28 December 2018

More on why I call this winter the Second Secession Winter

I have long felt that America has been reliving the 1840s and 1850s.  The Iraq War in particular served pretty much the same political purposes (and was built on equally flimsy pretexts) as the US-Mexico War of 1846-48:  it made a president and his party look full of manly patriotism and ensured growth opportunities for a major economic sector (first slave-powered agriculture, then in our lifetimes oil extraction).  In his Personal Memoirs, Ulysses Grant is pretty blunt about the fact that the Slave Power wanted the war -- and as a young officer fresh out of West Point, he served in it loyally and bravely.  It is, I find, a deliciously just irony of history that the combat experience he acquired in the invasion of Mexico was used to devastating effect, fifteen years later, against a rebellion based on the belief that slavery was perfect (not just a necessary evil, but the best kind of society:  read James McPherson's historical work on that).

And now, we are seeing that, yes, some biggish slice of America (but not a majority, certainly) believes that it is worth having no real federal government at all, that US Capitol cleaning workers and TSA screeners should self-enslave (what else can you call it, really?) because it is divinely ordained that Lindsey Graham's office trash should be collected by unpaid laborers, who, if they live in the District of Columbia, have zero ability to choose those who govern them at the federal level and must sleep in rented rooms without heat (somehow they can afford the rent, surely there is a faith-based organization or two out there that'll pay it!).   Docile they must be, and not dare complain to God's Lieutenant on Earth, who I guess is Mick Mulvaney in practice, since Mike Pence never says a damn thing in public anymore.  And if the Dow doesn't lose as many points in a day as it did that one time in October 1929, the general public should be happy and wish the President well (as Bob Woodward might put it)...

The trouble is, in 1860 as in this year, ideas and attitudes are changing.  A crazy socialist hussy named Alexandria won a primary election in June in New York City; an ex-NFL player is about to be a freshman Democrat representing a Dallas district; an openly gay Native American veteran is going to be representing a fourth of Kansas's population.  It is often forgotten that Abe Lincoln, too, was hardly a safe establishment choice for President, having to get past three Senators, a Governor, and a Supreme Court Justice to get the Republican Party's nomination.  His voters were called "mudsills"[1] and were often working-class and immigrant people (German-Americans were a very important constituency, something like the "model minority" of the mid-19th century, although that is a postulate for another essay).

In both periods, I am talking about literate and politically-minded people who are struggling to adapt to technological disruption and innovation, and about a generation highly receptive to socially revolutionary ideas (the German emigrant '48ers' for example, such as Carl Schurz, often ignored or slighted in the writing of US history).  I know we are heading into a rough year, possibly as rough as 1861, but I trust these Americans to do right and rally for a future we can believe in.[2]
1.   The mudsill theory was articulated recently in Blade Runner 2049 by the archvillain, who says "Every great civilization was built off the back of a disposable work force."

2.  My use of this Bernie campaign phrase does not constitute an endorsement of any 2020 candidate.

22 December 2018

In our national replay of the Secession Winter, I guess it was inevitable that two old white men should propose some updated equivalent of a graduated emancipation plan which could surely satisfy all people of good will -- that is, if only Delaware was willing to entertain the possibility that slavery could end in the lifetimes of its richest citizens (today:  if only Susan Collins felt that DACA recipients deserve civil rights) ...

11 December 2018

Talking About Racism is not "Tribalism"

This little jeremiad is not written in response to any one person or article, only as a reaction to an attitude that seems to me to be trendy in highly-educated America right now.

When I put on my Cubs cap or my big blue Cubs hoodie, I am making a tribalistic wardrobe choice.  I want to feel part of that small subsection of the country that supports this baseball team. 

Tribalism is as old as human society.  It gives us a feeling of belonging and, while of course it can be used for bad purposes, it has made many people's lives richer and more meaningful.  We cannot exist on social terms with literally everyone on the planet (although some Facebook users have tried), so we form social cliques around beer-drinking, board games, or sports teams that have cuddly bear logos. 

Racism is an ideology that was invented by white people in the 17th century to justify the West African slave trade.  Period.  No major innovations in the content of this ideology have occurred since then.

If we want to promote honest but respectful conversation about serious issues in our country, I do hope we can stop conflating racism with tribalism.  Calling people out as racist (or homophobic, for that matter) is not some kind of sad reversion to tribalism that we must avoid if we want to be Good High-Minded Progressives.  Two years ago Hillary Clinton was pilloried in the press for pointing out that racism and homophobia are part of a "basket of deplorables."  Perhaps the way she talked about all that cost her the election.  So what?  It is almost 2019 now and the person who won that election has a 41.9% approval rating*.

Wisconsin is soon to have a Black lieutenant governor, and the CEOs of Google and Microsoft are men of color (not to mention Apple's openly gay CEO).  It strikes me that maybe, in the coming year, these people would like to talk to us about issues of racial equity in America.  Let us not clutch our pearls too tightly and refuse to listen because they are preaching "tribalism."


*Today's FiveThirtyEight average.

06 December 2018

I'm reading various different sources about the lame-duck bill(s), some of which, admittedly, are more concerned with soaring old-school Marxist rhetoric than with comprehensive accuracy[1].  At this point it looks like Vos [2] and Fitzgerald [3] are going to get most of what they want, the worst of which is probably the reduction in the early voting period from six weeks to two. 

Other desires of theirs seem kind of performative.  Has Wizards of the Coast assured them that they can make the voter ID law indestructible?  And is the WEDC (Wis. Economic Development Corporation) now some kind of Tribal Enchantment that cannot be touched by the white wizard Evers' spells, at least until next September when his life total has been sufficiently depleted? [4]

1.  i.e., emailed statements from Socialist Alternative.  I enjoy them anyway, if for no other reason than they are clear-eyed about the reality that American "bipartisanship" (at least the mutual kind) died sometime in early 2009.

2. State Assembly Speaker.

3. State Senate Majority Leader and brother of the State Assembly Speaker just before Vos.  I will further add an editorial comment:  The Fitzgeralds are, or were, one of those white Chicago families that, spurred on by Nixonian and Reaganist racial politics, turned their back on the city and everything that made it a great and innovative community, or rather, many great communities.

4. Extended Magic the Gathering joke.

05 December 2018

I'm very glad that the FiveThirtyEight crew is talking about lame-duck shenanigans here in Wisconsin.  Going past the Capitol building two hours after sunset tonight, it looked, well, a lot like this.

I hardly ever travel to rural Wisconsin, which keeps electing these Republicans (yes, often by narrow margins).  I would urge any of my readers who do to talk to everybody you meet in those places about these Republicans.  Face-to-face conversations do work better than anything else at changing people's minds.  I could call my Democratic state assemblywoman about it, but I spoke with her on my front porch not a week before the election and I know damn well if we all wake up in the spring of 2020 and Ted Cruz is beating Kamala Harris in the Democratic presidential primary, it won't be her doing.

03 December 2018

You Cannot Slip

When you're the first of anything, the bar feels higher.  You feel like you don't have room to make mistakes ... That last flight we took out, when I was leaving from the Capitol, and we waved, we got on Air Force One the last time, I forgot about this because I didn't put it in the book, but a friend of mine reminded me that I cried for about 30 minutes.  And it was just the release of eight years of feeling like we had to do everything perfectly; that there wasn't a margin of error, that we couldn't make mistakes, that we couldn't slip, that our tone had to be perfect ... as the first, people will measure everyone of our race, of our gender, by what we do ...

--Michelle Obama to Stephen Colbert

I have to thank First Lady Obama for clarifying my thoughts about who I want to see run for president in 2020.  For a good while now I have harbored thoughts that perhaps Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was the best nominee we Democrats could put forward. Wouldn't it be amazing to see a gay man like me become President?  What a stroke against Mike Pence's ideology, etc. etc.  ...

