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Last month, all nine Republican on the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter calling on Democrat Adam Schiff, the new chairman, to resign. They said Schiff made false claims that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, so he ought to quit.

Never mind that we don’t yet know what Mueller uncovered about Trump and the Russians. The letter is just another example of the innate behavior of present-day Republicans. It’s distasteful, inappropriate and low-minded. It scrambles the facts in the classic manner of GOP nastiness. See for yourself.

Intel-1

Intel-2

Schiff’s response to the Republicans, apparently spontaneous, is a thing of beauty. Here is the transcript.

———

My colleagues might think it’s okay that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s okay.

My colleagues might think it’s okay that, when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. No, instead, that son said he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians.

You might think it was okay that he took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s okay that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that, when it was discovered a year later that they had lied about that meeting and said it was about adoptions, you might think it’s okay that the president is reported to have helped dictate that lie. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that that campaign chairman offered polling data, campaign polling data, to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay if that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, if they were listening. You might think it’s okay that, later that day, the Russians in fact attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think that it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back-channel of communication with Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay that an associate of the president made direct contact with the GRU (ed. note: Russian Intelligence) through Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, that is considered a hostile intelligence agency. You might think it’s okay that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say in terms of dirt on his opponent.

You might think it’s okay that the national security adviser-designate secretly conferred with a Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s okay he lied about it to the FBI.

You might say that’s all okay. You might say that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.

Now, I have always said that whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter. Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime was up to the special counsel, and that I would accept his decision, and I do. He is a good and honorable man, and he is a good prosecutor.

But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is okay. And the day we do think that’s okay is the day we will look back and say, that is the day America lost its way.

And I’ll tell you one more thing that is apropos of the hearing today. I don’t think it’s okay that during a presidential campaign, Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin’s help to consummate a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune. According to the special counsel, hundreds of millions of dollars.

I don’t think it’s okay that he concealed it from the public. I don’t think it’s okay he advocated a new and more favorable policy towards the Russians, even as he was seeking the Russian’s help, the Kremlin’s help, to make money.

I don’t think it’s okay that his attorney lied to our committee. There is a different word for that than collusion and it’s called compromise. And that’s the subject of our hearing today.

Mic drop

———

Schiff seems to be a decent and honorable guy. Unless he has me completely fooled, and I don’t think he does, he has integrity and compassion, wants to play fair, wants to do the right thing.

There was a time when you could say the same about some Republicans.

 

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The Mueller Report is all over the news these days, mostly in the form of speculation and spin, seeing as how Trump’s Justice Department has managed to keep it secret so far.

The Full Mueller will surface eventually, and the facts will be known. But really, the verdict on Trump came in years ago.

Donald Trump is an all-around awful human being. If you opened his head, crawly things would spill out and skitter away to find the nearest dark place.

He is crude, obnoxious, and vindictive. He is a bully, a blowhard, and a crook. He tells lies for sport. He has no qualifications for the job and no plans to acquire them. His business ties with Russian gangsters go back decades.

I could accept an offensive jerk as president, but not a no-talent gasbag who is in bed with the Russians. He is unfit for office for a thousand reasons and should have been ejected long ago.

Depressingly, plenty of people think otherwise. They seem to believe that our government and political institutions are so screwed up, so rigged to benefit either (a) the rich and powerful or (b) deadbeats and welfare queens, that we need someone like Trump to tear down the system so we can start fresh — in some ill-defined way that came to them in a fever dream.

Well, it’s true that the system is screwed-up and rigged. But if you think Trump is the solution, you’re addled.

The way to get rid of the parasites and, dare I say it, make America great again, is to start using our institutions as they were intended to be used. To play fair. Work together. Use our shared resources to help each other.

Things got off the rails because, over time, the rich and well-connected, including big corporations, have learned to game the system to their own advantage and the detriment of everyone else.

