Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Experimenting With Comparative Silence

Its only comparative. I'm still trying to do two or three things at once.  Baby steps.  Two days ago I began experimenting with eliminating my electronic tethers--my computer and my iPhone--from the bedroom after 9:00 pm.  Its a bit difficult to do right now because Mr. Aimai is out of town right now and I need to talk to him or text with him at night.  And our daughter, the Jethi Chori, is away at school and I like to text with her at night.  But, on the other hand,  what I really do with all this electronica is bounce around the internet all night long and I can never fall asleep from the hum drum excitement of the constantly refreshed screen. The most interesting thing about exiling my computer is that I've discovered that the urge to check email, or check in with the innumerable conversations I have online, or google some fact, or check to see if I need to order some book or gift, is like a kind of uncontrollable tic.  As I sit in the bedroom reading, or sewing, or watching TV and reading and sewing--so I'm still multitasking--I can feel my mind wandering from what I'm doing and I reach instinctively for my googlebox thinking "I'll just check" or "I wonder what that actor's name is?" or "what are the exact dates of this event in the book I'm reading?"  There's always a good reason to do this. But the leap from the thing itself to the internet is terribly destructive to actually doing whatever you are doing.  It seems like its additive but its really subtracting.  I realize that I was watching tv, or reading a book, or working on some writing,  and also sitting with my computer open in my lap, and my iphone ready to hand, in case on or the other connection was slow.  So I might toggle between working on an online book and reading the internet on my iphone, or texting with one child while surfing the internet on the computer.   At any rate last night was the second night, for me, of the new regime and I was positively giddy as the hour approached when I could put away the computer and the phone and consider myself unreachable.   Now if I could only put this into practice during the day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No One Gets Out Of Here Alive

Its been a tough week here.  The father of my daughter's best friend died, suddenly, leaving two adolescent girls and his wife three days before Thanksgiving.  Then two nights ago a neighbor's adult son died in his sleep, leaving his mother alone.   Today I'm cooking dinner for the family, slowly walking around the kitchen and meditatively preparing moroccan chicken tagine with roasted cinnamon squash and eggplant, a pot of Italian Wedding Soup, Mujadhara, endive salad and little chocolate pots de creme.  The Soup is for my neighbor, who lives alone.  The rest is for the family of my daughter's friend.  Its peaceful doing this and, for me, its like a kind of walking meditation.  This would make more sense if I'd ever published my post about starting Yoga.  Also I've come back to report that the soup was absolutely inedible and got tossed but the pots de creme were among the best I've ever made.

Monday, December 1, 2014

On Ferguson and Separate Worlds

I've been reading a wonderful book--Writing With Scissors--and it seems very apropos for what is going on right now with media coverage of the murder of Michael Brown.  You wouldn't think it, of course, from the book's title: Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance and some of the reviewers on Amazon are mighty disappointed that it doesn't tell you more about scrapbooking techniques.  But as I've been reading it, in conjunction with a few other books on the Civil War, Race Relations, Gender and Race I've learned something new and important.  Maybe its not new to everyone and maybe it shouldn't even be new to me but, damn, you are never too late to learn something new about an old subject. What Garvey teaches us is that there exists a publicly shared medium--such as newspapers--that through a raced and gendered activity like scrapbooking can create and entrench a cultural set of meanings, a shared history and also mark, fix, and contest that shared history.  You can see it in the different ways Northern and Southern (white) women and men clipped, circulated, shared, and pasted stories and news accounts of the Civil War and its aftermath. And you can see it in the way the newly freed African American slaves clipped, circulated, shared, pasted, and commented on stories in the post war white and black press.

Of the wartime scrapbooks Garvey argues that North and South drew on separate news sources but, where they had to share news sources clipped or ignored specific pieces of news in such a way as to build up or explore their own "side" of the conflict.  Certain emotionally significant pieces of story, memoir, or poetry transcended sides by being clipped and stripped of identifying markers such as poems of grief and loss about infants, which could stand in for loss of soldier sons without attributing a Northern or Southern valence to the story.  After the war, Garvey demonstrates, the two sides both joined in creating new, shared, memories of the privations of the war and also handled the post war period differently.  When read in conjunction with David Blight's magesterial Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory you can see individual citizens actually performing the act of remembering and forgetting that he describes on a National, political scale performing the same function in the intimacy of their own homes, in the privacy of their own grief.

 Blight demonstrates, through a study of speeches and public acts, the ways in which the War against Slavery and the Reconstruction itself were slowly vanished from public discourse in favor of praise for a shared "soldier's faith" and "soldier's duty" and an imaginary union of mourning mothers for all the dead (white) sons.  Garvey shows this happening with specific poems, stories, and recipes or memoirs of Southern White suffering which come to circulate in the North as well as the South.  Garvey also shows us that the war for the understanding of the war which was happening in scrapbooks throughout the conflict ended in a different way and at a different time for North and South.  Not surprisingly, but shockingly, Northern Scrapbooks end with Lincoln's assassination while Southern Scrapbooks end five years later with Lee's death.  One way of looking at this fact is that the horror of Lincoln's assassination basically kills off the ability or desire of the Northern scrapbooker to contemplate the war and its meaning.  While the refusal of Southern Scrapbookers to "end" scrapbooking at, say, Appomatox, is a sign that Southern Scrapbookers continued to see the war as happening, and the meaning of the war, in a historical and cultural sense as something to be fought over.  The war ended for the North with the winning, while the South continued to fight for its "lost cause" through other means.  Garvey has some data on the post war publication of anthologies of Southern wartime domestic writing and poetry and its sale up North which proves the point.  While the North failed to spread the gospel of abolition and freedom through cultural motifs like poetry, short stories, recipes, and memoirs of the struggle the South rushed to fill the gap, very self consciously, and sold these stories in national newspapers and magazines specifically aimed at a new pedagogy of the Southern Cause.  Since the war for freedom included Reconstruction, losing the war for the definition of the struggle resulted in a failure of Northern/Republican willingness to fight for Reconstruction--as you can see in Blight's account of famous abolitionist Greeley's turn towards Southern sympathizer after the war.

What does all this have to do with Ferguson and the current rise of overt White Racist language and viewpoints in the press? The second half of Garvey's book introduces us to the world of African American Scrapbooks which served an entirely different purpose from white people's scrapbooks--a historical and polemical purpose from the get go.  Fredrick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, like other public figures (white and black) kept scrapbooks of their own exploits, lectures, and public appearances. And they also kept scrapbooks as a way of fixing public accounts of atrocities and historic events which would not be reported anyplace other than the newspapers.  Douglass and (I believe but I'm not going back to check before posting) Wells and others urged ordinary African American citizens to cut and paste incidents such as lynchings or other violence against the ex-slaves so that if they were called upon to testify or to present written testimony they would have the information/proof at their fingertipes.  No public libraries, or no access to public libraries for blacks and no access to newspaper morgues for blacks meant that buying and clipping news stories as they happened was the only way for African Americans to gain access to their own historical record: to clip, paste, read and share newspaper accounts was the only way to participate in maintaining a historical record.  But, like Southern writers who had to clip Northern accounts of the war, African American scrapbookers used their scrap collecting to "talk back" to a presumably hostile account, a foreign account, of a shared history.  Garvey has fantastic examples from several important male scrapbookers** who used their positions (in one case as a janitor) to access reams of newspaper and other accounts and who cut and pasted those accounts in a very organized way to respond to or critique the partial nature of white newspaper accounts of black life.  One of these albums (or several of these albums) were focused on "Negro Centenarians" since the occasion of a person reaching 100 years of age was considered so important and remarkable that even white papers would cover it.  The scrapbooker used white and black accounts (if available) pasting them up together so that one "responded" to the other--the respectful nature of the black account pointing up the disrespectful nature of the white account.   At the time these scrapbooks were put together a Centenarian would have been a child during the Revolutionary war and Garvey argues that the scrapbooker was asserting, through these clipped obituaries or notes, on a US history in which black people were always present, always significant, always part of US history.

