22 November 2013

This rules change is long overdue and welcome.

Still, it's only a partial victory over obstruction, since legislation can still be filibustered.  This may not seem like much of a problem now, with a divided Congress, but if Democrats take back the House majority next November, as it seems eminently possible they could, every bill they want to pass will likely face a filibuster.  Employment Non-discrimination Act -- emergency social security expansion to keep a third of the country from starving to death -- defunding the Afghanistan war* -- it doesn't matter how well these things poll, Senate Republicans will block them with any powers they still have.

*Though the establishments of both major parties have embraced the idea of infinite war in Afghanistan, remember that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (69 voting members) hasn't.

16 November 2013

The Ideology of the Washington Post

"People are often wrong about what's good for them."

That was Dylan Matthews, adorable white nerd* of the Post, in conversation with Bhaskar Sunkara, openly ideological Marxist of Jacobin

People are often wrong about what's good for them, therefore we need Richard Cohen to tell us that interracial marriages are disgusting

People are often wrong about what the best books to buy are, therefore we need Jeff Bezos, Dominus et Deus of Amazon and the Post, to quietly strangle all independent booksellers with sweet sweet e-reader offers.

People are often wrong about how real-world politics works, therefore third parties are a silly topic fit for puerile eruptions.

It really makes sense if you read the Post thoroughly.

*I don't think that's his official job title, but the Post won't tell us that -- only that he covers "all things data."

13 November 2013

For the ongoing cost of the Afghanistan war, the United States could guarantee a Social Security benefit of $746 per year to everyone between the ages of 35 and 65.     Might help some people buy fresh vegetables.

This is my response to the President's constant humble-bragging about how he is going to "end America's longest war" next year.  This, and also to note that the USA was in a state of undeclared war with the Cherokee Nation for about fifty years (ending only with their mass deportation westward in 1838).

10 November 2013

Teapot John McCain, meet your kettle.

And on a related subject, I don't think it's too late to put a major wrench in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  Here are the games' corporate "partners" :

Dow Chemical
Procter and Gamble

Think about state-sponsored homophobia the next time you are tempted to spend discretionary money on Coke products, Big Macs, and Samsung Galaxy blablahs.  As a solitary consumer you cannot save all oppressed gay people, but you have the power to unveil the abomination that is the confluence of global capitalism and Russian state homophobia, and thereby stop the Phantom Train that is driving Russia into the lowest circles of hell.

07 November 2013


Pater meus laborabat inter vos
universitate, meus natus est
frater trans flumen, carus flavus meus
frater.  Admiror te.  Admiror Priscam [1]
tuam, admiror novum ducem tuum [2].

Pervigeat gloria tua, olim
te inundebit maria surgentia.
Deus te teget semper, et humiles
tui justitiam ascisciunt! 

1. Priscah Jeptoo
2. Bill deBlasio

02 November 2013

A white gunman murders a government employee and a black man is granted parole after spending 18 years in prison for a murder conviction most likely framed by a railroading detective.

Just another week in the USA.

03 October 2013

The travails of a conservative grad student teacher at a public university (in a state governed by Republicans):

It is most certainly not my job, though, to cheer along anyone, student or otherwise, in their psychological confusion. I am not in graduate school to learn how to encourage poor souls in their sexual experimentation, nor am I receiving generous stipends of taxpayer monies from the good people of the Great State of Wisconsin to play along with fantasies or accommodate public cross-dressing. To all and sundry alike I explicate, as best I can, such things as the clash between the Taira and the Minamoto, the rise of the Kamakura shogunate, and the decline of the imperial house in twelfth-century Japan. Everyone is welcome in my classroom, but, whether directly or indirectly, I will not implicate myself in my students’ fetishes [emphasis added], whatever those might be. What they do on their own time is their business; I will not be a party to it. I am exercising my right here to say, “Enough is enough.” One grows used to being thought a snarling racist–after all, others’ opinions are not my affair–but one draws the line at assisting students in their private proclivities. That is a bridge too far, and one that I, at least, will not cross.

