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.

Impossible choices

Memo: Everybody

Re: Schools reopening

Stop it. Whatever it is you’re doing, however you’re reacting, stop it. There is no solution. The whole thing is impossible.

We can’t keep the schools closed, because parents need to go back to work, and the kids need to be in school for all the reasons you can go read about if you like.

We can’t open the schools, because it will create yet more epicenters of disease for all the reasons that should be obvious to anyone.

We can’t reopen; we can’t keep kids home — we must reopen; we must keep kids home. It’s impossible.

Here’s the deal, though. Overlooked in all the ranting and finger-pointing and sincere concern is the very simple, very awful, very unavoidable fact: we have to give up on the idea that students are going to make any kind of real educational progress this school year. (We even have an acronym for it: AYP, Adequate Yearly Progress. We test for it, and we punish for it.)

We have to abandon the concept of “yearly progress,” where we (still) think of education as an assembly line. In kindergarten we install the ABCs and counting to 100; in 1st grade, we install the reading bits; etc.

That is not happening this year, no matter whether we open the schools or not. Not in person (which is unlikely to continue for more than a couple of weeks in any case) and not online, which is problematic for all the socioeconomic and behavioral reasons you can go read about if you like.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children. On the contrary, we must continue to try all the impossible ways that have been forced on us. It’s just that no one should be allowed to think or say that by the end of the school year we’re going to be in the same place as we normally would be. It. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen.

We need to say this out loud and up front, because if we don’t, if we just pretend that whichever impossible choice we make we can still administer those fupping standardized tests in May[1] and emerge like some triumphal Soviet flag-waving poster, then I know what’s going to happen. This nation will rev itself up into the most disgusting, most outrageous display of Blame The Teachers you have ever seen.

And if that happens, I hope every educator in this country quits.

No, we need to be grateful for however much progress our students are able to make, no matter how much progress they might have made had this nation been led to contain the virus from the very beginning. We as a society need to support every effort to provide learning opportunities to every student; we must create ways that — impossible or not — let every child out there learn something.

What we must not do is hold those students and their teachers accountable for “Adequate Yearly Progress.” That is a criminal mindset.

And if you already know who the criminals with that mindset are, raise your hand.

—————

[1] It occurs to me that after this is all over and we open the doors of our schools again for a normal school year, the standardized tests are going to be — how shall I put this? — fupping useless. Dare we hope that it wrecks that whole education-industrial complex for good?

The solution exists, Kenneth

The novel coronavirus pandemic and our consequent Captivity have resulted in financial catastrophe both for regular workers and business owners, and no real solution has been proposed other than the vacuous “OPEN UP THE ECONOMY, KENNETH!”

Businesses can’t open, and workers cannot work. Paychecks evaporate. Rent vanishes. Choices have to be made between groceries and medicine. Layoffs, shutdowns, bankruptcies, evictions — and no real solution has been proposed.

Except one has, and not only has it been proposed, it’s in place and it works. I know this because it works for me: I am a retired educator, so I have a pension and I have Social Security and I have Medicare. I continue to buy groceries, get my meds, and order from Amazon, even while isolating (since March 12, thank you very much.)

But Dale, I hear the amygdala-based lifeforms whine, you earned that. No question: I worked 35 years educating your children, from kindergarten to the best and brightest the state has to offer.

However, that’s not the point.

The point is that through no fault of their own, our citizens are being crushed financially by forces beyond their control, and no real solution has been proposed, even though it’s pretty clear that a solution exists.

Not only does that solution exist for me as a retired educator here, it exists in one form or another all across western Europe and even immediately to our north, in Canada: a social services net that includes at the very minimum universal healthcare and, now, universal basic income. No one is going to go broke, go without groceries, lose their home, or not have access to their medication just because their job is on hold for the foreseeable future.

But Dale, I hear the amygdala-based lifeforms whine, SOCIALIAMIZM, KENNETH!

Dern tootin’ it’s socialism, Kenneth, and WERE YOU NOT PAYING ATTENTION WHEN I SAID IT WORKS?

But Dale, the amygdala-based lifeforms continue whining, YOU EARNED IT.

Yes I did, but your even putting that argument out there betrays your values as that of a social Darwinist: only the fittest survive,[1] and the rest of you undeserving poor should go ahead and die and decrease the surplus population.[2]

I reject that argument, that the citizens of the United States, supposedly the richest country in the world, cannot provide for all of us in times of trouble. Yes, our taxes will go up. Our taxes should go up; every corporation’s taxes should go up. The very rich should be taxed at a higher rate. We, like the rest of the world, need to pay for the society we want, a society that keeps the entire nation safe and afloat.

Because if we don’t, if we cling to the fallacious idea that the very rich and the corporations are “job creators,” that the wealth that they possess — and continue to snarf up — will magically “trickle down” to the rest of us,[3] then we will be faced with a complete breakdown of our economy, and with it our society and our democracy.

