Hunting and other sports: my crystal ball

One of the odder buildings on the BYU campus is the Monte L. Bean museum. It’s up on the north ridge overlooking campus, just east of the Marriott Center, and it provides popular daytime activities for families with small children. Monte L. Bean was a successful LDS businessman, whose favorite leisure activity was big game hunting. In 1978, he built a museum to display all the animals he’d killed. The collection has since expanded, and has a legitimate educational purpose; lots of life sciences exhibits, plus classrooms and labs. But for little kids, the cool part is seeing all the lions and tigers and bears. And, you know, giraffes, gazelles. There’s even a Liger. Plus, of course, it has a very cool, kid-oriented, gift shop.

I got to thinking about the Bean museum as I read about one of the biggest stories in the news these days, the American dentist who shot and killed Cecil the lion, and his subsequent flaying on social media. My immediate reaction was the same as most people’s. I thought that what this hunter did was contemptible, and I wished him ill. On the other hand, I just read Jon Ronson’s terrific new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, about the way social media can absolutely crucify ordinary people who do dumb/wrong/shameful things, and thought this dentist’s story would make a perfect case study for this new phenomenon. Disproportionate public humiliations, the internet version of putting someone in the stocks or sewing a scarlet A to their clothing. And so possibly we should all cut this dentist a little (very little) slack? Like, maybe, cool it on the death threats?

But then, I got to thinking about big game hunting itself, the practice of going on a safari to Africa and shooting different sorts of wild animals. Or, like, bighorn sheep from helicopters. That kind of thing. Like the stuff Monte L. Bean apparently was into. And of course, I totally get how horrifically hypocritical it is for us all to get all excited about Cecil the lion. When you consider the wholesale slaughter of other intelligent mammals that make up most of the protein in our American diets, outrage over one dude shooting a lion seems pretty ridiculous. Cows, pigs, chickens, anyone? We’re bothered by the death of Cecil the lion, but quite unperturbed by the deaths of Bessie, Wilbur, or (Chicken) Little. I don’t hunt, never have and never will, but I freely admit that my objections to hunting are aesthetic, not moral. I like my meat wrapped in cellophane, and I’d rather not think about how the specific steps that got it to the store. I even wrote an anti-slaughterhouse play. And, driving home from the theater, opening night, stopped at a MacDonald’s. Not proud of my hypocrisy, but I do at least admit to it.

So granted, our objections to big game hunting are, to a very large degree, emotional and sentimental. We like lions, because they’re awesome to look at (in nature documentaries), and because we liked The Lion King as kids. We like otters and dolphins and pandas, and don’t like weasels and rats and three-toed sloths. I remember the movie March of the Penguins and how scary it was, to see those cute little penguins under deadly attack from the vicious leopard seals. But leopard seals are just trying to survive too, and have every bit as much right to dinner as penguins do. And baby seals are cute, too.

But here’s my larger point: is big game hunting on its way out as a sport? It doesn’t matter if the reasons aren’t rationally defensible; emotions matter, and it seems to me that this is a sport that fewer and fewer people are willing to defend. That happened with fox hunting, for example. It’s been illegal in the UK since 2005. Well, there was a time when it was a very popular sport. How many British novels had fox hunting scenes, how many TV shows and movies, how many popular depictions of whooping aristocrats riding in hot pursuit of foxes. “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible,” Oscar Wilde called it, to the scandalized titters of his largely aristocratic audiences. But nowadays, it’s seen as barbaric. An uncivilized sporting relic; the kind of thing decent people just don’t allow. Well, does the case of Dr. Palmer DDS v. Cecil Felidae Leo suggest a similar social dynamic? Is big game hunting just not cool anymore?

Or other once-popular sports? What about team sports? I am on record as suggesting that American football may well be a sport that’s dying. The long-term health effects from brain injuries have increasingly led some of the best young professional players in the NFL to decide the risk isn’t worth the money. And the reaction from the players who do keep playing is even more interesting. When 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired after a very successful rookie season, the reaction from his teammates was to applaud him for his courage, with the subtext ‘I wish I could afford to do that.’  (And shortly thereafter, his teammate Anthony Davis did the same, retired mid-career).

I would argue that professional boxing might be the next major sport to go. It’s certainly lost a lot of fans; it’s nowhere near as popular as it once was. I’m not a boxing fan, and never have been, but when I was a kid, I certainly knew who the heavyweight champion of the world was. Everyone did. It was a big deal; star boxers were major celebrities. Not anymore; I couldn’t name three pro boxers anymore, and I have no idea who the heavyweight champion is. I think maybe he’s European. But I think mismanagement and corruption have as much to do with boxing’s decline, as much or more than any collective distaste over the atavistic violence of the sport. After all, mixed martial arts seems to be thriving. I don’t get that either, but it does seem to be a thing.

What about auto racing? NASCAR’s numbers are down, and the Indianapolis 500 has seen a ratings slump. I have seen just enough auto racing in my lifetime to consider it the smelliest, loudest, boringest sport ever created. But if movies are any indication, there’s still something thrilling about watching fast cars driving really fast. It’s possible that climate change may force a change in auto sports, but for now, they remain fairly popular.

Soccer’s doing well, and should; it’s one exciting sport. Baseball remains the favored sport for those of us with contemplative, Zen-state powers of concentration. Basketball is simply beautiful. Big game hunting may be gone from the planet in twenty years, and good riddance. What sport might be next to go?

 

 

Lord Baden-Powell and sexuality

In 1908, General Robert Baden-Powell, later elevated to Lord Baden-Powell, a highly decorated veteran of the Boer War, founded an organization he called The Boy Scout Association. That same year, he published Scouting for Boys, a guide to safely camping outdoors, and the first iteration of what would become the Boy Scout Manual. The year previously, Baden-Powell had tried out his ideas for what he hoped would become a national organization to promote wholesome, enjoyable outdoors activities for young men, by taking twenty boys to Brownsea Island and having the first Scout Camp. Two years later, an American businessman named W. D. Boyce discovered the British organization, and decided to start an American version. There’s a lot of mythology regarding the histories of both Baden-Powell and Boyce, but the basic facts are clear enough; Baden-Powell is the founder of Scouting, and Boyce the father of American Scouting.

