We Like Cletus

BREAKING NEWS: A professor named Evan Mandery went on a Cletus Safari and found he liked Cletus. A lot.

“I’ll give you an A,” I say. “All you have to do is designate someone to get an F.”

The other students laugh nervously while Forrest considers the deal.

I’ve asked this question at the beginning of every semester for over 20 years, mostly to liberal northeasterners at Harvard and the City University of New York. It’s a good starting point because it tends to show commonality. The beginning of ethical thinking is to accept that other people’s interests matter. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone take me up on my offer.

But I’ve come here seeking difference, not similarity. The 2016 election exposed a national rift so deep that it feels as if even reasonable conversation is impossible. I’m a liberal New Yorker, but I know that plenty of people on both sides of the political spectrum worry that this divide poses an existential threat to the American democratic project. On the most controversial issues—race and immigration, to name just two—we’ve lost the capacity for compromise because we presume the most sinister motives about our opponents. I’ve arrived here in the fall of 2018, hoping to find a wider range of views—not to change anyone’s opinions but rather to see whether there remain principles and a shared language of ethics that bind us together.

Like all Cletus safaris this one manages to both coddle and condescend to conservative white people. Like all Cletus safaris, the unspoken message is that it is the job of coastal liberals to center their feelings, to understand them better.

I’m here to translate the translator, because, wow is he full of shit. On the surface, App possesses all the hallmarks of the American academy—a grassy quad framed by a student union, dining hall and library. Kiosks beckon students to concerts and club meetings. But underground run a pair of pedestrian tunnels, connecting the east and west campuses, that have been designated as free speech havens. These dank passageways are filled with graffiti—most of the messages are positive, but the students tell me that a swastika was painted there last October and then quickly painted over by other students. When I visit, the space feels sinister, but also strangely healthy—a messy marketplace of ideas that I like to think portends open-mindedness.

TRANSLATION: As a middle-aged white man, I am not overly bothered by overt racism.

But Boone is a little blue island in a sea of red.

TRANSLATION: I sabotaged this experiment so it would give me the results I wanted.

“You kill the one person,” he says without hesitation.

Jackson is wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a Carhartt shirt. His baseball cap, which he got on a trip to Yellowstone, displays the outline of a bison and mountains. In the discussion of grades, Jackson was the one who said that everyone deserved equal opportunity. I remind him of this, but he’s ready with a distinction: “In this situation you don’t have a choice—somebody has to die, so it goes beyond equal opportunity and becomes what this outcome is going to be.” It’s clear that Jackson will be a force. The distinction he’s drawing is smart—no one had to get an F in my first example, but, more importantly, it’s clear that he likes this kind of intellectual jousting.

TRANSLATION: I really like Jackson–his cowboy boots, his jaunty baseball cap, his strong jawline…I’m sorry, where were we?

But Jackson once again stands out. He says he’d kill his mom or even a baby if it meant saving more lives. “I mean, someone has to die either way and I’m fine putting my life—even if I had to spend the rest of my life in prison or whatever it is—to save the five versus the one.”

I haven’t known Jackson for long, but I believe that he would sacrifice himself for the greater good, and I can see that his classmates believe it too. Even if they don’t share his willingness to throw the switch on a family member, they see him as principled, not cruel.

TRANSLATION: OMFG JACKSON IS SO COOL!

It’s a type of selflessness and consistency that seems lacking in contemporary discourse, in which people are too willing to prioritize what’s politically expedient over fundamental values. It’s what feels wrong, for example, about liberal intolerance of dissenting speech, especially on campus, or the rush to punish alleged sexual predators without due process.

TRANSLATION: I’m not really liberal.

Graham explains that the libertarian cognitive style is cerebral rather than emotional.

Hi, it’s just me here. This is bullshit of the first order, since we all informed by emotions all the time.

But as is becoming increasingly apparent, the cool-headed libertarian in my classroom who’s willing to sacrifice his mother for the greater good doesn’t fit neatly into any of these circles.

It occurs to me that if America is going to come together, it’s going to have to reckon with Jackson Cooter.

TRANSLATION: I LOVE JACKSON.

