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": 
 
"OTHER" AS A CONNECTING WORD

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 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaea>. As animals capable of reason and even, apparently, consciousness, it's good to avoid cockiness and to keep our kin and kinships in mind.
 
 
==================================
 
I-TUNES (BY-GOD: *TUNES*)

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."
*** https://www.bartleby.com/96/10.html — 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.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Saving Our Nation's Democracy from Enemies of the People: An Exercise in "Red-Teaming"

The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice 
have each of them several different meanings which cannot be 
reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy,
 not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to 
make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally 
felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: 
consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, 
and fear that they might have to stop using that word 
if it were tied down to any one meaning. 
Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.  —
George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946)

“Well, Doctor [Franklin], what have we got—
a Republic or a Monarchy?”
  “A Republic, if you can keep it.” — 
Exchange with Benjamin Franklin leaving  the
Constitutional Convention of 1787, as reported


There is one and only one official democratically elected by the American Nation: the U.S. President. And that President represents, embodies, and implements the spirit and will of our Nation. The purest democracy, therefore, consists in ensuring the People's will is fulfilled, allowing the majority — the true Nation bathed in the blood of patriots and rooted in native soil — to rule.
The Deep State of bloated bureaucracies and corrupted institutions must not be permitted to thwart the will of the People, the demos in "democracy." These enemies of the People are to be circumvented or pushed aside, and if the Congress or a political party or lying media consistently attack the People embodied in the President, these enemies are to be neutralized.
"Lock them up!" and let them be happy they are no longer taken out and guillotined or shot as a matter of Revolutionary Justice or Racial purification.
Perfect democracy is direct and spiritual: the Rule of the People — the real Nation, purged and purified — not that of law or moribund assemblies. 
And that, brothers and sisters, is why I for one repeat the line of 1950s conservative curmudgeons that the US is not a democracy but a republic, and not a nation in the sense that, say, Japan is a nation: pretty much one people with one religious tradition (in two main strains in Japan), one history, one Emperor, one language — which at least so far the US is not. This is why I recommend to the Blue Team stressing our Republic, the rule of law, and a tradition that includes an ideal of majority decision, not majority rule (where you ignore and/or screw minorities), within a "mixed constitution" that includes Federalism and divided governments with a law-making legislative branch, an executive, and a judiciary (in that order).

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer — One Nation (or People), One Empire, One Leader — is Nazi German stuff; Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality is Czarist Russian (now making a comeback). "We are the wretched refuse" as Bill Murray's character says in STRIPES, the mongrels of the Earth; and a good part of our good traditions is rule of law, and the institutions of the Republic.

If we can keep it. 


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Student Essay in the 1960s, Russian Interference in US Election 2016 — And "Misprision of Felony"

I learned the phrase "misprision of felony early in my teaching career when a student in Rhetoric 101 — think 1st semester College Composition — responded to a personal narrative assignment with the story of a young woman who'd joined heR friends in perjury and maybe insurance fraud in a context I've long-ago forgotten.
I sought advice from older colleagues and was told that since the event was in the past and directly harmed at most only a fictive individual — a corporation — and indirectly only their other customers for small sums, my duty to protect the confidentiality of student work outweighed my other social duties, and, if necessary, I should go to prison rather than betray the student/teacher relationship.
"Prison?" I asked.
I was told prosecution was highly unlikely, but it looked like a felony was committed, I had information about said felony, and, if I didn't report it, I might be guilty of "misprision of felony," at that place and time at least, itself a felony.
"Oh."
When the student came in for our "tutorial" conference, I started out with how we should talk a bit about her very nice development of the Persona of the essay, her "I", the protagonist-Narrator of the story who, in the story, committed perjury and what just might look like insurance fraud.
And after a moment for that to sink in, that is what we talked about.
Okay, so much for confession for me. (In my adult life I also advocated draft resistance and apparently violated Federal and possibly Provincial election law in Canada going with a group to have a great time in Toronto and informally advise on the Pierre Trudeau campaign. "But that was in another country, / And besides" — we yanks were with the George McGovern campaign and, as the US election worked out, maybe didn't have much advice to give.) But —
But what about the Family Trump and people representing Russia and the possibility that members of the 2016 Trump campaign new that a foreign entity or two were messing around in a US election. Is there "misprision of election-law violation"? Did they have a legal as well as a civic duty to report what could have been some sort of crime. Is even the non-action of silence a crime far more a crime here as it could have been for me as a writing teacher?
I did say I taught Rhetoric 101; so the question may be rhetorical.