Garvey touches on a very interesting aspect of this shared but contested history: that children and teens were exposed, in African American families, to a kind of news/history that was hidden from white children and teens.  Because AA scrapbooking was seen as an important historical and educational duty a teen might be shown a scrapbook full of accounts of lynching, at a time when white teens were scrapbooking romantic images and pictures from Hollywood or of celebrities. AA scrapbooking was political and intertextual, while post war white scrapbooking was personal and focused on ideas of personal growth, success, and popular culture.  Garvey tells a story of a young AA woman receiving shocked criticism from her white teacher for having a scrapbook filled with "horrors" like lynching instead of bobby soxer style concerns.

This post is way too long for anyone to read so I'll just jump to my point which is that you can see the same thing happening right now, with the supposed "news" from Ferguson--the white and black viewpoints expressed in comment threads around the country show a completely balkanized news circulation: white people (minus liberals and radicals) believe that they "know" the "facts" of the case as reported to them by unimpeachable news sources that Darren Wilson was viciously attacked by an enormous, drugged up, black thief and he had to shoot to protect himself and the at risk population around him.  Black people and the white people who follow a different set of publications or Internet sources know that an unarmed black teenager was killed by an out of control white cop who along with his entire police force had a history of jacking up and arresting black people for minor offenses so that fines could be levied that would pay for the entire police/justice apparatus without raising taxes on white citizens. See Radley Balko's invaluable article on this point.  White people who aren't paying attention, or who are actively pursuing a racist agenda, believe that the protests were always riots and that riots are always proof of criminal intent masquerading as political action.  Black people and (some) whites know that riots are the natural result of a pattern of confrontation and aggression from the police and the political hierarchy which stifle ordinary means of representation and accountability.  White people hear that black people get shot all the time because they are criminals so when they hear, if they do, that a 12 year old boy named Tamir Rice was shot by two police officers, or that a perfectly innocent man who entered a stairwell when two police officers were patrolling got shot without warning, they assume that the police officers must have had a "legitimate reason."  The rest of us know that the police are out of control and completely unaccountable at this point. But basically to the extent that we are seeing the same media we are clipping, pasting, and circulating different stories about our national life.  One party clips, pastes, twitters and circulates a set of stories about out of control, animalistic, blacks and one clips, pastes, twitters and circulates a counter story.  But the two accounts don't intersect and only one talks back to the other or presupposes that the official story is not the real story.

If we lose this battle for the meaning of Michael Brown's death, or Tamir Rice's death or John Crawford's death we are, like the ex-slaves and the abolitionists, going to lose the battle for the heart and soul of the country. We are going to lose our chance to move this country forward.  We can't afford to be complacent about this.

**No time here to go into why the gender of the scrapbookers changes when you move from the white community to the black community but it would be a very interesting study.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Food Stamper, Please!

I guess Scalawag is the New Black?

ScalawagsAs I keep saying, I'm not surprised they go after the poors, but that they go after the disabled...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Can Of Worms Has Been Weaponized

Apparently the Supreme Court has weaponized a can of worms.  Not to mix my metaphors but let the popcorn popping begin.

Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have filed motions asking a U.S. court to block officials from preventing the inmates from taking part in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The lawyers argue that – in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision – the detainees’ rights are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The motions were filed this week with the Washington D.C. district court on behalf of Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan. U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve said both men asked for the intervention after military officials at the prison "prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan."
During Ramadan, a month of prayer and reflection that began last weekend, Muslims are required to fast every day from sunrise to sunset. But what is at issue in this case is the ability to perform extra prayers, called tarawih, "in which [Muslims] recite one-thirtieth of the Quran in consecutive segments throughout the month."

The Only Ethical Thing To Do In Missisippi

Booman has a really revolting piece up today about the "ethical way to win in Mississippi" for the Democratic Party, in the form of Travis Childers.  I tried reading the piece as a poorly informed white Democratic voter (which I am not)  and then I tried reading the post as Black Democratic voter (which I am not) and I came away disgusted at the short sighted, cowardly, approach he assumes Childers should take. The whole discussion reminds me of the way the Democrats have only recently come to realize how important "the women's vote" is but they still don't seem to value the non-white women's vote over the white women's vote.  One of those two groups--non white women and single women--vote overwhelmingly for Democrats when they are appealed to directly. Only apathy and disconnection prevent younger, single, non white women from voting.  White women are, comparatively, more Republican and conservative.  They vote and they vote regularly but they are not reliably Democratic votes.  Isn't this the case with Mississippi? Its something like 30 percent AA voters and they are solidly Democratic voters who are underrepresented in elections instead of serving as a powerful wedge forcing Senators like Cochran to the left (if he wants their vote) and bringing people like Childers to the left if he wants their votes as well.  

 Basically the issue is this: The race is now and always has been between Cochran and Some other Guy with enough votes.  Cochran squeaked through with the help of some AA/Democratic voters.  And he may have lost a lot of McDaniel's voters because of it. Does that make Childers (D) finally a player in the eventual race?  Well--Childers can try to get in as a blue dog democrat on a pro to racist line, with the help of McDaniel's voters or he can try to run an all out, balls to the wall, race against Cochran looking primarily for progressive voters and AA voters energized, presumably, by their recent foray into tipping point politics when they took the primary from McDaniel.  Which is best for Democrats and Democratic voters long term?

Booman answers the question this way

What interests me about this race is the ethics. It's pretty clear that the Republican Party is badly split between supporters of incumbent Thad Cochran, who is a decent fellow, and his challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who runs in neo-confederate circles and has the support of an extreme Tea Party faction. This wedge pre-exists anything Childers might do to exploit it. If Childers can convince a significant percentage of McDaniel supporters to vote for him, he can actually win this seat, but it is not clear how he can go about doing that without leveraging the racism that is at the core of opposition to Cochran.
Cochran was expected to lose his run-off with McDaniel but exceeded expectations by convincing a not inconsiderable number of black voters to back him. The Tea Party faction is claiming that a lot of these black voters violated the law by voting in the Republican run-off after voting in the Democratic primary. That issue can be settled in court, but regardless of legal merits, Cochran's open solicitation of black votes is seen as dirty pool by McDaniel's supporters who think that a Republican primary should be decided by exclusively Republican voters regardless of what the law specifies.
Travis Childers has the option of exacerbating this racial tension for his own political advantage, but this would be the wrong thing to do. Yet, if he doesn't do it, he will almost certainly lose. In fact, even if he does do it, he will probably lose.

