On the Death of Ali Abdullah Saleh

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Was Ali Abdullah a product of Yemen, or was Yemen a product of Ali Abdullah? The answer is a complicated mix of personality and history, and what it reveals promises an even bleaker future for this desperate and beautiful and time-torn land. 

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Happy Holidays! The President is a Deranged Bigot!

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Yes, that’s Dean Cain, in case you were wondering if Trump can’t pull in the stars. He still can, baby! 

So, I was on the el yesterday, and at one of the stops a woman shambled toward the seats in front of me, causing her potential seat-mate to instinctively scoot away. Understandably: she was singing and laughing to herself, dressed in baggy rags, with that particular human odor of neglect proceeding and enveloping her.

She sat in front of me, so for the next 10 minutes I had a one-man audience to her songs, a garbled mix of half-remembered hymns and “Frosty the Snowman”, interspersed with high-pitched laughing when the robotic voice announced the stop. She incorporated the name of the station in her tunes in a way that I found delightful.

When I got to my stop, I walked past her and sort of half-smiled, and she looked at me, burst into laughter, and said “MERRY CHRISTMAS, FROSTY!”

And I thought: well, she must be crazy. It’s only November 30th.


In his later remarks, the president told the crowd how long he’d been waiting to say “Merry Christmas,” a nod to his 2016 campaign promises that Americans would be “saying Merry Christmas again.”

“Today is a day that I’ve been looking very much forward to all year long,” the president said. “It’s one that we’ve heard and we speak about and we dream about and now, as the president of the United States, it’s my tremendous honor to now wish America and the world a very Merry Christmas.”

This was one of the main talking points our dumbest possible candidate had during the campaign, before he transitioned into the idiot President: that people would be saying Merry Christmas again, because of him. It wasn’t very subtle. He sort of understood the War on Christmas talking points and, but doesn’t understand (and indeed rejects) anything like subtlety or nuance.

What he does have a genius for is how to turn the lingering scars of resentments, both real and imagined, into gaping, suppurating wounds. And, due to his overwhelming ego, he convinced people that he would be the one to change it. So he ratcheted the rhetoric up to 11.

In Trump’s telling, absolutely no one said “Merry Christmas” during the Obama years. It never came up. December was a grim and joyless slog toward an undefined date where we gathered, in a foggish trance, driven only by the sense-memory that Dec 25th used to mean something, and exchanged practical gifts and bowls of oatmeal around a fake gingko tree.

It was basically this grim. Check out what he said in St. Louis the other day, in a speech about the “tax plan” (he didn’t talk much about the tax plan, because he certainly doesn’t understand it, and isn’t smart enough to pretend it is something other than the class warfare Gotterdammerung).

“Remember, I was the one when I was here the last time, I said, ‘We’re going to have Christmas again,’ ’’ Trump said. “I was the one that said, you go to the department stores and you see ‘Happy New Year’ and you see red and you see snow and you see all these things. You don’t see ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore. With Trump as your president, we are going to be celebrating ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

In Trump’s telling, having red and having snow and all those things is somehow not celebrating Christmas, which comes as a surprise to anyone who has been to any store since Thanksgiving and been assaulted by “The Little Drummer Boy”. He is right, though, that people don’t say “Merry Christmas”, but there is a reason for that: it isn’t fucking Christmas until December 25th.

Think of how insane their proposition is. They think that when you walk into a store this evening the person checking you out should say “Merry Christmas”, 24 days before the holiday. It would be like the dude at Target saying “Happy 4th of July!” in mid-June. I mean, we have the American flag paper plates on display, so why not say it?

The thing is, everybody says Merry Christmas on Christmas. And usually for the few days before. If you’re going on vacation on like, the 18th, you say “have a Merry Christmas” to your co-workers as you leave. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is to say a day’s salutations literally weeks in advance, with numbing repetition.

