SCotUS

Should Justice Ginsburg retire?

No, and here’s why in her own words

Just a couple of months back I wondered out loud as to why Justice Ginsburg shows no signs of retiring while President Obama still warms the chair in the Oval Office, especially given her age, health, the precarious balance of the Supreme Court, and the lack of any guarantee that there will be a solid shot later at at least a half-decent successor for her.

With a hat-tip to ThinkProgress for pointing the way, here’s Justice Ginsburg in her own words, courtesy of an interview with Elle magazine’s Jessica Weisberg:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Republicans] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

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ArtSunday: LIterature

I read books because I need to know … so much more than I do now

As I age, what I read and why has changed markedly over time

ArtSunday: LIteratureIf you’re a reader, you probably have a list of “fave” books. Or of books you found “influential.” Or of books you liked because each told “a good story.” Or maybe because the books were filled with vampires and such.

I’m surrounded by book listers. I lurk on a listserv of really bright people, and one of the topics du jour is “what’s your book list.” (Thanks to them, I’ve picked up several to add to my own list.)

Jim Booth, one of my fellow co-founders of Scholars & Rogues, compiles a list of books each year and reviews them here. (He’s done more than 50 reviews this year alone.) A faculty colleague has from time to time posted outside his office a list of “books I spent time with this summer.”

I never thought much about book lists.

Then the Time of My Great Disenchantment with Mega-Corporate-Run Journalism began to descend on me about seven years ago. I realized that the grist of daily journalism no longer dealt at length or in depth with the gnawing questions I need answered:

How does the world work? Why does it work that way? What are the consequences of the answers to the first two questions?

So why isn’t mainstream journalism as practiced these days telling me what I need to know? After all, journalism has been billed as “the first rough draft of history.” Continue reading

Scotland

Erm, hi, England here. I get it. I’m sorry.

I’ve been the problem all along

This is really awkward for me, what with being a country and all. I don’t usually speak, and I certainly never imagined I’d speak from a position of humility. That’s just never been my style. I’ve always been more of a see it, seize it, dominate it sort of country. Short on words, big on colonies. But ya know what? I do read the papers. There’s lots of talk about Scotland, well, about half the Scots, wanting out of this little forced arrangement that’s worked out so well for us, well, for me, sort of, for so long. But then there was this sore little reminder run by The Guardian, mapping out every one of my little imperialist failures.

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WordsDay: Literature

Ian McEwan’s Atonement: very good – but that gimmicky ending…

 McEwan’s novel is well written and has a fine plot – except for the gimmicky ending…

Atonement by Ian McEwan (image courtesy Goodreads)

This essay about a work from my 2014 reading list looks at one of the most successful novelists of the last two decades. Ian McEwan has had a highly successful run as a commercially successful and acclaimed writer. His 2001 novel Atonement was short listed for the Booker Prize (England’s most prestigious literary award) and was made into a highly successful motion picture in 2007.

In most ways Atonement is a worthy novel. The theme, which examines the results of allowing one’s imagination to overpower one’s reason and senses, allows McEwan to examine the role of the artist in society and issues of class prejudice and family dysfunction. McEwan writes with both authority and skill and has a grasp of language that allows him at times to play with words (especially in his descriptions of the novel’s “writer” character, Briony Tallis, and her early forays into writing).

The plot of the novel owes something to other authors, particularly Graham Greene (one thinks of “The Basement Room,” Greene’s fine story that served as the basis for the excellent Carol Reed film The Fallen Idol). In a reversal of that storyline, McEwan has Briony Tallis, a child of 13 at the time of the novel’s major incident, hold the novel’s romantic lead, Robbie Turner, in a sort of snobbish didain based on his class background. Turner, the son of a Tallis family servant, has been sponsored to both grammar school (English prep school) and to Cambridge by Briony’s father. Briony’s older sister Cecilia, roughly Robbie’s age, has grown up with him – and has attended Cambridge with him as well.  As often happens in novels of class/manners in English literature, the two have long been in love without acknowledging their feelings. Briony’s childishly violent disapproval of their relationship – provoked by her discovery on the two in flagrante in the library of the Tallis home – leads her to commit an act of perjury against Turner that ruins not only his life but her sister’s. To compound the miseries associated with her act, her lie allows a rapist  to escape punishment and have a long, successful career in business – he even eventually marries his victim. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

John McPhee and Immersion Journalism: The Survival of the Bark Canoe

John McPhee’s greatness lies in his ability to make the real world and its inhabitants as interesting as if they were fictional…

The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee (image courtesy Goodreads)