As a white man I sympathize with other white men who have been on the implicit receiving end of ham-handed diversity / anti-racism educational initiatives.

As a gay man I have had ENOUGH of educators in public institutions who call my sexual orientation a "fetish."  You are right, Jason, that it's not your job to help your students grow into their sexual identity.  You are most assuredly wrong, though, if you think you are serving the public good by denying the existence of transgender people (that is what your letter suggests to me).  Do not, I repeat, do not expect me to shed tears if you do not attain a professorship in history at a public institution whose mission it is to prepare young people to navigate a society that is willing to let human beings be human beings, even to the extent of (gasp) choosing their own pronouns.

There are hundreds of conservative religious universities in this country that prepare young people to navigate a more rigid society, and if you really want to devote your life to that task, you should think of seeking employment at one of these institutions.

07 September 2013

A Libretto Adaptation of the Final Scene of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Two basses representing Greens and Libertarians confront Barack Obama, who is attended by Jim Messina.

G & L:  Mister Obama, you once invited / us to share our / constructive notions--

O:  That was not a serious offer ... summer's heat / had turned / my brain .... Oh, Messina, this is urgent.  Find a moderator right now--

M:  Let me get, let me - shit, Candy Crowley isn't answering.

O: Wait, but Lehrer--

G & L:  Hold on a sec. / Gone is / the cable TV monopoly.   Reddit Gaybros / are sponsoring / this first round. / They have / chosen / a neutral / mediator. / Brian / Sims, please / step forward ...
{Messina is ransacking bookshelves for Robert Caro's LBJ biography.}

O:  I have never / shied away from / debate!

05 September 2013

A letter from a reader to James Fallows, copied and pasted from his blog:

As an actively serving officer’s wife, I would like to offer a short explanation/response/defense for the frustrated officer (presumably NOT my husband!)[JF note: correct, NOT]  that Mr. Russo responded to.
I think that the frustration the officer expressed about the clueless “We don’t know war” stems from a general “last straw” feeling in the military community.  Undeniably, any sort of military option in Syria exponentionally increases the risk that we are going to have  a prolonged or extended military action/presence there. The current administration (and Congress, to fairly share the blame) treats service members like disposable minions.
As Mr. Russo acknowledged *WE* (service members and their family) are the ones who have “known war” but he seems to gloss over that *WE* are the ones who are actually putting lives on the line and families on the backburner to carry out this adventure. Mr. Russo’s initial statement was abrasive in that it echoes the acts (though not the words) of the President and Congress in ignoring the fact that the military members are living, breathing people with mortgages and babies and retirement dreams who have actually faced and continue to face REAL physical, psychological, financial, social and spiritual consequences for decisions exactly like this one.
Those who don’t follow the Army Times or have active involvement with the military can’t fully appreciate the feelings of frustration, disillusionment and despair that service members feel about everything that is going on, taken as a whole. To sum up everything that I am about to type below: “After everything you are putting us through, why should we go risk our lives for you AGAIN?”
1)      We have been constantly at war for more than a decade. My own husband has been deployed seven times and is currently getting ready for his fifth trip to Afghanistan (three of his previous deployments were to Iraq). He is not alone (and, frankly, he’s one of the lucky ones who tends to have a year or more in between deployments.)
2)      During the build up/surge, recruitment needs were such that standards dropped to serious lows. Waivers were granted willy-nilly. As a result, the service ended up with a lot of shiftless thugs who have now served long enough to be in leadership positions (or at least positions where they can be obstructionist and demoralizing).
3)      The military does everything in its power to keep soldiers deployable, including ignoring injuries and mental health problems. Soldiers basically get two options: quit (and give up your years toward retirement so that you can go in an endless queue and hope that the VA processes your case and gives you treatment) or soldier on in pain.
4)      The military uses semantics to evade its promises. We are told that troops are being withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. In reality, soldiers are still being deployed and endangered, we just call them “peacekeepers” and “instructors” and “trainers” now.
5)      Service members are being used as a pawn in the budget fiasco. Troops currently being deployed (for the fourth, sixth, ninth, etc. time) are being told that their tours may stretch one indefinitely due to “lack of funds to train replacements”.
6)      The Army’s response to budget cutting is to weed out the older/more expensive soldiers before they can retire. Yes, physical fitness standards are important, but the move toward “tightening up” the standards (basically taking away the lower performance requirements for older soldiers) is a sneaky way to screw someone who has fought for the country for eighteen or nineteen years out of his or her pension (in most cases, you don’t get anything if you are even a day short of 20 years).
7)      Proposed/rumored changes to pensions are extremely worrying. For soldiers in their late 30s and beyond, it is too late to earn a full civilian pension if the Army fails to follow through on its promises.
8)      Cutting back (or perhaps even eliminating) commissaries, on-post schools and MWR is all on the table (budget-wise), as is lowering the amount of BAH that soldiers get (and don’t forget the proposal to lower the cost of living increase). Tuition assistance is being abolished or curtailed. Also, the furloughing of civilian DoD workers, in most cases, just means that the soldiers put in extra hours to make up the difference. Tricare is being modified to require co-pays. There is a rumor (I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere) that spouses and children are going to  be kicked off Tricare and forced to purchase their own coverage through the health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
9)      The civilian hiring freeze makes it next to impossible for military spouses to obtain jobs when we are moved to new posts (trust me- I’m a professional. Moving every three years (sometimes to jurisdictions where my license won’t transfer) has been devastating on my career. I credit divine intervention for landing my current job when we PCSd from Texas. It used to be that well-qualified spouses would sign up at the employment liason office and move smoothly from an office on Fort Wherever to Fort Wherever else- but now we can’t), this puts even more financial pressure on military families.
All of that being said- Yes, it is a volunteer Army. My husband knew what he signed up for and his commitment to the service is unwaivering. I don’t mean for this to come off as whining (and my husband would probably die if he knew that I sent this e-mail, so please don’t quote me by name)- but all of this, taken together, still leads to a great deal of frustration and wondering whether or not your loyalty is displaced. A very good career officer friend of ours once referred to the Army as an abusive parent. No matter how many times they hurt you or let you down, you still love them. That description feels very apt