Baden-Powell was, by all accounts, a charismatic leader, a ripping good storyteller, and a kind-hearted and gentle teacher. It’s quite possible that he was also a closeted homosexual. There have been several biographies of Baden-Powell, most of them hagiographic, intended for boys. Tim Jeal’s 1990 biography, The Boy-Man: The biography of Lord Baden-Powell is superb; meticulously researched, judicious in its conclusions, engagingly written. Jeal concludes that Baden-Powell was also gay. Two earlier biographies had reached similar conclusions. Evidence for this conclusion is entirely circumstantial. Baden-Powell came from a generation where homosexuality was considered a grave moral defect, deeply shameful and immoral. He almost certainly never acted on his feelings.

But consider the evidence, circumstantial though it is. He was a deeply sensitive and artistically talented boy, who played with dolls, but avoided girls at all costs. As an artist, his favorite subjects were attractive young men. In the army, he acted in a number of amateur theatricals, always playing women’s roles. Pretty young women sent him into a state of anxiety, which his friends all teased him for, and his closest emotional attachment was to a young man named Kenneth McLaren, a friendship which nearly ended when McLaren married, and finally did end when Baden-Powell married. In 1912, Baden-Powell, aged 55, met Olave Soames; she was 23. They married, but Baden-Powell was crippled by terrible, psychosomatic headaches every time they went to bed together. Eventually, he had to leave their shared bedroom, and sleep in an army cot elsewhere in their home.

I do not mean to suggest that his marriage with Olave was unhappy, nor was it childless; they had three children, a son and two daughters. Olave was his steadfast companion in running both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides, the equivalent girls’ organization he founded in 1912. Nor did he seem to be a particularly unhappy man; Scouting became his life, and he was a beloved figure among British boys.

Jeal’s biography (which I whole-heartedly recommend), also deals judiciously with the one genuinely dark rumor about Baden-Powell; that his politics were essentially fascist, and that he supported the Nazis in the Second World War. What’s true is that Baden-Powell was both conservative and politically naive, and reflexively patriotic, and that he distrusted communism. It’s certainly true that an early Scout badge included a swastika. But that was well before that particular symbol had been appropriated by the Nazis. He was, finally, a former military officer who valued discipline, and wanted his Boy Scouts to conduct themselves in an orderly, restrained manner. The evidence does not, however, suggest that he was a fascist.

And here’s what Jeal concludes about Baden-Powell’s homosexuality; it drove him.  His accomplishments are startling; something drove him to achieve. He was an honorable and brave soldier, a genuine war hero, a man who devoted his life to working with children, and a charming and funny raconteur. Jeal quotes at length Baden-Powell’s final letter to his beloved Scouts; I think it captures him beautifully:

I have had a most happy life, and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and to enjoy life. . . One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong when you are a boy, so that you can be useful and enjoy yourself when you are a man. . . . but the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try to leave this world a little better than how you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy feeling . . . that you have not wasted your time, but have done your best. “Be prepared” to live happy, and to die happy.

So what does any of this mean in relation to the current controversy regarding Scouting and gay leaders? I would say that it doesn’t mean anything. If, as seems likely, the founder of Scouting was gay, it did not impact the importance or value of the organization to any degree whatsoever. What was the exact nature of his relationship with Kenneth McLaren? We don’t know, we will likely never know, and it does not matter.
Lord Baden-Powell was a wonderful man, who devoted his life to improving the lives of boys and girls world-wide. He was also a fine writer and painter, and a genuine war hero. That’s how we should think of him, because it’s the only aspect of his life that matters. And if today, a similarly gentle, decent and talented man, who also happened to be gay, were to be named Scoutmaster of a troop in the Boy Scouts of America (or for that matter, the Boy Scouts Association in England, or any of the Scouting organizations active internationally), the result would be, not just benign, but actively positive. Children would learn valuable skills, and have a lot of fun doing it. Period. And, in time, that someone else could say, like Baden-Powell, ‘I have had a most happy life, and I want you to have a happy life too.’ That’s the good Scouting can do. Irregardless of the orientation of the volunteer leaders that make it great.

 

January 1973: Book Review

January 22, 1973, was the date that the Supreme Court announced their decision in Roe v. Wade. It was also a crucial day in John J. Sirica’s courtroom, where he precided over the trial of the Watergate burglars. Also on that date, the United States and North Vietnam signed the Paris peace accords, ending the war in Vietnam. And none of those stories led the evening news broadcasts. Because that was also the day Lyndon Johnson died.

January, 1973, was one of those months in American history where a whole lot of crucially important things happened at once, like April 1965 (which was also the subject of a terrific book, by Jay Winik). I just finished James Robenalt’s book, January, 1973: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, and the Month that changed America forever. It’s a very good book; not a great one, but an enjoyable read. It’s a book where the extraordinary events it describes are inherently dramatic and interesting, while Robenalt’s analysis of those events struck me as a trifle too breathless. He seems to be striving for significance where, perhaps, less exists than he seems to think. It’s undeniably fascinating that so many important events seem to have happened at the same time. I’m not sure that coincidence is quite as revelatory as Robenalt would have it.

The key figure in the whole story is, of course, Richard Nixon. What a fascinating character; what an endlessly transformative president, for good and ill. What fascinated me was the relationship between Nixon and aide Charles Colson. Robenalt was able to quote long conversations verbatim, because those conversations were, of course, recorded. What’s amazing is Nixon’s thin skin, his obsessive loathing of enemies for slights real and imagined, his paranoia, his long-standing grudges. Colson was his sounding board; the guy he could sit and vent to for hours on end. Nothing really new here; Rick Perlstein’s brilliant Nixonland covers it all more thoroughly and, I think, more insightfully. But it’s fascinating to me that the end of the Vietnam war, a signal achievement if ever there was one, was marred by Nixon’s jealousy of Henry Kissinger, and an order to bug Kissinger’s phone, to see if he was talking to the press about it. During that same month, both former Presidents Truman and Johnson passed away, and Nixon’s main concern was over which church their memorial services would be held in. The pastor of the National Cathedral was too anti-war (and, thought Nixon, secretly anti-Nixon), for Nixon’s taste. And so he engaged in unseemly negotiations with Lady Bird Johnson over memorializing President Johnson somewhere else.

But that was Nixon. A brilliant geo-political thinker. Surprisingly, even shockingly liberal when it came to domestic policies. You look at the man’s actual accomplishments, and they’re remarkable. He founded the EPA, and pushed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Mammal Marine Protection Act through Congress. He supported and pushed for the adoption of the 26th Amendment, granting the vote to 18 year olds. He ended the draft. He returned tribal lands to Native Americans, and granted tribes self-determination. He increased funding for cancer research.

