A Biden Hope

The great thing about Canada, Canadians will tell you, is that it’s so boring. No big drama, no insurrections on the steps of Parliament, no QAnon lunatics impeaching the prime minister, and no prime minister, for that matter, doing his damndest to overthrow a legitimate election. Just law, order and good government.

It’s national news when a moose crosses the road in Bobcaygeon.

So it is in this spirit that I want to applaud the entirely boring Inauguration Speech by President Joe Biden in the US this week. Honesty and truth? Boring! Common decency, consideration for others? Boring! Stopping a pandemic? Boring! Tackling climate change? Boring, boring boring!!!

Mind you, one unintended benefit of these four golden years of the Trump era is that the US has shown – nakedly, garishly, like a Brueghel painting, or Hogarth’s depictions of a gin-sodden London – exactly what a fetid state of corruption and misgovernment actually looks like.

Some other states that I can think of are no more virtuous; the difference being that they are better at hiding it. Extra-judicial killings, surveillance, disappearances, the gulags and even ordinary, institutionalised every-day lies and evasion can work wonders.

But the US, bless it, has as always been a shining example. Look at your ex-President, Americans, and think what you have given those of us poor benighted souls who live in ‘shithole’ countries – which I assume includes places like Norway and New Zealand. You have shown us the ugliness and venality – oh, and the arrogant, hilarious, know-nothing incompetence – that other, less fortunate countries, endure in silence.

The lesson, I guess, is that boring is beautiful, normal is to be treasured, truth matters. And lies are lies, everywhere and always.

So thank you, President Biden, and thank you, America.

A Biden Hope, all of ya.

FDR and Trump

I have been watching, these past few evenings, Ken Burns’ richly described and absorbing account of the Roosevelts, including Presidents FDR and Theodore (‘The Roosevelts, An Intimate History,’ on Netflix). The past two episodes have focused on FDR – the extraordinary story of his polio, his ascendancy to the Presidency, the whirlwind first 100 Days which laid out the cornerstones of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the enduring legacy of bridges, dams, roads, Social Security, that map the country that is the US today.

Watching these clips of FDR in action – that jaunty grin, the gritty optimism, the ability – despite his patrician upbringing and bearing – to connect with everyone – I could not help but think of the current incumbent of the Oval Office: the Hitler-esque sneering and jibes, the lying and insults, the hatred and narcissism laying waste to everything.

To yoke one of the greatest of American presidents – certainly the greatest of the 20th century – together in the same sentence with probably the vilest of the lot – is to remind ourselves of the gulf – the huge, yawning, appalling chasm – between the fundamental decency – notwithstanding his imperfections – of the one, and the slimy, venal indecency and incompetence of the other.

It’s about actions, obviously, and it’s about behaviour. But also, fundamentally, it’s about values and character. One man had them, the other wouldn’t recognise them if he fell over them in broad daylight.

As I think about the world around me, and my own small role in it, it is values that matter.  Hopefully, when Trump and all who serve and enable him, are mere footnotes in history – shameful and shamed, but eminently forgettable – it will be values that last.

Not only in America.

Two giraffe and a European bee-eater

Those of you who saw my recent FaceBook post (I’m a bit ashamed to be using FaceBook right now, given the nasty political business it’s been enabling – but on the other hand, perhaps FaceBook is appropriate, given the nastiness I’m about to mention) will know that I was – thanks, Mark, for the clarification – robbed last week, in the Pretoria CBD, across the road from the National Treasury.

Apart from my iPhone, nothing was lost or injured other than my dignity, which at this stage of my life doesn’t bother me too much, and my sense of personal safety and security which – again, at this stage of my life – concerns me rather more seriously.

Other than that bit of nastiness, and the nastiness that is going on in the world in general (don’t let me even get started about that essence of nastiness, the orange buffoon and vulgar know-nothing in the White House) life has reverted to what passes for normal – Rob and I have been out to the movies (saw Annette Benning yesterday in ‘Film Stars don’t die in Liverpool’ – fabulous!), out for lunch and a browse around the Maboneng Precinct, out for breakfast yesterday at a cool little place, the Milk Bar, which is just a short walk from us.

