Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Enemy Next Door (not the movie)

Yes, I will be taking a break, but this is too good to pass up, a local example of fake news extruded onto the internet by people too lazy or ill-equipped to recognize it. Or purposefully. In any case, this one involves me.

Perhaps the reader is aware of the information-exchange website, “Nextdoor.” It’s nationwide, with regional subsets of local groups (“Everett Conservatives,” in this case) and neighborhoods, like “Nextdoor Boulevard.” A better name would be “Nextdoor Nosy,” as there’s a surfeit of complaints about loud cars, unkempt yards, teenagers, dogs, and warnings of people walking funny.

A few days ago, I was sent screenshots from a thread on the site, asking for my thoughts. It was approximately hilarious, but definitely sad. Not for myself, but for what passes for information on right-wing sites nowadays. 

Informant Jan writes, “You can google Sid Schwab and you’ll arrive at a writeup written by him. [She surmises.] He entitles himself as Doctor Schwab. He claims he received his surgery training in San Francisco but doesn’t name the institution… Then practiced for five years in Salem. Where in Salem? … 20 more years at the Everett Clinic. As what? He also said he was a flight surgeon in Vietnam during the war. How does he confirm that? … I think the Herald should vet his credentials.”

Co-conspirator Amanda chimes in: “I think I just watched his story a few days ago. A really bad doctor who maimed and killed his patients. I really did just watch a documentary that sounds a lot like this guy.”

To which Jan replied, “Amanda, I’m going to write the Herald re this creep. Think you should, also.” Then, “The Herald did not publish my letter re Sid Schwab… I will not renew The Herald.”

“Creep” was a nice detail.

There followed input from a lady who’d actually looked into it – something the outrageously outraged had chosen not to; placing, it must be assumed, righteous indignation above truth. The nicer lady posted easily-found documentation and verifications, which seems to have brought the “discussion” to a close.

Lacking admission to “Everett Conservatives,” I'd guess there were posts that preceded what was sent to me. Whatever documentary rattled around between Amanda’s ears can’t have “sounded like” what Jan said, if that’s where the deliberations began. It didn’t seem especially creepy, nor had she cited maiming and killing, the avoidance of which I’ve always considered kind of a personal credo.

The point is not to argue I am who I am, or to suggest I’m not a creep, because, well, the definition is admittedly squishy. It’s to point out how easy it is for online ill-wishers and/or the uninformed to spread falsehoods, deceive those lacking critical minds, trash reputations, and, tragically, propel narcissistic incompetents into high office.

Brewing in a “conservative” coven, it’s probable the exchange arose from enough intellectual residua to have secerned my subtle misgivings about Trump. Likely, it went no further, but it’s instructive nevertheless. Someone saw something she assumed was written by me (the publicist for my book, more likely) which didn’t include the address of UCSF or The Salem Clinic, or proof I served in Vietnam. Therefore, suspect. Also, I was born in Kenya.

A co-conspirator saw a “documentary,” which she concluded was about me. Really? Was the subject unnamed? Had he been in SF, Salem, and Everett? Otherwise, we must conclude not all bulbs in Amanda’s chandelier are LED.

Charitably, I’ll assume it wasn’t deliberate dishonesty, but just the lazy credulity Russian and other foreign entities count on when they plant their pro-Trump propaganda

Which is perfect fodder for homegrown grift, too, like Trump’s calls for “stop the steal” donations and scammers selling suckers overpriced “Freedom Phones.” 

And it mirrors what people who value truth are up against: a malignant mélange of mendacity, gullibility, sloth, and skillfully-cultivated inability to recognize falsehood. Or preference for it. Especially if it supports inaccurate beliefs that are more comfortable than accepting hard reality.

Whether I lied about Vietnam (wanna see my DD214 or Purple Heart Medal, Jan? Email your address and I’ll drop by) or being a doctor (I’ll bring my degrees, too), is minuscule solanum tuberosums compared to whether the election was stolen, climate change and Covid-19 are real, or Trump is a sociopathic liar. But, on a smaller scale, it validates the confidence of those who, capitalizing on strategically-produced right-wing ignorance, spread misinformation to the willing, to maintain power and wealth while hurting the very people they’ve deceived into voting for them. 

