October 17, 2016

Golly Gee, Thank You, Mr. Snowden!

Snark about the non-disruptiveness of Edward Snowden's non-leak is far too easy at this date. Even to call the non-leak "non-disruptive" fails to capture the putrid core of what has transpired in the last few years: Snowden's non-leak has enhanced and bolstered the existing Security State, which has steadily grown in pervasiveness and reach ever since Snowden first broke into the headlines. As a result, snark on this subject ought to be beneath me. Sadly, and predictably unsurprisingly, it is not. But I have never claimed to be a person of noble character, always ready to extend a helping hand (and, of course, offer a shoulder to lean on) to those who may have erred. As I calculate the benefit or damage caused by a person's actions, certain damages which flow from their choices deserve searing condemnation. To strengthen the already existing Death State and, ultimately, to legitimize it, while simultaneously convincing an audience willing to be deluded yet again that Snowden's non-leak has improved our circumstances ... well.

Those individuals who played critical roles in this charade are lucky to get off with snark. They deserve far worse. On a closely related matter: I continue to be appalled by the number of "dissenters" who still sing the praises of Snowden and his clown posse. I suggest that all such "dissenters" give up their wan attempt at personal bravery, and immediately go to work for the State itself, perhaps in some defense or "intelligence" capacity. It's steady, easy work, and God knows it's a growth industry. I'm sure any feelings of dissonance they might experience -- but in my usual way, I'm probably being too generous in assuming they would feel any dissonance whatever -- would vanish after five or ten minutes. No doubt enjoying a coffee break and swapping jokes and gossip with murderers (or, at minimum, accomplices to murder) and spooks will make them feel cozily at home.

While I firmly push aside any claim of courage or nobility in connection with my political commentary, there are other terms that I hope do apply to me. Here's how I described the issue four years ago:
If you're a person who writes or speaks regularly about politics at this particular moment in the lamentable history of the lamentable United States, and if you are not "mad, bad and dangerous to know," you aren't worth shit. All you are is another prop holding up a constantly expanding, ever worsening system of colossal brutality, oppression, dehumanization and murder.
I reread that article this morning, for the first time in a long time. One quality struck me more than any other: if anything, the major arguments are more true today than they were in 2012. I had the same thought recently about one of my personal favorites among my essays: The Tale that Might Be Told. If ever there was an election for which that fable might have been written, the nauseating spectacle that currently engulfs us is it. I am arrogant enough to note that commentary which becomes more accurate and more relevant with the passage of time is ... well, not bad.

Let us return to the snark we wish to visit upon the radiant Mr. Snowden. How ever can we thank him properly for sharing with us -- but only in bits and pieces, strung out over an extended period of time, carefully selected and redacted by equally radiant and responsible journalists -- information that the State would prefer we not possess? In fact, we now cannot say even that much: one of the lessons of the Snowden charade is that leaks of this kind, which become non-leaks directly as the result of their method of publication, are no threat to the State. Their worst effect might be to cause some temporary, minor discomfort to a few individuals. More significantly, the State is not deterred in the slightest degree from pursuing its chosen goals.

Snowden's focus was surveillance. Here are two examples of recent articles describing where we are with regard to surveillance, post-Snowden. You have probably seen a fair number of similar articles. First, from "No Matter Who's Elected, Surveillance Powers and Programs Unlikely to be Scaled Back":
After the attack in Orlando, Clinton joined Trump in calling for expanded watchlists and denial of Constitutional rights to those placed on them. She has occasionally hinted at vague surveillance reform, but has also made it clear Snowden should hop on the next plane home and spend some time in prison. She has also suggested tech companies partner with the government to create backdoors in encryption -- but in an imaginary "safe" way that won't threaten their customers' security. And she's made it clear that deploying the military is a perfectly acceptable response to state-led cyberattacks.

