Word and Image of Vermont

This site exists to promote the pleasures of discussion and to nudge us all -- myself included -- an inch or two towards decency. You're welcome, and encouraged, to comment on any of the opinions you encounter here by using the e-mail link on the left.

John R. Turner

Thoughts for August 13, 2018

This is the first set of opinions I’ve posted in this portion of Word and Image which includes one of my own. And you can see in the fifth item below that it has to do with sanity. I am arguing that sanity is the key quality of virtue, or at least what I take to be virtue. There is, of course, no objective quality of virtue. There is only what each of us attempts to establish in his or her own mind and then works to live in accord with. And if one thinks vigorously about it I think he can have a pretty good chance of working out a stance that he can stick with throughout his life. But he can hold to it only if he has constructed a definition of sanity he can continue have confidence in. And that, obviously, is not altogether easy.

  • No longer content with maintaining de facto apartheid rule in the occupied West Bank, Israeli lawmakers are moving to establish the de jure variety. (Eric Levitz,Daily Intelligencer, 26 Apr. 2018).

  • “And coming back to this notion of whether or not Trump supporters are ‘deplorables,’ clearly you can’t say all 60 million-plus people who voted for one candidate share all of the same set of values. It’s too simplistic. But I think it’s fair to say that anyone who voted for Donald Trump was, at the very best-case scenario, willing to turn a blind eye to a stupendous catalog of bigotries.” (Sasha Abramsky, Truthdig, May 12, 2018).

  • Compared to the rest of the world Americans are prudish, delusional and selfish religious nuts. (Kali Holloway, Alternet, May 23, 2018).

  • The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 20, 2018).

  • Over the past several weeks various friends have said to me that the world seems to be going crazy. I certainly agree with them. That leaves us with the question of what we can do about it. I’ve wondered about this for a long time now and I’ve finally arrived at a fairly firm decision. We should ally ourselves with people who are standing for a sane, just, and merciful world and forget about arguing crazy people into sanity. No matter what percentage of the population we represent -- even if it’s quite low -- we have to rely on the force we can exert on public policy. A unified segment of the population, if they are smart and articulate, can achieve more than their numbers might suggest. Besides,  that’s the only strategy that makes any sense. You can’t argue a bigot into fair-mindedness. I’m not saying a bigot can’t escape from the human scrapheap, but if it’s going to happen he has to do it himself, by attending to reasonable opinions. Some of them will, but a greater number will not. The latter will live and die in the scrapheap. So trying to win them over directly with rational arguments is not a useful tactic. We shouldn’t hate them or wish them ill, and on a basic human level we should help them as much as we can with issues like sickness and grief. But we shouldn’t forget that they are trying to pollute the world and, therefore, that they need to be combatted by contrast, and without wasting energy on personal appeals.(John R. Turner, May 24, 2018).

  • But there is a strand of these that I find significant: the way Trump’s use of indeterminate language is a way of weakening the fundamental supports of truth itself. Truth is absolute. Things happened or they didn’t, at a particular time. They can be counted and accounted for.  ·  But not the way Trump constructs language. It is not just his outright lies that degrade our discourse; it is also his use of language that muddles to the point of meaninglessness, language that rejects exactitude, language that elevates imprecision as a device to avoid being discovered in his deceit. (Charles Blow, New York Times, May 25, 2018).

Thoughts for August 11, 2018

The seven opinions below include two pointing to the destructive egomania that for years was called “American Exceptionalism.” Politicians were more or less compelled to say they believed in it in order to insure their elections. We don’t hear the term now as much as we used to, but it became ingrained in policies and attitudes which are still very much in effect, and which the other five opinions cited here denounce.

  • The United States leads the world in everything from military spending to war-making to incarceration to various measures of environmental destruction, and various other undesirable categories. (David Swanson, Truthout, May 13, 2018.).

  • U. S. Exceptionalism, the idea that the United States of America is superior to other nations is no more fact based and no less harmful than racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. (David Swanson, Truthout, May 13, 2018.

  • Quite simply, exceptionalism has always been core to American patriotism, and American exceptionalism is no longer tenable. Exceptionalism is the idea that the country bears some special lesson for the rest of the world, some vital role in world history. But if the US represents something invaluable to the rest of the world, what is that? (Sam Haselby, Alternet, May 12, 2018).

