We blended in with the crowd

31 01 2017

I’ve marched in enough protests to have lost count, but I admit that I’ve kinda lost my marching ways.

It’s not that I think marching is useless, not at all: it’s just that I’m lazy, and I find going to protests alone slightly depressing.

Still. I missed the NYC Women’s March (migraine, laziness, mood), but in reading about the many, many, many rallies from around the world, I was a little wistful. Also, I kept seeing the same refrain from women of color: All of these white women showing up for themselves; will they show up for anyone else?

And I thought: Good point.

So, last Wednesday, when there was a rally for immigrants and Muslims in Washington Square Park, I jumped into my Docs and headed on ovah. As I mentioned on Twitter, it was bracing to stand with thousands of others and yell “Stand up! Fight back!”

Not depressing at all.

Then, this past Sunday, in response to the execrable executive order on refugees, travellers, and would-be immigrants, I joined even more folks for a rally/march in Battery Park.

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Lotta good—short! rally speeches should be short!—speeches tucked into two hours, but I confess to ducking out at Rector Street a few blocks into the march (the third hour) to head back to the train. It’s gonna take me a bit to get back full protest stamina.

Oh, and did I mention that the route to the 2 took me down Wall Street and past the Trump Building?

Yeah, I flipped it off both coming and going. Petty, but satisfying in its pettiness.

Anyway, there’ll be more protests—Clio knows there’ll be more protests—and I’m working on rounding up some fellow marchers, but I showed up, and it felt good

It might even have done some good.





On a rooftop in Brooklyn

25 01 2017

Yesterday both cats scrambled to get on to the windowsill to gawk out at what I figured was a pigeon.

Well, it was, but not in the way I was expecting:

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She really went to town on that thing:

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She hung around, snacking, for a good long time, before lifting off with what was left of the carcass and leaving just a puddle of feathers behind.

I’m not a bird-watcher, so even with the help of various online guides I can’t be sure, but chances are that bird o’ prey was a red-tailed hawk. They’re pretty common in the city, but this was my first up-close-and-personal sighting.

Pretty cool.





Packed up and ready to go

24 01 2017

Given the news coming out of federal agencies of stifled staffer communications as well as numerous instances in various Republican-led states of information disappearing from government websites, it is not alarmist to think that information which is currently available may end up disappearing.

If you, as I do, rely on these documents for your work (or whatever), I strongly urge you to download and save this information on your own devices.

I make use of a number of NIH docs, only some of which are easily downloadable as pdfs (which I did); the rest, I screenshot and saved as pdfs. Screenshot-to-pdf isn’t as good as a straight-up pdf doc, but it does allow you to preserve the information.

(I use the free Fireshot add-on, which is really easy to use; there are also others available.)

There are millions of documents which are currently accessible to the public; I dearly hope someone is copying over as many of them as possible.

 





Nazi punks fuck off

24 01 2017

So y’all have seen the video (or the many gifs) of Richard Spencer punched in the head, yeah?

Anyone conflicted by the sucker punch? Anyone conflicted by their lack of confliction over the sucker punch?

I’m not conflicted. Mind you, I wouldn’t exactly recommend sucker-punching Richard Spencer or any run-of-the-mill Nazi, but I took perhaps too much satisfaction in seeing that fist upside this guy’s noggin.

As an Arendtian, I’m leery of the introduction of violence into the arena of discourse, i.e., if you’re able to talk, do that—but what if your opponents don’t accept the terms of that discourse? What to do, for example, about a white supremacist who thinks ethnic cleansing gets a bad name, has advocated for the forced sterilization of black people, whose website ran an article called ‘Is Black Genocide Right?, and who is using the instruments of democracy to undermine said democracy?

What do you do with a guy who would get rid of you just for being you?

That longstanding dilemma in liberalism—how to deal with illiberalism—is longstanding precisely because there is no easy answer. I tend toward the civil libertarian view, which says tolerate the intolerant, because I don’t want the state to throw people in jail for bad views. Clear, direct threats—sure, but general espousal of an abhorrent world-view, even a Nazi world-view? No.

But what about in political society? How may we as citizens respond to our fellow citizens who would seek to strip us of our full status as citizens? If you (Nazi, ISIS fighter) say you want to get rid of ‘my kind’, can I hit you?

Legally, no. If I hit you and I get caught, I ought to be charged with assault.

And tactically, that might not be the wisest decision, for all kinds of reasons, not least because it could lead to greater violence, which will lead to the breakdown of politics right quick.

