ACHILLES MEETS the SEXBOTS

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So I'm in the  Walmart in Monroe, New York--don't ask--listening to my favorite podcast, Stuff to Blow Your Mind.  For those still suffering in darkness, STBYM is the jewel in the crown of the How Stuff Works network.  Helmed by polymaths Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick, it delivers at least weekly an incisive, exhaustively researched hourlong discussion of topics on the frontiers of science or at the intersection of science and philosophy.  Recent offerings have included three separate episodes on the physics of black holes and a fascinating colloquium on quantum immortality.  

That day I'd already had time to listen to pieces about sexbots--just what you think, and apparently due to arrive about the same time as the driverless car, which should work out pretty well for all concerned--and the dangers lurking in artificial neuroplasticity, which it seems isn't going to be all effortlessly acquired languages and abandoned bad habits.  

The third show I heard that day was Listener Mail.  About halfway through was an email from an egyptologist discussing a 1200 BCE letter from father to son that seemed to undercut Julian Jaynes theory of the bicameral mind and the sudden emergence of consciousness in Homeric times.  When the hosts brought up my name and The Rage of Achilles I dropped my Subway coffee--Walmart has everything--and said "son of a bitch!" loudly enough to make nearby babies cry.

I was escorted out by security, but it was worth it.

Okay, so Achilles didn't actually meet the sexbots.  But I got to use this cool picture.  And you really owe it to yourself to subscribe to Stuff to Blow Your Mind.  

 

BAPTISTS IN CARS with SHAWN CRAWFORD

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A shoutout is due friend and colleague Shawn Crawford for the recent publication of "Righteous Wheels" in Blue Mountain Review.  It's an excerpt from a memoir in progress concerning--in part--growing up very Baptist indeed.  But judging from the image above--it illustrates Shawn's blog at Calliope Crashes--there have been a few bumps in the road to salvation.  Yes, quite a few.  

Read it.  Right now.

COMING SOON: OPEN, by SCOTT JONES

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I'm pleased to let the world know that my friend, colleague, and onetime student Scott Jones' memoir, Open, will be released by Literati Press in September.  Scott movingly and eloquently describes his struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his deep Christian spirtuality in a milieu that is, shall we say, less than embracing of the former, and in some ways, not really of the latter, either.  I'm proud to say Scott workshopped the book at the Yale Writers' Conference back in the day.

To get a sense of what the book is like, read an excerpt here.

 

HOUSE GOP UNVEILS HUMAN-CHIMP HYBRID

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives stunned the world today by revealing a major advance in genetic engineering--a humanzee.

A humanzee, as recently explained in the "Stuff to Blow Your Mind" podcast, is a hybrid of a human and a chimpanzee.  However appalling the idea, there is no doubt that it was attempted by a Russian veterinarian in Stalin's early years.  Shockingly, the so-called Red Frankenstein not only inseminated female chimps with human sperm, but in at least one instance, a human female with chimp sperm.  All without viable outcome.

Yet Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan proves that freedom succeeds where socialism fails.  Though unable to wear many forms of human clothing, including a jacket, he nevertheless sports opposable thumbs and is capable of many simple, guttural sentences. 

Sadly, in hearings today with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, Jordan's simian intolerance for frustration quickly evidenced itself in incoherent howls of rage that culminated in his hurling his own stool around the room.  

He is now in the custody of the DC Humane Society.  

 

TRUMP-SHAMING WON'T WORK

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Sitting right there on the desktop is a draft titled "RED HEN LEADS THE WAY!"

I'm not posting it.  

However emotionally gratifying it may be to think of Sarah Sanders getting the heave-ho from a restaurant for simple karmic repugnance, it's not a good thing.  For reasons cultural and political, we shouldn't shame Trumpers. 

First the cultural.  Trump, as candidate and president, has coarsened and cheapened our political discourse to a level not seen since Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner in the Senate.  His crudity is evident on the most granular level--imagine Ronald Reagan calling a football player a son of a bitch?  Or saying "hell" in public?  Perhaps the daily drip-drip-drip of quotidian sleaze is more dangerous than his open incitement of mob violence at his now-weekly rallies.

But that just amounts to saying "they started it."  Responding in kind, no matter how justified,  contributes to a downward spiral that will next feature mud wrestling as party primaries.