And maybe Pete would be a truly stellar secretary of Veterans' Affairs.  But what Michelle told Stephen in that interview has the power of a home truth.  The kind of personal scrutiny a President Buttigieg would face is really not to be minimized.  Pete and his husband deserve many more years of happy marriage together, a marriage whose legal status owes much to the advocacy of people like the former First Lady.  I don't think they deserve to be America's Top Model Gay Couple, no matter how many young gay people they might inspire by their example.

I have to say now that I think a Beto O'Rourke or a Kirsten Gillibrand is more the kind of person I see as appropriate to lead the country.  (I won't use the term "electable" because I don't really know what it means.)  I will say that Senator Gillibrand's flavor of progressive Catholicism could be an amazing sort of 'change agent,' if you will.  Just as President Obama reinvigorated American Protestant discourse, she might give new life to Catholic social justice teachings.  And though I still love Bernie, he's just too old now.

I guess I don't lay open my unvarnished feelings about politics on this blog too much anymore; it is easier to hide behind parodies and ripostes of silly columnists -- God knows the Graduate Center for Silly White Male Columnists is churning them out at record speed these days.

This is not to say I am giving up hope of someday enjoying a quiet conversation about baseball with my fellow Midwesterners Secretary Buttigieg and Attorney General Jason Kander at an exclusive White House party... 

02 December 2018

SEN. MANCHIN:  Tell them to please come talk to me.  The Skyway will be open to all shortly, although I sincerely regret they must trudge five thousand miles through blizzard conditions to reach it.  Facilities will be available up here where they can remove the stench of their filthy cave lifestyle.  If I am not in my office when they arrive, a Nu will carefully record everything they would like to say and translate it into sonorous elemental chimes for the comprehension of my colleagues and myself.

01 December 2018

Image result for chrono trigger zeal mammon machine

QUEEN ZEAL: Ah, children, you want me to lame-duck myself.  That would be such a loss, considering the money I can raise for your re-elections with the Mammon Machine.  There is nothing else like it in the world for timely fundraising.

LUCCA:  Money doesn't always decide these races.  Look at Ocasio-Cor ----

ZEAL:  I made the Kingdom of Zeal.  Some of you may be too young to remember, but we had three floating continents, House, Senate and Presidency.  Enlightened beings enjoyed all the benefits of science and technology for two golden years.  We crafted a health care bill of surpassing beauty under the tutelage of Obama, the Guru of Compromise.  And you would ruin our chances of this ever returning?  Fools!


29 November 2018

Carlsen Repeats in World Championship, Calls into Question Kasparov's Psychological Theory about "Nerves"

I was hoping Caruana could pull it off, but forcing twelve draws in a row against the World Champion seems OK enough.  May the chess career of Fabianus Cunctator continue for a good while.

28 November 2018

Does Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) struggle with dissociative identity disorder?  This is my only stab at making sense of this article -- which I guess was somewhat informative ... but made me feel like Emperor Palpatine reading an intelligence report. 

"The anti-Pelosi forces have been struggling to regain their footing in the past several days after the longtime Democratic leader picked off two of their members, including a potential challenger ..."

"Another rebel source said of the group’s ringleaders: “They don’t know what they’re doing,” the source said, adding that their strategy has been disjointed from the start.  The latest trouble for the rebels started when ..."

Stay tuned for what a shrill-voiced protocol droid was overheard saying in an antiquated battle station room.

Full disclosure:  I am a warm supporter of putting Seth Moulton in senior leadership. 

27 November 2018

A fine article on who should earn what by the estimable Travis Sawchik.

Note that no team that paid more than 22% of payroll to one player even got to the playoffs this year.  Why this cannot be a new corporate best practice, at least for baseball-team-sized companies like Facebook,* I don't know.  It could be called the Ryan Braun Salary Index (RBSI -- the perfect complement to the MMPI in corporate analytics....)


*I'm envisaging Facebook five or six years in the future, of course, when it's operating out of a former bordello in the Nevada desert, and Joey Votto is the only full-time security guard.

26 November 2018

Buio d'inferno e di notte privata
d'ogne pianeto, sotto pover cielo,
quant' esser può di nuvol tenebrata,

non fece al viso mio sì grosso velo
come quel fummo ch'ivi ci coperse,
ne a sentir di così aspro pelo,

che l'occhio stare aperto non sofferse
onde la scorta mia saputa e fida
mi s'accostò e l'omero m'offerse.


Io sentia voci, e ciascuna pareva
pregar per pace e per misericordia
l'Agnel di Dio che le peccata leva.
Pur Agnus Dei eran le loro essordia...

Verses 1-9 and 16-19 of Canto XVI of Dante's Purgatorio.  The canto heading in Allen Mandelbaum's translation begins:  "Still the Third Terrace: the Wrathful.  Their sin punished by dark smoke."

For Robert Morlino

08 November 2018

Panegyrical* Poem for Lucy McBath

Rising phoenix-like from ashes of grief,
Teaching the nation the letters of morality
As the Phoenicians taught some complacent Greeks
The letters of their alphabet,

You were chosen and another was not,
You are to represent the rage of every son,
Every daughter, every high school buddy,
To you is given a voice of mighty love.

A seat of honor in a room with gilded fasces,
Dishonored by venality in recent times,
Awaits.  Speak for us there, or be quiet,
As the time suggests.  

Set the course of law with your compeers.
(Remember, American, this will be your art.)


*panegyric   (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary):  a eulogistic oration or writing, also:  formal or elaborate praise

06 November 2018

The best thing about FiveThirtyEight's Election Day liveblog so far has been Seth Masket's takedown of self-flagellating liberal old-guard journalism:
Reduce partisan cues. It’s not enough to say, “Trump says voter fraud occurred, Democrats disagree.” To most readers, that means either side could be right and the parties are just disagreeing as usual. If Trump’s claims need to be debunked, it can be done in an authoritative and nonpartisan manner*.

If Trump does make claims along these lines, there’s a good chance Fox News will repeat and amplify them, which Trump will may then cite the next time he repeats his claims, creating a Trump-Fox feedback loop. But other news organizations don’t have to add to that. And they certainly don’t need to lend credence to baseless claims just to appear unbiased.

*For example:  "The President lied."

03 October 2018

Post-mortem song, ripped off of "That Would Be Enough" from Hamilton

Look around, look around at how lucky we are
To be a playoff team
Look around, look around...

I don't pretend to know
Just how we might've homered
The runs we had all planned on the drawing board

But I'm not a grouch
I know Wade Davis
So long as we play hard and better than the Orioles
That would be enough

We don't have to face the Crew
We don't need Harper

Oh, Gore should be a part of the narrative
In the story the Sun-Times will write
Let our winter break begin right now,
Make our free agent moves,
And I could love my Cubs
We could be the Cubs
And that would be enough

28 September 2018

from the Politics page of the CapTimes-SevenLakesRealNews
(October 1, 2052)


By ----  ------

This year's Senate election has been dominated by the issue of cosmology.  Mera Kohl is a longtime supporter of the heliocentric solar system theory.  But Ron Johnson-Necropotence argues that our Earth is the clear center of the starry spheres.

"Make no mistake about it," Johnson-Necropotence said through a spokesminion last week.  "I just celebrated my tenth undeathday and believe me, I know a thing or two about the secrets of the universe.  Mera Kohl and her thirty-something elitist friends don't think you can handle the truth.  What she calls a 'star,' our Sun, is a cushy and fuzzy ball of goldenrod twine that has always moved in the fifth circle of the heavens

What's more, we need to be investing in exploration of the Hollow Earth Civilizations, which were known to have flourished in the 19th century, so that we can add stonemilk to our energy mix."