Finally, if you believe as fervently in politics as I do, then one ought to act politically, i.e., through speech and coordinated public actions, not violently.

Yet for all that, I honestly cannot condemn the guy who walloped Richard Spencer. This is one of those cases where the better angels of my nature are nowhere to be found.





Get you instructions, follow directions

19 01 2017

I’ve been pretty crappy in this whole RESIST! thing.

Yes, I wrote the letter(s) and yes, I keep thinking—thinking matters!—but I see exhortations to Do X! Y! Z! on Twitter, and I’m, like, Um. . . .

WELL, I’ve finally found something which suits my house-bound ways: I’m gathering information for the Resistance Manual, on online, open-source, er, source of resources. I’ve already added citations to the readings list, as well as plugged in data for Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Minnesota.

It’s all pretty basic, thus far, but you don’t get to the complicated stuff without that basic foundation, so I think I’m, y’know, actually contributing something.

(I’ll keep adding information to my Life during wartime page, if only because I have my own idiosyncratic interests that may be best kept confined to this here site.)

Oh, and I did, finally, manage to call my Congressfolk: Rep Clarke (Thanks for boycotting the inauguration!), and senators Gillibrand (About those Sessions/Price/DeVos votes. . . ?) and Schumer (Yeah, vote against Sessions! Yeah!). Schumer’s DC line was way busy, so I called his Manhattan office—hell, it all gets to them.

Like many people, I’ve developed a thing, which is to say, a problem, with calling people I don’t know. Pre-email I never would have won a cold-calling award, but now that there are ways besides actually phoning to people I don’t know I prefer. . . not to phone people I don’t know. It’s a bit of an issue.

Anyway, my friend T. mentioned that she’s programmed her politicians into her phone and I thought, Hey, that’s a mighty fine idea. Then, once I did that, I thought, Hey, why not actually, y’know, maybe, call ’em. So I did.

It was nothing, as of course the rational part of me knew. They don’t know who I am, they don’t care how eloquent I am, if they saw me on the train they wouldn’t point and giggle She’s the lady who stammered her comment, and they’re not writing Ms. Absurdbeats of Lefferts/East Flatbush called to say. . . .

Nope, all that mattered was that I gave an opinion on something the rep/senator did, and they noted that.

So, if you’re like me, not crazy about cold-calling politicians, don’t worry: they have people, and those people know how to write Right On! or Ugh! and then politely issue you off the phone and not think about you again.

And I bet that when I do call again, they ain’t gonna remember me—which is just how I like it.





Singing songs and carrying signs

17 01 2017

My Congressional representative, Yvette Clarke, is not attending the inaugural. Yay!

My senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, are attending. And that’s fine, too.

I have, over the years (decades. . .) come to appreciate the importance of institutional norms and of the necessity of recognizing the peaceful transfer of power. That a nation is able to vote out leaders and peacefully replace them is an accomplishment.

That’s why I’m fine with my senators attending the inauguration. But why then cheer Rep. Clarke?

Because the President-elect has no interest in institutional norms, has stated his disdain for the notion of a peaceful transfer of power when the voting citizenry elected someone he didn’t like, and has barely acknowledged that he is, in fact, the president-elect of the entire nation, not just the minority that voted for him.

Regular folks (i.e., non-political scientists) are often frustrated by what they see as the hypocrisy of politicians—the paeans to “my dear colleague” in the Senate, the inclusion of members in the opposite party in the Cabinet, a partisan president vowing to rule for all of the people, etc.—but these gestures matter. They are way of saying politics isn’t war, and we are not enemies.

That matters. A lot.

So some Democrats will attend the inauguration to uphold the principle that we, however fractious, are a people, and we honor the institutions by which we are so constituted, and some will boycott to uphold that same principle.

That seems about right.





No time for dancing, or lovey dovey

10 01 2017

I’ve never been accused of optimism.

Well, okay, I was a happy happy kid, likely to believe that the Good will out, but nothing like a bout of life to kick the stuffing out of such positivity.

