The MAGA Republican Party is a terrorist organization, but one that has infiltrated enough of the Justice Department, State Department, and Congress to not allow our country to classify it correctly as such. Hopefully in a few days, enough voters will realize this that they won’t be allowed to take over our country.
It will be a very sad day if we wake up on November 9th and realize that Americans have chosen to end democracy.
An unusually upbeat (in a sense) day in our local paper, just before the election.
Star Tribune headline tells us that the MAGA extremist running for Governor has a tax plan that would ruin the economy. Tope headline of the paper.
Lower down on the same page: Jan 6 panel subpoenas Trump, with a pic of Bannon being shuffled off after sentencing. Trump has a November deadline.
Still on front cover:
Iran, China intelligence among seized documents
Calls for (MAGA Extremist) Sviggum to resign (from UMN regents) intensify (after he says that what may be the whitest of our campuses in Minnesota is too diverse! He refuses to resign, by the way, so this is going to be an interesting fight.)
Biden Touts Falling Deficits
Inside the paper:
Emmett Till statue unveiled
Good news for Ethiopian refugees
First woman (Eve?) PM of Italy
Page A5: Bannnon gets 4 months
PA Man gets 34 months for attacks on press, cops, on Jan 6
Seized (Trump) document describes Iran nuke program
Today’s Strib editorial excoriates MAGA republicans for being insane, mentions litter boxes and bat-boy myths.
There is new polling, extensive and high quality polling, that seems to make clear one small problem we have in the United States.
Nobody really gives a hoot about key issues such as abortion rights or democracy. People will get mad, there will be demonstrations, but when large percentages of Democrats (yes, I said Democrats) tell us that they prioritize gas prices over democracy, and polls show, as they do, that if the election were held today, Republicans would take over the US House and possibly the Senate, then we have to admit that we are a Republican nation, a nation not in favor of freedoms or democracy. We are an anti-abortion nation, a back ally nation, a nation where we are ready and seemingly even happy to let a right wing fascist government control our lives.
I see it day to day. I see people who in the past helped Democratic candidates not showing up, not donating money, letting someone else do it. But there is no “someone else.” When Democrats lose this rare two-year trifecta on November 8th, and a Republican House is sworn in come January, we will begin a two or four year long deconstruction of this country. Enough election deniers will be in the power positions in key states that the republican party will be able to “elect” (but not really elect) whomever their party puts up for 2024, probably Donald Trump. There is a good chance that at the same time Trump is sworn in, a Democratic house will be sworn in, but with only the slimmest majority. Then two years after that, Democrats will stay home again, and there will be a Republican (Trump) in the White House, a Republican Senate (with McConnell in charge), and a Republican House with who knows which monster in charge.
The only pertinent details will be which of the old men who are bent on turning us in to a fascist country die of natural causes earlier than their plans ideally require. But that is just a detail. Others are eager to step in.
I partly blame the left. We removed the possibility of empathy as part of our way of being when we shouted down anyone who claimed it, in our rush to blame our allies for everything that our enemies are actually doing. We threw out half our good messaging when it failed to come from a repressed group, even if it was about repression. We developed and deployed abysmally bad messaging and wore it as a chip on our shoulder, a guaranteed recipe for losing any argument. We let our identity politics undermine our pro equity efforts. Then, after doing that for about a decade, we stopped showing up. We explicitly put “self care” as our number one priority, then forgot to move to number two after a suitable recovery peirod.
I thought 2016’s election was depressing, but that was just the beginning of the end. The elections of 2022 and 2024 will be the actual end, and we are letting it happen. Making it happen. Choosing for it to happen. When the Republicans take the majority, we will simply have to admit that this is a MAGA Republican country. We are a democracy that is about to vote out democracy, democratically.
This is my third or fourth missive declaring our failures, but in the previous ones, I also asked for help, asked for people to step up. I now see that as too unlikely. Nobody stepped up, and the polls show that nobody will.
