The road to personal riches and political influence in Washington, D.C., is well trod. From Congress to K Street and back. From the White House to K Street and back. From numerous executive branch appointments to K Street and back. It’s called “the revolving door.” (If you’d like a close look at how many former government employees and members of Congress have been seduced by the fat purses at K Street, the good folks at the Center for Responsive Politics will provide you details.)
Yes, I know: This isn’t news. It’s historical; it has happened for generations. It rarely draws the attention it ought to. (Hear that, CNN? New York Times? Washington Post? Network news? Get off the dinner party circuit, risk losing your access to the powerful, and dig into these people.)
But every now and then, a door revolves and disgorges something so egregious that any hope, any last shred of hope, that decent, fair, legislatively productive government is possible fades to black.
Meet Hazen Marshall (here and here). You can see in his LinkedIn profile that he’s “revolved” before.
“…the longer you live the more you will realize that the world is like a great shadow pervading our hearts. That is why the world seems so empty and eventually becomes unbearable.” – José Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda
Baltasar and Blimunda by Jose Saramago (image courtesy Goodreads)
After taking longer than I should have (and mewling and puking about it in the process) I have finished Portuguese Nobelist José Saramago’s masterful Baltasar and Blimunda from the 2015 reading list. It’s a powerful novel as both a tale of the mystery of love and as a novel of ideas. Saramago’s genius is his ability to wed these very disparate sorts of stories (romance, political statement). Saramago’s gift to readers is that he does both of these in a subtle, even elliptical way, introducing themes, spinning them out, spinning away from them, then gradually winding us back to them when we have all but forgotten them. Like a Scarlatti sonata, Baltasar and Blimunda is part entertainment, part education, and part expression of the artist’s view of the world.
More about the power of the imagination to do both good and evil than any other theme, Baltasar and Blimunda asks us to consider why we allow others’ ideas to control our destinies…. Continue reading →
In Huckabee’s America, all who fail to believe as he does are morally bankrupt
From Mike Huckabee’s announcement of his 2016 presidential campaign: “But we’ve lost our way morally. We have witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice, and are now threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity in demanding that we abandon Biblical principles of natural marriage. Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law and enforce it-upending the equality of our three branches of government and the separation of powers so very central to our Constitution. The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they can’t overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.”
Wherein I “prove” logic can be fun, for me at least.
Welcome to Day 1 of Logic 101. Don’t worry. It’s a one-day class. Actually, the “class” is only as long as it takes you to read this post. Homework may take anywhere from 0 seconds to a lifetime, depending on one’s tolerance for such exercises. Continue reading →
Sanders’ presidential campaign needs to detail specific measures to bend a corrupt, self-centered Congress into effective action on his agenda
Bernie Sanders, he who regularly tilts at NSA windmills and shouts at the hot air emitted by billionaires, says he’s running for president. In his 10-minute announcement, he displayed the media acumen of an irritated porcupine — prickly and impatient. He didn’t even have red, white, and blue balloons soaring patriotically into the sky.
No matter. The liberals and progressives disenchanted with all-but-nominated Hillary have gleefully fled to their new standard bearer. Trouble is, what’s Bernie’s standard to bear? He announced before crafting a website that clearly articulates what actions he would take to address domestic, economic, foreign, military, wealth inequality, and [insert your beef with Obama and Congress here] issues. The site touts only an apparent promise that something will appear soon — “Coming 5.26.15.” All that’s there now is, according to Bernie’s Facebook page, an email sign-up opp for “an unprecedented grass-roots effort.” The site notes that it’s “Paid for by Bernie 2016 (not the billionaires).”
But no matter. He’s got a strategist: “Tad Devine, one of the Democratic Party’s leading consultants and a former high-level campaign aide to Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis.” (Wait a minute: Didn’t those three guys lose?)
I took a bunch of rich kids to Baltimore in July of last year. We stayed at The Center, a fortified compound on the property of First & Franklin Presbyterian Church. My primary job was to keep the kids safe. I learned the access codes and the panic buttons. I learned which doors not to open, should anyone knock on them. I learned about the gates, a containment cage designed to prevent my empathy from endangering my fellow Christians.
