31 January 2017

They think they’re all on the same team,” Conant said, “but when he acts without any coordination, it puts Congress in a bind, because they’re not able to be effective surrogates on his behalf.”

Hitler's leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them into positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped with those of others, to have "the stronger one [do] the job".  In this way, Hitler fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power. His cabinet never met after 1938, and he discouraged his ministers from meeting independently.  Hitler typically did not give written orders; instead he communicated verbally, or had them conveyed through his close associate, Martin Bormann.  He entrusted Bormann with his paperwork, appointments, and personal finances; Bormann used his position to control the flow of information and access to Hitler. -- Wikipedia

30 January 2017

A Massive Reveal is Coming to this Blog:  7 pm Central Time, Tomorrow, Jan. 31!  

Hint:  it will be operatic in nature.
Not long before I left the city two persons were arrested in Milwaukee, under the Fugitive Slave Law [of 1850], for having assisted the escape of slaves.  A meeting of sympathy was called in Syracuse, and speeches were made and resolutions adopted.   His honor the mayor presided, and made a speech on taking the chair.  He stated that he had always been conservative, but he could not endure the Fugitive Slave Law.  He had heard much said about the Under-ground Railroad, but he was now in favor of laying the track above ground and he was willing to help defend it there.

--Autobiography of the Rev. Luther Lee

29 January 2017

"I believe that faced with a conservative right that represents privilege and a destructive extreme-right, our country needs a left that thinks of the world as it is, and not as it was, a left that can bring a future people want." -- Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon

28 January 2017

When I heard the learn'd cognitive scientist (an homage)

When I heard the learn'd cognitive scientist,
When the studies, the implicit bias metrics were ranged before me,
When the cutting edge of evolutionary psychology was brandished in the seminar,
How soon unaccountable I became weary and bored,
And wandered off into the sports bar across the street,
Where between quaffs of PBR I saw on NBC
A white man being lauded for team-play prowess, his violations forgotten,
And a black man being raked o'er the coals for his performance in the bowl game.

26 January 2017

A response to my neighbor, Michael Cummins

Mr. Cummins:

Thank you for attempting to explain your political beliefs.  I am a liberal and a socialist, and also a baptized Christian.  I write in response to what I see as a lack of rigor in your political philosophy; I am furthermore opposed to the pessimism implied in your statement that "civility will surely deteriorate even further over the next four years."  The massive women's march in our city a few days ago, to take one example, was a triumph of civility and peaceful discourse.

I am a liberal because I prefer to see government help everyone who needs help, liberally.  Homeless and starving people should not have to prove their moral virtue before they get food or basic housing.  Charity is a Christian obligation, yes, but if you expect churches and mutual-aid associations to quickly replace Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and unemployment insurance you are not thinking realistically.  (I am a socialist because I think the richest should pay a greater share of their income than the poorest towards maintaining this welfare state, and I do not particularly care how they feel about paying these taxes.  Jesus did not spend much time worrying about the tax burdens on rich Judeans, if the Gospels are any guide to his thoughts.)

I try to find the meaning behind your "conservatism" and all I can come up with is that you want to conserve a certain vision of constitutional federalism.  I hope it is not impolite to point out that this vision dates from a time when slavery was legal in half the nation, women could not vote, and there were no interstate highways to drive on; indeed, I would argue the strict "vertical separation of powers" had to be abandoned before we could even think about living in a city of over 200,000 people together, participating in a functional urban economy and surviving waterborne diseases.  (Are the Madison Water Utility and the Dane County Airport examples of "too much of a good thing"?)

Respectfully, therefore, I ask you to think about these things.

