Master and Commander Kinda Queered

Today, I want to talk about my all-time favorite relationship movie.

No, I’m not talking about Pretty Woman, nor Titanic. (Blech!)

Not Leaving Las Vegas either!

I’m not even talking about that flick about a cabin on a lake or the one where somebody in Portland or thereabouts has a bad case of insomnia. I don’t even care when Harry met Sally, not at all! (Okay, maybe a little in that case.)


I like Master and Commander.

Yes, that’s right.

My favorite relationship movie is a war movie.

Don’t get me wrong. This film has everything you would want in a war movie. The battle scenes in Master and Commander are intense as Hell! During the very first engagement I was seriously afraid I would get hit by grape shot, or that some debris from the ship would come flying out of the screen and leave me with a terrible scar. I could even imagine telling the story later. If I survived! Anyway, the point is that this movie doesn’t scrimp on the battle scenes. Master and Commander definitely makes a good war movie.

It also makes for an excellent relationship movie.

The central story line of the film is a quest to sink or capture a French privateer that was playing havoc with British commerce during the Napoleanic Wars. So the main question in this film is whether or not Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal British Navy (played by Russell Crowe) will succeed in finding and defeating this offending French commerce raider, the Acheron. To say that the Acheron will prove a challenge is putting it mildly. The vessel has superior a design and its Captain clearly knows what he is doing. Aubry’s own ship, the Surprise, is badly damaged in their first engagement and his own officers quickly come to the conclusion that they should abandon the chase and limp back to England.

Aubrey of course will have none of it!

Aubrey makes plans for repairing the ship of the coast of South America and giving chase to the vessell that clearly outclasses them just as soon as he possibly can. And of course Aubrey is the Captain, so he can do that.

The rest will have to do as he says.

While hunting the Acheron, Aubrey falls into conflict with his close friend, the ships doctor, Stephen Maturin (played by Paul Bethany). Maturin thinks Aubrey’s pursuit of the Achoron is reckless, and says so. (Big mistake!) When they end up on the Galapagos Islands, Maturin has an opportunity to learn a thing or two and possibly advance the science of biology. The film hints at the possibility that Maturin might have, with sufficient time and support, played a role in history comparable to that of Darwin, but of course the Ancheron calls and Aubrey if of course eager to answer. So, the two end up losing their trust in each other even as they find themselves at odds over their best course of action. Maturin really wants to stay and study and Aurbey really wants to go and find the ship that’s probably going to kill them all when he does.

This conflict between Aubrey and Maturin over their respective priorities threatens to break their friendship apart just as Aubrey’s own priorities threaten to tear the ship apart in the pursuit of a vessel clearly out of their own league. So, there we have it! A nice tight little story about a relationship sitting smack dab in the middle of a story about fighting a war and defeating the big bad evil guy in battle.

This relationship between Aubrey and Maturin follows much the same course as your average romance story. The man in this relationship is clearly Aubrey as he places the pursuit of war at the top of his priorities which of course makes him a manly man at his manliest. (Stereotypes happen!) Maturin’s own interest in the study of bugs, and birds, and what not clearly feminizes him in relationship to his more belligerent friend. (Next to a poet or a literary scholar, maybe Maturin would prove the man in the relationship, but next to Captain Jack Aubrey, Maturin clearly occupies the role of a woman. The question of whether to stay on the Galapagos and study the wildlife or go out in search of a battle they are likely to lose threatens to tear this happy couple apart. It provides the obstacle to their relationship which is of course a staple in such stories.

So, can our lovely couple overcome that obstacle and regain the bliss they once found in each other’s company, or will go their separate ways once and for all in the end?

All of this of course assumes our star-crossed lovers survive the war in the first place, because that pesky war-movie intrudes upon the love-story whenever it wishes, as one might expect of a war movie forced to share the screen with a softer narrative like this. The larger plot here can be such a bully!

This of course bothers Maturin more than it does Aubrey.


Okay, so tongue-in-cheek humor aside, this isn’t really some homo-erotic love story. Far from it! My point is simply that the story line actually does make use of some of the same mechanics we are used to seeing in relationship movies. It even evokes much of the gender-based stereotypes that guide so many relationship movies, not because there is anythig about the film which deliberately plays to these stereotypes, but because patterns of significance have a way of intruding even where they are not wanted. Once you see it in this film, the sense that you are really watching a romance is hard to avoid. We end up with two serious questions in this film, one about whether or not these two will somehow repair the damage to their friendship and one about whether they will win the battle. What makes it a great film is just how well these two questions are bundled up together in the overall story.