For example, Amazon.com, Inc. made profits of $11 billion in 2018. The company not only paid zero federal income tax, but also qualified for a tax rebate of $129 million. That’s gaming the system like a boss.

It’s undeniable that America has become more and more under the control of modern-day robber barons. Their ascendance in the U.S. has been more subtle than the rise of the Russian oligarchs after the USSR imploded, but the similarities are very real.

Meanwhile, the Republicans connive and cheat to hold down Democratic voter turnout through gerrymandering and voter suppression.

And Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine keep the conservative herd in a lather by invoking inner demons and insecurities, including fear of black and brown people.

And the GOP base keeps voting for Republicans, who make saps out of the faithful by helping the rich get richer and the powerful become more entrenched.

There are plenty of Democrats in office who ought to be shown the door, but, in general, the Left gets it right. The Left hasn’t lost its mind, integrity, and sense of decency. Consider the formal Democratic Party priorities for 2019.

HR 1, the first bill passed by the new House, would institute campaign finance reform, add new restrictions on lobbying, and expand voting rights.

Democrats want to restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court shredded in 2013. Democrats want the federal government to build rural broadband systems.

They want to shore up the Affordable Care Act, lower prescription drug prices, pass some overdue restrictions on guns, and act decisively on climate change.

By the way, the Green New Deal, which the conservatives are straining so hard to vilify and belittle, is merely a label for taking climate change seriously. It isn’t a war on cows.

Whatever we do to go green will be insufficient, but if we can snap out of it in the 11th hour and decarbonize the economy to some degree, it might help the planet remain livable a bit longer.

The ideas on the list of Democratic priorities aren’t radical. They’re just common-sense efforts to face reality.

Contrast that to Trump and the Republicans, who say climate change is a hoax, who warn that malevolent forces are poised to storm the southern border, and who rarely favor anything that isn’t cruel, selfish, deceitful, or underhanded.

But that, I’m afraid, is innate right-wing behavior.

More on that subject in my next post.

Mueller et al

Don, Rod, Bob, and Smiling Bill.

 

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Brain Damage

Science, I love ya.

I am of the opinion, and have been for some time, that the mindset of people who are politically, socially, and/or religiously conservative is the product of some kind of mental abnormality. It’s a position I have expressed often on this blog, including posts here, here, and here.

I hold that view because right-wing thinking routinely ignores facts and logic. Conservatives are, by nature, remarkably closed-minded. Great numbers of them live their lives hating on and fearing various forces they perceive are out to get them, take from them, or diminish them. For psychological reasons, they seem to need an enemy they can blame for whatever upsets them.

Behavior like that isn’t normal or healthy. The negativity, the anger, the bunker mentality, the resistance to change — it’s always led me to suspect that something isn’t right up in the belfry.

Well, now there is new science that backs me up. Researchers at Northwestern University say they have identified a link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism.

According to their findings, damage to the prefrontal cortex — the “executive” region of the brain, which governs higher mental functions such as decision-making — can diminish “cognitive flexibility,” making the victim less open-minded, less accepting of new ideas, and correspondingly more extreme in religious beliefs.

Specifically, damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex has the reported effects.

prefrontal cortex

The Northwestern study compared two groups of Vietnam War veterans. One group had suffered damage to the prefrontal cortex, the other had not. The subjects were tested to assess the traits of cognitive flexibility and openness and to determine religious/political beliefs.

The subjects with trauma to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex scored lower on cognitive flexibility and openness and higher on conservatism and religious fundamentalism. The subjects who had suffered no trauma scored the opposite.

Why? Because of the difference between empirical thinking and religious thinking.

Empirical beliefs (science, learning by observation, etc.) are based on real facts in the real world. Empirical thinking also can accommodate change if new empirical evidence warrants.

Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are the opposite. Fundamentalism and conservatism are fixed and rigid. They discourage progressive thinking. They reject scientific explanations and new evidence. Anything that questions their beliefs and traditions is seen as a threat to group stability and may be opposed aggressively.

