Yin and Yang

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If Maxfield Parrish had gone to Sarah’s Wedding…

My little girl was married yesterday in Pennsylvania. The groom is a marvellous man whom I both respect and love. I had to stay home on Cape Cod because of a family illness.

My little girl is a lovely woman of considerable grace and accomplishment.  Her husband is a handsome man of principle, strength and sensitivity.  Their family deserves the best of the best. Always.

While I am filled with magical happiness for them, it made me very sad and lonely, too.

Sarah’s Vows

On our very first date, we went to Bell’s in Lambertville. This was when you found out that I don’t eat red meat. I could tell that you were disappointed, but you hid it well.

Before we ordered, we both thought about ordering the fish special, but you actually got it, and I ended up ordering a pasta dish. I didn’t realize that it had bits of meat in it, and halfway through our meal you noticed that I was picking around it.  I told you the problem and you said: Oh, here! Even though both dishes were half eaten, you took my dish and swapped it with yours, giving me your half eaten special and taking the half eaten pasta dish with a little pile of meat bits on the side. 

And I thought, oh, okay, that’s….really cool. To me, it was everything that I’ve come to know you are in spades – it was selfless and spontaneous,  thoughtful and kind, fun and free, and maybe a little bit kooky, but in the best of possible ways. 

This thing that you did on our first date, this impulsive and generous thing, became the first on a long list of things you do and have done that make me love the crap out of you. The list is long – I think I’m up to 1987, (he cries shamelessly and audibly at movies, he cries for a good poem, he makes amazing crepes, he speaks fluent French, he loves and respects his mother, he is a loving and present father, he climbs trees for a living, constant bad dad jokes, for example) but you should know that that was where the list began – that was the first thing that showed me who you are and why you’re the type of person I might just want to spend my life with. 

You are the most sincere, loving, genuine, loyal, outgoing, nurturing and beautiful man. I love how you make me feel. You bring me down to earth and you push me out of my everyday skin. You lift me up and you tell me how you see it, whether I want to hear it or not. You are my anchor and my sail, and sometimes the wind too. 

I love that you have been knocked down by life. I see everything you have been through, and the grace you have had under pressures of many kinds, and the resiliance you have shown again and again; I see a strong, if stubborn, man. I know that you will weather the worst with me because I’ve seen you down and I know the strength and integrity and force of will you have to stand up stronger  and then even offer a helping hand. 

I love that you are my partner in every way imaginable, and in ways I never imagined.  

Even though I still think that if you had to choose between me and your plants in a house fire I would be out of luck, I forgive you that! Because, I have also been the beneficiary of your green thumb. You have nurtured and coaxed me and helped me grow. You have loved me for who I am, even as that has changed. You have looked at me with pure love in my worst moments. You have walked beside me when I felt like I was struggling down the narrowest of corridors. You did not leave my side, and I know beyond all things, in the cells of my skin, that you never will. I know you will be with me always, and no matter what. I promise that I will do the same, as long as live. 

I love that you are package deal. I will not only gain a husband today, but two daughters – two of the coolest, smartest, sassiest daughters out there. I couldn’t be more grateful for the deep and loving relationship I have with them. Today I am officially a step-mother. I am so very proud of that, and of them. Lili and Maddy, OR and I promise to be here for (them) you, in any way I possibly can be, for as long as this life will let me. 

And, chris, you gave me Katherine. You made me a mother and fulfilled a dream that I could only touch the edges of understanding before she arrived and blew that dream into this chaotic colorful reality.  

You have made with me a life passed the horizon of my hopes – a beautiful, overflowing, and truly unbelievable life. I am so excited to embrace our future. Together. 

Thank you. I love you. And I promise never to take any of this, you, our daughters, our lives, for granted.

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Back to Basics

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trump shootsWhenever Donald Trump asserts a position that he held on the campaign trail, the pundits all join in a chorus: “He’s playing to his base.” What is Trump’s base?  A scruffy gang of alt-right trolls led by Bannon?  A flock of button-down investment bankers like Mnuchin?  The sea of middle-American working-class people stretching from the rust belt to the corn belt to the Bible belt? The doe-eyed innocents who lined up with cash for Trump University, hoping it would lift them from the mire?

trump shoots cartoonTrump once boasted that his base consisted of people so loyal to him that he could go out onto Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and they would still vote for him. They are among those who view him favorably in the polls, a number that hovers around 40% of the electorate in polls, and thus amount to a minority of eligible voters.  Only 55% of those eligible actually voted, and the “base “is less than 40% of that.  This minority—fewer than 1 in 5 eligible voters(do the math) –is driving radical policy change today in Washington.

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Curiously, in the 2016 presidential elections, the least popular candidates captured the nomination of each party on the national stage, and in the general election, the less popular of the two won the electoral vote with a decisive margin, though he narrowly lost the popular vote.  This is not how a democracy is supposed to work.

election scoreboardI think the problem arises from this: the process of our elections had taken precedence over the issues.  The news media spew statistics, probabilities, and projections where once facts and opinions held sway.  Even the “debates”, when reported in the media, are parsed into “sound bytes” of a dozen words or less, and are presented as if who “won” was more important than what the candidates actually said. 

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Rep Fred Grandy R-Iowa

Pop culture figures–Ronald Reagan, SonnyBono, Fred “Gopher” Grandy, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and Al Franken, to name a few, have huge electoral advantages that have nothing to do with any political competence they mey or may not bring to office.  Both parties have become  far too beholden to the large the contributions of donors whose identities are kept secret, known only to the pols themselves.  Well funded organizations like the AARP and the NRA, have disproportionate influence, over officeholders

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The GOP is paralyzed by hidebound ideological sectors—the Freedom Caucus, Neoconservatives, Paleoconservatives and the Tea Party, for instance, while at the same time being nearly homogenous in its whiteness, maleness, and advanced age. 

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Groping for Cash

The Democrats have rendered themselves irrelevant by abandoning their working class roots for the easy money in finance and industrial/entertainment behemoths.  Procedural rules in Congress have become an instrument, not to protect the voices of minorities, but to suppress dissent or obstruct the process of governance.  This is no longer government.  It has become blood sport.

 

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Cool it! This is an election, not a football match.

The very democracy of our republic is at dire risk, but it is not too late to save it.  I offer some ideas which may help.  My Democratic bias shows through here.  While the Dems are enfeebled by their fundraising zeal, the GOP is moribund from its hidebound ideologies.  The failure at the top of government is a bipartisan thing, but right now the Dems are better positioned to recover and set us back on the right track.

1)  The Democrats must field candidates with fresh ideas, who are true to the progressive, middle-class values that once drove the party.  They must run on ideas and grass-roots cash, forsaking the triumvirate of secret corporate boardrooms, old-school backroom power politics, and a Wall Street that raises oodles of cash for them while their souls atrophy, but repels the middle class voters who have traditionally propelled Democratic candidates into office.

