Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Election plans

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

It’s tempting to make a prediction, but I don’t know anything you don’t about this, and nobody really knows anything, and there are lots of potentially shifting scenarios… so I’m going to leave it alone. And, actually, I was going to spend it alone, both my wife and my son working that night — but yesterday afternoon I decided to invite one friend — just one — over on election night. He’s a close friend of almost 15 years, and we met through politics, and if it’s a result we prefer then we can celebrate, and if it’s one that we don’t, we can commiserate. In either case, it seemed better to invite someone, so I did. Hey, if nothing else, there’ll be pizza and beer — so that’s something.

Hot tub time machine

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

Finally, after almost 25 years of talking about it, I put a hot tub in my back yard. Turned out it was far easier than I ever expected: All I needed to do was stick a giant tub of water out there. Voila, instant hot tub.

Okay, I didn’t do that. But I could have. The temperatures in Los Angeles County this weekend — and, yes, I know, it’s been widely reported — have been in the 110s. That’s 100 degrees, plus between 11 and 19 more degrees. And higher. A sub-headline in the LA Times read (and I sure wish I had screen-grabbed this): “Temperatures in the triple-digits could go even higher.” If or when the temperature goes higher than triple digits — like, to quadruple-digits, which could be any day now — none of us will need to worry about it. So there’s some good news.

Pretty much every day, I hop into my mental time machine so as to instruct younger people in how things used to be. Usually it takes this sort of format:

  • “We didn’t used to have all these homeless people on the street.”
  • “You used to be able to work your way through college without all that debt.”
  • “You won’t believe it, but it used to be called Kentucky Fried Chicken, and you could actually eat it.”

Now I’m adding, “It didn’t used to be this hot.”

As in, it hasn’t been this hot in at least 125,000 years. (But who’s counting?)

Y’know, not to be Mr. Naive Polyanna here, but the temperature situation (and that’s my new name for it, as I remain ensconced inside: The Temperature Situation) wouldn’t be hard to improve. Here’s what we’d need to do:

  • Stop burning coal
  • Phase out other fossil fuels
  • Plant lots and lots of trees

I know, it can’t be that easy, right? But it is, once you get past the first two steps, which seem somehow harder: Put people who actually believe in science in charge around the world, and then get those people to actually cooperate globally.

Maybe the hottest weekend in 125,000 years will help move that along.

Great stories in vice-presidential-candidate history, #1

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

In 2016, when Kamala Harris was a Senate candidate and I was a state delegate with an endorsement vote in the California Democratic Party, her campaign invited me repeatedly to meet with her. They called me, they emailed me, they wrote to me, and they texted me. Repeatedly. Obstinate as ever, I refused to meet with her — just because I didn’t want to. I didn’t have anything against her; just didn’t want to, and didn’t appreciate the repeated invitations after I’d said, politely at first, no.

And so, I’m probably the only Democrat in the past five years in California politics who doesn’t have a photo with her. (It’s nice to be known for something.)

I have met at least one other vice-presidential candidate, though.

In 1988, my wife and our two roommates and I were fresh transports to Burbank from southern New Jersey. We were thrilled that Lloyd Bentsen, the courtly Texas senator who was the Democratic vice presidential candidate that year, under Michael Dukakis, was going to land at Burbank Airport — so close to our apartment! We liked Lloyd (far more than Dukakis), and were eager to meet him. One of the roommates and I hustled over there early, and I got right up at the front of the assembled crowd on the tarmac, against the rope line. When Bentsen descended from the plane, and started to work the line, right as he was coming across to where I was, the crowd surged forward, and as I stretched out my right hand to shake hands with him, my left hand, thrust forward by the crush of people, wound up firmly cupped and pressed over the entirety of his male apparatus. We locked eyes in a moment of recognition about the special moment we were sharing, his left eye twitched faintly and he moved on down the line.

When my roommate and I got back to our apartment, the other roommate, a young woman, asked, “Well, how was he?”

I replied, “Hung like a horse.”

