Teacher, teach me

7 02 2019

Back in class, again, which is good.

Yeah, I have those other jobs, but teaching is my main job, and I’m pretty good at it. I’m also lucky in that I like what I’m teaching; if I get bored, I change up the syllabus et voilà, no longer bored.

I changed up my intro American politics syllabus last spring. My approach with past syllabi has been to cover the basics via textbook/class lecture, and then try to integrate a complementary theme to bring out some of the wrinkles of our political system; in this version, the complementary theme is street-level or “outside” politics, to contrast with the “inside” politics centered on government.

The first semester was kinda rough, as the first semester of a new syllabus tends to be: I have an idea, but it doesn’t always translate well to practice. The second semester tends to go better, as I figure out which goes better with what, and I usually hit my stride by the third semester.

However.

Last semester it never really gelled. I don’t know if it was me, if it was the arrangement of the material, the students, some combination, or, y’know, Trump (just because).

It was frustrating as hell, not least because I think the particulars of the outside theme are fascinating as hell: I focus on the civil rights movement 1960-65, specifically, on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I chose SNCC both because it was less well known than MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and because the students in SNCC were not much older than the students in my classroom.

It also didn’t hurt that there’s a boatload of good material available online, so my students wouldn’t have to fork over more money for books.

Anyway, SNCC has the sit-ins! Freedom Rides! Freedom Summer! The SNCC volunteers were brave and scared and resolute and angry and patient and oh my goddess they risked everything for themselves and their fellow human beings.

And those young men and women weren’t terribly impressed with politicians or presidents, the NAACP or MLK, even as they relied on them to convert direct action into law.

I could go on—but I won’t. The upshot was that my students just weren’t into it and I couldn’t figure out how to get them into it.

So, this semester I tinkered a bit with the schedule to try to make it easier for the students to engage with it, to see the connections (and frictions) between the activists and the politicians, and to understand that politics happens at all different levels.

We’ll see if it works. Initial indications are good—although this may have less to do with me and the schedule than with having students who bring an interest in politics with them into the class. When that happens—when there are a handful of students who are eager to question or comment—the discussions are richer, and tend to pull in even more students.

That was part of what I was missing last semester: that participatory core that could energize everyone else.

That said, I remember what a long-ago college professor said to me: “Ten percent of the students are going to love you no matter what you do, ten percent will hate you no matter what you do, and the other 80 percent don’t really care one way or the other.”

I’d long since come to see that as a challenge, to try to rope that 80 percent into caring—not about me, but about the subject. Last semester that didn’t happen, which sucked. I don’t like to fail my students, and that’s what I did.

But it’s a new semester, and so far, so good.

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There’s a red cloud hanging over us

6 11 2018

A little over a year ago I wrote this (among other things) about Donald Trump:

Donald J. Trump is a man without qualities.

He has no character, no public virtues, no apparent principles. He demonstrates no consideration for this country, for the Republican party, or for his followers; they matter not in and of themselves, but only insofar as they are of use to him.

He focuses on transactions, not relationships. He cares for others only to the extent they reflect him back to himself; if he doesn’t like what he sees, he blames the mirror.

I think I was too kind.

Anyway, I didn’t ask if he was a fascist because I thought that he lacked any concern for anything beyond himself meant that he couldn’t be a fascist. (Cue quote.)

I still don’t think he’s a fascist (too empty, too lazy), but I don’t think he’d mind fascism, if fascism would help him. Some of the people around him are fascists (the rest are opportunists), some of the people who show up at his rallies would welcome fascism (the rest simply wouldn’t mind), and Trump looses the kind of rhetoric on his “enemies” that gives fascists the goose-steps.

So let me state that more strongly: Trump enables fascism, brings it to the surface, encourages it to breathe.

Outright fascists are a small minority of the American polity, but there is an unhealthy minority of folks who wouldn’t don’t have a problem with fascism clad in a MAGA hat. They applaud ignorance, cheer brutality, and delight in their own cruelty. They consider themselves brave and strong and true and in a show of their superiority would gladly stomp the rest of us into submission.

