E.T.

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So far E.T. has created 52 blog entries.

November 2018

A Dispatch from the Trail

2018-11-03T05:47:06+00:00November 3rd, 2018|Politics|

I am down in southeast Atlanta campaigning for Stacey Abrams. It feels good.

Four days from election day, there’s a vacuum in the air, like a beast the size of a state is taking a big gulping breath that it will soon expel all at once. The beast is Politics. With hope, it will deliver the nation’s first black woman governor and the first adamantly progressive southern Democratic governor in the better part of a century.

Campaign volunteering means putting your time and energy at the mercy of 21-year-old field organizers who—if they are good—exude the same steely authority as Ulysses S. Grant. The good ones act like Grant, too, throwing volunteers into a meat-grinder until the problem is solved and grinning and bearing it as the Main Office (for there’s always another, more Main one) changes its mind for the third time and erases thousands of hours of labor.

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August 2018

5,676 Good Words on John S. McCain

2018-08-28T23:38:09+00:00August 28th, 2018|Gold|

David Foster Wallace, “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, and the Shrub,” April 13, 2000

Wallace’s famous 2000 dispatch from the Straight Talk Express is, unsurprisingly, very good. It’s also a welcome break from the dreck that has so far marked McCain’s passing: from the far left (and far right) a steady stream of cruel Twitter one-upmanship, from most everyone else uncritical blurbs that dwell little on the man and even less on the legislator, focusing instead on the time he cracked a joke in a Capitol corridor or remembered a reporter’s name. Wallace’s work is also, however, 25,000 words long. I’ve condensed down to what I found especially stirring.

On “Service” and Vietnam:

[W]hen Senator John McCain also says – constantly, thumping it at the start and end of every speech and THM – that his goal as president will be “to inspire young Americans to devote them- selves to causes greater than their own self-interest,” it’s hard not to hear it as just one more piece of the carefully scripted bullshit that presidential candidates hand us as they go about the self-interested business of trying to become the most powerful, important and talked-about human being on earth, which is of course their real “cause,” to which they appear to be so deeply devoted that they can swallow and spew whole mountains of noble – sounding bullshit and convince even themselves that they mean it. Cynical as that may sound, polls show it’s how most of us feel. And it’s beyond not believing the bullshit; mostly we don’t even hear it, dismiss it at the same deep level where we also block out billboards and Muzak.

But there’s something underneath politics in the way you have to hear McCain, something riveting and unSpinnable and true. It has to do with McCain’s military background and Vietnam combat and the five-plus years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison, mostly in solitary, in a box, getting tortured and starved. And the unbelievable honor and balls he showed there. It’s very easy to gloss over the POW thing, partly because we’ve all heard so much about it and partly because it’s so off-the – charts dramatic, like something in a movie instead of a man’s life. But it’s worth considering for a minute, because it’s what makes McCain’s “causes greater than self-interest” line easier to hear.

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November 2017

An Anniversary

2017-11-05T05:15:54+00:00November 4th, 2017|Blurb, Politics|

Nine years ago, such beautiful words. It stinks of bromide now, to none more, I suspect, than the man who stood before those 250,000 thronged into Grant Park

The “arc of history” was already bending back. Within a few weeks, a group of downcast white men would file into a DC steakhouse for the first of many meetings in which they plotted to claw back  power. They resolved to shower the black man in the Oval Office with more venom and spite than accorded to any president before him. And because they’d lost control of the facts, they resolved to create new ones.

Lie as they did, they could only wound Obama. But the forces they’d summoned would soon escape their control. And in time, they would do terrible harm to the country and all in it.

October 2017

The George Wallace Show, Circa ’72

2017-10-07T23:52:04+00:00October 7th, 2017|Gold|

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, 1973

In his reporting, Thompson does not seem much interested in Wallace. The Confederate Flag-beating demagogue is less a man than a force of naturean angry hurricane the casts the struggle between Muskie, Humphrey, Kennedy, and McGovern in sharper relief. But when he does turn to Wallace, there is wisdom there. First vignettes by Thompson; below the jump, Timothy Crouse.

The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece. Probably the rarest form of life in American politics is the man who can turn on a crowd & still keep his head straight—assuming it was straight in the first place…Maybe the whole secret of turning a crowd on is getting turned on yourself by the crowd.

The only candidate running for the presidency today who seems to understand this is George Wallace…

The root of the Wallace magic was a cynical, showbiz instinct for knowing exactly which issues would whip a hall full of beer-drinking factory workers into a frenzy—and then doing exactly that, by howling down from the podium that he had an instant, overnight cure for all their worst afflictions: Taxes? Nigras? Army worms killing the turnip crop? Whatever it was, Wallace assured his supporters that the solution was actually real simple, and that the only reason they had any hassle with the government at all was because those greedy bloodsuckers in Washington didn’t want the problems solved, so they wouldn’t be put out of work.

The ugly truth is that Wallace had never even bothered to understand the problems—much less come up with any honest solutions—but “the Fighting Little Judge” has never lost much sleep from guilt feelings about his personal credibility gap. Southern politicians are not made that way. Successful con men are treated with considerable respect in the South. A good slice of the settler population of that region were men who’d been given a choice between being shipped off to the New World in leg-irons and spending the rest of their lives in English prisons. The Crown saw no point in feeding them year after year, and they were far too dangerous to be turned loose on the streets of London—so, rather than overload the public hanging schedule, the King’s Minister of Gaol decided to put this scum to work on the other side of the Atlantic, in The Colonies, where cheap labor was much in demand.

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Always Politicize Tragedy

2017-10-03T00:49:37+00:00October 3rd, 2017|Politics|

The internet renders us an immediate, intimate observer to tragedies in all corners of the world. But the internet changes very little in what we can actually do. We are largely as powerless as the audiences of a century past; we just happen to learn things an order of magnitude more quickly.