Either way the election goes, the surveillance business will remain as usual. This is troubling, due to the fact that Section 702 -- which authorizes the NSA's internet backbone-based surveillance dragnet PRISM -- is up for renewal at the end of next year. With recent revelations about Yahoo's very proactive surveillance assistance generating some interesting questions about what the NSA can or can't do under this authority, it would be nice to have someone in the White House that would amplify these concerns, rather than help drown them out.
For more about the Yahoo revelations and their implications, you can take a look at this: "Say 'Hi' to the NSA in Your Next Email":
[I]n early October, Reuters reported that Yahoo secretly allowed a massive government surveillance program to scan all incoming emails to Yahoo accounts. The custom software program was reportedly built by Yahoo at the behest of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI, at the direction of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge. ...

[T]he hacking of Yahoo-user account data is small compared to recent revelations about the company cooperating with government surveillance. It's unclear what exactly the NSA and FBI were looking for, but sources told The New York Times that some Yahoo tools to scan emails for spam and child-pornography had been modified to scan for email signatures linked to a state-sponsored terrorist groups. ...

This represents a novel public-private surveillance partnership. Tech companies have collaborated with government snooping in the past, of course, when required by law. But this has typically been limited to the searching of stored communications or the targeting of a limited number of accounts for detailed scanning. In this situation, Yahoo allegedly allowed software to scan the contents of all emails sent to Yahoo accounts in real time, including those sent from within the United States.

Intelligence agencies are subject to relatively stricter limitations when undertaking surveillance that affects what's called a "U.S. person." Some NSA watchers believe that reports that this program was a "directive" suggests that this program may have been authorized under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which is not supposed to intentionally target communications of U.S. persons.
Anyone who is at all surprised by any of this has not been paying attention for at least the last ten years; if they have been paying attention, they didn't know how to think about the information they learned. (Several friends of mine can tell you that I've "been saying 'hi' to the NSA," and to various agencies and individuals in government, for more than ten years. I concluded long ago that anything and everything I do on the internet is there for the State's perusal, if they're interested.) And given developments of the last decade (and longer), we can be certain of one further fact: if we have now learned these specifics, the truth -- or a version that is closer to the truth -- is much worse, more pervasive, and broader in scope.

So what exactly are we supposed to thank Snowden for? As individuals who value privacy and liberty -- including the right to be left alone -- there is nothing whatsoever for which to thank him. The State, on the other hand, has a great deal for which to be grateful. I described the issue as follows, in a post from almost three years ago, God help me:
Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the "debate" publication has engendered -- the clamor of public voices demands "reform," so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) -- and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the "truth," and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.
Gee, it's almost as if someone planned it that way. Thanks, Ed.

Snowden's clown posse of "journalists" have certainly raked in lots of awards (to say nothing of cold cash) because of the non-leak. But I think Ed himself deserves recognition of a different kind. Some people are clamoring for a Snowden pardon before Obama leaves office. That's a non-starter: appearances must be maintained. But if we were to dispense with the concern for appearances, perhaps Obama could properly reward Snowden's invaluable service to the State -- and give him a fucking Medal of Honor.

September 28, 2016

Some Help, Please

I had deeply hoped I could avoid this before publishing some new work; unfortunately, I can't. With just a few days to go before the first of the month, I have only half of what I need for rent. And I have nothing at all for anything else -- internet, phone, electricity, food, etc. I have some basic foodstuffs (bread and the like) that will minimally sustain me until next week, and then ...

So the donation bowl is out. I would be tremendously grateful for anything people might be able to contribute. As I indicated earlier in the week, I am working on some new posts. I've been slowed down by this awful heat wave, which has been truly unbearable, but the heat should be dissipating over the next several days. So next week looks good for further thoughts on tribalism, "politics" in our time (I begin to feel that quotes are necessary when speaking of "politics" now, because I'm not entirely sure what the hell that word designates any longer -- it feels as if we've all been locked in a continent-sized ward for the criminally insane), and other matters.

Many, many thanks for your understanding, and for your great kindness.

September 26, 2016

While You're Watching Torture Porn ...

