From California to the New York island, 3

16 03 2016

I’ve half-joked before that political scientists don’t do either love or humor.

Plenty of political scientists are lovely and funny, but in our intellectual approaches to politics, we forget about passion and about the weirdness of political activity itself. Politics is about ‘interests’ and ‘resources’ and ‘distribution’, ‘policy’ and ‘governance’ and, oh yes, ‘power’. Some of us might speak of the ‘common good’ or talk about Aristotle vs. Plato, but in our rush to impose a rational structure across the sprawl of politics, we all seem to forget Hume’s admonishment that reason follows passion.

Yes, we attempt to come to terms with political ardor in terms of cognitive biases or philosophical error—which is fine!—but passion is not merely something to be explained away, but something in and of itself, which may in turn help to explain something (like politics) else—both explananandum and explanans, as it were.

This is a long way round to the point that those of us who study politics should not be surprised by passion, that people pick sides, and that they will defend—with words, with fists, with guns—what their (our) sides.

This isn’t an excuse for violence—for Hera’s sake, does that really need to be said?—but it is a defense of passion itself as a legitimate driver in politics. Unlike Hume, I do think reason may also be a driver, and just as passion may inform reason, so too may reason discipline—if only the expression of—passion.

But reason does not, should not, erase passion. Especially in politics.

cont.





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.





I am thinking of your voice

3 06 2013

I’m not much for happiness (as you may have noticed), but oh, it makes me happy to hear Suzanne Vega on the radio.

Well, it was a segment on Soundcheck about the Suzanne Vega/DNA mashup of “Tom’s Diner”, but still, that counts, right?

(And I have to write “Suzanne Vega”, not “Suzanne” or “Vega”. Suzanne Vega.)

I may have written about this before, but what the hell: I was introduced to Suzanne Vega the summer before I went off to college. It was a presidential election year, and I was doing screamingly boring scut work (something about checking election or registration rolls against the phone book ) for the local Democratic Party. I set up a card table in my parents’ living room in front of the t.v. and switched between CNN (I still have affection for Jeannie Moos) and MTV.

Remember, I am old, so this is still when CNN was new and Turner-owned, and MTV played music.

Anyway, this video came on of this wispy woman with wispy hair with a cool, cool voice singing this song about. . . I don’t know what. Huh, I thought. Not the usual MTV fare.

Then the next day or later that week, the vid played again, and I thought, I gotta write this down, and probably got her name (since I did track down the album) but mis-wrote the song title as “Marianne on the Wall.”

It was, of course, “Marlene on the Wall”, and I never again saw that vid on MTV.

Well. I loved loved loved that album, and loved her cool, cool voice. It’s by no means a spectacular voice—I had no trouble singing along to all of the songs and while I can carry a tune I can’t toss it in the air—but there was a knowingness to it, and a kind of intense detachment. She’s paying attention, she might even get sucked in, but she can still see, she can still sing.

None of my friends were into her music, but that was all right: they hadn’t been particularly into Supertramp or the Jam or the Violent Femmes and yet we still somehow all managed to get along. I saw her by myself at the Union in Madison and then later (I think with a friend) at First Ave in Minneapolis.

She lives in New York and gigs about town, but I haven’t gone to any of her shows. It’s less that my ardor for her music has cooled than that my ardor has cooled, generally.

But I still remember when the mere mention of a favorite artist could lift me out of my shoes.





All things weird and wonderful, 16+

3 02 2012

Rathke. Her name is Kathryn RATHKE—and you can find her here.

Last night, as I was shuffling through variations of KR—Kathy Radke, Radtke, Kathryn—I thought of “Rathke” but, for some reason, didn’t plug it in.

D’oh! I tried it this time, and her site came out on top of the search.

And how did I get Rathke? Because I pulled out some old Cardinal stuff  to try to find more examples of her work (and of John’s and Mark’s), and I saw the story “Researchers may be falsifying data” by Sue Rathke—the Shirley-Bassey-belting sister! (Hi Sue!)

(And, holy shit, there’s a piece by Anthony Shadid—“Revolution may be imminent in Colombia”—yeah, that Anthony Shadid. Decent article, but too bad about the shitty headline.)

Ahem. Here was one of Kathy’s pieces that I remember, perhaps because it accompanied my cover piece for a special women’s issue:

Kathy Rathke, 1987

Click on the piece to enlarge it, to really appreciate Kathy’s , er, Kathryn’s eye.

Oh! And here’s a bonus piece, from that same issue:

And here’s one from John, from 1986:

The muskrat has changed over the years—check the characters on the top right of this page.

