Civil War

Need some cinematic therapy? This film should do it for you. A fascist president refuses to leave the White House and claims a third term. You already know the story, but to improve your mental health you need to see the ending. The last fifteen minutes of this film are priceless. The problem is that, as the credits start to roll, you realize that in the real world it’s not over.

This film was released in April and had been streaming for several weeks at a cost of $20 to $30. When the rental price came down to $5.99 from Apple, I finally watched it. There may be other streaming sources as well.

Some reviewers accused this film of holding back on the politics. I don’t think that’s the case at all. It’s clear enough who’s who. The rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 81/70, which no doubt means that right-wingers took offense and voted down the audience rating.

Now what?

John F. Kennedy’s funeral, November 24, 1963. Less than five years later, Kennedy’s brother also will be dead. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It’s all so predictable. As Democrats, liberals, and all responsible people hasten to condemn political violence, the worst type of Republicans rush in with yet more violent rhetoric to blame Democrats and liberals and thereby — knowingly and intentionally — to encourage more political violence, as they have been doing for years, because they understand very well who it is who benefits from chaos.

Though some Republicans did respond with the usual “thoughts and prayers” after gun violence, from others it was hell fire and damnation.

“Biden sent the orders,” said a Republican member of the U.S. House from Georgia. I cringe to imagine what other conspiracy theories are flooding right-wing social media right now.

J.D. Vance, who hopes to be Trump’s candidate for vice president and who obviously hopes to profit from what happened, said, “Today is not just some isolated incident. The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs. That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.”

Frank Pavone, a right-wing activist and former Catholic priest, said, “We recall the words that President Trump always says to us: It’s not that they are coming after him,” Pavone said. “They are coming after us — all of us — he’s just standing in the way.”

We already were in a state of chaos because of the media’s feeding frenzy over Biden’s age and mental state. The powerful images from the Trump rally in Pennsylvania will amplify the MAGA lust for scapegoats and for retribution for their loss in 2020.

I have no idea where things stand now. In such a state of chaos, few things are predictable other than the likelihood that nothing good will come of it.

The delusional conservative mind

Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Ross Douthat has another head-scratcher of a column today in the New York Times, in vague and inconcise language as always. It’s “Do the Democrats Really Think Trump is an Emergency?” I had to reread it twice (ouch!) to even figure out what he’s trying to say. (William F. Buckley and George Will taught conservative writers that pompous writing sounds smart.) But I think that what Douthat is trying to say is that, if Democrats really think Trump is dangerous, then Democrats would make big concessions to Republicans to try to win them away from Trump.

Has Douthat forgotten that Democrats gave Republicans pretty much everything they wanted in bipartisan immigration legislation, but that it was Republicans who killed the legislation, because Trump wanted them to? As NBC News wrote, “But Trump’s hammering of the deal, while he uses immigration as a campaign issue, and his demands that Republicans reject it won the day.” Or what about the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed 69-30 in the Senate and 228-206 in the House? It’s not that infrastructure was a concession to Republicans, it’s that Republicans touted “Infrastructure Week” the entire time Trump occupied the White House, but it was Democrats under Biden who eventually got it done.

Just what kind of concessions from Democrats does Douthat have in mind, then? Is Douthat’s memory faulty about the concessions that Democrats have made (or offered), or is it that he thinks ours is? Does Douthat think that Democrats are ever going to make concessions to the likes of the right-wing crazies who have paralyzed the House, or, heaven help us, to Trump?

I’m very serious about using the word “delusional,” which means holding false beliefs or judgments about external reality. Douthat’s model of external reality is highly defective here, both in what he conveniently forgets and in what he foolishly imagines any politically or morally sane person ought to concede to people who are not sane, politically or morally. Douthat never suggests any particular concessions. He only repeats the false notion that Democrats keep moving to the left, apparently never having bothered to read the Democratic Party’s platform.

Every time in the past when some pissed-off conservative has attempted to lecture me for being a liberal, I have observed that they have no idea what I think or what my principles are. Rather, what they think I think is what right-wing propaganda has told them that liberals think. It’s a simple tale, designed to be self-evidently stupid, and designed to enrage conservatives. I don’t expect to ever meet a conservative — even an educated one like Douthat — who is capable of actually understanding, and representing honestly, what liberals actually think. I should hasten to add here that not all liberals think alike, and that when liberals organize politically, we organize into coalitions. Though what liberal college students think matters, the thinking of liberal college students, still in their intellectually formative years, would be much easier to target and demonize than the sources, the histories, the examples, the values, and the philosophies on which most liberals actually base their principles and their politics.