Tonight, you can, if you choose, join many others in watching one of the most important events of your lifetime. Indeed, it may be the pivotal moment that will determine our future. All our leading and best-known commentators, without exception, solemnly announce the event's significance, which it appears is not to be questioned, at least not by those who are "informed," "knowledgeable" and "civilized." Tonight is crucial to, like, everything. A few lonely contrary wags might be heard to mutter their view that it will make no measurable difference in the long run (by which they mean longer than the next year or two, or even five or ten!). One or two of these opposing voices might offer their opinion in cruder terms, perhaps noting that this universal insistence of the transmogrifying, metaphysical import of Monday night is akin to observing that everyone urinates and defecates. They then look at you, baleful contempt and defiance in their eyes, and sneeringly ask: "So what?" A few of these party-poopers will undoubtedly use still cruder language to denote urination and defecation. We would never use such language here. Mercy me, certainly not. Fuck, no.

Alright, my friends. You want transmogrifying and life-altering? You want your soul to be shattered? Would you like to immerse yourself in an event that had and continues to have countless effects, large and small, on music, theater and culture generally, that made much of the century (and more) following its first performance possible and inevitable? If so, fuck politics. Politics, certainly in our time, is where the soul, the intellect, and culture go to die -- or, if you prefer, where the long-decaying remnants of once-living things will be found in a nausea-inducing, fetid mass suffused with the blood of countless victims. Say it with me: Fuck politics! That's it. You may be ready for our counterprogramming.

The Metropolitan Opera opens its season tonight with a new production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. It stars Nina Stemme, one of only two or three worthy exponents of Isolde today, and, more importantly to me (and to many others), it is conducted by Simon Rattle. Advance reports are unanimous in ecstatically proclaiming that Rattle is working miracles of a kind rarely encountered. And, lucky you, lucky me, lucky us: you can listen to the opening night performance absolutely free: right here. (That page contains a schedule of the free broadcasts, which are offered once a week for the duration of the season.)

As you will see, the broadcast begins at 4:55 PM EST. Now, you might think that the performance will therefore be concluded long before the 9 PM EST start time of that fetid farce. Ah, but this is Wagner, and this is is perhaps the most famous example of long-delayed gratification in all art (certainly sexually, but not only sexually). Depending on the length of the intermissions (which Met management unforgivably allows to stretch unto eternity), 9 PM will probably put us somewhere in the midst of Tristan's death (which also takes a long, long time), that is, in the middle of Act III. And you can't abandon the opera performance until you've heard the famous Liebestod, which concludes the work. Here's one performance of the Liebestod from recent years which has become very famous, with Waltraud Meier. And for those who may not know Tristan, here's a brief, very beautiful excerpt from Act II (this is Brangaene's Watch, as Isolde's servant warns the lovers to beware of those who seek to find and separate the lovers, performed by the divine Christa Ludwig).

Here's a synopsis of the opera. If you want to read the full libretto, or -- even better -- the score, you can find both of those easily enough in just a minute of internet searching.

Oh, I'll see the whole debate fetid farce, but on my schedule, not theirs. I'm sure I'll have some comments on it, so I will need to see it, unfortunately. (I admit that it does hold a certain grim fascination, but I find it's on the order of torture porm: that is, something I would not voluntarily choose to see except in extraordinary circumstances.)

And don't worry: I'm working on several other posts. Given my continuing extremely rotten health, it's taking me longer than I had anticipated, but some new posts should be ready for publication in the next week or so. Also, a hideous heat wave has descended on Los Angeles. It's going to be over 100 today. O joy! O wonder! O shit. It's supposed to be gone by the end of the week.

I realize that many of you will choose to watch torture porn tonight. I understand. A pity, but I understand. Chances are, it will be deadly dull. If both of them had total meltdowns ... now, that would be fun! I'm also sure many will watch hoping that will be precisely what happens. Extremely doubtful. I bet on boring.

However you choose, I'll see you on the other side.

August 30, 2016

Status Update

I'm deeply sorry for my long silence. I'm especially sorry with regard to those people who so kindly responded to my last cry for help, five awful months ago.