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If the Clinton-Sanders experience taught us anything, it is that when cash and ideology clash with fresh ideas and idealism, the energy of the latter can knock the former out of the ring.  Do you remember when audacious young Cassius Clay knocked out older veteran Sonny Liston in the first round? And Sanders has shown us that watching ideas flourish can be much more fun than simply watching money flow.

 Leaders must lead, but direction and power flow from the bottom up.  Fresh ideas and grass-roots funding, propagated by social media, must infuse Democratic campaigns for the White House, Congress, legislatures, state houses, and city halls across America.

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2)  Republicans in office, including Mr. Trump, must be encouraged to bluster and fret about healthcare coverage and tax reform, continuing to propose their programs to shift wealth to the already immensely wealthy segment that funds them.  At the same time they must be restrained from actually enacting these programs, or dismantling too much of the regulatory infrastructure that protects the middle class from plutocratic predation.

Come election time, Democrats must have the insight and courage to expose these programs for what they are: instruments of the wealthy and powerful to consolidate their wealth and power.  They do this at the expense of the working people and the poor, who are ill-equipped to resist.  If you want to wield power, there must be someone for you to wield it over. 

Fresh ideas must replace the stale ideology of old white men in both parties, and a tide of diverse young faces must flood city halls, statehouses, and Congress.  Votes, not cash, win elections, and ideas win votes.

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gerrymander cartoon3) The mechanics of our elections must be fixed.  The toxic effect of dark money must be eliminated.  All foreign influence, but especially influence with malicious intent, must be expunged.  The fixed biases introduced by partisan gerrymandering must be eliminated.  The insidious remnants of the political machines must be ferreted out.  The obstacles to voting that employ things like voter ID and poll taxes must not be allowed.  The usefulness of the Electoral, College in today’s elections needs to be examined.  The old goal of ‘one person, one vote’ is still the target to shoot for.

Electronic social media have introduced challenges never faced before.  The voters barely feel or understand the invisible hand that pushes them in a certain direction, gently but inexorably.  tweet sealOur very choices on line—websites visited, goods purchased, entertainment views, and so much more—go into the algorithmic hopper and come out as tailor-made “online experiences” designed to nudge our real-world behavior, without our being aware of it, toward goals decreed by others: commercial goals to make us buy a certain product. Political goals to make us vote a certain way.  Foreign goals to advance the interest of sovereign governments, like, say, Russia’s?  Because this problem was born in technology that can spread ideas across the globe in microsecond, it will probably require a technological fix, which may be different from company to company and country to country.  However, we must find that fix, and find it fast.

America has much to be proud of in its elections systems, but it was never perfect.  Now it faces challenges from within and without.  We must find them and answer them before our democracy evolves into something else.  Oligarchy, plutocracy, and autocracy are all waiting in the wings.

 

4)  The biggest challenge facing our democracy is to understand and accept our diversity–of skin colors, faiths, gender identities, ethnic backgrounds, and more.  The 20th century idea of the “melting pot”, where everyone, regardless of background, would simply homogenize into a bland uniformity with white, cis-male, Protestant “American” values, will not work.  Nor should it. voter suppression It is good to be proud of your blackness, your Muslim faith, your gay lover, yourself just as you are.  Hate and intolerance poison the process.  Cooperation and compromise enable it.

Phenotypic diversity in animal populations strengthens them.  A fat zebra is less able to outrun a lion than a lean and nimble on, but when famine comes that leanness becomes a liability, and obesity prevails.  The species survives both predation and drought because of its diversity; zebrahood lives on.

Populations, too, draw strength from their diversity.  To make it work requires not integration, but acceptance.  We must see the humanness in people, and not dwell on their Jewishness, or gayness, their accents or the melanin levels in their skins.  It must be normal to say, “I believe Jesus Christ is my personal savior, and you believe in the prophet Muhammed, and that’s okay.  Right now we are debating tax reform, though, so let’s get to work.”  We must listen to, the others who touch our lives, even tangentially, and understand them even if we do not agree.  Their views may be informed by their and experiences that differ from yours, but then your ideas spring from your faith and experience, too.  Whether your name is Yitzchak, Chiaoxiang, or Mary, we still need to agree on a world that treats all of us fairly.

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That is how Democracy works.  Diversity makes the process messier and more difficult, but it makes the end result fairer, and more stable.  If we really listen to one another, if we can keep intolerance and hate out of the process, if we respect the checks and bzlances and if we can find within ourselves the strength to compromise without abandoning our own interests, diversity will make our country a  stronger, better place to live.

That was the gift the Founding Fathers gave America when it was born. It has served us well for nearly two and a half centuries.   Let’s not squander it now.

 

 

Las Vegas

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Heroism amongst the Horror

This insanity must stop! Gun rights are not absolute, and madmen are everywhere. In a country that birthed Jim Crow and the genocide of its indigenous peoples, the events in Las Vegas shock, but they do not surprise us. The accentuation of our racial and religious differences, and the fomenting of our mistrust and hatred, is not saving us from the many faces of terrorism.

 

We draw our very strength as a nation from the diversity of our races and faiths, as Samson drew his strength from the length of his hair. Donald Trump is our Delilah. We trusted him, even loved him, and he betrayed us.

 

We must grow up and get over this–as individuals, as a country, and as a people, united and proud. We must end this evil, all together, once and for all!

 

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Run for your Life! Duck and Cover! Is This For Real?!

The Public Garden

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In the 17th century, most of what is now Boston consisted of a few dry hills jutting through salt marsh, on a peninsula–the Shawmut Peninsula— with a narrow neck jutting into the harbor. The site was chosen because it was easy to defend from the limited war technology of the aboriginal people, and to supply by  ships from Europe and the Caribbean.

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1650s Boston superimposed on 1880s street map

In the 1630s the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony set aside a portion of land too swampy to build on for use as common ground.  Footpaths were made through the mire for crosstown travel, and cattle grazed on the dry hummocks. Witches, felons and Quakers were hanged on the common, and British soldiers bivouacked there before the Revolution.  Most of that land remains today as Boston Common.

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The end of Beacon Hill

The wetlands were gradually filled in by razing prominent high ground–Beacon Hill, Pemberton Hill, and Mount Vernon (which British soldiers called Mount Whoredom during the war).  They dismantled the hills with shovels, moving the soil and detritus in handcarts. Later a “gravity railroad” was built to expedite this work.  By the 1830s both the hills and the marshes were gone.  Behind them had sprawled a vast tidal basin called the Back Bay, which was rapidly filling with trash, sewage, the remains of the Tri-mount Hill, on its way to becoming dry land and prime real estate, over which the city and the commonwealth would argue for a generation.  Grazing was banned from the Common, which was girded with a cast iron fence.  A cemetery was proposed and rejected.  It became a true park in the modern sense of the word, simple and practical, true to its Puritan origins.

