Contraria

Edward C. "Coe" Heller is a Los Angeles-based film producer who believes that if everyone knows something to be true it is probably false. A friend, tired of listening to rants has suggested a blog as a harmless outlet. Coe believes it is vanity, and a chasing after the wind, but is unsure it is harmless.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Month, Maybe Two



John died almost five years ago http://contrariat.blogspot.com/2013/08/.  Now another John has died in December, at 58, a friend, associate, and a guy I knew for 20 years and talked to four or five times a week for the last several years.   The process is grueling with one dead guy and an extended network of family and friends as collateral damage.
Now Peter has it, taking him next.  Big, gregarious Peter I’ve known for almost 50 years as a close friend and colleague, and the doctor told him last week, “a month, maybe two”.   Peter, a whirlwind of energy, intellect, passions and compassion has been at it for a couple of years, taking this and that treatment, up, down, scans, a whole vocabulary which has spilled out over lunches like virtual puke.  He is philosophical, beyond worry about himself, quoting Atul Gawande, but concerned for the loneliness he will leave his family.
What should anyone do with a month, maybe two?   Trophy Wife says that my job is clear.  “Show up and Shut up” which seems wise and doable, and I hope I don’t let life get in the way of that simple task.
What would I do if it were me?  I don’t know.  I suppose some people would do a bucket list, a frenetic travel or spending binge, but I wouldn’t see the value of creating memories that can’t be enjoyed.  Other people might do what they ordinarily do, ignore it  until the day when they can’t do it any more.  Someone might break down, and someone else might gather friends and family for goodbyes or some kind of death watch.
I probably agree most with Morrie Schwartz of Tuesdays with Morrie that how we die doesn’t matter.  How we live does.    It should not make a difference if we have one month maybe two or if we get hit by a bus and do not come home one day.  If I were guessing today I would guess that I would not want to be a bother to people.  Put me away, remember the good days and let it be.  And that’s what I think when it doesn’t matter, it’s not me.  Peter seems to pretty much be at peace which is good, and I’ll show up and shut up.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Free at Last



            Free at last.  Free at last.  Thank God almighty I am free at last.
            I have left the Democratic Party, resigned from the City Committee and am officially “unenrolled”.  The weight is off my shoulders, so at least I do not feel responsible for what My Former Party does.
            11 years ago I observed in these pages that we “…have a choice between two parties, one of which has bad principles and one of which has no principles at all.” http://contrariat.blogspot.com/search?q=liberal+manifesto
For many years I have identified as a Democrat both because I am a card-carrying member of the bi-coastal elite and because a party with no principles at least has the option of getting some things right if only by accident.
Lately, however I have determined that MFP actually does have principles, and even if we cannot be Republicans being in MFP is untenable. 
The President has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  If I were President I would not have nominated him, but by any measure he is qualified to serve as a Justice.  45 Senators from MFP voted against him, out of political spite, only the latest episode of a trend MFP started in 1988 with the Bork nomination, a trend which has done infinite damage to our institutions.
MFP has come out against “free speech” – the kind with “air quotes” quotation marks in a pandering to African-Americans who may be too fragile to engage in discussions.  Our local candidate for Mayor used the air quotes in a video message.  I cannot agree with that and recall that in 1967 as a ROTC midshipman I was investigated by the Office of Naval Intelligence for insisting that the SDS had the right to live in peace on campus.  Free speech does not get air quotes.
Professor Mark Lilla of Columbia has written “The Once and Future Liberal” in which he argues that MFP has followed the path of identity politics down a dead end.   The Democrats have taken the “we” out of our society and substituted a narrow vision of “me” with an identity label.  He writes (p 102)
At a time when we liberals need to convince people that they share a common destiny our rhetoric encourages self righteous narcissism.  We have no political vision, and we are thinking and speaking and acting in ways guaranteed to prevent one from emerging.
 Lilla notes that the anti-Trump movement is wholly negative, offering nothing to anyone other than anger, and when MFP allocates convention seats by identity quotas the participants are so focused on themselves that they acquire distain for politics because it means engaging with people unlike themselves.  This in turn explains why MFP believes that the judges should make the laws, so the politicians do not need to be responsible for anything.  Lilla proposes a prescription for righting the Party’s ship, and he suggests that MFP should back off identity politics and focus on “we”, and what we can do for our country.  Ain’t happening.  MFP will double down on the bad stuff.
If I needed a final straw the dismissal of Senator Al Franken about sums it up.  Accused of what is now but at the time was probably not “sexual assault” he was tried, convicted, sentenced and executed by his Senate colleagues of MFP without either fact-finding or process and perhaps most importantly without a shred of decency or proportionality. 
The Republicans are most assuredly jerks, but if MFP is different it is only in degree and not in kind.  To quote Ronald Reagan, – “I did not leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me”.
Free at last.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Empire Strikes Back



