"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Culture Break: Majid Adin: "Rocket Man" Official Music Video

Some explanation of the title is in order:

Elton John and long time co-writer Bernie Taupin have made some of the most famous pop songs of the 20th century. Many of the pair’s biggest hits came during a highly productive period in the early 70s, with songs including Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man and Bennie and the Jets. This period of work formed the basis of a competition which saw three entries win the opportunity to make a video for each of these three songs. Released before the hegemony of the MTV, Elton John asked YouTube to help cement the legacy of these tracks with official music videos.

At a special screening in Cannes, Elton and Bernie viewed the winning entries, as chosen by themselves and an expert panel including Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins. The winners included: Max Weiland’s live-action take on Tiny Dancer; Majid Adin’s animation for Rocket Man; and Jack Whiteley and Laura Brownhill’s choreographed interpretation of Bennie and the Jets. Each winning entrant presented their work with a few words. . . .

Adin, who just about made the screening due to an initial refusal for travel documents, drew on his experiences as an Iranian refugee travelling to the UK to influence his sombre and poignant animation. He called the experience “dreamy”, and that his “English teacher would be proud”. A fine art university graduate working in animation production, Adin travelled across Europe during the 2015 refugee crisis, spending time in the infamous Calais Jungle camp before being granted asylum in the UK and now rebuilding his life as an artist in Britain. He partnered with animation director Stephen McNally to realise his vision for this achingly powerful and human story.

It's what they call "powerful."

Via Joe.My.God., where you can find more information on Adin as well as the other two videos.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Notre Dame Walkout: Compare and Contrast

You've no doubt read about the 150 or so graduating students at Notre Dame University who walked out of Mike Pence's commencement address. The reactions, as one might expect, have been many and varied.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, I think, got it right:

“What I appreciate about it is it’s clear that the students want to express their commitment to tolerance and the values that they believe a Catholic University ought to uphold, and that this administration is not compatible with those values,” Buttigieg said. “And at the same time, I think they found a very respectful way to do it.”

Buttigieg added he does “respect the office of the vice presidency, too,” and each student should make his or her own decision on the walkout, but the way demonstrators chose to protest was an appropriate to speak out against the Trump administration.

“You go to a university in order to form your conscience and they’re expressing their conscience in a way that I really respect and admire,” Buttigieg said.

Wha's especially important to note is Buttigieg's emphasis on conscience, given the way that concept is waved like a flag to justify the petty bigotry of so-called "Christians."

Speaking of which, here's has-been-before-he-was-anybody Franklin Graham's reaction:

"The New York Times," Graham continues, "says many of those who walked out were wearing their LGBT rainbow or flag pins in protest. To get up and walk out on the Vice President of the United States of America, who was gracious enough to come speak at their graduation, that’s just insolent! Maybe they need to take another class before they graduate—one on civility and respect. What do you think?"

. . .

"This country is so fortunate to have a Vice President like Mike Pence. He’s a great man and a strong leader who isn’t afraid to speak the truth. I thank God for him."

The emphasis on respect for authority is striking, especially when contrasted to Buttigieg's comments about conscience. But then, that's what Graham's brand of "Christianity" is all about: servility.

(Oh, and do remember that that "strong leader" almost lost his cookies trying to backtrack on Indiana's anti-trans, anti-gay "religious freedom" bill.)

Today's Must-Read: "Onward Christians Soldiers" Edition

The influence of evangelical/fundamentalist "Christians" on the U.S. military has been a problem for a long time. Remember the problems with overt proselytizing a number of years back at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs? (Also home to a major anti-gay hate group, the American Family Association.) Since the election of The Hairpiece, it's apparently reached epidemic proportions:

Donald Trump’s election has led to such a steep rise in fundamentalist Christian evangelizing and religious bigotry in the U.S. armed forces that the matter is reaching the level of a “national security threat,” according to information shared exclusively with Newsweek by an organization that represents and advocates for secular and minority religious views in the military.

The number of complaints from servicemen and -women in the Army, Air Force, Marines and other service branches to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has doubled in number since November 2016, according to lawyer Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, a former Air Force officer who founded the organization.

Many of the recent charges are coming from members of minority religions, including Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, and from atheists. Among the complaints: military family and marital therapy programs are being infused with Protestant Christianity, which would go against the U.S. Constitution; open anti-Semitism; anti-LGBT statements, posters, symbols and bullying; openly anti-Muslim teachers and Islamophobic attacks; a rise in on-base evangelizing; and increased pressure on recruits or lower-level personnel and service members to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.

We're talking about the likes of Gordon Klingenschmitt being in the ascendant. Why they're picking Trump as their messiah is anyone's guess:

The Christian right’s willingness to see Trump as a savior for their cause—if not a messianic figure, despite his living as an urban libertine who has had three wives and a history of lewd acts and statements—continues to grow. His selection of an evangelical as vice president, plus the appointment of at least nine evangelicals to his Cabinet, have apparently soothed any concerns the religious right had with his personal life.

