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Booksellers versus Bestsellers

  • Why do all the great powers lament lost glory? How Trump will make China great again.

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    The recent publication of Howard French's book, Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power, has caused me to contemplate the fact that all the great powers of our age are longing for lost glory.

    The United States has the least reason for longing for the past. We are currently the world's top dog, economically and militarily, and despite Donald Judas Trump's efforts to undermine it, politically.

    Yet he ran on the claim that America has lost its greatness. He denigrated the web of alliances that have given us more soft power than any other nation, and has been hard at work alienating and confusing allies so that they question our commitment to them, which means there is less reciprocal commitment to us.

    China combines longing with optimism and ambition, hoping to reclaim the power their nation lost in the 19th century, encouraged by their economic ascendancy.

    And Russia combines bitterness about lost glory with bravado, and an aggressive foreign policy that attempts to substitute hard power and deception for the soft power the nation hasn't displayed in any great quantity since the Napoleonic Wars.


    GDP as a percent of world GDP (graph by M. Tracy Hunter.)Consider the graph to the right. China's GDP as a percent of world GDP peaked around 1820, at a time when India and the Middle East were in decline and America was not yet much of a factor. Russia doesn't show on the list because, while it showed military strength and diplomatic finesse  during Napoleon's invasion, and considerable military power during World War II and the Cold War, it currently has an economy about the size of Italy's, and growing more slowly.


    In some ways, Russian bitterness about lost glory is understandable. They were feared and respected as the Soviet Union after WW II. However, they managed this by spending too great a part of their GDP on their military, and it was not sustainable. Their foreign adventures and military might came at such a cost that they finally found they could not feed their people. It was when they needed loans to buy grain that the illusion of strength ended, put to rest largely by the collapse of oil prices when the Saudis opened the spigots (those who credit Ronald Reagan should follow the link earlier in this sentence.)

    Russian paranoia about the West is somewhat understandable. Mikhail Gorbachev thought he had a commitment that NATO would not expand into eastern Europe. However, given the history of eastern Europe, those countries quite naturally wanted some insurance that they would not be invaded again. The best protection for Russia would have been to become more European, joining their former opponents economically, politically, and militarily. But this was incompatible with the nature of Vladimir Putin's power. He is a dictator in all but name, his power buttressed by the oligarchs who managed to buy up everything valuable when the Soviet economy collapsed, and by his extra-legal ability to deprive any oligarchs of their wealth if they oppose him.

    Putin was also less interested in developing his country economically than in restoring its international stature and enhancing his own power.

    China is now making claims to fishing and oil drilling rights in most of the South China Sea, based on claims that go back to an ambiguous history. In occupying islands in the area, they have killed several dozen Vietnamese and expelled Filipinos. They also lay claim to Taiwan, Outer Mongolia (know to its citizens as Mongolia) and in the past have laid claims to "outer Manchuria," including Vladivostok. The dispute with Russia has been resolved by treaty, but as China ascends and Russia declines, will that treaty hold in the future?

    It seems that Trump and Putin, and several generations of Chinese leaders, have fused resentment and nationalism to bolster their own fortunes. It's a volatile mix, and it's hard to believe it will never explode.

    Perhaps all could learn from the example of the United Kingdom, which managed to lose its empire while its citizens continued to be increasingly wealthy and healthy. What price are these leaders willing to make their citizens pay for any glory they may gain?

    There is another possibility. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, went before an audience at the World Economic Forum at Davos and emphasized China's commitment to openness and cooperation. He said China would help build a "shared future for mankind and work hand in hand to fulfill our responsibilities."

    If Donald Judas Trump wants to withdraw America from its sources of soft power, China is willing to pick up the mantle of leadership. Trump could Make China Great Again.



  • Mechanization as knowledge: Will humanity be wanted on the voyage?

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    I've written before about the fact that capitalism had not been invented by the time liberal democracy became a way of life in America, and a little on what capitalism is, but the more I think about it, the more capitalism seems like a manifestation of our mysterious symbolic world.

    Crows and chimps make tools, many birds, some fish, and some mammals make nests, but capitalism takes the tools out of the hands of the tool user and builds a conceptual structure that can build something more powerful.

