Try to stay healthy, physical fitness

3 02 2017

Stand up! Fight back!

Yes yes yes: Good to remember, good to shout. Let us oppose this wretched administration in every way. But opposition is not enough.

I’m not saying anything particularly original, here. We’re riled up because the actions and policies of Trump, Inc. are an offense against our values, threats to our ways of life. Most of us out there yellin’ aren’t political nihilists, but seek to defend what matters.

And we—perhaps I should stop with the royal “we?—and I have to keep that close, that I am standing up for what matters to me as a citizen and as a human being, that I should not simply become the negative to whatever this administration proposes.

This doesn’t mean I think protesters or Democratic politicians should play nice, but that our dissent is not just about Trump or Steve Bannon or Jeff Sessions and their terrible policies, but about what we want our country to look like, to be.

I don’t know that all of us agree on that, which is fine, not least because I don’t know that all of us know. But if I am fine with obstruction as a tactic, it can’t be the entire strategy—that would just turn us into counter-Republicans. Our goals have to extend beyond NO.

That we should be “large” is something I’ve already mentioned: big-hearted and generous welcoming, confident and curious and capacious in our thinking, willing to take risks and just as willing to take care.

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats did a decent job of with the practicalities of how to build a better country—I and many others have our disagreements here and there, but there was a lot to work with—but I also think the Dems have coasted on a reassuring rather than compelling story of America, and that that wasn’t enough.

Trump has given the country his frightening, fearful, fractured, nasty vision of us. We have to say No! to it, to yell Stand up! Fight back! But that’s not enough, we also have to shout about what we’re fighting for.

Because we can’t just react to these wretches, to let them dictate our actions. In standing up, we have to stand on our own, and forge a new way.





Blames it on fate

29 07 2014

1. Victims are bad political actors.

To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.

This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.

He is lauded because what he did was so rare.

2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.

There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.

I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.

The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.

Politics offers the possibility of power.

A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.

Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.

Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.

3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.

One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.

Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.

If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.

You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.

If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.

If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.

~~~

n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.

~~~

*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.





This is your captain speaking

17 03 2014

So here’s my take on Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia: Read folks who, unlike me, actually know something about Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia.

What should the US do about C/U/R? Criminy. I’ll go with what has evolved into my default position on all matters in which the US is urged (often, but not always, by mouth-foamers) to do something: Ask four questions.

  1. What, practically*, can be done?
  2. If there is anything, practically, to be done, what among those options will make the situation better?
  3. What is “better”?
  4. What happens if the chosen action fails?

(*As in, what actually could be accomplished and what are the odds of success.)

There are other considerations, of course, including prior commitments and reputation management and allied relations, but it seems that amidst those other considerations, these four questions have gotta be answered.

I don’t know what those answers are in this situation, tho’ I do know I’m skeptical of aggressive action. As for those who think Putin is pwning our president, well, I’m skeptical that aggression is a sign of strength.

And  if Putin does end up getting his way and keeping Crimea? I guess he wins, whatever that means. A bad outcome, but probably not the worst.

Now, on to something about which I can know with 100 percent absolute super confidence: What happened to that Malaysian jet?

The Rapture, of course!

Duh.





We might as well try: Can you hear me?

27 11 2012

I almost turned off the radio.

I’m not a big fan of This American Life as it is—I don’t hate it, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it, either—but this story, ohhh, I couldn’t stand it:

The Dakota War of 1862, the lead-up to and aftermath which led to decimation of the Dakota nation and dispossession of their lands.

The entire episode is devoted to the war, how it’s taught in Minnesota today, what it means in Minnesota, and by extension, the United States, today. If you don’t know the history, listen to it; if you do know the history, listen to it.

I half-knew the story, and made myself listen all the way to the end because I thought, Goddammit, you can’t turn away. You can’t stop listening just because it’s hard.

I used to have such a strong stomach for atrocity. It sickened and horrified and angered me, but I was driven by the twin senses that if others could live through it, I could at least read what they lived through, as well as the notion that maybe, somehow, such witness could be turned to good use. If attention were paid to genocide and abuse and injustice, such attention might lead to survival and protection and justice.

There’s something to that, I’d guess: The whole world is watching! is meant both to exhilarate and to warn. Amnesty letter-writing campaigns have apparently altered the conditions or lengths of sentences for many political prisoners. Human rights activism from afar can embolden those near, and efforts to get the State Department or the president to express concerns about this person or that group can make a difference.

At some point, however, I lost my stomach for atrocity, and whether as cause or result of my turning away, lost the belief that witness—or, at any rate, my witness—mattered. I turned away.

I can beat myself over this. After all, there’s a self-absorption in turning-away, a kind of thinking that my despair is the point, but, honestly, there was a self-absorption in the attention as well, a kind of thinking that my involvement could lead to justice. Kantian abstractions might appeal on the page, but as a practical matter, motives for even the most altruistic act are often mixed.

No, the problem with the despair is less selfishness than the closing out of possibility: doing nothing leads to nothing. Writing letters or e-mails or making phone calls or even just paying attention might not accomplish anything, but is anything accomplished without action? To act may be to fail, but the possibility of failure is not its certainty.

If I accept that as a general matter, for others, then why not accept that for myself, as well? I may not be a Kantian, but there are worse standards than act as if your will were universal law. Or, to bring it down to this cracked earth, if others can do it, why shouldn’t I?

Can I do anything about the Dakota War of 1862? Almost nothing. But if I think it mattered, if I think it matters today, for who and how we are as an American people, then I can do the one thing that is available to me: I can pay attention.

I can listen.





It’s all about the peace, baby

6 11 2011

I love the move The Peacemaker.

Not as a guilty pleasure, not ironically, not contrari-wise. And no, not (just) because of this guy:

Devoe, Tom Devoe.