Cognitive flexibility, by the way, simply means flexible thinking. This trait allows the brain to switch lines of thought quickly, to consider new evidence, and to adjust beliefs and behavior accordingly. It’s a key survival skill in organisms large and small.

The Northwestern study noted that other factors can influence political and religious convictions, including social environment and innate personality traits. But they emphasized the need to understand the mechanics of how religion works in people because it is so influential in virtually every society.

To summarize:

(1) The trait of cognitive flexibility provides a mental edge in dealing rationally with the world and adapting to change.

(2) Researchers have found evidence that brain damage can reduce cognitive flexibility and lead to an increase in conservative/fundamentalist thinking.

Empirical thinking scores another point for empirical thinking.

Maybe damage to the prefrontal cortex, or faulty wiring in the brain from birth, helps explain the loony behavior of the Republicans in recent times. Maybe it helps explain the bizarre and creepy MAGA crowds that assemble for Trump rallies.

And maybe it sheds light on why an appalling number of people voted for Trump and still support him, despite the empirical evidence that he is a corrupt, amoral con man who is owned by Russian gangsters and should have been ejected from office long ago on grounds of collusion, negligence, malfeasance, and the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors.

But I digress.

fanboy

 

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A Malignancy

Well, this is one way to put it: someone pointed out that one-third of the men on the Supreme Court were confirmed despite being accused by multiple women of either sexual harassment or sexual assault.

That would be Clarence Thomas re the sexual harassment and Brett Kavanaugh re the sexual assault. In Kavanaugh’s case, the Republicans brushed aside three assault accusations. Their “investigation” of the women’s claims amounted to not looking into them.

That’s the way it goes. The truth can be a hot potato. Can’t let the truth derail your guy.

Frankly, I can feature a Democratic Senator wanting to know the truth, regardless of the consequences. But not the Republicans. It’s quite revealing how expendable fairness and integrity are to them.

At first, Jeff Flake got points for wanting the FBI to investigate the women’s charges, but that was just a feint. He accepted the faux investigation and voted to confirm.

Susan Collins, who has a knack for sounding almost objective, ultimately declared that the women’s claims were phony, and she gave Kavanaugh a full-throated partisan endorsement. She was “McConnell’s closer,” some observed.

I am reminded often these days of the old adage, attributed to Henry Kissinger, that Republicans have an instinct for the jugular, and Democrats have an instinct for the capillaries.

If you doubt that, you’ve forgotten what the Republicans did to Merrick Garland. Or else you’re a Republican and you approve.

As for the Supreme Court, I learned my lesson about that body long before Garland and Kavanaugh. At one time, the Court was a respected institution, and the integrity of the justices was rarely in doubt. But now it’s just another entity guided by politics. The conservatives have made it that way.

If you doubt that, you’ve forgotten what the conservative justices did in Bush v. Gore. Or else you’re a Republican and you approve.

The Kavanaugh episode was especially galling because he was a terrible choice for the Court. Some Republicans even warned Trump not to nominate him due to his long-time role as a political operative. Kavanaugh worked for Ken Starr during the Clinton-Lewinsky period.

For his service to the cause, the GOP rewarded Kavanaugh with a judgeship, which later became his stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

So, Kavanaugh was nominated to the Court already carrying the baggage of being hyper-partisanwell before the accusations surfaced by one, then two, then three women.

When he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he denied all charges, but chose to do it in a vitriolic tirade that blamed his Democratic enemies, including the Clintons by name, for being out to get him. And he did it with prepared remarks, not in the heat of the moment.

I didn’t plan to watch all of his testimony, but I did. It was surreal. Amazingly, he also was belligerent with the Democratic members of the Committee.

It was like a tantrum by a toddler, or a spoiled frat boy. A shocking display of anger and political bias. The temperament he displayed for all to see was anything but judicial.

That rant alone should have disqualified him from serving on the Supreme Court, or any other court. But, in keeping with the state of things these days, it did not.

