30 December 2016

A Little Comparative Linguistics

All words and word elements between // are rendered in IPA, or at least as close to it as my keyboard sets will allow.  * denotes a word I cannot easily pronounce.

English gloss Japanese Korean Hungarian Finnish
"water"[0] /mizu/ * /vi:z/ /ves/
"language, speech" /go/[1] /jo/[1] /njelv/ /'kieli/
"sun, day" /ni:/[2] /i:/ /na:p/ /'paiva/
"God, heaven" /tengoku/[3] /tʃəngʊk/[3] /'iʃten/ /'taivaʃ/
"tree" /ki/ /namu/ /fa/ /pu:/

[0] Compare with Ojibwe /mɪʃigama:/ "large water, large lake."
[1] Both may be derived from Chinese /ju/ , "language."
[2] Not the usual word for "sun" or "day" but the first part of /niho:n/, what Japanese speakers call Japan.
[3] Both are probably derived from Chinese /tjen gwo/, "heavenly realm."

27 December 2016

...Now there is the great paradox that these electors want low prices, but reject the dependence on imports from lower-wage economies overseas, or from the employment of new immigrants. It is similar to deploring the disappearance of the corner shop, but steadfastly shopping at the supermarket. The “right”, whether Ukip or even much of the Conservative party, can mouth slogans, but their world is a chimera and their appeal is fraudulent. The past, as this swathe of good, solid citizens remembers it, has gone and cannot return in the same form. What is needed is a commitment to long-term support for different but worthwhile jobs, for domestic policies that provide the basis for rebuilding local communities, and for an emphasis on human values that do not depend on high earning.
It is not easy to combat selfishness – particularly when a few earn shamefully high salaries while average wages decline in real terms – but there is no stability nor worthwhile future if we do not succeed.
Michael Meadowcroft

22 December 2016

21 December 2016

Nothing like some SNES nostalgia on a grey winter solstice day. 
(Thanks to Rebecca Skinner)
[in Kohlingen] 
Celes:     Setzer!
Setzer:    You're alive!?
Celes:     Come along with us! We're after Kefka!
Setzer:    Phew... I don't know if I have it in me anymore...
Celes:     What are you saying!?
Setzer:    I'm just a gambler... I just want to be left alone... This world is 
           too chaotic for me. What's worse, I've lost my wings...
Celes:     But before the world collapsed, you fought with all your heart! You 
           were absolutely fearless...
Setzer:    That was then... We can never have that world back!
Celes:     You want to live in this world as it is? No? Then do something 
           about it!
Setzer:    Mwa ha! All right... you win! I'm starting to feel lucky!!
Setzer:    Thanks... I needed that. Now, let's go visit Daryl's Tomb.
Setzer:    ...... We're gonna get us another one... Airship, that is...!

20 December 2016

This essay by Dan Luu on what "hiring the best" means gave me much food for thought, not least because my beloved Cubs triumphed this year over a team headed by a very successful* manager with a weakness for chewing tobacco.

*It is also, dare I suggest, possible to credit players such as Jon Lester (Red Sox 2007, Cubs 2016) for the championships Francona has nabbed. 

17 December 2016

"I also know that we have come, as they say in my church, a mighty long way ... ordinary people just like you here today:  they were the ones who made the progress that we celebrate.  They were the ones who gave us the examples in the cases that we make."
--Attorney General Lynch
"The subjugation of eastern Aleppo by Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has shown the effectiveness of violence and the reluctance of other countries to step in."

How I would put it:  it has shown the political effectiveness of having a beautiful British-born wife  to sanitize your genocidal policies and the rank incompetence of proxy "moderate rebel" military forces -- who are only distinguishable from Islamic State militias by the fact that certain foreign policy poobahs, through moral telepathy, have pronounced them good.

15 December 2016

We should use moments like this, and technological moments like this, because basically it's not about technology and the software, it's about us the people, and we gotta include everybody, and if technology can help us get more folks on the table, well then let's do it: y'all all right with that?

--Keith Ellison, last night

14 December 2016

This is a rendition (I won't call it a translation, because my German is so poor and I'm cramming it with imaginative guesswork) of a poem by Stefan George.  It comes from his book Algabal , and is found in the chapter "In the Underworld."

You're prowling upon strong walls
Not knowing what's under your feet
The owner left his private beach unlocked
As owners do when they go out to blend in.