But politically, his Southern strategy was built on exacerbating racial tensions at a time when it appeared that real progress had been made. He was the politician of white resentment, of ‘law and order’ (which everyone understood to mean ‘cracking down on black inner cities.’)

Was he, for example, a feminist? Well, he signed Title IX into law. No other bill has done more for college women, to promote fitness and achievement and empowerment. Three of the four justices who voted for Roe v. Wade were Nixon appointees, including Justice Blackmun, who authored it. He was also prone, in private, to use the worst kind of gutter language regarding women. Nixon said he supported the Equal Rights Amendment while campaigning. Then he did little about it while in office. Mixed bag? Pretty much, I’d say.

Of course, when we think of Nixon, we don’t think of Vietnamization or the opening to China. We think of Watergate. And it’s in the Watergate passages that Robenalt’s book is at its strongest. Judge John J. Sirica presided over the initial Watergate trial in January 1973, a trial that Robenalt covers in great detail. Robenalt is a lawyer, and it’s clear that he is deeply troubled by Judge Sirica’s judicial overreaching in that trial. Sirica was convinced that the defendants in the case were lying. He was convinced that they were covering up for their bosses, that the question of motive had not been adequately answered. Why were these guys burglarizing the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate hotel? Who paid them? Who was continuing to pay them? And so, when Liddy and McCord and Howard Hunt all agreed to plead guilty to the charges against them, Sirica (inappropriately and even illegally) went out of his way to refuse those pleas. He basically took over the case from the prosecutors. He committed, in short, the most egregious possible judicial misconduct. He also got away with it, because, of course, as we now know, he was right. There was a larger conspiracy, and the Watergate trial defendants were lying about it. It’s a fascinating story, and Robenalt tells it well.

Of course, historical perspective is always illuminating; the media consensus over Roe was ‘whew, at least we’ve put that issue to rest, once and for all.’ And I had forgotten how very quickly the Vietnam agreement came after the bombing of Hanoi. Of course, those sorts of ironies and insights are the main reason we read a book like this one. Anyway, I strongly recommend it. What a fascinating month. What a fun book.

 

The Boy Scouts and the Church

Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on gay volunteer Scout leaders. The LDS Church, a major Boy Scout sponsor, responded with this statement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.

I don’t understand any part of this. First of all, I do not understand the scheduling issue. Granted, Church leaders were on vacation, but surely they could have taken a day or two off to attend a meeting. We’re talking, after all, about the main youth organization for LDS boys living in the States. You couldn’t make a conference phone call; you couldn’t skype?

More to the point, though, what possible objection could there be to having gay Scout leaders? The policy change allows local councils to allow local units to choose its own leaders. If the Church didn’t want any gay Scoutmasters in LDS-sponsored troops, the new policy accommodates that stance.

Let me see if I can unpack it a little. I suppose that there may be some lingering fear over Scout leaders being pedophiles. But gay men are no more likely to be pedophiles than left-handed people are likely to commit arson. There simply isn’t any link between homosexuality and pedophilia. This issue has been carefully studied, and the research is clear. The idea that a gay scoutmaster might molest the boys in his troop is a prejudice without foundation.

(Of course, the BSA is quite appropriately concerned about actual instances of pedophilia. That’s why Scouting has instituted policies and protocols to prevent it, as have other youth organizations. Pedophiles are attracted to children–constant vigilance must be exercised. But that’s not relevant to this policy change.)

No, the Church’s concerns have, I believe, two other, very different causes. The first is that having openly gay Scout leaders might create the impression that homosexuality is not morally wrong. The Scout Oath requires Scouts and Scouters to be ‘morally straight.’ The presence of openly gay leaders could presumably complicate that message.

Break that down. I assume that straight, married Scoutmasters are sexually active. As a Boy Scout, that was never something I ever ever thought about. If that notion had popped into my thirteen year-old head, my reaction would have been ‘ewww.’ Straight, unmarried Scoutmasters may well also have been sexually active; if so, it was never any of my business. Married, gay Scoutmasters are likely also sexually active, but they’re not engaged in anything most people would recognize as a sin; they’re married. Unmarried gay Scoutmasters? Absolutely none of mine, or anyone else’s, business.

The difficulty is that the Church does not recognize gay marriage as morally valid, and therefore believes that even married gay people, if they’re sexually active, are doing something morally wrong; violating the law of chastity. The Church does not want to complicate the issue of gay marriage in the minds of teenaged boys. Even if LDS-sponsored troops all have straight, married Scoutmasters, those troops camp with other troops, in various councils and jamborees and camps and activities. I was the Program Director for two Boy Scout camps 30 or so years ago. Let’s suppose that an LDS-sponsored troop camps next to a troop with a gay Scoutmaster. Those kids are going to interact. I think the Church worries about a conversation in which kid A says ‘wow, your Scoutmaster is really cool’ and kid B says ‘yeah. He’s gay, and he’s awesome.’ And kid A suffers some kind of cognitive dissonance. ‘He’s a great Scoutmaster. But, wait, he’s gay? Huh.’

In fact, ‘morally straight’ is something each individual decides for himself. As Program Director, I remember we had a waterfront director named John; can’t remember his last name. He was terrific; a wonderful swimming teacher, a real outdoorsman, great with kids. His girlfriend would drive him to camp each week, and drop him off. Sometimes she would spend the night. It never bothered anyone, nor should it have. This was in the early ’80s, when I suppose someone could have made a big deal about John not being ‘morally straight.’ He was, obviously, cohabitating with his girlfriend. And many of the troops we served at our camp had minister/Scoutmasters. In Southern Indiana. Nobody raised any kind of fuss, ever, at all. John was a brilliant Scout leader, and that was all that mattered.

Still. The Church has its concerns. But I think there’s another factor involved.

The Church has always embraced Scouting. And that’s great; Scouting is a wonderful program. But in fact, Scouting and the Church have always been something of an awkward fit. Scouting is really a program for kids aged 11-16. Sixteen year olds are encouraged to join an Explorer post. Explorer posts are meant to specialize: in Engineering, High Adventure, Law Enforcement, Health Careers. The idea is that 16 year olds are more independent, more mobile, and interested in interacting with other boys with shared interests. When I was 16, the other kids in our ward were all pressured to find a specialty we all were interested in, and form a post together. But the only thing we all liked was playing basketball, and basketball was not one of the possibilities.

