After London — inspiring and not so inspiring

How great that the concert in Manchester was such a success!

Not so great — all but one of Donald Trump’s post-London tweets. One was presidential:

Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there – WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!

But alas he can’t help himself, as CNN reports. Correctly too:

After a night’s sleep, Trump woke up Sunday morning and, around 8 a.m., fired off three more tweets.
“We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse,” Trump started.
“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!,” he continued.
“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!,” he ended.
Of those five, one is the sort of thing you can imagine a president not named Donald Trump saying in the wake of a major terrorism event like the one in London; that’s the second one Saurday night in which he pledges to help London in whatever way they need it and insists America stands with them.
The other four tweets are pure Trump — and the exact opposite of what we have long considered “presidential.”
In one — the first he sends out — he uses the just-breaking terror attacks as a way to make the case for his travel ban, which continues to be hung up in the courts.
In another, he suggests political correctness is responsible for the attack, a common Trump refrain during the campaign.
In a third, he takes on those pushing gun control — noting that they are silent because these attacks didn’t involve guns.
And, finally and most Trumpian, he attacks the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for allegedly insisting that the people of London have “no reason to be alarmed.”
As is often the case with Trump, he has taken that comment from Khan heavily out of context. In a statement, Khan said: “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed. One of the things the police and all of us need to do is ensure that we’re as safe as we possibly can be.”
Khan is clearly referring not to the threat from terrorists but to the increased police presence when he uses the words “no reason to be alarmed.” Trump chooses to misunderstand him for political purposes.
Trump tweeting things to forward his own agenda in the wake of terrorist attacks is nothing new. Following shootings in an Orlando nightclub that left 53 people dead, Trump offered this: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” After an incident of a knife-wielding man at the Louvre Museum in Paris, Trump tweeted: “A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.”
In short, the tweetstorm following the London attacks isn’t the exception, it’s the rule for Trump. Using these attacks to prove his political point is his default position not a one-time popping off.
Trump’s responses are the latest example of how he is radically altering the idea of what it means to be “presidential.”

Sad!

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Great actor plays great POTUS, while real one…

Among my library borrowings lately had been Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis magnificent in the title role and Sally Field no less excellent as Mary Todd Lincoln. Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner wrote the script, paring down an initial 500 pages to home in on the final four months of Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts in January 1865 to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives.

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Naturally one wonders about the historical accuracy of the movie. It turns out that in many respects it is very accurate: see Fact-Checking ‘Lincoln’: Lincoln’s Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren’t.

Lincoln is not a perfect film, but it is an important film. Spielberg has positioned his work as something that should unite a divided nation in the aftermath of the 2012 election, but, paradoxically, his story points to a different conclusion. Sean Wilentz, one of those rare historians who moves seamlessly between the academy and the public sphere, noted that “Abraham Lincoln was, first and foremost, a politician.” Lincoln probably didn’t bribe congressmen to pass the 13th Amendment, but he instructed others to do so. He forged a deep connection with soldiers and their families, and won 78 percent of the soldier vote in 1864 because of it. He knew the power of his office, and used it.

See also David Denby in The New Yorker.

Steven Spielberg began by hiring the best playwright in the country. According to the press notes for the film, Tony Kushner, immersing himself in the politics and language of the period, delivered a five-hundred page script, which was unfilmable except as a TV mini-series. At some point, when Kushner was in his car, Spielberg called, and said something like, “The best part of your script is the eighty pages devoted to passing the Thirteenth Amendment. Let’s make the whole movie about that.”

I loved it. Meanwhile in the real world we have a much less believable script playing out. Here he is paying attention at the G7:

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And now we have him lining up with Syria and Nicaragua to hand a propaanda gift to China: China tells Donald Trump there is an ‘international responsibility’ to act over climate change. Not that Trump’s decision is really a surprise. See Every Insane Thing Donald Trump Has Said About Global Warming.

Tell you what though: Daniel Day-Lewis was a much more convincing POTUS!

Ian Thorpe, Bullied, USA insight

The first two are related to a must see coming to ABC this week: Bullied.

There are two episodes, and at time of writing only the first was available for viewing. It isn’t perfect television, but it should be compulsory viewing for every schoolchild, parent, teacher and education bureaucrat in the country.