20 June 2013

None of the geniuses over at Marginal Revolution seem to realize that a 7% increase in bus fare can be a matter of throwing millions without cars into destitution. 

The general tone of contempt for people (usually brown and black non-North Americans) revolting against impossible living conditions has long been a salient feature of this "enlightened liberal" commentariat.

08 June 2013

The Medium Is the Message, or Why Everything Posted on Facebook is "Derogatory"

I've seen so many news items on my gay news website of choice, Towleroad , that amount to "someone posted anti-gay remarks on Facebook."  The first five or six times it carried a little bit of moral charge -- a social network founded by (among others) an openly gay man is being hijacked for homophobia.  But then I reflected further:

  • Facebook's business model consists of selling user information to advertisers.  Users themselves (bundled into a network of hundreds of millions) are the product.

When you are giving your name and personal information (albeit limited) to a corporation for it to package and sell, and that money is going to produce propaganda for an industry that is determined to destroy billions of human lives (I don't exaggerate:  listen to Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson) does it even really matter what you're saying on that corporation's bulletin board? 

I know a lot of people are worried about hate speech and "derogatory" language on Facebook.  Honestly, though, what kind of language can one expect to be hosted by a corporation that urges you to be a "power user"?  Someone has got to be left behind in the rush for power.  And (I may be stretching your historical memory here) the network was first intended for Harvard students only.  No, the bright young things in Dunster Hall were not (initially) trying to help Grandma stay in touch with family scattered across time zones.  It was only that "network effect," which means the attraction of a prestigious name tends to exert over non-prestigious people, that brought in the masses.

Now, you may be thinking that one can use any network subversively, and certainly there are Facebook users trying to do that -- see some of the comments after this article .   But just as the 19th century American labor movement did not get as far as it did with newsletters printed only with machines owned by Andrew Carnegie, the movement to save civilization from climate devastation had better start relying more on its own media.  The human dignity of our voices is not a commodity, and we don't need Facebook to organize ourselves anymore than the steelworkers and garment workers of yesterday did.