17 September 2018

I am confident Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has all the knowledge of the South China Sea that she needs to be an effective Congresswoman:  namely, that it is a sea that is getting warmer and rising.

04 September 2018

Cherry-picked Political Statistic of the Week 

In the states of:  Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, and Wisconsin (comprising 54 districts, and 50 Republican candidates*) -- a pretty swath of the country, if I do say so, there are exactly ZERO women running for the US House as Republicans.  (I made this determination simply based on reading first names, although I did have to look up Rep. French Hill of Arkansas to be sure.  Gad, what a grifter.)

*The four districts abandoned by Republicans are Oregon 3rd (Portland), Wisconsin 2nd (Madison area), Mississippi 2nd, and Louisiana 2nd (New Orleans).

26 August 2018

Some men decide to let us know that they aren’t jokes. They turn sullen and grumpy, like people out of a Frank Miller comic. Or they turn defensive, a trait I cannot really blame in anyone, in a society so bitterly competitive—I particularly cannot fault it in men of color, poor men, and immigrants, whose masculinity subjects them simultaneously to actual serious threat from white men and to the feminist scrutiny that they, along with the rest of us, warrant. But defensiveness has a well-known tendency to make us behave in ways that are laughable. And then a handful of men try to reconstruct a consensus that has decisively gone. They remind me of Bron, the antihero of Samuel Delany’s science-fiction novel Triton (1976), who so badly desires to revive True Manliness in a polymorphously perverse far future that he undergoes a sex change (which, in the world of that novel, is easily procured, free, and painless). Since he appears to be among the last people in the galaxy who still understand that “what gives the species the only value it has are men,” he will at least find a man who feels as he does, so that they may together revive an ancient sort of love. He winds up alone. Delany’s message is clear: Bron is so silly that he cannot even be allowed the dignity of, in effect, screwing himself.

--Phillip Christman

05 August 2018

Pious Mark Richt I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Saban's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Bulldog door.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the Southern Conference, 'fore he won
The UM job, and built the destin'd team;
His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line...

Apologies to John Dryden

04 August 2018

I'm casting no aspersions on this article or its author when I say that what many will take away from it (The Perfect Therapist Could Have Prevented This, Episode 5,789) is flat wrong.  I am very happy to hear that high school students in my community are about to take to the streets for legislative change -- including raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, which if I'm not mistaken, would have ensured that M.S. Douglas High School and Nikolas Cruz remained in national obscurity.

29 July 2018

Quick Summary of Points Made in Today's New York Times 

We failed to save the planet.  College-bound kids, be prepared and study hard.  There can be no accountability for anything because Mike Pence is scary (Frank Bruni).   

24 July 2018

There's this Times story about all these candidates, and it had a quote from one of the Republicans running ... the Republican wrote on Facebook, 'We cannot afford to have DEMOCRATS, let alone DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISTS, take over our County and State*.' And it just made me realize, like, "Democrat" is, for a good section of the country, "Democrat" is just as bad as "socialist." So, like, who gives a shit, ultimately?  I don't think that's quite right, but ... it's not like you're going to win over a lot of these voters anyways.

-- Micah Cohen

*My guess as to how that Facebook post looked.

09 July 2018

Brooke added, "I feel like everything combined is just becoming a big, huge mess sometimes.  I don't watch the news that often, but when people talk about it, it's all, like, 'Trump did this today,' or 'Trump did this today.' What's a different topic?  We had the March for Our Lives walk -- why not talk about that?"

Brooke, an extra in the film Eighth Grade, quoted in Michael Schulman, "The Awkward Age," New Yorker, July 2, 2018.  The Road to Change tour is coming to La Trinidad Church in San Antonio, Texas this evening.

03 July 2018

One day historians will be wading through the incoherent, fast-pattering, rambling morass that is the Mitch Henck Two Minutes Show, trying to understand the Midwest of the early 21st century.  Whether it's Henck's outright lying about how asylum-seeking immigrants can't be trusted to show up for their hearings [1] or denying that a 96-degree day in May is, historically, too hot, the future scholar will probably experience sensations of extreme puzzlement.  Of course, a comparative approach that includes the radio preacher Father Coughlin may be helpful.

1. Henck says, "the old solution of keeping families together and saying 'come back for your hearing in a few weeks' and they didn't come back, otherwise known as catch-and-release, really didn't work ..."  Margaret Talbot writes in The New Yorker, July 2, 2018:  "A 2000 study by the Vera Institute of Justice found that eighty-three percent of asylum seekers who had initially been found to have credible reasons to fear remaining in their home country and who were released in the United States with a requirement to return for a hearing did so.  Ninety-five percent of participants in a monitoring program run by ICE between 2011 and 2013 showed up for their proceedings."

02 July 2018

The Trump of Mexico has triumphed, if Donald J. Trump was a former mayor of New York City who championed the dignity of poor and indigenous people, founded his own political party, and campaigned on demanding respect from himself.

¡Dale alegría, Señor Obrador!

27 June 2018

I’m going to do one of those annoying political writer things, but … know who might be the big winner of the night? BERNIE SANDERS. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who just won in an upset, was one of his organizers, and Ben Jealous is up in Maryland after a Sanders endorsement. To be honest, Sanders needed a night like this, given that a lot of his recently endorsed candidates had been falling by the wayside.

[If I quote any more of this liveblog I should start paying some royalties, so I'll stop here, I promise]
I think the high road/Trump tactics division is a false choice, which I realize is a typical irritating response from me. The correct tactic both strategically and in life is to have actual principles that you stand for and to treat opponents respectfully but communicate very clearly and forcefully about those ideas.

25 June 2018

A White Man Worries About "Signals Sent" When People Want to Talk to a White Female State Attorney General at Movie Theaters in Florida

Certainly not as pithy a headline as the actual one, but far more descriptive of the actual content.  The quote from Michael Beschloss, Lord Guardian Keeper of the Presidential Histories, made me throw up in my mouth just a little.  Wow, almost sounds like this country has PROBLEMS of some sort that people with consciences might get mad about.  (He also appears to call Trump "it," though, which made me laugh.)

23 June 2018

A Bit on Why I Support Kathleen Vinehout for Governor

Senator Vinehout has a remarkable, dare I say Lincolnian, biography.  She is certainly not new to the idea of guaranteeing everyone health care, and when she uses the word "sacrifice" I am convinced she means something real by it.  It is not exactly common to see political aspirants talk about their personal dream of running a dairy farm, and the fact that she pursued it after teaching in academia for ten years speaks volumes to me about her core values.  I know many would call this choice crazy -- but in my crazy opinion, life is hardly worth living if it is dependent on a neat linear career trajectory [1].

Kathleen is the only sitting state legislator left in the Democratic field, now that Dana Wachs has dropped out.  Do we think that executive leaders should have a close understanding of the organizations they will be working with, or do we think parachuting them in and hoping they learn quickly is wiser?

I have seen Kathleen speak in person twice.  On both occasions she was forthright while being respectful to her audience.  She does not resort to jargon and insider-ese when she can possibly help it.  If she does not know how to answer a question she will say so, but she is not, as a rule, dismissive of the question.  We may critique her speaking style, vocal timbre, and mannerisms 'til the cows come home -- but I would rather spend those precious hours talking about taxes, budgets, transit infrastructure, and responding to climate change.

1.  Not to mention that straight white men are routinely lauded and gushed about when they do this kind of risky career move (see Entrepreneurship, Cult of), whereas others are told to keep their heads down, drink their kombucha, and maintain due deference at all times.  Screw that.