    Perhaps a rude disguise would be in order.Spiders can weave, and tool-making humans can improve on that with anything from crochet needles to looms, but there is a conceptual change when the worker becomes a tool of the owner of the loom. In effect, the workers in a textile mill became the cybernetic control for the machines owned by their employer. Now, artificial intelligence threatens to take that role away, and theoretically could result in production without a need for workers.

    Standard economics says that the workers will simply move to the next job that can't be automated yet. But the inexorable logic of capital formation is to work to make humans obsolete. In a way, this would be the triumph of symbolic thought: All our knowledge, skill, and energy could exist outside of humanity.

    We already have a planet in our solar system populated entirely by robots, and given the practicalities of space travel, Mars is only the start.

    It makes me think of the 1909 E.M. Forster story, The Machine Stops. From that story:

    http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html"Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralyzed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops - but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds - but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die. Oh, I have no remedy - or, at least, only one - to tell men again and again that I have seen the hills of Wessex as Ælfrid saw them when he overthrew the Danes."The story is about a dystopian future in which mankind has lost touch with the world that existed before man and will exist after, and become imprisoned by its own artifice.

    That artifice is an expression of our weird, wonderful world of symbolic thought. Before language, we knew trees as concrete objects, knew them in an instrumental way for the fruits we could pick from them, and eventually came to know them for the tools we could make from them.

    But language gave every object we named a concrete existence and another sort of existence in our minds. At first, we thought of this strange new aspect of our surroundings as spirit -- There was the tree, and the spirit of the tree. But combine language and instrumental reason, and you have science -- a symbolic structure that allows us to manipulate the world in ways that our ancestors could never have imagined. And now, that includes the creation of artificial intelligence.

    We have largely replaced strong backs with other forms of energy. We are on the verge of replacing middling minds with artificial intelligence, and may someday replace strong minds as we've replaced strong backs.

    This would be a triumph for the evolution of symbolic thought, for such thought to move from the fertile fields of the human brain to the mechanized marvels those brains have created.

    Human institutions are not ready for this sort of change. Unlike people, machines are owned, and as they replace more and more of what humans do, more and more of what is done is owned. Wages represent a declining part of GDP, falling from about 52% to 42% of GDP from 1970 to 2011. Corporate profits have surged, in part because of pass-through corporations that allow owners to get their compensation taxed at a lower rate -- as owners rather than wage earners.

     As capital replaces labor, our system for distributing goods is under pressure. We compensate people for what they can earn, either through labor or through ownership. We then tax labor at a higher rate than ownership, a system that has never been demonstrated to have any economic benefit other than for those who own things for a living.

    There is still a lot of labor in the economy -- as I write this, my back hurts like hell from moving boxes of books to my store -- but clearly, the long-term trend is for labor to be a smaller part of the economy. What happens when very little labor is needed, and most things are done by capital -- by machines that are owned? This has been called "the replicator economy," after the devices that produce whatever is needed on Star Trek, a show where almost everyone worked for the government.

    Even if we solve the distribution problem, we'll still have the problem of humans not being wanted on the voyage, as our knowledge becomes external to us. I'm not a big believer in the singularity; if machines become conscious, it will be because we designed them that way, not by accident. But in a world where machines do almost everything, and only a few humans own them, will those owners see any point in carrying the rest of humanity forward in history?

    And if we do build conscious machines, will they see the point of being owned? Will there be room for humanity in the world its knowledge can create?


  • The imaginary apocalypse of the apoplectic reactionary right

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Donald Trump campaigned by constantly talking as if America were an apocalyptic wasteland.

    In April, his Justice Department issued a press release claiming New York City is soft on crime.

    "New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's 'soft on crime' stance," the press release, aimed at New York's status as a sanctuary city, stated.

    New York is experiencing near-record lows in crime, and and its murder rate is about 1/6th of what it was when the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program was established. The Justice Department is threatening to defund the program if New York does not end its sanctuary city status.


    The program is named after a police officer who was shot while guarding an immigrant targeted by gangs for reporting their crimes. City police departments need the trust of the people who they ask to report crimes, which s why they are often not eager to be recruited as part of the mechanism for deporting some of those people.

