21 October 2015

Let's Play Final Fantasy VI Part 27: Banquet with the Emperor

Minutes 9:44 to 11:45 sum up recent developments in American foreign policy quite well.

13 October 2015

Five Questions for All at Tonight's Debate

1.  When did you last visit a homeless shelter?  Describe your experience.
2.  When did you last visit a prison?  Describe your experience.
3.  A hurricane as strong as Sandy in 2012 strikes Washington DC.  What would you do?
4.  If Congress sends you an appropriations bill that spends $100 billion on "crisis pregnancy centers", what would you do?
5.  Should the Electoral College be abolished?

29 September 2015

Scott Walker, who has never passed up an opportunity to stiff the ordinary citizen with the costs of his lifestyle, was probably forced out of his presidential run by federal labor authorities.  To me, anyway, that seems the most plausible theory.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

The State Patrol is rescinding the $4-an-hour raises given to Gov. Scott Walker's security team and cutting the unit ... The move comes after the U.S. Department of Labor ordered WISDOT to award overtime pay dating to May 19, 2013, to nine officers in the state Dignitary Protection Unit, which provides security for Walker 24 hours a day, seven days a week ... Walker's political operation in April agreed to pay travel costs for the security team, but taxpayers continued to pay for their salaries and benefits, including their overtime costs.  [as reported in the Wisconsin Gazette of Sept. 10, 2015]

02 September 2015

A Warning Against Wage Theft from the Iliad

[Poseidon speaks to Apollo]
Young fool, what a mindless heart you have.  Can you not even
now remember all the evils we endured here by Ilion,
you and I alone of the gods, when to proud Laomedon
we came down from Zeus and for a year were his servants
for a stated hire, and he told us what to do, and to do it?
Then I built a wall for the Trojans about their city,
wide, and very splendid, so none could break into their city,
but you, Phoibos, herded his shambling horn-curved cattle
along the spurs of Ida with all her folds and her forests.
But when the changing seasons brought on the time for our labor
to be paid, then headstrong Laomedon violated and made void
all our hire, and sent us away, and sent threats after us.
For he threatened to hobble our feet and to bind our arms,
to carry us away for slaves in the far-lying islands.
He was even going to strip with bronze the ears from both of us.
Then you and I took our way back with hearts full of anger
and wrath for our hire which he promised us and would not accomplish it.
Yet to his people you give now your grace, and you will not
try with us to bring destruction on the insolent Trojans
evil and complete, with their honored wives and their children." (21: 441-460, Richmond Lattimore translation)
Two weeks after Woodstock a conference opened at the infamous Hilton in Chicago, where across the street a rally was commemorating the countercultural victims of the 1968 Democratic convention.  The conference opened with a prayer for the Lord's blessing in the struggle against the "humanistic, godless effort to destroy the sanctity of the home and the well-being of America."  That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.  Then the chairwoman, a Mrs. Albert Flemming, asked the cameramen in the back to turn down the TV lights.  When the cameramen didn't respond, someone shouted, "Who the hell wants the news media anyway?"  The National Convention on the Crisis in Education had come to order.  Delegates came from twenty-two states, groups with such names as Mothers for Moral Stability (MOMS) and Parents Opposed to Sex and Sensitivity Education (POSSE).  The hallways burbled with talk of ... the classes that taught about copulation between people and livestock.  The moral dissolution society was falling to as surely as snow to spring.  And the villain responsible for it all:  a woman named Mary Calderone.  The former medical director of Planned Parenthood, Calderone had come up with the idea for her organization, the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, at a 1961 conference of the National Association of Churches ... Her supporters saw themselves as the opposite of subversives.  'The churches have to take the lead,' Dr. Calderone, herself a Quaker, would say, 'home, school, church, and the community all working cooperatively.'

from Rick Perlstein, Nixonland

25 August 2015

Who is Bernie Sanders Campaigning For?

Bernie is campaigning for a small child - I'll call her Hadiya - in Madison, Wisconsin who is not getting enough sleep.  Her thin, vulnerable frame covers the space of two seats on the bus that her mother relies on to take her to work or social service agencies or something else that is important in her life.  I feel a need to be particularly quiet when I sit near her lest I rob her of this precious recharging sleep time.

