Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

10 11 2016

And now this.

Goddammit, 2016.

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Circus Maximus MMXVI: I break down in the middle and lose my thread

10 11 2016

I forced myself to listen to the radio yesterday morning, but last night I couldn’t do it, and today, still, radio silence.

Twitter, however, is still a go, with so, so many people saying THIS ONE THING is why Clinton lost/Trump won.

This gent, however, digs into the data to warn us “waitaminute”:

Read through the entire thread, as he really digs into and compares data across a number of states.

As he helpfully notes, there is no, one reason, and no reason that holds across all states. The “US electorate”, after all, is actually 50 states electorates, plus the D of C. What mattered a lot in one state may have mattered very little in another. Mistakes might either have tipped that electorate or were of no consequence whatsoever.

I don’t know that anyone has AN ANSWER to what happened on Tuesday, and if they do, I won’t believe ’em. I do think, however, that we can identify the possible pieces (or threads, if you will), that resulted in the overall electoral map, recognizing that the “thickness” of those threads varied across the states.

The parties: Republicans generally voted for Republicans and Democrats generally voted for Democrats, with some (varying) amount of crossover.  That’s been the general trend in American politics and there’s little evidence of deviation from it. The roles of the RNC and DNC were secondary to those of the campaigns.

The candidates: Each was flawed, each in his or her own way. Trump deviated a great deal from the standard Republican candidate, while Clinton was pretty much a standard Democratic one. What horrified Clinton supporters about Trump—his lack of political experience and unstable temperament—delighted his supporters: he was an outsider who spoke his mind. Similarly, his supporters derided her as a corrupt (emails! Clinton Foundation!) insider, with her experience a strike against her.

Some have argued that Sanders would have performed better than Clinton, but that’s awfully hard to conclude. He might have done better with some white voters, but not as well with black voters. That Feingold lost to the demonstrably terrible Johnson in Wisconsin leads me to doubt the “Sanders coulda. . !” advocates, but it’s also possible that Sanders at the top of the ticket might have helped Feingold. I doubt Sanders could have outperformed Clinton, but it is possible.

The campaigns: Given the candidates, did campaign strategies make sense? Arguably, Clinton erred in not spending time in Wisconsin, a decision driven in no small part by polling. Was there too much reliance on what turned out to be flawed state polls? What about ad strategy: too much on Trump’s flawed character and not enough on empathy for those attracted to him? Not enough reachout generally?

Turnout: This is of a piece with the campaigns itself. I had thought infrastructure and organization mattered a great deal in turning voters out, but Trump was able to do so with apparently relatively little staff. Does this mean that organization doesn’t matter generally, or that he was an outlier, able to pull people in via other means?

Racism/white nationalism: One of those possible other means, of course, was the implicit and explicit appeal to white nationalist grievances.

On the one hand, this is obvious, insofar as his support was overwhelming white, while Clinton’s was more ethnically mixed. On the other hand, there are also certainly plenty of Trump supporters who while tolerating the racism also seek to distance themselves from it, as well as to downplay the racism of the candidate himself. Those who revel in racism and those who tolerate racism collaborated to elect Trump, which matters a whole lot; but that they are also distinct may (or may not) matter as well.

(Add: class) As for those who suggest (often while touting Sanders) Clinton should have paid more attention to the “white working class”, well, if the key motivator is “whiteness” as opposed to “class”, then what? Is it possible to peel away an attachment to whiteness such that white workers consider themselves as part of a larger, multi-ethnic working class? Finally, initial data (subject to change) that I’ve seen suggests that Trump pulled the bulk of his support from the solidly-middle and upper-middle classes.

Actually, class deserves more than a parenthetical aside, not just for this campaign but for those going forward. It’s just that disentangling it from race is damnably difficult.

Sexism: How  and how much did it matter, one way or the other, that Clinton is, yes indeedy, a woman? How did that affect campaign strategy and tactics? How did it effect how the press covered her? How did it affect willingness to vote for her?

Voter suppression: Some states (WI) had tough voter i.d. laws such that some citizens couldn’t register to vote; some states (WI, NC) reduced the number of polling places and polling hours or relocated polls to locations less convenient for Democrats. Did this effect turnout? If turnout was down, as it was across many locales, could this be tied to suppression or simply to lack of enthusiasm?

The press: There have been a number of analyses of the amount of media attention given to policy versus everything else (emails emails emails), as well as a sense that few took Trump seriously enough to consider what his administration would actually look like.