The Church mentioned starting their own youth program for boys, and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea. After all, the Boy Scouts is the youth organization for American LDS kids. Other nations have different programs. It makes sense to take the best ideas from all over the world, and create a uniquely tailored program for our kids. My guess is that plans have been made to do just that.

At the same time, I can’t help it; part of me is filled with dismay. I am an Eagle Scout; worked as a Scout leader, served on the staff of Scout Camps. I loved Scouting. And the reason is simple; Scouting was fun.

Scouting is fun. It’s supposed to be fun. I know that Scouting is supposed to teach values and skills and leadership traits and self-reliance, and I suppose all that does happen, some. But that was never the focus. We had a blast. We built signal towers and cooked on open stoves, and started fires and ran around and got in trouble and played mumblety-peg with knives and hiked hard trails, and played hockey on frozen lakes. I will never forget, until the day I die, a game of Capture the Flag we played, on a four mile course, the flags on two hilltops, a creek demarking the boundary between territories. Summer of 1971. I am old and sick and fat and can’t do most of that anymore, but I can still tie a one-handed bowline knot in less than five seconds. I still can tie a sheep shank and a double half-hitch. We learned those skills because our Scoutmaster made a game of it.

I am afraid that a Church-run youth program will make missionary prep a focus. I worry about the lessons and the (sorry, but it’s so) indoctrination. I am afraid that it won’t be fun anymore.

I hope my fears are unfounded. Just know that tensions between the Church and the Boy Scouts has been building for years. And I desperately hope the Boy Scouts survive. It’s a terrific organization for kids.

Bill Cosby, serial rapist

We think we know celebrities. We don’t. What we know is a carefully crafted persona, an image, meticulously buffed and refurbished. And sometimes those personae are edgy and tough and sometimes they’re pleasant and kind and family-friendly. And then we hear something about a celebrity that seems at odds with what we’ve imagined we know about them. And it takes awhile to process.

On Saturday, a 2005 deposition given by actor and comedian Bill Cosby surfaced. Forty-eight women had, in recent years, come forward and accused Cosby of various degrees of sexual misconduct, including many who said that he had drugged and raped them. Those accusations had been greeted with varying degrees of incredulity. This was, after all, Bill Cosby, one of the most beloved entertainers in America, winner of a 2002 Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. And, of course, our perceptions of Cosby were largely shaped by The Cosby Show, which ran on NBC from 1984 to 1992. Bill Cosby was, for most of us, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the genial, kind-hearted and wise patriarch of that sit-com family.

It wasn’t just that Bill Cosby played a beloved TV Dad. He was black, and he was a pioneer. From 1965-1968, he played Alexander Scott on the comedy-spy TV series, I Spy. He was therefore the first black actor to play a leading role in an American TV drama. The premise of the show was that of two putative tennis bums who actually are working for the CIA. It was a buddy-cop-comedy, with Robert Culp as tennis star Kelly Robinson, who partners with Scott/Cosby. It was the kind of show that commented on race without ever commenting on race; Scott was just a character on a show, smarter and more sophisticated than Robinson, but not as intuitive. It was a fun show, witty and clever. During the time of that show, and for years thereafter, Cosby’s comedy albums were massive best-sellers; I remember memorizing entire bits. “It’s The Lord, Noah.” “Right.” “I want you to build an ark.” “Right. What’s an ark?” Listen to those old routines today, and they’re just remarkable; exquisite comic timing, beautifully shaped comedic narratives.

Also this: he wasn’t ‘a Hollywood type.’ Or so we thought; he was a good guy. Happily married, a college graduate, a happy family man, with four daughters. And–more sympathy– a son who was the victim of a terrible tragedy; murdered, senselessly while changing his car tire. Later on, Cosby became the spokesperson for black self-empowerment. He came out against rap music, against hip hop culture. A pull-your-pants-up, go-to-school, get-a-job cultural warrior. (But even this was expressed genially). That was also the point of The Cosby Show; the Huxtable home was beautiful; they were well-off people. He represented black aspiration, black achievement. African American gentrification. The Huxtables were an American ideal.

So this was the point: nobody wanted Bill Cosby, of all people, to be revealed as anything less than what he seemed to be, a good and decent man, an extraordinary talent, and a spokesperson for middle-class values. A sexual predator? No way!

Except there were always those accusations, all those women, saying they had been assaulted by him. Initially, when we thought about Cosby, those allegations were an annoying buzz we tried to swat away. It couldn’t be true. Bill Cosby, of all people. Get real.

But yes. On the deposition, Bill Cosby, under oath, admits to drugging young women with the intention of having sexual relations with them. He admits to paying women off with money from his personal account, so that his wife wouldn’t learn of it. These activities all took place years ago, and so his crimes are past the statute of limitations. He will, in all likelihood, never be criminally prosecuted. But he is, by his own admission, someone who used drugs on women, so that he could engage in what he called ‘romantic, sexual things, whatever you call them.’ As it happens, our society has a word for ‘romantic, sexual things’ that are non-consensual. That word is ‘rape.’ Bill Cosby is a serial rapist.

After defendant testified that he obtained seven prescriptions for Quaaludes, the following testimony was elicited:

Q. You gave them to other people?

A. Yes.

Q. When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?

A. Yes.

So how do we process this? Lots of commentators have expressed amazement over the cognitive dissonance of combining the persona of ‘genial paterfamilias Bill Cosby’ and ‘serial rapist.’ But I think there’s a valuable lesson here, if we can disassociate the word ‘rapist’ from our usual understanding of it, a depraved and vicious lunatic leaping out from behind a tree and holding a knife to a woman’s throat. That kind of stranger-rape can happen, of course, but it’s also misleading. The ‘Cosby persona’ who was also a rapist was Cliff Huxtable. Daddy Huxtable is the rapist here.

Read the transcripts. Time and time again, Cosby would talk to young women, kindly and sympathetically, asking about their education, their families, their hopes and dreams. One young woman told him, tearfully, about coping with the death of her father. That’s the basic premise of most episodes of The Cosby Show.  One of the Huxtable kids would be struggling with a personal problem of some kind. Daddy Huxtable would listen, with great kindness and sympathy. And then he’d propose a solution, and off they’d go, problem solved. That’s what Cosby did with the various women who have accused him of attacking them. He would go into full Huxtable mode. He would listen, and he would sympathize. And then he would slip them a roofie and have non-consensual sex with them. And when they approached him later, he would cut them a check. From his personal account, so his wife wouldn’t know about it.