And the tepid supporters, the silent Republicans, the ones who don’t approve of curb-stomping? They’ll tut, and do nothing.

Why, the night before an election which may slow the roll down, mention fascism? Because those of us who are not fascists—who are anti-fascists—have to do everything possible to gum up the gears to the Trump train.

Because we know where that train leads.





Hush hush, keep it down now

28 09 2018

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m on deadline for my freelance gig (which is great, by the way, but has left me no time for nothin’), so can’t say anything more eloquent than this now.

But boy o boy. . . .





Cause they can’t make opinions meet about God

10 08 2018

I am generally polite to people on a mission.

In my neighborhood, they’re mostly Christian, from the Jamaican ladies outside of the train station with their copies of Watchtower to the, well, Jamaican ladies knocking on my door asking if they could have a Word with me.

I am very occasionally asked if I’m Jewish by some polite young man in a wide-brimmed hat, which, no, but thank you for asking.

I admire people who want to share their Gods: if you have an inside track on what you think is the best thing in the universe, it’s generous to to say Hey, look everyone!

Even the train evangelists, who can be quite loud, well, they’re out there walking their walk.

But this? No.

Now, certainly my response is due in part to the fact that I have zero respect for Franklin Graham. He may be sincere in his beliefs, but, unlike those Jamaican ladies, he seems to be more interested in people becoming Christian so as to boost himself than in offering a kindness to those others.

In the midst of an Oregon mission rally (during which he not so coincidentally urged his followers to get political), he said this about the (non-Christian) Democratic governor:

“Let’s pray for your governor, Gov. Brown. Wouldn’t it be something if she got saved? Amen.…We pray for Kate Brown. And Lord, I pray that she would come to know your son Jesus Christ as her lord and savior one day.”

I get it. It’s a part of a prophetic tradition to call out political leaders, and preachers left, right, and center have so called.

But that’s not what Graham’s doing. If he wanted to play the prophet he wouldn’t have aligned himself so closely with America’s Nero, and if he were sincerely interested in Kate Brown’s spiritual health he wouldn’t have engaged in an evangelistic version of cat-calling.

No, Graham is stunting. He doesn’t give a shit about Brown’s beliefs, only that her politics are not his.

Now Terri, you might ask, how do you know what’s in Franklin’s heart? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because he’s questioned the Christianity of Barack Obama?* Said that you can tell that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were Christians based on their policy positions?

Graham is a Trump-humper, a GOP tankie, and a political actor through-and-through. That’s fine: he can be as political as he wants to be.

Let’s  just not pretend that his call-out to Gov Brown is anything other than political.

*(Tho’ I should note here that he also doesn’t think Mitt Romney is a Christian. Mormons! Whattya gonna do?)

h/t HuffPo, Willamette Week





You can be active with the activists

19 03 2018

Cynthia Nixon is running for governor of New York. Huh.

That’s a real, not snarky, “huh”: I don’t like Cuomo and thus am interested in any Dem who’d run against him, and don’t know enough about Nixon to have an opinion one way or another.

Yeah, I generally think it’s a good idea for candidates to have political experience at the lower levels before running for higher levels, but, unlike the presidency, I don’t think that’s an absolute requirement for other offices. And she has been politically active for years, which does count.

As for policies: she’s in favor of fixing the MTA, (which, jesus, someone should be) and opposed to the Independent Democratic Conference (which gave the Republicans control of the Senate), and she highlights the screaming inequality in our state—so, y’know, righteous on the basics.

It’ll take more than basics, of course, not least because other candidates (if there are other candidates) will also be righteous: she’ll need to lay out a framework for how she plans to govern, that is, what skills she’ll bring to move her agenda through the fetid mire that is New York state politics.

I don’t know if she has those skills, but she’s got time to show what she could do; if I’m not yet convinced, I am convince-able.