When I was a kid, I got in trouble (a couple of times, but there was this one time…) In truth, I had done nothing wrong, but I got caught up in a drug deal I had nothing to do with. The damaging evidence was planted by the police (I witnessed that and reported it to my public defense lawyer, who told me that’s how it works). In public, the judge was judgmental and stern, but reasonably well behaved. But there was a moment where I was sentenced, unofficially, to get a stern talking to by him in his chambers, instead of a severe actual sentence. In his chambers, he was a pompous ass. He stood to pace in his opulent office while lecturing me, and decided to re-tie his perfectly tied shoe. When he lifted his foot up to the seat of a chair, his robe fell open, and exposed … the handgun strapped to his leg. What an ass.
A couple of other times, such as in an unemployment dispute for example, the judge was an ass. In my life I learned that low level judges tend to be assholes. Perhaps that is my bad luck and not truly representative, but my experience shapes my opinion. I’ve never had the pleasure of standing in court, or in chambers, before a higher level judge. Maybe the higher level judges are not assholes, who knows.
When the right wing Trump/McConnell stacked supreme court ruined the Constitution and started America on its retraction of human rights long held and hard fought for, a lot of people were surprised. I think everyone expected the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, but I’m not sure most people expected them to lay out a road map for the retraction of most personal rights, which would be a necessary condition for the deployment of a full-on fascist government led in two years from now by Donald Trump, the real estate robber baron. (With the Proud Boys as his palace guard and Q-Anon as his brown shirts.) But I wasn’t that surprised, because I already knew that the judicial branch at the lowest levels had more assholes than the Russian Army.
Why do we revere our judicial branch? Our criminal justice system is unjust and has been for the entire history of this country. The judicial branch has been run by judges this entire time. Seems to me like this makes judges, by and large, even those with nice personalities, essentially assholes.
The most widely disseminated and widely listened to opinions about how judges are worthy of praise, trustworthy, important centers of civilization, etc, come from lawyers. Lawyers are self selected, then further culled by law school, many if not most spend almost no time in the presence of judges, so there is a great deal of further selection among them that do. Those litigators are a subset of people further subsetted, further subsetted, further subsetted, to work with, appreciate, and live by virtue of the existence of … judges. So of course lawyers say of judges what fish mongers may say of fish. Meanwhile there are fish that are complete assholes, and there are judges that are complete assholes. More, percentage-wise, judges than fish, I would judge.
The Republican Revolution is the takeover of our legislative branches by assholes. Started with Gingrich, continuing today, and with Trump, likely joined soon enough by the Executive branch. If and when Trump wins the presidency in a couple of years, and the Senate and House go Extremist Asshat, like is about to happen according to some polling, the executive branch and the legislative branch will join the judicial branch to become a trifecta of imperfection, a triumvirate of terror, a trinity of self-centered fascist demagogues.
One could argue that the judicial branch has been most of the way there all along, and this has been one of America’s best kept secrets. The transition of judges to moderators of a Gestapo-state will require the removal of those remaining judges who still believe in democracy, but judges take care of their own, and they will figure out a way to do that.
Keep this in mind: The courtroom is the opposite of a democracy. A courtroom is ruled with an iron fist. In their own courtroom, each judge has the final word, and can choose whom to give voice, and can choose what they may say and not say. Find a definition of fascism and apply it to a courtroom. It will fit nicely. The lawyers, observers, others, who work in that context and extoll the virtues of judges as fair, thoughtful, whatever, are to this fascism what the fish is to the water: they don’t realize that part of their world exists, so they don’t point it out, they don’t criticize it.
The judicial branch will be the first of three, not the third of three, branches of our government to turn full on Mussolini.
Attempts at police reform, or more accurately, policing reform, are stalled by right wing tactics that paint any sort of critical examination as pro-crime, and centrists and “persuadable” tend to buy what the right wingers are selling. This pattern is common in many areas of progressive change. Then, along comes some other aspect of reality and bam, upside the head, anti reformers! Change happens anyway.
