01 February 2019

Finding out that the New York Times has never written an obituary for Scott Joplin is just, like, one of those WTF moments, brief because you soon realize that the Times really has been that racist all along.

Without Joplin, or without the African-American audience that made his music catch on, we would never be enjoying this delightful American fusion:

30 January 2019

I can't say I really agree with anything Ben Studebaker advocates in the real world, but I'm still reading him, maybe solely because it amuses me to read an American PhD student in England write about American politics.  Sentences like these are produced:

It is long past time that we started taking our queues [emphasis added] from the workers who vote in those key Midwestern states, the ones that voted for Obama and then flipped to Trump.

But to respond to the argument:  Ah yes, the Obama-Trump voters who litter every medium-sized town in the Midwest like cast-off car parts, the voters that Wisconsin's Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, dismissed as infertile ground.  No wonder he failed ... clearly, this political naif must be taught a lesson!

There is a certain kind of purity politics on the left I have seen a lot of in my 37 years, and Studebaker seems to partake of it.  I understand its appeal:  hearing candidates who speak your language without reservation or apology is hard to beat for a political ego boost.   The problem is much amplified, though, when you get a degree or two and read some E.P. Thompson and Noam Chomsky.  Soon you're thinking that anybody who was once (GASP) a district attorney, like Kamala Harris*, is forever captive to a carceral system and an enemy of working-class children everywhere.  You find yourself gravitating strongly to old straight white male candidates, because they're the ones who talk about your issues the right way.  There are always reasons to discount the other candidates.  The "real workers" wouldn't like them anyway.

Taken to extremes, this desire for purity will result in you withdrawing from the political process altogether, sitting alone in your coffee shop of choice, hunched over your laptop with its DON'T VOTE sticker clearly visible to all around you (yes, I really saw a disheveled-looking white man like this recently).  The siren call of embittered anarchism is the only thing that penetrates those jaded ears.

My serious response to Mr. Studebaker is this:  people are not categories.  They often vote without regard to their economic interests, and good for them!  If everyone did vote their "pure interests," based on some Bentham-like calculation of tax rate and minimum wage "utils" or what have you, rich people would have been eliminated a long time ago and we wouldn't even have a socialist movement to argue about.  (People like me who work to facilitate voting would also have a hell of a time trying to feed people all the numbers they need to make those calculations.)

Yes, it is painful to see homeless families existing in a country as rich as ours.  (Consider homeless families in the MIDST OF THE POLAR VORTEX the next time you want to make a political point from their lives.)  But telling the parents in those families that you need to vote for the old guy from Vermont, and by the way, that DA Harris who prosecuted you is BAD, is not gonna remedy their condition in any substantive way.  Electing a president who won't shut down the Department of Housing and Urban Development for months at a time:  that might help.


20 January 2019

I have to say I'm no longer even faintly amused by the Organizing for Bernie emails I receive.  This is how one I got this morning begins:

Hey Skye,
We wanted to make sure you saw this — earlier this month, tens of thousands of Bernie supporters came together to watch our livestream, and learn how they could get to work, building a campaign-in-waiting for Sen. Sanders, if he decieds to run in 2020.
On January 26 & 27, Bernie supporters across the country will continue that work by coming together and starting conversations with people in our communities. Can we count on you host a canvass or house party during the Weekend of Action, January 26th & 27th?

I'll pass over the misspelling of "decides," which is something I'd expect from a Bush-Cheney campaign email written by a drunk intern.  Hosting a "canvass or house party" for a US Senator on the weekend that federal workers will have missed their second paycheck and millions of low-income people will be desperately trying to work out how to avoid starving after their SNAP benefits run out?  What words come to mind for you to describe this?

I will shortly be unsubscribing from these emails, and I want Spencer Carnes and everybody else at the OfB mothership to know:  This is a complete goddamn waste of your energy and not something you should relish telling your nieces, nephews, or grandchildren about when they ask what you did in the American Crisis of White Supremacy.  You have already lost the point of Bernie's 2016 campaign if you want to spend all of 2019 trying to tell America how Bernie alone is the solution to our suffering (then again, maybe you were high every time the candidate said "this isn't about me, it's about all of us"?)