Skye Winspur
Fellow resident of the Madison isthmus

civility will surely deteriorate even further over the next four years. - See more at: http://isthmus.com/opinion/opinion/madison-conservative-tries-to-clear-up-some-misconceptions/#sthash.PCmMAI3C.dpuf"c
civility will surely deteriorate even further over the next four years. - See more at: http://isthmus.com/opinion/opinion/madison-conservative-tries-to-clear-up-some-misconceptions/#sthash.PCmMAI3C.dpuf

21 January 2017

What the USS Lexington, naval transport ship*, carried on her voyage (July 1846 - January 1847) from New York City to Monterey, California:

sailors ("about fifty" crew and seven naval officers)
hammocks for every sailor
soldiers (113 enlisted men, five officers, and acting assistant surgeon Dr. James L. Ord)
bunks for every soldier
knapsack and "equipments" for the soldiers (swords, guns etc.)
(at start) rations for all for the 60 days between New York and Rio de Janeiro
(at end) "about six months' supply of provisions"; probably this was taken on at Valparaiso, Chile
a sawmill
a grist-mill

*Originally a "sloop-of-war," remodeled into a "store-ship."

---according to W.T. Sherman's Memoirs, Chapter 2.  Image of the USS Constellation from Wikipedia.

20 January 2017

In honor of the missing whitehouse.gov LGBT community page:

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.
There is nothing that seven billion people, or even the 300 million people of the United States, can agree on.  I feel compelled to state this because I am seeing a bevy of opinions expressed lately in the form "surely we can all agree on X."  The Mozilla Foundation argues that "internet health" is one of these things.

I value consensus and decisions made by it are usually the right ones.  However, underestimating the stubbornness of people opposed to what seems self-evident to you is never wise.  I maintain that today, there are just as many reasons for hostile "tribes"* of people to wage bitter total war against each other as there were in Bronze Age Palestine.  In that world it was "my god is mightier than yours and brings rain more reliably"; here and now it is "you don't understand economics, libtard / protectionist."  So let us not lose heart when it becomes apparent that not everyone can agree that the earth is round and winters are getting warmer.

*Did you know that the word comes from Latin tribus, or the number three, and originally denoted units of political representation in the Roman Republic? (The word "tribune," tribunus, shares the same origin.)

14 January 2017

 Twelve more years passed.  Each year the Bagginses had given very lively combined birthday-parties at Bag End; but now it was understood that something quite exceptional was being planned for that autumn.  Bilbo was going to be eleventy-one, 111, a rather curious number, and a very respectable age for a hobbit (the Old Took himself had only reached 130); and Frodo was going to be thirty-three, 33, an important number:  the date of his 'coming of age.'

 --Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 1

Rest in peace, Zhou Youguang, and thank you for Pinyin.
The Joy of Fighting Back
Part 5:  The Magnificent Seven

This is better than any Marvel Universe movieSeven Democrats* have announced their intent to boycott the inaugural ceremonies.  They will be pilloried for it, and their morals will be impugned, especially by people who have completely forgotten this thing.

They are a diverse group of two women and five men, representing districts from coast to coast.  One of them has already starred in a graphic novel; another one has written a memoir.

It's an interesting question why no Senators (no, not even Bernie) are yet on the record as joining this boycott.  Still, I think the Founders would understand it completely.  The House of Representatives was designed to mimic the British House of Commons, and the Senate to uphold elite privilege just like the House of Lords.  If our Senators choose to ignore the vicissitudes of popular sentiment, well, that is their prerogative; and if they keep at it, one day they might find themselves sitting in a lavishly upholstered museum chamber like the post-1911 House of Lords.

*So it's actually twelve now, according to Politico.  I am not going to retitle this part "The Twelve Apostles," to avoid committing blasphemy, but I'll express my pride in Earl Blumenauer, who was my Representative for the four years I attended Reed College in Portland.

13 January 2017

[on Wikipedia's Main Page today]

The Joy of Fighting Back
Part 4: The Media

Wikipedia is a great treasure, and I would like to apologize to Jimmy Wales and other employees of the Foundation for not giving more than $20 to them to date.  This is a woefully small contribution for how much enlightenment I've gotten from the site.  (My Vice Presidential Library Fund will be dedicated solely to Wikipedia, I promise.)

It turns out I share a few things in common with John Dominis Holt IV -- if I may speak so familiarly of the dead.   We both traveled thousands of miles to go to college.  Our prose styles seem rather similar, and I look forward to reading one of his books one day.  And we probably both have / had Scottish ancestry, if Holt's Royal Navy ancestors are any indication.  (I must here resist the temptation to ramble on about the beauty of Honolulu.)