Houses and castles as he advertises them
And under the tires' rubber much swearing
The hill exists without his commentary...

Some are blinking in eternal winter,
Every hundred-colored arch to see;
Boys with jewels be trippin'
And gleamin' in front of your patient eyes.

Streams that come out from high up
Have granite and robins to sing to them;
When they've rolled down below
Their colors change.  Now they're fickle
Like the rose-petal.

When you see deep green in the harbor
There be dragons.

The creature, he transforms;
frequent return to newness satisfies.
Out of his self and his will
There is a place where light and weather play.

10 December 2016

Our President, who clearly has some reverence for Martin Luther King, is once again sounding awfully similar to those moderate leaders that King did not hesitate to rebuke when he was in the Birmingham jail.

"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

I have no better words in response to President Obama.  Sir, you talk of being patient with the 'slowness of democracy,' as if the outcome of November's election was at all democratic.  Undoubtedly you would argue that we need to preserve the federal constitution in all particulars, including the Electoral College.  Yet it is facetious to say that our constitution is now perfect, or has been since the last amendment in 1992.

The Electoral College is not suitable for our time.  (This is a widely held opinion among Americans, as you must know.)  You have had a bully pulpit for the last eight years to speak about constitutional reform.  If you are truly worried about the stability of the American system, and also willing to hear a broad range of ideas for changing it, why not call for a constitutional convention? 

I am not pleased that you're turning to the tired rhetoric of aristocratic conservatives such as the Duke of Wellington, who thought institutions were more important than people and resisted the rising tide of democratization in their societies because they saw only howling anarchy and some unspeakable specter of "complete revolution" behind it all.

08 December 2016

Orc-people always turn against each other eventually, and this process is only accelerated when they think they have "won."

Call me clairvoyant, but I think I know exactly how this altercation started. 

'I'm not going down those stairs again,' growled Snaga, 'be you captain or no.  Nar!  Keep your hands off your knife, or I'll put an arrow in your guts.  You won't be a captain long when They hear about all these goings-on.  I've fought for the Tower against those stinking Morgul-rats, but a nice mess you two precious captains have made of things, fighting over the swag.'  'That's enough from you,' snarled Shagrat.  'I had my orders:  It was Gorbag started it, trying to pinch that pretty shirt.'  'Well, you put his back up, being so high and mighty.  And he had more sense than you anyway.  He told you more than once that the most dangerous of these spies was still loose, and you wouldn't listen...'
--Tolkien, Return of the King, chapter 11

03 December 2016

A terrible lot of bad advice is floating around on the Internets about how to cope with the new regime in Washington.  Some of it, we must regret to say, is coming from foreigners who will never have to drive the privatized toll road from Mar-a-Lago to Indianapolis.  Other people have been more constructive, calling for increased donations to charities -- yet there are many of us who do not have hundreds of dollars to spend on such purposes, and not all charities are created equal (you may wish to think twice about the veterans' charities mentioned in this article*).

It can't be retweeted enough:  Audre Lorde had some good advice.  Take care of yourself, because self-care is an act of political warfare

* Edit:  I am talking about the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a multi-level marketing scheme not unlike Herbalife, and Veterans for a Strong America.

02 December 2016

Pensées sur la décision du Président Hollande (en mon français élementaire)

1. La France vit avec les memes problèmes que les Etats-Unis: c'est certain

2.  J'applaudis la décision d'Hollande; il faut du courage pour admettre qu'on n'est pas populaire

3.  La tradition socialiste continuera indépendamment de qui porte l'étendard du parti

4.  Ceçi n'est pas une victoire pour Marine Le Pen; le moins d'éminences grises qui l'opposent, le meilleur

30 November 2016

11:40 AM in the US Capitol and reporters are waiting an awfully long time to hear from the House Democrats.

This smells to me a lot like the mayoral election in Chicago 18 months ago, in which Rahm Emmanuel was supposed to win handily, no runoff needed, because all the beautiful people who were going to chip in for the Obama Presidential Library were behind him.  Although I could be wrong.  Thank God for C-SPAN in these times.

26 November 2016

What Rust Belt?

Continuing in the "happens in some place" theme...