One area of reform is to curb the cowboy in the cop and limit high speed, high risk chases, which often have negative side effects. Like the one in St Ann MO, where a chase of a car with expired tags led to the permeant disablement of Brent Cox, who happened to be in a nearby car that was slammed into by the errant driver. When asked to limit dangerous overdone car chases, the chief told the press they would drag his car chases out of his cold dead hands. Well, not really. He said “St. Ann will chase you until the wheels fall off.”
Then the insurance agency stepped in and put him down. From reporting in the Washington Post (this is Washington Post Day on Greg Laden’s Blog, by the way): “….an otherwise silent stakeholder stepped in. The St. Louis Area Insurance Trust risk pool — which provided liability coverage to the city of St. Ann and the police department — threatened to cancel coverage if the department didn’t impose restrictions on its use of police chases. City officials shopped around for alternative coverage but soon learned that costs would nearly double if they did not agree to their insurer’s demands.”
Sometimes reform is just the natural organic thing that happens in a free market. Rarely, but savor the moment when it does.
The New York Time Is Biased
I had two headlines in my morning email:
“White House reaches tentative agreement to avert national rail strike”
“Railroad unions and companies reach a tentative deal to avoid a strike”
The former from Wapo, the latter from the NYT. Leave it to the NYT to understate Biden. They have a reason. Everybody loves a close horse race, so keep the horse race close and the value of your add space rises. I only subscribe to the NYT because when I told them to bugger off a few months ago they bribed me by offering a super cheap subscription (like a dollar a month or something crazy) so I kept it. You should try that! Just call to cancel and they’ll give you a great deal.
The Wisdom of Linsey Graham …
At first I was only getting snippets and I was confused. Lindsay Graham will ban abortion in 15 weeks. So hurry up and get yours. No, no, Lindsay Graham will ban abortion FOR 15 weeks. Like a moratorium? No, no, Lindsay Graham will ban abortions AT 15 weeks. For reference, that is 15 out of 40.
The truth is more like this: Lindsay Graham got drunk again.
One of the most common terms that comes to my mind when I think of Lindsay Graham, other than “lush”, is “bone-headed.” This morning, I was pleased and amused to wake up and find Ruth Marcus saying (in Wapo, not in my apartment), “Graham’s move might be politically bone-headed, coming less than two months before a midterm election in which voters already appear angered and energized by the court’s action. But it is just the opening salvo.” Nice.
Ruth’s main point: “… it is not hard to imagine a moment when Republicans have the power to proceed [with such a ban], and use it.” But on the ground, in this year and at this time, the MAGA-trumps “…rattled by midterm polling, scurried to distance themselves from Graham’s proposal and talk up states’ rights.”
So to complete the sentence at the head of this comment: “The Wisdom of Linsey Graham … is drunk”
Ken Star Is Dead
I will not here speak poorly of the dead. I did that on Facebook and it was pretty satisfying. That is all, have a nice day.
The greatest threat to the integrity of pro sports is the unchecked, immoral owner. He slithers across all of these leagues, rich and toxic and indestructible, profiting from sports’ charm without upholding their virtue. You can expose his misdeeds, shame him and force him to answer to people who are supposed to have real power. He will escape, though. And those like him will multiply.
A few interesting things about the Queen’s death (long live the King)
They made the coffin 30 years ago.
In 1901, the horses carting Queen Victoria’s gun carriage (that’s what they use to parade the coffin around) broke free, so some British Sailors pulled Victoria’s cart for a while. Therefore, at some point during the ceremony, Royal Navy sailors will likely drag the carriage by foot for a while. This is how ancient traditions start.
You know what a plinth is. Well, a catafalque is a wooden plinth for a royal coffin. Now you know that too.
The queen’s Royal Sovereign’s Scepter is three feet long, bears one of the world’s most famous diamonds, and has a core of Unicorn tail hair taken from the same Unicorn as the Scepter wielded by the royal house of Freedonia.*
The Royal Orb … well, there is a royal orb. What the heck? It’s actual name is Globus cruciger, and it is really old, from back in the Age of Orbs I suppose.
The state hearse is a Land Rover. Therefore it will break down during the ceremony and the cost of repair will exceed the Royal Funerary Budget so the Queen’s coffin (did I mention the coffin was made 30 years ago) will have to be dragged the last few blocks.