It’s hard to see a way out of it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

They're Nuts. CPAC confirms.

CPAC. Once a year, it allows us to witness, compressed and packaged, the degeneration of a formerly rational political party. Lucky us: twice, this year. Time was, the acronym stood for “Conservative Political Action Conference.” Now, it’s gotta be “Christians Perverting Actual Christianity.” What a lineup of lies, victimhood, ignorance and hate. Hate for their fellow humans; for the poor and needy, for immigrants, for teaching and truth. Everything, in other words, the Bible tells us Jesus loved. Died for, briefly.

Perfectly presenting the direction their party is headed – namely, electing and showcasing nasty, dishonest, uninformed, anti-democracy, pro-autocracy, conspiratorial demagogues -- it’s more sorrowful every year. Attendees actually cheered for low vaccination rates among Republicans. “It’s horrifying,” said Dr. Fauci. “I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives!”

New guy Madison Cawthorn, whose preexisting dishonesty, like Trump’s, first time around, didn’t keep him from being elected, warned that the next step from bringing vaccinations to homes is coming for your guns and Bibles. This is a party bereft of ideas. Not to mention morality. It’s no exaggeration: they delight in death in order to “stick it to the libs.” 

It’s even worse than that. They cheered for ending every pro-life program our government provides. This, the party of “pro-life,” which they wave like Trump flags, shout it louder than “lock her up.” Their pretense that they’re protectors of life ends when it’s those no longer enwombed. Excepting the already wealthy.

Attendees were also treated to a 7-point plan to restore Trump to office, immediately. Among others, it included getting the Congressional Black Caucus to switch to the party that would like them never to vote; that welcomed racist Proud Boys and Three-percenters to their ghoulish gathering. Cogent.

This berserk zeitgeist is who and what they’ve become. How they got there is a complicated story, the result of decades of deliberate disinformation meant to endumb and divide. The why, though, is simple.   

Okay. Stop. This is pretty bad writing, right? Hyperbolic. Purple. I admit it. The thing is, the continuing rise of Trumpism is making me increasingly incoherent. And perpetually depressed. Seeing America crumble before my eyes; witnessing one so-called conservative after another, people so far beyond redemption, so demonstrably against everything for which America once stood, get up and spew their reality-averse vitriol to a cheering crowd, is becoming psychically intolerable. And it shows.

I’ve tried to tell myself, well, these are just the lunatic fringe. But they’re not. Trumpism – by which I mean making lies central to the message, absent anything positive but full of voter suppression, science denial, and selfishness – is now the uncontested mainstream of today’s Republicanism. 

Commanded by the most dishonest, divisive, and delusional “president” this country has seen, whom they can only have elected not in spite of but because of those attributes, they’re culling any member who stood for democracy in the aftermath of the most scrutinized and confirmed election, ever.

And, while feigning outrage at so-called “cancel culture,” they’re systematically canceling the history of America: from learning why we amended flawed founding documents to acknowledging what happened on January 6, and what caused it.

Lacking a positive agenda, they’re counting on riding a hyped-up, cynically-created culture war to victory. Said Jim Banks, R-Indiana, the “backlash against Critical Race Theory is real … We are in a culture war … we are winning.” 

Till now, America had tended to improve itself by acknowledging and repairing its flaws; so what Republicans are doing is worse than Stalinism. Stalin did his gaslighting without Fox “news” and Rush-like radio talkers. And CPAC.

The people cheering at CPAC are forever lost to rationality. Their disdain for democracy is irreversible. They’re the culmination of a long-term project to stupefy millions of people, based on the recognition that for a top-heavy, unpopular agenda to prevail in a democracy, voters need to be made ignorant. CPAC proves its effectiveness. Tennessee confirms.

Better writers than me, with far wider audiences, are making no difference. Polls show Republicans remain steadfast in their delusions, about the election, about Trump, about climate change and vaccines, about poverty, about education. Evidently, we’re at the point where carefully-crafted ignorance becomes indelible. No columnist can change it. 