They complained about her lack of press conferences, but said little about his similar lack. They (media organizations, not necessarily individual reporters) consented to having their reporters penned up. And Trump rather easily slid away from demands for his tax returns. Was she covered too much, too unfairly? Was he not covered enough? How did the coverage affect voting behavior, if at all?

The role of the press is highly contentious and will likely see the greatest play, not least because one of the media’s favorite activities is to talk about itself.

James Comey’s letter: This might be a sub-variable of the press, given how the press shouted about SHADOW OVER CLINTON WON’T GO AWAY. Still, should be considered on its own terms, especially given apparent widespread agency animus to Clinton. And, again, don’t know if or how it mattered at all.

Wikileaks: Again, another sub- of the press. Did the press give adequate context to the emails, especially in terms of ordinary operating procedures to campaigns? What of any (alleged) connections between Wikileaks and Russia? And even if there is a connection, does it matter?

Polls: They got it wrong. Why?

Voters: This would seem to be an output rather than input variable, but insofar as candidates will configure their campaigns around what they think will appeal to those voters, how voters respond to those campaigns will in turn affect the campaigns. What motivates and de-motivates voters? What do voters know, and what do they know that just ain’t so? What is the mix of rationality and irrationality among the voting public? And what of those who’ve voted before, but didn’t this time?

None of these variables is independent, of course. Some of these pieces reinforce and magnify others, while some minimize; and the relative size and  position of those pieces vary from state to state.

And this is crucial: Clinton won the popular vote (final tally t.d. unknown) and lost the Electoral College vote, so any wholly national focus will be wrong. What worked for her in one state could have worked against her in another, but given that the majority of voters did, in fact, vote for her suggests that she didn’t do everything wrong.

Finally, I’m trying to see a way to put together a rational understanding of what happened, but, as Carl Schmitt reminded-warned us, there’s a great deal to politics which is decidedly irrational.

Which means, of course, that you could do everything “right” and still lose.





This is ourselves

12 01 2016

I was never a huge fan of David Bowie’s.

I mean, I liked his music, had a few records, and generally enjoyed his work, but I was never a super-fan, and never had a full-on Bowie fever.

So why am I so sad today? And why can’t I stop reading about him?

~~~

David Bowie is actually associated with one of my worst memories from high school.

I wanted to be the yearbook editor my senior year. I’d started working on the yearbook staff when I was a freshman (which frosh usually didn’t do), was generally acknowledged to be ‘the writer’ in my class (not that hard, really, in a class of 150), and fully expected that the adviser, Ms. G., would appoint me.

She did not.*

L. and T. were appointed instead, and I’d be pissed about it to this today had they not a) put together a kick-ass yearbook; and b) treated me really, really well, allowing me to contribute in all kinds of way. They were champs.

Anyway, my idea was to create a yearbook around the lyrics to “Changes”—which is how Bowie gets dragged into this bad memory.

I have no idea whether or not this would have worked: it could have been amazing, it could have sucked, it could have been Eh.

Woulda liked the chance to have found out.

(*She had her reasons, which were legit. Still. . . .)

~~~

I’ve said “Under Pressure” is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, but today I’ve read all kinds of pieces holding that song out as some kind of genius.

I don’t think it’s genius, but yeah, it is a good pop song, undeserving of the guilty-pleasure label.

~~~

One good thing that’s come from all this reading today is that I found, courtesy of the Huffington Post, a couple of videos of Bowie playing with Arcade Fire.

First I saw this one, one of Bowie’s songs:

Then one of Arcade Fire’s:

I like Arcade Fire’s cds just fine, but watching them live, man, I realllly want to see them live.

What it would have been like to see them live with Bowie.

~~~

I think the main reason I considered “Under Pressure” a guilty pleasure is that every time I hear it I tear up.

I cannot handle my own tears, cannot handle that I am moved to tears.

~~~

It’s kind of astonishing how amazing a singer Bowie was, given that he didn’t have much of a voice.

He’s not like Leonard Cohen, who can’t sing at all, but if I were asked for the best straight-up voices in pop, I wouldn’t name Bowie.

But oh, could he sing, so many different types of songs, with so many different types of singers. Some of these collaborations (Arcade Fire) work better than others (Mick Jagger), it wasn’t down to him.

Something about that thin reed, stretched across the universe.

~~~

“Space Oddity” reminds me of John Lennon. I don’t know why. Maybe I heard it while thinking about Lennon’s death.

Or maybe it just reminds me of high school.