WARNING: Half-spoiled spoilers ahead!


The actual resolution of the conflict works just fine for me, at least when the question is do I enjoy the story. It also leaves me wondering about the ultimate significance of the story line. Once you see the gendered themes in the film, it’s tough not to read the relationship in those terms, not because anybody is playing their role with a limp wrist, but because warfare is typically thought of as a manly pursuit, and because the doctor’s priorities align more closely with what would be those of the woman in just about most any other relationship movie. Of course the decisions each will make are set in the background of a story line rendering each of their actions quite plausible, and the ultimate resolution of the conflict certainly makes sense on that level. But this leaves me with a lingering fear over what priorities we are to take away from the film itself. Which, in the end, really does matter more?

Science or warfare?

Perhaps without intending to, I cant help thinking this film answers that question. It does so by answering another question, one about how out lovely couple resolves their own conflicts?

Who gives up more for the relationship?

I’ll Motte Your Bailey! The White Privilege Edition


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Criming While White

Okay, I’m going to regret this…

What’s a “Motte and Bailey doctrine?” The term was coined by Nicholas Shackel. It describes a position in which somebody defines a term in narrow and well-defined terms in contexts of likely dispute and/or rigorous scrutiny, only to adopt a much broader and less rigorous approach to the same topic in practice (e.g. when speaking to a very friendly audience). The language comes from a medieval system of defense in which a tower (usually built on a mound) is surrounded by a stretch of desirable land. The tower on its mound (i.e. the Motte) is where the people of the community go for defense when attacked. The bailey is where people actually live and make their living. So, the concept here is really one of equivocation wherein people employ a strict definition of their stance when pressed only to get sloppy with it whenever opportunity tempts them to less than precise applications.



Is “white privilege” a Motte and Bailey doctrine?

Well it certainly can be.


What’s the Motte version of “white privilege?”

As I understand it, the rigorous approach to “white privilege” is defined something like this; It is a range of unearned benefits conferred upon those perceived as white. [Alternatively, it is the lack of unearned debits conferred on countless underprivileged peoples as a result of their own (non-white) identity.] To say that this pattern has parallels to gender, sexual orientation, and range of other indices of social stratification is obvious.

What makes this the motte, as far as I see it anyway, is the lack of any direct assertions about the significance of this privilege relative to other issues. A white guy may have less to fear from the police during a traffic stop, for example, but he might still have grown up poor. He might still face discrimination if he speaks with a distinct regional accent. He could possess a disability, grow up with abusive parents, etc. Conversely, someone from an underprivileged minority group might still be wealthy, might still be connected, might still enjoy a range of benefits not available to all whites. In other words, the Motte version of this concept recognizes that white privilege does not automatically amount to getting the upper hand all across the board of social stratification. It is a ascribed status benefit enjoyed by white people. How that benefit stacks up against other such status benefits and detriments is another question.

What’s the bailey?

Well just ask critics of the concept!

How many times has a white guy told you he grew up in a trailer park or a crowded shack in response to comments about white privilege, or otherwise commented on countless travails of her or his early life in an effort to demonstrate that he or she did not have it easy? These arguments wouldn’t work against the motte version of this concept. They only work if ‘white privilege’ clearly entails an easier life for all white people, or at least the vast majority of them. As the possibility that other indices of social stratification would come into play is already built into the motte-version of ‘white privilege,’ all of these arguments fall well short of disproving that concept.

They really do.

So, why aren’t these points just straw man arguments?

They aren’t straw man arguments, because proponents of white privilege don’t always stay in the motte. Sometimes, those employing the notion really do seem to think (or at least say) that whites are uniformly better off. I have personally been told in no uncertain terms that I have had an easier life than they have because I am white, and I have certainly heard the sweeping comparisons from others invoking the notion of white privilege. Additionally, the practice of dismissing anything a white person says on the subject of race, racial privilege, or other social justice themes by reminding us that we speak from a position of privilege tends at least to erase the narrow definitions of the motte and nudge us all closer to a broad generalization about the overall status of white people relative to on-whites. Sometimes, people using this concept really do seem to be painting a simple picture of privilege that squashes a number of other measures of privilege and oppression under the weight of race. All-too-often the notion of white privilege, defined narrowly when scrutiny is likely, becomes in practice a categorical assumption that all white people have it better than all any-other-kinda people.