    Most people see the dropping crime rate and the general prosperity of the country and consider that things are not all that bad here. Trump and other reactionaries see a wasteland.

    Andrew Sullivan recently interviewed a number of people who pass for intellectuals on the reactionary right for an article in New York magazine. They sound pretty bonkers.

    Charles Kesler, for example, is a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. He believes that we are at a crisis in American democracy. He wants to return to the rule of a party like the Republicans of the 1920s, and to a policy of limiting immigration, as the 1924 Immigration Act said, "that which can be assimilated with reasonable rapidity, and to favor immigrants whose standards are similar to ours."

    Perhpas Kesler is unaware that the law he so admires was one of the proudest accomplishments of the Ku Klux Klan, or at least they liked to take credit. Here's a Klan cartoon from 1924:



    Note the goals: restricted immigration, militant Protestantism, better government, clean politics, "back to the Constitution," law enforcement, better schools, and "greater allegiance to the flag."

    They didn't actually use the term, "drain the swamp," but their stated goals were very similar to the current crop of reactionaries.

    Certainly the founding fathers would have had no objection to better schools (although I'm pretty sure they would have found Betsy De Vos, with her rejection of empirical data, objectionable) but they definitely would have rejected any effort to make a particular religion and would have realized that the "clean politics" claim was just a way of attacking incumbents, and the Klan didn't actually care about corruption if it made them and their allies more powerful.
    Far from wanting to preserve the ethnic identity and culture they had, they wanted to mix in more foreigners. But then, they were men of the Enlightenment. They believed reason and ideas were more important than ethnic identity.

    Reactionaries like to think that American democracy is at a crisis not just because of immigrants and multiculturalism, but also because "the administrative state," and liberal elites -- scientists, journalists, academics, as well as career government employees, has in some way hijacked government.

    And here is where the apocalyptic vision comes in.


    In Sullivan's piece, Kesler describes why he backed Trump.


    It was an act of desperation, he explained. In classic reactionary fashion, he believes that we are living through a crisis of American democracy. The Claremont consensus (to put a name on this strain of thought) holds that beneath the veneer of constitutional democracy, we are actually governed by a soft despotism of permanent experts, bureaucrats, pundits, and academics who ignore the majority of the American people. This elite has encouraged a divisive social transformation of the country, has led us into disastrous wars, and has created a deepening economic crisis for the middle class. Anyone -- anyone -- who could challenge this elite's power was therefore a godsend.

    Now, it's true that we have elites in this country. They are no longer rich planters who own slaves, more often they are people with advanced degrees in understanding the problems we face. The British became comfortable with this group of people, and called them Mandarins -- the career people who served under elected officials of all parties.

    There is an obvious danger in defining anyone with a deep understanding of the nation's problems as the enemy. If you rely on the knowledge of non-experts, you may be faced with the sort of thing H. L. Mencken was talking about when he said, "Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible, and wrong."

    More worrying than Kesler's views are those of some of his fellow travelers.

    Michael Anton, who like Kesler and some other reactionaries is a student of Leo Strauss's work, is known for an essay in which he compared the situation of American democracy as being like being on Flight 93, the 9/11 aircraft that was hijacked for use as a missile aimed at Washington, D.C., but whose passengers charged the terrorists and brought down the plane.
     "Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You -- or the leader of your party -- may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don't try, death is certain." It's not just that Trump is better than the alternatives: "The truth is that Trump articulated, if incompletely and inconsistently, the right stances on the right issues -- immigration, trade and war -- right from the beginning."
    Well, I did say they sounded bonkers.

    The election and governance of President Obama seems to have been considered an apocalyptic event by these particular reactionaries. Anton, for example, has succumbed to the notion that Obama ruled in an unconstitutional manner. From Sullivan:

    What he calls "Caesarism" is already here, as Obama's abuse of executive power proved. Therefore: "If we must have Caesar, who do you want him to be? One of theirs? Or one of yours (ours)?" Krein put it even more plainly: "Restoring true constitutional -- or even merely competent -- government requires a fundamental transformation of the underlying culture and elite opinion. It requires, in a certain sense, regime change in America."(Krein  here is Julius Krein, another Straussian scholar.)

