Lost, by John Milton.  Right there, opposite the first page of text, was a full-page woodcut illustration of a leather-winged Satan being cast down from Heaven.  There was more: the text contained such damnéd names as Lucifer and Beelzebub. LUCIFER AND BEELZEBUB, KENNETH!

Really?  Really?? I asked the asst. principal.  We’re going to confirm this woman’s crazy, superstitious, ignorant error?

Well, Day-uhl, we have to accommodate parents’ requests, came the reply.

We’re not going to explain to this woman that she’s wrong, that in fact John Milton was a Puritan and wrote Paradise Lost to prove that Christian themes could support epic poetry?  (Leaving aside the fact that Satan is by far the most interesting and dynamic character in the whole piece…)  That her son is in a college prep English class and that he kind of will be expected to know at least something about the poem when he gets to college?

Oh, Day-uhl—as if I were the one who needed to be humored…

So I assigned him “L’Allegro and Il Penseroso“.  Served him right.

It’s simple.

A local church has on its street bulletin board the message:

“IT’S SIMPLE. GET AMERICA BACK TO GOD!!”

That’s good. Simple is good.

But as H. L. Mencken reminds us, “For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.

And so I’d like to ask some questions.

What does that mean, exactly, to “get America back to God”? I know where the concept comes from, all those Psalms and Old Testament moanings about Israel “turning away” from Yahweh, wherein Yahweh got testy if the Israelites weren’t paying attention to him 24/7. I suspect this church means the same thing, i.e., make everyone worship exactly as they do — since we haven’t been doing that, God has allowed (or worse, caused) our problems.

What mechanism is the church thinking of, exactly, to “get” us back to God? Public whippings? The stocks? Re-education camps? Blue laws?[1] The Mildred Layton Committee to Stamp Out Strife and Tribulation?

What problems, exactly, have been caused by America’s not paying attention to God? Are these real problems, like global warming or income disparity? Or are they the imaginary boogeymen that are the usual sources of fear for this church’s amygdalas, like Teh Gays and illegal immigrants and some soaring crime rate that doesn’t exist?

Does this return to God involve increasing freedoms and liberty and prosperity to every American and non-American in our country? Or does it involve repression and hiding and cutting off? Do they want everyone to support each other with love or are they demanding that we all straighten up and fly right?

Do they mean that we should throw our weight behind politicians who are going to vote to provide for the least of these, with policies like socialized medical care and childcare and a livable minimum wage? Or do they want to restrict our tax dollars to those who “deserve” it?

It would be uncivil of me to put words in this church’s mouth, so to speak, but I think the odds are pretty great that what this church means is that this nation has changed in ways that make them uncomfortable. Where before there were tidy boxes for every category — and there were categories — now we have boxes and crates and beanbag chairs and waterbeds, and people keep going from one to the other with shocking ease. Those People act as if they have a seat at the table, and this church wants us to remove those chairs immediately. With prejudice.

In the end, their sanctimonious sign is empty posturing, a static version of the gospel of Luke’s Pharisee in the Temple, smug that they are not as other men are. They might be better off reading Matthew’s reporting.

—————

[1] Blue laws, for those too young to remember, required local businesses to be closed on Sundays — and yes, this church would be in favor of their return.

It’s not me, it’s you.

I’ve been reading back through this blog and have come to a conclusion: I write really well.  But let that pass. Here’s a thought I had after reading one of my Liberal Rants posts.[1]

The post is titled Amygdalas. Why is it always amygdalas?, and it’s an explication of a spam email that invites you to click on several links to discover the hideous plots to put Hillary Clinton[2] into the White House, KENNETH.

Here’s what struck me:

It is true, boys and girls, that there are conspiracy-minded amygdala-based lifeforms on both sides of the aisle — and here I am thinking of Seth Abramson and the small flock of liberals who tweet day after day that the Trump crime family/Matt Gaetz/etc are going to be indicted/arrested ANY DAY NOW NEXT MONTH FOR SURE, KENNETH — but Jebus H. Cthulhu we got nothing to compare to the fevered brains on the right.