I am not a political scientist or statistician.  However, I have seen quite a lot of the United States, and I am more than ever convinced that there is no 'Rust Belt' anymore.  (People driving cars made in Tennessee and Georgia, you may agree.)

Like Northern England, the Great Lakes region once had a lot of heavy industry, and there are enough people still alive who remember that era that political consultants can be paid very well to fret about the Rust Belt Problem.

The only place I have set foot in that looked and felt like 'the Rust Belt' to me is Gary, Indiana, a shell of its former grandeur.  If there was ever a place tailor-made for the words 'Make America Great Again,' I would have to say it would be 21st-century Gary.  (My experience of the Detroit area is limited to the bright perky international airport outside the city.) And yet (Gary being 84.8% African-American might have something to do with this) in Gary's county, Lake County, Trump received less than 38% of the vote.

A vague approximation of Gary, I guess, may be Milwaukee, which has also lost much population in the last 60 years.  Trump didn't get very far here either, despite a county sheriff who wants all citizens to arm themselves and throws accusations of 'penis envy' at his political rivals.

A Tough Crowd for the President-Elect in the Theater of Government

"Everything that happens in the world happens at some place." --Jane Jacobs

In this election, Trump did not win any suburban Maryland or Virginia counties, and won 4% of the DC popular vote.

Compare this with 2004, when George W. Bush won Loudoun and Prince William counties (in the northern VA suburbs), and also won 9% of the DC popular vote.

Even in the tumultuous 1968 election, Richard Nixon managed to get 18% of the DC popular vote and won most of its suburban counties.

No amount of care in selecting Cabinet members (and indeed racial diversity in the new Cabinet is already a casualty) is going to ameliorate the kind of hostility that comes from a foreign conqueror occupying the seat of power amidst an urban and suburban population that so decisively rejected him.

Trump may well find it more convenient to "govern" (air quotes very much intended) from Louisville, Kentucky or another centrally located city.  Four percent of the District of Columbia's vote -- less than 13,000 people -- is no basis for a normal, stable regime.  The farcical Trump 'priorities statement' the other day made this all too apparent.

20 November 2016

“It’s just one or two disgraceful people who are trying to incite the rest. The majority of fans here are saying that if they’re there at the game and hear anything like that, they’re going to make sure the people disrupting things are removed.”


18 November 2016

When I write criticism now, I do tend to write about things I love just because I’m more motivated by that. Hate is not enough for me anymore. It doesn’t give me the requisite energy to write 5,000 words. It really has to be adoration, I guess. But I do feel when I am writing criticism that I am much more defended, sure. I can be cool in criticism, and I can be right, which is a great joy, whereas in fiction you can only be variously vulnerable. There’s no such thing as a perfect novel, and you’ll always look the fool in some proportion, and also you’ll always reveal yourself in a way that is kind of horrifying. I can tell from somebody’s sentence the type of person they are and that’s the risk with a novel. With criticism it’s all much more disguised.

--Zadie Smith

16 November 2016

Death in Hellas (a poem about Barack Obama's last international journey as President, to Greece)

Over the Atlantic, and over Mare Nostrum,
if it is still nostrum, the airship sailed,
and when the rubber kissed the tarmac
on an old, old Attic field,
there was weeping of women in many cities.

Rocks of ages sternly loomed
and olive trees drooped with the advancing year.

Mr. Tsipras sat with his guest and talked technology,
while dirty Cynics in the streets screamed or slept.
The gods of finance, bratty children of classical liberalism,
are never satiate for long.  Which hundred Cretan,
or Macedonian, or Epirote, children to garland now?

Full moon through wintry clouds.

14 November 2016

"We don’t believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and we certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that,” he told a gathering of conservatives in Washington, D.C.  “It’s going to be an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment, and it’s going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party."

--Steven Bannon, incoming White House chief strategist

While carrying out the socialist revolution, we must not only see that the old bourgeoisie and its intellectuals still exist in society and that large numbers of the petty bourgeoisie are still in the course of remoulding their ideology, but we must be especially aware of the bourgeoisie hidden inside the Party, that is, those Party persons in power taking the capitalist road. Only by waging a resolute struggle against the capitalist-roaders in the Party like Liu Shao-chi, Lin Piao and Teng Hsiao-ping and persisting in directing our revolution at the bourgeoisie inside the Party can victory be ensured in the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist forces in society at large; only thus can it be said that the main target of the socialist revolution has been really grasped.  Anyone who fails to understand that the bourgeoisie is right in the Communist Party is not a sober-minded proletarian revolutionary.