Even more important is the political peril.  The Trump base is all about victimization.  And while it's certainly not without basis--white working people have not done well in the twenty-first century, and have the declining life expectancy to prove it--it's focused its rage not on the Wall Street oligopoly responsible, but on more visible targets.  As I've written earlier, the alt.right feels excluded and belittled by "the Culture"--media, Hollywood, and the cool kids in the cafeteria.  Not letting their spokespeople eat with us is the most inflammatory kind of confirmation possible.  And that most likely to get them out to the polls in November.

Sure, it would be fun to pelt Scott Pruitt with stool.  But it will only make things worse.  And they're plenty bad enough as it is.

 

 

 

 

DECLINE of AMERICAN TESTOSTERONE LEVELS EXPLAINED!

On the left is a can of millennial pilsner.  On the right is a real can of beer.  Need anything more be said?  I thought not.

Next up: Artisanal pickle brine is pure estrogen! 

 

 

SYLVIA MADRIGAL on GETTING PAST NO

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Sylvia Madrigal, as I've said earlier, is an alum of the College Formerly Known as Calhoun at Yale as well as the Yale Writers' Conference.  She's now an MFA candidate at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.  Listen here for her moving and very funny account of opening doors slammed in her face for having been Mexican, female, poor, and gay.  Oh, at Yale.  Oh, yeah--in the seventies.  

And I thought I had it tough.

 

 

 

FROM THE ARCHIVE: CULLODEN (1964)

The internet is a magical kingdom without copyright in which middleaged--in my case, interpreted loosely--men can search for lost time.  At least when they're not searching for porn.

Somewhere in the back of my mind was a half-memory of a documentary about the Battle of Culloden I'd seen sometime in the later years of high school.  And with a few cranks of the YouTube hurdy-gurdy, hey presto, up it popped.  And remarkably, despite production values that now seem laughable, it has withstood the test of time.  And then some.

The underlying facts are bleak.  The Jacobites--Latin for "Jamesian," sort of--were die-hard adherents of the House of Stuart, luckless kings of Scotland who inherited the throne of England in 1603 and almost willfully proceeded to screw it up.  James I (of England) and VI (of Scotland) managed not to get blown up in the Gunpowder Plot.  His son, Charles I, however, turned popular discontent with the monarchy into outright rebellion and violated so many truces and peace deals afterwards that Parliament was left with no choice but to cut his head off.  His son, Charles II, spent the next eleven years in exile and marked his return to power with a plague and the Great Fire.  Despite a dozen-odd illegitimate children--ancestors of several modern dukes--he somehow avoided impregnating his wife.  Thus his brother James II became king.

James was a Catholic.  This was a problem.  England had been Protestant since Henry VIII, except for a brief interregnum under his Catholic daughter Mary, who liked setting non-Catholics on fire.  The great powers of Europe--France and Spain--were Catholic.  The English associated Rome with tyranny and poverty.  Hence they were antsy when they found themselves with the first Catholic monarch in a hundred and fifty years.

They got antsier when James started removing legal limits on Catholics in public life.  And then bringing priests into the palaces.  And Catholics into government.  When his wife gave birth to a male heir--assuring a Catholic dynasty--the rich Protestant nobility decided enough was too much.  In the Glorious Revolution of 1688 they drove James off the throne, without firing a shot, replacing him with William and Mary, the latter being James' Protestant daughter by an earlier marriage, the former his son-in-law and hereditary ruler--Staatholder, not quite King--of uberprostestant and anti-French Holland.  Hooray!

William and Mary died without children, as did Anne, Mary's sister, to whom the crown had passed on William's death.  When Anne joined the Choir Invisible, that left the aforesaid rich Protestant nobles in a pickle.  The only remaining members of the House of Stuart were the son of James II--raised at the French court and calling himself "James III"--and the hyperintelligent, sophisticated, and most important, Protestant Electress of Hanover, Sophia.

Don't ask what an Electress is.  This has already gone on too long.

Sophia, unfortunately, died a few days before Anne.  The throne therefore passed to her thuggish son, who became George I of Great Britain and Ireland.  He never really learned English and spent as little time as possible in his new kingdoms.  Which was fine with the rich Protestant nobles, who used his absence to set up a modern parliamentary system, banking, insurance, and all the other blessings of liberty.

The Jacobites didn't take this lying down.  In 1698 James II tried to get his old job back through an invasion of Ireland.  The result was a country-style beat-down at the Battle of the Boyne, still celebrated by dimwitted Ulstermen in bowlers and orange sashes every June.   His son attempted the same in England when his aunt Anne died in 1715.  

