Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Fatal Flaw In the Briefing Memorandum For The Current Occupant Of The Oval Office Was That It Did Not Begin With The Magic Words: "(Pretty Please With Sugar On It) Do Not Mention The Recent Russian Election When You Speak With Your Besty Vlad"

The Clown Act in the White House just goes on and on with a life of its own. A staffer (or staffers?) leaked the opening sentence in the recent briefing paper prepared for the current occupant of the Oval Office prior to a phone call to Moscow: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” Of course, the secrecy train had already left the station because the occupant made a congratulatory phone call to the President of the Russian Federation following the unexpected landslide victory achieved by his Besty (Vlad). If this is a (fair & balanced) revelation of electoral corruption, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
The Strange Tale Of Trump's Phone Call To Putin
By David A. Graham

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That was the instruction that President Donald Trump received on briefing materials before he called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss Putin’s victory in a reelection widely regarded as corrupt.

But Trump did congratulate Putin, and he also declined to bring up the recent poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in London, a crime that the British government blames on the Kremlin. As I wrote on Tuesday, Trump’s reaction was somewhat out of the mainstream of American reaction when autocratic rulers win election, but not entirely apart. Barack Obama called Putin following his 2012 election victory, but waited several days before doing so, while the U.S. government criticized election regularities.

The difference can be partly explained by Trump’s disdain for this type of subtle diplomatic dig, and his partiality to grand gestures. But given Trump’s history with Russia, the statement sticks out. That history includes the president’s long history of complimentary statements about Putin; his notable reluctance to attribute electoral interference to Russia; Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’s tortured avoidance of statements critical of Russia, including her refusal Tuesday to say that the election was not free and fair; and of course the ongoing investigations into interference in the election, including the admissions by former Trump aides that they lied about conversations with the Russians.

One of the enduring characteristics of Donald Trump’s short but high-flying political career has been his ability to put behind him stories that would have sunk any other candidate. A news item that would dominate headlines for months in any other presidency can barely last through a day or two before it gets subsumed. (Case in point: Remember that time that Trump told Russian officials that firing “that nut job [James] Comey” took pressure off him? It’s largely forgotten, less than a year later.) The sheer volume of news is one part of that—there are just so many enormous stories—but the progress of the story of Trump’s congratulatory phone call to Putin seems like a useful case study in how a story quickly degrades from a novel one about substance (Trump’s dubious call to Putin) to one about process (how did this happen?) until it becomes just another typical Trump story.

First came the phone call, described in a brief White House readout and confirmed by Trump during a Tuesday afternoon appearance with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Then came Sanders’s weird press briefing.

Later in the evening on Tuesday, The Washington Post added a significant new piece of information: The president had been warned, in all caps, not to congratulate Putin during the call. But Trump decided to do so anyway, for whatever reason—continued affection for Putin, simple contrarianism, or his well-known aversion to actually reading briefing materials, or anything else.

Then, Wednesday morning, crack Axios reporter Jonathan Swan reported that “One of the most startling leaks—and stunning revelations—of this whole administration has left President Trump and his senior staff furious and rattled.” Is this one of the most stunning revelations of this administration? That certainly seems arguable. In any case, Swan continued, “The speed and sensitivity of the leak prompted immediate finger-pointing within the administration, as aides reeled from a leak that could only have come from a small group of people, each of whom is trusted with sensitive national secrets.”

This is interesting reporting—one certainly can’t fault Swan for publishing new details about what’s going on inside the White House—but it’s also where the slippage starts to appear. Suddenly a story about Trump’s weird approach to Russia has become a story about White House backbiting and disorganization, which is hardly fresh.

The Axios scoop opened up a whole flood of new information.

“Trump was fuming Tuesday night, asking his allies and outside advisers who they thought had leaked the information, noting that only a small group of staffers have access to those materials and would have known what guidance was included for the Putin call, the source said,” CNN reported. Another official told CNN—anonymously, ironically enough, “If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the President’s briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal.”

On the one hand, this is true: The universe of people who ought to have access to his briefing materials is small, and if one of them chose to leak about them to the press, that’s eye-popping, and shows the depth of doubt about the president even among his top aides.

On the other hand, this paves the way for the story to slip further into the familiar territory of internecine warfare, weaponized leaks, and fear and loathing inside the Trump West Wing.

The new iteration of the story also makes way for Trump aides to reframe Trump’s response not as some sort of strange coddling of Putin, or even as imprudent dismissal of expert advice, but simply as another example of Trump being Trump.

“This is the way Trump is. If he’s doing business with you or working with you in some way, he’s going to congratulate you,” one official told Swan. And of course, by firing back anonymously at the unknown leaker, this official is reinforcing the focus on intramural sniping.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump himself weighed in again. “I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also),” he tweeted. “The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.” But then, just as he’d shifted attention back to his outreach to Russia, he took pot-shots at his two most recent predecessors in office. “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race. Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

Intramural sniping, Trump’s refusal to take advice, disagreements between Trump aides—these are all old stories. They can briefly gain fresh energy when another weird incident, like Trump ignoring clear advice and then that fact being promptly leaked, occurs. At heart, however, they’re always going to be old stories, just more flotsam in the Trump flood. Meanwhile, the underlying substance, of the president congratulating Putin, sinks into the muddied waters. # # #

[David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers US politics and global news. He previously edited The Atlantic's politics section and has reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National. Graham received a BA (history) from Duke University (NC).]