07 June 2018

THIS is why the American Civil War had to be fought.  Hundreds of soldiers in the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry died at Fort Wagner, S.C., not because they were cleaning up an unpleasant sectional mess that Andrew Jackson could have prevented (sorry, Donny), or because they had been brainwashed by shrill, polarizing, extremist abolitionist hussies like H.B. Stowe or the Grimke sisters (sorry, Kanye), but because they believed forced labor was immoral, and that their country would be best served by finally purging it of racialized forced labor.

Hopefully judge and jury will see fit to give Mr. Edwards the maximum sentence.

15 May 2018

Maybe my 30-something bro Josh Hawley is interested in showing up for the Uncorked Festival in Madison this Saturday.  It's the perfect way for a wine-loving, upwardly mobile, bicoastal person to relax on the weekend after issuing snide statements about Claire McCaskill and ritually deflecting media questions about Eric Greitens! It could also be an invaluable chance to ask Madison's mayor about tips on running a campaign based entirely on talking to random old men in bars and pretending to be a rural Midwesterner who loves the turkey hunting and can follow the course of a football game!!

Only a six-hour drive from St. Louis.  Consider it, Hawley!

08 May 2018

"I love dinosaurs too ... but I can think of many other things that would be [nicer] to have than a cyborg dinosaur, such as health care." -- Danielle Tcholakian

25 April 2018

The academy is liberal, but as you point out, there is a lack of diversity. Why?

I wish I could give you some flashy, succinct answers tied to years of data. I can't. What I can say is that attitudinally, people don't care enough. It's that simple. They don't want a diversity of perspectives badly enough. They don't desire the capability to value that which lies outside the boundaries of the familiar. If they did, the academy would look different. It's not complicated. People's ideals and actions often come apart when it really matters, when there are real goods on the line, like prestige and position.

Christopher Lebron, Professor of Philosophy 

16 April 2018

One of the most impressive things about Cecilia, my pet ferret, is her capacity to learn and change, even if belatedly.  She is clearly arriving at a new place.  Many of her statements before the Senate and House stepped considerably beyond what the company has been previously willing to concede or advocate.  Here's how she formally concluded her prepared testimony before the House:  "My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community, and bringing the world closer together.  Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I'm running Facebook."
Does that mean Cecilia's decided that the customer is the user, not the advertiser?  Perhaps.  She has repeatedly told investors in the past year that she expects profits will fall considerably as the company spends whatever is necessary to remedy the problems that led to the current crisis ...
... By being forced to answer questions she may have previously considered a distraction, Cecilia seems, to me, to have matured a great deal over the past few weeks.  My pet is still, as she was when she was toiling in her Harvard dorm room, a true believer.  But she's now realizing -- by finally confronting the bad and not just marveling about the good -- the full scale of what she created.  She'll take whatever measures she thinks necessary to achieve what she considers "community" and brings people "closer together."  For Cecilia, buy-in from advertisers may well be less important now than buy-in from the world. 

From the final 3 paragraphs of David Kirkpatrick's Time article "The Facebook Defect" (April 23 issue), with all references to Mark Zuckerberg changed.  Otherwise it is, word for word, the same.

13 April 2018

Someday a Saudi aristocrat or two is going to want to put a "relatively innocuous monument" to the righteous patriarchs Osama bin Laden, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, et al. in a Wisconsin cemetery:  and what will history-lovers Phil and Scott say then?

Well done, Madison Common Council.

02 April 2018

I have in mind both the public school movement and, later, the land-grant colleges. I'm not thinking of anyone in particular, but rather the civic spirit that united the otherwise disparate Adams and Jefferson in favor of universal public education. The best exponent of this ideal today is Marilynne Robinson.
I understand that the economy and the education "industry" have changed a great deal in the interim but I am at a loss for why this should tell against "education for its own sake". For one thing, we have more luxury than ever; and this is the sort of education that aims at disposing well of it. Second and related, in our post-agrarian and and post-industrial economy what is being harvested for profit is, increasingly, our attention. To be less educated in the classical sense is to be more vulnerable to such harvesting, I believe.
It should go without saying that this has nothing to do with the relative demand for plumbers or lawyers or philosophers or whatever; nor it is relevant to the question of affirmative action at Penn or anywhere else. I just object to the assumption that there is a trade off here between two different types of education and to the economic determinism which, given that assumption, makes it seem obvious that liberal education must go. We should be able to see Bolshevism for what it is, even if Scott Walker is sponsoring it.

01 April 2018


You're appearing in a form I don't recognize.  

Please tell me your recovery phone number so I can send you a text with access code.  Standard 5-denarii rate applies within the provinces of Syria and Egypt.  

29 March 2018

 "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  Matthew 28:20 [NRSV]

(in Greek the italicized words are:  εις τεν τελον αιονιου.  Perhaps the one and only New Testament passage I can remember in the original.)

RIP Tripp Zanetis.

26 March 2018

But first, for the record, I have absolutely zero qualms with the sophistication of Antoni's cooking. The whole idea is to give these dudes accessible recipes that they'll actually make. I identify as "Queer, Very" and "Medium Extra" and even I am sometimes undone by a Blue Apron meal. "Everything is already portioned for you; what's wrong with you?" I say to the mirror, channelling Annette Bening in American Beauty ... Y'all need to lay off of Antoni. If it's so easy to make good guacamole why are y'all out here at the Chipotle paying extra for it? Skittle me that, haters.

R. Eric Thomas

14 March 2018

Senate Democrats who think that supporting an awful bill that almost nobody in this country likes, regardless of their ideological tendencies, and thereby getting a "bipartisan accomplishment" as they "[head] into" their "brutal reelection [race]" need to repeat kindergarten, because they clearly haven't learned that internalizing the values of your bully gets you nowhere.

10 March 2018

Praise For Kevin Love's Honesty, in the Miltonic Style

It may not seem quite right to historically minded Readers that a Cleveland Cavalier should be the Subject of a laudatory Piece pattern'd after John Milton; but the Ironies of Poetry are manifold, and considering that Milton wrote not one, but two Poems concerning a humble Coachman named Thomas Hobson[1], the purist kind of Reader will be asked to lay aside his Crown, suspend his Disbelief, and attempt an Appreciation of this Effort.

The Poem

Intense barrage of cameras, flashing teeth,
Ordeal I could but ill foresee or moat,
Hot-cold, the fear infects me by the throat --
O impotence of mind, in body strong!
But what is strength without a double share
Of wisdom...[2]
I have not died.  My heart accepts the rule
Of sovereign self again, my soul aspires
To teach another, then another one;
And not to wait 'til summer to speak out,
But take the thousand missives I provoke,
Wrap me in difference, aye, attention's cloak!
A help for every man's internal bout.

1. Hobson drove the coach between Cambridge and London and died in 1631 at the age of 87 (Samson Agonistes and the Shorter Poems, ed. Isabel Gamble MacCaffrey, Signet Classic).
2. from Samson's opening speech in Samson Agonistes, v. 52-54.

02 March 2018

If I were married to Andrew Sullivan, I'm not sure how I would handle those morning-coffee conversations when, while scooping out kibbles for the beagle and the hound dog, we'd be talking about sexually transmitted diseases (because I think our relationship would be honest and open enough for that), I would observe that bacteria were here before people and dogs, and bacteria don't have sex chromosomes (or indeed any chromosomes), and Andrew would accuse me of trying to destroy the concept of gender and preaching Cultural Marxism.

But I kid, really.  It is a small miracle that Andrew is still alive and trying to improve the world with his writing.  His voice is one of the very few conservative voices I can appreciate hearing from at length.