But in 1745 shit got real.  George II was king.  James III's son--James II's grandson--Prince Charles Edward Casimir, landed in Scotland and rapidly gathered around him a large and passionate force of Catholic Highland aristocrats and their semifeudal followers.  Bonnie Prince Charlie got as far south into England as Derbyshire in a thrust towards London and the crown.  

Didn't work.  Beaten in England, Charlie retreated north into Scotland, eventually deciding to make a stand at a barren moor--is there any other kind?--called Culloden.  Through spectacular mismanagement Charlie got his army butchered by royal troops under George II's younger son, the Duke of Cumberland.   

Wait, weren't we talking about a movie?  We were.

This 1964 BBC production is what we would now call a mockumentary--it features real-time  interviews with real and imagined participants, including Prince Charlie, Lord George Sackville, Highland farmers forced to fight, and British regular army privates.  More importantly, it includes painstakingly accurate portrayals of the squalor and brutality of eighteenth century warfare.  One of my pet peeves has long been the cinematic convention of showing pre-modern artillery shells exploding on impact, as would a present-day mortar round.  In fact, that isn't how it worked at all--through the Civil War, cannons fired what amounted to three-to twelve-pound bullets that did their damage not by exploding, but by bursting bodies apart through direct impact.  They were still lethal after a couple of bounces.  Culloden does a better job of showing that than anything I've ever seen.

And the movie is equally eloquent with Culloden's tragic aftermath.  Bonnie Prince Charlie's collapse gave the English a long-awaited opportunity to take care of business--the destruction of the clans.  Culloden shows a Highland culture that was so tribal as to verge on the prehistoric.  You held your land through your chief, and when called upon to do so, you fought for him, usually against another clan that had stolen your cattle or raped your wife.

But not this time.  You were fighting British regulars.  And when it was over they were pretty intent on making sure they didn't have to deal with you again.  The days after the battle saw the slaughter of the wounded and captive; the weeks after, their families.  And in the year after, the systematic deconstruction of their society--banning the wearing of the kilt, the weaving of the plaid, the speaking of gaelic.  

Despite its flaws--as noted above, by modern standard, the film is almost childishly crude--Culloden is a lucid and moving testament to a dirty episode in the rise of modern society.  Watch it.  After all, it's free!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROSEANNE, PIZZAGATE, and TRUMP

 

Lovable caricature of a blue collar mom--though oddly I don't recall my own blue-collar mom ever comparing black people to apes--Roseanne Barr is notable not only for racism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism, but an affinity for conspiracy theories.  Leaving aside the question of whether the former are characteristic of Trumpism, there's no doubt that the latter is.

Barr herself latched onto some deeply troubled storylines long before her faceplant last week.  Her posts on 4Chan--a message board that seems to be peopled by the kind of guys with homemade tattoos that you see running rides at carnivals--approvingly reference not only the now-well-known fantasy that liberal billionaire George Soros is a former Nazi zonderkommando, but the more obscure notion that Donald Trump has secretly liberated hundreds of children a month from sex slavery.  (A later post will address the alt.right's obsession with pedophilia.)  Ask yourself who could believe that Donald Trump could do a good deed in secret and wonder how Barr is allowed to have a driver's license.

The conspiracy theory is, of course, an element in the Trump toolbox as essential as the hammer.    After all, his political career was launched in Birtherism, a racist fantasy that seemed to be predicated on the assumption that no black person could legitimately achieve the presidency.  As we've spun further and further down the Trumpworld rabbit hole, many of us have forgotten the rallies in which he gleefully announced to cheering goobers that he "couldn't believe" what his "investigators" were "digging up" in Hawaii.   We have also forgotten the press conference, during the campaign,  at which he proclaimed that Obama had been born in America, without explanation or apology.

That's all been buried under the mountain ranges of brazen bullshit he's shoveled out since--historic inauguration crowds, massive voter fraud depriving him of a popular vote win, Spygate one week, Mueller tampering with the midterms the next.  

There are two alternative explanations for the primacy of the conspiracy theory in Trump's public worldview.  One is a cynical recognition of the gullibility of his trailer-park constituency and the ease with which its resentment can be directed at elites.  The other is much, much darker.

PIZZAGATE

As noted above, Roseanne is fixated on child sex trafficking.  This is nothing new on the fringe right.  But a year ago, it spawned a theory so bereft of supporting evidence and connection with consensus reality that it may have killed political satire for a generation. And almost wound up killing real people as well --Pizzagate.