  • The new militarism, glorifying war and sacrifice, and boosting an imperial reach, is being made an integral element of the public piety so conspicuous in American politics. (Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated, 2017.

  • The Libyan Model is very much the reason why tinpot dictators like Kim are determined to acquire and keep nuclear weapons. For guys like Kim, whose lives can be measured in their ability to inflict damage on others, Trump’s actions concerning the Iran treaty have only served to confirm that any “protections” offered by the United States are only as good as the next Donald Trump. (Mark Sumer, Daily Kos, May 17, 2018)

  • Trump “traffics in slurs and untruths. The deepest form of rot is the erosion of the distinction between truth and falsehood. Totalitarianism was one big lie perpetrated on human beings reduced to the often hopeless quest for survival in a fog.” (Roger Cohen, New York Times, May 18, 2018).

  • The very idea that the government can control what words we use and don’t at a university-related event seems to violate everything we as a country hold dear about the independence of educational institutions from government control, not to mention the sanctity of free speech and the importance of public debate. But that, of course, was in the era before Donald Trump became president. (Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch, May 17, 2018).

Thoughts for August 10, 2018

I’ve been on a lengthy furlough from posting on this site, but now I’ve decided that I’m ready to start back. I admit the reason I stopped was there seemed only two topics to address. We now have a president who is a mean-spirited imbecile, and a Republican Party which is moving ever closer to fascism. These are bad conditions, but simply to repeat them day after day becomes tiresome. I needed to find a different approach.

The one I’ve chosen and the one I think I can make use of for quite a while is to draw attention to opinion, mainly those of others, but occasionally a few of my own, with the intention of giving readers a chance to think about how much they agree with those opinions, and to ask themselves why they agree or disagree. I’ve been collecting opinions now for a couple months, and so have a pretty good stockpile from which to begin. I’ll try to include a half-dozen or so in every posting. Today I’ll start with an even six:

  • The corporate state’s assault on education, and on journalism, is part of a concerted effort to keep us from examining corporate power and the ideologies, such as globalization and neoliberalism, that promote it. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 6, 2018).

  • The evidence that racism, sexism, and nativism motivated Trump voters is overwhelming. (Chauncey DeVega, Alternet, May 7, 2018).

  • The point is that the authentic historical horror of the highly organized and largely industrialized Nazi effort to eradicate European Jewry has given Israel a lethal blank-check sense of entitlement to commit their own different but hideous crimes against Arab and Muslim humanity in the Middle East. (Paul Street, Counterpunch, May 4, 2018).

  • Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.  (John W. Whitehead, Counterpunch, May 4, 2018).

  • Systemic corruption, crassness, overt racism, a view of misfortune as a weakness, unapologetic bigotry, and a disdain of the public and common good has been normalized under Trump after gaining strength over the last 50 years in American politics.  (Henry Giroux, Counterpunch, April 27, 2018).

  • But we all seem to assume that America—the entity, the corporation—has some sort of larger reasoning behind the actions it takes, the actions put forward by the ruling elite. And almost all of us know that the reasons we’re given by the press secretaries and caricature-shaped heads on the nightly news are the ripest, most fetid grade of bullshit. (Lee Camp, Truthdig, May 2, 2018).

As always, I’m eager to hear from you about what you think about anything you find here.

Thoughts for February 20, 2018

I know of no reputable thinker who continues to assert the reality of American democracy. The inevitability of its decay was first laid out for me more than a decade ago by Chalmers Johnson and Morris Berman, each of whom produced a trilogy of books pointing to American decline. Berman’s final effort in 2014, was titled conclusively, Why America Failed -- no doubt left in that naming.

Though they and other writers, most notably, perhaps, Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated, have traced a series of causes, I don’t of any who have concentrated on a psychological condition I think played a larger role than anything else in bringing American democracy to its knees. I’m referring to a doctrine most commonly called “American exceptionalism.” which held that America was “great” (never adequately defined) just because it was, and not because of any particular talents that the American people either possessed or practiced. In other words, Americans didn’t have to do anything to be great. They just were great, a quality bequeathed to them by Providence. That was that, and there was nothing more to be said.

It was as if a football team declared itself to be of championship quality though it never practiced or never touched a football.

People lost all connection with what they thought their government ought to be doing, or perhaps more important, with what their government ought not to be doing. They held no principles of government in their minds. To the degree they thought at all about why they voted it was solely concerning whether they expected their vote to add a few dollars to their paychecks. What a petty reason for constructing a democratic republic!