Hadiya is old enough to be going to school, perhaps first grade, and I wonder - well, I wonder a lot of things.  Does she have a stable home address?  If not, are there places she is spending the night that just do not afford her a safe space to sleep?  Is Hadiya's mother battling a drug addiction - smoking, maybe - that makes the expenses of mothering a low priority? 

When Hadiya turns 18, the year might be 2027.  Will the United States have attended to repairing and upgrading its vital infrastructure, improving mass transit in cities so that Hadiya does not need to buy a new car to have the mere potential for independent living?  Or will all of our national budget be swallowed by corporate welfare giveaways (to health insurance giants especially) and bloated military missions which involve frantically bombing Asian and African nations that are on the wrong side of our network of imperial alliances and hoping that this is "degrading the capabilities of terrorists?"

I can't say for sure that a President Scott Walker or Jeb Bush would spell certain disaster for Hadiya, in any direct sense.  The question here is - what kind of country are we going to leave to her in adult life?  Do we want, and want badly, a country that cares about its own citizens, even the poorest?  Or are we content with yet another crumbling jalopy empire [h/t], a siglo de oro USA where the gold is all immured in Phillip II's palace, and the masses push, shove, and claw for a crust of bread or clean water?

This is why Bernie Sanders is campaigning, and why I am supporting his candidacy.

19 July 2015

This is really a beautiful essay by Freddie deBoer.   I only want to comment on one issue he brings up:

One campus group I was in decided to institute a consensus-based decision making policy; they felt democracy was bourgeois and that voting failed to respect minority voices. So they advocated for a system based on universal assent. No decision could be made without perfect unanimity. I argued that this was a mistake. I felt that consensus could never work in groups with true diversity and that this was a tactic for richie liberal arts colleges where everybody was pretty much the same, not a working class commuter campus like ours. But I found myself outvoted, which would have been fine. Unfortunately, they wanted to adopt a consensus decision making process only through consensus itself, which didn’t really make any sense. Since I thought it was a bad idea, I did not consent. After two meetings of a standstill, I was quietly informed I had to leave the group. A change designed explicitly to defend the rights of minority voices had resulted in my expulsion for refusing to conform. Things were like that back then.
I also would have argued (at my richie liberal arts college, if I had been at all active in campus social justice groups) against this sort of policy change.  It seems this group wanted to reject bourgeois democracy in favor of aristocratic Polish-Lithuanian anarchy

I recently returned from the Socialism 2015 conference in Chicago, and there I saw a little bit of this same governance problem on display.  (I don't intend to slight the conference organizers -- they did a splendid job managing, I think, over a hundred sessions in the space of four days, while also pulling off a rocking party on the third night, which I did not attend but which seems to have been a success.)  In the Q&A period after panel discussions, conference policy stated that anyone in the room was welcome to speak (not necessarily with a question) for an amount of time to be determined by a session leader (one of the panelists).  This was always somewhere in the range of 2 - 3 minutes, if my memory serves.

It is a well-known peculiarity of the human brain that time seems to pass at varying rates depending on what one is doing.  And I suppose that is the most charitable response I can give to what were, in some cases, flagrant abuses of everyone's time.  (I must admit that it was only men whom I saw do this, so maybe I should blame the male brain specifically.)  It is, of course, kind of hard to put your foot down as a session leader and cut someone off when he's exceeded 4 minutes and is deeply involved in a story about how Dennis Kucinich killed the Green Party in 2004.  Some leaders were better at this than others. 

So my reflection on this is as follows:  when it comes to the world of politics and activism, it's almost as if we lived in an age before writing, when the sum total of human communication had to be expressed in speaking or gesturing to each other (of course even in those times there was visual art that conveyed messages, but political rhetoric, such as it was, was all oral and gestural).  Has the net effect of all our blogs and social media been simply to elevate the spoken-word artist, the oral performer?  This would at least partially explain the rise of politicians like Scott Walker, whose words and signals one day bear no relation to his words and signals of the previous day, but whom thousands rally behind because he smiles a lot, is comfortingly white, and uses the right tone of voice for every occasion.

