Give a little bit

18 11 2015

There are days I’d like to get paid for writing, and days when I’m glad I don’t.

The past coupla’ days, I’m glad for the not-paid, because as someone who is not-paid for her writing, I’m under no obligation to give a HOTTAKE on the Yale, the University of Missouri, political correctness, illiberal liberals, Paris, Beirut, terrorism, or refugees.

Still, I’m willing to offer up a few warmed-over thoughts on the topics listen above:

*Yale: I could give a shit what’s happening at Yale, or any of the Ivies. It’s not that I think no one should care, but that I don’t.

*Mizzou, political correctness, illiberal liberals: I don’t know what it’s like to be a black student at a predominantly white university, but if I care about that experience—and I do—then I think I should listen to those who do know a li’l something about that topic.

This doesn’t mean I’ll agree a priori with the policy solutions suggested/demanded by those students, but that there’s nothing wrong with them either talking/shouting about those experiences or suggesting/demanding policy changes.

Which is to say, I view this as a political argument, and there’s nothing illegitimate with partisans taking their own side in that argument in such a way that challenges the preexisting norms of political argumentation (which are themselves the product of such argumentation).

Translated, this means that the liberal norms of how political discourse is to proceed are themselves shot through with political values. There’s nothing necessarily wrong or nefarious about value-laden rules, nor is there necessarily anything wrong or nefarious with challenging the values or the rules.

Such challenges can be irksome to those who think the rules sacrosanct or constitutive of the content of political discourse itself, just as it can be irksome to those making a particular argument to be told that their particular mode of argument-making is against the rules.

That’s politics, not the end of the world.

On a more personal note, I think there is some value to liberal norms of discourse, and that such norms can themselves accommodate apparently or even actually illiberal arguments, which is to say, partisans get to take their own sides.

There are all sorts of caveats, nuances, etc., to this interpretation, but my main sense that this is politics, and not a sign of the apocalypse, holds.

*Okay, I care a little about what happens at Yale, but that’s in spite of it happening at Yale.

*I have nothing new to say about the bombings in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, beyond an expression of horror, dismay, and sorrow.

As I’ve previously said, I doubt there’s one cool trick one can try to shed those unwanted terrorists, that terrorist networks might be comparable to organized crime networks, and that, like those organized crime networks, they will be difficult to root out—by whatever means.

*I think the U.S. should not only take the 10,000 Syrian refugees, I’d be fine with New York taking all 10,000.

I mean, the only downside is that we already have a housing crunch, but—and I am being serious here—if there were room in my apartment building, I’d say, Come on in!

Not to move into my apartment, I hasten to add. I do need my space.

But if I wouldn’t be your roomie, I’d gladly be your neighbor.

Circus Maximus MMXVI: Don’t know much about history

9 11 2015

On the one hand, voters shouldn’t worry that Ben Carson doesn’t know much about policy because he’s like Solomon:

“There are a lot of policies that I lack knowledge on,” he told reporters during his book signing in Miami on Thursday. “I’m gaining knowledge. But I don’t by any stretch of the imagination confess to knowing everything. That’s the reason you have advisors.”

“Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, ‘A multitude of counselors is safety.’ The real question [about candidates] is, after they’re informed and have an opportunity to digest and talk about it, can they make a wise decision? It’s a false narrative that you have to know everything.”

Yet on the other hand he know more than any stupid experts about the purpose of Egypt’s pyramids:

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archeologists”—here, Carson waves his hand dismissively—“think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time, to store that much grain.” Carson had his own take on the engineering: “When you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for a reason.” The King’s Chamber, as he saw it, was not an instrument panel or a power substation, but a big Tupperware container.

“It’s still my belief, yes,” Carson said, on Wednesday, when CBS News asked him if he still held to this theory. Then, with an almost pitying smile, Carson explained again, as if to a child, that “the pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments. You wouldn’t need hermetically sealed compartments for a sepulchre. You would need that if you were trying to preserve grain for a long period of time.”

So, riddle me this: how does Carson know what he knows and know what he doesn’t know so that he’ll know when to go with what he knows and when to defer to those who know what he doesn’t know?


Circus Maximus MMXVI: We don’t need another hero

8 10 2015

“I have had a gun held on me when I was in a Popeye’s organization” in Baltimore, [Ben Carson] told Karen Hunter on Sirius XM Radio, referring to the fried chicken fast-food chain. “Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'”

Doubt the guy behind the counter is going to be voting for the good doctor.


Circus Maximus MMXVI: Sincerely

7 10 2015

Hillary Clinton has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and I say ‘Great!’

I also say: don’t believe it for a minute.

If she becomes president and the deal has been ratified by Congress, she’ll do nothing to overturn it; if it were shot down, she’ll find a way to resurrect it.

So, too, would a Republican president.

Even money on whether President Bernie Sanders would throw in with the TPP.

Circus Maximus MMXVI: Sh’ dooby

15 09 2015

Yes, yes, yes!

I was yelling at someone a week or so ago that the way to take Trump out is by mocking him.

I mean, Jesus, is there anyone more mockable than The Donald? Mr. Winning?

I mean, someone else must have thought to put a picture of Charlie Sheen next to him, with WINNING! the caption, right?