Copyright © 2018 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Today, Meet Some Strong Young Women In South Texas And ¡Paseo! (Ride!)

Helpful(?) Suggestion: While reading this essay, it would be helpful to open another browser window with Google Translate or a preferred equivalent to quickly translate Spanish words and terms into English.

That said, today's essay with a unique group of equestriennes in South Texas: Escaramuceras compete in this all-female sport within charrería—the Mexican equivalent of rodeo—that combines strength with beauty on horseback. If this is a (fair & balanced) demonstration of multiculturalism, so be it.

[x TO]
Ride Like A Girl
By Rose Cahalan

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¡Otra vez!” shouts Jimmy Ayala. “Do it again.” In the fading light, eight teenage girls on horseback gallop toward each other head-on. At the last possible moment, just when a collision seems inevitable, they turn ever so slightly, and the knot of horses and riders untangles into a seamless line. Each horse passes so close by its neighbor that their tails nearly touch. Then the riders disperse into a wide circle around the perimeter of the lienzo (arena), slowing to a trot. Ayala breathes a sigh of relief or frustration — it’s hard to tell which. “Not good enough,” he says. “Otra vez, faster this time.” He pauses to mop sweat from his brow with a baseball cap before they begin again. “¡Va!

It’s the fifth time the riders of Las Coronelas, an escaramuza team, have repeated this particular maneuver, called a cruce (cross), during an April 19 practice at the San Antonio Charro Ranch, and it won’t be the last. The team has only four days left to prepare for a performance before a crowd of 1,000 as part of San Antonio’s citywide Fiesta celebration. According to Ayala, their coach and the father of two riders, they aren’t ready yet. “Right now, we’re OK, but not where we need to be,” he says. “We’ll get there.”

Escaramuza means “skirmish,” an etymology that pays tribute to the women who fought alongside men during the Mexican Revolution. The sport is sometimes described as ballet on horseback, though that analogy doesn’t fully capture its danger and speed. Las Coronelas and other all-female precision riding teams perform daredevil maneuvers at full gallop, without helmets or other protective gear. Escaramuza is the only women’s event within charrería, or traditional Mexican rodeo, and it’s little-known outside the Hispanic community. It’s also relatively young: Though charrería is more than 500 years old, escaramuza was invented in the 1950s and only became a competitive event in 1991. The sport, like the young women who carry on the tradition, is still finding its way.

Before practice, dusk settles over the quiet, wooded South San Antonio neighborhood where the charro ranch has hosted practices and competitions for more than 70 years. A screech owl trills over the faint pulse of cumbia music drifting from a barbecue nearby. In jeans, T-shirt and dusty boots, María-Salomé González brushes the glossy chestnut coat of her horse, Pilón, outside his stall. He’s 12 years old, and she’s 13, “so we’ve pretty much grown up together,” she says.

González started riding at age 4. According to family lore, her great-grandfather once rustled cattle from Texas to Mexico to start his own ranch. “I love that I’m continuing something my family has been doing for centuries,” González says. “It’s my escape, my outlet.” Explaining the sport to white friends can take some time, she notes. “When I tell people that this is my hobby that I love to do, they’re like, what? But that just makes it more fun. It’s all mine.” Her team, Las Adelitas, advanced to the US national competition in California and placed 10th last year.

Like all escaramuceras, González rides sidesaddle. The position is much more difficult to learn than riding astride, but González says it has become second nature. Often, sitting in the car or at her desk, she catches herself instinctively leaning to the side. But when she competes in the barrel-racing event at the San Antonio Rodeo, she rides Western-style — switching between the two modes as smoothly as she does between Spanish and English. “I like to do both, because they’re so different,” she says.

Unlike Western rodeo, charrería has no individual events. Even when the focus is on a sole competitor— as in bull riding, calf roping and steer tailing — only team scores are awarded. The sport is completely amateur, with no professionals or payouts, and style is valued over speed. Escaramuza riders are scored not just on their precision, but also on their appearance. “Our dresses have to be uniform, our jewelry has to be silver,” Lydianna Saldaña, a Las Coronelas rider, tells me. “It’s all about creating a clean, cohesive look as a team,” González adds.

Make no mistake, though: Under the heavy mascara, ruffled skirts and embroidered sombreros are serious competitors. True, escaramuceras may not perform the paso de la muerte — a death-defying trick in which a charro leaps from his own galloping horse to a bareback wild mare — but two riders told me they’d had surgery for injuries sustained from falls. A third said she’d fought anxiety to get back on the horse after being thrown during a competition. “It’s definitely an adrenaline rush,” González says, “but that’s part of the fun.”

Just under a mile from the San Antonio Charro Ranch sits Mission San José, its limestone bell tower overlooking a shady lawn. Today, camera-wielding tourists mingle with the sharply dressed crowd letting out from Sunday mass. Native Americans toiled here 300 years ago, farming corn and working cattle under orders from Franciscan missionaries. In these missions as well as in haciendas across Mexico, the sport of charrería evolved from the periodic cattle roundups, or rodeos, held by ranch hands. After the Mexican Revolution, people migrated to cities, many haciendas went out of business, and the rodeo evolved from a utilitarian event into a nostalgic one.