"mat," editor of Signalfire, a Maoist web publication that keeps us informed of the heroic activities of  "Great Penis"* and other Naxalites in present-day India.

 *My translation of 'Mahalingam,' who is apparently now in Madurai Central Prison after failing to appear in court as ordered.

12 November 2016

The presidential election, according to --

1.  A very late NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll:

Clinton  44%
Trump  40%
Johnson  6%

2.  Reality (as far as the votes have yet been counted):

Clinton   47.6%
Trump   47.1%
Johnson   3.2%

The Coming Presidency is Already Chronically Wasted

The outgoing President's valiant performance of normalcy notwithstanding, 2017 is going to be a pretty difficult year for American unity, with over two-thirds of Americans apparently disgusted with the Trump campaign.  (Translating that disgust into support for someone else, and not just political apathy, is not easy and too many experts assumed Clinton didn't have to work at it.  She was certainly trying by the end, but this is a tough nut to crack.   As a writer during the flagrantly corrupt Grant Administration put it, "The public ear becomes dull by the constant repetition of accusatory epithets until disgust leads to apathy instead of action.")

The writers behind the American version of House of Cards must be (uncomfortably) reminded of their work:  the show introduced us to a vapid Democratic President from California, unprepared for the job, saddled with a consummate insider VP from a conservative rural state who steps in to do the actual governing.  That the two major parties could both produce such an executive duo is, sadly, not shocking to anyone who looks closely at RNC or DNC sausage-making.  I do hold out hope for the Democratic Party to make better sausages, though, especially with someone like Keith Ellison as head chef.

10 November 2016

The Age of 'Liberal Lions' Is Done

I am sorry to see Russ Feingold lose his bid to return to the US Senate.  I saw him twice in the last two years, two consecutive Septembers I believe, and remain very impressed by his fighting heart and his lifelong commitment to the public good.

In the new age that is dawning, though, new leaders are emerging to captain the progressive cause.  We should not hold our breath for a replicated Ted Kennedy* to appear and, white knight-like, deliver our afflicted souls from the dungeons of Orange Bolg.**  A Slate writer recently noticed that the number of women of color in the Senate is about to quadruple.  We may never get to see Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, but I am heartened to know that any attempts to reinstate anti-gay discrimination in the military or ban abortion will have to get past these women first.  (There are going to be at least 48 Democratic senators in total in the coming Congress -- 49 if Louisiana chooses to elect a Democrat in the imminent final-round contest there.)

*I confess to having never understood the cult of Ted Kennedy.  He was an egotistical grandstander who accomplished very little in his years as Senator; arguably, he destroyed the Carter Presidency by the schism he instigated in the Democratic Party in 1980.

**Bolg:  the Balrog who dwelt deep in the Mines of Moria and slew Gandalf, at least temporarily.

06 November 2016

Pro Catulis: Paradise Lost and Regained

[photo:  Mordecai Brown and Cub friend in 1909]

And so the people of the Garden-City sang;
at an age of innocence, they rejoiced in their bearlings,
while their cousins in Britain and Germany
built Dreadnoughts, their fellow men and women
in China died to build their own Republic.
The kind and portly Unitarian man would be Chicago's
highest magistrate, for four years at least.

[variation on the Song of Legolas in Return of the King]
Grey team, grey team, whither are you going?
Aut Epstein aut nihil:  thus my mind is fearing.
Yet perfect love casts out all fear -- O streetlights shining!
O dhaba, O Irish pub, O taqueria bustling!
Long are the waves on the lakeshore falling,
Sweet are the voices of Wrigleyville laughing,
The place that you must fly the W to discover,
In any town on earth:  home of our Cubbies forever!

03 November 2016

Zobrist and Arrieta, Hendricks and Chapman, Bryant and Fowler ....
A laita te!  A laita te!  Andave laituvalmet!