We’re nearly there now.

—————

[1] A sadistic perversion and misapplication of the theory of evolution, by the way.

[2] Yes, that’s exactly what you sound like, because that’s exactly what you believe.

[3] As Will Rogers said, “Money trickles up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.”

Sweetness and light

Meet Ed McGinty. He is a 71-year-old resident of The Villages, Florida’s most notorious retirement community. It is filled with Trumpsters and Magats, but Ed is not one of them. Go read real quick about Ed.

Recently Ed was physically attacked by a Magat. He is undeterred.

Here is a letter he received after that attack:

Here are the first two paragraphs:

Mr. McGinty,

Saw where you recently got your ass kicked in response to your misguided antics. Just remember there are some other red neck Trump supporters out and there and when they chase you down they too will be bringing an ass-kicking with them.

This may be because that you epitomize the democratic party—absolutely no class, devoid of common sense and common decency, and hate filled.

First of all, I’m not surprised by the garbled syntax. That just goes hand in hand with the Trumpster thought processes. I am surprised that this particular Magat failed to use the approved “Democrat party” shibboleth rather than the party’s official name.

And then there’s the problem of how a human brain can write that second paragraph after having written the first. I’m finding it hard to imagine how “absolutely no class, devoid of common sense and common decency, and hate filled” dovetails with “ass kicked,” “misguided antics,” and the threat of violence. And there’s that fourth paragraph, “Hopefully, the next time you have similar encounter, your opponent won’t be so gentle.” In what universe is that not “devoid of common decency” or “hate filled”?

Spoiler alert: In the Trumpster universe, that’s where. Their brains ain’t right. And that’s just common sense.

Sharknado: The Trumpering

The other night our friends Marc and Mary Frances were over, and after dinner Marc suggested we find some lame movie to watch and goof on. We ended up going with my suggestion of Sharknado, and I have some thoughts.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Sharknado, you need to be. It — and its five sequels — are genius, though possibly not in the way you might think. I have chosen to believe that the movie’s balls-to-the-wall awfulness is a deliberate send-up of what a movie even is: coherent plot, continuity, character development, suspense — all gone, obliterated in a blitz of stupidity and sensory overload. It’s an entertainment pretending to be a movie, but it deliberately and gleefully breaks every rule of film-making and invites you to realize that and comment on it —a meta-film.

Basic plot outline: a hurricane moving up from Mexico has driven a “pod of 20,000 sharks” ahead of it, and waterspouts generated by the storm have sucked up all those sharks and are throwing them at the tasty, tasty citizens of Santa Monica. Our hero, Fin (!), owns a bar out on the pier, and when sharks come crashing through his window he and his friends realize they need to hightail it to higher ground. But first they have to go rescue Fin’s ex-wife and their two reasonably adult children. Hilarity ensues.

As we watched the movie and hooted at its stubborn refusal to be anything like a real movie, I had an epiphany: Sharknado is an eerily perfect analogy for the thought processes of a typical Trump voter.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

  • Continuity and logical connection are irrelevant.
    • The hurricane comes and goes as a threat — we see shots of huge crashing waves, the bar is flooded with sea water and sharks, and yet the very next shot is an aerial of the pier with a glassily calm sea. (We then cut back to the shark-infested bar interior.)
    • April’s hillside house is flooded (with sharks), but when the heroes dash outside to flee in their vehicle, the courtyard is completely dry.
    • In fact, for a movie set during a hurricane, there is an abundance of sunshine and clear skies.
  • The plot is about on the level of an 8-year-old’s understanding of cause and effect.
    • The heroes are able to fly a helicopter right up to the tornadoes (with sharks) and toss in a home-made propane tank bomb that immediately “nukes the tornado.”[1]
    • Other people do not exist in any meaningful way. One character urges action to stop the sharks in order to save 1,000s of lives — in Los Angeles. Thousands. (Because once we know there are sharks, the threat of the hurricane (or tornadoes themselves) is forgotten.)
    • Plot development is driven by the hero’s insights, his “gut instinct,” not training, not knowledge, not data that have been gathered and weighed.[2]
    • Action scenes are disjointed, with choppy, frantic editing. There’s no coherent picture of how we get to the final punch, we just do.
    • There’s a hysterical disregard of such basics of physics as mass, velocity, gravity, or momentum.[3]
  • A cartoonish worldview of threats, where preposterous fears become immediate reality.
  • Tough guy hero — the ultimate rugged individualist — saves the day with no Communal Effort involved (other than his plucky band o’ rugged individualists).
    • Fin recognizes the danger immediately, but no one else does. There’s no evacuation or exodus.
    • In fact, there is absolutely no government response at all. No state of emergency is ever declared; conveniently placed newscasts keep us informed of the threat, but we see no police, no National Guard, no sirens, no elected officials urging the citizenry to stay safe (or how to do that).[4]

So what does all this have to do with Trump supporters?

