Reading George Fox

Alleah Taylor Was Almost Killed (And I Am Conflicted)

Over at Defector, Diana Moskovitz has two recent articles about Chad Wheeler almost beating Alleah Taylor to death.

I feel really conflicted about writing this. I don’t want to excuse Wheeler’s violent assault and near homicide, nor ignore Taylor’s trauma. Domestic abuse is a huge problem in this country.

But so is abominable mental healthcare. Wheeler does not belong in jail; he belongs in a compassionate and effective psychiatric treatment facility. (Compassionate because without that effective treatment is impossible).

I suffer from severe depression and have lived at a treatment center for the past three and a half years. For all my struggles, I thank god that I don’t have bipolar disorder.

Mania really is the opposite of depression. At my worst depths I truly believe that I am the worst human being to ever live. Worst than Hitler.

People in the midst of mania believe the opposite. I have known enough of them to be pretty sure that Wheeler truly and utterly believed he was akin to Jesus Christ when he demanded Taylor kneel down before him. The sudden change from being a loving boyfriend to being a nightmare is so familiar. I’ve known people who have betrayed their spouse’s trust in the most profound ways imaginable; who have put their children in danger without a second thought; who have spent their family’s life savings over a weekend.

And all of them, once the mania had subsided, were horrified by what they had done. It’s what makes the depression part of bipolar even worst than monopolar depression. My miscalculating a tip and leaving 18% instead of 20% does not make me the world’s greatest monster, even if sometimes I am convinced it does. People in the midst of a manic attack actually do terrible things.

Depression leads to suicide attempts; mania leads you to harm those you love most.

I wish that was more widely known so Taylor would never have thought for a moment to try to help Wheeler in the midst of his mania. We live in a society that doesn’t teach people that doing so can be truly dangerous. He needed a trained medical professional who knows how to help people in a manic episode while staying safe themselves.

It also breaks my heart because it sounds like Taylor was falling in love and it doesn’t sound like she understands that Wheeler really is both the person she was falling for and someone with a disease that leads him to horrific actions. I’m not suggesting she forgive him, but I can imagine the self doubt and trauma coming from “misreading” an intimate partner. I think it is likely that there was nothing in his behavior that would have been a red flag. Though he is certainly responsible for not warning her of what he might do while manic.

Moreover, I think Wheeler’s attack has a significant difference from most violence against women. If we do someday create a world without toxic masculinity and impunity for powerful men, people Wheeler’s size1 will still be a physical threat to others when they are in the midst of mania. A person who truly believe they are God will always be capable of horrible things.

Moskovitz rightly focuses on Taylor. I just wish she had added a little more context around bipolar disorder. Because what it would have taken to make Taylor safe is different than the changes that must happen to prevent most domestic violence.

  1. I once had a roommate in a trauma ward who was a big guy. He had reoccurring dreams in which he relived his childhood abuse and that would lead him to bang his head against the wall. I saw a nurse who didn’t know how to deal with such patients wake him poorly and he took a huge swing (“at” his childhood abuser) that left a dent in the wall. If that punch had connected, the nurse would have been seriously injured. 

Of European Anti-Judaism & America Racism

One thing I’ve thought about recently is how perhaps European anti-Jewish1 prejudice is a close analogue of our anti-black racism.2 The struggles of the British Labour Party with actual anti-Jewish prejudice feels so weird from this side of the pond. An MP openly blames Jewish financiers for the slave trade and a huge swath of the party supports him. While our Democrats freak over criticisms of Israel than many American Jews also make.3

It feels a bit akin to how folks like Biden can still wax poetic about working with segregationists.4

I was also listening to a podcast discussing Marx and Bakunin, which mentioned their anti-Jewish writings. The historian made the point that to a first approximate everyone openly hated the Jews—that it was a central identity dividing line. Just as, to a first approximately, every white American was racist. And pogroms seem pretty similar to Tulsa 1921 or Colfax 1873 or the hundreds of others—often drummed up pretexts for lynchings to justify stealing their land.

