Author Archives: srogouski

Fully Vaccinated

It’s been two weeks since I got the second Moderna shot.” It feels like an accomplishment. I “beat” Covid. Since I am now “fully vaccinated,” there is only a 4 or 5 percent chance I’ll get Covid, and even if I do, there’s almost no chance I’ll experience anything worse than a bad cold.

Sadly, the Coronavirus pandemic, like almost everything else these days has turned into a culture war. Two groups of extremists seem to have gotten control of the discourse, at least on social media, the mask cult and the death cult. For liberals, the pandemic has brought out their terror of their fellow Americans, their love of isolation, their hatred of public space, their never ending urge to “virtue signal.” Wearing a mask isn’t a temporary precaution in crowded public spaces, a social obligation that should be discarded as soon as we achieve “herd immunity.” It’s a good in and of itself. For conservatives, on the other hand, not wearing a mask, and not getting vaccinated, is the newest form of “open carry.” Masks and vaccines are for the weak, for feeble unAmerican herd animals brainwashed by Bill Gates and George Soros into becoming lab rats for a new drug that, in their minds, is even worse than fluoridated water, a conspiracy by the “globalists” to steel their vital bodily fluids. In other words, liberals are in love with control. Conservatives are in love with death.

But social media isn’t “the real world.”

They say you should write about “what you know.” I can’t speak about the South or the Midwest because for me they might as well be foreign countries. I know New England and the Pacific Northwest a bit better, but I lack a real intuitive sense of their culture. New Jersey, on the other hand, I know like the back of my hand. Name me a town in New Jersey, and there’s a pretty good chance I can tell you all about its income and educational level, its ethnic makeup, and its political affiliation without even having to Google. I know Northern New Jersey so well that for me The Sopranos has always seemed a bit phony, a TV series written by a man who may have grown up in Clifton and North Caldwell, but who left the Garden State a lot time ago for Hollywood.

Compared to most of the United States, Union County, New Jersey is overwhelmingly Democratic, and fairly liberal. Nevertheless, it’s not San Francisco or Cambridge Massachusetts. It has a nasty history of racial segregation, two towns that went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, twice, and a lot of liberal Democrats who until as recently as a decade ago were what used to be known as “moderate Republicans.” Thomas Malinowski, my Congressman, is a neoconservative, Zionist war hawk who beat his Republican opponent by less than one percent, a hard core Russiagater whose main goals are to censor the Internet and lower property taxes for the very wealthy. In other words, while Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton both won by comfortable margins, Union County feels like pretty much every belt of suburban sprawl from Southern California to suburban Chicago, to Northern Virginia. It may be less than 20 miles from Manhattan, but culturally it’s a lot more like “America” than it is like Hollywood or the Upper West Side.

In Union County New Jersey there is no correlation at all between political affiliation and trust in the experiment Covid vaccines. There is, however, a correlation between income and and vaccination. Rich people are getting the vaccine. Poor people aren’t. Take a at the enclosed map published by nj.com. Dark means “heavily vaccinated.” Light means “sparsely vaccinated.” As you can see the closer you get to Newark and Elizabeth, to the Linden oil refineries and Amazon warehouses, that industrial wasteland associated with the state in the popular imagination, the more unlikely it is that you won’t be vaccinated. In fact, vaccination is so heavily correlated with the richer suburbs, which either barely went for Biden and Clinton or went for Trump outright and a lack of vaccination with the working class inner cities that vote Democratic by upwards of 75 percent, that the social media stereotype is turned right on its head. White conservatives are getting the vaccine. Liberals, or at least working class, black and brown Democrats, are skipping it.