"Democrats in Washington are watching the feud cautiously, not yet convinced it will put even Mississippi in play. The Democratic nominee, Mr. Childers, has raised little money and was always seen as a good candidate against Mr. McDaniel but as a marginal one against Mr. Cochran.
Conservative activists are not so sure. Dwayne Hall, vice president of the Miller County Patriots, a Tea Party group in Texarkana, Ark., says he has set up a Google alert for the McDaniel-Cochran fight and emails his network of fellow activists all the news from Mississippi.
“I’m no longer a member of the Republican Party, and I’d expect a lot of my fellow patriots to resign, too,” he said, adding: “I’m perfectly willing to do a protest vote in November if that’s my best option. I’m keeping that option open.”

 Booman again:
So, how can Childers convince people like Dwayne Hall to advocate on his behalf without dirtying himself with the racial politics of it all? Childers needs to nurture that "protest vote," but he doesn't want to shame himself in the process. So far, he's walking the tightrope.
Its not ok to look at the race this way.  Its not a game of parlor ethics--its life and death for the party and its voters.  Its not ok to toss away the advantage that AA voters bought, against strong headwinds and voter apathy (which white democratic voters also show at primaries).   Its not ok to spit in the face of AA voters by appealing to a racist spite voter.  AA voters are, for once, in a good position politically--if Cochran has to beg and plead with them for votes to get in over Childers that's good for the local AA constituents.  If Childers has to beg and plead for the local AA voters, rather than taking them for granted, that is good for the AA voters and for the Democratic party long term.  We are better off as a party being clearly identified with progressive causes and with AA voters than hemming, hawing, and begging for crazy teabagger votes.  If Childer's needs a strategy it should be to ratfuck Cochran with the McDaniel's voters without for a minute publicly asking for their votes or doing anything other than making a strong play for 1) traditional Democratic voters and 2) Republican voters who are disgusted with both Cochran and McDaniel for whatever reason.  AA voters and the AA community bought both Cochran and Childers some breathing space--they should be rewarded by the party that wants their votes, not treated as unimportant compared to the angry white teabagger vote.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Woah. Another Poem Put Here For Future Reference.

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 05:41 PM:
The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days --
Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.
The universe winds down. That's how it's made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

This appeared at Making Light, by the writer John M. Ford who seems to have written it spontaneously for that thread.  It is too beautiful and I needed to preserve it somewhere for future reference. I hope that is all right with the author.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Poem Someone Else Linked To

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

--Billy Collins

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Believe in Inequality? Why, I've Seen It Done!

Interesting David Leonhardt article about Piketty's theory of inequality.

So I called Piketty at his office in Paris, and he agreed to walk me through it.

He suggested imagining a hypothetical village from centuries ago in which neither the population nor the economy was growing. Every year, the village produced the same amount of goods for the same number of people to divide — a reality that was typical before the Enlightenment, when material living standards and human longevity barely rose. (The peasants of the 15th century were not better off than peasants in ancient Rome.) Even in a zero-growth society, however, assets that helped people produce goods — also known as capital — had value. Capital, Piketty told me, counts as anything “useful, any kind of equipment. Basic tools. Stones in prehistorical times.” Anything, in other words, that “makes people more productive.”
In our hypothetical village, a large farm might produce $10,000 worth of crops in a year and yield $1,000 in profit for its owner. A small farm might have the same 10 percent rate of return: $1,000 in annual crop sales, yielding $100 in profit. If the large farmer and small farmer each spent all of their money every year, the situation could continue ad infinitum, Piketty said, and the rate of inequality in the village would not change.
But one of capital’s great advantages is that its owners can make enough income to spend some of their money and sock the rest of it away. If the large farmer saved $500 of that $1,000 profit, he could buy more capital, which would bring more profit. Perhaps a few owners of smaller farms had debts to pay, and one of the large farmers bought them out. Eventually, the owner of the expanding farm might find himself owning land that yielded $1,500 or $2,000 in annual profit, allowing him to put aside more and more for future capital acquisitions. Less-stylized versions of this story have been playing out for centuries.
I have come to think of this idea as Piketty’s First Law of Inequality. The fact that the rich earn enough money to save money allows them to make investments that other people simply cannot afford. 

As I was reading about this imaginary village I realized I'd lived in just such a village, in Nepal 25 years ago.  And it was obvious how a basic inequality of capital influenced inequality of outcome.  I lived in a big house, owned by a wealthy family, in a region where people produced for subsistence.  The biggest inputs after land itself was seed, water, and human labor (performed largely by family members and especially women family members.)  Large families had more labor, but large families also tended to divide land and end up with smaller plots.  Wealthy families farmed their land by hiring labor from poorer families.  This was done with a combination of money and manipulation of important local inputs like food, seed, water, loans, gifts, and social connections.  A wealthy family, like my family, could afford to loan out food and to hoard seed in return for labor at a season in which labor was in demand.  Poor families, which needed that labor themselves, needed food or seed during other parts of the year. An underdeveloped market for other products, no ready cash, no banking system other than loans extended by rich families, meant that they had to trade what they had (labor) in exchange for necessities when their bargaining power was low.   Even where poor families owned something of value--land, gold, labor--the leverage that wealthy families had over poor families was the ability to time their transactions.  Larger amounts of something desirable (land, gold, labor, power, seed, water, government connections) meant that wealthy families could use their surplus at seasonally or socially critical times to force access to labor at other critical times at a price they preferred.  Sound familiar?

So why isn't it inevitable?  Well, lots of things can break into the system--new technology can replace family technology and make small families more productive (so they don't have to split their land up among too many children).  New sources of off farm employment can arise--in the case of Nepal, in the old days, men who went off to serve with the Gurkhas could send cash back to buy new land, in new locations, or to employ laborers to take their own place in the system. Each of these influxes of cash money into the economy disrupted the control of the former elites.  Education which created new choices for elites other than farming drew elite families out of the village entirely and rendered farming and control over the farming economy irrelevant.  For an interim period, before the collapse of the farming economy, foreign seed banks and low cost loans also intervened between local elites and their control over the labor economy.  No system has to stay at the equilibrium preferred by the elites. As Leonhardt and Piketty both argue rising inequality is a choice.

Cross posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

With Friends Like These

Mayor Clevenger was forced to step down after townspeople object to being "slimed" by association with his support for the man who recently shot several Christians in an attempted murder of Jews.  He praised the murderer with faint damns and some of his constituents objected.    But you get the feeling that not everyone's heart was in it.

A woman who stood next to him also spoke.
"I personally know and love a Jew," she said. "I have a grandson who is Jewish."
After saying that, she added that the investment firm of Goldman Sachs in New York City has played a large role in damaging the U.S. economy.
One speaker said Clevenger's comments not only engendered fallout locally but "across the nation."
She said Clevenger was hurting businesses, including local restaurants, as well as the Hillbilly Gas Mart.

Sometimes you get the feeling the jokes would write themselves but they have chosen suicide, instead.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Two Peoples Divided By A Single Language

JMM has a little note up about Michelle Obama's continuing efforts to make life a little easier and less horrific for military families.  Its no big deal--First Ladies have always taken up a popular cause, worked hard on it, and done something for the selected group as well as for their husband's public standing and the office of First Lady's public standing.  But I have been in arguments with true believers on the Right who insist that the President and Mrs. Obama are personally rude to the military they encounter while flying around the world, or walking into events.  Despite the many pictures of the President and First Lady comfortably interacting with the military, donating services and time to military families, bringing military family members to the Conventions and Speeches, etc..etc...etc... these people are convinced that in private the President and First Lady literally walk by the outstretched hands of the military, snubbing them when they are not in public. "They don't even say Thank You for your Service!"