We need to learn from this; in fact, we need to internalize it. This is how rapists behave. Not all rapists, of course, but often enough. Most rape victims were attacked by someone they knew and trusted. Kindly old Dr. Huxtable was the rapist here. That was the persona Bill Cosby adopted when he wanted to have a ‘romantic, sexual thing’ with a young woman he met somewhere. It was a role he was good at playing.

Often enough, the place where he met them was the Playboy mansion. That’s another notion we need to get our heads around: Cosby was a welcome and frequent guest of Hugh Hefner. The women who have accused Cosby of rape included former Playmates Victoria Valentino, Sarita Butterfield, Charlotte Laws and Michelle Hurd. Another woman, Judy Huth, has said she was also attacked at the Playboy mansion. Hugh Hefner and Bill Cosby; Hef and Cos? Yes, indeed. Old friends, and quite literally, apparently, partners in crime. It now appears likely that Hef learned about the affective properties of Quaaludes, and that he instructed old pal Cosby in their use. Kindly old Hugh Hefner.

So there’s something else that we need to process. Playmates are women who have posed nude in Playboy magazine. That is to say that they are attractive young women whose images have appeared, neatly airbrushed and photoshopped (one presumes), naked, in the pages of a particularly famous men’s magazine. They are also guests at the mansion, welcome anytime, to enjoy the world’s longest running party, hosted by a really old guy in his pajamas.

And here’s the point; the fact that these women consented to have their photos in that magazine does not suggest sexual availability, and should not imply consent to subsequent sexual activity. It is absolutely possible to rape a Bunny. Consent is consent, and a woman who has been drugged is not capable of consent.

Somehow, Hugh Hefner has managed to sell the image of the Playboy mansion as somehow, I don’t know, innocent. A fun place for young women hoping to advance modeling/acting/show biz careers. Sort of a partying job fair. I’m not going to link to it, but check out Weezer’s Beverly Hills video. It does an effective job of selling this notion: ‘ain’t nothin’ goin’ on here but good clean fun.’ We now know that that is not the case. The Playboy mansion is a hunting ground for sexual predators. Elderly sexual predators, apparently. Like Hef, and Cos.

Bill Cosby’s career is over. His reputation is destroyed. Civil suits could wipe out his fortune–I certainly hope so. It’s not likely that he will ever go to jail, more’s the pity, but his actions may result in a bill, currently before Congress, to extend the statute of limitations for rapists. The best we can do now, is learn from his case. Two lessons: rapists can look like and act like Dr. Huxtable, and also, posing for a men’s magazine does not imply consent to sexual intercourse. That will have to be enough.

The West Wing, and politics today

Surfing the internet this morning, I happened upon this article in the Huffington Post. It’s a provocative piece, by Robert Kuttner, arguing that liberals need to become much more radical in their proposals going forward. He identifies several major economic issues that have become part of the political conversation in the Democratic party–the cost of college and student debt, income inequality, low wage jobs, and the loss of career paths; the emergence of part-time ‘gig jobs.’ Kuttner then examines the various proposals that people have been suggesting. He takes a careful look at Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on the economy, which he quite likes, and thinks represents a step forward in our understanding of the economic difficulties faced by American workers. And then he says this:

The budget deadlock and the sequester mechanism, in which both major parties have conspired, makes it impossible to invest the kind of money needed both to modernize outmoded public infrastructure (with a shortfall now estimated at $3.4 trillion) or to finance a green transition.

To remedy the problem of income inequality would require radical reform both of the rules of finance and of our tax code, as well as drastic changes in labor market regulation.

Politicians would have to reform the debt-for-diploma system, not only going forward, as leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed, but also to give a great deal of debt relief to those saddled with existing loans.

Unions would need to regain the effective right to organize and bargain collectively.

This is all as radical as, well… Dwight Eisenhower.

And none of the changes Kuttner proposals even begin to address the biggest issue of them all; the potential spectre of global climate change, and the economic changes that would be necessary effectively to cope with it.

Here’s the thing: I agree with Kuttner right down the line. I think he’s right on every particular. Unfortunately, he’s also right in suggesting that how difficult passing any of this would be. As he says, “the reforms needed to restore (Eisenhower era levels of shared prosperity) are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.” And Sanders is already being dismissed by the Beltway, by the mainstream media commentators, by Democratic strategists and pollsters, as a wild-eyed radical. Frankly, he’s seen as kind of a crazy person. And he’s actually probably quite a bit too conservative.

Lately, my wife and I have been watching re-runs of The West Wing. It was dismissed in its time as a fantasy show for liberals. Stuck with George W. Bush in the actual White House, we got to spend an hour once a week imagining a better President. Jedediah Bartlett was a Nobel Prize winning economist, unapologetically liberal, though, of course, flawed as all humans are flawed; in his case, by MS, and also by a bit of a temper, and a kind of pompous windbaggery that drove his staffers nuts. I liked the show; I’m not blind to its flaws.

But this time through, binge-watching all those great episodes with my wife, I’ve been struck by the actual issues that the show dealt with. After all, the heart of the show were all these impassioned conversations about public policy by smart, policy and political wonks, Josh and Toby and Donna and CJ, as they walked around the halls of the West Wing. The show’s been off the air for ten years; I would expect that it would deal with a lot of issues that aren’t actually issues anymore. What’s fascinating is how many of the issues the show deals with are still with us today.

They spend a lot of time, for example, talking about the Iran problem; Bartlett’s always trying to curb Iran’s attempts to build nuclear weapons. One whole episode was about an effort by Leo, acting as Bartlett’s emissary, to normalize relations with Cuba. Climate change gets mentioned, but only a couple of times, in passing. Republicans are forever talking about tax cuts, which Bartlett has to consistently bat back. Economics in the show are sort of weird; Bartlett is never a particularly popular President, but we’re told that the economy is humming along, with five and a half (or seven, or nine, depending) million new high paying private sector jobs. Plus a balanced budget, plus low inflation? And an approval rating in the 40s? It’s like they had to have him be good at economics (he’s a Nobel laureate), but unpopular (conflict!), and sort of hoped we wouldn’t notice; Presidents with humming economies are really really popular.

