Monday, August 12, 2019

Gee, Ya Think?

The New York Times is on the case.

Tucker Carlson went on his prime-time Fox News show in April last year and told his viewers not to be fooled. The thousands of Central Americans on their way to the United States were “border jumpers,” not refugees, he said. “Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time,” he asked, “or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?”

When another group approached the border six months later, Ann Coulter, appearing as a guest on Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show, offered a dispassionately violent suggestion about what could be done to stem the flow of migrants: “You can shoot invaders.”

A few days after, Rush Limbaugh issued a grim prognosis to his millions of radio listeners: If the immigrants from Central America weren’t stopped, the United States would lose its identity. “The objective is to dilute and eventually eliminate or erase what is known as the distinct or unique American culture,” Mr. Limbaugh said, adding: “This is why people call this an invasion.”

There is a striking degree of overlap between the words of right-wing media personalities and the language used by the Texas man who confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso this month. In a 2,300-word screed posted on the website 8chan, the killer wrote that he was “simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

It remains unclear what, or who, ultimately shaped the views of the white, 21-year-old gunman, or whether he was aware of the media commentary. But his post contains numerous references to “invasion” and cultural “replacement” — ideas that, until recently, were relegated to the fringes of the nationalist right.

An extensive New York Times review of popular right-wing media platforms found hundreds of examples of language, ideas and ideologies that overlapped with the mass killer’s written statement — a shared vocabulary of intolerance that stokes fears centered on immigrants of color. The programs, on television and radio, reach an audience of millions.

In the four years since Mr. Trump electrified Republican voters with slashing comments about Muslims and Mexicans, demonizing references to immigrants have become more widespread in the news media, the Times review found.

Sometimes the hosts are repeating the president’s signature phrases. Sometimes the president appears to take his cues from television pundits. The cumulative effect is a public dialogue in which denigrating sentiments about immigrants are common.

But Tucker Carlson and Rush Limbaugh will tell you it’s violent video games and Barack Obama wearing a tan suit that drove them over the edge; banning assault weapons and doing real background checks will do nothing to save America.  And anyone who thinks otherwise is the REAL RACIST, not them.

Trump kept returning to hit back at the “fake news” media attacks on him, saying of claims from the Democrats that he is a racist, “That is the only ammunition they have.”

Trump also made fun of US allies South Korea, Japan and the European Union — mimicking Japanese and Korean accents — and talked about his love of dictators Kim Jong Un and the current ruler of Saudi Arabia.

It kind of makes one wonder where anyone who might listen to AM radio or watch Fox News might get the idea that we’re being invaded by brown hordes and that Hillary Clinton not only killed Jeffrey Epstein, ran a child porno ring out of a pizza joint, and the remains of the Lindbergh baby were found in her crawlspace, and that they might go all Rambo and drive ten hours to shoot up a Wal Mart.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday Reading

David Remnick in The New Yorker on what Toni Morrison understood about hate.

In December, 1993, Toni Morrison flew to Stockholm to deliver the lecture required of those awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her subject was the power of language. Words, she said, have the capacity to liberate, empower, imagine, and heal, but, cruelly employed, they can “render the suffering of millions mute.” Morrison was unsparing in her depiction of people who would use language to evil ends. Pointing to “infantile heads of state” who speak only “to those who obey, or in order to force obedience,” she warned of the virulence of the demagogue. “Oppressive language does more than represent violence,” she said. “It is violence.”

Morrison died on August 5th, at the age of eighty-eight. Her novels and essays, exploring black communities with intimacy and imagination, took in the legacy of slavery, the rejection of Reconstruction, the brutalities of Jim Crow––the whole of American history. Even in her final years, her political sense remained unerring. Just days after the 2016 election, writing in this magazine, she sensed the arrival of a troubling era, one centered on a callous and cunning confidence man:

So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.

On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Donald Trump is far from the first President to express rank prejudice. Thomas Jefferson, in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” maintained that black men and women had a “very strong and disagreeable odor.” Woodrow Wilson screened the Klan-glorifying film “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House. As we learned recently, Ronald Reagan, in a telephone conversation with Richard Nixon, referred to Africans as “monkeys.” And so on.