Douthat misunderstands, or misrepresents, external reality because arguing for conservative ideas leaves him no choice. I am still waiting to encounter a conservative mind that can unconvince me of my observation that conservatives lie about things (or misrepresent things, if you prefer a milder word) because defending the indefensible is impossible. They lie, even to themselves, because they have to lie. They could be honest and say that they want to return to aristocracy, or put an end to democracy, or preserve the “traditional” hierarchies of race and sex and caste, of privilege and peonage, of lords and serfs and oligarchs, of dominance and submission. A few even do. But being too honest about what conservatives actually want to do with power won’t get you into the New York Times, or win many elections, in France or even Alabama.

Update 1: We’ve normalized this kind of absurdity, though we shouldn’t. On the same day that the New York Times is running conservative nonsense like the Douthat column above, they’re also running this: “Unbowed by Jan. 6 Charges, Republicans Pursue Plans to Contest a Trump Defeat: Mr. Trump’s allies are preparing to try to short-circuit the election system, if he does not win.”

So we’re expected to make concessions to the people who would bring us this kind of Trumpian emergency — trying to short-circuit the election system, again? Is it too much to expect that Republicans make some concessions to the law, to the Constitution, and to the very democracy that has enriched them and that goes much too far in trying to tolerate them and satisfy them?

There are not enough editors in the world, I’m afraid, to keep conservative “voices” like Douthat’s from trying to gaslight us. Mr. Douthat can write whatever he wants, but no one is required to publish it.

Update 2: While we’re talking about concessions to Republicans, let’s not overlook this, in case you missed it.

Mark Robinson is the Republican candidate for governor of North Carolina. He was caught on video saying, “Some folks need killing. It’s time for somebody to say it. It’s not a matter of vengeance. It’s not a matter of being mean or spiteful. It’s a matter of necessity!” Robinson was introduced by a preacher, who said, “Who’s behind President Biden, and that administration? Is it Obama. Is it Clinton? Read your Bible. It is the Devil.”

The Washington Post today rounds up some of this lovely conservative thinking today in “Pro-Trump Christian extremists use scripture to justify violent goals.”

The post writes:

“At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, a right-wing conclave now dominated by pro-Trump factions, far-right conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, onstage with Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon, welcomed the crowd ‘to the end of democracy.’

“‘We’re here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it with this,’ Posobiec told the audience, holding up a cross.

“‘Amen,’ Bannon said.”

Almost ice cream

You do have an ice cream machine, don’t you? They actually work, and they’re not very expensive.

I’d be lying if I claimed that I can make a frozen dessert that’s just as good as ice cream but healthier. But it’s possible to make satisfactory substitutes, and with less work, too. Making real ice cream is a big job. You have to cook a custard, then chill it for hours, then freeze it. And the ingredients are heart-stoppers — egg yolks, cream, and sugar.

Bananas work remarkably well to make no-cream ice cream smoother and less icy. The ice cream in the photo is made from a banana, some dried dates, plain soybean milk, a touch of nutmeg, and a few drops of vanilla. Whiz it in the blender, then put the mixture in the ice cream machine.

The mystery of ketoprofen

I don’t often use medications, but there is one — now hard to get — that is like a miracle for me. It’s ketoprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which I assume, given the -profen suffix, is a relative of medications such as ibuprofen.

Back in the 1990s, ketoprofen was available without a prescription. It was sold over the counter as Orudis KT. In my working days, I often had tension headaches. Aspirin, acetominophen, and ibuprofen would barely touch my headaches. One day I saw a TV commercial for Orudis KT, advertising it as a miracle headache remedy. I went out and bought some.

One Orudis KT tablet was a tiny 12.5 milligrams. For comparison, one aspirin is 325mg, one acetominophen tablet is 500mg, and one ibuprofen tablet, such as Aleve, is 220mg. I could take one Orudis KT tablet for a worst-case headache, and 30 minutes later I’d forget I ever had a headache. There were never any side effects. I called them my “little green pills,” and people I worked with would often come to me to beg for one if they had a headache. How could a tiny 12.5 milligrams of something be so effective?

