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.

SYLVIA MADRIGAL on NEW BEGINNINGS

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Though Sylvia Madrigal and I were in the same residential college at Yale--Hopper, then called Calhoun--at almost the same time, we didn't then know each other.  Our paths didn't cross for another oh let's see thirty-five years, when she came to the Yale Writers' Conference.

In the story linked here, she describes how a life-shattering loss led to a life-embracing transformation.  It's deeply moving and deftly told.  I am very proud of her.  

TALES from the CRYPT: RUDY'S COUP ATTEMPT

As recently exhumed Trump consigliere Rudy "the Laughing Corpse" Giuliani drags the president into the grave, a fun fact from his time on earth is worth remembering.

I'm not referring, at least directly, to his very recent--and successful--efforts to use pro-Trump elements in the FBI to throw the election.  At the time, it was widely thought that James Comey's abrupt re-opening and re-closure of the Clinton investigation were a response to the Lord of the Undead's threat to leak reports from law-enforcement contacts he'd maintained from his days as US Attorney. It's worth wondering whether anybody at Robert "Bobby the Gravedigger" Mueller's shop is looking into that, though, giving Nosferatu personal skin in an investigation he's doing his best to thwart.

No, I'm talking about his political response to 9/11.  True, he stepped up big league in the immediate aftermath of the attack. 

But then he used the disaster as a possible excuse for hanging onto power.  Giuliani was term-limited, compelled by the City's charter to leave office January 1, 2002.  But no more willing to leave office than any other fascist, he first floated the idea of postponing the election, and when that fell flat, explicitly proposed delaying the inauguration of his elected successor.

That didn't go over so well, either.  He left office as scheduled.

This is important to remember.  Giuliani's instincts are antidemocratic and authoritarian.  He saw 9/11 as a justification to subvert a fundamental element of New York's constitution.  He now has the ear of another tyrannical bully in deep deep trouble.  How long will it take him to find an excuse to fire Mueller? Or arrest Comey?  Or Hillary?  Or shut down CNN?

Luckily, given his recent grampa-off-his meds performance on Fox, it's entirely possible that he'll manage to drive a stake into his own heart.

 

 

 

NEW FBI SHOCKER: INSIDE TRUMP'S WHITE HOUSE "FAMIGLIA"

Until today, it was widely thought that ousted FBI Director James Comey's characterizations of Trump's White House as a "La Cosa Nostra crime family" and the chief executive himself as a "mob boss" were hyperbole dreamed up to sell books.

But no more.

A recently obtained FBI affidavit submitted in support of the Michael Cohen search warrant reveals that if anything, Comey didn't go far enough.  It is now clear that many members of the President's inner circle--and the President himself--sport Mafia-style nicknames that harken back to the days of Al "Scarface" Capone, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and Vincent "Vinny the Chin" Gigante.

While the most recent addition to Trump's legal team, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, may prefer to be known as Hizzoner, that is not what he's called in the West Wing.  Most frequently he appears in organizational charts as "The Laughing Corpse."  He is also termed, less formally,  "Rudy-Walking-Dead," or among Mr. Trump's few literate associates, "Nosferatu."  The putative quarterback of the defense squad, Ty Cobb, is known simply as "Batboy."

The administration’s public relations shop first evidenced its organized-crime character with the spectacularly brief tenure of Anthony “Tony Mooch” Scaramucci.  Since his fall from grace after a late-night interview in which he suggested that Steve “Do Not Resuscitate” Bannon was capable of autofellation, its public face has been Sarah “Strokemouth” Sanders.  The famously bad tempered Sicilian matron transplanted to Arkansas  is  is also sometimes known as “Deputy Dawg,” or “Huckleberry Hound."    Equally prominent in the Pennsylvania Avenue mob’s PR department is Sean “Johnny Melonhead” Hannity.

New to the family’s international efforts is National Security Adviser John Bolton. Though most members of organized crime are barred from military service because of their criminal records, they nevertheless prize bravery and scorn cowards.  Perhaps for this reason, the admitted draft-avoiding hawk is known as John “Chickenshit Jack” Bolton.

The Secretary of the Treasury, despite early media missteps in which he and his even more tone-deaf wife appeared to be posing as as Bond villains, and in distinction from the President’s son-in-law, is referred to as Steven “the Other Jew” Mnuchin. He is known to be an ally of the Chief of Staff, former Marine four-star general John "the Angry Priest" Kelly.

Not surprisingly, the President’s biological and married-in family also have Cosa Nostra-style aliases.  To his face, and to Mr. Trump's, his eldest son is referred to, respectfully and accurately, as “Don Jr.”  Privately, in a nod to an HBO crime family, he's known as “Little Lord Fuckpants.”  His half-brother Eric, cruelly, is simply known as “Sheltered Workshop”  or "Goodwill Eric."

Given the Oedipal tensions in the family, even the hardest made guys tread lightly where the Trump women are concerned.  Melania is “the Angry Slav” or simply “the Wife.”  Ivanka is “the Dream Wife,” or, among those in the closest circle, “the Wetdream Wife.”  The President's other, far less attractive, daughter is dismissively called “Percoset Tiff.”   And his son-in-law, when not simply named “Jared the Jew” is casually known as “Jared Lucky Fucker” or “the Hairless Lizard.”

The capo di tutti cappi at the apex of this unsteady pyramid has, of course, accumulated more nicknames than any of his family.  In his early days as a New York developer and party boy he was called “Toefingers Donald.”  He was also known as “Ratpaws” and “Chapter 13.”  But the recent disclosures from Stormy Daniels edited out of her CNN interview explain some of the even less flattering names applied to The Donald among "friends of ours"—“Thumbdick Donnie,” “Stubby Don,” and, “the Preemie.”

While the President's personal attorney called himself "the Fixer," or "Ray Donovan," he was the only one to do so.  Significantly, he is actually known as Michael “Sure you’re the Consigliere” or “Crying in the Squadcar” Cohen.  

But most telling is the name assigned the Special Counsel: Robert “Bobby Gravedigger” Mueller.  

American Neolithic Sequel in Blue Mountain Review

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Clifford Brooks and his band of raconteurs, savants, and all-around polymaths at Blue Mountain Review have been kind enough to publish an excerpt from the sequel-in-progress to American Neolithic.  The rollicking ribaldry begins at page 43.

I must note that the sequel--provisionally titled Rats' Alley--is proving to be a heavy lift.  How is political satire possible in a time in which the former director of the FBI concedes it's possible that the President watched Russian prozzers piss on each other in a bed once occupied by his immediate predecessor?  And that's just last night. 

But perhaps a Neanderthal perspective is just what we need. 

 

VOICES of the MARCH

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As the Parkland shooting begins to slip into the abyss in which we bury any fact inconsistent with our triumphal exceptionalism--Gore Vidal called our country the United States of Amnesia--it is important crucial to do what can to keep the memory alive when the victims are not.  Please share this link.  Florida Teacher Tracey Amarant Merlin is my married-in cousin.  The catch in her voice is more eloquent than any words of mine.