That said, I do think part of our political resistance ought to have nothing to do with politics at all, that it is not enough just to resist: we must celebrate the Good in the world. There should be dancing, and lovey-dovey: We want bread and roses, too.

~~~

In my piece on Modernity’s Ideologies I divided the response to the historical moment, Modernity, into particular worldviews (Liberalism, Totalitarianism, and Reaction), and extend the various ideologies out from those worldviews.

This can lead to a bit of confusion, insofar as I identify both Liberalism as a worldview, and liberalism as one of its ideologies. I’ve considered changing Liberalism to, say, Pluralism (which would then contrast nicely to Totalitarianism), but I think the term as I mean to use it is so entrenched in political theory that switching it up might simply lead to greater confusion. (I still might be convinced otherwise, but at this point, I’ve stuck myself with Liberalism and liberalism.)

What does this have to do with anything? Well, Liberalism can itself contain and tolerate a variety of illiberal elements, but its ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, and reform socialism) will generally seek to uphold and even further a Liberal worldview, even as they may, at times, be used to further what its opponents might argue are illiberal goals.

See, for example, disputes over whether business must serve all customers or if they may choose to turn some away. Those in favor of serve-all refer to principles of equality and justice, while those against might call on individual liberty and, yes, justice as well. These partisans are using Liberal values to advance/defend their particular ideology.

Now, various disputes about campus activists, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc., often bounce back and forth between worldview and ideology, and often in ways which obscure the level at which the dispute is taking place. So, for example, someone like Jonathan Chait or Mark Lilla might chastise those campus activists as behaving illiberally, when it seems their real beef is that they appear to be acting against pluralism and tolerance, i.e., against Liberalism.

I’m not convinced of this, not least because I think Liberalism can also contain fierce partisanship and passionate, intemperate, even intolerant argument. I think, for example, that instead of smacking the activists as bad Liberals (which they probably could give a shit about, anyway), the tut-tutters should engage the argument at the level of ideology—by which I mean, actually engage the fucking argument instead of dismissing it as impolitic.

In other words, while I do think it’s necessary for liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) to defend Liberalism, I also think that liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) and anyone else gets to fight for what their version of the Good, and to do so without apology. If you disagree, fight back.

That, I would argue, is a great way to defend Liberalism.

~~~

But let’s get back to the fighting-for: we need to do more of this, without apology. I don’t mean nastily or triumphantly, but sincerely (jesus, did I just write that?) and profoundly and yes, even giddily.

As a bread-and-roses socialist, I want more dancing, more music, more art, more celebration of all we could possibly be. These are good, and part of the Good of human life.

This celebration needs a political grounding and goes beyond it—and in so doing, helps to justify the grounding itself. Liberal politics are often criticized—I’ve often criticized it—as deracinated, worn-out, and in its pure-procedural form, it is; but Liberalism is not just proceduralism, it’s also about possibility, an openness to what we can’t yet see. It’s about something more.

So let’s claim that, that openness and art and possibility, without apology.

I don’t want to reduce all of life to politics—too totalizing—nor demand that all celebrations celebrate all things—again, too totalizing. But when we have the chance to say, This is good, this song, this movie, this dance, is good, let’s take it.

When we have the chance to dance, let’s take it.





It’s another round in the losing fight

6 01 2017

Yet again.

John Mellencamp might have seemed the go-to guy for the title of this post, but there’s something about Emmylou’s weariness that seemed more appropriate.

Anyway. Native Iowan and newsman Robert Leonard writes (in the Times, natch) about how the hard-working, conservative, Christian folk of rural Iowa view those of us beyond the cornfields:

They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.

He goes on to note that these rural folk may be alienated not just from the fabled coasts, but the cities in their own states.

Overwhelmingly the blue counties are along waterways, where early river transportation encouraged the formation of cities, and surround state capitals. This is also where most investment in infrastructure and services is made. Rural Americans recognize that this is how it must be, as the cities are where most of the people are, yet it’s a sore spot.

Rural roads are crumbling, he notes, while lawmakers spend money to shave “a few seconds off a city dweller’s commute to his office”, where firefighters and EMTs are volunteers, and local police go begging.

Do note he offers no stats to back up these assertions, no graphs on spending patterns, nothing on relative need. He sees the potholes in the two-lane no-shoulder highways cutting through the fields, but not, apparently, in the on-ramps to the cities. “In this view, blue counties are where most of our tax dollars are spent, and that’s where all of our laws are written and passed.”

Note that he prefaces this with “In this view,” which suggests that the view and the reality may not match up, where, in fact, it’s likely that the view and the reality don’t match up. More money overall may be spent in cities, yes, but it is also the case generally (with some exceptions) that more money per capita is spent in low- versus  high-population areas.

That said, that perception that rural folks are getting jobbed is not uncommon. Hell, I remember as a kid watching the news out of Milwaukee and wondering Why don’t they say anything about what’s happening in Sheboygan Falls? We matter, too!