And now, Our Empire, America, Inc. has been Trumped.  In a confounding of all order Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States, and We of the bi-coastal elite who know so much better and more than the rednecks in flyover country have been kicked to the curb. 
I predict that nothing good is going to come from the Trump presidency,  but the issue for most of us is what to think now and how to react.
The campaign was endless and daily plumbed the depths of depravity in every way.  Rubio’s crude sexual slander (my goodness!) drew Trump’s response (why?) that he is just fine in that department (good Lord!?!).  The sole comfort was that We knew how it would end…Secretary Clinton would win someplace between comfortably and by a landslide.  We knew it because it had to be.
But sometimes life imitates art, from History of the World Part I:
Count De Monet - Sir, the peasants are revolting! King Louis - You said it. They stink on ice.
What Our candidate actually said on Our behalf was:
“You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up…He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks -- they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
Now, the thing about that statement is that although We actually believe it, to call half of the population who voted for Trump “deplorables” and “irredeemable” a few weeks before the election is pretty poor judgment for a candidate who says she wants to be a President of all Americans.  It was not an attack on Trump – it was an attack on all of white male, heterosexual middle America and on people participating in the political process.  It got them to put down their beer and Doritos and go vote.
And we, the bi-coastal Empire of America, Inc. of media, arts, hedge fund managers, professionals and tenured academics, those who give lip service to democracy but really believe in a Platonic intellectual oligarchy sat in stunned incredulity as the Deplorables’ votes were counted and a sea of red engulfed our dumbfounded sputtering fellow travelers on TV.
We are in varying stages of grief.  President Obama correctly noted that on the day after the election the sun duly arose in the east at the appointed hour, but we have one friend who announced that she is withdrawing from Facebook and from society in general to nurse her wounds on a mountaintop.  The administration in formation is not what we expected or would choose, but time will tell if it is Apocalyptic. 
The Empire however, does not miss a beat, and We will neither acknowledge defeat nor give Ourselves a moment of uncertainty.  As I write these words the Grey Lady’s online front page screen says (i) Trump has been sued in his businesses, (ii) Trump is dividing Republicans on who should be Secretary of State, (iii) Trump built a wall at his golf course in Scotland, (iv) Trump will unravel climate agreements, (v) Florida citizens will lose health care, (vi) Trump manipulated fake news from Russia, and all that is what is “above the fold”.   The drumbeat of self-delusion goes on.    NPR reports that school districts are deploying grief counselors to treat the children for electoral post-traumatic stress, and yesterday a talking head was telling Us how to deal with Trump supporters who might “gloat” at the table because they feel that stupid people were not given enough respect.  Seriously.   The Empire Strikes Back.
The rabbi, like President Obama took a more measured approach.  The rabbi said first that maybe, just maybe We don’t really know as much as We think, that some degree of humility might be in order.  I thought that was a vicious attack at the belly of the beast.  Then he said that perhaps We should get out of our silos, as though the thought of taking a deplorable or an irredeemable to lunch could be a whole new thing.   The Liberal Manifesto is 10 years old. http://contrariat.blogspot.com/search?q=liberal+Manifesto.  On the whole it has aged well.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Trumped