And I guess I want to raise something else up for "problematizing" (urggh) in deBoer's essay.  He alludes to Audre Lorde's well-known saying "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."  It's easy to treat this very literally and assume that Lorde was opposed to using any kind of political tactic or organizing principle that oppressors used.  However, I strongly doubt that was the case.  Audre Lorde was really big on confronting internal demons and she emphasized the point that for activists to succeed in coalition-building they must first confront the fear of difference inside themselves, and that this process will look different for everyone.  Vide plenum"I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

11 July 2015

A Breakdown of the Presidential Election Campaign So Far (for the edification of foreign observers, and anyone who prefers neutral reporting)

On the Democratic side, we have self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders surging with a populist message against inequality.  His poll numbers are beginning to alarm the campaign of self-styled moderate liberal Hillary Clinton, who has hitherto been coasting to her party's nomination with weak opposition from self-styled centrist Lincoln Chafee and self-declared gun-control advocate Martin O'Malley.

On the Republican side, we are seeing self-styled conservative Jeb Bush raking in much money, with a bevy of challenges from self-declared Christian Rick Santorum, self-anointed successor to Reagan Scott Walker, and self-styled champion of African-Americans Ben Carson (to name just a few in the crowded field).  Self-styled business conservative Donald Trump has been much in the spotlight recently after comments he made regarding the sexual proclivities of Mexican-American men.

13 May 2015

Adam Smith would have loathed Trade Promotion Authority:

The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order [of self-interested merchants and manufacturers], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention.

 Not that I expect any American libertarians to care, or anything:  they all seem to have collectively decided that Adam Smith was not Adam Smith, but John D. Rockefeller (or perhaps the CEO of Comcast).

08 April 2015

Eulogia ("palabra buena") para Chuy Garcia

Dijeron que una escorrentia fue imposible;
En el New York Times los secuazes del alcalde
hacian escarnio de los liberales de Rogers Park,
y los capitanes del partido hablaron
solamente de una coronación.

Pero como las estaciones cambian --
como un invierno polar dio paso
a una primavera, como la tierra y el pueblo
parpadeaban con vida nueva --

una voz se escucho, cuarto millón de veces,
diciendo:  la sociedad importa!
Y los secuazes nunca sintieron la misma.

06 April 2015

Alan Talaga is right to call for better benefits for Madison city council members.  But this is not a matter of rewarding good "customer service" on behalf of the city, as he suggests.  Council members are not the first point of contact to confused and needy citizens -- police officers fill that role. 

Our elected representatives, at all levels of government, play a vital part in keeping democracy functional.  In the past few decades our political system has more and more come to resemble that of early 19th-century Britain:  we have a set of nominally free, democratic institutions that are virtually inaccessible to candidates without piles of money or aristocratic connections.  The struggle to secure a salary for members of Parliament (one of the demands of the People's Charter) was one of the key components of Britain's democratization and the rise of a politically assertive middle class. 

This issue is fundamentally about the value we place in political representation, and whether we can take a just pride in our city's approach to government.

06 March 2015

Oh, Slate, please.  This is not "a new low" for the NRA.

If liberals want sensible gun control measures to pass in this nation, they have got to stop dancing around the truth:  the NRA is a right-wing terrorist organization that has repeatedly called for violent revolution against the federal government and has literally no moral scruple when it comes to putting weapons of mass murder in the hands of white people (yes, its racial notions are pretty flipping obvious).

I'm a little puzzled why the Southern Poverty Law Center hasn't put it on its list of hate groups.

In the 2013 CPAC convention, Rep. Carolyn Mccarthy, who lost her husband to gun violence and sponsored a bill to prevent similar tragedies, was mocked as a stupid liberal elitist.

If there's one thing Democrats who care about gun control should take away from this latest feces-slinging from the NRA, it's that "reaching out" to Wayne LaPierre[1], Mitch McConnell, et al.  is pointless.  It'd be one thing if you had any common moral ground with these monsters, but no matter how you try to be conciliatory toward the gun industry and preach "responsibility, not control," they will turn right around and plunge the dagger into your back to a cheering crowd of extremists and total idiots who just want a free duffel bag.

These bullies do not want to cooperate with you.  Indeed, their business model requires them not to.  The only shooting victims the NRA cares about are imaginary (white) victims of imaginary (almost certainly black or Latino) killers.

[1] Who still publicly denies that Obama is a legitimately elected president.

20 February 2015

The Muslim

He's either a fanatic, or not really religious at all;
god stopped speaking to men around 200 CE
and we as a species have grown out of prophecy
and revelation and holy scriptures
(Steve Pinker lays it out so well in his TED talk)
If my grandchild's school gets a bomb threat
I feel afraid and it's then that Obama's summits
on extremism pay dividends, don't they?

