The most encouraging news story this week comes from Missouri, where Muslims have raised over $70,000 to help repair the Jewish cemetery which was vandalized there. It reminded me of this story from Texas in January, when it was Muslims who were the targets of an attack and then beneficiaries of solidarity, and this similar case in Canada. After an election in which scapegoating was the key strategy of the "winning" campaign (which the majority of Americans voted against, never forget), people are coming together in support of those who are under attack, and refusing to be divided. And, yes, they are doing this against acts of scapegoating by state power as well as by hate groups -- as is shown by the mass protests against the Muslim entry ban, and the beginnings of organized resistance to raids targeting illegal immigrants.
It's a common impulse of enlightened people in the face of bigotry -- recall this story from Egypt six years ago, when that country's Christian minority was suffering a wave of Islamist violence.
The efforts of Trumpism and its "alt-right" neo-Nazi fringe to ostracize and scapegoat specific minorities is, in a certain perverse way, succeeding -- they're unifying our broader society against themselves. It's an extension of the trend seen in recent years, when fundie-inspired laws supporting anti-gay discrimination in several states faced massive blowback from business, popular culture, and the public in general. Anti-gay bigotry, rather than isolating gays as in the past, was isolating the bigots. Now the same is happening with scapegoating of other groups.
The important question is how well the spirit of solidarity can be maintained for four years. After Trump is impeached and Pence takes over, it's likely to be gays and atheists that become the main targets, though Muslims will still be in the crosshairs as well. The majority has shown that it can thwart and reject the Republican Minority-Rule Regime. But we need to keep it up.
[35 days down, 1,426 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]
This is a Hubble telescope photo of a small region of space in the direction of the southern-hemisphere constellation Tucana. Many of the bright dots are, as they appear to be, stars -- but many of them are actually galaxies, much larger and further away than the stars.
We've spent half a century exploring our own solar system, from the lunar landings to the New Horizons probe which reached Pluto in 2015, and there's still work to do. A single dot in this image may contain millions or even billions of solar systems as large and complex as our own.
Found via Hackwhackers, which regularly posts astronomy photos; more background on the image here.
There are differences of opinion over whether initiating violence (that is, committing violence other than in self-defense) has any proper role in our opposition to the dangerous fascists and bigots emboldened by the rise of Trumpism. I'm not talking about violence or aggression against neutral or uninvolved persons, such as smashing store windows or blocking traffic -- such behavior must be avoided, and condemned unequivocally whenever it happens. Not only is it wrong in itself, it can only turn its victims again the people perpetrating it. Rather, I mean the kind of action exemplified by the much-debated Richard Spencer punch. Neo-Nazis, KKK supporters, and the like advocate violence, or at least identify with ideologies notorious for using it. Why not give them a taste of their own chosen medicine?
It's a question on which I personally haven't yet come to a conclusion. Both sides have legitimate points to make. Again, it's about dealing with extremist and dangerous groups, not the "ordinary" opposition. This was terrorism; doing the same to the local KKK headquarters would be a more debatable act.
In this post, David Neiwert makes a powerful case for the anti-violence side of the argument. It's long, but worth reading if you want to debate the issue in an informed way. He makes the important further point that we have other weapons far more effective than violence, and those should be preferred even if you don't find violence morally troublesome.
I would make one final point of my own, not so much about our view of anti-fascist violence as about our judgment when some do commit it. Never forget the magnitude of the provocation. Confronting a Jewish person with swastika armbands, or confronting a black person with a Confederate flag, can fire up feelings of an intensity not easily understood by people who have no such horrors in recent historical memory. These issues are not just abstractions. Always remember that.
The last thing any liberationist should want is chaos. Chaos quickly makes most people hungry for order, even authoritarian order.
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If I do ever die, I want people to say "he died", not this "passed away" horseshit. I hate euphemisms.
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If Donald Trump had not been born rich, he would probably be indigent or dead. His mentality and behavior are too weird and offensive to succeed at any ordinary job.
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I feel a special horror at regimentation, at anything that subsumes the individual within the mindless mass. The chanting of slogans, the singing of hymns or recital of creeds, marching in unison -- it all reeks of yielding one's humanity to a deadened and dangerous subhumanity.
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The fact that you personally don't understand the scientific evidence for something doesn't mean that that evidence is not conclusive.
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Can we someday do without leaders at all? It would be contrary to our nature as a species -- we are primates, and primates have dominance hierarchies. But we have already transcended our biology in so many other ways.....Who can say?
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A person who knows only one language is like a person who has only one eye. You can see just as much, but all the depth is missing.
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You are free to the extent that -- and only to the extent that -- you can say "no" to someone who gives you an order, and make it stick.
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Human lust and sexual passion are a constant across the millennia and around the world. Taboos about various forms of sexuality seem pretty much random and change like the weather, from decade to decade and from country to country. It's absurd to think that the particular configuration of clouds we see right here at the present instant constitutes a final "correct" state which will be fixed forever.