Exhibit A: a letter to the editor from the Tampa Bay Times:

Imaginary threats, endowed with superhuman strength? Check. Rejection of science and data? Check. Irrational gut check with no logical meaning (“massive medical experiment”?). Check. Rugged individualistic hero? Check.

Exhibit B: a comment from Facebook.

Choppy editing with key context omitted? Check. Minimization of other human beings’ experiences? Check. Determined exclusion of nuance? Check.

Exhibit C: Tweets from the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response)

Contradictory statements/camera shots? Check. Bolton’s book is simultaneously “all lies” and “revealing classified information.” Trump supporters are simultaneously an embattled/oppressed minority and the dominant “true” American culture. And so on.

All this added yet another layer to the meta-nature of Sharknado as I watched it: every stupid action sequence; every squalid, slapstick act of violence; every derailment of logical thought — all became emblematic of our nation’s hurting, hapless amygdala-based lifeforms as they struggle to maintain the fiction of Donald J. Trump as a great leader or even a great man.

None of which will prevent me from guffawing my way through the next five movies.

UPDATE: Exhibit  D: OAN correspondent Chanel Rion blurbs odd words with her mouth about Tulsa

—————

[1] Not the hurricane, a tornado. What kind of idiot would try to nuke a hurricane?

[2] Consider the Trumpster’s disdain of experts and data: “Oh yeah? Then how come last month the CDC said…”

[3] Sharknado is not alone in this. Most action movies are blithe about physics. I can only imagine the surprise felt by the real-life idiot whose vehicle is doggedly crashing into an abutment rather than executing the cool-ass, tire-squealing aerial ballet he’s used to seeing in Fast & Furious.

[4] Because in what universe would you have such an overwhelming disaster and not have public officials urging us to stay safe oh wait I see it now

Is he smarter than a 5th grader?

In an op-ed over at Bloomberg about Trump’s failed stunt with the Bible, I was struck by the man’s pronouncements. Even if the purpose of the stunt was only to showcase his Mussolini-esque (-ish?) strength, you might think that he would deliver a rousing speech, something inspirational, like exhorting his cult followers to go burn down the Reichstag.

This is what he said:

“We have a great country, that’s my thoughts,” he said. “The greatest country in the world. We’ll make it even greater. We will make it even greater. It won’t take long. It’s not gonna take long. You see what’s going on. It’s coming back. It’s coming back strong. It will be greater than ever before.”
“Okay. Thank you very much. We have the greatest country in the world. We’re gonna keep it nice and safe.”

Oh.

Even more than usual I was struck by the gobsmackingly simple-minded vocabulary. How is this man the President of the United States?

As a retired elementary media specialist, it occurred to me to head over Lexile.com and see what reading level our president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response) speaks. Lexile has positioned itself as an arbiter of readability for books; every book these days has a Lexile score. The idea is that your student will have a range of Lexile scores within which they are comfortable reading, and that for best growth the student should read somewhere near the middle of that range, if not lower.

(I was constantly having to teach parents of gifted kids that no, it was not beneficial for the kids to read at the high end. After all, I would point out, if the parents read at their Lexile level, they could just chuck the Tom Clancy out and stick to St. Thomas Aquinas or Kierkegaard.)

So over to the Analyzer I hopped, and this is the Lexile level of Trump’s “oration”:

I think it’s a hoot that the longest sentence is the longest only because of the editorial he said.

And the recommended books?

And most ironically of all:

The question remains: what grade level are we talking about? Have a chart:

Here we have the End Of Year Lexile level for each grade level, both for the absolute middle of the road kids (50th percentile) and the very bright kids (90th).

By the end of first grade, the brightest kids have already outstripped Trump’s Lexile level.

By the end of second grade, even the most average kids are reading beyond Trump’s “best words.”

So is the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response) smarter than a fifth grader? Honey, please. He’s not even smarter than a second grader.

Replies, but no answers, Drew Ferguson edition

Guys, I would never suggest our congresscritters are evil and lying when Occam’s Razor offers us the simplest solution: they have no way to respond to constituents in this day and age when everything is automated.

However.

Here are the two recent blog posts that I asked my congresscritters to respond to, to take a clear stance in support of (which is the default position) or in opposition to the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response)’s recent actions.

  1. Trump threatens to kill Democrats; GA congresscritters okay with that.

  2. Trump extorts Michigan; GA congresscritters OK with that

Here are two emails I just received from Rep. Drew “Who?” Ferguson:

And…

There was more blah blah about all the stuff that the (Democratic-led) House of Representatives did.

So here’s your challenge: exactly what message from me was Rep. Ferguson replying?

As far as I can tell, Rep. Ferguson’s positions on my two blog posts (and ResistBot messages to him) remain the default: He supports the idea of killing Trump’s political opponents; and it’s fine with him for the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response) to extort states who do not kiss his ass.