Go clean up some national parks, at least.  I hear Colorado (where your postal address is) has a few small ones.

 Politics: pg. 2   Base-ball: pg. 4   Astronomy & Chemistry: pg. 6    Fine Arts: pg. 8   

 Emergency Letter -- Is your federal arsenal adequately protected? : see insert

How Popular is the "Confederate States of America"?

UPDATED JAN. 20, 1861

55.2% Disapprove

40.0% Approve

18 January 2019

Socialism deserves a hell of a lot more than a niche. It’s been purposely stomped out of our culture, of our conversations, of our political atmosphere. But it was alive and well in this country in the past, and it can be again. In order for that to happen, people need to start encountering a socialist perspective in a variety of contexts, including maybe a comedic animation about how much work sucks.

--Naomi Burton

15 January 2019

I'm very pleased that the chancellor of UNC will have "Silent Sam" removed from campus.  Yes, it does belong in a museum (and perhaps Ivanka can pay the costs of moving it).  It is not simply a monument to racism, but also a monument to white women destroying their own lives for the cause of the Confederacy:  this, at least, is the way I interpret the bas-relief below the statue itself, which has been somewhat overlooked these days.  (Yes, you can say the goddess-lady is about to hand the sword over to the young student, but that young student looks like he's never held anything resembling a sword in his life.  Makes much more sense to me that she's saying farewell to him before she plunges the sword into herself - a fitting metaphor for what happened to the Southern agrarian economy during the war.)
As a Scottish guy in the Midwest, I cracked up over AOC's recent media diversity tweet.

This Fivethirtyeight chat contains a pretty good overview of media stupidity regarding AOC, as well as some interesting general reflections on political power and how to communicate politically to good effect.  Trigger warning for right-wingers:  it features 2 female political scientists and discusses the work of yet another one (Barbara Sinclair).  Hold on to your MAGA pearls.

12 January 2019

Yeah, some of us on the left think preparing quasi-Stalinist legal briefs against Elizabeth Warren is a productive form of writing, but I'm not one of them. 

I would love to see Ben Studebaker, or anybody for that matter, tell me what the purpose of Ted Cruz's 2015-6 campaign was.  Since Ben is reasonably convinced that Warren's intent in starting so early "is to siphon money and manpower away from more competitive left candidates," perhaps he can divine Senator Cruz's intent circa April 2015.  What was that teardrop logo really about?
OK, Oliver Roeder, stop

Cute math puzzles that are invariably too hard for me are one thing, but blaming my ass for the shutdown because a bunch of (invariably male*) game theorists have theories about how politics works?  Hold on.

Yesterday I called the DC Water Board to protest their decision to give the White House free water (forgiving a $5 million unpaid water debt) while the shutdown continues.  My name was recorded.  If you call during business hours I expect you can register your protest as well!

The chairman of this board, an elderly white man, was quoted in the New York Times as saying about this debt, "we can let this one slide."  I guess free-market capitalism really has outlived its usefulness, and certain resources must now be without cost to divinely anointed ones, like the God-Emperor of Dune?

* I can accept that there are female game theorists out there, too, but they never ever seem to make it into these But Game Theory, Bitches articles.  Maybe their notion of "logical ends" to political standoffs is different.

11 January 2019

Clueless 2:  AOC in DC

[Excerpt from an as-yet-unmarketed screenplay]

EMMY CLEAVER and STENY HOYER are sitting around a Starbucks table sipping Valentine's Day-themed pink lattes.  The cafe is empty of customers except for them, because of the government shutdown.

EMMY:  Oh my Goddd, can you believe what she tweeted this morning about the Green New Deal?   So gross. 