I also learned about food deserts. Basically, a food desert is an urban environment in which the food is far away and the people have no reliable transport. Forget cars, the buses don’t circulate in the poor sections of Baltimore. We waited for two hours. Some empathetic locals emerged from their possibly condemned town house to warn us that the bus wasn’t coming and that we, positive vibes be damned, should be long gone before the sun went down. There is a metro station less than a mile away, downhill. Get going, children. Continue reading →
One of the first things I thought was that the campaign needs a song. Maybe two. It needs an artist, one of us. There are many candidates. Jason Isbell comes to mind. So does Jeffrey Dean Foster. And maybe Paul Lewis. Or The Lost Patrol or The Blueflowers. Or Don Dixon. You know, non-corporate artists.
I don’t know. But off the top of my head, I have a few ideas for the kind of thing we’re looking for. Like “Real Americans” by Matt Grimm.
Scott Archer Jones’s The Big Wheel is part cyberpunk dystopian thriller, part corporate espionage thriller. It’s also an interesting study of the search for identity.
The Big Wheel by Scott Archer Jones (image courtesy Goodreads)
Last year I reviewed Scott Archer Jones’s first novel Jupiter and Gilgamesh. A key theme I noted that made that novel of particular interest was its main character’s quest for his identity and the struggles he goes through to complete his quest.
Interestingly, that same theme pervades his second novel, The Big Wheel. That in itself might not be that noteworthy except that while Jupiter and Gilgamesh was clearly a work of literary fiction, The Big Wheel is a genre work, a techno-thriller with cyberpunk elements. But as with his previous novel, Jones explores issues of identity and understanding of the self, albeit in this latter case via a convoluted, almost Freudian version of the Jekyll and Hyde story. What makes The Big Wheel notable is not its well structured caper/chase narrative; what makes this novel notable is that theme of quest for identity. Continue reading →
“Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and other Republican hopefuls are already pushing to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 69 – which their big-business Republican donors have been urging for years.”
This is the kind of tepid thinking that lets those lazy olds off the hook way too easily. Continue reading →
I think both sides need to go back to the drawing table
I just saw a video that left me in a bit of a quandary. Unfortunately, it’s embedded in a Facebook post, so I’ll just have to link to it here rather than display it. The premise is simple enough. Kroger apparently permits open carry of firearms, at least in jurisdictions where that is legal. Upset gun control advocates would like Kroger to stop this practice.
Fair enough on its face. People want things to be different. They’re exercising their right to free speech to put pressure on the company. Fine.
“And men will not understand us…and the war will be forgotten – and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves…the years will pass by and we shall fall into ruin.” – Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (image courtesy Goodreads)
It is often called the greatest war novel of all time.
Erich Maria Remarque’s depiction of the horror of an ordinary soldier’s life in World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front, is a work of great power that haunts one long after one has completed it. Like other great examiners of war from Grimmelshausen to Stephen Crane to Norman Mailer to Kevin Powers, Remarque has the skill to give us the psychological horror of being lost on the battlefield – and lost at home.
What sets Remarque’s novel apart, of course, is that it is told from the point of view of an “enemy” soldier, Paul Baumer, a private in the German Imperial Army. (Simplicius, the hero of Grimmelshausen’s novel, is German, too. But since the Thirty Years’ War is only vague European history to Americans, one can safely assume that his nationality is not a matter of controversy.) One of the revelations, in fact, of All Quiet on the Western Front is the discovery that the ordinary German soldier felt much the same as the ordinary British soldier, the ordinary French soldier, the ordinary Russian soldier, the ordinary American soldier: like a pawn being moved – and sacrificed – without regard for his humanity. Ordinary people’s lives don’t count to the rich and powerful who believe themselves masters of history.
