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Friday, March 24, 2017

Our new shop cat has a name!


by John MacBeath Watkins

Beau Geste is the name for our new cat. It was the name of the titular character in a book by P.C. Wren, an adventure novel in which Beau gives everything for the sake of honor. Beau is a very sincere and dignified cat, which is what made me think of it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Ballard TST has a cat!

by John MacBeath Watkins

We are happy to announce that Twice Sold Tales in Ballard now has a shop cat. He is as yet unnamed, but he is a tuxedo cat with all the dignity that implies.

He's been here about 24 hours at this writing, and is already seducing customers, especially the ones who ignore him.

This picture shows him hiding behind the sign in the west window shortly after his arrival. He's already knocked over books, gone into an area I'd prefer he didn't, all hallmarks of a proper shop cat.

Once he became convinced that I didn't intend to eat him, he crawled right into my lap. He's a brown-eyed handsome cat, but we've already had one named after Chuck Berry.

It's been years since I've been able to have a shop cat, and I"m over the moon about it. Our new cat is about a year old, so he'll be with us for years yet.

Any suggestions for a name?

I had, or course, thought of the Song of the Jellicle cats, from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, but it doesn't fit him, because he is not "rather small." He's long and slender. But just for old time's sake, here's the poem:

    The Song of the Jellicles
    Jellicle Cats come out to-night
    Jellicle Cats come one come all:
    The Jellicle Moon is shining bright -
    Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.
    Jellicle Cats are black and white,
    Jellicle Cats are rather small;
    Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
    And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
    Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
    Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
    They like to practise their airs and graces
    And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.
    Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
    Jellicle Cats are not too big;
    Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
    They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
    Until the Jellicle Moon appears
    They make their toilette and take their repose:
    Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,
    Jellicle dry between their toes.
    Jellicle Cats are white and black,
    Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
    Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping-jack,
    Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
    They're quitet enough in the morning hours,
    They're quitet enough in the afternoon,
    Reserving their terpsichorean powers
    To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.
    Jellicle Cats are black and white,
    Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
    If it happends to be a stormy night
    They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
    If it happens the sun is shining bright
    You would say they had nothing to do at all:
    They are resting and saving themselves to be right
    For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.
    T. S. elliot

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Language and political manipulation: Why everyone is reading 1984 again

by John MacBeath Watkins

My bookstore started running out of copies of 1984 immediately after Kellyanne Conway used the term "alternative facts" to describe a lie told by presidential spokesman Sean Spicer.

That was on Meet the Press, Jan. 22, 2017. People really needed to start reading it sooner, such as in 2008, when Paul Gottfried first used the term "althernative right" to refer to white supremacists.

That proved to be the most successful bit of rebranding since the Rapeseed Association of Canada realized in the 1970s that women would be more willing to buy rapeseed oil if it were called canola oil.

Consider the case of Steve Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist and a member of the Principles Committee of the U.S. National Security Council. Prior to attaching himself to Donald Trump during the primaries, he ran a "news" organization called Brietbart, which he described last year as "the platform for the alt-right."

Had he described Brietbart as "the platform for white supremacists," would Trump be able to have him as his closest adviser?

And Bannon is now engaged in a new exercise in rebranding. At the Conservative Political Action Conference Feb. 23, Bannon said that President Trump made all his cabinet appointments with the goal of the "deconstruction of the administrative state."

Prior to that speech, deconstruction meant to apply a particular brand of critical theory to the reading of texts. Here's the Merriam-Webster definition:

1. a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions (as between key terms in a philosophical or literary work) are always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary signifiers; also: an instance of the use of this method -- a deconstruction of the nature–culture opposition in Rousseau's work.
2. the analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy.
This is clearly not what Bannon meant. Trump did not appoint Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency so that he would perform some sort of literary criticism of the agency. He's there to destroy it. He is there to ensure that our air and water become polluted, much like what Bannon and Conway are doing to our language.

Bannon is rebranding "destroy the government of the United States" as "deconstruction of the administrative state." That sounds so much more civilized, even abstract. Destroying the government sounds like treason, and to people reliant on the government for keeping the country peaceful, prosperous, and a reasonable place to live, it would sound likely to create chaos. Telling voters you were trying to destroy the government would be about has helpful as a canola farmer trying to impress his date by saying he was in the business of producing rape oil. Except, of course, that if his date knew what he was talking about she wouldn't mind, whereas if voters understood what Bannon was saying, most would be appalled.