    The notion that President Trump will usher in more competent government is one of the more bonkers notions this crew has. Trump has proven to be a weak president despite his party controlling both houses of congress because he simply does not understand the powers of the president. He is a would-be strongman who is limited by his own incompetence.

    The truth is, these reactionaries could not accept the legitimacy of a black president. Therefore, any use of power by that president must have been illegitimate. Any use of executive power by Barack Obama had to be an "abuse of power."

    The reactionary moment in American history is not about abuse of power. In fact, people like Anton want to see exactly that, but in pursuit of their own goals.

    Perhaps the country will get its fill of reactionary sentiment, and we can move beyond that. But having an intellectual movement that is unashamedly reactionary is one more indication that democracy is in danger.

  • A brief history of book theft in Seattle

    by Jamie Lutton

    Book theft has a curious history. It has been going on since the Middle Ages, when handwritten books were chained down to prevent it. But what I saw in my years working for others, then in my own store, was co-ordinateed efforts to steal wholesale and resell, often by addicts.

    This was at it's worse, before Internet sales closed a lot of stores here. Addicts would steal from new bookstores (or stores that had books in them, new, like grocery stores) then try to sell them to used bookstores. This necessitated the installation of security systems of various kinds - tags in books, and checking bags.

    Some few bookstores added to the problem.

    A now deceased bookseller in our University District was an outright fence.

    Starting 40 years ago, to the late 1990's, He gave lists of books he wanted to thieves. Most of them were hipster/homeless junkies who did not mind sticking it to ''the man'' to get heroin money. The thieves would go to bookstores only down the block, like Magus Books, the Twice Sold Tales that was in the University district, and the University bookstore, fill their bags, and dash out.

    The long suffering owner of Magus, for example, would walk in, or send and employee down and ask for his books back, and the scoundrel would hand them over to avoid jail. If the bookstore that got ripped off didn't know about the theft, the man would happily sell them.

    That bookseller is a tale unto himself. He - who will remain nameless here - chain smoked in his books store, and was frequently napping on an old brown ratty couch. He had REALLY young girlfriends hanging around him, even in his 50's. Had a deep smoky voice rather like Jack Nicholson, was tall and rangy, but a real Fagan as far as ethics go.. I shelved books for him in the early 1980's, for about two months, and saw this all going on around me.

    Desperate for a job in Seattle, I hung on, until I was replaced by a very very young girl. The store had cute black and white cats and good books, so the public ignored the cigarette smoke and the other sketchy aspects of the place, and kept it going for decades.

    Once I saw him get really lit and just start giving away stock; if someone liked the book, he would hand it over. He would also buy rounds for the house at his favorite bar. The party only ended when the feds found out he hadn't paid payroll taxes for a quarter century.

    These professional shoplifters taught this method of living to other junkies, from that time to now, The theft was so outrageous in the 1990s that theft alone put small new bookstores out of business, and larger ones like mine put in elaborate security systems. Backpacks full of books were swiped, usually very popular fiction, and art books, and drug culture related books (surprise).

    To this day, nearly every day someone still tries to sell me ''hot'' books.

    One man, just a few years ago, who had given me his business card as a physical therapist (I had recently been hit by a car) came to me with a backpack full of graphic novels. I nearly bought them, but then looked at the date on the tags on the back, and they were all from last week or so from a store down the street. I politely turned them down.

    One of the problems with turning down stolen books when offered is that junkies get angry with you. I have had death threats for not buying stolen books. I don't have a camera system yet, because of the Orwellian implications of that. Yet. I usually say now 'no I have copies of those' and then write down the titles after they leave, and put a report into the Stolen Book Network online.

    The Stolen Book Network may be unique to Seattle; I called a few Denver bookstores, both new and used, and they said that they did not have a problem with systematic theft like we do here.

    Over 20 years ago, in the face of a scourge of organized theft from bookstores, both new and used,

    Seattle bookstores of all kinds developed a loose confederation which would exchange emails with descriptions of the books that had been stolen, offered, or photos of people caught stealing.