01 June 2013

There are days when it takes a lot of self-pinching to confirm that I don't live in ancien regime France.  This is one of those days:  a judge has apparently decided that her previous ruling against National Security Letters was nonsense and is ordering Google to give the US government user information without a warrant.

A little early modern history lesson:  the French kings were able to, and often did, imprison and banish their subjects without trial by means of lettres de cachet.  

It is going to take a real revolution, not just a president who pays lip service to civil liberties, before the United States can seriously claim to respect the rule of law.  We are teetering on the edge of imperial collapse, just as France was in the 1770s, but continue to pat ourselves on the back for being une Grande Nation.  Our federal "democratic" institutions function hardly any better than did the apparatus of monarchical rule under Louis XVI. 

09 May 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates is absolutely right about accountability for District Attorney Lederer (who sent five innocent boys to prison in 1989):

The notion that someone who played a principle[sic] role in this travesty should be training lawyers at one of the best schools in the country is rather amazing. We are not suggesting that our prosecutors must live "without error." We are suggest[sic] that those who participated in one of the most dubious cases in the city's history, and have never apologized for it, should not be in the business of educating the next generation of lawyers.

Predictably, though, the luminaries of polite society (Ken Burns included) are on the other side of this debate.  Because the last thing we need to do is hold individuals with institutional power accountable for abusing it.  In a disgustingly honeyed apologia, Jim Dwyer tells New York Times readers that 1989 was "a rancid, angry, fearful time," and therefore nobody is responsible for anything he or she did back then (at least if they now teach at Columbia Law School).

08 May 2013

Pace Lil Wayne, it's not a fair world that we live in.

I celebrate the honesty of Jason Collins too.  The thing is, I know America could not have reached this point as a country emancipating itself from homophobia without people like Larry Kramer, who were giant pains in the ass when being gay was a truly taboo subject for the media.

Fairness only comes with struggle, a message admirably conveyed by this segment from All In with Chris Hayes:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

29 April 2013

Why Mitt Romney won the 2012 election

Almost six months after Barack Obama's reelection, it turns out that all the things Democratic Party functionaries told us would happen if Mitt Romney was elected have happened anyway.  Here is a partial list:

1.  Abortion rights rolled back

Kansas women have seen their reproductive rights evaporate (the trigger for this measure's effect being a Supreme Court decision that no president can directly control).  Other states are pushing ahead in "targeted regulation of abortion providers" that make it all but impossible for safe and legal abortions to happen.

2.  Irresponsible military adventurism

Instead of improving the disgraceful state of veterans' health care, or indeed doing anything to benefit needy Americans at all, the administration has spent over $100 million on aid to Syrian rebels.  This is virtually guaranteed to be diverted from the ostensible purposes of "sanitation, food, medicine and education" towards lining the pockets of warlords who have no lasting goodwill to the United States.  (A true cynic might say that the administration is hoping they would misuse the money by buying assault rifles from American manufacturers).

And, of course, without an international treaty (merely a gentleman's agreement between Obama and Karzai) we really have no idea when the Afghanistan war will end.

3.  Deepening poverty

Cutting Social Security benefits, as well as failure to enact real universal health care, is going to increase poverty in this country.  We can speculate as to how much more Romney would have squeezed poor people in his budget proposals, but the fact is Obama is doing it too.

4.  Total inaction on climate change

Aside from some passing mention in the State of the Union speech, Obama has shown no interest in talking about climate change.  His State Department released a brain-dead report on the Keystone XL pipeline and there is clear evidence of oil-industry corruption in the department.

The Romney clan, though it cannot baptize dead people in the White House, continues to rake in money, of course, by exploiting the carried interest tax loophole, which Obama has not succeeded in ending.

