Circus Maximus MMXVI: Keep on keeping on

6 08 2015

Sorry I haven’t been around much: a combination of delayed after-effects of an antibiotic and a tough week at work has left me in tatters.

But: tonight is the GOPpers first [set of] debate[s], and I wanted to get in a quick hit about Trump before this thing is over:

I think he’d do best not to behave.

There are rules for debates, formal and informal, and while he may be forced to follow the formal rules (whatever they are), there’s likely nothing the moderators can do if he decides to spin off dispatch after dispatch from his own, alternate, universe.

Half a decade ago I considered the possibility of a Sarah Palin run for the presidency, and wondered “how do you fight against someone concerned only with her own creation of the truth?” As I embedded a clip from an old NewsRadio episode (which you can view here; the crucial bit begins around 9:20) as an example of how someone willing to crash through the most basic expectations of argument will beat the person who abides by those expectations.

As I noted then

You can deal with a reality-manipulator, because the manipulator has to have some sense of that reality before she warps it to her own ends. And even that Bush staffer who sniffed to the NYTimes reporter about those stuck in the ‘reality-based community’ and the ability of the Bush admin to create its own reality nonetheless still gestured to reality. They did, in their own baleful way, seek to create new facts on the ground.

[. . .]

So how does someone avoid the physics of politics, the inevitable grinding down and peeling back and failure associated with all political action? You don’t accept that there are any rules, any downs on the other side of up, any nulls to one’s hypotheses; there is only the rabbit pulled out of the hat and the declaration that this is, indeed, magic. And that magic is real.

A Trump who tries to whittle himself down to fit into the role of the “serious candidate” is a Trump who whittles himself down into nothing at all.

No, for Trump to triumph he should keep doin’ that Trump thing.

Won’t help him win the nomination, of course, but it might keep him in the game a while longer.

 





It’s another round in the losing fight, pt III

6 09 2013

Rounding out the reconsideration:

3. It’s not unfair when you lose. Yes, if the game is rigged or there are payoffs or some other kinds of undermining going on, that’s unfair. But loss in and of itself is not unfair, in sport, argument, or politics.

And loss in these areas is just loss, rarely anything more. It’s not evidence of conspiracy, of the evil of your fellow humans, or of the breakdown of civilization. It is not The End.

“Win some, lose some” (or, for the more ursine-inclined among you, “sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you”) is the point, here.

4. It’s only unfair to use your rules against you if the rules were unfair to begin with. Kinda a mouthful, I know, but it pretty much gets to the point: If you’re fine with the rules when you were winning, it’s gonna be tough to garner sympathy for THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL!!! when you’re losing.

Relatedly, if it were fine for you to write the rules when you were in charge, then it’s just sour grapes to bitch about other people writing rules when they’re in charge.

5. That you lost or are unpopular doesn’t mean you’re oppressed. If you live in a political culture of strict majority-rule losing can lead to repression, but neither the politics nor the culture of the US is strict majority-rule. Almost no political win or loss is final (cf. “win-some-bears-get-you”), and even in those cases where the culture seems to have shifted decisively, as with same-sex marriage, those on the losing side can continue to fight as long as they have fight in them.

It’s true that those who oppose civil recognition and the normalization of same-sex relationships will likely have their arguments dismissed by those who already think such relationships normal, and may be called bigots and homophobes. Those opponents might feel they can no longer bring up their views at work or in public, and worry that there may come a time when they have to choose between their principles and their jobs or a friendship. Going along to get along can, in fact, feel pretty damned oppressive.

But here’s where #4 comes in. If it’s terrible that you no longer feel you can voice opinions which you once offered freely, was it terrible that those who disagreed with you felt they couldn’t voice their opinions? And if it’s terrible now, why wasn’t it terrible then? And why isn’t it terrible for other unpopular opinions? And, to sharpen the point, if you lose your job or a promotion because you hold political views contrary to those of your boss, is the problem the contrary views or an at-will employment system which does not protect political minorities?

I do have some sympathy for those who feel they can’t speak up, precisely because there have been times I’ve kept my mouth shut rather than make trouble. You don’t want to be That chick or have to explain why you would even consider holding the views you do over and over and over again. If you are out of step, it is easy to feel stepped on.

So, yes, JS Mill had a point about social conformity: it often is oppressive! To live among others is to conform, which means there’s no way to escape such oppression.

But that there are consequences for nonconformity doesn’t always mean one must conform: If you can, in fact, live with those consequences, then perhaps you are not oppressed—or, at least, not helplessly oppressed.

I, for example, don’t care much about money, and I live in a culture—and in a city, especially!—which prizes financial gain. That I haven’t sought to maximize my wealth marks me as a kind of loser, and when I visit family and friends who own houses and don’t make shelves out of wine boxes I think Jeez, I am doing life wrong.

Still, most of the time I am able to live with the consequences of my choices and priorities. It’s a pain in the ass that I have to think about money as much as I do, and think that if I made just a wee bit more I could happily minimize my cash anxieties, but I’ve managed to cobble together a life of which I at least have a shot of making sense.

