Of Butch Cassidy and Covid Sceptics

At the beginning of the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, the Sundance Kid is playing poker with a man who accuses him of cheating. They are about to settle it with guns when Butch leans over and whispers a ‘warning’ to Sundance, but deliberately using his moniker. The gambler is noticeably disturbed and says, “I didn’t know you were the Sundance Kid when I accused you of cheating. If I draw on you, you’ll kill me.” At that point Butch says to the man, “No. You’d be killing yourself!”

Having just learned of the death of another friend in this year of Covid, I will be totally honest and say that this badass minister has lost both patience and sympathy for those who have opened their arms, hands, nostrils and mouths to Covid-19. The latest to hit the news is newly elected representative for Louisiana, Luke Letlow, pictured below with the Great Spreader himself, Donald J. Trump–neither man wearing a mask.

Having read the tributes to Letlow and the calls by the governor of Louisiana for prayers and sympathy and for flags to fly at half-mast, I have to ask myself: “Would they be doing this if he’d blown his brains out?” I seriously doubt it. The articles I have read thus far describe his death in the old-fashioned style of: ‘death came and swept him away before his time.’ In other words, he was a passive victim. But considering Letlow placed himself among the science-doubting, non-mask-wearing crowd, this writer believes he killed himself–like so many before him. The English word ‘science’ is rooted in the Latin word ‘scientia‘, meaning ‘knowledge’ or ‘knowing.’ Latin has another word that is appropriate for our times: ignoramus, meaning ‘we do not know.’ This should be the fitting epitaph for many a witless Republican.

The Al Capone Presidency?

In 1931 Alphonse Gabriel Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sent to prison. Gang leader, murderer, bootlegger and more, Capone could only be safely convicted for tax evasion. At this point in time I wonder whether the American public of 1931 would have tolerated such a man as president. Given the fact that he was not a media personality and that Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected the year after Capone’s imprisonment, I suspect not.

Yet here we are in the waning days of 2020, and we have a man of Capone’s ilk as the sitting president–threatening marshal law, imprisonment for his enemies–oh, I meant political opponents–and more. And like Capone’s style of leadership Trump brooks no disagreement from his underlings. And what sort of people has Trump pardoned? Well, Roger Stone, who lied to Congress, Paul Manafort, fraudster, Charles Kushner, tax evader/blackmailer, the Blackwater murderers, Michael Flynn, Russian interference finagler who lied to the FBI and so many other sordid pardons. Meanwhile Trump is fast-tracking the execution of federal prisoners–his own version of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre? Who knows, had Capone been born in the 1940s, he might well have become president of the United States. God help the USA.

A Short Christmas/New Year Thought

It has been a lovely, chilly Christmas day in our part of France. We’ve spoken to our sons and families; and we’ve enjoyed a delicious meal. As I watched the sun set over our little hamlet (left), my mind drifted back to Christmases past. Many of us look back as we approach the end of another year–and what a year it has been: more ups and down that any other year I can remember. Yet it’s too easy to start into the ‘if only’ type of thinking…particularly after our year of Covid. If I may add my attempt at wisdom, learned at the often hard hand of experience, the problem with worrying about the past is that there is no future in it.

Why Trumpists Are more Dangerous than Trump

I am far from the first person to espouse this belief and I certainly won’t be the last. Time and history will be the adjudicators. Trump, in his own right, is a buffoon; a pudgy, white doughboy. He is nothing without his followers. Trump is also mentally ill, as many psychiatrists and psychologists have written over the years of his presidency. His main problem is his narcissism. As a narcissist par excellence Trump plays a zero-sum game: It is not enough that I alone should win; all others must lose. And this is where things become scary. 70+ million followers are not ALL narcissists. They don’t have the excuse of being mentally ill, but they are a mixture of racists, fascists, xenophobes and more.

Here’s the nub of the issue. Adolph Hitler never actually killed any Jews, communists, Gypsies or others. It was his followers who did that. Stalin didn’t murder his general staff, the Kulaks, and others–his followers did that for him. You get the idea. When 126 Republican elected representatives sign a document supporting Trump’s personal delusion that the election “was a steal”–without any evidence whatsoever, then we are getting into Alice in Wonderland territory. Remember Humpty-Dumpty? “A word means exactly what I choose it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.” It’s like Trump dropped acid and 70 million Americans are on the trip!

