Friday, September 27, 2019

Some Old Slogans for Continuing Debate on Climate Change

• Best pronounced with an accent from southern Scotland or the north of England: "Where there's muck, there's money." There's a history to environmental degradation for profit, and checking out old arguments can be useful to avoid accusations of bias in current arguments.

• "Posterity don't vote (and neither do most young people)."
Encourage them young folk to register to vote and get involved in boring elective politics. And remind old folks they might want to leave a livable world to their grandkids and/or avoid ending up Soylent Grey™ in their last days. On which subject, or part thereof ...
• "Let em all go to hell, / Except Cave Seventy-Six!" — First national anthem, according to Mel Brooks's 2000-year old man. It's preferable to "Hurray for me; and piss on you all," but on a global issue a global-size "circle of concern" is a good idea. Global disasters will take Cave 76 with them.
• "Know how to answer an Epicurean": Talmudic advice meaning a theistic Jew should learn how to argue with a materialist. Similarly, atheists should learn how (when and if) to argue with theists and even Fundamentalists.You don't have to agree on fundamentals to come to some practical conclusions and work together. (Variation from 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness: ""We can pull a sledge together without being kemmerings" [§6] — we don't have to have a bonded, long-term, loving relationship with people [or even like them] to cooperate on specific projects.)
• "Rhetoric: The Art of Ethical Persuasion": That's *persuasion*, getting people to do what you want them to do (and which they should do: that "ethical" part). Winning the argument and/or getting Truth is for philosophy. So let it go with "global warming" and "severe climate change" and drop insisting on "anthropogenic" if it'll get turn the discussion n from survival strategies to the deep causes of the phenomena and/or will have you come across in another in a long line of elitist puritans trying to shame people. Earth is heating up; this is a long-term trend; it's dangerous — What can and should we do about it? Cutting down carbon emissions is one obvious thing, especially advisable since we should be doing it anyway (our descendants might want some handy hydrocarbons of their own and may be very pissed off to learn, "You freaking burned it?!" See above on Soylent Grey™.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Biden and Bernie in 2019: Not a Primary for Old Men

I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary elections in 2016, and I am grateful that he's bringing into respectable political discourse some important ideas on economic justice and just general decency. 

like Joe Biden personally, and he's the only candidate I can literally like personally since he's the only one I've met. (Although with the number of candidates still in double digits, it's possible most Americans will be able to meet at least a couple.) Anyway, in 1984, I attended a conference on — wait to it — George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in Akron, Ohio, and we all got stuck in the hotel by a blizzard. I ended up in the bar, and was sitting there alone, I think, when the Honorable Joseph R. Biden, U.S. Senator and one of the hot-shot guests of the conference came over, and we had a drink or two and talked. Or, as I recall it, he talked mostly, but he was a good talker, and I appreciated the company. He's a good guy.

But I'm not supporting either of them now, because I want the Democratic nominee to be an anti-Trump; and the major worry we should have with Trump (age 73)  — what should "scare the hell out of the American people" — is that he's a declining old man, losing words and syntax and his train of thought and what he's policy tweets were yesterday … and he has following him the "nuclear football" and immediate access to "the Gold Codes" for launching a nuclear strike. 

I'm suggesting that Democratic Party operatives, not the candidates, should go full Barry-Goldwater 1964, Daisy ad ageist on Donald Trump's ample ass and make clear that you don't want an increasingly incompetent old man making life and death decisions for a large portion of the human species and other complex forms of life on Earth. 

Such attacks are more difficult to make if your candidate is old and tends toward gaffes.

That's my main reason for not supporting Sanders (77) or Biden (76): just too old for the central question of this campaign: United States Doctrine is that we will use nukes first; Who do you want to make that call?

Also, I'm betting that young people will vote heavily against Trump on global warming alone and that the problem there is getting them registered and to the polls. Old people will be where a fair amount of the action is, and I think a lot of old folks just want a rest from the constant mishugaas of Trumpian governance by Tweet and shouted interviews. Part of anti-Trump is being calm and calming, which Biden can do, but not always; and just isn't in Sander's repertoire. 

Also, a campaign against Sanders would get very dirty very quick: an agnostic Jew from the East coast who calls himself a "democratic socialist" and can be easily presented as excitable and extreme. 

He's certainly stubborn: Sander is a social democrat, which has the word "democrat" in the stressed ("climax") position and back in 1967 could be presented casually in a comedy routine on prime-time television as where to locate the US political Center (about 1:45 in in "Mort Sahl Explains Politics"). He can't do it now, but Sanders once couldhave been more prudent and more exact, if less consistent, as in stubborn.