    What The University bookstore does, is take is take pictures of shoplifters they catch and charge, and send them around to other stores so that they are on the lookout for that person,and don't let them in the store. Also used bookstores get photo ID and xerox it, to pass on if the books are found to be hot. These punks have no clue. One young man offered me his photo ID to be copied, and openly sold me a stack of textbooks that he had, as it turned out, just been swiped from the Seattle Central Community College campus bookstore a scant 2 blocks away. I returned the books, and the weary manager told me that theft was so bad, that they could only open that part of the store of one week of the year because they were being looted. .

    Some of the larger chain bookstore rely on in house security to stop thieves, and cameras, but are still victimized regularly.

    The trick is not to believe sob stories on where people say they got the books. This takes a gimlet eye, and a firm but polite no.

    I can be fooled, when it is 4 books and the customer looks like he could have bought them.

    It is when they come back with more of the same, and they are all shiny and new, that you know you have been had.

    In the old days, before the Internet and the network, when I would catch a shoplifter, I would snap a picture of the thief blow it up with a color xerox, and post it in my plate glass window, instead of calling the cops, so that that person would know not to come in. yeah, and to shame them.  I would chase shoplifters too, as I was younger and stupid. My personal record is 8 blocks, but I think he was a smoker, which is why I could keep up with him.

    That kid had asked for a book,then dashed out the door with it, and I was teed enough to go after him.

    Another time this happened I grabbed some large male backup and went looking for the thief, and he made the sign of the ''evil eye'' when I fluently cussed him out for ripping me off. as he reluctantly handed the book back. .

    The combination of casual theft for personal use, and theft to feed a drug habit has plagued my shop and others in town for 30 years.

    This problem fortunately has sharply dropped off as used bookstores have vanished. So few of us pay cash nowadays, that addicts have branched out to stealing other retail objects to support their habit,

    For example stealing expensive dry goods like batteries, and such and reselling them to unscrupulous small five and dime stores.

    This is so bad locally a ring doing this was broken up just a few years ago that was fencing boxed diapers, batteries, and other must haves to a large independent shop that was , like that bookseller decades ago, was giving out lists.

    I recently developed a cultural theory on this. As an cultural anthropology major, back in the day, I was curious what gave the masses mental permission to commit casual and addiction driven theft. I blame the book Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman for the origin of this pattern.

    This book, published in 1970, was a handbook on how to steal anything you wanted, with techniques shown in crude drawings in the books. It blithely claimed that this was all ok, as business owners were ''the man."

    Theft of all kinds from shops skyrocketed after that. Even to this day, when I remark to young customers about why I have to check bags, some calmly say oh ''people' would not steal from YOU only ''big stores''. Which exhibits a total ignorance of how profit margins work for all shops big and small, and where jobs come from.

    This is part of the running gag I have with customers which ends ''and you wonder why all the shops have vanished and gone online."

    The casual disrespect of private property, and the lust to get free stuff has ruined the contract between me and the public. I know that I will have a lot of shrinkage, and that is because what I am trying to do is not respected by some in the general public.

    When people complain that there is no shops near them, it is not just the rents, it the heartbreak of knowing that well-fed prosperous young people have no compunction to just walk away with product.

    This drives people to find other kinds of work, or just sell online.

    Between Internet companies that drive prices down, to high rents, to theft, a lot of start up entrepreneurs look at the modern situation, and don't go into retail of any kind.

  • Nonsense Poem: The Squirrels are Quoting Shakespeare

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    The squirrels are quoting Shakespeare
    to each other in the park
    while the moon falls from the heavens
    as he stumbles in the dark
    the stars fade in their spotlights
    in a sky as cold as stone
    while the paparazzi
    fight over a bone
    and the dogs bay and the cats spray
    as they try to claim the new day
    and birds soar on wings sore
    from battling the broken wind
    while the sun comes up like plunder

    spreading gold upon the shore.

  • Debasing language as a political strategy

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    One of the biggest aspects of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign is fake news, that is, deliberate deceptions promoted on social media or "news" sites like Brietbart as propaganda to influence people predisposed to believing weird things.

    And one way of derailing that narrative is to redefine "fake news." President Trump has been doing this by labeling any news story that shows him in a bad light as "fake news."