Then in 2005 Orudis KT was taken off the over-the-counter market and was available only by prescription. Clearly I was not the only person who found it remarkably effective. Some of the last remaining bottles of it sold for very high prices on eBay — $30, $40, $50 and more. After that I couldn’t get Orudis KT anymore.

A few years ago a friend in California gave me some ketoprofen that his doctor had prescribed after surgery. Each capsule was a ridiculous 200mg, more ketoprofen than I would ever dare — or need — to take. A few capsules lasted me several years. I’d open the capsule and take out just enough of the powder to come to 12.5 milligrams. Then that ran out.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my doctor if he’d prescribe some ketoprofen, just so I’d have it for minor aches and pains. I told him how effective it was in small doses and said, “Surely I’d be better off with 12.5 milligrams of ketroprofen rather than 220 milligrams of ibuprofen?” He agreed. He also said that he didn’t know why the drug company took it off the over-the-counter market, but his guess was that it was a way of making more money from it. “Most people don’t know about ketoprofen,” my doctor said. I believe ketoprofen is much better known in Europe and Canada than in the U.S.

When I took the prescription to the drug store, they didn’t have ketoprofen. The pharmacist said they had not stocked it for years and that it was available only in bulk in far larger quantities than the pharmacy would ever be able to sell. The pharmacist referred me to a “compounding pharmacy,” a specialized sort of pharmacy that mixes drugs and doses to order, particularly drugs that are not common. I got my ketoprofen!

From Googling I’ve learned that ketoprofen is very much used as a veterinary drug, particularly in cattle. It is very effective for fever and respiratory diseases in cattle, as well as for mastitis. This has been a problem in a few countries in Asia, including India and Bangladesh. There are about ten NSAID drugs which, when given to cattle, and if one of the cattle dies out in the open from whatever it’s being treated for, and if a vulture then eats it, the vulture’s kidneys may be fatally damaged. Apparently it’s only Asian vultures that are susceptible. Ketoprofen is actually used as a veterinary drug with chickens, ducks, and quail, as well as pet birds such as parakeets. As far as I know, no species of animal in the U.S. or Europe is harmed by ketoprofen.

Envying the U.K.

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click here for high-resolution version.

It felt a little like Christmas morning to wake up today to the news that Britain’s Labour Party has swept the Conservative Party out of power, reducing the number of Tory seats in Parliament to its lowest number ever. At last, the ghost of Margaret Thatcher has been exorcized. Though there have been two Labour governments in the U.K. since Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Thatcher’s neoliberalism has been the governing philosophy since 1979.

Here in the U.S., President Biden has done much to lay neoliberalism to rest, though our foolish political media, interested only in political conflict rather than government, have had very little to say about it. Biden’s accomplishments are particularly notable in light of a Congress nearly paralyzed by a right wing desperate to take the U.S. back to the days of the Confederacy.

Though most of the political work of reversing neoliberalism and Thatcherism remains to be done, the intellectual work is solid. I am reading Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, The Road to Freedom: Economics and the Good Society, and will write about it later. Stiglitz drives a stake into the zombie heart of neoliberal dogma. It’s a book that I hope policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic are reading. Now is a good time to become familiar with the thinking (and proposals) of progressive economists, the better to judge what Britain’s Labour Party does now that they have pretty much unchallengeable power, with 412 seats in Parliament compared with the Conservative Party’s ever-so-humiliating 112.

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party lost 38 seats and retains only nine seats in the British Parliament. And in France, it’s looking like the French are going to have to learn about right-wing governments the hard way, like the United Kingdom did. And here in the U.S., we are now in a state of complete chaos and unpredictability until the Democratic Party decides what to do about President Biden. At least in Britain people can sleep easier now.

C.J. Sansom’s Shardrake novels

Novels don’t have to be masterpieces to be worthwhile, especially if, like me, you read for escape and thus prefer novels that are set in another time and another place rather than the here and now. C.J. Sansom (who died in April), was very popular, as he deserves to be.

