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Sunday, August 26, 2018


When I was a boy, I read a short sci fi story in Astounding Science Fiction, told in the first person, about an astronaut who is stranded on a planet that had been inhabited, in times gone by, by lizard-like creatures.  After struggling to survive, he finds things growing easier for him, until he catches sight of himself in a fragment of a mirror and realizes he has turned into a lizard.

Last week, I uttered a word of praise for Jeff Sessions after he declared the independence of the Justice Department.  Today, the thought crossed my mind that we might miss John McCain.

I am afraid to look in the mirror.


Anonymous said...

Lizards indeed! On the Left, we can fall into a kind of binary thinking whereby right-wing agents of the state (and even institutions like the CIA or FBI), in an occasional moment of dignity or independence, momentarily seem like they're giving comfort to the resistance. (A Carl Schmitt "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" calculation? Or part of the way the center has been continually shifting to the right?)

Anyway, the authors over at Counterpunch have been pretty strident about this for some time, but here are a couple of recent pieces:

s. wallerstein said...

I just read what probably everyone else has read: that McCain does not want Trump in his funeral. Why not miss a man like that, who would have been, I imagine, a vote for impeaching Trump in the Senate?

There's a saying: he or she who will only deal with honest people is going to have to leave off dealing.

MS said...

Prof. Wolff,

I don’t believe you have to worry about metamorphosizing (another “word” that apparently is not a word – this time, s. wallerstein, I am standing my ground – it should be a word) into a lizard. You are just acknowledging that humans are very complicated, nothing is black or white. Humans display various gradations of saint and sinner, some being more sinner than saint, some more saint than sinner. I opposed the Vietnam war, but could respect John McCain for his integrity in not accepting an offer of release by his North Viet Namese captors unless all of his POW brothers were also released; I opposed the war in Iraq, but could respect his opposition to the use of torture as an interrogation technique, and his insistence that water boarding was torture; I did not vote for him for President, but respected him as one of the few Republicans with the spine to stand up to Trump. Regarding, Jeff Sessions, to quote Joseph Welch during the Army-McCarthy hearings, finally, he showed that, at long last, he has some sense of decency and self-respect. The time you should really start worrying is if you begin to see some signs of decency in Trump. Did I say nothing is black or white? Well, he is one of the exceptions - he is all sinner, no saint.

Another sad passing – Neil Simon. Who is going to make us laugh during these troubling times? Ah, the Odd Couple.

MS said...


In terms of making us laugh, we still have Mel Brooks. I think he should produce a remake of Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," with Alec Baldwin imitating Trump kicking a balloon globe around the room. And then a remake of "The Producers," again with Alec Baldwin, singing "Springtime for Trump."

s. wallerstein said...

It's a word according to several online dictionaries:

Unknown said...

"Who is going to make us laugh in these troubling times?" Answer: I will (see previous "Comments"). Who the hell didn't think that Trump was inevitable? Chomsky predicted it. Vidal predicted it. Hitchens' predicted it. I dare say Robert Paul Wolff predicted it. It wasn't Russia so much that influenced the electorate in 2016 as Rupert Murdoch's "Fox News" and right-wing radio (and, no, Chris Wallace and "Shep" Smith, two occasional truth-tellers, do not redeem the whole of Fox News). A full one-third of this country has been cretinized by right-wing propaganda, rendered unfit for democracy---just as some Founders dared to fear. In answer to a question: "And what sort of government have you given us, Mr. Franklin?", my favorite "Benjamin" of all time replied: "A republic, Madam, if you can keep it".

Anonymous said...

Judging by the lavish praise the deceased has received in the media, I think your own reaction is quite understandable. Even I have felt similarly.

What I wonder is to what extent those eulogies are justified or even sincere. To many, Senator McCain was their enemy's enemy. People tend to overlook a bastard's failings provided the bastard was their bastard.

I've never seen the rich and famous lambasted in their own funeral, for instance.

But one doesn't need to be cynical to find that suspicious. There are alternative explanations. That respect may be genuine even if unjustified: the powerful, for instance, are admired precisely because of their power. As Adam Smith said:

We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent.

Likewise, the poor and weak, because of that, is seen with contempt. The same transgression which in one is overlooked, in the other is most grievous sin. Vice versa, what for the latter is a minor merit, for the former is eminent virtue.

It used to be said about a has-been celebrity that she was famous for being famous.

As the Good Book says:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29

That may apply as much to wealth as to prestige.

My two cents

MS said...

“The usurer hangs the cozener.
Through tatter’d clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr’d gowns hides all. Plate sins with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.”

King Lear, Act IV, Scene VI

Matt said...

Why not miss a man like that, who would have been, I imagine, a vote for impeaching Trump in the Senate?

My doubts about this are exactly (one reason) why I don't think I'll miss McCain. He was a person who would sometimes do something good out of pique (as with his recent vote on the ACA - but note how he opposed it every other time), but, almost always, when the cards were down, he was a doctrinal hard-line Republican. His mythical story was that he put "country first" (note how that's at best a 2nd or 3rd best thing to be putting first, in any case), but in fact, the evidence suggests, McCain first, Republican party 2nd, and everything else in line behind that. The best example here might be his actions on torture. He was well set to be the most important voice on this, being a veteran who was subjected to serious torture himself and who signed a "confession" under torture. And, at first he took a role here. But, when push came to shove, he backed down (possibly for personal political gain, though it's unclear if that's so), refusing to push for even minimally decent standards, abandoning the others who hoped to move against this great stain on American behavior, and helping move forward an approach so watered down that it was, in fact, probably worse than nothing, since it served to help cover up the problems. That, I think, was the real McCain. If it had come to it, I expect he would have grand-standed a bit, drawn attention to himself, courted flattery, and then voted just like the rest of the Republicans in any Trump impeachment trial. In fact, I'd be shocked if he would have done anything else.

Anonymous said...

Scary and funny, both at the same time.