The focus in the first episode is on Kelsey, a 14-year-old in Queensland whose greatest loves are cricket and his long, floppy, blonde hair.

The latter has earned him a litany of abuse from his schoolmates. Their animus is all-consuming. He’s been cyberbullied (“why don’t you kill/harm urself”), he’s been physically bullied. He’s been ostracised and he’s had his sexuality questioned (they call him “shemale” and “faggot”).

His family and friends claim they have reported all this to the school. The response? He is on reduced hours, allowed to attend only a couple of periods a day, and encouraged to spend his lunch hours in the office…

Kelsey is sent to school with a backpack containing a hidden camera and a microphone to capture what happens to him over a week…

How many bullied kids have access to a camera crew and an Olympic champion to argue their case? How many advocates can hang around for four weeks – long enough to wear down the school’s stonewalling? How many principals will be forced to make a choice between dealing with a difficult issue or being made to look like a totally uncaring ass-hat on national television?

If Bullied were compulsory viewing in every school – and I mean for staff as well as students – it might help force this scourge out of the dark, where it thrives, and into the light, where there’s a fighting chance of it being given six
of the best.

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Specialist child psychologist Marilyn Campbell provides ethical guidance to Ian Thorpe and the documentary makers on Bullied.

The  second is a must read, and a hat tip to Au Waipang in Singapore for posting it to Facebook: An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America.

 As Au Waipang said: “I’m sure this isn’t the whole story, but this article urges us to confront what is likely a big part of the reality.”

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete BS. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to draw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t East Coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is that rural Americans don’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out….

One year ago

Selections from March 2016.

More “Neil’s Decades” –9: 1946

GEM (Channel 82) shows quite a few antique movies. Yesterday I saw an amiable English comedy of which I had never heard, Quiet Weekend (1946).

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I became fascinated by the objects, the clothing, the cars – all of which transported me to earliest childhood, as I turned 3 in 1946.

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Me in 1945-6. Note the wings: my father had been in the RAAF to 1945.

This Canadian says of Quiet Weekend:

For anyone born in the UK before about 1935 (as I was) this movie will bring back memories of austerity, such as very few cars and very little food and primitive plumbing. We all had to make do with what we had; the top rate of income tax was around 95%. Nevertheless the middle classes had those delicious cut-glass English accents; “thanks” was pronounced “thenks”. The lower classes such as the old poacher, spoke their lines in broad accents and were usually considered to be comic characters.

That has all changed now. This movie is good entertainment but also of value to the social historians. It is the way the British coped with the rigors of victory after WW II, i.e. paying off the huge loans owed to the USA while trying to become a socialist society.

In 1946 I lived in Auburn Street Sutherland, which I memorably visited again in 2002: see a post from that time. See also from the early 2000s my reminiscence of life there. I have subsequently revisited and posted over the years. Here are some 2012 examples:

And on this blog Random Friday memory 21 – wind-up gramophone.

From my earliest Auburn Street post:

The table was in the back room, I suspect a closed-in verandah. On the right was the kitchen, with its fuel range and enormous electric Early Kooka stove with a Kookaburra logo on the oven door. On the left was a partitioned off area, partitioned with mahogany, behind which I and my brother slept in the last years we were in Auburn Street. At an earlier stage, my Uncle Roy must have had that room, as I was still in a cot in my parents’ room at the front of the house, and my brother was in a sleepout on the side verandah, an area somewhat prone to spiders.

Early Kooka!

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Sigh!

The Mad World of You Know Who on WIN/9 last night

Very glad to have watched WIN last night to see this, originally shown on the UK’s Channel 4:

The comment thread on YouTube is rather amazing. [Refers to the YouTube I originally linked to.] For example:

Apparently the American GOV think running a country is a game and enjoys screwing the people over everyday! Obama has screwed us the most..he has taxed the shit out of the middle class.we’ve disappeared …obama is a pot head..he and the rest of the mafia gov should be drug tested immediately…they have destroyed America.Trump will bring it back to a great nation..and we won’t be going to war for 15 god damn years!!!

This is typical anti-American propaganda video attacking the American people, Christians and poor people. The commentator tries to insult Christians by calling them evangelicals which Christ would regard as a compliment. He tries to portray Americans as racist when America has done more to eliminate slavery and racism than most any other nation. American is one of the most pluralistic and diverse nations in the world. The commentator tries to tries to stoke class hatred, even though America has done more to eliminate class distinctions than most any other nation. The commentator ignores the issues that Americans actually care about and just engages in ad hominem attack and slander against Donald Trump. He tries to subvert our election process.