Remember Jade Helm?

Sovereign Citizens?

Barack Obama’s birth certificate?

Pizzagate?

Mike Lindell?

QAnon??

Here’s my point: these are all the same thing. It doesn’t matter that none of them were true, that none of them could even be true.[3] What matters to the amygdala-based lifeforms is that these theories provide the life-giving jolts of fear and anger that their brains need to live.

And let’s face it, half the conspiracy theories that give the amygdala-based lifeforms all the tingles in their pink bits are, if not invented by, at least cynically embraced by the leaders of our conservative movement to keep the amygdala-based lifeforms focused on the sweet, sweet buzz in their brains rather than the facts at hand.

This is what gives us comments like the one posted by some Georgian on Governor Brian Kemp’s Facebook page:

And these frauds with old lucy stole Karen handles seat how many fraud voters did she fly in from Delta state to state and bused in 10 time district to district fraud votes absentee ballot stuffing old abrams still pushing bathhouse barry hussain un aca commercials!

Foaming at the mouth and falling over backwards, indeed.

I don’t have a solution other than to calmly and firmly stamp out this idiocy whenever and wherever it shows up. We’re not going to disabuse the amygdala-based lifeforms; they’re addicted like lab rats and are going to keep pushing that button. But we can at least help others see the danger of addiction.

Further: Lauren Boebert, lost in a cacophony of crazy

—————

[1] Those posts are particularly tasty.

[2] aka Satan.

[3] Comet Ping Pong Pizza, for example, doesn’t even have a basement, a key detail in the conspiracy. At least Seth Abramson, et al., have actual investigations on which to hang their hopes and dreams.

How They Do It

If you are of sound mind and body, you may wonder how on earth Fox News viewers are so blindered. It’s a remarkable sleight-of-hand, and after you’ve seen it in story after story, you begin to think that maybe perhaps the misdirection could be possibly on purpose. (Click for larger image.)

You will notice that Fox is not reporting on the policies that had President Biden saying mean things about those who don’t follow pandemic protocols. They are reporting only that he said mean things.

Back to the Inferno — with Trump!

Twelve years ago, as Barack Obama became President, I looked back over the eight years of George W. Bush’s rather shoddy performance and mused about where Dante might have placed him in hell. (Now that we’ve had even worse in the White House — a malevolent, venal, corrupt sociopathic narcissist — it’s easy to forget how bad Bush 43 was.)

I came across that blogpost recently and it occurred to me that if anyone were deserving of eternal punishment, it would be Donald J. Trump, and so here we go again!

With Bush, I started at the bottom and worked my way back up, but with Trump, it’s down, down, down we go.[1]

Circle 1: Limbo

The first circle of Dante’s Inferno is for those who weren’t really sinners per se, but who had the misfortune to be square pegs in the Catholic Church’s round holes: virtuous pagans born before Christ, infants who died before baptism, that kind of thing. There is no place for Donald Trump here.

Circle 2: The Lustful

And here we go. “Grab ‘em by the pussy.” Stormy McDaniels. Backstage at beauty pageants. E. Jean Carroll. Cthulhu only knows with Jeffrey Epstein. If we’ve ever before had a president with such appetites of the flesh, he didn’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses. Trump had no such compunctions. (I will note, for those who didn’t click through to read the Bush piece, that I saw no reason for Bush to go into the Lustful, or the Gluttonous.)

Circle 3: The Gluttonous

Whenever the White House released the results of Trump’s annual physical, the whole world snickered: 6’3”, 244 pounds? Honey, please. Multiple photos of him standing next to men we know to be 6’3” make it clear he’s not that tall, and his diet of fast food is notorious. He’s a pig.

Circle 4: The Avaricious

Where do we begin? He has enriched himself while in the White House by tens of millions of dollars, and he is always looking for the next scam. He has spent the months since the election scamming his followers of their money to “support” his efforts to “reclaim” the election, most of which went straight into his pockets. Where next can he get someone else to build a tower and slap his name on it? (Probably nowhere at this point, since his finances are in shambles.)