“I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” Hermann Hesse
Demian by Hermann Hesse (image courtesy Goodreads)
We turn in this next essay from the subtle, Zen inflected musings of Kawabata to another Nobelist, this one a lifelong yearning seeker of self understanding. In the original 2015 reading list I had chosen Hesse’s novel describing an artist’s search for spiritual fulfillment, Rosshalde, as my selection from the novelist whose lasting reputation owes as much to his adoption as spokesperson by the Boomer generation (a mistaken adoption) as to his literary merit (which is real). Instead, when it came time to pull Rosshalde from the shelf, I took it down and thought about how many times I’ve read Siddhartha which is a better treatment of the same themes as the earlier novel. Instead, I pulled out the Hesse novel next to Rosshalde, the lesser known and equally fascinating bildungsroman, Demian.
It turned out to be an interesting choice. I had not read Demian for many years, at least since the mid-seventies. Like most of my generation, I’d read Steppenwolf and Siddhartha as an undergraduate, taken in by the mystique attached to both books: in the case of the former, the “magic theater” section that suggests psychedelia (though there is no proof anywhere that Hesse ever used drugs) and in the latter its fable like retelling of the life of the Buddha. Both were, of course, very groovy, read in those heady times. But by the time I came to Demian I was a young teacher and part-time graduate student and had learned a bit more about the author Hesse besides that he wrote groovy books. I approached this tale of a youth’s search for self understanding, self confidence, and self acceptance in a more critical fashion. My assessment from that reading was that the novel was simply a quest narrative wrapped up in a bildungsroman.
Fabulous feminist foremother Adrienne Rich has died at the age of eighty-two. I once went to a reading of hers. It was unforgettably powerful. I have read most of her books including her non-fiction “Of Woman Born.” I loved her and always will. She was brilliant. She was fierce. She was unapologetically feminist and unapologetically lesbian. From her New York Times obit tonight:
Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century, died on Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 82. Continue reading →
I recently read that in the seventies, one Robert Byrn, a forty year old professor of criminal law at Fordham University, took it upon himself to represent in court all human fetuses between the fourth and twenty-fourth week of gestation scheduled to be aborted in New York City municipal hospitals. Byrn’s attorney, Thomas Ford, made the following amazing statement: “The fetus might well be described as an astronaut in a uterine spaceship.” Continue reading →
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the opposite of free trade
Like many, I have my share of disappointments with Obama. On balance, he’s infinitely preferable to any of the plausible Republican alternatives—can you imagine what Mitt Romney or John McCain and a Republican Congress would be getting up to these days? Still, there are areas—global warming in particular—where I wish he had been more aggressive. I fully concede the limits of what may have been possible throughout his term, given the implacable opposition he has been facing. But still, it would have been good to see a more deliberate attempt to change the trajectory of things.
The ongoing corporatization of nearly everything would have been another place to start. I suppose the failure to pursue the banks aggressively should have been a tip-off that the Clinton financial people were still running the show. Plus the Obama administration’s unwillingness to try to put Elizabeth Warren as head of her brainchild, the new (and pretty efficient, I gather) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (although she has had her payback.) When people start telling me that there’s no real difference between the two parties, in the finance area I tend to agree, with some notable exceptions like Warren. Continue reading →
Let’s be quite clear where that takes you: Apartheid South Africa.
75% of Israel’s population is of Jewish descent; a little over 6 million people. But the overall population of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is 14 million.
In a unified state, without any prospect for Palestinian independence, Jewish Israelis are instantly a minority group. Netanyahu has to ensure that Jewish Israelis continue to “rule” and so, just as importantly to his manifesto, is that Jewish Israelis must have more rights to protect them from that majority. Continue reading →
The London School of Economics and Political Science calls the following ten books “must-reads” for Women’s History Month this year. I draw your attention to the review of Recoding Gender, which mentions the story of a very successful woman-owned American tech company that relied heavily on flexible scheduling and home-based work for women. When the company tried to expand into Denmark, however, it turned out that Danish women had little interest in working from home because of the well-developed child care system in that country. This leads me to wonder what the impact here might be if we actually offered child care like it is offered in Denmark and many other European countries. I am also especially interested in getting to my book shelf Gender, Agency, and Political Violence, which invites readers to reconsider the agency of female suicide bombers and also examines the masculinity and emotional depth of men imprisoned during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Actually, if money were not an issue, all ten of these books would be on their way to my bookshelf. Continue reading →