25 April 2013

If we already exist in the final world or in the best of all possible worlds, an alternative future is unwelcome. But if the contradictions are continually growing, and if the victims of the present system of living are becoming more and more numerous, we are bound to look around for alternatives. The people who control the present system, and the system's beneficiaries, always have only a conservative interest in its preservation or a progressive interest in its expansion. But the victims can survive solely by virtue of the hope for an alternative future. The victims of the present system are: 1. Unemployed 'surplus people,' whom nobody wants and nobody needs. Automated industries and digital communications no longer merely exploit; they also produce more and more of these surplus people. 2. Future generations, which will have to pay off the mountain of debt that present generations are heaping up so that they can enjoy their own existence. 3. Nature, which is being driven into ecological catastrophe and left 'without form and void.' 4. The present system itself, which is going to founder on the contradictions it produces and will annihilate the human race unless history is opened up afresh and real alternatives emerge that make this system reformable.
Jurgen Moltmann, "Liberating and Anticipating the Future"

23 April 2013

Dear Andrew Sullivan,

I have not found your recent fear-mongering on the Dish worthy of a deeply intellectual commentator and good Christian such as yourself.  Would it be too much to ask that, until we actually know of a link between the Tsarnaev brothers and any organized jihadist group, you confine yourself to writing about beagles, Provincetown, and the lesser-known saints' days?

Boston Strong,

Skye Winspur

20 April 2013

John Milton, no stranger to chaotic violence as an Englishman of the mid-seventeenth century, wrote:

...As bees
in spring time, when the sun with Taurus rides,
pour forth their populous youth about the hive
in clusters:  they among fresh dews and flowers
fly to and fro, or on the smoothed plank,
The suburb of their straw-built citadel,
New rubb'd with balm, expatiate and confer
Their state affairs...[Paradise Lost, Book I, 768-775]

Thank God we in Greater Boston can come out and confer with each other in the spring air once again.

15 March 2013

As long as there is no federal law against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and as long as the NFL continues to hold combines in places like Indianapolis (most states don't even have this kind of law), I fully expect this kind of screening to continue.

There may well be an openly gay NFL player who breaks through this array of smoke and mirrors.  Like Jackie Robinson, he will be extremely isolated in his profession.  Let's remember that it wasn't until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that we saw black men come into professional sports in significant numbers.

13 March 2013

It is a rare enough thing in politics to see people owning up to their misdeeds.  I am taking a moment to thank Lynne Osterman for her honest testimony regarding same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

07 March 2013

What just happened after a school board primary in Madison, Wisconsin is symptomatic of a massive and under-studied problem in politics generally.

I'm referring to the "power couple" phenomenon.  Anybody with an eye for last names can see that husbands and wives* have a lot more weight in the political world than single people. 

Of course this has been going on since the first Sumerian king married off his daughter to an Elamite chieftain so as to better protect his borders.

Still, civic virtue (ah! that quaint musty old concept) requires citizens of a republic to be wary of the concentration of power in the hands of a few families.  Let's not be fooled that because we live in a "post-feminist world" or something of the sort that every woman who runs for office is an independent free agent who deserves our votes because women are under-represented in politics.  (Sarah Manski, who ran for school board in Madison, is the wife of Ben Manski, campaign manager for Jill Stein's 2012 presidential campaign and activist lawyer).

*As gay marriage increases, more same-sex couples are taking advantage of this.

28 February 2013

OK, I've officially had it with this orgy of concern trolling (I don't know what else to call it, really, except perhaps imperialist condescension) about violence in South Africa.

Rather than face our own problem with police brutality and hourly gun murders head on, too many Americans are screaming "Pistorius! Pistorius!" and gawking at things that happen in their country too, but are just more newsworthy when occurring in a faraway land.

27 February 2013

The view from my window this afternoon.

This is what happens when you don't fill in a pothole about three feet wide, there's piles of snow on the ground, and it rains for 24 hours straight.

26 February 2013

I think I'll begin today by citing two wise men.  First, Freddie De Boer:

"After all, an ever-shrinking circle of those deemed righteous only serves to further burnish the righteousness of those within"

 Second, Nirad Chaudhuri:
"In demagogic politics the less extreme never has any chance against the more extreme.  There is a Gresham's Law as much in politics as in economics..." (Autobiography of An Unknown Indian)

It is with these thoughts in mind that I feel confident in predicting that, no, the Republican Party is not going to moderate itself until we Americans have elected*, suffered under, tried, and executed a Republican president.  I can imagine a few exceptions to this grim scenario, such as said president resigning under overwhelming duress (much more than it took to get Nixon out of office) -- but the demonic passion that drives people like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan will not respond to any number of conservative bloggers pleading for sanity.  I tremble for my country.