The explanation for my silence is very simple: I've been a bedridden invalid for most of this period. On several occasions, I thought I might well be dying. That didn't happen, so ... yay, I suppose. I say "I suppose" only because I still feel so godawful most of the time. But not quite as awful as I had been feeling. I manage now to get out of bed for a few hours each day, although I can't accomplish all that much when I'm up.

But goddammit, there's still some writing to be done. Just recently, I discovered -- quite by accident, as it happens (where are my spies when I need them? I can't believe no one told me about this book) -- Tribe, by Sebastian Junger. I've just begun reading it, and -- oh, boy. The short Amazon description accurately provides the book's perspective:
We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding--"tribes." This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.
Those readers familiar with my work will know that this subject is one I've addressed in some detail. They will also know that Junger's perspective represents the complete inversion of what I consider the correct and psychologically healthy approach.

Once I've finished reading Junger's book, I expect to have quite a few articles to write, to clear up confusions, to explain many issues he appears to neglect entirely, and to offer some new material to build upon my earlier argument. (For that earlier argument, see this essay and this one in particular. They contain some of the best analysis I've ever offered here, in addition to which I am convinced that my thesis is both true and important.) I suspect that reviews of Junger's book might also provide illuminating material for analysis. If any of you come across reviews that strike you as particularly interesting, please let me know. Junger's book has been very successful, and most readers think his ideas are absolutely swell. That explains a lot.

So there's that to be done. And I suppose I should try to offer a few words about this Marx Bros. election. I apologize: what a terrible insult to the Marx Bros. They were inspired and wonderfully funny. This election is merely ridiculous and nauseating, although not for the reasons offered most frequently.

Now I have to go back to bed, and try to regain some energy for this work. I must add that I only was able to survive these last months because of a few dear friends, as well as all those donors who have been so generous -- and among that last group, I also must especially mention the few individuals who continue to make donations even when silence prevails here. And, of course, my financial situation remains extremely dire, so any and all assistance is greeted with tremendous gratitude, as always.

P.S. Here is something that is very cool. Be sure to explore the map for at least a few minutes.

April 03, 2016

Eviction, Starvation and Other Unlovely Things

I've always said (along with many others) that, if there is a God, He is one unbelievably nasty, sadistic SOB. It would be just like God to have arranged events in this manner. After all this time, when I am finally able to write again -- and when I am eager to do a lot of writing once more -- I will be unable to pay the rent. After publishing a new essay several days ago, I put up a comparatively brief post offering a few observations about this and that, at the end of which I mentioned that I only have enough money to pay about half of this month's rent. I have no money at all for anything else: internet service, a few other bills and, oh yes, non-essential items like food. I offer my sincere thanks to the seven people who responded. They made donations totaling $220. I still can't pay the April rent.

If I'm still unable to pay the rent by the end of tomorrow, my rent will officially be late. (It's not considered late until after the fifth, but if I don't have the rent payment by the end of tomorrow, the landlord won't get it until the sixth or later.) The new owners may well decide to begin the eviction process as soon as I'm late. They are definitely planning to demolish this building and the one next to it and then to construct one big new apartment building, with many more units than the two small buildings now contain. That's the business they're in; we know these buildings are on their list of projects, but we don't know exactly when they will get around to them. It appears most likely that it will be sometime in the next year. A local ordinance mandates that owners must pay tenants certain amounts as relocation expenses when they tell the tenants they must move so that the building they live in can be torn down. Given my age and the length of time I've lived here, they will have to pay me about $20,000. I'm one of only three or four tenants due to receive that much. I think we can assume that the owners might well be delighted to avoid that payment in my case. If I hand them an easy excuse to get rid of me, they might pounce on it eagerly.

I'll also be unable to pay the internet bill. So in a couple of weeks, that will be gone. I have four or five days' worth of food. After that, nothing. A couple of weeks from now, I'll be in very bad shape. I can't buy other items, either --- like toilet paper. Almost out of it. Well, I have some notebooks where I sometimes write down ideas or issues I'm thinking about (I make lots of notes on the computer, but yes, I occasionally still make notes with an actual pen on actual paper). I can tear some pages out of those notebooks, and use that paper to wipe my ass. I won't be able to flush it down the toilet, so I guess I'll collect it in a bag and throw it out with the garbage.

