July 20, 2018
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.bet


Koko the gorilla died. In 1978, in Paris, I saw a documentary about her, Koko Le Gorille Qui Parle. In 1979, when it opened in Cambridge (probably at the Orson Welles), a young man in a gorilla suit was handing out leaflets. I said, "Oh, yeah, I saw this in France, last year". He took his head off and inquired, "Is it any good?"

In the intervening years, I was always glad to know Koko was out there somewhere, attended by her human, Penny Patterson. After a backlash of often cruel criticism and counter-theorizing driven, in my opinion, by a persistent need to regard animals as automatons in pursuit of an ultimate goal of regarding humans the same, Dr. Patterson stopped writing science papers about Koko and just took care of her as a friend. She saw Koko through, what friends do for one another.

There is a topic for a book or thesis on Koko and Dr. Paterson as an iconic Enlightenment dyad in the Trump years, when their basic gentleness, warmth and humanity found no echo among the stalwarts outside. Personally, I would rather spend a day with Koko than with Henry Kissinger....I know with whom I have more in common.

Free riders

The Republicans are supposed to hate free riders but in fact encourage them everywhere via false or incomplete theories about rights. Your "liberty interest" in refusing Obamacare makes you a free rider when you are shot or in a car crash and show up at the nearest ER. The recent Janus decision allows workers to refuse to pay union dues while still benefiting from union wage and benefit negotiations. The best way to dispel the "clouds of unknowing" deliberately generated by Republican sophistry, and to restore the balance of responsibility, would be a rule that if you reject health insurance the ER may leave you on the sidewalk, and that if you don't pay union dues you don't benefit from union negotiations. But no, the Republican demographic--the portion of it which has now become the Trump base--is addicted to free riding, will ride free as long as permitted.

Grownups, treason and fatalism

Trump's sit down with Putin, and his temporary infatuation with the idea of giving the Russians access to Americans they are trying to destroy, like Bill Browder and Michael McPhaul, are so far beyond merely bizarre, that, if (as I keep telling people), these had been a late season plot on a show like West Wing, I would have opined that the writing had really gone downhill, that the scribblers in the green room had told every reasonable story and were now just making shit up.

I feel a kind of calm, still fascination, as I did once when a bus near me sheared off a power line and dragged it sparking down the street: Stand? Run? But the most important question right now is why the grown ups in the situation did not protect us against all this. And are not. Are there no grown ups?

Man with a gun

Sometimes the most important thing in a story is a little detail mentioned in passing. Demonstrators and journalists outside an ICE facility in Texas were chased away several days in a row by a local rancher brandishing a legally openly carried handgun. The police did not intervene. The NRA's highly successful capture of the political process, to ensure first guns and then open carry everywhere, was never a politically neutral endeavor, like the ACLU protecting speech of every stripe. The end result is armed right wingers everywhere, waiting for Donald Trump, or a successor, to call them to some higher mission, to ask that they help him oppose the "Deep State" by terrifying or shooting their neighbors.

Sarah Sanders and the Red Hen

The restaurant's owner should not have refused to serve Sanders and her party. That is exactly the behavior the right is fighting for, when they crusade for the right to refuse to serve gay people. We do not behave like them. There were other choices, like bringing out the whole diverse kitchen staff to say a few choice words along with the check, or notifying local people who might demonstrate outside as they were leaving.

Disposable children

The fact that the Trump administration has managed to reunite only fourteen percent of the immigrant children with their parents in the many weeks this controversy has been raging is not an expression of incompetence, but hatred. At this late date, we are still marveling at the President's inabilities when we should be clear about his beliefs, and those of the people who advise him, like hateful troll Stephen Miller. No system of tracking the children separated from parents was instituted not because they didn't think of it, or didn't know how, but because they believe that the children are garbage, and saw no reason to invest the effort. There will never be a path out of this without a commitment to live in truth; when I saw the bus crash into the power wire, I didn't imagine I was watching a pink cloud floating down the street.

What Medicare means to me

For years I have been struggling with health coverage and actually yearning to turn 65 already. I almost left New York when, as a self employed attorney, I couldn't find any insurance I could afford. Then I hit upon a theater industry group plan for which I was eligible because I was producing plays at the time. Then Obamacare ended my group coverage and forced me to buy a plan on the exchange, which didn't work well and took many efforts to accomplish. Hospitalized, I discovered of course that some of the troops of doctors who flock in to see you for unclear reasons asking repetitive questions are "attendings" not covered by your insurance, and that the deductibles and copays can crush you. I now live in a very primitive condition in which I try never to see doctors--I am less comfortable in my 60's going to a physician to check on a possible symptom than I was in my 30's. A few days ago I turned 64, sighing with relief that in just one year, I will at last be entitled to Medicare. But the papers are reporting that Medicare will be insolvent by 2026, when I will be seventy-two. Life is a bit of a cruel comedy, but we already knew that. I just had a very clear vision of what a Trumpean president and a craven, split, passive Republican Congress will do about Medicare in 2026: nothing. Talk about it in strident terms and take no action. Or a Democratic president and a split Congress, or a Democratic Congress and a veto-ready Trumpean president, or or or. It would take a miracle for us to have the clarity, strength, and unity of purpose needed to fix Medicare in 2026, and miracles don't happen very often.