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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Good Times at Pottersville, 3/14/15
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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

To Resurrect a Mockingbird
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan. on loan from Ari.)
     After a 55 year-long silence, Harper Lee is publishing a sequel to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird. From just a purely literary viewpoint, this is huge news. Imagine a new J.D. Salinger novel coming to light about Holden Caulfield 20 years later. That's essentially the premise for Lee's "new" novel, Go Set a Watchman. I say "new" in quotes because, according to Miss Lee's account, Watchman was written first and the flashback chapters about Scout Finch's childhood so captivated Lee's editor that he asked her to expand upon it. So, while Watchman was written first, she and her publisher decided to go with Mockingbird, which was actually a prequel.
     As with Agatha Christie's "final" novel, Curtain, which was written during the London blitz when she was still at the height of her powers (In case she was killed during the Nazi shelling, leaving Hercule Poirot's legacy unfinished), Lee's manuscript then got misplaced and she thought it was lost until her attorney found it last year in a "secure location." (Lesson to authors: Always back up your manuscripts.) Ergo, the long-awaited second Lee novel will come out on July 14th and Harper's publisher (also Harper) will come out with an initial print run of 2,000,000 copies.
     So, this is all good news for book lovers, especially fans of Miss Lee, and is the biggest news in the book business to come out in years. But how relevant will a second Scout/Atticus Finch novel be in 21st century America, especially decades after the undeclared death of what used to be the Civil Rights movement? Indeed, should we care about a new Scout Finch novel or what happens in Maycomb, Alabama 20 years later in the mid 50's when Scout, now a mature woman, returns from New York like a prodigal daughter? Why should a sequel be relevant to a "post-racial" America now boasting an African American president, no need for a Civil Rights movement or Affirmative Action and with a gutted Voting Rights Act of 1965? Why should we greet Go Set a Watchman with anything other than literary curiosity?
     Would it be any more relevant than, say, a sequel to Uncle Tom's Cabin were one to come to light? A new Harriet Beecher Stowe novel continuing the saga would be a literary curiosity but hardly relevant in a nation that abolished slavery 150 years ago with the ratification of the 13th amendment. So, how relevant is Harper Lee and the Finches considering both books were written years before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts?
     All too much.
     Considering it's one of the most famous stories in modern American fiction, one hardly needs me or anyone to relate the abstracts of a book that's been taught in schools for over half a century. But for the sake of context, I'll give you the throughline:
     A classic Bildungsroman work of fiction, To Kill a Mockingbird features widowed attorney Atticus Finch, father of the protagonist Scout. A black man, Tom Robinson, is accused of raping a young white woman named Mayella Ewell and Finch agrees to defend him. Generally viewed as a model of legal integrity, Finch fights tooth and nail for his client and, despite essentially proving Robinson's lack of guilt, the jury convicts him, anyway. Robinson is then shot and killed as he tries to escape from prison.
     There is some justice in To Kill a Mockingbird (Tom Ewell, father of the raped woman, seeks revenge despite the conviction and "fell on his own knife" as the Sheriff tells Finch) but not much. The epitome of the Southern Gothic novel, one reminiscent of Tennessee Williams and Faulkner, Lee's book offers an unflinching look into the "Just Us" system of the Deep South and the unjust persecution and prosecution of innocent African Americans we still see in the present day.
     Bewildered by her father's moral code that made him risk both their lives during those three years in the Great Depression in his defense of an innocent man, Scout returns from the Big Apple and, according to Harper Collins, then tries to understand her father Atticus better. It is important to remember that Miss Lee had written Watchman in the mid 1950s, even before I was born. It was not intended to be a period novel or a snapshot into a bygone age yet that is the prism with which we necessarily need to view it.
     Yet, while Lee's masterpiece  is a brutally honest scrutiny of her small Alabama hometown (many of the characters are based on her relatives and neighbors), the United States, particularly the Deep South, has, if anything, gotten even uglier. Black males, most famously the Scottsboro Boys and 14 year-old Emmett Till (who was murdered the same year Watchman was drafted), were commonly charged, convicted or outright lynched over alleged crimes to white women. Jurors tended to be all white and prosecutors racists if not secretly Klansmen.
     But the persistent racism we're seeing rearing its pointy head since the election of Barack Obama in 2008 goes several steps further than even Lee's pitiless probity ever envisioned or anticipated. With the street executions of Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and all too many others, juries and grand juries refuse to indict policemen or police groupies like George Zimmerman. And instead of being charged with crimes they didn't commit, more and more innocent black males are being charged with crimes and even bad behavior when they weren't even the defendants (usually because they were dead).
     Instead of ropes, we're now using strings of binary on Twitter, Facebook and blogs to lynch black males (and, in some cases, even black women) long after they've been laid in their graves or sent to prison. Meanwhile, we're also treated to the news of white privileged males getting off scot free after killing four people in a stolen vehicle while under the influence with the bottomlessly absurd defense of "Affluenza."
     Scout Finch may return to her southern roots mystified by her heroic father's motives for risking everything to save a man he never knew in the real world as well as by the twisted ugliness of those roots. But she'd be even more mystified by a 21st century United States that's actually come full circle and, in some ways, has gotten even more racist and vicious than the Alabama of the Great Depression. So, yes, Go Set a Watchman may yet teach us some lessons in racial harmony, however unheeded, six decades after Lee had written it.
     You go, old girl.
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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Good Times at Pottersville, 1/31/15