This is all part of the general right wing assertion that the President is both a Machiavellian strong man and also an ineffectual boob and wimp.  It also goes well with the argument that Michelle is a trashy, lazy, fat, Marie Antoinette, completely out of touch with the real duties of a real First Lady and only in it for the glamor and snacks.  Of course if they are evil through and through everything they do that is apparently good must be either truly evil or at least understood as fake and for show.  So every public good deed, in the right wing imaginary, must be balanced by an identical reversal of itself in private.

For these people, as I believe Ezra Klein just noted in the Vox piece I'm not bothering to read, the evidence of their eyes reinforces the beliefs they already hold and what they see can never contradict what they know.  In fact: the more pictures they see of Michelle and Jill Biden doing things for the Military the more convinced they will be that its all a lie. They can't even grant Michelle enough machiavellian evil nature to assume she can carry on the fraud in private.

I've got no clever cure for this. Its just an observation.  To the extent that we share any values with the right wing at this point--even love for fluffy kittens, or cute babies, or veterans--we still can't share any real work with them administratively or on policy. Because their goals and their sense of our motives and intentions are so askew.

Cross Posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Book of Woe

I'm reading The Book of Woe Gary Greenberg's very much "inside baseball" account of the infighting and the egos involved in the construction of the DSM. The book is a bit overwritten, and a bit too much about personalities and conflict between individual people rather than about the big ideas underlying the struggle--or maybe thats just where I am in the book and this is corrected for later. But reading the book has really made me understand what is going on in the recent horrifying cases of "medical child abuse" at Children's Hospital--its a battle between specalities and specialists for control over the definition of a complex, badly understood, illness or syndrome. And the psychiatrists are winning even though they have literally nothing to show for their belief that their diagnosis is superior to the medical doctors whose theories they are usurping. I'll put a link up to the Kosdiary which interested me in this subject and if you follow it down the rabbit hole it will take you to a series of Boston Globe Articles which are, unfortunately, behind a paywall. But the gist of it is this: in the US your child can be suffering from a complicated disorder, with really serious, measurable, knock on effects for her health. You can follow the medical regime that your doctors order, paid for by your insurance company, but if you walk through the door of Children's Hospital to see a specialist and the Hospital Psychiatric Staff decide that you are the problem you can lose all control of your life, and your child's life and there is basically no recourse. Your child can be taken from you and forced to live on a hospital ward for months, and then put into a locked psychiatric ward, against your wishes and hers. And all based on an unproven hunch by a psychiatrist that you and your child are colluding in creating the "somatization" of a psychological problem which is, apparently, producing the real medical conditions for which you were admitted.

 One of the fascinating things, to me, about this struggle is that the villain of the piece according to the doctors is the mother, always the mother. In true DSM style they have manufactured a seemingly reliable "checklist" of categories for the Hospital Staff to cite which include "mother is too educated" or "uses the internet." Of course every single parent who has had anything to do with the medical treatment of their child is urged to "be their child's advocate" and "learn enough to follow along" on the medical recommendations. And anyone who has ever been involved with the care of an adult loved one in the hospital knows that you are always held at fault by the staff if, because you weren't there "advocating" your patient was neglected.

 I've been in hospitals for the care of my elderly in laws, my own great aunt, my grandparents, a neighbor, and my husband. Being pro-active and aware of the medical and social issues surrounding the care you are getting isn't some kind of weird thing that bitchy, crazy, parents do to gain attention or because they are in a folie a famille but a natural outgrowth of the complexity and incoherence of the hospital situation. Sometimes you are the only person on the floor who is paying the slightest attention to your child or your relative. Sometimes you are the only person other than the primary care physician who is thinking about the whole patient, the whole case--most of the nursing staff and the innumerable people who come in and out to take the vitals are offering at most fragmented attention and have zero interest in, or knowledge of, the entirety of the patient's history.

 Ultimatley this is a struggle for control over the body of a living child, a living child with horrendous health symptoms and no clear diagnosis or obvious treatment plan and no good prognosis. Its terrifying to me that the role of her own family in supporting her emotionally, in just being her family and loving her, is so disregarded and so meaningless to the hospital staff that her parents can be declared the problem and the child taken away from them as though she were a car that was just being taken to a new garage. I took my child to Children's Hospital with Pneumonia and when she was very young--3 or 4--I slept in the chair next to her bed for three days. Family are more than technical, legal, guardians of small humans. We can't be replaced by medical fiat. I can't imagine the arrogance and the cruelty of hospital staff who think that it would be healthy for any young child to be isolated from her family for months on end with no replacement other than a shifting set of hospital nurses and cleaning staff. The CT Girl was under the care of a set of Doctors at Tufts--if she was "misdiagnosed" with "Mito" (the nickname for a possibly made up disease known as Mitochondrial disorder) surely it is down to those doctors, it is the fault of those doctors, and the solution lies in a sit down and agreement among all the doctors whose various diagnoses conflict. But the Children's Hospital doctors who explicitly reject the expertise of the Tufts Doctors refuse to engage in a direct, peer to peer, conflict which they might lose and instead turn their guns on the parents. The (male) doctors at Tufts are thought to be, somehow, under the thumb of the female parent--she forced them to make the diagnosis? She blinded them with maternity? I'm not at all surprised that a conflict between professional equals gets smoothed over by accusing a woman of being the cause of everything, but I am surprised that this kind of sleight of hand is uncritically accepted as perfectly normal and legal by the legal professionals involved.

Monday, February 24, 2014

This is surprisingly easy to understand.  We had a pretty good discussion about this at Alicublog yesterday and I summed it up this way:

...I think there is some really weird way in which the very people voting for these bills, and even those who support these bills, actually do imagine that the bills are largely harmless and even innocent of real malice. I think we never go broke underestimating the total inability of these people to add one and one and get to two, or to plumb the depths of their own malice, or to recognize that what differentiates collective action from private action is scale.
For example I think that people who support these discriminatory laws actually fail to think it through--just like anti abortionists who talk windily of abortion as murder routinely deny a willingness to actually lock women up as murderers and are even shocked that anyone interviewing them would take such a sharp tone about things. People really don't take any moral or intellectual responsibility for the logical implications of the acts they support or the legislation they write. My guess is that a large number of these people don't even think that their fellow bigots are actually planning to make life miserable for a fairly large subset of the community as in all gay people. When they imagine the impact of the law its like this:
Elderly wedding photographer can refuse flaming queer couple...
My grandma the pharmacist can refuse to poison a baby in the womb...
They totally don't imagine the havoc caused by wholesale refusal to provide services to an unknown and indeterminate number of people by everyone from the registrar of deeds to the parking attendant at the mall. They don't imagine the deaths potentially caused by some nurse refusing to give cpr to that "old gay guy" and they don't imagine that people like them, or cousin sal, or whoever might get "mistaken" for gay and not be served somewhere.
In short they lack honesty, probity, forethought, and the basic principle upon which democracy rests: that which is hateful to you, do not do to others/do unto others that which you would have them do unto you. Put yourself in the position of the person being legislated against as well as in the position of the imaginary top dog whose rights are being protected.