Donations to the blog are my only source of income. If I'm unable to gather sufficient funds to pay these basic expenses, this is over. I obviously won't have money to move anywhere else, so ... Well, I've known for quite a while that this day might come, if I lived long enough. Frankly, I expected to be dead by now, given the number of physical ailments I contend with, starting, but hardly ending, with a steadily weakening heart. But I am unaccountably still here. And after a long absence, I'm ready to do some writing.

I suppose I could point to some of my articles to try to convince people to make donations. The posts listed under "Major Essays" in the right-hand column should take care of that. And all of those articles contain many links taking you to still more essays. That's what I have to offer. I'd like to offer more along those lines.

Hey, God! Here's an idea: go damn Yourself, you sickening bastard. Now, now, don't worry. I was going to Hell anyway.

April 01, 2016

Hey Now!

"Hey now!" was the catchphrase used by Larry Sanders's sidekick on The Larry Sanders Show. Garry Shandling played Sanders, and Jeffrey Tambor was the sidekick; both were wonderful. The show was genuinely smart and clever, and very, very funny. The derivation and significance of "Hey now!" became the subject of some philosophical and psychological investigation in one episode. One hugely funny episode involved David Duchovny's crush on Larry; here's a bit of it. I loved that show, and I liked Shandling's earlier show a lot as well. You probably know that Garry Shandling died recently. He was a wonderful talent. I found his death somewhat unnerving. He was only 66. I'm at the age now where people who've been around for most of my life are dying in significant numbers; Shandling was a year younger than I am, so his death was a bit more startling to me. Another recent loss was Patty Duke. She was also just about my age. I saw Duke in the original Broadway production of The Miracle Worker, which I still remember very clearly. I was 12 when I saw it; Anne Bancroft had already left the production and been replaced by Suzanne Pleshette, who was absolutely wonderful. Patty Duke was utterly astonishing as Helen Keller. The 1962 film made from the play is very fine, and Bancroft and Duke are both superb. But the impact of that play in the theater was overwhelming; the extended "fight" scene between Keller and Annie Sullivan was often terrifying.

Since I'm nattering here about this and that, I'll mention that there has recently been an extended discussion on my opera list about declining attendance at the Metropolitan Opera. Apparently, attendance has dropped to alarmingly low levels. Some of those at recent performances describe "acres" of empty seats. Most observers agree that prohibitively expensive ticket prices are a large part of the explanation. "Prohibitively expensive" for all us ordinary folks, that is. But we don't matter, of course. As one person noted, the huge rise in ticket prices at the Met is merely another part of the incredibly expensive cost of living in Manhattan, a phenomenon which is now spreading to the other boroughs, too. As this commenter noted, the message from the ruling class is: "Get rich or get out." I'd put the general issue a bit differently: "Get rich, or die." The ruling class would prefer that we simply die, you realize. I've discussed this New York problem, as it were, in this essay (and the ruling class's die-off plan is discussed here -- briefly glancing at that essay reminds me that we should properly call it a "kill-off" plan). And the New York problem is now, of course, spreading to other cities. It's become very noticeable in Los Angeles; from my reading, it appears that similar developments are occurring in many other places.