Again, Biden can be comfortable and comforting, but he slips up now and then, and he has a history. Most of that history is good; part of it makes it more difficult to attack Trump for his profoundly creepy — to start with — attitudes and actions toward women. 

The anti-Trump must be careful with his or her hands, and Biden has not always been.

So, Bernie and Joe: Thank you for your service; may you long continue it. But not as the Democratic candidate in 2020 against Donald J. Trump.


Having said that — this much for context for Biden's over-active hands: not excuse, but context.

In addition to the gender/power issues, in the deep background of Biden's history may be another turn of the wheel on base-line standards of personal space, modesty, and "touch" (an important word — usually but not always positive — in the writings of Ursula K. Le Guin). 

In the late 20th c., some of my Miami U (Oxford, OH) colleagues and I discussed briefly generational differences on nudity in both the men's and women's locker rooms on campus. The sample was small, but all and sundry from both groups had noted stricter nudity taboos among younger people than with our generation. (Gay liberation and cell phones with cameras both figure in here, but also the principle, "It's never 'just' fashion": there are fashions even in customs and morës [2 syllables], and fashions usually cycle. If the old farts are walking around the locker room with just a towel covering their for-real shame — or over the shoulder — "da younger guys" and gals may not get undressed at all and shower at home, or not.)

And there were tendencies in the late 20th c. sneered at as "touchy-feelie": eliminate the sneer, and there's a significant point here. I like Le Guin's work and her praise of "touch," but personally would prefer that good old republican slight bow in greeting one another and have little patience for the politics of personal physicalcontact ("pressing the flesh," manipulative PDA ["Public Displays of Affection"] where there really can't be more than a bit of abstract affection, as one might have for an actor one likes [rather precisely as for actors]).

So here's a long quote from  Le Guin's The Word for World Is Forest (1972, 1976) on Terran ("Earthling") colonists vs. the native forest people (Athsheans) of a world being colonized, on touching and Touch:

Touch was a main channel of communication among the forest people. Among Terrans touch is always likely to imply threat, aggression, and so for them there is often nothing between the formal handshake and the sexual caress. All that blank was filled by the Athsheans with varied customs of touch. Caress as signal and reassurance was as essential to them as it is to mother and child or to lover and lover; but its significance was social, not only maternal and sexual. It was part of their language, it was therefore patterned, codified, yet infinitely modifiable. 'They’re always pawing each other,' some of the colonists sneered, unable to see in these touch-exchanges anything but their own eroticism which, forced to concentrate itself exclusively on sex and then repressed and frustrated, invades and poisons every sensual pleasure, every humane response [...]."

Times change, baselinesfor behavior change. And those changed times on "touchy-feelie" taken too literally is another reason the Presidential campaign against Donald J. Trump is no contest for old men.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ageist Comment on the Candidacy of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden

 NOTE: I supported Bernie Sanders last time around and still like him. Joe Biden is the only candidate I've actually met (although if the Democratic list gets any longer, most Americans may end up having met at least one candidate, just by probabilities) — and I like Biden. Still:

The advice given to Harry Truman has broader use: To get major things done in the USA, one often must "scare the hell out of the American people." One area for fear may turn out to be economic, another is more immediately existential.

The US has a formal doctrine of "First Use" of nuclear weapons. The US has a formidable nuclear arsenal and has placed great trust in the President on how/when to use those weapons. The relevant laws need to be changed, but the launch codes are currently available to an angry old man of limited stability. 

Donald Trump's opponent should not make the argument her- or himself — it should be less of an argument than innuendo, and such innuendo is the job of VP candidates and "surrogates" — but the Presidential candidate running against Trump must be clearly different from Trump, including not another old man.

The candidate must be someone who can be relied on not just to take the 3 AM call but to take the midnight visit by the officer with the launch codes — and not a visit the President has invited.

Friday, June 7, 2019

"Othering" and iTunes

Note: I've been reading The Mueller Report and have fallen behind on my blogging. Here's a "two-fer": 

It's not just "'I' and 'the Other'" anymore; some places nowadays one can use "other" as a verb or "verbals": "to other" some group, or engage in "othering" them.