Let’s take a look at a few examples. My hometown of Roselle, a working class town, heavily black, full of Haitian and Central American immigrants, voted 8219 to 1318 for Joe Biden, is only 25 percent vaccinated. Neighboring Clark, on the other hand, a Republican stronghold, almost one hundred percent white, and which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, is 42 percent vaccinated. Elizabeth, the biggest city in Union County, which voted for Biden almost three to one, and which was devastated by Covid last Spring, is only 26 percent vaccinated. Newark, the biggest, and most Democratic city in the state, is only 23 percent vaccinated. By contrast, the wealthy moderate Republican suburbs of Westfield, Summit, Scotch Plains and Mountainside, are all hovering around 50 percent. Chris Christie’s hometown of Livingston has 60 percent of its citizens fully vaccinated and the fabulously wealthy town of Short Hills/Millburn is just behind at 56 percent.

So why is the reality 180 degrees different from the social media stereotype? Why are rich conservatives getting the vaccine and working class Democrats skipping it? If I had to guess I’d say that poor people, who live check-to-check and are constantly afraid of getting fired, are worried that the vaccine’s side effects might cause them to miss work. People in the upper-middle-class, on the other hand, which can work remotely, probably welcome the chance to get down to the local CVS and get the shot. What’s more, major universities, most of the Ivy League, the Big 10 and the University of California, now require the vaccine for incoming students. That probably skews the percentage of under 30s getting vaccinated away from the poor and towards the upper-middle-class. As far as masks go, I notice little or no difference from town to town. Pretty much everybody in New Jersey is wearing one.

Nine months in the long limbo of long covid

A description of what it’s like to suffer from “long Covid” by Ed Rooksby, a college lecturer and writer who died recently at the age of 45. I sincerely hope I do not get this horrible disease.

ed rooksby

Nearly 70,000 cases of covid infection were reported yesterday, 8th January. Of course that’s officially confirmed cases and the real number of infections will be much higher. A small but significant proportion of those people will go on to be hospitalised and a small but significant proportion of them will die in the next few days. As we are often reminded, as if to reassure us, most of these victims will be over 60 and/or have various ‘underlying medical conditions’, but there are at least a couple of important ways in which this narrative of reassurance is both troubling and misleading. First, this narrative, intentionally or not (and I think it often is intentional when seized upon by various covid deniers and ‘lockdown sceptics’) effectively relegates people over 60 and those with ‘underlying conditions’ (and the list of these conditions is much more extensive than people normally realise) to…

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Looking into My Crystal Ball

Consider history.

In the late 1780s, 25 years after the French crown lost the Seven Years War to the British and 13 years after it bankrupted itself supporting American independence, France experienced a series of harsh Winters and food shortages, ultimately leading to revolution.

In 1917, 12 years after the Romanovs lost a war with Japan and only 3 years after Czar Nicholas ordered his generals to flush millions of Russian lives into the industrial slaughterhouse that was the First World War, the Russian government collapsed, and the Bolsheviks took power, ultimately winning the civil war against the western backed royalist, “white” armies, and establishing the new communist order.

In 2020, twelve years after we Americans allowed our ruling class to loot the treasury with no consequences, and seventeen years after we allowed the Bush Administration to destroy Iraq, the United States is on the brink of collapse. California, the wealthiest state in the union, is facing environmental catastrophe. The ongoing Covid epidemic shows no signs of letting up. We are headed for a long, deep recession.

So will it mean revolution?

No.

Revolution requires a revolutionary ideology. The American and French revolutionaries of 1776, 1789, and 1793 had the Enlightenment, not only French, but German, Scottish and American as well. The Bolsheviks had Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, James Connolly, August Bebel, Arthur Rimbaud, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the marriage of high modernism and the industrial revolution to the radical legacy of the French Revolution. In the United States of 2020, the overwhelming ideology on both the left and right (especially on the right) is identity politics, the idea that race, gender, sexual identity, and religion are more important than any universal, intellectual, artistic or revolutionary vision. That means Balkanization, not revolution, social collapse, not a radical new order.