Well, that's enough of that for now. I hope you've seen the new piece from yesterday. A new piece! Hooray! I know, I know; it's been a long time coming. This last month has been godawful. I've had a bunch of computer problems. I seem to have fixed the worst of them, although the computer still does a few peculiar things at unexpected moments. I'm not entirely sure how much longer this computer will hold up (or until it requires serious professional attention), but it seems to be sort of okay for now. On the health front, I was confined to bed for most of March. All that rest seems to have helped a bit, and I feel somewhat better now. Not good, by a long shot, but better. And I finally decided I had to start writing again. Either that, or just die and get it over with. So I started writing. I was very glad to find that I still could write. I think the new article is pretty good, and it has a few nice touches. If I felt stronger, I probably wouldn't have split the essay into two parts, but made it one long article. But that would have taken a full day's work, easily eight or nine hours, given what my speed has been in the past and the material I have yet to cover. I just can't do that any longer. It took me five to six hours to put that post together; I powered through the last two or three hours on sheer will power, because I felt like absolute shit. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed with Sasha. That's not true; I wanted one thing more than that: to finish at least the first part of the article. So I did. I got a good night's rest, and I'm into the second part and hope to publish it in the next several days. It's complicated material, so it may take me a while to pull it together.

Part of the reason I nattered at the beginning of this entry is that writing something helps me a lot. When I'm unable to work on "serious" posts (ugh, dread word, "serious" -- yeah, screw that, let's just say more "complicated"), I've often thought of posting little entries, just a few paragraphs about a story I've seen or an issue I've been mulling over. So I may do that. I finally feel again that I must write; if I don't, I may truly go mad. So when I feel especially rotten physically, I may write some lighter, even frivolous items, just to keep my hand in.

Oh, yes: it's the goddamned first of the month again. I'm very sorry, but I have to report that I have only half of the April rent. And I have some other bills that have to be paid, including the internet bill. I'm a prisoner of Time Warner Cable. I first got the Time Warner service three, maybe four years ago; I can't remember exactly at the moment. They offered five or six different levels of service; I opted for what I recall was the second from the bottom (i.e., the next-to-cheapest), which then cost $50 a month. Now, the bill for this month is $80! I hate these people. The bill just keeps going up and up and up. It increases a little bit almost every month. Did I mention that I hate these people?

I should get the money for the rent together by Monday, if I'm going to be timely and all. So I would be tremendously grateful for any help you dear readers might be able to provide. I wouldn't be here at all but for you; I wouldn't have come back but for you. And for my own sanity, natch. As always, I offer my sincere and deep gratitude for your attention and kindness.

March 31, 2016

Desperation and Rage in the Time of Trump (I)

Donald Trump is a deeply sickening, horrifying person. It is an abomination to be forced to consider seriously the prospect of Trump becoming President of the United States. He vomits forth hideous, vicious ideas, he insults and condemns large swaths of humanity, and he offers idiotic policy prescriptions, to the extent he offers prescriptions at all, but which are almost always so vague as to be meaningless, except for being horrifying and abominable. Obviously. Trump lives in the gutter and seeks to drag all the rest of us down into the filth- and disease-infested waters with him. He is utterly classless, and he is unspeakably vulgar. His vulgarity is overwhelming. It is unspeakable, or, rather, it once would have been unspeakable for a presidential candidate to brag -- in a debate, mind you, in a debate! -- about the size of his member, as if that were a qualification for office. Any decent human being recoils from Trump and thoroughly condemns his pollution of our civil discourse. He is a blight on our country, indeed on the world. Trump embodies a pestilence that must be eradicated, completely and, one would hope, for all time.

There. Everybody happy now? Have I managed to pass the stringent test that determines whether I might lay my head on the gentle bosom of the civilized world? (Note: You may employ words such as "bosom" only when they plainly carry no sexual meaning whatsoever.) May I be admitted to the delicately manicured gardens of oh-so-polite society, to the world of genteel civilization. where no one speaks above a whisper and we all partake of our afternoon tea with pinkies gently crooked in demonstration of mastery over our baser nature?

As an unspeakably vulgar person might say: What a load of crap. Hell, let's give our inner Trump freer rein: What a load of shit. The spectacle that arrests one's attention is not Trump himself, but the near-unanimity of the chorus that condemns him as a horrifying abomination. A caution is in order: when you condemn Trump in this way, you must eschew too vehement a manner. You certainly must never raise your voice, or allow your visage to reveal your disgust, except in the subtlest manner. The image you should hold before you as your infallible guide is that of a doddering dowager who beholds a lowly maid with a wrinkled apron, or perhaps a water spot on but a single crystal goblet on a dinner table set for 30 of the finest people. "My dear, such things are simply not done. Fix it immediately, and we shall never speak of this again." Your condemnation increases in lethality as it approaches inaudibility.