When ostensibly ‘sane’ people–who can hold down jobs, are able to drive cars and operate machinery, bring up children, etc–when these self-same people join in Trump’s delusions, then terrible things begin to happen, as we have already witnessed. Hitler’s delusion was that the Jews sold out Germany in the First World War. He believed Germany had not been defeated decisively–which was the case. America’s entry into WW1 had sealed Germany’s fate. But the delusion was preferable to the reality and thus millions of others bought into it. And for them, it became true–to the total ruin of the nation!

Sadly, and scarily, America has many delusions at play: “deep government” (= the constitution!), the “fake Covid pandemic”–despite 298,000+ deaths, “the rigged election”–despite Republican states certifying the election results, and more. These people want what Trump wants and these overgrown babies with guns also want what they want. Biden and Harris will not be allowed a “honeymoon period”. Trump(ists) will be outside shouting in, and Americans are already funding him to keep his tantrums going. The ship of state will not only be rocked, it will be holed! This writer fears the worst is yet to come…why do you think I moved to France?

Mind Control?

For those who are my friends on Facebook, you will have seen my musings last night as I sat in the waiting area as my wife’s hand was stitched up from a kitchen accident. Having lived most of my adult life in England, which has a national health service, it is so good to be back in such a system here in France, where we now live.

When one registers in the ambulatory section of the emergency department, one first discusses the nature and severity of the injury. Then the attendant asks for name, date of birth and address. There is absolutely no talk about ‘who’s gonna pay for this?’ Not before treatment nor afterwards. Rather they bid you “Bonne soiree et prenez soin de vous.” (Good evening and take care of yourself.) Ask money for emergency treatment?–merde alors!

And that brings me to one of the greatest coups of the republican party in the US: getting people to vote against what is in their best interests. The word ‘socialism’ has been so laden with negative associations that any talk of government regulated medical care (yeah, like Medicare and Medicaid!) is anathema to these voters. And so along comes Covid: businesses close, people lose both their jobs and their medical coverage–if they had any to begin with! But God forbid we spend more money on health than on the armed forces!…which by the way are part of the government = socialism. So why not have a bake-sale to support the armed forces? Why should republican vets accept help from the VA–another social programme? Why shouldn’t people build their own roads and bridges to their places of employment? You get the picture.

Here’s a quick primer into how the national health service in France works. Unlike the UK, where it is free at the point of service (unsustainable), in France everyone pays into the system according to how much they earn. Except for emergency treatment, everyone pays something for any visit to a GP or a routine operation. If one is a legitimate citizen of France or the EU, the amount one has paid is returned within two to three weeks. This means there is always money flowing into the system from full subscription for all French nationals, as well as money coming in the front door with each patient. Voila! It works. I have had both hips replaced in France in 2013 and 2015, so I know. (By the way, a full hip-replacement plus ten days of rehabilitation, 3 meals a day [including beer or wine…no, not at breakfast] cost me a whopping 7500 euros–about $8900.) That amount wouldn’t have met the deductible for Blue Cross for a year! Oh–and I got back 80% of the 7500 euros as I was living in the UK and not France at the time.

I have to admit that it is a stroke of (evil) genius to get people to vote against the very things that could help them and their families. But it works, election after election. But Nazism worked–right up until all of it major cities were smouldering ruins and 400 millions civilians were dead. So I suppose it is all down to a combination of denial (of reality, science, the facts, the TRUTH) and projection (projecting onto leadership messiah-like attributes, regardless of actual outcomes and circumstances). Good luck with that!

As for me and my wife, we are happy to be in France!

Evil’s Beauty

For those of us who have experienced real evil in this life, the subject of today’s musings makes perfect sense. For others, perhaps it’s confusing–and so I shall explain. Many years ago I was watching a programme on television with a Quaker friend (no pun intended). The programme concerned the Holocaust. I remember turning to Doug and saying, “How did the country of Bach, Goethe, Beethoven and others, not only follow Hitler and Nazism, but then carry out some of the most collective demonic actions of any society in history? It was all so patently evil!”

Doug’s reply, from 40 years ago, has stayed with me: “In order to get good people to do evil, you simply tell them that what they are doing is good.” (Yeah, I know, it sounds too simple. Read on.) “You dress it up, turn it into a noble cause (MAGA) and tell them what they are doing (mass shootings, gassings, etc.) is for the ultimate good of society and its future greatness.” Although apparently simple, Doug’s words have proven true. Here are some comparisons: Jews in Hitler’s Germany were compared to sewer rats who carried disease. (Have you noticed how, when one race or ethnic group denigrates another, the very first description they use is ‘dirty’? Dirty Jew, dirty n****r, dirty gypsies, gooks, wops and on it goes.) In America, immigrants are described as disease-carrying, criminals, etc. The answer: build a “Big, beautiful wall!” Keep the filthy, disease-ridden vermin out of pure, white America! And the original native population live in disenfranchised poverty on ‘reservations’ carved out by their conquerors. And African-Americans, whose forebears did not step off their boats onto Plymouth Rock, are blamed for their poverty, lack of higher education and blah-blah-blah. Blaming the victims is all part of the nature of evil.