Am I oppressed? I don’t think so. Out of step in some important ways, yes, but as long as I am able to step out, to live my own absurd life, well, I can live with that.

~~~

And yes, there will be a caveats-to-the-caveats post.





That’s show biz, big boy

4 06 2013

One of the most powerful people in the US, and thus, the world, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

“There’s a culture of intimidation throughout the executive branch of the federal government,” McConnell told reporters in response to a question about nominations and listed a number of agencies. “There’s also a culture of intimidation here in the Senate.”

And of what does this intimidation consist? Prosecution? Confinement? Threats of torture enhanced interrogation?

McConnell accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of planning to break a promise he made in January about not messing with Senate filibuster rules. Reid has been hinting for weeks that he may be ready for a filibuster fight this summer if Republicans don’t ease off their blocking of Obama’s nominees.  . . .

“I asked him again this morning whether he intends to keep his word to the Senate and the American people,” McConnell said. “We don’t intend to be intimidated by him with a constant threat to break the rules in order to change the rules. If that’s what’s going to happen, we want to know it now, not some other time. Now.”

Oh no! He might maybe possibly be thinking of. . . CHANGING THE RULES! Oh, the humanity! However can such a fragile flower be expected to work in such a threatening environment?!

Candy ass.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Logic and lies

6 07 2012

Mitt Romney is an odd man.

Okay, yeah, not a fresh observation, but I’m not talking about his odd sense of humor (pretending a waitress played grab-ass with you? really?) or his awkwardness carrying on back-and-forth conversations with the ordinary folk, or even his gosh-gee-gollyisms. (As someone with a fondness for retroisms, I kinda like this, especially because I think it’s completely sincere.)

No, I’m talking about the split in his personality between the logical man and the one with his pants on fire.

Sullivan and ThinkProgress have done bang-up jobs tracing Mitt’s every last doubling-back on his own words and records, as well as the campaign’s enthusiastic uninterest in the truth—unexceptional tactics in the winning-is-the-only-thing presidential campaign—but I haven’t seen as much about Romney’s rigidity regarding rules.

Did you watch any of the GOPper primary debates? Neither did I, but I did watch chunky excerpts of them, and it was clear that Mitt could be thrown off his game by someone else breaking what he saw as the rules. There were the peevish “I’m talking/I didn’t interrupt you, don’t interrupt me” moments, and the attempt to counter the more outrageous charges thrown his way by insisting “that’s just not true!”

Terribly effective, that.

Or consider his response to the disbelief that he would strap a beloved family pet to the roof of a car for a long trip to Canada: he noted there was no room in the car and hey, he built a windshield, so what was the problem? Perfectly logical, he did nothing wrong, so there was no more need for any further discussion of the terror inflicted on poor Seamus.

More substantively, consider his responses to queries about his taxes and his grudging tardiness in releasing the tax form. Some of that grudging may be for a good reason—he’s made very good use of his tax attorneys, and I’d guess that someone in his campaign must be aware of the optics—but he seems genuinely put out that anyone would question him about the way he worked over the tax code. I pay every dollar I owe and not one penny more, he’s said, which, while likely technically true, is rather beside the point. In Romney’s eyes, however, submitting to the rules, even rules which one’s accountants have stretched to the screaming point, is all that matters, and anyone who’d suggest otherwise is simply small-minded or out to get him.

Similarly, it is perfectly legal to open overseas bank accounts, provided, again, one follows the rules on these matters—and I would be very surprised if Mitt Romney didn’t follow the rules. But, dude, you’ve been running for president of The Goddamningnest Best Country in the History of the Universe for the past five or six years, and it didn’t occur to you in the meantime to bring all of your dollars back to The Goddamningnest Best Country in the History of the Universe, lest it appear that your patriotism stops at the bottom line?

I mean, shit, I’m not much for nationalism nor am I bothered in general by foreign bank accounts, but even I think the president shouldn’t be dividing his monies among nations. This reaction may not be logical, but I’d bet it’s not rare.

Sure, one could say that because Romney is such a stand-up guy, he thinks following rules ought to be enough, but given his penchant for lying about Obama, I think we can safely forego the “stand-up-guy” bit.

Still, it appears that he does believe that when he follows the rules, that ought to be enough—and when it is not, he does not know how to act.

It’s unclear how much campaigns matter—events beyond the candidates’ control nonetheless tend to control presidential elections—but assuming they matter at least a little, Mitt’s adherence to the rules could get him in trouble with an opponent who writes his own rules.





Bow to your partner, bow to the corner

3 06 2010

So here’s the other side to my nice, little, ‘enough-with-the-rules-already’ post:

  • Don’t walk out of a building heading right and looking left
  • So you don’t want to lose your primo spot in front of the door on the train. I get it. But can you at least stand sideways when people are trying to get on or off the train?
  • Litter, people, stop littering!
  • Don’t stop on the top of the stairs at Bowling Green station during rush hour to answer your phone—step to the side!
  • Don’t stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to do. . . whatever—step to the side!
  • And can we talk about those monster golf umbrellas?