Then, speaking of the surreal, there is Donald Trump, a man devoid of redeeming qualities. Trump is a disgrace. A philanderer, a pathological liar, an amoral creep. A daily embarrassment.

He’s also a treasonous crook. Trump has been owned by the Russian oligarchs since the 1980s, when he began accepting their money because banks in the U.S. stopped making loans to him. By many accounts, some of his companies were set up, and maybe still are, to launder dirty Russian money.

This vulgar man is President thanks to a witches’ brew of sordid factors:

Republican gerrymandering.

Republican voter suppression.

The right-wing penchant for playing dirty.

The mean, selfish, and increasingly wacko beliefs of the conservatives.

The malevolent influence of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine.

The artful interference of the Russians in our politics and elections.

Etcetera, etcetera.

Republican voters were — take your pick — callous enough, reckless enough, unhinged enough, deluded enough, or stupid enough to vote to make one of the most dreadful human beings alive our President.

Rational people knew full well that a Trump presidency would be a trainwreck. But the conservatives, to whom rational thinking has become an alien concept, voted for him anyway. And continue to support him, with relish.

Trump is deplorable to the core, surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of lesser deplorables. But, in truth, he is only a symptom, not the problem.

The real problem is multi-faceted:

– The negative, hateful conservative mindset that put him in office.

– The MAGA crowds that cheer and jeer when Trump holds a rally to attack some target of the moment.

– The morally bankrupt GOP politicians who abandoned their few remaining scruples and got in bed with Trump.

You’ll recall that a dozen of them recently used the same simultaneous talking point: people who wanted the accusations against Kavanaugh investigated amounted to an “angry mob.”

It’s a fact that today’s right-wingers are in favor of virtually nothing. They only oppose. They oppose people they distrust, people they fear, people not like them.

Sometimes, their opposition is merely a finger in the eye of their enemies. Plenty of right-wingers claim global warming is a hoax because doing something about it would be detrimental to capitalism. But probably just as many deny climate change simply to be contrary and in opposition to the liberals.

And consider that conservatives are almost exclusively white. In 2016, 63 percent of white men voted for Trump. 52 percent of white women voted for an admitted womanizer whose low opinion of women is obvious.

The 52 percent figure seems both high and counter-intuitive. But remember, women are just as susceptible as men to groupthink, mental aberrations, and delusional thinking.

Whatever their reasons for being on Team Trump, these are the people who have controlled American society since our founding. No surprise that they fiercely oppose any change that might diminish their power.

And really, the conservative way of thinking only makes sense as a product of their fear of losing their positions of privilege.

The conservative mindset is a malignancy that has impeded the advancement of American society for half of my lifetime.

As for the rest of us, we constitute a clear majority. The solution is to rise up, overwhelm their voter suppression efforts, vote them out, and put an end to it.

Early voting started yesterday in Georgia. I was at the head of the line.

The pols

The voters

 

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Out the Window

In 1866, the Civil War barely over, German immigrant William A. Breyer of Philadelphia was unemployed with a family to support. He got the bright idea of making ice cream in the family kitchen and selling it around the neighborhood.

Breyer made a variety of flavors, and he advertised that his home-made ice cream contained only the finest all-natural ingredients: cream, cane sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, and healthy, yummy flavorings.

Further, Breyer did not add egg yolks to the product for richness, which was the practice with the French style of ice cream popular at the time. (The Breyer style later became known as Philadelphia or American ice cream.)

Breyer’s ice cream was a hit, and his business venture clicked. Family members pitched in to increase production. To reach more customers, Breyer purchased a horse-drawn wagon, insulated to hold blocks of ice and equipped with a dinner bell to announce its approach.

Soon, several horse-drawn rigs were in operation. Before long, the family opened a retail shop.

When William died in 1882, his son Henry took over the business. In 1896, the era of hand-cranked Breyers came to a close when the family opened a manufacturing plant.

