"It's hard to endure the stress that Trump is putting on us"

The Hobbledehoy loved this late night multi-part tweet from retired nuclear scientist Cheryl Rofer. Beautifully stated concern, anger and hope.

“Today seemed worse than the usual Trumpian chaos. One of the difficult things for me is the constant denials of reality by so many. We learned today that more people had brain damage from the Iranian attacks responding to the Soleimani killing. But Trump has shrugged them off. In the bizarro world he has inflicted on us, this may have averted his further movement to war.

The ongoing impeachment trial offers so much denial – in the formal Republican responses, in Joni Ernst’s gleeful electoral prediction, in Lindsey Graham’s rejection of his earlier self.

Too much of the media struggles to maintain a narrative that all is well, just some slight disagreement, as we watch our democracy slip away. The occasional reality surfaces and then submerges, like those concentration camps at the southern border.

The sheer absurdity and reality of a President who consorts with two-bit organized crime figures whose loyalty we do not know, but it’s probably not to the Constitution of the United States.

A Secretary of State who will not talk about what he is doing for the country and curses out the reporter, to be congratulated on his behavior by the President in a frat-boy atmosphere.

And in the background we have North Korea building nuclear missiles, Iran taking steps away from the carefully-crafted agreement Trump has rejected, and a potential pandemic incubating in China.

The temptation to fight with the people around us is rising. It’s hard to endure the stress that Trump is putting on us.

But let’s not do that. There is some good news every day, even if it’s a small personal victory. Find that and magnify it. Share it. Be kind to each other. Pass a good deed forward. Originate that good deed.


Cheryl Rofer is a retired nuclear scientist writing on national security issues, nature, science, and women’s issues. Follow her on Twitter

Robert Burns: Scots Are Right to Revere Their National Poet

The Scots are right to revere their national poet.

It was bizarre. The deafening bagpipes ceased as an actor — wasn’t he in Braveheart? — began frantically stabbing what looked like a pillow encased in plastic. Its gray gut spilled out, and the thespian, dressed in a tartan skirt and woolly socks, made terrifying noises, very occasionally spitting out a phrase or two in English (something about “gushing entrails”). As if this weren’t unnerving enough, the stage prop — a “haggis” — turned out to be edible: dinner, in fact, served alongside mushed turnips and mashed potatoes. . . . This is how I imagined the uninitiated to be experiencing the evening.

Complete with complimentary glasses of Aberlour whisky (too much of the honey-colored one and you’ll knock yourself out), a live cèilidh band, and — yes — the guy from Braveheart, Burns Night at the Harvard Club was just one of countless suppers happening around the world to commemorate the life and work of Scotland’s national poet. To nonnatives, perhaps it seems ridiculous, but it’s not.

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Ayrshire and died in 1796 in Dumfries. He was the son of a farmer, and his formal education was limited. He grew up reading Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden and listening to Scottish folklore. A Romantic and a revolutionary, Burns won many enemies as well as friends in his lifetime. His poetry exhibited extraordinary range and depth, from biting political satire to the heartfelt sincerity of country folk.

For anyone growing up in Scotland, it’s impossible to avoid Burns. At elementary school, there were yearly competitions for those able to memorize his poems and sing his tunes by heart. And in the English department at the University of St Andrews, I studied under the tutelage of his biographer Robert Crawford. Which is why it seems to me as though one evening a year of Burns only scratches the surface.

As with all Scots, Burns’s sensibilities were informed by the landscapes he grew up in. He was a Romantic, so he revered the natural world. He was also extremely class-conscious, always siding with the underdog. This is evident even in his rustic and rural poems. Like To a Mouse (more on that here), written in the Scots dialect in which a ploughman who accidentally turns up a mouse’s nest experiences pity for the “wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,” prompting him to contemplate “nature’s social union,” i.e., mortality:

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
[Emphasis added]

(American readers will of course recognize the emphasized lines from John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name.)

Burns was a songwriter as well as a poet. Which is hardly surprising given the innate lyricism of his verses. His “Auld Lang Syne” is the most sung song in the English language other than “Happy Birthday.” In the years before his death, he collected and wrote the lyrics to traditional Scottish airs, many of which can be found in two collections: Johnson’s The Scots Musical Museum (1787–1803) and the first five volumes of Thomson’s A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (1793–1818). My personal favorite is A Red, Red Rose.”

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

This also happens to be the favorite of Bob Dylan, who cited the poem as having had the greatest influence of any work on his own songwriting. Though he wrote well about love, Burns himself was a cruel and faithless lover. So much so that in recent years he’s come under (anachronistic) fire from the Me Too movement.

Burns was a deeply political thinker. His “Scots Wha Hae” [Scots Who Have] served as Scotland’s unofficial national anthem for years and stands as a defiant statement against English tyranny. After William Wallace led the Scots to an incredible victory at the battle of Stirling Bridge, he was eventually captured and excruciatingly executed. The king of England, Edward I, then abolished the kingdom of Scotland in 1305. But the Scots had other ideas. Undeterred, they crowned Robert Bruce king of Scotland in 1307, who then led them into the battle of Bannockburn:

By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!—
Let us do or die!

