First we take Manhattan

21 09 2016

That was my first Leonard Cohen song, although I didn’t quite know it.

I’d gotten the Jennifer Warnes’s album, Jenny Sings Lenny, and First We Take Manhattan was the first cut on the first side. It’s a great song—probably why I bought the album—but I had no idea who Leonard Cohen was.

Oh, I got that he was a singer—he did his thing in a duet with Warnes—. . .

. . . but I didn’t really know him.

I don’t know when I thought he might be worth knowing—at some point in grad school, I think, relatively late, I think—and I can’t say that I know all there is to know about him. But oh, yes, I think he is worth knowing.

(An aside: of the singers who can’t sing, I’ll take Cohen and Reed over Dylan and Waits every time. They’re all killer songwriters, though, so I’d want ’em all for that.)

Anyway, a coupla’ more, of just him, singing songs I mention often on this blog:

and, for that one beautiful, heartbreaking line:

Happy 82nd birthday, Old Man. May you live to be Ancient.

 





High anxiety

18 09 2016

Anxiety sucks.

It’s been a bad week. I mismanaged something which I thought had under control and, having chewed through my tuchus, has now commenced on my spinal cord.

It’s about money, jesus, it’s about money (which I can’t even discuss because, jesus, it’s about money and being bad with money in a capitalist economy is shameful), and while I should be able to right this all in the short-term I’m worried about the medium-term and can. not. about the long-term.

Fucking hell.

I shouldn’t be anxious: as I said, by next Thursday the immediate problem should be resolved. But in between now—well, actually, starting last week—and next Thursday I am walking around with a live wire jammed into my sternum.

And in between last week and next week I will continue to berate my errors, consider the hash made of my career, gnaw over concerns re: a) my long-term financial insecurity, b) general underachievement, and c) the fact that I’ve trashed my life. When I die I will die alone and within a short time after that I will be forgotten.

Not that I’m spiraling or anything.

So, yeah: anxiety sucks.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: And a little bit not (I)

13 09 2016

Oh, to be of many minds:

Mind1: The bug-eyed conspiracists certain that Hillary Clinton is hiding, I dunno, a tumor/mainstream pundits who are more than happy to indulge the, well-this-certainly-plays-into-the-appearance-of-dishonesty are shoveling enough shit to cover the prairies from Kansas to Saskatchewan.

Woman has pneumonia, got dehydrated while standing in a crowd, had to be helped into SUV, is apparently recovering. Bummer for her, not a big deal.

Mind2: Hillary Clinton, if elected, will be the second-oldest person (after Reagan) to begin her first term. This doesn’t mean that she’s enfeebled now or will be during either (Inshallah) of her terms in office—but it does mean that she is, to be grossly generalistic, less robust than someone 20 years younger.

This is a legitimate concern—not an emergency, not a disqualifier—but, yes, a legit concern.

(And no, that Trump is a year older than her doesn’t make Clinton “young”, even in comparison.)

Mind3: That pundits and conspiracists (and, yeah, one of my neighbors who is terrified of Trump and so highly concerned about Clinton’s health) are keening into the high winds about both her health and her alleged penchant for dishonesty makes me wanna holler She’ll be fine! She’ll be fine! Her doctor says she’ll be fine!

It also sets me to muttering that no matter what she says or authorizes her doctor to release, she’ll be accused of lying.

Mind4: She probably will be fine; I doubt she’s lying.

That said. . . whether or not the so-called narrative of Clinton’s dishonesty—isn’t that a nice way to call someone a liar by implying Oh, look, everyone thinks she’s a liar—is accurate, it has, in fact, taken hold. While it’s possible-to-likely that a more comprehensive summary of Clinton’s current health (i.e, past few-t0-5 years) wouldn’t satisfy those who refuse to be satisfied, it also wouldn’t be a bad move, if only in giving her a ready answer to questions about her health.