Fakebook

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

A couple of days ago, a group of doctors calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” made a number of what appear to be inaccurate claims about hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19. Here’s a link to Politifact’s debunking of those claims. Setting aside why someone should trust a primary care physician and minister who has previously discoursed on alien DNA and demon sperm, one might wonder why we would gravitate to opinions from a small clutch of doctors in Texas as opposed to those of, say, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and an epidemiologist named Anthony Fauci with 50 years of acknowledged expertise in the field.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about. Part of me thinks that if you want to take Hydroxychloroquine to prove Dr. Fauci and, well, me wrong — then have at it. I actually hope you’re right. I would love for you to be right. I just hope that if you’re trying this experiment you’re not someone I actually care about, because in that instance I sure as Hell don’t want to be right.

No, what I want to talk about is the uproar over Facebook and Twitter removing videos exhorting the claims of “America’s Frontline Doctors.” These social media giants are doing that because they believe the video is essentially an exhortation to suicide, and I guess for some reason, this morning Facebook got a good look at itself in the mirror and didn’t like what it saw. And so it and Twitter are shutting down the video wherever it pops up on their sites in a frenzied game of Whac-a-mole.

Which presents a problem for them. A problem of exposure.

Facebook (like Twitter, I believe) says their site is a platform and not a publisher; a platform merely hosts content for others, while a publisher necessarily adjudicates the relative merit of the content it publishes and therefore runs the risk of liability. If, say, the journal Nature publishes a scientific article, that’s because the editors and publisher of Nature believe it to be true. That applies to the Wall Street Journal, and CBS News, and the people behind OAN probably have talked themselves into believing it too. And so, in trying to take an active role now in adjudicating content, Facebook is blurring the line, leaving us wondering just what Facebook is. As we used to ask about Razzles when I was a kid, “Is it a candy? Or is it a gum?”

I’ll be interested to see where this goes. 2016 made it very clear that social media platforms have too much power, particularly in using algorithmic response to leverage mass action; in an earlier time, we would have broken them up already or regulated them. We went after comic books, for Pete’s sake, in the 1950s (with a House investigative committee), and we broke up Ma Bell when I was a kid, but Facebook and Twitter and, God help us, TikTok (which is a direct line to the Chinese government), are just doing whatever they like with no guiderails.

The Razzles controversy, you’ll be glad to know, was finally settled. Not just by me — at about age 8, I decided that it was a candy, because nobody should want to swallow gum! — but also by Tootsie Roll Inc. In weasely fashion, they’ve decided that “First it’s candy, then a gum!”

I expect a similar defense from Facebook and Twitter.

What’s next

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

This weekend, as with most weekends recently, has been consumed with straightening up my comic-book collection and working on my new play. I’m slowly running out of thousands of old comic books that still need to be paired with nice plastic bags and boards and carefully slid into comics storage boxes, and I also may finally be running out of ways to rewrite the same 119 pages, at least in a way that theoretically improves upon them. I’ve already got more delicious rotting old comic books on their way to my house, courtesy of eBay and Mercari, and at some point I suppose this play will be done.

This morning I had a very nice surprise on the weekly Pere Ubu live show on Patreon when the band’s manager, the smart and very talented Kiersty Boon, sang me happy birthday, which even earned a nod from David Thomas. Again, a nice surprise. If you’re not on the Ubu Patreon platform yet, you’re going to want to watch that and much here, so here’s the link. Earlier in the week, I had posted on Facebook that all I wanted for my birthday was a new-new Pere Ubu album (a new one having just come out a month or so ago), at which a fellow fan and friend remonstrated, “Oi, Lee! You’re such a greedy boy!” But on the show, Kiersty and David announced that there is now indeed a new-new Pere Ubu album available for download, proving yet again that when you want something, you should put that want out into the universe in order for it to happen. In retrospect, I wish I had wanted Donald Trump out of office for my birthday.