           Ten years of scribbling, mostly from the contrarian premise that if everyone knows something to be true it is probably false.  At this long last I have to admit that there may be one case in which the contrarian logic has been trumped.  Trump.
            Reviled by  both left and right, a godsend to late night comics, Donald Trump and his unlikely Presidential campaign have unified all of Organized America, or America, Inc. like nothing has in many years, but the unity is an opposition coalition of most unlikely bedfellows.  On a recent day the New York Times website home page had 15 stories, 11 of which were negative writing about Trump.  Mitt Romney called him “…a phony, a fraud”.   CNN and Fox both cannot stand him and NPR is apoplectic.  The talking heads can’t have a debate because they all agree that Trump is a menace.  Facebook carries the Hitler analogies probably too far, as the elites on all sides of all issues in every corner of the nation  line up against Donald Trump, which normally would make me think he must be OK.
            As of today Sunday March 13, 2016 Mr. Trump is apparently closing in on the Republican nomination.  Maybe on Tuesday Governor Kasich will take the Ohio primary and maybe Senator Rubio will take Florida.  Maybe, but we can’t see around the corner and as of today in the absence of a Black Swan Mr. Trump may be the Republican nominee.  From this we learn that he Republican Party has essentially devolved into something worse than “a party with bad principles”.  “The Liberal Manifesto”. http://contrariat.blogspot.com/search?q=liberal+manifesto , and as noted there some ten years ago political parties do come and go, so maybe it is time.
            Which leaves me failing to understand his success in the voting.  Voters for Trump and Senator Sanders share a common thread – they are both mad as hell and not going to take it any more.  Sanders blames the millionaires and billionaires.  Unlike the Sanders kids the Trump voters probably admire millionaires and probably aspire to be them.  They may feel that the impediment to them is from below, from immigrants or minorities – just a different “they” from the Sanders folks.  There is nothing aspirational and certainly nothing inspirational in the Trump or the Sanders messages, but at least for the Democrats as of today the center seems to be holding.  For Trump – he apparently won the vote in Dearborn Michigan, the heart of the Arab community, so I will admit to knowing nothing.
            I have tried to play my role to find some reason why the Contrarian principle should not apply to Trump.   I really don’t care if there is a wall with Mexico.  After all, we do have immigration laws and if replacing the current fence with a wall is necessary, well, OK.  But on the other hand, “They’re rapists” was wrong, wrong and unjustifiable.   I am not a fan of Syrian immigration, but banning Muslim immigrants just isn’t us.   Labeling some “them” as the enemy won’t withstand taking it down to a human level. “Luke and the Mortgage Crisis”. http://contrariat.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html
 I could justify campaign vulgarity on the grounds that Senator Rubio started it, but we have to have some standards for the Leader of the Free World.   I would like to say that fears are overblown, that he has no history of fascism and that he is a businessman who makes deals, but the campaign gives us no evidence of any of that. 
Ultimately I need to surrender and recognize that some days the indefensible cannot be defended. On Donald Trump’s campaign my best efforts to be a contrarian have been Trumped.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Controlling The Narrative



            “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot” said unarmed black teenager Michael Brown before being shot in the back by white police officer Darren Wilson. Or so goes the narrative of Ferguson, and based on the narrative cities have burned, police officers around the country are being “re-trained” and pulled from high crime neighborhoods, we are reminded of the institutional racism which rules our society, and the Black Lives Matter movement grabs the microphone and the attention of the President.
Except of course that it never happened.  A different narrative is that Michael Brown, a thug high on dope knocked over a convenience store and when stopped by Officer Wilson, Brown reached into Wilson’s car, punched him and grabbed for his gun which discharged shooting Brown in the hand.  Brown retreated about 50 yards while Wilson followed him.  Brown turned, ignored Wilson’s orders to get down, and charged at Wilson who shot him dead.  The second narrative is what actually happened, as found by overwhelming evidence before the grand jury, and when Attorney General Holder could not accept that – it was also found by overwhelming evidence in a Federal investigation.  As millions of dollars of investigations and a ruined life of Darren Wilson contradict the narrative, the narrative survives.
“After Ferguson, the police have to…”
In matters of race there is a single narrative in our society, a narrative of victimization and pervasive racism.  Whether the slogan is “Black Lives Matter” or “The Age of Mass Incarceration” the narrative is all-controlling, and questioning its facts or conclusions is itself “racist”.  It is a new McCarthyism leading to the same blacklisting, job purges and social ostracism.   This week Princeton considers redacting Woodrow Wilson from its history as President of the University and later of the United States because of his racist views, and under the controlled public narrative no one can say anything. 
 I have never been black and I have not walked a mile in anyone’s shoes, but I can’t help thinking that the substitution of diatribe for dialogue is a bad thing.  The rhetoric of the 60’s sounds vaguely stale and inauthentic, and I wish the President would stop sounding like a damned fool.   
If there were a dialogue I wouldn’t know what to say.   I suppose the defense against McCarthyism is not to defend Communists, but to uphold the virtue of truth telling.  I suppose I would insist that opposing the narrative need not be racist.   We live in an imperfect world where empathy for the poor is a good thing, and it should not be incompatible with honesty.
These scribbles started almost 10 years ago with a declaration that if everyone knows something to be true it is probably false.  The narrative may be controlled, but it is most assuredly false.




Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spain



We have been to Spain for a week of touring in Madrid and Barcelona.  To pick out two highlights they would be Picasso’s “Guernica” in Madrid and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church in progress in Barcelona.  Touring is nice, but I am today thinking random thoughts about travelling.

Aging is a consistent theme.  I have a MTWTFSS pill box for the multicolored dollops that appear to make my doctor feel better.  We are much more into creature comforts than we used to be, arranging to utilize mileage for business class overseas flights, and our hotels if not the best are probably the next to best.  I get tired in the day, and Trophy Wife has said it is much to her relief because for years she got tired when I did not.

Everyone speaks English.  Years ago the waiters and storekeepers could identify Americans by our shoes or clothing.  Now they don’t bother, they speak English to everyone.  A storekeeper told Trophy Wife that he can’t be bothered learning French, German, Arabic and Polish, so he just speaks English to everyone, and that makes it easier.  English is the universal language.

In Barcelona the local language is Catalan which is not Spanish, and to prove their point all the signs are in Catalan, Spanish and English.   Leaving the 180 mph train from Madrid the sign says:

                             Sortida

                             Salida

                             Exit

and upon reaching the doorway another sign says:

                                        Taxi

                                        Taxi

                                        Taxi

which may have been overdoing it a bit.

            There are some things the Spanish clearly do better than we do - public transportation, for example and public spaces generally, whether the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or Las Ramblas in Barcelona.  If our public facilities often seem starved the Spanish public spaces seem spacious and bountiful.  I wonder if lavish public spaces are a beneficial side effect of top-down government, in Spain’s case for example, a long monarchy followed by the Fascists until 1975.  As usual I was appalled by the extravagance of the Royal Palace.  I can’t help it, but how many Mexicans had to die for all that gold?
            We get museum fatigued quickly and enjoy walking around the neighborhoods and sitting in cafes.  In Spain the restaurants open at about 9:00 PM, so many Americans including us find it sometimes too late to eat.  A nice trip.             

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Caspar's Ghost



We are not about to send American boys … to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.  Lyndon Johnson 1964



As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.  Barack Obama 2014



In the early 1980’s with the Pentagon still reeling from Vietnam and the catastrophic intervention in Lebanon, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger articulated guidelines for when it is appropriate for the United States to use military force.  The general principles were that force is appropriate:

1. If a vital interest of the United States or a U.S. ally is threatened.

2. If there is total support, that is that sufficient resources and manpower to complete the mission.

3. If U.S. forces are given clearly defined political and military objectives and be must be large enough to be able to achieve these objectives.

4. If there is a continual assessment between the commitment and capability of U.S. forces and the objectives.

5.  If there are reasonable assurances that the American people and their elected representatives support such a commitment.

6. If the commitment of U.S. forces to combat is the last resort.

Prior to the Gulf War the doctrine was adopted and amended by Colin Powell who added the concepts that we should have a plausible exit strategy and that we have considered the consequences of our actions. 

No one has formally abandoned the Weinberger Doctrine, and perhaps doctrines should change.  In any event the actions of the President and the Congress in undertaking a “war” against the Islamic State effectively abandons the doctrine on all counts.

I will only list two objections to this war.   First, we are now intending to bomb some groups fighting for one side in Syria, when a year ago we were on the verge of bombing the other side.  People who can’t decide who to bomb shouldn’t bomb anyone.  These are nasty fights in which we have no friends, so attacking enemies is senseless, and the “moderate” rebels are a myth, mercenaries we will arm who will doubtless turn the arms over to our enemies.

This war cannot be won as there is no definition of success against a religious movement.  This group has done nothing to us, and we have no end game - bombs may retake some territory in Iraq and we may destroy our own armaments the Iraqis surrendered to ISIS, but radical Islam will transform into new threats for a long time, and for the time being we should let them fight each other.