Mon, Jun

My Notes and Comments on Current Topics in Gelfand’s World


GELFAND’S WORLD - Back in the olden days, long before you kiddies were born, there was a columnist by the name of Paul Coates who wrote for the Mirror, before it got gobbled up by the Times. Coates would do something called "Mash notes and comments," which involved tacking various things together and adding his own replies. It passed for humor at the time. 

Sometimes, there are a lot of stories, none of which is worthy of 1500 words, but all of which are worthy of mention. Hence, Notes and Comments. 

A continuing media failure 

It's been a busy week where Russia still cannot win in Ukraine, and is gradually beginning to lose, even though this war, monumental in its forced misery, is getting less and less coverage in our national media. The 11 o'clock news spends more time on car chases than it does on this Russian effort at mass murder. Importantly, we are not getting proper coverage of how some leading Republicans are failing to support the Ukrainian effort. 

The Supreme Court continues to lose prestige and credibility, particularly now that the Clarence Thomas scandals are becoming public knowledge. But Thomas isn't the only one. The Court has been controversial pretty much forever, but it's usually been about legal decisions. Now it's corruption. As various people have been saying, the remedy would be to increase the size of the court and appoint honest justices to balance the crooks 

A new term: Gunsplaining

You remember that essay called "Men explain things to me," written by Rebecca Solnit? She describes how some man she had never met tells her about an important new book on a particular aspect of film history, while both she and her friend are trying to interrupt him and explain that she was, in fact, the author. 

A colleague of hers invented the term "mansplaining" to describe how men of a particular type treat women, and it stuck. 

So, recently, I saw the term "gunsplaining," and it fits beautifully in its own context. 

It goes like this: Each time there is a mass shooting, or even a particularly ugly not-so-mass shooting, people will demand that the congress do something in terms of weapons of war. Others will ask for the banning of assault weapons, and some will demand limits on high-capacity clips. And so forth. 

And then, we get the predictable response from the gun lobby, which is that the complainers made some technical error in the way we describe the rifle or its component parts. Either we say clip instead of magazine, or we are told that an AR-15 isn't all that different from lots of other guns that look different, or any other line of blah blah blah. 

The implicit argument is that we do not know what we are talking about because of that technical error or misstatement. 

Gunsplaining. It's a useful term, and gunsplainers ought to be called out on it. 

Gunsplaining is also the ultimate kind of bullshit, where I am using the accepted scientific term correctly. It is an argument based on a false premise, that anybody needs to be an expert in firearms design in order to recognize the results of firing a semiautomatic weapon into a crowd. It is a gun, it fires rapidly with little effort on the part of the shooter, and people die. And this happens more than once a day in our country. There are organizations that now keep track of mass killings and publish the updates online, such as the one for 2023 which you can read here. In January through April, there were 185 mass shootings in the United States, with a death total of 254 and the wounded totaling 708. That's a lot of death and misery in the first 120 days of this year. 

The E. Jean Carroll verdict 

Let's start with Donald Trump's refusal to testify at his recent civil trial on accusations of rape and defamation. Trump not only did not testify on his own behalf, he didn't even walk through the courtroom door. That pretty well guaranteed that he would lose the case and have a substantial verdict rendered against him. But that was actually his best available choice. By not testifying, he did not have to submit to cross examination, which might have gone on for days and would have been featured (at least in transcript form) all over the world. And he would have been revealed to be a doddering old molester, as his own words have shown repeatedly. And, he would have been revealed as a serial liar, and this is something that is better not to do when you are in court, under oath. 

I make this suggestion based on a not-dissimilar case in which Bill Clinton was accused of misconduct and gave a deposition which got him into trouble. Much later, one legal analyst pointed out that Clinton would have been better off by never responding to the lawsuit, pretending to be too busy, and getting hit with a default verdict. It would have cost him some money, but it might have spared him the impeachment. 

So Trump took the hit, and made public claims that nothing really happened and that -- once again -- everyone was out to get him. He was not willing to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth, but he gets to deny the evidence to his own fans. 

On Wednesday, Trump went on CNN and did a televised interview. There is a list of some of his misstatements that you can find here. The difference between a Town Hall interview and a court of law is that in court, an opposing attorney gets to keep questioning you, in spite of your evasions and lies. It is that ability by the opposing attorney to do follow-up questions that puts Trump in real jeopardy should he ever testify in open court, under oath. In the Carroll case, the opposition lawyer simply read into evidence Trump's own statements at his deposition, and that was enough to fry him. But he avoided a whole lot of embarrassment by chickening out. 

It does seem to take two years 

We've got a lesser scandal right now in the George Santos case. Unlike the Donald, Santos isn't quite as good at lying blatantly and with a straight face. He's also small fry in terms of the national government, and the prosecution has now nailed him to the wall.

Competing bills of rights 

As I mentioned in a previous column, there is a developing revolt among neighborhood council participants based on the rude and dictatorial way that the city has been treating us. Out of that came a draft of a neighborhood council bill of rights. (Disclosure: I wrote part of it and edited the wording of other parts.) It's being further refined and circulated even as I type these words. 

But another group, calling itself The Budget Tribunes, has crafted its own version of a neighborhood council bill of rights. My own view is that it isn't so much a bill of rights as it is a wish list. It's just a lot of favors that the authors want from the city (which the city does not really owe us, anyway). Meanwhile, the authors give up important rights that they should have defended. It's a long piece, so I will get to it some other time. 

The monarchist lobby 

As I mentioned recently, there seems to be a group of people who defend the British monarchy from its detractors. I see them in the comments sections of online pages -- you know, the ones where somebody points out how silly it is that the late queen demanded that all the daughters-in-law wear a particular color of nail polish (nothing garish) and how much it costs the UK to maintain the royalty. There is of course a legitimate response, that all that pomp brings in the tourists by the millions. But then there is the rest of it, which consists of defending how wonderful "The Royals" are as people, and how awful that Meghan and her husband Prince Harry are. 

So I got one of those comments which you can see at the bottom of my last column, and besides the usual support for Charles, there was the following statement: 

"No, Charles, soon to be III, is no Mahatma Gandhi but, again, he is no Hitler. And I will take him over pretty much every American president of the past half century." 

I take it that the III refers to the fact that he is now King Charles the Third, even if I originally read it as ill, as in the sense of being unwell. Yes, Charles III he is, and has been since the death of his mother. 

It's the other part, about taking Charles III over every American president of the past half century, that I find so curious. 

We could start with the trite and obvious; Charles did not run for Prince of Wales, nor did he have to campaign for the position. The need to justify his position is largely in his own mind. 

But we really must remind the commenter that the two positions are nothing at all alike. So let's contrast them in this one way: Presidents make decisions. Whether we like those decisions or not, George W. Bush made a serious decision to invade Iraq, and made judicial appointments, and signed executive orders. American presidents have the responsibility of defending our shores and overseeing a huge executive branch. 

The Royals, on the other hand, are supposed to avoid partisan politics. 

The UK has a different office, called the Prime Minister. If you want to compare American presidents, try comparing them with Prime Ministers. And even then, the electoral system is vastly different. 

I can, however, agree with the commenter that Charles is no Gandhi. I think the comparison (or contrast, if you will) of Charles and Hitler is depraved. 

The commenter also suggests that the British monarchy, particularly Elizabeth II, have been beneficial for the world. I can only refer to the recent discussion by John Oliver, where he points out how that the monarchy made millions of pounds off of the slave trade, which you can watch here.  Real monarchs with real power are a risk to everyone's liberties. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].)

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