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1850s concept for the Common & Public Garden.  Note the marsh in foreground.

The 19th century had an altogether different vision.  In 1837 philanthropist Horace Gray petitioned that 27 acres of the common land be set aside for the young nation’s first botanical garden.  A corporation was formed, and the Public Garden was born.  Some formal plantings were begun, but serious development of the Garden had to await the Tripartite Indenture of 1856, an agreement among the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Boston Water Power Company.  This document established the rules which governed development in the Back Bay; its influence is still felt today.

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Frederick Law Olmstead and the “Emerald Necklace”

Around 1880 Frederick Law Olmstead proposed that the muddy river that drained the area be dredged and a series of parks created, connected by a continuous system of waterways, parkways and promenades that would span the base of the peninsula holding the city of Boston–an Emerald Necklace.  The first jewel in the necklace is the Common and Public Garden.  As of this date, Olmstead’s vision has not been fully realized.

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Swan Boat in the 1950s

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Make Way for Ducklings

Many walkways meander through the Garden, flanked by brilliant formal plantings with a Victorian flair, which bloom for three seasons.  The centerpiece of the park is a sinuous pond where a pair of mute swans lives; they are called Romeo and Juliet, though both are female.  It is spanned by the Lagoon Bridge, once the world’s smallest suspension bridge, but now supported from below, its suspension apparatus purely decorative.  Pedal-powered swan boats ply the shallow waters from spring to fall, along with families of mallards that inspired Robert McCloskey’s children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings, which is memorialized with a bronze sculpture on the shore.

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The Lagoon Bridge. A family of fledgling mallards is also seen, lower right.

Today the park is maintained by the City of Boston.  Manpower and funds are supplemented by a charitable organization known as the Friends of the Public Garden, also called the Rose Brigade. The charity hires specialists to help care for the trees,  bushes and floral plantings. Volunteers meet regularly to prune and maintain bushes. Financial support also comes from private sources such as the Beacon Hill Garden Club.

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Night in the Public Garden

Six Flags, and then some

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american gothicMany flags flew over the 2016 Trump for President campaign, all in full view, waving and snapping in the brisk political winds. (I could not find a flag to represent misogyny, but that belongs there, too.) Instead we preferred the the man in Grant Wood’s painting: a stolid, dependable family man, infused with American heartland values, ingenuity, and valor.  So that is the man that Donald Trump sold us.

That man was fading to extinction even in Wood’s time, which is probably why he memorialized him in paint.

Trump told us he was a man who had made the American dream work for himself, and now he wanted to make it work for us as well. Out of the goodness of his heart.

“Make America great again!” he said.

to do list 3 lo resHe told us he wasn’t one of them—the soulless plutocrats of high finance, or the robber barons of industry. He was so rich that he was not beholden to any of them to bankroll his campaign. He had the big jet plane to prove it, and great golden towers in cities around the world. (We had to take his word for this. His financial records were strictly out-of-bounds. That’s okay, though; when has he ever told us anything that wasn’t true?) He promised to rid us of these economic parasites when he became president, just as the Pied Piper promised to rid Hamelin Town of rats.  (Do you know where your children are?)

“Drain the swamp!” he said.

 

 

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seig heilHe was going to rid the country of undesirables–Muslims, Mexicans, transgenders, etc–and build a border wall to keep them out for good; they were all drug lords, rapists, and queers, after all. The alt-right—white supremacists, neo-nazis, assorted kooks and trolls—would help him do it, rallying  behind political savant Steve Bannon, like  Liberty leading the People, but mercifully without the bared bosom. Trump promised to shut the door to immigration in order to save American jobs, even while the jobs themselves were emigrating.

“Build that wall!” he said.

 

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Bannon Leading the People

hillary in jailCorruption and ineptitude would be things of the past. He was going to make his predecessors pay for their political crimes, starting with Hillary Clinton, for something heinous that she did with with her emails–I can’t remember exactly what.

“Lock her up!” he said.

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Instead of all that, we got a mountebank with the demeanor of a child and the conscience of a rattlesnake, along with a posse of his ilk. “I could go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” he boasted before the voting, “and still get elected.” I don’t know if he actually did that, but he did get elected. 

Did he know then that his campaign was getting a boost from foreign forces? Perhaps. In any case, we elected him, and handed him the keys to our treasury and nuclear arsenal.

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We can’t say he didn’t warn us. Nothing he has done from the Oval Office has been truly a surprise. Impeachment is a fearsome remedy, though, like amputation. Amendment 25—removal for incapacity—carries even more frightening implications when it is exercised in the name of the President’s mental health or character.

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Most of these people have been fired.  Only Pence, Putin and Kushner remain.

Midterm elections are not far off now. Governorships, many state legislature seats, a third of the Senate, and every seat in the House of Representatives will be up for election. If you are anxious about the way things are going, stand up.  DO NOT SIT THIS ONE OUT!

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The end.

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Oops!

 

2 Meme or not 2 Meme?

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“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn

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Richard Dawkins

The word ‘meme’ was introduced by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.  He intended it to designate a theoretical self-replicating entity which serves to transmit an idea from one mind to another, enabling culture.  Shortened from the Greek mimeme (an imitation) with a conscious nod to the word gene.  It enabled Dawkins to reflect on the evolution of intangible things—ideas, behaviors, fads, styles, even language—as they propagate through a society, among societies, or across generations.  Memes, like genes, respond to selective pressures, with the most  successful moving robustly among cultures, and the least successful foundering into  extinction.The meme, so constituted, is an elegant idea, and powerful intellectual tool—so much so that one is tempted to wonder whether Dawkins has discovered something real, in a physical sense. 

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Gregor Mendel

dnaWhen Gregor Mendel described the principles of inheritance in pea plants, he invented a concept he called genes.  He thought this was a semantic device.  A century later Watson and Crick showed that Mendel’s genes were not merely idea, but fact.  The phenomena he observed could be explained by the arrangement of molecules in DNA.  His abstract concept turned out be a real, physical thing.

 

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Murray Gell-Mann

quarkSimilarly Murray Gell-Mann, a nuclear physicist with a delightfully lyrical mind, was fascinated to find that the indivisible baryons—protons and neutrons, for instance—could be described by equations using fractions of their integer properties, such as charge and mass, in sums of thirds and one halves of the proton’s.  It was almost as if a proton was made up of three smaller particles with fractional charge and mass. which only fit together in a limited number of ways, like the falling objects in Tetris.  It was Gell-Mann himself who first suspected that these ideas were real particles, which he called called quarks,  They have since have been observed in high energy colliders. 

cat meme

Some things are true because they are elegant and useful, and some things are elegant and useful because they are true.  The true nature of truth is a slippery thing. So is beauty.  There is a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work here, I’ll bet.  There is probably a meme for that, too.

dawkins meme

There was no internet when the meme was discovered.  There was only Arpanet, which was dominated by military and scientific communications rather than kittens and Amazon.  Dawkins was not talking about digital images on cables and wifi, but about ideas moving through minds and cultures.  When the internet came along, he predicted that memes there would morph rapidly, like a virus, adopting that metaphor long before it went viral. 