America could save itself by outvoting idiocy. But that’s like bailing a boat with no bottom: red states are attacking education and voting rights faster than efforts to stop it. Trumpists would only awaken, if at all, when they comprehend the damage being done to them and our country, by cynical manipulators. By then, it’d be too late. I think it already is. I need a break. Again. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Break From Politics. Almost.

Soccer. I was barely aware of it until college, where I watched a game for the first time; mainly because “we” were playing Harvard, which featured a legendary player named Chris Ohiri. Somehow, I’d heard of him, even though I knew approximately nothing about the sport.

Ohiri had come to Harvard from Nigeria, where he’d been a record-breaking decathlete and an Olympic soccer star. As a freshman, he’d scored thirty-six goals in nine games, which, now something of a soccer aficionado, I find all but unthinkable. In his three years on the varsity squad he scored forty-seven.

The game I saw was perhaps the only one in which he didn’t, because we had a player whose speed matched his and whose only job was to dog him. Chris said after the game that our guy, Larry, was the best American he’d played against. I played rugby with Larry, who’d often run to the sidelines to suck on a cigarette and quaff a beer before rejoining the game. It was a club sport. Further comparisons to follow.

(Checking on Ohiri for this column, I discovered that shortly after graduation, then enrolled in Harvard Business School, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and went home to Nigeria to die. Because the ruling government saw his returning-hero status as a threat, he was arrested on arrival, and died in custody.)

I came to appreciate soccer when our son took it up, eventually becoming a striker on a championship select team. I knew I qualified as a fan when they attended an invitational tournament in B.C. Having been on call the night before, I’d missed their match against the Canadian U-17 national team. A dad told me it was the best they’d ever seen: a 0 – 0, or, as we like to say, nil - nil tie. Only true fans can say that about that.

I bring this up because I’ve been binge-watching Euro Championship and Copa America games. At its best, soccer is, indeed, “the beautiful game.” The skills required are, not to sound creepy, unnatural. For example, the first time our son received a kicked-off football, in middle school, he ran it back for a touchdown. Running with an air-filled, ovoid leather-like sack tucked under one’s arm is natural. Same with tossing a spherical object through a circular ring. Not everyone can, but our bodies are designed for it.

Dribbling with one’s feet at full speed, however, maintaining control while making balletic moves around opponents, able to fire off an accurate shot, wasn’t engineered into the blueprints. Nor was precision-controlling a ball flying at you from afar. With a shoe, not a glove.

Also, soccer is ridiculous. Because it’s very hard to score, a team can dominate play in all ways and still lose, by virtue of one sort of fluke or another. It’s not rare. Worse is that the higher up the professional ladder you go, the more the players are inclined to fake injuries, to extract a penalty call from the referee. Hurl themselves to the ground, theatrically; flail as in the agonal throes of death, though touched in the most innoxious of ways.

In my rugby days, there were no substitutions. Contact was full, forceful, and free of padding. If a player went down, it was likely for the count, helped or carried off the field, leaving his team to play a man down. Or two. Or three. Otherwise, we soldiered on, bleeding into bandages, bones poking through skin (if memory serves).

By contrast, footy-fakers pound the ground in unbearable pain, roll like British cheese-chasers, waiting for the referee’s call. If none is forthcoming, they bounce up, limp once or twice for effect, and resume playing. It’s a medical miracle, really. Homeopathic, almost. 

These rules could make the game less annoying:

1. If a player rolls more than once, he (women don’t flop) must leave the pitch for five minutes per roll, with no substitutions allowed. 

2. Players may pound the ground twice. Each additional whack triggers two minutes off the field. If the player pops right up, the minutes are doubled.

3. Faked damaged limbs will be quick-dry casted for the remainder of the game.

4. Political candidates must explain corner kicks, penalty kicks, and the off-sides rule; any that votes to prohibit teaching about racism may never use the term “cancel culture.”

5. While watching replays of consecutive nil-nil soccer games nonstop for twenty-four hours, people who believe Trump will return as “president” in August must locate the Constitution’s Reinstatement Clause and speak in public to explain it.

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