Charrería predates the US-Mexico border, but escaramuza is firmly Mexican-American. Scholars trace the sport’s origins to Houston, where in 1950 the charro Luis Ortega started a children’s precision riding team and took it on tour across the United States. In 1952, a similar team popped up in Mexico City. These first teams were coed, but according to University of Southern California anthropologist Olga Nájera-Ramírez, precision riding was soon deemed “demasiado femenino” for boys and men. Too feminine. By 1958, all-women’s escaramuza teams were performing at charreadas across Mexico and Texas, though the event was just for show. There are now several hundred escaramuza teams nationwide. Still, escaramuza wasn’t added as an official competition until 1991. This history belies the widespread notion that the sport is an ancient way of preserving Mexican heritage, says Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, a University of Texas at Austin professor who studies the border and gender.

“Many people see charrería as a working-class immigrant form to preserve culture, but it’s also all about class,” says Guidotti-Hernández. “Horses are really expensive. At some level, it’s as much about signaling class status as it is about community.” (Guidotti-Hernández herself was the 1992 Fiesta Queen in Salinas, California, but her parents couldn’t afford a horse when she asked for one.)

The barrier to entry is indeed steep. Boarding and feeding a horse costs more than $400 per month in San Antonio. The dress is typically $300. Then there are the boots, silver jewelry, a hand-embroidered sombrero, the sidesaddle and bridle. “By the time they’re done, they’re wearing about $1,500,” says Ayala, the coach. For those who can foot the bill, Guidotti-Hernández says, “If you have class aspirations, you can achieve those through your daughter.”

Seen this way, could it be that women in the escaramuza are still decorative objects, just as they were a half century ago? The traditional riding dress is called the adelita, after the female soldiers who fought on horseback in the Mexican Revolution. That might sound surprisingly progressive, but Nájera-Ramírez notes that part of this tradition is the famous corrido (folk song) “La Adelita,” which reduces La Adelita to a sexual conquest:

Y adelita se llama la joven
a quien yo quiero y no puedo olvidar;
en el mundo yo tengo una rosa
y con el tiempo la voy a cortar.

(Adelita is the young maiden
who I love and cannot forget;
in this world I have a rose,
and in time I will cut this rose.)

Many of today’s riders aren’t interested in or aware of this complicated history, of course. González, when asked the meaning of her team name, Las Adelitas, shrugs: “I have no idea.” Others have reclaimed it for themselves. Yazmin Bernal, the 2017 Charro Queen and a rider with Las Coronelas, says she feels “tough” when she wears the traje de adelita. “It’s the outfit that women would wear alongside the men during the revolution,” she says, “and I like being a part of that tradition.”

Still, charrería remains a male-dominated sport, and if you’re a woman who wants to rope cattle or ride in any of the nine events other than the escaramuza, you’re out of luck. Will there ever be a coed team or an all-women’s charreada?

“I think it’ll happen, but it’s going to take some time,” Guidotti-Hernández says. “It’s taken, what, 40 years for all-female mariachi groups to show up? Eventually, there will be a group of young women who get together and try something new.... Yes, I think we’ll see an all-women’s charreada someday.”

At 1 PM, two hours before the charreada is set to begin, the stands are already filling up. The crowd is about half Hispanic, half white. Everyone is wearing either a brightly colored paper-flower crown or the embroidered Mexican blouses so popular here that you can get them for $15.99 in the H-E-B seasonal aisle, or, for the men, guayaberas.

Food vendors set up folding tables and coolers in the shade. There are paletas, mangonadas in giant styrofoam cups rimmed with chili powder, aguas frescas in five flavors, gorditas dripping with oil, and a taco truck whose heavenly scent has produced a line 30 people deep. Ballet folklórico dancers in voluminous rainbow skirts twirl under a papel picado banner. “¡Tenemos 70 años de existir aquí en esta ciudad!” (“We have 70 years of history here in this city!”) booms an announcer into a staticky microphone.

Then the charros and charras ride in, and the cheering starts. They process in solemnly to the song that starts every charreada, “La Marcha de Zacatecas.” One rider balances her toddler daughter on her saddle, the tiny red dress and silver earrings a perfect miniature of her own. After the Mexican and US national anthems are played, after various mustachioed men present plaques to one another, Las Adelitas are up.

All eight riders cross themselves before spurring their horses to begin, whipping them with mesquite branches to gallop ever faster. They perform three kinds of cruces, giros (spins), la trenza (the braid) and el abanico (the fan). This last maneuver elicits the loudest cheering, as it requires all eight riders to gallop rapidly in a line, just inches apart. The woman on the outside must ride twice as fast to stay in formation with her teammate at the center. At one point during a cruce, one horse lags behind and its head crashes into the neck of another. The crowd gasps, but both riders recover immediately.

The events at this show alternate between the men and women, with each of three escaramuza teams following charros who perform bull tailing, horse roping, bull riding and all the other events. The men’s events can drag on and on, as each charro attempts again and again to throw his lasso at just the right moment. The best moments come when something goes wrong, as when a floppy-eared white calf evades capture for nearly 15 minutes, sprinting around in a panic. Maybe I’m biased, but I can’t help but notice that more people file out of the stands to buy another Dos Equis [beer] during these events. The escaramuza, on the other hand, is hard to take your eyes off of. Look away for a moment, and you might miss a crash or a spin.