  • Gum-cracking? Chewing with your mouth open? Just, no.
  • . . . et cetera

I am a tyrant at heart—at least on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternating Fridays. These rules make sense, so that if only everyone would follow them, we’d all be muuuuch better off.

See how that starts?

Were I not curious—curiosity is one of the more anarchic sensibilities—I’d be completely out of control trying to wrangle everyone under control.

Some of us are temperamentally balanced, others, well, we gotta work a little harder at it.





I’m lying by the road/because she cut off all my clothes

2 06 2010

Enough, already. Enough.

Enough with the rules, with the regs, with the rights and wrongs and victims and perps and goods and evils and innocent and damned. Enough.

No, I haven’t deliquesced into a moral puddle on the floor—I’ve got a fan in the window—or lobotomized myself with an icepick*. And I’m as cranky and squint-eyed as ever.

But I’m also finally, finally beginning to understand what Caputo and Vattimo are getting at with their radical hermeneutics and weak theology and the utter necessity of resignation.

A resignation of a particular sort, I hasten to add, one which begins rather than ends inquiry.

Part of this understanding began amidst my adjunct teaching, when I gave up punishing students for handing in work late. Just get it done, I now say. The work matters more than the date.

I could do that because the terms of my contract are clearly defined: I’m paid for x-number of hours, full-stop. I’m not trying to get tenure, not trying to impress colleagues with my dedication to departmental norms, not trying to impress students with how ‘hard’ I am. To get paid, I simply need to fulfill the terms of my contract.

But since I don’t get paid that much, I had to ask, So, why am I doing this? I’m doing this because I like it, because I think it matters, because I think the students should know this, because there is something more in the material itself.

I’m a pretty good teacher—not great, but not bad. But because I am finally learning to clear out the bureaucratic hedges which have occluded my pedagogical sight, I’ve given myself the chance to offer those students a glimpse of . . . of. . . of knowledge, of questions, of human being beyond those hedges.

Ahh, crap, this all sounds. . . woo, and I am most definitely not a fan of woo—metaphysics!—nor am I trying for some kind of vagueness as a way to avoid the hard edges of being. I do, after, still follow rules, still bitch when others don’t (is it really so hard to put your trash in the can?), and still impose rules on my students.

But the rules are provisional, practical in the most rooted sense of the term: as means to ends, not ends in themselves. Will this paper help the students learn something? Yes. Will punishing them for handing it in late serve any purpose? No.

And I’m lucky in my ability to dissolve some of these rules: I don’t have 150 students and two TAs who have their own work. Perhaps if I did I could work out something else, but, honestly, had I gone the tenure-track route at a large school, I almost certainly would have not only left those nice hedges alone, but planted a few more. The point, then, would have been to get tenure, and everything else would have been shaped to serve that purpose.

That’s not a rip on tenure-track faculty—some of my best friends have tenure—but a recognition of how one’s necessities get ordered, how my necessities would have been ordered, and without me quite realizing it.

Perhaps I would have come to it, eventually; perhaps, after earning tenure, I would have thought, Okay, so what was all that for?

This is what Vattimo means by nihilism: the shedding of the unnecessary, the recognition that almost nothing is necessary, so that one is confronted with the question, Now what?

I have resisted this, largely because I like the sharpness of edges, because I do hold to my allegiances, and because I not only do not want to let some people off their hooks, I actively want them to remain on the hook. I think there is a distinction between clear thinking and obsfucation, between teaching and manipulation, and between domination and liberation.

But these are, in the end, practical skills and political positions, and, as much as they matter, there is still that question beyond them: What for?

I don’t have the answers, don’t know if I even know what these answers would look like.

But, still, I am giving up: there’s too much to see.

(*Yes, there really was a type of lobotomy performed with an icepick: the transorbital  lobotomy. I’ve got pictures!)

h/t: J., for the 3pm walkabouts. . . .





Friday poem: in Just-

11 12 2009

e.e. cummings is a great poet for kids.

Not because he’s simple—he’s not—but because he’s gleeful and serious in a way that kids understand is not a contradiction. He breaks rules not for the sake of the rules, but for the sake of the poem. He liberates the words, not into chaos, but that they may be formed into something which makes its own, perfect, sense.

And he sounds wonderful. You want to sing his poems, or laugh, or cry, or whisper, in the telling. I’m not a fan of most spoken-poems: the speakers too often sound like Speakers, intoning and pausing meaningfully and making sure that all who hear are in the presence of Art, or they err too far in the other direction, as so many spoken-word poets do, jamming and hamming and, again, drawing all too much attention to the spoker.

No, read a poem for the poem. Read the poem to hear the poem, not yourself reading the poem. Yes, pay attention to the line and stanza breaks, but, remember, this is its own language: This is poetry.

So, one of my first, and still favorite, cummings poems (w/a tip o’ the lid to Poets’ Corner)

in Just-

in Just-
spring       when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman

whistles       far       and wee

and eddyandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far       and       wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and
the
goat-footed

baloonMan       whistles
far
and
wee