It’s not every time I hear the song I’m reeled back, but sometimes, sometimes I’m in the parking lot at Sheboygan Falls High School, Bowie on the car radio, singing And I’m sitting in my tin can. . . .

~~~

“Under Pressure” is about love, after all.

And love, I don’t know what to do with love.

Thus my chagrin over my tears, my chagrin over love.

~~~

And all of the work he’s done, all of the chances he took, all he gave and all he withheld, all he hid and all he revealed.

David Bowie, 1947-2016, was a Starman, a man who fell to earth, an alien, an artist, but most of all, most of all, David Bowie was a human being.





Jean Béliveau, 1931-2014

3 12 2014

The most fair-weather of hockey fans (of which I am, sadly, one) and the most ardent fans of Montréal (of which I am, gladly, one) knows of the great Jean Béliveau.

Does it matter that I was introduced to him through a Jane Siberry song?

M. Béliveau, who sounds like he was in every way a great and good man, likely would not have minded.

He was 83.





Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014

13 08 2014

I think I was in high school when I became enamored of Lauren Bacall. I have no idea why.

It might have been that she was starring on Broadway then, and I was into all things theater; it might have been. . . geez, really, that’s all I got.

I mean, I hadn’t seen any of her movies at that point—didn’t for years—and was hardly a film aficionado. The only other thing I can think of is that I read the book Real Women Bring Flowers, and there were a number of choice Bacall (or, perhaps, screenwriter) quotes sprinkled throughout the text.

In any case, I read her first autobiography, By Myself, and promptly decided she was a dame worth admiring. I knew she was called Betty by friends, that she held her chin low in that first scene with Bogart to keep it from quivering, almost married Sinatra, and didn’t see the physical resemblance so often pointed out to her between her first (Bogart) and second (Jason Robards) husbands.

What was admirable about any of that, or anything else that she wrote or said or did? I honestly can’t say. Maybe because she did seem honest, forthright, that she was beautiful and strong and smart and never hid any of it. She was who she was.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

To a teenager who wasn’t at all sure of herself or her place anywhere, that you could simply be seemed astonishing.

And worth admiring, then and now.





Kathleen Cranley Glass, 1942-2014

20 04 2014

Kathy was kind. She was smart, and she was tough.

But what I will remember, first, is that she was kind.

She was in charge of the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill during my postdoc, and while I think I spoke to her on the phone before moving to Montréal, I hadn’t met her before then. I was going to fly up to Montréal to look for an apartment, but she’d assured me that I could find a place upon arrival.

In all my years of knowing her, that might have been the only time she gave me bad advice. (Well, that and suggesting that if I liked Montréal, I’d probably like Boston, too.)

In every other way, however, Kathy was as fine a guide into bioethics and Québec as I could have hoped for. She and her husband Leon invited me over for dinner more times than I could count—in fact, I stayed with them a good chunk of the time I was looking for an apartment—and took me hiking outside of the city, and to various festivals within it.

She also tried to convince me that Montréal bagels were as good as New York bagels, but that didn’t take. (Montréal bagels are fine—and, honestly, given how pillowy so many NY bagels have become of late, certainly the better size—but a bit too sweet for my taste.)

Mostly, though, I remember the many long conversations with her in her office, first in the old building on Peel, then in her corner office in the building on the other side of the street. I’d have been in my office at the end of the day and have wandered over to hers to say goodbye, then end up staying for an hour or two as we talked about ethics and genetics and politics and music and memory.

She was generous with her time and with herself.

Again, she was kind as she worked her way through her and my thoughts, but it was through these long conversations, as well as in our various BMU meetings, seminar, and colloquia, that her tough-mindedness revealed itself. It was so easy to skip past the basics, but Kathy always returned to them, and to the basic necessity of patient and subject protection.

That was Kathy’s abiding concern: how to take care of people, be they patients at the Children’s Hospital, where she served as a clinical ethicist, or when writing about subjects in clinical trials. She and her colleagues (including Stan Shapiro and Charles Weijer) returned again and again to the necessity of clinical equipoise in research trials, especially in regards to trials of psychoactive medications.

All too often psychiatric patients would be—are—offered fewer subjects-protections than other similarly seriously ill patient-subjects: instead of testing new treatments against current ones, researchers test the investigational drug against. . . nothing. Not only will this skew the results by inflating the effects of the drug—which is bad enough—but subjects who might otherwise benefit from current treatments are denied them, and thus, suffer as a direct and entirely predictable result of their participation in the trial.