We don’t have a Robespierre, a Voltaire, a George Washington, a Ben Franklin, a Marx, a Lenin or a Mao. What we do have are a few hundred thousand little would be petty dictators who spend all their time trying to cancel one another and calling everybody else Nazis (the secular term for the devil). We are not going to become France in 1789 or 1793, Russia in 1917, or China in 1948. We are going to become Iraq in 2004 after the United States military smashed the Iraqi state and the Iraqi infrastructure. At some point in the not so distant future, we Americans are going to spend most of our time waiting for the power to come on for an hour or two so we can check out our ruling class betters on social media while rival sectarian militias shoot it out in the streets below. We Americans are going to pay the Karmic price for what we allowed George W. Bush and Barack Obama to do to Iraq, Syria and Libya, and we will richly deserve it.

During the American occupation of Iraq, I used to follow an Iraqi blogger called “Riverbend.” Nobody ever found out her name, but she was obviously a western educated member of the Iraqi upper-middle-class appalled at what George W. Bush was doing to her country. In 2007, she stopped posting, not because she was killed, but simply because she got sick of screaming into the void. She returned once in 2013 with a brief update about her life since the American invasion. Every American should read the whole thing. It’s a brief glimpse of our future.

We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone.

We learned that it’s not that difficult to make billions disappear.

We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries – electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools – those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don’t allow occupiers into their country.

We’re learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I’d be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I’d expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I’d stand in passport control and ask them, “Weren’t you happy when we invaded your country? Weren’t you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you’re so happy with because now, you’re free!”

We’re learning that militias aren’t particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that’s not the way it works. That’s too simple.

http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2013/04/#3554538807908354245#3554538807908354245

Sign of the Times

Cranford, NJ September 2020

The two major historical events of my lifetime, both atrocities, come together at a local monument. Not to get all 9/11 Truther or anything, but it appears that Bob Woodward, the “hero” of Watergate, knew back in January that Trump was withholding information about the pandemic but chose not to publish it until his book came out this fall. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If the corporate media held back information that led to the deaths of over 100,000 Americans, what are they hiding about the deaths of only 3000 Americans? My guess is involvement by the Saudi government and a coverup by the Bush Administration, but don’t quote me on that.

RIP Linda Manz

Linda Manz, who is not well-known by the general public but who is a household name among cinephiles, has died at age 58.

Linda Manz, known for her performances in films like Days of Heaven and Out of the Blue has died. She was 58.

The actress died on Friday after a battle with lung cancer and pneumonia, her family said on a GoFundMe page established by her son Michael Guthrie.

https://people.com/movies/actress-linda-manz-dead-at-58/

I suppose she’s best known for her role in Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven but I’ll always associate her with Phillip Kaufman’s criminally neglected masterpiece The Wanderers, a movie I must have watched 100 times on HBO as a kid. She played “Pee Wee,” the President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Bronx gang The Fordham Baldies (a gang these days that would probably have me as a member).

I can watch this scene over and over again and never stop laughing or admiring the way Kaufman deftly films a chase scene that walks the razors edge between comedy and the childhood fear of being pursued by a gang of bullies. Manz only has a few lines but the arrogant way she delivers them just defines how it feels to have the toughest guy on the block as your insurance policy. “You better watch your mouth kid.”

RIP John Lewis

John Lewis has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

His later support for the Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment was disappointing, but there’s no question that he was one of the most important leaders against the totalitarian one-party, segregationist state that existed in the South until 1964, the year before I was born.

Whenever you hear a “conservative” talk about the evils of “big government,” it’s important to keep in mind the most repressive social order in American history was implemented, not by the federal government, but by state and local governments in the Jim Crow South.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, “government” in the Southern states could tell you who you could marry, who you could socialize with, where you could go to the bathroom, where you could live, and where you could go to school. It was totalitarianism on a massive scale administered, not by SS Gauleiters or Soviet Commissars, but by uneducated hick politicians and pot-bellied local sheriffs. It lasted from the disputed election of 1876 almost into my lifetime. It was as bad as anything in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, and John Lewis risked his life multiple times in an ultimately successful effort to bring it down. In many ways, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump, the evil spirit of segregation and white supremacy haunts us to this day.

