October 2016
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

The Federal Bureau of Investigation

As someone who regards himself as a political radical who has read a lot of history and has a jaundiced view, I find myself surprisingly eager to be comforted by Official Narratives. I wanted to believe that the FBI has been vastly professionalized in the post-Hoover years. The anonymous agents flocking to leak vague and unsubstantiable rumors about Hillary, the statement another one made to a reporter that the agency is "Trumpland", are scaring the shit out of me. The collaboration of government elements with Trump, ambitious far right Senators, and the alt right, is actually starting to feel rather coup-like right now--the extreme to which I swing when I am not naively believing all is well with the world.


Much of what I have written shows a great sympathy for direct democracy on the Athenian model. So its hard to say that I wish states wouldn't permit public referendums. In most cases these seem to be a tactic to trick voters who don't really understand what they are considering into dismantling their own entitlements, as was the California anti-tax referendum, Proposition 13. Today's fad is bigoted referendums, like the one Australia is planning on same sex marriage. Our country needs to work on functioning as a saner representative democracy before we could circle back around to being a direct one.

What's the matter with Kansas?

I just read the book What's the Matter With Kansas? which describes the way the Republican party tricks people into voting against their own jobs, mortgages, and health. The book was written some years back, when Sam Brownback was still Senator. Now it's time for a sequel; as governor, it is widely acknowledged that Brownback has led Kansas off a tax-cut cliff. The Republican rationale for radical cuts, that they will attract corporate employers to the state and create jobs, has failed, and Kansas is struggling to fund its own public schools and everything else. Yet, in a post-truth society, candidates at every level, including Trump, continue promising tax cuts as a panacea. When we can't recognize truth, in the form of actual results, of conditions on the ground, we are not long for this world, like the pilots of the stalling Air France plane who never looked out the window to see what angle they were to the horizon.

The slipping down of discourse

I have recently become habituated to my IPhone's news feed, which mixes articles from old media I have heard of, the Times and Washington Post, with new media and dubious web sites I haven't. Most of these are formulated on the theory that a vivid, tendentious lead will earn maximum clicks, along the lines of "Megyn Kelly DESTROYS Rudy Giuliani On Air" or "Newt Gingrich BLASTS Morning Joe". I think it was still the 1980's when occasional self-reflective pundits pointed out that newspaper campaign coverage increasingly was about who's up, who's down, and who did what to whom, and not about policy. To really appreciate the degradation of much of today's campaign coverage, you have to turn to Roland Barthes' Mythologies, written in the 1950's, particularly the chapter on, WAIT FOR IT, -- wrestling:

[T]he public relies on the most important virtue of spectacles, which is to abolish all motives and consequences; what is important is not what the public believes, but what it sees...each moment is intelligible, not the totality...Wrestling demands an immediate understanding of juxtapositions, without the necessity of connecting them together [and] excessive gestures, exploited to the ultimate paroxysm of their meaning....a wrestler thrown to the ground is there exaggeratedly, swelling to fill the public view with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness....Each symbolic act in wrestling is endowed with a complete clarity because it must always be instantly understood.... what we are seeing is truly a Human Comedy in which the social nuances of the drama (fatuousness, righteousness, refined cruelty, the 'payback') happily merge with the symbolic acts most suited to express them and carry their meaning to the outer walls of the hall [and each combat is then] an algebraic equation instantly revealing the relationship of cause and effect... What is thus delivered to the public is the grand spectacle of Suffering, Defeat and Justice.

Jews and Donald Trump

I personally know Jewish people who are supporting Trump, rationalizing away the horrific anti-Semitism of certain of his prominent supporters, the pervasive phenomenon under which journalists with Jewish names will receive tweets with Photoshopped images of themselves in an oven or with a bloody bullet hole in their foreheads. I read a lot of history but was unaware of any 1932 parallel of Jews voting for Hitler. (I now find that this is an Internet trope, believed by some Jews, but based on anecdotal rather than hard evidence.) My aspiration is that "Nothing human is alien to me", but I cannot even imagine the mindset of the people, Jewish or Gentile, who think this hatred and incipient violence are not real, or don't matter.

Rape culture

Trump's comments about "pussy grabbing" on the Access Hollywood open mic led to a lot of men, including athletes and politicians, saying nobody talks like that. I can verify that in the 1960's and 1970's, almost all the men I knew did. I once spent a respectful night with a woman who wanted to remain a virgin, and when I told the story, an older medical professional said, "When girls say no, they mean yes" and a street friend responded, "You shoulda just ripped her off".

Ivanka boycott

For what its worth, I don't agree with those calling for a boycott of Ivanka Trump's products. That is a tactic which has mainly been used to punish people on the left for their opinions, and I don't think it should be used against anyone.

Obamacare and human nature

If anyone had asked me, I would have explained that healthy young Americans would choose to pay a $700 penalty for not having health insurance rather than $5,000 annually for coverage.

Technology monopolies

We live in a world of monopolies that would never have been tolerated thirty years ago. I am not talking about browsers and search engines beating competition through technical superiority and then dominating their marketplaces. We are in the grip of low tech, old fashioned manipulations of exactly the kind the Justice Department busted in the 1960's. Back then, the phone company could not lease you the phone at inflated prices while prohibiting third parties from selling you handsets. Today, I pay $600 on a two year lease-to-purchase for a cell phone which is fundamentally identical to a $150 tablet. Things are worse than the 1960's; back then AT&T had an obligation to replace the phone if it broke, but Verizon won't even replace a $20 charger port on a phone out of the six month warranty, let alone fix a cracked screen.


I greatly enjoy finding new tropes, but this one has been around for years. Meaning "Timid, sanctimonious, or easily offended", it was already accused of cliche-dom in 2012. Example in use in 2016, from Washington Monthly: "Over the preceding months, we have seen the rise of what I'll call the pearl-clutching conservative".

Self censorship

I just made a snap decision for the Spectacle: I will continue to express myself freely, but will no longer publish submissions from people I don't know. In the environment in which I think we will be living in the years to come, regardless of which candidate is elected, the chances of being trolled are just too great.