As if to prove Dawkins’ point, the moment that the word accessed open cyberspace, it began to evolve at lightspeed. Today most people think ‘meme’ refers to a particularly cute picture of a kitten posted to the web, or an image with clever text superimposed.   That the ‘kitten meme’ refers to the totality of what kittens mean to the whole culture in all its media, from electronic feeds, to print, to conversations over coffee and the words mothers whisper to their babies, is a concept that is rapidly going extinct in today’s worldwide cyber-culture, with its ever shifting habitat niches.

That is too bad.  While it proves Dawkins is correct, it creates a void.  We need a new word that describes the thing that Dawkins discovered soaring like a pterosaur through our great, fragmented, shared consciousness, before it goes the way of the pterosaurs themselves.  Without that word, we could lose the concept,and that would be a crying shame.

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Computer-Generated Meme

 

What About the Alt-Left?

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Bannon, Trump, and Miller hold Council in Virginia (after Mort Küntsler)

Reflections on Charlottesville

In his impromptu remarks in the Trump Tower lobby on August 15, Donald Trump spoke with passion about the violence that engulfed the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA.

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At a press conference in Trump Tower, the president points, insincerely, to the right.

He declined to fix blame solely the alt-right, who had sponsored the rally, apparently hoping that  violence would ensue.  He insisted instead that there was blame “on both sides.”

What about the alt-left that came charging at, what you say, the alt-right?” Mr. Trump asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they were charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

Sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign the term alt-right broke into the political discourse.  At first it was a descriptor for a confederation of websites where such as 4chan and 8chan, where anonymous internet trolls could gather to air their views of white supremacy, antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia of every stripe. 

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Alt-right fodder

It grew into a meme that encompasses much of the extreme right of American politics: the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazism, InfoWars, and Breitbart News.  Its internet tools have become a widespread part of the meme: triple parentheses to call out (((Jews))) online, the avatar Pepe the Frog, and the phrase “dindu nuffin” to ridicule the deaths of black men, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown, at the hands of white police.

The alt-right seems to be what Hillary Clinton referred to as the “basket of deplorables.”  Steve Bannon, the deplorable advisor to Trump, seems to be proud of the label, calling Breitbart News, the internet site he once ran, as “the platform for the alt-right”

It there an alt-left, though, and did they come charging out with clubs at the participants of the rally, peacefully assembled but girded for war?  The answer to that question is more complex that a sound byte can convey.  It is really three questions:  Is there an alt-left?  Is it somehow equivalent to the alt right?  Did it, swinging clubs, charge peaceful demonstrators in Charlottesville?

Is there an alt-left?

The short answer is no.

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Blood & Soil: “In the peaseantry lies the innocent source of our power.” –Adolph Hitler

While it has no central organizing body, the alt-right is a loose confederation of ideologies defined by its use of internet trolling and public assembly to promulgate a jumble of conservative ideas (economic nationalism, isolationism, Trump support, et. al.).  Some of these ideas are bristle with hate (racism, misogyny, antisemitism, etc.).  They distribute them with a dissonant casualness that often bears a structural resemblance humor, but is seldom funny.  They use terms that intentionally hurtful or shocking (“cuckservative”, or simply “cuck”, to conflate traditional conservatives and cuckolds, and the chant “blood and soil!” to combine their ideas of racial purity and  geographic identity, as the Nazi’s did during the Weimar Republic.)  They use these devices to foment violence, even war, against a government they have declared invalid, with the goal of replacing it with a racially “pure”, all white, cis-gender male dominated “ethno-state”.

There is no remotely comparable entity on the left.

There is, however, a long history in America of political violence on the left, beginning with the American Revolution itself.  In the 18th century here, much violence and death occurred before the conservatives, British sympathizers and Tories, were subdued or driven into Canada.  The revolutionaries fully realized that this action against the government was treason.  “We must all hang together,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, “or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.”

thoreauIn 1849, Thoreau published Civil Disobedience, which urged people not to let governments to overrule their consciences, or allow their moral sense to atrophy; he advocated passive resistance, but stopped short of condoning violence.  In 1859, abolitionist John Brown attempted to incite a slave rebellion by attacking a US arsenal and distributing its weapons among blacks.  During the Civil War itself, the liberal ideas of abolitionism and union overcame the more conservative aims of slavery, feudalism and states’ rights.  The treason of the Confederate rebels was granted formal amnesty by President Johnson for the sake of national unity

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The Great Railroad Strike, 1877

In the late 19th and early 20th century the anarchist and socialist ideas that convulsed Europe, coalesced with workers’ movements here to produce a national zeitgeist that rained violence and destruction down on labor disputes across the nation, from the Great

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Patty Hearst, aka “Tanya”, markets the SLA, 1974

Railroad Strike of 1877 to the Herrin Massacre of 1922.  Temperance and radical feminism, too, had their violent sides, personified by Carrie Nation, Emma Goldman, and others.  The 1970s, protest against Jim Crow and the Vietnam War brought a resurgence of violent demonstrations, with groups like the Weather Underground, the Jewish Defense League and the Symbionese Liberation Army taking to the streets.

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An unfocused message sank Occupy.  No violence was necessary.

Today the left is quite different.  The active left has faded since its heyday in the 70s, when powerful personalities like Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Gloria Steinem, and many others led a left wing that, though jumbled, was always powerful, and sometimes violent.  Without such leadership today there is no sense of unity, and the radical left has foundered.  Though the violence has abated, the principles of civil rights, equal justice and economic fairness still prevail in such groups as the Occupy movement, and the followers of independent Senator Bernie Sanders.

mlkThe ideas of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King began to permeate the left in the ‘60s,  Currents of non-violence run through the crowd now whereever the left congregate.   Not all on the left have adopeted non-violent tactics, however.  The organized antifascist group Antifa, for instance, see its role as resisting the message of the alt-right.  They come to right wing rallies armed, some of them (the Black Bloc) in black hoods and riot gear.  They defend against violence at right-wing gatherings with violence of their own, often pre-emptive, arguing that in the threatening horrors of chattel slavery, the Holocaust, and the subjugation of women, are real and immediate.  Physical violence to forestall these ideas is not only ethically justifiable, but also morally required.

gandhi

Is Violence on the Left Somehow Equivalent to Alt-Right Violence?

antifa

If you have to hide your identity when you act, are you sure you are doing the right thing? Just askin’.