(I would do this if I had any ability to, uh, splice separate photos into one image. And caption it. But I don’t. I am not a WINNER.)

If asked about him, condescend. If in a debate with him, laugh at him. Be amused, not angry, and if Trump gets angry, laugh some more.

He wants to be taken seriously, so do not under any circumstances take him seriously.

This is not elevated political discourse, I know, but if you’re dealing with someone who so gleefully breaks the rules of electoral decorum, then you have to follow him through that breach and break him. Poking at someone until he explodes may not be edifying, but with someone as gassed up on ego as Trump, it can be effective.

Now, I think Trump’s gonna deflate before the first primary anyway, but if I’m a competing candidate, why take that chance?  More to the point, why not get the lift from sending that particular hot air balloon careening off into the treetops?

But, whatever, Republican candidates. If you’re afraid to take on a mouthy real estate developer with zero political experience, then, again, you’re the losers Trump says you are.

This whole frigging place will be down to the ground

2 09 2015

I’m teaching Weimar this semester.

Two months ago—a month ago—I didn’t know that’s what I’d be teaching, but once I hit on it, I thought Yessssss!!

This is actually the 4th version of my Politics and Culture course. The first one, based on women and human rights, was terrible; the second one worked well, but after teaching it a few years, I got bored and redid the syllabus; the third version was okay, but it never quite came together, and I was never fully comfortable with the course.

So, time for yet another revamp.

My first thought was that I’d use Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail. While I had a few issues with their argument (as I had with the Nussbaum book I used for v. 2), I thought the book would work well for the course: it’s well-written, and, importantly, it had the kind of big theory that was missing from one of the books (Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) I used in v. 3. The students in that course responded when I gave big-sweep historical lectures, so I figured Acemoglu & Robinson’s big-sweep historical analysis would go over well with them.

Except: I couldn’t figure out what to use as an adjunct to the text. Why Nations Fail is all about political and economic development, and while (political) culture plays a role in their argument, I still wanted to round out the course with something else.

Only, I couldn’t figure out what that something else would be. I’d spent a fair amount of time over the past few months looking over my books and pulling one, and then another, and then yet another off the shelf, but I couldn’t settle on one. Then, at some point in mid or late July, I was peering idly at my history books, and I scanned across Richard Evans’s Third Reich trilogy.

Huh, I thought. Then, Yesssss!!

My first thought was The Coming of the Third Reich, then I thought, The Third Reich in Power, but then I went back to The Coming.

Weimar. Perfect. It’s politics and culture galore, is a subject which I’d been reading about off and of the past coupla’ years, and, most importantly, it was something that I was immediately excited about.

I was not immediately excited about Why Nations Fail.

And that’s when I remembered the lesson I keep forgetting: teaching something I’m dutiful about is a pain; teaching something I’m excited about is a gas.

It also helps to teach something which is more rather than less in my wheelhouse. I certainly have interests in political and economic development, but I’m not a political-developmental economist: I’m a theorist, and I want to know how and why ideas move people to act. Material conditions absolutely matter, but they are not determinative; I’m interested in that great gauzy space beyond the material, and how that works out in actual political life.

So why wasn’t I teaching that? Why was I abandoning something that I think also matters? Why wasn’t I taking theory—and politics—seriously?

Weimar gives me a bit of everything; hell, the glory of Weimar as a teaching subject is its too-muchness: economics and diplomacy and monarchy and fascism and liberalism and communism and violence and art and theater and so much promise and in the end, too much peril.

I’ve only taught one session so far (the class meets on Fridays), and we won’t really get into Weimar until the third week, but the students seemed into it. They might not know much about Weimar, but they certainly know something about what came after—Nazis on the march do tend to get one’s attention.

Anyway, I don’t know if this course will work or not, but really, I think it will. And I think the students will end up digging it, too.

In any case, it certainly can’t go any worse than the Republic itself.

Circus Maximus MMXVI: We will we will rock you

30 08 2015

Trump will not be the nominee of the Republican party.

I’m not much for predictions, but I feel pretty good in making this one: he’s peaking too soon—the nomination fight won’t be decided until next spring, at the earliest—has little support among party elites, and, most crucially, lacks the infrastructure to win the nomination.

He has an audience, not an organization.

That said, I do get why some folks on the right are excited by him: he lays it out there with, as the saying goes, no fucks to give.

That’s what I’ve liked about Hillary Clinton—I keep posting that photo of her banging her fists at one of the endless Benghazi hearings, and head any post about her with “Army of me”—and I’m not the only one. And think about the delight some of us are taking in President Obama’s willingness to plant his flag where’er the hell he pleases.

No more fucks to give, indeed.

It’s just tribalism, a part of the passion of the partisan, and it’s neither pathological nor puzzling: we want our guy or broad to win, and we want to see our guy or broad want to win. And we want them to win for us.

Oh, sure, I’m all about policy and the common good and all that, but, goddammit, I’ve also chosen a side, and I want the candidate on my side to be glad s/he’s on this side. I don’t want someone who’s sorry that s/he’s taken a side.

And I think that’s what those crowds like about Trump: he ain’t sorry for nothin’.

That’s not enough to get him the nomination, but it is enough to get folks to show up and cheer.

And hey, as long as Trump keeps eating away at the base of this fucking guy, I’m all for it.


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