Does “free speech” matter in a world where words are meaningless?

Yesterday a group of elite intellectuals and journalists published an “open letter” in Harper’s Magazine defending the idea of “free speech.”

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms.

https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/

On the surface the letter sounds reasonable. You shouldn’t be fired from your job or have your life ruined just because you have an unpopular opinion. Take it from someone who has been “canceled” on social media by a digital mob who accused me of being “ableist” and “transphobic” simply because I recommended that people read Mark Twain on the French Revolution, social media “illiberalism” on the left has gotten out of hand. The letter was signed by people I admire, Noam Chomsky and David Blight, by people that I despise, Malcolm Gladwell, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and by a few nobodies trying to make a name for themselves.

So what’s not to like? Open closer examination you notice that the letter was also signed by several prominent opponents of “free speech,” Bari Weiss, who spent her undergraduate career at Columbia snitching out professors she considered insufficiently pro-Israel, and Carey Nelson, who destroyed Steven Salaita’s academic career at the University of Illinois. It also includes Michelle Goldberg, who jump started her career in journalism by providing “liberal” cover for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The anti-war movement, she argued back in 2003, were all a bunch of dirty commmies. The Harper’s letter, in other words, is a massive exercise in hypocrisy.

But it goes a lot deeper than that. Just because a few neoconservatives and Zionists signed a letter supporting the idea of “free speech” doesn’t make the letter wrong. You don’t refuse to sign an “open letter” because someone you don’t like signed it the day before. Half the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the most famous “open letter” in history, hated one another’s guts.

Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill defined the liberal idea of “freedom” in the late 18th and early 19th Century. Back then you could disagree about politics, or even about the meaning of words, but everybody in the educated, English (and French) speaking-world were, to state the obvious, “educated.” They were elite, bourgeois men, and some women, who grew up writing letters, spending long periods of time reading books, who studied Latin and Greek in college, and who agreed upon certain “rules of debate.” For the British government, who gave Karl Marx political asylum, that he argued for the destruction of capitalism was less important than the fact than he was a “gentleman,” that he had a PhD from a German University and the support of rich capitalists like Frederick Engels. It also didn’t hurt that he had been kicked out of Paris by the French since pissing off the French has always been a favorite British pastime. “Hey we English value open debate. What’s wrong with you Frogs and Krauts?” Had Marx been Indian, African, or even Irish his treatment would have been a lot different, but even then, as the example of Frederick Douglass shows, if you could master the language of the educated bourgeoisie, you could get an audience, even among people who disagreed with you.

These days words are meaningless. Words are no longer words. They’re more like “variables” in Python or C++. The ruling class, the people who have access to the media and the universities, can redefine, or to use the more appropriate term, “overwrite” them any time they want. So for a Zionist like Bari Weiss, Carey Nelson or Michelle Goldberg, supporting Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel isn’t “speech.” It’s “antisemitism.” For people like Cary Nelson, banning Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois is no different from the German government banning statues of Adolf Hitler in the public square or the French government outlawing Holocaust denial. There’s no contradiction in their minds between destroying Steven Salaita’s academic career and signing an open letter virtue signaling about “freedom.” On the other hand, when a nice English lady like J.K. Rowling argues that transgender men and women aren’t men and women, we shouldn’t be rude and call her a “terf.” That’s just wrong.