Given that Trump is shameless, there’s no way that her release of info would shame him into releasing his. Nope, any Clinton release would be a defensive tactic against the press and, perhaps, a kind of reassurance to her supporters (including my anxious neighbor).

Mind5: Did you notice what I did, there? I doubt she’s lying. Gliiiiiiided right past that.

I went fairly hard the other day about tossing aside all concerns other that politics, thereby brushing away concerns about Clinton’s alleged dishonesty, not least because I do think the whole “narrative says so” is bullshit.

But I didn’t stress enough that I really don’t know. I mean, she’s been involved in politics for a very, very long time and seems as sincere as a politician could be, but it’s also clear that she’d rather not share every last bit of info about her doings, please and thank you.

What does that mean? I dunno. Since she’s on my side of the field I’ll be voting for her, regardless; if she were on the other side this would be yet another reason not to—but, honestly (snerk), this wouldn’t be the thing I’d latch onto about that opponent.

I mean, that Trump hasn’t released his tax returns isn’t in the top 50 of the worst things about him.

Mind6: Is it fair that Clinton’s getting her bell rung by the press and Trump isn’t?

No; so?

As I’ve banged on about repeatedly, there’s nothing fair about elections, winning is the only thing that matters, etc., etc.

Besides, in this case, the unfairness may be less that the press expect Clinton to answer their questions about her health but that they don’t expect the same from Trump.

Mind7: In other words, it is not unreasonable to expect candidates for the presidency to release information about their health.

A full release of all of their health records is unnecessary and, likely, unwise, but, again, a comprehensive summary should give manage to drive the screamers back to the fringes from whence they came.

As for those who think the candidates’ own docs can’t be trusted? Well, I like the ideas put forth by some doctors and ethicists for a (voluntary) independent evaluation of the candidates by a doctor or panel of doctors. How to go about this would need to be worked out, and it might need some tweaking over successive elections, but this would likely be an improvement over the  ad-hockery (and ad-hackery) of the current non-system of health disclosure.

Mind8: Even as I write that it’s reasonable to want some reliable info on the candidates’ health, I am uneasy with that expectation.

Again, most powerful person on the planet, but I think even the most powerful person on the planet deserves some privacy.

Not total privacy. Not total transparency. Something in between. I don’t know what that in-between would be. Something about recent (and relevant less-recent) past health, current health, yes. Chronic conditions. Medications.

What about psychotherapy? Marriage counseling? Would pastoral counseling count?

That’s too much, isn’t it? I mean, maybe not the fact of counseling itself, but certainly not any details. . . and, frankly, wouldn’t it be nice for that as-yet-unnamed panel of doctors to recommend a psychiatrist or psychotherapist be assigned to the White House as a matter of course? Is that already the case? Too much of a tangent. . . ?

And what about genomic testing? I mean, Jesus, that seems way too far, but what happens when (and it is a when, not an if) everyone is tested as a matter of standard medical protocol? Hell, a lot of people are already paying out of pocket for their own partial genomic profiles; what should be the response to demands that candidates be tested?

That’s just. . . oh, man, that would be a terrible idea—which is, of course, no barrier to its adoption.

All of these minds cannot be successfully melded; I have, in the end, only questions: How much privacy should a candidate, a president, have? What do we, as citizens, deserve (as opposed to merely desire) to know about those who would lead us?





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Just a little bit longer

8 09 2016

I may wax and wane in my enthusiasm for voting for Hillary Clinton, but I am firm that I’ll vote for her.

And whatever waning there is, doesn’t mean I think I’m voting for “the lesser evil”.

Greater and lesser evils in politics: such horseshit.

Bernard Crick argued that politics requires pluralism, which in turn creates the conditions in which politics may flourish: that there are differences requires some mechanism for negotiating amongst those differences, and politics (as opposed to technocracy or totalitarianism) provides an open, inclusive, and non-violent way for a citizenry to deal with itself.