My point is simply this:  we are the media that matters.  Even if you have no writing talent, you may be able to sing, dance, play competitive sports, or do something else that astounds others and brings God's light to them.  Nobody -- I do mean nobody -- should think that complaining about media bias is a solution to anything.  (Instances of that complaint on this blog do exist, yes, and I ask forgiveness for them.)

This is a very awkward segue, but I'll finish by quoting Madison university student Natalie Cofi, who spoke to Capital Times reporter Kevin Murphy recently and said:

We have a serious binge drinking and drunk-driving problem and could we raise taxes on alcohol as an incentive to decrease the use of alcohol and increase the value and quality of the road system.  There's probably millions of dollars in it for the roads if we increase the tax on it.  Maybe it wouldn't cover all the amount necessary but it could help.

A bold, heretical statement in this state.

The Joy of Fighting Back
Part 3:  A Song of Innocence and Experience

The other day I saw the movie Manchester by the Sea.   Having visited the very singular harbor town of Gloucester, MA, where much of it is filmed, I was completely engrossed.  This town has always deserved a great movie.  Disregarding my brief summer visit to Gloucester, though, I left the theater morally fortified.  (This is not a sensation Anthony Lane is likely to tell you about, fellow New Yorker readers.)

Director Kenneth Lonergan has cut through all the overhyped shit in our political discourse right now about "working-class whites" and "coastal elites" to give moviegoers a beautiful, maturely told story about youth, growing up, love, sex, and mortality.  And all to a soundtrack of Albinoni (THE FULL ADAGIO) and Handel. (Baroque music might finally outgrow its kiss-of-death status in Hollywood, after the film's receipts are totaled.) 

I mentioned five things the movie is about, but that barely begins to describe what it tells us.  In my view (colored as it is by a schoolboy crush on Casey Affleck's character), it urges the spectator to fight back.  Not blindly lash out at ill-defined forces like "globalism" and "multiculturalism," but fight back with native determination against people who don't know what the fuck they're doing -- yes, sometimes those people are our loved ones.  Lonergan reminds us, gently and wisely, that even the world of a left-behind fishing town is full of people who can be relied upon in any crisis; he portrays religion as a positive social force without sentimentalizing it; and all his characters live in the lively space between true bigotry and complete "open-mindedness."

Not to wax too poetic about cinematography, but the film also takes a reverent, awe-inducing perspective on nature, celestial and terrestrial, and the changing seasons.  Spring has rarely seemed so liberating on screen: it cured my Wisconsin cabin fever for at least 48 hours, no small feat.

11 January 2017

The Joy of Fighting Back
Part 2:  Sadness and its Discontents

Liberals are sad right now.  At least, this would be a reasonable inference from reading opinion pieces such as this one.  Virtually everything about the world seems to them (us?) to be "sad and tragic."  (I have a rant I could deploy about old white male scientists of today and their inability to write effectively, but it will have to wait.)

 J.R.R. Tolkien, an underrated philosopher, presented this problem very well in the final volume of his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

'Fight?' said Frodo. 'Well, I suppose it may come to that.  But remember: there is to be no slaying of hobbits, not even if they have gone over to the other side.  Really gone over, I mean; not just obeying ruffians' orders because they are frightened.  No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire, and it is not to begin now.  And nobody is to be killed at all, if it can be helped.  Keep your tempers and hold your hands to the last possible moment!' 
'But if there are many of these ruffians,' said Merry, 'it will certainly mean fighting.  You won't rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.'

In my city's downtown, on Inauguration Day, I know of two planned events.  One, at 2 pm, is a protest against Trump, racism, sexism, and associated ills; the other, after sunset, is a candlelight vigil for victims of the same ills.  I do not wish to denounce either one of these events.  However, I, personally, have frankly had enough of hiding in the dark and mourning.  This is an activity that can consume decades of a person's life (see, among others: Queen Victoria) -- and starting with the massacre in Orlando last June, the LGBT community and its allies have had plenty of reasons to do it.

There are always reasons to mourn.  If nobody was killed in senseless gun violence in this country today (which is rare), children died of preventable diseases in poor countries -- and they could have been saved if the super-rich in rich countries had not insisted on austere debt repayment architectures (to be euphemistic about it) that leave those poor countries nothing to spend on health care.