MAGA Extremist Don Bolduc’s win in NH is an example of circumstances that will lead to the the Democratic Party picking up, rather than losing, seats across the Congressional races. This race is for the Senate, but this most current (and last for the season) example of a primary illustrates a phenomenon being played out in both Senate and House races across the country.
Not only will the Democrats pick up seats in the Senate, but they will add, not lose, seats in the House.
By conventional wisdom the Dems will lose House seats (or not, but usually lose in a midterm year) based on the “Generic Ballot” which over the last several months, as is the case in most midterm election years, has the Generic Republican beating the Generic Democrat in Congress. The Senate is a little tricker because how the Senate seats go is more subject to local (state level) conditions, incumbents have more sticking power in some cases, and there are few enough seats contested in a given year that the effects of the Generic Ballot can be statistically swamped by those other factors.
The reason why the Generic Ballot does not work this year even in the house is because it assumes there are two parties, but there are actually three this year: 1) the Democratic Party (same as before, and more unified than in most years, and now including most Independents); 2) the much reduced in size Regular Republicans plus Independents not absorbed by the Democratic Party; and 3) MAGA Extremists.
When something like this happens:
“Election-denier Bolduc wins GOP Senate nomination in N.H. Contested GOP races divided party leaders, exposed differing positions on the 2020 election, and pit far-right candidates against more moderate rivals”
That makes the distinction between those three parties come into play.
Here is what will happen in this and many other races in the general election. All the Democrats will vote for the Democrat. The Independents absorbed by the Democrats will stay loyal to their new affiliation. Many of the Independents that went Red and the Regular Republicans will not vote for the Republican, with many may not voting at all in this race, a few voting for the Democrat. The MAGA Extremists will all vote for the Republican election-denier, if they can pull their heads out of their butts long enough to find the polling place. But there are not actually THAT many MAGA Extremists.
This is happening in races across the country. In many, perhaps most of these races, the Republican will still win because these races are happening in the stinking hell-holes known as Red Districts and Red States. But some are happening where the Red-Blue gap is X wide, normally, and the percent of the electorate either swayed or kept home is enough to close that gap. I’m not sure at this point what those numbers are, and local conditions will also matter a lot. For example, a candidate that, independently of being a MAGA Extremists, is an unmitigated ass, may get fewer votes just because of their losing personality. And, I’m pretty sure that will apply to most or all of the newly involved MAGA Extremists.
This last point applies to Bolduc. He has alienated himself from the mainstream Republican Party, which is wide and broad in New Hampshire, through a series of dumb-ass actions since 2002. He has made the claim that Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips. He accused former Governor Sununu as being a “Chinese Communist Sympathizer,” when we all know that if Sununu ever had a sympathy for anything (he doesn’t) it would be with Putin and the Oligarchy not the Chinese Reds.
On top of all this, note that at this moment, the Generic Ballot has shifted from its usual direction of the party in the White House, and the democrats are winning it. At this moment.
I use the word “burning” metaphorically. But it might as well be literal. If you ban a list of books in a system of libraries, the libraries have a bunch of recycling to do, and eventually … to the county incinerator go the books.
In fact, I give you no truck, no room, no wiggle-space, if you even look at a book funny, because that is how it starts. I am champion of the books, all the books, and I am not alone, not by a long shot.
These thugs intimidated the administrator of the libaries, Kimber Glidden, into resignation, in which she noted:
“My experience and skill set made me a good fit to help the district move toward a more current and relevant business model and to implement updated policy and best practices. However nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community.”
Gidden told reporters at Route Fifty that “If [this] was really about banning books, we’d have to have the books.” Food for thought. They don’t care about the books, they only care about being bullies, and intimidating people who love books, and the kids the books are there for.
The library board rejected a grant to fund a program about voting rights, saying it was too left wing.
A display about Pride Month was cancelled, and today library displays are forbidden about any distinctive group — even French Cajun culture, of which Lafayette is the unofficial capital.