They are acting from what they perceive as a position of weakness, like a child that strikes out at a parent, breaks a lamp, and then wails "I didn't mean it!"  Or perhaps I mean a child who breaks the lamp to get the parent's attention and then realizes, after the fact, that negative attention is not what they really wanted at all.  This explains their surprise when people outside of the state, and people with whom their state does business, began protesting and proposing boycotts.  They operate from the perspective that gays are both everywhere and a mere fringe minority. They legislated against a hated, frightening, everywhere bogeyman and now they are shocked to discover that there are enough friends of dorothy out there, and concerned fellow citizens, to make little bits of local legislation seem highly problematic and uneconomical.

Aside from the obvious point that the legislators involved in voting for this bill didn't read or understand it I think its also the case that they see such legislation as permitting a small number of passionate voters (voters like themselves, their base voters) to experience a little temporary relief from an oppressive new majority moral code which makes them all feel sad, bad, and all minority-ish.  The law was an expressive act, a gesture, not meant to be taken factually or understood in any utilitarian way.

 For us the bill is a slippery slope--deny gay people access to one set of rights and you have, in effect, denied them food, water, and fire as the old Romans did to their exiles. Deny these rights to gay people and you deny them to all of us.  But to the legislators, who prefer to think in concrete, tiny, comparamentalized units, the bill merely prevents gay people from pushing their way into individual shops.  Not all the shops at the same time.  Merely prevents gay people from forcing granny to rent to them.  It doesn't potentially prevent them from renting from everyone.  You could hear them explaining this on the radio and in interviews. For example they kept stressing that if your pharmacist chose to begin shrieking "baby killer" and refusing to give you contraception that the large corporation would probably have someone else serve you, or direct you down the road to the next nearest babykilling corporation pharmacy which would no doubt be very near.  They saw, or pretended to see, this as merely legislating a compromise of rights, a carve out, quite small.  They are genuinely shocked to see a stable full of horses, gay people, and allies bolting for the door.  Its a bit rich coming from the party of slippery slope fame where any attempt to stem mass gun violence, even by a blind man, is prevented in the name of absolute second amendment rights.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Death Becomes Us

I'm a huge fan of Caleb Wilde's writing on funerals and death, and I even read his site for fun, but I think he's gotten the wrong end of the stick here in this little post about funeral selfies. Apparently people are taking pictures at funerals, sometimes even of themselves with the corpse, or clowning around with the coffin, or with other mourners. They are even posting them up on social media. Caleb begins well with the rather obvious historical point that images of the deceased,and images of the mourners, are nothing new:
There’s a long history of funeral photography. Heck, I think there’s a one million year old photo of a dead Homo erectus floating around the internet. There may even be one of dead Jesus somewhere on Reddit. And there are certainly thousands of “odd” and “creepy” post-mortem photographs from the Victorian era. But, unlike the cadaver selfie or the boneheaded military photo, funeral photography is usually motivated by some kind of love. Intent is part of the issue when talking about funerals and photography, etc. Why do it? What’s the motivation? And although the motivation isn’t always clear, it is clear most take these photos as a token of remembrance. A token of love.
But he winds up asserting that these pictures, now, by these people are not obvious evidence of exactly the same thing--rememberance, love, but rather take place in an entirely new context, a context he calls "fragmentation" resulting from our "mosaic" and "quilt" like lives.
“But isn’t the selfie – by definition – an act of narcissism?” you ask. At first glance, yes. Selfies would seem like the epitome of narcissism, and indeed many are self-serving. But many (most) – especially the ones taken by those who find themselves in the emerging culture of social media – funeral selfies are about both belonging and identity. Emerging culture has moved from the neatly defined groups/tribes of pluralism to the blending of fragmentation. We are like quilts. We’re like mosaics. With fragmentation, the social rules that come with the strictly defined boundaries of pluralism become less and less important. With fragmentation, belonging and identity become of prime importance. Belonging and identity is decorum. Social media is how many of us relate to the world. And the selfie plays a part in that relationship. It is a way of saying “this is where I am at. This is what I’m doing. This is who I am. These are my stupid duck lips.” And the funeral selfie is how we say, “This part of my community has died and I just wanted to let you know.” In the minds of many, taking a selfie with the deceased is right because it’s about expressing a connection to the deceased and wanting to share that connection with others. It’s about identity and belonging.
I think that is just an incredibly weird way of looking at what people are doing. Its not because they are fragmented, or society is fragmented, or they are patching together a self in a mosaic. Or they are violating some kind of funeral decorum. They are simply doing what they have always done at funerals: experiencing them as social events, showing themselves to the community, being with their peers and friends, waking the dead, taking pictures or mementoes of the relationship (even gruesome ones like locks of hair or, in some cultures, actual body parts) and then hanging on to those mementoes (hair jewelry, for example, or bones themselves) and displaying them or ritually inspecting them.

 Funeral photos are a late addition to the practice of looking at, holding, touching and interacting with the body and a novel way of taking a memento from the body.     Funeral Photos, and specifically photos of dead people in their coffins, were an early way to display wealth, to solemnize an already solemn occasion, and to offer comfort and a last view to family members who were too far away to attend the funeral. Often those pictures, along with wedding pictures, might be the only mementoes people would have of their loved ones. (The Selfie, by the way, is something that people can take away from the funeral that includes themselves, so its a record of their presence there. It is also the obverse of the gifts and tokens that people have always left in the grave with their loved ones--people routinely leave pictures, gifts, and letters right in the coffin with the dead and this is not considered tacky or problematic at all.)

 How and why are "selfies" except for the unfortunate name any different from any other funeral ritual? Even solemnity and privacy are not typical of many funeral and memorial styles--drunken wakes are, of course, quite legendary as celebrations. Different people, at different stages of their life cycle, and with different support from the community are going to experience different kinds of deaths as more traumatic or less traumatic, they are going to express their loss in a more dark or a more lighthearted way. Its true that selfies are associated with younger people and the new technology of the iPhone and social media spaces like Facebook (already old) and twitter or instagram but thats just an accident really--people already left funerals and wrote about them, or took pictures or mementoes and discussed them at later private memorials and celebrations.

  Several years ago some funeral homes instituted drive up "viewings" of corpses via video hookup for distant family members who wanted to pay their respects but couldn't get to the funeral home during open hours. Coming from a culture which does not favor viewing the body at all this strikes me as both weird and tacky but, of course, its not. Its just a natural extension of the mourner's needs and expectations meeting up, more or less happily, with modern technology.

 I think we might also consider the ways that cemetery location and a highly transient, mobile, population plays into the need people have to have a tiny memento on their phones to take away with them. Cemeteries are no longer small and local and people's friend and family groups--especially their teenage friends who are likely to be geographically scattered after school, or their military friends who are likely to be from many different locations--are likely to get together only at the funeral, and then never be in a position to come back to the gravesite again.  This has led to the rise of cremation as a popular choice because the ashes can be split among several relatives or members of different sub families. In this way the deceased him or herself can accompany the mourner. But obviously most subsidiary friends and family are not going to be given a handful of the literal dust to take home so a selfie seems to me to be entirely in keeping with the noted human propensity to take souvenirs.