The actual behavior of their government never entered their minds. Ask a random citizen how many countries his nation has military forces stationed in and the most likely response you’ll get is a blank stare (I know this is true because I’ve done it many times). Ask him why they’re there and the stare will get even blanker.

Has there ever been a more vacant-minded citizenry than the U.S. possesses at the moment? I doubt it. And I know there has never been one more obsessed with its own grandeur.

This is a condition that cannot be recovered from by a handful of elections. People don’t move from pure emptiness to an intelligent perspective in a few decades. If such a transformation is even possible, it would require generations.

We are now lost in the wilderness and we will remain here for many years. The vaunted American democratic republic didn’t just die. It was murdered by its own people and their egomaniacal theory. Those people now have no idea how to restore it. Or any real desire.

Thoughts for February 19, 2018

I see that the Oscars Awards Ceremony is coming up on Sunday, March 4th, just two weeks from yesterday.

I have seen only five of the nominated films, and among those I have seen, it seems clear to me that Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri and The Shape of Water are the best. I would be very surprised if a film other than one of those two were the winner.

For best actor, I’d say Daniel Day-Lewis has a lock on the award, more so than any other of the actors. However, Frances McDormand is also pretty dominant among the lead actresses. They both gave memorable performances.

For best supporting actor, Woody Harrelson was very appealing, but basically himself, whereas Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water exceeded anything else I’ve ever seen him in and deserves to win.

My favorite supporting actress is Octavia Spencer; everything she did in The Shape of Water was perfect, and whenever she was on screen the film took on even greater life.

Best director is also pretty much a lockdown. Guillermo del Toro is almost sure to take the prize.

So, there’s not great suspense this year about who’s going to win. The surprise, rather, is the kinds of movies in the lead. Who could have anticipated that the story of a woman so enraged about the inability of law enforcement to find the killer of her daughter that she goes completely insane, would win viewers to her insanity, would have people cheering her on as she does utterly nutty stuff, and laughing at her too? And then who would have expected non-human and human sexual romance to generate the tenderest love story in years?

We are in a different mode of thought. I only hope the times they are a changing for the better. And perhaps movies are the best signs they are.

Thoughts for February 18, 2018

One reason I stopped posting for about three weeks is that I came to realize that the U.S. has lost all prowess for democratic government. Our system is now best described as a bizarre plutocracy.  We have hordes of vastly wealthy people, who employ vague rules for how they generally behave towards one another, rules they fight about incessantly. Their basic rule is they will take minor advantage of one another, but they will always protect their class. Rule Number One is the plutocracy will always prevail.

It may be that most of the people have not awakened to this condition. They don’t know what to think or say about it. They have literally been struck dumb.  So when we have school shootings, the plutocracy has nothing to say about them. Consequently, they pray. If we can believe Paul Ryan, he is praying virtually all the time. This is pure emptiness. This is where we are now -- in pure emptiness.

A country that is praying always is doing nothing else. Therefore nothing is getting done. We enter a state of paralysis. And breaking out of paralysis is the hardest thing to know how to do.

Breaking out. That’s the job now

But how do we even get started?

I see no sign that anybody with much influence (are there such people?) even knows how to start.

The only thinkers are the ones who go out and kill.

With guns, in this gun besotted society, we have killed more of each other in the past fifty years, 1,516,863, than have been killed in all of America’s wars since the beginning of the nation, 1,396,733.

How do we think about that?

Thoughts for February 17, 2018

I normally find little to cheer in the writings of the New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. He is a Wall Street champion whose basic social goal is to increase the wealth of the rich and decrease the percentage of wealth held by the poorer 75% of the population. He wants a population in which a majority is always enduring financial suffering.

Still, I have to acknowledge basic sanity. In Stephens’ column this morning calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment he at least demonstrates a streak of that fundamental intellectual virtue. He recognizes there is nothing in the amendment as it is currently interpreted by the courts which pertains to the intentions of the 18th Century citizens who added it to the bill of rights. It no longer contains any of its original meaning. It has become a cause for intellectual freaks. And it is clearly an aid to murder.

I particularly applaud Stephens’ assessment that supposed conservatives who speak about the rash of shootings in schools are offering nothing but “false bromides and empty prayers.” All they can utter to parents whose children have been killed in the places where they should be safest is nonsense worth less than a pinch of fecal matter. If there was ever intellectual disgrace, this is it.