In 1908, Henry incorporated Breyer Ice Cream Company. Trucks replaced the horses and wagons. By 1918, the company was producing and distributing over one million gallons of ice cream annually.

Through it all, the Breyers organization built its reputation on using only a few select, wholesome ingredients.

Even after Breyers was purchased by Kraft in 1926, the “all-natural”mystique was so strong that the ice cream remained relatively unchanged — carefully unsullied by the sinister-sounding additives and preservatives that were creeping into competing ice cream brands.

You had to wonder how long that mystique could prevail over the baser instincts of capitalism.

———

As far back as I can remember, Breyers was the Smith family ice cream of choice. Flavor preferences varied, but, when it came to birthday parties and holiday get-togethers, only Breyers would do.

The brand became a family tradition because, first, it was great ice cream, and second, we admired Breyers for keeping the ingredients minimal and natural.

The label would read MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, VANILLA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, COCOA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES.

Sure, a random new ingredient would sneak in now and then — TARA GUM and SOY LECITHIN and such.

Sure, that was unsettling. But maybe, we thought, the additives genuinely benefited the product. Or perhaps they were required by some new government safety regulation. Besides, it still tasted like good old Breyers. So we looked the other way.

———

Clearly, Breyers was aware of the value of its “all-natural” reputation. A few decades ago, the company ran TV commercials featuring children struggling to read the names of the ingredients in competing brands. The ads were quite effective.

Those sentiments, of course, were phony. Sheer corporate crapola. They were ironic, too, considering the downward spiral, ingredient-wise, that Breyers soon would enter.

The decline of Breyers can be traced to 1993, when Kraft sold its ice cream brands, including Breyers, to the British-Dutch company Unilever. That was when the Breyers commitment to making ice cream with simple, all-natural ingredients went out the window.

Under Unilever, Breyers folded like an empty ice cream carton. Steamrolled, as it were, by expediency and the pursuit of profit.

Today, a Breyers product can contain up to 40 additive ingredients.

For example:

Breyers-1

Food additives fall into a range of categories: preservatives, stabilizers, sweeteners, thickeners, bulking agents, coloring agents, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and more. All have legitimate purposes.

But some varieties of Breyers now contain so little milk and cream that, legally, they no longer can be called “Ice Cream.” They are classified instead as “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”

To be fair, Breyers branched out to market a range of dessert variations — Gelatos, CarbSmart, Lactose Free, Fat Free, Gluten Free, Non-Dairy, Non-GMO. In those cases, simple and all-natural are not going to happen anyway. But the classic flavors have been adulterated, too.

The company does its best to apply lipstick to the pig, but only embarrasses itself:

“Only the highest quality ingredients go into Breyers® original flavors. We start with fresh cream, sugar, and milk and then add ingredients like real fruit and chunks of chocolate.”

“Add ingredients,” indeed.

———

Speaking of additives, here are the ingredients of “Breyers No Sugar Added Light Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-2

And here are the ingredients of “Breyers Blasts! Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake Frozen Dairy Dessert”:

Breyers-3

Indeed, the mighty have fallen.

At least William Breyer isn’t around to see what the suits have done with his legacy.

———

I close with one final observation.

Here are the ingredients of “Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-4

To the company’s credit, the ingredients are few and the additives minimal.

But please note that vanilla is not an ingredient of Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

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Fealty

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a rant about the noxious, obnoxious gasbag now serving as President. I haven’t felt the need, really. Most of the country opines about Trump non-stop, ad nauseam.

And it’s the same old story. The conservatives and their propaganda outlets — Fox “News” et al — stand obediently and cynically with dear leader Trump. So do the dim bulbs who voted for him.

Meanwhile, normal people and the real news media see Trump for what he is. Normal people and the real news media rightly are outraged, indignant, dismayed, appalled, and disgusted that Trump is in the White House.

Donald Trump. My God.