27 February 2018

A Few World Cup Predictions

I'm gonna look for a big glossy rainbow-colored sheet of paper to fill out my brackets on, but until then I do have a few predictions to hazard:

1.  When Russia & Germany face off, which I'm sure will happen at some stage, Germany to win by 2 points.

2.  Soon after, Putin will threaten to cut off all gas supplies to Germany next winter.

3.  [at]realdonaldtrump will tweet, "The GER-RUS game was RIGGED!  Did you know Planned Parenthood is to blame for forcing YOUR KIDS to play soccer in school.  I don't care what liberal elites say about it.    Thanks for the sweet deal Sepp"

4.  Within the week, George Will will write a Washington Post column denouncing Germany as a godless multicultural cesspool and bitching about loud black people and overly flamboyant gays ruining baseball.

5.  (83% chance) Within the same week, Bryce Harper will be arrested for assault.

26 February 2018

Adam Aron
CEO, AMC Cinemas

Dear Mr. Aron,

I still have $20 on a gift certificate to your business.  Movies these days that I know I will enjoy are few and far between (although one is coming up next month).  I wonder if your people can talk to Jimmy Kimmel's people and put together a three-part show (Part 1 found here,  Part 2 found here, Part 3 found here).

You can market it as "The True History of the Crying Cubs Fan" (or maybe "The Crying Game:  Annihilation of the Curse") and maybe have some live piano and/or vaudeville dances during the interludes.  It could be just the thing for struggling theaters in the greater Chicago region!  Do not be put off by the short duration of the video material (about 6 minutes 30 seconds).  Many movie-goers -- let's be honest -- have gone to see movies with less of a story in them.  Perhaps Bill Murray would like to get involved, as well.

Mr. Skye Winspur

These two paragraphs alone would have made a good opinion piece (with the one-word change I made), but POLITICO being POLITICO, a heavy dose of pure alternate reality is required before release to the reading masses.  (SO MUCH WIN.)

Then there’s the truly desperate notion lingering out there among the left [center]: Surely there must be someone in the GOP who will come to his or her senses and lead a stand against the president. Yes, maybe it will be Mitt Romney, who hates Trump so much he tried to be his secretary of state. Or maybe it’s Bob Corker, who quite incredibly seems to have gone from saying Trump was unstable and roaming around an adult day care center to becoming a telephone buddy trying to regain Trump’s favor.
Face it: The Republicans, most of them, are by now so accustomed to inertia and groupthink and political impotence that they seem willing to lose control of the House just to avoid getting a mean tweet from the president. Think the GOP will abandon Trump easily? They’ve all but given up.

24 February 2018

If Bertolt Brecht were alive today and writing tragedies, I have to think he would right now be working on Der Siebte Hügelchenbesuch (The Seventh Mound Visit).

22 February 2018

"I love the day."

I never had an American uncle, really, and I couldn't ask for a better surrogate, one with compassion and strategic intelligence, not to mention fashion sense, in these weeks than Joe Maddon.  God bless you, Joe.

21 February 2018

This was a wonderful and very intelligent discussion, but I must disagree with Prof. Lepore when she said "sorting people into pro- or anti-NRA is a ridiculous proposition" (19:11).

It is probably easy for a professor in Cambridge, Massachusetts to live out her life without thinking about this kind of sorting.  (It certainly was easy for me when I lived there as a grad student.)  But now that I live in Wisconsin, a state where six of the eight House representatives and one of the two senators have taken money from the NRA, and where it is now legal to carry concealed assault weapons on Madison city buses*, maybe it is not totally crazy to wonder about the feelings of people in my community towards the organization.

I do cop to feeling a certain kind of "religious zeal," which Lepore said is distorting our politics, about gun control.  How has any great improvement in living conditions for all Americans ever historically been made without religious zeal?  Certainly not the abolition of slavery.

Lepore was right to acknowledge that the gun debate "has not been a particularly free, and full, debate."  The tactics of the NRA -- issuing "orange cards" to lawmakers who get on their best side -- are strongly reminiscent of paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland.  If you have the stomach for it, look at their visual rhetoric.  What you'll find is often aggressive and jingoistic.  The roots of this ideology lie in the 1688-9 British civil war, which overthrew a Catholic king and solidly established the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland -- the irony is, now everybody (or at least "Judeo-Christians") can be an oppressed Protestant yeoman, including conservative Catholics.

I wish the best for the Parkland students who have chosen to speak out.  I just don't want them put off by an expert (and I'm not denying Jill Lepore is one) telling them it's wrong to know who your likeliest friends are.

*Thanks to a State Supreme Court decision last year.

20 February 2018

I really really want to mass-produce a mug that reads I JUST WANT TO DRINK CRAPPY BYWATER BEER AND LISTEN TO SARUMAN BLAME THE DWARVES AND ELVES FOR ALL MY PROBLEMS.  Should sell amazingly in parts of Pennsylvania.

17 February 2018

"All politicians are the same."  How many times have you heard this?

If you live in Colorado or Wisconsin, and you agree with this statement, Aaron Bycoffe of FiveThirtyEight has some data to drop on you.

The two senators from Colorado, Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D), have rather different attitudes about voting with Trump.  Gardner does it 92.4% of the time, while Bennet does it 27.3% of the time.  Curiously, though, they represent exactly the same voters.  Bennet was first elected to the Senate in 2010, and Gardner in 2014.  Now, I know there are those who would tell me that, in the intervening four years, Colorado experienced a massive Great Conservative Awakening, or perhaps the people of rural counties decided en masse that Obama was going to destroy their natural wonders with Kenyan witchcraft and so turned to the side of Gardner.  Unfortunately, they have no data to back this up.

The two senators from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson (R) and Tammy Baldwin (D), also represent exactly the same voters -- though Mr. Johnson prefers never ever to interact with them in person.  Johnson votes with Trump 92.4% of the time (a familiar number ...) and Baldwin does it 21.5% of the time.  In this case, there is only a two-year gap between the years Johnson and Baldwin were first elected to the Senate.  The idea that Wisconsin could experience a 70.9% change in opinion on anything within two years (Brett Favre might be the exception that proves the rule) will, of course, be laughable to anyone who knows the state well.

If you choose not to vote because 'all politicians are the same,' your silence speaks very loudly in Washington, and not in the principled way you might think.  Ron Johnson and Cory Gardner do not care that none of the candidates on the ballot were virtuous enough to earn your support.  Not voting is a choice that enables extremists to triumph.

15 February 2018

It is time for all our elected officials to decide whom they will believe, Anthony Rizzo or NRA cardinal-archbishop Wayne LaPierre.  There is really no middle ground here.

That is all I have to say about the Parkland shooting.

14 February 2018

This column from Jonah Goldberg can hardly be topped for sheer cynical bullshit and denialism (a sport in which there are many lucrative Participation Trophies on offer these days).  The State Journal - Capital Times - Allgemeine Lutheranische Zeitung, yet again, seems to have no scruples about printing such lazy dreck, because [sad old liberal hand-wringing noise] all sides deserve to be heard, or at least all straight white male sides.

Goldberg claims that the 2007 Twin Cities bridge collapse was due to a mysterious "construction defect" and insinuates that stupid union construction workers may have been to blame.  Nothing about then-Governor Tim Pawlenty refusing to adequately fund bridge repairs because raising the gas tax was anathema to his party.  Of course, he also pretends ignorance of every single recent Amtrak disaster, because in this country trains don't move people.  (God ordained that we should be the exact opposite of Europe in matters of transportation!)

Just as there was a Baathist behind every bush for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, so it turns out there is a bloodsucking union cabal behind every less than perfect feature of America's transit system.