So, if it is tempting to dismiss the critics of white privilege for attacking a straw man, that temptation must be tempered by the awareness that at least some proponents of the notion actually embody that straw man, at least when they are on a roll.


And here is where the whole metaphor begins to fail us. Do people shift back and forth between strict and loose definitions of ‘white privilege.’ Yes, they do. They also do this with debates about the existence (and nature) of God, support for law and order, use of terms like ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism,” or the love of rock and roll.

Wiggle room happens!

While we might want to encourage people to stick to a single definition of the key terms they use (or even to hold opponents in a debate responsible for doing so whether they want to or not), it is somewhat of a distortion to suggest that this is unusual. It is also a distortion to suggest that it takes the form of two clearly defined variations. Often the slippage is more subtle than that.

And of course it doesn’t help that nobody seems to trust anybody enough to anybody enough to grant them the benefit of the doubt on this topic. To hear some people talk, the very notion of white privilege will bring about the downfall of America, taking Europe with us, and fairly clipping the wings of half the angels in heaven. They can’t even address the motte version of the concept, and they certainly won’t concede it. Others will assume the only reason for expressing skepticism on this concept is a clear dedication (Whether conscious or not) to the support of white privilege. The principle of charity, long advocated by introductory logic teachers all across the land, just isn’t welcome in social justice debates of the modern world. When we acknowledge doubt at all, we tend not to give the other guy the benefit of it, and since nobody is getting any of this benefit themselves, we are that much more stingy about giving it to others.

Dammit all anyhow!

…and of course one of the benefits some of us do enjoy here is the privilege of experiencing this as a largely theoretical subject. For some folks the problem is a lot more urgent than others.


In this case, in particular, the middle ground is critical, not because all things moderate are great and wonderful, but because there is a critical question here, one that falls squarely on the boundaries between the motte and the bailey of this particular notion.

Relative to other indices of ascribed social status, just how important is ‘white privilege?” In the life of any given person, or the prospect for a positive outcome in any critical situation, just how likely is white privilege to make the difference? I can well understand that a black man might enjoy the secondary benefits of wealth or that a white man might face discrimination for being poor, but how does wealth (or the display of it) really stack up in comparison to race?

In attempting to answer this question, we do so haunted by the specter of confirmation bias.

White folks like myself typically underestimate the pervasiveness of our privilege. This was once brought home to me quite vividly when driving with my gal, Moni, in the passenger seat. Seeing a police officer race up beside us on the highway only to motion at me to slow down, she was shocked to see how easily I got away with driving over the speed limit. (In my defense, I wasn’t going that fast. Honest!) This is an event she now commemorates by taking pictures of me ‘criming while white’ whenever she gets the chance. Of course, I haven’t always gotten a break from cops in such situations, but after talking to her, I have come to realize that my own ideas about how a traffic stop is likely to go vary considerably with her own, and yes, I do put the difference down to race.

Of course, some in the social justice camp may be a little too quick too assume that racial identity has made the difference in this or that situation, but of course, not all biases are equal. If I was to bet on this, I would put my money on the likelihood that those of us enjoying white privilege miss its effect in our lives far more than those who lack this privilege see it when it isn’t there. In any event, the answer to how much weight white privilege gets in comparison to other indices of social status is going to be heavily skewed by the impact of this very phenonomenon (along with other all the other variables that skew the way that humans experience and treat each other).

The notion of ‘white privilege’ isn’t sufficiently robust without accounting for its relative weight. If we just say, “yes, that’s a benefit, one of many,” then all we are doing is acknowledging that race is one of many things that could trigger prejudice, and that when this happens white people are likely to benefit from the effect of that prejudice.

That takes ‘meh’ all the way to 5!

Simply saying that whiteness is just one index of unearned privilege among many others invites us all to shrug our shoulders and go back to whatever else we were doing. Perhaps we will notice when it matters; perhaps we will not. That position is not just a motte; it’s a meh. We can do better than that.