There is also the matter of his enriching the 1% with the 2017 tax scam and plunging the budget into more debt than ever before, but that’s more on the Republican party as a whole.

Circle 5: The Wrathful

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you the man’s Twitter account. Well, an archive of his account, since Twitter tossed his obese ass off the service finally. He is well-known to rage at anyone who gainsays him; during the final weeks of his administration, White House staff were quoted as saying they simply avoided interacting with him if at all possible — and this included his inner circle.

Circle 6: The Heretical

Dante was more concerned with people like Muhammad or the Epicureans, but Trump’s irreligiousness was stunning in its hypocrisy, particularly since the actual god-botherers bent themselves into Cirque du Soleil gymnastics to overlook it. “Two Deuteronomy.” Not ever having done anything to ask God’s forgiveness for. The whole teargas stunt with the Bible.

Above all, the man’s administration could not have been more opposed to the basic tenets of Christian caritas if it tried — and it tried. The cruelty was the point.

Circle 7: The Violent

Jan. 6.

But even more than the terrorist attack on the Capitol, Trump’s entire modus operandi was that of a mob boss: threats, grudges, retaliations. If you were not absolutely for him, if you were not kissing his ass, then you were against him, and that made you his enemy and his target.

Circle 8: The Fraudulent

Trump University. Trump Foundation. Trump Steaks. Trump Taj Mahal. Trump everything. Over 30,000 lies during his tenure, so many that the fact checkers at the Washington Post threw up their hands and admitted defeat. As Eric Wilson memorably coined, “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”

Circle 9: Traitors

Putin’s bounties on our troops. The refusal to plan for the Covid-19 pandemic, abandoning half a million Americans to their deaths and the working poor to a living hell. Trump’s betrayal of anyone who crossed him. I would also argue that Trump’s Big Lie of the election being fraudulently stolen from him was the ultimate treasonous act: he betrayed this country’s trust in its systems for purely personal benefit. He wanted power — he tried to claim far more power than presidents have (and the Republican Congress did little to stop him) — and he was willing to do anything to get it and to keep it.

Unlike George W. Bush, who got a pass on Lust, Gluttony, and Heresy, Donald J. Trump belongs in every circle but the First Circle, and even that’s damning[2] since Limbo is for the essentially innocent. In Dante’s plan, your soul passed through the circles of hell to the lowest one for which you were culpable, but for Trump, I think we can go further and split his soul eight different ways so that he is tortured for eternity in all of them.

Hey, look, sir, you got more soul fragments than Voldemort! The greatest ever! Many people are saying… with tears in their eyes.

—————

[1] I was also more detailed in my examination of the different regions of hell, but better people than I have written entire books on Trump’s crimes, so I’ve kept this short.

[2] Yes, I see what I did there.

The least of these

Last night, there was some kind of political news show on the television which had as a guest some evangelical preacher who was exhorting us all to vote for “LIBERTY, KENNETH,” and he actually said this:

“It is not the government’s job to take care of poor people. The only job the government has is to keep our citizens safe from …” and here he kind of sputtered around, but his point was that maintaining a police state was the only function of the United States government.

Of all the conservative shysters out there, none is more puzzling — nor more infuriating — than this creature.

If he had been pressed, he would have told you in no uncertain terms that it is the Church’s job to take care of poor people, i.e., individual charity, not some nefarious government agency. As far as he is concerned, this is a “one of us should take care of this” thing, not an “all of us should take care of this” thing.

If you are a sincere Christian, then you understand what Jesus told you to do: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the oppressed. Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, etc., etc. So yes, it is the Church’s responsibility — but here’s the deal: would you not then want your government to reflect those values? How could you possibly think that God had commanded you to care for the least of these but that he/she would find a government embodying that principle to be abhorrent?

Especially since the people who promote this repellent dichotomy are also pushing as hard as they can for a theocracy — they want the government run according to “God’s laws,” BUT NOT THE CHARITY TO THE POOR PART.

How does this make sense?[1]

—————

[1] It does not make sense. These Xtianists are full of shit.