STENY:  Girl, you don't know the half of it.  I saw her hanging out with that hijab-wearing chick after Congressional book club on Monday.  [quickly sighs] She is so pretty, but she totes doesn't understand that you can't do that kind of thing in Washington.  Mmm, I have to Instagram this cute poodle walking outside --

EMMY:  She said we shouldn't get paid during the shutdown.  What kind of person does that?  Does she want us all to survive on cans of soup from the food pantry and eat dinner with Pramila every week?  Ughh.

STENY:  Oh, I know.  And I offered to pay for four nights in Cancun for her last week -- she's so into self-care, right -- and she looked at me like I was Ivanka, and said "I don't run away from Washington's problems."  Like, what?

EMMY:  Girl, don't feel bad.  She's too young to rent a halfway-decent car, and she hasn't had a boyfriend in ages.


PELOSI:  Ladies, I need you back at work for a vote.  Now.

EMMY:  We'll be right along, Leader Pelosi.  Just give Ms. Hoyer a few minutes to straighten her bangs.

STENY:  Emyyyy!

09 January 2019

I have always liked Dave Weigel, and this interview with Pod Save America's Tommy (the Nordic-looking one) is really a treat.

Yes, I can certainly imagine voting for Warren some day*.  She has lived the struggle of working Americans in a way that makes it immaterial whether or not she likes the word "socialism."  Weigel briefly mentioned the absence of Secret Service at this early stage in the campaign, though, and I cannot but feel that there ain't gonna be no Secret Service protection for any Democrat at any stage of this campaign.  (I would advise Warren to study up on the presidential campaign of AMLO in Mexico, who ran very much outside the political elite and won by a landslide**.  They are about the same age, and have both been dismissed by pretentious grand poobah sages*** as extreme and unelectable).

*Come to think of it, I have voted for her.  I helped put her in the Senate, in 2012, in Massachusetts.
**Winning 31 out of 32 Mexican states.
***In AMLO's case, men like Mario Vargas Llosa ("The Most Illustrious":  I'm not making this up).  I'm not sure if Vargas Llosa has gotten up from his marchisanal fainting couch after the shock of AMLO's inauguration yet.

House Democrats are planning to start passing individual spending bills that would reopen closed departments in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on Republicans. But the Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring legislation to the floor that Trump has not explicitly said he would support. (Lauren Gambino, 12:14)

What closed departments do Republicans have any interest in reopening?  This is a party that for decades has bashed "bureaucrats" and government employees generally.  You can see now that some of them are feeling nervous about stiffing large numbers of their constituents, but if they suddenly develop feelings of real concern, they can always resign, collect their pension, and start writing mini-op-eds in Time magazine assuring Americans that they always had their best interests at heart.*  

Pelosi and Schumer sound the right notes on TV, but they are stuck in some kind of 1970 mentality (I chose that date because it was six years before the National Emergencies Act but after JFK's assassination), where it is taken for granted that both parties want a stable America where all classes of people can work with dignity.  I hope the federal workforce as a whole is not going to wait for them to remember what Newt Gingrich started before taking direct action - yes, striking is illegal under Taft-Hartley, but there are many kinds of mass protest actions still available to them; and they have natural allies in the Coast Guard, that is clear.  And even if they do formally strike, well, good luck finding enough unoccupied police officers in the nation to arrest all 800,000 of them.

*The Paul Ryan Way (followed by Senators Kyl and Hatch and a ridiculously long list of House members, including some who appear on MSNBC now, their sense of shame having been surgically removed, and lecture us about bipartisan solutions.)

08 January 2019

God bless you, Kamala Harris.  It is not "playing coy" to wait a while before announcing a run for President when the Presidency is rapidly morphing into the Führership.  We can apply the values Senator Harris is talking about today, not two years from now, and no need to wait for Grandpa Mueller's permission.

