The Death of Democracy in America

Matt Hoh, speaking truth, and we can’t have that in America. Or can we?

W.J. Astore

If the Republican and Democratic Parties are virtually identical on most issues involving big money, like the military, banking, corporations, and so on, you don’t have a democracy. Democracy implies choice among many alternatives. We have virtually no alternatives. Hence this video by Briahna Joy Gray, which spells out a “Dem-Exit” in progress, as many Democrats wake up to the fact that the party almost never keeps its promises and is mainly engaged in raising money for itself and maintaining its increasingly tenuous grip on power.

Even worse, when other parties try to offer true choice, like the Green Party, the Democrats scheme to block legitimate candidates. Consider the case of Matthew Hoh, who’s running for the Senate in North Carolina as a candidate for the Green Party. I know Matt. He’s a former Marine who resigned in 2009 from the State Department in protest against U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Matt knew that Obama’s so-called surge wasn’t working and he spoke out against it. Matt had (and has) integrity. If only more people in the U.S. military and the foreign policy establishment had Matt’s combination of integrity, intelligence, and guts.

Matt gathered more than 22,000 signatures to get on the ballot in North Carolina (he needed 13,685), so surely he was easily approved because we Americans love democracy and principled politicians like Matt Hoh, right? Wrong.

The Democratic establishment did everything possible, legal and illegal, to block him from getting on the ballot in North Carolina. And it appears they’ve blocked him.

What are they afraid of? Well, they’re afraid to lose a bit of their money and power, and they’re especially afraid of a principled person like Matt Hoh, who actually believes what he says, and says what he believes.

Matt Hoh is a disabled combat veteran who ably served his country, who is indeed still serving it to the best of his ability, with a mixture of candor and courage that has won me over and plenty of people in North Carolina and elsewhere. And we can’t allow that! so sayeth establishment Democrats.

Blocking Matt Hoh from running is yet another clear sign of the death of democracy in America.

A short statement from Matt Hoh:

“We represent single-payer health care. We represent affordable housing. We represent living wages, action on the climate, etc, etc. And those things aren’t represented by the [Cheri] Beasley campaign [the Democratic candidate for Senate] at all. They claim to be for working-class people, but you and I know, the Democratic Party, it’s been decades since they’ve addressed the needs of working class people.”

The Matthew Hoh Campaign is appealing the decision by the State Board of Elections, which voted 3-2 against, with all three Democrats voting against Hoh getting on the ballot.

There is a mid-August deadline for Matt Hoh’s name getting on the ballot. It’s a safe bet that establishment Democratic leaders in North Carolina will do everything in their power, legal or illegal, to block him. Why? Because Matt Hoh represents the people; the Democratic Party represents the owners and donors.

Godspeed, Matthew Hoh. Thank you for fighting for North Carolina and for America.

If you’d like to donate to Matt’s campaign, go to https://www.matthewhohforsenate.org/

Heck, even I chipped in $100, and I rarely donate to political campaigns. As Matt said today on “The Jimmy Dore Show,” people are being brutalized by America’s political system. If we keep simply voting Democrat or Republican, all we’re doing is “perpetuating a deadly status quo.”

Time to try real democracy. Time to vote for candidates like Matthew Hoh.

Obama Humiliates Biden

W.J. Astore

In a sad spectacle, former President Barack Obama visited the White House and humiliated his former VP, Joe Biden, as this video shows:

Who cares, right? But I do want to say a few things about this:

  1. Obama stands revealed here as a total narcissist as he basks in the applause and approval of White House political operatives while Joe Biden stands outside the circle of joy, looking lost and insignificant.
  2. Obama’s “joke” of addressing a sitting president as “Vice President” was unintentionally revealing of Biden’s lack of power within the White House and his own party.
  3. I’m not surprised Obama treated Biden in this humiliating manner. Obama intervened in 2020 and made Biden the nominee for the Democratic Party. Recall how he got both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg to drop out before Super Tuesday, thereby boosting Biden’s vote in his race against Bernie Sanders. Without Obama’s intervention, Sanders would have been the likely winner of the nomination process. But Obama and the DNC could not stomach the idea of a progressive like Sanders winning the nomination, so Biden was propped up as the candidate who could win, i.e., the candidate who could be controlled by corporate forces.