But what is unique about Trump, at least in modern times, is the extent to which bigotry is his principal means of rousing support. Trump backers who aren’t drawn to his bigotry choose to tolerate it. Ours is a country that could elect a black President preaching unity; it is also a country where tens of millions of Americans continue to say that they will vote for a man whose platform is nativism and division.

There is calculation behind the bigotry. Trump recognized that Obama’s ascent to the White House, in 2008, was met by a powerful racist reaction. Hate crimes and white-supremacist groups proliferated, as did threats against the President’s person. And so Trump began his political career deploying the language of conspiracy theory. First as a candidate and then as President, he spoke of Mexican “rapists,” of “caravans” filled with encroaching “aliens”; he directed invective at African-Americans, Muslims, women, and immigrants, and at legislators of color. Drawing on a long and toxic tradition, he has put forward a form of white identity politics in which violent language gives license to violent acts.

Such language is hardly a matter of thoughtless improvisation. Recently, the Times reported that the Trump campaign has seized on the imagery of “invasion”––one of the President’s favorite descriptions of immigration––as a theme for its Facebook ads. Such language is in synch with that of the mass shooter in El Paso, who, before killing twenty-two people and wounding many more in a Walmart, appears to have issued a manifesto warning that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” And, as the civil-rights leader Bryan Stevenson says, the insistence on unfettered gun ownership is a core tenet of white identity politics.

Although the solidity of the President’s base should not be underestimated, a sense of alarm is growing. The clerical leaders of the Washington National Cathedral, where the funerals of Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, and Bush took place, gave voice to that alarm last week. “When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human ‘infestation’ in America,” they wrote, in an official statement. “Violent words lead to violent actions.” And they asked, “When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.”

After the recent massacres in El Paso and in Dayton, White House aides evidently decided that Trump needed to dial back his rhetoric. In a brief speech, he denounced white supremacy, but with the vacant affect of a hostage reading for the camera. Liberated from this chore, he soon regained his usual temper; visiting the bereaved in Texas and Ohio, he found the time to lambaste local officials, along with “Sleepy” Joe Biden, “the LameStream media,” and other customary targets.

In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt characterized the Presidency as “preëminently a place of moral leadership.” Trump, by contrast, once told his circle of advisers that they should “think of each Presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.” In the Trump show, which will soon be up for renewal, immigrants, Muslims, and people of color are regularly cast as the villains.

Toni Morrison approached the enduring phenomenon of American bigotry and nativism from many angles. But she had a clear sense that the critical function of racism was distraction. Racism “keeps you from doing your work,” she said. “It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms, and you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

WTF? — Jake Cline in The Atlantic on how internet slang makes people better writers.

These are tough times for grammar snobs, those would-be avatars of flawless spelling and proper syntax who need look no further than a high-school friend’s Facebook posts or a family member’s text messages to find their treasured language being misused and neglected. Of course, split infinitives, dangling modifiers, and subject-verb disagreements have always appeared wherever words are uttered or keys are stroked. But on the internet, and particularly on social media, defenders of formal writing and the rules of language may feel as if they’ve become stuck in some linguistic hellscape littered with discarded stylebooks, the ashes of dictionaries, and a new species of abbreviations that’s tougher to crack than Linear B.

To these “grumbling” grammarians, the Montreal-based linguist Gretchen McCulloch says: Lighten up lol. In her new book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, McCulloch challenges the idea that the rise of informal writing signals a trend toward global idiocy. Instead, she marks it as an inevitable and necessary “disruption” in the way human beings communicate. “We no longer accept that writing must be lifeless, that it can only convey our tone of voice roughly and imprecisely, or that nuanced writing is the exclusive domain of professionals,” McCulloch argues. “We’re creating new rules for typographical tone of voice. Not the kind of rules that are imposed from on high, but the kind of rules that emerge from the collective practice of a couple billion social monkeys — rules that enliven our social interactions.”

Of course, the old rules of language were broken long before people went online, and McCulloch offers that the internet concludes a process “that had begun with medieval scribes and modernist poets.” She also notes how “well-documented features” of regional and cultural dialects—such as southern American English and African American English—have influenced the language of the internet, most obviously on Twitter. But in contrast to the pre-internet age, she argues, now we are all “writers as well as readers” of informal English.