And this summer, when a popular librarian, Cara Chance, ignored that order and put up a display that included queer teen romance books, the board tried to fire her.
The actual police showed up at the Granbury High library in Granbury Texas to investigate a complaint made by book-burning-fundies last May. Five books were subsequently removed from the library shelves. The removal of these books was targeted harassmement of Trans students and other non-heteronormative-binary people by the school admins. This sort of thing has caused loss of life among school children. Even in relatively liberal Minnesota suburbs, a school board member went out of his way to indicate his discomfort with non-heteronormative school children, as noted in this LTE written by Yours Truly:
Locally, where the Jay Hesby problem recently emerged, we have an open seat on the Wayzata School District board. Hesby is one of a few candidates running. Sheila Prior, an active member of the school community especially interested in reading education, is also running, and she is by a gazillion miles my choice for the upcoming special election. (Feel free to visit her web site and donate ten bucks or more to this great cause. I just did!)
I gets scarier. Recently in the Reno Nevada area, suited up members of the “Proud Boys” (I call them Cucked Children) actually entered a library to disrupt a children story time because they did not like the book that was being read. They did the same thing near San Francisco, South Bend, Indiana, and Woodland California. There was violence. Over books. At events involving children. Derek Chauvin got extra time on his murder sentence because he carried out violence in the presence of children. For christakes.
Yesterday, South Bend, IN:
Seven Proud Boys disrupted Rainbow Story Hour event at Tutt library.
They harassed the presenter, event organizer, staff, and library patrons until police were called.
Alleged Proud Boys members attempt to get into The Mojo in Woodland, CA and are met with pepper spray. The bar had planned an all ages Drag Show tonight, which was postponed due to security concerns pic.twitter.com/7Boln64uJ6
-* Links to books on Amazon help support this blog, see note below
-** From the publisher:
2020 ALA Alex Award Winner
2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Then e created Gender Queer. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fan fiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
This special deluxe hardcover edition of Gender Queer features a brand-new cover, exclusive art and sketches, a foreword from ND Stevenson, Lumberjanes writer and creator of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and an afterword from Maia Kobabe.
President Biden’s Democratic administration and Democratic governors got hundreds of millions of shots in arms, and distributed effective therapeutics, to fight Covid-19.
The MAGA Republican president and MAGA governors did everything they could to ensure that more citizens died or were terribly sickened by Covid-19. This ultimately killed a higher percentage of those exposed in red states than in blue states. Their rhetoric also reinforced and expanded anti-science and anti-vaccine sentiment in our country, so more children will be sickened by other preventable diseases as well. The party that accused Democrats of having death panels are themselves indubitably a death panel party.
“[There is a] scale that goes from negative 10 to positive 10. Negative 10 is the most authoritarian, so think about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Positive 10 are the most democratic. This, of course, is where you want to be. This would be Denmark, Switzerland, Canada. The U.S. was a positive 10 for many, many years. It’s no longer a positive 10. And then it has this middle zone between positive 5 and negative 5, which was you had features of both. … scholars found was that this …variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. “
On February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and wounded another 17, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to reports. Alleged, not proven. Yet.
The fourth anniversary of this horrific event, which had absolutely zero impact on gun related policy or legislation because we live in a country where the slaughter of innocents is a day to day event that we expect and do not care about, at the level of government (stop pretending that we might, folks, just admit who we are) will occur a few weeks before Cruz’s trial starts.
Filmed, countless witnesses. It happened. He did it (sue me, Cruz). But the judicial process goes so slowly that the dead children would have been in their early 20s (or almost so) had he not killed them, by the time sentence is passed on this murderer.
When we ask why the Department of Justice has not thrown the Trump Gang into prison yet, we might remind ourselves that justice is as slow as molasses. We might also note that this is in large part by design. We are supposed to have expedient justice, but the system allows the accused to put on the brakes at many points. Trump and his gang have the clout to pump the brakes so many times that a simple procedure can take six months. A mass murder suspect apparently has similar abilities. Other trials are started sooner. Duante Wright was murdered by a Brooklyn Center police officer on April 11 2021, and Officer Potter was convicted just a few days ago, all within one year. George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25th, 2020, and convicted almost exactly one year later, though other defendants in that case still await trial.