If on the other hand, we say that white privilege trumps all other considerations in all imaginable contexts, then, well, that just isn’t true. There are at least some contexts in which class, regional dialect, age, health, sexual orientation, personal connections, or any range of considerations could trump race. That white privilege skews the likelihood of positive privilege in some of these areas (e.g. class) more likely is certainly true, but at least some of the time, being white may not matter as being something else.

Some of the time.

In the end, the concept of ‘white privilege’ isn’t significant until we assign it some weight relative to other things that can skew the way that people treat one another.

As I write this, I am envisioning a much-needed trip through the relevant statistical research, but for now I mean to wrap this up by simply framing the position that most sense to me. It is the notion that white privilege, at least in the modern United States, is the most critical index of social status, at least when you account for both the likelihood that it will come up and the impact it will have. There may be less-severe sources of social bias which are more prevalent, and there may be less common sources of bias with more substantial impact when they do occur, but in the long run, white privilege is more likely to make a difference in a critical situation than class, region, age, etc. Do I believe this? Yes, though I am quite open to reconsideration and/or modification of the position.


So where does this leave us, or me at any rate?

I reckon us (me), somewhere in the transition from motte to bailey. I am grumble when I see the easy assumption that white people just have it better than others. I grumble more when I talk to white people who can’t even grasp the possibility that their whiteness might have given them an edge in life, at least some of the time. I reckon, the most appropriate thing to do here is to think of this in terms of priorities. As far as social ills go, this is at (or damned near) the top of the hierarchy. It isn’t the be-all and end-all of social justice, but I’d be hard pressed to think of anything more critical to address than racial disparities. That’s not a blank check written for anyone who wants to cash in on the claim to fighting for social justice. A certain amount of mere noise attaches itself to every signal, and shameless opportunists find their way into every cause. Still, I do think this problem is real, and I want more folks who enjoy white privilege would take the notion seriously.


It occurs to me that I may have just taken ‘meh’ all the way to 6, but it really does seem to me that the issue only gets interesting when you start asking how important white privilege is relative to other sources of social status. In suggesting that white privilege is more important than other variables, I am certainly picking a fight with anyone who seeks to deny that white privilege exists altogether, and also with those who see it as just one variable drowning in a see of other claims on our social conscience. To say that any other variables of social status could even be weighed against race and white privilege in any manner puts me at odds with quite a few of the proponents of the notion. I may have staked out a position on the middle ground, but in this instance, I doubt this will prove convenient.

Trump’s Wall


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The only wall Donald Trump ever meant to build was finished a long time ago. He built it with phrases like “lock her up” and “fake news” along with countless outright lies and bullshit stories. He didn’t put the wall on the border. It was never meant to go there. No, Trump built that wall right down the center of the nation, and each of us ended up on one side or another. Trump’s wall divides us completely from one another, and that is all it was ever intended to do.

It’s the one meaningful promise that bastard actually kept.

If a Crotchety Old Man Posted on TikTok and Not A Millennial Noticed….


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Just me and my Covid beard doing the grumpy old guy thing. Still haven’t decided what I think of the place.

My Gal has probably got in the spirit of things down a little better than I do. Her stuff is actually kinda fun.

Ah well!

Violence is a Cherry


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flagViolent men only have eyes for each other. On a street full of bystanders, they see only their enemies. In a room full of reasonable people, the violent ones seek each other out and do their damnedest to drag others into the fray. It’s an odd dance, one which enemies do together, and when they do it right, they lure the rest of us into the performance. None of this is new. Violent men and women, only have eyes for each other.

There is a lot of violence to celebrate today, or to decry. And how often does the one turn into the other? A condemnation of violence can easily be a clarion call to strike back, and it can be answered in the same tone.

And thus cacophony becomes a chorus!

None of this really started with the killing of George Floyd, of course; but his death certainly has escalated things a great deal. Some are fighting in the streets, and some are fighting on social media. Some are doing both of course. Either way, that chorus of violent men shouting at each other is getting pretty loud these days.

One of the questions people keep haggling out in the media is just how the violence got started? A protest doesn’t have to turn violent, but many of these certainly did. What was it, or who was it, that pushed all these protests over the top?