(Sorry, John, if this isn’t your best piece—I still remember your women’s studies strips!—but it, uh, happened to have been on the back of one of the articles I wrote.)

And have I mentioned that John Keefe, who was the Boy Wonder Editor in the mid-late eighties, is now a news producer for WNYC?

Damn. Some mighty talented folk working back then. No wonder I kept them all in mind.

~~~

Still, my mind’s a bit wrecked by all of this.

One of the characters in my second novel observes that The past is a sketchy bitch, but here, now, rootching through those old Cardinal fragments, a quarter century disappears and the past comes rushing to me.

My life wasn’t great back then—self-destructive depression, anyone?—but in college the despair hadn’t yet eroded my enthusiasm, my yearning, for more.

All of those people, all of that talent, all of the beer and pizza and arguments and ferocity and pressure and anger and humor, all of that. . . love.

What luck once to have had it all, what sorrow to have lost it, what wonder to have found that more remains.





If I had a hammer

29 07 2011

President Obama is smart. Very smart.

You can see it in press conferences and prepared statements, his grasp of the whole of an issue and its part, its relationship to other issues, the uncontroversial and the contested pieces, costs, benefits, risks. . . the guy’s got it down.

All of that analytical might, however, does not translate into political savvy.

It’s not unconnected, of course: the man ran a highly disciplined and ruthless campaign against a very strong primary opponent (Hillary Clinton, who is not lacking in the candlepower department, either), was solid against a less-strong Republican opponent, and quietly brilliant in his patience as the economy blew apart: Where McCain flailed, Obama hung back, projecting an image of calm competence as he moved in concert with the White House, Treasure, and Congress.

It worked.

That’s good, at least for those of us who wanted Obama to become president. And I think he’s been pretty good: the Lily Ledbetter law, the Affordable Care Act, the end to DADT, the reworking of diplomacy—all good. I’m well to the left of the president, but as I knew that when I voted for him, I’m not particularly chagrined that he turned out to be the moderate I thought he was.

No, my differences with the president are less about policy (tho’ there are those), than with his tactics and strategy.

Strategy: Unclear.Would be nice if there were some stated positive purpose to the Democratic party in general and his presidency in particular.

Tactics: he has only one—hang back calmly, try to work in concert with the powers-that-be.

Yes, that worked in the fall of 2008, but it is the summer of 2011 and at least some of those powers are rather uninterested in working in concert.

You need new tactics, Mr. President. Holding out your arms and waiting for everyone to gather within them ain’t gonna cut it, now. You have one approach, and when that one approach fails, so do you.

(Oh, christ, did I just address the President? I hate that shit when columnists and commentators do it, and here I just did it. Can’t keep my inner pundit down, I guess.)

Anyway, to restate this in more analytical terms, all me to state (in all obviousness) that any successful leader needs multiple tools, implements, arms, routes—however you  to put it, you need more than one option.

And having a clear purpose might help, here, if only in creating some urgency in developing those new tactics. When he has a purpose—winning elections, passing ACA—Obama is willing to pull out more than one stop.

In any case, I get it: the president runs cool, not hot. His VP, however, can rile himself tying his shoes, so why not unleash the Biden? There are folks outside of government who’d really like to be allies who could rally and provoke and stoke all of those passions of which Obama is clearly leery.

He might prefer his passion furled, but people are rarely moved by reticence. And if you can’t move the House and you can’t move the people, then you can’t move the country, period.

This isn’t meep-meep or 11th-dimensional chess, but a mud-and-blood political fight. So the president doesn’t want to step into the cage himself. Fine, not his thing.

But he still needs those fighters.





Fool’s overture

19 07 2010

Oh my god, is that who I think it is?

That stutter of chords, fanning out across the guitar strings, repeated, then a side-step into another flutter of chords. And now, that high reed of a voice. . . no.

A cover.

Strangely, I was disappointed. I didn’t particularly want to hear the song, but if Planet Fitness radio is going to play it, then play the real goddamned thing.

Faux Supertramp is unacceptable.

Not that I can listen to the real Supertramp, but at least with Roger and the boys, I know what I’m getting.

(I have no idea about the images, but this is the only actual Supertramp version I could find in my, uh, 3 minutes of searching YouTube.)

I sometimes listen to vids after I post them—I watched the Lena Horne interview a couple of times—but I won’t listen to this.

Takes me back. . . to where I don’t particularly care to go.