16 October 2016

Dwarf-coat, elf-cloak, blade of the downfallen West, and spy from the little rat-land of the Shire -- nay, do not start!  We know it well -- here are the marks of a conspiracy ... These are the terms.  The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin ... All lands east of the Anduin shall be Sauron's for ever, solely.  West of the Anduin as far as the Misty Mountains and the Gap of Rohan shall be tributary to Mordor, and men there shall bear no weapons, but shall have leave to govern their own affairs.  But they shall help to rebuild Isengard which they have wantonly destroyed, and that shall be Sauron's, and there his lieutenant shall dwell:  not Saruman, but one more worthy of trust.
--the Messenger of Sauron, The Return of the King



--DJT, Portsmouth, NH, yesterday (C-SPAN transcript)

09 October 2016

I do not know what is happening.  The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days.  But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny.  Eowyn, Eowyn, White Lady of Rohan, in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!
--Faramir, The Return of the King

08 October 2016

If this is the day of the Trump campaign's siren song -- it's not totally clear yet, but when you've lost John Thune and Kelly Ayotte in addition to the too-thoughtful-for-his-party Ben Sasse, something's hit the fan -- we must thank the media.

Yes, that media that most Americans appear to despise.

Facebook did not discover this tape.  The military did not take it from any 'bad actors' (to use Ted Cruz's favorite, and perhaps self-referential, phrase).  Our best political scientists did not publish this tape in an academic journal.  This is the result of plodding work done by journalists, that is, people who are paid to uncover truth that Facebook will not uncover for you.  Jimmy Fallon is not a journalist.  People like Azam Ahmed are.

Having a well-educated populace is a good thing for our nation, but it is not enough to ensure social progress and a sane government.  Not too long ago Trump was leading Clinton 11 points among college-educated white males.  At a political rally last month I heard Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) speak about the greatest challenges of our time, and he said something I won't easily forget.  "I really think it's less about smarts than it is about courage and heart." (or words to that effect)

Smart people like Nate Silver* did not see Trump coming.  People with all the right academic credentials said Hillary would have a celebratory cakewalk to the presidency, at least up until the night of the New Hampshire primary.  The limits of their knowledge base have been revealed like seldom before by this year's events.

*I liked Silver's book The Signal And the Noise.  He should be respected for his intelligence and skill with statistics.  I am highlighting him only to point out that, as Gandalf once said, "even the wise cannot see all ends."

06 October 2016

Why I Support the "Unlawful Assembly" of Seven MBTA Workers

In these times we are constantly told that cash is dying, that it is a stupid relic of the analog ageWhen Pam Grier paid for a new pantsuit in cash in the 1997 movie Jackie Brown, wasn't that the last gasp of the old order?  Salvation was supposed to come down to us in the form of Bitcoin, at least for a while, before the problems with a currency backed by no government became obvious to everyone.  We've also been promised liberation in the form of RushCards, which periodically have massive glitches, and various other celebrity-endorsed debit cards -- because apparently yoga practitioners are inherently more trustworthy than bank or credit union tellers.

So, really, there should be nothing wrong with giving cash processing tasks to huge multinationals who promise to save their clients money.  Yes, jobs will be lost, and nobody except corporate board members living thousands of miles away and busy advising Donald Trump on debating strategies has any real oversight over what goes on in these workplaces, but CASH IS DUMB so it doesn't matter.  We will inevitably follow Sweden in becoming a cashless society, although God forbid we make high-speed internet access a legal right as they did in Finland , because The Constitution.

03 October 2016

Gallery of Underperforming Millennials.  (Stock photo from here at top; blogger at bottom.)

02 October 2016

The Awkward Whiteness and Maleness of Bloggingheads.tv

Bloggingheads.tv, along with its sister site meaningoflife.tv, is a well-respected and respectable website of intellectual discussion and humorous banter (the latter, at least with those pairs of guests who have become fixtures of the site with their own 'shows.')

To my chagrin, though -- and I expect site mastermind Bob Wright is not unaware of the problem -- the heads that blog, and talk, are becoming awfully monoracial and awfully male lately.  With the exception of African-American economist Glenn Loury, not one guest who is not both white and male has been seen on the site since September 13.  (Yes, this includes meaningoflife.tv guests.)

This is not to say that these white male guests have been poor-quality; I particularly enjoyed Anthony Silvia and what he had to say on gnosticism.  And yet I wonder when the old white guys will permit others to expound on the meaning of life, so to speak, and three-quarters of humanity will see itself reflected in the philosophical and political agora that is Bloggingheads.  I sincerely hope it will not take another year before we can have an Asian-American thinker like David Kim on the site, for example.