Finding reasons for joy is harder:  I grant that is true.  Sometimes we just have to leave our familiar holes ("to step out of our comfort zones" as people say) and trust in our mithril surcoats and bright blades.  Tolkien again:
'No!' said Merry.  'It's no good "getting under cover." That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like.  They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in.  No, we have got to do something at once.'  'Do what?' said Pippin.  'Raise the Shire!' said Merry. 'Now! Wake all our people!  They hate all this, you can see:  all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don't at all understand what is really going on.  But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long they don't know what to do.  They just want a match, though, and they'll go up in fire...'

 And you know what?  Americans do hate all this.

I did not watch the President's farewell address last night, but it seems he said something about "forging a new social compact."  The verb "forging" is well chosen.  A forge needs intense heat and strong arms to pound the metal.

10 January 2017

The Joy of Fighting Back.  A New Blog Series.
Part 1: Strategery  

The following is taken from a single long letter General W.T. Sherman wrote to his superior in Washington, General Halleck, dated September 17, 1863.  The entire letter is featured in Chapter 13 of Sherman's Memoirs.  (He argues for a fourfold division of Southern white men in the interest of successful military operations against the Confederacy.)

I exhort y'all to read it, preferably instead of trying to infer a coherent domestic or foreign policy out of the President-Elect's tweets.

First.  The large planters, owning lands, slaves, and all kinds of personal property.  These are, on the whole, the ruling class.  They are educated, wealthy, and easily approached ... None dare admit a friendship for us, though they say freely that they were at the outset opposed to war and disunion.  I know we can manage this class, but only by action.  Argument is exhausted, and words have lost their usual meaning.  Nothing but the logic of events touches their understanding; but, of late, this has worked a wonderful change...

Second.  The smaller farmers, mechanics, merchants, and laborers.  This class will probably number three-quarters of the whole; have, in fact, no real interest in the establishment of a Southern Confederacy, and have been led or driven into war on the false theory that they were to be benefited somehow -- they knew not how.  They are essentially tired of the war, and would slink back home if they could...

Third.  The Union men of the South.  I must confess I have little respect for this class.  They allowed a clamorous set of demagogues to muzzle and drive them as a pack of curs ... They give us no assistance or information, and are loudest in their complaints at the smallest excesses of our soldiers.  Their sons, horses, arms, and every thing useful, are in the army against us, and they stay at home, claiming all the exemptions of peaceful citizens.  I account them as nothing in this great game of war.

Fourth.  The young bloods of the South:  sons of planters, lawyers about towns, good billiard-players and sportsmen, men who never did work and never will.  War suits them, and the rascals are brave, fine riders, bold to rashness, and dangerous subjects in every sense ... They hate Yankees per se, and don't bother their brains about the past, present, or future ... At present horses cost them nothing; for they take where they find, and don't bother their brains as to who is to pay for them; the same may be said of the cornfields, which have, as they believe, been cultivated by a good-natured people for their special benefit...

05 January 2017

I would really like to know what voting method the Democratic Party uses for choosing a party chairperson.   Perhaps the most interesting national political battle of the coming year is the campaign for this office, which is heating up right now preparatory to a late February decision by 447 party members.

I happen to like Rep. Keith Ellison an awful lot and were my last name Kennedy, I would very probably be in Congress right now and get to cast a vote for him.

I also happen to admire the chutzpah of Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the party could do a lot worse than choose him.

Deo volente, this election will produce a 224-member-or-greater majority for one candidate and the party can move on to a posture of dogged, united resistance.  But [sigh] knowing Democrats as I do, the prospect of recriminatory psychodrama consuming everything is very real, and the knives could be flashing everywhere, particularly against Ellison, because after all the young people* stabbed Hillary in the back and choosing a black Muslim guy from Minnesota would be too scary for Barbara Bush.

And then I'd get three emails a day for the next ten years from the Wisconsin Democratic Party asking me to give them $5 or more to improve their outreach to young people and minorities.

But I'm really honestly praying that it doesn't turn out that way.

*Ellison is 53, which is significantly younger than the party's current Congressional Leaders, Pelosi and Schumer.

--edited 1/19/17