Tragically Vague

I should like the Tragically Hip.  They are Canadian– though that’s really not relevant to me in that regard.  They are fairly authentic: no factory beat, no synthesis.  They are honest and hardworking and true and they ignored the temptations of American pop stardom and stayed here.  They actually refer to Canadian things in their songs: hockey and Newfoundland and the CBC.  The band itself is musically decent– far better than, for example, than Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s awful backup band for several albums.  They can crack a beat. I respect them.  But I’m not a fan.  I tried.  I loaded up four of their albums on my music player and listened to them on my walk.  It only reminded me of why I never cared enough about them to have a collection of their albums.  It’s their lyrics, mainly.  Here’s a sample, picked at random:

I’ll be short and brief And to the point The fighting has resumed In that tone of voice The plague is exhumed He said “What I’m going through Is essentially all true Made no less amazing By the fact that it’s see through”

And here’s another:

You triumphed over will
You had immunity to kill
You had your dreams fulfilled
And I love you still
But there's a power beyond control
There's a fire in the hole
Ah the nights are getting cold
All your secrets will be told
Turn your lanterns low

As long as you can dig up proof
As cold as water through the roof
Brutal as depicted truth
That kid's a fuckin' goof
Turn your lanterns low
But there's a power beyond control
There's a fire in the hole
Yeah the nights are getting cold
All his secrets will be told
Turn your lanterns low
Alright

What’s it about?  The Hip’s lyrics, mostly by Gord Downie, are allegedly “poetic”.   But the artist they remind me the most of is not Dylan, or Lightfoot, or Cohen– not by the wildest stretch of the imagination– but more like those pretenders, Mumford and Sons.  Downie’s lyrics are really about any real idea or emotion or situation or insight or perception.  They are merely fragments of isolated half-baked disconnected images without any real impact.  “There’s a fire in the hole/Yeah the nights are getting cold”?  Wait a minute– are you suggesting something about heat and light here, or something about a cold winter night.  Maybe the next line will tell us: “All his secrets will be told”.  Whose secrets?  In the cold or in the hole with the fire in it?  “Turn your lanterns low”.  Why?  Who doesn’t want the secrets to get out.  Read the rest of the lyrics in vain for enlightenment: they are random images with no overall cohesion or purpose.  The Tragically Hip’s lyrics generally suck. Tell me what this means:

yeah that's awful close
but that's not why
I'm so hard done by

It was true cinema a clef
you should see it before there's nothing left
in an epic too small to be tragic
you'll have to wait a minute
cause it's an instamatic

Now, I don’t object to the idea of discordant or absurd images or sequences of images, but I do object to random images that have just one connection to any over-all artistic entity, and that is that particular track.  Dylan has a long list of songs with seemingly random images but he is always either telling a story or commenting on the world in parody and creating a set of images that tell you something about the players in the story, or the narrator, or the object of desire, or whatever he’s thinking about:

They are selling postcards of the hanging They’re painting the passports brown The beauty parlor is filled with sailors The circus is in town Here comes the blind commissioner They’ve got him in a trance One hand is tied to the tightrope walker The other is in his pants.

Above all,  Dylan’s images are almost always striking, funny, and memorable.  Downie’s are not: “Hairbird plucks a hair from a sleeping dog/To build her nest, she said I’ve looked around and I like your hair best”.  These lines really are lame, dull, and uninteresting, and incomprehensible– not because they are difficult to understand, but because they really don’t hold anything to be understood.   They really don’t belong to an idea or an impression or a narrative or even an emotion. Does Downie believe there really is a deeper meaning to it?  Quite probably.  I would guess that Downie would not see a whole lot of difference between the quality of his lyrics and some of Dylan’s. The mistake here is not unusual.  Some great poetry is allusive and obscure, but not everything that is allusive and obscure is great poetry.

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Emasculating Spock

One of the most unique, fresh, and compelling characters ever created in science fiction television or movies is Mr. Spock.  Mr. Spock was an alien whose planet had joined the Federation, thus making him eligible for Star Fleet.  He was the “science officer” on the Enterprise.  Think about that: “science” officer.  Think about that when you hear someone mock the idea of “global warming” and “climate change” and vaccinations.  You can’t believe that crap, they’ll tell you.  Why?  They don’t know.  They just feel it, because Donald Trump and Exxon and Fox News tells him it’s a hoax and they just feel that they’re right.  They are going by their emotions.