But those who condemn Trump appear not to be acquainted with the doddering dowager. Their condemnation erupts out of barely controlled hysteria; on many occasions, the hysteria is not controlled at all. Trump has undone them. You would be correct to recall an overused cliche, one which is all too apt in the instant case: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." I am not referring to the condemnations to be heard from the small, self-selected audience that finds its way to the offerings here. If a person is genuinely and consistently opposed to the U.S.'s murderous policies abroad and at home (or, more broadly, to the West's same policies), that person will understandably and legitimately condemn much about Trump and his views.

The spectacle of interest here is the non-stop barrage of raging condemnation offered by those who are full-time members of the political mainstream: those who dependably inform us of the unique, world- and history-altering significance of a presidential election every four years, who refuse to even consider the idea that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a monstrous war crime that unleashed a genocide of historic proportions, who endlessly lecture us about the proper "tone" that we must use whenever we wish to register even the mildest of complaints, who steadfastly ignore the fact that every recent president has been -- and is -- a war criminal, just as any president in the foreseeable future will necessarily be a war criminal as well. What is the source of the condemnations of Trump from all these people? The source cannot be that they view Trump's proposed policies with horror, that they think his policies represent the embrace of evil. While they may differ with Trump on specific prescriptions, the policies they favor proceed from the same premises. In that sense, Trump's policies and theirs are variations on a theme; in many cases, Trump's policies are indistinguishable from those advanced by those who condemn him. We therefore must wonder: What is it about Trump that has caused them to become so unhinged?

And it is beyond dispute that they are unhinged. Take a look at this column from Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy is a useful specimen, and we have dissected his blatherings before. (We have a long memory.) I don't read McCarthy regularly; I may not, unfortunately, be a stranger to self-punishment, but even I have limits. On that occasion in 2007, McCarthy was hysterical about "militant Islam" which "wants everything." In the current piece, he is hysterical about our "sick society," where "the gutter became mainstream." He's also hysterical about "Trump's vulgarity." Considering these two articles penned nine years apart, it appears that hysteria is McCarthy's natural state. Remember the dowager, Andy! Crook your little finger before it's too late!

To assure us that he is an actual human being and not merely a mechanized program that churns out exercises in hysteria at regular intervals, altering only the source of his derangement of the moment, MCarthy insists that, "I'm hardly a prude." I dunno about that. When you're screaming about our culture's "rot" and "deterioration," and the first example you offer to prove your point is Viagra commercials on television, prude may not be the first word to come to mind, but it's certainly the second or third. ("Idiot" is probably the first.) Add to that McCarthy's paragraphs-long frothing concerning Trump's boast about the size of his penis, coupled with McCarthy's refusal to use the word "penis" and his use instead of euphemisms such as "Trump Tower" (that's an improvement?), along with his inclusion of other "jokes" that would embarrass a semi-intelligent teenager ("the 2016 erection election"), and the prude's self-portrait is complete. (There are further examples of McCarthy's prudery, but I wouldn't dream of depriving you of the fiendish delight in discovering them for yourselves.)

McCarthy reveals the phoniness of his alleged outrage at Trump's boorishness when he turns to what he regards as genuinely grave errors in Trump's policy prescriptions. McCarthy begins the final section of his column by stating that "[t]he most egregious part [of the debate], though, was Trump’s vow that, as commander-in-chief, he would compel the finest, best-trained armed forces in the history of the planet to commit war crimes — because there are evil people doing unspeakable things, as if that never happened before." And then, in the very next paragraph, McCarthy states:
For a number of years in the mid-aughts, we debated the merits vel non of waterboarding. I defended the legality of this interrogation method — in the restrained practice of the CIA, not as cruelly administered historically — mostly based on a strict interpretation of the federal torture statute. It was not an endorsement of the tactic in any particular case.
That is: McCarthy defended the legal use of torture, provided it's "restrained" torture. And he certainly wasn't saying, "Go out and torture!" He was only saying: "If you go out and torture, it's perfectly legal. No problem." That is, McCarthy advocates the "legal" commission of war crimes, which aren't actually war crimes according to McCarthy, because they can't be war crimes if we've defined them as "legal." See how simple that is? That boorish Trump is unable to grasp this elementary exercise in logic.