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A lifeless universe? I prefer to imagine that there are many worlds out there with their own peoples, where the stories that cannot be told on this world can have their chance to live.
[For previous random observations, see here and here.]
If the Republican Minority-Rule Regime drags us into another war, it's quite likely that Iran would be the target, given that country's status as the wingnuts' current bogeyman and major object of Trump's blunderingly belligerent rhetoric. Herewith, some images of the country they'd be taking us to war against (click for bigger versions).
Tehran, the capital city:
Tehran's metro-area population is 16 million, larger than any US metro area except New York.
Maydan-e Shâh (Royal Square), Isfahan:
Traditional dresses (this is a Persian New Year celebration):
Protester helping injured police officer during the 2009 anti-regime demonstrations:
Satellite dishes (to access foreign TV) are a common sight in Iran:
Children's play area, shopping mall, Shiraz:
Borj-e Âzâdî (Persian history monument), Tehran:
Ruins of Persepolis (Takht-e Jamshîd), the imperial capital founded by King Darius I around 515 BC:
The Iranian sense of national identity is very deep-rooted, reaching back to the coronation of Cyrus the Great in 559 BC, more than 300 years before China first became a unified state.
This is Mohammed Mosaddegh, Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953:
Mosaddegh led the first serious attempt to bring real democracy to Iran and expel foreign domination, only to be overthrown by the US/British-backed coup of 1953 which restored the rule of the Shah. Most Americans have barely heard of him, but this history is well-known in Iran.
Iraq-Iran geographical size comparison:
Iraq at the time of the 2003 US invasion had a population of about 18 million. Iran's current population is 83 million, about equal to Germany, or more than one-fourth the population of the US.
And of course one cannot ignore pictures like this:
The struggle against the brutal theocratic regime is an ongoing one. The 2009 demonstrations were the largest protest marches in the history of the world, drawing crowds in the millions. The current President, Hassan Rouhani, is a reformist who has made some substantial changes, but Islamist hard-liners control much of the government and often retain the upper hand. It is very unlikely that an attack by a foreign power, especially one still resented for the 1953 coup, would improve the situation.
"I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land..... I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.
"The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus..... The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other.
"The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise."
I've occasionally been criticized for what some people consider a lack of civility -- for rejecting the enemy's position as invalid or illegitimate or unworthy of serious discussion, and for doing so in blunt terms. I've been accused of intolerance of differing viewpoints, taking a "my way or the highway" approach. In fairness, I don't get accused of these things at all often, but I think it's still worth addressing.
To take the easiest point first, I've actually gone out of my way to avoid purism and intolerance of differing viewpoints among those I consider basically allies, even when the difference is on an issue I consider very important. The drive to "purge" one's own side of those who are so impure as to agree with you only 80% of the time instead of 100% can lead only to infighting and weakness, which is why I've always felt cheered to see such purism at work among Republicans and right-wingers generally, while abhorring it among ourselves.
But where the enemy is concerned, there is a difference. The Republican party and the US right wing in general have for years been dominated by a theocratic element which regards non-Christians and any substantial deviation from the Christian taboo system as intolerable or even evil and demonic. The fact that Trump is obviously not religious in this sense has been taken by some as a sign that the right's theocratic tendency is on the wane, but in fact it merely shows that the theocrats are smart enough to support a candidate they consider personally imperfect for the sake of the larger goal of forcing their taboo system on the rest of society. If Trump will sign laws enabling anti-gay discrimination and appoint judges opposed to Roe v. Wade, that's more important to them than his personal lifestyle.
This is not a mere difference about policy. These people want to impose a totalitarian religious ideology on the entire nation, enforcing its taboos on everybody. They want to make me a second-class citizen in my own country. And this is not something I can just politely disagree about. This is not something I can engage in civil debate about. This is all-out war. I am personally under attack here, and if you're an atheist, or gay, or a woman who values reproductive freedom, or even a religious person of any stripe other than Christian fundamentalist, then you too are under attack. I am not going to treat the people waging or supporting this onslaught as if they were honorable opponents in a normal political contest. One does not respond to blitzkrieg with parliamentary points of order.
"With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost." -- William Lloyd Garrison
At an unspecified time in the future, Britain is under the rule of a fascist regime which had come to power two decades earlier by exploiting mass panic over a mysterious epidemic. The regime has all the features one expects from its ilk, such as omnipresent surveillance, state control of the media, and ruthless suppression of dissent. It is also explicitly Christian in character; its symbol is a modified cross, gays and Muslims have been "disappeared" from society, propaganda emphasizes the evil of "godlessness", and the official slogan is "Strength through unity, unity through faith" (in the graphic novel from which the film was adapted, it has "purity" in place of "unity"). The general public mood appears to be one of sullen but apathetic acceptance of the situation.