Spock cold-heartedly analyzed the facts of any given situation, calculated the odds of success when necessary, and made a rational decision.

But even the original Star Trek couldn’t quite bear to not pull their punches.  If Captain Kirk was in the shuttle caught in some meteor storm or something and the only way to rescue him was by risking the lives of 400 crew members even though the odds of success were ridiculously small– Spock would do it.  Spock would do it not because it made sense on any level, but because everyone wants to have sex with a virgin.

You heard me right.  Spock is the virgin of Star Trek.  Over the years, he has become the most admired character in the original series because of his amazing intelligence, rationality, and integrity.  What is the first thing we want to do to a character like that?  Yes, we do.

In the whorehouse of American television, occupied almost exclusively by whores, we had one virgin: Spock.  And the more virginal he was, the more people want to take that virginity, the one thing that makes him unique as a character, and thus more desirable, more elusive, more of an affront to their own thinking: I want to be like an admired character.  But I can’t.  So, instead, I want the admired character to be like me: throw facts and information out the window and go with your fucking intuition, no matter how absurd.

So, in recent installments of the Star Trek franchise, the old Spock actually advises the young Spock to “go with your feelings”.

Aside from some other stupid plot developments– why, oh why, does Kirk– the captain, for heaven’s sake– have to be the one to climb into the engine chambers to restore some kind of energy spout thereby almost dying in the process?  This is stupid.  A child thinks it’s heroic: his favorite character is the bravest and suffers the most!  But if a military commander did that in real life, every smart person would be appalled:  all of our leaders are gone because they wanted to be the most courageous?  You are a fool.

What infuriates me about this is the same thing that infuriates me when a bunch of yahoos driving ATVs and motorcycles and off-road vehicles beg the government to give them some areas of wilderness where they can be allowed to destroy and despoil and strip bare everything with impunity and then, demand that the one area set aside for people who just want to enjoy nature, be given to them as well.  It’s so unfair: why should hikers and photographers and painters be allowed to enjoy that view, but not us on our dirt bikes, or us hunters with our guns?  And look at the beautiful, unspoiled wilderness area!  Exactly where we want to rip the hills and dump our beer cans!

All of us who love science and facts and rationality only had the one character: Spock, who represented those ideals in science fiction.  He must be destroyed.  He must be discredited.  Even Spock must acknowledge that it is more important to go with your feelings, no matter how illogical or stupid.

I dream of this scene: Captain Kirk is in the space shuttle again, and once again, he is in peril, due to some ridiculous astral threat, aliens, meteors, plasma storm, Klingons, whatever– and the only way to rescue him is for some maneuver that would imperil the Enterprise and all of its crew.  Scotty and Bones are begging Spock: you must save the captain!  He’s your friend!  You must be loyal and true!  And Spock says, “that would be irrational.  Among the senior officers here, the Captain is actually quite replaceable– the odds of finding a suitable replacement are quite good.   But the odds of losing the entire ship and all of the crew is extremely high.  I will not do it.”  And what should happen next: Kirk heroically– if he really is all that heroic– tells Scotty and Bones, “he’s right”.  Then we can have that fond emotional farewell and Kirk should die and Star Trek should introduce a new, interesting, original character who will become then next captain.

This is something “Game of Thrones” got mostly right, though they are now (Season 6) in danger of abrogating that most distinctive virtue: Snow comes back from the dead.

Oh wonderful– so now whenever a major character is threatened we can relax.  He’s not going to die.

 

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The Expression on Sanders’ Face

I watched Hillary Clinton give the biggest speech of her life tonight, on the final day of the Democratic Convention.   I am stunned that all the talent in Ms. Clinton’s campaign staff could not persuade her to give even a moderately good speech.  It was dull, predictable, and unbelievable.  In a year in which voters seem to crave a politics that feels fresh and authentic and daring, she sounded like one of those bombastic, old-school politicians glibly promising everything on the platform knowing full well that the whole point is to get elected and then do whatever you want.