Yes, another post on The Donald. I should know better. You can also watch the doco on the Channel Nine site at the moment, by the way. I urge you to watch it if you haven’t already.

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I was obviously impressed with German-born British doco maker Matt Frei’s expose of Trump, though the name was too tendentious. Rather less impressed was Irish reviewer Ian O’Doherty:

Of course, it’s not that difficult to make anything emerging from America look ridiculous and buffoonish but Frei took to his task with relish – Trump was portrayed variously as a dangerous nutter; a man who may have raped his first wife (until they read a statement from said woman denying the claims); a rich boy done bad; and did I mention dangerous nutter?

The problem with this approach was that it was guilty of the very accusation it was levelling at its subject – being utterly devoid of any nuance or complexity whatsoever.

There was nothing new to be learned here. Everybody knows that he came from wealthy stock. We were already well aware that his behaviour in Scotland was increasingly nasty, and, of course, we all know about his various verbal assaults on the aforementioned Kelly, prisoners of war and, most unpleasantly, his mocking mimicry of a disabled reporter. So, this was basically a potted history of Trump’s various outrages against common decency. But this was Comfort TV and much like comfort food, was designed to provide reassurance to the consumer.

In this case, it was made to reassure the viewers that they were right, all along, to think Trump is an idiot and his supporters are thick.

On the other hand:

Essentially a spoilt, buck-toothed and tubby little rich kid of a bully, as opposed to the deb’s delight into which he’s matured, he must have grown used early to John Q Normal crossing snake-strewn streets to avoid him. Over the decades, his personality matured as do the perfumes of prawns in a jockstrap. Frei was doing the telling, admittedly, but it could have been done by David Irving, David Starkey or the late Alan Clarke. The evidence made the nose wrinkle, whether it was his squandering of Daddy’s millions, his undeserved parachutes from bankruptcy, the crippling immaturity of his misogyny or his treatment of Scotland, though there was much tawdriness to that little tale.

The Trump in Scotland saga was news to me, I have to say.

The Republican Presidential candidate’s much-hyped Aberdeenshire golf course has been a loss-maker since it opened in 2012. He has also made similar threats of pulling investment after losing fights against local residents and failing to block plans for a local wind farm.

A final review of the documentary:

9. Critics made strongest case

Frei hit the campaign trail to conduct (mercifully brief) interviews with Trump’s growing army of exuberant supporters, but it was his detractors whose comments really resonated.

Muslim activist Jibril Hough, who was shown being forcibly ejected from two Trump rallies, said he was a “buffoon that has to be taken seriously”. Ex-Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens called Trump “a huckster, a fraud, a stark raving disaster for the Republican party. This isn’t a reality show, it’s running for President. These displays of stupidity and hate are dangerous.”

10. …But he could yet become President

Trump has already made a meteoric political rise and as we saw here, he’s tapping into the distrust and disenchantment of middle America. Frei, formerly the BBC’s Washington correspondent, said: “I have to say the last time I saw crowds as enthusiastic as this was for Barack Obama in 2008.” Gulp…

Frei’s film reminded us of the dark side beneath the Trump caricature and it was soberingly scary stuff.

It really isn’t too hard to see why so many in the USA are investing in Trump as a secular saviour. Not all is well in the USA, clearly. He offers hope, albeit very randomly articulated by the man himself, while endorsing all kinds of resentments.

Should, God forbid, he ever claim “the crown”, “make America great again” will go down in history as just another vacuous political slogan, one of the most egregious ever — because this is precisely what Donald J Trump will almost inevitably NOT do.

Must watch Citizen Kane again…

Postscript

Just saw Tom Switzer’s The rise of Donald Trump in the US has similarities to the rise of Pauline Hanson in Australia two decades ago.  Well worth reading.

…Both led nationalist movements railing against Washington and Canberra and appealing to voters abandoned by globalisation and betrayed by politicians. Trump reflects a deep-seated belief that Americans have lost the country they know and they want America to stand alone on top again. Hansonism was as much a reaction against Paul Keating’s cultural agenda as an isolationist backlash against Australia’s engagement with Asia.