Gay marriage gets mentioned a lot, but always as a kind of pie-in-the-sky thing that only the most wildly liberal politicians ever even mention. Barlett’s (quietly) in favor, but can’t say so publicly. Too preposterous a pipe-dream to ever become reality. But raising the minimum wage is not actually a big deal; Barlett negotiates a minimum wage hike with Arnie Vinick (the Republican Presidential candidate, played superbly by Alan Alda) and it passes without fuss.

Now, I’m not saying that The West Wing was a particularly prescient show, and oh, if we’d only listened! or anything like that. I think that Aaron Sorkin and (later) John Wells reflected the big political issues of their day, and the mainstream thinking on those issues. They tried to position Bartlett in perhaps surprising and provocative ways in relation to those issues, but those were the issues. And I look at Obama’s second term, ten years after Bartlett ‘left office,’ and it’s interesting. We have an Iran deal. We have normalized relations with Cuba. We don’t have a balanced budget, but the world-wide financial crisis of 2007-8 came after the show left the air. (It would have been interesting to see what Bartlett would have done about it. I assume he was a Keynesian (he was a macroeconomist; they’re all Keynesians); probably he would have rejected austerity). But John Wells was show-running for seasons 5-7, the last three seasons, and Wells was clearly less interested in economics than Sorkin was. The whole last season was about the campaign to replace Bartlett, Matt Santos v. Arnie Vinick, and it would have been nice if Santos had ever attacked Vinick’s tax cuts on substance, not because Vinick’s a Republican and we’re rooting for the Democrat to win, but because Vinick’s tax cuts are bad economics.

Whatever. Here’s my larger point: there are issues that were raised on The West Wing that have since been resolved, mostly, of course, because that show was ten years ago and the world moves forward. Liberals favor change; conservatives oppose it; that’s the difference between the two philosophies. Both are necessary. But right now, voters are angry, because they can see how our country’s current economic successes aren’t benefitting ordinary Americans. Economic inequality should be the key issue in this campaign, and it’s starting to happen on the left. (The Right’s all obsessed with nonsense issues, like border security and cutting rich guys’ taxes).

But. But. If we don’t talk about issues, even far-out, will-never-happen-in-my-lifetime issues (like marriage equality), then people won’t think about them, and they’ll never come to pass. The only way to affect change is to start talking about affecting change. That’s why Bernie Sanders is so valuable in this race. He’s not going to win, and there are issues where I think he’s dead wrong. But he’s talking about economic issues that need to be talked about. He’s willing to position himself as a radical, even though actually he’s not radical enough.

Jed Bartlett, of course, never existed. But that TV show was part of the political conversation. If what’s replaced it is another TV show (Veep, say, or House of Cards), well, those are both terrific shows, but not much interested in policy. But there remain fora where conversations about policy can happen. And we need to speak up.

Movies best seen with other people

For the last few days, I’ve been watching, in bits and pieces, the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There’s a reason I didn’t just sit down and watch the whole thing from beginning to end; it’s terrible. It’s astonishing, how bad it is. Tim Curry’s performance isn’t even all that great; his initial entrance, singing ‘I’m a sweet transvestite’ is extraordinary, but he spends most of the rest of the film flouncing around throwing hissy fits. (His reading of the line ‘Oh, Rocky!’ is pretty great too, I admit.) The story is completely incoherent, the choreography is beyond execrable, both in conception and (OMG) execution. There are some catchy songs. That’s about it.

But here’s the thing, the first time I saw it (winter of ’78), it was at the old Blue Mouse Theater in Salt Lake, a midnight show. And I absolutely loved it. Most of the audience was in costume, and there was an entire meta-theatrical/cinematic ritual at play; people shouting things at the screen, with rice throwing, squirt guns, newspapers to hold over your head. I went in the attitude of pith-helmeted anthropologist, and I had a ball. And so did everyone else in the theater that night, as far as I could tell.

It got me wondering if there were other films like this, films that are best seen with a crowd of people, shared experience films. I suppose another word for them is ‘cult films,’ but that phrase doesn’t quite capture the experience I’m describing. I don’t mean bad films, I mean films that are particularly enjoyable in some kind of group setting. To extend that thought a bit, can we say that certain films are enjoyable precisely because they affirm group identity. They’re insider films, beloved precisely, perhaps, because in some way they are incomprehensible to people not in the group.

Family films fit this category, for example. My wife and her family are all particularly fond of the old Danny Kaye classic, The Court Jester. And with good reason; it’s a terrifically funny film, superbly acted, a delicious parody of Hollywood swashbuckling action/adventure. When we watch it as a family, we repeat lines, we laugh together, we repeat favorite sequences. We can riff off the phrase ‘the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true,’ ad infinitum. Our family does the same for Galaxy Quest; another tremendously entertaining comedy that we enjoy together.  And whenever we see an actor who was in that film–especially the otherwise anonymous folks who played Thurmians, we all go ‘hey, it’s a Thurmian!’ Cross to bear for those actors, but hey, that’s the gig.

It’s not a movie, but a TV series, but the fourteen iconic episodes of Firefly have that in-group vibe. Of course, years after that show was cancelled (for lack of ratings), it’s a Comic-con staple. But don’t you know people who can quote it endlessly? I do. And am one.

Get a bunch of theatre people together at a party, and it’s not unusual for someone to haul out Waiting for Guffman. A funny, inside jokey kind of film, particularly suited for anyone who has done community theatre.

What are some other group identity films? I’d love to hear your faves.

 

The Iran deal: way better than you’ve been led to think

We got a deal with Iran. Iran wanted something; an end to the economic sanctions that were crippling trade and holding back their economy. The West wanted something too; for Iran to stop trying to build nuclear weapons. My wife and I have been watching re-runs of The West Wing; Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear program were an issue President Bartlett dealt with repeatedly, on a show that’s been off the air for ten years. He was a fictional President; now the real one has announced a deal. And it’s terrific.

Meanwhile, the Republican party has found an issue more unifying even than Obamacare. Every single one of the 67 (est.) announced Republican candidates for President has denounced the deal. 47 Republican senators wrote an insultingly condescending letter to the Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif (a guy with multiple advanced degrees in Foreign Relations from various American universities) explaining the American system of government and, oh, adding ‘we’re not going to ratify any deal you make, so don’t bother negotiating one.’ And their views were tepid compared to those of Bibi Netanyahu, who essentially staked his entire political career on his opposition to it. And who got invited to the US to explain his objections to our Congress. Massively inappropriate, to be sure, but the Right was desperate.