Burns initially sent the song to his publisher, George Thomas, at the end of August 1793, with the title “Robert Bruce’s March to Bannockburn,” and attributing it to Bruce’s “glorious struggle for Freedom, associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient.” This is thought by interpreters to be a covert expression of his sympathies for the French Revolution.

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How Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ Subverts Teen-Movie Tropes

Netflix' Sex Education
Netflix’ Sex Education

Late in the second season of Netflix’s Sex Education comes a scene familiar from multiple teen movies: the ritualistic dissemination of a person’s private notebook, weaponized to cause maximum chaos. You might remember this exact scenario from Mean Girls, when Regina George papered her high school with xeroxed pages of the same Burn Book she’d helped create, sparking a fracas of hysteria and recrimination. Or from the end of Cruel Intentions, when a journal is handed out in bound copies at Kathryn Merteuil’s brother’s funeral, sealing her downfall.

The setup is enough of a trope to feel hackneyed, until you realize how Sex Education is subverting it. The person doling out secrets in hope of causing chaos isn’t a teenage girl looking for revenge, but a middle-aged man grasping at the last vestiges of his waning power.

When Sex Education debuted early in 2019, it felt like a delightfully earnest (and anglicized) patchwork of teen classics: the raunch comedy of American Pie, the small-town romanticism of Stranger Things, and the British oddball kids of Skins and The End of the F***ing World, with the sweet sex-positivity of Big Mouth thrown in for good measure.

The show seems to exist in a parallel universe that’s both our own (there are cellphones and STI outbreaks and horny teenagers) and entirely alien (no one ever goes on social media, every store in the mall is a small business, the action takes place in an idyllic English community where it never, ever rains).

Source: How Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ Subverts Teen-Movie Tropes – The Atlantic

Why the world is turning to Hannah Arendt to explain Trump

George Orwell’s “1984” is not the only classic that’s celebrating a comeback. Hannah Arendt’s philosophical essay “The Origins of Totalitarianism” has also spiked in interest recently. Here’s why it’s so relevant.

Born in Germany to a Jewish family, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) fled when Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933. She spent time as a stateless refugee in France and was deported to an internment camp under the Vichy regime. She emigrated to the United States in 1941, later becoming a US citizen.

Having experienced first-hand the near collapse of an advanced civilization, she also became one of the first political theorists to analyze how totalitarian political movements could rise in the early 20th century.

The roots of Nazism and Stalinism are described in her first major book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” originally published in English in 1951.

It has been compulsory reading for many college students ever since, but the dense political work of over 500 pages isn’t typically a bestseller. It has been flying off bookshelves in the US since Trump’s inauguration; Amazon even briefly ran out of stock this week.

These new Arendt fans are presumably trying to understand what Trump’s presidency could lead to. As it might take a while for readers to get through her heavy essays, here are a few spoilers: “Trump is not a totalitarian in her understanding; he incorporates what she calls ‘elements’ of totalitarianism,” Roger Berkowitz, professor and head of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanity at Bard College in New York, explained in a recent DW interview.

However, strong warning signs shouldn’t be ignored, added Berkowitz: Arendt believed that “one of the core elements of totalitarianism is that it’s based in a movement… and Trump has explicitly called himself the mouthpiece of a movement. That’s a very dangerous position for a politician.”

DW News Hannah Arendt Zitate ENG

Populism: easy fixes in times of global anxiety

Arendt’s analysis focuses on the events of that period. Although her observations obviously couldn’t explain everything about today’s complex political developments, many are still revealing even now, as the right-wing populism that’s spreading throughout Europe and the US is reminiscent in different ways of the situation in the 1920s and 30s that allowed the Nazis and Communists to rise.

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Ivor Cutler: The king of fantasy island

Many of the biggest names in Scottish music have gathered to explore the imaginary kingdom where Ivor Cutler’s career began, discovers Sean Guthrie

I asked Paul McCartney,” says Matt Brennan, eyes lighting up. “I found an email for his manager and I thought: you know what? We’d collected so many musicians we’d never thought there would be any chance of getting. Very generously his manager did reply and said: ‘Paul is working on his own projects right now, but he’s a keen supporter of Mr Cutler.’ I thought: good on him.”

Mr Cutler, of course, being Ivor Cutler, the Scottish humorist, poet and songwriter who appeared in the Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour at McCartney’s behest and whose influence on the Fab Four is indisputable (more of which later). He is also the inspiration behind Return to Y’Hup, a thrillingly picaresque compendium of Cutler’s songs and poetry driven by Brennan and friends, and featuring a lengthy list of the great and good of contemporary Scottish music. Continue reading