Occasionally, the cameras showed us Bernie Sanders’ face.  I was fascinated by it.  I have no idea what he was thinking but I know what I would have been thinking.  I would have been thinking, “she has co-opted my movement and she’s not going to enact any of those policies I managed to wrangle into the platform”.  Philadelphia was already infested with the big donors and special interest groups, bankers, pharmaceutical executives, lobbyists, that Bernie was fighting against.  He had that look: the system won again.  It is rigged.

Some of the lobbyists were already at the Clintons’ side, sitting in their exclusive box at the– get this– Wells Fargo Center.

She is not going to do any of the things Bernie Sanders campaigned for.   She is going to start another war or escalate the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She’s going to step into the quagmire that awaits her in Syria.  She’s not going to be able to pass the free tuition legislation even if she did really believe in it.  She’s going to make marginal improvements in some social programs in exchange for the usual sell-out of tax bites, exemptions, military increases, education programs that cost nothing and accomplish nothing, and symbolic gestures.

If Obama found Congress hard to work with, I don’t imagine Clinton will find it any more cooperative.  She may have an advantage though.  It is conceivable that Trump will lose so badly and take so many Republicans down with him that she may have more of a mandate, and more cooperation from a Democratic majority than Obama has had in the last two years.  And Clinton has demonstrated a greater ability to negotiate with Republicans than Obama has.  She might be able to peel off a few votes here and there.

And she will likely be able to appoint two or maybe three new Supreme Court Justices.  And perhaps she’ll follow the Republican template and appoint them young, and thereby influence the direction of the court for decades.

She will be immeasurably better than the alternative but still, that sad expression on Sanders’ face, is the look of recognition: the system is rigged.

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Humility

I’ve never cared much for the braying exuberance with which most athletes now celebrate their goals or hits or victories.  I didn’t like Bautista’s bat flip.  I don’t like football (real football) players acting like they just raised someone from the dead every time they score a goal.  Why?  Simple: humility is a good thing.   You are not that great.  You performed an exceptional athletic feat: that’s all.  It’s just a physical ability.  It gives pleasure to your fans but not to the fans of the other 30 teams.  You achieved the ability to perform this feat by focusing all of your energy and passion into an extremely limited range of physical activity thereby depriving you of the opportunity to develop your mind, or your other physical skills.  It is not that great.

In American cities, in the South especially, football heroes– even at the high school level– are treated like gods.  They get the best seats in the local restaurants and never have to wait in line.  They get all the love.

I get arguments about this.  The bat flip was wonderful.  It was so much fun. Why shouldn’t he celebrate a great moment in sports?

Well, let’s turn it around.  How about if someone reads and understands a difficult book on economics?  How would you feel if he jumped up and down and screamed and shook his fist and yelled, “I know how capital accumulates!  I’m smarter than you!”?  You would despise him for his arrogance.   How about if he ridiculed one of your favorite movies, like “Shawshank Redemption”, as mediocre, unimaginative, and uninteresting, and recommended, instead “The White Ribbon”?  You asshole!  What if he looked at you with a slight sneer and said, “Really?  Neil Diamond?  You like Neil Diamond?”

Imagine.  In those Southern American cities: here’s a student with an A average: he gets the best table.  He gets the girls.  Strange people recognize him and slap him on the back.  You’ve made us all proud: you are smart.

You athletes will just have to wait your turn.

 

 

 

 

 

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Patterns

“I would have to be crazy not to see the pattern here.” Egyptian official greatly annoyed by the fact that no evidence backs up his assertion that Flight 804 was brought down by a terrorist attack.

Let’s see: a cow started giving sour milk.  A man had strange dreams that caused disturbing night-time emissions.  The moon looked funny.   A baby died.  I would have to be crazy not to see the pattern here: witchcraft!

A man starts shooting people in Munich.  Another terror attack by a jihadist infiltrating the waves of immigrants from the Middle East!  Keep them out!   Except that it appears to be just another disturbed man with a gun.

Every year, many police are killed in the line of duty.  But in the past month, the news treats every shooting as if it is retaliation for all the black people that have died at the hands of the police in the last few years.

 

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Ortiz’s Fantastical Year

It’s a shame, but I just don’t believe in David Ortiz’s 2016 stats.

He has 24 home runs, batting .326, with a .665 slugging percentage, half-way through the season.   He is 40 years old, 6′ 3″, 230 pounds.