McCarthy goes on to say:
What I most remember about the waterboarding debate, though, is that it was an anguished one. We confronted excruciating choices, aware that we were talking about the outer margin of right and wrong — and burdened, as serious people must be, by the very real possibility that we were on the wrong side of the margin. Most of that happened only eight to ten years ago. Now a man running for the Republican nomination to be president of the United States has repeatedly promised to discourage terrorists by having our soldiers kill their families — women and children — and to liberally use interrogation tactics more extreme than waterboarding. And he’s winning.
Thus, McCarthy tells us what are, in his view, the actual requirements for admission to the hushed garden of civilization. You may advocate war crimes, you may endorse the most barbaric practices (being careful not to endorse their use "in any particular case"), you may advocate and implement policies that necessarily result in the deaths of many thousands (and even of over a million) of entirely innocent human beings -- you may do all of this, and more, as long as you are properly "anguished" about it, as long as you state that you know you are making "excruciating choices."

In other words: you may be a monster, as long as you are an exquisitely well-mannered one. Provided you never raise your voice (except to hurl screaming denunciations at those who lack your unmatched gentility) and always remember to crook your little finger in just the right way, no one will call you a monster. You may be steeped in blood, notably including the blood of countless innocent people, and none of your friends or colleagues will ever remark upon that fact. It's only the polite thing to do, after all. As for McCarthy's feigned horror at the brutality of Trump's proposal -- note how his alleged horror is underlined by McCarthy's italicization of "women and children" -- honest to God, what can one say? How many innocent women and children have been murdered by the policies that McCarthy enthusiastically supported? How many innocent people are being murdered today and will be murdered tomorrow, and will be murdered for all the tomorrows to come, as the direct result of policies that McCarthy endorses? Trump has proposed nothing that differs from U.S. policy in the past, or from what the U.S. does today and will do again tomorrow. But those in the political mainstream have agreed to lie about all of it, and when they speak of these crimes (which, of course, are not crimes when we commit them), they writhe in anguish about these very serious and excruciating matters.

Trump dispenses with the lies and the pretense. He gives us the horror straight and undiluted. Trump does this not only in connection with this example, but with any other example you care to name. The pattern is the same. Trump has ripped off the fig leaf of "civilization" and revealed the mangled corpse that lies beneath. This, I submit, is perhaps the most significant unacknowledged element that explains the mainstream's neverending, ear-splitting denunciations. If people were forced to confront the horror head-on, and if they ever made the connection and realized that the nauseating corpse is now what the United States stands for, who knows what might happen? In time, they might understand how sickening and destructive the reality is, and they might demand that it be changed. On that day, McCarthy and his numerous compatriots would be out of business. The dowager's version of "civilization" would be finished. Trump represents a threat that the political mainstream cannot tolerate, or forgive. From one perspective -- although I acknowledge that the perspective can only be maintained for a brief moment, given the amount of blood that has been spilled, and that is all too likely to be spilled in the future -- the justice is perfect. Trump took them at their word, and he embodies the full reality of their policies. He is a monster -- and they created him. But for them, the monster would not exist.

Although the general public might one day reject the monster if they came to understand these connections, that day is tragically not here now. Many people respond positively to Trump; the most common explanations for Trump's success are his "authenticity" and that he gives voice to the profound anger that many people feel (which most observers acknowledge is largely justified anger). I agree that these two factors are very significant in Trump's success, but not in the way most people conceive them. To explain these dynamics, we must delve deeper into the underlying causes. I will turn to those issues next time.