Here’s my biggest concern. Biden isn’t a complete dummy, and no man truly wants to be a puppet of others. So I wonder if we’ll see Biden increasingly go off-script, in increasingly angry ways, that contribute to an increasingly dangerous world.

Biden has already gone dangerously off-script in calling for Vladimir Putin’s overthrow in Russia. To Biden, Putin is a “war criminal” who must not remain in power. It’s possible this heated, somewhat unhinged, rhetoric is that of an emasculated man who knows he’s little more than a figurehead.

Biden turns 80 later this year and says he wants to run again in 2024. Yet, at this Obama celebration at the White House, he looked like a man lost, a bit player in his own house, diminished to the point of irrelevance.

And that’s not a good thing when the U.S. needs effective, sound, and determined leadership.

Hollywood, the Oscars, and America

W.J. Astore

I finally watched the Oscars last night. Of course, I’d heard about Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock because of a joke Smith’s wife didn’t like. It was an ugly incident, but fortunately Chris Rock kept his cool. Hollywood loves itself, much like America loves itself, and an A-list actor like Will Smith can pretty much get away with anything, including assaulting one of the hosts for a joke that, though apparently well-intended, obviously miscarried. Smith never apologized during the show, though he finally issued a pro forma apology yesterday once he figured out that public opinion was against him.

I’m a movie buff, and I’ve always enjoyed watching the Oscars, but each year the shows get tackier, sleazier, and more morally repugnant. As my wife said this morning, you see a lot of sick people at the Oscars with no morals and apparently no souls.

I did want to mention one oversight at the Oscars. Now, I have to admit I didn’t listen to every word of every acceptance speech, but those I did hear all had one glaring omission: None of the Oscar winners thanked the fans, the movie-goers, the ones who truly pay them and support them. Instead, the winners thanked the usual suspects: agents, mentors, producers, big companies like Apple and Disney and Netflix, with occasional references to parents and to God. After slapping Chris Rock, Will Smith blubbered on about how he was all about serving God and love, apparently seeing no contradiction between his words and his deeds.

Of course, the Oscars are always a self-indulgent spectacle, always an exercise in narcissism and self-promotion. But would it really hurt the Oscar winners to take a few moments to thank their fans and movie-goers, especially when going to the movies was a bit risky given the Covid-19 pandemic? Instead, I heard talk of how brave they all were for continuing to make movies during the pandemic.

Again, I’m a big movie fan, and I don’t dismiss their artistry and often their cultural significance. At their best, movies can truly inspire us; they can help to open doors to new worlds; they are truly part of the human experience. What’s truly sad is how the Oscars and Hollywood’s yearly celebration of itself actually diminishes the movies rather than showcasing and enhancing them.

The Oscars should go the way of the Emmy Awards — they should simply disappear, having outlived their usefulness and having become something of an embarrassment.

A rare moment of grace at the Oscars, as Lady Gaga helps Liza Minnelli announce the award for best picture (Photo by Christopher Polk)

Fixing NFL Overtime

W.J. Astore

We tackle heavy subjects here at Bracing Views: war, militarism, politics, religion. But surely the heaviest of all is the clear inequity and unnecessary complexity of the National Football League’s overtime rules. Especially in the playoffs, the team that wins the coin flip before OT usually wins the game, though not always, as the Kansas City Chiefs proved this past weekend, as they won the coin toss but lost the game. Also, NFL OT rules for playoff games are different than the OT rules for the regular season (the latter games can end in a tie).

Why not one set of rules for OT for both the regular season and the playoffs? A set of rules that is simple and consistent, producing a victor fairly quickly but without changing the game?

Here’s my idea, which is a variation of the rules for OT that currently exist:

  1. OT shall consist of a single ten-minute period. The team with the highest score at the end of this period wins the game.
  2. If the teams are still tied at the end of this OT period, the winner will be determined by two-point conversions (as teams have the option of trying after touchdowns).
  3. If Team A scores on its 2-point conversion, Team B will then get its try. If Team B succeeds, Team A tries again. If Team B fails, Team A wins. (If Team A had failed and then Team B had succeeded, Team B wins.) Tries will continue until one team succeeds and the other fails, thus the winning team will win by 2-points.