Of course, the Shoah marks a big divergence. Germany actually paid reparations and has confronted their crimes to an extent unimaginable anytime soon in our country. Anti-Jewish prejudice is still around, but there hasn’t been a Southern Strategy.5

I don’t think this explains anything about the divergence between Jewish politics from other white ethnic groups. But it did make me think about my ancestors experience in a different way.6

  1. I am perhaps too woke and have stopped using anti-semitism since plenty of Muslims are semites too. 
  2. Not that other racisms don’t exist, but I do think the black/white dichotomy is closer to the core of our nation’s psyche. 
  3. Hell, the New York Times made the same point about AIPAC & wealthy Republican Jews as Representative Omar did in February. No one freaked out then—because money from American pro-Israeli Jewish groups does have a political impact. Just as American pro-IRA money had an impact on our Ireland foreign policy. The mainstream left in this country does not have a problem with anti-Jewish prejudice, but Bernie still struggles admitting solutions for the inequalities of class are separate from solutions for racism. 
  4. If anything, the Democratic Party, or at least the activist left, has become less tolerant of racism than Labour. In fact, it’s Momentum that are the most tolerant of anti-Jewish prejudice. Every claim of an MP saying something disgusting is interpreted as an attack on Corbyn. If Bernie campaign for a candidate who smeared Black Lives Matter as an anti-white terrorist group, there’d be hell to pay from the left side of the party. (Yes, legitimate anti-Zionism complicates this, but the MP was again linking Jews to slavery. No prominent progressive could survive use similar language criticizing any minority group). 
  5. Though this might be a closer comparison to how Native Americans are treated in our politics. In Eastern Europe, as in the States, the genocide was pretty effective. Perhaps unsurprising as Hitler modeled those killings after our nigh elimination of Native Americans. 
  6. It also makes the migration of the word “ghetto” perhaps even more appropriate. 

Flag Aesthetics

Also, I hate to admit it, but my first reaction on seeing the intersection flag was, “They made the flag ugly.” My friend replied that she thought it was beautiful, and she was right—the idea is beautiful. But the aesthetics? Not so much.

The problem was rolling around in my head on the subway ride home, so I took a shot at improving it:

Alternative Design for Intersection Pride Flag

It’s a quick and rough job, so the proportions of the stripes are off. But I do feel like it is an improvement. In the Philadelphia version, the flag feels unbalanced with the black and brown sitting atop the bright rainbow. By interleaving the stripes, the flag becomes more cohesive. I also think the symbolism of this version works better too—POC are within the broader LGBT community/rainbow.

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Intersection Pride Flag

I feel uncertain about the added stripes to the Pride Flag. I completely understand the initial impulse in Philly—clearly the gay community has a huge problem with racism. On the other hand, POC are not the only marginalized group in the LGBT community. Trans women made up a significant proportion of the rioters during Stonewall, yet they were quickly erased from the mainstream narrative. Less than four years after Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera had to grab the mic at a rally to shout that they would not be erased.

An artist has tried to incorporate that history into a flag, but as the article says it’s a design disaster.

Moreover, this point about the history and connotations of rainbows feels important:

[Gilbert] Baker1 described the rainbow’s universal, all-embracing resonance best: “The rainbow came from earliest recorded history as a symbol of hope. In the Book of Genesis, it appeared as proof of a covenant between God and all living creatures. It was also found in Chinese, Egyptian and Native American history.”

It may not be possible, but I wish there were a way to reclaim the flag for all. The problem of racism is very real and needs to be acknowledged and made visible. Adding the stripes is one way to do it. But some of the clarity of symbolism is lost too.

On the other hand, the white gay cis men who are up in arms about the change are clearly racist. If anything, their pushback makes me think the clarity needs to be sacrificed. They are not facing the problem so maybe it needs to be blasted in their faces.

  1. The designer of the original flag. 

Expanding the trope?

I wonder if the people calling out Congresswoman Omar would be as upset if she said that Sheldon Adelson massive donations to Trump played a large part in his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem?

Because I don’t remember an uproar about the New York Times leading an article about the move with:

Ten days before Donald J. Trump took office, Sheldon G. Adelson went to Trump Tower for a private meeting. Afterward, Mr. Adelson, the casino billionaire and Republican donor, called an old friend, Morton A. Klein, to report that Mr. Trump told him that moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a major priority.

While the article also acknowledges the influence of evangelicals, it doesn’t mention them until the fifth paragraph and it clearly stresses Adelson’s money (and AIPAC) as the leading motivation.

The anti-Jewish trope is about shadowy Jewish Financiers secretly controlling politics. There’s nothing secret about AIPAC sponsoring congressional trips to Israel or major politicians from both parties making a pilgrimage to speak at their annual conference.

Calling criticism of AIPAC anti-Jewish is expanding the trope to any Jewish use of money in politics.