Both have been purveyors of conservative red meat: thick, juicy cuts of the stuff. But both also blurred the ideological left-right divide. Hanson was an agrarian socialist, who opposed Telstra privatisation and foreign investment. Trump distinguishes himself from fellow Republicans by defending entitlement programs and attacking free-trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership…

Like Trump, Hanson was a political novice who rocked the nation’s establishment with repugnant views. Who can forget her claim that Asians were swamping Australia? Or Trump’s claim that Mexico is exporting its rapists and criminals to the US, not to mention his call for a ban on all Muslim immigrants? …

No words today

Except these.

Brussels: At least 31 people have been killed and hundreds injured in coordinated attacks on Brussels Airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital early on Tuesday, triggering security alerts across Europe and a manhunt for at least one suspect.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred four days after Brussels police captured the prime surviving suspect in the Islamic State attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people in November…

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The good refugees

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“The Good Samaritan,” artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall, age 82, Sheffield, England.

This story seemed most appropriate to share today, especially given the overwhelming nature of recent stories from Europe. I found it lurking on page 13 of today’s print Sydney Morning Herald, but apparently it has been around for a few days. This version is from the UK Daily Telegraph.

A leading member of Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party has thanked two Syrian refugees who came to the aid of another party member after he was seriously injured in a car crash.

Stefan Jagsch, 29, a candidate for the NPD in upcoming local elections, was seriously injured last week after he lost control of his car and crashed into a tree in the town of Büdingen.

Two vans carrying about 16 refugees stopped at the scene – and two Syrian men came to Jagsch’s aid, pulling him from the wreckage and providing first aid treatent while they waited for an ambulance.

They had reportedly left the scene by the time police arrived.

Regional NPD official Jean Christoph Fiedler praised the refugees for performing “a very good, humane act”, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper reports…

Jagsch, writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday this week, stressed that he was unconscious at the time of the rescue, so couldn’t confirm or deny that the people who came to his assistance were Syrians.

However, he did give thanks to “all the people who were on the spot to help me.” …

Two on Trump

First, the Big Speech was better than expected. The entire text is at that link.

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Trump rehearses his Congress speech in the car

My former student David Smith has commented in The Australian Financial Review. David is now academic director and senior lecturer at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney.

Indeed, the difference between Trump’s scripted and unscripted comments is often stark. He began his address with a forceful condemnation of the “hate and evil” behind recent attacks on Jewish community centres and cemeteries. Earlier on Tuesday, however, he reportedly told state attorneys-general that the attacks could have come from “the reverse” “to make others look bad”. Trump also steered clear of his usual Twitter obsessions. There was no mention of the media as “enemies of the people”, nor of leaks in the intelligence community or sabotage by former members of the Obama administration.

In his most important speech so far, already earning him accolades for being unusually “presidential”, Trump remained focused on his role as the unifier of the people against external threats. Tomorrow he may go back to his fixation on enemies within.

Then there is Don Watson in the March issue of The MonthlyAmerican berserk. By the way, I am one of the few people, I suspect, to have actually read Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade, which is mentioned in the article.

…yet the uncanniest thing is the sense that Trump’s election is a simulacrum for all manner of events imagined or foretold that hover in the back rows of our consciousness – way back from the daily flow of news, spin, messaging and commentary. A scam artist, an ignoramus, a professional liar, a colossal and malignant narcissist, a vulgarian, a casino operator, a serial bankrupt – a Roy Cohn–mentored billionaire with deep Mob connections – is in the White House. Has there ever been a more American presidency? What took them so long?

For devotees of HL Mencken, these are days of vindication. In a presidential election, he declared around 1920, “all the odds were on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre”. It was the logic of democracy, he said, that the people would one day get their heart’s desire and put a “downright moron” in the White House. While understandable, the widespread belief that George W Bush fulfilled Mencken’s prophecy has proved premature… But Trump is the King Kong of shallowness: the only deep things about him are his roots in the American psyche. He brings forth not just the pout, the hair and the ties, but the greed, indulgence and psychotic menace of the “indigenous American berserk” – to call on Roth again. The mistake of his opponents – including the satirists – has been to focus on his otherness: in truth he’s dredged straight from the brute material of American culture….