Finally, it’s time for Las Coronelas to ride. Dust rises around their horses’ ankles as they trot in, red skirts and embroidered white blouses practically glowing in the light. As they take their places, I spot Yasmin Navarro, 20, crossing herself. I’m nervous for her; she’s only been practicing the escaramuza for six months, far less than many of her teammates. At practice earlier that week, she’d struggled to control her horse, who was acting up after eating too much. There’d been fear in her eyes as he reared and whinnied. Today, there’s no trace of that. Her smile is impenetrable as she raises her right hand in salute before the music starts, and her horse never falters. Later, I find her under the stands, posing for pictures with fans and watching the rest of the show. “I felt really confident out there today,” she says. “I felt strong.” # # #

[Rose Cahalan is managing editor at The Texas Observer and also edits the magazine’s arts and culture coverage. She received a BA (English with honors) from Rice University (TX).]

Copyright © 2018 The Texas Observer

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Alienation Hasn't Disappeared — It Took A Bite Out Of This Nation's Hindquarters On November 8, 2016

Alienation has returned to us with a vengeance. The cry of MAGA is not about greatness, but it is about whiteness. The Pied Piper of the alienated is the current occupant of the Oval Office. In its most extreme form, the alienated would destroy the United States of America in order to "save it" (for white people). If this is a (fair & balanced) version of the fire bell ringing in the night, so be it.

[x Aeon]
A History Of Alienation
By Martin Jay

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The fear of ‘alienation’ from a perceived state of harmony has a long and winding history. Western culture is replete with stories of expulsion from paradise and a yearning to return, from Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden of Eden to the epic journey of Odysseus back to Ithaca. In the modern era, ‘alienation’ really came into its own as a talismanic term in the 1950s and ’60s. At the time, the United States was becoming increasingly affluent, and earlier markers of oppression – poverty, inequality, social immobility, religious persecution — appeared to be on the wane. Commentators and intellectuals needed a new way to characterise and explain discontent. Google’s Ngram viewer, which tracks the incidence of words in English-language books, shows ‘alienation’ rising spectacularly from 1958 to its height in 1974. But since then it has dropped like a stone. Why? Does the lexical decline of alienation suggest that the condition itself has been conquered — or merely that the context in which it made sense has now changed beyond recognition?

The word alienation derives from the Latin verb alienare — to take away, remove, make a thing belong to another. It had a wide variety of earlier uses, including the transfer of property, estrangement from God, a mental disorder and interpersonal discord (‘alienation of affection’ even became a legal ground for divorce). Philosophers and theologians from Augustine to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Søren Kierkegaard had mulled over its metaphysical and spiritual implications. Later, modern sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Georg Simmel and Max Weber worried that alienation was a byproduct of a post-industrial society. It could be seen in widespread ‘anomie’, the ‘tragedy of culture’, and the ‘iron cage’ of bureaucratic rationalisation.

After the Second World War, alienation came to betoken a near-universal spiritual and psychological malaise. Existentialist philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre used it to describe a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Novelists such as Albert Camus, the author of The Stranger (1942), demonstrated its effects in the indifferent numbness of casual violence. By the time J. D. Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951), a chronicle of adolescent estrangement featuring the anti-hero Holden Caulfield, alienation was invoked to explain everything from juvenile delinquency and galloping divorce rates to voter apathy and substance abuse. The term was taken to define the fundamental pathology of modern life.

However, it was the influence of Karl Marx that eventually transformed alienation from indefinable malaise to concrete social condition. In his so-called Paris Manuscripts, written in 1844 but only discovered between the two world wars, Marx developed a three-pronged critique of the alienation of labour – the source, he claimed, of all other alienations in the capitalist world. In Marx’s taxonomy of alienation, first came the worker’s loss of control over the product of his or her labour, which was sold as a commodity in the marketplace for the profit of the capitalist. Second was his or her estrangement from the creative process of labouring itself; before the radical division of labour and inhumane efficiency of the assembly line, work was not a mere means of survival, but something in which pre-capitalist artisans found intrinsic reward. The third and final kind of alienation involves quashing the collective solidarity of the community, what Marx called human’s ‘species being’, and which was lost with the rise of competitive individualism.

On the strength of these insights, a school of thought known as ‘Marxist Humanism’ rose to prominence in the 1960s. This moved Marxism’s centre of gravity away from structures of economic exploitation and towards broader questions of lived experience. Marxist Humanism was advanced by thinkers such as Erich Fromm, who questioned Marx’s status as a scientific analyst of historical facts, and preferred to use his early writings as a way of probing how capitalism distorts the nature of human relations.

The prevailing assumption behind all of these accounts was that feeling estranged — whether from one’s personal or communal identity, one’s creations, or the human species as a whole — was a reason for profound dismay. Alienation could suggest, among other things, the domination of the subject by the object, the self by the other, the organic by the mechanical, and the living by the dead. Understood psychologically, socially, religiously or philosophically, it was a painful obstacle to feeling whole or at one with the world. Being settled in an identity and comfortable in one’s skin were taken as preferable to being rootless, dispossessed or self-fractured. For the lucky few cosmopolitans, rootlessness might have meant being at home everywhere — but for those who felt like permanent exiles, it meant being at home nowhere.

Conversely, overcoming alienation was accompanied by the achievement of self-transparency, authenticity, personal integrity and solidarity. Stories from the Bible and mythology, when viewed from the end-point of the tale, often cast the years of wandering as what Christian doctrine called a felix culpa or ‘fortunate fall’. Perhaps alienation could be justified as an episode in a longer arc of redemption, in which the loss of naïve unity enables us to attain a higher, more reflective form of wholeness. Alienation could be interpreted in terms of a kind of theodicy, in which partial evil serves a more all-embracing good.