"... politicians and the unions that own them are to blame for the Big Apple’s deteriorating subway system. For years they’ve raided transportation funds for pet projects, such as failing upstate ski resorts."

I'm sure this will not stop Goldberg or his ideological ilk, in a future column, from blaming Barack Obama for not bringing the Winter Olympics back to Lake Placid, NY. 

Goldberg's implied solution to your increasingly regular holiday travel nightmares is clear:  kill all (knowledgeable) union workers.  Indeed, this is the logical endpoint of the Reaganist-Walkerist ideology, that magic-mirror twin of Marxism-Leninism.

12 February 2018

If the author of Fire and Fury is totally out of his depth, we might as well stick with established masters of fiction for our glimpses into the Trump administration.   In 1909, Thomas Mann's novel His Royal Highness, about palace intrigue and family drama in a fictional German kingdom (Germany was only unified under the Kaiser in 1871), was published.  This is Herr von Knobelsdorff (Minister of Internal and External Affairs and of the Grand-ducal Household) speaking to Herr von Schröder (Minister of Finance and Agriculture), and is taken from Chapter 2, "The Inhibition."

"Really?" he said.  "So it's your Excellency's perception that the Count's appointment has taken place for this end?  And I, I imagine the justified astonishment of this nobleman, when you lay out to him your conception of things.  No, no ... Your Excellency should not be fooled about it, shouldn't think that this appointment is a well-measured expression of His Royal Highness's will, that the appointed one had to be the first to pay attention to.  It's not just a matter of an I don't know, but also a matter of an I wish to know nothing.  One can have an exclusively decorative personality and nevertheless be capable of understanding this ... Furthermore ... honestly ... we all have understood it.  And for all of us, finally, just one mitigating circumstance applies:  it's that in this world there is no prince alive to whom it would be a more fatal matter to speak of his faults, than His Royal Highness ..."

08 February 2018

Today's Politico headlines rewritten for the reader who can handle reality:

Inside Trump's shift from Stolz der Nation to Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer

Meghan McCain believes War is Peace

How Obama Failed to Convince Every Last Sectarian Group in the Middle East to Become Secular Humanists

03 February 2018

The Denethor Democrat:  Bill Scher

It's truly wondrous to me how closely some political pundits resemble characters from Tolkien.  After years of trying to keep up with Mr. Scher's thoughts, I have concluded that it's really not that hard.  If at any time I am curious what he is saying, I don't actually have to listen to him; I need only open my copy of Return of the King to Chapter 7 ('The Pyre of Denethor') and read again (I've added just a few details for effect - in bold):

Then suddenly Denethor laughed.  He stood up tall and proud again, and stepping swiftly back to the table he lifted from it the pillow on which his head had lain.  Then coming to the doorway he drew aside the covering, and lo! he had between his hands a palantir from the Gore / Lieberman 2000 campaign.  And as he held it up, it seemed to those that looked on that the globe began to glow with an inner flame, so that the lean face of the Lord was lit as with a red fire, and it seemed cut out of hard stone, sharp with black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible.  His eyes glittered.  "Pride and despair!" he cried.  "Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind?  Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Leftist Fool.  For thy hope is but ignorance.  Go then and labour in healing!  Go forth and fight!  Vanity.  For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day.  But against the Power that now arises there is no victory ... The West and its Berniebots have failed.  It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves."  "Such counsels will make the Enemy's victory certain indeed," said Gandalf.  "Hope on then!" laughed Denethor.  "Do I not know thee, Mithrandir Justice Democrat?  Thy hope is to rule in my stead, to stand behind every throne, north, south or west.  I have read thy mind and its policies..."

23 January 2018

Exhibit A in the New York Times's competency at truth-telling hearing: 

Kentucky has a novel idea for regaining access to Medicaid:  Pass a health or financial literacy course.  Critics say the idea has uncomfortable historical echoes.

Critics say?  I didn't know historians of the Jim Crow South were "critics."  Maybe we can chalk this up to the general and endemic blurring of all distinctions between history, art criticism, philosophy, Catholic social teaching, and making angry YouTube videos.  But this is not the first time somebody at the Times has weasel'd out of telling us the straight truth about what Republicans are up to in states where they rule.  Mr. Sulzberger, Black History Month is nigh, and you need to be educated.
As literary critic William Hazlitt once said,

without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions, of men. The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all around it as dark as possible; so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud.
And just as Hazlitt found no reason to kill the spider that vexed him, but could not "part with the essence or principle of hostility" towards it, so too do I tremble at the thought of the Cubs acquiring a certain right fielder formerly of the Nationals.  You can cite all the testimonials of friends, family, and college buddies, and it will not change my mind.  Somehow I know that Harper would be a shaggy Lancelot come unto the Round Table that is the holy precinct of Wrigley, that he would destroy the morals of Chicago's youth  -- that the Chicago River would dry up, the Fourth Presbyterian Church turned over to round-the-clock baptisms of the dead.

I freely own my ridiculous irrational fear and loathing of Bryce Harper.  If it's imperative that they have somebody from Las Vegas on the team, my Cubs would be better off with Jimmy Kimmel, who I cannot but believe would be an excellent first base coach.

[edited to be a little nicer towards a certain sportswriter]

22 January 2018

"I don't love the implications that women will make politics more civilized.  The culture, as a whole, creates the atmosphere in which candidates exist and decide to put forth lines of attack -- and politicians rise or fall to those expectations that the culture inhabits ..."

Clare Malone, Five Thirty Eight writer
Future historians looking back on this era will, I trust, see the direct line between the current shutdown and the October 2013 shutdown (Ted Cruz's Tantrum as many called it, and with reason).  At that time far too many Democrats assumed that the extreme ideology animating attacks on Obamacare, Obama, and indeed all people of color was in its last throes; and confident in the inevitable, effortless triumph of liberal values, they hastened to accommodate Republican demands.  Demographics were on their side, after all, and surely the people would throw Republicans out of Congress the next year, or two years after that ...

Now here we are, and Mitch McConnell is very sad that preparations for the Glorious State of the Union and the Edifying Trip to Davos have been interrupted.

Hilary Krieger hit upon the main thing in a recent Five Thirty Eight discussion:

hilary.krieger: So I’m going to disagree a bit with Perry on the politics of this. I agree that the Democrats will be blamed to some extent, and I don’t think it will necessarily result in DACA moving forward. But it seems like we’ve entered the era of base politics. This will win Democrats points with the base, say to the GOP that they’re willing to play hardball too ...

John Poma Jr., who hates The Last Jedi, says "we should talk more" about the Star Wars franchise.  So here's some talking on my part.

Damned if I'm going to be brainwashed by The White Men of YouTube (John, James, Mike, Ben Shapiro et al.) into thinking that an emotionally engaging, visually riveting movie MADE THE YEAR AFTER CARRIE FISHER DIED was stupid and an insult to George Lucas's frontal lobe, or penis, or whatever.  Really, guys.  It is 20 f' in' 18 now and you have literally hundreds of hours of the reincarnated Battlestar Galactica or Stargate to watch if you don't like this particular space opera movie.  If The Last Jedi didn't satisfy your high standards of patriarchy, there's always Interstellar (a.k.a  Matthew Mcconaughey Lives Forever and Emits Glorious Solutions From His Penis ) WHICH LASTED 169 MINUTES.

The CEO of YouTube is a woman.  Has it occurred to you how magnanimous she has been in letting the master algorithms of the site feature your reviews of this movie -- more than a month after it first hit theaters?  I suppose if those algorithms were changed you would start screaming about "being silenced," and perhaps one of you might convince a New York Times reporter to write a sympathetic article about you and how hard it is to be a straight white male Star Wars fan in a world where women own comic book stores and blahblahblah. 

