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.