And they obviously know all of this, and you know all of this. Their whole point isn’t to celebrate Christmas; the point is aggressive identity politics. The snarling, combatitive “Merry Christmas” is to make anyone who isn’t celebrating uncomfortable, unwelcome, excluded.

And it isn’t even just anyone who isn’t celebrating; it’s anyone who isn’t celebrating the right way. Hell, I love Christmas, and I’m as secular and liberal as you can get. My bride and I are decorating this weekend. We go nuts. Lights illuminating the every nook and cranny, a real tree, fake fluffy snow bringing memories of frost to every windowsill. It’s a goddamn wonderland. But that’s not enough.

It’s not enough because they have an extremely exclusionary and bigoted vision of what America should be, one that isn’t close enough to encompass a general holiday season, where you can be happy about a lot of things for a whole month. That’s how small and petty and terrified they are. And their avatar is in power.

We see this narrow bigotry in so many places, in so many ways. It manifests itself in the cruelty of the border wall. It manifests itself in the repeated Muslim bans. It manifests itself in Jeff Session’s daily racism. It clearly manifests itself when Trump tweets out fascist propaganda in order to incite violence (alientating our primary ally). It even comes to fore in our nuclear terror with North Korea, where the President preens and blusters and has to show he’s a bigger man than some stunted Asiatic.

It’s beyond argument that bigotry (which is broader than racism, and sometimes less cruel, though they are related) is at the heart of Trumpism. The insane tax plan, which will solidify the plutocracy’s power-and-money-grab for a generation, puts paid that this was at all about helping Johhny Blacklung.

There are people who thought Trump could help the overcome their economic straits, for sure. A lot of people genuinely thought he was a good businessman, with the evidence being: he was on TV. A lot of people were just crying out against change, in some ways an understandable thing.

But at the end, Trump was taking the pain of change and promising not salvation, but retribution. He didn’t promise to make things better; he was the promise of getting even. He promised to bring the rest of us down to size, so we can all be miserable together. He would give the disposssed not any real hope or opportunity, but a chacne to jab the flag of final surrender right into the spine of a fallen enemy. We might all be in the trash heap, but someone’s trash heap has a few gnarled and flickering strings of Christmas lights and the blood of the fallen to brighten their hovel.

Happy holidays!


A break from daily horrors to think about Ted Cruz being humiliated


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I would like every day to be as happy as this picture once made me.


I think tomorrow we’ll get closer to being on pace. Working on a long post about Saudi Arabia and Iran, as it looks more and more like we’re heading toward a catastrophic mid-major power war, one in which the US will either be drawn in or let Saudi Arabia get annihilated (guess which!).

But for now, a quick happy thought about Ted Cruz being embarrassed.

538 has a fun chat about the Democrats taking back the Senate, and there is some back and forth about Texas being in play next year.

micah: But here’s my argument for buying Democrats at 30 percent: They basically need one seat in addition to Arizona and Nevada. They might get that in a month. And even if they don’t, if it’s a super Democratic-leaning year, as we think it will be, I’d bet Democrats in red states will be mostly safe.

Moreover! I think people think too narrowly about what states could be in play.

Like, if Democrats have a +10 advantage on the generic ballot and it’s an anti-incumbent year, who’s to say Ted Cruz won’t be in trouble in Texas?

Now, I’m not betting on this (and neither are they). But it’s not impossible to squint and see Ted Cruz in real trouble, considering that he is still somehow more unlikeable (though not as hatable and truly deeply loathsome) as Donald Trump.

However, it’s also easy to see Ted Cruz sort of wanting to lose in a Democratic landslide year.

It’s this here blog’s long-standing contention that Ted Cruz is running in 2020. He was planning to whether Trump won or lost. It’s why he’s been so fiercely loyal to the man who insulted his wife’s appearance and accused his father of murdering JFK.  I have no doubt he was going to run “more in sorrow than anger” against a man who betrayed conservatives.