Of course, little newsworthy happened in Falls, then or now. Again, there are exceptions, usually when something terrible happens, as when a child died in a house fire trying to rescue her younger siblings (two of whom also died), but most of what happens in Falls is like most of what happens in Milwaukee: not newsworthy. It’s just that if the newsworthy only happens to 1 of 20,000 people, well, you’ll have more to talk about in places of 200,000 than in 8,000.

I knew that, even then, but resentment does not always welcome reason.

And it is true that services are more scattershot in rural areas (and I should note that Sheb Falls is not super-rural: Sheboygan is only a few miles away, and Milwaukee, less than an hour). There is no hospital in Falls, no paramedics, and the fire department is, indeed, staffed by volunteers—one of whom is my brother (who has also trained as a first responder). When I was in high school, a kid in my brother’s class, who lived out in the country, was slammed in the chest by a piece of farm equipment; the ambulance took, I dunno, half hour? 45 minutes? to get there. Too late, and Rocky died.

In New York City, a fire call that takes more than 10 minutes to answer is a scandal.

So , yes, low-population areas are less blanketed by visible services than high-pop areas, and in ways that do harm those in the low-pop areas. Leonard isn’t wrong when he notes “If I have a serious heart attack at home, I’ll be cold to the touch by the time the volunteer ambulance crew from a town 22 miles away gets here.”

But it is also true that low-pop areas are nonetheless serviced. Farmers are subsidized, as are roads and bridges, by urbanites in both the home states and elsewhere. And, of course, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, along with mortgage tax deductions flow to people everywhere—although this is not always noticed. And those few who do still farm rely on those of us in the cities, or other parts of the world, to buy their products.

This country is highly politically polarized right now (although not, perhaps, for the reasons pointed out by JC Watts), but we are also tied together in all kinds of ways. The farmers need someone to buy their food, and the land-grant universities across the nation have performed research which has greatly increased agricultural productivity. And New York and LA and Chicago and Houston and DC are crowded with residents who moved there from those small towns.

Leonard notes that this movement into the cities contributes to the resentment by rural of urban folk, but doesn’t consider how this complicates the simply rural/urban narrative he outlines. I don’t live in Falls, will never again live in Falls, but I talk regularly to family and friends who still live in the area, and I plan on going back for visits for as long as I’m alive.

And, it should be admitted, hard feelings also run outward from city centers. I couldn’t wait to leave Falls, and for years and years I resented “having” to return. Yes, there were other things going on, but I flat-out disparaged my childhood town long after I left it. I’m now long over that, and enjoy my visits home—it’s still home, even decades after it’s been home—but I’d bet that not a few of my fellow Brooklynites have been happy to leave their small towns behind.

What does this all mean? I don’t know. I think that at least some of us should pay attention to the perceptions of those in rural areas, if only to figure out how to deal with it. But if I as a city-dweller am asked to consider the complexities of life in the outer boroughs (jk!) of America, then it seems only fair to ask for a similar consideration.

Folks in the boonies don’t want to be dismissed. That’s understandable. Neither do folks in the cities.





They’ll think that white hood’s all they need

6 01 2017

So, waaaay back in 2013 I wrote this:

So I’ve been turning over this thought in my head about the whiteness of the GOP and arguments (click here for a Crooked Timber post that has the various relevant links) that Republicans don’t have to worry about being the party of the pasty.

I think they do.

I don’t have this all worked out, but it seems that in order for the GOP to be the White Party they’re going to have to entice voters based on their whiteness, and I don’t know how many folks think of themselves primarily as white.

This is the crumbling underside of the default standard of white: regular [i.e., non-academic, non-race-politicized] white folks haven’t had to think about their whiteness. To bring them to you, you first have to bring them to their whiteness, convince them that their whiteness ought to be their primary concern, then further convince them that their candidates will do the most to preserve their white privilege.

Yes, whitey-first appeals have worked and will continue to work in a number of districts, but I don’t see how this appeal can be expanded, largely because I don’t know how much white folks who aren’t already racialists really want to be racialists. I think white-first appeals would turn them off, maybe make them less likely to vote Republican.

Most Americans don’t want to think of themselves as racists—even the racists don’t want to be seen as racists—and aren’t in a hurry to separate themselves (in their imaginations, at least, if not always in practice) from their fellow Americans. We’re not always large, but an awful lot of us aspire to be.

I don’t know, I’m probably talking out of my nose. It just seems like  focus-on-the-whites is a losing proposition with many of those very same whites.

Boy o boy, was that wrong. Mostly.

I was clearly wrong about the appeal of whitey-first (and what was up with my use of “racialist”?)—horribly, painfully wrong. Whatever votes Republicans may have lost prior to 2016 may be traced less to their appeals to whiteness than the covertness of those appeals: make it explicit, and you win.