After all, she does start with one significant advantage:

 





It’s just a game that can’t go on (pt. 4)

16 01 2018

Cont.

59. I think this’ll be the last iteration of the list. It’ll end on the number it ends on.

60. I was never a super-fan of the Cranberries (although I did have 2 of their cds), but I did like them. Hearing of Dolores O’Riordan’s death has made me more wistful for the time I listened to her music than the music itself—after all, I can still listen to the music—but I’m sorry for whatever she went through prior to her death.

61. No, I don’t know if she killed herself, but, well, it’s a damned shame she died so young.

62. I don’t go out a lot, and when I do go out, I generally mind my sixes. However, once a year or so I light up the night.

63. So, yeah, got that whole lit thing checked off for 2018.

64. I don’t know if Donald Trump is either physically or cognitively impaired and I don’t care.

65. What makes him unfit is not his physique, and it’s not as if he were less self-aggrandizing when younger.

66. His policies are terrible, but there are many people with terrible policies (including slim senator Tom Cotton or Mr. Workout, Paul Ryan) who are not unfit in the same ways.

67. Cotton and Ryan have commitments—terrible, wretched commitments—beyond their own selves. These men should be opposed for their policies, but they do manifest, it pains me to say, some understanding of principle and of public service.

68. God, I think I died a little writing that. But yeah, those two are old-school shitty, terrible in an ordinary way.

69. Trump, on the other hand, untethered to any idea or person beyond himself, is so far out there that the usual partisan epithets cannot capture the wrongness of his presidency.

70. So, no, I don’t care why he’s so wrong, just that he’s so wrong, and all the damage this wrongness combined with his (and his fellow Republicans) old-school wretchedness will inflict on so many of us.

71. In the first installment of this list I noted that I liked Kirsten Gillibrand, and, yeah, I do.

72. But two things: one, the elections this November matter more immediately than who might run for president in 2020.

73. I have no predictions about the midterms.

74. I trust no predictions about the midterms.

75. Let’s see who the candidates are and the races they run and then. . . I still will make no predictions.

76. And two, I’d like to see a big ol’ stuffed Democratic primary, with candidates from all over the country, from both state and federal levels, and with all kinds of backgrounds.

77. I don’t particularly want to see Oprah run, and don’t know why she would—the presidency, remember, is an exercise in failure, and she’s someone who likes to win—but hell, if she wants to jump in, that’ll, huh, that would be interesting.

78. I don’t particularly want to see Joe Biden run. I enjoyed his “Uncle Joe” schtick as vice president and thought he was a pretty good veep for Obama, but, man, no.

79. He’s too old, his legislative policy record isn’t great, and I am not encouraged by what he says today about his treatment of Anita Hill back then.

80. I don’t particularly want to see Bernie Sanders run—too old, and, goddammit, if you want to run as a Democrat, then join the goddamned party—but he has inspired a lot of people with his give-’em-hell approach to econ issues, so having him in the race wouldn’t be the worst thing.

81. I don’t particularly want to see Elizabeth Warren run–she’s veering on too old—but, as with Sanders, her critique of business as usual in the governments—and the Dem’s—approach to the economy is sharp.

82. Again, if neither she nor Sanders were to run, I hope multiple someones with their left-econ agendas do.

83. Back to the midterms: I am deeply ambivalent about Chelsea Manning’s actions, and almost certainly would not vote for her in a primary.

84. I am in general in favor of greater transparency at all levels of government and think far too much info is over-classified and for too long a time.

85. However, I also accept, reluctantly, that some info should, in the moment, be secret.

86. I don’t know where that line is “in the moment”—I think after some reasonable period of time all info should be released to the public—and, honestly, I don’t know enough to know if or when Manning (or Snowden) crossed it. Hence my ambivalence.

87. But I do think that whistleblowers do have to be prepared to discuss this, at some length and in public, with those who can thoughtfully make an argument against disclosure.