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.

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.

25 April 2016

A More Informative Slate , week of April 24

Clinton Refuses to Condemn Everything Henry Kissinger Ever Said About Southeast Asians
Single-Payer Health Care Systems Still Popular in Canada and Elsewhere, Polls Show
Food Pantry Use Across America Heavy As Month Nears End
Did Tolkien Understand Our Politics Better than David Brooks? By Skye Winspur

12 April 2016

Deray Mckesson's Bid for the Mayorship of Baltimore

Far-travelled, all our pilgrim paths redound
To one same glory, by CV unbound;

Forsaking 'real jobs' and risking much,
I learned that grace proceeds in shady paths.
You too will gain a crown of life unmarred,
Because you strove t'attain a higher good --
Against the math of systems in decline,
You brought out conscience and its upright line --
It matters not the outcome of one day,
When patronizing eyes our prospects slay.
The cause is juster when the young go in,
unsettling older sages with a vest,
or spurning that old guard by power caressed.

04 April 2016

1.  The Administration's strategy of denial re:  Judge Garland is patently ridiculous, and when historians look back on the Obama years this will be one of the most difficult things to explain.  When you are faced with unprecedented obstruction, you are being given carte blanche to do the unprecedented yourself and make a recess appointment.  (This could have been done as early as March 21, when a two-week "State Work Period" Senate recess began).

2.  In a somewhat related vein, looks like at least one Democratic candidate has earned grudging praise from Trent Lott.  The Palladium of Bipartisanship (copyright 1994, Newt Gingrich) often goes to the most unlikely of competitors.

02 March 2016

My head was working full speed in these minutes, on our joint behalf, to prevent the fatal first steps by which the unimaginative British, with the best will in the world, usually deprived the acquiescent native of the discipline of responsibility, and created a situation which called for years of agitation and successive reforms and riotings to mend.  I had studied Barrow and was ready for him.  Years before, he had published his confession of faith in Fear as the common people's main incentive to action in war and peace.  Now I found fear a mean, overrated motive; no deterrent, and, though a stimulant, a poisonous stimulant, whose every injection served to consume more of the system to which it was applied.  I could have no alliance with his pedant belief of scaring men into heaven...

T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, chapter 117

24 February 2016

A constructive rant, continued

Civic realism:  an inspiring alternative

In place of an unbalanced interventionism that I have just criticized, I suggest the United States pursue a restrained yet morally rigorous course of "civic realism."  This realism is best exemplified, I think, by two presidents in our history - one of whom is still living and a continuing source of moral inspiration to me and many other Americans.

The first presidential model for civic realism is John Quincy Adams.  Introduced to international diplomacy at an early age by his father, he eventually became Secretary of State under President Monroe.  It was during this period, in a July 4, 1821 address, that he cautioned that the USA does not "go abroad in search of monsters to destroy."  Freedom and democratic values were best fought for with the persuasive power of a high moral example, he said.  As president from 1825 to 1829, he signed a treaty of reciprocity with Mexico - an important step forward in bringing the American republic into the community of Western Hemisphere nations - and tried to uphold the property rights of the Cherokee nation against white settler demands and the state of Georgia.  (Adams' advocacy for the Cherokee is usually not considered part of his foreign policy, but I think it should be; they were a people with their own government and written language living in mountainous areas of the country who were not, most of them, accorded the rights of US citizens.)

After his presidency, Adams campaigned hard to enforce the existing ban - enacted in 1807 - on the Atlantic slave trade.  He opposed the US declaration of war on Mexico in 1846, warning presciently that it would only result in the increase of slave territory and undermine his nation's reputation for honest dealing and non-aggression in the world.

In a more recent period, President Carter also pursued a foreign policy very much in line with my concept of civic realism.  In a much-criticized decision, in 1977, he negotiated a return of the US-held Canal Zone to Panama (it was something like the Guantanamo Bay of its day, a constant reminder of US arrogance and neocolonial privilege in the heart of Latin America).  The fact that the handover treaties were signed with a military government, under General Torrijos, did not disqualify it from being a moral imperative, in Carter's view.  As he said in his remarks at the signing ceremony, the treaties "mark[ed] the commitment of the United States to the belief that fairness, and not force, should lie at the heart of our dealings with the nations of the world."