This, as Kathy would note, is a textbook definition of unethical research.

She and Stan focused on psychiatric patients, but Kathy’s research ranged widely across bioethics and included considerations of genetic and stem cell research. She worked with Bartha Knoppers at the Université de Montréal and Françoise Baylis at Dalhousie in trying to come to grips with the then-novel human embryonic stem cell research.

Bartha and Françoise can be aggressive in argumentation—I am like them in that respect—but Kathy was not one to be flattened by fast-rolling words. She was too acute a thinker.

This is what I missed, at first. Her kindness, her gentleness, was so immediately apparent, that I made the mistake I too often made: that a softness means weakness.

She was soft; she was also sharp. There was no contradiction.

That is a lesson I’m still learning.

I am so sorry that I will never be able to tell her how much she meant to me, personally and intellectually. I am a better thinker for having known her, and a better teacher for having taught alongside her. She is, and will remain, a touchstone. I will miss her for the rest of my life.

She died at home, among her family, April 12. Rest in peace, Kathy.

Thanks to Jonathan Kimmelman for tracking me down and notifying me of Kathy’s death.





Maxine Kumin, 1925-2014

8 02 2014

I skipped the reading.

I didn’t do the reading, so I skipped the reading.

I had no idea what I was missing until I had already missed it.

~~~

The TA in my first creative writing class assigned us Maxine Kumin’s The Retrieval System around the time that Kumin would be visiting campus. We weren’t required to go, so I didn’t bother. After I got around to reading the poems, I thought, Oh, too bad, but not much beyond that.

It was only in re-reading did I think, Oh no!

~~~

The Longing to Be Saved

When the barn catches fire
I am wearing the wrong negligee.
It hangs on my like a gunny sack.
I get the horses out, but they
wrench free, wheel, dash back
and three or four trips are required.
Much whinnying and rearing as well.
This happens when I travel.

At the next stopover, the children take off
their doctor and lawyer disguises
and turn back into little lambs.
They cower at windows from which flames
shout like the tattered red clot
of dimestore devil suits. They refuse
to jump into my waiting arms, although
I drilled them in this technique years ago.

Finally they come to their senses and leap
but each time, the hoop holds my mothers.
Her skin is as dry and papery
as a late onion. I take her
into my bed, an enormous baby
I do not especially want to keep.
Three nights of such disquiet
in and out of dreams as thin as acetate

until, last of all, it’s you
trapped in the blazing fortress.
I hold the rope as you slide from danger.
It’s tricky in high winds and drifting snow.
Your body swaying in space
grows heavier, older, stranger

and me in the same gunny sack
and the slamming sounds as the gutted building burns.
Now the family’s out, there’s no holding back.
I go in to get my turn.

~~~

I’ve written about her before, called on her when I needed someone durable and clear.

She was so clear about so many things. You can notice things, she said in her poems, without having to make a fuss.

You can live this life and accept these burdens and not like it and accept it anyway. You can get naked and laugh and admire the beavers even as you curse them and notice the spiders in the sink and grant them dreams. You can eat all of the wild red raspberries.

It’s all life, she wrote. It’s all just life.

~~~

I wrote a paper on her in my intermediate poetry seminar, used lines from “How It Is” (. . ./with vodka and ice, our words like living meat) to start off a grad paper on Habermas, and for the last chapter of my dissertation, drew from “After the Cleansing in Bosnia” (We saw the great brooding wings hump by./We felt the empty air rush back./We saw there was no obstacle).

Political scientists might consider poetry too elusive for explication, and it is. But it also cuts through, reveals a moment that neatly stacked paragraphs cannot. You can’t think your way past her skin is as dry and papery/as a late onion.

You can only stop, recognize. Yesss.

~~~

She was in her seventies when her horse Dexter tipped her out of her carriage, then tumbled it over her.

For the accident itself I have total amnesia. I come back to consciousness facedown, my arms and legs asprawl. My limbs are numb, I am only vaguely aware they are still attached to me. Kathy, an old carriage-driving buddy who happens to be an emergency room nurse, is kneeling beside me, keeping me absolutely immobile. It is she who saves my life.

I gasp. “I can’t breath,” and she comforts me. “Yes, you can. Just keep taking little sips of air.”

Inside the Halo

Just keep taking little sips of air. The line comes from her friend and savior, Kathy, but Kumin takes them and makes them her own.

~~~

Little sips of air. That’s how we get through. It’s all just life.