Okay, but a more old-fashioned "other" can be used to connect. My favorite since at least 1984 has been "alcohol and *other* drugs": putting ethyl alcohol back among the recreational drugs, reminding recreational drinkers of ethyl alcohol of their community with other drug users (and alcoholics of their community with other addicts), inviting The Straight People to test overly-broad assertions about "drugs" and "drug users" with their own experiences with, say, Chardonnay.

There's also "humans and *other* animals." We may be "the beauty of the world, / The paragon of animals," as asserted by Hamlet and HAIR, but we're still animals: in 20-Question terms of Animal/Vegetable/Mineral or fancier divisions of Earth's life into Archaea, Bacteria, Plants, and Animals <>. As animals capable of reason and even, apparently, consciousness, it's good to avoid cockiness and to keep our kin and kinships in mind.

On the MacBook Pro I use as a very expensive radio, I listened this morning to a recorded episode of NPR's discussion show _The 1A_ in what may technically be podcast format. The topic was the demise of Apple's iTunes and its replacement by three apps: Video (?), Music, Podcasts. At least until the last five minutes of the show, the word "podcast" occurred only once I can recall, and that was when they named the three replacement apps. At no time did they mention audiobooks (a word Spell-Check rejects).

Interesting given that the _1A_ audience skews old and that as recently as one of the Gulf Wars DOONESBURY could have a gag on US enlisted personnel listening to music while a playlist for their older officers was precisely audiobooks.

Do fish know they're in water? Do large numbers of people walking around in bubbles of their own tunes realize that some people who appear to be in similar microcosms are actually in semi-permeable membranes of words? (And will Apple think it worth their effort to include audiobooks in their instructions for "migrating" to the new apps?)

One bit of irony: The audiobook I'm currently listening to again — on my iPhone operating as a very expensive iPod — is Benedict Anderson's IMAGINED COMMUNITIES. I suspect there are ways in which Apple vs. PC and the various music communities have more reality than, say, The United States or The United Kingdom or the other national "imagined communities" that are at the heart of Anderson's book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"No In-Between in Abortion Debate" — For a Very Dangerous Conflict

A long letter to the editor of, or submission for a short column in, The Ventura County Star, in a continuing debate on abortion:

Re: Noel D’Angelo’s May 22 letter (part of a "thread")

By recent definitions of life, a fertilized egg is alive with a specific individual life, as is the ball of cells that it forms and on through the stages of embryological development to a fetus and newborn. However don’t say, "All life is sacred" and we can’t destroy such life if you’re eating a bacon burger or a carrot or just used a hand-sanitizer.  Unless you’re a very strict Jain* or vegan, you routinely kill various forms of life or have them killed for you (and often eat them); and even the most life-respecting among us usually wants a robust immune response to invading bacteria, which will kill those bacteria.

If you want to go back to old ideas of life, one idea would be whether or not an embryo or fetus is nephesh for the Hebrew word or the Greek equivalents: So is a fetus a "living being" in a Biblical or more generally ancient sense? Well, one answer is that "living beings" have the breath of life — note Adam’s story in Genesis — and one interpretation there is that a fetus takes on that sort of life with the first breath.**

Necessarily if perhaps arrogantly, we humans usually declare human life is special, and the question with abortion on one side is when and if a human zygote, embryo, or fetus is or becomes human: a person under the law with rights that can be balanced against those of the fully-human mother.

A consistent, coherent, and logical argument can be made if you go from "life-breath" to soul and have humans special because we are "ensouled" and place the moment of ensoulment early in fetal development or perhaps at the moment of conception. Doing so, you have unborn babies in the womb and, to push the argument, unbaptized unborn babies, possibly damned to hell if not allowed to be born and baptized.*** Q.E.D.

A consistent, coherent, logical, historical, and powerful argument can also  be made on how abortion laws have become a fairly recent twist in the millennium-long patriarchal efforts to control and oppress women, and must be opposed if societies are to recognize the full humanity of women. Also Q.E.D.

And people can argue that the United States Constitution sets up a secular Republic and that serious efforts to inflict upon it the rules of a Christian nation is an attack upon that Republic, to be opposed by all who’ve sworn or affirmed to defend the Constitution and our Republic "against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

All of which is why abortion is a highly divisive and dangerous conflict. And it is why we need America to move into the mushy middle and continue to accept the Roe vs. Wade compromise. That position is not logically consistent and elegant and historically informed, but it is tolerable to most Americans.

First trimester of so: We don’t feel that there’s a person yet.

Approaching the time of birth: Not yet with the rights of a full human if weighed against the mother, but getting there, and not to be killed unless that death is really, really necessary.

