22 September 2016


A Rejoinder to @Chris_arnade

Mr. Arnade, your photography is beautiful and a credit to the nation, but the words you presented us with in this essay grate on me.

Is racism not deplorable?  Is homophobia not deplorable?  That's what Clinton was talking about.  In your images I see three white people happily showing racism (that Confederate flag with added revanchist motto is really something) to the world.  I wonder what the black people you photographed think about those white people you also photographed.  If going on the offensive against bigotry is "scornful," then I want some more of that scorn.

As for my attitude towards the Democratic nominee, I am sympathetic to those of your subjects who say she's "aloof and calculating" or "in Wall Street's hands."  There is undoubtedly some truth in these assessments.  However, since in your words you present no socially redeeming alternative to voting for a Republican or a Democrat*, this is my response:  I would rather be governed by an elitist, sometimes holier-than-thou missionary than by Biff Tannen.  The choice is not even close.


*And, after all, this is the only choice all of your subjects are guaranteed to have on their November ballots, although some may also see Jill Stein's name - and I happily concede that she is a real fighter for working-class interests.

06 September 2016

"But with words there is a structure that has two elements, number and gentleness,* and the arguments take their composition from the two; the order is arranged to make the point well-approved.  Yet in order to make a good structure of all these things memory is almost the only foundation, the light and the action."
--Cicero, On the Best Kind of Orators

*my translation of lenitatem; if Cicero meant levitatem I would say "weight."


More than any of its past kindred, this presidential race is impressing upon me the need for good oratory and the power of good public speaking.  Whether it was Bernie's habit of putting triune repetitions at the end of his sermons on civic engagement  ("if we stand together there is nothing, nothing, nothing we cannot accomplish") or the wretched lack of originality and, indeed, coherence from the Republican candidates at their primary debates, the forensic arts have been central to my understanding of what is happening politically.  Then again, I don't watch cable TV, I read Latin and I acquired a liberal arts education from a school with 'Communism' in its motto.

Now there are 63 days to go.   We are seeing what happens when a ruthless demagogue and emotional manipulator meets an established politician who is quite competent at her line of work.  I am relieved to see and hear that her choice of running mate is also quite competent at oratory.  My greatest fear is that this competence will be wasted on an electorate who has too little of that "light and action" that Cicero was writing about. 

"Rote learning" has long been disparaged in our educational system, guilty by association with paddling and memorizing lists of the state capitals.  Yet when we lost rote learning we lost something important.  It is kind of important for citizens of a democracy, as we claim to be, to be able to follow the thread of an oral argument and to remember pertinent facts about recent events that have immediate bearing on the validity of that argument.  We're not born with this skill, and neither does Facebook or Google render it superfluous.  

Pace various siliconical utopians, we dare not choose our leaders by scanning their CVs and health histories into a super-smart natural language algorithm that is clearly better for our times than the Electoral College.  (Zombie Herbert Hoover would still be President today had this been done in 1932 with punch-card tabulating machines and small armies of "computing" women workers.)  We must listen to our candidates and scrutinize them with our memories, as imperfect as they are.  If this scrutiny is too trivial, goodbye to our freedoms and our greatness.






14 August 2016



I discovered, while sorting advertising inserts at work, that this weekend of August 13-14 was "NRA Weekend" at Cabela's.  Get a free NRA hoodie if you buy enough at our store, the Cabela's ads promised.

It is with a heavy heart that I read that the North Side of Milwaukee has been terrorized by repeated fatal shootings this same weekend, and that a street demonstration turned violent.  A heavy heart, but no real surprise.  Since January 2011 the government of the state of Wisconsin has declared war on our poor urban communities:  that is the awful truth of the matter.

I have been to Milwaukee's North Side, and know the wide expanse of Villard Avenue.  This is a hardworking, bustling neighborhood full of churches and mosques.  Although I didn't see or hear it firsthand, this violence is too personal to me to ignore.  And I'm not taking to my blog to accuse either police or residents of being disrespectful of each other:  both have a right to be angry.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the people of Judah "burning their sons and daughters in the fire" at "the high place of Topheth" (in the valley of Gehenna).  "The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room ... I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste." [Jeremiah 7:31-34]

That's right:  eventually these poor, oppressed communities will stop having weddings and barbecues, because it is literally too unsafe to gather for any purpose in public.  There is nothing they or the Milwaukee police can do to stop the flow of guns from Waukesha County or other virtually unregulated places into their streets.  And our governor will offer hollow words of meaningless sympathy (if he bothers to say anything at all):  "deceptive words," as Jeremiah understood them.  Offerings to the false gods of "Second Amendment freedom" and "the American way of life" will continue unabated.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"--only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?  You know, I too am watching, says the LORD. [Jeremiah 7:8-11]

It appears that Jesus was a keen reader of this scripture, if we can judge from two gospel passages (Matthew 21:13 and Luke 19:46).

