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.

18 May 2016

This is how one writes about politics succinctly and accurately:

  • Bernie Sanders is still a long shot to win the nomination, but his continued strength has put a spotlight on Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities.
  • Mr. Sanders reaffirmed his intention to stay in the race on Tuesday.



I'm prepared for at least 300 pieces in Politico and Slate before June 7th saying that it's "impossible" for Bernie to win the nomination, that his staying in the race is "selfish,"  "destructive to the country," or maybe even a plot to get Trump elected.  No matter how many times he denounces Trump and his fell brand of politics from the podium, Bernie will be accused of crimes against liberalism.  This is to be expected when the affluent people who pay for media advertising are afraid of talking about ways to improve the quality of life for most Americans, and prefer to work liberal readers and viewers into a lather over "the enemy from within" -- always a good marketing hook.

It cannot be mathematically impossible for Sanders to take the nomination before June 7th and the California primary.  Clinton's lead is not big enough to insulate her from a possible (though very unlikely) sweep of California's 475 pledged delegates by Sanders.  Even if she swept all of Puerto Rico's 60 pledged delegates on June 5th, her lead would be less than 400 delegates.



02 May 2016

planet loser:  a response

It was with much sympathy and a lot of nodding to myself that I read Freddie DeBoer's recent essay "planet loser."  I believe it worth my time to contribute a response -- from the perspective of a non-academic, gay worker bee who has gone through many not-very-creative jobs (although, like DeBoer, I was the son of a tenured professor).

Yesterday, I stood for election as a delegate pledged to Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district "caucus."  This is a party-run meeting in which anyone can vote who showed up at a preliminary Sunday meeting in April and registered; Democratic party affiliation is not required.  (Yes, it is exclusionary because people have jobs and troubles getting to these meetings, but I find many of the criticisms of "oligarchy" leveled at the Democratic Party overblown.  I am grateful to George McGovern and others for getting this participatory primary tradition started in the 1970s.)

In a large, non-smoking conference room in Madison's Labor Temple -- a Magic the Gathering tournament was going on directly below us -- a little over a hundred of us made our decisions.  I, along with about thirty other candidates, gave a one-minute speech before any voting was done.  I was proud to receive four votes (none of whom were relatives) before I was eliminated.  I voted in two additional rounds before leaving the meeting.  Some tempers ran high, but it was on the whole a very civilized process.  (I can only guess at comparisons to the Republican delegate selection process.)

Honestly, I came away from this meeting feeling much better about American democracy and the quality of the society I live in.  I have my worries:  will Wisconsin get its 12 delegates from the LGBT community and thus meet one of its diversity goals? (There were apparently none from my district.)

Those of us who hate our jobs, find them unfulfilling, or have no job may be deemed "losers" in the way DeBoer explains.  A respected polling organization's work suggests that a large majority of those employed are not engaged at work.  The magical marketing and desire machine that is the Donald Trump campaign has been so active because tens of millions of people think they deserve more from their jobs and their lives.  The tragic part, in my view, is that so many of these people reject out of hand the very processes and institutions that would concretely help them to a better standard of living.  Labor unions are too "corrupt," universal health care is a "socialist monstrosity," and the mainline churches that have been a key part of American society for generations, providing what charitable services they can, are tarred as "un-Christian" and "watered-down" by fundamentalists (hello, Ted Cruz!)  The military still enjoys broad respect and popularity, and woe to us if they are really the only institution remaining to hold that prize.  (I wonder if this is what the President was alluding to in his bleak joke about "the end of the Republic.")

My conclusion is simply to say that we can all be winners if we try.  This will of course sound Pollyanna-ish to some and just like more of the same capitalist bullshit to others.  But what I mean by "trying" is getting involved in our communities in whatever way is easiest or most amenable to us.  It is serving without the immediate expectation of reward.  I dare say when Bernie Sanders first ran for mayor in Burlington, Vermont that is exactly what he was doing.