I am grateful not to be embedded inside the political media right now; hell, it sounds perverse, but I am grateful to be unemployed, considering what pressures a scared boss might subject me to right now.  I will not do my taxes, even if the Reichsfinanzministerium promises me a speedy refund.  I'll carry on with life, but I will not pretend this is the best of all possible worlds and the only way to heal the country's wounds.
[The German populace] knows the gravity of the situation, and its leadership can therefore demand the necessary hard measures, yes even the hardest measures. We Germans are armed against weakness and uncertainty. The blows and misfortunes of the war only give us additional strength, firm resolve, and a spiritual and fighting will to overcome all difficulties and obstacles with revolutionary élan...
I know that many of our people are making great sacrifices. I understand their sacrifices, and the government is trying to keep them to the necessary minimum. But some must remain, and must be borne. When the war is over, we will build up that which we now are eliminating, more generously and more beautifully, and the state will lend its hand.
 Josef Goebbels, February 1943 speech on Total War (translated by Randall Bytwerk)

I can relate, and I'm sure that the people on the receiving end will make adjustments - they always do, and, uh, they'll make adjustments ... I really believe that these people, many of the people that we're talking about, many of the people you're discussing, I really believe they agree with what we're doing ... I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they'd say, "Mr. President, keep going."
Recent White House statements 
A Response to Benjamin Studebaker's Essay on Self-Care

This is certainly an interesting take on the idea of self-care, but fundamentally, I disagree that self-care is about "amusement," at least in the shallow sense Studebaker is using.

Self-care is recreation.  I think of sports as self-care for a lot of people (not professional athletes, of course).  And the motivation for playing those sports is not to create value for a corporation - don't take those Adidas or Nike ads too seriously.  If Studebaker despises all sports, I would suggest board gaming as an alternative to him.

Aristotle, at least after he became an established philosopher with a steady income, did not have to think much about self-care:  he had women and slaves (we could just say he had women, really, in the social context of classical Greece) to do household tasks such as cooking for him.  I find Aristotelian ideas of virtue interesting and relevant to today's society, yes, but mapping Aristotle's definition of slavery onto self-care is just too glib.

If we want to bring slavery into this discussion, I think we should start with more recent history.  A hundred and sixty years ago much of America's population was enslaved.  These people were legally the property of others (not always other individuals; churches, for example, owned slaves too).

{It is worth noting here that many of the appeals for self-care written today are directed at African-Americans, who have a lower life expectancy than white Americans and are disproportionately burdened with a variety of health problems.}

Being the property of others did not (alas for the owners!) prevent these people from having aspirations, dreams, or a sense of personhood.  So there was a concerted effort by the ownership class to prevent these people from thinking themselves as good as anyone else.  You can start with "the curse of Ham" (supposedly a Biblical thing), and go through all the petty regulations slaves were subjected to whenever they got the chance to mingle in free society.  (I highly recommend Frederick Law Olmsted's travel book from the mid-1850s, whose title escapes my memory, for details on this from a white man's perspective.)

Slavery ended, but (I hope this is not shocking to Studebaker) the racial attitudes formed under it persisted.  And this is where self-care comes in.  Internalized oppression is real, and it is not going to be eliminated by simply giving people more "leisure."  Self-care is a kind of work, valuable in itself but not something that an employer can monetize.  Maybe for this reason it is incompatible with Marxist theory, but I do not give a damn about that.

Taking time out for self-care is important if we are all to see that life is worth living and social equality is desirable.  We might have great people "doing the thinking" in our left-wing political groups, but culture is not about thinking*, and we cannot transform culture simply by thinking better.  American slavery would have ended before 1800, probably, if that were true, because Ben Franklin and a lot of other big thinkers were already condemning it.  And if we consider homophobia as another kind of persisting prejudice, well, why are there even "ex-gay camps" more than 40 years after the American psychology community decided homosexuality was not a mental illness?

*There, I said it.  I am a hopelessly irrationalist reactionary....