Noam Chomsky is at the very least consistent. He believes that fascists deserve “free speech.” Most of us don’t. The problem is that for Bari Weiss and Cary Nelson, people like me, and Steven Salaita, anti-Zionists who support Palestinian rights, aren’t simply political opponents. We’re the Nazis. We’re the ones who should be tarred and feather and driven out of town. In theory, it’s an argument for “free speech.” The word “antisemitism” means different things to different people. So let’s have an open debate. In reality, Bari Weiss and Cary Nelson have the ability to redefine what words mean. I don’t. Think of it this way. Think of the public discourse as a data center. I know JavaScript and Node.js pretty well. Does that mean Amazon is going to let me overwrite functions on their servers? In 2020, there’s simply no such thing as a “public discourse.” There are hundreds of compartmentalized private discourses, any one of which, like my Twitter account, can be shut down any time the owner wants it to, and all of which operate within a rhetorical framework written by the NY Times, MSNBC, Fox and the Washington Post.

Over the past few years, Bernie Sanders has been “canceled,” labeled “racist and sexist” by the educated, liberal elite because he argues that we should abolish the health insurance industry, that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. In other words, he’s a threat to their yachts and their kids trust funds. Joe Biden, who has vowed the veto Medicare for All if it ever came up for a vote, and Hillary Clinton, who has pointed out that single payer healthcare in the United States will “never ever happen,” don’t come out and say “I’m in favor of for profit health insurance and 8 figure salaries for the CEOs of companies who produce Oxycontin.” Of course they’re for the idea of healthcare as a human right. They don’t even bother pointing out that they’re for “access” to healthcare and not necessarily “healthcare.” They simply say what they think you want to hear and carry out the agenda of the ruling class anyway. What exactly are we going to do about it? Nothing. Without the power to overwrite words, words are meaningless.

hillary

No Pain No Gain

pain-gain

Westfield, NJ July 2020

A little social commentary displayed on a house down the street from my gym. I’m confused about whether this is an idealist or a materialist view of the world. The Dream comes from The Pain. The Vision Comes from Dream. So you start out with the physical and then stack one idea (The Vision) on top of another (The Dream). Then you have a collective (“The People”), out of which grows political power and then inevitably change. I suppose it’s all worth trying.

Social Media Shaming Versus Guns

Yesterday two wealthy middle-aged lawyers in Saint Louis were so terrified of a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who marched into their gated community that they stood on their front lawn in front of their gaudy mansion brandishing their guns.

I suppose the protesters were guilty of trespassing, but rarely has one image so perfectly summed up how Americans look to the rest of the world.

Donald Trump and the right-wing media have already started putting this couple up on a pedestal, calling them heroes.

In the short run,  I suspect that both of them are going to learn that the soft power of social media shaming is more powerful than an AR-15. Who exactly wants to hire a lawyer so paranoid and hateful that he, or she, would murder people for trespassing? A confident ruling class has no need for threats. It rules by propaganda, by its ability to convince the rest of us that it’s deserving of its power and privilege. These two look ridiculous. I suspect that even among their fellow bourgeois elites they’re going to be very lonely for the next few years.

In the long run, however, this is a sign of the ugliness to come.The (mainly black and brown) working-class is starting to feel more confident about violating the gates and the boundaries society has set up to keep them down. A lot of rich, hateful white assholes are just dying to shoot somebody. It’s also why I’m a rare person on the far-left who’s in favor of gun control.  Absolutely nothing good can come of any of this.

Arrest Trump

The Iranian government has issued an arrest warrant for Donald Trump.

Iran has issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining US President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/iran-issues-arrest-warrant-trump-asks-interpol-200629104710662.html

The American corporate media is going to treat this as a joke. After all, the only people who get prosecuted for war crimes are Serbians and Africans. But the Iranians are well within their rights to demand justice against the criminal government that ordered the assassination of one of their top generals. The Democratic Party and the Clinton crime family have demonized Russia for years simply because of an alleged hack of (idiot Boomer) John Podesta’s email. Can you imagine how the American government and media would react if the Iranians ordered the assassination of one of the Join Chiefs of Staff?

So end the double standard between the Global North and the Global South. Someone make a citizens arrests of Trump and lock him up. It would solve (many of the) problems of both Iran and the United States.