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Top 10 Reasons Why Mitt Romney Won't Run for President in 2016
     Perennial Republican contender Mitt Romney has recently decided that he will not seek the presidency for a third time in 2016. His reason, as he told potential investors supporters in a conference call was, "I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the [Republican] Party the opportunity to become our next nominee." Romney's departure from the field frees up a lot of cash and delegates while at the same time not supporting the heir apparent to the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush. But Mr. Romney told his supporters there were other reasons for withdrawing his name from consideration. What were they?


  • 10) Slowly dawning realization that being unemployed isn't so tough, after all.
  • 9) Losing $10,000 bet that he was more unpopular than HIV in the Castro.
  • 8) Skull session with Jeb Bush in Salt Lake City earlier this month ended with Karl Rove slipping a length of piano wire in his luggage. 
  • 7) Unwillingness to stand more of Ann's constant notes in his lunches such as, "Every day you don't kill a 43 percenter is like a day without sunshine."
  • 6) Last Christmas Eve was haunted by three ghosts of Seamus, John Lauber and the IRS Commissioner.
  • 5) Presidential campaign would've conflicted with preplanned barbeque with Joseph Smith in the Kolob star system.
  • 4) Became suspicious when his most ardent backers turned out to be Hillary Clinton voters.
  • 3) Discovered Sarah Palin wanted to be his running mate.
  • 2) Josh's announcement he couldn't get a good price on all the Diebold voting machines necessary to ensure a Romney victory, which would've been virtually all of them.
  • 1) Apparently, the other 53% of the electorate only make up 1%.
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    Wednesday, January 21, 2015