Carter waged the Cold War with moral suasion and not the further buildup of arms (as Reagan did) or too-clever-by-half Realpolitik schemes that left whole regions of the world reeling from military violence (as Nixon did).   Aided by his Poland-born national security adviser, he made a point of bringing up the rights of dissidents in the Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated Europe.  In a courageous decision, he ordered a US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; this is something that should be remembered and perhaps revisited in the runup to the 2018 World Cup, scheduled to be held in Russia.

The civic realism I propose is not, therefore, a cynical abdication of the United States' role as a leading democracy, nor is it an invitation for more warfare in the name of "preserving the balance of power."  It is a moral way forward:  we can accept the continued persistence of governments that we find unjust holding sway over millions, indeed hundreds of millions, while remembering our best traditions of free speech and pluralism and re-enacting them whenever it is appropriate.  "Diplomatic gestures" have taken a heavy beating in recent months, but they are not ineffectual.  Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa are not wrong when they speak of the strength and assurance that these gestures bring to people denied freedom and self-determination.

17 February 2016

My discontent with 13th-century foreign policy: a constructive rant


In these times we are constantly told that it is the United States' particular mission to impose a just peace on Syria, North Africa, and Southwest Asia.  Usually, foreign policy experts and presidential advisors couch this mission in secular terms:  we are "the indispensable nation," or only we can save religious minorities under repressive Muslim regimes (the Yazidis, for example) from extinction.

It's my contention that, far from reflecting a mature 'internationalist' worldview, this sort of talk is just a retread of medieval Christian obsessions with crusading.  Beginning around the year 1100, Christian kings and potentates of Europe eagerly embraced invasions of Muslim-majority lands as a way of proving their fitness and religious virtue.  Reading the Christian chronicles of these crusades, it becomes clear how little difference there is between the self-flattering ideology of, say, a Richard Lionheart and the "moral seriousness" that US foreign policy mandarins espouse.  Both have little to no concern with the practical issues of building functioning states under foreign occupation, or ensuring basic law and order after a glorious lightning descent on Saracen / Arab territory.

'Liberal Internationalism':  not a new ideology

Recently I read Jean de Joinville's Life of Saint Louis.  Written by a crusading knight and servant in King Louis IX's (r. 1226-1270) household, the Life brims with religious fervor and tries valiantly to find the hand of God in everything that happened to the author and the army he followed.  Joinville is careful to tell us that not all Saracens (Arabs) are evil.  Indeed, in what is surely a very early example of the "good Westernized leader" trope which has brought us such luminaries as Ahmed Chalabi, he singles out a prince named 'Scecedin,' knighted by the German emperor Frederick II, for praise as a chivalrous and trustworthy negotiating partner.  (For John McCain, finding a Scecedin among the Syrian rebels is the clear solution that our president is too feckless to seek.)

What actually happened in these campaigns was, more or less, as follows:  Louis IX's invasion of Egypt ended disastrously, with the majority of his invading army eliminated by dysentery, starvation, or desperate conversions to IslamAfter being expelled from Egypt, he held out in the walled Lebanese port of Acre for four years.  He died in 1270 on another hapless crusade in Tunisia.  Help from the Mongol khanate in Persia, which the Christian world grew increasingly convinced would save their cause, never materialized to an effective degree.

Despite these misadventures, Louis was lauded by Joinville as the holiest king ever to walk the earth and was canonized by the papacy in 1297.  I cannot avoid thinking of Dick Cheney and the unchallenged deference he still appears to enjoy among neoconservatives today.  However, it's not just neocons on the right that get this treatment.

In the last twenty-five years or so, a school of diplomacy and foreign policy has emerged, often lazily called "liberal internationalism," that advocates for military intervention frequently and passionately.  Their arguments are generally much the same as those Joinville and his ilk proclaimed, but for "God" and "the cause of Christ," they substitute "justice" and "the cause of human rights."  The ends still justify the means in this new school of thought:  it matters little to its exponents how many civilians are killed and made homeless, how much vital state infrastructure is obliterated in the showers of holy bombs they call for, so long as evildoers (sorry, "bad actors") are removed from power in the countries they most care about.