In between: Some reasonable regulation, which respects the rights of that fully-human mother.

And meanwhile we need a major campaign for effective contraception so that abortion is legal, safe, and indeed rare.

We are dealing here with definitions of "human being" and the nature of our country. These are issues about which people feel very strongly and over which they have killed one another: killing fully-developed, obviously human, human people, and in large numbers (this is part of what World War II was about, and the US Civil War).

Roe v. Wade isn’t intellectually neat and pretty, but it has worked. Most Americans can support it, even against our more logically rigorous fellow citizens. It’s something we can live with.

** Ward, Roy Bowen. "The Use of the Bible in the Abortion Debate," Saint Louis University Public Law Review 13.1 (1993); 391-408, here III.A.1, "Person" in the Bible, "Nephesh and Breath."
*** — On those unbaptized babies:

The Day of Doom
By Michael Wigglesworth (1631–1705)
Then to the bar, all they drew near
  Who died in infancy,
And never had or good or bad        235
  Effected personally,
But from the womb unto the tomb
  Were straightway carried,
(Or at the last ere they transgress’d)
  Who thus began to plead:

[answered at length by "the judge most dread, ending"]
"A crime it is, therefore in bliss
  You may not hope to dwell
But unto you I shall allow        355
  The easiest room in hell.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Abortion: Long-Range Compromise plus High-Tech Quick Fix

It's now behind a paywall, but long ago — back when Roe vs. Wade was more clearly "settled law" — I had a guest column in The Cincinnati Enquirer suggesting a combination of long-term compromise and technological/sociological quick fix.
The technological parts were (1) the development of effective birth control for both men and women, where the ordinary condition would be sterility until one took active steps to become fertile; and (2) the ability to remove and store a living embryo or early fetus until an appropriate surrogate mother (perhaps a male, although that hadn't occurred to me) could be brought on line, so to speak, or the fetus brought to term "ex utero, in vitro" — artificial wombs as satirically handled in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and a utopian possibility in Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time.
A fetus at X-months would be assigned personhood under the law, with a right to life but no right to development in the uterus of an unwilling woman.
Unwanted pregnancies would need to be rare and would be; and removal, storage, and transplantation of the embryo (ideally) or fetus would be paid for by the State unless the couple had refused contraception (or changed their minds), in which case they'd — both of the genetic parents — would pay for the procedures with community service (as a matter of equity for people without much money).
I freely admitted this was a desperate resolution, but noted that abortion involves definitions of "human being"/"person under the law," and of the nature of the United States, which some of us have sworn to defend as a secular Republic, others value as a Christian Nation, and most just accept the mushiness of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag (of all things) that throws together the US as a Republic and a Nation (lately "under God") and claims "liberty and justice for all" when it's obvious a guilty convicted criminal got justice but loses liberty. Clafifying such matters can kill off a lot of people.

I think you can find the Enquirer article here.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Politics and the American Language: Clarity and/vs. Squishiness

Part of what makes working political systems work is occasional squishy lack of clarity. In the US, one swears or affirms loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, but the far more frequent patriotic exercise is pledging allegiance to a flag that represents the Republic that is also a Nation and (lately) a Nation under God, claiming liberty and justice for all (even though people justly imprisoned are clearly without much liberty). And neither the Pledge nor our oaths or affirmations mention "the American State," with "statehood" usually applied to the various American states federated into a Union that may or may not be as indivisible as the purported Nation.

We are now engaged in a not-so-great, not-so-civil figurative war, much of which is getting down to what the US is.

Donald Trump and his core followers have claimed the emotionally-compelling romance of "the Nation"; his opponents often talk of "our democracy." I think opponents to Trump should concede that he and his followers have effectively seized the great Myth of the Nation and could attempt to claim a pure People's Democracy, with the Leader embodying and channeling the will of the People ("Folk," "masses"), by-passing the moribund and/or pernicious institutions of "the Deep State."

It's time for opponents of a potential Trumpian mass movement to claim "the Republic" and talk about "crucial democratic institutions in our Republic." That avoids the embarrassing fact that the US is obviously not a direct democracy and only intermittently a participatory democracy and has un- and anti-democratic elements we're still working on (and some of which — like an independent judiciary, some form of a Senate — are good ideas). The Republic can also be a potent idea: a social contract one chooses and re-chooses, not just gets born into; an ideal to strive for, a way of governing and way of life we need to preserve, protect, and defend — as many of us have sworn to do — against all enemies, foreign and domestic.