88. Man, this is tough: my default sympathies are with the leakers. But. But sometimes leakers may be wrong to leak.

89. Anyway, I’m glad her sentence was commuted and that she seems to be doing well in life: I thought her treatment in the brig and in prison was unjust, so was glad she was released.

90. But I still think if Manning wants to serve the public, then she needs a fuller accounting of the actions which brought her to the public’s notice.

91. So, how to end this list? How about a plea for recommendations for solid histories on the Hapsburgs, on Napolean, and on the French Revolution? I have Furet’s 2-vol set on the revolution, but I always prefer multiple takes on complex events.

92. Oh, wait, let’s instead end with Henry, my great-nephew: he’s now walking and teething and is a happy, laid-back boy.

93. Chill-baby Henry, yeah, let’s end there.

Fin.





It’s just a fire thrown across the wall (pt 1)

1 01 2018

Scattered year, scattered thoughts; let’s see how well I gather them up this new year.

1. I don’t really buy or even listen to much music anymore (don’t know why, don’t, . . . , just don’t know why), but this, from Erik Loomis’s best listens of 2017, is somethin’ else:

2. Got restless, reorganized my work space by turning my desk and assembling some disassembled shelves. Didn’t like it, so disassembled the assembled disassembled shelves, scooted around some other things, and now it’s fine.

3. I like to say I’m not much for magical thinking, but I just know that this reorganization will increase my writing by 1006.34 percent.

4. I don’t know what I can do for the 2018 elections but I have to do something.

5. I have combined the words “president” and “Trump” exactly twice: both times in a classroom when I had just referred to “President Obama” and/or “President Bush” and/or “President Clinton” and thus felt there was no way I could avoid saying, you know.

6. I will usually just refer to him as “Trump” or “the president” or, more rarely, Mr. Trump. I don’t want to deny reality but I’ll be goddamned if I grant him. . . anything.

7. Still, I don’t regret the two times I did say it. However awful is the current part-time occupant of the White House, I thought not saying it would have been about me rather than the point I was trying to get across.

8. Not sure if I’ll keep my Twitter account. Against expectations, I don’t tweet that often, but I do regularly pop open the app and scroll through the timeline—which, entirely in keeping with expectations, really is like snackin’ on chip after chip.

9. I mean, I’ve gotten some good sources and leads for my own work, but, honestly, this really is the equivalent of getting protein from Doritos.

10. And I could really do without the endless (ever-fuckin’-lovin’ ENDLESS) Bernie vs. Hillary debates. JFC.

11. I should also point out that I have become more sympathetic to Hillary and less to Bernie. This sympathy is completely about them as personalities, not at all about their policy orientations—which, in the end, are remarkably similar.

12. This is somewhat surprising to me, this sympathy. I’m not quite sure where it comes from.

13. Okay, it’s partly a feminist sympathy.

14. Oh, and also impatience with those who dismiss (still!) Clinton’s work-horse sensibility, not least because they don’t understand the work itself.

15. In the legislative sphere, there are process folks (e.g., Schumer), policy folks (Clinton), and passion-istas (Sanders). There are also those who just like being members of Congress, and whose function is largely to vote for party leadership and party initiatives.

16. Good legislative leaders are often process-ors who are able to herd the wonks, the bomb-throwers, and the generic MCs  through the legislative rapids to victory (or, alternatively, to dam up the other party).

17. Competent processors are often irritating (sell outs! why didn’t they do more! what’s the hold up?!) to those of us on the outside who could give a shit about procedure, but shit doesn’t get done without them.

18. Also: they rarely run for president. (Yes, I know: LBJ, but he ran for president as president, not as a legislative leader.)

19. Executives (governors, presidents) have to have some competence in all three areas, although some are stronger in one area or another; the best master all three, the worst, none.

20. Draw your own conclusions re: which presidents are masters and which, incompetents.

21. Did you notice that I left out what’s necessary for a good candidate? Because I’m damned if I know.

22. That said, I’m likin’ Kirsten Gillibrand for 2020.

To be continued.