Connect with Us

Trump and Pompeo offer free civics lesson: guest blog by Mike Hi

Nixon went to China and Trump goes to Hanoi.

Mike Pompeo is not Henry Kissinger nor is Donald Trump Richard Nixon, and this presents new problems that would seem even more dire than the problems once presented by Kissinger and Nixon.

Now that we've gotten a real taste of what it's like to be led by actual moral idiots, these new problems are being passed down to us as a whole new set of civic responsibilities; in fact, the best thing that can be said of this time is that it is allowing us to partake of a crash course in civics, with complete transparence: both our domestic and foreign affairs have provided the opportunity for us to learn where Iraq is in geographic relationship to Afghanistan, the history of Syria and Yemen, establish that Venezuela is not an island off the coast of Cuba, that NATO is unnecessary, and to realize that the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee is named Elijah Cummings who gets the last word in an oversight hearing, and so, so much more.

Pompeo and Trump on stage last night in Hanoi. This is not Simon and Garfunkle or even Tegan and Sara, this is the President of the US and The Secretary of State. Trump's describing the 'tremendous potential' of North Korea, as a real estate opportunity--the beaches, the coves, the beauty of the land, so beautiful--and Pompeo plays bass fiddle. Trump's licking his chops, you can see in Trump's eyes and in his finger-puppet gestures that he'd like to impose The Trump Brand on North Korea and may do so in the near future, as soon as 2020. Pompeo's the facilitator, the guy the boss always keeps by his side, a little smarter than the boss but not quite as rich, the one the rich big-picture-boss relies on for details.

Pompeo and Trump must have read the polls: more than half the kids in high school now don't know who Thomas Jefferson is! Or Captain and Tennille. Civic lessons must now be self-administered or provided by the examples of the leader we've chosen, Trump himself; only then, once Trump was elected President by the electoral college, could Trump choose Pompeo, the Senate confirming Trump's choice of Pompeo, but not before Trump chose Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of an international oil company, as Secretary of State, and so on.

This is the way it works when civics aren't taught in the schools. We get leaders more and more incompetent, breathtakingly so. Yet they teach us, they just keep teaching us: possible impeachment and the possibility of the unctuous Mike Pence becoming president, the Emoluments Clause, the 25th Amendment, the process of the appointment of unqualified federal judges, the dangers of nepotism, Jared Kushner, Little Rocket Man and Michael Cohen and Roger Stone, Wikileaks, "Fox and Friends", Twitter, The Wall, collusion, how to properly grab women's private parts, The Inauguration...the incompetence never seems to end though it seems we've developed a taste for more and more.

My high school civics teacher, the Hon. Peter Sellers, appearing as President Muffley in Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb', 1964, my freshman year.


A 3 Hour Movie in 4 Parts: or not watching The Academy Awards

Part I

Somewhere I can hear Jean Genet saying, "to create is always to speak about childhood. It's always nostalgic."

Part II

I thought everyone would be home last night watching The Academy Awards so I went to the theatre on Fillmore Street to see the new movie, "Never Look Away", the German biopic of the German artist Gerhard Richter. I like to see movies in the dark with as few people around me as possible, which is why I so often seek out unpopular movies, or popular movies at unpopular times, sometimes judging the movie by the number of people seeing it with me: the more people watching the movie with me the less likely it is to be a good movie; this kind of critical measure has held up pretty well through the years, at least in my mind.

Thus, there was the strong possibility that I'd admire "Never Look Away", admiring Gerhard Richter as I do and thinking there wouldn't be many people in the theatre, as most people I know who like movies were at home watching The Academy Awards, some of them even making bets on who or what would win which award.

I was wrong. The theatre was at least half-filled, full of people like me, I presumed, people who like to see movies in the dark with as few people around them as possible. Or people who no doubt knew of the art of Gerhard Richter, who might have read of Richter's dissatisfaction with the movie and become intrigued. Or people who were attracted to the length of the movie itself, over three hours, and wanted to be entertained on a cold February night for as long as possible.

Part III

About an hour and a half into "Never Look Away" I could see why Richter renounced the movie, after initially cooperating with the movie's writer/director, a German filmaker, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The movie's far too biopical for an artist like Richter, beginning as it does with Richter's youth in Nazi Germany and ending with the celebration of his first gallery show in Dusseldorf sometime in the mid-1960s.

Perhaps Richter had hoped the movie would be art, and when it became clear to him that the movie wasn't art he moved as far away from it as he could. Perhaps he felt betrayed at having given so much information to the filmaker and getting so little in return, in terms of interpretive creative compensation. Perhaps it was a public relations stunt, a maneuver to drum up business for the movie. Or perhaps Richter felt, as I felt watching the movie, that the movie followed too closely the narrative of his own art-making, right down to his first real art breakthrough, those photographs and found newspaper photo images he made his first original paintings from. 

