Friday, March 17, 2017

Correspondence: Happy St. Patrick’s Day

The South Lawn fountain at the White House
was dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day
Hooray for America’s Irish immigrants!

By Moristotle

The author of this article about Irish immigration, Fintan O’Toole, knows whereof he speaks – he is a columnist for The Irish Times. “Green Beer and Rank Hypocrisy” [NY Times, March 16]. Excerpt:
Does green beer taste better laced with hypocrisy? Does shamrock smell sweeter perfumed with historical amnesia?
    We may be about to find out, for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day jamboree at the White House will be a breathtaking celebration of double standards and the willful forgetting of America’s recent past. Even by the crooked yardstick of the Trump administration, the disconnect is surreal: The president will salute the legacy of one wave of immigrants even as he deploys against other immigrants the same calumnies once heaped upon the Irish....
    The Irish are at least as fond as anyone else of being told how great they are, but as an Irish person, I find this more than a little disconcerting. It is like having your chastity praised by a brothel keeper, or your temperance and thrift eulogized by a drunken sailor. The whole thing would be funny if it did not raise the most uncomfortable question: Is it right to applaud the legacy of mass immigration from Ireland because the Irish are white and Christian?
    The question is especially pertinent because so many of the people who have devised, defended and attempted to carry out Mr. Trump’s policy of identifying immigrant communities with criminality and terrorism are themselves Irish-Americans. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, announcing in January that his boss would continue the tradition of accepting a bowl of shamrock from the Irish prime minister on March 17, told reporters that the St. Patrick’s Day reception is “an issue that’s near and dear to me” because of his pride in his own Irish roots. Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, boasts of his “blue-collar, Irish Catholic” family background. Kellyanne Conway (née Fitzpatrick) is half-Irish. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, who has the job of enforcing Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, “is remembered fondly” in Massachusetts, according to The Boston Globe, “as an adventurous Irish Catholic son who reached the highest echelons of military service.”
    These are intelligent people, and it seems unlikely that they are so romantic as to imagine they’re descended from Irish kings and Celtic goddesses. Most probably, some of their ancestors were wretched people. The Irish Catholic immigrants who washed up in the United States after the potato famine of the 1840s were, on the whole, the most destitute national group ever to arrive on American shores....
    ...Mr. Trump’s assertion that millions of illegal immigrants voted to deprive him of his victory in the popular vote directly echoes one of the most common charges against the Irish in the 19th century: that, in the words of one Yankee, “Irishmen fresh from the bogs of Ireland” were led to the polling booths “like dumb brutes” to “vote down intelligent, honest native citizens.”
    The relentless campaign to associate undocumented migrants with criminality reworks the charge that Irish Catholics were innately crooked and violent. And the demonization of Muslims as implicitly un-American reproduces the canard that Irish Catholics could not be trusted in high office because they would take orders from the Vatican. As late as 1960, John F. Kennedy faced exactly these slurs in a presidential election. [read more]
Varieties of space dust,
barely the width of a human hair
Star dust everywhere! “Flecks of Extraterrestrial Dust, All Over the Roof” [William J. Broad, NY Times, March 10]. Excerpt:
After decades of failures and misunderstandings, scientists have solved a cosmic riddle — what happens to the tons of dust particles that hit the Earth every day but seldom if ever get discovered in the places that humans know best, like buildings and parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.
    The answer? Nothing. Look harder. The tiny flecks are everywhere.
    An international team found that rooftops and other cityscapes readily collect the extraterrestrial dust in ways that can ease its identification, contrary to science authorities who long pooh-poohed the idea as little more than an urban myth kept alive by amateur astronomers.
    Remarkably, the leader of the discovery team — and co-author of a recent paper in Geology, a monthly journal of the Geological Society of America — turns out to be a gifted amateur who devoted himself to disproving the skeptics.
    A noted jazz musician in Norway, he rearranged his life to include eight long years of extraterrestrial sleuthing. His hunt has now produced a significant discovery, a colorful book for lay readers and what scientists call a portrait gallery of alien visitors. [read more]