And look at the Trump Tribe: beautiful people (by American standards): rich, well-dressed, tanned (well, orange in one case). How easily they and their close associates call for marshal law, beheadings for Fauci and those who have true concerns for the health of the American people, imprisonment for their political opponents (who are now depicted as enemies of the state). How they extol the armed white militias in their ridiculous uniforms. The Nazis had their well-tailored uniforms, torch-light parades and Speer’s “palace of light” at the Nuremburg rally grounds. Aryans were depicted in art and film as the epitome of humanity. Hitlerism provided great spectacles and good entertainment value. It all appeared wonderful.

If we could play the film of human history and our individual lives backwards, I would like to think that it would change most of us in fundamental ways. But, as Kierkegaard once wrote, “We remember life backwards, but we must live it forwards.” We cannot see the true ugliness of evil’s intent and actions until it is too late. We can only see its apparent beauty–unless we look behind the curtain; read, learn, study and question both our motives and the motives of others. Trump and his fellow criminals have histories–we must examine and learn–or simply be sucked down the toilet of collective misery. Upwards of 45 million human beings died in the Second World War due to the rise of facism in the 1920s and 30s. What have we, as collective humanity learned? Yet here it is again being glamourized, beautified and depicted as true patriotism, while any and all who have different opinions are being demonized. It’s enough to make a thinking person cry. The outcome rests on our individual ‘yes’ or ‘no’. To quote John Henry Newman: “We can believe what we choose; we are answerable for what we choose to believe.”

Evangelical–a Much Abused Term

As a biblical scholar and ordained minister, I have long been puzzled, and even angered, by the American ‘christians’ abuse of the term ‘evangelical.’ Etymologically, it’s simply wrong. Having studied biblical languages and the languages of surrounding cultures of the period in which the scriptures were written, I have the background and knowledge to back up my claim.

Simply put, the “evangel” comes from two Greek roots: eu(v) + anggelos, Greek, euanggelion. It means ‘good news’ or a ‘good message’. And what is the good news? In a nutshell it’s the message that Jesus brings, that God our creator is loving and forgiving. For most of us screw-ups, that’s pretty good news. No old man on a throne ready to fry us eternally after death.

However, in the cult known as “evangelical christianity” (I use the lower case, because their message bears no resemblance to that of Mr. Jesus who has a clear bias for the poor, the outcast and the dispossessed) it has become a politicized term laden with with white supremacy, extreme right-wing politics, anti-democratic values, anti-pro-choice & anti-women’s rights and ‘In Guns We Trust.’ Basically, they are saying, “If you aren’t like us, you’re going to hell!” Where is the good news in that?!

There is no logic to their cult. For instance: they say they are “pro-life” yet they support the Second Amendment as sacrosanct. Let me think about that…life is sacred in utero, but once a child enters the world outside the womb, you can blow it away with an AR-15 or the gun of your choice. Remember the Lockerbie disaster?–the bomb that brought down Pan Am 103, 32 years ago this month? All 259 people on board died. Americans were up in arms (literally!) about that, but gun-carrying Americans kill that many of their fellow citizens every two days and they are unconcerned! As Archie Bunker famously cried, “It’s my God-given right to pack a rod!” And it is that kind of oxymoronic thinking that defines “evangelicalism” in America. If they really believe in the motto, In God We Trust, why can’t they sleep at night or leave the house without a gun?

By the way, I have long considered myself an evangelical Christ-follower, because I believe in the hope that Jesus offers us. It is a hope founded in compassion for those who are not like us. It is founded on the healthy principle of love of God, neighbour and self. Evangelical Americans don’t seem to have read either Testament wherein it explicitly tells us that the same God made all of us. Therefore: All murder is fratricide! Rather, they treat the Bible as some kind of talisman that will ward off evil, but if that doesn’t work, pack a rod. That kind of ‘faith’ is no faith at all.

May God save us from our neighbours…and ourselves.

Tea with Reinhard Heydrich?