    Chris Kyle: An Inhuman Interest Story
    (By American Zen's Mike Flannigan. on loan from Ari.)
         In all fairness, you have to give Clint Eastwood credit. For a man who lives a relatively quiet and private personal life, he always finds a way to get in the public eye. And it's a testament to his endurance and relevance, legitimate or otherwise, that he remains a political lightning rod for those on both sides of the Great Ideological Divide. After all, you show me one other 84 year-old director who's still directing movies let alone ones at the top of the box office that make people talk about them at the water cooler.
         And it's a crowning irony that Eastwood's newest effort, American Sniper, was directed by a man who'd once admitted in an interview decades ago that he hated guns. Yes, Dirty Harry and the Man With No Name who'd killed more fictional people than you can shake a .44 Magnum at, hated guns. Therefore, the old man who made a laughingstock of himself at the Republican National Convention almost two and a half years ago by yelling at an empty stool now finds himself in the spotlight yet again.
         Eastwood's box office-busting film should not be taken as a referendum on the legitimacy of the Iraq War (Eastwood, in fact, has publicly stated he hates war in all forms) but the manufactured controversy surrounding his film ought to be taken as a referendum on the enduring, virulent hatred and racism that has taken this country by storm ever since we elected a black man to run it in 2008.
         It's hard to understand why Eastwood chose Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper who'd bragged about killing 255 men, for his next opus. If he'd insisted on making a movie about a sniper, he could've chosen Marine gunnery sergeant Carl Hathcock, who'd had a horrendously high body count during Vietnam and was the template for Stephen Hunter's bestselling Bob Lee/Earl Swagger series of action novels. Vietnam, after all, while still controversial to some aging deadenders, recedes much further into American history and the Department of Defense and its predecessors had produced many other notable snipers going back to the Revolutionary War.
         Ergo, it's difficult to fathom why Eastwood chose Kyle, who was murdered at a Texas gun range in early 2013 by another military man suffering from PTSD. Nicknamed "The Devil of Ramadi", Kyle was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and was once credited with shooting a target from 2100 yards.
         But this isn't a book report and no man's life can be adequately summed up in one. Or a two hour-long movie, for that matter. Rather than a dry recitation of one person's achievements and capriciously awarded medals, what matters is how that person's life affected and continues to affect those who didn't even personally know him. And it's that willful ignorance that's produced the disturbing backlash aimed at Michael Moore over a clumsily-worded tweet and anyone who criticizes Kyle for his conduct in Iraq and elsewhere. Typically, many of the rape and death threats comes from right wing nut jobs and armchair snipers who have turned Eastwood's movie into a referendum on the justness of the Iraq War and the low value of brown-skinned human beings.
         And the fact is, Chris Kyle wasn't just the personification of "mission creep", he was what one could call ...
    The Mission Creep
         Kyle wasn't shy about making his thoughts known about Iraqis. He once infamously wrote in his own memoir, "I hate the Goddamned savages. I couldn't give a flying fuck about the Iraqis." He also said he "loved" to kill and that it was "fun." Such a misanthropic and psychopathic attitude should alone have disqualified this man from being held up as an American hero and having his life glorified in a movie that seems bound for Oscar consideration. All things considered, it's a miracle this man even got a literary agent let alone a publisher to trowel out such filth.
         Such hateful statements alone should've invalidated the fetish that people of virtually all political persuasions harbor for those who wear military uniforms, regardless of where they'd served, not served or what they did or didn't do. Most disturbingly, even nearly 12 years after the most wrong-headed invasion and occupation in perhaps all American history, Iraq has never been tainted with nearly as much controversy as Vietnam. Therefore, the hatred and sociopathic bigotry of human monsters such as Chris Kyle, not to mention his murderous deeds, will similarly be shielded from any substantial and lasting criticism. And his needless and senseless murder on a Texas gun range only made him a martyr, thereby making him, at least for the moment, invulnerable to such comeuppance to the point where no one of any consequence even had the nerve to say, "Live by the sword..."
         And it isn't much of a stretch to say that Eastwood's and Kyle's fans happen to be the same ones that criticized African Americans this past summer, fall and winter for protesting having members of their own gunned down by so many mini Chris Kyles such as Darren Wilson and George Zimmerman. That would be the same libertarians who decry police abuse and overreach until they start killing dark-skinned people who "had it coming to them." Kyle himself bragged about, without substantiating it, killing looters (read: black people who "had it coming to them") in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yes, Kyle was an equal opportunity misanthrope. He also hated his own people.
         Killing in war is unfortunately an inevitable consequence. At most, it should not be glorified and ought to be looked at as a grim duty. Good men ought to be troubled by the taking of human life regardless of how justified it was (and only a simple-minded misanthrope such as Kyle would even posit in polite company that every single one of his 160 confirmed or 255 alleged kills were absolutely justified). If war is an incurable condition of Mankind placed there by God, then it's horrible for a reason, The death, decay, destruction, plague and poverty that comes in its wake serves as an ongoing, albeit unlearned, object lesson that these ought to be deterrents to doing this to our fellow human beings.
         But even more despicable than monsters such as Kyle who use a wrongheaded and corporately-driven military action such as Iraq as an excuse to release his own racist demons to kill the very people the Bush administration piously swore for six years to be protecting are the people who are jumping on the Kyle bandwagon. The people who are misinterpreting Michael Moore's original tweet as him calling snipers "cowardly" are themselves resorting to hateful insults and death threats from the safe anonymity of their Twitter and Disqus accounts.
         Despite the fruit salad he may have worn on his Navy uniform, Chris Kyle was the very definition of an idol with feet of clay. And those who are threatening his critics with rape and murder only further dishonor a man who already has a blood-spattered legacy as well as the innocent Iraqis that Kyle glorified in victimizing. As with Sarah Palin and so many other right wing idols with feet of clay, in Kyle they've found someone who mirrors and validates their own irrational, misguided and ignorant hatred and racism.
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    Friday, January 16, 2015

    Good Times at Pottersville, January 16, 2015
    (A Brilliant at Breakfast exclusive.)