It's impossible to recite the elements of the theory with a straight face.  But here they are: Prominent Democrats, including John Podesta and Hillary Clinton, are pedophiles.

Wait.  Really.  There's more.

Being pedophiles, they need a steady supply of children to rape.  (Please imagine Hillary Clinton having sex with a child or adult of either gender and tell me whether you still want to live.  Bet you don't!)  So they're part of an international ring of pedophiles that kidnaps children and sells them into sex slavery.

But wait--you said there'd be pizza!

And there is.  Several of the hacked Podesta and DNC emails referred to a nice family  place in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of  DC called Comet Ping Pong Pizza.  Apparently some DNC staffers liked to hang out there.  For reasons still unclear, elements of the alt.right, being apprised of those references, decided that must have been where Podesta, Hillary, and all their Democratic chums were violating kids in the basement. 

Well, duh.  Where else, right?

The first Facebook posts on the "story" appeared in late October 2016.  Yes, just before the election.  Almost immediately it went viral, spraying across the twitterverse like projectile diarrhea.  Later investigation found that many of the originating accounts were owned by what we now know were Russian bots.  But many of the likes and retweets came from Trump operatives, including Michael Caputo.   For a brilliant and very detailed account of the original story and its social-media-abetted spread, see these articles in Rolling Stone and Reveal.

Of course it didn't stop with a couple of kazillion retweets.  Celebrated fantasist and bankrupt-in-waiting Alex Jones lit up Infowars with new and improved versions of the story that included Satanic blood ceremonies; apparently, once Hillary had satisfied her desires with shrieking tween girls--not making this up--he slaked her bloodlust by chopping them up for convenient disposal.  

Other outlets informed their breathless consumers that Comet Ping Pong's menu contained coded clues as to what was going on in the basement--"CP" stood not for "Cheese Pizza" but "Child Pornography."

Oh. Right!

Shortly mottled marsh-dweller Steve Bannon stirred in his sodden weeds and got Breitbart onto the bandwagon.  Not to be outdone by other sites touting confirmation by entirely imaginary NYPD investigations, Breitbart Radio went right to the top in an interview with Blackwater Security founder and major Trump donor Erik Prince--remember that name--who not only confirmed the story but expanded on it, adding details like multiple trips to Caribbean sex islands on a private jet owned by Clinton-pardoned financier Mark Rich.  Hoo boy--is that Hillary evil, or what?

But things worked out as they worked out and the Russkis nudged the Electoral College Trump's way.  The story, unfortunately, did not end there. 

A couple of weeks after the election a sad addled man named Edgar Welch armed himself with an AR 15--the Schizo Special--and drove up to DC to free those poor kids from the Comet Ping Pong basement sex dungeon. 

But Comet Ping Pong doesn't have a basement.  

One can only imagine his frustrated rage as he bounced around the kitchen flipping open doors in his desperate search for freshly-violated children and still-engorged Democrat Satanists looking for more.  Luckily he didn't go the usual crazed-gunman route and shoot up the place before turning the weapon on himself.  He did let one round go, though, before surrendering to the SWAT team, which I'm sure for the people who were there was plenty.

TRUMP AND PIZZAGATE

Remember when I told you to note the name of Erik Prince?  There was a reason for that.

Erik Prince delivered a full-throated and highly detailed endorsement of the Clinton pedophilia fantasy on Breitbart Radio.  Breitbart is controlled by Steve Bannon, who in addition to tireless advocacy for a healthy lifestyle succeeded Russian vampire Paul Manafort as Trump's campaign manager.  Breitbart is bankrolled by Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who, with Bannon, control the now-bankrupt Cambridge Analytica, the datamining and psychometrics firm that microtargeted Facebook ads--possibly with Russian assistance--during the 2016 election.

But that's beside the point.  Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the famously uninformed and inarticulate Secretary of Education.  But wait--there's more!  Not only is Prince the sibling of a member of the cabinet, but also an apparition that appears Zelig-like every time the Trumps are doing dirt.  For example, Prince met with a Russian plutocrat, Kiril Dmietriev, in the Seychelles a week before the inauguration in what now appears to have been part of the effort to set up a Washington-Moscow back channel.  He's also separately proposed that the war in Afghanistan be privatized and the President create a separate spy network reporting directly to him, outside the normal intelligence structure, and presumably beyond oversight.