Trump has denied claiming ‘moral equivalence’ between the left and right factions as he sees them, yet he seems to have invented the ‘alt-left’ as a rhetorical device with the sole purpose of implying such equivalence.  It provided him with a place to shift the blame, from his supporters on the right to a proxy for his avowed enemies, the progressive Democrats and the liberal press.  He created Crooked Hillary and the Fake News in the same spirit, as rhetorical vessels for emotion unencumbered by fact.

In fact, the sides were not equivalent at all. 

First, there is the matter of numbers.  While there were tens of thousands of right-wing demonstrators that day, and a similar number of counter demonstrators, there were only a few Antifa, and far fewer of the Black Bloc.  The president is correct in asserting, “there were good people on both sides,” but purely in terms of tactical advantage, the violent left was outnumbered ten to one.

torch parade

Tiki torchlight in Charlottesville, 2017

nazi torch parade

Torchlight in Berlin, 1933

Then there is the matter of motive.  The spectacle of a column of people, all white, carrying torches reminiscent of the KKK, shouting slogans recycled from the Third Reich, wearing homegrown riot gear emblazoned with Nazi iconography, and openly intimidating dark-skinned people they encountered on their way with slogans and gestures invoking Jim Crow and Hitler, was disturbing to many Americans everywhere regardless of their

seig heil

In case you thought the resemblance was coincidental…

ethnicities.  To incite violence in support of the creation of a supposedly racially pure ethno-state threatens many patriotic Americans, including most whites, and is offensive beyond words to the many Americans who themselves, or whose fathers and brothers, fought and died to free Europe from this very horror.  To the Europeans who remember the cruel oppression of Hitler’s vermin, watching the U.S. convulse in this way must be excruciating.

defensive posture

Antifa assumes a defensive posture against a much larger force.  Notice the high concentration of press, and the complete absence of police. Is this just a photo op?

The left, by contrast, justifies its violence in the name of defense.  Sometimes, they argue, the evil of violence is required to avoid a greater evil.  The hydra of white supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and gun worship must be slain at all costs.  If that means fighting back, the violent on the left argue, then bring it on.

I have no doubt that it is the violence itself that attracts many into the fray, yet in terms of the assertion of moral equivalency that Trump has implied and then tried to deny, there is no fair comparison been the alt-right and those who stand up against them.

Did the Left Attack the Alt-Right in Charlottesville?

street fight-1Did these self-appointed guardians of the left attack the right-wing demonstrators without provocation, as the president had charged?  The abundance of whirling, garbled cell phone video from the scene, showing only mutual, chaotic affray, does little to answer this question; clips can be isolated to accommodate almost any spin.   Ironically, though this aspect of the events at Charlottesville are the best documented, it may remain the least understood.street fight-2

Witness accounts conflict.  The many slants applied by so many activists with so many agendas who were there obscure the facts themselves.  The political leaning of the corporate news media do not help.  It may not be “fake news,” as the President insists, but neither is it neutral.

Jason Kessler, who organized the “Unite the Right” march, complained about the policing. “Police stood down and refused to separate the counter-demonstrators, and now people are dead,” Kessler said in video Saturday. “They were not prepared. Their No. 1 priority was shutting down the alt-right.”   Alt-right leader Richard Spencer also faulted the police. “We came here as a demonstration of our movement,” he said. “And we were effectively thrown to the wolves.”

clergy

Some of the clergy at Charlottesville

Theologian Cornel West, Harvard professor and activist, also faulted the police, saying that he had survived only through the intervention of militant leftists. “The police didn’t do anything in terms of protecting the people of the community, the clergy,” he told The Washington Post. “If it hadn’t been for the anti-fascists protecting us from the neo-fascists, we would have been crushed like cockroaches.”

Charlottesville’s synagogue received threats of destruction and death before the march, prompting them to request extra police protection on rally day.  They were denied, and had to hire private security instead.

Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel, describes what happened on Unite the Right day:

“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”

No act of vandalism or personal violence occurred at the synagogue that day, though less than 200 feet away a man of professed Neo-Nazi beliefs plowed his Dodge Charger into crowd of counter demonstrators on a narrow street where they were lawfully assembled, killing one and injuring many more.  The most serious injuries of the day, and the only fatality due to crowd violence, were intentionally inflicted, without specific provocation, by a member of the alt-right.

We may never know the details, but this much is apparent:  most of the violence originated on the right, motivated by the most heinous ideas.  Much of the violence on the left was in defense of self, others, or the Union itself.

There is no equivalency there at all.

statue

…and here are some riot police.

The Robert E. Lee Statue

Since the rally was ostensibly about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park, Trump reinforced his equivalency rant with an assault on other statues. “I wonder,” he said, “is it George Washington next week?  Is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?  You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

It is true that both men owned slaves.  Washington, by all accounts, treated his slaves with a severity bordering on cruelty, even by the standard of his times.  His ambivalence showed in his will though, which directed that those slaves which he had the authority to emancipate should be free, and those who were too young or frail to work should be supported by his estate. Some Washington slaves were encumbered by liens, primarily to Martha’s estate, preventing their emancipation.  The rules of chattel slavery seem bizarre to us today, but such was the tenor of those times.

Thomas Jefferson was a more complicated man.  He owned slaves, yet was troubled by the moral implications of slavery.  He brought slaves to serve him in the White House, where he signed a law prohibiting the importation of negro slaves into the US.  When his wife Martha died, he took into his bed her fair, mixed race half-sister, Sally Hemings, who is said to have borne an uncanny resemblance to Martha.  Sally bore him six children, two of whom he allowed to ‘walk away’ from his plantation without formally freeing them; they were all emancipated in his will.  Slave life at Monticello was apparently easier than at Mount Vernon, though it was still slave life.

Lee’s views on slavery were stern and paternalistic.  He believed that slavery existed because god willed it to, and that God had made the Negro the white man’s burden in order to prepare him for emancipation in some uncertain future, when he was ready.

“… In this enlightened age”, Lee wrote his wife in 1856, “there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

Both Washington and Jefferson were American patriots and men of the Enlightenment, whose vision saw far into the future.  They believed that all men are created equal.  They were aware that this was not true of the society in which they lived, but the principles, which they enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and which they fought fiercely to defend, created a new society where such things were possible.  And they succeeded.

Black slaves were freed by the Civil War, and then enfranchised by the Constitution, in law at least, if not in practice.  Society takes much longer to change than law, but even that was happening under the rules the Founding Fathers established.  From Reconstruction in the 1860s to the civil rights legislation a century later, with painful slowness, many mistakes, and much violent resistance, all men were becoming equal.  Women were enfranchised by law in the early the 20th century, and not until the 21st century did they begin to make their influence felt in the halls of government, corporate boardrooms, and professional roles. Full ethnic and gender equality has yet to be achieved in America, but, with the guidance of men like Washington and Jefferson, we are moving in the right direction.

Lee, too, was a brilliant and complicated manm though his vision peered not into the furture, but deeply into a disintegrating past. He was a political and military genius who fought to preserve a society and an economy that relied on chattel slavery and the subjugation of women, even if that meant making war against his homeland.  Our homeland. 