I live within sight of Wisconsin's State Capitol building, and I now see it as the ultimate whited sepulchre, where mosaic figures of Justice and Law gaze impassively down upon a pack of venal legislators determined to maximize the profits of the firearms industry at any human cost.  Many of these men are even parading themselves as "champions of life" for their opposition to legal abortion and contraception.  (I have scoured the prophetic books of the Bible for any condemnation of women who choose to terminate their own pregnancies, and not come up with anything.)

I wonder what would happen if the funerals were postponed:  if all those killed in gun violence in Wisconsin were taken in trucks and piled into the Capitol, making the marble halls a Valley of Slaughter, a putrid sea of brown, black, and white bodies.  I hope this is not necessary to turn our society back toward justice, but God only knows.

29 July 2016

College is talked about as the new twelfth grade, and if that can't be managed then there is no saying how far, at a time of increasing inequality, a child might fall.  It's either the L.L. Bean Katahdin 35 or the ragged sheets ... (Lower-income children are too often cut off from an autonomous adulthood by being shunted into the criminal-justice system.  There are now ten thousand juveniles in adult jails and prisons.) ... in May, a study showed that, for the first time in more than a century, more eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-olds are living with their parents than with a romantic partner.  That is exhausting, on both sides.  And yet it's too easy, in all this, to forget how hard the supposedly infantilized children are working.  Nostalgia for a time when getting an undergraduate degree, or even just a high-school diploma, was enough to achieve a middle-class standard of living is really a longing for a time when growing up in America was all one needed to do.  Rising inequality has corroded that belief.  That is a structural problem, not a cultural one, and it's not going to be solved by deciding ... that school plays are a waste of time. 

Amy Davidson, "Parental Controls," The New Yorker, Aug. 1 issue

18 July 2016





Panorama Hotel Zagreb, afternoon of August 22, 2016


John Kasich smiles broadly at the gathered hundreds in the main ballroom.  The American National Unity Republican Convention has come to order. 

When he went through passport control at Frankfurt, Kasich told the inspector that he was going to Croatia for "Aamnurtz business."  He had spent a few hours on the transatlantic flight thinking up this witty acronym, and thought it might get a few laughs, but the inspector just gave him a look that implied he was almost certainly a pedophile, and nobody else had shown any interest in it.

A large contingent of delegates here are Croatians - Kasich guesses that half of them lived in Chicago for some time but never bothered to get US citizenship - and they have been lobbying hard for Franjo Tudman as his running mate.  Kasich had discussed this with a trusted advisor earlier in the day.  "Franjo doesn't really speak English, and there are constitutional issues with him," the Ohio governor had said, "however, I'm aware of the potential for capturing some dyslexic black voters who think they're voting for Harriet TUBMAN's great-grandson."  This advisor had been big on Susan Collins, but he seemed to have come around to a different view.

Before he quite realizes it, Kasich is talking.  He loves warming up a crowd, and this is going to be better than anything those fanatics at Cleveland could put on.

".... and so, in the 240th year of America's proud history, I've come across an ocean like John Adams to seek the support of good men and women who care about my country--"

Govore hrvatski!  an older woman shouts from the audience.

A deer-in-the-headlights look seizes him.  Shit, Kasich thinks, did that last long enough for the cameras to capture?  Actually, there are no cameras on him right now.  He switches to his prepared native-language spiel.

Dame i gospodo, ja vas pitati za pomoć...
----

At 9:42 PM, on the fifth ballot, Jan Kasič is nominated for President.  Still, Josip, the hotel manager and temporary party chairman, is flustered.  The numbers on his PalmPilot don't lie.  The vice-presidential vote has come to an exact tie.  Knowing most of the delegates were really, really, looking forward to a smoking break, he announces in a subdued voice, "For Vice President: 141 votes for Franjo Tudman, 141 for Ted Cruz--"  Some cries of disbelief are heard.  "--93 for Marco Rubio, and 1 for (he stumbles a bit over this one) Susanna Collinz."


04 July 2016

Are you already craving the soundtrack for the Bernie campaign? Look no further ...

(Sorry, event organizer favorite David Bowie's "Starman" didn't make the cut, but there are some good 70s songs here.)

29 May 2016


Watching the Libertarian National Convention on C-SPAN is weird and amusing, at least if you can find amusing the clash of gun fetishists (I saw more of this flag than any other), young techno-utopian marketers, and women with pink hair and Statue of Liberty headgear.

Gary Johnson will be their presidential nominee, again.   To summarize his acceptance speech:  he really loves you guys and is happy to throw himself on a pyre and crucify himself on a cross of media bias, but you have to understand that Bill Weld is a good man and has made at minimum 25 media appareances already, and besides, we share a secret twin language to communicate in when Trump and Hillary might be in earshot.  (The party's delegates vote on the VP nominee separately, because Freedom.)

I am sympathetic to third parties in general (the Green Party most of all) but I'm not really into child labor and having neither roads, bridges, air traffic control, nor schools.  And that's what "the less government, the better" means in practice.  I hope some of the younger people at this convention will figure this out one day.