*Due to the planned redistribution of some states' electoral votes, this may not require any more of the popular vote than Romney got last year. 

22 February 2013

Mark me down as permanently absent in this ongoing blogosphere conversation about how Americans like their presidents' ideology.

Five of the last six elections have been won by the younger major-party nominee.  (In the case of 2000, Gore and Bush were and are less than two years apart in age).  It may be an unbearable thought for political scientists that it really all boils down to choosing the younger face, but having grown up with cable TV and a political mass media driven by superficialities, this is my tentative conclusion.

21 February 2013

If video games had Academy Awards -- and as of 2003 BAFTA began giving Games Awards (leave it to the British to be forward-thinking) -- these are some titles I consider worthy of them:

1991:  Civilization
1992:  Sonic the Hedgehog 2
1993:  Myst
1994:  Final Fantasy VI
1995:  Chrono Trigger
1996:  Mario Kart 64
1997:  Final Fantasy VII
1998:  Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
1999:  *
2000:  Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

*This year sucked in terms of new games.  We were treated to Chrono Cross, a sprawling rococo mess of an RPG that claimed to be a sequel to Chrono Trigger.   As many video gamers were discovering sex this year, it hardly seemed to matter.

17 February 2013

I'm telling you now, this is the best meditation on love that any Christian could read this Lent. 

I suppose because there's an F-bomb in the first paragraph, most American Christians won't instantly warm to it.  Well, Mr and Mrs American Christian, I want to tell you an important truth:  next time you wonder why more and more people have stopped going to church, think about the kinds of words that are deemed acceptable in your church.  You might also think about what happened to kids that were left in the care of "celibate" representatives of the largest Christian denomination in this country.  (Maybe your church doesn't even consider those folks real Christians, but in that case you probably left the reality-based community long ago).

12 February 2013

Benedict Carey:  you know what else besides violent video games "can stir hostile urges and aggressive behavior?"
Reading the Bible.

I flipped mine open at random (yes, I swear it) and found Ezekiel 33, which reads as follows:

The word of the Lord came to me:  O Mortal, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one of their number as their sentinel; and if the sentinel sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people; then if any who hear the sound of the trumpet do not take warning, and the sword comes and takes them away, their blood shall be upon their own heads.

It was texts like these that most likely got John Brown's ire up when he thought about millions of American slaves held in suffering.  Perhaps we could have prevented the Harper's Ferry incident by clipping verses like these out of all Bibles in circulation at the time.

In all seriousness, the readiness to blame works of art (that is what video games are) for real violence has many historical precedents but has never made an iota of sense.

05 February 2013

I think Andrew Sullivan is a great writer, and a moral man.  But I must concur with Ta-Nehisi Coates that he can be pretty maddening.

In his reflection on a documentary about Catholic clergy and sexual abuse, Sullivan writes:

If those of us are asked why we still believe in the salvation of Christ in the Catholic community, in the midst of all this, we do not have a good answer. All we can say is that we are, in some ways, trying to live in a parallel church, finding those many, many good priests who have been unfairly tarred by the pedophile brush...
Maybe Sullivan has cut off all financial support to the Catholic parish churches he attends.  I sure hope so.  But still there is a problem of explicitly identifying yourself with a criminal syndicate (and I'm using Sullivan's own language here).  It's not that much different than saying "I'm trying to live in a parallel Nazi Germany, finding those many, many good government employees who have been unfairly tarred by the anti-Semitic brush."

I can understand that cradle Catholics have a deep attachment to the rites and spiritual practices that they grew up with.  This is in fact why so many have moved over to the Episcopal Church!  This doesn't have to be every Catholic's answer to disaffection with the Roman hierarchy.  Still I am annoyed when any Catholic makes these sorts of excuses for continued affiliation with a church of mass child rape.