ETA to add that nothing is tacky when it comes to death. Via First Draft

New Orleans Saints fans are hardcore. Some of them want to take their fanatical Who Dattery with them when they die:
If the Saints get their way, you won’t be caught dead in the latest piece of fan gear.
A custom casket seller with an unusual storefront in the Esplanade Mall is under fire from the team over his $3,000 “Who Dat?” model casket, a black-finished steel coffin fitted with a gold satin pillow and fleur-de-lis decals.
Jonathan Lahatte, a former Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy who opened his ’Til We Meet Again shop last fall, says he has no plans to slip away gently.
“You can be a diehard Who Dat all your life. What better way to celebrate it than be buried with it for all eternity?” Lahatte said from his store in a back corner of the mall, behind Great American Cookies. “Right now I believe I’m not doing anything illegal, so I’m going to keep it the way it is.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rand Paul Crashes His Test Drive

Somebody must not like this kid. Newsmax's owner--I admit I didn't think they had an owner so much as an original source for the mold--has just written a rather clear eyed appraisal of the Republican party's chances if it can't get another superstar quasi Republican hero like Clinton. Remembering those days as I do I am rather astounded by how the passage of time has sweetened and softened what was, to say the least, a fraught relationship. But some members of the Republican party have decided to let bygones be bygones and they really don't want Rand raking all that stuff up again.
Sen. Rand Paul was fast becoming the GOP contender of the future — until he resurrected the Monica Lewinsky issue in a series of recent interviews. It's a real mistake for Paul's rising political future and a strategic blunder for the GOP. The Republican Party faces a serious crisis. Demographics are moving aggressively against its ageing white base. Blue states remain firmly entrenched while once-Red states such as Texas and Florida are becoming increasingly Blue. In 2012 the GOP spent $1 billion, fielding a telegenic candidate and..."
wait for it...wait for it...
still lost against an unpopular president presiding over the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Oh, and we started out so reasonably, in a world where changing voter demographics might lead us to think that voters might find different kinds of people "popular" and want different kinds of policies. Why, if they were popular, we might even measure their popularity by examining the popular vote during a major poll such as an election. They might even win such a popular poll by 5 million votes.
Why? I keep hearing that the party of Lincoln is "out of touch" with working Americans. In the face of this reality, the GOP should be grappling with how to offer positive, free-market solutions for America's ills.
I think the love that dare not speak its name here is basically, this. If the Democrats could pull all those fucking votes without running a white southern male who looks and sounds working class while we were running a northern elitist billionaire scumbag then we have got no hope at all if they run someone even tangentially associated with the working class, even someone faintly affiliated with the old soft shoe Clinton with his aroma de bubba.
Instead, Paul's assault on Bill Clinton is not only throwing the GOP back into the ugly muck of the 1990s, but pairing itself off against a still-popular former Democratic president.
Yup, there it is. Don't remind our remaining white voters that the Democrats don't always run a black guy.
The Clinton affair was litigated back in the 1990s, and Republicans went so far as to impeach the president. But in the end they lost — Clinton remained in office, and the public, by and large, decided that the GOP's efforts were not good for the country. We will lose again if we make Bill Clinton and the 1990s the issue.
Wait--you are talking evidence based medicine with the current Republican party? This should be good. Let me get out my popcorn and put my feet up. This is going to take some Sochi level gymnastics combined with some Ken Ham level contortions. Our editorialist is not content with just cautioning Rand not to remind people that Hillary Clinton is the wife of history's greatest monster. He goes a whole lot further and writes a mash note to Clinton that makes pecuniam non olet faint with shame at its understatement:
Clinton, to his credit, has admitted his mistakes, to his family and to the public. He apologized for them and gained redemption with a presidential record that has turned to gold as the years have passed and by acting as a goodwill ambassador for the United States. Some years ago Newsmax featured Bill Clinton on the cover of our magazine, focusing on how Clinton had not only re-invented the post-presidency into a powerful bully pulpit, but praising him for engaging globally with the work of his foundation, laudable work even straight-laced Republicans could applaud. (Emphasis mine) In recent years, Clinton has won kudos from both sides of the political aisle for his work with his foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for various causes since it was established in 2001. Recently renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, it has used the president's immense popularity and fundraising prowess — and that of his wife, Hillary — to improve the lives of more than 400 million people in more than 180 countries around the world by alleviating poverty, supporting numerous public health initiatives and developing sustainable development projects that governments won't touch. While in the past many former presidents have retreated to the golf course and corporate boardrooms, and one, Jimmy Carter, has spent his time often siding with American adversaries, (like, voters?) Bill Clinton put himself in the frontlines advocating for the country.
I would gloss that last line as "his big swinging dick, he swung for us." And for the grand finale:
In fact, his popularity actually reached an all-time high as recently as September 2012, when a New York Times/CBS News poll found that two-thirds of registered voters viewed him favorably. That popularity no doubt made a difference in the 2012 elections. Clinton delivered a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention and aided President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. Clinton's support, understandably, has angered some Republicans and perhaps helped create the embers that Rand Paul has fanned so successfully over a matter that seems resurrected from the ancient past. I think the Republicans — and Rand Paul — should learn a lesson or two from Bill Clinton. One is that we need to focus on the future and the policy issues that make the Republican Party a better choice to voters, offering a message of true economic prosperity that creates real jobs and real wealth. And, like Clinton, we can actually do something that proves we care. Unfortunately, I am not seeing and hearing that important message today from Washington's Republican leadership. We need to if we want to win. Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc.
Good luck friend. You've got a long row to hoe if Rand Paul, or any of the other potential contenders, are the tool of your choice.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Stop Making Nonsense

Recently people like Ross Douthat and other right wing shills have been making the following case: Obamacare is bad because people will stop working so hard.  This makes sense only in a world where sense is nonsense.  Or in a world, like modern America, where people are paid to be professional liars in order to preserve a system which condemned millions of their fellow citizens to nasty, avoidable, illnesses and deaths.

There is no necessary relationship between affordable health care and not working. None. Its like saying that because the "air is free" people will be encouraged to stop working because they don't have to pay for tubes of oxygen in order to survive.  Even though oxygen is currently freely available and necessary for life people still work, and work damned hard, to supply the other necessities.  In addtion, obviously, there are a lot of things people don't have to pay for and yet they work (for pay), and there are a lot of things people can't get paid for and yet they continue to do for other people (charity, child rearing, eldercare, cooking, sewing, doing art).

There is no sum total of work which is mandatory for each person in society in order for them to have dignity, or worth, or to contribute to society.   Lots of people don't work in this society--children, the very old, people dying of cancer.  We don't consider them unemployed and we certainly don't, as a rule (unless for purposes of right wing propaganda or if they are non white) consider them moochers and looters.  Lots of things that are valuable to society and to the human beings who make up society aren't paid for and yet people do them anyway.

Its a historical accident that our previous health care system was bound up with 1) for profit insurance companies and 2) employer and taxpayer subsidies through employers.  While its technically true that, as a result, people have had to work hard and often work continuously for particular employers in order to gain access to health care that is not at all necessary to health care--that was just forced on us by the refusal of the American Medical Profession and Employers to permit the formation of a serious national health care system that would cover everyone.

People in other countries, notably Canada, France, the UK, and Switzerland and Germany get health care as a right, as a baseline, regardless of their income (though income plays a part in some aspects of the system) and yet they have not stopped working and producing for the market. It production for the market is your god.  More importantly, they have not ceased to be human beings creating art and supporting each other if that is your desired form of human community.