My older sister brought home Even in the Quietest Moments some time before I was in junior high, and by eighth grade I almost certainly listened to that album more than she did. ‘Give a Little Bit’ opened up side 1, and side 2 ended with the long mashup that is ‘Fool’s Overture’.

I loved it, beginning to end, unreservedly and unashamedly. When Breakfast in America and the double-live Paris came out I scooped those up, then went back and sussed out Crisis? What Crisis?, Crime of the Century, Indelibly Stamped, and their eponymous debut. (The latter two didn’t get much time on my turntable, and Stamped, which featured a naked woman’s tattooed torso embarrassed my teenaged self.) I stayed with them through Famous Last Words—Roger Hodgson’s last gig with the band, but didn’t let up until I was in college, and knew that Brother Where You Bound was the last Supertramp album I would ever buy.

Six years of intense devotion; it wasn’t a bad run.

I almost certainly still listened to them in college, but I don’t really remember that. And when I sold or gave away my albums prior to my 1993 desert sojourn, I knew that I would never own Supertramp in cd form.

I’m no longer embarrassed by women’s breasts (which, given my ownership of a pair, is probably a good thing), and even all these years later, when I don’t want to listen to one  Supertramp song and two is out of the question, I can’t quite be embarrassed by my former ardor, either.

I was just about to write something snarky about the band, but, honestly, I can’t. You can, if you like—there is much eye-rolling to be done when it comes to Supertramp—but given how much I loved them, how they carried me out of my childhood and angsted right along with me in my teenaged years, it seems like bad faith for me to slag on them now.

I don’t love them now, but I did, once, and even if—or, perhaps, because—I no longer love any band (or any thing) the way I loved Supertramp, it seems a kind of betrayal both to my young self and to that love to repudiate them.

They weren’t the only band I listened to, of course, and when MTV hit SmallTown in the early 80s, a whole genre of music which the album-oriented rock of the Milwaukee stations never played suddenly chipped its way into my consciousness: the Police, the B-52’s (back when they still had the apostrophe), the Eurythmics, the Call, the Fall, the Clash, the Jam and on and on. I didn’t like them all, but to have the world open beyond Kansas or Boston—well, MTV in the early days performed a public service to us SmallTown kids who didn’t live close enough to catch the college radio stations.

By the summer after my sophomore year I was slam-dancing to the Violent Femmes at the Peaches stage at Summerfest, and when the LP played their 3 song ‘alternative’ rotation of the B-52’s (Rock Lobster), the Femmes (Gone Daddy Gone) and Surf Punks (Shark Attack), I was out whipping my skinny little body around that almost-empty dance floor.

A slightly-older co-worker at the local health club introduced me to Pat Metheny, and my theatre buddies to Manhattan Transfer, Frank Sinatra, and anything else that wasn’t, well, album-oriented rock played out of the Milwaukee stations.

So while I took Supertramp with me to college, I was already heading away from the songs which cocooned me and toward those that smacked me in the face, upside the head, and out into the headwinds.

I haven’t missed them in the fifteen or twenty years since I stopped listening, and I don’t think I ever will.

But they were a part of me, and they’re at the heart of one of the best things anyone has ever done for me:

Supertramp’s final tour with Roger Hodgson stopped at Alpine Valley, a mass-seating concert venue somewhere west of Milwaukee. I couldn’t afford one of the few hundred reserved spots, but I damned sure made sure that we got as close in as general seating allowed.

(General seating: the stage at Alpine Valley was situated near the bottom of a hill; the reserved seats were covered, and rising behind them, a vast slope of green. You’d get to Alpine Valley early in the day, set out your blanket and cooler in line if wanted to be first-ish in, or just in the gravel parking lot if you wanted to, I don’t know, hang out near your car. At some point they’d announce they would shortly open the gates, at which point you grabbed your shit and scrambled up into the crowd—which would, inevitably, start mooing—and pressed and pressed until they opened the spigot and you popped through the turnstiles and ran as fast as you dared down the hill to claim a spot.)

We did pretty good getting far down the hill at the Supertramp show, but as I was as short then as I am now, when the crowd stood up for the first song, I couldn’t see a damned thing.

That’s when the best-thing happened: JK, who didn’t come with us and wasn’t a part of my regular crowd, came over to me. Get on my shoulders, she said.

What?

I know you love Supertramp. Get on my shoulders.

JK was not a big girl, but she was strong, and she hoisted me up and bounced with me through that whole opening song.

What a magnificent thing to offer someone who’s not, really, even your friend.

I don’t remember what the opener was, and I haven’t seen JK since high school graduation, but as long as I can remember her I will.

So, you see, to turn my back on Supertramp is to turn my back on that passion and is to turn my back on this great, good deed that JK did for me.