So big bad things can take a year to reach a settlement, or they can take 4 years. We are coming up on 2 years for the start of full on investigation of the Trump Gang, which we assume was hampered during the entire period of the Trump Dictatorship. So maybe we should start seeing results (or more results, there have been a few results) soon.
I’m not complaining, I’m just calibrating. Specifically, I’m making this point: When you vote randomly, or vote for the nutbag (like Trump, but there are others) just to “shake things up” or show the people in Washington a thing or two, you help condemn the rest of us to a potentially very long slog of ruination and distress, which does not actually end when the rest of us finally throw the bum out. It keeps going much longer, because the wheels of justice turn slowly.
The Watergate Plumbers, who had been involved in numerous nefarious and illegal activities for years, got caught breaking into the Democratic Party national headquarters on June 17th, 1972. Convictions of key players happened between 1974 and 1975, with court procedings continuing into 1976 (but not convictions). About 20 Republcian bad guys went to jail or were fined. Nixon, the mastermind behind all of it, resigned in August 1974, two years after the break-in but probably six years or so after the first nefarious acts by his gang, but other than a forced retirement he was never punished, but was rather pardoned by one of his Republican buddies. So the time scale of justice for Watergate runs from 2 to 6 years, depending on which illegal act and which act of justice one uses to calibrate.
Iran-Contra happened during the reign of Republican strongman Reagan. The illegal acts started in or around 1981, peaked around 1985, revealed in November 1986. There were subsequent indictments, but in the end everybody was pardoned by other members of the Republican gang. So the time scale on Iran-Contra is: No justice ever, but there coulda been on about a two to five year time scale had the whole thing not been pushed under the Republican Rug.
There have actually been hundreds of federal level scandals, many involving illegal activities, and the time scale tends to be about a few years from discovery to rug-lift-and-sweep, or in some cases, just resolution. Longer if the scandal is made up.
Again: When you vote for a bone-headed right winger, you are guaranteed to be contributing to the start of some nefarious activity or another, followed by much gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth by all of us, all because you are a voting moron. If you vote for the Green Party in a tight race, any third party, or for the bad guy just to show ’em, you are being a voting moron. If you don’t know that the trouble you help cause will go on for years, and may in some cases never be resolved, you are voting moron. And if you defend the voting morons because you can’t do electoral arithmetic, you are worse than that.
The moral of the many stories: 1) Be patient with the system of justice but also 2) don’t be an idiot when you go to vote.
“On this episode of Now & Then, “Voting Rights: The Big Picture,” Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman talk about the history of voter suppression with Carol Anderson, professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of One Person No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy and The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. The trio discuss the concept of the “consent of the governed” during the founding period, the emergence of Jim Crow laws after the Civil War, and the evolution of voting suppression efforts in the modern era. How have politicians justified restrictive voting policies? How do these policies damage American democracy? And what strategies might protect the franchise today? ”
One of the great features of Now & Then is that the hosts spend a lot of time running up to the body of the work laying down foundations and drawing in context. Very Maddowesque. But for this reason the podcast can have a slow start. In this episode, it takes a while for Carol Anderson to get the mic and start her thing, but once she does you will be blow away, even if you thought you knew stuff about voter suppression (and voting rights, not the same thing).
Everyone knows that CRT, aka, Critical Race Theory, is a law school or graduate level subject that is not taught in American K-12 classrooms. More precisely, and I quote Wikipedia, “Critical race theory (CRT) is a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice.”
One day I returned home and realized I had forgotten the shampoo. It was a devastating revelation.