Maybe.

But at the risk of being wrong yet again, I do think I got one thing right back then: I still don’t believe most white people want to think of themselves as racist.

Are many of them (us) racist? You bet! Do we want to be called racist? HELL NO.

As has been pointed out by just about every black and brown (and a few white) political commentators, calling a white person “racist” is about the worst thing you can do. Even people who post pictures of a Klan member and caption it with I’m dreaming of a white Christmas don’t want to be called racist.

Not that this is much a wedge between the enthusiastic racist and those tolerant of the enthusiasts (the racist-adjacent?), nor even a slender reed. More like an onion skin, and about as strong.

But there is a gap, however thin. And that unwillingness to claim racism gives those of us committed to anti-racism something to grab on to, to try to peel those people away from a tolerance of racism.

It’ll be damnably difficult. Many people think racism is bad, think of themselves as good, and in so doing, deny that they themselves are racist. They—we—take the accusation of racism personally, which creates both the incentive for denial and the chance to say I get it, you think of yourself as a decent person, so how about acting like it?

Trying to reverse an upside-down virtue ethics is not enough, of course: it won’t wipe out systemic racism or uproot the white supremacy entangled in the history of this nation, but I do think if you give people an out, if you tell them, You don’t have to be racist, and give them ways to fight against it—to act decently—then maybe, maybe, some of them will say, Huh, that might be worth doing.

I am not, of course, optimistic, and I don’t much hope, but nothing happens on its own. Tolerance for racism will not disappear on its own.

This is a task for anti-racist whites. As I noted on Twitter, people of color have had to carry the burden of racism for far too long, and for far too long, (thinking-of-themourselves-as-) non-racist white people have considered it enough not actively to have added to that burden. We thought non-racism enough. For too many us—and you betcha I include myself in this group—the fight has been optional.

No more: to be truly anti-racist, the fight must be seen as necessary. And this piece of the fight, confronting whites who are comfortable enough with racism, is our (white) burden, my burden.

I’m sorry it took a kick in the head, i.e., Trump’s election, to see this.





We do what we’re told, told to do

4 01 2017

Downfall was very satisfying.

Like every other person with an internet connection, I’d seen all of the dubbed parodies of Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in the bunker, but not until tonight did I finally watch the real (well, as-filmed) scene.

There are a fair number of things which I am just not in the mood for, namely, anything in which women have to put up with shit or where shitty people are coddled, and I don’t know that I could deal with even a really good noir flick in which the good are vanquished.

I want the shitty people vanquished, and, really, there are few people shittier than Nazis.

That said, it was discomfitting having some sympathy for Traudl Junge, Hitler’s young secretary. No, she didn’t kill anyone, but she was excited to work for a man who had dragged Germany and much of Europe into an inferno, and stayed with him to his end. That later in life she came to see that she willed her own ignorance does not erase her responsibility for that will. You can’t volunteer to work for Hitler and come away innocent.

Anyway, Ganz was terrific as Hitler, and if he seems histrionic in the role that is likely because by all accounts that’s how Hitler was in life. Ulrich Matthes, who played Goebbels, didn’t really look like him, but he captured his weaselly-ness; Corinna Harfouch, as Magda Goebbels, also doesn’t much resemble her character, but she was magnificent in her fanaticism.

And while I don’t know if it was only Magda who killed their six children, as was portrayed in the film, it seemed fitting that Joseph is depicted as shirking this duty, and thus deserving of her contempt.

Some critics thought the film too sympathetic toward its characters, and there’s something to that: Junge, Schenk, Haase, and Mohnke each come across, in her or his own way, as not thoroughly corrupted. Speer, on the other hand, seems appropriately self-interested, and Eva Braun, as determinedly frivolous. I did feel bad when Blondi the dog was killed.

But I don’t know that there’s much danger of the film’s distorting Hitler’s, for lack of a better word, reputation. If you don’t know much about him or the war, you’d probably find Downfall boring and not worth the two-and-a-half hours it takes to get through those last 10 days of Hitler’s life: as good as Ganz’s performance is, it won’t resonate if you know little about what had happened outside of and before the bunker.

And if you do, and you come away saddened at Hitler’s and the regime’s end, then Jesus Christ you are a terrible (or, at best, a terribly deluded) person and I’d prefer it if you never read my blog again.

As for me, I had some sympathy for the German women (knowing what the Soviets would soon do to them), but was otherwise, as mentioned, thoroughly satisfied by the Nazi downfall.