That these wished-for interventions almost always involve military action against majority-Muslim states is in no way related to some religious bias, the internationalists argue - oh no!  It just so happens that humanity is most abjectly suffering in Libya, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen, and "morality" demands that we do something there first.  Maybe in a few decades, when this noble humanitarian project can be declared finished, something should be done about Burma, or Congo, or endemic gang violence in Honduras.  (Latin America has always been a curious blind spot for this crowd.)

Samantha Power, President Obama's onetime foreign policy advisor, is certainly a major figure in this school, and the accolades heaped upon her are eye-catching.  New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier  called Power “one of the keepers of idealism in America,” who “remains almost giddily unreconstructed in her imagination of justice.”  Today's Grail-seekers, it turns out, are just ordinary Americans with colorful pasts and Harvard degrees who have seen the light of global justice and will forego sleep and homely comforts on the pilgrim way to end genocide forever.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was none too impressed by these fervent internationalists when they proposed US military punishment and reconstruction of Libya in 2011.  Recalling the debates within the Obama administration, he said:
It was several White House staffers. They were Ben Rhodes and Samantha and, I might add, Susan Rice—particularly strong advocates of getting involved in a U.S. military engagement. And I don’t know whether these folks have a guilt complex over the Clinton Administration’s having botched Rwanda, where the U.S. did nothing, or what, but they are very much driven ... It becomes detached from U.S. national interests. So I was totally opposed.

"Liberal internationalists" play a rhetorical game that they always lose, or more accurately, that the Ted Cruzes of the world always win.  Their hardline neoconservative colleagues will inevitably press for their wishy-washy interventions to be made "tougher."  No-fly zones and three-times-weekly surgical strikes give way, under the pressure of the neocon propaganda machine and the greed of the military-industrial complex, to daily carpet bombing and finally ground troops.  And why not?  If the ends really do justify the means, there is no good reason to stop at whatever level of military force most New York Times readers find palatable.

Stay tuned for the continuation...

12 February 2016

For one of the best articles on the Bernie phenomenon, and why those children are so crazy about him, turn to Jim Newell's recent piece.  (It's 3 internet pages long!)

The last paragraph is worth quoting in full:

Sanders’ proposed solution is a long shot, and it is not without its arguable premises. But the fact that he’s the one who’s most up-front about its difficulty is what gives his supporters the impression that his campaign is one worth joining. What Sanders knows, though, is that his own election or defeat in this primary cycle is a minor part in the movement he’s trying to create that needs to last for years and not just to spike during election seasons. That means insisting that people continue to think of big changes in their politics, not small ones—even if they’ve been burned before.
One criticism:  that 2.7% unemployment rate in North Dakota you highlighted is not going to stay so amazing for long

Still, I'm glad there's one journalist out there listening to the actual words that come out of Bernie's mouth and not describing his campaign from vague memories of anarcho-syndicalist tracts read in college.

03 February 2016

In his Iowa caucus night speech, Bernie Sanders ironically saluted the Washington Post as one of his chief media critics.

Today on washingtonpost.com, we have learned that:

1.  The Zika virus "could inject fear back into sex." 

2.  A random black dude from the SEAHAWKS is a "Broncos safety sent home after prostitution sting near Super Bowl site."

3.  John Kerry is a pussy because he won't immediately send American soldiers into Syria to "force compliance" from the Assad regime on being good to its people.

4.  And of course, Sanders is "authentically wrong" and basically a lefty Ted Cruz because he talks about corporate corruption.

02 January 2016

"Professor Warren," to the tune of the Bee Gees' 'More than a Woman'

Four years into hope and change
I saw you rise from academe
They never really tried before
But now you're fighting for the dream

Suddenly you're in the news

Just like th'economics guys
You got the right wing working hard
Just trying to cover up their lies

Reform agenda, that's my paradise
My only chance for solvency
And if I lose you now it just won't suffice
Oh say you'll never leave the Senate
We can make it shine
With the CFPB just an FY at a time

Professor Warren
Professor Warren, you were
Professor Warren
Professor Warren, you burn

Time was there were socialists 
In Congress and the city halls
And they should come down from the shelf
Let history repeat itself

Households gotta make ends meet
People so indebted they resort
To selling plasma for
11 bucks an hour, no more

This is the only way our Left should move
This is the only way to go
And if I lose your voice I know I would cry
Oh say you'll always be that firebrand
We can make it shine
With the CFPB just an FY at a time...