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    Thursday, December 11, 2014

    Congressional Cassandras
         This shouldn't have come as any surprise to anyone who knows anything about the GOP.
         The nanosecond the "party of personal responsibility" found out they were going to dominate the entire legislative branch, the racism, insane demands and draconian legislation proposals began streaming out as raw sewage from a busted sewer line.
         The Republicans have shown they have about as much respect for democracy as the Nazis did the Weimar Republic that got them elected to power in 1933.
         No sooner than the votes were tallied in all their gerrymandered districts, we began hearing the President wouldn't be invited to the House chamber to deliver the State of the Union, a presidential tradition since 1790. We began hearing other rumors the GOP would then forbid President Obama from using Air Force One. And if they get their way, before poor Mr. Obama's public service career ends the Republicans will have him running the fucking country out of a broom closet in the Naval Observatory.
         But it can't be said the Democrats have been any great shakes, either. The looming budget bill, called a "chromnibus" by my senior Senator Elizabeth Warren, is not only a naked giveaway and massive Christmas present to Wall Street, it's being negotiated by so-called Democrats working in collusion with Republican lawmakers. It reads as if it was crafted by a multiply-cloned Max Baucus come back from the weeds with a vengeance.
         To give you just a few bullet points regarding this steaming pile of shit charitably referred to as a "spending bill", the bill in its present state would consist of this:
         Essentially a repeal of much of Dodd-Frank, a tepid, watered down replacement for Glass-Steagall at best, that would allow Wall Street banks to continue in risky and pre-doomed derivative speculation that Glass Steagall had forbade. It would also put the American taxpayer on the hook for the inevitable bailout. The 2008 and 2009 TARP bailout has already been estimated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (pdf) to have cost the American taxpayer between six and 14 trillion dollars, which could come out to $120,000 per household. To put it in its simplest terms, it would once again reward Wall Street for criminal behavior.
         It would ramp up Citizen's United to the point where it would allow oligarchs to spend $777,000 or more on political campaigns and PACs.
         Oh and it would raid the pension funds of up to 1.5 million retirees. It would also, according to the WaPo, slash the budget for the IRS, always a favorite target of Republicans, to the point where they wouldn't be able to go after their tax-dodging billionaire bosses (not that the IRS is much invested in doing so, to begin with). That's right. This so-called "spending bill" would do exactly the opposite where the IRS and other perennial right wing targets are concerned.
         In other words, bloated and flushed with their newfound majority, Republicans plan on presenting the bottom 99% with a giant stocking filled with coal and not even the mythical clean-burning coal, at that. And all with the help of Democrats who are more concerned with submissively showing their belly to the Republicans than actually doing what's right.
         This can be viewed as a microcosm of what's wrong with today's Democrats in general, a telling synecdoche of why more of us don't turn out for elections and especially midterms. They are weak and fractured at best even when they have the majority in one or both houses of Congress. They are constantly infested with Blue Dogs who all but caucus with Republicans. At worst, they are seditious and collusive, showing their complete lack of a spinal column when the GOP gets the upper hand in one chamber or the other.
         And I don't want to hear any shit from people who cherry pick tiny nuggets of so-called progressivism and say, "I don't want to hear any shit about there being no difference between the parties."
         Because they all work for the same Wall Street banks and Fortune 500 companies. Freelance journalist Michael Collins calls both sides of the aisle "The Money Party." This is why I don't always vote Democrat and refuse to even listen to those who rail about my doing so making me a Fifth Columnist that empowers the Republicans.
         They don't need my help because the current crop of DINO douchebags is already doing that.
         Elizabeth Warren (except regards her troubling support for Israel) usually finds herself on the right side of an argument. And when she comes out swinging in favor of Joe Lunchpail, one can tell it's not merely the empty, populist soaring rhetoric we hear from time to time from the asshole in the Oval Office. And until we begin electing real Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and fewer glassy-eyed lunatics such as Joni Ernst and corporate meat puppets like David Perdue, registered Democrats and progressive Independents will continue avoiding the polls in droves on Election Day. Until that day comes, Senators such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will continue to be Congressional Cassandras, doomed to be ignored in spite of the truth of their words.
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