But "deconstruction of the administrative state," now, that sounds really intellectual. Let's try to keep up with the development of the Trump administration's Newspeak, shall we? After all, we don't want to commit thoughtcrime.

We can begin our glossary of Trumpspeak:

Administrative state, noun, the agencies of the executive branch of the government.

Alternative fact, noun, A lie.

Alt-Right, noun, white supremacist.

America first, noun, originally a movement in the 1930s and '40s that thought America should not oppose fascism. Used by Trump and his surrogates as a term for a 21st century movement that feels America should not oppose fascism. Alternatively, a person who cooperates with the intelligence apparatus of a hostile foreign power to win public office.

Birth certificate, noun, a talisman of authenticity that, even when produced, cannot be real.

Coastal elites, noun, people who possess expertise, regardless of location.

Corporatist, noun, A word that had several meanings prior to Trump. He and his seem to have borrowed the left-wing meaning of a corruption of public policy by business interests, a sort of crony capitalism, except that the Trumpettes only use it to describe people who are not cronies of Trump. They might give the example of George Soros as a corporatist, but never Charles or David Koch unless they cross Trump.

Criminal enterprise, noun, a non-profit organization that spends its money on good works, rather than using it to buy politicians.

Deconstruct, verb, to destroy.

Disaster, noun, a successful government program.

Dishonest, adjective, used to describe people who report accurately on Trump.

Economic nationalism, noun, a policy of political bluster intended to conceal ignorance of how economies actually work.

Enemy of the people, noun, a reporter or news organization that does not propagandize for Trump.

Fake news, noun, a term that once meant lies intended to mislead, used by Trump and his surrogates to mean reporting facts that are inconvenient to Trump.

Globalist, noun, people who are not economic nationalists.

Loser, noun, a person who is not Donald Trump.

Radical Islamic Terrorism, noun, a magical phrase which, if said with sufficient conviction, will cause our enemies to humbly surrender.

Saying it like it is, verb, saying what you think people want to hear.

Strong leader, noun, either a foreign dictator or a blustering, insecure person who obsesses about the size of his inauguration crowd.

Truth, noun, a lie that confirms prior bias.

Unwatchable, adjective, a television show that Trump watches and reports on to his audience..


Orwell's pioneering work in his 1948 novel has given us a framework, but it will take years to assemble a workable glossary of Trumpism. Please add to the comments list any words and definitions you think should be added.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

If no one sees him, does Trump exist?

by John MacBeath Watkins

It is hard to understand Donald Trump's unhinged tweets about his Trump Tower phone being tapped on President Obama's orders. Has he lost touch with reality? Is he trying to recast himself as the victim in the Russian affair? Is he a paranoiac in addition to being a narcissist?

All or none of these things may be true, but my theory is that the main motivation was that people were, in the wake of the sort-of-state-of=the-union speech, starting to talk about him as if he were a normal president, the kind that isn't so dramatic that we have to focus on him all the time. The kind of president who will be an effective executive managing the United States executive branch.

Trump has never shown he can manage anything. Instead, as Trump biographer Tim O'Brien said recently,  “He’s a performance artist pretending to be a great manager.”

And as a performance artist, for Trump the measure of how he is performing as president isn't how well the country is doing under his administration. The measure is how much people are paying attention to him.

When people breathe a sigh of relief, relax their gaze and turn to other matters in their lives, he panics.

President Trump is a man so insecure, he seems unwilling to test the question of whether he exists when no one is watching. I have to wonder if, when people start turning their gaze away, he feels as if he were fading. He cannot let the role he plays, that of the president, to become boring. He needs to steal every scene. So, he does something to ramp up the drama, like a soap opera with falling ratings, just to keep the public glued to the screen. Accusing former President Obama of tapping his telephone is a soap-opera move.

We've gone from the presidency of Barack "no drama" Obama to a reality television performance of the presidency by a man who thrives by inventing drama. Voters wanted change, and that's the change they got.

I began thinking about the reasons for Trump's phone tapping tweets in terms of how they could possibly benefit him in the long term, but I was thinking about it in terms of the goals of a normal politician. Whatever happens because of those tweets may well ruin Trump's presidency, but he will be the center of attention all through the drama.