Let’s be real here. Trump is not only the worst president ever, but he also is a corrupt, immoral, incompetent, contemptible human being. He has no class, no scruples, no integrity, no shame. He has been that way all his adult life. He will never change, because being Trump got him where he is.

Thanks to the aforementioned conservatives and dim bulbs, aided by the artful interference of Russia’s gangster-led government, Trump is President.

And, as was easily foreseeable, he is careening through his term, wrecking norms, damaging institutions, straining alliances, and expressing a sick admiration for despots and autocrats.

But this week, I feel compelled to post another Trump tirade.

Why? Because he went to Helsinki and, publicly and shamelessly, expressed fealty to Vladimir Putin. If anyone had lingering doubts that Trump is beholden to Putin in some unsavory way, those doubts should be gone now.

Trump confirmed his true loyalties by ignoring the fact that Russia insinuated itself into our 2016 election in order to tilt the outcome in Trump’s favor. The meddling isn’t conjecture; the American intelligence community has presented ample proof.

Yet, Trump accepts Putin’s word that Russia is innocent. Astonishing.

(When he began taking fire for kowtowing to Putin, Trump responded by proposing a second summit. It was the kind of “Oh yeah? Take that!” reaction we’ve come to recognize as typical Trump modus operandi.)

Why Trump is under Putin’s thumb, we don’t yet know. I suspect Putin owns Trump by virtue of the Russians having propped up Trump’s businesses financially for several decades.

Also, being a KGB guy, Putin probably has personal dirt on Trump that could bring him down and/or put him in jail.

Is Trump guilty of treason, as some now claim? Legally speaking, apparently not. Treason can happen only when we are at war. Putin is a thug and a threat and a menace to us all, but Russia and the U.S. are not at war.

But this is what really matters: it is beyond contempt to side with Putin, a murdering gangster, over the country you swore an oath to defend.

At the very least, Trump is guilty of dereliction of duty. He has failed to confront Russia for past cyber-attacks on us, and he has failed to take steps to protect us from cyber-attacks in the future.

It comes down to this: Trump is unfit to serve as President. He jeopardizes the safety and security of our country, he should be booted from office as soon as legally possible, and he should face all criminal and civil charges that the courts allow.

How this squalid business ends is anyone’s guess. The outcome largely depends on the results of the Mueller investigation and how, ultimately, Mueller’s findings play out legally.

Trump could face any number of charges, from plotting with the Russians to influence the election, to illegally enriching himself at public expense, to laundering money for the Russian mob. That list is just off the top of my head.

Up until now, the right-wingers have choked back the bile and stood by this terrible man, no matter how scandalous his behavior, how incompetent his performance, or how brazenly he uses the Presidency to benefit himself and his friends.

And, frankly, if the conservatives didn’t abandon Trump after the Access Hollywood tape went public, they never will.

Think what reacting to that tape with a shrug says about a person’s character and integrity.

Clearly, the Republican politicians and their allies — the NRA, the big-money donors, the Christian evangelicals — have sold their souls for political advantage. History will judge them as contemptible hypocrites.

As for the people who voted for Trump, and who support him still, my view is marginally more charitable.

As a group, I don’t consider the MAGA crowd to be hopelessly malicious, unkind, or prejudiced people, although many undoubtedly are. Rather, I see them as short-sighted, ill-informed, and misled.

Many are blinded by bitterness. They resent minority populations for diluting their European-based culture. They resent the liberal snobs who look down on them. And, after four decades, they still aren’t over their deep hatred of the hippies.

Speaking as a liberal and probably sometimes a snob, I can report that I don’t disrespect conservatives or hold them in contempt. Except when they earn it.

Lately, a fantasy has coalesced in my head, and it is this: one day, when the legal noose tightens beyond the comfort level of the Trump family, they will flee the country. Defect.

Possibly to Saudi Arabia, but more likely to Russia, where Putin and the oligarchs can welcome them, openly at last.

