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)