Yet the state of alienation remained the ‘unhappy consciousness’, in the words of G. W. F. Hegel in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) [PDF]. It was still inferior to either pre-lapsarian grace or post-lapsarian redemption. Whatever its function in the larger narrative, its victims still yearned for a homecoming that would end their estrangement.

So why aren’t we ‘alienated’ anymore? How did this broad consensus lose its hegemonic power in the 1970s? What made the American historian David Steigerwald wonder in 2011: ‘Where have you gone, Holden Caulfield?’ Was it fatigue with a concept whose explanatory power and emotional charge had been spent? Was it the realisation that other, unrelated sources of oppression were yet to be vanquished? Or had alienation become a self-indulgent luxury, now that living standards were not necessarily rising from one generation to the next?

These factors almost certainly played a part; but it’s worth dwelling on three key historical turning points. The first comes from within the discourse of Marxist Humanism itself. Earlier, its exponents had seized upon alienation as a promising antidote to the pseudo-scientistic pretensions and fetishism of the economy, which they believed discredited the Soviet version of ‘dialectical materialism’. Ironically, however, just as alienation was rising to prominence among Marxists in the 1960s, another anxiety was emerging to challenge its appeal. According to its critics, late-capitalist society offered the subjugated a sort of pseudo-contentment, a simulacrum of a non-alienated utopia, a palliative for their condition that undermined the class struggle.

This is what the Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor W Adorno called ‘the culture industry’: the way that Hegel’s ‘unhappy consciousness’ had been masked by the pleasures of mass culture and consumption, preventing its victims from feeling the pangs of their true condition. In One-Dimensional Man (1964), the philosopher Herbert Marcuse lamented the deadening effects of ‘advanced industrial civilisation’. ‘[In] its productivity and efficiency, its capacity to increase and spread comforts, to turn waste into need, and destruction into construction,’ he wrote, ‘the extent to which this civilisation transforms the object world into an extension of man’s mind and body makes the very notion of alienation questionable.’

The poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, a committed Marxist, had anticipated this bleak assessment of culture. His notion of ‘epic theatre’ sought to reverse the ideological grip of traditional, ‘culinary theatre’, which Brecht despised for the way it fostered empathetic identification with dramatic characters. In response, Brecht developed what he called a Verfremdungseffekt or ‘estrangement effect’ to disrupt precisely this pattern (the German Verfremdung was a variant of Entfremdung, the term normally translated as alienation). Actors refused to conceal the fact that they were acting, and they frequently breached the fourth wall separating the stage from the audience in order to foreground the artifice of the production.

By undermining the realist illusion and preventing emotional identification with characters, Brecht de-familiarised the familiar, and forced the audience to reflect critically on unjust conditions beyond the world of art. What was needed, he argued, was more discomfort with the world and less feeling at home in it — more reflective estrangement and less aesthetic comfort food. At the very least, that’s what was required until the spell of false consciousness was broken, phoney gratifications revealed for what they were, and our true state of alienation exposed so as to open the path to true healing.

Such arguments were still rooted in the idea that alienation was a pathological condition, one that ultimately needed to be redressed. But what if the alleged healing was itself ideological? This more radical riposte to the notion of alienation emerged in the theories that came to be called ‘post-structuralism’. Despite all their complexities and diversity, the thinkers within this rubric shared a common distrust of a key assumption: that a unified, holistic self or community was inherently superior to their opposites.

A rejection of unity can be seen in the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in the humanities. This began to loom in the 1970s and took inspiration from many different theories of language: ordinary language philosophy, hermeneutics, universal pragmatics, speech-act theory and the ‘deconstruction’ of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. This last movement was viewed as the vanguard of post-structuralism, and underpinned by a suspicion of the universal, knowing human subject which sat at the heart of traditional humanism. Proponents doubted that we could grasp a ‘reality’ unfiltered by culture and language. And if there were no access to reality without the welter of linguistic ambiguities and differences, it must also be impossible to bridge the gap between consciousness and being, thought and its objects, humans and the world they had created. What Friedrich Nietzsche had called ‘the prison-house of language’ offered no escape, or to put it in the oft-cited terms of Derrida, ‘there is no outside-text’. Rather than spurring an end to alienation, then, the linguistic turn suggested there was no alternative.

Around this time, the currents of psychoanalysis were also shifting. Jacques Lacan’s linguistic reading of Sigmund Freud cast doubt on the value of individual autonomy and integrity. Lacan argued that Freud’s ideal of ‘the whole man’ as a model of healthy development could be traced to the lingering memory of a pre-linguistic period in infantile development, which Lacan called ‘the mirror stage’. Produced by the child’s glee at glimpsing its bodily image distinct from its mother, the mirror stage fed a nostalgia for an imaginary paradise of narcissistic bliss. This reading was reminiscent of how the existentialists cast alienation as inherent in the human condition; but note how its negative valence had been reversed. For now, accepting fissures in the human condition, and abandoning fantasies of reconciliation, redemption and integration, were a mark of maturation and a healthy acceptance of the human condition. With entry into language, or what Lacan called ‘the symbolic’, the gap between signifier and signified became an expression of the split inherent in human consciousness.

Post-structuralism had its critics, including the second-generation Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas. But such thinkers added to the skepticism by rejecting the Marxist Humanist claim that the alienation of labour was at the root of all social pathologies. Following his own interpretation of the linguistic turn, Habermas argued that, alongside the dialectic of labour, there was also a dialectic of communication. Humans interacted through symbolic media that could produce agreement about meanings and intentions, or pathologies of misunderstanding. Interaction between people was not the same as the subject’s fashioning of the material world into objects for use or consumption.