The right wing is happy to tell us that it is protesters. They are happily sharing videos of looters, vandals, and beatings occurring in these riots. The more rioters participating in the crime, the better it suits this narrative. It is enough to know that these crimes occur during the riots. This tells us all we need to know, so the right wing suggests; it is sufficient to discredit this entire wave of protests, just as it was enough to discredit the entire Black Lives Matter movement, and any number of other protests in the past. This isn’t a policing problem, so their narrative goes, it’s a crime problem, or even a black problem. The national figures in right wing media won’t quite say the last part of that sentence; they are content to have their followers say it for them.

Others assure us it was the cops, which is certainly fitting, because this was all about cops to begin with. Many who support the protesters will point to numerous instances in which the cops themselves seem to take aggressive action against people who are not really doing anything wrong. This wasn’t the reaction, they will remind us, when armed protesters stormed government buildings not so long ago. …it really wasn’t! So, perhaps the police are the party most responsible for escalating violence in this case? Just as the killing of Floyd points to a need for police reform so does the violence of these riots!

Or perhaps it was white people? By now we have seen enough videos of this; whites breaking windows or spray-painting buildings while black protesters beg them to stop. “They will blame us,” one woman says to a pair of light skinned young ladies with spray cans, and she is right. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, and it’s hard not to think ill of the young ladies as they wander off looking fabulous in their riot-chic.

Donald Trump seems to think it’s ANTIFA. He tells us that the United States declares them to be a terrorist organization. What this means, as far as policy goes, I don’t know. I doubt Donald Trump knows either, but I haven’t yet found the judiciary authority of Twitter statements from the Executive Couch Potato in the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps, Donald Trump has. Who knows what that man hears when others explain things to him! Last I checked, ANTIFA wasn’t even an organization, terrorist or otherwise, but perhaps they become an organization when Donald Trump tweets their governing principles into existence. He may yet have that power. Who knows?

Boogaloo Bois and their kindred are another candidate for the cause of violence. For those fortunate enough to have made it this far without learning of the Boogaloo Bois, let me ruin the world a little more for you! They are a part of a movement intent on starting a race war. ‘Boogaloo’, it seems, has become slang for that war, and so the thinking goes, these folks can bring it about by escalating violence in whatever way possible. In this instance, the suggestion is that Boogaloo Bois, other committed white racists, or even bigoted cops may be engaging in false flag operations, breaking things or carrying out attacks in the guise of protesters. Suffice to say, this prospect folds neatly into the same theme as the white-people-are-doing-it narrative mentioned earlier.

And then of course, there is the general outsiders-are-doing-this theme? In this instance, the idea is to emphasize that the violent perps have come from out of state. What that means is another question. To some, it means they are obviously ANTIFA extremists coming to riot over the usual list of grievances, because that’s what ANTIFA-types do. Damned Anarchists! Others are quite certain this must be boogaloos coming to commit their dirty work in the hopes it will be blamed on African-Americans. Both of these narratives assume clear intent at the outset, though it seems to me some of these out-of-staters may be as prone as the rest of us to get caught in the moment. Either way, I’m pretty sure that those emphasizing the interstate travel theme include a few folks looking at sentencing enhancements and/or federal involvement in what might otherwise be a state crime. It’s one thing to break a window in your home state, but if it can be shown that you crossed a state line for the purpose of doing it, you may be in more trouble than you think.

Conspiracy theories are bunk of course, …except when they aren’t. Violence at protests have often been cause for stories about infiltrators deliberately pushing protests over the line and into genuine violence. Cue the folks saying; “I support protests but not riots” and you now have cause to justify harsh police measures in the short run and to dismiss the cause of the protests in the long run. Whether the culprit is a rogue cop, a random white racist, or any other bad actor, suspicions about such agents are always part of the stories told about protests and the violence associated with them.

What does seem new is the number of videos which seem to show something like this actually happening.

I think we’ve all seen this before, streets filled with conventional protesters and then some guy shows up covered head-to-toe and well-masked, carrying something easily used as a weapon. He makes a bee-line for his target, breaks it, and then makes another bee-line straight out of the scene, leaving other protesters a bit surprised and even confused. We’ve seen that here too, and (this time at least) we’ve seen protesters actively try to stop them. Watching such videos, it isn’t hard to see that such individuals are up to something very different than the average protester. What that is, isn’t so clear, at least not so long as the individuals get away. Of course others will say such incidents are proof positive that a Boogaloo-ANTIFA-Rogue-Cop-Boi is at work, and his actions confirm whichever conspiratorial narrative they happen to favor.