Strikingly, Jackson’s defense of gun ownership never once mentions a love of guns. He’s a “little-d” democrat who wants a super-process in place in case democracy, as his classmate Cole puts it, “fails to work or provide any meaningful benefits.” Resolving the ambiguity of for whom it’s supposed to work and who’s supposed to decide when change within the system is futile might be impossible, but it’s important to recognize the argument for what it is. It’s not about guns for the sake of guns, it’s about protecting civil liberties, and it’s deeply ethical.

TRANSLATION: What is disingenuousness? Should I be teaching?

Imagine if care were taken to frame the discussion not as outsiders trying to impose their will on people whose culture they did not understand, but rather as one among people with a shared interest in protecting the safety of their children.

Just me here: OMG OMG OMG how does this man continue to survive outside of his home?

“I do understand the quality of life argument, and the mother and father’s ability to raise a child from an economic standpoint.” Jackson’s focus is on paternal responsibility—“if I had a child, my father would slit my throat if I ever jokingly said that I was going to leave that child”—and reducing abortions—“I’m interested in seeing free birth control. There’s not enough emphasis on that.” He has no interest in punishing women.

Almost no one does.

TRANSLATION: I have forgotten how to breathe bye-bye

I hope we never find out who the whistleblower was

When gamergate was going strong the people who organized the “movement” purposely decided not to make anyone the “leader” of it. The reason they did this was not because of some sense of democracy but because they knew that any leader of their movement would inevitably be labeled a dumpster fire and loon and it would do a lot to discredit gamergate. It was smart, because instead of gamergate instantly being labelled nothing more than a coordinated harassment campaign, people couldn’t get their arms around a titular leader or focal point, and there were endless, credulous articles asking “What IS Gamergate?”

So that the whistleblower remains anonymous during this gamergate presidency makes me infinitely happy–giddy really. It’s going to drive Trump and his supporters nuts. Goddess willing, the whisteblower will remain secret for a full Felt, and Trump and his allies will have no one to hone in on and direct their impotent rage.

Turnabout is a bitch. 

vacuumslayer on Taibbi on Trump

There a couple of things I don’t like about Taibbi’s take on the upcoming election. I’m uncomfortable with his tone–which at times seems to betray a barely-disguised admiration of Trump. I also don’t know you reconcile accusing Dems of being Debbie Downers, while making an exhaustive list of Trump’s most infuriating and disgusting characteristics and titling it “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.”

The average American likes meat, sports, money, porn, cars, cartoons, and shopping. Less popular: socialism, privilege-checking, and the world ending in 10 years. Ironically, perhaps because of Trump, Democratic Party rhetoric in 2020 is relentlessly negative about the American experience. Every speech is a horror story about synagogue massacres or people dying without insulin or atrocities at the border. Republicans who used to complain about liberals “apologizing for America” were being silly, but 2020 Democrats sound like escapees from the Killing Fields.

*Spiderman points at himself gif*

And–my god–I won’t even touch that “average American” shit with a hazmat glove on.

History will judge us harshly for this, and will look with particular venom at Trump’s political opponents in both parties, who over the years were unable to win popularity contests against a man most people would not leave alone with a decent wristwatch, let alone their children.

This would seem to be a voters problem and not so much a “politicians on both sides *jerk off motion*” problem.  The meanest, dumbest man on the planet rode up on his giant clown bike, juggling shit and buckets of fried of chicken and 40 percent of the American people said “Yes. I’ll have that.”

Hate it say but Taibbi gets a lot right about our current political moment. I think he captures perfectly the fecklessness of Democrats and just general rank and file Dem voters (hi, I’m one of those!). Trump makes a puppy snuff film and and we fume and ask “Can you believe Trump murdered a puppy?!” and point to a list detailing the 5,793 lies he told on Wednesday and 40% of the country goes “So what?” And the media starts chasing his next scandal, probably something involving using endangered species for his Trump Grille taco bowls… And we all huff and puff and he and his supporters just sit back and laugh.

 

Nobody draws bigger catcalls than the “fake” news media. Trump knows this and pauses to let the bile rise. He expresses pleasure at being back in “the American heart land,” which he pronounces as if he’s just learned the term.