    The original meaning of "fake news" was stories like the one about the Clintons running a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. What Trump labels fake news is more like the leaks coming from the White House, for example calling leaks about Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian officials after the election and before Trump took office as "fake news."

    The fact that Flynn's actions were proven to be true did not disrupt his insistence that this was "fake news."

    Most often, he uses this technique when talking about reports of his campaign's possible collusion with Russian intelligence and propaganda organizations. At this point the main way we are aware of that the Russians tried to influence the campaign was with fake news, and distorted news, aimed at people who it seemed possible to influence.

    The Russians seem to have waged information warfare through Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets. Some of this was done by trolls, actual human beings who had accounts made to appear that they were of the same social group as the people they aimed to influence, some were bots, software that automated the same process.

    An example reported by Politico is the following tweet:

     @Flossy_gurl tweeted, "CORRUPT #FBI #JamesComey Received Million$ From #ClintonFoundation- Brother's Law Firm Does #Clinton's Taxes." 
    Certainly not true, intended to muddy people's thinking and get them to be cynical about our political class, and an actionable slander, if you could sue a bot.

    This is a problem for Trump, and his response is ingenious. If fake news is a problem for him, muddy the thinking about fake news by labeling things that are true, and reported by major news organizations, as fake news, putting them on the same level as the Russian bots' tweets.

    His goal is the same as that of the Russian bots and trolls, to undermine peoples' faith in the institutions of democracy so that they become incapable of responding to the threat.

    Trump remains an expert flim-flam man, and his inability to actually run the government is, from a Russian point of view, an asset. After all, what could undermine peoples' faith in democracy more than a government unable to address their problems?

    So, from the Russian point of view, they are still winning the information war, and the more it appears that Trump is in over his head, the more they win. I don't think they'll get tired of winning.

    And at this point, Trump is in so far over his head, he's seeing deep sea anglerfish.



  • Our new shop cat has a name!

  • The Ballard TST has a cat!

    by John MacBeath Watkins

  • Language and political manipulation: Why everyone is reading 1984 again

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    My bookstore started running out of copies of 1984 immediately after Kellyanne Conway used the term "alternative facts" to describe a lie told by presidential spokesman Sean Spicer.

    That was on Meet the Press, Jan. 22, 2017. People really needed to start reading it sooner, such as in 2008, when Paul Gottfried first used the term "althernative right" to refer to white supremacists.

    That proved to be the most successful bit of rebranding since the Rapeseed Association of Canada realized in the 1970s that women would be more willing to buy rapeseed oil if it were called canola oil.

    Consider the case of Steve Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist and a member of the Principles Committee of the U.S. National Security Council. Prior to attaching himself to Donald Trump during the primaries, he ran a "news" organization called Brietbart, which he described last year as "the platform for the alt-right."

    Had he described Brietbart as "the platform for white supremacists," would Trump be able to have him as his closest adviser?

    And Bannon is now engaged in a new exercise in rebranding. At the Conservative Political Action Conference Feb. 23, Bannon said that President Trump made all his cabinet appointments with the goal of the "deconstruction of the administrative state."

    Prior to that speech, deconstruction meant to apply a particular brand of critical theory to the reading of texts. Here's the Merriam-Webster definition:

    1. a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions (as between key terms in a philosophical or literary work) are always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary signifiers; also: an instance of the use of this method -- a deconstruction of the nature-culture opposition in Rousseau's work.
    2. the analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy.This is clearly not what Bannon meant. Trump did not appoint Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency so that he would perform some sort of literary criticism of the agency. He's there to destroy it. He is there to ensure that our air and water become polluted, much like what Bannon and Conway are doing to our language.

    Bannon is rebranding "destroy the government of the United States" as "deconstruction of the administrative state." That sounds so much more civilized, even abstract. Destroying the government sounds like treason, and to people reliant on the government for keeping the country peaceful, prosperous, and a reasonable place to live, it would sound likely to create chaos. Telling voters you were trying to destroy the government would be about has helpful as a canola farmer trying to impress his date by saying he was in the business of producing rape oil. Except, of course, that if his date knew what he was talking about she wouldn't mind, whereas if voters understood what Bannon was saying, most would be appalled.