Opposing the regime is a lone revolutionary known only as V (Hugo Weaving), a man of almost superhuman intelligence, stamina, and fighting skill. It's implied that he developed these abilities partly as a result of medical experiments performed on him at the "Lark Hill" concentration camp, making him a monster of the regime's own creation. V's face is never seen; he always wears a distinctive mask modeled on the face of Guy Fawkes, an actual British revolutionary who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, and whom V has taken as his inspiration. V's goal is to embolden the masses to rebel against the regime. He is also tracking down and killing the individuals who brutalized him at the camp years before. V is a man who can literally bring a knife to a gunfight and win.
Here, protagonist Evey (Natalie Portman) encounters some of the regime's plainclothes enforcers, known as "Fingermen" -- and then V shows up:
Observe the corruption which is in fact endemic under authoritarian regimes; the Fingermen apparently use their power to extort sex from women fairly routinely, without fear of punishment. There is also a bishop who freely indulges his penchant for forced sex with young girls.
V subverts the state's own media to get his message out, even managing to widely distribute copies of his mask so that others can act anonymously while invoking his image. Discontent spreads and dictator Adam Sutler (John Hurt) becomes increasingly unhinged as his regime starts to lose its grip:
As some of the visuals suggest, this film is explicitly a work of art and much of it cannot be taken as literal storytelling -- I found its imagery enthralling. It does also take considerable risks with its story, though. V is not so unambiguously heroic as these clips suggest. He is ruthless and violent and willing to use almost any tactic to achieve goals he considers important. In particular, in the middle of the film, he carries out an elaborate and bizarre act of "liberation" which is extremely disturbing. Evey eventually comes to accept it; if I were in her position, I do not believe I could. Each viewer must make his or her own judgment.
I should note that V for Vendetta is surprisingly gay-friendly for 2005. Stephen Fry has a minor role as a gay man who escapes persecution (for a while) by remaining closeted, and an emotionally-wrenching sequence follows the story of an actress imprisoned for her lesbianism and ultimately killed.
V recognizes that the evil and violence of fascism make the use of even deadly violence against fascists themselves both legitimate and necessary. Here, he has a final confrontation with Mr. Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), the sadistic party leader, and a group of his thugs (V is wearing body armor):
I suspect V would not be among those who feel squeamish about punching Richard Spencer.
The film is not flawless. Sutler's death seems perfunctory for such an important figure, and the circumstances are implausible. We don't get much sense of what V is fighting for, aside from his desire for revenge against his former tormentors. While the final scene between V and Evey is emotionally powerful, the resonances of the following climactic ending are all wrong -- V achieves the aim of his predecessor and posthumously succeeds in blowing up the Houses of Parliament, the architectural icon of British democracy, an act which would surely horrify the crowds of citizens watching, not inspire them. But these shortcomings do not detract from the unconventional brilliance of the rest of the work.
It's actually hard to imagine a fascist regime, especially a theocratic one, arising in Britain with its vigorous democracy and deeply-secular society. But V for Vendetta has perhaps become more relevant to Americans, with our Republican party long dominated by fundamentalists and growing ever more authoritarian.
Thanks to artist Marc McKenzie for calling my attention to this movie.
For those whose main focus is politics, I imagine the last two weeks must have been exhausting. Yet maintaining a sense of humor is more important than ever. Mockery and ridicule have always been among our keenest weapons against the pompous and self-important. And people have not been slow to employ them against the juiciest target the enemy has presented to us since.....well, ever, pretty much.
And speaking of mockery, it's classic how our side made the most vulgar of all Trump's aphorisms the basis for the signature headgear of the resistance, pwning not only Trump's misogyny but the crummy red hats he's been flogging to his Trumpanzees for months.
Emmet Cahill of Celtic Thunder sings of an earlier wave of immigrants who came to the US to escape oppression -- the Irish, whose country was under British rule at the time. The "isle of hunger" reference is to the Great Famine of 1845-1852 (somewhat earlier than Ellis Island), when starvation exacerbated by a bigoted and incompetent conservative government in Britain drove over a million Irish to emigrate.
Rachel Maddow documents how Trump and his gang have repeatedly backed down in the face of pressure from Congress or the public. Let these examples embolden us to make that pressure irresistible when the big fights -- over Obamacare, Social Security, voting rights, and other key bastions of progress -- are waged. Video found via Politics Plus.
Individualist, transhumanist, American patriot, socialist, atheist, liberal, optimist, pragmatist, and regular guy -- it has been my great good fortune to live my whole life free of "spiritual" concepts of any kind. I believe that evidence and reason are the keys to understanding reality; that it is technology rather than ideology or politics that has been the great liberator of humanity; and that in the long run human intelligence is the most powerful force in the universe.