04 February 2013

A good and provocative piece on drone warfare.  Here is the concluding paragraph:

The fault lies not in our drones, but in ourselves. The reason our wars – secret or no – are so poorly managed are because of the policy process itself and the goals it seeks, alongside the incredible capability of the U.S. military and federal government which lets them sustain the weight and persevere through so many missteps and failures. The draft does not stop failing wars, overt or covert, as we learned from Vietnam and the “secret wars” surrounding it. That the condolence letter of a pilot crashing his aircraft in Yemen might be the difference between peace and war seems proper, but what would make its power so much greater than those for the advisors and the spotters, or the vastly larger number of letters for the fallen of Afghanistan, which was sickeningly, but unsurprisingly, absent from the general election? The political silences that enable these processes are older than we care to admit. It is not just that we cannot turn back time, but that there is no extended length of time much better to turn back to. Before drones were, these kinds of wars were there, waiting for them.

17 January 2013

"A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that preventing reporters and photographers from entering active polling places is constitutional, saying that a Pennsylvania law to that effect does not violate the First Amendment rights of the press."

 More evidence that we need United Nations monitors in U.S. polling places.  Oh, but don't worry, the court is aware that anyone with a mobile phone made after 2004 could be a "photographer":

One interesting footnote in the decision: The court mused on whether there was any distinction anymore between members of the press and the general public with the growth of technology.
“This brings us to the next concern, raised at oral argument: Who is a member of the press? Even if we were inclined to find a special First Amendment right for the press in this case (which we explicitly refuse to do), the class of persons to whom such a right is applicable is almost boundless,” Greenaway wrote in a footnote.
“More recently, membership in the Fourth Estate has been democratized. Access to blogs, smartphones, and an extensive network of social media sites (not the least of which are Twitter and Facebook) have transformed all of us into potential members of the media. While in almost any other situation this would be a boon to a free and democratic society, in the context of the voting process, the confusion and chaos that would result from a potentially limitless number of reporters in a polling place would work the opposite effect, potentially creating confusion, frustration, and delay. This is to say nothing of our earlier holding that the rights of access for the press and public are co-extensive. In this situation, anyone could record in the polling place if the First Amendment protected the right of access thereto," the judge added.
 Because it is clear that the last thing American voters could tolerate is "confusion, frustration, and delay"...

14 January 2013

Why David Brooks should read more history.

From his review of The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond, NY Times Book Review, Jan. 13:

The anthropologist Allan Holmberg was with a group of Siriono Indians of Bolivia when a middle-aged woman grew gravely ill. She lay in her hammock, too unwell to walk or speak. Her husband told Holmberg that the tribe had to move on and would leave her there to die. They left her a fire and some water and walked away without saying goodbye. Even her husband had no parting words for her.
Holmberg was also sick and went away to get treatment. When he returned three weeks later, he saw no trace of the woman. At the next camp, he found her remains picked clean by scavenging animals.
“She had tried her utmost to follow the fortunes of the band,” Holmberg wrote, “but had failed and had experienced the same fate that is accorded all Siriono whose days of utility are over.” Tribes at this subsistence level just don’t have the resources to care for people who can’t keep up.

From Varieties of Religious Experience by William James:

Cotton Mather, the New England Puritan divine, is generally reputed a rather grotesque pedant; yet what is more touchingly simple than his relation of what happened when his wife came to die?  "When I saw to what a point of resignation I was now called of the Lord," he says, "I resolved, with his help, therein to glorify him. So, two hours before my lovely consort expired, I kneeled by her bedside, and I took into my two hands a dear hand, the dearest in the world. With her thus in my hands, I solemnly and sincerely gave her up unto the Lord: and in token of my real Resignation, I gently put her out of my hands, and laid away a most lovely hand, resolving that I would never touch it more. This was the hardest, and perhaps the bravest action that ever I did. She … told me that she signed and sealed my act of resignation. And though before that she called for me continually, she after this never asked for me any more."