My guess is that they'll grab onto anything as a rationale for pushing their agenda: note that the "Christian" right has a history of blowing any little "victory" out of proportion, and claiming influence where they have none. (Just read any of Brian Brown's money begs, or Tony Perkins' press releases.)

And I think it's no surprise that this is happening along with the rise in hate crimes and the resurgence of the neo-Nazi and proto-fascist "alt right" groups: they share a mindset, and I'd bet that there's a lot of overlap in their membership.

Fasten your seatbelts -- it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Poetic Justice?

Or just the universe's comment on the substance of the Trump regime?

A sinkhole has opened in front of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, according to an email alert from the Town of Palm Beach.

The sinkhole is just west of Mar-a-Lago’s southern entrance, where workers are gathered.

The 4-foot by 4-foot hole is in front of the club and appears to be near a new water main on Southern Boulevard, the alert said. Utility crews from West Palm Beach secured the sinkhole and likely will be doing exploratory excavation today.

A sinkhole has opened near President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. Eleanor Roy / Daily News

Via Joe.My.God., where you will also find the Twitter reaction -- because nothing happens these days without a Twitter reaction.

Todays' Must-Read: Welcome to the Police State (Update)

From Digby, this comment on what AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is up to while we're all focusing on the Trump circus. This image is a good summary.

Did you really think you had a right to engage in peaceful protest? Read the whole thing.

Update: There's a lot more detail in this article from Think Progress.

The protesters will have plenty of time to think about the extensive charges filed against them — and perhaps that is the prosecutors’ intention. The first trials are not expected to start until March 2018. “In my mind, that violates their right to a speedy trial,” Flores-Williams said.

“Having serious felonies like this hanging over you is an incredible burden on your life,” he said. “Chances are that at a certain point, they’ll either roll on each other or we’ll see plea agreements regardless of their guilt or innocence.”

It's going to be interesting to see how this works out at trial -- the government at this point appears to have violated a whole slew of First Amendment rights, not to mention a few others.

"Lock 'Em Up!": Small Rodent Edition

From the soon-to-be-former chairman of the House Witch Hunt Committee:

This Week host George Stephanopoulos noted during an interview with Chaffetz that a senior official in the White House was reportedly a person of interest in the investigation into Russia interference in the U.S. election.

Chaffetz, who has announced he is leaving Congress on June 30 for a rumored position at Fox News, said that he was more interested in the person who leaked the news.

"I want to see that this person is prosecuted," the outgoing Utah Republican insisted. "I think the president makes a very good point. No matter who's in the White House, you cannot have the type of leaking of information, sources, methods, classified information. I don't care who it is, Democrat or Republican, you cannot have that happen."

"Not only do you need to wall them off, you probably need to put some handcuffs on them and put them in jail," he added.

I guess this is what Republicans mean by "law and order": forget due process, fair trials and all that other junk, just lock 'em up.* Especially if they're telling the press things that the powers that be would rather keep secret.

And of course, aside from being very revealing of the authoritarian tendencies of the right, this is just a way of deflecting attention from the real issue: who controls the White House? Or for that matter, Congress? Because it sure doesn't seem to be the American people.8

* This is what happens when you substitute belief for evidence, which may explain why so many right-wingers are fundamentalist "Christians".

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's New at Green Man Review

Lots of goodies again today, including a massive essay, "On Reviewing," by yours truly (with lots of links to reviews). Scoot on over and enjoy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Today's Must-Read: Yes, I Said "Dictator": A Twofer

First up, this commentary by Digby on Trump's attitude toward the press:

You will notice that Trump’s main nemesis is still the press, which he has villainized since he began his campaign. One suspects that this started out as shtick, building on the thousands of hours of talk-radio research that his lieutenant at the time, Sam Nunberg, provided to him. Beating up on the press is a staple of right-wing media and it gets a huge response from conservative crowds. But up until he started the campaign Trump had always reveled in media attention and went to great lengths to draw it. In fact, he considered himself a member of the club. But over the course of time the hatred has obviously become very real and very personal. He loathes the press and considers it the source of all of his problems.

Obviously, he isn’t the first president to feel this way. Richard Nixon famously kept an enemies list which included a large number of journalists. But Trump is taking this in a dangerous direction. The New York Times story about James Comey’s memo rightly focused on the fact that the president may have tried to obstruct justice by taking the FBI director aside privately to ask him to let Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, off the hook. But Trump said something else in that meeting which has received less attention:

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

I find that quote from the Times story very revealing on a couple of counts. First, we all know the FBI doesn't put people in jail -- but Trump doesn't. It's emblematic, however, of his whole attitude that he seems to think all he has to do is make the suggestion and it's a done deal. Second, and much more worrying, is the fact that he made the suggestion at all. Perhaps it's not so surprising, given that he's already branded the press as an "enemy of the people" -- which his followers ate up. (It's worth noting here something that I've not seen in any analysis of the "Trump voter": They are the natural fodder for the authoritarian: they want to be told what to think and what to believe, and they have no understanding or particular reverence for our foundational principles -- such as an independent press.)