Or my general attraction to tormented Eastern Europeans:

Marcel Iureş , as Dušan Gavrić , the man who'd bring the Bosnian war to the US

Nope. I love The Peacemaker because it takes bureaucracy seriously.

Seriously.

Now, no, this is not a documentary and all the usual suspensions of belief—getting information at the last minute, getting out of the car/truck/church just before it goes up in flames/falls off a bridge/explodes—apply, as do the usual tropes of the roguish operative who clashes with the beautiful and smarter-than-he-is woman. It’s a combo spy-action flick, not Godard.

But unlike so many spy-action flicks, the hero and heroine (a likably brittle Nicole Kidman as Dr. Julia Kelly) work for and more importantly within agencies. She’s a part of the Executive Office of the President, thrown into the interim position as adviser to the president on nuclear issues; he’s a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Special Forces, and while both rely upon their wits and experience as they try to prevent 9 Russian nukes from ending up on the open market, their authority is clearly drawn from the positions they hold within their respective agencies.

Kelly discovers that the alleged accidental nuclear explosion was deliberate by looking at spy satellite photos provided by the NSA. Devoe gets information on the corrupt Russian officer from his contacts within government. They fly to Europe on a jet filled with staffers, and Devoe acts on the information he and Kelly find by calling the army and setting up a special op (which he commands, natch).

And then the crucial scene, at the launch site of the special op: three choppers would have to cross Russian air space in order to intercept the nuke-loaded truck before it enters Iran and almost certainly disappears. They can’t do it, however, without authorization. Devoe pushes, says, hey, at least let us get in the air, “it’s only jet fuel”:

Up he goes, to the border, and. . . waits. He waits! He doesn’t do the I’m-a-motherfucking-warrior-god and order the crews across, but sits on the border, however impatiently, waiting for authorization.

Which he gets, of course. Duh. (Around the 6-6:45 minute mark)

Kelly and her team trace payments to an address in Sarajevo, wherein IFOR (the NATO-led Implementation Force operating in the former Yugoslavia)—not some punk kid or homemaker-slash-freedom-fighter freelancer or burned-out ex-spy roused to one last sacrificial act—find Gavrić’s tape explaining his final act.

On the flight back to New York, the team notes that, again, they need authorization to shut down the airports. Once in New York, the military works with the city police to block off traffic (too successfully, as it happens). The team works with airport security to track Yugoslavian passengers, realizing they missed their man when an airport official notes that official delegations do not go through customs. At the hotel where Gavrić is staying, a State Department official cautions that internationally-agreed-upon protocols mean they can’t just barge into delegates’ rooms.

(The hotel scene also provides the biggest groaner of the film: Really, you have a man with a backpack nuke staying there, and you don’t think to cover all entrances and exits—including all elevators?!)

The Department of Energy tracks radiation concentrations, and a special agency (NES?) team is tasked to deal with they nuke. They get stuck in traffic, of course, so it’s up to our heroine to defuse the nuke.

Which she does, just in the nick of time. Of course.

Okay, so not a great movie, and one with more than a few flaws. But it’s grounded movie, one which tries, not always successfully, to remain tethered to political and bureaucratic realities.

And physical realities: In an early scene, Kelly is swimming when summoned to the White House by an officer. The next scene shows her at the office with her hair still wet. Not a big deal, I know, but one which rings truer than a scene in which an adviser to the president takes the time to dry and style her hair before responding to a nuclear emergency.

This is too much for what is, really, just a diverting B-movie, isn’t it? Maybe I am too overcome by Clooney and those tormented Eastern Europeans, and maybe I adore Armin Mueller-Stahl (as a scene-stealing Russian office) just a little too much. And yes, I do have a weakness for nuke movies.

But I also believe in the necessity of government and thus, by extension, of the necessity of the bureaucracy. I get all of the complaints against both—I’ve made more than of few, myself—but if you want government to work then you need agencies within the government to work. You need bureaucracy.

It’s nice to see a movie which gets that.





Wishing like a mountain and thinking like the sea

6 10 2011

I have no hope.

The reasons for this are entirely personal, and entirely related to events in and leading to a couple of stays in a psych ward way back yonder. It was a relief to shed all hope, and gave me some much needed breathing room, and I can’t say that I miss it.

Still, that hope is gone for me has created some awkward moments: I hesitate to use the term hope in even the most banal of circumstances (hope you feel better!) and I don’t always know how to respond to people who do hope. I don’t think they’re wrong to hope—that hopeless-ness is better than hopeful-ness—but I what does someone for whom hope was a burden say to those for whom it’s a blessing?

It’s also an impediment to political action. Most political action is a bother, requires enormous effort for incremental payoffs, and often takes place in inconvenient or uncomfortable locations, so if you’re going to get off your ass to do anything, it helps to have hope that you can, indeed, make a difference. I have rallied and knocked and doors and waved signs since I ditched hope, but more out of a sense of grim absurdity (why the hell not?) than anything else.

And so it was when I joined the Occupy Wall Street rally-and-march today. I no longer have the heart for direct political action, but my head is able to direct me toward action: given my political beliefs, does it not make sense act as if things could change? Shorter version: quitcherbitchin’ and get moving!

It was a big—tens of thousands, I’d guess—and included a nice cross-section of New York City. I marched under the banner of the PSC (the CUNY union) and fell in with a math professor from another campus. We talked of our reluctance to be there, and why we came anyway. We talked about what these protests meant, and what they could mean. We talked about marches in other cities, in other states, and why this movement, that of the 99 percent, contains possibilities not found in the Tea Party.

Possibility, yes, I still hold to that. I may have no hope that anything may change, but the possibility, well, that’s still there.