Here’s one from the 2014 reading list that I’ve been looking forward to reading. I have been a John McPhee fan since I was an undergraduate. My composition class “reader” had an excerpt from Oranges about fighting a frost in Florida with smudge pots that hooked me on his approach to nonfiction.  (Some of the more hoary of you working through this piece may remember those books called readers. They were books of essays by great nonfiction writers assigned in 1st year composition classes to provide “writing models” to callow 18 years olds in the quaintly delusional hope that some of the greatness of an E.B. White, Lewis Thomas or John McPhee would enter our heads and come out through our pens back in those halcyon days when we rode dinosaurs to classes.)  The use of these has been widely discontinued – an act, I suspect, owing as much to the despair writing teachers feel of ever encountering a writer who could, to borrow a metaphor from Rogers Hornsby, at least “carry the bat” of a White or Thomas – or McPhee – as to changes in the pedagogical approach to teaching writing.

The Survival of the Bark Canoe is a brief book, only 114 pages. That is often the case with McPhee; he does not write long pieces because he actually writes pieces suitable for inclusion in magazines. The magazine he is most closely associated with is the same one that E. B. White and his contemporary James Thurber helped make famous: The New Yorker.  Given that magazine’s history for stellar writing – and occasionally writing that manages to be pompous and precious at once – one can easily jump to the conclusion that McPhee has that ironic, wittily condescending style many associate with the nation’s premier “high brow” mass market magazine (though these folks might disagree with that assessment). Nothing could be further from the truth – and therein lies McPhee’s greatness. His ability to immerse himself in the stories he explores and bring to life their characters draws readers along as if they were reading fiction. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain: War and Peace for middlebrows…

Frazier’s historical novel was a great success even though it is rather indifferent both as history and as a novel…

Rivers Parting by Shirley Barker (image courtesy Amazon)

A confessions of sorts.

I have always been something of a fan of the historical novel. My interest began probably with Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in my early teens and has been primed occasionally over the years with the occasionally discovered tasteful or tasteless gem (many courtesy of my late and dearly missed Aunt Barbara). Through her taste for middlebrow lit I wound up reading (without parental consent, of course) Forever Amber which led me to Moll Flanders and then to A Journal of the Plague Year (I’d read Robinson Crusoe years earlier as a child).  So in a weird way, the same woman who’d schooled me in serious lit by constantly forcing me to take another volume from the Harvard Classics each time I visited her (she sometimes had me read from the works to her after I’d finished mowing her yard and was enjoying a glass of lemonade or iced tea) also, in passing along her old book club selections to my mother gave me an introduction into what Middle America found fascinating reading from the 1950s through 1970s. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship III: Music as a Function of Place

Music serves as a comment on culture – and, interestingly, that commentary can be both culture specific and universal at once…

Bob Marley in concert, 1980 (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, here, and here.)

This week’s look at the excellent scholarly discussion of popular music and protest, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, addresses the importance of place in the emergence of specific types of music. This section of the editor Ian Peddie’s book consists of three essays on places and music as diverse as one could ever want them to be: Jamaica and reggae, the Australian Outback and aboriginal rock, and England’s “Black Country” (the heavy industry and mining country) and the emergence of “escapist” music represented by artists as diverse (at first glance) as Led Zeppelin and drum and bass pioneer Goldie.

In some ways the most interesting, if most esoteric of these essays is “‘We have survived': popular music as a representation of Australian Aboriginal cultural loss and reclamation.” This essay explores the emergence of Aboriginal rock bands, in particular the work of a group called the Wirrinyga Band. The essayist, Peter Dunbar-Hall, notes two important things about the Aboriginals bands in Australia: first, the bands serve an important cultural function in keeping alive aboriginal languages – in fact, music from Wirrinyga Band and other Aboriginal groups is used in schools to help Aboriginal students learn their native languages and cultural history; second, the Australian government actively supports its artists and offers grants and other financial supports to artists such as the Wirrinyga Band so that they can develop, and more importantly, record their work to make both the subject matter of their songs (they sing of traditional Aboriginal subjects such as spiritual and philosophical beliefs – the “Dreamtime” (a central concept in Aboriginal Animism) and the relationship of Aboriginal groups (the Wirrinyga Band are members of the Yolngu) to mainstream Australian culture.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

For your consideration: Jimmy Carter on ending the war in Gaza

An article from Foreign Policy

Ending this war in Gaza begins with recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor

I know. Right off the bat, even the idea of recognizing Hamas rankles. Here’s the thing, though. In 2006, as a result of a thoroughly monitored election, the people put Hamas in power. That is the definition of self determination. That is the definition of legitimate political actor. The hazard of democracy, especially when it works, is that we won’t like who the people put in charge. If we can’t live with those outcomes, then we just need to accept that we really don’t care for democracy at all. Further, that what we do believe in is hegemony of one people, one culture, over others. Naturally, that would mean ours and not theirs. This, in spite of the fact that anyone would be hard pressed to seriously and legitimately make the case that we are one people, one culture, and that our chosen version of that should be the one that calls the shots.