For most Americans, therefore, the only “good” that comes of national calamity is the way that it briefly sharpens and focuses our collective attention. For a few days, most people are thinking about the same thing. We learn about the disaster’s human cost, we consider its causes, and—ideally—we ponder what collective action we can take to keep it from happening again.

Always politicize tragedy. Unless you are giving money or blood or volunteering on the front lines, politicization is the one good thing you can do. Use Hurricane Irma to learn about the purposeful dismantling of environmental safeguards in the state of Florida; use the horrifying deaths of nearly 60 people in Las Vegas to familiarize yourself with the policies that enabled this gunman to acquire such a destructive arsenal so quickly.

A “thought and prayer” is nothing. It is something you can do, quite literally, in your sleep. Thinking critically about why something happened and how it can be stopped is the barest thing you can do. As an American, it is something you must do. And lest you think that the “don’t politicize” crowd is sincere in its beliefs, consider tonight’s take from Bill O’Reilly:

Public safety demands logical gun laws but the issue is so polarizing and emotional that little will be accomplished as there is no common ground.

The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned.

This is the price of freedom.  Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.

Already, the pundits of the American gun lobby are roaring to action. Because the shooter was not a man of color, they intend to preach a gospel of powerlessness. They intend to tell you that “this is just the way things are,” as if a definitive interpretation of the 2nd Amendment has been carved in granite. As if it is right or normal for an industrialized nation to bear more mass shootings than there are days of the year.

More Americans were killed last night in Las Vegas than were in operations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan combined. This is not the “price of freedom.” This is a conspiracy between moneyed interests and pliable politicians. It is distilled greed and cruelty. It has no place in a just society.

July 2017

Two Predictions

2017-07-26T00:46:30+00:00July 26th, 2017|Defense, Politics|

The past six months have seen many indiscretions and transgressions in this country that, under normal circumstances, I’d love to write about. But I’m in the midst of a big project whose work will continue for some time yet.

However, the swirl of news from the Trump administration has put two ideas in my head that, having settled there, now refuse to leave. I’m increasingly certain that one of two things—perhaps both—will happen in this country within the next year. Either of these events would precipitate a political crisis of a scale not seen since 1974. If occurring close together, they might precipitate a social and constitutional crisis of a scale not seen in this or the last century.

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April 2017

Ur-Fascism

2017-04-17T00:53:03+00:00April 17th, 2017|Gold|

Umberto Eco, “Ur-Fascism,” The New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995

This essay, published more than 20 years ago by a political scientist whose youth was spent under the rule of Mussolini, remains the best resource I’ve seen for explaining what “fascism” is and is not. Read the criteria. Consider the emerging or proposed regimes of Erdogan, Orban, Le Pen, and, of course, Trump. And then ask yourself: when does “fascist” cease to be a slur and become, instead, an accurate descriptor of these demagogues and their adherents? 

In 1942, at the age of ten, I received the First Provincial Award of Ludi Juveniles (a voluntary, compulsory competition for young Italian Fascists—that is, for every young Italian). I elaborated with rhetorical skill on the subject “Should we die for the glory of Mussolini and the immortal destiny of Italy?” My answer was positive. I was a smart boy.

I spent two of my early years among the SS, Fascists, Republicans, and partisans shooting at one another, and I learned how to dodge bullets. It was good exercise.

In April 1945, the partisans took over in Milan. Two days later they arrived in the small town where I was living at the time. It was a moment of joy. The main square was crowded with people singing and waving flags, calling in loud voices for Mimo, the partisan leader of that area. A former maresciallo of the Carabinieri, Mimo joined the supporters of General Badoglio, Mussolini’s successor, and lost a leg during one of the first clashes with Mussolini’s remaining forces. Mimo showed up on the balcony of the city hall, pale, leaning on his crutch, and with one hand tried to calm the crowd. I was waiting for his speech because my whole childhood had been marked by the great historic speeches of Mussolini, whose most significant passages we memorized in school. Silence. Mimo spoke in a hoarse voice, barely audible. He said: “Citizens, friends. After so many painful sacrifices … here we are. Glory to those who have fallen for freedom.” And that was it. He went back inside. The crowd yelled, the partisans raised their guns and fired festive volleys. We kids hurried to pick up the shells, precious items, but I had also learned that freedom of speech means freedom from rhetoric.

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December 2016

Hemingway on Il Duce

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00December 28th, 2016|Gold|

Ernest Hemingway, “Mussolini, Europe’s Prize Bluffer,” The Toronto Daily Star, January 27, 1923

Note: Dispatch from the 1923 Conference of Lausanne, an international conference updating treaties in wake of the rise of Turkey, notably attended by Benito Mussolini of Italy. The Gabriele D’Annunzio cited was an Italian nationalist of an older breed. His opposition to Mussolini would come of nothing.

Mussolini is the biggest bluff in Europe. If Mussolini would have me taken out and shot tomorrow morning I would still regard him as a bluff. The shooting would be a bluff. Get hold a good photo of Signor Mussolini sometime and study it. You still see the weakness in his mouth which forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by every 19-year-old Fascisto in Italy. Study his past record. Study the coalition that Fascismo is between capital and labor and consider the history of past coalitions. Study his genius for clothing small ideas in big words. Study his propensity for dueling. Really brave men do not have to fight duels, and many cowards duel constantly to make themselves believe they are brave. And then look at his black shirt and white spats. There is something wrong, even histrionically, with a man who wears white spats with a black shirt.

There is not space here to go into the question of Mussolini as a bluff or as a great and lasting force. Mussolini may last fifteen years or he may be overthrown next spring by Gabriele D’Annunzio, who hates him. But let me give two true pictures of Mussolini at Lausanne.

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