The last hour and a half of the movie felt like a violation of some sort of privacy, or at least a sacrifice of the anonymity the artist craves. I kept staring at the screen however, becoming at least as aware of the people sitting around me as I was aware of the movie I was watching. I wondered what they were thinking of the movie. Were they liking it? Were they hoping it would soon end? Was there anyone I knew in the audience? And if there was would I, at the end of the movie, have to acknowledge them and then chat about the movie in the lobby?

I stayed in my seat for the credits. There was a note of appreciation from the filmaker to Gerhard Richter. Then I walked out into the night without seeing anyone I knew.

Part IV

When I got home I turned on the tv. The Academy Awards show was coming to a end. A movie named "The Green Book" won 'Best Picture.' I remembered seeing "The Green Book" in an uncrowded theatre and that it wasn't a movie I'd either remember or completely forget; "The Green Book" was somewhere in-between.

I turned off the tv. I picked up a book, a biography of a famous writer, and started reading. Movies are different from literature. No life can ever be as good as a movie but no movie can ever be as real as a life.

Janet Leigh, from the movie "Psycho", directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960. Screenshot by author.


Which is to say 

What does it say about us that we use such language? And what not, and everything like that, whatever that may mean, you know what I mean? which is to say and so on?

Which is to say may be the worst of them all. Which is to say is so full of itself it says the same thing twice. The other phrases, expressions if you like, are simply lazy; at best they seek the participation of the other, the listener. A phrase such as and what not or and everything like that mean can be heard as an invitation, especially when framed thoughtfully and in a certain tone of voice. You know what I mean, for instance, pathethic as it may be, is a direct interrogative.

Which is to say is another creature altogether--a pedant at best, a poseur at second best, a spoiled wayward child with an English degree who feels the need to correct the correction. I actually heard a person say, a person who I thought knew better, use the phrase twice in back-to-back sentences so that it seemed that the sum of what he was saying was, which is to say

There's no invitation in, which is to say: which is to say is all one-sided. Neither is it used at the end of an expression as the others all are. It's an exclusive and elitist bore, standing before us with its self-importance, lecturing us, in love with the sound of its own voice 

When I used a naughty word as a child my grandmother would threaten to wash my mouth out with soap. She never did wash my mouth out with soap, though when I became old enough to first start experimenting with cigarettes, about age 12, I'd wash my own mouth out with soap to disguise the smell of the cigarette smoke I'd inhaled, thinking my grandmother knew a thing or two about using soap to change behavior. People who use the phrase, which is to say should have their mouths washed out with soap. If they actually like the taste of it I'd grant them permission to keep using the phrase whenever they'd like, though not in my presence.

I'm not sure what the use of any of these expressions say about the language we use, other than they seem to be used more frequently now than every before by well-educated people of high moral character. I have no more to say about them, having said all I can say, but fearing I'll hear them said the rest of my life.



Mallarme: the only way the sacred can protect itself is to wrap itself in mystery.

Mallarme, a man of whom it can't be imagined ever saying, what not or, everything like that.

Storefront, Marks, Mississippi, June 2017. Photo by author.


Which is to say, you know what I mean?

In yesterday's little mini-rant ('And what not, and everything like that') I wrote of certain phrases that people often use when speaking which displease me, as I can find no reason for them to ever be spoken. Such phrases, or expressions, which always occur at the end of an expression rather than at the beginning, add nothing to the conversation; rather they detract by their meaninglessness.

Yesterday I listed four of these phrases, including the aforementioned and what not and and everything like that, plus, and what have you and, and whatever it may be.

I want to make clear that I hold nothing against people who use these phrases, other than wishing they wouldn't. Some of these people are among my dearest relatives and closest friends. These are good people, really good people, the kind of people who look you in the eye when you're talking with them and who do what they tell you they're going to do, people who keep their commitments once they've made them. The people who use these phrases will do almost anything for you, up to and including giving you the shirt off their backs. The people who use these expressions are most often well-meaning, kind, giving souls, the kind of people who fall into small bad habits innocently, whose bad habits most likely cause no one but someone like me any kind of problem or discomfort.

There are, however, two other phrases, expressions that are less innocent though no less offensive, more offensive in fact, for reasons I'll explain later, than the phrases noted above. Each follows the pattern of the other four: each always arrives at the end of an uttered expression; each is uttered so repetively by the speaker as to be regarded by the listener as habitual; each adds nothing to the utterance, so that the nothing it adds, in fact, detracts from the something that's just been said.

The two other phrases are:

1) Which is to say 

2)  You know what I mean?

(To be continued)


"What is a throne? It's a chair with some velvet", Napoleon is reported to have said. It's also said that Napoleon never opened his mail until two weeks after its arrival, believing that if a message was truly urgent it would get to him somehow.