So to recap: You have a Trump contributor, the brother of a Trump cabinet member, going on a media outlet owned by Trump's campaign manager, to support the claim that the Clintons are pedophile sex traffickers.   

But wait--there's more!  In addition, Prince has been circulating the truly crazy notion that George Soros--the billionaire that antisemitic nutters love to hate--is financing a Clinton-backed coup against the Trump administration.  It's called the Purple Revolution.  Why?  Are you blind?  Because both Clintons wore purple when she conceded the election!

Christ, do I have to paint a picture?  Draw a map?  All the evidence is right there!

 

TRUMPWORLD AND CONSPIRACIES

As I said earlier, there are two potential explanations for Trump's penchant for the conspiracy theory.  The first being the more benign--his people like them.  The rubes who continue to support him feel as though their rightful place in the world has been usurped by mysterious forces beyond their understanding or control---China, immigrants, globalists, tree-huggers, black presidents--why not tie them all together?  And God knows he never pays a price for it--we've forgotten Birtherism, which is about as crazy and blatantly racist a slander as has ever disgraced American politics.  Yet there he is in the White House.

But there is an explanation much darker.  And that is that Trump believes these mad fantasies.  Not because he's insane.  But because he knows they can happen.  If the bare essentials of what's out there so far are true, it is entirely possible that the Russians used an already-compromised American businessman to launder money and spread nutty lies about a popular President.  They encouraged him to run for President himself as a vehicle for further disinformation.  They hooked him up with a campaign manager already in their pocket, who in turn led him to a social media consultants they  could work with.  And much to their surprise he won.

Trump really believes in conspiracy theories.  Because he's deep in a conspiracy himself.

 

 

 

 

 

  

RIGHT WING TO CULTURE: MAKE THE COOL KIDS LIKE US!

NPR recently revealed that the right is composed of sniveling snowflakes weeping out their broken hearts in safe places clutching their support animals because their triggers have been pushed.

No, really.  

Despite their control of all three branches of government,  "many [on the right]feel unfairly persecuted by the powers that be in American culture."

NPR cites Kurt Schlicter, columnist with Townhall.com, who described the frustrations of life as a conservative in a left-run world. "We want to be treated with respect, and we will not tolerate anything less which is just unacceptable for this to continue. I'm tired of Hollywood spitting on us. I am tired of academia spitting on us. I'm tired of the news media spitting on us," he said.

For an instant I thought that if he doesn't like the coverage the right gets in the media it should get its own news network. But wait! It has Fox News.   Oh--that's the creature of a dying Australian watched exclusively by angry old white men right behind him on the hopper to hell. Okay, get your own internet outlet. But wait! It has Breitbart--run, for now, by Steve Bannon, a mottled four hundred pounder  whose clicks come from tagsale PCs in trailerparks. In other words, not exactly the kind of audience with which you want to be associated. Even if you're part of it. In fact, especially if you're part of it.

Apparently the right doesn't want to have to hang out with old men and fat guys with bad skin.  No, they want to sit at the same cafeteria table as the cool kids.  

But the reason they can't becomes clear with the remarks of John Hawkins--happily, no relation--curator of the website Right Wing News.  Here's how he sees the cultural experience of his typical reader: "He turns on a TV show where he's insulted, and then he's like, 'well, maybe I'll just unwind and watch an awards show' — the Oscars or something — where he gets trashed all day long," Hawkins said. "He goes to Twitter and he's got some you know guy calling him in a-hole ... this is sort of like a pervasive all-out attack if you're a conservative. And it's all the time sort of thing."

Aww.  We know, Johnnie.  Words hurt, don't they?  I bet it was like sophomore year when that football player stuck that I LOVE DICKS thing on your back in the lunchroom and you finally started crying and shat yourself when everyone kept laughing and you didn't know why.  

But you showed them! You got yourself a website so you could get even! A website that features "Fifteen Best David Hogg Memes!"  Second of which is a crude drawing of the school shooting survivor and gun control activist getting pelted with "Hogg shit!"

Clever.

See, that's the problem.  Things like that.  Things like cross-clutching Laura Ingraham's equally deplorable trashing of the Parkland activists.  Or things like spittle-spraying conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' exploitation of Seth Rich's murder to pump up Infowars' readership.  Or anything that comes out of Donald Trump's Twitter feed.

The culture doesn't hate you because you're conservative.  It hates you because you're assholes.