The old Marxist formula of a cultural ‘superstructure’ – entirely dependent on an economic ‘substructure’ – had mistakenly prioritised the production of material goods as the essential model of human action. Ending capitalist economic exploitation was a laudable goal, but other sources of conflict – political, religious, cultural and the like – couldn’t be addressed by ending the alienation of labour. Nor could they be resolved by the homecoming of an alienated subject to his or her pre-alienated wholeness, because they relied on ‘wholeness’ being forever in the future. Thus, along with his post-structuralist opponents, Habermas and his followers abandoned the assumption that de-alienation was a mark of an emancipated society.

One additional cause of the waning popularity of alienation deserves further attention. Hidden in the word itself is an anxiety about the power of the other, the foreigner, the stranger — in short, ‘the alien’. This figure, it is implied, threatens to invade, pollute and disrupt the purity of the homogeneous individual or group. And this, at a time of global migration on a massive scale — generated by political unrest, economic desperation or natural disasters — arouses fears that are never far from the surface of most enduring communities. Alienation has come to suggest not only the loss of control over what one has produced or the exile from one’s traditions or tribal integrity; it also denotes the corrosion of a coherent, autonomous self, a strong and sovereign entity that has mastered or abjected its internal otherness. It implies the superiority of the domestic over the foreign, the friend over the stranger, the settled over the vagabond.

But in an era of fluid modernity, defined by incessant change, why should sameness and identity be preferred over otherness and difference? What if the purity of the community and the self came under suspicion as ideologies of restriction and exclusion? What if hybridity came to be preferred to polar oppositions and categorical distinctions? What if hospitality to the alien was privileged over the imperative to defend the homeland against alleged intruders? Accepting the stranger within, the other in the self, could then be credited as a sign of maturity. The weakening of the discourse of alienation reflected these changes in the cultural climate.

Of course, in an increasingly unsettled world, it would be foolish to claim that literal homelessness and displacement should be celebrated as inherent values in themselves. There is simply too much suffering caused by forced migration, and too much stress involved in the assimilation of those who have lost their homes under duress. For all its potential to sow division, identity politics might still reflect a justifiable search for roots and community. But it’s also true that many now celebrate the freedom to alter identities rather than meekly accept them, and that post-identitarian multiplicity is enjoying a renewal. Such discourses repudiate or at least complicate a simple denunciation of alienation from wholeness.

This change is most clearly registered in political terms. In the heyday of Marxist Humanism, alienation could be understood in terms of the capitalist mode of production, which thwarted the possibility of unalienated labour. But eventually the Left came to de-emphasise class, for better or worse, and substitute questions of culture for those of production. When Leftist politics embraced tolerance of difference, it grew wary of stigmatising the alien – including the alien within. Rather than yearning for ‘well-rounded wholeness’ or a comforting immersion in the warm bath of communal uniformity, this political shift meant recognising the virtues of protean personal identities and diasporic dispersion.

Hostility to the alien ‘other’, both without and within, has now migrated to the populist Right. Those who most loudly broadcast their alienation today, infusing it with rage and resentment, are likely to be from once-comfortable and hegemonic segments of the population. They feel threatened by the growing erosion of their status in a society that they remember — or at least claim to remember — as homogeneous, integrated and settled. Religious, ethnic, national and gender identities become more rigidly defended against perceived erosion. Many people panic when faced with fluid selves that embrace rather than bemoan the ‘alien’ within — expressed, for example, in their passionate resistance to transgender identity. And they are even more unnerved by the literal arrival of non-citizen ‘aliens’, legal as well as illegal, who threaten their alleged ethnic purity and cultural unity. For them, ‘hybridisation’ is really ‘mongrelisation’. Attempting to restore past ‘greatness’ or fend off ‘pollution’, they agitate for walls to keep dangerous others out, fearing that every newcomer is inherently a threatening intruder.

In short, alienation in the second decade of the 21st century has not actually faded away as a descriptor of human distress. Rather, it has become most visible in the anxiety of those who bemoan the transformation of a beloved homeland into an unrecognisable nation of aliens. # # #

[Martin Jay is the Sidney Hellman Ehrman professor of European history at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book is Reason After Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (2016). See other books by Martin Jay here. Jay received a BA (history) from Union College (NY) and a PhD (history) from Harvard University (MA).]

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Today, Tom Tomorrow Offers A Loony Version Of "Star Trek" — "Star Dreck"!

Along with today's 'toon, Tom/Dan wrote:

Kind of a goofy riff, based on Trump’s addled, off-the-cuff remark that we need a “space force.” I wanted to work in something about Trump’s lack of acknowledgement regarding the assassination attempt of the former Russian spy on British soil, but this thing was already too verbose as it was. There’s just too much happening! It’s like that "Doctor Who" episode where time breaks down and all of history occurs simultaneously.

This was a fun one to work on, of course. There are a few tiny easter eggs buried in it, like the overhead screens on the bridge all showing Trump’s electoral map. And while I still provide a blackline version of the cartoon for papers that don’t run color, I was noticing this week how many small jokes were entirely based on color selection. Trump’s skin, the colors of the Russian flag on the Klingon ship, the Enterprise being gold-plated, things like that. Even the bald spots that I draw into Trump’s hairweave stand out much better in color than in black and white.