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40 years ago today: where were you when Tricky Dick Nixon resigned?

You know those events where people always remember where they were? Like Kennedy’s assassination. The Challenger disaster. 9/11.

Well, 40 years ago today was another big one: on August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon became the first American president to resign from office, finally bowing to pressure in the wake of the Watergate scandal. And yes, I remember where I was: Continue reading

Obama-Nope

President Obama thinks you’re sanctimonious for insisting torturers be charged with felonies

The President of the United States still shows no signs of seeking justice against war criminals

The President of the United States, by way of giving the world a Friday heading into the weekend presser in hopes that we’ll miss it and just ignore it to death, finally leveled exactly the kind of allegations we’ve been waiting for for six years now. Then he clarified his position by saying that we shouldn’t be sanctimonious, but let’s see it in his own stammering words:

I understand why it happened. Uh, I, I think, ah, ih-, it’s important, uh, when we look back to recall how afraid people were, uh, after, uh, the tow-, twin towers, uh, fell, and, and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know, ah, whether more attacks were imminent, uh, and there was enormous pressure, uh, on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, uh, and um, hyuh, i-, i-, i-, it’s important for us not to, uh, feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those have and a lot of those folks, uh, wuh, uh, were s-, s-, working hard, ah, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that repor-port reflects, and that’s the reason why, after, uh, I took office one of the first things I did was to ban, uh, some of the, in-, extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

 

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CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Book Review: Jupiter and Gilgamesh – A Novel of Sumeria and Texas by Scott Archer Jones

Jupiter and Gilgamesh is a story about life decisions – good, bad, and inexplicable – and how those decisions add up ultimately to – a life well lived…

Jupiter and Gilgamesh: a Novel of Sumeria and Texas by Scott Archer Jones (image courtesy Goodreads)

I have an empathetic affinity for the genesis of Scott Archer Jones’s latest novel, Jupiter and Gilgamesh: a Novel of Sumeria and Texas. Jones states that the genesis of his book came partly from a high school English teacher who made him read The Epic of Gilgamesh – and that the character of Gilgamesh was so intriguing (probably compelling is a better word) that he’s read the poem multiple times since that first encounter.

In the vernacular of our time, I feel you, Scott. My first book came partly from my experience of a couple of related works first read at the behest of teachers: Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. The power of literature draws us on, it seems, like the song of the sirens until some of us begin to “sing in our chains,” as the poet said.

That singing in one’s chains thing is a key theme in Jupiter and Gilgamesh. The main character is one Matthew (Matt) Devon, a gifted advertising man who owns a very successful ad agency in Amarillo, Texas. When we meet Matt, however, (I’ll ignore the novel’s prelude for now) he is living – hiding out, really – in an old grain elevator that he is having remodeled in a small farming town a short distance from Amarillo), trying to run his business via phone conferences, and has taken to calling himself Jupiter. Continue reading

“Hang Obama!” Is that always racist?

Correlation, causation, race, the President, and hanging

Once upon a time not so long ago, someone on the Internet expressed an opinion. I found my umbrage and took all of it. And, thinking I’m the Deathmonger Whisperer, I took it upon myself to gnaw on another huge leg of futility. I was fresh out of lamb, you see.

As one might gather from the title, the opinion expressed was none too subtle. One might even divine which side of the partisan divide excreted this little gem. Of late, I’ve taken to trying to engage rationally with those with whom I disagree…with tact and diplomacy. I know. I know. “Who are you, and what have you done with Frank?!” It’s only an exercise in futility if I actually hope to persuade someone to change their mind on an issue. Failing that, I’m learning a great many valuable things, not least of which is to vent expletives into the room instead of through my keyboard. It accomplishes just about as much, but it leaves the door open to genuine discussion.

The specific opinion expressed was that Obama is guilty of treason [citation needed] and should be hanged, as per the Constitution. Never minding for a moment that the Constitution only calls for Congress to determine the punishment without expressly stating how it should be carried out, much less that it should be death, much less that it should be capital punishment by hanging, I went with what to me (and a great many others) was the apparent (if not actual) racism implicit in the suggestion. To that end, I replied much as follows: Continue reading

LGBT

Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading

Conservatives

American conservatives: some of the most important history you’ve probably missed

Racism or abortion? You decide.