Drawing from her research and that of other linguists,McCulloch shows how creative respellings, expressive punctuation, emoji, memes, and other hallmarks of informal communication online demonstrate asophisticationthat can rival even the most elegant writing. Understanding the difference between ending a sentence with one exclamation point or two, recognizing what a person is conveying when they write “dumbbb” or “sameee,” and knowing when or when not to be upset after receiving an all-caps text, McCulloch writes, “requires subtly tuned awareness of the full spectrum of the language.”

The prevalence of emoji, meanwhile, does not indicate verbal indolence or a pandemic of cuteness (though adorability is certainly part of it). Instead, McCulloch writes, emoji represent a “demand that our writing … be capable of fully expressing what we want to say and, most crucially, how we’re saying it.” She even implies that William Shakespeare, whose work in part depends on the gesticulating of actors, would have been fine with the “digital embodiment” of mental states and intentions in emoji.

All this informality may also be making people smarter, McCulloch suggests. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be making anyone dumber. “Several studies show that people who use a lot of internet abbreviations perform, at worst, just as well on spelling tests, formal essays, and other measures of literacy as people who never use abbreviations — and sometimes even better,” the author writes.

Twitter has been especially good at sharpening its users’ communication skills, McCulloch finds. Because Twitter users are more likely to interact with people they don’t know outside the internet (versus Facebook, where exchanges take place largely among friends and family), linguistic innovations—hashtags, @mentions, new words, and abbreviations — are more abundant on the site. McCulloch credits improvements in her own writing style to Twitter’s 280-character limit and the way it forces users “to structure their thoughts into concise, pithy statements.”

McCulloch doesn’t spend much time on how these innovations have been used to sow division and to spread hate speech, though she does acknowledge how memes were employed to make “abhorrent beliefs look appealingly ironic” during the 2016 election campaign. Given her profession, McCulloch is much more interested in the positives that have come from the popularization of informal writing. “As a linguist,” she writes, “what compels me are the parts of language that we don’t even know we’re so good at, the patterns that emerge spontaneously, when we aren’t really thinking about them.”

As for those dug-in, intransigent standard-bearers of formal writing who still flinch every time they encounter a face-palm emoji or the sarcasm tilde (~), McCulloch extends sympathy and an olive branch. She also suggests that those fluent in internet English should go easy on themselves and try to exorcise “the ghosts of misguided grammarians” who left “us with a vague sense of unease at the whole prospect of the written word.”

With Because Internet, McCulloch is offering “a snapshot of a particular moment in time and how we got that way, not a claim to correctness or immortality.” And she calls for humility from those who are fluent in internet language and culture. “We don’t create truly successful communication by ‘winning’ at conversational norms,” she writes, “whether that’s by convincing someone to omit all periods in text messages for fear of being taken as angry, or to answer all landline telephones after precisely two rings. We create successful communication when all parties help each other win.”

After all, as McCulloch points out, “the only languages that stay unchanging are the dead ones.”

Doonesbury — Hey, he noticed.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

How To Heal A Nation

It takes a special kind of douchebaggery to turn what any normal person would consider to be a condolence call into bitterness, rancor, and self-delusion.

On a day when President Trump vowed to tone down his rhetoric and help the country heal following two mass slayings, he did the opposite — lacing his visits Wednesday to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, with a flurry of attacks on local leaders and memorializing his trips with grinning thumbs-up photos.

A traditional role for presidents has been to offer comfort and solace to all Americans at times of national tragedy, but the day provided a fresh testament to Trump’s limitations in striking notes of unity and empathy.

When Trump swooped into the grieving border city of El Paso to offer condolences following the massacre of Latinos allegedly by a white supremacist, some of the city’s elected leaders and thousands of its citizens declared the president unwelcome.

In his only public remarks during the trip, Trump lashed out at Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, both Democrats, over their characterization of his visit with hospital patients in Dayton.

To quote Alvie Singer, “What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it! “

For a president — any president — to make a trip like this, it requires delicacy and tact, two things this current occupant wouldn’t know if they knocked him down.  In the first place, just having the president show up requires all the security and advance teams which in a place that is recovering from a disaster, be it a mass shooting or a tornado, is a huge imposition.  Second, the occupant has to realize that politics is going to be a part of the event no matter what, and it has to be dealt with on a level that this narcissist cannot fathom.  And finally, they must be capable of discerning the situation, reading the crowd, and knowing just exactly what to say, or more importantly, what not to say.