That is the very definition of treason.

After the War Between the States, Lee would not support the dedication of any CSA memorials, including statues of himself.  Today his descendants, and those of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, favor the removal of their ancestors statues, if doing so will prevent a national schism.  As president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) Lee forbade the display of Confederate iconography on College grounds.  Even then he felt that such memorials were too divisive, too likely to reignite passions that ought to have been settled by the war.

We have fought this fight as long and as well as we know how,” he wrote.  “We have been defeated. For us as a Christian people, there is now but one course to pursue. We must accept the situation.”

Amen.

Presidential Trifecta: Honesty, Decency, Integrity

stan & ollie 2

Most presidents, when they have won an election, stop campaigning and start governing.  Donald Trump, however, has grown addicted to the adulation of his hand-picked crowds.  As a result, he has never left the campaign trail, although now he travels in Air Force One, and taxpayers foot the bill.

Sometimes they say ‘he doesn’t act presidential,” he said to a crowd in Youngstown, Ohio in July, “And I say, ‘look, great schools, smart guy, it is so easy to act presidential.’ But that’s not going to get it done. In fact, I said – it is much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we are doing here tonight, believe me.

“[W]ith the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that has ever held this office, that I can tell you,” he proclaimed.

So what does it take to be presidential.  It takes experience, of course, and judgment, and high-level connections.  It takes a lot of energy, too.  Being presidential, tough, begins with character, and most of all depends on three qualities where Trump, alas, falls short:  Intellect, dignity, and integrity.

Intellect:

I love the poorly educated!” crowed Donald Trump during his primary election campaign.  His own education tends to back him in this.

As an unruly teen, he was sent to New York Military Academy.  “I did very well under the military system,” Trump said in an interview. “I became one of the top guys at the whole school.”  Even then, he was The Donald.  At NYMA he seems to have learned command, if not discipline.

Trump-in-Military-school

After NYMA he attended Fordham University in the Bronx, so he could remain close to the family real estate business. There he languished for two years before his father plucked him out and packed him off to Philadelphia and the Ivy league.

Despite his claim to have graduated first in his class from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Trump appears to have been an undistinguished scholar there.

Donald agreed to attend Wharton for his father’s sake,” wrote biographer Jerome Tuccille in 1985.  “He showed up for classes and did what was required of him, but he was clearly bored and spent a lot of time on outside business activities.”  Donald himself wrote in 1989’s The Art of the Deal, “I decided that as long as I had to be in college, I might as well test myself against the best.

wharton alumnusTrump graduated from Wharton’s undergraduate degree program in 1968.  He never attended the prestigious Graduate School of Business there, nor ever earned an MBA (or any other advanced degree).

The 1968 commencement program does not list Trump as having received graduating honors of any kind.  Numerous profiles have since asserted that he was first in his class, though Donald has denied ever having made this claim.  He boasted, in a 2011 interview on CNN, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country.

On education, Trump’s message and his substance (if such a word can be applied to him) are a bit out of joint.

Decency:

Decency is a seriously overburdened word.  It involves adherence to standards of propriety, but carries a burden of fairness (a decent wage), generosity (very decent of you), modesty (are you decent?), and suitablity (I haven’t got a decent pair of shoes).

At the heart of the concept is empathy.  Decent people know and respect the needs and feelings of others.  Empathy is not Trump’s strong suit, leaving him decency-impaired.

young trumpIn 1980, while clearing the historic Bonwit Teller building from the site where Trump Tower was to rise, he hired a company that used undocumented Polish window washers to clear away demolition debris.  They worked off the books; no income taxes or FICA taxes were withheld, no pension provided, no records kept at all.  Their worksite was so dangerous that Trump himself would not go there.  “You have to be very brave to be in a building under demolition.  I’m not sure I’m that brave.”  Yet they were issued no hard hats or other protective equipment.  For grueling 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, they were paid sub-minimal  wages only sporadically, if they were paid at all.  They were threatened with deportation if they complained.  Is this the behavior of a decent man?

Consider his infamous pussy tape:  In an interview with Billy Bush for Access Hollywood, with tape rolling, Trump bantered about soap star Arianne Zucker, with whom he was preparing to appear on Days of Our Lives.  “I better use some Tic Tacs” says Trump,  “just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.  Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”   There may be a glimmer of empathy here, since he seemed to want to spare Ms. Zucker from his halitosis; more likely he wanted to save himself from a reputation for bad breath.  Would a decent man have said these things?

Perhaps Trump’s lack of decency is most apparent in his reaction the his party’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Since its inception in 2010, the number of Americans without healthcare coverage has plummeted, the denial of coverage to people with ‘pre-existing’ conditions has gone away, and the utilization of preventive services (screening, vaccination and the like) has soared.  Lives have been extended, and the quality of life for many has improved.  A pall of fear has been lifted.

The “skinny repeal” bill, which would have ended most of this while offering nothing to the children and the poor who would be cast out on their own.  When it failed in a Senate skittish about screwing its own constituents, Trump immediately took up his phone to tweet: “As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal.  Watch!” 

coverage graph

Those who are watching have noticed that he has not stood passively by to let ObamaCare implode.  He has taken action to ensure that it happens, using taxpayer dollars intended to educate users of their options under the legislation to lobby against it instead, and threatening to end the subsidies (he calls them “bailouts”) make coverage affordable to the poor, and the disadvantaged middle class, at a time when they need reinforcement instead.

(“As I said from the beginning” is a lie, by the way.  In the beginning he promised to repeal and replace on the same day, the same hour even.  “We are nor going to let people die in squalor, because we are Republicans“, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd)

percent without coverage by race graph

For Trump to say “Let ObamaCare implode” so he can gain advantage in a deal reveals a shocking disregard for the millions whose very lives depend on it, and the tens of millions more whose financial security depends on it.  Many of these are children or elderly, and some are disabled.  Some will be turned out of nursing homes. The burden will be borne disproportionately by minorities.

Is this how a decent man puts America first?

Horsey Cartoon

Integrity:

Long before he became our 16th president, while still an attorney practicing in Springfield, Illinois, Honest Abe Lincoln would advise the young clerks who aspired to be lawyers: “Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.”

The first thing schoolchildren learn about Lincoln it is often the tale of how, as a clerk, when he discovered he had shortchanged a customer a few pennies, he had closed up shop and trudged for miles to set things right.   The first they hear of George Washington is the story of the cherry tree, and how he could never tell a lie.  In their presidents, patriotic Americans esteem integrity above all else.

pinnochioHow, then, did we elect a president for whom deceit, and persistence in a manifest lie, is a high art and a source of pride?  Who plays fast and loose with the rules of ethics and the bounds of nepotism.  Who rants against the very separation of powers, and the checks and balances, that the founders so carefully designed to keep our government safe from the despot he aspires to be?  Who dismisses his sketchy past with a ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ shrug?