For the sake of history and truth, this might be the most important thing you read in quite a while.

The Real Origins of the Religious Right @ Politico

Short version: evangelical “community organizers” (recognize that dig?) and bearers of false witness initially tried to fire up the right wing evangelical “moral majority” (currently only approximately 26% of the US population…hardly a majority of any kind) in support of racially segregated schools. Patron Saint of the new GOP, Ronnie Reagan, who committed treason to win the 1980 election by interfering with the release of US hostages held by Iran (somehow omitted from this article), trotted out support of racial segregation but got punched in the political junk for it and backed down. Bob Jones University, the school that took the issue all the way to SCOTUS, eventually lost, and with the case any hopes of regaining its tax-exempt status in an 8-1 decision. That’s one helluva SCOTUS decision. The one justice that supported racial segregation? Ronnie’s SCOTUS appointee Renquist. Continue reading

Fear mongering for sex traffick? Surely that’s not what the GOP is about, is it?

I’d like to think even the GOP has limits, but sometimes I have my doubts

Lately the right-wing fear-mongering machine has been making much of news that 16 teen members of MS-13 have been identified in an Arizona border processing center. Let’s assume for a moment that this claim is 100% true. Further, let the curious reader check the Google search results for themselves to see if this is news peculiar to one side of our partisan divide here in the U.S.

There will be bad actors in every sufficiently large crowd. In this case, that’s 3 bad actors (hell, even especially bad) per 10,000 or 0.03% if we go by the commonly reported 52,000 child immigrants between October 2013 and June (less than a year). Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Sinclair Lewis imagines American dictatorship: It can’t happen here … can it?

“More and more, as I think about history…I am convinced that everything that is worthwhile in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system, whatsoever.  But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.” – Doremus Jessup in Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here

 

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (image courtesy Goodreads)

It may seem strange that I choose to write about Sinclair Lewis’s dystopian satire, It Can’t Happen Here, for July 4th, the high holy day of the American ideal/experiment. Lewis’s novel is, after all, about the subversion of American democracy into a dictatorship. Worse, that dictatorship, is controlled by the leader of a political party called, presciently enough, The American Corporate State and Patriot Party. If ever someone seemed a political seer trying to warn us to consider the results of our actions, Lewis is that seer and It Can’t Happen Here is his warning. Published in 1935, the novel both reminds us of the complicated economic and political stresses of that time and, in an eerie way, reads (for anyone who has been paying attention over the last decade) like the playbook of – well, of both the “corporate citizen” and “patriot” movements within American politics.

For those who don’t know the work of Lewis (and, sadly, that will be far too many), his stock in trade as a novelist was the closely detailed, wittily sarcastic satirization of American life and culture. His masterpiece, Main Street, looks at the smug conservatism of American small towns; Babbitt is an indictment of bourgeois conformity and the practice of “boosterism” (called by another name today, but as rampant now as when Lewis wrote his novel); Arrowsmith, an inquiry into how science, specifically the practice of medicine, is affected by “expected” definitions of success; Elmer Gantry, his attempt to expose the hypocrisy of too many “big time” religious evangelists;  and Dodsworth, a critique of the wealthy (whom Lewis found intellectually empty and self-absorbed). Continue reading

Media

Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm: Continue reading

PTSD and moral injury are as old as mankind. (Image: Public Domain)

Warriors suffered from PTSD in the Middle Ages, too

After the Norman Conquest, bishops devised an ingenious way to deal with the component of PTSD known as moral injury.

PTSD and moral injury are as old as mankind. (Image: Public Domain)

PTSD and moral injury are as old as mankind. (Image: Public Domain)

Often a component of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, moral injury is defined thusly by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

In the context of war, moral injuries may stem from direct participation in acts of combat, such as killing or harming others, or indirect acts, such as witnessing death or dying, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders that are perceived as gross moral violations.

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20 years ago today: OJ’s famous ride

Remembering one of the most bizarre moments in American popular culture history.

JFK’s shooting. The Challenger explosion. 9/11. Where were you?

Our history occasionally presents us with events so iconic, tragic, traumatic, or perhaps flat-out weird that we can always tell you where we were when they happened (or when we found out). June 17, 1994 was one such moment for many of us: OJ Simpson’s 60-mile, low-speed chase through LA in the famed white Bronco. Continue reading