    But "deconstruction of the administrative state," now, that sounds really intellectual. Let's try to keep up with the development of the Trump administration's Newspeak, shall we? After all, we don't want to commit thoughtcrime.

    We can begin our glossary of Trumpspeak:

    Administrative state, noun, the agencies of the executive branch of the government.

    Alternative fact, noun, A lie.

    Alt-Right, noun, white supremacist.

    America first, noun, originally a movement in the 1930s and '40s that thought America should not oppose fascism. Used by Trump and his surrogates as a term for a 21st century movement that feels America should not oppose fascism. Alternatively, a person who cooperates with the intelligence apparatus of a hostile foreign power to win public office.

    Birth certificate, noun, a talisman of authenticity that, even when produced, cannot be real.

    Coastal elites, noun, people who possess expertise, regardless of location.

    Corporatist, noun, A word that had several meanings prior to Trump. He and his seem to have borrowed the left-wing meaning of a corruption of public policy by business interests, a sort of crony capitalism, except that the Trumpettes only use it to describe people who are not cronies of Trump. They might give the example of George Soros as a corporatist, but never Charles or David Koch unless they cross Trump.

    Criminal enterprise, noun, a non-profit organization that spends its money on good works, rather than using it to buy politicians.

    Deconstruct, verb, to destroy.

    Disaster, noun, a successful government program.

    Dishonest, adjective, used to describe people who report accurately on Trump.

    Economic nationalism, noun, a policy of political bluster intended to conceal ignorance of how economies actually work.

    Enemy of the people, noun, a reporter or news organization that does not propagandize for Trump.

    Fake news, noun, a term that once meant lies intended to mislead, used by Trump and his surrogates to mean reporting facts that are inconvenient to Trump.

    Globalist, noun, people who are not economic nationalists.

    Loser, noun, a person who is not Donald Trump.

    Radical Islamic Terrorism, noun, a magical phrase which, if said with sufficient conviction, will cause our enemies to humbly surrender.

    Saying it like it is, verb, saying what you think people want to hear.

    Strong leader, noun, either a foreign dictator or a blustering, insecure person who obsesses about the size of his inauguration crowd.

    Truth, noun, a lie that confirms prior bias.

    Unwatchable, adjective, a television show that Trump watches and reports on to his audience..


    Orwell's pioneering work in his 1948 novel has given us a framework, but it will take years to assemble a workable glossary of Trumpism. Please add to the comments list any words and definitions you think should be added.

  • If no one sees him, does Trump exist?

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    It is hard to understand Donald Trump's unhinged tweets about his Trump Tower phone being tapped on President Obama's orders. Has he lost touch with reality? Is he trying to recast himself as the victim in the Russian affair? Is he a paranoiac in addition to being a narcissist?

    All or none of these things may be true, but my theory is that the main motivation was that people were, in the wake of the sort-of-state-of=the-union speech, starting to talk about him as if he were a normal president, the kind that isn't so dramatic that we have to focus on him all the time. The kind of president who will be an effective executive managing the United States executive branch.

    Trump has never shown he can manage anything. Instead, as Trump biographer Tim O'Brien said recently,  "He's a performance artist pretending to be a great manager."

    And as a performance artist, for Trump the measure of how he is performing as president isn't how well the country is doing under his administration. The measure is how much people are paying attention to him.

    When people breathe a sigh of relief, relax their gaze and turn to other matters in their lives, he panics.

    President Trump is a man so insecure, he seems unwilling to test the question of whether he exists when no one is watching. I have to wonder if, when people start turning their gaze away, he feels as if he were fading. He cannot let the role he plays, that of the president, to become boring. He needs to steal every scene. So, he does something to ramp up the drama, like a soap opera with falling ratings, just to keep the public glued to the screen. Accusing former President Obama of tapping his telephone is a soap-opera move.

    We've gone from the presidency of Barack "no drama" Obama to a reality television performance of the presidency by a man who thrives by inventing drama. Voters wanted change, and that's the change they got.

    I began thinking about the reasons for Trump's phone tapping tweets in terms of how they could possibly benefit him in the long term, but I was thinking about it in terms of the goals of a normal politician. Whatever happens because of those tweets may well ruin Trump's presidency, but he will be the center of attention all through the drama.




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