This attitude is filtering down to law enforcement and the security details of government officials.

There's an element of lawlessness in all of this that is really dangerous, especially since, as we might well suppose, the Department of Justice under the present attorney general is not going to be bothered with reining in rogue law enforcement -- after all, there's police morale to worry about.

Second is this piece by Benjamin Wittes specifically about Trump and James Comey. The key paragraph, at least for purposes of this post:

Comey never told me the details of the dinner meeting; I don’t think I even knew that there had been a meeting over dinner until I learned it from the Times story. But he did tell me in general terms that early on, Trump had “asked for loyalty” and that Comey had promised him only honesty. He also told me that Trump was perceptibly uncomfortable with this answer. And he said that ever since, the President had been trying to be chummy in a fashion that Comey felt was designed to absorb him into Trump’s world—to make him part of the team. Comey was deeply uncomfortable with these episodes. He told me that Trump sometimes talked to him a fashion designed to implicate him in Trump’s way of thinking. While I was not sure quite what this meant, it clearly disquieted Comey. He felt that these conversations were efforts to probe how resistant he would be to becoming a loyalist. In light of the dramatic dinner meeting and the Flynn request, it’s easy to see why they would be upsetting and feel like attempts at pressure.

The whole idea of personal loyalty to the president as a requirement for a government official is, in what's left of this republic, at least, anathema. It's the sort of thing you expect from the likes of Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un. In America, we want government officials who are competent and loyal to the country.

Granted, personal relationships matter a great deal, in government as well as in daily life -- we are what we are, after all, which is essentially social animals -- but most of us recognize by the age of two or three that we're not the center of the universe. Trump has not, apparently, made it that far in his emotional development.

What I'm seeing here is an incipient cult of personality, one of the hallmarks of dictators throughout history. That, coupled with Trump's disdain for the basics of the American system of government -- which has become a signature characteristic of the right in general -- is much more than cause for concern.

Footnote: It's not just Trump himself that hates America.

Footnote 2: About the Republican attitude, read this from Paul Krugman:

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.

Krugman holds up one really scary possibility, but doesn't seem to make the connection:

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.

If Trump is somehow removed from office -- and like Krugman, I'm not counting on the Republican majority to move on that, unless they start losing elections -- we're left with Mike Pense, who in real terms, given the realities of the situation, is a much scarier prospect, at least for the long-term health of the country.

OK, yeah, another must-read. Deal with it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Giggle du Jour


Offered by commenter vorpal at this post at Joe.My.God.

Enter Wikileaks, Stage Right

I don't think Wikileaks has any credibility left, for anyone who's been paying attention. This just sort of clinches it:

The context that Wikileaks chose to ignore:

The material was seized in a nuclear smuggling case in Georgia (the country), and the Russian Federation wanted to analyze the material to double-check where it may have come from. A law-enforcement matter, and it’s likely the US wanted to make a point to Russia that it’s serious. You don’t get more serious in law enforcement than the head of the FBI.

As far as I'm concerned, Julian Assange can spend the rest of his life in the Ecuadorian embassy in London -- maybe coming out once a year to see if he's developed a shadow yet.

OF All Places

This is not something I would have expected:

Lithuania’s Parliament marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia this week.

Marked on May 17 around the world, IDAHOT raises awareness of persecution and hate crimes faced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals and transgender people around the world. . . .

The day is heavily marked in countries that are already progressive on LGBT rights, but it is also making inroads in places where there is still a way to go on LGBT equality.

Lithuania has lagged behind on equality, with no legal recognition for same-sex couples, no gender recognition for transgender people, a ban on same-sex adoption, and generally negative social attitudes.

However, progress is slowly being made, and the day was marked this week with celebrations in the country’s Parliament in Vilnius.

My father's family is Lithuanian; my grandparents came to the US before World War I, which marks us, I guess, as the first wave. I went to university with a group of kids whose families came over after World War II -- most of them were born in Germany. They tended to be very conservative, mostly because they hated Russia and everything Russian, but I suspect they reflected attitudes prevalent in the old country -- as the article notes, Lithuania has not been on the forefront of the struggle for gay rights.

But, times change, and so do attitudes. They even lit up Vilnius city hall with rainbow colors.

A more substantial mark of a change in attitude is this:

But two asylum seekers from Chechnya have been granted asylum in Lithuania, reports the Russian Interfax news agency.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has confirmed that the two men have been granted asylum there after fleeing persecution in Russia.
He said that the Lithuanian Government had “issued visas to two people from Chechnya who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation”.

“We have consistently raised these issues both within the EU and in the parliamentary structures of the Council of Europe – regarding the possibility of helping and, if necessary, granting asylum,” he added.

The US, under our neo-fascist regime, has so far refused to grant visas to gays fleeing persecution in Chechnya.