She deserves better. And, what the hell, so do I.





Oh yes they call him the streak

17 06 2010

I tend to pile up my passions.

This tendency has moderated—somewhat—with age, but when I was younger, if I liked a band, I bought all of their albums; an author, all of her books; an actor, all of his shows. I was never particularly this way with food (which probably spared me an eating disorder), but I often could never figure out what was too far until I was too far gone.

There are problems with this approach, of course, which is why I try to keep tabs on myself. But that doesn’t always work.

See: Netflix.

It’s not the DVDs which are sucking me in, but the reason I thought that a  Netflix subscription made a kind of fiscal sense: the streaming.

That fucking streaming. I had been more-or-less content to watch Buffy as it became available on Hulu, but when all episodes were unleashed on Netflix. . . just call it the Lost Weekend. Or two. Or three.

I liked Angel well enough, too, and hey, there it is! Firefly! And then someone suggested MI-5 and another weekend gone. (I did end up burning out on MI-5, but I’ll probably dip—ha!—plunge back in later.)

Now it’s Bones. I had watched the first season back when I had a t.v., and I happened to have caught a couple of episodes from season 5 on Hulu. But, yes, seasons 1-4 are on Netflix.

Which means my ass has been in front of my external monitor watching Brennan and Booth bicker over bodies.

And I got shit to do!

Christ.





You can all just kiss off into the air

15 04 2009

Since the Femmes worked so well for me last night, why not again tonight?

The post title is offered in a kind of resigned cheer, a reminder to myself that for all my words about arguing and then eating pie, sometimes all one can do is argue. And then walk away. Perhaps waving a finger or two.

I’ve been teaching a democratic theory course, and have been using Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson’s Democracy and disagreement as my main text and whipping boy. They lay out an argument and a procedure for dealing with moral disagreement in politics. It appeals to my pie-eating sensibility, even as I distrust their bland, mm, blandishments on behalf of their version of democratic deliberation.

The distrust wins out. While the notion that morally serious people could find away around their disagreement appeals, it also repels: Let’s just all make nice, shall we? Or, to put it another way, I don’t think it works, and it conceals a fair amount of coercion, to boot.

The problem isn’t the coercion so much as it is the dishonesty regarding the coercion. There are winners and losers in politics, and pretending that the losers did not, in fact, lose—or forcing the losers to pretend that they didn’t lose—is to engender precisely the sort of dishonesty which leads to a repudiation of politics as such. Given that politics is one of the few ways we citizens have to disagree without killing each other, such alienation is dangerous.

No, don’t worry, I’m not about to head off into another rhapsody on the magical powers of politics. Rather, this is all a too-long preamble to a consideration of combox wars.

I’m a regular reader of and irregular contributor to the comments sections of a couple of conservative blogs, and even though I ought to know better, I am sometimes shocked—yes, shocked!—that reason and evidence do not always prevail.

Many issues, of course, do not turn on reason and evidence. You think the fetus is a person deserving of rights over and above those of the woman who carries it; I do not. You think that the alleged personhood of the fetus means it must prevail; I think that even if the fetus is a person, it does not automatically prevail.

I speak in terms of liberty and equality; you speak in terms of slaughter and dismemberment. And on it goes.

And when I suggest that we simply disagree, you call me and others like me murderers and Eichmanns and the worst this country has to offer. I decline to write (in the combox) what I think of you.

This isn’t a pity party for poor ol’ me, nor even a slam against the other side for their unreason, not least because my side (and, shockingly, I) have engaged in our/my share of unreason.

Nope. This is simply to note that reason has its limits, and passions its pleasures. Because as pissed as I can get at political opponents (see various rants), I also thoroughly enjoy ripping through the other side.

In addition to all my reasons, it’s also what makes me want to win, and to want to see you lose.

This, too, is politics: deep passion, surging forward, beaten back, never reconciled.

So, yes, let’s all make nice, shall we? And let’s be honest when we won’t.

*Post script

So y’all understand as I laugh about tea bagging and 2M4M and NOM, and hope as I rarely hope that the right somehow finds a way to make use of ‘tossing the salad’ and ‘watersports’.





Sing! Sing! Sing!

11 01 2009

I got sucked  into the speakers yesterday.

I don’t remember the song (something about heartbreak) and was surprised when Jonathan Schwartz credited Betty Buckley as the singer (it didn’t sound like her). But I was caught by all that she gave to the song—that’s what caught me. Yes, she has a lovely voice, but it was the. . . I don’t know, that sense that she scraped away herself and in so doing scraped away the skin of that sad and pretty melody to lay bare nerve and bone.