“All About The Benjamins”

Here’s the chorus from Puffy’s 1997 hit, It’s All About The Benjamins:

It’s all about the Benjamins
Now, what y’all wanna do?
It’s all about the Benjamins
Wanna be ballers, shot-callers
It’s all about the Benjamins
Brawlers — who be dippin in the Benz wit the spoilers
It’s all about the Benjamins
On the low from the Jake in the Taurus

Anyone see any anti-Jewish tropes1 in there? ‘Cause I don’t.

  1. Yes, there is one reference to Jews: “You should do what we do, stack chips like *Hebrews*.” But there are way more references to Italian Mob films. The song is about enjoying the life of the wealthy, not using money for power. 

Of Filibusters & Magical Thinking

After listening to Dahlia Lithwick on 2038 today, I had to write her a note. It’s hard to believe someone so smart and incisive can be so blind to political reality.


I was just listening to you on the new 2038 podcast. Your support of the Democrats reinstating the judicial filibuster is simply magical thinking ignoring the current reality of the Republican Party. The Democrats simply cannot shame them into re-establishing norms.

They already tried to do it once. The Republicans got rid of Blue Slips during the Bush years; Democrats brought them back during Obama’s term; and the Republicans immediately dropped them after Trump was elected. The only thing the Blue Slips did was help McConnell keep spots empty for Trump to appoint more judges.

I have no doubt if the filibuster is brought back, the Republicans will get rid of it again when they control the White House and the Senate. Their behavior over the past two decades has not given any reason to believe otherwise.

The Democrats are stuck in a prisoner’s dilemma and continually compromising doesn’t work when the Republicans refuse to reciprocate. It’s tantamount to conceding defeat. The correct strategy for the current situation is “Tit for Tat”:

It is also a highly effective strategy in game theory for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. The strategy was first introduced by Anatol Rapoport in Robert Axelrod’s two tournaments,[1] held around 1980. Notably, it was (on both occasions) both the simplest strategy and the most successful in direct competition. -Wikipedia

The Republicans are not going to change course until they face consequences for their actions. McConnell has consistently been the one to escalate norm violations. The reason Reid got rid of the judicial filibuster in the first place was the Republicans were blocking practically any nominee. McConnell was clear about his goals from the moment Obama was sworn in: To make him a one-term president.

There are real dangers to the Democrats escalating as well; it could lead to a death spiral where the Federal Government can only do anything when one party controls Congress and the Presidency. But not escalating makes it certain that the Republican Party will only get more extreme. Don’t you remember how hard Obama and the Democrats worked to get a single Republican vote for the ACA? No compromise would have gotten Collins or any other Republican Senator to join them.

If Ginsberg or Souter don’t make it to 2020 and the Democrats don’t hold the Senate, the median vote will be Thomas. Forget about rolling about civil rights: the Court will be rolling back the New Deal and creating a Neo-Lochner era.

You clearly want to hold on to the idea of the Court as an impartial institution, but that ship has sailed. It died when Merrick Garland was denied even a hearing.

Democrats and the left have to wake up to reality.

I saw this lovely plan after writing the initial note. Republicans don’t care about norms at all anymore—they are ramming through judges with only 19% of the committee actually in Washington!

Moral Monsters & Non-Hollywood Endings 🎥

Spoilers Ahead

Moral Monsters

After sleeping on my thoughts about A Star Is Born, I’m still struggling with my reaction. I truly enjoyed the film, but it also sits really uneasy with me, terrifyingly so. And I think that clench in my stomach stems from Rez’s actions at the end. I have struggled with my own suicidality and the dark thoughts that all I do is hurt the people I love. Those thoughts are disconnected from reality—even as they spiral in my head I know that they are fundamentally irrational. But that knowledge does nothing to lessen their power or shake my belief in them.

If, in my worst moments, someone close to a loved one told me that I was hurting them, that my loved one would never tell me, but they would be better off without me…I’m not sure what I would do. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t self harm, but I’d probably need to go to an inpatient psych ward to be safe. Watching Rez do that to Jack—a man who had just begun to face his trauma—shredded me. At that moment, Rez became a moral monster: he is so ruthlessly selfish that he’s willing to emotionally eviscerate a mentally fragile man. And it’s horrifying that he will remain in Ally’s life—content in the knowledge that his vile actions will push her to greater fame. What might he do to her in the future? She is just an object, a tool for his own advancement. For Ally to keep such a ogre in her life is terrifying. And the film disappears him after the final scene with Jack—my mind wandered to worse and worse scenarios.

The film uses this horror as an emotional gut punch, to ratchet up the tension and sadness for both Ally and the audience. It feels cheap; using addiction and trauma as a tool and not seriously engaging Jack’s experience of treatment. The film offers us hope that he can heal then makes a character irredeemably evil to engender a tragic ending.