It’s only a fantasy, mind you. But if that’s the way this sorry episode in our history ends, fine.

In fact, the sooner it happens, the better.

Trump-Putin

 

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The concept in literature and the movies of a fictional universe, a fully-formed imaginary world, goes way back. Thomas More wrote Utopia in the 1500s. Conan the Barbarian appeared in the 1930s. The Lensman sci-fi novels came out between the 1930s and the 1960s.

We have the worlds of Middle Earth, Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. Not to mention the endless parade of comic book superheros. (A tiresome fad that I wish would go away, but, alas, will not.)

This proliferation of alternate realities surely says something about society, the national psyche, and the mentality of the average Joe.

But I’m not here to address that. I want to gripe about something that has mystified me for years — specifically, since 1977, when the original Star Wars movie came out.

Why, I want to know, do the characters and places in the Star Wars movies have such dopey, feeble names? With very few exceptions, Star Wars names are turkeys. Gutterballs.

In most fictional universes, the creators take special pride in the names they choose. Names are an opportunity to make a statement. Names can be revealing, evocative, dramatic. At minimum, you want them to be appealing and memorable.

Not in the world of Star Wars. In Star Wars, the names elicit a “Whaaaa???”

Take, for example, this list of duds:

– Chewbacca
– Lando Calrissian
– Jar Jar Binks
– Qui-Gon Jinn
– Poe Dameron

Yes, I know, Star Wars is popular and beloved. Those names and others are now familiar, and people have become accustomed to them. But as character names, what were the writers thinking? Were the names generated at random? Did they just string a few syllables together and move on?

With those possibilities in mind, consider these misfires:

– Emperor Palpatine
– Grand Moff Tarkin
– Darth Vader
– Count Dooku
– Yoda

Palpatine? Grand Moff? Dooku? Huh?

My first suspicion was that Georgia Lucas simply has a creative blind spot for names. Indeed, that may be the case. But when Disney assimilated Lucasfilm in 2012, the names, if anything, got worse.

For example, here are the main characters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:

– Cassian Andor
– Jyn Erso
– Baze Malbus
– Chirrut Îmwe
– Bodhi Rook
– Saw Gerrera
– Mon Mothma

With a little effort, I was able to commit the first two names to memory. But the others? Ha!

In contrast, consider some of the character names created by J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling in their Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter novels.

Tolkien gave us these excellent and emotive names:

– Aragorn, son of Arathorn
– Thorin Oakenshield
– Smaug
– Arwen Evenstar
– Meriadoc Brandybuck

Rowling matched him with these:

– Hermione Granger
– Albus Dumbledore
– Severus Snape
– Nymphadora Tonks
– Draco Malfoy

As for place names, here are some destinations in Middle Earth:

– The Shire
– Rivendell
– Fanghorn Forest
– Mordor
Lothlórien

Place names in the world of Harry Potter:

– Hogwarts
– Little Whinging
– Slytherin House
– Ollivander’s, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC
St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Meanwhile, in the Star Wars universe:

– Naboo
– Dagobah
– Mos Eisley
– Tatooine
– Hoth

The pattern is clear and painful.

Part of the explanation may be that, as a creative enterprise, Star Wars doesn’t come close to Tolkien or Rowling. Mind you, I’m as fond of Star Wars as the next guy. But viewing them as artistic works, if Tolkien is George Washington and Rowling is Abraham Lincoln, Star Wars is Donald Trump.

That aside, being a lesser form of art is no excuse for:

– Padmé Amidala
– Obi-Wan Kenobi
– Darth Maul
– Biggs Darklighter
– Jek Porkins

Remember, I brought up this subject because I find it curious and a little baffling. I didn’t say it was remotely significant or consequential.

But Jek Porkins? Seriously?

Jek Porkins

Jek “Piggy” Porkins, X-wing pilot for the Rebel Alliance, call sign Red Six, a casualty of the Battle of Yavin. (Yavin?)

 

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