How could she do that? Where does that come from? When I was (way) younger I wanted nothing more than to sing, to be a singer. That didn’t happen. I have a competent voice—a ‘chorus’ voice—but my lack comes less from technical faults than the inability to inhabit the song with my voice. Oh, I might feel moved, but that feeling doesn’t come through. It’s posing.

Was Buckley posing? I’ll never know, but man, it doesn’t sound like it. Does Patti Smith sound like she’s posing? I remember when I first listened, really listened to Patti Smith—it wasn’t until grad school. Where the fuck was she when I was in high school?! Of course, I had Janis Joplin back then, but Janis was already dead, and Patti was, is, blazingly alive.

Neither Janis nor Patti has classically trained ‘great’ voices, but man, can they sing! Dive into that song and pull off all their clothes and dare us to dive in with them. This is it, they’re telling us. this is all a song can be. Can you follow? Are you brave enough to care?

In my responses to Ainadamar I noted my marvel at Dawn Upshaw and Kelley O’Connor’s passion. Did I mention it was almost as hard to witness as it was wondrous? I was embarrassed, fearful for them. Oh no, I thought, what are you doing? You’re so naked on that stage; you’ll be caught out, alone and exposed!

What could compel them to take such risks?

Perhaps it is because I ask such questions that I get in my own way. Do they see what they do as risky? Perhaps the danger is in not singing, in not throwing oneself into the music; perhaps it is only the embrace of the music which carries them. Perhaps the question is How could they not?

I don’t have it in me—the singing, I mean. Perhaps had I had the Voice (be it Joplin’s or Upshaw’s), I would have lain all other concerns aside to tend to that gift.

Or not. What do I do now with my modest talents? Tend to them, fitfully. Take them seriously, kind of; treat them warily. I protect them. I do not risk them. I do not risk              anything.





The Republic was a dream

12 12 2008

Still mulling the Ainadamar experience. The gathering-together for a purpose: the musicians and singers to perform, the audience to take in this performance. Yes, there was planning—practice, rehearsals—and those of us in attendance knew what was to be performed and who would perform.

But the. . . power? force? of the live performance is that it is live, i.e., that it is unpredictable, that anything could happen. Unpredictable is usually bad, insofar as it’s associated with things like falling lights or malfunctioning, er, wardrobes, or, as in the case of the Austrian actor, stabbing oneself with a real rather than prop knife. But what of the silence at the end of the performance? Is that usual? Why was it? Were we soaking it in? Waiting to hear if there’d be more music? Not wanting to clap ‘out of turn’? Just letting the moment be?

I don’t know. Any or all or none of the above. Regardless, it bound us all together, suspended us in a held breath, a silence both fraught and still.

I could not have imagined this. I could not have experience this in my apartment, or alone in that theatre. The performers threw themselves out there, and we could only marvel at their flight, and catch them at the end.

Am I making too much of this? No; I am making too little. It was as  mentioned in a previous post, and as I told Jtt.: The performers opened themselves to us, but I couldn’t open myself to them, not enough.

When I say the performers lay themselves bare, I don’t mean in every way. I knew almost nothing about them beforehand, and almost nothing after—performance ain’t group therapy. No, I mean a nakedness at the moment of performance, in the revelation of that part of themselves which was crucial to the performance itself. Sing Margarita, sing Lorca, sing Nuria and Ruiz Alonso, and bring yourself forth in bringing them forth.

It is an act of discipline and bravery.

I am sobered by all they brought forth, and my inability to respond in kind. I recognized this failing during the performance, as I kept yanking myself out of the moment. But it’s not just about ‘being in the moment’; there is also the willingness to let oneself be carried away by the moment. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, sustain that.

And yet, as I told Jtt., I could at least see this, I could see that being carried away isn’t always all bad. Carapaces and defenses and distances all have their place in my life—I do not yearn for my juvenile melodramatic self—but snark and detachment can get in the way of wonder.

I’ve joked with my students that political science doesn’t really deal with passion—‘we don’t do love’—and as such, misses so much of what drives people to meetings and demonstrations and to take part in all the scut work which is a necessary part of political action. And an analytic which doesn’t take heed of Arendt’s observation that politics happens when people gather together, that political power arises from that purposeful gathering, will miss both the passion and the purpose.

The gathering at Carnegie Hall this past Sunday was not a political one. But it was a reminder of the power of the gathering, of the purpose of passion.