(Note: the casus belli would probably be that Trump didn’t have Hillary Clinton executed or something. It isn’t like Cruz would go against Trump for any decent reasons.)

So losing in 2018 would help this case. Trump was such a bad conservative he lost the Senate, and gave it to hated Chuck Schumer. We hates the New York…elite, don’t we? Very tricksy.

This also has the benefit of letting Cruz off the hook. He’d have to start running for President right about the same second his term would begin. While running for re-election, he certainly won’t admit that he has no interest in being a Senator. Indeed, he’d be indignant that anyone would even ask him about that (no one does hypocritical indignation better than Cruz, except maybe Newt).

If he lost, he wouldn’t have to pretend that, like, God got on the horn with him a few days after the election and told him that, on second thought, he should run for President. Even for Cruz, that would look bad.

The best part is that it wouldn’t work. He’d get blown out in the GOP primary by Trump (or anyone else if Trump is gone by then, which: oh god please), win or lose his seat. He’ll be humiliated. Remember, Ted Cruz is nowhere near as smart as he thinks he is. He miscalculates all the damn time. I just hope he gets humiliated in the primary after being humiliated in his Senate race.

Just the thought of it is already making me smile. And in these dark days, we’ll take what imaginary pleasures we may.

Why Did The People Of Sutherland Springs Die? Because They Live In America


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Scene: America


After every mass shooting or attack on our daily lives, we rush to figure out motivation. It can quickly get grotesque, as each side stakes out assumptions on the killer, and Twitter rings with claims that he belonged to this or that militia or that he evinced support for climate change or that he was a Muslim.

We know that if the killer pledged allegiance to ISIS, regardless of any actual connections, it will be cynically exploited by the right and immediately politicized, while if it was committed by nearly anyone else we’ll have to say that there was nothing that could be done, it is a health issue, etc.

We know that if the killer was a Muslim, many on the left will be more ready to criticize reaction than to explore why it is that ISIS is able to turn troubled young people into killers with numbing regularity. And we know that the right will act as if these shootings are somehow unique, as if they have nothing to do with any of the other shootings that are beginning to blur in our minds. They act as if you are somehow less dead if shot by a Christian.

We know this, and we already have our reactions planned out while the echo of bullets still bounces off the mountains and thunder across the plains. In a way, it isn’t even cynical: how else can we cope with a problem that seems intractable, and is made so by the most craven politics imaginable?

One way we comfort ourselves, or at least move the conversation into another gear, is when we look for proximate causes. We see in the Texas shooter a history of domestic abuse and violence, and are horrified that he was able to arm himself with such heavy vengeance. Or we see the mental health issues, and pretend that it had nothing to do with guns, per se, as if he could have walked into a church and hollered 26 people into a terrible grave.


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Scene: America


(Needless to say, we don’t think Omar Mateen was troubled; he was just a terrorist.)

A violent past, a troubled upbringing, being lonely, being angry, being mentally troubled: all our killers have most or all of this in common. But they have something far deeper. They all live in America, a nation that seems rapidly plunging into a wild kind of madness, a yawping howl that is eating us alive. The violence inherent in our country and buried under our immense and sometimes-inspiring contradictions is burbling to the surface in a shambolic frenzy of limbs and fire.

This violence is part of our past. In this, of course, America is not unique; no borders have been drawn without suffering and oppression over time. Nor are we the only country that’s unraveling. It’s happening in the heart of Europe, and accelerating in the Middle East.

But there is a continent-spanning violence that created our nation, which was birthed in multiple waves of genocide and midwifed by slavery. There has been violence in the expansion of the west, the ever-present violence of Jim Crow, the murder in the cities, not to mention the life-ruining hucksterism of swindlers and city boosters and those who claimed the rain followed the plow.

And through it all, there was the gun. The gun has always been there. Never mind that the 2nd Amendment is clearly licensing state militias; never mind that in the old west you had to check your guns in town.

Pictured: not pro-gun!