Do you really think it’s possible?  Here:

Williams had one of the best final seasons in MLB history. He hit .316 with a .451 on-base percentage and .645 slugging percentage, with 72 RBIs to go along with those 29 home runs.

What magical thing is he doing that nobody in the history of baseball, or athletics,– except Barry Bonds, who cheated, of course– has ever done? Have a near career-best year at the age of 40, when almost everyone declines steadily from 28 on? The real shame of it is that if he really is as amazing as his numbers appear to be, people like me will never have the opportunity to really appreciate it. It would be awesome to behold, if we could really believe in it.

It’s the same with the Olympics: in those really, really annoying CBC radio ads, the announcer goes crazy– “a new!! world!!!  record!!! in the 200 meters!!!” Who cares? We know exactly why there have been so many new world records in the last few decades.  Why are you all excited?  Are you stupid or what?

Ortiz’s defensiveness in full flower.

It is striking to me how often, in his statements on the issue, he angrily insists not that he would never cheat, but that he has never been caught. They test me all the time and I have never been caught. Why would you think I cheat when I have never been caught? Surely you don’t think I could get away with it nowadays? And that one time I was caught, it was an accident.

There is not a trace of sadness, which I would expect, from an honest athlete who realizes that he can never entirely escape suspicion about his greatest accomplishments because other players have been caught– indisputably– cheating.  This is the paradox of modern sports.  Have a mediocre performance and you’re mediocre.  Have an extraordinary performance and you must have cheated.  Give a really, really amazing performance, and obviously, you cheated.

He also takes on those who accuse him of showboating and egotism– which is, essentially, what people mean by the criticism of batters who admire their home runs–  by arguing that he’s having fun, he used to be poor, now he’s rich, so what’s wrong with having fun– which has nothing to do with the issue.  I don’t care how many people do it– even if they are on my home team– I find it repellent when players admire their own home runs.  It’s like laughing at your own joke, or watching yourself in the mirror at a party to see how good you look, or arranging for yourself to receive honors and tributes as a politician, or making your predecessor a saint.  You’re not that great.  Really, you’re not.  It’s unfortunate that we live in a culture that can’t help but wet themselves over every little athletic achievement, but that doesn’t change the fact that, really, you’re not all that great.

There are handful of players who are great and have great performances.  Their achievements are diminished when assholes like you start strutting around the base paths as if you are godlike.

Ortiz’s stats for his 40th year are really, really amazing.  And they are unbelievable.   And I am the saddest about the fact that if they were real, I have missed out on the pleasure of watching a truly extraordinary performance.

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President Trump

There will not be a President Trump.

An over-all majority of Republican primary voters have nominated a buffoon.  That doesn’t mean a majority of all American voting-age citizens would vote for one, even if the competition is an unappealing dishonest failed former Secretary of State.

Clinton may not warm the hearts of American voters but she will strike most reasonable people as reasonably competent, and a lot of ill-informed or foolish voters will lick their fingers and figure out which direction the wind is blowing and vote for the least scary candidate.  When you add those numbers to the minorities who will vote for Clinton in very high numbers– they actually like her!– the idea of Trump assembling a coalition that can win states with a majority of electoral votes is almost impossible to imagine.  Sure, Trump will win Texas and Missouri and Tennessee and Kentucky and South Carolina and probably Indiana, and bunch of other solidly red states.   But Clinton will win California and New York and Illinois and Iowa and other solidly blue states.  And of the states in between, Trump will have to win a huge majority of them to take the electoral college, while Clinton only has to win a few.

President Clinton.  It’s really not that scary a prospect.  The goal of both Clintons has always been power itself– not money or personal advantage or ethnic dominance or fear.  Just power.  And not power in the raw sense, of power for powers’ sake: I think they probably really do like governing and enacting policies and having some success with them and dodging accountability for the failures.  Why not?  It’s fun and gratifying.  But, sure, they love power.

The advantage of this is that they will do what it takes to stay in power even if that involves occasionally making good choices, like raising the minimum wage and reducing college tuition for needy students, or bad choices like “ending welfare as we know it” or invading Iraq.