Sansom’s Shardrake character is a solicitor in London during the time of Henry VIII. Shardrake is a hunchback, accustomed to being stared at and made fun of, though he is a gentleman. Sansom’s plots are mysteries, and they tend to be a little wooly and complicated, as they need to be if a novel goes on for more than 600 pages. But what I like best about the Shardrake novels (I have read five of them and will read the other two) is Sansom’s evocation of Tudor England. We travel all over London on foot, on horseback, and in boats on the Thames. Sovereign takes us to Yorkshire, by horse on the way up from London and by ship on the way back. Heartstone takes us to Portsmouth in July of 1545, a date you’ll be familiar with if you know what happened to Henry’s beloved ship the Mary Rose.

Sansom reminds me a bit of Winston Graham, though Sansom is not nearly as good a writer as Graham. Like Graham’s Poldark character, Shardrake is a man ahead of his time who loves justice rather than power. That is a danger. Sansom makes it quite clear how dangerous the Tudor period was, not only for those close to the court who lost their heads, but also for the ordinary people who got crossways with a divided church that was just as cruel and dangerous as Henry. Historians give estimates that vary widely, but it seems that 57,000 to 72,000 people were executed while Henry VIII was king. Sansom’s Henry VIII is a repulsive character. Other characters such as Thomas Cromwell are more complex.

At the risk of making everything political, Sansom reminds us (as does Winston Graham) how hard it can be to be ahead of the times one lives in. We are joined to such people in the past by a kind of invisible thread. We identify with them. There can be no real compensation for those who lived through the many horrors of history. Historical novels serve an important purpose by helping us to never forget.

Good government gets little attention

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, was in the backwater city of Winston-Salem yesterday for the groundbreaking on a small project backed by the Department of Transportation — a $4.8 million pathway for bicycles and pedestrians that will link downtown with the city’s medical center. That’s small potatoes as transportation projects go. But Buttigieg is a hard-working guy.

In the turmoil that has arisen over President Biden’s debate performance last week, Buttigieg is one of the people mentioned as Biden’s replacement. Buttigieg is a wonk, a highly effective secretary of transportation, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, and a Rhodes scholar. I was happy to stand out in the July sun to see him in action.

Earlier in the day, both Buttigieg and Governor Cooper were in Raleigh for the start of a bigger project. That’s a railway project that will connect Raleigh to Richmond and then onward to Washington and beyond.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, while in Raleigh Buttigieg dinged Trump without naming him: “Every one of those projects — and the 57,000 others that are funded, and counting, through President Biden’s infrastructure package — is really about one simple purpose, which is to make everyday life easier for the American people. … I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this is in contrast to what we’ve seen before, a prior administration that declared ‘Infrastructure Week’ every year without any results until it became a punch line, a byword for all talk and no action.”

Events like this force the local media to turn out whether they want to or not. The backwater media would much rather be writing about chicken sandwiches, petty real estate deals, and third-tier chefs in crummy and overpriced local eateries that won’t last a year.

Roy Cooper, governor of North Carolina

An Omega-3 sustainability quandary

I recently came across an Omega-3 factoid — that mackerel contains almost twice as much Omega-3 as sardines. The truth is, I don’t really like either of them but see them as medicine. With mackerel, probably the richest source of Omega-3, there is a sustainability question.

There are many types of mackerel, caught in many different places. The smaller the mackerel, the lower it is in the food chain, making it less likely to contain contaminants. King Oscar says that its skinless and boneless mackerel is caught in the North Atlantic between Norway and the Faroe Islands. That sounds like a place with pretty clean water. But, according to the Marine Conservation Society, overfishing has caused a decline in the populations of North Atlantic mackerel.

Walnuts are an excellent source of Omega-3, and I already eat a lot of them. Another way to boost one’s intake of Omega-3 from walnuts is to use a toasted walnut oil as a seasoning. La Tourangelle’s roasted walnut oil isn’t all that expensive, as premium oils go, and a tablespoon of it contains 1.4 grams of Omega-3. It’s made from California walnuts. It’s very good in homemade dressings. You can get it from Amazon.

Eventually I’ll use all of the six cans of King Oscar mackerel that I bought. Other than that, I think I’ll stick with walnuts and walnut oil.

⬆︎ Pasta salad with walnuts, celery, onion, cherry tomatoes, chopped dried figs, and raisins, with a dressing of roasted walnut oil, honey, and a dash of vinegar.

⬆︎ The mackerel looks kind of gross, doesn’t it? The pesto (with lots of garlic) helps mask the (to me) unpleasant taste of the mackerel.