In the coming weeks, we may learn the details of a few of these stories. We may find a conspiracy of sorts explains a burned building here or that beaten man there. We may find cops provoked violence in this city, or the protesters really were just terrible in that one. We may find reason to believe lots of shameless people saw in these protests an opportunity to score some loot from a local store, that some folks will do things they never imagined when they are surrounded by enough angry people doing the same thing. The racists will have plenty of black perpetrators to point at even as others get reason to believe white privilege sometimes carries a spray can or a stick for bashing windows. Those who hate protesters will find plenty in this to vindicate their contempt, and protesters will find plenty of cause in these evenets to take to the streets again some other day.

What we probably won’t have when these riots end (at least I would be damned surprised to find that we do) is evidence that a single one of these narratives explains the whole of the violence occurring in American cities right now. We may well see each and every one of these explanations play out in different stories of the rioting. We won’t get one explanation for all of it. Instead, will will get a range of different stories, each pointing at a different source for the violence. Most likely, people will then cherry pick the evidence to support the narrative best suited to their politics.

Another thing we won’t get in the wake of this, (and please let me be wrong about this!) is a clear course of action for resolving the conflicts that led to these riots.

One other thing we will have, I suspect, is a lot more Covid19 cases.


In the end, the same divisions that pushed so many of these protests into violence will still be with us. The facts won’t tell us once and for all who is to blame, and even if they did, there are too many people who benefit from clouding the issue. So, the same violent people who found each other in the last few days will be looking for each other in the future. The stories they will tell about this round of violence may yet fuel the next round of it, and we will hear the same violent chorus again sometime on down the road.

Unless somebody figures out a few things BEFORE the next George Floyd. There is a real problem here. That problem didn’t begin with the protests much less the riots, and that problem wouldn’t go away even if we did all get a single villain to blame for all this violence. Someone with the will to make things better and the power to do something about it needs to act.

Right now, I don’t even know who that would be.


Innocent Until Proven Guilty*


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AA.2Surely, you remember Michael Flynn?

I remember him well.

I remember him leading the chant of “lock her up” during the 2016 election. I remember him pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI.

Well, charges were just dropped against Michael Flynn.

They were dropped because Michael Flynn is innocent until properly proven guilty.

Do you remember George Zimmerman?

I do.

He was the man supposedly acting as neighborhood watch when he took a gun and went in search of Trayvon Martin, because Trayvon looked like was up to no good. I remember George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the subsequent trial. I remember countless right wingers lecturing the rest of us about how George Zimmerman was innocent until proven guilty. Many of those same people now tell us stories about how that thug Trayvon attacked Zimmerman without provocation, forcing Zimmerman to shoot him in self-defense.

That’s the story they tell. A story in which Trayvon stands charged, convicted, and executed without a trial.

Because George Zimmernan is innocent until proven guilty!

Do you remember Brett Kavanaugh?

Of course you do.

We are all reminded of Kavanaugh every time the well-stacked right wing Supreme Court delivers a decision. Kavanaugh sits on that court, because he was innocent until proven guilty.

Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford is of course a lying scumbag who made up accusations against Kavanaugh as part of a liberal plot to keep him off the Supreme Court, so I’m told at any rate. She didn’t prove her case in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and the reason is obvious to those now happy to have him on the court.

Christine Blasey Ford is guilty because Brett Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty.

Do you remember Sandra Bland? She died in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department in Waller County Texas. Nobody was charged, because folks at the Waller County Sheriff’s Department are innocent until proven guilty. How about Timothy Loehmann? He’s the police officer who shot Tamir Rice? He was never prosecuted either, because Timothy Loehmann is innocent until proven guilty. Do you remember Daniel Pantaleo? He’s the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death over loose cigar sales. He wasn’t prosecuted either. Because Daniel Pantaleo is innocent until proven guilty. Do you remember Michael Slager? Okay, that fucker is just guilty! But do you remember Freddie Gray? He died over a pocket knife. All the officers involved in his case were innocent until proven guilty. Yes, they were!

How about Philip Brailsford? He shot and killed Daniel Shaver in a Hotel in Arizona. Brailsford was innocent until proven guilty.