I refuse to believe that most American voters, watching the buffoon debate the competent but ethically challenged Clinton, will choose a man who doesn’t even understand how treaties work, and only barely understands the difference between policy and legislation, or the judiciary and Congress.

As several commentators have already pointed out, Obama is going to look like your ex when you begin to realize the mistake you made in splitting up.

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Free Enterprise for You Losers

Congress has introduced a bill which will remove certain provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act from application to minor league ball players.  Are you kidding me?

You might ask yourself, if you are a patriotic, law-abiding, constitution-loving American citizen, why is the government rigging the system in favor of the owners of baseball teams?

If you haven’t stopped laughing yet, let’s put the words out there: because they asked them to.  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with donations or lobbyists or anything of the sort.  No, the “Save America’s Pastimes Act”– I am not making this up! — is all about preserving part of our national character, and providing fun for the whole family.

Of course it’s a sop to owners!  Of course the purpose is to increase profits for owners and reduce earnings for players!  Of course it’s an expansion of the rights and privileges of the ownership class at the expense of labour.

And why shouldn’t the government step in to ensure that gullible young men who honestly believe they will win the lottery some day and play in the major leagues (90 % of them won’t) can be exploited by billionaire team owners who already get taxpayer subsidized stadiums from equally gullible tax-payers?  Why shouldn’t they have a hand in the exploitation of young athletes who would do anything for a chance at a professional career?

The moral objection to taking taxpayers money for personal gain only applies to poor people mainly because they lack the vocabulary.  Instead of saying, I need some money to feed my kids and pay my rent because I’m broke and I don’t have a job, you must learn to say, “I wish to invest in the future of our nation and lay the groundwork for a thriving culture of aspiration so that our young people can fulfill their dreams.”

And here is $10,000 for your re-election campaign.  And we’ll call it the “Save America’s Pastimes Act”.

If one of your representatives supported this bill, I hope you vote against him in the next election, if only for this reason: the astounding cynicism of the title of the bill.

 

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And Stared Intensely into her Eyes

This is the content of a real case of “sexual harassment” at an American University.  The “victim” of this egregious behavior is waiting for the professor, Wentworth, to be punished.  Here it is:

Hemenway tried to minimize contact with Wentworth after a meeting on 17 February 2015 that she said was particularly upsetting. According to the complaint, the professor repeatedly called her “honey” and “honey bear” and put his hands on hers while complimenting her and staring intensely into her eyes.  [The Guardian 2016-05-27]

The professor also told her that he would never start a relationship with her because she was a student of his.   Young girls, you know, are too…. what?  I don’t know.  Too something to be allowed to choose to have a relationship with an older male.

It is not the law in most jurisdictions.  The law thinks young women can be trusted to exercise their own responsible judgement in these matters.  These young feminist activists do not trust these women.

Anyway, he said, once she graduated, he might be interested in seeing her.  He told her she was attractive.  He complained that some other students had accused him of harassment. Yes, there are other complaints against this professor.  One wonders if they are of a similar nature.  He said I was pretty.  He said he liked me.  He said I was attractive.

Hemenway has succeeded in rousing an outcry: he must be punished.

Here’s an outcry:  is it hard to say, “you’re behaviour is inappropriate and I don’t like it”.  And if he continues: “if you don’t stop I will file a complaint with the University Administration”.  I gather from the gist of the reporting on this issue that Ms. Hemenway felt that she should not have to say anything.  She reports no instances of her telling the professor to bug off.  Would old-school feminists like to admit that she was too weak and helpless and unable to actually rouse a personality in that situation?

Professor Wentworth, apparently, should have known that she felt weak and helpless and utterly incapable of functioning as a student when confronted with such terrifying behaviour. I would be curious to hear Ms. Hemenway’s answer to the question: if women are the equal of men, why are you so weak when confronted with such ridiculously inept and tediously inappropriate behaviors?  You really can’t stand up to it?  You really don’t have enough courage or intelligence to put a stop to it?  Your emotional being is so limp and incapable that you can’t find the words?  How on earth will you ever get along in the world?  How will you ever make tough decisions in the future?

If you are working for some business and negotiating a contract with someone and the person you are negotiating with changes the terms while you are not looking, will you just sign it?  If you are organizing a sporting event and a disqualified runner insists you let him race, will you say nothing and register him and then complain bitterly that he oppressed you?  If you were clerking in an apparel outlet and someone took two outfits into a change room and came out with one, would you say nothing?