But that didn’t matter. For an enormous amount of people, the gun isn’t just a tool designed to accelerate lead into another person’s body in order to rend flesh and pulp organs and shed blood: it was the symbol of freedom.

Or, to be more accurate: it is a symbol of freedom for exactly those reasons.

To me, that’s the heart of our madness, and one of the reasons we have this free-floating violence, which can land anywhere at any time, and why none of us are safe. We have literally fetishized the gun, not in the juvenile sense of it being a penis-replacement, but in terms of making it a totemic item of worship, something irreducible from the intangible fantasies that make us America indivisible.

Think about that. We’ve taken it for granted for so long, and buried it in a way over anger at the cynicism of NRA-funded prostitutes in Congress, not to mention the profit-driven murderous culpability of gun manufacturers, that we haven’t looked at how insane these beliefs are. And even if we have, we haven’t really looked at the moral impact of these beliefs.

Obviously, it isn’t just the gun worship that is leading to this crack, this terrible violence. Economic dislocation plays a role, and as I’ve argued, the fact that a continent-spanning multi-ethnic nation that has very recently absorbed into it enormous parts of other countries can’t survive as a democracy, certainly not in the age of atomized media. Distrust and paranoia have always been part of our character, and they’ve been spavined even wider into something gulping and black and endless.

But to me, so much of this comes down to the gun. We’re a nation that is soaked in violence, watered in its visceral resolutions, and we tramp through the muddy slurry that is our only path. It’s why mental illness takes its murderous form, and why so many of us decide that taking out as many people as possible is a viable death fantasy. It’s why the rest of us have our lives and our futures beholden to their whims, and to the luck of not being in a place that has bloomed suddenly into a red nightmare.

Why did those people die in their pews? There are a million reasons, but it boils down to one: they live in America in the 21st century, when all our contradictions come crashing down.

The people who take aim at everyone understand this more than nearly anyone else. It is those whose last moments are spent in pain and terror who feel it the most.

Friday Quick Hits and Good Reads: A Divided Yemen, Water in South Africa, Automation, and more



What’s this week been up to? 


Happy Friday! Let’s get to the readings…

“The South will never be governed by Sanaa.”


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This map actually sort of makes sense


Some fine reporting by al-Jazeera on how the UAE is funding, and often literally fighting for, independence in south Yemen. Their motives seem to be a mix of regional power displays (Saudi Arabia is obviously against this move, violently supporting the Hadi government) and geopolitics, as their influence in a newly independent state will give them primary control over the region’s shipping lanes.

But, like, is this a good idea? In theory, the concept of splitting up a country is anathema to us, but it isn’t like the modern country of Yemen has a long history of unity from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the sea. It was originally unified in 1990 after the rapid decline of the Soviet Union made socialist South Yemen untenable, but then split again into civil war in 1994, only to be forcibly reunified by then-President Saleh and cadres of returning jihadis, who started to impose their concrete-grey vision of Islam on a more liberal area.

Looking at 20th-century history, one could argue that Yemen was split due to colonialism, with the Brits ruling southern Yemen out of Aden, but as cruel as their colonialism is, it was basically a concession to reality. The south was essentially never ruled by Aden.

Hell, most of the north was rarely unified. Even Yahya Muhammed and Ahmed bin-Yahya ran a “kingdom” based on constant negotiations and deal-makings, not absolute control. And never over the “south”.

None of this is to say that Yemen is a made-up land like Iraq, which is violently fraying again. It’s the idea of a modern nation-state ruled by a city in the north is essentially foreign, and against the way that Yemen has been governed for most of history.

To say that the south will never be governed by Sanaa doesn’t strike me as particularly defiant. It’s just saying what has been true for all but less than thirty of Yemen’s thousands of years.

“Could this be a sly plot to economize water in a third world country?”