While doing my self-appointed chores today (laundry; work on play; straighten up more comics; complete the online Sudoku Mega; pick more avocados from our tree for my wife to barter at work), I still found time to take on a bunch of objectivists, libertarians and crackpots on the Facebook page dedicated to the late Steve Ditko, best known as co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and as an acolyte of Ayn Rand. The thread started when someone posted a lunkhead op-ed claiming that the nation had met its ruin because we weren’t adhering to the most extreme sort of religious evangelism, and equating protesters with rioters (never mind that the nation was founded protesters who rioted, and that most of us who have protested several times in our lives have never once rioted). When, finally, after much back-and-forth between myself and several other people posting, the original author admitted that he’d never even read the thing he linked to, for which he then got eviscerated by others, I declared victory and left the discussion. But not before one of the commenters assured us all that if he were in charge, this rebellion would be put down fast! I offered that Google could provide driving directions, should he gather the momentum, and that in the meantime he should beware paper cuts while reading those old comics.

Whenever I finish a TV show or movie or book, I get an email from Netflix or Goodreads asking me “What’s next?” Y’know what, guys? When I know, you’ll know. Let’s just leave it at that. Especially in 2020, no one knows what’s next.

Today’s awful insight

Monday, June 29th, 2020

If Trump drops out, we run the risk of Pence winning and the Dems losing the Senate.

If Trump stays in, we run the risk that he actually wins.

This is like the worst episode ever of “Deal or No Deal.”

Calm down (but don’t relax), Part 2

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Josh Marshall on why President Molotov can indeed be beaten:  He’s historically unpopular because he’s consistently unpopular.

So: Be wary of the curve in the road — but it’s no reason to stop driving.

Calm down (but don’t relax)

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Robin Abcarian, as they say, speaks my mind when she says, “Stop pulling our your hair. You CAN beat Trump.” And offers examples from recent history.

Or, as I’m constantly chiding friends on Facebook, “Stop being pre-defeated! Predefeatism leads to defeat.”

Election results

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

OK, the Iowa Caucus vote count is now 96% complete — and I got just as many delegates as billionaire Tom Steyer and without spending one penny of my own money. Sweet!

Action over despair

Friday, January 31st, 2020

I try my best to be a Stoic.

No one is a true Stoic, at least not as outlined in the Enchiridion of Epictetus. Being a true, complete, Stoic would be to renounce joy and happiness (in addition to the more negative emotions), which would also mean rejecting everything, outside work, that makes life meaningful and enjoyable. Even when I first read the Enchiridion, decades ago, I realized this… and realized that Stoicism is best employed as a practice, and not as a goal.

That practice, which has brought me great relief throughout my life, is summed up best as this:  “There are things within your control, and things outside your control. Things within your control, you may exert your power over. Things outside your control, you should let go.” Applied well, this can be awfully soothing. Plus, productive. It counsels correct action, and relieves frustration.

After a glorious 18 days off — from any kind of work, from even thinking about anything troubling, as I went to Spain to see the world’s actual greatest rock band and also to New Jersey (twice) to visit my birth family, and even from writing anything in any form — this week I found myself clenching my jaw and my shoulder muscles as I bore witness to the presidential impeachment “trial” unfolding. So far, the result isn’t any different from what I thought it’d be, but its lack of suspense doesn’t drain me of my dread and outrage; a country in which, evidently, anything a sitting president might do to ensure his own re-election is permissible surely isn’t the country the Founders conceived, nor is it the one I thought I lived in. Tonight, after the Senate voted 51-49 not to hear from witnesses (and after more than one of the GOP Senators voting against witnesses said they believed that the Democratic House managers had proved their case — but they still didn’t care), I decided to come home, grill a big steak, drink an entire bottle of red wine, and watch something distracting on Netflix. Because what they had done was infuriating, but it was outside my control.

That’s what Stoicism does for you — it helps you question what you can affect, and what you can’t, and constantly raises for you the question of what, if anything, you could do.

I grilled my ginormous tomahawk steak (freshly purchased from Ralph’s on a WooHoo! deal) outside, cracked open a bottle of Spanish red wine, and sat out there enjoying both, while occasionally throwing a piece of the steak to my two dogs and petting them to our mutual satisfaction. It was pretty good.

Except — I was still seething.

So I went on ActBlue and donated a shit ton of money against those GOP assholes in the Senate running for re-election, and against Mitch McConnell in particular, because y’know what? It may not seem very Stoic, but  THAT was within my control.

So now I’m thinking: Just watch what the 58% of us who hate all this are going to get up to in the next 10 months. There are millions of us. And that action is within our control, too.