Do you see yourself as having potential?  Do you feel that you would be a good employee for a successful company and able to make consequential decisions that affect people’s lives?  Would you ever be able to stand up for someone else, let along yourself, in a similar situation?  Can you envision a future in which you get your way not by being a victim and demanding that other people step in your behalf  and destroy someone’s career because you were horrified by the idea that he liked you, but by standing up for yourself?

Did you pose for that picture in the Guardian, with that expression that appears to be intended to evoke pity?  Do you really want to be pitied?  Do you want to be known for elaborating on just how weak and vulnerable and helpless you are?

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The Feminist Crucible

In this review, J. Kelly Nestruck in the Globe and Mail argues that Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is outdated and irrelevant.  It is a bad play now that the communist “witch hunts” of the 1950′s are stale memories.

Tennessee Williams is all right.  He is relevant and vital because he cares more about gay characters:

But while Williams’s focus on gay and female characters had become increasingly valued, Miller had begun to feel like a dated moralist, stuck in a postwar sensibility, focusing on white, heteronormative nuclear families and obsessive about the paterfamilias.

This, the compliment to Williams, about a dramatist most famous for a play about a pathetic young woman who invests everything– all of her emotions, her hopes, her dreams– into an inept courtship of an ineligible young man, and is shattered when he doesn’t deliver and make her life meaningful.   That is more modern?  That is more “valued”?

Well, she doesn’t say who now values Tennessee Williams more than Arthur Miller.  For good reason, I think.  Most people today would find Williams a crashing bore, while Miller retains a good deal of vitality.

It gets worse.  You see “The Crucible”, according to Nestruck,  made it seem as if the young girls who accused various citizens of Salem, Massachusetts of being witches were wrong in some way.  It made it appear as though they coordinated their stories.  It made it appear as if they were not actually suffering physical symptoms from the witchcraft they alleged– they were hysterical.  It made it appears that they might be lying, beginning with Abigail Williams, who had an affair with Proctor and bitterly resented being expelled from the household by Elizabeth Proctor.

So, given a more modern sensibility, we need to admit that the girls were actually telling the truth.

That damn John Procter: he blamed the victims.

I don’t casually use the word “chilling” to describe commentary on social issues, but this one deserves it.   Nestruck clearly implies that the girls in “The Crucible” should have been believed.  Because girls never lie?  She makes reference to Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, as if Ghomeshi’s trial had not revealed that, yes, after all, women do sometimes lie.  They lied to the police and they lied to the Crown Attorney and they lied in court to the judge.   Did none of this matter to Newstruck?  Does she believe that facts and proof must give way to emotional belief?  Was it all, perhaps, witchcraft?  In the context of “The Crucible”, she suggests that the core of the accusations of witchcraft might have been true.  That is insane.  It is contrary to everything rational we know about the world, to science, and reason, and principles of justice.

The most remarkable thing about “The Crucible” is what Nestruck hates the most about it: it reveals precisely the narcissistic root of the kind of lies the girls tell, the embrace of victimization because of the sudden power it gives you over individuals who would never otherwise defer to your status, and the insanity of blindly believing “victims” because to question or challenge them is “re-victimization”, one of the most pernicious ideas I have ever heard because it insists that everything an accuser says is automatically to be believed.  It is exactly like “The Crucible” in that anyone who dares to raise suspicions about the honesty or truthfulness of the accusers is then suspected and accused of the same evil.

It is absolutely “guilty unless proven innocent”.

Nestruck suggests that “The Crucible” is less relevant today because, after all, it was really about the McCarthy Communist witch hunt, not about Salem.  But that is exactly wrong: “The Crucible” is powerful precisely because it is not just about McCarthy or Salem; it is about fear and hysteria and delusion, and the consequences to society when it buys in to the delusion.  It is just as relevant today as it was in the 1950′s, if not more so, and it was powerfully relevant in the 1980′s with the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria where, once again, the system was asked to look the other way when accusations made no sense, contradicted themselves, or spread like a virus among impressionable children.

And now, a woman on the CBC declares that we must find a new way to try men who abuse women because Ghomeshi was obviously guilty.

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