Trump did not invent the political lie.  Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook!” comes to mind, and Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”  But Trump brings to the game a disregard for what we previously regarded as truth that is so profound as to suggest he sees no practical distinction between the lies that serve him and the facts in the world at large—his ‘alternative facts’ are founded in expediency rather than verifiability.

liar

Trump’s flaunting of ethics standards, both traditional and black-letter law, is legendary after only six months I office.  His eagerness to leverage his presidency for personal profit, scoffing at the emoluments clause; his packing of his inner advisory circle with members of his family, generals and plutocrats; and the satisfaction he seems to derive from sowing disharmony among friend and foe alike, do not reflect a man of integrity.  His constant flouting of the wisdom and sage experience of his advisors in favor of his own boisterous id, with its fits and snits and wee-hour tweets, is the sign of a spoiled child.  A nine-year-old boy could be forgiven for such behaviors.  A seventy-year-old man, who commands the most powerful military the world has ever known while he faces an uncertain world, can not.

 

Donald believes that when he does not appear presidential, it is not his fault.  It is a shortcoming of appearance, not substance, and the fault lies in the beholder.  Such ideas are promulgated by a press held captive by a world hostile to him, and the Democratic Party, which is still reeling from their epic and humiliating loss at his hands.  It is fake news.

Now here’s what I do. I’d ask whether or not you someday think I will be on Mount Rushmore,” Trump said. “But here’s the problem, if I did it joking, totally joking, having fun, the fake news media will say ‘he believes he should be on Mount Rushmore.’

“So, I won’t say it. Okay? I won’t say it.”

“. . . They’ll say it anyway, you watch: ‘Trump thinks he should be on Mount Rushmore. Isn’t that terrible?'”

I’ll tell you what’s terrible, Don.  Your Freudian slip is showing.

Play Ball!

field gate layer

game logoThere was still a chill in the early morning air when the team gathered at Eugene Simpson Park for batting practice, and for whatever camaraderie this contentious group could muster.  These were Republican congressmen, and they were about to do something good, out in the open before a friendly crowd.  The game they were preparing for would benefit children and literacy, while costing the taxpayers nothing.

2016 game

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La) greets fans before the 2016 game.

hodgkinson mugshotPractically unnoticed, a slightly unkempt, doughy middle-aged white man with close-cropped sandy hair and a scraggly, salt and pepper beard, emerged from his home in a white van parked on the edge of the field.  Gesturing at the gathering players, he asked a passerby, “Are they Republicans or Democrats?”  In Alexandria, Virginia, home to powerful politicos of every stripe, this was not a strange thing to ask.

“Republicans,” the stranger reported.  “They are practicing for a charity game with the Democrats tomorrow.”

The man nodded, and the stranger moved on.  The man returned to his van to retrieve an assault rifle, and for good measure, he pocketed a sidearm.  Calmly he carried his weapons to the edge of the third-base dugout, where he began to fire on the weekend Republican athletes.

practice screenshotHe was an astonishingly poor marksman.  Of the over fifty rounds he got off before he was felled by return fire from a congressman’s bodyguards, most sprayed buildings and vehicles flanking the field. Only five hit people; only two inflicted life-threatening wounds.  The first was Majority Whip Stephen Scalise, whose leadership rank had brought a protective squad capitol police at the scene.  The other two were members of the bodyguard unit itself, whose were return fire probably averted a bloodbath

 

scalise

Rep Scalise takes a late throw during the 2015 Congressional Charity Game.

 

Rep. Scalise was grievously wounded in the pelvis and lower abdomen.  Matt Mika, a former congressional staffer and now an agricultural lobbyist, was hit multiple times, including life-threatening wounds to the chest. The others with injuries, less serious though still significant, included staffer Zachary Barth and two members of the bodyguard detail, David Bailey and Crystal Griner.  The gunman, James T. (“Tom”) Hutchinson of Belleville, Illinois, died of wounds sustained in the gunfight.  His was the only fatality that morning.

 

victims

hodgkinson picketsAlmost immediately, the press discovered, in Hutchinson’s social media, his strong left-leaning political passion, and his fierce opposition to President Trump.  “Trump is a Traitor,” he posted on March 22. “Trump Has Destroyed our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”  Democrats, too, came under his rhetorical fire.  He was a fierce critic of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, branding her with the worst epithet he could muster: “Republican Lite.”  His cover photo depicted the Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders.  His profile picture was of the American flag, with the caption “Democratic Socialism explained in three words: We the People.”

hodgkinson tweets

bernieSen. Sanders immediately took to the airwaves and Twitter to distance himself from this heinous act.  In a statement, he said he “was sickened by this despicable act.  …Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”

RyanSpeaker Paul Ryan tried raising the issue above the fractious tribalism of Congress.  “We are united in our shock and anguish.” He intoned from the floor of the House.  “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

For once, I find wisdom in the Speaker’s words.  I wish I could be confident he meant them as I took them.  It was indeed an attack on all of them, not because they were Republicans, but because they were Washington politicians.  Now it is time, not to pretend that this was not a political act.

“You know” Rep. Ryan said”every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in. At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber.”

I would suggest that Mr. Hutchinson’s heinous action was was crazy, but it also an act of political desperation brought on at least in part because it felt to him that the people who enter the House of Representatives, and the Senate and Statehouse as well, do in fact leave their humanity in the cloakroom. 

 

issa missing

Rep Darrell Issa scheduled a meeting with his constituents, but never showed up.  Where was he?

Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which is funded with a sharply progressive tax that costs the wealthy the most though they directly benefit the least, satisfies the plutocrats but feeds the seething anger of the middle class and the poor.  Replacing it with legislation that will result in tens of millions of people, mostly disabled, elderly, or poor, losing the ability to

issa roof

Across the street on the roof of his office, Issa photographed the crowd on his smartphone.  He did not speak to it.

pay for the care that is keeping them alive today, adds injury to insult.  To do so in such a rush that even the lawmakers do not know the true costs of the legislation (perhaps because they fear that knowledge of the real cost might spark a conflagration of opposition) lays bare the contempt the officeholders hold for the voters who elected them. These are not acts of compassionate men.

 

 

issa crowd

This the picture he got of the crowd he invited and ignored..

Images of politicians locking their doors to their constituents, or hiding on rooftops to avoid crowds, only reinforce the schism that their inhumanity has created, and amplify the anger that issues from the rift. The president is the very exemplar of contempt, for the courts, the congress, and the mob at his political base.  For openness.  For truth.