Steve Bannon, the Prince of Darkness,
outside the White House in February
Moristotle, to me, David Brooks has always seemed kind of weird. Does his endorsement of Steve Bannon not prove it? “Let Bannon Be Bannon!” [NY Times, March 17]. Excerpt:
Steve Bannon’s...governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies....
    Back in the good old days — like two months ago — it was fun to watch Bannon operate. He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class. He also seemed to have realized that the 21st-century political debate is not big versus small government, it’s open versus closed.
    Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home.
    It was easy to see the Trump agenda that would flow from this philosophy: Close off trade and immigration. Fund a jobs-creating infrastructure program. Reverse the Republican desire to reform and reduce entitlements. Increase funding on all sorts of programs that benefit working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin....
    Why is Bannonism being abandoned?....
    The third possibility is that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone.
    He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.
    But he wants to increase funding for every program that seems manly, hard, muscular and ripped, like the military and armed antiterrorism programs.
    Indeed, the Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t. [read more]
Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef’s medical advice about America’s orange mole:

Trump’s rare moment of self-awareness
Moristotle, do you (or any of your readers) think that Trump will ever become self-aware enough to realize how disastrous it has been for him personally to win the election, and start to feel sick regret that he ever got involved in politics, however much pleasure he briefly derived from the few months of adulation he basked in from the hoards of gullible people he managed to con for a spell?

To Trump voters, his roiling presidency is preferable to what Hillary Clinton’s would have been. They didn’t want social programs that benefit the lazy, darker skinned “others”; they wanted “those people” to be “put in their place,” and for foreigners to be made unwelcome. Much of that is happening, but Trump and the Congressional Republicans will also slash programs that help needy Americans generally, including Trump supporters. What his supporters really did was commit hara-kiri. “Conservative Fantasies, Colliding With Reality” [Paul Krugman, NY Times, March 17]. Excerpt:
The Trump administration's “budget” blueprint, which does not detail where the money comes from and where it goes, and says nothing about revenues or projected deficits, “is not,” as the fiscal expert Stan Collender put it, “a budget. It’s a Trump campaign press release masquerading as a government document.”….
    In this vision, much if not most government spending is a complete waste, doing nobody any good. The same is true of government regulations. And to the extent to which spending does help anyone, it’s Those People — lazy, undeserving types who just so happen to be a bit, well, darker than Real Americans.
    This was the kind of thinking — or, perhaps, “thinking” — that underlay President Trump’s promise to replace Obamacare with something “far less expensive and far better.” After all, it’s a government program, so he assumed that it must be full of waste that a tough leader like him could eliminate.
    Strange to say, however, Republicans turn out to have no ideas about how to make the program cheaper other than eliminating health insurance for 24 million people (and making coverage worse, with higher out-of-pocket spending, for those who remain). [read more]
Today I got one of those really nasty calls that I’d heard of but never dreamed I would get. My cell rings. A local number. I answer, and a voice says, “Hello…hello…hello. I’m ... from ... Company. This call is being recorded. Can you hear me?”
    At this point, if I had said “yes” they would have used that “yes” to claim I had ordered something and would charge my credit card.
    I didn’t say “yes. I did say something quit rude and hung up.
    Keep that in mind if you get a similar call.
    Here’s an article about it: “Here’s how the ‘Can you hear me?’ phone scam works” [Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, February 1].

Sea otters taking a floating nap
I have been shrouded in what I’m thinking is a sort of “existential sadness” – on the one hand, I’m simply sad, which we think of as negative, a state to regret, to avoid. But on the other hand, I’m feeling a deep connection, a compassion for life, for creatures (including humans whom I might not even like), as though my sadness is not so much for myself but for living things – all of them mortal, all of them subject to being wronged, treated unjustly, offended against. Life itself – Nature – seems to be a paradox; it involves all things in a cycle of living-then-dying. No one should crow too loudly. The bell tolls for everyone.

Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle


  1. Donald Trump, the diarrhetic bowel that keeps on flittering: "'It’s very easy to have a good meeting with Trump,' said Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official who is the research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. 'He’s very pleasant in person. He’ll promise you the world. And 48 hours later, he’ll betray you without a thought. He won’t even know he’ll be betraying you.'" From "Trump Offers No Apology for Claim on British Spying" [NY Times].

    1. Actually, instead of reaching back to my mother's verb "flitter," I missed a perfect opportunity to use "trumpet." Probably every reader who has had diarrhea has seen the result of a trumpeting bowel.