Other details can be worked out, such as the number of timeouts each team gets. I’d suggest two. Also, if one team ties the game at the end of regulation, that team would then kickoff at the start of OT. Otherwise the kickoff is determined by a coin flip.

I like this idea because each team should get plenty of time to have the ball in OT and attempt to score — or even to mount a comeback. And if OT ends in a tie, the 2-point conversion tiebreaker contest will be immensely exciting for the fans since it will involve the offenses and defenses — and the best players and plays — of both teams.

Assuming you watch football, readers, what do you think?

Once Kansas City lost possession of the ball in OT, the Bengals marched quickly down the field and kicked a field goal to win. If OT had been a 10-minute period, however, the Bengals would have tried to score a TD, and KC would have had a chance to answer. If KC had scored a TD on its first possession, the Bengals would have lost without ever getting a chance on offense.

HERE ARE THE OFFICIAL RULES AS THEY EXIST TODAY

OVERTIME RULES FOR NFL REGULAR SEASON

  • At the end of regulation, the referee will toss a coin to determine which team will possess the ball first in overtime. The visiting team captain will call the toss.
  • No more than one 10-minute period will follow a three-minute intermission. Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession.
  • Sudden death play — where the game ends on any score (safety, field goal or touchdown) — continues until a winner is determined.
  • Each team gets two timeouts.
  • The point after try is not attempted if the game ends on a touchdown.
  • If the score is still tied at the end of the overtime period, the result of the game will be recorded as a tie.
  • There are no instant replay coach’s challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay official.

OVERTIME RULES FOR NFL POSTSEASON GAMES

Unlike regular season games, postseason games cannot end in a tie, so the overtime rules change slightly for the playoffs.

  • If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
  • There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period. There will not be a halftime intermission after the second period.
  • The captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred that choice.
  • Each team gets three timeouts during a half.
  • The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period.
  • If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.

Was Spock “Queer”?

W.J. Astore

Friendship? Bromance? Something more? Spock and Kirk in an “intimate” moment

Was Spock “queer”? Of course he was, by one definition of the word. He was unique. And he was (and remains) my favorite character on “Star Trek.”

If you’re a fan of the show, you may have heard of a rich literature that suggests Kirk and Spock were something more than friends. That they were, in some sense, lovers. And indeed there apparently exists plenty of imaginary pornographic imagery of such a relationship, which, to be honest, I have not checked out. I’ll use my own imagination here.

The whole idea of Spock as queer was revived for me by this article at Tropics of Meta:

When I watched “Star Trek” in reruns in the 1970s, I never thought of Spock as “queer” in this way.  I viewed him as exceptionally loyal and in such a close friendship with Kirk that it transcended our limited sexual categories. But just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so too can be other forms of attraction.

The notion of Spock’s “queerness” strikes me as part of the richness of “Star Trek.”  That it’s open to multiple interpretations.  That it had complex characters who couldn’t be reduced to one type.

As a character, Spock was truly a stroke of genius.  Half Vulcan, half human.  Always alien — and always conflicted. Spock is a friend and inspiration to anyone who doesn’t quite fit in. Anyone who feels himself or herself (or themselves!) to be “alien” in some way.

His superior, Captain Kirk, seems to be a conventional ladies’ man, but you get the sense they’re all disposable.  Kirk is in love with his ship, with his command, and the only “human” who’s truly indispensable to him is Spock, or so it seems to me.

They had a “queer” relationship in the best sense of the word: rich, complex, special, and unique. They could (and did) risk their lives for each other. May we all have more of such “queer” relationships in our lives!

Kamala Harris Is Lost in Space

W.J. Astore

Did you know Vice President Kamala Harris is Chairwoman of the National Space Council? I didn’t — until a friend notified me of a feel-good video featuring Harris and a few earnest and photogenic kids on YouTube. The kids were decidedly diverse: boys and girls, black and brown and white, but they all had something in common. No, it wasn’t their enthusiasm for space — it’s that they were all paid actors.