We’ve had presidents who were clumsy at it but you grudgingly have to give them credit for at least trying; think George W. Bush finally showing up in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina after realizing that his fly-by in Air Force One was seen as careless.  But most of them get it.  Bill Clinton certainly did after the Oklahoma City bombing.  But perhaps the best at it was President Obama after the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, at the funeral for Clementa Pinckney.

That is how you heal.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Willkommen In Nürnberg

Via TPM:

Ahead of his visit to the sites of two mass shootings that killed more than 30 people over the weekend, President Trump on Wednesday swatted away questions from reporters about the impact of his rhetoric.

The President claimed that his remarks in the aftermath of the shootings were unifying, rather than divisive, before pivoting to talk about his ongoing trade war with China.

“No I don’t think my rhetoric has at all, I think my rhetoric — it brings people together. Our country is doing incredibly well, China is not doing well if you look at the trade situation.”

Like this:

“Beat Them”

Former Rep. David Jolly of Florida, and formerly a Republican, lets fly on MSNBC:

I find myself today offering the same insight I did at the night of the Parkland shooting a few hours from our home in Florida, which is this: Republicans will NEVER do anything on gun control, nothing, EVER. They won’t. Think about Las Vegas. They did nothing when 500 people were injured. The Pulse nightclub, 50 killed. The question for the nation was, do we allow suspected terrorists to buy firearms? Republicans did nothing. Parkland, they did nothing. Emanuel AME in South Carolina, nothing. Go to Sandy Hook in Connecticut, nothing. Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, nothing. Jewish temple in San Diego, nothing. Sutherland Springs, evangelical church in Texas, nothing. Now you have Texas, now you have Ohio in the same weekend and all we get is silence. I say that because if this is the issue that forms your ideology as a voter the strength to draw in this moment is to commit to BEATING Republicans, BEAT them. Beat every single one of them. Even the safe ones in the House, BEAT them. Beat them in the SENATE. Take back the Senate.

Welcome to the club, David.  We’re having jackets made.

I think a few current GOP office holders are getting the hint: there are now upwards of twelve in Congress who have announced that they see the train heading towards them and are now planning to spend more time with their family.  And as the Democratic presidential field narrows, those who are pulling less than stellar ratings but still have a chance to win in a local race, e.g. Senate, should figure out a graceful way to turn their sights on doing that. That is where the true difference can be made.

Not Welcome At All

Brace yourselves, El Paso and Dayton.

Trump is preparing to visit El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday, appearances that will not be universally welcome as the two cities grieve from weekend mass shootings that left 31 dead and many injured and rattled.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed Trump’s plans while speaking to reporters Tuesday, saying he “has wanted to go there since he learned of these tragedies.”

Conway suggested that Trump’s itinerary would be similar to other visits in the wake of mass shootings or natural disasters, which have included meetings with those affected and with law enforcement and first responders.

Several Democratic officials have urged Trump not to visit El Paso, a city of about 683,000 with a largely Latino population, in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-immigrant attack at a Walmart Supercenter that left 22 dead.

And on Tuesday afternoon, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) encouraged people unhappy over Trump’s upcoming visit to the city of about 140,000 to protest.

“I think people should stand up and say they’re not happy if they’re not happy he’s coming,” Whaley told reporters.

What’s he gonna do, toss boxes of Band-Aids?

It’s axiomatic that Trump has no capacity for empathy, and he’s going to turn this into a political rally while blaming the Democrats for exploiting the massacres for political advantage.  And in El Paso, he’ll be doing it in front of a crowd that he demonized and inspired the shooter with his hateful rhetoric.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

What We’re Up Against

Trying to have an intelligent conversation about what to do about guns is kind of hard when you’re up against this kind of rank stupidity and hatred.

In a laundry list of reasons why the United States is grappling with mass killings, an Ohio state lawmaker has settled on immigrants, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, disrespect toward veterans and “drag queen advocates.”

Candice Keller, a Republican state representative from Middletown, near Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed early Sunday, offered her diagnosis on her personal Facebook page, the Dayton Daily News reported. On Monday, the state leader of her own party called for her to resign.

“Candice Keller’s Facebook post was shocking and utterly unjustifiable,” Jane Timken, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Keller’s post came only hours after the Dayton shooting, as the nation still reeled from the Saturday mass killing of 22 people in El Paso and the discovery of an anti-immigrant, white nationalist manifesto believed to have been written by that alleged gunman.