Yeah there are churches out there that are kind of kooky
and preach against unbelievers
and I've heard that not all Hindus are easygoing
but there's a problem with Islam
and it treats women so badly,
even worse than those college boys who're
always getting accused of rape
and that medieval ritual nonsense
about wiping your ass with the left hand
has no place in our time, (excuse me Jane from
the Elks club is calling -- I have to take this)

01 February 2015

In health care reform, the most mundane, tried-and-tested solutions are usually best.  We do not need an epoch-making breakthrough in personalized medicine or genomic analysis to save American health care.  (We need, simply, a national health plan.)

This Aetna-sponsored video lauds Google for, among other things, doing a research study on "what defines a healthy person."  I suspect Google will come up with the same answer that the ancient medical writer Galen formulated:

...unless we take discernible impairment of function as our criterion for distinguishing illness from health, and instead consider the exact qualitative condition in each case, we shall have to adopt the doctrine that one is always in a pathological state, since there is no one whose functions are all in an optimal state.  (Galen:  Selected Works, translator P.N. Singer, Oxford UP)

It's very convenient for the insurance industry to pump up our desire to attain perfect individual health.  Obscenely high premiums and extortionate copayments become easier to justify when we've been drenched in data about healthy behaviors and risk factors and genetic predispositions.

(The last of these three is of very little use, anyway, without a better understanding of how genes interact with each other -- see studies on the causes of homosexuality.  When it comes to knowing how our genes communicate with one another we are just as clueless as Galen.)

30 January 2015

Last night I went to a forum where four candidates for Madison mayor introduced themselves and laid out their ideas for change.  The good news is that I would be happy to vote for any one of them if it comes down to a choice between reelecting Mayor Soglin or opting for a new start, as it may well do.

I thought often about the class backgrounds of these four candidates, or what I could discern of those backgrounds, and their ways of speaking.  A mayor should be a competent rhetor -- a good communicator.  Knowledge of the issues is important, but Einstein's dictum that "imagination is more important than knowledge" applies to political leadership too.  Getting people excited about new possibilities, or riled up about assaults on their human integrity, is the work of rhetorical imagination.

With this imperative in mind I've decided to support Scott Resnick in the primary next month.

I'll conclude by gently admonishing Madison's liberal and progressive voters that catty side-swiping at our neighbors' perceived deficiencies is an unworthy use of our breath.  (I say this as one who's done a fair share of it in the past.)  Let's be wary of Pharisaism towards each other.  I hope that Freddie deBoer's lament that "the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism" can be turned into rejoicing.

16 January 2015

Movie Review:  Selma

Ecclesiastes tells us that "for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (3:1, NRSV).   Ava DuVernay's film Selma is made for this American moment, a strange season of nominal economic recovery and 'winding down' of wars, when much public discussion is occurring over persistent racial inequities, but nobody wants to admit culpability for treading their little cogs in the grand machine that perpetuates them.

David Oyelowo's Martin Luther King is a fully human theologian and self-questioning activist.  We see about a year of his life unfold and are left to fill in his youthful past as well as his predetermined future with our own knowledge -- a wisely chosen narrative frame.  The only haloed martyrs in this film are the girls whose church was blown up by white supremacists, and even they seem pretty ordinary.

The questions of legacy and agency are the main drivers of this movie.  Who is to blame (is God to blame?) for the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, asks a wrenching passage in the midsection of the film.  The sudden extinction of this young Army man's life stirred questions in me about the point of similar extinctions in the ongoing non-war US occupation of Afghanistan.  Is George Wallace a depraved political mastermind or a fourth-rate song and dance man who happened to be born at the right time to head the forces of "segregation now and forever"?  The movie doesn't decide for us.  The portraits of Confederate generals and slave-owning presidents that loom over many of the quieter scenes remind us that white supremacy has been cooking for a long time - and that yes, some of those white Freedom Riders probably underestimated how hot the oven was.

The inclusion of Bayard Rustin and Andrew Young as strong, although minor, characters, is certainly matter for praise.

5 out of 5 stars.

08 January 2015


On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was fatally shot in the head while serving as an usher at his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kansas.  His murderer, Scott Roeder, was an anti-abortion campaigner with ties to a group calling itself The Army of God.

Assaults on the right of women to make choices about their own bodies are an assault on my freedom too.