Soothsayer Day


“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
— Benjamin Franklin, in reply to a question about what sort of government the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had settled on.

February 2 is the day some people, primarily in North America, attempt to divine the next six weeks of weather by observing groundhogs who briefly exit from winter hibernation in their burrows. If it’s a sunny day, the groundhog will see his or her shadow and, counter intuitively, those watching the animal will pronounce six more weeks of wintry weather. On a cloudy day, with no shadows in sight, the prediction is for an early start of spring weather. People in some parts of Europe have a similar tradition involving different animals, such as badgers in Germany and hedgehogs in Britain.

Emerged from hibernation in February, groundhog takes leaves to line the burrow nest or toilet chamber DSCN0900
Emerging briefly from hibernation in February 2014, a groundhog takes leaves to line its burrow nest or toilet chamber. Photo by Ladycamera.

This is all silliness, of course, with no proof of accuracy, but it is mostly harmless except for possibly obnoxious intrusions on the lives of peace loving groundhogs. In ancient Rome, prognostication using animals took a more deadly turn. All sorts of animals – chickens, sheep, and goats among them – were confined until the day they were sacrificed for the purpose of having a kind of priest called a haruspex examine the dead animal’s entrails for signs of the future. This was deadly serious business, not only for the sacrificial animals, but for the generals and politicians who often did not make a move unless the signs from the entrails were auspicious.

There is no record proving the consistent accuracy of haruspicy (divination by the inspection of entrails), just as there is no record for the accuracy of groundhogs at predicting the weather based on the presence or absence of cloud cover on a particular day. Nonetheless, people have been wasting their time and efforts on these methods of divination for millennia. The ancient method, haruspicy, was a nasty business all around, while Groundhog Day observations cause little harm and are of no consequence.

The Danish National Symphony Orchestra performs a suite of themes from Ennio Morricone’s music for the 1968 Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time in the West. Tuva Semmingsen performs the vocals that were sung by Edda Dell’Orso on the original soundtrack recording.


What about reading the signs of the times, such as looking at newspapers to follow developments in the republic called the United States of America? What about a Senate majority of Republicans who vote to exclude witnesses in the impeachment trial of a corrupt president? What about a Republican state legislator in Montana who maintains that the Constitution of the United States sanctions the shooting and imprisonment of Socialists, merely for being Socialists? What about the chortling lunatics cheering on Orange Julius as he threatens and demeans his opponents at his demented pep rallies? And what about those same cheering, jeering lunatics threatening violence if their Chosen One is removed from office either by impeachment or by the results of an election?

Those signs and others are easy enough to read for anyone paying attention to developments in order to honor the obligations of an informed citizen. There are those citizens, however, who are too lazy to pay attention. Very well; they should continue in their laziness and stay home on Election Day in nine months, rather than show up and vote for the incumbent president simply because the wolf is not yet at their door. And then there are those voters, more culpable in the decay of the republic than anyone else, who are interested only in the health of their financial portfolio, and who are deaf and blind to the cries and despair of anyone shut out of the bounty and suffering under the oppression of the oligarchy. The signs now point toward a Tyranny by Corporate Oligarchy, and if citizens continue to choose it by doing nothing, then after Election Day in November there will be no going back and we will have gotten the government we deserve.

— Vita

For those who can’t get enough of the sound of the loss of the republic, here it is on the theremin. Katica Illényi performs with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra in Budapest, Hungary.


Proud of Their Ignorance


It is one thing to be ignorant, and quite another to be militantly, defiantly proud of that ignorance. To be clear, ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. Ignorance can be rectified through education of one sort or another, while stupidity is almost always a life long condition. A person can be proud of their stupidity, which would be an unfortunate attitude but not something others could condemn that person for, given that a stupid person is apt to adhere to stupid beliefs. An otherwise reasonably intelligent person who persists in ignorance, on the other hand, exhibits a moral failing.

Evolution of man
A cheeky take on the typical evolution of humans illustration, which in this instance has been altered by the inclusion of a parody of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, indicating that may have been the climax of our evolution. Photo composite by Flickr user possan.

Since before the election of the Vulgarian-in-Chief, observers of the American political scene have marveled at how his supporters – believers, really – have stuck with him no matter what. As the Vulgarian himself noted fairly early in the campaign, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue [in New York City] and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Why is that? With all his lies, evidence of misogyny, racism, narcissism, greed, corruption, nepotism, and, since his election, his evident inability to govern competently, why do roughly one third of the American electorate stay on his side regardless of all that?

The best guess hearkens back to why those people voted for him in the first place. Throughout the campaign, his voters kept saying that he ‘tells it like it is” and “he’s his own man and not an establishment insider.” Neither of those core beliefs, nor many of the others his supporters expressed about him, were entirely true, but that made no difference to them. What made a difference to them was that the language he used appeared to make those things true, and they desperately wanted to believe. He had snake oil to cure them, and they were eager for his cure. Telling it like it is meant he was prepared to advocate politically incorrect positions in the culture wars, and being an establishment outsider had no more real traction than his complete lack of experience in organized politics.

On these slim assumptions they voted for him, because the assumptions became beliefs. Don’t confuse them with the facts. It was enough that their Chosen One appeared to give a middle finger to the politically correct and to the Washington establishment. Once he got into office, he continued displaying his middle finger, and whether or not that has had a salutory effect on his ability to govern effectively appears immaterial to his core supporters, who are more concerned with what they are against in the culture wars and in government.

A clip from the 1960s television situation comedy Hogan’s Heroes, featuring the German Sgt. Schultz, whose catch phrase was “I know nothing.”

In a cult of personality, what matters is the perception of the believers, rather than the reality. Any attempt to dissuade them from their delusions has the effect of making them more adamant. Nothing can be done for most of them, who see nothing wrong with themselves. Because it is in his nature to do so, there is no question that their preferred Strong Man will continue to exploit the opportunity they have afforded him, in a multitude of venal ways which will continue until the day he leaves office. One might as well expect the leopard to change its spots as expect him to evolve into a respectable and respected statesman. All that can be done is to resist and to continue bringing evil into the light, much as it often seems that only the choir hears the preaching. Today more than ever, the choir can amplify and magnify and sing out what they hear, and they too can tweet.
― Ed.