That's my two cents of "real discourse."

21 January 2018

Some Political Media Recommendations This Year

I can't fully agree with Duncan Black that the New York Times has become eine scheissige Zeitung and a "bad" newspaperYes, they've got a self-flagellation problem[1], but they have a lot of good young journalists working hard on stories of national import.  And the symbolic impact of stories like this one is easily underestimated.

I have never felt very favorably disposed to the Washington Post -- don't ask me about the movie -- ever since Bernie Sanders was tarred and feathered in their pages like no tax collector ever has been in the 2016 primary season.  But I'll say that their motto is nice, and if your choice is between reading Breitbart for shutdown updates or them, choose them.

As far as local media goes -- "covering things that nobody else does" -- the Chicago Sun-Times is pretty damn impressive.  And I'm not just saying that because they put out a lovely Cubs 2016 retrospective picture book / illuminated bound manuscript[2], for which I would have gladly paid $100.  Their exhaustive efforts to record the lives of those killed in gun violence in Chicago are commendable.  In our present age, denial is more toxic than passion.  As Antigonus tells King Leontes in The Winter's Tale, "It is for you we speak, not for ourselves. / You are abused, and by some putter-on / That will be damn'd for 't."[3]  This captures the spirit of the Sun-Times's political coverage, as well as that of the Guardian, which is not local but has newly adopted beautiful chromatic graphic design.


1. This problem seems to manifest most often in those "helping verbs" we learned early on in school.  We are told that devastating cuts to social programs may have devastating effects on real people, not that they will.  

2.  The writing in here is quite good.  For example: "If there was one thing manager Joe Maddon was brought in for, it was the ability to make players believe in themselves.  He could make a mortician believe he's a big-league shortstop.  There's a decent chance he could convince a mortician that death isn't an inevitability."

3. Act II, Scene 1, v. 140-142.

20 January 2018

Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.

Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural address, March 1861
"Because of this central argument between Republicans and Democrats on including immigration, we see a lot of clear division.  It is unclear how leaders will get to the table if they cannot agree what is on the table.  That is where we are at right now."

--a reporter from CQ Roll Call, per a transcript of today's noon hour on C-SPAN

I was gratified, and surprised, to see Patty Schachtner triumph over her Republican opponent in the special St. Croix County state senate election.  I am hardly the first person to say this, but in our crazy sexist society, capable women are routinely dissuaded from running for office (or sometimes violently threatened if it becomes known they are doing so).   Many times this is done by other women, who bring up valid reasons why entering politics is not easy and suggest other avenues of advancement.  But this downward spiral of self-oppression has no bottom, unfortunately.  Thankfully, not all women are taking part in it, and we can hope that the 19th Amendment will remain the law of the land.

I wasn't surprised because this is a rural district.  I was surprised because Schachtner's opponent was a sitting Republican state legislator (from the lower house) and also had a German last name*.  And that's 95% of the preparation one needs for this kind of thing. 

It is indeed a "special" source of joy for me to see Democratic women astound the watchers of politics (and, yes, elicit pissy comments from men on the internet about how being nice is stupid -- but those aren't worth reading).  And even more so because this woman was a county medical examiner.  Yes, we should strive to educate people more about the opioid crisis and other public health issues; and we can wring our hands all year round about how ignorant of science Americans are.  But this is not a substitute for throwing down a gauntlet to the entrenched magnates of the pussy-grabbing party and making it a real contest.  As Heraclitus is recorded saying, "justice is strife." 

*Jarchow is one of those northeast German surnames, which were once very common in Pomerania,   and are still legion in Wisconsin.
The scene unfolding on C-SPAN right now is something out of Caravaggio ... without the stark chiaroscuro.  Senator Durbin has gathered at least eight other senators around him and is quietly, undemonstratively, telling them something.  It's the closest thing to Jesus addressing his followers from a mountaintop I've ever seen in Congressional footage.

(Before the cloture vote began, viewers could also see Minority Leader Schumer and Majority Leader Mcconnell having a heated contretemps.  I couldn't read their lips but I hardly needed to.)

18 January 2018

Then a hush fell upon them.  Quietly and with hesitation the conversation moved into the most recent events, and when the name of little Johann was mentioned, the room fell silent again, and only the rain outside was heard, rushing more violently.
Something like a heavy secret reigned about Hanno's last illness, which must have marched through him in extraordinarily destructive power.  It was not looked at, and only spoken of in tones of steam, with intimations and half-words.  And then every last episode was called back out of memory ... the visit of that little, demolished-looking Count, who had pushed his way into the sickroom almost by force ... Hanno had chuckled when he perceived his voice, even though he no longer recognized anybody, and Kai had kissed him on both hands unceasingly ...
"He kissed his hands?" asked the Buddenbrook ladies ...
"Yes, many times."
At this point everyone thought for a while.
Presently Mrs. Permaneder broke out in tears.
"I loved him so much," she sobbed ... "Y'all don't know, how much I loved him ... more than any of y'all ... yes, sorry, Gerda, you're the mother ... Och, he was an angel ..."
"Now he is an angel," Sesemi said by way of improvement.
"Hanno, little Hanno," continued Mrs. Permaneder, and the tears flowed over the fluffy and dull skin of her cheeks ... "Tom, Father, Grandpa and all the others!  Where have they gone?  They're no longer to be seen.  Och, it's so hard and dreary!"
"There is a reunion," said Friederike Buddenbrook, as she tightly clasped her hands together, her eyes downcast and her nose stabbing in the air.
"Yes, so they say ... Och, there are hours, Friederike, when there's no trusting, God punish me, when one strays far from righteousness, from the Good ... from everything.  Life, you know, breaks so many things in us, leads so many believers into shame ... A reunion ... If it were true ..."
But then Sesemi Weichbrodt came up to the table -- she was just high enough to surmount it.  She stood up on her tiptoes, craned her neck, thumped on the plate, the hood on her head shaking.
"It is what it is!" she said with her whole power and trained her eyes on everyone defiantly.
She stood there, victorious fighter in the good fight, which she had waged all her life against the challenges of older, wiser women -- hunchbacked, tiny, and bouncing with conviction, a small, punishing, spirit-filled prophet.

Buddenbrooks, the finale

15 January 2018

This Director Wulicke was a fearsome man.  He was the successor of the jovial and people-loving old gentleman under whose direction Hanno's father and uncle had studied; he had died soon after the year 71.  At that time Dr. Wulicke, hitherto a professor in a Prussian high school [Gymnasium] was called upon, and thus a different and a new spirit was drawn into the old school.  Where formerly classical education as a cheerful purpose in itself had held sway -- which the boys pursued placidly with the Muses in frolicking idealism -- now the grip of Authority, Duty, Power, Servility, and Career had solidified to the last breath, and the "categorical imperative of our philosopher Kant" was the banner that Director Wulicke menacingly unfolded with every speech.  The school had become a state within the state, in which Prussian Excellent Service ruled so comprehensively, that not just the teachers, but also the students, acted as civil servants.  As such, staying on the good side of their bosses was everything, for they could be troubled by nothing except their SAT scores* ... There yet remained the question whether in earlier days (though there was less convenience then), the school was known to be a more sympathetic and encouraging institution.  What a little more gentleness, care, mirth, beneficence, and coziness in these spaces could do ...

What did Director Wulicke personally embody?  He had the cryptic, double-dealing, idiosyncratic, and jealous destructive force of the Old Testament God.  He was as unsettling in chuckles as in thorns.  The monstrous Authority that lay in his hands made him theatrically capricious and beyond all reckoningWhen someone laughed, he was prone to say something searing and to become fear itself.  None of his trembling creatures knew the secret of how to overcome him.

from Buddenbrooks, Part 11, Chapter 2

*Mann used the French loanword Avancement here.