Now we have the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Oh, don’t worry. he’s not accused of anything. He was just jogging. A black man, out jogging! That’s definitely not a cime. But apparently, a couple white men (Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael) decided that Ahmaud might have been a burglar, so they tracked him down and confronted him with a gun. Now there is some reason to believe Arbery might have been the aggressor at the point he was shot. …twice? What he was doing at that moment we will never know, but I reckon he might have meant to defend himself from two crazy white men with a gun. Such considerations won’t matter in the long run, because the McMichaels are entitled to a fair trial, and such speculation will not be relevant in a fair trial.

The McMichaels are both innocent until proven guilty*.

Of course.


* Some restrictions apply.


A Cancer of Freedom


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MortI always thought Morton Downey Jr.’s cigarette would make a fitting symbol of the modern Republican Party. I remember seeing him blow the smoke into the faces of liberals he would bring on his show to shout at. I remember him using that cigarette as a symbol of defiance, a misguided token of individual freedom standing strong against a world of oppressive liberalism. The dangers of secondary smoke had finally sunk into the public’s mind, and people (not just liberals) were beginning to protect themselves from it. With Americans putting up ‘no smoking’ signs in institutions all across the nation, Mort smoked like a chimney just to spite them. He shared his smoke with others whenever he could, at least when the cameras were rolling, and this obnoxious act of self-destruction, discourtesy, and outright assault helped to define him as a ‘conservative’ voice in the ever more carnival circles of right wing politics. He became a shining star of right wing politics, for a time, riding a wave of support with a cigarette in his hand.

And then of course it killed him.

LimbaughAs I recall, it was Rush Limbaugh who replaced him when Downey got himself fired from a radio gig in Sacramento California. Rush also replaced Downey in his role as the most prominent right wing loud mouth. Rush got to keep that role way longer than Downey did, and he accomplished way more with it too.  Rush substantially transformed ‘conservative’ politics in the age of Clinton (or more to the point, Newt). Through Rush Limbaugh, bigots and bullies everywhere learned to call themselves ‘conservatives,’ and through Rush conservatives learned to lean less on the authority of age-old traditions and enjoy the role of petulant children defying the authority of liberals whenever and whenever possible. Where old-school conservatives would invoke timeless truths as though speaking with an ancient voice, Ditto-heads mocked and sneered like the slackers from the back of the classroom.

Limbaugh also took on the role of the public smoker in chief. I don’t recall seeing him blow smoke in anybody’s face, but then again, I don’t recall seeing Rush ever spend much time in the company of those who didn’t share his childish pseudo-conservative politics. What I do remember is countless images of him with a cigar in his hand or in his mouth and a smug look on his face. He too wanted us to know that we couldn’t stop him from smoking. He too wanted everyone to know that we couldn’t stop him from killing himself. He was enjoying his personal freedom and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it.

And of course he was right.

Mort FreedomAt least he got a Medal out of it.

It isn’t merely that these two clowns have smoked themselves into cancer. Were that the case, I really would consider it their own business. No, what makes this all a matter of public concern is their use of tobacco in fashioning their own self-image. Both used smoking to symbolize right wing politics, to cast their own personal dances with death in the guise of rebellion and to cast efforts to combat the tobacco industry as just so much arrogance by the left. Just as Mort before him, Rush minimized the threats of secondary smoke. He too denied the health risks that smokers impose on others as well as themselves. Limbaugh too celebrated a known health risk on a regular basis, and he too turned it into a disingenuous symbol of rebellion against authority.

To hear these professional morons speak, American smokers had become freedom fighters and accomplished healthcare professionals become just another form of meddlesome liberal out to take your freedoms.

Sadly, this is hardly an unusual feature of right wing politics, not just the self-destruction part; the taking the rest of us with them part as well. From pollution controls and safety standards throughout industry to the flagrant refusal to address climate change, right wing pseudo-conservative politics embraces countless risks to human health and happiness. They flaunt the half-based idiocy of Sunday-Morning Scientists in answer to the work of dedicated scientific professionals on countless issues of public policy. They consistently do so in the name of personal freedoms and stories about confrontation with left wing authoritarianism.

These fuckers will one day kill us all.

Mort’s cigarette and Rush’s cigar really are perfect symbols of what American ‘conservatism’ has become.

A death cult!