Pew-pew-pew!

This image popped up this morning in Cory Doctorow’s Twitter feed:

It’s a cover illustration by one Earle Bergey from back in the Good Old Days, when Men had forelocks and Women were all Princess Leia, and it occurred to me that it represents almost completely the mindset of the Trump voter.

Wait, where are you going? I can explain.

First, it’s clearly an illustration for some rip-roaring yarn of SPACE ADVENTURE, KENNETH, in which the writer just made up stuff without any regard to science or how space travel might actually work. (Notice how the babe is leaning against the window in terror (as one does); she is clearly not dealing with weightlessness.) It stars the Heroic Manly Man who has to save the Rita Hayworth clone BARE-HANDEDLY, KENNETH, not to mention all by himself. I have no way of knowing how they found themselves in this predicament, but it probably involved sabotage by nefarious foreigners/aliens.

The writer might have been some well-known author — many did write for the pulps — but probably not. Even if they were a respected writer elsewhere, they just cranked out these stories for the pulps every week, getting paid by the word. Imagine the scriptwriters for Hallmark holiday movies, only IN SPACE. Neither reality nor plausibility has anything to do with it.

Now create in your mind the reader of this stuff. It would be someone who was not only ignorant of physics and human nature but also willing to accept the unreality of the tale as perfectly cromulent. He sees himself (let’s face it, it’s a guy) in the Heroic Manly Man, whose world makes perfect sense to him.

Then there’s this:

To Clay the free…, it’s simple: all Trump has to do is put on his Heroic Manly Man suit and… fire the Supreme Court. To Clay, this is perfectly cromulent. It’s what he would do in the same situation, and it’s obvious that this is the solution to the problem. You just “destroy” the enemy. Pew-pew-pew!

Of course, Clay’s vision of how the world works is wrong. It is no more realistic or plausible than 1940s science fiction. But Clay has no other way of looking at the world and — this is critical — he is not interested in any other way of looking at the world. The facts of space travel/constitutional government are completely irrelevant to his worldview, and that’s the way he likes it.

Pew-pew-pew!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

For the last couple of months — and especially since the election — I have been reminded of a sci-fi short story I read in my youth. Thanks to my friends on Facebook: my bare recollection of the plot was enough for them to find the story for me: “The Men Return,” by Jack Vance.

In this story, Earth has entered a “pocket of non-causality,” and cause-and-effect no longer exist:

Far away rose low hills, blurring into the sky, which was mottled and sallow like poor milk-glass. The intervening plain spread like rotten velvet, black-green and wrinkled, streaked with ocher and rust. A fountain of liquid rock jetted high in the air, branched out into black coral. In the middle distance a family of gray objects evolved with a sense of purposeful destiny: spheres melted into pyramids, became domes, tufts of white spires, sky-piercing poles; then, as a final tour de force, tesseracts.

Needless to say, the Relicts, the survivors of humanity, are on their last legs. The Organisms, on the other hand, have adapted quite well:

Out on the plain one of the Organisms, Alpha, sat down, caught a handful of air, a globe of blue liquid, a rock, kneaded them together, pulled the mixture like taffy, gave it a great heave. It uncoiled from this hand like rope.

When you can manipulate matter, feeding yourself is not an issue, I suppose. It’s kind of like being rich.

Anyway, Finn is our hero Relict, and the action of the story involves him trying to find enough food to stay alive. I’ll spare you the details.

The reason this story popped up in my mind is how it ends: the Earth emerges from the pocket of non-causality, and the Organisms, who have spent the entire story as satisfied inhabitants of a Dali painting, are suddenly bollixed:

Alpha [who has had a vision of the future] cried, “Here is my intuition! It is exactly as I knew. The freedom is gone; the tightness, the constriction are back!”

“How will we defeat it?” asked another Organism.

“Easily,” said a third. “Each must fight a part of the battle. I  plant to hurl myself at the sun, and blot it from existence.” And he crouched, threw himself into the air. He fell on his back and broke his neck.