Here’s the link if you haven’t seen the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5PABXXdDwA

As my wife and I watched the video, my better half turned to me and said, “stagey” and “fake.”

I had to laugh as Kamala Harris tried to wow the kids about seeing craters on the moon. My goodness — on a clear night you can see craters with the naked eye. A decent pair of binoculars (I have 10×50 Tasco binoculars) will reveal plenty of gorgeous detail. You don’t exactly have to visit the Naval Observatory to see moon craters.

Even through my relatively cheap $200 camera, I can see plenty of detail. Here’s a photo I took of the moon, a handheld shot done quickly and inexpertly:

The Moon by me. Look at the craters!

I have some experience talking to real kids about astronomy. Elementary school kids can be fun. One class I talked to wanted to know all about UFOs. Another wiseguy kid asked about Uranus, pronouncing it “your anus,” of course. I smiled, quietly corrected his pronunciation, and answered his question. We both had a laugh.

Yet apparently Kamala Harris is not to be trusted talking to real kids who might go off-script. Perish the thought of a kid who might make a joke about Uranus. The horror! It doesn’t inspire confidence that she’s only a heartbeat away from the presidency, as the saying goes.

If and when the space aliens come for me, I know what I’m saying: Take me to your leader — mine is lost in space.

On Radical Skepticism, Friendship, and Truth

W.J. Astore

My dad was a skeptic. He taught me the saying, never believe anything you read, and only half of what you see. Sound advice in this heavily propagandized world of ours.

Despite my dad’s skepticism, I eventually earned a doctorate in history and wrote books in which I pretended to know what was going on in the past. Or, that’s the way my dad would have put it. To my claims he would sometimes say, “Were you there, Charlie?” In other words, if you weren’t a direct witness to the event in question, how can you say what really happened? In fact, even if you did witness it, are you sure of what you saw or heard or sensed? Our senses can be unreliable for all sorts of reasons, such as fatigue, bias, distractions, and so on.

How do we know what we know? Can we ascertain truth? “Truth — what is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Christ. Small wonder that so many people seek truth through religion when there’s so little of it available in non-religious realms. (Of course, religion operates on faith, not on truth per se, though those who believe see faith as a way to truth, perhaps as a form of truth.)

I think the most “true” thing in my life, the thing I doubt least of all, is the love of my closest friends and family. Once again, my dad had something to say here. He believed that you’d be lucky to have a handful of friends in your life who truly cared about you, who’d be there for you no matter what, who’d take a bullet for you, as my dad put it. And, let’s face it: not many Facebook “friends” fit my dad’s definition here!

So, I suppose my dad taught me to question received “truths” and also to ponder what real friendship is all about. The latter shouldn’t be easy; it’s not a trivial matter of clicking “friend” on a social media site. Friends are there for you, my dad explained, they are sympathetic, they are sacrificial, because in some sense they love you.

Which leads me back to Christ, friend of humanity, who was sympathetic to our human plight in all its zaniness and sordidness and who nevertheless sacrificed himself for us. How many of us think of Christ as the Ultimate Friend? For that’s what he was and is, if you believe in him.

I was raised Catholic by my dad (my mom didn’t go to church, but that’s another story). My dad, the radical skeptic, had faith in the Church and in Christ. I have no faith in the Church, sadly, but I do have faith in Christ and his teachings, which to me show us a path toward the truth in the form of a better life, a more compassionate and generous one.

Today, we find ourselves immersed in a matrix of lies, or “alternative truths” if you prefer. My dad had, I think, the way out. He taught me not to believe too easily, not to be glib, even as he showed me through his own example what living a life of value was about.

Be radically skeptical, yes. But believe in what is right; seek truth and recognize its demands on you. (Truth is rarely easy, especially truth about oneself.) And then manifest it as best you can.

It’s a tall order, dad, and I still have a long way to go. We all do, for it’s really all about the quest, not the destination. Seek and ye shall find are words that comfort me. Surely I heard them first standing next to my dad in church, listening to the gospel, the good news, the teachings of Christ.