Politics is more than this, of course, but that notion of conciliation and compromise are key: if factions are only ever maximalist, only ever all-or-nothing, only ever my-way-or-else, then politics will be ground out of existence.

Which is where my evilism-is-horseshit stance comes from: someone is decried as a lesser evil because she isn’t perfect, is compromised, is too willing to compromise, adheres too closely or not closely enough to the party line, will disappoint, will likely fail.

All politicians fail. Good politicians fail well, bad politicians fail badly, but if politics is about advancing an agenda against competing agendas, then the old cliché sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you means that even the greatest advances will contain losses.

It also means that to advance your position, you’re likely to have to settle, to give something to get something. To compromise.

Yeah, sometimes you can hold the line, and those hard-liners do have a place (tho’ not in leadership) in politics, but if your political adversaries are present in enough numbers to get in your way (which is almost always the case, if not at any one moment then certainly over a relatively short period of time), you’re going to have to pay attention to them. You’re going to have to deal.

As with failing, you can be a good (moves you closer to your goals)  or bad (moves you further from your goals) dealer, but if you don’t deal at all you’re not much of a politician, much less a political leader.

To deal is to be political, not to be evil, so any assessment of a politician should not be Does she deal or not but Is she a good dealer or bad dealer?

Again, none of this means candidates, even ones one is waxingly enthusiastic about, are above criticism—criticize away! But criticize them on their politics, not on the fact of their imperfections.

~~~

*It’s not that evil doesn’t exist at all in politics—if you’re a genocidal dictator you pretty much fit the definition of an evil leader—but that in ordinary or functioning politics, the evil quotient is going to be pretty low. (I could go full Crick and state that genocidal dictators are anti-politics by definition, and thus fob off evil on the upside-down, but that’s a little too convenient.)





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Army of me

8 09 2016

Since I’ve used the lyric, I gotta use the pic:

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Some specific observations:

  1. Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate.
  2. Every candidate is a flawed candidate.
  3. That every candidate is a flawed candidate doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t point out the flaws of a particular candidate.
  4. I think she erred in setting up a private server. (Error in judgment)
  5. I think she’s too hawkish. (Policy difference)
  6. I think her resentment of criticism can lead her to focus too much on the fact of criticism itself, and not enough on whether the criticism is warranted. (Temperamental issue)

Some general commentary on the specific observations:

I have other policy differences (mainly in foreign policy and the national security state) with her, and I think her approach is sometimes too incrementalist, too conciliatory, but I also think the positions she does hold are not insane, and that sometimes the only way to make any gains at all is to conciliate, and to take the inch when you can’t reach the foot.

I also think she’s tough as hell, and when she gets that inch she will not yield it, and that she actually does give a good goddamn about governing well.

I don’t think she’s a criminal, and while I would have liked to have seen the speeches she gave to various financiers—I’d guess she was entirely too conciliatory toward their feelings and interests—I have a hard time getting worked about her alleged corruption.

I mean, “take the money and run” isn’t exactly a high-minded, um, principle, but in a society in which everyone is encouraged to monetize everything all the time (she said with just a wee exaggeration), I’m not shocked that she cashed in. I’m not crazy about it, but I’m also not seeing how it’s made any difference to her policy proposals.

Some specific commentary on specific observations:

Now, regarding #s 4 and 6: I absofuckinglutely understand her bitterness at having to shovel herself out from under the piles of bull-, horse-, and chickenshit tossed her way. One of the reasons I can’t get too worked up about the server thing is my sense that if it weren’t the emails, the press and Republican adversaries would have found something else on which to launch a thousand investigations.

Have you heard of Benghazi?

There are legit questions to be asked about the server and about policy decisions and about the Clinton Foundation, but it’s like fucking Groundhog Day with the punditocracy: in the morning the questions get asked, by the evening she answers them, and the next day, the same goddamned questions get asked all over again.