So this week the deal got signed. The negotiations worked. Iran agreed to conditions they had previously rejected. Of course, this is Iran, super-sneaky, terror-sponsoring, Islamic-fanatic, utterly untrustworthy Iran. So newspapers across the country, searching for that ever desirable middle-ground, are calling it ‘deeply flawed,’ in terms that make it clear that, in their view, it’s a lousy deal, but probably the best we could come up with, all things considered.

You want to know who thinks it’s a terrific deal, much better than you’ve been reading? Actual experts in nuclear proliferation.

Here’s Aaron Stein, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Royal United Services Institute. (The entire interview with Stein is here.)

It’s a very good nonproliferation deal. If you want it to focus on the problems with Iran running around in Iraq or Syria, this deal is not for you. If you are focused on the nuclear issue specifically, it’s a very good deal. It makes the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the next 25 years extremely remote. It would require a Herculean effort of subterfuge and clandestine activity.

It’s important that it puts inspections in place. Inspections are not always designed to catch you red-handed but rather to elicit a response about what it is that you are up to. The threshold for pain is so high that you don’t want to break the rules, and I think this puts that in place while also making it extremely difficult to cheat.

It’s certainly true that the deal allows all economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted. That was what Iran wanted, and it’s in our best interests too, to allow Iran to engage with other nations, including opening diplomatic relations, eventually, with the US. As Klein puts it: “the policy change we wanted was to put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in perpetuity. We got that.” It’s certainly true Iran is currently holding four American citizens, and that we would like them released. But that becomes easier, not harder, now. This negotiation was about one issue, and only one issue. But diplomatic channels now exist to resolve other differences.

Okay, so that’s one guy. What about other nuclear proliferation experts? Well, 30 of them published a letter praising the deal, calling it a “vitally important step forward.” One of the favorite opposition talking points had been that the deal did not call for international inspections; in fact, such inspections are the centerpiece of the deal. And it concluded that “the agreement reduces the likelihood of destabilizing nuclear weapons competition in the Middle East, and strengthens global efforts to prevent proliferation.”

Want some more? How about the non-partisan “The Iran Project,” a group of former analysts and diplomats who have been skeptical about previous diplomatic efforts. After reading the details of this deal, they enthusiastically endorsed it, and called upon Congress to “take no action that would impede further progress.”

You want another opinion? How about Jeffrey Lewis? Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, with a regular column in Foreign Policy? He’s been a skeptic all along; thought the process was flawed, and doubted Iran would agree to a sufficiently robust inspection regime. But he stayed up all night to read the details when it was released on the internet, and he declares himself pleasantly surprised by it: gave it an A. Can Iran be trusted? Here’s his response:

What you want is to feel like the administration has maxed out what they could have reasonably hoped to achieve. You can’t know that [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] will be deterred. But I don’t know that there’s any way to make him more deterred than this.

As President Obama put it in his press conference yesterday (I’m paraphrasing here), we had two choices. One was to negotiate an end to sanctions (which Iran wanted) and an end to their nuclear program (which we wanted). The second was to unilaterally invade or attack Iran. Without necessarily always saying so, the idea of invading Iran was in the subtext of most neo-conservative criticism of the administration’s efforts. The magazine National Review has been particularly rabid in their insistence on military action.

And they’re wrong. They’ve always been wrong. The United States of America can’t just invade other countries and impose our will. It doesn’t work, and it’s also fantastically immoral. Instead, the Obama administration engaged with Iran diplomatically. The deal we got is terrific. It’s not ‘deeply flawed,’ and anyone who says it is doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s first-rate, excellent. It’s a terrific deal. Well done, Secretary Kerry. Well done, diplomatic corps. Well done, Mr. President.

Illegal immigration

A friend of mine sent me a link to some site called The Revolution, called What if Illegals Left. It’s sort of gone viral on social media and certain conservative sites. I’m not going to link to it here; don’t have much interest in driving traffic their way. I will quote a bit of it, though.

In California, if 3.5 million illegal aliens moved back to Mexico, it would leave an extra $10.2 billion to spend on overloaded school systems, bankrupt hospitals and overrun prisons. It would leave highways cleaner, safer and less congested. Everyone could understand one another as English became the dominant language again.

In Colorado, 500,000 illegal migrants, plus their 300,000 kids and grandchilds would move back “home,” mostly to Mexico. That would save Colorado an estimated $2 billion (other experts say $7 billion) annually in taxes that pay for schooling, medical, social-services and incarceration costs. It means 12,000 gang members would vanish out of Denver alone.

Colorado would save more than $20 million in prison costs, and the terror that those 7,300 alien criminals set upon local citizens. Denver Officer Don Young and hundreds of Colorado victims would not have suffered death, accidents, rapes and other crimes by illegals.

Denver Public Schools would not suffer a 67% dropout/flunk rate because of thousands of illegal alien students speaking 41 different languages. At least 200,000 vehicles would vanish from our gridlocked cities in Colorado. Denver’s 4% unemployment rate would vanish as our working poor would gain jobs at a living wage.

I’m not going to quote any more; honestly, I feel like I need to take a shower. This entire viral post is nothing more than ridiculous nativist nonsense.  None of it’s true, and none of it contributes helpfully to the debate. May I also urge you to not to post anything disagreeing with it on social media. I’m about to do just that, and I’m already dreading the response. A friend of mine did, and 4000 replies later had to shut it down. The anti-illegal radicals are not reasonable people. They’re conspiracy theorists, basically. And you can’t argue with conspiracy theorists.

And don’t be misled by these ridiculous ‘statistics.’ It doesn’t take much fact checking to realize how phony these numbers actually are. Denver Public Schools don’t have a 67% drop-out rate, for example. It’s closer to 23 percent, for graduation within 4 years of completing eighth grade. But the actual drop-out/flunk rate drops to less than 3% if you count students who finish their degrees a year after their graduating class finishes. And Hispanic students do just fine; track about the same as Caucasian students, a few points behind, which vanishes if you project the numbers out a year.

In fact, every econometric study of the issue of immigration has concluded that Hispanic immigration, legal and illegal, has been a net positive for the US economy. Expel ‘illegals,’ for example, and say goodbye to 2 million entrepreneurs. Illegal immigrants have a much lower crime rate than any other category of Americans, and illegal immigrants pay taxes, earn wages, spend money, all of which boost the US economy. Those are the facts, and they are not in dispute.