 

 I am not condoning political violence, but I think I can see whence it arises.

missing 2

Inhumanity is not the exclusive province of Republicans.  Mrs. Clinton ran as a populist but was funded primarily by the corporate and financial sectors, and liked to talk about her foreign policy experience and her gender rather than domestic economic policies where her hypocrasy was more likely to show.  Many wondered whether she might be more beholden to the plutocracy than to the people. After all, she had amassed millions in personal wealth while working in the public sphere, and made more money addressing Goldman Sachs behind closed doors for half an hour than they made from half a decade of hard work.   In the general election, both candidates ran less on issues than on disparaging each other:  “crooked Hillary” and “basket of deplorables.”

As a blow against American democracy, the DNC’s rigging of the primary system to stop the surge of their most popular candidate from upsetting their dynastic system was on par with the Republicans’ gerrymandering of the South to cement their hegemony there. The Democrats’ ramming through the ACA without a single Republican vote lost, and their abolition of the filibuster in executive nominations before the Senate, led to voter disillusionment that lost them their majority in the Senate.  The Republicans doubled down when they banished the filibuster from Supreme Court nominations, which the Democrats had spared.

milk carton

How much proof do you need that voters feel abandoned?

The president, a seeming stranger to transparency and truth, promised to return a strong America to its middle-class roots, and instead delivered a government larded with billionaires, generals, and disestablishmentarians.

 In all of this, the Little Guy, like Tom Hutchinson, was left out, not only of the negotiation, but also seemingly of any consideration at all.  On social media, and on sidewalks in front of federal buildings in Illinois, while he writhed and moaned in frustration, but nobody seemed to notice.

 If his anger surprises you, you have not been paying attention.

jeff flake police tape

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake

Political violence, rhetorical and real, is becoming the norm in America today.  The violent rhetoric promulgated on the internet spills over into violence on the streets.  Riots triggered by racial incidence have occurred in Maryland, Missouri, and California.  Mobs shouting support for free speech have shut down appearances by controversial speakers in California and Vermont, where a professor was assaulted for simply moderating the event.  Candidates have been compelled to withdraw from elections because of death threats.  Mass shootings have been used to praise Allah, to punish gay lifestyles, to push back at police violence, and now to protest Republican policy making in Congress.

freedom of speechTo deny or ignore the political nature of this violence is to bury our heads in the sand.  Worse yet is to use the violence to double-down on the political tribalism that is driving it.  Our whole government has given itself over to a gooey mixture of partisanship and military-industrial complexity, which has oozed into the machinery of government and hardened there, like cement.

Our two political parties become drunk with power when they hold it, and overpowered with lust for it when they do not. In pursuit and defense of power, unholy alliances are forged with wealth, both domestic and foreign.   In their relentless pursuit of power for its own sake, they have lost sight of this principle, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

slot machineThe government in Washington today is the results of a raggedy patchwork of elections that were subject to a host of perverse pressures.  They have been gerrymandered, procedurally overwrought, steered by huge billows of cash from God knows where, distorted by slick Madison Avenue techniques and online social media corrals, and digital putinperhaps even hacked by foreign and corporate interests with nefarious intents.  Many potential voters have lost faith in the system.  They avoid the polls altogether. Many who do come vote not for what they believe in, but to stem an evil, if ill defined, tide they feel is swamping them. 

Governments thus constituted do not have the consent of the governed.  Their powers are not just.  The populace feels this, and a lumbering discontent roams the land.  Violence breaks out here and there.

gerrymander

Outlines of Gerrymandered Congressional Districts in the 1990s

There is an old joke that goes something like this:  A traveler has a flat while driving past an insane asylum.  As he tries to change tires, the lug nuts keep rolling into the ditch.  A lunatic watches the man’s frustration as he fetches them from the mud. The lunatic has a suggestion: “Why don’t you put the lug nuts in the hub cap so they won’t roll away?”  The traveler tries this, and it works.  He says to the lunatic, “That was a good idea.  I thought you were supposed to be crazy.”  The lunatic, drawing himself up indignantly, replies, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid!”

i have a dreamWhat Tom Hutchinson did was evil, yes, and it was crazy, but it was not irrational.  Why are Republicans and Democrats alike getting death threats when they run for office?  Why are the legislative and the executive branches mired to their axles in mud?  Because politics has lost its humanity.  The checks and balances that were the genius of the founding fathers, their loving and respectful gift to us, have been spurned because they are were awkward and inconvenient, not realizing that that very inconvenience was the tool that men like Calhoun used to build the compromises that made America great.  They encourage majorities to respect the interests of minorities.  We need them back.

“For all the noise and fury, we are a family,” says Paul Ryan, ironically if imperfectly quoting Macbeth’s reflection on life.  (A more complete tweet would be:  “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” An interesting reference, considering the state of Congress and the White House today.  But I digress…) 

Ryan went on to say (and this is the soul of his massage):

“These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire. These were our brothers and sisters who ran into danger and saved countless lives.

“So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now. Because we are.  

I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together…to lift each other up…and to show the country—show the world—that we are one House. The people’s House—united in our humanity. 

I really believe that, Mr. Speaker.  Do you?  Because if you do, slow down and reflect.  Think of the common people who are every day exposed to gunfire because of firearms in the hands of felons and lunatics, with no bodyguard to protect them.  Think of unarmed black men who fear for their lives when they are stopped for a failed tail light.  Think of the police officers who fear for their lives because they don’t know the black man is unarmed.  Think of those lying wounded in the street, who may become homeless if they get medical care they now suddenly need but cannot afford.

Continue to think about government being too big, about business being over-regulated, about taxes being too high and ill-distributed.  You are right about those things, and the Left needs to accept them into the deliberations.

Think about the powerless, and how they can be empowered. Think about how power corrupts, and what to do about it.

thinker 8x8

Think about how, and why, you are being tested right now.  Because you are.  You have some serious soul-searching to do. So does the RNC.  So does the President.  So does each Democrat, and the DNC. So do all of the nameless bureaucrats who toil in the offices of the Capitol, the West Wing, The Pentagon, Langley, and Foggy Bottom.

The republic is broken, much as Madison predicted (in Federalist #10) that it would be if partisanship prevailed over public interest.  You, Mr. Speaker, are among the few with the power set it right.

Power and leadership are not the same thing.  Winning is more than just slyly passing your whole program intact. Leading is accepting (even embracing, if you can) the ideas of those with whom you disagree, while zealously promoting your own.  Winning is adopting policy that serves the people over the party. Instead of fighting the checks and balances, embrace them as a source of your strength.

Be a leader instead of a power broker, and you will begin to quell the fires that are starting to consume us.  You will become a hero, not just of the conservative caucus, but of all America.  Do not do it for this reason, though; do it because it is the right thing to do. One of the lives you save may be your own.

I believe you when you say, “It is that humanity which will win the day.  It always will.”  Yes!  You are my man.  Let’s play ball!

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Walls

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walls

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.

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Well-Mended Wall

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

–Robert Frost (1914)

 

berlin wall

Good Neighbors: A West German family enjoys the Berlin Wall –Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1962