You are probably thinking, “First World problem,” right? Well, it wasn’t because at the time I was living in the actual co-called “Third World.*”
Home, for me at the time, was one of the most remote non-polar research sites ever. “Going to the store” meant driving across nearly impassible roads for a day, a ride that would cause enough damage to the old Land Rover to require some $500 of repair on average. Then a few days in a sort of city (Isiro, Zaire) where I would spend considerable effort assembling the food and other supplies for a stint as long as I could manage, hopefully 4 to 6 weeks. Basically, as much as the old Land Rover could hold. Then, the trip back. So, going to the store was a week out of my research time, costly, and dangerous (because of the roads).
I had taken a shower the morning of my return to the field, at my friend Bwana Ndgege’s house, and left the shampoo in the bathroom. Yes, devastating.
What I did not know at the time was this. Later that very morning, Bwana Nndege saw the bottle of shampoo in the bathroom. He picked it up and walked out in front of his house, which was located in a part of the city where one might see people waking around on their daily business, but not too many people. Shortly, he saw a man walking down the street, and hailed him over. Bwana Ndege did not know this man.
“Say, do you happen to know the researchers that live in Ngodingodi, a research village down the road past Wamba, on the Mambasa road?”
“There is still a road there?” the man asked.
“Truth be told, not really a road any more, but they go town there with their land rover. The blue one with the different color doors. Know it?”
“No, not really, never heard of any of this,” the man answered.
So, Bwana Ndege handed him the shampoo, and said, “Well, anyway, could you pass this on to someone who might? They left it here this morning.”
“OK, no problem,” the man said, taking the shampoo.
Now, I should mention, that the good people of the Eastern Congo are averse to crime, and are honest. There are, of course, criminals there just like anywhere else, but such is not your average Zairois. At the same time, a bottle of shampoo is a commodity people save up for, feel lucky to have, and desire. Handing this man the bottle of shampoo with only the vaguest instructions or prospects like this would be similar to finding a random person on the street of an American city and handing them a short stack of loose ten dollar bills and asking them to pass it on to someone who might pass it on to someone etc. with the hope that it gets to a city 500 miles away, and to a particular vague address. It just would not work.
So what happened next?
About three weeks after I returned, sans shampoo, I was up in the hilltop research camp working on some notes, when I smelled something different. I asked one of the local people who worked there what that might be. She sniffed the air, and said, “Maybe the nomads?”
There is a local tribe called the Bahama (or Wahama, or just Hama) who rarely pass through with their small herds of cattle. Cattle don’t live in this forest, and can’t survive the parasites, but a couple/few times a year, a Hama man will pass through with a couple dozen head. Probably, some circumstance in his life and business makes passing through a zone where some of his cattle will get sick better than going some other route. One can imagine.
Anyway, she was right. The smell was the cattle coming down the road. We stood on the top of the hill and watched as a couple of dozen long horned Sanga cattle passed by, followed by a few straggling calves and a Hama man driving them. He glanced up the hill and saw me, which caused him to sprint up the path and issue a greeting.
“Hey, what’s new?” (Standard greeting in the area: “Habari gani?”)
“No news,” I replied. I asked our local employee to get the water bottle and cup, assuming he wanted a fresh drink. Which he did.
As he appreciatively downed the liquid, he asked me, “Is this Ngodigodi? The place where you white people work?”
“Yes, it is,” I replied, bemused that he would know that, since our presence was semi-secretive, in order to avoid drawing attention to our neighborhood, which would in turn potentially mess up the folks who lived around us.
That’s when he pulled out the bottle of shampoo and handed it to me. “Some guy up the road a ways told me to give this to you.”
In sum: First world problem and third world solution.
The thing is, this was not an unusual event. It was normal.
Well, it was a somewhat extreme and amusing, story-generating version of normal. Normal is more like I go to a guy’s store and say I want to exchange money, and he says he can’t but he knows someone who can, and it turns out that is also the guy I’m hoping to get a rebuilt fuel injector from, and he is the sibling of a person who is offering bags of ground cassava for pretty cheap, but they all live in different places but are visiting relatives, and somebody needs a ride across town. Three people, actually, with stops along the way. So, after three hours of driving around with people and stuff, three hours of meeting and greeting, counting out giant piles of near worthless local currency, goods and services being exchanged, a couple cups of tea and a chupa of beer or two, and at the end of the day, I end up completing an important bank transaction in the land without banks, my truck will get fixed, and we can eat for a month, all stuff I would have done in the US in less than 45 minutes, but here, it is a series of social events bound together with a ToDo list, and a full day’s activity.