[…]

Her list also included fatherless upbringing, violent video games and two arguments that conservatives have leveled at former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — that kneeling protests over police brutality are insults to both law enforcement and veterans.

[…]

Keller also blamed President Barack Obama for “disrespect to law enforcement,” along with Democratic lawmakers, public schools and “snowflakes, who can’t accept a duly-elected President.” Her post was later either removed from view or deleted.

To be fair, the reason this rant is making the news is because she’s a duly elected representative to the Ohio legislature, not some urine-soaked tin-foil-hat wearing homeless person living under an overpass.  But that also means that a majority of people in her district knew what she was like — this isn’t her first rodeo — and voted for her anyway, which says a lot more about the people of Middletown than it does about her.

No one said this would be easy, but it’s a lot harder when you’re up against this kind of nonsense.

PS: I would much rather hang out with drag queens, Colin Kaepernick, and Barack Obama than her, and I think the country would be a lot better off if we all did.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Core Values

According to the New York Times, the two shootings over the weekend that killed 29 people — 20 in El Paso and nine in Dayton, have shaken the nation to its core.

On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his own sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people.

In a country that has become nearly numb to men with guns opening fire in schools, at concerts and in churches, the back-to-back bursts of gun violence in less than 24 hours were enough to leave the public stunned and shaken. The shootings ground the 2020 presidential campaign to a halt, reignited a debate on gun control and called into question the increasingly angry words directed at immigrants on the southern border in recent weeks by right-wing pundits and President Trump.

“It’s outrageous,” said Terrion Foster, who works in accounting and lives in Kansas City, Mo., where he was out shopping at a farmer’s market near downtown on Sunday afternoon. “It’s really sad because I feel like you can’t go anywhere and be safe. I’m 50 years old and I didn’t think I’d be alive to see some of the things that are going on today.”

The shootings prompted Republicans, including Mr. Trump, to condemn the gunmen’s actions and offer support to the people of Dayton and El Paso. Democrats urged Congress to take action and pass stricter gun laws. “We have a responsibility to the people we serve to act,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

I would really like to believe that the massacres this weekend will be the final straw.  That finally the NRA and their Republican minions along with the rest of the gun lobbyists realize that enough is enough and something really has to be done to not just deal with the proliferation of weapons that can be purchased legally, but with the mindset that one amendment to the Constitution outweighs all the others.

But if the slaughter of kindergartners in Connecticut and a shooting spree at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and a garlic festival in Gilroy and on and on and on, going back in a year, a decade, and a century didn’t do anything but generate thoughts and prayers and blaming outside agitators like violent video games — which are just as popular in Canada and Australia and Great Britain and Japan but have fewer deaths from guns in a year than we have in a weekend — or nebulous catch-phrases like “mental health” — again, also existing in other places without the same carnage — then why should the headlines and the BREAKING NEWS and the shock and horror result in anything more than what we’ve seen for the last fifty years?

We have already heard and will continue to hear that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” which is one of of those phrases that is meant to deflect our attention until the next shiny object pops up on Facebook or Instagram and the dead are buried and the debris swept away.  But when someone says that now is not the time, it reveals their core value, which is to say that there is never the time because to do so would mean they truly have to tell the truth: that they view human life as expendable in favor of some mythology that the right to keep and bear arms is the only core value we have, setting aside the rest of those that this idea of a nation were built on: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  They are absolute in their grasp of one amendment to the detriment of all others, and like other fundamentalists, never allow for any other interpretation.  And when you pose the obvious rejoinder — When is the time to talk about gun control? — they will, in some way, shape, or form, tell you Never.

If we are truly shaken to our core, than we can expect to see a massive uprising in this nation the likes we have never seen before and action from our representatives in such a way that would truly change the world we live in.  If we can outlaw child pornography and saying “fuck” on national networks in contravention of the First Amendment; if the Supreme Court can waive the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the hunt for terrorists; if we can consider the death penalty to be within the limits of the Eighth Amendment, and if citizenship can be questioned in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, then what makes the Second sacrosanct?

As long as our core values make it acceptable to slaughter people in a shopping mall and claim that the uninfringed right to own the tool that did the job is one of those core values as well, the nation will go on being bewildered, and people will still die.

Sunday, August 4, 2019