 Douthat and the Republicans in congress have a model of human beings in which if they aren't in fear and dread for their very lives, every moment, they will somehow become useless idlers, sucking the teat of the government and refusing even to tie their own shoes.  But this is, of course, nonsenense.  Babies and children get sick all the time--we treat their illnesses and they go back to doing the things children do: playing and learning.  Adults get sick all the time and if we treat their illnesses they go back to doing the things adults do: learning, working, forming families, supporting each other.  Health care isn't some kind of frivolous toy or drug, whose aquisition sates or stupefies us. Its just something, like food, shelter, and clean water that enables us to live a little better and a little longer, to function a little more serenely or to die with a little more dignity.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

JennofArk on The Moral Case For A Living Wage

  • From a Commenter at Alicublog Nymmed JennofArk. Emphasis mine.  I've had this conversation with so many people, but I've never seen the issues put so succinctly:

    I think some part of the problem is the left's failure to articulate the moral case for less income inequality. I'm amazed at how often I'm talking with demonstrably poor people who bitch about "all those layabouts on welfare," completely missing that their issue with it is envy - those "layabouts on welfare" are doing as well as the working poor bitching about them. It's pecking order, "yeah, well, I may be as poor as you are, but at least I'm not a mooch!" Society has let them know they suck because they are poor, so there's a real incentive for them to place someone lower on the totem pole Just a few days ago, I was talking to a poor woman was applauding the food stamp cuts. I couldn't hold back and told her I thought it was a horrible thing. I noted that most of the people on food stamps work but just don't make enough money to feed themselves. "And now," I said, "they'll be going to work hungry. That's not a good thing."
    The moral case for living wages is pretty simple: the great mass of humanity, usually through accident of birth, has no capital. They have only their labor with which to barter for the necessities of life. It's accepted that people like doctors, engineers, CEOs will make more money because of the investment of their time in education. But all of us have a finite amount of time on this earth, and none of us knows how much time we've got. So for each individual, time is a valuable, precious commodity.
    The moral formula is pretty simple: any day of work has got to provide compensation enough to support the individual who performed it (food, clothing, shelter) for a day. Otherwise you're expecting people to dig into the only capital they have - their life - and trade it away for nothing. It's immoral to ask someone to sacrifice their life - any portion of it - in the service of generating profit for someone else, without paying at least the amount that person needs for living during that period of employment. An individual wouldn't open a burger joint knowing that his return would be $7.35 per hour and that for each hour he was open, he would be falling further behind in terms of making a living; that his work would not just waste his limited time but actually buy him hunger. But turn that burger joint into a multinational corporation with rich people skimming profit off the top, and it's "just the way things are."

    It's theft, pure and simple. People need to understand that wealthy corporations - specifically the wealthy people who own them - are stealing their lives.
    *edit: I should add to this that what I've outlined is the answer to the "some people aren't worth more than minimum wage" argument. If a business can't run without them, or someone else in their job, they are essential and there is no business and no profit without them. If a business can't generate enough income to at base pay the people required to run it enough to live, then it is a business that should not exist, because no individual would undertake it on his own, knowing that it would do nothing but put him in an ever-deepening hole.

    JennOfArk      3 days ago 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Oh Well, So Much For Marrying Up

Wait--I understood that if poor people just got married enough that poverty would end? Now, according to David Brooks, it turns out that when people practice "assortative mating" that there won't be enough rich men to go around. I has a sad.

Kathleen Parker a few days ago:

More to the point, we know that being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty. And no, splitting expenses between unmarried people isn’t the same. This is because marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by a magical concoction of love, selflessness and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.

David Brooks today:

At the top end, there is the growing wealth of the top 5 percent of workers. This is linked to things like perverse compensation schemes on Wall Street, assortative mating (highly educated people are more likely to marry each other and pass down their advantages to their children) and the superstar effect (in an Internet economy, a few superstars in each industry can reap global gains while the average performers cannot).

Emphasis added to remind us all that Brooks' goal posts have left the building, hell, they are in Antigua.  The crushing burden of income inequality is not because the top "five percent of workers" get inordinate rewards (though they do) its that the ownership class of the top 1 percent aren't really workers at all in a traditional sense, and their income and their assets are not the product of their earnings at all. They have nothing in common with labor and neither education nor marriage have anything to do with their power.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

No He Didn't

Look, TPM, Axelrod's tweet didn't say "Christie will survive this scandal" it referred specifically to the press conference and said "he will live to fight another day" which is true. Nothing that has come out so far caused him to resign during or right after the press conference and he has clearly indicated he intends to fight for his governorship. But he lives only "to fight another day"--that's not guarantee that he wins the battle tomorrow or the next day.

Art and Fear, Some Notes (Part I)

I'm reading a marvellous little book called Art and Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  It was recommended to me by Hillary Rettig who I've never had the pleasure of actually meeting or working with but whose newsletter I have the good fortune to be on.

Here are some choice quotes and then, time permitting, some thoughts.

The Topic:

"This is a book about making art. Ordinary art...not made by Mozart.  Making art is a common and intimately human activity...This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do.  It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work."

The Nature of the Problem:

"Making art is difficult.  We leave drawings unfinished and stories unwritten.  We do work that does not feel like our own.  We repeat ourselves.  We stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted.  Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed."

This really resonates, for me, not only in terms of capital A art, but in terms of my own "work" which is anthropology, reading, and writing.  And now, of course, its as true for my *&%% applications to the Master's Program in Social Work as my Thesis.  Beginning writing, polishing my writing, and finally, choosing when to end my writing has always been incredibly painful for me and has always happened on someone else's timeline, not my own.  My department actually had to call me when my dissertation was (finally) due and demand I turn it in. I'd tried to miss the deadline again to take the pressure off myself and they woke me up at six a.m my time and said, basically, "we aren't going to let you blow your deadline. You missed the deadline and we are holding it open so send that fucker in."

Speaking specifically of Art, and not (say) of work done in the sciences or social sciences, the writers say:

"It may have been easier to paint bison on the cave walls long ago than to write this (or any other) sentence today.  Other people, in other times and places, had some robust institutions to shore them up: witness the Church, the clan, ritual, tradition. Its easy to imagine that artists doubed their calling less when working in the service of God than when working in the service of self."  

I could quibble with that or start a conversation about what it means to do sacred, or propitiatory, or invocatory, or negotiatory, art or art as personal narrative within a familial setting vs art for the market in a subsistence or feudal economy but I won't. I love the image and I find it provocative.

"Not so today.  Today almost no one feels shored up. Today artwork does not emerge from a secure common ground: the bison on the wall is someone else's magic.  Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do and for which there may be neither audience nor reward.  Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next.  Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself."
On Art and Talent:

"Yet even the notion that you have a say in this process conflicts with the prevailing view of artmaking today--namely, that art rests fundamentally upon talent, and that talent is a gift randomly built into some people and not into others. In common parlance, either you have it or you don't--great art is a product of genius, good art a product of near-genius (which Nabokov likened to Near-Beer), and so on down the line to pulp romances and paint-by-the-numbers.  this view is inherently fatalistic--even if it's true, it's fatalistic--and offers no useful encouragement to those who would make art.  Personally, we'll side with Conrad's view of fatalism: namely, that it is a species of fear--the fear that your fate is in your own hands, but that your hands are weak."

 I have two sets of thoughts on this--one, I read these words and think about my struggles as a professional, or to remain a capital P professional while I've been outside the paid work world for so many years.  I'll have more to say about that later.  The second set of thoughts is that the realm of that which is Art and that which is creative is so, so, so, much more extensive than I thought.  As I read ahead in this book I began to recognize the creative impulse in my own life and how I have (more or less successfully) carried it through in my life as a mother and, though I gag a bit saying it, as a person making a haven in a heartless world, a hearth that is always burning, a place of retreat and renewal in a workaday world.