No wonder she’s pissed off.

Hell, I’m pissed off and I’m the kind of person who thinks that if you’re running for the presidency of the most powerful nation on the planet you should just suck it up: whatever the pundits or even the Congressional back-benchers fling at you is nothing compared to what’s going to get tossed at you by the world itself.

Some tentative conclusions:

Clinton, of course, knows this, so whether her resentments get in the way or spur her on—whether her jaw is clenched in anger or determination—she’s shown she’s able to keep grinding her way towards the White House.

And once she’s there (oh Apollo, she’d better get there), I’m guessing that she’ll take a breath, straighten her jacket, and get to work.

Recommendation:

Hillary Clinton for president, 2016.





The sailor who can read the sky

1 09 2016

How nice to not dread teaching.

I’ve mentioned this course before: Politics & Culture. I’m on the 4th version of it, and think I’ll be able to stick with this for quite awhile.

The first (women and human rights) and third (half mash-up, half Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) were slogs: they never quite came together. The third, built around Nussbaum’s Women and Human Development, was fine, but I got bored with it after awhile.

This version, which I introduced last fall, focuses on the Weimar Republic, and it all came together pretty well. As I did before, I’m using Richard Evans’s The Coming of the Third Reich, a coupla’ chapters of Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, and Carl Schmitt’s The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (I’ve already warned the students about this one), as well as various online primary-source documents; for this semester, I’ve shifted a few things around, added some docs and discarded others, but otherwise kept it together.

And, oh yes, as I think I’ve mentioned 10 or 20 times, I totally dig the subject.

Happily, the more I read about it—I’m a little abashed, actually, at how little I knew going into it last year—the more I want to read about it. Which is good, not just for my own curiosity, but because I like to smother a subject.

It’s not enough to know just what’s on the syllabus, but all those bits and lines which both feed into and lead away from those topics. Or, to put it another way, if I want to cover a 4×4 square, I have to paint 6×6 or 8×8. Last year, it was more like 5×5 or even 4 1/2×4 1/2; this year, I think I’ll be closer to 6×6.

The over-painting metaphor no longer works for my bioethics course, which I’ve been teaching for years. Now, it’s about adding dimensions, tipping things over, and, most importantly, being willing to rip apart the fabric in front of the students. I’m now so comfortable with my knowledge of the subject that I’m willing to shred that knowledge, to say, What else is there?

Boredom while teaching a long-taught subject is always a risk—as I noted, I got bored teaching version 2 of Politics & Culture—but teaching long allows one really bring out the sheen on a topic. The problem with v. 2 was that while I cared some, I didn’t care enough about the central topic to want to spend time with it even when I wasn’t teaching it.

That’s not a problem with Weimar, or with biotech. I want to know, for myself, and it’s this greediness which in turn makes me excited to share.





It’s like catching snow on my tongue

30 08 2016

Gene Wilder died.

I liked him, liked his movies, and understand why more avid fans are distressed at the thought that all he’s ever done is all he’ll ever do.

I also understand why some like to imagine him reunited in the afterlife with his third wife, Gilda Radner.

David Bowie died, Prince died—Man, imagine those two in the Big Sky Studio?

It’s a nice thought, that those matched or who should have been matched in the world will find each other after they’ve left it. And it comforts, in that Julian-of-Norwich sort of way: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

We shall be released, and reconciled.

A lovely thought. . .

. . . that I don’t quite believe. I don’t disbelieve it, either, exactly, but I doubt that there is any great reunion beyond the grave. We take our delights while we can, bear our sorrows as we must, and the only mercy granted is what we give to each other.

I’m not very good with holding on to delights or letting go of sorrows or harms; I may get past without quite forgiving, and mercy, well, I’m still working on Vonnegut’s admonition God dammit, you’ve got to be kind—I am so rarely kind.

So it seems too easy to think that I can be kind, later, that as a ghost I’ll get yet more chances to be human, that I can put off the something more for. . . later, after.

It’s a lovely thought, that our chances never end, but better, if harder, to hold close the wisdom of Maxine Kumin: Our ground time here will be brief.