One of the other Organisms attempted to step across as crevasse twenty feet wide and disappeared into it; the other sat down, swallowed rocks to assuage his hunger, and presently went into convulsions.

And so forth.

The story is a lot clunkier than I remember it, and there’s a bit of Heroic Manly Manliness from Finn that is laughable now, but watching Trump voters these days reminds me of the Organisms and their plight: once cause and effect return, once verifiable and reliable reality rule the day, they cannot cope. They flee into QAnon, or the legal boondoggles of Lin Wood/Sidney Powell/Rudy Giuliani, or Parler, and they burrow into ever-narrowing concentric circles, ever-crazier theories about how they’re winning, going to win, eventually will win — and then we’ll all be sorry, KENNETH.

Pew-pew-pew!

It’s simpler than you think

You may recall — if you even noticed it — that last week the CDC changed its guidelines on Covid-19 testing again. Short version: In August, the White House told the CDC to post that people who had been exposed to someone with the virus didn’t need to be tested. The whole world raised its eyebrows and pursed its lips at that one, and well it might; only someone grossly incompetent (::cough Jared Kushner cough::) would think that such an idiotic guideline wouldn’t spread the virus undetected.

Why would the White House do such a thing? It’s hard to say, but it occurs to me that it fits that administration’s modus operandi to sow disinformation, knowing that their base of amygdala-based lifeforms will never update their beliefs/knowledge about the pandemic once they’ve read something that fits their preconceived notion that the pandemic is no biggie. No worse than the flu. Not as bad as the “experts” tell us.

So, yes, the White House forces the CDC  to put this highly dangerous directive on its website, and even though it was finally taken down the damage has been done. “Nuh?UH,” cry the amygdala-based lifeforms, “the CDC says you don’t even need to get tested just because Grandma is lying there gasping out her last.”

Don’t believe me? Look at the whole “THE CDC SAYS ONLY 6% OF THE ‘COVID VICTIMS’ DIED OF COVID, KENNETH” mess. The amygdala-based lifeforms took that one to heart despite a) that’s not what the CDC’s report said; and b) everyone pushed back hard on the misconception. See here, here, and here, for starters, and note well who pushed the idea from QAnon to the mainstream via his Twitter account.

And now the CDC has retracted a post warning us that the virus is transmitted via aerosolization, i.e., tiny droplets that go further and linger longer than the drops spewed by coughs and sneezes. It is true that the research is not conclusive yet, but it’s pretty damn close; you might think the world’s greatest disease control center would at least acknowledge the possibility — if not probability — and advise people to take it into account when thinking about reopening schools, for example.

The question remains: Why is the current administration so determined to downplay the extent of the pandemic? Indeed, a reasonable person might look around for evidence that the amygdala-based lifeforms are right, that the threat of Covid-19 infection has been grossly overestimated and that we are fools not to resume our regular lives. People gonna get sick, what are ya gonna do, amirite?

But if a reasonable person looks around for evidence, all that evidence shows that we have just begun dealing with this disease, and that the United States has dealt with it so poorly that the rest of the world is looking on aghast as the Americans sink their own ship.

I’ll ask it again: Why is the current administration so determined to downplay the extent of the pandemic?

Amygdala-based lifeforms, be thinking about that. Hint: It’s simpler than you think.

Keep looking.

On Boing Boing yesterday, there was a blippet about the Troxler effect.

The Troxler effect, or Troxler’s fading, is a neurological effect, an evolutionary adaptation which allows us to tune out baseline information if it’s not relevant to our survival. Here’s the visual version:

If you stare at the center of this image long enough, the colors will fade away to nothing. Try it.

The effect is also why you can tune out the sound of rain after a while, or why you generally do not feel the clothing you’re wearing.

I bring this to your attention today because it occurs to me that we as a nation are at risk of allowing the constant firehose of corruption and anti-democracy statements on the part of our current administration to fade away, to become functionally irrelevant to our survival.

Do not allow it. Keep looking, shifting your focus. Keep the lies and the threats visible.

Pay attention. Help others pay attention.

Do not let it become background noise.