Fools like Paul Ryan who continue this practice should at least have enough empathy to shut up and not make the horror worse. What people mean by praying for people they don’t know I can’t imagine; I doubt they mean anything at all.

We have become a people whose political speech is not only meaningless; it is obscene. It spits in the faces of those whom it claims to console. What can be more foul?

So, I’ll praise an opponent who can summon that degree of honesty. We have so little of it now.

Thoughts for January 25, 2018

In the same notebook I found the scribblings about the Men An Tol I discovered another set jotted down a little over three decades ago which I titled “Humiliations.” After all these years I find that I still stand by their truth, and, in fact, am more convinced by it than I was than when I first wrote them down.

The desire of humans to humiliate one another can seem at times ineradicable. Where it comes from I don’t know but it does seem to be fairly steady. Probably it was the source of Immanuel Kant’s best known statement: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

I wonder if that will remain true forever. In any case, here are my thirty year old thoughts:

Humiliation is all over;
That’s what I didn’t know
 growing up.

I thought that doing right
 was enough,
Doing right in a commonsense

No one tells boys what they
 need to know,
Which is that the world is
 strangely hard;
Not hard in the way John
 Wayne conveyed,

But hard in a peculiar vein
Spreading humiliation all
And making believe it
 doesn’t reign. 

Thoughts for January 24, 2018

When you live in a house for almost thirty years it tends to get packed with more stuff than it can hold comfortably. Our house at 45 Liberty Street is certainly in that condition. So we’ve decided to try to straighten it up a bit, which is a bigger task than you might imagine. In straightening we find many things that we had forgotten we had, including little bits of writing, which, if you wanted to be generous to them you could call poems, but which I don’t want to call anything other than what they are -- a few words on a page.

I thought I might stick a few of them here over the next few months. I’ll start with a piece I called “Contrast, Or Emily and Elizabeth At The Men An Tol.” For those of you who don’t know, the Men An Tol is an ancient stone monument in Cornwall which consists of three stones, two ordinary elongated stones on either end, and between them a flat stone with a hole cut in the middle. They have been there for about 3,500 years, and legend has it that if you crawl through the hole, nothing bad will happen to you for the coming year.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote after I took my daughters there, maybe thirty years ago, near the same time we moved into this house.

For three thousand years
these hoary stones have
Here in this sheep-graced
bramble patch.
And now on this misty
June afternoon
Come two girl-faces from
across a sea
To adorn them in the
foggy spray.
And teach them meanings 
undreamed of
When grunting figures
dragged them
Across these scraggly
And set them portentously
For purposes known solely
To the all-remembering
soul of the world.

Thoughts for January 17, 2018

As we know, Donald Trump is the least racist person we have ever seen. He has repeated the statement so often it’s as though he’s trying to set a record. The frequency of it may have dulled us to its peculiarity. What can it possibly mean to be the least racist person anyone has ever seen?

I actually saw Martin Luther King once. Does that mean that he was more racist than Donald Trump?

Trump makes his pronouncement with great flair. He obviously likes to hear himself say it. Perhaps it’s the case that the sound of it pleases him so much the meaning of it has become entirely irrelevant. It could be that Trump will go down in history as the person who established a new type: one who has totally banished meaning from his mind. Everything he says comes out simply because he likes the sound of it. It doesn’t have to have a meaning because, for him, meaning is meaningless. It is well established that Trump is a wild narcissist. So if one were able to carry narcissism beyond any limit heretofore known, he could pioneer a novel personality: the meaning-devoid brain, one who spews incessantly when there is never any meaning in the spray.

Trump is obviously a highly racist person. He pumps out racist comments every week. He piles them on top of one another incessantly. But in his thought-process -- if you can say he has one -- making racist remarks has nothing to do with being a racist, because, you see, he is the least racist there is.

The droid-like figures who trail around after him, hoping to lap up some dribbles of favor from him -- even though they too would be meaningless -- are in an void even more pathetic than Trump’s own vacancy. They know what he says has no meaning but they have to make up stuff that appears to give it meaning. So in some ways what they say is even stupider than what he says. They construct nothing out of nothing and proclaim it to be full of substance.

Trump and all of his cronies are the prime dopes of history. And nothing that history can ever do will ever come close the changing that. It is not written in stone. It is written in something so obdurate it cannot be discovered in the solar system. There is something truly cosmic about it.  

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