But no man, no church, no entity has a monopoly on truth. It can be found in other religions and outside of religion. It can be found within and without. All I know — or think I know — is that it won’t be easy. But what of value is?

My dad as a young man, looking, always looking

AOC’s “Radical” Gown

W.J. Astore

AOC got a lot of attention wearing a gown to the Met Gala that read, “tax the rich.” Here’s a fetching image:

Of course, this is hardly a radical message. Firstly, the rich are already taxed. Secondly, something like 70% of Americans, and perhaps more, agree that the richest Americans should pay more taxes. Thirdly, attendees of the Met Gala are, though rich, generally supportive of liberal causes, if not of true leftist agendas, so her message was hardly offensive to most of the people there.

Many people have pointed out AOC’s hypocrisy, such as her lack of action on issues like health care for all or a $15 minimum wage. Her gown was basically an exercise in performative theater. It garnered “hits” and “likes” as well as fury, but in the end it signified nothing.

Actions speak louder than words, even on gowns, but I can imagine more powerful words for her to have worn, if she’d really wanted to send a subversive message. Examples that occur to me:

EAT THE RICH. Much more amusing and to the point.

END THE WARS. Why not focus on America’s forever wars that have (or will) cost us $8 trillion?

HELP THE POOR. Why not remind the rich at the gala that there is such a thing as poor people in America?

GREED IS BAD. The anti-Gordon Gekko message.

CLASS WAR: Why not go all Marxian on them?

NO MORE NUKES: Why not remind Americans that the Pentagon plans to spend as much as $1.7 trillion on new ICBMs, bombers, and nuclear submarines, when the “old” ones we have are already capable of ending most life on Earth?

OK: Wearing what amounts to a bumper sticker on a gown isn’t going to change the world. It’s a stunt to grab attention, with an element of narcissism to it. But if you’re going to pull a stunt like this, why not go big? Why not be radical?

One more thought: If you watched the Met Gala and all the celebrities showing off their gowns and outfits, and you’ve also read “The Hunger Games” or saw the movies, you couldn’t help but recall the scenes of the decadent few in The Capitol, thoroughly enjoying life as all the proles in the Districts suffer to serve their prodigal and hedonistic lifestyle.

Something tells me AOC is very much a Capitol creature. She’s no Katniss Everdeen, no matter what she puts on her gown.

Readers: What message would you dare to wear on your gown or suit to show your “betters” you mean business? Have some fun in the comments section, but let’s keep it rated “R,” not “X.” And short!

The Marsh in Snow

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, I got out on the marsh during the snow. The landscape was much changed from the previous photos!

New snow planet
This part of the marsh made me think of a nasty trench in the lowlands during World War I
There’s an austerity or bleakness to this photo
At home, a coating of white makes everything look fresh and new
Another month until spring!

Donations — and Forgive the Ads

W.J. Astore

If Bruce Springsteen can make a commercial for Jeep aired during the Super Bowl, I can start accepting a few dollars for content at Bracing Views. (Donations are voluntary.)

Seriously, I’ve been running Bracing Views for five years, and before that I ran The Contrary Perspective, without ever asking for donations or bothering readers with ads.

But site costs are rising, and I suppose I should be open to earning some money for the site.

So I’ve added a PayPal button for $12.00 donations (a buck a month: what a deal!), but it’s purely voluntary. Many thanks if you choose to donate, but no worries if you don’t. These are tough times for many people.

Also, you may now see some ads when you visit the site.

Again, many thanks to all of you for following the site, and for reading and commenting as well.

P.S. I’m just another sellout like Bruce. 🙂

Update (3/29/21): The great donation/ad experiment is over. First, I’d like to thank everyone who chipped in $12.00. Enough people contributed to pay for my site fees and domain registration for the next two years. Hooray!

The ads are another story. Since my site is small, I was lucky to earn $10 a month from ads. And they’re annoying. So I got rid of them. I also removed the PayPal button. Feel free to reach out to me if you wish to contribute. I especially like gold and other precious metals, rare stamps, antique chess sets, fine watches, and bitcoin. Surely my writing is worth it? 🙂