06 January 2019

I wasn't planning to blog today, but I'm more or less seething with outrage that YouTube is still running big racist banner ads by Donald J. Trump for President.  You may have seen them too.  This only further confirms what the masterful New Yorker article by Patrick Radden Keefe showed us, namely, that the American power elite (aside from obviously not knowing much history) has no goddamn clue how to deal with demagogic bullies who invariably end up threatening their very own economic stability.  (Jimmy Kimmel, whom I greatly respect for challenging the NRA on his show, comes across as an ironhearted Cassandra in Keefe's article.  I had forgotten that he called out Mark Burnett for enabling fascism, live at the Emmy Awards.)

YouTube, you will not get a single comment from me, or my video version of Clark the Bear Discovers the Green New Deal (a book for young and old readers, particularly young Cubs fans), until you cut this shit out of your algorithms. 

Adam Jentleson's prediction seems quite good, actually; the only problem is that Trump won't listen to Shep Smith's opinion because Shep Smith is a fag, and I don't know of anyone else at Fox who thinks Latinos are people too, so I stand by my scenario of a general uprising of workers (mostly women, probably), not unlike what happened in Paris in late 1789.

On 18 September, in a long letter drafted by Necker, [the king] explained that he was prepared to accept some parts of the 11 August decree but not others.  The deputies felt betrayed.  They petitioned the king to promulgate the decree at once, without amendments.  He said he would 'publish' it but not promulgate it.  Then on 4 October he voiced reservations about the Declaration of Rights.  By now, however, Paris was alive with rumours about a reception given by the King's bodyguard on 1 October to welcome the Flanders Regiment.  After many noisy toasts had been drunk, and none to the nation, the national cockade was said to have been trampled as the air rang with unpatriotic slogans.  Banquets themselves seemed unpatriotic when bread was so scarce ... Crowds of women began to assemble at markets, from where they marched to the Hôtel de Ville.  After surging through the building to impress the city authorities with their determination, late in the morning they set off for Versailles ... Perhaps 7,000 of them reached Versailles early in the evening and invaded the National Assembly, calling for bread and punishment for those who had insulted the national cockade ... When [General Lafayette] arrived all he could do was try to ensure that what the populace wanted was brought about without disorder, and he formally requested the King, in the name of Paris, to return to the capital with him and take up residence in the Tuileries palace.  The king made no promises that night, but early the next morning a number of Parisians found their way into the palace precincts and were fired on by royal bodyguards.  Thereupon an enraged mob poured into the palace, massacred two guardsmen, and almost broke into the queen's apartments.  Only prompt action by uncoordinated units of the National Guard contained them, and Lafayette bundled the royal family onto the palace balcony to stand under his personal protection.  The impact on the volatile crowd milling below was favourable, but constant shouts of 'To Paris!' made clear that only one thing would really satisfy them.  Late in the morning of 6 October the king announced that he would go.

---from The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle.

05 January 2019

Wall Street Excited to Announce Downgrading of 57, 600 Jobs to Unpaid Internships

NEW YORK --  Several major donors to Donald Trump's 2015-6 presidential campaign met after a strenuous Hot Hatha Yoga session this afternoon to hold a press conference in the lounge of Jamie Dimon's Park Avenue condo building.  Private equity chieftain Steve Schwarzman kicked off the event by speaking about "a thrilling new venture in exponential value creation," and went on to explain that he had convinced the President to reclassify most jobs in the Transportation Security Administration as unpaid internships.  "This change in classification will result in great value creation for investors in the United States government, such as the fit youthful men you see here," he said, as Gwyneth Paltrow beamed radiantly to reporters from a ladle-shaped Swedish chair.  "We are excited, and as my children might say, 'stoked,' to unveil this initiative, which we hope will be only the first of many disruptive innovations to transform the federal government sector."

04 January 2019

It has not ceased to amaze me how little well-educated people like Professor Lawrence Lessig are willing to remember what caused our Civil War in April 1861No, there was "no reading of our constitution [that] would ever uphold the view that" the architects of the Confederacy could "morally stop the functioning of government" by seizing control of federal arsenals across the South.  Lincoln knew that.  Did Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi, care?  No.  And enough of the US military brass sided with him that secession of eleven states happened anyway.