He then reflects on his 2016 run, when hordes of people turned out to send him to D.C., from places he, Trump, would never have visited, except maybe by plane crash.

“You came from the mountains and the valleys and the rivers, and, uh, you came for —” He seems to not know what comes after rivers. “I mean, look, you came from wherever you came from, and there were a lot of you.”

He ends up telling a story about early voting in Tennessee in 2016, and a congressman who told him if the whole country was voting like this, he was going to win by a lot. “And we won,” he says. “And we won by a lot.”

Press accounts will call this a lie, and of course it is, and even the crowd knows it. But they cheer anyway. In response, Trump stops and does his trademark stump flourish, turning sideways to flash his iguanoid profile before stalking around the lectern in resplendent, obese glory, inviting all to Get a load of me!

It’s indulgent, absurd, narcissistic, and appalling, unless you’re a Trump fan, in which case it’s hilarious, a continuation of the belly laughs that began in many parts of America with Hillary Clinton’s concession speech.

Trump crowds have changed. At the beginning of 2016, trying to pull quotes out of Trump rallies was like stopping a bunch of straight men who’d just whacked each other off behind a trailer. They didn’t want to talk about it.

As time progressed, the crowd’s profile widened. You met union members, veterans, and where it got weird was the stream of people who appeared to be neither traditional Republicans nor, seemingly, interested in politics at all. Among both young and old, people turned out who had no conception of Trump as anything but a TV star. This second group’s numbers seemed to have swelled.

It’s just that sometimes I get the feeling Taibbi’s laughing along with them.

Instant Pots Are Witchcraft

61u3-ls-21L._SX700_Yesterday I was looking for a way to use up a big package of ground beef and figured I’d make some Bolognese sauce. It’s a specialty of mine. Unfortunately, I did not have any beef stock in the pantry, so I changed course and decided I’d just make some sort of pasta sauce with beef, bacon (to add a little bit of smokiness) and lots of mushrooms. Sounds decent, right?

Unfortunately my instant pot’s browning feature sucks ass. There’s not a huge amount of surface area and it doesn’t get super-hot. So when I was sautéing everything–beef, bacon,  onions, mushrooms–as the base of my sauce, everything ended up kind of watery. There was NO browning happening. (I was too lazy to transfer it to the stovetop.) When I dumped in some decent-quality jarred marinara and some extra crushed tomatoes, along with some oregano and a bit of Pecorino I expected the resulting sauce to be a study in mediocrity–watery and flavorless. Instead it was delicious.

I don’t know what the hell is going on in that pressure cooker, but frankly I think it’s the work of the devil and it’s scaring me. I’ve made 3 things in the Instant Pot and each dish tasted amazing, seasoned almost to the point of being over-seasoned…but somehow not. Somehow just intensely-flavored and remarkably savory. Hold me, friends, I’m scared.

Happy Thoughts

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As I was scrolling through the television guide this morning I happened upon one of my favorite Futurama episodes. It’s one with a scene that is etched in my mind: Bender training to become an Iron Chef by peeling potatoes to the tune of “You’re the Best.”

Is there a scene or line from Futurama that always makes you laugh?

The Day Twitter Broke Me

I’ve made grand proclamations about leaving twitter before, but this time feels different. I’m not leaving-leaving. I’m not NEVER going to visit. I just plan on spending lots less time there because I think the site really does take a toll on my mental and physical well-being.

I knew I was tapping out when the day Epstein news broke the site became awash in conspiracies linking him to…the Clintons. (When it’s obvious his more relevant connections are to the the Rapist-in-Chief.) And the thing is I knew it was coming. I knew that even some pockets of the “want free stuff but reactionary in most other ways left” would traffic in that bullshit. Still I read. And while I was reading something in me broke. And something told me when I logged off it would be for real this time.

It’s one thing to spend hours and hours scrolling through tweets that makes you laugh or smile. It’s another to spend hours contemplating how you can’t wait for an asteroid to come kill everyone on earth over the age of 15.

So I am re-focusing my attention on my art, on my cooking,  on reading actual news, actual books, on learning rather than seething. And now–my blog! Welcome to it.