Until next week,


Actually, if you look at Panel 4 of today's 'toon, Captain Trump, Kirk, or "Jerk" is shown from the rear and reveals the horrendous gap (not "bald spots") in his hairweave that was revealed on TV during a strong wind a few weeks ago. If this is a (fair & balanced) portrayal of our national malaise as a sick joke, so be it.

[x TMW]
Space Captain Trump
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Dhuit!" (Happy St. Patrick's Day — Gaelic) Part II (Belated)

This blogger intended to offer a double-feature on St. Patrick's Day with yesterday's essay by Eags (Timothy Egan). However, an appointment for a meal of CB&C (corned beef & cabbage) intervened and postponed the second feature until the day after March 17, 2018. So, this essay is a St. Pat's -Hangover- holdover. If this is a (fair & balanced) example of Gaelic persistence, so be it.

[x TNR}
What Happened To Irish America?
By Eileen Markey

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Declaring March Irish Heritage Month, President Trump paid tribute to “the tremendous role Irish immigrants and their descendants have played in the development of our great nation.” It was a perfunctory proclamation, issued every March since 1990 by presidents Democratic and Republican. But given the professed nativism of the president praising this once reviled immigrant group, it’s worth looking a little more closely at the Irish in America. They have indeed played a tremendous role, just not the one Trump or many Irish Americans might choose to remember.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches Irish Americans are once again pulling out our Donegal tweed flat caps and preparing to sing our wistful songs. The Irish in America are tenacious in their cultural identification, claiming an Irish identity a century or more after our forbearers stepped off the boat. We keep our poetry and our grudges, but in the long years of assimilation we seem to have shed what was once a hallmark of Irish identity: a solidarity with the oppressed.

Irish names are prominent among Trump loyalists. Many Irish Americans have adopted his brand of nativism, as well as an every-man-for-himself faith in the market and a tight-heartedness that would have been anathema to our grandparents. Half of us voted for Trump in 2016. But Irish American history is filled with characters who looked outward from their Irishness, who stood, sometimes fiercely, for the outsider and the exploited, who could see their plight in the struggles of other peoples.

The Sons of Molly Maguire, a clandestine organization of Irish and Irish American labor radicals in coal country Pennsylvania in the 1870s, took their inspiration—and possibly some members—from a group of the same name in Ireland that set fires, killed livestock, and assassinated the gentry who had starved them off their land when the potato crop failed. There needn’t have been a famine: Food was exported to England all across those hungry years. Likewise, there was no lack of income in America’s coal country. The Molly Maguires directed their rage at the mine owners growing fat off their bent backs and blackening lungs. Their actions helped pave the way for unions and collective bargaining. Better to sit across a table and negotiate than forever be checking for dynamite.

Mother Jones, after whom the magazine is named, was a sharp-tongued and formidable Irishwoman, a type recognizable even today. A famine refugee, she was born in County Cork in 1837 and ended up in Tennessee, married to an iron molder. After yellow fever took her husband and all four children, she became mother to child laborers, miners, and the kind of workers who would never win an H1-B visa today. She traveled incessantly, organizing and speaking, comforting miners forced into a tent city by John D. Rockefeller in Colorado, rallying workers in West Virginia and in Pennsylvania. She helped found the Wobblies [Industrial Workers of the World] with William “Big Bill” Haywood. In 1903, advocating an end to child labor, she led a march of mill worker children from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s grand estate in Oyster Bay, New York.

A generation later, veterans of the Irish Revolution built up a muscular labor movement and political apparatus. New York’s Mike Quill applied his experience organizing for Irish Republicanism to launch the Transit Workers Union. He was a member of the Communist Party until 1948, pro-integration, a supporter of civil rights, and an opponent of the Vietnam War.

Irish immigrant women arrived on their own from the 1840s on until the 1920s, unmarried and childless, seeking work when most female immigrants were traveling with or to husbands. Initially servants, they became nurses in vast numbers, accruing education and professional credentials even while their new country looked at them with suspicion, considered their religion foreign and dangerous, their loyalties divided. Willful Irish American girls poured into convents in the middle of the 20th century, seeking education and broader horizons along with their devotion. Since the 19th century Irish nuns (and French, Italian, and German nuns) had built the social service infrastructure of the expanding Catholic Church, running hospitals, orphanages, and school systems: pioneering female executives.

John A. Ryan laid the intellectual groundwork for the New Deal. The anti-semitic radio priest Charles Coughlin is better known, but Ryan was more important. In the 15 years before the Depression, the Minnesota priest born to immigrant parents argued, in books, speeches, and papers, for a living wage, unemployment insurance, worker compensation, public control of utilities, and Social Security. He advocated an income tax before there was one and argued that there was a moral imperative—and ought to be a legal one —to redistribute excess wealth. And he urged Catholics, whose church was controlled by Irish, to support the New Deal. Now another Ryan from the upper Midwest is trying to dismantle it.

When the legislation was conceived, Irish ward politicians delivered votes for it and implemented it, birthing a U.S. more fair and just than the country they or their parents sang sad songs about. We remember the cartoon version of the political boss with smoldering cigar, meaty face, and greasy palms, but forget the political skill, the distribution of work, the marshalling of votes to make government work for the people. Commitment to shared prosperity was a bedrock principle of those politics.