Plus, honestly, I have no idea why illegal immigration is an issue in this campaign season. Illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle. In part, this is because the economy of Mexico has been growing. In part, it’s because the US has started issuing more green cards, around a million a year. As for the ‘we need to close the border argument,’ it’s difficult to see how much more could be done. The Obama administration spends 18 billion on border control, more than it spends on any other federal law enforcement agency.

In other words, when people in bordering countries are desperate enough economically that they decide to come over to the US, they first apply to do it legally, through a green card. If they lose that lottery (and many do, of course; it’s basically a matter of luck), some risk their lives to come over illegally. Once here, they are far more likely to start a business and hire other people than any other American ethnicity. They commit fewer crimes than most people. They can’t collect ADC, food stamps, unemployment, social security, the EIC, Medicaid, or most other social services. They pay taxes, and do not consume tax dollars. And their numbers are dwindling.

And I’d do it. So would you. If I were desperate to feed my family, if I couldn’t find any gainful employment where I lived, and if a fantastically wealthy country was close by, to my north, I wouldn’t care about immigration laws. The moral thing to do isn’t to obey some persnicketty rule, it’s to feed your kids. I’d Jean ValJean it. So would you. Be honest with yourself, and you know that’s true.

So yes, I can totally see why stopping illegal immigration needs to be a major national priority, or an issue in a national election campaign. Not.

 

Why Donald Trump’s candidacy is good for America

It’s July, 2015. The first primaries won’t happen for six months; the first debates begin next month. Businessman Donald Trump is either in first, second or third place among Republican candidates in the latest polls. I think this is great. I hope this trend continues. Donald Trump’s candidacy is good for America.

Here’s why. The American political process is, and should be, funny. It takes forever. In the early stages, it disproportionately focuses on two small states that couldn’t be less representative of the American populace, and if four guys careening around Iowa pandering to voters is funny, 22 is even funnier. Our election cycle gives candidates ample opportunity to say and do ridiculous things. This is all to the good. The President of the United States is a very important job, and it does, absolutely, matter who wins. But in the meantime, let them entertain us! Laughter’s good for the soul. And there’s no one more entertainingly foolish than The Donald.

And the ranks of first-rate political satirists has been a bit thinned of late. Jon Stewart is retiring in three weeks. David Letterman has already retired. Jimmy Fallon seems more interested in having celebrities do impressions of other celebrities than in scathing social commentary–not that that’s a bad thing, of course. Stephen Colbert has vanished into the wilderness, taking his character with him, though I suspect that his return will dazzle.

But Trump is something special to these guys. Stewart has expressed regrets over his (he now thinks) pre-mature retirement. David Letterman actually showed up at an event with Steve Martin and Martin Short, Trump-oriented Top Ten list in hand.

Plus, best of all, Donald Trump has helped inspire the return of Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County. That’s right; after twenty five years, we’re getting more Bloom County; Opus the Penguin, Milo, Oliver Wendell Jones, Steve Dallas, and best of all, Bill the Cat. Who will be the Trump stand-in.

And I haven’t even mentioned the #trumpyourcat instagram phenomenon, wherein people give their cats Donald Trump hairdos.

And in a serious vein, Donald Trump’s candidacy is also revelatory with respect to the Republican electorate. I mean, he announced his candidacy (before a heavily papered house), by stating categorically, as though it was one of those things that everyone knows and just doesn’t want to say aloud, that Mexican immigrants were pretty much all of them rapists. When that led to absolutely justified howls of outrage, Trump doubled down. He does that. He doesn’t back down, he doesn’t apologize. He says ludicrous and offensive things, and then he insists that what he said was simply the unvarnished truth, and he won’t walk it back.

And then his poll numbers go up.

Now, I don’t want to fall into the ‘all conservatives are racists’ trap. For one thing, I know a lot of conservatives, and they are not, for the most part, racists. Plus ‘racist’ is a nasty thing to call someone. I will say that Trump’s recent success does indicate that a substantial part of the Republican electorate is clueless and uninformed about the realities of immigration, legal and illegal, in this country. And that maybe some inchoate, unacknowledged, more-felt-than-articulated racial or cultural prejudice may also be at play.

Also, the Trumpites seem clueless and uninformed about a whole range of important policies. Take, for example, Trump’s ‘secret plan’ for dealing with Isis. He hasn’t told anyone what that ‘secret plan’ might entail. Just that it’s going to be ‘beautiful.’ And his poll numbers keep climbing. Which suggests, again, that the problem with Isis is just a matter of will, that all we have to do is insist strongly enough that Isis go away, and they will. And that feckless clown Obama (who is probably mostly Moslem anyway, and may well be from Kenya) just doesn’t want Isis to go away badly enough. In other words, the notion that a secret-but-easily-implemented plan to get rid of Isis might actually succeed ‘beautifully’ suggests, again, an electorate stunningly clueless and ill informed. At least in this sense: a substantial number of people, asked by pollsters who they favor for the Presidency, are able to bring themselves to say ‘Trump.’

Trump seems to think that the Presidency is about making deals. He called the recent Iran deal ‘terrible,’ saying ‘we gave them billions of dollars.’ In fact, ‘giving them billions of dollars’ has nothing to do with the Iran deal, unless you consider a gradual easing of sanctions some kind of giveaway. But that’s Trump. He sees everything through the prism of a business deal. This was a bad deal, because the US didn’t get everything it wanted. Neither did Iran. It’s diplomacy. But that’s not something Trump understands.

Trump’s a celebrity; people have heard of him, which is one reason he stands out from a Republican field that otherwise includes the likes of John Kasich and Carly Fiorina. (People have heard of Jeb Bush, but I don’t sense much excitement there; he’s just ‘the next Bush.’) He’s spectacular ill-informed, but so are most voters on most issues; nothing new there.

But he’s also such a splendid comic stereotype. The bombastic oaf. The comically vain womanizer. He’s a character Moliere would have had a ball with. We have our own Molieres, and they’re licking their chops.

Donald Trump is not going to become President. He polls around 10% in a crowded field, with 58% of the electorate saying they would never vote for him, ever, under any circumstance. That number’s not likely to moderate much. He can’t possibly win. Meanwhile, it’s a hot summer. We need a good laugh. I’m glad he’s running.