About two months ago I posted some thoughts on the above topic on Facebook. Now I would like to expand on them. First, who, you might ask, was Reinhard Heydrich?

Heydrich was the poster boy for the Nazi party: Aryan looks, superb violinist, athletic, smart and charming. How did a bright intellectual like him fall for the rhetoric and antics of Hitler? Well, just like many Americans we know fall for Trump. There is no difference. We all know intelligent and charming people who think Trump is wonderful. If you met Heydrich out of SS uniform in a café, you could easily be swayed by his intelligence and talent. But then there comes the matter of his ‘day job’. Having found him charming, would you then make excuses for him? “He’s a good father, after all. And a superb violinist! Let’s not cloud the issue with the fact that he chaired the committee that designed the final solution to the Jewish question.” Now there will be those who shout “Unfair!” as I compare Heydrich and Trump (and his ilk), but everyone knows that Covid is hitting minorities harder than Caucasians. Is this not a form of ethnic cleansing? And we have our version of the Reichstag fire, which led to Hitler’s “special measures”, disregarding the legislative processes. Absurd, you say? Well how about convicted felon and presidential confidante, Roger Stone, telling Trump to declare marshal law if he loses the election and to arrest his political enemies? And Trump has already extolled the white, racist militias, who are America’s answer to the Brownshirts.

Case in point: Like many white people, Trump has created a division like no other president in American history. I had a friend of 40+ years, a fellow clergyman, whom I knew to be a Republican. But as we had a shared faith, I let that override his political leanings…until Trump. It all came to a head when Trump was calling white militias to “liberate their states”. Never mind that these clowns were carrying Nazi and confederate flags! In effect Trump was calling on his version of the Brownshirts to get rid of legally, democratically elected state governments. (My father and my uncles who fought against facism must be turning in their graves!)

My former clergy friend and I had been emailing one another concerning the above events. When I asked him what he thought about the militias and Trumps appeal to them, he remained silent. Emailed him again–nada. So I sent him a one-liner: “Can you not unequivocally condemn the actions of these racist militias.” The reply: “I am not going to parrot some slogan just to make you happy.” I had not wanted to accept that about him, although I had had some doubts. Like Heydrich, my ex-friend is handsome, smart, athletic and speaks several languages. “He’s too smart to fall for Trump’s rhetoric,” I told myself. And then the penny dropped. Yes, my ‘friend’ was not only a racist, but also a closet facist. After all, I had seen his post about “The Myth of Systemic Racism in America.” And then I had written to him and mentioned the Three-fifths compromise in the constitution. (Drafted in 1788/89 to appease Southern slave-holding states, and giving black people the status of 3/5 of a human being.) I never heard from him again.

My former friend is ‘intellectually’ too bright to fall for Trump’s rhetoric–but not his instincts and prejudices. They are deep in the gut, where fear lives. And that is where Trump’s rhetoric excels. He has loosed the fallen angels of white human nature. And then I think about those with whom I have spent much time, shared meals, etc. and who support, not just Trump, but Trumpism, and I think I might as well have been having tea with Reinhard Heydrich.

Trump as Pontius Pilate

This topic might not seem so far-fetched as it sounds, once one stops to think about it. Having clearly lost the US election, but still refusing to accept it–because Trump is clinically a narcissist–the president is clearly going to start “breaking things” as his niece has warned. One thing that Trump has already broken is the justice system. The supreme court is stacked with right-wingers and the attorney general seems to be taking on the role that Michael Cohen once held, as Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer. Forget being the chief attorney in America’s constitutional democracy.

Ironically, Cohen–out of all Trump’s cronies–has, for whatever reasons, started telling the truth. He has told the truth about himself and his role as Trump’s fixer, and he has also told the world the truth about the sleaziness of the con-man in the White House.

Here is where it starts to get interesting. With Trump’s pardon of the convicted criminal, Michael Flynn–one of Trump’s many convicted associates–we have our Barabbas. Now I’m NOT saying that Cohen is therefore in the role of Jesus. His only similarity is that both Cohen and Jesus are Jews. But, when it comes to pardons, Trump is not even going to consider pardoning his former right-hand man, who has opted for the truth. Trump will only pardon the likes of Flynn, and any other criminal against the American people and state (who could become witnesses against Trump when he finally vacates the presidency), whereas Cohen–the truth-teller–will have to do time in place of Flynn and Trump’s other mobsters. Cohen has become the Pascal lamb.

As far as history is concerned, Pilate released the wrong guy–but only one! With Pontius Trump we still have seven weeks to see what other travesties of justice await the American people.