One of my arts--though its not seen that way in the world--is for raising children.  I've been working at this task for 17 years now and although its repetitive and filled with seemingly bureaucratic or administrative tasks like set up and clean up, buying boots and washing clothes, making a million meals and wiping up projectile vomiting, it seems to be going very well.  The end product is not a single, finished "thing" but an ongoing relationship with another human being, and the joy of it has to be found in the process which you either love or you don't.

One reason you can't focus on the "end product" is that, with luck, you won't see the end at all.  I come from a world of ordinary tragedy.  My sister died when I was eight and she was six.  My husband's niece died when she was nine and my own daughters were six and four.  Having lived in Nepal I well know that this is merely ordinary tragedy.  There are greater and more horrific ones every day.  But, nonetheless, I have always known, since before my oldest daughter was born, that this life, this relationship of mother to child, was incredibly precious, fragile, temporary, and to be loved from moment to moment and not only in retrospect.  Of course that is incredibly hard to do since we are always living in the past and the future--worrying about what we did wrong that led to the present difficulty, and trying to stave off future harm, or bring about future bliss, by making the right choice right now.  This is something I see all the time with the young, first time mothers, with whom I work.

It is only in reading this little book on Art, however, that I have come to recognize my approach to this process of mothering as, essentially, artistic--hard, focused, playful, creative, improvisational, process oriented, repetitive, respectful of the materials, experimental, always pushing the boundaries of my talents and the materials (the children).  There are even occasional "performances," one might say, holidays, meals, recitals, when the children and the family rush to finish some kind of piece of culturally significant meaning.  In that I think we are very like the imagined cave people making their bison and hand paintings on the wall.  Or a medieval village operating in sacred time and space, enjoying a local festival for its own sake and not as a performance for others.   We rush about together, enacting family solidarity and making a sacred space for the meal, or the recital, and then we all throw ourselves down and do the thing and then clean up and start again on the next thing.  (This is especially true of something like Passover, which combines elements of everything from religious ritual to theater to family play, but its true on another level for every family meal we have and every little family ritual from the way we read books at bedtime to the way we now watch particular tv shows (Fringe, The Americans) or live theater (a lot of Shakespeare) together.

Even though this book came to me as a revelation its not like I did not already know, in my bones, what was in it.  This perception--that art, as life, is what you make of it not the perfection of the end product--is pretty much received wisdom by this time, isn't it? Its certainly the basis of some important works in child rearing, for example, such as "Raising Lifelong Learners" and even, I would argue, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, How to Listen so Kids will Talk."  Both these books and many others reflect a belief about the world and about children which assumes we can't know, a priori, what the finished product should look like--and neither can the child. There isn't always going to be a single right answer or a single right choice in the world and, in any event, we are not going to always be there to supply the motive force or the judgemental voice pushing the child (or the evetual adult) into doing "the right thing."  There isn't going to be one kind of good person or perfect adult--just a person who can continually grow, connect, engage, mature, love, and share in a wide variety of circumstances and in the face of adversity.  I could write an entire essay on the contrast between this viewpoint and that of more authoritarian or (in this country) christianist theories of child rearing such as that of the Perls.

In the realm of education this is especially true.  I was definitely raised in the era of the romance of the talented prodigy. Certain things, like language, math, and art were believed to be the purview of the super talented.  Skipping grades, just "knowing" how to do something, having perfect recall or being fast at learning something were considered attributes of the good student and something that the rest of us simply needed to acknowledge and move aside for.  If you had a talent for something, you would work hard at it and get good grades, if you didn't have a natural talent for it, you plugged along without much help until you finished the minimum required and then you dropped it, with a sigh of relief.  This is as true for "art" classes which were under attack when I was in school in the 60's and 70's as it was for mathematics, language, or music.

In a revolt against this we sent our children to an alternative school (not surprisingly, since there's nothing new under the sun, my great grandfather was one of the exponents of the Modern School Movement and most of the "new" educational philosophies are drawn from this now rather old movement).  So, for my daughters, the emphasis has always been on process, not product. On learning to use mathematical concepts and numbers as everyday tools and for play, not merely to pass a test.  The result are two children who are extremely comfortable with working through things that they don't already know, with slowness, with the act of doing math rather than merely getting the right answer.  Not that it hasn't always been a struggle--in fact this quote from Math Babe's essay on the topic came to me because my youngest daughter, in her new school, was falling into the trap of regarding math as something that "good" mathematicians do "fast."

Here’s the thing. There’s always someone faster than you. And it feels bad, especially when you feel slow, and especially when that person cares about being fast, because all of a sudden, in your confusion about all sort of things, speed seems important. But it’s not a race. Mathematics is patient and doesn’t mind. Think of it, your slowness, or lack of quickness, as a style thing but not as a shortcoming.
Why style? Over the years I’ve found that slow mathematicians have a different thing to offer than fast mathematicians, although there are exceptions (Bjorn Poonen comes to mind, who is fast but thinks things through like a slow mathematician. Love that guy). I totally didn’t define this but I think it’s true, and other mathematicians, weigh in please.
One thing that’s incredibly annoying about this concept of “fastness” when it comes to solving math problems is that, as a high school kid, you’re surrounded by math competitions, which all kind of suck. They make it seem like, to be “good” at math, you have to be fast. That’s really just not true once you grow up and start doing grownup math.
In reality, mostly of being good at math is really about how much you want to spend your time doing math. And I guess it’s true that if you’re slower you have to want to spend more time doing math, but if you love doing math then that’s totally fine. Plus, thinking about things overnight always helps me. So sleeping about math counts as time spent doing math.
Mathbabe's observation about math is, in essence, the basic observation that the Artists make in Art and Fear.  If you want to be doing this thing, whatever your creative format is, you have to want to do it a lot.  Both because doing it a lot is necessary to doing it well, and because--hey, its your life, if you aren't enjoying it you are wasting your time.

Hopefully Part II will come over the weekend.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Listening to Warren Zevon. So Many People This Could Describe.

Mr. Bad Example

I started as an alter boy, working at the church
Learning all my holy moves, doing some research
Which led me to a cash box, labeled "Children's Fund"
I'd leave the change, and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund
I got a part-time job at my father's carpet store
Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score
I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane
And auctioned off every last naugahyde divan
I'm very well aquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
I'm proud to be a glutton, and I don't have time for sloth
I'm greedy, and I'm angry, and I don't care who I cross
I'm Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don't care who gets hurt
I'm Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I'll live to be a hundred, and go down in infamy
Of course I went to law school and took a law degree
And counseled all my clients to plead insanity
Then worked in hair replacement, swindling the bald
Where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called
Then on to Monte Carlo to play chemin de fer
I threw away the fortune I made transplanting hair
I put my last few francs down on a prostitute
Who took me up to her room to perform the flag salute
Whereupon I stole her passport and her wig
And headed for the airport and the midnight flight, you dig?
And fourteen hours later I was down in Adelaide
Looking through the want ads sipping Fosters in the shade
I opened up an agency somewhere down the line
To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines
But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut
And whisked away their workman's comp and pauperized the lot
I'm Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don't care who gets hurt
I'm Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I'll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy
I bought a first class ticket on Malaysian Air
And landed in Sri Lanka none the worse for wear
I'm thinking of retiring from all my dirty deals
I'll see you in the next life, wake me up for meals