14 January 2018

Today's reading in the Revised Common Lectionary was from 1 Samuel Chapter 3.  I am very often curious as to what precedes these passages, so in that spirit I did some independent reading, and will now present--

1 Samuel, Chapter 1, verses 1 - 20 reimagined for our times 

There was a certain man of Michigan, who managed an AutoZone store in Petoskey.  His name was Emmett, and he was a Lions fan.  There were two significant women in his life; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Penny.  Penny had children, but Hannah had no children.

Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to tailgate and to make end zone libations at Ford Field, where the two sons of Eli, Howie and Vinnie, were assistant coaches.  On game day, Emmett would give portions of Lions gear to Penny and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.  Hannah's rival and nursing colleague Penny used to provoke Hannah severely, to irritate her, talking about all the achievements of her son in high school baseball.  So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to Ford Field, she used to provoke her.  Therefore Hannah had no appetite for beer or poutine.  Her boo Emmett said to her, "Hannah, why do you not drink or eat?  Why is your heart sad?  Am I not more to you than ten Heisman-eligible sons?"

After they had eaten and drunk at the stadium, Hannah rose to leave.  Now Eli, who attended every Lions game, was sitting on the seat at the end of her row.  She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and, thinking again of the Lions' playoff chances, wept bitterly.  She made this vow:  "O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will make sure he pursues a career in the NFL until the day of his death.  He shall be taught passing, receiving, rushing, and statistics, and his head shall be helmeted from age fourteen onwards."

As she continued praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.  Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not audible; therefore Eli thought she was stoned.  So Eli said to her, "You can't be making a spectacle of yourself here.  Medical marijuana isn't legal yet in Michigan."  But Hannah answered, "No, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have not been toking up, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.  Do not regard me as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time."

Then Eli answered, "OK, I know this was a bad game, but it's always rebuilding season for the Lions."  And she said, "I didn't mean to embarrass you."  Then the woman went to the Comfort Inn, ate and drank with her boyfriend, and her countenance was sad no longer.

They rose early in the morning and drove past the stadium one last time, then they went back to their house at Petoskey.  Emmett and Hannah were really into each other the next night, and the Lord was not otherwise distracted with Colin Kaepernick to forget the zygote they made.  In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son.  She named him Sam, for she said, "I hope one day he makes a splash in the NFL like Michael Sam."

13 January 2018

Buddenbrooks again -- for it seems I'm not the only one who finds extraordinary pleasure in best-selling novels of the fin de siècle that nobody reads now.

Achtung für Leser:  my German is really not that good.  The closest I have come to living among German speakers is spending a year in Scotland.  Seriously:  the sounds and vocabulary of Scots English are closer to German than one finds in any other country in the "Anglosphere."  And I find Thomas Mann in particular such an engrossing writer that I feel I understand, more often than not, exactly what he meant.  His gently satirical voice in this novel is pretty amazing (Buddenbrooks was published when he was 25, coincidentally, my age when I returned from the aforementioned year in Scotland).

So with that aside, this is my spotty translation of three paragraphs in the novel's extremely long antepenultimate chapter.  (Ellipses are Mann's, not mine.  And yes, I have imagined Andacht as "indictment.")

The halting little ringings, the token of the beginning of the Monday indictment, pulsed in his ear; he was now twenty steps from the tall, red wall interrupted by two big iron doors, which separated the school building from the street.  Totally lacking the strength to cry out or to run any more, he let his upper body simply fall forward.  To the best of their ability, his legs had to prevent a heavy collapse, and so he kept moving forwards regardless, and thus reached the first door, just as the little ringings had died away.

Mr. Schlemiel, the custodian, a heavyset bearded man who looked very working-class, was just now starting to close them up.  "Na..." he said and let the schoolboy Buddenbrook slip in through them ... Perhaps, perhaps he was saved.  He could steal into the classroom unseen, safely wait out there the end of the indictment, which would be held in the gym [Turnhalle].  Coated in cold sweat, his gasps ringing in the air, he carried himself across the courtyard plastered with red Klinkern and through one of the lovely clap doors into the interior...

Everything was new, clean, and pretty here.  The time was right, and the old gray rotting parts of the former cloister-school, in which the fathers of the current generation had flogged knowledge, had been knocked to the ground, in order to allow the construction of new, airy, magnificent edifices in their place.  The style of it all had been preserved, and over corridors and crossways Gothic ceilings stretched in festive mood.  As far as lighting and heating, the roominess and brightness of the classrooms, the coziness of the teachers' rooms, the practical arrangement of the halls for chemistry, physics, and Zeichen were concerned, the fullest comfort of the new age ruled...

12 January 2018

The trial of morality, as conducted in the seventeenth century by Tanneguy Le Fèvre against his liberal-humanist father, accused the poets of drunkenness, debauchery, adultery, and "execrable vices that are in our parts rightly punishable by death"--i.e. homosexuality.  Morality led to Girolamo Savonarola's bonfire of the vanities, attempts to ban Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye, and "trigger warnings," which Marx describes as "the result of a reductive and castrating vision of literature."

"Castrating" is an unfortunate word choice.  It is even more unfortunate for following so closely the mention of an incident at Columbia University involving a classroom discussion of the rape of Persephone.  I assume that Marx does not mean to say that literature is a great phallus spuming classic tales of rape, which would be admired by all for its beauty and vitality if only overly sensitive female readers would put away their scissors.  But I do not know what he means.  Worse, he misunderstands what a trigger warning is.  (It is the pedagogical practice of alerting a class that some material might be disturbing, graphic, or violent, not a call for censorship.)  Nor can I hazard a guess as to why, in his critique of an edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaced the N-word with "slave," Marx falls back on the falsehood that in Mark Twain's day the epithet could be "relatively neutral in value."  Such find-and-replace attempts to correct the historical record are harmful as well as moronic, but Marx's argument would be stronger if it were not itself amnesiac.

From Christine Smallwood's review of The Hatred of Literature by William Marx, translated by Nicholas Elliott (Harvard UP),  Harper's February 2018 issue.

05 January 2018

Alfred Lauritzen, of the firm Stürmann and Lauritzen, colonial wares in bulk and in detail, had been elected the previous week, and Senator Buddenbrook had not come to terms with it.  He sat tucked up in his tall coat, smoked cigarettes and threw in just a few comments into the conversation at this point.  He had not given Mr. Lauritzen his say, he said, that much was correct.  Lauritzen was an honorable human being and a pioneering merchant, without question -- but he was of the middle orders, a good middle-order man, his father had personally maintained and developed the business of dry herrings sold by the ton .... and still we would have the owner of a detail business in the Senate.  His, Thomas Buddenbrooks's, grandfather, would have stepped down in favor of his eldest son, if he'd thought to marry into a loading family; that's how things went in those times.  "But the bar is sinking, yep, the bar to qualify for the Senate is starting to sink, the Senate is being democratized, Gieseke good fellow, and that's not good.  Mercantile skills are just not enough, they didn't listen to my advice to prolong the matter a little more.  To think of Alfred Lauritzen with his big feet and his boatman's appearance in the Council Hall, it pains me ... I don't know how.  It's against all sense of style, in short, it's just tasteless."

But Senator Gieseke was rather piqued.  He was also only the son of a brand director ... No, forget his crown.  Why not be a republican instead?  "You shouldn't be smoking so many cigarettes, Mr. Buddenbrook.  You're not getting any of the sea air that way."

"Yeah, now I'm hearing it," said Thomas Buddenbrook.  He spat the thing out of his mouth and closed his eyes.


Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, Part 10, Chapter 6  (my translation)