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Very excited about a new blog by ThatCapeTownGirl, who has as one of her initial posts an in-depth look at water in South Africa, and how it appears to be used as a political cudgel against the poor (which in South Africa of course is unmistakeable racialized).

While there has been a heavy drought in Cape Town for much of the year, this blog looks at how it is disproportionately being politicized, and how slow the recovery has been. She fears this may be an attempt to “economize water”, a great turn of phrase. There will always be people who capitalize on disaster, and water is one of the last great frontiers in commodification. It’s the one we have to fight the hardest. Once water becomes a tool of commodity, there really isn’t anything left. We’re all bought and sold.

Looking forward to reading this blog and learning more about South Africa!

What Bowe Bergdahl Comments Say About Trump



Hell yeah! This picture again! 


Easily-lost Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl, who pled guilty and is currently awaiting sentencing, has used in his defense wildly-inflammatory and prejudicial comments made about him by then-candidate and now-President Donald John Trump (just to remind you that yeah, this really happened).

“We’re tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who’s a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed,” Trump said at a Las Vegas rally in 2015. “You know in the old days — Bing. Bong,” Trump said while mimicking firing a rifle. “When we were strong.”

He also added: “thirty years ago, he would have been shot.”

A few thoughts on this and what it says about the Current Occupant:

  1. Guns go neither “bing” nor “bong”. He can’t even be a doofus right.
  2. Desertion isn’t really being a traitor. Trump obviously didn’t know this, nor does he now, I’m sure. Just another reminder that he knows nothing about anything.
  3. These are clearly inflammatory lynch-mob type statements about a confused young man who probably never should have been in Afghanistan to begin with. As Hollywood Mark Perrone points out, he was in the army because he was considered too mentally unstable to be in the Coast Guard. But that’s Trump: a braying carny with the instincts of an arsonist. He doesn’t know anything, but he knows how to incite the basest passions of the mob.
  4. The “thirty years ago” is my favorite part, because at the time, 30 years ago was 1985. I’m pretty sure we weren’t lining up people against the wall in 1985. But Trump lives in an endless “the past was better”, even when the past has to move up to horrible times like the 80s, when the country was cheap and tacky and vulgar and idiots like Donald Trump were considered avatars of success. It shows the essential emptiness of his psuedo-nostalgia, but also its powerful pull: “the past”, as a concept instead of reality, is always better. In Back to the Future, 1955 was a time of innocence and cool, far more than 1985. Now 1985 is that past. For people whose lives are grim, that’s a powerful concept. Someone has to kick modernity in the pants, and that someone is somehow Donald Trump. That’s the rotten and phony core of his rotten and phony appeal, and that it doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense somehow only makes it stronger.

OK, I actually gotta run. I’ll do a full post on the New Yorker automation article in a bit, because there is a lot of irritating stuff I want to yell about.

George Saunders is the Man (Booker)

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Congrats to George Saunders, winner of the Man Booker prize! In the 4th-year that the prestigious literary award has become even more prestigious by allowing any English-language author to win, Saunders is the second American to do so, winning for the brilliant Lincoln in the Bardo. Needless to say, this is already causing gnashing of British teeth.

As an internationalist, and someone who loves many English writers, I understand. As an American though, I say go pound sand, John Bull! U-S-A! U-S-A!

As of now, the POTUS has no comment on the book or the prize.

Actually, I shouldn’t be so glib. This is the first time, I think, that I’ve actually read a Man Booker winner before it won the prize, so this puts me only one ahead of Trump. However, I also have a review of it, so if you haven’t read this masterpiece of horror and of American history, you should do so. And read my review.

The novel might not be of the moment, but it speaks to us, as a country, and as individuals. It’s about acceptance, but that acceptance isn’t a call for passivity: it is a call to arms. It’s about taking up the mantle of what it means to be a free and engaged people, with all the burdens of history we carry, and all our individual weaknesses, and doing something with them. It’s a ghost story about love, which, really, is all that the mythology of a country really is.