The New Deal worked—for white people. People of color were systematically and specifically excluded. And while some Irish priests marched with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, others spoke of defending their urban parishes from black “infiltration.” As the Irish left the subway tunnels, mills, and nursery wards for the middle and upper middle class, maybe we held hard to the wrong things. Step dancing classes and children’s names with complicated Irish spelling, but not the old neighborhoods’ practice of shared advancement. Donations to the Irish Studies Departments at prestigious colleges, but not commitment to the on-ramps that did us so much good.

Our memory of subjugation is remote enough now that we erect monuments to the Great Hunger, reminding ourselves of suffering, giving ourselves chills as we read about skeletons walking the roads, dying with mouths stained green from eating grass. Families on the run. Desperation. The point of remembering injustice shouldn’t be that we fetishize the injury until we twist ourselves mean or make our suffering and our success unique by pulling up the ladder behind us.

The point is to remember what we were so we can see ourselves in the one who is there now. The major waves of Irish immigrants, the famished and haunted, the rebels against empire, the dispossessed rural workers greeted with hatred in their new country—they bear a striking resemblance to the Africans today boarding wretched vessels to cross the Mediterranean, driven from their own countries by drought and war, the Central Americans walking the spine of the continent, and the Muslims opening hate mail in their mosques. Our ghosts are among them. They resemble our Irish ancestors more than we do anymore, flat caps notwithstanding. # # #

[Eileen Markey is the author of A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura (2016). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, New York magazine, The Wall Street Journal, National Catholic Reporter, America, and Commonweal. Markey received a BA (urban studies/English) from Fordham University (NY) and an MS from the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University (NY).]

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Éirinn go Brách Part I (II Tomorrow)

Eags (Timothy Egan) offers a modest proposal that does not involve infanticide but would see this poor land cleared of the treasonous snakes who invest the land. If this is a (fair & balanced) expression of Irish-American patriotism, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
How The Irish Could Still Save Civilization
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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The White House opened its doors to the leader of the original “shithole” country this week. The irony was that a president who wants only the smartest and best-looking immigrants was embracing a nation once known for sending famine-stricken, disease-laden, crime-breeding foreigners to our shores.

For that matter, how did Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, the gay son of a Hindu father of Indian descent, merit time from a president who has stirred up a thousand little hatreds from the darkest corners of America?

The Taoiseach got his moment because on St. Patrick’s Day everybody wants to be Irish. But no one in power has betrayed the Irish-American story more than President Trump. He’s been joined by a handful of Hibernian toadies who have made a mockery of their heritage.

Earlier in the week, the prime minister of a tiny nation tried to nudge the mighty United States back to the moral high ground. “It’s really tough to see a country that is built on freedom not being a world leader in that space anymore,” he told an audience in Austin, TX.

Varadkar also visited the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, thanking them for sending donations during a famine in which a million Irish died. His gesture was in the tradition of Irish who never forget where they came from — a narrative of struggle can help the United States in its dark hour under Trump.

St. Patrick’s Day has long been a festival of memory — that is, before the peddlers of paddywackery got ahold of it. The burden of bad years includes not just the Great Hunger, but also coffin ships that left for America filled with intact families and arrived with many orphans.

The president who is afraid that Haitians “all have AIDS” would likely have turned back ships packed with Irish dying from typhus, a particularly odious and painful way to go, spread by lice in tight quarters.

But that’s the memory, along with the triumph of the Irish in America — overcoming those odds, and a Know-Nothing movement that tried to strip them of their humanity.

Nineteenth-century America was blessed with Abraham Lincoln to counter the haters. If the Know-Nothings had their way, said Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence would have read, “all men are created equal except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.

We’re stuck with Trump, the most un-American of presidents, who never misses a chance to stoke xenophobic fears. In trying to erase our history, his administration recently removed the phrase “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” from the federal agency dealing with immigrants.

Trump has had help from a handful of Celtic cowards. Steve Bannon leads that rogues’ gallery. Who is he afraid of? Well, everybody. He would have hated his ancestors, who arrived in the United States in the 1850s. After stuffing white nationalist, America First nonsense into the malleable brain of Trump, he’s now doing the same with French anti-Semites and immigrant-bashers.

“Let them call you racists,” he told the far-right National Front Party last week. “Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”

Vice President Mike Pence, whose grandmother came from County Clare, once invoked the struggles of his family to support immigrants living in the shadows. He now sits passive and mute while his administration strands the Dreamers and moves to cut legal immigration by half. Among the undocumented immigrants in this country, by the way, are an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 Irish.

Pence, an evangelical Christian, has learned to strike a pious pose whenever anyone brings up his boss’s alleged romp with a porn star or his boasting about sexual assault. What gets his Irish up are gays; he has a history of opposing full citizen rights for Americans who aren’t heterosexual.

Amnesia about your past is nothing new in this country. We’ve all reinvented ourselves to some degree. But it’s one thing to forget where you came from. It’s another to betray that history with backwards public policy.

“The hottest place in Hell should be reserved this St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish who want to pull up the ladder, shut the doors of Ellis Island and turn off the lamp at the Statue of Liberty,” Niall O’Dowd, a founder of the IrishCentral media empire, wrote this week.

The way forward is to look to the teachable past, as Conor Lamb, the recently elected Democrat to Congress from Trump Country, has done. In his campaign, he embraced his Irish Catholic heritage, noting that immigrants are good for America by almost every measurement.

Lamb often mentioned John F. Kennedy, who spoke of America as “the great experiment” — a country trying to form a common bond without a common ancestry. It was an audacious idea then, and still is, but it hangs in the balance. # # #

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (2016). See all other books by Eags here.]

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