I am more optimistic that today's military brass (see:  McChrystal, Stanley and Mattis, James) are not going to go along with Trump's wild schemes.  But if they wished to, they could point to a very real historical precedent for doing so.

But, dude, seriously.  The former president of your university wrote a massive tome about the American Civil War*, which apparently (I admit I have not cracked it) goes into some detail about just how much American culture and norms changed in the wake of the war's carnage.  The least you can do is stop pretending we've never been here before.

*This Republic of Suffering, 2008.
I wish to say some things about AOC today.

First, I absolutely loved her wardrobe choice yesterday for the opening of Congress.  Wreathed in shining white, she strode confidently across the House floor like a paladin (paladiness?) of Democratic Socialism.  That is the color the Romans called candida, from which we derive the word "candidate."  It was an interesting complement, or contrast, to Nancy Pelosi's magenta.

Second, as someone who has gone through the loss of a father myself, I am convinced she has wisdom beyond her 29 years.  She cannot legally run for President in 2020, but it appears increasingly likely that, by that time, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be a charred ruin and the Presidency rather diminished in its moral grandeur, such that parents may prefer to point their children to, I don't know, great baseball managers* as exemplars of the best virtues.  I think it not inconceivable that she could become a committee chair -- she certainly has some interesting ideas for a new committee -- and have a great deal more direct political power than Beto O'Rourke as he goes to the same Corn Fest 33 times a year.

"Inexperienced" is one of the last adjectives I would think to apply to her.

*You could certainly do a lot worse than Theo Epstein, for example.
No, ninguno día de la semana am I feeling sorry for Louis C.K.  Mocking the survivors of mass shootings is not a way to rebuild your career.  A white man who can do a passable Boston accent should not lack for job opportunities in Hollywood or the Massachusetts film industry, such as that is.

Also, I don't give a f*ck what Ellen thinks about Kevin Hart.
I do think Washington would be in a much better place if every last woman in the Senate read and heeded the advice in Carolyn Hax's columns.  "My President shut down the Coast Guard without consulting me.  He knows my state has a long coastline and this branch of the military is a key employer for my state's economy.  How to break this news to the folks at home in a way that doesn't totally throw my President under the bus?  I am tired of always looking like the bad guy — this is the third or fourth time we've had a misunderstanding like this involving major policy decisions — and annoyed that I have to be the one to fix it."

03 January 2019

I'm glad I had one free article left today on the NYT website.  I used it to read this Op-Ed by Mahmood Mamdani, which educated me about Ethiopia.   In addition, it reminded me about the United States of America's flawed constitution (complete with one federally administered city-state) and the ethnic tensions within its borders.  It also forcibly reminded me of the clashes among our Big Three ethnic groups (Irish*, German, African-American).  Furthermore, I, too, have noticed the increased prominence of women, Muslims, and Pentecostal(-ish) groups in the USA over the past twenty-five years.
Maybe something could be done in American federal units to ensure that all, regardless of ethnicity, enjoy basic civil rights such as the right to vote for their own regional governors.  And maybe it is possible to hope that the privilege of serving in the Presidential Cabinet will not always be reserved for just one or two of the Big Three ethnic groups.
Thanks, Mr. Mamdani!
*Just as in Ethiopia, where the Amhara people give their name to the Amharic language, which enjoys wide currency in the country, so too (I would argue) Irish-Americans are largely responsible for the distinct vocabulary and phonology of white American English. 

Today in the White House.  "Good morning, milord.  Mr. Michael Pence is within, milord.  Please pardon Miss Huckabee Sanders as she scrubs the entryway, and the Acting Cabinet members."

I would like to watch the opening of the 116th Congress live on c-span.org, but it appears too many other netizens have the same idea.*  But living in a country with a widespread appetite for deliberative democracy is a good problem to have.