Non-Hollywood Endings

The film had the opportunity to tell a much more complicated story, one without a villain, one that eschewed Hollywood myths. And it had a really easy template to do so: Lady Gaga’s own musical evolution. Unlike Ally, Lady Gaga made deliberate choices about her artistic path: her pop music is her voice, her vision. As far as I can tell, her persona is not simply a method to become famous1, it is also a fulfilling aesthetic choice. There was no Rez Gavron telling her what to do; there’s the Haus of Gaga that she put together.

Think about a movie where Ally followed this path; where she discovered her voice in the world of pop, both in the music and the artifice. If Rez was not a domineering asshole, but rather an artistic collaborator who believed in her vision. Now Jack must confront a much more complicated world: can he accept that his love’s voice is so different from his own, that her vision of art and truth conflicts with his? Would he be jealous of Ally’s work with this Rez?2 In the actual film, the only person she collaborates with is Jack and we don’t see her create any of her pop songs or acts. How much more difficult would Ally’s choice be if it were between music and art that she loves as much as she loves her husband. That would tear her apart in the final act and could lead to a more tragic, more honest, and less violent end.

One of Hollywood’s most cherished myths is “Love Always Finds A Way”. Even after Jack kills himself, his love is transmitted through the final song he wrote for Ally. But the truth is that sometimes love is not enough—two people can love each other with all their hearts and their relationship can still fall apart. There’s a version of this film where Jack’s and Ally’s lives and art drift apart, where his addictions and trauma rupture their marriage beyond repair. Even in the film we have, there is a big reason to fear for them before Rez’s moral bankruptcy: when Ally visits Jack in rehab, he says he’s doing the work all for her. And that is simply not sustainable in the long run—he has to face his trauma and choose to live for himself. This disconnect, this tragedy could be enough for them to part. Given the history of their relationship and marriage, Jack may not be able to heal within it. If Ally and Jack lost each other for both their healths, for both their lives, the film would have taken a much harder but more honest truth. Ally’s heart would still break3; she could still sing the same song at the end. But that ending would feel inevitable, stemming from both their journeys and characters—not from the happenstance of a monstrous producer signing her.

  1. Though it is partially that. 
  2. Importantly, Ally’s and Rez’s must be non-romantic, non-sexual. It should be a connection over music—that would be a true threat to Jack because he fell in love with Ally as an artist and their relationship begins with musical collaboration. 
  3. It would actually break more, knowing that their love was not enough, that they had to let each other go for both of their sakes. That despite their true and strong connection, other aspects of themselves made them not healthy for each other. That their relationship was for a time, that it was worthwhile and good, but now that time is over. 

“A Star Is Born” is Too Easy 🎥

Spoilers Ahead.

I really enjoyed A Star Is Born; the music is fabulous, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga kill it, and the ending crushed me.

But the main dilemma, Ally’s choice between a famous pop career or a smaller1 indie career, is too easy. There’s really not much to recommend the more famous path: Ally’s producer is a mercenary and disregards anything she wants, she doesn’t seem happier performing on pop stages, and it keeps her away from Jack, whom she dearly loves. Her troubles with Jack stem from his alcoholism and drug abuse, not any desire on her part to pursue the kind of independent career she does. I could easier she her being happier if she signed with whomever produced Jack. After all, Jack was the one who helped her get comfortable in the recording studio. If she had taken a more indie path, I could easily see him continuing to support her in recording sessions and otherwise.

Moreover, by the end. Jack seems to have come to terms with Ally’s career. He kills himself after Rez convinces him that he’s holding her back. In doing so, Rez moves himself beyond any sort of sympathy: to him Ally’s fame is a source of profit.2 He’d rather make her miserable than let her pursue the life she wants. There’s no doubt that if Ally ever learns what Rez said she’d be beyond furious. Given she punched out a cop at the beginning of the film, I could easily see her physically attacking him.

The film would be all the more powerful if Ally actually had a hard decision. If at the end, rather than Rez pushing Jack over the edge, she had made a choice to prioritize her pop career. If perhaps she had left Jack on her own accord and he made the decision on his own to take his life. In the actual film, his sacrifice isn’t a tragic action to enable Ally to realize her talent; it’s a horror that breaks her heart and ruins her dream.

  1. Which, considering the concerts she plays with Jack at the beginning of the film, would not be that small. 
  2. I have no doubt Rez would drop Ally in an instant if it were in his interests. He’s a classic abuser, separating her from the people who do love and care for her.