And, I have found time, and the peace of mind, to make a few photographs. Here are two, of giraffe at Marakele, processed in Lightroom and in Silver Efex Pro, and a beautiful little European bee-eater, which I simply had to process in colour – Lightroom again, and Colour Efex Pro.

All shot with the Nikon D500 and 70-300mm.

Unfriending

Last week I ‘unfriended’ on Facebook an in-law from my wife’s large and extended family in the US. I don’t think I’ve ever ‘unfriended’ someone before. It was not, I wrote to her at the time, an ‘unfriending’ in real life: in real life I still loved her as a friend and a member of our family. But what I couldn’t stand was the alt-right messages she insisted on circulating – unwanted, hostile, and deeply distasteful. Nor did I want people I know and like and respect to associate me with this kind of thing simply because of the way we are all immersed, nowadays, in social media.

Let’s be clear: this was not about who supports whom in the American election. I can see that it is as hard for her to imagine how I could possibly endorse Clinton as it is for me to get my head around how anyone with a heart or a brain cell could possibly support Donald. I just don’t get it, and neither does she, but we can agree to differ. Nor is it about our vastly differing opinions on matters like abortion, or racial discrimination, or religion or the economy. Again, we can argue, and disagree, and even question each others’ values, and principles, and take on reality, without any ‘unfriending.’

When it comes to the facts, we’re on different territory. Facts are not opinions, and opinions dressed up as fact are simply ideology. Climate change, to take a particularly egregious example, is not an opinion, or conspiracy, or ‘Chinese propaganda’: climate change is fact, no matter what the Republican Party and the alt-right say about it. Not in the sense of absolute, god-given ‘truth,’ but in the sense that science understands it: objective, verifiable – and falsifiable, too, as Karl Popper pointed out, more than a half-century ago.

Yet if presenting opinion as fact, and dismissing fact as propaganda, were the worst of the alt-right sins, we could probably get by with some insistent fact-checking, a marshalling of evidence, refutations of ignorance and deception and – ultimately – we can simply turn our backs on what are, in a fact-based universe, mere crackpot theories, conspiracies, and delusions.

The trouble is, it’s much worse than that. Not only do the Trumps and Trumperies put about patent falsehoods – Barack Obama is a Muslim, Obama was not born in America – but they put organized falsehood at the service of abhorrent causes: racism, misogyny, bigotry, hatred.

And this is my fundamental objection to alt-right fundamentalism. It’s not just about a difference of opinion – though that difference is profound and undeniable; nor is it only about fact versus falsehood. At its root, it’s about our respect for others. It’s about a thing called tolerance.

One of the enduring mysteries, for me, is how a good Catholic – in my in-law’s case – or a decent Christian who believes in forgiveness and the love of God, or principled and ethical people of any persuasion, secular or religious – can buy into an agenda that is riddled with hatred; that seeks to make itself strong by demeaning, ridiculing, and abusing others; that mistrusts everyone and anyone who looks, thinks, acts, loves, believes differently from them; that is always yelling; whose language is always – always! – shrill, hysterical, condemnatory, apocalyptic.

I mean, really. In the real world, most people, most of the time, are decent, civil, kindly, respectful. In the real world, we don’t go about demonizing and insulting each other. So why create this alternative universe of hatred?

C’mon, people. Life’s too short, you know? Be nice. Relax a little.

 

Language pales with Sarah Palin

For today’s expose of mangled language, who could do better than this take by the Financial Times on Sarah Palin’s muddled verbosity and scrambled thought-particles – kinda like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, you can never be sure exactly where she is, or where those elusive brain cells and ganglia are – take a look, at via Sarah Palin’s rhetoric soup is tasty fare for US conservatives – FT.com.