Yesterday morning my wife stopped at her usual coffee shop to pick up the coffee she ordered in advance on line. The barista’s kid was sick so he was not there, and the shop was closed. But the person working at the adjoining business said, “yeah, he’s out, but I’ll tell him you get a free coffee tomorrow.” Then this morning, she stopped by and a third person who also did not work there said, “are you the person who gets the free crafted press? Here, saving it for you” and so on. A series of trust-based events to fix a supply chain problem, a supply chain problem that is an amateur version of the Big Giant Supply Chain Problem that every human being who lives anywhere that is not the First World experiences daily with all things, where it is simply the way it is, all the time.
A supply chain problem in the US could be called a First World problem, but really, it is something a little different. It is the thin but heretofore persistent veneer of the First World sloughing off in a spot or two, revealing the fundamental Third World nature of human society and economics, underneath it all. The great First World accomplishment is re-organizing the Third World reality so things run more smoothly and everything takes less time. The benefit is that a term like “supply chain problem” is a bemusing neologism rather than a daily descriptor for most Americans. The cost is the dehumanization of the system.
Just hours after the coffee exchange, I happened to see in a newspaper report another neologism: Skimpflation. The New York Times muses: “The quality of many services has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic — a problem that the NPR show “Planet Money” has labeled “skimpflation.”” What the Gray Lady and its commentators do with this concept is to launch on a Biden-Leveling screed meant to keep the fight between the left and the right even-looking, which is a crime that paper commits every day. But what they hit on, accidentally, is the point I’m making here. Two points, really. 1) Third World life is just under the surface, and 2) If you get your expectations in order, this change we are having has some serious benefits; it isn’t all down side.
There is a third point. This is all Trump’s fault. And the Republicans. By ripping apart as many systems as they could, and by encouraging rather than fighting the Covid pandemic, they damaged or broke all the things that matter to most of the people, while leaving the rich intact. We are now more like Zaire/Congo than we ever were. (Like our postal system, on the verge of collapse. Many countries don’t even have a postal system. They just have this guy who happens to be walking down the street, or a muzungu with a working vehicle who happens to be going across town…) The Republican goal is to turn the US into a sea of Third World humanity with the supply chain ever broken, with a small wealthy and somewhat larger and less wealthy ex-patriot-esque community living behind walls in some serious priv. That is what Republicans always wanted, that is what they are finally getting.
The world where that story of shampoo happened unraveled, several times, in the intervening period between then and now. Hundreds of thousands have died violent deaths there, or worse, and there was even a systematic holocaust. A region about a third of the United States with a population of about a fifth of the United States has been living in economic strife and social upheaval because that top-heavy post colonial system eventually blows up. We will have that here as well, if the Third Worlding planned by Bannon, Trump, McConnell and the other Republicans is fully realized.
We could be rescued, of course, by a fascist superhero of some kind. Yes, this is Hitler’s playbook being applied. It is a very plausible scenario. Fear creates a movement, spiritual and physical terror, propaganda. Or, as they say in Mein Kampf, “Angst schafft Bewegung, spirituellen und physischen Terror, Propaganda.” Hitler’s program worked because Germany of the time was a broken society with a broken economy and a balkanized government. The White Supremacist program wouldn’t work well in an America that wasn’t beaten and damaged. Lucky for the Republicans, this handy dandy disease came along just in time to put us on the mat and hold us down long enough to create the beginnings of a Third World society, in which a movement could grow, spiritual and physical terror could be applied, and propaganda deployed. MAGA, insurrection, CRT/Replacement Theory.
Perhaps it is time to start stocking up on shampoo.
Note: The term “Third World” is considered inappropriate to refer to countries previously referred to as “Third World.” Untwist your shorts, I did not use that term to mean that in this essay. Thank you very much, re-read if necessary.